Redemption-E

 

[Intro track — Hungry like the Wolf : Duran Duran]

“So here goes.”

Nancy Wolf sat in what seemed an infinite blankness, the control analogue of the self-enfolding StarGate Secret Rose. She had launched the program that the Seraph had provided, the one that would open the wormhole to the past, by stitching together an astronomical — more than astronomical — number of pre-existing paths in the quantum foam, back by a Planck time or so at each step, and forcing them wide enough for the Secret Rose to pass. She was aiming for Earth, at the opening of the third millennium, well before the untamed Singularity that had taken most of the human race, well before the space industries that had left one of the most significant remnant populations, so that there could be a more orderly, and complete Transcension. But with the inherent uncertainties in the process, she was now scattering herself, one world-line at a time, across the whole of the past, across all space, across a whole range of alternates.

Nancy Wolf and a small part of Castle Wolf in the background

Nancy Wolf

Most of her world-lines would cluster near her own past, near the date that she intended. But a small fraction would be wildly out. But if there was anything in that past that she could bring to Transcension, she would. The drive that had been built into her whole structure by the Ascended, via the genome fixes supplied to her Clan, now reinforced by — a glimpsed experience? propaganda? direct rewriting? — her visit to Earth, and the floating mountains where the Ascended maintained contact with this perspective on the Dust, that drive would only let her turn back if there was nothing that could be redeemed in this past.

A darkness appeared in the view, a star filled globe. The far end of the journey, rushing towards her.

At a gesture, the timbre of the Engines altered. No longer careering down the tunnel, but holding station, as she launched a first set of probes, almost dumb specks, with the size and processing power of midges, held in a loose array by a network of forbidden channel resonances.

The imperceptible cloud dived up and out of the well, dispersing in all directions to give a wide aperture array. The signal took an imperceptible time to integrate, then replaced the local view. Annotated, it showed that she was barely in the right neck of the woods — 5AU out, well south of the ecliptic, and over a decade later than intended. So far, not too bad. The motes continued to disperse, increasing their integrated resolution, and scanning over a broader range of frequencies.

Almost at once, anomalies started to show. Even given the unfavourable viewpoint dominated by the southern hemisphere, up into Asia, Earth was unexpectedly quiet in radio wavelengths, and the optical showed too much red in the spectrum. She started to worry about being in a really low-likelihood alternate past — a Stapledonian occupation of Antarctica by Wellsian Martians with their red weed maybe. The local Mars was reassuringly quiet in radio, so there could only be a few radio-mediated dispersed cloud-jelly consciousnesses within the spectral bounds.

The integrated image zoomed in on the Earth, a bright speck growing into a clouded ball, mainly dark under the cloud, but with a reddish blotch spreading out of the night-side where Antarctica ought to be. Sliding into the near infra-red, land and sea showed through the cloud. The coastlines revealed showed a massive rise in sea level compatible with the melting of the southern ice, and that the oceans were unusually warm, though not enough for super-hurricanes to sustain. Reverting to visual, and integrating, on the night side, some city lights showed. In orbit, nothing significant.

This place was going to be a mess, a seriously different history or both. But now she was committed.

She let the Engines resume, and the Secret Rose settled the final distance to meet the worm-hole mouth and anchor it. That would radiate a significant amount of gravitational waves, and a lot of subtle particles — supersymmetric neutrino analogues, shadow matter particles, and gravitinos. It was unlikely that a technology of this era would be able to detect it. In any case, travelling at real-space speeds, the detection would be a distraction, an hour or so from now, after she had vacated this vicinity.

The Engines roared again, and the gate, wormhole and all, dived under the surface of local spacetime, emerged again with the mass of the moon between it and Earth. Now with sensors over the whole 50 kilometer aperture of the ring engaged, she was certain, as soon as her meatware consciousness could absorb the data, that the whole farside was as dead as it had been for aeons past, no farside installations, human or alien, showing anything out of local thermodynamic equilibrium.

One final rumble, and the Engines stilled. Their last rattling action had scattered a number of sensor packages — bigger, brighter, wasp-sized throughout cislunar space down into low Earth orbit, to sit, watch and wait, provide all the contextual information that she would need, and watch out for external interventions.

Now the hard work would begin.

Knowing that it would be a long time before she could again attend to the meat, she would call this a rest break — a last meal, purging of bladder and bowels, to acknowledge the flesh before she surrendered the chassis to mechanism.

A floor appeared and so did local gravity. A reassuring illusion of windows between herself and the void beyond, the looming dark and dust-grey of the moon which drowned the stars in this authentic display. And a door, leading into windowless corridors, and then into a room scattered with couches and real windows.

She called for a beer, long, blonde and cold, and selection of light savouries, pulled up a chair and sat, feet on table, sipping and nibbling, watching the moon slowly wheel past. In the background, gentle music, intricate and subtle. Deliberately, she turned her attention on her senses, and tried not to dwell too much on what now lay ahead, a broad telepathic scan of the entire planet, to find the pivotal individuals who she could recruit to her side — whether they bore any resemblance to the individuals she had expected to be working with.

“Anomaly.” The automated systems — social insect level AIs — had found something that they felt required her personal intervention.

“Display it here.”

The ceiling turned from neutral into a display, corrected for her viewing angle, showing the limb of the Earth where dawn was rising over Arabia. And in low orbit, something that looked like insectile wings made out of white light.

“What the dying…” she breathed the expletive, then in command voice “Relay this downstream. Get the Seraph, or failing that, the Linker archives, get an identification.”

There was an delay of some tens of seconds, then a deep neutral voice spoke in her mind.

“A Celestial. A pseudo-living artefact of some previous Transcension. Ascended investigations have reconstructed evidence that they were active on y/our Earth some tens of kiloyears ago, may have interacted with some of the last pre-humans, possibly causing a weak Transcension of some sort. Hypothesis — on this timeline, they stayed inert until recent historical times.”

The voice of the archives fell silent, but this focus remained, she was sure, to record.

“Oh, decrepitude! This is going to be a bitch.”

The view briefly whited out, recovered as the central body at the focus of those wings of light activated itself in some fashion. In a reflex, Nancy felt shutters come down about her mind, while her body started to curl up, spilling food and drink. Conscious thought followed, slow as usual.

Telepathic attack — but what she was sensing was merely the side-lobes, relayed through her sensor network, not at a level that could present any threat, especially with the regulators on the comms links. The main attack itself showed no finesse — there was a modulation that was spawning all sorts of less exotic radiation, mainly in the optical band or longer wavelength, enough to show the main lobe of the attack as a very narrow beam, maybe 25m across where it struck the Earth, somewhere in Japan, not too far from where, under a thick layer of cloud, Tokyo might have been. Aimed at an individual, or a small co-located group, she surmised.

While it was pouring its energies Earthwards, and presumably was focussing what passed for attention there too, she cautiously steered her probe net to examine the construct. She didn't have Transcendent weaponry, the nearest being something geared towards defence and escape in the event of a bad take-off. Having to deal with something like that might be…

Her thoughts were interrupted by a rush of positron-annihilation frequency gammas. Someone on Earth, not too far from the target of the telepathic attack, was fighting back with a particle beam weapon, but to no avail. The lacy, fractal structure of light continued its slow drift as the counter-attack splashed off the shielding surrounding the visible body.

A part of her distributed net figuratively tapped her on the shoulder. There were human constructs — communications, surveillance and other types of satellite — in orbit, and a number were feeding views of this conflict along downlinks terminating near the earthbound end. This was going to be a place to be worth scanning later, when the dust had settled. And certainly a place to start her infiltration of the local internetwork infrastructure. She assigned a few dumb modules to that task and turned back to the main event.

In the interim, it seemed that the guy downstairs had come to the conclusion that to continue with the beam weapon was futile — but not before Nancy had been able to gauge the effectiveness of the defence. A few sacrificial probes had measured the transmission rate of the positron beam, and by the time the results were presented to her they made reassuring reading. The beam had been within an order of magnitude of the flux density that would have been effective — and that would be within the capabilities of her own conventional weaponry to match, if the necessity arose.

Minutes passed. The telepathic attack continued, though she cut off the relay from the probes so she didn't have to feel it in the background all the time. It would probably take some time for the necessary amounts of extra power to be brought on line to make an effective counter attack, she guessed. She could intervene — but without information, without context, she could not be sure what would be the right approach.

And then it happened so fast she hardly caught it, only apprehended it on the replay. The Celestial unravelled in a burst of light, as something passed through it, elongated, deep red, somewhere between metal and ceramic in appearance. Vectors confirmed both that the launch point had been near the particle beam launch — and the centre of a sudden spreading clearing of the skies — and that having spent kinetic energy in passing through the shields and the target, that it would now swing around the moon like an Apollo, then, interacting with the definitely non-spherical lunar potential well, impact the surface. That would be in just over three days time. Plenty in which to manoeuvre the StarGate to intercept.

