This episode contains some fairly explicit descriptions of some of its happenings—enough to garner it an 'R' rating were it a visual production (or 'MA', I always forget how the TV ratings work). I do feel obligated to warn you, though, that if you skip them, you'll miss some pretty important plot developments.
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Neon Exodus Evangelion
Exodus 2: Symphony of Terror
The Day the Universe Changed
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, Larry Mann,
MegaZone, and John Trussell
Aided and abetted by the Eyrie Productions, Unlimited crew
and special-guest-for-life Phil Moyer
© 1997 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
HTML remastering © 2016 EPU
This, DJ Croft told himself, is true boredom.
It was Saturday, and a dirt-dull one, at that. Thanks to a cross-testing scheduling problem at the upper levels of NERV that was quite beyond DJ's ability to comprehend, he and Asuka had ended up on call together—thank you ever so, SHODAN. Two point elements, that'll be effective in combat. They weren't required to hang around Central Dogma waiting for an emergency call, but they might have been better off there. At least there was something to do there... up on the surface it was raining like hell, one of those gray and depressing days that happen so frequently in Worcester in the fall, and with Misato gone to Japan to check in with NERV Second Unit on some secret project, there wasn't even anyone interesting around to talk to. Hell, she'd even taken the penguin with her.
Many people, knowing DJ's predilection for reading and enjoying any printed material that came to hand, had reached the conclusion that it was impossible for him, provided with such material, to be bored. This was close to the truth, but not totally true; if the available reading material was boring, then he would be bored by it like anyone else. He'd go on reading it, because the alternative was more boring; but he'd still be bored.
That was the case with the current book he was slogging through, a real yawner—the Warren Commission Report on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Oddly, given his fondness for theories of conspiracy, the Kennedy assassination had never interested DJ over-much. He certainly didn't spend his time devising elaborate, convoluted theories involving the Mafia, the KGB and the CIA. Truth be known, he rather preferred Robert Anton Wilson's "it was one of the five identical John Dillingers on the overpass" theory, if only because it was the most absurd.
He was, therefore, resorting to this old copy of the Warren Commission report simply because it was the only book in the house that he hadn't read at least once in the previous three months. As it was immensely long and consisted mostly of completely uninteresting details, it stood in a place of dubious distinction as the one book DJ had attempted, but failed, to finish. It didn't look like he was going to finish it this time, either; another half-hour of this, and he'd either opt for a nap or re-read Internetworking with TCP/IP, Volume I: Principles, Protocols and Architecture for the nth+1 time. Going to a bookstore was more or less out of the question; it was raining like hell and rather chilly out.
He glanced over at the other couch; Asuka, not a voracious reader at the best of times, had exhausted her chosen reading material fairly rapidly (not hard, as it consisted mainly of magazines consisting mainly of photographs), and was now staring blankly at the ceiling. Perhaps she's fallen asleep with her eyes open, he considered, then returned to the book. He then realized that it was so boring that, when he'd taken his eyes off the page, he'd forgotten his place, and there was nothing distinctive enough about any of the text before him to tell him where he'd been.
Maybe, he told himself, I should brave the rain and go to Tatnuck Bookseller.
"Hey, DJ?" Asuka suddenly asked. Apparently, she wasn't asleep after all.
"Mm?" replied DJ articulately.
"Have you ever kissed a girl?"
DJ lowered the book and gave her a skeptical glance over the top of it. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Have you ever kissed a girl?" she asked again.
"That's what I thought you said." DJ returned to reading.
"Oh, c'mon," Asuka said. "It's a simple enough question."
DJ ignored her.
"I'll bet you're embarrassed 'cause you haven't."
Lowering the book again, DJ pointed out calmly, "Asuka, this is the kind of conversation that can only end in a gunshot."
"Aw, c'mon, humor me. I'm bored."
"Find someone else to torment," DJ replied. "I'm busy."
"Is that even an interesting book?"
DJ considered the possibility of lying, but then shrugged. "No, not particularly."
"So? How about it?"
DJ sighed. "Is this somehow relevant to anything?"
"You haven't, have you? Wow! And here I thought you'd have all kinds of experience, big-time world traveler like you."
DJ raised his eyes to the ceiling. "... And that's when I shot her, Your Honor."
"Well..." Asuka thought about it for a moment, then said, "You want to?"
"Shoot you? Not particularly. I'd have to clean the couch and hide the body, then figure out an explanation for why you're not here... murder's not as easy as it looks on the telly. I'd most likely get caught, if so and I'd probably at least get grounded for a week or two."
"No, no, don't be stupid," Asuka said impatiently. "I mean, do you want to kiss me?"
DJ slapped his forehead. "I'm not having this conversation."
"It's a simple question," Asuka persisted.
"It has a simple answer, but that's beside the point. Even assuming I wanted to, why in God's name would you want me to? You've repeatedly stated before approximately a fourth of the world's combined population that you think the very thought of any intimate contact with me is a fate worse than death."
"I'm bored," Asuka replied.
"Oh. Well, that explains everything. It certainly accounts for all the dullards with children."
"I dare you to do it."
"I dare you to kiss me."
"My mother taught me better than to take dares."
"I double-dog-dare you," Asuka taunted.
DJ put down the book. "That's different." He got up and moved to the other couch, sitting down next to Asuka, and took a long, hard look at her.
Well, he'd never had a problem with her looks.
"Well?" she demanded. "What're you waiting for?"
"Nothing," he replied, and leaned closer, wondering himself at his hesitation. It was a simple enough thing, wasn't it? I mean, compared to jumping across a pit full of sharp stakes and venomous insects...
Gently, very gently, he put his lips to hers, and for a long moment, there they remained, true to the letter if not the spirit of the verb "to kiss".
