First parts start here , but I don't exactly like them anymore because I've sort of moved on in style... I may re-edit and concatenate the lot together into longer parts
They locked the three of us in a small presentation room, myself, Asuka and Misato. The room itself was barely big enough to fit Misato's Alpine inside, and most of what space there was, was taken up by a fibreboard conference table, covered in cheap veneer. I sat myself between Misato and Asuka, not really deliberately so. It didn't matter anyway, all the chairs where the same folding black-plastic bum-numbers.
I sat there, boiling in a cauldron of shame and self consciousness. While Captain Katsuragi was stunning her full dress uniform, an elegant combination of navy and wine with silver trim, along with a slightly too small forage cap, Asuka and I had been stuck into general fatigues... the same tan uniform the bridge bunnies enjoyed.
The blouse was fine. Light and airy, even if the fibres were a little coarse and some of the stitching on the red shoulder pads tickled with loose threads. The belt clasped firmly around the waist and the red beret with was neat, even if my hair had to be tied back to meet regulations nobody else seemed to bother with. The flat shoes, I could live with despite them trying to slip off my feet constantly. Even the opaque white tights I found disturbingly comfortable.
I fucking hated the miniskirt.
“Now then, this is a proper military occasion,” Misato continued with her last minute briefing. “Remember your actual ranks, Lieutenants. Remember to stand and salute, and remember to use proper title to superior officers. You're in the military now.”
Misato grinned, and Asuka clearly loved it. Misato was to be Captain Katsuragi, Asuka to be Lieutenant Sorhyu, and I was only Lieutenant JG Nagato. We even had our own sidearms, to keep the military theme going. The FN Five-Seven in the holster on my hip still weighed heavy despite being unloaded. NERV was determined to show the world it was a genuine military force.
The gun like a plastic airsoft toy, not a real weapon.
The base' air conditioning parched the air, leaving our mouth's like deserts. There was supposed to be a catering service with water, tea, coffee and sandwiches, but that wouldn't arrive until after our guests.
“Also, try to remember the proper names and titles of our visitors from the US Air Force, who own the Nevada test facility, and our test staff,” our commanding officer carried on, “Brigadier General Johnston, Major Arizona and Lieutenant Roberts, and of course our own Doctor Langley and Captain Shikinami,”
Asuka twitched and fidgeted in her chair for a second, while I considered an old fanfiction I'd just been reminded of by one of the officers’ names. And here I was living it....
I fiddled with the bracelet on my arm for a few minutes, thinking about the previous night with Misato. I thought about what she'd said for a brief moment, and the box waiting for me at home. After the test, she was going to drag me kicking and screaming through the contents of that box, for better or worse for my sanity.
There was more to my guardian than beer, boobs and the occasional tease.... she was so much smarter than anyone would dare give her credit for, her warming big-sister aura hiding a mind that seemed wisened beyond her years. She was right about one thing that made me feel better, maybe there were other things….
My thoughts starting rolling towards a rather unsettling conclusion, and I jumped track's abruptly.
“No name for 5th Child?” I questioned.
“It's a surprise,” Misato grinned back at us. “I want to let him introduce himself,”
“Fine, be like that.” I snarled, pouting.
She stuck her tongue out at me.
And sometimes, Misato could almost be a teenage girl...
I sighed, leaning back on my chair, shoddy plastic creaking under my weight. I wanted to see this Pilot and get it over with, then having some fun getting my ass handed to me by Asuka in Unit 02, and blowing simulated kaiju up with simulated weapons for twelve hours. That would be fun. Not sitting here bored to death by latecomers, but actually blowing stuff up...
Stuff blowing up was always fun. It appealed to the baser instincts within.
The briefing papers were dry... a new railgun that took its power from the EVA's batteries seeming the only interesting thing. There a lot of stuff about how the proposed Unit 04 was supposed to work in tandem with Unit 03, something about trying to replicate the successes of the 7th Angel and some sort of ballistic missile system.
So somebody had decided it would be a good idea to have me work closely together with the new male pilot, who'd been described as bishounen by at least three different people. Were people purposely trying to confuse me even more? I was already a bit whimsical in the brainpan, and I got the feeling that people were looking at me as the least stable of the four pilots…and the least competent. The sword of Damocles was hanging over my fledgling career and my own self identity was under siege thanks to my body.
Never underestimate the ability of this world to screw with your head, I told myself, and never underestimate its ability to let you do most of its work for you.
Doctor Akagi breezed in through the door.... the same way she always seemed to... she was always in a hurry, rushing from place to place as if someone was chasing her with a gun.
“They will be coming shortly, the briefing with the Commander ran long,” stated the Doctor brusquely, “Now remember, we have to make a good impression on these people... the Commander is trying to secure the release of Unit 04. General Johnston has the ear of the US government; they will likely follow his final recommendation. Five Evangelions will make our lives so much easier.”
“Five Eva's... a person could take over the world with that sort of power,” Joked Misato...”Mister Bond,”
Her impression of Blofeld however, was sorely lacking. The Cheshire cat grin killed it. I appreciated the delicious irony in her words. Especially compared to the last time I'd heard them in animation.
“That's exactly what's bothering the Americans, Misato.” chided Ritsuko, “They're afraid we will use EVA technology against them, once the Angels have been defeated”
“They're being morons,” scoffed Nerv's tactical director, “The EVA is a defensive weapon only, relying on a specific pilot, with an extremely limited run-time away from an extremely limited cable-length, only available within the limits of this city. And, as I recall, that's why the Security Council demanded we limit the battery life of the Eva's in the first place,”
“They did that on purpose?” Asuka blurted out, taking the words straight off my own tongue. Thief. “What if we don't have electric power?”
