Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Neon Exodus Evangelion
Exodus 3: Revelations in Real Time
The Trigger Effect
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, and MegaZone
Aided and abetted by the Eyrie Productions, Unlimited crew
and special-guest-for-life Phil Moyer
© 1998 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
HTML remastering © 2016 EPU
Misato Katsuragi lay on her back, her hands behind her head, in the dark. It was nearing 2:30 in the morning, but she couldn't sleep; she was too upset, too angry and too anxious. Without DJ and Asuka, who had returned to the abandoned house they'd been calling home since Commander Ikari had issued orders banishing them from the city, the apartment seemed empty and silent. Even with the sound of Kaji snoring on the couch to break up the quiet.
Misato sighed. Her brain was still a little scrambled from the shock of seeing him again, after she'd first written him off as a hopeless asshole and then written him off as dead. She'd had Jenna run a tissue scan on Kaji (without letting her know where the sample was from, though she figured Jenna had her suspicions) and confirmed that he was the genuine article, which was the only reason he'd been allowed to stay at all. Through it all he'd been meek and accommodating, allowing himself to be disarmed and not reacting defensively to the suspicion heaped on him until that test had come up clean. He hadn't even made any suggestive comments when he was told he could sleep on the couch. Maybe he'd actually grown up a little in the years since she'd last seen the real him.
As if that weren't enough, there was the matter of DJ's father. DJ had always been convinced that his father hadn't died in the Great Pacific Earthquake like the United States government had informed his mother. He'd carried that belief in the back of his mind most of his life, always on the lookout for anything that would prove him right. Now he had that proof—at a terrible price. He hadn't said a word after going to his room; he and Asuka had waited for dark and then slipped away, using the network of tunnels under the city to head back into the demolished zone. He hadn't even remembered or cared to take his coat with him.
The situation couldn't go on. Alarms had sounded, a guard had been killed; Commander Ikari and those above him must know that DJ was still in town. Their action was likely to be swift and vicious. If that couldn't be avoided, perhaps it was time to beat them to the punch...
Misato got out of bed, threw on some clothes, and went out to the living room. Kaji was still asleep on the couch, snoring in that old familiar way, and Misato couldn't help but smile nostalgically. She bent down next to the sofa and kissed his cheek, then took the pistol-like alien weapon from the coffee table, leaving her SIG automatic in its place. The plasma pistol, a heavy, slab-sided weapon, was a little bulky compared to the SIG and wouldn't fit her holster rig, so she took it to the kitchen where the light was better. Some kind soul had etched English markings and an X-COM Weapons Testing Division proofing mark on it, so it was easy enough to dope out its operation. The safety was already on, so she stuffed it into the waistband of her jeans, feeling the cold metal against the small of her back, and then dropped the loose folds of her Detroit Red Wings jersey over it. She was about to grab her jacket and leave when something inside made her pause.
She took her jacket off the peg by the door, turned it over in her hands, and examined the oak-leaf pins on its collar tabs and the NERV patch on the left shoulder. She'd sworn an oath of loyalty the day she'd worn that patch for the first time, and reaffirmed it the day she was given those oak leaves. Now she was about to break that oath. It wouldn't be right to wear the colors while she stabbed NERV in the back...
She went back to her room, put on a black turtleneck sweater under the Red Wings jersey, and then left the apartment. She locked the door, turned to go, and drew up short with a gasp, almost jumping out of her skin as she came all but face to face with Lara Croft.
"Jesus!" she cried, then dropped her voice to a whisper. "Lara! How long have you been out here?!"
Lara shrugged. "Just arrived. The Imperator docked in New York at eleven-thirty." She closed her eyes for a moment, then met Misato's gaze. "I'll bet I know where you're off to," she said, "and you're not going without me."
Misato sighed. "You know."
"DJ faxed me via Hal before he left," Lara replied. "Shall we?"
Misato nodded. "Let's go."
Asuka Sōryū-Langley couldn't sleep, either, for essentially the same reasons. DJ hadn't said anything much to her either. Since they'd arrived at home, he'd just gone into his room and shut the door, making the point that he wanted to be alone.
Asuka, on the other hand, didn't want to be alone.
She climbed from her bed, still dressed, and found her cane where she'd left it leaning against the nightstand. She probably didn't need it for so short a walk, but better safe than sorry; her right leg still had a habit of buckling at inopportune times, though it was, like the rest of her, getting stronger every day. There was little left of real bone in that leg, and it took the muscles longer to fully bond with the replacement materials, so that was the part that would take longest, she'd been told, to heal.
She opened DJ's door and went inside. In the dim light coming through the window from the distant lights of still-populated parts of town, she could see that he was curled up on his bed, motionless. Whether asleep or just not acknowledging the world, it didn't much matter to Asuka; leaning her cane against his nightstand, she slipped into bed behind him, her arms crossing over his chest.
He was awake; his hands came up to touch hers as she held him, but for a long time, he made no sound, but for his slow, even breathing.
Then he turned to face her and returned her embrace. His hands roamed her body, his touch not erotic, but rather... seeking, as if he were trying to convince himself that she was really there. With a fingertip, he traced the small scar that had remained after all on her face, down her right cheek and under the corner of her jaw.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
"Shh," she replied. "It's all right. I'm all right."
"No thanks to me," he said.
"Don't say that," said Asuka. "You did all you could."
"But I failed!" DJ replied. "I couldn't save you. I couldn't save my father, either. I haven't come up with anything to break open the Ikari situation. I'm no bloody good to anyone any more."
"I don't agree," said Asuka. "For that matter, I don't think Ryoji would, either."
"Weren't for him, I'd have died down there too," said DJ. "I wasn't paying attention... I was sloppy." He sighed, wiping at his eyes. "First Dirac's Ocean, then you, now this. Maybe I'm past it. They say prodigies burn out fast."
"Are you stupid?" asked Asuka, her voice gentler than her words. "Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, DJ. Everyone fails. It happens."
"Not to me!" DJ hissed angrily, the intensity in his voice making Asuka draw back. "I don't fail. I've never failed. If I had, I wouldn't be here. Failure isn't something I've ever accepted from myself."
Asuka, her own temper sparked by DJ's anger, was about to retort, until she realized how familiar the words sounded; then, her anger destroyed, she couldn't help but laugh.
"What the hell's so funny?" DJ demanded.
"Oh, DJ," said Asuka. "You and I deserve each other, you know that? All my life I've had to succeed. For my parents, then for their memories, for NERV, then for the whole damn human race. Never for me. No one ever asked me what I thought was important. And here you are, living the same life, but who's driving you?" She sat up, pulling him with her, and levered his chin up with her fingertips so she could look him in the eyes. "You are. We've both had to live up to impossible standards, but in your case they're your own. It's stupid. Who will it help if you drive yourself crazy or get yourself killed trying to save the world all by yourself?"
DJ, stunned, looked at Asuka in the dim light as if he were seeing her for the first time. "So what are you saying we should do?" he wondered. "Give up?"
"No, I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying we have to relax a little and accept our fallibility." She chuckled wryly. "I've had my nose shoved in it the last six weeks, so maybe I have a head start. I mean, look at yourself. What happened to me was terrible, I'm sure not going to argue with that, but you did what you could. I don't love you any less because you failed. I love you even more, because you tried."
"I... you..." DJ trailed off, then tried again, his voice small. "You... you still love me?"
Asuka reviewed her own words, then smiled. "Yeah, I guess I do."
DJ's hands shook a little as he put them on her shoulders. "That's... I..."
Suddenly, the house shook with a resounding impact. DJ and Asuka both turned toward the door, eyes narrowing.
"That was the front door," said DJ.
"Shit!" said Asuka, getting up and grabbing her cane. "They found us."
DJ jumped up, flicked on the battery lamp next to the bed, then quickly grabbed his shoulder holster from the back of the chair and shrugged into it. Opening the window, he climbed out, then helped Asuka through.
As they turned away from the house, a spotlight snapped on and pinned them, causing both to cry out and raise their hands against the glare. When they could see again, they found themselves surrounded by black-suited NERV Security operatives, none of them familiar.
The one at the point had a plasma pistol like the one Kaji had taken off the Muton, aimed straight at Asuka's heart. For an instant, DJ thought of fighting; but even if he could kill this one before he could shoot Asuka, there would be too many remaining for them to have a chance. Slowly, grudgingly, he put up his hands.
"Commander Ikari wants to have a little talk with you two," said the NERV Security pointman, just before he drew the fist with the blaster in it back and pistol-whipped DJ to the ground with it.
Rei Ayanami sat suddenly upright, gasping, as if from a nightmare. By her side, Jon Ellison, no stranger to nightmares himself, muttered groggily, "What's wrong?"
"DJ and Asuka have been caught," said Rei.
"What?!" said Jon, coming fully awake in an instant. "How do you know?"
