December 2nd 2014
T minus 406 days
I could tell you now that the next morning, we got right up and kicked the computer’s ass straight away, but I’m sure the more discerning of you would immediately raise your skeptical eyebrows at that.
After all, we’d been making precious little progress these past four days, mostly because, for that time, Asuka wasn’t even trying to match my measly excuse for movements -
We might as well be starting from scratch – more so than Mari and Rei, who could at least look back at the experience of at least one previous successful harmonization.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way, but you can’t will yourself all the way to the other side of it: You still have to walk down the actual path.
The truth is that we ended up staying up so late that Misato came to physically drag us out of bed the next morning – honestly, we’re lucky that she realized we’d been getting in some extra training and that she and Mr. Kaji both ended up thinking that the whole thing was straight up adorable, as much as Asuka might have resented that characterization – at least it meant we weren’t yelled at - if it were father or Miss Ritsuko, they would never have gone so easy on us.
I dare say that Mr. Kaji even ended up remarking on a decided improvement, even though the error-noise of the motion gaming setup still kept beeping at us more often than not.
Meanwhile, Mari and Rei weren’t having as easy a time as they’d each had with Kaworu – both might be described as ‘brave’ and ‘unconventional’, but there was an obvious clash in their attitudes in that Rei was more by-the-book and diligent, which Mari was… really not.
“Pilot Makinami. You are not following the instructions.”
“Ah, come on, don’t be a square~ You gotta be able to have a little bit of fun with your work~ The point isn’t that we follow this dance, but that we sync up or movements, right?”
“That is what I am attempting, however, it is difficult to follow your movements if I cannot predict them.”
“Well, if you try to follow after me it’s obvious that you’re gonna lag behind. You have to feel the rhythm.”
“...that is a rather vague instruction. Can you explain what you mean?”
“Explain? You might as well ask me to explain the color pink to a blind dude. There’s no explaining here, either you feel it, or you don’t.”
Poor Rei. By her standards, she was looking very, very confused.
I guess neither of them really had much of a social instinct – they both tended to stand apart from large groups, start with a bit of delay when the entire class started packing up their things for the break and so on… they didn’t have much of a feel for groups or the perceptions of others, unlike me, who probably worried about this more than usual. Asuka only acted like she didn’t care, but she was actually pretty concerned with looking good; Kaworu didn’t have to worry, since he was very good at reading others.
Mari and Rei each sort of marched to the beats of their own drums, which might have been a commonality in other circumstances, but rather impractical when they were supposed to synchronize the clocks. At one point Mari left her post and grabbed onto Rei to show her how this supposed ‘rhythm’ was to be felt, to which Rei didn’t complain, but didn’t seem all too comfortable with…
I guess they should be grateful that they made us look less bad by comparison. After being at this for four days, we really weren’t in any position to be throwing stones.
Knowing what I did now, I surely would have been stressed about Asuka feeling all pressured if they’d been showing us up without much effort…
“Oi, Mister Highscore! Stop spacing out and concentrate!”
I guess I should be grateful that Asuka was paying attention to what I was doing, at least…
So yeah. It continued to be hard, unforgiving work, and despite their initial delight at our sudden progress, the grownups weren’t looking altogether convinced yet.
Misato was still looking somewhat concerned, regarding us seriously over her tented fingers when our performance disintegrated into a cacophony of beeps for the umpteenth time.
We were so close this time, too!
It was all go remarkably perfect until we were done with the second chorus, then I slipped up and that must have ruined both our concentration.
“Kids. Stop for a moment, I want to try something.” she began, some calculation running behind her eyes – We were definitely talking to our superior right now, not the fun Misato.
I couldn’t fathom what she might be thinking of, and Asuka looked as surprised as me.
Our surprise only deepened when the next person she addressed wasn’t either of us:
Since Kaworu was not currently part of the exercise, he had been sitting on the table across from the grownups.
“Can you give it a try for a bit? I want you to trade places with Asuka, just for a moment.”
I understand now that this was probably a strategic consideration:
As our supervisor, she needed to know if I was gonna be able to do this at all, particularly since she hadn’t got the chance to test either of us with different partners – that she made Kaworu try it with me should have been the best proof that she didn’t doubt too much that Asuka could have pulled this off with, say, Mari as her partner.
