Science Fiction Aspect: Death by Gravity
Death by gravity.
A horrible way to die.
And that thing, that shriveled, distorted thing that huddled in the plastic incubator, the thing that spent every moment desperate for breath, was slowly dying, suffering through an execution ordered at its conception. Rei regretted it bringing it forth. The doctors had warned her, but in her delirium of freedom and love she had ignored them, and this is what she had birthed.
Slowly yet surely, this child, her child, was being crushed. Each breath would become a little bit harder, each heartbeat would take a little more effort, until one day it would be too hard. Its life would end, gasping for air. Rei's fingers pressed against the plastic that separated her from her child.
It had been almost a year since she had given birth to the thing, the twisted little girl behind the plastic, but the year had not dulled her pain any. In this place, with her daughter, Rei could feel horror grip her quite acutely. Her fingers closed into a fist. She wanted to scream.
"Hey." A word pierced it all, cut through the whirr and bleeps of the hospital machines. Rei knew that voice.
She turned around. Shinji stood in the door, looking at her. He was just as she remembered him; the same tired, sad man who had left her. Shinji was even wearing the same clothes she remembered from a year ago.
"Shinji," Rei said.
Shinji smiled, wanly. "It's hard to stay away." His face was drawn and his voice ragged, but Rei was still glad to see him.
Shinji walked forward, looking at the sorry thing in the incubator. "She's not doing well, is she."
Not a question.
"No," Rei said. "She is dying, slowly. Every second is torture for her."
Shinji did not say anything. He did not seem to move, but Rei could see his fingers clench and unclench, like they always did when he was nervous, angry, frightened. Rei remembered when he had left.
"Shinji," she said, slowly, "Why did you leave?"
"Money," said Shinji, quietly.
"You are lying, Shinji," replied Rei, just as softly.
"You know me too well," said Shinji.
"Please, Shinji, tell me why."
"You didn't want the job, the job that would have solved all of our problems," said Shinji. "Well, except for this. If I left, you wouldn't have any more options. You're not the sort of girl who would be that stubborn."
"You know me just as well."
"I see you've taken the position, though," he said, indicating her dark commander's uniform. A pair of white gloves rested on a table nearby. "You look like my father, when he was in charge."
"I wish I did not," Rei said.
"What did you do with him?"
"I had him placed in a nursing home," Rei said, quietly. "His mind does not work so well any more."
Shinji shook his head. "I never thought he would die like this. Maybe in front of a firing squad, but not like that…" He looked at his daughter. "They're very similar. Every breath for her gets harder, every thought for my father gets harder. Both get harder, harder, until it stops." He smiled, unhappily. "I've waxed poetic."
"Are we…?" asked Rei, suddenly.
"Are we what?"
"Are we back together?" she said. Her heart was pounding, but her face betrayed nothing.
"I don't know," said Shinji. "Are we?"
Rei embraced him, suddenly. "Come with me," she said.
Three months previously…
"Commander on the bridge!" called the latest addition to the bridge. He was a thin, gangly man, with spiky hair and a grim face.
"At ease," murmured Rei. The bridge workers returned to work, preparing for angels that would never come.
The Osaka-2 branch of NERV was a near-exact replica of its destroyed Tokyo-3 branch. Memories of the old facility that had been her home and her workplace for so long flooded back, memories of battles with angles.
Rei tried her best to forget everything that had led her here. She tried to transform her mind into the blank, empty slate it had started as. If she did not think, she could not remember, and if she could not remember, she need not feel.
Finally, her stint on the bridge ended, and she went to the daily meeting.
There, everyone was assembled; NERV's intelligence division, NERV's R&D division, NERV's military division… on down the line, all the way to the lowly janitorial department. Rei patiently listened to each report, all of which boiled down the same thing: nothing was happening. One by one, the division leaders were dismissed, until only one remained.
Rei leaned forward. "Doctor Maya Ibuki," she said.
