Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Kendrix
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Wed Mar 17, 2021 7:50 pm

Vanity, Part II  SPOILER: Show
So here’s the final tally:
They showed us a line graph.
We would be looking at a lot of graphs like this in the days to come.
High above it all was a bright red line. It had its share of seemingly random little dips and spikes, but remained close to the top of the window.
“As expected, I’m still the best!”
Somewhere on the bottom half of the second third, there was a light blue line so straight I would have mistaken it for some indicator line if it wasn’t labeled with a name… and that would be Rei’s. Her performance was pretty reliable, putting out very regular numbers had had only shifted by decimal points in the recent past, but it was nothing exceptional by comparison.
I would have liked to look at this in peace and quiet to see if, by any chance, some of those small shifts corresponded to days on which we’d talked. Or just to know when they occurred at all.
But different as their results were, what they had in common was that both of them had stabilized at around the same value. If you’d wanted to see where their lines started, you would probably have to go back to the early days of their childhood.
Mari, by contrast, was new. Over the brief weeks since her recruitment, the hot-pink line representing her values had shot straight up. She was already closing in on Rei.
The established pilots were marked with squares, while us new recruits were marked with little X-es at the far left end of the graph, clustering near its bottom.
But there were only three squares as far as I could tell: “Wait, where’s Kaworu-kun?”
“He’s off the chart.” Ms. Soryu said, bluntly. “If we zoomed out far enough to show him, we’d hardly see any of you.”
“I’m still the best except for him.” insisted Asuka.
“Of course you are darling~”
Even so, it seems that she would have to cede some of the attention today so that our parents and the technician could entertain themselves with their shiny new research data: They zoomed in even further, so that Asuka’s proud red line was no longer visible either. The little cluster of Xes became more discernible.
“Okay kids, I’ll read out your names, and you tell me what colors you want to be!”
Like that would be our priority rather than our scores.
I understand why Asuka sometimes feels like she’s being babies a bit too much, but who am I to deny an older lady her pleasures?

As they gray X-es transformed into labeled, recognizable squares, patterns emerged. Though some of the most enthusiastic, and hence, the most disappointed, Kensuke (green) and Kotone (purple) got some of the lowest scores, hovering between three and four percent. Marie (yellow) and Hikari (orange) made it to the upper end of the lower digits, and Touji (still gray, but like a cool, darker shade) even made to a respectable 9.8, just .2 points shy of 10%.
And I was… where was I?
Whichever X was still left should be me, but I didn’t see it. Had I screwed this up somehow?
“Okay, Shinji-kun, which color do you want?”
“Uh…” I was still distracted trying to find my X.
“His favorite is blue,” supplied Mom helpfully.
Ms. Soryu entered something into her keyboard, and indeed, a blue square appeared, a darker shade, to distinguish it from Rei’s.
But it wasn’t down there with the other newbies. At 35%, it was closer to Mari’s line than Touji’s lone square.

There was a bunch of wow’s… not just from my classmates, but from the technicians as well.
Everyone was suddenly looking at me, and I couldn’t stand it. Kaworu stopped smiling. Mari stopped grinning. Booth looked at me dead series, up and down again, like they were seeing me for the first time, somehow.
“This is… interesting…” mused Mari. The reflections in her glasses his her eyes. The moment passed, and just like nothing happened, she went right back to one of her usual expressions and turned to Kaworu as if to remark something, but he was only looking at me, with an expression I can only describe as heartbroken. Not that he was somehow mad at me, but he was, certainly, halting fast with sharp realization.
If I’d had any idea how to deal with this whole situation, I would have asked him what’s going on. It was just such a brief, vague moment, a momentous impression, so it was hard to bring up and put into words later, when he was acting like nothing had changed.

For now, my attention was forcefully commanded by Asuka, who was having none of this. “This has got to be another measurement error, right Mama? There’s no way that number’s right. I took me a year to get to that point.”
...a year? Seriously? I saw that it was obviously higher than the others, but was it really that impressive? I was starting to feel a little dizzy here…
“But… but Mari’s score is almost the same… higher even...”
“Even Mari took three weeks to reach that number.” remarked mother. Neither of my parents was looking the least bit surprised. Father was unabashedly grinning like some impish fiend.
“That can’t be. Right Mama?”

Ms. Soryu had placed her hands on her hips and was pouting in such a way that made it all to apparent that she was Asuka’s mother, despite all the superficial differences in their demeanor. She was almost certainly not pleased. “Well, this would be the third ‘impossible’ thing that we’ve encountered in the span of a month. At this point we just ought to admit that it’s about time we reworked our theories… Back to the drawing board, everyone!
I mean, just look at that score! With that sort of number, we could plopp him inside an Evangelion right now, and it would probably work straight away, no training required!”
I would really rather have training before fighting monsters of unknown origin. Please don’t scare me like that, Ms. Soryu… “...is that not how it usually works?”
“Not all all! It’s honestly quite rude for you to go smashing up all our theories like that, young man! It’s like Yui and Gendo didn’t teach you any sort of manners!”
Ms. Soryu was no less versed in the art of dramatic sighs than her daughter.
“And we just had to come across the proverbial Black Swan at such a time, right when we were about to move on to stage two of our plan…”
“Stage...two?” Whatever that was, I didn’t want to have ruined it somehow with my outrageous numbers.
“Yeah. The part of the plan where we start putting you all through that new training regimen we’ve been cooking up! I’ve had Asuka put through some basic military-style training in the 3rd branch back in Europe, but in the end, EVA isn’t exactly a normal weapon. So Yui-san, Dr. Akagi and I have been tinkering with a special program just for EVA pilots. And having all these new recruits seems like the perfect opportunity to test it…
Well, I suppose getting more data to collect is only going to help us patch up our theory…
Still. We were hoping of course to speed up the process somewhat when we designed the training routine, but the earliest we were expecting to get a useful spare pilot out this was, like, in six months at the earliest… and that was was the optimistic prediction. Which is probably all wrong, because, apparently, we don’t know anything about what’s possible here! It’s just not fair… ”

Mother decided that this was a good point to gently steer the topic
“Of course, you’ll be excuse from school whenever your training will keep you indisposed, but we’ll try not to cost you too many days of class…”

“Geez!” lamented Asuka, “School is gonna be boring with a third of the class gone.”

“Actually dear, you’ll be participating, too.”
“What? You’re going to make me do the same stuff as the newbies?!”
I suppose then that this goes for Rei as well.
“You’re already great at piloting dear, but I think even you might still gain some benefit from our more comprehensive training regimen~ Besides, it’ll be lots of fun!”
Become an EVA pilot, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.
“And I’m sure your new comrades could benefit from the guidance of a veteran like yourself~”
That was a rhetorical gimmick to make it appealing to her, and Asuka knew it:
“That just sounds like extra work….”

Ms. Soryu’s chipper mood was not the least bit deterred: “Okay kids, who wants to get some cake in the cafeteria? It’s the least you deserve after such a hard day of work~”
“We’re not babies who need to be convinced with sweets, Mama.”
“Believe me dear, as you get older, you will notice that deep down, everyone can be convinced with sweets, no matter their age. I want cake too!”

“One question first,” said Mari, raising her hand before anyone could race to the exist. “Speaking of room and board, could we discuss my accommodations?”
“You must be living somewhere, right?” answered mother.
“Yeah, but it’s not exactly within the city limits, and it looks like I’m going to be coming here a lot, so I’d like to have someplace nearer to stay.”
“That’s no problem, we could get you quarters right next to Kaworu’s…”
“Actually, Yui-san, I’d rather not. I don’t really like being all by myself all the time. I have lots of cats and dogs at home, but I couldn’t exactly bring them on a plane with me. Isn’t there someone I can stay with?”
“Hm…” mused Mom, “I’d ask you to stay with us, but I’m afraid our spare room is occupied at this time…”
That’s when Hikari cleared her throat. “...maybe she could crash at our place? I’d have to talk it over with my parents first, but our house is big enough. I already have two sisters, so one more person won’t make that much of a difference…”
“Fine by me! I’m going to have to get some clothes, too, most of mine are still in England...”

I was still in a daze when we left, dimly aware of a very impressed Kotone gushing to a mildly annoyed Asuka somewhere in my vicinity. “To think that you were working so hard to save us all from the Angels the whole time! No wonder you had no time to show me your study tricks… I look forward to learning as much as I can, Asuka-sempai! ...it’s okay if I call you that, right? Since we’re comrades now!”
“...do what you want.”
“Thanks so much!”

I was just… going wherever people were telling me to go at this point, to be honest. I had no energy left to bother participating much.
I told Touji and Kensuke that I wouldn’t be long, but before I knew it they were long gone and I was somehow still not finished with buttoning up my uniform shirt.
I was getting lost in the awareness of just how much the world I believed to live in had changed in just a single day when I felt a sense of warmth making its way across my upper back.
Kaworu had decided to put his arm around me – it would be just like him to notice whatever look I had on my face: “Is everything alright, Shinji-kun? It must be a whole lot to take in…”
I was reminded by this unprompted consideration of his that I had not asked him what was the matter earlier. I wasn’t sure how to approach this; The best I could do was to start talking somehow.
“...so, you knew all this already… this whole time…”
Feeling its weight now myself, I could not help but appreciate it. What a thing to be burdened with. “How was it for you, when you first found out?”
“I cannot recall a time in my life when I didn’t know.”
“...so even when we were children…?”
He nodded, slow and deliberately.
I could assume then, that the same must be true for Rei and Asuka.
Alas, I couldn’t really get the words to come out in a way that didn’t make it sound like I was making this about me or something.
“...are you mad at me?”
“Now why would that be?” he asked, serene as ever.
“You told me earlier that I shouldn’t want to be a pilot. Yet here I am. Was that why you were upset, earlier, when we got our scores?”
“I was just… thinking.” he answered. He seemed, if anything, minded to brush aside whatever that was about. I wondered if he’d already figured that I wouldn’t be of any help.
“What I meant to say was, I suppose, that I’m very grateful. To have gotten to meet you, to spend time with you, like any other person. To go to school with you, and everyone else – that’s precious to me. I didn’t want you to think that it is somehow unimportant compared to the project. I am very grateful for the chance to experience this world – and out of everything in it, and all the people I met, you were, perhaps, one of my favorites –“
What a thing to drop on me, so casually, in a subordinate clause. “...and it was for your sake as well. I don’t width to scare you now that it seems that you, too, are going down this path, but it is not a light burden to bear. I didn’t want you to get caught up in our fate. But, from what I’ve seen just now, it appears that you have your very own fate.” he said, thoughtfully, as a strain of regret entered into his voice. “It seems like, probably, you were meant to come here one way or another, regardless of what I said… If I were upset about anything, it would be that.”
I had the most ominous feeling, cold and close on my back.
“But to think, that you, too would be one of the Children chosen by fate…”
“...fate?”
“Each of us here is meant to fulfill a particular role.”
“You mean, while piloting EVA?”
“For example, yes.” but he said that like it was beside the point.
I’d never seen his lip trembling before. Or his fingers.
What sort of friend was I supposed to be, if I could not remotely follow what he was trying to get at-
“I always knew someone would have to play your part, I just didn’t know who it would be. I knew I’d probably meet them – it seems only right that I should, despite. But to think, that you were right beside me all along, this whole time-… that all along, it was going to be you-”
I’d never once witnessed how his words failed him, not until now.
“Such cruel fate.”
“I don’t understand… I don’t understand what you mean, Kaworu-kun...”
“...what I mean is this:” and this he said with a straight face, matter of factly, like it was a simple truth of the universe: “I think I may have been born to meet you.”
...huh?
...what?
No one had ever said something like this to me before. I didn’t even think that this was something people said, outside of stageplays and movies.
Why in the world…?
At some point, his other hand had found the one of mine that wasn’t currently still fiddling with my shirt. I made a valiant token effort to squeeze it right back.
“...is… is that synchronization rate thing really such a big deal?”
...this was getting way to overwhelming. Everyone was acting so strange about this, I think Asuka was mad at me, things had been oddly tense between my parents ever since Mom said that thing about me and Unit One, and now this-
Kaworu regarded me gravely. He let go of me.
Then, he reached forward, and finally got those pesky shirt of mine into some semblance of decency.
He stood up from the bench with a smile that seemed not quite so effortless anymore.
“Let us go. The others must be waiting.”

We got home late that day.
For the first time and god knows how long, we were actually all home at the same time, all four of us.
Normally I would have been glad about this, and maybe suggested that we have dinner, or watch a movie together, but today, I was beyond spent.
I mumbled some pleasantries to my parents and Rei, and flung myself unto the couch. She, at least, wasn’t acting like anything’s different. Just this morning, I was hoping to impress her or something, but now, I was really damn glad that nothing seemed to have changed, and that we could still share the same quiet company.
She crouched down on the floor with her school bag placed next to her, retrieving a plastic case from it… now that is new. But, I’d just been told that aliens are real and that I might possibly have a talent for controlling biomechanical monsters, so what’s one little more surprising event?
She pointed at the dusty old viodeo game console which I’d gotten for my 11th birthday and mostly only used when Touji, Kensuke or Asuka were coming over. “That is yours, right?”
“Uh… yeah.”
“Can I use it?”
“Sure, fine… “
“Is something the matter?”
“No, it’s just the first time you’ve asked.”
“A literature club member lent this to me. He says it’s similar to a book that I liked.”
“Ah, that’s great, have a good time!”

Now the game looked pretty cutesy but it started with a disclaimer about how it’s ‘not suitable for people who are easily disturbed’. “Sounds like the sort of thing a literature club member would like.”
“I’ve been told that the story itself takes place in a literature club.”
“Sooo meta!” I meant for that to sound funny, but it probably came of rather awkward. I was way too tired to try being funny today. I wasn’t exactly gifted at that art even at the best of times.
“I’d stick around, but I’m no good with any of that horror stuff.”
I got her my spare headphones – the huge, gamer-looking ones that Kensuke once got me, which really did have much better audio quality just like he said, but which I never used ‘cause they’d take up too much space in my bag. It wouldn’t do to wake up my parents with any unexpected jumpscare noises. And a spare lollipop I had laying around in that same drawer, just for good measure. It was blueberry-flavored. That was my idea of being charming.
I should never try to be charming when I’m tired.
She plopped it in her mouth like it was part of the equipment.
I helped her get the console booted up and, since she was new to this, explained the basic layout of the controller to her.
She clicked herself past the opening screen with a surprisingly focused look on her face.
I’m not even going to pretend that I didn’t think she looked very, very adorable.
At the risk of sounding like an old man at the ripe old age of 28, I’ve learned to appreciate the small mercies.
Or is it 27? Is it June yet? Does the concept of June even still hold any sort of meaning? It’s hard to keep track of time when you’ve been fourteen-and-a-half for over a decade, like the guy from Twilight, and everyone hates you so much they won’t tell you so much as the bloody date, also like the guy from Twilight. If there’s ever a movie made about my life, I presume the actor who plays me will hate me as well, or worse, talk at length about what sort of crazy method acting he did in order to even get close to comprehending the depravity of my mind. And to think Asuka once thought we’d get, like, parades, action figures, and maybe an Anime or two. With the state of the world right now, she’ll be lucky if she gets an epic poem passed on through oral history, and I’m most certainly going to be the villain of it. And Rei won’t be mentioned.
My greatest fear is that all that I’ll accomplish with these memoirs is that she’ll make it into the narratives as some sensational cautionary tale or a bug-eyed pulp fiction creature.
Dear people of the future, I beg of you, please just don’t.
That was always her fear – that she’d just disappear without anyone even noticing. Or that what little traces she’d left in memory would be supplanted once the secret was out, understood only as a poor imitation at best, and at worst, a mere vessel.
If only you could see her before you as I did then… well, it wouldn’t mean the same thing to you. It couldn’t possibly – different people notice different things, filter them through different guiding principles and string their new observation into different preexisting thought patterns, but. You know. You can probably figure.

After lingering on the sight of her for a few fond moments & checking that she was doing just fine with all the buttons, I retreated to my room, made my way to my bed and clicked through whichever cassette was already in my Walkman until I found something to my satisfaction. It wasn’t that I was picky about the song, quite the opposite, I was looking for something worn-out and familiar that wouldn’t require me to do much processing – I had left all my brain juice in the simulation plug. That, or I was still in shock over the news of that impending alien invasion.
Probably both. Which must be why I just completely spaced out the moment my muscles got the chance to relax upon the support of the bed.
I have no idea how long I spent just staring at a crease in my bed sheet, but it was a good while.
Synchronization can leave you a bit scrambled if you’re not used to it yet, you know, almost like human brains weren’t exactly made to command giant cyborgs.
I couldn’t get myself to do anything, but I couldn’t really sleep yet, either. Turns out that requires brain chemicals, too. I’d call it a trance, except I recall hearing somewhere that that’s defined as a state of both relaxation and focus, and I wasn’t really either of those things. Can’t say I was daydreaming either, since I wasn’t really… going anywhere, and I’m someone whose mind tends to drift off pretty quickly normally.
Even the music felt like a bit too much, but the sounds of the house were somehow even more exhausting, you know, the floorboards unpredictably creaking because my parents were walking around somewhere. Even the lowest setting on the volume felt too loud, though. I wished there was a setting between that and total silence.
Still, you’d think that I’d have managed to drift off to sleep eventually, right?
Not quite.
When my parents first began raising their voices, I first thought I’d imagined something, or that whatever I’d heard must be something unimportant, like Rei going to the bathroom.
I tried dialing up the volume and pulling the blanket over my head.
The noise was, however, insistent in asserting its own existence.
“This is NOT what we talked about! Did it ever occur to you to tell me, instead of presenting me with a fait accompli?!“
“I am telling you right now.”
It would be an understatement to say that I was beyond surprised. I could recall only a handful of times where my father had ever raised his voice like this – and never once at my mother.
She, however, was remaining frighteningly calm. During the whole confrontation, she never went beyond the self-same firm-but-restrained tone that she would use when she would chastise me.
I swear I wasn’t going to eavesdrop – I tried at first to ignore it. Put then I picked up something that drove into my heart like a spike of ice and compelled my attention.
I pressed pause on my Walkman. I would slip into standby mode before I’d even think of turning it back on.
“...what do you propose then, that we send him off to my brother?!”
“I know you’ve always been an optimist Yui, but your brother is an insipid little toad who has resented you as long as you have lived, and his own child is always going to come first. I do believe him capable of shutting our son in his garden shed. His one saving grace might be that he wants as little to do with your parents as you do, but the only reason I’d ever leave Shinji at his mercy is if I deliberately wanted to torment him for some reason. It would be only marginally better than dumping him off at some overcrowded orphanage.
I’m thinking of your old tutor. Shinji already knows him, and moreover, he knows enough of both us and our case to make sure that your father and the rest of the old men don’t get their hands on him. We’d have to be discreet about the payments, but we could have the two of them on a train to the countryside by next morning. I’ve already had accommodations prepared for Rei, so we might as well sell this whole damn apartment.”
“My god, you’re serious – Gendo, we are not sending our son off to the countryside.”
“Many people do, when there is a war coming. A war that is going to require nothing less than our full attention.”
“Shinji belongs here, with us.”
“With us? Or with out empty apartment? How many times have either of us even spoken to him this week? It’s time that we accepted the limitations of our resources and began to set priorities. We don’t have the time to look after him, Yui. Not properly. We should allow him to have a normal childhood for as long as we can, and not mess this up any more than we already have.
Consider that maybe, just maybe, we should just do nothing and stop meddling with his life any more than we already have?
I understand the need for sacrifices, and you know that. Have you ever known me to waste time with hesitation? There is nothing I would not make use off in order to win the coming war and rewrite the old men’s scenario, even if it meant spending the blood of our children.
But there is no need to involve Shinji at this point. That’s what Rei is for. You know as well as I that she’s never going to need any ‘backup’.. Besides, this whole ‘Raising Project’ nonsense is just a vanity project of Soryu’s. Once we get the dummy plugs working, all of it will be obsolete.”
“Look, Gendo. I’ve listened to you about Rei, and about your dummy plugs; Now it is time that you listen to me.”
“I am listening to you! There is not a single wish that I have ever refused you. But if I had known that it would come to to this, I never would have agreed to something as irresponsible as putting a child into a world that is about to end!”
“...Gendo. Darling. When you became my husband, you knew as well as I what that might mean for us, or our future children. I wished, as much as anyone, that Adam would not be found within our lifetimes. But that seal has been broken now. Some misfortunes can be prevented, but there are some that cannot. I believe that our son is the one who shall lead our people to salvation, and as his parents, it’s our duty to pave the way for him. This is his destiny – some might say his birthright. Would you leave him unprepared for it?”
“...alright, Yui. Let’s include him, just in case.”
It’s possible that they spoke some more, but it got too quiet for me to hear.

I didn’t know what to think of this.
What was I supposed to think of this?
I didn’t know what half these words mean, or are referring to. I had no idea where I’d be going the next day.

Here’s the thing: Grownups never expect you to hear. They’re used to the days when you were a hapless infant who didn’t even understand human language. And if, by any chance, you have feelings about any damn thing you heard, like that’s not your whole existence that they’re speaking up, you’ll just get scolded for listening.
You can close your eyes, but ears don’t have lids.
No, even with eyes, this was like the sort of horrible accident that you can’t look away from – your brain is, after all, designed to detect threat. So you can’t make yourself unaware of a bloodthirsty tiger. And what greater threat could there be than the moods and caprices of this pair of people that you’re totally dependent on?
The ones that buy your food?
Seriously man, this is not a darned game to me. It’s my life. The only life I have so far. The only one I’ll ever have.
Don’t pretend it’s some lesser, silly thing, or just a matter of politeness. I get that teaching politeness and respect of boundaries and all that is a worthwhile endeavor.
I get that this isn’t fair. I was never meant to hear this. They’re allowed to have feelings of their own and conversations that aren’t sanitized for me -
No, actually, I don’t get that.
Certainly not the me from back then. I would have recited that as the expected socially accepted polite answer, but that was just an ape aping other apes.
you don’t just ‘politely’ let the government mind its own business, because it’s business is yours.
This is my life they were discussing here, my future, that I wasn’t being consulted for and might not be able to do anything about...



For a visual on Mari’s bathing suit, see this artwork → https://imgur.com/D8NNcUC
Always liked that one best out of all the swimsuit Maris we’ve gotten, ‘cause it’s a little something unique.
Rei & Asuka are supposed to be wearing something like their early proposal suit designs.

Shinji doesn’t quite get the 41% he had in canonland yet because EVA 01 doesn’t have Yui in it at this point. Though I suppose it’s inevitable that I’d have to tweak the lore here & there to make this idea work. For now we’re going with the idea that having a compatible soul in the EVA helps a lot, but isn’t strictly necessary.

...i kinda wonder if anyone's actually reading this on here, but eh, I'm having fun.
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

Arcadia's legacy
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Arcadia's legacy » Fri Mar 26, 2021 6:33 pm

Currently read the prologue. So far i'm intrigued, and am looking forward to reading more. Also, some grammar corrections:
SPOILER: Show
"I wonder when it all went wrong."
"In the world that was, there were hundreds of millions like it."

When we can’t make it home during crunch time, we usually leave him with my brother or my old music tutor,

Wait, Shinji had an Uncle this whole time?
Never let the flame that is hope burn out, for despite the length of the night, the sunrise will always come
""Trolling the audience" is the same thing as "challenging the audience" (to an audience that doesn't want to be challenged)." -Reichu

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Sat Mar 27, 2021 9:37 am

Thanks a bunch! While I was correcting this I also noticed that I forgot the second t in 'alotted' ^^°

View Original PostArcadia's legacy wrote:Wait, Shinji had an Uncle this whole time?


He does in the manga, and I decided to have him exist here.
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Arcadia's legacy » Sat Mar 27, 2021 2:42 pm

1.0 LUST / Path of Thoughtlessness grammar  SPOILER: Show
BESPECTACLED WOMAN WITH BARRETTE: „ (What's with the space and double comma's after the colon?)
"She is very athletic"

A lot of exposition this chapter. I hope this isn't too indicative of the whole story
Never let the flame that is hope burn out, for despite the length of the night, the sunrise will always come
""Trolling the audience" is the same thing as "challenging the audience" (to an audience that doesn't want to be challenged)." -Reichu

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Sun Mar 28, 2021 6:52 am

It's sort of necessary for the first one, though if you continue to feel it's too much I'll have to be mindful of not overdoing in the future. Thanks!
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Arcadia's legacy » Sun Mar 28, 2021 8:19 am

1.1 The Pleasure Garden grammar  SPOILER: Show
not just because she would get angry or anything,
that is, I was, because Asuka wasn’t out of breath at all, ("I was," doesn't seem necessary here)
and Asuka had no problem procuring herself

Two chapters in and we already learn that Gendo and Yui are plotting the end of the world. Interesting it's being revealed now, and from the narrator no less. Though i hope this story has some surprises in store that we haven't seen from either the show or films.

I'm also hoping Shinji living as a disembodied voice isn't permanent for him. The kid deserves a happy life as a physical person
Never let the flame that is hope burn out, for despite the length of the night, the sunrise will always come
""Trolling the audience" is the same thing as "challenging the audience" (to an audience that doesn't want to be challenged)." -Reichu

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Mon Mar 29, 2021 6:04 am

I clearly need to make a habit of running some grammar check program on these before I post them, there's so much the spell checker doesn't catch lol

Thanks!
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Arcadia's legacy » Tue Mar 30, 2021 12:04 pm

1.2 The Fig Leaf:
Assuming Shinji and Rei ever become an item, i'm quite curious as to what Asuka's reaction would be. Indifference, jealousy, jealousy disguised as indifference?
Never let the flame that is hope burn out, for despite the length of the night, the sunrise will always come
""Trolling the audience" is the same thing as "challenging the audience" (to an audience that doesn't want to be challenged)." -Reichu

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Fri Apr 02, 2021 9:41 pm

View Original PostArcadia's legacy wrote:1.2 The Fig Leaf:
Assuming Shinji and Rei ever become an item, i'm quite curious as to what Asuka's reaction would be. Indifference, jealousy, jealousy disguised as indifference?


That's difficult to answer without giving away some of the fun, but - the dynamic here is clearly different in various subtle ways compared to OG canon, and further events are going to happen. But as in canonland it should be considered that she dislikes Rei independent of any jealousy, since they're opposites in every way & Asuka doesn't rly understand her & that unnerves her. Offering to get into Unit Two instead of her in eps 9 and 10 is probably what really ticked her off; As far as Asuka's concerned that's threatening her reason to exist.

Rest assured that I have no interest in doing protracted soap-opera style drama in which poor Asuka is made the cardboard cutout villain like some bizarro reverse re-take, though she may have a few occasional moments of canon-typical abrasiveness.

In response to your feedback I made sure to run this one through a grammar checking software before uploading ^^°

2.1: Basic training, Part I  SPOILER: Show
(2.1: BASIC SYNCHRONIZATION SENSITIVITY ENHANCEMENT PROGRAM)
 
Here is one thing that you must absolutely understand:
The only way in which I was ever ‘chosen’ is the literal one: Someone chose to do this to me.
Not just ‘someone’, either – there is a name and an address.
Whether or not you think of me bringing it up as evading responsibility, It’s still a real, actual fact.
She meant to do this to me. When she made me a pilot. Heck, when she came down to bed to conceive me. I wonder if she got like, some sort of twisted extra kick out of it... – all else is the product of her careful engineering. And isn’t her proudest creation part human in some way?
You know, the thing that ate me.
So where’d the human part come from?
It’s possible that she brushed some q-tip against the inside of her cheeks when she found herself in need of a human DNA sample, and that’s why I’m so compatible with it; She’s been known to do so on other occasions. In my most desperate moments, I sometimes find myself questioning and dissecting every littlest facet of my upbringing, wondering if it was intended somehow as a means to mold me into something nice and pliable, though it probably wasn’t.
It makes sense that she would’ve used her own spit as a base for the EVA, though, considering what she was intending to do with it, in the same way, that it makes sense for a pharaoh to have his tomb stuffed with riches – as her mansion for eternity…
Yet she did even that, in part, so that she might make me a legend – or a weapon.
 
Yes, I am bitter, maybe more than would be fair or reasonable.
I’d reckon that I’m at least allowed that; It’s the only comfort I have left.
Cold comfort.
Everything is cold here.
It’s like there isn’t a single glimmer of light left anywhere in this world...
 
October 1st 2014
 
T minus 468 days
 
That day, my parents did not disappear on me at the crack of daybreak.
Mother came to wake me up, gently, affectionately, like she often did during my early days in grade school. Instead of dressing in silence and preparing breakfast by myself, the four of us were all actually sitting together at the table, enjoying a full traditional-style breakfast arranged by mom: Rice, Miso Soup, grilled fish, pickles, the full package, topped off with a steaming mug of green tea for each of us – and it was all made from scratch, too, none of that instant stuff, arranged lovingly and decoratively on an array of little plates.
If I’m being sensible about it, I doubt that there was any nefarious motive – we just happened to be leaving at the same time for once, so it made sense to go all the way. When she had the time, mother had always taken pride in her homemaking.
There doesn’t need to be an evil ploy for her to see this as a special occasion that deserved commemoration. I’m only mad in hindsight now because I remember so well what I felt back then.
There was a sliver of doubt always glued to the back of my throat, especially after what I’d overheard the night before, but for the most part, it felt good to have everyone together. Nice. Warm. Nostalgic. In defiance of said doubt, I was all the more willing to accept this as a sign that I had made the right choice, that I was on the right path, somehow.
It is terrifying to take a risk when your life is stable, but with a decision already made, the sunk cost fallacy didn’t take long to assert itself. I wasn’t exactly unaware that there might come a time to pay the piper, but for now, the path of least resistance kept me rolling down the path that everyone was encouraging me to take.
I allowed myself to think that maybe things were truly changing – that I was no longer going to feel left out, not here in this house, and not among my friends, either.
I was going to do all those same great, noble and responsible things that Touji and the others had talked about… but let’s be honest, it was all abstract and vague aside from the ‘not being left out’ part, it’s just that I could still afford to be ignorant of the distinction then.
The specter of war had not yet arrived, And I was still young, time felt like it passed slowly, so a doom that would come next summer didn’t feel so different from one that would never arrive.
For now, the upshot from my decision seemed to be that I was seeing my mother smiling at me and my father regarding me with something of a proud smirk, whatever private objections he might have had – I even entertained the heady, inflated thought that I’d show him that he needn’t worry, that I could do this and justify mom’s unshakable faith in me.
I couldn’t really have understood the scope of what they had been talking about, and hence, the ridiculousness of what I was saying there.
Someone more well-versed in psychology could probably tell me some name for the kind of test I’d failed.
I came along in tentative eagerness, allowing myself led out the doors like a lamb to the slaughter, down the hallway, down the elevator, past the doors, to where my parent’s chauffeur was already waiting with my father’s black limousine.
I was conscious of its armor, the thick glass, the walkie-talkies, the presence of a chauffeur, to begin with, all the things which I could now recontextualize as evidence that my parents were indeed important government agents.
I had ended up throwing on my school uniform out of habit, and beside me, it seemed like Rei had done the same, but school was not where any of us would be going.The clothes had still been waiting for me where I’d left it laid out out of habit, prepared in advance before I knew ought of this madness. My swimming trunks, which I’d left on the hanger out over night, has not completely dried yet, so I was bringing my school-issue swimsuit today. I hoped that the original pair was at least going to be dry by tomorrow. Autumn was only going to get wetter as time passed and soon it might be too cold for this, so for the first time in my life I contemplated if I was going to need a second pair. I wasn’t yet sure how often we would be made to do this anyway, so I might be able to make do with the two that I had until they got us all those special suits like Asuka and Rei.
 
We drove down the same road that I’d always known to be my parent’s ride to work, except that I would now find out that what I’d believed to be the lowest level of the laboratory’s indoor parking led to an access way contained a bullet train to the geofront, making it possible for employees to go directly downstairs. The bullet trains were the same throughout the city, standardized, probably; The one here was identical to the one beneath our school, except that we were riding our car instead of a wagon. The platforms beneath, however, were the same.
The passage to the geofront was actually rather quick – it would have to be if my parents were expected to rush down here in case of an attack. It had simply felt much, much longer yesterday when we were all stumped by the unreal sight of the cavern.
Everything was disorientingly smooth, like the interconnected parts of one great, sleek machine.
It wasn’t long till we were all assembled in some kind of great assembly hall or planning roof. It was near the roof of the Geofront, in one of those upside-down buildings I’d assume.
I had mostly followed Rei so as not to love my way.
Much of the floor was taken up by a great rectangle composed of diamond-shaped panes, allowing a glimpse at the woods of the geofront and the pyramid below.
Bluish light hit us from beneath.
I think we all showed up in our uniforms, except for Touji, who never cared about the dress code to begin with. It seemed natural enough if we were getting early on a weekday. Coming here was a duty, too; An optimist might have remarked that this was a sign that we weren’t getting disconnected from normal life as of yet, but actually, wasn’t the school related to, and, in a sense, a front for the operations of GEHIRN? So from the first, these uniforms would actually have been proof that we had little hope of having normal childhoods from the get-go – they were as appropriate for us to wear here as Misato’s sleek red clothes.
 
Inevitably, I did meet Asuka there. It seems that overnight, she had come to the conclusion that this extra special training specifically designed for EVA pilots was a good thing after all, or at least, yet another thing for her to master and win at – when I arrived, she was lecturing our classmates on its seriousness and exclusivity, evidently having a blast at inhabiting the role of the resident veteran. Which isn’t to say that she was back to acting the usual way regarding me. Something was still decidedly… off. Uncertain. Hard to gauge.
Her countenance darkened when she saw me approaching, her posture shifted… I would have called the look she gave me harsh back then, but I couldn’t have understood how serious this truly was for her – as far as she was concerned, this was to do with her entire reason for being.
I was absolutely perplexed though – I was still the same boy she had hung out with ever since we were children. All that had changed was some number on a screen, it’s not even something I really had control over – and yet it seems she had decided that I needed to be put back in my place:
“Oi Mister Highscore! About time you showed up. Don’t start thinking that you can slack off because of your numbers. The only thing that really matters here are results... You’re still just a rookie, understood?”
I don’t think I had ever contested that...
 
PHYSICAL ENDURANCE ENHANCEMENT TRAINING (w/ Lt. S. AOBA)
 
We found ourselves in something like a gym, all decked out in our school’s PE clothes, which at least spared us from donning our swimsuits in such an unfitting environment, but I still felt embarrassed.
 
Since it was the first day, mom was actually sitting on a bench in the back, making notes on her clipboard. In the days to come, it would be the exception for her to be present. I never figured out the pattern between her visits, but I suppose she would come whenever she felt that our training results were of particular interest to our results.
 
At some distance before us stood Mr. Aoba, just like we’d been used to seeing him over the last few months in PE class. It would have been easy to forget that this was any different from a normal day at school. In hindsight, I am tempted to see it as quite insidious – we were already conditioned to trust these particular adults, most of whom probably weren’t any actual educators and had probably just been miming what they still remembered from their own school days.
 
But our responses back in those days were those of children as well. I for my part was never too fond of PE. Touji, on the other hand, was enthusiastic enough to forget all about his initial skepticism:
“Are we gonna get swole?!”
“What are you, stupid? That would be totally useless. Your muscles won’t matter one bit unless you mean to punch the giant monsters with your bare hands! You know what, please do, then we won’t have to deal with your stupidity anymore.”
“What did you say?!”
“Just what you heard, dumbass. You can try solving everything by punching like the brute animal that you are, but I’d rather stick to my EVA. It’s not our bodies that will be doing the fighting, but our brains. If a monkey like you even knows what that is. ”
There was much laughter among the staff present, many of them waiting their turn next to my mother, and probably not envying Lt. Aoba one bit, especially since both Touji and Asuka now seemed to be looking to him to clarify things.
 
“It’s true that you will be using the EVA’s muscles instead of your own – so you don’t need to worry about being athletic.”
“So you can be a good EVA pilot even if you’re not good at PE?” wondered Kotone. She was undoubtedly thinking of all the times she had been hit in the face during various ballgames. Considering that both Asuka and Kaworu excelled at almost everything they did, I can understand why she’d worry that general excellence would be a requirement – you could see her face lighting up with hope when Lt. Aoba confirmed the opposite with a nod.
“However, Asuka is right in saying that you will be fighting with your brains. That means that if your EVA feels pain, you’re going to feel the same pain in your own body. Its effort and the stress of battle will all feel like your own.
So the purpose of improving your physical fitness is to get you used to strain and exertion and to strengthen your physical constitution overall. You know how being fit can make you less likely to experience hangovers or side effects from drugs? And those things largely come from the exhaustion of brain chemicals. Movement can also help to improve your mood and help you form new connections in your brain – which is what you want to get good results as pilots.”
 
“Understood, Sir! Pilot Candidate Suzunami Kotone, reporting for training!”
It was kind of adorable to see a girl younger than Asuka doing a salute. It was worrisome, too.
At least her enthusiasm must be commended.
 
But all grand reasoning aside, the actual training wasn’t really that different from normal exercise. Lt. Aoba started out asking us if we still remembered the calisthenics we’d done in school, and we started from that. The times of exercise changed once in a while; Looks like they were going for a relatively well-rounded, varied program. It doesn’t help that there were, of course, vast gaps in our athletic ability: We couldn’t all be Asuka, especially not me.
 
Kotone and I were usually the first to end up gasping for breath in a corner while she was barely breaking a sweat. Marie and Touji could still afford to hope competing with her. Kaworu couldn’t have cared less about any competition, yet he was the only one who really managed to keep up with her, much to her irritation. Hikari obediently did as she was asked much as she would have in class. Kensuke was kept afloat by his considerable interest in fighting aliens, and Mari never let anything get to her to begin with; She was having fun. Likewise, Rei dutifully endured it; Despite her soldierly efficiency, there was always still a certain elegance to her movements.
 
COORDINATION ENHANCEMENT TRAINING (w/ Ens. K. AGANO)
 
Kensuke’s eyes were filled with stars before poor Ensign Agano could even finish her explanation.
“So you’re going to teach us to do cool karate moves just like Soryu?!”
Asuka appeared offended at the very notion: “Pah! As if the likes of you could ever hope to be a match for me!”
She looked at us like we were some uppity little insects stubbornly buzzing around her soda bottle.
 
Still in the same gym room, Ensign Agano was awkwardly smiling. She still seemed every bit the sweet, domestic person we all knew from home economics class, and, I believe, the handicrafts club. I think Kotone was a member? I’m no longer sure.
I’d never expected her to know martial arts…
“Oh, everyone at GEHIRN goes through mandatory combat training! We even have a shooting range and everything,” she answered, perfectly chipper.
I suppose this is yet another of those lessons about never judging a book by its cover.
Though, the idea that this base might see actual combat was not a thought I’d like to dwell on…
Yet predictably, Touji and Kensuke found this very exciting. Hikari alone had the decency to find the prospect concerning, but like Kotone, she was rather impressed to find that someone as unassuming as Ensign Agano would have such skill…
I was stunned, too, to see just how high she could kick. At school, she wore light, comfy clothes, including a fluffy pink scarf she purported to have made herself, so none of us had seen the taunt, muscular thighs which her close-fitting NERV uniform now revealed.
“Of course, there’s be no point in just training your muscles, since you’ll be using the EVA’s muscles to fight. But you know people think of sports as something that is done with your muscles, while your brains would be used for stuff like math? That’s actually a huge misconception. Actually, athletics involves the nervous system as much as the muscles – your coordinates, reflexes, muscle memory – that sort of stuff. That’s what we’re looking to train here. And of course, knowing martial arts might help you with your hand-to-hand combat, too. So please, let’s all do our best together!”
 
For the most part, it was my fellow newcomers who had all the questions – Rei and the others already knew the drill. I guess I was finally seeing the secret life of them that I’d wondered about. So far I was getting the sense that Asuka was turning everything into a competition… which, if I say it like this, doesn’t really sound that different from just the usual Asuka at school, but compared from the fierce bloodhound I was witnessing here, the Asuka from school was just playing around. She’d teased me with some allusions that Rei or Kaworu would be different or unknown, but now that I was actually here, I felt like the one who was the most different must have been her.
“Fiery and radiant, is she not?” remarked Mari – she was just suddenly standing behind me, and I was no less startled by that than the realization that she’d somehow caught me looking. “She’s a strong-willed girl, isn’t she? Such dedication. It’s not often that you get to see Her Highness at her Highness-iest~”
She spoke with a certain tinge of ecstasy, clearly taking oy in the spectacle. If she wasn’t this way with everyone, I might have wondered whether she had the hots for Asuka.
It’s true that she was certainly amazing, but Asuka’s insistence on winning also looked somewhat tortured to me. Forced, as if the whips of Satan were behind her. She smirked when she was winning, but whenever Kaworu came close to catching up to her, let alone besting her, the look on her face recalled a beast in a struggle for survival.
It was totally different from Kaworu or Mari, who actually looked to be having a good time. Kaworu brought appreciation to everything he did, and with knowledge comes joy. Everything he did was done properly; It doesn’t hurt that he naturally excelled at most of what he tried.
Mari, meanwhile, was having all the fun because she couldn’t have cared less about whether she was good at it or whether or not she looked good. She wasn’t without a certain flashiness, if she succeeded, she would rejoice, but she wasn’t out to beat anybody. She might have looked a little ridiculous at some of the exercises with her breasts bouncing and all, but she couldn’t care less.
I think if it were me, I would have quit sports forever the moment I hit puberty cause I’d be too mortified at the prospect that people might be looking and laughing at me. Not Mari though.
And then there was Rei, who somehow managed to be as different from both Asuka and Mari as they were from each other. She didn’t smile. She didn’t try and compete, either. Nor did she complain.
Whatever we’d be doing during all these wacky training activities, you’d always get the sense that she was just enduring it all. Dutifully soldiering through it, even if there was no single shred of praise or encouragement to be had. If she lost her balance and fell, or struggled with the exercises, she’d just get up and continue, even with the sweat dripping down her face.
She honestly made me feel quite ashamed whenever I felt I had reached my limit and was about to take a break – she just powered through, no matter how unpleasant or difficult it got, but she didn’t seem to be getting the slightest bit of joy out of it…
 
Somewhere in the back of the room, mother was jotting something down on her clipboard.
 
MENTAL FORTIFICATION EXERCISE (/w H. KAGA)
 
If Dr. Akagi was close to the prosaic, cool-headed stereotype of a scientist, junior Lieutenant Hitomi Kaga was very close to the passionate, excitable one.
She was a buxom young woman with a simple short hairstyle and a ruddy round face.
I got the impression that she must’ve had a lot of fun at the brainstorming session for our training regimen and couldn’t wait to help us with her cool ideas.
We were greeted in a cheery yet mildly awkward manner and told to get the yoga mats from a shelf in the corner of the gym room.
“Are we going to do Yoga, too?” wondered Hikari.
“For the most part, this part of training is going to be meditation. Though we can certainly try different techniques or even something like Yoga, if you think it helps… we’re still trying to see what works, honestly…” She realized then that she was trailing off.
“I-In any case, Meditation has been proven to have many benefits for both your physical and mental health, and it’s said to help you stay motivated and keep a cool head in tough spots, so it seems like one of the simplest, oldest techniques that mankind has come up with for ‘strengthening the heart’, as Dr. Ikari would put it…
As you’re all most likely beginners, we’ll first start with a couple of shorter sessions, and I am going to guide you. So, get yourself comfortable so that your spine is straight, close your eyes, and focus on your breath….”
 
It was a whole lot more difficult than you’d think.
Every thirty seconds or so I noticed another part of my body that felt sort of uncomfortable and I was seriously tempted to shift positions. And when I wasn’t, it wasn’t long before I found myself worrying about all sorts of stuff. Like whether my friends would end up fighting monsters, or, that little girl in red, or that picture my mom had shown me, of the actual Evangelions, and how much I couldn’t help but think that they looked like horned devils. We looked like horned devils, too, with those headsets…
And with all this getting distracted I couldn’t help but suspect that I was definitely doing it wrong. Was just sitting here even doing anything? Would they be able to tell if I wasn’t doing it properly with all of their brain monitors?
Besides, the more I tried to ‘focus on my breath’, the harder it was not to consciously control it. If I tried to just wait for the next breath, and then realized I’d started holding it
I never thought that ten minutes could feel so long and yet I was visibly startled when it was finally over…
 
I was dreading to see everyone stretch in perfect zen and start expounding upon the benefits, but still I didn’t know what to do when everyone else started talking about it. Somehow I had assumed that I must have been the only one who was struggling to this degree – but it was not so. I wouldn’t call it comforting like I had been hoping for everyone else to fail, but at least it was a relief I didn’t expect.
Touji was pretty honest with his complaints: “Sitting still for that long is no piece of cake...”
“I’m getting a whole new respect for those monks…” mused Hikari.
Kensuke had not let it get to him, but he too had to concede defeat: “Who would have thought that thinking of nothing would be so hard!”
 
Thankfully, Ms. Kaga was here to help: “The idea isn’t really to stop your thoughts by force, but to observe them without judgment, as well as to learn to stay grounded in the present.”
 
“Well, that already makes a whole lot more sense!” opined Marie Vincennes. “I’ve heard about the scientific benefits of course, but to be honest, I’ve always found it hard to imagine how ‘not thinking’ could be an advantage… In my book, thinking is good, and not thinking is what creates problems, regardless of what some anti-intellectual treehuggers say.”
 
“Not all thoughts are genius inventions or insights, though. Imagine that you’re very nervous, and stressing out because you keep thinking about how it might go wrong, or if you keep worrying about things you can’t change. Maybe you’re on your way for an interview for your dream job. Or you’re on a date or an outing with your friends, and you keep thinking about what you have to do later at work, and it keeps you from really enjoying it…
So it’s not about thoughts being bad or anything, but about… not so much ‘controlling them’, but to have self-awareness with your thinking, and an objective sense of clarity.”
 
“Clarity, I see…” She appeared properly motivated now.
 
