And then there were Four/A Comedy of Errors [11.5]

 

[Intro track — Fallen Angel : Blve Öyster Cvlt]

‘Another day, another disaster,’ Gendo Ikari summarised to himself, viewing the paperwork on his desk. Not just the budget and contract approvals — how much longer would it take for them to finish dismantling that octahedral mass, the damned Angel Ramiel? how much would extra back-up generator capacity cost if it was to arrive in a reasonable time? — but now, according to the memo from personnel at the top of the stack, he barely had any Eva pilots to call upon, if another Angel appeared. The last, Matariel, had taken all three units acting in concert to stop, and now Soryu was confined to bed — as the memo euphemistically put it — with gastroenteritis, and Yui's boy was hospitalised with something that looked like severe allergenic shock. Only Rei was fit to pilot — Rei, whose health and physical well-being were precarious at the best of times. The facts inevitably led to one conclusion, that he would have to accelerate part of his own schedule, to gather more compatibility data — and to bridge the gap until the dummy-plug system was ready — which wouldn't be until after Units 03 and 04 were ready.

So he had summoned Ritsuko Akagi to an urgent meeting.

The chime sounded from the elevator. He looked up from his desk, across the daunting space of his personal office, that occupied half a floor of the main pyramid, the location of its window, and the decorations of its floor and ceiling telling, to those who had eyes to see, what Work was being accomplished here. He expected to see one figure, a blonde woman in a white lab-coat. But there were two figures — one had the expected lab-coat, but that one was a man, about thirty, with dark hair that looked like it had not seen a comb in weeks, wearing large glasses; the blonde — and in this case it was platinum blonde — was a teenage girl, with excessively — near floor length — long hair, and wearing a frilly panty-flash dress.

Dr. Mihara

“I don't know if you'd been informed,” the man called out as he approached, “but Rit-ch… Dr. Akagi is indisposed, some sort of digestive upset, and as senior member of the team, I was nominated to take her place for the meeting.”

This took Gendo aback. Not only was this interloper excessively informal — but had he been about to ‘-chan’ Akagi? Even he himself didn't, not even in the throes of their cathartic couplings.

“And you are?” This was the trouble with success. When this had just been Gehirn, everyone here had been his own personal appointee, he had known faces, and the necessary socially lubricating data like names and birthdays of them, their spouses, and any children. This fellow was one of the faceless hordes who had joined in the years since.

“Dr. Mihara, Cybernetics. Dr. Akagi usually takes on any of these meetings on my behalf, where Cybernetics needs representation. That suits us both.”

“I can see why. Dr. Mihara, this is to be a confidential meeting, not a day-care center. Why isn't your daughter — as I shall charitably assume the young lady to be — in school somewhere?”

“My daughter? I suppose she is, in a way. This is Elda, my new persocom. A combination of MAGI and Eva technologies. All the processing power, in one delightful little package.”

“And this is what you do?”

“Just a spin-off, sir, but yes, that's what I do. Technology in the service of making life better. In a happier world, I would probably have gone into some entertainment technology, but as things stand, here is where I can best do what I do.

“Elda-chan, say hello to the commander.”

Elda
[エルダ (E-ru-da)]

The girl — the walking PDA — turned her big round eyes on him, and in the cutest possible voice, said “Hello, Commander-san.”

“Does… she practice information security, Dr Mihara?”

“Of course. Elda — you are not to repeat anything you see or hear here unless I authorise it.”

“Yes, Oto-san.”

Ikari cringed slightly as he heard the…, the doll, call Mihara “Daddy.” An onlooker, knowing his own secrets, might see little difference between Rei and this Elda, but with Rei, even when she was small, as soon as she had been able to communicate, being who and what she was, their relationship had been more formal, more amongst equals. He shuffled papers a little to hide his discomfort, then began.

“Dr. Mihara, as Dr. Akagi's deputy you have need to know this. You'll have heard about the pilot selection process via the Marduk Institute, a rather shadowy body. In point of fact, the Institute is a polite fiction, primarily designed to keep these premises from being knee-deep in all the teenage mecha-pilot wannabes — or their parents — who can afford the fare here. We have selection requirements, of course, and the pilots, and a reserve of candidates, have all been assembled as class 2-A in the local highschool where they can be monitored.

