Heaven's Hammer/Four voices [12–14]


[Intro track — Fallen Angel : Blve Öyster Cvlt]

This just had to be the suckiest week of her life, thought Asuka, as she sat on her bed, combing her towel-dry hair. Or at least the weirdest. There had been the usual suckage — tests where what should have been a 100% score being knocked down to merely average on account of her handwriting — when in real life she would just be able to type the kana and have the correct kanji selected; having to put up with Shinji and his dorky friends. And then there was Pilot Suzuhara.

It seemed that it wasn't enough to show that she could stand in for Shinji at a pinch. The first Asuka caught of this was a phone call Misato had taken at the flat one evening at the beginning of the week. Asuka had been deadening her brain in front of the TV when she heard “In Unit 00? But even Rei…”

“Trouble?” she had asked, when the call was over.

“No, ” was the reply, “It was just Ritsuko confirming tomorrow's harmonics tests.”

The next day, the three of them — Shinji, Misaki, and herself, had walked together from school. Rei had not shown up — which seemed to be more the rule than the exception. The sky was overcast, the heat sultry, the air still and heavy, but the cicadas still trilled in the trees like static on an old FM station, immediate entropy in the soundtrack of her life.

They had met up with Misato and were heading down to the main cage when things started to get a bit crazy. Dr. Mihara had appeared out of nowhere and dragged Misato and Misakichi off down a side corridor. She and Shinji had started to follow, when this strange girl stepped out in front of them. She was wearing a schoolgirl sailor fuku, and had absurdly long fair hair.

“Please wait here, or continue to the changing rooms to prepare for your tests.”

For a moment, everyone just stood there, staring. Then, evidently having delivered the message she was supposed to, the girl had turned to her, and, placing her hand between her own small breasts, asked in a desolate voice—

“Pilot Soryu, what does it mean when you feel an emptiness here?”

“What are you on about?” she had replied. This was worse than an encounter with a garrulous wino.

Then the girl had turned to Shinji and asked the same question, and he had just looked dumbstruck. She then stepped up to him, placed her hand on his chest, then rested her head against that hand.

“Does Pilot Ikari have an emptiness here?”

He had reddened, recoiled. “I…” he stammered. “I don't want to talk about that sort of stuff.” and gingerly disengaged himself.

Asuka remembered what Misakichi had said about Dr. Mihara's daughter being sad. She guessed that this must be the girl that she meant. But, seeing her, she didn't think it could be his real daughter, any more than Rei was the Commander's.

What was it about this place and weirdos? Did they make them specially? She had the nightmare vision of a production line turning out dolls that walked and talked like people, but all with some flaw in their mechanisms that meant that they couldn't quite act like people. Or maybe they just kept the broken ones back.

She was dragged out of this paranoid fantasy by the return of Misato and Misakichi. Misakichi had beamed at him and said “Cheer up, Shinji, don't look so sad.” and given him a big hug.

Which of course he hadn't known how to deal with.

Shinji had looked bemused for the rest of the evening — which probably accounted for how come Misaki had scored better in Unit 00 than he had in Unit 01. And then afterwards, Ritsuko had told her that next test she could sit out while Misaki would work with Unit 02 — her Unit 02.

So today, after school, the others had gone for their tests — and she had taken the opportunity to try and see Kaji. But he was not around, so all that had happened was that she had been caught out when the heavens had opened, leaving her drenched to the skin.

The sound of the front door opening caught her attention. Shinji? Unlikely to be Misato — she was working the night shift this weekend.

“I'll get us some towels.” — Shinji — and company.

Right now, she was not in the mood for listening to him and his laddish mates.

“We'll have to be quiet — Misato will be asleep.”

She put the hairbrush down and on bare feet went to her bedroom door, intending to give them a piece of her mind. She slid the door open a crack, took a deep breath — and stood there in slack mouthed amazement.

It wasn't the three stooges, after all — but Shinji and Misaki. Holding hands, no less! And only reluctantly letting go as he headed to the bathroom to fetch the towels.

The concept of Shinji with a girlfriend was not something she could easily get her head around. She was still standing there, gawping, when, a few moments later, Misato emerged from her room, dressed ready for work.

Misato had just made a vague “Hello.” when Misakichi bowed and said “Congratulations on your promotion to Major, Misato.”

“Uh, congratulations, ” Shinji belatedly added, after a visible nudge in the ribs.

“You can get your own suppers, can't you?”

“Yes!” beamed Misaki.

“Bye, then, you two. Bye, Asuka.”

“Bye, Misato!” She joined in the chorus, opening her door a bit wider.

“Hello, Asuka, ” Misakichi, and then to the company in general, “I'll cook us all something to eat.”

“Fine, Let me know when it's ready.” and, as best she could, slammed her door. Somehow, the thought of those two being all lovey-dovey over supper was doing more to put her off her food than if Misato had offered to cook again.

Next evening they held a party to celebrate Misato's promotion.