A few seconds passed, and then they separated, looking at each other across a space of a few inches that no longer seemed so far as they had a few moments before.
Asuka frowned thoughtfully. "That's it? That's all there is to it?"
DJ shrugged. "Wouldn't you know, Ms. Experience?"
"You did it wrong," Asuka insisted, then demanded imperiously, "Do it again!"
DJ gave her his "oh, come on, now" look.
"Well? Go on," Asuka persisted. "I refuse to believe that that was all there is to it."
"How are you so sure it isn't?" asked DJ indignantly.
"Please," Asuka replied scornfully. "Would empires fall and armies of men willingly give up their lives for that? I don't think so."
Much as he hated to admit it, DJ was forced to agree that she did have a point there. Irked, he considered for a moment the areas of his large and somewhat uneven body of reading material had touched on the subject.
"Don't tell me you're giving up," Asuka said after a couple of seconds.
DJ scowled. "Not hardly," he replied, "I'm thinking."
"You're not supposed to think about it, for God's sake."
Letting out a sigh of exasperation, DJ burst out, "Well, look! If you're the expert, why don't you take the lead here?"
"Fine, I will!" she replied, and, with her typical approach to everything, she seized him by the shoulders and pressed her lips firmly to his own.
Once, when DJ was nine years old and part of Crofthenge had still been under renovation, he'd been nosing around and had unwittingly touched a couple of bare wires the electricians had left poking out of a junction box. The current had been on, and he'd felt almost exactly as he did now: frozen, tingling, unable to move or breathe. After a moment of that, his muscles had rebelled and he'd convulsed, flinging himself away from the wires; he'd never mentioned it to his mother, since, when he got right down to it, he felt a total fool for doing something as numb as touching a pair of exposed wires at the same time.
That experience had been remarkably similar to this one, only considerably less enjoyable. No convulsion, with its accompanying sunburst of pain, came this time; only a pleasant, if fleeting, floating sensation. Nor was he paralyzed; almost of their own accord, his arms moved to embrace Asuka, drawing her nearer, as her own hands on his shoulders slipped behind his back. Her lips moved, slightly, tentatively, against his, and his responded almost instinctively. Asuka made a small noise in the back of her throat and pressed herself closer still.
Then they separated, drawing apart with a twin gasp and opening startled eyes upon each other's flushed face, loosening their arms' hold and sitting back a little; for a moment, they simply sat, catching their breath and staring.
"Uh... I, uh..." Asuka stammered. She'd gone into this exercise intending to use the whole thing as a cruel prank, but now, she found her resolve to do so crumbling. While she did manage to get out a mumbled "I'd better, um, get some mouthwash," it hardly landed the devastating ego blow it'd been planned as at the outset.
"There's no hurry," DJ murmured, leaning close again, and without thinking, Asuka slipped back into his embrace and this time pressed her open mouth hungrily to his, running her hand up his chest to grip his shoulder, and then turned to face him, straddling his leg. DJ made his arms tighter around her, as she shifted to a slightly more comfortable position in his lap, pulled back with another gasp, and gazed into his eyes with an almost shocked look.
DJ looked back at her with a similarly startled expression, again. He felt as if a filter had just been removed from his vision, like he was seeing things clearly for the first time in a long time.
"I'm sorry," she said, and she didn't have to explain what she meant.
"So am I," he replied, cupping the nape of her neck in his left hand and kneading it gently. "So am I," he repeated softly, and as their lips met again, Asuka pressed her tongue into his mouth, forestalling any further comment. DJ felt his heart rate accelerating as his hands roamed over her back, tugging her blouse out of her shorts and running back up the smooth skin underneath to her shoulder blades. As he had suspected, she wore nothing underneath.
Asuka moaned softly, her own hands gripping his shoulders and pulling herself tighter against him. She fumbled at his chest, working open the buttons on his shirt one by one and pushing it back, her fingernails scratching maddeningly at his chest. They separated for a moment, panting, and she pulled her blouse off over her head before fusing her mouth to his again; any communication which needed to be done now didn't require words.
They embraced again, bare flesh against bare flesh, first contact causing a gasp to slip out around their kiss; then, as he moved a hand to gently encompass one side of the seat of her shorts, DJ began to nibble and kiss his way down her neck, a gesture he soon discovered drove her already fevered blood up another notch. He kept going, kissing lower, finding the notch in her collarbone at the base of her throat, then convincing his other hand to meet his mouth halfway, cupping the underside of her smallish, delightfully solid right breast as his lips suddenly captured the erect nipple. This elicited another gasp, short and almost strangled, as she stiffened and arched against him.
"Unngh! Dammit," Asuka gasped, "how—did you—do that?"
"Beats me," mumbled DJ, not looking up. "I'm just makin' this up as I go." So saying, he put his tongue to work, which made her produce another chopped gasp, her thighs clenching almost painfully around his leg. Not that he'd've noticed if she'd broken his leg; he was far too focused on the job at... er... hand.
"L—liar..." she gasped as her hips began to move rhythmically against his leg—which he took as a cue to change sides for a while, moving from one now-slick breast to the other. His left hand trailed down, sliding, with a rather painful twist to the wrist, across her flat stomach.
He could feel her whole body moving, panting with the rhythm of her motion against his leg, but then, he could feel that without the help of his uncomfortably placed hand—she was against him, all around him. His own arousal was racing with his hammering pulse, and he struggled for control, feeling a strange immersion he'd only felt a couple of times before, and never in such idyllic a setting as this.
He was broken from his reverie by the incongruous sensation of a rough edge against the thumb of the hand he had assigned to caress her belly; glancing down, he realized that it was the waistband of her shorts. Wondering if he could figure the trick to it, he put the tip of one finger inside, another finger and thumb outside, and gave a small, quick twist—and succeeded in opening the button.
