In a windowless, whitewashed room somewhere in the Geofront, Rei Ayanami was sitting on a folding chair, opposite Misato Katsuragi, with a plain square table between them. Just behind Misato was a digital video camera on a tripod, recording everything, and she held a sheet of paper stating the rights of the interviewee. On the table were a notebook and a pen, and the camera's remote control. At the far corner of the room was a tea service cart, and Rei knew that Kaworu was just outside the room, waiting for his turn. Only one part of the wall had a mirror, and she guessed it must be a one-way mirror, so someone was surely watching her.
She will have to answer everything she knew about yesterday's incident, and the girl must watch her words.
"Miss Ayanami," Misato said, reading the girl's rights. "By agreeing to this inquest, understand that anything you say in the next half-hour will be used to help the investigators answer questions about the failed compatibility test. As your commanding officer, I assure you that your statements, which will be recorded by that video camera right behind me for documentation purposes, will not be used against you by any disciplinary body for any infractions. Furthermore, under Section 15 in the NERV Manual of Conduct and Regulations, I assure that your rights will be upheld, and all contents of that video recording of the proceedings will be kept confidential. Is that clear?"
The First Children nodded. "Yes."
Misato tabled the rights paper. "Good. Now let's begin by identifying yourself."
"I am Rei Ayanami, First Children. I am fourteen years of age, female, service number 300192. I am permanently assigned to the Evangelion Project, formerly the pilot of Eva Prototype Unit Zero, destroyed recently, and currently I am not on active duty."
Misato nodded. "Okay. Now tell me what happened yesterday. You can go from the beginning."
NEON GENESIS EVANGELION
LIGHT AND WATER – SEASON 2
CHAPTER 16: TWENTY-ONE GUNS
An alternate path fanfiction by soulassassin547
Written on 5/21/2010 22:27 a5/p5
For the first time in days, Shinji and Asuka have finally come face to face with each other. The young man was the first to break the silence after a moment.
"I've been worried about you," he said. "Every time I see you on the bed, I… I felt responsible. I wanted to protect you but my father held me back. Then you ran away and… I was shocked when I found out. You see, I wanted you not to be that empty shell on the bed, and I was then angry at myself for letting you down, and angry at him for putting me down." Shinji sighed.
"But Shinji," Asuka said. "I just have to admit this to you, but… I'm useless now. I'm sure that Misato may have told you what's behind me. I never told everyone my past, as I denied it too often."
"Kaworu said that I'm no different from you other than changing a few details. My mother killed herself after going mad; my dad married someone I despised because she had an affair with him. All that made me angry enough to put much distance from them, no matter what they say."
The redhead sighed before going on. "After she died, I then made a promise myself to bury the past, not to cry anymore. I don't want to see the nightmare of her strangling my neck, or watching her hanging from the ceiling. I don't want to see myself like that, yet after that Angel nearly killed me, after I've lost my strength I was close to dying like her."
Asuka showed her bandaged wrists to Shinji, who nodded quietly.
"By making myself superior to everyone else," Asuka said, "I thought I could conquer everything even the past, but the past always tries to leak out. Even then I tried to stop the nightmares, but they almost always came back."
Shinji hung his head, pursed his lips.
"Look," Asuka said. "Listen to me… I've spent my entire life on Eva. I thought about piloting, ate, drank, slept… I studied for the job. I loved every minute being in control, going off to battle… I then loved the fix of being in Eva, I felt the adrenaline whenever I'm the pilot… But no more."
The redhead sighed.
"All I ever wanted then was for people to see me as 'mature'. I want to be seen as a grown-up, able to take care of myself. I then insisted on asking for no help. Doing those I thought would make me happy… I was really deluding myself. I'm just like you."
Shinji raised his head and stared at Asuka. "I finally saw why you are hiding your true self. Yes, I'm the same as you are, too… I was a pilot for a different reason, though at first I never wanted this in the first place."
He imagined his father towering over him, indifferent and cold.
"I wanted to be accepted," he said, "to be praised, so that I can be happy, but I couldn't get enough. I also thought that by doing everything to please him, my father could pay attention to me but he was always far away. I thought he hated me by using me to be stuck in bad things I don't want. Like when he let the Dummy Plug take over Unit One."
The young man closed his eyes with remorse.
"For that, and I felt responsible for Toji, I was angry at Father, so I wanted to give up and leave. I tried to leave, but for some reason I couldn't because there's something that kept me back, just like when the Angel went down to the Geofront and nearly killed everyone. That made me come back to save you all as I felt I couldn't simply leave the relationships I mad. I fought because I don't want everyone to die, and I realized my purpose.
"But then things began to fall apart; first, there was Toji, then the other Angel attacked you, before Ayanami went down, until I was afraid, I couldn't do anything until Kaworu came here and talked to me about my fears."
"What did he told you?"
"Get myself a grip, try not to be afraid. He said he was concerned about me, so I took his advice and tried to be a better person."
"He came to me, too," Asuka said. "We talked, and I said I've done too many mistakes, I was too harsh, and I nearly killed myself because I didn't realize I was being immature. Instead, Kaworu told me to change for the better."
"I understand," Shinji answered.
The girl closed her eyes. "Shinji, I'm very sorry," Asuka mumbled.
"No… I'm sorry, too."
Both Children stared at each other. It was true enough, there was no difference between them, their individual desires and hates, though wildly different, were nothing compared to the common pain they shared: Mothers consumed by the Evas they occupied; fathers who neglected or abandoned them; they lived lives of misery, fear and self-delusion; they tried to gain acceptance, but at a bitter price; they sought happiness, but left unsatisfied and hungry. It was only fate that put them here together, and though they once despised each other, today they have to face the music.
There would be no illusions this time.
"It's all even, Shinji," Asuka said, as the radio began to play The Fray's "Over My Head". "Forgive me instead. It's time for me to let go."
Shinji thought of this and he answered, "I forgive you now, because we can't win anything by arguing over even the smallest things."