“I keep getting distracted, though…” admitted Kotone.
“That’s just how it goes. Especially at the start, most of what you do while meditating is continuing to notice that you’ve drifted off, and gently guiding your thoughts back to your breath.”
“Alright!”
 
“I still think this is all bullshit…” bemoaned Asuka. “Doing nothing seems like a boring waste of time!”
“We’re not wasting time, Princess. We’re enjoying it! It was freely given to us for our enjoyment!”
I wasn’t surprised that Kaworu turned out to be good at it, and remarked right away on how he’d found it to be an enriching experience, but Mari was a surprise. She’d stretched her long arms with a deeply contented sigh as soon as the session was over.
I suppose she was naturally close to the grounding of the earth in the same way that Kaworu seemed in touch with the spiritual and the cosmos.
“Have you two done this kind of thing before?”
“I’ve dabbled.” said Kaworu noncommittally. “It is said to help you attain enlightenment, so, I was naturally curious.”
“No me!” confessed Mari, “I’ve never done this sort of thing before in my life! But I don’t mind. I love trying out new things, and so far, I think it’s been fun so far. It’s nice and peaceful.”
“I feel that I am able to experience a sense of great love when I do this,” added Kaworu.
I honestly struggled to think how this could ever be ‘fun’ or ‘enlightening’. There was probably a reason that science said it was good and that loads of people wiser than I had thought this to be valuable, starting from Kaworu and Mari and going back to all those great Buddhist masters, but I never was a religious or spiritual type… from left with my wandering thoughts or having to observe strenuous discipline, every part of this experience seemed like the very opposite of peaceful or enriching. I’d almost rather do another synchronization test again. Maybe that’s why they thought this might make us better at those.
 
I’d assumed that Rei had also found this easy since she didn’t seem to have any problems sitting still – she’d sat on my left the whole time and I didn’t hear her moving once – but then she’d raised her hand as soon as Lt. jg. Kaga started taking questions, quietly waiting her turn while many of us had already become engaged in chaotic discourse.
I didn’t feel comfortable asking anything myself, both because it was embarrassing, and because her arm must be hurting from holding it up for so long.
She was so quiet and unobtrusive that it was easy to forget she was still in the room.
 
Mercifully, Lt. Kaga took note of Rei from the corner of her eyes and asked her to speak.
“I am having some difficulty. I am following your instructions, but when I attempt to observe my thoughts, I find myself losing track of my breath,” she revealed this without flinching since it was required for her to participate as she had been told.
“Do you get distracted by other thoughts?”
“...not precisely. Or- I felt a bit strange. Uncertain. Not like usual… I’m not sure how to describe it…?”
“A bit distant, perhaps? Or uncomfortable?”
“Could be. I’m not certain...”
“That’s not uncommon. Maybe this is just not the right practice for you. Or it’s just a beginner’s problem. It should get easier with regular practice.”
“I see.”
Rei seemed a little discouraged though.
 
The idea was for these sessions to gradually become more meditation and less discussion over time, but I wasn’t feeling hopeful. I wonder what sort of report my parents were going to receive from this. Half of the actual pilots were really bad at this, and so was I…
 
And there was one more piece of bad news…
“Oh dear! I was going to invite you all to try my homemade tea blend, but I got the recipes mixed up and forgot that this one was supposed to have black tea leaves rather than green! I’m sorry, it’s just that I can be a little absent-minded sometimes… I’m sorry…”
I don’t know much about tea, so I doubt that I could’ve told you what sort of tea goes well with caramel and vanilla… and she was offering us free tea.
“Hm. Most inventions probably happened when people did something unexpected by accident.” mused Mari, and accepted the tea anyways.
 
MENTAL ENHANCEMENT TRAINING (w/ Ens. A. MOGAMI)
 
At least we had been allowed to shower and change out of the sweaty PE clothes. It seems that we were allowed to wear just our normal uniforms for this next one.
We were led into something that wasn’t too different from a classroom in looks, blackboard included.
In the front, Ensign Mogami was waiting with a rather impassioned speech that she may or may not have prepared beforehand.
“Since First Impact, the life forms on this planet have been caught in a great, merciless struggle for survival! But if it was just about brute force, then you’d think Bears or Hippos should be the dominant species on this planet. But is not so! That’s because, in a fight, brute force is not the only thing that matters: I’m talking about smarts of course! It would do no good to strengthen only your bodies without strengthening your smarts as well!”
 
Marie seemed particularly enthusiastic about this one: “So in your training session, we will exercise our thinking?”
“Precisely!”
 
It turns out that largely meant strategy.
“Our enemies are total enigmas with completely unknown capabilities after all! If we rush in blindly, this could lead to a disaster of unpredictable proportions!”
I hadn’t been in the study group she’d headed, so I hadn’t really had a chance to get to know Ensign Mogami that well – though I knew that Marie, Kotone, and Hikari had been regular members.
She seemed like a somewhat high-strung, intense person who often spoke in bursts of quick, complicated-sounded sentences. She was as likely to use obscure scientific terms that filled Marie’s eyes with delight as she was to reference obscure pulp fiction B-movie that Kensuke always recognized without fail. Both of them had a blast in this session.
The training itself consisted of discussing various battle scenarios or general kinds of problem-solving. Sometimes we’d discuss famous battles from history and consider how the lessons in there might be applied to fighting with EVAs. It wasn’t just logic puzzles, either – many of the scenarios we discussed were the kinds to require outside-the-box thinking. I wasn’t very good at either.
Though they absorbed the lessons eagerly, in this one area it was clear that Mari and Kaworu were just as new to this as we were.
Rei and Asuka weren’t, evidently. Ensign Mogami soon adopted the policy of letting us rookies have a go at making suggestions and only then allowing the resident veterans to give the solution.
I was once again confirmed in my long-standing belief that Asuka was not someone you’d want to make an enemy of. A few times, I think she had raised her hand just for the sake of having raised it and having raised it first, but not even the most cynical of naysayers could have contested that she clearly had some aptitude for thinking on her feet.
Rei, by contrast, proved very observant, often pointing out subtle details that the rest of us had overlooked. Mari was brave, Kaworu was Kaworu, and in contrast to them, I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to add. All this was close enough to school that we even had Hikari admonishing us to study properly, with the telling distinction that Kensuke was actually inclined to listen to her on this one subject.
All the while, I couldn’t quite believe or grasp the reality of it. I mean, we weren’t just studying battles to pass some test in history class. They were meaning for us to take part in actual battles...
 
SENSITIVITY ENHANCEMENT TRAINING (w/ Ens. S. OII)
 
“It’s fine to strengthen your body and your mind, but we mustn’t forget the heart! If your strength and smarts are equal, I say that whoever wins is the one who has the strongest heart, don’t you think so?”
 
I wouldn’t know. I don’t know anything about fighting. If it was a normal street fight, I’d say that what Ensign Oii was saying there sounded a bit too much like a ‘power of friendship’ speech from a Shonen Manga, but since Mom keeps talking about how we’ll be using our souls to fight, this might well be different if you’re fighting with Evangelions.
 
Out of the various NERV technicians, Ensign Oii was probably the closest to a traditional beauty. She had enviable stunning light hair, a pretty figure, and something of a mildly dreamy vibe to her. I think she once mentioned that she had some Russian heritage, back when she’d still posed as a humble art teacher. She had actually shown up to supervise the music club a few times – that’s how I knew that she had a certain nostalgic fondness for Rachmaninoff.
What she was having us do now was not too different from art class – it actually makes me wonder if some of our classes might have been stealth training, just until the people at GEHIRN would be able to determine which candidates they were supposed to focus on.
As she explained it, the point was not to have us produce pretty pictures, but the skills and sensibilities that they would have us honing in the process. Her gushing about how art broadens one’s horizons and expresses one’s heart was not much different than it had been at school.
Today’s exercise was about ‘perception’: She put up a flower vase and told us to draw it as best as we could, telling us to really, really look at it and notice as many details as we could.
 
For once, this was one exercise that Asuka was not good at. The task was a bit too diffuse for her to zero in on a clear goal. When she was the first to hand something in, she was told to take more time. I think she got rather frustrated, especially since Kaworu was obviously right in his element. But when he complimented the ‘energy’ of her drawing, she got even madder. When she asked if the pain was to make the most realistic painting, Ensign Oii replied that there was ‘no right and no wrong with this exercise’ and that the ‘journey was the destination'.
“Though you’re all drawing this same bunch of flowers, all of your paintings are different. That’s because art always contains a little bit of the artist’s heart!”
“So it’s good if they are different?” questioned Rei, perhaps a little bit curiously.
She didn’t complain loudly as Asuka had, but I had noticed that she had long stood there with the crayons in her hands, unsure of how to begin. I guess the lack of clear objectives must have been challenging for her, too.
Looking over her shoulder, Ensign Oii regarded her canvas thoughtfully.
“Well, it depends. If you go and make them different just for the sake of difference, then it would hardly be true to your hearts.”
Nodding in what might’ve been a slightly resolute manner, Rei went back to the drawing board.
The end result was fairly simple and minimalist, but deliberately so, and not without a slight cute quality to it.
Though the best painting (besides Kaworu’s) was probably Hikari. She put a lot of diligence and attention to detail into it.
In the end, Asuka deemed the whole thing to be pointless mumbo-jumbo and would not budge on that even when Hikari tried to have her see the positive. It doesn’t help that Ensign Oii complimented mine for some reason though it really wasn’t anything special.
All this accomplished was to make Asuka mad at me…
 
WETWARE ASSET MAINTENANCE (/w H. AMAGI)
 
Kotone was right about Lt. jg. Amagi: She was a nice person.
Nice enough that she seemed uncomfortable with the idea that our brains were now basically important government equipment that she was now officially in charge of maintaining – but that exactly was her position. The only reason we could basically go talk to her on short notice whenever we pleased when many people had to wait months for a spot in therapy.
 
“Alright, Children. As someone who was once your age, I know well that the challenges of growing up can be challenging enough without having to worry about your duties at GEHIRN on top of it – and going to war can be really tough even for adults. That’s why I want you to know that I am always here to help you. I will be seeing all of you on and off – not at the same time of course – and you can call me for special sessions any time you like.
And I want you to know that there is no shame and no weakness in asking for help. You can even go see me if everything is alright, just so I can help you.
 
That said, they always say that one ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So I want to use this opportunity to remind you to take good care of yourselves.
Your training regimen should already provide more than enough exercise, but remember to go out in the sun sometimes, and be sure to leave time to rest and hang out with your friends even when your schedule gets fuller. Also, since you’ll spend much time working underground, I want you to try to get as much sunlight as you can… and make an effort to drink enough water!”
 
“Sunlight… water…” mouthed Asuka, who was seated next to me. “You would think that we were some kind of sensitive houseplants.”
 
“It’s also important that you eat well. That might not mean why you think it means. Unfortunately, a lot of the information of nutrition out there tends to be outdated at best, and at worst, paid for by some company that wants to sell more corn or diet pills…” lamented Lt. Amagi.
“So, absolutely no diets! None whatsoever. Not even whatever newest one the magazines are currently praising. If it restricts how much you eat or leaves out entire food groups, it’s off the table. Since you’re still growing, you should not be dieting anyways, but as EVA pilots, you must especially take care of your brain.
You know that we tell people with seasonal depression to make sure to eat enough carbs, or eat more than usual? Proteins are also crucial to replenishing your neurotransmitters. And vitamins, especially B and D vitamins. And don’t forget fat. Yes, there is such a thing as too little fat – especially if your genetics naturally tend towards the heavier side, you can have trouble feeling warm enough, your hormone household might suffer, your mood might be lower and you might be more susceptible to depression and anxiety. That is because your brain is mostly made up of fat, including the sheaths around your nerves. Another thing that’s crucial to your brain is sleep. Make sure to get enough sleep and come to me if you have trouble sleeping.
Foods that are especially good for your brains are nuts, broccoli, and leafy greens.”
 
“Eugh, Brokkoli!”Touji made a face.
Last edited by Kendrix on Fri Apr 02, 2021 9:52 pm, edited 4 times in total.
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

Kendrix
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Fri Apr 02, 2021 9:43 pm

Basic Training, Part II  SPOILER: Show
(2.1: Welcome to the Machine)
 
 
7th GENERATION PLUGSUIT FITTING
 
While we kept doing that sort of normal, classroom-like stuff, it would have been easy to forget our true purpose for being here – but it wasn’t long before we were told to change into our swimsuits again.
This time, however, they didn’t herd us toward the simulation plugs straight away. Instead, we were greeted by the same junior grade lieutenant who’d been present at the meeting yesterday. He was a young man with short brown hair and a somewhat unremarkable face, perhaps not too different from how I might picture myself in ten years or so – He seemed like a good-natured, responsible fellow, though perhaps not savvy enough to grasp the more sinister implications of our presence here. It appears that he was in a quartermaster-like position here and had known the established pilots for a while. He made a point of addressing Rei with a warm greeting, to which she gave a short, toneless reply.
As he did his work, he mentioned offhandedly how all his co-workers had asked him for tips since he was the one person here who had actually spent some time working as an actual teacher in the past. But he wasn’t super sure what he wanted to do with his life, so he hadn’t minded switching to GEHIRN when they were looking for personnel. He seemed like a nice dude.
From what he said, he was supposed to take our measurements so that we could get our own specialized suits – that included Asuka and Rei, who were apparently due for new ones.
“About time!” judged Asuka. “After all, I’ve gotten a lot taller since they had the last one made! And rounder, too, in some select places~ The old suit was getting a bit tight~”
She sat down and held out her arm to be measured with all the grace of a great movie diva.
 
“Isn’t it a bit embarrassing to wear suits like that all the time?”
Thank you, Hikari. You’re the only sane person here.
Mari sure didn’t mind, she just shrugged.
“Eh, you get you to it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of!”
There wasn’t very much that could make her abashed.
Rei, too, dutifully suffered the measuring tapes.
“It’s fine. It comes with the job.”
 
Then each of us was asked what color we wanted it to be like we were picking out which toy we wanted at McDonalds' or choosing candy and stickers after a visit to the doctor. Do soldiers get asked what colors they want their Kevlar vests in? Do they ask spitfire pilots what color they want their oxygen masks?
 
INSTRUMENT ARRAY ACCLIMATIZATION SESSION (w/ Lt. M. IBUKI)
 
The EVAs were most certainly not toys.
Toys wouldn’t need emergency escape hatches, or a life support mode or a means to lock headquarters out of the controls in the event that it might get taken over by some hostile force – not to speak of bloody self-destruct buttons, a mainstay of cliched science fiction.
Lt. Ibuki was of course trying her best to be encouraging as she instructed us about where everything is in the Entry Plug. She assured us that she and the other technicians would do their best to help us at every step of the way, that we’d never need most of these functionalities – we were being told just in case, out of protocol… but still, it was deemed necessary to let us know.
I think Lt. Ibuki was mostly trying to convince herself; She was a gentle soul. I presume she wouldn’t have ended up in a position like hers if she hadn’t gotten brilliant results at university, but brilliance alone could not have prepared her for the harsh realities of this job.
I don’t even have brilliance, so I’ve no right to judge.
If anything, it’s a comfort. As long as there’s one person who still looks to be uncomfortable with the idea of me or my classmates pulling a self-destruct lever, the world hasn’t gone mad completely.
Don’t get me wrong though, everything I just mentioned were measures and functions that we actually ended up using. I pulled out one of my comrades by the emergency hatch. I did see headquarters nearly get taken over. I ended up stuck on life-support mode for all of its entire 16-hour runtime. I did lock the controls more than once, and I witnessed firsthand how more than one of my friends used the self-destruct lever.
It might be that Lt. Ibuki explained many other things to us that day which I no longer quite remember ‘cause I didn’t see them used.
The EVAs were intended to save humanity so, they couldn’t afford to not prepare them for every possible eventuality.
I will be describing a lot of EVA battles in the later parts of this story, so it’s probably helpful if I give you a rundown of how they work.
Like Lt. Ibuki did back then, I’ll start with a rundown of the Entry Plug.
First there’s the pilot seat with it’s two control levers. Units One and Zero just have a simple lever but I know most of the later ones also have some additional buttons on the levels that help in controlling more complex weapons and various things related to the EVA’s mechanical components. The levers themselves don’t actually control anything. They’re just there to facilitate haptic projection especially at lower synch rate levels: Like when you use a tool, drive a car, or play a game, the tool, vehicle or avatar kind of starts to be processed as part of your body.
As far as I understand it, they’re there to give you something to focus on while you picture your movements. After a certain point, they become more or less unnecessary once you’re used to moving the EVA with just your mind, but they still help, and by then, the feedback is so high that you’ll be grateful for something to hang onto when you’re in terrible pain.
The levers can also be folded out to be easier to grip when reclining – though as I would find out, that feature is also mighty helpful when there’s more than one pilot.
The seat itself has some compartments on the side where one might keep rations for longer flights, but those had been put there just in case, as they hadn’t actually worked out the technology to deploy the EVAs away from their base for longer periods of time.
The seat itself was on rails so that it could be moved further up or down as a rudimentary means to adjust plug depth. There’s only that much this could help when the entry plug as a whole was pulled far into the EVA’s core though.
The LCL filter was located in the very back along with a toolbox and space for further rations.
To get in or out of it, there was first the big automatic hatch on top of the pilot seat’s default position. It was large enough that they could lift out the entire seat in case one of us needed emergency medical treatment… or quarantine.
Both did occur.
The main hatch had another analog intercom line next to it, complete with a separate battery so that we could communicate with both each other and headquarters after the EVA’s main power wasn’t running at the moment – but as I mentioned before, there was also a smaller emergency hatch in the back of the plug, so that we could escape by ourselves if needed.
That wasn’t unlikely to happen, because the EVAs had something like an ejection seat – only that it wasn’t just our seat, but the entire entry plug that might end up shot out of the EVA’s back in case of some emergency. Supposedly, the plugs did come equipped with parachutes and rockets to cushion our fall but you’ve got to admit that being shot out like a rocket sounds rather daunting.
Onto the EVAs themselves:
Controlling someone else’s arm remotely via electricity by using a chip in both your brains is actually something that has been done in regular people. The person whose arm was being moved described it as feeling like a muscle spasm of sorts.
But the EVA is much larger than a regular dude, so you wouldn’t get enough energy to propel it by just feeding it burgers. As they were made to replicate the human form, the EVAs do have bowels and could theoretically eat ...actually, they can very much do it in practice, too. Please don’t ask me the details yet, it’ll be a while till I’m ready to talk about that… let's just say that it involves what are still some of my most horrific memories.
But the creature they were copied from, that is Adam, had no need of eating because of its S2 organ. Its side and energy needs were not at all constrained by what it could conceivably eat. That largest trump card of the angels however had proved the hardest to replicate.
GEHIRN was working on EVAs with S2 Engines, but they had not properly succeeded yet. As of now, the EVAs were still crippled, misshapen copies, like a fetus lacking critical organs that would not survive birth.
Since they could not produce it themselves and feeding them mountains of steaks before every fight wasn’t really an option, the people of GEHIRN had open for the 18th-century method of making their muscles twitch by ‘feeding’ them electricity from a so-called umbilical cable, something like an enormous cord to sustain the doomed fetus well into adulthood – though it might have been a little counter-intuitive how it attached to the EVA’s back instead of the navel area.
This obviously implied that the power supply was the EVA’s one big glaring weak point.
Efforts to try and overcome this were still ongoing.
There was an internal battery, but it lasted five minutes at most, and only one at full capacity.
Which means that the power always runs out at the worst possible moment.
I got lucky exactly once, and ever since, I’ve been paying for that one initial instance of ridiculous beginner’s luck with my blood sweat, and tears…
Likewise, activating the EVAs was intended to be done with loads of machinery and much personnel to ensure that everything was flawless and perfectly controlled, but the EVA was designed so that as long as the battery was charged, the pilot could theoretically activate it by themselves as long as they could get to the entry plug. Which would be immensely more useful without the battery limit, but has definitely saved us on more than one occasion.
 
31st JOINT HARMONICS TEST (w/ Sr. Researcher K. ZEPPELIN-SORYU)
 
Since we were already in the simulation plugs, it was decided that they might as well do some simulating.
That’s when Ms. Soryu formally took over the operation.
There wasn’t much for her to do but adjust some dials and look at the screen from time to time, though she looked very concentrated while she was doing it. When I was looking, that is.
It’s easier to concentrate with your eyes closed.
But if this whole training program really was her brainchild… or ‘vanity project’, as father had called it, then it stood to reason that she’d be hyped to finally be getting her research data.
She never had so many live subjects before. Researching EVA pilots was every researcher’s nightmare by nature because there were so very few of us, and as I’d often been told when discussing our results, what you wanted to get solid proof & significant results were many participants. In terms of growth curves and results, the four previous candidates had all been vastly different from one another.
Now that we were all included, they were getting vastly more dots on all their little charts and diagrams.
The test went by without issue, which wasn’t something I knew to appreciate then. But I’m sure the operators did – I spied Ibuki reading a romance novel, Hyuuga taking out some comics, Aoba playing air guitar, Agano doing some knitting, Lt. Kaga had gotten herself a big steaming mug of tea at some point, though she was looking over Ms. Soryu’s shoulder at the numbers when I spotted her...
 
48th JOINT SYNCHRONIZATION TEST (w/ jr. Research Director Dr. R. Akagi)
 
Though she was about Misato’s age, Dr. Akagi seemed no less accomplished by the staff than mother or Ms. Soryu. But unlike the latter, she didn’t bother to make small talk with us, she got right down to business and the most we heard from her was the occasional admonishment when she spotted someone dozing off or getting distracted.
To this day I’m not sure if she could tell this from looking at our faces on the screens, or if she could somehow guess what we were thinking from the lines and diagrams before her.
It made me just a little bit self-conscious about my thoughts while she was heading the experiment.
She was a complete career person – she didn’t have any children nor did she seem very sociable the way that Misato was. Though I suppose you could’ve said that she was mature, beyond even what you’d expect from someone at 29.
She was just a little bit scary, to be honest, though one could tell that she was well-respected by her subordinates. She was helping out Ibuki here and there who gratefully referred to her as ‘sempai’, which was about the closest to a ‘softer side’ that she ever showed.
I’m not even sure that’s the right word, honestly, she was probably interested in Ibuki’s professional development. She was usually right beside the good Doctor whenever she was present like she was something like her designated right hand.
Misato also dropped in at some point. Unlike the operators, she wasn’t really part of the action, but as the person in charge of operations, she’d have to know how our numbers were going so that she knew how each of us could be used.
Of course, it would be just my luck that she would comment on mine:
“Is that Shinji-kun? So the number from yesterday is actually stable…”
“We’d been taken bets on whether or not it would turn out to be a fluke. Soryu owes me 5000 yen.”
“You’ve really sent back to the drawing board, huh?”
“Not quite, you see, most of the kids are actually faring exactly as Soryu predicted it.”
“Apart from a handful of problem children, huh?”
“Well, it’s difficult to extrapolate at present. We can’t really judge the shapes of their growth curves until we’ve got more than just two data points from two consecutive days…”
They needed more fancy graphs, basically.
Graphs that required us to sit here being bored while the technicians did pretty much the same.
I think I heard Misato spinning on her chair; At some point, she asked Hyuuga to pick up her clothes from the laundry service.
Naive as I was then, I figured that she must be out of fresh uniforms and that that’s why she’d shown up with just her jacked draped over normal jeans and yellow shirt...
 
INFRASTRUCTURE OVERVIEW BRIEFING (w/ Lt. M. HYUUGA)
 
This was our first time in an actual simulation body, perhaps the first taste of what we’d gotten ourselves into. I could see its spinal cord pulsing beneath the metal casing in some places.
If only I had known my repulsion to be the primal recognition of something objectively revolting instead of just mere youthful squeamishness to be overcome.
I think Hikari was grossed-out, too, but like me, she let herself be soothed by the reassurances of trusted authority figures.
Kotone bravely toughed it out despite the obvious grimace on her little face. Touji, Kensuke, and Asuka fancied themselves too tough to complain. In Marie’s case, her vanity battled with her curiosity and was only just barely vanquished. Kaworu gave us all an encouraging little wave before climbing into his own plug. Rei seemed so used to this that she didn’t even flinch anymore. And Mari was Mari; if I’m honest, she seemed to be enjoying it…
 
On the inside, it didn’t really look too different from the simulation plug – only that I had this weird tingly feeling in my head and neck. It would only grow more definite as I got better at syncing, but it was a while before I made the connection that I was feeling this sensation in places corresponding to the simulation body’s flesh.
But the most significant difference became apparent once synchronization began and the interface appeared – instead of seeing the outside of the room, where all the other kids would have been sitting in their own simulation bodies, what appeared was something like a 3D-map of the city.
 
Turns out that Kensuke was, in fact, exactly right: There were secret tunnels and compartments in buildings all over the city. Almost all of what he’d talked about before our subterranean excursion was entirely correct.
I recognized the outline of buildings that I had walked by many times a week, places in the shopping district, huge office towers… and all along, they must have contained power cables and giant elevators and storage units for giant-sized guns.
 
“What you see before you” explained Misato with not a small inkling of pride, “is the true form of Neo Tokyo-3, the fortress city of humanity, built specifically to intercept the angels.”
You heard that right: It’s not that the fortifications were built underneath the city, or mixed in with it – the whole damn city had been planned and build with this purpose in mind.
That alone should’ve confused me enough to make me suspicious, for must the laboratory not existed before they found out about the threat? But there had been an older, smaller city in this approximate area so it wasn’t as strange as it could have been.
 
“Okay kids, “ began Hyuuga, “I’ll need you to remember the locations of all the armament buildings, weapons arrays, EVA launch points, weapons depots, recovery zones, and emergency power junctions. I know it sounds like a lot, but we’ll walk you through it bit by bit until you’ve got them all memorized.”
Obviously, that wasn’t something that could all be done in one session, but they seemed anxious to give us an early rundown in hopes that at least some of it would stick right away, you know, just in case that the foe should make it to the gates earlier than expected.
Another subject of this ‘course’ was the various equipment that had been prepared for the EVAs, most of which disturbingly resembled humongous versions of real-life normal weapons, ranging from the historical to the futuristic to the uncomfortably current. There was transport equipment, too, including planes – they had tinkered around with space rockets, too, but to little avail as of yet.
There were also different types of armor that we were expected to know about – A type was the most basic set for land-based combat, B-type was the lighter minimal armor used when transporting the EVAs or when they were supposed to be in storage, C-type was a failed project intended for areal warfare that had turned out way too costly to justify its existence, D-type was designed for extreme conditions, E-type for underwater battles, and the latest, as of now, was F-type, a yet uncompleted project to design armor that would make use of the EVAs’ special power, the so-called AT field.
Research and Development was always ongoing though; During my time at NERV, I would see them add G-type (for sniping) and S-type, an actually working take at flight equipment.
At some point there was space equipment, too, I think, but my position at the time wasn’t such that anyone would have told me what it’s called.
It’s so ironic, though. Being unable to send the EVAs to space was one of our greatest weaknesses for such a long time.
If only they had come up with it just a little earlier…
 
[BREAK TIME]
 
“After working so hard, you all deserve some ice cream! ~♡”
 
Thank you, Misato-san, but all the ice cream in the world wouldn’t have changed that we looked kind of ridiculous, a bunch of kids in swimming clothes sitting around a table.
That was my first time at GEHIRN’s official cantina. It’s on the upper part of the hideout, near the ceiling of the geofront, not far from sickbay. It has big, round white tables and huge panoramic windows that let you look out on the ‘reverse city’ of downward-hanging buildings – but from looking at us, you might still be forgiven for thinking that this was the vicinity of some public pool’s ice cream stand.
At least Rei’s and Asuka’s suits gave them a vague air of legitimacy since everyone else was also walking around in those sleek, futuristic uniforms.
I can’t complain about the actual ice cream though. It was very creamy and full of flavor. It was surprisingly good for something from an underground canteen. They really must have sunk a whole lot of secret government money into every aspect of this place.
Touji and Kensuke were just gobbling it up with great enthusiasm, looking well impressed with Misato’s generosity, if generosity it was – in hindsight, there is a lot of temptations to find faults and trap doors in every gift.
“What’s next, Ma’am?”
“Oh, that would be the battle simulations.”
“B-Battle Simulations?! Did I hear that right?!”
Kensuke got so excited that the tables of a less well-funded secret hideout might have been knocked over when he suddenly clapped his hands onto the table when he jumped to his feet.
His eyes were so filled with stars, hearts, and sparkles that I was getting a bit worried that they might pop out of his skull.
Asuka was way too eager to burst his bubble:
“Not for you, rookie! An EVA won’t even move a finger until you’re past 10 percent at least! You can’t even get the interface to show up without wobbling, what are you gonna do, fight angels with your eyes closed?
It might be months before any of you are even good enough as decoys.
Which means that it’s time for all you little newbies to wash up, go home and let the real pilots do their job!”
“I see…”
“Actually, Shinji-kun will be staying here.”
“...huh?”
The most surprising part was that Asuka was even more surprised than I was: “….eeeh?! How come?! I thought rookies can’t do it!”
“That might be true for most of them, but with Shinji-kun’s current numbers, there’s no reason that he couldn’t participate.” ruled Misato. “His synch rate is already high enough for actual combat – we must be prepared for every emergency, so, if we have another person who can do it, it would be foolish not to prepare him…”
She was certainly thinking like a field captain – even though she was being very friendly with us, even allowing us to call her by her name and doing the same in return. The contrast between the two could make one wonder – even me as I was then.
There was the Nice Miss Misato, who was hardly any different from Teacher Misato, and then there was Captain Katsuragi. So which one was the mask? Or was it both? Neither?
I was reminded once again that for all that all this may have currently resembled some wacky school trip, they were seriously preparing for war. It would, of course, be convenient for them to let us think of this as an exciting adventure for as long as they could.
That might be why even Asuka didn’t look convinced by the reasoning that more soldiers would be better. “Won’t he slow us down?”
“Perhaps at first. But we sooner we start his training, the sooner that will change.”
“Man Shinji, you’re SOOOO lucky!”
That is something Kensuke was able to say because he did not have to stay for the actual simulations.
 
44th JOINT BATTLE SIMULATION (w/ M. KATSURAGI)
 
Beyond the interface appeared a fake city, much as it did when Lt. Hyuuga was explaining the armaments to us.
But something was different this time.
On a technical level, our simulation body was being fed data that was meant to simulate the nerve inputs of an actual Evangelion. That would always be imperfect – an Evangelion was a living being, and besides that, an entity barely understood by science. But as far as the basic realities of moving around went, the simulation was good enough.
This, too, was something that would not have been possible without the massive biological supercomputers that powered this complex.
As far as the graphical interface went, the changes were much, much simpler. In the periphery of my interface screens, I could now see the traces of a large CG facsimile of what EVA 01 was expected to look like once it was finished, probably taken straight from the blueprints.
Somehow, despite the horn, it looked a little less devilish than it did in its half-finished state.
Or maybe, only the simulation did.
In reality, it was still being constructed deep in the bottom of GEHIRN headquarters – also, there was only one of it, but standing here in this simulated city were two identical twins, as both Rei and I were using the same profile data. I’m not too surprised that my mother would paint it purple, but I can’t help but think that Rei ought to have been consulted.
Ms. Soryu’s Unit Two was unsurprisingly scheduled to receive a bright-red paint job right to the tastes of her daughter. Of course, at this point, this appearance would have been extracted straight from the blueprints – just like it was for the green and gray unit five, and the dark blue and orange unit six.
I was surprised to find that EVA 01 actually had the correct number of eyes. At first, I thought that they must have worked out whatever kinks had caused the cyclopean appearance of that prototype that mother had shown us, but then I noticed that Unit Two actually had two.
As for units Five and Six… well, you couldn’t really tell with those visors that they had.
It was downright bizarre to hear the voices of my friends coming from what appeared like horned devils.
 
From the control room, I could hear Misato: “Okay, Shinji-kun. This is your first day today, so let me tell you this, as someone who has actually been in the military: The main thing that determines if you’re going to make it in a real fight is if you’ve been in real fights before. Nothing beats real-world experience – all your training will be useless if you don’t get used to the real thing. So let’s rip off that band-aid right now, shall we?”
 
Right then. No pressure.
I found myself swallowing.
At least Ms. Ritsuko was somewhat more somber in her expectations: “We only expect you to try.”
I reluctantly gripped the control yokes, remembering all that stuff about how little they actually controlled.
“Uh, Misato-san, how do I…”
 
But that was really more of a technical question, so I shouldn’t be surprised that it was Ms. Ritsuko who answered: “Just picture yourself walking. Put one foot in front of the other.”
...just like that?
How does it know that I mean for it to move and not to just randomly think of walking?
I tried to look down at the foot of the machine, to picture it as best as I could.
“...walking...”
Suddenly, something responded – the tingly feeling in my body materialized into something more. You know, feeling your own body isn’t just the touch that you sense on its surface. There are such things as proprioception fibers that help you gauge the position of your body parts relative to each other, as well as the tension in sinews and muscles.
If there was something like a body plan on the ridges of my brain, then the leg of EVA 01 had suddenly sprung into existence. Like the numb tingling of a limb that had fallen asleep suddenly fading away. There was a bit of that same painful sort of delay. If NERVE damage could make people feel like their limbs weren’t really part of their body, or make them unable to notice things on one side of their body, then whatever this was must have been the diametric opposite of it, and much like such incidents made you doubt a soul, this experience made it equally tempting to believe in one.
You bet it was really darn disorienting, especially since everyone in the control room broke out in noise and chatter, including the usually sober Dr. Akagi crying out in real surprise: “It’s working!”
Misato had acted like she believed in me, but now her face sported a sly grin as she could hardly believe her luck: “He can actually do it!… Keep going, Shinji-kun!”
In their respective little windows, Asuka was pouting and rolling her eyes.
But Mari of all people looked serious – and Kaworu, whom I’d expect to be happy for me of all people, had looked downright alarmed for a moment before falling back into deep thought.
I couldn’t tell what Rei thought, but she was looking at me.
Honestly, Asuka’s reaction was the only one that made sense out of any of these… could taking just one single step really be such a big deal?
Dr. Akagi immediately demanded more of it:
“Keep going!”
...walking… walking… it really was like walking with your legs half asleep. Except it was both out of the usual just one and there were no railings or walls to hold onto, the buildings were like simple columns next to the purple giant’s outline. With everyone watching me, I was afraid that I might-
Oh. Oh no. Nopenopenope…
 
Asuka’s harshness was the cherry on the cake: “So much for Mister Highscore!”
When we were finally let go, she wouldn’t even talk to me. She made a point to look away from me in disgust. And for what?
“It’s not like I’m in this thing cause I wanted to. It was patently ungraceful, in case you didn’t notice… It’s just ‘cause I was asked, and we have to to fight those monsters...”
“You. Are. Just. So. Irritating!”
And with that, she took off and left, fuming.
Mari had watched the altercation with something close to concern, my parts included.
“You all just go home ok? It’s been a long day for all of us. I’ll wrangle Her Highness once she’s cooled off a little.”
 
[FREE TIME]
 
All this was very, very disorienting.
And I don’t just mean Asuka being mad or just about everyone acting all weird or different of all sudden, or even all this weird training stuff.
That should have been what you’d expect me to be thinking off, but there was some other, more urgent, intimate thing that made it hard to think it even that fair.
I had my hand moving through my face again and again. Not even to facepalm, but because both my face, my palms, and even my knees had only just felt like they should for all intents and purposes have been bruised, but they weren’t, and then, when the interface had flickered out, the feeling had just as quickly dissipated, except not.
There was still some slight phantom bruise tingling on my skin like glitters of fairy-dust, and it was genuinely the weirdest thing ever.
I was so out of it that I didn’t even bother to take out my SDAT player. I don’t really have much memory of how I managed to get dressed or how I even found the way to the terminal. Rei couldn’t take me it because she’d been asked to stay for some additional experiments.
Thus I exited the gates by myself… only to find two unexpected silhouettes loitering by the card scanner.
“Touji! Kensuke! Don’t tell me you waited for me!”
There was probably a big, goofy smile spreading on my face.
“Alright,” Touji clapped back with a smirk, “Then we won’t.”
To alleviate my guilt, Kensuke made a show of having a little bit more selfish motives: “So, how was it? Shooting lasers with pretty girls?”
“Actually, I faceplanted right away. Multiple times.”
“Oww.”
“But you actually move it? The giant robot? On your first try?”
I couldn’t exactly deny that.
“It feels really weird though. I think I’m still slightly scrambled. I feel a bit like I fell on my actual face… except not.”
“I’m surprised Nagisa didn’t come with you.”
“He wanted to, but I couldn’t let him make a detour on my behalf. I think Misato-san took me part of the way…”
Now it was Touji who thought I was the lucky bastard, leaving Kensuke to notice the interesting detail: “Wait, what detour?”
“Turns out Kaworu-kun has his quarters right here in the geofront.”
“That can’t be, we saw him walk to school…- did we?”
Kensuke wasn’t sure either. “I thought we did, but now that you say it, I can’t really recall seeing him come or leave the building, except when he went somewhere with us…”
“Anyway, let’s get you, home master…”
 
That’s when we would have left, were it not for that one exact person that approached us from the opposite direction. By himself, the tall handsome man with the cool ponytail and roguish stubble might’ve been worth a glance, though that glance was more likely to come from the ladies than us gentlemen – it was the circumstances of our last meeting that alarmed us all.
All we had seen or known of him so far was glaringly at odds with the way that he casually strolled towards the gates much like he owned the place.
I don’t want to be rude but, not too long ago, I saw him being escorted off the premises.
He must have recognized us without doubt, especially me – in spite of that, he waltzes straight up to us with a big smile on his face. “Hey kids, can any of you tell me where to find gate 25?”
As if he’d sensed exactly what we were thinking, he made a point of visibly displaying his card, in the same red fig leaf pattern that I’d seen on Asuka’s, complete with a nice shot of his charming visage.
...at this point, I was wondering what the heck was going on here, and it might’ve shown on my face, but the politeness my mom had raised me with was so ingrained in me that I helpfully blurted the answer.
“Thanks a bunch, Ikari Shinji-kun.”
“But-”
“Worry not. Your parents and I have come to a little arrangement.”
He winked at us mysteriously and disappeared. Believe it or not, the card reader actually accepted that ID of his.
 
“...that was the same guy we met in that cave, right? I’m not the only one who noticed right?”
No, Touji, it’s fine. I could see him, too…
‘Arrangement’, he said. That’s that same phrase my mother likes to use.
 
[REST AND RECREATION]
 
You’ll understand that I was really darn tired by the time I made it home. The sun had gone down, too.
My parents hadn’t come with us, so I was alone in the dim apartment.
My eyes had adjusted to the dark by then, so I could navigate my way to my room by the small of star- and streetlights twinkling beyond the balcony window.
I threw my clothes in the wash & changed into the loose gray pants and blue shirt I meant to wear for sleeping, but just like yesterday, sleeping right after an EVA test turned out frustratingly difficult.
By the time I left to get me something to drink, the light was surprisingly on.
At the kitchen table sat Rei, in her big over-sized shirt pajama, with an empty cup-a-noodle beside her and various books and folders laid out before her.
I assume she hadn’t come home that long after me, but I could see no sign of my parents.
She didn’t look up from her papers, but I’m certain that she noticed me.
How do I know that? Well, I wish I could tell you that I magically divined it from the (rather adorable) back of her head or the angle of those (very cute) shorter standity-uppity little hairs near the main whirl in her hair.
But actually, it was obvious ‘cause she talked to me. She spoke softly, barely audible even in this dim, abandoned dwelling with nobody but us: “Ikari-kun? Are you alright?”
I think it should be pretty obvious what she meant.
Glass in hand, I sat down rather than go back to my room straight away. The nice councilor lady said we should drink our water after all.
“...I don’t feel great, but I think I’ll manage… is it always this bad?”
“Not always.”
“...get easier with time then, huh?”
“To an extent.”
I wonder how many times Asuka and Rei must’ve been feeling this leeched out & still kept working gone to school. I began to wonder, too, about Rei’s general subdued demeanor, and what having to put up with this all the time might do to someone. After experiencing this for myself, I could no longer even fault Asuka for her crankiness as much.
“...Thanks for asking, Ayanami.” I just really wanted to let her know. Just like with Touji & Kensuke earlier, it was just nice to be thought of when everything was so crazy.
“...by the way, do you mind telling me what you’re writing there?”
“Schoolwork. It’s because I can’t always participate.”
“Ah, so you’re catching up on stuff from when you were absent?”
The adorable little hair sticking up from the back of her head bobbed up and down as she nodded, and then lowered her gaze back onto the books and papers.
 
I guess what I thought was: Oh, right, School. That’s somehow still a thing that exists.
Somehow, somewhere in the city, Mana, Mayumi, Nene, and all the others must have been having their supper, still knowing nothing about alien angels or mechanical devils.

 

It occurs to me that I’m going to have to drastically change like… ALL the fight scenes.
Which on the one hand is a great opportunity for the story to evolve dynamically & turn out non-samey, and boldly yet logically following the consequences of your changes is the exact thing I tend to love in other ppl’s fanfic.
On the other hand, I’ve got my work cut out for me, ‘cause the early fight scenes of the less experienced pilots like Shinji and Mari were memorable, full of character & defining moments where ppl started to like them (Mari cause she’s badass, Shinji ‘cause he’s as panicked as most of us would be) and I cant just replace them with something objectively boringer. ^^°

I mean, we know what experienced Mari looks like (timeskip Mari. Though several months are a way different animal than over a decade...) and Shinji, though he gets really fearsome toward the latter third of the series, strikes me as the type who would never really get used to it mindset wise. But things would still probably go differently than in canonland… *scratches chin * I’m tempted to eventually give him a sword like in ANIMA. That’s generally one of the wackiest & most AU spinoffs, but, he was always most efficient at close range so it makes sense he’d specialize at that.

In theory, it shouldn’t be that different from balancing the dialogues to both keep everyone recognizable but still account for the difference in backstory – For example, Shinji has that same basic supine temperament & sensitive constitution but without the huge abandonment issues, there’s probably a bit more primitive trust there so he’d be more relaxed around ppl he knows; But also the new element that he feels he doesn’t measure up to the legacy of his parents, and he trusts them more which isn’t always a good thing- and then there’s the added complication of having everything narrated by his future self, who looks back at everything with hindsight bias and a rather more self-hating/ critical lens that has to be featured in. (If I had foreseen that that aspect would become so prominent though, I might’ve gone with ‘Not The Actual Events’ as the title, like the NIN EP.) In practice, though I’m not nearly as confident at action scenes as I am with little character moments.


Regarding spoilers/ TuaT: I’ve read the leaked script and seen multiple synopses and pics I’m not gonna spoil anything here, but in true EVA fashion no one can even agree on what even happens in it.
I might use little things like ‘character A likes X hobby’ but if I were to include something that would give away any big plot or character revelations before there’s an English release, I’ll be sure to put a big, fat warning at the beginning of the chapter, though it is unlikely at this point.
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

Arcadia's legacy
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Arcadia's legacy » Sat Apr 03, 2021 6:31 pm

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.

Wait, so 2nd Impact didn't happen in this AU?
Okay. Deep breaths. Focus. Fix some time and place.

You're a disembodied voice Shinji, I'm pretty sure you don't have the option of breathing
Never let the flame that is hope burn out, for despite the length of the night, the sunrise will always come
""Trolling the audience" is the same thing as "challenging the audience" (to an audience that doesn't want to be challenged)." -Reichu

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Sat Apr 03, 2021 11:53 pm

View Original PostArcadia's legacy wrote:Wait, so 2nd Impact didn't happen in this AU?


Not as in canon, at least.
Details will become clear later, at this point rough 70% ´has been explained in chapters that are already published, & it's probably not too hard to guess what future twists might be hidden in that 30%.

View Original PostArcadia's legacy wrote:You're a disembodied voice Shinji, I'm pretty sure you don't have the option of breathing


I'd decided from the get go that I was gonna have some scene where Future!Shinji just can't anymore and has to gather himself for a sec before he can keep narrating - I expected it'd be later, but, the Aquarium scene is just super evil if you know what happens in Q. As for what exactly happened to him - that's kinda left mysterious on purpose for now, but the biggest hint is probably the countdown...