Rei looked a little puzzled underneath her shock, then said, "I'm not sure... but I know it." She threw back the covers, got out of bed, took off her pajamas and began dressing. "It's time to end this, Jon," she said flatly.
Jon nodded, got up and found his own clothes.
Misato drove in silence down the S490, paying little attention to the gorgeous spectacle that was the Geo-Front at night: the illuminated city below and the illuminated city above, like a single city mirrored in a glass-smooth lake. Beside her, Lara Croft sat in a similar brooding silence, her face blank and her eyes unreadable behind her dark glasses.
Finally, Misato broke the silence: "I can't see you falling for an FBI agent."
Lara looked a little startled, then laughed a brittle laugh. "To be honest, neither can I," she replied. "It was a strange, strange time to be alive." She thought for a moment, then added, "You know, I never thought DJ was right. I never believed Mulder might still be alive."
"'Mulder'?" said Misato, a trace of amusement in her voice.
"You call the father of your son by his last name?"
Lara colored a little. "If you'd known him you'd understand. I don't think anybody ever called him 'Fox'. Not even his partner, and she was the best friend he ever had. He was... Well, he was rather a strange man, really. He and Dana had been partners for ten years, they were everything but lovers, and yet even in private they were still 'Mulder' and 'Scully'. He was a hard man to get to know. He cared so much about what he was doing, it didn't leave him much left over to feel about anything or anyone else."
Misato nodded. "I know someone like that..."
They arrived at the NERV parking level a few minutes later.
"Ready?" asked Misato.
"Always," Lara replied.
"Let's go, then."
Jon Ellison was feeling a certain sense of deja vu as he parked his Avenger in a service tunnel off the S490 accessway, and he and Rei proceeded on foot into the maintenance spaces. He'd left the car in the same place the day that he, Rei and Asuka had penetrated the Geo-Front during the Seventh Angel's attack. It seemed like only yesterday, but so much had changed since then, it made Jon a little dizzy to stop and think about it.
He wanted to ask Rei how she could be so certain of their course as she led him deeper into the labyrinth of tunnels, crawlspaces and ducts, but the intensity with which she did it gave him pause. In the dim light of the maintenance spaces, her eyes burned, almost glowed, with concentration. Every course change, every fork in the path was weighed and chosen without hesitation. Something only she could see was drawing Rei deeper into the maze, and all Jon could do was follow her.
Jon would never have second-guessed Rei's reason for coming or her confidence in the path she was choosing. All the same, he was wondering if it might have been better for at least one of them to bring some kind of weapon.
DJ Croft crashed to the glossy tile floor heavily, having been propelled somewhat less than gently through the doorway behind him by the NERV Security officer who had disarmed him, searched him, knocked him around a bit, and escorted him this far. Asuka followed no more gently, eliciting a stifled shout from her and a vicious curse from DJ; he turned, as best he could with his hands bound behind his back, and sought her eyes with his own.
"I'm all right," she said through her teeth, her eyes showing more anger than pain despite the tears at the corners. Except for being pitched roughly through the door, she'd been spared the contemptuous, somewhat cursory battering DJ had been subject to since their capture.
The door closed behind them, cutting off the light that had been streaming in from the corridor, and for a few moments, all was silent and dark. Then DJ slowly, painfully dragged himself to his feet and looked around. He could see nothing but darkness.
Then a pin light snapped on somewhere above him, cutting a stark white circle of light around him and Asuka, who remained where she had fallen, conserving her strength. Moments later, another light lit a second circle, twenty feet away. Inside that circle was a large desk, and sitting behind that desk, his eyes invisible behind the reflective squares of his glasses, was a man.
"Gendō," said DJ, in a strange tone somewhere between cordial and seething.
Gendō Ikari sat and regarded DJ, his hands steepled before him, for several seconds.
Then he got up and walked around to the front of his desk, his face still impassive and his eyes still invisible.
"I gave you a chance," said Ikari. "Why did you have to be so stupid?"
DJ favored the older man with a look of startled outrage. "I beg your pardon? Are you talking to me? You gave me a chance?! You never gave anybody anything but pain, Ikari!"
"I gave you a chance," Ikari repeated, the muscles at the corners of his mouth bunching. "All you had to do was go home. Drop it. Leave me alone to do my work. But you couldn't do that, could you? You had to keep pushing. You had to see just how far you could get. Just how much you could learn that you weren't supposed to know. You couldn't just let it go." Ikari inclined his head, his eyes suddenly becoming visible through the glass, and said coldly, "You're as stupid as your father was."
"This is wrong," Misato murmured as she and Lara walked through the Wedge. "Nobody in the control room, nobody in any of the corridors. No tech workers, no monitor staff, not even guards. Why would Central Dogma be cleared?"
"Maybe somebody's doing something they don't want to risk anybody stumbling over," replied Lara.
"Maybe," replied Misato. They continued on in silence, deeper into the complex, until they came to the security door that separated the administrative office block from the Operations Section.
Lara slipped quietly off to one side, her weapon at the ready, as Misato ran her ID card through the reader next to the door. The green light on the reader flashed, and the door hissed quietly open—
To reveal a black-suited NERV Security officer, plasma pistol in hand.
"Major Katsuragi, by order of Commander Ikari, I'm placing you under arrest," said the blacksuit, leveling his blaster at Misato's head. "Please surrender your weapon and your identification and come with me."
Without really thinking about it, Misato threw herself to the side, pressing herself into the corner between the corridor wall and the doorframe. As she did so, Lara dove and rolled, coming up on one knee with a line of fire into the doorway. The security officer's plasma bolt whined down the corridor through the spot where Misato's head had been, splashing against the far wall, as Lara's .45 automatic rapped out a shot.
The plasma pistol and the divided halves of the security officer's sunglasses clattered to the floor, followed shortly by the muffled thud of the officer's body touching down a moment later.
"Well," said Lara as she tucked the automatic away and picked up the guard's fallen weapon. "I guess it's officially a war, then." Acquainting herself with the plasma pistol's control layout, she then looked over it at Misato and grinned a nasty grin.
"Suits me fine," she added.
"You bastard," DJ hissed. "You would want to rub my nose in that, wouldn't you? You had him here all the time and I never knew until it was too late."
"Don't trouble yourself," replied Ikari. "You couldn't have rescued him as you rescued Kaji, anyway."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Ikari remained silent.
"Answer me!" DJ shouted, his voice echoing in the mostly-empty room.
"Agent Mulder provided much of the baseline data for the 'E' branch of Project Ascension," said Ikari. "Once those tests were done, what was left was put into cryo-storage in case some of the data needed to be re-examined later." Ikari pushed his glasses up his nose, blanking out his eyes again, and went on, "If you had cycled down that hibernaculum and opened it, you'd have been in for a nasty shock."
DJ's knuckles went white as he fought the foolish impulse to strain against the handcuffs binding him and lunge for Ikari's throat. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths; then his eyes snapped open as he heard the unexpected sound of metal on metal.
Gendō Ikari had taken a plasma pistol from the top of his desk and was fitting a power pack into its grip.
"I am not a violent man," he said as he pulled back the charging lever and the strobe-like whine of the weapon's charging cycle filled the room. "I hoped it wouldn't come to this, but you've forced me to it. You're too close to discovering, and destroying, everything I've devoted my life to. I'm too close. I can't let you stop me now."
Misato stopped at the last corner, then peered carefully around it.
"Yup, just as I thought," she said. "Five blacksuits holding the door to Ikari's office, and none of them are ours."
"I hate to do anything the easy way anyway," replied Lara.
"What have you devoted your life to, Ikari?" Asuka demanded, struggling to her feet. "Replacing, destroying the human race? Second Impact not enough death for you? Figured you'd pick up where God left off?"
Ikari scowled. "You stupid child. You can't comprehend what I'm doing, what it means to the world. I'm not trying to destroy humanity—I'm trying to help it realize its potential."
"By interbreeding humans with aliens? You're insane!"
Ikari's shoulders slumped; he shook his head miserably.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I don't have time to explain it to you now." He raised the plasma pistol, and DJ was stunned to see an actual tear slip down from behind Ikari's glasses as he took aim.
Then the sound of a volley of plasma discharges came from outside the room, causing Ikari to pull back the weapon and look in surprise at the door. "What the—?!"
At that moment, the ventilation grating above and behind Ikari broke free from its mounts and fell, landing with a crash on the floor between Ikari and his targets. Jon Ellison followed it, and after him came Rei Ayanami.
Ikari recoiled in shock, and then, at the sight of Rei, all the color drained out of his face.
"Rei!" he gasped. "No. Not here, not like this. No!"
"Stop it, Professor Ikari," said Rei, her tone soft but unequivocal.
Gendō Ikari, a fairly tall and well-built man in his early forties, was armed with a powerful, compact weapon more than capable of killing any unarmored human target. Nevertheless, he backed away from the pale, slight, red-eyed girl, his hands trembling so violently that something in the blaster's mechanism rattled.
