The New Vegas Convention Center is a sprawling structure the size of a sports stadium, compartmentalized on several levels and several floors to make the most of its space. The dome covers it from the weather as it is on the top level of the New Vegas vertical sprawl, allowing real sunlight to filter through the transparent, reinforced ceiling which protects the inside environments from the post Second Impact coastal weather.

Currently, the main floor of the convention center is taken up by people in cardboard imitations of Evangelion armor, latex fetish plugsuits and bad blue hair dye.

Dressed in their NERV dress uniforms, consisting of the NERV blazer, a white buttoned shirt and black slacks or knee-length skirt depending on gender, Shinji, Asuka, and Rei stare out at the throbbing mass of humanity that is Evacon '17.

"It's beautiful," Rei says, tears in her eyes.

Behind her, Yui and Pieter exchange a glance and shrug, before Misato brings up the air horn.

"Okay, cell phones on at all times," Misato shouts, "If you get in trouble, the pass word is 'Funky.' That's what alerts your Section 2 escort that someone gets the hose. Check in every half hour. Shinji, Asuka, get to your panel. Rei, you walk the floor. Break!"

They shuffle off, leaving Yui and Pieter to watch them go.

"Okay," he says, "This is the craziest thing I think I've seen in my time at NERV."

"Wait," Yui says, "It gets better. I think I saw Kei in the ducts."

He sighs, extending a closed fist. She meets his with her own, and the two part to conduct their own forms of damage control. Or at least, attempt to, as not as soon do they loose visual sight of each other that a pale hand extends from the duct work and drags Yui in.


Chapter 63: Convention Time


The New Vegas duct system is surprisingly roomy. For all her scientific knowledge, Yui still hasn't figured out exactly how the Ree navigate ductwork like they do, so when she opens her eyes she finds herself in a duct work alcove, which for some reason has comfy bean bag chairs set up and a table.

"Kei?" she asks.

Sitting across the table from her, a pot of tea on the table between them, Kei has her hands folded in her lap and is staring at her mother.

"I wanted to talk to you," Kei says, in her typical, subdued manner, "About you and the Sub Director."

Yui sighs. She had to figure one of the girls had been tracking them last night. If anything, she should have figured out it would be Kei. Of all of them, Yui has always felt that she was the one closest to her, and also the one most curious about her.

"What do you need to talk about?" she asks, still looking around the room, wondering why a sitting room was set up in the duct work.

"Are you attracted to Sub Director Sohryu?"

Yui's gaze snaps back.

"What?"

"I watched," Kei responds, "You had dinner with him. You were drinking with him. You and he were both inebriated and you spent time at the hotel's dance club together. The shifting of your hips around him suggested a physical attraction to him. You speak to him differently than you do to Father."

Yui sighs. Inwardly, she begins going over the events of last night. Yes, they did have a good time. Yes, if it wasn't for the fact that it would be impossible to refer to such things as a date, it would have been a date. And yes, the entire situation itself is suggestive, what with her suitcase more tailored for a amorous weekend with her husband than sharing the suite with Pieter.

And yes, her night clothes are rather on the lacy side, but that's all a matter of mistaken packing than anything else.

Am I attracted to Pieter?

"I'm not attracted to Pieter," she says, quickly taking control of the conversation, "Kei, did we do anything else?"

Kei blinks.

"Kei, did he and I do anything inappropriate?" she asks, "Did we kiss?"

"No."

"Did we have sex?"

Kei blushes.

"No," she says, snapping it out harder than she intended, "No, you did not."

"That's right," Yui says, inwardly cursing how little social interaction her daughters have had, "Pieter is a friend and a coworker. My relationship with him is different than with your father. He is a very nice man and a good friend and we had a long discussion about the mistakes I made with Shinji and Asuka, and he treated me to dinner and we had a fun time. Do you understand?"

Kei taps her fingers together.

"No."

Yui sighs, smiling, reaching out and taking one of Kei's hands.

"Let's look at it this way," she says, "When you spend time with your brother, do you enjoy yourself?"

