Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Neon Exodus Evangelion
Exodus 3: Revelations in Real Time
The Doors of Perception
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)
The X-Files created by Chris Carter
and 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
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
© 1998 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
HTML remastering © 2016 EPU
Ritsuko Akagi was still in a funk when she arrived at work the following morning, and remained a trifle out of sorts throughout the morning's work. When lunchtime finally rolled around, she went to the commissary, where she found Maya Ibuki sipping coffee and reading the paper.
"Maya," Ritsuko asked as she sat down at the table, "do you know what Misato was doing last night?"
"Not offhand," Maya replied, glancing at her boss over the rim of her coffee cup. "Why?"
"She was giving me a lift home and I asked her if she'd like to go get a drink with me... she told me she had a promise to keep. Do you know what she was talking about?"
Maya's eyes unfocused briefly as she glanced back through her memories; then, finding exactly what Ritsuko was talking about, they bulged as she fought down a burst of laughter that couldn't escape past her mouthful of coffee. For several long seconds, she struggled not to spew the hot beverage across the table as Ritsuko regarded her quizzically.
At length, she calmed herself down and got into a position where she could safely swallow the coffee, then dragged in a breath and tried to settle her nerves. Behind her, DJ sauntered into the cafeteria, looking rested, well-fed and inordinately content as he swiped his card through the reader on the Pepsi machine, thumbed the selector and waited for the machine to drop and fill a cup. Maya sighed and took another drink of her coffee.
Ritsuko's nerves were put on edge by the sight of him, but she chided herself and made herself say in a civil tone, "Good morning, DJ. How are you?"
DJ shrugged, collected his Pepsi, and replied laconically, "Pretty damn good, or so I'm told—though I fear I'll never be as good as Pen-Pen." As Maya struggled once again with an incipient spit take, he raised the paper cup, took a sip, and shot the dark-haired tech a wink; that put her over the edge, and as DJ made his leisurely way back into the corridor, Maya spewed her coffee across the table and then slid down in her chair, racked by massive sobs of laughter.
Ritsuko looked at her helplessly mirthful protege for several long seconds, and as she did, something in her memory went click. With an inarticulate, angry growl, she launched herself up from the desk and charged down the corridor after the boy.
"DJ!" she barked.
"Mm?" he replied, looking mildly back at her.
"What the hell happened last night?" Ritsuko demanded.
DJ shrugged and looked thoughtful. "I bought some new clothes... Arsenal defeated Croydon 3-nil... Misato gave me a terrific Christmas gift. Do you know, I think it's simply criminal you people are allowed to make me come to work on Christmas Day."
"You... you and Misato..."
"But she's twice your age!" Ritsuko spluttered.
"What's that got to do with anything?" DJ replied calmly, having a sip of his drink.
"What the hell were you thinking?!" Ritsuko demanded.
DJ considered this for a moment. "Well, often, it was generally along the lines of, 'My, this is fun!'" Ritsuko's angry flush darkened as her already-flushed face tried to blush. "But," DJ continued, "most of the time, I was focused on the task at hand and didn't have time for stray thoughts, except the odd 'Christ, where'd the bloody penguin learn that' or 'How long have we been going at this, anyway'."
Ritsuko's expression melted from outrage to simple confusion.
"What?!" she said. "Pen-Pen was there too?!"
DJ looked blank for a moment, then smirked. "My dear doctor, you have a very dirty mind." DJ's face broke into a grin as he added, "I'll have you know that we passed a perfectly delightful evening playing Scrabble."
Composing her face into a scowl, Ritsuko glared at him, clearly not believing. "Must you take everything lightly?"
DJ's face became unexpectedly grave, and he looked back at her without a trace of sarcasm or mirth in his eyes as he said calmly, "You mistake me, Ritsuko. I take Misato's gift to me very seriously. Last night was an experience I will treasure forever."
Ritsuko backed away a half-step, almost cowed by his seriousness; then he grinned, patted her on the shoulder, and said, "It's you I take lightly. Ta!"
And, before she could recover and react, he was gone.
Growling, shivering with anger, Ritsuko went in search of Misato. Maybe she would be able to see the wrong in what they'd done.
She found Misato in a corridor on Level 14, whistling happily as she took a bunch of equipment reqs to document processing. She didn't really have to hand-carry that stuff—Central Dogma had a pneumatic tube system for the purpose—but she felt like getting out of the office more, moving around, working off a bit of the excess energy she had awakened with.
"Oh, hi, Ritsuko," she said, not noticing at first that the blonde scientist's face was a mask of fury.
"What the hell did you do to DJ?" Ritsuko demanded.
Misato rolled her eyes, smiling with the memory. "More like what'd Pen-Pen do to both of us," she replied, continuing on her way down the hall. "Damn! There ought to be a law. He's a penguin for God's sake, a flightless waterfowl, and he's better than either of us. And he's only three years old! I mean, think back to when we were three, what the hell did we know? Hell, today at twenty-nine I thought I knew a thing or two, but this bird is inCREDible!"
Ritsuko, who had been staring at her old roommate with an increasingly stony glare throughout this little dissertation, waited for her to stop, then snarled,
"Will one of you please give me a straight answer and tell me what the hell you were doing?"
Misato's brow furrowed with irritation as Ritsuko's implied disapproval clashed against familiar places in her mind. "Oh, go fuck yourself, Ritsuko," she replied crossly. "I know what you're thinking, and you've got a damn dirty mind. All we did was play Scrabble."
"With all the innuendo that's been flying around between you two since Day 1, how do you expect me to believe that? I'm not stupid, you know! Scrabble indeed."
"For Christ's sake, Ritsuko! He's not even fifteen yet! Yes, I do happen to think he's pretty sexy for his age, but give me a little credit!" Misato folded her arms and scowled. "Besides, as it happens, he's made his choice and it wasn't for me."
"Oh, and if it had been that'd be a different story?" Ritsuko demanded. "I knew you had little shame, Misato, but..."
"Wait a minute, now we're arguing about hypotheticals?! What the fuck is wrong with you?! You're berating me for considering the possibility even though I didn't do anything about it? You know what your problem is? You can't accept the fact that you're attracted to him too, and you're taking it out on everyone else!" Ritsuko's eyes went wide at that comment and she recoiled slightly, turning her face away. "Well, I'm not taking your shit for this!" Misato continued. "I think it's time for you to head back to the lab and have your bolts tightened!"
And with that, Misato marched angrily away, leaving Ritsuko standing stunned and white-faced in the corridor.
In the infirmary room she had called home for the past month, Asuka Sōryū-Langley gritted her teeth, not as a gesture of effort, but simply to keep from screaming. She was doing something she hadn't done in thirty-one days, and it required all of her concentration. Broken bones were not a problem by modern standards—under the full regimen of healing accelerants she'd been given since day 1, they'd regained their proper configuration long ago. But in breaking they had savaged the soft tissues, the muscles and tendons that made her body a working machine, and those tissues, still tender and weak, cried out in pain as they were pushed to their limits by her attempt to perform one simple act:
But standing she was, next to the bed she'd occupied for far too long—standing with a cane, one of the metal sorts with a handle and a brace against her forearm, but otherwise unassisted. Cold sweat stood out on her pale forehead, and she breathed in hissing rasps through her clenched teeth, but by God, she was standing on her own.
Letting out an explosive breath, she relinquished her mental grip on her reluctant flesh and let herself sink backward into a wheelchair, the cane almost falling from her hand before she could catch it. Now, quivering slightly in the wake of such total effort, she slumped forward and let out something akin to a sob, tears welling up in her eyes.
Rei Ayanami dropped to one knee next to the wheelchair and put her hand on Asuka's forearm. "Don't cry," she said softly. "You did well."
"I can barely stand up," Asuka growled, her anger directed not at the other girl but rather at herself. "How can you call that doing well?"
"You were badly injured," Rei observed. "Recovery won't come all at once. You have nothing to be ashamed of."
"I—" Asuka stopped, took a deep breath, then let it out in a long sigh. "I'm sorry, Rei. I just feel so... so useless."
"It's not your fault," Rei replied.
Asuka gave her a wan smile. "Thanks for reminding me."
John Trussell sat at his desk, glaring at his terminal screen.
"Jet Alone," he said to it, "I loathe you."
A schematic diagram of Jet Alone looked unsympathetically back at him.
"Get used to him," said the voice of Ritsuko Akagi from behind him. Truss jumped, and then made a mental note to re-arrange his office so that the desk faced the door.
Ritsuko stepped into the office, a faint amusement showing around the edges of the wear and stress on her face. "You and J.A. will be seeing a lot more of each other in the next few months."
John's heart sank. "You don't mean..."
"I'm assigning you to supervise the Jet Alone adaptation project," said Ritsuko, slapping a file down on Truss's desk.
"Wonderful," said Truss with a heavy sigh. "Care to recommend a city for me to aim it toward once we start testing?"
"Trenton, New Jersey," replied Ritsuko. "The last time I checked, that's where my old calculus professor is teaching now."
Truss smiled, heartened to see that his boss retained some tattered fragments of a sense of humor. "We'll have to extend the range a bit, but I'll see what I can do."
"You'll be promoted to Grade 1, of course," said Ritsuko, "with all that goes along with that..."
"Oh, no. Not more team-building exercises."
