In Hikari's apartment, they were all seated on pillows around the low coffee table in the middle of the living room.
At first, there was some small talk about the weather, the new junior high school they were studying at, the little issues in Tokyo-3, Touji's checkup (Kensuke said it was to give NERV some good PR), Mari's (surprisingly good) recuperation from an earlier injury, and what Hikari must do to take care of Pen-pen. At the moment the tropicalized penguin was in the kitchen, busy eating sardines from a bowl.
Now, however, Shinji and Misato wondered how they could explain Asuka's predicament, but Hikari, sensing what they were thinking, first told them of the days that led to the Second Children's self-destruction.
Hikari took a deep breath and began, "I told her not to take herself too seriously," she said, facing Shinji. "But it seemed that she didn't want to listen, and for the life of me, she's too focused as if her entire life depended on wearing that plug suit. Anyway, she showed up to me later that afternoon with her bag... Said she ran away, pissed off at everyone and didn't want to return to you because she failed. I said to her that she shouldn't worry about that and take a rest instead. So she did… except she spent the rest of the day in front of the PS3. She was that really mad."
She glanced for a moment at a distant framed picture of her and Asuka placed on the television cabinet, both of them smiling before Kensuke's digital camera.
Seeking even an ounce of comfort, Hikari caressed Toji's hand.
"That night," Hikari continued, "as we were about go to sleep, she began to cry and I feared that I was giving her a hard time, so I told her I didn't meant to let her down. I also tried to talk about it with her."
"I'm... I'm sorry for bothering you," Asuka whispered as the girl pulled up the sheets over herself, her back turned away.
"No... I'm trying to help you," Hikari replied sympathetically.
"I didn't win, you see... I lost everything..." Asuka mumbled, but her voice changed into scorn. "I hate... I really hate... I hate everybody... damn it…"
"No! I hate myself!" Asuka answered almost angrily, cutting Hikari off. "I don't care about anything... I have nothing to do! Aimless! Worthless! Do you think that I can live with this? No!"
There was a quiet pause as she began to cry, and Hikari couldn't do anything except to watch her.
"I think that you can do anything you want," Hikari spoke calmly after a few minutes, choosing the right words. "I don't blame you... I always believe that you've done well."
Asuka responded only with her sobs. Hikari thought of placing a friendly hand on the girl's shoulder, except with such a volatile emotional state, she decided against it.
"Don't worry... We'll talk about it first thing in the morning," Hikari said, amidst the soft cries in the room.
"...But when I woke up, she was gone and I tried finding her, and this is all what she'd left," Hikari lamented at last, before she pulled something from her pocket and laid down a piece of paper on the table.
Misato palmed the paper and read it. In block print, Asuka scribbled a felt-tipped disappointment on that piece of paper:
I'm a loser.
"I don't blame her," Hikari continued. "Unfortunately… I don't really know what really made her that serious about being a pilot. She never told me much about herself, which means that there is something truly wrong with her."
Still sitting, Misato was now having a dilemma. How I could say?
But silence alone only makes matters worse.
There was nothing else she could do except to break open the whole story.
"I know her," Misato finally said. "I tried to hide this up from all of you, but understand that what I'm going to tell you about Asuka isn't going to be pretty." She could now see the surprise or frowns upon the teenagers' faces around her.
"I'm all ears," Kensuke decided.
Touji sighed, but nodded in agreement. "We're all in this together before, so I think it's not gonna hurt if it's all right to talk about ourselves."
"As her friend, this is the right time you have to tell us," Hikari added. "Maybe then we could try to help out."
And so Misato, in clear violation of NERV regulations, began by narrating about Asuka's childhood that was greatly scarred by the death of her mother, and how it shaped her personality into what she was now today.
There was this supposedly happy family, and Asuka's mother was then a scientist working on Project E, before something went terribly wrong with her after testing Unit-02. Her mother was so traumatized that she developed a severe mental disorder that they sent her to an observation ward, and days later committed suicide by hanging herself from the ceiling. No more than a few weeks later Asuka was recruited for Project E as one of the Children.
Asuka's father eventually remarried, but no sooner afterwards she became hostile towards her parents, developed this misguided sense of self-supremacy, yearned to grow up, thinking she could be free of emotional ties from everyone else, built a façade to bury her past, but most of all she wanted to be on top of the food chain.
Asuka wanted to win all the time, thinking it was her happiness; losing was a word she feared as if it was a tentacle monster trying to pull her down.
Only that psychic attack from that Angel hovering in orbit literally destroyed her motivation and purpose.
NEON GENESIS EVANGELION
LIGHT AND WATER – SEASON 2
CHAPTER 09: BETWEEN FRIENDS
An alternate path fanfiction by soulassassin547
Written on 3/3/2004 1:21 AM
Edited on 2/21/2010 2:11 a2/p2
Revised on 2/21/2010 2:11 a2/p2
Asuka lay silent in her hospital bed, amidst of the beeping of the life-support systems crowded besides her bed. Oxygen quietly hissed into her lungs, while dextrose laced with muscle relaxants and sedatives slowly dripped into the tube, and thence into her bloodstream.