Thanks a whole lot for your detailed feedback!
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Tue Apr 27, 2021 8:38 pm

2.2 Coordination Training, Part I  SPOILER: Show
(2.2: MULTI-AXIS COORDINATION AND ACUITY ENHANCEMENT EXERCISE)

One the day when we first got back I found Kaworu sitting in his favorite tree on the lower portion of the courtyard, basking in some of the last rays of gold that we would get that day.
He balancing near effortlessly on a crutch of branches, his hands leisurely folded behind the back of his head.
I was struck by the sight of him as soon as I saw him – up above beyond me, he looked like a spirit bathing in a ray of holy light. Once again, I couldn’t help but envy how free he was, how unencumbered.
As soon as he saw me, he asked me to join him in the branches, but of course, I had to decline. I was never any good at climbing trees.
He spoke to me, but with the distance between us, and the wind blowing through the leaves, it was hard to understand, and I kept having to ask him about this or that bit of his last sentence.
The upshot of that was that he ended up climbing down, which he did of course with the preternatural grace of a cat.
He was taller than me, more developed, but in the ethereal, lissome manner of a heroic tenor.
I was wearing the same PE clothes as him, as the teacher somehow thought that it was not yet too cold to go outside, but if he’d asked me, I would have begged to differ.
The teacher said that we’d warm up once we got running, but it wasn’t my turn yet, and I could see my own breath.
Once in a while, I caught myself rubbing my arms to keep them warm.
By contrast, Kaworu stood without a trace of a shiver, as if unaffected by the elements.
“You didn’t have to come down just because of me-”
“No, it’s fine. I have something I wanted you to hear clearly.”
He stood resolute, solemnly looking me in the face.
“I have been thinking about what we discussed earlier, the before yesterday, when you first came down to headquarters. When you asked me what you thought about how you volunteered to become a pilot. What I told you then was not a lie, but it was not the whole truth, either. Don’t misunderstand – if it were possible for me to ensure that this bitter chalice would pass you by, I would do so in a heartbeat, without hesitation, without regret, without ever looking back.
But now that this thread of fate has been strung, it’s probably alright for me to reveal this. In fact, I hope that it will be to your comfort.”
He was choosing his words very deliberately, putting evident thought into how he weighted is tone. He paused there, solemnly, making a ceremony out of reaching for my shivering, trembling hands.
“I didn’t want you to bear this cross along with me, but at the same time, now that I’ve had the time to consider it and think it over, there is some base, selfish part of me that is glad that it was you. If someone had to play that part- If someone had to share this burden… I’m almost relieved that is is you.”
The grip of his hands on mine ever so subtly increased in firmness.
Somehow, I felt my heard pound with the fluttering premonition of some dim omen, black like ravens’ feathers.
“...paradoxical, is it not? The cruel fate that traps us is the same that binds us together, and I who should hate its bonds find myself almost grateful for the chain I should resent. I fear that if I were to break it, we should lose sight of each other in the end…”
I believe it was time that I started squeezing his fine hands right back.
“...but there’s no way that could happen, Kaworu-kun! You and I are best friends forever and ever!”
I was probably holding on to something that made sense when I was younger.
But that might have been exactly what Kaworu was hoping to hear.
Exhaling in mild relief, he at last let my hands slide from his grip, and in some measure, his usual smile returned, though he did not fully let go.
“...that’s quite right.”
I think it was the push that he needed to arrive at a certain resolve.
“You know what, Shinji-kun? I think you and I ought to take care that we enjoy these carefree days that remain to us to their fullest extent. There is no telling for how long they will last.”
“...that’s right.” I swallowed trying not to let the foreboding shake my resolve. “There’s no telling how things might change when the enemy arrives…”
“Yes. That. The enemy…”
For some reason, he could not meet my eyes.

October 2nd 2014
T minus 467 days

School: A Thing that Somehow Still Exists(TM).
I think the return to the classroom would have been immeasurably harder if I had been the only one who had somehow been sucked into a bizarre other-world and then rudely spat back out into normal life, but I had my friends, and a nebulous organization’s worth of people to write excuse notes for us. GEHIRN did practically own the school, so, unlike most wannabe video game heroes of the ‘wake up, go to school, save the world’ persuasion, we didn’t have to scramble to explain our absences or cover up our dubious activities – it was literally someone’s job to do that, possibly that nice junior lieutenant with the somewhat forgettable face. I really wish I could remember his name right now. I’m not sure I ever knew it.
I haven’t seen him after that fateful day fourteen years ago, and I have no idea if he survived it’s events; I’m very well aware that I can never go back and ask.
For all our classmates knew, we had applied to some special public welfare volunteering, which was basically true.
No single one of us was suddenly bombarded all the questions, so the talking could be left to those who actually enjoyed basking in the extra attention.

October 5th 2014
T minus 464 days

For the most part, the days were allowed to march on without disruption.
Some things were different, of course – first of all, our school experienced a whole lot of staff turnover. Now that their actual day jobs were picking up steam on account of having to prepare our training sessions, the GEHIRN staff could no longer afford to spend their time posing a schoolteachers. Misato’s departure in particular was greatly lamented by the male student body – it also meant that our class was now stuck with the sleepy old math teacher from Nebukawa… though I don’t want to get too down on him, honestly, the man is probably long dead by now, ad while his lectures might not have been the most interesting, I remember him as a pretty nice teacher all things considered.
The only one from GEHIRN I ever saw around school anymore was Mr. Kenzaki, but not as the janitor, but dressed in a black suit and dark sunglasses, guarding us crucial wetware assets from a respectable distance.
Next, there were the regular evacuation drills that began to be held around this point. Our classmates were told little enough that they might have pictured their purpose as guarding against earthquakes, floods or terrorist attacks, but of course, my friends and I knew what they were for. The hidden access way beneath our school had soon become common knowledge. If the foe should strike during class, everyone in the building would be evacuated through there – but none before us, who, as pilots, would have priority.
It was a reminder that our carefree school days & the training underground still took place in one and the same world, and evidence that the preparations for the coming war extended far beyond our silly martial arts lessons.
They kept us the entire day for the introductory event, but after that, I suppose that they made a valiant effort to schedule our sessions so that we wouldn’t have to miss too much school and, if practicable, would be left with a reasonable amount of free time. We usually just had two or three individual sessions at once – maybe four, if they has us summoned on the weekend.
The introduction was not the last of the occasional events that would keep us away from school altogether, but on an average week, GEHIRN didn’t keep us busier than a normal part-time job or some rich kid’s battery of after-school activities.
Another thing that had changed about school was that Mari officially joined our class.
Seeing her in our uniform took some getting used to.
It’s like she just showed up one day without an explanation, and then it was like she had always been part of our class.
It seems that she had hit it off with Hikari after moving in with her – it wasn’t long after that they both insisted to treat our whole group to an after-class picnic on the school roof. Mari of course insisted that the whole idea and especially the actual sandwiches had been entirely Hikari’s handiwork while she’d done little else but help to chop the salad, but it was obvious that her contributions had also included a lot of encouraging – she was always the type to subtly push others towards their own happiness.
She didn’t care much about being part of particular groups, but Hikari did. She considered it a matter of honor to include her in activities, which more or less led to Mari becoming a fixture of her and Asuka’s group – Asuka herself stopped bothering to grumble about it after a while once she realized that it was more or less futile. Before long, she only made the occasional token effort to complain about being annoyed by her eccentricity. And while Marie Vincennes might have judged her in private, she couldn’t resist the temptation to act all enlightening and welcoming in front of Hikari. Her occasional humble-bragging about the lengths she was going to put up with that weirdo were not as subtle as she thought she were; It had gone over her head once or twice when Mari had clearly been having a little laugh at her expense.
If I were in that situation, I think I might have ended up resenting them all, but Mari had admirably thick skin and didn’t take either of their jabs and bards to heart;
In many ways, a girl like her was very much suited to being an EVA pilot, every bit as much as I definitely wasn’t.
If anything, Mari would go and tease them right back without missing a beat – she was clearly having fun with it, and with time, they all got used to each other being there. I suppose banding together produced a basic sense of strength in numbers, filled a simple need for human company and served well enough to alleviate boredom.

October 8th 2014
T minus 461 days

It became not unusual for me to go up to my usual spot on the school roof and find her there doing some unlikely thing, like casually singing to herself(wildly out of tune), holding a one person tea party (“You’re welcome to join in!”) or painting her toenails.
“I had no time to do it this morning! Besides, if I did it in the classroom, people would be bothered by the smell. So, puppy boy, what do you think? Which one suits me better? Pearly Salmon or Succulent Magenta?”
...both were kind of pretty? There wasn’t really anything wrong with either of them. I was tempted to point her towards the magenta because it seemed kind of fun, with the sparkly flakes in it – the salmon one looked nice, too, but it was a more grownup sort of color – though I didn’t want to imply that Mari couldn’t pull off something more grown-up looking...
“Wow. I didn’t think you could stress so much just about picking a color.” remarked Mari, sounding genuinely puzzled. “If it’s that hard, I can just pick one myself.”
“No no, it’s fine…”
I noncommittally gestured towards one of the flasks, and Mari promptly went to work. She had already taken off her slippers. Did the school’s dress code even allow nail polish? Then again, Touji hardly bothers to wear the proper uniform most of the time, so I doubt that she’d get in trouble.
“...are you sure this is the right time and place though? People might start talking…”
“So what?” she answered, the very picture of nonchalance. She started with her left foot.
I tried not to notice the way her knee was pressing into her chest.
“Aren’t you worried that people will make fun of you?”
Her voice got more serious here. Accepting, but not at all resigned, like she had made a strange, but genuine peace with it:
“People will laugh and talk no matter what you do. There’s no way to make them stop. At least, I haven’t found one yet. There’s no way to please everyone. So if people are gonna turn up their noses no matter what, you might as well do whatever you want.”
...I could never imagine myself living that way, to be honest.
I didn’t have the courage.

October 11th 2014
T minus 458 days

But Mari didn’t just become a fixture of the roof or the classroom.
I was surprised to find her casually bouncing her legs on one place in the circle of chairs that we’d set up for the literature club.
“Books are the compounded wisdom of mankind! To read books from all possible times and places has always been my one impossible dream~ ”
I had just arrived along with Mayumi, Kaworu and Rei when she was suddenly just sitting there, affixing us with a meaningful grin – well actually somehow, I got the sense that she was looking at me in particular.
It was honestly embarrassing and maybe a little bit intimidating. Who knows how the others at the club are gonna take that…
Of course, everyone had immediately recognized her as the mysterious rooftop lurker from the moment she walked into our classroom, and since I had been sighted at the roof picnic, I couldn’t entirely escape some questions.
“She’s a friend of the family is all, I know her through my parent’s work – and I guess now, we have the same side-job too…”
Excitable as ever, Mana wanted to know all about it.
“What kind of work is it?”
“We’re helping with a kind of classified government project of sorts.”
“Wow! That sounds so exciting! I had no idea you were so cool, Ikari-kun~ Tell me EVERYTHING~”
“...I don’t really know much, honestly. I’m not sure how much I’m even allowed to say...”
“But you can tell me, right? Make a special exception for your favorite Mana!”
“It’s not that I don’t want to tell you, I really don’t understand it very well. I’m really more of a test participant, or a volunteer, or…”
“What? Come in you can tell me, right, Ikari-kun?”
I didn’t want to say ‘draftee’.

October 13th 2014
T minus 456 days

“Must be nice, huh? To be fawned over like that. Kirishima truly has no shame.”
I had only meant to ask her about how much we were allowed to tell our classmates, when she suddenly tore into me with that cutting voice out of nowhere.
“What do you mean, Asuka?”
“Isn’t it obvious? It’s the oldest trick in the book. You walk up to some dude with low standards, and start raving about how cool and interesting you think he is, and soon they’re all wrapped up around your little finger.”
“Oh come on, it wasn’t like that. We were just talking. Can’t I just talk with my friends?”
“You really are an oblivious little boy, highscore or not!”

Highscore this, Highscore that. I couldn’t hear it anymore. All this fuss about a random number on a screen that I had little to no control over.
Where was this common from of all sudden? This wasn’t like her. Not like the Asuka I had known, anyways. Sure, she was a little mean sometimes and I couldn’t
always understand why. But usually, she would just cool down after a short while and go back to taking me along whenever she wanted some company or needed an extra pair of hands.
She hadn’t shown up at our house for a while not, neither announced nor otherwise.
Instead, she was being oddly short with me, both at school and at training, like I was supposed to ‘know what I did’.
I was beginning to worry that the only way to resolve this might be for me to confront her about it, which I really wanted to avoid.
I even had Mana asking me worriedly why things between us seemed to be so frosty between the two of us all sudden. “It wasn’t because of me, was it?”
I don’t know why it would be.
“...she’s probably upset because of something that happened at our… part-time job of sorts.”
“Well- That’s not good! You’re comrades now, right? So you have stick together!”
Mana was being very, very insistent about this of all sudden. “You can’t be fighting with your comrades!” Her voice grew urgent, like she was moved by real concern that seemed at odds with her usual chipper, upbeat mannerisms. I sort of had to console her in the end.

(If I had made the first step and tried to talk to Asuka, I don’t doubt that I would have gone and blown it though. I simply had no idea how important the EVAs really were to Asuka. If only I’d been a little stronger, maybe I could have been a better friend here.)

October 15th 2014
T minus 454 days

When I was chomping down on Hikari’s sandwiches along with everyone else, it was easy to convince myself that I had no reasons to be starting to regret my decision, but it was harder to think of fun and games when I was holding a huge, super realistic rifle in my hands, even if that rifle was just a simulation. Dr. Akagi and her team were to be commended, because it was a pretty good one. – the longer I held it, the more I could feel the strain of continually holding up the firearm’s weight, and when I fired, I felt the recoil in my bones. Only the sound of the explosions had been dialed down just to the point that it wouldn’t give us any permanent hearing damage, and no further, as they needed to get us used to the thunderous noise.
“Please rest assured that our division is always working hard to take as much of the burden off your shoulders as we possibly can. The entry plug AI is programmed to take care of most the actual aiming, the physics and the calculations. Just aim for the center of the target and pull the switch.”
Even as they told me this, they had no idea what the foes would even look like, so we were firing at ill-defined humanoid outlines, a rough approximation of the white giant that they had thought Adam to be, but no one could really be sure, as they hadn’t really got their hands on it until it was already blown to pieces.
Even so, the vague white outlines soon began to show up in my dreams.
I tried to think about the final purpose of this as little as possible, and did as I was told.
“...aim to the center… and pull the switch…”

“You’re doing well. Keep practicing in induction mode.”
With that, Dr. Akagi’s voice cut out – she must have switched channels to surveil some of the other simulations. They could put us all together, or each in their own one. Obviously, Rei and the others were way past simple shooting exercises.

October 17th 2014
T minus 452 days

Ever since I’d started this training, I think I was seeing much, much more of mine than I had in the weeks preceding.
They were rarely present for the basic routine training sessions, but they often showed up to introduce whatever new special training sessions they had recently cooked up.
I often wondered what particular goal or logic those disparate programs might be governed by.
At the moment, they were all about ‘coordination and acuity training’, which was straightforward enough: The point was to make us do various activities that required flowing, coordinated movements to get us all to develop a sense for it so that we’d be better able to do this with our EVA and gain an awareness for the finer points of moving. And because we would not only have to coordinate our limbs, but with each other, many of the chosen exercises were group activities as well.
That said, sometimes it felt a little like my parents, Misato and Ms. Soryu had just sat around in a circle with tea and crumpets and discussed what sort of wacky costumes we might all look cute in.
“My, my, Shin-chan, don’t underestimate the importance of ritual to get into the right mindset. Clothes shape your thoughts, and your thoughts shape your actions. It has been scientifically proven that a person’s behavior and even their performance at a task can be affected just by making them wear clothes that they would associate certain meanings with, like a lab coat or a painter’s apron. But it goes even further: Some of you like video games, right? Have you even noticed that your fellow players might act differently depending on whether they’re playing as a big orc, or a small gnome? Or even depending on whether you’ve picked a male or female toon, regardless of your actual gender in the real world. In fact, your behavior might be changed by something as simple as reading a story about a person from a different background, spending time imagining about what it would be like to be them. We often think of the human ‘self’ as something very rigid, set in stone by culture, education and experience, but it is actually an astoundingly flexible thing. That’s why patients with depression often find that it makes a great difference if they can manage to change out of their dingy night clothes in the morning. Even with a severely malfunctioning brain stuck in its old patterns, that adaptability does not wholly disappear. And of course, that very adaptability is something that you’ll need to move the body of EVA, which is much different from your own.”
Thus spake Mom.
In other words: ‘Get in the fucking costume, Shinji’.

Thus, we were all dressed up in traditional outfits and sent to do some archery. I spent the whole time unreasonably worried that I was gonna hit someone with a stray arrow, or end up getting hit by one of Mari’s. She wasn’t having a whole lot of luck, but she was clearly enjoying herself.
Hikari also ended up enjoying this sort of old-fashioned pastime. Marie ended up treating us to some stories about how she’d gone hunting with her family, which was apparently no so uncommon in the United States. She’d even fired a real-ass gun at some point! No bows and arrows, though, she was no better at that than any of us.
On TV it looks like an elegant, elf-like motion, but today I found out that it actually requires a great deal of strength to string a bow, much less control where the arrow end up going. I’m afraid I did the very worst out of all the boys present.
Mom encouraged us all to keep going though, so towards the end, I do feel like I was seeing some kind of improvement. I never got good, but I reached a point where I was at least hitting the target more often than not. We might have all of Dr. Akagi’s fancy aiming technology, but both Misato and father were in agreement that it would be for the best if we got some experience at negotiating projectile physics the old-fashioned way.
By the end of it, my arms were rather sore. The range was not large enough for all of us to shoot at once, so there was always someone sitting off to the side while the other half of us had a go.
So while I got my turn, Rei had been patiently waited off to the side to come and take my place.
As father had explained to us, this was a kind of activity that required concentration and discipline. I shouldn’t have been surprised that Rei turned out to be good at it.
Though it wasn’t surprise, exactly. Mesmerized, I found myself observing her time and time again.
More than anything else, I think I was enchanted.

October 20th 2014
T minus 449 days

Next was, surprisingly, ordinary volleyball. I suppose that does require coordination – I guess it was fortunate that there was an even number of us.
Touji pretty much challenged Asuka right away, so it ended up being our group against hers. Somewhere, sometime, there might have been some quiet, reasonable voice suggesting that we might want to have an even split of boys and girls in every group, but Asuka promptly declared that she would require no former testosterone to go and wipe the floor with us, so the stage was set. As for Rei and Kotone, Asuka proceeded to conscript the latter because she disliked her marginally less, so Rei ended up stuck with us boys.
All in all, I think it was still a relatively fair arrangement as far as our skill levels went, each group had a good mix of older and younger students, and both ended up with some athletic people and some... less athletic ones. No points for guessing which one I was. But we had Touji, and we had Kaworu, while Asuka had herself and Marie. Hikari and Kensuke were both about average. Poor Rei might have been, too, if she had known the rules to the game. They were explained to her and she listened intently like this silly game was some kind of serious battle plan, but her lack of familiarity was a disadvantage that could not be made up for so easily.
And we all underestimated Mari, even the ones on her own team. It’s not like she was a great, exceptional athlete like Asuka was, but one she got going, she proved as fierce as a wild boar, which was not something any of us expected from a kooky smiley girl.
Asuka and company pretty much beat us into the ground. Touji was really darn frustrated about it, but at least Kotone was happy that she got to win at something.

October 22th 2014
T minus 447 days

Misato had moved so suddenly – there was an uncomfortable clinging and clanging of silverware and plates when her hands crashed down on the table board.
“What are YOU doing here?!”
The cause of her sudden discomfiture was, of course, unfazed despite all, wearing the same impenetrable smirk. In hindsight I believe he must have thanked his lucky stars that his way of life had had required him to practice his poker face for a living, for he could not have been more prepared to encounter us here than we were to see him, as he must at least have known that there was a chance that he might encounter us within this building, just as we had seen him once before – which was more warning than poor, poor Misato could have gotten.
Casually nonchalant, the tall, stubble-faced man sat down across from Misato, as far from her as you could have gotten on that table, and yet, exactly where he needed to be so she could no longer avoid looking him in the face.
“Oh, you know, just trying to pay the bills. Since I work her now and all.”
If I were a mean-spirited person, I might have been amused by the sudden shift in Misato’s demeanor. The cheerful ‘cool big sis’ persona was gone in a moment, and the intimidating Captain was nowhere to be found. Instead, she struggled to retain control of her jaw that might have gone crashing through the table at any moment – and the fact that she obviously knew it must have been the worst.
“Now how could that suddenly be?! Weren’t you supposed to be some sort of reporter?”
“Ah, you know me. I could never stick to just one boring old job for the rest of my days, besides, you’d be surprised at how much carryover there is – I’m in the investigations division, so what I do day in, day out is practically the same. I have to find possible sources, talk to them, keep an eye on suspicious flows on money, that sort of thing… who knows, maybe the Ikaris got tired of reading boring-ass reports that were written by humorless squares.”
“So we’re supposed to believe that you joined GEHIRN just for a change of pace?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“Come on, that’s ridiculous. What happened to that ‘Intrepid reporter’ act of yours?”
The man shrugged with an apologetic smile. “Well you know, these days, the publishers don’t really care about anything else but cheap tabloid fodder, so I figured that I’d do more good here.”
I felt even then that there must probably be something more to this, but since he wasn’t trying very hard to deny that, there didn’t seem to be much harm in letting him keep his secrets. I would come to find that he was very adept at that complicated, adult kind of lying that you could do without stating a single actual falsehood – the sort I found so twisted in my youth.
The thought that this cruel, unfeeling world would make us all like that in the end was just too cruel, and way too depressing…
Especially that he was so good at it he could do it without even flinching.
“Lucky, isn’t it? Especially since Rit-chan and Kyo-chan also work here. Maybe we can all go drinking again, just like old times~”
...so he knew Ritsuko, too? I’m not sure who ‘Kyo-chan’ was supposed to be. Perhaps Mr. Kenzaki, the janitor turned security man? It’s not strange that some acquaintances might end up working at the same organization, but for a stranger to suddenly join GEHIRN to turn out to be their classmate, that was a bit of a huge coincidence.
I hardly had the hones instincts of a detective, though. What I’m pointing out now are all things that did not become apparent until much, much later – at the time, my attention was mostly taken up by Misato’s visible dismay: “I have to intention of ‘going back to the olden days’ with you! I’m just here to do my job.”
Though Mr. Kaji’s manner was draped in playful airs, there was still some degree of strategic methodology beneath it. Seeing that the air was getting thicker by the moment, he skillfully steered the topic to a different topic. He addressed me first before my reaction could have revealed anything that he’d rather keep hidden:
“So we meet again. Ikari Shinji-kun. You’ve made quite a name for yourself.”
“Huh, me?”
Though she’d made a point to avoid sitting too close for me I could hear the sounds of Asuka’s displeasure – she had been visibly excited to see Mr. Kaji, only for her mood to be easily wrecked the moment that his attention shifted to anyone other than her.
This was only compounded by his elucidations:
“You’ve almost become something of a celebrity in these parts. The candidate who had the numbers to move an EVA right off the bat.”
“...I’m not nearly as good as Kaworu, for example…”
“You weren’t sent specifically by the committee, either.”
“...I guess so… but either way, I only got lucky…”
“Luck is also a kind of skill. It’s part of your destiny.”
There was that word again – Kaworu had been talking about that as well. ‘Destiny’.
It would never have occurred to me to ever think of myself as the sort of person who would have a destiny.



October 25th 2014
T minus 444 days

Time kept passing here, too.
I think I got better at aiming.
Rei was right: I did get somewhat used to synchronizing in time, though never quite completely.
It never stopped feeling weird, after a while, I noticed that I could spend an hour in the simulation plug without ending up scrambled for the rest of the day.
The aftereffects dwindled within the negligible range within weeks – for me, that is. Kotone in particular took a long time to shake them off. Since I was already taking the actual combat training, she ended up designing that I, too, constituted a valid ‘senpai’, and this even though we’d both gotten recruited at the exact same time! It felt super duper weird. The only saving grace was that she was actually younger than me.
The more I witnessed the slow and bumpy process of the others, the more that all the fuss over my scores became comprehensible to me. Their designated lines on our resulting graphs flickered around in wavy lines – only Touji’s line had even begun to show so much as a gentle upward slope, and once it did, the technicians got excited from it, pulling out older data and postulating based on comparison that he might attain something akin to three-fourth of Asuka’s current output.
Ms. Soryu was however among the naysayers:
“A similar shape in the graph doesn’t predict anything about the amplitude. Just look at Kaworu and Rei. They both have these steady, very regular graphs with little oscillation, and yet her synchronization rate is nowhere near his.”
If you asked me, Kaworu’s line was still a lot wavier than Rei’s, though it didn’t have the spikes of Asuka’s.
My line rather resembled the shape of Mari’s, shooting straight up…
Though Dr. Akagi corrected me when I remarked on this,
“Actually, it’s been even steeper on some days. It’s hard to predict which of the two has more potential. Even the Magi can’t agree with each other about how to predict their growth. We have no idea how long they might continue to shoot up like this.”
“Rei’s first increases were quick too, though.” figured Ms. Soryu. “For all we know, those two might end up plateauing somewhere in the lower range just as she did. Our predictions have been wrong before – Asuka-chan has continued to exceed our projections for many years, and she accomplished this before we had any sort of specialized training program.”
“But Rei’s increase was never that much quicker than the average case. And Asuka’s increases have long since been incremental – her average might have shifted upwards little by little, but she hasn’t had any big jumps since she was young. Your faith in Asuka is certainly admirable, but you mustn't lose perspective just because she’s your daughter.”

October 28th 2014
T minus 440 days

Speaking of parents: At the next possible occasion, mine seemed intent to repeat the volleyball experiment, but this time with a beachball. Mercifully, they didn’t put the net over an especially deep pool.
That was actually nice for a change –
For once, we were actually using our swimsuits for their intended purpose.
By now, Rei had internalized the rules and we all knew to beware of the pink devil, so we actually snatched a tie from the jaws of defeat. This, of course, was the worst possible outcome that left both Touji and Asuka seething in frustration.
Our misery was compounded when they made us clean the pool afterwards. As it would appear, that was also part of our training.

There was also one day where they just had us doing an ordinary relay race.
Our rivalry was too entrenched now to consider forming anything but the usual teams.
Asuka insisted on running last, confident that she would manage close the last gap no matter what. She spent most of the time cursing at her teammates as she waited for them to arrive.
You see, while Asuka might have had unique athletic prowess, Touji was the one who was actually experienced with athletic competitions with team sports, and he was sufficiently pissed off from our prior defeats that he resorted to actually putting some thought into our lineup. I ran first, and Marie Vincennes made it to the finish line long before me, but with both Touji and Kaworu strategically put in the middle, our group soon gained on them.
On the last relay post, Rei received the relay stick long before Asuka did, and when a huffing, puffing Kotone finally passed it to her, it was already much too late, no matter how ridiculously fast the redhead might have been. Even with Rei’s considerable lead, Asuka almost caught up to her right before the finish line, but in the end, our coordinated effort just barely triumphed over her one-woman show, at least this once.

October 29th 2014
T minus 439 days

“That sounds like you’re having lots of fun!” was Mana’s response when I related some of our misadventures to her next day at school.
“I don’t know, it’s not like I hate it… At least I get to spend time with my friends…”
To say anything else would have made me feel guilty after everything that Kaworu had said about appreciating our good fortunes. It’s true that these numbered days of peace should be precious.
“...but it’s very exhausting, too. I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep up with it…”

I surely didn’t have as much time as I used to. My attendance at the various club meetings must have slipped a bit. I was getting behind on the books I was meant to read before next week’s literature club meeting. The next time that Nene asked me to participate in one of her tea parties, I had to decline. One time I had training that afternoon, and another, I was just way out of people juice… She accepted it of course, but she was not so well-versed in the rigors required of this world that she could have hid her disappointment.

October 30st 2014
T minus 438 days

On our next visit to GEHIRN, Misato greeted us like this:
“Knock knock, who’s there? - Your new plugsuits!”
So that’s it then, mo more walking around headquarters like we got lost on the way to the community pool.
Or, as Kensuke put it: “I can’t believe it! Our very own real life combat suits!”
Each one of us received two exemplars wrapped in a package of transparent plastic, the name of the organization printed in it in a stylish modern font, plus a third one that was supposed to be a special model designed for use under ‘extreme conditions’.
“Pressure, heat, radiation, and so on…” as Dr. Akagi succinctly expressed it.
I couldn’t help but gulp at the thought.
I left them in my locker in the changing room, taking care to keep the special one in its own place, anxious that I might end up pulling out the wrong one during some kind of emergency and meeting a swift demise from whatever heat, pressure or radiation the other one was supposed to protect me from.
I had to leave one suit outside, however, because Dr. Akagi and Ms. Soryu couldn’t wait to see how much it would improve our synchronization rates, so I had to get this on me somehow.
I assume at least the girls would have had Asuka and Rei in there with them to show them how these things work.
All we had to go on was a rough description courtesy of Dr. Akagi.
“So we have to get it on, close the collar, and then press the button on the right wrist?”
I can’t have sounded too confident.
In their current state, they suits were actually very loose and baggy, though not as baloony as the latter models would get – it was rather like pulling wet long johns over yourself.
For the uninitiated, it was a somewhat frustrating process – Touji grew annoyed pretty quick, but as Kensuke found out, no degree of enthusiasm made it any easier. I mostly stood there unsure of what to do once I’d negotiated the shoes, one very awkward, half-naked boy way too worried of tripping over his strange prison of rubber.
Naturally, it was Kaworu who remained calm as ever and first found the way to make it work – at some point, we all heard the swish, and watched with no small amazement as the strange layers of fabric hugged every nook and cranny of his elegant physique.
The fit was now closer to something like those nylon stockings, or a bit thicker and glossier perhaps, but it didn’t have the many folds that latex would produce. It was thicker in some places than others, particularly the back and the chest included some solid plastic pieces – that’s probably where all the life support stuff was.
For the 7th generation, the boy suits had been given a rather uniform look – in defense of the designers, this was the first time they actually had to account for male pilots, so the design might have been put together on short notice. Or maybe they had just one design prepared for Kaworu and simply ran the machine three more times while making some tweaks to the palette.
Whatever the cause, they had settled on a two-toned look, with the lower parts being mostly dark blue aside from the black patches on the side which also continued onto the inner sides of the arms. That said, the top parts around the ribcage, neck and shoulders each had different, individual colors for each of us: Mine was white, Kaworu’s was black (both perhaps with a slightly bluish tinge), Touji’s was slate grey, and, since their monochrome scale must have run out at this point, Kensuke’s was green for some reason. He also had white patches where the rest of us had black ones – after seeing the same feature on Kotone’s suit later, I suspect that this was due to some feature meant to make the best of their more modest test scores, but it seemed rude to tell him that.
Since we were all already assigned to particular EVAs, the suits were also marked with the corresponding numbers. Even mine said ‘01’ – I wonder now if my mom had insisted on that, too.
We had also all received our own individual interface headsets, each in a color matching our chest-pieces. At least I knew how that to wear that.

We did get the suits wrangled eventually. Kaworu offered to help us, but of course, Touji was a bit too proud for that and insisted that ‘it would be weird to have your clothes put on by another guy’ , so of course he was at it for a while.
The girls were already all waiting for us in the hallway by the time we were suited up and ready, which was honestly not a good look.
“As expected of Mr. Weirdo and the baka trio! Don’t you dare make me late for the test!”
As if Asuka wasn’t mad enough at me as it is…

The suit itself, once pressurized, felt oddly light, actually, probably as comfortable as modern technology could make it. If it weren’t for the occasional squeaking noise when I nervously clasped and unclasped my hands, it felt almost like wearing nothing at all. Like the see-through floors and the breathable liquid, it was a disconcerting, but in a way that wasn’t immediately urgent. The collar closed around my neck felt unfamiliar, but it would not have occurred to me yet to think of comparing it to a tightening noose.

In contrast to the boy suits, the girl ones seemed to have gotten less uniform. Asuka’s new one, thinner and sleeker than the old, didn’t have the slightest bit of white left on it, just as Rei’s had lost the blue in favor of even more white. Aside from a few orange highlights here and there, Rei looked like God had simply forgotten to color her in when he painted this room into existence, leaving her entirely blank of color aside from the disharmonious crimson speck of her eyes which fit neither with the pale canvas of her figure nor the composition of the room.
A lot of the plastic parts and contacts on Asuka’s suit were different from Rei’s, which in a lot of ways looked rather more like ours. Whether it was Ms. Soryu looking over the designer’s shoulder and made herself his problem to ensure the ideal suit to go with her grand Production Model design or her daughter making her own demands known, I could not say. But it wasn’t the only suit that had been adapted to the specifications of a particular EVA – Mari was already assigned to a particular unit as well. Her suit was of a thicker, bulkier make resembling rather the older models that Rei and Asuka used to sport. Alone among the girl suits, it had a two-toned design, with the torso largely in various shades of green, and her legs in an off-white, square-patterned material that might have reminded you of the isolation on those old soviet-era space capsules.
Later I would learn that Unit Five was in fact under construction as a join endeavor of British and Russian forces.
Then, perhaps because they were considered as Asuka’s backups, Marie and Hikari had been given suits of similar design and not entirely dissimilar color palettes. If you put them next to each other in their red, orange and yellow, they were almost half a rainbow, though Hikari was the only one who had kept the default interface headset – it seems that Asuka had once again become something of a trendsetter. Several of the girls must have asked if they could have their nerve clips integrated into some sort of custom accessories.
Marie had two golden, rounded hairclip-like accessories in her hair, though they sat near to her temples like Mari’s rather than closer to the back of her head like Asuka’s did. They did an admirable job at keeping her long, heavy blonde hair out of her face much like the wide cloth headband that she usually wore.
Kotone had opted for a cute pink set even more reminiscent of Asuka’s design and utility, just with a wavier sort of shape that she might or might not have had some direct input in – it did match her overall style enough to make me consider the possibility. Her suit, however, was closer to Rei’s design with the looser front. The white rib-like bits around her chest ended up being prominently incorporated into the 8th generation suits. Her suit itself was a pale carmin red, dimmer, not quite as bright as the shade Asuka was sporting.

Now that we were all suited up, the only thing left to do was to try them out.

51th JOINT SYNCHRONIZATION TEST

You know what? Now that I think of it, I actually did notice a difference the first time around.
Later, when I got more used to syncing, I barely even felt the difference – at most the benefits of the suit were at most a slight smoothing of the experience.
I did many of my wildest feats without one, and I don’t think wearing one would have done much to protect me from the repercussions.
But at my lower level of ability back then, the change was more perceptible: It was much easier to mentally slide into ‘syncing mode’, and afterwards, I noticed that I barely felt any aftereffects anymore. I stopped having them altogether within the week, though, so that might not have entirely down to the suit. The tests would still tire me, as I had had previously described, but the next time I would feel seriously scrambled after synchronization would involve an actual Evangelion and highly anomalous circumstances.
The the next person to wholly shake off the side effects – Touji – needed about six weeks longer, and that was with the programs that all of us were being subjected to in parallel. I tried not to think of Rei and Asuka as little girls, having to deal with this for months on end.

The whitecoats were delighted with the fruits of their labors.
“Bingo!” exclaimed Ms. Soryu as soon as our numbers appeared on the screen.
“I believe we can mark down the new suits as a definite success!”
No doubt that she viewed that success as being not unrelated to all of her backseat designing. Though there might have been an element of good old maternal pride:
“Congratulations, Asuka. You’ve cracked your old record.”
that was Dr. Akagi, simply noting this as a sober observation. Though it was not long until Misato joined in: “All your numbers are up! Excellent work, kids!”
...work?
All I really did was sit in a chair, and suddenly I was being showered with praise in a way I wasn’t used to.

I hurried as much I could to be done with the changing and showering, knowing that it would probably take me a good while to be rid of the suit.
I had one advantage on my side, and that was knowing that Asuka would probably take a good while to detangle her long, long hair and get herself up to her exaggeratedly high standards of presentability. In my short weeks as pilot, it had already come to my notice that she was usually one of the last people to leave – besides, most of the girls were likely to wait for each other and leave only once the last of them had finished up. The exception to this was Rei: She usually left whenever she was ready and seldom bothered with waiting for anyone. She didn’t fuss much about her appearance and her hair was just short of Kensuke’s length, so she was usually done before the others.
Mari, too, was liable to leave earlier or later than the others, but most of the time, she didn’t. Though she was not ruled by pack instincts either, she was one of those types who genuinely like other people – being in their presence, listening to their stories… she was like Kaworu in that regard, and like him, she made me aware of my own inadequacies. She might leave early or linger longer if she had something she wanted to do, but for the most part she tagged along with the others. Kotone, Marie and Hikari, by contrast, always left with the rest of the shoal, usually when Asuka said that they should. She was something of a natural queen bee… which made it harder to approach her.
On our side, Touji and Kensuke were always the first to be ready (comical misadventures getting in and out of the plugsuits notwithstanding), mostly because they always had a whole lot of energy and many other pursuits to get to. Often times they waited for Kaworu and me, but when they didn’t, the two of us might have ended up talking a long time. Since he lived at headquarters, Kaworu didn’t really have to hurry, or worry about traffic.
But not today. I was determined to catch up with Asuka – who knows when I might next get this good of an excuse to talk to her.
For some reason, the door to the girl’s locker room was open. Correction: It was clearly open because Asuka had gone to get herself some juice, which she was now casually sipping while still in the process of towelling off her soaking wet hair. I presume she must have left her friends at the vending machine, as they weren’t anywhere to be found. Hikari would certainly have remembered to close the door. It was just like her to go get that juice just when she wanted it, how she wanted it, but this left me more than a little uncertain for how to proceed.
She eyed me with mild disdain, casually sipping her juice.
“What’cha looking at?”
“I… I just...” there was no reason to panic. It was only Asuka.
“I just wanted to congratulate you on breaking your record! You’re already pretty good, but you still keep trying your hardest to do better and better- I think that’s really amazing.”
She shot me right down:
“Well, duh. You say that as if it’s something surprising for me to be doing great.”
That wasn’t what I meant-
“I know that you’ll never catch up to me, but you know, it still wouldn’t hurt for you to do your best as well, since everyone else is working hard. Anything else is just a shame. You can’t expect to coast by on beginners luck forever, you know?”
She just kept hammering me with it. I couldn’t get in a word edgewise.
When she talked to me like that, I couldn’t help feeling really, really small.
I knew that she took this very seriously, but it’s not like I became a pilot candidate solely to annoy her… by then, the commotion had drawn attention.
Rei showed up from inside her room. She had her dress short on, but not yet the blue overcoat or the little red bow, and her towel was still draped over her head. Maybe one of the technicians had delayed her for some reason.
She came over slowly, only marginally interested in the conversations. Mari, by contrast, appeared from one moment to the next, draping one arm around an unsuspecting Rei (who barely reacted) and making a sport out of plopping her glasses onto Asuka’s nose without warning. “What are you getting so worked up for, Your Highness?”
“aaaaah!”
Mari had easily surprised them from behind since she was a good chunk taller. She had sped over here without bothering to finish buttoning her shirt, her hair tied into a casual bun.
Mercifully, this rude intrusion meant that Asuka’s attention was now rather focused on her.
“What the heck, Four-Eyes?! Stop screwing around!”
“Make me!”
“I will!”
“But first you have to catch me!” Mari stuck out her tongue.
“Oh come on…! Who has time for this nonsense?!”
Asuka, apparently. She chased after Mari, towel and all. Mari winked at me before turning the corner. I think I owe her one now?
I could still hear the pair arguing in the distance.
“You’re acting childish!”
“What’s the point of being a grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes?”
According to Mari, this was a vaunted British proverb.

I just stood there, blinking.
Rei calmly resumed toweling her hair.
I allowed myself a sigh. “I’m worried…”
“Why do you say that?” answered Rei, reaching for her jacket.
“It’s just… things have been weird between me and Asuka lately. And she hasn’t been getting along with you or Kaworu, either… I wonder if we’ll all manage to become friends…”
“We don’t have to become friends. We just have to cooperate in order to carry out our orders.”
A sobering thought.
I suppose that’s one way to see it. One could call it cold, or merely professional. Or ‘pessimistic’, might have been the right word. A reminder that this was not a field trip, but all part of a grand societal machine that would, when in doubt, run on pragmatic organizational principles, for all that the adults would prefer to dress it up in fun and games.
Asuka might have gotten mad at Rei for saying this, but that would’ve been shooting the messenger. We weren’t really a bunch of plucky adventurers in a story about justice, love and friendship, we were working for an organization. Asuka had said it herself with her almost gleeful jab about how ‘only results count’.
“...that may be right, but...”
Knowing this made me more anxious, not less.
“...Aren’t you worried that we won’t be able to work together, if we can’t get along?”
“We’ll have to, if our duty requires it.”
With this, she had finished stuffing the last of her belongings into her bag, and departed without a further word.
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

Kendrix
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Tue Apr 27, 2021 8:41 pm

Coordination Training, Part II  SPOILER: Show
October 31st 2014
T minus 437 days

A sunday, I believe – which was very convenient to my mother’s plots. I’d privately lamented that I’d lose my whole weekend, being called in to GEHIRN twice in a row, but when we got to the room where the latest session was to be held, we were met instead with the sight of bat-shaped balloons, pumpkin-shaped candles and a large buffet table laden with spooky-themes snacks – and a cheery chorus composed of none other than Mother, Misato and Ms. Soryu, all in perfect, celebratory unison:
“Surpriiiise~”

“It was my idea,” confessed Mr. Kaji. “I thought Marie must be sad that she won’t get to do any trick-or-treating this year on account of being stuck in a different country, so, I decided that we should fix this – and while we’re at it, we might at least invite the rest of you lot! ”

“I am most deeply touched~” Marie confessed dramatically.
I observed with no small degree of squeamishness as Asuka gorged herself on the eyeball-shaped candies. “Kaji-san, you’re the greatest! My hero!”
“It’s the least we can do, after making you all give up so much of your free time for the sake of our project - It was the ladies here who did the baking though.”
“Ah, it’s no issue~” assured mom, waving dismissively with a big smile on her face. “Kyoko and I actually pretty glad for the chance to do something other than work. Ensign Agano even helped us!”

Father stood awkwardly by one of the tables. He never was much for parties. He spent the better part of the evening discussing some test results with Rei, but I do think I saw him bobbing along to the music once or twice.
Asuka was right to hurry with the cookies – to Hikari’s dismay, Mari very much shared Asuka’s liking for the bizarrely dyed foodstuffs – the grosser, the better. And Touji had never been one to refuse any kind of food, no matter if it looked like spiders or something. Kotone meanwhile thought that the pumpkin faces were all kinda cute.
Kensuke, however, soon saw that his moment had come: He got out a flashlight, which he just somehow had with him, and began to recite some of his favore creepypastas, cryptid sightings and conspiracy stories with great enthusiasm. Kaji joined in with scary stories of his own, and… well, let’s just say that I was very glad that Rei had to walk home the same way as me, for it was already dark when we left. Rei wasn’t too fazed, so, I kind of felt calmer if I stuck close to her.
At least I wasn’t the only one - Kotone and Hikari might also have gotten a little scared, too. At least they had the excuse of being some of the youngest among us.
But so was Asuka, and she thought the stories we were swapping were ridiculous little boy stuff, unless it was Kaji who happened to be telling them.
Marie and Mari, however, seemed all but immune to fear and greatly relished in all things weird and gross, though the former would sometimes turn up her nose at some scientific inaccuracy or another. “Come oon, it’s just a story, if you think about it too hard you’re going to ruin all the fun!”

“What a fascinating custom”, mused Kaworu at one point. His smile had not faltered, but his brow was creased in deep thought: “It dates back to a belie that the barier between the worlds of the living and the dead grow more permeable on certain days, so, people would disguise themselves so that the dead would mistake them for their own kind. A masquerade to fit in with the forces that want their doom…”
Mr. Kaji had his own thoughts on that:
“In my book, that just makes it the same as any other day. Most of the monsters out there don’t look anything like these cookies. They already have faces just like ours. When you grow up, you’ll come to find that there are many places in this world that are veritable lions’ dens – politics, the corporate world… it’s all full of deception and knives in the dark. You can’t go in there without a mask to hide your weakness.”
“That sounds awful…” I couldn’t help but say, knowing that it would probably make me look foolish.
Mr. Kaji regarded me without slipping from his usual easygoing manner: “What? Would you rather show them your soft underbelly?”
“No, I just- I just hate to think that that sort of thing is necessary. It’s the kind of thought that makes you want to become a crazy forest hermit. So many people say that to properly live in this world you have to become all sorts of cold and awful-” and I could probably count my father and Asuka among that number, “-but that just sounds like an excuse like you’re wanting to convince yourself that all this cruelty and unfairness is actually a good thing, or a natural one. It’s really just awful. When I think that I too might become like that one day, it just makes me feel hopeless you know? I don’t see what the point is of become ‘mature’ or whatever if it means getting to be okay with terrible things…”
“Well, for starters – if everyone who saw something wrong with he world left to become a forest hermit, there wouldn’t be anyone left to change it for the better.”
That impressed me, a bit. What I thought of him was – he seemed to me like a cat that goes by himself, one weathered in the ways of the world, who had seen a lot of things, walked down many ways and learned to navigate with ease all these maelstroms and eddies that still filled me with reluctance.
I thought that maybe, one could learn from him how to do that.

I think this whole event just cemented Kaji as a common fan-favorite in our circles. At least for me and my friends, that is.
I overheard an exchange where Misato got on his case for trying to hit on Lt. Ibuki, who seemed rather intimidated by the whole event. “Seriously?! You’re gonna make advances on my subordinates?! In front of the children?!”
To Misato’s chagrin, Dr. Akagi resolved both the tension and all her colleguae’s airs of authority with but one well-times punchline:
“Jealous much?”
“OF COURSE NOT! That guy was the worst mistake of my life!”
Smirking thinly, Miss Ritsuko kept her cool without fail: “You know, I mean that as a joke, but seeing your reaction, I think it might actually be true. Today’s your lucky day, Ryo-chan, you might still have a chance~”
In the ensuing storm of laughter, Lt. Ibuki had more than enough time to more or less go hiding behind Ms. Ritsuko – I’m only slightly exaggerating.

So yeah. Slightly mixed opinions with some of the staff. But us kids were solidly won over. Asuka, in particular, looked nearly as jealous as Misato.
We truly had a good time that day -
It’s just kind of sad that we had a party without inviting any of our friends from school – Mana, Mayumi, Nene and so on…

November 1st 2014
T minus 436 days

From the moment she got them, Kotone made a point of wearing her own interface nerve clips at all times, just like Asuka did.
Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery.
Asuka seemed more irritated than flattered though.
I couldn’t really be sure, since she was still barely talking to me.

If she caught me looking her way in class, she’d retaliate by glaring daggers at me.
This had gone on long enough. It was honestly getting ridiculous…
Or maybe that wasn’t the right way to think about it. Maybe I was being the ridiculous one, in continuing to ignore the steadily mounting signs that this was not just going to resolve itself in time. But what was I even supposed to do here? What did she want me to apologize about?
I was so confused and, honestly, getting seriously frustrated.

Any distraction was welcome, and so I was not too mildly delighted when I spotted Mana still standing by herself, hurrying to copy the last bits of the teacher’s mathematical proof off the table before it would be wiped away by whoever was on blackboard duty. As soon as she was done, I waved her over, and true to form, she sped right over with her usual trademark enthusiasm, and somehow quickly attached her fingers to my arm.
“Hii Shinji-kun! Nice to see you again! …you know what? Let’s go to the roof!”
“The roof…?”
“We have to go! The sun is shining for the first time in forever! This might be the last bit of nice weather that we get this year! Come on~”
I couldn’t resist this much bubbly energy.