“With most of our pilots currently indisposed, it is time to induct another. The name that has come to the top of our lists is Suzuhara. I would like to see our new pilot commencing synch tests with Unit 01 in two days time. Lt. Ibuki and Captain Katsuragi will be available to assist you with the procedure.

“That is all.”

“I shall commence my investigations. Come, Elda.”

No “Yes, sir!”, no acknowledgement of his rank. No wonder Ritsuko kept this one locked away from public gaze.


The morning after next, Asuka was back at school, staring dejectedly at the page of chicken-scratchings in the history text-book open in front of her. She had had the option — Ph.D. at Heidelberg, or Eva pilot here in Tokyo-3 — and had gone for the exciting choice. A Ph.D. she could do later, piloting an Eva, that was a once only offer. She hadn't really considered that the job would consist mainly of boredom, not even simple “hurry up and wait”, but having to go back through school, where every lesson was either trivial in content (sciences) or what she regarded as “stamp collecting” (history, geography, literature), mere rote learning of arbitrary data. And, for her, every lesson, another Remedial Kanji class. Why did they still put up with that in this day and age? If hiragana were good enough for Sei Shonagun, they should be good enough for Asuka Langley Soryu.

Asuka

And today was shaping up to be worse than usual. The last three days, she had been suffering from one of those digestive upsets that don't actually kill you, but just make you wish that they would, leaving her lying motionless in bed, sure that the slightest movement would make her throw up again — except when she did just have to make a dash for the bathroom. And to cap it all, she had also started her period in the middle of it all. She was glad that Shinji had been taken off somewhere else to endure his own sufferings — she couldn't have borne it if they'd both been having to take turns with the limited facilities — or if he had seen her lurching desperately across the apartment, wearing only her nightshirt. She was sure that it was what Misato laughably referred to as her “cooking” that had been to blame, since she'd also heard that Ritsuko, who had joined them for a meal before she'd fallen ill, was also suffering. Misato, by contrast, had sailed through the whole affair without showing the slightest ill effect, bringing her cups of miso or green tea as she'd demanded them. At least there wasn't much that Misato could do wrong with a recipe that went “just add boiling water”.

But today, she'd arrived late, after having to have a full physical, which had passed her as fit enough to benefit from being up and about, though she was still feeling under par, to find that when she arrived, no one took any notice of her arrival. They'd all been crowding around another girl's desk. Another new girl's desk.

She'd pushed her way through the crowd of classmates to the desk, to see the newcomer, a small girl with short dark honey-gold hair — a bit shorter hair than Rei's and wavy — who'd stood up on seeing her approach. The new girl was enough of a shrimp that this still allowed Asuka to look down on her, and make clear from her expression that the interloper was to be put firmly in her place. But the new girl just smiled widely.

Misaki

“Hello. You must be the famous Ms. Soryu everyone's been telling me about. Please call me Misakichi. I do hope we can be friends.”

Famous? “But of course,” she said, preening herself, responding to the first statement. Then feeling her mistake, that her response could have been attached to the last. ‘Ugh!’ she thought to herself, ‘and she has such a kiddy nick-name.’ grimacing inwardly.

“So you're now the newest member of the class,” she continued, neutrally.

“Yes. I've come here to live with my auntie. She works in the TV news. I used to live with my grandparents, but they don't have any good schools out where they live.”

At that point the teacher had arrived, to begin droning on about what the Second Impact had done to Japan. Everyone had their laptops open, so she had taken advantage of her link to the NERV networks to be reading something interesting in the way of new physics papers on arxiv.org. The boys across the room had clearly also been directing their attention away from the lesson, as she was suddenly aware of a whisper of “Miss Misato!”, and a number of necks being craned to look out the window.

Misato? Here? There hadn't been any alert sounded, so they surely weren't after her to pilot the Eva, and her scheduled synch test wasn't until after school. The eager craning of necks relaxed, and then nothing for over ten minutes, until the school secretary knocked at the door and entered.

“Would the new transfer student please report to the Principal's office.”

“Eeeks!” A burst of startlement from Misakichi, who then trotted off, looking as if she didn't have a care in the world, that this could only be something good about to happen. Asuka realised that she could really dislike someone like that.