The afternoon sun, its beam channeled by a series of reflectors leading down to the Geofront, was blocked behind by thick drapes, giving the room dim light clashing with fluorescent lamps.
With all of her five senses nearly tied down by sedatives, she could barely smell the disinfectant mopped on the linoleum floor; or she could little hear the rhythmic beeps of the machines, for her mind was shut off completely from the rest of the world.
In her dream, Asuka floated in the depths of an ink-darkened ocean, naked, semi-conscious and dazed. As the length of her red hair slowly moved to the motions of her head, she could also feel the cold from the ether, as if Death finally claimed her soul with his eternal scythe.
"W... where am I?" she whispered, amid the darkness.
The answer came with a sound.
At first she could barely hear a noisy, rhythmic beat, but then it began to fade in, focusing until she could finally discern the sound of helicopter blades slashing through the air.
The piercing rotor slashes now came with the roar of turbines, their loud whines filling out as light slowly filtered in, the darkness around the girl fading into amber brilliance.
Opening her eyes to the light, Asuka could finally see, but all she had were blurry images. The girl struggled to focus her vision, making out the fuzzy shape and lines of a bathtub, a rectangle of white light and a musty smell coming into her nostrils. She gazed skyward, found the blur of blue and white shining through the jagged hole on the tiled roof.
Focusing further at the hole, Asuka waited for a moment, wishing to be free of the sensation of slowed-up motion, blurred, distorted images and inaudible sounds... and she got her momentary wish, the brief shadow of a large helicopter crossing her line of sight as it flew over the roof.
But she heard an unexpected crack, as if someone stepped onto the wooden floor.
Asuka heard more steps echoing with increasing loudness.
Finally through blurred eyes, Asuka made out the specter of a man's shadow, framed by the door and lit from behind with blinding-white sunlight.
But he was no longer alone, as other shadows quickly joined him in a huddle.
Who… Who's it? She wondered.
"Miss Langley... We're taking you home," the shadow said.
Still dazed, Asuka frowned. Why I must be taken home?
The atmosphere now accentuated with blade whines, the shadow talked with other shadows before the three of them walked towards her. One played a beam of light over her blue eyes, nearly blinding the girl; another took hold of her left wrist.
Unexpectedly a buzzing sound assailed Asuka's ears, cutting off any more of the conversation, before she felt several gloved hands lift her out of the tub and laid her down onto a stretcher... or so she thought. A second later she sensed someone wrapping a roll of bandage around her slashed wrist and the painful prick of a needle or two into her forearm, causing the girl to gnash her teeth in agony.
However, the pain quickly disappeared as her body began to relax and drift back, along with her heart throbbing down to a slower pace.
Asuka sensed the stretcher beneath her shake and rock, as the shadows surrounded her before the sunshine glared on her face in an orange glow behind the eyelids. But after a while the brightness faded once again to black…
Misato was now on her second can of Yebisu by the time she was finished giving the short version of Asuka's biography.
"I'm sorry if I held up Asuka's story for too long," Misato apologized as she tabled the empty can. "It's still my fault."
"Don't try to blame yourself," Hikari answered. "At least we now understand why. If she were here now, I'd tell her to let go of her past because that's not going to work for her."
"I'll tell her that and all," Misato answered. "It's still my responsibility to take care of her. I have hell to pay."
"Maybe you should bring her here," Hikari suggested. "We'll take care of her."
Misato shook her head. "That may be a better idea, but there's a catch. Only the Commander is in the way, as he has the final say on that matter."
Hikari let her palm fall upon her face.
Touji frowned. "Now that's gonna be harder," he muttered. "I personally don't like that walking refrigerator. Instead, maybe you can try going first to Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki," he suggested. "I think he's a real okay guy compared to the Big Man," he added, referring to Commander Ikari and his demigod tendencies.
Misato pondered for a moment, wondering what better to do with Asuka's fate, until she found a decision.
"I'll see what I can do," Misato said. "Try to convince them in any way because personally, I can't think of her being in the bed everytime I'm there. There may be a slim chance, but I'll do the best I can."
The other teenagers nodded in agreement.
But Shinji felt unsure, as the full history of Asuka's life made him uncomfortable, and he couldn't stop hearing her screams in his mind. So he stood up and walked to the balcony.
"Guys, I need to go out there," he said as he opened the sliding doors. "I have to think over something."
After swimming, they were alone this time, sitting together on a bench outside the pyramidal Headquarters. For some relief from the slight chill of the pool, Kaworu and Rei bought vegetarian Cup Noodles and bottled cold green tea. They ate their meal in silence.
Before that, while he showered, Kaworu was thinking of the odd psychic rushes that he experienced since yesterday, seeing everything in the people he made physical contact with. Sure, he'd already saw the past in Misato and Shinji, but only Rei gave him more questions than answers, but for now he didn't want to talk about it. Still, he needed to discover more of this mysterious gift, as it seemed that even his SEELE masters never told him about the full extent of his physiology.
Now he was listening, not as someone wanting to pass on secrets, but with genuine interest. Rei was trying to open herself up.