“Yes, they did,” confirmed the doctor sourly, “We have 20 minute removable backups incase that happens, but with three backup power supplies for the city itself, and priority to the Eva supplies, they should never be necessary,”
I snickered quietly into my hand, trying desperately to just sit there quiet.
“What's so funny?”
“Never say never,” I giggled, grinning stupidly.
The woman just looked at me, bemused for a second.
“A total power failure is impossible; it could only be done on purpose by someone with specific knowledge of our system,”
“Person who built Titanic say sinking it is impossible too.” I countered. The Titanic was built by professionals, the Pacific continent by amateurs.
Akagi just glared at me. I win. Haha. Or I would win whenever the next Angel got its arse around to showing up. She didn't like me anyway. Of course, I had the benefit of fore-hindsight, and I was going to smugly revel in it. Sitting back down into my chair I could sense the irritation radiating off of Akagi, and I lapped it up. It occurred to me that maybe I was being a little childish about it, but fuck that... I was technically 14; I was still entitled to be childish if I wanted to be... Or Noriko was.... or something.
“Noriko,” pressed Misato crossly.
I didn't answer her.
Shinji was doing that gamer club thing with Kensuke, as he did every Saturday. Apparently, it started off as Misato's idea, but he'd seemed pretty enthused about it himself this morning. I knew where I'd rather be. Given a choice between gamers rolling D20's to meet in an imaginary tavern, and sitting through a dry, braindead military briefing, there was no choice.
I sat there gently fingering strands of hair, forking them apart, twirling them through my fingers, tying half loops and loose knots which fell out under their own weight. A day later, or so it seemed....time flies when you're having fun.... the door was pushed open by some red-capped non-com outside.
“In here sirs,” said the non-com.
I recognised him....I did see him regularly guarding the main gates....but I'd never found out his name. Well, everyone knows what happens to NPC's who never get named. The old roleplayers maxim made me wonder, was he the same man stabbed in the back when the JSSDF invaded... or when they will invade….or whatever?
That's not something to think about! I squelched the thought hard.
4 men, 1 woman, and a boy marched in.
I hiccuped, nearly screaming when I saw him. A stunned shudder ran through my body, a bolt of terror, a shock of fury and a thrill of confusion.
Why was he here?
There was no-one else he could be.... Not with that alabaster skin, not with those blood red eyes and not with his rough, concrete toned hair. The Fifth Children stood opposite me, wearing an emotionless smile.... his eyes stared right into me, filled with what I saw as demonic malice. He wore the same...or similar uniform as me, the same style beret, the same rank insignia on his collar, replacing only the skirt with slack trousers.
I'd seen him before, in my dreams.... or nightmares.
“Stand,” whispered Captain Katsuragi, “And salute,”
I nearly tripped, feeling about ready to trip. I fumbled a little, drawing a dark glare from Asuka from ruining her martial perfection. It's not my fault. The uniformed men, answered in kind. They towered over us, a head and shoulders taller than Misato, or Ritsuko. I suddenly realised just how small I was. Even the boy, the Fifth Children, had a few inches on me.
And still he was smiling that God awful smile.
“Gentlemen,” Ritsuko spoke up, snapping me out of it. “To my right, is Captain Misato Katsuragi, Director of Operations, and Third in Command,” Misato bowed, “Lieutenant Asuka Langley Sorhyu, Pilot of Evangelion Unit 02,” Asuka nodded, a smirk on her face., “And Finally, Lieutenant Junior Grade, Noriko Nagato, Pilot of Evangelion Unit 03,”
And she was emphasising 'Junior'. I smiled warmly, forcing my attention away from the child. He wasn't there, he was a figment of my imagination, some kooky hallucination.... that bastard brought me here, now he was fucking with my head!
Back to work... be official. Ignore him.... or it...
“It's a pleasure to meet you ladies,” bowed the first of the Americans, General Johnston according to has name-tag. He was a warm man, his voice have a soft, southern edge to it. He reminded me so much of Colonel Sanders it wasn't funny. Same hair, same beard, even the same confederate gentleman personality.
I wondered if it was all an act, or if he really was the personification of the lost mom-and-pop image of the good 'ol US. If it wasn't for the blue uniform... which managed to remind me so much of Stargate SG-1... I'dve sworn he was just another average Joe.
“I am General Carl Johnston of the United States Air Force, Commanding officer of Groom Lake Airforce base.”
The man on his left, opposite Misato stood up... he seemed to me to be the exact opposite of the General. As a man, he seemed short, severe and too the point.
“Major Micheal Arizona, Air Force liaison Officer to NERV,”
The third officer rose to his feet.... clean, fresh faced, and on the surface completely unremarkable, expect for his green eyes. He was almost a boy within his uniform, maybe a couple of years older than myself. I guess if I'd been a girl... a real one.... I might've found him 'cute'.
“Lieutenant Rainier Roberts, my adjutant,”
The woman stood up, short, mousy and Japanese, she was wearing the same uniform as me, with Captain's insignia on her collar.
“NERV liaison to the Airforce, Captain Ichiko Shikinami,”
Wasn't that Asuka's name in some AU? I couldn't remember for sure. The man beside her rose to his feet, opposite Asuka. He wore a dark business suit, but his hair that same rust-red, his eyes that same ice blue. Father and daughter shared a chilling gaze that sucked the heat right out of the room. Ritsuko Akagi, smirked at her opposite number.