It wasn't until during the next lesson, with Misakichi still not returned, that she suddenly had the most depressing thought. Rei had been the newest member of the class, and she seemed to have been adopted by the Commander. Then Shinji had arrived, and he'd been living with his teacher, and now with Misato, despite his father being the Commander. Then she had joined the class, and she'd gone from her foster mother in Germany to Misato's apartment. And now this new kid arrived, and she wasn't living with her parents. And Misato had showed up just before she disappeared from class.

‘Please, no,’ she addressed the uncaring Universe, ‘Don't let this be the Fourth Child.’


The solitary walk from school in the afternoon sunshine was pleasant. With neither of the other pilots there to annoy her, Asuka could bask in the warmth, feeling revived, almost human again. There was only the occasional flash of inner turmoil, as her body reminded her that it had not quite finished all its recent messy purgations, to detract from the peace

The agreeable floaty feeling persisted until after she arrived at NERV, descending towards the test labs.

Pausing at the women's restroom, to attend to bodily needs, she had emerged from the stall to wash her hands when she realised that someone else was there with her.

“Hello, Pilot Soryu.”

“Misakichi? What are you doing here?”

“Learning to be an Eva pilot, like you.”

‘OK,’ Asuka thought to her self, ‘Lemons, meet lemonade.’ And she couldn't let a line like that go by unremarked. “You might be an Eva pilot like the others.”

But the implications seemed to pass Misakichi by.

“I haven't met the other pilots yet. Icchan said I would soon, in the Ready Room. He told me where it was, but I managed to lose my way. I'm so glad I found you, Ms. Soryu.” And she beamed that kilowatt smile again.

“Icchan? Who's that?”

“The funny man in the lab-coat and glasses who works with Ms. Misato.”

Pilot induction would normally be Ritsuko's job, Asuka mused, as she led the way towards the locker room, and she didn't think that Misakichi could be that mistaken. Then she remembered that Ritsuko had also been laid low as she herself had been. So in that case, if it wasn't Maya who'd done the induction, then it would have to have been…

“You mean that old pervert Dr. Mihara. He didn't try and feel you up did he?”

The girl reddened. “Oh, no. He was nice.” then thoughtfully “His daughter seemed sad, though.”

“Whatever. And please just call me Asuka. All this Pilot Soryu stuff makes you sound like wonder-girl.”

“Who's wonder-girl?”

“You'll meet her soon enough. That dummkopf Shinji won't be around though. I heard he was ill.” Then an idea struck her, since she knew the delivery of Units 03 and 04 was still months out “or maybe you're here to be a pilot because he finally found the balls to quit and stay quit this time.

“Oh no, I forgot. He doesn't have any.”

“You mean…?”

“Metaphorically, I'm afraid. He's just as much a sex fiend as all the other boys. He always tries sneaking a peek down my T-shirt whenever he thinks I won't notice. You're lucky you don't have to share an apartment with him — we both live with Misato, she's like our guardian.

“Ah, here we are. Hello, Maya.” Lt. Ibuki was waiting for them outside the locker room.

“Hello Asuka. Is this Pilot Suzuhara?”

“Eeeks! Yes,” gasped the new girl.

“Maya, this is Misakichi,” Asuka grinned to herself as she made the introduction. She was going to make sure the nickname stuck. “Pilot Suzhara, this is Lt. Ibuki. She makes things work around here.”

Maya handed Misakichi the package she had been carrying.

“This is for you. It's the plug suit that's been made for you after all the readings that Dr. Mihara took this afternoon.”

Asuka stepped in to explain. “You need to change into it now. It's a bit like a diver's suit. You wear it when piloting the Eva — the pilot's capsule is filled with oxygenated fluid as part of the shock absorbing system. Plus the suit has all the life systems telemetry built in, like astronauts used to have.”

“OK, girls,” Maya cut in, “Misato will chew my ass off if we're late starting, so get to it.” and opened the door for them.

Rei was already there ahead of them, down to her inevitable plain white cotton underwear, meticulously folding her other clothes. She looked up as they entered, glancing first at Asuka, without any expression, then at the newcomer, and blinked slowly, twice.