"I had a dream, yet I thought it was almost real," Rei began. "All I could see were mere images that were hard to define, as if they ran past me. But I heard myself saying 'If I let loose, there is no way my AT-Field would ever contain it. The Field will disintegrate. I must hold on.' I could not remember how and when I said those words. That awakened me, yet I am still confused."
"Was it amnesia?" Kaworu asked as he unscrewed his bottle of tea.
"The doctors told me it was only a concussion. However, I studied this problem alone but there is no solution."
"But still… Have you tried to understand what you have dreamed?"
Rei shook her head lightly.
However, Kaworu gave her a faint smile. "You can at least try to describe," he advised, before he drank from the bottle.
She closed her eyes, and began trying to recall whatever images she saw from that dream.
"I saw myself inside an Entry Plug," she began. "When or why I was there I do not know. I heard myself saying those words, yet at the same time I felt an intense pain as if something hard was wrapped around me."
"Like you're being crushed?" Kaworu asked.
The gears in Kaworu's mind were beginning to turn, recalling whatever he read from the files on the plane, figuring if there were details on Rei's last mission. He imagined flipping through the pages over and over… and the realization hit him: apparently he'd probably known only half the information on her, bits and pieces from Touji Suzuhara and Shinji, and the rest of it, or the complete truth if it existed, was with those up high. Only the Commander and maybe the Chairman probably knew everything.
This meant that it was up to him to find it.
"There could be a way to solve that," Kaworu said.
"How it could be done?"
Kaworu took a sip from the bottle, and then placed it onto the bench. "The only way you may try to remember is to have some form of information about yourself, say, pictures, recordings, journals, and so on. I believe that they're still out there somewhere. Then you piece all of them together, and we could get a clear picture of what you were before."
"Where this information could be found?"
"First, we need to ask the right people," Kaworu answered. "We can't simply tiptoe around; we know security is pretty tight in here."
His mind was now working out a plan, figuring out where to start. First thing he needed to do is to simply look at the hierarchy within NERV: key people with access to vital information. Since SEELE already tasked him the business of infiltrating himself into the very heart of NERV, his superiors expected him to bring anything important.
But which was essential, the mission or solving Rei's biggest problem?
"I don't know if it's easy but we'll try," Kaworu decided.
Shinji was standing alone at the balcony, and below was a constant flow of traffic on the road below. He was deep into self-reflection, trying not to think too much of Asuka lying on the Infirmary bed, nor doubt about Rei and her tendency to comply with his father's authority. Sure, Kaworu asked him to try to be at least courageous in any way he can, but even then there was always this insecurity biting his soul.
He sought for praise, mostly from his father, but it seems that some of them were out of insincerity. He made many sacrifices and took the blows, but at what cost? For the sake of praise? Happiness? Purpose? Humanity?
He could remember the words when he first came amidst the first Angel attack.
"The replacement turned out to be useless."
The Man was disgusted, not expecting him to be as firm as he wanted to be, yet the assault on the Geofront, and an injured Rei in his arms spurred him to get onboard, panicked at the prospect of being destroyed.
Since then he experienced a mixture of triumph and tragedy, making him unsure as to where his destiny would be.
Shinji looked at his left hand, remembering the last Angel he dealt with shortly before the death of Unit-00. He saw the malignant growth suddenly turned into miniature heads of Rei. It scared him yet he couldn't move in sheer terror.
Quickly he closed his eyes, attempting to erase the memory of that horror, but the sunlight glare of a passing car's windshield shone onto his eyes, and he saw in his mind's eye the seemingly harmless beam of light from an orbital Angel withered Asuka inside and out. Shinji could hear the screams, not unlike someone being burned alive.
Shinji shuddered. It seemed that he was now being saved for last, for an enemy he wasn't sure in what form that would come, but then there was Kaworu, a new friend telling him to be firm, try to deal with his predicament, and if possible fight on his side when the time comes.
He sighed, realizing that today he was supposed to allow more encouragement from his classmates. They never doubted him, understood his nature and his insecurities, and above all they still loved him.
Love. Something he could never get from his father, even after surviving many skirmishes. Those eyes behind the glasses only told him of a single-minded drive Shinji didn't know about, save for the fact that this father wanted him to be an unlikely savior of mankind. But what is love if it isn't reciprocated, and instead there were nothing but insincerity between them?
There was nothing to be gained from his father, so instead the only affection he could have was from the people around him, who see him more of a human being than someone commandeering an Eva.
This was why he was supposed to enjoy their company today, even for a brief moment, because tomorrow there may be no chance for him to savor it again.
"Mind if I can join?" Kensuke said as he came out, snapping Shinji from his reverie. He was carrying two cans of cola and gave one to Shinji, before they pulled the tabs.
"Say, how many months you were with the Eva program?" Kensuke asked, before he gulped in some of the soda. It was a simple question Kensuke posed once in a while, even if it seemed to be very pointless.
Shinji frowned a bit, and answered, "I think I'm in it for six … Maybe seven months."
Kensuke sighed. "I confess this, but I realized how truly terrible your quandary is. At first, I thought it was cool to be just like you, until Touji lost his arm and leg in the process, only then it put sense into me not to be a pilot. Anyway, why do you have to keep on staying?"