Asuka gave him a small smile. "Thanks," she said, and then pulled Shinji's arms to hug her tight. The girl then whispered to his ear, "Thanks for everything, even if you tried, even if you were frightened or feeling negative…"
"Yes," Shinji answered almost quietly. "I did my best."
I held you, I helped you, and I did everything.
The hug lasted for two minutes, before the couple disengaged gently, knowing that the war between them was over.
After they went step-by-step through the uneventful sync procedures, Misato was now at the point where Rei talked about Unit-01 suddenly going berserk.
"Did the Eva invade your mind?" the woman officer asked.
"It was different," Rei answered. "The past came back to me, those that I thought I had forgotten or I could not recall. I thought I was being erased, I remember being in pain. I could not even pull the ejection handle."
"Have you also experienced total blackout? Lost consciousness?"
Misato wrote down a few lines, before continuing.
"Medical records and mission logs showed that after your last sortie with Unit Zero you couldn't remember, you had some sort of amnesia, but Shinji said that you can now do it even with some small details. Is it true?"
"Yes," Rei agreed.
"Can you give an example or two? I'm all ears."
Rei took a breath and began narrating the first time she met Shinji when the Angel attacked and he was fresh from arriving. She could remember being swaddled in bandages, still in the hospital bed, and Shinji was already panicking when the Angel made its first assault. The earth shook, causing steel beams and lights to come crashing down, but before the debris could impale them, the Eva moved her arm to shield the Children.
Quickly Misato scribbled some notes. Inwardly she was astonished by Rei's renewed capacity to recall everything, as she was also there on that same day.
"Okay… Can you remember when I had to tell Asuka to get along with Shinji? You know, their sync training a few months back?"
"Yes," Rei answered, before she started on her account of the two other Children arguing right in front of her, with Asuka refusing to get along with him and her; there was Hikari playing with Pen-Pen while Toji and Kensuke were wondering how Asuka could dance with Shinji.
Again Misato could only blink. The same details, down to the exact dialogue and the description, and like Shinji reported, Rei told her past events to him as if they happened yesterday.
"Rei," she said after a moment of contemplation, "let's take a short break as I sort this out. You may help yourself to some tea over there." Misato picked up the camera's remote control and pressed the Pause button.
"Thank you, Major," the girl answered, feeling relieved as she walked over to the tea service cart and began making a cup. She watched Misato stand up and walk out of the room through the door, notes in hand.
"Shinji?" Asuka asked. It's been minutes since they let the music from the radio fill out the room, as they contemplated about themselves, and hoping that with all their issues settled they could begin anew. Green Day was singing "Twenty-One Guns".
The young man was still seated. "Yes?"
"I wanted to know something… Like your past," she said. "I never bothered to ask you about it before."
"Yeah, like what you were doing when you were in kinder or something like that."
"I was alone. Couldn't find friends. Sometimes after I finished my cello lessons I watched my neighbors' kids go home with their moms, so I wished Mom was with me so that I can be really happy."
Shinji sighed. "At nights I asked myself, 'Why do I have to live like this?' and 'Why I don't have a mother?'. Though my uncle was okay, inside I felt empty and lonely, needing something to fill that out. Then I wake up every morning, and look down at the gate at the front yard, wishing Mom suddenly appear right there. I always did that for years."
The young man bowed his head, pursing his lips in disappointment. "But nothing happened in all those years until I realized there was no point hoping she wasn't gone. From kinder until before I came here, I walked home on my own. Every time there's a parent-teacher meeting, I was the only one in class who didn't have a parent; my uncle would come instead, and when I finished elementary and on the day of my graduation ceremony I even hoped someone would come, maybe even Father, though my uncle said that his work kept him from coming."
.Shinji shook his head. "That night, I wished that somehow Father would accept me, and maybe give me even a bit of respect. When I received the letter from him, telling me to come, I never expected he would put me in here, right in the Entry Plug, trying to fight his battles while he stood there watching."
Realizing that he was shedding tears, Shinji wiped them off with the sleeve of his shirt.
"I understand… It's lonely at the top," Asuka said.
"I thought you have friends," Shinji answered.
Asuka shook her head. "No, until I came here, I didn't have any true friends, only acquaintances. Some people would keep their distance from me because they're really afraid of smart people."
Asuka could remember back at college, when at nights she could see from her dorm window the throngs of young students walking together down the promenade, laughing and talking. While they were enjoying themselves, she shut herself in, stacks of books piled onto her study desk.
"Did being a prodigy made me better? I don't know but I really lived in an ivory tower. I stood apart even from the other prodigies at my age. I thought I was a star, hungry for attention."
The redhead imagined the press photographers flashing their cameras on her, walking away from yet another quiz bee competition, while her opponents scratched their heads. Next thing she gave out interviews on TV and the papers, crediting her intellect in winning victories.
"At one time I had one room full of trophies, certificates and medals, and that's all. I finished college with a double degree in mathematics and physics, and from there I told myself I can conquer the world."
Asuka shook her head. "Now I realized they're nothing but just pieces of metal and paper, like what that Hudson guy in Cars said: an empty cup. My selfishness came with a price, and was I'm happy about doing that? No, it really made me lonely."
As Rei nursed her cup of tea, she remembered about Shinji coming to her home, wondering what she was doing at the time. Rei bought some Earl Grey, a strainer and a simple tea set for her to experiment on making her own, wanting to taste the real deal without having to rely on instant tea bags. Fortunately, Shinji came just in time and he taught her how to make tea correctly, even as she nearly scalded herself with a kettle full of boiling water.
She liked the memory of it, and that made her feel better. Now Rei wished she could do it again with someone, and share the experience.
Suddenly she had an idea.
I could invite Kaworu for tea, she thought.
"I'm curious… Can you tell me about your mom?" Asuka inquired. The radio was playing an Incubus track.
"Mom died a long time ago," Shinji said, "when I was three or four, I think."
