Obligatory Disclaimer:

I am not Jim Butcher, or anyone else who owns the legal rights to the Dresden Files. If I were, I would be utterly terrified of the reaction once people found out I was writing this instead of the next book in the series.

I am also not Hideaki Anno, or anyone who owns the rights to Neon Genesis Evangelion. If I were, I would be spending my time sleeping on top of a pile of money with many beautiful women instead of writing crossover fanfiction.

They were making me wear a dress uniform.

As a general rule, I'm not much for dressing up. I'm perfectly comfortable running around in a ratty old T-shirt, jeans that have a respectable number of holes in them, and of course my trusty leather duster. There's a reason people like casual clothes; they're comfortable. Uniforms, not so much. Nerv had a close to unlimited budget, but none of that money had been put into finding a way to make the uniform both stylish and comfortable.

Unfortunately since I was supposed to be one of Nerv's official representatives at the testing of Jet Alone, apparently I had to project a proper image of dignified professionalism. I can handle being professional, but I'm pretty sure I'm incapable of being dignified, no matter how fancy the monkey suit someone shoves me into is.

Lash wasn't helping things. The Fallen's illusionary form looked me over critically, and declared. "My goodness Harry, you're a shave and a haircut away from looking like a proper gentleman."

"Good thing I don't have two bits to spare." I grumbled back. Complaint #183 about the Nerv Uniform; there wasn't anywhere on it I could hide a gun. Sure, there a nice hip holster, but that was right out in the open where anyone could see it. Half the fun of using a gun as a wizard is that nobody expects a spellslinger to have one.

Speaking of wizarding, apparently most of my best wizarding gear also fell under the category of damaging to Nerv's dignity for a public event. Yeah, I technically didn't need to have my staff, my enchanted duster, or most of my kinetic force rings to make a public appearance and perform a bit of subtle sabotage, but I still felt uncomfortably vulnerable without them. Chalk it up to good old wizard paranoia.

I slipped the black Nerv dress jacket on, and very reluctantly zipped it all the way up. Protocol said I had to, despite the fact that Gendo always leaves his jacket hanging open. Guess that's one of the perks of being the boss. "Your jacket is sitting slightly crooked." Lash commented. "A little tug to the right should fix it."

"What makes you think I care if my jacket is crooked?"

Lash sighed and rolled her eyes. "It wouldn't hurt you to put a bit more thought into your appearance, my host."

"If it's that important to you, then how about you fix it?" I snapped.

Lash let out a soft annoyed growl. "You are impossibly frustrating." Lash's illusionary form slipped away, leaving me in peace. I took a quick look at myself in the mirror, and despite my general displeasure about the whole uniform thing, I've got to admit Lash might have had a bit of a point. I looked quite a bit less scruffy and disreputable when you put me in the admittedly stylish Nerv dress uniform. Clean me up a bit, and I might even start looking a bit respectable. Satisfied that everything was in place, I turned around to leave.

And found Rei standing a couple feet behind me.

"Gyah!" I gave a little jump in surprise. Rei, as was her nature, showed no reaction at all. "I should start hanging a bell around your neck or something, so you can't sneak up behind me any more."

"I was not sneaking." Rei answered flatly.

"If I didn't hear you coming up behind me, you were sneaking." I shot back. Knowing Rei, it was probably true that she hadn't meant to startle me; she's just so quiet by nature that it's easy to lose track of her sometimes. Heck, for the first few days after she'd moved in with me, when I couldn't see her it was easy to forget that I wasn't living alone any more.

"So, I should be back before dinnertime. I left some money on the table for you go get some Burger King or something if I end up running late" I'd told her all of this last night, but I felt like I should say it one more time before I left. "Mouse'll probably want to go for a walk once you get back from school."

Rei nodded.

"Alright … well then … see you when I'm back."

Japan Heavy Chemical Industries had really pulled out all the stops when it came to the public unveiling of their new giant deathbot. It made quite the contrast to how Nerv generally operated. Heck, the simple fact that they were doing a public unveiling at all when Nerv was still doing its level best to ignore the fact that the public existed was telling. In fact, I'm pretty sure that was how they'd planned the entire event from start to finish. This whole circus was about politics, money, and influence peddling, not about who actually had the better weapons system.