"Unfortunately, no, we don't have time in the schedule for any of those right now. You will have to re-qualify in Sidearm and take an issue weapon, though."
"Me and a gun in the same room?"
"Required above Grade 2, you know that."
"Dare I ask why these two potentially fatal decisions have been made today?"
"We have two operational Evangelions and two operational pilots," said Ritsuko. "Worse, they're both unsuited to the point position, so our entire tactics library goes out the window. Given the circumstances, well... " Ritsuko shrugged. "Stupid nuclear-powered help is better than no help at all. As for the promotion, well, you'll have Grade 2 techs working for you, and we have to maintain the continuity of command."
"Oh, wonderful. I get to manage personnel too? Do you have any news for me that only comes up to bad?"
"Relax, it's just Hyūga and Aoba from the Weapons Shop. They know what they're doing—they were almost finalists for the console tech position, but I wasn't sure how reliable they would be under fire. They're pretty green... or they were when we started," Ritsuko trailed off, looking as if the project's duration had just dawned on her.
"Speaking of my old job, who's taking it over?"
John's frown turned into a full-fledged scowl. "I'm just not going to ask any more questions."
Ritsuko smiled wanly. "I'm really sorry to have to dump all this on you," she said. "I know you're working hard, but we don't have people to spare. You should be made Supervisor of Tech Services, but with the operational table below you empty for right now you wouldn't have anyone to supervise in that role."
"What's happening to Maya?"
"She's taking over my job."
This served to alleviate Truss's confusion not at all. "Wait a minute, where are you going?!"
"I've been reassigned to a critical development project. That's all I can tell you right now, but I'll be around if you need to ask me about anything, in my copious spare time."
"Oh. Well, good luck. I think we're all going to need it."
Back in her infirmary room, Asuka finished buttoning her shirt (cursing inwardly that even her fingers, at least on her right hand, were weak and clumsy), then tossed her hair back. She was finding that moving around became easier as she tried it; her legs were too weak to support her, but the rest of her was doing fairly well. Well enough, at least, to manage dressing herself in something other than hospital garb (though not without some discomfort), pack the few things that had been brought to her in a small bag, and maneuver a wheelchair, anyway—and well enough to do so over the protestations of the orthopedist who'd been brought in to oversee her recovery.
That orthopedist, a bearded, harried middle-aged man who deeply regretted not having become an attorney like his mother wanted, had spent almost the entire month pleading with his patient not to push herself. Unfortunately for Dr. Ron Jackson, pushing herself was something Asuka Sōryū-Langley had both talent and experience in, and she had no intention of managing her recovery on any terms but her own.
"Look, can't you tell her how crazy this is?" said Dr. Jackson plaintively to Rei (who had stood by and calmly watched as Asuka had prepared to leave).
Rei considered the question for a moment, then replied, "It wouldn't do any good."
"Damn right it wouldn't," said Asuka. Turning the chair to face the surgeon, she said, "Look, you said it yourself. I'm out of traction, right? Everything's back where it belongs, so far as can be, right? So now it's just a matter of rebuilding strength and retraining the muscles. Or did I miss something?"
"No, that's essentially it," Jackson was forced to admit, "but it has to be approached cautiously! Your soft tissues are very open to reinjury right now. If you push yourself too hard you'll set yourself back. You need to stay here, under observation and management, until it's safe for you to resume your life."
"I've wasted a month of my life here, Doctor," said Asuka. "Now I have to take it back." Her harsh tone softening a little bit, she continued, "I really appreciate everything you've done to help me, don't think that I don't—but this is something I have to do on my own now."
"But your body isn't ready for—"
"It's my body," said Asuka flatly. "I'll decide what it is and isn't ready for."
"Well said," came a voice from the doorway, and all present turned to see DJ leaning on the doorframe. Rei was a little amused to see Asuka actually blush a bit at the sight of him.
"I wish you didn't have to see me like this," said Asuka.
DJ shrugged. "I've seen you worse, and it didn't hurt my opinion of you any," he said with a grin.
Dr. Jackson sighed, his shoulder slumping as he admitted defeat. "All right, fine. I'm not technically NERV personnel; I don't have the authority to keep you here if you're determined to leave. But please, please be careful. Don't overwork yourself. You've made an incredible recovery, but a wrong move now and you could permanently cripple yourself."
"Don't worry," Asuka told him. "I'm in pretty good touch with my limitations these days..." She paused, smiling a little, and added, "And I'll have my friends to help me."
It was a little cramped in DJ and Misato's kitchen with almost every member of what Stanfield liked to call "the counter-conspiracy" in attendance, but somehow they all managed to wedge into the room. DJ's box of files stood on the counter; he'd brought them out for use as visual aids, since the purpose of the meeting was to pool their resources in the first place. Keller, Misato, Asuka, Jon and Rei, and Truss were all there, along with DJ himself: some sitting around the table, those unfortunate enough to arrive after all the chairs were taken standing. Hal looked on from the kitchen subconsole, having just performed a check of the apartment and confirming that they were not being observed.
Colonel Otto Keller rummaged through a few of DJ's files (his face alternating between impressed and bemused that an uncleared civilian could have amassed such a store of classified information), then apparently found what he was hunting for—he gave a quiet, satisfied sound and pulled one folder out of the accordion file, opening it in his hand.
There came a knock at the apartment door; Misato glanced toward Hal's subconsole.
"Agents Stanfield and Edwards," said Hal.
Misato nodded. "Let 'em in." The door lock clicked, and the two agents entered, closing the door behind them.
"Sorry we're late," said Stanfield, tucking his sunglasses into his breast pocket. "DJ—for you," he added, tossing a white card from his pocket to the boy. DJ turned it over in his hands and grinned: it was his X-COM MIB identification card.
"You're official, but stand by for the other shoe," said Edwards, causing DJ to cock an eyebrow at him. "Reason we're late is, Ikari still thinks we're just a couple of X-COM Security flunkies. He hauled us into his office and told us to give you and Asuka a message."
Stanfield nodded. "He wants your NERV IDs, and he wants you out of the city by 0800 tomorrow—not necessarily together."
DJ snorted. "He can have the card and he knows where he can shove it," he replied. "But until this thing is resolved I go nowhere."
"And just where the hell does he expect me to go?" Asuka demanded. "NERV is my life. I don't have anything to go to."
"Figure he doesn't think that's his problem," said Edwards with a shrug. "He's issued arrest-and-deport orders for both of you as of 0800."
"That son of a bitch!" said Asuka. "First he tries to kill me, and when that doesn't work he throws me away? That lousy..." She trailed off, her face suffused with rage, too angry to remain articulate.
"I'm not going anywhere," DJ repeated.
"I figured you'd say that," said Stanfield. "Do me a favor, then, don't show up anywhere public for a while. My cover's still in place, I've got orders to shoot to kill if you resist, and I've got a reputation to think about," he added with a hint of a smile. "I'd hate to have to throw it all away by missing you."
DJ frowned, rubbing his chin with his thumb, and then smiled slowly. "Don't worry about it," he said. "I know a place where we can disappear to... "
"Well, we've got 'til morning to worry about that," said Misato. "Right now, we should let Colonel Keller get on with his presentation, so he can get back. Of all of us, his cover's the most delicate right now."
All present nodded, then squared themselves around the table and turned their attention to Keller. The officer rummaged a bit more through his notes, then cleared his throat and began without preamble:
"Reports of UFO sightings from sources with various levels of reliability have been going on in a fairly consistent way since the Second World War, if not before. Since 1947, several of the alien craft have crashed, most of them in the United States, and been recovered by a secret department of the United States Air Force, Majestic 12. In 1999, the aliens stopped sneaking around and began making overt attacks against military installations, centers of population, even ships at sea. They appeared in unprecedented numbers and never-before-seen types. It got so bad the organization in charge of handling UFO affairs within the US government went to the United Nations Security Council with their data. The UN responded by forming its own military force to handle the threat, using MJ-12 and its support organization as the core of the new unit. They called this new force the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit, 'X-COM' for short."
Keller slapped an eight-by-ten glossy photograph down on the table. It depicted, in fairly high quality, the partially dissected corpse of a humanoid creature with overlong, atrophied-looking limbs, an elongated skull, and huge eyes. "This is an Ethereal. They're the leader species of the 1999 aliens. This one was captured in an X-COM raid on an alien base in the Congo. Note the narrow torso, elongated limbs, rather emaciated appearance."
He put another picture down next to the first. This depicted, rather grainily, a shape similar to the one in the first photo—except that it was still very much alive, emitting a bright white glow, and, if the little truck in the corner of the photo was to be taken as a scale indicator, huge, over 200 feet high.
"Second Angel, Antarctica, 2000."
A third photo joined the other two; it was a shot of Unit 01, the test type Evangelion prototype.
"Evangelion Unit 01, Project EVA test type, 2014." Keller looked up at DJ. "Notice any resemblance?"
DJ remained silent, only nodding.
"The 1999 UFO incidents, like X-COM itself, were covered up very effectively. The few civilians who encountered the aliens and lived were not silenced by X-COM, but publicly discredited. Standard operating procedure since 1947 has been to manipulate public opinion so that UFOlogists come in for ridicule; it's worked surprisingly well. Few people today even know about the 1999 attacks, let alone realize that they were the crescendo of a war that began almost seventy years ago—a crescendo that hit its peak at Second Impact."
