(1.1: Der Lustgarten)
REPRODUCED ARTIFICIAL PARADISE
April 2st 2014
T minus 620 days
My first day at Tokyo-3 Municipal Middle School started like just about every other day -
“Oi! Baka Shinji! Get up! Wakey wakey!”
Well, at least, that’s how my days usually used to start when Asuka was around.
As I’d previously explained, that was a bit unusual for this time of the year, but not all-together unprecedented. She’d often come to pick me up whenever we were supposed to go do something together.
I remember mom saying that I ought to appreciate it that she goes through the trouble to come and get me, and she’s probably right, but that still doesn’t change that her loud, insistent voice makes for a rather rude awakening… I mean it’s nice that she’d come all this way to get me, but if she’s already taking the time to walk here, she might as well have looked into ways to wake me a little more gently.
So there I was, hair tousled a bit bedraggled, mental circuits still adjusting to the sudden state of wakefulness and resenting the sudden separation from my warm fluffy blanket, while Asuka sat impatiently at the corner of my bed with her arms crossed and a very deliberate pout upon her face.
She was already wearing the new school uniform, a basic sailor suit in the wan pastel colors of summer sky.
My own – consisting of simple black dress pants and a button down shirt – was already laid out on a chair somewhere behind her.
On the walls, you’d have found the occasional band posters and a few nice prints featuring the moons of Jupiter. In some corner, you’d have been met with my trusty Cello, it’s corresponding music stands and my sparse collection of old electronics…
Yes, I was once an ordinary boy, living in a perfectly ordinary room not so different from that of any other teenage boy. If you looked in Touji’s room, you might have found a bit more athletes on the posters and a video game console, and at Kensuke’s, you might instead have been met with his his impressive collection of model airplanes and his fancy gamer PC.
There might not have been anything particularly special about my room or the stuff in it, but it was mine, marked by things I liked and proof that I had existed.
I wonder if that building is even standing anymore; If it is, I very much doubt anyone lives there anymore, not within a long, long distance of that.
But right now, it was at the very center of a bustling metropolis. On the balconies next to ours, each of our neighbord had their own decorations, lawn chairs and even the odd bit of laundry.
Neo Tokyo Three was an enormous sprawling city with millions of inhabitants, and within my lifetime, every single one of them would be gone.
But not right now, the cherry blossoms of spring were in full bloom, and the doomed city was still gaining new inhabitants, including, as it would appear, my good old friend Asuka.
“Come ooon! Get a move on! Don’t you dare make me late for my official middle school debut!”
I could have pointed out that she wasn’t exactly obligated to wait for me, but that was probably not wise.
“Ah, it’s just you, Asuka. Don’t worry, I’ll get ready, just let me sleep for five more minutes…”
“Nonsense!” she declared, unceremoniously yoinking my poor blanket from my grasp and carelessly throwing it halfway across my modest little room, jumping to her feet and making a wide, demonstrative gesture with her arm as she did so.
“None of us can afford to goof around anymore! Maybe back in elementary school no one cared if you slacked off, but from now on, you’re gonna have to spare some serious thoughts for your future! You’re turning thirteen in June, right?”
I considered pointing out that she would have to wait till at least February for the same dubious honor, but then thought better of it.
“Soon, the two of us will no longer be given the leniency of being considered ’children’ and we will instead be counted as so-called ‘adolescents’! You can’t expect people to coddle you anymore!”
I did mention before that people were often surprised that the two of were friends, right?
That’s because Asuka was in many ways the exact opposite of me.
If I preferred things to stay calm, steady and peaceful, she couldn’t wait to go out into the world; She had no shortage of things that she wanted to do when she was older, and she could hardly wait to get there.
Because of that, she always tried to act somewhat older than she really was. She needed to excel at everything she did, and she could be a real perfectionist sometimes.
Since I had known her for so long that she was practically part of the family for me, I knew that underneath all that bluster, she was still basically a normal girl, but I’d bet you anything that the people at her old elementary school were all mostly fooled – but in the end, her obsession to be the best at everything came entirely from her competitiveness. She simply hated to lose and that, by itself, should already tell you that she wasn’t really all that mature, recent growth spurts notwithstanding.
Well, not that I was really so different.
Even Touji and Kensuke would say sometimes that I was basically an innocent baby back then! You’d think they would be on my side.
But be that as it may, I’m sure that both of us would have looked to snotty little kids to everyone aside from maybe Touji’s and Hikari’s little sisters…
My hopes of dozing a little longer were most certainly dashed, I somehow managed to explain to Asuka that I couldn’t really get changed while she was still in the room, so she made sure to make it understood that she would be waiting ‘with the utmost patience’ right outside the door and that any further dawdling would cost me dear.
All things considered, I’m lucky that I didn’t forget to grab my bag. At last, we made our way through the hallway. On our way to the door, we passed the living room, which also contained our kitchenette.
Upon spotting my mom at the sink, all traces of harshness evaporated from Asuka’s face with a frightening sort of speed – I think she had a pretty good sense for how to make good first impressions on people whose favor might come in happy; She’d started out as a precocious little kid who was waaaay to aware of her own cuteness, but maybe one day, this would serve her an an invaluable skill in the business world.
“Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Ikari!” she greeted, eagerly waiving one of her arms.
My dad, who seemed pretty occupied with his newspaper might have mumbled something in assent, but all in all it fell to mom to turn around and greet us on our way out.
“My my!” she said, “What have we here! Such a big boy! I can’t believe you’re already in middle school, it’s like just yesterday you were just a precious little squirt… and you have grown up quite a bit as well, Asuka-chan! Than you so much for looking out for Shin-chan!”
I didn’t stop to look at them. I didn’t have any moment of taking a step back and thinking, ‘Wow, those are my parents…” - after all, I saw them every day then. There was absolutely nothing special about seeing them just sitting around in my house like that – they would be back here in time for dinner, and tomorrow morning, I’d find them back right here.
