The Shattered Tower/The End of Innocence [21–22]

 

[Intro track — Fallen Angel : Blve Öyster Cvlt]

2005 — Tokyo-2 University

Three young women, one blonde, two dark haired, are walking along a campus path under spreading trees. There are buildings ahead of them.

Chitose

A young man in a lab coat tumbles from the branches of one of the trees, to land, flat on his back, winded, on the path in front of them. He has dark, unkempt hair, and his glasses are askew. It is Mr. — still working on the Dr. — Mihara.

He raises his head to look at the three.

“Boom!” he says, weakly.

“Ichiro-kun,” Ritsuko looks pityingly down at him, “when will you act your age?”

“Hah! Growing old may be compulsory, Rit-chan — but growing up is entirely optional!”

He sits up, cradles his chin in his hand contemplatively.

“I may have lost my sense of balance, but I seem to have perfected the element of surprise!”

He leaps to his feet, and runs off through the trees.

“He's cute!” giggles one of the other girls.

“Oh, Chitose, you can't be serious. He's a complete geek.” Misato comments dismissively.

Ritsuko shoots her a strange glance, as if to comment on her criteria for choosing a boyfriend.

“He's bright. Weird, but bright,” she decides.

They come to a noticeboard. There is a poster which Ritsuko and Chitose read intently—

Comp Sci Lecture Timetable Update

The Faculty regrets that, following the recent tragic death of her husband, Dr. Shuuko Suzuhara has tendered her immediate resignation from the University. We extend our condolences to her and her daughter, and wish her well in her new position in the United States.

The revised lecture schedule for this semester will be as follows:

“Hmm,” muses Ritsuko, “and Ichiro-kun was one of her research students…”


2015

“So, where's the cheerleader?” Asuka enquired, while hauling a skein of cables out of her case.

“Shinji? Oh, he and Kensuke are off playing soldiers. I think it's their way of trying to glamourize spending a couple of nights sleeping in a tent, with nothing but bugs for company.”

“Well,” Asuka paused to plug the power cable into the processor unit, “I guess the catering will be better than at Misato's, even if they have to catch their own dinners.” She pulled a face.

“?” Misaki prompted.

“Just considering whether I'd rather try slug sushi or another one of Misato's specials. A tough choice. I mean, even the French don't eat slugs.”

She continued to unroll the display and keyboard, plugging them into their own power supply, before booting the system. The familiar red star Sinux splash screen lit up — she'd chosen the PRC distro partly on its outrageousness, and partly from her own family circumstances : the German side of her ancestry hailing from Leipzig, it had been inevitable that at University she'd always been “the little Ossie girl”, even though the Wall had been down for over twenty years. And Ostalgie had been undergoing one of its periodic revivals at the time.

“Right. Now all I need to do is plug your set into the hub. You should have an RJ-45 port somewhere on the box.”

Misaki looked blankly.

“For one of these,” she explained, holding the end of the network cabling.

A week had passed since Misaki had been retrieved. Asuka had seen her as she herself had been heading into the hospital for another session of physiotherapy from a nurse she was sure moonlighted at Helga's House of Pain, a treatment mainly intended, as far as she could tell, to reassure Ritsuko that she could still feel her arms after the loss of Unit 02's while in synch. That hadn't been so bad. It had been the decapitation, the whole body feeling of the bounce and roll, transmitted through the LCL, while she had ridden helplessly in the darkness, that had shaken her, had caused her to wake from sleep, sweating, to cling to Maya, the previous nights.

The sight of Misaki, sitting up on a trolley, chatting happily away to the nurses who were wheeling her in, had caused her to double take — from what Ritsuko had told her, it would be weeks still until they could have attempted to bring her back.

“Asuka! I'm so glad you're safe!”

“Hey! Indestructible!” she quipped, “And good to see you too!

“I can't hang around — I've got a session at the torturer's right now — but catch you later. Call me when you're ready for the rematch.”

After the physio, far less certain than before she went in that her arms were indeed still securely fastened, she had gone to try and find where Misaki was being treated — only to be told that she had checked out as perfectly healthy, and been discharged virtually on the spot.

