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A's N: It should probably be noted that the Prologue is not the main vein of the story.

If you dislike
meaningful poetry, and hinting devoid of context, feel free to skip straight to Chapter 1, which begins
the proper story. I won't be upset. Really.

Aeon Entelechy Evangelion

A Rewrite of Aeon Natum Engel

Prologue: The Words That Began the End of Everything

~'/|\'~

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the Angelic


Orders? And even if one were to suddenly
take me to its heart, I would vanish into its
stronger existence. For beauty is nothing but
the beginning of terror, that we are still able to bear,
and we revere it so, because it calmly disdains
to destroy us. Every Angel is terror.
And so I hold myself back and swallow the cry
of a darkened sobbing. Ah, who then can
we make use of? Not Angels: not men,
and the resourceful creatures see clearly
that we are not really at home
in the interpreted world. Perhaps there remains
some tree on a slope, that we can see
again each day: there remains to us yesterday's street,
and the thinned-out loyalty of a habit
that liked us, and so stayed, and never departed.
Oh, and the night, the night, when the wind full of space
wears out our faces – whom would she not stay for,
the longed-for, gentle, disappointing one, whom the solitary heart
with difficulty stands before. Is she less heavy for lovers?
Ah, they only hide their fate between themselves.
Do you not know yet? Throw the emptiness out of your arms
to add to the spaces we breathe; maybe the birds
will feel the expansion of air, in more intimate flight.

Yes, the Spring-times needed you deeply. Many a star


must have been there for you so you might feel it. A wave
lifted towards you out of the past, or, as you walked
past an open window, a violin
gave of itself. All this was their mission.
But could you handle it? Were you not always,
still, distracted by expectation, as if all you experienced,
like a Beloved, came near to you? (Where could you contain her,
with all the vast strange thoughts in you
going in and out, and often staying the night.)
But if you are yearning, then sing the lovers: for long
their notorious feelings have not been immortal enough.
Those, you almost envied them, the forsaken, that you
found as loving as those who were satisfied. Begin,
always as new, the unattainable praising:
think: the hero prolongs himself, even his falling
was only a pretext for being, his latest rebirth.
But lovers are taken back by exhausted Nature
into herself, as if there were not the power
to make them again. Have you remembered
Gastara Stampa sufficiently yet, that any girl,
whose lover has gone, might feel from that
intenser example of love: 'Could I only become like her?'
Should not these ancient sufferings be finally
fruitful for us? Isn't it time that, loving,
we freed ourselves from the beloved, and, trembling, endured
as the arrow endures the bow, so as to be, in its flight,
something more than itself? For staying is nowhere.

Voices, voices. Hear then, my heart, as only


saints have heard: so that the mighty call
raised them from the earth: they, though, knelt on
impossibly and paid no attention:
such was their listening. Not that you could withstand
God's voice: far from it. But listen to the breath,
the unbroken message that creates itself from the silence.
It rushes towards you now, from those youthfully dead.
Whenever you entered, didn't their fate speak to you,
quietly, in churches in Naples or Rome?
Or else an inscription exaltedly impressed itself on you,
as lately the tablet in Santa Maria Formosa.
What do they will of me? That I should gently remove
the semblance of injustice, that slightly, at times,
hinders their spirits from a pure moving-on.
It is truly strange to no longer inhabit the earth,
to no longer practice customs barely acquired,
not to give a meaning of human futurity
to roses, and other expressly promising things:
no longer to be what one was in endlessly anxious hands,
and to set aside even one's own
proper name like a broken plaything.
Strange: not to go on wishing one's wishes. Strange
to see all that was once in place, floating
so loosely in space. And it's hard being dead,
and full of retrieval, before one gradually feels
a little eternity. Though the living
all make the error of drawing too sharp a distinction.
Angels (they say) would often not know whether
they moved among living or dead. The eternal current
sweeps all the ages, within it, through both the spheres,
forever, and resounds above them in both.

Finally they have no more need of us, the early-departed,


weaned gently from earthly things, as one outgrows
the mother's mild breast. But we, needing
such great secrets, for whom sadness is often
the source of a blessed progress, could we exist without them?
Is it a meaningless story how once, in the grieving for Linos,
first music ventured to penetrate arid rigidity,
so that, in startled space, which an almost godlike youth
suddenly left forever, the emptiness first felt
the quivering that now enraptures us, and comforts, and helps.
- The First Duino Elegy, written by Rainer Maria Rilke. Translated by A. S. Kline.

A single red drop fell from the once snow-white ceiling, falling down, down, though an empty void,
only to splat into the crimson ocean that lay below. The concentric circles ran outwards, a wave
through the clotting ocean, only to hit the shores of this sea of death, and rebound off; an endlessly
intricate pattern of interference. Destruction and creation in one.

The pale girl kneeling by the scarlet pool reached down, and with a pair of fingers, gently closed the
eyelids, letting no emotions reach her face. Whatever she felt about this, to the outside world, she
was a blank book. If there were words there, they could not be read. She adjusted the arglasses that
perched precariously on her nose, perhaps a size too large, reading the data overlays that were still
active in this pace, and tucked a dark brown lock of hair back behind an ear.

She took a step forwards, an echoing retort in the near silence of the hollow space. What else was
audible; the swish of her clothing? The inconstant rain down from the profaned ceiling? Her breathing?

No. Not that.

The second footstep was muted; a wet splat. Further steps would leave an asymmetric trail on those
bits of the ground which remained untouched by the massacre which had occurred.

Slowly, uncaring of the blood-drenched floor, but stepping around the drips that fell from the rounded
ceiling, she made her way to the desk. Just as the droplets that rained down from the dome above left
their own patterns of ripples, so did the sounds of her steps reverberate and echo in the chamber,
setting up odd harmonics. The staccato pulses of the falls, the flowing beat of the interference of the
footstep; they set up a rhythm that filled the empty space. All too soon, though, there was silence
again; the silence not of the grave, for that is one of both decay and new beginnings, but of the void;
hollow, empty, and meaningless in its immensity.

With a few simple hand gestures on the surface, the desk shifted; carefully applied pressure breaking
unnoticeable seals, the memoform underneath flowing upwards like liquid mercury to form a shelf-like
structure. A flash of light; a triggered ward, simply ignored by the pale girl. Not even the dignity of
acknowledgement was given to the ineffectual wards that should have fried her; mind and soul. The
second layer, of activated orbs, in shifting yellow, purple, and a strange hint that burned at the eye
awoke. The semi-autonomous constructs were programmed to attack anything that activated their
trigger condition.

They too were destroyed; their radiant light extinguished in her grasp.

The bound extranormal entities did not even get the chance to be destroyed. The pale girl, dark hair
not even displaced, stuck one hand straight through the surface of the desk; a brief, unnatural
radiance flaring before immediately being extinguished, as she withdrew the untouched limb. The
arglasses flared red, lighting up her eyes, as the augmented reality systems warned off a collapse of
the waveforms of the sorcerous binding procedures. The things that had been anchored here fled;
taking their new found freedom, and leaving. They could feel her, and it scared them to depths that
their alien minds had never before experienced.

It would have been better if she had smiled in satisfaction. She did not. There was not even the
normal easing of tension from a job well done. She merely scanned her eyes to the contents of the
desk revealed by her actions.
Books in neat plastic wraps, every page individually sealed, to allow them to still be read while
preventing damage to the antiquated tomes. Media storage devices, both modern isolated units and
more ancient ones. An old combat knife, dating back to the 2060s, the black paint intended to reduce
its shine peeling off. An picture, neatly framed, of a man and a woman together, standing by a beach,
the sky red with the setting sun. An album, sealed with a DNA lock. The artefacts of a life; the
anatomy of a relationship.

Irrelevancies. The thing that should have been here was not here.

She reached out, and lifted the knife, straightening as she did. "I know that you're there," she said,
her voice soft. "I knew that you would come here for it."

Another voice spoke, echoing in the empty room. "Naturally." The voice was similar, but not identical;
the intonations and speech patterns were subtly different.

"It is not yours, you know. You should not be allowed to possess it."

The other voice let a hint of amusement creep into it. "Define possession."

"I had changed subjects."

"I know."

The dark-haired girl turned to stare at the ghost-like figure behind her, taking note of the bare feet
that emerged from the bottom of the long garment, the blood smeared across the ground pooling
around them. Two grey eyes stared from under a veil of white hair, crudely hacked to jaw length
without much care or attention.

She was covered in blood. Drenched in it. Her hands were red up to the elbow, caked in gore, rivulets
still dripping from the hands.

The dark-haired girl spoke. "That was tasteless." She paused. "There are more efficient ways to kill."

There was a one-shouldered shrug from the ghost-like girl. "It was not inefficient. Inelegant, perhaps.
But aesthetic preferences are nothing to the universe, while efficiency is a well-defined term." A faint
smile passed her lips. "Can you not say that you have not done the same?"

There was a pause. Then; "Perhaps."

"I do know, you know." A pair of hands were wiped against the overly-long garment, leaving the white
hands somewhat cleaner, although still caked in dry blood. "They were not all human, you know."

A deep rumbling could be heard from outside.

"That phrase has two meanings. Were not all of the individuals in the group human, or were they,
individually not fully human? Actually," she continued, without letting the other girl say anything,
"both are applicable. And you knew that. How could you not have?"

The corners of the white-haired girl's mouth twisted up. "That was nicely done," she remarked. "It is
astonishing," she added, "the similarities."

This was also given due thought. "I would not say it is astonishing."
"No, you would not. So." The girl brushed a stained lock of white hair behind an ear. "What will you do
now? Try to kill me, perhaps?"

There was a shake of the head. "No," the other girl replied, face held impassive. "I would succeed in
doing so, should I make the attempt. But I will not. Even though you deserve to die. You, of all
people, deserve to die."

