III – Sons and Daughters
The morning of Gendo Ikari would surprise most people.
Popular thought about Commander Ikari didn't consider if he was a normal man. The Commander was the Commander, and he seemed about as alien, distant, and inhuman as any other life form not of this earth. If anything was ever said about his life, it was that he never sleep and learned the secret of subsidizing entirely on coffee.
This was absurd of course. Gendo Ikari was very much a human being even if he put that aside for the moment.
His morning began like this: an ultrasonic chime went off near his head at the head of the bed he shared with his wife. It was the kind of advanced alarm system that was beyond the pay-grade of most people. Immediately he sucked in a breath, opened his eyes, blinked twice, and rose from his bed.
Normally he went into his day like the machine everyone thought he was. After so many years of working in a system to survive it he went with the flow. There were exceptions however and for some reason today was one of them. Gendo stopped two steps away from his bed and turned around to look at his wife.
Yui Ikari was sleeping soundly on her side of the bed with her back turned towards him.
It was a rare thing for both Ikaris to wake up together in the bed. Each had their own schedules and tasks to perform during the day, demands on them were high. The pressure was incredible. Their needs drew them away from one another… a necessity that Gendo forced himself to deal with. He was an adult, and adults did these kinds of things.
…But for some reason that morning a thought hit him of a different way. How it was in the first place.
He knew what people said about him, then and now, regarding his marriage. What did they know? As he looked at his wife he felt long suppressed urges well up in him once again. He could see Yui Ikari again, not the Scientific supervisor of NERV. And in that window of a moment he could look back to the vision he had long ago, once, of a family.
Her ultrasonic chime went off by the bed.
Gendo, recalled to the present, turned and walked into the bathroom to continue his morning regimen. His sunglasses were waiting for him.
The Battle of 2-A
When Shinji Ikari opened his eyes again it was to a familiar ceiling… the first time in a week.
He stirred groggily to turn off the vibrating cell phone to wake him up. Sighing, he realized that was only snooze mode. That helped him wake up. He sat up in the bed, turned off his cell phone, then rubbed the sleep from his eyes before standing from the bed.
Some people needed a kick in the morning to get started but Shinji felt he was one who had to ramp up to being awake. He started by working in the kitchen to prepare lunch for himself and ponder over what was on the itinerary for the day.
School and class of course. He would go there to… well perhaps not learn, but to be a participant in something that adults expected of him. He thought back to his time in boarding school and wondered what some of his teachers would think of him in the situation where he was now… a wasted opper-
Oh. The date with Hikari.
Thinking of her brought warmth to his chest and elsewhere, since her naked affection for him was only more evident by the day. It was… it was a precious thing. As he put together his lunch and grabbed the back to pack it in he recognized how awesome he felt to have someone invest an interest in him, beyond mere friendship. It was special.
He snapped out of it when he would be late for the bus if he dawdled. He dressed, packed his backpack, and started for the door. He patted down his pockets to make sure everything was in the right place, and then closed and locked the door for…his…apartment.
As he turned and started down the hallway the memories of the past week came back to him. How the angel's blood was smattered across his belongings (he had to go get them soon…) when he was here with Misato. The time he carried the casserole pot down to Asuka's apartment. The standoff with Doctor Zeppelin in front of the building…
Though these memories came back to him he kept walking for the Bus stop. In this thoughtful mood he tried to put together the picture of what was happening and how life had changed. Not even in his wildest speculation could he have predicted ending up in this situation one week ago, when he was riding the train to Tokyo-3.
Yet… things weren't all that bad. He was surviving with the Evangelion. He wasn't alone in opposing the Kyoko Zeppelin. He had a girlfriend. He had allies within NERV looking out for him, even if his own family wouldn't.
He looked up at the clear blue day developing over his head.
In spite of the fact that Misato Kasuragi was hospitalized with a broken leg (and only on the second day of a two-week recovery), work would not leave her alone. Misato had hoped that being in recovery and away from any computers would have spared her the chase from her clerical duties. That didn't happen.
This morning's particular messenger was boyfriend, the rugged Kaji Ryoji. On top of delivering her usual reports (with kisses and dirty suggestions), he came with a tidbit that perked her interest. "What?"
Kaji just shrugged, "It's just as I said it."
"A trial?" Misato repeated, "Over Asuka's guardianship rights?"
"That's about the size of it anyway." Kaji leaned up against the wall, "Seems our adorable little redheaded frauline pulled on some obscure law within Pilot regulations and managed to stop up the gears determined to crush her."
Misato glanced to the heavens. She had her doubts about God, but this recent revelation put another point in His favor. "About time she struck back! What's happening?"
"The Subcommander was appointed advocate of NERV. Now it's up to finding legal representatives for both parties to argue over Asuka's living situation."
"Any jury with a clue can see she's miserable under her mother's care."
