Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Tue Jan 05, 2021 11:50 pm

Oh right, I never made a thread for that one when I totally could've.

So I actually got the idea for this from something in the suggestion thread in this very forum, I'm not sure how much the end product really resembles what the original prompter has in mind.

Basically it's a scenario where the pilots are childhood friends and Shinji is living with his parents like in episode 26 (well, really more like SIRP or Iron Maiden 2nd), but the plot is still set to happen in a serious, original-series like manner... basically everyone starts out with good relations but then the plot strains that & the fact that the characters know each other puts a different spin on things.
Originally the idea was to have it gradually get from silly to serious, but then I got the idea to have most of it first-person narrated by Shinji-from-the-future, so yeah.

Expanded Universe characters are present as random classmates (like Mana in the SIRP game)

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0.0: The Three Prologues  SPOILER: Show
0.0 Die Drei Prologe

(0.1 Holy Mother)

Man found a God, and in their joy, they wished to obtain it, and they were punished for that transgression.

That was fourteen years ago.

The God that they found vanished, but even so, mankind kept looking to ressurect that God on their own, and that was Adam.

They took the rib of Adam, and from that, they created a Man who would be close to God…

and that was EVA.

And first among the EVAs was the true offspring of Lillith, the firstborn child of god -

birthed, not copied, of one being with the mother, light from light, true god from true god,

both god and Man alike.

But the divine plan had never ordained for such a creature to exist, so there was no soul to alloted to it in the chamber of Gauf.

The vessel EVA, which did not originally have a soul, would remain a lifeless doll unless a soul were to be given to it.

The God EVA would not answer prayers until a soul were ro be fed to it through the rite of human sacrifice.

So a faithful disciple offered herself upon the altar that was the throne of the soul.

She gave herself willingly with the heart of a martyr bound for heaven,

ready to leave behind all the joys and concern of the flesh, giving her very life as a sacrifice to protect the future of her child.

She gave herself knowingly with the mind of a sage bound for nirvana,

ready to cut herself on from the attachments of life, even if she should have to renounce the man that she loved.

Casting off her humanity, the disciple sought communion with God, certain that God herself would hear her plea, for was she not also a mother longing to protect her children?

As she passed into the holiest of holies, she finally heard a voice:

„Behold, here I am!“

„Take now thy son Shinji, thine only son, whom thou lovest, and get thee to the land of Hakone; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon the entry plug which I will tell thee of!“

(0.2 Sand Dream)


I wonder when it all wrong.

It seems like just yesterday, I could never have imaged that things might turn out like this…

All our hopes and prayers, all our efforts and every dream I ever had -

it seems like they were all in vain.

Were we all doomed from the start, our doom pre-ordained from time immemorial?

Or was there something I could have done, something I failed to do?

Was it all decided before I was even born, during that incident at my parents’ lab which foretold the coming of the angels?

Was my destiny set in stone since mom’s experiment, or could it all have been different if Ayanami hadn't had that accident?

Or are those all just excuses… Justifactions to avoid facing the truth of the matter.

Didn’t I seal my own fate during the debacle with Unit Three and the events that followed?

Didn’t I make this inevitable when I lost control of the EVA?

Didn’t I do this myself, on the fateful day on which EVA 01 spread its unholy wings?

I’m not sure where this story starts, but I have to start telling it somewhere.

Preserved inside this world of blood red crystal is one single impression that lingers when all else seems to have faded away, one stubborn last glimmer of light and regret that I know to be mine, locked away safely inside the furthest depths of my soul even when all that I am threatens to dissolve into the crystalline vaults of data like a drop in the ocean -

It is the image of a classroom, mundane, ordinary, unremarkable in every way.

In the world that was, there were a hundred millions like it.

It is filled with smiling faces.

I think one of them was mine.

Ah, yes.

I remember now.

I think it all began when I started middle school…

(0.3 Harbinger )

June 6th 2004

T minus 10 years, six months and 24 days

Excerpt from the Journal of Dr. Yui Ikari

Today is Shinji’s third birthday.

But unfortually, neither myself nor Gendo were able to take the day off from work.

When we can’t make it home during crunch time, we usually leave him with my brother or my old music tutor, but I really didn’t want to leave him alone on such a special day.

So I decided to bring him with us to the lab instead. I didn’t want to impose on the members of our team, especially not now that the day of our big experiment is soon at hand, so I made sure to ask around in advance. To my relief, none of them seemed bothered to have him there.

In fact, they went out of their way to throw a party for him!

Not only did they order an artisanal cake from an upscale bakery, they decorated one of our break-rooms and many of them even brought their own children so that Shinji would have someone to celebrate with. Langley and Makinami both brought their daughters.

Katsuragi’s and Akagi’s kids were of course rather too old to play with Shinji and his friends, but the two of them volunteered to look after them while we all worked! They even brought along some of their friends from College to help, and so the kids were well-entertained.

Shinji was so happy!

He even made a new friend.

Granted, he’s not exactly an ordinary kid.

We’ve given him the name ‘Nagisa Kaworu’.

He is an angel – One who bears witness to man’s folly in God’s place.

1.0 LUST / Path of Thoughtlessness  SPOILER: Show

Layer 10: Path of Thoughtlessness

(There is a book with seven seals.

The top of it is covered in numerous hermetic symbols.

It stands on a gothic lectern of carven stone with a flock of burning red candles at its top.

The first is a seal of blue wax, imprinted with the likeness of a cow.

Before it stands a woman.

She breaks the seal.)

BESPECTACLED WOMAN WITH BARETTE: „I release upon you the deadly sin of Lust. The insanity of mankind shall bring forth ruin.“


(There is a stage.

On the stage, there is a spotlight.

In the spotlight, there is a folding chair.

In the chair, there is a bespectacled girl with twin-tails. )

(The girl is wearing what looks to be a fancy school uniform, perhaps belonging to some expensive private school, and a blue Alice Band in her hair.

The girl is playing the flute.

A lively melody reverbs through the empty room.)


GLASSES GIRL: „Because it‘s fun, duh.“

(Without a care in the world, she bounces her legs.)

GLASSES GIRL: „What, do I need a reason or something? You know, if you always whack your brains about everything you do, you‘ll miss out on all the fun of living!“

(Despite, her earlier nonchalance, her voice now takes on a more serious tone)

GLASSES GIRL: „We live in a severe reality. If we do nothing, everything we know is going to be destroyed. I don‘t see how anyone wouldn‘t go and fight if they know anything about the state of this world.“

(The spotlight fades)

( 1. 0 : Childhood’s End )

My name, I think, was Shinji Ikari, and as unreal as it sounds now, all things considered I would say that I had a happy childhood.

I wasn’t especially impressive, ambitious or gifted, but all in all I didn’t worry too much about my place in this world. When we had to write an essay about out future class in school, my answer was that while I didn’t have any particular plans yet, I still had enough time to figure it out & had good reason to hope that I would certainly find something.

My music teacher said that I was pretty good at playing the Cello, so I considered that I might end up as a musician on some sort, though I didn’t think I had it in me to be a famous performer or soloist. Though I wasn’t especially shy or anything like that, I had always been the quiet, introverted type, and didn’t really have the kind of confidence or charisma that one would need to go on stage. Being the center of attention was simply not my cup of tea. But maybe I could simply be a player in a professional orchestra?

Though I had some interest in stargazing and the mysteries of space, I was pretty sure that I wasn’t suited to being a researcher like my parents. Way too much math!

I wasn’t bad at school… my friends had actually got jealous at times… but I wasn’t topping the scoreboards either, like my friend Asuka. She said that that was probably because I was just a nice obedient kid that studied meekly when they were told, and that I was doomed to end up as an ordinary Salaryman, but I honestly didn’t think that would be so bad. Asuka’s the ambitious type herself, and whenever she saw anything with a score or a list of any sort, she would be overcome by the irresistible desire to see her name at its top. Sometimes I wasn’t quite sure if she understood that not everyone is as competitive as she is. If I did OK in school, she would think that I should aim to be top of the class, and if I mentioned that I had tried my hand a writing a novel, she’d ask me when I was going to publish it, even though I’m sure that I was never good enough to even consider that -

It was just something I did for fun, or for my own peace of mind, so the pressure of needing it to succeed would only take my place of calm away from me.

But hey, since my parents often worked late, I had learned to cook pretty well as of late, so I supposed I could always open a restaurant or something.

Growing up, I didn’t really know very much about my parents’ work, and I didn’t really think about it, either.

I knew that they were researchers of some sort, and what their institute was called, and that seemed to be enough. In the end, my parents were just my parents:

My wise, gentle mom who always knew just how to soothe me when I was upset,

and my bold, fearless dad whose determination could persevere through every obstacle.

I think now that I might have taken that for granted.

Feeling my mom’s gentleness, I thought that I could be happy wherever I went, knowing that I was loved.

Feeling my dad’s strength, I felt like I could stand on my own two feet confidently, ready to face new challenges.

For as long as I knew, the two of them had been working at a place called the Laboratory for Artificial Evolution. My music teacher once told me that their work is important to humanity.

But when I asked my uncle about it, it seemed to hit a nerve- if I ever brought it up, he would comment that he didn’t really want anything to do with the ‘family business’ – (He was mother’s older brother) though he never really explained what he meant. I don’t think he got along that well with father, either, but I never thought about it much.

I definitely had no sense that their work would one day decide the course of my life, let alone that of the entire world.

Like a leaf drifting along on a current, I had no idea of the plunging waterfalls that awaited me just a bit further downstream. Sigh…. I’m sure by now you probably think that this is is supposed to be some sort of excuse, that it was my duty to know better, and maybe it was…

I’m not sure if there’s even anything left that I can say – anything I say can and will be used against me. Whatever I do is gonna be wrong, some shameless attempt to justify myself rubbing salt into the wounds of the multitudes…

I’m not trying to defend myself. But if you wish to understand why events turned out as they did, I need you to understand this:

At the time that our story begins, I was just a few months shy of thirteen.

I was still a child. If there’s anything I will never doubt, it’s that.

When my parents told me that I would be attending class 1-A of the Tokyo-3 First Municipal Middle School, I thought that I had cause for joy.

I was too innocent to find it strange that people as well-off as my parents would send their child of to what, on the surface, looked to be typical public school. I was told that it was special school for staff from the Laboratory, and that made sense enough. I knew that Mrs. Makinami, who was one of mom’s co-workers, had sent off her daughter to a fancy private boarding school, but I had no expectation that the same would happen to me. I knew my parents’ work was important, so I didn’t question why the government would be funding their school. I knew next to nothing about economics or politics.

All that mattered to me was that I would be in the same class as Touji and Kensuke, my old friends from elementary school. I wasn’t as good at making friends as Asuka for example, so the ones I had been able to make were very precious to me, and I was happy that we would be able to keep hanging out together. The two of them had known each other since the nursery. I think at first, Kensuke only wanted to talk to be because he’d heard a rumor that I was the kid of the people who ran the mysterious research lab downtown, and Touji has told me since that his own first impression of me wasn’t actually that dazzling, but however it might have started out, over time, we ended up becoming inseparable. Alas, this only meant Hikari ended up calling us the ‘idiot trio’ or something like that… Hikari is another student I knew from elementary school. She was our class representative then, and I think she will also be going to the same school as us. Touji and Kensuke weren’t exactly delighted about it, but I didn’t really mind all that much. Sure, she might be strict and everything, but she only meant well.

But I had even more to look forward to:

This year, Asuka and I would also be in the same class!

Oh, I should probably tell you about Asuka.

We’ve been friends since we were children.

You can picture her as a really brave girl with flaming red hair. She is veryathletic, gets good grades and she definitely has the gall to beat up kids twice her size.

People are usually surprised when they hear that she’s friends with someone like me.

I can’t really say how it happened, except that we were in the same place at the same time at some critical point in the past.

She’s the sort of friend that I could never see myself making today, but somehow, the plodding flow of my life had always swept her along.

I’d actually first met her when I went to visit my parents at the lab – or so I’m told – but as far as I remember, she had always been a part of my life. In the earliest memories I have, we’re already thick as thieves, and we would often play with some other children that we’d met at the lab, like Mrs. Makinami’s daughter and Nagisa Kaworu-kun. Maybe I’ll tell you about them some other time.

Asuka’s mother was another scientist who worked at my parents’ lab, Miss Soryu. Well, actually, she was still ‘Mrs. Langley’ back then.

Before her parents divorced, I used to see Asuka several times a week, but after that, her father left the country and moved back to Europe, where he soon found a new wife.

While we were in elementary school, Asuka spent most of her time in Germany with her father and the new Mrs. Langley. They even had a daughter of their own somewhere down the line.

But she would still stop by Japan every summer to visit her birth mom (and her grandmother, part when she was still around), so we actually kept seeing each other with some regularity. Sometimes mom would even tell me stories about her that she’d heard from Ms. Soryu at work.

I even introduced her to my elementary school friends on occasion,but they kind of got up to a false start in some incident involving one of Touji’s prized hats…

Even so, I had not expected to be seeing her again until summer break, so imagine my surprise when she suddenly showed up at my door only few days before the end up spring break!

She had had a massive growth spurt over the last year and was now about a thumb’s width taller than me, though she was my junior by almost seven months – I remember thinking that she was wearing some slightly odd hair clips – they seemed almost clunky in their size, so that for a moment, I thought they might actually be headphones, but I quickly realized that they didn’t actually go down to her ears. Instead they poked out of her hair like the horns of a little red devil, but that had always been her favorite color, so I didn’t think it was too anomalous -

I guess I must have thought that those hair clips must be some newfangled fashion trend from Europe. Or at least, I feared that she would certainly get mad if I said anything weird about them.

That was probably the first sign – no, in hindsight, the whole setup should have been suspicious.

To my childlike mind then, it seemed only ‘fair’ that Ms. Soryu would get to have Asuka for her middle school days, since her father had already gotten her through elementary school. Besides, it seemed important that she should stay in Germany while her little sister is still a baby, but now she was six and would surely not forget all about Asuka if she went away for a while.

Now of course, I realized that none of this makes any sense -

To begin with, many German elementary schools still only go as far as fourth grade and there is no such thing as a middle school (A word equivalent to it exists, but it means a secondary school that only goes up to 10th grade and focuses on business and logistic skills), so Asuka would have been interrupting her secondary education to come here, to live in a foreign country that had a completely different education system. Since she still spoke Japanese with her birth mom on a regular basis, she had no problem speaking it, but like many bilingual children, she would spent the next month or so struggling to read and write it correctly, or asking me the meanings of random Kanjis.

Besides, the whole reason that Asuka ended up living with her father and stepmother was that her mother was something of a workaholic and completely absorbed in her research – Asuka probably gets her ambitious streak from her.

Mr. Langley simply had more time to take care of her, especially since he had his new wife to help.

There’s no way that a kid would be told about something like that, but it doesn’t take much thinking to figure out that Ms. Soryu’s focus on her work was probably the reason why her marriage fell apart in the first place. She hadn’t ever found a new boyfriend either – maybe she never looked for one in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, just from seeing how they acted around each other during Asuka’s visits, I’m sure that Ms. Soryu loved her daughter very much – but since she still got to see her pretty much every time she got a break from school, the previous arrangement seemed to suit her just fine.

Besides, it just seemed odd that she would take her daughter out of her familiar environment to make her attend what I still believed to be an ordinary municipal school, unless there were a completely different reason why Asuka had to move.

Everything about Asuka’s move to Japan should have been glaringly suspicious, but back then, all of that went squarely over my head.

I was never very comfortable with big changes, and going to middle school should have been no exception – after all, it would have meant that I was fast approaching childhood’s end – but this once, I wasn’t all that worried, because I knew that I would not be facing it alone.

Knowing that I would start the new school year surrounded by friends, I fancied myself the happiest little boy in the world.
Last edited by Kendrix on Wed Jan 06, 2021 12:26 am, edited 6 times in total.
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Tue Jan 05, 2021 11:58 pm

(put separately because wasn't there a post lenght limit?)

1.1 The Pleasure Garden  SPOILER: Show
(1.1: Der Lustgarten)


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.”

“What for?”

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.

“Uh, Mom…”

“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, “ 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.
Last edited by Kendrix on Wed Jan 06, 2021 1:48 am, edited 2 times in total.
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

Defender of Puppy Boy
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Tue Jan 05, 2021 11:58 pm

1.2 The Fig Leaf  SPOILER: Show
(1.2: Das Feigenblatt)

April 16th 2014

T minus 606 days

To the surprise of absolutely no-one, Asuka soon proved to be immensely popular with our new classmates and just about anyone else at our school.

Before I knew it, everyone and their dog was talking about her looks, her history and her many accomplishments, including her 1337 g4mr sk!ilz.

I’d always known that she was impressive, but it was a whole other thing to witness her awesome crazy jumps during PE class – the difference between her and the other girls was like that between an amateur and an Olympian athlete – at least, to a person like me who knows nothing about sports.

But even Touji looked comically flabbergasted.

Since we had now reached the age where girls and boys would be separated during PE classes, we only witnessed the spectacle from afar, while we were waiting for our turn at basketball while the boys from classes B and D were duking it out, but Kensuke got one of her most impressive sprint performances on camera. I was inwardly debating the moral dilemma of whether I owed it to her to inform her on this, but then, the little Asuka on the camcorder screen struck a victory pose and aimed a V-sign straight at the camera, making it obvious that she was perfectly aware of him.

Apparently, copies of that video clip had fetched a nice price with many of our fellow 7th grade boys – but for all that they had much swelled his pocket money, Kensuke and Touji could only shrug at the enthusiasm of their classmates. “Poor suckers! They have no idea!”

But pragmatic business decisions aside, Touji seemed more willing to cut them some slack: “I guess as long as she doesn’t talk, Soryu looks like any other pretty, intelligent girl. She does have model-level looks.”

“Eh, I don’t know. It’s not like we don’t have plenty of other hotties in our class.”

“You’re right! For once, that Kirishima chick is not so bad either!”

She was actually just a few paces behind Asuka in the sprint video, and ended up coming in second.

“She’s not bad, but I meant someone else.” With one swipe of his fingers, Kensuke summoned a different a different a different video reel to his trusty camera screen. “We’ve even got something like an actual celebrity!”

The small, pink-haired girl in the next clip wasn’t actually especially successful and only just barely managed to return the Volleyball that had been thrown at her, but one could tell she was doing her best. I don’t know if I would consider that laudable or sad.

“That one? Suzunami Kotone?”

“I’ve told you I’d seen her somewhere before! She’s actually gained some traction with online videos recently.” As if he’d planned this demonstration all along – which he probably had – Kensuke now pulled out his phone, which was already showing what was clearly a video of the same girl, dressed up as a character from a popular children’s show.

My eyes were still sticking to the first video though, which having reached its end, started playing all over again from the beginning, beginning with a soundless progression of the girls being split into teams. Kotone was actually one of the first to be picked, along with Asuka, whom I strongly suspected of having socked that viscous hardball at Kotone in the first place the very moment she looked to be joining the opposite team (she really hated to lose) – but sitting there next to the bench where the students were waiting, with her legs hugged close to her chest, sat Rei, the dead last one to be picked.

We had both been at this school for two weeks now, and in all this time, it didn’t seem like she had made a single friend.

Asuka says that it “serves her right” since she “clearly doesn’t care to fit it” and “probably thinks she’s too good for us”, but I don’t know. I don’t know that she knows how to make friends; I certainly know that not everyone is just born with that knowledge. To begin with, the point of school is supposed to be to learn stuff, not for it to be a popularity contest. Is it so bad if she wants to be alone? Maybe she just likes playing by herself on the swing set, or those books she’s always reading are really interesting. That’s usually what she’s doing when she has some time to kill. She seems to read a whole lot of different books, often in foreign languages, too.

Sometimes it’s super thick textbook-looking things with all kinds of scientific stuff, and they’ll be full of sticky notes, too. I wonder if my parents gave them to her. But I’ve also seen her with all sorts of fictional stuff, usually big doorstoppers, fantasy and sci-fi, and even the odd collection of fairytales. In the two weeks that she’s been staying at our place, I’ve seen her go through a volume as thick as four of her fingers in as little of two days.

It’s not just huge books, though – sometimes she’ll be leafing through a college block filled with what looks like research notes, or a little journal that she actually writes in. I’ve seen her look up some appointments there before leaving to join my parents at the laboratory.

I wonder what else she writes in there – though we’re living at the same place, we’ve barely talked, not even at home. That might be why she seems to get along so well with my father, he’s also a bit terse. Though I’ve noticed that she still slips up and calls him ‘Director’ instead of ‘Uncle’, especially when Mom isn’t around.

Still. Even our other resident bookworm, the shy girl with glasses – Mayumi Yamagishi, as I had since learned – had eventually been ‘collected’ by Hikari out of a sense of duty. I’m not sure if she tried talking to Rei as well, but if it went anything like my attempts at talking with her, I’m not surprised that it didn’t go anywhere. Or maybe it did, I mean, I’d figure that Hikari would do better at that than I did.

Even though no one other than me, Touji and Kensuke really knew her all that well, she had somehow ended up being chosen as class representative once again. I guess the other kids hadn’t known the other candidates either, and in the absence of real evidence, simply went with their gut feeling – Hikari certainly did have a reliable look to her.

A development that I didn’t expect is that about one week into the school year, she showed up at Asuka’s desk and asked to eat lunch with her.

At first this surprised me, since Hikari was very proper and old-fashioned, while Asuka was the sort of rowdy person who didn’t care about rules, but it appears that Hikari had actually liked her right away and taken a few days to work out the courage to actually talk to her. From what Asuka told me, she said that she admires people who are lively and confident. I found that a little strange, for I had never known Hikari to have any shortage of confidence when it came to scolding me and my friends back in elementary school. But I guess in all those contexts, she was just playing the social role of ‘class rep’, not connecting to people as just Hikari, the girl.

It made me realize that it’s possible for a person to have entirely different sides to them that you never understood or knew about, even after you’ve known them for years.

But maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised that Asuka and Hikari would end up getting along, after all they’re both serious about studying.

Like her looks and her athleticism, Asuka’s academic performance had earned her much renown; She was always among the first to raise her hand in class and relentless in her endeavor to answer all the questions, but that sphere of school life had actually become a source of frustration to her, for she soon found herself faced with a rival.

So far, Asuka had probably been a big fish in a small pond – she’s certainly much smarter than me or my friends, and thus far, I don’t think that she’s ever met any serious contenders that lasted very long in the face of her zeal.

Now, there was the blond girl – Marie Vincennes. I think she was actually American, and, if you went further back in her family tree, French. Despite the common stereotype of people with her hair color, she had turned out to be a real egghead. She was polite enough upon first contact, but, let’s put it this way: She had the sort of laugh that you’d expect from a spoiled noblewoman in an anime.

Deep down, I don’t think she liked losing any more than Asuka did.

Soon, the two of them were embroiled in a bitter struggle for the top of the class.

On one occasion, I witnessed them having a thoroughly confounding conversation that, if you’d seen it written down on paper, would have appeared to you as if they were having a perfectly pleasant chat, but the way they actually said it, it was more like a targeted slew of backhanded barbs.

I don’t get it. Why would you act all friendly when you actually can’t stand each other?

“Duh, because it’s convenient.”

As far as Asuka was concerned, that seemed to be a laughably stupid question which she answered with the utmost nonchalance.

We were hanging out on the school roof at the time. She had put her feet on the first rung of the metal railing and her hands on its top, hanging backwards from it, playing around in an obviously bored manner.

“Convenient…? I don’t know, that sounds kind of…”

‘Fake’ was probably too strong or judgmental a world coming from someone who’d be talking about something he didn’t really understand. Cynical, maybe. Sad, too, but that was probably overstating it.

“...whatever it is, you can say it to my face!”

I’m not sure then when she stopped playing around with the railing and started being right in front of my face, seconds from flicking me across the forehead.

“Really! You do realize that you’re getting to hang out with the most popular girl in our school right now? It’s time you started acting like it!”

And here it comes. Flick!

I wish she’d stop doing that.


“By the way, Shinji! Have you already decided which after-school clubs you’re going to join?”


“Not really… I mean, I haven’t really thought about it.”

“What? Two weeks in?” She shook her head disapprovingly.

“Well, I just don’t really any ideas!”

My resistance at this point was rather feeble, in fact, I probably sounded rather more transparently defensive than I had meant to.

Already, Asuka had taken this as an occasion to whip out her imaginary college robe hat and start wagging her index finger at me: “Well, you could start by trying something different than whatever you were doing in elementary school! - What were you doing, by the way?”

“Eh, that would be the ‘go home club’”

I had a feeling she was not going to like this.

As expected, I got her finger pointed straight at my nose this time:

“Absolutely unacceptable! As your friend, I simply cannot allow you to waste your life in such a way! Don’t you have any ambitions?!”

She made sure to leave a pregnant pause here, in which she had probably intended for me to hang my head in shame.

“You know, Asuka, Idon’t think that the point of an after-school club has anything to do with ‘ambition’…”

“What about your music? You’re actually decently good at that! Why don’t you join the music club or something? Or the literature club! You could read those bookworms some of those scribbles you keep working on! Maybe if you got some more professional feedback, you could get really good. Don’t you want to get some recognition for your work?!”

“I don’t really do that stuff to be good at it, or to be recognized. It’s just for fun. The last thing I want is to have other people pick it apart. Look, maybe you have the energy to deal with turning everything into a competition, but I don’t want that. You do know that you can just enjoy stuff for its own sake? My hobbies are what I do to have an outlet from all the pressure and stress from school. If I made a competition out of it, then it would become just another thing to feel pressured and stressed about.”

“Nonsense! You’re just giving up the fight before the first battle has even begun! You’re just afraid that the other kids at music club won’t like your playing, or that those wimpy literature club members are gonna make fun of your writing! You don’t have the guts to try for real, so you half-ass everything! Worse yet, you won’t even try! You’re just… giving up on yourself for no reason. It’s disgraceful! Aren’t you supposed to be a man now? Look at you, scared of a bunch of bookworms and emo band kids!”

I’m afraid to say that I took her bait at that point.

“I’m not scared!”

But really, she didn’t really have to say ‘band kid’ with so much disdain.

“If you want me to join a club so badly, I can ask Kensuke if they still need members for the AV club.”

“Ha! All those nerds ever do is watch anime and pretentious french movies! - but they’re still doing more than you. Why don’t you ask your other friend? You know, the loud, ridiculous one? Does he still play basketball? Maybe he can convince them to let you in the team!”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Is it? Then why don’t you do something you’re actually going to be proud of, like music club for example?”

That was mean, calculated and thoroughly unfair gotcha, but she got me all the same. Having left the high ground behind, I was ready to go low:

“Well what about you then? Have you found some club that you want to join?”

I had reason to think that she would draw a blank here. She hadn’t told me of this in detail, but I’d gathered enough from what Touji and Kensuke had heard. It was part of what had garnered Asuka her newfound reputation: Over the course of the last two weeks, she had reportedly tried out a new club almost every day, especially the athletic ones, but from what I heard, she’d also given Drama Club a shot. Each of them was immediately impressed with her audition, and each of them would have been glad to have her, but as to whether she’d found one after her heart…

“Nope! They’re all boring.”

“And you want me to join one of those boring clubs.”

“That’s not the same, it’s different for you. For normal kids like you, little games like that might be just the right thing to get you off your butt, but I have no interest.”

“Well, what do you expect… they’re extracurricular activities, not the Olympics.”

“That’s exactly why I have no interest in them – besides, I probably wouldn’t have any time for them anyways.”

“Huh? How come?”

She grinned at me with a broad and mysterious smile.

“Let’s just say that that has something to do with my new part-time job~”

If one day, a movie or a TV show is made about our lives (and if the piece goes to a halfway ambitious director) this would be the moment where the camera would start panning meaningfully towards those oddly clunky hair clips of hers.

But I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on Asuka. I’m sure she was trying to look out for me in her own way. In fact, I owe her for this.

While I had dismissed the notion during our conversation proper, her valiant efforts to get me to make the most of my free time had planted a seed in my mind, and by the time I was making my way home, I began to consider whether joining a club might actually be worthwhile.

Or maybe I was simply beginning to cave to the infamous demons of peer pressure.

I certainly knew that I would have gone stark raving bonkers if I had packed my week chock full of activities. I would hate it so much that I would quit in a rage – I couldn’t base my life on some expectation that I would wake up tomorrow and start acting like the exact opposite of me.

But would my life really be affected that much if I came home home from school one hour later just a few times a week?

I couldn’t spent that hour with Touji or Kensuke, because they had their own club activities.

I had probably avoided thinking about it before, but Asuka was right about one thing: We wouldn’t be kids forever. For now, I could deal with new flaced by following my friends, but what if we didn’t end up at the same high school later on? Or after that? Besides, each of them had interests of their own that I wasn’t a part of, and when I considered that, I started to worry that our friendship might get stale if I was the only one who never had any new, interesting stories to talk about…

And once I got to that thought, I began to feel a tight sensation in my chest.

Did it make that much of a difference if I spent two hours staring at the ceiling while listening to music instead of three? Like I told Asuka, it was an after school club, not the Olympics. And who knows, it might be fun. Something good might happen.

I recall many times where I was filled with trepidation in anticipation of some social event and hated having to make myself get ready and go out the door, but on the occasions where I did go, I can’t think of that many examples where I wished I’d been lazing around in my room instead. If nothing else, it could be an interesting experience, and if I didn’t like it, I could still quit…

I was still considering this this by the time I got home, grabbed a jug of orange juice out of the fridge, took a glass from the kitchen shelf, and sat down at the kitchen table.

Not far from where I was ponderously contemplating my juice glass, my father happened to be reading a scientific journal while a forgotten cup of coffee continued to go cold nearby – but now it would appear that slight motion of the table from when I sat down had reminded him of his surroundings, and now that he paid them a slight bit of attention, he must have noticed the presence of something that wasn’t there before.
“Oh, Shinji. You’re back.”

He peered at me past the frames of his glasses.

“How’s school?”

“Not bad.”

“Ah. That’s good.”

At this point, I sensed that his attention was about to drift back into his paper. My father was not much of a conversationalist either. Mom says that I must get that from him – but I’m not really sure. For once thing, he’s a lot more cool-headed than I am. He’s more the type who shows his feelings through his actions rather than through words or gestures.

Though I suppose both of those things make him a good person to ask when you’re not sure what to do. “You know, father…”


“I’ve been thinking of joining a club. At school, I mean. I’m thinking it might be good for my future…?” I don’t think I was sounding especially convinced there towards the end.

Father just grinned at me. “Ah? How so?”

“Well, uh…”

I did not expect to have that questioned just now right after I had convinced myself that everyone would want me to do so.

“ you think I should just focus on studying instead?”

He briskly shook his head. “That would be even more useless.”

“Huh? But aren’t I supposed to get a good job? Or get into a good college?”

“You can get a job without bothering with school, or even without college. All you need to get by in life are useful skills that you can rely on, in other words, the power to make things happen with your own hands. As long as you have that, you can get anything you want. If you’re a good enough programmer, you can get a position even without a fancy college degree, and if you want to get into college, you could join the military or get sponsored by someone in the industry, or just have someone pay off the bigwigs. School might be the easiest way to do it, but as long as you’re willing to get your hands dirty to get what you want, it doesn’t really matter how you do it.”

That’s pretty much the opposite that our teachers always used to tell us. But I guess it is true that you can get around in life with practical skills, too. Father himself didn’t exactly follow a typical path in life – he didn’t get to the university where he met mom until he was a whole lot older than your usual studies, but just a few years later, he was the Director of the research institute in part because of the insider connections he’d made.

Somewhat disarmed by this answer, I smiled nervously.

“So I guess you’d say that school activities are overrated?”

“Not at all,” he looked me straight in the eye, and at that point, his face had gone dead serious.

“If what you want to do requires you to get good grades, or go to college, or participate in extracurriculars, then you absolutely cannot fail to do so. It all depends on what your goals are.”

I suppose his view was not so different from Asuka’s then.

“I’m not sure I really have a ‘goal’ for that, though. I’m just an ordinary person living my life… ‘Goal’ sounds like something a businessman or an athlete would think about, or maybe a politician-”

To my surprise, father chuckled at that notion: “Most of those are just missing the forest for the trees, following whatever carrot on a stick they’ve been trained to chase without ever taking a single look above the canopies to get an understanding of the whole. They’re after a gold star, a bigger television or some favorable gossip from their neighbors, and if they ever even considered what it is they truly want, they wouldn’t have the will to leave their conventional little ideas to truly pursue it. The moment you even define a goal in such parochial terms, you’ve limited yourself too much to amount to anything of note.”

“So you’re saying that a goal doesn’t have to be what people commonly think of as a goal?”

“You could put it that way, yes.”

I thought on this for a moment. “Then, what is your goal?”

“To conquer Paradise.”

He said this without missing a beat. Even naive as I was, I recognized that it was a statement of deep held conviction, a well-considered concept, and not a florid salesman’s pitch, and that astounded me.


Even faced with my wide eyes, his voice was sober, dry, not in the least boastful:

“That’s right. My aim is nothing less than to take back Paradise by force, and lead mankind into the promised land at your mother’s side.”

I was no less impressed by his rhetoric though I was accustomed to hearing my father speak in such a way.

“Right now, paradise exists only as a concept in myth, so it is a creation of human minds to begin with. So why shall we not make it a fact through the strength of our own hands? This city itself could be considered an early stage of such an artificial paradise – A place where everything we need is plentiful and everything around us caters to our wants. Though it is a weak, cowardly idea of paradise that addresses the symptoms, but not the disease at the root. It still falls short of the real thing.”

“Ah, so you mean improving society through science and technology!”

He nodded his head ever so slightly, addressing me with that one particular smirk he was wont to wear when he was particularly pleased.

“Science is the power of Man. It’s what we have instead of feathers and claws.”

I was such a foolish, excited child, sporting the most placid docile sheep smile.

“So that’s what your work at the laboratory is meant for as well?”


“Wow! You’re really amazing, father!”

“Hardly. The truly amazing one is your mother. Without her, I would not be where I am – Not professionally, nor as a person. I told you before that to truly see anything of import, you have to cut away meaningless distractions and do whatever it takes to attain those things that matter, but it was only when I met her that I realized what those are.”

Though he was still in his sloppy work uniform, slouching on a kitchen table with a long-colled mug of tea at his hand, I still looked up at his tall frame with twinkles in my eyes.

I felt was passed for inspiration in a child.

“Wow. I wish that I’ll find someone like mom for myself one day.”

“So do I.” mused Father, with a hint of of self-deprecation. “I wish I could tell you how I did it, but to this day, I have no idea.”

Just for the record:

If I ever get married – and right now, the very notion seems absurd – I would want my spouse to be as unlike my parents as they can possibly get. The least I can ask for is someone who feels some shred of sympathy when I go through awful things, not someone who forces me to suffer over and over again. Maybe one day, I might be able to forgive my father – to his credit, he never entertained any illusions that he was doing right by me.

It wasn’t him who forced an awful destiny on me with a smile on her face, and then expected me to laugh about it.

But later that night, I kept thinking about clubs, and about goals, and about finding that special ‘something’ that lets you know what is truly important, and I found myself looking out at the city lights from our balcony long after bed time, surrounded by our cool night air.

I tried to consider looking at the city as a ‘paradise’. One way to think of a paradise is certainly a world of plenty where you can have everything.

The city is not exactly such a place – for one thing, most things cost money and I could easily think of some things that you can’t get – but you can get some things.

For example, if you’re a student, you can ‘get’ a big selection of extracurricular activities and after-school clubs. You can even do what Asuka did and try out almost every single one.

And it struck me that if I am ever going to find that ‘special something’, I would probably have to look for it, to get some new experiences, or, look at familiar things in different ways.

In other words, I was less likely to find it if I just followed my accustomed path.
Like many other dumb adolescents with a limited sense of context, I thought I had myself a significant epiphany there.

(1.2: Horizon)

April 17th 2014

T minus 605 days

I should have come back down to earth when the next morning began like any other morning.

Like every morning before, it began with the old, familiar ritual of depositing our shoes in our shoe lockers and slipping on our school slippers.

At this point, Asuka was receiving several love letters every morning. She made a habit of stomping on them with great vigor, usually while expressing great interest in doing the exact same to any suitors foolish enough to approach her in person.

I guess she was pretty cold-hearted when it came to those things. Being her boyfriend would probably be a lot tougher than her various admirers imagine it. For once, she gets bored of people very quickly.

Around this time last year, she phoned me to brag about her very first date, and how she’d been asked out by one of the most popular boys in her school. When she stopped mentioned him a week or so later, I carefully broached the subject, expecting that I would need to comfort her over her very first heartbreak. I found out that she had in fact dropped him like a hot potato and forgotten all about him.

Since then she’s gone out with all sorts of boys, but most of them didn’t last much longer – I think the current record was the 8th grader who lasted about a month. That he got a chance at all is probably just due to his being slightly older, which piqued her interest for a while. The only ones she even humored were those suitors whom she thought to be special or extraordinary in some way, but her infatuation quickly evaporated once they turned out to be perfectly normal human after all.

The only crushes of hers that showed any sort of persistence where the ones that featured idols, actors or hot teachers who were in no danger of ever shattering her illusions.

“Well, it’s not my fault that normal boys are all so completely and utterly boring! I’m just not interested in little boys!”

She stomped on the letters again for good measure.

I wondered if these had come from some of the same dupes who bought Kensuke’s video clips and couldn’t help feel a bit sorry for them.

“I’m not saying that you should write back to them if you don’t actually return their feelings, but do you really have to trample them under your feet? It’s like you’re trampling their feelings. If I got even one love letter, I’d be over the moon.”

“That’s because you have low standards. If you’re not careful, you’re gonna end up married to the first person who comes along, and you’ll never find true happiness.”

“I guess...”

She didn’t really have to say that.

“...but don’t you think that having too high standards could also keep you from finding happiness?”

“If the only boyfriend I can get is some boring mediocre nobody, I’d rather have none!”

“Is that what you thought about the clubs, too?”

“More or less, yeah.”

I wondered how she could be so nonchalant. If I were in her place, I’d be worried about winding up all alone. I guess my choice in that situation would be very different. As long as I didn’t end up all alone, I think I could live with it if my significant other wasn’t exactly the perfect image of what I imagined. After all, I’m not perfect either. The idea of being judged like that seems pretty terrifying.

All I can do is hope that if I’m not so strict on them, maybe they won’t be so strict on me.

But this seemed like as good a time as any to bring it up:

“Speaking of clubs! I think I’m going to join the music club after all.”

“What are you, stupid? Are you doing it just because I told you to?”

Eh? Now I was really confused.

“But I thought you wanted me to join a club.”

“I wanted you to think about your life, Baka Shinji. You can’t just do whatever people tell you just because!”

“So what? Should I just do the opposite of what people say or what?”

I’m afraid to say that I might have been outright pouty here – I probably deserved Asuka’s very deliberate eye roll.

“No, stupid. You should think for yourself! Have you even considered any other clubs than the ones I suggested?”

“Our school doesn’t really have anything like an astronomy club...”

She looked me down from head to toes.

“Well, expecting you to start your one right away would probably be too much. Everything in moderation. I guess it wouldn’t be fair to expect you to do too much at once.”

I’d argue that integrating one or two all new activities and groups of people into your life at once was plenty, especially when I was still getting used to the new school.

I told Touji and Kensuke as much when I got to our classroom.

Touji’s response to my flimsy little resolution went about like this:

“Wow, Shin-man, that’s a brilliant idea! In fact, that might be your big chance to get noticed. It’s not really my cup of tea, but girls love sensitive artistic types!”

Okay, to be fair, he then gave me a playful shove and added something like:

“It’s nice to see you coming out of your shell some more.”

“Looks like someone decided to get more serious about school activities now that we’re out of elementary. I never would have known, to be honest, I always thought you were pretty committed to the go home club.”

Well, it’s nice of Kensuke not to tell me this until he thought it no longer applied.

Though I suppose no one could have accused him of lacking in passion.

During class, I found my eyes wandering to Rei’s seat at the back. She was looking slightly bored as usual, watching the last of the spring rains drizzle down onto the courtyard without doing much to participate in class. I honestly couldn’t tell if she was paying attention or not. There was a pink hairclip to the right of her face, but that would be because my mother put it there this morning – I had not seen her wearing any of the hair decs she had been given on her own accord.

The flimsy piece of thin metal had not succeeded in taming the wolf-like thicket atop her head whilst her bangs had firmly reasserted their home base in the middle of her face. It didn’t seem to disturb her, but she couldn’t be bothered to adjust or even remove the hair clip either. Half dangling off, it looked rather out of place.

In a way, it reminds me a bit of how father still wears these old, kinda cheap plastic frame glasses though he has been able to afford something fancier for ages now. Mom told me that she bought him a more modern-looking pair at some point, but he simply didn’t wear them…

Another way that they’re similar is in that purposeful attitude she sometimes has about her. I guess you could say she’s a fan of his.

But even though she had stayed at our place for over two weeks now, but she still basically felt like a stranger living at our house. At dinnertime she would sit at our table and quietly eat what was put before her, making sure to leave any meat or fish untouched.

Occasionally, she would answer some question my parents asked her. The first few days, Mom had also made sure to remind her to take her pills, of which there had been a surprising lot for such a young girl, but it seems like she had been meticulous enough to take care of that all on her own.

Contrary what I would have expected from my first impression of her, she was apparently not especially well-organized. She left her door ajar at times and what I could see behind it looked fairly chaotic – come Sunday, mom invited herself in and left it all pristine, absconding with a large basket full of laundry, mostly school uniforms. I should probably have been wondering why her relatives didn’t pack her way more clothes if they knew that she would be staying here a long time, but to be honest I felt a pang of jealousy at this as I had been cleaning my own room for a few years now, but I in the end, it was just proof that Rei was still just a guest here. Besides, maybe whatever condition she had made it uncomfortable for her to move? I sure hoped that my parents’ research would be able to do something about that eventually.

Father offered to buy her new dresses, but she declined.

She asked him some complicated question about one of the thick science books she was reading, though, I saw him spend a good while explaining it to her.

I wish I understood complicated science stuff. It would make passing exams easier, for one thing… and maybe it could have helped me piece together what was happening. I don’t really know.

For the most part, I saw little of her. I assumed that she was in her room, or busy somewhere in the city – I certainly knew that she went to the lab sometimes and would not show up at home until she arrived together with my parents.

On occasion, I’d also spotted her standing on the balcony, looking out at the view as it would seem, looking sort of mystical with the wind blowing through her hair and dress and that mildly contemplative look on her face.

If we happened to leave at the same time, I would follow after her in silence, a few meters behind to avoid further awkwardness, or several seats away from her on the tram. Mom had showed her where the hairdryer was, but more than once, she had walked out the door with her hair still damp from a shower.

After the embarrassment of our first few meetings, I thought she would be annoyed with me or hate me, and at first, I took the lack of conversation from her side to be proof of this – but it’s not like she would leave the room if I came in or anything like that. I could plopp down beside her on the living room couch and chill while she read something in the opposite corner, and she wouldn’t appear bothered in the slightest bit – It was almost kind of a comfortable sort of quiet, like when father and I were each just doing our thing somewhere in the living room –

Except that she and I had barely talked in all this time. I actually saw more of her at school, simply because we both had to stay in the classroom during class.

I wonder if she went to any clubs, but I don’t think we were at the relationship level where I could have asked about that without making everything awkward. It’s not like it was any of my business anyways.

Sigh. I suppose that I might see her at the literature club tomorrow.

For today – that day – I would be checking out music club.

By sheer force of habit, I was seriously tempted to just throw all my supposed serious thoughts to the wind and just go home onto my comfy furniture so that I would not have to deal with school no longer, but I willed my feet to take a different turn instead.

Too late, I wondered if I should have brought my own instrument instead of assuming that there would be enough present in the school’s designated music room.

I was greeted by a not entirely unfamiliar face.

“Ah! Shinji-kun! You actually came!”

Right. I recall now dimly that Mana had made some attempt to recruit me into music club before, one of the time we spiraled off from some casual chat in the classroom, and if I remember correctly, the answer I gave her was pretty noncommittal.

She was sitting at a moderately old piano surrounded by a semicircle of fellow music club members, most of which regarded me with some curiosity.

My impression of Mana so far was that she was fairly chatty and direct – she had a quick, peppy way of speaking, with a characteristic coloration to her voice, and my arrival just turned out the newest excuse for her to get excited.

“Uh, do you guys think you could use another cellist?”

“Sure~! Actually, we were just talking about how nice it would be if we had one!”

“Were we?”

I had the distinct impression that the other girl was being shushed for some reason unbeknownst to me. Though I must admit, at the very least the shenanigans did ease my nerves somewhat. I had not really played before anyone other than my family, my music tutor and my close friends.

I was obviously invited to give them a little taste of my playing – I didn’t miss the implication that they were trying to assess my skill level. I doubt that they would have thrown out a beginner, but simply needed to be able to guess what sort of activities I’d be suited for, but I was still aware of every little mistake I made all the while I made my demonstration.

But would you look at that: When I was finished, the end of my performance was greeted with applause, enthusiastic cheers and Mana playing something like a little victory jingle on the piano before her.

This, certainly, was thoroughly new.

I’m not sure ‘embarrassment’ would be the right word for it, but I was certainly quite tempted to hide my heating, reddening face.

My first day at music club was a strange, overwhelming experience that at the time felt like it could eventually turn into something more meaningful than it really was. I recalled more of it back then, so I had more to tell to my mother over dinner in the evening.

My Mom is the reason I got into classical music to begin with – My old music tutor had also been hers in his younger days, and it had sometimes been a daunting experience to hear all those stories of what a prodigy she used to be while I was growing up. I imagine that at least some of our relatives must have been disappointed when I turned out to be a perfectly ordinary, non-genius kid, popping all the dreams that there would never come a day where the three of us would be working in lab coats on the same giant gizmo.

Of course, Mom tended to say that I simply had a different kind of intelligence, but she said that for the same reason that she thought my bizzare childhood drawings were ‘Very nice, honey’.

Still, it’s nice to have someone interested in my life.

“I’m very proud of you for trying something new and making an effort to grow beyond your comfort zone.” she said, affection ruffling my head when she returned from the fridge with the soy sauce. “Look at this, dear, our baby starting to become a man.”

I hoped so? Normally I wasn’t really embarrassed of her affection the way that some boys my age were. Touji was a fairly affectionate guy but his mom was currently banned from hugging him in public (he made an exception for Sakura though, as he argued that being a responsible big brother made you look more manly) I tended to think that was a bit silly, but the presence of a girl my age on the dinner table did make me a bit self-conscious about looking like a baby, even if Rei was just quietly poking at her dinner with her chopsticks and then leaving right away – No, correction.

She was no less quiet today, but now that I gave her a closer look, it seems like she had really liked today’s garlic noodles and was now eagerly stuffing them into her face.

That was kind of adorable.

Who knew Rei liked garlic?

My parents noticed, too, and shared a little smile about it, though I doubt that Rei noticed because she was, as I mentioned, very engrossed with her noodles.

She had, however, captured their attention now, and dutifully looked up from the systematic destruction of her meal when my father outright addressed her:

“And how about you, Rei? Have you joined any clubs?”

“No, I haven’t.”

Huh. I’m not sure if that surprised me or not.

“Maybe you should try it as well!” said Mom. “If you’re too shy to go by yourself, you can always go to the same one as Shin-chan.”

“Is that an order?”

By now I knew that Rei could be a little eccentric, but that was certainly struck me as an odd way to phrase that, like something a soldier would have said. Still, it was clear enough from her somewhat listless tone that she essentially meant ‘Do I have to?’. I got curious what my mom was gonna say.

For one thing, she had a little affectionate chuckle at Rei’s word choice and then addressed her with that usual warm, disarming smile of hers.

“It’s a suggestion. If you really don’t want to do it, we’re not going to make you, but you know, doing fun activities with your classmates is an important part of the school experience. Right now, you are young and we are living in pleasant, peaceful times. I think you ought to use that opportunity to make some new memories and experiences. You can learn many important things from that.

Besides, in my experience, making sure to take the proper time to relax and have fun can actually help you getting better results at your work! It might even improve your results back at the laboratory!”

My mother did always have her way with convincing people, or sussing out what it was that motivated them. She was different from all of us in that respect. Father had mentioned at times that he sent her to deal with troublesome people as she would reliably twists them around her little finger. She really was amazing – a genius, very musical, full of great ambition, and very charming, too. Alas, I had taken a bit more after my more reserved father in that regard; He didn’t really like to deal with people stuff, either. Sometimes I wonder how he ever coped with life before he met her.

At least, I don’t think he would have known what to say in order to get Rei to consider forsaking the go home club.

– as expected, she perked right up when she heard that last bit of mother’s speech, looking up at my parents with a serious look on her face.

“It might?”

“I’m sure of it!”

“I will consider it then, Aunty Yui.”

Again, she said my mother’s name in about the same tone in which she probably would have said ‘Dr. Ikari’ if they were currently at the institute.

I still couldn’t really say if I ought to think of Rei as a conscientious person or not. At least, whatever diligence she had did not take the usual forms that you would expect to it take in a schoolgirl.

While father excused himself to the bathroom and I had gone to help mom with the dishes, Rei had for once not disappeared into her room, but seated herself on the couch, returning to the book which she had left behind on the couch table when we were first called to dinner.

I noticed that she’d just left it open and turned face down. Maybe someone should get her a nice bookmark? I feel like she’d stand out without one if she was going to accompany me to the literature club tomorrow. Of course it’s possible that she really didn’t care if she did, but at least, she’d have practical use for, right?

Maybe I could leave later under the pretense that I’d be picking up some last minute groceries at the convenience store? I did hear Mom mention something about how we were out of eggs…

But for now, I decided that I should try to talk to her. I owed it to her, if she was going to end up dragged into something because of something I said.

As usual, she didn’t seem to mind if I sat down on the couch across from her.

“Doctor’s orders, huh?”

She looked at me, but didn’t really say anything.

“Please don’t feel like you absolutely have to go to the same clubs as me. I mean, you don’t even play an instrument, right? - Though, if you wanted to learn, I’m sure my parents wouldn’t mind letting you come along to my lessons or something…”

I covered my uncertainty with a bit of a nervous chuckle.

I couldn’t really tell what, if anything, she was thinking, so I had little by which to tell if the conversation was going well at all. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the complicated-looking diagram on the page she was reading.

“Maybe you’d be more interested in the science club? I think Marie Vincennes from our class is a member.”

I think she narrowed her eyes a little, as if she was thinking, but she didn’t really make a reply.

“Uh, I’ll leave you to your reading then.”

When I returned from fetching the eggs (among other things), I opened the door as quietly as I could. I was supposed to be heading straight for bed myself and didn’t want to disturb anyone.

I still don’t think the turn of the lock or the swishing of the automatic door would have gone unnoticed if my parents had not been absorbed in a matter of their own. In all the long years that I had lived with them, I had hardly seen them argue. In most things, my father would quickly yield to my mother’s voice. But when the door opened, I could hear his voice stream past me in some uncharacteristic state of agitation, and I was stunned into silence by how severe he sounded:

“Honestly, I don’t believe that Shinji and Rei should be bothering with all this school nonsense at all. What good will it do them? At best, we managed to postpone the inevitable by about fifteen years, but the time we have bought is almost at its end. The promised time will be at hand in a little over a year. Before long, we will see hell itself unleashed onto our world – this weak, soft, unprepared world, ignorant of what is coming its way. And the children will have to live in it. What good will any of this do them then?!”

I heard some rustling of clothes and the light clap of skin meeting skin.

“Have faith dear.”

Then I heard – well, uh – there’s a reason I didn’t dare to move or make the slightest sound.

I’m positive they were kissing or something. There was a sound that might have been mom moving her hands through father’s beard, her fingers bumping against the frames of his glasses.

“I understand that you’re worried for the children, but rest assured. As long as they have the will to make it happen, anywhere can be paradise. Until them, let them enjoy the peace for as long as they can and collect the precious memories that might sustain them through the fires. Besides, they won’t have to do it all alone. We still have time left to prepare-”

She was most definitely silenced in mid sentence, and there were more sounds of clothing against clothing -

I decided that it was high time to make my presence known.

I made a point of making as much noise as I could as I rushed into the living room, as if to cover whatever guilt I had incurred by listening in.

“Mom, dad, I’m back!”

Mercifully, my parents had largely untangled at this point, though they still loosely had their arms around each other.

“Ah, Shinji. “

“Welcome back Shin-chan! Just leave the groceries on the table, we’ll put them away ourselves.”

I would do my darnedest to put this whole incident out of my mind and think of it as little as I could, so I would never consider the darker implications of what they were saying until it was far too late.

April 18th 2014

T minus 604 days

“The literature club room. Where is it?”

That was the first time Rei spoke to me of her own accord.

She affixed me with her serious revealing gaze, so I felt a tiny bit interrogated.

After the bell rang and the last period ended, she had picked up her bad right away and made a beeline for my seat.

Her interest in extracurriculars seemed to have gone straight from zero to eleven ever since Mom mentioned that thing about how it would be useful to their study at the lab.

Luckily I knew where it was- I had looked it up yesterday before going home because I had been worried about getting lost and arriving late.

Now, I was very glad I did.

“Don’t worry, It’s right in this building, on the third floor. I’ll show you to it!”

This was the perfect opportunity. Not long after we left the classroom, but before we reached the stairs, I turned my bag which I was was carrying around on a strap so that I it was at the front of me, and reached inside until I felt a thin envelope of gift wrap beneath my fingers.

“By the way, Rei, I got something for you.”


This seemed to surprise her a lot – by her standards at least. She even stopped walking to gape at me – or as close to gaping as she would go with no earth shattering events around.

I produced the envelope from my bag and handed it to her.

“Here you are.”

Blinking in consternation, she reached out a hand to grab it with some delay.

I think she was outright confused.

“Why did you do this?”

“No particular reason, really. If you like, you can think of it as a belated housewarming gift, I just thought this might come in handy. It’s a bookmark, one of those nice, proper ones with glitter and foil around it. I’m happy that you’re coming with me today, since it’s my first time, too.”

Was she…?

Yeah, she was definitely blushing. The pallor of her complexion made the flushing blood vessels beneath especially obvious.

I didn’t expect her to have so much of a reaction over a glorified piece of pretty cardboard, so I was probably getting a bit blushy myself.

She held it up the tiny package, and ripped it open with her other hand.

Her face fell immediately. She held up the envelope and lifted out the contents with the other hand, pinning it between her thumb and index finger like it was composed to of some dubious substance.

I had been holding out to see her reactions, so I noticed right away.

She didn’t grimace or anything, but it was immediately obvious that she didn’t like it.

My thoughts raced. Since I hadn’t known her long and could only guess at her tastes, I had played it very safe and had gone with a generic pretty thing that almost any girl her age should have liked – I was nice pastel pink ombré, laminated with miscellaneous pink glitter and covered in little red flower stickers, not so different from the hair clips mother gave her -

But then again, Rei had barely worn those.

“Is something wrong?”

“No. It’s just that it’s red.”

“Is that a problem?”

“It’s not a problem of course, but that color – it reminds me of blood, and clay, and the scents of flesh and metal. There are flowers, too. So many. All of them the same. All of them without purpose. They bloom one year, and then the next one they have disappeared without a trace, like they were never there to begin with.

Flowers are the wombs of plants, but people tear them off and put them in the vases, trapped, confined, barren forever, just so that someone can have something pleasing to look at, for their own ends.

Unless it’s an order from the Director or Dr. Ikari, I would rather not look at this all the time.”


I have a feeling that my parents had not asked her what sort of furniture she would like. I wondered what her old room at her previous home had been like.

For a moment, I was utterly at a loss, ready to discount this whole conversation as a complete failure on par with the bacon-eggs incident, but then, right in the nick of time, I was struck by a life-saving idea and started rummaging through my bag, until I found what I was looking for.

“Then it’s probably better if you swap it out for this one instead!”

I had a second bookmark, thank goodness! I had got this one for myself since I was already at the shop. It featured a print drawn in a traditional Japanese style, depicting a landscape not much like what you would see if you went for a long hike in the fields and mountains surrounding the city. I had done this a few times, either on foot or on my bike, or that one time Kensuke badgered me and Touji into going camping with him and playing all sorts of war games together.

What I’d liked most about the picture were the nice nature scenes in it, but Rei’s intention was immediately drawn to the long strip of sky above them, complete with some stylized clouds and a few little ‘v’s that were probably intended to imply a flock of birds flying in formation.

“It’s the sky. That which can only be seen where nothing else can be seen.”

“The picture has got a nice and calm feeling to it, doesn’t it?”

“It’s Freedom.”


She traced the image of the tiny birds with one of her fingers. “It’s still and peaceful.”

There were plenty of people who probably pictured ‘freedom’ as something more exciting and action-oriented, but I was inclined to agree with Rei there. ‘Freedom’, for me, would be freedom from pressure and obligations. Nothing difficult and unpleasant that you need to do, like a nice quiet day out in nature.

“These creatures don’t strictly speaking have a clear purpose either, but I often wondered what it would be like to soar up in the sky, unbound by anything.”

“It’s a pretty common childhood dream after all.”

I gathered my thoughts. “I’m sorry you didn’t like the other one. I just thought I remembered you wearing a lot of pink and red dresses when you were younger. - But I guess that was very long ago, or maybe you changed your mind since then, or your parents picked the clothes-”

“Did I?” she asked, cutting off my ramblings.

She has a very strange look on her face, distant somehow.

“Did I wear a red dress?”

I nodded half-reflexively. “I guess you don’t remember, since-”

I almost said ‘since you were younger than us back then’ but that would be absolutely nonsensical. It just made me doubt how much I had really remembered correctly.

“It was a long time ago. Anyways, you can have the other bookmark. It’s all yours.”

“Thank you.”

That alone would have been surprising enough – I don’t think I had never heard her use that word before, not during any of the times that my parents had shown up with various gifts and supplies for her.

But surprised as I was, I looked up from the bookmark to regard her face.

Though my life would be short, I would go on to see many things in my time, both wondrous and terrible, yet always amazing, awesome, sublime – but to this day, I still believe this was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.

Rei had the purest, most touching smile you could imagine.

We continued towards the literature club room.

I was walking on clouds a little bit while we did.

She liked me! At least, she definitely didn’t hate me anymore.

She had really, actually talked to me, about real stuff, and not just pleasantries, right? We were totally friends now, or we could be, if we kept this up.

I really think I was beginning to understand her a bit more.

She might be introverted and even less experienced than I was, and she clearly had something of a spartan, minimalist sort of bent, but I didn’t think she was particularly shy; When something actually interested her, she could be downright blunt in how direct she was. I was beginning to think that she pretty much tended to say exactly what she thought or felt. There wasn’t much artifice to her, let alone a mask of politeness. In fact she might actually have a philosophic or poetic sort of side to her…

I had never really considered flowers in such a way. I guess that I had always just seen them as pretty and nice because everyone else always said that they were.

Back then the realization kind of blew my mind.

Once you got to know her, Rei seemed to be a pretty cool, smart, thoughtful and quite unique person underneath her quiet, gloomy exterior – and now she was my friend, and we would get to hang out together at the literature club all the time…

Ah, simple dreams. I was so excited then. It’s strange to think how even those simple, innocent little joys were so completely out of reach now.

“You – girl from our class.”

“Yamagishi.” I supplied.

“Yamagishi-san. Is this the Literature Club?”

“Yes, exactly!” The long-haired, bespectacled girl who had opened the door for us considered us thoughtfully. She looked away in embarrassment when Rei mei her gaze head on.

“May I know what brings you here?”

“We are looking to join, actually.” I smiled at her politely, trying my best to put her at ease. “I hope it’s not too much of a hassle, we know it’s already two weeks in…”

“No, it’s no bother at all! We don’t actually have that many members yet, so it’s really more of a blessing…” as if she suddenly got self-conscious about blocking the door, Mayumi hurriedly opened the door out of the way and got out of the way.

The club meetings were held in what appeared to be the school library. The room already contained a corner full of comfy seats for the students to read in, complete with seasonal decorations, potted plants and what not. Since the number of literary club members wasn’t great, those seats sufficed for them to sit in. There was a fairly cozy, homely atmosphere to the whole thing.

I hoped that Rei was going to fit in.

I didn’t think that Mayumi was the one in charge here and if it were me, I would probably have directed any question to the sisterly looking third-year sitting on that plushy beanbag chair, but since Mayumi was the one to let us in, Rei seemed to have concluded that she was the one to ask:

“To correctly take part in club activity, I just need to sit here and read, right?”

Mayumi was not an especially glib person even on her good days, and this sort of question left her even less sure of what to say. “Uhm… sometimes we also like to discuss our favorite books or share little short stories that we wrote ourselves. Or recommendations. I’ve been told by the older club members that they even went to see the movie versions of some popular books last year.”

“I see. Anything else?”

They told Rei the usual meeting times and then handed us both a copy of a thick fantasy book – thanks to the previous shortage of club members, there were plenty left over.

Once she’d heard all she wanted to know, Rei sat down and got right to it.

Most of the other members were already halfway through, so I wasn’t sure if we would manage to catch up. Later I would learn that since the members’ reading speeds varied, they had a rule that anyone who finished early could spend club time reading their own choice of books, wether they brought them themselves or picked them out from the school library. They didn’t just stick to fiction books either and had a policy making sure to pick all sorts of different topics and genres so that everyone could find something to their liking, but also learn new things.

The fact that it was a pretty small club (much more so than the music club) was probably a plus here, since that made it easier to agree on rules and activities that everyone would like.

I also thought that just from picking out a regular, designated time for it in my schedule, I would probably spend this year getting through many more books than I would otherwise. I was less sure that it would make that much of a difference for Rei after seeing how she all but inhaled those thick science tomes, but maybe she would find more friends here.

So far, deciding to come here was looking like a pretty good decision…
Last edited by Kendrix on Wed Jan 06, 2021 2:39 am, edited 7 times in total.
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Wed Jan 06, 2021 12:03 am

1.3 The Tree of Life  SPOILER: Show
( 1.3 : Der Baum des Lebens)

From that moment onwards, it began to be a semi-regular occurrence for me to talk with Rei – here and there, bits and pieces, small, warm glimmers of brief moments scattered in the day like droplets on a leaf; At school, on the courtyard, in our living room, on the tram station…

It wasn’t anything lengthy or extravagant; Looking back what seemed to be long, profound situations evaporates into brief interludes of banality.

Much, much later, at some point in the future, Asuka would come to press me for answers, and then leave having concluded that I knew nothing of import.

Where was she born? When is her birthday? How much does her father earn? Did her parents just meet, or was it arranged?

Those are all things I couldn’t have told you during most of my time with her.

But is that all that ever matters? That sort of stuff that’s probably written in your government file somewhere? The mechanical, scripted pleasantries and conventional little records?

If that were all that connects people, I suppose that living together with them would be much easier – just a correct replaying of preordained scripts.

But in that case, I doubt that anything like art and poetry would ever have been born into this world.

In truth, it’s where our scripts break down that we sometimes, at moments, start actually talking to each other.

I learned this very bitterly, through harrowing experience. I certainly didn’t know it yet back then.

But even at my lowest lows, in the dark night of the soul, I never could have denied that a connection was in fact formed between her and I.

Here is something that we talked about, for example…

Sometimes, her example – and Kaworu-kun’s – were all that kept me hoping that something like that can exist in this cold, merciless world, even when those two themselves were gone far beyond my reach.

A feeble, futile hope. I knew that in the end, I would just get betrayed again. I thought I had accepted that it would happen, but when it actually did, I –

I suppose I’ll get to that soon enough.

In any case, here are some examples of something that we talked about:

Exhibit A: This took place in our living room, while she was sitting on our couch in her pajamas. Well, I say ‘pajamas’, but it was rather the improvised sort of sleepwear, something like an oversized white dress shirt that just so happened to have the right length to serve her as a nightgown. It must have belonged to a man with a broad, large frame; I sort of suspected that my father must have lent it to her.

“Uh, so, how long do you think you’ll be staying with us after all?”

She kept looking straight ahead.

I think she wished I hadn’t asked that question.

“That is something that you will have to have to ask the Director or Dr. Ikari.”

I wondered if I had hit a nerve. It had by no means become easy to tell.

I think her gaze was just a little bit downcast, that there was something just a bit forlorn or gloomy to the general look of her – but I didn’t want to assume. I was beginning to consider that she might rather want to be alone right now, or that I should not continue that line of reasoning.

I would later notice that she was generally evasive when the subject turned beyond the immediate future… or maybe that’s just what I thought at first, back when I didn’t want her perfectly candid answers to turn out to be true.

But in this particular case, it was not yet the actual future that I was interested in: “ you at least know if you’ll be here for the summer break?”

“The summer break?” this at least seemed to have failed to confirm whatever had prompted her resignation, if only by surprising her ever so slightly. “How is that relevant?”

I was getting an itty bit intimidated again.

“It might not be… it’s just that we always go camping during the summer break. Father is really into all that survival stuff, so it’s become something of a family tradition.”

“Survival… stuff?” now it seemed to be Rei’s turn at being confounded.

“You know like, living out in the wilderness for a certain time, using as little equipment as possible. I might be because back in the day when he was younger, a lot of people kept thinking that the world was gonna end, like in 2000 or 2012 – I’m not really sure. But however it might have started, you must agree that it really suits him!”

“Does it?”

“I thought you would know that. I’ve always got the impression that the two of you get along well.”

“I don’t know.”

“Huh.” I could have sworn that she was like, his biggest fan. Maybe I was even a little jealous because of how she seemed to understand all that science stuff that I didn’t and talked with him of that stuff. But I guess that it might not be quite as simple as I thought. Perhaps their relationship was more professional after all, despite being technically distant relatives.

“I just thought that if you’re still here during the summer break, maybe you could come with us!”

At this, she narrowed her eyes. “I’ll do it if it’s required.”

“That sounds like you’re hoping it isn’t.”

She looked upward, like that was a novel thought that had not actually occurred to her before, but in the end, she lowered her gaze back to what it was before. “No. I don’t think I’d like that very much. It doesn’t seem to have much of a point. I don’t think I would like to be in some strange place surrounded by creatures.”

“I get what you mean, I first I wasn’t too crazy about it either. It seems like too much of a hassle, right? So many unfamiliar sights and sounds and smells… but when you actually get there, it’s actually surprisingly quiet and peaceful, especially if you go with just a few people. It’s like the world suddenly becomes very small… have you ever been in some really remote place before, like a ski lodge or, a tiny village or something?”

“No. Not ever.”

“Ah. Then you’ve really got to try it! I mean, only if you want. You’ve probably heard that out in the country, you can really see the stars properly, much more than in the city, but it’s one thing to hear it and another to actually see it. Here in the city you only see a few stars at a time, but in the country, the sky is entirely full of them! Makes you realize how big the universe is, you know…

Or well, I like it, but that doesn’t mean that you have to. When I told Asuka about this, she said that she’d probably find it creepy to be so far away from the lights of civilizations. She prefers lively places like the city.”

Rather than make any committal statement about the camping trip, Rei looked out through the nearby balcony window, at the only sky she was probably used to.

“Mankind fears the darkness, so they scrape away at it with fire…”

“I wonder if it’s that what makes us special… I guess in that sense it might seem a bit contradictory that we do things like camping. It’s like we want to prove to ourselves that we don’t rely too much on the tools we use, but then we do take advanced survival gear, and in the end, we always go back home-”

It was about when then father happened to come into the room and seamlessly joined himself into our conversation: “It’s not the tools that are problem, but the people that wield them. It’s them that you can’t trust. What you take with yourself into the wilderness is that which you know how to operate, so you need only trust yourself, and those that you bring with you. ”

Still wearing his usual smirk, he sank into the couch between us, leisurely clasping his fingers together. “By the way, Rei. You’re coming with us this summer.“

“Yes, Sir.”

Exhibit B: This was while we were driving the train to school.

“You’re always listening to this.”

“Ah, you mean the player? Well, it was sort of a gift from father…”

“A gift?”

“Only sort of, like I said. He actually bought this many years ago, when it was still considered state of the art – but eventually, they came up with a better model, and father decided to get a new one. When I asked what he was going to do with his old one, he said that he was just going to throw it away. Somehow I got… emotional about that. I should mention that I was about four at the time. To throw away something you liked that had always served you well so far, and to replace it without another thought, felt… callous to me, somehow. So, I cried, so, he gave it to me.

I mean, it’s kind of a silly story… I mean, who would get all upset over some inanimate object that isn’t even a person.

Father always says that to move forward in life, you have to get rid of old stuff and forget about it. And I suppose he isn’t wrong… if you never threw anything away, you’d probably have what is known as a ‘hoarding problem’. I guess that’s what started me collecting old electronics.

I mean, all of them were originally designed to be people’s idea of what the future was supposed to look like, but those ideas seem to change as quickly as the future itself changes into past.

Besides, I’ve always thought there’s something beautiful about forgotten, abandoned things.

When I was young, I once found an old Bicycle in the trash, and then I repaired and repainted it together with my father – that felt like much more of an accomplishment than just asking for one and then picking it out in the shop. Even when I started playing the Cello, that was because Mom gave me her old one as a hand-me-down!

I- I hope that didn’t sound like some edgelord pedantic bullshit just now.”

I honestly thought I had just made things awkward and rambled at her about things that only interested me, but to my surprise, she nodded.

“It does.”

When I just blinked in mild confusion, she did clarify:

“It does make sense. Do you remember the sleep clothes? The ones you were staring at?”

She said that in a pretty businesslike fashion actually, but you’ll understand that I was embarrassed.

“A- I was just wondering if- if they used to belong to father at some point-”

“I see. So that is the reason why you were looking.”


Foot in mouth yet again. Let there be no impression that this magically stopped with the moment. You see, my intention was to let her know that wasn’t looking at her in some weird way, but now it came of like I wasn’t really looking at her at all-

My best choice here was probably to show interest in what she was already talking about, lest I blurt something even more awkward. “So, uh, what about the clothes?”

“They are also something like your cassette player. At the lab, there was an experiment where I had to undress. By the time it was over, I was somewhat cold. I must have been shivering. The were clothes for me in my locker, of course, but I’d need to come and get them first or wait for someone else to do it. Instead, the Director took off his own shirt and wrapped it tightly around me, until I wasn’t shivering anymore.

He had no reason to do this. It would in no way have impacted the outcome of the experiment. All it resulted in was that the Director’s shirt got soiled.”

“He must not have wanted you to be cold.”

“You think so?”

“Of course! I mean, it seems like the least they could do if they’re making you stand naked in the cold. I’m sure it was some important scientific task, but it still can’t have been pleasant… so afterward, father gave you the shirt?”

“No. He was going to throw it away. It was me who asked that it be laundered and put with my things.”

I couldn’t help but smile.

“That sounds like him.”

Exhibit C: This was on the school roof.

“You know, Rei. There’s thins thing I’ve been wanting to do for a while… - I thought I’d just wait for a good opportunity, but so far, there haven’t been very many, or, every time there is, something seems to get in the way- ”

“You should talk to them.”

She said this without a moment’s hesitation, so sudden and resolute that it almost startled me. She was looking me straight in the eyes, serious, meaningful, holding one set of feelings in the others. “You must talk to them, and tell them about what you want to do. If you just wait for things to change, they never will.”

Wow. I wasn’t expecting her of all people to give me such clear advice before I could even explain much… but was there much more to explain, really? She was exactly right. Next time I got the chance, I did the thing.

So that’s what our conversations were like.

Since Rei hadn’t really made any friends in her first few couple of weeks here, it shouldn’t surprise me that some of our classmates quickly took note of our spending time together.

Hikari even swung past my desk to commend me:

“I’m so glad to see you and Ayanami getting along! I’ve been trying to help her integrate into the community of our class for a while, but to tell the truth, I’ve found her kind of inapproachable so far… How did you do it?”

“I don’t think I did anything in particular…”

“Huh? Well in any case, you have my gratitude! You know what? If I need to tell her anything in the future, I’ll just tell her through you!”

I don’t recall that she made me her official PR person at any point. We’d barely gone beyond a bit of small talk – inspired small talk, at best – yes, I treasured it, but if it was any other student, it would barely have been accounted anything remarkable. So to an extent, it rubbed me the wrong way because it was still treating her as different from any other student. To act as if I had done anything especially praiseworthy like I was only hanging out with her out of pity – like I didn’t know full well how much of the distance between us still remained.

I’d honestly rather take Touji’s and Kensuke’s response, which you can probably guess at...

“What are you thinking of behind that furrowed brow of yours, master?”

“Ayanami, by any chance?”

“Ayanami’s firm thighs!”

“Ayanami’s soft boobs!”

“Ayanami’s… CALVES!”

That sounds to me more like Touji is the one who spends a whole lot of time thinking about girl’s calves. I suppose they did warn us about this whole ‘puberty’ thing in biology...

But what really surprised me was Asuka’s response. It’s not like I didn’t think that she’d be surprised… and I would even have expected some sort of jab, to be honest, it’s not like she particularly liked Touji or Kensuke. I assume she’d say something about how Rei fit right in with my other friends in something of a backhanded way and then halfheartedly compliment us for making new friends at all, or that she would conspire with Hikari and Marie to give Rei a surprise makeover.