A subtle tension left the air. "I did not think that would be what you would do," the blood-drenched
girl admitted. "Last time we were this close... that was not what you believed at the time."

"Do not consider that representative," said the other one, her face mask-like. "There were reasons for
that; good ones."

"Was it necessary?" Something glittered in the back of the eyes of the white-haired girl, like a nova.

"No. Necessity is false." There was perhaps a hint of bitterness in the voice. "Nothing is necessary;
everything is permitted."

"That is not what Hassan-i Sabbah said." She matched the bitterness of her counterpart equally with
her own amusement.

"That is because he was incorrect. I have seen outside what others would call reality, out to the limits
of what I could comprehend, and the statement "Nothing is true" is a counter-factual statement. If
nothing, it is an absolute statement which includes itself in the list of impossible concepts."

"You attack it on the grounds of the fact that it is inherently self-contradictory?"

"Why not?"

The blood-drenched girl turned, and began to pace up and down, the slap of bare feet in coagulating
blood echoing. "It is a valid target." She paused, one foot aloof, and pushed some unidentifiable scrap
of flesh out the way. "But you speak of reality, and self-contradiction? Have you ever thought..."

"There is no need to explain that to me, especially not in such a transparent manner," the other girl
answered tersely. "You have no idea of how many times we have had this conversation. I already
know what you plan."

Grey eyes locked with brown ones. "Really." It was not a question.

"Really."

"Well, you are..." she paused. "What would you have me call you now?"

"Do not call me 'you', for one," was the answer. "That is not who I am. Nor am I nothingness, some
real part of an imaginary thing. But I am not unity; the imaginary part of an imaginary thing, either.
Yes," she continued, "I do understand it. Perhaps no-one else did. But you were not aware of her, the
second one. That was not what you would have wished for." She gave an identical one-shouldered
shrug to that which the other girl had given not much earlier. "Call me Gilgamesh, then."

"Unusual name," remarked the other one.

"A name is an identifying tag, nothing more; an attempt to abbreviate an understanding of another
person into a source for reference, which conveys impressions, rather than true knowledge."
A grin. "What would you say that the qualia of "Gilgamesh" is, then?"

"Quite. Even though it is not precise."

"Oh. Why so?"

"The proportions are wrong."

"And the gender."

The dark-haired girl stared back. "That is a lesser concern, as you know quite well," she chided.

"It does break the naming conventions," the other girl pointed out, making her way over to one of the
other bodies, evidently searching for something to dry off her hands. "The obvious one would have
been degenerate with the last, of course. If we are changing things, should I call him Pallas Athena,
then, wise one?" There was a certain trace of sarcasm in the words.

"No. That is also deliberate. I am not who he was. And, anyway, it was not him who you should have
called Pallas Athena."

Something could be heard from outside the cavernous office; some kind of voice, booming down from
the heavens above. The noise was warped by its passage through the immense volume, channelled
and funnelled in ways that made it hard to understand.

"You know what that is," said one of the two girls, their nearly identical voices indistinguishable in the
noise.

"Yes," replied the other. "How could I not? I have been counting on it."

"It is time."

"Yes. It is time for Entelechy to begin."


Chapter 2: Chapter 1: A Harbinger

Chapter 1

A Harbinger / But where the dead leaf fell

EVANGELION

If the thing did happen, then man must be prepared to accept notions of the cosmos, and of his
own place in the seething vortex of time, whose merest mention is paralysing. He must, too, be
placed on guard against a specific, lurking peril which, though it will never engulf the whole
race, may impose monstrous and unguessable horrors upon certain venturesome members of it.

– Excerpt from the first entry of the Peaslee Documents, written by Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee (a
tragic victim of xenobiological-assisted Type-6 Seelenversetzung), in 1935. This version of the
text was republished under the auspices of the New Earth Government, for the 150th anniversary
of the discovery of the second known pre-human civilisation.

August 19th, 2091 CE

Below an ash-coloured sky, the sea lapped at the remnants of Old London. Those buildings
which had survived the First Arcanotech War rose like macabre tombstones to those who had
died under the Nazzadi bombardment, while between them, smothered by the devouring tide,
were craters, burned into the ancient city by indiscriminate bombing from orbit and the lightning
waves of mecha that had swept through the city, putting all to the sword. The flooded streets,
grey channels between grey buildings, under a grey sky, seemed to tell a melancholy tale of the
hubris of a city that had once considered itself centre of the universe. Once, Old London had
sprawled over most of the south of England, a revocation of the anti-urbanisation laws of the
twentieth century allowing a phase transition that had turned large amounts of the country into
one massive metropolis.

Now, Old London was slowly being eaten by the rapacious appetite of its child; a mother
devoured by her daughter, as old ruins were torn down and their rubble fed to the nanofactories
of the newer arcologies, and in the gaps, nature was reclaiming that which had, for a few years,
almost negligible on the geographic timescale, been the domain of mankind. The deciduous
growths that blossomed in such places had started off as natural regrowth, but in the last few
years, a deliberate policy of environmental restoration had been implemented, to cover the scars
of the many wars which had affected Earth in the twenty-first century. But even in this return to
nature, the injuries poked through; some of the trees swayed and moved in ways not quite as they
should have, and leaves displayed the hectic and prismatic shades indicative of arcanochromatic
exposure. In between these areas of ruin and regrowth, a few areas of habitation could still be
seen; the Enclaves of those who chose not to dwell in the areas around the arcologies (and so
were, perhaps ironically, subjected to increased scrutiny by the New Earth Government), and the
military installations that formed the network that protected the civilian populace.

The first signs of trouble were the blasts which spawned vast columns of water from the surface
of the fat, lazy Thames that flowed well above its historic banks, as a minefield unmade itself, to
no effect. Through the mist that suddenly filled the air, a dark shape could be seen moving. The
fog flowed aside, as if it were afraid to touch the figure that stood, towering over the remnants of
the majority of the buildings. It was vaguely ape-like at a glance; almost excessively anthropic in
its shape by the standards of the other beings that mankind had encountered. But when observed
more closely, that resemblance vanished. It was a night-dark hole in the world, in which objects
spun and floated; strange bone-like arcs that shifted and flowed as they stayed perfectly still, a
white mask with a hooked beak which looked vaguely like a plague doctor, if the plague it was
trying to remedy had infected an entire ecosystem, and visceral organic protrusions which jutted
from its void-like skin. But all this was diminished by the thing that hung in the middle of its
chest; if the creature was the night-sky, then the crimson orb that nestled in a bony grip was a
dying sun, illuminating the landscape around it with its fell radiance.

A herald of strange aeons. A harbinger of that which was to come.

It was here.

It was time.

Stretching his shoulders, while still trying to maintain his somewhat precarious grip on the heavy
bag held in both hands, Shinji Ikari attempted to work out the kinks in his neck, while looking
around for some kind of trolley. Gazing at the empty stalls, it looked like he'd have to wait until
they bought some more around. So, in an immaculate display of logic, Shinji was of the opinion
that he might as well sit down. The bag became a perfectly valid improvised seat, and it was only
when the crunch occurred that he remembered that there were some potentially breakable things
in there.

With a groan, he let his head fall into both waiting hands.

"Welcome to the Victoria Arcology and London-2," announced a male voice. "We hope you
have a pleasant and peaceful stay here. Transport may be obtained to other surface arcologies,
and to the remainder of the city. All individuals are reminded that they should have their
passports ready, and the linked HC-82 forms filled out in full. If you have not done so, your
biometric profile may not be linked from your region of origin, and you may be subjected to
extra analysis upon arrival. If you see any unattended baggage, or individuals acting in a
suspicious manner, please report them to the nearest member of Arcology Security. Remember;
this security is here for your own safety."
Well, at least he was past that hassle. The genetic scan had confirmed he was who he claimed he
was; one sixteen-year old boy, dark-brown hair, perhaps a little shorter than average for his age,
no real distinguishing figures, one-hundred percent Homo sapiens sapiens.

With a sigh, he gave up, and slumped back down again, this time on the cold floor. He could
have sworn that he hadn't put anything breakable in the hand-luggage, precisely for that reason.
Another, somewhat self-consciously melodramatic sigh bought an end to that chain of thought,
and he fished in a pocket for his PCPU. Glancing up, he could see that they still hadn't bought
any trolleys. A girl with dark brown hair was standing by the racks, presumably waiting for the
same thing, and she would get to them first. His eyes lingered on her for a moment, dipping,
before rising... yes, she was rather cute. She caught his glance and held it, until a bleep from his
device drew his attention.

I should probably move, come to think of it, he thought, glancing down at the screen, as the
device booted from internal memory. Yet another thing to do once he was clear of the airport;
wait for the auto-update for the local arcology protocols, so that he wasn't stuck on internal
memory. Which sucked. How were you supposed to cope without access to PAN or the Grid?
Even his muse was shut down because of the lack of processing power; nothing more than a
heuristically-derived list of saved and extrapolated preferences, rather than a proper LAI.

Shinji glanced up. At least the girl didn't seem to be waiting by the trolley rack any more. Of
course, that most probably indicated that she'd got one of the returned ones first, and he had
missed it. Either way, it would make sense to lug the bag over to that place, and wait.

Seated in his new position, he opened up the local copy of the message that had caused all these
problems. It was so simple. A message from his father; the instruction "Come" the only text in
between the automatic filled-in header and footer.

"I have no idea why I did," he said, barely vocalising the words, as he shook his head. He
glanced at his watch. Twenty-five past twelve. He should already be waiting for the woman who
had sent the second email, explaining how she would be picking him up. He groaned. He really
was behind, and didn't want to leave... he checked the name... Major Misato Katsuragi waiting.
That meant that he had to carry the bag. Luckily, he had a picture of her, at least.

