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
Special thanks to Chris Siebenmann for inspiring Lake Oppenheimer
© 1997 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
HTML remastering © 2016 EPU
Jon Ellison was still feeling a little wobbly. The pain in his arm had gone away at length, but his head still felt like someone had been using it as a punching bag recently. Fighting in EVA-03 without proper sync had been rather like wearing a monocle when both eyes really needed correction: not very pleasant. Fortunately, as Dr. Akagi had told him, there was no damage to his person other than a righteous headache, and it was expected that he would be able to get up and walk out of the infirmary before the day was out.
EVA-03 had been less fortunate, suffering heavy damage to one arm and numerous dents in its armor. It would be offline for a few days at least while the repairs were effected. This was not that great, but at least it guaranteed that the next time he got into that cockpit he would be synchronized.
Becoming aware of another presence nearby, Jon turned his head toward the doorway and, out of sheer reflex from years of military training, sat up straighter as Dr. Ikari entered the room. (This caused his head to complain a little louder, but he studiously ignored that; it was time to accept responsibility for what had happened.) "Hello sir."
"Unit-03 will be in repairs for the next three days," Dr. Ikari said without preamble.
"Yes sir," Jon said quietly, his eyes angling downward. "Our synchronization was more unstable than I expected."
"Indeed. SHODAN provided a comprehensive report on the mission." Ikari regarded the boy thoughtfully for a moment. "Nevertheless, despite the problems with the synchronization, you fought admirably. I'm very pleased with your performance today and I have no doubt that once you're properly synchronized with EVA-03 you will do very well."
"... Thank you, sir," Jon answered, not knowing what else to say.
"There's something else I wish to discuss with you, Jon," Ikari continued. He went over to the door and keyed it shut, blocking out all noise from the hallway.
"Yes sir?" Jon asked.
Ikari pulled a chair over to Jon's bed and sat down in it, putting him at eye level with the boy. The cold, businesslike edge seemed to fade from his demeanor, replaced by something more friendly-seeming. He actually seemed to smile a little. It made Jon feel... suspicious.
"Do you like Rei, Jon?" he asked.
"Uh?" Jon asked, a bit taken aback.
"What I mean to say is—well, Dr. Akagi suggested earlier today that it might be good for both of you if Rei were to leave her current lodgings and move into your apartment."
"Er, well, it would be more efficient, sir, to have the entire squad together," Jon replied, reddening a bit and worried that his enthusiasm might be misinterpreted. (God knew that had already happened enough.)
"That's true," Ikari nodded. "And that's why I agree with the idea."
Jon blinked. "Sir?"
"I wasn't sure about it at first, but what she suggested, and you just echoed, is perfectly true: having the entire squad in one place would improve efficiency, both on an organizational and personal level. Besides, you and Rei are very much alike, Jon; I think you would make excellent roommates."
"How... how does Rei, um, feel about this?"
"You can ask her yourself, though I'm sure she'll agree it would be more efficient for everyone. Besides," Ikari added, his expression softening even more, "she needs a friend like you, Jon. Someone who can understand."
"Er, well... whatever I can do to help, sir," Jon replied, no longer entirely sure if he were having this conversation. Sure, this was pleasant news and all, but yet...
"Good. Very good. Pending Rei's approval, the living arrangements will be changed." The hard edge had crept back into his voice as he got up from the chair. "At this point, we're going to need all the stability and efficiency we can get. I want you to keep an eye out for trouble, and report anything which you think might impair the team's efficiency. Understood?"
"Understood clearly, sir."
"Good," Ikari nodded, turning toward the door. "Get your rest; you'll need it." And then he was gone.
Jon watched the open doorway for a few moments, listening to the faint sounds of activity in the corridor beyond, then leaned back into the pillows and stared up at the featureless ceiling.
This was pleasant news. He hoped Rei would agree.
So why did he feel that something was fundamentally wrong somewhere?
Gendō Ikari grumbled silently as he made his way through Central Dogma. If only those idiots in X-COM had not held back on delivery of Jon and EVA-03 things would have been so much easier; practically all of the current complications in the plan might have been completely avoided. Unfortunately, what was done was done, and it would have to be worked around and patched.
Pairing Jon and Rei together would help moderate the influence of the Croft boy; with any luck their natural synchrony would eliminate any future troubles before they could begin.
Nothing was going to interfere with the plan. Not if he had anything to say about it.
He brushed past DJ Croft without a word, and Croft did not acknowledge him either, come to that. Both were too intent on their respective missions.
DJ's mission was just in front of him; sliding the door open, he entered Jon's room. Jon looked up, expecting perhaps to see Ikari again, returned to mention something he'd forgotten, but instead, he saw DJ, back in his street clothes, smiling as always, and bearing the copy of Into the Titanic Jon had abandoned in Rei's room before the alert.
"You probably don't feel like reading just yet," said DJ softly, "but they finally turned Rei out, so I had to get everything out of the room. You haven't seen my copy of A Night to Remember, have you?"
Jon blinked. Where had he left that book when he'd finished with it? Was it at home? He searched his memory, but could find no information.
At his teammate's blank look, DJ waved a hand dismissively. "Don't worry about it," he said. "Worst comes to worst, I'll just get another copy. Anyway, you'll want to finish this once your head quits hurting, I'd imagine. Sorry there aren't any flowers, but I only give those to pretty girls."