Considering that, it was no surprise that the company and their officials were really hammering on the 'we're not Nerv' angle at every opportunity. Nerv was secretive and standoffish, so JHCI was jumping into the spotlight. Nerv generally treated every other government agency like an annoyances or a servant, so the JHCI people couldn't go five minutes without mentioning how Jet Alone was made in cooperation with official from the UN, the JSSDF, and every other set of initials you could think of.

I have to admit, when it came to PR JHCI was kicking our asses. I guess that's to be expected though; a private company would know all about the importance a politicking and ass-kissing when it comes to getting things done. Nerv's never really been very good at that kind of diplomacy. The fact that Gendo and his non-existent social skills were running the show didn't really help. The man might be really good at getting whatever he wanted, but he was such a cold-hearted bastard that he never really figured out a way to do it that didn't piss people off. I was ample proof of the fact that to Gendo Ikari, it didn't really matter if you hated his guts, as long as you did what he wanted.

As a general rule, powerful men have huge egos, and hate it whenever someone tells them what to do. Gendo Ikari never asked, never persuaded, and almost never compromised; he used whatever nasty, manipulative, underhanded tricks it took to get his way. Considering the monopoly Nerv had on the Angel-fighting business, he had the legal authority to get what he wanted while acting with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Operation Yashima probably hadn't helped things; requisitioning Japan's entire power grid and everything else we needed to pull that off made it very obvious just how far Nerv's authority could go, and with the time constraints we were operating under Nerv didn't have time to be nice about getting what we needed. Jet Alone had been in the works for years, but after Nerv stepped on so many toes there were even more people pissed off at us than there'd been before.

Jet Alone was that attitude finally coming back to bite Nerv in the ass. A whole lot of powerful men were sick of putting up with Gendo's crap, and they'd all tossed their support behind the first thing that looked like a viable alternative to Nerv. Most of those powerful men didn't know anything about the Evangelion beyond the 'official' story of it being a giant robot; we were keeping the whole soul-eating alien cyborg thing on the down-low. They saw a private company that could offer another giant robot that cost less than the Evas, and was run by people who knew how to play the political game, and jumped at the opportunity.

Heck, if Jet Alone actually had a chance in hell of working, I'd probably be signing up with them too.

JHCI had invited pretty much all the senior Nerv staff to the unveiling, no doubt hoping to drag Ikari out of his cave in order to show him up publicly. Ritsuko and I were the only ones who actually showed up, which I'm pretty sure was meant as a counter-snub of some kind.

The two of us were definitely the odds ones out, considering the fact that aside from the media people everyone else who'd been invited to the unveiling of Jet Alone had a role in the project. It didn't help that I was the only non-Japanese person in the room, and Ristuko seemed to be the only woman in the room who wasn't there as someone assistant, secretary, or arm candy. The halls of the rich and powerful have always been a boys club, especially in a nation like Japan that had always been a bit old-fashioned when it came to some of their ideas about gender roles, and gotten even more so after the Second impact.

After the Impact the usual collection of crazies blamed the disaster on everything under the sun, with social change and formerly oppressed minorities that were slowly crawling their way to equality were always popular scapegoats. In some nations, like Japan, the ultraconservatives actually managed to get enough traction to turn back the clock a bit, or at least keep things from moving further forward. Other places went the opposite way, and actually jumped forward socially, since we all had to work together after the apocalypse. People are weird and inconsistent that way.

After about half an hour where everyone else hobnobbed and socialized while we were conspicuously ignored, which I guess was to be expected. Like most of these sorts of high-powered events, they served lunch right before the presentation/unveiling, because you can't expect a politician to sit through a presentation about preventing the extinction of the human race on an empty stomach.

Ritsuko and I had an entire massive table to ourselves. Either someone had been under the impression that Nerv intended to show up in force, or we were getting snubbed again.

Once the fatcats were fed and watered, it was on to the main event. A few people who I didn't really recognize (maybe if I actually paid attention to Japanese politics and business I would've known who they were) gave a few speeches that could basically be summed up as 'Jet Alone is awesome, and I was involved in making it so I'm awesome too.' I pretty much zoned it all out; high tech robots are not my field of expertise, and living in Chicago had given me a low tolerance for political BS.

Eventually the CEO of JHCI, introduced as Shiro Tokita, stepped up to the podium, and after an appropriate amount of sycophantic applause, gave a brief statement. "On behalf of the employees of Japan Heavy Chemical Industries and everyone involved in the Jet Alone project, I would like to thank you all for coming to the unveiling of Jet Alone. I believe I don't need to tell you anything more about Jet Alone; its upcoming performance will demonstrate far more than mere words could offer. Before we move to the control room to view demonstration, would anyone like to ask any questions?"

