For all those who are curious, chapter 1. I don't have a title yet (I was thinking Commencement at the Obedience Academy, but I feel the title's too implicating? There was also Press Push to Start...idk yet. Suggestions are welcomed???)
Kazuto clutches the paper in his hand, stressing and relieving his muscles, and then studies the vague mountain range he imprinted upon the paper. How small would I have to be, he wondered, for these wrinkles to turn into worlds.
That one then? His pen wobbles within the arc of an unconventionally small angle. Distractedly, he twirls his pen in an unintelligible manner as he reads on, fumbling it in, out, and between his fingers deftly. His furrowed brow betrays his carefully constructed, icy facade as he reads the next instructions before him.
SHORT RESPONSE: QUESTIONS 121-129
He frowns a bit, an effort that seems as if it should sound with the depth of strained fissures creeping across compounded ice. He's no longer not caring. He's no longer cool and calm and so out of step with the collective anxiety the others share.
In short, he's no longer the Kazuto he wants others to believe. He's been rendered into formless, susceptible vapor because of short responses. But he huffs it out, his excuse for a laugh. Because the time it took to realize this mental lapse, the space that ferried by in between, and the time he realized everyone else was too distracted to notice was infinitesimally indescribable and experienced. All of it, just like that. That was his problem with short responses; were they a possibility for him?
The causation of all life. The incalculable geometry of the fabled Angels. Second Impact, and subsequently The Almost Third Impact. These were documented reports, entangled philosophy, unfinished epics that consumed the expanse of his mind at night ever since he could even point to the sky asking why the sun flew like so and they permitted anything but a short answer.
But he did know what short responses were.
"Look at what I drawed da-"
"Can Taku stay the night?"
And then eventually the short responses were so cut up and convenient that an entirely different person would be able to relay the message.
"Your father has just informed me that he doesn't want you going out tonight."
Regardless, he approaches the one hundred and twenty-sixth question with disdain for his previous five answers. Five questions too late, it would appear, as the lecture hall rebounds with the sound of a hundred other students flipping their booklets closed and slapping their pencils down.
"Ikari Kazuto. The test has concluded. If you don't place your pencil down immediately, I will be required to invalidate your test." The exam proctor is a testy woman who sounds like she's curving the very ends of her words as she speaks. Despite her bouncy, nearly raspy tone, she's a hardened lady with the iron greys in her hair to show for it.
His distant demeanor is instantly affixed without show of ever leaving his face. He gazes toward the proctor, the distance of a number of desks swallowed by teething arrogance, his eyes frosted over with indifference. However, Kazuto does close his booklet, and everyone knows it has sprung from his own ambitions, that the proctor lady really should have just saved her breath. She ignores it with equal coolness, deflecting their attention to the next crucial step of their testing procedure.
"Seal your booklets with the code provided to you."
Kazuto punches in the six digit number, and receives an electronic chirp confirming that, along with his sealed answers, he will adhere to the promise of non disclosure. Yeah, sure thing.
"Excellent. The Diagnostics Entrance Exam has concluded. You're all dismissed. You can wait in the lobby to receive your scores in about an hour, or access them online at a later time. Thank you and good luck!"
The university is the epitome of modern architecture, all sharp angles boasting scholarly inspiration. From the once empty lobby, a bright day boasts about, invited by the stretching efforts of expansive floor-to-ceiling windows. The giant pneumatic double doors that lead out the cavernous lecture hall is guarded by two grand staircases made of steel, glass, and space which lead to a second floor foyer.
As he's milling out the door with the rest, Kazuto admires the worried expressions of the girl with black hair who had been sitting to his right when Taku grabs his shoulder.
"Really? Was all that really necessary?" he asks, nodding towards the pneumatic double doors that led into the lecture hall.
She has really nice eyes. Dark eyes...
"Hmm? I don’t know what you’re talking about," Kazuto deadpans, still distracted with his manufactured fantasies.