Jon attempted a smile; DJ grinned. "Just saw Ikari cruising down the corridor in full sail," he reported. "Looked ticked off about something—probably seeing me. He doesn't like me too much, probably upset that I haven't the courtesy to be intimidated by him."
"He doesn't like being disrespected," Jon said, a hint of reproach in his voice.
DJ snorted. "He might try earning my respect, then," he replied. "Anyway, don't let's dwell on that. I've arranged for your release from this sad place—and if you're feeling up to it, I want to buy you dinner, seeing as you pulled my tail out of the fire and all."
"You repaid me just a few minutes after," Jon replied. "There's no need—"
"Well, then, just humor me. Or consider it a celebration of our victory and the fact that Rei's been released. I found a Southwestern place in town called Cactus Pete's that I simply must try, and since I hate eating alone, I'm determined to drag you all along with me."
"You've invited Rei?"
"And Misato—well, somebody's got to drive—and Maya and Truss, and Ritsuko, although I don't think she's coming. Bashful around me, she is," said DJ soberly. "I think she's afraid of her feelings for me."
Jon suppressed a laugh; it would make his head hurt again. Besides, he didn't want to anger DJ, and didn't know him well enough yet to be certain he was joking. Instead, he swung his feet over the side of the bed, stood up, determined that doing so did not make his head explode, then nodded.
"I guess I'll feel better after something to eat," he acquiesced.
"That's the spirit," replied DJ. "Nothing in this world a good meal can't cure."
"Well, that was a depressing spectacle," DJ grumped, keying open the door to Apartment 3-D.
"Oh, I don't know," said Misato following him in. "I thought the food was good."
"The conversation didn't leave me panting for the sequel, though."
"Give us all time to get to know each other," said Jon. "That will help." He paused, taking in the sight of the can-encrusted kitchen for the first time. "... Was there a frat party here recently?"
"No," replied DJ, "I just haven't had the chance to clean the place up yet. Should have done tonight, but I was under the mistaken impression that I had better plans."
"Oh, c'mon, DJ, it's not that bad," Misato said, leading Jon into the living room.
"Yes, I thought it was fun," said Jon, looking dubiously at the cluttered state of the living room. "Do you, uh, need any help cleaning this place up?"
"Misato," DJ called from shoulders-deep in the fridge, "do we have the day off tomorrow, or was that just a figment of my imagination?"
"We're off until Monday unless there's an emergency call," she called back. DJ emerged, a can of Guinness in each hand and a Pepsi balanced atop one of them; he handed the soft drink off to Jon, one of the beers to Misato, and then plopped into the brown armchair with a grateful sigh.
"In that case, you're welcome to help, Jon," said DJ, popping the Guinness and letting it foam. "I'm going to spend my day off mucking this place out."
Jon moved a pile of magazines out of the way and sat down at the end of one of the two couches, then opened his own drink. He glanced curiously at the black can in DJ's hand, then decided that if Misato didn't have a problem with it, why should he?
"Sure," Jon replied. "I could use something to pass the time."
"Glad to hear it. Cheers," said DJ, raising his beer in salute. Then, as Jon watched in bemusement, he and Misato both tossed back a heavy slug of their respective drinks, lowered their cans with twin gasps of in-taken breath, and let out a double whoop of joy.
... and I thought Sgt. Kay was loud, thought Jon to himself.
He was distracted from this line of thought by the sound, behind him, of the refrigerator being opened and closed, and the distinctive pop-hiss of another can of Guinness pub draught being opened. As he looked up, Jon was treated to another strange sight: a large penguin with a metal collar and finger-like claws at the ends of its wings. In one 'hand', it held a beer.
"Pen-Pen!" Misato said in a harsh tone.
"Waugh?" replied the penguin, turning his head to look inquisitively at her.
"How many of those have you had today?"
The penguin held up three claws at the end of the other wing.
"That's all?" Misato demanded.
"Waugh," replied the penguin, nodding.
"OK then," said Misato cheerily, settling back on the couch.
"Waugh," repeated Pen-Pen, taking up his station next to the end of the sofa.
"See, I don't understand why certain lab-coat-wearing persons who shall remain nameless can't see their way clear to have a little fun with us," DJ complained. "We're happening people! We've got a penguin who can count, for God's sake, how cool is that?"
"Maybe all she likes is her job," Jon speculated.
"Ahhh," Misato said, waving that argument away. "I've known Ritsuko for a long time, she's always been too damn tense. What she really needs is a good—well... never mind."
"She has but to ask," replied DJ, gesturing expansively.
Jon wondered how he ought to interpret that; Misato, besieged by the mental image of her old friend and her saucy young roommate in the clinch, cracked up laughing.
Noting the bemused expression on his colleague's face, DJ smiled benignly. "Crude and obnoxious, aren't we?" he said. "I suppose one of us ought to grow up one of these days, but..." He shrugged. "What's the point of it?"
Jon had by now come to the conclusion that this whole arrangement would, indeed, be very interesting.
"Anyway, we're mostly harmless," DJ went on.
"I'm sure you are," replied Jon. He tried out a grin; it didn't hurt, so he left it there.