"Ha-ha!" he said, the syllables slightly obscured.
"Wha?" Asuka managed, sounding almost drunk with the energy that was seething around them.
"Oh, nothing," DJ murmured, placing a kiss between her breasts. "I just figured the button trick..."
She laughed, although it sounded more like a short sob given her panting breaths. He looked up at her face: eyes squeezed shut, upper teeth hidden behind her tongue, red-gold hair tumbling out of control—absolute beauty in passion. Smiling, he kissed his way lower, tasting the sharp salt of her skin as he teased her navel; she was breaking a sweat. That was a cue, and he knew it; he tightened his right hand's grip on her rear, pulling her even closer and going after her neck again.
"Mmmm," she groaned, eyes closed, pushing herself harder against him. He worked the fingers of his left hand into her shorts, knuckling down the zip, ignoring the protesting muscles in his awkwardly twisted wrist as he reached deeper, her liquid heat nearly searing his skin. Asuka inhaled convulsively, her fingernails digging into the back of his neck as she crushed his face against her collarbone—
And DJ's telephone rang, its loud, electronic bleat ripping through the apartment.
"Yaa!" they both cried, starting violently and in unison. They tumbled off the edge of the couch onto the floor in a tangle of limbs; DJ entertained, for a moment, the fear that his wrist would be broken in a difficult-to-explain manner before his left hand came free, the horizon tilted crazily, and whump. They were on the floor, she on her back, he sprawled half-beside her, their legs still intertwined, his head resting between her pert breasts.
"Ow," DJ observed. Asuka arched her neck to look down at him; he looked back up, and for a moment there was utter silence.
Then the phone rang a second time, and they burst out laughing.
"Are you gonna answer that?" she asked him as they calmed back down and the phone rang again.
"Hell no," he replied, kissing the nearest nipple. "Let the machine get it."
"Uh! What if—ah—it's an emergency? Suppose—oh!—we've got to go?"
"Well—" kiss "—I suppose—" lick "—my heart will just explode out of my chest in a bloody mess—" nibble "—and you'll have to go without me and explain."
"Like ah! hell," she replied, stroking his side.
"Hello. Tonight, from the home office in Wextford-on-Sea, the top ten reasons DJ didn't answer and you got this machine!
"9. Two words: ritual sacrifice.
"8. He's battling a grease fire in the kitchen.
"7. Misato and DJ have finally snapped, and are freezing Asuka in carbonite."
"Creep," she said good-naturedly, bonking him in the head.
"6. Somewhere out there, there's a Vector Warriors machine needs some new high scores.
"5. Damn. There was supposed to be NO! #6.
"4. He's planning the next message, since as soon as Ritsuko hears this one, she'll tell him to change it.
"3. He's fighting for his life against a highly technological civilization which arose in the big Tupperware thing in the back of his fridge and is seeking to exterminate all other life on Earth.
"2. Misato finally gave in to her innermost fantasies."
Asuka looked at him with an eyebrow arched; he grinned, kissed the center of her chest again, and said nothing.
"And the #1 reason DJ didn't answer and you got the machine:
"He's not bloody home. Deal."
"... Uh, DJ, it's Truss... Dr. Akagi asked me to remind you that your interim psych screening is tomorrow at noon... and she told me to tell you to change your machine message. See you tomorrow. Bye!" click
It started slowly, with a wave of snickering that sneaked up on them... then the tide of laughter broke, and DJ and Asuka lay on the floor of the apartment, in front of the sofa, laughing madly for nearly two full minutes.
As it subsided, DJ hitched himself up on his elbow and looked down at her—flushed, eyes sparkling in the gloomy gray light coming in from the rain-soaked outdoors. Like himself, she was calmer, the initial wave of passion having broken, but still very much aroused. He reached out to touch her, but she surprised him, knocking out his elbow and dropping him on his back, then rolling over him, sitting on his knees, her own knees alongside his hips. She leaned down, pinning his elbows with her hands, and smiled into his eyes, which queried back.
"You know," she murmured, nuzzling against his neck, "I've been terribly rude."
"Oh?" he replied in a voice much calmer than he was.
"Mm," she replied, doing to his throat what he had recently done to hers, and having much the same effect. "I was all wrapped up in myself and I totally neglected you. And you never said a word, either... so patient." She bit playfully at one of his own nipples, making his breath hitch in his throat, and continued, "Much nicer than I deserve," as her hair dragged across his chest.
"You were having so much fun," DJ said hoarsely, "I didn't want to disturb you."
"What a gentleman," Asuka said wryly, and freed his arms so her own hands could go to work on the button of his jeans. "Much nicer than I deserve... "
"You don't have to—" he began.
"But I want to," she replied. "Consider it an apology."
"I'd rather consider it a beginning," he said hopefully.
"If you like," Asuka said with a smile, and she bent to kiss him again.
In the course of raising her son on her own, Lara Croft had attempted to cover as many bases, prepare for as many eventualities, and instill as many virtues in him as possible. She had, for the most part, succeeded, and now some of that training proved its worth as, even in his distracted state, he retained enough presence of mind to do the right thing.
He reached up with his right hand, slid open the junk drawer on the coffee table, and fumbled about, praying he wouldn't slash his hand open on the staple-puller he knew was lurking in there somewhere. Instead of the cold, sharp steel of the cruel desk tool, however, his fingertips found an expanse of cool plastifoil—and he smiled through the kiss, closing his fingers around it and pulling it out of the drawer, amazingly without causing a cascade of bootlaces, assorted change and other junk.
Asuka sat back, her hands on his chest, her knees on either side of his hips, and looked questioningly down at him. She no longer looked sharkishly confident; now, she seemed worried, perhaps even slightly afraid, and very vulnerable. If it hadn't already, DJ's heart would have gone out to her at that moment. When it all came down to individual moments like this, she really wasn't so sure of herself... the revelation made her so much more human and desirable to DJ that for a moment he almost wanted to cry.