Shinji sighed. "It's like this: she took me to some place I don't know. I could remember she was wearing a lab coat, talking to… I think it was the Sub-Commander. I don't know what they were talking about, but I could remember her saying something."
"If I'm right… It went like this: she wanted to show me the bright future."
"And where were you at that time?"
The gears in Shinji's mind began to turn, trying to go back into the past, trying to recall every detail of that day, even if the past was also murky.
"I…" he stammered at first, but in two blinks of an eye he was there. Right before him, separated only by a thick sheet of Plexiglas, was the Eva with its fearsome scowl.
"I was here before," he whispered. "I thought I was going for some field trip with her."
He could imagine the concrete floor, the rubber sandals on his feet, and the wide-eyed expression on his face. The air-conditioning was a bit cold, the air ionized, the hushed voices of scientists, and there was the din of keyboards clacking behind him.
"But what happened next… everything went wrong. People scared, running everywhere, like they were trying to save her. Someone took me out of that place, grabbed me… I don't know why, except the next thing I knew someone was talking to me."
Two scientists were standing before Shinji; one was trying to explain to the other. The klaxons blared while personnel were running about, mostly on their way to the disaster zone.
"What in the world you have to do with this kid?" the other scientist demanded.
"I'll take care of him," the first one answered back.
Shinji shouted, "Where's Mama?"
The first scientist turned to him. He had gray hair, almost old, but at the moment he knelt down and faced Shinji, hands on the boy's shoulders.
"Listen, Shinji… I'm Fuyutsuki, your mother's friend. You may not understand this, but she tried to do something that wasn't supposed to be part of the standard test procedure. She actually changed the parameters, causing this to happen. Anyway, this is my responsibility; I'm sorry for your mother, son, I have to get this fixed and we have to get her out! Just stay there, I'll be back!"
Fuyutsuki ran off to the direction where the Eva stood.
"I don't really know how she died," Shinji said. "The next few days Father took me to my uncle, and just left me there. That, I think, is where I went wrong."
In the other room, Misato was talking to Natsumi, who'd been there before the debriefing started, and watching everything through the one-way mirror along with a spare video camera recording everything. They could see Rei partake a cup of green tea, silently contemplating between sips. Natsumi held a bottle of Pocari Sweat, half-full and sloshing, before she took a swig.
"You're right," Misato said, watching the doctor drink. "Just as you have reported, there's no sign of any symptom of amnesia, and the events she recalled were exactly as I remember, down to the smallest details."
"I think my theory is becoming valid," Natsumi answered, placing the Pocari bottle on a nearby table.
The lady officer frowned. "What theory?"
"My idea, sorry if it's so far-fetched, is that the Angel that attacked her and Unit Zero also served as some conduit as it came in contact with Unit One, linking Shinji and Rei and both Evas together."
"A conduit for what?"
"Memories, emotions, or just about anything neural. As the Angel infested and linked those two, down to their cores, it was also transferring information between the Evas, especially memories of themselves and the Children. For that moment they were a single organism. In the case of Unit One, there was a significant change in its memory composition after the attack."
"Why this hasn't been said before?"
"I just found it out this morning, while looking at her maintenance logs. At that time the anomaly wasn't significant. They thought it was battle damage or a synaptic power surge, so the techs corrected it with some reprogramming."
"And once Rei went back to board Unit One again, that Eva went nuts and simply wrote back that information… Memories, I mean, into her, am I right?"
Natsumi nodded. "That's correct."
Misato sighed. "It's another proof that our understanding about them is still small."
"Yeah. Oh, by the way… Since there's no personal information on him, I'll try to run a DNA analysis on Kaworu's blood sample. That can take as little as one hour to scan the whole three billion bases alone."
Three decades ago, a skilled geneticist can identify up to a thousand bases per day, yet it would take that scientist about 8,000 years to complete the entire human DNA sequence. But as technology progressed so was the speed of the DNA analyzers, taking thousands, then millions, and now billions of bases, cutting down the time to identify the bases. This enabled geneticists to easily identify genes that affected human health and physiological characteristics.
Misato was astonished. "You have it? That's great, but why?"
The young doctor picked up her bottle of Pocari Sweat and emptied it, before tossing the bottle into a wastebasket. "I'm curious as to what he really is."
"Something suspicious? I have the same thoughts about him because the Committee sent him here."
"Just a hunch, because when he's piloting, everything is child's play to him, and I'm sure you know this by now. Perfect every time. Great sync ratios unlike anything the other Children could ever hope to reach. Checking his genetic sequence might give us clues about his physical composition."
"I see. Get the analysis done, and then show the results only to me. Not to the Commander or anyone else. Then we'll try to explain all this to Fuyutsuki. Got it?"
"Okay," Natsumi agreed. "Why trust the Sub-Commander?"
"Because in my book, he's the sanest man at the top who could do something right, and could possibly even get us out of this jam."
On a bench, Kaworu was waiting, bidding his time. Earlier as they came along with Misato, who told them on what to do during the debriefing sessions, he talked to Rei while their superior officer was leading the way.
"I wish to ask something," Rei said.
Kaworu looked back at the girl. "I beg your pardon?"
"Can you tell me what those flowers are for?"
"You mean the roses I brought in for you?"
Rei nodded. "Yes."
"It's to show that I care, and that you're special."
"I thought they were useless," Rei answered.
Kaworu frowned. "What do you mean?"
Rei couldn't give out a reason why. "I confess that have no idea about flowers."
"Well," Kaworu said, sighing for a second. "Flowers always have a purpose. Their universal beauty is well-appreciated even since before the beginning of civilization. And then where there are flowers, fruits and eventually seeds come next. That's how plant life flourishes. Otherwise we can smell their fragrant scent. No wonder why most people pay importance to flowers, and respect their fragile and delicate beauty, which is why they have even made paintings and wrote poems about them."
Rei gently nodded. "Now I understand."
"Thanks," Kaworu said, smiling a bit.