But just as we were turning to go, I suddenly noted the swishing of red hair at the corner of my vision. After ignoring me for so long, it seems that Asuka had finally decided tomake an entrance, just as I had been trying to have a good time.
“Looks as if you really don’t care as long as it’s a girl!”
Though I inwardly felt rather miffed, I tried my best to act conciliatory:
“What do you mean, Asuka? Do you want to talk?”
“How is she suddenly calling you by your first name? Do you know each other from somewhere?”
That was almost definitely a jab of some kind but I wasn’t sure how. I thought it might be best if I just answered normally. “...I dunno, we just find it easy to talk to each other I guess? We’re both in music club…”
Mana probably sensed the thick air more keenly than I did and made a valiant effort on her part to diffuse it, “Uh, Shinji-kun, why don’t we just go?”

So go we did.
I felt like rather than coming closer to reconciliation, I had just reset Asuka’s rage cool-down, but I tried to not think about that while we climbed up the stairs. There was no point in spoiling my remaining free moments with further sulking.
Mana was nice about the weather. The trees in the courtyard looked like fire, now come to the full vibrancy of their autumnal colors, a mosaic of amber, coppers and carmines.
I’d noticed the occasional fluttering leaf sticking to my shoes on my way to school, but I guess I hadn’t bothered to take a deliberate look at the larger view.

Even so, the degree of Mana’s excitement was more than I could explain:
“So pretty~”
She even sounded a little bit moved. I couldn’t have said why.
“You can see almost the whole town from here, since we’re on a hill…”
Mana was insistent on shaking her head, however: “Nope. That’s not what I mean! Look there!”
She went all the way up to the railing and pointed.
“Look at the mountains and the woods! There’s still so much nature left here…”
I was beginning to wonder.
“Was it different where your old school was?”
She didn’t exactly answer this, but what she said instead should have been revealing in its own way: “You know, it frustrates me a little. Or maybe I’m just jealous of you and the others – Though I live in this world every day, I can’t do anything to help protect it. Unlike you and the Evangelions.”
“You know about that?!”
“Yeah! Will you praise me for it?”
“I- I guess….”
I was too much of a child to understand how serious that really was. I was certain that I hadn’t mentioned the name of the project, but my concern at the time would have been that she seemed to be back to her usual chipper self after that odd, somber moment. Or maybe she was just covering it up. I simply lacked the sensitive discernment to really tell the difference. I hadn’t wanted to make her mad, too.
We spent the rest of recess pleasantly chatting as we looked out at the landscape.
It was a nice change from our hectic training regimen, not to mention all the frosty silence I was getting from Asuka.
Mana was right though: We would be fighting to protect all these rich woods, and every single animal in it – all the jewel-colors of autumn. I felt dazed just thinking about what a huge responsibility that was…

November 3rd 2014
T minus 434 days

I felt particularly aware of that weight when the battle simulations resumed… At least with the basic training stuff I’d have Touji and Kensuke to distract me from the awfulness.
When it was just me and the designated pilots, there had been that frosty mood as of late. Normally, Asuka would have been doing most of the talking, Mari and Kaworu would have readily joined in and inevitably, even Rei and I would somehow have been involved, but now that Asuka wasn’t talking, it was all strange and weird.
At least it felt that way to me. Mari and Kaworu looked serene as always, and Rei, too, wasn’t really different from usual. So maybe it was just me who was all uncomfortable..
The suits we were wearing, even in the control room, once again reinforced that we were now in a kind of army, wearing our uniforms just as Lt. Ibuki and the others were wearing their own.
It just made me uneasy, you know?
I tried to concentrate on work.
Aim for the center of the target and pull the switch, right?
Wait, did it just dodge? That was fast!
In one frantic second, my fingers sped to the trigger… that is, EVA 01’s finger’s did. Mine pulled at the control yoke. This did not help the confusion.

Even before I heard Misato’s voice booming for the intercom, I knew I had messed up.
“What are you doing! If you fire blindly like that, you’ll just give the enemy a smokescreen!”
“But-”
Asuka doubled down instantly, as if she had been waiting for a chance to dogpile me: “Maaan! Now we’ve got to start the formation exercise over, all because of you, Rookie! How bad can you possibly be at this? All you have to do is point and shoot! It’s just like a video game!”
“But this wasn’t in any of our previous sessions! This was different… there was never any smoke before…”
“That because I explicitly requested for it to be added.” that was definitely Misato’s Serious Leader voice, the one she pulled out when she didn’t have the patience for backtalk.
“How do you think the real weapons will work? With, or without smoke?”
There was no need to even answer this.
“But we didn’t practice this…”
Asuka lost her patience well before Misato did: “What are you, stupid? Can’t you do anything by yourself? It should go without saying that a real battle won’t ever know exactly how you expect. Flexibility and improvisation are key! Haven’t you even picked up on such a basic thing yet?”
“Now come on, Asuka, don’t overdo it.”
“No, you come on Misato, don’t start coddling him just ‘cause he’s the newbie. Are the aliens gonna go soft on him?!”

“She has a point,” mused Ritsuko, less to us than to her colleagues in the control room. “We don’t know what the enemy might have in store for us. I honestly don’t expect that rote memorization will get us very far, but at this moment, it’s the best we can do. It’s tough to prepare for an enemy that you know next to nothing about.”
Well that’s cynical… don’t tell me they’re making us do all these exercises just to break it to us afterwards that they’re totally useless.
Lt. Ibuki, bless her heart, was still trying her best to stay optimistic: “But wasn’t this why you brainstorming possible scenarios with Amagi-san and Captain Katsuragi, senpai?”
Amagi, who was present surveying the simulations, was reluctant to take credit for her contributions: “Well, I just had the initial idea, but it was the Captain who proposed all the scenarios. As much as I dislike the idea of putting growing children to unnecessary stress, we would be preparing them rather poorly if all we did was make them practice how to aim a gun. Real battles are themselves very stressful events – Most people can’t say how they would react in a life and death situation until they actually encounter one. All the strategy and martial arts training will be for naught if the pilots end up being too panicked to actually make use of it. Ideally, we would try to get them used to situations that trigger their fight-flight-or-freeze response, to get them used to it. In training, they know they’re just in a simulator, so if we want it to be useful practice we’ll have to make it more immersive… Like I said, we just had the idea, though. The real credit should go to you and your team. It was you, Ibuki and the three Magi operators who implemented it, right?”
“Yeah! Took us no small amount of overtime, too.” Ensign Oii was not abashed in showing the exhaustion she felt at the very mention of the topic – I couldn’t see her in any of the intercom windows, so I suppose she must have been sitting further back at her console.
“Commander Ikari has absolutely no sense of humor when it comes to deadlines!”
It was still weird to picture my father as the strict demanding boss that all the GEHIRN staff evidently saw him as.
It was not encouraging when even the adults that we should have been relying on for guidance couldn’t muster any optimism. It was about then that I started picking up that Miss Ritsuko was usually one of the more cynical voices:
“The irony, if you appreciate it, is that we’re making this program to help us prepare for unforeseen circumstances, but by definition, any scenario that we’ve programmed into our computers is one that we did forsee. So in a sense, it’s useless for it’s actual intended purpose. I’ve also thought of loading training scenarios from various military libraries, but it’s hard to tell how applicable they might end up being – and there’s only so many that we can use, unless you want to take Mogami’s suggestion and start loading the Magi with the plots of famous Kaiju movies.”
Dr. Akagi had clearly meant that as a joke, but Misato actually started looking a bit thoughtful when she heard it. “Why not? If we’re fighting an unknown enemy, we must use every resource at our disposal to our advantage, even the power of human creativity. Would that even be possible though?”
“Well, one of the great strengths of the Magi is that they were built to be able to generalize and extrapolate from context. We could try programming something like an AI script generator, but for battle scenarios, and feed it everything from the military protocols to movie scripts.”
Behind Ritsuko and Misato, I could hear Ensign Oii sighing:
“That means yet more overtime, doesn’t it? It’s all your fault, Aoi!”
“My fault? You surely must mean my contribution to the survival of our species!”
Then they made us go through the simulation all over again, a different scenario.
You could tell that Asuka was still in a bad mood.
She was venting it all on the diffuse white figures we were made to fight. One she speared, one she hacked through the ribs with a giant axe.
They started me and Mari with the basic guns and knives that they had, but there was evidently a vast array of weapons prepared just for the Evangelions. At first I could hardly believe that all the enormous house-sized weapons they made us use in the simulations had exact 1:1 equivalents in the real world… I suppose it wouldn’t be good practice if the simulated weapons weren’t exactly like the real life ones, but the thought of a real, actual, fully-functional rifle the size of a house did boggle the mind.


(2.2: EVAs on ICE!)

November 6th 2014
T minus 431 days

But even while the people of GEHIRN were working day and night to prepare for the grim realities of outright warfare, the more whimsical activities didn’t stop. Sometimes, it could be quite a whiplash, to come off from practicing how to shoot a gun and find Touji, Kensuke and the others waiting for us, ready to participate in something that rather resembled an activity you might do on a school trip or a daycare center.

This time it was Ice Skating, another of those ‘acuity enhancement’ exercises. I went from the deeply uncomfortable reality of holding a heavy tool of warcraft in my puny little kiddie hands to wondering if all of this wasn’t secretly a big conspiracy by our parents to concoct an excuse to make us all wear costumes.
Both Mom and Ms. Soryu looked way too gleeful about this.
“Once you get the hang of it, we might even have you perform some sort of ice ballet!” joked the latter. “We might call it ’EVAs on Ice’, what do you think?”
I thought that I was probably gonna humiliate myself… I’m afraid to confess that I was deeply inelegant person.
Still, to think that they had a whole ice-skating ring down here… I understand a pool or a gym, it could’ve been used by the employees while our parents weren’t making us wear costumes in the name of science, but it’s like they had a whole second city down here…
“That’s not wrong,” conceded Miss Ritsuko, who’d trailed behind our group with father while Mom and Ms. Soryu had been explaining the whole endeavor to us, “This place was designed as a completely autonomous colony. The geofront has it’s own power generators, plumbing, everything, all of it reduplicated many times over to be absolutely foolproof.
There’s even equipment in store to allow us to convert the woods inside the geofront to farmland, and enough quarters for all essential staff, and enough shelters to house the city’s entire population. If the city above were destroyed, we’re prepared to continue the fight from down here. We have an extensive seedbank, too. In the event that all life on the surface should be wiped out, we have all the means to resettle the planet from here.
What’s more, the facilities are set up so that everything can be completely automatized. If we’re forced to, we could run this entire complex with just a minimal skeleton crew. We’ve even ensured that the main complex of headquarters could withstand the vacuum of space.“
So, when the last survivor turns out the light, they’ll be able to go ice skating first?
A dismal thought.
“...but that’s just a safety measure, right? This couldn’t actually happen?”
Father looked as serious as ever when he replied:
“In order to survive, we must be prepared for everything.”
I felt a heavy lump of anxiety sinking into my stomach.
The others all looked serious as well.
Only Marie still had the nerve to act optimistic: “So, this whole base is a marvel of science! A miracle of the modern age!”
Misato, by contrast, spoke with something more than the blong girl’s tone-deafness.
“That it is. It is the fruit of all our hard labor, a pinnacle of all human archievement until today, and at the same time, a testament to our will. You could say that it is the safest place on earth.”

We were left in the changing rooms with a box of costume supplies that they might just have procured from our school’s rhythmic gymnastics club. Or perhaps Mom and Ms. Soryu had gone into some costume store and wildly picked out anything they deemed cute – there were way more of those shimmery, half-see through fabric thingies than I was comfortable contemplating.
What a job!
First swimsuits, then futuristix bodysuits, and now, leotards.
I settled on a halfways respectable glittery pants with suspenders and a regular shirt. Kaworu, of course, picked out something daring and artsy-looking with lots of hanging, ripped fabric, and naturally looked dazzling in it, like a fairytale elf.
Touji for his part though the whole thing was ridiculous. “A man’s gotta have principles, you know?” The only thing in this box that he deemed acceptable was a dark neoprene sports suit. He even found a second one for Kensuke, though it was unfortunately bright yellow. He didn’t complain at all, though, against my expectations, his enthusiasm for becoming a pilot had not yet worn off despite any of the ridiculous stuff we were made to do.

When left and made our way to the shoe rack, Rei was already waiting there, holding a pair of ice skates – She stood before me in a beautiful shimmering white outfit with a sheer, puffy skirt and translucent sleeves that ran down the full length of her clear, white arms all the way to her knuckles.
I thought she looked like the prettiest glittering snowflake-fairy.
I can only thank my lucky stars that she didn’t seem to get why Touji and Kensuke started snickering not soon after I had spotted her. (which friends like these, who needs alien monsters?) She looked mildly puzzled at most, which did not in the least impair her charms.
Only Kaworu had he presence of mind to greet her normally.

We were all trying on shoes when the other girls arrived.
It seems the girls’ costume box had even contained a bright pink pantsuit complete with a matching top hat and a cane. When she came in, Mari bowed before us like a broadway performer, apparently already in full Ice Musical mode.
Asuka wasn’t cutting a bad figure either: She had her hair up, strewn with red gem-studded pins and an accessory with plastic roses. Her bright-red leotard must have been the flashiest one she could possibly find in the box – it was as if her arms and belly were covered in tattoos made of sequins. Her skirts and the frills on her sleeves and neckline looked like rose petals.
Kotone had gone for a pretty classic, cute ballerina look. Hikari, who was more of a modest sort, had gone with a simple brown tracksuit like thing. Marie showed up in a stylish, sleek showgirl outfit in black, like the assistant in a magic show, a leotard with shorts-like pant legs topped off with a suit jacket and an accessory like a tiny tophat pinned to her hair.
They looked just about ready for Ms. Soryu’s ‘EVAs on Ice’ plan, but I fear that nothing would come of that, because for the moment, none of us knew how to ice skate.

We fell down. A lot. Especially me. Good thing I at least picked out a more well-covered outfit, so I didn’t have to feel the cold ice ring straight on my skin.
Rei soon mastered the art of falling without so much as flinching the slightest bit. Kaworu looked elegant even as he tumbled, like an autumn leaf or something. He said it was a matter of turning as you fell and flinging out your arms a certain way so you wouldn’t hurt yourself, but I couln’t get the hang of that, either.
You’d have thought that Kotone would do well at this since she liked to dance in her spare time, but it turned out that dancing with ice skates is a whole different matter altogether.

Meanwhile, Mari was dancing laps around all of us. She’d done inline skating at some point, and it turns out there was a whole lot of carryover. “The trick is to always keep moving!” she assured us, spinning like a weightless fairy. “Start by going itty bitty steps and maybe hang on to the walls, and then you can just glide!”
She swirled around, waving the cane she’d napped for the prop box earlier, and started humming a little tune.

“Quit singing, four-eyes! It’s annoying!”
Asuka was yelling from the ground, though. Despite her supreme coordination, she was as new to this as all of us.

The rest of the hour was spent with the nine of us in various states of embarrassment while Mari skated from person to person to offer the occasional bit of advice, when she wasn’t just basically having the time of her life. “Yui-san! Gendo-kun! Lookie Lookie, I’m gonna do a backflip!”

Wasn’t that a bit dangerous? ...never mind, I’m talking about a girl who once landed on me with a parachute.

“Your Highness! I would stick out your butt a bit more if I were you~”
“Don’t tell me what to do!”
“Alrighty~ Then I won’t tell you to be mindful of your center of gravity~”
“Don’t you skate away while I’m talking to you! Four-Eyes!”
Good old Asuka. It was actually kind of adorable. I get how she’s grumpy though, Mari was most definitely teasing her on purpose.
“Oooh? Is the princess asking for the guidance of a lowly peasant such as I?”
Asuka didn’t like getting help, but she liked not knowing how to win even less, so she ended up insisting on making Mari her private tutor. I don’t think Mari minded, looks like she wanted to help her anyways.

By the end of our allotted hour, only Asuka, Kotone and Kaworu were anywhere near to getting the hang of it.

“This might require further sessions before we can begin to ascertain the benefits…” concluded Ms. Soryu, thoughtfully scratching her chin. “Let’s call it a day for now. Whelp! Time to go home kids!”

November 7th 2014
T minus 430 days


Soon after, I found myself contemplating an autumn leaf that had stuck to my hand when I raised it up from the ground of the green patches beside the schoolyard.
The tree above me was now almost bare of leaves.
I think it was the same tree that, just some weeks ago, was still resplendent with vibrant green while Kaworu sat amid its foliage.
I thought about what he’d said about enjoying our days, and I thought of Mana’s words about the forests in the mountains, and what Rei said back when we were asked about out future dreams, how we might not be here anymore when the future arrives.
Mom and the others said that those aliens would arrive next year, so, this might actually be the last autumn that there might ever be.
I might be holding one of the last autumn leaves there would ever be.
Soon, their vibrant colors would already be trampled into the mud, or dried completely to rust-colored remnants. I realized only now how very right she had been. She had known so much more then than I had.
I looked over at Rei, who was sitting not too far from me, nestled among the wild weeds and the dead leaves, and speck of the cool colors in a backdrop of warm ones.
I’d originally chosen to sit here because I’d hoped to start up a conversation with her but after a few brief back and forths I couldn’t think of anything more to do with her brief replies, but I still felt that it would be nice if we could just exist together for a bit in the same space like, I felt like even just being together was a comfort.
At first I felt a bit awkward, racked with the anticipation of expectation. I didn’t want her to think I was ignoring her or anything… but then she got out a little brown book, and I got out my headphones, and after a little reluctance, I felt a sense of peace.
I felt comfortable. Far away.
It’s a neglected sort of obscure joy, when you can just be silent together like that.
I hope she felt it, too. For all I knew it might just be totally incidental to her that I was present too.
I smiled in her direction at some point. She definitely looked back in acknowledgment.
The bridge of the song just happened to swell up at that exact moment – I had read things, of course, but I had not thought that you could have such a thing in reality.
I know people talked, and wrote songs and all, but I figured that in reality, you’d end up having to contort yourself somehow, to exist in a state of strain to keep up with everyone else – I’d looked at my quietness as a flaw and at the limits of my energy as a weakness. I could basically hear Asuka’s voice in my head telling me how I’d end up never finding anyone if I didn’t ‘come out of my shell’, whatever that was supposed to mean.
I didn’t think it could be just fine like this.
What a precarious thing to learn, when one is possibly holding one of the last autumn leaves that will ever be.

November 14th 2014
T minus 423 days

The first thing Kaworu did once he mastered the ice skates well enough to stay afloat is to come over and try to teach me what little he knew as well as he could. He steadied me if I wobbled, not thinking twice of putting his hands on me to support me, patiently advised me, encouraging me to move forward ever so slowly and let go when he thought I was ready though I still wanted to linger by the edge.
One moment I thought I would fall, and he almost lost his own balance trying to get me to steady mine, and I couldn’t ignore, for a moment, that he too was new at this.
It was great luck that we didn’t bump into anyone cause we could not for the love of goodness have kept track of where we were going, but we somehow, somehow, remained on our feet, circling inward towards the center of the ice ring, slowly steadying ourselves, exchanging a smile.

In the distance, I could hear Asuka pestering Mari to teach her all the flashy moves, thinking little of the older girl’s appeals to patience.
Elsewhere, Kotone (as I remind you, our token dancer) was all too glad to provide an example for the others, and cheerfully pretended to be hosting a video tutorial while the others tried their best to imitate her. Kensuke in particular was a great fan of this and performed his routine while holding his thumbs up, though this probably didn’t help him in holding his balance. Hikari was also of the opinion that this was really cash money of her, though she scolded Kensuke for his antics. Touji didn’t love these exercises – I think he viewed ice skating as more of a girly thing – but since he was also used to sports and attuned to the necessary fine control over his body, he was actually doing best out of Kotone’s ‘students’.
Marie of course insisted that her every wobble was very deliberate. Rei confessed very little in terms of what she thought about this, but she dutifully watched and learned.

I think this was the first time that I really noticed her habit of often moving with her arms slightly spread; She also did this often when she ran or jumped. Soon, she seemed almost weightless as she glided over the ice. She wasn’t doing half-bad, either, though she didn’t respond much to Kotone’s eager praise. I wondered what she was thinking, when something loud and red suddenly demanded my attention:
“Everyone, look!”
Asuka swung forward, gliding a long-stretch one-legged, and then she jumped.

This of course garnered much praise for Hikari and Kotone in particular.
“I’m impressed, Your Highness!” Mari bowed deeply before her ‘student’, spinning around for no apparent reason as she did.
On the bleachers, I could spot Ms. Soryu smirking to Mom, going “That’s my daughter!”
Even Kensuke had to concede that it looked cool.
Touji and Marie saw this as an immediate challenge for them to try and outdo her, but I’m afraid that ended with poor Touji planting his face on the cold, cold ground.

Rei alone was kind of unperturbed and just kept skating forwards; I think she just meant to do rounds now that she was able. Kaworu must’ve spotted where I was looking, or maybe he just had the same idea on his own – he gestured for me to come after him, and we all made an attempt to fall in step (in slide?) with Rei.
“Let’s try to match up, “ he suggested, which sounded training-relevant enough that Rei didn’t ask if it was needed. I do think I actually got to enjoy the end of this session.
Kaworu looked really pleased for sure, in a way that surely went beyond just his usual serenity, but I still wonder what Rei thought.

I believe it was on this very same day that something very, very strange happened – or maybe it was the next session, I don’t really know anymore.
While I was slowly and carefully making my way to the edge, and most others were already taking of her shirt, a swish of crimson rose-petal shirts slid into my field of vision, quick and effortless by now, as my movements should never get.

Asuka looked disgruntled still, but the disgust on her face still visibly wrestled with something else, something surprising – it was not at all like her to be reluctant to disclose her words.
What she said at last was a guarded compromise about to burst with defensiveness.
“Weren’t you gonna look at all?”
I honestly couldn’t tell what she meant.
“I was doing tricks and all, you know. I picked out this outfit and all!
Don’t you like it?”
This was just… weird. Really weird.
I couldn’t make heads or tails of this conversation at all.
I felt like no matter what I answered, my words could have set off a land mine.
“It suits you,” I tried nonetheless.
“Idiot! You just don’t get it!”

You know what?
I really don’t. I don’t get what the heck I did wrong this time.


November 16th 2014
T minus 421 days


We had many more sessions in the ice ring. For some reason, Mom and Ms. Soryu were really into the idea that ice skating was the way to go to improve our piloting.
Apparently, Mari was right about the ‘center of gravity’. We were encouraged to try and feel it when we were doing exercises with our EVAs, too.
If Dr. Akagi’s division wasn’t already busy with the program to generate random battle scenarios for the simulator, I think they might have put us in a simulation where the EVAs themselves got ice skates, never mind that no frozen lake in the world could have carried their enormous weight…
“No, I think it would actually work.” said mom, when I brought this up to her. By now it could have gone unsaid that when I saw her, it was to the backdrop of the corridors at NERV, not as it once was, most likely to be while I was drying off the plates after she was done washing them.
“Think about it: If the EVAs’ weight was an issue like it would be for a normal object, wouldn’t they sink into the street? Especially since their internal makeup is similar to a person, as I believe I’ve told you. Humans are mammals. The largest mammal that exists is the blue whale, which is still only one third as large as an EVA, and if one of those washes ashore, its internal organs end up crushed by their own weight outside the water. If the flesh of the EVAs can’t exist at all, it’s because the normal rules don’t apply. You do remember what I’ve told you about the EVA’s special power, the AT-field?”
“Sort of…?”
Actually, I only really remembered the name.
“It’s sort of like an inpenetrable barrier that nothing can cross through. It’s a power that the angels also have, so it would be almost impossible to defeat them with ordinary weapons. That#s one of the biggest reasons why we had to create the EVAs the way we did – in a way, an EVA is a means to give the same powers to a human being.”
“So only an AT-field can beat another AT-field, huh?”
“You could say that, yes. But you shouldn’t think of it as just a weapon. Originally, it had a different purpose. You could say that it is what gives the angels their forms and maintains their bodies, what defines that very for even – it is the area that is under the direct influence of their wills. Human beings have only limited energy, so our will can only affect our body, and even that is imperfect. You could suffer a spine injury and be unable to move your legs. Or you could get depression and, through a malfunction of the brain, be unable to even will yourself to get out of bed. But the angels have infinite energy, so their souls can exert their wills totally over their bodies. They don’t grow old. They can regenerate any part as long as they still have their S2 organ and the seat of their soul remains intact. Probably, they could even change their shape, choose it at will.”
Sounds like a frightening foe.
“So they could look like anything?”
“That’s a consequence of that, yes.”
“...can the EVAs do that, too?”
“Well, in the case of the EVAs, we have constrained them because we need to be able to control them. Without an S2 organ, they lack the same sheer power as an angel, but they too have the power to extend their AT-fields, and use them to give themselves substance beyond the ordinary creatures that live on this earth. The field keeps the EVAs standing despite their weight, and it is also what would allow them to move as lightly as a feather if the pilot was skilled enough. You could say that for angels and EVAs, it’s truly Mind over Matter. Their will rules supreme over their bodies, and even extends to a certain area outside of it.”
“So it really is like ESP...”
I dimly recalled Asuka making a comparison like that in the past, when she dragged me to that pool.
“In a sense, you could say that… the AT-fields of angels and EVAs still have limits. Especially with an EVA, where it’s hard enough for the human pilot to even move it normally. With moving the body, the pilot can imagine moving their own body, but there is no such clear equivalent for the AT-field… Still, I believe that with time, you and the others will be able to unlock its secrets. In fact, just by picturing yourself walking like normal, you would already be exerting the field beneath your feet. It’s probably just a matter of time until you can get it to unfold beyond that, at least, to a degree. So yes. If you wanted, you could make your EVA do ice skating. You know, I would love to go ice-skating with you and Unit One someday.”
I wonder now if I should have noticed something strange about the way that she smiled.

“Of course, if you had a field that could extend indefinitely, you would be able to affect anything in the world with just your will. You would, in effect, become a god. You could even overrule even the lordship of others over their selves, making their bodies and minds lose substance and collapse – in fact, that is probably what happened in Antarctica during Near Second Impact. Remember what I told you about the vanished microorganisms and animals? This is probably how they disappeared, unmade by the power of Adam. This is also how Adam would have turned the world into the perfect home for its offspring if we hadn’t stopped it in time. And this is how we all would die, if one of the angels were to accomplish their objective.”
I thought I felt dread in my bones then, but, I couldn’t possibly have understood what this meant. What it’s implications would be.
If I had been, I’d think would have been appropriately terrified.
“Are the EVAs are made from something so dangerous?!”
“They’re just copies, though. Mere imitations. Pale shadows. Incomplete without the S2 engine... at least for now. Fear not. After all, the one wielding that power will be you.”
You’re sure having a whole lot of misplaced faith in me there, mom.
Talk about expectations...

November 19th 2014
T minus 419 days

Next time we had battle practice, I tried to feel center of gravity as I moved the simulated EVA. I tried to visualize that supposed special power acting like a cushion beneath my feet.

This time, they were having us fight a simulation program one by one. They had indeed succeeded at making that program to generate random battle scenarios.
Each of us had to face a different one, while the others waited in the control room with Misato and the technicians. Since the ‘maps’ were randomly generated, even Misato did not know what to expect, so it was not only us pilots and pilot candidates who were getting some exercise here, but the whole operations division, including Misato, Hyuuga and Aoba.

447th INDIVIDUAL BATTLE SIMULATION – SUBJECT: 2nd CHILDREN

“Alright then! Watch and learn, rookie, I’m going to show you what a real pro can do!”
It was pretty much over in an instant.
One moment I was wondering why she hadn’t grabbed a gun, and the next, she freakin’ jumped.
Big as Asuka’s mouth might be, you’ve got to give it to her that she definitely isn’t all talk.

She pulled off these superhuman leaps with the ease of a child playing hopscotch, blasting forward with dazzling speed. One jump, and then another, always from a high vantage point to another, landing with incredible force and yet jumping away before the buildings could crumble beneath her, only to bring her full momentum down on the simulated foe when she cleaved it clean in half with a giant war-ax.
She landed blade first and came to rest on the ground no later than the enemy’s severed halves flobbed down on the ground beside her.
Suddenly I was very glad that Miss Ritsuko didn’t find it necessary to simulate the enemy’s gooey center.

“There you see it, Mister Highscore! Battle should be elegant and without waste! It’s so much easier when I don’t have anyone slowing me down.”

Miffed as I was at her current behavior, I had to concede that this was just plain awesome.
And yet, the staff seemed so used to this level of performance from her that Misato felt unfazed enough to nitpick: “Stop showing off with unnecessary flashy moves! You just flattened a few million yen’s worth in property damage!”

They booted up the next simulation without missing a beat, the one where we had to contend with a horde of foes. They didn’t actually expect that we would ever have to deal with multiple enemies at once, but the scenario was of course much more salient for some of the military databases that they had pulled example drill scenarios from.

Asuka went right back to it: She speared one in the neck with the pointy tip on top of her axe, kicked another so hard in the chest that it didn’t stand back up, and at one point stone cold grabbed one to shield herself from another’s line of fire.
I got the distinct impression that the virtual giants had become something of an outlet for her real-life frustrations.

Getting on her bad side was definitely one of my poorer life-choices.

489th INDIVIDUAL BATTLE SIMULATION – SUBJECT: 1st CHILDREN

“Were there any flaws in my performance?”

“Nah, don’t worry Rei, “ judged Misato, “It was just fine, just the same as always.”

“Poor First! Still no improvements. Looks like you’ll be stuck on backup duty. They might even stick you in logistical support once one of the newbies officially becomes the Third Children.”
Blank-faced as a trench-bound soldier in a muddy deluge, Rei did not show the slightest response to Asuka’s snide provocation.
“If deploying one of the candidates is beneficial to the mission, they should be deployed. If logistical support is required to fulfill our orders, I will provide it.”

“She’s a reliable one.” observed Misato, though it didn’t sound altogether like a good thing when she said it like that. Though the slight ambiguity in her voice never went so far as what Dr. Akagi said: “I sometimes wonder why we even bother to measure her numbers. They never change. Never spectacular, but always robust, always decently usable, like a well-oiled machine...”

“I am not a machine.”

I think that was the first time that I’d heard Rei sounding defensive or offended, even just a little bit.

Misato quickly scrambled an apology about how they obviously hadn’t meant it that way.
Miss Ritsuko, however, said nothing.

Rei grit her teeth and braced herself for the next row of CGI enemies.

3rd INDIVIDUAL BATTLE SIMULATION – SUBJECT: PILOT CANDIDATE K. NAGISA

“Alright.” ruled Misato, “Let’s see what the new kid can do.”

I had not believed that something as monstrous as an EVA could be elegant – that it’s jagged, distorted forms could perform such flowing motions. It was a hulking, ogre-like thing with horns and pylons and what not, and yet it moved like Kaworu.
So much I think I might have recognized that just from seeing the EVA – the body language, the slight, subtle tilts of the arms and hands, the catlike agility and angelic grace, and yet heightened to a superhuman degree.
Less than Kaworu moving and the EVA following, it seemed like this was the original thing, and what I recognized as Kaworu’s movements was the image.

Seeing this I could believe my mother’s words that the EVAs had come from something godlike -
The graceful turns, the near-instant dodges, the power of its weight and motion even just in simulation…
One time he threw his lance into the air, slammed down with the shield he was carrying in his other hand and then caught the weapon before it hit the ground, bringing it to bear once again.
He attacked another simulated foe almost entirely from above, hoisting himself up just by the energy of his blade connecting, like he was flying.
Once he fired some shots and, realizing it was ineffective (for even such eventualities had been planned for) straight out jumped from where he had been standing, turning and spinning in midair only to land precisely next to a weapons access point, retrieving the giant chainsaw with which he would swiftly mow down all his foes.
He did all this with a serene, easy smile – so immersed, so connected, that he needn’t open his eyes. I never once heard him breathe or grunt as one would under exertion.
It was like witnessing a supernatural being – like the mechanical giant had ceased to have any and all mass from the moment that he touched it.

Even knowing next to nothing about this technology, I thought it was incredible – and then I noticed Dr. Akagi right beside me, looking positively shocked.
Misato summed it up rather succinctly: “Wow. Not even Asuka could do this!”

Not far from me, the girl’s teeth were bared.

3rd INDIVIDUAL BATTLE SIMULATION – SUBJECT: CANDIDATE M. I. MAKINAMI

If Kaworu fought like a superhuman being, Mari was wont to turn into something like a feral demon.

While the simulation was still loading up, Misato made one token attempt to try to explain the supposed plan, but it was no use.
The battle was joined before she could even begin speaking.

It was a total jekyll-and-hyde thing, or at least akin to those otherwise chill people prone to devolving into apeish road rage the moment they got behind the wheel.
The closest I’d come to even suspecting this side of her was when she got a little overzealous during our volleyball match.

The moment her match started, her face split into a grin and she went charging right at the target in a state of manic glee.

“Hey, Mari! Mari! ...is she even listening?”
With no small amount of consternation, Aoba had to conclude the opposite: “The intercom has been cut from inside the plug!”
“Who even showed her how to do that?!”
Some eyes turned to Hyuuga, but that lead revealed itself as a red herring. “It wasn’t me! I have no idea how she knows that!”
“So she wants to do it alone…” concluded Misato with no small hint of cynism.

On the screen, Mari was still happily hacking and slashing, despite the fact that her interface was swarmed by a crowd of colorful lights.
“Great job everyone! This new simulation is so~ much~ fun~!”
She just barely dodged when some exploding debris flew right past her head.
“Geez, that was a close one. Meow.”
Even this didn’t deter her for too long.
We all resumed watching as Mari crudely poked at the computer-generated foes with an oversize bayonet that was very, very pointy, all while merrily singing a jaunty tune.
“Lalilalilaaaa~ Take this, MOTHERFUKKER!”

...you might wanna cool it a bit with the language, Mari, some of us are twelve. I really felt like I ought to be covering Asuka’s ears, but she would probably bite my hands off if I did.

Despite her visible impatience – clenched fists, tapping feet and all – Misato had to suffer the indignity of waiting for the simulation to finish before the system would reboot everything including the communications settings.

“You do know that if this had been a real battle, you would have lost your right arm and your power cable?”
As an experienced wrangler-of-underlings, Misato would have expected some sort of clap-back or an insistence that she’d totally won anyways, so much that the lack thereof disarmed her:
Mari just shrugged. “Whoops. My bad. You’re totally right! I guess I’ll have be more careful.”

Whatever remaining extensive lecture Misato must have been composed, it crumbled on her tongue – though her voice remained firm: “Then restart, and do just that.”

The screen went back to a simulated landscape, and Mari went back to Mari-ing.
“So, what do you think?” It was plain that Dr. Akagi did not envy the work that Misato had cut out for her.
The captain’s conclusion was sobering:“She’s doing whatever she wants… a bit frivolous aren’t we?”
Though, this being Misato, her assessment was not altogether one-sided:
“She’s a born fighter, I’ll give her that. That’s valuable in and of itself. But she’s still a rookie – brute force will only get her so far. We’ll have to teach her some proper weapon skills and maybe some other strategies besides ‘attack attack attack’.”


3rd INDIVIDUAL BATTLE SIMULATION – SUBJECT: CANDIDATE S. IKARI

“Why did you disobey my order?!”

I did’t know. I couldn’t say.
I just… reacted.
It was getting really tense, I had this split-second realization that I was surrounded – In that moment, I don’t think I was fully mindful that this was just a simulation. And then Asuka made that comment…
I can’t even remember anymore what exactly she said, only that it really irked me. When I try to rationalize it, the memory starts to come apart. I only really know that it probably ended with ‘Mister Highscore’.
Maybe there was no reason.
Or maybe… fine, I’ll admit it, no point denying it now: Maybe I wanted to prove to her and the world that it’s not like that. Maybe I just didn’t want to hear it anymore. Highscore this or Highscore that... We’ve been friends all our lives and now because of some stupid number, you won’t even use my name anymore?
I didn’t sign up to be a pilot to get on her nerves – quite the opposite in fact, I had hoped that this might might bring us closer! And now this?!
Some wires might have been crossed…

“You know that I’m responsible for you and this operation, right? So you have to listen to my orders, right?!”
I was too ashamed of myself to mount a defense, but to Misato, that must have looked like I was just avoiding an answer.

“If this had been a real fight, you could have got killed out there, you know?!!”

“I know, I- I wasn’t thinking…I didn’t-”

“It’s fine. Just...Go home and get some rest.”
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

Kendrix
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Tue Apr 27, 2021 8:42 pm

Coordination Training Part III  SPOILER: Show
November 20th 2014
T minus 418 days

By this time of years, the sunny days were well and truly over. We weren’t due to see much more of the big shiny orb in the sky until March or so.
If I looked outside the windows now, It was almost certain to be pouring down in sheets.

So it was not my old favorite spot on the school roof, but near the window front of the music club room that I related these latest frustrations of mine to Mana.
“It’s just not fair. I’m only there because it’s needed to save the world, right? So why did I have to get yelled at? I used to think that Misato-san was a great, nice person that you could talk to, but I’m beginning to think that Asuka might be right about her. She’s totally different sometimes, almost scary, like a drill sergeant. I wonder if that’s the real her after all… She can’t seriously be expecting me to suddenly know how to act like a professional soldier…”
Mana looked pensive at this. “Well, maybe she yelled at you because she’s a soldier.”
This sounded like a non-sequitur to me.
“How do you mean?”
“Well, “ she began, something like a surprisingly heartfelt explanation, “If you’re in the military, they really train you to yell immediately at anyone who is doing anything wrong, like not following the right protocol and so on. That is so that the different soldiers in the army will all remind each other to do it – ‘cause if they don’t, even little mistakes that might seem silly could end up getting someone killed.
I think the reason that Misato-sensei yelled at you is because she’s nice – She’s probably really worried that you’ll end up making a mistake in a fight and get seriously hurt. She really doesn’t want to see you get killed… that’s what I think. No, I feel it in my heart!”
This here was certainly food for thought – on the one hand, Mana still only knew her as ‘Misato-sensei’, on the other, the earnest sincerity with which she insisted spoke of the kind of intuitive insight that perhaps wasn’t my forte, so I wasn’t confident in just dismissing it, either.
What I really should have wondered is how Mana would even really know anything about military types, but you could figure that she saw it in a movie, or maybe one of her family members had served.

I can’t say what answer I would have made, for within the second, we were no longer alone in the room, and all my half-formed thoughts disappeared in a puff of smoke.
It just had to be Asuka.
“Well I hate to interrupt in your interesting conversation, but we have to go to the geofront!”
“Huh? Already?”
“Excuse me, Kirishima-san, but we’ve got an important job to do. Duty calls! Now go get a move on you idiot, don’t you dare make me late!”

Just thinking about it makes me want to sigh.
At least there’s a geofront acessway right under the school, so I didn’t have to walk through the rain on top of everything else. When we actually got downstairs, though, I found that everyone else had already gone ahead. They must’ve been waiting for me to be done with music club, but I had started chatting with Mana, so, even my fellow music club members like Kaworu had arrived here long before me.
It seems Asuka had insisted on being the one to fetch me as everyone else waited, but in her absence, the decision to proceed ahead must have been made.
Before us was an empty wagon – the one where Hikari and the others had been waiting was long gone. They had left only Rei, who must needs have volunteered to wait for us and ensure that we would follow.
This only served to incense Asuka even further.
Even as we were getting seated on the wagon, she kept needling me. “Must be so nice to be popular!” Well look who’s talking, little miss love letter stomper. “Hey! Don’t you dare listen to your stupid music when people are trying to talk to you!”

I can only pity poor Rei, who was trying her best to read amid all this commotion… no, actually, I think that was the EVA emergency manual that she was holding. Probably just refreshing her knowledge of the emergency plans and all that.
Her hair still stuck out from her head exactly how it had dried this morning after she had come into the classroom, soaking wet from the rain. I wondered if she even had an umbrella. Or maybe she just likes something about how the rain feels… though that would make more sense for something like a small drizzle than a harsh deluge.

I was beginning to wonder why the wagon hadn’t started moving yet – there was probably some automatic mechanism to prevent it from moving before the door had been properly closed. The door in turn couldn’t close because – well, we soon saw why when Mana Kirishima stuck her head through the door.
“Hi Everyone!”
At once, Asuka leapt up from her seat:
“What are you doing here?!”
“I tagged along!”
Perfectly chipper, she sat down right beside me.

At least, Asuka tried to argue against it somewhat: “How the heck did you follow us! And what makes you think you can just come? This isn’t an amusement park, you know? We’re doing important work for a government agency.”
“You are not authorized personnel.” agreed Rei quietly.
Mana’s impenetrable cheer did not abate one bit: “But how could this be? I’ve been down here lots of times for the evacuation drills! Come on, don’t be such squares! At least let me come as far as they let me!”
With this, Mana had effectively invited herself, and none of us could convince her otherwise – in that, it was evident that we were still a bunch of kids, not soldiers.
As the bullet train began it’s downward spiral descent, our classmate bounced her legs in excitement.
“Are you going to do more cool fight training today?”
“Nah, I’m afraid today is gonna be one of those weirder training exercises where we’re doing stuff like ice skating.”
“Yay! I love ice skating!”

Asuka never quite stopped grumbling in her corner. “How shameless can you be… and you, Mister Highscore! You’re no better. We’re all gonna be late because you were too distracted with your little friend here. If this was a real emergency, I bet the enemy could have destroyed half the city in the time it took me to go fetch you. Do you think you can do whatever you want just because you’re the commander’s son? You can’t keep riding Daddy’s coattails forever!”
Only when the bullet train stopped and unloaded us onto the gate did she find cause to smirk as she gleefully pulled out her security card. “Well then! I guess this is as far as you go!”
I let the girls go first, intending to take my proper time to say my goodbyes to Mama before sending her back to the surface, but even so I thought it inevitable that Asuka’s prediction should come to pass here: “I’m sorry, you need a security card to go in there…”
“Not if we do it like this!”
Ever resourceful, Mana had put her arms around my neck before I knew it. “If we walk through like this, we count as one person!”
“-but you know, everything past here is supposed to be secret government stuff…”
“That’s so nice of you to let me come anyways~”
She was so enthusiastic, too. This would be like saying no to a golden retriever which is joyfully wagging its tail!
Which is to say that I caved, against my better angels.
We did in fact waddle through the gate looking like a big letter A.

I was not surprised to think that Asuka was already long gone, no doubt that she had immediately ran off as soon as she could. Rei hadn’t waited, either.
Both their professional engagement was clearly superior to mine.
I wasn’t in a hurry to catch up, to be honest, nor was I especially motivated to prevent Mana from stopping frequently to admire all the corridors and machines. I was already late and nothing I could do would change that now – So I was hoping instead that I would be late enough that Touji, Kensuke and Kaworu would already be gone from the locker room – that way I wouldn’t have to explain her.
At first, I got lucky. When we made it to the lockers, there was nothing in sight but for Touji’s discarded tracksuit which he’d lazily thrown across the bench.
Mana kept smiling expectantly.
“Uh… I have to get changed, so please turn around…”
I wondered if I was gonna get yelled at for being late.
What have I gotten myself into.
“Woow, your outfit looks so cool! You’re like a dancer in a broadway musical!”
I guess?

My plan of keeping her a secret lasted about as long as it took for us to make our way to the skating ring. I swear I meant to tell her to keep quiet, but the moment she saw the others, she simply pulled ahead of he and started eagerly waving: “Helloooo! Kotone-san!”
Once I had followed Mana into the room, the deed was pretty much done.
“Uh, sorry I’m late. This is my classmate, Kirishima-san. The one from music club? I know that GEHIRN heardquarters is supposed to be secret, but she really, really wanted to come, and I just couldn’t say no to her. We hardly had time to hang out with our other friends from school because of all the training, so-”

I felt the cutting dismay in my bones when I heard my father’s disapproving voice: “Shinji! This isn’t a playground!” But mom quieted him with a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Ah, come on dear, no harm, no foul.” As far as she was concerned, there was probably no such thing as ‘too many kids’. She eagerly bent forward to Mana’s eye level:
“It’s very nice to meet you! I’m Dr. Yui Ikari, the lead scientist at the Artificial Evolution lab, and also, Shinji’s mother. Thanks for being such a good friend to my son. He talks all the time about how much she likes it in music club.”
Mana grinned proudly, reaching out to shake my parents’ hands one after another. Father took a little while to follow suit, and mostly followed after mother’s lead. “I’m pleased to finally make your acquaintance, Mr. and Mrs. Ikari! Please don’t mind me at all, I only came for the ice skating.”
“Now wait a moment!” interceded Dr. Akagi, who might have been taken for the one serious person in the room – or at least, the one that was immune to the charms of little kiddies. “We’re conducting serious research here. We can’t just have another person joining nilly-willy.”
“Aww, but whyever not?” questioned mother, “We can think of her as an unexpected element to add to the improv.”
With this, poor Miss Ritsuko had been overruled. Mana in the meanwhile proved highly interested in what my mother had just mentioned: “Improv? So you’re not just doing ice skating, but theater too?”

By then it was apparent that pretty much all the adults would be watching us today, many GEHIRN staff were arranged on the bleachers. Somehow, apparently, our amateurish ice skating was supposed to be full of precious scientific data.
Ms. Soryu had gotten her will after all of making us do a little roleplay. Asuka, for example, was in a pirate costume, complete with a fake eyepatch. (Yes! For real! This is absolutely not a joke, and if it were, it would definitely not be funny.) Rei was wearing chiffon butterfly wings. I think she was meant to be a winter fairy.
We didn’t do a play as Ms. Soryu had first wanted – it seems my parents and her had since come to the agreement that it would be much better to have us do improv. Actually, now that I think about it, I’m not sure if everyone else was actually there to collect research data, or just to provide an audience for us to be nervous about.
Even mother’s old professor was there! And Mr. Kaji.
I can’t say if he responded to Mana’s presence, in particular. I wouldn’t have known to pay attention. Whatever he’d done when he first saw us, now he was waving at us rather playfully.