"No... Rei, not you, not you," he whispered. Jon, DJ and Asuka stood in shock as Ikari stumbled away from Rei, his face white, beads of cold sweat standing out on his forehead.
"These people are under my protection," said Rei flatly. "If you wish them dead, you must kill me first."
"No," Ikari repeated.
"I'm unarmed," said Rei. "I have no armor, no defense. If you want DJ and Asuka dead, then kill me."
"Rei—!" said Jon, but Rei held up a hand, not taking her gaze off Ikari, and Jon stopped. I must trust her, he told himself. She wouldn't do this unless she had some idea what he'll do...
"Do you understand, Professor?" asked Rei, her voice touched with a trace of the scorn in her eyes. "Use your weapon. Destroy me, if you must."
Ikari tried to train his plasma gun on her, but his hand shook so that he could hardly aim, and the harder he tried to do it, the worse the shaking got. Then he sank to his knees, his breath coming in sobs.
"Rei, I—I can't—I can't—" he whispered, panic in his eyes and tone.
"You must," said Rei calmly.
"Rei, I... I... I'm sorry..." Gendō Ikari whimpered, tears flowing freely down his face. With the desperate look of a condemned man, he tried again to aim his blaster at her. For several seconds, the war within Ikari raged, his hands shaking, his tears flowing.
And then, something inside Gendō Ikari snapped. Flinging away his glasses, he clutched at his head with his free hand and screamed as if touched by hot iron. Then, his face still twisted in agony, he staggered to his feet, raised the pistol, and fired.
The wall behind Misato and Lara was pitted with plasma hits, and as they knelt behind the slowly eroding cover of the corner and took stock of their powerpack situation, the two women exchanged glum looks.
"I guess all we can do now is go for that blaze of glory," said Misato.
"It was fun while it lasted," Lara replied.
Around the corner, forty feet down the corridor, three blacksuits still remained, one of them armed with a plasma rifle.
"Let's go, then," said Misato, standing up. "It's been good to know you."
"Don't say that yet," said Lara, grinning. "There's still a chance we might get lucky."
The two women rounded the corner, each letting off a shot. One found the far left security officer's chest, cutting him down as he tried to bring his own pistol to bear; the other took his right-flank counterpart off at the sunglasses, sending him spinning and smoking to the tile.
Neither one of them could get off a second shot at the guy in the middle before he could blow at least one of them away with the rifle. Misato was closer; she closed her eyes and waited to die.
The next sound she heard was not the thick whine of the plasma rifle, though; it was a lower-pitched electric "blat", underlaid with a sharp crackle and a whiff of ozone. She opened her eyes again, just in time to see a bright yellow beam burn into the rifleman's weapon, split it in half, and go right on through to bore a hole completely through him.
The man looked down at his huge, smoking wound, and then collapsed without a sound.
Misato and Lara whirled, drawing down on the man (yet another!) in a black suit who had come up behind them; then Misato let out a huge sigh and held up her hand.
"Stop! Don't shoot!" she told Lara, but Lara was already putting up her gun, having recognized the man for herself.
Ken Stanfield lowered his X-COM Mark VII laser rifle against its sling over his right shoulder and favored the women with the hint of a smile. "Much obliged if you wouldn't," he said.
"Where's J?" asked Misato.
"Securing the area," replied Stanfield. As if to punctuate his statement, the distinctive sound of another laser rifle emanated from somewhere not far off in the corridors. "What've we got inside?" asked Stanfield.
"I don't know yet, but it's almost sure to be—"
The sound of a plasma discharge came from inside Ikari's office. Misato and Lara spun at the sound, staring at the door in mutual horror.
Ikari's shot went wide, missing Rei by almost three feet, flew back into the corner of the office, and then splashed off the distinctive hex-pattern of an Absolute Terror Field.
"Wha—?!" said Jon, his eyes going wide.
Forced into revealing itself by the effort of blocking the shot, the owner of that AT Field appeared in the corner of the room, and suddenly, Jon Ellison had the reason why he'd always felt a subtle wrongness about Gendō Ikari's office.
Standing in the corner of the room was the brown-robed shape of an Ethereal, a leader alien. It was no longer feeling the need to conceal itself, and so Jon, and everyone else in the room, could feel the wave of alien hatred that surged out from the creature, directed at all of them. Jon cried out, feeling the alien's hate and rage clawing at his mind, and fell to his knees, his hands clutching at his head.
Undaunted, Ikari fired again, then again and again. His repeated shots battered at the creature's AT Field, but could not penetrate it, and he began to shake again as the Ethereal renewed its psychic assault on his mind. Gritting his teeth, he brought his free hand up to steady the pistol, maintaining his fire as the alien's defensive field began to dim, then fracture. Blood began to trickle from Ikari's nose as he stood up, took a shuffling step toward the alien, then blasted it again.
This time the AT Field collapsed with a miniature version of the usual shimmering, sparking effect, and the next shot bored into the alien's robes and the frail body underneath, spattering the wall behind the creature with faintly glowing purple goo. The Ethereal screamed, then lashed out once more with its telepathic powers. DJ, Asuka and Rei seemed unaffected, but Jon and Ikari flinched as if struck. Jon took the worst of it, letting out another cry and then collapsing to the floor; Ikari stumbled and fell, then dragged himself back to his knees.
"Go... back... to Hell!" he grated, and sent his next shot into the darkness of the Ethereal's hood.
With one last keening cry, the alien died, its massive, powerful brain blown all over the wall behind it.
Jon Ellison got unsteadily back to his feet, holding his ringing head and feeling as if he'd had his ears boxed. Rei gave him a solicitous look, but he shook his head and turned his attention to Ikari.
In slow-motion, Ikari dropped the plasma pistol, then sagged and fell forward. Rei darted forward and caught him, slowly lowering him to the floor as she sank to her knees.
"Rei," he said hoarsely. "I'm sorry..."
"Don't talk," Rei replied.
"No... " said Ikari feebly. "I need... forgive me..."
Rei took one of his hands, turned it over and touched the burn scars on it with her fingertips.
"I forgive you," she said.
With something akin to a smile on his face, Gendō Ikari slipped into unconsciousness.
Then the door crashed open, and the questions began.
The Central Dogma infirmary was a bustle of activity within minutes, as Misato got onto the tactical emergency net and sent out an all-call to the Medical Department personnel on duty, recalling them to the facility from their homes. No explanation was given for the sudden revocation of the Central Dogma lockdown carried out by Ikari earlier in the evening, which suited most of the Medical personnel fine. They figured the caprices of the Ops staff were none of their business anyway, and they were safer just following orders.
One person who it did not suit fine was Ritsuko Akagi. She had been annoyed at having her work interrupted in the first place (since it meant that, with no work to distract herself with, she would have to go home and have another deep blue funk), and was now doubly annoyed that her funk had been interrupted to boot. She came into the infirmary's emergency room with a good, solid head of steam built up, ready, willing and able to go straight for Misato's figurative (and possibly literal) throat.
Her opening rant, well-rehearsed in her car on the way to Central Dogma, died unspoken as she came through the door and took stock of the situation beyond it. Misato was there, in civilian dress and looking somewhere between worried and angry. So was Lara Croft, DJ's mother. DJ himself sat on the nearest of the ER gurneys, his face marred by a bloodied lip and a vicious bruise spreading across his left cheekbone, his arm around Asuka Sōryū-Langley. Rei Ayanami stood between the next two beds, each of which had an unconscious person on it.
Here was the really startling part, to Ritsuko. The unconscious persons on the beds were Jon Ellison and—most startling of all—Gendō Ikari. There was nothing obviously wrong with them, but both were out cold.
Ritsuko skidded to a stop, her angry comments flickering and dying in her mind, and struggled for a few moments to put together something to replace them. The loss of focus for her anger, and her confusion over the tableau before her only served to contribute to her inner turmoil. Finally, after a few seconds of mental fumbling, she shook off her consternation enough to turn to Misato and ask,
"What in hell's going on here?!"
In her Central Dogma office, a weary Misato Katsuragi rubbed her eyes and stifled a yawn as a voice coming from a figure on her viewscreen told her,
"Well, the good news is, we've cleared all the Mutons out of the subbasements."
"All right, K, so where does that leave us?" she asked.
Ken Stanfield, still maddeningly immaculate in his black suit despite the ridiculous hour, replied, "90% of the facility's under control, and Kaji and the heavy weapons group should have the rest of the big stuff by 0800. Screening the rest of the security personnel's going to take the rest of the day."
"Great. Find any more Ethereals?"
"Not yet," said Stanfield. "Figure there's got to be at least one more down here, though—Mutons are too stupid to work on their own, and the one Ikari cacked would have had its hands full just keeping him under control all the time. J's got a PK tracer and his squad's fitted with dampers. We'll find it."
