|Summary:||Gendo knows just who to choose as the next pilot - Usagi Tsukino! A Sailor Moon / Neon Genesis Evangelion fusion-type fanfic|
"For unto us a child is born, unto us a daughter is given."
--Isaiah 9:6, with liberties by the author.
First Act: With Her Stripes We Are Healed.
Asuka Soryu Langley walked moodily down the street. Just her luck to be saddled with a bunch of amateurs. She'd shown them how to take care of an angel on the way over, and they still doted on that idiot Shinji. Why, his synch ratios didn't even compare to her own. How could anyone prefer that wishy-washy numbskull to her?
She was rather wrapped up in these matters, and didn't notice when she came to the edge of the sidewalk and curb. Unprepared for the sudden change in ground level, she stumbled and flailed her arms wildly to maintain her balance. She managed to do so, and stared for a moment at the spot on the gray road her head had been about to hit.
"Phew, that was lucky."
If she hadn't spent so much time giving herself congratulations, she probably would have noticed the large supply truck that was bearing down on her, but she didn't. Such, as they say, is life.
"You're certain?" The large office was filled with the few, rather quiet words.
"It's been confirmed," said Kozou Fuyutsuki grimly. "The Second Child has been killed in an automobile accident. She was rushed to our medical facilities, but it was too late to save her life."
"I see," said Commander Gendou Ikari pensively, continuing to look at the same featureless spot before his steepled fingers. "Her remains?"
"Taken care of." Dr. Akagi would have another project to work on for awhile. Granted, she wasn't her mother, but it would still be preferable to salvage something from this disaster.
"Who has been informed?"
"We managed to keep things relatively under wraps. Only six people know, but they'll keep quiet." NERV's security personnel were very good at enforcing the keeping of secrets.
"Ah." There was a pause. "You realize, that we have to have a pilot for Unit-Two."
"But who? The Fourth Child is still not chosen."
"We will have to find one."
Behind his folded hands, Gendou smiled ever so slightly.
"Okay now, just relax. The fluid now surrounding you is oxygenated. It'll take some getting used to, but you'll be fine."
The fourteen year old girl in the plug scowled. "Yeah, I can get used to drowning real fast," she snorted, but she obediently took in a gulp of the LCL. It had an odd taste to it that she couldn't place. Not wholly unpleasant, but hardly tasty either She mentally added it to her long list of complaints about NERV and its doings.
"Good, you're doing fine," said Ritsuko Akagi without any real reassurance, looking at a monitor and reading the girl's life signs while Maya looked at similar displays at her side. Everything about this girl stunk to high heaven, frankly. There was no way she could be an adequate replacement for Asuka, especially considering the rather special nature of Unit-Two. All the reports said she was good; that didn't mean she couldn't worry, though.
An entire bank of lights turned green, and she breathed a sigh of relief. The plug was now completely filled with LCL, and the girl was breathing normally. Behind Ritsuko, Gendou Ikari watched as well. "She seems to be adapting well," said the commander.
"Yes. She'll probably be ready to make her first trial in the Eva by next week." She paused. "Are you still going to use Unit-Two?"
"That is the plan."
"Hm." She punched another button, and on the console before her a closed-circuit TV picture of Unit-Two's holding bay appeared. The enigmatic machine stood silent, the braces holding it to the walls painfully obvious. They both watched the screen silently. "She's only fourteen."
Both knew the answer to that statement.
The girl stood in the shower, trying to rinse the LCL from her long ponytails. They reached all the way down to her knees and met her head in a curious junction that wasn't described easily. It had taken a lot of arguing for her to keep her hair that way when she entered the plug, but as she tried to get the stuff out of her hair she had to admit that perhaps the techs had a point. She never heard the footsteps approaching. "Tsukino."
"Call me Usagi, please." Usagi turned around and saw her. The blue haired girl ...Rei, wasn't it? The one with about as much personality as a wristwatch.
She stood in her school uniform, unheeding of Usagi's nudity, her hands perfectly relaxed at her sides. "You are to pilot Evangelion Unit Two." Rei then turned and left, leaving a shocked Usagi standing in the spray of hot water.
"Um, congratulations, I guess." She continued to shower, towel off, and dress, all in silence. It took a bit of work to do up her odango without the usual hair implements, but she managed.
Coming out of the locker room and turning a corner to head for home, Usagi ran into an average looking boy with slightly unkempt black hair and mournful blue eyes. They literally met forehead to forehead, sending both reeling back. "OW!"
Usagi rocked back, clutching her forehead. The other boy did the same. "Uh, sorry ...Miss Tsukino?"
Usagi sighed. "Call me Usagi."
"Bunny?" Shinji Ikari had had enough trouble dealing with the death of Asuka; meeting a bunny child was leading to more confusion. He hadn't been informed of the arrival of the new pilot until that morning.
Usagi groaned. "No, Usagi. Look, I didn't pick my name, okay?" 'Is this what being the new girl in town is going to be like?' she asked herself. It wasn't as if she'd asked to join NERV, after all. Given how anti-military her mother had been, if she had still been alive Usagi would probably be safe somewhere else.
Then again, that was the point, wasn't it? As long as the angels were around, there was no safe place, not anywhere on the world. It was up to the Evangelions to defend Earth, and she was now apparently an Eva pilot, through whatever crazy system they'd come up with to pick them. Sometimes she wished she were queen, just to tell them how things should be run, but the Emperor had gone away with the old world before Second Impact, and the United Nations would entertain no thoughts of monarchies. Everyone had to remain united in the face of the angel threat.
"Sorry," said Shinji again, breaking in on Usagi's thoughts. "I, um, should be going," he said by way of apology, "I have somewhere to be, and, um..."
"Oh, of course," said Usagi, stepping out of the boy's way. "Bye." She waved and went on her way. As Shinji walked by, he couldn't help but notice her eyes. Just like Ayanami Rei's, they were a shade of red, but he had to admit they looked sort of cute with her pink hair. The mere thought brought a blush to his face.