“Doctor Kyle Langley, Director of Sierra project,”
Finally, it was the boy's turn, but I already knew exactly who he was.
“Fifth Children and Test Pilot of Unit Zero-Four, Kawaoru Nagisa.”
He bowed low, regarding each of us with those evil eyes of his.
“It is a pleasure to meet you all,” he said, voice soft and almost effemeninate... a sickening purr devoid of all human emotion, “Where is the Third? I was hoping I could see him today.”
I felt physically sick.
“I'm afraid he couldn't make it,” answered Akagi.
Nagisa nodded.... he wasn't disappointed. I was certain he couldn't even be disappointed. Such an inhuman thing... he made my skin crawl.
“So how's it going, Asuka?” her father asked, his voice rough, roguish stubble framing a Harrison Ford jaw.
“I'm doing fine without you, father”
She was brutally polite, perfectly proper, and still stabbing a knife into his heart as best she could. She wore that savage 'I want to eat your heart raw while you watch' grin of hers. The elder Langley, seemed impervious.
“Miss Nagato,” he addressed me, offering a polite handshake, “I knew your mother well, her sudden death was a tragedy for us all.”
Plastic grief. It was so obvious, so bloody phony. She wasn't even my mother, but still he was pissing me off.
“Thank you,” I nodded, not meaning it either. As much as I wanted to tell him to bugger off, it just wasn't something to do at a formal meeting.
“And your Father aswell, that leaves you alone now, doesn't it?”
Fuck off, I willed.
Asuka wanted to stab him. She was picturing the bloody knife in her hands.
“No, I have Captain Katsuragi, she's my guardian.”
That surprised the hell out of her.
“And yours aswell Asuka?” he left me be. “I do hope she's been treating you well,”
“Can we get started, please,” the American General put the brakes on him, “I for one, can't wait to see our new equipment in action, and I'm sure the young ladies here are as excited as I am.”
I almost could've kissed him.
“Yes, let's get started,” Akagi cut in, chilling the air.
Her, or the glares Asuka was throwing her father. Misato's mind was still doing cartwheels. One of the officers unrolled a silver screen from the ceiling.
Americans always had the unique ability.... especially Californians.... of sounding just like that condescending school principal everyone hated, even when they were just trying to give a presentation. While I was sure it was nothing intentional, I got the feeling Lieutenant Roberts was talking right down at me, as if I was just a stupid kid beneath contempt.
It made paying active attention to just about anything she was saying or doing a mind-frying chore.
I was more concerned with Nagisa.
Why was he... no it... here now?
It was responsible for me being here.... I was sure of that. I'd seen him...it... in my dreams. He'd spoken right to me.
He did this to me.
He took me from my comfortable life and threw me into this body. I didn't know whether I wanted to kill him or not. Maybe just maim him gently. Or send him to Thailand for... surgery.
That idea put a smile on my face. Even if it would lack the shock factor of waking up and suddenly realising that she had to use a different bathroom. Something else told me he probably wouldn't give a damn either way....
But it'd make me feel better.
Then I could drop her in front of a pit of animé fanboys, and watch as the bought dolls of her and drew her into Yuri doujins with Pen-Pen-ko. And a griddle.
It was much better than the dull.... but still attractive...Lieutenant, who was discussing the current transient control reactors for the railgun, and how if the US was shipping Unit 04 to Tokyo-3..... they had to fall back to the old minutemen.
The nuclear option would do the job, even if it did have Misato turning a ghostly white. But it really wasn't an option for a country as densely populated as Japan. The EVA was the only weapon which could kill an Angel, without killing everything in a 15 kilometre radius. Compared to the alternative, the collateral damage after the average EVA sortie was minimal.
Of course Misato paled and commented about mankind repeating the mistakes of the past. Ritsuko commented about logic and 'the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few'. Asuka seemed genuinely horrified that if she lost, she might be incinerated at the drop of the hat... but then concluded that was a good excuse not to lose, and it didn't matter anyway because she wasn't going to lose.
I was more concerned with the Nyarlathotep wannabe sitting across from me, redolent with sinister serenity. He just smiled an almost dainty smile.... devoid of any feeling.
The general was next up, discussing combat tactics, and how Unit's 03 and 04 were designed to operate in tandem with each other. Unit 04 was the spotter, painted silver to reflect the heat of the atomic flash. Unit 03 was the missile carrier. Both were armoured enough to shrug off a megaton blast as a gust of hot wind. It was both terrifying and thrilling at the same time.
“But,” reassured the General, “recognising the Japanese government’s three-principles on atomic weapons, those systems were removed. Both machines were rendered nuclear incapable,” A disappointing relief. “Though the missile systems themselves can still be armed with N2 warheads,”
He had a better presentation style... a little easier to follow. He seemed to talk to me, rather than down at me. Still, it was a pain in the arse to sit through... literally... the chairs where hell on my butt.
Defence policies of NERV. Cooperation between NERV and the US armed forces stationed in Japan. US contributions to the UN tank battalions. Costs and budgeting. Operational procedures and cross communication procedures between US, UN, NERV and JSSDF forces. Orders of command precedence.
The upshot was, NERV retained ultimate authority in the field. The pilots could also use NERV's command authority to order ground and air forces around... to avoid stomping the crunchies in tanks…which was a real problem… or to distract a target with air-strikes from orbiting B1's, Vulcans and Tu-22's.
The downside was; that was only after the Japanese government allowed us to. Until then, we were subject to direct UN command, and part of the same chain of command as all other UN forces.
