A/N: I apologize if this chapter seems a bit choppy and/or disjointed. It was written in sections over a period ofat least two months. The first parts were written immediately after the publication of the first chapter; the middle around a month ago; and the last bits over the last few days. But the good news that based on the response I received from the first chapter, I am certainly going to continue this. But please note: All the Children have been aged from 14 to 16. It makes certain thing that I plan on doing...less awkward. I'll leave it at that. The first chapter will be edited to reflect this modification. And as always, please review!
Sunday, August 9, 2015
Hakone City (Tokyo-2)
Whatever sight Shinji had expected to great him upon awakening, it certainly wasn't the receptionist's desk on the ground floor of the Nerv Tower. He was laid out on a couch – some kind of fancy, expensive, comfortable couch – and there was a tall plant at one arm. At the other was a table. Someone had left a mug of warm tea there. Cautiously, the young teen got into a stiff sitting position, at which point the receptionist looked over in his direction.
"You're awake," she observed, not a bit interested. President Ikari – er, your father asked me to send you up to his office once you were awake. The tea is for you and his office is at the top floor. Take the elevator to my right."
When he reached for the tea, he noticed he was still wearing the PLUG Suit from the previous day. Had he fallen asleep right after the fight? He didn't remember anything after Sachiel collapsed - nothing coherent at least. Voices, perhaps. People lifting him. Then a dreamless darkness. He felt refreshed and exhausted at the same time. His joints popped when he stood and his back cracked loudly enough to make the receptionist raise an eyebrow. He sipped the tea sheepishly and boarded the elevator.
It didn't move. He waited for a minute, expecting something to happen. "Um." He peered around the corner. "I think your elevator is broken."
"Just tell it to go to the top floor – you don't need the number," she replied with practiced patience.
That time, she actually leaned over the desk and gave the boy a good look, one that said, what the hell is wrong with this kid? Then, "Oh. President Ikari told me you didn't have any implants, but I guess I forgot. The elevator responds to a neural command. Here."
"Thank you," he called as the door shut in his face, but he didn't think she heard him.
He sipped the tea again and considered how out of place he was. Something as simple as an elevator was controlled by technology he barely knew about until a minute ago. And everyone had it but him. It actually made him smile. "Feels like I'm in the future."
The elevator pinged. Shinji noticed a subtle shift in his weight as the elevator came to a smooth halt. When had it accelerated? And how fast had it gone? There had to be over a hundred and twenty floors and he was barely in the car for two minutes! Was it a maglev? Had to be. Freaking magnets, how do they work?
Then the doors slid open to the President's office. "Good to see you're awake, Shinji," Gendo Ikari aid over his desk. "I was beginning to wonder if you'd ever wake up. Have a seat."
Shinji plopped gratefully into the chair.
"Go on," Gendo said genially. "Say what you're thinking."
"Dad…what the hell is going on?"
Cybernetic Warrior Evangelion
Chapter 2: Same as Always
"It's not fair," Ritsuko pouted.
"Sempai?" Maya looked up from the body covered in a white sheet. The entire area was sectioned off by the Hakone City Police Department, though they were having a bit of difficulty keeping back the crowd of curious onlookers – to say nothing of the media hounds. With the advent of neural implants, handheld camcorders and cameras became obsolete within the city. Which meant it became harder to identify reporters from curious civilians. Nowadays, government officials were trained not to answer any questions asked by anyone unless they were sure that they were not media informants. The police were…less disciplined. Not that it mattered anyway; a sterile environment was set up around Sachiel's corpse.
"The people at Matsushiro are going to have all the fun with this one." She tore back the sheet, exposing the torn up corpse – she yanked too hard and exposed everything above the ankles, which caused Maya to turn away, flushed. "Oh don't be such a prude, Maya, this is for science."
"Um, as you say, Sempai." Still, she didn't look. "Didn't you work on the last one?"
"Shalgiel? Yes. I was able to accompany her to Matsushiro and performed the autopsy myself. Fascinating enhancements," she added absently. "Too bad she died in the transfer; Gazardiel might have been more loose-lipped had we still had her as a viable hostage." Ritsuko shut her eyes for a moment before opening them as wide as she could.
