Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Neon Exodus Evangelion
Exodus 1: The Gathering Storm
Enter the Dragon
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 Dos Lobos Cantina, a mile or two outside the bad part of Teotihuacán, Mexico, has seen a lot of strange things in the sixty-odd years it's been where it is. Brawls, shootouts, robberies, drug deals gone south, any number of violent occurrences. It is a place where anybody who is averse to violence shouldn't go, women doubly so, for almost any woman entering the Dos Lobos will probably have to resort to violence herself to get out again. That the place has the only working telephone between the back of beyond and Teotihuacán proper is of no consequence to the people who live in the area and know better; they go to town if they need to make a call.
The person entering the cantina at this particular moment in time knew all that, but thought it of little importance compared to the events of the last few months; she couldn't have cared less that all eyes were upon her the moment she stepped through the door.
To be fair, all eyes had good reason to be upon her. She was easily the most interesting-looking item in the place. She was tall, lean and buxom, smeared with unidentifiable dirt and grime, wearing a mud-encrusted, tight, sleeveless top that might once have been white and tattered, filthy safari shorts, plus a pair of boots so befouled with dried mud and road dust that the laces could no longer be discerned. Her hair was tied back in a braid, and so dirty its color could not be determined. The small round sunglasses she wore were spattered with mud which, lacking anything with which to clean it off, she had to suffer to remain there for the time being. But even bedraggled and filthy, she was stunningly beautiful, and carried herself with an almost breathtaking athletic grace.
On her back, slung from the straps of the small leather backpack she wore, was a folding-stock pump shotgun; at her hips, swaying gently as she walked, was a matched pair of automatic pistols. She spared none of the numerous goggle-eyed patrons a second (or even first, come to that) look as she strode to the bar and slapped down a handful of assorted change.
«Beer,» she said to the barman in Spanish, «and I need to use your telephone.»
The patrons of the Dos Lobos Cantina were a rough bunch, but they studiously kept their hands and comments to themselves the whole time the woman remained, drinking her piss-warm Chago without wincing, carrying on a lengthy and increasingly animated conversation in English with someone on the place's antique phone, and sauntering out with the same almost-insouciant hip-rolling walk. Between the look on her beautiful face, the steel in the tone of her voice, and the easy way she carried those guns, even the most lecherous and stupid of them had realized that here was a woman there was no percentage in messing with. None of them said a word the whole time she was there; none of them even discussed her after she was gone, for fear she would somehow hear and come back to punish them.
As she walked toward Teotihuacán and what passed for civilization in post-Second-Impact Central America, the woman was almost disappointed that nobody had tried to start anything. After spending four and a half months out of touch with civilization, three weeks trapped in a Mayan temple and the rest lost and living rough in the jungle, she was almost spoiling for a fight.
On the other hand, it was just as well; she wanted to save all her anger for the scumbag who trapped her in the temple and left her for dead, with a healthy side helping left over for the American government fools who'd all but kidnapped her son.
They were going to learn the hard way, all of them, that nobody screws around with Lara Croft. Nobody.
DJ Croft had, over the years, developed a number of ways for coping with air travel, which was one of his least favorite ways of getting around. His favorite, and the one he was using now, was simply to sleep through it—no mean feat aboard a cargo helicopter which only carried passengers as an afterthought, but then, DJ was fond of saying, if you can sleep in the King's Chamber of the Great Pyramid, you can sleep anywhere.
In the sling seat next to him, Misato Katsuragi tried to get comfortable, paging through a book she'd picked up at random from Ritsuko's desk. Amazingly, considering it was a non-work-related book picked up from Ritsuko's space, it wasn't about cats; it was entitled A Night to Remember, and was a somewhat fictionalized but mostly factual account of the sinking of the steamship Titanic, just over a hundred years before. There wasn't a single cat mentioned anywhere in it, as far as she could tell.
She had just gotten to the bit where Second Officer Lightoller gets rousted out of bed by one of the other officers when the pilot informed her they'd arrived at the task force and would be landing, so she stuck the book back in her carryall and nudged DJ awake.
"Hm? Wha? Are we there?" he asked, sitting up and yawning.
"Yes, we are," Misato replied. "Try to contain your enthusiasm, OK?"
"Sorry, love... I just don't get on terribly well with aircraft, is all." DJ looked out the side window at the gleaming blue expanse of ocean below, spotting a couple of the destroyers belonging to the outer defense ring of the Kriegsmarine carrier battle group they were meeting. "Was this trip really necessary? They'd have been in New Providence in another day."
"I suppose not," Misato replied, "but you didn't have to come along, remember?"
"And let you take Jon instead, and leave me alone with that predatory bottle blonde? Perish the thought. Without you round to fend her off she'd never leave me be. The woman's crazy about me."
Misato laughed and yanked the fedora DJ wore down over his eyes. "Let that head of your swell any more and you won't be able to wear this," she warned him.
"Hey, get off," he replied, straightening the hat indignantly. "D'you have any idea how hard it is to find a proper hat in Worcester-3?"
"I ought to, you've described your travails in enough detail."
It was true, DJ had spent quite a bit of time and effort tracking down the hat, and the black suit, wingtips and belted trench coat that went along with it. Why he wanted to dress like a spy for his trip to rendezvous with the German Navy convoy bringing Evangelion Unit 02 and its pilot over from Europe was beyond Misato, but, as with most of his little eccentricities, she accepted it with fond good grace. She'd become aware, over the past week or so, that he'd become an integral part of her homelife these days. They were, it seemed, natural roommates, and she had become quite fond of the boy. Not as enamored of him, perhaps, as Maya Ibuki, with whose connivance he could get away with almost anything in Equipment Section—but quite fond, nonetheless. She found herself, at this moment, possessed of a most untoward desire to take off his hat and ruffle his hair, but restrained it, not wanting to provoke his inevitable indignant response.