"Good enough," said Misato with a sigh. "Call me when you do."
"Will do," said Stanfield, and signed off.
Misato looked up as the office door opened, admitting Otto Keller.
"Morning," she said. "You've missed all the excitement."
"So I've been told," said Keller. "You seem to have everything in hand."
"Bureaucracy and planning give me fits," said Misato, "but crisis management I can handle."
"Good," Keller replied, "because it looks like we'll be doing a lot of that."
Keller was interrupted by a bleeping noise. Misato punched a couple of keys on the comset, raising a fuzzy image of Maya Ibuki. "Maya, what's the word on the computers?"
"We've broken the feeds to Geneva, diked SHODAN out of the network and put Hal back onto managing the Magi until we can make certain SHODAN is trustworthy," Maya reported. "I'll need Dr. Akagi's help to do that, though, once she's finished in Medical."
"Yeah... I wonder..." said Misato, chewing reflectively on her thumbnail. Maya looked expectant, but Misato just shrugged. "Forget it. I'll tell her you need her help when she reports in."
"Thank you, Major."
Misato broke the connection and turned back to Keller. "Sorry, you were saying?"
"I've just been online with X-COM Central Command," Keller told Misato. "General Koniev agrees with me that the presence of alien dominators in the NERV command staff, at the NERV-SEELE interface level, clearly demonstrates that SEELE is unfit to continue as the controlling body of an organization as important as NERV."
"Meaning that X-COM is taking NERV back, effective immediately. This facility and all other NERV facilities around the world are now exempt from any and all SEELE-originated directives. It also seems obvious that a new NERV Supreme Commander needs to be appointed to replace Professor Ikari—even with his controller destroyed, he's obviously incapacitated."
"Well, that'd be you," said Misato. "And good luck to you. I think you're going to need it, to have any hope of putting this mess back together."
"Not me," said Keller. "My X-COM commission has been reactivated—I'm to serve as the new command liaison, helping to coordinate NERV's activities with those of X-COM proper."
"Then who... ?"
Keller cracked a faint grin, came to full attention, snapped his heels smartly together, and saluted. "Congratulation, Brigadier Katsuragi," he said.
Misato jumped to her feet. "What?! Otto, that's a three-grade jump, in case your math skills have failed you! There's no way I'm senior enough to take over the whole friggin' show!"
"Needs must at times like these," replied Keller. "Ikari's out of the picture, I've been reactivated on the X-COM end, and you're next in line."
"What about Ritsuko?"
"Dr. Akagi isn't Operations personnel, she never has been," said Keller. "She hasn't got the administrative background or the military training to head up the whole organization."
Misato fumed. "Goddamn it, Otto, what're you guys smoking? I can't even keep my apartment clean without help from my housemates."
Keller's grin widened a little. "Face it, Katsuragi, you're stuck. You're the best person for the job, despite your posturing to the contrary. You might have some trouble keeping your personal life in order, but in case you haven't noticed, you're the one who's really kept this place running for the last three months anyway."
Misato was about to protest further, until she looked down at the piles of requisitions, operations notices, and personnel files on her desk and realized that Keller was right. As Ikari had withdrawn further and further into his own little dreamworld over the past few months, Misato had taken more and more of the responsibility for NERV's running onto herself. It had been a way of escaping from the confusing, painful turmoil her private life had become. She'd always been a good field commander, with solid instincts and good leadership abilities. Somewhere in the middle of it, while she hadn't been paying attention, she'd become a good administrator, too.
Beaten, Misato let her shoulders slump.
"Will the 80% pay increase that comes along with that three-grade promotion help your outlook any?" wondered Keller.
Misato looked up at him and gave him a tired grin. "Only if I live long enough to enjoy it," she replied. Her comset bleeped again. She punched the answer key. "Katsuragi, go."
"It's Ritsuko," said the set's speaker. The screen flickered to a red malfunction-report pattern, the words CAMERA MALFUNCTION prominent in the center.
"Go ahead, Ritsuko. What's the matter with your comset? I get no picture."
"I don't know, I'm not a video tech," replied Ritsuko irritably. "Do you want my medical report or not?"
"Sure, go ahead," replied Misato. "(Bite my head off, why don't you?)" she muttered under her breath, so the comset's pickup wouldn't carry it.
"Dr. Ikari's suffered what amounts to a fairly severe neural disruption—similar to what happened to DJ his first time out, when he got into a feedback loop with EVA-01's external camera feed. There's no permanent physical damage, so he should recover and regain consciousness within a day or two, but God only knows what his mental and emotional state will be like. He could be fine, or hopelessly insane. We're just going to have to wait and see. For now I've had him placed in a private room and monitored."
"Check," said Misato. "What about Jon? What happened to him?"
"From what I've been able to dope out of X-COM's files on Ethereals, it seems as if the one Dr. Ikari shot tried to place Jon under psionic control as it was dying. Either it was too weak or he's had training in resisting that kind of attack, because it didn't take, but it left a residual shock effect. Similar things have been documented by X-COM's medical department in the Ethereal file—it seems to be the same principle that neural stunners work on. He'll be fine—he regained consciousness about an hour ago and, except for a slight headache, he's asymptomatic. I want to keep him here until this afternoon for observation, but he should be fine."
"Great, that's a relief," said Misato. "And the others?"
"Some of the security officers were wounded by enemy fire, but nothing severe. Infirmary personnel are handling them now. DJ's been on the receiving end of a minor beating. Other than that everyone's fine. Except for Jon, I've sent all the Children home to rest."
"OK, thanks. Maya could use your help over in the computer center when you're free down there—she needs to make sure SHODAN's completely trustworthy before we put her back in charge of the important stuff."
"All right... I'll get over there as soon as I can."
Misato was about to go on and ask Ritsuko how she was dealing with the bizarre shifts of fortune that had happened over the last few hours, but the connection had already been broken. Slightly miffed, she glared at the screen for a couple of moments, then went back to discussing the incipient administrative headaches of splitting NERV away from SEELE with Keller.
Misato looked up from the first draft of an explanatory memo to all remaining personnel at the sound of the comset's bleep, then blinked in surprise at the timestamp. Where had the last three hours gone?
Then, shaking her head to clear away the disorientation, she punched the answer key. "Katsuragi."
"It's Lara," said the explorer. She looked considerably more disheveled than Stanfield: her hair was starting to come out of its braid, her shirt and face were dirty and sweaty, and she had the barrel of a laser rifle resting across her shoulders.
"Go ahead," said Misato.
"We've got trouble," said Lara.
"What kind of trouble?"
"We just cleared the cryo-storage level. DJ said when he was down here, the ones in Cryo Storage 01 were in use, yes?"
"All but one, yeah," said Misato.
"Well, then somebody's pulled something, 'cause they're sure as hell not in use now."
Misato leaned closer to the screen. "Are you putting me on, Lara? 'Cause it's not funny."
Lara tipped her shades down and gave Misato a wry, if somewhat bloodshot, look. "Do I look like I'm putting you on? Every freeze chamber down here is empty. We've checked them all."
"Damn. Well, there's nothing we can do about it now. Continue your sweep and let me know when the entire facility is secure."
Lara nodded. "By the way—did you send Ellison down here?"
"Jon? No, I think he's still asleep in the infirmary, why?"
Lara frowned. "Huh. I could've sworn I saw him back in Section 129, figured you'd sent him down to help with the sweep. Must've been somebody else. My eyes playing tricks."
"Well, maybe if you didn't wear your sunglasses inside," said Misato, smiling.
"You can use one of these without shades if you want," said Lara, hefting the laser rifle off her shoulder and back to the ready. "I want to be able to see when I'm sixty. Catch you later. Must get back to work if we want to finish this sweep in time for breakfast."
"OK, go to it. Katsuragi out."
Misato sat back in her chair and scowled. What in the hell would anybody want with a short dozen copies of Rei?
John Trussell rubbed at eyes that felt as if someone had thrown sand in them, not that this action did anything to improve the situation, and checked the monitors arrayed around him. The console directly in front of him showed SHODAN's top-level diagnostic progress, which was so complicated and took so long that the display did not so much change visibly as evolve over time. To its left was the status screen for the full emergency network-invasion lockdown he and Maya had performed immediately upon being rousted from bed and dragged back into the office at 4:30. To its right was the screen on which he was compiling the tools the Magi would need to communicate securely with the triumvirate of HAL 9000 computers at X-COM Halifax—until that was set up, no data transmissions could leave Worcester-3 with any degree of safety against SEELE interception.
Behind him, on the work table in the middle of the room, a Craybook 446MP, connected to the NERV internal network by a thick Ethernet cable cobbled directly into an open access panel on the wall, chuntered busily away with the latest build of Jet Alone's operational image.