"I'm not a pilot for the sake of my father or myself, except…"
There was a moment's hesitation for Shinji to think, before there was the answer.
"I have this… This emptiness and I need to fill it in," he admitted. "I thought piloting gave me purpose and happiness, but… I couldn't find meaning in it. It nearly killed me and almost everyone else, except there's no way out."
"I think you still have a reason," Kensuke spoke, "even if you think it's meaningless. Besides, you can't rely too much on Eva for your own happiness, that's why we're here for you."
"Misato is the closest thing you can have for a big sister," Kensuke said as he adjusted his glasses with his index finger. "She, I still believe, is what makes you come back and fight again. Nobody else can do that and I mean nobody, and I swear that anyone else riding your Entry Plug will crap their pants if they ever come close to an Angel. You have to be damn lucky being with her, and I think since she has as much worries as you have, it's a good thing you still manage to get along. You also have only a few cool friends you can count on; friends who actually care, with genuine concerns for you. That should be able to fill that emptiness, make you feel happy and better, and try to answer that friendship just like what we're doing right now. My father is the only family I have left, yet it's also a good thing that we're all in the same boat. Be glad at least that you're a brother I would like to have, and Hikari and Misato are also sisters in my eyes, too."
Kensuke was correct.
Shinji should be glad at least for this friendship, the little reward he was experiencing right now, a pleasure denied from him most of the time by the cruelty of the situation he was often involved in. Friends like Touji, Hikari and Kensuke reminded him of what humanity truly laid within him, and their existence and interaction shaped his life experience.
At the moment, in this corner of the world, what little time he and Misato had with them was irrelevant; the fact that he was still welcome was better than nothing.
"You're right," Shinji agreed.
Both young men chuckled a bit, Shinji feeling relieved for this bit of advice.
"Thanks," he answered.
Kensuke grinned. "It's my pleasure. At least we still remind you that you're not alone. Anyway, yesterday I heard from my dad about a new pilot. He made a big splash around NERV about big sync ratios and blah-blah."
Shinji took a swig from his can, and said, "Him? His name's Kaworu and I've met him yesterday, and he'd also spent a night with us at the condo."
"Really?" Kensuke asked, "What does he look like?"
Shinji described Kaworu in detail, and then notes the eerie physical similarities between him and Rei, their differences in speech and manner, and their first case of interaction, especially this morning's corridor collision.
"Well, finally, looks like there's someone to defrost Rei," Kensuke declared before he chuckled. "It's a damn good thing."
Shinji scratched his head, perplexed. "What's so funny about it?"
"I can imagine things."
Amused, Kensuke grinned as he shook his head. "This might be too much of a coincidence, but from the looks of it either they're twins or look like husband and wife."
"I know. Touji noticed that while we were eating lunch back there."
"Since you've said that Kaworu has red eyes, and we know that Rei also has red eyes, and both of them are almost albino and have strange hair, isn't it very weird?"
It was true that Shinji recently seen only half of the oddities inside the Geofront, some of them were repelling or gruesome enough to send him shutting his eyes away, and some of them still left him with more questions than answers.
However, Shinji wasn't aware that at this moment Kaworu was trying to resolve Rei's problem despite being an enigma himself.
"Doctor, this is what I called you in for," Gendo Ikari spoke before Natsumi Odani, who was standing in attention, trying not to be distracted by the mysterious Sephirotic diagrams on the floor and the ceiling of his "throne room".
On his desk was her preliminary report for the surgical operation to be done tonight. So far, this was the second time she was in this office, and a privileged few have ever been summoned to be here.
"To be sure, sir," Natsumi answered. "I have prepared the operating theater for tonight, along with the best available security I requested to make sure there will be no leaks. Everyone else involved will be briefed, and should anything goes wrong, we'll try to bring your hand back to normal." Natsumi gestured at the report on the desk, which Gendo began to read. "Testing results in that report has indicated that there should be no rejection problem with you, the biological host, and the 'special guest'."
The "special guest" was the Adam embryo that Gendo was to be a host to, the one that he requested Ryouji Kaji to acquire at great cost.
"Go on," Gendo said.
"We'll try to use skin grafts from your back and a biologically-neutral elastic membrane to hold it down, and then seal it with a laser at a moderate power setting. There will be some bleeding, but overall it should heal quickly, and if both of you are biologically compatible, the guest should merge into your palm in a week."
Gendo nodded. "Good. I'll have no problem with concealment. Since you are concerned about my well-being during the course of the operation, I understand with the knowledge of anaesthetics, that I have not consumed anything before this operation."
Natsumi briefly noticed a shining glint coming off Ikari's glasses, as he seemed to be pleased with high expectations for tonight.
"Thank you for having that foresight, Commander," she replied.
"Finally, you'll have full clearance on whatever you need to ensure that this operation is a success. I have full trust in your abilities, just as your job description says."
Inside the main NERV building, at the bank of elevators in its atrium, Kaworu and Rei were facing each other as they were about to part. There was this expressionless calm on Rei's face, yet Kaworu knew inside that she has this little feeling of relief as he noticed her eyes.
