An Insider's Look

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Re: An Insider's Look

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Postby Gryphon117 » Tue Jul 20, 2021 3:21 am

Shortish update today. I had a bigger update to this same scene almost finished when I read it a few times to myself and decided to change gears with a better idea. This update will finish the current chapter and we will be taking a short (hopefully :um: ) trip down memory lane in the next one.

Hope you like it!

Chapter 17-5  SPOILER: Show
“Remind me, why am I here with you in NERV’s cafeteria instead of looking for Asuka?”

Misato Katsuragi posed the question to the woman sitting beside her in the otherwise empty room. She dared not peek at her watch for fear of finding out just how few hours of sleep she was going to get that night, but it was late enough that the employees at the bar had long since finished with their shifts for the day. That had not stopped Makinami from forcing the locked doors open with some device in her hand and claiming a seat at the bar for herself, however. Misato’s legs had bid her to follow suit, not really certain as to why.

That had been… some time ago. And no real words had been shared between them since.

“…Because there is no need to look for her,” the Fifth Child grumbled back to change that, her voice almost throaty. “Sohryu is spending the night at her friend’s place, and her security detachment has the place surrounded on all sides. Nothing gets in without us knowing.”

“That’s great to know, but it doesn’t answer the first half of my question,” Misato continued, throwing a pointed look at the can of beer Mari was nursing between her hands. “Should you be drinking alcohol, while we’re at it?”

Mari glared back, shifting her body almost protectively around the aluminium cylinder.

“Get off my case, I’m older than you. Besides, my body filters this stuff out about as quickly as it goes in, so I’ll say that’s grounds enough to keep me out of the way of any drinking laws.” The Fifth Child stressed her point by taking a long swig of the drink and slamming the can on the bar, in a way that felt very familiar to Misato. She then looked at the empty thing with accusing eyes. “…Hell, I could drink a large bottle of absinthe and only get a light buzz out of it. You have no idea how frustrating that can be sometimes.”

For the first time in that day, Misato found herself staring at the Fifth Child with some sympathy. After all, a good drink, or many good drinks, rather, had always been convenient outlets for her frustrations in the past. Drinking was a simple universal coping mechanism if not at all constructive, and being denied such a useful tool made Misato feel bad for Mari for just the briefest of moments.

“Almost as frustrating as your little stunts during the takeover. You gave our guys a run for their money,” Mari continued, smirking back at Misato. “So many preparations without sharing even a little bit of info… makes you wonder what team you were playing for, right?”

“Non-interference, remember? I was under no obligation to tell you anything.”

“That’s true, I guess,” the Fifth Child shrugged, reaching for another beer. “Oh well. It made things more fun, in a way.”

Misato felt her sympathy for the Fifth Child leave as quickly as it had arrived, wondering one more time just what she was doing sitting in NERV’s cafeteria with her. Extricating herself from Makinami’s grasp was more than doable, after all, and even if Asuka needed some space right now to get her thoughts in order (in no small part, because of the Fifth Child herself), that didn’t mean that Misato couldn’t march to Horaki’s house and lie in wait for the chance to speak to the Second Child as soon as possible.

‘So why don’t you just leave, already?’ Misato asked herself for the hundredth time, and ended up at the same answer. ‘Maybe because you haven’t addressed the elephant in the room, and because you think it could help you learn something useful about this wild card.’

Misato had been wondering how to broach the topic of the Fifth Child’s discussion with Asuka for some time, now, and initially meant to do her questioning as soon as possible. She had put that on hold when she saw Makinami start drinking alcohol, however, hoping that inebriation would leave her with a looser tongue before long. But it was clear now that her impromptu plan wasn’t to be.

‘Might as well get it over with, then,’ the Major decided. ‘The worst thing that can happen is that she refuses to speak and you get a free pass to do whatever you want.’

“So…” Misato finally began, turning around towards the other woman. “Want to talk about that stuff you were going to tell Asuka?”

“With you?” Mari almost scoffed. “Why would I?”

“You’re the one who dragged me here, you tell me,” Misato shot back, deadpan. She then put her hands on the counter with a sigh, and made to stand up. “But if that’s the case, I’ll just head back to my-”

“No, wait!” A hand on her elbow stopped Misato from rising. She looked back at Mari with a raised eyebrow, the Fifth Child hesitating before she put her hand back around the beer can with a drawn out sigh. “I… Maybe you’re right. Maybe it will help me get some sleep today, if nothing else.”