Kei nods.

"How about with Mr. Nagisa?"

Kei's cheeks flush. She blinks, averting Yui's gaze.

"When I spent time with Pieter, it's like when you are around Shinji," Yui continues, "We have fun, we laugh, we enjoy ourselves. When I spent time with your father, it's like you and Kaworu."

"He's not my boyfriend," Kei quickly responds, "May I change the subject?"

God yes, Yui thinks, but says, "Of course."

Kei blinks, taking her hand back, wringing them as she tries to avert Yui's gaze, looking down at the tea cup and finding it oh so interesting.

"Am I your favorite?"

Yui blinks, staring at Kei. She has long suspected that Kei's habit of hanging onto her was due to her having a connection, or desiring a deeper connection to her. The way Kei wrings her hands upon asking the question, though, makes her wonder how deep that need was. She never thought that she would be so blunt, though, but as she sees Kei shift in her seat upon asking it, Yui comes to the quick conclusion that it is not just a phase with her.

"Kei," she says, "Why are you asking this?"

"I want to know," Kei says, "I have been curious. Jealous."

"Of Rei?"

"Yes."

"Because she spent more time out than you?"

Kei nods. Of course, Yui thinks, it was only because Rei was finished first compared with the other Ree. Naoko never had time to stabilize their cores.

"Kei," Yui says, taking Kei's hand, and pauses. For a moment, she considers the old standby line. That no, none of them are her favorites because she loves them all equally. But then there was that conversation with Kyoko before they left, those days ago, about how unintentionally Yui could do the same thing to Kei that Kyoko did to Asuka for all those years.

And maybe she has. Maybe she has damaged her daughter like Kyoko did her own, unintentionally. Maybe she should have recognized it when Kei would latch onto her during those VR trips or when she adopted her own gibberish curses or was so happy when Yui asked her to join her in Project E.

Maybe she can keep it from going pear shaped if she just tells a white lie. Not a falsehood, but not a whole truth.

"Of course you're my favorite."


...


Most of the panel he and Asuka were at consisted of people in second hand plugsuits, imitation NERV uniforms, and reporters for school newspapers asking them about their relationship. The director of the anime NERV commissioned, who looked a lot like the Narrator program in Ichi's birthday party, kept deflecting questions by both telling them to 'fanwank something,' whatever that meant and showing clips from the movie.

Or, more in particular, the new movie. He already had a rough cut of the movie done, which for some reason ended with everyone dying and a scene near the beginning in an infirmary which ended up causing Sub Director Sohryu to give him a black eye. Something about meat pulling, whatever that means.

Anyway, they soon discovered that the Ree switched his meds behind his back, corrected the problem, and now he's making a four movie series now that Mom gave the girls a stern talking to. Of course, for some reason all he can think that in the movies Dad is really an asshole and Rei's acting like Kei and Asuka has better curves than that.

"Okay, next panel!"

The section 2 escorts, undercover as convention workers who nonetheless are heavily armed, escort Asuka and him down the convention center halls and into the next panel room, sitting them next to each other at a table where they can look out at the crowd and their hearts stop. Looking behind him, Shinji stares at the illuminated screen.

"Cosplay and Fanfiction Panel," it reads.

Turning back to stare at the veritable sea of Rei, all of them holding scripts, Asuka taps her fingers on the table as Misato takes a seat next to her.

"So," Misato whispers, "Here I was, thinking, 'What do you see right before you die?' And what do you know..."


...


Kei was walking with more of a smile than she usually does, even if she was imitating Rei and randomly tackle hugging the voice actors. She and Rei kept trying to lock Mr. Spencer and Mrs. Grant in a room together for some reason, claiming that they were 'shipping' or something along those lines. Of course, the conversation she had with Little Mommy was more than a little responsible for her good mood. Walking through the convention center in her plug suit, or more in particular Rei's plugsuit, she is enjoying herself.

Then her plug suit chimes and the visual transmitter in her A-10 connector comes to life, displaying a message that Grandfather needs to talk to her.

"Rei," she says, "Take over."