The next morning, DJ rose early, took his time brushing his teeth and dressing, and was just popping up the first of the (formerly) frozen breakfast waffles when Misato shambled into the kitchen, yawning cavernously.
"Morning," she murmured.
"Morning," he replied. "Sit down before you fall down."
Misato plunked down in a chair at the table and yawned again. "I hate mornings."
"So why are you up?" asked DJ as he stacked four more waffles in the on-deck circle by the toaster. "It's our day off, you could have slept in."
"Your fault," Misato replied.
"I smelled food."
"Oh. Sorry. I'll go out for breakfast on off mornings from now on."
Misato waved his apology away; the gesture turned into the kind of hand-wave that wants something about halfway through, so DJ got her a beer and braced for the First-Gulp Scream.
"YYEEEAAAHH!! WOOOOOO! That's the way to start the day. What's the matter, aren't you going to join me?"
"I try not to indulge before lunch-time," replied DJ. "Besides, I've some things to do today."
"Oh, that reminds me," said Misato, hunting around in the pockets of her jacket, which hung on the chair she was sitting in. "Here." She held out two plastic cards. DJ took them and examined the top one: it was a plastic passcard with a photo of him grinning his 'rakish' grin (so that's why they took that picture), emblazoned with a bar code, his name and address, and "NERV" in large black letters across the top.
"That's your permanent passcard," Misato explained. "I checked with Special Section—it'll also serve as your ID, driver's license and weapons pass, even though you're underage. You can't buy age-restricted substances with it, though, so I'll still have to buy the beer," she added with a grin.
"Bah," DJ replied, flipping the cards in his hand and examining the other.
It was the same as the first, except that instead of his photo, name and address, it had Rei Ayanami's; she gazed out of the picture with a blank look that said, "I'm so very thrilled to be here. Really."
"Hullo, what's this? Why did you give me Rei's passcard?"
"It's her new one, it was issued yesterday with yours and I forgot to give them to either of you. If you're going out, would you run it by her apartment?"
"Oh. Sure, I'll do that." The waffles popped up; DJ buttered them, shuffled them onto a plate, and plunked them down in front of Misato, following them shortly with a bottle of syrup.
"Mmm, thank you!" Misato declared, digging in with gusto as her roommate put the on-deck waffles into the toaster for himself. "So what are you up to this morning?" she asked around a mouthful of waffle.
"Well," said DJ, eyeing his pass speculatively, "if this thing really gives me the authority, I guess I'll go and buy a motorcycle."
"What kind?" asked Misato curiously.
"The kind that's small enough my feet will reach the ground," DJ replied. "It's not easy only coming up to a meter and a half."
It was a warm day, but not massively hot, so DJ was not particularly uncomfortable, even though he was dressed in his heavy boots and jeans, and had his leather jacket slung over his pack. It was too warm by far to wear the jacket while walking, but if his quest panned out he was going to need it.
He fingered the hard-edged cards in his pocket as he sloped down the street, humming along with the song in his headphones.
After a lengthy tour of the Gold Star Boulevard strip of auto dealerships and the like, DJ found what he was looking for at a little hole-in-the-wall bike shop called "Joe's Performance Center", beyond the Greendale Mall on West Boylston. Though the shop was small, kind of cluttered-looking and with only a small selection, DJ knew enough about cycles to know that what selection there was boasted a fine range of machines, and the scruffy, bearded, balding fellow in the leather vest and chaps who ran the place (Joe, he supposed) was a jovial and knowledgeable fellow.
"Lookin' for a ride, are ya, son?" he asked, sizing DJ up with a critical eye. "You look a little young for it."
"So I've been told," replied DJ, handing Joe his passcard. "They tell me this'll open the way, so to speak."
Joe examined the card for a moment, then swiped it through the mag reader on the side of the register; it beeped, and a moment later the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles file on Derek J. Croft appeared on the display screen off to the other side. DJ leaned over to look, having never encountered such a thing before; it had the same grainy photo of him that was on the card, and listed him as a Class C/M operator (Special Dispensation)—authorized to operate passenger vehicles and motorcycles.
"Well, I'll be damned," said Joe, regarding the card with new respect before handing it back to its owner. "Hell of a job benefit."
DJ grinned. "Only reason I took the job," he replied. "Got anything that'll work for someone my size? Back across the Pond I had a Triumph Defender; a little tall for me, but I got used to it."
"Don't get much call for English bikes," said Joe, "but... " He looked DJ over again with a more appraising glance, then grinned. "I got somethin' I think'll suit." He led the way to the end of the row of cycles. "Hop up here and see what you think," he said.
It was a nice bike, there was no questioning that; like a dwarf cruiser hog, with smooth V-patterned tires, lots of gleaming chrome pipes and such, classic lines and a V-twin piston engine rather than the gas-turbine electric direct-drive system which had come into fashion around 2010. Its steering system was similarly retro, a direct-steering bar-and-forks assembly rather than the liquid-balanced, computer-controlled ride-by-wire system of the most modern racers.
DJ swung a leg over it and settled easily into the saddle, his feet easily reaching the ground without making him feel as if he were crouching over a toy bicycle. The handlebars were at a comfortable distance and angle, and he noticed that the footpegs were actually large running boards, big enough for his feet to rest entirely upon. They were forward a bit for extra comfort at highway cruise, like any proper hog ought to have.