Why was the US were talking about UN and close cooperation? Maybe it really was an all-for-one mentality? All nations for one human race, one human race for all nations?
There was something comforting about it. After Second Impact, all nations of the world had come together and said 'Never Again'. And this time, they'd meant it. There had been one full blown war in the 15 years since the Valentine Treaty... in Vietnam. And it had lasted 2 weeks before the JSSDF and UN forces had ended it. The peoples of the world were too busy trying to get back on their feet to bother with the expense of war. It was world peace, or near enough to it, and all it took was the deaths of 3 billion people.
Or more likely, it was a marriage of convenience until everyone was ready to start killing each other again.
The meeting dragged on. I think the Pilots were only there as a political stunt of some sort, to prove that we actually existed.
Nagisa sat serenely. Staring at me.
My skin prickled with static, charging with electric current.
An object in motion will continue in motion in a straight line until acted upon by some external force. Newton's Second law. His words in my dreams. And now himself in person. As malignant as a cancer in the room.
“Doctor Langley will now discuss the design and construction procedures, aswell as the temporary modifications to Unit 03 for these tests, the improvements being made for Unit 04, aswell as projected construction designs for 10, 11 and 12,”
Like the announcer at the Oscars, he turned the floor over to a new chapter in boredom. What made this worse was that this was something I actually had to pay attention too. Was this a secret endurance test? How long can the Pilot's stay awake in the face of unremitting boredom? How many times over could I count the tiles on the roof?
Or trace my finger on a pen-scratching on the table announcing something involving the Commander, Mt. Akagi and a bunch of other stuff I couldn't figure out? Either that meant 'loneliness', or somebody was struggling to spell 'service' correctly.
Asuka's father stood up, pulled the creases out of his suit, and coughed a little into his hand. He stared down at his daughter for a second, offering her a paternal smile. She answered with the most hateful scowl, like he'd boiled her pet cat alive once and forced her to eat the stew left behind.
“Alright,” he coughed again, clearing his throat, “The Sierra Project involves the research of energy weapons powered by an onboard power supply within the Evangelion itself, the provision of onboard power and the development of a prototype.”
10:30 am, according to the clock on the wall.
Was it running slow?
It felt like it had been years.
“As part of the test regime, Unit 03 has been retrofitted with a power take off, using the onboard batteries as a placeholder energy source. The aim being to test and verify the function of the power regulation algorithms.”
I'm sharing a room with the devil's apprentice, and I'm being bored to death by a lecture dryer than the Atacama desert. Railguns may be cool, but not when you understand the vast majority of the theory behind their operation, but still have to sit through a lecture on basic electromagnetism.
I leaned over and whispered in Asuka's ear, “Why can't he just get on with it? I know this stuff,”
She just looked at me, like I'd told her I was the final Angel.
“How do you know that?” she interrogated, her voice a harsh whisper.
“I read my fathers textbooks,” I lied off the cuff. He was supposed to be an engineer, wasn’t he?
For a moment, she seemed genuinely impressed by that. That was a good feeling.
“The transient current magnitude is controlled by these two reactors mounted under the barrel. By varying the position of the iron core within the reactors themselves, the quality of the reactor, and hence the rate of change of current can be controlled, giving an effective method of power and recoil adjustment.”
Still Nagisa sat there, studying me.
Red eyes, glistening. Blood red eyes.
“Unlike with coilguns, magnetic saturation of the projectile is not an issue, allowing extremely high velocities to be achieved, on the order of approximately 10 kilometers per second, giving kinetic energies more than capable of penetrating an AT field.”
Eyes that had seen aeons, it seemed.
“Don’t stare at the new boy,” whispered Asuka in my ear, her breath tickling like a buzzing mosquito. “Or does someone have a crush?”
“No!” I snapped back at her.
“Is there something you wish to add, Lieutenant?”
Bloody hell. Thanks Asuka, thanks a fucking bunch. Every eye in the room turned to me. Another reason for Akagi to think I was nuts. Think! Think quick. Find something to say that isn’t ‘Sorry’. What do I know about high current electronics and railguns?
“Um..” the gears in my mind began to turn, turning up Wikipedia pages, textbook pages and slashdot articles. “How are you…” I realised I could switch back to my native language, “How are you making sure there’s good contact between the rails and the projectile, to minimise damage due to high current arcing? Or how many shots do we get before the rails disintegrate?”
It was Ritsuko’s turn to gawk. For the briefest of moments, I took her off guard. I knew something she didn’t… or didn’t expect me to. That was so satisfying; the most a polite ‘fuck you’ imaginable. The Americans were definitely impressed, Langley smirking. I’d seen the same smirk on his daughters face any time she’d been given the chance to show just how gifted she was.
“We use a sacrificial conductive foam wadding on the projectile contacts which ensures reliable contact between rail and projectile. The foam turns to plasma, and is used to impart further energy to the projectile, aswell as protecting the rails by laying a fresh coating of conductive carbon behind after every shot. Each barrel is good for over 100 shots. Will that be enough?”
As slick as a snake-oil salesman, with barely a half second’s thought. I just nodded smugly, settling down into the warmth my own self satisfaction. Nagisa chuckled ever so slightly, and a cold chill ran up my back, a feeling that someone was walking on my grave.
Akagi whispered something in Misato’s ear, drawing a curt nod from the Captain. Badmouthing me again? Or was I just being paranoid? That woman hated me.