Usagi lay slouched in a couch in a waiting room in the most well-defended and technologically advanced rabbit warren the world had ever known. She was idly flipping through a manga produced by Kodansha called Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon. She had to admit the title character looked a lot like her mother, or at least the memories of her. She died in childbirth nine months after the Second Impact, when the world was still picking up the pieces.
She put down the manga. While Sailor Moon was entertaining, she had other things to attend to, like the NERV employees' manual. It definitely wasn't easy reading, but with another hour to wait until Captain Katsuragi got off from duty there wasn't much else to do. She read it aloud.
"'Section 4: Appearance and Conduct. All NERV personnel shall at all times present themselves in a professional and dignified manner. NERV uniforms are to be considered required at all times unless otherwise ordered. Subsection i: Evangelion pilots are considered exempt from this section under general order 1-146-18-B. Subsection ii: Uniform, male. The uniform shirt will consist of a one-piece gray durapolythene...'. Can this be any more boring?" She tossed the manual on the floor, where it landed with a satisfying smack.
"I hate studying." She looked up at the red digital clock. 18:45:23.5. Another fifteen minutes to wait until Katsuragi showed up. Odd that they would count tenths of a second, but there must be some military reason for it.
She got up and looked at the books that lined the walls. Most of them were rather technical: Jane's Fighting Ships and a few bound volumes of psychiatric journals. Actually, there were quite a few journals about everything: nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, theology, extraterrestrial life, theology? She walked back to make sure. Yes, an entire section of the bookshelf devoted entirely to treatises of Christianity and Judaism. Not a scrap of Shinto or Buddhism... except there, a tiny volume of a comparative studies textbook that had probably been snuck in by someone who had close ties to Shinto.
-her eyes flashed violet as her long black hair blew in the wind-
Usagi blinked away the after-image. "Huh?" But there was no-one else in the room. It had seemed so real, but what had it been? Where? 'Calm down Usagi,' she thought, 'you're just getting jitters. Just because you'll be getting into a giant biomechanical robot which is the last hope of humanity is no reason to be nervous.' She decided to sit down. It was a very comfortable chair; almost as comfy as the one back in-
"HI THERE! Um... did I frighten you?"
Usagi looked up from behind the couch which she had leapt behind. "No," said the pink haired girl acidly, "not at all," Her pink eyebrows knit themselves together.
"Oh, good," said the woman who had just walked in. She wore a pale yellow t-shirt and gray-green shorts, with a bright red jacket thrown on top. Her hair seemed to be very close to purple, and she looked like the type of woman who liked to have fun. She also seemed to be the type of woman with a deranged sense of such fun. "I'm Misato Katsuragi, and you're Usagi Tsukino, right?"
"Um, yes," said Usagi reluctantly.
"Hey, hey, lighten up! We're going to have fun, okay?"
Usagi gave Misato a look much like one would give an over enthused camp director, the kind of look that said "Look, I don't want to be here in the first place, so take your cheery crap somewhere else." Misato either knew that look and chose to ignore it, or genuinely didn't know it and plowed right ahead. With Misato, it was often hard to tell which was which.
-brandishing the crystal, her clumsy personality being cast aside-
"Hm? What's wrong?" Misato bent down in front of Usagi, giving the pink-haired teenager a view that most men would have given a large sum of their weekly paycheck for, but which Usagi merely glanced over dispassionately.
"Nothing much," said Usagi. 'And it isn't anything, really,' she told herself. Two brief flashes of... something... wasn't anything to be concerned about at all, was it? "I suppose you're taking me to a place where I can sleep? It's been a long day, you know."
Behind the shining eyes, Misato frowned slightly. 'A long day, huh? My dear Fourth Child, you haven't known the meaning of a long day until you've stayed here awhile. Asuka never had a chance to learn that.' Her voice betrayed nothing of her feelings, however. "Is that so? Well, we'll have to get you to my apartment right away, won't we?"
"Your apartment? I can live on my own!"
"Yes, well you'll have some company! You'll be with Shinji and I. Oh, and Pen-pen, too."
After a few minutes, Usagi was forced to admit that the Katsuragi household was perhaps the strangest place she had ever visited. Given that she had been inside Central Dogma at NERV for the past several hours, that was quite a trick. For one thing, she had never known anyone to have a need for so much alcohol. It seemed like one entire refrigerator was completely occupied with cans of beer. The other refrigerator, she'd found, was completely occupied by a penguin.
"So this is Pen-pen?"
"Yes," said Shinji in a resigned tone that she rapidly learned was normal for him. The two sat at the kitchen table, killing time until dinner was served. A meal prepared by Misato was one that Shinji seemed to view with curious fearfulness. "Oh, I guess we'll have to work out another arrangement for the chores, won't we?"
"Oh, you have to have done chores before!" interjected Misato, bouncing into the room in a tank-top and shorts. Shinji's face became rosy red, and Usagi rolled her eyes. Boys.
"Not really. You see, back at-"
"Never mind, never mind. We'll get to that. First," she said, heading for the refrigerator, "we get you settled in. And then," she added, pulling out a beer, "it's liquid refreshment time!"
Usagi face faulted. This would be an interesting dinner.
School. This one was different from her last one in Hokkaido. It had been decided that Usagi should go to the same school and class as Shinji and Rei did. She sat in class 2-A, pointedly ignoring the lecherous glances thrown her way by some of the males in the class. She was rather used to them; after all, it wasn't easy being as cute as she was.
Across the room, Touji and Kensuke watched the newcomer sit behind and to the right of Hikari, close to both Shinji and Rei. "You know what that means," said Kensuke. He gestured at the new girl. "Another pilot. Probably the one to replace Asuka that died in the accident."
"That makes what, three?" asked Touji.
"Yes. And this one's sort of cute, you know?"
"You said that about the last one. Anyway, she has red eyes like Rei does. Not that I'm complaining," Touji added.
"Right, right. You think everyone's cute, don't you?"