She passes a ventilation cover, which swings open and Rei drops down in an identical plugsuit, high fiving with her sister and shifting back into the crowd as Kei lets the camera at the double doors take a picture. The doors open, revealing a long metal corridor with the emblazoned fig leaf, Kei walking down it and towards the lift elevator that will express her down to the Project E labs.

The doors open. In the cab, Kaworu stares back, stepping aside as she enters and the doors close.

"Hello, Kei," he says with a smile. She smirks back.

"I am wearing Rei's plugsuit."

"It is easy to tell the two of you apart if you know what to look for," he responds, "You and Rei are...playing...with the convention organizers?"

"Of course. We have to pass the time somehow."

He smiles in response, the doors clicking down. Elsewhere, watching from the camera she was given the codes for set in the elevator, Rei grins and presses the large red button on the remote. A small amount of C4 detonates, triggering releases and safeties which cause the elevator to drop suddenly before coming to a complete halt.

Kei squeaks in surprise, tripping and falling against Kaworu, both of them sprawled out on the elevator floor.

Grinning, Rei closes the camera feed and turns, walking into co-conspirator number one.

"Trap's sprung?" Hikari asks.

"Yeee~ep. Camera codes work by the way, Grandpa."

Katsuhito's image appears in Rei's vision.

"Of course. Keep me updated. Inform me if she injures him."

"Will do!"

Clicking the image shut, she skips back into the convention, Hikari following.


...


Three shivering wrecks sit around a table in the cafeteria, eyes wide, lips quivering, trying to place the horror that they have just witnessed. Lowering the canned coffee to the table, Shinji turns to Asuka.

"How many?"

"I s-saw six," she says.

"I saw four," he responds.

"You lucky bastard," Misato groans, "I saw twelve. Two of them hit on me."

Shinji shudders.

"Why do so many guys like to dress up as Rei?" he asks.

"Because their sick, sick, depraved bastards," Misato moans, "And what was with the fanfiction?"

"Well, there was the one writer who really thought Unit 01 was cute," Asuka says, and shudders, "And...tentacles? Did any story need those many tentacles? Not that he was a bad writer, he was actually fantastic-"

"But creepy," Misato adds, "And the guy in the cloak who kept insisting on being Rei's driving instructor. And those were the tame ones."

"Why was I having sex with Rei in every single one of them?" Shinji asks, "It was either me and Rei, me and Asuka, me and Mom-"

"Which is all sorts of wrong," Misato asks, "Especially that one the one guy wrote where you had a three way with your Mom and me."

"And I never met Mr. Nagisa!" Asuka yells, pounding her fist on the table, "Why would I want to have sex with him?"

She pauses, gaze darting to the rest of the cafeteria, shrinking slightly when she realizes how loud that was.

"Okay," Misato sighs, rubbing the bridge of her nose, "I need a beer. But first, we have more panels. Asuka, you're meeting Dr. Ikari at the 'Explaining How a Giant Robot Works' Panel. Shinji, you're at the 'Cooking with Ikari' Panel. I'm at the 'Planning to Kill a Giant Monster' panel. Meet up after we're done."

Two groans of acceptance. Shinji watches them go, checking his watch and rifling through his jacket for his convention pass. Which he notices isn't there. Sighing, figuring they'll let him in anyway, he gets up, padding down the hallway to the room labeled for his panel, walking to the door and finding the two convention workers there.

"Panel starts in twenty minutes," one says, scratching his nose.

"I know," Shinji says, "I'm one of the panelists."

The two convention workers stare at him. Then, they break out laughing.

"Yeah, okay," Shinji sighs, waving them off, and begins walking down the hallway to where he remembers Asuka is presenting, figuring he might as well add some humor to today by watching Mom rip into a couple of people.

Or at least, would, if a closet door entrance didn't open and a gaggle of female hands grab him, dragging him into the closet and locking the doors behind him. The light clicks on, and Shinji stares at the half dozen girls in varied makeshift plugsuits and NERV uniforms smiling at him.