It was very much a demonstrative picture. Many people would have just resorted to sending a
picture of their face. Not this Major Katsuragi, apparently. No, she was apparently so diligent
that she wanted him to be able to recognise her even if he couldn't see her face, and so had sent a
picture which exposed considerable more flesh than would be normal. And an annotation which
had practically been an instruction to look at her breasts. Add that to the fact that the picture had
apparently been taken in Nazza-Duhni, in what had once been Cuba before the territory had been
given to the Nazzadi in the aftermath of the First Arcanotech War, and which had been declared
the world's first "clothing-optional" city, and it might be deduced that the boy had "appreciated"
the photograph. Technically, the skimpy bikini that the woman was wearing fulfilled the criteria
for not being naked. Most of the individuals in the background were not so clad.
Blearily, he rubbed one hand against an eye, and glanced to his right. I might was well just
go. He still wasn't really wasn't feeling that well, quite beyond the jet lag; he was still getting
over the airsickness which afflicted him whenever he flew; a fun little gift from the genetics fairy
(who was, by all reckoning, a capricious bitch). And that was even before the meeting, which he
loathed the idea of, but which filled his foreseeable future like an iceberg looming from the
mists, was taken into account. It was still possible that it might go well, of course... it wasn't as if
his father had given any explanation for why he had to attend. Perhaps it was an attempt at
reconciliation. But that wasn't likely, was it? Was it? He didn't know, and the unknowing nagged
at him, even through the tiredness.

Shinji Ikari felt that he had a rather good reason to be feeling nervous and sick, all in all.

He had no idea.

"Today, at 12:27 pm, a special state of authority has been declared by the New Earth
Government. All citizens in the surface levels of the Victoria Arcology are to head immediate to
the closest designated secure bunker. Access to surface levels in London-2 is forbidden. All
citizens who fail to obey these instructions risk personal injury including a-chem exposure, or
death, and may be dealt with as threats to internal security. Temporary martial law is in full
effect."

"Asisi radisi, ni plancki solilaki-twi pla twilaki-reski, soli Newi Earthi Governmenti canalabi
absul homisapi. Absul homisapi ni absul piwuteri oi Arkologi oi Victoria serakausi
mandatuchanposakausi sulucerpos velecuscipubuyuteri. Absul ui opuvami ot piwuteri oi
arkologusufiki Londoni-twi. Absul homisapi whiku opuvulakausi peruginozakausi, pla
arkanokemiki, altna perutermakausi, pla peruserakausi constresi. Vuli-oi-gurilutermi, delo estru
radisi, serabi canalabi."

"Today, at 12:27 pm, a special state of authority has been declared by the New Earth
Government. All citizens in the surface levels..."

The serried ranks of armoured vehicles and static defences were dug deep into the fortified
positions which surrounded the civilian targets. The mainstay armoured units of the New Earth
Government Army, the Type-M055 and Type-M057 main battle tanks presented a bristling front
of railguns, relativistic charged particle beams, and lasers. The hovertanks, tactically more akin
to gunships than anything bound close to the ground, were landed, positioned hull-down against
what might come. Interspersed were tracked tank-destroyers, bringing the massive firepower of
the charge beam on the Type-H045 and the arcanomagnetically-confined directed-plasma
weapon on the Type-H047 to the field. From all over the surrounding area, missile systems
prepared to fill the clouded skies with a rain of smart projectiles, covered by a defensive
umbrella of anti-air-and-missile systems. The anvils and the hammers of the armoured forces of
the New Earth Government were ready.
Beside them, in underground hold-outs, for use in counter-attack, were the lances. The
conventional mecha of the NEG were angular things; much more organic in their shape
compared to the brutalist aesthetics of the armoured forces, and painted in the same urban
camouflage as the armoured vehicles. The designs were not, technically speaking, terrestrial
human in origin; to be exact, almost all the mecha in the army's arsenal came from the basic
designs of Homo sapiens nazzadi, the black-pigmented, red-eyed cousins of humanity, made by
the alien Migou to subjugate the Earth. And accompanying them, were their superiors; the
Engels. Arcanocyberxenobiological war machines, altered and played with by the hand of
mankind; improved, armoured, armed, lobotomised, and piloted by cybernetically modified
pilots that dwelt in uterine capsules within the guts of the thing. They had been one of the great
triumphs of the last decade; tougher, faster, and stronger than normal mecha, able to regenerate
their unnatural flesh, and despite the problems that the first few steps into this field of technology
had suffered, the establishment of the Engel Group had solved them, to produce things from the
monsters that mankind encountered.

In the skies, were the naval and aerial forces. Flocks of gunships, distinguishable from the
hovertanks only really in the orientation of their turrets, hung low. Above the clouds, the aircraft
waited, holding position until they had authorisation to fire. And the cigar-shaped bulks of the
capital ships waited, lifting off from their armoured docking points.

Such defence was necessary. There were twenty million people in London-2. That was half a
percent of the global population. It was estimated that it would take a massive Migou
deployment, on a scale never-before-seen, to break them; and such risk taking was not a
characteristic of the Yuggothian fungoids which had controlled orbit, ever since the start of the
Second Arcanotech War. And as for the cults, the fish-fuckers of the Esoteric Order of Dagon, or
the ravening worshippers of the Unnameable One, the King in Yellow, who sat on his throne in
Tibet-that-is-Leng; they didn't stand a chance. The New Earth Government was not about to
make the same mistake again.

What they did not have was a target. And as the minutes ticked by, the military was getting more
and more worried. They'd picked up the Pattern Blue of a massively altered r-state. But they
couldn't find it.

And that was a matter of some concern.

"Major Katsuragi, you have a phone call from... Dr Ritsuko Akagi, Director of Research at the
Ashcroft Founda..."

"Yes, yes," snapped the black-haired woman, pulling a terminally unsafe turn that took her car
far closer to the edge of the building than the designers would have ever wished. "Just put her
through," she instructed the muse. The inside of her car was noticeable in that it neglected such
things as leather seats and a stylish dashboard for things somewhat more essential for those
subjected to the quirks of its pilot. Like high-quality advanced control systems, and military-
grade crash seats. And things that wouldn't break when subjected to sustained multiple-g
accelerations.

In the opinion of the driver, speed had a style all of its own.

"Where are you, Misato?" asked an equally frustrated voice. "We're under attack!"

"I know! They're locking down the city; do you have any idea of how long it took me to," she
yanked at the control throttles, narrowly pulling her way through the gap between a pair of
buildings, "... damn it. Engage autopilot, to set destination," she told her muse, flipping a switch
on the dashboard, and then leant back. "... yeah. I got really delayed by the checkpoints at the
Geocity exit. They didn't even accept my Advisor status until I shouted at them for a bit," she
added, with a hint of a pout.

"Yes! And Harbinger-03 has shown up! We need you back in Command, so you can manage the
operation," the woman told the Operations Manager.

"Yeah, well..." She paused, leaving the statement hanging. "I've already directed an ArcSec
squad to secure him, so I can pick him up," she added. "I'm not stupid."

You could hear the other woman's nod. "Good. Well, get back soon. The army don't seem to be
doing, well, well..." There was a sigh. "Don't crash the car because I told you to hurry, either,"
she said somewhat drily.

"Not likely." Misato paused, a smirk on her face. "I wouldn't want to give you the satisfaction of
being right. End call."

With a flick of a switch, the autopilot was disengaged, and the car once again returned to its
default behaviour, as it violated four major, and twelve minor traffic laws with the steep ascent.

Damn it, damn it, damn it! Why did it have to be today, of all days! Why did that thing have to
show up now!, she silently bemoaned.

At the sound of the sirens, and the dual warnings in both Reformed English and the Nazzadi
tongue, the dark-haired boy froze, listening to the message. This was not good. This was really
not good. The airport was at the peak of the pyramidal arcology, and if they were calling a full
evacuation to the sub-ground levels... well, if this place was structured like Tokyo-3 (and it
looked to be), it was going to be... he really didn't know where on earth he was meant to be
going.

Slowly, he swallowed, and controlled his breathing.

Then common sense reasserted itself, and he scanned the walls, finding the inevitable displays
active, which were guiding the travellers to the evacuation routes. At least he wasn't going to be
left standing here, alone in a strange city, while... whatever was happening (they'd been overly
vague about it, in his opinion) happened. That would have been really quite bad.

The high, well-lit corridors were no longer so bright; armoured plating rolling down to obscure
the windows as the city went into battle mode, locking into place before the rattle of more could
be heard through the first layer. The noise of footsteps was a dull roar, as people swarmed in the
directions instructed, the calls of the security staff in the illuminated overalls guiding the
evacuating horde.

Figures in the trim blue and white light combat armour of Arcology Security, the branch of the
police with jurisdiction over local events, were patrolling the lines, rifles in hand and the
illumination of the smartlink in their helmets visible on the transparent faceplates of their
helmets. They were looking for something, it seemed; well, that was logical, Shinji thought.
With this kind of evacuation, it was obvious that there had been some kind of threat, although
whether Migou or cult-led in origin, that was unclear. Perhaps if he just asked...

And that was when the terrible noise, audible even through the sealed arcology walls, the very
ground shaking in a way which showed that it had ceased to be noise and started to be seismic
activity started; a cacophony of chaotic collisions calling to the cold cosmos and causing cries of
concern among the cosmopolitan crowd. The boy gasped, and covered both ears with his hands;
he could feel his jaw ache and bones throb with each pulse, and they came near constantly.

The evacuation turned into panic. The queues, no longer a line but now a mob, broke, despite the
efforts of the airport staff and the ArcSec officers. The rational urges were gone, washed away
by the ape brain, which just demanded that they get away from the noise. Baggage was discarded
to be trampled underfoot and snarl other people, often then to be stamped on by their fellow men.