Even then I should have known that they were never gonna be here forever…
Honestly I’m not even sure if I would really want to be back here, but if I’m honest I think there is a part of me that would be pathetic enough to do it.
I didn’t even stop – there wasn’t even a trailing gaze of longing or foreboding as Asuka rushed me out the door. There would have been no time.
Asuka was quite convinced that we needed to make haste, and I don’t think it was worth the trouble of convincing her otherwise – besides, she was probably right.
In any case, it was very important for her to be on time on her first day, and I didn’t want to spoil that for her, not just because she would angry or anything, but because I didn’t want to be responsible for making her unhappy.
So we were more sprinting than walking on our way to the tram station, and trying our best to make conversation through huffed breaths, that is, I was, because Asuka wasn’t out of breath at all, and probably wouldn’t have been even if she had sped ahead and left me in the dust.
“What do you think our new classmates will be like?”
I mused. For the most part, I just hoped that they wouldn’t hate me or anything.
But if I wanted to hear something reassuring, I was probably asking the wrong person:
“I don’t know, like a bunch of kids? I don’t know what you expect.”
I quickened my pace when I noticed the gap between us widening in the time that I had diverted some energy from running to talking.
Somewhat sheepishly, I admitted:
“I wonder if there will be any cute girls…”
Or maybe ‘blurted’ would be the correct word. I don’t think I thought before thinking here, but even so, I didn’t understand why Asuka looked so miffed of all sudden. It’s not like I said that I was going to do anything stupid. If she could go on and gush about all the actors & musicians that she liked, you’d think that I’d be allowed to hope for something like that, too…
Simple dreams then, almost laughable now in their banality.
In the end I guess Asuka was still right that I shouldn’t have been spacing out while racing across the sidewalk.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, ‘Hey kid, watch where you’re going! Don’t get distracted! You’re lucky that you didn’t bump into anyone!’
Well, actually, I wasn’t.
The only mitigating factor in my favor is that it happened just as we were turning a corner, so I couldn’t see the other person coming.
Within seconds, we were both sprawled onto our butts, holding our aching foreheads.
This alone would have been an inauspicious start for one’s first day of middle schools, but when I finally peered through the eyes I had scrunched up from the pain, I realized several things.
For one thing, I saw the unfortunate victim of my ill-advised distraction.
I immediately felt really, really bad.
It was a girl, not just any girl, but a slight, petite girl with the pale complexion of a frail Victorian heroine – to make matters worse, our collision had caused her to drop her sandwich, perhaps her only breakfast for today, which now lay scrambled on the floor for the local birds to delight in. It was an almost comically pitiful sight, and it was all my fault.
To make matters worse, the uniform she was wearing was clearly the same as Asuka’s. There was no doubt about it, even in my current state of schock – way to go, me, that really ought to make a great first impression at your new school! Maybe now she would tell all her friends what a rude, inconsiderate jerk I was, and they would tell their friends, and in the end they would all avoid me.
Mortified beyond words, I tried to stammer out some sort of apology.
“I- I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to! I should have been more careful! Are you all right?!”
If this had happened with Asuka, I’m sure she would already be yelling at me. If it was Hikari, I think she would be very embarrassed, and if it was Mari, she would probably just laugh it off like it was no big deal – but that girl’s response was unlike anything I would have expected based on any of the girls I knew. Or rather, it was her lack of reaction:
She didn’t say anything to me at first. Once the immediate pain had worn off, she just sat up, long before I stopped myself from just staring in horror, and she rose to her feet, still without delay.
The whole time, she didn’t really look at me, and her expression hardly changed – I think I caught a glimpse of her face scrunched up in pain when I first looked, but from that moment onward she kept the same look, fairly neutral, perhaps slightly downcast.
Looking back I don’t doubt that she wouldn’t have said anything to me at all if I had not asked her an explicit question in my fumbling attempts to apologize.
“There is no reason to be concerned”, she said.
She was already standing while I hadn’t moved from my place on the floor.
“I have somewhere to be.”
And then, she simply turned around, and left walking at a brisk pace.
The swishing motion of her skirts is still burned in my memory.
All Asuka had to say to that was this:
“Well, that’s a weird one.”
Actually, I was thinking she was mysterious. Which I suppose could be considered the same as ‘weird’ from a certain point if view. But calling another person ‘weird’ is a little bit… well, it’d be a bit different if they were okay with it, like Mari, and she’d know that we don’t mean it in a mean way but… sigh. If I hadn’t crashed into her like that, maybe we could have started talking and gone to school together.
“Between her and the other two stooges, I’m starting to worry that our class is going to be filled with weirdos!
Why’d you apologize anyways, Baka Shinji? She crashed into you.”
Asuka groaned at me. “You’re always doing it, like it’s some sort of instinct. Do you really think everything’s always your fault?”
I don’t know. I just really don’t want people to think that I don’t care about their problems. What if it IS my fault, and I don’t say anything?
With a sigh, Asuka declared this conversation unworthy of her further time, and picked up the pace. I followed after her as quickly as I could, lest she leave me behind.
For I moment I felt like my first day of middle school was already shaping up to be a debacle before I even reached the building...
But you probably don’t care about that. If you’re not outraged to hear me complain of such frivolities, you’re probably wondering why I’m regaling you with some unimportant detail about some random girl whose breakfast I ruined. ‘Yeah sure’, you’re probably thinking, ‘You ruin everything you touch, what else is new? How is that relevant to anything’?
Well that, I can tell you.
The incident with the girl is very important, because that was the first time I met Rei Ayanami.
In any case, Asuka and I did eventually make it to the tram station, but there was no sign of any trams.