DJ punched a fist into the opposite hand. "I think I see where this is leading. Now NERV, which must be connected to, must have, have... evolved from X-COM in some way, is doing the same thing against their great weapons, the Angels, that X-COM did against the alien soldiers fifteen years ago—turning their own weapons against them."
"You mean the EVAs... ?" asked Misato.
"Are Angels, or at least the test type is. I'm convinced that Unit 01 is the Second Angel, or was made from its remains, which is more or less the same thing."
Truss considered. "What's wrong with that?" he finally asked.
"Nothing, in and of itself," said DJ. "But they're taking it further than that. Taking it further than anyone has a right to go."
"What do you mean?"
DJ looked at Jon. "Jon was probably about to explain that bit anyway."
"No, go ahead," said Jon. "I'm interested in hearing how much of it you've put together on your own."
"Right. Well, I see it this way. The government have been experimenting with combinations of human and alien genetic material since the 1940s, that's nothing new." DJ scooped up the three photos on the table and then slapped another down; it depicted a squat gray being in the process of undergoing dissection, perhaps on the same table as the Ethereal. This was a completely different creature, though; its body was small and chubby, rather like a child, and it had flat, toeless feet and hands with three long fingers. Its head was enormous, almost the size of its body, and had two huge black eyes.
"This is a Sectoid," said DJ. "The most common foot soldier and advance scout of the alien forces from their earliest encounters through Second Impact. I suspect the US got its first samples of this species in 1947, and has been experimenting with them the longest. According to the X-COM autopsy report on this one—don't ask how I got it—they're partially aquatic, with vestigial gills, and those huge brains of theirs may give them telepathic abilities. There are reports of Sectoids controlling the minds of human victims—I suppose that's how they pulled off all those abductions."
"You think the government has been experimenting with... what?" asked Truss. "Interbreeding these with humans?"
"Not interbreeding," said DJ. "As you can see, they have no genitals. They're probably a clone race. No, I'm talking about something more sinister—outright genetic engineering, combining the DNA of these things with that of humans in hopes that the product will be... I don't know, some kind of telepathic super-soldier. Now, that's bad enough—but since Second Impact, they've had something a hell of a lot more powerful, and dangerous, to work with."
DJ slapped the photo of the Second Angel down again, so that it partially overlapped the Sectoid photo.
"I'm convinced that this is the purpose of Project Ascension, the so-called 'Human Instrumentality Program'. Combine the DNA of Angel and human, in hopes of producing... what?" DJ shook his head. "I don't know what they're trying to do or prove, but I do know that it goes too far. We can't go on doing things, making advancements, running experiments, just because we can—especially if the cost is measured in human lives, human anguish. They're killing people to protect their secrets, killing people so no one can tell the world the hideous things they're doing."
DJ looked up and met Jon's somber gaze, then cracked a weary smile. "You're probably thinking I'm completely mad."
Jon gazed contemplatively at his friend for a moment, then shook his head. "No," he said softly. "I know you're right."
DJ blinked. "What?"
"I know you're right," Jon repeated. "I'll tell you more about that later, it's not important right now. What DJ says is true, as far as it goes. Project Ascension, the Human Instrumentality Program, is designed to improve the human race by melding into it facets of the alien invaders' own makeup... but I'm convinced that there's a whole other level beyond it that we're not seeing."
"And that's what we have to try and find out next?" Misato asked, but it wasn't really a question. "What that next level is?"
Jon nodded. "Right."
"The answer to that question is probably somewhere down in Terminal Dogma," Keller observed. "There's a section down there even I'm not cleared for. Of all the visible senior personnel at NERV, only Commander Ikari ever goes down there."
"Can you get me a diagram that shows where this section is?" wondered DJ.
"Then I can find out what's in it."
"Sneaking into Terminal Dogma? Risky," said Keller. "You're not even in the city legally right now. The guards wouldn't need any excuse to shoot."
"I'm at my best when exploring underground lairs where I've no business being," said DJ. "Besides... I have to do something or I'll go bloody mad."
Keller considered this for a moment, then nodded. "I'll see what I can do."
Asuka's face showed her apprehension at the idea of DJ placing himself at risk, but she remained silent. DJ gave her a smile he hoped was reassuring.
"All right, everybody. Keep your heads down and be careful," said Keller. "We've come this far on luck as much as anything else. Everything now depends on making sure Ikari doesn't figure out what we're up to until we've got enough rope to hang him with."
The meeting broke up, and as people filtered out, Jon followed DJ to his room.
"There's something else I have to show you," said Jon as he closed the door behind them, "but I didn't want to do it in front of the others."
"Oh?" DJ regarded his friend curiously as he set down his box of files on his desk. "What's that?"
"Look at my eyes."
"Look at my eyes," said Jon patiently. "Closely."
DJ leaned closer, peering into one of Jon's eyes. It looked perfectly ordinary to him, your standard green eye, a trifle big perhaps, but that just made Jon's face more expressive...
Jon flicked off the lights in the room, and for an instant, as DJ's own eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw it.
Three extra pupils, smaller than the center, sprang open, spaced equidistantly around the green ring of Jon's iris.
DJ recoiled in involuntary shock, stumbling against the bed.
"Mother of God!" he burst out.
Jon nodded, looking sad. "I'm more than a participant in Project Ascension; I'm a product of it," he said. "I never knew my father, because my father was a gene-splicing laser. I'm part human, part Angel—and part Sectoid, too, come to that."
"You... you said once you had a mother."
Jon nodded. "I don't know if I have any of her genetic material, but I wasn't creched, I was born."
"How can you be so sure?"
Jon looked blankly at DJ for a moment, then replied in the tone of someone pointing out the painfully obvious, "I was there." (The implied "Hello?" was left off.)
DJ digested this for a moment. "... Oh."
"Why, don't you remember?" asked Jon.
"No," replied DJ. "As far as I know, most people don't."
Now it was Jon's turn to wear the look of someone who's just learned something unexpected. "... Oh." He blinked. "Anyway, it's just as well that I do. I couldn't have been more than a year or so old when she disappeared. After birth I only vaguely remember anything up until I was four or so..." Jon fell silent, turning his attention inward in thought.
"What do you remember about her?" asked DJ.
"Not a great deal," said Jon regretfully. He closed his eyes and pushed against his memory, trying to remember more. "She was kind to me, but she seemed very angry underneath it. I always got the impression she was... participating... against her will."
Jon's eyes snapped open and unfocused entirely as a snippet of memory flashed back to him.
He's tiny, uncoordinated, bundled in a blanket. She's putting him down in a crib. She's going to leave him. He's upset, so he does what babies do about that. She quiets him, kisses him on the forehead.
"The first duty of a prisoner is to escape," she tells him softly. "I hope someday you understand."
Jon came back to himself, gasping and wobbling a little on his feet. DJ steadied him, asking him what he'd seen, and got back a disjointed, somewhat breathless account.
A spark of something like recognition flared in DJ's eyes, and the ghost of a smile played at the corners of his mouth.
"What was her name?" he asked.
"What?" replied Jon, still steadying himself.
"Your mother, what was her name?"
Jon turned inward again for a moment. "I don't remember. I can see her face, but I can't..." His eyes open, this time focused but surprised. "Dana! Her name was Dana."
DJ's hinting smile asserted itself a little more firmly as, excited, he rummaged through his files. "No... no... no... Aha!" Pulling one sheet out of one file, he turned and held it up for Jon's inspection. "Is this her?"
Jon's eyes widened in shock. The woman pictured looked to be in her early thirties, with auburn hair and a penetrating expression. She was attractive but not striking, but her eyes... her sad gray eyes commanded attention and made her lovely and a bit intimidating at the same time.
"Yes," Jon whispered. "Who is she?"
"Her name is Dana Scully," said DJ. "She was an agent of the American FBI before the Second Impact, assigned to investigate cases involving suspected paranormal activity." DJ handed Jon the photo and held up another, this one of a thirtyish man with a short, somewhat unruly ruff of thick, dark hair and a serious expression. "This is a picture of her partner."
The man in the photo looked terribly familiar to Jon; in fact...
"He looks like you," murmured Jon, looking up.
"His name is Fox Mulder," said DJ, "and he looks like me for a very good reason."
Jon looked from DJ to the picture and back again.
"He's your father," said Jon.
DJ nodded. "Both he and Agent Scully were reported deceased by the American government in 2000. They told Mum the two agents were killed in the Great San Andreas Earthquake. She believed them—she was in California herself when it happened, and barely made it out unhurt."
"But I was born in January of 2001," said Jon.
"Exactly," said DJ.
A look of horror stole slowly over Jon's face.
"Then she was a prisoner," said DJ. "Yes."
Jon's expression darkened. "That's why she was so sad, so angry..."
"I think we've both got some heavy thinking to do," said DJ.
"I think you're right," said Jon. He went to the door, then turned back. "DJ... thank you for showing me that."
"You're welcome," said DJ. "Thank you for trusting me with your secret."
"I should have done it a long time ago," said Jon, "but... I guess I was afraid of how you might react."
"Rei said a similar thing to me, not long ago. Come to think of it, she never told me what she was afraid I'd react to, but I suppose the moment wasn't right." He shrugged. "It's all one to me, anyway. I don't care if you're a genetic experiment or a Yeti, I'm satisfied you're on our side."