"Um...hi?"


...


The emergency lighting has switched on, and the elevator music playing for some reason resembles smooth jazz, but they figure it is an american thing. Kaworu already tried the phones, finding no luck, while Kei kept trying to contact Rei through the plugsuit. No luck. And she knows why, of course. They are, by their nature, not subtle.

"It's good to see you again," Kaworu says, glancing at her.

"Mm."

"You're upset," he observes, and sighs, resting his head against the cabin wall, "I figured as much. What did I do?"

She turns to him.

"What?"

"I figured I did something to upset you, already," he responds, eyes closed, hands folded in his lap, "I was going to ask you if you thought Rei was interested in another date, but I figured that...right. I shouldn't have even said that."

Kei shifts away from him, sitting in the corner of the elevator and glaring at him.

"You are lusting after my identical twin sister," Kei says, "I have come to the conclusion you are not malicious, just an idiot."

They glare at each other. He sits up, eyes glowing faintly in the barely lit elevator cab as she scowls. Finally, with a grunt, he stands up, staring down at her as he places his hands on his hips.

"And why is that?" he demands, voice level, "Explain to me."

"You desire my sister," Kei mutters, enunciating each word, "I should not have to explain this."

"Rei has been out of the MAGI longer than you," he responds, "She's more suitable for breeding. Rei and I would create a genetically viable Tabrim offspring that could start a viable genetic line. If I tried to do so with a Lilim the Tabric traits would be lost within three generations."

She stands up. Without thinking it, without deciding it, she has grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, pulling him down to her level.

"My sister is the only genetic partner for this?" she asks, "She is the only one you would think of as your partner?"

For a moment, he could swear, in the dim light of the cabin, that her eyes were wet.

"You mean...you?" he asks, blinking, "Why would I ever think of you as a mating partner?"

She stops, stepping back, recoiling as if she was slapped. The tears stream down her cheeks and she looks away, releasing his shirt.

"I would never think of you as a brood mare," he says, "You're much more important to me than that."

"Really?" she chokes, turning back to him.

"Absolutely. I see you as my intellectual equal. I think of you with much more respect than that. I only figure Rei has been out of the MAGI long enough that physically she would be more capable of breeding. Besides which, I've seen the videos. I wouldn't want to put you through that sort of pain."

"Brood mare."

Kaworu chuckles slightly, scratching the back of his neck.

"I...don't mean it like that," he says, "I invested in a thesaurus. I am trying to find more appropriate words for these sorts of things. For example, I shouldn't use 'brood mare' or 'breeding stock' or 'f_buddy' or-"

Kei smiles. She is silent, save for her breathing and the pulsing of the vein in her neck, as her eyes seem to glow in the dim light.

"Nagisa."

"Yes, Kei?" he asks, glancing from side to side, wondering what is taking the repair crews so long.

"You are aware I am from Lilith, correct?"

"Yes, I am, but what does that have to-"

With that, she grabs him by the collar, pulling him down and mashing her lips against his. For a moment, he struggles, eyes going wide as his hands clench and unclench. Until finally, mercifully, he reaches out, wrapping his arms around her, pulling her close as their eyes close and the only sounds in the cab are the music, their own breathing, and the satisfied moan as their lips release.

"I think we need some air," she whispers, her arms wrapped around his shoulders, his own around her waist.

"I can not disagree," he responds, "Suggestions?"

Her eyes glow. The vent on top of the elevator shaft pops off, and grabbing him by the belt, she ascends.


...


Somewhere between finding that there was a large, blown up picture of him on the wall in the room and that they told him that a blue haired girl told them how to find him, he came to the unsettling conclusion that this was all set up by Rei. Which also disturbs him. Rei likes him and Asuka together. Surely she wouldn't want him to be ravished by a half dozen female fans, would she?

"Okay," one of them says, with a blue wig, clad in a plugsuit and in her twenties, "Let's get introductions out of the way! I'm Amber."

"Jenny," the blonde in the NERV uniform says, elbowing the short brown haired girl next to her, "And she's Claire."