"Well, that Jury will have to be the Subcommander."
"…Wait, I thought you said-"
"It's not a civilian court." Kaji said, "Nor a military tribunal. Something else."
Kaji glanced at the sky for a moment. Then, "An 'Internal Legal Resolution."
Misato sighed and rubbed her face, "I'm glad I'm only in tactical. Ok… who's appointed to what? Wait, I'm not on Asuka's defense am I?"
"Conflict of interest."
Misato blinked as she looked to Kaji. She brought her hands to her hips and said a meaningful phrase, "Cut to the Chase."
Kaji shrugged again, "Kyoko obviously is going to dig out someone from legal to represent her. She might be going off her rocker but she knows she's out of her depth when here title alone won't settle the dispute."
"And who does Asuka have to represent her?"
"Many of the people you and I know who could do it would be ruled out for 'conflict of interest', that's without considering legal training. Ultimately it's up to her to decide, and if she doesn't then the Subcommander is going to find someone to represent her."
Misato was looking thoughtful.
Misato nodded a little and crossed her arms, "Well, the trial isn't for another day isn't it?"
"Today is putting things together. Proceedings begin tomorrow."
"Ok." Misato said, "I want to make a call."
"Then I'd better go." Kaji said, "I have business to see to on my end."
Misato blinked with a shade of concern in her eyes. She masked it by saying, "Don't prod your nose into any beartraps, dear."
Kaji just smiled at her as he leaned down over her bed and gave her a warm kiss. She smiled as he pulled away, and as he walked for the door asked, "Was there anything else interesting today?"
"Oh," Kaji said by the door, "There was one thing in the paper today, but I forgot to bring it."
"Then use your words."
Kaji, still smirking, put his hands in his pockets, "The world's greatest supercomputer is on tour."
Misato winced. "Who said anything about MAGI going anywhere?"
"Nobody. Our Tetsujin friend has inspired another science project to come out of the woodwork and start travelling the world. Since it isn't nuclear powered I don't think it'll have nearly as many objections."
"So how is this interesting?"
"Guess where it's going."
One she was off the premises of the NERV base, the day of Rei Ayanami was no longer a secret.
It started innocently enough even if her origin was far from innocent. The girl came out of a hole in the ground, but her first stop was at a bus station. It was a regular place for her to be at this time of day and her strangeness was witnessed so many times by the regulars that they ignored her. Ayanami, for the most part, ignored them in return.
But her mind was working. Usually it was on the needs of her Evangelion and the tests and what was expected of her. Today it was on school and what to expect today. The routine of accompany pilot Ik… no, he preferred to be called Shinji. And the class representative preferred to be called Hikari. First-name basis with the two of them that incurred a familiarity.
What precipitated this?
She was coming to terms with Shinji's need for emotional compensation by maintaining contact with her. Yet as she pondered that question she wondered if it applied at all to her. She had inferred that she wished to maintain a dialogue with Shinji and Hikari but what initiated that desire?
As she boarded the bus she took her usual seat and continued this line of thinking. She had to confess a degree of curiosity that had drawn Shinji into her sphere of attention. She had heard of this boy's existence before but it puzzled her why the Commander had not invited Shinji to live with him. Rei had plenty of time to observe other family units in action and a great many of them lived and functioned together. When she had asked the Commander about this one evening he had told her to never ask him any question of that sort again. She had put it out of her mind until Shinji physically arrived.
And yet in learning more about the boy she found a strange motivation to continue observing him. It brought a kind of stimulation to her she could not identify. The… the need of trying to become part of a community. The act of being accepted, where she was previously told such connections were irrelevant.
But if that was the case why was she introduced to an environment constructed purely for social reasons? There was no learning going on in the school, at least that divulged any knowledge that Rei would find useful. In light of this and the recognition of how logical her superiors were in their assignments, what purpose was there for Rei to be introduced to this social environment?
Could it be to propagate connections to others, as was the purpose and function of such social constructs?
Was she ordered to school to make friends?
Had she succeeded?
The thought that she had penetrated an alien landscape stuck with her all through the bus ride to school.
When not acting as a command center against alien invasions and an impending apocalypse, NERV's Command center performed a plethora of other roles. No other control center on earth could traffic as much information as NERV HQ could. It performed everything from weather monitoring to astronomy reports to trade numbers circulating through major stock markets. If there was a hub of information, NERV HQ was certainly it.
This was as much to maintain popular support as it was to gain an income from all these organizations that depended and benefited from this information.
Of course, since NERV HQ was operating beyond simple monitoring duties for advancing lovecraftian horrors, it also meant a full-time staff was needed. The staff wasn't always completely occupied but it was needed nonetheless.
This situation explained why Aoba Shurigu was at his station, strumming an air guitar, while weather patterns for the eastern hemisphere were slowly moving across his desk. He only needed to listen for the beep, which could come easily over the tunes playing in his brain.