As he left the apartment for his own, Jon wondered why that statement of trust made him feel so uneasy.
He found Rei at the window, looking out at the world beyond. Instincts told him that something was amiss, something he suspected needed to be dealt with.
"What's wrong?" he asked, standing behind her and resting his hands on her shoulders.
Moments of silence followed. "There is..." Rei said at last, "something they don't know about me."
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked quietly.
She reached up with her hands, to touch his. The touch of her mind against his became stronger, and thoughts began to cross the barrier, merging together...
He saw Rei as a child, quiet and unemotional, surrounded on all sides by people much bigger than she was, guided by their hands and going where she was told to go. Most of them wore the white coats of scientists, discussing the results of various tests, experiments, progress or lack thereof. He recognized Gendō Ikari among the white coats, younger and more animated than the Ikari they all knew, driven by the need to know the truth above all things, and as such the leader of this project. The 'inner circle' of Gendō's group comprised only a few of the white coats: Yui Ikari, his wife, silently devoted to her husband and their young son, and who also gave the impression of knowing much more than anyone about the goings-on; Naoko Akagi, brilliant but driven, her life devoted to the mighty supercomputers and little else; Keller, then a Captain, military liaison from X-COM and trusted advisor; Jacqueline Natla, strangely cold and spiteful, the head biotechnologist of the project and the one in greatest charge of the gene labs, the cloning efforts...
There are more of you? he thought, knowing she would hear.
Yes, her soft voice touched him in response. He saw them arrayed in one of the laboratories, encapsuled, some younger, some older, but all looked exactly like Rei Ayanami, with one, to Jon, disturbing difference: their hair and eye colors matched not Rei's, but his own.
"You're part of the Instrumentality of Man, like me," Jon said softly, holding her closer. He'd known that, but it needed saying.
"Yes," she answered with equal quiet, leaning back against him.
"Do you remember your parents at all? Do you... remember being born?"
Silence, both physical and mental. "I... can't remember."
Unconsciously his own memories of his formative years slipped forward: brief glimpses of his mother, the white coats, and the black suits and military uniforms; Keller again, gaining his Colonel's rank; endless training and testing by the military, knowing that the Enemy's forces would come again and making sure that they, and particularly Jon, would be ready for it; Natla again, discussing experiments with the brains of Alcatraz. He had been born, he knew, but others like him could have been cut from similar cloth and similarly born.
None of this helped Rei to remember. Before the laboratories, before Gendō's gentle guiding hand down the corridor to where Yui and the others quietly waited... nothing but darkness...
Perhaps there really was nothing before that, and she had never had parents, save perhaps for Gendō and Yui. This was certainly her own assumption.
It bothers you?
We are not... like them, she thought, and Jon knew she referred to the others in their resistance movement.
"It doesn't matter," Jon answered softly, holding her closer. "I am like you, and you are like me. DJ knows my secret; it has not turned him away. If anything," (he had to chuckle a bit,) "learning your secret would only increase his fascination with you."
At this Rei had to smile, softly giggling as well. "He's like that, isn't he?"
"This is what you meant when you said we should tell him everything," said Jon, the realization blooming in his mind.
"Yes," said Rei.
"Then tell him," said Jon.
"Right now? Just like that?"
"Why not? Has your opinion of him changed since the day you said we should?"
Rei shook her head. "No. You're right. It's not fair to him to hide it..."
"Do you want me to come with you?"
"No... you've told him what you need to say. This is something I must do myself." She turned, then paused. "But first..."
"Just... hold me for a while."
DJ sat back on his bed, hands behind his head, and looked up at the ceiling. He hadn't been in his room for over a month, except to grab some clothes on the way to work this morning and get his box of files before the meeting. After this evening, he wasn't sure when he would get a chance to return to it, either. A pile of mail stood on his night table, leaning drunkenly over. A few envelopes had been scattered on the floor. He rolled over, reached down to pick them up, and had to fish a couple out of the gap where the drawer hadn't been completely closed.
"That's strange," he muttered to himself, pulling the drawer open. A quick inventory of its contents revealed that, if his memory was accurate, one item was missing. Curiouser and curiouser...
Then he turned back over, sat up, reached to his desk and tapped Hal's console mouse, unclearing the screen to reveal an interactive console login session.
Smiling, he sat back. If nothing else, this would be good to tease somebody over. He picked up the pile of mail, dumped it on the bed in front of him, then hoisted up the wastebasket and sat cross-legged to sort it all out. Most of it was junk—his bills went straight to his bank's New York branch for payment by an account handler, so all that pertained to that in this pile was his monthly statement. In his and his mother's memory combined, the Amalgamated Bank of Northamptonshire had never made an account-handling error, so that could be dealt with later. There were also five issues of Archaeology Weekly and the January numbers of Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Cycle World and Photography Journal, which he set aside for later perusal. The rest, after discarding solicitations from charities (DJ had one charity of choice, the British Second Impact Widows and Orphans Fund) and various boring NERV memoranda he'd never bothered reading when he wasn't missing, boiled down to two items.
One was a telegram from his mother, dated and delivered that morning:
FROM LARA CROFT CROFTHENGE-IN-NORTHANTS NORTHAMPTONSHIRE ENGLAND UK TO DEREK J CROFT 22 LEE ST APT 3-D WORCESTER-3 MA US WELCOME BACK STOP AM IN FRG INVESTIGATING RK ISSUE PER K STOP HOPE TO SEE YOU VERY SOON STOP ALL MY LOVE MUM == MESSAGE ENDS ==
DJ smiled and tucked the telegram away in a folder, then went to the next interesting piece of mail. This was a red-and-blue-edged international mail envelope, complete with Canadian stamps and a postmark dated two days after his disappearance.
Now who do I know in Canada? DJ wondered as he tore open the envelope. Inside was a sheet of perf-edged notebook paper, the kind one might find in a college notebook, inscribed with a clean, flowing script he recognized almost immediately:
37 Armada Drive
Halifax, Nova Scotia
I hope this letter finds you well. What little information has come out of Worcester-3 since we left doesn't sound promising, but I know how tough you are.
I'm so sorry we left without letting you know. After the attack from orbit (did they really have to send two of you into space to fight it?), Mother decided that enough was enough. She'd moved to Worcester to do volunteer work in disaster relief, but it just got too dangerous—the last call was just too close.
Please don't think that my leaving means that I didn't have faith in you... it's just that, to Mother at least, the job you have to do looks too big for anyone to handle. Things are happening in Worcester-3 that are beyond our understanding, and I'm not sure, being so closely involved, that you realize how much that frightens people with regular lives. Mother didn't even want me to send this letter, but I convinced her that it was irrational to think that there could be any harm.
We're staying with relatives here in Halifax, far away (Mother hopes) from the danger. It's beautiful up here by the sea. You were right when you said that there's nothing quite like watching the great liners come and go. Last week the Queen Mary was here, which caused quite a stir. Did you know she's the only original pre-Second Impact liner still afloat? It cost the Cunard Line more than twice what a new ship would have cost to put her back in service. But I'm sure you already know all this.
I hope that you and the others are all well, and that together you can find a way to... well, it's melodramatic, but, a way to save the world. Once all this is over, look us up in Halifax on your way back to England.
PS: I also hope that once this is all over you'll pick up your studies again. I still think that, once you get to a free-form language like BIXLOR, you could be quite a programmer! :)
DJ shook his head, smiling, and tucked the letter away in its envelope. She was probably annoyed with him for not answering in a month... but how to explain where he'd been? Oh, well... he'd think of something. He couldn't really tell the truth, since he didn't honestly know where he'd been himself, but that didn't necessarily mean he had to lie. He got up from his bed, took an empty file folder from his file box, and started a correspondnce file for Amy, then boxed it and his mother's file.
He'd just finished compressing the trash and putting the magazines and statement on the desk, clearing his bed again, when there came a knock at the door.
"Come in," he said, and Rei entered. "Hullo, Rei... what's on your mind?"
"I... I have something to tell you," she said.
"Oh," replied DJ, slightly puzzled. "OK... well, let's sit," he said, climbing up on his bed and gesturing for her to join him opposite. He sat cross-legged; she tucked her feet under and knelt, Japanese-style, a mannerism she realized she'd learned from Gendō Ikari in happier days.
"Yesterday I apologized for keeping something from you," said Rei, "but the time was wrong to tell you what it was."
DJ nodded. "I figured you'd tell me when you were ready." Then he fell silent again, waiting patiently.
Rei looked down at her hands, folded in loose fists on her knees, for almost a minute, then looked up, took a breath, and said,
"I am... like Jon."
Slowly, DJ nodded. "Well, that stands to reason, I suppose," he said.
Rei returned her gaze to her hands. "It was selfish of me not to tell you sooner, as soon as I knew I could trust you," she said softly. "But I worried that... that you would think less of me, if you knew that I was... less than human." She closed her eyes, tears leaking out, and whispered, "Perhaps not even human at all."
Her eyes snapped open again in surprise as DJ rose up on his knees, leaned forward and wrapped her in a hug.
"Tch," he whispered into her ear. "I thought I'd got you over saying such awful things about yourself."
"You... you don't... mind?"