"And I'm Dana," the apparent leader, the one with the black braid and the plugsuit says, absently jerking her thumb to the last two keeping out of Shinji's line of sight, "And that's Gema and Bri."

Shinji blinks. Looks for exits. Finds none.

"Okay," he says, "Okay. What's going to happen?"

"Well, Rei had the idea," Amber says, slapping her hands together with a grin.

"You...know Rei."

All six, together, confirm his fears.

"We're Pen Pals!"

Something drops into the pit of Shinji's stomach.

"Well, actually," Amber continues, "Continuing. Rei thought this'd be great because we've got another pen pal who really wants to meet you! How's that sound?"

"Mildly terrifying?"

Six pairs of hands grab him, yanking him to his feet and dragging him down the hallway which is not at all on any of the convention center maps, into a room which resembles a smaller cafeteria and depositing him in a seat.

He's been kidnapped by fangirls.

In retrospect, he always figured this would be the way it would end.

Then the other door opens, and Asuka is shoved in. Except that it isn't Asuka. It's someone in the same sort of plugsuit, albeit an imitation plugsuit, and he can tell the hair is a wig, and she's a little shorter than Asuka and a little thinner.

"Hey! What the Hell?"

And also not as polite. She catches his eye, staring at him and freezing before a pale hand reaches out through the ventilation duct and gently pushes her to the seat opposite Shinji.

"Oh," she says, "Oh...um...wow."

The girls sit her down, before exiting out the other doors.

"Um...okay," the girl says, "Well...my name's Dawn. I...uh...I've wanted to meet you for a while."


...


After the panel ended, Asuka found that Shinji wasn't responding to his transponder. Instead of panicking, which was her usual modus operandi, she decided to go and find him. Which has lead her into the main lobby of the convention center, where a good three dozen men dressed in white plastic armor with odd masks are fighting with another three dozen people of assorted genders in bad plastic forehead makeup, wielding plastic swords that resemble really dangerous boomerangs.

Avoiding them lead to her nearly taking a beach ball to the head during the convention's Dodgeball game, which Rei had gotten involved in.

Dr. Ikari went on to host a panel about what a Pilot does, and Misato was hosting a panel about Pilot romances. As long as they don't show the security footage from two nights ago, they're happy. Of course, that doesn't help make up for the fact that she's running into a lot of cosplayers of herself, including one in Uri's plugsuit, with a lot of bandages who is pointing to random people and screaming that they're an Angel.

And then eating a live bug.

Very strange people, at this convention. It is almost as if the Ree organized it. Well, most likely it was the Ree that organized it. Asuka has often asked herself how this world was so different from the others they visited, and narrowed it down to Dr. Ikari being alive and eight insane half-Angel girls being given actual administrative power.

So it comes to no surprise that she finds an empty room not on the convention map filled with a circle of metal folding chairs.

Sighing, knowing that it would be here for a reason, Asuka sits in one of the chairs. And the floor promptly drops away, shrieking as she bounces around tunnels and vents and falls several floors into a series of drop away cushions.

And finally, she falls into a couch in the middle of a conference room three floors below. The group in the room, a mix of people in makeshift NERV uniforms and the white plastic armor which she is sure is not NERV regulation, stare at her.

"Um...hello?" she asks.

They continue staring at her. They whisper among themselves, their leader, a man in his 30's with a neck beard, turning to her.

"Are you here to help with the LARP?"


...


Shinji eventually suggested finding someplace more...inviting...to talk with his stalker. Much to his surprise, she agreed, as long as she was allowed to hold his hand so it looked like they were boyfriend and girlfriend. Rather than risking a possible episode from a possible psychotic, he agreed. He's agreed to weirder demands from his sisters, after all.

She has been talking about herself for quite a while, about where she's from, where she's going to college, and so on and so forth. She lead them into the cafeteria and bought two sodas, sitting down with him at a table and...well, looking at him.

Part of him wonders if she's going to get a knife. Part of him wonders if this is all there is to it.

"So," she says, "I've talked myself blue in the face. What about you?"