A few probes had hazarded active scans of the object under the cover of the impact, and as the results were passed through the network, she became less happy. That was not an object of human manufacture this side of the Singularity. In some senses it wasn't even properly material, composed of forces and particles not normally bound into cohesive form.

This was getting to be a less happy prospect as the data flowed in. She had planned primarily for the main run of history, where the main concern would be the uplift of Asia and Africa's pre-civic societies, with despots and fanatics simply located, and eradicated or redirected. She had made provision in the form of some armaments for the unlikely scenario of global high-tech war, and for desperate straits, she carried on-board under rigorous Seraphic security, the means to force a hard take-off if faced with the likely obliteration by other means of whichever strand of humanity she encountered. And her strategy for dealing with any imminent Transcension was to have been simply to jump aboard and get carried along for the ride.

This had the makings of both at once. With turn of the millennium technology, and samples of Transcendent manufacture, a hard take-off of some form would be too easy to spring. The original timetable was out the window. She would need to ramp up the production of the monitor agents, and that would still take days. If she had days. Otherwise it would have to be all aboard for the magical mystery tour.

She itched to take a telepathic scan of the Japan end of the battle, but didn't want to risk anything that close to the center of activity that was not purely passive observation just at the moment. She could make a surreptitious in-person visit, but if she was forced into disclosure, she would be lost without unsubtle amounts of back-up. So she would just have to contain herself, while the preparations were made. At least the mechanical parts of the operation could continue — infiltration of the local networks, even the highest level scanning of the populace for key individuals. Meanwhile she felt the need to acquire an idiomatic command of Japanese, to add to the English and Arabic she had already crammed.

Forty-eight hours common elapsed interval later, she was back on downstream Mars, overseeing monitor production, and still struggling with the disorganization of her conscious thought processes as her co-processor added a running simultaneous translation of her ruminations into yet another language that sliced reality in its own idiosyncratic fashion, when an explosion levelled the city that had defended itself from the orbiting Celestial.

It was time to turn some attention to this other Earth.

Sighing, she left the autofac to churn out more units, and took the wormhole route back to the Secret Rose.

The time had been enough for more worrying data to accumulate. There was a neutrino-opaque spherical structure of comparable size to the StarGate directly under the now destroyed city. Worse, that and a number of other locations around the globe were effectively screened from telepathic probing. That was bad. That was unexpected technology.

Many of the significant individuals from the same epoch on canonical Earth were absent — some dead in the cataclysm that had wiped Antarctica away, a decade and a half earlier, others simply not present in this slightly different history. Those that were present were usually working on other things — many on projects helping to restore what had been lost in the turmoil. Others were working for a UN agency that was apparently at the centre of these anomalous events. That was where she would have to take over the trail, sniffing around where it vanished into the shielded areas.

It took many days, time she feared she did not have. But eventually, by their effects on others, she found two clandestine factions — cabals, really — within that agency striving to use this fortuitous find of Transcendent creation to engineer their own Transcensions. One — notionally the upper command levels — was for promoting a hard take-off of the “kill them all and let God sort them out” school, reckless beyond belief. The other, the executive arm, based in the Japanese location, was striving more selfishly for apotheosis, hoping to drag everyone into some more exalted state.

And both had Celestial level armaments.

And things were coming to a head imminently.

There would be a confrontation between the two cabals, that she could tell. And of the two, Japan seemed the least worst. So that would be how she would intervene.


Maya Ibuki stared, not really conscious of what she was looking at, at the terminal on her desk. Everyone around her was struck by the same general feeling of anti-climax . The last, the subtlest, Angel, had been destroyed. Their job was over — wasn't it? Soon she would have to think about what came next. Her never too clearly formulated plans to follow Ritsuko as her assistant into whatever corporate or academic research she would move on to were dashed by the fact that Ritsuko was now under arrest for some ill-defined act of sabotage against NERV. Perhaps she would have to join the general reconstruction efforts, if they were re-deployed under the UN.

It took her some seconds to realise that they were being called to first stage alert — and that the MAGI systems were under attack, not as before from an Angel, but from their peers in the other remaining NERV subordinate branches — but training and experience had her responding to the attack, and giving status updates, as quickly as was humanly possible. If only Ritsuko were here. She would be better able to cope, to reconfigure those avatars of Naoko Akagi to defend themselves.

As she settled herself down to work, she reflected how the quasi-sentient nature of the MAGI systems had changed this sort of security countermeasure work. They could not just drop the entire system off-line — not simply because it would render headquarters blind to the wider world, but because it would inflict unacceptable trauma on the MAGI, just as an amputation would affect a human being. But the attacks were not the simple buffer overruns of a decade or more earlier, but conducted at a more human pace, in a more human style, to subvert a system in ways that were akin to subverting a human intellect.

She was deep into flow when she heard a cheer go up around her. The Commander was escorting Ritsuko onto the command level. She did not know what had happened, but it was clear from their body language that neither wanted to be in the same room together.

“Good work, Maya,” Ritsuko said, as she looked over her shoulder, while picking her own laptop from the next desk, “Now please open the access hatch for Caspar.”

“Yes, ma'am!” She let herself feel that things might just be going to turn out all right. With that reassurance, she turned back to coding, feeling that all was going well.

The relentless pressure of the attack stepped up, but with Ritsuko there, it seemed that the march of red subversion markers across the status display was being slowed.

And then it happened.

One subsystem flipped from red to grey. Grey!? And then in a cascade, it wiped both other colours from the board. Her terminal locked up — and so it seemed had all the rest.

In the sudden astonished silence, everyone could hear Ritsuko's anguished howl “Mother!”

Then a new female voice on the speakers.

“System Harmony on-line. MAGI virtualization complete.”

“System Rhapsody on-line. MAGI virtualization complete.”

“System Destiny on-line. MAGI virtualization complete.”

The status display refreshed. Each of the three main MAGUS boxes had been relabelled. And inside each were three smaller boxes labelled as the original MAGI. In two of the systems, all the inner MAGI were green, but in Harmony, the outward facing node, the red showed as it had before the interruption. It seemed that the whole attack was being directed at the one node, and it was reacting as if they were still defending against the attack.

“Status report.” The Commander was abrupt as usual.

“I think someone is amusing themselves at our expense,” Shigeru volunteered, “Those names are from British television, nearly fifty years ago. Fighter pilots, code named Angels.”

“All systems appear normal when running on the two inner nodes. The outer node is acting as a honey-pot,” Makoto added the pertinent facts.

“So a new player has entered the game.” The Commander seemed almost pleased. “Well, let us see what their next move will be.”

“Massive energy release directly overhead! Altitude 10,000. It's fifty kilometers across.”

“Outside view.”

The main screen cleared of the default tactical display, showed an external camera looking up. Clouds were coming into being, alive with lightning, and then suddenly cleared, to show a moon in a dark sky, a moon too close, a sky too dark for a normal morning. And then the usual sky returned, with a band of bright metal floating in the sunlight. Darkness drifted down from it, like rain seen from a distant cloud, and lances of light struck the earth, raising explosions.

A number of external cameras suddenly failed. In other views, there were glimpses of black clad, masked figures, and black capsules, with bright yellow blazes, floating in pursuit.

The new voice of what had been the MAGI spoke again.

“This facility is under attack from elements of the JSSDF including special forces units. We are being defended. Some special force units have penetrated the outer facilities, but will shortly be neutralized by allied monitor units.”

“Strong AT field detected!” Makoto again. He paused, waiting for more information to come in. “Analysing… pattern… pattern is Grey!?”

“Is it another Angel?”

“It's at least as human as Kaoru was. But the pattern is definitely not Blue, repeat, negative on Blue.

“It's inside the geofront. It's headed here. 100 meters… 50 meters…It's here.”

He leapt up, pointing at one of the emergency egress shafts. A small figure drifted down into sight. For a moment, Maya thought that it might be Rei — the same slight figure, the same blue-greyish hair. But pale though the First Child might be, she did not have the literally ashen pallor, skin the colour of wood ash, that this one had.

And what at first had seemed perhaps the white of Rei's plug suit resolved into a white jacket over a blue leotard, and high white boots.

“That's…” Shigeru began.

“I recognise the reference, Mr.Aoba,” the Commander spoke dryly, “Another Angel.”

“We are now under siege.” The newcomer spoke, and despite its amplification, the voice sounded like Rei's, the same flat affect.

“Yes,” said the Commander, “the old men have made their move. And from the fact that I am still alive, I deduce that you have chosen to stand with me on this matter, Miss…?”

The figure drifted towards the Commander, followed by a group of blue-on-white capsules.