What I did not expect is that ice-cold look of disdain I caught her shooting our way when she spotted us talking one time. I realize that it’s a bit difficult to explain what I mean by that, especially when I’ve been describing her as doing and saying sort of mean things all the time, but I need you to understand that this was different.

Even I could tell – I probably wouldn’t have been able to if I had not known Asuka all my life, but sure, she may be mean sometimes, and she isn’t the world’s nicest, most pleasant, most sincere person… but then again, who is perfect? She has many other strong points.

And having known her so long, I know that though she likes to act all mature and dramatic, deep down she is just like anyone else. She is my friend – it’s not always obvious, but in her own way, she is always looking out for me, and she does appreciate her friends. I would even say that she has a nice side. I’d known her to be mean, but that’s not the same as being cruel.

But that day, I didn’t really see her again until school was almost over – I mean, of course, I did see her, we were in the same class after all, but somehow she always seemed to be busy when I came around her like she didn’t really acknowledge me.

She’d been mad at me before of course, but that was a more put on, poutier affair, not… flat out cold. It just felt different – but with such a vague perception, I couldn’t really be sure that I wasn’t just simply mistaken, or reading too much into something.

I was unnerved enough that I wanted to confirm to myself that she was not actually mad at me, so I tried to get a hold of her at the end of the day when her usual group of friends was bound to be clearing out of the building -

But then, at that point, she appeared the edge of my desk of her own volition, with none of her entourage in sight.

She sat low, with her elbows propped up on the desk and her fingers clasped together. She smiled, but I could sense a worrisome sort of energy about her, in how she was bouncing her feet just a little bit, like she had only the appearance of being at rest.

“So, Baka Shinji~” she said, more springy than I was used to hearing her without anyone else around, but still somehow menacing. “I suppose you’ll be off to music club again. To see Miss Kirishima.”
“A-and the other members!” I was so stumped that the excitement in my response was probably genuine, quite simply what I would have responded if I had not noticed anything unusual at all. Perhaps I hoped that if I acted normal, the rest of the world would answer normally in return – or, in brief, that the problem might go away if I ignored it stubbornly enough.

“I bet they just looove to hear you show off on that oversized violin of yours.”

“It’s a Cello!” I said helpfully.

“Oh, drop that bland smile of yours. Even you must have noticed that Kirishima is totally looking to make a move on you!”

“What? No way!”

“What are you, stupid? You’re the director’s son. Everyone in this school knows that your parents are loaded. Do you think a girl like that is really hanging around you ‘cause she’s really gaga about Beethoven?”

“Well- why not?”

I’ll have her know that I AM gaga about Beethoven.

There was no need for me to spell that out, however, ‘cause I think Asuka got the message. That was probably why she was snickering.

“Come on, Asuka. You were the one who said I should join the music club and meet more people, and now that I do, you complain about it?”

“I guess if you’re really that oblivious, I don’t need to be worried about you quite yet. And all that talk about you and Miss Honor Student is probably just a nasty rumor.”

That was probably what she was meaning to get at the whole time, but she wasn’t entirely off about me still being a total greenhorn – at the time, I was completely blindsided.

“What do you mean, ‘honor student’? Are you talking about Vincennes?”

Still... She was being tricky and evasive on purpose, and then she got mad when I didn’t get it.

“Quit fooling around! You know who I mean. That stuck-up little teacher’s pet. She always acts all obedient in front of all the adults to suck up to them, and then, when everyone’s fallen for her schmoozing, she thinks she’s too good for us! Always acting so above it. Always so smug. There’s nothing I hate more than people who think they’re better than everyone else!”

Before you ask, yes, she was completely unaware of any irony whatsoever.

“Wait… are you talking about Rei?”

I arrived at this conclusion only by principle of exclusion, because nothing about that descriptions sounded like her at all, except perhaps for ‘obedient’ – I guess I see how she could be described that way in a certain context with all that talk about ‘orders’, but I doubt that Rei would have known how to ‘suck up’ to anyone even if she wanted to…

But Asuka seemed incensed at the very mention of her name: “That self-righteous bitch! Go on. Tell me it’s just a rumor. ”

Now at this point, she had certainly tried my patience. I crossed my arms, thought whatever serious look I could muster probably wasn’t too convincing. “Well, I don’t know what sort of rumors you’ve heard. Maybe you should listen to less gossip-”

“Now, you should listen. Trust me, as your oldest childhood friend, when I tell you things for your own good. Seriously, there is something you don’t know about that girl. Something important. Believe me, that one is scary. She’s the type who would do absolutely everything to get what she wants.”

There was indeed something I didn’t know – quite a lot, in fact and many more things that even Asuka couldn’t have been aware of now. But what she said sounded so much like the most cliched possible Mean Girl talk that I simply dismissed it out of hand without ever considering that there might be any further rhyme or reason to it.

“I need to go to music club now.”

“Well, toodles then! Unlike little boys like you, I have important work to do.”

“What, because you’ve got a part-time job now? How ‘important’ could it possibly be?”

“I’ll have you know that it’s a top secret, extra special assignment that some brat like you couldn’t even dream of!”

Top Secret? Extra special? If this were anyone other than Asuka, I’d start to get worried that they’d been targeted by drug dealers or human traffickers. Who in their right mind would give ‘serious important work’ to a twelve-year-old?

I would soon find out the answer to that question.

It was toward the second week of May that I began to notice that my parents seemed to be spending more and more time at the lab.

It took me a good while to see a pattern because it was a very gradual thing; It had never been unusual for them to have to deal with the occasional phase of crunch time I which I hardly saw them for days on end. Sometimes, they would not make it home at all. When I was younger, I was usually shipped off to my uncle or my music teacher during such occasions. But then eventually it would be over and they would be back at the kitchen table just like they were never gone.

I had enough friends and hobbies to keep myself busy and entertained, and through their past absences, I had learned to be fairly self-sufficient at an early age, so I wasn’t fully conscious of how much their absences had accumulated.

At first, I just chalked it up to the idea that they had to do more of their work in their actual office at the moment since Rei was now living in their old desk room.

Then, I was handed a paper pertaining to our classes’ upcoming field trip on Monday, and couldn’t get my mom to sign it until Thursday, the evening right before the day it was due.

On the two days before, I’d been left with a note on the table and some money pinned to the fridge with a kitchen magnet in the shape of an adorable little cherub. I had the apartment all to myself – Rei was gone too. She didn’t even show up at school. I assume she was doing something at the lab.

When she had not returned by Wednesday, I was pelted with anxious questions by a seriously worried Mayumi, but I couldn’t really give her a proper answer. That day, I went home with the entire literature club’s worth of handmade get-well cards, but all I could do was to put them on her desk.

I had wanted to invite Asuka over to keep me some company since I expected her to be in the same boat (her mother works in my mom’s department) but she couldn’t come either – on both days, she left in a hurry right after school. Apparently, she’d been asked to come in early at her part-time job.… or at least, that was her excuse. It was possible that she was still mad at me, and simply using that job of hers as an excuse to rub it in.

According to what she told me, she was completely unavailable on both Tuesday and Wednesday. I was beginning to wonder if a kid like her was even allowed to work that many hours. I thought she was just mowing people’s lawns or modeling for some preteen magazine... She might have been in some danger of inheriting her mother’s workaholic tendencies.

It felt mighty reassuring when Mom came home as usual on Thursday.

She informed me that Rei and father would be following within the hour and beckoned me to the kitchen to help her with dinner with that same reassuring smile that always put me at ease ever since I was a child. I was so glad to get to tell her about my week that the thought of asking her for an explanation completely slipped from my mind.

Before long, father and Rei were both reading at the table while Mom handled the stove and I myself chopped some vegetables that were due to be added later. Both of us were wearing matching green aprons. While I could do it myself well enough, I really loved cooking with mom. As you might guess, it was her who showed me how to do it – it was always kind of our thing that we did together, starting from when I was so small that the only useful thing I could be trusted to do was to crack the eggs and stir the occasional pancake batter.

Ever since I was little, I had always wanted to help my mom with all sorts of household tasks. There’s probably not a single coworker of hers who has not heard that story about the one time mom and dad were carrying their groceries inside and my two-year-old self was so insistent on helping that they ultimately caved and give me a simple milk carton, which I then valiantly hauled it from our parking lot to the elevator though it was about half as tall as me.

Perhaps I simply take after my mom – she likes to do her own cleaning even though she grew up very rich and could easily afford to hire a cleaner or even a full-on butler if she wanted. Or maybe it’s because she was rich that doing it herself became an interesting novelty, or it’s a matter of being too proud to have some stranger touching her stuff. I don’t exactly love cleaning, but I guess helping makes me feel useful and needed.

I am an only child and grew up mostly around adults, so I didn’t want to be the only one not doing my part, especially back when I was too young to comprehend such nuances as my being a baby.

Besides, my mom had a way of turning the house cleaning into a group activity – I was much less minded to protest if I got to chat with her while we were swiping the floor instead of being condemned to do some boring task all alone.

“You’re such a good kid, Shin-chan!” she would say, “I brag of you to all my co-workers! Not many of them can say that they’ve got such a well-behaved, diligent young man at home.”

Looking back in anger, I can’t help but hear something more sinister there – ‘well-behaved’, she said. Obedient. Easy. Convenient. The perfect puppet. But back then, I felt proud and warm inside, like a freshly-praised puppy dog, even as she kept piling it on.

“It makes me really proud that you turned out so reliable! I hear so many horror stories from my co-workers about terrible ex-boyfriends who had absolutely no life skills. People always look at this in terms of it being hard on their girlfriends, but if you look at it logically, it’s a parent’s responsibility to make sure that their child leaves their home with all necessary skills to live a good life. If your son can’t even do a basic thing he needs to live a healthy life, you have absolutely failed him. Your poor father was basically living off of instant noodles and energy bars when I first met him! Then again, his grandmother would have been old and feeble by the time he got to be a young man, so I can’t blame her too much...”

I wonder what she was like.

Father was already somewhat older when he had me, so she was obviously long dead by the time I was born.

While Asuka had fond memories of her Japanese grandma and the Suzuharas had one of their grandfathers living with them right now, I had never met a single grandparent of mine for as long as I lived. But I knew that father’s life had taken many precarious twists and turns most of which I am only dimly aware of to this day. I’ve seen pictures that show my mother as a student with her old professor, looking exactly like a rich genius prodigy and an old professor, and then there’s father, as of yet without glasses, in a cheap-ass ill-fitting jacket, looking like he just walked out of a drunken brawl. I bet the other guy looked worse though.

What should have tipped me off is that mother never talked about her own parents either even though she was very much one of The Beautiful People, coming from a background of wealth, privilege, and power. My uncle didn’t speak much of them either, but as he was the sort to be more bound by social expectation, I understand that they remained at least nominally in contact – I can recall a few times when my cousin and I were told to “Smile for Grandma” before he snapped a picture of us as children.

My mother had only just turned forty last march; Seeing as we lived in a wealthy country with good healthcare, they should still be living. But at most, I had known them as vague undefined figures featured in the periphery whenever Mom felt like sharing funny stories about her brother. My uncle had little to share in terms of fond tales – More than once, I was left to wonder if he had resented growing up in the shadow of his genius sister. They liked each other well enough to trust them with each other’s kids, but they weren’t especially close siblings.

I have no idea if he survived, but I don’t suppose my mother lost too much sleep over it if he didn’t. Though she probably doesn’t even sleep anymore. That’s how far removed she has become from humanity.

While it’s easy to imagine that a pair of rich people might disapprove of my father as a son in law, it’s harder to picture that they would have zero interest in their grandchildren.

Nowadays, I have reason to suppose that they probably had plenty of interest in a tool as useful as myself, but my parents had made sure to keep me stashed away for themselves, far from the clutches of the employers they were meaning to betray all along.

But back to the May of 2014.

By the time our dinner was nearing its completion, I finally got around to talk to my mother about the field trip and my mighty need for her to sign my paper.

“So Mom… the thing is, I had a fight with Asuka just a while ago, and I really want to make it up to her. So I was thinking… Asuka really liked that Bento I gave her that one time, and that one girl from music club says that his class went to the same place last year – apparently, the canteen there is so-so. So I was thinking to surprise my friends with some homemade lunch boxes, and I was wondering if you could help me with that… I’ve been wanting to try something like that for a while now, but if it’s for four or more people at once, I’m not sure I could do it alone...”

Usually, she would be enthusiastic about things like that, but this time, she scrunched up her forehead into a frown.

“Your field trip is next Monday, is that right?”

There was really only one thing that this response of hers could mean.
“Do you have work on Sunday as well?”

“I was planning on going, to be honest, but I’m sure I can squeeze you in… Can you do the shopping yourself?”

I nodded uncertainly.

“That’s a relief. I think your idea is really sweet, but your father and I are kind of hard-pressed at the moment. The construction is nearing its final stage right now.”

“Construction? I thought you guys worked with stuff like cell cultures and Petri dishes.”

“Well, that’s how it started, but what we’re building right now has gotten a little too big for a petri dish.”

“What are you building?”

“A human.”

I thought I had misunderstood at first.

“A human?”

“That’s right. You know how the very first computers that were built could fill entire rooms? We’re building a human as large as a building so that we can get all the small stuff right.”

“Like one of those giant models you see in museums?”

“No”, Mom smiled meaningfully. “No model. It is made from real flesh, bone and sinew. A body so big you can climb into it.”

Oh, would that the accursed thing had gone up in flames before she ever finished it.

She was speaking to me of the cause of my death – the dread abomination that would kill my best friends and devour all that I loved, leeching the life from me in little bits and pieces until I became as I am now – and there’s a good chance that she already knew it.

Damn her, and damn my father. At that point, they must already have been forcing those very same horrors upon Asuka and Rei right as we were speaking!

( 1. 3 : For the birds in the making )

May 21 th 2014

T minus 571 days

The trip was sold to us as ‘a visit to an Aquarium’, but while the place we were visiting did offer guided tours, it was not first and foremost a recreational venue, but a scientific facility, dedicated to preserving near-extinct marine animals and coral from the ravages of global warming, pollution and plastic waste, as well as the devising of means to reverse such environmental damage.

That’s what made it technically qualify as an educational excursion – we were all expected to write essays about it and everything.

But even with the homework to worry about for later, the pervasive mood during the bus ride was one of excitement and merrymaking, fanned in part by Misato-sensei’s good cheer.

Asuka alone spent most of the trip poking away at her handheld game, looking decidedly unimpressed – she found Misato’s attitude to be a rather transparent attempt to enthuse us, and complained that she was treating us like we were still in elementary school, expecting us to be impressed by a few weird animals and fish.

I wasn’t bursting with excitement either, to be honest, there was nothing here that we hadn’t seen in pictures on the internet, but I did try to play along for Misato’s sake – she was making an effort to make us happy, so the least we could do.

She was so nice and cool too, I liked how she would just talk to us like actual people instead of addressing us with the affectations of authority. She seemed like someone whom you could actually tell things.

Besides, she actually had some really interesting stories that she shared with us during the bus ride – apparently, she had worked at a place like this one when she was younger, in a program that was trying to breed more heat-resistant crops and animals that would be impervious to Global Warming.

I think I preferred the place where we were going though, what Misato was described sounded like what you’d do if you had already given up on mother nature…

“Well, you know what they say. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst~”

As you can probably imagine, Touji and Kensuke couldn’t get enough of her stories. Kotone was pretty taken with her, too. I could tell why she was so popular – somehow despite being lowkey famous, she was still the type of person to see the good in people, and she wasn’t embarrassed to show her excitement and admiration.

Marie, being Marie, would chip in during Misato’s explanations here and there to tell us all about one thing or another about engineering.

Asuka chimed in with some questions too, but though she was smiling, she was probably looking to one-up Marie’s knowledge on the subject. I hadn’t the foggiest idea what they were talking about, but even us non-geniuses could tell that they were having a bit of a competition despite the phony compliments that they paid each other – and once story time was over and we were all back in our seats, she mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like “insufferable smartass” in her general direction when only I could hear.

When she does stuff like that, I always feel conflicted – I worry that she feels I’m not loyal to her or not receptive to her feelings if I don’t smile and nod, but at the same time, I don’t really want to be dragged into any fights or talk bad about my classmates, many of which were my friends. I wasn’t especially thick with Marie in particular, but Asuka could get pretty mean when talking about people I really liked, such as Touji, Kensuke, or Ayanami.

At least with Misato or Marie, she would act friendly with them in public.

She had plenty of other friends besides me, and you’d never see me complaining, or going out of my way to be rude to them.

Or well. I assumed that she had other friends.

Part of me always assumed that Asuka must have it pretty easy – in so many ways, she moved gracefully through a world that I could only clumsily wade through. But there would come a day where I would look back at all our time together and wonder if she didn’t view all those girls she hung out with like she did Misato and Marie. Apart from myself and Hikari, was there anyone she had ever told even just a fraction of her real thoughts and worries instead of just playing the part of the popular girl…?

Of course, the me from back then would have been utterly clueless about it, and lest you get your hopes up, I should tell you that I would remain that way until it was already far too late.

As we arrived before the gates and poured out of the bus, Asuka maintained her annoyance, and the rest of the class redoubled their enthusiasm. Kensuke had pulled out his camera before we even parked, from the moment the many basins and pools belonging to the facility began to be visible through the windows of the bus – now he was spinning around like a top, determined to get every inch of technical-looking pipes and equipment onto his SD card.

Misato had led the way before the uniformed crowd, waiting for the facility personnel to pick us up.

Asuka had crossed her arms and was still intent on looking as unimpressed as she could possibly manage.

Touji had flung an arm around me. “Whohaa! They surely aren’t being cheap on the school trips around here. Since the school is run by your Dad’s organization, I supposed we ought to thank you~”

It was always weird to be reminded of that. It’s like they were waiting for the appearance of some bent old retainer in traditional clothing who would call me ‘Young Master’.

“It’s not like I had anything to do with it…”

Anything to do with the school is probably the purview of the HR department – but then again, now that I think of it, it’s not impossible that someone at the institute happened to know one of the researchers from here well enough to ask a favor, maybe from being at the same college or something.

Eventually, a tall, stubble-chinned man with a ponytail approached us from a side door.

I thought at first that the has supposed to be our guide, but then I saw Misato’s face.

“W-What are you doing here! Weren’t you supposed to be a journalist or something?”

“Intrepid reporter Ryoji Kaji, at your service~” Raising his hand before his chest, he made an extravagant little bow and then winked as if he was expecting to summon sparkles from the special effects department. “As fortune would have it, I happen to be writing an article about this facility! But to think that we would run into each other like this… must be fate.”

“More like doom!”

“But what are you doing here, Katsuragi?” A quick look across the nearby crowd of uniformed students must have made an answer unnecessary.

“Who would have thought that you would end up as a school teacher of all things!”

All of Misato’s good cheer had practically evaporated.

“Look, I know that the concept of ‘responsibility’ has always been a foreign one for you, but I am working here, and I have my students to look after! So I suggest that you kindly mind your own business!”

“Alright, alright! Don’t shoot me Ma’am!” the impudent stranger raised up his hands like he was expecting a police arrest.

Somehow that just made it worse. There were inevitable snickers from the class, for by this point even the densest kid on earth would have concluded that this intrepid reporter was something like her Ex-Boyfriend.

Misato looked amazingly miserable. I can’t imagine that it is remotely pleasant for an adult woman to have a classroom’s worth of 7th grades snickering get her problems – to be fair, I don’t think her old friend the dashing reporter realizes this, but the rumors were sure to spread through the entire school like a wildfire, so that she would not be free of them even while it was her turn to teach the other classes.

Since Misato and my classmates were clearly not the only ones to be touring the facility at this time, I wondered briefly if there was anyone else who would be joining us before we could proceed, but for now, there wasn’t anybody.

While we waited to be let in, Misato did seem to be doing her best to ignore Mr. Kaji, who kept stubbornly grinning in her direction.

It seems that even if she could not see him, she knew him well enough to guess exactly what he was doing.

When we were finally summoned inside, I think she was as more relieved than all us impatient little kiddies put together.

And we were patently still little kiddies; Our responses to all the random marine animals should have made that quite clear. I am willing to admit, for all my talk of having seen it all on the internet before, I was not so above it at all: My reaction was ultimately the same as that of my friends.

It was a whole different thing to see that many creatures in so little space, in three dimensions, where you could get a real sense of the scale and notice little details for yourself that you’d never been told about.

“Woow it’s huuuge!” Touji immediately started running around the place as if he couldn’t decide which of the enormous tanks to look at first.

Kensuke, of course, had anticipated such questions by bringing his camera.

Even I couldn’t keep the excitement from spreading all across my face: “Wow, so that’s what they look like in real life!”

I took my time to observe the various exhibits and read the plaques which told of the types of ecosystems that each tank was supposed to replicate, but I was really no different from Touji and Kensuke, who, like most of my classmates, were still too excited to think about standing still. (“Look at that cool-ass turtle!” “By the way, did you know that turtles have their junk on the end of their tail?”)

If you must know, my favorite were the jellyfish.

But hey, let’s be fair here. Even Rei was looking positively floored, at least by her standards, with her eyes slightly widened and her mouth drawn into an adorable little dot.

And Asuka’s pouty insistence on being sooo above it was all the more childish for how blatantly tryhard it was.

“Look at those immature little boys, getting excited like little kids! They look so stupid, amirite?”

But to her horror, her friends were no less excited than us.

“Look at that adorable little Octopus!” I didn’t spot that particular one, but it must have been adorable indeed, if it had made Hikari drop all her usual reserve. Next to her, Mayumi was far less vocal, but all the more stunned by the miracle of life.

Later, I would spot her taking long, deliberate looks at the various tanks, particularly the one styled after a coral reef, as if she were trying to observe a snippet in the day of some particular fish.

Even Marie was unabashedly excited, though not quite in the same way as the rest of us:

“Look at that amazing pipe system! Isn’t it a marvel of engineering?”

Which isn’t to say that she was wholly uninterested in the contents of the Aquariums:

“Oh wow!! A cluster of green-tipped Entacmaea quadricolor, right beneath that clownfish! That‘s my very favorite kind of Sea Anemone!“

Elsewhere, Mana and Kotone were having the time of their lives. All along, the two of them had been looking forward to this trip even more than Asuka had been snide about it – Mana, for her part, had always been a great enthusiast about the inherent romanticism of water (during music club, she had more than once mentioned that a piece of music reminded her of the mysterious sea or a romantic lake), and Kotone simply liked adorable things. When I first mentioned her that I’d joined the literature club, her first reaction was to ask me if I could recommend her a book about cute animals.

I could hear their excited shrieks of delight from a good distance away when they found the seals and penguins.

I know all this because, after a while, I went off to see where Rei had gone off to, so I walked across the facility looking for her, coming across my classmates and their various states of excitement. Unfortunately, I fear that Hikari and Marie were unsuccessful at spreading their enthusiasm to Asuka, cause I spotted her sticking close to our teacher and that reporter dude, and eventually just giving up and reaching for her handheld game. I remember thinking ‘I don’t know what her problem is’. Guess what, I really didn’t.

I wonder if she already knew then that the rest of us were all considered candidates. I wonder also why I didn’t go to her if she was clearly looking miserable – maybe that just stands out to me in hindsight, knowing what I know now, while past me would have been lowkey annoyed at her for having to be such a killjoy for no reason, especially since she was normally the one admonishing me for my lack of enthusiasm. I wasn’t going to start a fight if I didn’t have to; She had a tendency to lean into her more aggressive sort of feelings, to use them as fuel to her fire perhaps, but I really didn’t like being mad or getting into any other conflict, so perhaps I chose to avoid her until I could be happy about her presence again.

Maybe I was just distracted by the colors, the excitement of the school trip, and the carefree joy of my youth. Perhaps I took her for granted, assuming that our friendship would always be there just because it had long since become a fixture of my life, captivated by all the exciting new people in my class.

Or maybe there was no reason at all, as I had no reason to suspect that she was seriously upset.

Perhaps I thought she wouldn’t notice me either, absorbed in her game as she was.

In any case, I must have walked right past her.

I have no explicit memory of it, but I must have done it to get where I remember being later.

I had spotted Rei upstairs on some narrow catwalk, smack dab in front of a smaller, tube-like fish tank, pressing one hand against it in contemplation, her unusual coloration all the more exaggerated by the blue light of the tank.

It took me a moment to figure out how she got up there, but at last, I took the same path and followed her onto the narrow rail.

She looked to me briefly when she took note of my presence, but after no longer than it would have taken her to simply ascertain my presence, her attention turned back to the frail, tiny creatures beyond the glass.

“I’m so glad you were able to come. Since you were absent last week, I was worried that you were not going to make it…”

“Today is fine. I had already finished all my assignments, so I could attend.”

We stood together, wrapped in blue shadows by the light that silhouetted us.

I considered the little fish before us, constricted by just an inch of life that was to them what the ship’s hull must be to an astronaut trapped in the void. I’d heard that though fish were often thought of as being easy to keep, it actually took quite a delicate balance to get an aquarium to thrive long-term.

“I wonder if they feel cramped in there. They were supposed to have the whole ocean…”

“Impossible.” I was surprised by the sharp finality in Rei’s voice, and more yet by the outright downcast, melancholy look on her face. “Maybe they could have lived there long ago, when the oceans were still pure. But as things are now, these little ones can only live in here. In that sense, they are the same as me.”

Between us was only the silence, as well as the subliminal, ambient buzzing of the machines that had thus far been too faint to enter into my consciousness while I was entranced by so many other sounds and sights, and even the various temperatures from the tanks and the faint smells of water.

I was at a complete loss there –

There was nothing I could possibly have said to that, both because I didn’t know what she meant, and because I did sense what she felt.

As we stood there, bits of future passed through the present and at last, turned to past.

For the very first time, I considered that life as we knew it was a very delicate, fragile thing -

And if my life had taken a different turn here, perhaps the school could have marked down a success in getting me to care about the environment.

The people running this facility had no idea that all their desperate efforts at protecting this world would come to nothing. If they had known, would they have come from their offices, labs and engine rooms to beg at my feet? Would I have made them many promises only to break them all in the end?

Every single day that I had the privilege to live in a world that was so full of life seems so… wasted to me now. Like I dreamt it all away with childish concerns.

Even the food I had prepared for my friends was just something I thought of as means to impress them, without ever stopping to appreciate that I even had good, fresh food – Even in the old world before my birth, not everyone could say that much…

But yeah, eventually we had our lunch break at the facility’s canteen, and I did get to spare everyone’s wallets by strategically pulling out the lunch boxes that I’d prepared for this particular moment. My mom had helped me with them after all, and it was her idea to label each one with a sticker so that they could be adjusted to everyone’s likes and dislikes – for example, I had vegetarianized Rei’s portion, stuffed the leftover meat into Touji’s, and made Asuka’s extra spicy.


I might be telling the story of my life, but I realize that no one would be interested in it if it wasn’t also a historical record.

I imagine that some of posterity – if there is any – will fall over themselves to deconstruct and analyze anything I say like the ravings of a mad king, while others yet will without doubt point to the historical and psycho-social factors much larger than myself, putting it at the feet of the people around me who allowed for all this too happen and writing me off as a helpless, clueless cog in the machine. I can’t say which is worse.

A horrible, pedantic part of me had been hoping that at least the artists among you would appreciate having the end so juxtaposed with the beginning – those among you with longing in their hearts might be lusting for just about any account of the world we lost, ready to suck meaning from and extrapolate connections into every detail; I’m sure that is also what Kaworu would say if he were here, except he’d find some way to make it sound legitimate and profound no matter how selfish and pathetic it sounds coming from me – it was his idea that I should try making a record of my experiences, and it was he who theorized about some other intelligence reading it even if this planet burns, but of course I couldn’t complete it while he would have been around to read it, and as things are going now, I fear that before long there will be nobody left here but mother, walking the shores with her spear –

If I’m honest I’m not sure I really care any longer.

I hope she will be pleased with herself when she finds out what exactly I’ve come to think of her ever since she’s left me behind.

But even if there really will be future readers – by some miracle of Misato’s doing, no doubt…

I’m afraid I must disappoint you all, Kaworu-kun included.

But it’s so hard.

Once, our visit to the Aquarium would have been a cherished childhood memory, which I would have loved to recount again and again. I would have talked of my newfound awareness for the manifold wonders of Earth, of how proud I was to have everyone eating my lunches, how glad I was that I managed to talk with Rei, to be trusted with her thoughts -

Now, when I think back to it, I am simply reminded of all the things I failed to save, everything I failed to appreciate while I still had the chance.

When I try to think back to the young faces of my friends, I cannot keep the awareness of their eventual fates from bleeding through. I see their broken shells superimposed on their smiling faces, and the last of their dreadful wails intermingling with their laughter…

Okay. Deep breaths. Focus. Fix some time and place.

I believe we were all scattered across the tables in the Aquarium’s canteen. I have a memory of observing Misato and Mr. Kaji from the corner of my eye, sitting on one of the tables, far enough from where I was sitting that I could witness his attempts at playing footsie – for the most part, he made some unsuccessful pokes at Misato’s rigid feet. She didn’t return the gesture, but neither did she pull her feet back in, or slide up the bench, or get up and leave.

I think that confused me back then.

And there were – well. Everyone was eating the stuff I had brought. Loads of it.

“Whoha! The seasoning really brings out the flavor!”

“Shinji! You’ve been hiding your talents!”

“Ah, come on Touji, ‘talent’ is probably exaggerating it. Besides, my mom helped me...”

Even Asuka was looking unabashedly impressed, her earlier bad mood forgotten for a moment.

“It’s surprisingly good.”

Only Rei still appeared a little reluctant, having seated herself just a little away from the group while the others had instinctively converged on one end of the table the moment the others started assembling at this particular table. She had picked up the little lunch box I had placed in front of her, but so far, she had not opened it – which was of course the exact moment I had been waiting for to finally make up for the silence blunder:

“Don’t worry, there is absolutely no bacon in this one.”

That was my best try at cracking a joke.

I’m not sure she even really remembered what I was referring to.

“But maybe it’s best if you have some soup first! It’ll warm you up.” I reached for my trusty thermos and poured her some into a cup. When I handed it to her, I think some of our fingertips touched the slightest bit for the briefest moment.

I can’t describe my feeling when I saw the change on her face – after three chapters of this you’re probably expecting me to tell you about some subtle, minute shift that could only be discerned with patience and experience, but that’s exactly what it wasn’t.

It was blatant. Exactly like you would imagine ‘blatant’, like it would count for ‘blatant’ of anyone else, a look I would rejoice to see on Touji’s or Asuka’s face, wide glittering eyes –

And rejoice, I did. In my mind, the bells rang and the fireworks went off.

I was a middle schooler, okay? I wanted people to like me. Isn’t that normal? Isn’t that perfectly common?

I didn’t know what was gonna happen – I thought that in three years, I would just move on to high school, and then go on to an ordinary salary-man – or a musician, maybe, at most. That’s what passed for a grandiose, self-indulgent idea for me.

So yes, I was pathetically happy that she liked my pathetic soup! Shoot me.

Shoot me for daring to want a classmate to like me!

Hang me, for daring to act like any kid my age, for wanting what anyone could want, feeling what anyone else could feel without the slightest consequence.

How selfish of me, to be a human being!

Except, I can hear you say, that isn’t precisely what I’m being accused of, and I can’t deny that you’re right. That’s not the point. Even if I went to discuss the insinuation that I might have wanted a little bit more than just to be liked by her and whatever unholy acts you wish to compare that to, that still wouldn’t be the point.

The point is what happened.

But I didn’t know it would happen; I didn’t even know it could.

Feelings don’t excuse actions, fine. But they don’t cause them either.

I didn’t act. I wasn’t capable of that anymore – and even if I had wanted this, there should have been nothing I could do about it except scream into my pillow and shake my fist at the sky, just like everybody else.

I just…

I didn’t think I’d have to justify every bit of selfish joy I ever dared to feel.


After that incident, I had to break up a couple of arguments between Asuka and the others; I accomplished this chiefly by encouraging them to keep stuffing their mouths.

To be fair to her, I must object to that somewhat old-fashioned comment of Touji’s, and be it only out of self-interest; Kensuke had been trying to get him to see the light for a while.

But I don’t know how she managed to pick a fight with Rei of all people!

I mean, she hardly answers back! She hardly talks to anyone unless she has urgent business with them, and as I would learn later, she is gentle and sympathetic even to those who treat her as an enemy – she simply didn’t have much of a chance to demonstrate that back when she hardly knew anyone and our lives were mostly peaceful. I don’t suppose I would have had that chance either if I didn’t have any friends.

But somehow Asuka had an issue with the whole vegetarianism thing. It’s true that there are some vegetarians and vegans that get pretty anal about preaching about the superiority of their lifestyle, but if you condemn all vegetarians based on that bunch you’re being just as judgy as them, and Rei was definitely not judging or preaching to anyone, just minding her own business, doing her own thing, without hurting anyone.

After all that happened to Asuka, I don’t want to feel bitter towards her, though I cannot deny that there was a time when I did. I hate to even think about it – in the beginning, she was my friend. She should have been my friend, and I should have been hers. I never meant to let this die – I wanted us to stay friends forever and drink orange juice on the porch of an old people’s home one day.

But why must she take offense to people just existing in her vicinity, and be mad at them for things they cannot help? Why must she see anything anyone says as a statement about herself?

Why must she take it personally if others don’t give her attention 24/7? Especially someone like Rei.

Why couldn’t she just ignore us and mind her own business?!

Why can’t she just be nice!

But I guess it’s apparent at this point that it’s not just Asuka’s behavior towards Rei that I’m talking about. Usual pathetic me, just coward hiding behind noble motivations.

A weakling, a phony, a liar, and a thief!

Why didn’t I jump off that cliff?

Why didn’t I just let that Angel swallow me and never be seen again?

Why didn’t I have the decency to stay beneath the surface of that goddamned lake!



Of course, in hindsight, it seems pretty obvious that both Asuka’s foul mood that day and her sudden, newfound antipathy towards Rei must have had something to do with her “part-time job”. I bet I would’ve heard some rather interesting things too, if I had listened in on what Misato-sensei and Mr. Kaji would have been discussing.

But I didn’t, and now, I can never change that… believe me, I’ve tried.

*plays the next episode preview music *
1.4 Through the strategic application of puppy dog eyes, Shinji and Asuka get Ms. Soryu to let them into the fancy company pool at the Artificial Evolution Laboratory
1.5 The Ikaris go camping during summer break
1.6 Class I-A gets its obligatory mysterious transfer student
1.7 Tokyo-3 Munipal High School becomes the stage for some unusual talent scouting
1.8 The heroic Kensuke Aida feels honor-bound to investigate the veracity of the local cryptid sightings, and all our friends get roped into helping him
1.9 The kids of Class I-A receive some career counseling
2.0 ???
*Misato voice* Sabisu Sabisuuu~
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

Defender of Puppy Boy
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

  • Quote

Postby Kendrix » Sat Jan 09, 2021 5:17 pm

1.4 The Forbidden Fruit  SPOILER: Show
(1.4: Die verbotene Frucht)

As the month of May drew to a close, the days grew hotter and hotter.
While our summer uniforms had still felt a bit chilly to walk around in in the rainy days of April, I was now seriously beginning to envy the girls for getting to leave their knees uncovered, while I sweated even in the light cloth pants of my uniform.
Actually, the sweat might also have something to do with this ‘puberty’ thing which I had been hoping would still be a while off.

One way or another, it was seriously hot, in that exact kind of way that tends to trigger an intense longing for summer activities in certain people. Whenever I went driving through town now, most people were wearing shorts and short sleeves.
Even Rei eventually swapped the few old-fashioned shortgowns and blouses she would wear around the house on weekends for a no less minimalist selection of a few differing short, white dresses – there was the one with the spaghetti straps, that other one that narrowed just under her ribcage, another old-fashioned button up one with shorter sleeves, and one plain shorts-and-t-shirt combo for absolute emergency temperatures. There was usually one of those outfits on her body, one in the laundry and one to two in her largely empty clothing rack, unless it was a school day on which they might in fact all be in the laundry or something, because she would usually walk about the place in her summer uniform.
We even got one day so bad that even my father caved: For all his usual bad habit to walk around the apartment in his scruffy, stuffy uniform, he had not only got rid of it quite quickly but fetched a bucket of water to cool his feet in while he sat at his usual place at the kitchen table reading his scientific journals. But he’s not really the unflappable one; The really impressive part that mother was dozing at her laptop across from him. You probably don’t get that sort of heat any more in your day. We’re talking absolutely insufferable brain-melting heat, the sort that really got you worried about global warming.
Asuka told me that from what her stepmother had told her, they didn’t use to get that sort of heat for more than a week in her country (and then, schools would close early, the whole village would race to the outdoor pool, and occasional naked sunbathers might be spotted in the parks of larger cities) but nowadays, it was present nearly throughout the entire summer – in a place where most of the houses were build to trap heat and only fancy offices and rich people had air conditioning because it had simply been unnecessary until just a few years’ prior. That meant, of course, that Asuka’s poor little half-sister was most likely sweating in a sweltering sauna-classroom right now. But she ought to count herself lucky, really, because Japan was somewhat closer to the equator, even having some sub-tropical regions in it. So in addition to the heat, we had to deal with humidity, too.

This was just about the time around which the public pools started filling up with those versed in the art of swimming
I realize that this probably sounds hardly more sensible than Touji’s old-fashioned aversion to cooking, but if you ask me, humans are not meant for the water.
But you’ve probably spotted the pattern now; You’re probably no longer surprised to learn that Asuka loves swimming. In fact, I’m sure she would like me to mention that she went further than just swimming. Somewhere in the depth of my phone’s hard drive are some holiday photos or her snorkeling, jumping from a giant diving board, winning her old school’s swimming competition, outright scuba diving at her tender age etc.
Long story short: Father Neptune is not the boss of her.
So I’m sure you’ll find it natural enough that she decided to fend off the cloying heat wave by reaching for her bathing suit. So far, it should all perfectly make sense – in fact, it makes enough sense that you might be wondering why I’m even relating it explicitly instead of skipping over it like many other vaguely pleasant summer days that I didn’t explicitly elaborate on. I assure you, it gets complicated later.
By that, I don’t mean that Asuka dragged me along even though I’d be fairly useless at a swimming pool, that was to be expected (“What are you, stupid? How come you didn’t learn how to swim at any point in the last six years? It’s a vital survival skill, you know!”) - at least, I’d get to cool off from the bestial heat in the shallow end or the kiddie pool. Besides, it was nice to see Asuka get excited and energetic about something again after her recent turn for the cynical, even if I could not share the full extent of her enthusiasm… besides, since it was an outdoor pool, someone needed to remind her to wear sunscreen, or else, she would totally forget about it and turn up to school looking like a very ill-tempered lobster the next day, and possibly get skin cancer ten years down the line or something, which would seriously ruin her day when she finally got around to whatever she would be doing in the future – Boarding a Mars Rocket? Preparing a hostile takeover of a major tech conglomerate? Running for chancellor or prime minister?
Little did I know that this would be the least of her worries.
Though I’m surprised that “being a post-apocalyptic war lord” (war lady?) didn’t make it onto her ridiculous list.

Today was the one day of the week on which I didn’t have any club activities. Normally I’d be hanging out with Touji and Kensuke, but since Touji was supposed to be doing something with his family today, Kensuke had picked this day to abscond and check out some warships at a nearby military base. But since Asuka didn’t have to come in for work either, it seemed like the ideal day for our pool action.
So, we took the trap to the municipal outdoor pool. We watched it appear in the distance, big winding water slides and all. We paid our fees, made our way to two adjacent changing booths to change clothes – I had just about put on the simple blue swim trunks I had acquired especially for this day (bye bye pocket money – oh, the things we do for friendship) when I suddenly heard great sounds of dismay emanating from the booths next door.
“Hey Asuka, is everything okay?”
Apparently not. She emerged at once, but she was still in the casual yellow sundress she had arrived in. She was angrily lifting her bag into the air like she was meaning to use it like a club or a flail. “I can’t believe it! I must have grabbed the wrong bag!”
I was aware that Asuka owned way more bags than I could keep track of, but the one she was holding up was one I had seen before; she had brought it a few times while she was visiting us throughout the years. So far as I could tell, it was a perfectly fine, ordinary duffel bag, sporty looking, shiny red leather, perhaps on the more expensive side, of the sort that a trendy young professional would keep their gym clothes in.
“How exactly is it wrong?”
“I figured it was the right one since my towels were in there, but it wasn’t! This isn’t my swim suit, it’s my plug suit!”
“Your what?”
“My… work clothes. For my part-time job.” She definitely noticed that she slipped up there, but she thought I could be easily fobbed off with some flimsy excuse, which was… fair enough, I suppose.
Even if I had picked up on the term she used and tried googling it, I don’t doubt I would have found more than some internet forum posts of people arguing over the correct use of various power plugs, if I had even managed to spell it correctly. Maybe I would have imagined something more like cyberpunk evening wear, the sort of suit that goes with a tie but instead with cables or something. The likely truth is that I didn’t catch the unfamiliar word at all.
I was too busy being dismayed that the two of us had just blown about 500 yen on nothing.
I could have bought three scoops of ice cream from that!
But we had already gone in and had out tickets stamped, and we could hardly go swimming without Asuka’s swimsuit.
“Gaah! I hate this!”
“I’m sorry. Maybe we could try coming again tomorrow?”

May 26th 2014
T minus 565 days

Unfortunately, by the next morning, the heatwave had hit that typical tipping point where all the all the water that had evaporated in the days of maddening heat was now just about ready to condense back into droplets all at once, dropping suddenly out of the overripe atmosphere.
The sky was overcast when I left for school that morning, and by the time class had started, the rain was coming down in sheets.
The ambient sights of thunder and lightning only served to garnish our misfortune.
“Aaargh, this blows!”
Said Asuka, pounding on her desk during recess, looking just about ready to demand that the sky let her speak to its manager.
“I guess that’s it for our afternoon plans.”
“Wait what? No way. You always give up way too easily, you know. Aren’t you supposed be a man?”
“But we can’t go swimming if we’re going to be hit by lightning!”
As if she had been waiting for that line, Asuka broke into a wide, ominous smirk. “Says who.”

The instant I walked out of the literature club room that day, I got dragged off by by wrist.
One moment I was absentmindedly walking down the hallway, enjoying a nice bit of music with my headphones, and the next, Asuka was standing right in front of me with her hands on her hips, determinedly blocking my path.
All I got or an explanation was her pointing straight at me with her finger.
“You’re coming with me!”
And then we were off.
We were halfway into the city before I pieced together that she did not in fact intend to go swimming in the current weather, lightning hazards be damned.
“Just wait a bit- I’m sure the public pool is going to be closed anyways-”
“What are you, stupid? Why on earth would we be going there?”
Indeed, based on the streetcars we had been taking, I don’t think I recognized the route.
Or actually, I did. But it was not the one to the community pool.
“Wait a moment- isn’t this near the laboratory where our moms work?”
Asuka smirked. “Precisely! The lab has go its own pool. Indoors. There’s no reason why we can’t just swim there.”
“But isn’t that only for employees?”
“Our parents are employees. I’m sure no one would make a fuss if they brought us, so we might as well get in on our own. Who’s gonna kick us out? Your father is their boss.”
“That sounds like taking advantage though… wait, are you bringing me so people won’t bother you on my parents’ account?”
“I’m bringing you because someone needs to stop you from sitting around in your room all day.”
What’s wrong with that, anyways? And more importantly,
“How are we even gonna get in? You’d probably need passcodes or keycards or-”
“We’ll just ring the door nicely and ask my mom to let us in.”

What’s worth mentioning, in hindsight, is that we came across a familiar face in the lobby.
“Hey, baka Shinji, isn’t that the hot reporter guy from the aquarium?”
She brusquely pulled me behind one of the lobby’s fancy columns so she could peek past it from behind and observe in secret.
It appears that she was right, that was definitely Mr. Kaji, stubble, ponytail and all.
He’d definitely left a memorable impression on us, poor Misato-sensei still found the occasional Love Love Umbrella scribbled on the blackboard. As you can see, Asuka’s definition of ‘hot’ was exactly as you would expect is to be. Mere mortals like us need to apply. You’d think she’d take heed of all those things Misato had said about his lackluster qualities as a boyfriend.
As for Mr. Kaji himself, he appeared to be stalking with a female staffer. He had a camera around his neck and in his hands, a clipboard, on which he was periodically making notes.
Of course, those were large, rough, masculine hands, and the first two buttons of his shirts were left open, revealing just a hint of the fuzzy hair on his chest, a veritable carpet of virility.
I had no doubt that he must have more girls and women fawning over him already than I could hope to impress in my entire life.
He seemed to be ramping up the charm deliberately too, wink wink nudge nudge. In the best case one could assume that he was looking to put his mark in a talkative mood.
It didn’t seem to be working though, the poor staffer, a woman around twenty, seemed to be more embarrassed than dazzled.
“What’s he doing here?”
“Maybe research for an article about the lab?”
“We might find out if we eavesdrop for a bit.”
“Isn’t that a breach of privacy? Besides, your mom is waiting for us…”
“You’re no fun.”
But fun or no fun, Asuka must have recognized that I was right, even if she didn’t admit it. If her mom was taking time out of her busy day to entertain us, it would be rude to keep her waiting.

Ms. Soryu’s office contained a red velvet old-timesy couch that has a cute little pillow and a light blanket thrown on it; It’s well known that she often naps there. The office itself, with its desk, coffee table and numerous file cabinet was in a state of mess.
If this was my first time here I might have been surprised, for Ms. Soryu was known to be very meticulous and diligent when it came to her work – her personal appearance, too, tended to be fairly polished, like her daughter’s. Perhaps this room had been deemed something unimportant whose upkeep she didn’t have time for amid all her great concerns – or maybe she had a system, for I’d never seen her taking more than a few seconds to find some paper when she needed it.
Perhaps surprisingly, Ms. Soryu was a chatty, extroverted person who was always good for a bit of office gossip. From her general description you might have expected some choleric, abrasive type, like Asuka but less ‘celebrity-like’, but no: She was the sort that would teasingly refer to me as ‘Asuka’s little boyfriend’ at times. We both rather wished she’d stop. It was easy to see how Mr. Langley could have gotten the wrong impression and failed to expect that she would be a tough, professional type underneath; I guess when it came to the women in the Soryu family, appearances could be deceiving.
Her full name was Kyoko Zeppelin-Soryu.
She was a bit curvier and stockier in build than most women you’d see walking around the street in these parts, and then of course there was her long, wavy golden-blond hair, a few shades warmer than Marie’s. Her daughter was sleeker, but she had the same ruddy skin-tone. At this point, having reached her mid-forties, she had acquired some amount of laughing wrinkles around her mouth and eyes.
I was worried that she’d be mad about the two of us showing up unannounced, but she just waved us in with a smile. “Ah! Asuka-chan! And Shin-chan, too? It’s really nice to see you!”
We promptly got our hair ruffled, our cheeks pinched, the whole shebang really, as if we were still tiny elementary schoolers… which I suppose we would have been just a few months ago, so to be fair, we should probably have granted Ms. Soryu some time to get used to the change.
Asuka seemed rather embarrassed by such exuberance. “Come on. You would have seen me at home anyways.”
“Sure. But you know that I’m always glad for any chance to see my precious little Asuka-chan~”
“I’m not a baby, Mama.”
“Aww, but you were such an adorable baby, Asuka-chan~ Wanna see some pictures, Shinji?”
In hindsight, I’m pretty sure the correct answer here would have been a firm, resounding ’No’, but being somewhat overwhelmed, I took too long to respond, which caused my silence to be taken for a yes. Still, it’s rather touching that Ms. Soryu apparently keeps a special emergency stash of baby Asuka pictures at her desk. Maybe she looks at them whenever she needs some extra encouragement.
“Look here, isn’t she just adorable?”
She showed me an indeed fairly cute picture of roughly two-year old Asuka tenderly hugging what probably used to be her favorite doll, hand-sewn by Ms. Soryu herself, with buttons for eyes and red ‘hair’ matching Asuka’s. I believe she still has it stashed away somewhere, along with the stuffed monkey she got from her stepmother, for all that she claims that she has officially been too old to play with toys since forever. She’s lucky that she was born once modern society had already decided that video games don’t count as ‘toys’, rather like model trains and collector figurines.
I couldn’t help but notice that the picture was cropped to omit whoever was holding her, which means it was probably Mr. Langley.
“Come on Mama! It’s enough already! You’re making me look bad in front of my friends!”
Asuka was visibly blushing at this point.
Though humorously, Ms. Soryu was not any less pouty: “It’s not fair. You’ll be grown up eventually, so what’s the rush? I wouldn’t mind if you stayed small and cute just a little longer…”
“Well I’m not. I can think for myself and decide for myself, so I should get to decide who gets to see my photos!”
Just look at us.
So used to having living, caring parents that we could afford the luxury of being embarrassed by them… I’m sure you must be wanting to punch me in the face.

Anyways, eventually Asuka did explain our purpose here, to which Ms. Soryu gave her warm, cheerful assent. I was beginning to think that this was probably not the first time that Asuka had taken advantage of the lab’s ample facilities.
“It’s really no big deal, Baka Shinji. Mom used to bring me all the time ever since she was a little girl. And then later when I got older she said I could come here on my own whenever I wanted.”
That confused me.
“Wouldn’t she take some time off for your visits?”
“Now you sound like Papa! Maybe your mom can afford to do that since she’s got your dad to help her out.”
“Still, if they wouldn’t even give her time off to look after her daughter, I’ll really need to have a word with my parents...”
“It’s not that she can’t take time off. She’s busy. She’s doing important things that are recognized by all the world, and I’m proud of her for that. Maybe you and your little boy friends need someone to take care of you all the time, but I don’t. I never did, ever since I was a kid. I’ve got no time to be spoiled. Besides, I like coming here. The amenities are excellent, and I can see Mama whenever I like even if she’s busy.”
I wonder if Ms. Soryu realizes that her own actions might be part of the reason why her daughter feels the need to grow up early. I’m thinking that Asuka’s dad might actually have a point there.
I didn’t say that, though. It was none of my business, and besides, Asuka will get mad.
She clearly loves her mother very much and aspires in many ways to be industrious & successful like her. She feels compelled to defend her I think – for the recent past she has mostly lived with her dad and his new wife, so she doesn’t want to make it seem like she is taking their side,
She has always been pretty proud and she doesn’t like owing people, so, the only reason she ever opened up to me about this is probably that we’ve known each other forever – that, and that she was kinda miserable immediately after the divorce.
From what she’s told me, the new Mrs. Langley is the exact opposite of Ms. Soryu in almost every way: Rather than blond and curvy, she is tall and thin with dark hair. Instead of a scientist who works on momentous matters for her own glory, she is a Doctor who helps others. I’ve heard Mrs. Langley described as a cool, intellectual individual with a more subtle, passionate side to her, while I know Ms Soryu as a warm and lively person with a hard, ambitious core. While Asuka’s birth parents are both from the southwest of Germany, her stepmom is from the northeast of the country – apparently she has switched out the customary family breakfast of Leberkäswecks for Mettbrötchen and pickled herring Sandwiches. (I have no idea was any of these things are, but that’s beside the point.)
From what Asuka has told me, she gets along with Mrs. Langley just fine. Even when she’s visiting here, they have long phone calls all the time; In front of her mom, she’ll say that it’s only out of basic obligation, but that’s just her acting tough as usual. Maybe some part of her even likes getting more time and attention that she would with her birth mom. But she also feels guilty about that, like she’s being disloyal to Ms. Soryu somehow. But she doesn’t really want to antagonize Mrs. Langley either. In reality she probably feels somewhat torn between the two at times, as if there were something wrong with wanting both of them to like her.
It probably doesn’t help that the divorce was somewhat messy from what I’ve heard, though I wouldn’t be familiar with the details. I was just a preschooler at the time.
I’d always known Ms. Soryu as a gregarious, somewhat goofy friend of the family so it was hard to imagine her in the context of an ugly breakup, though I suppose that this would involve sides of her that she wouldn’t show to some co-worker’s kid. It is said that just about anyone can get really ugly in matters that involve the soft, fleshy parts of their deep feelings and self-image.
Asuka is probably right that ought to appreciate that my parents are still together; After more than 15 years, still can’t keep their hands off of each other. Though I’ve overheard them mentioning that they’d both had other admirers over the years, neither of them has ever been the slightest bit interested in anybody else, and they hardly ever argue. So I really can’t imagine what it must be like to be in Asuka’s situation…

One could tell that she came here often. This place was an absolute maze full of countless elevators and escalators, yet Asuka seemed to know exactly where she was going. I was much encouraged to follow after her quickly. If I had lost sight of her, I’m not sure that I could have found my way out without help. I lost all sense of orientation sooner rather than later; I couldn’t even have told you how far up in the building we were. I don’t recall that the complex was that tall, but the elevators here do have loads and loads of buttons; I think they go sideways as well. At last, Asuka stopped in her tracks and her face took on a look of delight when she appeared to have spotted whatever it was she had been looking for.

She swiped a key card into one of the automatic doors. If you had asked me where she got it from, I would have been positive that it was her mother’s, but that, too, was just a presupposition.
“There we are! Time to get changed!”
“You did bring the right bag this time, right?”
“Of course! Why would you even ask such a stupid question, Baka Shinji?!”
I had brought a bag, too, but it didn’t contain my swimming trunks. It was one thing to jump into the cold water while it’s hot out but now that the storm that rained on our plans had cooled off the air, the appeal of sitting around in the shallow end of the pool had pretty much evaporated. Unlike the public pool in town, I highly doubt that this place would have water slides, warm whirlpools or anything else that you might still enjoy if you’re not confident in deep water. Thus, I didn’t change out of my uniform at all, but retrieved from my bag what I had packed instead: My school books.
As the first trimester of our school year was drawing to a close, exam week was right around the corner, and today was supposed to be my study day. I had ‘Asuka Day’ scheduled for yesterday, but you know, wrong bag and everything. I expected that she wasn’t going to be thrilled about this, but it’s not like me sitting in the shallow end of the pool would have won much approval from her either.
So I set up my stuff at a safe distance from the water, and tried my best to focus.
Predictably, that didn’t last too long once Asuka arrived. She was sporting short blue shorts printed to look like jeans and a matching tankini top, and had her hair done up in two adorable little buns.
“What are you doing?!” she demanded.
“You’re such a boring guy! Haven’t you ever heard of fun?”
“But we have to do it. I know you’re good at school and everything, but we’re no longer in elementary. Even you won’t be able to keep up without studying, you know.”
“I’m already done with my studying. Unlike you, I did it regularly throughout the year instead of putting it all off until the weeks before the exam so that it doesn’t eat up all my free time later. I’ve even got a study group going with Hikari and Marie. If I were you, I’d worry more about your own grades.”
Isn’t worrying about my own grades exactly what I’m doing right now?
I was about to divert my attention back to the mysteries of fractional algebra, my eyes were drawn away from the pages by a sense of movement somewhere in the distance – the sounds of submersion, the foaming of water, and then, a smooth, fluid motion beneath the surface, as natural as you might picture that of a mermaid – was someone else here? When had they arrived?
Was it another employee, about to question what two kids like us were doing here?
Gliding through the water was a graceful entity in a pure white one-piece swimsuit.
She reached the other end of the pool before she emerged and climbed back out of the pool, short pale hair still dripping wet.
“Is that Rei?”
For a moment, she just stood there silent and serious, without paying us much heed.
She was captivating in that unkempt, unaffected manner that people sometimes have when they are just going about their mundane, daily activities as if there was no one there to observe them.
I was utterly fascinated there for a moment – the thought of what she was doing at the employee pool (you know, for employees) was far from my mind.
She seemed to be getting ready to leave, though, getting out her towel and all. There was only a slight overlap between our visits here; It didn’t seem to occur to her that she might stop what she was doing and say hi to us.
I can’t say I was too disappointed when she left, the air always seemed to get rather thick when the two of them were in the same place.
At least now Asuka would stop trying to get my attention somehow if I so much as glanced in Rei’s general direction. “Hey Shinji, look here~ BACKROLL ENTRY~”
Well, I mean, she only showed off slightly less if the two of us were alone.

But even when Rei had gone, Asuka couldn’t quite leave it alone. At some point, she made a noise of displeasure.
“Why did she have to be here now of all times!”
I cracked a smile, making a deliberate effort to overlook Asuka’s hostile tone.
“She must have had the same idea as us, and asked my parents to let her inside. I had no idea that she liked to go swimming, though. Looks like you two actually have something in common. Maybe you could be friends after all?”
“Don’t you dare compare me to that little suck-up!”
I had no idea what Asuka had against Rei. It’s not unusual for her to dislike people, but it’s like she was taking personal offense to the idea that anyone could like Rei at all.
“Man! Why do you always have to say mean stuff about my friends. Maybe they’re not as popular as yours, but they’re important to me. Don’t talk like you know them.”
“Dude. Miss Honor Student ain’t your friend, and you don’t know her either. Take it from me.”
“And what makes you an authority on that?”
Asuka’s annoyance level appeared to have reached some critical level at which she was actually irked enough to disregard whatever reasons she’d had to hold back before.
“For one thing, I work with her. ”
I blinked, utterly confused. I had expected more mean girl talk, but this- this was something I had genuinely ignorant of.
“...what do you mean?”
“Exactly what I said. She’s my co-worker. At my part-time job. I see her at work several times a week, so you can trust me when I say that she’s absolutely no good. ”
“But Rei doesn’t even have a part-time job. She wouldn’t have the time to begin with since she’s always at the lab for my parents’ study.”
“Baka Shinji. That is our job.”
“Asuka. You’re twelve. You realize that you’re twelve right? You can’t be expecting me to believe that you’ve got a job in a laboratory.”
That annoyed her big time.
“Stop talking like I’m just some kid like any other. You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
She took a deep, pointed inhale before exuding a long, deliberate sigh.
“Well, you’re the Director’s son, so I guess it’s hardly an information leak if I tell you. What are you gonna do, tell your parents? I’m supposed to keep all of this to myself, but since you’re my childhood friend, I’ll make a special one-time exception just for you. But you can’t tell anybody, understood? Everything I’m going to say to you now has got to stay secret. ”
This was seriously beginning to sound like something out of a spy movie. On an anime where an ordinary student is secretly a spy.
But Asuka was looking as serious as I’d ever seen her.
Hesitantly, I nodded.
“Here in this very complex, they are conducting crucial, extra-special research that might impact the very future of mankind!”
That didn’t sound grandiose at all.
“But for that, they are going to need volunteers. One of them is me.”
“Wait, you’re saying that you’re a… test subject?”
“Absolutely not!” she chided me, quite offended at the notion. “That makes it sound like we just sit there and get poked with needles all day, like there’s no skill involved. We’re talking about especially qualified candidates with certain unique abilities. Elite prodigies with special powers, chosen to save the ignorant masses. ”
Congratulation Asuka, your explanation just got twice as ridiculous.
I was more overwhelmed than remotely smug, though.
“Eeeh? Special powers? Like superheroes or ESP?”
“Yeah,” she said bluntly, “Something like that.”
“Okay then… bend a spoon, or, do some pyrokinesis, or tell me what number I’m thinking of.”
“What are you, stupid?” She looked at me precisely like I was the one spouting all the unbelievable stuff.
“There’s no way that it would work exactly like the movies, Baka Shinji.
But seriously, how do you think we just got in here?”
“With your mom’s keycard?”
“Nope. Got my own. Wait right here.”
And off she was. What she retrieved from her bag wasn’t one of the normal keycards for the Artificial Evolution Laboratory like ones I’d always seen my parents using, but a sleek, black thing with a crimson print of a fig leaf. ‘God is in his heaven, and all his right in the world’ it said.
On it was indeed a picture of Asuka, slightly outdated by now, with somewhat shorter hair and some freckles, looking more or less as she did when I had seen her last summer, shorter, more kid-like.
“Why else do you think I moved to Japan in the middle of my education? It was all because of this job.”
That’s when I finally put two and two together, or, the implications of what she said earlier finally computed.
“Wait, then, the reason Rei moved here was also-”
“She’s worked here even longer than I, actually. She was the first qualified candidate. But make no mistake: I’m much better than her. The very best in the world.”
She wore a vibrant smirk with no trace of humility.
“Just out of curiosity, how many of you are there even?”
“Only the two of us. Didn’t you listen? Apparently, the ability to do this work is very rare. Of course, they’re always looking for new candidates and I’d heard that they want to get a scouting program going one of these days, but I’m not putting much faith into it, to be honest. In the end, I guess the fate of humanity will have to rest on my humble shoulders.”

Needless to say, I didn’t get much studying done that day.
In the end, I just defaulted to watching Asuka doing tricks in the pool while a stricken sense of numbness spread through my chest.
At least, I think that this ended up raising her mood… or maybe it was bragging to me of her ‘secret identity’ that had done it. I felt like I was that one character in a magical girl show who is like the main character’s normal best friend who has no idea of their struggles and epic secret life. You know, the one that’s usually sidelined once the other magical girls start showing up.
Though unlike your typical magical girls, Asuka and Rei didn’t seem to have the power of friendship on their side…
“Are you all girls?” I asked, numbly blurting the first thing that came to my mind.
“Well, for the moment. Mom and the other whitecoats say that female embryos are more likely to survive rare mutations for some reason. But there’s no reason why boys can’t do it. I did say that they’re looking for other candidates right now? Apparently one of the people that they’re considering is a boy. But even if they take him, he’ll probably just be a backup at first. The work we’re doing takes a good while to learn. The record holder so far is Rei and she took nine months till she was any good… she’s totally plateaued since though, I surpassed her already. So make no mistake about which of us is the good one.”

I still wasn’t sure what I should believe. I wonder what Ms. Soryu would say if I asked her about this. Or my parents. But Asuka had made me promise to keep it a secret. Maybe she’d get in trouble if it got out that she said something. So there wasn’t much I could do without betraying her trust.
I’d have to go home to my parents and act like nothing changed. I’d have to talk with Rei like I wasn’t worried about what she might be getting up to.
I kind of wished that Asuka had never told me.

Eventually, Ms. Soryu showed up with snacks from the cafeteria.
“How are my favorite kids? Getting plenty of exercise I hope?”
She saw my getup and my stack of schoolbooks. “Hm, seems like Shin-chan’s exercise was more of the mental sort. Anyways, would you care for some ice cream?”
“Ice cream is for babies, Mama!”
“Then you won’t mind if I just give yours to Shinji as well?”
“Argh…! Give! It! Here!”
I got my books out of the way so that we could all be seated – and also, because it was an opportunity to gather my thoughts, a practice run at acting all composed as if I hadn’t just been told something incredible. Since Ms. Soryu worked here there’s no way that she hadn’t known and approved of her daughter’s… part-time job. Surely she wouldn’t allow her to participate in anything dangerous or inappropriate. Surely my mom and dad wouldn’t put Rei through anything awful right?
“Thanks a lot, Soryu-san.” I said as I returned to my seat.
“I hope we’re not distracting you from your work.”
“Nah. I’ve got to eat anyways, and at this point I’m honestly grateful for the little break. We’re about to enter the hot phase.”
“My mom said something like this too, a while ago…” I was honestly bashful about what to say or not to say; Asuka was right there next to me and I didn’t want her to get the impression that I was going to give her away.
“She said that she was working on something like a giant version of the human body. Are you working on that, too?”
Looking at Ms. Soryu’s face, it was easy to guess which side of the family Asuka got her usual smirk from. “Not at all. I feel bad for saying this in front of her kid, but rest assured that the synthetic humanoid that I’m working on is going to be much more impressive than Yui-kun’s.”
She underlined this with a playfully dismissive little hand gesture.
Ms. Soryu had always considered both my mom and Mari’s something like her rivals. My mom was generally too absorbed in her vision and the big picture to bother with something like personal competition, though, and Mari’s mom, like her daughter, just tended to laugh everything off.
It was reassuring to hear her call it a ‘synthetic humanoid’, a more technical sounding word than what my mother had used, more machine-like.
“Oh, by the way! Your visit reminded me of something.”
Looking at me specifically, she dove her hand into the pocket of her lab coat, and pulled out a single photograph, holding it out to me between her shiny red fingernails.
“Wow, Shin-chan” said Asuka, doing an impression of her mother’s tone that seemed to me way more smug than necessary. “It’s you as a baby!”

‘Baby’ is overstating it, I must have been at least five in that picture.
But I wasn’t the only one in it.

(1.4: Omen)

When I got home that day, I still felt painfully aware of the folded photograph in the back pocket of my pants. I think it was only the cognitive dissonance in my own head that made me feel like I was doing something wrong. A small defiant part of me wanted to challenge that feelings, the rest of it just wanted it proven wrong, and yet it ruled me enough that I acted sheepish when I approached my parents.
Reach into pocket, grab paper, retrieve paper, place paper on table, gesture as to deliberately expose it, fold it open, place it down – all of a sudden it was way too many steps and each one depleted some o my willpower. But I persisted, and I folded it open, painfully aware of the clumsy movements of my fingers, the knee-jerky, automatic bits thereof.
“Look what we found at Ms. Soryu’s place. It’s Rei and the others. She said I should show it to you in case you wanted to make a copy of it.”
I don’t know if they were bluffing me out – pretending not to notice the discrepancies so that I’d chalk them up to just me and joined in pretending to notice as little as I did.
Or maybe there was nothing there that they thought needed to be hidden from me.
Father made a vague sound of acknowledgment. Mother said the usual things mothers say when they’re confronted with baby photos of their sons like, “Wow, that takes me back”, “there’s a dapper little man”
“You used to be so adorable~ and Asuka too, I can’t believe you’re both in middle school now!” Only belatedly did she consider appending something like, “You were cute too of course, Rei-chan!”
Rei was sitting at the table. She had been there the whole time. Despite her unusual looks, she doesn’t exactly have the most noticeable presence. Over the past months, there have been many times when I suddenly noticed her without being able to say when exactly she arrived.
At first, she had appeared to be largely ignoring our conversation, but once her name had been mentioned, she must have wondered why – right now, her gaze was clearly fixed on the picture that had remained at the side of our plates all throughout dinnertime. The look on her face was unreadable. Stiff, or pensive perhaps. But something about the picture must have caught her attention – She had previously mentioned that she didn’t recall ever wearing a red dress as a little girl. I wondered what she was thinking, though I couldn’t bring myself to ask her while my mother was still talking: “And here are Mari and Kaworu too, all small and tiny~ We haven’t seen either of them in a while, haven’t we, Shin-chan?”
I nodded reflexively, but if I’d had the time to consider it, I probably would have agreed anyways.
Resting her weight on her elbow, mother leaned over to where I was sitting and gave me one of those mysterious winks that had stolen many hearts. “Who knows, maybe you’ll get a chance to see them sooner than you think~”
It occurred to me that she might be plotting with her colleagues to organize a surprise visit, and I thought that might be good… Of course, if I had known what she really meant, I would have been incensed. Or maybe just numb and terrified, I can’t really say, but whatever I would have felt would have been down to the same reasons that made me welcome the possibility of seeing them back then: I rather liked Mari and Kaworu.
Oh right, I said I would tell you about the two of them eventually... and I’ll promise to get around to it. But now is probably not the best time.
It suffices to say that they were known entities to my past self, while the little gremlin in red was where the mystery lay at that moment. I was drawn again to her expression, which was not garish, certainly not overly animated, but still clearly more vivid that what I was used to seeing from the girl across the table.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that she was as surprised as me, not even ‘in her own way’ or the like. Whatever she saw in that picture was not unexpected to her, but enough of a relevant unknown to hold her attention.
At last, a window of opportunity arose. Mother was doing the dishes. Father had moved on to the couch to watch the news on TV. I had clearly spent too much time brooding and not enough eating so I wasn’t done with my vegetables yet. Rei was still gazing at the photo.
Between the TV and the sink, there was a certain cover of background noise.
Of course, at that point I didn’t really have a real rational reason to think I’d have to keep quiet about it. It was more like an instinct, something I knew, but didn’t know that I knew.
Too tempted at last, my hand moved to straighten out the picture.
“That sure looks like a picture of you, huh? Though this girl here seems a little… different. Younger, too. I wonder if Mom made a mistake.”
“No, not a mistake.”
“So that’s definitely you then?”
Her eyes narrowed a bit, like that was a question that required serious consideration.
But then, at last, she answered:
“No. It is not.”
“Might this be your younger sister?”
“Younger? No. That can’t be.”
“You do look similar though. Maybe you should ask your parents who this is…”
“Impossible. I don’t have parents.”
“Oh.” She’d said this in a perfectly nonchalant fashion, like it was no big deal at all, but that only made me feel worse.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to remind you of anything bad. I’m sorry for your loss, too.”
“It’s fine. I never had parents to begin with.”
That explained… a lot of things.
It also made me look at my parent’s treatment of her and her admiration of them in a different light. Basically, I wanted to kick myself a bit for being jealous – mother and father must have wanted to be nice to her and make her feel welcome here because she’s an orphan… and of course Rei would latch on to people who were nice to her even if their relation might have started out completely professional. Having a child of their own, it makes sense that my parents would take pity on a sick orphan girl – maybe they noticed that she never had any relatives coming to visit like the other patients or study participants, and went out of their way to be nice to her.
Well, that’s what I thought then, but it was really just my own presupposition. When someone tells you that they ‘married a stone’ you would assume that they mean a cold-hearted person, not a literal rock – likewise, when someone says they ‘don’t have parents’, you would normally think that they died. That’s what it usually means, 99% of the time.
I can’t even claim that I was deceived here; Rei had told me nothing but the exact truth: That she never did have parents to begin with.
Even then, I should have thought of what Asuka had told me earlier, that the ability necessary for whatever she and Rei were doing was incredibly rare. With no living parents to protect her and speak up for her, wouldn’t it have been easy for the organization to get their hands on Rei? Get her to participate as a small, ignorant child by promising her some modicum of attention and maybe better treatment? After all at that point I still believed that she had some rare medical condition. The answer is of course obvious: I was an ignorant child myself, so of course I was naive...
I pondered Rei’s lookalike for as long as it took me to finish my dinner.

I then did something on a whim.
Something I’d just spent significant energy convincing myself was never necessary, following a thought I could not even say out loud without prompting my mind to chafe uncomfortable against some of the very basic axiomatic assumptions of my life.
I went to my room, sat down at my desk, booted up my computer, clicked on my instant manager extension and scrolled down for the profile of my cousin. My actual, honest to goodness, no doubt-about-it cousin who was the son of my maternal uncle. We had played with each other at times as kids, but it’s not like we had been especially close. At one point, my aunt and uncle had to break down an argument between us because he’d referred to my parents as ‘mad scientists’; nowadays, I don’t think he really meant anything by it.
[“Say, how are the Ayanamis related to us again? I don’t remember right now.”]
I was not expecting anything t come of this until tomorrow, or maybe even later, since we hadn’t really been in especially regular contact as of late, but by some wink of fate, the icon indicating that something was being written on the other end popped up almost immediately, and at last, a message followed.
[“The Ayanamis?”]
There was a series of tacky emojis after this. The overall sentiment of them appeared to be confusion.
[“You know, like Rei Ayanami? She’s visiting us right now.”]
[“I don’t know any Rei Ayanami. I don’t know if heard anyone by that name mentioned during any holiday get-together or phone-calls either…?”]
Then, a bit later, in a second, separate post: [“Do you mean one of our great aunts? I’m not really sure what their names all are, but I think there was some spinster aunt named something like that...”]
Though my cousin could not see my through the screen, I still somehow shook my head at it out of habit.
[“No, that’s not who I mean. The person I’m talking about is about our age.”]
I hesitated a bit, and then, defiantly, I added, [“Or maybe slightly younger.”]
[“Short? Light hair? Bookworm? Bit of a loner?”]
[“Nope. Ringing no bells. You sure she’s not from your father’s side of the family, Shinji?”]
I said that I would check, and that maybe he should ask his father.
About half an hour later, my uncle had apparently assured him that there was no Rei Ayanami anywhere in our family tree insofar as he was aware of. I was advised again to seek her among the Rokubungis, of whom I largely knew nothing. I’m not sure that my father himself knows all that much about where he came from.
Feeling a bit guilty that the only text I had sent to my cousin in weeks was to ask him about someone else, I felt that I should add another text.
[“Thanks, anyways, let’s catch up sometime.”]

I’d been aware that I had not known everything there was to know about my parents’ work, but thus far, I’d thought of that as a matter of abstracting from unnecessary details: I didn’t really want or need to know everything about all this advanced complicated science stuff.
Now, for the first time, I felt an inkling of something else tugging at me – the idea that they might be deliberately and explicitly concealing something from me, or at last had not told me the whole truth.
Lying on my back, staring up at the ceiling, I pondered that. I felt doubt take hold of my heart.
If there really was some easy, simple explanation for it, why had it not simply been told to me yet?
What were two girls my age… no, what were my friends doing at a laboratory of all places?