When Truss had become project head of the Jet Alone Adaptation Initiative, he'd been faced with a choice of Herculean labors:
1) Decipher the cryptic, almost universally uncommented, sparsely and sloppily documented, original AG Systems-created operating kernel code. This was essentially a mutant version of AGOS System VI UNIX. To make things more interesting it included various and sundry completely incomprehensible bits provided by the military in ADA, translated to something resembling BIXLOR by AG's programmers, and then jammed into the main code base with the programming equivalent of baling wire and spit.
2) Throw it all away, twist the appropriate arms to get the hardware spec from AG, build a simulation of that hardware on a suitably powerful computer, and then code for it on the bare metal.
Task 2 was probably, technically, a little bit harder, but it had the advantage that Truss would know exactly what the new Jet Alone operating code could and could not be made to do, and how it could and could not be made to do so, without any nasty surprises lurking in the shadows. That, therefore, was the option he'd gone with.
The code cooking on the Craybook was the first stab at an actual runtime image for JA. It was primitive. All it was really set up to do was handle the simplest, lowest-level tasks of running the robot: reactor management, gross motor skills, sensor/databus interface. An autonomic nervous system for a 500-ton mechanical baby. If it worked, Truss could expand upon it over time, evolving in more complex movements, fine motor skills, weapons management, targeting and tracking... the spec list alone was twenty pages long.
He didn't really need to be working on JAAI right now, but something told Truss that, whatever the hell had happened here today (because no one had yet found the time to tell him exactly what it was), alternative modes of defense were going to get much higher-priority very soon. He might as well beat it to the crunch, if he could.
He looked across the room at Maya. Despite the fact that she didn't understand anything of what was happening to NERV, she kept working, doing her best to do her duty, even when it was less than clear what that duty was or to whom it lay. She hadn't been brought into the counter-conspiracy; at the first meeting they'd decided that she would be safer out of it. That suited Truss fine. He'd have been safer out of it, too, but he'd been thrown into it accidentally by being the one on the spot for the Jet Alone findings.
Now, though, he felt she should be brought into the loop. He resolved to run it by Misato the next time they spoke.
Of course, that was contingent on Misato bringing HIM the rest of the way into the loop, telling him what the hell had happened in the preceding couple of hours. All he knew was that first Professor Ikari had ordered Central Dogma cleared and locked down, then Misato was calling everybody back in on an emergency order and declaring a complete break with SEELE, details to follow.
As if summoned by Truss's thoughts, electronic mail arrived for all NERV personnel. It came from Misato—Brig. Gen. M. Katsuragi?!—and directed all personnel to report to the decorative plaza in front of the Dogma pyramid, the only area large enough to hold them all assembled, at 0900 the following day for a complete situational briefing, and thanking all in advance for their patience and the continued observation of their duties until then.
As a member of the counter-conspiracy itself, Truss wanted to know a little sooner than that. Checking that all his compiles were complete, he went to see Misato about it.
"... Which brings us to, well, now," Misato concluded.
Maya sat back in her chair and tried to digest all that she'd just been told.
Then, slowly, she turned to look at Truss.
"You never told me," she said.
Truss spread his hands. "I didn't want to put you at risk."
"I'm an adult," Maya replied stiffly. "I can handle a little risk. Was that really the reason, or was it something else? Were you afraid I'd tell Dr. Akagi, and from her it would get back to Commander Ikari?"
Truss's shoulders slumped. "Look, Maya—I didn't want to be involved myself, I just didn't have a choice."
"I was involved, too, John, or have you forgotten? I was there in Maine too. I should have been told about the tampering with Jet Alone, if nothing else."
"If you want to be angry at somebody," Misato interrupted her, "be angry at me, not John. He suggested bringing you in at the first meeting. I'm the one who decided we shouldn't."
"Because you were worried about my loyalty?" said Maya pointedly, scowling at the other woman.
"Partly," said Misato bluntly. "I know Ritsuko is your mentor, and Ikari is hers. But it wasn't a question of trust—I just didn't want to put you in a situation where your loyalties would be divided. I didn't see a point in putting somebody else through that kind of stress if I didn't have to. You think acknowledging Ikari's criminal behavior and deciding to investigate him for possible prosecution was easy for me, for any of us? The man's been the guiding light of this project, and whatever we may think of him personally, however suspect his motivations may be now, he has done a lot of good work."
Maya nodded slowly. "I... I see your point."
"If I had any question in my mind about your loyalty now," Misato went on, "I'd have Jim Edwards in here with a psi probe making sure you're not under the same kind of control Ikari was, or you'd be locked up in the basement with about a quarter of the Security force."
Maya considered this for a moment. "All right... so... now what?"
"Now, well, I won't lie to you—things are going to get pretty sticky. We still don't know what the real truth is behind the Angels' attacks and NERV's purpose in fighting them, although I think it's pretty safe to say that the story SEELE gave us when we started isn't it. We might have to deal with more Angel attacks, and we're certainly going to have to deal with the backlash from breaking away from SEELE. They're not going to take this little rebellion of ours lying down. It could be very dangerous for anybody associated with the breakaway effort.
"If you want out, I'll see what I can do to arrange you safe passage away from here. You can go back to..." It occurred to Misato that she had no idea where Maya was originally from. "... You can go wherever you think you'll be safe," she amended the statement. "If you want to stay, then we keep on doing what we've always done."
Maya got up and paced away from Misato's desk, as far as she could go in the somewhat limiting confines of the small office, her face pensive. She turned and gave Truss a searching look, then turned her dark eyes back to Misato.
"All right," she said. "I'm in."
Misato smiled. "Thank God," she said with feeling. "For a minute there I thought I was going to lose one of the three most important people in this rat pack."
Maya grinned. "Maybe you'll pay me more now that you've realized that," she said.
Misato shrugged with a sigh. "I'm not even sure I'll be able to pay you, period," she replied.
Maya smiled, a little wistfully, and said, "Oh well... it was a nice thought. Anyway, now what?"
"Now we keep doing what we've been doing all along," said Misato. "I need you to keep tightening up the network, plug all the holes SEELE might sneak in through, and firm up our datacomm links to X-COM. We need to be able to share everything we've got with them without our old boss eavesdropping."
"That should be done by evening," Maya replied.
"Good. After that we have to start rebuilding our defensive situation. We've got one EVA destroyed and another out of commission, and a pilot who's about to come off the DL and needs reacclimation. I want you to start running harmonics tests with Asuka in Unit 03 as soon as you think she's ready, get her back into the swing of things as gently as you can. Test DJ too, while you're at it. It'll probably be a while before Ritsuko's group can get EVA-01 replated, and who knows when she'll decide we dare try to fire the thing up again. I'm putting in a request for at least one more production-model EVA from X-COM, but that's contingent on Westinghouse being able to meet contract without interference from SEELE."
At Maya's nod, Misato turned to Truss. "And you I need focused on the Jet Alone Adaptation Initiative. We're two EVAs short of a full-power squad, and God knows what the other side's going to try and throw at us."
Truss gave a tired smile. "I figured that'd come up," he said. "I've got a few things started already. I'll let you know when I've made it to the ready-to-test stage."
"Fine. Anything else you two need?"
Truss looked at Maya, who shrugged.
"All right, then. I really appreciate your willingness to stay on—I'm going to need all the help I can get to sort this mess out." Misato grinned. "Get back to work!"
The two tech saluted and departed, and Misato watched them go with a smile. Then she punched a key on her comset and hailed one of the MIB security teams.
"Hey, Kaji, how are things in the sub-subbasements?" she asked.
"I was just about to call you," Kaji replied. "We're clear." Ticking off the points on his fingers as he talked, he went on, "J's team accounted for three Ethereals, which is the Enemy's standard leader pack for a thirty-Muton company, which is our current tally. We've swept the maintenance spaces and engineering plant three times and stationed guards at every major junction point."
"Pretty good, if you consider the shit's closing in and everybody here's got front-row seats by the fan," said Kaji. He paused to light a cigarette, then went on, "How about upstairs?"
"About the same. It's pretty weird."
"I guess they know they're in good hands," Kaji said.
"Or they're waiting for the other shoe to drop," said Misato wryly.
By that afternoon, the day had become unseasonably warm—that is to say, just above freezing, and with clouds threatening sleet and freezing rain. Heading home from the Geo-Front, Jon Ellison found himself constantly checking his surroundings for anything which even looked like it might be out of the ordinary. Having studied the Enemy for years at Alcatraz, Jon's knowledge of their tactics was second only to those who had actually fought them, war veterans like Keller and Stanfield. This, at least, was a crisis he had some idea how to deal with.
He glanced down at the black case sitting in the Avenger's passenger seat. After clearing the SEELE security forces and their alien enforcers from the Dogma complex, the MIB had allowed for rapid distribution of the captured store of advanced weapons to all who had X-COM weapons training. What few heavier plasma guns and clips Fort Devens and Alcatraz could spare would soon be shipped over, along with a cache of surplus laser weaponry for the rest of the NERV personnel authorized to carry firearms.