In return, the girl gave him a faint smile. "I also thank you for the flowers."
Now he thought of his feelings towards Rei. Even now, he couldn't describe them except every time he sees or think about her, a throbbing feeling came up into his heart. What was it? How could I know?
Misato came out of a door opposite of the debriefing room. "Sorry, we had a discussion with someone inside," she said, closing the door behind her.
"With whom?" Kaworu asked.
"Can't tell you now. Confidential, you see."
"Ah. I'm okay waiting here."
Misato glanced at her wristwatch. "Just a few more minutes, and it's your turn."
"Thank you, ma'am." Kaworu nodded as the lady officer went inside the debriefing room, before he returned to his thoughts, mind floating back on the day they faced the Commander, who was also arguing with the Sub-Commander. He wondered what was on the mind of Commander Ikari, and what his true intent was for Kaworu and Rei, other than the supposed purpose of the test.
Perhaps the Commander was trying to find a hidden power in Kaworu, and then exploit it. He remembered the man as saying that he wanted to record data while Kaworu used Unit-02.
Then Kaworu remembered the Dummy Plug Plant, although he had never set his foot upon it before.
This prompted him to look into his vast catalog of images captured from Rei's mind and began to back-track her imaginary footsteps through the mind-boggling maze of the Geofront, locating doors, passageways, direction signs, and even the passwords to break into locks, until he built a three-dimensional map before his mind's gaze.
It's down there, he thought, locating the plant near the center of Central Dogma.
But in the very bottom of this map, however, there was one huge door that he couldn't go inside, and when he tried he couldn't see what was behind it, so impenetrable and all he met was pure darkness, cold to the touch. He frowned.
What was inside this place that Rei could enter it, and yet I can't?
Misato took a deep breath and asked, "Were you able to control the Eva as she went out of control?"
"No," Rei said. "As I have stated earlier, I lost consciousness."
"And the next thing you saw once you woke up, Kaworu rescued you, am I correct?"
"Okay… Before the test, what happened during the briefing? Anything significant?"
"They argued," Rei said, referring to Gendo and Fuyutsuki. "The Sub-Commander objected, saying it was dangerous to restart the Dummy Plug Project, but the Commander overruled him."
"He wanted to take advantage of an opportunity. He also thought that he could make me try again."
"Just like the previous compatibility test?"
Misato frowned. "Even if you have risked your life for it?"
The question caused Rei to hesitate for a moment, pondering. I have put my life into the fulfillment of my duty. He considers me as important, but… But not my life. I want to value life and my existence. I do not want to make Ikari sad anymore.
"Yes. The Commander deems it as important to his work. He wishes to accomplish what he started."
The woman groaned. "Now there's one final question before we go: what does the Commander want from Nagisa?"
Misato could see Rei trying to find an answer, "I believe the Commander has found him useful, in the same way that I am. Therefore he was included in the test, to record his synch data," the girl said.
"Was he trying to use Nagisa's data to create a new Dummy Plug?"
Rei shook her head. "I am not sure."
Misato sighed, knowing that from the bits and pieces of information Rei gave to her, she was confident she could build a coherent picture of the Commander's intent, "Okay, I think that's all I can ask from you, Rei. You can stand up now."
Rei nodded as she rose from her chair. "Thank you, Major."
Misato picked up the remote control and pressed the Pause button again.
"For years, I thought of what Mom really looked like," Shinji said. "I don't even have a picture of her, and Father said that he didn't have one either. One time I even tried to search her picture on the Internet, but there's nothing about her, except I came upon a website."
"What site?" Asuka questioned.
"It's an alumni site listing the graduates of Kyoto University, where I found out that she had a doctor's degree in bioengineering. But no picture."
Shinji shook his head. "Nothing else about her, except it said she came from France."
"Well, have you tried to contact the university?"
"I did by email… a year ago, but they said that they don't have her name on their records. They also said that the website hasn't been updated properly."
Asuka frowned. "That's weird."
The young man bit his lip. "I guess I just have to imagine her instead. All's left is a grave marker with her name on."
Silence settled on the couple, trying to guess what to talk about instead, until Asuka broke the impasse.
"How's Kaji's case?" she asked, referring to her now-dead crush.
Shinji shrugged. "They're still investigating it. I'm sorry. But Misato's mad at Section Two because it's taking too long, and even now there were no suspects, she says."
"I'm sure she'll kill to finish it, because I felt she really loved him…" Asuka trailed.
"I know. It's just that she was also angry at herself for not saving him. She felt responsible for him."
The girl sighed. "By the way, where's Misato?"
"She's out there, debriefing Ayanami and Kaworu."
"Ah. What did you do with Misato last night?"
"W… We drank beer."
Asuka frowned. "What?"
"It was Misato's idea of bonding. Couldn't help it… Anyway, we had a very long conversation about each other. It was really my first time."
The redhead shook her head.
"She talked about her past," he said. "What she was doing at my age. Like me, she hated her father, who was obsessed with his work. Then she talked about Kaji, before we eventually went on to ourselves. I think we used up two six-packs before we passed out. I even puked."
"What? One round of beer would've brought you down," Asuka said.
"Strange, I was able to hold my drink throughout that evening."
"But you survived, anyway. Congratulations for breaking the age-twenty limit." Asuka laughed. "I wished I could've seen your face like that," she added.
Shinji meekly smiled. "Thanks."
Abruptly Asuka shuffled herself to the edge of her bed, legs first to the floor and tried to stand up. Surprised, Shinji went to the girl and held her upper arms, attempting to provide support. "Wait, what are you doing?" he gasped.
"I want to see if I can walk," she answered as the girl began to make one slow step at a time.
"Let me guide you," Shinji said, still holding. "I don't want to let you fall."
"O… Okay," Asuka blurted. This time I'm giving him a chance, and I'm not going to use those stupid reverse psychology tricks.
