Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Neon Exodus Evangelion
Exodus 1: The Gathering Storm
Inspired by Neon Genesis Evangelion
created by Hideaki Anno, Gainax, et al.
Most characters created by Hideaki Anno and Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
DJ Croft created by Benjamin D. Hutchins
Jon Ellison created by Larry Mann
Additional material and inspiration cadged from Tomb Raider by Core Design, Ltd.
X-COM: UFO Defense and sequels from MPS Labs
(whoever owns them nowadays)
and The X-Files created by Chris Carter
Written by Benjamin D. Hutchins and Larry Mann
Aided and abetted by the Eyrie Productions, Unlimited crew
and special-guest-for-life Phil Moyer
© 1997 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
HTML remastering © 2016 EPU
The base commander looked up from the assortment of maps and charts displayed on the command center's monitors and turned to face his lieutenant, Michael Steffler, who had just entered the room through the sliding double doors. "Situation?"
"Word just came back from our contacts in Worcester-3," Steffler replied. "The Third Angel was neutralized by the Fifth Child last night."
"Fifth?" Ayliffe arched an eyebrow. "What about the Third?"
"The Third is either unable or unwilling to participate in the project, more likely unwilling. Fortunately the Fifth was at hand, but it's unclear whether he will remain involved, and we have reports that he was injured and Unit 01 damaged in the combat, so either way they'll be out of action for a while."
"And the other Children?" the commander asked, fairly sure of where this was leading.
"The First is still incapacitated, expected to be out of service for at least three more weeks; reports indicate she suffered further injuries during the fighting. The Second is still in final training in Germany. And again, the Fifth can't be considered reliable yet. NERV has requested the transfer of the Fourth Child to direct NERV authority immediately, if not sooner." He paused. "At the moment we're receiving negative commentary for not handing him over when first requested."
"And I suppose they want the work on Unit 03 expedited as well?" the commander sighed.
"They're requesting transfer of the EVA as soon as it's passed preliminary testing; final synchronization tests will be conducted on-site." Steffler shrugged. "They're a little annoyed with us, I'm afraid. We could have done the transfer when they originally asked, and then all this might have been avoided."
"I know, I know." Straightening up, Ayliffe turned to one of the officers manning the communications system. "Colburn, tell Engineering to expedite the prelim tests on EVA-03 and get it ready for transfer to Worcester-3 ASAP."
"Yes sir!" Colburn replied.
"And the Fourth?" Steffler asked expectantly.
"We'll deal with that now," Ayliffe replied.
"Problem, Dr. Spiner?"
David Spiner looked up from a hushed discussion with his fellow scientists. He and Ayliffe had known each other for a long time, long enough that each could read the mood of the other with only a glance. Ayliffe could tell Spiner was bothered about something.
"Not sure exactly, Commander," Spiner replied. "We were conducting the synchronization exercise as planned, when the Fourth started complaining of body-wide pain. We aborted the test and we've been going over the data but so far there's nothing to indicate what might have caused the problem."
"Is he all right?" Steffler asked.
"He's awake, if that's what you mean, Lieutenant," the scientist answered. "The pain decreased but didn't go away after we cut the power; he says it's been slowly dropping off since then and should be gone soon."
"Can we talk to him?" Ayliffe inquired.
Spiner gestured toward the holding tank at the end of the testing chamber, indicating an affirmative. The two soldiers crossed the room and stood before the large cylindrical tank, regarding its occupant, the Fourth Child, through a large viewport. He was a tall, thin boy, with shoulder-length black hair. His actual age was fourteen, but he looked older, closer to eighteen. At the moment his eyes were closed and he floated in the LCL breathing and antishock medium, seemingly asleep.
Ayliffe activated an intercom on the tank's side, picking up a hand microphone. "Jon."
The boy slowly opened his eyes, revealing them to be a deep emerald color, and his head turned toward the source of the sound waves, regarding the soldiers with an expressionless, almost blank, gaze.
"Are you all right?"
"I am improving," Jon answered neutrally. If he was still in any pain, he did not show it at all. "My ratio is up 15 points from last test."
"That's good, Jon," the commander replied, then paused to organize his thoughts. Jon merely looked at him, still expressionless. "I have new orders for you."
"I'm ready to receive orders," Jon answered flatly, still without trace of emotion.
The commander paused again, regarding the boy thoughtfully for another moment. Then: "Jonathan Ellison, effective immediately you are being placed under the direct authority of NERV. You will be transferred to Worcester-3, and will be answerable only to NERV central command, as Fourth Child and pilot of EVA-03."
"Your transport to Worcester-3 will depart at 0800 hours tomorrow. Have your personal effects packed and ready by that time. Unit-03 will be transported to Worcester-3 once preliminary testing has been completed. Per NERV's orders, final testing will take place in Worcester-3."