Misato stared at the other woman, long and hard. She was plenty familiar with the Fifth Child’s outgoing and social Pilot mask and her less agreeable agent persona, but this exhausted and somewhat vulnerable side was a new addition. It was a big change of pace, more relatable and human than any of the previous two roles, and unusual enough to hold Misato’s attention for the time being.

She took her seat back at the bar and saw Mari’s shoulders relax just a tiny bit. The Fifth Child then stood from her seat and walked to the bar’s refrigerator, raiding a few more beer cans and showing one to Misato.

“Want some? It’s going to take a while.”

“No, thanks. A soda will do.” Mari paused for a second at the refusal, sending a quizzical look at Misato before she shrugged and handed the Major a lemon soda. She then sat back at her seat with three more beer cans in hand. “And I hope you’re a decent storyteller. I’m going to sleep the moment I get bored.”

“I’ll try my best, then,” Mari grumbled back, popping a can and taking another, long swig. The beer can slammed against the counter a second time, but the Fifth Child’s eyes weren’t drawn to the beverage like they had been before. Instead, they stared at the many liquors at the back of the bar, looking past them and at something that only Mari herself could see.

“I don’t remember a lot of the details, but I was in the middle of a school trip in High School when Second Impact happened,” she began, still looking at the distance. “Or maybe it was a training camp for my club, or some competition or something along those lines, I don’t know. What I do know was that I wasn’t alone when I closed my eyes for a quick nap.

“And just like that, I went from being in a plane bound for Kyushu one instant, to standing next to a crashed aircraft in the ruins of Tosashimizu the next. I don’t remember what happened in between those two moments, but I know that I was the only survivor of the crash.” Mari paused long enough for a dry chuckle. “And an extremely lucky one at that, as it turns out! Just one or two kilometres south and we would have crashed right into the sea.

“Not that I cared at the time. I just stood there for the longest time, staring at the wreck. One by one, the fires around the plane slowly died out, so I stood there for hours, maybe even days. My entire world had ended in less than a minute and my brain struggled to come to terms with it.”

Misato frowned at Mari’s words, her right hand moving to hold the white cross around her neck. She could more than relate with the idea of coping with a life-altering experience.

“At some point, I heard a girl’s voice behind me, asking if I was alright,” Mari continued, unaware of Misato. “Some more people were with her, too, but they didn’t matter. I ignored them all, kept looking at the crash. Then I heard the voices argue behind me for a bit, before the girl stepped closer to me.

“She put a hand on my shoulder, and gently convinced me to turn around from the remains of the plane, from the remains of my life. And at the end of the world and surrounded by death and destruction, she just… smiled at me. Comforting… encouraging… trusting. Just… happy that I was alive, that I still existed. Some random girl from halfway across the country that she had never even met before.

“I remember thinking how little sense that made, at the time. And that was enough for my brain to stop focusing on the accident, on Second Impact, and for it to start working again. I answered some simple questions, maybe even introduced myself. Don’t really remember.

“I only remember that smile and the girl that it belonged to. The one thing that kept me going for the next four months.

“Her name was Saya Makinami.”
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Re: An Insider's Look

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Postby Gryphon117 » Tue Aug 03, 2021 4:32 am

And so starts the flashback chapter. I don't want to spend too much time on this (Shinji is still waiting), but I have to explain some of Mari's backstory at some point.

I tried to do a different narrative style for this part. Let me know what you guys think about it. ^_^

Chapter 18  SPOILER: Show
September 20th, 2000

She was the student council president for the local high school, a girl of seventeen who wouldn't have stuck out among other girls her age. She was plain, neither tall nor short, with black hair done in twin pigtails and a pair of stylish glasses as the only really noticeable thing about her. Like, if you looked up the definition of student council president, Saya's picture would have been there.

Hell, she was still wearing her school uniform when we first met.

"I feel like I've seen that somewhere before."

Yeah, well, I'll get to that eventually.

The first few days after the Impact were rough, but not as awful as the media likes to spin it. It probably was a lot worse in the big cities, sure, but in the more rural areas of Japan like Tosashimizu public order was fairly stable. I guess with natural disasters being as common as they are around here and all the training and indoctrination that goes with that, our sense of community against Second Impact won over anarchy, at least for a while. The JSDF's quick response with helping survivors and setting up refugee camps also helped a lot, too. The troops had a small JASDF helibase nearby to set up camp and logistics lines from, so that's probably why it only took them a day or two to set the whole thing up.