"Just the girls."
A few desks away, Usagi was chatting with her fellow pilots, or at least trying to. Rei was being her usual taciturn self, and Shinji didn't know nearly enough about the latest anime and manga that Usagi liked. So it came down to Usagi talking to a wall and an echo chamber. It was not the gregarious teenager's idea of fun. All things considered, it was probably for the best when three cellular phones rang simultaneously.
Misato walked into the control room of Central Dogma briskly, still shaking off last night's sleeping and boozing. Red lights flashed as personnel scurried to their posts under the encouragement of the alarm sirens. "Angels make a crummy breakfast," she muttered to herself. Then she forced herself into a professional manner and crossed her arms on her chest. "What do we have this morning?"
"Appeared out of nowhere, ma'am," said Makoto. "It's right off Kii Peninsula."
"They always come out of nowhere," she muttered.
He hadn't heard her. "We have visual confirmation. Putting it up now. Pattern blue confirmed."
Fuyutsuki entered in as the image appeared. He looked up at the screen, his usually dour face ever so slightly bent into a frown. The MAGI had confirmed a blue pattern, and its destination was rather clear: the Geo-Front. And Supreme Commander Ikari was out of town on business.
For a moment the two watched as the taller skyscrapers of Tokyo-3 retracted into the ground. "Target is designated the seventh angel, named Israfel. Are the Children ready?"
"On their way," said Misato tightly. "Our defenses are still understrength from the last battle, so we'll have to intercept before it reaches the city. You aren't sending Usagi out already, are you?"
"We didn't give her Unit-Two to use as a play toy, Captain Katsuragi. Besides, Unit-Zero is still being repaired from the last battle."
"Yeah. We'll have One and Two team up on it." There was no getting around it; they'd sent out Shinji with far less training than Usagi had now.
The room was simply called Locker Room 8H. Located deep in the heart of Central Dogma, about thirty meters from the cages holding the three Evas, it was where the first and fourth children prepared for battle. Shinji had 7H to himself, across the hall.
Usagi fought to keep her heart rate steady. Her hands fumbled several times as she pulled the zipper on the plugsuit, which hung around her in its baggy state. Rei carried on mechanically with taking off her uniform and putting on the suit, almost as if changing to take a swim. "Aren't you nervous?" asked Usagi. Perhaps she wasn't; after all, she was essentially mere backup for this mission, if for some reason Usagi was unable to perform in the Eva.
Rei looked up at the pink-haired child in the white and pink plugsuit. "No."
Usagi stood silently and watched as Rei finished changing. "I see. Nothing fazes you a lot, does it?"
Rei didn't answer. After a pause, Usagi smiled slightly and pressed the button on her wrist. The baggy rubberish pink fabric immediately constricted around her body. Once again she wondered what sorts of perverts had designed the plug suits to leave almost nothing to the imagination. 'At least I'm not overweight,' she thought. She attached the nodes to her head. Funny little things, but like so many things Dr. Akagi and her team told her to do, she didn't question them. At least they weren't as painful as the plumbing connections on her suit. Finished, she tapped her foot, waiting for Rei to finish suiting up.
She didn't want to have to walk to the cage alone.
Once more down the hallway, once more through the gantry, once more into the plug. Once more she felt the LCL fill the plug, oozing up from her feet to her head. Once more she fought the fear of drowning, breathed in the gulp of warm liquid, marveled at the fact that she didn't die. Once more she felt the neural connection, and once again she felt herself become part of the entity known as Evangelion Unit Zero-Two. This time, she was going to be fighting for real.
"Usagi, are you there?"
"Um, yes," said Usagi to Misato, trying to calm herself. Dammit, they had her vital signs in the control room, they could tell if she was nervous or not.
"She's nervous," said Ritsuko.
"She'll be fine," said Misato more confidently than she felt. She had to be. There was no hope for any of them if the pilots decided to get cold feet. Besides, who knew? Perhaps the children would prove more resilient than she thought.
"Mm," said Fuyutsuki. He merely glanced down at Misato. Time for her to get to work.
"Very well." Misato looked at the status board again; the angel was closing in. "Units One and Two will move in towards the bay and intercept the angel before it gets to the city. The UN will be waiting in reserve in case you fail ...which won't happen." She forced herself to smile. Have to build the children's confidence, even if the odds once more seemed stacked against them.
'I'm going to die, 'she repeated to herself again and again as the techs completed their final checks of the Evangelion. Inside the plug she could hear a dozen voices on a dozen channels, completing the preparation of the most expensive and most advanced weapon on Earth. 'I'm going to die.'
"Usagi, launch is in ninety seconds. Are you ready?" asked Ritsuko.
"U-u-u-uh..." She began to hyperventilate.
"Usagi, this is Misato. Just relax, okay?" Please don't fold up on me now, Usagi!"
"Relax? RELAX?!? Kami-sama, I'm in a bloody machine that I've never piloted before, off to-"
"Calm down. You've done more simulator time than any of your partners, you've got more experience than either of them had their first time. Just take some deep breaths and think about the training exercises." Don't think about the marauding angel out there that's ready and willing to kill us all.
"Okay." She took a deep breath. "Okay."
In the control room, Misato watched the main display boards. Usagi's vitals were slowly dropping back to acceptable levels. She was far from relaxed, but she wasn't in the throes of a stress attack anymore.
"Thirty seconds to launch," sang out Maya from her console.
"Eva Unit One reports ready," said Makoto.
"Eva Unit Two reports ready," answered Shigeru.
Misato looked over the control room, silently absorbing. Twenty seconds until the dance was played out once more, with children putting their lives at stake to defend the world. It was an idea she had grown accustomed to for the most part, though there were still times that she had to stop and wonder just how she had gotten to this position. For now, for twenty seconds more, there was nothing to do but wait.
She hated waiting.
"Fifteen. Fourteen. Thirteen. Twelve. Eleven. Ten."