"Yes sir," Jon repeated. "I will be ready for transport at 0800 tomorrow."
"Good," Ayliffe nodded. "Good luck, and be careful."
"Thank you sir," Jon answered, and his eyes closed again.
Ayliffe watched the boy quietly for a few moments longer before replacing the microphone on its hook. "Dave," he said at last, turning to Dr. Spiner, who had been standing nearby. "I need everything locked down and ready to go ASAP."
"No problem, sir," Spiner answered. "Though I want to go on record as being uncomfortable about sending the Fourth into the field at this time."
"Your concerns are noted," Ayliffe nodded. "Unfortunately it can't be helped; NERV's authority overrides all other orders."
"Then he'll be as ready as he can be, sir," the scientist replied.
"Good. Get to it."
Although both Ayliffe and Spiner had no way of knowing, they were both thinking the same thought as they went to attend to their respective tasks:
Dear God, what have we become?
Miles away, the Fifth Child, DJ Croft, returned to consciousness slowly, reluctantly, and with a measure of difficulty. When he peeled his eyelids (which felt as if some considerate soul had come along and glued sand to the insides) away from his eyes (which felt as if some other considerate soul had poured salt in them), the first thing he saw was an intolerably bright blur. He flinched. This caused his brain, which had apparently shrunk to the size of a walnut, to carom wildly off the inside of his skull, through which someone had apparently pounded several dozen framing nails.
By squinting to the point where he was peering out at the world through a crosshatch of eyelashes, DJ reduced the intolerable brightness to a mere agonizing glare, and managed to identify its source as a rectangular ceiling fixture holding three fluorescent tubes. Then a merciful shadow blocked the light as an indeterminate shape leaned over him.
"DJ? Can you hear me?" came a deafening voice that was probably Misato's. "How do you feel?"
"Like the ancient Aztecs have been using my head for a football," DJ replied, surprised that his voice came out in something other than a feeble croak. He sat up, gingerly, trying not to rattle his brain about too much in his nail-filled skull.
"Drink this," came another voice, this one Ritsuko's, and someone pressed an item his brain took a moment to identify as a drinking glass into his hand. "It'll restore your electrolyte balance. You've been unconscious for almost twenty hours."
And so he did, tossing the foul-tasting beverage down in several great tidal gulps; after a few moments of perilous nausea, he was startled to realize that, just like that, he did feel quite a lot better. He rubbed at his eyes, blinked, and discovered himself able to focus on things again, then turned to Ritsuko.
"An unexpected feedback error. We didn't expect you to be so deeply synchronized with EVA-01 that it would set up a neural feedback loop if you went to an external camera position, but it did. We've run a full set of scans, though, and there's no permanent harm. The shock knocked you out before your neural pathways could be permanently affected."
"How reassuring," DJ said dryly. "That's why I feel like somebody's unscrewed my head and taken out my brain?"
"More or less."
"Right. Memo to myself: don't use the external cameras." He plopped back down on the bed, looked painlessly up at the light fixture, and decided he was feeling fine. Well, hungry, but otherwise fine. His hands didn't hurt any more; looking at them, he saw that the palms and some of the fingers were lightly bandaged.
"How the hell'd I do that?" he wondered.
"We're... not sure," Ritsuko replied, looking briefly away. DJ didn't buy that, but he let it slide.
"Can I get up now?" he asked.
"Sure... as I said, your tests showed no problems. EVA-01 will be in repairs for a few days, so you'll have some time off to rest up. Misato will take care of your living arrangements. I believe you were having the things you wanted shipped, weren't you?"
"That was when I thought I'd be at summer-camp-for-bookworms for two months. How long do you intend to keep me here?"
"You're free to leave at any time," said Ritsuko, her gaze level. "We won't keep you here against your will."
DJ sat up again, looked to the side, spotted his clothes folded neatly in the chair next to the bed. With a bit of surprise, he noticed that his Springfield Armory V10 pistol was there, too, still hanging in its shoulder harness and offset by a pair of spare magazines. Given the fuss Ritsuko had put up over it when he'd been fitted with the plug suit, he'd expected to have to go through all kinds of hassle to get it back.
He got up and started dressing, unconcerned that he was not alone; you got over that kind of hang-up pretty quickly in the field. "I need some time to think," he observed as he belted on his jeans and shrugged into a slightly oversized oxford shirt. "Time and space. And my backpack, so I can have something to read."
"Something to read?"
"I think better when I'm reading."
Rei Ayanami, contrary to what anyone might have expected had they looked into her private infirmary room, was not bored. She would have been, had she known of the concept; but since she had never known the simple pleasures of a hobby, she had nothing to miss. And since missing that simple pleasure is what boredom is all about, she was not bored.