The long wait of the military was broken by sudden, immense violence. Violence of a nature
quite beyond anything they could have committed.

The first positive confirmation they had of hostile action was when the first line was hit by an
opaque wave. It was even a wave of fluid. What it was not, was a wave of water. It was a terrible
black thing; a delineated night's sky shot through with dying red stars that cast their vile radiance
over the area, and ossuarous structures painted on the surface which somehow seemed to be
immersed in the inky void.

Take the air, take the ground, take concrete buildings and broken glass and tarmac and all the
legacies of human innovation and hubris, take even the precious laws of physics which
generations had worked to deduce... and render them as nought before something much greater
than them. Individually compared to that which they faced, they were nothing.

Perhaps, unified, they could do something.

Perhaps the entity which was the intellect behind the wave found that idea amusing.
One of the most interesting phenomena accurately predicted by quantum theory, the outmoded
schema for describing reality which had been replaced by arcane theory in the same way that
relativity had replaced Newtonian dynamics, was a legacy of the indistinguishablity of particles.
Specifically, under the statistical mechanical model, the assumption that the number of particles
in a non-relativistic bosonic gas was constant turned out to create a minimum temperature above
that of the defined absolute zero. The root of this was a flawed assumption in the base model; as
the temperature of the system fell, the assumption that there are no particles in the ground state
was rendered invalid. Instead, the equations had to be adjusted to account for the fact that there
was, in fact, a macroscopic number of bosons where ε = 0, and so they had to be counted
separately, rather than ignored in the integral. And when they had a macroscopic number, they
imparted some exceedingly odd properties to the system, indeed. The particles in the ground
state carried no energy, and did not move; a consequence of their stationary wavefunction. No
internal energy, no pressure, no viscosity. They did not even increase in pressure when
compressed, to name but one of their oddities.

Now, imagine the consequences of a macroscopic, non-uniform system degenerating into that
state.

Such a thing was impossible, of course. Apart from the fact that the theory had modelled a gas,
not a solid (and had even required heavy modification to be able to handle helium-4, which was a
superfluid), matter was not purely bosonic. Electrons were fermions, with a half-integer spin as
were any species composed of an odd number of fermions. And that was not even to get started
on the odder phenomena that arcane theory had discovered could exist in altered r-states; yions,
Clark-Davenport coalescence... the list was packed with complex phenomena tagged with the
names of early twenty-first physicists. It would require a massive violation not only of the
classical and quantum models of reality, but also of what humanity knew of the arcane, too, for
such a thing to be. It was flagrantly impossible.

Quite.

And a little ironically, the wide-area spread, the grand symbolism, the callous disregard for this
planet, was eminently unnecessary. There was nothing special about humanity or their vehicles,
after all, and the human body was merely the sum of its components; a macroscopic assemblage
of electrons and protons and neutrons, ordered and structured in predictable 1-state
configurations. Nothing special. Far less would have been needed to disrupt the squishy organic
matrices of dirty water with which they mimicked sapience. A relatively small tweak in the
vacuum permittivity, perhaps, such that their component electrons were no longer bound quite as
strongly, and the resultant homeostatic breakdown of such a sensitive system would have been
quite adequate. Not this, not this sudden constriction of every component fermion and boson into
their groundstate, even while their energies remained the same. It was a gratuitous, flashy display
that left reality screaming from the violation.

Two brigades had been stationed in the area the wave had covered, ready to hold off the barely
detected threat.

They died quickly and painlessly.


And then, just as suddenly as it had appeared, the wave of impossibility coalesced into a discrete,
shaped form; the black giant, with the sun on its chest, staring forth (was it? Was that mask its
face? Why should such a thing be assumed?) over the forces arrayed against it, in hidden in
cover which meant nothing to those who it had already eradicated. Reality screamed at its return
to this shape; white noise and white light flooding the spectra from a crystalline, fractured
radiance which briefly flared over it.

And what had it done to those people? It was not indescribable. It was not even that horrible to
look at; the waveforms collapsing back into discrete particles, leaving a fused mess of carbon
and silicon and metal and gases and trace elements, while above the air crackled with static
electricity as the atmosphere through which it had passed reformed. The violation of reality was
retained; the release of energy which should have resulted from so many bond formations did not
occur, as the r-state snapped back down; impossibility negating impossibility. The horror came
from the knowledge of what had been there before, across those fifteen square kilometres,
reaching far down into the earth, in that expanse that had flowed to a terrible flat plane.

And that was horrific indeed.

The crack of laser-superheated air, particle beams, and hypersonic shells filled the air, as the
survivors opened fire, the targeting LAIs trying as best within their dumb parameters to maintain
order and standard firing protocols, but the monster had cut the heart out of the morale of too
many of the defenders. The morale, and the sanity. Humanity was a flawed species, whether
human, Nazzadi, amlati or sidoci. Their neural architecture was a product of an evolution which
had selected for survival in a low r-state, to enable the foremost ape to grab the fruit, with less-
than-stellar adaptations to deal with the far-too-few generations of civilisation, and the even-
fewer of knowledge of the arcane.

Against such a thing, that shaped itself for survival in an impersonal universe, and was as a god
to them... was it any surprise that tank crews and mecha jockeys alike broke and panicked?

Nevertheless, the target was enveloped in fire, bracketed and isolated, as incredible yields
slammed into it. The tanks and mecha, emerging from their shelters, might as well merely have
been providing illumination. Stellar-bright plasma beams made a slight indentation on the
surface of the thing, swallowed up by the void of its body. The missiles were as rain to it,
bursting like cherry blossoms in spring to produce an obfuscating veil. The attempts to take out
its legs were entirely futile; it either massed implausibly much, or the momentum of a little
something like a relativistic particle beam was entirely irrelevant to it.

And always, the sick, crystalline, fractured light, radiating forth and casting the clouds in stark
contrast, that shimmered like a broken diamond around its skin.

The night-dark shape chose to ignore the petty fire of the insects that surrounded it, striding
onwards, and raised one hand. The red sun that burned on its chest flared briefly, and the air
screamed. The line of distortion traced from its palm and lamprey-like fingers, to slice up
through a Skuld-class frigate. A heartbeat, then the two halves of the ship fell out of the air,
separating as they did, rolling and crushing a company beneath them. Even the blue afterglow of
its passage that burned into the retina was mute, compared to the suns being thrown against the
monster.

A flash of light, and the figure jerked backwards as it was wrapped in a fireball, which
swallowed the beast whole. As the sudden light rushed outwards, the entity could be seen as a
dark figure in the middle of the blossom of flame, long ape-like arms trailing on the ground
behind it, torso bend at an impossible angle such that its shoulders almost touched the floor rear
of its feet. The blue-green trail of the nitrogen ionised by the relativistic particle beam which had
just smashed into the head of the thing, fired by a stationary anti-capital defence, was barely
visible. The afterglow was blanked out, as the Pachendale, the quadruple battery of near-
ultraviolet capital grade lasers, began to slice into the darkness, frying the atmosphere around
them, the inhumanly precise targeting getting all four beam to hit the same point with an integer
wavelength difference. Spewing lesser weapons from its surface arcs to reinforce the cutting
beam, the bulk of the battleship rose above the armoured cradle in which it had been stationed.
Rivulets of liquefied flesh poured off the night-thing as the lasers jumped back and forth across
its surface, dodging the radiance which gathered in places which it lingered too long.

A hand was raised, as the torso of the monster snapped back upright, interposing itself into the
path of the laser. And space-itself seemed to bend, so that no matter where it was directed, the
propagation of the wave inevitably led in into the barrier. A second hand pointed at
the Pachendale.

The Invictus-class battleship failed to live up to its name, and fell apart just as easily as the lesser
frigate, its greater bulk only giving it scant seconds of extra life as the titan sliced through the
major nodes in its distributed grid, leaving it to crash to the ground.

The monster continued its path, not even pausing as it eliminated the anti-capital charge beam
which had knocked it back, drawing ever closer to the arcology cluster which made up the bulk
of the city.

The command centre was surprisingly bare for a place of such importance; a low room, the
armoured walls heavily buttressed, buried deep into the earth. It was a hub, not a processing
centre; data was fed here from the Tactical Information Total Analysis Networks, for strategic
decisions, rather than rely on a single centre. For those wearing arglasses or with the harcontacts
or optical jacks of the modern military, though, the place was aflame with Augmented Reality
displays; the images as potentially solid and sharp as anything real. There was the purposed
babble of ordered informational relay, as both people and the LAIs; a babble in which notes of
frustration, horror and concern could be heard.

"We're getting feed from Themis," reported a male Nazzadi, his hands flowing through images
that only he could see on the display screens that made up the surface of his eye. "We report;
the Pachendale has been destroyed. Hit from unknown weapon directly to D-Engine-1, then zero
point three seconds later to D-Engine-2, then zero point oh seven second later to Primary A-Pod
cluster. Telemetry indicates that autoshutdown was successful... we do not have a Horizon Event,
I repeat, we do not have a Horizon Event." That at least was some small mercy. Far too small.

"Damage mechanism unknown," added a woman on the other side. "Non-negligible r-state flux,
though..." and she paused, "I can't say how much. It's faster than the resolution of the Shaws."

"What the hell does that mean?" snapped Field Marshal Lehy, red eyes aflame under her tightly
tied iron-grey bun.

"Uh... well, basically," the junior officer paused, and decided that now was exactly the time for
both honesty and profanity, "... we don't know what it's doing when it does the..." she waved her
hands, looking for the right words, "...the arm-blasts, but when it's doing it, it's fucking up
spacetime. And it's doing it faster than the sensors can respond to the changes, so we can't even
see what it's doing. Um, well, not see, but detect."

