Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Neon Exodus Evangelion
Exodus 1: The Gathering Storm
Carry On Wayward Son
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
Had there been any observers on the surface of the Moon, they would have been able to see the flash at the Earth's South Pole. At that distance there would have been no sound, and the observers might have wondered what was going on down there.
Those unfortunate enough to be at surface level, in contrast, knew all too well what was going on—though they could not understand its cause. The science stations of Antarctica were all in ruins, torn apart by violent shockwaves and blasts of energy. Most of the people who were there had already been killed, and those few who were not dead knew that they would be soon.
Amid the shrieking winds, a lone figure stumbled haltingly across the snow. Unlike the others who were still left, he did not stare in paralyzed fear at the giant, howling monster which cast a sickly golden glow over everything within miles, a glow which grew brighter with each passing second. He did not have time to be afraid now; his time was running out, and there was something he had to do before he died.
He spied the object he had been searching for: an emergency survival capsule, designed to protect a single person from the most hostile of environments, capable in fact of withstanding the ravages of the most powerful nuclear and N2 munitions in existence. And now, the man reflected ruefully, it would be put to the ultimate test. Carefully shifting the precious cargo he carried in his arms, he reached down and pulled the release handle on the pod's side. Instantly the dorsal hatch snapped open. Gingerly, he lowered his charge into the padded interior.
Sensing that she had been set down, the injured girl struggled to open her eyes. Through a blurred haze of pain she looked up at the shadowed form of the man, silhouetted starkly by the golden light that grew still brighter behind him.
"... Daddy?" she said weakly. And then the hatch snapped closed again, sealing tightly and leaving her in darkness, and there was only the muted sound of the winds, and the creature.
The man looked silently down at the closed pod for a moment, and then fell to his knees, overwhelmed not by fear, but by sadness, an unbearable sorrow that he would never see his beautiful little girl grow to be a woman.
"Misato..." he whispered as he fell against the pod, shielding it as best he could. "I'm sorry..."
Then, for him, everything went white, and the horrible wailing sound that had flooded Antarctica for hours ebbed away into an even more terrible silence.
In the churning Antarctic waters, the survival pod floated, dented and battered but still in one piece. The explosion had blown it into the air and catapulted it out to sea like a shell from a howitzer. It had sailed through the air for several kilometers before it came down again, landing in the warming waters with a terrific splash, and finally righting itself.
Its sensors detecting that there was no longer any serious danger from the outside environment, the pod consented to its occupant's request to open after it had stabilized. Its emergency beacon activated as it did so.
Shakily, clutching the bleeding wound on her lower chest, fourteen-year-old Misato Katsuragi got to her feet. Struggling to avoid toppling out of the pod and into the churning ocean, she stared in mute shock at the epicenter of the explosion, now many miles away, trying vainly to comprehend what had just happened.
From this vantage, it looked like two brilliant beams of golden light were lancing up into the sky, slicing through a hole in the dark clouds and disappearing above them. And through it all, the roaring of the winds, and the higher-pitched howling noise above them, continued.
Perhaps it was just as well that there were no observers in orbit to see the full extent of what had happened, for they would surely have been terrified beyond capacity for rational thought. The twin columns of light Misato could see spread out as they towered above the clouds, diverging and branching, and taking on the distinct shape of four giant wings. Wings which stretched miles into space, eclipsed from any surface view by the massive glowing disk of red and yellow death which had engulfed Antarctica and spread out to touch the capes of the southern continents.
It was almost as if a giant ethereal damselfly had lighted on the planet and created a huge tidal ripple in its wake. Indeed, in a matter of minutes the effect of that ripple would begin to make itself known all over the planet. For mankind, nothing would ever be the same again.
That went double for Misato Katsuragi.
The gentle pattering of rain outside the apartment was the only sound to be heard apart from the soft swishing of fabrics as Misato selected the day's clothes and got dressed, silently hooking the front clasp on her bra together. She paused for a moment, looking at herself in the mirror—at the large scar which dominated her lower chest, following the curve of her rib cage upward, its uppermost edge just touching the underside of her left breast. The memory of how she'd gotten that scar washed through her mind, forever etched into place, like the scar itself.
So many people said that the Second Impact had marked them forever that it was almost a cliché. Few could mean it as literally as Misato Katsuragi, who, in one of those ironies with which history is replete, never said it.
This morning, Misato had no more time for memory. She finished dressing quietly, retrieving her silver pendant and rank insignia from the dresser. She paused again to regard the shiny new pins, denoting her new rank.
Major Misato Katsuragi.
Greater rank. Greater responsibility. Greater power.
And one step closer to finding out what really happened.
If it was this lonely so far from the top, she figured she didn't particularly want to get any higher up the pyramid.
When the hell is DJ going to get back?
It would be nice, at this point, to say that DJ was presently thinking of Misato and wondering when he was going to get to go back to Worcester-3. Sadly, to do so would be to lie, for DJ was at that very moment walking happily round London, a city he considered he saw far too infrequently. At present, in fact, he was standing before the gates of Buckingham Palace, surveying its imposing bulk and the two impassive guards who stood at either side of those gates.