Maya knew that look. Ritsuko was utilizing the recording feature of her neural implants to gather as much information about this Angel as she could before it was shipped off. Military-grade was virtually untraceable, and with the modifications Ritsuko had made, it would take the JSSDF upwards of a month to trace her location in the city-wide datasphere. And that was before the randomly changing proxies.
Finally, she stepped back and rubbed her dry eyes. "I hate doing that. Won't be able to see straight for the rest of the day. Have Hyuga and Aoba begin analyzing the images I sent back. I need some air; it stinks of death in here." And she left the tent brusquely. Maya silent sent the order back to her colleagues and followed her boss out into the circus that was the crime scene.
Police formed a loose ring around the area behind a set of roadblocks that kept the crowd at bay. Pedestrians and reporters alike shouted questions to the policemen and crime scene technicians.
"Is this in anyway related to the incident two weeks ago?" "Was this another Angel terrorist attack?" "Does this mean that the city is unable to handle the threat of these terrorists?"
"Don't answer that," Ritsuko commanded the nearest officer. "You have no comment on anything here. Remember who issues your paycheck," she hissed in his ear. The questions kept coming, but thankfully few were answered.
A Nerv-issue limousine was waiting for them both. Once inside, Ritsuko switched on her nueral implants. "He's awake."
"Shinji. He's talking with the president right now. Apparently he seems stable enough. We need to run some tests on him when we get back."
"How's Rei?" Maya asked after a minute.
"I don't know," Ritsuko admitted. "She won't answer my questions. I think she's sulking."
"The Test-Type Suit was supposed to be for her."
"We don't always get we want."
"I think it's more about her pride," Maya offered. "She has always had a chip on her shoulder, like she has to prove something to everyone. And this kid shows up out of nowhere and steals her thunder…I can only imagine how she feels."
Ritsuko raised an eyebrow. "Know from experience, Maya?"
"Something like that. High school was a while ago, Sempai, but not that long ago: I remember what it's like to be sixteen."
Gendo Ikari actually chuckled. "Yes, I imagined that would be your response - or something close to it." Shinji looked somewhat relieved. He decided to lay it all out, go for broke. "That boy that attack you and Rei yesterday, his name is Sachiel and he is a member of a terrorist group calling themselves the Angels."
Shinji frowned. "Angels? What, like from Christian theology?"
"That's right. So far, we have encountered three of them: Gazardiel and Shalgiel were killed when they encountered Rei, and Sachiel, whom you and Rei killed." He watched his son wince at the word "kill". "We have reason to believe that there are many more of them and have substantial financial backing, judging by the level of technology they possess. All those enegery lances he was throwing at you? Wetwired energy patterning systems we can't even begin to match."
Shinji picked his next words carefully. "What are they...terroristing against?" Well, not too carefully.
"We don't know. They have never issued any statements, public or private. We only know this because the first two essentially marched up to our door and kicked it in. Luckily Rei was ready to go."
Shinji exhaled sharply. "So…the Angels are terrorists and hate Nerv Corp. and have attacked twice without warning, but Rei and I were able to…stop them?"
"That's about it, yes." Gendo waited. He knew the next question before it even formed in his son's mind.
"So what is this?" Shinji pulled at the form-fitting material that covered his body from neck to toe.
"It's called a PLUG Suit." Gendo started to say something else, but decided against it and stood abruptly. "Come with me, I have something to show you."
"The hell?" Shigeru Aoba blinked his eyes a few times and shook his head violently, his straightened hair swishing back and forth.
"What's up?" Makoto Hygua asked.
"Doctor Akagi just sent us a bunch of image files. Some naked dude. I think she has the wrong address."
"That's the dead Angel," Makoto chuckled. "Not Dr. Akagi's private porn stash."
"He's still naked. And what the hell does she want us to do with these images? Analyze them? It's not even good quality. What, did she use her neural image-capture?"
"Probably didn't want to risk it being traced to us," Hyuga offered. "Sachiel's to go to Matsushiro for, ah, examination. She's probably mad she won't get to do it herself. The simpler the file, the easier it is to encrypt."