Shinji had invited Toji and Kensuke, but seemed only to have eyes for Misakichi. But the lads didn't seem to notice — they were too busy worshipping Misato, or, at least, Misato's body. Rei, thankfully, was a no show, and even though they had been unable to persuade Misaki not to invite Dr. Mihara, he too had not shown. And, much to Asuka's disgust, Kaji also seemed to be a no-show. At least she had Hikari there to talk girl-talk with.

Only the guest of honour seemed ill at ease. Not surprising with those two leering at her all the time like that. When Hikari turned to talk to Misaki, she took the chance to chide Misato, “C'mon, Misato. Don't worry about these jerks. Promotions don't happen every day. The Commander must have noticed you beavering away, even if he is always a grouch.”

Misato only raised a weak half smile at that. She seemed almost as spacy this evening as Shinji often did, and this was without having yet hardly started on the beer. This was when being stuck in a 14–year-old body sucked. She had to play kiddy stuff with the juniors rather than being taken seriously — even for girl talk — by the older folk. Misato was probably waiting for a chance to talk something over, but wanting Ritsuko to talk it over with. It was the same with Kaji — these days, he only seemed to see her body, and not her mind.

The trouble was that there weren't that many eligible males around who weren't just teenage jerks. She had thought on the sea voyage here that Kaji had been able to see past the superficial and appreciate her for herself, but since then, he had just been distant. If it had just been something physical, she could have had the boys queueing up — she might even have the attention of creepy Dr. Mihara — but that itch she could scratch for herself well enough, when it became intolerable.

The doorbell sounded. That just had to be Kaji!

And it was :-) Along with Ritsuko :-( They just happened to meet, he claimed. As if! She wasn't sure it it was herself or Misato — as Kaji's ex- — who was more pissed off at this.

And then he'd dropped his bombshell. “Two promotions in one week! First Major, now acting Commander while Commander Ikari and Vice-Commander Fuyutsuki are away.”

The evening never recovered after that — her classmates had started to make their excuses — even if Misakichi had to be dragged away by Hikari, then Kaji had gone, leaving Ritsuko, and she and Shinji had been told to go to bed.

Not that Ritsuko had stayed long after that, either. No girl-to-girl talk tonight, then.

And then another Angel.

She wasn't sure why Misato had called them to this particular place, at the bottom of one of the towers that withdrew into the geofront, a glass floor that showed the panorama, hundreds of meters below. She knew that the structure would support much more than the few people it was being called upon to do now, so strode out confidently. Rei was off roster — but probably wouldn't have even noticed the view. Shinji and Misakichi were rather more hesitant, though.

The last angel had been content to walk up to them and weep molecular acid from a few meters away. This one was going to hurl itself down from orbit. And Misato had this crazy plan.

Did she think that this was the World Cup, or something? If they failed this save, then it would really be a case of “They think it's all over. It is, now.”

And all the surrounding bull. A steak dinner to celebrate — why not just come out and make it a Mos-burger. Sure, back when she'd been a kid, food had been short, and mostly local, seasonal fare, that had had her grandparents comparing it to the 1960s. But now, well everyone reckoned that they'd recovered to a point where all they had lost was ten years — and three billion people.

If they were going to eat out — and although anything was better than Misato offering to cook — there was a nice Italian place she'd seen — and a Kiwi Pac-Rim fusion restaurant that had just opened to good reviews.

And that pi-jaw about wills. Sure it was as per regs — but what did she have to dispose of? She had two published papers, one as sole author, in respected, peer reviewed, open access journals, as her legacy; and if worst came to worst, it wouldn't be her problem to worry about how to dispose of her stuff. If there was any of it left to find.

At least the others backed her on that one. When she'd tried them on the meal thing, Misaki had said “That's not very nice. Misato's trying to be kind to us. You should be kind to her.”

Well, she'd be damned if she was going to apologise for something she believed to be true — but she was almost pleasantly surprised to get a vigorous response, rather than the usual run of turnips.

When she'd first met Misaki, she'd thought her a bit of an airhead, especially with that silly squeak she gave when startled — which was easy enough to achieve — but she could be determined when she wanted to be. In a way, Asuka was glad of having someone like that around, someone who wouldn't take any shit from her or anyone else.

Maybe it was the will business or something, but Shinji was in an unusually talkative mood. As they rode the lift down to the main cage, he asked her “Why do you pilot your Eva?”

‘Lord’, she thought, For sure it wasn't for the money. She just gave him a pat — verging on flip — answer.

“So you do it to prove you exist?” he concluded after some thought.

She rolled her eyes. A five second internet search would do that much — though fortunately most of her more embarrassing early traces had been via a fairly anonymous school account. NERV security had insisted, though, that her CV page now state that she was travelling the world before resuming her studies. Not that he'd likely have so much as left a trace on a chat room log.

“Why don't you ask her?” she pointed a thumb at Misaki, who was standing there, her feet apart almost in a fighting stance, and a scowl of concentration on her face.

“Because I was asked, and because I can, ” Misaki turned and spoke before being asked. She was all business now. Probably had been when she and Shinji had paired up, had made all the running, and the poor boy hadn't known what to do.