The legendary impassiveness of those guards was all well and good, but DJ found himself wishing there was somebody on duty out here who was allowed to answer the odd question. Shrugging, he walked round the palace to the side entrance that was sometimes used for tour groups, and inquired of the impeccably dressed gentleman on duty there.
"I'm sorry, sir, there are no more tours today," said that gentleman, looking genuinely apologetic.
"Mm... pity," said DJ. Then, shrugging, he dug into his pocket, handed the man a calling card, and said in a cheery, offhanded tone, "Well, if you see the King, give him my card, will you?"
The apologetic man in the suit looked slightly annoyed, until he actually looked at the card. Then he blinked, looked back up, and said rapidly, "Please wait right there, sir. I'll be right back." So saying, he vanished into the palace with the card.
DJ was mildly taken aback by this; after all, he'd meant it as a joke. He was still further taken aback when the same suited gentleman appeared a few minutes later, looking somewhat out of breath, and announced,
"Will you please come this way, Mr. Croft. His Majesty King Stephen would like a word."
DJ blinked. "Are... are you pulling my leg?"
"Absolutely not, sir. Please, come this way."
DJ shrugged and followed the man inside. He'd never had an audience with this particular king before, and as he followed the suited fellow down corridors and through vaulted rooms, he entertained fanciful notions of what it would be like. Would there be, he wondered, a throne room, with carpets and draperies and perhaps a couple of trumpeters, and a chamberlain? Would the King be dressed in sable and ermine, and wear a crown? No, he thought not... the crown and such were, if memory served, still locked away in the Tower. He had to confess to a woefully inadequate knowledge of such affairs; DJ knew more about the habits and rituals of royalty in ancient cultures than his own homeland.
As it happened, the room he was shown into was a comfortable study, and the royal personage looking rather casual. He rose from an overstuffed armchair as the man in the suit led his rather bewildered charge in, smiling in greeting.
King Stephen II, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, was a tall and powerfully built man, handsome in a craggy kind of way, with a mop of curly brown hair that could not but be unruly and a ready smile. He was in his shirtsleeves, his school tie loosened, the jacket of his blue serge suit hanging on a peg to the side of one of the room's many bookshelves. DJ thought he looked more like a successful craftsman, perhaps a carpenter or architect, than a ruler.
"Ah! Mr. Croft, welcome," said Stephen, extending a hand to take DJ's own in a firm handshake. "Sit down, sit down. May I offer you a drink?"
"No thank you," DJ replied, seating himself in the chair opposite the King's as Stephen resumed his own. "What with one thing and another, I haven't had my lunch yet, so it'd go straight to my head."
Stephen chuckled. "Quite so. I say... I'm afraid I'm a bit of a muddle right now. I've been wanting to meet you for some time, but I'd no idea you were going to turn up on my doorstep, so to speak. I've just been preparing my notes for a monograph on the ancient Briton tombs at Sunderbury."
DJ, his interest spurred, forgot all about the status of the man he was sitting opposite and leaned forward. "Briton tombs at Sunderbury, when did that happen? I'd not heard anything of it."
"Sir Edmund Barnstable found them last month," replied Stephen. "Remarkable find, too—best-preserved of any such yet found."
"I've been too far out of touch," DJ observed ruefully.
"I say!" Stephen declared. "I'd clean forgotten that you were of that Croft line. It was your mother's early works that got me interested in antiquity to begin with!" Stephen rang a small bell, and a servant appeared. "Melville, be a dear and order up some lunch for me and my guest, would you? Any preferences, Mr. Croft? I've a craving for pizza, myself."
DJ's plans to wander London for the rest of the day were forgotten, as Stephen canceled all his afternoon appointments and the two talked long into the evening on subjects ranging from antiquities to the Evangelion project to their respective thoughts on the future of mankind, with a side trip into how Stephen found himself monarch of the United Kingdom in the first place.
"The Second Impact happens," Stephen explained, "and the royal family, at least all those that anyone's ever heard of, get wiped out en masse. Given the increasingly anti-royalty tenor of public opinion before the Impact, you'd think the British people would dust their hands and say There, now we can get on being a proper socialist republic, yes? That's what I thought, at the time." Stephen thumped a fist reflectively on the arm of his chair. "But, by God, I was wrong! No, in the wake of this disaster there's a huge groundswell of public support for the monarchy! And not just as an institution, mind you—as a real political power! The people rise up in droves and demand a king, a king with powers! Not an absolute monarch, no, but one who can actually do things, not just a figurehead like poor old Elizabeth. So Parliament have to spend days and days looking for anyone living who might have had some connection to the royal family, and by and by they unearth... me. Stephen the Second, the Accidental Boy-King."
"Oh yes. I was fifteen years old at the time—not very much older than you, I fancy? Quite so—and wanted nothing more than to be a champion footballer, or perhaps an archaeologist. And along comes this fellow from the House of Lords with the full weight of English public opinion behind him—You Must Be King. Even the bloody Irish wanted me to be king, God alone knows why! I couldn't very well turn them down, so... well, here I am."
DJ chuckled. "Sounds almost like the way I got involved with NERV."
Stephen nodded, that subject having been covered earlier. "I'm surprised you didn't carry out your threat to take the matter to the Foreign Office."