Until he was distracted by a pair of fingers jabbing into his sides.
The laughter of a woman shook the air behind him as he turned his seat. Maya Ibuki, one of the most humble women on the entire base, was smiling at him with a grin that he could not resist adoring.
"Not cool to startle me in front of a hundred buttons that could end the world."
"Oh silly," Maya replied, exaggerating a dismissive feminine wave of her hand, "Everyone knows only the commander has that button on his desk."
Jokes like this could pass freely when the superiors weren't around to hear them.
"So," Aoba asked as he clapped his hands on his knees while he sat, "Are you clear for the afternoon?"
Maya nodded readily. "Satsuki can cover for me, Eva 01's just being secured in the hangar after pulling all that I-Type gear off."
Aoba smiled, "Still can't believe that Shinji actually airwalked to the cockpit. That's gotta take guts."
Maya's attitude deflated, for she still wasn't over her involvement in the episode. Aoba snapped her out of it by reaching over and thumping her in the arm. "Hey, he's alive and we're past it."
Maya made a smile for him, but it dropped again.
"Do I have to resort to tickles?"
"No!" Maya replied hastily, laughing, and then said, "It's not that… just something that bothered Doctor Akagi this morning."
Maya blinked and said, "When I passed her in the office complex today she seemed kind of flustered. She gave me just a summary of my duties and gave the break an ok without a thought. The only time I've seen her like this was when she had something huge on her mind."
"And you don't know what it is?"
Maya shook her head.
Aoba cupped his chin in his hand while he braced his elbow with the other for a moment of thought. His eyes dated back to Maya, "Could it be the trial?"
Maya blinked, "You knew about that?"
Aoba said nothing.
Maya sighed and continued, "No, I think it's something else. If she was bothered about it usually she likes to talk to me about anything involving Shinji…."
"Huhr. Hey, Hyuga?"
"Yeah?" Replied the bespectacled operator without looking away from his station.
"You hear anything that would drive the technical branch into a tizzy?"
"Sure. It was in the news this morning."
"Thanks," Aoba said absently as he spun around to his station and pulled up the internet. This was only possible when the superiors were away and it helped waste time, and it got Aoba the information he needed.
"Well, how about that."
Shinji's heart rate was understandably higher getting off the bus than it was getting on. He would be seeing Hikari soon… his girlfriend.
They had a date today.
Shinji wet his dry lips as he walked up the hill to the main building containing his classroom. Yes, he had a girlfriend. Not a thing he remotely expected when growing up under his aunt and uncle's roof. Women were inaccessible… and in a way unappealing. The superficial cares about fashion, desire, gossip… were alien to him. If you looked nice, you looked nice. Why spend energy on judging someone based superficial reasons?
Besides until now he was uninteresting to the female sex. Boring Shinji. Not a troublemaker or thrill seeker in the slightest.
Seems like he found the one woman with a rational perspective on life.
Imagining her tone of voice submerged in a breath behind a smile, coupled with a warm hug, gave him a goofy grin as he walked to class. As he approached the door he tried to contain his excitement. His innards shivered a little as he pulled open the door, though.
But his first sight in the classroom was quite off-putting.
Maybe that was too strong of a phrase, but Shinji sure felt it in that split second his eyes found Hikari.
She was there all right, behind a huge stack of papers. What de-motivated him the most was how closely the class girls were crowded around her. They all looked up now with dead expressions on their faces.
Hikari didn't even look up as Shinji walked by, and he wondered if she had even taken notice of his existence. His uncertainty lasted right up to taking his seat. He glanced over at her.
Two of the group of girls were still staring at him, and held their gaze long enough to make sure he registered their disapproval. They turned back to the others and started talking in tones he could not hear.
Shinji blinked, and then looked ahead as he placed his hands on his desk. What just happened?
Up until now, Shinji had been exempt from typical teenage drama. He was uninteresting. He wasn't so weak as to give someone a high on bullying him, but he wasn't strong enough to be awarded any attention from his peers. He faded into the background until now, something easily accomplished before.
Though he was never a participant he knew it when he saw it. He was now the target of scorn by most of the female students. Why? Well, perhaps the NERV-branded pen he was fishing out of his backpack was a message from fate to tell him that reason.
It was a little late for secrecy, but he returned the thing to his backpack while he thought over the situation. They hated him. He was a freak. How could he be rubbing shoulders with the class rep?
Just how many of them rushed to his side after Touji beat him senseless the other day?
Contradictions… Shinji grunted. He pulled out his homework and gave a thought to the unfairness of it all.
Yes, it was unfair. So was Kyoko's bullying. He had minded his own business in both cases, trying to do good, and got undue punishment for it. What the hell?
He found his fist was balled tight, and looked down at it.
