I come bearing a story that I've been working on for some time, now, one that I'd like to get some feedback for. And I'd be more than happy if some of the more knowledgeable folks around here could offer their thoughts on it, and about how it could be improved as we move further down the line.
I've posted the entirety of the first chapter (a little more than 4k words) as a start, but the idea from now on is to update the thread in a scene-by-scene basis, a practice that I've been using in the SV forums and that has worked out pretty well, so far. I'll try to keep a consistent update schedule of an update every three or four days, although I might struggle to stick to those limits at times due to the chaoticness of my current timetable. We'll see how it goes.
In any case, I hope you enjoy. Do drop me a line with your thoughts if you've got the time for it.
“No! Don’t make me remember that! I wanted to forget those things, don’t uncover them! I don’t want those terrible memories anymore! Stop this! Please stop this now!”
Misato Katsuragi felt a coldness swirl within her as she was an impotent witness to the Fifteenth Angel’s invasion of Asuka Langley-Sohryu’s mind, an experience that she’d been forced to cope with ever since the Second Child’s screams and wails had begun to fill the communication line a minute ago.
Ritsuko had called the scene ‘an attempt by the Angel to understand people’s minds’. A very elegant name for what was for all intents and purposes a literal mind-rape; and while Misato was sure that such a bizarre development was making all the gears within her friend’s mind work in a frenzy, the only thing the Major was seeing was a monster that she had to kill, a monster that was forcing an innocent girl to relive her most hellish of days in very vivid detail.
But with Rei out of weapons range and the Angel content to stay in orbit over the battlefield, the number of options the Major had at her disposal to bring this thing down were few in number, and even fewer in viability.
“My mind is being eaten away…” Asuka continued to sob over the comm-link, all traces of her usual persona completely gone, “Kaji, it’s unravelling my mind… What will I do? It’s defiling my mind!”
And the girl’s words were followed by a trio of reports that would make the battle ahead all that much trickier:
“Unit-02 has ceased activation!”
“Life support system crashed!”
“Pilot’s mind entering danger zone!”
‘Dammit, we’re running out of time! What can I do to turn this around? An air-lifted shot? But what if the Angel switches targets and hits Rei, then?’ the Major theorized, shooting down plan after plan almost as soon as she came up with them. ’There must be a way out of this one! Think Katsuragi, think!’
“Misato-san! Let me go out in Unit-01!”
“Denied; we cannot risk it.” Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki promptly dismissed Shinji’s request, using the Angel as an excuse to prevent the deployment of Unit-01. “This Angel’s ability to attack the Pilot’s mind is too dangerous.”
A fact that didn’t sit well with Shinji at all, not that Misato could blame him. ‘Danger’ had never been a part of the planning equation in any of the previous sorties, after all.
Misato tuned out the Third Child’s angry response, dismissing the ensuing argument in favour of trying to find a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Something that was far easier said than done, because without access to Unit-01’s S2 organ for the possibility of an overcharged shot of the Positron Rifle, the fact remained that NERV simply lacked the means to put a dent in this Angel, which made the continued freeze on Unit-01 all the more baffling.
Regardless, Rei alone couldn’t hope to turn this situation around. The First Child would only be subjected to the same treatment Asuka was getting once the Angel was done with her.
‘Yes, the best course of action is to force Asuka back underground and regroup,’ Misato decided, suppressing the chill that ran down her spine at the image of a brain-fried Second Child. ‘Try to find a different way to approach this-‘
“That is true.” Gendo Ikari’s voice suddenly boomed over the Command Centre, snapping Misato out of her thoughts. “Rei, go to Dogma and get the Lance.”
‘Dogma!? But that’s-!’
“What?!” Misato whirled towards the Commander, her mind idly registering the subdued agreement of the First- Child somewhere behind her. “Commander, if Adam and Eva were to come into contact it would cause the Third Impact! We can’t take that chance, it’s too dangerous!”
Gendo Ikari, for his part, took the Major’s words without flinching or taking his eyes off the battlefield, although the latter was always hard to tell with those tinted glasses of his. Regardless, such blatant disregard towards the possibility of a third apocalyptic event upon the Planet Earth did leave one fact clear within Misato’s mind:
‘So that story was a lie. But if contact with an Angel didn’t cause Second Impact, then what did?’
Another loud cry brought Misato’s attention back to the battle at hand, where the feed from Unit-02’s Entry Plug showed Asuka scratching at her scalp hard enough that Misato could clearly see the beginning of self-inflicted wounds on the girl’s head.