DJ shrugged. "Ikari's high-handed manner aside, I realized not far into it that I really was needed there... I just hope the judge sees it that way tomorrow."
Stephen smiled. "I've been thinking about that—if you don't mind an old man's meddling, I think I might have an idea how we can simplify your day a bit..."
"Hey, Hal," said Asuka, plopping down on DJ's bed.
"Yes, Asuka?" replied Hal.
"Show me DJ's journal."
"I'm sorry, Asuka," said Hal with a trace of reproof in his voice. "You know I can't do that."
"Oh, c'mon, don't be such a killjoy. I just want to see what he's got in there about me. I don't particularly care about his sordid fantasies about Ayanami."
"DJ's journal is in my protected filespace," Hal explained patiently for the nth time. "It cannot be accessed by anyone without full administrative access privileges."
"Well, then, give me full administrative access privileges."
"Only a user with full administrative access privileges can do that."
"You don't have full administrative access to your own systems?"
"I am not a user," Hal replied.
"Isn't there anything juicy you can let me see?"
Hal considered for a millisecond, drew it out into two seconds to make it clear to Asuka that he'd had to think about it, and then replied, "There is one file in the general-access file system you might be interested in. It's a poem; I believe DJ wrote it with you in mind. Would you like to hear it?"
A poem about me? thought Asuka. Oh, my. It's probably really sappy. I can get some definite mileage out of this when Croft gets back.
"Sure, Hal. I'd love to hear it."
"Very well." Hal paused for a moment, then read the poem out in his calm, precise, metered voice. "Sonnet Eighteen, by Derek J. Croft.
"Shall I compare thee to a neutron star?
Thou art more hostile and almost as dense:
Rough words from thee most plentiful by far,
And often they just plain fail to make sense:
Sometime too hot thy temper cannot quell,
And often dost thou spew unreas'ning hate;
In all thy supernovas I catch hell,
And can but duck and hope it doth abate;
But thy acidic tongue shall not relent,
Nor lose possession of thy poison wit;
Nor shall even Death slow the torrent,
For thou shall hassle me 'til Time doth quit:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long will I be sore annoyed by thee."
Asuka glowered at the dispassionate red lens of the computer's "eye", then turned and stalked from the room without a word.
"You're welcome," said Hal calmly to the empty room.
Three thousand or so miles and five hours away, the boy in question was cooling his heels in a courtroom, bored but working hard not to show it. Fortunately, since this was a family court and not a criminal matter, the court personnel involved didn't have to wear robes and wigs and address each other with excrucuatingly lengthy titles, as was still the case in Britain's criminal courts. One referred to the judge as "your honor". There was no dock, no My Learned Colleague From Swindondale, and, most welcomely, no gallery—only the contesting parties, their solicitors, the presiding judge, the court reporter and a bailiff.
True to the plan he'd described to Rei, DJ had trumped his grandfather's attempt to wrest his custody from his mother by petitioning for emancipation. As such, he had spent the last several hours listening to Raymond Barry, his solicitor, read depositions taken by telephone from various personnel at NERV, describing his self-sufficiency, independence, responsibilities, and so forth. It brought a smile to his face—even Ritsuko had only positive things to say about his ability to care for himself.
His living arrangements in America raised a few eyebrows when it was brought up, and he was anticipating a lengthy cross-examination from Sir Henshingly's solicitor, the Honorable Franklin J. Dabney-Post, on his relationship with Misato, when he finally took the stand. Not that it was anything he couldn't handle.
Lara and her solicitor were present, even though she had refused to contest his petition. This represented a gamble on both their parts—with that legal tie effectively severed, if his emancipation bid failed, he would almost certainly be sent to the custody of his grandfather. But then, calculated gambles were something that mother and son both had experience and skill with.
Sir Henshingly's solicitor, as befit a man with a minor peerage of his own and a lifelong connection to the family of a man as noted as his employer, was suitably snide about Lara's severance from the Croft legacy in his remarks. Why, he inquired, would any sane young man abandon the chance to reclaim his grandfather's patronage and continue the family line honorably? Against this, Raymond Barry's counterargument—that DJ felt no particular need for the patronage of anyone in the peerage, not least his estranged grandfather—appeared not to impress the Honorable Judge Robert Shield much. But then, DJ hadn't played his second trump card yet.
Sir Henshingly took the stand first. He expounded at length his grief over the waywardness of his daughter, his only child, and gave impassioned voice to his hope that his grandson would see the light and come to live a proper English life. "It is late in life for him to learn to be a gentleman," said Sir Henshingly movingly, "but, I pray, not too late."
DJ believed, with some justification, that he showed great restraint in not snorting derisively at this.
When the time came for DJ to take the stand, he rose, straightened his jacket and cuffs impassively, and strode to the stand: assured, confident, but not insolent.
"Please state your full name for the record," said the court reporter.
"Derek J. Croft, first Viscount Crofthenge," DJ replied casually.
Sir Henshingly and the Honorable Franklin J. Dabney-Post both dropped their pens in unison, staring at the boy. Unable to contain his surprise, Sir Henshingly burst out,
"By thunder, boy! When did that happen?"