"I hoped that you're okay this time," Kaworu said. "But just as I said before, I'll see what I could do. Maybe for the rest of the day you'll do fine."
"Thank you," Rei answered.
Without much ado, Kaworu slowly reached out for her left hand and held it softly.
This time, unlike that psychic torrent that he earlier experienced and nearly overwhelmed him, he could now sense serenity within her, like a calm sea on high noon of blue skies, but there were no flashbacks. Happy or relieved or satisfied, he couldn't tell, but only her cerise eyes said to him that she was all right.
This physical bond lasted for almost a minute, and they never moved an inch.
Now Kaworu let go of her hand. "Take good care," he reassured as the elevator doors opened before him.
"Thank you. I will see you tomorrow," Rei replied before the doors closed.
As the elevator lurched upward, Kaworu thought of whom he'll need to get some information on Rei, but the easiest place to start is with Misato.
Maybe easy, he contemplated, but I suppose that I have to convince her. After all, she's probably the only one who has more knowledge about Rei than what I possess right now. I can't just simply go around and sneak into someone's files. Kaworu just needed the right way of approaching the idea, but the last mess he wanted was blowing up his own cover.
By the time he was in his little living quarters, Kaworu grabbed a pen and a pad, and began writing down everything he knew. He made a rough outline:
Rei: emotionless, has no idea of her past due to last mission. Needs help recovering memories... At any rate, she's learning.
Asuka: personal anger over loss of piloting ability. Almost killed herself. If wakes up must realize her personal self-worth. Life worth living for.
Shinji: much of a worrier. Fears father. He needs encouragement. Have to let go of his past.
Misato: the past makes her a prisoner. Loss of Kaji cause of depression, but she tries to hide it.
Kaworu brushed his hand over those gray tufts of hair, thinking. He then marked Misato's name with "1", assigned Rei a number "2", Shinji as number "3", and finally Asuka was given a "4".
On that order, if he managed to persuade Misato to overcome her personal problems, she'll help him out deal with Rei; once he gets Rei a complete picture of her past, the next step is to end Shinji's self-misery, and he'll have to get Asuka in a very long conversation as an outlet for personal self-examination or at least give her some sense.
"Tomorrow," Kaworu told himself. "Tomorrow is where I'll start," he repeated.
In his office and while pacing around the desk, killing time, Gendo Ikari was toying with a new idea that came up just after Natsumi Odani left.
The scheme involved having Rei to have a compatibility test with Unit-01, and since this time she didn't have any of the "defects" that her predecessor possessed, her "renewed purity" would be helpful in trying to get his own Dummy Plug project back in working order. Furthermore, Kaworu Nagisa and his surprising statistics gave him more impetus to make new improvements.
The last time was a series of unacceptable and costly failures. But if that new test succeeded, he'll try to restart the program once more with better data. Have a team of bioengineers reclone Rei and put each and every one of her in the Plugs, and show SEELE who's the winner. That would be one chance to make a sure return on his investment.
Gendo promptly took one of the phones on his desk and dialled.
"Get me the head of Bioengineering," he said into the reciever, "and whoever is in charge of the Test Facility. I want them here."
While Hikari was having her turn playing with Pen-Pen, Misato pulled Touji aside to the corridor leading to the bathroom, and whispered into his ear.
"Sorry," she said almost quietly. "For his sake, I'm not going to repeat what I said about Kaji."
Touji frowned. "Why?"
Misato shook her head. "I don't want to get any more emo on this while we had our lunch. I'm not going to add more misery to your girlfriend's mood, especially after we talked about Asuka. So we'll have to keep quiet."
After a brief thought, he agreed. "Okay, if that's what you want."
"Thanks," Misato answered.
Just as she was done, Shinji and Kensuke were back inside with their empty cans of cola, which they tossed into the wastebasket. Both of them were giddy about having some fun, to lighten up the mood.
"Hey, thought we might get that 720 running," Kensuke said, inviting for a multiplayer game as he pointed at the Xbox 720 sitting besides the TV set. "It's still early out here, so who wants to try? We also have Rock Band if you like."
Everyone in the room suddenly wanted to play, and Shinji was aching for a real challenge, something to get his mind off the pain. But Misato needed something else to do, as she felt the vibration coming from her cellular phone.
"I'll pass," she reminded Kensuke. "I have to talk to someone outside."
Kensuke gave her a thumbs-up. "Sure, Big Sister, no problem," he answered before heading off to the bedroom to get the Rock Band instruments out of the box.
Once out on the balcony and she closed the sliding door, Misato noticed Makoto Hyuga's number on display, pressed Call, and to be sure she also activated the scrambler.
"Hi. Are you there?" Misato asked. "I'm ready... Sorry if I sound gloomy."
"All right... I'm on a small break, right outside and drinking coffee and I got some more data I've swiped a few minutes ago," he answered. "Managed to break into Maya's notebook and copied the stuff, and you know what I've found out? Nagisa is capable of doing the theoretically impossible."
"Speak in Japanese," Misato chided him for clarity's sake. "Slow down."