Jon found himself mulling the subject of advanced weaponry over as he parked his car on Lee Street.
You're pretty good with guns.
He had just shut off the engine when the voice crawled into his head, bringing with it that strange musical feeling. But this was neither Rei nor Moloch, and this music did not seem particularly pleasant, for that matter. He'd felt strange ever since that alien's psychic death shriek, but then, he supposed that was the kind of thing you didn't shrug off right away. He hoped the feeling faded soon, though—he was distinctly not enjoying it.
You should go use that gun right now.
He shook his head. Where had that thought come from? Plasma ammunition couldn't be used lightly.
No, you fool. The angel. You like killing angels, don't you?
Suddenly he felt as if something was crawling up his spine, forcing its way into his head. A psionic attack? Reflexively he called to mind all the psi-defense tricks the Alcatraz spooks had taught him, though they had done him little good against the sudden and ferocious attack of the dying Ethereal. But the presence paid them no mind and pushed the rest of the way through. It was dark, and evil, and frighteningly familiar...
The angel? Remember your job? Don't you have someone you need to kill>
...it was him.
He uncoiled from the ball he'd almost curled up into, calm once more. Turning to the case, he worked the locks on the front and they popped open. He raised the lid and lifted the pistol out of its padding, activating its power cell with the touch of a button, then extracted one of the two Elerium clips also contained in the case and slapped it into the gun. A moment later a green LED flashed and a short beep signaled that the gun was online.
Hiding the weapon in his jacket, he got out of the car and made for the apartment, moving with a purposeful, deadly stride.
The dog took one look at him as he let himself in and let out a low growl, its fur standing on end. He glared at it for a moment, but it didn't back down, and when he took a step closer to the room, it went for his leg. Annoyed, he snatched it cruelly by the scruff of its neck and hauled it up to eye level, all eight of his pupils widening as he gazed deep into its eyes. The dog whimpered pitifully, and then went limp. He dropped the animal on the couch, giving it no further thought; he could have killed it, but it would have been a waste of energy he might need.
Reilael was a tough angel.
He had to be a tougher demon.
Ritsuko Akagi finished the last of her tests and concluded that, as she had suspected all along, SHODAN was free of outside alterations and influences. No one really understood the way the computer worked any more, anyway—only Dr. Chandra and Ritsuko's late mother had been privy to the innermost secrets of some of the changes they'd wreaked on the hardware of what had once been a vanilla SAL 9000. Neither had been good at writing things down. Without a full understanding of the way the hardware worked, a change such as Misato had been worried about would be quite impossible.
She keyed the comset next to the SHODAN console. "Maya," she said.
"Ibuki here," said Maya's voice.
"I just finished my sweep," said Ritsuko. "SHODAN is clean. Can you handle things on your end from here?"
"Sure. Are you all right, Professor? You sound sick."
Ritsuko smiled wryly, although Maya couldn't see her with the comset's camera disabled. "No, I'm not sick, Maya. Just..." She paused, searching for a word that would describe how she really felt. Finally she added, "...tired. I'm just very tired."
Ritsuko Akagi switched off her comset, looked down at SHODAN's console, and let herself sink back into the state of shock she'd been drifting in and out of all day.
Dr. Ikari, one of the Enemy? Ritsuko couldn't believe it, not like she really wanted to. She had dedicated her life to working for the goal, his goal. All of her hopes, dreams, and desires subjugated to the overriding mission. All she had in her life was her work. And her work had been whatever Ikari had said it was.
Working for the Enemy.
All of the things she'd forced herself to do. So many things she found distasteful, but necessary for the mission. How many people had she hurt? How many had she killed through her actions, or inaction?
It had been enough of a shock to find that Kaji was one of them, alien. But that was different. She hadn't devoted her life to him. Hadn't even really known him all that well... after all, he was Misato's boyfriend, not hers...
Seeing him again today. Real. Alive. How do you forget the things you remember? What he'd done to her. The rage and pain she'd felt and hidden because of him.
It was not him. She knew that what had happened to her hadn't been done by this Kaji, the real Kaji. But she still felt the pain. She still felt the rage whenever she looked at him. How could she ever learn to separate he memories from reality? How could she deal with seeing Kaji again? How, when seeing him triggered such primitive feelings? How, when thinking about him made her relive that night? This, on top of everything else, just seemed like too much.
Tears began to flow as the images flooded her mind.
Kaji's panting face grinning down at her.
"Not so bad, now, is it?"
Rei, battered and bloodied in the infirmary, her face blank and uncomplaining.
"... I understand."
DJ forced out on his first mission.
"You and your spook brigade don't control the whole bloody world!"
Asuka, nearly crushed to death on Ikari's orders.
"Control, what's happen- "
Jon, boiled in his plug on his second mission.
"Control, I'm locked down!!"
DJ absorbed by his EVA.
"My God! It's full of stars!"
The countless times they'd risked the children in tests and on missions. The way she drove John and Maya. Maya especially, as she tried to mold the young engineer into her own image. The cold treatment she'd given them all; DJ in particular she'd treated badly.
"My God, what have I done?" she mumbled between sobs.
And Misato, her old friend. How badly had she treated her? Misato had never let the mission crush her humanity, her compassion. She'd been right all along. And instead of acknowledging that, Ritsuko had avoided her, and cooled their friendship. Since their fight over Misato's night with DJ they'd barely even seen each other. She'd thrown away the one true friend she'd ever had; all because she couldn't understand love.
They must all think me a monster, she thought to herself.
She'd been able to bite back the pain and frustration by justifying it to herself as necessary. Able to override her reservations and distaste for the way Ikari had treated others. To hold back the tears and sympathy as a way to stay the course. She had skillfully fought off her own humanity for so long, all in the name of The Cause. The ends could justify the means, when it was for the greater good.
All for nothing; worse than nothing, all for the wrong reasons. Was this how her mother had felt when her one simple programming error made HAL 9000 #3 murder the Discovery astronauts?
It was at that moment that she reached a fateful decision. She felt the foundation to everything she had done in the last fifteen years falling away, leaving her with nowhere to turn back.
She spoke quietly to herself. "There's no way I could face them all again. Not now, not knowing what I've done."
With a new conviction she wiped the tears from her cheeks and calmly left her office. She stopped briefly at the infirmary to pick up a few things, before continuing home.
The door to Rei's room opened silently, and Jon peered into the room, his sensitive four-fovea eyes taking in every detail as if it were broad daylight as opposed to gathering dusk. She was there, asleep and fragile in appearance, though appearances were deceiving.
She is merely a shadow of her former self. Destroy what's left, before she regains any more of her power.
He thumbed the safety off, and the gun whined faintly as the Elerium fed into the power chamber and energized the plasma coil. Taking a firm grip on the pistol, he leveled it at her head. At this range, he would not miss.
But his hand refused to squeeze the trigger. Grumbling, he tried all the harder to fire the gun.
...why am i doing this??
(a frightened voice which was supposed to have been destroyed began clawing its way back up from the abyss he'd tried to drive it into)
Shut up, you idiot.
(he snapped to himself)
no! this is wrong! what am i DOING??
I said shut up!
It was only just now that he realized her eyes were open, and staring right back into his own. She did not look confused, or frightened. Only very, very angry, increasingly so with each second passed.
Damn you! Kill her before she kills you!!
He was visibly twitching now as the two voices clawed at each other, the deeply dissonant music exploding inside his brain. The gun began to shake in his hands.
i... i... stop it please stop Shut up! Kill her! i love her Kill her! NO!!
And in a flash, Rei was moving, both her hands locked firmly around the gun as she leapt out of the bed, trying to wrestle the weapon away from Jon. Instincts welled up from the abyss as the darker voices seized control of him once again and tried to draw the lifeforce out of Rei. She winced at the attack, but held her ground, and at the corners of Jon's cold eyes, she could see the building moisture. Her own anger crystallized, and she reared back a fist and smacked Jon hard across the jaw, sending him sprawling. The pistol went off, spitting out a ball of superheated green death which ripped through the wall and sent pieces of plaster cascading down from the ceiling.
DJ sat bolt upright in bed, then blinked, coming fully awake and not quite sure what had awakened him.
"What... ?" he muttered.
"DJ," said Hal, "I have monitored a high-energy event in Apartment 3-F. It was outside the field of view of any of my cameras, but I believe it was a plasma weapon discharge."
"What?! Christ almighty!" said DJ. The noise came again, and this time DJ heard it clearly. He scrambled out of bed, pulling on shorts and t-shirt as he crashed out into the hallway. Asuka was emerging from her room as well, looking similarly confused.
"What's going on?" she asked.