In any case, our camp had around two thousand people after the first week, down from the twelve thousand that lived in the town before Impact. Not all of them were casualties, a lot of the surviving population of the town simply moved further inland because they were afraid of a second wave, either by foot or random vehicles or by using JSDF convoys doing the routes to the bigger bases in Matsuyama and the Kagawa area. Saya was one of the people who decided to stay, and I remained with her like some lost puppy, helping her out at camp with the duties she had quickly taken for herself.

I guess student council presidents everywhere are all workaholics like that.

"That should be it for today's rounds," Saya said at the end of one of the day's patrols. We were close to a cliff overlook towards the sea. "How are you holding up, Machi-chan?"

That was me, by the way. 'Machi' is how I was known around our group in camp. A nickname that Saya gave me and a bit of a habit that she had for everyone she met.

"A play on city girl, I suppose? What's your name, anyway? The real one, I mean."

I don't know. I've been remembering a lot of things about Saya and my previous life these past few weeks, but that's one of the things that still hasn't come back. Can't say I really care, either. But anyway…

I told her I was fine, no more wounds anywhere, maybe a bit more bluntly than I meant to. But if she was offended by it, Saya didn't show it. She just smiled and took it in stride like she always did.

"I can see that, silly. I was talking about you, you. You've been quiet ever since we found you and some of the older folks are getting a bit worried. I am, too."

I still wasn't over the whole 'losing my entire life' thing, and clearly, everyone had noticed. They probably were afraid that I would do something stupid and start a chain of tragedies. To their credit, I had toyed with the idea a few times already, so it's not like they were wrong.

"Don't worry, I don't mean to push you. Take your time, but just remember that you aren't alone. We all understand," Saya continued, sitting on a bench and inviting me over. "I'm still having trouble adapting to not being so busy every day, so feel free to chat with me about anything. I'll be glad for the distraction."

I took a seat next to her and watched as Saya stared at the horizon. The sea was calm, relaxing, a very different sight from what it must have been when it had flooded into Tosashimizu a week prior. I know that I had trouble looking at the water and I had not even been there to experience it, but Saya didn't seem bothered at all.

And honestly? That bothered me.

That was when I asked her straight out: hadn't she lost anyone during Second Impact? Family, friends? Saya had mentioned in passing before that the Tosashimizu high school was very small, but the fact that she must have personally known every single student and teacher who didn't survive the tragedy made matters even worse.

How could she stay so cheerful around so much death? Wasn't she afraid that the dead and their surviving relatives would resent her for it?

Saya looked at me with some surprise at first, and a small frown second. I thought for a moment that I had finally gone and offended her, but she quickly proved me wrong.

"You think they are angry? With you? With me?" Saya turned the tables with another question. "Tell me. Why would they be? Did you bring the wave crashing against the city? Did I do it?"

I had no answer to that. It was a logical argument, completely airtight, but to me it still felt wrong. I tried to think of ways to counter it but failed miserably.

Meanwhile, Saya stared back at the sea, and for just an instant, she looked sorrowful, like yet another one of the faces in the refugee camp.

"…Of course I remember the dead, and of course I'm sad that they're not here. But I want to believe that they wouldn't want me to stop where they left me. They would want me to carry on the baton and press forward." Saya turned to me again, with an encouraging smile. "I think the same is true for you: no one blames you, Machi-chan. The ones that got left behind only want you to keep going for them. For the friends we couldn't save. For the friends we might yet help."

I made a valiant effort to hold it in, but that was when I broke down, all tears and snot, a real mess. Saya put her arms around my shoulders and held me tightly for as long as it took me to get it all out of my system. A long time, probably.

It's obvious in hindsight, but I still needed to hear that. To hear that no one could fault me for being alive, that it was alright for me to have survived where everyone else had not. That I had a right to move on with my life.

"There, there. Let it all out, let it all wash away." Saya whispered comforting words in my ear. "From now on, you're a new you, Machi-chan, and you are going to live your new life to the fullest. You can't make tomorrow better without improving today first, after all."

"…She sounds like a nice girl."

…She sure was. Saya was bright, driven, the kind of person who always sees the glass half-full. Like, we had just lived through the end of the world and, despite everything she had lost, she still marched forward, always saying the same: 'can't make tomorrow better without improving today first'. 'For the friends we couldn't save and for the friends we might yet help.' Those were her mantras against depression and hopelessness and she repeated them every chance she had.

They were dumb, like some stupid line from a self-improvement book. But when Saya said any of it, it felt genuine, like something anyone could rally around and push from. That was why she had little problem winning people to her side, it didn't matter if it was a scary man trying to survive no matter what or a grieving woman who had just lost both husband and child. Saya would eventually get to them both.