DJ had little use for warships, except the sunken ones that made for an interesting archeological challenge. His interest in the kinds of ships that still floated was largely confined to passenger liners, which had seen an unexpected resurgence of popularity in the post-Second Impact years, plying the swollen oceans in numbers not seen since the advent of cheap air travel. DJ liked traveling by liner a great deal more than by air; it didn't make his ears pop, it wasn't noisy, and the vehicles involved were a lot more interesting, plus the trips were longer and gave him more time to think, read, and anticipate his destination.
Nevertheless, he was impressed with the sheer size and complexity of the German nuclear supercarrier Deutschland, if not with the originality of its name. Most of the carrier's planes were grouped forward, and flight operations were suspended for the time being; the NERV cargo chopper touched down without incident, and as a group of colorfully-vested German seamen made it secure, Misato and DJ disembarked and went to meet the captain.
Admiral Franz Keller, the grizzled veteran commander of the carrier Deutschland and her battlegroup, received them with Teutonic politeness, if not overwhelming enthusiasm; then, casting a dubious eye on the cargo helicopter, he asked,
"Am I to understand that your use of a cargo helicopter means you have brought the emergency power connector?"
"That's correct," Misato replied. She offered a manila envelope. "Here are the specifications and diagrams your engineer will need in order to install it."
"Very well," replied Keller, taking the envelope. "I must confess, I can foresee no eventuality which would lead me to approve the use of the machine, but I suppose we may as well be prepared for any eventuality."
"That's the spirit," said Misato with a grin.
"Your young friend seems to have wandered off," Keller observed with a severe expression that was belied by the twinkle in his eyes. "I'll have you know I'll tolerate no juvenile chicanery on my ship. If he causes trouble, he'll find himself serving a four-year compulsory tour of service in the Kriegsmarine!"
"Don't worry, Admiral," Misato replied. "DJ should be able to keep himself out of trouble."
Back in Worcester-3, the EVA practice range was getting quite a workout. With DJ gone, EVA-00 and EVA-03 were being tested in simultaneous training, to determine the suitability of their pilots as a combat pair. Ikari had posted the duty rosters that morning, and to no one's surprised, he had paired Ellison with Ayanami and Croft with Langley; now it was time to see if the first of those pairs would actually work as a combat team.
As the two Evangelions—EVA-00 repaired and in its new blue-and-white battle livery, EVA-03 shiny and new-looking in its black and red—moved through the city, decoys and targets popped up at random, testing the pilots' reaction times, target judgment, alertness and firing accuracy.
"Target, two nine zero," Rei reported quietly.
"Targeting," Jon responded in the same tone, even as both EVA-03 and EVA-00 swung their autorifles and knocked the target down with twin three-round bursts.
"Amazing," Ritsuko Akagi observed in the control room.
The word Maya Ibuki would have used would probably have been "disturbing", but she nodded agreement nevertheless.
At the moment, DJ was not technically in trouble, but he was kind of put out; a gust of wind had gone and blown his hat off, and he was now pursuing it across the flight deck, hoping that he'd capture it before it blew overboard.
His hope that somebody would intercept it before it arrived was fulfilled, sort of, in that a smallish, sandal-shod foot came down on the brim and held it firmly to the deck. DJ, intent on the deck as he followed it, tried to stop abruptly so as not to run into the owner of the foot, but between the slightly wet deck and the smooth soles of his new and unfamiliar dress shoes, he slipped and fell to the deck, cursing and mentally noting that it seemed to be his month for doing clumsy things.
Looking up at his hat's sort-of rescuer, he found himself looking up at a pair of nice legs—a little thin, but long, with good ankles, strong calves and sleek thighs—and yellow panties, probably silk. The rest of the person was obscured by a yellow skirt that was blowing in the wind.
Taking all this in stride, DJ said cheerily to the legs, "Hullo, legs! Mind stepping off my hat?"
The foot moved; he recovered his hat and stood up, at which point he was slapped in the face by an angry-looking girl about his age. The rest of her matched her legs pretty well; she was slim and well-built, a couple of inches taller than DJ, just starting to fill out and doing a pretty nice job of it. The yellow one-piece sundress she wore hung nicely, and she had good skin, too. Her pert face was set in a glare of indignation, wide blue eyes almost crackling with annoyance, as the wind blew her long red-gold hair about in a most fetching manner.
"What was that for?" DJ inquired pleasantly, resisting the urge to touch his stinging face.
"That was the viewing fee," the girl replied haughtily, a trace of a German accent coloring her otherwise American-sounding English. "Quite a bargain, wouldn't you say?"
DJ considered this for a moment, then nodded. "Not a bad deal at that! Hit me again, I want to have another look."
She blinked at him, caught totally off-guard; then her face darkened with anger, and for a moment, he thought she actually would slap him again—at which point, he would not be held responsible for his actions. Then the anger cleared as she spotted something behind DJ, and she waved, smiling.
"Hey! You've grown a lot since I last saw you," said Misato cheerfully as she walked across the deck toward the children.
"Yup!" the girl replied. "And not just taller; my figure's starting to fill out, too," she continued, striking a pose.
"I was just commenting on that," DJ observed.
"Oh, you've already met?" Misato asked.
The girl's face fell. "Don't tell me this is the Fifth Child."
Misato nodded. "Uh-huh! DJ Croft, meet the Second Child, Asuka Sōryū-Langley."
"Charmed," said DJ, tipping his hat.
Asuka looked DJ over with narrowed eyes, then shrugged. "Hmph! He doesn't look so great to me."
"If you want, I can slap you and then let you have a look at the rest of the package," DJ offered politely.
"No thank you," Asuka replied, turning away. "Hey, Misato, have you seen Mr. Kaji?"
Now it was Misato's face's turn to fall. "He's here?" she replied, her tone indicating that this was far-from-welcome news.
"Uh-huh!" Asuka replied, nodding happily, oblivious to Misato's dismay. "He came with us from Germany. I think he's got some stuff for the Director."
"Wonderful..." Misato observed weakly, the wan smile on her face belying the word.
"Oh, there he is!" Asuka said, spotting someone off by the carrier's island. "RYOOOJIIII!! OVER HERE!" she cried, waving.