That wasn’t where my thoughts went back then though: Just a day before, my main worry might have been that Asuka would be mad and take it out on me – a self-centered, childish concern, perhaps… right now, after the truth was made clear to me with the subtlety of a falling cartoon anvil, I was finally asking the right question just cause I had no other choice – I feared that she might be upset, that this would feed right into her worries, and behold: As if on cue, there was, in fact, something of a lost, child-like expression spreading on her face, much like, I’d imagine, someone who was seeing the floor being pulled out right under them. Isn’t it fun that the world makes so much more sense when you stop being so completely clueless about it?
Of course, every bit of hard-won insight just makes you aware of how unforgivably clueless you used to be, and how much more still lies beyond your understanding.
I hated the thought that Asuka would get all mad at Misato for this and everything would be loud & tense and filled with fights again, but I couldn’t blame her.
Asuka was hardly inexpressive, she was, generally speaking, a pretty loud person who openly spoke her mind – or that’s how I’d always thought of her up until that point.
I must admit now that there were always some types of feelings that she tended to keep hidden, the sort that she would deem to be weak. Misato was her boss – but I was supposed to have been her friend, and I didn’t find out about this either until I witnessed her in a moment where she simply couldn’t hold it in.
Even now, I can’t claim that I had suddenly made a turn for the noble. I just didn’t want to hear any more fighting and yelling: “Wait, no, Misato-san, don’t change it up yet!” I scrambled to say something useful. “Just- just let us do try one more time, okay? Just a little longer. I promise, we’re trying our hardest! Just give us one more chance! We almost had it! We’re sorry we gave you so much trouble, but, I think we’re getting the hang of it now, so please, let us try again- I don’t mind doing it with Asuka, just- give me a little bit more time...”
I think Misato was, above all things, surprised – no wonder, really, considering that we’d just been complaining about being paired with each other for four days straight.
The most damning thing would have been that Asuka seemed surprised as well, like this was the last thing she would have expected me to do – when she noticed me looking, she reflexively tried to say something tough-sounding: “Don’t you speak for me, Mister Highscore!”
Her feigned displeasure wasn’t all that convincing, though.
Misato blinked at us confoundedly. “What’s with this sudden change of attitude?”
Beside her, Kaji grinned: “I told you we should just give them a little bit of space. Sometimes another night is all it takes.”
...is he referring to Asuka breaking the cameras?
Captain Katsuragi considered this carefully. “Look, I just want to have some rough idea of how you’d do with another partner. Once you’re done, you can go back to practicing with Asuka straight away.”
I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t want either of them to be mad at me…
In the meantime, Kaworu had taken his position at my side.
“Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. This is just like playing our Duet together.”
It kind of was. When you think about it, Kaworu and I had already had loads and loads of training at adjusting our movements to each other. Playing music together was like that, that day we danced in circles during the ice skating sessions was like that… and we both knew the choreography itself already, so, we weren’t actually starting from scratch.
Even so, I didn’t think that we’d clear the entire routine in one go, even while I was actually doing it – there were a couple of split second near misses when I thought I was about to lose my balance.
When I had finished, I expected to be critiqued, not to find everyone staring in awe when I finally opened by eyes. Mari outright applauded, stopping right in the middle of her own dance routine to do so – Rei continued for a few more steps before she noticed that her partner wasn’t following.
I did not feel the slightest bit flattered though, nor accomplished. What joy could I have at the cost of another person’s terror?
I could see that Asuka’s face had just gone several shades paler; I noted the twitching of her upper lip that she was trying so hard to suppress.
I saw it because I knew to be paying attention – Kaworu, too, must have noted it, or he would have been saying something reassuring to me instead of looking concerned.
Misato did not. Of course not – Just yesterday, I don’t think that I would have picked up on this either. I’d have been way too concerned with my own fear of her wrath. Like everyone else, I would have bought the illusion of her tough veneer without question, just like I had so many times before, just like Misato had, as she seemed to be under the impression that Asuka could use some more proper motivation, or perhaps even to be taken down a peg – that was basically how almost everyone thought about Asuka.
