"The pulses are flowing backwards!"
"Something's going wrong in the third stage!"
"Synchronization rate is falling!"
"Rejection occurring in the nerve center elements!"
"Break off contact, cut circuit links #1 through #6."
"Negative, the signal's not being received!"
"Unit 00 has gone berserk!"
The Pribnow Box was in complete chaos as the startup test for Evangelion Unit 00 rapidly deteriorated out of their control. The crew was unable to get a signal through to the First Child, Rei Ayanami, who was piloting the Eva. Or rather, she was supposed to be piloting. Now it appeared as if the thing was acting on its own.
Unit 00 let loose a horrible moan, one that sounded far too human for comfort, even to Dr. Ritsuko Akagi, who had long since thought herself immune to such petty sentiments. And she was, but there was just something unsettling about the sounds an awakened Evangelion made. She shuddered despite herself as the image of an unarmored Unit 00 pushed itself to the forefront of her mind. When she thought of it those terms, all of this seemed unimaginably cruel. So she supposed the restraining armor served to distance herself from the Evas.
But this was…completely beyond her expertise. Unit 00 tore free of the arm restraints that held it against the far wall. The giant staggered forward like a man (or a woman, she thought icily) with a sudden migraine. Indeed, that's how it behaved, clutching at its head and crying out again. Was it going to tear its own skull out? Then it stepped forward and lifted its cyclopean face and everyone knew in that instant that it was looking right at them. But only she knew it was looking right at her.
He hand flew across the console and smashed open the glass case that protested the emergency cutoff switch, which she promptly pulled. The umbilical cable detached from Unit 00, cutting off its power. "Thirty seconds active power!" At the same time, Rei's Entry Plug was ejected from the Eva's neck. In the relatively small space, the rocket-propelled escape system shot her straight into the wall and ceiling. It bounced around shortly before it expended all of its emergency fuel and crashed to the floor.
"Rei, no!" Gendo looked about ready to leap through the window to go to her rescue. As the berserk cyborg punched at the window separating it from them, all she could think was He never says my name like that.
The large windows exploded inward, spraying the Nerv technicians with glass shards. It looked about ready to reach in and grab someone like a King Kong rip-off, but instead it recoiled, again clutching at its armor-encased head. At ten seconds active time remaining, Unit 00 began smashing its own skull against the wall, as if trying to banish some unseen demon from its mind. The sounds of alarms, metal crunching, and vaguely human moans mixed together into a macabre rhapsody that many would not forget for many nights. All Ritsuko could think of in that moment when power finally ran out and Unit 00 fell lifelessly stiff, and silence reigned, was that Gendo cared more about the doll girl than he did about her. He didn't even see her jealous glare as the Somnacin flow was abruptly halted by the MAGI and they experienced what could only be described as a waking drowsiness.
Once they were all awake, he was already at her side, a thin trickle of blood running down his arm from where he tore out the hypodermic needle.
"Rei! Rei, are you alright?"
Neon Psychosis Evangelion 10
Stardust, Part 1: The Calm
Shinji didn't hear the knocking on the door until the third round; by that time he remembered that he was home alone. Misato had to go in early today for Rei's reactivation test with Unit 00. He was in the middle of cleaning the kitchen because Misato never would and according to their "chart" it was his turn. Some chart. They decided chores with rock-paper-scissors and he lost almost every time. And those few things Misato was supposed to do, he ended up doing those anyway. It didn't matter all that much, he supposed, at least when he cleaned he could make sure it was done correctly.
Pen Pen warked at Shinji to get his attention as their visitor knocked a third time. The boy set the last dish in the sink and stepped out of the kitchen, giving the warm water penguin a thankful nod. He opened the door, not sure of whom to expect, although secretly hoping it would be Toji or Kensuke, and found himself staring at Dom Cobb's bearded face.
"Cobb," he stuttered. "Uh, Mis-Misato isn't here right now. She had to go in because of Rei's reactivation test with Unit 00."
