Misaki's Nervous Afternoon [11b]


Misaki was lost. She had carefully memorised the directions that Icchan had given her, but now there was no left turn when she was expecting one. And there was no-one about to ask. She wished that she could find her way around as confidently as Captain Katsuragi — Misato-san — did.

And then she saw someone. Up ahead, wearing a school outfit like hers, with distinctive red hair. She was saved. She just needed to follow Soryu-san.

Ah, perhaps that door Asuka had taken was the turn she was looking for. She hurried after, to find that this was just the women's rest-room. But she could wait here for Soryu-san — Pilot Soryu, she corrected herself.

It had been a very strange afternoon, not the sort of thing she had expected of her first day at a new school. The tests hadn't been anything she had anticipated. Mostly it had been medical sorts of tests, until lunch-time, when she had been taken to lunch with Icchan and his colleagues. But then after lunch there had been the strangest sort of personality test, that looked on the surface like ones she had read in magazines, but was all slightly twisted, like one question that stuck in her memory —

“Rank in order of their beauty: a flame, a thorn, a blade, a serpent.”

And then had come the bit that was almost fun — she had been taken back to Icchan's lab, and been wired up in one of the special chairs, and then he placed a heavy helmet on her head.

“This is a simulator,” he explained, as a screen extended itself in front of her face. “Without actually moving your body, I'd like you to make the image on the screen move.”

She thought about it for a while. Was this what she thought it was? She tentatively began her Spirit Warriors warm-up, a simple half-dance, half-kata for her dæmon. would it work? For a moment, she had not been sure, and then everything fell into place. It wasn't quite the same, but close enough. She grinned — this was not so bad after all.

“Now we make things more difficult,” Icchan had said, and she had been given more complex tasks to perform, while the chair she was in started to shake, and twist around, so she had to hang on and concentrate on not falling out as well. That had gone on for simply ages, until she had been on the edge of motion sickness, before she had been allowed a brief rest. And then she had been sent off to join the other pilots for even more tests.

A cubicle door opened, and Asuka emerged.

“Hello, Pilot Soryu.” Here, it seemed only right that she should accord Asuka her title in respect.

“Misakichi? What are you doing here?”

“Learning to be an Eva pilot, like you.” She didn't know if Asuka had been told anything, or whether this was coming as a surprise to everyone. The redhead looked straight at her, then with a shake of her head. made for the door.

“You might be an Eva pilot like the others.” she said as she went. Misaki hurried to follow.

Yes, she thought, there were the others that Koutarou had mentioned, though they'd not been at school in the brief time she'd been there.

“I haven't met the other pilots yet. Icchan-san 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, Soryu-san.”

“Icchan? Who's that?”

Hadn't Asuka met him? But he was so obvious and unmistakable—

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

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

What a rude girl!, she thought, blushing. And what a nasty thing to say about someone who was her friend

“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-kun won't be around though. I heard he was ill. 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-san, she's like our guardian.

“Ah, here we are. Hello, Maya-san.” A uniformed woman was waiting for them outside door marked as their locker room.

“Hello Asuka. Is this Pilot Suzuhara?”

“Eeeks! Yes,” It startled her, the sudden realization that she was for real a part of all this

“Maya-san, this is Misakichi,” Asuka made the introduction. “Pilot Suzuhara, 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.”

Misaki took the red and white bundle, and looked blankly at it.

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-san will chew my ass off if we're late starting, so get to it.” and opened the door for them.

There was another girl — another pilot — already there, half undressed, meticulously folding her other clothes, clothes that looked like the same school uniform the two of them were wearing. She looked up as they entered, glancing first at Asuka, without any expression, then at Misaki, and blinked her strange red eyes slowly, twice.

“Misakichi, wonder-girl. Pilot Ayanami, Pilot Suzuhara,” Asuka introduced them all in one breath, them walked off to the other end of the room.

Misaki looked at the blue-haired girl standing there in her underwear, staring dispassionately at her. This was Asuka's wonder-girl? There was certainly something out of the ordinary about her.