My friends, most people at school, even me, if I’m honest. I thought I understood a little more than most, but that was probably just presumption. Maybe Hikari and Mari were the ones who understood, but clearly not enough to lighten her burden.
I’m not sure Ms. Soryu really did… Misato certainly didn’t:
“Well would you look at this!” she commented with a grin, “Seems to me like ‘adjusting down’ to Shinji-kun’s level is not so impossible after all~”
To Asuka, that must have been like having salt rubbed into her wounds – and even knowing how this bothered her didn’t endow me with the wisdom or ability to know what to do or say to her.
“Look, Asuka, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-”
“Oh shut it, we don’t have time for those phony reflexive apologies of yours. Get back in position! We have training to do! Oi, Nagisa, out of my way!”
Kaworu politely excused himself, and we went back to training. As far as her instructions went, you might think that Asuka was pushing me harder than ever, but, I noticed also that she had decidedly increased her efforts to match my clumsy flailing.
It was hard to consider it a victory when I knew that she saw it as a humiliation she had no choice to endure, driven as if the very whips of Satan were behind her…
Of course. What was I thinking? Did I think signing up to be a soldier would be easy?
And the actual war had not even begun…
When we were let go for the lunch break, Misato took me aside.
“I know Asuka can get pretty harsh sometimes, but don’t let her get you down, okay?”
But that’s not it. That’s not it, Misato-san. I’m not the one you should be worried about.
I’m the one who’s had it easy. I got to have a normal life. I guess I only look like I’m taking this the hardest cause I’m a weak, embarrassing wimp. I can’t even take a fraction of what Rei stoically suffers without flinching. Or what Asuka toughs out through sheer force of will. Or what Kaworu keeps smiling through. Or what Mari brushes off nonchalantly.
“No, it’s fine – it’s my own fault for being so thin-skinned I guess. I just keep making her mad, no wonder what I’d do…”
Misato’s response was not exactly what I expected. Rather than saying anything reassuring, she looked me in the eye with a certain degree of severity: “So what? Are you going to stop doing things then, on the off chance that she might have something against it?”
That was the sort of statement that might count as ‘complicated’ for a child, since she wasn’t taking either of our sides. I was sort of being scolded, but not like I would have expected.
“I- I just don’t want to hurt her, or make things more difficult for her than they already are…”
“Listen, Shinji-kun, at some point you’re gonna realize that no matter what you say or do, there is always gonna be someone who is gonna take offense at it. It’s good that you’re trying to be considerate of others, but as with all things, this should be taken in moderation – you can’t always please everyone. At some point, you’ve gotta stop stressing about what everybody else thinks or says about you, and learn to be okay with pissing others off sometimes. You can’t always avoid it, because sometimes, people being mad at you has a whole lot more to do with them than it really does with you. – I mean, are you living your life for you, or are you living it for your buddies?”
I wouldn’t go that far, no. I don’t think I’d even be capable of dedicating myself to anyone or anything else.
“...for myself, I think…”
“Then act like it, cause nobody else is gonna do it for you.”
Then she considered her work done, and sent me on my merry way.
Or not so merry, really. I really couldn’t figure out what people wanted from me. If I don’t pick up on what they’re thinking it’s bad, but if I do, it’s also bad?
Being a person is hard.
I kind of didn’t want to try and find Asuka, all this negativity and just… everything… was kinda getting overwhelming. I wanted to see if I could hang out with Rei or Kaworu instead – but I felt like I ought to go after her, and not just because it was all part of this exercise.
I wondered what I’d have to do so that people wouldn’t be mad at me – yeah, Misato just told me that that’s impossible, but, obviously it’s possible to at least not go around making people mad for the heck of it.
More than anything I was just exhausted of being stuck in this bubble all the time, doing nothing but training with little space to decompress. There was little else to really do but get into fights.
Kaworu helpfully informed me that Asuka had gone to the cafeteria rather than our lodgings (not very surprising) so that’s where I went, mostly cause I didn’t have the energy to make my own decision…
I didn’t have to go far, though. She was leaning on a wall, not too far from our lodgings or the makeshift training room, though she hadn’t gone into our quarters where the other pilots must be about to have lunch… I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that she didn’t want to see our faces.