"I know," he responded levelly. "But I'm not looking for her. Today, I'm here to see you."
"Me?" No one had ever wanted to see him specifically – unless it was to scold him.
Cobb nodded. "Are you free?"
"Uh, well," Shinji gave the apartment a backward glance and saw Pen Pen staring at him from the kitchen, wearing a look that said "Just go."
"Let me get my shoes."
Ariadne chewed on the end of her pen as she studied the map of Nerv headquarters. This thing was damn near useless. Sure it was labeled and actually detailed each and every passage, but it was all crammed onto and 8.5 X 11 piece of computer paper, which reduced the image to a mass of right angles that resembled one of her labyrinth designs more than it did the layout for the headquarters of the world's foremost secret paramilitary organization tasked with saving the world from psychic entities.
Still, she wasn't about to throw away the next to useless map. If everything went the way she hope it would, the map would serve another, more useful purpose. With a sharp glance at the air vent in front of her, she marked her approximate location with a red X. Then she folded the paper and stuck that between her teeth along with the pen and carefully removed the ventilation cover, taking care to make as little noise as possible. She was fairly certain that this particular corridor was abandoned and unused – it lead to a dead end with no rooms or hallways branching off – but one can never be too careful.
The air vent itself was rather spacious, at least compared to what she thought it would be. No feeling of claustrophobia set in, and she was able to crawl on her hands and knees without much difficulty. But it was cold and for the first time since arriving in Tokyo-3, she was glad her wardrobe consisted almost entirely of skinny jeans and jackets; Arthur affectionately (or not) called her a hipster.
She exhaled sharply, remembering the conversation they had earlier that morning. She had tried to convince Arthur to help her do some snooping around Nerv.
"I'm going to find out what they're hiding in Terminal Dogma," she had said in response to his question.
He had been silent before answering, "I guess I should have expected that." From the way he had said that and the look on his face, Ariadne had known he wasn't going to help her.
"You're not going to help me, are you?"
"I didn't say that."
"But you didn't say you would, either."
Arthur had smiled that thin smile he always did whenever dealing with Ariadne. "It's not that simple Ariadne. Nerv is a heavily guarded paramilitary organization, funded by the UN. Cross them, and we disappear without a trace."
"That's not why you won't help me. You're as curious as I am – you admitted as much. What was Saito talking about? Why did Thompson want to expose Nerv's secrets? We both want to know what's really going on, so why won't you help me?"
"There's…a code, Ariadne, a set of rules we Extractors follow, unspoken. Pretty high up on that list is never to turn against your employer – at least not while employed be them. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but once you've been in the black market business as long as I have, these things get drilled into your head. You live by them, if you want to survive."
Ariadne had softened her scowl. "I guess you're nothing if not honorable, Arthur."
"Honor has nothing to do with it. It's about survival. It was and always will be about survival."
"I understand – "
"But you're still going through with it."
She had smiled mischievously. "Wish me luck?"
"All the luck in the world."
Now as she crawled on her hands and knees, slowly, careful not to make any undue noises, Ariadne wondered about what he meant. Always will be about survival. She couldn't help but think about Nerv mission: to ensure the survival of the human race – somehow she didn't think that was what Arthur was talking about.
"S-So, what's this about, Cobb?"
Cobb didn't answer right away, instead surveying the dreamscape around them. Unintentionally, it seemed, they had recreated Tokyo-3. Not perfectly, of course. Little details here and there were off: the wrong street sign, or not enough windows or floors on a skyscraper, and a good number of shops went unlabeled. But all in all, the city was there. It was quite the opposite of everything an Architect was taught.
But it would serve.
"Before we begin, Shinji, I would like you tell me everything you think you know about dream-sharing."
Shinji didn't like the way Cobb said that, but didn't argue. "Well, we're already breaking one of the rules: never create places you know." That elicited a smile, which lessened the strange, dour mood of the dream. "If you die in the dream, you wake up – but it still hurts. A lot." More than one memory surfaced of extreme pain while dreaming. "And keep a Totem, so you always know what's real."