She wasn't some miracle worker, of course, I saw her fail plenty of times, but Saya never let those failures hold her back. She was stubborn like a mule, but in the good sense, and she was inspiring because of it. I'm not exaggerating when I say that Saya was one of the people that kept us all together. She had an iron will for a seventeen year old girl. A born leader.

Everything that I wasn't. I was just a random girl from Tokyo who was in way over her head, average to a fault, the kind that fades into the background while the real characters of the story do the talking and the heroics.

But even a nobody like me got something out of Saya's day to day cheering; I did and I learned. I hurt myself and I learned. I failed and I learned. Doing better and better each and every time, the sense of satisfaction I got out of it feeling almost like a drug, pushing me for more, faster, better.

For the friends we couldn't save. For the friends we might yet help.

"Looks like she really got you with the motivation speech."

…Yeah. Like I said, Saya had a way with people. Always knew exactly what to say to light a fire under almost anyone. Granted, she had it easy with me. I had been dancing in the palm of her hand since day one.

But anyway, that was roughly the time when I changed the way I viewed things: I'd earned myself a spot in the Tosashimizu community by then and began thinking of my stay in the town and Second Impact as another step in my life, a growing experience, rather than just this massive tragedy.

I was lucky, too. I had a comfortable life, all things considered, as much as anyone could get after the end of the world, anyway. I was alive, I was safe, and I didn't need to worry about my next meal. I would just keep helping out around camp, follow the military's directions for a while and before I knew it, I would be back at home, in Tokyo, with my family. I'd have grown as a person and everything would go back to being how it used to be, the start of the second chapter in my normal, average life.

But of course, that thought didn't age well.
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Re: An Insider's Look

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Postby Gryphon117 » Tue Aug 10, 2021 9:29 am

Here's another quick update. I want to try and finish the whole flashback chapter before I restart work in September, so let's see if the writing chops are on point for that deadline.

For now, though, enjoy! ^_^

Chapter 18-2  SPOILER: Show
September 27th, 2000

That was the day I heard that Tokyo had been nuked.

"Yeah… One of the things I'm glad I didn't have to see. Your people wouldn't happen to know anything about who was responsible, would they? I've been told that the culprits were labelled as 'terrorists' when the dust settled down, but I've never bought that explanation. Terrorists don't have access to warheads large enough to level half of Tokyo."

Nothing completely certain, but the terrorists were bull, yeah. Over the years we've brought down the possibilities to a handful of candidates but we don't have enough proof to point fingers at anyone. What we do know is that the attack was very likely not sanctioned by the government of any of our suspect countries. A splinter faction with a grudge making the worst of the post Second Impact instability is our current hypothesis.

"And it's not like we Japanese have a shortage of those."

No. No, we don't.

In any case, a part of me hoped that my family had moved out of the city, but the rational part of my mind knew better. Tokyo was one of the few big cities in Japan that managed to keep public order in check after Second Impact, so it made no sense at all for my family to leave the city, to leave a safe haven.

With the nuke exploding right on City Hall the chances of them being alive were close to zero. If the blast itself had not killed them, the riots and panic surely had. In the short time I had been with the Tosashimizu group I had already seen my fair share of the cruel side of humanity, and we were in a fairly depopulated part of the country. What was left of Tokyo was likely a warzone.

In a few minutes, the main reason behind my newfound motivation had vanished. My classmates were gone, my family was gone, any chance of a new 'normal' in the future of that second chapter I had wanted to start had just been blown into tiny little atoms.

And you know the best part of it all? Tokyo was nuked on my sixteenth birthday. Talk about a nice present.

Obviously, I threw whatever thoughts I might have had about my birthday to the very back of my mind. You know, it wasn't exactly the best time for it. But Saya had other ideas.

"So! Are you ready for your big moment?" she asked me out of nowhere.

It took me a second to process her question, and I remember looking around at all the downcast expressions around our part of the camp and being this close to snapping at Saya, asking her if she was fucking serious. I knew that she had been looking forward to throwing me a birthday party, but we had just been nuked! And it had been Tokyo, no less! Everyone had someone they knew living or working there! I had just almost certainly lost my family there!

I managed to keep my temper in check, though, and instead I settled for asking if that was really the time for birthday parties considering the circumstances. But Saya didn't even let me finish.

"Of course it is! Now is the best time for it! Celebrations are the things that keep spirits flying!"

Anyone else would have been shouted down without mercy, but the only comeback Saya received was angry mumblings and some of the people around us shifting to look at her. She then put her hands on her hips and grinned at me.