DJ turned to see a tallish Japanese guy about Misato's age, with long black hair tied back in a ponytail, a couple of days' growth that he probably thought made him look all retrocool like Don Johnson in those old Miami Vice reruns, and civvies with a spotted tie, break away from a group of sailors and saunter over. An unlit cigarette hung from the corner of his mouth, since smoking wasn't allowed on the carrier. DJ took an instantaneous dislike to him.
Misato did not turn around to see him approach, and visibly stiffened as he slid up beside her, slipped a hand around her waist in an almost proprietorial way, and said, "Hey, babe; long time no see," in a deep, oh-so-smooth voice.
DJ felt his instinctive dislike crystallizing.
"Uh... hi, Kaji," Misato replied, gently removing his hand.
"I'm sorry, sir, I don't believe we've met," said DJ, sharpening up his English accent as much as possible and being almost overly polite.
"Oh, sorry," said the man, sticking out a hand. "Ryoji Kaji."
"DJ Croft," DJ replied, shaking it. He had a firm grip, but DJ still didn't trust him.
"You're the Fifth Child, then?" Kaji asked.
"I could tell you," DJ replied, "but then I'd have to kill you."
Kaji laughed, which annoyed DJ slightly, since he hadn't really meant it as a joke. "Hey, those guys tell me that there's some rain coming," he went on, angling a thumb back at the group of sailors he'd just been taking to. "What do you say we head down to the wardroom and get something to eat?"
As he put his hand back on Misato's waist and squired her toward the island, she glanced back at DJ with an expression he found very easy to interpret: This is not happening. Get me out of here...
DJ sympathized, even if he didn't have the complete story, and promised himself to help her out at the first available opportunity.
In Ritsuko Akagi's office, she and Gendō Ikari watched the annotated playbacks of Jon and Rei's weapons tests, noting the spikes in their sync curves as they moved and fired together.
"Their synchrony is impressive," Ikari observed. "It's almost as if they're synchronized with each other's neural patterns as much as those of their EVAs."
"Mm," Ritsuko replied, nodding, not taking her eyes off the screen. "It could be a great asset."
"Correction," said SHODAN pleasantly from the sensor unit on her console. "Under most combat conditions, it is a liability."
Ritsuko scowled at the sensor unit. "Explain."
"Observe their performance," SHODAN replied. Ritsuko and Ikari turned their attention back to the screen and watched.
Time and again, a target would pop up; time and again, one would identify it, then both would shoot it. The course was being run with the expectation that there would be two independently-operating EVAs on it; as such, the targets were coming too fast for Rei and Jon to deal with them in this fashion. After several minutes of this, SHODAN continued,
"When Jon and Rei are working together their synchrony is unmatched. However, as you can see, they tend to target the same hostile at once, move in the same direction, and so forth. Both are taking the role of point."
"So we'll tell one of them to be point and the other to drop back to marksman," said Ritsuko.
"That was done. Every time, their synchrony dropped off. Prevented from exploiting it, they unconsciously abandon it and act almost totally independently—they cease to be any meaningful sort of team."
"Meaning they can't fight?" Ikari asked.
"I did not say that," SHODAN replied. "However, if they fight together, I calculate a 94% probability that they will be too predictable to effectively oppose an Angel. The Angels learn as they fight, and it will not take any Angel long to reach the same conclusion I have reached and exploit the weaknesses of their cooperative style."
"How do you propose we deal with this?" inquired Ikari.
"Simply put: to obtain peak performance from both pilots, they need to both perform the same task. I have put this issue to the Magi; they unanimously recommend each of them serve as marksman to one of the other pilots. A three-to-zero Magi consensus makes the optimal pairings thus: point Croft, mark Ayanami; point Langley, mark Ellison."
"I'm not sure I like that arrangement."
"Your personal feelings are not relevant," said SHODAN mildly. "This arrangement is the most efficient one."
"Well, we'll just have to test this theory," Ikari replied, accepting the computer's rebuke as truth.
"As always, there is no substitute for empirical testing," SHODAN concurred.
For DJ, the opportunity he was looking for wasn't long coming.
They sat at a table in the wardroom—DJ, Asuka, Kaji and Misato—drinking coffee and trying not to seem too awkward. Finally Kaji leaned back in his chair and said conversationally,
"So, Misato—you have a boyfriend?"
"That's none of your damn business, Kaji," she snapped, refusing even to look at him.
Kaji smiled the kind of smile a man gets when he feels his question's been answered, then turned to DJ, who sat next to him. "So. I understand you're living with Katsuragi here, kid?"
"Yeah, that's right," DJ replied, having a sip of his tea and trying not to grimace. German sailors, he noted to himself, are not the world's most talented brewers of tea.
"So tell me," Kaji said with a grin, "is she still an animal in bed?"
Asuka turned sheet-white and gasped, freezing in a look of total disbelief. Misato did likewise, then slowly turned brick red before slamming her fists down on the table, coming halfway out of her chair and shouting,
"Just what the hell are you implying?!"
Ignoring her, Kaji continued to DJ, "Has she changed since I last saw her, Mr. Croft?"
DJ shrugged, the picture of nonchalance, and sipped his tea again. "I don't know, do I?" he replied. "I don't know when you last saw her, to say nothing of what sort of animal you mean. She doesn't bark like a seal and balance a ball on her nose, if that's what you mean."
Misato's glare changed to shock and then mild amusement as Ryoji's grin disintegrated into utter consternation. He'd been hoping to fluster the kid as much as Misato, after all; instead he'd got that completely incomprehensible answer. Then she burst out laughing, and kept it up until Ryoji had, with mumbled statements about vague duties calling, beaten an ignominious retreat. Asuka followed him, closing the door behind her.
Then she let out a deep and heartfelt sigh and slumped, face in hands, elbows on table.
"I'm in Hell," she mumbled.
"There, there, my love," said DJ, patting her head. "I'll protect you from nasty old Mr. Kaji."
"Fine start you've made," she replied.
"Got him to leave, didn't I?" said DJ.