The couple paced around the room for a few minutes until Asuka thought she could get her walking right. "Now, let me go for a while," she said. "I think I could feel my legs this time."
Shinji let go of her, and Asuka started to walk on her own, albeit slowly and carefully.
"Watch out," he warned, saw her wobbling.
"I know!" Asuka shot back, a few more steps to go. "I can do it!"
Shinji shook his head as he watched Asuka's progress, making another circuit. Seeing that she was able to stabilize herself and picking up the pace after a few minutes, he asked right in front of her, "How's it going?"
Asuka can only laugh. "It's all right now!" she exclaimed, but then she suddenly tripped, pitching forward onto Shinji and they crashed to the floor together, her body flattening the poor boy.
"Oops," she said.
"A… Are you okay?" Shinji asked. Blush crept onto his cheeks, as he felt her chest against him. But he couldn't believe that this time she wasn't making a nasty reaction or playing hard to get; before, she would have slapped his face and calling him a pervert. He also remembered her saying, "In my case, do you think my breasts might get bigger when they're warm?"
In that quiet moment, Asuka looked into his eyes. "I'm okay," she said. "I'm sorry. Let's try it again."
"What? Ah, you're right," he stammered as he watched Asuka get up onto her feet and she offered her hand to him. He took hold and Asuka pulled Shinji up.
"Thanks," he said as he watched the girl try to stretch her legs, wriggling toes and heels. He wondered what was pushing Asuka to walk again. Perhaps she was building up her courage to face another battlefront, a new life outside, without having to wear a plugsuit.
"Maybe I'll try running later," Asuka said, once more walking around Shinji on a brisk pace. "What time is it?"
Shinji checked his wristwatch. "It's a quarter till eleven," he said. "Why?"
"Do you have a cellphone with you?"
"Ah… yes," he said, quickly rummaging through his pockets and fished out a clamshell Casio phone. "Why? Do you want to call someone?"
"Yes, I want to talk to Hikari. You still have her number?"
Shinji nodded as he handed his cellphone to Asuka. "Yeah," he answered.
The girl began to press a few buttons, scrolling through the phonebook and then dialed Hikari's number. There were a few rings until she heard her friend pick it up.
"Hello," Asuka greeted.
"Is…Is that you?" Hikari stuttered. "I thought it's Shinji on the line."
"No, it's really me!" Asuka then laughed as she heard her pal scream her name, squeal in delight, and sobbing and chortling for a while until Hikari settled down.
"Where are you now?" Hikari asked, pausing to sniff. "I thought you're still hurt."
"I'm down here in the Geofront. This time I'm okay, and Shinji's with me."
"Thank goodness, we were so worried about you! Same thing with Shinji and Rei. We had to evacuate the city a week ago, just after Toji almost bought it."
"I see," Asuka said. "Glad to hear all of you doing right. How are your sisters?"
"They're on a double date right now. Toji's sister's still doing well, and Kensuke always keeps on watching war documentaries. Toji is supposed to get his new artificial arm this week or the next. By the way, if you're wondering about Pen-Pen…"
"Is that crazy bird with you? Still enjoying his sardines?"
"Well, yeah, he's finicky but I have no issue with him. He's still the same, although sometimes he misses Misato."
Asuka laughed as Shinji amusedly shook his head.
"Anyway…" Hikari said. "What are you going to do next?"
The redhead paused for a moment. "I'm sorry but I have to go home. Back to Germany."
"Oh." Hikari sounded disappointed.
"I'm done in here. I'm quitting. My sync rate's really screwed-up so I can't use Unit Two anymore. Instead I want to be normal. Maybe I'll pursue on playing the violin."
"A few months ago, everyone would've killed for such a job like yours," Hikari said.
"Yes, that's right, but now… No, everyone's gonna get a really bad case of a reality check if they were in my shoes. That's the truth. Toji knows that."
"Now that you're going back, how can you live once you're there?"
Asuka sighed. "I don't know. Maybe I'll find new friends, but I can try to keep in touch with you guys. I don't forget."
"I still have you on Facebook and on Mixi," Hikari said, referring to her accounts in both social networking websites. "Just in case."
The redhead chuckled. "Much thanks."
"Um, I forgot to ask… How's Shinji, Misato and Rei?"
"They're all right, too."
"That's good. I like you sounding much better this time, a little calm."
"Sure is, especially when I realized that I made too many mistakes. Guess today I have to come clean."
"You're right," Hikari agreed. "Um, anyway… I heard from Shinji that you guys have a new friend."
"You mean that Nagisa boy?"
"Well, yeah, that's his name, although I have yet to see him. I also heard that he's sticking with Rei. Is that true?"
"I think so," Asuka said. "Last time I saw him, he was with her most of the time because she got into a testing accident and had to get well in the Infirmary."
"What?" Hikari exclaimed.
"Hey, nothing serious," Asuka reassured. "Just a bruise on her. I checked on the Wondergirl this morning. Had a little chat. No rivalry this time… I think we're on good terms now."
The girl on the other end sounded relieved. "Oh, I see. Thank God."
"That Nagisa guy's been here for a few days."
"I see. Is he really nice?"
"Way beyond it. So polite. Sometimes he makes jokes about himself, but all in all, he's a real looker, except I think he's pulling Rei out of the freezer."
Hikari laughed. "The poor girl," she said. "But she's lucky. He must be a prince."
"Yeah, she even got roses from him. Fresh white ones in a bouquet... don't know where he picked them up. They looked expensive."
"Oh, that's quite thoughtful," Hikari praised. "Anything else?"
"The only odd thing about Kaworu is that he wondered what dating was all about. I gave him a lecture on it, because I went through one. He admitted he hasn't experienced a date in his whole life, so I think he might have been living in some cave. Anyway, he wants to try dating Rei."
"Yeah, and he means it. He also said he wants to learn first before diving in."
"Okay… It's all right if he wants his first time."
Asuka sighed, shaking her head. "It's too bad that I have to go… would've been interesting to get to know more about them the second time around."