"So now that we've all remembered that, why don't you give us a big smile? You don't turn sixteen every day!"

Now I was the one being put in the spot and everyone turned to look at me. Some were curious, some were pissed, but I was quick to notice that most of the faces that turned to stare my way actually looked anxious.

They had gotten used to Saya's speeches, to her relentless positivity and the way she pushed everyone around her, and they wanted… no, needed Saya's words to keep striking true. To prove that everything she had done and said until then had not been a fluke, and that we could keep relying on her support in the future.

In hindsight, we had become so dependent on this seventeen year old girl that it was scary.

But I didn't consider that at the time. I just saw the begging looks on half those people and caved under the pressure. So I did my part and smiled. And I did my best, but it probably wasn't a great smile. Not that Saya cared, she just took that admission as a green light and raced away to throw me the best birthday party ever, and the part of the camp that had been waiting on pins and needles for my reaction rushed off behind her to help with this and that. In little more than an hour Saya and her group had cleared a small part of the camp and set everything up.

It wasn't some huge party, of course. Just a few crappy tables with drinks and food and some random music playing in a CD player that had survived the end of the world, I didn't even know the singers. But Saya was right, the festive atmosphere did make us feel better, help us forget about the world for a pair of hours, and we needed that. Even the hardliners who had been against the party from the beginning cracked a small smile here and there in the end. It was a subtle reminder of Saya's usual messages: don't forget about those you have lost, but don't let their memory stop you, either.

For the friends we couldn't save. For the friends we can yet help.

Sometime in the middle of the party, Saya suddenly disappeared for a bit and then came back waving a small package in her hand.

"I've got a present for you, Machi-chan!" she yelled loud enough for half the camp to hear, then pressed the package into my hands when everyone turned to look our way. It was a rough envelope, just a piece of brown paper with some tape and a small red bow on top, but it was enough to leave me shocked in place for a bit. The birthday party had been one thing, but getting a present was unexpected on a different level. "What are you waiting for? Open it!"

I followed Saya's excited orders and carefully opened the package: inside was a small digital camera and a charger, out of the box, fully powered and ready to use. At the time, I wondered both about where she could have possibly found the camera and why she had gifted me a camera to begin with. I then realised that I had mentioned losing my own camera in passing and that I had been looking forward to taking pictures of famous landmarks in Kyushu. Saya must have remembered that and believed that I was especially attached to the thing, or something. I still appreciated the present, of course.

"Come on, come on! We have to use it for the first time!" Saya exclaimed, then began rounding all the people around and handed the camera to a volunteer. Half a minute later and we were all grinning like idiots at the cameraman, some more genuinely than others, until three or four flashes came out of the camera.

After that, everyone disbanded and began to tidy the place up, but Saya stopped me when I went to help. Said that 'I should make the most of this special day and leave the work to them'.

I knew that I wouldn't change her mind, so I went to the small overlook where I had spoken to Saya the week before and sat down on the bench, instead. I figured that she would eventually make her way here since the overlook had become our little hang-out spot of sorts, and made time by taking some pictures of the calm sea and the slowly setting sun, and of the trees swaying in the gentle breeze. A few minutes of that, and I sat back down again to look at my unfocused and very much amateur work.

I stopped when I reached the group picture of the party. As I looked into the camera's little screen, at first I saw twenty or so dirty half-strangers huddled together for a picture, but then I realised that I could name each and every one of them, tell what they liked, if they had lost or wanted to find someone important, and so on.

There was Ta-kun, the butcher's son, who followed on the family tradition and was strong as an ox. Kasumi-san, a nurse from the town clinic that was helping out the medical volunteers. Kurono-san, a retired firefighter who had lost his children and had taken both me and Saya under his wing, so to speak…

That was when the spell finally broke and it hit me again: my family was dead. I could shield myself in Saya's words as much as I wanted, believe that they wouldn't fault me for honouring their memory in my own way, but that didn't change the simple fact that I was now alone in the world.

I broke down crying again when I realised that. I had a real talent for crying back then.

That was when Saya showed up and hugged me from behind.

"Hey, Machi," she told me, pointing at the screen of the camera. "We can be your family, for as long as you want."

I must have made a weird face at that time, because Saya turned to look my way and started laughing like mad.

"What? I know we'll never compare to the original, but you don't think I can be your cool big sis?"

…That was it, I had a sister. I had a surrogate father of sorts, I had friends and people that depended on me. I still had a place in the world. It wasn't anywhere near to where I had started, but that didn't matter. I decided right then that I would fight tooth and nail for Saya and the others, come what may.