"This here's a Corley Twin Atlas," said Joe, patting the tank. "It's the 2014 model; I got it on a special-order for somebody, but he backed out. I already lowered the suspension and the bars 'cause he was a pretty short guy himself. How's it feel?"
"Not bad. What can you tell me about it?"
"Well, it's just what you see, nothing real fancy," the mechanic replied. "500 cc liquid-cooled piston engine, five-speed mechanical transmission, oil-balanced shaft drive. Disc brakes, electric or kick start—Corley's the last bike in the world with a backup kick starter. She'll do a hundred and forty on a straight with a light rider, but I'm required by law to tell ya I don't recommend testin' that claim," he added with a wink.
DJ considered for a moment, then pulled out his wallet. "I do hope you take MasterCard," he said.
DJ left the Corley parked in the small lot next to the apartment building that stood at 2501 Wilmont Street, hung his helmet on the handlebar, checked that the spare was secure on the side, and hoped that this wasn't the kind of neighborhood where people stole things they had no conceivable use for just to take them. What kind of fence value did a motorcycle helmet have, anyway? He made his way to the front of the grey, nondescript, in fact quite ugly block of flats and up to the fourth floor, trying to ignore the repetitive hammering noise of a pile driver in a nearby construction area. The stairwell stank of things he preferred not to think about, and he wondered, not for the first time since arriving in the general area, whose brilliant idea it had been to quarter a fourteen-year-old girl alone here.
The door to Apartment 4C was as nondescript and ugly as the rest of the building. DJ thumbed the doorbell-speaker buzzer next to the door a couple of times, to no avail; he wasn't entirely sure the unit was working, since he heard nothing through the door. Giving that up, he tried knocking; when the produced no reply, he tried the knob. The door opened without protest, dragging a bit on a pile of mail that had built up, delivered but uncollected, behind the mail slot.
There was a part of DJ Croft that was a born snoop. How could he have enjoyed, no, reveled in a life of poking around old tombs and relics and monuments if that were not so? The chance of airing some eons-dead pharaoh's dirty laundry, so to speak, was as alluring as the payoff and every bit as much fun as the trip itself, as far as he was concerned. This place was somehow more daunting than the Lost Tomb of Qualopec, though, he mused as he edged his way into a gloomy foyer/mini-kitchen. Judging from the amount of dust on the fixtures, the kitchen facilities hadn't been used in about as long as Qualopec's tomb fittings, either.
"Rei?" he called, but got no answer. "Are you here?" Nothing. He made his way down a short corridor into what he, being English, automatically thought of as a bed-sit—a combination living room and bedroom. Although it didn't have much of a bed, just a bare mattress and pillow with some rather distressing splotches he didn't take long to identify as fairly fresh blood, and it didn't look as if anybody actually lived in it. There were no posters, no books, no decorations of any kind—just a battered, armless desk chair, a small refrigerator, and a dresser. No computer, no TV, not even a small radio. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with lumpy, discolored linen—discarded bandages.
DJ wondered if the power was even connected; behind him, the mini-fridge's compressor hummed to life, answering that question for him and making him jump involuntarily. This was the creepiest dwelling he could ever remember having been in; like many of the places he and his mother had explored, it gave him the sensation that he was the first living human to tread its floors in centuries.
Through the connecting door on the far well, DJ heard a shower turn off; until the sound stopped, he hadn't realized he was hearing it. Well, now he knew where Rei was, anyway.
He caught sight of a pair of spectacles sitting folded atop the dresser; picking them up, he turned them curiously over in his hands. Surely they were too big to be Rei's—and they were damaged, the metal frames warped as if by heat, one lens cracked by the pressure of the deformed metal around it. He held them up to the light, but did not put them on, and confirmed that the prescription was fairly weak.
The door opened behind him. Turning, he opened his mouth to say something, but was caught up short by the sight that awaited him.
Rei Ayanami stood in the doorway from the bathroom, a towel draped her shoulders; other than that, she wore nothing else. Her injuries had, at least externally, healed entirely—her arm out of its cast, her pale skin smooth, unbroken and unbruised. She was whole, ghostly-white and, at least to DJ's eyes, absolutely perfect.
"Ah..." said DJ smoothly.
Her red eyes flicked to the spectacles DJ still held in his right hand, then narrowed ever so slightly, and she strode purposefully across the room toward him, the towel falling away unnoticed.
"If this is a bad time—" DJ began; then she reached him, snatching away the glasses. He tried to take a step back from the sudden, unexpected fierceness in her eyes, but before he made it a half-step he ran into the dresser; thus unbalanced, he had to do a quickstep to try to keep from crashing backward with the item of furniture, in the process making quite a mess. This was brought up short by Rei's proximity—he couldn't complete the step without treading on her bare feet with his boots—and, completely overbalanced now, he toppled forward, letting out in vain an inarticulate and too-late warning cry.
With a crash, they both fell to the floor, Rei on her back and DJ atop her; he managed to come down on his knees, one knee between hers, and with those and his outstretched right hand, which brushed her left side and solidly struck the floor, kept most of his weight off her.
For a very long moment, they remained frozen there, DJ wide-eyed and terrified that he'd hurt her, Rei gazing expressionlessly up at him—apparently unconcerned. His horror at the accident faded as he looked down at her, replaced by that strange feeling of mixed perception and longing he'd felt at their first meeting, and as it had then, the moment stretched.