She lay in her infirmary bed, swathed in bandages, an IV in her arm, and thought about the events of the previous day. Who was the blue-eyed stranger who had helped her? She had seen something in his eyes she could not identify when he knelt beside her, held her head and shoulders off the cold, hard floor, and wiped the sweat from her forehead. It wasn't unusual for Rei to see an emotion in someone else's eyes that she could not identify, but it was unusual for the phenomenon to matter to her; unusual enough that she was now pondering it, turning those few seconds of contact over in her mind, wondering at their significance.
The door slid open, interrupting her thoughts; she looked to her left and saw the stranger entering the room, dressed in the same faded jeans, age-grey Dr. Js and blue-striped oxford shirt with the top two buttons missing he'd been wearing the day before, with a battered leather backpack slung by one strap over his left shoulder. With the battered brown jacket he'd been wearing the day before slung over the backpack, Rei could see a shoulder-holster harness like the one Colonel Keller wore, which struck her as odd for someone so young.
The stranger smiled, a quiet smile that lit up his eyes, walked silently to the end of the bed, and tilted the hanging clipboard there toward his eyes.
"Rei Ayanami," he observed, his English accent putting an interesting slant on her last name. The smile again. "DJ Croft. I'm Number Five."
Rei nodded. One mystery explained, anyway. "Hello," she said softly.
DJ went to the chair in the corner and plopped into it, pulling the small stepstool over to use as an ottoman, and produced a tatty paperback from the backpack. This behavior struck Rei as odd—people who did not know her well, which was more or less everybody, tended to feel an irritating need to make conversation, as if silence were a bane to be thrust back at any cost. DJ, however, didn't seem to mind her silence at all; he merely read his book. Even so, Rei didn't feel as though he was ignoring her. It was very odd... but not unpleasant.
After almost an hour of silence, Rei's curiosity defeated her reticence, and she said, very tentatively, "Why are you here?"
DJ looked over the top of the book. "Sorry, am I bothering you?"
Rei shook her head.
"I wanted somewhere quiet to have a think, but I didn't want to be alone," DJ explained. "I hope you don't think it's an imposition, but I thought perhaps you could use a bit of quiet company yourself. It must get lonely here."
Rei shrugged. She had never considered that possibility. After all, she had been alone all her life. Like boredom, she couldn't feel loneliness; she had no frame of reference, no way of knowing what was missing from her life.
But if this was what company was like...
DJ returned to reading his book. He didn't mean it as a snub and she didn't take it as such. Already, they had that much of an understanding.
Rei Ayanami's pale, drawn face wore the slightest hint of a smile as she settled back against her pillow and went to sleep.
Misato Katsuragi sat in her office, glaring sourly at the information on her terminal screen; then, with an exasperated sigh, she scooped up her desk phone and called Ritsuko.
"Akagi," came the reply.
"Ritsuko, why does your department have DJ living alone in C Block?"
"He doesn't have family in the area—chances are, he doesn't have family at all any more. Haven't you read his file? His father was killed in the aftermath of Second Impact and his mother's been missing for months; his only living relatives are a paternal grandmother who doesn't know he exists and a maternal grandfather who disowned his mother years before he was born. What were we supposed to do with him?"
Misato hadn't consciously planned on saying anything remotely like what she was about to say, but before she realized that, it was out: "I'll take care of him."
"Uh, what?" Ritsuko replied.
In for a penny, Katsuragi, said Misato to herself. "I said I'll take care of him. My apartment is huge, much bigger than I need, I've got two empty bedrooms I'll never fill with stuff of my own. He can live with me. C'mon, Ritsuko, it's not like I'm gonna put the moves on him or anything."
"Of course not!" Dr. Akagi bellowed. "How could you even joke about such a thing? That's just like you, Misato!"
Misato held the phone at arm's length and glared at it. Ritsuko never could take a joke.
After an almost-exactly-two-hour nap, Rei Ayanami awoke to silence, save for the quiet whir of the room's air conditioning vent and the soft sound of a page turning every now and then. The room had been darkened by some nurse or another, but DJ had somehow managed to remain, his chair sitting now in a small, warm, yellowish pool of light cast by a small reading lamp affixed to the wall with a magnet. He had a different book now; too far for Rei to read the titles, but the cover was a different color. The last had been blackish-blue; this one was white.
"What are you reading?" she asked.
He lowered the book a little and looked over the spine at her again. "It's called The Ghost from the Grand Banks," he replied. "By a chap name of Arthur C. Clarke—absolute bloody genius, greatest writer of the twentieth century."
In what any familiar observer would have counted as an almost unprecedented spurt of volubility, Rei asked a second question: "What's it about?"
"Businessmen trying to raise the wreck of the Titanic."