“Great! We’ve probably missed it because you’re such a slowpoke!”
But though she said that, she wasn’t so certain of that judgment that she didn’t march straight over to the glass-covered poster of the tram schedule. I suspected that we had not missed the tram at all but had simply arrived early because she made us leave in such a hurry.
While she busied herself with the schedule and incredulously compared what she saw her with the hands of her fashionable little wristwatch, I think I left my gaze wandering over the buildings that surrounded us.
Our apartment was pretty far out in the suburbs. Almost everyone who lived out here probably came and went by car, so it shouldn’t have been surprising that I didn’t spot any passerby, just the bright sunlight, the power lines and the birds that used them as a makeshift hangout.
I was just hoping that this was really the right stop, since I had kind of just followed Asuka without paying much attention to where we were going.
I think that’s when I saw it -
Something – someone. A person, a girl I think, slightly older than Asuka and me. I thought for a moment to ask her for the way, but-
A scattering flock of birds drew my attention, and when I looked back down, she was gone, if she had ever been there. For a moment, I couldn’t shake the impression that I had just witnessed something momentous or significant…
But then, Asuka’s voice brought me back to reality: “Well, anyways, it doesn’t matter. The next one should arrive in just three minutes. It’s good to know that I’ll be living in a place with reliable public transport!”
Part of me wants to insist that I really didn’t realize who it was back then. How could I? I’d only seen her once before, and even then I only saw her for a moment.
Needless to say, nowadays I do have a definite suspicion.
But there’s always that critical voice in the back of my mind, telling me that I knew all along. Was I just in denial? That could be, but it’s just likely that my mind keeps superimposing what I know now onto the memories of the past, an unreal past that is now so far away it’s getting harder to imagine it.
Almost twenty years later, a girl who might not even have been born yet would ask me point blank to my face if I really ‘Lost my virginity to an Ayanami-type multipurpose control interface instance body’.
First of all, that’s… rude! That’s private! I was in a very bad place at the time, so I think I almost socked her in the face and got dragged back to my cell by a bunch of soldiers.
As you will obviously realize, we were both way too young to even think of such things. Of course, we wouldn’t always be twelve, and things were bound to change as we got older, but though I didn’t know it yet, most of my normal human life was already behind me at that point.
If you must absolutely know, I died a virgin. Neither she nor I ever got to grow up, and we never will, unless you’d still consider me a living human as I am now.
Looking at it from a cynical perspective, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that that sort of rumors would spring up, just like the tales of debauchery that sprung up surrounding the last days before the fall of Rome. If Miss Kitakami is even born yet, I doubt that she remembers anything of the world I got to grow up in; For her, it must be tantamount to a wondrous, mythical time. She never had any of that privilege, and given what happened, I have no right to be mad at her. But what really set me off is how she said ‘Ayanami-type’ like it doesn’t matter which one it is – like she was just some sort of machine, and I, one of those sad dupes who want to marry a video game character.
I have no intention of defending myself, nor do I have that right, but I’ll defend her to the end up time and back, and even if your thoughts about me remain unchanged after hearing this story, it will still have been worth it if I can at least honor her: The greatest unsung hero of the Angel War.
This is really her story much more than it is mine, and if I’m bothering to record this, knowing well that I’m unlikely to gain anybody’s sympathy, it’s because I want it to be known.
Rei’s deeds were as praiseworthy and her valor surely as great as that of other revered names from that era – Ryoji Kaji, Misato Katsuragi, Ritsuko Akagi, Mari Illustrious Makinami, Asuka Langley-Soryu... Yes, that Asuka, the same one that was walking to school with me that day.
You’re probably used to think of her as a great hero, and I don’t think I need to tell you what people think of me, but back then, the two of us were just ordinary kids.
The school was on a hill, with it’s own generously sized running tracks and ballgame fields and even it’s own swimming pool. Several modern white buildings arranged around a courtyard, connected by the occasional overhead passageway.
So far, par for the course as far as schools go.
From an objective perspective, there really wasn’t anything special about it… actually, there was, but you couldn’t tell just from looking at it, as you can tell from how I didn’t know about that yet.
Later, they will probably say that I of all people should have known, that it was my duty.
For now, any impression I had of that place feeling special or daunting probably had more to do with how my friends and I would go from being the tallest and most experienced students at elementary school to being tiny green first-years. No doubt that the older students would consider us basically the same as babies.
If I were on my own, I probably would have lingered at the entrance, hesitant to make final step into that new chapter of her life, but even as a snotty kid, Asuka’s policy with regards to anything fearsome was to beat it, so she marched in full steam ahead, ready to face whatever middle school life would dare to throw at her.
I wondered if she wasn’t perhaps a little too hasty to discard the safe haven of childhood, after all, once it was gone, it would never come back – I wonder if she ever came to consider that herself, looking back in bitterness back when her life had become irrevocably changed forever.
As she was back then, I have no doubt that she would have jumped straight at any sort of adventure that promised to yield endless fame and glory.
I have little doubt now that her name is going to remembered until the last breath of mankind, but I’m not sure if she’d still think it’s worth it after all of the suffering she had to endure.
If she knew what it would put her through, would she have ran so eagerly up the stairs and corridors of the building, excited to greet her future?
And what of myself, reluctantly trailing behind her? Could I have averted what was to come if I had known what to expect, or would I just have fallen prey to my same old limitations at full consciousness? Would I have known to appreciate the peaceful days while they lasted, or would I just wasted what little happy time I was going to get agonizing about the future?
It might sound pathetic, but I am kind of glad that I will never know.
As it was, I knew nothing, so my mind was filled with childlike concerns such as whether my classmates were going to like me, or how I was going to master classes now that they were bound to get more difficult. Every time we walked past a cluster of fellow students, I was a little anxious that we might encounter the girl from earlier – Rei. Though at that time, she was still just a stranger to me. So I didn’t know that it would be highly unlikely for her to be telling all her old friends from elementary school about the grim fate that had befallen her poor, innocent sandwich.