"Do you want to... ?" she asked softly, her eyes brimming with newfound emotion.
He nodded. "Yes, very much. Do you?"
She swallowed, nodded, and then said, "But I—I've never... "
He shrugged. "Nor I. I expect we'll figure it out."
He handed her the packet he'd fished out of the junk drawer.
She smiled, and a single pair of hot tears ran from her eyes and splashed against his chest.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"Don't thank me yet, love," said DJ with a hint of his old grin.
She chuckled softly and tore the foil.
In Testing Complex 4, on the thirty-fourth level of Central Dogma, Ritsuko Akagi, Maya Ibuki, and John Trussell, with the aid of SHODAN and the Magi, conducted a harmonics test, similar in nature to the n+1 where n is a sizable number tests they'd run before.
In one test plug, Rei Ayanami lay at rest, eyes closed, concentrating on the stream of her consciousness, the images that flickered past her mind's eye as that stream flowed.
Mountain, heavy mountain. It changes over a long period. Blue sky, invisible objects, visible objects. The sun, there is only one. Water, something comfortable. Flowers; many kinds necessary and unnecessary. Evening sky, red... I don't like red; flowing water, flowing blood, color of blood, smell of blood.
A girl who never bleeds.
A human created from red clay, a human created by man and woman. City, built by humans. EVA, built by humans.
Humans, created by God. Humans, created by humans.
I have a life, a heart, a casing of armor for the heart, the entry plug. It is the throne of the soul.
Who is this?
What am I?
What am I?
What am I?
I am myself.
This object is myself, a shape of my self. A visible self. But I don't feel like myself. It's very strange. I feel like I am going to dissolve. I can't recognize myself. My figure is disappearing.
I feel someone else. Is there anyone beyond here?
Derek Croft... Misato Katsuragi... Ritsuko Akagi... Asuka Langley... John Trussell... Maya Ibuki...
Jon... Jon Ellison... Fourth Child...
Jon Ellison. Like me, yet not. Part of me, yet not. My friend, like DJ, yet not. More than just a friend.
I love him.
What is love?
It's what I feel for Jon.
Who are you?
Who are you?
Who are you?
In a second test plug a few yards away, separated by a duralloy divider wall but visible through the shared window-wall to the control booth, Jon Ellison sat, similarly quiescent and lost in his thoughts.
Rei and Jon had been told that they were undergoing cross-compatibility testing via remote link with EVA-01 and EVA-00, respectively.
In truth, SHODAN and the Magi were gathering data on their own unexpected synchrony. There was no EVA involved at all.
Stars. Twinkling stars. Each a fusion inferno. Earth. Solid Earth. Cradle of humans, of humanity. The Moon, one of many moons but all we can see.
Red, color of blood... color of life; comforting, in its own way.
Air, open air. Oxygen; corrosive and yet necessary for survival.
Water. Something comforting. LCL. Comfort of the womb. I am at peace surrounded by it.
I don't like green; green things always die.
Evangelion. Strongest weapon of humanity, to fight the Angels... an Unknown Enemy...
Only the children can control them... we are the only thing the Enemy fears...
My life. I was born and bred for this.
I am the core, the nucleus.
Who am I?
I am the soldier they seek. I am a cog in the machine.
I know who they are... Ikari, Akagi... Colonel Keller... Major Katsuragi...
Friends; comrades in arms... old comrades at Alcatraz... new friends in Worcester-3: DJ... natural fighter, inquisitive... maybe too much... Asuka... headstrong...
I feel her. She is beyond this place. She is here with me. Is that possible? Can she be both at once?
Rei Ayanami. More than just a friend... someone like me... someone who can understand... part of the machine, like me... a part of me... friend... lover...
I love her.
She loves me.
Does this make us human? Are we as much people as the others?
What are we?
What are we?
What are we?
The neural connections were cut, slowly, one by one, to avoid shocking the pilots' nervous systems unduly. As Jon and Rei came back to themselves, each pondered the sensations they'd just experienced, and each suspected they knew what had really been tested just now.
Jon wondered why they would want to test it, what possible usefulness it could have.
Rei wondered why Commander Ikari had thought it necessary to lie to them about the nature of the test.
"Good work, you two," came Ritsuko's voice in both plugs. "You're dismissed... be back here tomorrow morning at 0900 so we can discuss the results."
"Roger," said both children as they tabbed the releases for the test-plug hatches.
"Are you hungry?" Jon asked Rei as he pulled on a sweater, then ran a comb through his hair.
"I could eat," said Rei offhandedly, buttoning her own cardigan.
The bus dropped them at the Greendale Mall in the gathering gloom of afternoon. As they rushed inside out of the rain, Jon once again considered asking for a motor-class dispensation like DJ and Rei's, possibly requisitioning a car from the motor pool. Hitching rides from one or the other was fine in clear weather, and transportation was no problem anyway when Major Katsuragi was around, but on occasions like this, having to rely on Worcester's rather sparse public transportation was a pain.
Hand in hand and unselfconscious, Rei and Jon did the food court sweep—large cheesesteak (hold the onions) for Jon and fries for both of them from the Steak Escape, small Szechuan bean curd for Rei from the Panda Express, one of those huge strawberry shakes from the Haagen-Dazs shop and an extra straw. They found a corner table by the ice-cream kiosk and, after their usual fashion, dealt with the food before starting the drink.
"Strange test," Jon remarked, leaning forward to sip from his side's straw.
"Mm," replied Rei, using her own.