But thus far my mental discomfort with the fact pattern emerging before me was little more than a pea under my mattress or a grain of sand in my shoe, a grain of rice that I’d feel stuck in odd places while I’d be conversing with my family sometimes, before the old familiar flow of things and the well-worn sense of warmth could sweep me into plausible deniability out of sheer force of habit.
No, I did not confront my parents. Perhaps I trusted them naively, like most children would, or I didn’t want to make waves or create awkward situations. Maybe I was looking away from the truth. Maybe I was afraid of that existentially uncanny feeling when you think you’ve heard something in a whisper or caught something definite in the corner of your eye but do not dare to ask if anyone else could see it too, in case you were the only one – and I don’t mean like anything diagnosable, but like what gave birth to the tales of fairies giggling in the forest, or when you can’t tell whether someone is talking to you in good faith or just winding you up.
I guess I didn’t have the confidence to trust my perception…
Or maybe I was just running away from it.

The question was about as present in my mind as the awareness of death – now and again it’s there, swelling to an unbearable crescendo – but most of the time it’s gone, distant, unimportant.
Once I had the time to sleep on it, I rationalized it away rather quickly. Was it really any stranger than if Asuka and Rei had been… donating blood, for example, like they had some sought-after rare blood type? Obviously you need to be a grownup to donate blood but if you’re doing a study on say, cancer in children, then you’ll need actual children to participate in it. In typical Asuka fashon, Asuka might simply have blown its significance out of proportion… and don’t most researchers think that their work will ‘help humanity’ in some way or another? I recalled my father’s speech about ‘conquering paradise’. Asuka was proud and happy to tell me about it, so it couldn’t be too awful, just a neat way to supplement her allowance while furthering the progress of science. Nothing to worry about, right?
The more conscious layers of my mind were far much more concerned with our first batch of exams that was now right around the corner.
I faintly recalled a conversation with Touji and Kensuke where the two of them had spoken of drawing up “battle plans”… Perhaps that might not be so unreasonable. By all conventional wisdom, the sort that assumed that I would grow up not much different from the children of the previous couple of decades and then be expected to earn a wage under the current capitalistic system, I really ought to have been texting them instead of bothering my cousin about confirming some vague hunch of premonition. The particular specifics of Asuka’s job or Rei’s exact placement on the distant outskirts of my family tree seemed like the trivial details, the procrastination and meandering from the studying that seemed more likely to wind up related to the ‘main plot’ of my life; Even if I felt that school and jobs were kind of made up and bogus and ‘not the really important things’ with the same vague ennui typical of wannabe-artsy adolescents, as far as my actual behavior went I still treated them as the real things that the people in my surroundings expected me to treat them as. Perhaps the entire fragile web of society is just people half-heartedly peer-pressuring each other not so much out of conviction but so they’re not the one who keeps looking around in confusion when everyone else has departed into a clearly defined direction like a school of fish.
The world had been different before, so we all knew, in theory, that it could wind up being different again, but for now we needed to eat and the ritual we had worked out for how to obtain the sandwiches included the presupposition that money exists.
So I not only accepted that I ought to be worrying about exam preparations, but that it was reasonable to tune out anything that might confuse me with useless worries until all the studying was taken care of. Speaking with Touji first would have been a lost cause; He was considerate enough to his family that he would go along with us if the rest of us went studying but by and large, academic performance was not especially high up on his radar.
Kensuke, on the other hand, was actually pretty good at organizing things, though it would not usually occur to him to channel those skills towards such sublunar matters as ‘school’.
So it fell to me once again to be the designated pessimistic party pooper and bring it up.
Invariably, Touji would then be overcome by his sense of responsibility and use loads of words like “battle” or “strategy” which would then in turn serve to get Kensuke fired up, who had thus far usually been the one to do the usual planning,
But as he and I started to discuss the specifics over instant messenger, there emerged the idea that we ought to recruit some diligent students rather than going at it with just the three of us.
Kensuke half-jokingly floated the idea of inviting Asuka, but then I pointed out that she was probably still getting used to Japanese schools. I did this to save face and shut down further discussion, so that I wouldn’t have to explain in great detail how mediocre students like us would probably deplete her patience in five minutes flat; Simply put, being good at something didn’t mean that you were good at explaining it, too, especially if others needed an explanation for what you might immediately ‘get’ without any intermediate steps.
Besides, what inner reason I did have would argue that we would probably not be doing ourselves any favors by trying to keep pace with future valedictorian material such as Asuka, Marie or Hikari…
But in the end, this whole exercise did end with me coming to appreciate that all my efforts to broaden my horizon over the past few months had not been entirely in vain, because compared to the start of the year, I now had many more numbers in my phone to chose from.
You could say that I had successfully “expanded my social circle”, one or the other clever analyst might even add that this bonding moment would surely serve to tie us together further by getting us used to helping each other outside of the contexts where we first met.
I don’t know if it did, and I had no such long-term plans beyond thinking that it would be nice to get everyone together, and since my parents were out a lot these days, I happened to be the one with a perfectly good, nice and peaceful apartment at my disposal where we would not be bothering anyone.
I gave Mana and Mayumi a call, since we were in the same class, and I felt I’d gotten to know them well enough at our respective clubs. Ever spontaneous, Mana then decided all on her own to bring Kotone – it was probably not a planned thing, just something that simply happened because they ended up hanging out after school together that day. Though she had no more clues about math than myself or Touji, she proved to be a vital addition to our group because she was surprisingly enthusiastic about studying and remained determined even where she got frustrated.
Until the very end, I wasn’t sure whether Rei would join in or not, or if she would even be at home that day; I knew there was a good chance that she might be needed at the lab. Bringing it up to her one evening at the apartment only confirmed that impression:
“I cannot say right now. It depends on my orders.”
I couldn’t tell what she really wanted to happen, if she was hoping that she’d get to come or if meeting up with us would have been yet another thing she’d be expected to put up with but wouldn’t terribly mind to avoid.
I think Mayumi was hoping that she would come.
But in the end, none of that ended up mattering because she was plainly absent from her room that particular afternoon. She wasn’t even in school that day; Duty calls, I suppose.

I know, bold of me to assume that all my Mari theories won’t be jossed in two weeks… ^^°

Since I went with the short- & brown-haired Kyoko from the TV show in CoTP, I decided to go with the one from the Manga (as also used in SIRP and Gakuen Datenroku…) for a change here, of course aged up accordingly. Though my inner biologist still whines about how genetics doesn’t work that way. For starters, blond hair is a recessive trait.

For the sake of a joke that most of you wouldn’t understand anyways, I tried to google what “Leberkäse” and “Mettwurst” are in English only to realize to my great horror that there ARE no English words because neither of these are a thing in the Anglosphere.
From this I concluded two things: a) if the Brits don’t know what these are then Shinji wouldn’t either b) You guys are sooooo missing out!
Please tell me that you at least have pickled herrings...
I made myself hungry just thinking about this, so while I was working on this chapter, I went out and bought a Leberkäsweck, and it was delicious.
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

Defender of Puppy Boy
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Thu Jan 21, 2021 11:31 am

This chapter is fat, it dost not fiteth in one post

1.5: The Rib Part I  SPOILER: Show
(1.5: Die Rippe)

June 6th 2014
T minus 553 days

“Congratulations!” said Asuka.
“Congratulations man!” added Touji.
“Congratulations!” - that was Kensuke. Then Rei, “Congratulations!”, then Hikari: “Congratulations!” Now Mana: “Congratulations!” And Mayumi: “Uh, Congratulations!” Kotone, too: “Congratulations!” Even Marie: “Congratulations!”
At last, my parents topped it off with yet another “Congratulations!”
They were all standing in a circle around the dining table in our apartment and applauding. On the table was a lovingly decorated birthday cake with little marzipan stars and thirteen little candles covered in colorful neon stars. No doubt that this wasn’t merely some store bought commercial product; No matter how busy she got, short of an apocalyptic disaster there was very little that could have gotten mom to give up on the privilege of making the cake herself. But she and father had contributed only part of the sizable pile of little presents that had piled up on the table. There was even a postcard from Mari that must have been sent a considerable time in advance and a package from Kaworu containing some official T-shirts from my favorite bands. Somehow, he had an uncanny sense for picking the very best gifts – he’s one of those people who genuinely enjoys listening to others, for its own sake and not just a fair transaction so that you might be listened to in return. I know well that I couldn’t say that about myself, though I’d like to be that way. I was so gonna wear those those shirts they fall apart… I wonder if they’re still in the ruins of our apartment. After what happened, I doubt there would have been any fungi or bacteria to make it rot away.
“There’s one more gift that didn’t make it onto this stack,” my father explained, somewhat awkwardly.
I first thought it might not have arrived in time or something like this, but mother swiftly clarify: “That’s because it doesn’t fit on the table. It’s down in the garage.”
By then, father must have gathered the courage to pick it back up: “We do, however, have a picture.” He produced a cutout from a catalog from his pockets – he was still in his usual black work uniform, having just returned from the lab when the party was getting started.
“Whoha! A new bicycle!”
Hey come on. That’s a normal thing for a twelve year old to get starry- eyed over. Well, thirteen now. But I wouldn’t really actually be older until roughly ten pm.
If I go through my individual memories, I don’t think I can pinpoint what exactly was so special about that day, nor do I recall a concrete sequence of events. Maybe it just seems sweeter in hindsight, like an echo of distant bliss. Though there are many individual scenes or snapshots in my memory – Like Touji demanding to know what Hikari and Marie were doing here.
“I invited them.” declared Asuka. “Not much of a party here with you rubes.”
“What did you say?!”
Luckily my mother deftly distracted them both with a new slice of cake. “Now, now don’t fight, there’s enough party to be had for everyone, and I’m sure Shin-chan is glad for every visitor.”
I nodded gratefully, though Asuka was unsurprisingly unconvinced: “That’s because he’s got low standards – no offense, Mrs. Ikari.”
Mother got out our electric teppan grill at some point. Fortunately I had tipped her off in time, so that there was plenty of marinated Tofu for Rei.
She had mentioned that she wasn’t really the partying type so I was a bit worried that we were inconveniencing her. We had sort of ended up including her by default simply because she also happened to be inside the apartment, like she was part of the furniture. At first, she had done little but sit quietly at her place and consume whatever was put in front of her, appearing somewhat zoned out, like her mind was anywhere but our living room… or perhaps trying to get away from it. She ended up quietly participating in most of our games, though, and at times proved way more skilled than expected at the last things you would expect. Perhaps she tended to take any task seriously when there were clearly defined rules and objectives. She did surprisingly well at the pop quiz, but in an interesting way – she could answer some of the most esoteric questions about science and philosophy, but failed even the most obvious pop culture related questions. She couldn’t even tell how many players a soccer team has or which famous movie included the line “Luke I am your father”. If you put her on a team with someone like Mana or Kotone they would probably be invincible, but Asuka had insisted on a battle royal for a chance to compete against Marie. In the end though, it turned out to be a Dark Horse victory: There were a bunch of questions about military history that propelled Kensuke to number one.
We ended up accidentally reinacting that one Meme where a group of characters is drawn around some monopoly table in various states of despair, and Touji would certainly have been the one showering Kensuke with money.
I recall the vague outlines of a bunch more squabbles, but nothing really serious, not then. Asuka’s desire for amusement must eventually have won out over any intention to put on airs. She eagerly suggested a number of typical party games and then made up for it by complaining about them. It was her who had conspiratorially suggested twister but somehow it was our fault if we bumped into each other; She suggested one of those rhythm games with those mats for you to step on, and then chewed me out for being too slow to keep up with her. I won’t say that it was all loud and kind of overwhelming, but I can’t say that it wasn’t also lively, in a good way that makes me look back in fondness, and for the sake of fairness I must state that this was in no small part thanks to Asuka and her friends.
What else? Well, Asuka jokingly brought up the possibility of trying something like truth or dare or spin the bottle, but acting as her shoulder angel was Hikaro, who sucessfully implored her not to start anything indecent… at least not while my parents were in the house. Luckily mom thought that whole thing was kind of adorable.
We did do some Karaoke, however. Unsurprisingly it turned out that father could not sing at all, and after Touji went first, I knew at last that I wouldn’t be the only one embarrassing myself. Asuka was not bad, but her choice of song rather over the top. Marie was entirely tone-deaf but also decidedly immune to any awareness thereof. At least Mana had a good time – and even Hikari, who surprised us all by picking a dreamy love song that seemed at odds with the strict persona we were used from her. Rei sang an old retro song of the sort that Mari tends to like. If she hadn’t told me that the little girl in red that I used to meet at the lab was someone different, I might have thought that she had remembered this song from the days when the five of us all used to play together. It was not perfect, maybe a bit strained at some of the longer notes, but I’d say that Rei’s singing had a special, even slightly eerie quality to it… but like, in a strange beauty kind of way. I can say why she would pick a song about ‘wings’ though... If there had been a ‘winner’ it would certainly have been Kotone, who was of course seriously into song and dance, honestly, we felt like we ought to have paid her for that performance - but I feel like the real star of the evening was Mayumi, who struggled somewhat with her initial shyness, but then turned out to have a really pretty voice.
Kensuke and Touji were rather charming. Even mom gently complimented her – Despite her own, decidedly polished, almost ‘professional’ performance, Kotone was not too prideful to shower her with earnest compliments, and Mana is excitable anyways. Even father and Rei made some curt little comments of vaguely positive nature. Mayumi’s face turned the shade of a tomato and it took her several instants before she found her voice of hers. I can’t say I don’t sympathize with her, I also tend to feel a certain ambivalence about being the center of attention – but I think if it were me, I’d want to at least know that people appreciate me, when it comes down to it…
And then there was the moment when it was my turn to partner up with Rei in the dancing game. That was after the dismal failure with Asuka, so I wasn’t expecting much more than just another humiliation; I was honestly a bit salty that the arbitrary order we had started to play in just based on where we had been sitting now damned me to make a fool of myself and rope her into it, as if I needed to cause her any more embarrassment or discomfort.
I rather wished that I could do something cool in front of her instead, something that would definitely convince her that hanging out with me was not a mistake.
But then the music started playing – by chance, the playlist happened to hit upon this beautiful ballad – could have been some acoustic cover or remix of a common pop song really, but there was a definite sense of feelings in it. As my good friend Kaworu sometimes likes to say, music can be like a conversation of sounds.
I’m not sure which of us was moving first – I certainly didn’t do it on purpose, I wasn’t even looking at her at first, just focusing on connecting with the melody itself. I suppose she must have done the same.
It was only when I opened my eyes at the end of it that I notice how everyone was looking at us with wide eyes, following our every move with their pupils. We had moved in complete unison, racking up the maximum score. I guess I had the excuse of being somewhat musical to begin with though, so the really impressive one would be Rei, who just stood there still in her final pose or stance. I expected her to be blankly looking ahead, but she had actually closed her eyes, like she was really getting into it. If I were a more exuberant person, I might have been tempted to forget all about the game mat and just give her a good twirl as a final flourish. But of course I didn’t, I’m neither that dexterous nor that confident.
At last I simply followed her when she sat back down without a word.
It probably meant nothing, since it was all just part of the game. But the memory is precious to me. A little something to keep locked away in the little treasure chest in my heart, like a child’s favorite cheap plastic toy or ugly broken seashells that you nonetheless found yourself.
Then of course my parents had to make it awkward.
“My my~ This reminds me of the campus dance of ‘99.”
“I didn’t mean to attend that silly trifle in the first place.”
“Oh, but aren’t you glad I convinced you~”
“I can’t deny it.”
At least you can’t account my father a sore loser. For a grown man being laughed at by a bunch of school children, he took it rather well. Or were they laughing at me? I sure hoped that my getting carried away hadn’t put Rei in the position of being a laughing stock. Somehow I was still concerned with the possibility that she might hate me if I muck it up.
I was certainly grateful when Mana dissolved the awkwardness by insisting to go next. She was actually pretty excited about the game, though I suppose she would be.
In time, we were all party’d out and proceeded to throw on our sleepover gear. As changing one by one in the bathroom proved inefficient, father eventually suggested that the boys should all go change in my room and the girls in Rei’s. I feel like the girls got the short end of that deal though, seeing as ‘the boys’ were just Touji, Kensuke and me. Strictly speaking Marie and Hikari were more like Asuka’s friends, but I do think our group could probably use more boys. Little did I know that we were soon to acquire one.
Either way, the sleeping bangs got spread all over the living room. As the designated birthday boy I got the couch, but that just made me feel kind of guilty.
Snacks were had. Movies were seen. I don’t know how I didn’t see anything wrong with being so stupidly, blissfully happy.

June 7th 2014
T minus 552 days

Mom made a point of distributing all the leftover snacks to the various guests before they each left out the door. The last one to go was Asuka, grumbling something about how she hated mornings. I half expected Rei to leave as well before it came to my awareness that she technically lived here. I still don’t think that I ever really started to feel like she belonged here.
But once they were all gone, someone would have to take care of the mess in the living room. My parents told me to stay back, since it was supposed to be my party, but I argued that it wasn’t strictly my birthday anymore, and I felt bad letting everyone else do the work.
I collected our scattered playing cards while father gathered up the remaining blankets and pillows. We’d had the foresight to use wooden chopsticks as well as paper cups and plates, so those could go straight into the trash without stressing about washing them. I feel like I should have volunteered to pick up the garbage, I didn’t expect that poor Rei would go straight for the worst job. She stoically picked up all the empty wrappers and used paper towels without even the slightest hint of a murmur, bending down and standing back up time and time again.
At least, there were three of us, so that we had the entire floor cleared by the time mom showed up with the dust cloth and a bucket of soapy water.
That was usually our sign to disperse, presuming that we had done our part already – father left with his arms full of leftover blankets to go stuff them back into some cupboard. Rei headed downstairs to dispose of the trash, seeing as she was already holding the garbage bag. That left me without a task. I retreated back onto the sofa so that my feet would be away from the floor while mom got ready to scrub it.
Having previously ensured that the cloth was well-soaked, she knelt down on the ground to wring it out. She had a particular way of doing that, with her arms all stretched out.
As they escaped the cloth, the drops of water glittered in the light of morning. I think one of my earliest memories features her doing something like that, seen up close from your usual baby-height. I suppose my younger self must have been impatient for her to get it over with so that she could play with me again, and that’s why it stuck in my memory.
She looked quite serene as she scrubbed and scrubbed – She liked to take her sweet time for it. I suppose that was one of the few things that we had in common.
Since we were having such a quiet, peaceful moment, I supposed that this might be the right time to ask.
“By the way, when is Rei’s birthday again?”
“Oh, she’s the same age as you.”
Between her tranquil smile and calm, reassuring tone, I didn’t quite notice that I never got a straight answer.

June 15th 2014
T minus 544 days

Thus ended the first third of my first year in middle school. Despite the embarrassing moments at the very beginning, I’d been booking it as a success so far.
I thought that I had managed to push the boundaries of my little world just a little further, to expand it in such a manner as I could still keep up with…
But ultimately, what the cold hard cogwheels of society care about are my grades.
So I was approaching the piece of hallway on the first floor where they said they would be publishing our exam results on the last day before summer break, to see if my fleeting, fluttering hopes would get brusquely brought down to earth.
I found Kotone already there; Her distinctive pink mane made her easy to pick out.
“I’m so glad exams are finally over…” she sighed, addressing me as soon as she saw me arrived. She was always making an effort to be friendly and start up conversation, even when she hadn’t seen much success. “Between all the studying and preparing for my videos, I didn’t have much time to just relax. Hitomi-san keeps reminding me to sleep. Ah, Hitomi-san is my guardian.”
The small girl’s roundish face snapped immediately back to chipper when she mentioned that name. “She used to do counseling at the orphanage where I used to live, but then she took me in.”
She was sounding surprisingly blithe for someone who had just told me that she used to live in an orphanage. Looking at her being bright, cheerful and productive despite coming from what seemed to be such harsh circumstances made me feel kind of spoiled for not managing to amount to anything special despite coming from wealthy parents. Even Asuka’s divorced parents would be better than none.
“Your Hitomi-san must be pretty amazing. I’ve heard most other people who take in orphans are looking for little babies that won’t remember any other life.”
She couldn’t nod fast enough. “She really is! And she us pretty, and stylish, and nice...”
“But look at the exam results! Asuka-san and Marie-san are really amazing!”
Once I got close enough to read the paper, I easily saw what she meant. They had both managed to score even more than a hundred percent – I remember that several of the exams had extra difficult bonus problems on them that would net you extra points, so if you managed to finish all the regular problems and the bonus, your total score could be higher than the theoretical maximum points. Those two were completely in their own league compared to us regular mortals.
I did see trouble brewing on the horizon for later, however: Asuka was in second place.
Marie Vincennes had beaten her.
I would expect that she would make a show of acting humble about it but it was bound to be a very transparent show in which Marie would constantly mention the results under the pretense of calling them no big deal, and I expect that it would be rather obvious on her face how much she enjoyed the flattery. Marie had serious plans of getting into some elite college to work at NASA or something. Most young people go through a phase like that of wanting to be president or an astronaut before they bang against the walls of reality and are forced to take them onto account, but so far, the blonde showed no sign of hitting any limits whatsoever, so she pressed on with the puerile glee of a six year old.
Asuka meanwhile I think was being hit full force with the experience of having been a big fish in a small pond before going out into the real world and finding that there is always someone better.
Of all the seven billion people on this earth, there very only very few that were really ‘the best’ at anything.
I couldn’t wait to see the two of them ‘complimenting’ each other in ways that were actually subtly meant to lampshade their own superiority.
I’d say that Asuka ought to enjoy being able to get farther than most others; It was tempting to look at people like her who were dissatisfied despite their success and look at this as a proof that they weren’t really better off than those of us who didn’t aim so high, but that seemed like an excuse, a way to pretend that the thing outside my reach would be something I don’t want anyways. ‘Death gives life meaning Actually, eternal life is bad because… I can’t have it’ basically.
Even if we were both in some way seeking what we valued, she’d still be living in a bigger house than me. And maybe I could say that I didn’t want big houses, but I certainly wanted to eat, or for people to give me the time of the day.
Beneath Asuka’s name on the list was one that I didn’t recognize, I think it was someone from class B.
My eyes slid down the list, and the next one I recognized was, in fact, Rei. She was nowhere in the top 10, but it was still impressive that she was able to do so well despite her many absences. She hadn’t seemed all that engaged. I suppose she must be smart enough to get good grades without much effort.
Hikari was not far beneath, and just two places below her was my own name. Guess I got lucky.
Mayumi was between us, good on her.
Mana and Kensuke were both somewhere in the upper middle, not too bad but mostly focused on other things. Touji was… well. He’d had worse. He was definitely not in any danger of flunking, so Kensuke and I could probably feel proud of ourselves for making him study at least a little.

Meanwhile Kotone was still standing beside me, scanning the list with a confused, child-like expression. She hadn’t done badly, certainly not compared to Touji, but her result was nothing extraordinary either, it didn’t even reach up to mine.
“Maybe next time I should ask Asuka-san and her friends for their studying techniques… Not that I didn’t like studying with you guys, of course!”
I was not offended in the slightest. Instead, I was rather hoping that Asuka wouldn’t be too harsh on her – but since Hikari was intent to get our class to study like a dutyful mother hen, there’s a chance that Kotone might actually be successful in her endeavor. I’m sure that Marie would probably cheerfully accept yet another opportunity to show off her smarts; The implicit condescension was bound to go over Kotone’s head. I’m sure that ‘our’ group would have reason to lament her absence, she was the one who brought out the special study music and proposed that we practice some actual ‘studying techniques’. I got the sense that she could probably go on about this for hours, too… it seemed honestly rather unfair that she hadn’t got better grades.
I could not help but take pity on her.
“I’m sure you’ll do better next time. You’ll have plenty of time to study over the summer break.”
“I’ll do my best to catch up to you next time!”
As if I was really that impressive.
I’m not sure if it actually cheered her up or not, but she was doing her best to look as determined as she could manage with such a childlike, innocent face as hers.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to imagine how Touji and Kensuke responded:
“Congrats, you lucky bastard! I’m so jealous!”
I have no doubt that Asuka, too, would have discussed the results with her friends.
“Wow, you two did amazing! If only everyone in our class would be as diligent as you two!”
I am certain that Hikari would have spoken with sincere admiration in her voice. Marie, not so much: “But honestly, Asuka, you can be proud of yourself. After all, you almost did as well as your truly~ Ahaha~”

I don’t think any of the two really helped. Even Hikari’s sincere praise would just have ticked her off.
At least, Asuka was still looking rather glum when I talked to her during recess. She was leaning on the railing right near the stairs that led to the lower bits of the courtyard. Somewhere down there, I noticed Rei’s telltale mop of messy pale hair where she was reading at her usual bench.
Asuka was making it a point not to look at me.
“Save your breath, Baka Shinji. A mediocre boy like you wouldn’t get it.”
That would be well and good if what she really wanted was to be left alone, but I know if I turned back, she would be throwing it in my face next time that anything seriously upset her.
I learned this back during the time right after her parents’ divorce, which was really lucky for me because if you hadn’t known her as long as I had, you would never guess that she didn’t actually want to be left alone. She was saying mean stuff so I would back off, but at the same time, she was probably hoping that I wouldn’t. I can’t claim that I’m much easier to deal with when I’m pissed off, so I suppose I mustn’t take it personally… perhaps, I am a mediocre boy. I’ve made my peace with it already.
“Maybe not…” I admitted, “I’m just saying, as your friend, that you might be better off if you relaxed a little. I mean, aside from Marie, you’re already better than every single person in our grade! No can deny that you’re amazing. But aren’t you putting a little too much pressure on yourself? You’re still just a kid, like the rest of us-”
“What makes you think that you’ve got any right to tell me what to do?!” That was kinda harsh even for her. I suppose she must have been more upset than I thought.
“I’m not. Really. I’m just worried. Don’t you ever get tired of always pushing yourself so hard? You’re not only really serious about studying, you’re really athletic, you take good care of your appearance, and you’re doing all that extra work after hours, too! Keeping up that goody two-shoes act in front of Marie and the others must be exhausting, too… You don’t always have to force yourself to-”
“Shutupshutshutup! Bakabakabaka! Do you think you can just say things to me just because I’ve put up with you a long time?!”
“Sorry I- I didn’t mean to say anything presumptuous, but you know how my parents are geniuses and all, so I understand what it’s like to compare yourself to someone-”
“You? Understand me? What a laugh! You’re nice and all, you know, for an ordinary kid, but don’t you dare say we’re the same!”
“I’ve had enough of this!”

Before I could mount any sort of response, she had already stormed right past me, thundering down the stairs, skipping several stairs at once with a kind of athletic grace that I could not hope to match – if I had tried to keep pace with her, I would probably have ended up breaking all my bones. There was no way I could have followed her.
I tried not to take her words too hard and remind myself that she had probably never faced any real setbacks before today, but no matter what sort of reason I might force onto my mind, in my head it still stung. Sometimes I wondered what she really thought about our friendship, if she saw me as some sort of dumb goldfish who could never comprehend even her simplest thoughts. Did she actually think of me as her friend, or was I just her ‘commoner friend’? And wasn’t I really just deluding myself if I thought that the uppity disdain that she directed towards almost everyone else would never be turned towards me?
But I also doubted myself – I really wish I was better at resolving situations like that. It seems like my meager increase in experience over the last few months wasn’t really enough to help me deal with something like this…

But still I felt that if Hikari were to ask me where Asuka went and I answered that we had an argument, she would have been quite mad at me. And what if Asuka didn’t make it back in time for class? Then she’d be in trouble.
So I decided that I should probably go after her.
After going down the stairs at a normal, unremarkable pace, I stopped by Ayanami to ask her if she’d recently seen a blur of red running in any particular direction.

I was worried about being late for class myself, but fortunately, I didn’t have to search too long. She was in the convenience store right next to the school grounds where many of our classmates used to buy snacks and notebooks for school.
She seemed to have been expecting me already – or maybe the short break had helped her to compose herself. If she was embarrassed or even sorry for her earlier outburst, she showed it mainly by acting like it never happened.
“Just shut it, okay? I get it. All I can do is to work even harder.”
She never mentioned it, but she did pay for the soda and the sandwiches that we ended up sharing on our way back. So maybe she was glad to have me around after all.
“I’ll just have to pay her back ten times over! Next time, I’ll win for sure!”
I didn’t think that there was much of a point in trying to dissuade her...
“Do you mean Marie? You don’t have to show her up or anything…”
“Yes I do! Shouldn’t you get it since you’re a boy? She humiliated me! She’s trampled my pride!”
I can’t say that I found it unproblematic for her to be saying something like that about someone who was at least nominally supposed to be her friend, but if nothing else, I have got to admire that drive of hers. It’s something I don’t have.
I guess calming down was just not in her nature – it’s like she had absolutely no settings between zero and eleven. In it’s own way, it was actually quite adorable, in an ‘annoying baby sister’ kind of way. I probably shouldn’t encourage her intrigues, but I couldn’t help but smile a little when she said that.

When we got back to the classroom, Asuka was completely back to normal. The moment we walked in, she ditched me right away to go talk with Hikari, Marie and their usual swarm of faithful worker bees, and I went straight towards my own friends. We wouldn’t be seeing each other quite as often for a while, so I wanted to use this chance to talk with them before Misato-sensei would arrive. For like reasons, I’m glad that Asuka didn’t end this day with bitter feelings towards Hikari or Marie.

I was in no hurry to talk with Rei since I would be seeing her over the break, but from the corner of my eye I think I saw Mayumi trying to talk to her. I don’t think she was having much success, especially since she wasn’t the best conversationalist herself, but – I guess I didn’t need to feel bad about giving mother the idea to make her join a club...

In the end it is of course completely arbitrary to designate this subdivision of the school year as a meaningful unit of time. From what Asuka tells me, in Europe they split the school- and university years in two parts instead, with the winter break in between. It’s our minds and our conventions that divide time into units, areas into places, substance into objects…
But still, the fact that this particular division of time was now over did put me into a contemplative mood of sorts.
So, at the end of the day, I found myself kicking back on the school roof, gazing at the clouds, pondering those past few months and the days to come.
In the golden warmth of our mother star, it was easy to drift into a dreamy state of ease…

Until some sort of shadow passed before the sun, something too quick to be a cloud.
Squinting my eyes, I sat up and then slid to my knees, to that I might look around to see what it might be.
That turned out to be a big mistake.


Friends, enemies, I kid you not:
There was a person. Flying through the air. In a parachute. Racing straight towards me. And I had done far more to get into her way than out of it.
I was as flabbergasted as you are.
No really. A parachute. Big. Green. Coming my way.
I had no time to react, not even to gape, or to think so much as ‘oh crap’.
I was never good at physics, but that day I learned that gravity is a harsh mistress.
One moment, my brain was still sorting what I was seeing into shapes, and in the next, I felt the ground – my poor, poor cassette player was ruthlessly sent flying, my face, well- at that moment I was much more worried about gasping for air to ponder that.
Just to top it off, just like the cherry on the cake or what ever, I could hear something else falling down, something plastic sounding, that crashed down and bobbed a few times.
I would later conclude that it must have been her helmet, but at that time, all I could think of was ‘AIR PLEASE’. Oxygen anyone?
At least I wasn’t the only one hit by this sudden collision. “Ouchie ouch… huh?”
That must be when I was noticed, for the hot, smothering pillows were at last released from my face and I gratefully sucked in the air, though the pains of my poor, aching body kept me immobilized far longer than the source of that strange weight needed to climb off of me.
Still groaning in pain, I rolled onto my side, grasping my shoulder where the stranger’s harness must have dug into it. Or so I think, again, all I could think was ‘Ow’.
It was only after the ache had somewhat relented that I found the necessary leisure to prop myself up on my arm and forced my scrunched up eyes to open so that I might inspect the source of my misfortune.
She, of course, had other concerns. “My glasses! Where are my glasses!”

Well, my first thought about her was that she seemed way too chill for someone who had just literally crashed out of the sky. My second thought was – wait, I know that voice.
I made an effort to focus. My sight was met with a young woman, not at all your typical errant extreme sports fan – not that I would really know, but, actually, my impression was right, something was seriously off here: She was only somewhat older than me, and instead of the serious protective gear you’d expect from a skydiver, she was wearing a school uniform – not ours, though. She had a white blouse on, and I think that was a tie hanging down from her front, maybe some pin with an insignia too, though I couldn’t really tell since I was currently getting a prime view of her… well, her skirt, which sported a yellow-green plaid pattern. With that, she wore prim little black shoes and high stockings which were now completely ruined on account of scraping against the floor.
Even though I had lived in this town for most of my life, I didn’t recognize the uniform at all. I had my suspicions that she wasn’t really from around here.
I only got a good look at her face once she finally secured the object of her desire, and plopped them straight back onto her ears. There was definitely something familiar about her, bright red plastic glasses included. “Ah, sorry. Hey you, are you alright?”
Well, it was touching to know that she had finally noticed me – but as soon as she did, something beeping happened to draw her attention, and she pulled her backpack towards her to see what it might be. Producing a flip phone, she proceeded to argue with whoever called her in some language I didn’t understand; All I could tell was that she sounded somewhat annoyed with them, but at last I finally got a good chance to surveil her while she talked, especially once she pulled her harness of and stood up.
She was tall, with long slender limbs, but she was curvier around the middle, with the sort of hourglass figure you’d see on the women in old cartoons, including a broad set of childbearing hips and a truly prodigious pair of ginormous tatas.
With growing horror, I realized just what I’d nearly suffocated in.
This was not at all how I had imagined my first time touching a girls’ boobs. ‘Parachute accident’, really?
But despite her mature build, there was something decidedly whimsical about her hairstyle, from that blue alice band with those odd white arrow-like decorations at her temples to the way that she was wearing her long, brown hair in twin tails – that’s what finally made it click:
What in the?!
What on earth would she be doing here? Wasn’t she supposed to be attending some fancy private school in England?
Looking over her shoulder as she was putting away her phone, she affixed me with her eyes.
Just as I recalled, they were light green. Maybe turquoise or aquamarine.
You must pardon my consternation, understand, last time I had seen her she was a somewhat lanky kid with only the earliest, faintest suggestions of feminine curves. Since then, she had significantly shot upward… and other directions.
I’m not sure if she recognized me – if she did, she she can’t have been entirely sure, for she came towards me with big curious eyes, getting down on all fours as she approached.
She never had the best sense for personal space, but it was a different matter when she was still a little girl – eh, maybe it wasn’t too bad that she seemed pretty oblivious to the effect of her proximity. Seriously, did she have to sniff me?
It’s like she’s a mole or something. Great nose, terrible sight.
“Puppy boy? Is that you?”
That’s sort of her nickname for me. Asuka’s is ‘Your Highness’.
I decline to comment on this any further.
I realize now that there’s probably the implication of ‘lapdog’ there, but you know what? Puppies are adorable. People like them. And I was twelve. Twelve! Practically a child.
...okay, actually, I think I was already thirteen at that point. A newly-minted adolescent then, like that’s so much better.
Basically what happened is, I knew her and she knew me. I too must have been less short than I once used to be, but then at last, she got it.
Curiosity satisfied, she stood up meaningfully, framed in shadow by the sunlight behind her as she regarded me ponderously – the reflections in her glasses concealed her eyes.
I was no less confused then when she first crashed into me.
Then she smiled, angling her head slightly – the moment had passed.
She politely handed me my poor beat up cassette player.
“Let’s make this our little secret, shall we? Don’t tell anyone that you saw me.”
She winked at me without waiting for an answer.
Then, she gathered up her parachute and ran off.
All I could do was blink after her in utmost confusion.

I assure you that the whole encounter was every bit as random as I’m describing it here. It would make no more sense at first if you could see it on video.
I wondered briefly if I had spent too much time in the sun. Only much, much later would I come to understand the meaning behind her presence, or why she’d come to choose that particular means of transportation. Just so that you understand I’m not making this up: It boiled down to a need to enter the country covertly, with as little fanfare as possible. She really had been at a fancy private school in England, until she got wind of an event that was due to transpire none too long after the end of the summer break. She showed up some time in advance in order to set up and prepare what she intended to do. That said, though I’m not familiar with the details I don’t think that it had to be a parachute. On a fundamental level, Mari has always been the sort of person who likes to do whatever she wants – bit of a thrill seeker, too.
I wouldn’t be surprised if she just up and decided to jump out of a plane.

I should probably explain how I know her, and right now seems like a pretty good time.
Basically, her mom was another of my mom’s co-workers, just like Ms. Soryu. They met during their time as students, around the same time as my parents did. The three of them all studied under the same professor, a man who to this day works with my parents at the laboratory. Mom told me countless stories about how they used to do each other’s hair or nails, or that one incident where they accidentally set the gerbils loose in the laboratory. My mom’s peerless work tended to create many rivals, some of which ultimately ended up becoming something more like friends. Or at least that’s one version of the story – Ms Soryu once joked that Ms. Makinami the elder was once one of my mother’s many admirers and even had a tiny bit of a crush on her. It’s weird to think that if my mom had been into girls, neither Mari nor me would be here. But if there was ever anything to the story, Makinami senior must have gotten over it, for she soon took a research post back in England, where she met a gentleman from a distinguished English family.
To begin with, one might wonder why a wild free spirit unconventional enough to give her daughter ‘Illustrious’ for a middle name would get together with a British snob. Maybe it was one of those ‘uptight loves wild’ sort of things.
Ever since, Makinami senior had been raising her daughter with songs and kindness.
I had visited Mari a few times at her home in the English countryside – she lives in an enormous mansion. Her father has a butler and everything. But if you asked Mari, their house would be only just big enough for the enormous pack of animals in her part of the house, cats and dogs and parrots galore. They must be seen to be believed! She has a great affinity for animals of all kinds. From this, you can probably tell that she did not take after the snobbish side of the family, instead she has rather upheld the reputation of her father’s countrymen for producing eccentrics, and, odd as it sounds, the whole ‘Keep Calm and Carry on’ thing, too. As you could probably tell from my little anecdote about the parachute crash, there’s very little than can faze her.
That said, their daughter’s upbringing had at times been a point of contention between the couple. It was her father’s idea to send her off to that fancy private boarding school where she had spent most of the past few years. It certainly did teach her self-sufficiency, but I can’t help but imagine that she must have chafed under the discipline in some way; Maybe that’s why she swings so much to the other extreme when she is at home with her pets. – you see, Mari has always been an idiosyncratic one, with just about zero regard for common conventions (like personal space for example), but more in an earthy way than Rei’s more unworldly manner. She has absolutely no filter whatsoever: She says what she thinks and does what she wants. She’s liable to start singing to herself at the slightest provocation.
I can’t imagine that the teachers and kids at the snob school took all too kindly to that. You’d have a hard time guessing from how loud and expressive she can be, but she’s actually very much a loner, she doesn’t like being part of groups and doesn’t have too much trust in her elders – apart from her mother, with whom she’s often on the same wave length. If it wasn’t for her getting him to soften up once in a while, I think that there could have been a rift between Mari and her father, or that she might have developed problems with authority or something.
I guess she would rather be alone and free than be forced to fit in. You could say that she knows herself and what’s important to her.
As you can see she and I couldn’t be any more different, but maybe for that very reason, she thinks I’m somewhat interested. Maybe she’s as confused by me as I am by her – being hard to understand doesn’t mean that you immediately understand normal people, I guess.
I you got to know her, you might find that she’s remarkably free of judgments. Though she likes to tease people sometimes, she isn’t swayed by the sentiments of the crowd, so she will sometimes be accepting where most people wouldn’t be, and that’s something I really appreciate about her. That said there’s been times where her general nonchalance can make her come off as hard to relate to or even as callous. She might mean well when she tells me to ‘cheer up’, but it’s not that easy for me… But nobody’s perfect I guess.

I guess many would have dismissed her if they could have seen her at age 14, on that day on which we were reunited – a kooky girl like that. We live in a society that will dismiss those who don’t make themselves presentable to its demands… honestly I don’t have Mari’s courage here, I’ve always been very afraid of being judged or rejected. And girls in particular might be rejected for their appearance like, if she’s blond or curvy then she must be dumb or stuff like that.
But make no mistake: This is the woman who would one day stop Fourth Impact single-handed.
Of all the people in my story, Mari is probably the closest to an old-fashioned hero. The bravest, the noblest, the most unfaltering of us. The fearless smile that doesn’t even falter at the darkest of times is the ultimate expression of her bottomless strength; Much unlike me, she would turn out to be a born fighter.
If one of us ever gets a statue it’s probably going to be her.

You know, she didn’t have to eject EVA 13’s entry plug. I reckon she could have gotten job done just as well if she had torn it out and crushed it into dust.
I’ll never understand why she didn’t.

(1.5: Sagrada Familia)

June 17th 2014
T minus 542 days

It was not long after the start of our summer break that Asuka started packing.
Before, she had spent all year with her father and step mom, returning here only for the summer; now, she was due to return to the Langleys over the break after going to school here.
I got swiftly drafted to help her with her shopping.
[“Get a box of those kit kats with all sorts of different outlandish flavors”], read her text, [“People over there are always impressed with those. And grab some little trinket for my sister, or maybe a funny T-shirt or something like that… wait a sec, I’ll ask Mutti if her clothing size changed.”]
Asuka tended to refer to Ms. Soryu as ‘Mama’ and to Mrs. Langley as ‘Mutti’. She says it cuts down on confusion.
I received one more text with her sister’s clothing size, and then a comment that I should probably go for one or two sizes bigger than that since clothing sizes over here tended to be on average somewhat smaller than the supposed equivalent in Europe, and then as usual, she expected me to drop everything and be on my merry way.
You’d think a gift for her sister would be important enough that she’d want to pick it out herself. I don’t even know what sort of stuff Asuka’s sister likes. Couldn’t she have pointed me to some carton or video game that she’s a fan of? I half considered texting Touji or Hikari to ask them what their younger siblings are into these days, but who knows what they were doing right now; They might not answer in time. I tried to recall what Asuka’s sister even looked like. I have this image in my head of her having long, dark brown hair and wearing at least one decorative little braid in it? Maybe she’d like some scrunchies and hair decorations?
I pondered this as I ambled to the shopping district. In the end I got her one of those sets for little girls where you can make your own bracelets, necklaces etc. from colorful little beads, and went to pick up the sweets. While I was picking those out, it occurred to me that maybe Asuka had given me the clothing size because she specifically wanted me to get clothing though.
Now that the summer was at its height and little fireworks festivals were being held everywhere, many of the shop windows were advertising matching festival attire, so I thought that if Asuka’s sister had been promised “a gift from Japan” it might be neat to get her something that she couldn’t easily get somewhere else. So I went a grabbed a nice, kid-sized Yukata with a beautiful goldfish pattern in a traditional art style. It might have been bold to assume that Asuka’s sister would also like the color red, but it was one of the nicer ones that they had and generally seemed like the sort of things little girls would like.
This purchase went 2500 yen over the budget that Asuka had given me, but I didn’t mind pitching in with some of my own money, it’s not like I was going to get to use it when the rest of the month was likely to be taken up by our family camping trip.

At last, I ended up in front or the Soryu residence, laden with shopping bags.
“You know what always gets me?” said Asuka as she was inspecting my purchases on the couch of her living room. “Japanese apple candies actually tastes like Japanese apples.”
“Are apples different in Europe?”
Of course there are different breeds and stuff, but I always figured that apples were just plain apples.
“Even the grass is different, Baka Shinji! The air smells different. The sky’s a different color. It always takes me a bit to adjust – and then when I get back to Europe, the sky is lower since we’re so far north. But yeah, Japanese apples are a bit more sweetish.”
“Do you miss European apples sometimes?”
“Honestly, what I miss the most is the bread. This might surprise you, but proper bread isn’t actually supposed to bend. And all you get here is white bread! I mean, in a big city like this, you can find European-style bread and cheese if you really want, but it’s ridiculously overprized.
It’s the same the other way around, though, my grandma used to tell me that you couldn’tget Japanese food at all back in her days. Nowadays is pretty popular and you can find a lot of basic stuff even in regular supermarkets. Dashi broth and bonito flakes are still ridiculously hard to find though. Thankfully you can order almost anything over the internet these days.
You know what Marie misses the most about the United States?”
“Big Steaks, maybe?”
“Spicy Cinnamon Tea. Apparently they have cinnamon flavored everything in the States. I wouldn’t really know, we don’t have those in Europe either. But I think there’s a shop at our mall that sells US-American candy and sodas and whatnot. Maybe I can get her some, it would be really fun to have her owe me.
But honestly, most of all I’d like to have some proper doors that can be locked or slammed for emphasis.”
“That’s very like you. I’m gonna miss you.”
There was probably a cheesy look of fondness on my face, which Asuka took offense to:
“Baka! I’ll be right back before you know it. You better not spend your entire summer break just lazing around!”
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Thu Jan 21, 2021 11:33 am

The Rib part II  SPOILER: Show
June 20th 2014
T minus 539 days

I was told to meet with my parents at the lab. They had already stuffed our bags into the trunk of our car in the morning so that we could save time and get through most of the drive before sundown.
I brought Rei with me, too – or maybe she was bringing me, because I’m pretty sure I would have gotten lost in the laboratory’s maze-like layout if she wasn’t leading the way. She silently strolled through the disorienting windowless corridors just as naturally as I would stroll through our appartment on a nightly trip to the bathroom.

I did roughly recognize the immediate surroundings of their office, though, I had been there many times before, though usually it was my parents or one of my employees who had gotten me from and too that place.

My father was considered important enough that his door had an automatic sign indicating if someone could enter or not. Or maybe it was less to do with him and more with some neophilic flourishes to show off just how ultra-modern and state-of-the-art the whole facility was supposed to be.
“Director’s Office” it read, and beneath it in English:
“UN Artificial Evolution Laboratory, Chief of Research”
I knew it to be a large room with a wide front of full-height mirrors held up by various pillars, pretty far up in the building, with several lines of bright rectangular lamps lining the ceiling. It probably counted for something that he got to have a room above ground with actual windows, unlike Ms. Soryu’s glorified cubicle.
Mother had her own office as well, but whenever they both had to discuss something together, they usually came to this one – must be the natural light.
I say that I ‘knew’ what it looked like because right now I wasn’t getting in.
The automatic door was locked, the electronic display of the automatic sign above it read ‘Do Not Enter’. Uncertain as to how to proceed, I looked over at Rei, but she wasn’t saying or doing anything, just patiently standing in the dim corridor, looking straight at the wall next to the door.
She was wearing a white blouse and a plaid skirt – the overall impression she made wasn’t too different from when she’d be wearing her uniform during the school year.
My parents would have known that we would be coming so, I wondered what could have held them up.
The futuristic automatic door was absolutely soundproof, however.
I had no idea what might be going on on the other side until it finally opened – as I would find out, for emphasis.
“Don’t misunderstand – you can either walk through that door and leave the facilities right now, or we shall have you escorted off the premises.”
I knew he had a leading position at the institute, but I had rarely heard my father talking in such a cold, harsh voice.
But what’s more shocking was that the voice that answered was one that I knew:
“So you think you can just hide the truth forever?! You think that no one’s ever going to ask? What kinds of experiments are going in this facility? What about that incident six years ago? People died, in case you don’t remember – including two senior scientists, countless staffers, an intern fresh out of highschool, and a little girl that someone brought to work. Your own colleagues died, and you’re going to pretend like it never happened?!”
“Please” said my mother, gentle but firm, yet deliberately so, every inch the good cop to my father’s bad one. “If you keep insisting, the upshot won’t be pleasant to any of us.”
She was talking so much like what I knew as her ‘exasperated parent voice’ that I didn’t yet grasp that she’d just made a threat.
Despite, or perhaps because of her unshakable calm, she must have won the staring contest, for we soon saw the troublemaker she’d been negotiating issuing out of the door.
It was Mr. Kaji, grim-faced and severe. He seemed a bit shocked when he saw us – I don’t think he would have made such a bold declaration if he had known that there were children listening.
His gaze briefly lingered on us, darkly appraising Rei and myself for an instant, but then he hastened away, hurried to be gone.

I think I would have spent quite a bit of time just standing there awkwardly, if Rei had not thought it logical to proceed inside while the automatic door was still open.
“What are you doing here?” snapped father – whatever had been going on must have preoccupied his thoughts quite a bit if it didn’t occur to him that he had invited us.
I shuddered at the unfamiliar sharpness of his tone, but Rei seemed unfazed:
“We were asked to come.”
I was beginning to get an inkling for why she sometimes struggled to address him by name instead of rank.
Mother stood up from where she had been sitting at her desk.
“Darling. They’re here for our camping trip.” then here tone softened. “Did you hear?”

“A bit…” I conceded.
“Please don’t worry about it. That man was from the press.”
Father immediately caught her drift: “You know, reporters. Always looking for some big scoop even if it means publishing ludicrous publications. This laboratory is the largest employer in the city; You’d be surprised at how many bogus conspiracy theories there are about us.”
Actually I wouldn’t be, I only met Kensuke (and by extension Touji) ‘cause he kind of wanted to investigate them.
“I’m sorry you had to hear that, kids. We’ll get going right away.”
With that smile on her lips, I would have believed mother if she had told be that the moon is made of cheese.
Only later would the implications of Mr. Kaji’s words come floating to the top again.

We got in the car soon. I plopped in my headphones to bridge the long wait, while Rei sat besides me, gazing quietly out the window.
My parents took turns driving; They switched places when we stopped at a road house; Mom got us all snacks.
For all intents and purposes, the two of them were elated, my mother of course, but also my father in his own, more subtle way.

So far I have expressed many bitter feelings towards my parents throughout this account. But whenever I get to close to twisting the memory of them into some diabolic caricature, there’s a little voice in the back of my mind, like a little angel on my shoulder that sounds suspiciously like Rei: ‘Have you really tried to understand them’?
Believe me, I’ve tried. In her own way, my mother probably thought that she was doing all of this for my own good. They gave me no reason to think that they were anything other than overjoyed to finally be spending time with me after their work had kept them away for so long...
Considering that they must have known about things to come, they probably would have realized that this would be our last summer together as a family, especially my mother.
Was she trying to commit father and I to memory as best as she could, to burn us into her mind as if these moments were to be her provisions for her long journey?
I wonder if she had any specific notion for how she wanted our last memories to turn out; Were they what she wanted them to be?
Would she cherish them in the eons to come, or did she ever have regrets?

I can’t imagine what it was like for Rei to observe our family, never having had one of her own. Did she feel left out, or were we just an odd curious phenomenon for her to observe… if she thought anything of it at all and didn’t think of this as yet another time in which she had to endure strange, dreary places and be marginally present for meaningless rituals.
We think of family as a very valuable thing, but because we grow up immersed in that idea, it’s hard for us to tell if really is, if there is any real, indisputable value that even space aliens from the stars would recognize… or ourselves, if we hadn’t been brought up with that value.
But even meeting real aliens couldn’t give us answers, for wouldn’t they be likely to have some biased perspective of their own?
I spent a lot of that trip gazing up at the stars, but I think there was no sense of foreboding – it was simply what I defaulted to when there were no ceilings to be stared at.

All four of us would have taken some memories with us when we returned from that place, but there’s no way to know if it was even the same parts that we each wound up remembering.
It’s not like I could ask Rei, or my parents, not anymore.
In the years to come there would be many moments where I would convince myself that they must have forgotten, that there was no way they could do what they did if they remembered and cherished these days as much as I did. But of course that was only a childish escape, a kind of changeling fantasy, a front to avoid the painful truth that they can be the same people I remember and still the causes behind my current predicament.
Nowadays it gets harder and harder to remember. The events of later days hanh before my early life like a dense fog. It’s like I am stubbornly holding on to a pretty stone that dissolves away even as I hold it.

I retain a lot of fishing with my father, the two of us sitting at various points by the river side. I’ve been told that such a calm, idle pastime fits me, but I’m not sure. I’m not certain that I would describe myself as patient. Looking back at my life I can’t help but conclude that I tolerate adversity quite poorly, but you never know how you’re going to react until you’re actually in a life-and-death situation. The movies are filled with people like Mari, but they’ve got cameras pointed at them cause they’re exceptional. Misato told me that most people act rather like me until real fight experience or military training beat it out of them, but she was probably just looking to comfort me, or comforting herself with her usual optimism – there are always people who don’t make it through basic training, or get their heads beaten in on their first try.
I think I’ve seen what she really thinks of me once she dispensed with the fake smiles.

I remember that when I first held a fishing rod, I was quite frustrated – nothing happened for ages, and whenever I got close to succeeding, I would make some wrong movement. Father’s instructions had been firm and businesslike where mother would have sugarcoated everything she needed me to do. I remember being very worried that I would disappoint him. He’d said that if I was no good at it, we didn’t need to do it, but to me that just felt like he was going to stop bothering me if I wasn’t good enough. I cried a lot after I got home, worried that we would no longer get to spend time together if my fumbling attempts didn’t improve, but mother found me, comforted me and explained that father meant was that he didn’t want to force me if I hated it. He thought I was the one who didn’t like spending time with him. He even came and apologized to me, which meant a lot to me at the time. As a small kid, you don’t often get adults admitting that they were wrong or looking for your forgiveness like you had a real right to either give or withhold it. After a generous serving of hugs and comfort from both of them, I felt ready to try this whle fishing thing again.
I suppose I really did get the hang of it eventually. By this point, we had been doing this for years so it had become routine to me, something I could do without much thinking – even walking or sitting up can be difficult and frustrating for a small child but once we start forming memories we all do it so naturally that it feels like the matter of your body is directly obeying your will – unless we have some pain or disability that shatters that illusion.

We often did this together, and for the most part it suited us both as relatively quiet, inert people. We would sit in companionable silence, sometimes broken by an awkward question on my part or a short, dry comment from my father. I think I did like it.
Mother thought it was quite adorable, apparently. Once she got out a phone, snapped a picture and then proceeded to point out how we were sitting there in almost the exact same manner. This time there was a moment when she walked past us with the firewood that she and Rei had been gathering and paused to regard us fondly: “You two are soo alike~”
I never did quite stop feeling sorry for the fish. I realize that we ate fish regularly but what we’d get at the store was already filleted and prepared, something my mind could classify as a separate ‘food’ object. Father of course reeled it resolutely and then ended its life with one precisely, measured stab of his hunting knife.
I asked him once if that was to make it quick and painful, but he simply explained that it will taste better if the fish is killed fast, explaining how on a lot of commercial tankers they’re left to slowly suffocate. Its final struggle can trigger physical processes in the body, the release of chemicals, while a quick stab to the brain would prevent all that.
I was kind of grateful that my mom was supposed to take it apart and roast it it with whatever herbs she’d been able to identify, it would probably look more like food then.
I guess I felt uncomfortably reminded of the space I took up in the world. Everywhere I tried to step or sit down there would be plants I would be crushing. I could go vegetarian of course but I don’t think I’d have the willpower to do it, besides, I would still be using water and the wide lands used to plant food, fields that were probably fertilized with manure or blood meal. Livestock was a way to utilize the land that people can’t, to eat off off rough grasslands to dry to farm, or mountains to steep.
“It’s impossible to live a life without making an impact”, is what father once said. “This fish has probably eaten many smaller fish and shrimp; Now it’s its turn to be eaten. It’s not just your food: If you get a job, that means someone else didn’t. If you win over your crush, someone else lost. If you speak your mind, some people might be offended; Some will be comitted to hate you no matter what. Better get used to it. In life, you have to look out for yourself – no one else will do it.”
I wonder if that’s true.

It was probably lucky to be out camping with people who knew so much about nature and could point out interesting things about the Biome and all that, but I’m not sure I enjoyed my mom pointing out every part in the anatomy of the large specimen my father had caught while she went about gutting it and taking it apart – maybe she did this with a frog or a rat during her studies. Her hands were covered in red. Honestly I was feeling a bit sick.
I think its eyes were looking at me.
“Oh come on, Shin-chan, don’t be squeamish~”
In the end she made me chop the vegetables and prepare the other ingredients, however. Rei wanted nothing to do with it either; She went to chop the firewood, and let me tell you, there was something surreal about seeing a little girl hacking at blocks of woods with a large ax. She wasn’t exceptionally dexterous or experienced, but since father had told her to do it, she went as it with consummate determination. Some pieces of wood were sent flying – I was honestly worried that she would end up chopping her own fingers.
Father said that this, too, was important for us to know if we were to survive on our own. I know some of you are probably wondering if this was some stealth guerrilla training for the ravages of the coming apocalypse, but I honestly don’t think so. It was an expression of what he genuinely believed.
Sure, I knew something how to sharpen tools, find food, orient myself etc. I could certainly have found north based on the stars alone, but little of that would be of any help wandering through the red deserts of a completely transformed, inhospitable world, or well, almost – only the polar star remains, immovable as it had always been, the hinge on which the year swings, until years stopped, and seasons ended, and everything with them.

I knew all about the complicated process of starting a fire, stoking it and then letting it burn low until it was ready for cooking, but what use would it be in a world with no wood?

I actually sat at a campfire only a few days before I ended up recording these very memoirs, but I haven’t the slightest idea what the General did to start it. And even if there was some way that I could have helped, there’s no way that I would have been allowed to wander off. As of this moment I still have boot-prints on my face that haven’t fully faded. We were very much prisoners of war. Me, and that person…
Oh tell me, where... where does it all go?

Even that memory of Rei nearly causing a forest fire when she just unceremoniously dumped all the wood into the blaze that my father and I just got going.
To think that she chopped all this wood for a fire that she would have no part in.
While the three of us devoured father’s catch, Rei indulged in a scrumptious feast of one protein bar, one EnergyIn(TM), and of course her usual prescription.
“Are you okay with eating just that?”
“Of course.” said Rei, showing me the wrappers. “This contains all the nutrients necessary for the human body down to trace elements. Chrome. Selenium. Potassium. Molybdenum.”
Well, I couldn’t argue with that, seeing as I had no idea what ‘molybdenum’ even is. I still don’t, actually. I only went to school up to eight grade, and my attendance record for that last year was spotty at best…

Rei and I ended up sharing a tent, the same one that I used to have to myself all the previous years. Rei said she didn’t mind, but I wonder what my parents were thinking. I suppose it would have been okay if we were close relatives or even just slightly smaller children, but a growing boy and girl… especially since I was convinced that that whole story about her being some distant cousin of ours was just an obvious cover story for her work at the lab. I suppose from their point of view we were probably no different from innocent little grade schoolers, even if we were technically ‘teens’ now.
Rei seemed unbothered, but I retreated to the very edge of the tent, nervous that I would wind up poking against her in my sleep.

I still trusted my parents. Or at least, I was still enough of A child that I wouldn’t consider if I do before voicing my doubts, one evening at the fire, while the flames crackled, the leaves rustled and the river purled along in the distance.
I think we were all grilling bread on a stick from some dough that mom had brought in a cooler box, or really just warming ourselves at the fire as the insects chirped around us.
“Say, mom…”
“Yes, dear?”
“Is it true what that man said in your office? Was there ever an accident at the lab where people died?”
“There’s no reason for you to worry about this.”
“Yeah, I guess so…”
Yet I couldn’t be satisfied with my own knee-jerk response even though I tried to turn my attention back to the fire and the feel of the wooden stick in my hands.
“But… you and father work there. And all your co-workers…”
As did Asuka and Rei.
“I’d just hate to think that something like that could happen…”
Intent on maintaining her serene demeanor, mother just shook her head with a smile.
“Mr. Kaji was talking about something that happened long, long ago.”
“But there was something, wasn’t there… even if he’s just investigating a rumor, there must be some reason that it was started, right?”
It was father who spoke next, and mother looked surprised at that. He wouldn’t have acted against her if she had explicitly told him not to say this, but I think she was taking it for granted that this story should not be told to me.
“There are always leaks. One ought to be prepared for them since one can never prevent them completely. Shinji was probably going to hear of it sooner or later.”
“So something did happen…”
Mr. Kaji said that inters were killed, or children who were just watching, chief scientists as well as ordinary staff. When I thought of Rei or Asuka being involved in some sort of accident… that frightened me so much that I tried hard not to consider it. I was conflicted being wondering why mom would hide this from me and being mad that father had robbed me of my blissful ignorance.
“There was an incident, ten years ago, where your mother and I had to make a difficult decision. Some of the consequences were regrettable, but they were nonetheless the best possible outcome.”
“How could people dying be good…!”
He sighed, as if I had said something childish, though not unexpectedly so.
“Shinji, when you grow up, you will realize that important decisions are rarely a matter of choosing between a good option or a bad one. There might be multiple goods you want to obtain, and sometimes, all the choices you get will be bad ones. But you still have to choose.
Picture a train that is racing down a track with five people on it. Now you have a button with which you can set the train onto another track. However, that other track also has someone on it.”
“Well then there’s nothing you can do, right? If people die no matter what…”
“There is. You can send the train onto the path with less casualties. Five people live if you do, four more than if you did nothing.”
“But what about that one person? What about their family? Their loved ones, and their fiuture dreams?” I imagined what it would be like if some rrandom stranger, some authority, decided that my life must be given up for the greater good. That I should get ready to pack my bags and say my last prayers because I had been chosen to have my heart ripped out on an altar to appease the sun god.
What sort of cruel god would even demand that sort of sacrifice? What sort of cruel world?
I imagined Asuka tied onto that train track. Or Rei.
“That’s sheer murder! Who gives anyone that right to decide that, who should live and who should die… ”
“Someone has to decide. Because if you don’t, the decision will be taken from you. The train will rush into those five people and mow them down when they could have been saved. We can neither stop the clock nor reverse it’s direction. We can only speed its course. To get what you want you have to be ready to make sacrifices, to make it happen with your own hands. You have to stand on your own two feet and act for yourself, or no one else will.”
I pondered this gravely.
“I just- I don’t want to hurt anybody…”
“That’s noble of you.” said mother, like you might tell a five year old that Santa shall surely put them on the ‘nice’ list. “...but the sad thing is that sometimes we can’t really avoid it.
I hate that your father and I can’t always be home with you as often as we would like. I know you’ve probably been feeling a little alone as of late, like we’ve been putting our work before you. I would love if we could just laze around like this every single day. But it’s not so easy, because our work is also something that we do for the good of you, and all the children in this world, and whether we fail or succeed affects far more than just us or our family. You know, I’ve always wanted to have kids for as long as I can remember. I even thought that I would quit my job and spend all the time looking after you, and maybe some little brothers and sisters.”
I couldn’t imagine having a big family like Hikari.
“Bur circumstances changed. Things didn’t end up happening exactly like I expected. Still, I thought at first that I would only keep working just a few more years after you were born. Just long enough to leave a legacy, something that would be remembered after we are all gone. At first, we were just trying to find a new way to produce clean and sustainable energy, to stop global warming. Many were considering fusion or thorium reactors, but fusion had proven impractical for ages and I don’t think anything based on nuclear was likely to be accepted, even if it was much safer than conventional reactors. So people turned their minds to Dimensional Engineering.
Have you already done Super Solenoid Theory in school?”
“Not really… but I’ve heard the name. It’s got something to do with how N2-Reactors work, right?”
“Not quite. The N2-reaction only lasts for very short bursts of time. It is miles away from a true Super Solenoid, which would create infinite energy.”
“But I always thought that was like one of those theoretical constructs, like a perpetuum mobile, or magnetic monopoles, or white holes or time travel…”
I had encountered such ideas a few times in documentary videos about astronomy. That’s why I understood very well what mother meant by what she said next.
“Not at all. It’s rather comparable to the brilliant predictions which anticipated antimatter, Higgs-Bosons and gravitational waves just from mathematics alone.”
“You mean they’re real? Really properly real? An actual perpetuum Mobile?”
“Well… unless we tried to build one, we were never going to find out, right?” said father with a bit of a smirk. “Even just proving that it’s impossible would have scored you a Nobel prize.”

“But isn’t that more something that an engineer or a physicist would work on?”
“We had physicists, and engineers. Dr. Katsuragi, who drafted the underlying theory. Naoko Akagi, whose novel Insight Engine gave us the necessary processing power to do our computations down to the quantum level. At first, our team under professor Fuyutsuki was just there to help her grow the wetware for her biocomputer. But soon we recognized that we had put ourselves in grave danger. As they were leading the experiment, the two of them were first among the casualties.”
Those must have been the ‘chief researchers’ that Mr. Kaji mentioned.
I didn’t catch this connection until much later:
Everybody knew that the inventor of S2-Theory and N2 Reactors was called Katsuragi. I didn’t expect that he might be related to Misato any more than I would expect any random person named Bohr, Einstein or Hermann to have any relation to a famous physicist.
“I think that sooner or later, someone else would have done that same experiment. Or they would have come across that cave in Antarctica that we found as a result of our research. One way or another, it was bound to happen, and if your father and I had not done what we did, the results may have been much, much worse.”
“So there was an accident in some experimental reactor? Like an explosion?”
That at least did make a kind of sense, which is probably why mom was content to let me think that at the time.
“Something like this, yes. There were some variables that Dr. Katsuragi and his team couldn’t possibly have predicted. A grave danger on mankind’s cosmic doorstep that were were hereto unaware of.”
“But why would you keep meddling with something so dangerous?!”

Father smirked. “If Knowledge has created problems, “ he said “we shall not solve them through ignorance.”

I wonder how long I can keep putting the Ikaris in mundane family situations before it stops feeling surreal.
Also, shout out to my sister M., who once went to Japan for her studies (sr he’s a social worker in training) and came back with outlandish kit kats and funfacts about Japanese apple candy.