Her bottom lip kind of has this elusive slope...
Then, as if hailed by his attention, her eyes focus briefly on him. Shit she saw me staring.
The blush swims to the surface of his skin. Best friends were granted immunity.
Taku, so finely tuned into the inner workings of his best friend, notices Kazuto’s current
preoccupation, rolling his eyes in conclusion. Not entirely brought back, Kazuto speaks to him out the corner of his focus, head just slightly tilted in Taku’s direction. "How good do you feel about this test?"
"Fair enough. You?"
"I guess I did alright," Kazuto shrugged, trying to lean against the wall to get a better angle at the black haired girl. She was surrounded by a group of her friends. They were pointing and giggling, the sound of little silver bells. She returns his gaze, but only barely. Maybe not at all? Still, his nuances came with a defense against all interactions of the hyper social, and he returned a smile. Barely. Warm, almost regretful, but wholly annoying enough at the folded corners of his mouth for her not to peg him just yet.
"I didn't really get to finish," he tells Taku a bit loudly, without looking at him.
The clamoring that wavered about him, the static of entrusted concerns and brief reliefs, subsided. Kazuto's ice breaker tone paved a trough through the wet thickness of other people talking over other people as he opened his mouth to continue.
"I didn't finish either," a flat voice declared somewhere behind him, somewhere before him. The voice would have easily been lost in the waving crest of others, but in wake of the muted vacuum it cemented the words into the air. Kazuto turns - easily about the friction of an iced surface - to find no one there.
"Uh...did someone say something?" His inquiry is met with indistinguishable murmuring, the wave of voices lapping at his ears, threatening to crest over into a humming new wave. Taku shakes his head in the manner of a sympathetic-yet-annoyed older brother. Kazuto catches bits of, "It's that weird girl, she's getting her scores," shortly followed by, "Yeah, the home schooled one." Kazuto catches Taku's eye, mocking him with a paternal finger wag.
He smacks his friend's hand down playfully. "Quit it," he orders, and continues to lean against the side of a staircase, sulking to himself, before suddenly being graced with the secrets of a conversation just above.
"Weirdo," one voice spews with disgust.
"I know!" Another voice almost shrieks in agreement. "But forget her. What about this Kazuto fool making a scene of himself." Both voices belonged to girls. The last seemed to harbor a scathing loathe for Kazuto's name, stretching it in hopes of launching it anywhere that wasn't between her tongue and cheek. He dipped his hands into his pockets, studying his shoes. As the second voice continued to speak, it rose in volume with each bite towards the name she didn't like the taste of.
"I mean, who does he think he is? Definitely not the brightest! Trust me, I looked it up. This is the entrance into the piloting academy for Christ’s sake, you can’t just hope to barely make it. What’s with this smug confidence anyways? He's Shinji Ikari's son, he could've told the proctor to suck it and he would've passed." Laughter abounds, abrupt, but gone unnoticed by the owner of the voice who seemed to find the topic anything but humorous. He would've found it attractive, the tin of her voice that passionately crafts explanations that aren’t short, whoever she was, if it weren't for the vehement distaste she apparently held towards him.
"His dad was a natural born pilot, and he's over here acting like a child thinking he's going to pass because he just 'barely made it'. As if! Some of us actually studied hard and want to be pilots someday. You'd think he'd share that passion too, at the very least pretend. If he thinks he's getting away with it, he can forget it. My mom will make sure that won't be happening."
The laughter was widespread now, and the girl Kazuto had been eyeing before was nowhere to be found, along with the plate armor of confidence he had been building for himself up to this point. Armor that was punctured obsolete by someone who had no idea they had done it.