Aoba sighed. "Yeah, but we still won't be able to learn much from these."
"Then you best get to work learning what you can, Aoba," Dr. Akagi's voice cut across the lab like a bullet. "I know how bad those images are – I took them, after all – but they're the best we have. I took most of the photos of the open wounds in his chest, so focus there. See if you can locate any…mechanical enhancements."
"Mechanical?" Makoto furrowed his brow, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "Do you think he's a cyborg?"
Ritsuko brought up the images on the large monitor. "With all the wetware he's got, it wouldn't surprise me."
"What's got you thinking, doc?" Shigeru rolled his chair up beside her. "Were the other two mechanical?"
"No, but that's what's got me thinking. Gazardiel and Shalgiel came together and were taken down by Rei alone. Then Sachiel comes in alone and expects to win? What were they thinking?"
Makoto shifted the image. "Maybe he acted against orders? Wanted revenge and went it alone without any backup?"
"Doesn't seem likely, Hyuga. The Angel's aren't stupid."
"Not all of them. Just him. The lone wolf; the impatient soldier."
"Maybe." She turned away suddenly. "Get to work on those image files. I have to meet with the President and his son."
The bed sheets were balled up and thrown at the door and the mattress kicked slightly off the bed frame; the food tray overturned, bits of egg, jelly, and milk smeared across the floor; nothing was left on the counters, all of it had been thrown to the ground; what was breakable was broken. Rei Ayanami sat in the far corner, knees pulled to her chest, half hidden by curtains that hung from a bent rod. Angry tears streamed down the face she kept hidden away.
"How could he?' she whispered. "How could give it to him and not me? He promised it was mine! And then that stupid idiot had to go be the hero." She clenched her fists and teeth and curled up tighter. "It should have been me. I don't need him."
Shinji nearly jumped when the lift doors opened and the stern-looking woman was revealed. She barely gave him a sideways glance, instead choosing to glare at his father.
"Doctor Akagi," Gendo greeted patiently.
"Mister President," she returned coldly.
"You don't seem pleased."
"Oh no, I'm fine. Never mind that you ordered me to put an untrained child in command of the latest multi-million dollar advanced bioneural weapon system that, need I remind you, is now registered to said untrained child. No, no, I'm just fine."
Shinji frowned at being repeatedly called a child, but held his tongue; he was still stuck on 'bioneural'.
"He's still here, isn't he?"
Ritsuko snorted. "Have you told him yet?"
"No, I was getting to that." Gendo seemed irritated. His facetious smile faltered ever so slightly and he stood up straighter. His brow furrowed and he tilted his head so that he was looking down his nose at the doctor. All of this was barely perceptible to all but those who knew the man closely – and Ritsuko knew him very closely.
"Dad…" Shinji said warily. But Gendo ignored him, instead pulling him along to the center of the laboratory area, where three people in identical uniforms waited: a young woman with short brown hair and a pleasant face; a tall, disinterested man with harsh eyes and long hair; and the short-haired man with glasses from the previous day. All three appeared to be Ritsuko's assistants.
Gendo crossed his arms and exhaled sharply. "Shinji…We need your help." He waited, but his son didn't speak, so he continued. "The PLUG Suit that you're wearing took years to develop and cost this company tens of millions of dollars. It is the Test-Type model, one step down from the Production-Model that will follow, however, in order to reach the next step, the Test-Type has to be, well, tested." He waited. Nothing. "The reason it fits you so well, is because it was designed to fit Rei. We can no longer continue with that scenario."
"The Suits are a masterpiece of modern engineering, the culmination of over a decade of research into various fringe sciences, not the least of which are cybernetics, wetware, and energy patterning. Since the Suits are so valuable, each is programmed to map the genetic code for the first individual to wear it, and then to only activate when it reads that particular set of DNA. The Suit will only answer to you, Shinji."
He felt his stomach drop into his bowels. Oh shit. He swallowed past his dry mouth. "So, without me…"
"All that time and money goes to waste," Ritsuko finished for him.