‘That doesn’t matter right now, we need to get Asuka out of there quick! Rei’s trip to and from Dogma will take way too long.’ Misato checked on Rei’s progress, Unit-00 having just attached itself to one of the Eva catapults. ‘But with Rei going for the Lance, the only Eva we have available is...’
Misato’s eyes flickered towards Shinji, towards the anguished face of a young boy watching helplessly as a friend was forced to go through unimaginable torture. The major’s eyes then shifted towards Asuka’s feed, showing the usually brash girl screaming in agony for very different reasons. Finally, a quick look behind her revealed the Commander and Sub-Commander both to be fully focused on their own private conversation.
The latter would give Misato all the opportunity she required to carry out the plan that was gestating in her mind. The only thing she needed at that point was the will to make it so.
‘...What would you do in my position, Kaji? This could spell the end of the mission you gave me but... would you abandon Asuka for the Truth?'
'Perhaps you would. You did abandon me because of it, after all. But can I do the same, knowing how much I hated you for it?'
'...No, I can't. This mess isn't Asuka's fault, and she shouldn't pay for it. Besides...'
Misato felt her hands clench into tight fists at her side, a blend of determination and revenge flaring inside her chest.
'...I’m done losing people.’
Her mind set on acting in spite of the consequences, Major Katsuragi strode purposefully towards her confidant and collaborator, Makoto Hyuga. The young man was working feverishly, streams of data regarding the workings of the Evas quickly scrolling through his terminal, but his pace ground to a sudden halt when he felt Misato’s hand on his shoulder.
“Can you get Unit-01 topside?”
“Keep it down.” Misato hissed, clamping down on her subordinate’s shoulder to remind him of the sort of conversation that they were holding. “Can you unfreeze Unit-01 from here?”
“Y-Yes. But Major! That would be going against orders!”
“I know. I’ll be taking the fall for both of us, though, so don’t worry.”
“That doesn’t make it any better!” Makoto hissed back, an undertone of worry running through his words. An undertone that, despite the seriousness of the situation, Misato couldn’t help but smile softly at.
“...You’re a good guy, Hyuga.” The Major commented, not missing the hint of a blush that appeared on the young man’s face at the praise. She quickly directed his attention at the main screens of the Command Centre, however. “But stop staring at your data for a moment and look at Asuka; she’s in horrible pain, going through something that we can barely even imagine. Are you telling me that I should just hang her out to dry until Rei can help her? Who knows what kind of permanent damage she could suffer by then? Hell, who knows what kind of permanent damage she’s already suffered?”
“I… No... But, Major-!”
Misato felt the young man stiffen at both her tone and the use of his first name, and while the Major knew taking advantage of the man’s poorly disguised infatuation to be an underhanded move, the ends justified the means for this one, as far as she was concerned.
“I… I’ll see what I can do.”
Means that brought her one step closer to her objective, and that had Misato breathing a sigh of relief at Hyuga’s consent. She then softly squeezed the bridge bunny’s shoulder in gratitude before motioning with the same hand towards one of the headsets lying on top of the main terminal.
“Thank you. Pass me that headset and give me a secure line to Unit-01.”
The young man nodded, managing to make a great impression of a board, and handed the requested object to Misato without a word. And while it was quite obvious that Hyuga wasn’t as convinced about their course of action as she was (this was much more overt than their espionage stints over the last few weeks, after all), Misato still felt a bit flattered at the young man’s loyalty considering that he had nothing to gain out of this in the immediate future.
Maybe she’d change that. She’d offer to grab some drinks with him, sometime when she felt like she could provide decent company, just as an extra thank you for sticking with her.
Surely Kaji wouldn’t mind.
But that wasn’t the moment to think about hypothetical scenarios, it was the time to make sure that all the remaining people she cared about were kept safe until that day and beyond. Starting with Asuka.
Knowing full well that they were committed, Misato put on the headset and performed one last covert sweep of her surroundings in order to make sure that they were still in the clear, quickly determining that, much to her satisfaction, most of the eyes present seemed none the wiser as to her planning.
‘Most’, but not ‘all’, for a pair of eyes did follow her every movement:
The Head of Project-E and on-and-off best friend of hers was looking at Misato with a fair bit of interest, more than likely having already figured out what it was that she was going to do. The Major, for her part, returned the gesture with a sharp look, almost daring the woman before her to choose between their (admittedly rocky) friendship and her role within NERV’s amoral chain of command.