That exhausted all their conversational gambits for the afternoon. Taking another sip from the drink, they lost themselves in each other's eyes for the nth time that day, as the peripheral synchrony continued to surround them, bringing with it the faint touch of mind, the sense of union which drew out and deepened as their hands migrated away from the cup and closed around each other, inner warmth dissolving the outer cold.
Unconsciously they leaned further forward, the now forgotten straws falling to the side, their eyes never breaking contact until the last few millimeters, when their lips softly touched.
They stayed like that for some time before pulling back and looking at each other again, their eyes a bit wider at the memory of the faint shiver which had rippled through them when they had touched in that way.
Then Rei closed the distance again, kissing Jon more strongly. Jon reflexively responded, deepening the kiss. His tongue brushed lightly against Rei's, sending another small shiver through them and eliciting a small moan from Rei as the faint touch of mind became much less faint.
That was when the sound of muffled giggling caught their attention, unbalancing them, and a glance toward the Haagen-Dazs counter confirmed the source of the noise to be the surreptitiously watching attendants. They promptly flushed red, which just made the people giggle even more.
"Um... maybe we should go..." Jon mumbled.
"Mm," Rei answered, the color still present in her cheeks.
The bus ride home happened in silence, the two pilots leaning against each other and holding hands. They thought about the feeling they'd had when they kissed. It had been difficult to describe accurately; it was as if every sense had suddenly been amplified, minute sights and sounds becoming large and powerful, faint scents becoming intoxicating, light physical touch sending ripples of warmth in its wake. And the mental touch...
...had been much like what they'd experienced during the so-called 'cross-compatibility test', which neither now believed was what Ikari and Ritsuko had told them it was.
But that could wait to be considered another time...
Ritsuko shrugged out of her lab coat and hung it by the door to her office. Slumping into her chair, she sighed. She didn't like lying to the children, especially Rei and Jon. DJ, well, maybe—he could be difficult, and besides, he was a cynic. She was sure he was less than open himself. But Rei and Jon? They were innocents. She felt like some fairy tale wicked witch lying to them. But those were Dr. Ikari's orders—and one did not violate his orders lightly. She might be able to better accept it if she knew why; but he was also not in the habit of explaining his orders to anyone. He ordered, and it was done.
"And God said, 'Let there be light!'" she muttered under her breath. A little startled by the sound of her own voice (she hadn't meant to speak aloud) she sat upright in her chair. This lifted her gaze to her window, and the cold gray sky and driving rain beyond.
"Beautiful Worcester." She'd gotten into the habit of talking to herself more often now. Something she felt she'd picked up from all the time she'd spent with Prof. Minter.
"Prof. Minter?" She smiled a private smile. "I guess he'll always be YaK."
Watching the rain beat against the glass her mind wandered through recent events. They'd finally gotten SHODAN back online and fully functional. She still worried that something might have been missed, some character flaw introduced. But Hal assured her that SHODAN was 100% and as fully operational as she had been before the attack... invasion... whatever...
Of course, Hal was quite relieved to be rid of the load he'd been carrying, and quite modestly refused to accept credit for more than his direct part in the operation, but all in all she had to admit that Hal had really saved their asses. Another victory due to DJ Croft, albeit indirectly this time. She wondered if Dr. Ikari realized that.
"I'm sure he does. And I'm sure it galls him."
Her brow furrowed unconciously with concern and uncertainty.
"Why does he hate that boy so much? Sure he's difficult, but, damn." She addressed the gray room, "I worry about those two..." This thought trailed off with a sad shake of her head.
Though she'd never admit it, Dr. Ritsuko Akagi worried about herself too. Her mother had been a passionate, driven woman of unnatural intelligence. But she had also been a slight bit askew, and in the end that driving passion had immolated her soul from the inside out. And when her life's work had been completed, there was nothing more—and so she ended her life. Simple, direct, logical—and quite insane.
In the quiet spaces of her mind, in the dark corners shunned by concious thought, the demons tugged at Ritsuko's mind. Background noise like a fnord, a feeling of uneasiness. Wasn't she passionate, driven, and extremely intelligent? Sure, maybe not as crazy as dear old Mom, but she hadn't fallen far from the tree. Was not her life tied up in the cause, more specifically as personified by Dr. Ikari? These things churned just beneath the surface of concious thought, sensed only in a vague way, and then only in quiet moments like this.
Conciously she strove to be different from her mother, and indeed she was. Her mother had alienated all of her friends, never went out, lived only for work. Ritsuko went out, well, when she wasn't too busy—but she did! She had friends; well, a few; well, Misato was a good friend. She didn't just live for work though! No, she had... her cat.
(And why did that old song "Cat's In The Cradle" get to her anyway? She'd never been able to listen to that damn song without crying.)
"I am not like my mother." She'd meant that to sound confident, a declaration; but it came out weakly, and only served to raise her unease. She sighed. "I wish YaK were still here."
But YaK had returned to Wales to attend to a project and would not be back for a while. She was alone, with only the rain for company.
In the bedroom of John Trussell's apartment, only two sounds were audible—the irregular beat of the rain that fell outside the window, and the steady tap-tap-tap of Truss's fingernail against the particle board desktop. Truss himself had not uttered a sound for nearly an hour, for he had been far too engrossed in the information presented by his late-model desktop computer to waste time engaging in lively banter with the otherwise empty room. Since reaching the end of the report five minutes ago, he had done nothing more than stare at the screen.
With a sigh and a shake of his head, John snapped out of his trance. He raised the HALcomm unit that Asuka had lent him upon his return from Maine, at his request, and addressed the AI on the other end.
"Well, I've finished reading your findings. You're sure about this?"
"As certain as I can be, given the amount of data," Hal's synthesized voice intoned. "The similarities in technique between the Jet Alone sabotage and the simultaneous attack on Central Dogma's datasystems cannot be discounted. There is an unmistakable correlation between the two."