"Sorry about that... Judging from what I've skimmed," Makoto explained carefully, "he can keep his sync lowered down to as low as 20 percent to give an Angel an impression that he's easy game."
"What happens next?"
"And then the next big thing, yes, this is the real whopper... Nagisa can jam up his sync ratio up to around 90 percent or even higher, enough power to cut a big hole into an AT-Field and blow the Angel to kingdom come."
Misato blinked. "Come again?"
"Nagisa can adjust his sync ratio by complete will, as simple to him as flipping TV channels… or maybe able to walk on water."
"But that's unbelievable!" she disagreed.
"And we can see a blue moon once in a while, Major," Makoto countered. "But although the data are just the preliminaries, it's almost clear to see what else he actually has in store for us, but we'll need more sync tests to be done on him for the next few days to make sure."
"Right," Misato agreed. "He's bidding his time, but don't worry, we'll always keep an eye on him."
"Anyway, since you want to see more of what I got, I'm sending you the biggie right now," Makoto said.
A second later Misato could see data being uploaded into her phone's flash memory, before she heard a chime. Download complete.
"I got it now," she confirmed. "I'll check it out tonight."
"Thanks, Major. Good luck on your way home."
"Thanks to you, too, I'll see you tomorrow. Carry on the good work," Misato concluded.
Right there, Misato was now thinking as she pocketed the phone, and she'll have to know where to start asking questions. Naturally the one person on her mind she would get her an answer was Ritsuko, but there could be one better way:
At the right moment, she'll confront and grill Kaworu Nagisa on her own terms, demanding what were his true intentions for being here and who's really pulling his strings.
In her lonely and cracked apartment, far away from everyone else, silence once again dominated Rei Ayanami's world as she sat on the side of her bed, save for the two refrigerators with their muffled compressor hums. Thinking of herself and that gnawing emptiness within since the day she walked out of the Infirmary. Doubts and questions of self-worth bothered her most of the time, pondering the meaning and purpose of her life.
Today, however, Kaworu Nagisa changed all that.
Though unable to express herself outwardly, Rei could still savor the warmth and feeling of Kaworu's hand, long after they parted at the atrium. His hand was soft, much different from the calloused palms and fingers of the Commander. The aftereffect of such physical contact, it seemed for her, overpowered the strange odor emanating from that box full of bloodied old bandages and the packed wastebasket. Even the decay and dirt around the room no longer mattered.
She could feel the answer to her anguish was forthcoming, and the one that would fill the vast void in her beating heart.
She could not smile but serenity dominated her soul.
For the first time in days, Rei thought she could sleep peacefully tonight.
Before leaving, Misato and Shinji exchanged goodbyes with their friends, with the woman kneeling down and whispering promises to Pen-Pen that she'll come back.
"Hey, promise that you guys come back," Touji said. "You're not so bad playing, considering that you haven't got an Xbox of your own."
"Shinji nodded. "Thanks, and speaking of coming back, we'll see."
"Tell Asuka to get well," Hikari added, before she hugged him. "Don't quit."
Misato pointed a finger at Hikari and said, "Take good care of Pen-Pen."
Kensuke grinned. "We'll do, this little fella will do fine… and oh, try to bring Asuka and Rei with you."
Misato grinned. "Sure, no problem. We'll see you soon. Touji, get well. Watch out wherever you're walking."
"I'll be careful," Touji answered and then laughed.
They all exchanged hugs and back-claps, and for Shinji, brotherly kisses on the cheek from Hikari and Mari.
As they walked away, Misato checked her watch and figured that she and Shinji still have enough time to make it to the cemetery, which was halfway between here and just north of Tokyo-3. For the first time in weeks both of them felt much better, and this morale boost also gave Misato the courage to visit Kaji's grave.
While lying on his futon, Kaworu thought about the first report he would have to address before the SEELE council tonight. Of course, he'll tell them about the current status of his work, but only what they wanted to hear. Good thing and so far they've kept him alone as he did his duty at their bidding.
Lying besides him was a detailed contour map of the Hakone area, a set of orbital coordinates for the geostationary communication satellites he would be using, and a list of transit times. He'd encircled the data he needed with a pen, and set his alarm clock so it'll tell him when to wake up and go.
Kaworu closed his eyes and thought of the two days that passed since his arrival. He also had in his mind's eye the psychic images that comprised of Misato's and Shinji's memories, mostly tragedies in their respect pasts, and their thoughts. They had mixed hopes and aspirations, the longing and the pain, and what conflicts that were tearing their souls apart.
Only with Rei that he found only a few pieces within her. Try as he could, most of the jigsaw puzzle pieces of her memories were missing. There was also the silent anguish, and above all, the seemingly endless loop of self-doubt, as she was trying to assess her personal self-worth.
It struck him as strange that the most imperfect people were chosen to be Eva pilots.
Is it because only when they were at their emotional extremes that they could link themselves more easily to the Evas?
Considering that Evas were always linked and controlled through the A-10 nerve, and humans normally use about twenty percent of their brain power, Kaworu concluded that the brain waves of the pilots are greatly amplified during heightened emotional or psychological states, increasing control capability; hence their sync ratios could be measured based by the amount of bioelectrical and nerve impulses.