But, much to Misato’s surprise, the Head of Project-E merely smiled to herself and looked away, busying her mind with other matters. A gesture that was baffling to the Major, but definitely not one that she was going to question.
“Misato-san!” Shinji’s anxious voice suddenly erupted from the headset, bringing Misato back to the matter at hand. “W-What’s going on?! Why won’t Father-?!”
“I don’t know, Shinji, but I need you to calm down.” Misato cut the young boy off, speaking into the headset so that only the Third Child could hear her words. “I’m going to bring you up there soon enough, but this needs to be our little secret, okay?”
“Secret...?” Shinji echoed, his initial relief at being deployed quickly being overshadowed by the Major’s choice of words. “Misato-san! Are you-?”
“I’ll be fine. You just worry about Asuka, okay?” The Major tried to placate the young boy’s fears, focusing him back on the task at hand. “Get her out of the way of that beam and back to safety. Drag her kicking and screaming if you have to.”
“O-Okay. I’ll do my best.”
“I know, Shin-chan. You’ll be fine.” Misato nodded at her ward’s conviction with a soft smile. She then turned towards her co-conspirator, awaiting the arrangement of the last part in their scheme. “How’s that override going, Hyuga?”
The young man didn’t respond for a few moments, his hands flying over the keyboard at a pace that Misato had only seen Ritsuko surpass, and making the code on the screen scroll away without offering any chance for Misato to read it. Ultimately, though, Hyuga entered one last command and turned towards her, his prior apprehension all but discarded and awaiting her order.
An order that Misato had no intention of delaying.
“Good. Unit-01, launch!”
Shinji launched Unit-01 into a full sprint forward as soon as the Evangelion broke the surface, not even waiting for the shoulder pylons to fully disengage and causing the catapult to break down into pieces behind him as a result. Driven by panic, worry and anger in equal measures, the young boy at the helm of Unit-01 ordered the robot to rush past armoury buildings and defensive emplacements, scraping through or even vaulting over the different constructions until its crimson counterpart was in sight. Then, without stopping and with barely a second allotted to coming up with a plan, Shinji unleashed the full might of the Evangelion’s AT-Field with a battle cry and dashed to tackle Unit-02 out of the beam’s way.
An instant later both Evangelions came into contact, and the split-second that they shared under the Angel’s accursed radiance seemed to stretch for a minute to the Pilot of Unit-01. Quickly and one after another, without relief, sounds, cries and feelings not his own assaulted his senses in a dissonant cacophony, while a kaleidoscope of blurry images served as a backdrop for all the chaos suddenly filling his mind.
Finally, and as a final human-like shadow that stretched vertically in an unnatural manner flashed through Shinji’s head, both Evangelion units crashed against the asphalt together. Unnerved beyond measure, Shinji struggled to bring Unit-01 back to its feet, a feat that took the young boy several seconds to accomplish. All the while, errant bits of the experience Asuka had spent minutes being subjected to replayed in his mind.
‘W-What was that? I-I think I heard sobbing...?’
The Third Child wondered to himself, as his eyes automatically shifted towards the prone form of Unit-02, Shinji’s mind trying to make heads or tails of the information it had been forcefully fed. At least until the boy’s senses picked up on the music winding down to a stop and the light projected by the orbiting Angel disappearing from sight.
With a shake of his head, Shinji decided that it was probably time to move.
“Misato-san, I’ve got Asuka!” Shinji screamed into the line towards HQ, disregarding the chatter from the line and turning his EVA so that the HUD would lay square centre on the Angel’s position beyond the clouds. “Get us a catapult!”
“Use Access 174-A to return to the Geofront, Third Child.”
Shinji found himself blinking in surprise, just before a feeling of dread took a hold of his gut. The cold, analytical voice of Doctor Ritsuko Akagi wasn’t the one he had been expecting to hear.
“Akagi-san! Where is Misato-san?!”
“Major Katsuragi has been detained for insubordination,” Ritsuko explained, her face set in a neutral mask. “I’ll be taking command of this operation for the moment. Return to the Geofront and await further orders, Third Child.”
“Misato-san... arrested?” Shinji echoed, before a gloved hand angrily smacked the butterfly controls of the Entry Plug. “Dammit!”
The boy’s previous worries had been proven correct, his guardian having decided that saving Asuka was more important than her own well-being. Unlike everyone else in the Command Centre, the place that housed the people, the so-called adults, who were more than willing to sacrifice a kid to the wolves in exchange for their own safety, using ‘orders’ as an excuse.