To my surprise, Ritsuko raised her hand. I'd kind of expected that the two of us would just try to fade into the background, to the extent that such a thing was possible. One of the minor functionaries rushed out and handed her a microphone.

"Ah, the famous Doctor Ritsuko Akagi, of Nerv." Tokita announced. "I'm very glad to see such a distinguished person in our audience. Please, ask your question."

"Thank you. Now, according to the earlier speeches discussing Jet Alone's capabilities, Jet Alone is equipped with an internal power supply." At least one of us had been paying attention to all the technobabble about what the giant robot could do.

"Yes." The man responded. "It's one of the main features of Jet Alone. It's self-contained power-supply should allow for 150 days of continuous operation without needing to shut down or be refueled."

"Yes, that's quite impressive." Ritsuko managed to sound both politely impressed and dismissive at the same time. "However, I think there are serious safety concerns about installing a nuclear reactor in a weapons system meant for close-range ground combat."

It took all of my self-discipline not to jump out of my seat when I heard that. That's what I get for zoning out during the technical briefing; I'd missed that the giant robot was nuclear powered! That's … kind of a big thing to miss. I mean, there's a reason that, better control over my techbane field or not, I stay far away from anything with the word nuclear in its name. Heck, there'd been a few rumors that wizard's getting too close to nuclear power plants was what caused Chernobyl and/or Three Mile Island.

This must have been what Gendo had planned the entire to screw up my efforts to give Rei a halfway-normal life. He had to have known that Jet Alone was nuclear-powered, and he knew me well enough to know that I wouldn't go through with hexing it once I found out about that little detail. I wouldn't have any choice but to drop out of our deal at the last minute, and that would give Gendo all the justification he needed to put the kibosh of me serving as Rei's guardian. He'd offered me a very reasonable deal, and I'd welched on upholding my end of it.

I snapped out of my mental crisis in time to catch the tail end of Tokita making a crack about how his giant robot wasn't limited to five minutes of power. I think I'd rather have a robot with a limited power supply than one that'll pop up a mushroom cloud when an Angel kicks its ass, thanks anyway though. Besides, 150 days of operating power was just plain excessive; the Angels managed to cause plenty of damage to the Evas in a couple of minutes, and there was no point in having five months of power when it would need to spend almost all its non-combat time down for maintenance.

"What about the remote control systems?" Ritsuko asked. "The receiver or transmitter could easily be damaged in combat conditions."

"You would prefer Nerv's solution of leaving it up to child soldiers?" It was hard not to flinch when just about everyone in the room turned to glare at us. Well, so much for that little secret; Nerv might not be very publicity-conscious, but even Gendo knew that keeping the whole child soldier thing under wraps was a very good idea. Oh well, it was only a matter of time before that particular cat got out of the bag, especially after Shinji had outed himself to his classmates.

If I had to guess, Ritsuko must have been planning to put in a little prep-work so that all the issues she raised would be validated when Jet Alone failed, but there was no way she would get very far with the crowd after the Children had been revealed. After all, the only way we could explain why we needed to throw fourteen-year-old kids into the Evas would be to give out a whole lot of the nasty secrets about how we made the Evangelions. That wasn't going to happen, which meant there was no hope of winning the crowd over to our side. "Might be a good idea to just drop it, Ritsuko."

Ritsuko didn't take my advice. "Being controlled by multiple technicians instead of a single pilot could cause problems with coordination."

"Even if it does, that's better than a weapon that can go completely out of control." Tokita shot back with a smirk, producing a file folder that was very clearly marked as something he shouldn't have access to. "A weapon you can't even control is just as dangerous to us as it is to the enemy. Your Evangelion is like a hysterical woman, nobody can deal with it."

The sexist crack got a laugh out of most of the audience. Like I said, Japan is behind the times. My self-control slipped for a bit, and Ritsuko's microphone let out a piercing feedback screech that left most of the audience yelling in pain and clutching their ears. Serves them right.

To her credit, Ritsuko didn't give more than a slight twitch at the nasty mood of the audience or the feedback from her microphone, she just soldiered on as if neither of those things had happened. I made a mental note to never play poker against her. "Controlling the Evangelion is what our pilots and technology are for."