In all the time she would spend at this school, the number of friends she would make could be counted on one hand, and even once I got to know most of the people in our year on at least a superficial level, I would not meet a single one who could recall being to the same elementary school as her. You can probably imagine why.
At least we became part of the steady flow of students that poured in the assembly hall.
To be honest, I don’t recall much about the principal’s speech or any of the cultural events and performances prepared by the older students – there was a lot of talk about the shining future and the importance of imparting good values in challenging times, that sort of stuff.
The principal was probably forced to write that sort of speech every year.
Back in elementary school, our new homeroom teachers had stood ready to escort us to our classrooms. Now that we were older, we had to make do with a slide on a power point, telling us where to find our classrooms.
Ours would be on the second floor, looking out onto the courtyard.
Asuka didn’t need to be told twice and marched me off towards the stairs.
Confident as ever, she made for the classroom in a resolute march. Based on past experience, I had absolutely no doubt that it wouldn’t be long until the novelty wore off, and then she would be bored of middle school and keep complaining that she wasn’t already in high school, but that day was not yet come – and let’s be honest here, I can’t say that there’s nothing charming about her energy or that go-getter attitude of hers. I could never pull that off nor do I think I would enjoy that even if I could, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it sometimes – even if she is not always easy to get along with, I’m glad that we are friends.
Though I’d rather she didn’t expect me to participate in some of the things she does – as soon as she reached our new classroom, she swooshed aside it’s old-fashioned sliding door without a moment’s hesitation, took one good look inside, and then turned to me.
“Well, that bunch doesn’t look very impressive.”
Was she expecting me to agree? I didn’t even know most of those people.
Asuka didn’t leave me much time to reply before making a show of signing in a very deliberate manner than she marching past me into the room.
Gingerly, I peered inside.
Did you know? Red hair, as a trait, was older than humanity itself and as such occurred in every single human population. There were even Neanderthals with red hair. I think my mom mentioned this on some occasion when we had Asuka over for dinner, and mom volunteered to braid her hair. I’m no good at this stuff but you can’t grow up as the son of two accomplished biologists without picking up at least a few fun facts about the topic. Here’s another: Though red hair occurs in all human populations, it’s much more common in some compared to others. That much, you probably knew already, but do you know which one’s number one, and which one’s dead last? Well, number one is Scotland, and dead last is Japan.
Which is a roundabout way to tell you that it’s usually pretty hard to miss Asuka in a crowd, at least when she’s visiting here.
It would not be surprising for her to stand out more than anyone else. What did surprise me, however, is that she didn’t. Not in this classroom.
There wasn’t another redhead – I guess that would have been too unlikely a coincidence even for my life – but there were several other students gathered here who were no less eye-catching: Talking eagerly with a small cluster of female students was one girl with long blonde hair, held back by a fashionable cloth headband, a bit further from the center of the crowd was someone sporting an ever more unlikely color, a small girl whose medium-short, pig-tailed hair was bright pink – that must definitely have been dyed though. She looked to be one of the youngest kids here, and unlike Asuka, her cheerful mannerisms matched her youthful looks.
And there was another, sitting all the way at the back of the classroom, at a lone desk next to the window – the girl from this morning. The one I’d run into. Rei Ayanami. Under normal circumstances I’d be hard-pressed to remember anything distinctive about a person I had only met once, especially if my head was aching for about half of that meeting, but in this case, there could be no doubt.
She had a short, practical haircut, of the sort that doesn’t require all that much styling, but she had quite a lot of it, so there was a thick, messy mop of it hanging into her face from all sides.
She had rested her chin on her right palm, gazing quietly out the window – At times, I would think that she had the look of a tiny wildflower poking out of sheets of concrete.
And yes – I know you’re waiting for me to say it, waiting to dissect how I’d phrase it, cringing at the way I had avoided it thus far for as long as I could get away with.
I ask that you consider that the whole red eyes thing isn’t exactly her fault.
She never liked her eyes, or even the color red – I liked them simply because they belonged to a person I admired. I don’t know what I thought then – if you want to accuse me of looking away sight of the obvious before my eyes, I’m not sure I can’t plead innocence. At that point I hadn’t gotten close to her yet to get a good look at her eyebrows, but I think that even then I didn’t think that she’d bleached her hair; Even in my roughest, very first impression of her, she didn’t seem the type. I might have assumed that it’s some kind of skin condition, which is basically is. I’d heard that there were some that could turn your hair, skin and eyes very light, but not exactly what that looked like and what the typical adverse side-effects would be.
And look, I’m not trying to posit myself as a heroic defender and thereby excuse my actions.
I don’t even know that I had been a particularly good friend to her. In fact, I can say for certain that there were times where I very much wasn’t.
This is me trying to make it up to her, in whatever worthless means of atonement are still left to me at this time.
Back then, I don’t think she took notice of me at all, but I sure noticed her, and realized with great trepidation that I had possibly already antagonized one of my new classmates. Looking back, it seems like something of an overreaction – my worries were so much smaller then – my whole world was, and little matters like that seemed to encompass large swathes of it.
Before long, I was noticed by Touji, and waved over to his table. Kensuke had already seated himself nearby, nabbing the chair allotted to an as of yet unoccupied table. I followed them gratefully, glad to be rescued from an awkward moment that had likely only existed in my own perception, and I once again thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t have to face this new part of my life all alone. Asuka had since gone to mingle with a crowd of fellow girls, so I didn’t think she’d miss me at this point; I could actually see Hikari standing not far from her.
Once I was in the company of trusted friends, I found it much easier to relax and stop stressing about random things. “Yo Shin-man! I see the Wicked Witch of the West made good on her promise to join us here.”