There was always a price to be paid for being one of the Children: they have to possess self-imperfection to operate the Evas, especially when there was either pain or pleasure involved.
Both pleasure and pain, it was also one of the natural inner imperfections of the Lilim, intertwined since birth till death; one begets the other as part of the universal opposites.
Before they came to the cemetery, Misato made a few stops to the grocery for a carton of premium sake, a flower shop for two bouquets and a bundle of joss sticks, then had her Renault refueled at a service station.
This cemetery alone held more than half a million dead, and there were dozens of cemeteries such as this one throughout Japan, most of them for the victims of the Second Impact tsunami, the riots that followed, and North Korea's nuclear missile strike against Tokyo. In the middle of the cemetery was a Shinto shrine, dedicated to its silent residents six feet below and encapsuled in small white boxes.
Now, here they were standing before Ryoji Kaji's grave. The dirt on the plot was almost fresh, about two weeks old, and the engrave tombstone with his name on was shiny-new except for the thin coating of dust.
In her mind, Misato replayed the tape recording:
"Misato, it's me. I'm sure you're listening to this message, after I caused you so much trouble. Sorry. Please tell Ritsuko that I'm really sorry. And there's one more thing to trouble you with: I've been growing flowers. I'd appreciate it if you could water the flowers for me. Shinji knows where they are. The truth is with you. Don't hesitate. Just move ahead!"
There was a second of hesitation before Kaji spoke again.
"If I can see you again, I promise that I will say the words that I couldn't say to you eight years ago. Bye."
"Sorry too if we're a bit late," Misato said almost quietly. "I don't think you're concerned with time anymore. My concerns right now are justice and the truth you're saying about."
With care, Misato laid down the bouquet of lilies and roses before the tombstone, lit and planted some joss sticks, and they settled down for a quiet prayer with her palms together. Once done, with the carton of sake as her tribute, she uncorked it and poured the sake onto the tombstone. The clear wine washed away the collected reddish dust from the black marble, making it gleam in the afternoon sun like new.
"Cheers," Misato spoke. "I hope you can enjoy it."
Shinji said nothing, but he went to his mother's grave, which was three plots away, and laid the flowers and stuck smoking joss sticks into the soil. For him, it no longer mattered if that grave never contained Yui Ikari's remains. All he needed was to pay some respect as he stood there. He recalled the last time he talked with someone while standing here.
"It's been three years since the last time I was here with you alone," Gendo said almost quietly. At a distance, he stood before the gravestone, but there was little of emotion on his face, and even the eyes behind the glasses betrayed nothing.
But Shinji kept a respectable distance from him. He was morose and he was aware of the pain of being here.
"I ran away," he said, "I've never tried to come here till now. I don't think she rests here, and I don't even remember her face."
"People continue to live by moving on," Gendo answered. "Nevertheless, we have something that we always have to remember. Your mother let me know of that useful fact, and to make sure of that I come here out of respect."
Shinji turned to face his father. "Don't you have her picture or something?" he asked.
Gendo shook his head, as if the question wasn't of his concern. "She's not here," he replied flatly. "There's only her gravestone as a reminder."
The young man sighed. "My teacher used to say that you have to let go."
There was no silence between them, letting the words sink in their thoughts, before Gendo broke the silence.
"The important thing is that I'm content enough to remember," he answered.
"At least you still remember," Misato said, taking him away from his reflection. "When the last time you saw her smile?"
Shinji shrugged, but trying to recollect. "I don't know. Maybe I was five."
Misato sighed. "Just wishing I should've met your mom a long time ago."
"She's a legend in her own right. Knew what she was doing even if it was dangerous and impossible, and everyone else would've backed out from the job she was in. The one thing that bothered me about her was that I've yet to ask the Sub-Commander, because he's the other one most close to her, apart from your father, and probably knows her intimately."
"But why he's still quiet about my mother?"
Misato shook her head. "Still probably out of respect or, worse yet, fear for your father and his work. Nevertheless and lately, given how things are becoming strained, and how he's acting, I have that woman's intuition: they have very different ideas on where NERV should be heading. The Sub-Commander isn't happy getting along with your father, and so perhaps that's why he's a little more frank while we were eating with him."
Shinji nodded. "One question," he spoke, changing the subject. "Has anyone told you who actually killed Kaji?"
"I knew the details from the Sub-Commander, who did the identification after he was called up by the coroner," Misato said, recalling the autopsy and forensics reports. "Three hollowpoint slugs, he mentioned. Post-mortem, the coroner pulled two from the chest cavity and one from the head. Nine-millimeter rounds with grooves on the slugs. Ballistic testing and identification confirmed that it was from a 92F Beretta... Silenced, I think. It was a close-up shot and there was no struggle, because it seems that Kaji knew his killer, and his gun was still stuck into the waist holster… But, all in all, they couldn't identify the shooter and they're still looking into leads."
She, however, left out this part: throughout the questioning by Section Two, she kept her composure from cracking as she examined the gruesome photos of the murder scene, and only upon returning home afterwards she managed to cry and mourn in her bedroom.
