Priority Ordering/In the Ocean of Being [16]

 

[Intro track — Fallen Angel : Blve Öyster Cvlt]

The anomaly drifted silently in the late afternoon sky over Tokyo-3, like a zebra-striped balloon, or, Asuka thought, an illustration of some theorem concerning tensor fields on S2 topology.

“All units keep pace with the target,” Misato ordered. As if they didn't know where it would finally end up — somewhere over the centre of the city, ready to ooze, drill, burn or something along those lines, down into the geofront. Even if it wasn't showing Angel signatures, it certainly wasn't of human origin — and Ockham's Razor suggested that there could only be one conclusion.

But why here, why always NERV HQ? What drew them here like moths to a flame? Like the last Angel — that could have thrown itself at Kolkata or Mexico City or somewhere and killed tens of millions, disrupted the lives of hundreds of millions. And she might have actually had the chance to round out that lie about travelling the world.

Or maybe it's not such a bad thing that they come to us, she thought, as she reached the extent of one power umbilical, and had to pause to switch to the next. They'd've had to do something better than a longer piece of string. Not that carrying around a massive fuel tank back-pack appealed to her either.

“Keep focus, Unit 02,” Misato, “Target is static. All units maintain watch.”

There were sounds of off-mike discussion. But it was obvious that if it came to a staring match, this thing could win, hands down. There was a decision.

“Misaki, advance cautiously with Unit 01. Stop at 25 meters away from target projected position. If it reacts, try to lead it out of the city.”

So she was being pilot of choice, getting addressed by name, today. Not surprising when she was consistently coming within a dozen or so points of her own scores, and with whichever Eva she was using at the time. Though it wouldn't do to admit it, the newest girl was indeed an Eva pilot like her. Certainly better than Rei, whose performance was always steady if plodding, or Shinji, whose scores seemed to vary randomly from day to day. She had had a nasty moment a few days before, though, while Misaki was taking Unit 02, when she seen Shinji's random walk actually managed to beat her own most recent score — though not her all-time personal best, thank goodness.

Asuka was glad that the Third Child wasn't out here today. With that last test result to crow about, he'd probably have had no restraint with shooting off that big gun in a way that would have gladdened Sigmund Freud's heart. She really couldn't see what Misaki saw in him — probably something to do with all the indirect screwing going on through sharing Evas. At least she only had to put up with him on a business level — in class or as Eva pilots — these days.

That had been quite amusing, in retrospect. It had been a few days after the wedding reception, with Shinji over at Misaki's, that she and Misato had had a blazing row. Kaji had been the pretext, but it had soon gotten wider.

“How do you expect to find anyone when you live like a pig? That moron Shinji might be stupid enough to skivvy for you, but I've had enough!” and she'd stormed into her room, and thrown a change of clothes into a bag.

She was just grabbing her toothbrush from the bathroom when Misato had asked, “What are you doing?”

“I'm going to stay with Maya. She cares about me, more than you ever seem to!”

That seemed to have hit Misato like a punch in the gut.

“But… You can't. She's…”

She had fixed Misato with a steely gaze.

“One of the lily tribe, a tribade, bats for the other side. Yes. I know. Ritsuko may not have noticed — and Shinji is too dense — Rei too, probably — but they're probably the only ones who haven't realised. But don't worry, the only time we've exchanged bodily fluids is when she was giving me a shoulder to cry on!”

She wasn't sure quite how expected her arrival on Maya's doorstep was, and she had felt bad enough about the way she'd left to call back the next day to apologise to Misato. But while she still had most of her stuff packed up in what had been her bedroom, the row had marked the moment when she had moved in with Maya.

Ironically, given what had finally caused her to walk out, she was doing more, not less, in the way of household chores after the move. Maya's flat was small enough that it just wouldn't be liveable in if it wasn't kept tidy for the transitions between day and night, so it was as much in self-defence, as to satisfy a sense of obligation for imposing on her, that Asuka took them on. But, somehow, doing the chores with Maya was different to doing them for Misato.

“I'm in position. No change in the target.”

Misaki's report snapped her back to the present. Between the towers of the city, she could see the purple of Unit 01 almost beneath the black and white globe, looking up at it, as it floated about a couple of Eva-heights above her head. One of the patches where the stripings became degenerate, ring-like, stared like an eye back at her.

“Continue your approach.”

Asuka watched the Eva approach, attempting the ever more difficult task of moving without walking into buildings while also watching the target. And then, just before Misaki was under the globe, it vanished, like a light being switched off.

“Pattern Blue! It's an Angel — right under Unit 01.” Lt. Hyuga broke in on the command channel.

She cast around for a sight of a target — caught movement. Unit 01 and the buildings around it were starting to sink.