"I wish to Christ I knew!" replied DJ. "Hal, call Misato, call everybody! Asuka, wait for Misato to get here, I'm going to try and find out what the hell's happening."
"Be careful," Asuka shouted after him, knowing full well that he would do no such thing. Cursing, she went back into her room to get dressed.
He went to the door that divided Apartment 3-D from 3-F, tried it, and found it locked. It was a sliding door, and as such would probably be impossible to kick open with a single blow. The last thing he wanted to do was get drilled through the wall as he tried to batter open the damned door.
So instead he went out into the hallway and tried that door, which, as it turned out, Jon had left ajar anyway. He found Rei in the kitchen, having overturned the kitchen table in the doorway as a sort of makeshift cover.
"Rei, what the hell's going on?" DJ demanded.
"I don't know," replied Rei. "Jon's trying to kill me."
DJ crouched down behind the counter, then peeked over it into the living room. A fusillade of plasma fire sailed over his head, burning a line of holes in the wall behind him.
"Christ!" DJ declared as he ducked back down. "He's completely off his head."
"Or they've done something to his mind."
He and Rei shared a look filled with dread, then chanced another look over the counter at Jon.
The darkness in Jon's eyes had made him look unnerving to Rei before. Now, in this half-insane rage, he'd graduated to downright frightening. The alien nature of his eyes was quite obvious, but what was more disturbing were the changes to the rest of him. His fingernails had thickened and blackened; the same had happened to his teeth, especially the canines. His skin had darkened too, taking on an unnatural brick-like ruddiness.
None of it daunted DJ. He'd arrived angry to begin with, but the plasma bolt that had nearly clipped him had transmuted that anger into a towering rage. Throwing aside his jacket, he waited until Jon had exhausted his weapon's power pack and stripped it out for reloading. Then, with a snarl, he vaulted the overturned kitchen table and made for Jon at a dead run.
Jon slapped the new power pack into the butt of the plasma pistol, yanked the priming lever, and took aim, but DJ was already upon him. DJ sank low, a plasma bolt burning harmlessly through the air over him, pushed off with his legs and drove his shoulder into Jon at belt level. The impact crushed the breath from the taller boy with a loud sound and knocked the plasma pistol from his hand; the two tumbled through the doorway into the living room.
As they sprang to their feet, Jon lashed out with a hand bent into a claw, his talon-like fingernails ripping four crimson-edged parallel tracks across DJ's shirt. DJ ignored the sudden lash of pain and stepped inside his taller opponent's optimum reach, remembering the smattering of boxing training he'd had, driving home body blows as fast as he could muster them—working Jon's torso like the heavy bag. Jon stumbled back, disoriented by this approach, and then his wits seemed to return as he dealt DJ a powerful blow to the jaw with his elbow. It was DJ's turn to stagger, and Jon pressed his advantage, raking his opponent's abdomen and then going for his throat.
DJ slipped inside the throat strike, feeling Jon's nails clip his shoulder, and threw his hardest left into Jon's face. Jon snarled ferally, seized DJ by the shoulders and hurled him across the room—where, fortunately, he collided with the sofa, overturning it but saving himself the more painful trouble of crashing into the wall.
Jon sprang atop the overturned sofa and looked over the other side, to be met not by the sight of a broken opponent, but by that opponent's uprising fist, as DJ sprang to his feet and drove the uppercut with his whole strength. Taking the blow right on the point of his chin, Jon was thrown backward off the couch, to crash down next to the coffee table (though luckily not ON it). DJ rounded the couch, winded and bloodied but unbowed, but Jon was on his feet by the time he arrived on the scene, and the battle continued. Within a minute, practically everything else not nailed down had been knocked over, leaving the place in sorry shape. The combatants weren't much better off, Jon bruised and battered from the hits DJ had scored, DJ's arms and chest raked by cuts from Jon's sharpened nails, neither one willing or able to back down.
Then the decision was made for them, as Rei stepped into the doorway between the two apartments, the flinty glare in her red eyes speaking nothing but controlled rage. Her gaze encompassed both the fighting boys as her lips pulled back from her teeth and she spoke a single word:
DJ suddenly felt as if the very air in the room had somehow become a great invisible bell, and that Rei's voice had rung that bell. He stumbled, raising his arms to protect his face, as every glass object in the room exploded amid a great, terrible, wonderful sound he could never consciously classify. Consciousness winked out as the sound of Rei's anger crashed into his brain, and he crumpled to the floor.
Jon, too, was knocked from his feet, but unlike DJ he quickly rose. There was a definite glow in his eyes now, and a sound that was not quite human screeched out of his throat as he lurched clumsily toward Rei, fingers clawed into an instinctive strangulation posture.
Ken Stanfield lunged around the corner from the kitchen, his own plasma pistol rising from Ready to the Fire position, knowing already that he would be too late, that his shot would merely avenge the girl's death.
Calmly, Rei took a step backward, and suddenly Jon crashed into nothing a foot short of her, his hurtling body crumpling and flattening as though he had plowed into an invisible stone wall. For a heartbeat, a faint pattern of hexagonal shockwaves rippled across that invisible wall from his point of impact, but no one in the room was in a position to notice or appreciate it.
No one but Stanfield, whose expression changed from rage and horror to frank amazement behind his shades.
Stunned by the impact, Jon stumbled back, tripped over the wreckage of the coffee table, fell again, into the pile of glass left behind by its destruction. Everyone winced at the shriek which erupted from his throat as the razor-sharp shards bit into his back.
Rising, hunched and panting, Jon surveyed the forces arrayed against him with the furtive desperation of a cornered animal. Everyone was arriving now. Edwards joined Stanfield, his deceptively tiny concussion blaster at the ready. Misato entered through the connecting doorway, following Rei's path, her blaster ready in her hands; Kaji followed, bearing Misato's old SIG. As DJ got to his feet, still groggy, Jon noted that even Asuka had arrived, hobbling into the room after Edwards, determination showing through the pain and shock on her face and DJ's left-behind .45 in her hand.
His quick scan came back to Rei, whose eyes still shone with rage—but under that rage there was a terrible, terrible sadness that flashed out for the barest of instants.
And suddenly, the mindless hatred that echoed in Jon Ellison's mind was replaced by a deafening shame. With an inarticulate scream, he turned away from that accusing glare and took the only exit he could, leaping into space through the opening where the window had been and plunging the three stories to the street below.
With various exclamations of surprise, those he left behind crowded into the window—to see him, unhurt, running away, across Park Avenue.
"I can stop him," said Edwards, rausing his weapon. "At this range the blast will just knock him—"
"Let him go," said Rei softly.
"What?! But he needs—"
"He needs to be alone," Rei interrupted, her voice less angry and more pained now. The anger was still in her eyes, though. Anger not at Jon but at the thing which had been planted in his mind, which had turned him into the worst possible Judas, and at the people who had put it there.
DJ could relate. So could his friends. He shared a look with Asuka, and their blue eyes carried the same message:
Somebody will pay dearly for this.
Jon wasn't looking where he was going. He didn't know where he was going, either; he was just running now, running blindly, mechanically, following some incoherent need to get away, even as another part of him wanted—needed—to be in the place he'd just fled from.
The more he ran, the more the darkness receded, and the more he realized just how wrong, how terribly wrong, he had been about everything. The pain from the glass was gone, and the cuts in his body were healing, but he didn't know if the huge gash rent in his soul could be fixed so easily.
Mindlessly, driven by some irrational need to be nearer the crying sky, he ran across Main Street, to the accompaniment of a chorus of irate motorists' horns, and into the first tall building he saw, the gleaming glass spire of the AT&T Tower. Ignoring the startled looks of the executives and telecom workers he passed, Jon charged into a secondary stairwell and began climbing, driven by panic and some unearthly drive within him. By the twentieth floor his heart was pounding and his lungs burned, but he was young, healthy, and, as recent events had demonstrated amply, not entirely normal, even if his appearance had reverted back to what it had been before.
When he ran out of stairs fifty-two floors later, Jon crashed through the panic-barred door and found himself on the roof. Before him was the spindly steel shape of one of AT&T's northeast-region wide-band transmission antennae—three of them spiked up from the roof of the building, arranged at the points of a triangle around the great dish of the building's satellite transciever. Without pausing, Jon vaulted the railing around the antenna's base and mounted the access ladder.
Three-quarters of the way up the antenna, the ladder ended at a six-foot by three-foot steel-grill platform—a place for a technician to stand and rest his toolbox while he worked on the transmitter equipment housed here. Here, at last, Jon ran out of places to go. Fatigue was finally overwhelming him, and anyway, the steelwork of the antenna tower was too wide open to climb.
Gasping for air, he crumpled to his knees at one end of the platform, his hands gripping the railing above his head. For several minutes, he knelt, head down, chest heaving, mind racing, as the rain and wind lashed at him.