He rocked back on his haunches, her shoulders in his hands, and met her eyes with his own. His face was perfectly composed and his eyes burned with intensity as he said flatly, "I don't care one damned bit. I don't care if you're royalty, common stock, genegineered, from outer space or a bloody android. You've saved my life, you've cared for me, you're my friend and I love you anyway." He grinned. "I am a little annoyed you didn't think I could handle knowing, though."
"It's not that I didn't believe," said Rei. "It was that I was afraid of being wrong."
"Never apologize for what you are," said DJ as he embraced her again, and she remembered, as he did so, the last time he'd told her that—in the kitchen, on only her first day living at 22 Lee.
"Hm. I shall have to brush up on my vegetarian recipes now you're here."
"Oh, don't apologize. Never apologize for what you are. Eh, Jon?"
"Huh? Oh... yes. Right."
As Rei sobbed on his shoulder, DJ realized that, though she'd had the saddest life of anyone he'd ever known, this was the first time he'd ever seen her cry... and she was doing it out of relief, not pain.
The next knock at the door startled both of them a little, but they didn't shift as DJ called for the knocker to enter.
"Hey," said Asuka as she wheeled into the room, "what's going on?" Her tone was mild, curious, rather than the accusation it might once have been.
Rei sat back and gave DJ a questioning look; he smiled.
"Well, we four are the Children of Project Evangelion," he said. "Personally, I don't think we should let anything divide us... but it's your call."
Rei considered it for a moment, then turned to Asuka.
"Asuka," she said, "would you ask Jon to step in here?"
Commander Ikari sat behind his desk. Most NERV personnel would have been surprised to learn that he was not, in fact, sitting with his hands steepled in front of his face—rather, he was leaning back slightly in his chair, his arms at his side. His gaze was aimed at the immense Tree of Life which adorned his office, his expression less intense than usual. He had not spoken or moved in more than half an hour. To any outside observer, it would seem that Gendō was in a state of peaceful meditation.
They would only be half right.
Totally oblivious to his surroundings, Gendō had spent the last half hour sifting through unpleasant memories of a day long past.
"Father, why am I here?"
A young boy stands on the catwalk beneath me, illuminated by a spotlight. It's my son, Shinji Ikari. The look on his face is confused, pleading... pitiful.
"You are here because I have a use for you."
The words sting. The boy's expression quickly changes to one of exasperated disbelief. "A use for me?"
Shinji shakes his head. "I should have known you wouldn't actually want to see me. You've gotten along without a son for ten years, why stop now?"
With a press of a button, the bay surrounding Shinji lights up. His eyes widen as he sees, for the first time, the immense head of Evangelion Unit 01 staring back at him.
"A... giant robot?"
"You will pilot it," I say, as sternly as I can manage—knowing, deep down, that my son will bristle at the thought of taking such an order from me.
Shinji's eyes drop to the ground, and it takes him a moment to gather enough composure to speak—but when the words come, they flow like water from a shattered dam. "Are you crazy? I've never seen it before! How could I possibly pilot it? How can you even ask me to do such a—"
"You will pilot it, because no one else can," I repeat, flatly.
Stunned further by the forceful interruption, Shinji stares at me with a look of sheer terror. Whether it is fear of the EVA or of me, I cannot tell.
His scream is more desperate than any I've heard from him before, and for a moment I think he might simply tear away from the EVA bay, never to be seen again. He'd have little difficulty—I sent Dr. Akagi and all other staff away after she brought Shinji here. But he stands his ground, trembling. He's weakened, vulnerable, but still clinging to something... hope, perhaps? Or is he simply too terrified to do anything?
Damn it, Shinji, I think to myself. Don't be weak now.
I want to tell him, "If you will not help us, then leave, now. You are useless, and I will have no more to do with you." But it's obvious that such a statement would only push him over the edge, and something stops me from speaking the words.
But I have to tell him something...
"I can assure you that it's perfectly safe."
The reassuring tone of my voice—an inflection that Shinji has heard rarely, if ever—manages to jolt him out of his despair, and back toward simple confusion.
"You're insane," he sputters, his voice thick with skepticism.
"I tell you, as your father, it is safe, and you will receive ample training. You will not be alone. There is another unit, and another pilot. A test is scheduled for this evening. You are welcome to attend, and witness our procedures firsthand."
Yes, this is a good idea. And Rei can be used to reassure him.
"I don't have to decide right now?" Shinji asks, cautiously.
"You may even speak to the other pilot after the test, if it will reassure you further."
After what feels like an eternal silence, the boy nods. "All... all right. I'll attend the test."
"That's all I ask," I respond, silently praying that my gambit will pay off.
Three hours later, I stand at the back of the control room, watching Shinji peer out at EVA-00 through the glass. His gaze has been one of concern ever since he saw Rei step into the entry plug. Dr. Ritsuko Akagi stands near the front of the room, reporting on the pilot's vitals, telling me that all is proceeding normally. The synchronization process begins, and Maya Ibuki counts down to the absolute borderline.
A moment later, everything goes to hell.
Maya is trying to disconnect anything and everything, Ritsuko is giving seven orders simultaneously. EVA-00 is writhing, grasping its head, staggering... and now smashing the observation room glass.
Amidst the chaos, someone screams, "The entry plug is ejecting!"
I jump to my feet, calling Rei's name. All I can see, all that I can conceive of, all that exists in my universe, is the white metal capsule as it ricochets off the bay ceiling and the far wall. When it comes to rest, I find myself racing down the hallway, towards the bay entrance, only dimly aware that someone (Ritsuko?) has just announced that Unit 00 still has 25 seconds of power left. I open the bay door and rush to the capsule just as the EVA stalls, beating the safety crew to the scene. Without conscious effort, I wrench open the plug (causing third-degree burns that I won't feel for another hour) and pull Rei—unconscious but alive—to safety.
Neither I nor anyone else present is sure exactly when Shinji ran out of the control room.
A short while later, I receive a report from NERV Internal Security—Shinji has been found, but he's completely hysterical. I know, without question, that he can never be brought back into the fold after the events he's witnessed... too much damage has been done. So there is no option but to let him leave.
I haven't seen him since. I'm not even positive of his whereabouts. He probably returned to Japan, but I haven't had any chances to follow up on the matter. It's likely that I will never speak to my son again...
...and somewhere, deep inside, I feel a sense of satisfaction over this.
(The following is a plain text transcript of a message sent as an encrypted facsimile transmission by Hal to a portable receiver aboard the Imperial German Line steamship Imperator via an unauthorized use of the MarconiGram network, Tuesday, January 12, 2016.) Lara, I got your telegram yesterday and thought I should drop you a line and let you know what's been going on over here while you were gone. I'm not sure what to make of the kids—all four of them have been acting a lot closer since they had their discussion on Christmas, especially Rei and Asuka. They've never had much use for each other - when they first met, according to DJ, Asuka hated Rei and Rei, well... Rei hadn't really started acknowledging people other than Jon and DJ by that point. Now they're almost inseparable. None of them have told me what they talked about, but then, I haven't asked. Whatever it was, it was obviously EVA-pilots-only. DJ and Asuka are hiding out in an abandoned house down in the part of the city that was evacuated during the Skyfall Incident and never repopulated. Apparently it once belonged to a schoolmate of DJ's, something he finds dryly amusing. They're fairly comfortable, but the fugitive life is wearing on their nerves. It's not easy for the rest of us either, taking them supplies and visiting—all the sneaking around is tough, especially since we know NERV must have men watching us. So far we've been lucky, but I'm not sure how much longer our luck will hold out. Asuka left the infirmary with a laundry list of exercises she has to do in order to get back to 100%, or as close as she'll get, and most of them are agony for her, but I have to give her credit—she doesn't let the pain stop her. It slows her down, but she's beating it on her own terms, and Rei is always right there beside her, holding her hand, telling her when it's time to slow down, and wonder of wonders, Asuka actually listens to her. She's making incredible progress—only two weeks out of traction and she can get around the house without the wheelchair, although her endurance is still pretty poor. She gets so frustrated, but she doesn't throw tantrums like she used to; just grits her teeth and tries it again. She even jokes with Rei to take the edge off. The other day she pushed herself a little too hard and fell, and as Rei was helping her up, she grinned and asked, "Does all this mean somebody finally ordered you to be my friend?" I've never seen Rei blush that way before. I think she was actually a little embarrassed. DJ alternates between morose and angry most of the time. The forced inactivity is driving him up a wall—he can't go out or NERV Security will attack him, and Colonel Keller has taken longer than expected to come up with the information he needs. I think helping Asuka (or more accurately, I guess, helping Rei help Asuka) is about all that's keeping him sane. I'm nervous about the expedition he has planned, but I can respect his need to do something. I'm starting to get a little stir crazy myself. There hasn't been even a hint of an Angel attack since Thanksgiving. Some people around work are starting to whisper that it might be over, but I don't agree. Whatever their purpose was, it's still incomplete. I can feel the other shoe up there waiting to drop. It's just a matter of time before it does. I just hope it holds off long enough for the rest of us to be in some shape to meet it, because right now, NERV would fall apart like a pinata. Commander Ikari locks himself in his office almost all the time, claiming to be in deep discussion with SEELE over the future of the program, but Truss has checked the comm channels and Ikari's been on the line to Geneva for maybe five minutes in the last month. Something's brewing, but I don't know what, and I hope like hell we're ready for it. Ritsuko hasn't spoken to me since Christmas. I've considered calling, but what would be the use? She's obviously got it into her head somehow that DJ and I had an affair, and it's really got her pissed off. Plus, I said some things I shouldn't have said when she confronted me about it, because the assumption made me so mad, and you can't take something back once you've said it. I'm starting to think we may never talk again. On the other hand, you thought that about your father, too, so maybe there's hope. On that note, I'd better wrap this up. Hal tells me if I go on much longer, I'll start establishing patterns enemy cryptographers could use to try and break our code, although with a 16384-bit key, I'm not sure even SHODAN could do that in less than a month. Looking forward to seeing you soon. Always, (signed) Misato (Transmission ends.)