Then he looked over at the gossiping girls, a hint of determination had appeared in his spine.
Rei walked in.
Asuka Soryu Langley woke up late for the first time in years.
9:30AM looked at her from the clock opposite of the bed.
As she closed her eyes and brought her comforter over her head she thought of every instance she was forced to be up early. Important people (her mother) calling her for important duties (her mother's whims) or embarking on studies and last-minute corrections to her homework (desired by her mother).
Yes, Asuka hadn't gotten far from her mother, even if she had thought living away was a reprieve. She needed to think of that ring tone and how much of an effect it had on her- even now as she thought about it.
She sucked in a breath. Tempting as it was to just sleep in for however long she wanted, any chance of independence might hang on what she does today. That thought in mind she pushed the covers off her bed and was immediately assaulted by the cold air.
The security service was kind enough to provide her pajamas, as well as a change of clothes from her apartment. She would be getting into these now, to face the day.
She had no idea of an itinerary or whatever. All she knew about the proceedings was what she garnered from a copy of the little green book the security people had given her. Asuka wasn't stupid, and presumed the laws would be changed soon to get around this contingency, but for the moment she knew some of the things she had to do.
A court case. Against her mother.
She disrobed and stepped into the shower, for unlike Shinji she was a morning bather and needed the water to wake up and rinse the sleep off her body. As she washed, she considered the ramifications of this incident if her mother were to Iwin/I. The shudder went down her body and into the drain, and she tried to follow it up with some other lines of thinking.
She would need a representative of her own. This wasn't quite a court battle, it was a negotiated dispute, but she needed to have someone who knew NERV law who could help her out.
She paused in soaping herself down to recall Ritsuko's offer of help. Maybe… maybe she could call the doctor.
She had this thought in mind when she finished her shower, but she came out of the bathroom to hear a knock on her door.
"Just a minute!" She replied as she started to dress. When she was finished she went to the door. She took a breath, paused, and opened it.
"Miss Langley," Makoto Hyuga said with a stack of papers and a laptop under his arm, "I would like to volunteer to be your representative in the domestic dispute with your mother."
Kensuke Aida was grateful to be alive.
This was the only good thing, he saw, coming out of the disaster that was last night. He heard more out of his father than he did since his mom died years ago. There would be more changes to his lifestyle too, since then, and it was enough to make Kensuke Aida almost lament being alive to experience it.
His father, as a part of the punishment, was taking a drastic pay-cut for several months. This meant no internet for him. His allowance (such as it was) would no longer exist, and if he didn't like it he could go get a job. His father also forbade him his stash of weapons, and told him if he ever heard any more stories of urbexing, he would have Kensuke shipped to live with his grandmother.
His grandma smelled like prunes. And was into cats. Many Cats.
If he could, he would have run from the house screaming. Having no choice he took it and didn't sleep well last night. He missed the stop to school and just kept travelling downtown, getting off and hitting the Public Library of Tokyo-3. After all in all the rules-making his dad didn't say he had to attend Ischool./I
Kensuke wasn't stupid. He knew any privilege he enjoyed with his NERV could be traced back to his father, and so notify him. Kensuke couldn't claim to be a computer guru and de-facto social rebel without having a handy supply of backups, so on the public computer system he accessed one of his side accounts, and emailed acquaintances that he was grounded. He was careful at least not to say anything to trip Tokyo-03's internal security system. Knowing how China operated their internet, he was careful to take the same precautions here.
After nearly a half-hour of updating contacts to his status, he sighed and leaned back in his chair. He grunted as he realized he really didn't have anything to do. School was boring, but School at least held his attention for a while and gave him an excuse to do other things and try to hide them. He didn't have such a thing here.
His stomach solved that problem for him. Grunting he got out of the chair and left the library to find someplace to eat.
When Gendo Ikari was first initiated into SEELE his contact had said that the organization was playing "A grand game of chess with the world." Gendo had never forgotten that adage and it served him well in his planning.
It took only the span of the mayor's smile and first few sentences for Gendo to declare, "It must be a ploy of the old men."
The subcommander grunted. "They didn't even bother to give an excuse at their previously booked venue!"
Gendo reached down and turned off the projection on his desk. "The media will provide one." He swiped with his hand and moved some other documents back into the projected space where the television screen once was. Then he leaned back in his chair and steepled his hands. "Perhaps last night's intrusion was fortuitous. It will prepare us for any spies that they might try to funnel in."
"Perhaps," Fuyutuski replied, "Though the best procedure would be to sterilize those areas."
"Best, but not possible." Gendo glowered into space. "Another open door the old men use to peer into our world."
"Indeed." Fuytusuki grunted, "One of the tumors, I suppose, between our organization and theirs."
"One not to be mined by a third party."
"The Russians, the Americans, the Chinese… any of them." Gendo's eyes slid to his teacher, "How have you dealt with the problem?"