“You are new here?” The girl spoke, in a quiet, distant, voice.

“Yes, Suzuhara Misaki. Or Misakichi, if you wish. I was just called here today, and I don't know what to do now. Could you help me?”

“You must undress, like this,” and she shed her last garments, “and then don your suit. Choose any one of the lockers.”

Misaki started to undress, as the other girl waited. She placed her clothes in one of the lockers, and then turned her attention to the bundle that was her plug suit. Unfolded, it seemed huge.

“Excuse me, senpai,” she asked Ayanami, who was still observing her in a distant sort of way, “but…” She held out the suit, making the problem obvious.

A small tremor passed Ayanami's face, as if to indicate that she had been taken aback by something.

“I will be Rei — that will be more efficient.” she decided after a pause. “Ayanami Rei,” she added in way of explanation. “The suit will adjust to fit. Put it on, and I will demonstrate.”

The suit felt vaguely unpleasant as she wriggled into it. Rei helped her with the fastening. But it was still too big and baggy, fitting only where it touched.

“Now you use the actuator at the right wrist.” Rei took her forearm and pointed to the big button. She pressed it, and the fabric of the suit shrank to clasp her whole body in its clammy embrace. She shivered a little to try to ease the feeling, but didn't let that get in the way of formalities.

“Thank you, Rei.”

“You are welcome, Misaki.”

“LCL injection commencing,” the voice came through the headset that Misaki was wearing. Sitting in the dim interior of the plug, she could not see what was happening, but there was a change in the background noise, and a slightly salt smell. Then warmth was creeping up her body, pressing gently around her.

“This is where the fun begins, new girl,” Asuka spoke, her image appearing floating off to one side. Misaki watched the screen as fluid engulfed Asuka's face, and she lay back, and exhaled a great cloud of bubbles. She grimaced briefly as she inhaled, then “Twice the fun on the way back.”

In her own plug, the fluid was up to her neck. She had to be brave, but it was hard. She tried to copy Asuka, breathing out, and then, before she even thought about taking a breath, her reflexes took over and she started to form the intention to swim for the surface. And in that instant she also gave an involuntary gasp. The warm liquid streamed through her sinuses, a sensation worse than the feeling of drowning in phlegm at the height of a bad cold, the same metallic, biological tang. She coughed and spluttered some more, releasing a last flurry of bubbles.

“Well done, Misaki,” Misato-san's image displaced Asuka's.

She tried to smile back, despite the icky feeling, like she was suffocating. In the background she could hear some sort of countdown — or up — as the tightness and pressure seemed to grow in her chest. Then suddenly, the feeling became obvious. To her amazement, she was breathing comfortably; but the tightness she felt was from sadness, as if she were about to cry. But why should she be feeling sad?

“Passed first threshold,” came the commentary; and with the words, Misaki suddenly had the feeling she was not alone. She could fell the presence of someone else, a little boy, who was all alone. It was his sorrow she could feel. She felt her own sudden upwelling of sympathy — she would have to care for him, else her own heart would break.

She remembered the manga she had read the previous night, one of a stack that Shouko had passed over to her, where a girl her own age had had to take on and bear the hurts of a whole world. As an Eva pilot, she would have to protect this world — so surely she too should be able to bear some of its burden.

She couldn't tell if she had wept, sitting here immersed in LCL, but her breathing had steadied as she made that decision, that she would have to be brave, to shield and protect that boy, whoever he was; and it was as if she had sailed out from a raging torrent into calm waters, but that calm was just a surface over profound deeps — and in those deeps, something moved. She felt herself falling into it, something vast, aloof.

Her resolve nearly failed her, she almost tried to scream, as she was swept up. Something engulfed her, but in an almost familiar way. Eyes closed, she took a deep breath, exhaled and then opened her eyes to look around. For a brief while, colours mottled the darkness as if she had not opened her eyes; then her sight clouded over with strange geometric shapes, that flowed, and finally coalesced into a model city, where she stood in a street that was just a narrow corridor.