“Misakichi, wonder-girl. Pilot Ayanami, Pilot Suzuhara,” all in one breath, cutting to the chase. It was going to be interesting to watch those two interacting, Asuka thought, as she went to get herself changed, at the other end of the room, where she could at least get a little bit of privacy, away from Rei's clinical gaze.

She herself changed with simple efficiency, just pushing the discarded garments into her locker, and pulling the slack plug-suit on. She had just finished fitting it when she heard, overheard:

“Now you use the actuator at the right wrist.” That was Rei's voice. And she wasn't speaking in her usual laconic manner. Asuka cast a glance over her shoulder, and balked.

Ayanami was standing there, buck naked, helping the new girl fit into her plug-suit. ‘Jeez,’ she thought, looking away, ‘don't they have any sense of modesty in this country?’

“Thank you, Rei.”

“You are welcome, Misaki.”

‘Huh?’ Asuka wondered — that sort of thing hadn't been what she'd been expecting — she'd expected a complete mismatch and a complete lack of even the ability to communicate. What had happened, what had she missed?


By the time the synch tests were over, and they were assembled in the lab for the debriefing, Asuka had reached the point where she had with some surprise realised that the discomfort she was feeling in her digestive tract was actually hunger, after days on fluids. It was enough of a distraction that it overwhelmed her concern that she had scored a full five points below her personal best — after all, even as a recovering invalid, she was still well clear of what passed for competition.

“I'm very pleased with you all,” Misato was telling them, “especially Misakichi, who is going to have the least rewarding job of all of you Children, as the reserve pilot.”

Fighting Angel Hikaru - as roughly described in surrounding text

Misaki Suzuhara plugsuit concept — as dictated by the literary laws of parallel universes

The new girl, standing there in her un-numbered red plug suit with white shoulders, wrists, thighs and feet, plus yellow and black trim, showed a stern set of her jaw. She had barely reached three quarters of Rei's score — but that was in very her first test, and with Shinji's Unit 01 into the bargain. Asuka couldn't remember if she had reached that absolute score in her first introduction to her own personal Eva. She was starting to wonder if this girl might have been right about being an Eva pilot “like her”, might actually be some worthwhile competition, when she was suddenly aware of some movement behind her, and Misato suddenly snapping to attention, saluting.

“Well, Captain,” it was the Commander's voice, behind her, “How did young Master Suzuhara perform in today's tests?”

Ms. Suzuhara, ” Misato began. Asuka's mind was racing. Master Suzuhara? Surely the Commander couldn't have thought it was that dumb jock Toji being trained as an Eva pilot.

“…did extremely well. As good as Rei was after six months. Almost as good as Shinji in his first test.”

She heard an intake of breath. Something had surprised the Commander.

Misato stepped forwards, took Misakichi by the arm, held her protectively, while turning her to face the Commander. Asuka turned to watch.

“Commander, as instructed, this is Pilot Misaki Suzuhara.”


‘The trouble with running a conspiracy within a conspiracy inside a covert organization,’ Gendo Ikari thought to himself, in his office, a week later, ‘is that it is difficult to tell when there's been a genuine cock-up.’ He had just finished personally sifting through the paperwork for this current debacle, to discover what had happened, and held the evidence now in his hands. A form where florid cursive scrawl had flowed over into a “NERV Use Only” area, and a dumb bit of optical scanning had registered a check in one of the important boxes, so a girl who'd been transferring between one fostering arrangement and another had seemed to have been tagged for class 2-A, without ever having been thoroughly screened. And then the coincidence of family names combined with the assumption amongst those without need-to-know, that a new pilot would also be a new pupil, seemed to have done the rest.

The only thing that saved this from being a complete and utter disaster was that the girl actually seemed to be a natural pilot, even though the girl's mother was still alive, and had been living in the US for a decade now. He would have to consider how that datum fitted into his own — and the Committee's — scenarios. And where would be best — if at all — to reveal it. That would be something else to ponder during the time ship-board, in Antarctica.

[Outro track — The Whole of the Moon : The Waterboys]


© Steve Gilham 2004
© Mr. Tines 2004

#include <std::copyright> — most of the characters and situations in the fic belong to GAINAX/Project Eva, and almost all the rest to the ladies of Clamp. It's just this form of words that is mine.


[12–14] Heaven's Hammer/Four voices

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