"Some security had be to be reallocated from fringe areas to protect the sites until new measures are brought on-line." Fuyutuski replied.
"We need as few liabilities as possible. Start closing down our low-priority projects and reallocate their resources. We need to be prepared for anything the old men throw at us."
Fuytusuki arched an eyebrow. "The European Science Commission won't like us cutting loose their Project Blue contributions."
"Then we will alter the deal. They will double their tithe or their programs will be scrapped."
Gendo leaned forward to address the digital papers projected on his desk. When the Subcommander didn't move, Gendo turned his head back to his teacher. "You had something more to discuss?"
Fuyusuki brought the clipboard from under his arm into his grip. "The case of the second child."
"I have compiled a preliminary timetable and schedule. My best estimate is to have the matter concluded within two days."
"I doubt it will go that smoothly given Doctor Zeppelin's current state of tension."
Fuyutuski arched an eyebrow, "I'm disappointed that you think I would allow such a display."
"I would not put it past her given her recent actions." Gendo said. He held out his hand and Fuyutuski handed the physical file over.
"I should point out," Fuyutuski said, "That your son's arrival could be called an instigating factor in all of this."
"His arrival bought us another Evangelion in operational standing. For the present, that takes paramount consideration. Your directive in this manner is to ensure the outcome does not change that fact."
"Of course." Fuyutuski replied with a thoughtful look on his face.
Ritsuko Akagi thought her morning would be relatively free and empty. She could entertain the notion of getting some real sleep, something not often possible in this job. She wasn't surprised when her fears were dashed, but under duress she would confess being flustered with this latest 'development.'
The Worldwide Electronics Exposition Fair was an enormous summit of technological progress held annually in select cities across the globe. From its origins a year after the second impact, the fair came to be seen as a celebration of mankind's triumph over possible extinction. It was a celebration of the intellectual and technological might capable by human hands. MAGI had been unveiled at such a fair.
And now it would be called upon again.
Ritsuko paged through the documents detailing that last fair so many years ago. She had been there for that, but it was so long ago that it might as well have been a half-remembered lifetime from a previous incarnation. So much had changed since then.
The pain was didn't go away though.
She rubbed her forehead as she tried to sum up, again, what was going to happen. NERV was expected to have one booth at the fair to demonstrate their technological prowess. To save face (and divert the public from Evangelion disasters) they had to put on an entertaining show.
Someone said it was like a high school science fair, but for adults. Nobody would be bringing potato batteries however, figurative or otherwise.
Still if it meant displaying NERV triumphs, the trick was to find ones that could be disclosed without doing too much damage to NERV confidentiality. NERV had quite a few aces up their sleeves for any eventuality and revealing them too soon meant one less weapon if and when the time came for the organization to defend itself. As master of all technological matters, Ritsuko was the one to determine which projects to show. From there it was final approval from Yui Ikari.
But which ones!
EVA was clearly off the table. In the face of the remarks at the Jet Alone conference there was already too much information released about NERV's trump card to allow any mention of it to surface at the fair. MAGI was out too, but for another reason. That left a slew of other side projects, none of which had real direct commercial application.
She scrolled down the list of project folders that NERV had completed over the years. Even ones dated three years ago were still too hot to release to the public. Others seemed harmless enough until someone actually dissected the science that put them together- which had far-ranging consequences. It would be like giving microchip technology to a European power in the 1930s. Given NERV's adversaries, any one of them could become the modern-day nazis.
Well, if no headway was made here, she turned to the other point of the fair; one she was reluctant to face. MAGI.
The centerpiece of the fair this year wasn't' MAGI. It was the thing that was challenging MAGI for supremacy in the realm of computers. Coming from Urbana Illinois in the United States, the challenger was said to be one of the first true results of attainable artificial intelligence. Ritsuko had done a cursory search on the internet but found little publicly released about this system, save that it was once considered for deployment on space-based platforms. Apparently the project nearly dead-ended until it was decided to refine the technology. And so it was. To the point where it was getting rave reviews in the states from some high-level cyberneticists.
It would be publicly unveiled at the fair this year.
Ritsuko sighed angrily.
She wouldn't know the particulars of the 'contest' until later in the week, closer to the weekend when it actually started. It could be anything from a simple side-by-side comparison to actual in-depth tests of computing power. MAGI was the fastest object in the world with the greatest depth of calculation. The competition would have to be pretty impressive to match that.
But resting on your laurels in your superiority was the fastest way to have the competition overtake you. They would have to run diagnostics on the MAGI. That, at least, was done recently. But now came the time to test for additional capabilities of her mother's machine.
Ritsuko could hardly find excitement in such a venture.
When the lunch bell rang Shinji's heart was ready to leap up with him. Instead though, he stood up slowly.