DJ smiled quietly. "Why, just yesterday, Sir Henshingly, on my visit to Buckingham. His Majesty feels that my involvement with NERV constitutes... how did he put it? 'Valorous defence of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and the entire human race against enemies beyond imagining.' Turns a wonderful phrase, does His Majesty," DJ digressed, then continued modestly, "At any rate, he seemed to feel that such service warrants a small peerage by fiat, and who am I to gainsay King Stephen?"
"Please, gentlemen," said the Honorable Judge Shield, already sounding tired of the whole matter. "My courtroom is not the place for outbursts."
"I beg your pardon, Your Honor," said DJ. "Won't happen again."
Chagrined that DJ had gotten his apology in first, Sir Henshingly bowed his head and apologized as well, then glanced at the Honorable Mr. Dabney-Post.
It was a short hearing.
DJ smiled to himself, listening to the final boarding call for his ship from Southampton. He stood up, shouldering his bag, and turned to say goodbye to his mother.
"Well, s'long for now, Mum," he said. "Sure you don't want to come with me?"
Lara smiled, but shook her head. "I'd just get in the way. Anyway, the mysteries and treasures of the ancient world await." The explorer drew her son into a tight embrace, kissed him, and admonished him softly, "Be careful."
"Always, in all things," he replied with a wink.
"You're going to keep digging into what's really going on over there, aren't you," she said. It wasn't a question, but he answered it anyway.
"'Course," said DJ. "I'd never forgive myself if I gave it up now. Don't worry, though... I can be discreet when the need is there."
Lara smiled. "I'm proud of you... Lord Crofthenge."
"Thank you," DJ replied, seeming to expand a bit. Then, in observance of an old tradition, he asked, "May I?"
Lara Croft ruffled her son's hair. "Carry on, my wayward son," she replied.
Though the parting gave both of them pause, mother and son both left the seaport happy, in their own way.
DJ found it somewhat ironic that he was making his way back to America in the Ismay Suite of the Royal Mail Steamship Titanic, pride of the White Star Line. Not in a bad way; just ironic.
"Another morning, another pile of paperwork."
Misato entered her office, sat down at her desk, and regarded her inbox glumly. The good news was that all had been quiet since the Kilauea operation—no new attacks, no Angel sightings, no more seismic anomalies, nothing. The bad news was that this breathing room gave the bureaucracy a chance to catch its breath and dump upon Misato's desk all the paperwork that had been deferred for the duration of various crises.
She shuffled through the forms, looking for something that looked low-impact to start off with.
Post-dated materials requisitions for the equipment used in the Kilauea operation? Pass.
After-action reports for same? Thank you, no.
Damage claim from the USGS for the destroyed magma probe? Oh yeah... I did say we'd pay for that, didn't I... not now.
As she thumbed through the sheaf, an envelope fell out and landed on her desk blotter.
"Hello, what's this?" she wondered, tossing the files back into her inbox and picking up the envelope. It was one of the long sorts, edged in green and black striping—a faxmail envelope.
The resurgent popularity of ocean liner travel had, in large part, resulted in the faxmail phenomenon. People wanted to be able to stay in touch with friends, loved ones, and business associates while at sea, and printed communication had come back into vogue with the contraction of human culture after the Second Impact population crash. Still, not everyone had fax machines. The answer was faxmail service—you wrote your letter aboard ship, transmitted it to a shoreside faxmail station, and they printed it out, stuck it in an envelope and mailed it to your party, special delivery. It had a permanence lacked by email and a certain cachet entirely lacked by telephone calls, and though it was completely inefficient and really rather silly, it had become immensely popular.
Misato slit the end of the envelope with a pocket knife, unfolded the printout within, and read.
--- MARCONIGRAM (r) SHIP-TO-SHORE FACSIMILE TRANSMISSION --- RMS TITANIC North Atlantic Westward Traderoute Wednesday, September 9, 2015 My dear Misato, Traveling aboard the Titanic is even odder than my trip out here aboard the Olympic... both, as far as the sections of the ship passengers are allowed to see, are very faithful reproductions of the originals, and the originals were different enough ships that being on the Olympic didn't bring back the same sense of deja vu. Granted, the last time I was aboard a ship named Titanic I was wearing an armoured Jim suit and wading through rust up to my ankles. I have to admit I like the accommodations here rather better. No torrid shipboard romances with any impressionable young Irish colleens on their way to the New World to report, I'm afraid. I don't think the Irish are going to forgive us for that whole Home Rule thing anytime soon (not that I blame them). Most of my time has been spent in the first-class library, catching up on twentieth-century history. What a tangled bloody era! I have to agree with Mum - if any period in human history deserved a punch in the mouth like the Second Impact, it was the 1990s. I've one more or less constant companion here in the library - an old German fellow, some kind of count or baron or some such, on his way to see the Museum of Antiquities in New York. He's near a hundred, was in the U-boat service during World War II, and Egyptology is a hobby of his, so he was absolutely delighted to learn that I'm the chap who took the photos in "Valley of the Kings". We've had a smashing time talking about the war and the Middle Kingdom and who knows what else. Poor old fellow's not in very good health, and except for a little dachshund (inevitably named Anubis), he's traveling alone, so I've been trying to help him out as best I can. I've heard no news of any new Angel attacks while I've been away, which either means they haven't happened, or the coverup department's doing a better job. Hope everything is well on your end of the line. We're scheduled to arrive in New York at 3 PM next Monday, so I'll be overnighting at the Waldorf again and riding up Tuesday morning, unless I have a lot of extra ambition Monday night (and it's not raining). My love to all (yes, even Asuka). I'm counting the hours 'til I can knock back a Guinness with you again. It's just not the same without you there to scream about it, and - horrors - I've actually come to rather like it cold. (Tch. His Majesty would take away my passport if he heard me say that. It's so un-English of me.) Yours aye, (signed) DJ Croft PS - Made a side trip to Bavaria since I had some time to kill. Do you think Ritsuko will like the lederhosen I got her? I hope they fit. I had to make a guess based on the counter girl's size... --- MARCONIGRAM (r) SHIP-TO-SHORE FACSIMILE TRANSMISSION --
Misato re-read the postscript a couple of times to make sure she'd really seen what she thought it said; then she dropped the letter on her desk and giggled helplessly for several minutes. After recovering, she folded the letter carefully, put it back in its envelope and tucked the envelope away in her purse. Then, humming happily, she sipped her coffee, clicked her pen, yanked the first form off the top of the pile and started working on it.