“I am Nancy, Lady Wolf. But I think the name, the associations would better translate as Kitsune. Yes, call me Kitsune, Ikari-san.

“And we stand together now only because their plan is much, much the worse. Launching a Transcension is always a hazardous matter. Theirs would be reckless beyond all contemplation.

“For the moment I have bought us some time. I can hold off conventional armaments, even nuclear weapons, indefinitely, but your enemies have launched their Transcendent weapons. I can destroy their delivery systems, but when those weapons arrive I shall have to withdraw the StarGate.

“I suggest that you ready your own Transcendent devices.”

“Yes. The Evangelions.”

The Commander lifted his head from where he had been cradling it in his hands, a grim smile upon his face. “Pilot status?” he called.

Maya called up the appropriate search. Rei — Rei's whereabouts were not showing. “Rei is…” missing, she was about to say.

“I am here.” The quiet voice sounded from the back of the deck. The First Child was standing there, wearing her usual school outfit, hands held limply by her sides.

The newcomer, Kitsune, drifted down, alighted on the floor behind where Maya was sitting, and she turned to watch the confrontation.

Kitsune and Rei just looked at each other.

“You and I, we are very much alike.”

She could not tell which of the two had spoken.


Nancy watched the strange girl who looked very much like she did. Even without probing, she could feel a strong telepathic shield about her. From his reactions, disguised though they might be, Gendo Ikari clearly felt that this was his agent, perhaps his closest ally, certainly his most loyal follower. And Ikari was a very, very subtle and intelligent man — an ally of convenience and no further. And no longer entirely human.

“Continue,” she acknowledged that the staring match had interrupted Maya's report.

“Asuka is still hospitalised — room 303. And Shinji is on level 3, just sitting in one of the corridors.”

“I do not know if I shall be able to pilot an Eva. Unit 01 rejected me, and I do not know if Unit 02 will accept me,” the quiet girl — Rei — stated, distantly.

The exchange brought a lot more useful data into near verbal form, easy to read, a briefing that gave her the first substantial data to fill the gap she had been edging up towards for the recent weeks. It made depressing reading. The enigma here in front of her seemed fit, but could not pilot. The two other pilots, both children, were severely traumatized, according to their collected accounts — and a brief scan, jumping from mind to mind to find the children, confirmed it. There was something suspect about one of the two deployable units. And their were gaps in the deployment technology for the other. She verbalised her surprise and shock.

“You have to power the thing, Unit 02, remotely? You have all these — these technologies,” she waved her hand vaguely to indicate the whole underground complex, which her accompanying monitors were slowly building up a comprehensive picture of, “and you don't have fusion? You're still using copper? You should at least have warm superconductors by now, surely. And you don't have a pilot who's fit?

“Oh, well. Those problems are on a scale I can assist with.

“Doctor Akagi — please take this monitor unit with you to Unit 02. I shall deliver a power plant and a fabber to retrofit it. Replacing the existing batteries or as a plug-in as you feel best.” She gestured, and one of the blue-striped white capsules drifted towards Ritsuko. “It will follow you. It has a natural language interface so you can tell it your design decision.”

“Major Katsuragi — please take me to Ms Soryu. Unit 02 needs a pilot. I will see what I can do to help her.

“Meanwhile, I suspect it would be unwise to use Unit 01 under these circumstances — is that not so, Commander?”

Gendo Ikari just stared at her, but did not deny the assertion.

“And Commander, I suggest that you not attempt to precipitate anything unless we are about to be defeated anyway, despite our combined efforts. I came from an alternate future where a different type of Human Complement Program took place, under very different circumstances. I have learned its lessons, and I returned to the past to endeavour to ensure that things turn out right this time. Even if this isn't the past I was aiming for.”

Nancy looked at Misato, nodded.

“This way,” she indicated, and headed towards the lift platform where Rei still stood. Nancy followed.

“I shall accompany you.” Rei stated the fact made obvious by not moving as Nancy and Misato joined her.

As they rode the platform, Nancy shifted her outfit. By the time the lift halted, she was wearing urban camo trousers, comfortable dark grey boots and a silver-grey muscle vest.

“Your…” Misato noticed the change.

“This is more comfortable. The original display was fine for its amusement value, tweaking Gendo Ikari's nose, but if there is walking involved, I would rather do it without heels.”

The three walked, and rode lifts, in near silence. Misato tried to banter, but soon gave up. Rei, it was apparent, was not a conversationalist, and Nancy herself was trying to supervise many different threads that she couldn't leave entirely to unattended mechanisms. While her monitors had neutralized the special forces incursions into the base, and now maintained a perimeter with distorts that would keep unshielded humans away, it would not be too much longer until the nine approaching aircraft with their ominous cargoes came within range of her main weapons, and would be shot down. Those would be the first shots of the final battle. And there was the other pilot to scan, check out, remotely, in case he might interfere, and dispatch monitors to guard.

“Here.”

Misato placed her hand on the doorknob, about to open the door, when Nancy asked “Why do you trust me, Major Katsuragi?”

“Because… Because you have asked, rather than taken by force when you could have. And because I think you are intending to stop his scheme as well”

“And are you acting of your own free will?”

“I'm here because you asked. Or are you asking something else?”

“In every world-line I make a different choice. I don't know if that is free will or not.”

They stepped into a bare, clinical room, where a teenage girl lay sprawled on a bed, surrounded by quietly beeping medical gear.

“Catatonia, after physical and mental trauma” Misato explained.

Nancy approached the bed. She reached out her left hand, and stroked the girl's hair. At the same time, with the physical contact as a guide, she touched the girl's mind, and found it red raw with trauma. Some of the scars were old, from infancy. Others very recent. This untrained, unguarded mind had borne the brunt of the Angel's attack — it was surprising that she had not fallen into this state at once, that it had taken something else to finally tip her into the abyss.

Her hand running through the red hair became the metaphor she used to work on the girl's damaged psyche. Some was like combing out tangles, gently teasing them out. But others she could do nothing about, save to cut them out — and that in itself would be more damage. Now, alas, was no time for regrets, for long drawn out delicate work. She did what was least worst to try and rebuild the girl's self-image, awaken the fires that had burned so low. If they were lucky, there would be time later for her to heal properly.

“Wake up, Asuka,” she whispered, “We need you.”

The girl's eyes flickered open, focussed.

“Oh, it's you, wonder-girl. Go 'way.” and she rolled over. “Bitch!” she muttered under her breath.

“Asuka!” Misato's delight at hearing any response was undisguised.

At the sound of her voice, Asuka opened her eyes again, turned to look at Misato, and spotted Rei standing impassively by the door, looked up at Nancy, the two monitors hovering behind her, then back and forth a few times.

“You're not wonder-girl. Who are you?”

And then memory. She sat up abruptly, pulling free from various electrodes, her pajama jacket tugged open by the wires.

“Where's that bastard Shinji. Did he..? Am I..?”

Nancy focussed the subtle senses of the monitors, checking the girl from head to toe.

“No, you're just fine. I'm Kitsune, I'm here to help. Now, we have a challenge for you.”

Asuka cocked her head, a half smile on her face.

“Asuka,” Misato stepped forwards, “Asuka, we need you to destroy the rest of the Eva series.”

“Why don't you ask Shinji the fucking hero. He can still pilot his Eva. Or wonder-girl there,” she pointed with her chin, “Kitsune, Misato can tell you — my synch ratio is zero.”

“Unit 00 is destroyed. And no-one else has synchronized to your Unit 02,” Rei stated.

“Pilot Ikari is digging himself into the same sort of fugue state you were in. And for the moment, that's probably the safest place for him to be. For all our sakes,” and Nancy hoped that no-one else found out quite what was at stake, what Gendo Ikari's startlement had almost verbally blurted out to her, and what his son's mental state would mean in that eventuality, until later, after the crisis, “Now, go and surprise us.” And she gave a final psychic nudge along with the words.

The girl broke into a wicked grin. “OK, foxy lady. Try me. Now, get me a plug-suit.”


“What did she mean about Shinji?” Misato asked while they waited in the corridor for Asuka to dress.

“Your other pilot attacked her. She wanted to know if he had gone further than common assault after she blacked out. And to answer your next question, yes, I can read minds.”

Misato's face suddenly reddened.

“After a while, everyone's own little secrets just blur into a mass. It gets old quick, playing the peeping tom. It is useful to pull extra bandwidth in conversation by picking up the unspoken contexts. But that is also why I asked those questions before.

“So he told you that Asuka had gone wild and then collapsed when he tried to restrain her, when it was he who lost it. Death! Do you have to be damaged to do this job or does it just happen naturally?”

“The children have to have been born after the Second Impact, and have lost their mothers. Isn't that enough? And we had to find children like that and send them out to be our front line soldiers. Or they have to be like Rei…”

“Imperfect replicas of a dead woman. Like me.”