"So," said Kaji to Asuka as they stood by the rail on one of the island's upper levels. "What did you think of the Fifth Child?"
"I think he's an idiot," Asuka replied flatly.
"Mm," Kaji replied. "And yet his synchronization ratio with Unit 01 in his first combat reached point-eight-seven to one."
Asuka's eyes widened. "Impossible."
"Read the reports," Kaji replied, shrugging. "The kid's a natural-born fighter. Synced with EVA-01—the Nine-Zero System—and took out the Third Angel in his very first outing at the controls. No training, no sim time, no preparation."
"Hmph," Asuka said, her momentary awe flickering and dying. "He's still an idiot."
A bit later, as Misato and DJ rode an inordinately long-seeming escalator back toward deck level, DJ observed, "I get the impression you and Slicko have, er, met before."
Misato scowled, her eyebrows threatening to meet. "He went to college with Ritsuko and me," she replied. "And he hasn't changed at all, the big jerk."
"Are you still an animal in bed?"
"Don't you start with me now!" Misato snapped.
"Sorry," DJ replied. "Makes me curious, is all. The last thing I need is for you to meet some bloke you decide you like, bring him home and keep me awake all bloody night," he added with his father's grin.
Misato's annoyance, as it generally did in the face of that grin, melted, and she managed a wan grin of her own. "I wouldn't know, kid," she replied wistfully. "It's been too damn long since I met anybody special."
"Well, at least you haven't lowered your standards," said DJ.
"Hey! Mr. Fifth Child!" a voice called from the top of the escalator. DJ looked up; standing at the ever-approaching top was Asuka Langley, glaring down at him almost defiantly.
"Yeah?" DJ replied.
"Come with me," Asuka said. "I want to show you something."
Stepping off the top of the escalator, DJ protested, "A bit ago you didn't want me looking at anything."
Behind him, he heard Misato stifle a laugh as Asuka growled, "Don't make me hurt you."
They caught a launch to one of the other ships in the fleet, a large freighter, whereon Asuka lifted up the corner of the massive tarp lashed over the big open hatch to the forward hold and gestured expansively.
"There!" she said. "What do you think of that?"
DJ looked. "Nice color," he said. "Bit flashy, but who am I to talk? Some genius painted mine purple and green on me."
Missing the reference entirely and not caring a bit, Asuka replied, "The color's not the only difference." She climbed down a ladder into the hold, beckoning DJ to join her, and they stood on a pontoon catwalk that floated in the suspension fluid next to the Evangelion which lay face-down in said liquid, the highest points of its back and spinal ridge protruding from the surface.
"See, your EVA and Ayanami's are early models built as part of the development process—01 is the test type and 00 the prototype. Neither one was really intended for combat. But this is Unit 02, the production model. This one was built with combat in mind, and incorporates all the lessons learned from the mistakes in 00 and 01. This is the world's first real Evangelion!"
"I hate to burst your bubble here," DJ pointed out, "but Unit 03 has been operational for several weeks."
"Sure, and both times it's been shot up and rescued. I hear it didn't even sync right with its pilot the first time out, which means either he did something wrong, or it did. I'm not very impressed with Ellison's record."
"He's been dealt some bad hands," DJ replied. "The first time he had sync problems because he had lousy prep time, and the second, the gantry failed to release his unit. Made him a sitting duck. Hardly his fault."
"Oh, and I suppose it was just luck that you synchronized with EVA-01 in your very first time in an entry plug, and went on to beat the Third Angel?"
"More or less," said DJ, nodding. "Almost got my bloody head handed to me before I got everything sorted, you should watch the tapes of the first five minutes of the battle if you want a good idea how not to fight an Angel."
"They're impressed with your skills because the other two Worcester-3 pilots are worse than you, not because you're good," Asuka insisted. "I've read your record, you know. I scored twenty points higher than you on the intelligence tests alone—once I get there I'm going to show NERV some real piloting."
"Good," DJ replied. "Then I can piss off back to England and let you save the bloody world."
Asuka would have retorted, but just then, the ship shook. "What the—?!" she said, realizing even as she voiced the question what the answer was.
"Undersea shock wave of some kind," DJ observed, heading back up the ladder to deck level and heading for the forward rail. Asuka was right on his heels, and they arrived at the rail to see... well, something attacking the ships in the outer perimeter of the battle group. As they watched, a destroyer was struck from below by something speeding just below water level; its keel split in two, the ship broke in half and foundered almost instantly. The next one in line suffered the same fate. It reminded DJ of the descriptions given in Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea of the Nautilus's attacks on surface ships.
"Either a deranged genius with a nuclear submarine is attacking the fleet," he observed, "or that's an Angel."
"An Angel?!" Asuka echoed. "A real one?"
"I think so," DJ replied. He pushed back his sleeve and flicked his watch's comm function on, raising not Hal, but the other HALcomm watch in the area—the one he'd given to Misato.
"What are you doing?" Asuka demanded.
"Calling Misato," DJ replied.
"I'm sure she's aware of the situation," said Asuka, "and there's no time for that. Come with me."
Shrugging, DJ shut off the watch and followed her toward a stairwell. "Whatever you say..."
"Well, Major Katsuragi," Admiral Keller observed, giving Misato the impromptu promotion traditional in naval circles for visiting ground-force officers holding the rank of captain. "It appears your philosophy of preparing for eventualities may come in handy after all. First, though, I'd like to try handling this my way. Just so I don't feel totally useless, you understand."
Misato wasn't sure if the old man was serious or not, but her pause to think it over gave him time to pick up a microphone and bark attack orders in German to the fleet.
DJ hung around the entrance to the stairwell for a minute or so, whistling "Beyond the Sea" and watching the underwater Angel zooming around the fleet. The ships of the fleet were unloading everything they could find at it—battleship bombardments, cruise missiles, torpedoes, depth charges—but to no avail. Conventional firepower, as always, was proving useless against the Absolute Terror Field.
The door clunked; DJ turned to see Asuka, changed from her yellow dress to a bright red plug suit.