Usagi listened to the countdown continue. Despite her outward appearance, inside she was all butterflies. She felt like she was going to faint and throw up and laugh all at the same time. At the moment she was a billion nerves all firing at once.
-in a white dress, she turned her head, her face the picture of serenity-
Serenity. Somewhere that struck a chord in her. It reminded her of her parents: her father, who she had only seen pictures of, dead since a couple weeks after Second Impact. Her mother, dead from complications during Usagi's birth, but who had managed one word upon seeing her daughter for the first and last time, words related to her by her surrogates years later.
Her mother, Usagi Tsukino. Her father, Mamoru Chiba. Her surrogate aunts: Ami-san, Rei-san, Makoto-san, Minako-san. She remembered her birthright.
"Four. Three. Two. One. Zero!"
"LAUNCH!" cried Misato.
Second Act: A Step Forward into Terror.
Unit Two rocketed through the maze of launch tunnels that led from the Geofront to the surface. It and Usagi emerged a few kilometers distant from the approaching Angel, stopping with a shock that shook Usagi's bones. The creature trudged through the waters of Tokyo Bay, occasionally hidden by the ruins of the coastal city. On Unit Two's right flank was the purple-armored Unit One. It too looked to the east with caution, not knowing what to expect from their newest adversary.
Inside the plug, Usagi watched and smiled. Sure, she hadn't asked to be a pilot, but damned if she was going to die her first day on the job. It was the least a Messiah could do.
"Synchronization on Unit One now at fifty percent and holding. Thirty-three percent on Unit Two."
"Better than expected," said Ritsuko as she hovered over Maya Ibuki. "Perhaps this wasn't as haphazard a choice as I thought."
Misato decided to gamble. If it worked Usagi's confidence would be enormously bolstered, and she could use the boost. "Usagi, I want you to take the point on this. Proceed forward and take out the angel with your halberd. Shinji will cover you."
In her Eva, Usagi blinked. She was thrilled enough that she'd figured out how to walk in the field, and was just getting used to the way the machine responded to the steps it took. She had to shake her head to get the thoughts out, the thoughts of just what she was capable of in the seat of the plug. "Um, my what?"
"Halberd. We're sending one up now."
Usagi briefly considered the possibility that her radio was malfunctioning, then decided that they were serious. But just what did they expect her to do with one of those? "Um, okay."
"Building L14, coming up." Usagi turned, and Unit-Two turned with her. As promised, one of the outlying buildings of Tokyo-3 opened up to reveal a polearm with a slightly curved blade at its top. Other than its being a few dozen meters tall, it looked perfectly normal, which was what worried Usagi.
"You want me to kill the angel with that? You're joking!" She glared at the tiny floating hologram of Misato to her left.
In Central Dogma, Misato put her hands to her hips. "Usagi, we don't have time to argue about this. Take the halberd and go!"
"But you never trained me with this! I used the cannons all the time, and-"
"We don't have any close enough for you to use. Just do it!"
"All right then, dammit!" yelled Usagi. Angrily she grabbed the controls and moved to take her weapon. "Idiots," she murmured under her breath, all fear having yielded to annoyance at her superiors. Taking the halberd in the hands of her Evangelion, she took quick steps to intercept the angel. 'One quick swipe down the middle,' she thought to herself. 'That'll show them.' With a short cry of encouragement, she rushed towards the target.
The command room staff looked up at the big screen. Misato's red jacket was a noticeable splotch of color amid the many tan uniforms of the lower techs. From the observation galleries that lined the room, one's eye was immediately drawn to her.
"She has great courage," remarked Maya, her attention split between the big screen and her own computer.
Shigeru nodded in agreement. "She might not leave anything for Shinji to do."
"Really?" Makoto looked over at the other two curiously. "None of the last four angels have been so easy to defeat." Their conversation was cut short by a battle cry from Usagi.
"DIE!" screamed Usagi with a ferocity she had never felt again and would never feel again. The power she had first realized was at her fingertips moments ago was now put to full use, her Evangelion bringing the massive halberd down in a long, sweeping, almost graceful arc. Shinji and Unit-One could only stand by and watch as the weapon cleanly sliced the angel in twain.
"Cool," whispered the boy. At least he hadn't had to go through the torture of fighting in the Evangelion. Perhaps the new girl would be able to relieve him in the future, and perhaps he wouldn't have to pilot again.
"Impressive," murmured Fuyutsuki. By far the easiest victory they had had over the angels. Gendou hadn't even been there to supervise.
"Anomalous readings from the target!" called out Makoto. "Pattern blue is increasing ...doubling!"
"What?" asked the professor. He strode to the railing of his platform and leaned over to look down at the three top staff. "Doubling?"
"The only conclusion to draw is that it's, well ...regenerating!" Maya spun in her chair to face Ritsuko. "That means..."
"Um, Misato?" Unit-Two began to backpedal slowly. Before it, the two halves of the supposedly vanquished angel were beginning to swell and reconfigure and slide into two copies of the original, doing so with frightening rapidity. "Misato, is this supposed to happen?" The silence that followed on the communications channels wasn't encouraging at all. "Misato?" asked Usagi again.
"Misato?" chimed in Shinji.
"MISATO!" they both yelled, as the two regenerated angels leapt forward, grabbed the Evangelions, and began to fling them about like very expensive and very large toys.
Maya began the meeting right on time. "This morning at 10:58, Unit-One was attacked by one half of the angel, designated Alpha, and sank two kilometers from Surugawan Bay. Five seconds later, Unit-Two was similarly attacked and neutralized." Pictures on the display screen of the briefing room showed two purple legs emerging from the water, and two red legs sticking up from the ground. "Comments?"
At the other end of the conference table, Shinji and Usagi sat with sheepish expressions on their faces. They had been rushed to the conference room as soon as their Evangelions were excavated; both still wore their plugsuits. Usagi could feel the LCL drying and itching in her hair. She yearned to scratch it, but forced herself to stay still.
"Pretty poor showing," said Ritsuko.