Asuka was all the less glad to see us: “Tch! It’s just like you to make us late right when we’re supposed to show off our moves in front of mom and my dear Kaji-san… please, my love, forgive us for making you wait!”
Most of the staff seemed to think that her little infatuation was actually quite hilarious, but despite her protestations, even Ms. Soryu agreed that it might actually be helpful to the project to let Mana participate, so we got her a pair of ice skates. Promising Asuka ice cream as compensation if she behaved proved likewise counterproductive.
We had no costume for Mana, but her current outfit was perfectly suited for her to portray the role of an ordinary schoolgirl on our improvised tragedy of skates and ice.
Turns out that Mana really did love ice skating – at least, she was good enough at it to make Asuka even more annoyed. Though nothing on this day would compare to the face she made once Mana dared to ask but one more question:

“By the way… is your play a musical?”
Mana had probably just happened to have heard of a lot of ice skate musicals. We definitely looked the part in our silly outfits.
Left to her own devices, Asuka’s answer would have surely been ‘of course not’, but she was preempted by none other than my mother:
“It’s improvised! It can be whatever you want!”
...improvised singing? I really really didn’t feel too confident about that prospect.
Mari and Kotone loved it, however. They quickly responded with great cheer. Kaworu too!
I couldn’t be the one jerk that was against it.
Once she saw how many people liked it, even Hikari felt duty bound to soften up Asuka’s reluctance, and with both her and Mari now firmly on Team Musical, Asuka grudgingly yielded to her friends.

Thus began our tale of ice, sequins and brazenly shoehorned off-key pop songs, in which Pirate Captain Asuka and her crew of ruffians (played by Mari, Touji, Kensuke and Hikari, who made for just about the least convincing ruffian ever) had kidnapped the innocent school-uniform wearing maiden Mana, so that it now fell to us three heroic musketeers (myself, Kaworu and Marie) to rescue her with the aid of Rei, our fairy godmother, and our plucky animal sidekick that was just Kotone with bunny ears. She was honestly a bit wasted there as the one person who could actually sing and dance worth a damn, but she really liked being the bunny, and none of us had the heart to tell her no. After all, she had already missed out on her dream role in the school play because of an ill-timed injury.
If Mana hadn’t shown up by surprise, she would probably have been cast as the heroine – then again, Kotone might have dodged a bullet here. Who would want to be saved by such an unconvincing musketeer as myself? Kaworu really, really carried our parts to be honest.
Marie overplayed it in the hammiest way possible, and I was still me, barely fit to play a stagehand or a pantomime horse.

I don’t doubt that our parents must have gotten some great laughs out of it – On the upside, some of the lines we came up with lived on as inside jokes between me and my friends. The downside was that Misato would keep bringing this story up forever and ever...

(At the edge of my hearing, I caught snippets of a talk that my mother and Dr. Akagi were having by the railing of the ice ring-
“If they’re all such good friends, couldn’t we include this girl with the pilot candidates as well?”
“Impossible”, ruled Miss Ritsuko cooly, “Her assessment score was so low that I might as well have been sorted in with the candidates by mistake.”
Mother doesn’t seem to have meant anything bad by it – she was probably thinking that it would be good for me to be with my friends during all this. But when I considered that I might have brought Mana into danger, just by being friends and spending time with her, my pulse spiked and my balance faltered just a little bit.)

November 23rd 2014
T minus 415 days

52th JOINT SYNCHRONIZATION TEST (w/ preliminary project evaluation)

The so-called ‘pilot raising project’ was now deemed to have gone on long enough that one could have formed a sound opinion of its merit.
Right away, it was ruled nothing less than a resounding success.

Dr. Akagi adressed us herself when the test time had concluded: “Shinji-kun. Mari. Excellent work you two! It’s only been a few weeks, and you’ve already caught up to Rei. The moment we have another full-fledged EVA Unit ready, I expect that one of you will be selected as the Third Children.”

Mari smirked to herself in glee like the cat who got the cream.
I wasn’t sure what I felt. Then I heard the rough voice of my father: “Well done, Shinji. We knew you could do it.”
We knew you could do it.
We knew you could do it.
We knew you could do it.
Just let me…. sit with that feeling for a bit, while the chatter of the GEHIRN staff kept coming out of the intercoms.

“But how much do we know that it’s really the program, and not just those two being exceptional?”
“Just look down here – everyone else is up, too. They’re all scoring at the level of Rei’s early numbers or higher. We’re definitely seeing a speedup.”
“Even Asuka is up! Not as much as the others, though.”
“Makes sense, though, after all these years, she must already be pretty close to having reached her full potential.”

When they let us out of the plugs, Asuka made straight for the screen that habitually displayed our numbers and sought out her designated line.
Bright red at it was, it was easily the easiest to spot.
Thus far I had understood so little that still I would have thought that she would have been happy: The curve was pointing up, and improvement from even last week’s record.
But her response was dismay: “Only .2 higher?”
“It’s still amazing, though!” I volunteered, out of some ill-advised reflex that was somehow under the assumption that we were still as thick as thieves. “I mean, it’s way higher than my score...”
“You know that putting yourself down isn’t really a way to flatter others, do you? All it does is make others feel like they have to pamper you now, and deal with your shit on top of whatever they’re already dealing with. If you’re looking for sympathy, you won’t get it here!”
“I’m not! I really mean it!”
I didn’t know how to get her to understand that. “You’re doing the best you can-”
The cold, hard look in her eyes almost scared me then, the bright icy blue glare:
“...say, Mr. Highscore, are you mocking me on purpose, or are you really that oblivious?!”
I was taken aback by her rage. Against my better judgment, I was moving away from her before I knew it.
“What in the- I’m not mocking you?”
I really thought that I’d been telling her exactly what I would have wanted to hear in her place. Maybe that was exactly the problem...
“Why would I ever mock you, Asuka?”
“Heck if I know? Why are you doing it?”
She was truly & wholly enraged now, as if she’d just heard the most deathly, most devastating unforgiveable insult. Before the wild, rampant gestures of her arms, I couldn’t help but flinch away reflexively, and it only made her madder.
“Why else would you say cheesy feelgoodsy crap like that? That’s what you say to some little brat to cheer them up because you’re sure that they’re not ever going to win for real. Why don’t you hand me some participation trophy while you’re at it?!
No one ever praises your ‘good work ethic’ or your ‘attitude’ if you’re getting actual results that really matter! I don’t care about any of that ‘personal best’ nonsense, that’s just admitting that you’re never going to measure up to the real thing. I don’t give a rat’s ass about ‘my’ record. The only record I care about is the record, the real record. When I beat Nagisa’s numbers, then you can congratulate me!”
Then she stormed right out.

Abruptly, I was acutely aware of the steps of our fellow pilots behind us, with Rei, Kaworu and even Mari looking somewhat concerned and Hikari looking just about ready to get on my case as well.
The faces of the technicians around us were all various degrees of affected.
Only Miss Ritsuko had the presence of mind left to draw a conclusion: “We’re gonna have to have a word with Soryu-kun.”
In the distance, I could hear something being knocked over. If Asuka had heard that, I can’t imagine that it brought her pleasure.

All the while, I stood back, with my hand still hanging in the air, fingers just barely uncurled in her general direction.

If I am permitted to resort to my old friend the ‘dictionary of obscure sorrows’, this was what would be called a keyframe – something that, at first seemed a pretty ordinary, individual moment like any other, but with time, ended up becoming emblematic for the coming part of your life.
I had been lucky that I hadn’t been born as part of a discriminated minority, nor had I ever been the victim of a targeted bullying campaign – So this was the first time that I’d ever felt outright malice directed at me. I’d had more than my share of awkward moments, but I’d never really felt hated, least at all by someone I#d consider one of my closest friends and confidants.
She was supposed to be my friend, that’s why I was trying to help her to begin with, and this is my thanks?! Maybe I didn’t think that through. It’s not like I would have insisted that she must absolutely take my genius encouragement and owes it to me to act comforted, or else – that would be ridiculous.
That childish pout of mine was probably just a means to cover this new, profound experience of my own inadequacy. I mean, I was trying to help and instead it seems that all I could accomplish was to hurt her even more.


Uff, this one came out long.
I keep having to remind myself to write GEHIRN instead of defaulting back to NERV out of habit. I’m saving the name change for a particular moment, but my resolve is being tested XD

I think I’m getting the hang of having things happen where Shinji can see them, I keep not needing an interlude where I think I would, but now I’m coming up against a whole different limitation of first person PoV which is that it makes it hard to make any arbitrary pair interact. It’s difficult if I want Misato & Ritsuko to talk, or Misato and any of the mothers. I tend to think characters in terms of webs so that approach doesn’t work 1:1 here. This has been a scope-broadening project in many ways.

Assume that Hikari’s and Kensuke’s plugsuits are the same as this artwork: https://i.imgur.com/xqdIona.jpg except for the numbering, ie, Kensuke’s says ‚04‘ instead of ‚06‘and Hikari’s has no number as of yet. Kaworu’s is like his OG series one except it does say ‚06‘.
Strangely, though they usually never miss a chance for sabisu, they didn’t draw Marie Vincennes in a plugsuit, so let’s say she has one roughly like Hikari & Asuka but in yellow/gold, and her interface clips are like the hairclips of that lady from the pachinko spinoff manga, but also gold. I always thought they had a cute design lol.

See you in the next chapter, in which Shinji continues to Get In The Costume and Misato is forced to confront the disadvantages of having your recruits be children that fight like mad chihuahuas. I think it’s gonna be a juicy one.
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

Kendrix
Defender of Puppy Boy
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Fri May 14, 2021 6:04 pm

2.3.1 Meta Analysis of Combat Data  SPOILER: Show
(2.3.1 CUMULATIVE META-ANALYSIS OF COMBAT DATA)

After Asuka had all but become a fixture in our apparent in the months and weeks before, the starkness of her recent absence had made me all the more aware of its current emptiness.
Most of the time these days, not even Rei would be there – everyone at GEHIRN was working day and night to further refine our training programs, which must needs included my parents.
They’d said something about bespoke simulation scenarios tailored to our particular strengths and weaknesses; and while they all worked on that, they were content to let us go about our lives with little more than just the most basic training.
Having more free time should have been a relief, but...
Every day now, I would come home to find it dark, silent and empty.
I felt like a piece of forgotten luggage at a flight terminal; The uncertain shadows hanging in the corners were of the sort that made you doubt your every perception with no one else to compare notes with.
I wonder if there’s anything I could do or say to stop Asuka being mad at me.

November 25th 2014

T minus 413 days

THESE WERE THE RESULTS OF THE FIRST CUMULATIVE META-ANALYSIS OF COMBAT DATA FROM BOTH JOINT AND INDIVIDUAL BATTLE SIMULATIONS:

1st C. - R. Ayanami

AGE: 13

NATIONALITY: JP

DATE OF BIRTH: [REDACTED]

DESIGNATED UNIT: EVA 01

IDENTIFIED STRENGTHS: perceptive, level-headed, reliable performance

IDENTIFIED WEAKNESSES: mediocre synchronization rate, poor harmonics, growth potential most likely exhausted

2nd C. - A. LANGLEY-SORYU

AGE: 12

NATIONALITY: DE

DATE OF BIRTH: 04.12. 2001 in KYOTO

DESIGNATED UNIT: EVA 02

IDENTIFIED STRENGTHS: high synchronization rate, skilled weapon use, exceptional martial arts performance, good initiative, independent planning, ... [+10 more items.]

IDENTIFIED WEAKNESSES: overconfidence, poor teamwork

PILOT CANDIDATE – S. IKARI

AGE: 13

NATIONALITY: JP

DATE OF BIRTH: 06. 06. 2001 in KYOTO

DESIGNATED UNIT: [NONE] (NOTE: putative backup pilot for EVA 01)

IDENTIFIED STRENGTHS: exceptional synchronization growth rate, exceptional harmonics, above-average tolerance of high plug depths

IDENTIFIED WEAKNESSES: deficient in quick thinking, poor initiative, impulsive, poor composure, handles pressure poorly

PILOT CANDIDATE – M. I. MAKINAMI

AGE: 14

NATIONALITY: GB

DATE OF BIRTH: 31. 03. 2000 in KYOTO

DESIGNATED UNIT: EVA 05

IDENTIFIED STRENGTHS: high synchronization growth rate, sharp instincts, favorable fight-or-flight responses, low susceptibility to stress

IDENTIFIED WEAKNESSES: poor strategy, problems with authority

PILOT CANDIDATE – K. NAGISA

AGE: 14

NATIONALITY: [BLANK]

DATE OF BIRTH: 13. 09. 2000 in [REDACTED]

DESIGNATED UNIT: EVA 06

IDENTIFIED STRENGTHS: [CLASSIFIED], [CLASSIFIED], [DATA EXPUNGED]

IDENTIFIED WEAKNESSES: [NONE]

...weaknesses none? In hindsight, I can think of at least one: His unfortunate choice of friends.

November 27th 2014

T minus 411 days

The white coats had their proof of concept now: They knew, indeed, that all the ridiculous activities they had put us through were not, in fact, for nothing.

But they were an ambitious lot, my parents, Ms. Soryu and Dr. Akagi – knowing that they had this bit of leverage, they couldn’t be satisfied until they had further refined it to perfection.

“That’s how engineering usually works~” explained Ms. Soryu while she herded us towards the simulation bodies, “You find something that sort of works, and then you keep fiddling with it until you can do it reliably.”
She appeared chipper as always -
If Dr. Akagi had had a talk with her regarding Asuka, like she said she would, it didn’t show.

I didn’t relish being yelled at, but even so, I’d feel bad if Asuka had ended up getting scolded on account of our argument – I’m the one who made her mad, I probably should’ve been more careful with my words. Besides, it would only make her angrier, and she’d take that out on me and Rei... Lately, it’s like there’s nothing I can do that doesn’t make her angry…

Though she marched proudly right ahead of me, I didn’t even try starting a conversation today.

As you can probably imagine, the 62th JOINT BATTLE SIMULATION did NOT go well.
Murphy’s law struck in full force, and when it did, Asuka pointed the finger right at me:

“This is all because we’ve had a completely inexperienced rookie dragging us down! You lumped him in with the real pilots just because he’s got a high assessment score, and now look at this! Our great debut with the new simulations has been completely ruined!”
I was just about tired of hearing about that thrice-damned test score.
“What did I do? You’re the one who rushed ahead of all of us ‘cause you wanted to show off!”
“...the heck?! What gives a rookie like you any right to tell me how it’s done!”
“Oh, like you cut such a great figure yourself!”
“I only got distracted because you got yourself caught!”

We were both silenced an instant when Misato raised her voice.
“This would have got you KILLED in a real battle!”
She was incensed, but that just made her one of the few with the energy to complain during the debriefing. It didn’t help that my parents had chosen to join us for a change, since this was supposed to be the big test for the new simulation -
The director of the scientific division (also known as Mom) summarized the results of this exercise as follows:
“Oh dear.”
Up beside her on the bridge her, the vice commander had been present, on one of the rare occasions that we got to see him. As he’d worked with mother since her time in college, I was not completely unfamiliar with his face, but I wouldn’t have said that I knew him. I don’t think we had made a good first impression.
“If this had been a real angel, none of us would be alive anymore.”
“I’m not sure. They might have stopped it with an N2 mine or something,” speculated Mom, ever the positive thinker. But the old man wasn’t having it: “That just means we’d have to redraw just about every map of this region…”
Besides Mom, only Mr. Kaji had any optimism left: “Hey look at it like this: At least now we know what not do do when the real enemy arrives.”

A few rows before us, Ms. Soryu was shaking her unmistakable head of golden curls.
For their part, Dr. Akagi and the rest of her team who had worked on the actual simulation all but washed their hands of it: “You wanted more realistic challenges, and we delivered. To ensure smooth proceedings during the actual battles falls within the purview of the operations division.”
In other words, the ball was in Misato’s court…
The look on her face did not inspire confidence.

I didn’t want my parents to see me like this, not even in a simulation. Sure, you could argue that I had little dignity left to lose there after they had wiped my butt as a baby, but I had hoped that this would be my chance to impress them… I though this would bring us closer together. That I would become part of their world… instead, it seems I had become a further source of problems for them to worry about: An issue that must be addressed with the rigor they reserved for the chalice of their ambitions. I’d only thought of wanting them to recognize me, to know what they were doing & be helpful and make myself indispensable to them, just like Rei. I hadn’t considered that being part of their work would mean that they’d have to treat me like work. My hurt feelings had suddenly become unimportant when scaled up against the fate of the world.
But they were still my parents.
To the part of me that was their son, it was immensely confounding that they would suddenly be so harsh to me. The language of the heart doesn’t understand any numbers.
I wanted to wear a paper bag on my face forever when I heard my father addressing me in such a disapproving tone:
“Son, I am disappointed.”
I couldn’t stand to see my parents’ disappointed faces. That’s why I’d always tried to be a good boy and never cause them trouble.
As always, I had meekly done as they said and gotten into the plug, but that no longer seemed to be enough.
The old professor behind them, however, looked merely annoyed. I suppose that we must have caused our parents no small degree of embarrassment.
After all, it was not Mari or Rei or Kaworu whose error had gotten us all defeated…
It was true that Mari too had rushed ahead, but she had actually defeated the enemy she had gone after, albeit narrowly. It should have been no problem if the rest of us had stuck together, but when Asuka and I had gotten ourselves defeated, Mari found herself too far from Rei’s position to come to her aid – Rei, in turn, had gone after us to back us up, but Asuka hadn’t waited long enough for her to catch up.
In the end, Kaworu and Mari had found themselves alone, surrounded by hordes of simulated foes, which for all their valor, were just too many for two people to defeat on their own. After all, the simulation had been intended to seriously challenge a team of five, one of which was supposed to have been Asuka. Standing back to back, the two remaining pilots made an admirable last stand, but were defeated at long last.
It was more or less self-evident who the weakest link had been. Asuka was the one who broke formation, but I was the first to be defeated, in effect throwing the others down like dominoes.
Call me sensitive, call me childish, but I think most grownups would agree that a 13 year old would still be within the rage of ages where you would still expect someone to behave like a child sometimes – it was hard for me to process why my father would speak to me like an impatient drill sergeant would speak to an inept new recruit – even though that was precisely what I was.
“You two! What do you think your job here is supposed to be?”
Much to my horror, Asuka went straight ahead, blurting her thoughts without thinking:
“To pilot the EVAs of course!”
“Wrong. To defeat the angels. Our very survival depends on it. We have no time for children’s tantrums.”
With that, he rose from his seat, sparing barely a moment to signal to Rei that she was to leave also.
“Captain Katsuragi?”
“Yes, Sir?”
“I expect you to have a solution for this on my desk by next morning.”
Mother gave us something of an apologetic look, but when it comes down to it, she too got ready to leave. “Don’t blame him, he doesn’t mean to be harsh. He is right, however. If we want to win this fight, you’ll all have to work together. What’s the matter with you today, anyways? You just keep fighting all the time, that’s not like you at all.”
It occurred to me then that she had no idea of our recent estrangement.
She’d barely seen us outside of training, and even then it was mostly the special sessions that she would be present for, trusting her subordinates to run the basic training on their own.
As of late, mom had barely been home, so, it should come as no surprise that she hadn’t even noticed Asuka’s marked absence. Even Asuka’s normal behavior could be somewhat harsh, so, if you only saw her now and then, you wouldn’t notice much out of the ordinary.
No wonder then, that it was so easy for her to say that I had to ‘cooperate’ with someone who keeps fighting me at every step of the way.
“Let’s all get along, shall we?”
“That’s impossible!”
“Yeah! Why should I cooperate with someone like him?!”
“Because I say so.” came a tired, disgruntled voice from behind. It seems that our antics had even brought the old professor to the edge of his patience. He, too, left with my parents and the others.

Most of the persons present took this as a sign to excuse themselves.
Ritsuko and her underlings were glad to go on a well-deserved break after days’ worth of programming and data analysis, but Misato seemed to dread what lay ahead of us.

Mari made an admirable attempt at encouraging us when she passed us by: “Hey, come on princess, we’re all in this together, right? If we’re all gonna be stuck with each other, the least we can try is try to get along, right?”
“Piss off, four-eyes!”
“Okey okey, I was just saying…- Toodles!”

I think what bothered Asuka the most, though, was when her mother passed us by.
“Don’t worry baby, setbacks are a natural part of any research and development process~ I’m sure you’ll have this new simulation beaten in no time.”


I was out of the briefing room for maybe two seconds when Asuka flat out but ambushed me, stepping straight onto my poor, poor foot.
“OUCH! That hurt!”
“It was supposed to! Why did I have to get yelled at by the commander just because you’re so stupid?! It was all your fault, and yet somehow I was the one to get yelled at! Why is everyone so worked up about this anyways?”
“Well, that’s would be because grownups don’t usually like being humiliated.”
Both our eyes turned toward the tall figure of Mr. Kaji appearing not too far from us.
“But seriously, you two… should you really be squabbling at a moment like this?”
“Oh, no, we’re not squabbling, Shinji was just picking me on~”
Once again, I can’t help being mildly startled by her impressive 180. One moment ago she seemed intent on turning my toes into rice porridge, and now, mere moments later, I saw her attach herself to Mr. Kaji’s arm like one of those girls that a mob boss in a gansta film would have sitting to his left and right as he lounged on the sofa.
He took it all in good humor. “So, kids, how about some lunch You haven’t eaten yet have you?”
“YAY, I’d love to go out with you~”
Figures that Asuka would immediately forget all other concerns, but that wasn’t so easy for me. “What about Misato and the others?”
Misato still occasionally made a habit of inviting us all to lunch. I had been looking forward to that, at least – as of late, her occasional invitations were one of the few chances I got to have company for dinner, unless I was out with my friends.
I had thought that today, I might get a break from all those nights where it was just me picking something out of the fridge… To be honest, it’s the main reason that motivated me to come to the test today. I didn’t expect that it would end with so much fighting...
But alas, my dreams were crushed:
“I doubt she’ll have the time any time soon – it’s just as Ritsuko said: It’s her job to come up with a solution… - but never fear, I am here!” said Mr. Kaji, quickly adding that last bit when he saw my expression drooping.
“...can we invite Kaworu-kun and the others, too?”
Maybe I got over hasty, I think, I was just so happy when I thought that we could get our shared lunch after all. For all I knew, Mr. Kaji is payin all this out of his own pocket, and fetching everyone else would double his costs...
“-only if it’s not a bother of course…”
He agreed, though, which meant that we had to find them first, since she had all gone ahead. So the three of us went down the corridor at a leisurely pace, looking here and there for a glimpse of the other pilots – that is, Kaji and I did, Asuka was wholly absorben in telling him how our latest blunder ‘clearly didn’t represent [her] real abilities!’
“You understand that though, right, Kaji-san?”
“Now you two, don’t get so upset. It isn’t over yet! You’ll just have to work harder next time! After all, this is exactly why we’re doing all this training. So that you’re free to make your mistakes now rather than later. Now that you know, you can prepare yourself, so you’ll never make that same mistake in a real battle.”
“Of course not! I’m glad that at least you still have faith in me…”

I wasn’t hopeful about finding Rei, since she’d left with my parents, but it seems that for once, they’d only held her up with a brief conversation, not a drawn out experiment. We didn’t have to go far before we spotted her quietly chatting with Kaworu, while Mari hovered not so far away, no doubt greatly intrigued by the mysterious exchange.
Mr. Kaji swiftly approached them: “Hey kids, we’re about to have lunch. Do you also want some?”
Mari shrugged. “Sure, why not.”
Kaworu was more outright courteous: “It would be a pleasure.”
Rei said nothing.
Mr. Kaji casually patted her on the head: “You’re invited too of course.”
She didn’t really seem to know what to make of this, eyeing him silently and maybe somewhat uncertain, but in the end, she did come along, and I did get my long-hoped for lunch with human company. With only me and Asuka things would surely have gotten awkward, even if she were mostly distracted by Mr. Kaji, so I’m pretty glad that we brought Mari and Kaworu. Between the two of them and Mr. Kaji, there were enough easygoing words to chase away the silence.
Mari had a field day subjecting Asuka to some lighthearted teasing about her crush. Kaworu, what was more blessed with tact and delicacy, made a point of often asking the less chatty among our number for our opinion, such as myself and Rei, but between all the talking going on, I didn’t really get a change to talk to her much…. - at the time, I really wanted to hear what Kaworu was saying, though I can scarcely recall it now.
Looking back, I can find only my memories of excitement, and the sight of his chin resting on his knuckles as he spoke with a brilliant smile. He exchanged a lot of words with Mr. Kaji, too.
But one voice was not heard for the entire time, not until we parted ways: It turned out that Misato never joined us. She must have been too busy, just as Mr. Kaji had said.
“I’m really sorry… did she miss out on her break because I did so bad with the simulation?”
“Nah, the commander is just a demanding boss. But fear not! I think I’ve already got an idea that might spare her from any more overtime~”
I wonder if Misato was even gonna appreciate his suggestion though. She might just get mad, even if his plan is actually good. I must admire Mr. Kaji for trying, though, if I were in his place, I doubt I’d have the courage.

Perhaps I hadn’t been in any hurry to talk to Rei because I’d figured that I’d have all the time in the world to speak to her once I got home, or on the way there. That way, we’d be on our own, too, and there’d be less of a chance of Asuka getting mad. Or that’s what I would have said if you’d ask me, but as you can imagine it was hardly the only reason why I’d want to be alone with Rei. For the most part, though, I was just looking forward to the spacious, peaceful feeling of being with her, especially after the flurry of activity that had come later.
But when I asked her if she wanted to hang out with me at home today, the news I received left me standing agape with that exact feeling that is communicated in a movie when the background music abruptly stops.
“That won’t be possible.”
“Ah, so you still have stuff to do at GEHIRN?”
“No, I do not. However, I do have other engagements.”
“Ah, so you won’t be coming home today, you’re probably going another direction...-”
“No. I won’t be going another direction – it’s just that I’ll have to leave again right away. Today, I am to transfer by belongings to my new lodgings.”
“You’re… moving?”
“That’s correct. As of today, I will no longer be quartered in the commander’s personal apartment.”
Just like that, my window of opportunity had ran out, like a book flipping closed.

(2.3.1 Monoton und Minimal)

Honestly, I should have seen this coming.
Even when she first arrived here, my parents had started out by telling me that she would only be staying until they could find her her own place. My father mentioned something about finding her something, too, in that one conversation I overheard. If anything, the surprising part should have been that it took them the whole seven months to find her a place to stay… unless, like me, you’re acquainted with my mother. I’d presume that for the first few moths, she wouldn’t have been especially motivated to find Rei her own abode, not when it meant that she wouldn’t get to dote on yet another kid, maybe even pretend she had those other kids that she once wanted before it became apparent that the looming threat of omnicidal aliens wouldn’t allow her that luxury – even if Rei had not been the most receptive.
Honestly, after father scolded me like that, I was beginning to understand why she’d find it so hard to drop their ranks while she stayed at our place.
I did not fully understand, though. What I thought back then was that she must’ve been uncertain about addressing them casually cause she knew my father as a harsh, pragmatic leader and my mother as a masterful thinker. That is, probably, what I thought I might have been feeling if I were in her place.
I was still thinking of my parents as my parents first and foremost.
And that, they were, but they were also the leaders of GEHIRN – ultimately, Rei had been staying with us because of their work, because she was a pilot – so no matter how nice my parents were to her, how much they went out of their way to make her feel welcome, she couldn’t have forgotten that they would, when in doubt, make their decision as their superiors. It was the only reason that she was here. As much as she might have admired them and believe in their cause, even the best, happiest, most pleasant, most productive working relationship couldn’t be the same as a family bond, and she was definitely not the sort to be an optimist about this.
I didn’t understand then – but I was beginning to understand.
“Wait, so you’ll be carrying your stuff all alone? Won’t there be any movers coming?”
“There is no need for that. I can carry my things.”
“All alone?”
“Yes.”
“Aha… I’m just surprised that mom and dad aren’t helping you out. Sure, might not have the time, but I’m sure they could’ve sent someone from GEHIRN…”
“That wouldn’t be necessary.”
Maybe not strictly speaking, but even if Tokyo-3 has a very good public transport system, when I tried to picture a small girl hauling boxes and suitcases around town all by herself, I can’t shake off the impression that this must have been some kind of oversight…
“I guess so, but, won’t it be bothersome to carry all your stuff across town? - You know what? Maybe I could help you carry your stuff! That way, it’ll be much easier, and we could still hang out at your place afterwards, if you’re not too tired…”
I confess that I spoke hastily there, before she could tell me once again how she didn’t need any help. My excuses and indirect offerings were evidently being missed or dismissed, which forced me for once to be straight with my intentions.
I’m not sure what she was thinking. I was a little bit nervous that she’d think. I had yet to reach a point where I could usually tell just by looking.
For now, the considerations behind the vivid red diamonds of her eyes remained a mystery to me, - but in the end, she said “Alright.”

We sat next to each other on the ride home, separated by but a hand’s breadth of bench. She didn’t seem to care if some of the folds of her uniform skirt brushed against my trousers so I don’t know if I should assign any meaning to it. Our hands remained constrained to our respective laps. There was a strange sense of serenity between us while the people around us hustled and bustled about their lives, getting on and off the wagon, most of them with raincoats or dripping umbrella. The prattling of the raindrops outside decorate the soundscape with a final garnish. By this time of year, I could hardly even lament that we had to spend so much time at GEHIRN, because the weather wouldn’t have allowed us to go out much anyways.
The move might seem poorly timed then, but this once, I had to give the people of GEHIRN a pass – we’d been having more or less the same weather all week, with no hope of change in sight.

Once we made it home (or should I say, ‘to my place’ now?), I could see that her room had indeed been cleaned out – everything was left in an orderly fashion, just as she’d found it. Her once chaotic room appeared now as it had never been touched at all.
I saw now why she didn’t think she’d need any movers: All her belongings had been gathered into one humble cardboard box.
The only things she took were her books and her school bags. The clothes rack was open where she had removed some of her things. She didn’t bother taking the hairclips my mother gave her, or the cute pink bedsheets.
“You know, I don’t think my parents would have minded if you took some of the furniture…”
“That won’t be necessary. I was allocated some funds to procure my own.”
“Ah, I see… So you wanted to pick your own?”
Rei narrowed her eyes a little bit, like she would consider this new information.
“...maybe you could say that.”
No wonder that I hadn’t seen her around here as of late, if she was busy picking out her new stuff, and probably getting all this organized with the quartermaster.
When did she start packing? How didn’t I notice? - actually, who am I kidding, she only owns a handful of things and I’m usually in my room, zoning out with my headphones.
It’s likely that I simply didn’t hear her.
The passage of time came into sharp focus then. Already, the second trimester of our school years was drawing to a close – there was little more than a month left in the year.
But even then, I don’t think I really had a sense that time was running out.
At most, I might have been concerned that we weren’t gonna end up in the same high school – The angels were just a vague fear on the horizon; The prospect of dying in battle was barely part of my reality.

“Soo…where’s your new place gonna be?”
I finally dared to inquire as I was carrying Rei’s one (1) box towards the elevator.
“Are you moving in with someone from GEHIRN, or is it down in the geofront like Kaworu-kun’s room?”
I couldn’t imagine that she’d have asked to move in with someone in our class like Mari…
The answer turned out to be ‘neither’:
“No, it’s a separate place, on the surface.”
“What, all by yourself?”
“That is correct.”
Now part was a little starting. It was one thing if she had her own quarters at NERV, but out in town…?
“...won’t you be lonely by yourself?”
“...why would I be?”

That’s not something that I’d ever thought I’d have to explain.
Note, however, that she didn’t exactly say no.
Now I wasn’t observant or empathetic enough to immediately pick up on that, right away. My reasoning at the time was probably still tied to that flawed metric of what I would feel in another person’s place.
By now of course, I’ve lived long enough to realize that the famed ‘golden rule’ is utter bullshit.
You can’t presume what others wish for. You have to go through the mortifying ordeal of actually asking them- not that knowing this makes it any easier. Knowing, these days, only seems to increase the crushing weight of my guilt…

Now compared to, say, the ubiquitous helicopter parenting in the United States, young people and even outright grade-school children enjoy a relative wealth of independence here. It’s not uncommon for groups of teens or children to be about on their own, as long as they stay out of the seedier districts of town.
There is, in fact, a common little rite here, where a toddler or preschooler is sent to perform some minor errand on their own, to show them that if they need help, they can rely on the community.
My first errand was to fetch some forgotten cooking ingredients from the convenience store across the street. Of course there isn’t much traffic, and mom had drilled it into me countless times how you have to look left and right before crossing the road.
In some parts on South America there are indeed traditions going back to pre-columbian times about having children help with chores since they are toddlers. It’s a challenge to find something useful that a two year old can actually do, but by the time they’re six, they will be very competent without needing to be forced to – they’re simply contributing to the household in their own way, just like their parents and siblings.
Our country doesn’t go quite that far but it is, for example, not unusual for older teens to have part-time jobs beside school. That’s probably not too shocking for the Americans among you, but it’s highly unusual in Europe.
And this is without considering how different the mores might be in completely different parts of the world that I never heard or read anything about in my brief, short life.
To begin with, for most of human history you would have been considered an adult at 15, which means that Rei would count as nearly grown. In the middle ages, Kaworu and Mari would be just a few months shy of being considered fit to ascend the English throne.
People have revolutionized math, invented new genres and conquered wide swaths of land before turning twenty.
Only when our lives grew longer and our knowledge grew wider did we spend longer time with education, so nowdays there’s people staying with their parents until they are thirty – in the past, when people rarely lived too far past fifty, a thirty year old was basically middle aged. The body of one exposed to the elements and extreme strains would also decay faster – see how athletes usually have to retire around thirty, or how a homeless person might look far older than their actual age.
Before world war one, less than a hundred years ago, it was not unsual for some 16 year old to emigrate from Europe to the USA all on their own.
All this is to say, that around here it wouldn’t have been nearly as scandalous to have Rei living by herself as it would be in the United States – boarding schools are common, and even teens living by themselves isn’t unheard of. Usually the cause would be that the person is going to a fancy school in a different area, so the parents rent them an apartment so that they don’t have to negotiate a huge commute or having to move the entire family. In most cases there would be some extended family member or hired caretaker checking in on them, which, strictly speaking, was the case for Rei – my parents were a short tram ride away, and that junior lieutenant from the administrative division was responsible for her material needs.
If anything, people’s concern might be that she might be slacking off from her studying (around these parts, the control usually, and perhaps somewhat paradoxically, tended to tighten when getting into a good high school or uni began to be a concern), and she was beginning to reach the stage yet where one might worry that, as a growing young lady, she might be given to ‘fooling around’. If you consider academics and marriageability backwards priorities… then I’d probably agree with you, as self-serving as it might be for a dismal failure such as me.

So, for Rei to live by herself made just enough sense that it wouldn’t be entirely preposterous, but it was definitely a potential border case even here, enough to make people just slightly uncomfortable, if not scandalized enough to raise a fuss. You’d wonder if she would remember to do her laundry properly, that she might slack off on her schoolwork, end up spending all her money on video games, or eat only cookies.
Of course, the next thing you’d notice, as you considered these points one by one, you’d come to realize that there is actually not a chance in the world that any of those things could truly happen.
As long as you imagined your average typical 14 year old, like for example Touji, they were all valid concerns, but the moment you swapped him out for Rei, all that evaporated.
So sure, she was mature for her age, she was serious, dutiful, she faithfully did whatever she was asked. No one was scolding her for fatally mucking up the simulation battle.
But did that make it okay to leave her all alone?

As we proceeded through the city, my irritation increased. My uncertainty deepened.
Rei had told me, when we first got onto the bus, that her new place was ‘on the outskirts’, but so was ours, technically.
The further we got from the city center, the more our surroundings started to look… dubious, if not straight up abandoned. I think I’d heard Asuka and her girlfriends gossiping about a bunch of third year boys who had snuck into an abandoned building here on a dare – according to her, the place had looked ‘like something left over from the communist era’, but I couldn't really picture what she meant. I suppose I could now: Past a certain point, there was nothing but rows and rows of identical, blocky concrete buildings.
Now I think it has come up before that with the exception of the old town district, most of this city had been raised up fairly recently, after various mysterious drillings that produced the tunnel we had visited. Knowing what I know now, I can only conclude that the whole city was put here once they discovered the cavern that would become the geofront.
Since the history of our city had been rather short, I’d heard just about all of it back in elementary school – so I knew, in theory, that the outer rim of the city still contained many blocks leftover from the early days of the city, when quick and dirty concrete rectangles were pulled up to house all the builders, engineers and construction workers who had been needed to pull up our skyline. Now that most of the building was done, those neighborhoods had largely emptied; What little of their inhabitants became permanent residents of the city moved away as soon as nicer homes became available. For a while, the less affluent residents held out there, but in this age of marvel, innovation and affluence, the standard of living was ever rising.
As of now, many of those remaining buildings were in the process of being demolished and cleared out, to be replaced with distinguished modern condos like the one my family occupied.
I had never actually gone there, though. There was little reason for a kid like me to go – or indeed, for anyone.
Besides me and Rei, there was only a single man left on the tram by the time she got up from her seat to wait near the door.
“...uh, are you sure this is really the right station?”
“Yes, I am.”

We got off at an overgrown station with a trash bin that had not been emptied in ages and dubious green stains on its timetable. The cigarette ad poster on the sides of the station was noticeably out of date.

Rei took one short look at the peeling white house numbers painted on the sides, before moving towards one particular featureless rectangle that did not appear meaningfully different from any of the other concrete slabs around. She trailed straight through the overgrown grass, not bothering to follow the path, not caring about the possibility of nettles in the high grass or mud getting on her shoes from the softened, rain-soaked earth.
As it would be weird to go another way with her box, I saw no choice but to follow after, as carefully as I could.
The staircase was as gray and bare as the outside; I noticed the occasional bit of trash lying around as well as a broken drain pipe. The front of the building was discolored bymany year’s worth of Rain, and in some of the balconies, the doors were wide-open or missing. I believe one or two had various objects on them, but from the distance I couldn’t really tell if those were signs of occupancy, or just more trash, like the cans and empty water bottles we passed on our way.
I’m not sure if knowing that more people lived here would be comforting or more worrying, to be honest. I felt like I should say something, but also like that might be rude or judgmental. I couldn’t tell if that uneasy feeling were just my conformist presuppositions, or some important communications coming from my instincts. For the most part, I just carried the box while making sure not to step on anything.
Good gods, there wasn’t even an elevator. Did she really intend to haul her groceries up those stairs every single day? Not that her usual diet of energy bars, sports shakes, supplement pills and the occasional cup-a-noodle would be too heavy to carry.

“...are you really sure this is it?”
“Yes. Apartment number 402.”
She seemed to know where she was going, so I followed her – sure enough, her name was already listened on the sign above the door. I expected her to go searching her bag for the keys, but to my surprise, she simply pushed it open.
I was already worried that I might be irritating her with my many questions, but this, finally, seemed tho cross the line into something outright startling. “No way! Did the people from GEHIRN forget to lock it?”
“Impossible. The last to come here was me.”
You’ll forgive me if I looked a little shocked. “You gotta be more careful in the future! It’s dangerous…” I didn’t want to add ‘in a place like this’.
“Why? I don’t have anything worth stealing. Besides, us pilots are under round-the-clock surveillance by the security staff. There is a safe house in the unit directly below, and a sniping post right there across from us. The one on duty right now, I believe, is Kenzaki-san, though his shift ends in twenty minutes.”
I gulped. I knew there was security posted at our school, but I didn’t know there's be full-blown surveillance… was it just her and Asuka, or was I included, too, since I’d been priorities as a candidate? Were they monitoring my social media? My text messages? My late night google searches?
I understand that we were important government assets, but – or no. If I was surprised, about this, or the way we were scolded at training, it would be because I hadn’t understood what this would mean…
And Rei was so casual about that. Of course she was, she’d been used to this for ages.
The surveillance was one thing, though; It’s necessity was not too hard to understand. Imagine if one of us couldn’t fight the aliens because they’d gotten into an accident…
But that whole thing of casually leaving the door unlocked… that was something else entirely.
I couldn’t deny that her argument was sound in a logical way, but if it were me, I just wouldn’t feel safe with the door open.
This whole thing was marginally, but persistently concerning, the way you might be concerned if you found out that someone had an obsession with knives or razor blades – maybe it was just a harmless hobby and you wouldn’t want to call them weird and be yet another person who doesn’t understand, but…

She went right in – into the gloom, straight past a dusty kitchenette and an ugly plastic curtain behind which I would suspect the bath.
She didn’t even pause to take off her muddied shoes, but a life’s worth of social conditioning made be fairly uncomfortable with the idea of doing the same, so I tried as best as I could to slide off my shoes without using my hands, proceeding inwards while sidestepping the mud trails insomuch as I could.
It would seem that the furniture had already arrived – but was this supposed to be all of it?
There was a fridge, plugged to a naked outlet in the wall. There was a dresser, and of course the usual sort of built-in cupboards that was common in these parts.
There was another cardboard box already present, still filled with discarded bubble wrap and Styrofoam pieces – it might have contained the little clothes hanger, or perhaps the cheap plastic reading lamp that was clamped to the bed’s metal frame. The heavy nylon curtains, however, were almost certainly a hand-me-down from the previous owner, judging by the tears and the dirt stain. Though it was still light out, they were nearly drawn shut, leaving only a few stray beams of light to trickle inside.
I was supposed to say something nice.
“Uh… I can tell that you picked the bedsheets this time.”
The little pillow with sky-blue stripes was about the only thing that looked like something you’d find in a kid’s room.
The individual components might each have been together, but the mosaic they formed together did not assemble into anything like a room – instead, the impression was of something spartan like a prison cell, sterile like a lab, impersonal like a hospital room, and depressing like mental institution, or perhaps one of those horror movie orphanages from the early modern day…
For lack of anywhere else to put it, I placed the box on top of the bed.
Immediately, Rei wasted to time in pulling at the drawers and shoving the cupboard open. Next, she ripped the box straight open, proceeding immediately to remove her things from within, throwing them onto haphazard heaps on her mattress.
She had no reservations with piling up her underwear before my very eyes, most of it very near to lily white, at last grabbing fistfuls of them to stuff them into the chest of dresser. I couldn’t bear to look at them, much less touch them, so I made a show of picking up the books, which seemed to me to be the least hazardous material.
“W-where do you want this?”
Without even turning around from stuffing her things inside the drawers, she pointed at the upper compartment of the cupboard.
The small stack of literature just about filled the uppermost compartment on the left side. Even under the assumption that her outer clothes were going here as well, I felt like most of this cupboard was going to keep containing mostly dust and void.
I contemplated getting out the cheap plastic clothes hangers so that she could begin putting her uniforms on them, but she was back beside me before I could begin, evidently done with the underpants, stuffing a ball of clothing into the compartment right beneath the books, winter uniforms to the right, summer uniforms to the left.
All that was left in the box by now appeared to be her private outfits, which fit into the next lowest compartment with some room still left over.
Then, she put the box behind the bed where she deemed it sufficiently out of the way, and sat down on the head end.
I thought it would be polite to sit down as well, of course with a proper distance in between, far enough that it wouldn’t seem weird… or was this too far, and hence still weird?
...this is awkward…
Rei had slipped out of her shoes and put her legs up on the mattress, pulling them in soon after, silently looking ahead at the now closed cupboard, shaped very close to a ball which was, as you may know, the shape that left the least surface area for any given volume, optimized by long experience to take up as little space as she possibly could though she was already far away, at the opposite end of the bed.