And that had been it until that morning — Misaki had not been at school, though whether that meant that she was at home, or being run through tests by Ritsuko, she didn't know — and she hadn't been able to bring herself to ask Shinji. What she could infer, from his being just spacy rather than moping around, was that it probably wasn't anything to worry about. And though the Evas were still not functional, there had still been the regular run of tests, combined with all the business of the end of the school term, to keep her occupied, and the first lazy days to just relax.

Then, checking her mail, she found a message from Misaki. “Please come over today” and a map attached.

Aunt Shouko's apartment was a few stops round the loop line, into wooded suburban territory. It looked different from ground level, she reflected, spotting a place where workmen were repairing an Eva-sized footprint in one of the side roads, and wondering which of them had left it. The address, when she found it, surprised her — the place was enormous by comparison with Maya's little bed-sit flat. The last line of defense against the Angels struggled to make ends meet, while the media lived like this — all right for some, she thought.

Misaki seemed somewhat subdued, when she answered the door, and led her through to her room. Asuka braced herself for what might lie beyond, and let out a sigh of relief when she found that it was devoid of stuffed animals and other such girlish paraphernalia. She knew she could not have stayed long in a room where she was being stared at by rows of sightless eyes.

The room itself was scarcely smaller than the main room where she was staying, and was mainly cluttered by books and clothes. On the dresser by the window was a basic navi — a hardwired web browser appliance — and a Spirit Warriors headset. Asuka had dropped her carry-all on the bed, and started casting around for a power socket.

Misaki took the cable — just as well, Asuka thought, that she had prepared for the case where she couldn't rely on wireless — and hesitantly plugged it into the navi. Asuka judged that the thing was maybe three or four years old — and probably had less processing power than her terminal — just the screen and keyboard — let alone the recently upgraded Ono Sendai 5000 that she'd brought along as a server. And that by that token, it was probably the set that Misaki had always used as Magic Knight. She pinged the network, checked that everything was as it should be, and picked up her headset.

“Spirit Fight!” she announced.

Misaki was standing there, holding her headset in her hands, and looking at it, lost in thought. Then, just as Asuka was about to chide her to hurry up and get to it, she put the headset down, roughly, and turned away, to lean against the bedroom wall, one arm across her face.

“I'm sorry, Asuka” she said in a strangled voice, “I can't.”

“You mean you think you'll lose.” The words came out by reflex.

She saw the girl nod, heard her crying.

“It's not a game any more, not after piloting Eva. I can't fight you, Asuka.

“I used to love the game so. But now my heart would not be in it. It would just be a waste of your time.

“And there might be so little left.”

Asuka watched as Misaki's legs folded, and she slid to her knees, holding her hands in front of her face. This wasn't just someone facing up to her own natural superiority. This was, this had been… ‘Oh crap,’ she thought, ‘I know things have hit rock bottom when people start turning to me for sympathy.’

She put her headset down, and went over to where Misaki knelt. Hesitantly, she knelt down beside her, and put an arm around the smaller girl's shoulders. Misaki turned and clung on to her as if for dear life.

‘Maya,’ Asuka thought, desperately ‘I have to role-play Maya. I sure as hell can't do this by myself.’


“You're the only other person I could talk to, the only one who knows a little of what it's like.”

They were sitting in the kitchen. Misaki was sitting at the table clutching at a fresh cup of tea, still looking a bit dishevelled. Asuka was leaning against the fridge, with her own cup, trying not to let her own state of emotional shock show.

“Shinji? Ayanami?” she asked.

Misaki shook her head.

“No. This is about them, too.” She looked up, met and held Asuka's gaze.

“I don't know what they told you, about,… what happened.”

“Ritsuko said something about over-synchronizing, and quantum patterns in the LCL.”

“You know how we each leave our prints in the LCL. The way we can feel, taste, each other. The way I know how strong you can be, Asuka, and how you have been hurt. I think it actually becomes a part of each of us, and we leave that part behind.

“I think I died, Asuka, but the Eva would not let me rest, kept all of me running in the LCL. I saw the entry-plug — and it was empty. And I saw… other things.