He didn't know what was going to happen, only what was going to happen up to a point. He knew what to expect of the girls' behavior but he wasn't sure what Hikari would do. That she didn't look up for him cast doubts on his judgement.
But it was now or not today, and possibly never.
He walked through the desks, approaching the front of Hikari's seat. "H-Hikari?"
It took her a moment for her to look up. In the meanwhile, the clique that encircled Hikari was staring at him.
Shinji didn't spare them a glance. His eyes were only for his girlfriend.
"Shinji H-hi…." She looked as nervous as her tone conveyed.
What did these girls have on Hikari? "You ready?"
"I thought we had a date today." Shinji said.
Out of the corner of his eye he could see a pair of the girls looking at one another.
"And…yeah…" Shinji didn't check one of his nervous habits, and found his eyes wandering to one of the girls in an adjacent seat.
To Shinji, and to some men by extension, women were more than just a mystery. They had their good sides that only women could project, but they also had their darker sides that Ionly/I women could project. Where man was a master of physical tortures, women had mastered the psychological ones. The glare Shinji was getting right now was a kind of construct that came from the cruelty of the female sex.
In physical terms it was a deadpan expression. Not quite a neutral one, the eyes were a little wider there. But it wasn't something concentrated. The eyes were angled in such an empty way, and the face impassive but Ijust/I the right amount of frown was put into them. There was no effort on the woman's part, she was only channeling the power of her raw emotion.
To Shinji, and other men like him, it was an expression that was given to beings not even worthy of active contempt. IWhy were you born?/I As if someone had given her the right to make such a judgement. But Shinji would reflect later on that such women were so self-centered (or centered around something) that it enabled them to project this level of dis-empathy.
There were four such faces angled at him. The fifth girl surrounding Hikari didn't seem as committed.
Shinji focused his attention back on his girlfriend. Yes, he was scared. He couldn't deny it.
But the clenched fist at his side had origins in standing up to a woman who was determined to make his life miserable.
Hikari was about to say something but hesitated when she saw Shinji's jaw quiver. She cast a glance at one of her classmates. Said classmate turned her gaze.
There was a battle of wills here. Shinji recognized this in that second. The thought hit him that he would have to raise his voice when suddenly a new voice interrupted.
"Hikari, Shinji, are you coming out to lunch?"
All heads turned.
Rei Ayanami was standing there and holding her bag.
The women turned hard stares in two directions- Hikari and Shinji. Shinji turned his eyes to the one face he caught, and read a new expression there.
You're on first-name basis with this Freak?!
Shinji closed his mouth. Somehow by figuring they saw Rei that way, it all made sense to him. "I'm ready. Hikari, are you coming?"
Hikari hesitated once again and then saw something new in Shinji's eyes. She didn't see his fist, but it came from the same spark. She closed her mouth. "Yeah, I'm ready."
"Class rep." One of the students toned.
"That's okay," Hikari said back to them as she stood, "You can take care of it for me!" She turned back to Shinji and her hand reached out to his, sliding down his arm and entering his hand. "Let's go!"
She turned away and left with her boyfriend without looking back.
Honestly it wasn't like Asuka had any choice. It would be fair to say she hardly knew what was going on, anyway.
But Hyuga was there to help her with that. He had already set up on Asuka's bed beside the girl and unfolded his papers and the laptop. He had been prescient about her concerns, and as soon as she agreed to his council he was a spring of information.
"Pilot Regulation 24 is an apparatus designed to handle most of the domestic affairs surrounding the pilots. It is one of three functions in the pilot contract that directly handles the pilot's living conditions during their employment. It has a few reasons for being there, the strongest of which probably because NERV couldn't operate pilots your age under Japan's Child Labor Laws.
"In this particular instance, it works like this: A mediator from the senior officer's staff is selected to be the arbiter and jury of the dispute. He represents NERV's Interests and is responsible for interpreting NERV law to find the best workable solution. In addition representatives are required to compile the cases for their parties to present to the mediator. It is also needed to provide impartial evidence to the mediator."
Asuka had been sitting on her knees, listening. She said now as she let one of her legs dangle down the bed, "You're my legal representative then."
"And you're compiling my case."
Asuka blinked with a sudden revelation as she realized any shot at getting clear of her mother relied in everything she could tell this man. "What do you know already?"
"I took the precaution of indexing files which might be of interest to me, pending your approval. I have also book-marked reports from the technological department on your performance record."
Asuka remembered that session where she had been asleep… and Doctor Akagi was watching over her. And what was said afterward.
"Now," Hyuga said and turned to her. His done dropped some, and a hint of warmth finally entered his until now business tone, "If you want to bring to light any domestic abuses or threats from your mother, I will need to know those to build your case."
Asuka blinked as she stared into space. Then she slowly lifted her shirt, but only so high.
"I tried to run away once."