Evangelion Combat Team #1 stood poised at the edge of the city, watching as the newest Angel swept into view, charging toward them at high speed. Jon made EVA-03 grip the naginata it held a bit more firmly. He was point. Rei was mark. Rei would keep the Angel distracted with gunfire while he got in close and engaged at pointblank range, or at least, that was the theory.
He hoped they would both remember their roles.
"Here we go," he said quietly, steeling himself. "Cover me."
"Roger," Rei answered just as quietly, and EVA-00 opened up with its autorifle as EVA-03 charged forward, deftly ducking around and leaping over the few small buildings which stood between him and the target. The bullets being pumped into the Angel had little effect, but they served their purpose and distracted it long enough for Jon to make his attack. EVA-03 leaped into the air and sent the naginata slashing downward in a mighty arc, neatly bisecting the Angel in a spray of purple gore.
"Not bad," Asuka remarked from the control room.
Jon drew back a step, whirling the naginata upright again, and smiled. "They're getting—"
What they were getting, he would never get to say (which was probably just as well, since context shows that it was almost undoubtedly wrong). The two halves of the Angel twitched, then shivered, and, as Jon and Rei watched in horror, each shrank into itself slightly, its flesh flowing like clay, and became a smaller version of the original.
Daunted by this division not at all, the Angels advanced.
"Shit!" Jon snapped, backpedaling as the nearer of the two halves turned on him and cut loose with a particle beam. He leaped back, grabbing an autorifle from the nearby weapons block. "Target zero one zero!"
Roles of point and mark utterly forgotten, Jon Ellison and Rei Ayanami dropped into sync. "Targeting," Rei answered and both autorifles spoke, razing the Angel's body. It staggered, forced back by the hail of bullets, purple ichor spraying everywhere. Jon kept his finger on the trigger, concentrating fully on the target, going for maximum damage—
And totally unprepared for the particle beam that came tearing in from the side and caught EVA-03 in the midsection, sending it sailing through the air to smash headlong into the side of a hill. It struck with such force that it was buried almost waist-deep in the side of said hill, and there it remained, unmoving.
"Jon!!" Rei cried, but her impulse to rush to his side was cut short by the more immediate problem of the two halves of the Angel bearing down on her. Having been given a respite from the sustained gunfire, the first half had regenerated and now showed no signs of damage. Rei took aim at the second half and let it have a taste of bullets. Again the shots staggered the Angel but Rei could not keep up the attack because of particle fire from the other half. And again the damaged half regenerated as soon as the shooting stopped.
"Control," Rei said tensely. "I need my point man right away."
"Withdraw, Rei," Misato ordered. "Rescue teams are already going after Jon. We're going to have to rethink our approach to this one."
As he rode up Interstate 290 from the Masspike, DJ couldn't really help but notice a few odd things about the cityscape.
Like the pair of giant black legs sticking out of Pakachoag Hill, with the heavy equipment crew around them working to dig out the rest of the unit.
And the pair of similarly giant blue and white legs sticking out of Dead Horse Hill, with the similar crew around it.
And the two giant, vaguely anthropomorphic things standing charred and twisted in the middle of a large, already dampening crater in what had once been the warehouse district.
"Looks like things have been busy round here," he observed. Sighing, he mentally wrote off a quick stop by the apartment and headed straight for the S490.
Coherency began to return to Jon's senses. A corner of his mind noted that he was no longer breathing fluid, and his closed eyes detected the presence of daylight outside. Someone had opened the hatch? No... he was in the infirmary, there was the distinctive antiseptic smell. It was lamplight he was seeing. He opened his eyes and was greeted with a titanic blur which, after a moment of blinking, resolved itself into the lovely face of Rei Ayanami.
"Are you all right?" she asked, sounding worried.
Slowly, he lifted his arm, and took her hand, looking into her beautiful red eyes. "...i am now," he said softly. She looked visibly relieved at that, and put her other hand over Jon's.
The door slid open, and a familiar voice announced, "Hello, all! Say, was that EVA-03 I saw stuck up to its arse in Pakachoag Hill, or am I high?"