Three days after that transmission was sent, DJ stood behind some snow-covered bushes at the top of Dead Horse Hill, looking through a pair of small field glasses down at a cluster of buildings near the bottom of the hill. Noting the steam rising from the crack around the door of one, he glanced at his watch, then smiled. He was right—it was a maintenance entry point to the Geo-Front.
Rummaging in the large pack that sat before him, he came out with a map of Worcester-3, then pinpointed his position in red ink. Over it he laid the same-scale transparency map of the Geo-Front he'd had HAL print up; then he lined up the index marks.
Far off the beaten track, well away from the EVA cages, TechDiv, or anyplace else whose purpose was listed in the personnel manual. For some time now, DJ had believed that the answers he sought lay somewhere within that secrecy-shrouded part of the Geo-Front. Now, come hell or high water, he was going to find out.
Shouldering the pack, he loped down the hill, toward the truth.
Using the map provided by Colonel Keller, DJ navigated the maintenance and repair shaftwork deep into Terminal Dogma. The NERV fortress had been constructed with an eye toward defending against large-scale, violent attack. The enemy it was built to face was never expected to attempt anything as sophisticated as an infiltration, nor to exist in anything other than gigantic size, and the place's mere reputation as the last bastion of human defense led curiosity seekers to conclude that it must be heavily guarded and therefore avoid it. The truth was, it wasn't all that secure when faced with a small, quiet, determined attack like DJ's. With a little patience and a little help from Keller, he had a direct route into the heart of the forbidden section.
So it was that he emerged from a duct into a maintenance closet. Here he re-checked all of his straps and hanging equipment, making sure everything was secured and nothing would swing free, clank or otherwise threaten to give him away. On this level, there would certainly be guards patrolling the corridors, at least, and with a little luck and quiet he felt confident he could avoid them.
DJ put a stethoscope against the door and listened to it with one ear, satisfied himself that there was no one about on the other side, then stuffed it into an inside pocket of his jacket and eased open the door.
He found himself in a bare metal corridor, like those to be found anywhere else in the NERV complex, except that the light was low and slanted peculiarly toward the red end of the spectrum. He wondered why this was as he made his way to the nearest intersection, committing the location of the closet to memory and his map with a neat shorthand mark. Normally he liked to rely on his memory alone for navigation, but in a complex with well-maintained, identical corridors, he would have none of the usual nuances to rely on for landmarking. Unfortunately, the corridors were not marked with arrows and signs as they were in the lower-classified sections, probably as a means of confounding intruders.
The doors, however, had small signs next to them denoting the purposes of the rooms beyond. In many cases these legends were arcane and meaningless to DJ (what, for example, was GTX CUL/XFR 1?), but he noted them down anyway. Perhaps K, J or Otto would be able to tell him what they were for.
The corridor he'd entered was long and straight, without any connecting hallways until the end, and terminated about fifty yards on in T intersection before a door as unimpressive as all the others. As DJ made his way up the left side of the corridor, he kept an ear out for guards, but still didn't hear any. He looked carefully around before leaning into the intersecting hallway; it was a short one, traveling only about a room's depth from the corridor he'd come up before turning in the same direction, so that the whole affair formed a large squared-off Y with the lone door at the crossover point.
He was about to go up the left branch when he heard a door open up that way and footsteps emerge. He froze, barely breathing, and listened, hoping whoever had just come out into the hall would go up it, away from him; but they didn't. After a pause and the sound of the door closing again, they came toward him. The stride was even and not running, so DJ didn't think he'd been detected, but whoever it was had a fast walk. There wasn't much time.
Without any alternative, DJ whirled and yanked open the door at the intersection, whipped through it, and closed it as fast as he could do so and not make any noise.
His back pressed against the door, DJ kept very, very still and listened, his nerves burning. The tapping of the guard's boots grew closer, closer still, and then receded in the distance, until he was alone again. It was only then that he realized that the chill he felt was not the frisson of fear of discovery, but an actual chill; the room he was in was as cold as a meat locker, and there was a layer of frost on the metal walls.
Stepping carefully forward, he shined his penlight around; he was in a small room, no more than a closet really. The door behind him was heavy, but the one ahead of him was most impressive, almost a vault-like affair. A sign affixed to it announced, CRYO STORAGE 01, and sternly admonished, NO UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL.
Surprisingly, for all its impressive size, the door had no lock that DJ could find, and opened smoothly and silently when he pulled on the handle, releasing a breath of mist. It was colder beyond, but his curiosity warmed him as he stepped through into the frost-rimed chamber behind.
The room he was in now was dimly lit by a few bluish lamps set in the floor; he was walking on an expanded metal catwalk, and the actual floor, obscured by mist, was a couple of feet below. Ranked on either side of him were metal capsules about the size of telephone booths, standing at a slight angle back against the room's vaulted walls, six to a side. Each had a small control console next to it with various blinking status lights.
They were hibernacula—old ones, dating back at least ten years. The same model as the ones sent on the Discovery mission... only fitted out for service in one standard G instead of Discovery's Mars-like one-sixth.
"What the hell... " DJ whispered, shuffling forward. He had the same feeling he'd felt when he and his mother breached the innermost chamber of the Xexpotecl ziggurat—the unmistakable instinctive knowledge that he was entering a place of immense significance. He stepped over to the nearest chamber, looking at the status displays; as near as he could determine, this particular unit was shut down and unoccupied.
He looked at the plate attached to the front of the capsule, using his sleeve to rub away a layer of frost, and his eyes widened in shock at the legend engraved in it.
N E R V
AYANAMI, Rei (P/T)
"I'll be goddamned," he murmured. "I was right after all..." His brow furrowed, and he walked around the chamber to the next. The lights on its control panel were primarily green, and as he watched, one of the three trace lines showed a flicker of brain activity. This one was occupied and running normally. Steeling himself for whatever he might find, DJ scraped the frost away.
N E R V
He surprised and startled himself by letting out a short bark of laughter. It was good to know that someone in this chamber of horrors had a sense of humor.
He took the rest of the room's contents as read and went to the opposite end; another door, this one labeled CRYO STORAGE 2, led into a mirror image chamber, with a similar door at its far end.
Most of the hibernacula in this room were shut down and disused; only the two in the corner at the far end showed the green lights of activation, and so DJ went to the first one, wondering at its contents. Perhaps another Jon? If so, DJ had to wonder what had happened to the other ten.
But when he scraped away the frost obscuring this chamber's nameplate, DJ got a shock that rather surpassed the one he would have received from discovering another Jon Ellison.
N E R V
Cryonic Detention System
That answered the question of what had happened to the real one. DJ scribbled some notes, looked at his watch, and decided he'd seen enough, not to mention tempted fate enough, for one day. He left the cryo room through its vaulted door and found, as he expected, another foyer niche leading into the corridor beyond. Apparently the corridor had made a Y to divert around the cryo storage facilities, and then rejoined in an inverted Y on the other side.
At the corner of his perceptions, DJ heard the footsteps of the guard approaching. Suppressing a curse, he looked around for cover, then tucked himself into the niche behind the door. A short eternity passed as the steps drew nearer, then nearer still, and DJ caught and held his breath as they paused outside the door. Agonizing seconds passed, seconds in which part of DJ's mind screamed at him to run, that he'd been found. He ground his teeth and stayed put, and a few seconds later, the footsteps resumed and began to recede.
When they'd faded away in the distance, DJ slowly let his held breath out, then made ready to get the hell out. He'd seen enough for one day, not to mention having done enough tempting of fate.
But as he prepared to slip out of the room and back to his escape route, he paused, looking back at the vault door to Cryo 2.
The real Ryoji Kaji had been a friend (albeit an irritating one) of Misato's and Ritsuko's. He'd helped to raise Asuka after fallout from the early days of the Project had destroyed her family. By all accounts he'd been a better man than the thing with his face that DJ had finally destroyed. He deserved better than to figuratively rot in a frozen prison cell in the depths of Terminal Dogma.
DJ swore at his conscience and went back into the freezer and up to the hibernaculum's control panel, racking his brains for everything he could remember about the Westinghouse Model 16 hibernaculum. He considered consulting Hal for confirmation, but decided against it; the controls were labeled, and as simple as he remembered them, and a HALcomm transmission could be detected. Instead, he took a deep breath, then keyed in a short sequence.