I also hugged Saya back, and told her that cool sisters didn't wear dorky glasses. And then-

"That's cute and all, but we're getting side-tracked. Remember what I said about your storytelling and going to bed?"

…Okay, fine. Here I am, pouring my heart out about some of the most important moments of my life and you rush me. Someone needs to learn to respect her elders.

"I don't have all night and I'd like to fool my brain into thinking I slept a little. Get a move on."


…In any case, if we ignore the nuclear attack and the millions of dead, my sixteenth birthday actually turned out kind of okay. But by dusk, Japan had gone on full alert and JSDF forces all over the country were being pulled back to Tokyo and other main cities to prevent the possibility of another nuke going off. The retreat was anything but organised, with soldiers and auxiliary personnel spending a single morning rushing to grab whatever supplies would fit on their transports and then driving or flying back to Tokyo.

Tosashimizu had another exodus with the retreat of the JSDF, only this time it was mostly on foot. By the end of the day only five hundred folks remained at the camp, and we were left with absolutely no supervision, just the very overworked medical volunteers and a bunch of leftover supplies, both civilian and military, that the soldiers had left behind.

"I can see where this is going…"

Yeah, despite the happy atmosphere that had existed a few hours ago, things in my 'new family' went south quick.
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Re: An Insider's Look

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Postby Gryphon117 » Mon Sep 13, 2021 10:33 am

Sorry for the long wait, writer's block hit me hard on this one. I spent quite some time experimenting with how I wanted to tell the next months of the flashback, but everything I tried ended up becoming too bloated for the purposes of this chapter. Eventually, I took the scorched earth approach and completely gutted everything that wasn't absolutely essential to the plot, and then tried my best to tie it all together with the narration. I think it came out quite well all things considered, and that I manage to hit the emotional notes I wanted to hit without veering too far into the cheap drama pit. You guys are the final judges of that, though, so please let me know if I failed horribly or not. There still time to change things around if necessary.

One more scene and we move on to Asuka and Shinji. I promise. :nyao:

Chapter 18-3  SPOILER: Show
September 31st, 2000

Things got… rough after that.

I won't bore you with the details, but there was fear in the air. Everyone at camp had heard the radio reports of anarchy reigning in some parts of Japan, even while the JSDF had been trying to keep the peace. The cases had been confined to the fringe areas of Kyushu and Hokkaido for the most part, far away from us, but what was going to happen now that the JSDF wasn't around to keep the peace? Now that everywhere not close to a major metropolis was a 'fringe area'?

For almost a week, everyone kept arguing and fighting over one thing or another: whether we should stay or go, who should get priority on the leftover supplies, what the plan was going to be if we ran out of food or medicine and the situation had not stabilised yet… and so on.

For the most part sensible heads prevailed, but the situation got worse when some of the less successful people in the camp armed themselves to get their point across. Up until then, grabbing one of the left behind weapons had been an unspoken taboo, but the moment those morons broke it not even ten minutes passed before every single gun in the camp had been claimed.

And that was exactly when someone in the camp realised that the abandoned JASDF helibase probably had a lot more supplies just waiting there for anyone to claim them. A mad scramble for the rights to all that treasure ensued and the tensions reached their peak, the camp organically dividing itself into three groups, little by little. One of the factions claimed that we should use our power to scour the immediate areas for anything of use, and take it by force if necessary, justifying themselves with the good old 'anyone else would the same in our situation'. Another, more moderate group, advocated minimal outside contact and the use of the weaponry to close off our borders to any outsiders, so that we could prevent threats and extend our supplies for as long as possible. The third group, with Kurono-san at the head, pushed for keeping to the status-quo as much as possible, trying to establish cordial relationships with other outposts in a similar situation to ours and cooperate to ensure the well-being of all. Knowing that there was no way the guns would peacefully go back to the boxes anymore, Kurono-san also claimed that they should only be used as a last resort against clearly hostile invaders.

Or rather, both him and Saya did. Everyone knew that while Kurono-san was the face of our group, Saya had a lot of influence in both the decision-making and almost constant camp arguments. Hell, a lot of the folks in our partition were there because of Saya and Kurono-san was fully aware of that, welcomed it, even. The old man keenly listened to Saya's input when she offered it, then improved any perceived weaknesses in her reasoning with his many years of life experience.

They made for a good combination that got around half of the camp on our side of the argument, not that democratic majorities mattered for much when pistols and other automatic handguns were such a common sight. For all the gun-waving and anger on display no tragic accidents happened, though, which I recall finding odd at the time, although in hindsight I guess I understand: it was a small town, everyone knew each other. Some girl could be friends with a boy whose father was married to the local baker, who was friends with the sister of the neighbourhood policewoman, whose parents used to live next to the old couple from Nagasaki, and so on.