And a third: "What's that?"
DJ reached into his pack, retrieved the last book he'd been reading and tossed it onto the bed. Rei picked it up and looked at the cover.
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, it said, BY WALTER LORD. The cover was a reproduction of an oil painting, depicting an old-fashioned ocean-going ship at night. All wasn't well with it, though; it wasn't sitting evenly in the water, and there were small boats with oars visible in the picture as well. Rei found this imagery quite confusing, but concluded that it would be explained within; so she turned to the first page and began reading.
In a way, this decision was to have unfortunate consequences for Rei. Having now experienced a leisure-time activity, she would soon acquire the ability to be bored.
There came a knock at the door, and then it opened a bit and Misato peeped around. "Hello?" she said quietly. "Oh, hi. I don't want to disturb you, but it's time for DJ to go."
DJ tucked his book into his pack, shut off the light, pulled it off the wall, folded it into a small oblong package, and slipped it into the pack as well. As he passed the bed, Rei tried to hand him back A Night to Remember, but he smiled and pushed it back at her.
"Keep it," he said. "I'll take it back when you're finished reading it. If you want, I'll pop by tomorrow for a bit... I won't have much else to do 'til they finish putting my EVA back together."
Taken aback by both the offer and her reaction to it, Rei nodded. DJ smiled, nodded in return, and followed Misato out.
In a way, this decision was also to have unfortunate consequences for Rei. Having now experienced a bit of companionship, she would soon acquire the ability to be lonely, as well.
"What were you and Rei talking about?" Misato wondered as she and DJ navigated the corridors of NERV Headquarters.
"We weren't," DJ replied. "We were reading."
Misato decided she didn't really want to know. They walked in silence for some time, until finally, her curiosity got the better of her, and she asked,
"So what?" DJ replied.
"So did you... decide?"
DJ realized as she asked that he hadn't bothered to consider it. After his not-really-a-conversation with Rei Ayanami, there wasn't really a need.
He nodded. "I'll stay... for now."
Misato grinned. "That's great. We really do need you."
"Uh-huh," DJ replied, unimpressed.
"So... are you hungry?"
"I could eat," said DJ. "All I've had since the flight out was a hot dog in the commissary after waking up."
"Well, then, let's get something. We have to have a party!"
"To welcome home my new roommate, of course!"
"Your new roommate," said DJ skeptically, wondering why he was being involved in this matter at all.
"Didn't anyone tell you?"
"Tell me what? I've been in Rei's room all afternoon. Nobody's told me anything. It's been very restful."
"Oh, well, Ritsuko was going to stick you all alone in base housing, waaaay off in the boonies where there's still some living space, but I said, 'No way, Ritsuko, that's no way to treat the hero of the day,' so instead, you'll be living with me."
DJ smiled. "Will I."
"Your stuff's probably already been delivered. Isn't that great?"
DJ wasn't sure if it was great or not, actually, but who was he to blow against the wind?
"Got any Indian restaurants in this town?" he asked. "I could murder a good curry."
"I know a pretty good place," Misato replied. "But we have to make a stop first."
"Someplace really cool."
DJ stood looking up at the craggy stone edifice before him, reflecting that it looked like a small version of the kind of place he and his mother might explore, then turned his attention to the plaque on the ground in front of him.
"Bancroft Tower," he read. "This tower was built in 1900 to honor the memory of George Bancroft, 1800-1891. Born at the foot of this hill he rose to the posts of Secretary of the Navy, Founder of the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis Maryland, U.S. Minister to Great Britain and Germany. This memorial was built by his friend and admirer Stephen Salisbury III."
He looked back up at the tower again, then around at the rolling grass and craggy old trees of the wooded clearing in which it stood. To his back was a small parkway where Misato's car was currently parked; flanking the walkway that led to the tower itself were two stubby stone turrets.
DJ turned around and walked back to the parkway, where Misato was standing next to the small retaining wall that prevented people from accidentally driving straight off the top of Bancroft Hill at night.
"You're right," he told her, "this is pretty cool. I hate to tear us away... but I'm bloody starving, you know."
"Won't be long now," said Misato, hopping up onto the wall and turning to face away from the tower, her legs hanging over. She patted a spot on the wall next to her. "C'mon up and watch with me."
"Watch what?" wondered DJ as he climbed up next to her. The top of Bancroft Hill gave a panoramic view of the city of Worcester, surface component of Geo-Front Worcester-3; it sprawled in all its sleepy glory in the valley below, flanked by hills and bathed in the golden gleam of the last few minutes of afternoon sunlight. DJ could still see the marks of his battle with the Third Angel the previous evening, but for the most part, the city looked as peaceful and dull as it had looked the previous afternoon about this time, when DJ had arrived in it.