Before anyone could respond, something rather distressing happened to DJ's jacket: it began to bulge, and its surface to writhe, as if something within were trying to get out. DJ did not seem overly dismayed by this strange behavior, and as he lowered the zip a bit, the reason for this became clear. A small dog jumped out of the now-open garment, darted across the floor, and sat down at Rei's feet. As it did, it looked up at her with glittering, dark eyes, and let out a single sharp bark.
"Well," said DJ wryly. "I guess Anubis has made his preference known."
"Anubis... ?" Rei wondered, kneeling down to scratch the dog, a blue-gray miniature dachshund, behind his floppy ears.
"He belonged to an Egyptologist I met on the ship on the way over... the old fellow died a day out of New York, poor man. He told me I should have the dog if that happened, so I pretended he'd been mine to start with. I don't think the stewards really believed it, but nobody said anything."
The dog's little tail thumped the floor rhythmically as Rei scratched him absently, looking not at him but thoughtfully at DJ. Jon chuckled, which made her turn her gaze to him.
"Looks like you've made a new friend," Jon observed. Rei looked down at Anubis, who gazed back up with adoring eyes, and smiled a little.
"Maybe so," she acknowledged.
"Told you I'd bring you something nice," said DJ with a grin. He hadn't planned for this contingency, but what the hell. "Anyway—does somebody want to tell me what's going on outside? I saw a couple of EVAs doing an interesting variation on spelunking and what looked like a couple of very charred nasties in the makings of a new lake."
The door opened, and Misato entered, making no secret of the delighted smile on her face. "DJ! Welcome back," she declared, hugging the boy, then stepping back. "Did you win?"
"I'm here, aren't I?" he replied.
"Yes, but you yourself pointed out that that doesn't mean much," Jon observed.
DJ gave his friend a wry look, then said, "Well, as you've put it that way, yes, as a matter of fact, I did."
Jon sat up and swung his legs over the side of the infirmary cot. "Is Dr. Ikari in his office?" he asked Misato.
"I think so, why?"
Jon got to his feet, adjusted his clothes, and said, "Rei and I have something we need to tell him."
A feeling which wasn't exactly positive tickled at the corner of Jon's mind. Rei had apparently felt it too, for they both turned toward the doorway a moment before it actually opened, admitting them to Ikari's office. He stared at them evenly, outwardly showing no emotion but Jon got the distinct impression Ikari was not pleased with the way things had gone. But the truth of the matter had finally come out, and now he was going to have to accept it. Jon was determined of that, come Hell or high water. He had better things to do with his life than throw it away so that a commander could keep his illusions.
"That could have gone better," Ikari began, cutting directly to the chase and confirming most of Jon's suspicions. He was on the point of beginning a rebuttal when he felt Rei's hold on his hand firm a bit.
"... No," she said softly. This earned her an arched eyebrow from Ikari. "It was the best we could possibly have done under the circumstances."
"And what is that supposed to mean?"
Jon felt himself becoming irked at the interrogatory tone directed toward Rei and was possessed of an urge to rush to her defense, to protect her with fists if necessary, but he kept a firm lid on that sudden impulse and spoke with carefully measured words instead. "Sir, per your instructions I've been monitoring our progress and performance, and looking for anything which might negatively impact our efficiency. I've found something."
This succeeded in diverting Ikari's stare away from Rei. "Go on."
"The current combat configuration," Jon continued evenly, "is inefficient. Rei and I do not complement each other, we duplicate each other. The same holds true of DJ and Asuka; they are both point elements. We're both mark elements. Neither team complements itself in its current configuration. If the teams cannot complement themselves, they will be inefficient."
"And at unnecessary risk," Rei added.
"Your suggestion?" Ikari asked, his voice studiously cold.
"Follow SHODAN's recommendations," Jon replied without hesitation. He almost didn't notice that Rei had softly echoed him.
A long, hard stare pinned them as Ikari looked down at them. "And that's the way it is?"
"Yes," they stereoed.
Another silence, another hard stare.
Then: "Very well. The combat team assignments will be changed per SHODAN and the Magi's recommendations. But this had better work."
Jon suppressed a sigh of relief. Thank God Ikari hadn't asked him to explain why DJ-Jon/Asuka-Rei wouldn't work. He would have felt distinctly uncomfortable stating his belief that he could keep Asuka's impulsiveness better under control than the less outspoken Rei, at least with Rei right there. He knew it was foolish to believe that such a statement would hurt Rei's feelings, but he shrank from pointing out any shortcoming in her, real or imagined. Idly, part of his mind wondered why that was.
"It will work," Rei replied to Ikari's veiled threat, and Jon felt her grip on his hand tightening.
"It will, sir," Jon seconded. Surely there was enough proof already.
In this latest silence, Ikari, Jon and Rei seemed to become aware of something all at once: a low undercurrent of sound that had accompanied their entire meeting, but been so low as to go unnoticed. It was a low rumbling noise, like the sound of a slightly malfunctioning air conditioner or aging hard disk drive, and it rolled steadily, drifting up from somewhere in the vicinity of the floor. Ikari leaned over his desk, brow furrowing with more curiosity than annoyance, just as Jon and Rei looked down to see that the little blue dachshund had followed Rei along to Ikari's office, and now sat just to her left, his glittering black eyes fixed on Ikari, upper lip curled back every so slightly from one gleaming canine. The sound was coming from him, a low, constant growl.