I found her easily enough, but once I did, I quickly found myself wondering if I shouldn’t have turned back and had lunch with the others, which was ultimately what I’d really wanted.
Asuka was in the cafeteria, just as I’d expected, and what’s more, it would appear that she had ran into her mother there, and now they were sharing a table, at which Asuka was angrily biting big chunks out of her sandwich. For the sake of her stomach, I hope she was at least chewing properly.
I considered if I should maybe back out and leave, but before I got to the point of making up my mind, I was spotted by Ms. Soryu: “Hey, Shinji-kun, is that you? We’re over here!”
...how could she be so chipper?
I ended up accepting the invitation mostly out of politeness, dutifully answered Ms. Soryu’s various small talk questions, quietly sat down and ordered one of the cheaper things they had, though I kept quiet insomuch as I could get away with. I felt like I was intruding on their conversation, and I wasn’t sure if Asuka really wanted me there…
Ms. Soryu, however, babbled on like a waterfall, either oblivious or defiant of any figurative dark clouds that might have been hovering above our heads.
“So as I was saying – I can’t believe Katsuragi still insists of making you do that silly dance routine. I didn’t take her for the ‘my way or the highway’ sort of person…”
Maybe she was trying to infect us with her good mood, but I don’t think it was working much, especially not with Asuka. “It’s okay Mama, you can say ‘tyrant’.”
Ms. Soryu chuckled, but I don’t think it was supposed to be a joke.
“She just bosses us around as she pleases! Honestly, sometimes I think she goes out of her way to humiliate me…”
...did they expect me to join them in badmouthing Misato? I don’t really feel comfortable doing that, sure, she’d been a little tactless there, but I didn't think she had any bad intentions… though I suppose that would be precisely what a child would think.
I could argue that Asuka’s accusations didn’t sound all that mature either, but Ms. Soryu saw nothing wrong with that – if anything, she agreed:
“Should I talk to the higher ups about her?”
At least, you could say that the two of them were a team.
“There’s no point. That’ll just paint a target on both of our back, and they’d never take me seriously again. I don’t want to look like some whiny complainer, or a little girl that comes running to her mother!” it was upsetting to see Asuka sounding so deflated and pessimistic. “I hate being led on some merry dance by some frivolous tyrannical woman, but we have no choice. If I don’t do it, they’ll swap me out for that Nagisa boy, and then what could I say to that?”
She listlessly picked at her generous desert with a tiny fork. “I keep thinking, ‘There’s no way that they can treat their best pilot like this!’, but, I’m not the best, aren’t I? Nagisa is. I bet they wouldn’t dare to threaten him with swapping him out. They couldn’t afford to, cause he’s the best! This would all be so much easier if I could just crack his darn record already!”
“You can’t. I keep telling you, a sync rate of 500 percent is impossible. You couldn’t ever reach 400 any more than you can reach the speed of light. 399 maybe, 399,9, perhaps even 399,99, but no 400. It’s a singularity, a point where the math just spits out bogus - it’s like the pole of a hyperbola, do you understand?”
“I know how math works, Mama.”
Imagine being so smart that having something compared to math makes it more understandable.
“See? And even if it were theoretically possible, which it isn’t, according to our calculations, that would kill you instantly. Which it can’t, cause it’s not possible, and makes no sense.
If you could go past 400, what’s to stop you from going all the way to infinity, and gaining the power of a god? That sort of nonsense is maybe fun for the philosophers to speculate about, or for intrepid authors to write science fiction novels, but in real engineering, there has never been such a thing as a free lunch.”
This might be down to my status as a total layman, but to me this sounds a bit odd coming from a woman whose life’s work involves fighting against aliens with perpetuum mobiles.
I ended up learning later that this was an actual term or inside joke among physicists, the ‘no free lunch theorem’. But wasn’t I eating free lunch right now?
Though I suppose you could argue that it wasn’t free for Ms. Soryu when she bought it. And I was only sitting here eating it because I’d literally sold my soul to a dubious organization, of all things, for the use as a remote control for a giant robot… cyborg..-homunculus thing.
