THE FIRST DAY.
Shinji Ikari was summoned one day.
'Summoned'… not an ordinary word. Normally one would hear it used for something great and magnificent, like conjuring hellspawn of the occult. Or perhaps some great important figure calling to a minor official for a deep inquiry. It would feel like both to Shinji Ikari.
Before the summoning, Shinji's life was pretty ordinary. He was attending a boarding school and living in the house of his aunt and uncle on his father's side. He wasn't neglected here, only treated separately. They didn't have kids and didn't want any but seemed tolerant of Shinji's presence. They made it clear, though, that he wasn't their child and would never be considered as such. Shinji had accepted this.
The boarding school he attended was strict but imparted Shinji with a passable education and common sense of the world. Fraternization across social lines was frowned upon here, though. This, combined with his shy demeanor and closed-in personality meant he didn't have many (any really) lasting friendships. The female sex was likewise inaccessible to him, and the closest thing he had to a lovelife was whatever unrequited fantasies he dreamed up himself. Still, Shinji didn't seem to mind.
The only thing he could say he missed or regretted was not knowing his real parents. They were out there somewhere, but his memories were only in fragments. It had been years since he seen them.
He was never given a reason why he was abandoned. This had given Shinji, over the years, a growing corner of hatred in his mind for just being dumped. Given his attitude and worldview though, he masked it by acknowledging that things could be worse.
But the mask came off, even if slightly, when he was Summoned.
It was a letter from his Father.
Of the two parents his Father was the strongest in Shinji's memories. The last time he had seen his father was years ago at some public event. Shinji found out months later that his aunt and uncle had somehow maneuvered his Father into taking care of him. All the while, Shinji had faced an impassive wall, a silent figure. He didn't seem to want anything to do with his son, and it only gave Shinji more things to put in that closet of hate.
Now he was wanted. Somewhere.
Of course, his aunt and uncle opened all official mail sent for him by his folks, given the way they arranged their mail receiving system. After all they took care of his schooling and funding, so they had control over his letters too. As soon as they found out Shinji was wanted elsewhere they put their money together and worked to get Shinji out of their carefree lives. Shinji knew they were eager to be rid of him but like them said nothing about it directly. To admit they wanted to be free of this burden was to be impolite and inconsiderate to Shinji, even though it was a façade.
Shinji reviewed all of these facts on the train into Hakone. His baggage would follow when he forwarded whatever address he would be staying at to his relations who had cared for him over the years. Then he imagined they'd take that long-desired trip to America.
Shinji Ikari arrived on time. Stepping out of the train he again studied the only reference he was given on what he should do when he got here. The picture was of a woman, with short-cropped blond hair and a mole under her right eye. "I'll meet you at the station. Be a good boy and be prompt – R. Akagi" was all that adorned the letter.
It could be worse. He could be meeting his Father at the station.
He arrived at the station and found the woman waiting. She looked up from her book, smiled as she closed it, and said to him, "Shinji? I'm Dr. Akagi. I work for your father."
Mention of Shinji's father halted his greeting in his throat. He swallowed and tried again, "I… I see."
Ritsuko displayed no outward reaction to his hesitance. "Come with me, I'll take you to the base."
"Yes, where your parents work."
Shinji's stillness remained. A base? Were his parents working for the military? He felt cold inside as this venture seemed to be getting worse, not better. He shivered all the way to Ritsuko's car and got in with his bag on his lap.
It was a quiet drive from the train station for the first ten minutes. Finally, the doctor broke the ice with, "Nervous?"
Shinji swallowed. "Y-Yes…"
"Understandable. Your father leaves that kind of impression."
No doubt about that, Shinji thought. But… "What about my mother?" Shinji asked.
Ritsuko paused for a moment before answering, "Your mother even more so. Both of them are very dedicated to their work."
Shinji nodded and his head bowed a degree. Knowing his father, he had hoped his mother was the polar opposite. From what the doctor inferred, she seemed to be just as terrible.
Shinji didn't raise his head again for a while, just stared at the dashboard lost in thought. Finally summing up to take the bull by the horns he asked, "Why was I called here?"
"I'm not at liberty to say just yet." The Doctor replied, "But what I can say is that you specifically, Shinji Ikari, were required for something we're doing at the facility."
What kind of experiments would specifically need him? Something related to his father and mother perhaps? This thought occupied him all the way until suddenly the world outside went dark. He looked up.