The descent achieved, Asuka climbed into the pilot's seat for Unit 02, the start of the insertion process, with a shiver of anticipation. Truth be told, piloting an Eva came close to being an addiction for her, like a powerful stimulant, the way she became that giant.

Insertion carried on around her — seat into plug, plug into Eva, then the flooding with blood-warm LCL, the moments of discomfort as her body realized that it was not being drowned. And then the mental nestling in of synchronization.

But this time, there was something different. It was like she had entered her room to find that someone else had just left it, as if things had been picked up, then put down not quite where she'd left them?

No, that wasn't quite it. It was more like a trace, almost a scent, hard to identify — smell was by far her weakest sense — but it definitely seemed female, somehow. It had to be Misaki. She felt a sense of shock — but there was such a strong impression of warmth, openness, honesty, that she could not feel outrage. It was a caress, not a violation.

This was an indirect kiss taken further, a mediated intimacy that came close to going all the way. If Shinji had felt this after Misaki had synched with Unit 01, then no wonder… And what had Rei felt? And did Ritsuko know or suspect?

She became aware of her name being called. “Ja, ja. Ich dachte an…” No, girl, get with the program. They don't speak German here. “Sorry. I was thinking about something else.”

“Are you ready to launch?”

Ja, natürlich.

Then, after deployment, it was hurry up and wait, holding ready to react when there was a sighting of the target.

And suddenly it was there. A speck of orange, growing rapidly. Unit 01 was closest, leaving herself and Misaki to sprint across the suburban landscape.

“Misaki! Spread your AT field, ” she called as she ran, grabbing for her progressive knife. That was what turned a million to one shot into the ghost of a plan. They would create a virtual cushion, to absorb and spread the impact from something that would rupture the geofront into something that its armoured overburden would bear.

Impact. Steady. Rip into its AT field, open it and join the others in digging for its kernel. The mass slumped above them, and then, brighter than the fierce scintillation of their blades, whiteout.

When things settled down again, she checked status. Only minor, superficial damage. And over 3 minutes power left. Plenty of time to limp home.

After the initial debriefing, all the pilots, Rei included, were called into one of the ops rooms, while Misato reported the operation to the Commander. Of course, Misato was going to be told she'd done well — but why single out Shinji amongst all the pilots? Had the Commander suddenly remembered that they were related?

After the call, when they could speak freely again, Misaki went up to Rei, and said “I'm sorry your Eva got hurt. And I forgot to ask — what is her name?”

Rei looked nonplussed. “Unit 00, ” she replied. Asuka wasn't sure which of the two was less with it — Rei for not seeming to understand the question, or Misaki for asking something so dumb in the first place.

Misaki looked crestfallen.

“Shinji's Eva's name is Yui, ” she announced.

“But that was my mother's name!” — Wow, the boy could react some times.

“Well, ” Misaki was laying down the law now, “She carries you, protects you, That makes it the right name, doesn't it?”

“Uh, I guess so.”

Uh-oh, barf alert, the two lovebirds were about to get sentimental. Time, thought Asuka, to get priorities straightened out.

“You said something about buying dinner, Misato.”

If Rei was joining them, as it seemed, she was vegetarian, so that really counted the Italian place out, and as any raise Misato might get for her promotion wouldn't have come through yet — and with most of her salary being poured into that money-pit of a car, a meal for five at the Kiwi place would probably hurt the cash-flow. But she could still tease the lot of them.

“And I know just the place…”

Interlude — Asuka

It stays quiet for a while. The only excitement, if you can call it that, is when Ritsuko decides for some reason that we have to synch test naked. I don't know which is worse — thinking that Shinji will be turned on by knowing that I'm naked and within arm's reach as we head for our seats, or having him be too dull to be excited. I fix my eyes on my destination, clamp one arm across my chest, and sprint.

Interlude — Shinji

I meet Dr. Mihara while going to one of the tests after school. For once, his daughter isn't there with him. I say that I want to tell her something, answer the questions she'd asked me.

He looks sad. “She isn't well. I'm not sure that's she's going to get better.”

“Then tell her for me — that it means that someone is missing. And ‘not any more’.”

“Thank you, ” he says, quietly. “I will tell her that. I think it might make her happy.”

Can I really make someone happy?

Interlude — Rei

Who am I? What is the bond between Unit 00 and myself? What did she lack when Pilot Ikari rode her, that she craved me so?

Pilot Suzuhara, I can still taste you in Izanami's waters. You sufficed for her. Did I tell you her name?

Life goes on. It would go on without me. I am no more than one of the flowers of the field.

The Commander gives me purpose.

But why am I?

Interlude — Misaki

It is hard being an Eva pilot. Not in the hours after school spent in Dr. Akagi's tests when I should be doing homework, not even when I had to fight an Angel. It is the other pilots.

They are all so sad.

I think I can make Shinji happier — he laughs, sometimes, when we are together.

I would like to be better friends with Asuka, but she doesn't let anyone close. Though I think that she likes me in her own way.

I wish I knew Rei better. She seems kind and thoughtful, but never quite fully awake. As if being an Eva pilot is all she has ever done.

[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.