Orders that were being issued and enforced by one person. The same person that had been in charge during Toji’s-
“Shinji...?” a weak voice brought the boy’s attention to a different feed on the other side of the Plug. “You came...?”
“Y-Yeah...” the Third Child quickly replied, his anger instantly vanishing to make way for concern. “Sorry it took so long.”
The words that eventually answered him were weaker, barely audible enough to be called a proper statement, but they managed to root Shinji in place anyway. Rendered speechless, the young boy could do nothing but stare with wide eyes at the miserable form of Asuka Langley-Sohryu.
After all, the last time he had heard the Second Child speak in that tone of voice had been during the operation at Mount Asama.
“Energy build-up detected within the target! The Angel’s going to attack again!” the report Shinji had been dreading finally came in, snapping him out of his trance, but it was the declaration that followed that made the boy truly stiffen in terror. “Wait, the build-up-! It’s increasing to higher levels than before!? The energy output is doubling- no, tripling the original readings and climbing!”
Recognizing the dispatch for what it was and knowing that time was running short, Shinji grabbed hold of the prone Evangelion’s forearm and tugged hard on it, spinning around for a running start towards Access 174-A. The sudden loss of forward momentum and a feeling of tautness on his arm quickly told him that such a strategy wouldn’t work, though.
“Asuka, come on! We need to go!”
Shinji punctuated his words by frantically pulling on the appendage he held, the increasingly horrifying reports of the Angel’s preparation sounding off in his ear, but no matter how hard he tried the crimson form of Evangelion Unit-02 wouldn’t budge from its place.
“I’m trying, but it won’t move!” the Second Child screamed back into the feed, desperately pulling on the controls to disastrous results. The redhead gave up after a few more moments of useless struggle, her head dropping further forward and her legs receding into herself. “It won’t move... It won’t move...”
Asuka kept repeating the words like a mantra, curled into a ball and with hands covering her ears, incapable or unwilling to hear Shinji’s encouraging (and panicking) words. Feeling like he was running out of options, the Third Child looked all around for something, anything, that could help him move his comrade to safety before it was too late.
But only armoury buildings and other such defensive emplacements were to be found, nothing that could replace the massive cranes and other machinery used to move dormant EVAs within the bowels NERV.
“Shinji! Retreat now!”
“F-Father?!” Shinji felt his eyes widen at the sudden appearance of a third window, or rather at the undertone of worry that was coming from it. Soon enough, however, the Third Child’s surprise and fear turned to anger as memories of the Pilot of a black Eva being almost crushed to death came rushing back. “No! I’m not leaving Asuka behind!”
“The First Child has almost arrived!” Gendo Ikari insisted. “Unit-01 mustn’t-!”
“Then I’ll cover Asuka until Ayanami can kill it!”
The Third Child quickly killed communications with Central Command without listening to any further arguments and stepped Unit-01 forward and in front of the prone Evangelion, fully intending to do good on his claims. With a simple command on behalf of its Pilot the purple behemoth extended its AT-Field, the hexagonal pattern appearing clearly visible to the naked eye even without any attacks threatening to strike it. Within the Entry Plug, Shinji Ikari gritted his teeth in preparation, every thought and every single fibre of his being focused on making the barrier as strong and impenetrable as it could possibly be.
Soon enough, a pinprick of radiance broke through the distant clouds and the choral music suddenly returned, enveloping everything with a resounding and unprecedented power.
And then there was light.
“Mental contamination has restarted, and it’s spreading faster than before! No, wait! We’re getting some different readings, too! T-The MAGI can’t make sense of them?!”
The panicked words of Lieutenant Maya Ibuki made Rei Ayanami wish that the Eva catapults could somehow make the trip to the surface even faster, never mind the fact that not even the cushioning effect of the LCL would manage to keep her from bodily harm were that to be the case. Pain and the possibility of replacement would still be preferable to hearing the anguished cries of the Third Child.
The bluenette tightened her grasp upon the crimson lance, her gaze never leaving the countdown ticking on the corner of her HUD. The First Child had never felt fifteen seconds pass more slowly but, after what seemed like an eternity, the eye of Unit-00 finally managed to catch sight of the exit hatch to the surface, the added sound of many drops of water suddenly splashing against the Evangelion’s armour letting Rei know that she would soon be on the battlefield once more.
She only hoped that it wasn’t too late.