"I won't force you," Gendo said after a long, painful silence. "I won't. But. She is right. Without you, we are set back years of development time, and millions if money. Not to mention the Angels."
Shinji felt weak in the knees and sank to the chair that someone had set behind him. What was he going to do? Secretly, he was ecstatic that his father needed his help. After sixteen years, he could finally prove that he was worth something besides weekend visits and holidays. But beyond that was fear – all kinds of fear. Fear of being injured or killed by the Angels. Fear of not performing adequately enough for Nerv. Fear of letting his father down.
"Ok. I'll help you."
And his father smiled at him.
A formless void opened up somewhere a space both infinitely large and small: a place without actual physical dimensions, only lines of programming that defined it and address by which it could be located within the order chaos that was the Internet. Upon a cursory inspection, it appeared as any other of the myriad chat rooms that existed. However, this room was never furnished or decorated. It was only accessible to those with the proper access key, selected from a randomly changing set unique to each member. Furthermore, at random times, the user was prompted to answer one or more questions from a set assigned to each of the members. So unless someone possessed the address, complete set of access keys, and personal questions, it was impossible to log into this chat room. In addition, the chat room address was a one-time use: after all members had logged out, the room deleted itself and all record of its existence.
Membership was exclusive. Only seven men in the world could access the chat room – and even they did not know who any of the other members were; while logged in, all members were displayed as featureless black monoliths, with a holographic projection of the name of the council, as well as their numerical designation. Positions on the council were inherited. While officially the council did not exist, rumor had it that it went back over six hundred years – sometimes to the Crusades. Whether it did or did not was of little consequence; the fact was the council existed now, and its members were not pleased.
Seele 01 faded into existence, followed by the other six members.
"Sachiel is lost," the voice announced to the others. All voices were electronically distorted to further protect identities, but Seele 01's voice was different somehow. He was indisputably the leader of the tiny council.
"Our plans may still move forward," Seele 04 responded. "We are better off without a disobedient child."
"Or perhaps he was simply an indication of things to come," Seele 06, ever the doomsayer, countered. "One Angel defied his orders; who's to say the others won't?"
"Sachiel did not defy orders," Seele 03 said quickly. "He traveled to Hakone City and encountered the First Child, as per his training."
"He acted alone," Seele 02 added simply. "That was not a part of his training."
"Perhaps not," pondered Seele 07, "but why did Shamshel and Ramiel not provide backup for him?"
"Because I ordered him not to," Seele 01 broke in. "We have no need of a lone wolf. It would see that he has learned his lesson."
"But now we are short one Angel!" Seele 05 complained.
"If anything this benefits us," Seele 04 retorted. "Three down."
"You are both correct," Seele 01 soothed. "We are now a step closer to competing the scenario; however, unless we plan our next moves accordingly, we will lose the opportunity. Now that there are two Evangelions, I will not send two Angels in; it will be three as planned."
"Who, then, can we send?" Seele 06 asked, suspiciously. "None of the others are completed at the moment."
"Send Gaghiel," Seele 07 offered.
"Gaghiel is to be paired with Matariel and Sahaquiel," Seele 06 reminded them.
Seele 01's voice silenced them all. "As it stands now, Matariel and Sahaquiel remain incomplete. We have to send Shamshel and Ramiel now, but I will not send less than three. Gaghiel will accompany them and Matariel and Sahaquiel will be delegated to another team at a later date. For now, focus all production on the formless Angels; ingrain them into the city as soon as we can."
"Israfel can be deployed within the week," Seele 04 reported. "Iruel and Leliel are coming along nicely, but Bardiel is experiencing some…delays."
"See that those delays are handled." Seele 01's monolith faded from the cyberspace room, signaling the end of the meeting. One by one, the others vanished, too, until only emptiness remained. As programmed, the room collapsed on itself, erasing all records pertaining to the meeting.
It felt strange to be out of the PLUG Suit and back into the clothes he had traveled to the city in. Despite being less form-fitting, they seemed more constricting. Now that he thought about it, the Suit hadn't limited his range of movement even a little. If anything, he was more flexible in-Suit than out. He supposed that's what they meant when they named it the Physical Limited UpGrade Suit. Still, he felt more naked now that he had in the skin-tight fabric.