“All units withdraw immediately.”

Asuka saw a wave of blackness spreading down the street towards her, slowly swallowing everything above ground into itself. It didn't look like anything that would succumb to being hacked at with an axe. Despite the mighty engine she rode, she felt suddenly helpless. All she could do was back pedal, keeping ahead of the slow advance, and hope that she would not run out of power supply. She expected that wonder-girl could look after herself. But at the centre of this all, she could still see Unit 01, half submerged, trying to pull itself along from building to building as they too sank into the inky surface.

“Go, Misaki, go!” she shouted, surprising even herself.

For long seconds, it seemed that she would make it, but the zone had spread faster that she was able to cover the distance, and a few lengths short of the edge, she ran out of handholds, beyond the reach of the other Units, beyond anything Asuka could think of to improvise in the way of a line. And as the last waving hand sank beneath the surface, she felt a sudden impulse to throw her head up, and howl at the sky.

No. That wasn't her impulse — it was coming from Unit 02! Was the Eva mourning one of its own?

Wait! — something had changed, something subtle. She could no longer feel the subliminal taint of Misaki's presence in the fluid around her. Was it the pilot that was being mourned?

For a while longer, the power umbilical continued to pay out. And then even that stopped.


“Morning already?” Asuka looked up at Maya, who had brought her a steaming cup of coffee. There was a grey light coming through the windows of the temporary cabin where she had been bunked for the night.

“'Fraid so. The airstrikes are on in forty minutes. Senpai is expecting you to be on station in twenty minutes.”

“No change overnight?”

Maya shook her head.

The evening before had been stressful. Once it was clear that the Angel had stabilised, both Evas had been stood down, sat a few hundred meters from the edge of the zone, and the pilots had been left to kick their heels while the rest of NERV turned their attention to the problem. As she watched the preparations — and the maintenance crew crawling over her Eva — she realised that she had been quietly terrified, had just been too busy to realise it as she had retreated. The sinking into the depths reminded her too clearly of those awful seconds, in the vent of Mt. Asama, when, her tether failing, she knew that she was about to plunge into the magma chamber below, when she had wondered whether she would be able to bring herself to throw that switch before she reached crush depth. She never wanted to be in that state again.

The mood hadn't helped when Shinji had turned up along with the extra staff. They had been snarling at each other from the start, and it had escalated into a bizarre argument about which of them should have been lost in Misaki's place —

“I should have been taking Unit 01, as the highest rated pilot!”

I should have been point — I was the highest rated pilot on roster!”

Rei had been drawn by the shouting, had been about to interject something when they had both turned in synchrony and yelled at her to go away. But that had been enough to disrupt the momentum of the argument, and Asuka had stalked off, to stake out a good seat at Ritsuko's technical briefing seminar.

“It appears to exhibit an externally compactified dimension which is unrolled at the aperture — three nanometers into however much inside. It is probably an anomalous quantum state of the underlying spin foam — or rather a continuum of such states. The spherical body is possibly the ‘other side’, the underneath of the disk which our underground investigations have found is not actually under the Angel. Within the unrolled dimension, we don't believe that there is any gravity — or at least any nearby source of any significance, given how slowly material subsided into it. We have no idea of how time progresses — whether there is any of the Minkowskian trade-off of time against space — in the ‘interior’ region.

“It does appear to be hostile to normal matter.”

And she had shown the retrieved end of the power umbilical, which seemed to have been eroded into some fractal mist.

“However, we believe that the Eva's AT field will preserve its integrity. And assuming that Misaki initiated minimal hibernation mode, she will have maybe fifteen, sixteen hours of life-support. In her world-line.”

All well and good — but what were they going to do about it?

“The perimeter of the disk, where one might have a cosmic string or similar space-time flaw, is shielded by an intense AT field. I propose that a sufficiently intense bombardment with N2 munitions, plus the two remaining Evas' ability to generate countering fields, be employed to attempt to rupture the perimeter, and unravel the whole geometry. It will take us most of the time we have left to arrange the strike. Questions?”

When the questions started to become trivial, irrelevant or both, she walked out, and, prompted by her stomach, headed for the field mess. Fortunately the other pilots seemed to have eaten before, so she could find a table by herself to eat, without being bothered — the technicians steered their usual wide berth about the pilots.

She ate nervously, picking at her food. Her body was telling her it was hungry, but she had little appetite — it was just necessary fuel that she was choking down. She kept casting nervous glances around, expecting at any moment to be called to action again. Then, in amongst the NERV technical staff, and the blue-hats seconded from the JSSDF — for whatever good they would be — she saw Maya with a woman in civvies that she knew she'd not seen before, but who seemed familiar.