The conclusion was inescapable, and as soon as he regained breath enough to do it, Jon Ellison threw back his head and wailed into the cold winter rain, a wordless sound of rage and desperation at a universe that had played the cruel joke of making him everything he'd been trained from birth to hate.
At the other end of the platform, another young man stood. Jon had failed to notice him when arriving on the platform, for the simple reason that he wasn't there at the time. As Jon's howl trailed away into silence (except for the hollow moan of the wind and the hissing slash of the rain), the other spoke, a single word, in a voice that carried despite its quiet tone amid the background noise.
Startled, Ellison rose to a half-crouch and turned, his feet slipping on the metal and dropping him to a sitting position. For a moment his heart pounded with panic again, and as Jon recognized the person he shared the platform with, the reaction did not fade.
Kevin Nelson stood impassively at the other end of the service platform, wearing the black suit of his school uniform despite the closure of the school months before, his hands in the pockets of a black raincoat whose tails flapped behind him in the cold wind. He was hatless, his dark hair plastered to his head by the rain.
As Jon tried uselessly to form words, Kevin seemed to weigh something in his head. Then he spoke quietly: "You've worked out what you are, I see. Now the question becomes: What are you going to do about it?"
Had he been in a more stable frame of mind Jon might have wondered how Kevin knew what he knew (let alone how he'd come to be way the hell up here waiting for Jon). As it was, he was simply too aggrieved to be concerned and just skipped to the question at the last. "... i don't know. i don't know anymore."
"You'll never get anywhere until you deal with that nasty little monster they've buried in your mind," Kevin replied gravely. "I can help you, if you want, but you'll have to trust me—a hard thing to ask of a man who can't trust himself."
Finally it did dawn on Jon that Kevin suddenly seemed to have become quite knowledgeable about his personal situation. For the first time he actually looked at the boy, and noticed that he suddenly seemed different, not physically, but in the way he looked at Jon. "What do you want? Who are you?"
"I've been asking myself those questions for millennia," Kevin responded, that faint smile on his face. "I think I'm pretty close to working out the answers. Like you, I am not what I seem."
Kevin closed his eyes, still smiling, and as he did, he changed. His dark hair faded, bleaching first to sandy blond, then gray, then silver. The pinkish tint washed out of his skin, turning it to a white so pure the collar of his dress shirt seemed gray by comparison. He seemed suffused with light and contentment, such that Jon felt a momentary surge of envy, almost buried in a wave of unreasoning hate. As Kevin changed, so Jon felt himself changing, but where Kevin was becoming strangely—familiarly—peaceful and white, Jon gathered darkness, his skin becoming dusky, his nails blackening and lengthening.
Then, still smiling, Kevin opened his eyes, and when he saw them Jon was so shocked he reverted to humanity—for Kevin Nelson's eyes had changed from brown to a clear, glittering red.
"My Father," said Kevin wryly, "named me Tabris... but if you want to go on calling me Kevin, feel free. I've grown used to the name."
"...Tabris..." It took a minute for the name to sink in. When it did Jon's eyes grew wider, and the darkness began clawing at his spine again. "You're an angel," he continued, fighting off the feelings, the urges.
"Yes. Yes, I am. And you, Jon Ellison..." his eyes became almost sad. "You're not sure what you are. But then, there's never been anyone like you before, so why should you know?"
"Stop... speaking... in riddles!" Jon grated as the blackness nearly won the battle with his patience.
"Sorry, it's an old habit," the angel replied quietly. "What I mean to say is this: All creatures are unique unto themselves, but you are more unique than most. Stop judging yourself relative to the others. You're not like them."
"Do you know what I am like?"
"After a fashion," Tabris replied. "Your genes are mainly human, with a touch... well, rather more than a touch, actually... of the celestial grafted in. There's more of Hell than Heaven in your celestial side, I must say, but you shouldn't fall into the trap of believing that such a thing obliges you to be evil."
"No?" said Jon, the first flicker of hope appearing in his eyes.
"No. It's merely a matter of celestial breeding. A golden retriever and a Yorkshire terrier are both just dogs. Good and evil: that is a choice. No... that conflicting desire you feel within you, that sinister voice that cries out for blood? That's not your devil heart. That's programming."
Jon pressed his hands to his temples as that programming bellowed at him to strike, to hurt, to destroy his enemy. His desperate eyes found those of the angel again.
"How can I escape it?" he whispered.
"As I said, I can help you... but you will have to trust me. Completely. Unconditionally. I've done nothing to earn that trust, and the process is delicate... if there is any doubt in your heart I could accidentally destroy you instead."
"You're saying it's hopeless."
"I'm saying it's dangerous," replied Tabris evenly. "Probably too dangerous for me to help you directly... but there is another way."
"Then tell me about it... quickly... because I don't think I have much time."
Night was falling by the time DJ returned home again from Central Dogma, where he'd been taken for another medical review after his knock-down drag-out with Jon. Between that, the beating he'd taken from the SEELE security agent the night before, the beating he'd taken in the catacombs before that, and the periods of bad and interrupted sleep he'd had in between, he felt as if he'd been run through a wringer, though fortunately he'd sustained no permanent damage in either of the later encounters.
Grumbling about the awful weather and dripping on the kitchen linoleum, DJ dropped his helmet and jacket on the table. He squelched over to the bathroom, pausing only to whack the playback key on the answering machine on his way. He removed his HALcomm unit and laid it on the edge of the basin as he washed up. He was looking forward to a hot bath; between all the beatings he'd been taking the past couple of days and the filthy, chill and rainy weather, he could use a soak.
He cocked an ear to the door as he did so as he heard the machine finish rewinding and began to play.
"Hello, Misato... this is Ritsuko," said the familiar voice—but something didn't sound right. Well, we're all exhausted and a bit confused after today, thought DJ to himself, then shushed himself mentally as she continued. "I don't know how to say this, really. I wish I hadn't gotten your machine, I never liked these things." DJ wandered out of the bathroom, scrubbing his hair with a towel, to better listen, as Ritsuko's voice gave an ironic chuckle. "That's a laugh, huh? One of the world's leading AI researchers doesn't like talking to machines." No, it wasn't just exhaustion, she definitely didn't sound well. "I just wanted to tell you I'm sorry for the way I've treated you the past few years. And to thank you for... well, for being such a good friend for so long. I never deserved to have a friend like you."
DJ began to feel a tight, cold ball forming in the pit of his stomach, and icy fingers reaching up his spine. "I know I could never make up for the way I've treated you," Ritsuko went on, and then her voice broke. "All I can do now is get out of everyone's life. Can I ask one last favor? Ask DJ to take care of Chandra for me. Thanks." DJ was in a fine panic now, throwing the towel back through the door to the bathroom as he started for the door. Then her voice came back, as an afterthought. "Oh, and tell DJ... I'm sorry."
The ball in DJ's gut gained a few pounds and his face felt cold as he stepped to the counter and checked the time stamp on the recording.
Five minutes ago.
"Bloody hell!" he snarled, forgetting helmet and jacket entirely as he dashed out the door.
Behind him the machine obediently rewound and the message light went out.
Ritsuko sat, quietly sobbing, for several moments after making her last call. She'd hoped to say goodbye to Misato directly, but perhaps it was better this way after all. She wasn't sure she could have kept her composure talking to her old friend.
At about the same time DJ was rushing headlong out the door she rose from the couch and went about her business. When she'd arrived home she'd gone about tidying the place. She was always a neat person, and something in her wanted to leave a good last impression.
She'd put the dishes away, neatly stacked the magazines on the living room table, and taken out the trash. She'd sat for a while, petting Chandra, and clearing her mind for the task ahead. After feeding him she'd steeled herself and made the call.
But now, with the call made, she had nothing left to do but get on with it. She chose a DVD from her collection, the soundtrack to an old film, and started it playing.
She entered the bathroom and began drawing a bath. As the tub filled she stripped, neatly folding her clothes and piling them on the vanity.
Carefully she laid out her supplies on the floor next to the old clawfoot tub she'd had specially installed. A smile crossed her face now, however briefly, when she remembered all of the trouble she'd had to go through to find one. But that was a long time ago, in a different world, it now seemed.
"Yes, a different world," she whispered, apparently without noticing.
That task complete, she poured bath salts into the rising water and stirred them in languidly with her hand. Satisfied with that, she walked slowly around the room, lighting the candles as she had many times before. Many times she had soaked away the stress that came with her work here, in the candlelight. She felt it was a fitting setting for this final act.
She finished her course as the tub filled with water. Shutting the taps she stood for a moment and looked at herself in the mirror, quietly. Finally, with an almost imperceptible nod, she turned away from her reflection and entered the bath.
Rei regains her past.
Jon battles his present.
DJ fights the future.
And the Missing Child confronts his destiny.
Neon Exodus Evangelion 3:5
"I must not run away."