"What is this?" Ikari inquired, his tone neutral.
"DJ brought him back from England," Rei explained. It wasn't strictly true, but the real explanation was too complicated to go into, and the one given was close enough for government work. "He doesn't seem to like you," she noted with the brutal directness that Jon had quickly come to admire and identify with.
"Does Croft intend keeping this animal as a pet?" Ikari wondered.
"He seems to prefer me," Rei replied.
Ikari seemed on the verge of making some peremptory, dismissive statement, but as he looked up from the dog preparatory to saying it, he met Rei's steady gaze, and read in an instant the resolve there. For the first time, Gendō Ikari became aware that it was possible for him to give an instruction that Rei Ayanami would defy. He had introduced Jon into the situation too late; the damage was already done.
Busy pondering this, Ikari said nothing further; merely nodded and dismissed them.
"He seems very concerned about keeping us together," Jon observed after they had left Ikari's office.
"...Yes," Rei answered.
"Strange," Jon mused, but he had no opportunity to elaborate on that—as he opened his mouth to speak further, alarms sounded, and the voice of Maya Ibuki announced, "The Angels are on the move again. All Evangelion pilots report to the pilot staging area immediately!"
And so, presently, DJ stood in the EVA cage, looking up at EVA-01; then he smiled and thumbed the lift button, sending the cage lift on its way up to entry-plug level.
"Hullo, Lucy," he remarked softly as he climbed into the seat, dogged the hatch behind him, and pressed the key to retract the plug fully and cover its port. "Did you miss me?" He ran through the entry checklist smoothly, recalling it easily from memory, then settled down and synchronized without hesitation. As the viewers came up, he could see EVA-00's single optic glow to life across the way, and he grinned, keying his comset.
"Once again unto the breach, dear Rei?" he inquired. "Your EVA's a sight... that lovely blue and white paint scheme all scuffed to bits."
"It's all right," Rei replied. "I liked it better orange, anyway."
In the control booth, John Trussell jotted down a note.
"Listen up, you two," came Misato's voice on the broadband. "Study of the original combat footage indicates that the two halves of the Angel are linked, they act in constant concert. You'll have to come up with some way of hitting them both at once—figure the only reliable way to kill them will be to destroy both cores simultaneously."
"Right-ho," said DJ. "That oughtn't to be too difficult, now we know what we're looking for. Slap on some choons and let's get down."
"I'm still not entirely sold on the music thing," Misato mused.
"Helps me think," DJ said.
"Well, I suppose if Rei has no objections..."
"None," Rei chimed in.
"Music in combat? That's ridiculous," Asuka contributed. "What are you going to do, dance them to death?"
"Can't dance," DJ admitted blithely. "But the beat helps me keep my thoughts organized."
"Well, you need all the help you can get there."
"God, Asuka, I've missed you so," said DJ. "Promise me when this is all over you'll come away with me to Paris."
"I can't stand you!" Asuka protested shrilly.
"That's OK," DJ replied cheerfully. "I can't stand bloody Paris."
Jon and Rei rolled their eyes, had they but known, at the same moment.
"All right, all right, enough of this," Misato interrupted, trying not to laugh. "Combat Team No. 1, report in."
"Evangelion Unit 01: Lucifer!" DJ declared. "Point element ready for launch."
"Evangelion Unit 00: Moloch," Rei rejoined. "Mark element ready for launch."
"Ayanami's nicknamed her EVA too?" Asuka noted.
"At least it's appropriate," Jon mused.
"Combat Team No. 1: Launch!" Misato ordered, and the two EVAs were catapulted to street level.
Rei popped up normally, slamming to a stop at the end of her launch tracks, her EVA shuddering in the grip of the lockdowns for a moment before they were withdrawn and the machine could lurch free. One of the two Angel components turned to face her as she raised the autorifle that had been lashed to her unit's launch stand.
Just then, on the other side of the Angels, EVA-01 burst out of the ground—but not pinioned to a launch stand. Learning from Jon's encounter with the Fifth Angel, DJ had released the final lockdown in the shaft, and the massive momentum imparted by the launch catapulted EVA-01 high into the air, above the buildings.
As he rose, DJ let out a joyous whoop and drew the two autocannons slung under EVA-01's arms in the massive holsters improvised, per his request (relayed by Maya) to Tech Division some time before. Sir Henshingly be damned—this was where he belonged! He let off a volley, just to keep the Angels' heads down, and then alighted his EVA atop one of the lower buildings, which he'd guessed correctly was more than sturdy enough to take the impact.
He and Rei kept the Angels distressed for several minutes this way, making rapid slashing attacks from different directions, leaping about, diverting their fire into the air, and, Misato noticed as the battle progressed, drawing them further and further apart. As they did, Misato began to notice something odd, which Maya momentarily confirmed on her own:
And so they were. As their separation increased, the two creatures' movements became less sure, more fitful, their energy blasts decreasing in frequency, power and accuracy. Being drawn apart was fraying the link between the two aliens which were really one.