Shouko

Maya caught her gaze at the same time, and began to steer her companion in her direction — but amongst the sand coloured NERV outfits and the army drab, her own outfit would have stood out like a beacon, anyway.

She studied the newcomer as she approached, trying to recall where she had seen that face before. Then, as they were putting their trays down on the table opposite, it became obvious. She stood.

“You must be Misaki's aunt Shouko. I'm Pilot Soryu.”

“You're one of Misaki's friends here?”

“We — we work together. I don't see much of her out of hours. She's a good pilot…” What else could she say?

“How is Shinji bearing up?”

“I've not seen him recently. Last I saw he was saying he ought to have been the one who's MIA — we'd been arguing about our assignment priorities.

“I'm the best pilot — I should have been there instead.”

She felt deep down that today was when this had all stopped being a glorious adventure, a game. If it had been Shinji — well that would have been the idiot's own stupid fault. But Misaki didn't deserve this. Even if she liked him.

They ate in an awkward silence for a while, until Asuka could bring herself to eat no more, made her excuses and left. Not that she had anywhere to go, anything to do, save sit a while, then get up again and pace about, until Maya finally tracked her down and taken her to an operations trailer that had been set up as sleeping accommodations.

Now, once again installed in Unit 02, she was standing, waiting for the signal, watching hundreds of contrails scar the dawn-lit sky.


Misaki woke from troubled dreams. The emergency lighting was dim, but enough to show that the LCL was cloudy. It smelt stale, heavy with the taint of use. The status light on the wrist of her plugsuit was slowly blinking, indicating that its reserves were almost exhausted.

“I'm sorry, Yui,” she spoke to the Evangelion. “I did all I could for you. Thank you for letting me be your pilot. And forgive me if I get a bit — silly — later.”

She knew she could still activate the destruct system. But it didn't seem fair to take the Eva with her — it could endure indefinitely in stand-by mode, even if she could not.

At first, it seemed like her own imagination, as it had that first time when she had thought to ask the Eva “What is your name?” But then she could not doubt that it was another's voice she heard in her head, a voice that reminded her of Pilot Ayanami's.

“You are not the son I carried, nor are you my daughter-self. Yet you care for me more than either. Your spirit is strong, little warrior. It will not end like this.”

In her mind's eye — or was it in that cramped and fetid cabin? — she was not alone. The spectral form of a woman joined her, a woman who placed her hands on her own at the controls.

The external view activated. But it did not show the infinite empty void she had seen before, but a blankness that held a light, a globe looking out onto a distorted view of a city. Then they were upon it, and she could see that it was Tokyo-3.

“There is the way. Now we must force the gate, and the keeper of that gate.”


“T minus 100 seconds. All units status green!”

Asuka tore her eyes away from the sight of the oncoming planes, to look at her target, the periphery of the void. She kept the countdown in the background of her attention, as she focussed on where she would have to strike, flexing and stretching her hands over the controls. Then, movement. There were ripples in the surface, circular rings cresting to a spike in the centre — and the sphere above was showing latitudinal waves. Then radial patterns, a standing wave with many petals, rippling the circular rim, and matching longitudinal waves on the shadow, echoing the commotion.

Then the surface started to fracture, the gentle waves broke into spikes, spitting droplets of darkness into the air, droplets that quietly evaporated. Fractal lightnings rippled in the void, and a then a crashing sound overhead. The void burst open, breaking into shards, and a fist, dripping purple-red ichor, burst out of the sphere. Another hand joined it, tearing open a bloody wound from which emerged a familiar horned head, eyes blazing through the gore.

“Abort mission! All units abort mission!” Where there should have been a T minus 35 countdown, Ritsuko shouted an override over the command channels as the bloodied form of Unit 01 leapt from the unravelling sphere, landing in a crouch, and squatting, head bowed in the field dismount position, its eyes dimming.

Only the barren surface remained to show where the 12th Angel had been, under the complex web of contrails left by the dispersing aircraft.


The explosive release of the LCL flush brought Misaki back to awareness. She coughed and choked a little to clear her lungs of the remnants.

“We did it!” she thought. But there was no reply. Of course there wouldn't be. She had to have been ejected for the LCL release to happen.

She watched the hatch handle turn, watched it slide open, and let the morning sunlight stream in, dazzling after the darkness of the capsule. She sat up, smiling with the satisfaction of a job well accomplished, to see who had opened up her entry plug.

“Misato! Auntie Shouko!”

Both women leant in through the cramped hatchway, and she did her best to hug them both. Past them, she could see the other pilots — Shinji looking on with bewildered delight, Rei expressionless as always, Asuka looking relieved.

[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.


[15] The truth is spoken/Morning after

[17] Small Betrayals/Identity Crisis

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