"And that other girl! Who is she? What's the-" and before whoever she is could finish, she's interrupted by the encompassing voice of Jin. The track star jock of Kazuto’s high school, the All You Should Be of the social ladder Kazuto was careful not to climb. "Wasn't your mom the one going crazy about how you’re gonna kick ass over the phone? I could hear here still yelling in my head, it was so loud and annoying. What are you wound up about? Not so confident anymore? I don’t know about you, but I just finished a long ass test and I'm looking forward to the weekend. Just chill out."
It's funny how you can feel the direction of a conversation change, easing from one coast to another.
"Hey man, my name just got called. I'm gonna pick up my scores. You good?" Taku poked, leaning in and whispering for only Kazuto to hear, because with each passing second he's digging deeper into his pockets, trying to disappear.
"Yeah, yeah. Go, I'm fine. Let me know if you passed."
"Be right back." Taku struggles past bodies to make it to the desk that the disembodied voice over the intercom belongs to. It sounds just as hollow as the echo that bounces after it. It’s the first time he realizes that’s that annoying sound that had just been at the grasp of his awareness. Already people have received their scores, crying and cheering, though mostly crying.
In the crowd there are the nods of agreement, and one could almost see Jin's head begin to physically balloon. He continues, rubber for skin stretched uncomfortably taut over chiseled bone that’s threatening to burst forward. What’s this airhead on about?
"Besides, you know how dumb you look talking about the kid when he's right there?" He can hear Jin pointing at him, Kazuto. Feels it like a focused point of pressure on his chest, like I have more to say, listen to me Father! kind of pressure. It’s the well veiled anxiety in Kazuto. Relaxed and leaning against the staircase Kazuto. Kazuto who didn't study, Shinji Ikari's Kazuto, incapable of cursory explanation Kazuto, the Kazuto who still fails to give a damn about all of the above.
This Kazuto cranes his neck up against the wall so he can finally pin a face to the voice that carried his name with such venom, because he knows now that she's peering down at whatever it is Jin is pointing towards.
She has a sharp face. Not sharp necessarily in shape, but in expression. Though there’s no mistaking the emotions playing across her face, they're muted. She holds herself just short of bursting forth, quietly sprung. Her face was slender, and cupped within her bottom nose and rounded chin. Too easy, he declares for himself. Her hair is a strawberry auburn. Her eyes are wide in shock, as it turned out that the subject of her rant had heard it all indeed.
He delivers one of four short responses he’s perfected throughout his short lifetime: “Hey.”
She blinked. Then she recoiled away from his neutral grin, masking her embarrassment craftily as she made her way to anywhere that didn't have the Kid Who Didn't Study nearby. Kazuto decided she was kind of cute after all. Probably the way she scowls. Whatever. The din of conversation was already melting back into the air. He takes out a pair of headphones, closes his eyes, and finds some improvised jazz to get lost into.
Something bumps against his elbow.
He opened his eyes to see a pale, pointed face directed toward his. A face that was also long and framed with short, curiously blue hair that harbored her rubies for eyes.
Her face, and how still it was. Or emotionless? Not entirely, but Kazuto found himself stuck, wanting to understand how someone could be so...not-understandable from their face alone. Like mirrors, two of them, had intersected each other at a mutually agreed upon point, and the perpendicularity had led to an infinity that was empty and equally full of the infinities to follow. In short, he had never seen a face so empty and full at once. It unnerved him to the point of reluctant curiosity.
There was something to find in her nose, her eyebrows, the corner of her lips. Something strangely cold.
It captivates him, though something told him he should be appalled at how consumed he was with trying to figure out what it was about her face at all. There was the tapping against his elbow again. She had an envelope in her hand.
"I passed," she said in that same voice, and not so particularly for Kazuto to hear. Stubbornly flat and present, though hardly audible. "They called you down a number of times, but you didn't show up. Uh...I said I would give it to you."
She relieved the envelope the instant he went to grab it. Kazuto ended up thanking her back. Slipping a finger underneath the fold, Kazuto opens his report.
The first word read, "Congratulations!"
Directly above where she was looking down (because she is looking down), he could hear her voice.