He sighs, smiling.

"Well, not much that wasn't made public," he says, "I lived with my aunt and uncle for ten years, so my parents when they were able. Mom and Dad called me back to pilot the giant robot four months ago and I've been doing that since. It keeps me busy enough that I don't really do anything else."

"You don't have any hobbies?"

He shrugs.

"I play the cello every now and then," he says, "I haven't practiced in a while. I've been thinking of trying to write, but I'm not sure how much of my experience is classified. You're Rei's pen pal?"

Dawn nods.

"Yeah...um, we met online at a chat site," she says, shifting in her seat, "I was following the Angel attacks, found the site. Rei found me."

He nods.

"I told her my story, she suggested this. She paid for our plane tickets, rooms, and convention passes."

"Why?"

She smiles.

"Um...so I could thank you," she responds.

She smiles. It is quick, and warm, and he can see her eyes are wet.

"Um...it was hard to get away from all the preparations," she says, "I'm getting married in two weeks. I wanted to thank you for letting it happen. My boyfriend proposed to me after you saved his life. He said there was no time like the present."

He blinks, sitting up. Staring at her, she laughs, scratching the back of her head, obviously nervous and flustered, but continues anyway.

"We were on the outs," she says, "Then he almost died, but you saved his life, so when they got into port he called me up and asked me to marry him. He told me everything that happened, and Rei said I should meet you to thank you, because she said you sometimes forget that you're doing a good thing."

"Where does your boyfriend work?" he asks.

"On the UN Pacific fleet," she says, "He's stationed on the Over the Rainbow. You saved his life when you killed the Angel that was attacking the fleet, and I really wanted to thank you."

She leans in and pecks him on the cheek, before quickly walking back into the crowd. Staring, watching her go, Shinji leans back in the chair, tilts his head back, and sees Asuka standing behind him.

"How much did you hear?" he asks.

"All of it," she says, leans down, and pecks him on the lips, "R-Rei's a good s-sister when she wants to be."


...


The doors to the lab open, and Kyoko stares at the still sphere of Angelic crap on the scale before walking in, leveling her gaze at Katsuhito as he holds out a wrapped candy on a stick.

"Lollipop?" he asks.

"That's not very sanitary."

"And this is an alien entity with motivations and abilities far beyond mortal ken. I think we can drop the scientific method's more niggling details for the moment," he responds, still sucking on his candy, "Are we prepared?"

She nods, staring at the material on the scale.

"Unit 03 will be ready for activation at 0945 tomorrow morning," she says, "None of that is going in to Unit 03, is it?"

"Of course not. You made your case very clearly to the Committee, Dr. Sohryu. The very thought of an Angel taking control of an Evangelion is not something I want to see happen."

"And what enhancements have been done to Unit 03?"

He raises an eyebrow, chuckling and tapping up a holographic screen.

"Incremental enhancements," he says "Based on the Evangelions' performance against ADAM. It would be a good idea to have an Anti-ADAM Evangelion, after all. We incorporated some devices researched at NERV-Alaska's R&D facilities and some biological enhancements."

She stares at the hologram of Unit 03, folding her arms and narrowing her eyes.

"What's that?" she asks, pointing to a dark red spot on the cross section.

"That's from Bethany," he says, "Personal project I was working on based on the ADAM research they conducted there. We found some leftover biological matter which was neither human nor pattern blue, and found it had remarkable ability to conduct AT Fields."

"I see."

She nods, as the doors open again and a youth with red hair and blue/red eyes walks in, still adjusting the blue and green plugsuit.

"Ah, Pilot Sohryu," Ikari says, Kyoko turning and her face softening with a smile, "How goes the preparations?"

"All is proceeding accordingly, Professor," he says, and turns to Kyoko, "Mother, have you seen Nagisa around? We haven't been able to find him."

"Nagisa is occupied," Ikari responds, clearing his throat and smiling, "We will leave it at that."

Kyoko narrows her eyes. Ikari shrugs, closing the hologram and turning back to his research. Throwing up her arms and muttering something in german, she walks out. Uri glances between the two, shrugs, and follows her.