I’m also finding that ChildhoodFriends!Shinji & Asuka make a surprisingly fun pair of PoV characters since one is very much a type A personality and the other is completely type B.
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Tue Feb 02, 2021 7:57 am

1.6 The Serpent Part I  SPOILER: Show
(1.6: Die Schlange)

July 26th 2014

T minus 503 days

Do you guys like the dictionary of obscure sorrows?
Well, I do. I did. I wonder how long it will take until something like the vast fount of knowledge that was the internet will finally exist again. Are there still salvageable servers and cables buried somewhere in the dirt, or are people going to look back at its heyday like something from before the fall of Rome, or even the bronze age collapse?
It may be that this was only because my young, yet impressionable mind encountered it just as the emergent quality of deep reflection first awakened but the first time I came across it, my mind was blown. Poof. Like that emoji with the top of its head exploding off. I stayed up late for two days to not just read it all, but be impressed by it, sit there thinking about it, spontaneously listen to music that reminded me, and to discuss it with one person in particular. A special friend that wouldn’t mind, no, even rejoiced in being called in the middle of the night to talk about something like that, appearing to love it even more than me.
I’m speaking of course of one of my very favorite people in the world: Kaworu Nagisa. I believe I’d mentioned him before. If I had to describe my relationship with him succinctly, there is one particular entry that comes to mind:
lilo n. a friendship that can lie dormant for years only to pick right back up instantly, as if no time had passed since you last saw each other.
I first met him at the lab, much like Asuka and Mari. He was just there one day – a little boy all by himself, wrapped in many bandages. I suspected even then that he might have been some sort of patient or research volunteer. It seemed just right to me that I should try to talk to him and befriend him... he says that meant a lot to him, but it’s really nothing special, just what anyone would have done. I was a child and wanted to play. But ever since then, we have intermittently kept in touch. Sometimes I wouldn’t hear from him for months but there has never been a time when hearing from him didn’t make even the bleakest days into something worthwhile and exciting.
If Asuka is the sort of friend that you couldn’t see yourself making today but kind of ended up stuck with in spite of all the changes in your life, perhaps offering you a window into a completely different way of living, Kaworu is rather the sort of friend you might meet at your hobby or on the internet – the sort where you immediately hit it off because you have so many things in common. You might describe the both of us as artistic, contemplative types.
But it’s not quite right to say that we’re merely ‘similar’...
Let’s put it this way: If I were destined to become an ordinary salaryman who also plays music, Kaworu would be the sort of professional musician who has an intellectual interest in the lives of average ordinary people.
If I could chose to be like any other person – and limited to something attainable, not a millionaire, a celebrity or a genius – I think I would choose Kaworu. It seems to me that we kind of value the same things, but at the same time he is so much… better… or purer… at really living it. To be honest, I think I have a bit of an inferiority complex towards him.
He is smart, athletic, kind, likeable, thoughtful, and so good-looking that it kind of makes me wonder if I’m a little bit into dudes to be honest. It’s like he’s impossible to dislike… at least to me. He’s always so smooth and considerate, and he always knows just the right thing to say to put people at ease. It’s like there’s nothing he cannot do. Of course if I told him this he would say that I’m exaggerating, that he just had a little bit more opportunities to learn things and that he thought I was worthy of great sympathy as well, but that’s exactly why I couldn’t ever measure up to him.
He is the sort of person that can truly follow his ideals consummately, like a flower on the precipice, while ordinary commoners such as myself stop at the edge, held back by our selfish drives and instincts…
I just admire him a lot, okay?
I’m telling you all this so you understand why I was overjoyed when I got a text from him in the last days of our summer vacation, why I answered without a second thought and sped right out of my usual inertia to grab my clothes and get ready.
I had the apartment to myself I think; If Rei was there, she was being really, really quiet; She probably wasn’t though. My parents’ workload had flared back up with a vengeance not soon after we had returned from our nature retreat. If Asuka was here, she would probably make me join her in some sort of hijinks, but she wasn’t due to return until two days right before the start of our fall term, and I’d expect that she’d spend the day after that sleeping off her jet lag.
Last I’d heard of him, Kaworu was actually supposed to be in Germany as well. He lived with a business associate of my parents’, one Lorenz Keel: An older man who could have been Kaworu’s grandfather or his uncle, but was always referred to as his ‘guardian’. As the chairman of the committee that was in charge of deciding whether or not my parents would get their research grants, it was perhaps natural that their relationship with Mr. Keel was a somewhat adversarial one, but thankfully, such strife had not continued into our generation.
As one of the few children at and around the lab that wouldn’t see me as ‘the bosses’ kid’, he had absolutely no reservations about me – no, I doubt that he would have had them even if he were the janitor’s secret lovechild or something. He just had this very open, warm, expressive manner, absolutely no hangups about showing his feelings – he is openly enthusiastic about his interests and openly stands by the people he likes. I suppose that’s not so uncommon among artistic types, in the drama club they all greet each other with hugs…
I often wished I could be like that as well, but I couldn’t. I’d be much too afraid of being judged or laughed down.
I really love being with him, but there are times when everything about him makes me envious. And yet despite that envy, there’s no way that I could be mad at someone so impressive, or not want to be around him. Even my pettiness isn’t enough to resist. So I don’t really get the angry sort of jealous like Asuka might. I just get kind of sad. And then I’ll end up feeling bad about feeling jealous, and feel bad about feeling bad…
I told him once. I didn’t mean to, in fact he would have been the last person in the world that I’d want to find out about this, but he noticed right away that something was off and patiently eased me into revealing my feelings – when he heard, he wasn’t bad, he didn’t get offended or defensive or even disappointing… he simply looked at me in his pensive, melancholy manner and said: “If it’s that tough for you to be around me, I can stay away from you if you like.”
That’s when I swung my little kiddie arms around him as tightly as I could and started sobbing. “Noo, Kaworu-kun! Don’t go! I want to stay friends with you forever!”
So that is my relationship with Kaworu Nagisa.
I could talk to him for hours and hours and never get bored of it, but sometimes we’d also just dream the day away playing our respective instruments, watching the stars, going to the bathhouse or going for walks at the riverside.
This time, he’d said to meet me at a music shop in town – we’d gone there before on the previous occasions that he’d visited Tokyo-3, to get classical CDs or collect flyers for the latest concerts and other cultural events and maybe risk a sheepish glance at the fancy expensive instruments that they sell there.
I spotted him as soon as I arrived. He was dressed in a stylish white-and-blue sailor suit. He was thirteen just like me, but his birthday was just a few weeks from now – he was almost nine months my senior and showed all signs of blossoming into the platonic ideal of a slender, elegant young man. Next to him, I was still just a little boy.
Now, I’ve heard that in the middle parts of the USA, there are tiny villages that might have only few hundred people. I once read a story on the internet about how some local country bumpkin would keep going to a particular restaurant simply because there was a pretty waitress there, because in all that town there were only very few people as pretty as her.
I, however, had grown up on the most densely populated continent on this planet, in one of the single largest cities on god’s green earth. I had seen my share of pretty people. I saw Misato-sensei in class almost every morning, who I am sure would have been more than a match for that American country waitress. Heck, I was friends with Asuka, who was so good-looking that she could easily have earned a living off her looks alone – she could easily be a model or an actress, no problem. Every time Ms. Soryu took her to the photographer, she’d be swarmed with offers to have her exorbitantly daughter star in ads for toys or children’s clothes. Who knows how popular she’s going to be once she is all grown up.
I say all this because I need you to understand that Kaworu is on a whole other level. He’s far beyond popular actors or k-pop idols: He’s like an angel or an elf, nay, a demigod! He’s so darn pretty that it almost hurts to look at him.
And it’s not just some treacherous veneer either: Everything about him is exactly as impressive as he looks. Of course, any time I so much as suggested that, the answers had been something like: “I have many limitations; I know that very well. It is only that I’ve had a little more time than you, a little more opportunities to acquire knowledge and experience.”
Yeah, you got that right: He is humble, too! It’s just not fair.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m deeply grateful to whatever random alignment of the stars led me to run into such an amazing person and get to have him as my friend. But I’m not sure I feel worthy of that, if that makes sense…
“Hello, Kaworu-kun.” I was, as always, slightly dazzled and struck anew with the awareness of my utter mediocrity, when I first saw him after a long time. If I saw him regularly, I’d usually get used to his… dazzlingness. At least a lil bit.
He greeted me warmly, pulling me into a warm hug right away.
“It’s so good to see you, Shinji-kun! I just love spending time with you!”
I wish I could be so open with my affection. Sure, it’s not like no one had ever said that to me before (my parents, for example), but I wouldn’t be comfortable showing my feelings so openly.
If I said something like this to Asuka or Touji, I’m sure it’d just be awkward. He’d think it’s unmanly or something, and she would laugh at me and tease me about secretly having the hots for her or something. Most of the people in my circle tended to express themselves through ‘acts of service’ as their primary love language, but once in a while, it was really nice to get some ‘words of affirmation’, too.
Honestly, being praised right out of the gate made me blush a bit. I like recognition as much as the next guy but then when I get it, especially in public, I end up feeling embarrassed. It’s bound to rub someone the right way – besides, I don’t always know what to do with the attention. Maybe that’s a little contradictory, absurd even…
“If you ask me, it’s rather fascinating. Human beings are subject to so many competing drives and desires…”
You’re probably expecting me to say something like ‘I wouldn’t fully realize what he meant until much later’, but you know what? That’s not the case at all. Despite his somewhat unique context and perspective, I don’t think he meant anything fundamentally different from what a typical thoughtful young man would mean by such movies. Our absurdity as a species is much the same whether it is noticed by ourselves or pointed out by others.
Many people frown at stories where aliens or robots end up finding humanity interesting, as if there was anything truly all that special about wretched creatures like ourselves. Now I’m the last person who should be denying our wretchedness, but the one example of civilization-building intelligence that we know of, the one data point we have, happens to be us, and we are endlessly fascinated by the idea of androids, aliens or fey magical creatures, as if our species as a whole were feeling the constraints of its loneliness on this fragile blue peel of biosphere. There are also those who spend endless hours trying to understand the ways of other animals studying whales, dolphins, bees, crows and octopi, and teaching rudimentary language to apes and dogs, keeping pets or potted plants… There are of course also those of us who don’t give a rat’s ass about plants or animals and destroy them thoughtlessly for fleeting imaginary things like profit or status, even beings with some traces of self-awareness like Elephants and Dolphins. Even those trying to understand, preserve them or cooperate with them often do them great harm.
In that regard, we should not have expected other intelligence to be any less diverse than people.
“By the way, did my little present find its way to you?”
“Yeah, thanks a lot. I ended up going with my mom.”
She was only one I knew besides Kaworu who was also into this sort of classical stuff, but of course he knew this already. There’s very little that he had not somehow managed to extract from me over the years – like I said, we loved to talk and talk for hours when we got the chance.
“Glad to hear that she could make the time. I was meaning to give you your actual present when I got here, but I wanted you to have a little something that would still reach you on your birthday proper.”
“My actual present?”
He turned over what I had thus far believed to be one of the exhibits in the music shop, something I could only dream of owning: A beautiful, glossy instrument, probably one of those fancy, prohibitively expensive hand-crafted Cellos.
Once again I was stunned beyond words.
“I didn’t want to try my luck with the delivery service,” said Kaworu, as if that was in any way an explanation. I must have gaped like I fish. In fact, I did, the fine wood of the high-end instrument was so glossy I could see my reflection in it.
It was the sort of thing an acclaimed professional would own, and I knew right away that it would be dreadfully wasted on an amateur kid like me.
“I- I can’t accept something like this...-”
“Don’t worry. Mr. Lorenz is rather wealthy, so my allowance is somewhat generous.”
“That’s not what I mean- ! There’s more to this than just money.”
“And it’s precisely because you’d appreciate that that I want you to have it. I really want to see what you do with it.”
Words. Not. Working. For. Mouth. What does one say to this?
“So, uh, what brings you to Japan?” apparently. That was honestly the best I could manage after some futile rounds of opening and closing my mouth. Of course Kaworu had just stood by with his usual relaxed smile, patient as the buddha himself.
“Oh, that’s another part of the reason why I wanted to speak to you. I have good news. You and I will actually be attending the same school starting next month.”
That should have been good news… possibly the one thing that could improve on landing in the same class as Touji, Kensuke and Asuka, and all the new people I had met through it.
Except that even I wasn’t so foolish that I couldn’t put these dots together, no matter how much I would have preferred to remain oblivious to such insight. There was a clear, obvious pattern of people I had known from the lab suddenly showing up in Neo-Tokyo, what more, at this particular school, and what their final purpose here turned out to be.
Somehow I still thought nothing of my own presence back then. It always seemed obvious that I was simply there because of my parents.
Still the obvious conclusion regarding Kaworu could not escape me, and so I struggled to meet his eyes. Asuka did mention that they had scouted out another candidate, and that this candidate was a boy.
“...Is something the matter, Shinji-kun?”
The doubt must have been quite plain on my face, wired into my body. I hoped that he would trust me with the truth.
“Kaworu-kun…. Say… could it be that you’re coming to this town… because you’re going to work at my parents’ laboratory?”
Kaworu just kept smiling. I think sometimes, in his own way, he could be every bit as unreadable as Rei sometimes. “What makes you think that?”
“That’s because… Asuka and Rei both came to my school recently, and then it turned out that they were working at the lab.”
I was expecting him to confirm it or deny it maybe, but instead he did something that surprised me. His easygoing smile dissolved in a stumped blink. “Rei? Would that be Ayanami Rei?”
“Uh, Yes. I’m not sure if she’s the same Rei that we used to play with when we were kids though. She seems pretty different…”
He scrunched up his pretty face in severe thought. “But she is Ayanami Rei?”
I couldn’t put my finger on what he might have meant. “That’s her name, at least.”
He looked at me, still more serious than I would have expected. “So I will meet her? At the school?”
“You can meet her right now, if you want – that is, if she’s home. She’s staying at our place right now.”
But she wasn’t home. You’d think she would have had plenty of time to return, given that Kaworu and I had to haul his rather expensive gift with all its due diligence. I wondered if she or my parents would be coming home at all tonight.
I made an offer of tea and snacks to Kaworu, but he had placed to be an excused himself with great regret. That just made me feel bad; I really wish I could at least have given him something after he not only spent a fortune on a gift for me but also helped me get it to my room. Even ‘help’ is kind of a euphemism here, it’s more like he did nearly all of the carrying. As if Kaworu wasn’t already impressive enough, he’s a great deal stronger than his lithe frame would suggest.
I didn’t end up seeing Rei or my parents for several days. I was beginning to wonder what I should do when the money they left me for shopping ran out – should I phone them at work?
To their credit, they returned before I seriously had to concern myself with that decision. But that was in the evening, and they were all very obviously tired.
My mom still had the grace to carry a conversation and ask me about my better-part-of-the-week, but father could be heard lightly snoring from the direction of the couch where he had clearly not meant to stay for more than a moment. Rei was sitting at the dinner table with heavy, hooded eyes, showing even less interest in her dinner than usual. It was plain that she couldn’t have mustered the energy for any social interaction whatsoever. As a fellow introvert, I sympathize. Which is why it was only the next morning that I asked her:
“Hey Rei, do you know Kaworu-kun? Nagisa Kaworu?”
There wasn’t much in the way of an answer. She just looked at me from where she was chilling on the sofa. “Is he a classmate?”
“Nah, he’s a friend of mine, someone I know from the lab, like Asuka…” I wondered if that explanation was even likely to ring any bells. Then something occurred to me: “He’s actually on that picture I showed you.” I reached for a drawer in a nearby dresser. We had made a copy of the picture just as Ms. Soryu suggested, and mom showed it to me when she brought it home and put it away. I gave the picture to Rei.
Last time she viewed it, she must’ve breezed over Kaworu with the same brief cursory glance which she afforded most of our classmates, or really all people that she didn’t have some clear involvement with. Now, it was very clear who I meant, given that the only other boy in that picture was obviously me. Her glance halted sharply when it found him. It was not a look of simple recognition, rather some degree of alarm.
It makes sense that she would take note of his uncommonly light hair and complexion, but what she got fixated on were his eyes – future artists will be tempted to say ‘crimson like her own’, but in my duty as an eyewitness I have to insist that his were actually more like wine red.
“Nagisa… Kaworu…” she repeated, thoughtfully. Her eyes were narrowed in suspicion. Her words had been weighted, deliberate. “What is he like?”
“He’s sort of… the sort of person you can’t help but like. Someone really admirable. A great friend, too. I think he really understands me. ...though I guess we just click well together ‘cause we like similar things.” I added that last bit when her expression didn’t begin changing. I didn’t want to sound too much like I was going out of my way to shill him, or judging her for not sharing my enthusiasm. I guess I wasn’t exactly a great friend… Kaworu never flinched when he talked of how much he liked me, even if I wasn’t ‘popular kid material’ like him. In front of Touji I agree with Touji, and in front of Asuka, with her. I can’t do such a thing with Rei; There’s not enough to play off of, so I end up very conscious of my every word, I get all awkward and then I fiddle around with what I said and only make it worse… “He also reminds me a bit of you, in a way.”
I had her attention now. Her eyes were turned towards me. “How so?”
“I dunno, just… something about your general vibe, I think?”
The impression was an easy one to ‘get’ or ‘see’, but harder to explain or define. It was definitely more than just some physical resemblance. I thought my response was prohibitively vague, but she did seem to find something about it that was helpful… or at least indicative.
“I see.”
The gift, too, needed to be explained in time. My mother kept her poker-face of course: “Oh, how very thoughtful of him.” Though I cannot help but speculate that her own wealthy upbringing might have helped her keep her composure. She just kept loading the dishwasher with a smile as if a polished, handcrafted instrument was something you saw everyday in the hands of random teens.
Father, once he emerged from their room with a stack of used plates, was not so smooth, though his concerns were far from financial matters: “So he’s arrived already? And he made contact with you of his own accord?” Again that strange, guarded suspicious, same as Rei.
“...was he not supposed to?”
“Nevermind. It probably doesn’t matter.”
I don’t think he slipped up – he just didn’t feel the need to really bother with the secrecy. After all, I was just a schoolboy. I figured that much even then. “We really ought to get him something in return.” mused mother as she reached for the dish soap tabs.
Next to me on the couch, Rei had picked the book back up which she’s been reading until I talked at her, and was now turning the page.

September 1st 2014

T minus 498 days

Ah yes. September of 2014. This was going to be one heck of an eventful month. I would not come out of the other end with the same understanding of myself, my loved ones or the world around me.
I, however, had no clue about this. I thought the greatest changes I would be adjusting to would be the breaking out of the winter uniforms and my new status as a freshly-minted Young Man(TM) – now the more seasoned among you might be asking, ‘Hey, wait? What’s so impressive about being a teenager anyways?’ - and the answer is, nothing, nothing at all. I can say that with confidence now. However, when your only point of comparison is being a child, that is much less apparent.
So there I was, a certified Big Boy with a shiny new Big Boy bike to go with it.
It was just enough to embolden me with a feeble rush of undeserved confidence. I had laid out my uniform the day before, retrieving it from the just barely-opened package it and several others like it had occupied at the bottom of my clothing shelf ever since I’d first received it. The pants for the winter uniform looked much the same as the summer ones, for all that the fabric was slightly sturdier and heavier, but the greater difference was in the long-sleeved shirt and the black, high-collared jacket that was supposed to go with it. I’d been told a few times that I looked good in black – it was certainly easy to button it up in front of the mirror and imagine myself standing tall like my father in his dark uniform jacket.
I’d made sure to prepare my school things ahead of time, just as I had made sure to set my alarm clock especially early, with another purpose in mind beyond just making it to school on time. The idea had come to me a while before,
As I combed my hair, I implored my reflection not to chicken out – but of course, the outcome of that would not be up to that image in the mirror, but to only me.
In that instant it appeared so very tempting to just keep standing right here until all other sounds in the house had ceased. But I was able to recognize it, and I think that’s how I managed to choose otherwise.
Somehow, I actually managed to be at the bike rack next to our apartment’s parking lot at about the same time that Rei came outside, her hair still damp from her shower. I hoped she wasn’t gonna keep doing this well into the winter; It was starting to get cooler outside. At least she had put on her winter uniform. Besides a longer skirt and longer sleeved to the sailor-style shirt, it also involved a light blue woolen jacket to keep the students warm.
“Hey Rei, wanna to ride with me?”

I’d been worried about forgetting to remove the carrier basket from the rear rack, about messing up the timing or the unimaginable indignity of not being strong enough to pedal onwards while dealing with her additional weight.
I’d pictured many times in my mind how she might refuse me. The usual ‘There is no need’, maybe, or just a flat ‘Why?’ that would make me lose all courage. There was absolutely no point to this if I would be the only one who enjoyed it.
Even so, I was woefully unprepared for the most unlikely scenario of them all: That she might say yes. Well, actually, she didn’t really say anything. She looked somewhat surprised, I believe she was at least considering the ‘why’, but our previous time together must have been just enough for her to be able to conceive of a reason, and be so inclined as to nod ever so slightly.
I had to problem propelling the Bike forward with her sitting sideways on the rack – she was very light and petite, like she was barely there, which might as well have described her entire presence in this world. But she was definitely there, her weight leaning against me just a little bit. I had not imagined her. Her slender fingers were, without doubt, holding onto my jacket.
I tried to remind myself that I oughtn’t read too much into it. After all, I’m the one who said that we would be getting to school faster this way.
I didn’t know what to say, but the best part was, I don’t think there was a need for it.
I had no more thought of plans failing or succeeding or any more juvenile things like that.
I just felt the prickling tingling warmth under my skin and the wind passing us by, and I remember thinking, ah yes, this could be something I end up long remembering, something I won’t want to forget. I can’t say how it was for her, but the heightened feeling made me find myself more present in the world, more rooted in this immediate moment. Though this was my usual way to school, I think I noticed much more details that I didn’t usually pay attention to, like I was really ‘here’ and ‘now’ in a way that I usually wasn’t when I usually trudged across this path, too zoned out to even register much of the music coming from my headphones.
I hoped she was ‘here’ with me, that the moments were stretching for her even as they did for me instead of being breezed through, endured and forgotten.

Life is a brief, scarce thing that ought to be precious to us, but in practice, you’ll be uncomfortable or tired or waiting for some prerequisite to be met and then in the end so much of it just passes you by when one look at the cosmos should teach you that you ought to be hurrying. I didn’t really have a goal to hurry towards. I didn’t know why I was here. Maybe there is no reason for every single person and I’m just here because I’m here, but if that’s what it was, and my being here was it’s own reason, wasn’t that an even stronger reason to actually live it, spend that time? It would mean that time given to stff like video games or hobbies that don’t really go anywhere wouldn’t be wasted, but instead the point, but I can’t say that most of the time I ‘waste’ is really spent doing things I love…
I just know that these glimmers of meaningfulness do exist, now and then, when I’m doing something creative, for example, or something that helps, or spending time with special people. In that case, even the most trivial things don’t feel wasted, even if that’s probably just some pack instinct passed down from monkeys.
Even though Rei was right there with me, I couldn’t really know what she’s thinking…

We should have been early – actually, we were. I absolutely wanted to avoid a scenario where I would get the two of us reprimanded because I had underestimated the time it would take to cover the route by bike. Even so, we were being awaited: Sitting on the stone fence by the bicycle rack, with all the lightness in the world, was Kaworu. He acknowledged me with a smile, but his attention quickly moved elsewhere, as did his the purposeful glance of his ruby eyes.
“Ayanami Rei, the first qualified candidate.”
She was ostensibly as surprised to be spoken to as I would have been in her place… no, it was more than just his words that surprised her.
Whatever Kaworu was meaning to say, he did not mince words or beat around the bush, almost forward in his boldness, not bothering to dress his thoughts, feelings or intuition into acceptable veneers. “You’re the same as me.”
Rei narrowed her eyes in uncharacteristic suspicion.
“Who are you?”
“I am Kaworu. Nagisa Kaworu. Another of those children whose fates have been predetermined.”
I was used to Kaworu going off about really out-there, esoteric philosophic stuff. Predetermination and free will was a topic that he often spent time thinking about. But this time, I didn’t have the slightest idea what he might be talking about. His words were meant for Rei alone, like I might as well not be here, or rather, like when a game gives some instruction to the player character while the NPCs stand by as if frozen in time.
“You may not know it, but we have met before, a long, long time ago.”
I thought at first that he might have meant our childhood encounters at the lab, but he continued straight away. I’m not sure I recall his words correctly, since I didn’t really understand the sense behind them at the time, but based on what I know now, I bet the next thing he said was something more like this:
“We have both taken the form of the Lillim so that we could live in this world, experience it...”
More surprising than his words, however, was the way that Ayanami seemed to grasp exactly what he meant with no further explanation necessary.
She understood it, and whatever he meant, she grasped it enough to think she knew better:
“No. We are not the same. We may be similar, but we are not the same.”
Ever the intellectual, Kaworu found it stimulating to be met with an opposite viewpoint. His amusement was plain on his face: “Huh? What makes you think so?”
“The people we’ve met. The lives we’ve lived. The choices we’ve made. The bonds and experiences that have shaped us. Those are all different.” She spoke quietly, but with conviction. “Those are all what created us as the people we are now. Therefore, we are not the same. Therefore, we cannot possibly have met before. Not you and I, not as we are now.”
He seemed intrigued. “Hm. I suppose you could see it that way. I will have to think about this. ”
Deeming the conversation finished, he leapt down from the fence, fearless as he did so, unfailingly elegant in descent, landing on his feet like a cat.
He held out his hand to greet us one after another.
“Good morning to you, too, Shinji-kun.”
If only one of them was here I might have asked what they’d meant by that conversation, but with both here, I felt awkward, maybe like I’d be intruding.
When Rei grasped his hand, something appeared to surprise her.
But Kaworu was expecting this; He just smiled and nodded. “Yes. The matter that composes us is also the same.”
That’s when he must have noticed my somewhat lost expression, five seconds from just discreetly falling out of step with them and keeping at the back so they could keep discussing whatever it was they were talking about.
“Oh, sorry. Were you feeling left out? I apologize, I must have gotten carried away. It’s just that I’ve been wanting for the chance to discuss this a long time. Ayanami here is probably the only person in the world that would know what I mean.”
“Not Asuka?”
“Well, to a lesser extent maybe.”
“So it does have to do with the lab…”
“Yes.” said Rei, nothing more and nothing less. “But you needn’t concern yourself with that.”
She sounded pessimistic, somehow, but it was hard to really tell what she was truly thinking. It didn’t look like she shared much of Kaworu’s excitement. And this might be hindsight, or bias, or projection, but I suspect now that thought he had no ill intention, in his excitement to be understood he had brought things to her attention that she would rather choose to tune out.
Still, her gaze was definitely lowered as she trudged along with us further into the schoolyard.
I felt strange. Maybe it was beginning to dawn on me how little I really knew about my friends from the lab and the burdens they might be facing. I was just about to learn a great deal more about it.
“Anyway…” I said, trying to diffuse the strange mood, “I’m so glad that we will all get to live so close together… I finally get a chance to introduce you to Touji and Kensuke, too. You know, we were meaning to hit the town this afternoon, so, maybe you could come with us?”
“That won’t be possible.”
Kaworu, too, shook his head. “I’m afraid I have other commitments. But I would love to meet with your friends some other time.”

September 2nd 2014

T minus 497 days

The next day, Asuka was strange. She was late, and she’s never late. She’s the last person who’d be overly hung up on rules, but though she doesn’t really like people, she cares a lot about her image.
Hikari was hugely concerned and asked me about it right away, but I didn’t know it. I hoped she would know something since she was the class representative, but apparently there had been no call from her mother to announce that she was sick or anything. Marie didn’t know anything either, but that was predictable, I don’t think Asuka would have told her anything that she wouldn’t tell us. I can’t say that Marie wasn’t under any illusions to the contrary however: “How could she have told, when she didn’t even tell my illustrious self~”

It was only during the break between first and second period when she finally showed up, slamming her bag down on her desk.
If anyone else had done this, Hikari would have scolded them. You could tell she was concerned for her friend: “Asuka-san!”
I followed after her, standing up from my place.
“What happened? It’s not like you to be late...”

She must have realized then that everyone was looking at her; There was Hikari, of course, but even Rei was glancing her way with some semblance of concern all the way from her usual place at the window. Even Kaworu looked serious.
“Well, maybe I just didn’t want to see your stupid faces!”
And with that, she took off again.
After that, I didn’t see her the whole day.
She remained absent.
None of us heard from her – neither me, nor Hikari, and certainly not Marie.
I texted her pretty soon after the incident, as soon as I could contrive to get at my phone under Misato-sensei’s watchful glance, but she didn’t answer back.
She must have definitely seen my text almost as soon as I sent it, though – at least, the two little ticks had gone blue….

I debated stopping by the Soryus’ place to check up on her, but Ms. Soryu would probably feel obliged to entertain me with tea and so forth, and then Asuka would be expected to spend time with me whether she wanted or not. I was worried that I would just be imposing on her when she wanted to be alone.
But when I talked the matter over with Hikari, she disagreed: “Asuka-san is very proud, so she wouldn’t say this, but if she was feeling down and no one came to check on her, she would feel even worse!”
I wonder if she tells this kind of thing to Hikari because she is a fellow girl. Or maybe it’s just that Hikari is more perceptive than me. Or more conventional liable to assume the default accepted in our extrovert-dominated world. I couldn’t deny that knowing that others cared about me would cheer me up and in any case, the matter was decided as soon as Hikari began to insist upon it. If she got mad at me I would be ashamed of myself.
But Hikari was right: For all we know, she might just be sick, and miserable, and then she would certainly be glad to have some friends stopping by your door.
So it was decided that she, Marie and I would be heading to the Soryu’s place right after school, with a possible in-between stop in the city to collect gifts and possibly get-well cards. That was Marie’s idea: If Asuka couldn’t see us because she had something contagious, we might as well leave her some tokens of our friendship. I wasn’t surprised to learn that she’d be the type to express her sympathy through material gifts. Despite their rivalry, she seemed more genuine about this than I had expected.

The one downside to this was that I had been hoping to do something with Kaworu this afternoon, now that he was finally free. “I’m really sorry, but Hikari wants to go check up on Asuka since she was absent today. She seems to have been having a hard time lately. I was hoping that going to visit her dad over the break would cheer her up, but, looks like it didn’t…”
Kaworu was perfectly understanding of course, and regarded me with usual wide, relaxed smile. “You have friends who are important to you. That’s a very good thing. Besides, it seems only fair, I’m afraid that this is partially my fault…” His look turned severe then.
“Did something happen? At the lab? Yesterday?”
In hindsight I should have figured that they had ‘work’ since he and Rei had been busy at the same time. Rei is rarely busy with anything that isn’t lab stuff. I couldn’t remember if she came home late – I wouldn’t have known, since I was out with Kensuke and Touji.
Kaworu regarded me gravely.
“It’s not that ‘something happened’. I just believe that she was a little disappointed.”
“But she didn’t look sick or anything, when you saw her yesterday?”
“Not so far as I could tell, no”

I could then reassure Hikari and Marie with the knowledge that Asuka had apparently been just fine at her part-time job, but when I brought this up, I realized quickly that I knew more than they did. Apparently all they had been told about her ‘part-time job’ was that she had one. Asuka; must have thought it right to tell me because my parents worked at the lab, or simply because she had known me so much longer. I felt bad about keeping secrets from the girls, especially Hikari when she was so concerned, but I couldn’t just go and tell them things that Asuka herself had not chosen to divulge.

Laden with some post cards, a gift basket of fruit and some herbal teas that had supposedly always done wonders for Hikari and her sisters when they were sick, we turned up at the Soryus’ Doorstep. Hikari could probably have found it by looking at the class book and putting the adress into google maps, but they were glad that I actually knew where it was.
Even I had not been there too often, most of the time Asuka met her friends in town, or went to their places, though it still surprised me that Hikari and Marie hadn’t seen it. Her mother was often busy so it was probably more practical to entertain her in the city or commit her to the supervision of the other kids’ parents; She rarely had the time to receive guests.
The building itself was stylish and modern in a sleek, elegant sort of way. The apartment itself was not large but definitely upscale, very different from the large, old-fashioned mansions that the Langleys kept back in Europe. I had seen pictures of it.
Most of the time, Ms. Soryu had lived her on her own. She always kept a little guest room for Asuka, much like she always kept a place for her in her heart, but it had always been exactly that… a guest room. She’d often lamented that she couldn’t bring all of her stuff with her, including her very large wardrobe. Perhaps to make up for the miles that were often between them, Ms. Soryu had always spoiled her daughter with gifts. I wonder if she was worried about Mrs. Langley one-upping her or something.
I also wondered if this had changed now that Asuka had moved her permanently. Has she been able to fit all of her things into that room?
Perhaps we were about to find out.

Ever immune to any and all embarrassment, Marie took the lead and pressed the doorbell.
The one who answered was Ms. Soryu. That was encouraging – at least Asuka hadn’t had to deal with this alone, whatever it was. Her mother might not always have been the best parent, but she clearly did care.
The only face she knew was fine, but her eyes lit up with recognition when the girls introduced themselves. “Ah, Horaki-san and Marie! My daughter told me all about you, come on in!”

We were offered tea and cookies. There wasn’t really a living room, just a table between the kitchenette and the TV. The huge TV was a must, because the daughter of the house had evidently brought her gaming consoles. She even had a fluffy rug for her to sit on – but Asuka herself was nowhere to be seen.
We were probably being humored out of common courtesy. There was no risk of awkward silence, not with Marie’s tactlessness ensuring very animated awkwardness for everyone but herself. “I’ve heard that some students at our school are doing part time work at the laboratory in the city. Is that really true? ‘cause that would really interest me~ I assume you that I have excellent grades in natural sciences, and I’ve done some extracurricular programs way above my grade level. Even just a basic internship would be-”
I was beginning to suspect her ulterior motive for coming here. If I had to suppress a cringe, I can’t imagine that Hikari fared any better, for all that she must have inwardly reminded herself that Marie only meant well, but in the end, there was no reason to worry much, because Marie and Ms. Soryu turned out to be on a very similar wavelength.
But after what she deemed a proper amount of small-talk, Hikari dutifully took it upon herself to inquire after the actual reason for our visit: “Asuka left early today, so we wanted to check if she’s ok.”

“Oh, don’t you worry, she’s just been a little… occupied with some important matters right now, so she’s tired from that. Besides she’s feeling a little unwell today, nothing bad, just a matter of normal bodily functions.”
“Why don’t you tell the whole neighborhood while you’re at it?”
The door to one of the rooms had just flown open.
There was, maybe, another reason why Asuka didn’t invite people into her room often. It was very pink, filled to the brim with clothes and various toys, lots of those children’s makeup sets in colorful plastic and make-your-own-bracelet stations. Rulers and motion-image cards. Assorted aircare thingamajigs and glossy fashion magazines. A large, luxurious bed, and on it, a bunch of dolls and plushies. Highlights included the hand-sewn doll her mother once made for her, the monkey plushie from Mrs. Langley, and a hand puppet, a pretty artisanal piece with a bit of a ‘little red riding hood’ theme to it. I didn’t know that yet, but that one had actually been gifted to her when she first started working at the lab, by none other than Misato. The Brothers Grimm look was maybe supposed to help her keep a piece of home with her now that she had set off to fulfill a difficult mission in a foreign country.
But if you were ignorant of that detail – as I was then – it was basically just a normal preteen’s room like any other. Leave it to Asuka to be embarrassed of that, though she clearly hadn’t wanted to give it up either, so, it had been something of a secret… until now.
Dismayed, she stood in the doorway in a long skirt and a comfy sweater.
I realized abruptly that Asuka must have been listening in on the whole conversation.
“But I haven’t told them anything, dear~”
“Oh come on Mama, when you say it like that it’s obvious what you mean!”
It wasn’t to me, not at the time.
But Hikari was looking slightly mortified. And Marie… Marie wasn’t helping at all, though she might have thought that she was. “Oh, but there’s nothing to be ashamed of. It happens to all of us eventually.”
Ah, it does?
“Get out, all of you! I don’t remember inviting any of you!”

“Ah come on, Asuka-chan, don’t be like that~ Your friends came all this way just to show you how much they care. You can’t tell me you’re not happy to know that~”

Before Ms. Soryu or Marie had the chance to make anything worse, Hikari took this chance to stand up and excuse herself with a deep bow. “Don’t worry, we were just leaving. We just wanted to know if you’re ok, and now we know. We brought you some presents.”
“It’s a pity you didn’t tell us what was going on, we could have brought you a hot water bottle.”
I honestly can’t say if Marie was doing it on purpose. She really IS that tone-deaf sometimes for all that she deems herself shrewd and refined.
Thankfully, Hikari made sure to herd us out the door.

Another fat one
Last edited by Kendrix on Tue Feb 02, 2021 7:58 am, edited 1 time in total.
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Tue Feb 02, 2021 7:58 am

The Serpent Part 2  SPOILER: Show
(1.6: Destiny)

September 3rd 2014

T minus 496 days

It was a wonderful late-summer day; The worst of the heat had passed, but the sun still had the strength to enveloped everything in a pleasant golden warmth.
Yet somehow, this marvel of nature did little to lift Touji’s mood. Though it was recess, he hadn’t rushed outside as was his wont. Instead he peered down at the courtyard through the window, looking distinctly irked by the cluster of girls that was swarming around Kaworu.
He was just speaking with them calmly, nothing more than that – but with his looks, his talents and his open, likeable manner, he had quickly ascended to the status of our classes’ resident heart rob. Even the fuss that the boys had made about Asuka, Misato or Kotone was looking reasonable by comparison.
I’d even heard a bunch of girls calling me a ‘leech’ for ‘always hanging all over our dear Kaworu-sama’. Others, who had never once given me a shred of attention would now suddenly start talking to me only for it to become apparent that they wanted me to introduce them to him. I was beginning to feel just a bit like the Designated Plain Friend, though I doubted that there was anyone who could hang around Kaworu without making him look better by comparison.
He would never look down on me like that, he just genuinely liked me for some reason, and in a way that just made it worse…

“The bitches are really showing their true colors, aren’t they?”
Kensuke leaned back with a sigh. “He’s only just transferred in, and he already has a fanclub. I wouldn’t be surprised if every single girl in school was in it… save a very tiny fraction.”
He was referring to Rei, who was just quietly sitting on her place like usual, paying no heed to whatever commotion the other girls were engaging in, or even the fact that it was break time.
Touji just shrugged. “Well, she’s always like that.”
“Soryu looks pretty down tough. It’s really not like her. I never thought I’d say this, but I’m starting to miss the usual background noise. When he first showed up, she was little less lovey-dovey than everyone else and very blatant too at trying to get his attention, but starting yesterday, she’s been oddly quiet.”
“Maybe she made a pass at him, and he turned her down? I guess even the devil cries sometimes.”
“Nah. I think she just sees him as a rival. I mean, he’s only been here three days, and he’s already being hailed ad the prince of our class…”
“Well, I don’t know about princes, but I really don’t like this guy… anyway, Shinji, what were you going to say?”
This was awkward.
“I wanted to ask if we could ask Kaworu-kun to hang out with us… - He’s actually a friend of mine from way back…”
“Not you, too!”
Kensuke broke out in brazen snickering.
“Don’t worry, Shinji. Touji always hates the new guys. I think even had it out for you when you first joined us in elementary school. He’ll chill out if you give him time.”
“Hey Kensuke, exactly whose side are you on?!”

Well, so much for that.
I’d been hoping that I’d be able to do something for Kaworu, to help him out for a change, since he’d be in a new city where he knows no one, but of course he had navigated the social life at our school our like a fish takes to water…

“That’s not true.” he’d say, sitting up in a tree in his gym clothes, with his arms behind his head, keeping his balance with only the angles of his long, athletic limbs without a care.“I have learned many things from you that I wouldn’t have discovered on my own. For example, you’re the one who got me into stargazing, remember? You should have more confidence in yourself.”
Well, thanks for trying to cheer me up, Kaworu. I know he was probably just saying all this just to be nice, but I appreciate the feeling….
I had always admitted how free he seemed to be. I know now how much he must have chafed under his own restrictions and limitations, but nonetheless, he was free compared to me.

As fate would have it, he ended up joining the same clubs as me. Mana and her friends thanked me greatly for ‘reeling him in’, though I doubt that I had anything to do with it. It’s very obvious why he’d join the music club.
If music was a conversation, like he said, then he was an exceedingly eloquent man.
Even Hikari once mentioned to me how she’d walked down the hallway during one of our club sessions and how she really wanted to know who had been playing that beautiful piano music.
“Ah, so that wasn’t Kirishima-san, but Nagisa-kun? He’s really good.”

This being as it was, it should not be long until the first girls sought him out to confess to him. There was practically a line.
Every single one poured out their hearts before him, and with every single one, he listened patiently and somberly to all they had to say, and then every single one was turned down, so gentle, so measured, so wholly focused on sparing their feelings as it was only possible precisely because his own were entirely untouched.
“I deeply regret the distress I must have caused you, but I cannot return your feelings.”

That just fanned the flames to greater heights, far more so than if he had swiftly got a girlfriend and thus become unavailable: Now it was a mystery, a subject of speculation, the stuff of outright legend: Maybe there’s someone else he likes. Maybe he’s into dudes. Maybe his rich guardian won’t permit him to commit to a girl of low status – or maybe he’s been deeply hurt by some other relationship in the past, and his tender heart was not yet ready for a new start… and who doesn’t love a pretty boy with a sad backstory? Heck, even the boys wanted him, and I honestly cannot blame them.

“Maybe you don’t have any feelings for those girls right now, but maybe you could just pick the one you like best, and see if something clicks? Maybe you’ll like her when you get to know her… or him, if that’s what you prefer – I won’t judge. I owe you this much…”
He didn’t stop smiling, but his expression took on something of a melancholy tinge.
“It’s not like I haven’t wondered what it might be like, when a person comes to love another. Wanting to touch them. Wanting to kiss them. Never wanting to lose them... And beyond that, what it might be like to have such feelings returned. If I came to receive all those things from the one I loved… but even if there was someone like this, I don’t have the freedom to do as I like.”
“Because of your work at the lab?”
“Something like that.”
“That’s very responsible of you, Kaworu-kun.”
He regarded me with what was almost an expression of torment, of course the most glorified kind. “Not at all.”

Since he was also eloquent in the literal sense and generally inclined towards the arts, it was not strange for him to join the literature club as well – but I think the real reason was Rei.
He sat down at my desk in the early afternoon, ostensibly for no other reason than to question me about her.
“I’ve asked around, and from what I’ve been told, you’re considered to be the closest person to Ayanami out of anyone in our class.”
When he put it like that, he couldn’t expect me not to blush.
“...they’re just saying that ‘cause she doesn’t have very many friends besides me. I suppose she’d a bit hard to approach, it was no different for me. But once you get to know her, she does have her good qualities…”
I don’t think that was really the sort of answer he was looking for – the typical answer you might get from asking a schoolboy about a classmate. But he was curious and open-minded enough to find something intriguing in whatever he could get.
“The day before yesterday, you said something about doing something together. Yourself, me, and Ayanami. I think that’s a wonderful idea. So, I had a look around.”
He presented me with a pamphlet. “An amateur concert?”
“Anyone may participate, as long as they sign up in time and bring their own instruments.”
“So kind of like a poetry slam but with music?”
“Hm, I haven’t thought about it like that, but that is a way you could put it. It’s a rare event that isn’t held too often, and I believe I should very much like to see it. It’s a chance to observe people in their authentic, natural state, not a polished product. Not that I wish to gainsay the merits of technical mastery-”
“No, I get what you mean. I sounds interesting actually. I could ask Rei if she’s interested.”
It certainly seemed to be an opportunity to get out and experience something new, which had been my main resolution for the current year. Plus I was hoping that at least some of my friends would start getting along with each other, as it was already tiring enough to schedule both Touji’s and Asuka’s group. My other friends and acquaintances beyond that tended to tolerate at least one of the two, but I’m not sure my very limited social battery could handle adding regular outings with Kaworu if they had to be separate.
I know that I had wanted to expand my circle beyond just Touji and Kensuke and my activities beyond just the usual trudging through life, but now I was begging to remember very hard why I used to be quiet homebody in the first place…
There was no point in showing up if I’d be cranky or zoned out and really not looking forward to it, and in the very worst case, I would end up just disappointing everyone and spend my fleeting youth listlessly scrolling through my phone while replaying the same dozen albums over and over again… it’s kind of funny that I once thought that was the worst that could happen. Anything can be funny if you try very hard to imagine that it’s all happening to someone else...
“...but don’t expect too much, she’s not really the sort who is always up for going out. We should probably tell her some time in advance so she can fit us into her schedule.”
I considered too late that a whole lot of that schedule probably coincided with Kaworu’s own.
“That won’t be a problem – like I said, we need to register in advance in any case.”

I admit, that implication took a moment to click.
“ want us to play? Kaworu-kun, I- I’m not good enough for this-”
“You underestimate yourself. It’s an amateur concert after all.”
“How would you even bring a piano into town?”
“Oh, right, I’m not sure I’ve mentioned, I also play the violin.”
In fact, over the course of our time together, I would find out that he had dabbled in all of the following:
- Piano
- Violin
- Keyboard
- Harpsichord
- Pipe Organ
- Accordion
- Synthesizer
- Harp
- Bagpipe
- Metallophone
- Glass Armonica
No Guitars, though. None of any kind. No banjos, lutes or Ukuleles either. He says he doesn’t quite understand them. It was what passes for a point of embarrassment if you’re Kaworu. Nor trumpets – that probably would have hit a little too close to home.
He wasn’t nearly as proficient in all of them and the piano was his definite favorite… and one has heard of one-man-bands or artists who make entire albums just on their laptop. It’s probably less rare than the extreme gifts of Asuka or Marie.
But it is still really damn impressive.
“Hardly. It’s just that I happened to have a lot of free time on my hand during certain parts of my life.” To be fair, he couldn’t exactly tell me that since he possesses the Fruit of Life, he didn’t really need to sleep, eat or rest unless he felt like doing it for fun. He said once that doing so can be convenient since it means that he needs to expend less energy to maintain his human bits, but I couldn’t tell you what meaning convenience has for an immortal with psychic powers and a naturally occurring perpetuum mobile stashed away in his insides.
I wonder where it is. Did my fingers brush against it at some point? Have I mistaken it for a heartbeat at some point, or breath, or the rumble of a gut?
Honestly, I don’t have such faith in myself as to proclaim that I, too, would spend all night practicing and acquiring great skills if I could live forever and didn’t have to sleep. I’d still be me, just as Kaworu is still Kaworu.
But I can think of more than a few people who would never sleep again if they were given that choice. I’m not wholly sure about Asuka, but Marie Vincennes is a definite yes.
Kaworu isn’t more impressive than me because he has an S2 organ. He’s more impressive than me because he is Kaworu, and because being more impressive than me is hardly an especially high bar.

“It’s obvious that I would only slow you down. I could never play as well as you, less in front of a crowd!”
“It’s not important to be good at it. What’s important is that it makes you happy.”

“But I- I’ve never played in front of a big audience of strangers before-”
“In order to live, it’s important to change and try out new things.”
He was right.
Of course he was right, he was always right it’s only that I am a stupid idiot who never listens.
Why must he know me so well? In a way he was only giving voice to what I had been trying to convince myself of but couldn’t seem to give myself that final push for.
His words made me aware that I’d had to specify an audience of strangers because it used to be that I had never played before any audience at all, but now that was no longer true, because Mana and the other club members had heard me.
There was that tiny part of me – the one I’d never have dared to admit – that honestly thought the idea of releasing my feelings into the ether on some stage and having a room of people clap because I was there sounded like a snippet from a dream. Not what must come before that, not what must come after, not all the fuss and trouble around, but that sort of little moment…
I think I could use to try that sometime. If I ended up hating it, I’d have the next sixty years or so to never do it again.
And I admit, the prospect of having Rei sit in on all that and maybe looking just a tiny bit impressed by its end was not unappealing either, as much as I may have been trying not to imagine that precise thing.
“I don’t want you to feel like you have to do it if you don’t want to. I would never wish to put you in an uncomfortable situation. If you like, you can simply sit on the sidelines, and I can do the playing. But if you wanted to try it out, it would truly mean a lot to me. I just love the way that we sound together.”
How do I say no to that face? That is, why he was content to let me blame it on him, it was actually me who very much wanted me.

I went to Asuka ‘cause I expected her to egg me on with any plan that involved stepping out of the quiet and the shadows, but she was never in the business of telling me what I wanted to hear.
Something – maybe the part where I worried about not being as good as the person I would be playing with and just ruining everything for them – must have given it away.
But between Hikari most certainly knowing about Kaworu’s masterful performance in the usic club and our tendency to be seen together, it didn’t take a detective, and so before long she had worked out the full story, the one I had precisely left vague because though she was by now only slightly grumpy compared to how distraught she had seemed today (maybe Hikari was right and our gifts did help after all?), I figured that she’d still be likely to be touchy at any mention of her ‘rivals’, and now I looked like I was tricking her into something.
But who could I talk to about this if not my trusted friends? What are friends if not the people whom you go to for advice, whom you tell about your life, whose opinions you allow to matter? And I could hardly discuss my uncertainties about this with Rei and Kaworu themselves.
“Why is the backup candidate even so interested in Miss Honor Student? Does he have the hots for her or something? If so, he’s in for quite the disappointment!” She laughed in a way that had nothing to do with joy and everything to do with mockery. “Or who knows, maybe they’ll really hit it off with each other, weirdo boy and weirdo boy.”
“Oh come on, what do you have against Kaworu of all sudden!”
I would have thought that it was impossible to dislike him, but leave it to Asuka to be the one who does. “It is because of something that happened at your part-time job?”

She got… strange of all sudden. Too Quiet. “I don’t suppose a little boy like you would think about that, but have you ever considered how big the world is, and how small your part in it?”
“I don’t really think that’s something so bad. I think it’s even comforting. No matter what I do, no matter what happens on this earth, or how our next math test goes, the stars will still keep spinning…”
She didn’t seem to think this comforting at all, and pulled her arms and legs closer to her body.
“All I think about is how dark and empty everything looks when there’s no light. How easy it would be to disappear inside that darkness. Even here on earth, even in the city, there are so many, many people. It stands to reason that some of them are living extraordinary and special lives. It’s not like it’s impossible. Others have done it. Marie and Kaworu are doing it. I’m working hard. I’m willing to make sacrifices. So why can’t I do it? Why can’t I beat him?”
“ mean at the lab?”
Wait? Is that what she’s been so upset for this whole time?
“Just the day before yesterday, I used to be the best in all the world. The best! And now I’m second. Second out of three.”
“You’re still really good though, right?”
“Baka. Second ouf of three is mediocre.”
“Well, I still think you’re pretty amazing.” I did my best to sound as sincere as I could. I really really wanted her to understand that I wasn’t just saying this. “I mean it. I couldn’t dream of being as amazing as you.”
“Of course not, you think the height of self-actualization is to literally play the second fiddle as the designated third wheel of Mr. and Mrs. weirdo!”
“Cut it out please. It’s not like that.”

September 4th 2014

T minus 495 days

...but what if it IS?
If she’s right, then it’s all over and done for. Good night Irene! Fat Lady most definitely singing. I can definitely pack my bangs. I don’t know how anyone would choose me when they could have Kaworu instead.
And once they were both busy doing couple things, they would probably forget all about their boring little friend who thinks the height of daring and coolness is to play an old-fashioned instrument in front a room of people that I’ll never have to interact with again.
He did ask around about her, after all. And didn’t he say something about how she alone could understand something about him? I’ve got to give it to her, that is typically something that people with crushes do say. I didn’t feel like he meant it that way, but, I feel a lot of things, and many of them don’t make sense. That’s me, Shinji Ikari: super dense and yet always in a glass cage of emotion…
Ohmygosh, what if Kaworu did like-like her?
As his friend, I could hardly do anything else but wish for his happiness – especially someone like Kaworu, whose orbit I barely deserve to hover in. If I started resenting him now I wouldn’t like at all what that says about me. Clearly such would be the heart of a rotten ingrate.
It was obvious that they were both special, and I wasn’t.
They were doing this super special, top secret work that Asuka said was so important, and I wasn’t. I was completely and utterly average, despite my brilliant parents… I should probably set my sights of some nice, average person with whom I’d never have to worry about measuring up.
These days I feel even more rotten when I look back at this moment, because it now strikes me as exceedingly cruel to describe the grievous circumstances of either Rei or Kaworu as ‘special’.
No one is going to say on my behalf: ‘Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do’. People don’t forgive things like that. They just don’t. I don’t even think god does, for if he didn’t, that would be a helluva explanation for my life as I now know it.
But back to early September 2014, when the fabric of the universe still had the nerve for silly homeroom drama.
What if Kaworu did like-like Rei? I’d have no chance, that’s what.
I would be obliged to be happy for them except I fear I’m not that selfless so I’d hate every moment of it and then I’d start hating myself for that, and… as you see I might have been slightly catastrophic. Did I mention, teenager? A wretched state. Even being in your late twenties isn’t that bad, unless you’re me. Granted my experience of being 28 was hardly typical, seeing as I technically died when I was fourteen-and-a-half.
It wasn’t really anything spectacular, my death, at least as far as violent deaths go. I didn’t go peacefully in my sleep in my eighties, but soldiers and accident victims die the way that I did all the time.
If you must know, what did me in was a massive internal hemorrhage.
Something fast and sharp went through my entrails, and that’s not generally very compatible with life. I coughed up blood. Choked on it. Vomited. I hung on for about fifteen minutes before I bled out – and I have reason to believe that almost every person that I ever knew or loved ended up regretting that the blade didn’t nail my heart or my brain stem on the first try. I regret it too much of the time.
But why that is, how got stabbed in the first place, or how I ended up the exception to the common adage that dead men tell no tales is the result of a long, long story the end of which won’t make a lick of sense until we actually get there.

For the moment, I was trudging towards the classroom, pondering my misfortune… or what I now recognize as a juvenile idea of misfortune.
My attempts at acting like nothing’s wrong were half-assed because they were most certainly half-hearted, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when Kaworu responded with the exemplary concern that I knew him for. And under any other circumstances, it would have beeb a welcome fulfillment of my secret wishes, but now it just made me feel even more jealous, and even more guilty for feeling jealous of him.
“Is something the matter, Shinji-kun? You seem down.”
Perhaps to brighten my day, he informed us that he’d gotten us that spot at the amateur concert. “It’s only the timeslot that I’ve reserved, so you have until Sunday to change your mind in any way you wish. I can always just play on my own.”
He also informed me that he’d spoken to Rei. I should have figured that he would, since I hadn’t gone and done it. He’d give me the chance to do it on my own, but before risking a failure in timing, he would go and spare me the awkwardness.
As it turned out, Rei had said she was coming.
“I explained to her that you might not, but I think she was interested in hearing you play.”
That surprised me a bit.
If my focus had not been elsewhere, and if I wasn’t so convinced of my supposedly being utterly average and unremarkable, I might even have suspected the possibility my presence was basically bait to get her to come.
“I’m surprised that she’s interested, she isn’t normally much for social events...”
“Not at first, but I believe the reason that she agreed is you. We were talking, and I brought up that you’d probably feel more confident if there was someone in the audience whom you already knew – since you’re not so embarrassed with the other music club members.”
My heart beat just a little bit faster when he said that.
“Ah, that’s… thats nice… from both of you. I’ll have to thank Rei about it, too...-”
Still smiling, Kaworu shook his head.
“No, it is I who should be thanking you. Thank to you, I might finally get a good chance to talk to her – to convey my true heart through my music even.”
I’m used to his flowery language. I like it. I admire how unapologetic it is, the poetry of it.
But through the lens of the thoughts that had occupied me all morning, there’s only one way I could have taken that, so I couldn’t help being dejected.
I might have visibly deflated.
It seemed to me that my suspicions are true, and that I better accept them. Better to surrender right away than to get hurt in some ardous fight I could not win. I better caught my losses and maybe hope that I would at least get to keep the best of them as friends.
“I’m happy for you, Kaworu-kun”, I said, with a tone that was anything but happy.
“I hope very much that she’ll understand what you mean for her to hear.”
I thought I was being to be his wingman, and of how natural it was that he’d ask that, since he thought of me as his special friend who ought to wish for his happiness and fortune, not some jealous resentful parasite basking in his glory who would resent his every joy.
I felt obliged to dig myself yet deeper, painfully conscious that I might just be assuaging my guilt.
“It’s fine, Kaworu-kun. I’ll do it. I’ll go with you to the concert. I’ll do the best I can to help you make a good impression on Rei – I’m sure she will like you. There’s no one who wouldn’t-”
He smiled – for some reason, he had always had a tendency to find my pathetic antics endearing.
“Thank you, Shinji-kun. I really appreciate your feelings. Though my intention wasn’t really to sway her opinion. I just want to talk to her is all – it is hard to explain, as it concerns a great deal of things that you’ve nothing to do with, but to put it as simply as I can, the reason I wish to approach her is that Ayanami and I have something in common. It’s not just our work at the lab, though that is related to it. You might even say that she is the only other person in the world who shares that similarity. I am certain that she must have realized it, too, but it does not appear that she is interested in discussing it with me. It may be that she resents me – or that she has reasons to think that I would resent her. So what I intend for this to be is a show of my goodwill. I wish to assure her that I hold no ill will toward her, if that makes sense.”

“So you mean that you have the same condition or something?”
“I mean, because you look kind of the same – not your faces or anything, just…”
I gestured vaguely towards him.
“Ah! Yes, I suppose you could put it like that.”

I was embarrassed beyond words.
All this time, my dear friend who had shown me nothing but good faith all my life had been wanting my help with a serious matter that was clearly dear to his heart, and I’d gotten myself distracted by imagining something silly like that.
Silly me. Silly, silly me. Serves me just right for listening to Asuka of all people.
But what embarrassed me even more was the sheer sense of relief I felt when I realized that he wasn’t interested in Rei as a girl.
I would have to consider the implications of that.
But not right now – perhaps, I would actually get the chance to be the one helping Kaworu for a change.

“Ah, I see. I get it now, Kaworu-kun! You needn’t have worried. Rei is that way with everyone, she doesn’t really go out of her way to get to know people. It’s not that she doesn’t like you, I promise! She’s just really introverted, kind of like me.”
“You’re a lot more responsive, though.”
That’s cause I’m clingy and pathetic, Kaworu-kun.
I didn’t say it in those words, but I did sort of imply it.
“That’s not true. You must have known, at least, that you wanted to make friends, even if it meant giving yourself a push.”
Thanks, Kaworu-kun. And thanks for letting me have a part of your own worries and concerns, too.

When we finally reached the classroom – barely just in time, we really must have gotten carried away while we were talking – I noticed a flock of birds passing by the town beyond the windows.
I didn’t find this out until later, but right now, up on some roof somewhere in the city, Mari must have been watching those same birds with a grave expression.
Maybe she would have been missing her pets; Maybe she would have been envying the ease with which they came together as a group. But almost certainly, she would have been thinking about the events that would be awaiting us next Monday.


Notes  SPOILER: Show
Well, with this we have all the five main pilots introduced! I hope they all left strong impressions.
I am very grateful for that one semi official artwork of the kids in winter uniforms.

The tweaks to the whole Kaworu dynamic were fun to figure out. At this point Shinji’s got a whole support system of which Kaworu is just one part, Yui has probably said ‘I love you’ to him before & he knows Gendo and Asuka well enough here to figure out that they care; Meanwhile Kaworu doesn’t see Shinji as a “fellow Chosen One” yet, just a human that he likes. So they still totally click & hit it off immediately and became extra BFF, but they don’t quite immediately latch onto each other to the same degree, &Kaworu is more interested in Rei for now as someone who is ‘like him’. Though of course you might speculate how the premise that known each other for years and stuff might influence further plot events. XDD
That said the crowd that bases their interpretations on some premise that Kaworu is ‘a perfect person that likes [Shinji] out of nowhere’ and hence something unearned or a trap etc. is waaaay missing the point which is that Shinji only perceives him as a perfect person who likes him out of nowhere ‘cause he’s got an inferiority complex towards him & can’t gronk the concept that anyone might actually like him because of his qualities ‘cause it’s not compatible with his axioms… for the same reasons ‘evil kaworu’ doesn’t work cause he’s supposed to be genuinely enviable.
It kinda says a lot about the viewers that their reaction is ‘well obviously no one could actually like Shinji’ (we get it you think you refuse to emphasize with anyone ‘weak’) or ‘anyone being nice is sus or manipulating’ (who hurt you friend who told you you cant have nice things?) and the classic ‘If I cant have it I dont want it anyways’ (If it has a sad ending it could never have worked in the first place, or ‘If I feel inferiority I will try to find flaws in the other person’)

Then there’s Rei. In the first few chapters I was sort of riding my initial wave of inspiration and the vague premise that “ In Act I, Shinji is the Muggle Best Friend to the other main pilots”, but now I’m actually having to figure this out. I didn’t want to make her too AU because I want her to actually be in this, so I’d only made her mildly ‘softened’ on account of this Gendo not being as detached as canon Gendo. On the one hand you don’t have this eerie aura of half-remembered disturbing memories because the actual Yui is right there & Shinji remembers her clearly & consciously. On the other hand, you can’t as easily build the same kind of ‘emotional charge’ that comes with scattered glimmers of darkness if the darkness is not exactly there yet; I run into the problem that this Shinji wouldn’t necessarily understand her to the same degree if he hasn’t been through the same isolation, neglect and resignation. Also it’s harder to show off her more caring side with less desiasters to throw anyone in the hospital. It’s a trait that comes out mostly in relation to others so it would stay latent/potential while she has no contacts to direct it all. I must resist the temptation to rely too much on Basic Love Interest tropes to bridge the gap, I can’t stand it when ship fic descends into generic tropes throwing away all that made the characters unique & the ship interesting in the first place.
However, I must believe that while pain can prompt kindness or reflection, it does not cause it. Else I’d have to credit the bullies and my shitty father with every time someone liked me or my art, and would be a pointless exercise in making myself miserable and giving up what little sense of accomplishment I have and desperately need.

So far this appears to have turned out more like ‘EVA Pilots childhood friends AU’ than what I initially planned but I’m having fun and I hope you are too. The idea was to start slow and cute and then have a tight bombardment of whammys from the third act / ‘layer’ onward but now I realize that a lot of this plan rests on the character moments, the mystery and the writing style carrying the engagement curve until then….^^°

Also, before you say anything, Shinji and Kaworu absolutely WOULD love the shit out of the ‘dictionary of obscure sorrows’. That is a headcanon hill I would die on.
...Though in hindsight I realize that this assumes they started English in grade school, which might not be a thing in Japan. Even here it’s a recent thing (my sister born in 2001 definitely did have it in gradeschool, but I in 5th grade...)
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Wed Feb 03, 2021 2:14 am

Interlude I  SPOILER: Show
Interlude I

In early 2011, a neutrino detector in Switzerland reported a measurement that appeared inconsistent with the maxim that nothing could be faster than the speed of light.

If it were real, it would have overturned a paradigm of physics that had lasted for a good hundred years.

But the researchers in charge of the OPERA experiment were reasonable people. They did not collect 200 dollar, they did not pass go, and they most certainly didn't dust off the spot on their shelf reserved for the next Nobel prize.

They instead assumed right away that this was almost certainly a measurement error, the same way that you would probably blame bad mushrooms or migraines if you suddenly saw floating colorful patterns in the air, or assume that your watch is broken before thinking of time travel.

Immediately, they began to rigorously search all their instruments for some fault or calibration error, until they tracked down a loose fiber-optic cable.

In early september 2014, the staff of the unofficial UN research organization GEHIRN found themselves faced with a similar conundrum.

Here are some excepts from the transcript of the recorded experiment log:


"Five-hundred percent? That's not possible? How is that possible?"


"We didn't even rewrite the core yet!"

Jr. research director Dr. R. AKAGI:

"Even if it were possible – which it isn't – every single calculation we've undertaken so far would predict that even just 400% would be instantly lethal."

Ens. S. OII:

"And yet he can not only hold that value it indefinitely, but manipulate it however he wants… He could go down to a respectable 200 if that pleased us, or he could damn well give us six-hundred if he so pleases."

Sr. Researcher K. ZEPPELIN-SORYU:

"These results are bogus. Those are bogus numbers. These screens might as well be saying that two plus two equals fish. It's not just a number. Numbers mean things. And what this one means would be ridiculous."

Lt. S. AOBA:

"Bold of you to assume that the world we live in isn't ridiculous, Ma'am. Or that we understand this technology well enough to say with certainty what is possible and what'd not."

Lt. jg. H. KAGA:

"This has got to be some sort of measurement error... We just haven't found it yet…"

Ens. K. AGANO:

"But we've checked the whole experimental arrangement up and down time and time again! We've repeated it with every single set of simulation plugs we have in this facility…."

Lt. jg. H. AMAGI:

"This was supposed to be a one hour experiment, and now we have been here all afternoon and well into the night! The children must be exhausted…"


"Once you've eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however unlikely, must be the truth… or is it..."

That was when decisive voice of the director of operations (Cpt. M. KATSURAGI) rose above the din: "We must accept the results, and determine the cause."

Ens. Agano sighed deeply. "Looks like this will be another looooong night~"

"I'm surprised the Commander didn't come downstairs to chew us out.", mused Lt. Ibuki, hardly more optimistic.

But it would appear that the junior research director had a little more faith in the man: " He would know as well as we do that this isn't a simple instrument error…"

"It might still be a fluke." argued Soryu. "Even if everything's fine with the instruments, they might be calibrated wrong, or there's some confounding variable that we haven't accounted for, I still think this is basically an illusory result that will evaporate the moment we move that kid from the simulators to a real EVA."

"Well, that's not something we can rule out until one of our units gets finished – unless you want to try stuffing one of the kinds into some of those dusty old prototypes we've got stashed away." Lt. Aoba said this with half a suspicion that they might yet be forced to resort to just that.

It might come of some shock to some that the Chief of the research division, one Dr. Yui Ikari, had observed the debate of her subordinates with near perfect calm, or perhaps not. Her subordinates were quite used to it; Aside from a few significant exceptions, they relied on her as a warm yet experienced mentor. The fact that she was a mother, used to dealing with all sorts of messes and emergencies, certainly came through in her leadership style.

She was certainly everyone's favorite Ikari to have to deal with, though the more discerning might have noted that her husband was merely the stick to her carrot.

Especially the younger technicians, however, were often reassured to hear the chiefs' knowing, gentle voice even in the midst of chaos. "We shall all have a good look at our results in due time, but for now, I think our data collection is pretty much finished."

She didn't appear worried in the least.

"At this point, I doubt that repeating the experiment a sixth time is really going to tell us anything new. Let's call it a day and leave Akagi-kuns Analysis Algorithm running overnight. Soryu-kun, why don't you go collect the girls?"

Three silhouettes cast deep shadows, behind them a great window overlooking a vast expanse of landscape tinged with a hazy, gloaming light that was not the light of day.

On man sat at his desk. Another stood by the window. And there was a third silhouette, a woman, nonchalantly sitting at the side of the desk.

On her face was a smile.

"Well, that was not the least bit surprising."

"Not in the least. To him, to move that simulation body must be as natural as to move his own arm – no, more natural than to move the body he has now."

"Kyoko-chan isn't entirely wrong, though. It might well be different with a real EVA. The simulation bodies don't have souls."

"At least, his anomalous results give us an excuse to delay adding him to the official pilot roster just yet… though I wouldn't be surprised if the old men of SEELE had already hatched some plot to force our hands."

Then an older, wearier voice spoke up from the window:

"That boy was meant to be a bell around our neck. Could it be that the old men are already suspecting something?"

The man at the desk was quite cavalier about that possibility: "You worry too much, professor. They were going to send him to us sooner or later; It just so happened that they decided on 'sooner' instead of 'later'."

The woman sighed, as one might after a day filled with tiring but satisfying work.

"Everything will happen as it must."


At about the same time, many stories beneath, 'Soryu-kun' was just in the process of 'collecting the girls'.

Alas, 'the girls' were not all of a mind to be collected.

Sure, the first qualified candidate filed out like clockwork, just as expected, just like she had done it countless time before, as soon as she had gathered up her scattered clothes from where she threw them, and left the locker room without a word to find the her designated handler waiting outside the doors, a junior lieutenant who still kept his futile eagerness though he wasn't really responsible for anything but the most menial, logistical parts of her upkeep that the Ikaris could not be arsed to bother with. When he had his days off, it might as well have been Ensign Agano who was sent to ensure that somebody signed all her paperwork, showed up to the PTAs and made all the endless appointments of everyday life where sending a thirteen-year-old by herself would have raised to many eyes.

He had been chosen because he had once worked as a teacher, and perhaps because of that inclination, he had resolved to 'melt her icy heart' when he was first introduced to her.

His grand ambitions had swiftly come to nothing when faced with the reality of the silent girl, but once in a while, he still made some attempt at sparking conversation. "So I heard the new kid turned out to be really amazing… as expected from someone who was sent to us by the committee themselves!"

The new candidate, too, had left, though he wasn't a girl.

Of course, he would have come walking out of a different locker room, which, for this moment, was just his, and his alone, which was a step up from just gathering dust – with the many facilities here actually coming to be used one by one, one might almost lose the hope that all their efforts through the years would turn out to have been for their own amusement only.

The source of all this commotion had been contently stretching his arms as Soryu passed him by, wearing the same carefree smile that he had sported throughout all the procedures that had thrown her and her colleagues for a loop today.

At least one wouldn't have to worry about his motivation, though it did make her just a little bit mad to see him so unfazed despite all the grief that he had caused for herself and her fellow researchers.

She had expected her daughter to be following soon after, as soon as she would have had the opportunity to disentangle her long hair, but Asuka never came.

The closer that Soryu came to the lockers, the more did her eyebrows and her forehead knit themselves into a frown.

But at this point, that might have been largely because she didn't want Akagi to have all the fun with the data. Dr. Ikari might have declared the session over, but Akagi had this pesky habit of wanting to deal with those things within her jurisdiction all by herself. It was not that Soryu could blame her, she too didn't like any superfluous cooks spoiling her broth. Once she had been the one lecturing young Makinami about how there would always be a bigger fish and how it was no use to be comparing oneself to Ikari, but she couldn't say that she had always taken her own advice. And this Ritsuko Akagi was good. Much like her mother, but more objective, more detached, less likely to get caught up in her own ego.

One would not expect her to burden her greatest creation with her petty personal flaws.

There were moments when Soryu found herself envying that upstart's unspent youth and flexible mind, as well as the freedom that came with devoting all of one's life to one's career without having to split ones' attentions between that, relationships and family.

Like the infamous Doktor Faust, Soryu had always found herself with two souls living in her chest, each of them bound for different destinations, longing to tear itself off off the other.

In the end, she sometimes felt like she had only succeeded in mucking up all three without ever doing either quite right, and the spirit of that annoyance might have resonated with her voice when she found herself forced to pull out her own keycard to negotiate the door.

"Asuka? Are you here? What are you dawdling here for-"

All those thoughts were blown away like smoke the instant where she actually saw her daughter's form, long-since groomed and dressed but still sitting with her rounded back against the bench, hugging her knees to her little girlish face.

"I'm sorry Mama. I'm sorry I'm being a bother. I'm sorry I couldn't win at the test. I kept trying and trying. I put all my focus in concentrating, and I tried not to think of unnecessary things - but it was the same every time… I couldn't keep up with that other kid…"

"Oh, Asuka…"

It was quite possible that she had not even registered how her mother had carefully squatted down besides her.

"You know, I kept thinking- what's even the point, if I can never get any good- I keep working so hard, and still-"

That's when the precocious little tween got surprised by a big bear hug that she somehow didn't expect. Senior researcher Soryu tenderly stroked her daughter's face and hair.

"My poor, poor Asuka-chan. I'm so, so sorry. I never meant to put you under that much pressure. I know it's tough. It's okay if you hate it. You don't know how much I wish that I didn't have to make you do this. If I could somehow take your place, I would do it in a heartbeat. But I don't have that power. So all of this… the project, your training, and even my work here, is the best I can do to keep you safe. I know it's been hard of you – If I don't give it my all to make sure that our preparations for the battles to come are as perfect as they can be, I can't protect you, but then that same work that's meant to save you ends up keeping me away from you.

And we can only begin to guess what sort of horrible enemies you'll have to face in the future... but even so, there is something you must never, ever forget: I am always, always here to help you, and I will always be there to protect you, and I will always cheer you on. Even if you become a big girl, or even a splendid young lady, you will always be Mamas baby, I will always, always love you, and you will always, always be in my heart. And don't you ever, ever wonder if you're not good enough, okay? We both know you've got what it takes, you are my baby after all!"

"I love you, Mama." said Asuka between sobs, reaching out her noodly arms to deepen the hug.

I felt the restrictions of choosing 1st person perspective immediately, but that seemed to be like a sign that I should probably keep practicing & learn to work with it, even if that makes it harder to, say, show the NERV staff interacting (I could barely get any of them to appear in the first act XDD)

I set the restriction for myself to have at most one or two short interlude's worth of non-Shinji scenes per Act so that I'd be made to focus on choosing one that provides the most extra flavor or information. With this one I considered having it take place at the Soryus' appartment, but couldn't get Shinji to overhear in a way that isn't contrived, and it's actually better if he's not present so that scene itself is just a private moment with Asuka & Kyoko.
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Wed Feb 10, 2021 4:33 pm

1.7:The Sin, Part I  SPOILER: Show
( 1.7: Die Sünde)

Now that I am trying to gather all these memories into something I can leave to posterity, I have been looking back at them far more than I have in a long, long time.
More than anything else, what jumps out at me it just how slap silly happy I was in those days.
I was so, so happy back then, so much that I find it hard to believe now that something so good could even exist in this world.
Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe I am become one of those calcified old people who chase their joy only in some illusory past, in the days of their youth when they saw the unicorn in the woods.
Maybe I’m idealizing the past when I should have seen the seeds of further misfortune in it.
It was such a fraught, childish take on happiness, suspended atop an abyss of ignorance and doom, but show me any one thing that is substantially more real, let alone permanent…
I’ll leave it for you to decide, if there really was any happiness contained in those days.

The events I am about to describe were not all crammed into a short time (or I would have burned through my social battery so quick that I wouldn’t have taken pleasure in anything but the first two days at most), but they all took place in the month of September, if you would believe it:
Joy packed as thickly as I could possibly stand to tolerate it.

So where do I begin?
Maybe lets start with the big one: The amateur concert on Sunday the 6th.
The moment my parents got wind of this, they were ecstatic with the chance to deck us out in proper outfits for such a proper occasion… I did have one or two proper suits which I’d occasionally worn when father brought me along to business dinners, or when I’d gone to the theater with mom to go see plays and concerts together. “Such a dapper little man~”
As soon as the subject came up, mom started fondly reminiscing about all the times that she had played in front of an audience when she was young. I once again wondered what sort of circles of wealth and status she had left behind just to run off with my father.
“Oh, that reminds me! I have just the right idea…”
She left to ransack our big storage cupboard and returned with a cardboard box, which she placed on the table and then did some further rummaging in.
Across the table, Rei and I had been doing our homework. She had suggested that we get it done today so we wouldn’t have to worry about it tomorrow when it was time for us to go to the concert. I guess she always put duty before leisure, without any room for compromise.
I still heard her pen scraping against the paper, but I for my part couldn’t focus when my attention was taken up by mother’s mysterious box – the more she searched its contents, the more of those poked out at the sides. They were mostly clothes, including an old-fashioned black school uniform. It was a girl’s uniform though, not anything I ever owned. I wonder whose it was…
At last, Mom found what she sought, and proudly pulled it from the box:
It was a formal, dark-purple dress with translucent sleeves and some intricate decorations, including a high collar made of lace.
“What do you think, Rei? I think this would be just the right thing for you to wear to the concert tomorrow.”
“It it?”
She appeared to have no particular opinion about it, though she would be going with me. I knew she was like that about most things that had to do with free time so I tried not to feel wounded.
But Mom wasn’t deterred in the least. Or maybe she thought Rei was just being modest.
“I’m sure it would look really cute on you! Why don’t you go and try it on?”
“I have homework.”
“A little break never hurt nobody.”
“If you say so.”
She got up and left with the dress. I don’t think she was happy about it. I hoped that maybe she’d come to like it once she had tried it on. It’s not like I wouldn’t like the thought of seeing her in a nice dress, but not if it meant that I would become the reason that she had been forced into something uncomfortable. I know mom was just trying to encourage her, but I don’t think it was working and I wasn’t sure whether I should tell her.
At last, Rei reemerged from her room.
She was wearing the dress, but, how do I put it… if anyone else had worn that dress, she probably would have looked like an elegant, self-assured queen of the night, with a hint of mystique perhaps due to the color, but since it was Rei, the color scheme only served to underline her unusual complexion, and the details of the decorations looked on her maybe somewhat like the flourishes decorating the pages of an old, calligraphic book, faded ink on yellowed pages. It wasn’t that it didn’t look good on her, I’m just not sure if she was all that comfortable in it.

“So, Shinji, Gendo, what do you think?”
“Uh…” I didn’t want Rei to feel pressured to act like she liked the dress but I didn’t want to be too criticical of mom’s tastes, either.
Hearing his name, father peered past the rim of the scientific journal he had been reading, but I’m not sure he had been paying much attention to the various going-ons in the room. “Yes, Yui, what is it?”
Lucky for him, Rei’s uncharacteristic getup was pretty hard to miss.
“Now that brings back memories! Good thinking there.”
“I don’t know.” said Mom, “It doesn’t fit her as well as I thought it would.”
“Well, Rei is still young. She’ll grow into it…”
“She’s shorter and thinner than I was at her age, though.”
“It still looks good. It’s just a little longer on her.”
Noticing our scrunchy faces, my mother decided that this was probably the right time to explain: “This used to be mine, though it hasn’t fit me ever since I got pregnant with Shinji. I didn’t want to throw it away since I had many fond memories of it. I always thought I might give it to my daughters, but then we didn’t have any…” She put her hands on Rei’s shoulders in what I would have read as a nurturing gesture at the time, looking at her with a warm smile. “In any case, it’s yours now. If I keep in our cupboards, it’s just going to get eaten by the moths.”
It seemed to be like a beautiful sentiment, the sort that would have had me just the slightest bit jealous, a show of my mother’s good will and her intentions of making Rei feel welcome at our home – but I’m not sure that intention was getting through. Maybe she was seeing a different meaning in that… or maybe I was the one reading too much into it, seeing as it was usual for her responses to be somewhat subdued…

Even so, she did wear it, probably because she felt she was supposed to.
Of course, Kaworu also showed up in a suit, with a very frilly ornate dress shirt. He was the sort who could pull that off effortlessly – or any other number of more ‘experimental’ outfits for that matter. That one time some famous actor showed up at the red carpet with something that looked like a suit on top and like a giant ball gown at the bottom? Kaworu could rock that. An outfit made of raw meat? No one would question it. A flesh-colored bodysuit? It would be fine since it’s Kaworu.
Since he was a little older than me and Rei, he looked mature enough to convincingly pass as our baby sitter, so our presence wasn’t questioned as the three of us made our way toward the old town, to the hall where the concert was supposed to be held. Tokyo-3 was of course a very new city, but something still remained of the older town that had been here before, modernized and fitted into a few of the giant square blocks that made up the city’s layout.
Though he had only lived here for a very short time, Kaworu had apparently wasted no time in informing himself about any relevant sights and cultural events. He had much to tell us any many historical anecdotes to relate, mostly for the benefit of Rei who was supposed to be relatively new here, but he told us some things that even I hadn’t known though I had lived here for most of my life.
As we walked through the narrow streets of the old town, he suggested some other venues and activities we might want to try out, mostly cultural events, and here I thought, ‘Wow. Now here is someone who’s actually living his life to the fullest, filling every day like it was the last, while suckers like me can barely stand more than just to dream through all the noise’
Now of course I recognize his attitude as that of a time-travelling tourist in the last days of Pompeii, rushing to see the sights our world had to offer before it’s volcano o’clock.
He had good reason to believe that the world as he saw it now would be closing up shop before long (this should prove correct) – and that the memories he’d make while it yet stood would have to last him for all of eternity. (this did not.)