The peace was kept because of those bonds, but everyone knew that a single bullet would break the entire chain. We were lucky that no one was brave or crazy enough to actually fire that bullet.

Eventually, and after an entire week of arguments, an agreement was reached on what to do with the helibase: representatives from every group would set up camp at the JASDF base and oversee a schedule for the scavenging teams, which would be limited to three people and carry a single handgun for self-defence in case of emergency. Those same representatives would ensure the rationing of the scavenged supplies, so that no one group walked away with a larger share than the others.

Things didn't go as well with the bigger schism, though, and the two smaller factions took a share of supplies and left the camp to found their own settlements around the helibase.

In any case, when I heard about the scavenging agreement and that Saya would be in one of the teams I decided that that was my chance. I had done nothing but leech off of Saya's kindness and decided to change that, so I ignored Saya's protests and grabbed a pistol from our box at camp. I volunteered to be the defender in her group.

I would at least keep her safe.

Our side of the camp was very wary of weapons in general, so no one really fought me for the privilege. I spent some time familiarising myself with the gun after that, under Saya's disapproving eyes. It was a small 9mm, a P220. About as easy to use as handheld weaponry gets.

The first time I fired it I almost dropped it, the noise and the recoil taking me by surprise. I was an idiot girl used to seeing the action heroes in movies fire two pistols at the same time in impossible angles, you know? Like in The Matrix?

"Never watched that movie."

Fix that, you're missing out. One of the best things Keanu Reeves did before he died in Second Impact.

In any case, I religiously practised for weeks. I grabbed a bunch of cans, set them up on a table and shot them with so many holes that they couldn't stand upright. I figured out how the pistol's safety worked, how to reload it and how to use the iron sights. I learned proper firing posture and how to take care of the components from some of the friendlier people at the other camps, and also how to treat the gun with respect to avoid any accidents. I got myself a holster and made sure to carry the pistol around everywhere I went.

I ended up getting into it quite a bit, and my sudden fascination with the pistol made me kind of unpopular at our camp. My training spooked most of the people in it and openly carrying the gun around didn't help matters, but I refused to let it out of my sight for even one second. Saya kept me company a lot of the times I trained, too, but it was clear that she approved of the whole thing as little as she had the first day, even if she never voiced her concerns.

I tried to ignore all of it, to remind myself of why I had picked up the gun in the first place, but doing so became harder and harder as time went on.

Three months passed, Christmas and New Year's came and went, and 2001 was looking like a better time to be alive than the end of the millennium had been. The weeks had been peaceful in our little corner of Japan, with some small arguments over a piece of scrap or another and some travelling groups as the biggest issues, and the news spoke of how the major governments of the world were coming together to chart a path forward after Second Impact and put a stop to what almost became World War 3. The atmosphere at camp was positive, in short.

But as February approached, someone must have felt that time was running out.

"What do you mean?"


...Did you know that the post-Second Impact months were a golden age for espionage? With most of the countries in the world too busy keeping a hold over their population to worry about state security anywhere but the capital areas, plenty of state secrets were ripe for the taking for the agencies with the initiative to do so. More industrial, military and political espionage ops were carried out in those four months than in the prior ten years combined. Everyone wanted a juicy piece about their neighbours, for personal use, political leverage or as preparation for any hostilities.

That day we got caught in one such raid.

"An intel raid? In southern Shikoku? That makes no sense, there's nothing there."

That's what we thought, too, but as it turns out, the tiny Tosashimizu base of the JASDF wasn't nearly as tiny as we believed. It had a whole underground sector behind some of the doors that were security locked.

"...That's the first I've heard about any of that."

I'm not surprised. The place obviously wasn't in use at the time and it's likely that it's been long since demolished. But up until the summer before Second Impact it had housed two underground sub-pens for testing on the next generation of submarines, prototypes of sonar, hydrophones, torpedoes and the like. This I learned after I joined up with my benefactors.

"Are we getting close to that point, while we're at it?"

…It was just like any other day. Kurono-san, Saya and me, heading up to the helibase on a Tuesday morning, sifting through packaged clothes, medicines and rations until midday then stopping for a quick lunch before we spent the afternoon loading carts and moving our haul back to camp. Business as usual, the same thing we had done tens of times before by then.