Hyuga turned his eyes and saw what she was indicating. "This is physical evidence admissible in court."
Asuka lowered her shirt again.
"Are there any other instances?"
Asuka turned over her wrists. "When I was younger there were."
She spent a half-hour speaking. Hyuga's fingers flew over the keyboard.
"If she ever finds out I told you this, I-" Her voice cracked and her head lowered.
Hyuga gave her a look of compassion. His voice accented it, "Asuka, the most success I can get out of this is have a legal restraining order on your mother."
"How are you going to get that past NERV?" She asked, "My mom's handler of pilot maintenance and health!"
"There are other doctors," Hyuga said, "And there are other supervisors who can monitor your Eva statistics."
"But I don't want to trade my mother to Shinji! She'd tear him apart!"
"Nobody said that was going to happen!" Hyuga replied, and then went on when he had her attention, "Doctor Akagi can fill both positions. So can any of the other scientific department heads. As I understand it, it might be favorable to collapse Eva pilot managing all under one supervisor, anyway."
Asuka drew her knees up again. "I don't want to inconvenience Doctor Akagi." She turned her head away.
Hygua smiled. "I think if you asked her, Doctor Akagi would be more than happy to supervise your tests miss Langley."
Asuka closed her eyes.
As soon as they were on the other side of the quad, and their main building was out of sight, Hikari stopped Shinji and gave him a tight hug.
He wasn't startled. "What happened?"
Hikari parted from him and couldn't look him in the face.
"I…" She shook her head a little. "Shinji they don't like you."
"…They don't think I should have anything to do with you."
"I noticed that too."
"They're…" She swallowed, "They're going to have me removed from being the class rep."
Shinji blinked. "Well, uhm… I don't think that's-"
"Yes it is!" She replied, pleading, now looking up at him, "You don't understand how much this will hurt me Shinji! Kodama was class rep before me and it caries a tremendous responsibility!" She took in a breath and sighed it out, "If I'm dishonorably removed from the position it means it goes on my permanent academic record. Then there's my father and my sister… they're both proud that I have it. How can I go back to them and tell them what happened when it wasn't even my fault!"
She leaned forward and started to cry into the nape of his neck.
Shinji's arms came around her and hugged her tight. So, this was the threat they had over her. He looked over at Rei.
"What are they going to say?" Shinji asked as he turned his head.
"A-All those friends I-I had over… they…" She sniffed.
"There's no evidence is there?"
"Shinji," she sobbed, "Not everyone who stayed over at my house are my friends anymore."
A mote of indignation rose in him. It was so unfair! Both School AND at NERV! Unless…
An offer to leave his girlfriend alone was at the tip of his tongue.
But she just grabbed him tighter, before he could entertain speaking it.
"We'll think of something…" Shinji sighed into her ear, "Let's eat."
She nodded against his cheek.
Rei looked thoughtful.
When they returned to the classroom Shinji and Hikari weren't holding hands.
The thought crossed Shinji's mind again just to break up with her so she could keep her status, but somehow it was easier to bat the notion aside this time. He didn't want to give up on Hikari. He didn't want the bullies to win again.
But he didn't want to make Hikari feel any more terrible, either. He was feeling helpless, and so just as depressed as Hikari because he couldn't see any way out of this.
He had no magic bullet this time.
So as class droned on again he tried to come up with ways on his own to somehow short-circuit the conspiracy aimed at his hopeful girlfriend. Not even the first date and already there was drama!
Suddenly Rei stood up.
"Class Representative Hikari." She declared, "I request permission to go to the office."
Rei had interrupted the instructor in the middle of a 'lecture' about his first puppy. Today was, after all, the day when biology was supposed to be covered.
The instructor and everyone else turned their heads at Rei.
"Er…sure?" Hikari replied, shocked out of her depression.
Rei actually bowed. "Thank you, Class Representative Hikari."
With that Rei simply walked out of the classroom with her carry case in hand.
A stunned silence held the classroom for a moment, in which one of the girls blockading Hikari gave her a stern glare.
Hikari didn't look at her.
And Shinji ducked his head too quickly for them to lock gazes with him. But even he was puzzled. What moved Rei to do that?
Hyuga closed his laptop and began to gather his papers.
Asuka felt drained, but hopeful.
The man finished putting his papers together, stood, and said to Asuka, "I promise you, I'll do the best I can to help you win this."
Hyuga was halfway to the door when Asuka said, "First Lieutenant Hyuga,"
"Why are you doing this for me? I don't even know you."
The man smiled. "A friend asked me as a favor."
Hyuga shook his head, then said, "After I submit my preliminaries, I'll be back to let you know the itinerary of the trial. Knowing the subcommander, he'll want to take care of this quickly."
"But the quickest solution is just to hand me back to my mother's control!"
"Perhaps, but it's not the most efficient," Hyuga said, "And the timing might actually be in our favor."