“Hey, did you know? The idea that music or any other sort of art is something primarily done by dedicated professional is actually a product of this recent, capitalistic ordering of society. Until recently, people used to sing and create at almost every opportunity – during festivals, while traveling, while marching to battle during prayer, or even just to keep the time or remember important things before clocks or writing had become widespread. It’s true that a certain skill is required if one wishes to make a living out of it, but the idea that to be good at it is the only possible point is a very recent one, a parochial, temporary thing – if you look at human history as a whole though any evidence-based lens, it seems much more natural to conclude that music and creativity are simply things that humans do, like how birds sing and how bees build hives.
The privilege to create ought to be open to anyone – It is a means to purify the soul, enrich it – To bring forth what is inside your heart, even when it seems impossible to understand – or to recognize oneself in the creations of others, wherein one might find the words for what they always wished to say… ”
I’m not sure if he was saying this most of all to me, or to Rei. He took care to keep pace with our walking speed, facing us with a smile.
To our left, Rei looked pensive, but she said nothing.
“I don’t think I have so much to say though, Kaworu-kun.”
But of course, as always, he seems to have the perfect answer for anything: “Towards the end of the nineteenth century, there once lived a man who said something like this: What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. You might have heard of a certain Vincent van Gogh? Nowadays there are of course entire museums and many documentaries dedicated to his life, but our world is still filled with people whose cries go unheard, even though every single one contains a universe within… I wish to know more than anything what is in people’s hearts – that is, in great part, why I took the two of you with me today. " When he got to that last bit there was a bit of an edge to his smile, and his eyes took on a mischievous glint.
If anyone else had said this it might have sounded forced or pretentious, too over the top – but the way Kaworu said it, you felt transported to some immaterial plain of meaning, where you could speak from the heart and say the hidden meaning behind your words out loud…
What could we have answered to that? No self-deprecating comment about how we were too insignificant or too ordinary would cut it.
Rei looked deep in thought – I think that by and large, Kaworu was making this grand speech for her. But it was just as he had said, he was not particularly interested in impressing anything. Instead, he was truly the sort of person who genuinely enjoyed listening to others.
That took me a while to understand and when we first met, I apologized often for venting to him about my problems or rambling on and on about my life. I made sure to ask about him of course, but that was something I had to consciously remind myself of. I enjoyed learning about him, too and of course I admired many things about him, but if I’m honest then being heard is what I mostly want while hearing about others is the part that costs me effort.
When he told me time and time again that he didn’t mind and actually enjoyed the ‘listening’ part of it, my first instinct was to assume that he was just being polite, but that was probably presumptuous of me. I guess he’s just genuinely interested in other people in a way that I can’t claim to be… and it’s not like moping about that is anything other than a confirmation of that pattern…

Eventually, we reached our destination and took our places in the auditorium.
The performances were a very mixed bag, from newcomers that were clearly trying their hardest and messed up here and there to some where it hardly seemed right to call them ‘amateurs’. We had anything from children to seniors, people from all walks of life.
Throughout it all, Kaworu leaned back in his seat with his eyes cloned, relishing every moment.
It was hard to say what Rei thought. Maybe she was considering Kaworu’s words from earlier.
I do think I liked it. There was a very… indie sort of quality to it, a kind of raw life-likeness.

But then it was our turn to get ready on stage.
“My knees are shaking… And I’m sweating… I’m afraid that my fingers are going to be all slippery – I think I might embarrass you, Kaworu-kun…”
“I’m sure that won’t happen. You’re a good player.”
That was nice of him to say, but the thought that he would be relying on me with something that’s ostensibly important to him… and that Rei would be watching…
Well, I had this fear that I would prove to be the weakest link and send us both tumbling down, disappointing everyone.
I powered through it somehow, fighting through every possible error to keep going, to stumble forward somehow without stalling out for too long in the wake of what I could look better.

When it was finally all over, I braced myself for a blow – but to see this whole room filled with people applauding… maybe it just seemed more intense to be because I was at the center of it, and even if they were applauding more than for the last few groups, it would probably have been thanks to Kaworu…
But I caught a glimpse of Rei in the crowd. It’s not like she was moved to tears or anything that extraordinary, but she was watching with rapt attention, like she hardly ever did in class.
I think that meant as much to me as the whole rest of the applauding crowd put together, not that that was nothing – neither was an experience I’d had too often before.

When it was all over, Kaworu suggested that we all go have tea together.
I don’t think either of us would have agreed if we’d known that he meant to bring us to a fancy old-fashioned tea house and pay for what he meant to recommend us with a big wad of cash.
I felt like I shouldn’t accept this, but once we were already at the shop it felt rude to refuse.
Of course what I didn’t know either was that Kaworu’s situation was at best that of a rare bird in a gilded cage. If I had known, I think I would even have ordered seconds, just to try and waste as much of Chairman Keel’s money as we could, thought that pointless act of rebellion would have failed to put a dent in his wealth… never mind about changing our fates.
Once we had all sat down, the first thing Kaworu said was said to Rei. “So, do you understand now what I was talking about? Were you moved by any of the performances?”
“If I was, how would I know?”
Kaworu’s smile did not waver. “That’s not a bad question. It’s true that what one person might find moving can often leave another completely cold. I hope you weren’t bored, at least.”
“Bored? No.”
“That’s something at least!”
“It’s just… I’m not certain what the point of me being there was, if I’m not participating…”
Oh no, I thought, was it what I’d feared? Was she just annoyed to be ragged along and made to wear that dress though this didn’t actually interest her? That would feel less daunting if I knew what she would like to do instead… I wouldn’t know what we dragged her away from, but I hope it wasn’t just to endure something she found boring just out of some general notion of duty, simply ‘cause you’re supposed to help if you can.
“Nagisa-kun said that perhaps you would have an easier time at it if someone you knew was present in the audience. Did you, Ikari-kun?”
“I think so?” Once I blurted out that answer, I immediately regretted it. After she went through all the trouble to come, the least I could have done was to issue a clear yes – “But I was really glad you came! I wanted you to see us playing!”
“Why is that?”
Never the greatest of conversationalists, I guess I had a tendency to fall back into the basic scripts of socially accepted patterns, so it was challenging to speak to someone who had only a cursory idea of where those rails were supposed to be, and no interest in staying on them.
“That’s because… the two of were interested in what you’d think…”
I, in particular, was. But that’s something I wasn’t ready to confront yet.
Luckily, Kaworu was here to rescue me:
“But you know, if you wanted to participate, then perhaps you should have said so. We wouldn’t have minded – indeed, I would be honored.”
“I can’t play any instruments.” said Rei, a little bit downcast. There! Now I knew what to say: “Well if you wanna learn, we can ask my parents! I already get music classes, so, if you wanted them too it’s only fair that you should get them.”
Rei said nothing.
But once I got my momentum, I thought it worthwhile to keep trying, “Are you worry that you won’t have enough free time left between that and the lab stuff?”
“No, that’s not it. But there is no need.”
“There’s no need for me to be doing it either, I’m not good enough to be famous. It’s just… for fun. To help you wind down after a stressful day full of school and lab stuff maybe. I mean, for me, I think I mostly do it ‘cause it gives me the sense that I’m accomplishing something… if that makes sense…”
“Your feelings came through.” said Kaworu, making sure to put me at ease. “It’s wonderful to create something. To have it take shape out of nothing – whether it is a physical object like in some handicrafts project, or something more abstract like a song or a story.”

Rei thought on that for a moment. “I don’t think I have it in me to create anything, or anything that I could share with others, offer it to them – outside of my work at the laboratory. I could study the techniques and methods, but if you say that the point if to have something to say, or to share, then there is probably no point. I could Whatever I would make would always remain stilted, barren, different from a real creator. I don’t think that I have anything inside of me that I could draw from...”
That’s some heavy stuff to casually drop over tea. And here I was complaining that the things I thought I had to say were simply boring or irrelevant, just not what anyone would want to hear – but to say that you didn’t have anything to tell that would be worth sharing… she didn’t even sound especially emotional when she said that. If there was any distinct feeling to it was probably resignation.
I felt that this couldn’t be left unaddressed, but young and dumb as I might have been even I wasn’t so deluded as to think that some witty remark on my part was going to obliterate that sort of deeply held sentiment…
“Well, there’s nothing like it but practice. Repeat the same thing over and over again, until you feel satisfied with it. Perhaps it might help you to focus on the aspect of technical skill first. Sometimes, the inspiration will come along while you are practicing… - and if you really don’t enjoy it, you can always stop. I do think you should give it a try, though – Our precious time here is short after all.”
I thought then that he’d be referring to human lives in general, or even just to the time of our youth – Though now I know of course that Rei would have caught his original meaning.

She did, in fact, end up taking up music lessons.
She didn’t really talk to be about it. I didn’t know until right before mom was going to drive me to my next lesson and she just got in the elevator with us. Rei had already procured herself an instrument and everything, a sleek Viola that she says Kaworu helped her pick out – so it seems that his wish to get to know her better had also come to fruition.
It helps that Rei was not the sort to be discouraged if she doesn’t get results right away.
She wasn’t interested in many things, but when she was, she able to summon considerable difference, perhaps more than a typical kid our age would usually manage. I guess she was pretty mature in that regard. In the light of later events, I wonder if either of my parents had told her that it would ‘help with her work’.
Unlike me, she was not very sensitive to praise or critique. Once she’d started, she just kept going. Her presence didn’t change my lessons didn’t change very much. For the most part, she was just quiet and did as she was instructed. But sometimes we’d speak a little before or after the lessons. Those were also happy moments.

Of course, that wasn’t the only new developments.
The next one was brought to me by a very excited Kensuke:
“Hey Shinji, have you heard the rumors?!”
“What rumors?”
“About the glasses girl! The mysterious girl with glasses that’s been seen on the perimeter of the school, on the roof, or on the stairs leading from the yard. About Nagisa’s age, could be a first year or a second year, very… mature if you know what I mean. She’s not wearing our uniform and she doesn’t belong to any class at our school… maybe she’s a spy?!”
Touji was not convinced. “Who’d spy on a bunch of middle schoolers like us?”
“Well if she was real, “ said Hikari butting in, “She would be trespassing, and you should report her to the teachers or me.”
As you might see later I had good reasons to entertain a definite suspicion, one that was later proven true. So I wasn’t too excited about Kensuke’s speculative plots to track down the mystery girl. Though I guessed that if he did find her, there’s a chance they’d get along.

What else can I think of?
There is that one sunny afternoon when Touji, Kensuke and I decided to hit the arcade, and ended up running into Asuka, whom we found disciplining an unruly picker arm machine with some percussive maintenance when it refused to spit out the plushie she’d been trying to get at. (though she would of course viciously deny any interest in any stuffed animals)
After Kensuke and I barely managed to prevent her and Touji from descending into a brawl, there ensued a goof amount of virtual contests on the various arcade machines. Thanks to my average reflexes and miserable quick-thinking I was usually the first one to lose. Once he followed, Touji channeled his frustration into insisting that we both cheer on Kensuke, but when he got beaten, he was way too impressed with Asuka’s finishing combo to bother being mad about his loss.
“That was straight up sublime~”
“Hey Kensuke, whose side are you even on?!”
“A masterful performance like this has got to be appreciated. It’s got nothing to do with sides.”
Thus we spent a great part of the day there, playing various retro games, drinking cheap vending machine soda. At that point it still wasn’t especially cold, but I could already tell that the days were getting shorter. As the light got low, it became apparent which bits of the arcade were painted to be glow-in-the-dark. Towards the end of it I think I was kind of getting a feel for the rhythm games and even won at pool or table hockey once or twice.
But we didn’t stay for ‘the rest of the day’, because it was still a little before our curfews when Asuka did pick an honest to good fight with a bunch of tattooed thugs.
After insisting that we weren’t ‘with her’ didn’t work, Touji was just about ready to throw down as a matter of honor, but he never got his chance because Asuka, who at the time was a little girl half their size, laid them all flat with the most unreal acrobatic move I had seen in my life up to that day. You might be thinking that this sounds like something out of an action movie or an anime, but I assure, it was much quicker and dirtier than that, over in a second.
For some reason the four of us all ended up running off into the same direction, as if we were following some buried instinct from the Devonian age where our distant ancestors still lived in schools of fish. I never thought that someone like me would end up actually running from the authorities before the age of 20. Or was it the thugs? Whichever got ahead.
We’d just have to hope that the owner hadn’t seen our faces ‘cause we really liked going to that particular place. It would be just like Asuka to get us banned for life.
In any case we did escape. We all ended up panting in some back alley – no, not all of us. Even Touji was out of breath, but somehow Asuka wasn’t.
I knew so little about anything to do with sports or fights that I might still have chalked this up to her being very athletic and generally ridiculous instead of recognizing it for the great anomaly that I ought to have known them for, after all it’s not like those muscular thugs were wimps.
Luckily, we had the power of Kensuke on our side: “Wow that was so awesome! Those were some military grade moves right-there!” Then he asked her about what I presume were particular holds or techniques he thought she’d used.
“Pah, that was nothing! I got the upper hand on them ‘cause they underestimated me. It wouldn’t have been anywhere as easy if they’d taken me seriously from the get-go. Bet they didn’t expect me to fight back just ‘cause I’m a girl. Stupid pigs.”
You know, Asuka, if I were you I’d cut them some slack. You’re not exactly Serena Williams.
I think a great deal of their surprise was less due to your gender and more because you’re literally twelve.
“That really was amazing though! Do you take self-defense classes?”
“Something like that. Well then, bye~ Gotta dash~”

On our way home, the three of us made sure to give the general area of the arcade a wide berth, lest we be forced to content with those delinquents without our star player. Touji of course insisted that he wasn’t scared of them, but we could get him to agree that getting into another scuffle would be needlessly bothersome.
“Maaan…” said Kensuke as we waited for the bus, “That was really cool how Soryu beat up those tattooed guys. I still can’t believe that she beat me at MissileMaster, either, And she’s got good looks on top of that!”
“Pity about her personality, eh? If you upset her, she would probably put you in the hospital.”
“That’s true…”
“Come on guys, you’re exaggerating...”

Another time, we went to a sort of rummage sale, though they were also selling posters. Despite my better judgment I’d been strong-armed into forking over some of my own money once Asuka’s had run out and so I was determined to actually spend the other half on stuff that I wanted, even if that meant that I’d once again be bankrupt long before the month even hit its midway point. I was rather sheepish and apologetic in suggesting-slash-asking if maybe we could kinda sorta bring Kaworu, but contrary to my fears the adversity of Touji’s response didn’t go beyond a sort of vague noncommittal grumble, followed by, “I guess it’s fine.”
Kensuke promptly winked at me from where Touji wouldn’t see it, as if to say ‘See? Told you he’d warm up to the idea’. I guess my feeble social battery wouldn’t have to cope with a scheduling related nightmare after all.
I guess it helped that it had by then become apparent that Kaworu didn’t have any particular interest in monopolizing the attentions of the female students (as if there were any chance that they would have been drooling over Touji instead)… no, actually, I think it’s really down to the lack of snobbishness shown in Kaworu’s actions. Jealousy-inducing or not, Touji must’ve had time to see now that he was ultimately a good person.
So we went there to find ‘cool posters’ or anything else that qualified as ‘cool’. I think each of us had a slightly different idea of that – Kensuke brought home several sci-fi-themed posters and a few with prints of vintage anime, some model guns and a toolbox he thought he could use. Touji was more into tough guy motivational posters (“Awesomeness: If you are ever sad, just be awesome instead.”), but he also got his hands of some pairs of second-hand high-end trainers that some rich hipster must have discarded after getting even never, fancier ones. It was last year’s model, but since unlike our parents Touji’s had an additional kid to worry about and provide for, he couldn’t have afforded them when they were new. Now that they were no longer the newest edition, the price had steeply plummeted, so Touji was able to resolve all his sport shoe needs for the foreseeable future.
I for my part came home with a nice new poster of the solar system for my room and an old radio. Unlike Touji’s shoes it wasn’t exactly in mint condition and I’d lamented that I’d love to buy it if I had the skills to properly repair it – that’s when Kaworu told me that he absolutely did know how to fix stuff and would love to show me how.
His own haul consisted mostly of a calendar for next year (with some impressive panoramic nature photos in it) and a little bit of decorations for his new lodgings.
He mentioned living alone, which elicited some compassionate responses from my friends: “Wow, that must be tough! I have a younger sister and our grandfather lives with us, so I can’t imagine what that must be like.”
Though really, the closest that Kensuke and I came to understanding is how we were often alone because our parents were busy. But if we were feeling alone, or there was some emergency, we could at least phone them or something and know that they’d come get us. So it wasn’t really the same. In either case, Kaworu scored a decorative lamp with amber beads in its shade, and a fancy old mechanical clock. He really did have impeccable taste, or maybe there was just some overlap between his and mine.
But the part I really cherish wasn’t so much the material things we had, but just the feeling of how we went about that place, rummaging through the exhibits, making various comments about some of the various things we found, some funny, some insightful… the sorts of remarks that really showed their personalities, as results of the specific combinations of traits and experiences that had made them – the sort of things that only Touji, Kensuke or Kaworu would say, memorable enough to make me really grateful to have them in my life – had then in my life. Past tense now.
Anyways, there’s one more thing I bought.

[“Hey Asuka! Look what I found!”]
Attached to that text message was a photo of a plushie I’d found at the rummage sale, the exact same one that had slipped through her fingers at the arcade time and time again. It was an anime mascot that was rather popular a few years ago.
I had to make sure to acquire it while Touji and Kensuke were distracted – if I told them that it was for a girl, I’d never hear the end of it.
[“Why’d you get that?! Don’t tell me you spent all aftertoon at the arcade trying to win it for me or something.”]
[“No- I just saw one, I remembered that you’d wanted it, and so-”]
[“Geez. I wanted to win it myself. It’s just not the same to get a free handout! Like I’d be that interested in stupid stuffed animals or anything, I was playing that game for the challenge.”]
[“Oh… then I guess I’ll have to see if someone else wants it… Maybe Suzunami, or Kirishima…”]
[“Nah! Now that you’ve gone and bought it, it would feel pointless to try and win it. Give it here.”]
[“What, right now?”]
Not exactly. She ended up picking it up the next morning, when she came to drag me out of bed again.

There was also the time that the science club drafted volunteers for a wildlife survey in the forests of the nearby mountains.
Marie had apparently instructed all her fellow club members to ask everyone they knew, and though Rei had obediently done as she asked, for what little good that did, for there were at best three people she could be said to ‘know’, and of those, Mayumi had to decline on account of being somewhat squeamish about creepy crawlies.
Rei explicitly noted this when she came to Kaworu and me, if not in those exact words.
“So we’re your last hope, eh?” said Touji, who happened to be nearby when she sought us out. “Well, we can’t have you show up empty handed.”
“Yeah,” Kensuke jumped in, “I’d feel bad if you got chewed out by Vincennes.”
Honestly I don’t think Rei would have been that upset if she hadn’t managed to draft anyone, she was simply doing what Marie asked her – nor do I think that the other science club members would all have gone to bother that many of their peers just cause she said so. But it was a nice sentiment. Honestly I was surprised that Rei had even considered Mayumi, she still had some of those get well cards from her in her room but at first I’d thought that Rei must have assumed that they were sent out of obligation only, and Mayumi herself was too reserved to make her intentions all too obvious, but I think she had some admiration for Rei, just for the way she didn’t seem to care what people think. But who knows – maybe they were on their way to becoming friends.
I sure didn’t see Rei ending up as besties with Marie, she just kind of enjoyed ordering people around and Rei seemed to just quietly endure it.
So in the end, we ended up near a forest along with a flock of science club members and their various plus ones. Our task would be to turn over stones and record what manner of insects we found living beneath them. We’d also set up traps to catch some, placed some microphones to record insect wing noises and try to jot down roughly how many insects we had seen.
Marie was highly excited about underappreciated local species. She never shut up about it and despite her surface level veneer of politeness once could not fail to note that they were being bossed around. Touji was not too excited about that, but Kensuke agreed that we should endure it ‘For Science!’.
I noted a distinct lack of Hikari and Asuka in our ranks. Despite her zeal for studying, I guess the former would be unlikely to get excited about anything involving insects. And I bet Asuka just straight up refused, probably with some backhanded comment about how she wished Marie a good time ‘digging around in the dirt’. Upon first contact, you’d think Marie would be too frivolous for such a thing, but it seems her enthusiasm for all things sciency truly knew no bounds.
But that aside, it was altogether a pleasant activity – the forest air was pure and fresh, the scenery picturesque with gnarled old trees and trickling streams, and our tasks ensure that we took a much closer look at our surroundings than we otherwise would have.
I remember looking at the sceneries and thinking how they seem like the kinds of views that must have inspired poems and romantic fairy-stories.
I remember the sight of Rei sitting among the weeds, her hair even wilder than usual, jotting things down on her clipboard.
I remember Kaworu taking a deep inhale while gesturing widely with his arms, taking in the impressive sight. And though I don’t recall the details now, I think Touji and Kensuke somehow managed to get themselves all drenched after goofing around near the creek when they ought to have been looking out for flies or mosquitoes.
And there was that time, during the end of this, when Kaworu glanced over the many tally-marks in his notes with a certain melancholia on his fine features. “It’s not just people. There are so many, many lifeforms thriving on this planet…” he said it like it was a tragedy. To him, I suppose it is one. I can only presume that he was feeling the same sense of dilemma that he would one day bring upon me.
He then turned to Rei, regarding her meaningfully. “Though it was an accident, I cannot help but praise your work.”
“It wasn’t me. We don’t share the same memories, we don’t have the same shape, the same powers? So how could she possibly be me? – Her experiences must be something that we cannot even fathom. Maybe you can.”
“It is true that you couldn’t have memories – physical connections in a brain that only began to exist very recently. Yet it was some physical process that gave you life, in which your brain was involved without a doubt. The soul never truly forgets. Surely, you must have heard her voice- perhaps in your dreams.”
I had no idea what the two of them were talking about – I suppose someone from the lab? Maybe I imagined it, but, I had the impression that as soon as Kaworu mentioned this hypothetical ‘she’, there was no part of Rei’s body that didn’t stiffen ever so slightly.
“I don’t remember any dreams.”
“No? Well, I’ve heard that having new experiences is supposed to stimulate them. People dream all the times when they get to new places. Now that I’ve gotten here, I have been-”
“I don’t wish to discuss this at this moment.”
“Oh, my apologies. It was not my intention to cause you discomfort. Perhaps I got carried away in my excitement.” He was going to leave it at this, but evidently he couldn’t quite stop himself from asking: “What do you see? When you look at all this.”
“I see how everything lives and eats and breeds and crawls. Disgusting, stinking, pulsating with flesh. It’s all pointless but, it all struggles. Hurts. Strives. Everything interlocks in relation to each other. Everything is connected.”
“And you and I stand outside the circles and do none of those things?”

That’s when they noticed me. Kaworu put on his best smile and waved at me. So I never found out how that conversation would have continued.

Not all memorable moments were distinct events, though. There’s a lot of little moments here and there – days on which Asuka dragged me along to help her with her shopping. (“Does this dress make me look fat? Those earrings really make me look all grownup, don’t they?”)
At other times she would just show up unannounced and since we had nothing else planned, we’d end up flipping through various disappointing TV channels or she’d end up doing her nails while I played some adventure game Kensuke recommended me, until my mom came home and made some pleasant, trivial conversations with the two of us, and even Rei whenever she’d actually come out of her room. I think Asuka might have regarded our home as the default place to crash whenever her mom was particularly busy.
“It’s just depressing to sit around in that quiet apartment all the time. If there’s no one making any noise, that would just get me down for no good reason.”
I guess being an extrovert also has it’s disadvantages.
During all this, I was never aware that this was a moment I would be missing – it was just mundane everyday life. To have Asuka lounging on our couch was not a special occurrence.
And yet I miss it so much.
At first she was annoyed by Rei’s presence there, but she stayed mostly out of Asuka’s hair so, there wasn’t really much opportunity for drama. By this point she’d gotten used to her being there, like a piece of furniture that you eventually tune out. She might’ve been starting to tolerate her, to see her as part of the pack if nothing else.
I don’t really know what Rei thought. She didn’t seem to care much one way or another.
But a few times, the three of us did have dinner together – mostly when my parents were home, cause they would have called us all to the table with no idea of our territorial avoidance games. The result was really just mother and Asuka carrying most of the conversation, but it was still nice and peaceful, after a fashion?

(1.7: The curse from Genesis)

But that wasn’t all that happened this September, not even to start with… which all of this was going on, even while I waded through this time of bliss, I had already grabbed the strangely warm quill made of rooster’s feathers, and signed my name in red ink.
Let’s go back to Monday the 7th – that would be day right after the amateur concert.
I’d gone to sleep all blissed out and rose refreshed in the morning, so much I almost didn’t mind that it was time to go to school again.
I’d barely paid much attention to it between all that stuff with Kaworu transferring in and Asuka being all upset that first week, but I think I did hear Touji mentioning that some kind of talent scouts might be coming to our school. Touji was hoping that his contributions to the basketball club might get him noticed, though no one was really sure what kind of ‘scouting’ that was actually supposed to be or what sort of ‘talent’ they might be looking for – Kensuke wished Touji all the best, but he thought it more likely that they might be looking for musical or media-related talent, since we had outright starlets like Kotone in our ranks… and she wasn’t the only one, apparently, there was a bunch of girls in class C that had a somewhat successful band going. Though he was speculating that the people from the record label might forget all about either of them ‘if they so much as got a whiff of Nagisa on his piano’.
Kensuke for his part hoped that they were military people, simply because he wanted an excuse to look at flyers with pictures of guns and tanks. In some way he was often the voice of reason in our little group, the insightful one who could explain everything about people and organizations, but in other ways, he was still very much a little boy, or at least, very single-minded in his focus.
Our country might have been at peace right now, but one never knows what the future holds, and North Korea is a thing that exists. Even if you’d probably just end up playing with guns and doing glorified nature hikes, I wouldn’t want to risk even the theoretical possibility that I might end up having to shoot another human being simply because I’m being told to.
If it were me, I probably wouldn’t be able to do it, and end up getting shot myself instead.
Well, whatever it was that Kensuke or Touji had been imagining, it didn’t end up mattering, because we were all wrong.

September 7th 2014
T minus 492 days
Yet even that fateful moment started out like a perfectly normal day at school, until Misato came in the classroom and clapped her hands a few times to get our attention.
“Okay kids, today we’re going to do something a little different.”
She then fed us a story about a survey for the ministry of health for which we would all be subjected to mandatory checkups, and then, walking in two rows of pairs, we were marched out to the nurses’ office where a host of medical equipment was already arranged in place, along with curtains and dividers meant to preserve our modesty.
Ritsuko-san was already waiting there – Ritsuko-san was our school nurse, a woman with distinctive bleach-blonde hair who tended to wear a lot of makeup. I believe she’s friends with Misato-sensei – even back then, I’d seen them talking at times – but she’s not nearly as approachable, much more of a serious, ‘conventional’ adult to whom you’d naturally speak with some measure of respect. I myself had hardly spoken with her though, I only knew her name from when she introduced herself to us at the beginning of the school year. So far I had avoided any sports injuries or sudden illness that would have gotten me sent to the nurses’ office.
Little did I know that I would come to know several things about her intimate life that I desperately wish I could un-hear…
But back then, the only impression I’d had of her at that point was that she looked to be a pretty serious person, maybe a bit intimidating even, not warm or welcoming, like you might imagine a nurse.
That is, of course, because she was only posing as a nurse. All for this one moment. Everyone in our class was already presumed to be suitable – anyone who worked for the Artificial Evolution Laboratory (at least officially) had to submit themselves and their family members for an evaluation, something as simple as having a Q-tip poked against the inside of their cheeks for a DNA sample, and if they get the job and the test was positive, their kids would be expected to give a sample as well. Sometimes, in case of non-combat personnel like HR, the cleaners or the waiters at the cafeteria, it was quite likely that that they sometimes got the job because the test was positive.
Perhaps my parents had even justified this by arguing that they were no hypocrites and had their own son tested before anyone else; At least, it was hard to imagine that that sort of policy would ever have been tolerated if the ones in charge had not led by example.
I would eventually learn that some grew to fear my parents when they heard that, that they would be so ruthless as to use even their own child… but if they hid me away, and saved me alone simply cause they could get away it as the leaders, they would probably have been judged even more harshly. At least some accepted only because they really needed the work – or really wanted it, more than they had wanted not to volunteer their kids. Or maybe they’d just hoped that this chalice would pass them by.
I do not remember the test, but why would I? What would be so memorable about being prodded with a q-tip once? It’s possible that they had it done right after my birth, when I was still a reddish, scrunched-up newborn. Or maybe it was done one of those times when Mom brought me to work and I ended up playing with Asuka, Kaworu and the others. Maybe that’s when we all were first tested, or at least those of us who had come into this world by (more or less) conventional means, meaning Asuka, Mari and me.
In any case, it was so far back that I didn’t remember.
Unbeknownst to me back then, it wasn’t just the case that the candidates like Rei, Asuka or Kaworu had all been sorted into this class. We had all been flagged as potential candidates, and then assembled here. Based on that, the children of all laboratory employees working in this city were either sorted into class A, or some other class. But candidates that had been found by other means were also assembled here.
I really should have noticed. Very, very few of us were native residents of Hakone. The students of class A had all been assembled from different parts of the country. Kensuke’s family was originally from Yokohama. Touji was born in Sakai, in the Osaka prefecture. My own parents originally met in Kyoto. They got Kotone from some random orphanage where no one would have looked too closely if people on government business showed up and took her with them, as she had no parents to get mad on her behalf – and of course, Marie and Asuka had been brought here from entirely different countries!
Class A was entirely made up of possible candidates, or at least people who were presumed to be such. But that would just have been a binary assessment: Was there any chance at all that it would work, or was there not?
What they hadn’t done yet was a detailed assessment on each of us, a scoring of how suitable we were, and who would be the most promising ones to prioritize for the next stage of the project.
Eventually, I would be forced to conclude that that is what this was. No doubt that Asuka, Kaworu and Rei had undergone such procedures done already, but maybe they were here to provide controls so that they could easily compare our scores to the results of actual candidates rather than whatever first aptitude test they would have taken as kids.
I believe they even tested the other classes, both to maintain the fiction that this was some sort of health survey, and to have a control group of definite non-candidates to which to compare our values. I did see the kids of class B filing out of their classroom after we were back in ours.

Even Ritsuko couldn’t examine an entire class of kids on her own, so she had recruited some of the teachers and teacher’s assistants to assist her with the ‘survey’. Within the month, I would learn that every single one of them was secretly laboratory staff in disguise. But there was limit to how many kids could be fit into the nurses’ office, so the rest of us were each handed a surprisingly thick questionnaire. “Please answer as honestly as you can and take good care to read the questions carefully!” said a bespectacled teacher’s assistant as she handed me the paper. “The results of this survey are very important. For science!”
Also handing out papers, Ms. Kaga the biology teacher addressed us with a sheepish smile. “What Aoi-san means is that the results of this will help a great many people if you all give it your best…”
“Next one!” called Ms. Ibuki from behind one of the screens – she was one of the match teachers as well as the one in charge of the computer club. While she waited for the next subjects, the first ones to be examined were now let go – and that would have been Rei and Kensuke, on account of the alphabet starting with an ‘A’.
The freckled boy was still pressing a wad of cotton to the point in the crook of his arm where he’d apparently been prodded for a blood sample and looked far less enthusiastic now than he had been when he’d considered the prospect of military recruiters showing up (as if enlisting didn’t involve a physical), but Rei just calmly walked out of there in her usual businesslike, long-suffering manner, as if she did this every day.
The two of them were also handed a questionnaire – it was a thick one. Still under the illusion that all this was some sort of study to investigate the health & wellness habits of adolescents these days, I expected there to be questions like how often we exercised or if we were drinking enough water and eating enough vegetables.
Instead, there were all manner of questions with no immediately discernible pattern to them: What’s the meaning of life? How would you describe your relationship with your mother? What’s your favorite color? If you ever ended up committing a murder, what do you think would be the reason?
When we discussed the matter later in the afternoon, Kensuke would describe it like this:
“It’s like there’s a replicant loose in the school in and they’re trying to find it.”
I was told that was a reference to a classic sci-fi movie that Kensuke was way too young to actually see when he pirated it off the internet.

The questionnaire was divided into multiple sections which at least appeared to have some consistent themes to them – one could have been a personality test, another perhaps some sort of psychological evaluation, which was at least somewhat related to ‘health and wellness’. But other sheets seemed to be asking random philosophical opinions, or insanely personal questions: What is your first memory? Do you believe in God? Describe the nearest person to your right in three sentences or less. Which do you think is more important, and why: The collective or the individual? How often do you masturbate? ...were they even allowed to ask us that?
The last page had math problems, as well as some questions about series of numbers or patterns that looked like some sort of intelligence test.
Somewhere behind me, Asuka was plowing through her questionnaire at a pace that suggested eagerness but also a certain annoyance. I chalked it up to how she generally hated being poked or plodded in any way.
Easy to spot by the distinctive cotton candy pink of her hair, Kotone was likewise very hard at work, anxious to contribute to the advancement of science.
Some, like Mayumi, looked unsure about what to write.
But most students, like me, were just mildly annoyed or puzzled by it and eager to be done. Touji and Mana for example were really, really bored. Marie was wondering out loud about what the survey might be testing for, oblivious to how few of her fellow students were actually listening to her. Kaworu looked thoughtful, sighing here and there.
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Wed Feb 10, 2021 4:33 pm

The Sin, Part II  SPOILER: Show
I couldn’t get it all answered before my name was called: “Ikari! Ikari Shinji!”
I was told to put the sheets aside and finish answering later. For now, I was to take off my uniform jacket. Ms. Ritsuko greeted me politely enough but entirely businesslike. I felt a little like I was being processed on an assembly line but that didn’t make me any less embarrassed of unbuttoning my shirt.
I had the impression, for a moment, that she paused to size me up, as an intrepid hero might do when they were finally meeting their arch-nemesis face to face, though I believe that this might have been my imagination, or some hindsight bias that I am superimposing onto the past from where I am now. “So, you are Ikari Shinji-kun, correct?”
It started out like a pretty normal physical: She pulled out a stethoscope, touching it to my chest and then my stomach, and then at last my back, asking me to “Take a deeeeep deep breath”.
She got my blood pressure and oxygen saturation, and my lung capacity too – each with its own specialized machine – and then she prepped me for a blood sample. “Just a little prick!”
It’s not my first time at a doctor so I know that it doesn’t even hurt that much, but it’s knowing that it is coming and yet having to sit there that is the hard part. I apologized in advance in case I’d embarrass myself too badly, and when it all worked out, I ended up feeling bad for whinging so much to begin with.
Next she put one of those caps on me, to measure my brainwaves. Ms. Ibuki spent quite some time squirting conductive gel into all the little electrodes while Ms. Ritsuko went across the room behind the other screen, presumably to inflict the same poking and prodding on Hikari. (‘H’ comes right after ‘I’ after all)
Then, when I was all hooked up, I was talked through a series of oddly basic tasks, like naming random objects, saying my own name or being asked to picture my family in my mind as long as I could. It gradually transitioned into something like a new-agey visualization exercise.
Picture a sphere filled with all the love you feel for your parents held within your chest.
Name five things that make you happy.
Think of traits and experiences that differentiate you from others.
I found it harder and harder to discern the meaning of this exercise.
Can you think of any secret that you don’t ever want anyone to know?, she asked me. You don’t have to say it, just think of it as hard as you can.
What is the worst thing you have ever done?
Ms. Ritsuko looked at the spikes on her screen, and said, “You’re doing very good.”
All of the questions and the being fiddled with gradually pulled me into a hypnotic lull, and I think by the end of it I gave more honest answers than my initial self-consciousness would have allowed for.
The last thing she asked me to do is to just let my mind drift for ten minutes and keep following whatever naturally comes to mind, so that her instruments could observe the default patterns of my brain. Well, if there was one skill I had most certainly honed to perfection, it would have to be the art of sitting still and staring at the walls.
I wonder what sort of things the lines on her monitor could tell her about my mind and heart.
At least, I was spared having to pee in a cup or getting poked with thermometers in embarrassing places, so it was not so bad as far as physicals went.
I was let go and left to finish filling out the paper in the time that it would tell them to get from H for Horaki to Y for Yamagishi. I don’t think we had anyone starting with a ‘Z’ in our class.

All in all, I had no idea what had just taken place. I was still enough of a child to view it as just another thing some adults had told me to participate with. If its significance had not become known to me within the month, I don’t think that day would have left any trace in my long-term memories at all – that is, if this were all that had happened.
There was one more aspect to it that might at least have lingered as a curiosity, something that startled me – it occurred when everything was almost wrapped up. Mayumi had emerged from behind the screen but was still fumbling with her jacket, when a voice emerged from the hallway.
“Oi! Wait! Miss Science Lady! Don’t close up shop yet!”

The one who had spoken so brazenly revealed herself immediately by sending the sliding door rattling against the other end up its tracks, stepping inside.
Most of our classmates were confused, for there stood a girl whom most of them had never seen before – She wasn’t even sporting our uniform, but wearing a completely different one.
I’d later learn that she’d kept it cause it was easy to clean, and because people in the city were much more suspicious of a school-aged girl walking around on her own throughout the day when she was going around in her own clothes. It was all about making herself look like she belonged there – though that strategy broke down the moment she came near an actual school, as her different uniform marked her as clearly being from somewhere else.
Besides the same plaid skirt and green cravat I’d seen on her last time, she now came in with a long-sleeved blouse and brown blazer. After all, it would have been suspicious if she’d still have been walking around in a summer uniform, even if it had not gotten especially cold yet.
It’s still impressive that she managed to get into this school undetected – especially now that I know well that this was never an ordinary school. But of course, Mari had always been rather resourceful, well-informed and well-connected.

I’m not sure if she recognized her or not, but in any case, Ritsuko didn’t appear any less confused than we were. Some mumbling broke out between my classmates – Hikari was rightfully concerned about what some stranger from another school might be doing here.
I wasn’t sure what to do – I hardly seemed appropriate to just walk up to her and greet her.
My first instinct was to look at the faces of Rei, Asuka and Kaworu. I figured that if anyone knew what was going on, it would be them – but from the look of them, it would appear that they had not been expecting her either: Kaworu seemed intrigued, Rei appeared somewhat concerned and Asuka was looking downright indignant, which was arguably her default response to anything, but knowing what I do now I think she must have been insulted that anyone would dare intrude on this sacred rite that was so important to the institution she’d pinned so much of her hopes to – or maybe she understood well and good that another challenger had just appeared, with the example of Kaworu so recent in her memory.

But the one who had been called upon to answer was still Miss Ritsuko. “What are you doing here?!”
“Oh, you know, same thing as everyone else~” She actually had the audacity to wink.
I think Ritsuko’s right eyebrow might have been twitching.
“Oh come on, don’t make such a scary face. You’re really strapped for test subjects, right? That’s why you’re here right, to look for them? Well you just got a volunteer!”
Her speech was somewhere between an excited kitten and an old veteran from a period drama.
There were so many rules for how to act in a school, with your doctor, or even just with people like you – rules so ingrained as to appear as solid to me as walls. The way she casually flaunted them made her presence in this room just the slightest bit unreal.
I think deep down Ritsuko-san was a more conventional type as well, so this sudden assault on her sense of propriety left her without any chance to speak.
“I know, I know – you did some hard work to collect the possible candidates and all that, there’s practically no chance that it would actually work with some random stranger off the street. But here’s an even better question: What’s the odds that I could just waltz in here like it’s nothing if I didn’t know what I’m talking about? That’s pretty slim too isn’t it? So what’s the harm in just having a look at me, since you’ve already got your equipment set up and all that?
If you’re lucky, you might get a candidate out of me, and if you don’t, well, I guess you could still try having me arrested.”
She casually walked past the staring crowd of students and assistants, only to plop herself down on Ritsuko’s examination table and to begin taking off her blazer.
Mari was lucky that Misato had departed for the staff room once she’d delivered us, that sort of stunt would have never flown in front of her.
Just as she was about to discard her jacket, Mari remembered something and picked it back up to go digging through its pockets. “Oh right! If you’re satisfied with what you see, contact me using this number. I got both the phone and the contrast with an illegal bank account that I bought of the Dark Web, so please don’t waste the hard work of your underlings by trying track me, alright? Okie Dokie~ You may now poke me with your syringes. Meoww~”
Then, without a warning, she started unbuttoning her shirt. It was only through Ms. Ibuki’s rapid action that the modesty curtain got closed in time.
I caught a glimpse of Mari’s bra, and it’s hot pink. Her boobs were kind of spilling out of it though, I think she needs to buy a bigger one again.

“Just where the hell are you looking, Baka-Shinji!?”
“Hey, I couldn’t help it. I didn’t think she would take off her shirt! But… that is Mari, right? Mari from the lab?”
Seemingly unaffected by that near-nudity experience, Kaworu nodded, thoughtfully bringing his fingers to his chin. “This is an unexpected development. Things are, without doubt, getting interesting.”
“...Makinami…” mused Rei. “I believe I heard Dr. Ikari and the Director mentioning someone like that, in conversation with Ms. Soryu or the Vice Director.”
Asuka just groaned. “That stupid Four-eyes. Hasn’t changed at all! She still reaaaally likes getting attention, huh?”
I wouldn’t say that. I think it’s more that she’s completely indifferent as to whether people notice her or not. She’s a bit like Rei in that regard, but because her basic temperament is quite different, the results are vastly disparate in practice. Also, she’s somewhat absent-minded… or maybe it’s more correct to say that her focus isn’t always where that of the average person would have been.
“Why is she even here? What’s she talking about, what does she mean by test subjects?”
“What are you, stupid? Isn’t it obvious? I thought I’d told you that the people at the lab keep scouting for new candidates. This whole thing here, this bogus ‘survey’ or whatever, it’s all a plot to test more people. Dr. Akagi is secretly a researcher from the lab. Do you really think it’s a coincidence that me, Nagisa and Miss Honor Student all go to this same school?”
Actually no, not really.
I think I had begun to suspect it the moment Kaworu told me he was transferring.
“Still, the nerve of her, to just show up like this out of nowhere. What a showoff. Does she think she can beat us or what?”
Rei said nothing. Kaworu just shrugged with an apologetic smile.
“This means war! From now on, she and I are going to be rivals. Rivals, I tell you!”
I wouldn’t put too much stock into Asuka’s martial declarations to be honest. Her bite has never been as fearsome as her bark and she tends to get attached pretty quickly for someone so combative… I mean, look at how she keeps hanging out with me. Besides, Mari has something that I don’t: Very thick skin. She doesn't really take Asuka’s mean words all that seriously so she usually just laughs them off without getting angry or hurt. If anything she often gets a laugh out of teasing her right back.
All in all, the relationship between the two is probably closer to ‘friends’ than to ‘enemies’. When we were kids she would often complain about ‘that annoying weirdo who keeps singing for no reason’ but then she’d turn around and drag Mari into participating into our games and activities, often while bossing her around, which Mari didn’t mind.
They’re an odd couple for sure: Mari who still talks and talks without a filter but is really something of a recluse who doesn’t like being part of groups, and Asuka who is most definitely an extrovert but doesn’t really seem to like people that much even when she spends so much time around them.

When the curtain swooshed back to the side, a mercifully fully dressed Mari wasted little time in jumping up from her spot and getting ready to leave.
Not far from her, Dr. Akagi was staring at her monitor.
I can’t help but admit that I felt more than a little mortified when she stopped to wave at our little group – all the ones she would have known from the lab. “Bye bye your Highness! Puppy boy! Everyone else~<3 ~<3 ~<3”
You could practically hear the unnecessary emojis that sentence would have contained if she had set it down in print.
That was bound to generate rumors.

“Oi, Shinji, do you know that chick?” Kensuke was more than a little impressed. I guess he likes a girl who knows how to cover her illegal activities.
Touji, not so much. He said he was more into modest, old-fashioned girls.
Hikari for her part had been mildly scandalized. Marie apparently missed the whole thing because her focus was completely on answering the questionnaire.
In any case the incident would have caused a whole lot of gossip. Much speculation. Kensuke probably had a field day fitting this into his favorite conspiracies.
But there’s one bit that I could speculate on myself as soon as I saw how grumpy Asuka looked when she arrived the next day.
“Mari’s been hired at the lab, hasn’t she?”
“She is under consideration as the fourth qualified candidate.” said Rei. “However, due to various doubts among the laboratory staff, neither she nor Nagisa-kun have received an official designation yet.”
“Kaworu-kun hasn’t got one, either?”
“His test results were somewhat anomalous.”
I don’t think either of three bothered to keep very much hidden from me at this point. They each must have figured that I knew about the others already. And I was the lead researchers’ kid after all, it’s not like I might tell my parents anything that they didn’t already know.
Maybe they found a relief in having some outside uninvolved person whom they could tell about all this. At least, I hope that I was able to be that – in the end its not like I was making any special effort beyond just being a normal schoolboy in their vicinity.

And now Mari would join their ranks…
This is how she became the first person to come knocking on the doors of the organization of her own, free will, and the only volunteer who could be considered to have made their choice with fully informed, enthusiastic consent.
She knew exactly what she would be asked to do and what it might end up doing to her body and soul, and she thought, ‘yep, worth it’. Mari is truly one of a kind...
For the longest time, I’d also sometimes regarded Asuka as someone who enjoys doing it, but I wasn’t entirely fair to her in my bitterness. She might have acted enthusiastic about it at times, obsessed even, but in the end that was probably just another thing that added to her suffering. Having to go through it was probably just as tough on her as it was on me and Rei, only that she was tough on herself on top of that by feeling the need to be the best as it too – she didn’t really like piloting, it was only a means to an end… and I wasn’t really in the same boat as Rei and Kaworu, either. If I wanted, I suppose I could have left. There were times when I came close to it.
But I didn’t, because in the end, I was probably the same as Asuka: I felt convinced that I had to do it. That I couldn’t escape. That I mustn’t run away….
Oh right, didn’t I mention this? I ended up being recruited too, in the end, though that would not be for quite some time. It would have been some coincidence if I ended up the one person on that old photograph who was never drafted, wouldn’t it? I didn’t end up as I am now because I was zombiefied by the utter boringness of our school curriculum or because I came back to haunt the ruins of this city as a restless spirit – Or maybe I did, but not like people usually imagine it.
From a storytelling perspective it might be anticlimatic to give away the ending, but all of you reading this will know without a doubt how the world ended up, since you live in it every day – I’ve probably strained your patience enough as it is...
So yeah, maybe Asuka and I ended up forcing ourselves to do it thanks to some obscure masochism of our own. But the sole genuine volunteer was Mari.

For being the designated ‘breather episode’, this one took longer to come together than I thought and was harder to write than I expected. Still, I’m determined recreate the Death String Quartet at some point… I’m really looking forward to the next one hehehe
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Mon Feb 22, 2021 10:03 pm

The Law, Part I  SPOILER: Show
(1.8: Das Gebot)

Okay, what else happened in September?
I imagine that my memory of 2014 is fresher than anyone else’s, but it’s still been a while. I’m having to sit down and think to get everything in the right order, so that I don’t forget anything important that I’d wanted to mention before moving on to the next part of the story. It doesn’t help that the year after this was what it was. To this day, 2015 still feels like the longest year of my life, and I don’t ever expect that to change.
So yeah. What else happened in September?
There’s three definite points that come to mind now - maybe four.

The first thing I can think of would be the school play. That was actually somewhat late in the month, when the days were already starting to get colder. (I promise, this will eventually be relevant to my account) We were set to perform a fairly typical fairytale type story, but the play itself isn’t what makes the memory special… Let’s start before the actual play.

September 9th 2014

T minus 482 days

I remember walking to school one morning. It was one of those days were Asuka had decided to come pick me up, and since she was leaving anyways, Rei had tagged along.
Unfortunately, Asuka had taken that as an invitation to start ranting and raving at her:
“Oi! Miss Honor Student! Why weren’t you at the rehearsal yesterday?!”
“I was tired from work, so, I went home early so I could sleep.”
“What lame excuse is that supposed to be?! I went to the same tests as you did, and you don’t see me slacking off!”
“The director and the others had me stay behind for additional tasks.”
“Aaaah, I see~ So they gave you extra assignments for being such an obedient little teacher’s pet, eh? Or maybe it’s nepotism, since you’re the Dr. Ikari’s relative. Either way, must be nice getting special treatment-”
“I’d hardly call extra work ‘special treatment’-”
“Shut it, Baka Shinji, this doesn’t concern you! And besides, anyone with eyes can see that Miss Honor Student is the Director’s favorite. I bet you think you’re so special-”
That was harsh, even for her. It made me question if they were really trusting me to hear this, or just kind of treating me as some unimportant background extra. I should probably say something, but I didn’t have the gall to antagonize her further. I’m not proud of myself for that at all.
Instead, Rei answered the accusations herself, her affect flat and her eyes ever-downcast:
“I don’t think that I’m special. I’m nobody’s favorite, and I’m not receiving preferential treatment from anyone, either. If there’s anything I know, it’s that.”
That wasn’t the first time that she said something super gloomy and pessimistic like that, just like that, with no great feeling, like it’s no big deal, without even raising her voice… her words after the amateur recital come to mind. Is she okay?
She’s always all professional about it, like she doesn’t mind at all. But I was beginning to think that this burden weighed on her no lighter than it did on Asuka, whom I’d seen struggling throughout these past few months.
Hers was probably a more mature response compared to all the wallowing and pouting, but though she was too proud to outright ask for support and attention, and least the people closest to her had noticed Asuka’s struggles. She’s loud, she makes noise, she makes herself inconvenient when she wants to assert her needs. She’d probably argue that you have to be a bit of an asshole in life if you don’t want to be left by the wayside.
I’m not sure I’d agree.
But I’m also not sure if my parents had even the foggiest idea how Rei was feeling about all this.
“I’m just fulfilling my role, which is first and foremost to carry out my assigned duties. School activities are unimportant.”
“Isn’t school is important for you future, though…! Though I guess not so much the play...”
Such was my fumbling attempt. I trailed off into barely audible mumbling at the end. I didn’t even really believe what I was saying, and Rei said absolutely nothing in return.
Asuka was not so merciful. “Unimportant, you say! Unimportant! I guess according to you there is no place for art and culture in the realm of science and cold unfeeling numbers, huh?”
That’s not what either of us said, but okay. She continued undeterred. “You just don’t get it do you? Social and cultural activities are a crucial part of education like any other – and taking part in them is crucial to maintaining our cover as ordinary middle-school students! Isn’t that part of your duties, too?!”
“Maybe in the widest sense, but isn’t Rei allowed to prioritize the more important work if she’s tired?”
“What would a little boy like you know about work?”
“Well, I might be a little boy, but even I know that to do good work, you have to get enough rest!”
Asuka was getting really furious now, but before she could speak her outrage was preempted by a quiet and toneless voice, only just loud enough to hear.
“It’s allright, Ikari-kun. The second is right.”
“...The Second...?”
“Second qualified candidate.”
“Miss honor student is the first.”
Right – I think I hear Kaworu mention something like that, when he introduced himself to Rei.
“But wait – if you couldn’t come because of your work, how come Kaworu-kun came to the rehearsal?” As one of the resident lookers of our class, the girls had been sure to make him play the hero. He’d mention that he had a lot of lines to memorize – I’d hate to think that it was eating all the free time that his part-time job had left him with.
Asuka, however, had no such concerns: “Baaaka! I told you he’s just a backup for now, so he’s got a looooot of free time on his hands.”
The day was only just beginning, and she was already thoroughly irritated. “Seriously! You two better not ruin this for me with your defeatist apathetic attitudes – that goes for you, too, Baka Shinji! As long as I will be the one directing this play, failure is not an option!”
Director Asuka was fearsome to behold. I guess you could say she was a natural at ordering people around. To be honest, I had expected that she’d either show no interest and call the whole thing stupid, or that she’d insist of the principal role just to coast through it on her looks alone… and maybe at first, that’s what she intended. It would have been much more natural for some AV club member like Kensuke to wind up in the Director’s chair. But before we knew it, she was ordering people around and refusing to be satisfied with anyone else’s ideas, so somehow she ended up with an armband labeled ‘Ultra Director’. Inevitably, the whole endeavor was turned into a very serious ego project and we were all subjugated to her bottomless perfectionism and sky-high ambitions…
I remind you, we are talking about an ordinary school play. It’s just our class – we’re not even the drama club. Even calling us ‘amateurs’ would have been far too much.
“But I’m just a stagehand! And Rei doesn’t even have any speaking lines…”
“Enough with the excuses! Everything has to be perfect. We’ll be representing our class, you know? What’s more, the quality of our school’s cultural program will reflect on the laboratory’s reputations! I absolutely won’t forgive you if you embarrass me in front of Mama.”
And just like that, I couldn’t help but see all that unjustified zeal of hers in a completely different light.
“Do you really think she’ll make it?”
Honestly, I wasn’t optimistic at all.
“What do you mean with that, baka Shinji? Explain yourself!”
“...I don’t know about you, I mean if your mom promised to come then she’ll probably come, but seeing how busy my parents have been lately, I was kind of assuming that none of them would be able to make it…”
“Of course they will! Mama would never miss a chance to witness the fruit of my labors~. And your folks must know how good I am at everything, since they see me every day at work! There’s no way that they won’t come, so we can’t afford to slack off, do you hear me?!”

September 13th 2014

T minus 486 days

Cut to the next rehearsal.
“Where the heck is Miss Honor Student?!”
“I guess she must be having extra work again…”
“What do you mean, you guess?! Don’t you share a flat?” Incensed, Asuka grabbed me by the collar, as if she was holding me personally responsible for Rei’s absence.
I got a few sympathetic looks from my classmates.
That’s when the sliding door whirred open.
We were all, without exception, stunned into silence. It’s not every day that you’re met with the surreal sight of a uniform-clad feminine body topped off with the head of a horse.
The faces of Touji and Marie, in particular, were rather priceless.
Mayumi and Kotone were a bit weirded out. Nominally in charge, Hikari seemed to be inwardly debating how to react to this. Ever the quick thinker, it was Asuka who first rushed forward and decisively plopped the horse head off it’s wearer.
Enter Rei, her hair a messy blue cloud of static.
Even Asuka was too flabbergasted to yell. “Say, you didn’t come all the way to school with that thing on your head, did you?”
“It’s more convenient than carrying it in my hands. I’m going to have to wear it anyway, right? Besides, it feel nice.”
“You know, if you were cold you could just have bought a scarf…”
See? I told you the weather was relevant.
That said, I think Asuka firmly placed this incident in the ‘Do I even want to know’ pile.
“You know what? I don’t even care. Do whatever you want, but remember what we talked about! This play is also part of your duty, understood? You don’t even have any lines. All you have to do is stand there like a horse would stand there. Get it? A horse! Surely even you can do that!”

It should be mentioned that she was still standing in the middle of the classroom with a horse costume on her head.
“Doesn’t you face get all steamed up in there?”
“It’s no concern.”
“You should still get a scarf.” said Kaworu, smiling without a care in the world like there was nothing out of the ordinary.

“Ayanami… Soryu… Nagisa… Man Shinji, no offense, but you do have a knack for making friends with the weird ones.”
“It’s a bizarre talent of yours~”
“Like you got any right to be calling anyone weird, Mister class-clown and Super-Otaku!”
“Are you picking a fight?!”
“Touji, no! Remember her crazy martial arts skills!”

Mercifully the confrontation was prevented when everyone’s attention was distracted by a very audible rustle. Rei had at last put off the horse head and was now busy retrieving a plastic bag from her satchel.
“What the heck are you doing now?!”
“I was called in to stay late yesterday, so I didn’t have time for breakfast this morning.”
“Fine, but hurry up! We’re losing valuable practice time! - wait. What are you doing?!”
If I may explain, Rei had gotten out a raw carrot and was now munching on it:
“Method acting.”
She was dead serious.
We were left to react with varying degrees of disbelief while she continued to chomp down on the vegetable. “I must become the character. Just as if I was born as a pantomime horse. Isn’t that what you told me?”
“You’re taking it way too far! know what, I’ll just take you down to the cafeteria and treat you to something after this, okay? I think today’s special offer is fried noodles with Tofu, nice and vegetarian. So please stop it with the carrot stuff...”
Well, at least this could count as an instance of Asuka starting to be nicer to Rei, in her own way.
Then came the day of the actual performance.

September 20th 2014

T minus 479 days

The time had come to put Director Asuka’s artistic vision to the test.
I feel bad just saying this, especially considering Asuka’s great zeal that had come closer and closer to a boil the closer we came to the big day, but to be honest, I can’t say I was particularly excited. I still thought that my parents probably wouldn’t come. I was so sure I hadn’t even bothered to remind them that the day is today. If they knew of it, they would probably just have apologized for being unable to come, and if they didn’t know, well, I didn’t need to hear that said out loud. I’m sure whatever they were doing was super important and all, they were probably busy ‘conquering paradise’, or ‘preparing the shining future’ and all that.
And after all it’s not like I was gonna be on stage -
Someone had to be a stagehand, and I expected that I would end up stuck with it in the end, so I thought I might as well volunteer – besides, Kensuke had some plan for the ‘special effects’, and someone needed to help him with it… as much as that seemed like overkill for an insignificant little performance that was probably meant to amuse us more than our parents. Or well, everyone else’s parents.
If you’re postulating if my pessimistic expectations for my parent’s attendance might have fed into my choice of assignment… you probably wouldn’t be entirely wrong.
But it’s not like they’d be any less busy if I got some big speaking role – and what good would that do? Speaking in front of a crowd isn’t exactly one of my great strengths.
Though I was technically participating, it wasn’t as if the results on stage were really going to have anything to do with me. I was trying to help, of course, and I don’t mean to diminish the accomplishments of the people that make the fancy stuff on the stage possible in the first place, but it’s not like I was a dedicated professional.

Now there’s one more thing I should probably mention, if only because Kaworu asked me to. The rough outline for this early part of the story was already roughly finished in my mind during a brain storming session we had soon after he suggested that I should record this for posterity.

September 16th 2014

T minus 483 days

There was one instance, a few days prior, when Asuka was crashing at my place again, wanting someone to make noise in her vicinity while her mother was once again expected to pull an all-nighter. Father had even half-jokingly remarked that we might as well get her her own bed if she was going to be glued to our couch all the time. I think that might have been a little insensitive of him, though he probably didn’t realize.
In any case, she was pouring over the script, and ostensibly making little progress. At last, she slammed the writing block down on the table with a groan of frustration. “This stupid scene just refuses to make sense!”
To be honest, my first concern was for my parents, who were supposed to be working in their room. Rei was probably reading in her room, too. “Shhh, not too loud!”
But as soon as Asuka spotted me, and remembered that I existed, she must’ve figured that I might come in handy. “Oi! You great wannabe writer! Why don’t you get your eyeballs on my script!”
I assured her that I wasn’t exactly ‘great’ and that I’d mostly written prose, not dialogues for dramas, but I could hardly leave her hanging. It was her own fault for putting too much on her plate, but if she didn’t figure it out, the whole class would be disappointing.
But it was hard to even get her to articulate what exactly she didn’t like about the scene, besides just saying that ‘it’s just stupid’. I could think of some possibly improvements but maybe all those things I deemed possible flaws were really on purpose and she was sure to start yelling at me if I pointed them out.
“If you hate doing the script, why don’t you ask someone else do do it, and focus more on directing?”
“Like I could direct someone else’s crappy script!”
“But it doesn’t have to be a crappy one, I mean, we’re doing an old traditional folktale so, I’m sure there’s plenty of screenplays for it already. Pick one that you like, put your own spin on it, throw out the parts that you don’t like…”
“I don’t want to rehash some boring thing that someone else has already done already! If my name is gonna be on the flyers and the posters, it has got to be something special.”
I sighed. I could tell her that she was blowing this out of proportion, but, I didn’t really have any right to judge her, at least she did have something to be excited about. She’d chide me for being apathetic about everything, and I can’t say she’d be that wrong.
“Can you tell me where you’re stuck, at least? Or what part bothers you?”
After some reluctance, Asuka pointed at a line.
“Well it’s here. If I have the princess say yes, that would be super duper cheesy, but if I have her say no, I feel like that takes out all the mystery… And if I don’t finish it soon, there’s not gonna be enough time for everyone to learn their lines!”
“...well, you might not need big changes. I think little tweaks can help a lot, not all new scenes for people to memorize. Maybe you could have her say nothing at all? Like she’s overwhelmed and doesn’t know what to answer? That will make the audience think about it….”
So the upshot was that I spent the rest of the evening revising the script. I mean, I had to make sure that my changes would fit with the other scenes. I even convinced Asuka to let Rei read it, since she had probably read tons of good books & could give us some ideas. Asuka was displeased at first, but eventually, her drive overcame her resentment and she at least accepted Rei as a useful asset. She couldn’t really think of many suggestions but she asked some good questions that inspired Asuka and me to think of some good revisions. I think Asuka’s instincts as a storyteller would have been more suited to a screwball comedy than a folk tale, but for each change, she did come up with a host of ideas of how to implement it on stage.
I can’t say exactly that we were a dream team, with her mostly wanting to be impressive dramatic when what I could offer was mostly subtle or what she’d deem ‘pretentious’, but maybe some might propose that we at least curbed each other’s worst instincts. Not like it matters ‘cause it was, after all, just a 7th grade school play.
But yeah, I guess maybe Kaworu’s right that it wouldn’t be strictly correct to say that I had ‘nothing’ to do with the actual play. But it wasn’t like I chose the story or anything; Not even Asuka did, the topic was given to us by our teachers, since it had to be something with ‘cultural relevance’ or whatever.

Anyways, back to the actual day of the performance.

September 20th 2014

T minus 479 days (for realz this time)

Before it could all start, we’d have to prepare the auditorium. Someone would have to set up the chairs and all that. It was for that purpose that Misato-sensei requested some helping hands.
Since everyone else was busy reading through their lines or being put through one last recitation by Asuka, I figured I’d volunteer… but then Kaworu decided to come with me. Granted, he said he had his text memorized already and he’d still have of time to change into his costume, but I couldn’t help but feel like I had imposed on him a little bit by making him feel like he had to go and help me… finally, Touji came too, supposedly ‘cause ‘a real gentleman’ couldn’t ‘ignore the pleas of a damsel in distress’, but while wanting to look tough in front of Misato was surely part of his motivation, I think the greater part of it was the chance to escape the sights of Drill Sergeant Asuka…
In either case, Misato found it amusing to humor him, giving some overly cheerful, exuberant thanks about how lucky she was that she could ‘always count on such strong boys to help her out~ <3’ and then herded us down the hallway, but as to where her real attention was… well, I can only speculate. Even at the time, I wasn’t sure that I hadn’t imagined it.
But just I few times, I caught a glimpse of a strange look on her face. She wasn’t really looking at Touji, or even at me. Her chestnut eyes were fixated on Kaworu, eying him in a way that was incompatible with hoe any adult should have ever looked at a child. And I don’t even mean anything indecent. Just for a string of fleeting instants, when she wasn’t consciously focusing on the need to put on a pleasant mask, her expression was guarded, suspicious… outright wary.
It wasn’t definite enough to make me think anything of it, but it did make me consider Asuka’s harsh condemnation of Misato-sensei’s supposed ‘fakeness’.
She was soon occupied by something else, however. ‘Cause when we made our way to the Auditorium, we didn’t find it empty.
“You! What are you doing here!”
The man before us was unfazed. “Yo!”
“What the hell do you think you’re doing here?!”
“My my, how strict~ As expected of a teacher. You’ve really settled into your new role, haven’t you?”
“The least I can do is protect the kids from suspicious characters.”
Yeah, there was really only one person who could have led Misato-sensei to throw all her sense of tact straight out of the window. I decided to do my best at ignoring the thick air and greet him as normal. “Kaji-san! What brings you here?”
“Ah, nothing in particular~ Just your average reporter repeating on local cultural events~”
“You’re gonna take photos of our play?!” Touji’s eyes sparkled dangerously. “Maybe that’s our chance to get famous!”
I didn’t want to shoot down his hopes.
But Mr. Kaji’s eyes didn’t linger on Touji or even me that much once he spotted Kaworu’s silver locks sticking out among our numbers. “Hey Katsuragi, have you got a new student? I don’t remember you from last time…”
“Yeah,” I answered obediently, “Kaworu-kun here just transferred at the start of the term.”
Gallant as ever, he introduced himself straight away: “I’m Kaworu, Nagisa Kaworu. Pleased to meet you.”
There was something strange about the way Mr. Kaji’s eyes narrowed – sudden, alert.
“Have we met before?”
Unfazed as ever, Kaworu bowed to him politely, with a smile.
“Perhaps, there’s always a chance.”
Mr. Kaji must have decided not to push it any further today. He addressed us all with a big grin, flashy charismatic grin. “So, kids, are you excited about your great debut on the stage?”
“A little.” said Kaworu with something of a shrug.
Touji was not quite to humble: “Please make sure to take plenty of Photos~”

I was going to leave any further talking to those better suited to it, but to my surprise, he addressed me specifically: “And what about you, Ikari Shinji-kun? Will you be playing the part of the brave hero?”
“I’m just a curtain boy…” I replied, with no small degree of embarrassment. I didn’t really know how to handle the attention. “But sir, how do you know who I am?”
“Ah, come on. That wasn’t hard to figure out~ After all, you’re the son of the famous Dr. Ikari Yui.”
After our encounter at the lab, it can’t have been hard to put two and two together, if he knew that my mother had a child. I had been trying not to think of it…
“I guess it still keeps surprising me how many people knew them. I never knew my mom was such a big deal…”
I really should have stopped being surprised by now.
“She surely is, in certain circles. You ought to be more aware of your own position.”
“Maybe… But just so you know, my parents are very busy so I couldn’t get them to do an interview with you even if they wanted to.”
Call it cynical, but I could think of no other reason why he would make a point of talking to me specifically. Mr. Kaji sort of laughed it off, but he didn’t outright deny it.
“Are you gonna watch our play?”
“Yeah! I’m looking forward to it~ Break a leg~”
We all got our heads ruffled. Touji was indignant. Kaworu was… a little startled, actually. He has no parents, and he doesn’t seem too close to his guardian, so he might not be particularly familiar with such gestures of affection. He was always smiling, always so effortless, so joyful in all that he did, so it was easy to forget sometimes… and when I remembered, it used to make me grateful that I’d had my mom and dad at home… little did I know what they’d had in store for me all along.

Strangely enough, Misato didn’t yell at Mr. Kaji though she had only just called him a ‘suspicious character’. Instead, she wore the strangest, littlest smile.
But I was still very much too young, too green to make heads or tails of this, or know it’s significance.
I was simply mildly bemused.

Once all chairs were in their proper places, Mr. Kaji, who had brusquely been recruited into helping, waved goodbye to us when Misato decided to walk us back to the classroom.
We were about to be met with an unfortunate surprise.
The one to open the sliding door to our classroom was Touji, who had rushed ahead.
The first that we saw or heard on the other side was a very unhappy looking Kensuke. “Huston, we’ve got a problem!”
A problem? Now? Mere hours before our parents were due to arrive?
That would be dire news indeed.
Resolute to tackle this, Misato stepped past Touji in an instant and moved to inspect the situation. We found the source of everyone’s long faces soon enough once we stepped inside the classroom.
Kotone, whose widely renowned cuteness had made her the obvious candidate for the starring role, was now sitting in a chair looking miserable, her costume nowhere in sight… much like her left shoe. Instead, her little foot was wrapped in bandages. Upon closer inspection, a crutch-like object leaned on the table next to her seat. Besides her, Hikari had clearly been showering her with concern. As strict as she may be with troublemakers like me and Touji, she was actually quite caring when any of our classmates were in real trouble.
When she saw Misato enter, she immediately took it upon herself to explain the situation: “It seems like Suzunami sprained her ankle…”
“But she was looking fine this morning…” mused Misato.
Kotone looked very, very sheepish. “I was kinda… trying to finish the dance video I was gonna do… I didn’t have time recently ‘cause I had to practice for the play, and I didn’t want to disappoint my followers, so I kinda sorta may have skipped my warm-ups, so that I could shoot the footage I still needed before I had to come back here…”
“That’s not good! It’s nice that you’re so passionate about your hobby, but you have got to be careful with you body, you have only one of those after all.”
“I’m really sorry, Misato-sensei… And everyone else...”
Asuka was trying to look mad, but I think even she couldn’t be too hard on Kotone when she was looking like such a miserable little heap. “Geez! If you didn’t have the time to do such a big role, why didn’t you say so?”
“I didn’t want to disappoint you either, Soryu-san. You were so passionate about the play, and I thought that was really admirable! It’s like your passion made us all get excited too!
...though maybe I got a little bit too excited… hehehe…”
Kotone, if you read this, I would like to assure you that your pain was not, in fact, funny.

But one way our another, the rest of our class was left with a considerable conundrum.
Scratching her skin, Misato was the first who dared to voice it: “This is bad. It’ll be hard to do ‘The Bamboo Cutter’s Tale’ without our Moon Princess.”
Now that denial was no longer an option, Asuka could no longer delay her groan of frustration. “After all! I ! Did! To make sure this performance would be flawless…”
Kotone flinched at this – good thing Hikari was right there to comfort her. At least someone had their priorities straight.
“Don’t take it personally, she’s not mad at you. It’s not your fault, either. Just a very unfortunate accident…”

After taking a long glance at us, Misato exhaled with a sigh. She didn’t look too thrilled, but this was clearly not the first time she’d handles some unforseen development in her line of work. “If it was anyone else we might just have cut the scene, but with our heroine gone, we might as well cut the entire play… I’ll talk to the higher ups and see if we can get the performance delayed… Can you all phone your parents?”

But faced with the risk of seeing her grand vision up in flames, Asuka should prove to us the truth of the adage that need was the mother of ingenuity. A delay, should it happen, was sure to be especially costly to her in particular – because, maybe Kyoko Soryu could have cleared a day in her busy schedule once, but that she’d manage it twice in short succession was infinitely less probable – and who knows just how long Kotone’s foot might need to heal.
Since she was young and healthy, she was actually back to walking within the week, but we had no way to know that back then. Thus, Asuka had to think fast, and hard, before the choice would have been taken out of her hands.
Did I mention she was really good at quick thinking and action in unforeseen circumstances? In days to come, it would probably prove to be her most valuable strength. If it were me, I would only have panicked, and the more important the decision was, the more panicked I would have been.
Asuka, however, pulled her face into a wide, wide smirk when she realized that she now had a chance to save the day. “Not so quick!”
Even Misato was surprised for a bit.
“Please wait, sensei! I believe we can still pull this off!”
She whirled around to where Rei had been standing.
“You there! You proof-read our script, didn’t you? And you’ve been paying attention during practice like a nice little honor student, haven’t you?”
“Then it’s fine!” She grabbed a copy of the script from one of the desks and got straight down to business, underlining large blocks of texts with a ‘borrowed’ a bright text marker from some neighboring desk.
Like many of my classmates, I was still very confused, but Misato seemed to have caught her drift: “Nice going, Asuka! Good thinking!”

Within moments, I found myself with the horse head mask in my hands, while Rei got the screenplay booklet thrown her way. “You! You’ve got to say everything that I’ve underlined here, gotit? You got one hour!”
“But… I…”
“Shinji, you take over the horse! You just have to stand there, got it? You can do that much at least!”
“Huh?! Wait, what?”
“But I’m the horse.”
All this seemed to have gone a wee bit too fast for Rei. Was it just me, or did she actually sound disappointed?
“Quit complaining! One must always be prepared for unforeseen circumstances! What if we encountered an enemy with unpredictable abilities, huh? What then! Would you just sit around and wait? Accidents can happen during mission, too, you know? Have you ever considered that?! If you’re not ready to deal with the unexpected, how in the world do you expect to win?!”
“Now hold on a minute, Asuka! You can’t possibly expect Rei to memorize all these lines in just an hour! You’re talking like this seventh grade school play is some sort of life or death issue...”
“No. It’s fine.” Rei’s voice was so quiet that I had to strain to hear her, especially when contrasted to Asuka’s decibel-rich outburst. “She is correct.”
Let it not be said that Rei couldn’t take constructive criticism.
There was nothing more I could say to this.
“See, baka Shinji? Even Miss Honor student gets it! So get ready! As long as I am directing this play, half-assed results will not be tolerated!”
Thus spake Ultra Director Soryu.
Not even Touji was brave (or foolish) enough to contradict her.
Misato-sensei, who should in theory have had a duty of care towards us, appeared to find the whole thing plenty hilarious.
When the Great Director moved on to pester Kaworu into getting changed, Kensuke addressed me with a furtive whisper. “What’s all this talk about ‘mission’ or ‘enemies’?”
“That’s just Asuka being Asuka. She really exaggerates when she gets fired up about something…”
That’s what I thought. That’s what everyone would think, right? Who in their right mind would think that a twelve year old is talking about literal war!
Rei had opened the screenplay which Asuka had so generously ‘annotated’.
“So, this is also part of my mission?”
“That’s right! No matter what sort of accident might befall us, we’ll never leave any sign of failure, will we?”
“Understood. Failure is not an option.”
Dear gods, she looked dead serious. Don’t do it Rei, it’s a trap…
It was probably too late to warn her though, she’d closed the book and was about to retreat to some corner where she might read it through again and presumably spend the remaining hour staring at the letters very hard.

Except that she paused in her step when she passed me, and amid the commotion and Asuka’s hands-on adjustments to Kaworu’s costume, paused to look at me with a dreamy look in her eyes and spoke with a sincere, reluctant voice. “When we have completed this mission… there is a certain matter I wish to discuss with you…”
She couldn’t mean… she couldn’t possibly… could this be my lucky day…?!