Things were so peaceful that some of the other groups had even stopped bringing their guns to the helibase. I didn't, but I also hadn't practised firing my pistol in a month by then. At one point Saya had begun getting pressured into making me stop my training and I decided to comply when I heard about it, because… I didn't want to cause trouble for her. There had been no trouble whatsoever since the scavenging agreement anyway, so it felt kind of pointless, too. Even Saya looked happier that I wasn't using the gun on the regular, so I felt like that was the biggest sign that I had made the right choice.

Obviously, I had been very wrong.

It was getting close to dusk that day when Kurono-san hung back a few steps on one of the hallways, looking back at the storage room that we had been searching all morning with a careful look to him. I asked him what the problem was, but he quickly hushed me silent, looking like he had seen something in the room. His mouth opened, and the old man didn't even have time to say anything before his body exploded in a shower of blood. Two shots to the torso, one to the head, and Kurono-san fell to the ground like a puppet that just had its strings cut.

I froze. I'd seen many actors 'die' in movies but the harsh, visceral reality was much worse than anything I could have imagined. One second Kurono-san was there, and the next he wasn't, all the years of his life, every single experience snuffed out in an instant. I had enough presence of mind not to scream in terror, but that was everything I could manage.

"Come on! This way!"

Saya was the one who had to grab my arm and pull me out of there. We ran deeper into the base and away from the shots, and I could hear the others running and screaming as they were shot down without mercy. Our group had not been alone in the base that day and I guess some of the others tried to fight back, but it didn't matter. It was a massacre.

Half the planet was gone, what did a few more corpses matter?

Saya and I ended up in the upper floor of one of the larger storage areas, huddled together in a corner between some boxes. We were terrified, but tried our hardest to stay quiet. We could hear people walking around us and past us, talking to each other in a foreign language as the metal floor creaked under their weight. The gunshots had stopped long ago and the smell of gunpowder was heavy in the air, but the soldiers still patrolled for what felt like an eternity.

Eventually, one of them stopped, a single person. I don't know if something tipped the soldier off or if it was plain bad luck, but he stepped into the back of the room and walked closer and closer to our position. No matter how small we made ourselves, it would only be a matter of seconds before we were spotted.

That was when I decided, I had to protect Saya, no matter what. That was all I thought about as I grabbed the pistol with shaky hands and rose to my knees. Saya tried to stop me when she noticed, but it was too late, I popped out of our hiding place with a scream and levelled the gun at the soldier, then pulled on the trigger with all my strength.

And nothing happened. I had forgotten to take off the safety, and the gun refused to budge when I squeezed the trigger, no matter how hard. I just closed my eyes and kept on trying anyway, because I was too much of a damn moron to realise what was wrong.

…If only I had shown a backbone back then, maybe things would have been different. If I hadn't fallen to peer pressure and kept on practising with the pistol, maybe Saya would still be alive.

But I didn't. And I bet the soldier was laughing at me behind his mask, because he didn't even bother wasting a bullet on the stupid girl that got in his way. He just took out his knife and gutted me like a fish in one single motion, shoulder to hip, then kicked me off the platform to bleed out below. As I fell hard on my back against the ground I heard a struggle above and a scream, and Saya landed next to me a second later, pushed off the walkway like another piece of garbage.

I had failed, and her wound was… much worse than mine. Saya had been stabbed, right in… right in the heart. One of her main arteries had probably been severed, judging by how fast her shirt was going red.

But Saya still turned to me. She… reached over to grab my hand. She didn't hate me for failing her… for getting her killed. She saw that I was in pain, that I was terrified and… and she worried more about me than herself, like… like Saya always did.

I stared back and I… I saw the colour slowly drain from her face, her… breathing become faster and faster and her eyes slowly lose focus. Her hand became freezing cold, but… but until the light in her eyes vanished, Saya held tight.

And she just…

She just… smiled at me. Smiled at… at her friend.


A bottle of whisky breaking against the bar brought Misato crashing back to reality.

"Woah! What are you-!?"

"She just smiled at me! Until the very end, she was thinking of me! Of others!" Mari slammed her fists on the counter and the wooden surface caved in like an eggshell. "She did all that and I just… everything Saya said, everything Saya was! I just… I just forgot all about it! How could I… forget her words?"

Misato watched as Mari slowly brought her hands to her head. The girl was shaking, her eyes wide, her breathing laboured and her teeth pressed together into an angry snarl. For a few moments, it looked as if she was trying her hardest to let something out, but nothing ever did.

"…Dammit, I can't even cry."
Author of a few decent Eva stories, which can be found here.

Currently working on a new project: An Insider's Look

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