And broke as she said softly, "Please get off me."
It was only then that DJ glanced further down and noticed that, while his right hand had cleared her and was supporting most of his upper body's weight on the floor, his left had come neatly down upon her right breast and now cupped it gently.
Hoping she didn't think he'd taken such a liberty on purpose (and half-hating the necessity of removing that hand, since it fitted its current perch quite well), DJ rolled away to his right, falling on his side and then rolling to his back beside her on the floor.
"I'm terribly sorry," he said, looking sidelong at her. "I really didn't mean for that to happen."
Rei did not reply; she got up, went to the dresser, selected appropriate underwear (white cotton, part of DJ's mind noted, very practical), and began to dress. She didn't seem offended; in fact, she didn't seem to care at all that he'd barged into her apartment, knocked her down, and had a bit of a grope for himself in the process. Nor did she seem to care that he remained, watching her dress and trying to word apologies. DJ interpreted this to mean that she was so very angry with him about it all that she couldn't find an expression for it.
Not until she had finished dressing, in skirt, blouse, vest, black socks (as opposed to stockings) and flat shoes, did Rei acknowledge DJ's presence again, this time by standing over him, looking down and saying,
DJ sat up, reached into his shirt pocket, removed her passcard and held it up between his fingers. "Your new passcard. Misato asked me to give it to you."
She took it without a word, nodded slightly, and, without another word or a backward glance, left the apartment, DJ's last plaintive, "Look, I'm really sorry—!" trailing ineffectually behind her.
For reasons he could not quite explain to himself later on, DJ found this turn of events unutterably depressing, so he curled up on the floor of her apartment and had himself a bit of a cry.
Where the hell are you, Mum?
He got home at almost exactly noon, furious with himself and blue at the same time, to find Misato and Jon had started cleaning the apartment without him.
"We thought maybe you'd gotten held up, or gone to lunch with Rei or something, so we figured we'd surprise you and get started without you," Misato explained. "Did you give her the card?"
"Yes," DJ replied, declining to elaborate.
"And?" Misato went on, picking up a couch cushion, fluffing it up and deciding it wasn't too dusty.
"And what?" DJ replied, brow furrowing as he arranged the magazines on the coffee table into some semblance of a stack.
"And how'd it go?" Misato asked.
"Bloody awful, if you must know," replied DJ.
"What? What happened?" asked Jon.
DJ told them, finishing with, "... and then she just left. Wouldn't even listen to my apology, not that I really blame her. Christ, what a mess! I haven't been so bloody clumsy in years. I only hope I didn't hurt her, although she didn't seem hurt—only bloody furious," he added with a wry chuckle.
"I don't think I've ever seen Rei furious," Misato mused.
"She didn't really show it," DJ said, "but the way she just dressed and left... well, what else could she be, really? She obviously wasn't entertained by the whole fiasco." He sighed gustily. "So, bang goes whatever friendship I might have had with her, at least for a while. Anyway, let's get this place clean and do some grocery shopping; it's about time we had some real food around here for a change."
As they set to cleaning the kitchen spaces, Jon worked with only half his mind, the other half lost in thought.
Rei, angry? He admittedly didn't know her well—or at least hadn't known her long—but that didn't seem right to him. He would have to ask her about it.
"Have you seen," asked DJ over dinner that night, "the apartment they've got her living in?"
"Huh?" replied Misato, busily working away at a wedge of the floridly overstuffed lasagna DJ had baked to 'christen' the apartment's never-before-used oven.
"Rei," said DJ. "She's living in a dreadful heap of a place over on Wilmont, in the construction zone. Bloody pile driver banging away at all hours of the day and night, I shouldn't wonder, not the kind of place I'd want to live on my own. And the apartment itself is horrible, I've raided nicer tombs than that dump. She's no computer, no TV, no books... no life, far as I can tell. 'S awful. What kind of a person can live that way?"
Misato shrugged. "Not everybody's a bon vivant like you, DJ."
"Maybe not, sure," DJ replied, "but most people at least have a hobby or two, a friend, a guardian, someone to make sure they live better than that. There's... there's not a shred of joy in that place, or in her. I felt like the life was being sucked out of me just visiting. If I lived there and didn't liven the place up I'd go bloody mad."
"She won't be there much longer," Jon said. "Dr. Ikari told me yesterday that, if she agrees, he wants to move her in next door, with me."
"Well, that's something, anyway," DJ conceded. "I'd thought to offer her the spare room here, but after today, I doubt she'd want to live with me. She might not even care to be next door." He sighed and forked up another mouthful of lasagna.
"I doubt she's really as angry as you think," Jon replied. "Rei strikes me as very temperate. Even if she was angry then, she'll certainly realize that it was all an accident."
"I hope so, I really do," said DJ. He looked up at Jon suddenly, his eyes bright. "What do you say you and I, we'll be the sort of friend I mentioned?"
"I'm not sure I understand."
"Well, look, Rei either doesn't know or doesn't care how to live better than she does. If you'd seen her apartment you'd know what I mean. I think it's up to her friends to help her enjoy life more—problem is, up until now she apparently hasn't had any. I think with a little effort we could do that for her, don't you?"