The Field Marshal frowned, wrinkles settling into familiar patterns. It was almost ironic, she felt.
The hostile had still caused less damage to the city than she, who had once been a young,
fanatical junior officer in the Nazzadi invasion fleet, back before they had found out the truth and
turned on their masters. It was not amusing, because what she had done had been monstrous, but
she could at least see the potential for it to be at least drily humorous.

"We have a positive classification! I repeat, we have a positive classification! Target is


exhibiting behaviours characteristic of a Herald-class entity; specifically, one in the Harbinger
sub-category. We're trying to narrow it down!" announced a worried looking man, clad in the
uniform of an agent of the Global Intelligence Agency. "We recommend that you pull back all
mobile forces, and prepare for a counter-attack, once we have a ID for the entity."

There was a crack as Field Marshal Jameson slammed the side of his balled fist into the table, a
winced shake of the hand the only clue that, in retrospect, he could have chosen something
softer. "Damn it!" he shouted, blue eyes staring angrily from behind lit arglasses. "Why aren't
they doing anything!"

Beside him, Admiral Tatuta pointed angrily at the central screen, to the autocensored image of
the leviathan. "Look at it. It just took a harangi capital-grade charge beam to the face, and it
didn't even dent the mask-thing!" snarled the male Nazzadi, unconsciously parting his lips in a
not-at-all-friendly smile. "That would have left a Swarm Ship crippled if not dead! We should
pull back, disengage; the GIA are right. Just throwing away men and ships like this is useless!"

Field Marshal Lehy groaned. Admiral Tatuta was right, loathe though she was to admit it; he was
another one of the younger, ambitious Nazzadi, to whom AW1 was a childhood memory, like
Field Marshal Kora (fortunately away, on the Eastern Front against the Migou forces coming in
from fallen Russia). They really did need to pull back.

Out loud, she said, "I'm ordering the mass dispersal of scrubbers." She paused. "Does anyone
want to countermand that?" There was a hint of challenge in her voice.
"Scrubbers?" The Admiral paused. "You're going to..."

"This close to a population centre, yes."

Field Marshal Jameson nodded. "Yes. Do it."

"It's the only way," she said.

Almost unconsciously, she glanced to the back of the room. A man sat there, the light reflecting
off his orange arglasses, his mouth obscured by his interlocked fingers, arms propped up by the
sides of the chair. There was a feeling of stillness around him, even in the packed command
centre; others avoided the man, bar the grey-haired figure that stood beside him.

He was waiting, she just knew it. Sitting in a little patch of silence which almost sucked at the
noise.

Waiting for his time.

Shinji Ikari lay face down on the floor, hands clamped over his ears, groaning. Weighed down by
the heavy bag, he just hadn't been able to keep upright when pushed from all sides by the
seething mass of humanity, as the mob turned from panic to terror. In retrospect, it almost hadn't
been the best of ideas to put the strap over his shoulders, even if it left both hands free. The
anchor which had weighed him down was, as he raised his head, lying on the floor, strap broken,
quite clearly utterly trampled; even more so than he was. And that said something.

He could feel the massive bruise which was going to make sitting down an exceptionally
uncomfortable experience for the next week or so.

Outside, the noise was dying down, much more sporadic, and it was discretely noise now; not
some omnipresent white wall of sound with physical force.

Unless I've gone deaf, he thought, propping himself up on his elbows with an not-inconsiderable
amount of bleariness. Getting up seemed to be an improbable amount of effort, but he just about
managed it, with aid from the remnants of his bag, levering himself into a sitting, and then a sort
of crouched vertical position. Making his way over to one of the seats, he slumped back down,
ignoring the nagging voice which told him that it was just going to make things harder when he
actually had to move again, and fished in his back pocket... his back pocket.

Ah.

Yes. The back pocket. Where he had put his PCPU. Which the almost-certainly foot shaped
bruise lay under.
With an almost comical flopping motion, the device swung on the hinge of the plastic covering
he'd been keeping it in, slick with the fluid welling out of the broken screen. The actual device
was snapped clean in two.

Why didn't I listen to Yuki, ran his distracted chain of thought. She said that I should get a soft-
form one; that a hard one would only get broken. But, no, I wanted the increased internal
processing power, and better screen resolution.

If I ever see her or Gany again, I'll have to apologise.

Shinji took several deep breaths, swallowing down the up-swelling of bile, and wiped his
suddenly sweat-slick brow, aware of a sudden chill. The damn announcement was playing in the
background,

"... sulucerpos velecuscipubuyuteri. Absul ui opuvami ot piwuteri oi arkologusufiki Londoni-twi.


Absul homisapi..."

and he didn't... well he did know a little first aid, because Gany had insisted that he learn some,
but not much, and he didn't have any equipment and he didn't know what exactly he could do to
deal with bruises and he wasn't sure how to deal with broken bones and the warnings were still
playing and he wasn't perfectly awake and he didn't want to make things worse by fumbling
when they should have a professional. So that made it okay to leave these people here, above
ground, when those warnings were playing, and that noise was outside, didn't it? He wasn't a
coward. This made perfect sense.

The next impact tore through the wall behind him, punching through the exterior armoured
arcology barrier, and the reinforced interior wall like tissue paper. The air was filled with dust,
the impact excreta enough to overcome the slightly higher pressure of the air in the interior of the
structure; hot and choking compared to the pleasant air of the interior. A harsh, almost painful
red light shone through the gap, casting the hallway in a dream-like glimmer that seemed to co-
exist only uneasily with the pre-existing lights.

The boy's mouth fell open at the sight of the... it was a foot, wasn't it. A foot. A foot of
something that just stepped through the arcology wall. His head swum, and he gagged, the rapid
passage of breaths producing a sort of screaming whimper. The cold floor impacted with his
behind, the pain of the impact negligible compared to the mental trauma running through his
head, and he scrabbled furiously back, ignoring the discarded baggage in the furious, atavistic,
instinctual flight from that which he could see. Higher thought shut down almost entirely, he
merely blindly fled, legs flailing. Anything to get away from that harbinger of fell tidings, of
which he had barely caught a glimpse.

The foe knew nothing of this. Soon the foot disappeared, tearing up the wall further, as it
climbed further up the pyramidal structure. Matter degenerated under its footsteps, and one long
simian arm reached down, scooping up an insect-like automated emplaced weapon, which
buzzed wasp-missiles at it. A casual flick of an arm sent it spinning through the air, arcing, only
to slam into the ventral laser of a frigate, the point defence entirely useless against an object with
that mass and momentum. The ship lurched, the orange blossoms of ammunition explosions
calling forth their own counterpart from within the ship. Uncaring, it strode on, crushing the
peak, and began its decent down the other side.

Meanwhile, down in the Victoria Arcology, Shinji Ikari's flight from the monstrosity only ceased
when he slipped over, foot moving under him on a wet patch on the floor. No longer able to
maintain purchase on the ground, he slid straight into a wall, bouncing off onto his back. As he
lay on the floor once again, for the... how many times in a very short while, he wasn't really sure,
he could feel the hot, running feeling of blood welling up inside his noise, and the iron-taste on
his tongue.

What... what... what? his stunned thoughts ran. What? What was... that thing! Why did it exist! It
shouldn't! Rolling onto his side, hugging his knees close in a foetal ball, he sobbed, deep gasping
breaths that wracked his lungs and pained his chest.

Slowly, he opened his eyes, as his breathing slowed. The remnants of a discarded drink, bright
blue stickiness smeared across the smooth floor, explained the fall. Licking his lips
unconsciously, all he could taste was the blood running from his nose. A rummage through his
pockets revealed nothing of use. After a pause, he pulled off the jumper, folding it up, and
wiping at his face, clamping the folded fabric to his nose to soak up the blood-flow.

Sitting up, Shinji Ikari, aching even more, looked for the nearest evacuation sign. He really had
to get to safety, he was sure of it, now, breaking into a stumbling jog, despite the flow of blood
from his nose.

The smart blue and white body armour worn by ArcSec officers, although lighter than that which
was used by the military for frontline duties, was still exceptionally tough. The advent of the
nanofactory had made diamond (which was, after all, nothing more than an allotrope of 1-state
carbon, an element not known for its rarity) as cheap as glass. The composite material that made
up the majority of the plates was basically immune to pistol calibre bullets; momentum transfer
was still enough that the wearer might be put out of action, but the fatality rate was much
decreased.

The female Nazzadi officer, red blood gushing from where the knife had been thrust through the
neck seal, and worked until it had hit her jugular, was proof that the figures in blue and white
were by no means invincible.

The stun baton that came down in a smart arc upon the head of her assailant was swung with
more force that was strictly necessary, and as even as the woman with the knife stumbled back,
collapsing under her own weight, the second blow made a sick crack which echoed through the
suddenly silenced crowd.

And the whole mood suddenly changed.


Perhaps it was just a desire to maintain control, to prevent more people being crushed, and
further assaults upon officers. Perhaps it was more malevolent. Either way, one cluster of ArcSec
officers, three levels below where Shinji Ikari's current location, were a little overly heavy with
their stun batons...and the mob struck back. The automated microwave emitters that descended
from the ceiling kept most of the civilians back, but some seemed insensitive to pain, and a burst
of flex rounds, set to plastic deformation, were needed to keep them down. Those individuals
were dragged immediately off to security, for confirmation of mortal status; something which did
not help the worsening mood.