"Nice outfit," DJ observed dryly. "What're you supposed to be? 'Hot Stuff, the Irksome Little Devil'?" He ducked a slap and followed her down into the hold where the red EVA lay dormant. On the pontoon bridge, she knelt briefly, rummaged around in the duffel bag, and then handed him a second red plug suit.
"Here, put this on," she commanded.
"Thank you, no," DJ replied, removing his overcoat and suit jacket and loosening his striped tie, then unbuttoning his shirt to reveal the dark green and black of his own. "I'm dressed for the occasion. I suppose it'd be futile to ask you to reconsider this decision?"
"I'll get permission once I've defeated the Angel," Asuka replied confidently as DJ got out of his clothes, folded them neatly, and packed them into the bag.
"Is this bag waterproof?" he asked.
"I hope so, it's got my favorite dress in it," Asuka replied, shouldering the bag and leading him to EVA-02's extended and open entry plug.
"Why, exactly, are you taking me with you on this expedition?" DJ wondered.
"So you can have the best seat in the house as I demonstrate my superior piloting to Misato and the others," she said smugly.
"Oh. Well, it's nice to feel wanted," DJ observed.
"This is useless," Misato observed, watching the fleet flail ineffectually at the Angel with their conventional weapons. "This kind of firepower won't even scratch that thing's AT Field."
"Reluctantly, I'm beginning to agree with you," Keller observed. "Very well. Müller, order the Freitag to prepare EVA-02 for launch."
"Sir, a telex from the Freitag just came in—EVA-02 is already powering up!" Commander Müller reported.
Keller directed a bemused glance at Misato, who grinned. "Way to go, Asuka," she muttered.
DJ wasn't fluent in German, but he'd picked up enough of it in travels on the Continent to catch the general gist of the litany Asuka was going through; it was basically the German equivalent of the things he had to report when activating Unit 01. She was probably murmuring them under her breath out of force of habit.
The screens began to shift around them as synchronization began; then they stopped, an alarm sounded, and all the displays shifted to a tiled flashing pattern of the word FEHLER—"ERROR"—in block red capitals.
"Hell of a time for a page fault," DJ observed.
"Thought noise. I told you not to distract me!" Asuka snapped. "You're thinking in English, aren't you? Think in German!"
"I don't know German well enough to think in it," DJ replied. "How about if you think in Latin?"
"Don't know Latin? How about ancient Greek?"
"Skip it! Computer, reset the language interpreter for English."
Obediently, the onboard system did as instructed, and synchronization completed. Even though he was not piloting, DJ could feel a faint quiver at the back of his mind, an echo of the kind of feeling he got when he was clicking with Unit 01.
"Asuka, are you there? Are you ready for launch?" Misato called into the microphone.
"Synchronized and ready," Asuka's voice replied. Misato grinned and looked to Admiral Keller; looking faintly pained, the old man nodded.
"Go!" Misato cried.
"Evangelion Unit 02—launch!" Asuka ordered, and the red machine heaved itself to its feet, head and shoulders tearing through the tarpaulin as it raised itself out of the open hatchway.
To one side, the familiar clock display of battery power appeared, but to DJ's consternation, it started counting at 1:00.00.
"Only one minute of battery power?" he inquired.
"The test type's five-minute batteries were deemed a superfluous waste of tonnage," Asuka replied. "They slow the unit down."
"Not half as much as running out of bloody power," DJ said.
"Here comes the Angel," said Asuka. "Hang on!"
With a mighty leap, EVA-02 hurled itself from the hold of the Freitag moments before the speeding Angel knifed through her and sent her to the bottom.
"Hey!" Asuka cried. "Watch where you're putting your hands."
"All right, I deserved that."
"Uh, Major Katsuragi," said Commander Müller. "Were you aware that EVA-02 was shipped with Type B equipment fitted?"
"Type B?!" Misato replied, aghast.
Aboard EVA-02, overhearing, DJ cast a dubious eye toward the water speeding up below and said, "Great, so if we fall in the sea, we've had it."
"And if we don't, we'll be fine, right?" Asuka replied. The EVA crashed down on the fantail deck of a destroyer, smashing flat the rescue helicopter moored there, then leaped again, hurling away the tarp that had settled around its shoulders like a robe, to land atop the superstructure of a cruiser, wrecking its radar entirely.
"Better get that power supply ready, Misato," called Asuka, "'cause we're coming in!"
Below decks aboard the Deutschland, Ryoji Kaji was, of all things, on the phone.
"You never told me I might run into an Angel out here," he grumbled.
"An eventuality that was planned for," replied the voice of Gendō Ikari. "That's why EVA-02 is there. I was even kind enough to send you an extra pilot if you need him."
"Your best, so I've been told."
"Perhaps, but also the least important to the project as a whole."
"If need be, you can always make your escape," Ikari pointed out.
"True," Ryoji replied.
"You'll have to excuse me, Mr. Kaji," Ikari said. "There's a bit of trouble I have to deal with on this end. Nothing major, I'm sure, but Dr. Akagi thinks it worth my attention."
"Oh, by all means," Kaji replied. "See you soon."
Ikari disconnected without saying goodbye.
Setting his phone down, Ikari looked up from his desk to the worried face of Dr. Ritsuko Akagi.
"Now then, Dr. Akagi. What is it?"
"We have a problem, sir," Ritsuko replied. "Take a look at security monitor three."
Ikari tapped a command to the computer console built into his desk, and a display screen glowed to life under its glassy surface. It displayed the view from a security camera overlooking one of the guard stations at one of the entrances to Central Dogma.
Standing at that station, engaged in what appeared to be, even without audio, a lively argument with the guard, was a woman in a white sleeveless top, safari shorts, and hiking boots, her long brown hair tied back in a braid. She was very beautiful, and very angry, and very surprising to see in this context—for until just that moment, Gendō Ikari had believed Lara Croft to be dead.
He covered his surprise well, though, turning to Ritsuko and and only saying mildly, "Deal with her."
"How?" Ritsuko replied.
"Go and have the guard let her in," Ikari replied. "Take her to the commissary, buy her some lunch if she's hungry. Tell her the truth—the boy isn't here and she can see him when he gets back."