...


The activation test was the next morning, so she decided to hit the sack when she got back to the hotel room. Unfortunately, Katsuragi decided to take her out for a few drinks in honor of them making it through the convention, so after two beers she is more than a little buzzed as she slides the key card through the door and enters the suite.

Pieter is sitting on his bed, reading a novel. His PDA is at his side and his uniform jacket is on the chair, and Yui gets a glimpse of the fact that Pieter is in damned good shape for a man in his forties. Not bulging or ripped, but well toned, streamlined and she can see his defined shoulders and stocky frame through his white t-shirt.

"How was the convention?" he asks with a smile.

She smiles back, blinking.

"Fine," she says, and sighs, "Enlightening. Kei asked me if she was my favorite.

He winces.

"What'd you do?"

"I told her she was," Yui says, "I guess it's true. I've never really thought of the girls in terms of favorites. None of the other Ree would care and would probably cheer Kei on if she told them, and Ichi just likes me as her Mommy."

"And Shinji?"

"I haven't had the same hand in raising him that I have with the girls," she sighs, shaking her head, "After this blow up I'm lucky he still talks to me."

He gets up, book open and face down on his bed, walking over and putting a hand on her shoulder.

"He's not like that," he says, "You know that. You weren't being anything other than a typical mom with him, and if I were in your situation I probably would have done the same. Don't beat yourself up over it, okay?"

She nods, patting him on the cheek.

"Okay," she says, "We need to be up early tomorrow. Activation test is at 9:30."

"Good. After that, Kyoko and I are going to get a bite to eat. Want to join us?"

She smiles, tightly, nodding as he walks back to the bed and flops onto it.

"Sounds good," she says, and grabs her suitcase, pulling out a silk nightgown that she curses herself for packing, "Sounds good."

Exiting into the bathroom, she begins changing, Kei's conversation still at the forefront of her mind. Mentally she's started comparing him to her husband. But she isn't attracted to him at all, she tells herself.

Right?


...


The next morning. 0900. Touji and Hikari were given VIP seats overlooking the deep underground chamber that serves as the activation site for Unit 03. Touji is already uneasy, watching the massive black, green highlighted thing in front of them, tightly holding Hikari's hand. She won't say it, but she doesn't like it. She doesn't like those things, especially since what happened to her sister.

"Hello."

They turn. Annette walks over, sitting next to them, folding her hands in her lap and dressed in a maid uniform.

"Hi," he says, glancing and Hikari and shrugging, "You are..."

"I am Annette, Mr. Nagisa's attendant," she says, "You are Shinji's friends, correct?"

They both nod.

"Good," she says, and sighs, "Has anyone seen him? I know Aunt Yui's not happy with him missing, but Asuka is already in Zwei from what I was told."

Touji blinks.

"Shinji's missing?" he asks, "Huh. Thought he was already in his Eva. What about Ayanami?"

Annette shrugs.

"Rei said she was going to look for him," Hikari says, "He probably got lost. Kei and Rei should be able to find him pretty easily. They won't be lost for too long. So, you said...Aunt Yui?"

Annette nods, standing up and bowing slightly.

"Correct," she says, "My name is Annette Ikari. I'm Shinji's cousin from Okayama. I've lived with Mr. Nagisa for the last nine years."

They both blink.

"You don't look a thing like him," Touji responds, earning an elbow to the ribs from Hikari.

"I inherit from my mother. She's American. I understand you two are good friends with Rei?"

They nod. Annette smiles, seeing his hand surrounding Hikari's.

"Yeah," Touji says, and quickly grins, "Rei was sort of responsible for setting us up. When the Third Angel attacked, we sort of ended up in the crossfire because my sister wandered out of the shelter and I had to chase her. Then I found the rocket launcher and-"

The air horns cut him off. In the pit, Unit 02 takes position, holding out its hands as the green along its red armor glows in time with its extended AT Field, four eyes glowing.

"Ah. They're beginning," Annette says, and sits down.