"Ah yes, technology." Tokita drawled. "Like the American magician you hired? " The CEO turned his gaze on me. "Have I mentioned what a pleasant surprise it is to have you here to witness our demonstration, Mr. Dresden. I must confess, I've never had the chance to meet a wizard before. This must be quite a step up from providing entertainment at children's birthday parties and conning old women out of their life's savings with a few parlor tricks."

That got a laugh out of audience at my expense. I was only vaguely tempted to smash Tokita through a few walls; I've long since stopped caring that most normal folks don't believe in magic and assume I must be some kind of fake. The only time skeptics really bug me is when they actually manage to get in the way of me helping people. This guy and most of the other folks in the room were greedy corporate scumbags, politicians, or military folks in the pockets of said scumbags and politicians. I could really give a crap about their opinions. Let them laugh.

Ritsuko covered the microphone with her hand. "Don't give him a reaction, he's trying to provoke you."

I took a page from Rei's book and just nodded in response. There was no point in arguing with a full-on skeptic. If I'd been in America I might have tried smartassing him, but between the culture gap and the language gap, I wasn't sure how well that would actually work. Lash's translation-work might be perfectly accurate, but sometimes humor and smartassery just don't quite translate. Tokita watched me, waiting for me to say or do something that he could pounce on and use against me and Nerv, but I gave him absolutely nothing to work with.

After a short standoff Ritsuko spoke up again. "Nothing you can say changes the fact that Jet Alone does not have the capacity to engage and destroy an Angel. No conventional weapon can."

"Ah yes, because of the AT Field?" That remark set Ritsuko's eyebrows to twitching, the first sign of emotion I'd seen from the woman during the entire standoff. Tokita had already tossed out several of Nerv's secrets, but the AT Field was probably Nerv's most closely guarded secret, other than the stuff like Rei's true nature that was restricted to the inner circle of Nerv's leadership.

"Our engineers are close to a breakthrough in dealing with that issue." Tokita claimed in what I was almost sure was a bald-faced lie. "I understand that you find it difficult for you to accept that Nerv's time is ending, Miss Akagi." The subtle barb at her gender set off another round of chuckles within the crowd; Ritsuko looked to be about one more exchange away from blowing her top completely. Time to defuse things.

"Hexus." I whispered under my breath. The microphone in Ritsuko's hand died noisily. I took a bit of vindictive pleasure in the way everyone started groaning and clutching the ears from the feedback screech, especially after Lash did a little trick with my hearing to edit the noise out. Still feeling a bit pissed, I tossed a second hex at Tokita, to kill his cell phone and whatever other personal electronics he had. Yeah, it was a bit petty, but it made me feel better.

Everyone in the room loudly complaining about the feedback noise and a couple techs scrambling around to try and fix it did at least put a damper on the presentation, and gave me a cover to take Ritsuko and get out of there for a bit. She needed to cool off, and we needed to talk about the whole nuclear thing.

The two of us ducked into an empty locker room, and after a quick look around to make sure we were alone, I said. "You alright? Looked like he was getting to you back there."

Ritsuko's face was already back to its normal calm mask. It was actually a bit unsetting, how she'd gone from seriously pissed off to totally calm again. I've always been a bit wary of anyone who can bury anger that quickly; usually, that just means they're bottling it all up, and one day it's going to explode. "Yes." Ritsuko's answer was eerily calm. "It was really petty when you think about it. He just wants to show off and have people praise him. He's a petty man."

Ritsuko casually pulled out the information pamphlet we'd been given on Jet Alone, pulled out her lighter, and set the thing on fire. Well, at least she'd found a way to vent that anger. "It seems we have an intelligence leak at Nerv." She commented idly after she tossed the flaming pamphlet into a trash can.

"Looks like it. Somebody in the Security division's probably going to lose his job over that." I took a deep breath, and moved on to my main concern. "I'm a little worried though. If something were to go wrong with Jet Alone and its nuclear reactor…" We might be in a random and seemingly empty room, but I wasn't going to take a chance that somebody might pass by and hear something incriminating. I didn't make it this long in the wizard business by taking a lot of unnecessary risks.

Ritsuko knew how to read between the lines. "I don't believe it should be an issue. The reactor is contained within the torso, so as long as the torso isn't damaged nothing should go wrong."