The key-in process was brief and simple; at its end, DJ stepped back onto the catwalk and watched the chamber, tense and nervous. The lights on the control panel seemed to cycle endlessly, accompanied by alarming hissing and clicking noises from within the hibernaculum itself. DJ knew that they were only the soft sounds of the unit's internal mechanisms working, but in his present state he heard them as deafening sounds that would bring hordes of guards down around his ears before the process could be complete.
After an eternity, the control console beeped, softly, once. The hibernaculum's armored lid clicked, and then, with a hiss and a puff of cold steam, swung open. Within, cushioned by formed foam, lay a man who appeared to be just who the lid said he was. Only now did it occur to DJ that this might be another malevolent copy, not the original. On the other hand, why would they keep a copy in a freezer marked 'Cryonic Detention'? He put the matter out of his mind. It was rather too late now, anyway.
Kaji stirred, groaned, and sat up, raising a hand to his head. Then he glanced around in confusion at the gloomy, cold metal room full of hibernacula, and down at the close-fitting gray coverall he was wearing. Then he turned his dark, confused eyes on DJ.
"Who are you?" he asked, coughing as his voice caught in his dry throat. Recovering quickly, he went on, "Where am I?"
"It's rather a long story," DJ replied. "C'mon, can you walk? We've got to get out of here."
Ryoji climbed unsteadily out of the hibernaculum chamber; DJ leaned past him and closed the lid again, then reactivated the controls. "This won't fool anyone for long, but it might not have to," he said.
Just as he spoke, the whooping blare of an alarm siren filled the air, and the room's bluish gloom was split by flashing red lights.
"Shit!" DJ snarled. "Come on! We've got to get out of here new!" He yanked his .45 out from under his jacket and grabbed the still-unsteady Kaji by his arm, hauling him bodily toward the door at the far end of the room.
Just as he did so, the sound of running feet outside reached a crescendo, and the vault door nearer Kaji's hibernaculum smashed open. DJ turned to face the entering guard, then froze in stunned amazement, his jaw dropping.
The creature standing in the doorway was not, despite its hulking silhouette, a large man. It was certainly large—over seven feet tall—but it wasn't a man at all. Its body was hyperdeveloped, with impossibly broad shoulders and muscles bulging beyond any bodybuilder's most disturbing efforts, but its head was smaller than a man's, dominated by a pair of large, yellow, pupilless eyes and a wide, fanged mouth, without much forehead to speak of. It wore a close-fitting green jumpsuit with a belt of equipment at its waist, and had a futuristic-looking rifle at the ready, its sling over one enormous shoulder. The skin of its noseless face and three-fingered hands was a vivid shade of purple.
"Good God!" DJ cried. "A Muton, here?!"
Seeing DJ and Kaji, the creature opened its fanged mouth and let out an inhuman roar, then opened fire with the rifle at its side, spraying a burst of three bright-green energy bolts at the two humans. DJ and Kaji dove flat to the floor, sliding across the slick metal toward the far door, and the Muton guard's fire ripped into the hibernaculum they'd been standing in front of—the only other activated one in the room. Huge clouds of steam and a deafening hissing noise filled the room as cryonic fluid lines were severed. The hibernaculum's own system failure alarm added to the cacophony. DJ cried out as a jagged chunk of metal thrown off by the exploding unit bit through his trousers into his upper leg.
The noise and shock seemed to jolt Kaji out of his post-hibernation lethargy; he hauled DJ to his feet and rushed with him out the far door, through Cryo 1, and through that vault door as the Muton, unable to see them through the steam and apparently confused by the results of its attack, howled in rage and fired at random.
"Are you all right?" asked Kaji as the two humans skidded into the corridor.
"Right enough," DJ replied through gritted teeth. The jagged metal missile stuck in his leg hurt abominably, but he dared not pull it out—it might be preventing him from bleeding out, if it had nicked a major vein. It was too far toward the front of his leg to have hit his femoral artery or hamstring, for which he thanked God. A crippling injury, keeping him from escaping this catacomb, would mean certain death. It seemed that this time he'd been lucky.
"This way!" he cried, swallowing the pain and limp-running down the long hallway toward the closet. Kaji was right behind him. Through the wailing alarms, they could both hear the howls and snarls of other Mutons, distant but coming nearer.
"How'd you know it was a Muton?" Kaji asked as they ran.
"Recognized it—from—my father's files—on the Hidden War," DJ managed between clenched-teeth breaths.
Kaji frowned, then stored that away for later. Who this kid was and how he knew what he knew could be investigated after they got the hell out of... wherever they were.
"Just round this corner," said DJ, pointing as he ran, "there's an—access tunnel—that leads to the surface."
As they reached the corner, DJ's luck momentarily ran out. He barrelled full-tilt into a Muton which was coming the other way, also running, and also not expecting to run into somebody as it rounded the corner. To DJ, colliding with the Muton's stone-dense flesh felt like running full-speed into a stone wall; he rebounded and fell, stunned. To the Muton, the collision was an unexpected inconvenience, except for one small point: DJ had run full-speed into the plasma rifle it held across its body as it ran, knocking the weapon out of its hands.
His head spinning, DJ rolled over on his back, his hand groping for his pistol, as the Muton raised one heavily booted foot. He knew the gun would do him little good against this genetically engineered monster, and that it would shortly bring that foot down to crush the life out of him, but he felt he had to make the gesture, even as he fought to get enough wind back that he could curse. So close! So close to piecing together what the hell was going on, and now he'd never get the chance to tell the others! His hand found the pistol, and, snarling defiantly, he raised it and fired. What the hell, he thought, maybe I'll get lucky and blind the bastard.
Then the corridor was filled with the howl of plasma fire, and DJ was momentarily blinded by the green flash as a spray of bolts flew over his sprawled body. The Muton reeled away, its uniform and flesh charring and filling the air with a sickly, rotten stench, and then collapsed with a piteous shriek.
DJ struggled to his feet and turned around to be grinned at by Ryoji Kaji, who held the Muton's discarded plasma rifle in his hands.
"You've got guts, kid," he said, "but you need a bigger gun."
DJ nodded, still panting a bit. "Wasn't expecting—bloody Mutons."
"Let's get out of here before any more of them show up," replied Kaji, bending down to remove the Muton's sidearm, a miniature copy of its rifle, from its belt holster. "By the way... where the hell are we?"
They emerged on the surface fifteen minutes later, Kaji cautiously poking the door of the outbuilding open with his plasma rifle and peering around before stepping out. Apparently no one had traced the breach in Cryonics all the way to this access tunnel. He made a careful circuit of the building, then went back and signaled to DJ that it was safe to emerge. Carefully, the two of them made their way off into the streets.
Misato Katsuragi heard the door opening and allowed herself a relieved smile.
"Made it back, I see," she said cheerfully, rounding the corner from the living room—and then her smile vanished and her eyes widened as she saw the two people entering.
"What in the—?!" she said, her face going white with shock as she fumbled at her belt for a pistol holster that wasn't there.
"Easy, Misato," said Kaji, letting the plasma rifle hang by its sling and raising his hands. "I just got here myself."
"DJ, what in—what happened to you?" Misato asked as DJ limped into the room, slumped into one of the kitchen chairs with an explosive sigh, and put his right foot up on another one, the jagged chunk of metal still protruding from his thigh. They'd bound the area with a few strips of cloth shredded from his shirt, but still they, and his trousers, were steeped in his blood.
"I had an argument with a freezer," replied DJ. "If you care, Ryoji here seems to be the genuine article—at the very least, he tells a fairly convincing story of being abducted and frozen about the same time as the bogus one came over from Germany."
Misato folded her arms and scowled. "The last one was pretty convincing, too, until he went nuts."
"Well, look, I could—gnnh!—stand some medical attention," DJ remarked, wincing at a new bolt of pain in his leg. "Do you know any doctors who won't mind that I got this while invading Terminal Dogma?" He glanced over at Kaji, who still stood by the door with his hands raised in mock surrender. "We can have you gene-tested or whatever it is they do while we're about it."
"Fine by me," said Kaji. "The sooner I can prove I'm me, the better I'll feel about it."
"Fine," said Misato, picking up the phone. "I'll get one of the mid-grade types from Medical. I can pull rank to keep them quiet."
"Jolly good," said DJ, and, having said his piece, he passed out.
DJ was still unconcious when Jenna arrived from the Medical Section with her field kit. In the meantime others had begun to straggle in, anxious for news of DJ's escapade. Word of the alarm in Terminal Dogma had begun to spread, as rumors are wont to do. While most of the staff pass them on as just something somewhat interesting in an otherwise dull day, the members of the "counter-conspiracy" took the rumor all too seriously. Once their first question was answered—DJ was alive and relatively OK—they were burning with curiosity, but no one was about to awaken him in his present state. Everyone was so keyed up by the time Jenna rang the bell that there was a collective gasp and jump. Misato quickly regained her composure and went to answer the door.
She was just about to open it when she spun around with a look of revelation. "Kaji!" she hissed.
"You're dead, remember?!"
"Oh right! Umm... I'll go hide in the bedroom." He hurried down the hall to do as he said. Once he was safely therein Misato opened the door.
"Hello, Lieutenant, thank you for coming so quickly."
"Of course, Major. I brought by field kit as you requested." The Med Department lieutenant indicated the case she was carrying with a slight lift of her arm. "I understand you have someone with a penetration wound." Despite her best efforts she couldn't keep the slightly confused tone out of her voice or the quizzical look from her face.