"When you'll be back?"
"I don't know… Maybe someday when things get better for me I'll drop by."
"I hope so."
"By the way," Asuka said. "I think I may have to eat lunch after this, and then I'm going."
"Ah, okay. Love you sister," Hikari said. "Be a little careful, right?"
"I know. I love you, too. Bye! Auf Wiedersehen! I'll call you back later on the plane!"
"Goodbye! I'll see you again! Ja ne!"
As soon Hikari hung up, Asuka snapped the phone back and handed it to Shinji. "How did it go?" the boy asked, pocketing the phone.
"Well… I feel much better," she said, a beatific expression on her face. "Thank you, Shinji."
As he stood up from his seat, Kaworu watched Rei and Misato come out of the room. The girl was in her usual calm demeanor, so he asked, "How did it go?"
"It was normal," Rei said, the girl sitting down onto the bench. "Only some important questions."
Misato nodded at Kaworu. "It's your turn," she said, and led him into the room.
As the door closed behind them and she sat onto the bench, Rei felt mildly relieved and then she sank into her thoughts about the roses, white petals intricately nestled in layers, opening outwards.
If he says that flowers are delicate and fragile, he knows that I am special. He thinks that I am comparable to a flower.
Rei's mind wandered to the cryptic "poem" she recited to herself months ago, and then recalled Kaworu's earlier explanation.
A flower may be useless, if I look at it, but Kaworu is otherwise right. It has a purpose. It lives. It gives life... the seeds of life, and it nourishes.
That makes the flower very special.
After Misato read Kaworu's rights and the purpose of the debriefing, and the Fifth Children stated his name, rank and service number, she asked him to narrate what happened on that day. Step-by-step, he explained the sequence of events, from initiation to the unexpected rejection; he was then ordered to stop Unit-01 until he put that Eva out of commission and rescued Rei.
"She was unconscious when I pulled her out," Kaworu said.
Misato nodded. "Go on."
"I thought she drowned, so I immediately administered resuscitation, and she recovered."
"Good. Okay, can you tell me what else you have noticed during the incident?"
Kaworu thought for a moment. "The Bakelite dispensers didn't work. If I'm right, having read the standard manual on Eva testing procedures, they should always be ready during a test, to be used in case of emergency."
"That's true, and the emergency plug ejection system should've also kicked in to save her, but it didn't, and as you said you went manual override to get her out."
"Yes, that is correct."
"Now… Let's go on to a different question: it may be redundant to ask now, but how Unit Two responded to you on the first time?"
"It was normal, like as if I was wearing a second skin. I managed to be in full control."
Misato scribbled notes. "Have you noticed anything out of the ordinary while inside that Eva, in the Entry Plug?"
"Not much, except there's a trace of Asuka's scent inside." He knew this because Asuka was apparently wearing too much baby cologne on missions before he came here; maybe she was trying to tone down the odor of LCL.
"I see… What else?"
Kaworu thought of answering it, that Unit-02's soul retreated upon his presence, submitting to his will, but he gave Misato a different answer. "I guess I have nothing else to say."
Asuka was just finished talking to the nurse via intercom, requesting that someone should empty her locker and bring its contents to her in a box, including some spare clothes for her to wear.
"You said Kaworu talked to you," Shinji spoke.
"Yeah," Asuka said. "I told him almost everything, but the hairy thing about him… it seemed that he knew my past."
The young man scratched his head in askance. "How come?"
"I don't know how he did it, but I think he has this power. No, maybe he went through my records, and only a few people really know who I am behind the façade."
Shinji frowned. "What power? You mean he's unusual, or he has some abilities? I don't understand, but why?"
Asuka paused for a moment. "You may not believe this, but… He appeared to me in my dreams last night, before I woke up."
The boy was flabbergasted. "What?"
"I'm not joking, okay? The dream looked all too real, and I found myself talking to him. He said he knew everything about me." Asuka then described the vivid details to Shinji, who looked perplexed.
"I couldn't believe it," he said, frowning.
"I know you can't, because I'm probably the only one to experience it. He said he came from Germany, right?"
"Didn't tell you anything else?"
Shinji shrugged. "No, he was keeping much to himself, I guess. Just like Ayanami."
"Still," Asuka said, trying to stretch her legs, "I really like him, even if he's here for a few days. Apart from making moves on Rei, what else he did while I was absent?"
"Since he's an official pilot, naturally he needs to be tested, and he made a very good sync rate."
"How much?" Asuka demanded.
"If I could remember… it's around seventy percent... No, seventy-five!"
Asuka's jaw dropped completely. "WHAT?" she screeched. "Shit… that's a sick percentage!"
"That's from his first normal test, synching to your Eva, and he wasn't bluffing," Shinji said, but then he took note of Asuka's shocked expression. "I thought you wanted to forget about sync rates. Why bother again?"
"B… But it's too hard to reach such a figure," she stammered. "You've gone to the limit the last time, you're the only one who punched to 400%, and that was only when you went on berserker mode before Unit One turned you into goo."
"I know. He can also fight and shoot his way through as if it's almost a video game."
"What the heck he is, anyway? And who selected him in the first place?"
Shinji merely shrugged. "I don't really know, except Kaworu has the best of everything and anything my father wanted in an Eva pilot, but I'm not backing down just because he's almost perfect. Fortunately for us, he's not the kind who would throw his weight around and scare everyone."
"Well… On second thought," Asuka said, her composure returned. "Kaworu's massive sync rate doesn't mean he's not my friend this time."
Suddenly they heard a knock on the door, and then Nurse Chigusa's head peeked out.
"Pardon me," the nurse said. "It's really important."
"What is it?" Asuka asked.
"Miss Langley, better get ready for your final examination," she announced. "Doctor Odani's waiting for you."
Misato looked bored, yawning, as it was obvious that the two Children almost had the same story, so she made a decision in dire need of a lunch break.