She had a point. I mean, my techbusting hex isn't the most precise weapon out there, but against a giant robot I could probably hit it in the foot or knee without effecting the torso. Having the thing topple over on its first step would be more than sufficient to embarrass the hell out of its backers and pretty much kill the project's political support. "Still, I just don't like the idea. Nukes are dangerous business. Are we gonna end up with a mushroom cloud the first time an Angel punches it in the chest."

Ritsuko frowned over at me. "You don't know much about how nuclear reactors work, do you Mister Dresden?"

I shrugged. "Unless it's using magical plutonium, it's not really my area."

"Modern nuclear reactors have the control rods suspended above the reactor by electromagnets. In the event of any malfunction, the control rods drop fully into the reactor, and effectively end any ongoing reaction. Even in the event of complete power failure, since there would be no more power, the electromagnets would no longer work, and the control rods would fall. We've learned from previous nuclear disasters, especially the ones that happened after the Second Impact. Improvements in technology have made it impossible for something like Chernobyl to happen again. Modern reactors have passive safety measures; without active human intervention to keep the reactor running, it will shut down, and turning a reactor into a nuclear bomb is simply impossible."

"Impossible?" I was a little skeptical of that; there's no such thing as a piece of technology that can't fail, especially when magical techbane gets mixed in with the matter. "You seemed rather concerned about the possibility of it earlier."

"Extensive combat damage could breach the containment vessel and cause radiation leaks." Ritsuko explained. "But an outright meltdown simply couldn't happen. It would violate the laws of physics."

I was still hesitant. I'll admit, I don't know jack about the subject, while Ritsuko was much more informed, and she seemed to think it was safe. On the other hand, about the only thing I really know about nukes is that they're bad juju, and shouldn't be messed with.

But if I backed off now, Gendo would win.

"So," I began very hesitantly. "You can give me an absolute, total guarantee that there's not going to be a mushroom cloud if something were to go wrong with Jet Alone."

"Yes." Ristuko answered confidently. "It's physically impossible."

I sent a mental inquiry in Lash's general direction, and the shadow's illusionary form appeared long enough to give a slight shrug. "The finer points of nuclear reactor design and advances within the field in the last decade are not my area of expertise."

Not what I'd wanted to hear, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Lash was out of her element. Heck, I was downright tech-savvy for someone from the supernatural side of things, but by the standards of basic vanilla mortals I was still pretty clueless. Ritsuko, on the other hand, was a science-y type person even though she was really more of a computer and Evangelion expert than someone who know a lot about nuclear stuff she was still better grounded than me. She was sure it was safe to carry on with the mission and bust the giant robot.

I was still tempted to scrap the mission anyway. I didn't really have a clear, rational reason for it; I just wasn't comfortable messing around with anything nuclear, no matter how many experts told me it was perfectly safe. Gendo could find someone else to do his dirty work.

But that would mean giving up Rei. I'd been trying to get the girl to open up and start living something resembling a normal, healthy human life. I'm not sure exactly what Gendo has planned for her, but I'm pretty sure it's not anything involving the kid's happiness. Gendo was a user. Letting Rei fall back into his hands was not going to end well for her; Gendo Ikari doesn't give a crap about anyone or anything other than his goals. Not the kind of man I wanted having any power over Rei.

Besides, Ritsuko said it was safe, and it was her job to know this kind of technology stuff. "Alright, on with the show."

The two of us were some of the last ones to arrive at the control room. Most of the people here for the show had clustered around the windows at the front of the room, jockeying around for a good view. After a bit of polite jostling, I managed to get a pretty clear view of the robot. They'd gone for much more inhuman design for Jet Alone compared to the Evas, doing away with the head and neck entirely and just slapping all the sensors and stuff into the upper torso.

Personally, designing a giant humanoid robot seemed kind of silly to me. The fact that it was useless for actually fighting Angels aside, the human body isn't really all that built for combat. As I'd learned several times over the course of my career, when it came to most purely physical tasks, four legs good, two legs bad. Better balance, better speed, and generally a heck of a lot suited to battle. Humans were dangerous because of their brains, not their bodies.

The Evas were human-shaped because that's how the chunks of Adam and Lilith's DNA we'd used to make them had turned out. Jet Alone had no reason to be humanoid beyond pure vanity.