"Relax Shinji," The doctor said, "We're going underground."
"You'll see." The doctor replied. In the darkness Shinji didn't see her smirking.
Shinji waited and watched the lights of the vehicle elevator blurring by. He was about to ask what he was supposed to be seeing when suddenly the outside of the car blasted into brightness. Beneath him, he saw, was a fully formed geo-front.
"A Geo front!" He exclaimed and pressed his face to the glass. He had heard of such things from science fiction and in geology class but never expected to see one here. It surpassed anything he could have imagined.
"Correct." Ritsuko replied, "This is our headquarters, NERV primary."
Shinji's eyes were glued to the entire scene as the train circled the geofront on its way down. It took a full five minutes to complete the circuit, slowing and then stopping when it reached the motor pool at the bottom of the facility. After parking, Shinji followed Ritsuko through the garage, beyond a security checkpoint, and into the base.
"Are you taking me to my father?" Shinji asked after a tentative ten minutes of travel.
"Yes." Ritsuko replied.
Shinji was quiet after that.
They rode a conveyor up what had to be hundreds of stories. Shinji lost count. It was mind-boggling to consider all this internal space hiding beneath the feet of everyday life. What did they do down here anyway?
"In here." Ritsuko waved, gesturing him through a doorway into darkness. Shinji swallowed, then stepped inside.
He walked across a metal catwalk in the dim lighting until Ritsuko came to a stop. Shinji stopped beside her.
The door closed behind them.
The first thing Shinji saw was a big, horrible, purple head staring straight at him.
"GARH!" Shinji panicked, stumbling backwards at the visage. His bag dropped and spilled some of the contents- a pencil rolling off the gantry-way and making a small splash in the amber liquid. Aside from that, the only other sound was the ringing of his exclamation.
Several seconds passed of frantic breathing before Shinji could ask, "W-Wh-What is that!?"
"An experiment." A voice from above called down. Shinji looked up.
The grim face of Gendo Ikari was staring back down at him.
"Father…" Shinji said breathlessly, eyes wide out of horror.
"It's been a while." Gendo said down to his son.
Shinji tried to regain his composure, lowering his head and staring at the mask. "What is this thing!?"
Another voice on high. "Ultimate All-Purpose Humanoid Decisive Battle Weapon Evangelion test unit zero one."
Shinji slowly looked up.
Yui Ikari…mother… had joined Father. At this, Shinji's heart rate skyrocketed and he felt a little faint. "Mother…"
But she wasn't smiling. Her face was closed and impassive, staring down at him without any hint of maternal care. Shinji was confused.
"Shinji," Ritsuko said at his side, "You are the only one who can pilot this machine."
It took a moment for Shinji to register the fact that this horrible head was ridden by a living pilot. Once that connected, the thought that he would be piloting struck next. "WHAT!?" Shinji exploded as he turned to Ritsuko, then looked at the machine, "TH-This thing… can be piloted!?"
"That is correct." Gendo called from above.
Shinji stared up at the two figures high above him in the gantry way. He had his guesses as to why his parents summoned him here, but they were all blown to the wind the moment he stepped into Doctor Akagi's car. Even in his wildest guesses, this didn't come close.
"YOU MEAN YOU CALLED ME HERE FOR THAT!?" Shinji blasted.
"Yes." Gendo replied.
Shinji could only stare up at them. To be called to see them… almost… three years since he had contact with either of them. It wasn't to greet him warmly, to acknowledge his existence as their son, nor to apologize for the neglect of three years.
Shinji fell on his knees. "You mean… you don't even…" He left the rest unfinished, since it was obvious.
"Will you pilot it?" Gendo called from above.
Shinji didn't immediately respond. What would he do, go back and live with his aunt and uncle? How likely was it that they would be even more distant with him, disappointing them by coming back unwanted. What alternative was there to life here?
The horrors of living homeless crept into his thoughts. Not strictly in the sense of being out on the streets but… being an orphan. With no family. And what improvement would that be?
His arms shivered.
"Shinji," Ritsuko said, "You can say no, if you want to."
Shinji swallowed. "What do I have to do?"
High above, Gendo Ikari smirked.
After leaving the "cage" (a term that did nothing for Shinij's ease), Ritsuko escorted him to another office to settle away his medical and housing paperwork. "What do you do around here, Doctor Akagi?" He had asked en-route.