“Where were we?” Langley coughed again, “Right. Using these reactors does leave a high power EMF when the current cuts off after the projectile has left the barrel, which if not compensated for would cause damage to the Evangelion’s battery systems, or other power source.”…the S2 engine in Unit 04, just spit it out…. “A software controlled solid state switch shunts this current into cap-bank mounted here..” he gestured towards the blueprints on the projector, “..in the rifle’s stock. Switches then change polarity, allowing this energy to be used to part-power the next shot. This reduces power draw for subsequent shots, after the first.”
The clock ground around.
Who makes the clock tick by, When will my fate be ready? Do I get prior warning Am I told? Are there no surprises? What song was that again? I knew I’d heard it somewhere. I shrugged and decided it wasn’t so important.
“Now we move on to integration with the onboard HUD and targeting control systems…”
I counted the seconds.
Ritsuko badgered with questions about systems integration, software reliability, and assurances from third-party contractors. The Americans loved third-party contractors. And dull, dry things. Dull as old silver. Dry as Sahara bones.
A knock at the door.
“I think it’s time we break for sandwiches,” said a relieved Misato.
The whole room exhaled. Except for the Angel, he couldn’t care less. But food would make everyone feel better.
“So, you’re the Fifth child then,” Asuka swung into her usual routine. “Lieutenant Asuka Sorhyu, pilot of Unit 02, pleased to meet you.”
I noticed she watched the reactions of her father as she dropped the Langley. He didn’t give two hoots, he was too busy waffling with Akagi and Misato, and keeping the blue-shirts from the USAF happy.
“The Second Child,” he purred, “Es ist eine freude, sie zu erfüllen”
“Sie sind Deutsche?”
Whatever she was saying about Germany, she was pleasantly amused by it. Maybe she was surprised just how German Kawaoru was.
I didn’t even try to follow it. The pair carried on with their Rammstein duet. The adults were duelling over the history of the Evangelion project in English, while Misato sat back and tried to look like an understanding professional.
“So, Nagisa is quite the bishounen, isn’t he?” she purred….
“I not like Nagisa,” is all I said. Arms folded.
“Asuka didn’t like Shinji at first, but she got over it,” Memories of a hundred Shinji/Asuka lemons sent shudders down my spine. I will hate Nagisa. No matter what happens. I will hate him for taking me from my home, from my life, for the rest of my life.
I growled into my own chest.
“Nice question by the way. From the looks of it, I think you impressed our guests,”
And all of a sudden, I felt good about myself again. Not only that, but it reaffirmed my identity. Not as the 14 year old girl and mecha pilot, but the 22 year old engineer who was just about to finish final year in university before some bloody Angel decided it would be hilarious to see how well he would do as a 14 year old girl and mecha pilot.
I murdered a ham sandwich. I’d rather have murdered the Angel.
“Now that we’re all refreshed, shall we get back to work?”
As usual, Akagi ended the fun.
The meeting would last for another hour.
“That Fifth Child is creepy,” said Asuka, unbuttoning her blouse, “a complete freakazoid like the First,”
I turned around to make sure Rei wasn’t in the changing room. Not that she’d actually care, mind.
“Yeah, he is a bit…” I had to search for the right word “…a bit queer. And I don’t mean his sexual orientation. I mean, look at the way he smiles, the way he talks, it’s like one of those uncanny-valley CGI film characters. Emotion on the outside, but hollow and false on the inside,”
The opposite of Rei then, almost. Asuka nodded.
“His German is too perfect; he speaks like a dictionary, rather than a human being. He reminds me of a serial killer. At least the Third is human”…a beat, followed by a quick backpeddle, “That doesn’t mean that I like Shinji of course, just that I prefer him to this freaky Volker Eckert Fifth child.”
I threw her a disbelieving look. Yes Miss Tsundere, I believe you, you don’t like Shinji at all.
“At least you don’t have to work with him,” I mumbled bitterly. Here’s hoping that when Unit 04 goes pop in Nevada, it’ll take Kawaoru with it.
Now that was a comforting thought. All my problems disappear in a mushroom cloud.
I pulled my plugsuit up around my body, nestling parts into their proper places. A click of a switch, and it hugged my skin, trapped air exhausting from vents on the hips, back and shoulders. A little tighter across the chest than usual…
You’re a growing young woman Noriko, Misato’s voice whispered in my ear.
A few swings of my arms to try and fix the fit…which failed…. And I shrugged it off. Deep breath. Hold it. Close my eyes. Open and exhale slowly.
I wasn’t a girl.
I wasn’t a woman.
I wasn’t a man.
I wasn’t any of those.
In my plugsuit, I was the 4th Child. Now, I was the Pilot of Unit 03.
Asuka’s red suit compressed around her body.
“Don’t worry Asuka, I’ll go easy on you,” I teased.
“Pride comes before a fall, 4th child,” she swaggered. “Besides, I’ll look bad if you make it too easy for me to beat you.”
Spoken as if her beating me was an absolute certainty. It probably was. Unless I could think of something really cunning, really quickly…
Whatever it was, I’d only ever get one chance to do it.
I tried to put Thursday out of my mind… but it still lingered, sending chills through my body was the LCL began to trickle in. I knew the Eva wouldn’t harm me, but what I knew didn’t matter one iota to my subconscious.
The blood of Lilith was rising quickly up my chest.
I could defeat my subconscious. This proved as much. Close my eyes. Take one last deep breath of blood tasting air, and wait for the LCL to rise above my head. Open Eyes. Open mouth and blow bubbles, listening to them pop like gunshots in the liquid. Then inhale and feel fine.