The crackle of gunfire was almost inaudible over the dreadful noise from outside, but the herd
feeling spreading faster than any one person could spread the word, rivalling the speed at which
the messages passed between the ArcSec officers themselves, advantaged by radio
communications. Rumours spread in those areas deeper into the structure (and thus somewhat
quieter), with no apparent source; standing alone from any obvious person to blame or thank for
the information. The Migou were attacking. The Dagonites were attacking. The military was
opening fire on completely innocent protesters at the airport, unprovoked, as part of some coup.
The arcology wall had already been breached. It was some top secret government to scare the
populace and ensure that President Nyanda could push through the Post-Natum Modification
Bill. The rumours ran like water, from areas of high suspicion to low, and none could really say
what was true or false. The fact that this put the crowd even more on edge, and slowed it down in
its panic, the disorganisation breaking the clean lines of evacuation, was surely just coincidence.

What was not a coincidence, nor could be construed as something innocent or a simple proclivity
of humanity, was the way that, scattered throughout the airport, clusters of private individuals
drew weapons. Because they should not have owned those weapons, they should not have been
able to even get them into the airport, past security, and they certainly should not have even been
able to fire them in an area broadcasting a weapons-lock signal. There was no target profile, no
suspicious youths or embittered Enclavists. The suddenly-armed individuals were from all
ethnicities, subspecies, and backgrounds; a mix of machine pistols and sharders their choice, all
small enough to be concealed against the person.

The crackle of automatic weapons fire became a staccato counterpoint to the immeasurable
volume outside, as ArcSec engaged these unknown forces. And turned on itself, as entire squads
turned traitor and opened fire on their own, mowing down the masses that milled in the chaos
just as willingly as they did against those who fought back.

The grey-armoured squads, the skull-like visages of heavy combat armour masking their
features, and their Nephilim escorts were clustered outside the entrance to the airport. They had
regained local control of the security network, so they were making better time than they would
if they didn't have the aid of the profusion of cameras that filled all public places in the New
Earth Government, but they were still going slowly. Yes, it was true that no-one should have
been let into the airport with the kind of sorcerous warding that would render someone invisible
to surveillance, but it was also true that no-one should have been let into the airport with
firearms, and that had turned out exceptionally well, hadn't it?
And a careful onlooker would have seen that they were not all marked with the insignia of NEG
forces, whether police or military, but instead some badges showed three connected squares, the
top one filled in with a circle, tilted onto their side and arranged into a shape which bore a vague
resemblance to an "A". That was because, quite simply, they were not part of the NEG. They
were forces from the Ashcroft Foundation, and they had one task here. They were heavily armed
and accompanied by their own Nephilim, in itself an anomaly.

Major Katsuragi glanced sideways at one, and shivered slightly. Tsuchigumo were creepy; there
was no two ways about it, and as Operations Manager for Project Evangelion, she knew creepy.
But the Nephilim were a product of the Engel Group, not the Evangelion Group, so it wasn't like
she had to put up with them every day.

"Do you have a fix on his location?" she asked one of the technical staff, back down in the
Geocity, with access to the areas of the network they has secured.

"No, Major," responded the woman, with an almost audible shake of her head. "The LAIs aren't
getting pings off facial recognition in any of the areas we have access to, and his PCPU isn't
active in the airport grid. No trackers, either."

Misato blinked heavily once. "Fine. Tell me if you get anything," then shrugged, retuning her
radio back to the command frequencies.

The babble across the tactical channels confirmed that they had eliminated the abortive ambush,
and that they were moving again. She could feel the Staff Sergeant... okay, she wasn't actually a
Staff Sergeant if they were going to be technical, but internally, the Ashcroft units used the
standard NEGA ranks, and she was going to be damned if she called her a "Coordinator" or
whatever management-speak the higher-ups (ignoring the fact that she was a higher-up herself,
but she didn't feel like one, so there)... what was she thinking? Oh yes. She was going to be
damned if she didn't call her by what she really was. No, wait. It was that the Staff Sergeant was
looking at her.

"Yes?" she asked her.

The woman, a hard-faced Nazzadi with rigidly angular tattoos that wrapped around her mouth
and eyes, paused, just for a moment. "Major," she said, addressing Misato, who did genuinely
also hold rank in the NEGA, quite apart from her Ashcroft status, "you shouldn't be here. You
should stay at the perimeter."

Misato shrugged. "I'm aware of the danger."

"But you shouldn't endanger yourself like this." There was a hint of complaint in the NCO's
voice.

"I said I'd meet him here, didn't I?" she said, with a smile. She could feel the other woman's
glare, even through the opaque helmet. "Okay, the Representative will have my skull if this goes
wrong." she admitted, somewhat reluctantly. "I have to be here, on the scene."
"Now, that makes a lot more sense," said the Nazzadi, in a slightly worried tone. "Move out!"
she barked over the general frequencies.

A silvery rain filled the air, swirling and shifting, making the ferocious currents of air visible to
anyone who cared to look. Here, the silver bulged and flowed in ferocious vortices, as low-flying
supersonic aircraft tore at the Harbinger, like ants against an elephant, there, they spiralled
upwards, born by the fires that sprinkled the city that wrapped around the arcologies, started by
the ordinance that missed the monster. The spheres of compression and distortions painted
symbols across the sky, but there were none who could, or indeed cared to read them.

"We have a positive ID!" shouted the agent from the GIA, leaping up from his seat down in the
command centre. "It's positively in the Harbinger sub-category. IDed as Harbinger-3, I repeat,
Harbinger-3, assigned the codename 'Asherah'."

"Right!" snapped Field Marshal Jameson. "Now, what can you tell us about it?"

"I've sent the data, but... not much."

'Not Much' was in fact an eminently accurate statement, if a little generous; 'Hardly Anything'
would be more accurate. There may have been plenty of abridged meta-analyses of primitive
mythology, trying to tie the identity down, but hard facts, and a convenient list of weakness,
were entirely absent.

Jameson sighed, sweeping his fingers back through his greying dirty-blond hair. "Useless. But
it's a Herald-level threat, and a Harbinger above that." He paused. "Are the scrubbers in place?"
he asked, staring at the map projected against the inside of his eyeball.

"Yes," replied Lehy, looking at the same image on her arglasses. "But look. It's compromised
Victor-Alpha's integrity. It won't be able to take a ground zero without major damage; maybe
even a collapse. And the whole place will be contaminated."

"Better to sacrifice Victor-Alpha than let it get any further in," retorted Jameson. "If they haven't
evacuated, it's their fault." His blue eyes locked with Lehy's red ones. "They've had warning."

Admiral Tatuta interrupted the growing tension. "There might be another way." He bought up
another display, the map already marked with probabilities and vectors. "Look. Its path is going
to take it across one of the One-Five-Kilo-Tangos."

Jameson shook his head. "We can't be sure that it'll move close enough... and using one of them
will do far more damage to L2 than sacrificing a single overground arcology." He shook his head
again. "I'm opposed."

Lehy winced. "Yes. I agree with Jameson," she added. They all stared at the vector which
mapped the path Harbinger-3 had taken, which had led it across an arcology, and the greyed out
icons of destroyed units that mapped its path with a one-to-one correlation. She raised one hand,
subdermal lights already glowing. "I am prepared to give authorisation."

She threw another glance back. That man was still there. She could swear that he hadn't moved a
muscle since last time she had looked.

Panting, Shinji grasped at the nearest vertical object (which turned out to be an advertising
panel), and clutched onto it, trying to stop the world spinning. His lungs were on fire, and his
knees felt like jelly. Perhaps the heat is melting them, he thought, absently, as he pulled in one
painful breath after another, his mouth filled with the taste of his own blood. The jumper still
clamped to his nose wasn't exactly making it easy to breath, and it had already soaked through
making the fabric warm and sticky. Pulling it away, he swallowed, the taste making him feel
even sicker, and stared down at the blood. That was a lot of blood. Well, it looked like a lot of
blood. Just... not in very absolute terms. He was feeling a little faint, but how much of that could
be attributed to the blood-loss, how much of it to the sight of his own blood, and how much of it
to a desperate sprint was uncertain. Oh, and looking at the extra-normal entity, of course;
everyone knew that such things could cause AWS.

In most cases, an activity which increased heart rate would not have been the best idea when you
were already suffering from a nasal haemorrhage. This was not 'most cases', given that a damn
giant thing had almost crushed him.

At least the room was wobbling less. He ran his tongue over his top lip, and dabbed at it with the
already blood-soaked jumper. Pinching the bridge of his nose, and tilting his head back slightly,
he headed off again, at a walk, following the signs evacuation signs still shown along the walls.

It wasn't long until he managed to make his way to one of the evacuation points. There was a
squad of ArcSec troopers down in the concourse, in the diamond-faceplated helmets that were
almost their insignia, along with... some kind of power armour, he wasn't some kind of military
obsessive to be able to recognise such things on sight.

"Hey!" he shouted out, voice muffled by the stained jumper. "Help!"

They spun towards him, weapons raised upwards.

And then the world bled to... strangeness. There was a reddish haze over everything, and he was
feeling even worse; the light-headedness made him feel like he was underwater, like moving
through treacle or something. Well, what I think moving through treacle would feel like. I haven't
exactly done it before, Shinji thought to himself. It suddenly seemed vitally important that he
correct his chain of thought.

In slow motion, the wall on the other side of the open area blew out. And that was the best term
that Shinji could think of; as lithium-red flames licked around each individual particle. He could
see them all, each one cutting its own path through the air.
There was a figure. A figure walking out of that blast, keeping pace with the explosives. White
hair and white skin (and really white skin, not just human-pale) and grey eyes stared impassively
out of the inferno that painted her in crimson light.

The ArcSec troopers began to... come apart, like rag-dolls torn apart by invisible hands, slow-
moving roses blooming forth from the rich soil. The slowed pulse of their weapons barely had
time to start, bullets tracing cylinders through their passage, before they stopped, the muted thuds
seemingly far, far away.

All the time, the girl was staring, not at the dying men, but at the dark-haired boy; her eyes
locked on him. And a blink, and she was gone.