"Ma'am," Ibuki replied, not looking up.
"Please give me your report."
"All projects proceeding normally. Project E has finished the Mark II dummy plugs, Project Möbius has almost finished the rapid transit unit, and Room 107 has finished the next batch of dummies. As you know, the Instrumentality Project is totally stalled-"
Rei could no longer contain herself. "What of the transmigration program?"
Maya swallowed. "I know this project is of personal importance to you, ma'am, but it is going slowly."
"Why?" asked Rei.
"It's not natural," she said. "Shifting the soul from one clone to another identical clone is simple, but actually moving the soul from its own body to an entirely different one is very difficult. There are thousands of variables at work, there are-"
"What do you need to advance the timetable?" asked Rei.
"Anything within my power is yours," said Rei. "What do you need to advance the timetable?"
Maya looked down at the table. "Ma'am, you have done everything you can do. Now, it's just a matter of time."
"How long?" Rei said.
"Maybe a year," said Maya, finally. "At the most."
"A year," said Rei.
"My daughter does not have a year," Rei said, quietly. "The doctors say she only has a few months, at the best. Doctor Ibuki, my daughter's life is on the line. Thousands of others will be saved. Why is this proving so difficult?" Rei's voice had hardened into a cold, sharp edge.
Maya squirmed. "I'm- I'm very sorry, ma'am, but there is nothing I can do."
Rei felt anger in her, a cold, hard anger that she was ready to loose on Ibuki. Her hands tightened by her side. Her jaw clenched. She fought it, she fought it hard.
"Very well," she said, suddenly. Ibuki relaxed, happily. "You may leave."
Rei had almost forgotten how good it felt.
She had almost forgotten, but not quite. She got out of the bed, sweaty and hot, and stretched. She could here Shinji yawning, twisting around. He always slept in, afterwards. She entered her bathroom and turned on the shower.
The warm water ran over her, washing away the sweat and sticky fluids. For the first time in a year, the horror in her chest had abated, and she felt calm again. It felt like a hand gripping her heart had loosened its hold, if only for a little while.
She stepped out of the shower, wearing nothing at all. Shinji was still asleep. Rei began to gather her clothes off the floor. They were all wrinkled, but they would have to do…
"Rei…?" murmured Shinji.
"Yes, Shinji?" she asked.
"I forgot what it was like to be together."
"I was glad to remind you," she replied.
He laughed, mirthlessly. "I hope I haven't made you into a target."
"No one cares about NERV anymore, Shinji," she said. "Only the old men."
Shinji fell silent.
Rei pulled on the coat, when Shinji hugged her from behind. She straightened. "Shinji…" she said.
"I'll make breakfast," he offered.
Later, Rei resolved that it was a good breakfast. Even equipped only with the rudimentary utensils and foodstuffs Rei kept in her apartment, he was able to make a good meal. Rei could barely contain her amazement. As they sat at the table, eating silently, she examined Shinji closely. He still had the mop of brown hair, the soft brown eyes. He had borrowed one of her robes, but she could still make out the skinny figure beneath.
"Why did you come back?" asked Rei.
"I suppose I felt guilty," Shinji said, after a long time. "I felt like my dad, running out on my family."
"That's a very questionable association."
"Logic tends to submit to emotion," said Shinji.
Rei could not deny that. She had just slept with her supposedly separated husband, and now he had cooked her breakfast.
"Are you going to stay?" asked Rei.
"Yes," said Shinji.
"What will you do?"
"I've been playing my cello for a living. I'll try and do that," he said. "I've also been drawing, writing…"
He shrugged. "Trying to find my calling, I guess."
Nine months previously…
The Committee was arranged around her, all of them. They had all survived. The dark blocks that encircled her were as imposing as ever.
"Commander Ayanami," said Keele, slowly. "All is well, I hope."
"It is so."
"Please report your progress."
"All projects are going according to plan," said Rei. "Instrumentality Project will soon be resumed. Project E and the New Dummy Plug projects are both two percent ahead of schedule. There are no major problems to report."