The human body breathed liquid for 9months, it wasn’t hard to teach it to do it again. Just remember not do it when swimming in open water.
Going back from liquid to air, was still about 5 minutes of coughing, puking and hacking gobbets of phlegm and red gel across the floor. Ed Harris made that part look easy.
Then came the rush… growing a thousand feet in three seconds. My mind expanded to fill the void within the EVA, ghosts of sensations from the armour and cage locks dancing through my awareness. I gripped the twin throttles tightly, anchoring myself back in my own body.
A few quick checks over the displays around me. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing felt wrong.
“Unit 03 has activated. All systems green.”
Maya Ibuki answered me.
“Acknowledge Unit 03. Launch in 5 minutes. ”
American accents burred in the background. The Generals face appeared beside me.
“Zero-Three. Lieutenant,”…he pronounced it Loo-tenant… “Remember pilot, you’re not just riding in a machine. You’re riding on the hopes and dreams of two hundred million Americans invested in your machine, invested in a future for the human race. We stand behind you, all of us. And we entrust our fate to your courageous hands. Do your best us, Lieutenant.”
There was an almost tearful glimmer in his eye.
“I will,” I smiled back.
He probably took my smile as being one of confidence, a young girl, bright eyed and looking forward to saving the planet, freedom, bald eagles and all that. Truth be told, I was trying desperately hard not to giggle stupidly. I couldn’t help but be reminded of all those silly rousing movie speeches…especially that Roland Emmerich movie. To be fair to the man, he really did mean it…Americans were the only people in the world who could credibly spout that sort of jingoistic cheese, and while I didn’t generally go in for jingoism and the like, I could at least play along.
Just don’t start bawling laughing.
Try sound imperious and confident.
“The hopes and dreams of humanity,” I started, “Will be my drill to break through our enemies, to pierce the heavens themselves and touch the face of God.”
I didn’t even know if that animé had ever existed anymore. The fact that I was half-quoting Kamina will sitting in an Evangelion just made it funnier. It took all my willpower not to just burst out laughing afterwards.
“Well said,” said the General.
It did make me feel good in a strange way. I nodded firmly at the General, and put him out of my mind, cycling through a few prelaunch checks. The Eva was there, observing. Just observing. Keeping her distance. She didn’t mean to hurt me, I told myself.
“Hi,” I projected at her, feeling a nervous thrill run through my body.
I felt her smile rise through my body, covering me like a warm blanket of happiness. She would keep me safe. She wouldn’t hurt me. She would protect me as she would protect her own daughter.
Do your best, Eva.
She would. It wasn’t her fault we were going to lose anyway. It was a simple spar, best of three rounds. I was almost sure I’d win the first. I was bloody certain I’d be squashed for the next 2. But if I could pull my first move off, it wouldn’t matter what Asuka did afterwards. After all, it was expected for her to win all three, wasn’t it?
“Unit 03 to launch position,”
Ibuki again. The machine slowly began to move backwards towards the launch rails, while I hummed the Thunderbirds theme.
Ibuki; “Unit 03 launch set to manual-soft,”
“Copy,” I answered, changing settings, “Manual-soft set,”
The monster machine locked into the launch rails, clamps and runners highlighting green on my HUD.
Ibuki; “Geofront launch route three. Power Connection Gamma-3 on surface. Field data has been uploaded. Launch at will, Good hunting,”
“Roger that, Launch at will,”
Just push the little red button and go.
3G of acceleration crushed my body down into the seat, drawing a gentle grunt as my insides tried to stay behind on the launch pad. I took it in my stride, taking time to admire the views outside. Compared to a 7G combat launch, this was gentle. LCL and a reclined seating position took a good deal of it, but there was a reason we had to do all our physical training… and it wasn’t because plugsuits wouldn’t look so nice over a beer-gut or bangle-butt.
Not entirely anyway.
All pilots were expected to have health problems in later life, but all that mattered was that we were fit and healthy for the next 12 months or so. Long enough to save humanity. Long enough to turn to orange jelly. Maybe that’s when I got to go home?
Wake up warm in my own bed, trudge to the bathroom.... actually have my rather classy beard back. And probably get halfway through shaving my legs before realising I didn’t have to do that anymore.
What was that line from some Scottish play?
I am too steep’d in panties, that to wade back would be as tedious as to go o’er.
I was paraphrasing… of course…. And probably badly, but it illustrated the point. I was fast reaching the moment where it would be just as hard to get used to being male again, as it had been to get used to seeing Noriko’s chest in the mirror in the morning.
The jolt at the top of the lift jarred my thoughts back. Right then, none of that mattered. I was there to do a job. Check instruments, check gauges, check for nearby power sockets, and step off the carrier.
One small step for an EVA, one giant bootprint in the soil. Wincing momentarily, I realised I’d forgotten to check for ground personnel. A quick, but deliberate, glance down. Nothing by left foot, nothing by right foot. Which according to Murphy, meant whatever had been there was now well and truly underfoot.
There was a reason Asuka called them crunchies. That reason being allied forces inability to understand that the Eva’s had a very large blindspot right underneath them….which only got larger when the pilot was focusing on the thirty story monstrosity in front of her. It was so bad, our battle simulations had been adjusted account for it, and I was the first pilot being trained specifically to be aware of it.
In the battle against the 6th Angel, Asuka outright killed or wounded more people in her 60-second hopscotch game, than the Angel itself had managed in ten minutes. In her simulated performances, she was the only one of us who routinely managed to kill more friendlies than the enemy did.
Which had a seriously detrimental effect on inter-force cooperation and goodwill.