Jon smiled, comprehension dawning in his eyes. "Yes... yes, I think so," he replied.
"Right, then—tomorrow, we'll have to go over your apartment and do a little decorating."
"Too right, the place looks like a bloody military barracks right now. Hardly a warm and welcoming home like this," he added, gesturing at the newly-tidied hominess of his and Misato's apartment. "It needs some human touches, something to give it a little identity."
Jon regarded DJ dubiously.
"You don't have the faintest idea what I'm talking about, do you?" DJ inquired.
Jon shook his head. "Not really, no."
"Well, trust me. I have good taste, and we won't do anything overblown, all right? It'll be good, you'll see. As we haven't much time, though, I'll rely on your help—and yours, too, Misato."
Misato looked up from her dinner. "Mine?" she tried to ask, but was too busy eating.
DJ nodded. "Even with my special-dispensation license, my credit rating, my worldwide fame and my smashing good looks, I don't think anybody in his right mind is going to rent me a truck."
"A truck?" Misato and Jon stereoed.
"'Course!" DJ replied. "How else can we bring the furniture home?"
Silently, Rei watched the soothing test patterns of EVA-00's viewscreens as the initial loading sequences were run. The faint hum of power resonated faintly through the LCL as the external cables supplied the EVA with power, starting with the head and working downward. The M-Sets froze, then pulsed and shifted, becoming EVA-00's view of the outside world, and Rei felt her perceptions shifting outward, feeling herself becoming taller, braced up, feeling the beginnings of synchrony...
Feeling the faintest hint of fear...
"Main power supply connected. All activation systems to power."
"Operational voltage at critical point. System nominal."
"Initiate first link!"
Rei settled back in the seat, letting a few stray air bubbles escape from her lungs as she let her perceptions flow outward, feeling the EVA beginning to awaken around her. The circuits and synapses within the head were the first to receive power, and the viewscreens dissolved from their Mandelbrot test patterns into the view of the featureless white walls of the testing room, broken only by the large klaster windows at the opposite end.
"Confirm power to cerebral systems," Maya's voice came over the comm system. "Ready to initiate second link, Rei."
"Affirmative," Rei answered quietly, beginning to actively seek out synchrony. Faintly she could sense the EVA around her, beginning to merge with her awareness as it gained its own form of consciousness.
"Synapses active, pulses transmitting normally."
"Initial contact: no problems. Second link confirmed."
"Empower and synchronize."
The power supply encompassed more and more of the EVA, the panels on its arms and then its legs coming alive to indicate proper energy feed. Rei began to feel taller, braced up. She let herself sink deeper into the harmony of neural feeds, seeking the needed union with the EVA's artificial consciousness. One mind, one body.
"Nerve links stable to 2550 and climbing. Approaching borderline. Ready to initiate third link."
There it was. Waiting for her to reach out to it, merge with it, command it. She reached out...
"Ready for third link in 5... 4... 3..."
And suddenly her head was on fire.
In a split second everything became an incomprehensible blur as a howling wave of feedback screamed into her mind. Through the haze of pain he felt herself—no, she tried to reason, it was the EVA, it was the EVA—struggling violently against the thick restraints holding her in place.
Then her tortured shoulders broke free of their shackles and she clutched at her head—no, no this was wrong, this was wrong, it wasn't her in control, it wasn't her, it wasn't her it wasn't her.
The external power was cut then. The link split into two howling threads, part of her mind contorted by terrifying panic and helpless, the other consumed by unreasoning rage and in full control, unhesitatingly switching to the batteries and lashing out at the people who had taken away her power source, her lifeblood. Peripherally she heard the klaster of the control room cracking, shattering. Every thought, every instinct, in that part of the fast-disintegrating collective of their consciousness raised its voice in a single unified chorus, a silent scream of hideous intent:
«Gendō Ikari must die.»
NO NO STOP STOP STOP!! she screamed.
In the next second everything went dark, and the EVA vanished from her awareness as if a switch had been thrown. Suddenly there was an intense, wrenching vertigo which was punctuated by a bone-jarring collision, throwing her violently around in her seat. There was a sickening CRUNCH and then her body felt like it was on fire as well. Then another shattering crash, and a third, amplifying the agony as more bones fractured. Her scream was drowned out by the roar of what, in the tiny corner of her mind that remained coherent, she knew to be the ejection charges on the entry plug.
Then the boosters died away, and she was in zero-gravity for two nauseating, eternal seconds.
And then her entire world exploded.
There was no more time for memory, only the here and now. Today, she would try it again.
"Operational voltage nominal, initial neurofeeds nominal. Ready for second connection."
The displays came to life, and Rei looked up at the observation windows of the control room, long since repaired, as if the disaster had never happened. Dr. Ikari stood there, flanked by Dr. Akagi and Colonel Keller, watching intently. Maya and John and the rest of the techs were all at their stations. It was all the same.
"Second connection nominal, pilot is connecting to EVA-00. Impulses and synapses engaging. Nerve links stable at 1500 and rising."
No. Not all the same. Two of the faces were different, new. DJ and Jon were there, watching. DJ in his street clothes, leaning close to the klaster windows and watching intently. Jon in his black and red plug suit—he would be conducting his own synchronization test shortly—even closer to the windows and watching even more intently. She could almost feel his eyes seeking her out behind EVA-00's single optic (although the entry plug was not actually within the machine's head), willing her to be well, to do well...