"Looks like we can finish right here," she said, sandwiching her notes into a folder before pressing the Stop button on the remote. "Are you hungry?"
Kaworu shook his head. "Not yet," he said. "Everything I said, that's as far as I know."
"What about tonight, and perhaps we go out for dinner at home?" Misato suggested as she stood up and ejected the SD flash memory card from the camera and pocketed it. "Just that we have something to discuss off-the-record. You and me."
"Good. I don't think I'll be having anything else to do today," he said, standing up from his seat. "Besides, I have a few things to talk about with you, and I was waiting for a chance.'
Misato then glanced at the ceiling, an idea forming in her mind. "Say, why don't you ask Rei to come along with us for lunch? Once I leave you two alone, you can have an opportunity to have some private time with her."
Kaworu smiled. "Thank you. It would be just right."
"Well, yes. Woman's intuition tells me that you're wishing for it."
The young man chuckled, but then thought of something else, and voiced it. "Maybe… First, I'd like to see where Rei actually lives."
Misato shrugged. "It's not far from the nearest gate. She lives in a flat, except it's almost a slum. A risky place for her to live in, but her apartment block's the only safe building down there."
"I see. I'm really curious."
Misato opened the door and Rei was there, who stood up for them. Kaworu asked, "I wish to visit your home."
"Why?" Rei inquired.
"Just to know how do you live."
"If you want to, I can lead you there," Rei said. "I must also inspect the house. We could also have some tea."
Kaworu smiled. "Makes good sense. You've been here for more than a day. By the way, would you like to join us for lunch first?"
Rei nodded. "It would be fine," she said, before Kaworu and Misato heard something unearthly. Kaworu cocked an eye in askance, but Misato was blinking.
"That's a first for you, I think," she remarked, a sweatdrop forming upon her head.
It was the sound of Rei's stomach, growling empty, and the First Children had a slight blush on her otherwise-pale cheeks.
Halfway around the world, in Keel Lorenz's office, a uniformed man stood in attention before him.
Ramrod-straight in his military bearing, the man had a crew cut, wearing digital camouflage fatigues and a Colt Model 1911 pistol in his belt holster. His face was chiseled like granite, his blue-gray eyes were alert and intelligent, but the man's army-cut hair was gray with age. A graduate of West Point, he'd seen elite military service for twenty years, under the aegis of the US Army's Delta Force, then ten years more for SEELE, acting as a chief operating officer of a large private military corporation (PMC) that the secretive organization operated as a business front.
"I know you signed up for this a long time ago," Keel said, who was almost finished reading a report in a folder in his gnarled hands.
"That's right, sir," the man responded, his voice almost raspy. "My cancer just gave me twelve months left to live, but I'd like to make the most of what's left. I'd rather go down fighting than looking like shit on bed as the padre reads out the last rites."
Keel tabled the folder onto the desk. He didn't mind the Colonel's brusque manner, understanding that the military man was an efficient destroyer. "Colonel, what's the current status of your assault force?" he inquired.
"They're still in training, reviewing every detail of the entire Geofront complex. Whoever designed the whole place seemed to have overdone it with too many passageways, but it's better than those caves in Afghanistan."
Keel nodded. "What else?"
The Colonel coughed, but he took a breath and continued. "We undertook a detailed review of vital personnel we would eliminate, and then discussed the methods of destroying any opposition we face, even those unarmed. Security forces are a pain in the ass, however, as it depends on their disposition and morale, but judging from further reports and good intel from the inside, they're easy to deal with because they limited their budget, and therefore the size of their armory. They're capable of warding off small-size terrorist attacks, but they can be destroyed by a hard-core military division."
"Go on," Keel said. "I personally had their security budget pared down."
"Their defense systems are powerful, but limited to large targets such as those Angels. They have good surveillance and early-warning systems, though, but we can nullify them by going low under the radar, then use EMP weapons mounted on the Dragons, destroy the defenses before going in for the kill. The SSDF would do the rest, though, with scorched-earth policy through their heavy arsenal even if they're actually cannon fodder."
Keel knew that the Russian-French-built C-21 Dragons were the largest VTOL aircraft ever built, whose military purpose was to deliver a massive amount of destruction and then bring in a fully-equipped assault force in large numbers in its cargo hold. Only the old man and the Colonel knew where this assault force was located, but was no more than an hour of flying time to reach Japan.
"However, I think you know whose life we should spare for the purpose of our ascension."
The Colonel nodded. "Yes, sir. Only one… This Shinji Ikari boy you talked about. How about Kaworu Nagisa that you've sent there?"
"He's preparing everything for us, to see how they react, and where they are vulnerable."
"Like a Trojan horse, they'll never know what'll hit them."
"His sacrifice would be worth it, and from there we proceed as planned. Anyway, how do you feel now that you're part of this, Colonel Miles Quaritch?"
Quaritch grinned. "I'm ready, Mister Chairman," he said, before lighting up a cigar he had in his left pocket, a genuine Cohiba. "I can't wait to see the day… However, sir, there's something for you to know."
"I beg your pardon, Colonel?"
"Mister Lorenz, I've been through many wars," Quaritch said, smoke floating around his head, "paid and fought well, but no amount of money, power or tons of medicines in this world would ever defeat Death. We're lucky to survive this far, what with some people going after my neck, while others want me to do their dirty work, but certainly soon we're sure that you and I will have our numbers up. As for me, I'm the delivery service for the Reaper, and I don't regret doing the job, even if I could get to see the man himself in the end."
Quaritch pulled a drag at his cigar, and then exhaled a stream of Cuban smoke. His doctor warned him, but what the hell, better enjoy the simple pleasures while still living and up on two feet.
"I'd like to be there when we would make it happen, my way and yours. Fire and steel."
Keel nodded. "Very well said," he agreed, before the old man slowly stood up. "Since I believe that you have so much to work on, you may go check on your preparations, Colonel. Thank you for your time."
"Thank you, sir." Colonel Quaritch snapped a very smart salute, pivoted and walked out of the office.