Leaving that thought hanging, I switched power supply to a local one, checked it actually had the ability to supply the power I needed, checked the batteries were properly trickle charging, checked for certain that I hadn’t squashed my support units, and finally made damn sure Unit 03 was equipped with it’s standard weapons loadout, otherwise my plan wouldn’t work and I’d just look like an incompetent idiot.
“Unit 03 On Surface. Power stable. Go for Operations.”
200 yards away, Unit 02 stood at attention, bright red paint glowing in the sun. Behind it, the Pyramid tower of NERV headquarters basked in the light filtering down from the lake-windows a kilometre above. The old destroyer was sleeping peacefully on the lake, sparks of light dancing across the surface.
I wondered how the hell they got that thing in, or what it was over supposed to do beyond being used as an improvised missile against a squadron of tanks.
“Unit 02 On surface. Power Stable. Go for operations,”
I could tell by her tone. Asuka thought this was going to be a curbstomp battle.
Katsuragi; “Good. Now show these Americans that you’re not just children with big toys.”
We intended to.
The Japan Meteorological Institute was always the first to know when the EVA’s were out playing. Each kiloton footstep shook the ground like a miniature earthquake. Distant seismographs quivered in fear of our power. Geologists were already drafting another letter of complaint to the powers that be, incensed that the noise of our training exercises was drowning out their measurements.
It was absurd but glorious. We had the power to move the Earth itself.
That thrilling feeling of raw physical power, of striding over the land like a Greek Titan, almost made everything worthwhile.
The price of going home…of becoming myself again… was never being able to sit in this cockpit again. If I was honest with myself, I wasn’t sure this was something I could willingly give up.
Leaving that thought hanging, I returned my concentration to my piloting, and planning my little surprise for Asuka.
Ibuki; “Unit 03 weapons check”
I glanced at a terminal window to my left, cycling through the information displayed.
“Confirm training weapons only.”
Ibuki; “Battle computer to simulated damage mode,”
I brought up a new screen to my right, changing a few settings with a gentle brush from my fingertips. Pinch to zoom and make sure, then flick it away out of view.
“Damage simulators active. Discriminators locked into safety mode. ”
Ibuki; “Report arrival at Beta startpoint and standby,”
Take it slow and easy. No hurry at all. Try not to shake things up too much. We were professionals, not children…or at least we were acting like professional soldiers. Children acting like soldiers. No wonder the UN kept our identities secret, every tin-pot dictator in Africa would call them on it.
Compared to the others, at least I had the benefit of once having been an adult.
Pointless thoughts. We weren’t ‘child soldiers’. We still went to school, we still had friends. Being a pilot was no different than being a member of an after-school sports team. We trained for a few hours a day after school, and every couple of weeks we would get time off class to play against the Angels.
Was that deliberate on NERV’s part…making EVA training seem more like an after-school activity than actual military service?
Well, it sure beat chess club.
Blowing that thought away, letting it bubble up towards the top of the plug, I pushed the EVA around the back of a ruined tower block that had fallen from above and drilled itself into the ground.
“Unit 03 reporting point Beta standby. Awaiting orders,”
Ibuki; “Hold. Waiting for Unit 02,”
The red EVA was near a kilometre away with it’s back towards me, loping forwards. It’s gait was a curious mix of human, and utterly alien. One foot, in front of the other, never fully stretching the leg, never fully locking the knee. Its arms swung lazily by its side, just enough to keep balance, nothing more.
Katsuragi; “This is just a quick demonstration of what we can do you two, so no need to remodel the entire Geofront. You both have your standard armaments, nothing more. There’s a kilometre between you, and the battlefield is marked on your HUD. Rules are simple. Go off the battlefield, you lose. If your battle-computer says your EVA is disabled, you lose. Everything else is fair game.”
Perfect. Standard armaments for Unit 02 were a pair of progressive knives, and a set of carbon darts in each shoulder. Units 00 and 01 had similar, trading the darts for a set of braking thrusters. 03 had the same thrusters, but only one prog-knife. Unlike the others, I could call on a magnum pistol in a tight spot.
A Magnum pistol that fired 3 19-inch shells, weighing over a tonne each, in a third of a second. Then could do the same 3 seconds later, to fire a total of 15 rounds. When empty, there were two more magazines making for a maximum of 45 shots. It was designed to smash an Angel’s core.
Asuka; “I’ll try make this look good,” she teased.
I smiled knowingly at her image. What she didn’t know, was going to hurt her.
Katsuragi; “All Unit’s in position. Wait for my order,”
A few of the Americans burred in the background, questioning some of the techs behind, or commenting on procedures. I double checked to make sure Unit 02’s IFF had been removed from the ‘friendly’ list and then checked again to be sure. Getting that wrong would be embarrassing.
Katsuragi; “3….” Check radar for good lock, “2….” Slave targeting systems to radar lock. “1….” Check range, Check weapon. Pray. “Start,”
All comm-lines were cut.
A little blue dot on a map represented Unit 02, otherwise now hidden from view by the concrete tower I was using to shield myself. That little dot took off like a sprinter, accelerating to triple digit speeds in a heartbeat.
A thrill ran up my spine, terror, excitement and elation racing through my body.
Radar lock, reported the battle-computer.
Max-Range in 3 seconds.
Ideal range 5 seconds.
Close Contact 10 seconds.
And if that happened, Asuka’s victory after 11 seconds, or so I estimated. I couldn’t beat her hand-to-hand… I hadn’t been trained for it. No, I just had my one ace up my sleeve.