At that moment, DJ was hanging onto the sides of the command seat in EVA-02 for dear life as the machine came crashing down on the deck of the aircraft carrier Deutschland, causing the mighty carrier to list almost ten degrees to port and dumping several unmoored planes off the side before Asuka shifted the EVA's weight and balanced it.
"Shifting to external power," Asuka reported, picking up the power tap that had been laid out on the deck and plugging it into the socket on the EVA's back.
"Grand," DJ observed. "We're sitting ducks with useless equipment and no weapons, but at least we've plenty of electricity."
"No weapons? We've got the Progressive Knife," Asuka replied, deploying same and adopting a ready stance, facing the plume of spray that marked the position of the approaching Angel. "It'll have to be enough."
"You are completely insane," DJ remarked, regarding her with some respect. "I think I like you."
With a crash, the great white Angel heaved its whale-like bulk out of the water and smashed down on the deck, almost capsizing the massive aircraft carrier; thrown off-balance, EVA-02 tumbled overboard, the Progressive Knife spiraling uselessly away, to sink to the bottom and become a particularly interesting marine-life habitat. On its way down, the EVA grabbed at the edge of the flight deck, trying to find a purchase, but its hand closed only around a jet fighter parked on the deck, crumpling it and pulling it overboard along with the falling EVA.
Its quarry gone, the Angel showed no more interest in the Deutschland; it slipped wetly off the deck and back into the sea, pursuing the sinking Evangelion instead.
"Well!" observed DJ as the EVA sank ineffectually toward the bottom of the Atlantic. "You certainly showed him who's in charge."
"Oh yeah?" Asuka replied. "Watch this!" She thrust the hand controls forward. The EVA responded by doing entirely nothing.
"Watch what?" DJ inquired.
"I think we're in trouble," Asuka muttered.
"You did remember that Type B equipment doesn't work underwater, right?"
"We're in trouble!" Asuka confirmed, tugging uselessly at the controls. "Don't just sit there, do something!"
"You're the great and powerful Fifth Child, aren't you? Do something brilliant!"
"I can't change the bloody laws of physics!" DJ retorted.
In the NERV commissary at Central Dogma, Lara Croft sipped machine-generated almost-tea and gazed over the paper cup's rim at Ritsuko Akagi.
"So what you're telling me," she said, in a dangerously calm tone, "is that you people lured my son over here under false pretenses, then all but arrested him, plugged him into an experimental weapon and threw him into combat without any briefing or training to speak of."
Ritsuko shifted uncomfortably under the explorer's even brown gaze and replied, "I don't know if I'd phrase it quite that way... "
"But that's what happened," Lara finished for her. "Well, you can be sure the British consulate is going to hear about this. In the meantime, you can do me the favor of releasing him."
"DJ is not a prisoner here," Ritsuko protested. "He's had the option of leaving since he arrived, and he knows it. He's chosen to stay."
Had Lara known of the virtual emotional blackmail that had been performed to persuade DJ to take EVA-01 into combat the first time, she would have been incensed by that statement; as it was, she was merely unimpressed, replying dryly, "I'm sure his options were made perfectly clear."
"Dr. Croft, we're not the Mafia here, you know," said Ritsuko indignantly. "We're not in the business of kidnapping children and forcing them to work for us. Now, it happens that DJ possesses a very rare and very special talent which is critical to the survival of mankind. You've raised him to be a very responsible young man—it's only natural that, knowing that, he'd want to do his part."
"Listen, I don't give a damn about your experiment or your problems here. I just want to tell my son I'm alive and take him home where he belongs. This is no place for him."
"Our problems are everyone's problems, Dr. Croft. We are the last line of defense—and the only effective one—against the Angels. NERV is the only thing standing between the people of Earth and a Third Impact, or worse, and DJ is an integral part of that defense. We need him here."
"If that were true, you could have just asked him to help. If you had asked, given those conditions, he would have come and I would have been all for it." Finishing her tea, Lara stood up. "But you didn't, did you? You're apparently not firm enough in your convictions to be forthright about it—instead you had to trick him into coming here. I can't, in good conscience, leave my son in the hands of people who operate that way. It doesn't speak at all well of your inclination to deal honestly with him or protect him down the line."
"You are hardly in a position to fault us for placing DJ in dangerous situations, are you?" Ritsuko retorted, coming to her feet and leaning over the table toward Lara. "Talk about the pot calling the—"
She got no further; her eyes blazing with sudden fury, Lara lashed out with a neat, compact right hook, knocking Ritsuko to the floor with a crash. All around them, the hum of lunchroom discussion stopped; Maya Ibuki and John Trussell, two tables over, stared in mute astonishment as Ritsuko sat up, rubbing her injured jaw with the back of her hand.
"Thank you, I get quite enough of that from my father," Lara said tightly, her eyes smoldering. "I don't have to take it from a bloody kidnapper."
Summoned by the commotion, two NERV security guards burst into the commissary; seeing Dr. Akagi sprawled on the floor and Lara standing over her, they immediately drew their sidearms and covered Lara, calling for her not to move.
As Ritsuko got unsteadily to her feet, Dr. Gendō Ikari entered the commissary; with a gesture, he waved the guards away, then stepped to Ritsuko's side.
"Is there a problem here, ladies?" he inquired calmly.
"This is not an improvement," DJ noted unhappily as the red EVA was almost swallowed whole by the whale-like Angel, lodging head and shoulders in its massive jaws.
"We'll be all right if I can just get us back on the carrier!" Asuka replied, frantically working the ineffectual controls.
"This doesn't look like any carrier to me!" DJ replied, looking out via the viewpanels at the monster's enormous gullet.
"Don't yell at me," Asuka snapped.
"Well, what do you want me to do, Motorhead?!" DJ demanded.
"Why do you have to be so negative?" Asuka wondered angrily. "Why can't you offer me some constructive criticism?"
"Look! You got us into this bloody whale, my love. You get us out!"