But she was speaking with such confidence that I was inclined to believe her, seeing as I had no other means by which to judge the veracity of her claims.
Asuka’s concerns, however, were not quite so academic in nature:
“...then how is he better than me at fighting? Is that a computer error, too? He’s finished with this stupid dance exercise already, ad I couldn’t even win once…”
“Really? Then what about yesterday?”
“That didn’t count.”
“Says who? Little miss operations director? Since when do you care what she thinks?”
I’m surprised that Asuka was letting me witness this. You’d think she’d flat out forgotten that I was here.
“This isn’t about what she thinks,” she grumbled, “You don’t have to tell me that this dance exercise is stupid, believe me, I know that! I’m the one who’s been stuck doing it for a week. But Misato’s the one who decides who gets sent on missions, so, it does matter, if only for that reason. Besides, I can’t let them show me up like that! If I’m really the best, then shouldn’t I be able to do a silly task like that, even with a rookie slowing me down? Nagisa could, so why can’t I?”
Ms. Soryu took a long pointed sip of her iced coffee.
“I know that feeling. In the end, I guess most of us are going to encounter it at some point in our lives.”
I didn’t know what I meant, but in Asuka’s situation, this would be not just confusing but also exasperating. “What are you talking about?!”
Ms. Soryu began her tirade of sage wisdom in a long-suffering tone: “No matter how great you are, eventually, there is always someone better. There is always a bigger fish.”
She evidently found this very regrettable – like she admitted it only because she’d lived long enough to realize that the opposite would make her look foolish.
“Once you consider it, it’s actually quite logical: Of any given skill, only a single one of the seven billion people in the planet can be the best – the world record holder, maybe. But nobody else.
Of course, our brains weren’t made for considering all seven billion – it’s only in the recent few centuries that such numbers of people have even existed. Originally, we used to live in small tribal bands of just one hundred and fifty – and in such manageable little groups, it’s quite possible to be the best at something. If you work hard, it’s even possible for you to trump them all. Some might find themselves standing out by mere coincidence – I was born in the 70s, which doesn’t seem that far away when you consider that a lot of people’s music tastes are still stuck there, and yet it was a different world – a world that was constantly on the brink of nuclear war. It was in that same decade that women were allowed to hold jobs without written permissions from their husbands. The precursors of the EU was only just getting started, and there were people still alive who had been born during the monarchy. Plenty of stodgy old farts got their knickers in a twist when my father showed up with a ‘strange little oriental lady’ for his bride, and when it all fell apart, they all saw their prejudices confirmed, like it wasn’t their constant needling that ruined everything. - By the time Asuka went to grade school, she had many classmates from immigrant backgrounds from all over the world, but in my school, it was only me, two Russians, and the one polish kid. My mother and I were asked weird questions all the time. I look mostly like my father, but I got my mom’s eye shape so, one time I got some backwards old lady asking if I had a chromosome disorder. I stuck out like a multicolored dog.”
“Figure of speech. It doesn’t translate well – But the thing is, I decided that, if I was gonna stand out, it should be for something that I actually have control over. I would show all those crusty twats who’s boss. That my mom and I aren’t anything like their 19th-century stereotypes.
I was gonna make sure that the don’t say, “there goes Kyoko, the Japanese girl”, but, “there goes Kyoko, the captain of our soccer team.”, or “There goes Kyoko, the best student at our school”. If I was gonna be noticed, it would be on my terms.
So that’s what I did: I worked hard at everything I got involved in. I was the best in my family. The best in my grade school. The best in my secondary school, and the valedictorian in my year… In the end, I was offered research positions at prestigious institutes all over the world.”
Those are some big shoes to fill… no wonder that Asuka is so particular about her grades.
“I could’ve gone to Oxford, to Harvard, Moscow, you name it. But I chose a post-grad position in the research group around professor Fuyutsuki. That’s when I hat the pleasure of meeting the one and only Ikari Yui.”
After all this time, I still couldn’t get used to hearing how much of a big deal she was. I should have been but – I guess I was used to thinking of her as just a normal mom. And by that I don’t mean that moms can’t be geniuses or anything like that, it’s just… nobody is a hero to his valet. Not cause the hero isn’t a hero, but because the valet is a valet.