“If I am a monster, then whose fault is it but my creator's?” Rei asked.

The ward door opened, and Asuka stepped out.

“Is the world ready for this?” she asked, spreading her arms wide, then, noticing the atmosphere, “Am I interrupting something?”


Another elevator cage, cramped, descending through open darkness, with occasional red lights. They travelled in silence, with Asuka staying in the opposite corner to where Rei had planted herself, an obvious tension between the two — or at least on Asuka's part, something that hadn't been resolved by the butchery Nancy had perpetrated in lieu of careful psychic surgery.

Mein Gott!” Asuka broke the tension, “I can feel Unit 02. It's like I'm synchronized.”

“That is because you are.”

“But, Kitsune, how?”

“Because you have now awakened,” and she switched into English to misquote, “‘Cometh the hour, cometh the woman’.”

And at that moment, they descended into light, a vast hangar where a bright scarlet giant humanoid form was cradled in a network of catwalks. Amongst all the workers, Ritsuko Akagi's blonde hair and white lab-coat stood out, where she was supervising as a large armour plate was being fixed into place in the middle of the Eva's back.

“It's different. You've… Where's the umbilical going to go?” Asuka spotted where the work was taking place.

Nancy smiled at her. “We've made some changes. You'll see.” she said.

The cage rattled to a halt, and the doors opened. Asuka was first out, running along the catwalk towards Ritsuko, waving. Misato just stared at her, an expression of deep hurt on her face. “She's not been like that for weeks. Can she keep it up?”

“She's young. If there is time, she will heal.”

“Time? You think she'll die out there?”

“It is not inconceivable. And there are other forces in motion.”

“Ikari?”

Nancy nodded.

“He can do nothing without me.” Rei added.

Nancy turned to the girl, raised one eyebrow in question. But Rei was just staring blankly into the distance as she walked. And screened as she was, she was leaking nothing interesting on any band, not even to tell whether she was even aware of the gesture.

“I am not his doll. The other one would have been.”

Nancy could not be sure if that was intended as a continuation of the previous statement. There was something there, something that she was sure had to be important. But there was not the time to follow it up now. Nine targets were now acquired, were in range. She passed the command to fire back along the relay chain. High above, magnets realigned in the ring's massdriver chain, and nine clusters of kinetic kill weapons with significantly relativistic velocities tore through the atmosphere. She knew it would only cause delay, and not prevent the final onslaught, just as the earlier erasure of the SEELE cabal had not prevented the continued execution of their plans that had long been in motion.

Two more commands, one to flip the Secret Rose half a world away, and the last to arm the ultimate resort, her own hard take-off capabilities, to fight fire with fire at the bitter end. Though she had not doubted it would, the acknowledgement that the last command had been received and acted upon were salutary. Even the Seraphim concurred with her analysis.

“Kitsune! Kitsune?!”

“I'm sorry, Major,” Nancy refocussed herself back into her own flesh, “I'm only post-human. There's a limit to the number of things I can work on in parallel.

“I've done what I can about the other Evangelions. Now it's all up to our Pilot Soryu.”

Misato nodded in acknowledgement. “Asuka, time to get you prepped,” she called the girl, and led her away.

“And I owe you an apology too, Dr. Akagi. You are only here because I compelled you to be. And I'm afraid I have another task for you.”

The woman looked down at her, waiting.

“You must stop Ikari reaching Unit 01. By any means necessary.”

Ritsuko's eyes widened in shock.

“Which…?”

“Either of them. The father could not hide the fact that that construct is capital-S Significant in his plans. And as for the son, well, I would rather have someone mentally competent at the helm of such a weapon.”

“I planned to kill Gendo anyway, for what he did to me, to my mother, but…”

“Don't worry. The virtualized systems were taken as exact replicas of the MAGI state. Whatever of her resides in the MAGI engrams is now triplicated.”

Ritsuko waved the remark away.

“No, not that. I see what you did — it was impressive. I don't bear you any animosity for that, though I did have a shock. I had been in the process of hacking a back door into the self-destruct system so I could be sure I could stop him, take him and this whole rotten edifice down with me. But I think that you are here to do that job — aren't you?”

“To save the world. Yes, that is why I am here. I only hope that I have the resources.

“Dr. Akagi — I must ask you. Do you fear transcendence?”

“The secret goal of the Human Instrumentality Project? As I fear any involuntary transformation of self. At best it would be like growing up. And adolescence was… a painful time. We have no guarantees here that what develops would be Friendly.”

“So if it can be done with Love?”

“That might be better — but the Commander, he is beyond madness. He makes Oedipus look underambitious. He wants to replace God and possess the Universe. And he would crucify his only begotten son to do so.

“But Shinji…”

“Has only ever shown you his public face. Look.” And she grabbed the clotted memory she had taken from Asuka, threw it in Ritsuko's face, watched her hands rise to her throat to struggle with the recollection of strangulation. “Do you want that in the most dangerous of humankind's creations?”

“So Asuka was… I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Very well. I will do what I have to.”

“If you would rather, I can instruct the fabber to provide you with a non-lethal weapon.”

Ritsuko lowered her gaze, no longer willing to meet Nancy's, shook her head.

“If Gendo comes here, I have to be able to kill him. But I suspect that he will be heading beneath Terminal Dogma, to Adam.”

Subtext radiated out along with the remark. Geography, the way she needed to go, the nomenclature — they named the lower depths of this place from Dante.

“Stay here. Do not hesitate to shoot when you see your target. And I shall be waiting for him in Caïna in your stead.” Traitor's hell. It seemed appropriate.

“We're ready to start the launch of Unit 02,” Misato called, from across the hangar “Time to clear the decks.”

“So. Unit 01, then,” Ritsuko patted the pocket that Nancy knew carried a pistol. “Thank you, Kitsune, whoever you are. You may have brought us hope.” And she walked away, head held high, certain, even hoping, that her own death was imminent.

“We should be in the launch control room.” Rei stated, and walked off to where Misato had been, Nancy following her.


From behind heavy armoured glass, they watched the entry plug being inserted into the spine of Unit 02, and then all the surrounding structures withdrawn, Nancy and Rei as spectators where Misato was leading the operations.

“Where's Ritsuko?” she asked during a brief pause.

“With Unit 01. In case the worst happens.”

In the background, the checklist continued.

“Approaching absolute borderline in 1.0…0.7…0.5…0.3…0.1. Synchronization established. 25… 60… 100… 140… peaking at 161%.

“Pilot synchronization stable at 161%.”

“That's a record,” Misato told them, then on the intercom, “Looking good, Asuka!”

On the capsule monitor screen, the pilot raised one hand to give a V for victory salute, a gesture mimicked by the Evangelion.

“She's not even touching the controls.”

“That's what 150+% synch looks like.”

“OK, Asuka, here's the latest sit rep.” Nancy leant forwards, interrupting the technical chatter. “What I can tell you is that the nine units approaching us are white, have their own independent power sources, have flight capability, and they are carrying devices made from the same fake matter as the projectile that was launched from here against the 15th Angel.” The one that had been silently and immediately consumed by the Lagrange Clouds when it had reached the downstream end of the wormhole. The one that was clearly bad transhuman juju.

“The good news is that you also have independent power and aerial capability. Plus you're patched in to my tactical net, and you have three billion monitors at your disposal, for all the good they'll do.”

“And twelve thousand armour plates and my AT field.”

Nancy nodded. Then, switching back to her first language, so that no-one else here would understand the desperate plea “ Ja taral gozi, Hoqxi, ja taral gozikul.

“Unit 02 — launch!” Electrics crackled, and hummed as the linear drive took the red figure up and out of sight.

“Three billion?” Misato asked.

“They were intended to be mediating units assigned one to each person. They have a peacekeeping — peace making — function. They are monitors in the strict cybernetic sense. I've kept a few million back in case the JSSDF recover from their current attack of common sense and restart their offensive, and a few thousand for final defense of geofront personnel. I have other assets deployed for dealing with ballistic and cruise missile attacks. But the bulk of them are now Asuka's.”

“Unit 02 — deployed. Weapon systems — deployed.”

External cameras now showed the red unit standing in broken woodland, surrounded by a major arsenal of appropriately scaled weapons.

Nancy leaned over the console again.

“You can feel the network?”

“Yes, Kitsune. This is awesome.”

“You go, girl,” she called, “I have another battle to fight, but Major Katsuragi will be here.”

“Kitsune?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you. I had forgotten what this was like.”

Watch the skies, now. We can talk afterwards.”

And she smiled while she said that, though she could not be sure that there would be an afterwards. But of those players who counted, she was sure that there was a tacit understanding that failure was not, could not be, an option. She had done all she could to counter SEELE's legacy. Now for NERV's.