Above, on the carrier's deck, Misato watched with worried fascination as the cable paid out and out and out. "How much cable left?" she asked the deck officer.
"1,500 meters remaining," he replied.
Off to one side, an aircraft elevator delivered a British Aerospace Harrier V vectored-thrust jet to the flight deck. Looking at it, Misato realized that one of the two men in its two-seat cockpit was Ryoji Kaji.
"Ryoji!" she called into the microphone, uncertain whether to be pleased or annoyed to see him apparently preparing to render aid.
"Well, you seem to have the situation well in hand here, Katsuragi," said Ryoji over the radio. "So I'll leave you to it! I've got a delivery to make. Catch you later!"
He sketched a salute from within the plane as the pilot applied thrust and lifted away; and then they were gone.
Misato shouted a particularly choice obscenity and hurled the microphone to the deck. Being of solid German manufacture, it did not break, which only served to make her more angry.
"Any ideas?" DJ asked Asuka as the Angel swam in circles, worrying at the EVA's armored form like a particularly tough piece of chum.
"No," Asuka admitted after a moment's thought. "You?"
"Maybe." DJ worked his way back around the seat, ignoring Asuka's indignant protests, and put his hands on the controls, wincing a bit as his healing burns stung through bandages and gloves. "Help me out here; I think with both of us working at it, we can get this thing to move, even down here."
"Trust me. I wasn't thinking before—we can change the laws of physics."
"What do you think an 'Absolute Terror Field' is for?"
Asuka scowled. "One of these days you're going to be wrong, Fifth Child, and I hope like hell I'm there to see it."
She cooperated anyway.
Lara Croft stood on the catwalk in Bay Seven, looking up at the immense purple bulk of Evangelion Unit 01. She'd just come from Ikari's office, where he'd shown her films of DJ's three combat sorties and various training exercises; he'd shown her the EVA her son piloted, then excused himself, as the other two based at the facility, a black one and a blue-and-white one, entered the cage and backed into their respective lockdown bays.
The entry plugs ejected, LCL evacuated, and the two pilots emerged; even from the distance she was at, Lara could tell that they were just children themselves, probably no older than DJ.
They use children to pilot all of these things? What kind of people are they? she wondered.
She turned away and left the bay, wandering the corridors for a while before ending up in a curiously shaped lounge. It occupied the space between the corners of two wings that didn't quite form an L shape, and as such had the feeling of having been added as an afterthought (which, in fact, it had). Because of its shape, its resemblance to a similar structure on the WPI campus topside, and the way it seemed to have been wedged into the gap between the Infirmary and Operations wings, most of the NERV personnel who frequented it called it "the Wedge".
As she sat in one of the not-overwhelmingly-comfortable booths, considering all she had seen and heard about today, she noticed two people entering the lounge. Looking up, she saw that they were the two children she'd seen getting out of the other EVAs a few minutes before, dressed in street clothes, their hair damp from a quick shower.
They were, Lara saw as they approached, a boy and a girl. The girl was small, pale and delicate, with disconcertingly red eyes and light blue hair; she wore a blue skirt and white blouse that almost looked like a uniform. The boy was taller, older-looking, with long black hair and bright green eyes; he had on jeans, loafers and a WPI sweatshirt.
It was at about that moment that they seemed to take notice of her, and blinked, apparently in recognition.
"Dr. Croft?" the boy asked as they stepped closer.
Lara glanced up. "Yes?"
"Hello," the boy said, smiling slightly. "I'm Jon Ellison."
"Rei Ayanami," the girl added softly.
"We're... friends of DJ's," Jon said.
Lara nodded. "I saw you earlier. You do the same thing he does?"
"Yes," Rei answered simply.
Lara gestured to the booth. "Have a seat." Jon and Rei sat. "Your boss, what's his name, Ikari—he tells me DJ's here willingly. Is it true?"
Rei was silent for a moment. Jon glanced over and was just about to speak when she finally said, "... He is now."
Lara considered the implications of that statement for a moment, clearly getting more and more agitated as she thought about it; then she burst out, "What kind of a life is it, though? Where does he live? Is he alone? Does he have a life outside of... of this?" she asked, gesturing at the room and the headquarters beyond in general. "What kind of organization is this, that uses children as its front-line soldiers? Why DJ, why you? I don't bloody understand anything that goes on here."
"He lives next door to us, with Captain Katsuragi. I think you'd like her," Jon said, smiling slightly. "And I'm sure he does have a life of his own, but he'd know better than us. As for why we're the ones who pilot the EVAs... " He paused for a moment, glancing at Rei, who looked back at him and nodded silently. "Well... all I really know about that is that apparently we're the only ones who can. We were all born in the aftermath of the Second Impact. I don't know how it works, I just know that it's true—they have to use us, because children or not, we're the only ones who can make the EVAs work."
"It's a gift," Rei added.
Lara raised an eyebrow, looking amused at something Jon had said earlier. "This Captain Katsuragi is a woman?"
"Yes," Jon replied.
Lara chuckled. "They grow up so fast," she said wryly. "He's off base now, they tell me."
Jon nodded. "He and Captain Katsuragi are meeting the fourth member of our team at sea—she's on her way over from Germany with her EVA by ship. They should all be back tonight."
"Not a combat assignment, then?"
"Oh, no, not at all. I'm sure DJ's perfectly safe—in fact, he's probably bored stiff right about now."
"Don't get any funny ideas," Asuka warned DJ.
"What?" DJ replied, distracted by the uninformative warning.
"Just concentrate on moving the EVA."
And, indeed, they were moving, slowly but surely, the red EVA plodding down the Angel's throat, trailing cable in its wake. The power cable sawed ominously against the monster's closed teeth as they pulled it through, but the tough insulation held up, so they kept going, crawling ever deeper into the fleshy darkness.
"What are we doing this for, anyway?"
"We're looking for the core. On the first couple of Angels I dealt with, we were lucky enough that it was on the outside, but that wasn't the case with the last one and apparently not this one either; which means it's got to be in here somewhere."
"And then what, when we find it?"