“Oi, Baka Shinji! What are you standing there so spaced out for?! Get to work!”
Geez. I wish Asuka would think about my wants and needs, you know, just once in a while, even just for a change. They might not be as fancy as hers, but that doesn’t mean they’re unimportant. And if they’re that much easier to grant, shouldn’t my wishes be that much more likely to come true? It’s not like I ever wanted anything extraordinary or ridiculous. If I could have lived a reasonably happy quiet life… boy, you would not have seen me complaining.

So while I discreetly picked up a screenplay since I didn’t exactly remember which scenes were supposed to have the horse in it, the percentage of costumed students around me steadily increased. I think Touji was supposed to be one of the suitors, and Hikari would be the heroine’s caring old mother. Mana was in charge of costume and makeup, presently in the process of putting some lipstick on Rei. Rei never wore any so if she’d done it herself the result would probably have looked like a gradeschooler playing dress-up… Actually, even with the aid of Mana’s 1337 makeup sk!illz it still kinda looked like that. You’d have thought that Rei’s fair complexion would go well with that old-fashioned princessy look but she lacked the dark hair to give the whole thing contrast. The bright color just kind of made her look like an alien without eyebrows. Though to be fair, I doubted that Mana’s teen magazine of choice ever covered what sort of lipstick goes well with blue hair. There’s a chance that Kotone might have been of help, given that she loved to dye her own hair outlandish colors and loved to get all dolled up for those videos of hers, but her being out of commission was what got us into this situation to begin with.

I was honestly a little worried. I hate so say it, but Asuka might not have been unwise in assigning Rei a smaller role. It seems like she was counting on Rei not to complain which is honestly rather mean, but she wasn’t exactly the most expressive person in our class… I hoped she’d be okay…
I suppose that eventually, she must have been peeled from her corner – perhaps by Asuka or Misato-sensei – and ushered towards the supply closet that was currently serving as a makeshift changing room so that she could be draped in all her princess robes.

When she emerged, there was no small number of surprised gasps.
“Wow! You look really pretty, Ayanami-san!” - that was Hikari. She wasn’t just trying to be encouraging. It seems that many of my male classmates shared that impression, Kensuke included.
Now, this might be starting to look like that cliched moment in your typical homeroom drama musical where the hero erupts into flowery gushing the moment his lady friend gets a makeover, but honestly?
I was the least surprised person in this room.
What I saw before me was just plain old Rei like I saw her every day, plus some bright period costume that wasn’t even that good quality. Those clothes weren’t even her style, and she seemed perfectly indifferent to all of the responses, not even embarrassed or annoyed.
If anything it was a sobering reminder of how many of my classmates were just so used to seeing her as ‘the weird kid’ that they didn’t even notice she was a girl, if they took note of her at all. And Rei herself didn’t seem to be much intent on changing that either.
If they were looking now, then, well, maybe she figured that ‘this too shall pass’.
She might not have drawn attention to it with fashionable clothes or careful styling and she was probably easily overshadowed by the commercial grade looks of Asuka or Kotone, but sure, she was nice to look at. That was maybe fifth on my list of the things I liked about that.
I just hoped that they wouldn’t embarrass her. Even Misato-sensei seemed intent on teasing poor Rei, but she wasn’t getting much of a response out of her. It was hard to guess what she thought.

Maybe she was considering little else but how to perform her role faithfully, just like it was expected of her… nothing more, nothing less.
She was radiant on that stage, like she wasn’t thinking of anything else but the role.
Her rendition of the part was probably not remotely what Kotone had in mind, but neither did she just stand there and bluntly recite her lines – she brought an almost fanatical sort of fervor to it, an otherworldly quality that wasn’t entirely wrong for the role.

She stood on the stage with her arms stretched out to the sky. “I remember it now – my past, my true past. How I came to this world from the homes of the immortal race on the moon. How I was sent to this star as punishment, so that I might experience human attachment, and the pain of losing it all in the end…”
“Is that the reason why you couldn’t return my feelings? Because you knew that it would only lead to our parting?” acting opposite her was Kaworu, dressed in his own set of fancy robes. There could be no doubt about his performance. He was the very image of a melancholy hero.
This was of course the part where the princess said nothing, just as I had suggested to Asuka.
“Lady, if you do not wish to leave, I can help you. Am I not the Emperor of this great wide land? I will set a guard on you-”

As I mercifully remembered, this scene did not call for any equine involvement, so I was backstage, trying hard not to peer at the crowd through some gap in the curtain. We’d all get to see the audience when it was time for everyone from the cast and crew to come on stage and bow in the end, and one way or another, I was positive that my parents wouldn’t be there.
So I wasn’t going to look, because I nominally wasn’t expecting anything…
Except that Asuka was standing not far from me, not slowed by any such compunctions. She peered in through a variety of angles and position, and at last, a great wide grin came to her face.
Without really thinking about it, random curiosity had led me to follow her line of sight, all the way to a very recognizable head of golden locks atop a familiar face, decorated with a mildly wrinklier mirror image of Asuka’s own grin.
Ms. Soryu had actually come!
That’s great for Asuka, I thought fondly.
Except that I couldn’t miss the broad, masculine silhouette in the next seat, not the familiar head of hair on the woman besides him.
Ms. Soryu and my parents were all in their work clothes – father in his black uniform, and our moms in their labcoats. Clearly they must have come here straight from the lab, so that they wouldn’t have to sacrifice more time than strictly necessary… but they had made the time.
For all my efforts not to expect it, I could not hold back warm, light feeling flooding my chest when it actually happened against all odds.
When the play was over, they made sure to clap, wave and cheer in the most embarrassing manner possible when it was our turn to come on stage. It was impossible to miss that they were waving to us in particular. Yet for once, Asuka wasn’t embarrassed at the public maternal affection; She was practically basking in Ms. Soryu’s place like a lizard warming itself in the rays of the sun, and I can’t say that I was much different. They also cheered for Rei and to a lesser extent Kaworu, whom they probably knew from the lab.
Ms. Soryu wouldn’t stop bragging to the other parents once they moved on to coffee and cake, especially once she learned how her daughter’s initiative had basically saved the play.
To my mortification, mother didn’t spare any mentions about how I had helped with the script. There was no doubt in the minds of the two that the success of the play was all thanks to the cooperation of their brilliant children.
My father was a bit more laconic: “Well done, Shinji.”

No Nagisas or Ayanamis of any sort ever showed up.
But though they had no parents to shower them with praise, they were soon surrounded by almost every younger sibling that had been brought along – the little sisters, in particular, were evidently charmed by their performance. Their eyes turned to big hearts when they flocked to Kaworu and filled with stars once they spotted Rei – princesses are popular with kids, I guess.
“You looked so~~ magical. Like a real Moon Princess would look!” raved little Sakura.
Nozomi nodded in excited assent: “Your robe was so pretty, too!”
“Our classmate Yamagishi was in charge of the costumes.”
“Wooow, really?”
“She’s over there.”
Mayumi was very much not prepared for those five minutes of fame, but since it was impressionable, pure-hearted little kids, there was little that could go wrong.
Though halting and stuttering here and there, she explained her thought process behind the costumes like, what kinds of ideas she wanted to communicate, or what sort of historical costumes she had used as inspiration. Fortunately, Mayumi had read a lot of historical fiction and really knew her period dress.
The little girls ate it all up. When the eldest Horaki sister came to collect Nozomi and make sure she wasn’t getting on anyone’s nerves, Mayumi assured her that she was no bother and continued talking about Pretty Princess Kimonos, which even Kodama seemed to find interesting.

Bold as ever, Mana had taken this chance to introduce herself to my mother, introduce my parents to her own mom and built a lively rapport. As far as Asuka was concerned, this could only be some nefarious plot to inherit my parents’ wealth. Sigh. I guess she worries about me in her own way… though she seemed to forget all about me with remarkable speed once she showed Mr. Kaji in the crowd. Granted, part of the appeal might have come from his camera. She really wanted him to photograph the ‘brilliant mastermind’ behind this stage play.
Really, if she just wanted photos of herself, she could just have asked Kensuke.

I did catch a glipmse of Kotone’s guardian: An elegant woman with long, ashen hair who was much too young to be her mother. My eye was caught by the noticeable hairpieces and bracelets; I guess Kotone wasn’t just gushing when she said she was stylish. I’m sure I saw them laughing together, which was a relief – Seems like that lady had been able to distract her from the disappointment of being unable to perform.

The whole auditorium filled with laughter and joy. It was a happy moment… and a memorable one, especially since we wouldn’t be afforded many more like it.

...what? You’re waiting to know what Rei wanted to talk to me about after the play was over?
Oh right, that… well, that didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. If it had, it would definitely have been worth mentioning.
Sheesh. Okay, if you insist, it went about like this.
“Ikari-kun, I-”
“I feel the same!”
I had my eyes closed and I must have waved my arms like a headless chicken. It cost me a ridiculous, undignified effort just to say that one sentence.
“Really? You also like this?”
Then I knew my own wretchedness. Or at least, I realized that I had been so out of it that I missed the elephant in the room… or rather, the stuffed horse head, which she was somehow holding.
Yet somehow, this would not be the most embarrassing moment of my life.
“Ah… I… I mean I don’t not like it, but I don’t really love it either… hehehe…”
“Is that so, might I have it then?”
“I wouldn’t mind I you took it, but it’s not really mine…”
This is when Misato revealed herself through her perfidious snickering. She was suddenly behind us, like a friggin’ ninja.
“It’s fine, do as you please! It’s not like we really have a use for it anymore.”
“Thanks Ma’am.”
And with that, she was off. Horse head in hand.
This would have been bad enough without a giggling Misato commenting on my misery with utter nonchalance like the comedic narrator voice in a cartoon. “Gee, I wonder what she wants with that… then again, she’s always been a strange one. In a way, it’s kinda relieving to see that she has silly foibles too. It just makes her the same as every other kid.”
I guess so.
“But, Ikari-kun, you do seem just a teetsy bit disappointed. Could it be that you were expecting just a little something different?”
“Aw come on…”
“You’re even blushing~”
“Stop teasing me…”
“But I looooove teasing you, you always take it so seriously~”
“Aren’t you supposed to be the adult supervising us? You know, if you don’t act more serious you might have a hard time finding a new boyfriend.”
“What did you say?!”
Okay, that may have been a little mean. But at worst, I sunk to her level. She can’t expect to act all buddy-buddy with us and then switch back into full authority figure mode whenever it’s convenient… actually, when you put it like that that sounds like I want to be bossed around by mean teachers. You know what, maybe I was needlessly mean. Just ‘cause she’s a grownup that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have any feelings. I guess her teasing did hit a nerve. It’s no use denying it now…
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Mon Feb 22, 2021 10:04 pm

The Law Part II  SPOILER: Show
(1.8: Recollections from a Faustian Videotape)

Another thing I remember clearly fro back then are some of our literature club meetings. With Kaworu-kun in our ranks, the discussions got a lot more lively. From the fact that each weekday appears four our five times per month, I know that we must have had about as many club sessions, but there’s only one or two that I really remember.

September 10th 2014

T minus 481 days

MAYUMI Y.: “So? What did you think? Did you cry? You totally cried, right? I’m a bit sorry for inflicting this on you guys, it’s probably the saddest book I’ve ever read, but, I really wanted someone to discuss it with…”
(One could tell that she was now a whole lot more at ease around the other club members than she had had been at the start of the school year. There’s no way that she would have been outright gushing back then, she’d have been way too self-conscious)
MYSELF: “I honestly don’t know… From how you described it, I expected that it would be a pretty emotional book, but the vibe I got from it is really more intellectual, like it wants to have a theoretical argument about art with me. I’m not saying that it didn’t like it! It’s clearly a good book, as far as the craftsmanship of it goes, it’s well thought-out, the man knew what he’s doing, and I get that it’s important to appreciate that, even if I don’t agree with all of his points. I don’t think I do. I mean all of this ‘death of the author’ stuff sounds really witty and clever and sounded really impressive when I first heard it, but when I see how that argument is used in practice, I can’t really make peace with it… as I see it, art is ultimately a form of communication. People are putting out what is in their hearts where all the world can spit on it. It’s true that with any conversation, you might not realize how you’re influenced by your circumstances, you might change your mind, and you might not have everything planned out – but this doesn’t take into account that people have different styles. Some plan everything in advance – others just start and let it be what it will be. You might even chose to leave something up to the imagination. But even that is a choice. When people do choose that, they usually refuse to give any answers. Usually when people invoke the argument of it being up to their own imaginations, what they’re really doing is not wanting to admit that they guessed wrong. The artists is talking to them, and they’re just putting their fingers in their ears going ‘lalala’. That’s just rude – and cruel. It’s the sort of thing that would make someone wonder what even the point is of saying anything if even the words dearest to your heart are just going to be twisted…”
MAYUMI Y.: “I don’t think that’s what Mr. Greene meant… I think his view was more of art as something that you can participate in. He’s saying that the ideas and feelings we had while reading the story are no less precious than his – I think that’s pretty humble of him. You might even say that it’s a bit closer to our ideas of art than what they typically have in the West, where it’s seen as this lasting, absolute, eternal thing, rather than the transient beauty of the moment – like the idea that art is like a firework, only really ‘finished’ when it shines up in the sky and people can see it...”
MYSELF: (a bit defensive) “I don’t mean to say that people’s own, different interpretations aren’t valuable, or that you always have to agree with the author! But you can have your own alternate universe idea and still acknowledge that what the author intended was something different. But if you’re saying that the only meaning that ‘counts’ is the one that’s spelled out loud and clear in the work itself, that just means that you can’t ‘hint’ anymore. You can’t leave the answer for people to find because if they don’t find it right away it doesn’t count. That would just lead to stories where the meaning and the moral have to be spoon-fed and spelled out for fear that people will just refuse to see it…”
KAWORU N.: “Does it frighten you? The idea of going unheard, being misunderstood?”
MYSELF: “Maybe…”
(I only really noticed that I had worked myself into a frenzy when Kaworu pointed that out.)
KAWORU N.: “In the end, isn’t that what the book is really about? The fear of meaninglessness? ‘Oblivion’ as Mr. Waters puts it?”
MYSELF: “I guess if you want to be lectured about how you’re stupid for having it. I’ve read books where you’re supposed to read your own things into it, and this one isn’t it. I’d say the ironic thing about it is, that it’s actually very opinionated. On his blog he repeats and repeats how it’s ‘all up to us’ but it’s actually very clear what his thoughts and intentions were. You know when I first read it, I kind of read Hazel as a very bitter person, full of resentment at her unfair situation. I focused on how she snaps and writes than angry comment on her boyfriend’s memorial page, how she seems to resent that she’s being made to go on living her painful life basically for her mother’s amusement when she just wants to be let go, that that popular girl she’s friends with was supposed to be grating. Then there was that question on the block from someone who probably had that same perception, asking why the two of them would be friends, and then Mr. Greene went on about how popular girls aren’t immediately bitchy and how she was supposed to have her own wisdom and show how much Hazel had isolated herself because of her illness. In many of his comments it comes out that his central idea behind Hazel is actually that she’s supposed to be this embodiment of empathy & consideration, and that the moments I’d focused on were supposed to be the exceptions, instants where even the most central parts of her start crumbling because of her grief…”
Rei A: “You’ve got it all wrong. You misunderstood from the beginning. You assumed that others would feel and act just as you would.”
(It wasn’t an accusation at all – a somber, even sympathetic observation. Still it made me feel a bit bad for going on and dissing a character that I think she had understood right away. Maybe you could compare it to the moment where Hazel realized that van Houten’s book mattered to her boyfriend independently of it being her favorite. Maybe she liked Hazel or related to her. They were both vegetarians, had intellectual interests, and struggling with some sort of illness – but if she did, she kept her thoughts about that to herself. Still, it was precisely because she just noted instead of accusing that I could not deny her point in some defensive reaction.)
MYSELF: “Pretty much, yeah. I guess that I would have been very bitter, if I was in that situation. But if I hadn’t acknowledged that, and instead gone looking for clues for how her character is actually supposed to be the opposite, I wouldn’t have learned that about myself. And I wouldn’t have any chance of ‘getting’ the actual book, whether I would agree with it or not, because this whole contrast between ‘treading softly’ and wanting to leave a mark is so central to it. It’s pretty clear who’s supposed to be right and who’s wrong, and what Mr. Greene thinks, you know this whole idea that we’re all just going to have a negative impact, if any at all, and the best we can do is just to get out of each other’s way…”
KAWORU N.: “It reminds me of the philosophy of Albert Schweitzer. It#s probably to do with the author’s religion, too.”
MYSELF: “Well I’m sure some smart philosophers have thought that, and I’m sure Mr. Greene just wants us all to be mindful about the environment, but it just seems like a pointlessly harsh way to think of good and bad. I’m all for protecting the environment, but why should we define that in such a way that we’re all guilty by default? It’s not our fault that we need to eat, and be warm, and it’s not bad if you don’t want to be lonely. Who would even ask it of anyone to give up everything, leave everything, take only as little as they can stand without dying? Everyone could tell that that would be cruel...”
(I had this very strong and urgent feeling, but at the time I didn’t have the words to really articulate it – maybe I lacked the maturity. I felt like if I kept going I would just end up arguing from my feelings like, ‘it makes me feel bad so it is bad’ and even I knew that that’s no argument. I might have been thirteen but I wasn’t seven.)
(But then Kaworu spoke:)
KAWORU N.: “It really bothers you, doesn’t it? The fear that you can’t exists without hurting others in some way…”
(That wasn’t just an observation about me – there was that distant look in his eyes…)
KAWORU N.: “I must say that I felt a lot of sympathy for Mr. Waters. It is essentially as you said that the narrative very clearly considers him to be wrong, if understandable. He’s portrayed as, misguided, with the human weakness apparent in his trying too hard and the errors he makes when using big words as his saving grace – and it’s not like I don’t get the idea of such weakness as something attractive, how we err often betrays what we fear or don’t want to go wrong. I would agree with that thought – if the narrative was wholly without sympathy, he’d hardly be the love interest. I can understand this urgent grasping for meaning and connection within the very narrow constraints of his life. I see also why it might be considered a betrayal that he didn’t disclose the full extent of his condition. But I don’t think it is selfish at all that he tried to forge a bond though the time left to him was short – I think it was brave, at least, I have to hope it is. It’s not like any human life is really long in the large scale of things.”

(Yeah, Kaworu might have joined the club for an excuse to talk to Rei, but that’s not why he stayed. )
KAWORU N.: “It’s just endlessly fascinating to me how one and the same text can provoke such different responses depending who reads it! The human heart is such a paradoxical, intriguing thing!”
(He was having clearly having the time of his life.)

September 17th 2014

T minus 474 days

MYSELF: “’The Silmarillion’, huh? What’s it about?”
Rei A.: “The paradise at the beginning of the world, and how it was destroyed. Those exiled on it make endless, bitter war on the Dark God that ravaged their Peace, though they knew all along that it was futile to begin with.”
(We didn’t know it, but we were about to enter an endless, futile battle outselves, ensnared in our very own doom… well, I didn’t know. Rei most certainly did, and bore the burden of knowing all along.)
MAYUMI Y.: “That’s an… interesting way to put it. I think I would have started with the setting or, with the individual stories, or some of the characters… my favorite is probably Finrod. He’s so thought-through and yet caring, and loyal too the end… its a pity that such loyal people aren’t really around in real life…”
(Her voice trailed off a bit at that last bit.)
MAYUMI Y.: “Who’s your favorite?”
Rei A.: “Maedhros and Maglor.”
MAYUMI Y.: “Really? I have to say the first time I read it I didn’t really like them very much, it was like every time anyone got a little bit of happyness those two and their brothers came and took it all away. Though I guess their story is a sad one in the end… they’re not good, but they’re not completely evil either. I guess they did all those bad things out of loyalty to their father, and it is kind of impressive how Maedhros surrendered the crown and then took the most dangerous territory on purpose… Uh, what about you, Nagisa-kun?”
KAWORU N.: “Melian, perhaps?”
MAYUMI Y.: “Melian, huh? I suppose that makes sense. She’s powerful, and wise, and kind of cool… I bet the book would only be half as long if only people listened to her more.”
KAWORU N.: “But could they? Her loved ones were all different sorts of beings, after all. I think it’s really a tragedy that they couldn’t understand each other. She must have loved her husband very much, but she might not have really been able to grasp his drives and weaknesses. Both are clearly mourning the parting from their daughter, but from that point onward, they’re very out of sync... The one comfort is that at least her daughter appears to have been more fortunate… that was really beautiful, how she gave up her immortality to be with her human lover…”
MAYUMI Y.: “You’re such a romantic, Nagisa-kun~ It’s a pretty story, but they’re almost the only ones in the book who get a happy ending so, I wasn’t really left wanting more from them, if that makes sense…”
KAWORU N.: “Beren and Luthien became happy because happiness was their prime goal. The others all had things that they valued higher.”
MAYUMI Y.: “They shouldn’t all have been so obsessed with shiny rocks, I suppose…”
(Mayumi smiled a little. Kaworu shook his head though. )
KAWORU N.: “Not quite. There are other things that are valuable. Ideals. Feelings. Isn’t that why Finrod kept fighting, because he felt it was right, though he had foreseen the end? I do like how the story has sympathy for both those who go out in a blaze of glory, but doesn’t ever undervalue those who just want to live quietly in peace and happiness.”
MAYUMI Y.: “...that’s right…”

(This is when I started to feel a little bit left out.)
MYSELF: “I’m sorry that I really couldn’t get through it. Or ‘Lord of the Rings’…”
MAYUMI Y.: “Well, they ARE a very thick books… maybe you could try it again in some while, when you’ve got a little bit more experience at reading...”
MYSELF: “I did like ‘the Hobbit’ though! It has this nice cozy, whimsical feeling?”
MAYUMI Y.: “I love the Hobbits! Bilbo is kind of a very relatable hero…”
MYSELF: “I tried this one, since I heard that the writing style was a bit simpler…”
(Slowly, I retrieved our copy of ‘The Children of Hurin’. I was supposed to give it back anyways.)
MAYUMI Y.: “Oh… that one is a bit…”
MYSELF: “...Yeah. You know I remember thinking that the only way the protaginst’s life could be worse was if some greek tragedy stuff happens, but when Nienor actually showed up, I was relieved for a moment, happy that she was safe and had finally found her brother… but of course she doesn’t even know who he is so of course they end up getting married, because heaven forbid that Turin should ever catch a break… All all of this just ‘cause his father had to go pick a fight with an Evil God, it’s really not fair…”
At least Hurin was a widely respected, unambiguous hero though, unlike my parents…

Mid-September is also when Nene first started holding those get-togethers of hers.
If I didn’t mention her before, that would be because she didn’t really catch my attention before this point even though we were in the same class all along.
With me asking you to have compassion for some forgotten hard-to-understand people, you might get the impression that I was somehow some sort of open-minded champion of the downtrodden. I really really wasn’t; My words about Rei and Kaworu, for example, are just my attempt to atone for the things I did wrong… as little as it means now, when I didn’t say them back when my friends could have heard me.
So yeah. During my first trimester at Tokyo-3 municipal high school, the presence of Matsukaze Nene was not one that I particularly took notice off. If this were an anime, she’d be just another generic classmate in the background that the artist hardly bothers to draw with any proper detail. I’m not sure I could have told you her first name back then. I was dimly aware of rumors which I didn’t pay much heed, if only because I wasn’t really interested into getting on somebody’s case. I didn’t like the idea of me or my friends being talked of in that way, but it’s not like I showed much interest in her either.
I had seen her at least – she was reasonably good-looking, but there were some things about her that might have been considered a little off-putting. She would often carry a stuffed animal or a doll, which wouldn’t have been out of place last year when we were all in grade school; The teacher never told her off since we were all basically babies to them, but she was just old enough that it might start to be considered unusual. You could say that she looked a bit like a doll herself, with her spindly thin arms, glossy black eyes and shiny, curly hair that was such an intense shade of chestnut that it could almost appear reddish in the right light. With that white headband she would wear, you might almost have confused her with Alice in wonderland.
In any case, she sure wasn’t hurting anyone. Some of the girls in our class had brought plushies to important exams – you even heard of college students doing it. Besides, she might have some condition that makes her need some extra comfort. So I don’t see why it mattered, but for the duration of the first trimester, it doesn’t seem to have made her very popular.

It was only in the second term that she started handing out these hand-drawn flyers advertising a ‘Tea Party With Friends’. Apparently, that meant that she was going to bring her dolls, and childish little girl tea services and all that. If she had been just a little younger, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone, but…
“That’s a kind of childish hobby for a girl our age, isn’t it?”
Thankfully, the class representative was ready to enlighten me.
“It’s not too different from what they do in subculture cafes and the like – Because usually girls are expected to be mature and elegant, sticking with childish things on purpose can actually be a kind of rebellion. It’s not really what I would do, but I like how it’s a positive and optimistic kind of ‘rebellion’.”
You might think that this is just another effort that Hikari is making in her role as class representative, but I thought she looked genuinely intrigued.
“Ah. So I guess it’s more of a girl’s hobby.”
“Well, most of the people who seem interested a girls, but there’s some boys, too.”
“What, really?!” Touji and Kensuke looked on in disbelief.
“I don’t know man.”
Asuka wasn’t too convinced either: “I think that’s just creepy if you ask me.”
“But it might help Matsukatse make some friends…”
“I don’t see how having people drink her tea and then turn around and laugh at her is the same as having friends. And even if she did meet someone who actually likes playing with dolls, it would be wayy too pathetic.”
Don’t you still have your childhood dolls in your room, Asuka?
I suppose she would have said more harsh things if it weren’t for the danger of Hikari or Marie remembering that.
I didn’t want to anger Asuka or sound like I was judging Nene, so I was scrambling for something to say. “What do you think, Rei?”
“I have no opinion.”
Somehow, Asuka considered this an affront. “Oh come on, you must think something! Why do people in this country always beat around the bush…”
“I don’t have enough information. If you make a judgment without sound understanding, you are vulnerable to just confirm your biases, so, I can’t.”
“You think you’re smarter than us or what?!”
Thankfully, the impending danger was sensed by someone more helpful than I (Hikari) who valiantly did her best to defuse any further arguments. “Uh, why don’t we all just return to our seats? Class is about to start...”

But even when it did start, the thought was no easy to shake off.
“I sure hope Matsukaze is able to make friends…”
I was just vaguely musing into the ether here – though Rei was nearby, I wasn’t actually expecting her to reply.
“Is it so important to have friends?”
Considering who’s asking, it might be important how I phrase this...
“It is, if you want them… I would be feeling pretty awful if I didn’t have any friends, and I think Matsukaze would, too – that’s why she’s going through all this effort...”
“I see.” she concluded, shifting her attention back to the clouds beyond the window.

The truth is that I felt like I had to go to at least one of Nene’s get-togethers.
That’s because when she was handing out her flyers, she came to talk to me, too.
She was just explaining how much she’d love to have me show up.
“You know, when I came to this city, I was hoping that I might make lots of new friends here, but so far that didn’t really work out… so I remembered how I used to hold these little parties with my old friends at the orphanage-”
I presume that she must have been significantly younger then, so that no one thought twice about the dolls. Today she was carrying a cheap stuffed bear, holding it ever closer whenever she mentioned her past misfortunes, so that I couldn’t really ignore it. I didn’t mean to stare, but-
“Oh, are you looking at Mister Sandy? He’s my friend.”
I assumed that a friendly chuckle would be the correct response to this, but apparently I thought wrong.
“That’s how it always goes! Everyone just laughs at me, and I never make any friends… I’ll probably never have any...”
“I could be your friend!” I blurted, without any thought to the consequences or the responsibility contained therein. I just wanted to say the right thing, the correct, unoffensive thing that would stop her getting upset.
And of course, her face lit up like she thought me completely sincere.
“Really really? know, when I was left at the orphanage, I had a little stuffed rabbit with me. Maybe from my parents, or the social workers. I was always talking to it, because I had no one else. Then, one day, a careless boy got it lost. After that, I just couldn’t stop crying no matter what… until the director of the facility gave me Mister Sandy. She said that he had a good heart, and that if I told him my worries, he would listen… eventually, through playing with dolls together, I was able to make friends with some of the other children… I had to leave them all behind when I came to this town, but, as long as I have him with me, I won’t really be alone, and I’ll be able to find new friends… I hope…”
“Sure you will!” I answered meekly, but I can’t say that I wasn’t the slightest bit uncomfortable.
Was she telling this to everyone she invited?
She might as well paint a target on her chest to tell every bully in the vicinity that she’s easy pickings. Not like Misato-sensei or Hikari would ever have tolerated any sustained maltreatment under their watch…
I guess as someone who always took care to come off as unobtrusive and inoffensive at possible, even at the cost of what Asuka would call ‘dull’ or ‘bland’, I felt the urge to cringe in second-hand embarrassment, and I wanted it to stop… at the same time, I felt ashamed of that. You shouldn’t have to put on a fake mask and pretend like your bad experiences never happened, since they’re the only past you have. I shouldn’t want her out of my sights because I was embarrassed.
At the same time, it’s not like she was explicitly choosing to defy convention out of deliberate choice, the way Mari might have. She was too childlike, too innocent to even understand why others were rejecting her, let alone to exercise the self-control to stop that…

“Looks like there’s a reason that she doesn’t have any friends.” was what Asuka thought of the matter. If Nene even dared to try give her an invitation, I don’t doubt that she chased her off with some sarcastic remark that went wide over her head.
But I felt that Asuka was confusing cause and effect. There’s no way that anyone would be unaffected from growing up as a lonely orphan. At least Kotone had that guardian of hers; She did well at her hobby and was reasonably popular.
It’s not like Nene had ideal circumstances to grow wise and mature.
After what I said, I was as good as honor bound to show up.
“What are you, stupid? Why would you do that? You got some weird fetish or what?”
At that point I didn’t know what a fetish even is. I’d like to know where Asuka even heard that world. But I could kind of figure that it was probably something dirty.
“I only want her to find friends, you know, friendship? Ever heard of that?”
“As if! Boys like you only ever have dirty intentions.”
Now you’re just putting people into boxes...”
It did not occur to me yet to question where that attitude might be coming from.
Clearly it wasn’t true; There were plenty of guys and girls who were just friends. At most I thought that since she was so good looking and in these parts considered somewhat exotic, she must have gotten unwanted attention from jerks who only pretended to befriend her to later pester her with unwanted advances. Now I think that maybe her father ight have introduced her stepmother as ‘just a friend’ so as to not to explain their relationship to a child, until she was suddenly wearing a ring and moving into their house.

September 15th 2014

T minus 472 days

The Doll Party itself was actually not so bad. Like Hikari said, plenty of girls were interested in outing with cutesy aesthetics. It was actually kind of nice in the end.
Hikari herself just turned up in her school uniform, as did I, but some of the girls even brought a change of clothes to go with the theme. Kotone showed up in full Decora gear, with loads of floral hairclips and those little girl plastic bead bracelets. Mana didn’t go that far, but she did wear a light white sundress.
This was actually before the weather turned cold… and before that mishap with Kotone’s ankle, for that matter. Otherwise she would’ve had a hard time climbing the stairs to the school roof.
Hikari brought homemade cake, Kotone even found some novelty tear that changes color when you add lemon to it and Mana showed up with some Alice-in-Wonderland themed sweets. They even brought some stuffed animals of their own, except for Hikari, who had none, because they had all long since been gifted to Little Nozomi – she did bring her very cutest lunchboxed to transport the cake though.
I was probably a wee bit out of place among all the pink, but silliness aside there was a whole lot of pleasant conversation. I think in particular, Kotone and Nene bonded over their similar circumstances. Mana just liked being silly, and Hikari was, of course, having a fiel day as the designated Mom Friend, but those boyes she brought do not look like the possessions of someone who has completely grown out of all things fluffy and pink. Maybe she liked having the implicit permission to be silly when she usually had to be a good example for either her younger sister or the rest of our class.
We even got a surprise visitor.
No really.
Mari showed up out of the blue, with frilly, Victorian-England looking clothes and a parasol.
“Hello hello, what have we here~”
“Aren’t you the trespasser…?” Hikari felt like she ought to snap back into full Authority Figure Mode, but didn’t really wanna.
“Trespasser? Who, me? I’m only a lover of tea~ And look, I didn’t come empty-handed. In the faraway land of Europe, is is tradition to bring a gift when you go visit someone~”
She was, in fact, carrying a bag, and wasted no time in placing it’s contents onto the table. There was a tin box of novelty sweets which she promptly opened and dumped straight into one of Nene’s decorative candy jars, something called ‘fudge’ which I had never seen before but can only recommend (an idiosyncratic flavor featuring a mix of mint, licorice and salted caramel) and a bag of Earl Gray Tea. “This one’s my very favorite, that’s why I always take some with me when I travel out of the country… though when you think of it, this was probably grown somewhere in India or China, so bringing it here with me is kind of like making it do a big unnecessary detour…”
That’s Mari for you.
But given that there were currently six stuffed animals sitting at the table with us each of them with their tiny miniature toy mugs, calling her weird would have been a definite ‘Pot, Kettle, black’ situation.
So we told Mari to have a seat…
I think only Hikari and Kotone were even aware of any awkwardness (Mana never had much inhibitions to begin with), and they were committed to cover it up with friendly courtesy, and what remained of Hikari’s token responsible level of unease was quickly and strategically disarmed: “Don’t worry miss class rep, I’m defs supposed to be here of official business from Miss Ritsuko~”
“I guess it’s all right then…”
It helps that the British sweets she brought were really good.

Not long after that was the first time that Touji made some sort of remark like, “Man, you sure are popular these days~” Popular? Me?
...this might take some serious adjustment.
“Our Shin-chan must be a late bloomer~” was all my mother had to say on the matter. “You know, I always thought the world was kind of missing out on you. You’re such a gentle, thoughtful and well-bred young man, but since you were always curled up in your little snail house, no one ever knows~”
I still couldn’t shake the impression that this was just the same sort of contractually required lip-service that I’d received ever since she called my first crappy stick man drawings great works of art. “This can’t be right. I mean, I’m not really the sort of person who gets ‘popular…’”
Father’s voice cut straight to the chase. “You’re just not used to it, Shinji. Anything that is new is uncomfortable at first – it was no different when I first met your mother. Don’t let that hesitation hold you back.”
….thanks Dad.

September 22th 2014

T minus 477 days

And there’s one more thing. One more scene I can’t forget.
It’s not really an ‘event’ or any particularly noteworthy incident though, so I can’t really place when it might have taken place, only that it must definitely have been before the end of the month, an ordinary afternoon on which I was chatting with Asuka on the way from our classroom, so immersed in a topic that I cannot recall anymore, even though I was so distracted by it that I somehow failed to notice that our steps had not traced the usual path to the exit.
Only when the dark fell on my face did I narrow my eyes in suspicion.
“Wait a moment, Asuka, why are we going to the basement?”
This is when I learned that she’d been just as distracted as I was. It was plain on her face.
“Ah! I must’ve taken a wrong turn. That must be because you kept telling me all those stupid stories about your life.”
“That’s mean, Asuka.”
“Whatever! - Actually, can you go on without me? I remembered I’ve still got some errand to run.”
Maybe that alone would have tipped me off, even if it wasn’t for our location.
I had not been down to the school’s basement all too often. There weren’t any classrooms here, only some administrative and storage rooms. Only the staff really went here for anything other than the toilets. Even the hallway was packet thick with unused chairs and old dusty PE equipment. It was usually empty, no one ever came here.
But now, just as we had been coming down the stairs, I heard the elevator before us whirring to life, it’s door opening to reveal none other than Rei and Kaworu. They were as surprised to see us as we were about seeing them – in fact, Asuka and Rei both halted with sharp realization the moment they saw each other, arriving at once at the identical thought of what their presence might give away.
But just as if to shred what little bits remained of their plausible deniability, a fifth figure stepped out of the shadow from the dim corridor to our right, a girl roughly Kaworu’s age who wasn’t even wearing our uniform.
“Well that’s a coincidence~ Hi there Puppy-kun.”
Mari was as serene as could be. At least Kaworu had the decency to shrug somewhat apologetically in Asuka’s general direction.
I found myself nervously closing and opening my left hand.
“’re all meeting up to go to the lab, aren’t you?”
“Yea, preddy much. Is something wrong?”
Is there indeed? Mari was certainly acting remarkably blasé.
“No, not at all- I’ll go and leave you to it, it’s just…”
“Just what?”
I’d been hoping that she wouldn’t ask that.
Besides me, Asuka groaned in frustration. “Come ooon! If you have something to say then spit it out, we don’t have all day.”
I was suddenly keenly aware of my sweaty, sweaty palms. Sweaty, sweaty everything. Maybe I ought to start using body spray.
“It’s just- I feel so bad that you guys have to do all this work, while I get to sit back and have fun… I just wish there was something I could do to help…!” I said, naively, presumptuously, clueless of what it would entail, or how quickly my resolve would crumble if I were faced with the reality of what they were enduring day in, day out.
It’s true, everyone thinks they’d be action heroes and dare to nag and complain about what other people did or didn’t do in a pinch, but the truth is that aside from trained professionals who have trained long and hard to have those instinctual responses beaten out of them, most people would panic if they were suddenly faced with an emergency – and the other 10%, such rare people as Mari perhaps, would be too busy surviving to do much thinking.

Let not him vow to walk in the dark who has not seen nightfall. Yeah, that’s from Lord of the rings, I did read it eventually, though I never did get around to the Silmarillion. I could see why Rei liked it, it’s just like our life. If I had to say which of us would be Frodo, I’d guess that would probably be me, since my strength failed in the end. But unlike Sam, she did not get to follow me all to the end, though we’d come all this long, long path together from homely bliss into hopeless, consuming dark...
I had no idea then what suffering even means, and yet I dared to open my damn mouth.
“I just can’t stand to watch all of you having such a tough time with your work, having to make sacrifices, while I just stand by doing nothing. It makes me feel useless- and spoiled, and weak and selfish – All of you are so amazing, and bring part of something great and important, and meanwhile I’m just wasting my time. Even now, it’s like I’m making it all about me, while you’re the ones going through tough times, and I’m having the gall to complain about this without even lifting a single finger to help my own friends-”

Just the memory of that exchange would come to hurt me so, so much in later days.
Especially because Asuka treated my urgent lament with all the seriousness it deserved. Which means that she laughed it off.
“What are you, stupid? Who in their right mind would expect a little boy like you to help us?”
Asuka just shook her head, like I’d asked an elementary question about math. “Geez! This is just like your stupid apologies all the time. Do you really think that everything is always your fault?
Dummy! Look, you don’t have to feel bad. You don’t even have to thank me. After all, it’s the duty of the elite to defend the ignorant masses – that means you. And you’re really welcome.”

“Are you really alright with this?” I looked around at all their faces.
“Yeah.” blurted Mari, never one to mince words.
“I’m here ‘cause I wanna be. I’m just trying to do the best with what I’m given… but that’s the choice I made. I don’t see why I would ever expect you to do the same.”
“Besides, you couldn’t handle it. You’d be waaay too squeamish for the job. Leave it to the grownups and go play with the other two bakas. Right, four-eyes?”
Mari looked at me with an easy smile on her face.”
“You’re a good kid – you’re nice, you’re well-behaved, and you do what you’re told, still pretty innocent in some ways.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing, Mari-san.”
“For this job, it is. A naive kid like you wouldn’t last very long. It would be better for you if you didn’t have to do it. And in any case, there’s no point in racking your head about it at this point. You’ll just worry yourself for no good reason.”
Yet she didn’t completely preclude the possibility.

Kaworu had observed the exchange with some interest, his enigmatic bittersweet smile never fading from his angelic features.
Rei was silent.

But when I spoke to him about it some time later, on Wednesday the 24th, what he told me was more or less the same.
“Don’t you think that your life as it is now has any value? Don’t you enjoy the things you do, and do you not treasure the people you live with?”
“Of course I treasure them… I think.”
I can’t have sounded very much convincing. I didn’t have anything other than my life now to which to compare it to, so maybe it’s value was to me like the water is to a fish, who doesn’t notice it any more than we give thought to the air that surrounds us though we live off of it every moment.
“If you joined us in our work, you might well lose that. And I don’t just mean that you wouldn’t have as much time to study or to go on dates. If you took that fate upon yourself, there is the possibility that you might reach a point where you can never turn back. The existence that is ‘Shinji Ikari’ would be as good as erased, transfigured into something that you would never recognize.”
That is, of course, exactly what ended up happening to me. To most of us.
“If you have nothing that you lack so badly that you would accept such a destiny of thorns in order to get it, are you not fortunate?”
Am I not fortunate. A kid with parents, friends and plenty of free time. Someone who can afford classical music lessons, someone lucky…
Do to something rash just for some fantasy of being needed, to boost my ego when it comes down to it, that would seem horribly self-indulgent. An ingratitude towards the hard work done on my behalf, like the work of my parents, the work I’d had the luxury not to question up to this very day…
But if he’d put it like this, then what did all this imply about Kaworu himself?
“Oh, my fate was decided from the beginning. But I would never ask you to share it. Indeed, it’s good that you don’t. It is a relief to be able to tell this to someone who is not involved – and I’m sure Asuka and Ayanami feel the same. It helps to maintain some perspective, a connection to the world outside…”

When I spoke of this to Rei, she told me only this:
“I am doing my duty. It is my only reason for being here.” And naive as I was, I though she meant the city, being ‘here’ in Tokyo-3. Mari’s assessment was damn right about me.
Rei’s eyes fell on the writing supplies on her desk. “It is alright if an eraser wastes away, or if a pencil becomes shorter if it is sharpened. Because, if you didn’t use them to write, they would never have existed in the first place. If it weren’t for my duties, I would not be connected with anything at all. I would never have experienced anything, not unpleasant, not beautiful.”
But to liken herself to used-up, disposable tools that are discarded and replaced at the end of the day-
“Look, I… I think I got it all wrong from the beginning. I thought that my parents had welcomed you into our home as if you were a member of our family, but I don’t know the full story. They’re not treating you badly, are they? They’re not making you do anything awful?”
“They are doing only what is necessary. Don’t you have any faith in your parents?”
“Well, of course I do… I’ve known them all my life after all. But if there’s something I don’t know-”
“I do.” she spoke, firmly, deliberately, almost confrontational. “Their work is the only thing in the world that I have faith in.”

I still really didn’t understand what sort of relationship Rei had with my parents. Their attitude towards her seemed warm enough to maintain the fiction that she was some doted-on distant relative, or a favored disciple whom they had taken under their wing, but Rei’s response to that was sometimes a little stilted, like she was working under the assumption of a professional distance. Maybe she was simply not used to warmth or familiarity since she never knew her parents. All her experiences of how to behave around others would have been with Doctors or hired caretakers. She mostly kept to herself, more of an outsider to our family than even Asuka whom we’d known for so long. At other times though, the one feeling left out was me.
Rei understood my parents’ work; She had her part in it, and I didn’t. It’s like she was part of the same world that I couldn’t hope to understand, privy to the same secrets.
Of course it wasn’t guaranteed that you would have the same interests or be suited to the same line of work just because you were related. It was not uncommon to hear stories of parents pushing their kids to be fellow lawyers or businessmen when the kid really really hated offices. That parent probably had much more in common with the underling that they were grooming to take over their company than their flesh and blood children; At most, they might try to set up their designated successor with their son so that she can inherit the company… or something.
The reality, of course, would be much, much more complicated than that – or much, much simpler. Kinda depends on how you look at it.

...what lipstick DOES go with blue hair? Possibly one of those very light pinks with a slight iridescent or holo effect? Maybe Rei isn’t interested but some other blue haired person might be… XDD

This got longer than I expected, so it became two chapters instead of one. But rest assured that ‘Kensuke’s wacky cryptid hunt’ is still happening. Just making sure I get through my bucket list for the ‘Slice of life with ominous background events’ stage before moving on the plot. It’s all crossed off the list now ^-^

Also yeah that’s a radiohead reference in the secondary title. I’m not even an especially big fan, but it seemed to fit.
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

The Beginning and The End
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby UrsusArctos » Tue Feb 23, 2021 10:04 am

Stumbled on your fanfic by accident, and I believe I have the answer you're looking for. Don't know if it goes with her hair, but it does seem to match her eyes.


Oh, and about your question from early up in the thread, there's a 60,000 character limit for posts.
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Sun Mar 07, 2021 8:59 pm

XDD thx
1.9 The Sword of Flames, Part I  SPOILER: Show
(1.9: Das Flammenschwert)

But if you asked me to name the single wackiest incident of the month…
None of what I just described would even have been a contender.
No, that honor goes to our very ill-advised… let’s say ‘expedition’.

September 25th 2014

T minus 474 days

“Secret Tunnels underneath the city!”
Kensuke was not even shy about announcing his intentions. He brazenly rolled out his map in the middle of the cafeteria while most of us were just trying to have lunch, be it home-made or bought on site. I was in the later camp for once, my parents were way too busy to prepare one for me and I couldn’t get around to it ‘cause I had way too much homework to worry about.
Touji, Kaworu and I had just gotten settled with our purchases, and Rei had just gone with us since I’d involved her in our conversation, though she had brought her very own bottle of store brand whey protein juice.
To our bespectacled friend, this must have looked like the ideal opportunity to ambush us.
“No really – there are rumors of hidden facilities all over the city, added clandestinely during recent expansions and infrastructure projects. Big hollow spaces of unknown purpose in all kinds of large buildings. A great number of backdoor stairs leading down to nowhere. The forums are full of posts by builders and foremen who claim that they were given strange instructions – nothing definite, though. It’s like they deliberately made sure that no one who wasn’t already an insider was employed long enough to get a definite picture of what’s going on…”
“So in other words, there’s no actual proof. Just some public buildings with wacky blueprints and confusing designs. What else is new...”
I was going to agree with Touji, but I out of force of habit, I rarely made a statement until I had made cursory glances at everyone’s faces just to gauge the general opinion.. and when I did, I realized that the faces of Kaworu and Rei were both dead serious. Kaworu wasn’t smiling. Rei’s reaction was more subtle, but she was looking up, paying distinct attention rather than wearing the uninvolved, apathetic look that she usually directed at the wacky hijinks of our various classmates.
All that made me much too reluctant to answer, or form an opinion – but Touji for his part had yet to notice anything out of the ordinary. “If those hidden stairs and tunnels are really all over the city, then name one building that has one. How about the big shopping mall?”
“Well, they’re secret tunnels and stairs, so of course they would be in backrooms and basements inaccessible to the public-”
“So, no one’s actually seen one…”
That’s when Kensuke surprised us all:
“I have! I have seen one with my own eyes. I’ve got proof, too.”
He produced another sheet of paper, and rolled it out on the table.
It was a printout of a photo – pretty amateurish-looking, Kensuke had probably taken it himself.
The scene it showed didn’t appear to be under the city or even within it; from the looks of it, it was located in the surrounding mountains. It looked no different than a normal bridge or the entrance to a motorway tunnel, an arch of stone with a large number etched into a large steel placard above it, surrounded on all sides by trees – only that it led straight into the mountains. Beyond the entrance, there was only blackness. If one were gifted with a blossoming imagination, they could imagine that they had found the door to a hidden kingdom of dwarves – only that such creatures of myth would be unlikely to mark their house doors with a banal number.
“This is Gate Number 26.” Kensuke slid aside the picture to show off where he had marked its site on the map of the city which he had previously unfurled. If he was correct, the place shown in the picture was only just outside the perimeter of Tokyo-3, despite what it’s green, mountainous surroundings might have suggested.
“If my information is correct, it’s actually older than the city itself. Shafts like this were drilled all around what is now the city, and only then did construction start. The town, our school, the laboratory that our parents all work at… none of that might be here if not for what lies beyond those tunnels… ”
“And what would that be?” asked Touji, raising an eyebrow.
That’s when Kensuke snickered, his hazel eyes filling up with sparkles.
“That’s the best part of it all: Nobody knows. It’s a mystery! Right here, underneath our feet! Isn’t that exciting?” He was certainly excited enough that he didn’t leave us much time to answer.
“Many of those tunnels were later built over, with skyscrapers, parking lots, even earthquake shelters – but this one is still untouched, just as it was before the construction of the city!”
“There’s a fence, though… Will we even be able to get in? Besides...” I ventured to guess, “...maybe it’s just one of those drainage tunnels to protect against floods, or it’s left over from some construction project that got scrapped…”
“...or maybe, it’s the entrance to a network of secret tunnels beneath the city!”
Kensuke seemed undeterred. It would appear that the possible glory of discovery was worth to him more than any possible trouble could have turned him off.
His enthusiasm wasn’t rubbing off on Touji, however:
“...if you’re so sure about that, then why didn’t you go inside?”
“Isn’t it obvious? That sort of expedition needs to be well-prepared. There’s no telling how long these tunnels go on, or how far they branch out – I highly doubt there’s any phone service in there. If we get lost in there, there’s no telling if we’d ever see the light of day again. We’ve got to bring provisions and survival gear!”
“Wait, we-?!”
I was no more convinced than Touji was: “...this sounds way too dangerous…”
“Which is exactly why none of us should go alone.”
“I still think this sounds pretty hare-brained. Shinji’s right, it’s too dangerous. It wouldn’t do to have that creepy cave collapse on us.”
“It’s not a cave, it’s a tunnel made by people. It’s not going to collapse. Unless you’re scared of the dark?”
Say what you will about Kensuke, he knew us well and understood astutely how to go about pulling and pushing our buttons.
It has never been said that half-grown boys are among the most prudent creatures of this earth.
“Wipe that smirk off your face, will ya? Of course I’m not scared. I’ll prove it if you want!”
“So it’s a test of courage then?”
That’s when I was ready to say just about anything as long as it would keep those two from fighting: “...if you really want to, then maybe we can go see it this saturday? I guess there’s no harm in looking at the entrance at least?”
Kaworu looked ponderous. Rei said nothing.
Kensuke saw that he was about to have his will.
“Then it’s decided! I hereby dub this enterprise ‘The Journey To The Center of Tokyo-3’. Like the great adventure novel by Jules Verne!”
That’s the one where the heroes end up spat out by a volcano, by the way. They’d have been super dead if the physicists of the time had properly understood convection.
However, I had not actually read it at the time – you see, it was Kensuke’s mention here that got me interested in it in the first place.
So my last attempt at being the voice of reason proved rather feeble: “Wouldn’t that be trespassing, though?”
Rei said nothing. Kaworu looked ponderous. In hindsight it should have surprised me that he wasn’t saying much, just bringing his hand to his chin and narrowing his eyes.
“How can you worry about something like that when we’re just about to uncover a Grand Mystery? Isn’t it our civic duty as citizens of this country to uncover any shady conspiracies hidden in our midst?”
He said, loudly announcing our intentions in a public space, heedless of any real danger.
He’s not completely unreasonable – he was probably fully expecting to find nothing; If he had been worried about a real conspiracy, he would have been more concerned about getting shot for having seen too much. He just wanted to play detective for a bit, to spice up his boring, average life with a little bit of intrigue.
If I hadn’t been convinced of that, I would never have agreed.

Later that afternoon, Rei and I were looking through my scant possessions.
“Obviously, we need backpacks, and stuff to eat. Flashlights might be good, too. I’m not sure what Kensuke means by ‘survival gear’ but I guess we could bring some of the equipment from our camping trip. My parents bought a backpack and a flashlight for you as well, right?”
“Yes, they did.”
“I wonder if we should bring our sleeping bags. I honestly don’t want to go so far inside that we might get lost, but if we did get lost, it might be good to have them. I’m worried that this will just encourage Kensuke to overdo it though if he knew that we had a tent… I’ve left a note saying that we’ll be back by nightfall though.”
I wondered if my parents would even read it…
I know someone did, though. Or maybe she just overheard us talking in my room and wondering what we were talking about it.
“What do you mean, back by nightfall?! Don’t tell me you two are planning on some secret elopement!”
You see, Asuka was crashing at our place again, but she was supposed to have been in the shower. That’s why I’d chosen this moment to talk things over with Rei. I was honestly a bit sorry that she had been dragged into this whole thing, but as usual she said she didn’t mind, so I wasn’t sure what to say. I couldn’t tell what she really wanted.
I wondered if I should say that she didn’t have to come in case she didn’t want to, but I stopped myself when I thought that maybe she did. I’d have to trust that she was a sensible grownup person who knew what she wanted to do… at least, no more of a clueless kid than me.
But that was all while I still thought that Asuka was still busy showering.
I really, really hoped that she at least had some underwear underneath that towel she was wrapped in. It was a cute white-and-pink one with stripes which she had brought from home together with her change of clothes. I think at this point she had a second toothbrush at out place, simply because she’d forgotten it here once and simply asked her mother for a new one instead of bothering to come get it.
It appears that she was comfortable enough at our place that she would just casually come running from the bath with her hair still damp just because she’d heard us talking in what, I remind you, was supposed to have been my room. Under other circumstances, I might have thought this heartwarming, but as it stood, I was in a hurry to explain why Rei and I were sorting through some piles of camping equipment.
My apprehension seems a bit silly in retrospective, I mean, we lived here, and we owned all the stuff we were handling – Asuka was the one who had left a trail of puddles on somebody else’s floor and brusquely intruding upon my room.
But you see, Asuka had her way of being rather intimidating when she wanted to.
To I scrambled to explain – “It’s just- for out trip with Kensuke…” I refused to say ‘expedition’.
Rei was not much help.
She just stood there quietly, completely unfazed by either Asuka’s rudeness or her current state of damp undress.
With great difficulty, I managed to explain.
It wasn’t as bad as I expected. Asuka only laughed at every other turn.
“Haha, you ridiculous nerds! But are you really going on an adventure without a pocket knife? Some adventurers you are! You and the First wouldn’t last a day out in the wilderness! Hah! Let me show us how it’s done~”
I would have protested that we had done plenty of surviving, thank you, but I’d rather not invite the obvious retort that this was with my Mommy and Daddy.
With this, it became obvious that she intended to invite herself.
This was going to be ‘fun’.
Asuka might have been the only person I knew of with even less common sense than Touji and Kensuke.
So in addition of walking into a dubious cave and getting poor Rei and Kaworu roped into it on my account, I was going to have to have to keep Asuka and Touji from each other’s throats… at least I could count on Kaworu’s and Kensuke’s support in that endeavor, but that was still not reassuring.
“Are you sure you want to come?”
“Well, someone has to got to be the grownup in the room and keep an eye on little boys like you, otherwise you’ll get lost~”
I could have pointed out that she’s younger than all of us and that if anyone would be the ‘grownup’ it would have to be Kaworu, but that would have been an exercise in futility.
“Besides, I’m bored of sitting around in your apparent. At least this whole cave exploration thing might be exciting for a change.”
I should probably text the others later to have then know about the unexpected visitor, that way we could probably minimize the drama on the actual day of the ‘expedition’.
At least Kensuke should understand that she would probably rat us out if we refused to take her with us…

September 26th 2014

T minus 473 days

I had anxiously watched the minutes ticking away on the screen of my phone, and yet, the weekend came nearer and nearer.
I hadn’t even had a good chance to talk to my parents about this. I wonder if they’d even have allowed it. So I felt at once relieved that I didn’t get scolded for even proposing this, and guilty for keeping it a secret.
I can’t really say in good conscience that I couldn’t have brought it up since my parents did show up for dinner today, but they seemed so exhausted that I didn’t want to bother them with what then seemed like such a frivolous concern. After eating they’d gone right for the bath, and then straight to bed. Honestly I was a little worried that they might be overworking themselves, after all they weren’t exactly young anymore, not even mother. I think I noticed father getting himself an Aspirin. Asuka hadn’t come over today, so I was hoping that at least Ms. Soryu might have gotten a day off – wasn’t she going to throw out her back if she kept sleeping on that couch in her office?
I hoped that my parents at least had a proper bed somewhere.

At least I knew that they must have a lavatory:
“Gendo dear, do you have our toothbrushes by any chance?”
“I thought you had ‘em.”
“Aww shucks! We must have left them at work!”

Rei arrived at the same time than they did, looking no less tired.
She hadn’t been at school today. For some reason, her hair was slightly damp when she arrived, like she just took a shower. At least, that meant that she didn’t have to wait her turn at our bath tub, and was free to collapse into bed straight away. My parents had many admirable qualities worth emulating, but I feared that she might be picking up their questionable work-life balance.

So as you can imagine, Friday came and went without much opportunity for us to broach the subject.

September 27th 2014

T minus 472 days

Inevitably, Saturday dawned.
At least, it turned out to be a relatively warm day, one of the last few we had that year.

“Sooo~ Shin-chaaan~ what do you think of my outfit?”
Asuka had opted for a stylish light pink spaghetti strap top and a red mini skirt, complete with elegant white sandals, a matching fashionable white belt and a jacket in the same color, though she must have tied it around her waist sometime after leaving her mother’s apartment.
“You do realize that we’re going inside a cave, right?”
“But how can I not wear something flashy when we’re going out together~”
She really enjoyed teasing me. Leave it to her to say she would be ‘babysitting’ us and ‘show us how it’s done’ only to chose vanity over practicality when it counts.
“Just don’t be mad if you get your nice clothes covered in mud, or if they get ripped up when we have to climb something… Who do you even want to show off to? Touji? Kensuke? Kaworu-kun?”
“Tehee, you’re such an innocent lamb~”
“Did you even tell your mom where you’re going?”
I never did get an answer to that. “Come on, at least wear pants…”

In the end though, most of us showed up dressed for some light weekend fun rather than with ‘adventure gear’. Kensuke showed up covered in camouflage colors from head to toe of course, but he was the only one.
Touji almost always wore sort of sporty, sensible outdoor clothes – in this case, loose black shorts and a greyish-blue shirt, topped off with a stylish red cap that I knew him to be somewhat fond of. I had at least made sure to wear jeans that would be easy to wash in case they got muddy, but I confess that I was wearing a pretty normal polo shirt on top.
Kaworu had also come in jeans, though it was a darker, tighter-fitting pair, with a fairly normal long-sleeved black shirt on top. It was more or less what he normally wore.
“The forest air is pleasant.” he remarked, taking a nice long look at our surroundings.
At least Rei was sensible enough to wear what she would probably consider disposable clothes, including a salmon-pink polo shirt that had definitely been chosen by my parents, a simple brown Capri pants perfectly suited to running around.
“I brought disposable rubber gloves”, she said, holding up her hands so we could see both the pair she was wearing, and the box she had brought for the rest of us.
How very reasonable. And contradictory as it might seem, Kensuke was pleased about that:
“Good thinking, Ayanami! I’ve got a compass, a swiss army knife, a trowel, binoculars, some beef jerky, and some real life military rations!”
“Idiots! Why would you eat some crap that tastes like sand when we’re right next to a proper town with convenience stores?”
“There’s no convenience stores in the desert!”
“We’re not in a desert, in case you haven’t noticed.”
“I brought fire starters…?” I told them, none too confident.
By this point, Touji had long since forgotten his initial objectives and was pretty excited about a ‘manly test of courage’ with campfires and internet-bought leftover military rations, and even Asuka’s naysaying couldn’t really put a dent in his excellent mood.
Honestly, even Asuka’s complaining must have been largely for show, seeing as she had decided to join in of her own free will.

Kaworu observed all this with fond amusement. Rei dutifully stood by.

“So then!” began Kensuke, addressing us like a sergeant readying his men for a fearsome struggle, “Are all of you ready to go? We are going into a possible secret tunnel after all! We might get crushed by rocks, drown in an underground lake, or get bitten by rabid racoons! Who knows, we might even get our memories erased by the men in black!”
He said all this with the most hyped, most starry-eyed expression, like those were fantastic prospects rather than gruesome fates.
“I’m not scared of no raccoons!” said Touji, raising his firsts to the heavens, and that was that. For once, he and Asuka were in a rare moment of agreement: “I’d like to see any stupid animal try to bite me. They’d regret it quickly enough!” That’s when she reached into her backpack and, I kid you not, somehow pulled out a whole-ass baseball bat. Don’t ask me how on earth she fit that in there. I wonder if she stole it from one of those sports clubs that she tried out but didn’t join. The look on her face was scary.
You’d think Touji and Kensuke would have been appropriately terrified, but no – if anything, they got even more riled up. I guess that’s what happens when there’s no Hikari to keep us all in check: “Time for ☆ADVENTURE☆!”

Yet this time, Asuka stood in our way, spinning on her heel to face us, wagging her index finger at us with the hand that wasn’t currently holding the baseball bat.
“Not yet! First, we’ve got to decide who our leader is going to be! And of course, it can only be yours truly.”
“What the hell?!” Touji wasn’t having any of it. “I’m not sure who even invited you. We might have let you come along, but that doesn’t mean that you can just come and hijack the whole thing!”
“Really? What do you guys think?”
Oh. I wished she hadn’t done that.
I’m not sure how on earth Kaworu kept up that serene smile of his. “I have no objections to either Soryuu or Suzuhara.”
“I have no opinion.” said Rei.
In desperation, I kept looking back and forth between both very pissed-off would be leaders.
“Can’t we just all get along?”

“What are you, stupid? Grow a spine already, and say what you really think!”
“Hey! Wait! Whose side are you on now?!”
“I… uh…”

“Well, I’m the one who proposed and organized this operation, in case you don’t remember. But if I had to vote for one of you, it would certainly be Touji.”
Thank you, Kensuke. You’re the best. Whatever would we do without you?
Asuka decided not to push it any further.
“Hmpf! Have it your way. But don’t come crying to me when you get scared.”
“Scared? Who? Me?”
Before we knew it, Touji was already climbing over the fence, and not to be outdone, Asuka was right on his heels. “Don’t you dare look up my skirt while I’m climbing!”
You didn’t have to wear a skirt on the first place! At least she was right that it was easy to move in. Once she got to the other side, she cracked the lock from the inside using her pocket knife. I really wonder where she learned that sort of scary skills…
Little did I know that I was not too far from finding out.

Once the lock was busted, the rest of us were let in, so I was at least spared the embarrassment of falling on my butt in some failed attempt to climb the fence.
Now we were most definitely trespassing.

And in we went, into the cool, damp, pitch-black cave…
It was a perfect storm of teenage idiocy.
We were awfully lucky that there were absolutely no raccoons.

“According to my sources, this is one of 4.096 shafts that were drilled in the perimeter of the city…” Kensuke also explained a whole lot about the structure of the cave and how it was built, gushing about the technical details, but I don’t remember much of it, probably ‘cause I didn’t understand it in the first place.
I mostly recall how he pointed out the metal supports that had been added to the rough-hewn stone walls here and there, and the various pipes that could occasionally be seen.

There were intersections, too. Loads of them. And with every single one we passed, the bad feeling in my stomach intensified.
If Asuka didn’t boldly decline which way she’d picked without any discernible logic, Touji would just rush towards the nearest entrance. At best, we’d get some convoluted sherlock holmes knockoff logic from Detective Aida.
Not that the rest of us were any more helpful. If anyone asked us what to do, Rei usually remained silent, I hardly said more than ‘Uh’ and Kaworu just shrugged and gladly went along with whatever was suggested.
On the rare occasions where I was asked for my input, I kept looking back and forth between whoever had wanted me to choose a side until someone else did the picking, and if Rei and Kaworu ever ventured a mild, reasonable suggestion, they were overruled by louder voices.

To make matters worse, Asuka and Touji kept challenging each other to random vaguely dangerous tests of courage – climb that, balance there. Asuka usually won, but that irked Touji just enough that he kept trying to challenge her. Here and there, Kensuke felt compelled to participate as a matter of honor.
I dearly hoped that Asuka would remain distracted by them and hence stop noticing me, so that I might be spared from participating as much as possibly.
Kaworu just calmly told them to be careful. If asked to participate (on account of being a boy, though Asuka herself wasn’t) he’d outperformed them all, and did that calmly, serene and without fear – so of course, Touji told him to quit showing off and Asuka stopped making him go along with them. With me, I guess she eventually ruled that it was no fun to watch me embarrass myself. She had no interest in playing games with Rei, which was fine by her.
In the end, the only things that could hold her attentions were those she perceived as conquerable challenges. She wanted to compete with those who would put up a fight… but not too much, either. Even at stupid games like this she was so serious about winning that she couldn’t have enjoyed it much if her sense of herself as a ‘winner’ had been seriously threatened.
That’s how she ended up arm wrestling with Touji.
While they were at it, Kaworu took the chance to chat with me.
Unencumbered by their antics, he’d taken the time to admire the ceiling. “Isn’t it impressive that mankind has managed to leave its marks so far underground, though they have no claws for digging?”
“I guess… I wish they could’ve been doing something about this draft though. Where’s it even coming from all the way down here? It keeps making those creepy noises…”
“It sounds a bit like the voices of children, doesn’t it?”
Oh dear. Now I couldn’t unhear it.
“You know, there is a legend that these sounds of the wind and air come from the souls of children who haven’t played enough. It was thought that their souls would leave their bodies in their sleep to continue right where they left off.”
“Like Astral Projection, huh?”
I don’t know what that is, Kensuke.
Apparently his guess was close enough though, because Kaworu nodded:
“Exactly. It is from this idea that we get our word for ‘yearning’ – like the spirit is being drawn away by a strong, unfulfilled desire. I keep thinking about this a lot. I mean, in large parts the creatures on this planet spend their lives tending to their basic instincts, or at most following the scripts that they have learned from their environment through copying. We follow preconceived paths like all those before us… and yet, we have feeling, understanding. One might say that it’s purpose is to help us live, but often enough the self that observes can only stand and watch itself follow the old paths. Thoughts and feelings can paralyze us, dreams and wants can frustrate us… having a soul seems like a mere burden in such moments.”
He never lost his smile or the lightness in his voice, but I could tell that it was tinged with something else. “You know something, Shinji-kun? I think the soul can only show it’s existence through it’s motion towards something other than itself. Something outside, that it doesn’t understand. Wonder. Fascination. Friendship. Awe. Curiosity. Love…. Those are all expressions of such motions…”
Hm. I’d have to think about that.

Before I could reply, our attention was suddenly drawn by a loud noise.
“Oi! Nagisa! Stop talking about freaky ghost children or whatever, you’re creeping me out!”
“Oh, quit whining Suzuhara. You’re obviously just saying that as an excuse because you lost!”
Asuka had evidently won the arm-wrestling contest. How did a small girl like her ever get so jacked?
“My apologies. It wasn’t my intention to disturb you. I believe what I truly wanted to say was, I’m glad to have been invited.”
“’re welcome? You’re a strange one, Nagisa.”

This isn’t to say that Touji spent all the time with Asuka.
“Heyyy Master, I’ve been meaning to ask you? Which one do you think is hotter, Soryu or Ayanami?”
Asuka was walking in front of our group. Rei was currently just a few paces behind us.
They would hear us if he kept talking like that.
“Come on, I know you’ve got a reputation to maintain, but you can tell your old pal, right?”
“Uh…. Well, I know Asuka’s really popular, but I’ve known Asuka since we were kids and I see her almost every day so I guess I’m just used to seeing her…”
I hope he wouldn’t point out that I hadn’t say anything about Rei.
“...which one do you like better, Touji?”
“Now that you ask… You can’t deny that Soryu is pretty hot, but when it comes down to it neither of them are really my type. Don’t get me wrong, but they’re both a bit… eccentric. I’m rather into more… old-fashioned sort of girls.”
“Like who?”
“Eh… you know… like…”
He must have realized that I wasn’t catching his drift. “...can you keep a secret?”
I nodded.
“But you really can’t tell anyone, especially not Kensuke. I’d never hear the end of it from him…”
“...but why…?”
“...because… because it’s the class rep. There. I said it. Shoot me!”
Huh. I was not expecting that at all. I always thought he couldn’t stand her. It was regrettable really cause I never really had anything against her.
“I mean I know what you’re probably thinking, she’s a total pain in the ass sometimes but you know, sometimes she can be kind of nice. Remember how she looked after Suzunami when she got her ankle all twisted? I know it sounds weird but lately I’ve been thinking that she’s not so bad, at least not all the time. And you’ve got to admit, her freckles are kinda cute. But don’t tell anyone I said that!”
Hm. So maybe there was a chance that they might actually stop fighting one of these days.
I’d known Touji for a very long time now, but he still managed to surprise me.

Eventually, we came to a crossroads that had a small elevator waiting next to it. We decided that this would be a good place to call it a day.
Time for lunch! And would you know it, Asuka’s mood was actually good enough that she was not only willing to try the ‘survival food’, but also to share the regular potato chips and salt sticks which she’d brought from the convenience store with everyone... including Rei and Kaworu.
She also ended up finding out that she really liked beef jerky.
I guess those muscles of hers need protein?
All things considered though, we all had a whole lot of fun.
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

Defender of Puppy Boy
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Sun Mar 07, 2021 9:01 pm

The Sword of Flames, Part II  SPOILER: Show
(1.9: Journey to the Center of Tokyo-3)

I was trying to think of the lift as ‘construction elevator’ to keep my mind off of the word ‘rickety’.
Clearly it was something that had been but here as part of the original construction effort, and not upgraded for the comfort of the crowds.
The mechanisms of it were naked before us, the gears, the rails, the steel cords – only a mesh of steel rods was there to keep the passengers from tumbling into the darkness.

So naturally enough, Touji and Asuka got into a fight about who was going to ride it first.
She came out victorious and took Kaworu with her, who had offered to go as a compromise when she refused to share the booth with Kensuke. Which meant that neither he nor Touji would have skipped out on going next, disappearing into the darkness and leaving only those of us who had never been in a hurry to assert our wish to go.
Honestly I had rather been dreading it.
The shaft just seemed to go on and on, like it was about to slurp the booth straight through the center of the earth, pulling it down into the very bowels of hell…
In a sense, I had it easy, as the one to go last. In theory, I knew that this elevator had just gone down two times and returned empty each time, presumably having deposited the other four of us in some place they would willingly exit into.
But that just meant that there was no one up here to push me to overcome my considerable jitters. There was only Rei, who hadn’t exactly clamored to go first either, and now calmly stepped into the elevator like there was nothing special about it, waiting for me to do the same.
She was possibly a little bit confused why I didn’t follow suit right away.
“Ikari-kun? Are you coming?”
Well, there’s no way I could keep her waiting now, so I hastily scrambled in, which meant of course that she immediately pressed the button and sent us down into the darkness.

This meant that were were now all by ourselves. In a small, rickety booth that went down, and down, and down through layers upon of rock that could barely be glimpsed in the darkness where the dusty, cobweb-cowered lab in our elevator booth was the only illumination.
If I had been here with any other member of our small group, they would probably be talking at me right now, and the tension would have eased.
But since I was here with Rei, I just kind of felt awkward and self-conscious, like I should be the one making conversation or like, at least saying something.
Rei herself didn’t seem much fazed. She just stood there straight as a rod in the dark, looking ahead, waiting next to the door for when it would open again. If she had any fears or concerns about all this, none of them were showing on her face or apparent through her body language.
Maybe she didn’t want me to make conversation. What reason did I have to suppose that she wasn’t perfectly fine with the silence? Perhaps she even wanted to be left alone, and I was the only one getting all anxious and jittery in the face of the uncertain dark and the creaking machinery….
“How far do you think it goes down?”
“I’m not certain.”
And that was all she had to say on the subject. Conversation over. Back to square one.
“...if the rope broke, we’d go falling all the way down….”
There was no change on her face.
“The mechanisms are built to prevent that.”
“But we’d be stuck then, right? Surrounded by layers upon layers of solid rock… how long would it take for anyone to get to us? If they’d come at all- No one knows we’re here…”
As I kept talking, my speech kept getting quicker and my breathing more hurried. I thought talking would help but now I had well and truly spooked myself.
But Rei kept calm:
“This access way was built for a purpose and maintained to guarantee its safety and functionality.”
“...maybe… but accidents do happen. Who knows how long it’s taken since anyone’s been down here? It keeps shaking and-”
“Are you afraid?”
Ah. Well. I could hardly deny it, now could I?
I felt embarrassed, like someone had peeked at my thoughts without asking, but I can’t say that they were kept especially well hidden… while I’d been losing touch with any sense of really being in this room connected to my body the more that I grew anxious, I suppose my reaction itself must have been rather obvious. Very much so, if she’d finally noticed. Did she think I was just asking her technical questions before? Honestly she might have, she clearly wasn’t that experienced at talking to people. She didn’t play games, either.
Having been asked so bluntly, I caught myself instinctively nodding before I could’ve had the time to make a real decision about this.
“Then don’t be. There is no need. I know for a fact that these tunnels are well-maintained.”
“That’s not so easy! It’s not like fear is something that you can turn off with a button just like that!”
I wish I hadn’t said that. You can probably tell that I was really on edge. If I had been all there I might even have noticed that she had just admitted something very interesting there, suggesting that she had knowledge of this place. But not me. As soon as that was out of my mouth, I wished immediately that I could take it back. I shouldn’t be yelling at her just ‘cause I was scared on my own, that was just about the opposite of what I’d wanted!
She didn’t get mad, though. She just looked faintly sad, and that was many times worse.
She touched her hands to her elbows, and lowered her gaze, hanging her head slightly to the side as if to avoid looking at my face.
“Did I upset you? I’m sorry. I don’t really know how to express myself in situations like this… You seemed distressed, so I wanted to do something, but I do not know how..”
Here’s one thing for the power of honesty. In a way it was kind of relieving to find out that she’d been feeling just as awkward as I did all along. Maybe we could fumble towards an understanding.
“It’s fine! It’s fine, really, I’m not mad-… You only wanted to help- I’m not mad, I just- spoke without thinking-”
Then, she spoke suddenly, matter-of-factly: “Would it help if I held your hand?” I-…
Seeing as no answer was forthcoming, she decided to elaborate:
“Dr. Ikari did that once. When I was undergoing an unpleasant procedure. She said it was supposed to help. Would it?”
Ah. Of course. I’m glad she clarified this before I could misunderstand again.
It had not yet occurred to me that if I wanted my intentions to be understood correctly, that was something that I’d have to take into my own hands.
Holding hands with her to support each other in some dark spooky place seems almost like an ideal dream but it’s something very different if she feels she has to comfort me out of obligation because my Mom is busy right now. That’s just embarrassing! But the damage was done already, and I was actually scared enough that I still nodded, and when she offered her hand, I gripped her cold slender fingers as tightly as I could.
She seemed unsure of what to do, but tentatively returned the gesture.
I mean, she was trying to be a good friend to me, even when she didn’t know how. She was trying to do right by me – I oughtn’t depreciate that just because of hurt pride. In the end I was really damn grateful for her company in the rickety old elevator.
It’s at one humiliating and amazing what a simple machine the human animal is, what precarious balance of feedback processes. The danger of falling or getting stuck had not diminished one bit if it was ever real.
Yet the simple, banal touch of skin on skin made all the difference in the world.
“Thanks, Rei.”