“Aww, come on. Asuka isn’t that bad.”
“How was your spring break?”
“Fine, I think? I didn’t really do anything in particular, but it was nice to just relax. I went star gazing a few times, now that it’s finally warmer… How about you guys?”
“My Dad got me this awesome new camera!” Judging by the dangerous gleam in his eyes, Kensuke had just been waiting for an opportunity to show off his shiny new toy. “With this, I’ll be sure to capture countless precious middle school memories~”
“Uh, are you sure you’re allowed to bring this to school?”
Apparently, I was the only one with such concerns.
“Speaking of memories-” Touji took this opportunity to pull out his phone. Last time I’d seen it, his lockscreen was a picture of a famous basketball player whose name I only vaguely remember, but now, it had been replaced by a picture of himself with a really wide grin, next to an adorable little girl in a brand new elementary school uniform.
“Isn’t she adorable?”
One wonders what the people at the elementary school were thinking when they heard that they would be getting a new Suzuhara right when they were finally rid of the last one, but one suspects that they would soon be relieved to learn that little Sakura was somewhat less prone to hijinks than her more rambunctious brother.
We were soon absorbed in some conversation about which of us had seen which of the latest action movies and making plans to visit the cinema in the near future, but before we reached a decision, we were interrupted by a creak of the door.
It slid aside, and if this had been a movie, this would have been the cue for the background music to pick up and maybe add a little jingle as a flourish.
In waltzed an absolutely gorgeous lady – tall, curvy, long flowing hair, pleasantly tan, the whole shebang. Many of my male classmates, including Touji and Kensuke, were a little bit star truck. I can’t say that I was any different – I was young and foolish, okay? We’ve already established that.
She came in in a tawny jacket, a grey pencil skirt topped off with an ornate belt and a little white spaghetti strap top and greeted us all with a big smile: “Good morning, boys and girls~ Lets all get along, shall we~”
Feel free to imagine glamorous sparkles surrounding her.
She wrote her name on the blackboard with great enthusiasm. Her name was Misato Katsuragi, she’d be our new homeroom teacher, and she’d be telling us all about history and English, among other things...
Yes, that’s no coincidence. Misato Katsuragi. The exact one that you’re all thinking of. A figure looming so large in the history of mankind that she’s not fit for comparison with the likes of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan or John F Kennedy, but rather with the first human chieftain to lead their tribe out of the bush and savanna, the first fire, the first farm, the first granary, or the first empire of Sargon of Akkad. Most of you probably can’t imagine her posing as an ordinary English teacher.
My own feelings about her are still… complicated. I’m not sure if I want her to see this recording. I don’t know if it would change anything about what she thinks; With a few exceptions, she has witnessed most of what I’m going to describe firsthand, and her account should be known to most, insofar as she’d chosen to disclose it.
Some bitter little part of me wants to speculate about what she might have left out and why, but we agree that I’d have no leg to stand on.
But back then, the impressions my friends and I had of her was still pretty simple:
“Wow! Misato-sensei is so hot!” said Touji, barely half a minute after the bell had sounded. He was so eager to express this particular opinion that he rushed over to my desk the moment our first class was over.
Kensuke was, of course, in total agreement: “And she’s so cool, too!”
Then again, he’d always had a tendency to get excited about things.
But really, I was no different: “And so nice! She doesn’t have that scary strict teacher vibe at all, she’s almost like a cool big sister than you can always ask for help...”
“Exactly! Much better than all those stuffy boring teachers we used to have!”
“And much hotter!” Kensuke added dreamily. “I wonder if she’d let me get her on camera next time...~”
“How did we get so lucky!”
Alas, our seats were pre-assigned, so we always had to pick one of our desks to gather around.
I was hoping that we might be able to switch it up eventually and sit closer together, but for now we’d have to endure the inconvenience.
My seat was next to a peppy, upbeat girl who introduced herself as ‘Mana Kirishima’ and a desk that had stayed empty, perhaps because the guy who was supposed to sit there decided to go to a different school after all. Back then this seemed pretty wasteful to me, after all there was a perfectly fine desk there that could have easily housed Touji or Kensuke, or at least Asuka – right then she was one row behind me, killing time on her handheld game until the next teacher would show up.
I don’t think that was allowed any more than Kensuke’s camera would have been, but she cared even less than he did.
Eventually however, I would end up grateful for the empty seat besides me, if only because that meant it had still been free when a certain boy transferred to our class – though knowing what I know now, the two of us were bound to be reunited one way or another.
But let’s get back to my story:
While most kids gathered in groups to talk, either to catch up with the people they’d previously known or excited to meet new ones, not all students were so eager to mingle – honestly, I sympathize, I probably would have been exactly the same if I didn’t already happen to know someone here – I’d probably be listening to my headphones or staring at the ceiling. I largely kept to myself for the first few weeks of elementary school; I never exactly became popular, but having just a few reliable friends made all the difference in the world.
I’m not sure I’d have the energy to always be doing stuff with loads of people.
As long as I had some place to belong, I thought I’d be fine.
Asuka was, of course, as in most things, the exact opposite of me. Having just moved here from a different country, there was no way that she would have known anyone else her apart from myself and some people from my old school that I had introduced her to, but rather than being daunted or sticking close to me, she had no problem dazzling these complete strangers and showing off her fancy new handheld console. Her stepmom and father had apparently splurged on one of the latest, most expensive models before sending her off, and now, their daughter was using it to gather a crowd of impressed-looking classmates around her.
From the looks of it, there was no reason to worry about her.
She had the confidence – and the sheer gall – to just talk to anyone as she pleased; I don’t think she’d ever struggled to connect with a crowd of new people at any point in her life.
But since I did have that experience at some point, I felt a certain sympathy for the kids that did not move so deftly in this all-new environment.