"That's pretty good, Shinji." Cobb nodded and gave the world around them a passive sweep. "You're right. We are breaking the rule about recreating real locations, but this is part of your lesson."
Shinji look on expectantly, but Cobb continued to stare off into the distance. After a moment, he understood. Mal. Hurriedly, the child began looking around, too, usually opposite Cobb's field of vision.
"I think we're safe, Cobb."
"For now. While we have this world to ourselves, let's not waste any time. You know all the basics of dream-sharing, but there's something else we haven't told you yet. You asked why you had to pilot the Evangelion when we first brought you to the city, and what did we tell you?"
"That I was the only one who could, but…you never explained why."
"Well, that's what I'm going to do now. There's a reason we designate you and Rei and the First Child and Third Child: because you are two of the only three people able to pilot those constructs. I know that doesn't explain it anymore, but bear with me." A wave of suspicion seemed to overcome Cobb, and he ushered Shinji along.
"And what exactly am I looking at?" Misato glanced from the monitor to the blond woman beside her.
"A positron sniper rifle," Ritsuko replied, still mystified. "It fired a positron beam at subluminal speeds, capable of reaching low Earth-orbit. No extant material has the structural integrity to withstand a single shot from this monster."
"If it's such a badass weapon, why haven't we built one?"
"Such a machine would require an energy input equivalent to the entire country of Japan."
Misato considered this. "So it's only a theoretical weapon, then. Making one in real life would require more resources than anyone is willing to put forward, huh? A lot of what we do is impossible. My question is: why haven't we thought this up for dream combat before?"
"Because," Ritsuko said patiently. "It still has to work, and I didn't know the specifications for the weapon. My fields of expertise are in artificial evolution and theoretical biology."
"Are those even real fields?" Misato deadpanned.
Ritsuko ignored her. "But now we have it. I've already loaded the schematics into the MAGI's processors. Later, we're going to call in Rei and Shinji and have them test it out."
"Will it work?"
"Of course it will work," she snapped. "And yes, it will be able to pierce A.T. fields."
Misato stood up and stretched. "You seemed awfully confident, Ritsuko. I'm usually the cocky one and you're usually the cautious one, so tell me, what brought on this sudden reversal of roles?"
"Nothing." That seemed a little defensive. Misato shrugged and picked up the flash drive. It still held the positron sniper rifle schematics, but since they had been copied and recreated on several laptops and within the MAGI, Maya and Ritsuko had since discarded the device. She turned it over in her fingers, the embossed ENCOM logo glinting in the fluorescent lights.
"So who do you know at ENCOM?"
"Someone important, obviously," she observed skeptically. "And completely not suspicious at all."
"What do you mean, Captain Katsuragi?" Maya appeared through the doorway bearing two cups of coffee.
"I mean, Maya, that this sudden generosity from a mysterious friend at ENCOM seems too perfect. It's a weapon that can't exist in the real world, but we don't fight our battles in the real world. The Angels exist within our subconscious, and even there, normal weapons can't penetrate A.T. Fields. But this…this can. I don't know, it stinks."
Maya sipped her coffee and typed something on her laptop. "We've run it through every scan we have. The MAGI didn't detect any malware or spyware. It's even cleaner than a basic document – like someone went out of their way to remove any harmful information from it."
Misato frowned. "And that's what I'm talking out." She didn't offer any further explanation, choosing instead to casually slip the flash drive into her jacket and march out of the room.
"Do you really think it's alright, Sempai?"
Ritsuko smiled. "Trust me, Maya. Flynn's a good man. I don't know how he acquired these schematics or why he sent them our way, but I choose to believe it's a good sign."
"If you say so."
