(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
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
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
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
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
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:
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.
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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…