Truss nodded. It wasn't that he questioned Hal's conclusions, it was simply a matter of denying that which was most unpleasant. He had originally suspected that the reprogramming of JA was the work of someone who felt threatened by that project, and desperately wanted it to fail. Troubling enough, when you considered the potential for loss of life and the likelihood that the culprit worked for NERV, but it could at least be attributed to misguided overzealousness. But when Hal disclosed that he had detected an intruder attempting to access classified NERV file systems from a source within the Geo-Front at the same time, it began to reek of something much more insidious.
"So what you're saying is that someone was willing to sacrifice several hundred thousand lives in order to distract TechDiv personnel away from a data retrieval hack? Who would do such a thing?"
"As I stated in the document I sent to you, I am not certain." After a brief pause, Hal continued, "Asuka has put forth her belief, but I cannot confirm or deny its validity."
I know, I know, thought Truss. "Ikari."
"I don't want to believe it, though. He's always been a jerk, but I never really questioned his devotion to the cause. If he's behind this, everything is called into question," Truss noted. "If the project lead is trying to break into his own system, what does that imply? Why would he do such a thing?"
"The most likely possibilities are to sabotage the Worcester-3 complex and to access my protected filespace. If there is any other information to which Professor Ikari does not have access through legitimate means, I am unaware of it."
John's fingers began to drum against his desk again. "And there's no way to tell whether the hack was directed at or through you?"
"No," replied Hal, in a tone that Truss swore sounded bitter. "Unfortunately, we have little choice but to wait for the culprit to make another move. Since I declined to notify the rest of NERV that I was being accessed illegally, no one but yourself, Asuka, and DJ know about either action. And we do not yet possess enough information to pinpoint those responsible with an acceptable degree of certainty."
Truss scanned Hal's list of suspects again. Most were unfamiliar, but he recognized Gendō Ikari, Ryoji Kaji, and one of Otto Keller's lieutenants. All of them were people with formidable backgrounds in computer operation, and not one of them was in a position which had required the use of those skills on a regular basis. The intruder's methods displayed great talent, Hal had noted in his report, but they were unquestionably those of someone who hadn't practiced his craft in some time.
"What about the others?" he inquired.
"All should be placed under equal consideration," Hal advised, "although it might not be wise to imply a strong belief in Mr. Kaji's guilt in Asuka's presence, for your own sake."
Truss started to smile, then abruptly caught himself. "Actually, Hal, if there's a realistic chance that he's involved, I think it needs to be made clear to Asuka immediately. For her sake." Humming thoughtfully, he sat back in his chair and considered his options for a few moments. Of course, nobody was answering the phone at 3-D; that would be far, far too convenient, John grumbled internally. He considered asking Hal to find DJ, then rejected the idea. Perhaps if he could get some harder evidence together... right now, his speculations would only activate DJ's own suspicions. The last thing Truss wanted was for DJ to believe in Ikari's guilt simply because he wanted to.
At that point, of course, the telephone rang—all part of the universe's ongoing conspiracy to keep Truss from managing a continuous train of thought for more than six minutes at a time, he was certain of that. His thoughts scattering to the winds, he picked up the phone.
"Hello?" he announced.
"Hi, is this Party Needs?" asked the voice at the other end of the line.
Truss sighed, made a mental note to look into getting his telephone number changed for the nth+1 time, and was about to answer "No," and hang up when the caller laughed and said,
"No, really, is Truss there?"
"I'll check," Truss replied.
"It's Maya," said the caller. "You sound distracted."
He could feel the look over the wire.
"Well, you started it," Truss grumbled.
"Well, listen," said Maya. "I'm bored to tears here, and I know you don't have anything to do."
Truss looked at the highly sensitive data still displayed on the screen in front of him, rolled his eyes, and said nothing.
"So I was thinking," Maya went on, "we're smart people, we might be able to think of something fun to do."
"In Worcester in the rain?"
"People have invented these wonderful things called 'buildings'," said Maya. "They keep the rain off."
"So what are our options? We're engineers, so we can't cook. Anything we do starts with dinner, so we might as well get started right there."
"Let me guess—I'm driving."
"You're the one with a car."
"That would make me the obvious choice, yup."
John looked around his apartment, considered his laundry state, and said, "Give me 45 minutes?"
"OK—see you at 8."
Truss hung up, looked at the digital readout on the phone, and realized that the current time was 6:50.
"She knows me," he muttered, and went to do some laundry.
Jon tried to think of the number of times he and Rei had been like this around each other, or even the number of times only one of them had been unclothed, and wasn't able to come up with an answer. They must have dressed and undressed in each other's presence dozens of times, and had never given it a second thought.
"... and they were not ashamed... "
Of course, this had never before resulted in their sitting in the same bathtub, washing each other; that was a circumstance that had come up almost by impulse, a spur of the moment thing that simply seemed the natural thing to do at the time.
But even without that, everything had somehow become different, as if some sort of subconscious filter was being pulled away from their senses with each passing moment. Jon could almost feel the cotton leaving his mind as Rei carefully soaped his back and rinsed the lather away with the aid of a soft sponge, each thought gaining more and more clarity with every soft touch.
"... your turn," Rei said, finishing her work and turning around.
"Mm," Jon answered, picking up the soap and sponge and turning to face Rei. He had always known Rei was beautiful. Now, though, as he caressed her back with the soap and rinsed it away with the sponge, and felt the soft perfection of her skin, he was acutely aware of it.
Leaning forward, he gently brushed Rei's hair aside and kissed the nape of her neck. The response was immediate, as another of those shivers went through him, this one bringing a flash of warmth with it and eliciting a small noise from Rei which sounded like a moan.