Cobb talked as they walked. "Normally, the more you alter a dream environment, the more the projections – the Dreamer's subconscious – becomes aware of you. Keeping messing with it, and they'll turn on you, like white blood cells attacking a virus. You haven't really experienced this because of interference by the Angels." He kept glancing over his shoulder every few minutes. It made Shinji nervous, and soon he found himself doing the same. "It appears they ingrain themselves in the mind of their host and, if given enough time, assume total control over their mind, conscious and preconscious."
He stopped abruptly, causing Shinji to run into him. "But they aren't the only ones with such abilities. Shinji, you and the other Children are special because you can manipulate the fundamental fabric of the dream environment without drawing the subconscious projections attention. In short, you can change things in a dream, without consequences."
It was a lot to take in. "I can…what?"
Cobb gripped him by the shoulders. "We have some time. I'm going to show you exactly what I mean."
He blinked and suddenly they were surrounded by a sea of projections, going about their daily business, as was Cobb's directive. "Observe."
Cobb decided to play it theatrically, jutting his hand out towards a building he planned to manipulate. Such a gesture was unnecessary, but it drew Shinji's attention. The building shuddered and moaned. It stretched and grew, twisted and reached toward the heavens, creating such a ridiculous image that Shinji felt compelled to laugh.
But Cobb was watching the people around them, paying little attention to what was actually happening. The more he altered the building, the more projections looked his way, until they were all looking at him, bumping into him. Finally, they stopped and stared. No matter how many times he experienced the blank mob stare, it never failed to unsettle him. "See?"
Shinji looked around and nodded, nervously swallowing. Cobb released his concentration and the building reverted to its original form. They waited a few minutes while the projections calmed and dispersed. A few looked their way, but that was acceptable.
"Now you try."
"But – '
"No, I told you. You won't be noticed. Trust me."
Had anyone else asked him to trust them, Shinji would have done just the opposite. No one in Nerv seemed to be capable of telling him the truth – except Ariadne. Cobb kept his secrets, but at least he was owning up to them. So, despite his instincts, Shinji trusted Dominic Cobb.
He focused on the building, and willed it to change, to warp, to stretch. It moaned and creaked and shook its neighbors, but it held together. Then it grew skyward, level by level.
"More," Cobb urged. "Think abstract. Think wild. Think impossibly."
So Shinji did so and imagined a building that could never exist. The middle section caved in on itself, creating a biconcave rectangle. The top flared out like a rose in bloom. Where the two concave sections touched, the hollowed it out and expanded the base until it reached into the street. Pieces of it snapped off like vesicles carrying nutrients to the cell's nucleus. It was a masterpiece of abstract art.
And not a single projection looked his way.
Cobb nodded approvingly and Shinji smiled.
Where am I? Ariadne stretched her limbs and yawned. That last bout of ventilation duct crawling had lasted way too long. She was stiff and cramped and her knees hurt. "Maybe that's enough exploring for today. Once I find my way out of here."
The room was windowless, doorless, and featureless. It was simply an enclosed space. Also, it pitch black. She slid her cell phone out of her pocket and flipped it open as a makeshift flashlight. When that wasn't bright enough, she messed with the settings until the screen brightness was on maximum. It might drain her battery, but at least she could see.
"What is this place? It's not marked on the map…and there's no way out." At least the vent was on the wall, so she could still reach to escape. The light from her phone dimmed, so she shut it and opened it again, this time casting it on the folded map.
"I came from here…went down…this vent, turned here…and here, so I'm here." She glanced around. "Which is nowhere – wait. This is – no." The dimensions were right, and the location was a perfect match. But since this room existed in the real world, it served no purpose.
"So why is it here?"
She moved over to where the windows were and placed her hand on the wall, as if trying to wipe grime from a window. It was a wall, sure as she thought, although he had maybe hoped for it to be a window to a secret room or something. Alas, no. He cell phone dimmed and switched off again, so she closed it and flipped it once more. In the blinding light, she scribbled the name of the room PRIBNOW BOX? and returned to the duct.