"I just work in hardware and maintenance. The Evangelions, and all technology, are my responsibility." She confessed nonchalantly, "I'm taking you to the person in charge of the pilot's needs."
Shinji swallowed. Hopefully whoever this was would be more human than anyone he's met around the base so far.
The office he entered seemed very stately. There was nothing out of order and the place was remarkably clean. "Kyoko?" Ritsuko asked through the door into the office, "I have your new pilot here."
"Bring him in Ritsuko." A voice called.
Ritsuko motioned through the doorway into the office and Shinji swallowed before entering.
The woman seated inside was in a pink shirt, black skirt, and also had a lab coat on. She was still typing furiously at her computer and didn't look up at Shinji. "Take a seat." She said.
Shinji did so, and swallowed. Ritsuko nodded. "I'll leave him in your capable hands, then?"
"Quite." The woman replied. Ritsuko left. Shinji turned to peer out the office door to watch the only friendly face in this entire place leave him behind.
Finally the woman stopped typing and turned. "Shinji Ikari is your name?"
"Yes ma'am." Shinji replied. He could guess authoritative figures a mile away- having several in his boarding school- and knew the appropriate rules of decorum. This woman seemed to expect a high degree of respect.
"All-right." She said, taking folders from holders on her desk and placing them on her lap. She spun in her chair to face him. "I am Kyoko Soryo Zepplin, and I'm in charge of personnel health and maintenance. I presume you accepted your father's request?"
Shinji didn't think it was much of a request- more like an ultimatum. "Yes ma'am." Shinji replied.
"Good." The woman said without a hint of approval. She opened the manila folder. "We've already prepared a candidate acceptance form. Please read over the terms and conditions and sign at the bottom."
Shinji was handed the light green sheet, and studied it as he held it with both hands. Some of the conditions were alarming: complete secrecy, devotion to the project and program, and potential of death or fatal injury. It was almost enough to convince him to run from the facility and never look back.
But he was too far in. He didn't have the guts to say no. Poverty was too scary. Swallowing, he looked up and took the pen from Kyoko's desk while she was working on the computer. Shakily, he signed it.
"Signed it?" She asked when he was finished. He barely nodded and she snatched the paper from his grasp. "You graduated from the boarding school you were previously attending?"
"N-No ma'am." Shinji answered. He still had several levels to complete.
"Very well. I am enrolling you in the Tokyo-3 junior high school. You'll be a late entry but there's no book or fee requirements necessary on your part. Your class will be 2-A. Other details will be given to you when you attend the first day of class."
"…Okay…" Shinji answered.
Kyoko didn't seem to pick up on Shinji's dismay, and continued working at her computer. "You will be assigned a room in housing block 14C. As you have no motorized vehicle, you will be given a free bus and transit pass courtesy of NERV. You will also be provided a paycheck and income for being a NERV employee, rescinded only upon termination of your activities here at NERV or due to a breach of contract. You will also be given an identity card you must keep on your person at all times, for entry into NERV facility and proof of your identity as a NERV employee. NERV employees enjoy a 10% discount at all stores and establishments in Tokyo-03, valid at any time and for any purchase."
At least Shinji had that to look forward to, and a paycheck. He might die horribly but at least he could enjoy a privileged lifestyle before the end. When Kyoko handed him the sheets with the details, he quickly flipped through the pages for the area on income and his eyes bugged out.
He reminded himself he was a test pilot.
"You will be on-call twenty-four seven for testing and combat activity should the call arise. Otherwise, you are expected to call the base everyday at five pm to confirm your schedule with central planning." Kyoko finished.
"…Combat?" Shinji asked.
Kyoko's only expression was a deadpan look in Shinji's direction. "Of course," She added as if stating the obvious, "Evangelions are combat robots. We've already had several sorties in the city to repel attacks. Don't you pay attention to the news?"
Shinji confessed he didn't. He had heard something about an earthquake down in the Hakone region, but no specifics. There were rumors of UFOs and aliens, but like all conspiracy theories Shinji didn't give them any credence. "What…?"
Kyoko sighed. "Figures. In any case, I'll let Major Katsuragi brief you when the time comes for your first tests and familiarization routes. For now, you'll have to get set-up in your living quarters." She opened a drawer in her desk and pulled out several blank cards and papers. Shinji's feelings, however, were sinking at these new revelations. Not only was he expected to get inside that robot, but now apparently he was going to be fighting from inside it.