"mm... my turn," Rei half whispered after a moment. Jon leaned back, and Rei turned to face him, putting the soap to work on his chest. If there was any doubt remaining in Jon's mind that Rei was utterly perfect, it promptly disappeared as he took in the sight of her beautiful body with unfiltered eyes, felt the warmth of her hands against him, and the underlying power of the mental touch, amplified by everything else.
I love you.
"... my turn," Jon murmured, taking the soap from Rei's hand and carefully working his way up her arms, and then down her front, forcing himself to be slow and deliberate as he gently washed and rinsed every centimeter of her, taking a bit more time than was strictly necessary for such a task.
Not that Rei appeared overly concerned with the delay. Her eyes were half-closed, her breathing shallow and her pulse quickening in time with Jon's own, warm waves and flashes beginning to dance across their bodies and minds with increasing frequency.
I love you.
Synchrony. And what wonderful synchrony it was.
They continued to touch each other, the soap entirely forgotten as the order of business changed from washing to highly sensual caressing. Jon's left hand wandered slowly up and down Rei's right flank as his other hand worked its way upwards from her stomach, following the curve of her ribcage and sternum before diverging to the side and gently cupping her left breast. Rei moaned softly, her own hands caressing Jon more firmly, drawing him closer as the heat inside her continued to build up, growing more concentrated in specific places.
Please kiss me.
Taking the cue, Jon leaned forward, encircling Rei with his arms as he bent his head to kiss her neck lightly, exhaling warm breath over her soft, smooth skin. Rei put her arms around Jon, moaning again as he migrated upward, tracing the curve of one earlobe with his lips, then kissing his way across her cheek. At last their lips touched, and they shared a deep, passionate kiss which for one minute sent their collective consciousness reeling, allowing new hungers to take root as the waves began to build up—
The fires calmed, and they pulled back from each other, making eye contact once again and looking deep, searching for the source of the nagging concern which had made itself known. As the interrupted passion dissipated, the concern became more comprehensible.
As did its validity.
We can't do this.
In an instant, passion became sorrow.
They spent the evening together in Rei's bed, sleepless and depressed, staring unmoving at the canopy and considering the injustice of the system that, more and more as time progressed, they felt trapped in.
Morning came slowly after that long and barren night. Eventually, though Jon could not, Rei drifted off to sleep; he watched her, peaceful at rest, until he thought his heart might break, and then slipped out of bed and went next door to see if DJ was up yet.
He was, bustling about the kitchen of Apartment 3-D and looking as happy as Jon was sad, and as his fellow pilot entered, DJ favored him with a pleased grin.
"Hullo, Jon!" he said. "C'mon in, have a seat."
Jon blinked at his aproned, overly cheerful friend as DJ plunged his hands up to the elbows into a large mixing bowl and whistling as he kneaded whatever was in there vigorously.
"DJ," he inquired, "what are you doing?"
"Making bread," DJ replied. "It's an old recipe, been in my family, oh, at least a generation, although I think Mum bought it from an Italian street merchant in Naples... "
"Oh." Jon chuckled. DJ's good humor was infectious, if somewhat unusual for this hour of the morning. "What's the occasion? You seem very... upbeat this morning."
DJ paused and scratched at his chin (leaving a smear of flour on it), as if considering the best way to phrase his answer to that question; then he said, "Well, yesterday, whilst you and Rei were having all the fun down at HQ and Asuka and I were stuck cooling our heels here in the House of Iniquity, we, er... reached a new understanding."
Jon was never much for euphemistic subtlety. "Really?" he replied. "Does that mean you'll be fighting less?"
"I think so," DJ replied. "Or at least less seriously. We understand each other much better now... " DJ winked rakishly and continued, "And I learned some very interesting German words."
Unworldly but deductive, Jon made the connection and blushed even as he looked incredulous. "You're kidding."
"Blame it on the rain," said DJ with an offhanded shrug, returning to work on the bread dough.
Jon felt an unwarranted surge of jealousy. Not that he had any particular interest in Asuka, but... how cosmically ironic, what a cruel joke, that they'd all reached such a point on the same day, only to have the circumstances of life give pause to the more likely of the two couples. Jon found himself chuckling bitterly.
"What's wrong?" said DJ, plopping a towel over the top of the bowl and leaving the dough to rise. "You look like a man who's just had bad news." His face fell as he sat down at the table opposite Jon. "Oh, Christ, Jon, you haven't been carrying a torch for her all this time, have you?"
Jon blinked, then shook his head. "No, nothing like that. It's just..."
The sliding divider door opened and Rei, disheveled and still dressed in the oversized sweatshirt she'd worn to bed, poked her head in curiously. She noted the situation, slipped silently into the room and stood behind Jon, one hand on his shoulder.
And DJ understood, even before he explained what had happened again for Rei's benefit and listened to the two of them making their best attempt at explaining what had happened to them the evening before.
Having heard it, DJ sat back, balancing his chair on the back two legs, and frowned thoughtfully, absent-mindedly wiping the flour off his chin.
"Why did you stop?" he inquired. "It's obvious you love each other. Has been for quite some time, really. Seems to me you've better reason than a lot of people twice our age. Too much social pressure to wait?"
Jon and Rei shook their heads in a unison that DJ had long since ceased to find unnerving.
"No," said Jon. "It's just..." He looked at Rei as if seeking permission, and very slightly, she nodded.
"Have you ever heard of the Human Instrumentality Project?" asked Jon.
DJ nodded. "Here and there. Supposedly it's some kind of eugenics project being conducted by SEELE, but nobody's ever been able to get any details on it."
Jon considered for a long moment, then veered away from the whole truth, saying only, "I think Dr. Ikari has been steering Rei and I toward our pairing as part of that project."
"So you stopped because you don't want to play into his hands?"
They nodded again.