“...so, do you know when they’re coming to paper the walls?”
“Why would they do that? It is not needed.”
By now you might have realized that Rei did not bother with very many things that were not strictly needed, neither in material nor social terms.
“...maybe not, but… I mean… I know GEHIRN has to stay on budget and all, but I don’t think they will go bankrupt over some rolls of wallpaper… if it was about being practical, couldn’t they have put you down in the geofront, like Kaworu-kun? Don’t they supposedly have enough furbished rooms ready for all of us in case of emergency...”
“...put me...? You misunderstand. The commander game me the budget and some parameters, and the junior lieutenant assisted me with the paperwork, but their time and attention was not needed to choose either this location or its furnishings.”
Now this threw me for a loop in a completely different way, hanging all opinions and preconceptions I’d been forming thus far high up in the air.
“You picked this place yourself?”
“Yes, that is correct.”
I was surprised to say the least, but also present, alert, knocked out of my social scripts, made to be emotionally present.
“Might I ask why?”
I honestly expected that I’d be pondering another one-liner less than a second later, but instead, she narrowed her eyes, creasing up the seldom-moved center of her face.
She didn’t have an answer ready for this – she had to consider it first.
“It is... adequate, without the clutter of unneeded things. I’m not exactly sure what other reason you would need?”
I believe I had confused her. No… that wasn’t quite the right word.
“Well, for example, why here and not the geofront? You’d have a shorter way.”
“I… I didn’t think of that…” I think she was searching the right words, and having a hard time finding them. Like one of those times where that which you want to say is but a tense lump of diffuse emotion in your stomach, too busy with whatever it was doing there to bother moving up to the high watchtower where your power of speech had its residence.
“I looked at multiple possible accommodations. I suppose most were about equally suitable, but this one, when I saw it, I had this impression...”
Her forehead creased ever so slightly.
“It’s nostalgic.” she said then, suddenly completely certain, looking back up to me from whatever corner her gaze had been trailing off to.
“It is not precisely similar but, the overall impression is just like the place where I used to live, before I came to your school.”
That was the very first time she’d given any indication that she hadn’t just popped into existence in a puff a fairy dust on the very morning that she first came to our school, the first hint that she has a past, if I was to ignore my ever-fainter memories of that little girl in red.
I wondered if she used to be poor, if she used to live in this sort of building…

“Say, Rei… - I realize I never asked, but… how did you end up becoming an EVA pilot? Why did you sign up for it? Why did you keep going until now?”
I guess I didn’t see a reason to really ask before. It was easy to think that she was just very very dedicated, before I had even begun to understand the nature of this job or the sacrifices it entails – indeed, I had barely started to make even the slightest scratch in the surface of it.
I was oceans away from understanding as I observed how Rei glumly lowered her head in contemplation before formulating an answer:
“...because of my bonds.”
“...bonds?”
“We are all shaped by the environment we live in and the bonds that we share with the people who surround us, right? They make us what we are. Though the impact we have on each other, the way our lives touch, we become ourselves. We are always creating each other. So, if you ask how I became what I am, and what brought me here, it would be my bonds.”
There was much food for thought there. She really had a way of saying deep and impressive things that often left me touched, awed or moved...
“So, you’re saying that it’s because of the influence that my parents had on you? You want to pay them back for taking you in?”
I considered this then a tale of her seeking what she wants, much like I might, looking at her as my peer, not, as an adult might, finding it dubious that a parentless child would be conscripted with the promise of getting to stay with the closest thing she’d ever had to quasi-parental figures.
I was much more concerned with getting what she said and not looking stupid in front of her.
“Would that be the ‘bond’ you mean…?”
“One of them. There are many more. With other people. With all living things. All things in the world are connected by the forces of nature, no matter how distant or separate they appear. Our actions have an impact on the larger world – in particular, Project E will have an effect on the fates of every person in this world.”
...wow. Just wow.
I knew she was cool, but now I was just awed beyond words. Consider that it was young and that solid convictions were still new to my world. There had always been exceptions for sure, but for most people out there, the ‘greater good’ and their legacy in the world wasn’t really something they considered until they were middle-aged or dying. I never thought myself capable of affecting anything beyond my immediate circle in the first place (oh, that it were true!)
I must have looked at her with wide, starry eyes, realizing for the first time that such noble, high-minded altruism wasn’t a myth – maybe I’d seen it before in people who could afford it cause their lives seemed to come to them with a certain ease – Mari, Kaworu, those sorts of people.
But here was someone who had even less than I did, shining like light upon the insufficiency of my being – after that, I could hardly come out and bring up such a silly, selfish reason as wanting my friends to think I was cool, or that I’d envied her seeming closeness with my parents back when I understood nothing.
I didn’t think that a recluse like her would start talking about the importance of bonds of all things. From observing her in her everyday life, one could be forgiven for thinking that she wasn’t remotely interested in such a thing… and they couldn’t have been more wrong.
To this day, I would say that she had been my greatest inspiration in my life, beyond even the other obvious candidates. Not that this is saying much. My life was already mostly over.
“You’re very strong, Rei.”
was all I could manage to say.
This would be news to her: Her head remained downcast and resigned, her arms wrapped around her legs, circumscribing her tiny pocket of space.
“I’m just doing what I’m for. I have nothing else.”

If nothing else would have jolted me awake, this should have.
It hurt just to hear it.
Just hearing that was like an urgent heat in my temples and a gaping emptiness pulling at my back and chest;
And I wasn’t even the one truly feeling that way.
I didn’t even know enough of the world to imagine it properly.
And she’d said it like it was just a fact of the universe that she could never imagine to be otherwise, like death, or winter, or flowers wilting with the passage of time.
“Why would you say that?”

She thought about it.
I was beginning to pick up on what she looked like when she was thinking.
I don’t know if she had started talking marginally louder over the time that I had known her, or if I had simply gotten used to straining to hear her – but there was nothing to hear yet.
She must have been considering what to tell me, and how, and to what extent.
“I’ve been a qualified candidate for my entire life – it’s I was born for it. If I weren’t a pilot, there would have been no reason for me to exist in the first place. Without EVA, I would have no meaning, no purpose, and no connection to anyone else.
To stop piloting would be the same as dying.”

“No- you can’t say that-!”
But who was I to tell her what she can or can’t say? Wouldn’t that make me just another person who doesn’t care to know about her real feelings? Wasn’t this the same as judging them?
I don’t know.
I didn’t have the wisdom to be smart or profound here and contribute something of value.
All I had was the very heat of my soul.
I don’t even really know when it was that I rushed forward to bridge the distance, or how it came that I held her hands in mine, but that’s what I remember: Limp bundles of slender fingers held in mine, and her surprised, wide-eyed face.
Maybe I freaked her out, I don’t know, it certainly wasn’t the correct course of action – it was an action where none seemed unacceptable.
“Please don’t say that- that’s not true. You’d still have your books, right? And you’d have us – your friends. Everyone at school, and at the literature club – I like you, and Kaworu-kun does, and Yamagishi-san too, I think, she just doesn’t really know how to get close to you, she sent you all those get well cards that one time, right?”
“...isn’t that obligation?” her reply came quick, still toughed by mild agitation.
“It could be, but that’s not the impression I got… and I’m sure the class rep would want to be friends with you, too, they just- might’ve thought that you’re not interested…-”
“Why would that be?”
You know I never bought Asuka’s take that she was probably super arrogant & thought she was too good for us, but I had at times wondered if I wasn’t just annoying her or making presuppositions – did she even want anything to do with us? Would she get something out of it like happiness, or was I just imposing on her? Was it possible that she just didn’t need as much company as the rest of us?
And maybe that was even true to some extent, but, it dawned on me in that moment that she might have wanted to be a part of us at least some of the time, and just didn’t know how – maybe her work at the project was the only sure way she knew how to be connected with us, by saving us with EVA. Small wonder then, that she should be so dutiful about it.
It was maybe a bit of a relief then, that despite of our grand differences in the magnitude of our experiences, we might not be so different in terms of principle.
“Just- please don’t say that, that you have nothing else – or like what you said the morning before we got recruited, about how we’ll probably all probably never get to grow up and there’s no point in hoping for the future… - it’s just way too sad.
I just can’t bear to think about it-
It’s right that none of of know what kind of awful things might be in store for us next year, or what sort of pain we’ll have to bear, but – you are not alone. There’s Kaworu-kun and the others, and everyone at GEHIRN… - I’m part of the project now, too. So please, let’s just promise that we’ll both do all we can to survive this together. Even if it seems hopeless, even if things end up getting more and more awful – I’m sure that when it’s all over, we’ll all be glad that we survived. Some day, in the future, maybe even along the way, we’re sure to find something that will make this all worthwhile – like the moon that shines in the darkness-”
She blinked at me in great surprise, having followed my words intently with her eyes.
“...why are you crying?”
“I- I dunno, I’m just- getting all sentimental-”
I finally let go of her fingers to wipe at my eyes. I sat down beside her again, not quite as far away as before.
“I’m sorry I- I know it’s really none of my business. I don’t want to be telling you what to do, and I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with wanting to be on your own sometimes if you want to, or that you have to do the same things as everyone else.
All I’m saying is – if you want to connect with people, there’s other ways to do it besides piloting.”
“...I don’t really know how.” she admitted then, “I believe I might be deficient in that capacity – Either way, it’s not really necessary to my duties.”
“-...maybe not. But you know, I think you might be a bit too pessimistic there. I mean, from what you just told me, you’ve spent most of your life busy with pilot training – I know it was more or less the same for Asuka, but she had her parents and her stepmom to show her. It’s true that talking to people comes more easily to some than to others, but it’s something you can get better at with experience, too.
You know, when I first got to elementary school, I think I was in a similar situation – all the friends I’d had before that where people that I’d met through my parent’s work, and by then, Kaworu-kun, Asuka and Mari-san had all moved to Europe. This sort of thing didn’t come to me easily, either, so my few year and a half in elementary school, I was totally lost. I was such a small kid then, too, so it was tough to bear. But then, one day, just by coincidence, I happened to meet Kensuke. I think at first he was just interested in some rumors about my parents’ work, but he’s pretty easy to talk to, so ever time, we actually enden up becoming friends – and since Touji was always hanging around him, he soon warmed up to me too, and just like that, I always had someone to sit with at lunch, or waiting to walk home with me from school.
So maybe next time when Yamagishi-san or the class rep invite you to come along with them, you could just say yes? Or I could ask Touji & Kensuke if you can come with us next time we hit the town – you’ already know Kaworu-kun and me, so there wouldn’t be too many surprises. You could even go to one of Matsukaze’s tea parties. If you find that you don’t like it, you’ll never have to do it again, but if you did, you could do it again… - I’m sure they’d love to be friends with you, they probably just thought that you’re not interested.
Uh, not that I’m really the best one to ask for how to get along with people… - there’s probably lots of great books about how you can do that…”
“I’ll consider it…” was all she said to this outburst of mine, looking somewhat pensive.
“Thank you for helping me bring my things.”

I took this to mean that the conversation was over. I might’ve overwhelmed her a bit, or tired her out.

I saw myself out after some brief parting words.
But as I walked home that day, the annoyance and uncertainty left by the simulation mishap were replaced by some more purposeful sentiments.
That’s right: There were reasons why I couldn’t back out at the first moderately unpleasant setback.
But my fledgling resolve was soon to be tested…


...

Why yes, that secondary title IS a reference to the WELLE: Erdball song! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmshzzjmuAM)
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

Kendrix
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Thu May 20, 2021 7:49 pm

2.3.2: PAIRED SIMULTANEOUS HARMONIZATION REGIMEN

SPOILER: Show
November 28th 2014



T minus 410 days




The next day, just when we were about to pack up at the literature club, I got a phone call.

I knew where it must be from before I even opened my bag to retrieve the phone, because the bags of Rei, Kaworu and Mari all started beeping at the exact same moment, while nobody else’s did.

As expected, we’d been summoned to GEHIRN headquarters.

It seems that we were about to find out if Mr. Kaji had succeeded in convincing Misato of his plan…

We excused ourselves after some brief farewells – in particular, I noticed how Rei addressed Mayumi and said, “I apologize, it appears that I won’t be able to take your offer after all.”

“Oh, I guess it can’t be helped… but wait! I did get the book you asked me about, I wanted to give it to you later, let me get it quick…” As she would probably hate to be holding us up, she hastily grabbed her bag and got out a small stack of books, of which the topmost was labeled something like ‘The ultimate secret to creating lifelong friendships.’



I’d expected that we would meet the others on the way to the basement, like we usually did.

On Wednesdays, Kensuke and Kotone usually arrived together, presumably straight from the AV club. There was no need to presume with Touji, who often showed up still in his gym clothes – one time, he’d even turned up still dribbling a basketball.

Since they had no activities today, it wouldn’t have been too unusual not to run into Asuka, Hikari or Marie until we got down to the geofront, but often they would still be on the school premises, trying to get in some extra studying.

Excuse me if I felt a little cynical about how GEHIRN was at least making sure not to disrupt our after-school activities not more than usual. Were they not merciful?

And just when it seemed like Rei finally got a chance to hang out with someone other than myself or Kaworu…

But when Asuka indeed came down the stairs, she was, in fact, still carrying a schoolbook under her arm, but she was the only one. No one else seemed to be anywhere near – and I know that if Hikari and Marie had been with her, they would surely have walked here together.

Seems then like today’s session was only for actual pilots and priority candidates then…

Mari launched herself straight at Asuka the moment she arrived, pulling her into an exuberant hug which she grudgingly endured. “Good to see you princess~”

“Yeah, yeah, cut it out, we have work to do.”

“As you please, your highness~”



Almost as soon as we got past the gates, we were picked up by Misato, who greeted us with a cheery wave, but something about that big, big grin of hers struck me as somewhat dubious…

Still I tried to be optimistic here, after all, there’s no way she could be in such a good mood if she had failed to present my father with the solution he had demanded...

“Ah, there you are! After me!”

I didn’t recognize the section of the complex she was leading us towards. If anything, it seemed to be the same direction that Kaworu or my parents always disappeared into, the section with the emergency crew quarters.

“Where are we going?” asked Asuka, likewise confused.

“To prepare for our next exercise!”

“Huh?”

“As the last simulation has made us aware, it appears that some of you still struggle with team work and coordination. As a result, we’ve decided to schedule a little trust building exercise to get everyone’s team spirit going~”

“So,” began Misato, chipperly pulling her key card through one of the doors, “We’ve prepared a little something for you~”

I didn’t understand. What we found beyond that door was not a gym, or a lab, or anything like a classroom – it seemed like a perfectly normal set of staff quarters, with the kind of blueprints that you’d find at the dorms of a university or boarding school, or perhaps a cheap hotel – There was one big room in the middle with a couch and a kitchenette, surrounded with three two-bed suites furbished with TV’s, stereos and two beds each, each with their own adjacent bathroom and shower.

“I don’t get it… this looks like a normal room.”

“Welcome to your new quarters! For the next couple of days, this will be your new home!”

I wouldn’t be surprised if our collective ‘WHAAT?!’ had been heard all throughout the geofront.

Well, for fairness’ sake, I must admit that it was mostly myself, Asuka and Mari who did the shouting. Rei didn’t say a peep. But even Kaworu didn’t look too optimistic: “I wonder if this is going to work out...”

Misato’s grin, however was not the least bit shaken. “It’s going to. That’s an order.”



PAIRED SIMULTANEOUS HARMONIZATION REGIMEN



“There on the table you’ll each find a newly printed, freshly laminated reference book for this operation, including the entire choreography.”

“We’re going to dance?!” exclaimed Mari, her face lighting up. “I change my mind, I like this OP already! I LOOOOVE dancing~”

I, by contrast, have two left feet. No points for guessing. This was gonna suck.

Which didn’t stop Mari’s tone-deaf enthusiasm from rubbing in all our disillusioned faces: “What sort of dance is it gonna be? Foxtrot? Boogie? The Waltz~” she guessed, intoning that last one like it would be a sultry secret.

“You’ll split up in pairs of two and practice doing a synchronized team attack to the tune of this music.” Misato explained, holding up an USB drive marked with a suspiciously heart-shaped scribble. “We’ll need you to memorize the steps by heart. This will be a full-time program: You’ll be exempt from school for the duration. You’ll be doing harmonization training in the afternoons, and in the mornings, you’ll be testing your progress on the battle simulation that kicked your ass last time. We’ve also scheduled a few special harmonization exercises. Since the point is to improve your team spirit, you will all be sharing a roof with your fellow teammates and eat at the same table! Furthermore, each team of two will share a room, and do all their daily activities together! For the first round, the teams will be Rei and Kaworu, as well as Shinji and Asuka. Mari will have to sit this one out, but don’t get too comfy and do try to get the moves memorized, because soon enough, it will be your turn!”



“Geez. And I was looking forward to the dancing...”

But unlike Mari, Asuka couldn’t shrug this off so easily:

“This is unacceptable! You can’t put me in a room with him” she signified, pointing at me like I was a heap of toxic waste. “Boys and girls should sleep apart after the age of seven!”

“It’s an operational necessity.” stated Misato, unperturbed, “I trust that you’ll all have the necessary professionalism to conduct yourselves appropriately.”

“Oh come on! Four-eyes, you say something, too! And you, First? Are you seriously okay with this? Don’t just agree with everything! You’ll be shut up with that weirdo Nagisa, you know?!”

“Yes. Those are our orders.”

“Please refrain from referring to me as ‘weirdo’.”

“And you, Four-Eyes? You’re just gonna do whatever they ask of you?”

Mari shrugged. “I mean, I’m not super keen on this whole silly team-building nonsense, either, but if we have to do it, we might as well make the best of it. Who knows? It might be fun!”



“Now that’s the attitude I like to see! Kaji should be done setting up in the other room, so you all better stop squabbling and get changed. Your outfits should be in that dresser over there!”



Despite that encouragement, Asuka seemed just about to burst from exasperation. “Am I the only normal, sensible human here?!”



SUBJECTS: 2nd C. Asuka Langley-Soryu, Priority Candidate Shinji Ikari



“Alright then! Shinji-kun? Asuka? You two go first!”



“No way! I can’t let Kaji-san see me wearing those ridiculous clothes!”



“Pity! I was looking forward to seeing you in action~”



“AHHH!”



I never thought I’d see the day when Asuka would be trying to hide behind a stereo. But for once, I had to agree with her: The clothes were definitely ridiculous, so much that I briefly wondered if they were some kind of torture designed to break our will. Each of us was put in a silly leotard, topped off with a brightly colored nylon tricot marked with an over-sized double-note emoji and a color vaguely similar to our plugsuits, which meant blue for me, white for Rei, black for Kaworu, green for Mari, and for Asuka… well, I guess the closest thing they had to red was pink.



“Why do we have to wear this again? No really, tell me a real, actual, logical reason!”



“Quit complaining! Appearance is vital in order to create the right ~mood~ for this sort of things!”

“I chose the music and did the choreography, by the way~” added Kaji, perhaps hoping to motivate Asuka with this information – though what it did was to earn him some reproach from Misato. “I can do the explaining myself, you know.”

“Now, now, I would never doubt that, I’m just trying to help~”

She sighed, making a point to ignore him. “Let’s just start with the first round of training. Teams alpha and beta? Go take your positions.”



Our ‘positions’ looked suspiciously like the setup for the dancing rhythm game we had played during my birthday party. In fact, it probably was – the colors were a bit faded compared to the brand new specimen across the room… if my parents had okayed this, there would be no getting out of this.

All this was taking place in the somewhat smaller quarters across from our new lodgings, which had been converted into the grand centerpiece of humiliation central.

Kaworu and Rei took their places, Asuka and I took ours.

But alas, we were the unfortunate souls that had been sentenced to go first.



I want to say that I did my best, but, faced with such an impossible task, it was hard to muster that much motivation. There’s only so much I could have memorized in such a short time, anyways. And just as I expected, my ungainly flopping did not impress anyone:

“...the dance of the crane and the monkey,” surmised Kaji.

Even the over-optimistic Misato couldn’t come up with any happy thoughts to think about this: “Looks like this will be a bit harder than we thought...”



Though I knew from the beginning that this wasn’t gonna turned out great, even when I’d managed my expectations from the beginning, I couldn’t escape the feeling of discouragement spreading through my chest… and that, by itself, was more than enough or my right leg to bump into something that felt suspiciously like it could have been Asuka’s butt, and sent me tumbling to the ground.

Oww. My poor backside.

“You stupid klutz! What on earth are you doing?!”

“I’m doing what I can! It’s hard, Asuka!”

“Of course it’s hard, we’re supposed to be saving the earth, and you’re gonna start whining?”

“But it’s impossible… Maybe a professional ballerina could do this after years of practice, but I’m just an ordinary guy-”

“Oh shut it you pathetic baby!” she turned to Misato and Kaji, gesturing at me like some broken product she was launching a customer complaint about. “There you see it! This whole thing is stupid! There’s no way some random, crazy idea like this was ever going to work! There’s no way we could just copy each other’s movements like that!”



Misato frowned and paused to think. “...Rei. Nagisa-kun. Let’s see you two give it a try.”

Now, if you’ve paid attention to my little tale so far, you’ll remember that Kaworu has had a lifelong fascination with all things musical, and that Rei was very, very dedicated to her job. I’d say that she had a certain natural grace and elegance, too, though I admit that I may be biased.

The pair of them got along, too; Kaworu had specifically sought her out because he felt they’d have a bunch in common, so…

You know, if I’m honest, I genuinely wouldn’t have thought that it was actually possible to do this so well until I saw those two do it. Maybe I’d just insisted that it was impossible because I didn’t want to admit how abysmal my performance had been.

I’m sure Misato just wanted to gauge what her options were, but I believe Asuka took this very personally, especially as the long, exhausting training session went on, and our group consistently did the worst, while Kaworu and Rei made steady improvements and Mari seemed content to dance along on the sidelines all by herself.

I know this for a fact because she wouldn’t let me hear the end of it from the moment we were free to go.

If only I’d never made the mistake of opening my mouth. “I’m beat…” I’d remarked, my breathing and heartbeat still in the process of slowing back down after the ordeal. “I can’t believe they made us do three hours of this right off the bat! And there’s more after the break...”

It would have been easier to name the parts of my body that weren’t sore – I would have liked to stay and sit for a while, but Asuka had no patience for that, and we were supposed to stick together for the duration, so I was stuck trying to catch up to her brisk pace, frequently having to speed up and sprint a bit because she couldn’t be arsed to match my slower pace.

She would probably have considered this a pleasantly invigorating workout, if it hadn’t been for the great annoyance that was me:

“What are you whining about! The only reason this is any difficult is that you’re such a klutz! If I was by myself, I’d have this stupid dance down already!”

“Yes, if you were by yourself…” I muttered to myself, “But of course you wouldn’t have any intention of adjusting your pace for me…”

“YOU’RE THE ONE DRAGGING US DOWN! YOU’RE THE ONE WHO’S SUPPOSED TO ADJUST!”

My poor, poor eardrums.

“Seriously, why would I ever have to match you? I’m doing it perfectly! Do you think you’re the navel of the universe, just ‘cause you got a high assessment score?”

Goodness, not this again.

“You’re so inconsiderate, too! Yesterday I finally had a chance to have dinner with Kaji-san, and you just had to ruin it! Why did you have to come along? And you had to bring the whole weirdo squad along!”

...last time I checked, we were both invited… sigh. No point in arguing with her about that.

This was going to be a long, long couple of days...



(Day 1)



Normally I would have been glad for the chance to have dinner with Rei, Kaworu and Mari, even Asuka, if she’d been in a more amenable mood, but I was so, so exhausted…

I think Rei might’ve felt the same, she looked a little beside herself and was being quieter than usual.

Only Mari could still possibly have any energy left after an ordeal like that.

I could barely even appreciate the nice big takeout sushi platter that had been procured for us – all I could do was to greedily shovel all those precious carbs and proteins into my face.

I made one token effort to remind everyone else to leave most of the tofu, omelet and cucumber pieces for Rei, but that was all the cognitive effort I could muster that evening. Thankfully Mari and Kaworu immediately donated all of theirs too and did us the favor of swapping them all around on our plates.

Kaworu went so far as to say that we could have most of his portion as long as he got to try just one of everything, but I couldn’t live with myself if I had been that brazen. Even so, I think that, if he had not already been one of my bestest besties, I might have promoted him to that same position all over again just for letting me have those two extra pieces of tuna. He is such a nice dude.

Asuka didn’t share a single piece and accepted no donations, not even when Mari proposed the mutually beneficial trade of swapping her salmon pieces for Asuka’s caviar.



No sooner than we had retired to our room, and hence, out of earshot of anyone who might have defended me, she continued straight away to make her displeasure well known to me. “Gaah! Why do I have to be cooped up with you of all people! If I had to be stuck with a dude, why couldn’t it be Kaji-san?! This is the worst! My life has become a living nightmare! Surely, beating the angels can’t be worth this!”

I was half-tempted to say something about how she’d just reprimanded me on not grasping the seriousness of our task not much earlier, but it was probably not worth the repercussions.

But it seems no innocuous request could ever have been humble enough for her: “Hey, can I go take a shower first? I just wanna cool off...”



“Nope!”

I suppose I should be glad that she’d slammed her fists down on her bed and not on me.

“Haven’t you ever heard of chivalry? Ladies first!”

There would have been no point in protesting – she was at the door frame before I knew it, one foot half in the bathroom. It boggles the mind that she could still have the energy to move this fast after the grueling ordeal we’d just been through.

“You’re such an idiot!” she added, for good measure. “And no peeking!”

“I know…” I mumbled resignedly, “It’s hardly worth risking my life…”



“What’s that supposed to mean?!”

...Ah. I hadn’t meant to say that out loud. “Just go and take a shower already!”



Sigh. It must be so nice to be pretty and popular. It must be so nice to have what all others want, so much so that you can get away with being obsessed with your own looks.

I’d assure her that not everyone is constantly thinking about seeing her butt, but it would be pointless. Honestly, I’ve known her since the nursery. I’m the sort of person she should be asking to keep watch so others don’t peek, not that there’s anyone here who would.



I know I shouldn’t be getting into bed with my sweaty clothes. Worst case, I’d nod off and then in the morning, I’d be even sweatier.

But I wanted to lay down so bad, to close my eyes even for a moment.

Exercise and battle training is one thing, but I never thought that I’d have to do something like this at GEHIRN. I see many problems ahead…

But maybe it’s for the better that I’ve been paired with Asuka for this. She was already mad at me, so it’s not like I could really make this any worse, no matter how much I humiliated myself. If this was with Rei, it would be really awkward. She would probably be fine with it, but I’d be desperately trying to stir up a conversation and- just the thought of it made my cheeks burn with hot blood…



Then, a creak. Lazily peeking through my lashes, I spot the sight of bare feet. When I look up to get a better picture, I am faced with a still-steaming wet Asuka wrapped in, it would seem, little more than a single red-and-white towel.

“Sorry to keep you waiting! I am all freshened up~ ♡”



This.

This is weird. This is super-duper weird. What’s she doing?

What is this supposed to be…?

“Asuka! What’s going on- where are your clothes?”

Her only response was to dramatically swish back her hair like one of those TV models.

“Teehee! What do you think of my body?”

“W-what?!”

After she told me not to peek and all.

Come on, Asuka, it’s just me, Shinji.

Same one I was yesterday. You’ve known me since we were kids. You’ve never had the slightest interest in me as a boy, honestly, it was sometimes quite grating how you never really saw me as an existence in the same league as your own. With the way we’d known each other so long and how she’d often come to wake me up or hang out at my place, she felt almost like family to me – and I thought, I hoped, that that’s how she saw it too, cause the only alternative I could think of was that maybe she saw me as beneath her -

and now there she was, long sleek legs and shoulders bared before me. I’d never really thought of her this way before, but I was a red-blooded male and she was very attractive. That I’d be a bit distracted would be a matter of, almost a physical reaction, but I was way more overwhelmed than distracted.

They told us that puberty might change things and all, but not this much.

“Sheesh, it hurts my pride that you’re so uninterested.”

Before I knew it, she’d set down one hand and one knee on the edge of my bed. Where the wrapping her towel slightly parted, I could spay way too much of the thigh, and at the top, the hand that was holding the cloth in place was now slowly pulling it down.

“You know something, Mister Highscore? My boobs have been getting really really big lately...wanna see the real thing?”

...what the frick… is this really happening?

This can’t really be happening.

“No, stop, don’t take it off! AAAAAAA!”



Then, suddenly, there was an ominous swishing noise, and her sultry expression changed instantly to one of the biggest grins I had ever seen on her face.

“JUST KIDDING!”

When the towel slid to the ground, it turned out that, all along, she’d been wearing a strapless red-and-white crop-top and some very short shorts.

And no sooner than I had realized that mercy, she had doubled over with laughter.

“Pff! Look at your face! You’re blushing all the way up to your ears! I can’t breathe…”



I see. I see clearly now.

Just making me uncomfortable for shits and giggles now, aren’t we?

After all these years you suddenly want nothing more to do with me because of some numbers that I scarcely even had control over, but I’m still good enough for you to mess with, huh?

I just quietly stewed in my displeasure – for now.

“I’m just saying… I would be just like Misato and the others to be watching us with security cameras.”

“No way?! A camera? Where’s the camera?”

...how would I know?

But after what Rei said about the security guards, it honestly wouldn’t surprise me…



I wonder what she and Kaworu were talking about right now. If anything.

Maybe she’d been way too beat for that – wouldn’t surprise me. I had eant to shower right away before Asuka had her turn, but now I was quickly beset by the temptation to leave it for tomorrow morning. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep on my feet long enough to get a proper wash.

While Asuka was still busy inspecting the room for cameras, I just pulled the blanket over myself.

At the edge of my perception, I could faintly hear a certain melody coming in from the next room. Asuka must have heard this, too, as it stopped her in her tracks.

“Is that coming from the first’s room? Geez. I can’t believe Misato insisted that we all listen to that crap even at night. I’m already sick of it!”

Well; I’m not exactly fond of it either, thank you very much.

But we have to do it; I don’t see what I could possibly change about that.

Even now, more than a full year later (from my perspective, that is) it’s still stuck in my head and I loathe it. I could still hum the whole song from memory in its entirety. I get the point of using a particularly catchy song to help the plan work, but I wonder why this song has to be what is stuck inside my brain instead of, say, useful math knowledge from school. If I never hear it again, it would be too soon – or so I thought.

Nowadays, what I really wonder is how much Mari and Asuka still remember of it. Could they still hum it from memory at any moment just as I could, or is that too long faded and buried?



November 29th 2014



T minus 409 days



(Day 2)




I’d more or less expected to wake up with my arms and legs all terribly sore, but the bloody vengeance I was expecting my muscles to exact never came – seems like the last months’ worth of training had somewhat paid off. I knew from experience that I would have ended up exceedingly achey if I had attempted such a thing anytime before this...



There were definitely cameras in our room, and you know how I know? Because the very next morning, even before we were marched to the simulation plugs, Misato and Kaji had deemed it necessary that we be given ‘the talk’.

But you know what’s amazing? That this wasn’t even the most embarrassing moment of my life. They showed up with diagrams, various produce and shiny new condom boxes, sat the five of us in a semicircle around the table, and proceeded to share such gems of wisdom with us as these:



“Listen up!” said Mr. Kaji, holding up a condom and a banana, “I’m going to show you a pro-tip for getting these on really fast without interrupting your fun!”



Then there was Misato explaining an anatomical diagram. “So, here is the uterus, those are the ovaries over here, this is the cervix, here’s the vagina, this here is the peehole, and here, very important! This is the clitoris! See? Here? Shinji-kun? Nagisa-kun? You better remember that! You wanna be gentlemen, right, and not selfish asses who care only about their own pleasure! Make sure your girlfriend gets her fun too, do you hear me?!”



“Boys! No one cares how big your dick is! All the bits that feel good are so close you can reach them with your finger! The back bits have so little feeling that we have to be careful that we don’t forget a tampon in there – and I’m sure if your girlfriends ever have a baby, they’ll be glad for it. And Girls! Don’t forget to pee after Sex to avoid UTIs! Also, it’s normal for your period to hurt a bit from time to time, but it shouldn’t hurt more than a sore muscle. If it hurts a lot more than that, especially all the time, get yourselves checked out for endometriosis or PCOS, okay?”



“Guys who insult you or beat you are no good, okay?” Misato was quite emphatic about this. “And don’t let anyone pressure you into anything, just because they want to, or because you think everyone else is doing that, okay? You don’t ever have to have relations with some dude out of politeness, the choice is only yours, to make when you feel ready That said, if your first time sucks, that’s not the end of the world, you’ll have plenty of time to try again. It doesn’t have to be one particular way – some would rather do it with a person they trust and have known a long time, but others might prefer to try it out with someone they’ll never have to see again so you don’t have to be scared of embarrassing yourself.”

“Girls who read your emails and spy on you are also no good.” Kaji added wisely. “And no super jealous types, either, no matter their gender.”

Misato had one more pro tip up her sleeve: “If you want to weed out assholes, try refusing just a little demand early on in the relationship, like just some little thing. Like you don’t have time on Wednesday, or, you don’t want to change your hair right away. If they really like you, most guys and gals will be just fine with that, but if they throw a tantrum or don’t stop trying to talk you into it, run for the hills! I know when you’re newly in love you want to do everything with your new sweetheart and don’t want to refuse them anything, but in real life you’ll have to compromise eventually, and you can’t do that with some entitled ass.”



“And don’t forget-” they chanted at the end, setting a surprisingly good example of unison on their own for two people who were supposed to be embittered exes, “ITS OKAY TO BE GAY~ Gender has nothing to do with true love! In fact, if you never get the desire to have sex with anyone, that’s called being asexual, and THATS OKAY TOO~”



To top it off, we were each handed a packet of condoms and a small bottle of lube.

Asuka gladly received the former, seeing it perhaps as a recognition of her maturity, or at least as a necessity, as she had always been vocal about how she really didn’t want any kids – but she definitely objected to the latter: “...is that… personal lubricant? What are we supposed to do with that?! I can see why you’d give this to all the weirdos here, but I don’t plan on doing anything perverted!”

“Butt stuff, you mean?” Misato didn’t miss a beat, nor did her grinning facade show any cracks. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of there. But that’s not the only thing you can use lube for, it’s important, especially for you! You don’t want your first time to be all bloody and painful, right? If you use this, you won’t have to bleed at all. Lots of people don’t know this, but, your first time doesn’t actually have to hurt. Butt stuff isn’t supposed to hurt, either, not if you do it right. And if it keeps hurting, you should see a doctor!

And if you go back home after all this and find a nice boy from a Turkish immigrant family or an American airbase, you should know that you should also use tons of lube if your man is circumcised. Otherwise you’ll just be sore and you will feel absolutely no pleasure whatsoever!”

...is she speaking from personal experience there?



As you can probably tell by now, it was super duper awkward and possibly not entirely appropriate. Most of the time, I just sat there being mortified.

The one upside to this is that, at least, we wouldn’t have to suffer through this kind of ‘talk’ from our actual parents. Do they know about this? Did they just misuse the power of influence of their position to delegate an awkward conversation with their children to their underlings?



You might be relieved that we had received such, uh, comprehensive education, but the truth is that I don’t think any of us five ever got to put that knowledge to actual use.

That packet of condoms they gave us is probably still buried somewhere in the bottom drawer of our apartment – that is, if our building didn’t get blown up in the JDSSF assault or Fourth Impact. But even if they’re still there, they’re almost certainly expired now.



Anyways. Once that humiliation was behind us, we were readied for the next.

First was the earliest in a long line of daily activities which the GEHIRN staff had planned to further enhance our ‘team spirit’, as if the normal training they were making us do wasn’t enough…

“Of course it’s not enough,” was what Misato said to this, “If it were, you would be making progress!”

Today, it was tandem biking. Up on the surface it had been ages since the weather had been anything but cold and rainy, but in the strange woods of the geofront, it was always pleasantly warm, like a strange garden of Eden lit by the strange sort of gloaming that you’d expect before god would have gathered all the light in the world into the sun and moon.

The woods extended much further out from GEHIRN HQ than you would expect, bringing to mind again that this cavern was something they had excavated, for they would never have built it so unnecessarily wide. For now, however, it was going to serve their purposes: They sent us down a beaten path on tandem bikes, one for each team, that is, me and Asuka, as well as Rei and Kaworu. Mari opted to ride alongside us on a unicycle.

How come she can ride a unicycle you ask? Well, how does she know how to use a parachute?

At this point, I’ve just learned not to question anything anymore when it comes to Mari.

“Go on!” said Asuka as we were all lined up at the start line, “Don’t lose to that weirdo Nagisa!”

I smiled apologetically in Kaworu’s direction.

He smiled back patiently with as much of a shrug as he could manage without letting go of the handlebar. I honestly didn’t see the point of trying to turn this into a competition- wasn’t the point of this that we were supposed to learn to work together, through working to keep our balance and adjust our pedaling to each other?

Under other circumstances, it might’ve been nice to take a look around the strange, unique landscape on this place, but if I slowed down even one bit, Asuka would start yelling at me to hurry up.

I recall little of the landscape and a lot of frantic pedaling with my eyes closed, desperate enough to follow wherever it was that Asuka seemed to be going… whenever she wasn’t gratuitously accusing me of looking at her butt after she had insisted to be on the front. I’d offered to switch many, many times, but she wasn’t having it.

There was something inherently disorienting, I think, about emerging into a place that felt like summer, with such a diffuse light source to boot. It occurred to be that, at night, you wouldn’t be able to see the stars, only the windows of the hanging buildings twinkling down from above.



Next then was the simulation, which was still kicking our ass. That alone would have enraged Asuka, but what really got her rage blazing was that, though they still lost, Kaworu and Rei held their own for longer than us. That means that our team was officially behind, and Asuka had very rarely ever been behind in anything. She couldn’t tolerate it, and in her eyes, I was the sole cause…

Like me, Rei got taken out first, and yet Kaworu did not even think for a moment to yell at her or anything – he even asked her if she was alright and everything, and talked to Dr. Akagi and the others about how the biking helped them and all. Yet somehow it didn’t occur to Asuka that maybe that civility between us could have been the reason that they were doing better than us.

The more Mari and Kaworu encouraged us and told us not to take our difficulties too hard, the more Asuka turned around and badmouthed them behind closed doors, but even Rei, who had said little at all, wasn’t in the clear, Asuka went on an on about how it would probably kill her to say something nice or whatever.



As you can expect, this was not an especially productive day. It just kept getting more and more aggravating. There was much, much more training, which, for me, meant much, much fore falling on my butt. At one point, Misato had to break us up after Asuka had outright kicked me when she lost patience with my miserable sense of balance.



But even our downtime was frustrating, precisely because Misato wouldn’t allow us the briefest break from each other. Normally if we were having an argument, I’d get out of Asuka’s way until she had cooled off, which also gave me time to chill out a bit to keep my own anger from rising.

But now, we were instead butting heads even while brushing our teeth and slurping our noodles. We couldn’t watch TV in peace because we couldn’t agree on a program, and I couldn’t even enjoy listening to my music in peace, because Misato insisted that I could only do it if Asuka listened in with me, which she griped about the whole time that we were doing the laundry, since the household chores fell to our team today.

Meanwhile across the room, Rei, Kaworu and Mari were all reading three identical copies of the same book, turning their pages in unison. I think they might actually be having fun with this… but not us.

I honestly wouldn’t have minded this so much if Asuka weren’t here with me. Having to hang up the girls’ underwear was embarrassing enough, but it was a whole other thing for Asuka to be watching. At least, there was no room for any mix-ups: Rei’s were all white, and Mari’s were easily distinguished by her cup size….

The only place where we got any break from each other was the bathroom, but since we had been made to eat and drink at the exact same time, we increasingly started showing up there at the exact same time as the week progressed, with the usual result that I’d be desperately waiting outside for Asuka to finish and possibly touch up her hairdo at a leisurely pace.



In the end, we kept fighting so much that Misato eventually showed up at our door, put down a futon between our beds, and stayed over at headquarters that day to make sure there would be no more narrowly avoided fist-fights.

“You’re fighting like cats and dogs! Honestly, how old are you? Passing as a teacher is one thing, but my job description didn’t say anything about running a nursery school…”

“I’m not a kid!” protested Asuka, but Misato was fresh out of patience: “Enough! Just stop squabbling, go to bed.”



November 30th 2014



T minus 408 days



(Day 3)




Today, our ‘extra activity’ was table tennis – at first, they had the established teams playing against each other, but since a game of table tennis usually went much faster than a bike tour, they also switched it up once in a while, allowing us to switch partners every few minutes.



Misato explained it like this: “Remember kids, the point is not to win, but to practice passing the ball back and forth, so that you learn to attune yourselves to each other’s quick, instinctive reactions.”

But since Asuka did not count herself among the ‘kids’, she clearly did not consider herself included among the recipients of that order, slamming the poor little balls as hard as she could…

And every time one of us missed, she stood there high and mighty with her arms on her hips and ordered us to pick it up: “Go on, Miss Honor Student/ Four-Eyes/ Mister Highscore/ you Weirdo, hurry up and get it!”

Would it kill her to use our names?

I was so sick of bending down to get that blasted little ball…



That said, I found myself bending down a whole lot more when I was stuck with Asuka. Whether it was Rei, Kaworu or Mari, it seems the others didn’t think it so hard to hit the ball in such a way that I could actually reach it in time.

A few days ago, I might still have been trying to see the good in it, but by now, I was wishing desperately that I could be paired with just about anyone who wasn’t Asuka. But that couldn’t happen until, by some miracle, the two of us should manage to carry out the choreography and beat the simulator.

Neither or simulations nor the simple practice with the rhythm game setup inspired much confidence.



I was so, so tired, but I knew better now than to complain, for it was just sure to bring more and more yelling down upon my head. It wasn’t even worth trying; Everything about this was just so, so exhausting. The most I could do was to just quietly trudge down the corridor, following after Asuka like a shadow. I was just trailing after her as she went down the corridor after out latest blotched simulation battle, when suddenly, Ms. Soryu emerged from behind a corner, fixed on the clipboard my mother was holding and the numbers printed thereon.

Again, Asuka underwent an impressive transformation, from the constant grumbling and needling to the star of our class, smiling brilliantly for the presence of those she deemed worthy of being impressed.

“Good Morning, Mama!”

“It’s good to see you! How is it going?”

Are my eyes playing tricks on me, or did Asuka appear a bit… uncertain, just marginally wavering? It couldn’t be.

“Just fine! We’ll have that simulation beaten in no time at all!”

“That’s my girl!” said Ms. Soryu, clapping her hands a few times in acknowledgment.

With that, she seemed ready to move on and go about her way – Asuka turned after her so urgently you might have thought that she looked startled. “Wait -!”

She lost her composure only for a moment; The signs of doubt were gone so quick that I doubt if Ms. Soryu ever saw them.

I can’t say that I noted anything off then, about how she acted. She turned around still smiling, appearing perfectly pleasant, speaking to her daughter in an affectionate tone.

“Yes, darling?”

“You know, Shinji and I were just about to have lunch, so I was wondering if you wanted to come with us!”

“Oh dear, I wish I could do that, but unfortunately, right now is just about the worst possible time… The growth of Unit Two has finally reached the point where we can begin implanting the core unit complete with the canal for the plug. This is a crucial stage that will impact its capabilities for the entirety of its active life. I simply cannot let it out of my sight – They got sloppy with Unit Zero’s core unit, and the result was loads of noisy feedback errors in every single activation they’ve ever risked with that rickety old thing. But at least they got the excuse that it was never intended for a manned test. Unit Two, however, is meant for actual combat. That means its functioning is gonna be a matter of life and death! All it’s movements have to be precise as a razor. No, no, there’s nothing else for it – I tell you kids, if you want something done right, you have no choice but to do it yourself! You can’t trust anyone else!

Besides,” she added with a playful smirk directed at her daughter, “the two of us can’t afford to lose against Yui’s Unit One, now can we?”

I believed her, wholly, without hesitation.

There was no doubt in my mind that she was every bit as busy as she said she was – if she’d had as much as a free minute to be caught up on our latest going-ons, I doubt that she would at least have tacked some token lip-service onto such counterproductive advice.



Asuka was… quiet on our remaining walk to our room.

At least, I felt that she was, but the very idea rather clashed with my basic understanding of her.

But then again, how much did I actually understand?

I’d known her very long now, if you’d asked me at any point before I signed up to be a pilot, I would have claimed without hesitation that she was as known to me as the backs of my hands, but now, I wasn’t so sure...
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

Kendrix
Defender of Puppy Boy
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Thu May 20, 2021 7:50 pm

part Two

SPOILER: Show
(2.3.2: Gnossiene )

n. a moment of awareness that someone you’ve known for years still has a private and mysterious inner life, and somewhere in the hallways of their personality is a door locked from the inside, a stairway leading to a wing of the house that you’ve never fully explored—an unfinished attic that will remain maddeningly unknowable to you, because ultimately neither of you has a map, or a master key, or any way of knowing exactly where you stand.

- from the dictionary of obscure sorrows




We had lunch in the apartment with the other pilots instead, but though we were all together, the atmosphere was rather frosty – I guess most of us knew by now to give the moody second child a wide berth… well, most of us.

I think Rei wouldn’t have talked much right away, and Kaworu was tactful enough to notice her ill mood and thoughtfully let her have her space -

However, no one had told Mari about this, so she just kept bouncing her legs beneath the table, making random comments once in a while, as if she were completely oblivious to the thick air in the room. I honestly couldn’t tell if she was, or whether to read this as subtle mockery, stubborn optimism or even genuine cluelessness. I honestly wished she’d stop, though, she was making me nervous – it’s like she was dancing on the edge of a volcano, and if she should fall in, Asuka was sure to rain down her rage on us all. Maybe Mari didn’t mind it, but I was sure to bear the brunt of it, and poor Rei and Kaworu would likely take it without even complaining.

I wondered sometimes how she could be so nonchalant about everything – usually, I would think that she looked brave or cheerful, but through that moment’s lens of bitterness, I was tempted to perceive her as callous if not downright grating.

Not too long ago, I had been longing to spend my meals with anyone else than the empty walls of my apartment, but now that I was supposed to be dining every day with those I would consider some of my oldest friends, I found myself listlessly picking at my food, wishing it would already be over… whose turn had it been to cook, anyways? Which is to say, who the heck puts beans on toast?

Asuka wasn’t a fan of it either, rudely putting down her chopsticks with a pointed ‘Thanks for the meal’. She was supposed to sit here till the rest of us were done, but, who would be so foolhardy as to remind her of this?



Then, something unexpected happened. The phone started ringing. Why would a phone ring down here? If someone from GEHIRN wanted to contact us, wouldn’t they use the speakers? Did this place even have a proper landline? These were supposedly empty quarters until last week… now in hindsight, I suppose that GEHIRN’s publicity bureau might have redirected the call.

Mari continued to have no apparent sense of fear.

“Oi, highness! Since you’re already standing, could you get this?”

“Why don’t you get it? Maybe it’s Kaji-san.”

“Nah,” answered the bespectacled brit, unperturbed as ever, “He knows we're busy, he sent us to do this remember? And if there were an emergency he’d just show up in person~”

Asuka looked just about ready to smack her. Kaworu was right about to say something, but he never got the chance, cause it was then that I could no longer stand this tension and speedily volunteered to get the call lest there be any more fighting about this. I hate fighting…

“Ah, to think that the great Mister Highscore would lower himself to such a menial task?”

Did she have to keep hammering me with that?

Anyways, the call turned out to be for Asuka after all.

“It’s your stepmom, from Europe!”

She closed the distance in a fraction of a second, jealously wresting the receiver from my grasp with a hasty “Give it here!”

Again this was one of those moments where her entire demeanor switched in an instant.

I could hardly even recognize her voice when she was speaking with that high, cheerful tone, chatting away in some foreign language. It was just a casual reminder that, yeah, right, she had a whole other family in a different country which I knew nothing about. A whole other life.

“Hallo Mutti! Ich bin's! Wir haben uns aber lange nicht mehr gehört!“


Who… is that, anyways? Do I know her? Did I ever?

"Ach nein, das würde er niemals machen, er ist in sauberer Mensch"

It turned out to be a rather long phone call.