"Yes. At 11:03 NERV, lacking any additional assets, relinquished control of the operation to conventional UN forces."
"How humiliating," muttered Fuyutsuki.
"At 11:05," continued Maya, "UN conventional forces used an N2 bomb on the angel."
"Another new lake," commented the oldest man in the room, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "Have to update the map again, and give it a name." The crater from the blast was already filling with water; he suspected that by the time it was all over Tokyo-3 would be completely underwater.
"UN forces destroyed twenty-eight percent of the angel."
Usagi brightened and leaned forward. "So it's dead?"
"No," said Fuyutsuki sternly, "it is not. The UN merely kept it from marching straight to us. It's only a matter of time until the next attack.
Kaji stretched casually and interlaced his fingers. "At least we have some time to prepare for the next assault."
"Yes," echoed Fuyutsuki. Captain Katsuragi and Dr. Akagi will be working with you. Remember, this will undoubtedly be our last opportunity to eliminate the angels before they come to the city proper. We must make this count. Dismissed."
Night was falling over Tokyo-3 as the two trudged along the sidewalk. Shinji's head hung on his neck, lost in the world of his thoughts and his SDAT player. Life had dealt him another bad hand, and now he again had to live with the consequences, the greatest of which would be the pain of disappointing his father yet again.
Usagi sighed. "It wasn't our fault it split in two, was it? Why should we get blamed?" Her eyes flashed in the cool white glow of the streetlamps as they waited at an intersection whose edges were marked with yellow and black caution stripes.
"Um, Usagi, it was our fault." He briefly considered his options before continuing. "Your fault, since if you hadn't sliced-"
"Shut up!" The sign changed from don't walk to walk, and they started across the street. "Sorry," she muttered.
Shinji blinked in surprise and slid the headphones down from his ears. "Um, okay." So few of the people who yelled at him apologized; it wasn't something he was accustomed to, especially after his brief experience with Asuka.
"How is Misato? At planning, I mean. Is she any good?"
"I don't know, really..."
"What do you mean you don't know? You've been fighting angels for weeks and months, haven't you? You must know if she's any good!"
Shinji slipped his hands into the comforting pockets of his trousers. "Not really ...usually things just happen. We don't have much of a plan." He looked up at the sky, but most of the stars were washed out by the lights of the city, and only the full moon was visible. He remembered a night not too long ago when the city lights were out, though, and the Milky Way stretched like an arch in the sky. "Well, once we had a plan ...but it almost didn't work."
Usagi shrugged and clasped her hands behind her back. She, like Shinji, was in her school uniform, and this particular skirt was a new one. It was still slightly stiff, since she had just put it on after leaving Central Dogma. "What was it?"
"Misato found a," he paused over the words, "a positronic rifle, and used it against an angel."
"Positronic? And it can get past an AT field?"
"I guess so. It was the only thing we had left, the angel would attack anything that came within range of itself."
"Uh-huh." Usagi yearned for a stick of gum. "Why didn't they tell me about it when they were listing all the available weapons?"
"It's a bit large, and it needed lots of power."
"How much? We've got umbilical cables for our Evas, they should work out fine."
"It blacked out all of Japan."
"Oh ...oh! Is that what that was about?" She pursed her lips in amazement; the government authorities had simply said that there would be a planned blackout at midnight, and for everyone to stay inside. Not wanting to cause trouble, she had obediently sat with the others in candlelight, listening to the younger children sing songs as she caught up on her homework. There had been no explanation, though the inevitable rumors came from the south that it had something to do with the angels. "What happened to it?"
"I don't know, the recovery crews took care of it."
Usagi nodded; the recovery crews that picked up the pieces after angel battles were little of their concern. "I guess it's there if we need it again. Hey, why don't we use it all the time?"
Shinji shrugged. "I don't know, you could ask Misato."
"If she's sober, you mean." Usagi scowled; she had no tolerance for alcoholism, especially not in someone who was supposed to be her guardian. She'd known plenty of kids in Hokkaido who were there specifically because their parents were drunkards.
"Misato isn't that bad," he said defensively. "She's just a bit different."
Usagi sighed as they reached the apartment complex. "Everyone in this whole damn city is different. It makes me sick."
Misato greeted the two at the door with a smile, hands out and bracing herself against the doorframe. "Hi kids!" Usagi muttered something noncommittal and ducked under Misato's outstretched arm. "Not so fast, Usagi. We have some things to talk about."
Usagi kicked off her shoes and went to the refrigerator, frowning mightily. "Misato, you forgot to buy groceries again, didn't you?"
"Um, well ...that's not important." She closed the door as Shinji trudged inside, then leaned against the wall and folded her arms on her ample chest, feeling the comfortably smooth red fabric of her jacket. "I have a plan."
Shinji cringed. Misato's plans generally involved his being beaten within an inch of his life. "Plan?"
"Well, of course we have to have a plan to defeat the angel."
Usagi grinned and bounced on her heels, her red eyes brimming with excitement. "What's the plan, Misato?"
Misato smiled, went to the refrigerator, and pulled out a nice cold Yebisu beer. She closed the door and leaned against the appliance, pulling open the tab with a snap and fizz, then guzzling down half the can. Shinji didn't react to this, but Usagi still wrinkled her nose at the sight of her erstwhile guardian poisoning her liver. "This angel has one weakness we've determined so far: it's vulnerable to a coordinated two-pronged attack on its core when the two halves separate."
"Makes sense," said Usagi. "So we'll attack it from two directions at once?"
"Not that simple. You and Shinji will have to be completely synchronized."
"How completely?" asked the pink-haired girl.
"Totally. You'll live together, sleep together, everything."
"NO!" shouted Shinji and Usagi at once.
"That's not allowed," protested Usagi, stamping her foot. "I'm not going to sleep with some guy!"
Misato placed her beer on the counter and put her hands on her hips, looking down sternly at the two pilots. "Right now that angel is regenerating itself, and it'll be coming back at us in less than a week. There's no time to argue about this, okay?"