Max-range ticked by, counted off by computer.
I still crouched behind the ruin. 2…. 1…..
Don’t fuck up.
One fluid motion pulled Unit 03 around the building, spinning on one heel to face the charging Red Eva, highlighted with a blue box, rapidly growing larger. 4 glass eyes gleamed menacingly in the sun, progressive blade already drawn ready to cut. Asuka wasn’t hanging about. Close the distance as quickly as possible then tear the enemy apart hand to hand. Just as she’d been trained.
She didn’t jink, she didn’t zig-zag… she didn’t know I had anything to call on other than a prog-knife. She was about to find out.
I picked a point on Unit 02’s chest, just below its neck, slaving the targeting systems to it. I was trained to shoot for the weak spot, to shoot for an Angels core. The weakest point on an EVA was right at the top of its spine. It was a cold-blooded thought, but it was the truth.
Indicators flashed green. Simultaneously, I reached up, feeling my machines hand close around the grips of the pistol. I grinned savagely.
Sorhyu was a sitting duck.
Half a kilometre away, running right at me. Easy shot. I squeezed the trigger on the throttle.
Computer control drew the weapon from its holster. Computer control aimed it, pointing the barrel with unerring accuracy at that single point I’d selected. Computer control fired, three shots blasting out, pistol belching flame and smoke.
Blank cartridges, for effect.
A heartbeat. Tense, did I hit. Did I miss? If I missed… a momentary chill ran through my body. I might get another volley off, but Asuka would be expecting it.
The battle computers of both machines busied themselves calculating the effects of the shot. Accuracy, damage, deflections off armour. System failures to be simulated.
Hit, announced the battle-computer after a half-second’s deliberation with its counterpart.
1-shot. Armour: Neck. Armour destroyed.
2-shot. Penetration: Neck. Laceration of supporting musculature. Backup control failure.
3-shot. Penetration: Entry-plug. Pilot deceased.
Unit 02 Lurched to a halt mid stride, its onboard computer acknowledging the death if its pilot and cutting off all of her controls.
Asuka; "Was zur Hölle?" She wore an expression like she’d been struck by lightning. “Program error?”
I keyed open a channel.
That was all that needed to be said. That was all I could say before I burst out into cackling laughter. Laughing at Asuka wasn’t going to do my chances for survival any favours, but I really didn’t give a bollocks. I could endure any torture…. It was worth it to see the look of sheer indignant bewilderment on the Second Child’s face.
Ibuki; “EVA Unit 02 has been defeated by pilot kill. Battle time, 13.24 seconds. “
Asuka; “Pilot kill?” the wheels started turning, Click! Everything locked into place, embarrassed rage building as the realisation coalesced in her mind “SHE CHEATED! It was a standard weapons only battle, no firearms allowed,”
“Asuka,” her father cut in, his voice chilled and deadly, “A pistol is part of Unit 03's standard loadout. You did not lose because Nagato cheated, you lost because of your own failure to know your opponent,”
Oh God, he was going to get me killed.
Langley; “I did not raise a girl who charges blindly forward without stopping to think about her opponent. One the battlefield, the first loser is the first casualty, and you did not spent years in training to throw yourself away to the maggots through stupidity. “
Sorhyu looked like a scolded puppy…
Langley; “I raised my daughter to win, I raised my daughter to learn from her mistakes. If you are my daughter, Asuka Langley, then you will learn from this, and you will win this time. Are you my daughter, Asuka?”
“Yes,” she said, her voice flat.
Langley; “Are. You. My. Daughter?”
“Yes!” barked the red pilot.
Langley; “And is my daughter a worthless loser?”
Langley; “So is my daughter going to lose?”
His voice drove her like a hammer drives a nail. There was hate in that girls eyes. Hate for her father, or hate for me? The image of Ibuki beside me looked away for a minute, shuddering. Kyle Langley was one of those parents… the kind who treat any grade less than an A-plus as a personal insult… the kind for whom the best is never good enough.
I might’ve felt sorry for Asuka, if I hadn’t been too busy being afraid of her.
“No,” snarled the pilot of Unit 02, a savage gleam in her eyes.
“I’m going to die,” I said. I could see it now, Unit 03 being torn to shreds in a bloody orgy of destruction, white entry plug so vulnerable in red fingers and then…crunch!
Ibuki; “Unit 03 auto ejection check,” the ever-cute lieutenant took my mind off it.
“Ejection check green,” I answered back, checking thrusters and plug release circuits.
A few moments thought… then a confidence inspiring realisation. An ejection check… brilliant. Focus, Fourth Child. If I was going to get eaten by the werewolf, at least I could give him indigestion.
Katsuragi; “Return to startpoint, prep for round two. Good work Pilot Nagato,”
Misato’s smile almost made the impending pain worthwhile. Return pistol to its holster, switch to full magazine, crouch back behind cover and wait….wait to die horribly. There were murmurings over the radio, talking about powerflow, targeting deviation and NERV’s training policies.
Alright… think tactics. Asuka’s going to be ready now, she’s going to know to dodge. Fifteen rounds aren’t enough for proper suppression fire to make her stop, and it takes forever to reload the thing. Trying the same thing over was dumb… she’d expect it. Shoot the weak spot, my training demanded. The weakest points on an EVA were the sensors mounted to the head, and the entry plug itself. Both were hard shots to make. Fighting Sorhyu hand to hand would be futile… I had to shoot. Shoot for the head to blind and disable her, then finish with a plugshot.
Plan seemed good.
Better than rolling over and dying.