Shinji was not a fighter, he didn't know the first thing about tactics or shooting guns. His biggest concern, though, was the question of what he would be fighting.
When it came to finding out where his place was, Shinji was instructed to wait in the nearest floor-level lobby at NERV HQ. Someone would be along to guide him, and that someone would recognize him.
Shinji sat quietly for a long time in the empty lobby in a chair by the exit, waiting for that particular person to arrive. In that time he scanned his sheets, skimmed the intimidating introduction booklet, and even scrutinize the card. Nowhere in any of all this did it say what the NERV organization was for.
Giant Robots. Huge underground facility. Fighting and testing. Was he just conscripted into a giant super-robot weapons plant? He never heard of Evangelions being used in fighting- it was always tanks and airplanes, with the occasional laser satellite. What was this place?
…And why were his parents connected? What did they do here?
He sighed and let his head hit the wall behind the chair. His life, like a handful of flower pedals, had been gathered and thrown up into the wind. Which would come down, and which would he see again?
The door opened and Shinji jumped. He looked to see two employees leaving, sharing a joke between them and laughing about it. They never stopped to look around, only kept walking with confidential files under their arms. Shinji relaxed in the seat and continued to wait.
Well, at least he had the address to forward back to his aunt and uncle to get the rest of this things, assuming they hadn't taken off already. Shinji grunted inwardly. Not wanted there, not worthwhile here. Which of the two was the worse condition?
The door opened again for a second time. Shinji looked up, and a woman was leaving. She stopped as she noticed Shinji. "Oh hello," She asked, "Are you waiting for someone?"
"Y-Yes…" Shinji said, starting to rise, "I'm Shinji…"
"Oh! Hello," The woman said, extending a hand, "I'm Maya… are you an intern or something?"
"Uh…uhm…no, I'm a pilot."
"We have a new pilot!?" Maya replied, "I wasn't….oh! You're Ikari's son! There was rumors going around about that… weird, so now you're actually here! Do you need to get in?"
"N-No…" Shinji replied, "I-I was waiting for someone to take me to where I'm supposed to live…."
"Ah! I see." Maya replied, "Well, I'm one of the operators in the bridge. I'll be monitoring your progress while you're in action. Anyway, I just got off, so I'm headed home. You take care now, okay?"
"O-Okay…" Shinji replied.
"Bye Shinji!" Maya waved as she walked towards the escalators. She boarded them and rose, not looking back.
Shinji watched her go, startled a little by her demeanor. She seemed much more upbeat than any of the other employees here. What was her name? Maya… he'd have to remember that. The first friendly face to actually greet him nicely here at this new place.
But she was not his guide.
Shinji sat down again and continued to wait. He went though this bag to find some paper and maybe a pencil to draw… or write. Five minute's searching didn't turn up the one pencil he brought. Sighing, he closed his bag and let it down on the ground to wait again.
He thought about dozing off when the door opened again. Another woman came out… no… a girl came out. Looking about his age with red hair and in a school uniform. She stepped out and stopped in the lobby, looking around.
Shinji took a stand. "Um…"
The girl turned to see him. She hesitated at first, then asked, "Are you Shinji?"
"Yes…" He replied, extending his hand, "Are you supposed to take me to where I'm going to live?"
"Yes." She replied, taking it and giving it a shake, "I'm Asuka. Welcome to NERV."
"This way." Asuka replied, "The apartment complex isn't far from here."
"Okay." Shinji said and gathered his bag. Making sure he had everything, he followed Asuka out of the base.
After about three blocks of walking the same long street, Shinji asked, "How far is it?"
"Kinda far, but it's on this street." She said, "Makes it simple."
Asuka was quiet for several more blocks before Shinji asked her, "S-Say… how did you get into NERV?"
"Both of my parents worked there."
"Really? S-Same with me…" Shinji replied, thankful to at least have something in common with someone else.
"I know. You're Shinji Ikari."
"Your father's the director of the base, and your mother is head scientific director." Asuka replied without looking at him, "When the accidents started to happen they were talking about you."
"A-Accidents?" Shinji asked, "What happened?"
Asuka looked around, then told him, "You'll find out soon enough."