"Ach wirklich? Das ist ja toll! Vielleicht kann ich euch ja bekannt machen falls ihr mal zu Besucht kommt!"

I didn’t have the slightest clue what they were saying, though the gestures.

"Ich würde ja gerne noch länger mir dir quatschen, aber wir sind gerade ziemlich beschäftigt wegen Training uns so... Richte Lisanoch einen schönen Gruß von mir aus, in ordnung? Danke schonmal."


It would be quite some time before she put the receiver down after one final, hearty „Tschüssi!“



That’s when Mari casually leaned back in her chair and turned towards us: “So, when are we getting introduced?”

At this point it wouldn’t have surprised me if Rei had understood something, or Kaworu, who was after all an associate of chairman Kiel’s, but Mari surprised me.

Evidently, Asuka had been no wiser: “W-Who the heck said you could listen in?!”

“I didn’t mean to, but you were talking here in front of everyone, and it was just too fascinating for me to resist!”

You know, Mari, I’m with Asuka on this one. You didn’t really sound too credible there.

“So, do you think they might be popping in for Christmas?”

“Not a chance. They’ve already agreed to spend the holidays with my grandparents – the ones on Mutti’s side, apparently they just can’t wait to see Lisa now that she can sign her own name on the postcards…”

Asuka said this rolling her eyes, with an intonation as if the whole idea was patently ridiculous – and yet, she had blurted out the answer almost reflexively, as if she’d forgotten for a moment that she was supposed to be mad. “They’re thinking they might drop by for Easter… wait, why am I telling you this?”

Mari shrugged nonchalantly. “I dunno. You started saying it. But tell me, are they gonna bring Lisa?”

That must have caught Kaworu’s attention: “Excuse me if I am being forward, but who is Lisa?”

Ah right, she wouldn’t have been born yet by the time he’d left Japan.

I don’t think Asuka had any plants to tell him, but Mari didn’t get the memo: “That’s the esteemed little sister of Her Royal Highness~”

“Oh, I wasn’t aware that you had one.”

Mari seemed to smell a great opportunity here: “You’ve got to show him that one pic! The one with the lantern! Or wait, I got the copy you sent me…” before Asuka could say anything, Mari had reached for her phone and summoned the image in question.

“Ugh, this is from last month, they’re doing that whole Saint Martin’s day march…”

...what sort of march? In any case, I realize now that she must have shown this pic to Mari and probably Hikari, too, but most certainly not to me. I tried to tell myself that she must have thought that maybe boys wouldn’t be interested in kiddie pictures, but I couldn’t help but see this as a reminder of how much I’d fallen in her good graces… (How does that Meme go?

“Friendship ended with Shinji. Now Mari is my best friend”?)

In any case, I was seeing the picture now: Someone at the school must have taken it, or maybe another one of the parents – The picture was centered on a group of little girls of about seven to eight years old, holding various colorful paper lanterns with their parents standing close behind them. If this were my first time seeing their likeness, I think I would have struggled to pick out the ones I was supposed to pay attention to, since none of them really looked all that much like Asuka. But just left of center, there was a man with graying, swept-back auburn hair, his short beard a mottled mix of red and gray. He was the only redhead anywhere in the picture, so by principle of exclusion, you’d presume that he must be Mr. Langley. Next to him was a tall woman in elegant, slightly old-fashioned clothes, with thick-rimmed glasses and her long, dark-brown hair in an updo. Before them in the foreground was a little girl who looked very much like her, long, soft straight hair falling heavily down her back, adorned with a single tiny braid on her left. Her lantern was shaped like a pink butterfly. Her eyes were blue, though it was a darker shade than Asuka.

To my surprise, even Rei had craned her neck a little to get a look at the picture. “She’s cute”, she blurted, actually looking a little impressed.

I didn’t think that Rei would be the sort to get (mildly) excited about small children. That’s legitimately all sorts of cute and pure. I just figured since she wasn’t really organized, mostly kept to herself and wasn’t into a lot of typical girly stuff that this wouldn’t be her cup of tea, but… maybe I should reexamine my biases I guess. The complex personalities of real people don’t really have a bearing on what collections of random traits get packaged together into cultural stereotypes.

Though the picture garnered much approval, Asuka’s face still looked pretty sour. “Cut it out, it’s no big deal. Honestly, four-eyes, did you have to show this to everyone?”

“Oh, but why not? Aren’t we here to build a better rapport as fellow pilots? Sharing funfacts about ourselves seems like just about the best way to do this~”

Nope, not buying it Mari. You’re terrible at playing innocent. I don’t think anyone would buy that you’re not teasing Asuka on purpose right here…

Also, should you really be talking about ‘sharing funfacts about ourselves’ when you hardly tell us anything about you? Sure, you’re here with us, we can pretty much a tell a lot about you just from seeing what you’re like and how you respond to us every day, but it’s hard to get a sense of what you’re thinking…

She was genuinely a mysterious person, not in the sense that I didn’t know some crucial thing about her, but that she was really sort of inexplicable by nature. I suppose that back then, I might have thought of Kaworu or Rei as ‘mysterious’ as well, but that’s not really the case – there were just one or two crucial facts that I was unaware of but which my parents or Dr. Akagi probably did know, a finite number of puzzle pieces that they couldn’t reveal due to circumstances, that, once revealed, made all else fall into place. Rei was actually quite straightforward, and Kaworu, though cryptic as times, was merely trying to represent or translate a complex reality to me as best as he could.

Mari, by contrast, was genuinely mysterious – not because she had anything in particular to hide, but because she wasn’t in a habit of dwelling much on her own person, or the past, or the future. She sure wasn’t showing us any pictures of her folks.



After some further grumbling, Asuka declared our meal finished: “Okay then, I don’t know about you three, but Mr. Highscore and I have to get to our training.”

I think she figured that if she hurried up, she’d only have to endure my company on the way to the simulators instead of putting up with Mari, Rei and Kaworu walking alongside us.

You’d think I would have gotten better at matching up with her confident strides. It would’ve been another thing if she had just been headed to the motion gaming rigs in the room across from us, but getting to the simulation plugs actually required a bit of walking, parading in front of all the staff in these embarrassing leotards until we could switch the for our plugsuits, though these were hardly much more modest. I guess I should be glad that they didn’t make us wear matching plugsuits, too. Or one of those two-person ‘get-along-shirts’. I would deem Misato fully capable of that. Fighting aliens is a lot more dignified in the movies, let me tell you that – in fact, if this were a movie, this whole week would have been a minute-long montage; But I had to go through it moment by awkward, silent moment.

But Mari’s not wrong. The whole point of this exercise was to bring us all closer together.

I ought to try to understand her. If I don’t, then she certainly isn’t gonna do it, so, it will never happen. I wish I could make some determined statement about how I’m not okay with that, but the truth is, I’m just so exhausted from this pair training.



“Uh… I’d love to meet your folks too, if they do come by for Easter…”

That wasn’t a lie though -

Easter is the one with the bunnies, right?

“What’s it to you?” came Asuka’s sharp, unrelenting retort.

“Uh- nothing in particular- I was just – thinking, that you must be lonely, not seeing them for such a long time… I guess I… didn’t really think about how tough it must be to come to a foreign country all by yourself – I mean, your mom is here, but it’s not like she’s got a lot of tie right now, so, I’m wondering… don’t you get lonely without them? I’m sure you must be missing them a lot…”

Her head snapped in my direction so quickly I took a reflexive step back, copper tresses all swirling around her – but any rage there might have been was quickly replaced by the look of utter ennui that faced me at last.

“Not particularly. It doesn’t matter if they’re here or not, or whether I’m alone - I was chosen among many to be an EVA pilot. I’m going to fight the angels, and defeat them for sure – If I can do this, and everyone accomplishes those accomplishments… then I’d be happy. I’ve worked hard all my life to make that dream come true. But now that the time has come, when I should finally be getting the chance to show off all my hard work, I’m held back by the likes of you!”

I said nothing more for the rest of our way. I didn’t dare.

Why did she have to talk to me with such contempt in her voice?

I really thought becoming a pilot candidate would bring us closer together, but instead…

I just wish that things could go back to the way they were.

I just wish I could go back to knowing nothing about no darned EVAs or Angels.

I know it’s selfish – I know that, if I’d really thought it through, I should have realized that this would mean to leave my friends alone with the danger –

but I still wanted it.



What was I even doing here? ‘Defending the Earth’? Me?I couldn’t even do this with a straight face.

Why was I doing this? My parents aren’t even watching. Maybe they’re busy with their precious EVA, just like Ms. Soryu…

All I got for my trouble is the privilege of wearing silly clothes, not to mention that Asuka somehow hates me now. Am I doing all this just to be yelled at and kicked?!



As you can imagine, motivation and confidence were at an all-time low during the next simulation. It kicked our ass yet again, and once it was done with us, I was sore all over – or at least, it felt that way. They typically dial back the feedback for these, as it was considered that mere simulation wouldn’t be worth inflicting actual pain on us, but if they cut it altogether, it could interfere with teaching our instincts to avoid things that would definitely hurt us in a real battle – they couldn’t have us charging into a real fight as if we were used to being invulnerable, so we would have to endure some minor discomfort in the name of realism.

It usually wasn’t that big a deal, as it tended to dissipate pretty fast once we’d be out of the simulation bodies, but right now, it was just another thing making me cranky…



And even when that ordeal ended, it only meant that the next one was about to begin. We vacated the plugs for the next team and trudged to the room with the rhythm game setup, where yet more humiliation awaited us.



“Okay, STOP!” yelled Misato, summoning our attention with one imperious clap of her hands. No sooner than she could be certain that she had our eyes on her, she pointed straight at us and began to dish out yet more yelling. “Shinji! Pay attention to the music! You’re being way too self-conscious!”

“O-Okay, sorry!”

“Asuka!”

“Yes?!”

“Are you even trying to synchronize your pace down to Shinji’s?”

“Why in the world ever would I do that?! I’m doing better, he’s supposed to adjust to me. You can’t be expecting me to do worse on purpose, that makes absolutely zero sense! Weren’t you the one going on about how this could be life and death?!

And besides, what’s the First doing here? She’s been watching us this whole time!”

She waved her hand towards Rei, who was indeed sitting by the table in the center of the room, holding the printed choreography book.

I must admit that she’d been so quiet that I barely noticed her presence, even with her unmistakable hair.

“How am I supposed to concentrate when this bug-eyed freak just keeps staring at me? It’s beyond creepy! Besides, shouldn’t she be busy with that weirdo Nagisa?!”

Rather then directly address her rather unfriendly statements, Misato focused her steely reprimand where she knew Asuka would care: “She is here because Nagisa-kun is actually training with Mari right now. He and Rei successfully cleared the simulation, so we’ve switched up the teams.”

Once she heard that, the look on Asuka’s face was filled with… actually surprisingly genuine terror. She was clutching at her trikot and all. I was just about tired of her, and yet, no one with a shred of humanity could have continued to feel spiteful glee when she was looking like that -

“I- I don’t care! Just get. Her. Out!”



“There’s no need”, stated Rei tonelessly, so quiet next to the other girl’s raised voices that I could barely hear her above the din, “I shall observe Makinami-san and Nagisa-kun instead if my presence disturbs you.”

She looked… serious certainly. Gloomy. Pessimistic, though she always kind of did – possibly even just a little hurt.



I would have liked to go after her, though I cannot say if it would even have done any good; But as it was, I had to stay here and keep being yelled at for two more hours, until, you would presume, it would be dark out. I had absolutely no way of knowing.

I wanted nothing more than to be out of that gross, sweaty leotard.

Defeated in body and spirit, we trudged back towards our lodgings. Normally, I would look forward to seeing Kaworu, Mari and Rei, but if there was just going to be more arguments then – actually, I’m not actually sure if I would have preferred my empty apartment.

More than that, I wish I had good options.



I trailed not too far behind Asuka when she pulled open the door, and lo and behold, it seems the others had somehow figured that we were in need of a break. It must have been just that obvious - they had some fresh iced tea prepared for us and all, in a fancy-looking translucent carafe, with the colorful fruits still floating in the liquid.

As for themselves, the other three were already all showered up and back in their normal indoor clothes. I guess they didn’t receive as much scolding as us. Kaworu was sporting an elegant satiny red pajama that suited him really well, even though he already looked good in anything.

Mari was wearing a short, loose-fitting green overall over a plain white T-shirt. Rei was in a poofy yellow sundress with a pointillist-looking sort of orange pattern on it and a striped, black and white undershirt beneath – I felt reminded of the orange stripes on her new plugsuit. It had been a while since I had seen their summer clothes, but the weather didn’t really work as normal down here in the geofront. You think that the pleasant warmth would have been a reason to rejoice, but Asuka wasn’t convinced:

“I see you’re busy celebrating how you beat us, huh?”

“Oh, come on princess, don’t be like that. We get that this whole ‘teamwork’ business just isn’t your strong point. I’ve never been too crazy about ‘team spirit’ either, besides, we all have things that we’re not so good at. For example, Kaworu-kun here just told me that he’s no good at playing guitar.”

“It’s true!” he admitted with a placid smile, “I know that the piano and the violin are often regarded as more ‘difficult’ instruments, but what is ‘difficult’ or ‘easy’ often depends on the person...Indeed I find it rather tragic that some types of skills are exalted while others are depreciated…”

“See? No one can be good at everything! Everyone struggles sometimes!”

I truly believe that she meant well, but I fear she might have been a little… blunt about it.

“For example, Rei-san here says she not good at talking to people. As I am, at least with some people… Chinese people, to be exact.”

Well this came a little out of nowhere… But fear not, there is a logical explanation, which became clear when she pulled out her phone again, this time displaying not a picture, but a language app.

“Is that supposed to be German? You got a typo there.”

Asuka probably meant that as a ‘gotcha’, but her needling evaporated without effect when Mari simply looked at the letters and remarked, “Oh, right, thanks!”

“Anyways, “ she continued, hopefully getting to the point sometime soon, “I figured, since I already speak English and French, I could talk to the whole world if I only managed to learn Spanish, Mandarin, Hindi and Arabic.”

...did she just say ‘only’?

“Spanish is basically the same as French, and Hindi is a lot less different from European languages than you’d think, so I thought the tricky one would be Arabic – after all, I figured that I should already recognize a bunch of Chinese letters – but I just can’t into that whole thing with the tones. I just don’t get it! It sounds all the same to me! And so many words are the same! Did you know that there’s a famous Chinese poem in which every word is the same? I guess you could consider it, like, the Chinese equivalent of Der Verrat or Rhabarberbarbara... At least when it’s written there’s a certain logic to it, but when someone’s talking it’s just… puff! No comprendo!

Mari mimed an explosion with her hands.

“Well, that may be, but this is not about me. I’m doing everything right! It’s Shinji who’s slowing us down!”

“I’m afraid that’s right-” I admitted, holding out my arms in a conciliatory gesture in hopes of staving off further escalation. “It’s just so hard to keep the order of the steps in my head while also following the music… and I have to follow Asuka, too. It’s just too much to keep in mind…”

“Well, duh. If you’re doing it all complicated like that.”

“Huh…? But how else am I supposed to do it?”

“Well, how about instead of trying to remember the order and the song separately, why don’t you just try to match each bit of the song with the right move? Forget about the order – don’t think too much, that’ll just distract you - just try & feel the rhythm. Follow your feeling, puppy boy!”

“But then how will I keep it straight?”

At this, Kaworu smiled knowingly, like he had just the thing – “That’s what the music is for. If you’re both following the music, you can’t get it wrong. It’s just like when we played our duett.”

Asuka sneered. “You couldn’t sound more pretentious if you tried. Bold of you to assume that this idiot is even capable of this. He’s such a slowpoke, he couldn’t even follow a snail!”

That was when the quiet little voice of Rei was finally heard among all this commotion -

“When we have trouble staying in sync, I find it useful to just copy whatever my partner does.”

It was slight, barely audible, and came bearing nothing but well-meaning advice, but even so, it incensed Asuka even further than anything else beforehand.

“You shut your mouth! I refuse to be ordered you around by the likes of you.”

“I am not ordering you around. I am providing you with information crucial to our mission. You want to absolve this training successfully, don’t you?”

“Oh dear. So this is what it’s gotten to. Not only does that idiot Shinji think that I need his pity, now I’m getting sympathy from a mechanical clockwork robot like you.”

“I am not a robot.”

“Oh really? Bullshit. Just look at yourself! You only ever do whatever you’re told. I bet you’d even kill yourself if Commander Ikari told you to.”

“Without hesitation.” she shot back with just the slightest edge of pride.

“You’ve got some nerve for a robot, talking to me like that.” - there was a sudden, abrupt motion, so fast, and so full of dreadful intent that it must have triggered my every survival instinct. "You're nothing but a cold, soulless, unfeeling, stone-hearted machine, and that's why I've hated you from the very beginning!"

I saw Asuka placing down her hand on Rei’s shoulder, her ruddy fingers pressing down into the swell of her pale flesh, intending to do god knows what with her other hand – and only god will ever know, because her speeding wrist stopped right here, in the very palm of my own left hand.

“What the heck are you doing!”

I instantly felt a spike of fear going down my spine, followed by a flood of regret – but there was no need to brace myself for anything, as that simple act of opposition had stopped Asuka in her tracks. She looked at me, and then at my hands, with the kind of disbelief that you’d have seen on the face of Julius Ceasar on the Ides of March. I guess that somehow, despite everything, she must have assumed that I would fundamentally remain on her ‘side’, as if there were any sides to begin with…. Try telling that to Asuka, though.

“I see. So that’s how it is, huh?”

She yanked her wrist out of my unresisting hand.

“I’m gonna take a shower!”

And I had no doubt that she was going to spend a long, long time underneath the running water – after all, that was the one remaining place where she could be away from the four of us.



I was way too stunned to do anything useful – leave it to Kaworu to be the first to think of something: “Are you alright, Ayanami?”

“It’s fine.” she answered curtly, but the way she ran her fingers over the place where she had been grabbed suggested otherwise.

“Look,” said Kaworu, “We’ve completed one round of training today, so why don’t we go and rest up for now?”

“That would be good.”

Which left me with Mari.

I sipped at my iced tea.

“So, uh, I had no idea that you were interested in languages.”

“Yeah! It’s one of my hobbies.”

“Is it cause you like to read books in the original, or do you want to travel the worth someday?”

“Yes. In part.”

Mathematician’s answer, huh? Mysterious as ever.

“You know, I think that one of the best ways to understand the world is to listen to people tell their stories in their own words. These days, we are fortunate to live in a world where you just need to boot up a computer, and you can hear about the lives of all kinds of people – you can read the lived experiences of prostitutes, drug dealers, people in war zones, people who like to hang themselves from the ceiling for shits and giggles. You can hear both sides to any story. You can walk into any library, and the shelves will be stocked with the thoughts of people from long ago, people who are long gone – but still we can hear their thoughts, inhabit their worlds, through the words they left behind.

You know, I truly believe that, once you get to know them, most people have something inside them that you can understand. Something interesting, some silver lining, something… maybe not good, but at least sympathetic. When you really get to know them, I think most people can be liked. At least, I find that I can like most people.”

It occurred to me then that, in the end, she might not be so different from Asuka or Rei, in that she might seem like she’s uninterested in people, but isn’t really. In Asuka’s case, despite her tough, cynical attitude, she tends to get attached on the simplest animal level – she’s an extrovert by nature and she feels down if she has no one to stimulate her. Rei then is the opposite, in that she doesn’t mingle very much with anyone on a day to day basis, unless it were, perhaps, a small select circle, and only now and then, but she cares and feels responsible for all people in a more a general, abstract way. And then we have Mari, who certainly has no trouble speaking and enjoys it when she actually does talk, but keeps herself somewhat aloof from most groups, her true thoughts inscrutable, even though it seems that she genuinely enjoys the company of people. But she reminded be also of Kaworu, in the way that he’s genuinely interested and accepting to most anyone he meets, though she does not have his openness and his polished demeanor…

She continued onward: “If you want to understand the world, you’ll do well to get to know the people in it, the ones who make all the decisions that move it. And if you want to understand yourself, it helps to look into the hearts of others, to find yourself in them, to feel the differences between you and them. If you don’t know the world, you can’t really make proper decisions, and if you don’t know yourself, you can’t really figure out what you want, or how to take care of yourself properly.”

She might seem silly sometimes, but hearing her speak like this I was reminded that she was the oldest among us, as surely as Kotone was the youngest.

“You know, Shinji-kun…” and I could tell that the talk was turning serious by how she was using my proper name, “at the boarding school that I went to, there used to be a lot of people who didn’t think they had anything left to learn. They acted like they knew everything, and like their point of view was the only one that counted. They were a fine bunch of rich, snobby twats. Most of them wouldn’t bother to learn even one language, cause they figured that everything is in English anyway. Heck, if someone so much as had an accent – and not even, like, a foreign one, even just a working class sounding one, they’d immediately assume that this person had nothing of value to say to them. I never wanted to be like that. Not all things that are worthwhile to say are always said in English. So when they asked me if I wanted to take German classes or French, I signed up for both!”

She actually got a slight chuckle out of me there, despite everything. “...is that why you wanted to become an EVA pilot? To get away from that place?”

She shrugged. “It wasn’t all bad. At the very least, I learned how to be self-sufficient and go for what I want all on my own. I learned to cultivate that stiff upper lip and all. Keep calm and carry on. Though I guess you’re not wrong to suppose that this kinda institution wasn’t exactly welcoming of its more… eccentric students. I’ve basically heard it all: I’m kooky, I’m weird, I’m annoying, I’m just trying to get attention, what’s that weirdo doing singing on her own…”

I need you to grasp that she said all of this pretty casually like it was no big deal. Her easy smile never really went away.

“I’m probably doomed to become an old, weird cat lady and get eaten by my cats and parrots when I finally die - You just can’t take me seriously. I’m a hundred percent certified frivolous young lady-” and I’m sure she must have been imitating the accent of one very particular teacher there. “It didn’t exactly get easier since I got my, you know, chest.”

She was so blasé about saying this, I couldn’t help but be flustered.

“What? It’s just a fact. Someone’s gonna point it out, so, it might as well be me. Big boobies big boobies big boobies! You say it often enough, it doesn’t even sound like a word anymore.

You know, I couldn’t act like what people think is normal even if I wanted to. I’m gonna attract attention no matter what. I wouldn’t know how to do it. So if they’re gonna call me a ridiculous weirdo no matter what, I figured that I might as well do whatever I want.

Like learning lots of languages, or getting all the books, or singing whenever I want, or piloting EVA.

I don’t mind if that means that I have to go at it alone – at least this way, I don’t have to explain myself to anyone, I don’t have to put up with more meddlesome adults than I absolutely have to, and no one calls me weird, like they don’t have bigger things to worry about.”

Huh. I had always thought that she just didn’t mind, since she always seems to be having fun, but that’s not it – she might well have her own worries; They’re just not really what she tends to focuses on. The total opposite of me, in that regard.

“We live in a severe reality. If we don’t do something about it, this whole world and everything in it is just gonna disappear. If I can do something about it, then, why wouldn’t I? Besides, it’s fun! Maybe that’s weird, too, but hey, maybe I got that ‘frivolousness’ of mine to work for me.”

“So rather than being afraid of the war, you’re probably worried about what you’ll do when the fighting is over…I know what I want, and I know what’s important to me, so I don’t see why I can’t just go and get it.”

She just blinked at me, mildly nonplussed. “Nope, why?”

“...because, there’ll be no more need for EVAs?”

“So what? I’ve figured out what to do before EVA, and I’ll find something to do afterward. I mean, I even survived the prissy catholic boarding school on my own, so yeah. Though I gotta say, it’s probably not sooo bad that we’re doing this silly teamwork exercise. We’re having a chance to learn about each other. I like it here with you guys, I really do. I like you -especially the princess. I’m sure that if you and her just talked, you could definitely figure things out! She acts like she’s all tough and needs nobody, but in reality, she doesn’t really like being by herself. She might be a little complicated, but that’s part of what makes her so special to me… ”

I wonder if Asuka even knows this.

Insensitive as it may be, I couldn’t stop myself from answering something snarky – I was just so tired from… everything.

“All she does is call you names and complain of how you’re annoying, though….”

“Yeah… but she hasn’t chased me away yet, or told me to get lost. That’s a first.”

Oh.

I think that’s when I got my first look at the true feelings she so closely guarded.

“You know, I like you guys too. It’s been really nice to spend time with you all, especially Asuka – though you’re a little like that, too…”

“Huh?”

“Well, none of us are exactly the most usual specimens – like you’re friend says, the tall sporty one. Me, the princess, Kaworu-kun, Rei-san… But you still try to be friends with all of us. Not everyone bothers with that.”

It’s nothing like that, really not. There’s nothing special about me.

I just… don’t want anyone to hate me...



It was then that our attention was taken up by the sudden noise of a door – there stood Asuka, in jean shorts and a striped top. She wasn’t exactly looking friendly, but I believe the cold water had aided her in getting her fury somewhat under wraps, or rather, she had channeled it towards one clear goal. “Oi, four-eyes! You think you can just say things to me?!”

She wasn’t even talking to me, and yet I had shrunk back in my seat – but Mari remained serene as ever, calmly turning around without a care in the world – if anything, she looked amused, thrilled even, like a hound sniffing the slightest trace of blood.

...this wasn’t going to be good…or was it?

“My my princess~” she taunted through her shark-like smirk, “You look just about ready to throw down your gauntlet! Name your terms!”

This wasn’t precisely what Asuka had been expected. I bet she’d thought Mari would move out of her way, like I, Rei or Kaworu might – at most, she might have reckoned with her adversary growing irritated either openly or covertly, firing back as Touji, Marie or Misato might.

Instead, Mari was delighted.

“Terms?! What do you mean, terms?!”

“You know, for the duel! Since you obviously wanna settle this like old-timesy people. Soooo, what’s it gonna be? Pistols? Fencing? That’s an old tradition in your land of birth, wasn’t it? I’ve read that around 1900, no official or general or nobleman or academic was considered worth his salt if he didn’t have a bunch of fencing scars all over his face~”

“I’m not carving up my face for the likes of you. I’m gonna collect more than enough battle-scars once the actual war starts! ...Mario Kart?”

“Deal!”

Mari slid off her chair right into a mocking little curtsey in one single, fluid motion.

“Your wish is my command~”

Then, they both raced straight towards the TV.



I wonder if Misato was about to come bursting through the door to keep us all from squabbling… or maybe she’d consider it a good thing if they were playing video games together?



“Oh noes! I’m toast! I have been toasted! Such rough treatment for a tender English Rose such as I! This barbaric gothic chieftainess hath vanquished me utterly!”

“Why don’t you start quoting Shakespeare while you’re at it, you ridiculous drama queen!”

“You did beat me though, see? It’s almost like even I have things that I’m not good at!”

“Just shut it!”

...you know, despite everything, I do think I was starting to understand what Mari-san had meant.

They continued onto a second round.



But I couldn’t really bring myself to be optimistic when I noticed Rei sitting by herself in a corner, making sure to be out of Asuka’s sight, sitting near a wall in a curled up position, her head kept low as if to make herself small, quiet and unobtrusive, as one might when they were waiting for a storm to pass by – which, to her, might in fact have counted as ‘resting’, just like Kaworu had suggested.

I couldn’t stand this whole loud disaster. I couldn’t stand this thick air.

Maybe the girls were all acting like they didn’t mind, but that couldn’t be. I’d felt dizzy just from watching that argument. I looked around for some way to use up this nervous energy of mine and at long last, my eyes fell on the fridge. There might still be a bit of iced tea in there, maybe the others would all like another glass? Maybe that would cool us all off… especially me.

Kaworu must have noticed what I was doing – or perhaps, it was me who didn’t notice him, spaced out as I was. Before I knew it, he was next to me with a tray and some glasses in the time that I had fetched the carafe of tea from the fridge.

Once I put it down, he gently squeezed one of my hands in a gesture of support, and smiled at me as encouragement.

“So, uh, does anybody want another ice tea?”

Please let this distract them from arguing…

I was meaning to come to Rei to bring her her glass once the other two had something to cool their wits with, which is to say, I wouldn’t have expected her to walk back in here.

After the way she had been treated, after she had been trying to help an all, you’d think that she’d end up giving Asuka a wide berth, but she never gave me a chance to go over to her; She never thought of that possibility. She came inside to get her drink without making a single sound, her features completely blank.

As if nothing had happened, as if what we just saw was no big deal at all.

But the others were no different – sure, I can’t fault Mari too much, I think she made sure to send a smile in Rei’s direction to reassure her after the earlier altercation, but she was so darn unconcerned about it, perfectly serene, not perturbed at all.

Asuka didn’t say thanks either – she coldly grabbed the drink because she wanted one.

I was still good enough for that.

When she and Mari made their toast, the way the grating sound of the glasses crashing into each other felt far too loud – or maybe it seemed that way to me because I was already nervous? Setting down the beverage beside her after taking a few gulps, Asuka was furiously pressing the buttons on the controller like it was truly a duel to the death, teeth bared every time her CGI avatar was met with any obstacle.

Mari looked much more relaxed, smirking to herself in almost eerie calm; she never stopped bouncing on her legs.

And then there was Kaworu, standing back near the kitchen counter, observing us all intently like a stranger standing apart from all, subtly creasing the silver brow above his pensive, melancholy gaze. When he noticed me looking at him, he shifted at once to the same warm, relaxed smile that he’d shown to me earlier, and I wanted so badly to be reassured, but-

Somewhere between vaguely bored, vaguely confused and vaguely tired, but above all things ‘vaguely’, Rei eventually set herself down on the sofa, occasionally sipping at her own beverage.

It was hard not to think about what she’d said earlier, about how she would even die on my father’s orders. I knew that she was very faithful to the cause, and in a sense, that devotion was certainly laudable – in this country, it had always been considered a virtue for a soldier to fight to the death, and even nowadays, many would drive themselves to utter exhaustion in dedication to their work or their studies; You might consider it a traditional value. It was well and good when it resulted in, say, exceptional customer service, but quite another thing when the result was people neglecting their health, or horrible wars. It was possible to take it to far… it was not at all unthinkable for an excess in dedication to be overlooked, just like an overabundance of every-man-for-himself-tough-guy attitude or love of weapons might have failed to ring the alarm bells in the united states, or how no one chastised the snobbery of those British rich kids that Mari had spoken about, though sophistication could in itself be a good thing when it came with self-awareness.

There was no virtue so pure that it would retain its merit when exaggerated to the point of… one might say fanaticism. Asuka had responded in disgust, but was she really that different? After all the ugly aggression she had unleashed in service of her fixation on ‘winning’, a distant observer might remark that it was all just the exact same obsession, if only painted over with a western-capitalist ‘hat’ – for under every framework, ideology and so-called culture still lay the frailties of the exact same human nature, the exact same principles of human psychology...

But that neutral observer would most certainly not have been me, not then, not when I was still ‘Shinji Ikari’.

In particular, I wasn’t inclined to think ill of Rei, for whatever her shortcomings were, at least she had always known better but to take them out on others.

But still, no matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t bring myself to be comfortable with what I was seeing before us. I couldn’t look at the five of us and convince myself that everything was going to be okay.


Two motive rants down, two more to go.

Also, I hereby declare that Mari LOVES all the ‘controversial British food’, because of course she does. The more infamous the better.

Look forward to the next chapter, in which Shinji might just run fresh out of patience, and Kyoko may prove herself a wee bit unhelpful.
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

Kendrix
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Wed Jun 02, 2021 2:09 pm

(2.3.3: PAIRED CHOREOGRAPHED COMBAT SIMULATION)

SPOILER: Show
December 1st 2014

T minus 407 days



(Day 4)



I fell asleep in my leotard last night. When I finally took it off to shower in the morning, its seams had left angry red lines all over my skin.



I had not seen so much as a glimpse of actual daylight in three whole days. Well, it’s practically winter now, so it’s not like we would have seen much of the sun upstairs either, but what I mean to say is, I find myself beginning to sympathize with those mole people who supposedly live under the Himalayas according to conspiracy theories.



I found myself wondering what might be going on on the surface – had it started to get really cold by now? Was everyone at school missing us, or were they just carrying on as usual?

...sigh.

By now, I was more or less waking up around the exact time that the technicians would come to get us, but I wasn’t exactly eager to be awake, knowing what to expect.

Let me just hide away under my blanket, at least until I absolutely must leave…



During breakfast, I didn’t dare say a word to Asuka, and I couldn’t find a chance to be alone with Rei. I couldn’t stop thinking about what she had said, about how she would kill herself if father told her to. Back then, I could not yet fathom that he would ever actually do such a thing, but even the existence of the possibility just wouldn’t sit right with me – I didn’t want to think that there was anything or anyone in this world who could cause Rei to just… disappear, the same way you wouldn’t want there to be a nuclear button, even if it was unlikely to be used. What if father misspoke at some point? Well, that would be a child’s worry.

Kaworu looked all thoughtful too this morning; The only one who had any chipperness remaining was, as ever, Mari, though I’d come to see that a bit different since last night, more like a deliberate choice.

I couldn’t feel at ease with the memory of what Asuka had done, either, how she’d responded to such a concerning statement not with worry, but with rage, scorn and disgust, as if Rei were not a person, but just a particularly gross object…

I couldn’t bring myself to talk with her, though, not to confront her, nor even to make peace – last time I tried to be nice, she just started blaming me for everything and later she’d accused me of pity and condescension.

I was just trying to be nice, because I figured that it must suck to miss your parents while they’re busy or away – actually, I know how it sucks. I am missing them right now.

I suppose that they do keep themselves informed about me, even if such underlings as Misato, Kaji and Ritsuko are sent to actually handle us…



Anyway, the ridiculous team building activity of the day turned out to be synchronized swimming, which left me with the thoroughly embarrassing duty to remind Misato that I wasn’t just bad at it, I really really couldn’t swim. As in, I would most likely drown if I ever fell into the water, even the calmest, quietest, standing water.

Kaworu offered to teach me a little bit on the side while the girls went ahead and got started: “To live is to change; In order to do well in life, it’s important to challenge yourself and learn new things. Come on – you can hang onto me.”

In the distance, Asuka was complaining about the outfits – they were fairly conservative, modest bathing suits, really, it’s the childish glittery aquatic decorations that she had a problem with.

Of course, Misato shut this right down:

“Quit complaining! This is an actual specialized synchronized swimming costume.”

Predictably, Rei didn’t mind, and Mari was looking at the positives: “I dunno, I think the seashells are really cute~ I feel like a mermaid!”

Of course, Kaworu and I had matching little trunks in a matching color scheme.

I think he underestimated my ineptitude though, or maybe he though I was exaggerating about it. He ended up spending most of his time at the edge of the kiddie pool, stuck explaining the basics to me while Rei, Asuka and Mari were doing formations and tricks at Misato’s command.

I do think I got slightly better at not drowning by the end of it, but for me to catch up to the others was just not possible. I the end, I just ended up feeling bad for making Kaworu miss out on the fun just because I was so unathletic.



Our lunch took place right next to the pool, the small tables each allotted one of the designated teams – which means that that the benign influences of Kaworu and Mari were confined to their own table, and that I couldn’t talk to Rei even though she was all on her own, because I was stuck with Asuka – I don’t want to get too down on her, though, as the whole thing wasn’t really her fault either.

I have this memory of her listlessly dipping her fries into the ketchup, looking no more excited about what lay before us than I would have been – of course not. Even her drive and enthusiasm must have its limits.

“I just can’t stand it…” she mumbled sourly, “The First always keeps that blank stare, Nagisa always keeps that creepy smile, and Four-Eyes always seems like she’s actually getting off of all this terrible crap...”

I questioned if this was somehow supposed to be a confidential conversation. Once, that would have been normal, but after how she’d been treating me as of late, I can’t say what she expects me to think. Well, it’s not like I was putting up much of a fight against her, either…

But then she said something that really drove a spike of bitter, ugly feelings into my heart:

“They’re all so ridiculous. Almost like caricatures….

You know Shinji, sometimes I feel like you and I are the only real people here..”

...does she even get how much Mari, Kaworu and even Rei have been trying to get along with her?

Does she get that they have to,since they’re stuck with this job?

It’s so easy to think that only people who think and act like you are the ones that count. That everyone else is some ‘fake’ devised just to gripe you. I guess that way, you don’t even have to feel bad about being an ass to them. I doubt she feels bad for being as ass to me, either. After all, I am beneath her – a stupid little boy. Pathetic. That, or I deserve it, since I’m the lucky lucky Mr Highscore who is unfair to her just by existing – whichever’s more convenient for her in that moment, whichever it needs to be to justify taking it all out on us.

But, at that moment, I did not voice any of those grim, bitter thoughts.

I just kept stewing in them quietly…



Next was another ‘dancing’ section, if you could call it dance. So far as I know, people typically looked at dances as particularly joyous occasions. As for what we were doing, there was nothing joyous about it. I had developed such an aversion to it that I had to force myself to follow the others into the room. Mari and Kaworu looked to be doing quite well already – you’d figure that they would have it easier since they were both musical to begin with, but being musical hadn’t helped me one bit.

One the one side of the room, you saw an elegant young man and woman, on the other, two hapless children.

Asuka must have seen that too, though she would never admit it.

The more she saw, the less she liked, and when enough dislike has built up, her poor, poor headphones ended up hurled across the room.

“I can’t stand it! We’ve been at this for days. How much longer are you gonna make us do this until you’ll accept that it’s impossible?”

“As long as it takes~” answered Misato, one leg swung over the other.

“Now pick up the headphones and keep going. The quicker you finish, the quicker we can all go out of here.”

“But it’s almost my birthday!” moaned Asuka, “I can’t be expected to spend my 13th birthday stuck underground! It’s only one in my life, you know!”

“All the more reason for you to work hard to get back on track. This isn’t the sort of exercise that can just be interrupted and resumed without losing progress.”

“You can’t be serious!”

Poor Asuka. She’d been looking forward to canceling all her preteen magazines and switching to teen magazines.

You can understand how, from her perspective, it must all have been getting worse and worse.

“Do you think the angels are gonna care about your birthday?”

“But they’re not here now! We’re never going to get this stupid dance figured out by the day after tomorrow!”

Her distress seemed genuine enough that Misato switched to a more conciliatory tone: “Hey, don’t get discouraged now, it’s not decided yet. You’ve got two whole days, plus the rest of today.

And if you don’t get it finished in time, we can just celebrate our birthdays together! Mine’s on the eight, so we’re super close. We can have a huge, joint party, the more the merrier?”

“But it’s my birthday! No one should have to share their birthday!”

“Then what about twins?”

“Twins are twins. But why should a tender maiden such as I get lumped in with an old lady who is almost 30?”

“What did you say?!”

That’s when Mr. Kaji made a valiant effort to diffuse the the looming drama:

“Now ladies, ladies, please don’t fight… You know what? Once you’re done with the paired exercise, I’ll take you shopping!”

Normally, that would have delighted Asuka, but after the past days had worn her down, it barely made her any less pouty.

“It’s the principle of the thing!”



Soon it was time to kick our ass kicked by the simulator once again. I was honestly beginning to doubt if anything was ever gonna change, questioning why we were just repeating this pointless, unpleasant procedure over and over again. It just didn’t seem possible that the result would ever be any different…

There was, however, at least one difference today: Apparently, the work on EVA 02 was going well enough that Ms. Soryu thought she’d have a chance to witness our simulations and maybe fine-tune it a bit – She greeted us quite cheerfully just as we had returned from getting changed; When she commented on how Mari and Kaworu being paired, you could have gotten the impression that there couldn’t be too big a gap between their progress and ours, like us failing to clear the simulation yesterday could not be anything other than just momentary fluke, the usual messy uncertainty that came with all things biological. Surely today, we would definitely clear the threshold as well; The one uncertainty left was merely which of us would then proceed to get paired up with Rei – but this would surely be Asuka, after all, as the newbie, I was sure to get more use out of the break.

I’d begun this conversation thinking that all that business with EVA 02’s core unit must have kept her truly busy, but by the end of it, I couldn’t escape the question that maybe Misato and Ritsuko might have neglected to keep her up-to-date, or that Asuka herself could’ve misrepresented the situation somehow… but when?

She was literally with me the whole time; She had the very tightest, most bulletproof Misato-mandated alibi – I had an inkling that there was probably some conclusion one should draw from that, but I couldn’t tell which one.

On our way to the plugs, she fixated me briefly with a deliberate, ice-blue glare, and a voice that was little more than a hiss of cold: “Don’t you dare make me lose again.”



Well, I didn’t want to, I really didn’t. I was under the assumption that we would attack at once, just as we’d practiced. Yet, Asuka sped past me faster than I ever could have moved, cleaving the first of our virtual enemies with her sonic glaive, a weapon she often favored… you can basically imagine it as a giant war ax.

I don’t think all the conditioning had been entirely for nothing, though – though there was a moment of trembling hesitation, once I willed myself into action, knew more or less how to follow after her – there was now a comfortable established pattern to follow, a well-connected array of nerve connections firing away in my head. I drew the progressive knife, simply because I already had it on me and choosing it didn’t require me to make another decision, and I set upon the work of beleaguering the advancing white silhouettes, so much like those of the EVAs, radiant mirror images of the divinely appearing demons under our control.

It seems that through sheer force of habit, the paths we cut through the simulated enemy army were possessed of an undeniable symmetry, but they were out of sync, as if one were the other’s likeness in a fun-house mirror – like a line of misaligned buttons, Asuka got to the end of the rows well before I did – which left numerous foes meant for me still lurking on her right.

She was not deterred however – right away, it was obvious to me that this was not the usual Asuka that had been forcibly glued to me for the past few days: Gone were the flashy, braggart moves and the unnecessary flourishes. She fought on with a drive and ferocity that was astonishing even for her.

The connection to her mother’s presence and what appeared at first like premature optimism from Ms. Soryu’s side occurred to be embarrassingly late – in my defense, I was busy with my own fight, and no degree of sudden motivation or ‘heroic second wind’ would have ever gotten me to Asuka’s level.

What happens next is probably a detail that Asuka’s future biographers would be terribly interested in, but to me, it was over so quick that I didn’t know what happened at first. I don’t have traumatic or even especially pronounced memories of it – all I recall is that one moment I was running forward to assist her with the hostile white silhouettes, and the next, I wasn’t – you know how in a lot of viral phone videos of riots or police wrongdoing you just suddenly see the sky, weird angles, the limbs of the people who are running and screaming everywhere? It was like that, no less detached than a video or a rumbling controller when you’re in the process of losing a video game. I did feel some discomfort but as I mentioned earlier, the feedback, though somewhat included in the simulation, was significantly dulled – it wasn’t outright pain.

I assumed that I must have overlooked some enemy behind me and got myself defeated, so imagine my confusion at a sight I had not seen for a while: The screen prompt informing me that we had, in fact, cleared the simulation.

We won? But how? My expression never got the chance to switch from confusion to relief, for when Misato’s voice reached us from the intercom, she didn’t sound congratulatory at all: “You two! Come out! Right now!”



Only when we got to see the playback after arriving in the control room did I get the chance to put together what had happened: That Asuka had gripped onto the outline of my simulated EVA and used it as a shield against the virtual foes, hiding behind its remains for cower as she fired at the remaining enemies.

That’s how she cleared the simulation.

Misato was not happy: “Can you explain to me what on earth you thought you were doing there?”

“I won, duh. Now we can finally stop with all this silly music nonsense.”

“Really? Is that what you think? You did great? It all went hunky-dory?”

Misato’s words then were agitated and dripped with sarcasm – Now at the latest, Asuka must have grasped that she was distinctly in the doghouse, no matter what buffer of stubborn bluster she’d come in with – so she went on the defensive:

“I don’t understand what you’re complaining about! You wanted me to defeat the enemies, and I did. What else could you possibly want from me?”

“For example, I want you to explain that stunt you just pulled.”

That’s when Ms. Soryu got involved, compounded what might have been a simple scolding into something more complicated: “Oi, Katsuragi, aren’t you being a bit too harsh on her? Sure, she didn’t follow the plan perfectly, but she did clear all enemies after working hard for three days! Can’t you give her a break to enjoy her victory for a bit?”

“You call that a victory?! She was supposed to follow the plan.”

For all that Misato seemed harsh to me, Ms. Soryu was shockingly blasé:

“Well, she won anyway! I understand your concern, but you don’t know her as well as I do. She’s a very clever girl, and amazingly independent. And she’s been through all the same basic military training as you. Maybe you ought to see her less as some kid for you to herd, and more as a valuable subordinate under your command whom you trust her to make her own decision in the field.”

Not expecting any further complication on top of our usual squabbling that must no doubt have gotten on her nerves, I thought Misato must have let her exasperation get the better of her, but then again, I wouldn’t have understood the seriousness of the situation.

“This isn’t about decisions or not exactly following the plan. The whole purpose of this exercise was to get them to improve their teamwork…”

Though she remained affable on the surface, Ms. Soryu really didn’t see her point:
“Say, Katsuragi, are you just mad that she beat your little scenario on her own? I get that it was designed for two people, but is it really so hard to admit that you guys underestimated her abilities?”

“...didn’t you see what she just did?! Throwing an ally in the enemy’s line of fire. If she did that in a real battle, Shinji-kun could have been injured, or even killed.”

“We’re at war. That means you have to be pragmatic sometimes. I hope I don’t need to remind you that we must defeat the foe no matter what? All that matters is whether or not we win.”

“With all due respect Ma’am, you’re an engineer. I get that in your profession, it’s all about hard absolute numbers and how to get the best efficiency out of your materials. But you’re not soldier. In war, things are messy, they’re imprecise and uncertain – Especially this war, where we don’t know anything about our foes. Believe me, you would rather that the kids follow a strategy that works out more often than not in a wide range of situations than that they get the best possible result in one single, hypothetical scenario. In a real fight, team work and coordination are not optional.”