"Yes, right this way." Misato guided her into the apartment, shooting a look up and down the hallway which only added to Jenna's feeling that something unusual indeed was transpiring.
The scene that greeted her as her gaze moved beyond Misato and adjusted to the interior light of the apartment only served to confirm her initial appraisal of the situation. Two of the EVA pilots, Jon and Rei, were standing, flanking someone slumped in one of the kitchen chairs. She couldn't tell who the figure was, as he was facing the away from her.
In a chair just to the side a third pilot, Asuka, sat, a look of intense concern on her face. Her gaze was fixed on the figure in the chair. Everyone on the NERV staff had been notified that both Asuka and DJ had been ordered to leave the Geo-Front, and had, in fact, left. No one had seen either of them since the order had gone out. Seeing Asuka here, now, clinched it. Something definitely unusual was happening.
Seeing three of the four pilots, it took but an instant for Jenna to decide who the figure in the chair, obviously her intended patient from the looks directed his way, was. DJ Croft, the fourth pilot. An instant later she made another mental connection; this was related to the rumors of the alarms in Terminal Dogma. She felt a momentary panic, a feeling that she was on the edges of something way over her head, before Misato startled her back to the present.
"Lieutenant, your patient is waiting."
Jenna shook her head sharply to clear it. "Of course, Major, my apologies."
She advanced deeper into the room, skirting around Jon and getting her first good look at her patient. Of course, she was right, it was DJ. His shirt was shredded, but a glance told her that wasn't where the problem was. It'd been shredded for bandages, which she saw had been applied fairly competently around his thigh. But it was really the bloody chunk of metal that made it obvious where the problem was. There wasn't a great deal of blood, just a small pool on the floor where it had dripped from the tip of the shrapnel. That was a good sign, it meant none of the major veins or arteries had been nicked.
Satisfied by her first impressions Jenna knelt in front of DJ, placing her case on the floor within easy reach, and took his hand in her own. Gently rubbing and patting his hand, she called his name.
"DJ. DJ. Wake up now, I need to examine that wound. C'mon DJ, c'mon now."
DJ's eyes fluttered, opened, and fixed on hers. "Oh, hullo, love, nice to see you again." He put on his best brave smile, but it wound up being more of a teeth-gritting grimace of pain.
"Nice to see you haven't lost your charm. You've got a nasty wound here, I'm going to do what I can to patch it up for you. First things first, I'm going to give you something for the pain."
"Er... that's quite all right, I can deal with it. My mental faculties are dim enough as it is, at the moment... "
Jenna scowled at him. "I'll be having none of that macho bullshit, young man. I don't care if you can deal with it or not. I'll not have you fainting or screaming while I'm working—and don't you dare tell me that won't happen. If you think it hurts now, just wait until I pull it out and have to cut away the damaged tissue. You'll be begging for a painkiller then. Now, do we understand each other?"
DJ smiled despite the pain; he had to admire her direct approach. "Yes ma'am. You're the doctor." But someday, I'll have to tell you about the Xexpotecl ziggurat...
Jenna smiled in return. "That's more like it."
She opened her case and removed a slap patch. Peeling off the backing she leaned forward and applied it to the side of DJ's neck, where it would have the shortest path into his bloodstream, and thence to the brain.
"Now, while we let that work, let's get these trousers off."
"Oh, well, I—" he began.
"DJ," said Asuka sharply.
"... Never mind," said DJ.
Shaking her head and bending down to hide her smile, Jenna selected a few pair of surgical scissors from her kit and quickly cut his trousers cleanly around his thigh above the wound. She then slit the trouser leg from the bottom up to the bandages.
"How are you feeling, pain subsiding?"
DJ considered for a moment. "Yes." He blinked. "In fact, I feel decidedly... spiffy," he added, his eyes slightly unfocused.
Demanol, Jenna thought to herself, is a gift from the gods.
"Good. I'm going to undo the bandages now. The shrapnel is likely to move a bit. If it starts to hurt tell me immediately, OK?"
"OK. Nothing for it."
Jenna nodded and proceeded to cut through the bandages. Once through she peeled them, and along with them the leg of his trousers, away from his flesh. With the wound now exposed she began her examination.
"Looks like a fairly clean entry. The edges are a bit ragged. You must have been moving around a while after you got this, you worked it around a bit. A little bit of burning, it must have been heated by the explosion." Hearing a little gasp from the collected group she turned to address them. "Come on, didn't you expect I'd figure out he was wounded in an explosion? What else would produce shrapnel like this? You think I'd believe he just fell on it or something? Don't be silly. First of all, everyone thinks both DJ and Asuka are long gone. Second, someone caused a bit of a disturbance in Terminal Dogma today. Third, he was obviously on the move for some time after he got this wound. And, finally, if this wasn't something you didn't want getting out you would have taken him to a hospital immediately. Give me a little credit."
Misato looked uneasy. "What are you going to do?"
Jenna surveyed the faces around her before answering. "I'm going to do my best to heal this man's wound."
"Hear that?" said DJ, his eyes beginning to get a bit glassy. "I'm a man."
"Dearest," said Asuka.
"O domineering one?"
"I obey, Most Holy."
Jenna ignored the byplay; her eyes fixed on Rei's, who gave her a slight nod. "Then I'm going to try to forget I was ever here. Somehow I think that would be best for you and me."
With a sigh of relief, Misato asked, "So you're not going to report this?"
"Look, I don't know what is going on here—and I don't want to know. But it is obviously something big. Commander Ikari and Dr. Akagi have both been acting strange, and if all of you are involved than I'd rather not get in the middle. OK?"
"OK." Jenna looked around at the others, who all nodded, and last to DJ, who made a valiant effort toward actual coherence as he replied,
"Thanks, love, I owe you... again..."
"Fine, pay me back by taking better care of yourself in the future. Now, back to work." Looking it over again she added. "I think it should come out the way it went in fairly cleanly. I'm going to give you a local to relax the muscle, then we'll get that thing out of you and get you stitched up. Sound good?"
She spread a surgical cloth on the floor, removed the tools she'd be needing from her kit and arrayed them in preparation for use. She started with several injections into the tissue surrounding the wound. Once they took effect she began to carefully back the shrapnel out the way it'd gone in. Striving to do as little additional damage as she could, she still had to cut away strips of tissue that clung to the jagged edges, and torn skin around the mouth of the wound. She noted with some satisfaction that the others watched the entire process unflinchingly.
When she had the piece completely removed she handed it to DJ, who idly turned it over in his hands, and went about finishing the job: disinfecting, stitching, and bandaging.
"Thanks again, Jenna," said DJ as the medtech finished securing the dressing. "Seems you've been bailing me out often of late."
"It's my job," said Jenna, smiling. "Just stay off it for a few days and you should be OK."
"Thank you, Lieutenant," said Misato, "For everything, your skill and your silence."
"Glad to help, Major," Jenna replied, closing up her field kit. "I won't mention it to anyone." With a salute for Misato and a final, sidelong smile for the patient, the medtech departed.
As soon as the door closed behind her, everyone started asking questions at once, but within a few seconds, they realized that DJ wasn't listening to them; he was staring intently at the piece of metal Jenna had pulled out of his leg, which he'd been toying with idly all the time she'd been stitching and dressing the wound. He no longer had the glassy, slightly dreamy look the Demanol patch had given him.
For a few silent seconds, he stared at the metal, as if his gaze could bore holes in it. Then his hand shook and he dropped it to the floor.
"If you'll excuse me," he said, his voice breaking, "I think I'd like to lie down for a while."
Then he bolted from the room amid a welter of confused protests from his friends.
"What was that all about?" Misato wondered.
Jon knelt and picked up the metal, examined it for a moment, and then let out a quiet, mournful sound:
"Oh, no... "
He turned and handed the piece of shrapnel to Asuka, who went pale, handed it back, and hobbled down the hall as fast as she could manage.
Misato looked after her, then back at Jon, confusion written on her face, and Jon handed her the metallic remnant next.
It was part of the front panel of a hibernaculum, including most of the riveted-on metal identification plate. Beneath the smears of drying blood, most of the engraved legend was still legible:
R V ENTION SYSTE 8949-46-4 ULDER, FOX
Misato looked up from the metal to Jon, her expression showing clearly that it meant nothing to her.
"Fox Mulder. DJ's father," said Jon softly.
Kaji's head snapped up at the sound of Mulder's name. That explains quite a bit.
"Oh my God," Misato murmured. She glanced at the hallway, where all could hear the quiet sound of Asuka being admitted to DJ's room. The door closed behind her, and then, muffled by the walls, there rose a despairing wail.
Rei took Jon's hand, and as he looked at her red eyes, Jon was startled and a little frightened to see a cold fire burning within them, as it had when she had slapped Gendō Ikari in the EVA bay the day DJ disappeared.
"This will not go unanswered," she murmured. Jon, Misato and Kaji could not help but nod in agreement, and after that, for a long time, nothing was said. The four of them sat in the living room, holding a silent vigil, as night settled over the city of Worcester-3.
Enemies revealed in unexpected ways,
and a friend revealed to be more than he appears.
Neon Exodus Evangelion 3:4
The Trigger Effect
"Now the question becomes: What are you going to do about it?"