"I see," said Keele. "There is one other project, though…"
"The transmigration project, yes. The project is proceeding as expected."
"The committee wishes to know what the purpose of this project is."
"Our objective is the preservation of intellect… the deaths of some early scientists working on the Instrumentality Project were highly detrimental to progress. If their entire minds can be transmitted from one body to another, immortality is a definite possibility."
"Is this truly necessary? Will the Instrumentality Project take that long to complete?"
"We will only know when Dr. Akagi's sabotage has been repaired."
"I see, that is all."
All but one of the blocks vanished. SEELE 01 loomed over her. "We know you are personally attached to this project," he said, coldly. "Do not allow your emotions to become tangled in your work."
SEELE 01 vanished.
It must have been quite peculiar to see Rei in wrinkled clothes; she did her best to ignore the confused expression of her underlings as she went to work. Forms needed to be filled out, meetings needed to be attended. Rei went about them normally, hour after hour, until five o'clock in the afternoon. She would remember it acutely: the way the sun was shining into her office, the way the cherry trees outside her office were blooming, their pink leaves whirling about in the wind, the way the clouds were lazily floating in the great blue sky.
Then, her phone rang.
Rei answered it.
As the doctor spoke on the other end, she heard her gut twist inside her, her muscles twitched. This was it… her daughter… was dying.
Rei left immediately. She strode through the halls of NERV as fast as she could. People watched her in bafflement, stunned that their commander would ever make haste in anything. As she hurried to the parking lot, she called Maya Ibuki.
"Doctor Ibuki," said Rei.
"Here," said Maya.
"Prepare Medical for the Transmigration Procedure."
"Wait- what?" spluttered Maya. "It's not ready!"
"It doesn't matter. Go with what you have."
"Commander, listen to me! There are a dozen things that could go wrong. Anyone undergoing the procedure… the probability of success is under fifty percent!"
"My daughter has no more time. Her body will die."
There was a silence on the line.
"Alright. I'll call sickbay, tell them to make the transfer."
Rei arrived at the ward where her daughter was kept just in time to see the transfer. It was all her heart could take: her daughter, contorted, gasping, being rolled out in a mobile incubator. Rei watched, heart freezing; she could feel it, the sensation: it felt like Naoko Akagi's fingers around her neck, choking the life out of her.
The doctors ignored Rei; they were shouting to each other, trying to get the patient to surgery. That's all she was to them - "the patient." Just a job. Do not tangle your emotions with your work, SEELE had said. Maybe that was the only way a doctor could survive. Rei stared, numb, as they rushed past. She followed them, wildly out of place in her dark uniform.
It was only a short trip to surgery, but Rei felt as though it were decades. When the doctors piled into the elevator, she couldn't fit in. For a few minutes, all she could do was stand there, staring at the arrows on the ceiling. For a few minutes, she was completely alone. All she felt was the screaming in her own head, the horror deep her gut, and all the while, that feeling that she was choking.
Rei looked around. It was Ibuki. Everything was in focus; the woman's soft face, the grey that had entered her hair, the shape of her eyes, the shape of her lips. She could smell the woman: a plastic smell of labs and computers. Rei stared at her, and must have frightened the older woman; Ibuki recoiled, only slightly.
"What is it?" said Rei, more tersely that she intended.
"I'm- I'm very sorry," she said.
"Not going faster."
Rei looked out the window.
The elevator dinged.
Six months previously…
Rei was alone. Alone in her apartment, just like when she was young. She sat there, staring out the window. She realized how little she had; how much of it had belonged to Shinji. She sipped at the tea she had made; it tasted bland. Everything tasted bland. Everything smelled like shit. Everything felt like dirt on her skin.
Rei stared into the cup.
It was her fault…
There was a little deck for observing surgery. Rei distantly imagined Gendo Ikari watching doctors work on her from this deck, as she was sure he had done in the past.