“It is time.” Rei spoke the words that Nancy was in the process of framing. Time for the confrontation with Ikari, she had meant. But what had Rei meant? The girl just looked impassively at her, then at the door, and began to walk.


They were miles down now, descending in a small cage inside a set of intertwined spirals, in a cavern that was hundreds of meters across and deeper. There was no feeling of the Earth's tectonic heat despite the depth. A small part of Nancy wondered where this whole enigmatic shell had been in her history, which subtle chaotic drift of mantle convection current had taken it, and where. Had it breached the surface in one of the super-eruptions some tens of kiloyears before — Lake Taupo, perhaps? And how old was it? There was no easy way to date it — it could be as old as the Gardeners, that first hinted wave of Mind, whose traces were inferred from the sharing of deep idiosyncrasies of biochemistry across the galaxy.

More of her watched the battle that raged above, a battle that was unfolding in a different way to how she had anticipated.

When the Eva series had arrived, converging in a spiral, like soaring birds, then committing to land in a circle, maybe a kilometer across surrounding Unit 02, Asuka had taken up her artillery. Guided by the tactical net, the missiles impelled by her driving will, she had taken each one before it made the final stalling descent to zero altitude, zero velocity.

“Nine birds down.” Makoto Hyuga, in the main control center.

“What a bunch of wusses!” Asuku Langley Soryu, in Unit 02.

“Wait!” Misato Katsuragi, launch control.

“They… The Eva series are reactivating!” Maya Ibuki, main control.

Torn armour flowed together. Severed limbs, held in place, reattached. A flurry of fire had expended all Asuka's ammunition, slowing, but not halting the process. And one of the white units hauled itself to its feet, and flung its double ended blade at Unit 02.

In response, a swarm of monitors arose from the trees, their autonomous programs responding with the default “Take the bullet.” reaction. The weapon flowed as it flew, forming into another of those red spiral forks. It penetrated the self-sacrificing monitors as if they were hardly there. But it interacted well enough with normal matter, that the sheer flux of transverse momentum deflected its flight.

And Asuka plucked it from the air as it passed by her.

And then the revelation.

Nancy had discounted the monitors, their human scale weapons each as ineffective against an Eva as a midge against a battleship, even all assembled. But Asuka had seen them anew, seen the collective swarming action, a use that she, their forger, had not considered. Each unit could signal, could speak a warning, could communicate over a wide range of frequencies.

In moments, the whole space of the conflict was a whirling storm of monitors, scarlet and black patterns sliding over their surfaces, a screaming maelstrom across the spectra — both audio and electromagnetic. She was using them as chaff, as flares, as fog. And for Asuka, that fog was Argus-eyed.

Under its aegis, she pounced on the nearest enemy unit, a red blade in her hand, and began the work.

Each of the white units was alone not a match for her, even in twos, sometimes threes, and soon she had both sword and shield, but so far only one of her opponents seemed to be down and staying down. Monitor losses were acceptable — only a few thousand so far, but the battle would be one of attrition, a race between Asuka's endurance and her ability to find something critical to destroy in the others.

And then the relay cut, her awareness shrinking down to the inside of the elevator cage. But now she could feel the other mind here with her, could feel that the First Child had expanded her own screens to enclose them both, turning saw that the girl had undressed, her school uniform neatly folded on the floor, her skin flawless ivory, even to the nipples, and hairless.

“You have come,” Rei whispered, “But do you choose now to do what you came to do?

“Do you want to be one with me, of one mind and body and soul? It would be what you had always desired.”

Nancy remembered Ritsuko Akagi's words, of the fear of the involuntary transformation of the self. And yet had she not set out on this project, this quest for eudaimonia, with the intent of immersing herself inside something finer, seeking the ego-null feeling of flow for now and forever, world without end? Had that not been the goal deep inside herself when, all those decades ago, her feet had been set on this path, or even before that, if she could trust her imperfect meatware memories? Yet, as she had asked Major Katsuragi, how could she tell if this was her true will or not? And even if it was so, how could she know what form the Telos would take?

Now, inside her shields, she could see what place the First Child had within Gendo Ikari's schemes.

“You are the Catalyst.” Nancy could not tell if that was spoken or whether she merely projected the thought.

“And you also.” Now she could see that this was what Rei had meant by her assertion that they were alike, more than their superficial likeness of physical form, more than their shared manner of creation.

She knew what must be done. This was the final leap of faith, the point of no return. This was where she found the meaning that justified her existence. Her outfit flowed, contracted, resolved into a silver block embedded in her right wrist, set with a deep blue gem. Then that too fell away.

Rei held up her right hand. Nancy looked into her face, almost as in a mirror, save that the other's skin was coloured with haemoglobin and melanin, was not grey, and the eyes that met her gaze were red, not silver. Her mouth dry, her heart pounding, she held her left hand up to match. Their palms touched, merged. Nancy felt the tissues flow as they did when she let the wolf take over, but now they were mingled with another's though without any feeling of alien flesh being rejected. Now the other hand. And then the final step.


In launch control, the pilot monitor station, Misato was feeling out of the loop on everything that counted.

In the early stages of the battle, she had felt that she had to be there for Asuka, even if all the support she could give was moral. There had been the too easy shooting down of the Evas, and their reactivation, while Asuka grimly mowed them down again, leaning forwards over the controls, smiling the familiar humourless smile from earlier, happier, days. Then something had happened, a movement she hadn't caught, and Asuka's synch ratio had spiked above 250%, held for a few seconds, before dropping back to just over 200%. At the same time all the external monitors had become blind. All she had was the Unit 02 telemetry, showing Asuka now lying back, eyes half closed, unfocussed, a slight frown on her face, her hands and fingers twitching slightly at the controls, as if she were asleep, and dreaming deeply. The fact that Asuka was immersed in LCL meant that Misato couldn't see whether the girl was drooling.

Occasionally she spoke, in a disconnected voice, as if she was channeling something, or that the flesh was just an insignificant part of the whole. The only good news seemed to be in the content of these laconic messages that came at intervals of several minutes.

“One target may be down.”

“Two possible kills. Three disarmed.”

“Three probable kills. Five disarmed.”

The battle was not won yet, but there was nothing else that she — that anything human — could do. But there was something else she could be achieving — following the trail of Kaji's bequest, to find out what the hell was going on, what the real secrets were that her father had died to uncover, that had spawned Gehirn, and now NERV, what it was that Gendo Ikari had planned for the Angel imprisoned in the lowest levels of the geofront. And maybe even what this mysterious newcomer intended.

She shivered. There was too much of Rei — of Kaoru, even — about this mysterious woman who called herself Fox, a name with all the undertones of shapeshifting tricksters. And those questions she had asked on the threshold of Asuka's room. Had they meant to be an oblique hint that she was being controlled? And if so, by whom? Kitsune herself, by force of will? Ikari, and all he stood for, by channelling her in certain directions? By the memory of her father, from guilt? She did not know her own true will. But there was a more physical, more tangible, puzzle for her to worry at.

“I'm off, back,” the lie came easy, “Call me if there's any development.” She patted her phone to indicate. She waited until she was by herself in the corridor outside before patting her gun, to check the reassuring presence, drawing it, checking the magazine, and then reholstering. As if it would do any good.

Nonetheless, it was time to get to the bottom of things.

“It is time.” She remembered Rei's flat statement, before she too had left.

How much time did she, did they all, have left? How close, how short the countdown remaining, until Third Impact?

She felt that she was on the right track when on one of the lower levels, as she transferred between the various elevators, when she saw one — the last? — of the blue and white units that had followed Kitsune, hovering in the middle of the corridor. It did nothing — at least that she could see — as she sidled past it. It didn't even turn to follow her.

Down, down into the pit. To the secured doors labelled as the LCL manufacturing plant, with its ominous shoot on sight warning. Doors that now stood open, as if their purpose was done, that there was nothing left to gain from concealment.

Now, habit took over. She edged over to one wall, crept forwards, three quarters flattened against the support, the cover.

Voices ahead, speaking low, indistinct.

Hardly breathing, she skulked forwards the last yards to where the tunnel opened out into the chamber where the sad Angel was hanging, crucified, over the lake of plasm that they bottled and called Link Connection Liquid.

Two figures. The Commander standing, arms crossed, save when he adjusted his glasses. And — and who? At first, she took it to be Rei standing there, naked. But then she realised that Ikari was looking up as he spoke to the woman, not down.

As Misato stood there at the threshold, the woman turned her head. It was not a natural movement — only the head turned, further than seemed possible for normal human anatomy — but the face was Rei's, was Kitsune's. She spoke, in lower pitch, in a tone that carried further, but in the same flat style as Rei.

“Do not be reticent, Major Katsuragi. The conclave is not yet quorate, and a human perspective would be,” a slight pause, “informative.”