There was a girl with long dark hair and glasses teetering shyly at the edge of a crowd, unsure how to join in. That could have been me in elementary school, except of course a bit shorter.
But there was another student who had stayed by herself, one who did not even seem to mind or show any signs of expecting to join in at any point.
It was as if the ringing of the bell had had absolutely no effect on her. As before, she still sat there gazing out the window, looking just a tiny bit gloomy and perhaps a little bored.
Going to her right then would probably just have drawn undue attentions that wouldn’t have done either of us any favors, but I still felt that I still owed her a proper apology.
Maybe I should buy her a new sandwich come recess? But since I was new here, I had no idea where the cafeteria was, nor how long the lines there usually were – with poor enough luck, she wouldn’t have enough time to eat it…
In hindsight, I was probably just stressing about this so much cause it was my first day, so all the nervousness I had about that got channeled into this sandwich destruction issue – otherwise, I can’t really explain it. Our first day of class was relatively chill, since for the most part, the teachers were just introducing themselves, explaining organization-related stuff about how we were going to be graded and maybe starting the occasional very basic introduction to the very first topic.
My mom always says that if you have the right attitude, anywhere can be paradise. I’m probably the proof by contra-position to that thesis: If you’re determined enough, you can make yourself nervous wherever you go.
At this point you’re probably thinking that I was practically begging the world to give me a proper reason to feel sorry for myself. What wouldn’t you give to have nothing worse to worry about that common adolescent drama, right?
Not to sound like I’m defending myself, but I did try to do something about that.
Now watch me put my foot in my mouth:
“Hi.” I said to her, laughing nervously.
I told Touji & Kensuke that I still had something to take care of, and stayed behind when most of our classmates were already beginning to file out toward the courtyard.
Rei made no sign that she heard me talking to her. Her eyes were still transfixed on the clouds, and she made no sound in acknowledgment.
“Uh, I just wanted to apologize again.”
Uh, well. Needless to say this had me quite a bit stumped, but I pulled myself together in a moment and put on my best smile.
“Ah, maybe you didn’t recognize me – I kind of crashed into you this morning. I’m sorry about your breakfast! But look, here! You can have half of my packed lunch so that you don’t have to go hungry!” At this point, I opened up my lunch box. I had always loved how it came with many tiny compartments, and now this was wholly working out in my favor, as I could just lift out one of the smaller boxes and dramatically remove its lid to reveal the contents.
“I don’t have a sandwich on meright now, but here’s some scrambled eggs, with bacon and fresh green onions!”
This was as gallant as my puny 12 year old self knew how to be.
But alas, it was all in vain.
I’d believed the eggs to be safe option that almost anyone would like, but as I was to find out, that was not exactly true:
“You can keep it. I don’t like meat.”
“Oh- sorry! I had no idea!”
Her tone was fairly calm, but being me, I instantly worried about having offended her sensibilities. I removed my unworthy bacon from her table.
“I’ll just- get you something vegetarian some other time!”
“There is no need.”
“If you say so… by the way, I’m Ikari. Ikari Shinji.”
Even back then, I thought that was kind of pathetic, so imagine my great surprise when that at least turned out to be what made her turn around from the window for the first time in our conversation.
I think I might have flinched a little bit when her gaze met mine – so far she’d barely seemed present in this conversation, but now she regarded me with purpose, and I could not explain what had caused this sudden change.
“Your parents are the supreme director and the head of the scientific department at the Laboratory for Artificial Evolution.”
I can’t say that this was the exact last thing that I expected her to say at this point, and I’m sure with a little bit of creativity, you could probably have thought of something patently more random, but I was definitely caught off guard.
“Uh – I- I think they are? They definitely work there, but I’m not sure I could tell you about their exact positions…”
Now she actually looked offended – there was an angry crease to her brow and everything, and her crimson eyes took on a piecing quality. She had completely shrugged it off when I ruined her breakfast, but she was definitely mad now.
“How can you be so ignorant even though you are their son?”
I didn’t really know what to say to that. For me, my parents were always simply my parents – but this girl here was talking like they were some sort of beloved celebrities – and like she had all of their books, movies or albums neatly lined up on the top of her shelf.
To be honest I really did have no idea how well known they were or weren’t in the science world, but if they were so widely known outside that world that even a kid my age would know who they are, I do think I would have noticed.
“Are my parents really that big of a deal?”
That turned out to be exactly the wrong thing to say.
“Excuse me, but is there a reason you keep talking to me?”
At this point, it dawned on me that all I was accomplishing was to try and fail to assuage my guilty conscience, so I took my leave.
At this point, I was convinced that she probably hated me, and hoped that I would be able to avoid her. But for better or for worse – and I’m still not sure which one – that was not to be.
(1.1: Eden, draped in Summer Colors)
So, my first day of school. As you can see, it was something of a mixed bag. Unlike Misato, our math teacher turned out to be a nearly-retired old dude with a tendency to go on endless winding rambles. I had my old friends and Asuka can no problem procuring herself some new fans, but I thought that I had effed up my first impression with Rei as much as I possibly could.
I thought wrong.
Asuka didn’t even need til lunch break to find someone interested in going to hang out in time with her, so I had to trudge home by myself starting from the road bridge where my way home diverged from Touji’s and Kensuke’s, who unlike me, lived in about the same neighborhood.
I don’t recall if I was feeling mildly hopeful or just plain exhausted. I’m not sure I want to remember; Both would be terribly depressing in their own ways.
All I wanted was to crash in the safety of my room and wait for my parents to come home from work so I could tell them about my day.
I was used to having the apartment for myself at this time of day, so I can’t say I was particularly mindful of my surroundings as I unlocked the door and absent-minded kicked off my shoes, retroactively arranging them into some semblance of neatness with the tip of my toes.