"It's starting," said Maya. The insane focus had abated, and Rei felt sick, but not insane. She supposed that that was a positive development.
The surgery began.
The surgeons were cutting open the twisted little thing's scalp.
Rei watched, face pressed against the one-way mirror that looked down on the room. She could see everything, the countless machines that stretched out her daughter's life. Rei could not believe it… this was the moment she had been working for, ever since she had first conceived of the transmigration project.
Maya covered her mouth and looked away.
Rei looked at her. "Are you alright, doctor?" asked Rei.
"No," said Maya, "Still a little squeamish."
"You do not have to observe."
"No, I'm going to," she said, insistently.
"Why look at something that makes you sick?"
"Because," she said, "I worked on this. If it works, I feel pleasure… if it doesn't work, I feel in the guilt. I have to watch."
Rei looked back down. The surgeons were moving on. They had opened the twisted little thing's skull. Another stretcher was rolled in, this one carrying a dummy plug… the spitting image of Rei, thirty years younger. It was empty, soulless, as it gazed blankly into space.
"Maya, thank you for attempting this," said Rei.
"I thank you, Doctor Ibuki, for working on this project. I know it was difficult."
"Ma'am… I…" She paused. "You are welcome."
There was a silence.
"I think you might be one of the best mothers in NERV," said Maya.
Rei did not reply.
Something had gone terribly wrong.
She could tell; one of the machines was making that tell-tale noise of despair. The doctors and nurses were beginning to panic; they were hurrying about. No no no no no, Rei thought, every muscle in her body tensing uncontrollably. The feeling of Naoko Akagi killing her was suddenly fresh in her mind. I am being killed, thought Rei. Rei felt her knees give out beneath her, she fell to the ground, hitting the cold surface, but feeling nothing. Her nerves, every single nerve, was transmitting nausea, that dull feeling of weightlessness. Her fingers were numb. No no no no no… She could not breathe; she was going to die. She rolled over, and vomit left her mouth, leaving a sour taste. It still felt better than the sickness rolling through her body.
"Commander!" yelled Maya.
She could not take it. Her strength had given out. Images were rushing through her head, images of I life lived only rarely. I've failed. She could not deny that. She had failed. She gave in to the sickness. Everything was suddenly dark.
When she woke up, she was in a soft bed. It was familiar She still felt sick. Her senses were incredibly dull. She opened her eyes; the world briefly whirled over her head, but it finally stabilized, and she pushed herself up. She felt so very tired… At least it was a familiar ceiling.
She could hear someone humming an old lullaby. She got up and walked to her closet.
Inside, she could see her memories. The dresses she had worn when she had lived, carefree, with Ikari. She saw the dark suits she wore now, and even an old school uniform from a school that had been destroyed sixteen years ago. Reaching up, standing on tip-toes, she grabbed it from the top shelf.
It was a little stuffed rabbit. Still attached was a note:"Congratulations to the new parents! From Misato."
Rei could not hold it back. She began to sob, uncontrollably. It all poured out of her, all of the tears from a year. It was like the cold fist had closed around her heart, and every second it squeezed a little more from her.
She heard footsteps, the door of her room opening.
"Rei?" asked Shinji. She did not look at him. "Are you all right?"
Rei said nothing. She just kept crying.
She heard him come closer. "They dropped you off here. They didn't say what happened."
"She died," said Rei, through her tears. "I couldn't save her." She turned and faced him, still clutching the stuffed rabbit in her hands.
Shinji's face was ashen. It was like he had turned stone. "She died?" he whispered.
"I tried. I tried to save her," said Rei, choking back her tears. "I couldn't do it…"
Shinji rushed in to embrace her. She couldn't say anything; she felt as if Naoko had finally killed her, once and for all, even in Shinji's arms. She had tried so hard… she had tried so hard… but she could not stay the executioner's hand.
The sentence had been carried out.
Death by Gravity.