Just enough for him to hear: "What the fuck!?”
Akane is pacing back and forth atop the second floor, like the toy soldier her mother gave her to help her daughter waste the time away while she did whatever it was mother did behind those large doors. The toy soldier would instruct Akane, eventually, to mimic it's robotic march. Mechanical and all consuming as she perfected the distance between steps, where the toy soon saw a little Akane marching beside it in front of mother's doors, demanding she come out and play with them. And eventually, the double doors were replaced with the nondescript walls of her room where all matters of life and the universe were debated, and that was what she was doing. She was pacing back and forth.
“You usually don’t lose your cool so easily, Akane. He was being a jerk, so what? You shouldn't have given him the attention."
Akane’s blue eyes, a resurrected expanse of sapphire, with gray and brown refractions grow livid.
“But he didn't finish the test, Yuko," she whispers in disbelief. "Yet every question he answered...they were right? Just enough to pass?"
Yuko tilts her head to the side, soft, brown hair draping to one side. She opens her mouth to speak, decides to say nothing, then decides to close it.
"Nothing. I feel pretty good about it. I mean, I skipped a few, but who wouldn't?"
"Well, I did, I finished. Every last one. Did the last question of section three seem a bit tricky though?"
Yuko sighs heavily, and slides to lean on the rail. "Skipped." Akane joins her, looking down at all the milling people, colliding and meshing into one. The crowd has thinned as students begin to make their way home. "Wasn't that question optional? Like all the other last questions of each section. That was something about astrophysics?"
"Thermo nuclear expansion," her blue eyed friend corrects. She casts a look towards Yuko. "I'm doing it again, aren't I?"
Yuko smiles into her arm, a sudden inspiration beneath her gentle, round face which bears with it something fatally stoic. Akane smiles too, and bumps hips with her friend, what is it then?
She sighs again, the weight of all the known world released briefly, then readjusted on Yuko's shoulders as she shifts to look upward. "It's just...all I ever want to do, in the whole world, is pilot…”
“‘...Pilot the future’,” Akane chimes, completing the mantra that fueled their piloting dreams since they were little.
“Yeah. Pilot the future. But...I don’t want all this to happen so quickly. Like I do and I don’t. I want to help humanity rebuild, and make a better future, but I also want to go out to parties, goof around, and be out late. If we do this, get into the academy...well things are going to be different. Lots of work and responsibilities. And I don’t even know if I’ll pass! Whatever. I'm being stupid," she coasts, sliding easily back into her arms, eyes heavily lidded, distant with a clairvoyance for indefinites and all that lie in between.
Akane hugs Yuko. "You're getting in. I couldn't dream of becoming a pilot without you. We'll be-"
"Langley, Akane," a voice echoes.
"Langley?" Yuko eyes her friend suspiciously. Akane only smiles back. “Favor from mother. She was pissed and it was an uphill battle, but I convinced her. Can’t have anyone thinking any of this has anything to do with my mom. Whoever sees me next year will know it’s because I worked for it, not because my mother was made a hero-victim.”
But Akane doesn’t move. And if, by chance, I didn’t pass at all. What would mother say…
“Go on,” Yuko assures the concerned look. Akane is grabbed by the shoulders and led to the stairs. "Come on now, you can at least do this on your own. You have to start sooner or later. Brash one second, second guessing the next. You’re too...open-minded for you own good," Yuko giggles, and squeezes some more reassurance into her friend’s shoulder one last time.
Akane shoots her an annoyed look, all playful fire, and makes her way toward the desk. She threads herself through and out of people, their glares and looks of curiosity promptly shot down with a look that is iron laiden. However, soon she meets with another pair of eyes, gray and longing for some nonexistent place in space. And within a matter of time too short for words, they’re focused on her. He smiled. She bolted, a thousand iron rivets shooting through a singular stare, and she turned before she gave him the satisfaction of her acknowledgement towards his reaction. Kazuto, who’s the idiot think he is.