With that he ducked out of the door, leaving Asuka alone again after he closed it.
Asuka sighed, and as she brought her knees up again and hugged them, she wondered how Shinji was doing.
Class was dismissed.
Hikari didn't move at all as the students filed out of the classroom. Shinji also waited, mostly because he wanted to be sure the blockade was gone before seeing to his girlfriend. Once the room was clear, he stood and walked to her. He stopped beside her desk. "Hikari…"
"Shinji," she said without turning to him, "I think… I think I'm just going to resign."
"What? You mean-"
She stood and started to pack her things. "I think it's better that way, instead of being honorably forced out. That way they have nothing on me, and even if they did spread rumors, at least I'll have the decency of backing out before they axe me." She finished packing her papers, then turned to him, "A resignation is better than a termination."
"You know," Shinji said, "I almost thought about backing out on this, to make you feel better."
"Shinji," She reached out again, taking his hand. Shinji saw a glow in her eyes. He started to say something, hesitated, and smiled as she said, "You've become more important to me than position, you know? You're rare…" One of her hands came up along his neck and brushed his hair, "And I want to keep you."
Hearing that made Shinji's heart warm up a little. He squeezed her hand.
She squeezed back as she took a breath and said, "Well, let's get this over with."
The two of them left the classroom and started for the office.
A surprise was in store for when they actually got there though.
Sure the clique was there (four girls instead of five, Shinji noticed), but all of them were seated in the waiting area of the office. They all looked up at the newcomers, and the dead expressions started to form.
But before they could draw the attention of the couples in, the receptionist asked, "Can I help you two?"
Hikari walked up and swallowed. "I want to speak to the principal…"
"Oh! Well you'll have to wait in line, these ladies are ahead of you."
Shinji looked back at the four. They stared back.
"It's rather urgent…" Hikari said without turning to appease her tormentors.
"Well," The receptionist said as she picked up a phone, "He HAS been in conference for a long while with a stu-"
"Ah, there she is!" Heads lifted and turned to see the Principal emerging from his office…right behind Rei. He continued on, eyes focused on Hikari, "Come to claim your little lost lamb eh Miss Hoarki? Well, you'll be pleased to know she's been in here this entire afternoon ranting on how well you've been performing!"
Hikari was astounded.
The four had their eyes wide.
The Principal laughed, "I've heard Miss Ayanami was quite analytical but she gave an earful! I'm pleased to hear that you've stepped firmly into Kodama's footsteps, and I'm sure your father is very proud of you."
"Wh-why…" Hikari was blushing, "Yes! Of course!"
The principal nodded eagerly. "And to think you had the initiative of giving overnight instruction to some of your classmates! The dedication! I'm sure you're well on your way to a prestigious career in education!"
The four looked squarely at Rei, but Rei was far better at giving empty gazes then they were.
"In fact," The principal continued, "I meant to get around to you one time or another, since apparently some of the faculty have been commenting on your performance as well. It's not hard to believe you're Kodama's sister!"
"Y-Yeah…" Hikari said, blushing a little nervously from being under so much praise.
Rei spoke up, "I thought it would be prudent to give a positive account of your performance, Class Rep."
Hikari blushed a little, "Thank you Rei."
The Principal turned to Shinji, "And you're mister Ikari?"
Shinji blinked, "Uh, yes sir…"
The Principal smiled. "Doctor Akagi is an old friend of mine. She handed me your papers herself and asked me to check up on your performance now and again. She seemed to think you were a bright and promising boy!"
The Principal nodded, "And from what Miss Ayanami tells me, Hikari has been granting you special instruction!"
"Uh?" Shinji paused, but then felt Hikari take his hand. He looked down at her and saw a bashful smile on her face.
"Ahhh, I see!" The Principal replied, "Well, if that's the case, I look forward to great academic performance from the both... no, the three of you!" He turned to include Rei. He nodded happily, "I'm very glad you came to see me miss Ayanami, otherwise I wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet such fine students!"
Hikari and Shinji laughed nervously. Shinji, seeing it only through smiling eyes, wasn't sure when he thought he saw a little smile on Rei's face as well.
The Principal came down from his jovial mood suddenly and said, "Now, these four ladies want some of my time as well, and I have to respect the attention of all my students after hours. Thank you for stopping by!"
Shinji, Hikari, and Rei thus left the administration building befuddled, but hopeful.
A thought crossed Hikari's features then. "Shinji…what if they-"
He just squeezed her hand and smiled down at her. She smiled back. "Rei,"
"Thank you. If there's anything I can do…"
"If it is not a burden, I would like to accompany you after school again on your intimate gathering."
The other two flushed. "Wh-What?"
Rei cocked her head. "A…date? I surmised with a group of people I would not be intrusive."
Hikari and Shinji looked at another, then broke into nervous laughter.