"This duct is also useless, then," she remarked before disappearing.
When the klaxons started blaring, only Arthur, Makoto, and Shigeru were present in the Bridge. Sensors hidden throughout the city immediately began triangulating the location of the irregularity.
"Unusual delta wave pattern detected against the psychic background! Pattern: Sepia; Angel unconfirmed!"
Maya Ibuki slid into her seat and immediately set to her usual tasks. Gendo Ikari and Kozo Fuyutsuki appeared from somewhere beneath the floor on their elevated command seat. Ritsuko and Misato appeared through two separate doors and Eames swaggered in a few moments later. When Rei, Cobb and Shinji finally appeared, it seemed to Arthur as a Tetris game with all the pieces falling perfectly into place.
Except these pieces didn't vanish when lined up properly, but he was too preoccupied to come up with a better metaphor.
"I don't know why we don't automatically assume any wave pattern other than Red is an Angel," Eames remarked. "Seriously, people."
"It's protocol." Misato answered, an entire explanation in one word. "Have the MAGI triangulated its position?"
"Working," Shigeru responded. "Pattern shifted from Sepia to Orange, but keeps drifting close to Blue."
"Can that happen?"
Maya exchanged a look with Ritsuko. "If the source of the unusual pattern has enough practice, then it's possible it might try to subdue its own thought patterns to avoid detection. But…"
"But that would require it to have foreknowledge of our sensors," Ritsuko finished. "No one outside this room knows about the psychic wave pattern detection equipment present in Tokyo-3."
"So," Arthur started. "Either we have a leak, or – "
"Or the Angels are learning."
Neither one of those options was particularly pleasant to think about.
"We've located the general area," Makoto announced. "But the shifting pattern makes it difficult to track. You're going to need Rei for this interception, Arthur."
"Got it. Want me to take Shinji, too?"
"Negative," boomed Commander Ikari's voice. "The positron sniper rifle remain untested and it may prove useful in the coming battle. I want Shinji and Dr. Akagi to go down one level for five minutes and test the capabilities of the weapon, as well as confirming its compatibility with the MAGI and Evangelions."
"That doesn't give us much time, Commander," Ritsuko protested. "The warm-up period for the rifle alone is – "
"Then take ten minutes or go down two levels. Either way, you have to make sure it works before they return with the host. I won't have an Angelic presence in here any long that necessary. Arthur, take Rei and Eames. Misato, I want you to go with them, in lieu of Shinji. Deadly force is not authorized as per protocol. Subdue and transport the host."
"Maintain communications with me, Makoto," Arthur said quietly.
"You got it. I'll be feeding you updates about the target's location and what sort of pattern it's displaying."
Shinji stood off while everyone around him scrambled to their respective assignments until Ritsuko took him by the arm and lead him away. "Let's go, Shinji. We don't have a lot of time."
"But isn't five minutes up here…?"
"An hour down there, yes, but the weapon takes at least twenty five minutes to warm up, and
I would like at least forty minutes to test out the weapon's capabilities." She exhaled sharply. "He gives me five minutes to test out the most powerful weapon since N2 mines and wants results. Honestly. Don't turn out like your father, Shinji."
There's no danger of that happening, he assured himself.
Ariadne looked from the Makoto, Maya, and Shigeru to Ikari and Fuyutsuki. She had no place in this operation right now. And it pissed her off. And that made her feel foolish, like a pouting child. Knowing this didn't take the scowl off her face, however.
"Ariadne." That was Cobb. No one else seemed to think she was any use around Nerv. "Go down to the MAGI and review the Labyrinth Files. Some of them might have been corrupted during the last Angel battle…" the unspoken concern was Mal's appearance during the fight. He worried she may have contaminated the MAGI.
She nodded. "Ok, Cobb. That's a good idea."
"Why do you keep her around," Gendo Ikari asked rather coldly.