Once he was alone, Keel wondered what his angelic representative was doing in Tokyo-3 right now. He was hoping that Kaworu was acting on his plans, but also hoping that the young man wasn't doing anything contrary to his vision.
The long-haired Shigeru Aoba was on his way to Asuka's room in the Infirmary, pushing a trolley laden with a box of her belongings from the locker in the Eva pilot's ready room. Fuyutsuki gave him the job after the nurse relayed the request from the girl, and he thought it a welcome respite from his tedious routine at the command bridge.
He thought it disappointing that after all the time she tried her best being a pilot and she fell down from her high pedestal, Asuka was now calling it quits.
"Fallen so far, and so hard," he told himself, before launching into a whistling version of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door". As he whistled, his mind made musical associations: Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and then Guns and Roses. He knew the story, a sheriff grown weary of his duty, probably overwhelmed by outlaws, disease and age, decided to dispose of his badge and pistols, knowing he was about to die.
Shigeru knew of Asuka's plight, and in a sense it was like the old sheriff's fate. She lost the battle, went down hard, her heart broken, and tried to kill herself. But today he wondered what she was doing right now, as the girl was clearly preparing to leave this town, probably never to return again.
His mind wandered to other things, like what he would like to do when his tour of duty ends after the possible defeat of the last Angel. This they talked about with his other bridge buddies.
"Say, I wonder what you two are going to do once we're done," Makoto said to Maya and Shigeru, who were nursing their mugs of coffee. "In my case," he added, "I think either I'll apply for a new job doing analysis work or become a teacher. I'd like to have some peace of mind after all this. How about you?"
Makoto was looking at Maya.
"Me? Uh… I'll go on working on supercomputers, or apply for a job at CERN," she said.
Shigeru frowned. "CERN? That's a long shot, and I believe there's a long waiting list for applicants unless you have a very long list of recommendations."
Maya shrugged. "I know, but otherwise I'll be fine doing work at a small computer company, or if I really liked to enjoy working on what I love, start a small business designing and selling cat-themed merchandise."
Makoto laughed. "It's okay starting small. You'll earn big from it. Girls still love cute stuff."
"Okay," Shigeru cut in. "As for me, I guess joining a band would be nice. I've wanted to make the best of my guitar. It's not good to see that Stratocaster sitting around for too long."
"Ah…" Maya said. "What kind of band you want to join? There's so many of them."
"A cover band might be okay, but I'd like to join a real one. Heck, I even have some original compositions."
"Can I hear one of them, even if you don't have a guitar with you?" Maya asked.
"Sure," Shigeru said, before he typed out commands to open a MIDI file and play it. He handed to Maya a headset for her to hear his music. After a few minutes, Maya smiled.
"This is great! I don't know that you can write something like this," she praised.
"Thanks," Shigeru nodded.
After a moment, Makoto said, "I wonder how things would look like if we win in the end."
Shigeru shrugged. "Beats me… I hope nothing goes wrong as we take a bow."
Now the part-time lead guitarist found himself at Asuka's doorstep, and he checked the scrap of paper that told him the right room number: 303. He knocked repeatedly, then the door swung open and he was face to face with Shinji, who was acting as the doorman.
"It's me, Lieutenant Aoba," Shigeru said. "Good afternoon, anyway."
"That's her stuff?" Shinji asked, as both men pushed the trolley into the room.
Shigeru nodded. "Yeah, right. I emptied her locker. Everything's in that box, and… where's she right now?"
"Asuka's having a checkup, and she'll be back in a few minutes."
"I see. I'm sorry to know she'll be out of here."
Shinji looked glum. "Yeah, she needed a clean break."
"Say, tell Miss Langley that I left her box here to you," Shigeru reminded. "I can't linger too long, 'cause I have some work to do back at my station."
Shinji nodded. "Okay, it's all right. Thanks."
"My pleasure," Shigeru said as he left, closing the door.
Now alone with the box, Shinji opened it to begin inspecting the contents. Inside were her two sets of plugsuits, spare interface headsets, toiletries, towels, and her clothes. He took out a red Uniqlo baby-tee, a pair of jeans, a bra and panties, and if needed, a sanitary napkin, and laid them all onto her bed. He also found a pair of Keds sneakers, and placed them on the floor.
But he noticed something at the bottom of the box, and he pulled out a small framed picture. Shinji was now looking at a picture of Kaji and Asuka, with the girl piggybacking on him, her laughter frozen by the shot, with blue skies behind their backs.
He wistfully smiled before he reverently put it back in.
Author's Notes: It's been five days since the last chapter, but working on this took a great deal of labor and experimentation, especially when it came to reconciling Asuka and Shinji. I want their conflict to end on a good note, but more importantly, come to terms with themselves.
For today's chapter, and with a developing habit of putting favorite movie characters in LW (and in-character, of course), I have Colonel Miles Quaritch from Avatar to serve as Keel's henchman and the head of SEELE's "Praetorian Guard".
OBTW, here's a short description on some ACCs in this fic:
Captain Tsutomo Kanzaki (CV: Jun Fukuyama): tall at 5'10", strongly-built. Wears a crew cut. Has gray eyes. He's a ringer for Sung Kang.
Doctor Natsumi Odani (CV: Ami Koshimizu): stands at 5'4". Her brown-black hair has a short bob cut. Slim. Has dark brown eyes, and sometimes she wears horn-rimmed glasses. Resembles Miki Nakatani (see Silk).
Director Shuya Hamamoto (CV: Norio Wakamoto): a little stout, and he's 5'8". Graying, thinning hair. He's like Beat Takeshi in appearance, but sterner and has this constipated look on his face.
If you have any questions or comments, I'll try to answer them. Thanks for reading, people.
Quote of the Day: "12. You are not Anno. You are not better than the creator. You cannot know 100% of everything in Eva being that it was Anno's vision. A fic is your interpretation of Eva." –from Rion's Eva Writing Workshop