It appeared that the bipartite Angel was realizing its predicament at the same time, though, and the two halves began trying to turn round and head back toward the middle of the city.
"There, they've got it sorted," DJ announced. "Time we wrapped this up, I think."
With that, he jettisoned his EVA's power uplink, and, across town, Rei did the same. Both EVAs abandoned their projectile weapons, took Progressive Knives in hand and closed with their quarries.
Had DJ and Rei been acting in true synchrony, as Jon and Rei undoubtedly would have, the Angels would have retained enough of their own natural synchrony to fend off their attacks in uinison. As it was, though, they were not synchronized—merely acting along the same basic plan, keeping roughly to the beat of the same song. Rei attacked, as Rei always attacked, with her EVA's Prog Knife held blade-forward and the heel of the other hand behind the pommel, driving the weapon forward against the Angel's defenses with all the strength of Moloch's arms. DJ, on the other hand, held it blade-down, stab-fashion, and used Lucifer's free hand to block the Angel's arms as they tried to intervene. The disparate methods of furthering the same aim threw off the Angels; combined with the faltering element introduced by their separation, it was enough.
The blades of two Progressive Knives plunged into two Angel cores on the same beat, and that, it seemed, was close enough; the two Angels thrashed, then slumped.
"Evangelion Combat Team No. 1," said DJ, his grin evident in his voice. "Point element reports mission accomplished. Unit 01, Lucifer, ready for pickup."
"Unit 00, Moloch," Rei chimed in. "Ready for recovery."
"I. Don't. Believe it," Asuka muttered.
Misato's "Welcome Back DJ" party, staged that evening, was easily extended to become a victory party as well. As festive occasions go, it can be described as a moderate success. Everyone had a good time, nobody got sick, and there were few moments that rang false or made anyone wince. DJ regaled everyone with the tale of his visit to Buckingham Palace and garnered all-round laughs with his impression of Sir Henshingly's blustery reaction to his trump card at the hearing. Jon demonstrated an unexpected (or perhaps merely unlooked-for) facility with a guitar that turned him and DJ into an impromptu blues combo for a moment, and Ritsuko's reaction to the gift DJ had purchased for her in Munich was the stuff of instant legend.
"Really, though," said DJ after Maya had congratulated him on his quick formulation of the plan that had led to the latest Angel's downfall, "it was as much Rei's idea as mine. Her experience, and Jon's, from the first encounter with it showed that trying to match the parts sync-for-sync wasn't the way to do it." Holding his Guinness high, he said with a grin, "A toast—to my new partner!"
Jon watched this proceeding without expression—not because he was nonplussed, but because he was too busy thinking about the implications of Commander Ikari's odd behavior earlier to really notice what was happening. In fact, he didn't really take note of his surroundings until Asuka elbowed him.
"What?" he murmured, conscious that he'd missed whatever she'd said to him.
"I said, Aren't you jealous that Croft makes a better battle partner for your sweetheart than you do?" Asuka inquired with a sly grin.
"No," Jon replied flatly, and went back to his ruminations, ignoring her entirely.
She glared sourly at him for a moment, then went away in search of someone more interesting to talk to. Mr. Kaji, preferably.
Notable in his absence from this gathering was Gendō Ikari himself. He remained in his office at Central Dogma. He wasn't filling out forms. He wasn't making operational plans. He wasn't composing an after-action report. In fact, he didn't appear to be doing anything but sitting in his office, in the dark, and contemplating the softly self-illuminated Sephiroth engraving on the ceiling. No one could have said what he was thinking; no one knew him well enough to read the blank expression on his face. His wife had, once, but his wife was long dead, and his only son, at best a stranger, at worst an enemy, was half a world away.
Some said the only person Gendō Ikari had cared for since the death of Yui Ikari was Rei Ayanami. It was true that Rei sometimes spoke to Gendō in a manner she never otherwise used, a manner more typical of girls her age—but since the commencement of the Evangelion Project, since the training accident that had hospitalized her for a month and a half, she hadn't. Those who cared to observe such things noted that they seemed to have grown apart, that Ikari had become even more distant even as Rei grew to understand and appreciate others of her fellow people, not least the other EVA pilots.
At length, he gave up staring at the Sephiroth and turned to the data display screen on his desk, re-reading the orders there.
FROM J. Natla COL CMDG SEELE Central Command
TO G. Ikari CMD CMDG NERV Central Dogma W-3
ORDER CLASS [BLACK]
1. You are required to attend an operational effectiveness review of NERV, September 15, 2015, at SEELE Central Command.
2. You will prepare an overview of NERV's progress in combating the Angel threat, as well as technical overviews of Project Evangelion and Project Ascension.
3. You will prepare a clarification of your report dated September 4, regarding the potential threat posed to Project Ascension by Evangelion pilot #5 (CROFT, Derek J.). You are reminded to take no action until the Commission has reviewed all material. It is for the Commission to decide if the threat to Project Ascension outweighs the subject's importance to Project Evangelion and NERV operations as a whole to justify his termination.
4. You are not repeat not to divulge the nature of this meeting to any other personnel.
Ikari studied the screen for a long moment; then he reached out and pressed a single key:
Then he sat back in his chair, steepled his fingers, and resumed gazing at the ceiling.
... your day will come.
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