"She's a good Architect," Cobb answered honestly. Everyone of his crew was handpicked for their skills. They may not all get along at all times, but during situations like this, they knew when to shape up. And he didn't like the way Ikari asked the question either.
"She's nosey is what she is. Neither of our businesses are ones where you survive too long by asking questions."
Fuyutsuki cleared his throat to break the tense silence.
"When this is done, remind her of this fact. I don't want to see her crawling around in the air ducts anymore." He never took his eyes from the screen. "Do I make myself, clear, Mr. Cobb?"
He swallowed nervously. "Crystal, sir."
Misato Katsuragi wasn't accustomed to being a passenger in a vehicle. Typically, she was the one driving. Whether it was Shinji now or Ritsuko back in college. Hell, even Ryoji Kaji let her take the wheel. So being along for the ride put her on edge. Rei's blank, unblinking red eyes only exacerbated the feeling. So she turned away from the Second Child to stare out at the city through the front window.
Being in the back of an unmarked van also probably stirred some primal female instinct to run in the opposite direction and never look back. It was a good instinct, and one not easily ignored.
"You alright back there, Captain?" Arthur glanced at her via the rearview mirror.
"Just fine, Arthur. The sooner we get this over with the better."
Eames cracked a smile. "I completely understand, Ms. Katsuragi. Arthur's driving always gives me the willies."
"Oh, can it, Eames. I'm a better driver than you. At least I don't keep trying to drive on the wrong side of the road."
"What if I told you to suddenly drive on the correct side of the road, Arthur, hm? I think you'd have a hard time adjusting, yes?"
"Perhaps," he conceded. "But then I'd have you drive because you were used to it. See, I'd rather not die because of my pride."
"Is that what you think I am? Prideful?" He feigned offence.
"No, I think you're ridiculous."
"Can we just focus, please?" Misato snapped.
"They do this constantly, Captain Katsuragi," Rei informed her, monotone. "It has not affected their field capabilities negatively so far."
"Well, it's giving me a migraine."
No one argued and they both shut up. She regretted her words immediately because the silence put her on edge again. Why was she so nervous? She was a trained officer of the JSDF for God's sake. Was it because this was the first real combat she'd ever seen outside of basic? No, it had to be more than that.
It was dark in the van.
I hate the darkness.
And the Angel.
I hate the Angels.
"There." Rei leaned forward and pointed to woman in a business suit. Right before her eyes, Rei's hair color changed from powder blue to a deep black, which, surprisingly, made her look completely different. Normal, almost. A scratchy wool ski mask landed in her lap.
"Put that on," Eames commanded.
"What for?" She demanded.
"Do you want people knowing that you just shot and kidnapped a lady in broad daylight? Buying out the police department can't stop people from using their eyes, ma'am." He pulled his mask on and opened the door as soon as Arthur parked the van. The driver did likewise and Rei opened the read doors and leapt out as well. Growling, Misato pulled hers on and followed, drawing her sidearm.
The host didn't run as expected. Instead, the female charged right for them. Rei raced to intercept, dodging the thrown briefcase, which narrowly missed Arthur. Misato fired off two rounds before Eames tossed her a magazine of tranq darts.
Rei and host collided. Rei's leg against the woman's arm. They recoiled and Eames and Arthur each squeezed off a single dart, both of which missed. Rei regained her footing and lunged again at the possessed woman. Because she was dodging a shot from Misato, the woman got a fist in her gut.
More shots were fired. One of them should have been a direct shot…except that it stopped dead in midair. Did she imagine that? Couldn't have been. Rei brought her knee right into the woman's nose, stunning her long enough to drive a hypodermic needle into her neck and depress the plunger, sending the contents straight into the bloodstream. After a momentary struggle, the host fell limp. Very casually, Rei carried her fireman style back to the van.
"Can't ask for a cleaner job than that," Arthur remarked. "Nice shootin', Tex," he said to Misato.
But she didn't say anything.
She knew she saw an A.T. Field.