My parents, to me, are people who used to sleepily trudge to the breakfast table with their hair still all fuzzy. My mom used to talk to be in a sing-song voice to get me to put on my clothes in the right order.
“She’s basically the Crag Venter of Metaphysical Biology.”
I didn’t even know about the regular Craig Venter. Sensing this, Ms. Soryu looked for a salient way to underline her point: “You know Kaga Hitomi? The one who works with me in the engineering department?”
I nodded – she was the expressive, short-haired researcher who did our meditation sessions.
“Her own father was a big shot who used to be a contemporary of professor Fuyutsuki back in the olden days, but still she says that she got her inspiration to go into our field from hearing of Yui-san’s brilliant works.”
I had no idea, even though I’d been seeing Ms. Kaga every week for a while now.
“Basically, if you’ve ever so much as heard the word ‘metaphysical biology’, you’ve heard of Yui Ikari. And I met her when she was in her prime, a precocious little upstart, ready to shake the foundations of our understanding – In hindsight, this just seems destined, but, back then, she wasn’t really the legendary Ikari Yui yet – she was just my coworker, and I couldn’t beat her. It made me so mad. I’d gotten so being the star in every group I was a part of that I’d come to see it as my good right. I was supposed to be the star, and the star was me. It was how I dealt with the world, how I coped with my setback, so without being able to play that role, I was adrift, and I didn’t like that – I had always been the driven one, I didn’t know how to be adrift. I was supposed to be the smart one… but in a group of top tier, front-line researchers, it was a given that we would all be smart. That was the whole point. I’d worked all my life to be part of such an exclusive group, but when I got there, it wasn’t what I expected… I think I really started to hate Yui-san for a bit there...”
It’s not hard to see why she feels this story is relevant… this is a whole lot like Asuka’s own story, except described with an understanding that I couldn’t have since I’d never actually lived it.
“But then I saw that I wasn’t the only one. At first I kind of looked down on the others – Makinami senior was a prodigy who joined our group as a first year student, fresh out of high school, where she’d graduated at 16, and she had a whole moment about not measuring up to Yui – and I thought, of course, you’re a little kid playing at being a researcher. But Akagi had twice my experience, and she was broken up about this-”
Wasn’t she, like, Misato’s age? I was confused…
“No, no, no, the other Dr. Akagi. Our Dr. Akagi is actually her daughter. And I thought, of course she can’t do it – she’s a washed up old has-been, and besides, I don’t even think her envy of Yui-san was purely professional. She had taken quite a shine to Shinji-kun’s father back in the day, really, she was pretty blatant about throwing herself on him. In a different universe, it might have worked, but as it stands, he only ever had eyes for one single lady. - No offense, Shinji-kun, but I never really got what she saw in him...”
...is that what Miss ritsuko meant when she said her mother was ‘impulsive’...? I’m sure that Ms. Soryu considers this interesting office gossip, but I’d rather not have this knowledge in the back of my head while talking to Miss Ritsuko…
“But the point is, I used to look down at them so much. I was so frustrated. Until one day, I noticed that Makinami and Yui-san were suddenly getting along, and when I asked to know what that was all about, she said to me – Makinami did – ‘aren’t you glad, that you’ve finally found others who can relate to you, work with you and compete with you on the same level’?
I realized then that she was right, and that all the time I’d been looking down on her and the others, I was really just the same. Neither of us could ever be what Yui-san was, but, do you think then, that our work group would have worked better if they’d just gone and fired everyone but Yui-san?”
“Well of course not!” blurted Asuka, “That would be nonsense. No one could be that great.”
And that’s when Ms. Soryu clapped her hands in great satisfaction: “There you have it! No matter how great someone is, some tasks are just so grand, so immense, so momentous, that even the greatest person on earth couldn’t do it by themselves. Even the greatest people have their strengths and weaknesses. Goethe thought he would be remembered not for his writings but his bullshit works on color theory. Einstein rejected quantum theory cause he didn’t like it’s implications. Arthur Conan Doyle was a big sucker for occultist crap – that doesn’t mean that they weren’t the best at their strengths, it’s just that the grand sum of human knowledge is not so small that one single person could contain it. This is why we work together. This is why we specialize.