"2500... approaching borderline in 5... 4... 3... 2..."
We are with you.
"1... borderline clear! Unit 00 is active and operating normally! All interlinks successful!"
Rei studied her own console readouts, and quietly felt the presence of the EVA about her. Yes. All was as it should be.
"Roger," she said in her usual quiet voice. "I'll begin the interlocking test without a break."
She was toweling the shower water out of her hair after rinsing away the LCL when Jon came into the locker room, trailing his own dripping trail of the yellow liquid, which had the most disturbing tendency to turn into slime when exposed to air for more than a few seconds. He saw her, pulled up short, and seemed about to leave, embarrassed by the similarity of the situation to the one DJ had reported ending so disastrously a few days before.
"Jon," she said softly in greeting, finished toweling off, and, going to her locker, began to get dressed.
"You did well today," said Jon, who decided that, if she wasn't bothered by his presence, he might as well stay and talk for a moment.
"Thank you," said Rei, and he knew it wasn't just the compliment she was thanking him for. She continued dressing, buttoning her blouse, as he stood there, trying to think of a way to approach the next subject.
"Something else?" asked Rei, glancing over her shoulder, as she ran a brush through her short, thick blue-silver hair.
"Um... yes," said Jon. "It's DJ."
"He thinks you're angry with him," Jon reported. "It's... it's causing him some distress."
"I'm not," replied Rei simply, putting the brush away.
"Tell him," said Jon as simply.
She looked at him, a long, hard, searching look, then nodded. "I will."
Then she picked up the bag which contained her every Earthly possession, nodded again to the boy who was going to be her housemate, and left him to his thoughts.
He had quite a few as he found the wrist control, decompressed his plug suit, and set about working his way out of it.
DJ was in the commissary, negotiating with the beverage dispenser for a Pepsi, when Rei found him. He glanced up to see her watching him, and looked unsure whether he should smile or just leave. "Uh... hullo," he said, his voice reflecting that uncertainty.
"Er... buy you a drink?"
She shook her head.
"Suit yourself," DJ replied, collecting his own and taking it to a nearby table. Rei followed him; as he sat down, she went to the other side.
"May I sit?" she asked.
"Please," replied DJ, gesturing.
She did so, regarding him steadily and calmly for several minutes, and then, apparently having found nothing troublesome in her brief 'scan', said without preamble,
"I'm not angry."
"You were at the time," DJ observed, but she shook her head.
"Why didn't you let me apologize, then?"
She shrugged. "It didn't seem important."
"Well, when I commit a stunning balls-up like that, I tend to feel a need to apologize, so when next I do something like that, do me a favor and let me say I'm sorry before you leave, all right?"
She nodded. "All right," she replied, with the faintest hint of a smile.
"I really didn't mean for any of it to happen."
They said nothing as DJ drank his soda; then he raised a hand and had a look at his watch. "Well... 'bout time I was heading home, I'd say." He pressed a button on the watch face, and a tiny red lens next to the digital display glowed. "Hal, are you there?"
"Of course, DJ," replied the calm voice of his computer.
"D'you know if Misato's left here yet?"
"Yes, she has," Hal replied. "She and Jon are already here, and, may I add, anxiously awaiting your culinary skills."
Bless you, Jon, thought DJ to himself. He turned to Rei. "Can I offer you a lift? I understand today's your moving day."
Rei considered it for a moment, then got to her feet and nodded.
"D'you have anything you need to pick up?" DJ asked as he handed her his extra helmet and helped her get situated behind him.
"No," she replied. "I have everything with me."
"Oh. Have you ridden before?"
"It's pretty simple if you're not driving. Keep your feet on the pegs and hang on, and don't be alarmed when we lean—that's how motorcycles turn corners. OK?"
She nodded. Flicking the key on, he kicked the V-twin into grumbling life, and—quite enjoying the way Rei nestled against his back and put her arms around his waist—DJ guided the Corley out of the garage and up onto the S490.
Back in the garage, unnoticed, Gendō Ikari sat at the wheel of his car, eyes narrowed behind his tinted eyeglasses.
Then, face a study in impassivity, he started the car and drove away in the other direction.
As they reached the surface, DJ tried to gauge his passenger's mood. Some people didn't like riding pillion on a motorcycle—it frightened them, made them freeze and wish for nothing more than the ride's end. Rei's grip on his waist was firm, but not a death-grip, so he didn't think that was the case with her, but he still wanted to be sure she was enjoying the trip.
"All right?" he called over his shoulder.
"Fine," came Rei's reply.
Reassured that he'd received as positive a response as he was likely to get, DJ turned onto I-290 and headed west. If Rei was enjoying the ride, he might as well prolong the experience, for both of them.
He hadn't been to this part of town, so the sights, though mostly drab, were new for him (and for her, too, though he didn't know it) as they roared through the western districts. As they hit the bend before the Worcester-Auburn line, DJ noticed something off to the right that made him pull over to the side of the near-deserted highway, put down the kickstand and just look.
"Well, I'll be damned," he murmured. "A round lake."
And so it was—a perfectly circular lake, in the middle of what looked like it had once been a warehouse district, a few hundred yards to the southwest of the freeway.