...


Yui paces, arms folded and staring at the immobile Unit 01. Where is he, she thinks. He isn't answering his cell phone, he isn't at the site. Surely, Asuka can handle the Unit 03 activation if something goes wrong, but still...

"Rei and Kei are both looking for him," Kyoko says, patting her shoulder, "If something's wrong, you have two superhumans protecting him. Right now, we need to focus."

Yui nods, walking from the Cage and towards the test site's Pinbrow box, taking position next to her father as a glance is exchanged between the two.

"We're ready," Katsuhito says, clearing his throat, "Spencer, your status?"

"The trade show is underway," the video image of Xavier Spencer says, a visibly uncomfortable Mana behind him, "PAWN system is set if anything wrong."

"Fuyutsuki?" Yui asks.

Another image appears, Kozou Fuyutsuki appearing in front of a nondescript building on the surface.

"In position, Yui. And monitoring."

Yui nods to Kyoko. In the distance, the white cylinder of the Entry Plug inserts itself into the back of Unit 03's neck.


...


He grips the controls. A tight smile comes across his face. His sister is watching in Zwei, and he can't be happier for her. He wonders where Ikari is, especially considering some rumors he's heard about him and Asuka, but dismisses them. This will go well, then he will be returning to Tokyo-3 with Annette.

"Begin Entry Sequence. Releasing muscle locks. Pilot, please specify console language."

"German," he states.

"Roger. Second stage beginning. Setting Plug depth to 1.81. Begin LCL ionization."

His mother's face appears in the corner of his eye.

"Uri, we're ready to begin third stage. Are you ready?"

He smiles, rolling his palms over the butterfly controls.

"Of course. Ready when you are, Mother."

Kyoko nods, and her face disappears. The A-10 connectors in his hair sparks, the lights at the back of his hands glowing.

"Four Child recognized. Synchronization at 87%. Unit 03 has activated."


...


A series of cheers breaks out in the Pinbrow box. Kyoko visibly relaxes, letting out a breath she was holding in for far too long as Pieter squeezes her shoulder, smiling. Hands folded, Yui glances at the two and at Unit 03, smiling herself as Katsuhito continues staring at it.

"What is it?" Yui asks.

"I keep wondering about those enhancements," he says, "A biological enhancement we put in Unit 03."

Yui grabs his arm, turning her to him.

"What enhancements?"

"Biological in nature," he says, swatting away her arm, "The Chairman had me install these into Unit 03 to make it more effective if ADAM returned."

Yui stares at him. She turns to the operators to order them to abort the test.

Alarms split the air. Kyoko's breathing stops as the ground underneath them shakes, the familiar danger signs flashing all over the computer screens.

"Blue Pattern detected in Unit 03," one of the technicians reads off, "Unit 03's activated its S2 engine!"

"Shit," Pieter breathes, "Asuka, move to intercept! Restrain Unit 03 and remove the Entry Plug!"

The ground rumbles. The shockwave throws them off their feet, the glass cracking as Unit 03 straightens up, eyes glowing yellow as the green pipping shifts and begins to glow white.

"Ikari!" Kyoko yells, grabbing Katsuhito by the collar, "Did you put that Angel in there?"

"No! All of it's accounted for in my lab!"


You are, all of you, garbage.


"It's not an Angel," Yui says, climbing to her feet as Unit 03 breaks free of its restraints, the locks around its jaw beginning to tear, "It's a Cherubim."


...

...


You are, all of you, garbage.

You have debased the sacred site of the Father.

You have ended your world through your own curiosity.

You have defiled the cosmic order through your own hunger for knowledge and power.

But now you will find some answers are not worth knowing.

The secrets you have judged worthy of your attention have now decided you are worth theirs.

I am the Secret of God.

Angel of Mysteries.

I am Raziel.

I am here.


...


Breaking free of the restraints, Unit 03 throws back its head and roars. The ground around it ripples as its AT Field comes to life, the armor beginning to burn at the lines of white as with a thrust of its legs, it launches itself at Unit 02.