“Don’t go lecturing me, young lady, I was working with your father when you were no older than Asuka. There’s no need to tell me about the need to adapt to unforeseen scenarios – in fact, that’s exactly what Asuka did. She saw that she could beat the foe on her own, and she did, using every means at her disposal! I’m not going to punish my daughter for being good. -

Dr. Akagi, surely you must understand this. Come on, tell her she’s being stubborn.”

Miss Ritsuko’s mouth was indeed pressed into a thin line – but it was not Misato at whom she shook her head.

“Soryu-kun. The Evangelions aren’t some vanity project to boost your ego or your family pride. They’re our last line of defense. You must know that we can’t afford to damage them recklessly.

If you can’t separate your feelings as a parent from your sound judgment, you’re out of place here.”

This sent Ms. Soryu into such a rage that I felt reminded that she was, indeed, Asuka’s mother.

“This is preposterous! The EVAs are combat weapons! It’s unavoidable that they’re going to be damaged!”

“Precisely. They are combat weapons.” retorted Ritsuko, staying hard and cool-headed in the face of the older woman’ flaring temper. “Especially the production models that lack of the finicky peculiarities of the prototypes or test models – that means that there are backups and replacements for every single part of them, from the largest armor plates down to the smallest little screws – and that includes the pilots.”

“Bah! As if anyone other than me could pilot it!” protested Asuka, barging into the conversation without a second thought: “Right, Mama?”

“Look – it doesn’t matter, you’re the best option that we have, and being unable to do this one silly dance isn’t going to change this.”

But Asuka would have known that, if the answer could have been a clear, definite no, that’s the one that her mother would have given; What wasn’t said proved just as damning.

“You wouldn’t ever let anyone else pilot it though, right Mama?”

In this context, her protestations seemed more childlike than entitled or aggressive; A sudden reminder that she was only slightly older than Hikari or Kotone.

Even Ms. Soryu must have registered this as a Situation(TM) and so directed her decision not at her frantic daughter, but at Dr. Akagi: “I’ll handle her – we’ll talk about this later.”, the last bits being worded with a certain sharpness that suggested that Ms. Soryu did not believe that this ‘later’ would be too advantageous for Ritsuko and Misato, but much like she said, she ended up walking her daughter out of the room, presumably towards the cafeteria:

“Now come on, don’t make a scene, I’ll get you some nice choco donuts!”



Off in the distance, I heard Asuka’s voice echoing in the corridors, the right up until the automatic sliding door closed behind them: “What did she mean by backup?! Tell me what she meant!”



No sooner did Misato and Ritsuko exhale a breath I had not realized they had been holding. I never was a the perceptive sort.

She had kept up at least some degree of her professional facade while Ms. Soryu was here, but as soon as she was gone, it became apparent that both of the younger women were quite miffed.

Their anger was as different as the ladies themselves – Misato, for once, immediately got mouthy: “I can’t believe she actually called me ‘young lady’! How old do you have to be here until they actually start respecting you? I used to be able to down half a bottle of Vodka, and now I’m completely smashed after just a quarter, my back hurts, my fridge is always stacked with antacids, and still they look at me as just another frivolous twenty-something! You’d think that would have passed after my time in the military...”

Meanwhile, Miss Ritsuko maintained a fearsome, frosty cold, “The problem with that is that the old guard also keeps getting older. It’s like trying to measure if the universe is shrinking with a tool that shrinks in proportion. As long as they’re not dead, they’re just not gonna let go of what they perceive as rightfully theirs. Just be glad that your department had open leadership positions.”

Misato sighed deeply. “Still. You’d expect childishness from the children – that much can’t be helped. It’s in the very nature of our enterprise. I didn’t expect that the real obstacle would be the egos of our own colleagues…”

“But isn’t that how it always is?” remarked Ritsuko, raising an eyebrow above a thin, cynical smile. “For years and years, people like you and I get told that we’re selfish for not having children, but if you ask me, parents are some of the most selfish people in the world. They all understand that nepotism is bad, or that the overall quality of education and equal opportunity increases when all school are public, or when you have busing programs for kids from disadvantaged neighborhoods: When poor facilities affect everyone, everyone is incentivized to improve them, even the rich. But as soon as they have kids, any considerations of the greater good go out the window, and their only concern becomes to give their own kids some heads-up by any means necessary.”

“Isn’t that natural, though? A parent is supposed to care about their children more than anything else – It might not be the logical thing or even the right thing when you look at the mathematics, but if the parents don’t care about their child, then nobody will.”

“But is it really the children they’re so concerned with? In truth, for a lot of parents, it’s all about their own egos. In our society, being a parent comes with a certain status and prestige – it’s respected, or at least expected. Your own family might stop badgering you and proceed straight to bragging about you, and having your child do particularly well gives you even more bragging rights. A lot of people want that, so, they expend time and energy to get it, just like another person might save money for a big house, a new car or a giant pool instead, or go traveling across the globe – why do you think that so many parents will throw their child onto the streets if they turn out gay or whatever? That’s because, in a judgmental society, a gay kid doesn’t net you any status. For some parents, it’s enough that you want to play music instead of going to law school – they’ll reject you for the littlest things.

It’s especially easy for men: They’ll probably get a raise, and under ‘traditional values’, they can expect that all the actual work involved will be someone else’s problem – not that women are that much better. If the world doesn’t afford you many other ways to gain respect, getting knocked up seems like an easy way to do it. A lot of people only give birth because if they didn’t, they would burst. They get told that they’re supposed to it, or that it’s gonna complete their life. Yet, when their life doesn’t magically become complete, and they don’t transform overnight into perfect Mamas with completely different priorities, their kids are just gonna fall by the wayside when they go back to doing what they’re actually interested in.”

“...you can’t deny that there’s some people like that…” concluded Misato soberly, “Still, weren’t you a bit harsh on Soryu? I don’t like her pulling seniority on us any more than you do, but, aren’t you also working on a kind of family project? You did tell me that the supercomputers we’re still working with were invented by your mother…”

“Hardly. I work with them because they are the most advanced computer system in the world, and that’s what I want to work with, no matter who happened to build it. But if it did feature, it wouldn’t necessarily be a positive. We weren’t exactly close - As a scientist, I have no choice but to admire her contributions to progress – and I don’t think I’ll ever be a mother, so, I can’t claim that I really understand the challenges or difficulties of that, but as a person, she was impulsive, irascible, vindictive and just all kinds of foolish.”



My presence in the room was eventually remembered and I was awkwardly shooed out. I’m sure Misato must have been hoping that I hadn’t been listening to that part about the Vodka.

For lack of anywhere else to go, I trudged along my usual path towards our quarters and spent my lunch with Rei. Mari and Kaworu were on laundry duty – once in a while, we could hear her singing to herself off in the distance while Kaworu leisurely hummed along with her.

On the table, it was just me, Rei, and a nutritious energy bar for each of us – I believe it was Rei’s turn to organize the food today. It wasn’t actually that bad, coconut flavored I think – Mari and Kaworu could eat theirs while they did the laundry, with the former having joked about how it was a bit like eating military rations or astronaut food, and as Rei had often extolled, it had all the proper nutrients.

I was missing some of the art and ceremony of a meal, though, so I made an effort to eat it in small bites to have it feel more like an actual shared lunch.

This should have been a joyous opportunity, considering that I’d been wanting to talk with Rei for a while, but now that I had the chance, I found myself hesitating. Maybe it was that I didn’t feel ready for every possible kind of answer.

“You didn’t really mean that, though? What you said yesterday? About how you’d die if father told you to?”

“Of course I do.”

She didn’t even make it sound like a big deal.

“But- such a thing… talking about dying…”

“We’re going to war. People die in wars all the time. People die on orders all the time in wars. People die even when they don’t mean to die, even those who never signed up to be soldiers. Besides, if I were to die, that would be when I couldn’t pilot EVA anymore, so there would be no more reason for me to remain here either way. Thus, my life, which would have no more purpose, could be used one last time. We will all die, when the time comes, whether we fight or not – a meaningless death, where we just wait for it to come after losing everything else. So, a death with meaning and purpose is not the worst that could happen.”

I had nothing to say to this.

I just hadn’t engaged in the degree of thought that would have been necessary to have an answer to this.

“But- we were going to survive together, remember…?”

That was all that I could stammer, harkening back to my outburst in her apartment.

“I never promised that. I cannot. I’ve told you before – There is no guarantee than you, or I, or anybody else will survive the coming year.”

Her face, as she said this, was as much of a blank, rigid mask at it has ever been, her eyes and head, slightly downcast as it was her usual wont… but her voice…

“I am sorry, but it is best that you do not make plans too far into the future.”

She had apologized to me before, usually because she didn’t understand something, or felt uncertain about her lackluster people skills, but this was…

This was the first time I’d seen her unwavering determination diluted by something like regret.



I had nothing to say to that, not unless I could prove to her without a doubt that we’d both still be standing here in a year, and who could, really, truly do that? Under the best of conditions, the very best one could say was that we would probably be here because most 13-year-olds in wealthy countries eventually live to be 14, but there was no accounting for freak accidents or random burst blood vessels… and in our case, there was a war coming.

Nothing of what she’d said was incorrect, but, maybe what concerned me was that she didn’t even seem scared. That was different from just… understanding the reality that she might die in battle; I almost said ‘necessity’ there, but I didn’t even want to think that.

Either way, I had no answer.

But the thought weighed on my mind and so I thought that, as ever so often, maybe Kaworu would know what I didn’t, and be able to do what I couldn’t. Looking back, I notice that I relied on him a lot, perhaps too much. I couldn’t see it as an active action back then. I just saw it as me being lost and him appearing out of nowhere, like a light descending from the skies.

The humble reality was instead that I timidly approached him once Rei had retreated to her room with a book, while Mari was singing some cheesy love song under the shower, impressively archiving such a prodigious volume that one could at times make out the lyrics over the sound of the rushing water.



Kaworu was smiling to himself, leaning leisurely against the wall next to the bathroom door, dutifully waiting for his teammate to reemerge, with towels, a change of underclothes and the silly leotard already waiting under his arm – for once our noon break was over, there would be yet more training to come.

I wondered what I was gonna do if Asuka didn’t return. I wasn’t so optimistic as to suppose that I might actually get some time off. Maybe they would make me practice with Rei, since the pilots were, after all, an even number now, just as they would have been from the first if Mom had never insisted on adding me to the roster of priority candidates. But now that my numbers were on par with some of actual pilots, I couldn’t really object against her judgment. If the angels attacked right now and they somehow needed backup, my lack of experience would have been the only barrier to my deployment, so of course that was something they’d want to preempt. Of course, if they would need backup, that would mean that one of my friends would have received a beating that landed them in the hospital, or worse. Not really something I wanted to be thinking about…



Attentive as ever, Kaworu looked up at me when he sensed my approach, quickly realizing my intentions: “Hello Shinji-kun. Is something the matter? Do you wish to talk?”

I told him what happened, but, to my horror, he actually concurred with Rei:

“Actually, when you think about it, the freedom to chose one’s own death is the greatest freedom there is.”

“Huh- ? But how can you say such a thing…”

“Don’t misunderstand. If someone suffers from a disease of the brain and therefore misjudges their situations as worse than it is, and leaves without knowing that their loved ones will miss them, that is without doubt a tragedy that ought to be averted. But I don’t think anyone would fault a soldier for taking a way out in order to evade a worse death after protracted torture, or someone who lacks the desire to prolong the unending agony of a terminal condition – are you familiar with the play ‘Romeo and Juliet’?”

“...sort of, I guess…”

I suppose I knew what most people with access to American TV shows would have gathered through popcultural osmosis.

“It is quite famous, but often misunderstood.”

“I know right? People say it’s this great love story, but actually it’s supposed to be a cautionary tale right?”

I might’ve repeated something I’d heard from Asuka, since she was a certified Smart Person, trying very hard not to look like a silly little boy who likes silly little love stories, especially not in front of Kaworu.

I must have looked like a really pathetic tryhard wannabe. Or like a teenager, I guess.

“The two of them were foolish and acted rashly and followed their feelings without thinking, instead of being patient like the monk guy said- and Romeo probably wasn’t even that serious, since he actually starts out the play being all over some other girl, who never even appears, probably cause she doesn’t have to, since he was probably only into his idea of her, like an illusion… How serious could they be, when they weren’t that much older than us...hehe...”

I tried my hardest to act less self-conscious, lest I choke on the irony of chastising anyone for acting in a rash emotional way, or making himself illusions – but that’s what you were supposed to say, right? You weren’t supposed to be okay with anyone being that way…

I might as well have burst out the full on self-pity: Haha, I’m young, I’m foolish, I’m spoiled and nothing I feel ever counts.

But Kaworu only laughed – not at me, not in a mean way at all, but open, full, good-humored, like he’d heard something that was wrong in a very intriguing way, which might lead to discovery, or give him an opportunity to talk about his favorite topics.

“No, no, no, who told you that! That’s not how it is at all!”

Once he had a hold of himself, he smiled at me with an obvious fondness.

“This is the sort of take you get when you look at it through a modern perspective, where we expect stories to have twists, surprises and hidden meanings. This has also to do with our mediums and our culture: Today, when a new episode of a TV show comes out, people will watch it all over again, possibly even as part of a long binge, and then they will discuss it with a community on the internet. Authors can almost certainly assume that people will watch it again, so they can pack it full of hidden clues and meanings – even if one person doesn’t find it all out, the full meaning will emerge in discussion with their friends. Who lights a lamp and then covers it up? Unless they’re arrogant and pedantic, most authors want their work to be understood. Hiding a meaning behind a ‘layer’ can serve to highlight it, just like using a title in a foreign language – the reader or viewer needs to find out what it means, so they end up thinking about why the meaning was chosen. You can see a difference in culture if you look back at TV shown from even just a few decades ago, where they will have many individual, episodic stories that don’t advance the main plot, or have long recapitulations when the plot does advance – that is because, back then, people did not do binge watches, but largely watched their shows on TV where they came on once a day or even once a week – so the recap was helpful if you couldn’t recall all the details of the plot.

But if you were to do a binge watch, such constant reminders might just be annoying. And that’s just ten years ago, with the same medium of TV. Think how different things must have been in a theater play, all the way back in the Elizabethan age!

It must be seen in its proper context.

The rhymes and rhyming schemes that today seem tedious and pedantic would at the time have made it easier to memorize and guaranteed a certain flow of the words when they are performed out loud, a rhythm you could feel with your body.

The matter with Rosaline, meanwhile, has Romeo speaking at first with the typical language of the poems at the time, in a style that was already going out of passion: The flurry of ostentatious oxymora typical of baroque poetry, which typically praises some unreachably perfect, unattainable lady. But Shakespeare is renowned to this day because his poems, even his love poems, stood out from the crowd: There is for example a series where the lady is very different from the beauty ideals of the time, and allowed to have a tempestuous, imperfect personality that makes the speaker’s passion no less ardent.

Here it is the same: When Romeo encounters Juliet, their language changes to something much different, something much more new and unique which, to the audience of back then, couldn’t have been more different from the same tired old poem tropes, especially in how it is much more reciprocal: They continue each other’s metaphors; Their lines arrange themselves into a harmonious whole, like a duet, their words are fresh and creative -

‘Romeo and Juliet’ itself is though of today as a classic, even a cliché, but the reason we even know it is that it was novel and revolutionary in its day: Back then, the most popular genres involved either romantic comedies following the misadventures of young people, or dramas featuring politics, murders and feuding families. This play defied traditional genre lines by going from one to the other in the middle of the play.



Poets like Shakespeare had to work with a mixed audience of educated nobles and poor peasants who, far from being able to rewatch things or read analysis on the internet, didn’t even have the benefit of basic English classes! The texts are written with basic elements to appeal to both types of clients – such as crude jokes, but also references to history and myth. But the core of the story, it’s feeling, must be understood by all.

That’s why the story tells you right away what it’s about, from the very opening paragraph -”

He stood up straight, getting in the proper state and mindset to recite:

“Two households, both alike in dignity

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;

Whose misadventur’d piteous overthrows

Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.

The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,

And the continuance of their parents’ rage,

Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,

Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;

The which if you with patient ears attend,

What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.”



At this point it’s probably redundant to mention that he was really really good at this. With his impassioned voice, he could make everything and anything sound important.

“The blame, straight away, is laid with the parents and the old strife that existed long before the younger generation was born.

Romeo and Juliet did nothing wrong; At worst, they’re acting like ordinary young people, and under normal circumstances, this would have led to nothing worse than perhaps that they would have to do a bit of work to stay together happily later in their marriage.

It is only the outer situation, the feud, born of the parents’ own stubbornness and arrogance, that made it unsafe to be a normal young person. That is why each of the houses loses two members – including that of the prince of Verona, who failed to quell the strife.

But what saddens me most about the reductive readings out there is that it completely extinguishes their characters. Did you know that each of the characters get their own very characteristic choice of words and way of speaking? Yet despite the very artificial language used, in the sense of what they’re saying, the conversations of Romeo and his friends seem none too different from what you might discuss with Aida and Suzuhara.

Romeo himself goes from being this passionate, creative but perhaps too reactive person to resolute but desperate; Juliet, who at the start, was merely going along with her parent’s wishes as an obedient little girl comes to be a young woman willing to take her own fate into her own hands. It is her who hatches all the plans, even while she is stuck on her own.

Of course she would rather that her plan had worked out, but when she says, ‘If all else fails, I myself have power to die’, that signifies that she is not just a helpless, shipwrecked sailor blown about by the tides of fate; It is probably my favorite line.

People think of this play as a story about love, or even hate, but in the end, it is quintessentially a tale of freedom. The tragedy, to me, is not so much that they died, but that they felt they couldn’t be free through any other means than death – for that is the cruel, unforgiving world with their elders had created. They are, to me, not too different from someone who gets shot while climbing over a border fence, or who gets executed in some extremist country for watching a foreign movie. - Isn’t it remarkable, that in some instances of the human animal, there is such a strong desire to be the master of one’s own fate that they need it more than air, more than food?”

Some humans, perhaps. Not me. I know I wouldn’t have the courage. I would dream of freedom, maybe, and then I’d wake up and continue to kiss the feet of the dear leader.

Is it so selfish of me, that I don’t want my friends to go die for some noble cause?

Why did it have to be my friends in particukar? Why should I, out of everyone in the world, have to go and give them up?

And what of them? Even if you count me a wretched worm, don’t they deserve better on their own account?

I continued to look at Kaworu, his resolute face, his noble, silver brow, as if at any moment, a gust of wind might blow him away.

“Yet, our world as it now seems to be becoming less and less suitable for that. When we are young, pliable and adaptable, we are in the condition of being under the control of others, and later this often continues, through employers, society, government injustice – and this, though it has been shown that even simple rats can take their sorrow more easily if they have the least bit of control over the reason…”

Honestly, I wouldn’t even know what to do with my life, if I were to get control of it. I feel that, if I strayed too far from the path I would probably muck it up. That’s why I’m here, isn’t it? Cause the path seemed to lead here.

Kaworu chuckled, as if amused. Which parts of that did I say out loud again? I can’t recall.

“That is only because you haven’t had much experience in that. You are only just emerging, still in the process of awakening to your full capacity of choice. It is a skill that must be practiced – just like playing an instrument.”

I figured that he would know…

“I wonder if I should read some Shakespeare.”

“If you want? It’s your choice. It can be a bit dense, though, I’d recommend that you get a translation, there’s no way you could get through all the old English at your present level. But don’t feel compelled to. In the end what I just described is my personal interpretation, my own meaning that I connect to the play – I don’t expect it to speak to everybody in the same way. I just feel personally connected to it.”

“...cause chairman Keel thinks having a girlfriend would interfere with your piloting?”

“Nothing quite so literal. Though it could be applicable even to you and I – we are good friends even though our heritage is at odds.”

“I wouldn’t call that a blood feud, though, even if my parents and chairman Kiel argue about the budgets and stuff…”

We had a nice, brief laugh over this, but little did I know that I was severely mistaken – both about my parents and the chairman, and about what Kaworu had truly meant when he mentioned our ‘heritage’…
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like

Kendrix
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Re: Fanfic: Path of Hollowness

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Postby Kendrix » Wed Jun 02, 2021 2:10 pm

Part 2

SPOILER: Show
(2.3.3: Things you like, Things you hate, Things you can’t give up)


Rei had gone off somewhere after lunch, citing some important appointment with Dr. Akagi.

When Kaworu and Mari left for their training not long after, I sort of followed after them, for lack of anywhere else to go, dragging my feet a few steps behind, acting – and quite honestly, feeling – like I had done something wrong…

I was right to expect dismay on the side of Misato, at least.

We were had already been designated as the problem children for this particular exercise, and now, there was only one of us, sheepishly trailing after the other team.

Misato facepalmed at once.

“Where’s Asuka?!”

“...she hasn’t come back yet…”

“But she was supposed to be on her way!”

Poor, poor Misato. After everything today, she looked just about ready to blow a gasket. “We don’t have time for this…”

Behind her, Kaji-san looked a whole-lot calmer – yet I can’t say that there wasn’t anything ominous about the big, big grin with which he regarded me.

“Shinji-kun. Why don’t you go try and fetch her?”

...something tells me that this was not just an optional suggestion.

“That is part of your job, too.”



At least he was so kind as to inform me in a conspiratory whisper which approximate direction she was supposedly last seen running off in.

But either way: Mari and Kaworu would have to start without us.

Honestly, I felt bad for leaving them to make fools of themselves on their own, although, it was almost physically impossible for Kaworu to look ungainly, and Mari was pretty much immune to any form of embarassment, no matter how lanky her limbs or how bouncy her chest.

“Don’t mind us, we shall manage.”

“Go on! Go collect the princess~!”



I’d resigned myself to combing through the labyrinthine maze of GEHIRN headquarters for ages, or at the very least, for the rest of the afternoon, but in truth, I have to admit that Asuka actually turned up sooner than expected.

I thought at the very least that I’d have to make my way up to her last known location at the cafeteria, but before that, I was alerted to her presence by the sound of yelling, an indicator more reliable than any ph-marker paper.

I didn’t find out who was on the receiving end until got within sight of them, but I should have figured that it was Rei.

It appears that through some unfortunate circumstance, they had both decided to cross one of the many narrow walkways in this complex at the same time.

“Could I please just get by? I have important business with Dr. Ikari and the commander.”

“Sure you do! I bet you’re on your way to tattle on us again.”

As the redhead seemed determined to get in her personal space, Rei backed off to the side.

“And how is that any of your concern?”

I think Rei was till hoping to just walk past her and be done with it.

“How could it NOT be? Hey- you! Don’t just leave! Look at me while I’m talking to you, you damned stone statue!”



I was considering to butt in, but unlike yesterday, there was no need.

The moment that she spotted me, her wrath had an all-new target to occupy itself.

I retain a vivid impression of her flaring nostrils, her brows knotting together, her face as a whole moving just the slightest bit backward – all coming together into a perfect mosaic of disgust and rejection.

“You! What are YOU doing here?!”

“I- I just wanted-”

“I don’t care what you wanted! Just leave me in peace!”

Conveyed in her posture and the motions of her hands was evident frustration, her evident aggression restrained in the white-knuckle grip of the fists on the sides of her hips, but restrained it would remain, as she turned on her heel and ran off – in the opposite direction that she had been going, no less.

At least, poor Rei was now finally free to go where she would.

True to the ‘lack of initiative’ entry on my official list of weaknesses, I looked to her for something to do, and Rei herself was of course acting perfectly put-together, in spite of the way she had just been accosted. “You should go after her.”, she advised me gravely.

I felt bad about leaving her behind after this, but alas, I fear that under the circumstances, she was probably right.

A few moments of reluctance later, I went after Asuka. Not that I saw much of her – she was way, way faster than me. There was no point in running; Better to let her get wherever she was going and catch up with her there. Not that I had any idea where that would be – I wasn’t even familiar with these parts of the corridors, to be honest. I just made the assumption that Asuka would be pissed enough to just run straight ahead without turning any corners, and at last, emerged into an unfamiliar place.

This was right outside the NERV pyramid, on the other side from the access way rails or the artificial lake, leading out into the forests of the geofront – but not straightaway.

I never expected to find a place like this anywhere in this sleek, technocratic complex.

It looked almost like a ruin or, a garden adorned with structures of stone – there were columns, statues, rose bushes. Plants that you wouldn’t expect here, ornate fountains and waterways with stone steps leading cross them. It was probably just an imitation, but some of the vine-covered stone structures looked like they could have been the oldest things in this city – and in the center of all, there was an ornate gazebo, occupied by but a single girl, curled in to myself.

Even through the warped, self-serving lens of my pent-up dissatisfaction, the lonesome image of her gave rise to an inescapable sadness that halted my footsteps the more closely I approached her.

Stumbling and unreliable as it was, what measly courage I possessed took me as far as the edge of the roof – to go further, and place my feet on those colored tiles, would have felt like encroaching on some sacred, holy barrier whose defilement would have carried a heavy price –

I suppose she was tolerating me enough not to flee outright, but she wouldn’t even look at me.



“Look, Asuka, I-”

“Save it!” she retorted, still hostile, but also, still making an evident effort to constrain her anger – a rare thing for her.

“Whatever you’re gonna say, just don’t. I get it, alright? I’ll keep trying. It’s not like I’ve got any other choice. I have to pilot the EVA.”



“But-…”

That’s when, fumbling for words, I stumbled upon the question that I should have been asking to begin with, the one that should have flowed from every aspect of her behavior as of late: “But why is this so important?

I get that we’re supposed to beat an invasion of aliens who want to kill us all, but we just have to be good enough for that, right? We’re all on the same team, it’s all of us against the enemy. So what does it matter which of us is the best, as long as we beat them together?”

I wish I could say that it was an innocent question, but the truth is, I was exasperated, my patience exhausted by what I believed to be her pointlessly competitive antics, and I don’t doubt that you could hear it in my voice – no, be that as it may, it was simply the wrong answer, because, in all fairness, she had been making an effort to contain her present rage (and, in hindsight, maybe confusion, too) and this question was what shattered it.

“Figures that you would be the one to start talking crap like that.”

“W-What do you mean, me?”

That was not a reluctant, hesitant inquiry. I was most certainly near the end of my patience.

All the worse to be answered with a quiet, cold, unforgiving voice:

“Someone like you. A lucky, spoiled little boy.”

“-Lucky?! What do you mean, lucky? I’ve been stuck underground, wearing ridiculous clothes, trying to prepare for a war that might kill us all, and you’re calling me lucky?”

“YES! YES I AM!” She came at me with surprising ferocity, like there was far more behind it than just this one fight, or even these past days. If her voice was frightening when it went quiet, she was all the more terrifying now that her wrath was steadily escalating.

Now she looked. Now she got up, now she came closer and closer with every fuming word -

The closer she came, the more I backed off – I think I might have fled from her all across the garden in the progression of this conversation.

“You’re not only lucky, you’re also damn clueless. You’re so lucky that you can afford to be clueless! A lucky, clueless little boy from a lucky, happy family with perfect, lovey-dovey parents who are still all over each other after after fifteen years of marriage! You’re a boy, which means you get one fifth of everything for free to begin with, and on top of that, you’ve never had to work at anything in your life!

You were out there the whole time playing silly games with your silly friends, frolicking around in the sunshine! You never had to spend your days in a gym, or on the training grounds, or in any of those bulky early-generation plugsuits! Did you know that they used to come with a big, bulky helmet? And before that, loads of cables strapping us to the plug? The first proper one was huge and heavy like an astronaut suit, and before that, they just strapped us to a harness… we couldn’t even move!

Did you know how long it took me to reach your measly sixty percent? How long it took for me to beat the First? Two Years! Two long, grueling, agonizing years, and all the time, I knew that I would lose everything if I didn’t make the cut. Let me tell you, the first recruitment drive was not all fun and games, unlike this- this kindergarten that they’re making us go through because any and all standards suddenly went out the windows apparently. I was the only one who made it through, out of a few hundred candidates, all of whom I beat. – I alone was chosen, not like the other four of you, who all had those ever so convenient insider connections – a whiny klutz like you would never have made it through the kind of program that I had to go through.

Maybe you can afford not to care about what happens. You’d just go back to your boring, convenient, zero-effort vegetating that you call your life! It’s not like you are going to lose everything that you’ve worked for your whole life!

No, you don’t give a rat’s ass, because you got everything handed to you by mommy and daddy. You didn’t even have to make an effort, you just so happened to stumble into a simulation plug once, and whoosh, as if by magic, you walk away with the highest assessment score ever recorded! You beat the First just like that, just a few weeks, like it’s nothing. You’re almost on-par with four-eyes already, and she started weeks before you did. You just. Get. Everything handed to you, all the time!

How is this fair?! If it’s just so darn easy, then why did I have to spend all my time studying and running laps while you just lazed about with your darn casette player?!

Tell me, oh esteemed Mister Highscore, how the hell is that supposed to be fair!”

“I-”

I had no answer. How could I have one? If there was an answer to be had here at all, maybe my parents might have it – but I sure didn’t.

I was the last person in the world who could have that answer.

Especially not now – I was stunned into silence; My brain was closed for business as it recalculated and recalibrated everything that was now tinged by this new context, and in this new light, Asuka’s extreme, aggressive competitiveness looked less like obsession, and more like a struggle for survival – even if it wasn’t survival, it must have felt like that, if she felt like she would lose all she had known, all she was invested in, in short, that which made her special – as Rei might put it: That without which she felt she wouldn’t have a reason to exist.

I wanted to tell her that her mom would surely still love her whether she was a pilot or not, but with Ritsuko’s and Misato’s conversation in the back of my mind, I wasn’t sure that I could. It was not my place to speak for Ms. Soryu, anyways.

I realized that all this time, there had been a fundamental disconnect between myself and Asuka – no, not just her. Everybody. Kaworu, Rei. Perhaps even Mari.

A part of me wanted to walk towards Asuka, to console her, to put my hand on her shoulder – she was my friend after all. She had been my friend for a long time, and this stupid, stupid argument wasn’t gonna change that so quickly.

But I didn’t. I knew that if I did that, she would lash out. I feared she would, at least, or that was my excuse. I only kept backing away, cause I had no answer for her.

“How is that fair?!” she kept asking, and how could I possibly have an answer for that?

“You already get to have the perfect family, so why do you have to be the perfect pilot, too?!”

I seized onto that detail, cause it was the only part I could argue with: “...perfect?! Perfect?! Hardly! They’re always busy, and you know that! You always used to be at our place! You know, I know how much it sucks when your parents don’t have time for you, but-”

“Just shut up! Don’t you dare! You know nothing!” She kicked me then, rather viciously, right in the shin. “Don’t you dare act like you understand anything! At least you got two of them! At least they’re still together! Don’t you dare open your clueless little mouth! Mama and I have been all alone in this world ever since grandma died. You can’t even imagine what that’s like!”

“But your father, and your stepmom-”

“That asshole ditched mama like some sort of used tissue! Just like that! Okay. Fine. He chose Heike.”

‘Heike’ is Ms. Langley’s first name.

“He doesn’t need me anymore, ‘cause he’s got Lisa now. She wins this one. As if that’s hard. Anyone can get some guy to like them, they all want just one thing. All you gotta do is spread your legs!

But can Heike build something like an EVA? No, she can’t. And that’s how Mama wins. Can Lisa save the Earth? No, she can’t- and that’s how I win. Like Lisa’s so special. She can barely write a full sentence without spelling errors!”

“...of course not. She’s still in grade school. Aren’t you being a bit harsh there…? She’s your little sister.”

“Half-sister.”

So that’s how she thought. I guess I always knew that… that there had been doubts, and tension, I just never thought they were the whole picture. The real picture. I mean, I knew I wasn’t. I thought I knew. I though I’d heard her speak of Ms. Langley – of her stepmom – in less… simple terms. But what did I know? How would I know which is the true face, and which is just another in a large collection of masks, one of as many as she has shoes, or dresses…

However, even one so dense as myself couldn’t help but being moved to a little bit of sympathy, even as she’d cursed and raged.

“Is that why you became an EVA pilot? Because you wanted to make your mother’s dream come true?”

“Bah! Nonsense!” she bristled, so defensively that I was sure I must have guessed near, demonstratively slapping her hand on her chest: “I pilot the EVA because of me. BecauseI want to. The only dream I care about is my own!”

But I had already seen what this looked like in Mari, and this just wasn’t the same.

After she had just gone and practically raved about the unfairness of it all, I would never again believe that she took even the slightest bit of pleasure in her duties as an EVA pilot.

She had fooled me with her arrogance, but, what I began to understand in that moment was that deep down, she and I were not all that different…

It was evident that she had shouted off most of her energy now; there was some quantity of exhaustion shining through.

“I just don’t get why they think they have to lecture me. Humiliate me, even! I get that we have to win. I get that it’s important-I’m doing it perfectly, just like they asked! You’re the klutz! So why Do I have to get yelled at?! Why take it out on me?!”

She was actually near tears.



What was I to say to this? What could I say?

I must have defaulted to one of the most ingrained patterns:

“I- I’m sorry. You’re right. You’re really right – I really didn’t understand. I had no idea what you’ve been through, or how important this is to you – I promise I wasn’t screwing it up on purpose! I was trying my best – b-but I’ll try even harder, if that’s what it takes!

Just, please come back-”



I wonder what the right answer might have been, whatever a smarter, more emphatic person might have thought of – I wonder if there was a right answer, or if whatever I said was gonna be wrong just by coming from the lips of the kid with the high assessment score.

I thought this might end in a fistfight then and there – that’s how scary the look on her face was.

But the lightning discharge I had been expected stayed away, never truly connecting though her body remained tensely loaded with all that pent up energy:

“Why don’t you just go away and leave me in peace?”



Seeing as nothing to come out my mouth had seemed to have had any other effect than to make things worse, I had no good reason not to.

I backed away – first one step, then another, at first careful not to fall into the waterways of the garden, but then, before I knew it, I was running in the other direction.



Anyways, I don’t think Misato and Kaji were even expecting us to show up anymore – but I didn’t want to see Mr. Kaji’s disapproving face.

I… dawdled.

I might have felt dramatic enough to say that I ‘wandered’.

First I retraced my steps until where I thought I’d left Rei, but of course, she was no longer there, after all, she had explicitly mentioned that she had an urgent appointment.

After that, I halfway aimed for the vending machines, until it occurred to me that I didn’t have any coins on me – of course not. As if there were anywhere to keep a wallet in these silly leotards we’d been forced into.

I walked the corridors without aim, until, just out of habit, my way led me back to the two converted quarters.

There were still sounds coming from the room with the training array, and there weren’t exactly windows that would let me guess the passage of time from the position of the sun, so I suspected that the training might still be in session.

I meant to let myself in as quietly and penitently as I could, hoping that I wouldn’t be noticed any sooner than necessary, but expecting that I would be scolded and ordered about some more.

Before I could make it through the door, however, I noticed that the noises coming from within were not music, but shouting:

“Oi, that hurt!”

“It was supposed to! What makes you think I have forgiven you?!

I might be working with you for the sake of our mission, but that doesn’t mean that I have to listen to your cheesy pickup lines! I can’t believe that after all these years, you haven’t changed a bit! Don’t you have any sense of professionalism?”

...it was Misato and Kaji arguing. How depressing.

They might have been putting up a united front in front of us, but it seems that they didn’t like being forced to work together any more than we did.

You’d think it would get easier as you get older, but, apparently, not for everyone.

Misato was arguing with Ms. Soryu earlier, too….

How were we ever supposed to save the earth like this?

It was just super discouraging.



I decided then that I wanted to get away from the door before they decided to come out – but if Mari and Kaworu weren’t in there anymore, it figures that they must be in our quarters...

I didn’t really feel like talking to anyone after this long, depressing day, but if had to be around anyone, Kaworu was probably the least worse choice.

I’d halfway decided that maybe talking to him didn’t sound so bad, only to find that the apartment was completely empty. There was no Kaworu, and no Mari either – had they been carted off to yet another wacky training exercise, or were they doing another round in the simulator?

I had no way of knowing, since I hadn’t even been present for the last unit of training.

Rei wasn’t back, either.

I hated this. This was not at all how I’d thought this was going to be. If I’d known that it would end like this, I would never have signed up to be a pilot in the first place!

But if I quit now, leaving all my friends behind, what would they think of me?

It was starting to look like I couldn’t run away. Just like some sort of trapped rat.



I dropped myself onto the sofa and sulked until I heard the sound of the door.

It would be hard to miss the conspicuous ball of energy that is Mari – she sped right past me with a cursory greeting, making straight for her room without stopping for an explanation.

In her wake, I saw Kaworu proceeding into the room at a much more reasonable pace, taking note of me as I crossed his field of vision.

“Good evening, Shinji-kun! Mind if I sit next to you?”

I nodded glumly.

While he took a seat, we could hear all sorts of mysterious noises emanating from the room he currently shared with Mari, though he did not seem troubled by it, and I was not left guessing for long, for she soon emerged with her bag wrapped in her futon, hauling all of it into the next room for reasons beyond my comprehension.

“Oh, that’s just cause I’ll be teaming up with Rei-san next. We beat the simulator!” and as she was done saying this, she closed the sliding door behind her through the creative application of her toes.

“Oh… congratulations…” I said, in Kaworu’s general direction, as he was the one member of that team in still present in the room.

Behind the door, Mari was evidently having a good time spreading out her stuff. “Lalilalila~”

This ought to have been good news, a success for my friends and a speck of hope for the defense of mankind, but all I could think about was how mad Asuka was going to be.

We were bad at this – really, really bad. At this rate, everyone else was gonna be done with this exercise before we’d even concluded one part of it. Once Mari and Rei were done, we’d be holding everybody up – that is, if Misato and Kaji would even bother to make us train with each of the others after this debacle – even their patience must be reaching its end.

“You look troubled.” Kaworu observed, mildly concerned.

“Don’t worry, it’s nothing- it’s just…”

“You can tell me if you want. You don’t have to, of course, but I would be glad to listen.”

Ah, good old Kaworu. He just really knows how to make people feel at ease. always says the right things at exactly the right time. He never comes off pushy, or like he’s making assumptions – It’s so easy to tell him all the things you keep hidden… I bet if he were in my place, he would have been able to tell right away what was bothering Asuka. He would’ve known what she needed to hear… he always makes everything better – unlike me, who always makes everything worse.

I could feel all my armored shells melting away, slipping off to land in an artistic-looking pile at my feet.

He took my hand, flashing me an easy, encouraging smile, and all my resistance crumbled, just like all the times before.

“It’s just… you’re already done with this twice over, and I couldn’t even do it once! I thought I was finally gonna be able to help, but I’m just getting in everybody’s way… But the worst of it is that I’m ruining it all for Asuka. Piloting the EVA is really, really important to her, and now she’s lagging behind ‘cause she got stuck with the newbie…”

“Are you scared of hurting others?”

“Who wouldn’t be! I know I’d hate it if that happened to me, and that should make me know better than to inflict it on others. If I didn’t, I would deserve everything that happens to me.

So I try and I try, but I just never get better… I don’t think I’m really cut out for this – I’m not like you, or Asuka, or Rei, or Mari-san.

You’re all cool, and brave, and smart, and special, and I’m just an ordinary kid. If anything, I should be with Touji and the other beginners. But since I got a high number at that test, everyone started treating me different – everyone’s looking to me and expecting impossible things! It’s like no one can see that I’m still just me. They say that I’m ‘gifted’ or whatever, but I’m really not. I don’t know how to do anything right. I’m not good at sports, or studying, or talking to people…

I feel like I really shouldn’t be here. I don’t belong. You could swap me out with any of the others, and it would be better – Touji is really cool and tough and he’s a really good guy, so you can trust him with anything. The class rep is really responsible, too. I’m sure Asuka would much rather be on a team with her. Kensuke is clever, and he knows how to do lots of different things, and he really wants to do it, too! Same with Marie – besides, she’s super smart so, she’d fit right in with Asuka and everyone else. And Suzunami is really dedicated – she never gives up, even when things go bad. I bet if she were here instead of me, she wouldn’t be complaining.

I just don’t see why they picked me when nearly anyone would be better. I’m never gonna be good at this.”

“That’s not true. I can see that you’re working very hard. Your results so far have been really extraordinary – I’m not sure you appreciate how much.”

“I’m still nowhere as good as you though… You’re so great at this… You must have been doing it a really long time…”

“You could say that, yes –“ mused Kaworu, his gaze sobering, “...but that’s all it is. Mere experience – knowledge. I have simply been a part of this for a little longer than you.”

“I still think you’re amazing, though.” I protested, quite self-consciously, yet somehow, that seemed to cheer him up a bit.

“If nothing else, it’s reassuring to have someone as amazing as you looking out for me.”

His smile returned, and a regarded me fondly.

“I’m very glad to hear that you think so.”

For a brief moment, I had the impression that he had squeezed my hand just a little harder, but the significance of that slipped through my perception. There was no hook for it to catch in the frameworks of my perception – I wasn’t listening for it.

I’m certain that I returned the gesture, though, it was just such a relief to talk to just one person who wasn’t constantly yelling at me. Even if he was still going around calling me ‘extraordinary’ like I was something more than just me.

I really wish Rei was here. She was the only one whose attitude towards me had not changed in the least… speaking of her, her latest teammate was just about finished with setting up shop in her room and reemerged, throwing the door back open so that it slid to the very end of its frame with a mild ‘thump’.

“Hey boys, have you seen the princess around?”

Courteous as ever, Kaworu needed no further prompting:

“You mean Soryu? I’m afraid not, not since this morning.”

Another person might have read the room and picked up that I wasn’t really feeling up for talking, but Mari was standing there, evidently still waiting for me to weigh in as well.

“...I tried talking to her like Kaji-san suggested, but… it was no good. She wouldn’t come back with me. I’m sorry...”

“Don’t be. You’ve done all you could. You went out of your way to take the first step to fix it, and that’s all anyone could ask of you. I’m proud of you for that. Good puppy!”

Did she actually boop me on the nose just now?

”And I’m sure Ryoji-kun thinks the same. Besides, as they say, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings – you reached out for her even though she was pushing you away, and that means more to her than you think – you’ll just have to give her some time to come around.”

I wish we could all have your optimism, Mari-san…



I would have been just about ready to be done with this no good, very bad day – the exhaustion hit me all at once like a delayed action mechanism. I’d done far less dancing around than yesterday or the day before, but this other kind of tiredness went even deeper down the bone. I would have been at some risk of dozing off right there on the couch as Mari and Kaworu eagerly discussed the British sci-fi drama that she had just put on to either side of me. I didn’t really have very much to add, except that there was a rather comely Scottish actress whose bright red hair reminded me a bit of someone I’d pissed off today.

I scarcely recall the end of the episode, or much of anything else – until there was a sudden voice:

“What are you, stupid? How can you be napping at a time like this?”

...huh?

“We’re already behind, and you’re napping?!”



You might forgive me for confessing that I looked as delighted as a little kid on Christmas.

“Asuka! You came back!”

...Mari was right. She actually came.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever, we gotta get a move on!”

Before I knew it, she had seized me my the wrist and pulled me all the way to our room.

I’m surprised I didn’t stumble.

I wouldn’t say that I was quite awake yet when she finally let go of me, not did I have the foggiest clue why she was now intently surveying the walls – imagine my surprise, then, when her eyes suddenly narrowed, as if narrowing in on something: “There! Found it!”

Imagine then my surprise when the took a sudden, impressive leap, aiming her foot at what I’d believed to be an ordinary air conditioner machine, but ended up containing a poor, maltreated spy camera once it had tumbled to the ground.

I’d seen people doing jumps like this before, but usually in internet videos that were preceded by some variation of ‘don’t try this at home.’

“...uh… Asuka? What are you doing?”

“Isn’t it obvious?! Training! So get off your butt already, we’ve got to make up for all the sessions that we missed!”

So she was really gonna act like nothing ever happened, huh?

I guess there was no point in expecting an apology from her – her pride wouldn’t allow it.

I can’t say that I didn’t feel a bit stepped-on here, but for the sake of peace, I was willing to let it be for today.

Maybe a different person would have insisted on a proper apology, or proclaimed to have no interest in any peace that would be built on such an imbalance, on one of you always taking a deep breath and swallowing it down.

You might call such a person self-respecting, or you might call them stubborn.

I guess it all depended on what you rather wanted – if you had no use for friendships where you couldn’t truly be honest, a person that always required your sacrifice, that could be lived with, but only at a certain distance, then you would save yourself the time and the pain – if you could live with losing a bond as a result, and quite possibly being alone.

But not me. I chose peace. I wasn’t going to insist on my pound of flesh today – first of all, I was tired. If Asuka offered me an olive branch, I was going to take it, no matter what a sad, gnarly sickly sprig of plant it was, or how condescendingly she poked me with it from on high.

If this was the only sort of peace I was gonna get from her today, I’ll take it.



I stood beside her and took the old familiar stance, just as I was, even though I’d already put on my pyjamas – the early sequence of steps was second nature to me by now.

I have to hand it to her, though: Now she was sounding like she actually wanted this to succeed – even if that meant that she kept ordering me around non-stop – no wonder she broke the camera.

“Raise your leg higher! I said, jump higher! No, no no! You’re half a beat behind! ARGH! I can’t believe how klutzy you are!”

She seemed determined now to make it possible, after spending all those days clamoring that it wasn’t. That was frankly something I could not do – if this were up to me, I would have thrown in the towel…

“We have to get this perfect no matter what!”

I was sensing a clear difference, though. For the first time in four days, it was beginning to feel like we were actually on the same team – like she was helping me to be better instead of just complaining about me like I was some unwanted package she’d never ordered… even if that ‘help’ was delivered in her usual abrasive fashion.

Don’t get me wrong – it was still tough. But now that the feedback coming from her was just a little more constructive, completing this endeavor stopped feeling like an insurmountable barrier, but like there was actually a point in trying hard, as if some elusive light might be glimpsed at the very edge of the tunnel...



Once we got to the end of the routine, I found myself sliding right back into the starting position.

“Okay. Let’s start again from the top.”

“That’s more like it! You finally sound like you’re properly trying!”
I wanted to try harvesting the rice

I wanted to hold Tsubame more

I wanted to stay together forever with the boy I like


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