"Madness," muttered Usagi. She turned her back and walked a few steps away, shaking her head.
"Whether or not it's madness, you'll do it, and here's how." She pulled a small minidisc from her jacket pocket and flipped it to Shinji, who nearly dropped it before managing to hold on. "The attack will be choreographed to the music on this disk. We have six days to prepare!"
Shinji considered his options, then decided that protesting would accomplish nothing. "I guess it's okay, then."
Touji and Kensuke straightened their hair and made sure they were presentable before arriving at the door of Misato Katsuragi's apartment. Touji paused just before knocking on the door. "I hope he's okay. I'm pretty worried about how Shinji's been doing."
"Yeah, he hasn't been to school in ...three days or so." Kensuke blinked and turned at the sound of another pair of shoes clicking on the metal floor. Touji turned with him and smiled with a mix of anticipation of derision. "Hey, it's our good old class rep."
"Two of the Three Stooges," replied Hikari with a curt bow. She tossed one of her two ponytails back over her shoulder.
"Why are you here?" asked Touji, shoving his hands into his pockets and rolling on the balls of his feet.
"I am here to ask how Usagi is feeling; she's been absent several days. And what might you be doing here?"
"Asking what's up with Shinji," Kensuke replied. He knocked, and all three blinked when the door slid open.
Shinji and Usagi stood shoulder to shoulder, Shinji's hair disheveled and Usagi's ponytails slightly frayed. Both were in exercise clothes, and Usagi had a towel draped over her shoulder. "Hi!" they said in unison.
Hikari stared. Kensuke stared. Touji made a noise of disgust. "Betrayal!"
"They look like they're married," said Kensuke, rubbing his forehead. "Must be the heat..."
Usagi and Shinji continued to speak as one, without the slightest deviation. The three were thoroughly frightened by it. "This is Misato's plan for synchronization."
"This isn't natural!" Hikari was aghast.
"No, it's not what you think!" said the duo.
"It bloody well is what I think!"
The situation was prevented from further deterioration by the appearance of Misato, wearing scandalously short shorts and a white cotton t-shirt, a stopwatch slung around her neck and hanging just below the cross she always wore. "Oh, hi there."
For once, Touji didn't drool on sight of the purple-haired bombshell. "What's going on, Misato?"
Four days before D-Day
Usagi stepped off the bus, slipping the earbuds of her SDAT player around her neck as she did so. After seeing Shinji listen to his almost constantly, she had bitten the bullet and bought one herself. It was mildly irritating to her that the children were entrusted with the survival of the human race, and yet made little more than the attendants at one of Tokyo-3's fast-food restaurants.
As the bus silently pulled away on battery power, Usagi walked across the concrete surface of the observation overlook, its whiteness turned orange in the light of the setting sun. She walked to the railing at the edge of the area and leaned on it with her elbows.
"Tokyo-3." The third Tokyo city, so named because two had come before it. She had visited Tokyo-2 several times, most recently the previous year for a custody hearing. The pink-haired teen sighed, mentally comparing the traditional sprawl and general messiness of Japan's capital with the neat, orderly, and above all scientific layout of Tokyo-3.
Both were better than the original Tokyo, though. She had visited it only once, during a trip for her school's history class. It was the city in which her mother and father were born and raised, but the ruins the N2 bombs left held no interest for young Usagi Tsukino. The First Tokyo City was a city of death, and she had hated it.
In contrast, the Third Tokyo City that she now overlooked was vibrant and full of life. It was like a technological wonderland to her, and knowing what lay beneath it was even more exciting. For now, the tall spires of the central city were withdrawn into defensive position. That morning she had ridden the train down to the floor of the Geofront, and as always ogled the inverted city that hung from its roof. It was truly a modern city of the twenty-first century. It was worth defending.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" came a melodious voice behind her, unknowingly agreeing with her thoughts, and Usagi spun around to face its voice. "The city, that is."
"Oh, hi Misato," said Usagi, more annoyed than anything at having her solitude disrupted. "Do you come here often?"
"A few times." Misato stretched and yawned, then wandered over to the railing and leaned out against it, letting the slight updraft from the city tousle her purple hair. "Shinji comes here quite a bit as well."
"I didn't know he ever left his room."
Misato blinked at the harsh tone of her voice. "Is having to synch with him getting to you?"
"No, of course not." Usagi sat on one of the benches. It was still warm from the perpetual summer sun. "Well, maybe a bit."
Usagi sighed. "You wouldn't understand."
"Try me. I'm your guardian, aren't I? That means your welfare is my responsibility, and if there's something bothering you I'll try my best to solve it. So, what's wrong?"
The pink-haired child remained silent for a long moment that stretched into several. "What's wrong with Shinji?"
"What do you mean?" Misato knew exactly what she meant, but she hadn't had the time to have a nice long talk with the girl. She hated to admit that she knew so much less about her than she had Asuka, seeing as how she only had the Marduk reports to go on where Usagi was concerned. At least she'd had the opportunity to travel to Germany and meet Asuka. Her first encounter with Usagi had been that day at Central Dogma.
"He's always so depressed. What happened to him, really? Did he get hurt in the Eva or something?"
"Shinji is ...a lot like you, in some ways." Usagi perked up at this, and Misato smiled. "He's different in a lot of ways, too, but still. He had a ...well, his mother is dead, and he doesn't get along well with his father."
"His father? Who's that?"
Misato blinked and turned around, now leaning her hips against the rail with her arms folded just below her chest. "You don't know?"
"Why would I ...no way!" She shook her head against the possibility.
"Sorry, but it's no coincidence that Commander Ikari shares a name with Shinji."
"What the hell happened there?" asked Usagi in surprise.
Misato shrugged. "I wouldn't guess," she lied. It was easy for her to see that Gendou Ikari was far too involved in running NERV to give his son more than the most cursory of attention, pushing Misato into a parental role. There was no need to give Usagi such a lesson in human nature so early. It was already bad enough that she'd been pressed into service to pilot the giant Evangelion.