"It's almost time," Misato said with a smile. DJ glanced at her, but she was watching the cityscape with rapt attention, so he turned back to it.
Just then, his ears caught the faint sound of warning klaxons drifting up from the city, and with much rumbling and clacking and other mechanical sounds, the sleepy low-elevation city began to sprout skyscrapers. As he watched the buildings grow, DJ realized that what he had taken for a hanging city on the ceiling of the Geo-Front cavern was really the larger of Worcester's buildings, retracted below ground level for safety's sake.
"Very spiff," murmured DJ.
Misato put her hand on his shoulder. "This place is a fortress, designed to protect its inhabitants against the Angels," she told him with a serious smile. "This is our city. And—it's the city you saved last night."
DJ looked at her face, then at the gleaming golden spires of Worcester, now locked at their full extension and reaching proudly toward the sky, and decided coming here hadn't been such a waste after all.
Half an hour later, still hungry but with the smell of chicken Vindaloo heavy in his nostrils and promising him a change in that condition very shortly, DJ reflected that he was having a better day than the previous one. Had he possessed a clean shirt, it would have been nearly perfect—the dried blood on the corner of the right sleeve had stiffened and scratched his arm irritatingly every time he moved his hand. He followed Misato to a fourth-floor apartment in a biggish apartment complex, new enough that the elevator still smelled of carpet glue, and stood waiting for Misato to get the door open. He was humming a song she didn't recognize (which was probably fortunate, since it was an old rock song entitled "Take Me Home Tonight").
"I just moved in here a bit ago myself," she explained, indicating the as-yet-unremoved pile of empty boxes alongside the door with one hand as she worked the locks and opened the door with the other.
"Here we are!" Misato declared cheerfully, leading the way through a small foyer, where they removed their shoes, and into an efficient little kitchen.
Or at least it would have been efficient, had every available horizontal surface except the table in the middle not been covered with stacks of empty black cans. DJ's already-decent opinion of Misato hitched up a couple of notches at the sight of these; any woman with enough sense to drink Guinness couldn't be too bad. The housekeeping wasn't even all that alarming to him; sure, it was a bit of a clutter, but there wasn't a heap of filth-encrusted dishes in the sink or anything.
Misato continued on through the room and down the hall, DJ guessed to her room; he busied himself laying out the food on the table and hunting up some utensils in the drawers (an easy enough task, since none of them held anything except for the one with the flatware in it). While he was snooping, he had a look in the fridge; save for ice, some random junk food, and approximately a freighterload of canned Guinness pub draught, there was nothing in it.
Cold beer wasn't DJ's favorite thing in the world, but you take what you can find in an uncertain world, so he took one out, popped it, let the charge of nitrogen bubble up through the beer and aerate it, and slurped the foam off the top, grimacing a little at the sharpness of the cold brew. Turning and leaning his back against the fridge, he surveyed the small kitchen, making mental plans to clean it up and put it into service (as the piles of nuke-food and take-out containers in and near the trash can indicated it wasn't, really, at this time). Hmm, that's odd...
"What's with this other icebox?" he called to Misato.
"Oh, don't worry about that," Misato called back as she hung up her dress and slipped gratefully into a pair of cutoffs that had reached that magical age where the denim was still strong, but softer than a car-wash chamois. "He's probably still sleeping."
"Sleeping?" wondered DJ, then shrugged and took another slug of his pilfered beer. So, she had something in the second fridge that slept. Everything else about this city was that weird, why not?
Misato emerged from the hallway, transformed by a pair of cutoff jeans, a tank top, and a ponytail elastic from a cool and competent military officer to a cheerful, casual woman, perhaps a little too old to be college-age. "So, ready to dig into the—" She stopped short, regarding DJ with an odd expression.
"What?" he replied, returning her stare blankly.
"What were you planning to do with that?" she demanded, pointing accusingly at the beer.
DJ glanced down at the can, then returned his eyes to Misato, the confusion in them unabated. "I was planning to drink it," he replied slowly. "Man's not allowed to a beer in his own home after a hard day's work?"
"Not when that man is seven years from the legal drinking age!"
DJ looked infinitely confused for a moment; then the clouds cleared and he slapped his forehead with the heel of his free hand. "Bugger all! I knew there was a reason I didn't want to come to the States. Misato, keep in mind I'm from England, eh? I've been drinking best bitter at the local for years now."
Misato wavered. "But... I'm supposed to be your guardian," she replied. "It's illegal."
"I'm not supposed to have a gun either, but you let me keep mine," DJ pointed out.
"That's different," Misato replied. "You're a NERV operative now, that makes you a kind of military personnel. We can make exceptions to the weapons laws."
"What about the vehicle laws?"
"What about them?"