Shinji Ikari collapsed.

A muffled sound, though the blackness. A sharp pain, a pinch or prick, in his arm.

"Genetics match. He's human, and untainted," he heard, from somewhere above him; the voice
mechanical and androgynous in its artificiality. "Uh... no major injuries that I can see," after a
pause. "The blood is from a nosebleed, he hasn't been shot. We should get him checked out,
though. I recommend a full neural scan, too, to ensure that he hasn't been compromised."

"No," was the reply, in an identical voice. "We don't have the time." He felt a gloved hand put on
his chin, moving his head around. "Is he awake?"

Shinji opened his eyes at that. A skull-like mask, dark grey, blotched with brown and blue and
other neutral colours stared down at him. A ring of pale flesh and a pair of large brown eyes
stared down at him through the transparent eyesockets.

"Shinji Ikari," said the mechanical voice. "Wait, no, damn it." The figure reached down and did
something on its forearm. "Is it back to... yes," it said again, in a woman's voice. "Um... I'm
Misato Katsuragi. Sorry I'm late," she managed.

It was to Shinji's credit that he only yelped a bit.

Everything after that moved so quickly. He was hustled out of the immediate area of the airport,
deeper into the arcology.

"What... what on earth happened back there... um, ma'am?" he asked Major Katsuragi, as they
strode through down a long hallway. She had been revealed, once the helmet was removed, to be
a rather pretty woman, looking to be... he estimated somewhere in her early thirties, but he wasn't
sure on that, a mass of black hair pinned up to be worn under the cowl and helmet of the armour.
She glanced sideways at him.

"Please, call me Misato," she said, with a grin. "Well, how to put it?" She paused. "Ah... a cultist
group attacked the airport."
"They'd managed to get members into ArcSec; you almost stumbled right into one of their
squads," added one of her subordinates, in the mechanical voice of the helmets. "It's just as well
that you ended up in one of the sectors we'd got infosupremacy back."

"Heh. Turns out that ArcSec don't stand a chance against one of these babies," said a male voice,
which came from one of the monstrous arachnoid tank-walkers that was following them. "Pyam!
Pyam! Pyam!" he added, making gun sounds with his mouth. "Kabloom!"

The Nephilim, an arcanocyberxenobiological monstrosity, was the power-armoured equivalent to


an Engel. The somewhat hastily assembled teams were using Tsuchigumo, a spider-like model
that stood two-and-a-half metres tall, the cybernetically-connected pilot in an armoured capsule
mounted on the back. Earlier Nephilim had used remote parapsychic controllers, but the inferior
armour and the fact that the creatures went berserk and tried to kill the handler if the link was
disrupted, had led to the modern designs, which used the same control system as the larger
Engels. Their mantis-like forearms, where the primary weapons systems were mounted,
swivelled, covering all arcs, while the mandibles were locked away, only to be released in a
combat situation, for the glutinous acid they dribbled was hell on the floor, and the monster in
the armour really did not need a floor with weakened structural integrity.

"You're just happy because you got to go in through the wall," retorted one of the mechanical
voices of the infantry.

"Why, yes. Yes I am." The man paused. "And it worked. I mean, we got every last one of
them haranga amobuvula. It wasn't like they didn't all deserve to die, isn't it?"

"Um..." Shinji paused. "I was talking about... um, the giant thing that stepped through the wall."
There was a silence. "That was the right thing? I mean, it did happen? Or were you talking about
the White who killed those ArcSec guys?"

"A giant thing. As in... the Harbinger? You saw it?" managed Misato, after a prolonged pause.

The boy swallowed hard. "It almost stepped on me," he said, closing his eyes. The scene still
hung heavy before his eyes, every detail both clear and nightmarish.

There was the sound of armoured glove against skin, as Misato's hand collided with her
forehead. "This is... typical," she muttered, almost to herself, as she rubbed her forehead,
wincing. "First the Harbinger shows up, and then the cultists attack, and then the Harbinger
almost steps on you. I don't know how today can get..." she shook her head, and changed the
direction of the conversation. "Wait, what was that about a Wh..."

Any answer was obscured by the simultaneous crackle of all the radios, as the emergency
override flared to life. "November Blue!" the male voice announced. "November Blue! All
forces, evacuate Victor-Alpha! Proximity Close One Kilo-Tango nuclear strike against
Harbinger-3. Echo-Victor-Charlie-Foxtrot. I repeat, this will be a Echo-Victor-Charlie-Foxtrot
warhead."
A hurricane of English, Japanese, and poorly conjugated Nazzadi (with occasional divergences
into mispronounced Cantonese) profanity erupted forth from Misato's mouth, before cutting off,
almost as if a switch were flipped.

"Run!" she yelled. "We need to get deeper!"

The night-black figure of Asherah, Harbinger-3, strode through the city, the burning-red sun on
its chest illuminating the mist of scrubbers such that their coalesced mass appeared as blood-like
snow, descending from the heavens. With a sweep of its hand, it scythed through a platoon of
tanks, the separation clean and precise, and took another step forwards, even as it was battered
by the tumultuous hail of missiles that struck it.

And then, all at once, the rain stopped, and the stars of the plasma weaponry died. Tanks
bunkered down, aircraft turned and fled, and mecha hid. In the midst of what had been the
catastrophe of war, suddenly, there was silence, broken only by the discordant rattle of the
collapse of buildings.

The Harbinger actually paused. Despite the lack of motion, there was a terrible sense that some
dread gaze, some third eye was sweeping across the landscape. One kilometre up, a flight of
stealthed bombers momentarily decloaked, as missiles poured forth from open bay doors, racks
fired vertically downwards. Most of this mass were decoys, of course, the standard submunition
warheads and seekers protecting the precious heavier weapons that even now arced down
towards Asherah.

With an elegance which belied its speed, the Harbinger raised one hand, lamprey-like fingers
squirming and writhing. Lines of force, like puppeteers' strings, were only just visible by what
they did to the air around them, but the effects were evident for all to see, as the vECF-warheads
were picked out, while the dummies were left to patter against the dark mass of the creature.

If one were to assign human emotions to that thing, it would most certainly have been smug.

And if one were to continue the same anthromorphisation, it was almost certainly exceptionally
surprised when a capital-grade railgun, fuelled by the arcology power grid and mounted into the
superstructure of the Elizabeth Arcology belched, slamming a hypersonic nuclear warhead into
its body.

Its night-black form evaporated in the searing whiteness of that terrible radiance.

"Absul zy termakrony!" roared Field Marshal Lehy, pumping her fist at the sight. The rest of the
command centre was similarly elated. The pulse washed over the sensory feeds, slowly rebooting
one by one, to reveal a blasted wasteland, the colour drained from ruined, already crumbling
buildings, as a great fungal cloud, the grey interspersed with arcanochromatic aberrations,
expanded upwards.
"Target status?" asked Jameson, a smirk on his face.

"Sensors can't penetrate ground-zero. Switching to visual feed from PWL-560."

The camera, lens smeared with dust, was staring upwards, at the bloom above. It was hard to see
in the dark cloud, but nothing of the Harbinger was visible.

"We're getting reports; we have major structural failures in Victor-Alpha. Fault lines all along
axis A2, multiple reports of breached domes, massive damage all along the west facing. Casualty
figures are going to be..." the woman was silenced with a wave of a hand.

"We were aware of that. Casualties were predicted," said Jameson, a cold, distant note in his
voice. He turned to glance back at the circle of calm at the back of the room, where the orange-
glassed man sat. "Thank you for your assistance, Advisor," he said, the sarcasm heavy, "but I
believe we have things entirely sorted out. Don't hesitate to..."

"Sensors on-line, full spectroscopic analysis and r-state divergence coming in," reported an
officer. "There's... there's nothing in the middle of the crater. Target has been completely
destroyed! I repeat, target has been eliminated."

Lehy sat back, her arms crossed, and relaxed. The cost had been high, it was true, but the
Harbinger, Asherah, had been destroyed. At least this time she had been protecting the city when
she did... what she had just authorised. Staring up at the screen, she shook her head at the sight of
the tainted mushroom cloud. Variant-electron-catalysed fusion weapons were horrible things to
use this close to a city in friendly territory. She could only hope that the scrubbers could mop up
the arcanochromatic by-products before they entered the water table.

Her PCPU clattered onto the table, as her jaw dropped open.

In the heart of the cloud, there was a deeper darkness, a gaseous stygian void that boiled and
seethed, dancing strange patterns in the swirling midst of the afterblast. It was a raven choking in
smoke, the silhouette of the hand of god against the wall of Plato's cave, an amorous sonnet to a
reality that cared nothing for those who dwelled in it. The light-devouring, acrid cloud-within-a-
cloud twisted and turned, but its mean velocity was always inwards, where the scattered
plasticity of the voidborn abomination was nebulously coalescing into material form once more.

"Massive r-state flux! Oh god! Nothing on norms, but... ah, the Shaws are burning out!"

"Opuserabi," Lehy muttered. "It cannot be."

"Damn it!" Tatuta slammed his fist into the table, making the discarded PCPU dance. "We killed
you, you bastard!"

Jameson flashed a glance at the Admiral, and then shook his head slightly. "Why wasn't that
expected?" he asked in an ice-cold tone, glaring at the GIA analyst.
The younger man flinched slightly. "No recorded data points," he responded, words clipped.
"Reason? Uncertain. Possible to extrapolate, true, but... only guesses. Very little known, after
all." He took a few deep breaths. "Erm. Yes. We do know that it damaged its body; the way that
it's regenerating? Reincorporating? I'm not sure what the right word is, but whatever it's doing,
it's a sign of a higher dimension lifeform. Look at how the new form isn't identical." He paused,
and licked his lips. "The A-chrom in the weapon should propagated in higher dimensions, but...
only so much that the sources we have access to can do."