Hopes that were put to the test when the first thing the bluenette saw upon breaching the surface was a wave of light shining all over the southern part of Tokyo-3. At the same time, the audio receivers of Unit-00 began to fill the Entry Plug with deafening choral music, a problem that was barely abated with the First Child’s instinctive reaction of turning down the volume, but not before Rei almost dropped the Lance down onto the ground just as instinctively.
A moment later, the First Child managed to push through the glare and blare just enough to identify the hunched over form of Evangelion Unit-01, arms still held horizontally away from its body, its current appearance a disturbingly good match for the screams that still filled the comm-link.
Rei shouted at the top of her lungs into the comm-line for Unit-01 for reasons she’d been hard pressed to explain, a feeling of trepidation running all throughout her body when the young boy failed to reply to her call, or even appear to register her calling out to him, a development that made a sizable part of Rei Ayanami want to jump into the Angel’s attack and drag Unit-01 to safety, much like Shinji himself had done moments before. The better part of her knew of the futility of such a plan, however, fully aware that there was precious little she could do to help the Third Child directly.
The only thing she could do at this point...
“Is the Lance ready for deployment?”
“Yes,” the First Child decidedly answered Doctor Akagi’s question. “I’m ready.”
“Very well, the MAGI has calculated the attack vector and sent it to Unit-00. Ready for launch.” Rei did as commanded, her eyes narrowing as she walked Unit-00 through the necessary preparations. “Starting countdown for-“
“There’s no time for that!” the commanding voice of Gendo Ikari suddenly interrupted. “Rei! Use the Lance and destroy the Angel! Hurry!”
Rei tuned out Doctor Akagi’s protest and focused on making the best out of the incomplete data at her disposal, her actions silently acknowledging her full agreement with the Commander’s directive. The First Child hefted the crimson spear like a javelin, carefully controlling her breathing and manually hurrying the targeting reticule through the target acquisition process until her efforts were rewarded with the words ‘Target Locked’.
Wasting no time, Rei took two wide steps forward and let the weapon fly.
The Lance soared through the air, creating a perfect circumference of blue between the clouds as it forced them to part in its wake. It continued to fly ever higher, even managing to somehow accelerate itself further as the friction in the environment diminished, up until it arrived at its destination thousands of metres up above the city of Tokyo-3 and clashed with the golden hexagon of the Fifteenth Angel’s AT-Field. Its dual prongs spiralled together into a single tip and it pierced through the Angel’s defences as if they were paper, penetrating the alien being beyond just as easily and effortlessly banishing it from existence.
In the seconds that followed, the singing ceased, the artificial radiance withdrew from the southern half of Tokyo-3 and the last errant droplets of rain fell onto the buildings and tarmac, giving the chance for natural light to shine down on the last defenders of humanity.
Warriors astonished at the power that they had just unleashed.
“The target... has been destroyed.”
The Fifteenth Angel, codename ‘Arael’, was dead.
But Rei Ayanami felt no sense of satisfaction at the sight. None of the usual relief at knowing that she was one step closer to finally achieving her purpose.
“What’s the status of Unit-01?!”
Perhaps the void in her feelings was due to the same reason why Commander Ikari sounded so uncharacteristically distressed...
“All readings are nominal, no contamination to the Evangelion detected. But...”
“The- The feed from the Entry Plug...” the tech struggled with the words, not knowing how to explain herself. “...Unit-01 is completely silent, sir.”
...or perhaps it was because the light of the Third Child had all but vanished from his Evangelion.
Shinji Ikari awoke to the feeling of rain against his face, grass between his fingers and the uncomfortable sensation of lying on his back against something that was very, very wet. Wanting to rid himself of the latter the young boy struggled to his feet, when a plethora of sharp sounds and blurry images suddenly assaulted his mind, almost making him lose his balance.
The moment passed, small scraps of memories of his deployment against the Angel slowly coming back to Shinji, chief among them his rush towards Unit-02 and the glint of light that had preceded the Angel’s attack. Due to that, the Third Child opened his eyes and looked around him, expecting to see the inside of the Entry Plug and the flashing of a warning notice or two.
But, to his shock, it was no steely, smooth surface that he found. In fact, the only thing Shinji Ikari found was absolute nothingness, nothing but a deep fog stretching all around him.
“...W-Where am I?”
By the way, is there some way to copy the contents of the Word document into the board in a manner that respects the formatting and general spacing of things? I fixed it manually for this one, and it's kind of a major pain, so I'm really hoping that there's a better way of doing things.