"Back home I had a motorcycle."
"The driving age in England isn't discretionary!" Misato protested, as if indignant that he was changing the rules of the argument.
"I come from an unusual profession," DJ replied with a shrug. "Sometimes we make our own rules. Anyway, I want to get another one to get around with here—there are no bloody trains in this city and it's way too far to work to walk."
Misato considered. "We might be able to swing that," she said after a moment, "but you're changing the subject."
"C'mon," replied DJ scornfully, taking another drink. "I can pilot a 300-foot robot against the Forces of Evil, but I can't have a beer? This not an incentive against me just pissing off back to Old Blighty. I've a much bigger house back there, y'know, a manservant I'm quite fond of, proper warm beer, and no job that involves... what did dear Ritsuko-of-the-Ripcord call it, neural feedback." He gave an exaggerated shiver. "What a bloody awful thought that is."
"You're threatening to leave the project and go back to England if I won't let you drink beer?"
"No," replied DJ, "I'll drink it anyway, but if you won't accept that, things'll get awfully tense."
Privately, Misato was impressed. DJ was calm, centered, self-assured, all things Dr. Ikari's son Shinji had singularly failed to show during the brief time (perhaps an hour) he'd been in Worcester-3. He had a few conditions he wanted to live his life by; fine, Misato could relate to that, she demanded a few indulgences from life herself, and, like DJ, she felt she earned them.
She had to remind herself that this was no run-of-the-mill 14-year-old, yanked out of an idyllic summer between eighth and ninth grade, with a sheltered conception of how the world worked. This was a seasoned traveler and explorer, raised alone by a woman Misato had long admired for her legendary toughness and self-sufficiency, with very definite ideas of how he thought things should be. The only reason he hadn't gone with his mother on her last fateful expedition was because he was bedridden at their country estate in England, recovering from a tropical fever contracted on the expedition before that. Without his mother present to drive him, he'd worked his way back to health and whipped himself back into shape. She wondered why he hadn't gone to the Yucatán in search of his mother himself. He certainly seemed to have both the wherewithal and the chutzpah for it.
Smiling, she nodded. "OK, fine. But only here, and not when you're on call."
DJ grinned. "Glad we got that worked out before the curry got cold... shall we?"
"Sure. Can you get me a beer while the subject's on your mind?"
"Your wish, my lady," he replied, retrieving and popping another, then handing it over before seating himself at the table.
Plopping down in the opposite chair, she leaned back and poured the contents of the can straight down. DJ watched, fascinated, as the muscles in her throat worked. His mother did that same thing, and the resemblance echoed powerfully in his mind (though frankly, in both women's cases, he thought it was really a frightful waste of the beer, since there wasn't much chance to savor it, and he had no idea how Misato could bear to do it with a cold liquid).
Then she slammed the empty can down on the table and let out a contented howl. "WAAAAAAAAAA! YYYYYEAAAHHH! Life doesn't get any better than this."
Shrugging acquiescence, DJ chopsticked up a chunk of the curried chicken, then murmured his approval. "Not bad. Not Mildram's, mind, but acceptable."
"I'm so glad you approve," replied Misato sardonically. "Who's Mildram?"
"Our manservant. I should phone him tomorrow when it's a reasonable hour back home... he's probably worried sick."
"Will he want to come here, do you think?"
"Oh, I should think not. He's about 2000 years old, been with the family since the Conquest. I understand going with Mum when Gran-dad disowned her was the only time in human memory he's done anything flash. No, he'll stay at home and keep Crofthenge from falling down while we're away, like he always does."
"'Crofthenge'?" Misato asked with amusement, forking up some of the curry herself.
"Don't blame me, I wasn't born when Mum named the place," said DJ.
Misato grinned. "Well, this is your home now," she said. "So relax and feel free to take advantage of everything here—except me!" she added with a cautionary finger.
DJ made a great show of looking around the room, then asked, "What else is there?"
This earned him a poke in the shoulder with a fork and an exasperated, "Now you're just being mean."
"Sorry," he replied. "You realize when you say something like that, it's just an invitation for trouble..."
"Get me another beer."
They finished the meal, tossed the debris in the trash, and then Misato suggested they work out a way to divide up the household chores.
"I know," she said. "We'll play paper-stone-scissors and whoever loses will have to do the chores for the day. We can mark up the calendar a month in advance that way."
DJ snorted. "Paper-stone-scissors? Please. I'll wrestle you for it," he added with a raised eyebrow.
"Not tonight," Misato replied with a grin.
He snapped his fingers. "Darn. I guess we'll just have to go even-odd, then. You're the odd one, so you can do the chores on odd days, and I'll take the even days 'cause I'm so even-tempered."