One of the generals here for the presentation caught my eye, looked back at Ritsuko, and shot me a knowing smirk. Guess he must think Ritsuko and I had snuck out for a quickie. If I'd been in his shoes and noticed a healthy, reasonably good-looking man and woman had snuck off for some alone time I'd probably think the same thing, and letting him think I was banging the scientist beat the hell out of anyone knowing or even suspecting the truth.

Jet Alone's big boss seemed to have been waiting for us as well, and couldn't resist the opportunity to get another barb in. "Now that our esteemed colleagues from Nerv have finally deigned to join us, shall we proceed?" After another round of sycophantic chuckles, he ordered his underlings to get started.

After about a minute or so of various technobabble, the robot took a single step. From the reaction of the crowd, you'd think that it had actually done something impressive.

I decided to nail the bot on its second step. There was point in sabotaging it halfway through the trial, where any mix-ups could be laughed away as a minor glitch in the system that obviously be fixed in the production model. It needed to fail on a basic, fundamental level, like not being able to take two step s without falling over flat on its face. Besides, after Shinji's first outing in the Evangelion a part of me liked the irony of having their giant robot fall down after taking two steps as well.

As Jet Alone's foot came up for the second step, I focused on the right leg, which was supporting all of its weight at the moment, and disguised my incantation of "Hexus" as a sudden coughing fit.

The robot wobbled for a bit on the single foot supporting its weight, and everyone in the room let out a collective gasp at the sight of the robot's loss of balance. For a moment I thought that it might actually manage to recover its balance and I'd have to hit it again to actually topple it, but with then the robot's right knee suddenly buckled, and the whole thing toppled over with stunningly fast. Even though the robot hit the ground a mile and change away from us, we could feel the ground shaking, and the glass in the observation windows developed several cracks.

I shot a quick glance back at Tokita. The CEO's look of shock and horror on his face was absolutely priceless. I always make a point of stopping to appreciate the little things in life, like the look on a jerk's face when he gets his comeuppance.

After a couple seconds of shocked silence, muttering started up from the crowd. It took Tokita a couple more seconds to regain his with, hissing something angrily to the nearest tech before announcing very shakily. "Just a little glitch in the system, we should have it fixed in no time at all."

The muttering in the crowd died down for a bit, but as seconds turned into minutes the mood quickly turned ugly. Tokita was looking increasingly frantic as he scrambled around the room, badgering every tech he could his hands on in a desperate effort to get the robot back on its feet before his big moment in the spotlight was completely ruined.

"Sir!" One of the techs called out loudly, trying to get the CEO's attention. "We have a problem!"

"Well of course we have a problem!" Tokita snapped, waving a hand at the fallen robot.

"No sir, it's the reactor. Something must have been damaged when it fell; It's not accepting any commands!"

Every single other conversation in the room died as soon as those words came out. I shot a nervous look at Ritsuko, but the scientist still seemed confident and unworried. After a few terrified seconds, Ritsuko spoke up. "So much for having 150 days worth of power. Not that it would do a robot that can't even walk any good."

"This is no time for jokes!" Tokita practically shrieked. All the observers were already getting nervous and Tokita's blindingly obvious panic wasn't helping things in the slightest.

"What's going on?" I asked, putting my newly acquired knowledge to use. "I thought those fourth generation reactors were supposed to just shut down automatically if anything went wrong."

Tokita froze, and after a long moment very quietly answered. "The production models were going to be equipped with fourth generation reactors, but for the prototype the board didn't want to – well, we decided to enact certain … cost saving measures." By the time he got to the end of that statement Tokia's voice had trailed off to an embarrassed mumble.

Cost saving measures? Of all the things to save money on, they skimped on nuclear safety? Corporate idiot greed at its finest.

Any moment now the truth would start sinking in and everyone would go into panic mode. I quickly made my way to Ritsuko's side. "I think it's time for us to get to the VTOL. Now."

Gendo Ikari had called us in as soon as our VTOL got back to Tokyo-3. After Ritsuko and I arrived at his office, he silently looked at the two of us, sitting in his usual unreadable pose. After several seconds, standing at Gendo's side as always, spoke up. "Japan Heavy Chemical Industries claims that they were able to reboot their systems and reduce the core temperature within the reactor before any containment breach occurred. While the situation appears to have stabilized, temperature readings from within the core indicate that a partial meltdown might have occurred. However, there are no indications at this time of a containment breach."

Fuyutsuki shot a glance at Gendo out of the corner of his eye, and I noticed a very slight frown on his face. "Perhaps if a similar situation should arise in the future, we should leave Mister Dresden out of the equation, and pursue more conventional means of sabotage."