"Hmm." DJ thought this over for a few seconds, then dropped the chair back onto all fours, putting his hands flat on the table, and said, "To hell with him. If it's what you really want, do it anyway."
Jon and Rei studied him with mirror-image perplexed expressions.
"Have I ever steered you wrong before? Have I anything to gain by doing it now?" They thought that over for a moment, then shook their heads. DJ smiled seriously. "Then listen to what I have to say and then make up your own minds.
"Look, God knows I'm for frustrating Gendō bloody Ikari, all right? But I pick and choose my rebellions, and so should you. If taking that step is something he's pushing you to do that neither of you want, fine, sod him, don't do it.
"But!" he added, finger raised. "If it IS what you want—if it's what both of you want—then to hell with it. There are things I do even though he wants me to do them, because I want to do them. Piloting EVA-01 comes to mind. I'm not going to let him control what I do either way, and neither should you. What's important is that YOU know why you do what you do. I don't ask anything more of myself and I don't expect anything more of you—and if Gendō Ikari does, well, he'll have to learn sooner or later that life isn't always about what he wants."
The two across the table from DJ thought about his words and nodded slowly, but Rei looked on the point of voicing an objection before DJ, anticipating it, spoke again.
"If you're not exactly being deafened by your biological clock just yet, hell... we're a tool-using species, there's ways around that. Get a SteriPlant. Steal some of the condoms out the bathroom, Misato will never miss them, poor love. Use your head and you'll be all right. Or wait and don't go the full course, if you want, but that doesn't mean you have to stay away from each other and be miserable. There's a hell of a lot more to intimacy than Tab A and Slot B."
Jon and Rei reddened in unison, which made DJ smile. Whenever Rei blushed, it glowed like a beacon through her pale skin, and he never tired of the sight.
"Look, I'll just say this and then I'll shut up and let you make your own decision, all right?" DJ said. "In my mind, there's nothing else in this world as important as love. Not life, not freedom, not humanity—because none of them are worth a damn without love. You have to make your own decisions, but that's what I think—and more so than ever since yesterday," he added, smiling reminiscently.
"Thanks, DJ," said Jon at length, his eyes bearing new respect for his often brash teammate.
"Don't hurt yourselves, don't hurt each other, and to hell with everybody else, that's my philosophy," DJ went on. "It's none of anybody else's damn business what you do if it doesn't involve them."
Jon and Rei smiled. Call DJ biased, but he thought it looked better on Rei, and he felt a little twinge of envy, though not the angry or jealous kind, as Jon's hand rose and clasped Rei's.
"Right," said DJ, rising and brushing his hands together. "I've said my piece. My opinion and $1.50 will get you a large coffee at Dunkin' Donuts, but I hope it helps."
Jon stood up, his hand never leaving Rei's, and nodded.
"Thank you," he and Rei said softly. "It does."
DJ grinned. "All part of the service here at Madman Omar's House of Iniquity," he said.
"I think... we need to think it over privately," Rei observed.
"Oh, by all means," said DJ. "Dinner's at six, we're having stir-fried random. Don't be late."
She smiled, stepped momentarily away from Jon, and gave DJ a quick, shy kiss.
"Thank you," she repeated softly.
"You're welcome," said DJ, hugging her warmly. Hand in hand, Jon and Rei moved to go back to their own side of the divider between the apartments.
"Oh, hang about," said DJ as they went; Rei paused in the doorway as DJ ducked into the bathroom, where he could be heard to rummage around in one of the drawers for a bit before emerging.
"Here, just in case," he said, flicking his thumb as if flipping a coin. Rei caught the item he'd tossed before she could identify it, then looked down and blushed bright crimson at the sight of the blue plastifoil packet in her hand. Jon looked back, over her shoulder, and blushed as well, then looked up with rather embarrassed eyes at DJ.
DJ grinned wickedly. "Free tip, my lad," he said to Jon. "It's nowhere near as much fun putting the bloody things on yourself."
He hadn't thought Rei could blush any redder, but he was wrong. Unable to say anything more through a fit of uncharacteristic but most wonderful giggling, she merely ducked through the door and slid it shut.
DJ chuckled, shaking his head indulgently, and went to work on a second batch of bread dough.
Rei and Jon sat on the couch for almost an hour, not moving, not speaking, just looking at each other. The heat that had almost overtaken them the day before hadn't returned, and they both knew that it was unlikely to do so without circumstances as special as those had been. They also knew that it wasn't going to help anything to try to force the issue. When the moment came again, it would; until then, there was nothing for it.
And anyway, it was as DJ had said. There was a lot more to intimacy than just the physical. For now, they were content with what they had, and the knowledge that, if another opportunity came along, they wouldn't be so inclined to throw it away.
What was important was the fact that they'd acknowledged what they felt.
The undercurrent of synchrony was always there; Jon already knew Rei was going to speak when she said softly, "DJ is a good person."
"We should tell him... tell him everything. He could make a difference."
Jon nodded again. "Yes... when the time is right."
Rei smiled. It all came down to timing, didn't it?
DJ left both batches of dough rising, washed his hands, and went into his room, where Asuka still slept in a delightful tangle of bedclothes and red-gold hair, a beatific smile on her face. He sat down on the edge of the bed and ran a hand over her forehead and hair; she murmured and stirred at his touch, but didn't awaken.
What happened to you, Asuka, DJ wondered, that made arrogance your shield against the world? How did I come to see past all that in one moment of perfect clarity? How can I love the person you are and hate the person you pretend to be?
I'll find out.
It's the most powerful example of its kind in history.
It's designed to unleash the energy of an exploding atomic bomb.
NERV will use it to meet the enemy on his own ground for the first time.
But it's not a weapon.
In seven days:
Neon Exodus Evangelion 2:5
"Evangelion Unit 02 destroyed."