She let her gun, part drawn, slide back into its holster, pulled her jacket straight, stood up tall, and, taking a deep breath, strode forwards. The Commander and the woman both watched her as she approached, without any perceptible change in expression.

“What did you mean, a human perspective?”

The woman turned, without seeming to move, just rotating about a vertical axis, to show a body simplified like a doll's — like an angel's — without definition. Up close, there seemed to be a luminosity about the pale flesh. She looked down at Misato, spoke without moving those pale lips.

“You are the only fully human entity who will be here. All the rest are something other.”

“Commander?”

“It is true. I am fused with the embryo, the kernel, of the first Angel.”

“But if you have Adam, then what..”

“..is that, Major?” The Commander's expression as he pointed up at the crucified figure could only barely be described as a smile, so bleak it was. “That is Lilith, the second Angel.”

And this Ensemble,” the pale woman, “that you previously knew as the First Child and as Kitsune, who was Nancy Elanor, Lady Wolf, also speaks for Lilith, who is a source of this flesh. The others will be present soon, now that the battle is over.”

A light blossomed next to Ensemble, formed into the luminous form a woman, dark haired, clad in something long and white.

“Yui,” the Commander spoke in recognition.

“You know me as Unit 01, Major.” the woman spoke in a sweet voice.

Could this be the soul of —? She remembered the brute carnivore that had devoured the heart of the 14th Angel. And that had been this…?

Something red next to the Commander resolved into the form of Asuka Langley Soryu, clad in her plug-suit, hanging limply in mid air, almost like a kitten being carried by the scruff of its neck, her body slightly curled, head slumped forwards, face hidden in her long loose red hair, looking no more aware than she had been not so long ago, lying in that hospital bed. In the same remote voice that she had used from the capsule, she spoke.

It is accomplished.” A pause. “Dearest Misato. I am no longer the woman you knew.” There was a hint of animation, of sorrow, about the voice in that second utterance.

The four turned away from Misato, to the position opposite her, between the Commander and Ensemble. A siamese cat sat there, its fur a greyish shade of robin's egg blue, tending to indigo-black at the points, eyes shut, daintily washing one paw. It groomed itself for some moments, then put the paw down, wrapped its tail around its front feet, and opened eyes that were like sapphires.

“I stand for the Seraphim.

“All are now convened.” it announced, “The judgement can commence. State your positions.”

“I did all this to be with Yui.” — Gendo Ikari.

“We cloned God, so that we could shout ‘I am’ at the Universe, even after the Earth, and Moon, and Sun are gone. I am offered up on the altar to that end.” — Yui/Unit 01.

“Wholeness is sought.” — Ensemble.

“I am unforeseen. Help me.” — Asuka.

There was a pause that opened up. Misato became aware of the intensity of the gazes upon her.

“Me??” She swallowed hard. “I wanted to know what was going on. I want Kaji back. I want to be back home. I only know what I want.” There was a feeling of bitterness in her throat, like she was about to be sick. “No, if I'm honest, I don't even know that. I'm a mess. I can't speak for anyone. Even myself.”

“I offer only the forlorn hope, the last spin of the wheel, another spin of the cylinder, before the trigger is pulled.” — the cat.

“Neko-san, may I…?” She did not know what was going on, what was implied. If she was to provide any sort of human perspective, she had to ask, to hope that she could understand at least superficially, before the end.

“Ask your questions,” the cat acknowledged her request, “though not all those here will need you to voice them.” .

“For my part, I represent the Powers on the Earth that spawned the woman you knew as Kitsune, from the future of a different past. I can unleash some of their capabilities, to indiscriminately distribute the keys to transcendence. It would be like opening Pandora's box — and perhaps, just perhaps, there might be hope at the very bottom. I am here for if all else fails.”

“Asuka,” this was the most pressing question, “what happened to you?”

The limp form — the image — spoke again “I fought, I won, but now I am too large to fit back into the body that once housed me. To win, I over-synchronized, but not just with Unit 02, which is now but another small part of me. My original shell did not dissolve, but the 'I' that thinks is now spread across Kitsune's entire tactical net, all the monitors she assigned to me. This was not meant to happen. I cannot sustain — this nexus of flesh needs nourishment that cannot be supplied where it is, is not subsumed.”

“Indeed. Your use of the monitors was not something anticipated. As weapons they were discounted. Synchronization is the factor that was overlooked.” Ensemble. “Your immediate problem is but engineering. Modalities that you lack in your current configuration can be supplied. This does not cause an obvious conflict regarding outcome.

“Or subsumption can be chosen, rather than exile.”

Then the pale woman turned her white eyes, eyes that seemed to burn with inner lambency, towards Misato.

“Some of the things that one wants to know, to find out, can only be appreciated by experiencing them. So it was with Kitsune. Such was the potential in the Ayanami series. Each of those different entities were also constructed with a higher goal in mind. This is the offer for each to step beyond the merely human — if you have trust in the guide. Unlike the unguided option that the Seraphim hold in reserve.”

“Kitsune — you warned me not to precipitate matters,” Gendo Ikari broke in, “Yet you did this.”

“And if you had been warned not to breathe, or your heart not to beat? That was the strength of the imperative that faced those two. And things are not yet irreversible, as the very fact of this meeting makes abundantly clear.”

“Commander — what was the Instrumentality Program — what were you — trying to achieve?”

“After the destruction of the other Angels, to use those that remained here under our control to attain the alchymic marriage of Adam and Lilith. For me, the reunion with Yui. For the rest of the world, what it willed. But Rei was to have been the key.” He looked sourly at Ensemble. “And she has taken her own path. Now, after Akagi did what she did, there is no replacement available.”

One participant remained.

“Who are you really? And what do you want?”

“I am the shade — perhaps the image — of she who was Yui Ikari. For a long time, I have slumbered, dreamed deep dreams. I dreamed I carried my son once again. Now, wakefulness has come upon me — I have been drawn out of reverie by this other image of that earlier self. My wants are simple — to sleep, to dream the Universe as the aeons pass, but I fear I shall simply be crucified throughout the ages, the last witness to the follies of Man.”

There was a pause, a silence, save for the steady dripping of the plasm from the body of Lilith.

“The resolution is obvious,” the cat stated, imperiously. It stood, arched its back, then extended each hind leg in turn, stretching out in a luxuriating fashion. And with no other word, turned its back, and, tail high, strode into strange distance, vanished. After a barely perceptible moment, the images of Yui Ikari and Asuka Soryu vanished.

“Huh?” Misato could not restrain the reaction. Something had happened that had gone past her. If she had provided a human perspective, what had she done? What had these others decided?

Ensemble spoke again, reading, she was sure, this turmoil.

“Do you still have trust, Major Katsuragi?”

“You should be able to tell, shouldn't you? That I know that you're as fallible and as fucked up as the rest of us, that you can be sure. But then, that's nothing new. That's all we've ever had.” She looked up into that calm white face. “This is it, isn't it, you're going to do it. Third Impact. End of the world.”

“No, not with a bang, but a sigh. Soon. Soon the holidays will begin, for everyone. After work is done. There is one task remaining before the curtain can come down. A final parting of ways that you must mediate, to bid farewell.

“Ikari,” and the penetrating gaze turned away, “your fate is necessary and not to be envied. But you are acquiescent.”

“In its way, it is what I sought, and many would say that it is more than I deserve.”

“Five billion years is but the blinking of an eye. Kitsune witnessed some of the nearer abyss, billion-fold later, after the stars have gone out, and the galaxies sundered. If there are other witnesses, they will gather by the deeps. Ascension is held now in abeyance for your journey.”

Like the cat, Ensemble turned her back, and walked away, towards Lilith, walking on the surface of that yellow lake.

“Major Katsuragi,” the Commander spoke, “As the only uncommitted agent here, I ask you, please escort me to Unit 01. It will be necessary to convince Dr. Akagi that I should be allowed to pilot our remaining Evangelion.”

“Me?”

“You are the only one left to do it. And perhaps what friendship the two of you once had can persuade her to permit this, despite Kitsune's instructions to the contrary.”

“Can't she — what's left of her — do that?” looking out at the figure standing at the foot of the cross, dwarfed by the monstrous form of the Angel.

“Can — certainly. Will — certainly not. She has delegated that task And at this point I know I no longer have meaningful authority over you, so cannot order it done. But I can say that if Adam or Eva remain here, then their presence will be disruptive. It may not be the Third Impact as you imagine, as a replay of the Second, but the negative effects on those that remain will be no less.

“I do not know how long we have. But I suggest that we make haste.”


“…and stay down.”

The trance-like voice was the only useful data that Maya — that anyone in the main control room — had coming in from the outside world. They had long ago switched off the static-laced camera feeds.

There was a long pause.