Gendo himself met Ritsuko and I with his bespectacled gaze and finally spoke. "Well done."

It took all my self-control not to blast him to bit right then and there. "Well done?" My voice came out in a deadly quiet hiss. "That's it? We just caused a nuclear meltdown, and that's all you have to say for yourself? Well done?"

Gendo remained calm and emotionless. "It was an acceptable outcome. If Jet Alone had merely failed, they would simply repair it and try again. A nuclear incident should serve as a sufficient deterrent to any further pursuit of a similar project."

That removed any doubt from my mind. "You son of a bitch!" In the space of a second I was over Gendo's desk and had two fistfuls of the man's jacket, forcing him out of his chair and his comfy little Gendo pose. If there had been a wall handy, I would have slammed him into it. "You knew, didn't you? You knew they'd stuck a crappy old reactor into their prototype! You knew this was going to happen! You were counting on it."

Gendo, his glasses knocked askew by my assault met my gaze directly. We'd already soul-gazed, so there was no reason to be afraid of looking me in the eye. "Yes." The man confirmed.

I might have completely snapped and started wailing on Gendo if I hadn't felt Fuyutsuki put a hand on my shoulder. He wasn't being rough or anything, but the message was clear; he wasn't going to just stand aside and let me beat his boss to a pulp like I so dearly wanted to do. I knew the old man couldn't actually take me in a fight, even before magic entered the equation, but it still gave me cause for pause.

Gendo must have noticed my moment of hesitation. "Do you intend to kill me, Mister Dresden?" From the way he said it, you'd think we were discussing the weather, not the possibility of his eminent painful and messy death.

I have to admit, in my current state of pissed-offedness the idea was more than a little tempting. Not quite tempting enough to actually go through with though. After all, I'd probably end up having to blast my way completely out of Nerv HQ just to get away after I killed him, and then I'd be spending the rest of my life as a fugitive. Not to mention that between killing the top man and blasting through a big chunk of Nerv HQ, I might wind up seriously damaging Nerv's ability to actually stop the Angels. I wasn't quite pissed off enough to endanger the entire human race just for the momentary satisfaction of killing the son of a bitch.

Even if I wasn't quite angry enough for murder, I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of making me back down. "Fuck you."

Gendo didn't give the slightest twitch. "Do you intend to tender your resignation from Nerv?"

Once again, very tempting, but I couldn't do it. I couldn't just ignore a threat to the entire human race. Oh, I could get pissed off and tell the bastard I wouldn't work with him anymore, but I just wouldn't be able to turn my back on everything and everyone here at Nerv. I might be able to walk away, but once I'd had a few days to calm down I wouldn't be able to stay away.

No way in hell I would give Gendo the satisfaction of watching me come crawling back to him. "I want you to remember something, Gendo. I'm with Nerv because you guys are the only game in town that can actually stop the Angels. I get that sometimes we have to do nasty stuff for the greater good. I don't like it one damn bit, but I get that this is how it is. Hell, I even get that in a world as screwed up as ours is, a nasty little bastard like you might be necessary to get things down. So yeah, I'll stick with Nerv. You better watch your ass though; the Angels won't be around forever, and you're not going to enjoy what happens if I ever decide your bastardness outweighs your usefulness."

If my threat had any effect on Gendo, he didn't show it. The two of us stood there for a long moment, me giving the man my best death glare, and Gendo looking at me with bored disinterest. The tension finally broke when his phone started ringing. "Are you going to let me answer my phone, Mister Dresden?"

I gave the man a little bit of a shove when I finally let him go, and shrugged off the restraining hand Fuyutsuki had on my shoulder. Gendo sat down at his desk, picked up his phone, and started talking as if I hadn't just tossed a couple death threats his way. I guess sometimes there are benefits to being cold as ice.

I was halfway out the door when Gendo interrupted his phone conversation. "Mister Dresden, wait a moment." I was really tempted to just keep walking, but I waited. A part of me really, really hoped that Gendo was going to say something that would push me over the edge. Sure, snapping and blowing him into tiny little bastard bits would be a really stupid move from the rational, long-term perspective, but it would still feel really, really good.

After a minute to wrap up his phone conversation, Gendo hung up his phone. Then, with a disturbingly icy calm, he announced. "Someone just attempted to assassinate the Children."