Misato didn't know whether to glare at him or laugh, so she tried to do both, which failed spectacularly. That, she thought, was worth another beer.
"Isn't this nice?" she asked. "Two for dinner instead of eating all alone."
DJ nodded. "I haven't done this since..." He trailed off and did not go on, but for just a moment, he looked immeasurably sad. The day would soon come when he would have to admit to himself that Lara Croft would not be coming back from the Yucatán this time.
"Well!" Misato said, forcing cheer back into her voice. "Why don't you have a bath and wash all those bad thoughts away?" With an admonishing finger raised, she went on instructively, "Bathing cleanses both body and soul."
"Right," DJ replied, yawning. "I'm too tired to bother unpacking my things tonight... d'you have an extra towel I can use?"
"Sure, they're in the cabinet under the sink in the bathroom."
"Thanks." DJ stood and shuffled into the bathroom, closing the sliding door behind him.
The bathroom was actually two rooms; the one directly off the kitchen had the sink, toilet, and mirror, and a door on the far wall led to the actual bath. Yawning again, DJ took off his shoulder holster and hung it on a towel hook, then stripped naked. Leaning against the sink, he contemplated his face in the mirror.
He looked like his father; his mother had told him so a thousand thousand times, and he had a picture of the man which confirmed it. He had the same strong jaw and sensitive eyes, the same thick black hair that was straight and well-behaved except for the little shock at the front left corner that would never do anything but look windblown. Looking down at himself, he saw a boy still fairly short and fairly thin, but wiry and tough, well-conditioned from a life of adventure.
"You are one good-lookin' man," he muttered to his reflection, grinned the grin that his mother said was heartbreaking (probably because it was his father's too—DJ had another photo, a snapshot rather than a portrait, that showed him with the same grin), and then went and shoved open the sliding door to the bath proper.
And almost ran smack into a large black-and-white bird with a metal collar on, who appeared to be carrying a towel.
"WAUGH!" said DJ.
"WAUGH!" said the bird, which DJ now realized was a biggish member of the penguin family, maybe two feet tall, with bristly, bright-red eyebrow-like bits over bright green eyes that looked unnervingly intelligent for those of a bird.
Regaining his composure, DJ regarded the bird, who had also recovered his calm, for a moment, then decided this was worth reporting and returned to the kitchen door.
"Say, Misato," he said as he pushed open the door. "Did you know there's a penguin in your bath?"
As he said this, the penguin in question waddled past him into the kitchen and made his way to the other refrigerator.
"Oh, he's one of those new hot-springs penguins," said Misato cheerily, as if that explained what the bird was doing in her bath. "His name is Pen-Pen. He's your other roommate."
The bird pushed a control on the front of the spare fridge with a claw; a sliding panel opened, releasing some cool steam, and, with a sideways hello-like glance at DJ, Pen-Pen sauntered into his cool room for the night.
"Isn't science wonderful," said DJ, who had not known there were genetic engineers spending their time doing things as apparently random as hot-springs penguins.
"Mm," replied Misato, taking another drink of beer. Gesturing significantly, she said offhandedly, "Shouldn't you cover that up?"
DJ glanced in the direction of her gesture, then back up to her eyes, and shrugged, grinning his father's grin. "Sorry, are you having trouble controlling yourself?" he inquired.
He slammed the sliding door shut just barely in time to deflect the hurtling jar of toothpicks which would otherwise have struck his forehead, and, chuckling, went to have a bath.
Misato, cheeks aflame, glared at the bathroom door for a moment; then her anger sputtered and died, and she chuckled, tossing back another drink.
I suppose I'm not being as nice as I ought to, she said to herself. On the other hand, he's probably made up his mind about me already.
"Not a bad sort of woman," DJ observed to himself as he soaked in the tub. "And what looks! Kind of woman who'd make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window."
He was too tired to engage in any lengthy, meaningful reflection on the day's events; instead, he allowed his mind to drift, entertaining himself with thoughts of all the nice-looking women he'd met in the thirty-odd hours he'd been with this NERV outfit. Misato; the blonde scientist, Ritsuko Akagi; that one console operator, what was her name, Maya, who he suspected had understood his muttered historical reference just before EVA-01's launch; Rei Ayanami.
Yes, indeed. Rei Ayanami.
Red eyes, blue hair, and no wasted words.
He looked forward to having another lack of conversation with her tomorrow.
He was too tired to consider unpacking any of his things or setting up his computer, so as much as he burned to update his journal, it would have to wait until the following day. He took only the time to root through his duffel for his favorite blanket and set up his lucky crystal skull on the desk in his new bedroom; then crawled into bed and plummeted immediately into a deep and satisfying sleep studded with mildly erotic dreams of Misato, Ritsuko, Maya, Rei, and, of course, the most beautiful woman he'd ever known, Lara Croft.