She had the strongest feeling that she was looking out of someone else's eyes, was inhabiting another's body. She raised her right hand to see, and saw herself armoured in purple and green. The fingers responded as she clenched and unclenched her fist, all to an accompaniment from the deeps of some vast amusement.

“Misaki,” Misato's image appeared, smiling, superimposed on the city, “The test is over now. We'll be bringing you back shortly.” and was gone.

The brief interruption of the normal world vanished, leaving her alone again with this Presence. Was that the Evangelion? Icchan had said that they were almost alive. It was the strangest feeling half familiar, half alien. She felt that she was here without any right to be, her presence at first just tolerated — but that she had done something right, had passed some test, one that she doubted that Misato or Icchan had known of, and had been accepted.

“What is your name?” she asked of the void.

Gusts of surprise and delight buffeted her, and then she felt herself descending from this exalted state, becoming just Misaki once again. Around her, she heard the countdown being unwound. But in the dying instants of synchronization, she thought she heard a reply. Or maybe she had just imagined it.

And then she was sitting there in the entry plug, in the dim lighting, coughing and choking as she hawked up the last of the fluid from her lungs. She had wondered at the almost grim manner in which the other pilots had approached the test. Perhaps now she had some inkling of why. But when she had been released from the entry plug, to return with the others, she stood as straight as she could, and as they did not show distress, she would not either.

Misaki sat, towelling her hair, now that it had been washed clean of the liquid. Now she had a few moments to herself, she felt the need to talk, to try and express what it was that had happened. But the only other people to whom she might be able to talk and expect them to have shared the experience were the two other pilots. Asuka-senpai was sitting with her back to all of them, as she carefully brushed her long hair, while Rei-senpai just sat in silence, shutting out the world like a commuter on a crowded train. Neither seemed ready to invite conversation.

What had happened? How could she put into words what she had felt? The feelings of being both drowned and comforted in the bath of LCL, the trauma of emergence into air once again, a trauma that was fading fast. And in between — it had been like the exercise she had been put through before, just as that had been similar to finding and mastering a dæmon in Spirit Warriors. But this had been like the reality to a drawing or a photograph. There was something else, not part of herself, that she had been in contact with. And she thought it had told her a name; though she could not swear that it was not just a faint rustling or sighing noise from the machinery. The name, Yui.

Her ruminations were interrupted when Lt Ibuki summoned them for a debriefing.

It turned out to be rather less formal than that. Misato read out their results — numbers that didn't mean anything to her, though she noted that her own was the lowest, and Asuka-senpai's the highest, and then, that business over, crouched down a little, hands on knees, to match their eye levels, and smiled.

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

It sounded like she was about to say more along those lines when Misaki saw her look up, past the pilots and straighten up, saluting hastily. Misaki started to turn to face whatever important person this might be. She found herself looking up at a tall man with a beard and glasses.

“Well, Captain,” he asked, “How did Suzuhara-kun perform in today's tests?”

“Suzuhara Misaki-san,” Misato replied, over Misaki's head, “did extremely well. As good as Rei was after six months. Almost as good as Shinji-kun in his first test.”

The bearded man looked surprised at something, and Misaki was starting to be worried that there was something wrong, or that she had done something not quite right, when she felt Misato's hand on her arm, felt the woman step up close behind her.

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

Evening had drawn on, the sun low, painting the city in blood red light, when she finally returned home. Maya had driven her back, in one of the official jeeps, a couple of unsmiling men in dark suits accompanying them.

Even as she and Maya were walking from the jeep, the front door flew open, and Shouko appeared, calling her name.

“Oh, Misaki-chan!”

And then she spotted Maya's uniform, the two minders sitting in the back seat of the jeep out on the road outside, and her expression of worry turned to a frown.

“You've not managed to get into some sort of trouble already, have you?”

“On the contrary, Asami-san. You should be proud of your niece,” Maya replied, “She has been doing her civic duty.”

She pulled out her NERV card, and showed it to Shouko.

“May I come in? There are several things we need to discuss about how things will be organized to support Pilot Suzuhara in work and in school.”

© 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.