“Back when I thought this was just a game, remember, I said that Unit 01's name was Yui — like Shinji's mother. I was wrong. Not like Shinji's mother. I think in some way it is his mother, trapped like I was. And I saw her — she had brown hair, but apart from that, she looked just like Ayanami.”

“So she's his sister?”

“Or something.”

Silence stretched out, broken only by the fridge starting into life, and the endless songs of the cicadas outside.

“Asuka — do you know your Eva's name?”

Asuka hesitated.

“Kyoko,” she whispered. It was as if she had always known. “Mütti…”


Maya was already off-shift when Asuka returned home that afternoon.

“So, how did the game go?” she asked.

Asuka didn't answer straight off, but her expression was neither particularly happy, nor enraged. Unusually thoughtful, in fact, she decided.

“We didn't play, in the end. We just talked.”

“Boys?”

“No,” she replied in a wearied voice, “just pilot things, you know.”


Weeks passed.

Not unalloyed rest, but enough time to relax, recuperate, and try to digest the implications of what Misaki had told her. On the one hand, relief — those painful memories, the ones she had tried to firewall away, or at least strip down to a bare statement of fact devoid of emotional impact — they had in some sense been deceptions. That demented husk, that form of flesh that she had found hanging — those had not been her true mother, any more than that well-meaning harpy that her father had married afterwards. On the other hand, horror — what was all this that she had been caught up in? Could she really continue to believe that the choice to be a pilot had actually been hers? Or had she been born to the job like she had thought Ayanami to have been, the choice foreordained, no true choice at all? And the feeling that whatever dark powers the Angels truly represented, that she was having to fight them as a tool of powers that were darker still.

As the reconstruction work continued on the Evangelions, as the time left for their restoration to full function dropped to days, synch tests resumed, she in Unit 02, Ayanami in 00. Unit 01 was still frozen, by the Commander's direct instruction.

The first time back, as she settled in to synch, she relaxed, cautiously opening her mind to the background wash of sensation. That reassurance — yes, there was a taste of Misaki; but behind it— She was glad for the LCL. After her mother had been buried, she had promised herself that she would not cry again. She had broken that promise just the once, with Maya. And now a second time, with bittersweet joy, the tears just dispersing into the fluid around, so that none of the observers would see them.

And after the test, Ritsuko's joking announcement “Better be careful, Asuka. We don't want you going the way Misaki went.”

She couldn't believe it. She'd beaten her previous best by fifty points.


School was again looming on the horizon, the Evas were repaired, and full deployment tests well under way when they were next called to action.

“This is the 15th Angel,” Misato indicated to the briefing room display, to a magnified satellite photo. This one looked different to the previous ones. Those had been gross, physical things — and gross had been the word in some cases. This seemed almost ethereal, wings of light.

“It is in synchronous orbit, at extreme range of any of our weapons.”

“So,” Asuka asked, “are we going to commandeer a Proton from the Russians? Or are we just going to go out and say ‘Come on down if you think you're hard enough.’?”

Misato looked like she was going to break into tears. She didn't think it was time of the month — Misato seemed to have been acting a bit weird for some days now. Perhaps the Commander had been getting to her.

“We will attempt to engage the target with the Eva-portable positron rifle that Third Technical Division have recently delivered.”

“What is the effective transmitted power, Major Katsuragi? It was necessary to use the the whole of the national power grid to penetrate the fifth Angel's AT field.” That was Ayanami, showing uncharacteristic initiative. But then, from what Asuka had read of the after-action reports, even a showroom dummy like Ayanami would have remembered the salient details of Operation Yashima.

“The new beam has a tighter focus. It should reach comparable flux densities, even with just the power available from the geofront reserve generators.

“We will sortie Unit 02, with Unit 00 as backup.”

“Point? Me? Excuuuuse me!” Asuka slapped the desk in front of her.

“But we thought… Best rated pilot…” Misato seemed completely thrown.

“Last I counted, Misaki still had that dubious distinction. But the last couple of times I've been point, and I've been left hung out to dry by my so-called team mates. I need to remind people around here how it's done!”

There was a stunned silence in the room.

“I am willing to take the lead in this operation.” Rei finally spoke.