So maybe you’re not good at this silly teamwork exercise. So what? This is, maybe, like, the first of all those silly exercises that you’ve remotely struggled with? As far as I know, you’re acing most of the others. Maybe you don’t have all strengths, and maybe you’re not uniquely the best at everything, but you’re still the only one in the world who has your combination of strengths. So, Nagisa has a better sync rate – so what? Is that all you got? You’re the only one of the main pilots who’s been through proper military training, unless you wanna count Aida-kun’s military games. You actually know what you’re doing with those weapons. You’re a fighter. You’re a go-getter. You have the will to succeed! Are you gonna give up on all your dreams just because of one setback?!”
“Of course not!”
“Exactly! So what if you have weaknesses? Everyone has weaknesses! Stop obsessing about them, and try to think about your strengths. Because the greatest people around? They have weaknesses, too. And that’s where you come in. You’re not the only one who’s good, but you’re the only one who’s you, with your particular strengths. You have to find your own niche, your own specialty. If you’re not the one with the top score anymore, you’ve got to find something else.
You know, I’ll never know where that Yui-san gets all her ideas from. It’s beyond me; She’s a visionary of the sort that you see only once in a generation. When it comes to theory, no one can beat her. But you know who did all the actual precision calculations and predictions? Dr. Akagi! That’s how such a young lady got to be vice director of research. And you know who made all the actual blueprints? Who worked out the kinks in the technology? No one other than yours truly! If it weren’t for us, and our whole work group, and everybody else at the technical division, all of Yui’s great visions would just be pie-in-the-sky speculations – it might go on to inspire some fun science fiction books, but that’s all!”
I could see Asuka’s eyes sparkling – clearly, her mother’s speech had filled her with all-new inspiration.
I was kinda jealous. Despite all the difficulties they each had to face, they at least had the advantage of each other – They were very similar in their natures, values, temperaments and interests, they had much in common, in a way that my parents and I simply didn’t.
If I’d been interested in being a man of science, or even if I’d chosen to devote myself to any other great ambition, they could have mentored me, and I am sure that there is much they could have taught me.
When Asuka pictures herself as an adult, I’m sure that she must be imagining herself a whole lot like Ms. Soryu – but I’m not sure what sort of adult I would end up like – my uncle, maybe, or my old music teacher? I really just can’t imagine it. I know I’m not gonna be anything like my parents. I wonder what it would be like to get to know an adult that I could actually see myself in. I wonder if Rei thinks about being like my parents someday…
Today’s ‘special activity’ was a surprise. I assume that Misato and Mr. Kaji were meaning for it to be a happy surprise, like a surprise party, or a surprise gift, but under the circumstances, I kind of wished that they had warned us…
We were back to doing the same old dance routine, but I think by now, the mood that had been tethering on the edge of shifting since yesterday had finally tipped all-together.
I have often thought that there’s a special amazing quality about a person in the act of following their greatest passion, a special sparkle in their eyes when they gush about what they love the most.
I had many conversations about it with Kaworu. I have often seen the glitter in the eyes of Touji when he’s playing basketball or spending time with his sister, or the impassioned energy in Kensuke’s gestures when he’s talking about military boats or his latest survival trip. Once Kaworu told me that there was a researcher trying to understand human personalities with EEGs, and that he found that there’s a special activity pattern that activates when people to their favorite activities that bring them the greatest fulfillment – a state in which all the many disparate regions of the brain work together in concord. I think if you had attached some electrodes onto Asuka’s head that day, that’s what you would have seen.
It was still as much of an uphill battle as it had been this morning, but I think she carried herself with a kind of faith that she didn’t have before. It was kind of infectious.
You know what? I don’t think we were actually doing that much worse than Mari and Rei anymore…
Misato and Kaji were pleased. Maybe that’s why they thought that we could use a break. I saw them discuss something, and later Kaji left the room to make a phone call, but I didn’t think anything of it. He probably had work to do – he’d offered to help out this once since he was the one who’d had this ‘triumphant’ idea, but he wasn’t actually part of the operations division and would still have other duties.