"Hm. So is that why he's always weirded out? His dad, um, Commander Ikari must be awful to him."
You have no idea. "I think he cares for him quite a bit."
"Yeah, I guess you're right." Usagi looked down at her knees. "At least he has a father." She sighed, knowing what Misato must be ready to ask next. "Yes, I do miss him a bit. I feel like I know him just because of what my aunts told me."
"I didn't know you had any other relatives."
"Oh ...well, I call them aunts, but they aren't really related. They're, well they were friends of my parents. Aunt Ami, Aunt Rei, Aunt Makoto, Aunt Minako."
Misato shifted slightly, narrowing her eyes against the last few rays of sunlight stabbing between the mountains. The disk of the sun was almost completely gone. "You must have been close to them, then."
"Very close. After Mother died they were all I had, really. The people at the orphanage were nice, but they had lots of other kids to worry about."
'There's an understatement,' mused Misato. Second Impact had left behind thousands of orphans--including herself, she thought with only a trace of bitterness. Reflexively a hand snaked down to brush her stomach. "Where are they now?"
"Gone. They, um, they went on a vacation. A typhoon struck, and they couldn't get out in time." Usagi gripped the bench tightly, a slight motion Misato did not fail to notice.
"I'm sure they'd be proud of what you're doing now. You're doing a great service to humanity."
Usagi lightened her grip and looked up at the sky. The last sliver of the sun had finally slipped behind the mountains, and the sky was darkening rapidly. "Just what are the Angels? Why do they fight us? What do they want? How ...how many are there?"
Misato smiled sadly. "In order: we don't know, we don't know, we don't know, and we don't know. There's a lot that's a mystery about them, though we do know that at least one was genetically almost identical to us humans."
Usagi turned around at that, her ponytails whipping around. "What?"
"Ask Ritsuko some time. She can probably explain it better than I can, but Shinji killed the fourth angel while keeping it intact." Usagi shivered at the thought of Shinji as a killer; the fact that she was expected to be one as well hadn't quite sunk in. With luck it never would. "I think the formal report still isn't out yet, though." Misato frowned at that; she would have to ask Ritsuko about it. She was usually much quicker about such things, though perhaps the repairs to Unit-Zero were delaying matters.
"Okay." Usagi glanced at her watch, clicking on the button to illuminate the digital display. "Whoa, it's later than I thought. Um, who's turn is it to fix dinner?"
The dark-haired woman hmmed to herself, a finger to her chin. "I think it's Shinji's turn, actually." Usagi breathed a sigh of relief; she wasn't at all sure her gastrointestinal system could handle more of Misato's supposed cooking. Misato noticed the sigh, but chose to ignore it; she knew she was a bad cook, but her wards didn't have to keep rubbing it in. "Come on, I'll drive you home." Usagi nodded as Misato pulled the car keys from the pocket of her jacket.
T-minus eight hours, fifty-three minutes, twenty-two seconds
The train clicked softly as the carriage hit the slight offset of the tracks. Usagi tore her eyes away from the panorama of the Geofront that lay before and below her. Despite the fact that she'd come this way many times during her stay in Tokyo-3, the sight of what was beneath all of it never wore old. In particular, the trees that grew on the slopes of the Geofront, as well the buildings that hung from the cavern's ceiling, were enough to hold her attention for hours. Normally, at least.
Today she had other things on her mind, and she looked at the other two occupants of the car. Shinji and Rei sat opposite her, Rei looking straight ahead, Shinji looking straight down at the dull gray floor. Usagi wondered what he found so fascinating about the occasional white streaks on the rubberized surface.
The boy looked up sharply and slipped off his headphones. "Yes?"
"Nervous? You were tapping your foot there."
Shinji looked down and away, and Usagi throttled the urge to sigh at his antics. Couldn't the boy ever look someone in the eyes? "I suppose, but it's not something I think about anymore."
He nodded slowly. "Being afraid doesn't change anything. It just has to be done."
Usagi wrinkled her nose. "How fatalistic. You could at least try to be enthusiastic about it."
"What's there to be enthusiastic about? I don't like piloting Eva, and it doesn't come naturally. But I have to do it, don't I."
"Doesn't come naturally? I thought you had a really high sync rate, Shinji? At least, higher than mine."
"I guess. It doesn't change things."
"Yes it does. Shinji, we're going into a battle, and you have to give your best!" Usagi was quite irritated at this point. She was the rookie, if anyone should need a pep talk at this point it should have been her. She shouldn't have to give encouragement to Shinji, who was the veteran of several battles against the angels.
"Quit saying you're sorry, too. It doesn't make things any better." Her eyes narrowed. "Rei, tell him how it is!"
Rei's expression didn't show a flicker of change. "He is correct. We do as we are ordered."
Usagi blinked twice. "Right. You two are no help." The train flashed into a tunnel, and the open vista of the Geofront was replaced by the steady yellow blur of passing lights. "At least tell me you're ready for the operation."
"Um, yes," said Shinji.
"Yes," said Rei, the short clipped syllable like a bang in the car. While she would have no active role, her Evangelion would be pressed back into service if the worst occurred and Shinji and Usagi failed.
Usagi tried not to think about that. "Okay." She glanced at the position indicator at the front of the train as the blinking white dot of the train neared the appropriate station. "I wish we could just get this over with already." She looked at Shinji levelly. "Remember, ninety-two seconds and it'll all be over."
"Right." The train slowed to a stop.
Central Dogma Control Room
T-minus three minutes, twenty-eight seconds
"Target is now passing the second defensive perimeter."
The staff in the command center watched the seventh angel stalk closer to Tokyo-3. It walked through a mountain pass, ignoring the air platforms which surrounded it, and stomped through a rice paddy.
Misato gave the main viewing screen a long look. Their quarry was gray, with large arms that seemed to extend directly from its head without need of shoulders. Another screen showed it on the map of Tokyo-3 and the surrounding area. It crossed a yellow circle outline, and its indicator light turned red.