Misato, taking her turn in the tub after DJ, was on the phone.
"I don't know, Ritsuko, I'm just a little scared. I'm way out of my depth, I don't know anything about kids."
"You took this as part of your responsibilities to NERV," Ritsuko replied, tapping on her desktop with a pen. Misato was always undertaking projects she had no clue how to accomplish and then calling Ritsuko in a panic; it would have infuriated Ritsuko had Misato not tended to make rousing successes of these jobs anyway, after a few calming words from her old college roommate.
"I know, I just..." Misato slumped her shoulders. "I was thinking of him as an asset I wanted to keep a closer eye on. After tonight I don't think I'll ever be able to look at him that way again, and I feel guilty about having done it."
"After tonight? What happened?" asked Ritsuko, a trifle of an edge in her voice.
If Misato had been able to throw something at Ritsuko, she would have. "Nothing like what you're thinking, Dr. Judgmental," she snapped. "But he's so... he's so alive. And sharp. I don't know if I've got the mind to keep up with him, he's so sharp."
"He likes you, that much is obvious," Ritsuko told her old roommate. "I don't think he'll give you any trouble. If he does, well, throw him out."
"Thanks, you're a big help," Misato growled, slamming down the phone.
She sighed and slumped back in the tub, slouching down so that her knees came up out of the water and prickled with the sudden coolness of the air. She's still thinking of him as a tool, said Misato to herself. Ah, well. She'll learn her lesson soon enough. I get the distinct feeling Derek J. Croft is nobody's tool... and nobody's fool, either.
On her way to bed, she wanted to tell DJ she was proud of the job he had done protecting the city the day before, but he was already sound asleep, so she let him keep at it.
She would be slightly troubled the next day to remember that she had dreamed of the boy.
In the Central Dogma infirmary, Rei Ayanami was having a last visitor of the evening herself. She looked up from her book as Dr. Ikari entered.
"Good evening, Rei. How are you?"
"Much improved, Professor," replied Rei with something approaching cheerfulness. "I should be able to return to work ahead of schedule at this rate."
"Excellent." Ikari pushed his glasses up, then noticed the book and cocked his head inquisitively. "Rei," he asked, "where did you get that?"
Rei looked down at the book, which lay closed in her lap with a finger holding her place. "DJ lent it to me."
"He was here?"
Rei nodded. "For most of the afternoon."
"What was he doing?"
"Odd." Ikari scratched his bearded chin. "Did he speak to you?"
"Only to introduce himself."
"Hrmph." Ikari was sure he didn't like the idea of the Croft boy's attitude influencing Rei. The project had to have at least one stable EVA pilot, after all.
"Is something wrong?" asked Rei.
"No, nothing to worry about," he replied. "What is your opinion of him?"
Rei looked confused. "Should I have one?"
"Everyone has opinions."
"Well, I..." Rei stopped and searched her thoughts, trying to find a name to put on what she felt if she considered it. "I guess I like him," she finally said.
Ikari frowned thoughtfully. If Croft were allowed to erode Rei's detachment, she might lose her efficiency, something he hated the mere thought of. On the other hand, if he told her to stay away from him, although she would obey, if she had started developing some attachment to him, it might damage her efficiency to separate them. Damn the boy! Rei's morale had never been an issue Gendō Ikari had to consider before. Perhaps it hadn't been worth the effort and expense of getting him here after all... but no, Rei could not have defeated the Third Angel in her condition, Ikari knew that.
"Is... is that wrong?" asked Rei tentatively.
"Hm? Oh, no, I'm sorry, Rei. I was thinking of something else. No, I don't mind if you like Croft. Maybe... maybe you need a friend your own age."
She looked faintly relieved, and nodded. "If you say so."
"Just don't let him influence your efficiency."
Was that a trace of reproach in her eye as she said, "I would never do that," or just Ikari's imagination? There was certainly nothing of it in her voice.
"It's time for you to sleep," he said. "You need to rest if you're to recover."
Obediently, Rei marked her place and put the book on her nightstand.
"Good night, Rei."
"Good night, Dr. Ikari."
Ikari switched off the light on his way out, but Rei remained awake for several minutes, contemplating the dark quietude of the room and wondering about the undercurrent in the conversation with Ikari she was certain she'd missed.
When she slept, it was her first night's sleep in the infirmary without dreams of the accident that had put her there.
Three thousand miles away, on his last night at X-COM Alcatraz, Jonathan Ellison dreamed of nothing at all.
All this, plus DJ sweet-talking Maya, in the next stunningly exciting episode of Neon Exodus Evangelion, coming to EPU on 7/16/97 (and your local news server some indeterminate-but-hopefully-short time after that)! Be here for "Catch of the Day"!