DJ grinned. "Did you notice the little radioactivity symbols painted on the two missiles strapped to that plane you grabbed on the way down?"
The color drained out of Asuka's face.
"Hello, hello, Misato, can you hear me?" DJ's voice crackled from the radio panel.
"DJ? Are you down there too?!" Misato cried, snatching up the microphone.
"Unfortunately, yes. Listen, that plane we grabbed on our way off the carrier, can you get Admiral Keller to give us the failsafe codes for the two nuclear cruise missiles it was carrying?"
Keller, overhearing, ordered Commander Müller to find out which plane it had been and get those codes. Misato, eyes wide, said, "You're insane!"
"So I've been told. You have any better ideas, now's the time."
Misato's astonishment slowly melted away, replaced by a sly, almost feral glee, and she replied, "Not a one, kid. Go for it. Our signal won't be able to reach them from up here, though."
"Relaying through EVA-02's radio system should work," DJ replied. "Just be ready to reel us up in a hurry."
"Transmitting the codes now," Commander Müller reported.
"There you are, you bastard," DJ muttered as, on the other side of the translucent stomach lining, the glowing red core appeared. EVA-02 deployed its second Progressive Knife at his command; slowly, painstakingly, DJ and Asuka sliced open the stomach, then the outer layer of the core. Then, putting the knife away, they made EVA-02 gently pry the two cruise missiles from the undercarriage of the smashed jet, discarding it and plugging the missiles like cardiac electrodes into the Angel's core.
DJ cranked the output power on the EVA's radio transmitter up to max, crossed his fingers, and transmitted the failsafes; the warheads responded with acknowledgement signals and began a thirty-second countdown.
"Let's get the hell out of here," DJ and Asuka said to each other as one, turning the EVA and heading for the mouth.
Just as they did so, there came a sudden, resounding shock, and the EVA tumbled end-over-end toward the front of the Angel, dragged up by the sudden tension on the power cable.
"The cable just ran out!" Misato called. "Get out of there, you'll capsize the carrier!"
"A work in progress, Misato, my darling," DJ replied through his teeth as the EVA slammed back-first into the Angel's closed teeth. A sudden wrenching jar, and all was silent for an instant—then the interior lights went red and the 1:00.00 countdown started again.
"Oh no!" Asuka cried. "The cable's snapped!"
"You said you wanted to be here when I made a mistake, love," DJ observed, gritting his teeth and pushing against the hand controls. "This just might be it."
"I take it back!" Asuka declared.
Turning the EVA around, DJ and Asuka crouched it and drove its hands into the gaps between the Angel's teeth, levering the jaws apart. As their desperation increased, so did their mutual synchronization with the machine, and the EVA's strength increased proportionately. As the count hit 0:35.00, the Angel's jaw muscles gave way with a deep tearing noise, and the jaws swung open.
Deep within the Angel, the two 10-kiloton tactical nuclear warheads detonated.
Misato Katsuragi cried out inarticulately as the winch on the carrier's deck retrieved the frayed, broken end of the power cable at the same moment as a titanic waterspout erupted two hundred meters off the Deutschland's port bow. For a terrible few seconds, all was silence.
Then a shadow appeared on the aft flight deck, grew larger and larger, and, with a resounding crash that dented the deck, EVA-02 slammed down on its feet, dropping into a crouch, then falling to its knees and sprawling, face-first, powerless, and steaming, full-length on the flight deck.
A cheer went up from the men and women of the Deutschland's crew as the entry plug popped out and two shaken but unharmed pilots emerged.
Gendō Ikari picked up his ringing desk phone. "Yes?"
"Kaji here," came Kaji's voice. "The operative who met me at the airport indicated there was some problem?"
"Lara Croft is alive," Ikari told him. "She's here, now."
"Damn!" Kaji replied. "I knew I should have checked."
"No matter. Trapping her for the time she was trapped served its purpose just as well. Her son will not leave the program willingly now; he has too much time and energy invested in it. However, she would easily recognize you if you were to put in an appearance, and would undoubtedly be quite angry with you, so I think it best if you keep away until she leaves."
"When will that be?"
"I will let you know when she's gone. Do you have the samples?"
"Everything's with me and in good condition. Phase Two of the Human Instrumentality Program is proceeding on schedule."
"Excellent. I look forward to meeting with you. Keep out of sight and wait for my all-clear. Goodbye, Mr. Kaji."
Ikari hung up and sat back.
The Croft family as a whole was starting to become quite inconvenient.
"Wonderful girl!" DJ, back in suit, trenchcoat and hat, remarked to Misato as the two walked down the gangway from the freshly docked Deutschland into the gathering evening in New Providence Harbor, Rhode Island. "Either I'm going to kill her, or I'm beginning to like her."
Misato chuckled. "She can be a little abrasive, but you'd better get used to her—she's going to be living with us."
DJ sighed exaggeratedly, shoving his hands in his pockets and slouching. "She's the sort of girl my mum always warned me about."
One of the white Land Rovers used by NERV as staff vehicles was parked at dockside; presently, the driver's door opened, and Ritsuko Akagi emerged, sporting a nasty-looking, darkening bruise on the left side of her jaw.
"Hi, Ritsuko—hey, what happened?" Misato asked.
"Run into a door or something?" DJ wondered.
"Not exactly," came a voice so familiar, but so unexpected, it almost stopped DJ's heart; and as he stared, dumbfounded, at the Land Rover, Lara Croft got out of the passenger side and walked smiling around the front end.
Silently, DJ ran to her, and mother and son enjoyed a long-overdue embrace.
Asuka, walking up beside Misato, asked, "Who's that?"
"DJ's mother," was the reply.
"Oh. Does that means he's leaving?"
"I don't know," Misato replied, biting her lip. "I don't know."
Asuka takes charge.
Truss does laundry.
Dr. Ikari shows some faith.
Misato and DJ come closer together.
And circumstances threaten to push them all apart.
Coming in seven days:
Neon Exodus Evangelion 1:7
Alone in the Dark
"It's part of you, after all, and to me, that makes it beautiful."