Though I had seriously doubted it for a bit, it would turn out that the lower level actually existed.
The tunnels were… different down here.
It was obvious, even before the mesh of the door had slid aside.
Before, we had been going through something like mine shafts, paths dug through earthen walls reinforced with metal struts.
This now before us was a futuristic tunnel, all steel and plastic and linoleum, with pipes passing near the ceiling, smooth, rounded modern corners.
The dark was replaced with uncomfortable light. Straight away, we went from being animals well-hidden in their cave-like burrows to thieves caught in floodlights.
There was no hiding here – every presence cast a shadow, every shadow was obvious, and we were not alone… and by this, I don’t just mean Asuka and the others, though they were there as well.
Rei and I had missed most of the commotion by virtue of arriving last and since the chaos was still ongoing, we were left to figure out what happened bit by bit, piecing it together from what everyone was saying… and that includes Touji, Asuka and Kensuke, so there was a whole lot of very fast talking.
But let me give you the rundown: It seems that we weren’t the only ones who had figured that the crossing near the elevator was a good place to rest. There was another one down here, and when they first came down, the others had been met with nothing less than a second pair of explorers. And considering that we ran into them in some dubious tunnel far beneath the surface of the Earth, you would probably expect them to be complete strangers, security maybe, workers, perhaps even the infamous Men in Black that Kensuke had hoped for.
They weren’t.
Now who, besides us, would be either foolish or gutsy enough to go poking around in some underground tunnel system? Would you suspect anyone in particular? Does anybody come to mind? Can you remember me ever mentioning any serial troublemakers?
Now if your mind is still turn between two options, don’t feel bummed out about it, because they’re both right.
As it would seem, the first thing Asuka and Kaworu got to see once they’d made their way down here was Mari and Mr. Kaji, sharing tea out of a flashy hot pink Thermos. I actually recognized the scent from that same stuff which she had brought to Nene’s tea party. It must really be her favorite.
In typical Mari fashion, she was entirely nonchalant about being discovered, and greeted us all rather casually. “’Sup! Want some tea?”
You knew we were starved for good option when Mr. Kaji was looking like the only sane man:
“...two more?!”
At least we had the excuse of being young and foolish. I doubted that he was down here just to check out some spooky caverns. Was it for his work, or…
I kept remembering that confrontation I’d overheard him having with my parents, but that couldn’t be...
“Don’t worry,” said Mari, probably mostly to her fellow test candidates rather than me. “He’s with me!”
I wasn’t surprised to see her, honestly. At this point, I was more or less used to her showing up out of nowhere in unlikely places. I guess in hindsight it’s amazing how children can accept just about anything you tell them like any other fact of life.

Looking us all over, the dashing reporter exhaled a deep, long sigh.
I assume that Kensuke and Touji had already more or less revealed (or blurted out) what we were doing here.
None of them had expected Asuka’s quick thinking, though, if thinking it was – she might have done with any other person to get out of being scolded or ratted out for being in this sort of dangerous place without any adult supervision, and I might have chalked it up to two-facedness, were it not for the certainty that she would have saved our necks. But as it was, her veritable heart-eyes were a wee bit too genuine as she ran right over to where he was standing like a princess in a fairy tale.
“♡ ♡ ♡ Kaji-san ♡ ♡ ♡! I’m so glad to see you! You saved us! ♡ These dumb schoolboys here made me come along on their stupid test of courage, and now we’re entirely lost! My delicate heart can’t take it… ”
Were we lost? We took so many weird turns that it wouldn’t surprise me if we were.
But Asuka had done such an obvious 180 compared to the gung-ho manner she’d exhibited during the rest of the trip that even such dense individuals as myself and Touji would have realized that she was acting, and Kensuke was shrewd enough not to interfere with what she was doing.
Kaworu and Rei were unfazed anyway, eternally smiling or frowning respectively.
As for me, I was pretty sure that she would have whacked me with her baseball bat if I had dared to interrupt her theatrics.
“I was just about to give in to despair when I saw your dashing face like the proverbial light at the end of the literal tunnel! You’re my HERO~~ Please, please, please, help us find our way to the surface! ...and those little boys, too, of course. I’m a tender maiden after all, I can’t abandon my friends, even if they are big dummies~”
I don’t think he was fooled.
But he probably had reasons of his own to play along – one hand washes the other.
Whatever the case, his impressive poker face didn’t even crack.
“Well then, I suppose I have to help you. As a gentleman, I can’t ever ignore the pleas of some damsel in distress~”
“Aww~ I knew you would save us~ ♡ ♡”
Some damsel.
Touji was thinking exactly the same thing, and it was only through the combined efforts of Kensuke and myself that he didn’t give him a piece of his mind.
“Think about it – this is an ideal scenario for both of us, right? It’s clear that neither of us wanted to be found here, but if we had to be found, isn’t it good that it was someone who wants to keep quiet about being here, too? After all, none of us can rat the other out without risking our own skin. We should work together.”
That sounded reasonable, but it was just as true that Kensuke wasn’t going to just turn around and go the other way when a veritable Mystery(TM) was being dangled before his eyes. And after hours of wandering these tunnels even he must have realized that we were probably going to learn more by following someone who knew the place than by walking around blindly by ourselves. Even a secret tunnel is ultimately just a tunnel in the end.
“...but Ryoji-kun, what about our business?”
You should have heard the high, indignant sound that Asuka made when she heard Mari addressing Mr. Kaji so casually… it honestly took me a few moments to grasp who she meant and that this was his first name. I think I’d only heard it once before.
That said, Asuka should have known better than to read anything into it – Mari was that way with everyone. She even called my parents by their first names all the time. I used to chalk it up to her being a foreigner, until I had been informed by Ms. Soryu on one occasion that she was rather forward even by European standards. As I said, she was something of a free spirit… her poor sense of personal space extended beyond just physical proximity.
Hearing her objections, Mr. Kaji’s face turned serious for a moment, and his bluster waned.
“That will have to wait… I sympathize with your desire to find the truth and explore the unknown, but you have to understand that this is not a playground for children.”
“Allright then!” Mari turned to Asuka with a big grin, miming the speech of an old general in a war movie: “Ryouji-kun and your truly shall escort you to the surface, Your Highness!”

And that was that. We proceeded down one of the tunnels at the intersection, guided by Mr. Kaji, who had Asuka hanging onto his right arm, and Mari’s arm linked to the crook of his left. I still couldn’t say whether she realized that Asuka was annoyed by that or not…
“Oi, Four-Eyes! Aren’t you being way too familiar? How do you two even know each other?!”
Mr. Kaji couldn’t help laughing a bit, but not in a mean way.
He tried to keep his answer light-hearted at first.
“Well, I guess she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse… I don’t normally make a point of involving children in my work, and I don’t like having to rely on a teenage girl to get what I want, but I didn’t really have a choice.”
“So you’ve teamed up?” theorized Kensuke, way too excited for a follow-up to Mr. Kaji’s somber tone.
Mari begged to differ:
“We’ve cut a deal, is all. We’re working together for a bit because there’s something that neither of us can accomplish on our own. It’s the most reasonable thing to do, even if I’d rather work alone. I don’t like having to rely on other people to get what I want – ‘specially not grownups.”
Was that supposed to be a jab at what Mr. Kaji said earlier?
In any case, it seems like those two had very different ideas about their working relationship.

The rest of us might as well not have been there as far as Asuka was concerned. Myself and my friends might as well have been sacks of potatoes, though we were just as interested in learning something from this charismatic veteran explorer. Even me, if I’m honest. Mr. Kaji seemed like a pretty interesting person. Dubious enough to find us here, responsible enough to drop what he was doing to do the responsible adult thing and get us out of here, yet understanding enough and connected enough to his own sense of mischief and perhaps the youth he had once been that he didn’t give us a hard time...

It was already getting dark when me emerged to the surface, but the sky was still streaked with those picturesque shades of purple and blue that came in-between the orange of sunset and the pitch black of night.
We were still in the mountains near the city, but I couldn’t help but notice that we were looking at it from a completely different side and angle than when we went in. The number about the gate was also different. If only I had already read ‘journey to the center of the earth’ at that point, maybe I could have drawn some exaggerated parallel to how the heroes had entered the caves in Iceland and emerged from a Volcano in Italy.
It was good enough for Asuka: “We’re saved! You’ll always have the deepest of my gratitude~ You’re my hero!”
I imagine that from Mr. Kaji’s point of view, having a tiny twelve year old holding on to his arm with blatant heart eyes must be somewhat humorous or awkward, though to his credit, he was a good sport about it. Maybe he figured that she just wanted to hold on to someone in the deep dark tunnels (I know I would), and was generous enough to let her save face.
This is of course informed by my later interactions with him, but he always struck me as someone who didn’t forget or dismiss the pride or indignity of youth even now that he was more mature.
Beside me, Kaworu was surveying the horizon, looking out at the familiar skyline of the city – he must have noticed first of all that we hadn’t come out where we came in. But he must have known enough about all this already that he had no questions left to ask.
Rei, too, was quiet, inhaling the scent of fresh air. I guess she was glad to be out in the open again… I have no doubt about Mari, since she was much more obvious about it, shouting “Freedom!”, waving her arms and all that, like a sailor spotting the shore after a long voyage. Despite the cool of nightfall, she kicked off her shoes, and had great joy in putting the toes of her long slender feet on the mossy ground, glad of the earth beneath her feet, caring nothing that Asuka rolled her eyes at her.
Touji, meanwhile, didn’t think to contain his surprise when he noticed: “Wow! We’re in a completely different part of town!”
“So this operation wasn’t a failure after all!”
“Dude, Kensuke, we got totally lost, and we didn’t exactly find any aliens.”
“Maybe not, but don’t you realize? If we could go in at one side of the city and come out the other, this proves that it’s really true! These tunnels do form a secret network beneath the city!”
“The world is full of mysteries,” said Kaji, observing our conversation like a sage wizened hunter advising the youths of the tribe, “You can’t expect to crack them all in one day. Knowing when to call it a day is also a vital skill.”
“You think?” Kensuke was obviously excited to hear from a real veteran Mystery Hunter.
But I could no longer think of all this as only just a ‘mystery’.
Not when I still remembered that altercation between Mr. Kaji and my parents.
“ this where you came in from?” I cautiously dared to ask.
“Nah. It wouldn’t do to have all my own secrets cracked in a day, either.”
In other words, he couldn’t afford for word of his location to make its way back to my parents. He didn’t even try to swear us to secrecy or anything, he just never considered anything else than to simply withhold what he didn’t want us to know. Yet in doing so, he also drew my attention to the information that he had chosen to reveal instead, perhaps deliberately.
“So there’s more entrances to the tunnels than just these two…”
“Pretty much, yep.” It was Mari who answered, casually stretching her arms.
“I hope you’ll understand that we can’t exactly tell you where our hideouts are. I mean, I don’t have that much to worry about since they need me as a candidate, but Ryouji-kun here is gonna have to watch his back. The GEHIRN people already got him on their watchlist…”
“The… what people?”
“Ah, that’s the organization that secretly runs the lab.” she spoke, completely casual and nonchalant, like the presence of a secret organization in our hometown was an obvious, incidental matter.
Touji, like a normal person, considered this a bit of a big deal. “You’ve gotta be shitting me! A secret organization in our hometown?”
“Well, there’s always been rumors. And if you’d listened more when I explained the mission, this wouldn’t be news to you.” but for all his attempts to play it cool, Kensuke had never been that good at containing his excitement: “Still, I can’t believe that I would ever see the proof with my own eyes!”
Despite the fact that we nearly got lost in a subterranean labyrinth, I feel that he was going to remember this as a very good day.
Still, all this super casual talk of secret organizations had my head spinning.
“Is it alright to tell us, though?”
Just seconds later, I could have answered by own question, for one look around our group told me that this wasn’t news to anyone but Touji and me.
No one else seemed all too surprised. Not Kensuke, not Kaworu, not Rei… those two were almost too calm about this.
Even Asuka just shrugged it off. “I mean, I basically already told you. I’d be more concerned about the other two stooges.”
Alas, I fear she relished this opportunity to throw a side-eye at Touji and Kensuke.
But before Touji’s temper had the opportunity to flare up again, we were all disarmed by Mari’s easy laughter.
“Ah, that won’t matter. They would have found out soon enough anyways, now that the great plan is about to go to stage two~”
“What do you mean, stage two?” I was rather surprised that Asuka didn’t know what she meant. Did that mean that there were secrets here than even the candidates hadn’t been told about? I mean, there wouldn’t need to be anything sinister about this, the researchers would still have considered Asuka to be a twelve-year-old, even if she was technically a co-worker.
“Answer me, four-eyes!”
“Oooh, but what would be the fun in that~”
We made our way towards the city. Gallant as ever, Mr. Kaji offered to treat us to some vending machine snacks. In the meantime, Touji demanded the explanation I was too reluctant to ask for, “You know, just for the record, could someone please summarize what’s going on here?”
The way we were told it, it didn’t really come off as an unbelievable story. As Asuka had stressed before, the research at the lab was very important to the future, so there was a special government agency in charge of it. And if there were a ‘secret government anything’, it seems natural enough that there would be reporters – ‘fellow lovers of mystery’, as he characterized himself – trying to investigate it.
“I don’t mean no disrespect to your parents or anything, but you know, the works of government are all financed by the taxpayer. So as a mindful citizen, it’s the duty of all of us to keep tabs on what they’re doing with our money – this country is a democracy after all. They work for us.”
I’m surprised that Rei wasn’t saying anything, to defend the lab’s great cause or something…
It won’t surprise you to learn that there was a reason for that.
If I had been alone with her – no, if I’d been alone with any of them, there are further questions that I might have asked. I might have discussed my feelings about these new revelations with Touji, asked Kensuke about the rumors he kept mentioning… the odds of getting a straight answer out of Mari were about fifty-fifty, but I’m sure Kaworu would have answered me as best as he could, like he always did. I could have seen what Mr. Kaji had to tell me.
Since we were all together, however, I couldn’t get myself to ask any one of them in front of the others, so while we walked back and had our snacks, I left most of the talking to the more gregarious spirits among us. And Asuka had a lot that she wanted to tell Mr. Kaji about.
I kept looking at Rei, who was participating even less than I was, quiet and gloomy as ever, like she was a thousand miles away. I kept thinking about the how the warmth of her hand had felt, but I think even if we’d been alone, I’m not confident that I would have found the words to articulate what I was meaning to say, or the means to even reach her.
So, eventually, we said our farewells to both Mari and Mr. Kaji (“We’ll see you around meow~”) and we parted ways with Touji, Kensuke and Kaworu at the tram station. For some reason Asuka tagged along with me and Rei (it was probably force of habit at this point) and so we actually made it home before the last glimmers of dawn made it below the horizon., we got lucky, right?
We did this incredibly stupid thing that none of us would have agreed to if our frontal lobes had been fully matured, by some miracle we didn’t get lost and assaulted by bats, and now all we’d have to do is walk home and slip back inside like nothing happened, right?
“Man, I’m beat!” I mused as a wrangled the lock on our apartment door, “I can’t wait to do absolutely nothing for the rest of the day!”
I expected Asuka to chide me for my ever-low energy or whatever, but in fact she yawned in agreement. Her excitement must have somewhat receded now that the main event was over.
For her part, Rei had followed after us like a silent shadow.
I had already gone to a point where I’d assumed that we would find the apartment dark and empty upon our return. As of late, that had simply become it’s default state.
I was more surprised when a stream of light and noise flowed towards us, sounds of chatter and of plates and cups touching together.
Not only were my parents home, we had a visitor!
Mother and father were both seated at the table, having tea and cake with no other than Ms. Soryu. Her wavy golden hair was unmistakable. She turned around right away as if she’d been expecting us, waving her arm with her usual exuberance. I could hear her smile before I saw it:
“Welcome! Welcome back, kids!”
Putting down his coffee, father stared straight at us with his usual silly grin. “Shinji. Rei. Good thinking with the equipment.”
But it was mom who scared us half to death though she never veered off from her usual, calm and warm manner of speaking: “Have you enjoyed your little cave exploration trip?”
Yeah. That’s when we realized were, like, super duper busted.
I was dumbstruck straight away when I realized our situation, but Asuka had never been as susceptible to that particular malady:
“Heeeeh?! How did you find out about that?!”
“Rei had the prudence to let us know.”
As soon as my mother had finished saying that, the silent girl trailing behind us went from a faint shadow of presence to the center of attention.
Asuka was beyond incensed. Dim as her opinion of Rei might have been, I’m sure that it must have plummeted to new depths at that precise moment. Knowing Asuka as well as I did, I could guess that cooperating to make the play work together and going on an excursion like this would mean to her that they were supposed to have been on the same ‘team’; as far as she was concerned, Rei had just grossly violated some unspoken agreement which Asuka had expected her to follow without ever telling her about it, and now she was taking that very, very personally, tantamount to a heavy-handed spurning of her generosity. “You tattled on us?!”
I think if she hadn’t been present I would have argued that of course she wouldn’t do that.
But Rei did not deny it; She stood there, her gaze lowered, her voice so quiet as to be barely there:
“I had no choice. You were intending on something forbidden and highly inadvisable.”
“Fancy big words there, smartass! Just tell me, did it ever occur to you in that big egghead of yours that you could maybe talk to us first?”
“If I had announced my intention to report you, you might have prevented me from doing so.”
“Or you ‘might’ have minded your own business for once!”
“It is my business.” Rei answered, not snidely, not as a comeback, but certainly firm and solemn. “Yourself and Nagisa are important assets to the project, besides, there was a risk that confidential information might have been revealed.”
This finally changed the expression that had only been getting harder and more entrenched upon Asuka’s face – she looked much more genuine when she was caught of her guard, more like an actual schoolgirl who wasn’t much older than Kotone, even just for a moment –
“What do you mean, ‘classified information?’ Don’t tell me that those tunnels are actually connected to the Geofront! I thought that was just some nonsense that Aida cooked up after spending too much time on the internet!”
That must have been the first time that I really heard that word. ‘Geofront’. I still misspelled it when I googled it on my phone sometime later, and learned that it’s apparently some retro-futuristic term for an elaborate underground base.
But I could pick up just from context that it must have had something to do with the lab.

And if Asuka was agitated enough to slip up like that, you can probably figure that she wasn’t getting any calmer.
“Why didn’t you just talk to us, damnit!”
“I was told by Dr. Ikari to observe you and refrain from interfering. I was to contact headquarters in case we came to be in any unsafe situation. I was about to do so just when we encountered Mr. Kaji. In the end, it wasn’t necessary.”
“Damn bitch, I’m going to show you necessary!”

“Now children, children, please don’t fight!”
“Don’t use such language while you are a guest in someone else’s house, young lady! Especially not when it’s my boss!”
I should mention that that back and forth just now had gone on really, really fast. Our parents barely had any time to react before this point, but now that they had, they weren’t going to tolerate any more of it. Well, father might have. He just sat back while letting mom and Ms. Soryu handle it, smirking to himself like he thought all this was rather funny.
Mom had to remind him once or twice not to encourage us.
“But there’s no harm done! You should have heard some of the silly things that we used to do when we were younger. However, I ask that you ask us for permission next time before going into any further trips into the wilderness.”
Honestly, the only reason she could possibly be so calm instead of scolding us to heck and back was that we were never actually outside the net of her survival, after all, Rei had told her exactly where we were going, and she had supposedly been keeping an eye on us. Honestly it seemed just a tad much responsibility for Rei…
Mom and Ms. Soryu made Asuka sit down and have a snack. She sulked the whole time.
They got snacks for us, too, though Rei barely touched hers.
Mom and Ms. Soryu chatted idly about everything between work, life and the news, chasing off Asuka’s best attempts to summon a cloud of gloom. Perhaps they could be considered inattentive guardians. Or maybe this was just a normal, silly thing to them, the sort of stuff that kids just do sometimes. There was not much to be won from grounding us at this point.

After a long evening of pleasant chatter and seeing the Soryus out the door, my parents told me to stop worrying and go to bed.

But resurgent thoughts kept me up, and after an indeterminate amount of time of finding neither a comfortable position in bed nor a track on my casette that I could really vibe with, I decided on humoring my restlessness by paying a visit to the bathroom and maybe getting something warm to drink on my way back.
I was really just looking to kill time, so I can’t say that I was too upset when the bathroom turned out to be occupied. I didn’t wait long before deciding to make a detour to the fridge but I didn’t get far before I heard the flushing noise and the sound of the lock being turned.
Emerging from behind the door, my mom just smiled at me, making room for me to rush straight past her through the door.
Yet some reluctance kept me rooted to my place even though the path was cleared, and naturally enough, she picked up exactly what I must be thinking, just as she had ever since I was a little boy.
“Are you still worried about your little excursion? Don’t be. It’s only normal for growing children to try to push their limits. As long as you promise me to be more careful in the future, there’s no harm done.”
But I wasn’t just merely concerned that she would wait to unleash the full extent of her scolding until after the Soryus were gone. There was a little bit more at stake her than just mine and Rei’s pocket money…
“...but what about Mr. Kaji? He wasn’t supposed to be down there, right?”
Even a kid like I could tell as much.
“He’s not gonna go to jail, is he?”
It probably says a lot about my lucky, sheltered upbringing that this was the worst fate I could possibly picture for him back then.
But of course my mother just smiled, placing her arms on my shoulders reassuringly. I won’t delude myself into thinking that I hadn’t brought the matter to her for that very reason. I felt that out of her, father and Rei, she was the most likely to give me an answer that I liked.
“Don’t you worry. We’ll have to give him a talking-to of course, but he seems like a reasonable man. I’m sure we can come to an agreement without any further unpleasantness.”
She had known me my whole life and watched in real time as I developed the capacity to think piece by piece, so of course she knew exactly what to say , and how to say it, in order to put me at ease. It helps that I really wanted to believe her.
Despite the vague buzz of lizard instints older than mammalian structures whirring away in my chest, my trust in her had not crumbled enough, my higher thinking not solidified enough, for my indolence not to take the easy way out that she was giving me.
“…so Mari is not in trouble, either?”
“Oh, she’s always in trouble, but I believe she likes it that way~”
She laughed it off, like there was no way in hell I could seriously believe that Mari or Mr. Kaji could ever possibly be at serious risk for repercussions, and fool that I was, I believed her all too gladly.
“So, now get you to yourself to bed, alright, Shin-chan? You’re still growing after all.”
Well, I wouldn’t be for much longer; She was going to make sure of that.

September 28th 2014

T minus 471 days

If she just got bored by herself, I wondered why Asuka didn’t invite me to come to her place for a change.
“What are you, stupid? You wouldn’t even know where everything is in our kitchen!”
Figures. Stopping by our place on a Sunday morning had the added benefit that she could just mooch off my cooking.
“Well, you’d have to get cooking anyways even if I wasn’t here. Or were you just planning to stuff your face with junkfood? Good thing that I’m here to keep an eye on you then~”
Actually, if I had any plans at all, it would have been to sleep in for once, you know, just to give myself some chance to recover from the excitements of the previous day. I could probably forget about that now, I mean, it would be rude to go back to sleep while we have a guest here. And if Asuka did come all this way for the breakfast, it seemed mean to disappointment.
So, against all hopes, I found myself drawing the blinds up and putting on my apron while Asuka leisurely made her way to our couch. We needn’t have send her home in the first place. She was hanging out here so often that Ms. Soryu might as well hand us a stipend to feed her, like she used to do when she stayed at her father’s.
Just as she was about to make herself comfortable, though, she was beset by a sudden thought which let her to jump straight back up: “That girl isn’t here, is she?”
“You mean Rei? She’s out. She left with my parents in the morning…”
At least, I think it was in the morning. There was no trace left of all three, even though the first blueish tendrils of dawn had barely risen above the dark of night in this chilly autumn morning. Just a few weeks ago, it would already have been light at this hour…
“Getting special treatment as usual, huh? Well fine! Well thank god she’s not here!”
I had tried hard to overlook the clear edge of hostility in her voice, but Asuka was making it very obvious. She was spread out all over the cough, her arms crossed and her face sour.
I really should have known that everything about her body language was shaping itself into one single message to leave it alone; Given my past track record of not being especially assertive, Asuka wasn’t wrong to assume that this would be enough to dissuade me from confronting her, and yet…
“ know, when we did the school play together, I was really starting to hope that you and Rei were finally starting to get along… She’s not a bad person, you just have to make an effort to get to know her...”
“And why would that be? It’s not like she’s ever shown the slightest interest in getting along with me. I’m the normal person here. Why should I have to make an effort to get her weirdness if she’s just going to spit on it? What business is it of your anyways? Since when do you get to decide whom I have to make friends with?”
“Of course I don’t!” I insisted. It was really hard now, not to get emotional. It’s a marvel that I didn’t cut myself while chopping the tofu for our miso soup. “It’s just… You, and Rei, and the others, you’re the only candidates who can do that work at the lab. It’s just the four of you in the whole world – wasn’t that what you said? So, if you’re the only ones, shouldn’t you get along? You all keep disappearing to some mysterious place, and having to go through some tough stuff, and there’s nothing I can do to help… Maybe Mari doesn’t mind, but with you, and Rei and Kaworu, I can tell that it’s hard on you. You’re my friends, Asuka. You, too! I’m not saying that I don’t think you can do it, I just… can’t help getting worried… If I knew that you all get along and help each other, I’d feel more at ease...”
“I asked that girl if she wants to be friends with me as soon as I transferred here, and you know what she said? ‘I will, if I’m ordered to’. Can you believe that?! If she’s ordered to. You’d think that she’s some kind of robot!”
I sighed. “You know that Rei just didn’t want us to get hurt doing something dangerous, right?”
“No, Shinji, I don’t know that. I don’t know that she won’t just stab me in the back without flinching as soon as someone tells her to. I don’t know if she would hesitate even for an instant to leave me dead in a ditch if it came down to it. I don’t have the slightest, faintest idea of what might be going on in that girl’s head!
...if she’s thinking anything at all, that is, and not just doing everything she’s told without thinking, like some mechanical wind-up-doll.”
“Oh come on, Asuka. Now you’re really out of line.”
“Am I? Then tell me! Who or what is she? What the heck is her deal?!”
Funny that she would ask me that. Not too long ago, she was acting like she was going to be the one to tell me all about Rei.
“Like I said, she’s a nice person. She’s just not good with people, but it’s not like I was any different when I was younger. You’re not exactly the image of grace and smoothness either, with how abrasive you can be sometimes… She’s a bit of a minimalist, and she really likes to read, including complicated stuff – I’ve even seen her reading stuff in German, so maybe you could talk with her. She’s really mature, and serious, and sometimes, she thinks really deep thoughts…”
My face must have changed of her, maybe it softened, lit up, my eyes couldn’t quite maintain their forward glance when I spoke of her, and my cheeks might have colored…
But no matter the sincerity of my testimony, Asuka was not at all convinced: “Oh, does she? And tell me, what’s so amazing about ‘really deep thought’? You haven’t said anything but trivial nonsense that everyone can tell just by looking at her, how’s that thought for you. Where’s she from? When and where was she born? Who are her parents? How’d she get into the program, first of all of us?”
“How can you not know any of that even though you spent almost four whole months living in the same house?! Are you really that clueless, or are you just self-absorbed? Isn’t she supposed to be your relative or something?!”
“She’s not.” I was way too confident about that declaration, but at the time, I thought my opinion to be well-founded. “That’s just a front to cover her work for the laboratory. No one in my family even knows who she is. My parents just took her in ‘cause she doesn’t have any parents.”
“Neither does Nagisa, and he’s not living at your house right now, in case you haven’t noticed! But I guess you’re not to choosy about your company, as long as you can get some easy attention out of them, you’re even fine with with some mute shop dummy.”
The cruelty of those words struck me deeply, especially coming from a friend, especially directed at someone who was growing more special to me by the day…
I get that it’s bad to care too much about what others think of you, many great people say that, many have said that to me, that it’s one of my great weaknesses or something. But if you never listen to anyone, you’d be crazy, or arrogant. There’s no way that one human being can find out all the knowledge in the world with our own eyes and hands. At some point you have to pick some people that you ask for help and listen to, whose words you allow to have weight. Maybe if a random stranger said something like this I could let it be, but Asuka was one of my oldest friends. She was a part of how I understood the world; I often wondered what she’d do and what she’d say even if she isn’t with me, like my parents kind of. Maybe that’s what it means to have someone in your heart. When you don’t know what to do, when you don’t know what to think of something, the most natural thing in the world was to go and ask your loved ones – your friends, your family, your partner. If you want to be close to someone, you have to let them in at some point, to allow their voice to have a greater weight in your thinking than any random person.

By this point, Rei had a special place in my thoughts as well and I was already t convinced that she couldn’t be a bad person, but with everything else, I couldn’t help but consider if Asuka wasn’t right – If I really knew nothing about her. If I hadn’t neglected to learn about her because I was selfish and ‘not choosy’… couldn’t it be that worries about overextending myself and not having enough time and energy weren’t really because I just kept saying yes to everyone when they wanted to spend time with me? What if all this about needing time to myself and not having the energy was just some selfish excuse, that I really didn’t want to share my time?
I didn’t know.
How would I know that I really wasn’t just deceiving myself?
How could I ever know?
Deeply uncertain, I reached for something to say.

“Shouldn’t you know more about Rei than me, anyways? Since you’ve been comrades for such a long time…”
“It’s not like she talks to me, okay? She’s really just… not accessible to me. I don’t get her at all. And no one will tell me anything! Not at school, not at the lab, not even Mama will tell my anything. Even most of the people at the lab don’t seem to know a thing! No one knows where she came from, or how she was chosen…
So tell me, how am I supposed trust with someone like that?”
I was beginning to understand that Asuka’s conundrum went beyond just rivalry-fueled meanness and ill-will. She was used to dazzling people without effort, or, at least, she knew to wrangle them, to stuff them into a predictable little box. So encountering someone she couldn’t impress or even understand must be frustrating. I feel that frustration all the time, but for a charming, popular extrovert, this must be a first.
“I don’t know what she’s thinking, or what to expect from her, what she would and wouldn’t do, so how can I possibly work with her? How am I supposed to rely on someone like that in a life and death situation?”
“Now you’re exaggerating a bit, Asuka. I know that your work is very, very important to you and that you want to do your best no matter what, but I’m sure it’s not life and death, right…?”
The ominous silence that took possession of the room as my feeble words trailed off unnerved me beyond all bounds. As I had spoken, Asuka’s expression had failed to budge the slightest bit.
“You really don’t know anything, do you?”
“...maybe not.” I admitted, quietly, wearily. “I guess I really don’t know anything. Except of what you told me. You’re comrades, right? You, and Rei, and the others, you’re all in this together, whatever it is. You’re the only allies you have in the world. So shouldn’t you get along? Especially if it’s really so important… or dangerous, like you say. If it’s really that bad, you shouldn’t be fighting with each other, too… That can’t be right. Please. Please promise me that you’ll try to be friends…”
Asuka just looked at me and sighed. “You really are stupid.”
I can’t deny that I must have sounded like an absolute child -
The strange, frosty mood that followed would outlast our breakfast.
And I think I though then, many times, how much I wished I knew what was going on, how I wished I could help-
But it’s just like when I learned cooking, or to do household tasks.
I said I wanted to help, because that’s as best as I could put it with the vocabulary I had available to me at the time, but I fear that what my actions would bear out is rather than I wanted to be needed. To be something other than an unremarkable little bystander, the average son of impressive parents.
Maybe that was true all along.
Or maybe, existence precedes essence. State follows maybe not ‘measurement’, if that creates the wrong idea, but interaction.
So maybe what I would turn out to be, what I would chose, was only defined once I did make my choices, proven by that choice itself, and so it would be my own choices that would make me a coward and a blight, when I could still have become anything at the time that I was still listlessly poking around in my breakfast in that kitchen.
I wish so much that I could return to this moment and chose differently.
But not as much as I fear that I would just stumble down the exact same ruinous path all over again because of my same old weaknesses.

September 29th 2014

T minus 470 days

I don’t any of us had really processed the news by the dawn of the next day… at least, those of us to whom it was news.
But of course, as ever, the steady passage of time knew no mercy. It was monday morning, so we had to go to school.
“Man! I still can’t believe that Soryu is is some secret government agent or whatever!” Though Touji had his arms leisurely folded behind his head, the irritation was clear in his voice. I think getting pissed off was pretty much his default reaction to things he hadn’t fully handled or processed.
“You do have to admit, it is kind of impressive that she’s working on some secret government job even though she’s younger than us.”
“No wonder she’s so full of herself…”
None of them mentioned anything of Rei, who was following after us at a distance since she’d come with me from the apartment like a silent, barely present shadow. Looking back, I don’t think that Asuka mentioned anyone but herself in her conversations with Mari and Mr. Kaji, though Rei and Kaworu were right there… but who could fault them for being less than eager to out themselves.
“It’s gotta be true though, which means that we owe you one, Kensuke. When I asked my old man about some hidden base under the city and Soryu having something to do with it, he was shocked and started to ask me how I knew that…”
“Lucky you! My father wouldn’t even give me a straight answer. You realize, of course, since everyone at our school works for the same employer… which means that all our parents are secret government agents.”
But not all of them were in charge of the whole bloody thing… and yet I had known less then Kensuke had. So what could I say to all this?

I’d been hoping that I’d get my chance to shift my thoughts to a different track once we’ve made it to the school – surely, we’d get caught up in whatever the current fashionable topic of conversation was with people who would never even have heard of our stupid little excursion…
Or so I’d hoped in vain.
Because what everyone happened to be talking about was, in fact… Mr. Kaji.
It appears he’d kept his promise, and put an article about our school play in the weekly newspaper, complete with the triumphant picture of Ultra Director Asuka and a snapshot of the two lead roles on stage in full costume. It came with an article which related the full tale of how we’d overcome the accident of our lovely lead actress through the determination of our Ultra Director (or at least, Asuka’s embellished take on the tale) – the piece was charming, funny, conversational, but still a little bit… calculated, like all the charm and heartstrings-tugging was very much deliberate. It seemed designed to tell the heroic tale of Asuka if Asuka read it, but present a series of amusing adventures of adorable children to our elderly neighbors.
If Asuka had been infatuated with the dashing reporter before, imagine her response now that he had saved her from a damp chilly cave and helped her to her 15 minutes of fame. She was telling her swarm of not-quite-friends all about him and calling him her ‘first true love’.
Meanwhile, Rei was just sitting at the window like usual, unmoved and silent while the other girls had clustered around Asuka.
Only her dedication to meet our director’s egregious demands had arguably saved our play from certain doom, but in the hour of our triumph, Rei was probably the single least excited person in this classroom. I don’t think she had even really looked at any of the newspaper cutouts that many of our classmates had brought with them, for all that they prominently featured her likeness. Instead, her attention was captivated by the dreary cloud cover and the falling rain, and only in a distant, trance-like manner. The classroom with all its inhabitants might as well have been counted as white background noise and crowds of fuzzy silhouettes.
She couldn’t have been any more indifferent to the idea of newfound stardom.
I wonder what she was thinking about – drifting, lingering, waiting…

“I suppose in the end, there was never any need to worry,” is what Kaworu concluded. “Her determination knows no bounds when the word ‘mission’ is involved.”
There it was again. The reminder that they all had this hidden, different side of their lives on which I couldn’t intrude. Asuka had said things like this as well, about a different side to everything and everyone I knew that, if only I could see it, ought to supersede all I had known of them before.
“Is that what she’s like at the lab?”
Kaworu could only shrug and smile at this.
“I don’t think there is a difference – here or there, Ayanami is just Ayanami.”
That was precisely the sort of answer that, if you had the right context at your disposal, would have told you everything, but meant next to nothing for those not privy to such insight. “I mean, I haven’t really had all that much time to get to know her – at least, not as she is now.”
‘As she is now’, hm?
It was long since I’d stopped to think about that little girl in red whom we’d known in the days of our childhood. She was a riddle for the ages now, a hazy memory that got ever fainter precisely because it stayed the same, frozen in the past, supplanted by the ever-growing present, which, while it lasted, left you susceptible to the illusion that it always had been, and always would be...

Thus lost in my thoughts, I noticed only too late that my desk had been approached.
I didn’t notice a thing, until there was suddenly a flicker of blue that the corner of my eye and a rustle of skirts taking up most my field of vision.
I looked up, and found that it was Rei – no, I had known that right away from the delicate pallow of my hands.
Once she saw that she had my attention, she placed a single folded piece of paper onto the surface of my desk.
For a moment, her fingers lingered on it – then she lifted them up and, without a word, turned around and walked away.
I quickly slapped my fingers onto the lined paper lest it be blown away by some unfortunate gust as air. The folding was not perfectly symmetrical, so I could actually read the first line already, in bold hard writing without flourish:
‘Meet me tomorrow after school-’
Meet her tomorrow after school…?
I really should have known better by now. The sudden quickening of my heartbeat was sure to be entirely unfounded.
As soon as I folded it open, I noted with tart disappointment that it was clearly a matter of business, not pleasure. I could picture her reading it out like a list of medication side effects in an ad:
‘Meet me tomorrow after school in the basement. That is an order. Bring swimming clothes.’
Bring swimming clothes? What for?
You’ll notice that I never once considered not going.

Take stock of me now. Take a nice, long look at the set of influences, habits, experiences that constituted me as a person. The me who isn’t an Evangelion pilot. The one who had nothing to do with the project yet, the one who hadn’t the foggiest idea of what’s under the city.
I know intellectually that he must have been there, that these parts and facets of my life had still continued on for a long while, but sometimes, I find it hard to picture that he ever existed.
When I try to think of what he was like, I can only conclude that he was pretty forgettable. Average. Unimportant. Just another drop in the ocean, in the largest city on this planet just off the most densely populated landmass in this world. He didn’t even get to become a fully formed person before this – he was devoured with hair and skin before he ever got to grow up. When I think of what I was like, the descriptors I can come up with are childlike and vague. My dreams were a child’s dreams.
What do you see when you look at me? Some snotty rich boy from a wealthy country?
There’s probably some of you going like ‘as expected of this generation’, or ‘how very typical of men’ or ‘what else would you expect from these imperialist Japanese swine?’ the same way they would have been cursing women or the British if Mari had been the one to press the red button.
But she wasn’t.
I guess I have no right to criticism anyone for reaching the limits of their empathy after a lifetime of suffering; I remember too well how my desperation drove me past the limits of my own.
In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, I’m not enough of a fool to think of myself as good simply because I didn’t have any claws.
So maybe I’m not better that some tech billionaire who got his start capital from his parent’s bloody diamond mine. Through no accomplishment of my own, the power fell into my lap, and look what I did with it – there is nothing at all new about my story, nothing original or unique.
It’s relevant only because of the suffering that came to be in my wake, because I came in and made myself other people’s problem… and even now, there’s a mean spirited part of me that wants to argue that most of you wouldn’t have acted too different, that maybe you hate because it’s just easier to think that the weakness and wretchedness and capacity for evil of all mankind applies only to those you loathe anyways…
But what does it matter what could have happened? The only one who actually did it was me.
So I’m not expecting anyone to feel sorry for me. The most I can hope for is morbid curiosity, maybe bile fascination.
It might be pointless to even try and guess what the people of the future might think; The life I had led would have been incomprehensible to my ancestors just a few hundred years back, and to anyone young enough to remember little before the time of my story, the life I had then already has become near-unrecognizable.
But that life, as I had known it, was soon to be changed forever.
You see, when I made my way down to the basement of our school, the one who was waiting for me there was not Rei, but Misato-sensei...

September 30th 2014

T minus 469 days
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Wed Mar 10, 2021 8:24 pm

Wisdom, Part I  SPOILER: Show
(1.10: Die Weisheit)
September 30th 2014

T minus 469 days

‘Meet me tomorrow after school in the basement.’ said the note. ‘That is an order. Bring swimming clothes.’
So I did.
Go to the basement with my swim trunks in a draw string bag… and my regular school bag worn on my back, since the instructions didn’t really leave any room for me to drop it off at home.
I packed my things about as quickly as I could, and made a beeline for this place.
That stuff about orders sounded urgent, didn’t it?
Still it was still the same dim, dusty basement with the same old stacks of unused desks and chairs and the odd broken overhead projector awaiting repairs.
It was also where I’d seen all four ‘candidates’ meeting up earlier.
I kept an eye out for Rei, or any of the others – none of those four were exactly hard to miss.
Before long, I did hear the clacking of multiple pairs of slippers preceding the sight of light heads of hair moving down the stairs, but it was none of the ones I’d expected.
There descending were Hikari and Marie, looking every bit as surprised to see me as I was of seeing them. Kotone, no less surprised, trailed behind them. I could still see some bandages poking out under her socks and she was making sure to hold onto the railing, but her foot had mercifully healed enough that she no longer needed the cane (which she had covered in colorful stickers and, I think, eventually auctioned off to one of her internet fans).
You know what else was pink and cutesy? That extra bag she was carrying.
They were all carrying extra bags.
I hadn’t really noticed earlier, when the three of them would have easily got lost amid my other classmates, but now that they were looking as surprised to see me as I was of seeing me, I couldn’t help but notice. I suspected, also, that theirs must also have contained swimming clothes.
I have no doubt that they, too, must have taken note of my extra bag, especially someone as diligent as Hikari. It was her who spoke first:
“Class rep?”
The girls, too, took a good look around. Kotone looked much like she was going to say something but not quite finding the courage. Of course Marie had no such compunctions: “Have you seen Asuka? She told us to meet up with her here, and to bring Kotone, too.”
“...Asuka told you to come?”
“Yeah. Did she send for you, too?”
“Not at all. I was waiting for Rei!”
“Ayanami?” Hikari furrowed her brow. “But wasn’t she absent today? Granted, it’s not that unusual for her… “
“She said it was important though.” ‘An order’ even.
“Most curios! Asuka said the same. She even told us to show up here even if she won’t be coming today…. Lucky her, I bet she’s at her laboratory internship right now.”
Now that Marie said it, I hadn’t seen Asuka either today. Nor Kaworu.
“She wouldn’t say something like that if she wasn’t planning something… some surprise for us, maybe?” thought Hikari.
Honestly, I concurred. I would probably believe that without second thought it if were only me, Marie and Hikari. That she’d bring Rei and Kotone seemed less likely… not altogether impossible though, if she were feeling generous that particular day and got up with the right foot.
What I doubted was that she’d sent Rei as a messenger when she could just boss me around herself. Nor would Rei consider some scheme of Asuka’s ‘an order’. Honestly with how she phrased it, I half expected her to show up with my parents in tow – that this was some plot of father’s to take us all fishing to make up for their frequent absences recently.
“...Did Asuka say anything else?”
“...only that we have to bring swim clothes… Maybe she wants to take us all swimming?”
Hikari’s words made perfect sense, and yet there was some stubborn premonition poking at the back of my soul that wouldn’t quite allow me to believe it.
“I was hoping that she’d finally agree to show me all her study tips!” proposed Kotone. I got the feeling she was smiling only to keep us all optimistic.
Then we heard the elevator whirring to life.
Clearly, that must be Rei and Asuka, coming to pick us up – never mind that it seemed strange for them to come here now for leisure when they were somehow both unable to come to class today. That made little sense indeed, so of course it wasn’t what happened – instead the door slid open to reveal Touji and Kensuke.
There seemed to be a clear pattern emerging – they too were carrying an extra bag with swim clothes, and they too did not seem to be expecting the rest of us. Me perhaps, but probably not Marie and Hikari.
“… wait, class rep? What are you doing here?”
“We could ask you much the same!”
“...well, don’t ask us then. We’re only here because Nagisa told us to come…”
Kaworu who, like all the others, was conspicuously absent today.
That’s when Hikari began to think that this might be some sort of prank.
“No way man! If this was a prank, then we’d have to be in cahoots with Soryu to pull it off, and she doesn’t exactly like us, in case you haven’t noticed!”
“She can’t stand Ayanami either.” added Kensuke. “And she’s hardly the pranking type.”
For some reason, Hikari set her sights squarely on me.
I guess I would have been a dead ringer for the weakest link.
“You’d tell us if this was a prank, wouldn’t you, Ikari-kun?”
The air was getting a little too thick for Kotone’s liking. “Hey, let’s not fight!”

Either way, we were all assembled. The conditions had been met – and that must have been some sort of cue, like when you managed to assemble all the colorful McGuffins in a video game.
A door opened.
An ordinary metal basement door behind which you would have suspected nothing more than brooms, pipes or fuses.
There were no brooms, pipes or fuses.
There was actually another door, a modern thing of steel, and LED lights like something that would have belonged in a completely different building.
There were stairs, too, as I would notice on subsequent visits, after all, elevators could fail, but you couldn’t see them from the hallway.
There was also a person between the first door and the next, the one who must have been responsible for its opened, a stranger in the shape of a well-known familiar person:
Looking at that face, that hair, and the curves of her body, I would have been used to call her ‘Misato-sensei’, except that no longer seemed right:
She was standing tall, her expression serious and resolute. She had the look of a leader, like she had suddenly grown several centimeters taller just by dropping an act or peeling off a mask, a casual slouch, maybe.
She was wearing a soldier’s uniform: Red dress, white stockings, red jackets, red hat, bar-like pins on her collar.
She was regarding us solemnly:
“You will be coming with me.”
The charade was up and the time for games was over.

September 29th 2014

T minus 470 days

Now let’s rewind a bit.
Let’s step back to consider some crucial context that should inform what you see.
The last time we had spoken to Misato was the day before – the day on which I got that note from Rei.
She’d been discussing the upcoming career orientation event.
“Soo kids~ Think hard! What do you want to be when you grow up? How do you imagine your future?”

What a good question. How do you imagine your future? Let’s write that on a blackboard. Let’s fade in a slide of text, white letters on black ground:


“I’m most definitely joining the military!” (he says, starry-eyed.) “Though my pops keeps trying to convince me to consider something ‘reasonable’, like going to college… Though I guess if the military doesn’t work out, I could try becoming a computer programmer or something like that. Or I could try drawing comics...’

(without a moment’s hesitation:)“A kindergarden teacher!”
(I could imagine that, actually.)

(she looks a bit pensive)
“I think I’d love to be a lifeguard! Then I could live near a lake or beach all the time!”

“Astronaut! No, CEO. No, world leader! Do you think I’d have better odds as Prime Minister of Japan, or as Chancellor of Germany?”
(I’m surprised she didn’t answer ‘Dictator’ or ‘Galactic Overlord’… has she even given any real thought to this? ...well. I’m one to talk.)

I wonder what Mari might have said, if she had been here.
Probably something like, “Mh. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. Not point in worrying out it now.”

(she’s reluctant to speak at first)
“...I think I’d love to open a themed café...”

“You’re looking at Japan’s next world class athlete!”
(I guess that’s still a bit like of a boyish dream, but, it suits him.)

“I would like to keep making videos, I think. After all, people seem to like them! If I get really famous, I could even be a philanthropist!”
(She seems like she’s waiting for someone’s approval)
“...but if that doesn’t work out, maybe I could work with animals?”

“Can there even be any doubt? Is there any chance that you could picture my brilliant self as anything other than a visionary genius of engineering?”
(Well, here’s a determined one.)

(she seemed to panic a little bit when she realized that it’s her turn)
“Uh… Librarian, maybe?”
(Still, that would be a nice, quiet life that she’d probably enjoy.)

(Of course, our answers couldn’t all have been like this.)

“ be honest, I don’t really know yet…”
(That much hadn’t changed yet, my new life experiences and newfound ‘popularity’ notwithstanding.)
“...I think I’m still figuring it out.”

Warm as ever, Misato-sensei assured me that this was nothing to be ashamed of. “It’s not an easy decision - That’s precisely why we’re holding the career orientation event in the first place, to help you know your options. And in the end, you still have plenty of time.”

“...To think that I would ever get the freedom to choose my own future!”
(He looked tormented, like he was holding back desperate laughter.
As far as the class was concerned, it only served to strengthen his ‘mysterious tragic prettyboy reputation’, but as his friend, I could only feel concerned…
At last, he got a hold of himself, resting his face on his hand like it was his wont when he was somehow distressed)
“If I had the choice, I would love nothing more than to be an artist. Music, visual arts, poetry, even a makeup artist… I don’t care how. An artist’s profession is the one that is devoted to seeing the beauty in everything. Feelings, events, especially people – recording it, bringing it out…”
(insert excited girl noises from all corners of the classroom. No doubt they were all thinking of to lining up to be painted, make-upped, poemified or serenaded.
Even I was a little bit in awe at the purity of his passion. It hurt my heart to think that he thought his dream to be somehow impossible. I mean, why? He was so talented at everything...)

Ayanami R.:
(her voice was so quiet I had to strain to hear her all the way from my seat)
“I have no need for such plans.”

“Now why ever would you say that?” judging by her tone of voice, Misato-sensei was still trying to cheer her up here.

“I am only stating the truth. There is no guarantee that any of us will be alive in a few years, or what the conditions might be. We might be dead, or the world as we know it might be forever changed by some cataclysm. So there is no point to making any plans about a future that might never exist.”
Misato-sensei, however, was an incorrigible optimist:
“But how can you know that things won’t turn out just fine?”
Rei said nothing to that.

Even so, her barely audible, practically toneless words had already left a definite impression on the classroom. One moment ago, it was full with gushing enthusiasm that was now significantly dampened, and everyone felt self-conscious of the frailty and loftiness of their dreams.

“Whoha…” commented Touji, “Ayanami’s a quiet one, but once in a while she’ll say something really nihilistic… Is she worried about global warming of somethin’?”
Kensuke looked thoughtful at this. “ Well, it’s Ayanami. I get the feeling that it’s not just pessimism or you know, the sort of teenage angst that we all deal with from time to time… it’s something deeper. Sometimes I feel like she’s much more mature than us even though we’re the same age.”
Between the three of us, he was always the wisest and the most insightful, not that that’s saying much considering Touji and myself – but I knew Rei better than he did, and what I remembered only seemed to confirm that he was probably onto something.
“She’s always so vague when the subject turns to the future…”
“She might be right.” was all that Kaworu said, his lips drawn into a thin, mirthless line.
I wanted to ask him whatever it was that was weighing on his heart, but I didn’t know how, and before I found the words, he turned back to me with a reassuring smile.
“Well. There’s no reason that we can’t enjoy the fortunes we have now just because they might not last forever, right?”
I’m not sure if I agreed.

“Who the hell does she think she is?!” Asuka would tell me later, while vigorously rubbing the sponge against the blackboard. It was her turn to clean it between lessons. “It’s a wonder that she didn’t cut herself on that edge! I bet she gets a kick out of being such a downer. She’s too much of a tool to have any dreams or ambitions of her own or the will to make them come true, so she wants to shit all over ours and make us think we can’t do it, either. Well, I’ll have her know that I intend to reach my goals no matter what, come hell or high water! I’m not going to wait for the future to just fall into my hands. I’ll claim it, and fight for it tooth and nail if I have to. If anyone wants to take it from me, they’ll have to wrest it from my cold, death hands!”
And for all that she was dealing poorly with being called into question, she too meant what she said.

It figures that when I came home that afternoon, I wound up discussing the matter with my parents – not what Rei had said, but all that stuff about career orientation.
“It’s, um, for our future development and stuff-”

“We have no time for this, Shinji.”
Father wasn’t even apologetic about it – more like mildly annoyed about having to deal with it.
Though he had come home today, he was sitting at the kitchen table with a laptop – from work, probably. I couldn’t help but notice that the emblem on it’s backside was identical to the one I’d seen on Asuka’s key card.
This was probably a turning point, and I knew it…
Sure, my parents had been absent very often as of late. But so far they’d always been apologetic at least, and they’d always made time for important events – only last week, they had come to our school play. Maybe expecting them to come twice in a short amount of time was too much, but between the play and the career orientation, wouldn’t the latter be more important?
“Not at all. It’s trivial nonsense, and it’s not going to amount to anything at all. There’s no point in you even attending. Nothing they could tell you at that event is going to matter before long…”

I felt like I’d come to him to seek comfort over a nightmare, only to be told that my nightmares are real and my waking life is the dream… well, I wasn’t actually that upset, like a smaller child might be, but I was confused.
Parents are supposed to bother and nag you about your future until you can’t hear it anymore, not tell you it’s unimportant.
...what does he mean, ‘before long’?

“...but… the teachers said it’s important…”
“I bet they say that about a lot of things. This city is filled with people who are convinced that all they do is absolutely crucial and will do everything in their might to convince you of it. Can all of them be right? Could you ever expect to accomplish anything or set any priorities if you listened to them all? Just because someone says that something is important that doesn’t mean that it actually is. Grow up, Shinji.”
“But father-”
He sighed. The exasperation was painfully clear in his voice.
“Look, Shinji, we’ll speak of this some other time. Right now is not a good moment. Why don’t you go to your room?”
“...allright, father.”

I figured then than he must be very stressed. That it was unreasonable to expect that they would always have the time to come to every single school event when they were this busy.
It hurt a bit, to think that my parents, or at least father, would ever look at my career development as a ‘triviality’, especially since I was really kind of lost on the subject… I had been hoping to have my parents there. I’d wish that they would help me – and Rei as well, I guess.
I didn’t want to think that he meant it -
But not only did he absolutely mean it, he wasn’t even being unreasonable, given what he must have known. He couldn’t go with me to the career orientation event because I was supposed to be somewhere else at that time anyways… and so were he and mother.

Or well. That was half of the reason. The other half was that there would be no future for me to be worried about.

Don’t you know? The future is canceled. All those hopes and dreams my classmates held within their hearts would be cruelly taken from us. Not a single one would be left alone.
Rei had probably known this all along, so it was no wonder that she had never bothered with hopes and dreams to begin with.
She was probably the most prudent of us all, in that way.

September 30th 2014

T minus 469 days

The Elevator did not actually go that far down. Elevators were unreliable after all; They might fall, and they could become useless in case of fires or power failures.
When equipped with state of the art mechanical safeties they were perhaps good enough for the remote maintenance shaft that we’d explored last Sunday, but Misato had just led us into one of the main access ways, perhaps the most important one.
It really went no further than the staircase beside it, and both led to something like a bullet train of room-sized platforms that could have held a car in place, or a large wagon-like tops.
When the elevator doors opened, there was another woman waiting there, right at the door to the wagon. It was Nurse Ritsuko, except that she was wearing a long white labcoat over sleek blue clothing of a design similar to Misato’s. Under her labcoat, there was a short black miniskirt.
Everything looked different in the dim gloom of the subterranean station – the cold light cast her face in shadow.
She adressed Misato quite casually.
“Are those the kids?”
“Yeah. I got all the ones you asked for.”
That’s when she thought to adress us: “Good day. As some of you might know, my name is Dr. Ritsuko Akagi. I am a Junior Research Director from Project E. Captain Katsuragi and I will escort you to your destination.”
Doctor Akagi.
Captain Katsuragi.
At least their effortless familiarity doesn’t seem to have been fake.
That’s when the good Doctor pressed a switch that caused the doors of the wagon to slide aside.
She waited beside them until Misato had made her way inside.
It was implicit enough that we were supposed to follow, like we might have on a school trip.
At the touch of a second button, the bullet train was set in motion.
Somewhat like a train wagon or a bus, it contained rows of seats and its outside was lined with large windows.
It kept descending on a great, spiral path with a moderate slope, set to work by purely mechanical means even without power without allowing the enemy direct, easy access or allowing for the passengers to go into free-fall if the electronics failed. There were walkways besides it, too.
What little we saw of the dim walls was labeled with rapidly ascending numbers.
Those who knew him only in passing might have expected Kensuke to be doing something ridiculous, but he was soberingly serious about it.
“You know, I’d heard some rumors like this, but I was convinced that they couldn’t possibly be true… To think that I went to the mountains to search for secret tunnels, when there was one right under our feet the whole time, at our very own school…”
At least he – like myself and Touji – had some context for what might be going on.
The girls must have been woefully confused. Frightened even.
Even Marie was looking daunted, her usual bluster all but vanished.
Kontone was all but holding onto the class representative, who was looking none too certain herself: “...excuse me, but, where are we going? What’s going on?”
It was hard to make sense of Misato’s expression – that was before I really knew her on a personal level. Maybe the confused, innocent question of a twelve-year old girl made it harder to fight down her own distaste for our involvement. Maybe she’d needed to steel herself for this.
Maybe that’s what I want to think – At the time, I was no less frightened or confused than Hikari. More, probably, since she knew less but spoke first. Even outside the classroom, she must’ve felt responsible for us.
At last, Misato spoke. She only told me what I already knew, courtesy of Asuka. I had a feeling that I would meet her at the bottom of these tunnels. Her, and Rei...
“Remember that health survey a few weeks ago? That wasn’t a health survey.”
“Then what was it?”
“A muster, probably.” answered Misato, despite the way that the space between her eyebrows scrunched up as she did. “That, or a scientific inquiry.” She was trying, at least, to be level with us.
Ritsuko, however, had no pesky, half-ignored scruples getting in the way of her dispassionate explications: “We were looking for children with some very specific traits.”
“But why…?”
Misato took over here – talking to people was probably her responsibility:
“Horaki-san… You’re friends with Asuka, right? What has she told you about her part-time job?”
Hikari seemed about as surprised, and every bit as concerned as I was when I first heard of it.
It was Marie who first supplied an answer:
“She’s got some sort of internship at the Laboratory for Artificial Evolution, doesn’t she? Where our parents all work?”
But this time, Misato wasted no time in shattering our illusions:
“The Laboratory for Artificial evolution is nothing but a front for a secret organization called GEHIRN. We’re a branch of the UN. ”
That’s when it dawned on me: “Wait, ‘we’? That means…”
“Yep. Of course your school is also a subsidiary of our organization. It’s first and foremost a school for the children of our employees, but also where we keep some of our most significant assets.”
So, even my English teacher was secretly a government agent! And the school nurse too, of course.
“Buthat do you mean by assets?”
That’s when she smiled a bit, and started to resemble for a moment the Misato-sensei that we had known: “That would be you guys.”
“Wait, us? How come?”
“All of you were screened for certain properties when your parents first started working for GEHIRN.” Ritsuko explained, “As a result, you were all gathered in the same class, along with the few candidates we already had.”
“That includes Soryu, right?” supplied Kensuke.
Ironically, this was news to the girls who considered themselves Asuka’s friends, most of all Hikari: “ Asuka was working for some kind of… government agency?”
That would have been ludicrous, if not for Misato confirming it:
“Asuka, and Ayanami Rei, as well as Kaworu Nagisa-kun.”
“All the weirdos, huh?”
“In that case, you’re about to become a ‘weirdo’ yourself, Suzuhara-kun.”
Ritsuko elaborated:
“A few weeks ago, we had you all formally scored and assessed. As a result, all of you have been chosen.”
So there it was. The Big Bombshell. Out in the open, too glaring to be either repressed or ignored.
This was no more ominous premonition, or bad feeling, or vague augury…
The look on Kensuke’s face was akin to three sevens lining up in a slot machine.
“You want us to work for the SECRET GOVERNMENT AGENCY?!”
Marie’s was no subtler:
“At long, long last! I knew it was only a matter of time until my skills were recognized! Was it my talk with Soryu-san that did it?”
But we weren’t all so enthusiastic. There was Touji, for example: “Wait a minute, we never said that we agree. Shouldn’t we get a say in this?”
“If you need our help, I’d be glad to provide it of course!” declared Kotone, trying to align her childlike little arms into some semblance of determined body language, “But might we know what you even need us for?”
I was honestly too deep in shock to process anything that was happening. Though Asuka had told me that that whole ‘health survey’ thing was them looking for candidates, I never once considered that I might be chosen, not even as I was making my unwise declaration of wishing I could help…
How could it be me? I was just – I was never special. I was always just me.
Obedient little Shin-chan. Plain, boring Baka Shinji.
Asuka, Kaworu and Rei were all brilliant and talented, while Mari was exceedingly brave. You could well see Marie fitting into that roster, and I guess Kotone, for some broader definition of talent, and though this might sound silly now, I could easily see Touji, Kensuke and Hikari as heroes – there’s a reason that I’d wanted and cherished them as my friends. I spent time with them every day cause I liked them. Hikari was always the responsible one making sure everyone in our class was feeling welcome and looked after, Touji was tough and brave and a dedicated older brother, and Kensuke was very resourceful and he’d certainly all but jump at the call to adventure if he ever got the offer to become a hero.
But me? I never had any special features about me. I never had any particular might or influence.
Why would it be me?
“Why us?”

“In part due to your results, and because it was deemed best to keep you all in close contact.”
“So, the class rep and I are here because we’re friends with Asuka?”
“Something like that.”
That was all Ritsuko could reveal at this moment. All she could say in front of us, or even Misato.
I realize now that while this was probably the case for Hikari, it would be more accurate to say that Touji and Kensuke had been brought here because they were friends with me.
That’s probably the sole reason that it was them, and not, say, some kid sitting two rows behind them. And of course, this is also true for almost everything that befell them as a result…
If only they had never talked to me….
But of course the reason they’d approached my painfully shy grade school self in the first place was because of who my parents were. So perhaps it was only time to pay the piper for that unfair advantage… but that’s only as far as I am concerned.
I’ll never see how in the world it is fair to them, to be punished so harshly for the crime of taking pity on me, and showing me little but congeniality and a sense of belonging.
Meanwhile, in the present, Marie’s gonna Marie: “Ahaha~ I’m not being braggadocious, then, in assuming that my scores were none too shabby?”
Touji, at least, would surely have demanded a little more explanations, if it was not at this precise moment that the darkness made Misato’s and Ritsuko’s work a lot easier by falling away in an instant.
Revealed beyond the windows was a small world of gloaming light, a microcosm of lakes and pine forests contained in some kind of gigantic, sunless snow globe, though an uncertain golden light was coming from somewhere, funneled in from above by some clever technological means.
We had just entered an enormous deep reveal far beneath the city, and were proceeding in spiral paths right along its walls, a steadily widening dome that contained its own little world, complete with many pathways such as this, emerging from the top where there was something like a backwards city, a surreal hanging garden of what looked like inverse buildings growing down from the ceiling like stalactites.
But there were stalactites, too, meeting our descent from the other side, an enormous complex of buildings of buildings to which all such winding paths led. The tallest of them was shaped like the ancient pyramids, those oldest relics of mankind as they could be found within the deepest forests or bordering the greatest deserts, and right by the looming Ziggurat was an artificial lake shaped like a diamond, framed by what looked to be buildings as well, man-made walls with glittering light windows, implying a sprawling underground complex rooted deep beneath this tip of the iceberg.
We were all still children enough to be impressed by this.
Myself included. I rushed to the windows to press my fingers against the glass. “Wow! It’s a real life underground base!”
Misato stepped closer to us with a grin. Perhaps she had decided to seize this convenient moment, or maybe she had been waiting all along for it to arrive: “This is GEHIRN Headquarters. The foundation to our new beginning, and a fortress to all mankind.”
You must understand that she was here to represent her organization, to collect us all for its purposes – and as leader of the Operations Division, she would have to deal with us as her subordinates and be expected to build a rapport.
To make sure to impress us was… convenient for her, and bound to make her job easier.
It was most certainly working, too.
Beside me, Kensuke was quite possibly close to tears: “Why didn’t I bring my camera today of all days?”
“How did you even excavate all this?!” gushed Marie.

She was answered quite matter-of-factly by Ritsuko, who had not moved towards the window, but remained exactly where she stood: “We didn’t. We merely found it. All this is part of giant spherical cavern most of which is actually still buried. It wasn’t built by us; Nonetheless, it appears to be artificial.”
“But if not you, then who could have built it?”
“All in due time.”
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

Defender of Puppy Boy
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Wed Mar 10, 2021 8:26 pm

Wisdom, Part II  SPOILER: Show
(1.10: The Hollow Bastion)

The main complex of GEHIRN headquarters was shaped like a tomb and built like a labyrinth.
As soon as we got in, we passed an untold number of hallways, elevators and escalator just to get to our destination.
I suppose that all this must also be connected to what I’d thus far known as the laboratory building. And Kensuke’s talk about access ways all over the city must be the truth as well – this whole place was easily big enough to extend beneath the whole metropolitan area of Tokyo-3 and even far beyond…
Once we’d reached our destination, it’s purpose was pretty clear though: There were benches, and there was a great screen with a projector. There were also a whole lot of people waiting there, ready to give us some introductory lecture.
“Let’s introduce you to our team~” said Misato, but most of them were actually familiar faces, people that we’d seen before – but not like this, not in close-fitting, futuristic uniforms.
Would you believe this?
There was the PE Teacher… Lieutenant Shigeru Aoba.
The computer club lady… Lieutenant Maya Ibuki.
One of the teaching assistants… also Lieutenant, Makoto Hyuuga.
The lady leading our grade’s study group… Ensign Aoi Mogami.
The art teacher… Ensign Satsuki Oii.
The nice home economics teacher, Ensign Kaede Agado.
The biology teacher, Lieutenant Junior Grade Hitomi Kaga.
The Janitor – dressed in a black suit with opaque sunglasses. Looks like Kensuke got to see at least one Man In Black: Turns out he was from GEHIRN’s security division the whole time, one officer Kyoya Kenzaki.
I had never actually visited the school councilor, but I still recognized her face: Kotone’s guardian, Hitomi Amagi. Turns out that she, at least, was an actual councilor, though she also moonlights as a scientific consultant insofar as psychology is relevant to whatever it is GEHIRN does.

And, let me remind you, School Nurse slash Junior Research Director Dr. Ritsuko Akagi and Captain Misato Katsuragi, who was not actually an English teacher, surprise surprise! It was all actually a ploy to surveil us and gather research data. Now that this was done, they’d leave it up to the security peeps to guard us and go back to doing their actual job, ob which there was soon to be a whole lot more… on account of us, somehow.

Was there even a single person at our school who wasn’t an undercover government agent?
...well. I didn’t see the sleepy old math teacher anywhere, so that’s comforting.

There was another young junior grade Lieutenant whom I didn’t recognize, and some people whom I’d already known to be Laboratory staff – there was my parent’s old colleague, Kozo Fuyutsuki, and of course, Ms. Kyoko Zeppelin-Soryu, who greeted us enthusiastically.
And then there were, of course, my parents.
The notorious big boss himself that was my father, Director Ikari – except that within the paramilitary structure of GEHIRN, his direct underlings referred to him as Commander instead.
There was one thing that was never hidden from me, though: He was truly in charge. The supreme leader of this whole ridiculous organization, and his old professor was his number two.
My mother, then, was actually in charge of the research division, while our favorite Not-Actually-An-English-Teacher was in charge of operations.
What sort of operations?

“It’s probably best if I explain, “ ruled mother, and then switched on the projector.
It was doubly weird because she knew all of us by name, if not for years, then at least because I’d mentioned them.

I heard the others whispering as we took our seats – ‘So those are Ikari’s parents, hm?’ ‘Who would’ve thunk that that hot MILF is Soryu’s mom!’ I really hope she didn’t hear you, Touji. But the odds of that would greater if Hikari had not immediately expressed her great displeasure. I think I heard Ms. Soryu snickering to herself about it.
Kotone’s confusion had abated the moment she’s spotted Ms. Amagi, but I was still very much stunned. In the front row were Kensuke and Marie, who were actually excited about the ‘lecture’.
Surrounded by all these familiar faces, this could almost have started to feel like a school trip again, if not for what my mother was just about to tell us.
I was not getting out of this with my conception of the world left intact.
At least the beginning of the story was familiar to me already, so I was much less prepared for what was about to follow.

“When we first started researching Super Solenoid Theory, it was our goal to find a fount of clean and accessible energy that would not burden our environment.
If at all possible, we wished to physically build an actual Super Solenoid – a Perpetuum Mobile.
I don’t want to regal you too much with the physics, but in order to explain why you’ve been called here, it’s helpful if you understand at least a little about how it works. So, children, can any of you tell me why building a Perpetuum Mobile has been considered impossible thus far?”

“Yes Ma’am!”
Marie didn’t waste in a second in raising her hand. “It’s because of Thermodynamics! In a closed system, Energy can be neither created nor destroyed, but Entropy only ever increases. So in every process, energy is dispersed into forms that can no longer be harnessed as easily, escaping through friction and heat. And since energy keeps being converted to more dispersed forms, but the total sum of energy always stays the same, less and less of it is available over time to keep a process going.”

“Yes – if it is a closed system.” answered mother, emphasizing those last two words meaningfully. “But what if the system was open?” system, huh? I had no idea what she was getting at – I’ll never get where people get their insights from.
“You know that when things fall down, they hit the ground with a certain force, and at least on the scales that we are used to, that force is stronger the further they fall. That’s why we consider them to have ‘potential energy’ when they are in that higher position. We expend energy to lift the object against the gravitational field, so when we let it go, some of that energy can be released again… but what if there was a portal, a kind of magic door, connecting the place where the object was dropped from and the ground where it landed? So that once it reached the ground, it would just fall down again from where it started?
You might imagine that it would keep falling, and accelerating until it had reached the terminal velocity for this particular gravitational field, and then it would keep falling forever, going round and round and round between the openings of the portal. It would keep falling in a straight line and yet, be goig round and round in a kind of cycle. It would have increased in potential energy compared to the simple normal fall, but where would that energy be coming from?”

“Well, that would be impossible,” blurted Marie, “It would have to be coming out of nothing.”

“You’re exactly right – if we’re considering only the four known dimensions of spacetime.
Consider a straight line. If you draw it on a plane of paper, it’s two ends would never intersect. But if you cut up a piece of paper, and folded it in a certain was, you could get the ends of it to touch and form something like a circle. Can you guess how?”

Again, Marie’s hand sped up and her words tumbled out even faster. “Fold it into a ring!”

“Very good! By folding it in the third dimension, we can get two points to touch that would never intersect on the plain. The place where we glue the strip together would then be analogous to our magic door from earlier. We could even link the front side of the two dimensional strip with its back.”

“Moebius strip! Moebius strip!”

“Precisely! If you were a little older, perhaps I’d be hiring you as my understudy.”
Mom, please don’t encourage her.
“A ‘Solenoid’ is basically just a fancy word for a spiral or a coil. A super-solenoid, then, is what a hypersphere is to a circle, or what a tesseract to a square. At the time, many contemporary school of thoughts in physics posited the existence of extra dimensions besides the usual four we are used to – and if that were true, it should have been possible to construct one. We’d be talking, in effect, about Dimensional Engineering.”

“ a time-machie that’s bigger on the inside?” blurted Kensuke.

“Yes, Aida-kun, exactly like that. Though a time machine sounds rather too ambitious for a first-time attempt, doesn’t it?” She chuckled. “It took all our know-how and enormous cellars full of electromagnets before we could even begin to create any sort of dimensionally transcendental object. To run the necessary calculations, one of our colleagues had to come up with an all-new type of computer, the same system that we still use now.
Even our simplest prototype would have been a titanic undertaking – after all, such an object would exist partially in our spacetime, and partially outside of it, pulling in energy from the outside. But that outside, if it exists, was uncharted land. The void between the worlds. The space between the branches of the world tree.
So imagine our surprise when one of our experiments registered a resonance reaction seconds before it failed.”

“Resonance? Like Echo?”

“Like beams of light interfering with each other.” she allowed the silence to settle on that statement, like she expected us to grasp it’s weight. “Meaning, there was another. A complete, functioning S2 engine was already active on this planet.”