“Pilot Soryu wishes to report that they were wusses after all. Misato? Kitsune?”

Another pause. Just enough for sighs of relief and spontaneous applause to break out, not long enough to recover, realise that it was safe to speak, and to do so.

“Kitsune? Oh, like…”

And the voice faded, though the rest of the Unit 02 telemetry carried on in its monotonous fashion.

“External sensors coming back on line.” Shigeru. “We only have one AT field in view, and it has Unit 02's signature.”

The main screen lit up, showing the default tactical display with the terrain above the geofront, dominated by the crater that had been Tokyo-3, with the Eva's location marked. And, as live data were painted on, a massive spike, bigger than any of the Angels, in the same place.

“Integrating surviving external cameras and MAJIC feed. Imaging coming up…”

Everyone reacted with surprise as the screen was repainted with the synthesised image. The scene around where Unit 02 had emerged, in what had been wooded land beyond the outskirts of the city, was one of devastation, almost every tree smashed, the lake surface covered in floating debris. Already crows were settling on the scattered shards of synthetic flesh and armour that had been the Eva series. And in the midst of it all stood Asuka, a mile high, standing at rest, hands clasped in front of her at her waist, head held up to look at the sky, clad in the scarlet and black of her plug-suit, her flame coloured hair pouring down her back. On her brow, a twisted wreath of crimson thorns.

“Asuka!” As stand in for Ritsuko, it was Maya's role to monitor the Eva pilots — pilot. Now the battle appeared over, they surely had to try and recover the Eva and its pilot — but what was that manifestation, what did it mean? All the life support system signals seemed to suggest that Asuka was — had been — in a comatose state. Only that almost unheard of 220% synch ratio that was still holding spoke otherwise. “Asuka!” she called again.

After a pause which suggested that there would be no response, the slow voice again. “We are in conference. Please wait.”

While Maya fretted with the limited controls she had available, trying to find out what had happened, whether this was going to require another salvage operation or quite what, the Sub-Commander was calling for other situation reports, and finally giving the command they had all been hoping for.

“Stand down to regular watch.” and then continued, “and, Lt. Ibuki, now perhaps you could tell me what has happened to our pilot.”

“Insufficient data, sir. I don't know what was done to even wake her up, let alone enable her to synchronize like this. Her life signs are stable, and she appears to be in no immediate danger. Unit 02's life support capacity is currently open-ended, so there is no urgency in recovering her. And for the moment, she seems to be concentrating on something else other than us, so would most likely not cooperate.”

From the corner of her eye, she spotted a light winking on her board.

“Sir? May I? It's Dr. Akagi.”

“Very well, go ahead.”

Maya picked up the phone.

“Maya, ” Ritsuko's voice sounded agitated, “what's going on up there?”

“Uh, I think we've won. The Eva series have been destroyed. And Asuka's — well, probably OK, but you'd have to see for yourself.”

“I think you had better come down here, then. Something is happening to Unit 01 — it appears to be waking up. I need you to help put it back into cryostasis.”

She relayed the message to Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki, who nodded dismissively, and picked up the red phone. Taking that as assent, Maya replied “I'm on my way.”


Even jogging, even taking the moving ways, there was a respectable amount of ground to cover between the main mission control and the cage where Unit 01 was parked, the scale of the geofront being what it was. So it was with a little impatience that Maya answered her phone on the move when she saw it was Ritsuko calling.

“Still en route,” she reported, trying not to fumble the handset.

“We may be in big trouble,” Ritsuko announced, “Something has crawled out of one of Kitsune's devices and is starting to make changes to Unit 01.”

“OK. There soon,” she gasped, and started running. But along with the automatic impulse to assist Ritsuko she found herself wondering what she was about to let herself in for. She didn't think that this would be as simple as guessing red wire or blue. But then there was a feeling that this wasn't going to be something she could run away from.

She pounded down the last length of corridor, fumbled her card twice trying to swipe it through the reader, then with a deliberate effort to breathe slowly and deeply, despite the impulse to pant for air, she strode carefully in to the operations room overlooking Unit 01. She could see Ritsuko on the catwalk running in front of the Eva at its shoulder height, pacing nervously, looking up into its huge glowing eyes, and down at the metal spider that seemed to be weaving silver wire egg casings around the torso of the Eva. As she watched, one of the blue and white cylinders that Kitsune had brought drifted into reach of the spider, which caught it, and started to spin it into the growing mass.

She took up the PA, and called down to Ritsuko, telling her that she was about to start cryostasis, then sat herself down at one of the technicians' workstations and fired it up. She was in the process of getting the configuration set up as she preferred it, when the door opened behind her.

“Excellent.”

She recognised the Commander's voice before she could even begin to turn around.

“Sir,” the reflex salutation came out neutrally, as she spun her seat around, stood up, seeing that Misato was there too.

“Commence launch readiness procedures for Unit 01, Lieutenant.”

“But, Sir…”

“Maya, ” Misato spoke, “We have to launch Unit 01. It's that or — something as bad as Third Impact, as far as I can tell.”

“Is Shinji there? Where?”

“I shall be piloting Unit 01.” Ikari looked down at her, adjusted his glasses, then peered out into the hangar beyond, “Where is Dr. Akagi?”

“She was out there on the transverse walkway.” But there was no sign but an abandoned clipboard.

“Major Katsuragi, if you would take the door?”

Maya was shocked to see Misato draw her gun, take a comfortable two-handed grasp of it, and aim at the door, keeping her body between the door and the Commander. Surprised, as there had been enough odd little incidents — unexpected accesses to sensitive data from TacOps workstations — recently to suggest that Misato had turned against whatever hidden agenda the Commander was following.

The door opened, and Ritsuko started in, pistol first. Her eyes caught Maya's briefly, then she stopped, startled, on seeing Misato there too.

“Put it away, Ritsuko.” Misato sounded weary but firm.

“I,” Ritsuko started, hesitated, “Why are you defending him?”

“I understand you want to kill me, Dr. Akagi, and I understand why you do. If you let Major Katsuragi explain, then perhaps you will understand why you would be doing me a favour by doing so. But no-one else.”

Ritsuko was looking startled. Maya was sure that she wasn't doing much better at retaining her composure.

“Commander Ikari is going to be aboard Unit 01 when we launch, and it is going to be sent out into space. It's going to be a one-way trip.”

“Project-E! You're going back to the first secret goal of Project-E — only…”

“Yes. Only that did not include a pilot as part of the Witness program. But now it is imperative that I — or rather that Adam within me — is removed from the earthly sphere, and Eva — as now enhanced — is the only means we have to achieve that.”

Ritsuko stood a moment in thought.

“Damn you, Gendo. You win again. May it bring you everything you deserve.” She reversed her gun, held it out to Misato. “Take this. I need to get things ready. Plug-suit?”

“That will not be needed. I have Kitsune's last gift.” He held out a block of silvery metal set with a blue gem, then turned his back and casually, efficiently, began to undress. Maya could not help noticing terrible scars on his back, running around his torso, before a wave of whiteness covered him. The Commander turned to face them again, dressed in a white plug-suit, with dark blue flashings — it looked almost like Rei's suit — not, as she had vaguely expected in the circumstances, the blue of Unit 01's pilot's, of Shinji Ikari's, suit. But what she first took to be the 00 designation was not — rather it was an infinity symbol — ∞

“So that…?” Misato half asked a question.

“Yes, Major, it is the thing I picked up from the elevator. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to embark.”

And without further ceremony, he departed.

Through the window, Maya watched him emerge from the pilot pre-flight area, and seat himself in the control unit, ready to be lifted into the entry plug. She couldn't tell from the distance whether his expression was that of a man going to face a firing squad, or one who had been reprieved from one, though she followed him until the hatch slid shut. And then it was all routine, despite the great silver fairings strapped around Eva Unit 01, like the wing cases of titanic beetles.


Misato watched the launch preparations as she always had, expecting the technical people to do their work at least as efficiently as she carried out hers. As the preparations advanced, as the entry plug carrying Commander Ikari was fitted into place, she wondered whether she ought not be contacting someone to inform them what was going on. But who? Not that there was anything anyone could do about the launch — and the main control room team would find out about it soon enough. Not that there was anything anyone could do about pretty much anything, even if she told them all.

Twice, she picked up the phone to contact whoever might be in charge, hesitated, and put it down again.

“Launch when ready!” she ordered.

The various supports and restraints fell away, and the Evangelion began to move along the launch system rails, accelerating rapidly, quickly gone from sight as it began its final ascent.

“Final restraints disengaged,” Maya reported a few seconds later, “Bon voyage, Commander.”

She paused, reading the telemetry.

“Pilot synch ratio approaching 100%. Environmental telemetry shows that the unit is under an acceleration of just under 2g, going straight up. I'm not sure how long we'll have signal — the system's not designed for long range operation like this.”