She turned to another screen. This split cockpit-view pictures of Shinji and Usagi in their respectively blue and pink plug suits. "Guys, are you ready?"
"Roger!" they said in unison.
"Remember, when the music starts, you'll proceed with the attack as choreographed. You'll have exactly one hundred seconds of battery power, so there's no margin for error, and remember that I believe in you."
"Crossing final perimeter!" cried out Makoto. The angel now stood in the center of Tokyo-3.
Misato gave a quick look around the command deck. Makoto, Shigeru, and Maya sat at their seats; Ritsuko and Kaji were at her left and right. She squashed the momentary flash of irritation at the thought of Kaji's presence; the operation took supreme priority. "Detach umbilical cords!"
In the cages, the two Evangelions stood waiting and ready on the launch platforms. Usagi struggled to control her breathing in the LCL, feeling the pressure and fear of failure. This had to work, otherwise mankind was finished. Biting her lower lip, she summoned up the courage which had served her well in her first sortie. Almost unconsciously, she gripped the manual controls tightly.
Two floors below her, the umbilical cord that supplied power to her red Unit Two detached itself as the cord connected to Unit One did the same.
Misato nodded briefly as the power indicators for the Evangelions switched from external feed to internal batteries. The digital displays shone bright yellow and informed all observers the Evangelions could operate for one minute and forty seconds. Allowing eight seconds to pass the order... "Ready for launch!"
"Ready, ma'am!" replied Maya.
The clocks ticked over to 1:32.00.
Dong. Dong. Dong. Then silence, during which the two children could hear the slight rattling of their Evangelions rocketing up through the tunnel system and above the surface.
The first guitar riff came just as they cleared the launch doors, both set in neighboring traffic intersections. The sudden flash of sunlight came as a very brief shock to the pilots, but they were quick to brush it off.
An arpeggio led into a brief synthesizer lead as the Evangelions soared through the air on the momentum imparted to them by the launch elevators. As they flew, both pilots could see the angel far below them as it turned to view this most recent threat, which it had thought was disposed with. Both Evangelions lifted the spears they had launched with and threw them down at the angel, splitting it.
1:05 left, and then the words began as the angel reformed into its twin parts.
1:04 Gomen ne sunao janakute
Both Evangelions landed.
1:01 Yume no naka nara ieru
Their impacts shook the ground as they as one reached for the weapons storage buildings which were already sliding open.
0:58 Shikou kairo wa shooto sunzen
They opened fire on the angel.
0:54 Ima sugu aitai yo
Their fire had no noticeable effect on the angel, however, except perhaps to irritate it severely.
0:51 Nakitaku naru you na moonlight
They kept up their fire, both simultaneously moving away from the targets on opposite vectors. As a result, the angel's parts were drawn further and further apart as the street fight continued.
0:47 Denwa mo dekinai midnight
The path of the Evangelions was carefully planned, though.
0:44 Datte junjou doushiyou
It brought them around in an oval pattern. The two were soon side by side, facing the angel as it bore down on them in a wall of red and blue death.
0:40 Haato wa mangekyou
The Evangelions tossed aside their weapons and began to dance.
0:37 Tsuki no hikari ni michibikare
Its choreography was superb. As the angel's parts sent forth bolts of plasma, blasting the ground at the Evangelions' feet, the two biomechanical robots leapt and somersaulted with a grace and agility that few could have anticipated or even dreamed of.
0:30 Nando mo meguriau
Each jump, each landing, each flip came in perfect time, and the Evangelions did so in perfect unison. Their combined thunder shook the city, sending slight streamers of dust down to the floor of the Geofront.
0:24 Seiza no matataki kazoe uranau koi no yukue
Their dance ended as a reinforced steel blast plate sprang up behind them at the conclusion of another somersault. The plasma bolt heavily dented and damaged the plate, but it bought the Evangelions enough time to leap out of the way and run.
0:17 Onaji kuni ni umareta no
By now the angel's constituent parts were becoming weak, both from the fighting and the attack. In the control room, Misato pressed the offensive, ordering artillery and missile fire from the buildings and surrounding hills.
0:14 Mirakuru romansu
The two Evangelions charged, seeing the angel's cores exposed at last by the continuous conventional barrage. Grins of joy crossed the faces of the pilots as they leapt as one to seize their opportunity.
0:10 Shinjite iru no mirakuru romansu
At the last syllable of the last word, the heavily armored feet of two Evangelions slammed into the unprotected cores of the angel. The feet were perhaps the strongest on Earth, and were reinforced by the nearly impenetrable force of an AT field. The cores didn't stand a chance.
The angel slid back along the ground, propelled by the momentum of the Evangelions. As they smashed into one of the hills overlooking Tokyo-3, the strain proved too much for the seventh angel. Its cores cracked, bled, and finally glowed with a bright flash of light, milliseconds before a final, titanic detonation which obliterated the hill and was visible for kilometers around.
The power indicators for the two Evangelion units read 0:00.
All was quiet in the control room, save for the soft hum of the air conditioning systems and the occasional beep of a computer berating its human operator. Finally, the smoke cleared from the crater of what would become the newest Ashino lake, and NERV's cameras gained a lock on the debris.
"Both Evas are functional," reported Maya. All could see them, laying side by side in the crater, battered and bruised, but not beaten.
Darkness. With no power, the visual displays were dead, and all was black in Usagi's plug, save the slight red glow from an emergency light whose placement she couldn't quite see.
Her eyes were wide open in her personal LCL sea, and her hands shook with the adrenaline which had flooded her veins in the last one hundred seconds. The fluid filling her lungs kept her rapid breathing from rasping in the dark, silent entry plug. Her thumb hovered over the switch which would eject her plug.
She couldn't push it, though. She could do nothing but tremble, shiver, and try to fight back the panic of having faced death and survived.
"Mama ...what have I done?"
---to be continued?