I had plopped in my headphones not long after my parting ways with my friends, so there was no way that I could have picked up any sounds that might have served as a warning.
So there was nothing to prepare me – or so much as tip me off – to the sight I was met with when I clueless wandered into the living room… and promptly stood there, rooted to the floor like a deer in the headlights.
Our apartment was not empty at all, but I was clearly not the only one to have made that incorrect assumption.
The door to the bath stood wide open, light and warm air steaming from within, and standing in the living room, just coming in from the hallway, was a stark naked girl my age, covered only in a small pink towel flung around her head of thick, messy short hair.
It was Rei.
She blinked at me in mild confusion.
Now this isn’t anything like that funny story Touji still likes to tell about when Sakura was about four and had a phase where she refused to wear clothes and would escape the bathtub to run across the apartment – Rei was already something of a young lady, with discernible breast buds and the beginnings of feminine hips. I’m sure if I saw her today, she would simply register as a kid to me and I’d tell her to stop horsing around and get dressed, but back when I was 12 myself and experiencing the first stirrings of puberty, it was a different matter.
“A-a… AAAAAAAAAH!!! Your clothes! Where are your clothes!”
“I was just going to get them.”
Only belatedly did it occur to me that I ought to have been looking away, so in my desperation, I raised up my arms to cover my frantic eyes.
“I promise I didn’t meant to- I had no idea- why are you even here?”
“I was asked to come.”
Upon hearing the shuffling of clothing, I thought to lower my arms, thinking that she had surely covered herself with her clothing, but it turns out what she’d done was to reach for the clothing that she’d laid out on our couch for some reason – instead of grabbing it and running to the bathroom, or wrapping herself in her towel to conclude the conversation in a halfway decent manner, she had quite simply started to put on her underwear in the middle if the living room with me still standing there. Immediately, I clamped my hands onto my face and tried my best to keep them there until further notice.
I assure you that I was thinking exactly what you’re probably thinking right now:
What the heck?!
I’d never been gladder for the sound of the door lock turning to reveal that my parents had returned from work – so glad indeed was I that it didn’t occur to me that they were way too early until later revelations forced me to review this whole chain of events much, much later.
My mother came in smiling her usual all-knowing smile, which did not falter in the slightest when she looked past my mortified form to spot Rei, who was mercifully wearing clothes at that point, a simple, somewhat old-fashioned brown button-down dress with a high-collared, long-sleeved white blouse underneath. It lent a somewhat strict look to her, though not quite in the same way as her hairstyle did.
Without a trace of surprise or consternation, my mom proceeded right past me into the living room, and responded in delight: “Ah! Rei-chan! Did you have fun trying out our shower? It’s good to see you making yourself at home here! Aren’t you going to dry your hair?”
“There is no need.”
“Nonsense! Let Aunty Yui do your hair sweetheart~”
Perhaps noting my thoroughly confused face, father saw it fit to enlighten me:
“Shinji. She will be staying with us for a while. She is a test subject for one of our studies at the laboratory and we need her to stay in town for that, but since she doesn’t have a place to stay, she will be living here until we have procured other accommodation for her.”
They were obviously studying whatever weird skin condition she had.
That’s what anyone would think, right?
My parents were supposed to be real life geneticists, not cheesy 20th century Movie Villains.
Obviously you would think ‘test subject’ as in ‘medical study’, not as in ‘Frankenstein's monster’ right?
You’d think maybe she’s got some rare disease, and your parents, who you’d believed to be good people, like most kids that aren’t outright beaten or thrown away, must surely be working day and night to rid the world of that scourge and make it so that kids like Rei could live long and healthy lives, right?
You’d think that perhaps because of her rare disease, Rei spent a long time in hospitals and the like, and that’s why no one knew her from elementary school. Perhaps her fragile health hadn’t allowed her to do much socializing before now, and that’s why she didn’t seem particularly experienced at talking to people. And if my parents were helping to research her condition so she could get better, then it would even make perfect sense that she’d have a high opinion of them, right?
That’s what you’d think!
That’s what I thought. Maybe that’s what my parents were counting on me to think.
Oh come on. If you had been in my place, you surely wouldn’t think that they’re plotting the end of the world!
In the time that it took for me to swallow my father’s flimsy explanation and follow him into the living room, Mom had grabbed her hair things from the bathroom, including the combs and the hairdryer. “Gendo dear, can you get you know what?”
“Anything for you dear, but I’m not sure if they’ll be any good anymore…”
Thus dismissed, Father immediately absconded to get whatever ‘something’ Mom was insisting on having.
For lack of anything else to do, I dazedly wandered to the kitchen table and plopped myself down across from where my mom was busy combing an impassive-looking Rei.
“Sorry that we didn’t tell you, dear, but it was supposed to be a surprise. After all, you two haven’t seen each other in so long!”
Before I could vocalize my confusion, Mom seemed to have anticipated my question from the look on my face, and quickly answered it: “Don’t tell me that you don’t remember your cousin.”
“My cousin? But he’s a boy.”
“No, not my brother’s child. She’s a more… distant relation, I guess. But come on Shin-chan! You used to play with her a lot when you were children! You remember Rei? Rei Ayanami?”
Indeed, upon some prodding, my memory turned up some dim, grainy images of a small girl in a crimson dress in some scenes featuring myself and Asuka – we’d met her at the lab, like Mari and Kaworu. When I’d noted to mom that she looked a little bit like her, she’d explained that she was a distant relative.
But remembering more didn’t make me less confused.
Looking at the girl before me while mom’s use of the hairdryer impeded further conversation, I had to conclude that she must certainly looked like I would expect the little girl from back then to look if she was my age. If my memory could be trusted, this girl here was either Cousin Rei, or something like her twin sister.