“I don't think it matters,” Misato said, “It's done, it's out of our hands now.”

She felt ridiculously old, and tired, yet at the same time strangely elated, liberated, all her previous cares now meaningless, trivial.

“I don't know how much longer we have. If there's anything you have to say to anybody, before it's too late, anyone you have to call, now's the time.

“It's been a privilege to have worked with both of you. Ritsuko — I'm sorry things went sour between us recently. I remember the good times, I hope you do too. Maya, thank you for all your efforts against the Angels.

“Now, I have one last thing to do. Goodbye.”

And she turned and left, still wondering what had caused the sudden shocked — almost guilty — expression on Maya's face when she had as much as told them to say their final farewells. For her part — well, apart from Ritsuko, who was there that she was close enough to to want to spend what little time there was left with? So many of her relationships were just purely professional, mutual respect, rather than friendship or anything more intimate. And there was a limit to how much she could do by herself to set the world to rights, to tidy up loose ends. Who were there that she needed to speak to before the end? Kaji was dead, Asuka was changed, Pen-Pen was far away, and couldn't understand — but there was one person remaining that she needed to try and settle matters with, even if it meant wasting her last breath.

Shinji.


She found him near where she recalled the last trace had been.

At any moment as she made the ascent, she had expected something, she knew not what, to call everything to a close. Around her, life seemed to go on almost as normal, strangely calm. At a couple of points, she had had to step aside as squads of NERV security went by, escorting prisoners who had been stripped to their underwear. Special Forces, she guessed. While exchanging reflex salutes, old habits had snapped in, “Don't forget — cavity searches before you leave the prisoners unattended, Sergeant!”

But now, the last corridor, a couple of Kitsune's monitors floating seemingly aimlessly, and then, under a set of mesh stairs, in a half kneeling, half sprawled pose, the Third Child. Even for a gangly teenager, not sure how long his limbs were today, the pose had a singular lack of grace, more like a puppet, strings cut, tossed away into a corner to gather dust. He was clutching his Walkman to himself like a Bible. His eyes were open, in a thousand yard stare.

She squatted down beside him, took the little foam plug out of one of his ears. She expected to hear the faint tinny sounds of the tape he always played — but there was only silence.

“Shinji, pet,” she began. Without turning his head, without showing any other reaction, he took the wire from her hand, put the earpiece back again.

The second time, she was ready for that reaction, caught the wrist, expecting a struggle, but on encountering resistance, he just gave up. Misato let the arm drop limply. This was his normal — well, it wasn't even active enough to be called dumb insolence — the way he just said “yes” to everything. She wondered if she might not have better spent the last remaining time once again trying to convince young Suzuhara to see — be seen by — his little sister, before the end. At least there she would expect to have met resistance, argument. Here, it was like speaking to a post.

But now she had his ear — what could she say to him? That he would never pilot an Eva again — never have to. That his father had run away with his mother, had taken his Eva away from him for good. That Asuka had piloted her Eva, fought and won the last vital battle. Any of that, any talk of the present, would beat him down further, maybe destroy him. Should she just hold him? Most boys of his age would find being cuddled, the close physical contact, by an older woman secretly exciting — but on other occasions, Shinji had recoiled from her touch. She'd seen the surveillance tapes, the security debriefs, of him and Kaoru — was half the problem — beyond that of being fourteen — that he'd realised — feared, even — that he was gay?

“Oh, Shinji, my boy — what are we going to do with you?”

When she had been his age — that had been when the Second Impact, whatever the truth behind that, had happened. And she had spent years not talking, in not much better state that this, until the shock and horrors that she had experienced had played themselves in her head so many times that it eventually became boring, the damage callused over by thick layers of mere familiarity, and she could pick up the fragments of her life, and start again. Should she tell him that time would heal all these wounds, that eventually you got to a state where you could at least give the outward show that marked an adult, however you felt inside — that his father had managed that sort of public façade, that he could at least achieve that much. But there wouldn't be time.

“Oh, Kitsune, how long?”

But if not for her intervention, then — the horrified realisation struck her that she would almost certainly have had to come here, and try to drag this at least partly functional pilot to an Eva, probably through a fire-fight. And here she was, holding him, cradling his head against her breasts, and waiting, waiting, for something. What a sorry state to be in at the end of the world, clinging to an under-age kid, as the only warm body around, for all that he was no more active than a teddy bear, than a doll. A bleak fragment of a smile played on her lips — both the girls had rebelled in their own way against dolls, being dolls. The Third Child seemed to want to become one.

Then there was something — a change in the quality of the light? A sound or cessation of sound? Then a whiteness, like morning sunlight through heavily frosted glass, approaching down the corridor. Silhouetted against the light, then illumined by it, Rei in the green school dress and white blouse that she had seen discarded in the elevator from Terminal Dogma, holding out her hand, a strange expression of concern on her face, the same as there had been on Yui Ikari's image.

“I am your guide. Come, it is beginning.”

“But what about…” But Shinji was no longer there. Everything was lost in the light.

She reached out to the proffered hand. There was so much light.

Misato Katsuragi closed her eyes for the last time.


And awoke, reforged, renewed, at the true beginning of her story.

[Outro track — Shepherd Moons : Enya]


Author's note

Having scorned TV since the late 80s, and thus a fortiori never had a video player, it wasn't until Neon Genesis Evangelion came out on computer readable media — to wit, region 2 DVD — during late 2003 that I finally caught up with what many people have known about for the best part of a decade. Then, having watched the 26 episodes, by this March ('04) I ventured on to the End of Evangelion. That was definitely not the “what if it were a normal high-school mecha-pilot anime?” of the fragment in episode 26. It certainly had a strong impact on me. There were two reactions — that Shinji was even more of a jerk than is an unavoidable occupational hazard of being a 14-year–old boy, and that Asuka got a really raw deal in the end.

This was something I wanted to work out of my system — that started out as an idle day-dream — how would Nancy Wolf, equipped as in Castles in the Sky, sort things out to save Asuka from being stuck alone with Shinji for all eternity, assuming that the unmodified trajectory of events would be episodes 1–24 then End of. Surely she was outrageously powerful enough, had enough overkill, that she could arrange a happy ending for Asuka?

But then, this is Evangelion we're talking about — it doesn't do happy endings — ambiguous ones maybe, but not happy. As I started to work through how as one person with finite, albeit large, resources, Nancy could act to change the outcome, things became less and less magic wand quick fix, with more constraints, more obstacles, more possibilities for narrative tension. And at that point I thought it became worth actually writing it out properly.

Then events and characters took over — Asuka's use of the monitors was something I, as author, hadn't anticipated until I started detailing the scene where Nancy was only able to watch the battle against the Eva series from afar, a startling revelation to me as I cycled home. Nor had I anticipated “killing off” Nancy herself within that same scene, barely after the half-way stage of the narrative. I was surprised at the degree of unforced similarity between two independently invented characters such as Nancy (c.1975, UK) and Rei (c.1995, Japan), and played it up only slightly — by giving Nancy Rei's soft-spoken voice.

This has also given me a chance to get out of my system some of the back-story from Castles in the Sky that I needed to have worked out, but none of the viewpoint characters had anything to do with — arrival, preliminary scouting, other process, as well as the enjoyable opportunity to revisit the characters of Evangelion, say how I finally came to see them, and carry them and the newcomer(s) forwards, each, where possible, with their own distinct use of language in style and vocabulary. And the chance of trying my hand at the difficult task of carrying the narrative up to the point of the transition to the transhuman.

In a number of places, dialogue echoes or directly quotes from other sources, where this may enhance the reader's appreciation of sub-texts the annotation will show tool-tips (and in Mozilla, including Firefox, and other CSS compliant browsers — alas not IE, yet — these areas will show by fading slightly) when the mouse moves over them. Some is of course, given the nature of the source material, scriptural in origin, but there are other, more recent sources, taken as appropriate. The last sentence of the tale is also in this style, as an example.

The rendition of Nancy's first language is as Ceqli, an actual modern-day synthetic language, details of which can be found at http://web.archive.org/web/20021009171818/http://www.geocities.com/ceqli/Uploadexp.htm. There is a tool-tip for translation in the hint style. In order to achieve the Ceqli phrase that I wanted, unlike in previous uses, I needed to get a new word taral added to its lexicon by its inventor. (Thanks, Rex!)

And when she speaks that phrase, if it were an anime, that would be when the background music would cue Salva Nos by Yuki Kajiura.

Some of the nomenclature — Friendly, with a capital F, “hard take-off” and such — regarding the Singularity are taken from the terminology of the (Future) Shock Level 4 mailing list from sl4.org and related Singularitarian haunts.


© Steve Gilham 2004
© Mr. Tines 2004


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