That’s when it finally hit us. Thanks for spelling it out, Mom.
Our faces all contorted in the most primal sort of awe. There could be no other response, especially now when the answers were only suggested, but not yet explained or spelled out into any sort of comprehensible framework.
In that moment it was as if someone had taken the tops of our skulls and cranked them white open, removing what we thought to be the ceiling of the world and our thought like the lid of a can.
In that moment we were like toddlers again, hearing for the first time about the most basic facts of life and the universe, comprehending little of the large shadows of processes that moved about all around us.

“We triangulated its source to a large, spherical underground cavern at the south pole, much like the one we are standing in right now.”
That’s when mother pressed some button on some device in the pocket of her labcoat, prompting the screen before us to show… evidence of a cave, I suppose. To me it was just some configuration of black and white stains. There were captions and indicators, but I didn’t recognize a single one of the terms used in the labels.
“We didn’t get a chance to physically excavate it until many years later, but even through what means we had of examining them remotely, we were forced to conclude that both cavities are artificial, left behind long before the advent of even the most primitive life on Earth by some ancient intelligence.”

“...Intelligence? You mean, it’s alien?!”
Kensuke’s eyes were wide with startling realization. Hikari and Kotone looked a little scared.
I just felt numb… almost dazed from how overwhelmed I was.
Touji’s face was very much incredulous, as was Marie’s despite her earlier enthusiasm:
“With all due respect… Doctor Ikari… You’re not seriously expecting us to believe that there’s an UFO buried at the south pole!”

“Oh no, it wasn’t a craft. Though we made the exact same assumption at first – that it must be some kind of technology, or a physical phenomenon. Then again, it’s not like living matter as we know it isn’t composed of ‘physical phenomena’.”


“That’s right. What we found wasn’t a machine, but a living creature. A creature who had lain dormant in the crust of the earth since before life as we know it. A completely different form of life that had existed here long before bacteria, plants, or animals spread our to colonize the planet. And it was a kind of life to whom the power of unlimited energy came as naturally as thinking comes to us – an Invincible Immortal. One might even be tempted to call it a god…

You realize now, the situation that we found ourselves in. My team of bioengineers under sub-commander Fuyutsuki was originally just meant to help one of of colleagues with growing the wetware for her organic supercomputer, but suddenly we found in our hands what might well be considered the Holy grail for anyone in the life sciences: Imagine how much more we could truly know about the nature and origin of life if we had more than one data point! Something wholly outside of the life we know now – after all, every single living thing on this planet right now is ultimately related, from plants to microbes to ourselves!

That’s when the focus of the project shifted. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel by building an S2 Engine from scratch, we devoted ourselves to investigating the one that already existed.
It would take long to get the funding for an expedition, so we turned instead to the tool we already had: Our countless failed prototypes that never once released more energy than they consumed could now be put to a new purpose: As long as we could get them to protrude into the additional dimensions or at least, to reproduce that initial resonance response, we had a means to touch, probe and investigate the creature from the comforts of the laboratories that we already had, with little need for additional grants or funding.

So for the next four years, we set out to investigate that creature, to understand it, to unlock it’s secrets – Here at GEHIRN, we generally use the codename ‘Adam’ to refer to it, for it would end up being the beginning and the foundation for everything else.
The discoveries we obtained from Adam allowed us all to live comfortable lives and probe a deep well of knowledge that had previously been closed to us. One could say with some justification that this research became the foundation for the golden age that we currently enjoy – not least among the fruits of our endeavors was the discovery of the N2 reaction which now supplies our electricity as well as our weaponry.

But what our leader at the time didn’t realize was that all our probing was wakening Adam, who had lain dormant for ages upon ages. At last, one of our experiments pushed it too far – Something we did triggered a self-reinforced chain reaction that was sending the S2 engine into overdrive. We were forced to make the difficult decision to terminate the reaction before it became irreversible – even if that meant that much of the feedback of the violent reaction would be felt on our side of the dimensional rift. The result was a tragedy.”

I wasn’t looking at Misato’s face at this point. But if I had looked at her, it wouldn’t surprised me if she had flinched at the mention of the incident.
I hadn’t, though – My eyes were wide, my thought going wild. I connected some dots at least:
“...the incident at the lab!”
Of course, if I had only just barely heard of it, it would have been complete news to everybody else. Thankfully, mommy dearest was here to help:

“That is right, unfortunately. About ten years ago, there was an explosion in one of our facilities, and some of our staff were even killed – including our lead researcher, Dr. Hideaki Katsuragi, who was the one to first work out the underlying theory behind the S2-Engine, and one Dr. Naoko Akagi, whose novel supercomputer made the calculations possible.”
...Katsuragi and Akagi, huh? One similar name might be happenstance, especially if it was a famous one, but two at once, in such close proximity… that does make one wonder.
“Many ordinary staff members died as well, including a young intern, and yet, we should soon learn that we had been incredibly lucky compared to what might have happened…”

Now that’s not ominous at all, Mom.

“ the aftermath of the disaster, we could no longer detect any sort of S2-activity. We did, however, receive reports of anomalous meteor showers all over the planet, and of strange Satelite images showing a sizable explosion in the ice fields of Antarctica.”

“NO WAY! Cratergate is real?!” Once overcome by his initial fit of passion, Kensuke soon realized that the rest of us might require an explanation. “There’s always been those weird rumors and conspiracy theories about the ‘04 meteor shower, people claiming that the plumes and clouds coming from that impact site in Antarctica didn’t look like a meteor impact. Honestly, I’d always thought that was bull-crap, because like, most of the explanation were things like secret space lasers controlled by American bankers or some nonsense like that. Though, if they said that Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg were behind it I’d almost have believed it…”

“Well, it wasn’t Elon Musk…” My mom’s ever unflappable smile actually looked a little awkward for once.

“I get that now. I was that alien, right? Adam?”

“Unfortunately, yes. After the explosion, we finally sent a team to the site. What we found was proof of just how little Dr. Katsuragi and the others had understood what we had been dealing with. We found the chamber that Adam had been housed in – it’s roof blow off from the force of the cataclysm. Little remained of Adam itself – when we disrupted the reaction on our end, it’s S2 engine had become unstable and blown itself to pieces from the feedback.
But the effects weren’t confined to the cave itself. To our horror, we found that all life within a certain radius had been completely eradicated – Everything from Penguins to the microorganisms in the ground… But the lifeforms were the only things affected. Right next to the blast, there was of course molten ice and flying debris, but the annihilation effect stretched further than that. Everything that lived, vanished, but all other matter was left alone – the rocks, the soil, the ice and water, all that was left unchanged.”

Father took this moment to stand before us and look at us intently: “Do you understand what this means?”
I couldn’t do much more but gulp. Neither could the bravest among us. I had no often see him speak with such commanding intensity.
“It means that Adam, and all that comes from Adam, is our enemy.”

Once we were sufficiently intimidated… I’m tempted to say, ‘properly tenderized’, mother once again took over the duty of explaining: “As best as we can understand it, the cumulative effects from our experiments roused Adam’s S2 engine from a dormant state into an active one. We can’t say for certain if what it did next was a purely instinctual program, or a deliberate act of will. But while it might be alien to us, but is nonetheless a life-form. So we think that it was attempting to do what all life does… To reproduce. A process began. If you look at it as a creature, you could say it’s building a nest. If you look at it as a program, you could call it terraforming. If you looked at it as a god, you might even think of it as an act of creation.
In any case, it was looking to change the environment produced and shaped by our kind of life into one suitable to its own, to wipe out everything on this earth so that it might be settled by its offspring.
The choice we made to interrupt the reaction cost many lives, but, if we had stopped it even just a little later, the devastation would have been immense. The release of heat alone could have melted half the ice shields – the environment irreversibly contaminated, the casualties unimaginable…

All along, as humanity was evolving and spreading and building its civilizations, this immense danger had been right around the corner, buried in the ice, waiting for the moment that someone might awaken it. If it hadn’t been us, someone else might have – if they had dug deep enough through the permafrost to actually reach it, searching for oil, maybe, or discovering it by chance in some wildlife survey, chances are that they could have set off that same reaction all at once instead of bit by bit over the course of four years, with even less hope of keeping it controlled.

The danger was still there all along, even back when we couldn’t see or hear it because we couldn’t look around the corner, clinging to our familiar four-dimensional plane. And it exists still.”

“...but you said the Alien was destroyed!” grumbled Touji.

“...the original one, yes. But when we excavated the cavern, we found this.”

The image on the projector really spoke for itself. There was a big bad hole in the ceiling, melted walls of stone and holes where the ice had melted much, much faster – but aside from that big ol’ hole, the dome-like ceiling was riddle with a multitude of smaller holes.

“As I said, we were lucky that we stopped it early, but even still, we were too late. Before we stopped the process – before it vanished… Adam had already given birth to several of its offspring. It would appear that they larval forms were blown into the atmosphere from the force of the explosion, raining down upon our world as seeds of ruin.”

Kensuke grasp what she meant quickly enough “The Meteor Shower! Except none of it was meteors.”
Hikari’s priorities were elsewhere: “...So those… ‘seeds’ might still be out there?”

It was father who answered: “There’s no might about it. They’re coming, and if we don’t do something about it, none of us have a future.”
Mother at least had the decency to look concerned: “We’re expecting them to lay dormant for a little longer while they reach maturity, but before long, it’s inevitable that they will emerge and burst from their cocoons… Beings akin to Adam, born with a source of unlimited energy and that same power to reset the world. ”
“When that happens,” concluded father, “Every single living thing on this planet wll be under attack.”
“It’s highly unlikely that we can negotiate or even communicate with them. And even if we could, they need this world to live on every bit as much as we do – from their perspective, we are the interlopers that have sprung up on their world: They were here first. And I don’t just mean humans – our atmosphere is rich in oxygen because of cyanobacteria. The early life which was almost completely poisoned at first eventually came up with a way to utilize it. By now, almost all complex, multicellular organisms are dependent on the atmosphere being the way it is. If the earth were restored to it’s original state, as Adam would have known them in his heyday, it would cease to be a place where you and I can exist.”
“We are, effectively, in a state of competition. That’s something that doesn’t tend to last very long in nature – either one of the two species adapts to a different niche, or before long, one of them will end up out-competed and given the boot by natural selection.”
You didn’t need to be a biologist to get what father meant by that… but mother made sure to translate it just in case:
“ of now, we as a people do not have the means to leave this planet in great numbers. So when the first of Adam’s children emerges from it’s cocoon, that will be the trumpet that heralds the apocalypse.”

The End of the World.
All the while, while I was busy stressing about music rehearsals and school plays, calendar slots and whether or not I looked cool in front of Rei, the End of the World had been creeping up on us from behind.
That’s what had kept my parents so busy. How could I fault them? One kid like me wasn’t more important than the rest of the world. I’m sure many thought of them as heroes – In terms of the trolley problem, I was just that one person tied to the rails – better one than seven billion.
Was this really news? If it wasn’t Adam, it could just as easily have been global warming, or nuclear war, or anything else of the giant pile of problems that humanity had been busily creating for itself ever since we had even the simplest means to escape the ravages of nature… it’s like we got bored without them and decided that we had to start tormenting each other.
The Bronze Age Collapse can’t have been too different.
But this time, we might just have dealt ourselves a blow that might do worse than just knock us back to the stone age.
It’s not like we could stop eating and socializing and needing relaxation just because we knew this now. The simplistic feedback loops that made up our animal bodies would force us to keep living until the catastrophe actively stopped us.
Unless they were actively being killed, most people had probably spent the great tragedies of history just… trying to eat and stuff. Waiting for work. Sitting around a fire and despairing.
It seemed unavoidable, too, that I grew older I would eventually encounter some sort of historical event, like a war, a recession, a plague – open the books, they’re full of those things.
I had just been lucky thus far. I had just been young.
Of course, during my lifetime, there had been talks here and there that this might happen or that might happen, it’s just that none of it had come true yet.
And now, aliens. We’d reformed agriculture enough to feed our ballooning population, we’d avoided both nuclear holocaust and a cataclysm of global warming only to call down aliens on our heads and of course, it was us who’d antagonized them first.
After all, Adam might have been content to leave us alone until our civilization had ran its natural course if only we hadn’t disturbed its nap. What’s a sleep of eons to an immortal creature?
I think my spiraling thoughts fled to the far distance because I didn’t want to experience this moment trapped in the flesh on my bones, slave to the endorphins flooding through my veins.
I had always been somewhat sensitive and easily startled, and my reflexes and reaction time were nothing to write home about. I was never worse than strictly average, but I’d never gotten good at sports or video games. I guess I just didn’t have especially strong nerves. Maybe if I’d ever had siblings, they might have turned out more like my parents – or like Rei, if I’d still believed in the fiction that Rei was my cousin at that point. But out of my relatives that I actually knew of, I’d probably turned out the most like my uncle and cousin: Nothing special.
It could just about manage normal everyday life, good ‘nuff, not especially bad, I had my little pleasures and some things that I was good at, but this –
This was beyond me.

Not everyone responded quite like me, though. Touji must have felt that bottomless sense of freefall as much as I did, but he refused to stay and hang out there: “Then what are ya’ll still sitting around here for?! Shouldn’t ya’ll be trying to find these alien eggs before they hatch if they’re really so dangerous?”

“There are initiatives all over the world right now trying to do just that. But it’s easier said than done – 70% of this planet is covered in oceans after all. We believe that most of them ended up in under the sea – who knows, some of them might even have up in orbit…
Which is not to say that we haven’t been working on ...countermeasures.”

“ have a way to fight them?”

Father was confident: “GEHIRN exists only for that reason.”

“Just like we refer to their progenitor as ‘Adam’, we have decided, for convenience’s sake, to call the class of creatures that it belongs to ‘Angels’, including it’s offspring. Based on what our simulations have extrapolated from the holes in the cavern roof, we’re expecting a whopping thirty-five of them – an exceedingly small number, when you consider that our kind of life has produced the eight million species of animals living on this planet right now – never mind plants, fungi and microbes. If we had allowed for ‘Near-Second Impact’… which is what we call Adam’s procreation process, to continue on undisturbed, the angels might be just as numerous now as animals are today.”

“That’s not how I’d ever imagine an angel…” mused Hikari. “Aren’t they supposed to be pure, good, beautiful beings that serve God?”

“Well, it started as a kind of placeholder title, after all we need to call them something – and when you think about it, they’re like a second people that was created before humans. And in western myth, it’s said that it will be angels that herald the end of the world – few on our initial team were Christian,J ewish or Muslim though, so it’s not like we knew very much about how they’re thought of in Western or Middle Eastern culture. There were only Soryu-kun and Makinami-kun, and I’d heard from them that angels are also sometimes thought of as fearsome creatures with incomprehensible form, not just the pretty shiny people with wings that we commonly think of...The basic concept seemed to fit, and the name stuck… we really meant no offense.”

“None taken.” said Marie.
“Never mind what they’re called, “ interjected Touji. “What’re you guys meaning to do about them?”

“That’s what I’ve been trying to get to.” answered mother, “It’s also where you guys come in.”
She didn’t even wait for the surprised gasps to subside before she displayed the next slide.
“This is mankind’s ultimate multipurpose decisive weapon: The synthetic humanoid Evangelion.”

Noe what would a bunch of impressionable children who most certainly knew almost nothing about bio-engineering think of Mankind’s Ultimate Decisive Weapon? How would their childlike minds – yet immature, or unspoiled depending on your view – try to contextualize it?
Fortunately enough, I can provide you with a sample:

“Is that a… giant robot?”

“It looks like a samurai knight in armor…”

“A giant!”

“An ogre!”

“I can’t believe it! A REAL LIFE MECHA!”

It looked like each of those things, and none of those things, and all those things and more.
But we were used to figures, puppets, CGI. Seeing it pictured on a screen doesn’t remotely compare to seeing it with your eyes, feeling the sheer scale of it in your bones, seeing it move.
If you saw it move, it would follow you to your dreams for many years and you might never be entirely free of it.
You’d start believing in titans and jötnar and asura, and any other kind of vicious primordial anti-god that human imagination ever managed to cook up.

“It’s not a robot, it’s a cyborg. It is largely composed of vat-grown, artificial flesh. You know anything that lives has been through millions of years of optimization. That’s why in engineering, we often copy nature – the shape of a wing, the lens of an eye – many things. In this case, we couldn’t find the means to build a machine with power to rival the likes of the Angels. But from the get-go, we knew of something that did: The Angels themselves. We didn’t need to understand the ins and outs of their power to replicate it if we could just grow its source like a living being.
In this case, we used the salvaged flesh of Adam – it’s remains, if you will. And here is the first-fruits of that endeavor: Evangelion Unit Zero.”

It looked like an armored warrior tied fast to a wall, the restrained Gulliver in Lilliput transplanted from the horizontal into the vertical position. It was Prometheus in his chains – its face was that of a flesh-eating cyclops. It was painted that bright orange color that was used in all kinds of wind canal tests with prototypes of cars or robots.
It was a monster in every sense of the word, and there wasn’t a fiber or instinct in my body that did not recognize it as such.
Despite it’s surface of sleek metal, ceramic and plastic, it was somehow a profoundly revolting thing. It made you consider that the horns of demons might be nothing less than the broken halos of the angels that they had once been. For an angel that was fallen, cast down, perverted against its mission could be nothing else but a devil.
And that, without a doubt, is what it looked like to me: A devil.
There was nothing else I could have recognized in its shape, like all those scattered myths of evil spirits throughout the many cultures of the world were nothing but a collective fever-dream premonition of the moment when this dreadful thing should come to be.

Once we’d all had some time to stare at it, mom clicked us through a quick succession of images – Something that looked like embryos growing in a wany-welled platter. Helmet-like headpieces much like EVA 00’s, with wildly varying numbers of eyes but nothing left beneath their necks but long and eerie spines, vertebrae the size of old phone booths.
Incomplete gigantesque skeletons lined up on on the ground, one more misshapen than the other. Helmets and bones dumped en masse into something like a ditch.

“It’s the only one that we have finished so far, and the last in a long, long line of failed prototypes that we produces until we were finally able to work out all the kinks with the growing process. Angel and human seem destined to be a war with each other even on a molecular level, you see, so it took much trial and error to get it to grow human-like limbs. Fot the most part we ended up with building-sized versions of common lethal foetal abnormalities. To this day, the number of eyes is a bit of a lottery – but as you see, we did get it worked out.
Seeing how much money we sunk into it, we kept this last prototype in storage – after all, it can’t ever hurt to have a fallback plan. I hope we’ll never have to use it, though, for once thing, the core unit is improperly constructed…”

I heard the click of the remote once again.

“The first Evangelion Unit that we’re actually planning to use is still being constructed. This is the current state of EVA 01, our final test model.”

The was a large hall with a huge cross-like indentation in its floor. Inside that was a great demonic shape. Most of it was cast in shadows, but I could’ve sworn I saw the maw-like outlines of exposed ribs and something like a single horn.
I was somehow ridiculously grateful that you couldn’t see it any better.

“It was Ms. Soryu here who came up with the schematics for the final production model – she had the task of adapting the design into something truly optimized for battle. As we speak, Evangelions are being produced at many sites all over the world. There are even plans for mass production.
There is, however, one more limiting factor that has been constraining us from the beginning:

The EVAs are manned.”
“Almost since their inception, we’ve been attempting to create an auto-pilot for the EVAs” supplied Dr. Akagi, “And we’ve been failing just for just as long.”

“It seems like the first question you would ask, right? If we’re using something antithetical to ourselves to create the EVAs, how do we control them? How do we constrain them?
The answer I came up with was to enter a pilot directly into the Evangelion’s spine, and to connect their nerves to the Evangelion’s own. Since the Evangelions were fashioned to resemble humans, it then becomes possible for that pilot to move its arms and legs as if it were their own limbs.
So the Evangelions are, in effect, weapons that are not controlled by buttons and levers, but by the human mind and heart. But we are still speaking of something that is derived from alien creatures – for most people, they simply wouldn’t be compatible.
The chance that a random person off the street could do it is less than one in nine billion. We’d be lucky if there was even one person who could do it in all the world.
So, all of your classmates, including yourselves have been gathered here because you possess certain physical, genetic, psychological or spiritual qualities that could confer above-average suitability as a pilot. We screened all of you, and you six in particular were brought here because out of all your classmates, you had the most promising scores.
The traits and abilities needed to move an Evangelion are exceedingly rare – there’s a good chance that there isn’t a single human being left in the world who could do it, aside from you six and the four candidates which we already have. Nobody else in the world has that ability.
Therefore, we have no choice but to ask your cooperation. We can’t force you, and there would be no point in trying, and I know this must be a lot to take in, but I must implore you to understand that the fate of all life on earth might well be tethered to your decision.”

...wait a second there, Mom.
Do you realize what you’re saying?
You’re saying that you want us to fight aliens?
Ohmygosh, is that what Rei, Asuka and Kaworu have been doing all along?
Preparing to fight aliens?
Real actual angels?
And worse: Real actual war?
I tried to imagine the frail, petite form of Rei holding an assault rifle, ready to fire it at some tentacled monstrosity. I couldn’t do it. Not even with Asuka, whom I knew to punch really damn hard. Nor Kaworu, though he was the oldest of our bunch…

“If that is so-”
“Wait a moment, Aida-kun. You will all be given some time to consider it.”
But I could tell his answer just from the way he was standing – from everything that I’d ever known about it in all the time I had known him.
I’d been hoping that they all would say no.
I’d been hoping they’d all laugh just from how ridiculous this was.
I was hoping they’d get mad, and insist that Asuka and the others couldn’t possibly be serious about this either – I was hoping they’d say all this, so that I could agree with them.
...come on, Kensuke. You can’t say yes. Please, not you, too!
Even now I knew only a fraction of whatever it was that Asuka, Rei and Kaworu were being subjected to.
When I thought that everyone in this room could end up dying fighting monsters, I-
I selfishly did not want them to go. Part of me wanted to make the speeding trolley veer off into the crowd so that it wouldn’t hit them.
“...You said ‘training’…” I scrambled forth, holding on to what threats I could grasp. “Does that mean that you want us to start now, so that we’ll be experts by the time we’re grown up?”

I want to believe that that crease on my mother’s brow was regret, or at least distaste.
“The angels are expected to arrive sometime next year.”
“As I said, the EVA is a weapon that is controlled with your brain, but the human brain isn’t exactly built to command weapons. Fortunately, it is very adaptable – think of all the skills we can learn, or how different responses, behavior and sensibility can be impressed on us through upbringing and culture. There were even cases where a baby was born with only half a brain, and still had almost completely normal mental functions. But if an adult suddenly lost half their brain after relying on it their whole life, they wouldn’t be so lucky. Nowadays technology has allowed for some blind people to see or some deaf people to hear, but if those people were blind or deaf from birth, they won’t suddenly recognize sounds and objects just because they have the organic capacity – they need to ‘learn’ how to see and hear, and many don’t ever reach the level of someone who could see as a child. They adapt in other ways, of course – Like using sign language, or being able to orient themselves through touch and sound. Hearing people can learn sign language, of course, but any end up ‘picturing’ an audible voice to go with the signs because that is what they’re used to.
So for someone to be truly efficient as an EVA pilot, they need to start young. The ideal subjects would be small toddlers, whose brains are still developing in the first place. That’s why we recruited Rei and Asuka when they were only little girls. But if we started training small children now, it would do little good.”

There was no need to elaborate why. None of us wanted to ponder the logistics of sending literal babies to war.

“The second best option are adolescents in the second stage of their growth. At that age, much of the wiring in the frontal lobes is changed and completed.” Or, as you would have it, get repurposed to move your FrankenBot. RoboStein?

But here we are: My mother was suggesting the untenable, and 12 year old Hikari was stuck on voice-of-reason-duty:
“Isn’t that dangerous?”

Father did not bother mincing words: “I cannot deny it.”

“...but what about our parents?”

“They’ve already been informed – In fact, I’ve spoken with them this morning, right before I had you called here.”
Golly gee mom, I wonder what you threatened them with. I bet she never said it out loud, but just had father ever so subtly imply it while wearing his best shit-eating grin. And then, with that soft, calm reasonable voice of hers, she’d presented herself as the water in the desert, all warm and maternal: ‘I am sure we can come to some kind of agreement’.
That’s how you’ve always done it, haven’t you? Like some bastard street thug and a slimy two-faced rich girl, which is what the two of them basically were.
And the worst it, I believed her that there was nothing more going on than perhaps mature discussion. I was such a fool. Can’t say that I no longer am, to be honest.

There was no need to ask about my parents, since they were here… as was Kotone’s guardian. I was so naive I didn’t even consider that they might’ve had her adopted by a staff member for the sole purpose of making her pilot, at least not until much, much later.

We were left our allotted time to consider it. I wouldn’t be surprised if even that was part of some psychological ploy, to give any trace of resolve some time to soften.
The adults all filed out of the room and left us to ourselves – but often think our choices might have been different if we had each been just by ourselves, not faced with the other five and each worried of what the others might think of us.

“Now I don’t like this one bit…” grumbled Touji. “Looks a bit like we’re being shanghaied, doesn’t it? No offense against your folks, Shinji, but they’ve had us rought into their base and presented with accomplished facts… If we said no, would they even let us out?”
“Now you’re the one who sounds like a conspiracy theorist.”
Marie expulsed some air past her pouty lower lip. “I’m still not sure what I believe, or what I don’t…”

“I’m going to do it.”
“But- Kensuke!”
“Have you gone bananas man?”
“Your parents would be worried!”
I didn’t want to say ‘me’. I would be worried.
“Ikari’s right, you know. Suzuhara’s parents and mine both have other children, but yours don’t.”
...that sounded dangerously like she was considering it.
Not you too, Hikari, you were supposed to be the reasonable one…

“Precisely! I’m an only child. Which means I don’t have any brothers and sisters that would miss me. I’ve had to entertain myself with all of that Otaku stuff ‘cause I was always by myself at home. I’m a healthy young man with no particular attachments. I’ve got no girlfriend, I’m not aspiring to some great scholarship, and the people who would miss me can be counted on one hand, I’m the perfect person to go.”
I really wish he had said something much, much sillier that was easier to dismiss. Darnit Kensuke, I would miss you, and so would Touji. We’ll find you a girlfriend eventually. Just stop the crazytalk…
“But you might get hurt! I know you probably imagine that it’s gonna be all cool and that you’re going to be shooting guns at monsters like in a video game, but you might get hurt! We’re talking about real battles here – you’re not going to respawn if you die. And even if you don’t… I’m friends with Asuka, Rei and Kaworu, so I know how difficult this has been on them – they all put on a brave face in their own way, but I can tell they’ve been having a tough time. Our enemies are completely unknown monsters, and these EVA things are part monsters themselves! Anything could happen to you!”
“That’s what I’m counting on! I mean, what happens if I say no? Finish school, go to college, get married, find a job, work my ass off until retirement, and then die anyways? All my life I’ve just been drifting along, going through the motions, wishing than anything exciting might happen. Something meaningful. And now it’s happened, and I’m actually being asked to participate! You know, if they hadn’t just asked be to become a pilot, I would probably be on my knees, begging them to let me in!”
“But Kensuke, you might die!”
“We might all die anyways when those space monsters show up to kill us all. At least this way, I might actually get to do something about it.”
Oh no. That was real passion in his eyes.
He wasn’t just being naive about this – indeed he was making enough sense that Touji and Hikari were exchanging drawn looks with each other.
That’s when of all people, little Kotone stepped forward.
I fear her mind had been made up from the beginning, waiting only for a moment of courage to propel her forward. She was standing straight in an almost soldierly fashion, taking care to look as determined and resolute as was humanly possible with her rounded, childlike features.
“I’m going to do it, too.”
Not too long ago she had been clinging to Hikari-san in a state of fright, so of course the class rep was surprised: “Suzunami-san, are you certain?”
She nodded her round little head. “We’re being asked to help others, right?
Not just Dr. Ikari and the others, everyone in the whole, big world needs our help.
I just can’t say no to that… It’s the right thing to do.”
Even so, it was clear that she was still trying to psych herself up, doing her best to put up a brave face and laugh about it. “I mean, when you think about it, it’s no different from when I volunteered at that animal shelter, or when I helped to look after those other kids at the orphanage. I want to help people as much as I can!” she declared.

“I’m coming, too.” said Marie, and just like that, half of had agreed.
It seemed to me like there was a chain reaction in progress… just like when myself, Touji and the others ended up going into a cave.
“But Vincennes-san… weren’t you just saying that you were skeptical about this?”
“Well, I’ve thought about it. It’s true that we have been asked today to accept many new ideas and discard many assumptions that we’ve held for all our lives. Even my heart is spinning, so I can’t imagine how everyone else must be feeling – you have my sincerest sympathy.
But we’re being asked to contribute to the advancement of science here. Our contributions will lead to discoveries that might benefit all of mankind! That has been my most cherished dream for as long as I could think! Just in the short time that it took us to come down here, I’ve seen as many incredible things and marvelous machines as in the whole of my previous life! There’s no way that I could decline! It’s just as Aida-kun says, if they weren’t taking me, I would be begging them! Besides, my unique talents would be wasted on any lesser cause, don’t you think so too? Wahaha~”
She did calm down eventually. “Besides, I’m sure there will be compensations and benefits. This is a sort of military after all. And they just said that it would be the end of the world if we don’t agree, right? If we wanted, we could demand that they pay all our expenses for as long as we live! Think of it! By the end of next year we’d be fourteen, and we’d never have to work another day in our lives! (Not that I’d ever be satisfied with that.) They couldn’t refuse us, because we’d be the heroes who saved the earth! They might even hold a parade for us!”
...she’s definitely a material girl, that one. But at the same time, she was quite sincere about that whole ‘wanting to advance science’ thing. It’s not something that I would have understood.
Although it was outlandish enough – It might have been easy to believe that her case was simply different from ours, that her almost certainly going didn’t mean that the others could not be dissuaded -
until I noticed Hikari clenching her fists. This, I think, might have been the tipping point from which there could be no returning.
“Then I’m coming as well.”
“...class rep?!” Touji sounded way more concerned than I would have expected him to be.
“Aida, Suzunami and Marie are right. This affects everyone. Every single person that we know. We can’t afford to be selfish right now.
All my life I’ve tried my best to be a responsible person – to be a good example for Nozomi, to avoid burdening my parents, to be mindful of the needs and feelings of others. Even when it wasn’t easy – when it mean that I had to study instead of having fun with my friends, or tell everyone to act reasonable for their own good, even when I knew that this wouldn’t make me popular. So I can’t just back out now and refuse to lend a hand while others risk their lives on my behalf.”
“Class rep…” Touji made a long and pregnant pause here.
Then, he shrugged. “I guess it can’t be helped then. I’m coming, too.”
“Huh? But weren’t you against it?”
“I’m not saying that I like it. But what sort of man would I be if I let you and Soryu do all the fighting while sitting on my lazy ass? If Sakura got hurt by one of them aliens on my watch, I’d never forgive myself! What sort of brother would I be if I didn’t try to protect her? I know you don’t have the highest opinion of me – maybe you think I’m an idiot or the class clown or whatever, but you know what I ain’t? A bloody coward!
He shook his fist at the ceiling: “I’m gonna show them aliens!”

And after that display, I couldn’t be the only one who said no.

Layer 10: Path of Thoughtlessness: The End.

Congrats! You’ve made it through the slow introduction part. As a reward, here is a peek at things to come! De Partay starz nao~

Next Time Preview  SPOILER: Show
Act 2: “The Shinji Ikari Raising Project”
*plays the next episode preview music *
2.0 Yui and Gendo have a rare disagreement
2.1 Shinji gets acquainted with his new training schedule, as well as the people in charge of it.
2.2 For reasons known only to Yui and Gendo, the kids are made to endure a plethora of amusing activities. Wanting a piece of the action, Mana Kirishima tries to sneak into the laboratory.
2.3 Oh noes! It’s the dreaded unison training…
2.4 After being carted off to some dubious ‘GEHIRN beach house’ for the latest wacky training regimen, Shinji & his friends try their hand at forming a band. Later, Kaworu-kun stops by for a sleepover.
2.5 Since their birthdays are so close together, Misato and Asuka throw a joint party. Shinji is not sure he likes the increasingly martial tone to the activities at the lab…
2.6 Because his parents are very busy, Shinji spends the winter holidays with Misato and the girls. Yet somehow, Gendo and Yui still have time to think of crazy schemes such as ‘deserted island survival exercises’
2.7 The kids badger Misato and their parents day and night so that they might be allowed on this years’ school trip. It’s the least they deserve after being made to go through that creepy haunted house stress test.
2.8 In other news, its Valentines Day! So obviously, shenanigans ensue.
2.9 As the academic year draws to a close, the students of class I-A prepare for the obligatory school festival.
2.10 The construction of EVA 01 is finally completed. Everyone at the lab gathers to celebrate a job well done.

Act 3: “while fully conscious”
*next episode preview music *
3.0 Shinji’s mother tells him something rather strange.
3.1 The test model for the EVA series is ready for its first activation.
3.2 Dr. Ritsuko Akagi earns herself a promotion
3.3 At long last, Kyoko Soryu gets the one-up on her rival.
3.4 Both the Artificial Evolution Laboratory and GEHIRN are disbanded.
3.5 Shinji runs away.
3.6.Decisions have consequences
3.7 NERV is forced to make do with such means as are left to them.
3.8 The great Valor of Mari Makinami is revealed.
3.9 Just as a glimmer of hope appears on the horizon, Shinji’s friendship with Asuka is put through a strenuous test.
3.10 Having meddled in forces beyond their comprehension, the defenders of humanity find their arsenal in pieces before the long-awaited war could even begin

Act 4: “such selfish prayers”
*next episode preview music*
Despite all these months of preparation and costly bitter sacrifices, the people of NERV are as good as helpless when the true enemy finally arrives.
* camera pans over Rei in full bandage babe regalia *
Gendo: [Kyubey Voice] “Shinji Ikari! You can save her if you become a magical boy! Quick! Make a contract with me!”

Act 5: “Invaders must die”
For a short while, things appear to go well.
*next episode preview music starts playing over some clips of various angels both canonical and spinoffy, but suddenly stops & fizzles out into static*

Act 6: “Human Error”
In which Shinji fucks up.

Act 7: “Cause of Death” (tentative title)
In which NERV works their tools until they break.

Act 8: “The Empty City” (tentative title)
Et tu, Kaworu-kun? Or: “It all returns to nothing...”

Act 9: “The Bitter End” (tentative title)
“It just keeps tumbling down, tumbling down, tumbling down...”

Act 10: “The Stillness at the End Of Time” (tentative title)
“I’ve lost everything, everything, everything that matters to me, matters in this world… ”
Lala lala lala lala lala lala ~

Act 11: ??? not ???

Act 12: ??? anti ???
*silence *

Even I won’t know what happens in the last two story arcs until I’ve seen “Thrice upon a time” tbh. It won’t, can’t and mustn’t be exactly the same, but I’d like to at least be informed by it.
Last edited by Kendrix on Mon Mar 29, 2021 6:55 am, edited 1 time in total.
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

Defender of Puppy Boy
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Wed Mar 17, 2021 7:49 pm

2.0: Vanity / Path of Instability, Part I  SPOILER: Show

Layer 9: Path of Instability

(There is a book with seven seals.

One of them is breached.

Before the book stands an unshaven man with a ponytail.

He is holding an opulent peacock’s feather of shimmering colors.

Having sharpening its end, he dips it in an inkwell near the book.)

Kaji RYOJI: “I release upon you the Deadly Sin of Vanity. The Fraudulence of Mankind will bring forth ruin.”

(There is a stage.
On the stage, there is a spotlight.
In the spotlight, there is a folding chair.
In the chair, there is a girl with long, light blond hair, wearing headband to keep it out of her forehead aside from a few, stray stands.)


MARIE VINCENNES: “That’s an excellent question! I’m so glad you’ve asked, and of course I don’t mind answering it, it’s no bother at all~”


MARIE VINCENNES: “It is not easy to be a person of my talents, you know? Being this brilliant comes with own solemn duties. Sometimes it is a heavy burden… But oh, I just cannot help but use my brilliance for the good of innocent peasants! Anything else would be a waste of my genius~”


MARIE VINCENNES: “Screw all of you! I’m better than all you bozos. And that’s why I always get what I want. You know, just like a princess. A diva’s always center stage after all~”


MARIE VINCENNES: “But you know, under all that bluster… (and the rather thin ladylike veneer that’s on top of the bluster)… I really genuinely do care about the advancement of science. There’s really nothing that I want more, no deeper dream inside my little heart~ There’s just nothing like that ~primal happiness~ of childlike wonder!”


MARIE VINCENNES: “Ever since I was a little girl, people would praise me for answering a question right. And being praised made me really, really happy. The more I got right, the more praise I got. All the adults looked so proud to show me off! So I decided that I would know the answers to ALL the questions! PRAISE ME! Shower me with your A D U L A T I O N. I want to look good and be seen looking good! Give me your praise, give me your love, give me the fame and the money! Gimmegimmegimme! I can’t get enough of it! It really IS that simple: I’m so very vain! I’m the one and only QUEEN of VANITY~”

(a second spotlight apears)

Asuka LANGLEY SORYU: “No, you can’t have it! Mine! MY attention! There can only be one queen! This city’s not big enough for the both of us!”

MARIE VINCENNES: (shrugs) “I don’t know or care what kinda problem Soryu has, but it’s waaaayyy more complicated than this. Honestly I don’t really mind her, but, I know I wouldn’t put myself through such hardships when there are much, much easier options. Fame and attention can’t really be what she wants – she gets it in droves and yet she never really seems to enjoy it...“

(The spotlight fades.)


September 30th 2014 (late afternoon)
T minus 469 days and eight hours

Oh why, oh why did I say yes?

I was still numb, and overwhelmed, so I went with what everyone else said, too worried about what others might think as it has always been my wont – was that it, the fatal flaw that did me in? A simple banal thing that I’m just overthinking in retrospect?

Once there might have been a time when I could have afforded the luxury of pretending that I didn’t need a reason, before the blood upon my hands screamed to the heavens for an explanation.
I’d just been told that it was for the fate of humanity after all.
Everyone was saying that I should do it, and everyone said that the Angels were our enemies, so of course I did it. Monsters were attacking us! We had to defend ourselves!
Somebody had to do it. People that I’d been brought up to trust offered me encouragement and praise.
You’d think it would be looked upon as a good, selfless deed. A noble sacrifice for the common good.
Unless, of course, you might say, there was a logical contradiction somewhere, some events and facts that were most definitely incompatible with the actions of a noble, selfless person, some sort of gotcha to slam into my face – there were plenty of those, and I don’t doubt that many of you must be positively salivating to shove them all in my face.
‘I shall know you by your fruits!’ and point at the thorns that have choked all seeds of goodness from the rotten soil of my soul, like the world is so fair that bad things only happen to bad people and pure intentions keep your guarded from all harm.
I can picture Misato first among you, with a cutting remark of how that’s just a deflection, and she knows enough to hit me precisely where my feeble armor comes unraveled.

And since heroism is out, there must, of course, be a different explanation for why I’d be willing to donate my still-living body to science. Some pathetic, vile secret that makes even my few fleeting successes something tainted, insulting and utterly worthless.

I suppose that it was no different than when I started playing the Cello, or when I decided to join the music club a few months ago. I thought something might change, that something nice might happen. Not that my life was so bad that I would have been so desperate – from your point of view you’d probably consider me a spoiled, ungrateful brat. At the very best, I wouldn’t have been too different from Kensuke, which might be why his words had touched me near – and at least he was willing to admit to his passions and decisions while I’d still scrambled to maintain a veneer of responsibility.
I didn’t want to look bad in front of my friends to join the grown-up world without me and leave me behind in the dust.
I thought that maybe my parents would be proud of me… that’d I’d become part of their secret hidden world, a real confidant, someone they would trust with crucial duties like Rei.
Maybe I was jealous of her. Maybe I didn’t want to be left out anymore, not by my relatives, not by my friends.
Not too long ago it seemed that the life I lived was great and that everything in it was precious – Rei, Kaworu, Asuka… they’d all told me at the time that it was okay for me not to join them, that it was fine for me to sit back – but before they said that, I had no idea that sitting back was what I was doing. Maybe it’s like when I started helping mom with the cleaning – I didn’t want to be some burdensome load, some appendage with no means of sustaining itself. I wanted to be helpful.
My previous joy seemed to me like the flimsy product of ignorance, even ‘low standards’ as Asuka might have called them.

Maybe I didn’t want to have low standards anymore. Maybe I was tired of being boring ol’ Baka Shinji who never changes and is always the same- the one without any special qualities or skills.

I thought of Kaworu, and how we would probably be spending more time together if I joined here. I liked spending time with him. It was pleasant; He made me feel special.
What’s so bad about wanting to do something that makes me feel good?
I thought, also, of how I wished I could me more like him.
I thought of Asuka, and how I didn’t want to be just her ‘normal friend’ or her ‘muggle friend’ or her ‘peasant friend’, but someone she might actually rely on.
I thought of Mari’s great bravery and how she was clearly living a life she had chosen, and felt ashamed of myself.
I thought of Rei, and how maybe half the time we had spent together was just her being caring, or following a sense of obligation, or just the two of us ending up in close quarters by chance because she happened to work with my parents – and though I was aware of the difference, I was enough of a sentimental little sucker that it meant something to me. It was special to me, when she came to watch my performance, when she helped me and Asuka revise the script, and that time she’d held my hand –
I wanted to be special to her, too. I hoped that one day, she would look at me not because it was the nice thing to do, or because she was told to, or because I was the kid of her boss, but because of ME. Whatever there might be about me that might make somebody’s gaze instead of keep drifting. Maybe I was trying to find it.

Paradoxical, right? That in some wish to be seen for myself I should tie myself to some other conditional, symbiotic arrangement. But I didn’t know how to do it.
I didn’t know how to do much of anything. Just last year, I was shy little kid who’d be timid in new places unless I could bring one of my friends.
This was one of the first handful of truly independent decisions I’d attempted to make in my life, so of course I faceplanted. It’s just that for most kids my age, that kind of foolishness would merely have resulted in bad grades or a thorough scolding. Maybe it would feel like the end of the world, but only for them alone, not anybody else.

There were not actually any red ink or rooster’s feathers involved. If you appreciate the irony, we were all considered too young to be signing any contracts. Perhaps our parents got pressured into signing some paperwork. Mari and Kaworu were already 14, which in some countries is old enough to go to jail and pick your own religion, so maybe they had to sign something… for all the good that it would have done in Kaworu’s case; Worse than a mere formality, I’m sure it would have felt like a perverse demand that he welcome his doom.

We, at least, weren’t made to sign any papers with our ridiculous kiddie handwriting.
Instead, Misato showed up and appraised us all with an unreadable face once she heard of our decision. “Alright kids, time to get changed.”

Seems like we were about to find out what the swimsuits were for.

We were led, in fact, to a matched set of locker rooms. Like the ones in School for PE, but of course a whole lot more… let’s say ‘raygun gothic’. Futuristic, but in a blocky way rather than a sleek fashion. There was one for the girls, and one for the boys.
When fingering through the lockers looking for one to pick, I noticed that exactly one was already in use – Its door was locked, but I would presume that I’d find Kaworu’s uniform behind it. Or maybe just his normal clothes, since she wasn’t in school today. It’s a bit depressing to think of him having this enormous room all to himself. The one across from us should at least have had two or three occupants to justify its existence.
Now, of course, there were an additional three of us in each one, ten in total. We were just one person short of a full soccer team… I didn’t want to think of us as an army.
We were so obviously a bunch of boy in bathing shorts. Mine were a chill shade of blue, hardly used, I’m glad they still fit. Kensuke’s were, of course, camouflage print. Touji was rocking a modern, sporty one in a dark shade of blue slightly lighter than his favorite tracksuit.
He was maybe a little bit manly looking, but myself and Kensuke were still very much build like little boys. We looked like we were going to a child’s birthday party in the summer.
Perhaps mother and her various technicians were working on inflating the kiddie pool for us right now.
The girls would’ve fit right in, especially Kotone in her frilly mauve tankini with adorable polka dots. Hikari had shown up with her school-issue bathing suit, while Marie, always one to go big or go home, was rocking an American flag beach dress over a sporty dark brown bathing suit.

Our ridiculous appearance was only intensified by the sheer contrasts of Misato’s towering presence in her soldierly attire. I would later learn that she hardly ever wore her complete uniform and usually just pulled her jacket over her normal street clothes. (Hardly a wonder – my father is charge of the places and even he never bothers to zip his uniform, he’s not setting a very good example) Her current getup was distinctly a calculated, strategic choice meant to make an impression of us – if we accepted, it would fall to her to wrangle us and built some professional rapport, seeing as she was in charge of the operations division.
So far, it was definitely working: We followed her without asking questions as she marched us up and down this labyrinth.
Maybe the clothes were also a means to steel herself for the sorry sight of us. Or to gain a sense of distance until she was used to the thought of spending us like empty bullet cartridges.
I can’t say what she was thinking. I didn’t yet know her well enough to say for sure.
I just remember that she looked serious.

We were a ridiculous little parade, one uniformed lady and six bare-footed school children in pool gear. The girls had their legs bare, us boys had our chests exposed, but though we were supposed to be god knows how far beneath the earth, I didn’t feel cold.
This place practically had it’s very own climate compared to the cool autumn days on the surface.

The place where she lead us was, upon first contact, at least somewhat like a pool – beyond a tall, automatic gate, we were greeted by a warm and humid atmosphere and the expanse of a large room the size of a small warehouse, or a large supermarket. But the smell was all wrong: Nothing like chlorine, but instead somewhat metallic, and sweet but in a gross and sticky kind of way.

We emerged into a metal-grid catwalk bordered by railings on each side, leading across the room with individual bridges branching off here and there, leading to the individual machines, of which there were a good number mounted to the walls.
Beneath our feet was a great pool of dim liquid.
There was a walled-off space surrounded by many windows the inside of which was lined with many consoles stacked with screens and instruments– a kind of control room, I’d presume. It was well-lit from within so I could see the technicians hard at work in there, including the recognizable bleach-blonde head of Miss Ritsuko.
Besides that, the most remarkable features inside the room were probably the several large, bright-orange cylinders half-submerged in the liquid… these were the simulation plugs, as I was just about to learn.

But we weren’t left to gawk at the machinery for too long. Kensuke could barely squeeze out a “So cool~” before we were greeted by a host of familiar faces.
I recognized my parents before I saw them, just from the rhythms of their steps on the steel.
With them came Ms. Soryu, but close behind were the others, who must’ve just risen from wherever they had been waiting for our arrival – leaning against the railings perhaps?
Unsurprisingly, Asuka skipped ahead of the group and had soon overtaken the adults.

She didn’t look very impressed.
“...seriously? Those guys?” she gestured at us in mock disbelief. “I get why you’d take Hikari and Marie, but did you really have to recruit the whole baka trio? Did you really need all of the bakas?”

I said ‘familiar faces’, but the faces were really the only thing that’s familiar.
Asuka was not wearing a swimsuit.
Her strange garment fit right in with our unreal surroundings. The textures were, I’d say, somewhere between pliable plastic toys and thick rubbery biker getups, but probably thinner than those. It seemed composed of various layers, and yet it fit her body like a glove, one single, one-piece overall that covered everything from her neck to the tips of her toes, ending in integrated boots and gloves.
Maybe it was more like a space suit or diver’s suit, in that there were all sorts of openings and sockets on it, integrated devices. Much engineering had gone into these.
Backwards compatibility. Synchronization Enhancement. Bust support, for the ladies. – also, life support, first aid, and all manner of barely-there, I-guess-its-better-than-nothing measures against the vast gallery of ill effects that could result from piloting an EVA. All of them had scary names like ‘Mental Contamination’ or ‘Ego Collapse’, but I promise you, the words don’t remotely do justice to the actual experience.
Since it was Asuka’s, it’s was mostly red, with some white patches on her shoulders and particularly the upper chest. Her boots and gloves were also white. Above her heart, she had a small triangular plaque labeled with her name.

The others were only just now catching up with us.
I remind you now that Kaworu and Mari were recent hires – like us now, I suppose. It shouldn’t be surprising that the folks at GEHIRN were waiting for their recruitment drive to be over before going about designing the next generation of plugsuits. After all it would be helpful to know just how many suits they would be needing. In the meantime, they too were stuck with normal swimsuits: Kaworu was sporting a sleek black speedo that allowed most everything of his greek marble god physique to pain my envying. Mari was wearing the sort of old-timesy bathing suit you’d usually see in old cartoons or black and white pictures of beaches, going halfway down to her thighs. With its rose-colored stripes, it was precisely the sort of of whimsical thing that Mari would be wearing.
Rei, however, had been doing this work for even longer than Asuka, so of course she had her own rubber suit – hers was mostly white, with some thinner, bluish material clinging to her neck and arms.
Head to toe in bone white, she looked like she was made of porcelain – like she might shatter if I were to reach out and touch her.
“So you have chosen to join us.”
That was neither approval, nor dissaproval. I don’t know what it was.
Kaworu looked pensive. Mari was furrowing her brow.
I don’t think any of them knew, exactly, but they’d have reason to suspect.
I dismissed it as irrational at the time, just my nerves and stuff, but even then I had the impression that all three of them were particularly looking at me even when there were five other new candidates to be stared at, which Asuka certainly wasn’t doing.
But then the moment passed, dispelled by the next. All of us ended up gathering into a semi-circle to listen to my mother’s further explanations:
“What you see here around you are so-called simulation plugs. As the name says, they’re a means to simulate and therefore safely practice the operation of an EVA. Within these machines, we’ve replicated some but not all components of the entry system and their environment within the EVAs themselves on a smaller scale.”
Which likely means: there are some parts of gigantic disembodied spines inside those metal cylinders. Though that was not a connection I would have made at that moment.
“As I explained earlier, the EVAs are weapons that respond to your mind and heart, so the stronger the connection between you and your EVA is, the more you’ll be able to tap into its power… so as with any new skill, practice is key!
But for that same reason, we’ll be attuning each of you to the data profile of a particular Evangelion that is under construction as we speak. So far, we’ve got Rei assigned to Unit One, and we’ve had Asuka training with Unit Two’s profile. Kaworu was assigned to Unit Six by the Comittee. Unit Five, too, is reserved for a particular purpose, so we’d skipped ahead to it Mari joined us. That leaves Units Three and Four, which are being built in the states as of now.”

Kensuke raised his hand with almost comical immediacy. “Me! Me! Take me!”

Mother shared a look with Ms. Soryu, who thoughtfully scratched her chin, fiddling around with her fingers. “Suzuhara-kun had a nice score, didn’t he? And we could prepare his core data immediately…”

“Alright then! Then we’ll take Suzuhara-kun for Unit Three, and Aida-kun for Unit Four.”

“Do you hear that? Aida and Suzuhara, defenders of the Earth!” Kensuke was going to offer an ecstatic hi-five, but Touji didn’t quite share his enthusiasm. “Fine”, he grumbled, “Someone has to do it after all.”

“We all truly appreciate your cooperation.” Well, thanks mom. I don’t recall you sounding all that remorseful, despite that little bow of yours. Just the same unshakably serene ‘all according to plan’ smile on your end.

“Uh, Dr. Ikari? What about the rest of us...?”
Kotone might not have been as quick to put herself forward as Kensuke, but her sincerity could not be in doubt.

“Don’t you worry,” assured Ms. Soryu with a casual wave of her hand, “You’ll get your own units as quick as we can build them. It’s just that none of the others are far enough along to digitize the core pattern. You’ll get one for sure. At the rate that the auto-pilot project is going, we might even have to recruit some more of your classmates once we go into mass production…”
“For now, we’ll have you all practice with Unit Two’s profile.” decided mother, “When you get your own unit, it’s most likely to be a production model just like it. And in the meantime, we’ll keep you as backup pilots.”

Asuka turned towards Marie and Kotone with a smirk. “Oh my, such tough luck~ Looks like you won’t get to pilot for quite a while yet. I don’t think I’ll be needing any backup~”
I do believe she was rubbing it in – though it might’ve gone over Kotone’s head, she just smiled awkwardly the way Hikari did.

“Neither do I, honestly~” added Ms. Soryu. “...but you know what they say, better safe than sorry.”
Father concurred:
“We need to be prepared for every emergency.”

“So… does that go for me, as well? I’m also backup?”
Perhaps that was a rather pathetic attempt to convince myself that nothing would really change, even after I’d supposedly tried to choose the path of change for myself. I tended to be in my own way there – or genuinely ambivalent, maybe, because as much as I longed for my life to be different, I was still not very comfortable with the actual process of change, particularly straying from the familiar paths that I knew how to follow.

“Yes, exactly.”
There was no wiggle room here. It was practically an order.
I was beginning to understand why Rei found it difficult to address him by anything other than his rank or position. If that is the side of him she’s used to, she must have been astounded from witnessing the person that he was at home – the one my mom sometimes liked to jokingly refer to as the world’s most adorable doormat. A bit of a helpless guy who would spent all his life wearing instant noodles and wearing cheap, crumpled clothes if it wasn’t for mom and tried a little too hard sometimes to look cool in front of me while we were out fishing, like he was worried to win by approval.
I realize now of course that Rei must have known him a very long time, if she’d been recruited as a little girl – but it seemed as if she had known a completely different man, like in one of these stories on TV of people with impressive double lives, where they’d have a prim, professional person who was secretly a stripper, or hiding a serious hoarding problem, or like one of these guys who had hidden an ongoing affair for years until they had an entire second family with their mistress and two sets of children who didn’t know each other.
His subordinates were clearly very much used to my father as this imposing, businesslike figure.
His word was absolute…
But that impression was muddied faster than it could have solidified when my mother chimed in: “Except for one difference: You’re going to be Rei’s backup. As such, you’re going to be synchronized to Unit One’s profile, and train together with the main pilots.”
Here’s another expression that I’d rarely ever seen on my father’s face before: Surprise. Shock, even-
“That is not what we-”
He fell silent the moment that mother placed a hand on his chest.
“Later, dear.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Soryu was just kind of… blinking at them. I didn’t get the sense that she knew any more what they were talking about than I did. “Now, I don’t wanna get involved in your personal affairs, but I’m with Yui-san on this one. No offense, Gendo-kun. Out of all people, I get better than anyone why you might be reluctant to involve your own kid.” she conceded, “But that boy had the highest assessment score we’ve ever seen. Aside from Nagisa-kun, and his score was basically garbled nonsense – I’m still convinced that we must have a divide by zero in there somewhere. It’s even higher than Mari’s, and we bumped her to the main pilot roster the moment we saw it.” think, that if I had said no, I could have lived my whole life without ever finding out that information. To think that Ms. Soryu would just carelessly blurt it out: the single most dizzying revelation of this day of grand upheavals. I wish she’d never told me. I wish I never knew.
I don’t think my parents had wanted her to mention this, but they must not have been explicit enough.
All my life I had been used to being the most unremarkable person in my immediate family, the least impressive one in my friend group, the token normal person.
I was doing fine enough for myself as well, I wasn’t exceptionally bad, either, but I had never had any special talents.
Until today.
What a thing to just dump on somebody – especially someone like me. An otherwise boring person which nothing much to stand out for. A half-grown kid whose sense of identity wasn’t fully formed.
I stood dumbstruck, wide-eyed.

Asuka’s expression, too, was entirely different from before. She’d been more or less a good sport about it, by her standards. She had a reputation to maintain of course, but somewhere she might’ve liked the idea of getting to bring her friends to work. Maybe she’d envisioned herself showing us the ropes and doing much showing off in the process… but that was as long as she had us filed us away as backups, understudies, background extras with clearly circumscribed roles in the grand epic tale of her life.

This was not in her script. She looked no less surprised than I did. “No way! You’re kidding me right? Come on, Mama, this has got to be a joke…”

“No such luck, I’m afraid. His scores were stable across all parameters. Of course, that’s just a theoretical result, and that goes for all six of you – we won’t really know if you’re actually any good until we get you to the simulation plugs. So please, each of you take one of these!”
She opened the plastic bag she had been carrying, and held it out to us.
I hadn’t really noticed it before since I’d been so focused on my parent’s discussion.
It wasn’t like, a shopping bag, but a package off something, like for candies, various cooking ingredients or medical supplies – it looked the most like a bag for those. There was a label on it, too, something complicated sounding, something about ‘A10’.
Once ripped open, there were two interlocking lines of plastic by which to close it again.
We each reached inside, and each of us retrieved one copy of a strange device: a curved piece of plastic, like headphones, or a headband for little girls, but too short and too thin to be either: It didn’t reach the ears. At each end was a device cased in transparent plastic through which a plenitude of wires could be seen, but on its surface, the design reminded me of… Asuka’s strange red hairclips. The ones I’d never once seen on her before she moved here. The ones she’d scarcely ever taken off after she did move. It was exactly the same, triangular shape.
I cast a look at Asuka, and she was wearing them right now. I looked over at Rei, and became aware of another detail that I’d missed amid the overwhelm of all our strange surroundings and her outlandish getup: She seemed to be wearing a headset just like this. Except that instead of translucent, the plastic casing was white to go with her suit.
I noticed also the triangular decorations on Mari’s headband – not mere hairclips, I suppose.
She had arrived wearing those. Meaning of course that she had the means and connections to have them custom-made.
Kaworu, though, was still stuck with the default translucent ones, and thus kindly illustrated how we should wear them – you basically put them on your head like headphones and then pressed that little button on the sides to make sure they were properly clipped to our scalps. That felt a little bit weird, honestly. Kensuke and Marie were palpably excited. Kotone, I think, was looking with some envy upon Asuka’s and Mari’s custom models. She always did have a weakness for cute accessories.

“Well then! Time to get started, kids!”
With that, Ms. Soryu ordered us to to climb into the simulation plugs – a process I didn’t exactly enjoy, since I’ve always had a fear of heights. I held on very tightly to the metal bridge as I approved the cylindrical construction, which had now opened to reveal something like a really fancy car- or plane seat.
I was standing on a stair of metal grid, so I could see the murky liquid pool below us, and as you might remember, I could not swim.
The inside of the simulation plug itself was inclined forward, very close to vertical, and I couldn’t see it’s lower end. Once I’d made the final leap into the seat, I was reluctant to let go enough to get my legs into their proper positions. And once I’d pulled it off and was secure in my chair, the hatch started closing on me.
Now I wouldn’t describe myself as especially claustrophobic, but, the tube seemed hardly tall enough for a person to stand up… it was tall enough, actually, at least when it was angled as intended but what matters here is that I didn’t feel confident that it would be.
It wasn’t very wide, that’s for certain. I could touch the walls if I’d dared to lean out far enough. Which I didn’t cause I had no idea how far down it goes.
I didn’t look forward to the idea of possibly fighting monsters in this when even just the cockpit freaked me out. That’s when I noticed that there wasn’t any screen.
Or windows. Just the curved steel wall in front of me.
It was dark.
And apparently, I was required to be almost naked for some reason.
It’s like it was purposefully designed to trigger every possible primal fear they could think of.
What’s next, spiders?
I want to emphasize that I was already really, really uncomfortable at this point.
That is, before I even heard the rush of liquid.
Had something gone wrong? A leak?
That couldn’t be. They would have double-checked before bringing us here, right?
...why was this place even full of liquid anyways? Coolant maybe?
“Water! There’s water in here! Mom, there’s water in here!”
“...sit back and relax. The LCL will oxygenate your lungs probably better than air does. Just breathe it in like normal.”
That was Miss Ritsuko’s voice, with a slightly tinny quality to it, probably from inside that control room.
That’s when I realized that there was – of course! – some damned intercom installed.
Was it only going to that control room, or had I just resorted to calling for my mommy in front of my friends and all the girls?
Ohmygosh yes. I could hear Kensuke.
“My camera! My camera!”
“Didn’t we mention that recording devices were forbidden in here? Geez, how’d you even smuggle that inside?”
To save the dignity of my dear friend, I will mention that I do believe he had pockets on his swimming trunks.
“My poor, poor, beautiful camera TT~TT”

I’m sorry about your camera too, man, but I had my own problems. Such as the liquid that was quickly coming up to my neck.
I could hear Touji, too: “What’s this? Pee?!”
And the class rep, too: “Only you would think of something so gross, Suzuhara!”
He wasn’t too far off though: It was strangely warm, and it reeked.
At least, I thought so.
“Ah, LCL! My favorite smell in the world!”
Mari was probably one of those those people who enjoyed those weird animal smells that only 1 in a thousand people like. I bet she loves black licorice, too. And Marmite. And Anchovies. And pineapple on pizza.
But at least she was used to it.
Miss Ritsuko said you can breathe it, and I didn’t think my parents were gonna lock me into a tank full of it if they weren’t pretty sure of that, but you can’t just easily will yourself to touch a hot stove just like that. And unlike hot stoves, the risk of drowning had been part of people’s natural environment for ages and ages.
Once it came near my face, the stench was so disgusting I think I might puke.
But then it covered my head, and I found myself reflexively holding my breath.
“Just relax Shinji-kun, it’s worse if you struggle!” but Miss Ritsuko sounded much more businesslike than sympathetic, and I could barely understand her over my panic. “Breathe naturally. The LCL will supply you with oxygen.”
I tried to tell myself that there was no danger, to take deep breaths or whatever, but that wasn’t so eager. My lizard brain remained convinced I was going to choke. I struggled, cried a little bit, I was hacking and coughing. It was the most disguting feeling when it went up my nose and down the back of my throat. Let me tell you, there’s a reason that the CIA used this sort of stuff as a torture method.
I could no longer summon any rational thinking when I thought, for a moment, that I was going to die. I wanted to call out, but I couldn’t even do that – Later, one of the technicians would explain something about the instinctual drowning response, and give me some ticks and trips to make the transition go easier. I had most likely made everything worse by holding my breath in the first place. That was the only reason I’d even have had any sensation of choking –
for once that stuff had made it’s way down it’s throat, it was richer than pure forest air.
Having your face covered with liquid does tend to trigger a sort of relaxation repose in most mammals – that’s also why facial treatments are something that people find relaxing.
I just notices, suddenly, that I was capable of flapping about again, and had most certainly not drowned.
It still stank, though. And now it was all over my insides, in the back of my throat, all of my bloody cavities and sinuses.
It was gross enough before I knew what it was.
I still wasn’t completely certain that I wasn’t going to lose my breakfast. And end up inhaling bits of it once it mixed with this disgusting liquid.
To make matters worse, Asuka had witnessed every part of this:
“Quit making such a pathetic sight of yourself, Baka Shinji! EVA pilots are supposed to be cool!”
Then I was an outlier and should not have been counted.
“Looks like that assessment score of yours was only theoretical after all!”
If only.
But I cannot deny that even Kotone endured the ordeal with significantly more dignity, and she was the youngest kid here...

Though this annoyed Asuka, they did give us newbies some time to get settled and to get used to the LCL, which, to their credit, did get easier to tune out and ignore with time. At least, I wasn’t nauseous anymore. But then came the hour of truth.
After five minutes, down to the last second, father started barking out orders.
I really wasn’t familiar with that side of him before.
“Commence activation sequences!”
I was about to find out how I’m supposed to drive a giant robot without a screen. Since this was supposed to be practice, like a flight simulator, you’d think the instruments here would be similar to what we’d have in the actual EVA. But there were no keyboards, no steering wheel, barely any buttons. Just one single control yoke of sorts on each side of my body. Mother did say that an EVA isn’t controlled with buttons, but ‘with your heart’, but what exactly was that supposed to mean?
I was still wondering that when I began to feel it. First a sort of tingling in my fingers, and a sudden sense that everything was growing more detailed, more focused. I could see every detail on the metal and plastic plates surrounding my seat, the lines of the hatch in the ceiling… or perhaps it was more accurate to say that I noticed it, instead of filtering or tuning it out like normal. Then there was a prism like effect, something like the colors of everything being out of sync, slightly not overlapping. Something like a glitchy video game. Psychedelic patterns.
At first, it would go away if I blinked or refocused my eyes, but then it wouldn’t fade.
There was more and more distortion… pretty. Intricate. Like the world’s prettiest screen-saver.
But the visual part was only the easiest to describe.
My very thoughts grew strange. Dreamlike. Veering off to paths less trodden.
The tingling in my body swelled to a crescendo of warmth that seemed to extend beyond my limbs and fill everything, blurring the distinction, like I could easily have forgotten where I ended or began, as long as I didn’t move to remind myself.
All these impressions grew but stronger and stronger, until suddenly, the world fell away – the chair, the wall, everything – I was left in a red void. Black and white. A Flash of colors…
And the chair was back.
The walls, however, were not. Not the narrow, cylindrcal walls I remembered, anyways.
I could see outside, without even the tinge of the liquid: The hall, the other simulation plugs, the catwalks, the little control room…
I was seeing it clearly before me, as if I were seeing it through a set of screens or windows bolted together before me. Except there was none of that leftover reflection or glare that would come with glass or screens. It was just… sight. Like additional fields of vision within my original one.
The appearance of ‘bolts’ was probably part of some sort of UI, like this entire thing. Even so, I had a real sense of spatially being there, beyond what you’d get with VR glasses and without the weight on your head or the light of your surroundings poking at the underside of your eyes.
I was a bit worried about bumping into the walls.
You know what else reminded me of a video game at the time? The way a little window popped up on the side when they opened a channel from the control room. There was a little label beneath it, too, indicating who was speaking. Not that I really would have needed it at the moment – now kids, are you all seeing the interface?

“The what? Ah! There it is! It was…” Kensuke, too, appeared in a little side window once he spoke.
“It’s kind of…. Wobbly…” that was Kotone, sounding rather uncertain.

“Just lean back, and try to calm your hears. Don’t think of anything that might distract you. Deep breaths! It might help if you closed your eyes.”
Eager to please I saw both of them dutifully get back to work in their respectively little windows, looking concentrated indeed.
I saw the interface just fine, if this is what it’s supposed to be, but I wondered if there was something more than I should be doing.
Before long, Lt. Ibuki informer hed that we had all ‘cleared the activation border’, whatever that was supposed to mean.
“Activation is good, right?”
“It does mean that the machine is reacting to your presence. That’s already very good news in and of itself. For most people, with a setup like this, nothing at all would happen. However, if possible, we’d like to perform some more in-depth data collection, so please remain in your seats!”

Welcome to a future mainstay of my remaining existence: The synchronization test!
The good news is:
LCL has all sorts of weird, life-sustaining properties, so your butt might not actually get sore from sitting around for hours.
The bad news: ...hours of doing nothing, and you won’t even have an aching butt as a distraction, or an excuse to get out.
And you have to remained focused the whole time. It’s basically a cubicle farm job, without the back pain, but also, without the satisfaction of seeing the spreadsheet start to make sense.
You can’t fall asleep, ‘cause then you’re not focusing.
You can’t talk with your comrades even if they’re right there, because ‘that would introduce data noise’.
You better not daydream, ‘cause that’s a distraction.
You’d think it might be a good opportunity to meditate or something, but you’d quickly decide against it because your body feels all weird and focusing on your breathing just makes you notice the darn LCL just when you’d managed to forget about it.
After a while, everything starts to feel weird and unreal and you start to think of all the crap that you don’t want to think about, like some cringy-ass crap you did when you were in grade school.
But you better not think about it too hard, because… you guessed it, it’s a distraction.
And once you’re done?
Congratulations! You now stink of LCL from head to toe, inside and out. Miss Ritsuko says it’s harmless, even good for you, and that my body would naturally absorb it, like food or its own fluids. She also made it clear that trying to spit it all back out on a regular basis wouldn’t be too good for my lungs, so I don’t really have any other choice. Still, it does make me wonder if this won’t have any long-term effects. Asuka has been doing this for years and she looks fine, but still.
I always spend a long time scrubbing it off off my skin, and I make sure to use plenty of mouth wash, lest I get bad breath that smells like a trash can full of used tampons. a half-grown virgin boy like me knows what that smells like?
You know, I really wish I didn’t, but Asuka and Misato kept forgetting to empty the little trashcan in our bathroom, and someone had to do away with it before it spilled all over the floor…
What were Misato’s tampons doing in my bathroom?
It’s a long story, okay, I’m getting to it! Believe it or not, Misato’s tampons aren’t remotely the grossest part of it all.
But long story short: Synch tests suck.

This first one was possibly slightly less boring than usual, if only because of that introductory speech we got about all the parameters they were measuring and what they all mean – synch rate, harmonics value, plug depth, and what have you.
For the sake of brevity and simplicity, they told us that higher was better and that we were supposed to get them all up. That was something of a white lie… and a fatal omission.
I fear these terms will probably come up a lot, so I’ll try as best as I can to explain them, with the knowledge I have now.
I’m not Ritsuko-san though, so I can’t guarantee that I haven’t gotten some of it wrong. No one ever tells me anything – this is just what I’ve puzzled together from a mosaic of the most harrowing experieces of myself and my friends.
Synchronization rate is how much we can get the EVA to do what we want. If it’s lower, the movements are going to me more sluggish and less accurate. If you hit 100%, you can move it as easily as your own body. Go beyond that, and you can perform superhuman feats that you could never to with your own wobbly arms and legs. Go even further, and you can unlock all kinds of fearsome powers and access more and more of the EVA’s true potential. But piloting also gets riskier and riskier the higher you go – since you control an EVA by connecting it’s nerves to yours, it’s inevitable that you feel it’s pain. You can even go into shock, or experience states of extreme stress that will take their toll on your health. At 100%, you feel it like if you had the same inflicted on your own flesh. Go higher, and it’ll be more than just pain. I’m not entirely sure how that works, but if it’s classified, it must have something to do with souls or AT-Fields. In any case, you could get seriously injured, and even flat out die – either from your wounds, or, at a certain point, from the synchronization itself.
And you could consider just flat out dying a good result, compared to what might happen if you lost control. The EVAs are, after all, created from something that’s the source of our enemies – a creature with the capacity to destroy worlds.
Harmonics value, then, has to do with how the signals coming from your brain are interfacing with those from the EVA. The name comes from harmonics as in wave dynamics in physics, I think. In the test they gradually crank up the amplitude to see how far they can take it and still have a stable signal pattern. You want this number to be high because this can naturally fluctuate during tests and fights, especially when you’re nervous, or when you get injured – and when they get unstable, that’s yet another way to lose control with unpredictable consequences. Being able to tolerate higher values then makes it easier to stay in control. This isn’t something that you can consciously influence as much, and it only increases slowly over time. Harmonics tests are as mentally exhausting as synchronization texts are boring – after all, they deliberately have to push us as far as it will go.
If you went beyond that, you could get way worse than exhausted. You’d have the signals from the EVAs influencing you more than you’re influencing them. If you’re lucky you’ll end up with a hole in your memory and a crazy story about what your EVA was doing while you were out, if you’re not, you might end up going mad.
Then there’s Plug Depth. They don’t dare to play around with that one.
There’s a certain level that they deem acceptable for tests, and a safety limits for fights, where they can’t afford to be as scrupulous. Beyond the safety limit lies the contamination zone. Beyod that, Here There Be Dragons.
On its face, it’s exactly what it says on the tin: How far the pilot capsule – usually referred to as an ‘Entry Plug’ in GEHIRN parlance – is physically inserted. With the test plugs they literally submerge them further and further into the LCL to simulate this, but in an actual Evangelion, this would indicate how deep the pilot is inside it’s core, a vital organ at it’s center. It isn’t simply a matter of shoving it inside or pulling it out, though. If they had simply tried to drill a hole in it, well first of, it wouldn’t have worked, but if it did all you’d have accomplished is to kill the biomechanical creature that you just spend an obscene amount of money growing and maintaining. But cores are made from an unusual kind of matter, not quite crystal, not quite a liquid drop. Under the right conditions, you can slide right in. All I really know about how it works, though, is that it’s really complicated, and that my mom was the one who cracked the science behind it, the one huge breakthrough discovery that allowed for the Evangelions to not only get built, but to actually be controlled to an extent that made them workable. How far you can go inside the core depends on the forces acting within it, and they, in turn, on how much you’re interfacing with the core – that is, to which degree you are exposing your body and soul to an alien existence, becoming part of it.
If you’re thinking, ‘wait, there’s no telling what that might do to a human being’, you’re thinking exactly right. If they at all succeed at pulling you back out, what’s left might not be something that your peers would recognize as human.
You’re beginning to understand what my friends and I had just agreed to, aren’t you? All while we weren’t even old enough to get piercings or tattoos.
The thing is, of course, we didn’t. We had no idea. And we weren’t going to get a clue anytime soon. I myself didn’t fully understand the ramifications until quite recently, not too long before I started recording these memoirs – I was probably the last, though, among our group of recruits.

When they were done with us, they pulled the simulation plugs back up to starting position, opened the hatches, and left us to climb back up the stairs onto the metal catwalks.
I knew now that even if I fell, I could have breathed the LCL and would just have to wait at the bottom of the tank until the technicians could get me out. Unless of course I bumped by head, or cracked my neck on some of the machinery.
We were brought into the control room to look at our results.
Last edited by Kendrix on Wed Mar 17, 2021 7:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Alas poor Kaworu, I knew him well...

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