Tokyo-3 under leaden clouds, the rain falling steadily.

‘Just the sort of weather we need for playing with high voltage electrics. And heaven alone knows how many dB attenuation that cloud layer's going to inflict on any beam we send up.’ Asuka's heart was as heavy as the sky seemed.

She watched through the curtains of the rain as Ayanami took the new weapon from the munitions supply block, and set it to her shoulder, bowed under the weight. The pose briefly struck her like a tableau from the Stations of the Cross. Her own burden stood nearby, for her to use should the first attempt fail.

In the monitors, she watched a relayed view of Rei's sighting display, a faint white dot on a blue black ground marking the target, and the triangular mark and trefoil crosshairs slowly converging on it. That's it, she thought, breathe, aim, slack, squeeze.

The markers aligned on the target, flashed to indicate lock. And there was light.

From the muzzle of Ayanami's cannon, a tight beam of blue-white that Asuka was glad she wasn't watching with unprotected eyes. And from the sky above, falling in the opposite direction, a beam like sunlight burst through the clouds.

What the…?

The command channel filled with chatter. She picked the salient voices

“The beam has insufficient energy!” — Makoto.

“Unit 00 — psychograph abnormal. Mental contamination imminent!” — Maya.

She paused her immediate reaction to reach for her own rifle. Identical units, same power source. It wasn't as if firing hers as well as Ayanami's would double the attack.

There were strange whimpering noises on the pilot-to-pilot channel.

“Scheisse!” ‘Me and my big mouth.’ “Cut the power to Unit 00's rifle!” she yelled, beginning to run. “And get number 23 elevator ready to go the instant I get to it.”

The blue-white beam guttered. As if that had been a signal, Unit 00 dropped to its knees, let the weapon fall. The whimpering continued, now accompanied by a strange thudding noise. She didn't want to know what was happening to Ayanami.

“Rei! Rei! I'm coming!” ‘AT field to maximum.’ and ‘This is going to hurt.’

She skidded to a halt beside the other Eva. Something hit her like an avalanche.

“Get — out — of — my — head!” she yelled, as she bent to lift Unit 00. It was after the things that she didn't want to remember. But the obvious ones had no power over her now. “If you wanted to fuck with my brain,” she muttered grimly, as she hauled herself upright with her burden, “you missed your best chance by weeks.”


Unit 00 began to stir almost as soon as the elevator commenced its descent.

“Rei? Are you able to continue piloting?” the Commander, with his usual sympathetic touch.

“I believe that I am.”

Asuka wasn't sure that she believed that. She had only been in the beam for a few seconds, and she still had a splitting headache.

“Rei, get the Lance. It's the only way.” And what was that about?

Wearily, she followed Misato's instructions to dock. And as soon as she descended from the control seat, she was greeted by Misaki.

“You were ever so brave, Asuka-senpai,” she said, hugging her.

“Thanks to you, Misaki-sama.”

“Eeeks! I told you, it's Misakichi to you!”

“Whatever you say, Misakichi-sama,” she agreed, with a grin.


Interlude — Asuka

I don't know if I'm ever going to get to sleep tonight. Not just the memory of that thing, like the mental equivalent of a tentacle monster.

But the fact we had a one-shot Angel-killer ready in some secret store. And I don't know which is the more worrying — that we've used our “Get out of Jail Free” card, or the fact that there are black labs, skunk works, or whatever somewhere in NERV that have these things. What else could they be hiding?

And Ayanami is involved in part of it. Has to be — else why would the Commander single out the only injured pilot to get it and use it? She was a mess when they were wheeling her out from the cage. It shouldn't be possible to beat your brains out while in the pilot's seat, but it look like she'd give it her best effort — all cuts and bruises under the bandaging that the paramedics had applied on the spot.

And then she called me over — not as Pilot Soryu, formal and neutral; but as Asuka-sama, intimacy and respect.

She took my hand in hers, and looked up from her good eye — the one not entirely swollen shut — and whispered “This worthless life is yours.” like she was in some sort of samurai drama.

And I know she means it.

[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.


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[23] Greater Love/The Wonders of the Hidden World

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