I think now that he was probably on the phone with my parents. You see, what happened next was not officially a break. It was technically part of the program, something that was supposed to help with our performance.
Of course, breaks do demonstrably help productivity.
They didn’t tell us a thing, though. There was just suddenly a ring on the door, like there might be if the training room were still the normal crew quarters that it had once been.
That alone was odd, for wouldn’t everyone involved with the exercise have access through their keycard?
Asuka was the first to react, so, I follower her because… because the bell-rang in mid-dance, I was still copying her, I guess. Though I might’ve gone to get the door anyways.
I wonder who it could be, I mean, we’re in the geofront here, it’s not like just anyone could pass by…
My question was soon answered.
Well, that’s a rare sight – Touji was actually wearing his uniform for once! And to see him, Kensuke and Hikari actually not arguing for once, but standing side by side so they could press the doorbell together was a welcome change. I could even spy Marie and Kotone behind them! ...but what’s with all their expressions?
I appear to have forgotten one single, crucial detail. After five days of this nonsense, I was so used to this that I didn’t even think of it.
Our outfits. Those darn, ridiculous, color-coded leotards.
“P-Pair look!” stammered Touji, looking amazingly shaken.
Not that Kensuke had any more faith in me: “You traitor! Eugh!”
“You know, they always did kinda act a bit like an old married couple. We never should’ve bought the childhood friend excuse.”
Only Marie still maintained her good cheer, mostly cause she was pointing at us and laughing. “Wahaha, you guys look so uncool right now!”
Sweet, innocent Kotone blinked in mild confusion, like she did not quite get what had the others so scandalized.
Hikari, meanwhile, seemed afflicted by sudden bout of moral panic. “Ahh This is totally inappropriate!”
“No, no, no don’t, don’t get it wrong! This was all Misato’s idea!”
But the training seemed to have worked a little too well.
You know why? Because Asuka ended up saying the exact same thing, at the exact same moment. Sure, she looked much more annoyed compared to panicky old me, but that didn’t help our case.
“Like that isn’t much worse!”
“Wait, no, you misunderstand!”
Darn it. We spent so long trying to get synchronized, and now it’s hard to stop!
“What’s there to misunderstand?!”
Poor, poor Hikari. At this point she had just given up and buried her head in her hands.
Of course, the resulting commotion had quickly summoned everyone else to the door, including our fellow pilots and priority candidates, who were, of course, also wearing matching outfits…
including a very exuberant Mari who loudly inquired as to what might we taking us so long, as it was “time to get back down on the floor!”
This is funny when you have the context to deduce that she means a dancefloor and not, like, some weird sort of orgy. You have got to appreciate the comedic value of hearing Rei saying the exact same thing at the same time, tonelessly reciting what Mari was was blurting out with great exuberance.
Somewhere behind us, Kaworu was smiling apologetically – it was the perfect image of chaos.
Thankfully, Misato intervened before poor Hikari could work herself into a full-blown panic, and the whole misadventure dissolved into pleasant laughter:
“Ah, so that’s what going on! Why didn’t you say so right away?”
“We were trying!”
...I could tell by the looks on their faces that they still weren’t used to the extremely weird, highly unlikely occurrence of myself and Asuka saying the same thing, especially when the neirby sight of a synchronized Rei and Mari was only slightly less weird.
Still, one has got to laud Hikari for trying to see the positive: “Well, at least the unison seems to be going well~”
It turned out that the others had just come from the physical enhancement training, and that the people of GEHIRN thought that a visit from our friends would provide us with some much-needed relaxation – and since they were also pilots, this was, strictly speaking, ‘team building’ as well… though it didn’t much look like it. I think in this case, the ‘training value’ was truly an excuse for Misato and the others to be nice to us. Sublieutenant Kaga showed up with ice tea and some of Ensign Agano’s homemade cookies, and even us pilots and priority candidates were allowed to take a break from all the dancing to just sit around the table and chill while our friends caught us up on the latest gossip from our classroom.
Even Misato chimed in once our twice, asking for the latest juiciest news about some of the teachers that she’d come to know while posing as their co-worker.
We had a nice afternoon, and just for a moment, we could almost have forgot that we were training for war.