Misato pursed her lips for a moment. "Since it's taking too long finding this murderer, then I'll do the hunting myself... and maybe kill the sonofabitch," she added.
There would be no crying anymore. Revenge was now driving her.
And once I have all the pieces together, Misato thought, I'll also make a dead man speak.
The man who shot Kaji was in the driver's seat of his Toyota utility van, listening to the radio (covering an exhibition baseball game between the Buffalo Yankees and the Hanshin Tigers) while eating an early dinner from a bento box picked up from the local Lawson's convenience store. He was dressed as a telephone utility man with a false name, and clipped to his right ear was a Bluetooth earset.
Apart from his scrambler-enabled cellular phone resting on its cradle as it was being charged, there was also a black-toned Beretta 92F pistol just below his seat, with a new barrel and a sound suppressor screwed in. Mounted to the center console was a notebook computer turned on and with live access to wireless Internet tapped into the local NTT network. On the passenger seat, for his personal entertainment, laid a dog-eared, two-month-old copy of Sabra magazine with Maria Ozawa on its cover.
At the back of the van was mostly packed with telephone maintenance equipment, harnesses and rolls of wire, and this vehicle had the NTT company logo stuck on the sides. The perfect cover, commonplace and inconspicious, and fortunately the killer knew much about fixing telephone lines and Internet modems and did his cover role perfectly. The van was at a parking lot just off Route 75 that rimmed Lake Ashinoko, and there wasn't much traffic to and from Tokyo-3 ever since the Angel attacks intensified.
A triple agent, he'd been here for eight months and still going nicely. NERV and the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs thought he was working for their respective intelligence sections.
Oh, he can kill so easily like a cobra without hesitation; sneak in, take anything he wanted, then leave no trace; tap into a line and sniff data packets; take snapshots of any target. He was formerly of the North Korean intelligence service and with the knack to pass himself off as Japanese, but he dropped out as someone offered him better pay and asked him to infiltrate NERV. More specifically, they initially wanted him to keep an eye on Ryouji Kaji.
So he did, befriending the guy (Kaji's damn cool, really) at work and in the field, and began feeding information and vice-versa to gain much trust from the spy.
However, Kaji knew too much about what was going on behind the scenes, the things that most people don't want to hear about or ignore at their leisure. So when his new employers realized that he was a liability after an apparent abduction incident involving Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki, Kaji had to be eliminated before he could blow everything wide-open.
He remembered in detail the last minute Kaji was alive at the AHU (air-conditioning and heating unit) room. Friendly smile on his face, exhaust fan spinning behind his back. Didn't think of the silenced pistol the killer whipped out in a half-second and fired before Kaji could finish his greeting. The smell of freshly-burnt gunpowder, the blood spreading on the floor under Kaji's corpse, and that surprised look of a man bushwhacked.
Now he was waiting for his next assignment, after that last week when he took snapshots of Rei Ayanami leaving her apartment with a telephoto lens screwed to his camera. Girl looked pretty, but with no expression, and judging from her daily habits, she was always on time down to the exact second that he could set his watch to her routine. It also struck him as odd that she still wore a school uniform, even as the local junior high school complex was now nothing but a pile of rubble.
Just as he was on the final bits of rice in his bento, picking each with chopsticks, the phone rang.
"Yeah," the killer said, pressing a button on his earset. "It's me again."
"I have a new job for you," the caller answered in a deep voice, garbled by the scrambler on the other side.
"To speed up our timetable, we would like to have a target taken out of the picture, a huge liability for our project. I'll send you some details right now."
Immediately, the caller sent to his notebook an email with two dozen files attached. The killer checked the files, skimming through them, before he came upon several pictures of his intended target.
"Nice, just nice," the killer commented. "You want me to waste a vegetable?"
"This mission is necessary," the caller replied with no humor in his voice. "But you'll only do it later this week. We'll leave you the required tools by tomorrow. Same place and time, and the usual fee, and of course you'll also get an advance. Be on standby should we see any changes in the situation and we'll make the necessary adjustments. We'll give you a green light when the target is ready."
The killer nodded with pleasure. "Hmmmm… No sweat. I can make it look like an accident."
"Thank you. As always, deliver the best results and be careful out there. Good luck." The line was now cut off in the killer's ear.
The killer sighed, now anticipating for his next masterpiece as he rubbed both hands. Gonna be busy, he thought. Gonna get busy and do it right.
Author's Notes: Sorry if it has taken me six years to get back into writing, as I had more than my fair share of personal problems to deal with. Six years is too long for a writer's block.
By the way, if you've noticed the altered tone, length and flow of this chapter, it's because I'm making up for so much time lost, using a new writing style and indentation, with better detail and more dialogue, hence the designation of "Season Two" to distinguish itself from the first 8 chapters; it's like you're getting 16:9 high-def OVA-grade reading right now, compared to standard 4:3.
Furthermore I had to do a crash refresher course on Eva lore, while at the same time try to incorporate few features of the recent Eva high-def revamps (with the exception of the new meganekko character). Finally, we're beginning to see a divergence from the original Episode 24 storyline.
This chapter dedicated to my late parents. Thank you all, and I'm determined to finish this.