But looks could be deceiving. For one thing, I seemed to clearly recall the girl from back then as being distinctly younger than myself and Asuka. Faced with contrary evidence right in front of my face, I wondered if I might have mixed something up, but I couldn’t seem to explain away that one image I had of her reaching only up to my chin.
In hindsight, I must suppose that my parents hadn’t expected me to recall any details. But Mom was right: Cousin Rei and I did use to play all the time, enough for me to still retain an impression that was very different from what I’d seen of my new classmate.
For one thing, she definitely smiled when she was introduced to us – or possibly, she smirked.
At some point, Father got scolded by mother because she’d overheard him saying some bad words and gone and repeated them all over the place. At some point, she’d gotten together with Mari and Asuka to prank the laboratory staff, and usual, Kaworu and myself got dragged into it.
In particular, Cousin Rei had poked some holes into a laboratory-issue privacy curtain and dressed up as a ghost. The laboratory staff could of course tell that it was here, but they thought the whole thing was so adorable that they pretended to be scared so she wouldn’t be dissapointed. I recall one instance where she wanted to get a cookie from the laboratory cafeteria, but didn’t have enough change on her. So she cried and cried and threw a tantrum until Kaworu, ever the noble one, sacrificed his hard-earned allowance to buy it for her…
I had only known “7th grade Rei” for half a day, but she didn’t exactly strike me as a mischief-maker… though I can’t say that I really knew what turns her life would have taken over the last six years or so. I lost touch with her around the same time that Asuka moved to Europe.
One day, our parents just stopped bringing us to play dates together, and eventually we got old enough to be left alone at home, or at least we were kept busy with school while our parents worked. Back then I assumed that her parents must have moved away, since they clearly weren’t living in Tokyo-3 right now, if they’d send their daughter to stay with us while she participated in my parents’ study. I wondered how long she was going to stay – they probably expected to have her around here for a while, if they had gone so far as to enroll her at a local school.
By the time Mom was done blow-drying Rei’s hair, (which had only served to increase it’s prodigious and chaotic volume even further) Father was done rummaging for whatever it was he was supposed to fetch, and reemerged from the room he shared with mom with his bounty – with a bunch of red and pink hair ties, and some baby-sized floral hair clips.
“We originally bought those for you, before we knew you were going to be a boy.” said Mom by way of an explanation. “Your father got a bit too excited, and couldn't wait to start with the baby shopping.”
Really? Regarding my father’s stoic, large figure as he settled in his allotted seat at the table, I found it a little hard to believe.
“I’ve always wanted a daughter.”
Thanks. I’ll try not to take that personally.
“What he means by that,” said mom as she affixed an inordinate amount of hair-clips to the side of Rei’s face, as if by their great number she wished to make up for their small sizes, “...is that you are very welcome in our household, and you don’t have to worry about imposing. We are very glad to have you.”
To be honest, Rei didn’t really seem all that excited about it.
You’d get the sense that she was just humoring my parents and their sudden urge to play dress-up now that it was finally given an outlet after almost 13 years of my being a boy.
“We’ve prepared our spare room for you as well.” said Father.
I recalled then that I had indeed heard him and mom shuffling around in there, but since that room had thus far been used as an office, I hadn’t thought much of it.
When mom was done giving Rei a Disney Princess makeover and proceeded to prepare dinner, father did in fact show the two of us what they had done with the room: Gone were the desks, the whiteboard and the dusty book shelves – I’m not certain where. Maybe to their own room, or to the lab, or into storage.
There was still a bookshelf in that room, but it was a small, modern-looking one, like something you’d actually expect in a child’s room – there was also a nice white desk, a fluffy carped and a bed covered in a pink and red blanket, complete with a nightstand and a nice, old-fashioned lamp, all straight out of an IKEA catalog… which is probably exactly where my parents would have gotten it.
“This is your new room now.”
“Understood, Director Ikari.”
“Aww come on!” cried Mom from the kitchen, “We’re not at the lab here. You can call us your Auntie and Uncle!”
“Understood, Auntie Yui.”
Somehow, it still sounded like some sort of rank or title when she said that.
“Oh- and we’ve already had Agano-san bring your clothes and everything! Ah, and your new school uniforms.”
“I have already received one.”
“Good, good! Just ask us if you need anything. Or ask Shin-chan! He might be a bit shy, but I assure you that he is a very nice and polite young man!”
Given all that had happened today, I highly doubted that Rei would believe that.
One father confirmed to her that they were done explaining, she went to grab her bag – which she had left on the couch, probably when she put her clothes there – and retreated to her new room.
If I’m reasonable I’ve got to conclude that she probably just wanted to find a little bit of peace and quiet after being introduced to so many new places, but back then I couldn’t help but think that she was probably trying to get away from me, specifically.
I had no intention to bother her any further.
Since Mom let me know that she would call me in time for dinner, I decided to go to my room and do some decompressing myself. I was really ‘looking forward’ to a gloriously awkward evening during which Mom would inevitably carry all the conversation.
As often when I didn’t know what else to do, I texted Asuka.
["Your cousin? That weird girl from this morning? I guess she does look a bit like Yui-san. The resemblance seems to be only skin deep tho…"]
["Well, from what you said, she was super rude to you and everything? She certainly doesn’t seem all that sociable to me. Not like Yui-san at all."]
I’m not sure if I would call that ‘being rude’, like sure, she didn’t seem especially interested in me, but she wasn’t going out of her way to deliberately ignore or diss me. To an attention-loving extrovert like Asuka this might sound a little weird, but there’s no reason that Rei would immediately have to be interested in me… or have any opinion at all.. just because I’m there and pick this day to talk at her.
I still felt bad about how things had gone, though. It seemed to me that I had screwed up just about any chance to talk with her. I wished I could just… start over with her. Maybe then we might actually become friends.