Shinji fell quiet, again being cut off at a need-to-know limit. He was quiet again for a another two blocks.
By now the bustle of the city had thinned out considerably, and the lake in the distance was rapidly approaching. The buildings here seemed… sparse… stale. It was an altogether different atmosphere from the one he had just left behind.
"Here." Asuka said and gestured with her head.
The apartment complex building Shinji saw her indicate was like most of the NERV employees he had met thus far; stale, imposing, uniform, and conformist. It was one of a series of identical apartment buildings that stretched a good ways down the street. No grass grew around the base, and a chain-link fence bordered the sidewalk and bare dirt. Somewhere, something was being hammered with rhythmic precession.
Asuka started for the building. "Do you have your apartment key-card?"
"Ye-Yeah…" he replied and pulled it out of his shirt pocket. The bland, expressionless white card was unremarkable in every way except the apartment number.
"It has your apartment number and address on it." Asuka said, "The landlord never comes- payment is dictated by NERV but your landline phone has maintenance and security programmed in."
Asuka hesitated at the base of the stairs to look at Shinji. "I'll see you to your apartment. Where is it?"
Shinji hesitated when he caught Asuka's look. There was something about it… something hidden in the space between her eyebrows and the upper eyelid. Some kind of expression he couldn't define. He blinked out the momentary stupor and read the number off.
"Thee flights up." Asuka said and started up the stairs.
The apartment was as oppressive on the inside as it was on the outside.
Devoid of any decorations or embellishments, the floor was a plain blue tile and there was only one window. Shinji walked in, taking note of the bare mattress. There was a small kitchenette, and a further investigation of the apartment revealed a small bathroom as well.
Just… the bare…essentials…
"Mail comes in every day at 4." Asuka said, in the apartment, "When it comes to shipping they bring the packages up by the elevator and put them just outside the door."
The two looked at one another for a moment. Asuka broke whatever moment was forming by asking, "Do you have any questions?"
"I…" Shinji began, then, "No… thank you."
"Okay." Asuka nodded, turned, and started for the door.
Suddenly something spontaneous gripped Shinji. "Asuka!"
She turned just outside the doorway.
Shinji smiled weakly. "When my stuff comes in… could you help me decorate… or something?"
She blinked. Shinji couldn't read her expression, masked as she was by the brightness outside. "We'll see." She quipped, then disappeared.
Shinji was left alone to close the door. He wandered back to the bed and sat in it. Clasping his head, he proceeded to kick himself for being so embarrassing. He hardly knew her- what possessed him to invite her to do something like that?
Sighing, he realized he had no dinner. At least he knew where the apartment was, and had a paycheck. First, he needed to take inventory of what he needed. For the second time today, he discovered he was without a writing utensil. With a grunt he started to investigate the apartment a little more, trying to remember the things that he would need to spend his first night here.
Night came faster than expected, and the setting sun set an ethereal glow across the city.
Luckily, Shinji made it back in time before it was completely dark. Even though the street had lights, they were too few and too sparse to assure him that someone wasn't lurking in the dark, ready to mug him. He considered it an act of providence to have returned to this dreary apartment with his goods.
Shinji's efforts up the stairs were not unheard. Another door paused before it closed, the occupant to the room listening to the boy's struggles. When he was inside his own room, the owner of the open door closed it and moved inside.
Asuka walked back into the apartment and set down the coffee drinks she had purchased herself not more than a few blocks away. Books were open across her bed with at least three different papers spread out across them. It only served to drive home the point. She opened her cell phone and auto-dialed the first number.
"Where have you been all this time?"
"You'd better hope so. You'll have to take the exams early."
"But I asked-"
"And it was foolish to do so. You know NERV cannot reschedule, not even for academics."
"But I'm already cramming-"
"You should have studied harder and not played around with the Ikari boy."
"No more excuses or I'll move you back on to the base. Understood?"
Asuka didn't say anything.
"Tomorrow I've scheduled advanced synchronization drills. I'm still not satisfied with your performance. Come to the base tomorrow at five am. I expect you clean and washed. Understood?"
"Good." And hung up.
Asuka closed her phone and looked down at her assignments with an expressionless face, then at the doll at the head of her bed, next to her pillow.
She set her phone down on the kitchenette's counter and walked back to the bed, knelt before it, and resumed her studies.