She arrives at the desk. A professional looking lady smiles at her. “Langley, Akane? Sign here please.” Akane signs, receives a card with a bar code and is motioned towards the door behind the desk. She opens it into a white expanse of a room where the angles aren’t distinguishable and her eyes feel uncomfortable looking around too much. On a steel counter, a printer fleshes out a single piece of paper, which is pressed by the machine, and pushed forward inside of an envelope. She races to it, snatches it, and leaves the room, almost bumping into some far off wall that shouldn’t have been there. The paper is still warm in her hand, the ink still thick enough on the paper that it clings to her nose when Akane brings it close to examine it. She slips her thumb beneath the seal, and slides out the paper.
The iron bolts can only take so much stress before they tear and twist. But she is more than iron. Just barely more than iron.
She’s been sitting outside the front of the university for hours. Or minutes. Or a handful of moments.
Either way, it’s dark outside and she feels his constant flicker of a gaze on her like a constant tapping. What do I do?
She’s looked at him too, when he first came outside. He was with another boy whose hair was too blonde. Then that boy left, and he was still there. More people left.
There was the scrapping of a rubber sole against the concrete. She had never pressed against the inside of her own skin so hard before. But he wouldn’t be able to tell, she knew. She maintained her gaze towards the street, seeing and waiting. There was a sigh. She cast a look towards the wall to her right because it was particularly interesting, and she just so happened to catch a glimpse of the girl who was ranting earlier. The inside of her skin doesn’t feel so close now. This can be okay.
The girl speaking doesn’t move. She just shifts uncomfortably on the spot.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is...I’m sorry?” Akane is running her fingers through her hair, feeling for something that isn’t entirely there.
The moments tumble by. Then she speaks.
“My mother says you shouldn’t say something you don’t mean,” the girl Akane tried to apologize to says flatly. It’s sharp, it’s cutting - always cutting her tone is - and most of all, flat.
Akane opens her mouth to object, but she's cut off. “I forgive you. But not completely. Not until you feel sorry completely,” and Akane is thrown off by this. She opens her mouth again, but the boy who seems to only ever lean against things interrupts.
“I didn’t get a sorry like that?” His words freeze over, but not with contempt. Something like an unfulfilled promise. Like the first flake of snow falling, she and mother shared, how it mystified her and begged her to discover it.
“I wasn’t talking to you Ikari!” The snappy girl barks at him. He sits down though, to the left of her, opposite of an angry Akane who doesn’t object.
“Yeah, well you're just a jerk,” Akane barks through her teeth nearly bared.
“I wouldn’t want your sorry even if you meant it!”
It’s the shortest war she ever knew. She threads a finger through her powder blue hair. Akane and Kazuto remain silent.
She fiddles with her test scores, scrunching the corner of her envelope. “How did you two do?”
There’s ruffling from both sides.
“I didn’t finish-”
“We know you didn’t finish Ikari!”
“-But everything I answered, I answered correctly.” He shifts. Their knee touches. She recoils on the inside. Kazuto faces her. “How’d you do?”
“I got three wrong,” she says. She pulls out her results, lets the paper hug over the top of her knees as she lets it lie there for both of them. “The three I didn’t finish.”
“Wow,” he breathes. “When you said you didn’t finish, I expected something close to mine but you missed the mark by the only three you skipped. Impressive.” Suddenly the cool night turns a bit warm. But Kazuto and Akane won’t know that.
Akane is running her eyes across her own paper. “Best scores out of all the participants,” flourishing test paper and all. Akane picks up the paper from the girl’s lap.
“Ayanami...fifteen years old, home-schooled....96.767%...” Akane huffs under a blanketed breath, her finger sliding across the page.
“Let’s see, let’s see. Section one...two...three.”
Ayanami speaks up, surprising even herself. “Was the last question for section three hard for you as well? It took me a while.”