"That's Lake Oppenheimer," Rei said. "Didn't you know about it?"
"No," DJ replied. "Perfectly round... that's amazing."
"Not really," Rei said. "It's a bomb crater."
"Bloody big bomb," DJ observed. "That lake looks to be most of a kilometer across."
"Just before you arrived, before NERV was fully activated, the Army tried to stop the Third Angel with a small N2-type atomic device," said Rei. "It was in the after-action report."
"Oh. I never read those things."
DJ nodded. "I'll start." He twisted in the seat so he could look at her, though all he could see of her face through the window in her helmet was her red eyes. "Are you enjoying the ride?"
She considered that for a moment, then nodded tentatively. "Yes," she replied; then, a little stronger, "Yes, I am."
DJ smiled. "Good."
Flicking the kickstand back up, DJ pulled back onto the Interstate.
"Sorry we're late, all," DJ announced as he and Rei entered the apartment a half-hour or so later. "To make up for it, we'll have to have something especially delicious tonight." Turning and surveying Rei for a moment, he added, "Hm. I shall have to brush up on my vegetarian recipes now you're here."
"Sorry," said Rei.
"Oh, don't apologize," said DJ. "Never apologize for what you are. Eh, Jon?"
"Huh? Oh... yes. Right."
Over the weekend, Jon, DJ and Misato had, under DJ's guidance, done quite a bit toward making Apartment 3-F (3-E being across the hall) less of a barracks environment and more of a home. They'd painted the walls a relaxing shade of blue, cleaned the kitchen, installed some nice accessories (including HAL "eyes" in all the rooms of both apartments, and a secondary HAL console with monitor in each kitchen), and hung a few pictures (DJ was especially proud of the big print of the bow wreck of the Titanic, which was one of his very favorite photos he'd taken on his mother's 2013 expedition). They'd also come up with some very comfy and fairly decent-looking brown leather living-room furniture, and a nice glass coffee table.
The crowning glory, as far as DJ was concerned, was Rei's bedroom itself, and he almost seemed to swell with pride as he opened the door and introduced her to it.
It was quite nice—done in a slightly softer shade of blue than the rest of the apartment, with snow-white accents that made the whole room seem bigger. The light was provided not by the glaring fluorescent ceiling fixture, but from a tall halogen torchiere lamp that cast its glow against the white ceiling, where it reflected down to softly bathe the whole room. One wall was a window that had a view of the pleasant residential neighborhood to the north, built on the side of Bancroft Hill. A bookshelf covered the wall to the right of the door; it was mostly empty for now, but DJ had added a few volumes from his own collection, hoping they would prove a useful seed.
The room was dominated, though, by the bed their expedition had been tremendously fortunate to find at one of the numerous antique and old-furniture stores they'd hit—a massive king-size four-poster affair, made of brass, with old-fashioned spring underlay and a real feather mattress, whose owner had apparently possessed no clue of its true worth. DJ had spent the better part of Sunday afternoon cursing and barking his knuckles putting the thing together, and Sunday evening emplacing and arranging the elaborate and beautiful ice-blue-and-white sheets, counterpane, coverlet, what Jon's eyeball estimate made to be about a dozen pillows, and—the crowning touch in DJ's eyes—canopy.
Rei said nothing; she was overwhelmed by feelings she did not understand and feared she would not be able to control if she acknowledged them. It would be ungrateful not to say something, though; so she turned to DJ and Jon, her eyes moist and luminous, and tried in vain to think of something for several minutes.
Then she cast her eyes down and said softly, "I'm sorry. I... I don't know how to act or feel in a situation like this."
Jon wanted to say something comforting, but DJ beat him to it; putting a gentle hand on her shoulder, he said, "'Sall right, love. If you want to learn, we're here to teach you—eh, Jon?"
"Yes," Jon agreed without hesitation. "Absolutely." Although, he reflected wryly, I don't know too much about it myself. Then he glanced at DJ and added to himself, I suspect he knows enough to teach both of us, though.
DJ glanced down at his healed right hand and smiled, then held it out. "Friends?"
"I..." Rei gave him a searching look, then glanced away again. "I've never..."
"You have two, now," said DJ, reaching to his side with his left, grabbing Jon's wrist, and placing the surprised boy's right hand alongside his own.
Tentatively, as if she were afraid they would burn her, Rei extended her own right hand; presently, they all met in the middle, in a sort of clumsy approximation of a basketball team's "go" shake.
"I... I don't know what to do," Rei repeated.
DJ grinned. "Try smiling."
So she did. It was a tiny smile by most standards—the shifting of a few inconsequential muscles, the slightest of upcurve at the corners of her mouth, the tiniest of wrinkling at the corners of her eyes—but it went to her eyes and it subtly transformed her face, making her even more beautiful to both Jon and DJ.
And it felt good, too.
"Friends," the three said together. It was a promise; one that, though they could not know it, would be powerfully tested in the months to come.
A race against time as the next Angel attacks NERV Headquarters directly.
Rei, like a ghost in the moonlight.
Melancholy in the night.
EVA-01 earns a nickname.
Sacrifice, friendship, and a cryptic promise.
In seven days:
Neon Exodus Evangelion
Exodus 1:5—Guardian Angel