The bathroom was stark white and empty except for him. None of the toilets or urinals appeared used. All of the sinks and faucets were completely dry. Shinji avoided touching any of the surfaces, lest he leave an imperfection upon their glistening exterior. Did anyone even use this bathroom? Come to think of it, this entire floor of the Nerv Tower seemed completely barren.
There came a knock at the door. "Shinji?" It was the scientist woman, Dr. Akagi. "Are you finished in there?"
"Ah, yes ma'am!" He gathered up the PLUG Suit, folding as he went. Ritsuko chuckled at seeing him.
"You don't have to bother. It's just going to be hung up and have wires stuck all inside it anyway."
"Oh, ok." He continued to fold it anyway.
"Thanks, though. Rei usually just throws her on the ground and leaves it." She did a smart about face and beckoned him on.
"Where is Rei?" Shinji ventured. "Is she okay? I haven't seen her since last night, and I just wanted to know if she…"
"If she lived?"
Shinji clenched up, but nodded.
Ritsuko observed him over her shoulder curiously. "She's alive and awake, but she was injured pretty badly last night, so we're keeping her here for now."
"I'm glad," he said, genuinely relieved. They reached the elevator and took it down to the laboratory level again.
"We're just stopping by to give the Suit to Aoba and Hyuga," she explained. "After that I'm taking you to your apartment."
"Well, it's your father's, but you'll be staying there with him while you're here in the city."
"Oh, right. Just like always."
But the elevator doors slid open and Ritsuko took the Suit from him, thrusting it at Hyuga. "It's nothing," she dismissed. To Hyuga, she said, "Run the usual tests. I should be back shortly after I run a few errands."
"Yes, ma'am," Hyuga responded with a slight glance ant Shinji. The doors slid shut again and they began climbing toward the ground floor.
Fifteen minutes later, Shinji sat in the passenger seat of a corporate car while Ritsuko drove. "So let's see," she mused, reading a list off the back of her eyelids. "Apartment. School. Ah damn it, I'll have to send for your clothes to be transferred here. And there's scheduling an appointment for nanonics…"
"Um, excuse me?"
"Yes, Shinji? What is it?"
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Well it's been bothering me, but why are you doing all of this?"
"All of what?" She depressed the brake and the car slid to a smooth stop at a traffic light.
"All of this. Taking me home, registering me for school… I mean, shouldn't me father be doing this instead of you?"
The light turned green and they continued onward. "Your father's a very important man, Shinji. He doesn't have time to waste on petty things like this." There was a hint of scorn in her voice, but she didn't seem apologetic.
Gendo Ikari's apartment was exactly as Shinji remembered it: average. Kitchen, bathroom, living area, bedrooms.
"That's your room there on the left," Ritsuko pointed. "But then, you knew that. There's some frozen food in the freezer and drinks in the fridge."
"Same as ever," Shinji commented.
"Oh, I suppose you know the layout of this place better than I do. That saves me some time, then. Do you need anything else, then?"
"No." Shinji was already moving toward the kitchen. "I've taken care of myself here before. Same twelve weekends every year."
"Alright, then. I've got to see some people about enrolling you in the school here, and about getting you some nanonics." She made for the door. "Oh, before I forget. Someone will be here tomorrow to take you to school – at least until you learn the layout of the city. After school, you have a synchronization test with the PLUG Suit, so you'll come right to Nerv for a few hours."
"Ok. Um, Dr. Agaki?"
Puzzled, the doctor nodded. "Uh, you're welcome." The door shut and Shinji was left alone in the empty apartment. Same as always.
Maya knocked tentatively on Rei's hospital room. "Rei, are you awake?"
The door was unlocked. Maya opened it a crack. "I'm coming in." Rei didn't argue. To say the room was a mess was to put it mildly. It looked like a tornado had swept through here: the curtains were pulled of the window, the bed was tipped over and mattress propped against the window to keep the light out. Two meals' worth of food was smeared all over.
"It's not fair," she whimpered from the corner. "Now he's even taken my home."