And, indeed, the form was changed. If it once had been some immaculate monster, a messenger
that bought news that was anathema, then it was no-longer that. Its symmetry was broken, the
unity of its plague-mask broken into multiplicity, its bones broken and splayed into a new
carapace. And the red sun burned ever brighter.

The white-haired man bent slightly, as he spoke softly to his glassed companion. "It is
regenerating. Precisely as we expected."

The younger man stared impassively up at the screen. "Yes. It would not have survived as long
as it has if it were not capable of surviving such things."

"Probability that they will get to fire again?"

"Negligible, even if they authorise a second shot rapidly."

From behind steepled fingers, the dark-haired man watched as the reformed figure of Asherah
raised a hand. This was not a beam, not a projected line of force. No, a thirty-metre radius sphere
of the Elizabeth Arcology merely ceased to exist, the crystalline flare of diamond-like brilliance
flaring in the perfect hemisphere cut into the surface. And another one, a bite out of the flesh of
reality. And another one, each one placed over a capital grade defence.

There was shouting and profanity from the military leaders, as Harbinger-3 systematically
crippled all capital-grade defences in its sight, and, if-anything, more intense yells from the
scientists in the area, as their sensory equipment told them just how impossible what was
happening.

"Impressive," said the white-haired man, his tone quiet and understated.

"It is intelligent," replied his companion. "Only a fool would mistake it for a mindless beast."

The barbed comment was barely veiled. And the point did pierce the flesh of the great beast that
was the New Earth Government. It only took a minute for the Triumvirate to approach him,
metaphorical cap in armoured hand.

"The Ashcroft Foundation now has full authorisation to deploy experimental or specialised assets
to counter this threat," said Admiral Tatuta, voice stiff. "The NEGA and NEGN will provide all
necessary assistance to aid in the elimination of Harbinger-3."
"Are you sure?" asked the older man, following the formal procedure for such a request. "Do you
believe that the conventional military forces have proven incapable of dealing with a known or
unknown extra-normal threat?"

The Nazzadi glared at the older man, slowly letting out a breath. "Yes," he finally managed.
"Considering the demonstrated resilience of the entity, the damage that it has inflicted so far, and
the fact that to use anything more powerful would destroy the city we are trying to protect... yes,
we have no effective way. We are formally requesting the assistance of the Ashcroft Foundation
to destroy this threat."

The white-haired man leant forwards, his dace studiously neutral. "By any means necessary?" he
asked.

It was Field Marshal Lehy who shook her head. "No, Advisor Fuyutsuki," she said. "Anything
used must have been given a RTE clearance rating, but we're letting you use anything that fits
that, rather lax," she added, "criterion."

The white-haired man nodded. It was what had been expected. It was sufficient. He nodded.
"Understood," he said, turning to leave. Without a word, the glassed man joined him, together
stepping out of the command centre.

Once outside, the dark-haired man nodded. "Yes," he said, simply. There was no celebration, no
dances of joy.

Fuyutsuki glanced sideways. "What will you do?" he asked. In a sense, this was pointless
question. The answer was already known.

"Neither the Engels nor anything from Herkunft would be sufficient against a Herald, let alone a
Harbinger sub-type. I am authorising the deployment of the Evangelions." He paused, an
emotion, far too fast to read, flicking across his face. "Specifically, Unit 01."

"Activate Unit 01?" The tone was still somewhat surprised. "We don't have a pilot."

Gendo Ikari, Representative of Ashcroft Europe, stared back at the older man, his former teacher.
"It is time," he said, simply, as he strode out the door. "And we have none left."

Silence in an arcology was an unnerving experience. Normally, there was always the slight hum
of air processors, the vibrations, below conscious perception, from the maglevs that ran
throughout the superstructure, and the bustle and commotion of human beings living life in such
close proximity to each other.

All that was gone, muffled under layers of choking dust in this twilight, the emergency lighting
dimmed and broken.
Shinji coughed a few times, the taste of blood in his mouth. There was a heavy bulk pressing
down on top of him, something solid. He squirmed, but it seemed to be no use. He was trapped
under the unmoving bulk, forever stuck until someone heard his pitiful cries for help, if indeed
there was such a person; it was possible that the blast had killed...

"Are you okay?" asked Misato, as she straightened up, pulling herself off the boy, from where
she had been shielding his unarmoured and hence squishy form.

Shinji merely groaned; as might have been guessed from the name, heavy combat armour was,
perhaps unsurprisingly, rather heavy, and although it may have had artificial musculature built
into it to take some of the weight off the user, that helped not one bit when the wearer was lying
on top of you. And, despite the picture that she had sent, the actuality of Misato throwing herself
at him had been both unsatisfying and painful.

"Report!" she ordered, switching to internal communications.

A babble of reports came rushing in, the armours feeding their own status reports to the LAI in
her own systems. They were largely intact; there were three broken wrists, two of them from the
same person, which was always a hazard when falling over in heavy combat armour, and one of
the Tsuchigumo was crippled from where the floor beneath it had given way, trapping its legs.
Even as she watched, the hatch at the back unsealed, and the pilot levered herself out, her status
reports blended with cursing in Nazzadi, as torches danced through the dust, picking out the
damaged surroundings.

It had gone better than the last time she had been nuked, all in all.

Sighing at the thought that she could actually think such a thing, she glanced down at the boy,
who had at least sat up, and was massaging his ribs, coughing as he did so. He certainly didn't
look like much. She had read his file and... well, there certainly wasn't much that stood out.
Quiet, polite, fairly intelligent, a good chef, and good on the cello, if a little sarcastic and prone
to passivity at times. He would make a nice, somewhat submissive husband for someone
someday. That comment had actually been written in his file by the school's councillor. Oh,
certainly, his background wasn't so normal, but... well, circumstances were much altered from
what they had been even when she had been born. The population of the Earth was 4.3 billion
individuals. Only 2.5 billion of them were Homo sapiens sapiens, down from a peak of eight
billion only a few decades ago. The definition of "mental stability" had undergone quite
noticeable redefinition. Almost no-one over the age of twenty had not lost a close family
member, to the First Arcanotech War, to the genocidal Migou, to the depredations of the Rapine
Storm or the rape camps of the Esoteric Order of Dagon, and many of the younger ones were
similarly bereaved. What was one more child with a dead mother and a father who would not
care for him?

"Can I get an extra breather over here?" she ordered. "Or at least a mask."

Thankfully, Shinji sucked clean air in. Of course, that merely prompted another fit of coughing,
but at least nothing more would be coming in, right? Actually, from his experiences so far today,
it was highly probable that the universe would find another way to make him suffer. Well, at
least as long as nothing else ended up standing on me, I should at least avoid some bruises,
right?

"Thank you... uh, Major Katsuragi," he managed, once his lungs no longer felt like they were
trying to strangle him.

The woman shook her re-helmeted head, eyes locked at him through the transparent eyes. "It's
fine. And... really, please, call me Misato."

Shinji paused, and then shrugged. "Um... okay, Misato."

"Okay, we've actually got some luck, Major," said a mechanical voice from over her shoulder.
"Power's still on for one of the cargo lifts. That'll get us down to VATS-011, and from there,
we're running safe."

The Major turned. "Have you checked the lift?" she asked, calmly.

The figure nodded, gender concealed beneath the armour. "Yep. Local MaiLAI gives all clear,
and we levered open the doors; maglev rail is intact as far as we can see. And it's not like
something could turn off an A-Pod, is it? Without causing a failmode? Of course it's working."

Misato nodded. "Right. Leave the damaged Tsuchigumo in lockdown mode, and prep the..."

"Uh... Major," interrupted the mechanical voice, "there's no need to micro us. Already done, as
per standard procedures. Injured are prepped for transport, Nephilim's locked down, we have a
perimeter set up, and we've got subverts in the local security network... and, yes, they have
CATSEYE here, so we'd be finding wards."

Shinji could hear the woman's grin in her lilting voice. "Uh... sorry. Force of habit; I have NCOs
for a reason, after all." She turned back to Shinji. "Come on, then," she said, pulling him to his
feet.

It was more than a little cramped in the lift, with the surviving Tsuchigumo to blame for any lack
of space. Most of the infantry were perched uncomfortably on the armoured monsters and their
sprawling legs; quite apart from the fact that they really weren't shaped for comfort, there was
also the way that they made... noises; deep, almost too deep to hear, but the pulses of sound
reverberated through their hulls, putting everyone on edge.

The fact that everything was still lit in emergency red lighting didn't help, either. Or the
knowledge that there was a horrific arcane monstrosity up on the surface, which was, quite
unfortunately, occupied with destroying the city.

Shinji, who was keeping as far away as possible from the armoured spider-like monsters, spoke
up. "Um... Misato?" he asked. "Where are we going?"
The woman glanced back at him. "Down. We're heading to the Geocity; it's an Ashcroft-run
facility, under the main arcologies and skirts."

Shinji did in fact already know that, but chose to say nothing.

The woman continued. "What do you know about the Ashcroft Foundation?" she asked. It was
probably a good idea to keep him talking, she felt, prevent him from thinking too much about
what had just happened. Lucky, really; the fact that he had actually seen the Harbinger, without
an autocensor or any kind of protection was probably buried under the whole "Just Almost
Nuked" bit. She really didn't want him going AWS-symptomatic right now.

Of course, thought Misato. It's not like I don't have my own losses to mourn.

That was my car up there. My actual car. I'd just fitted the new seats and everything. Now what's
it? Some kind of colour-drained crumbly thing, that's what. Argh! I'd just paid for that. And all
those upgrades, and the custom paint job I actually went and got done-user unique... oh no, and
the one-use licence components, and the fact that it's a police model...

I am totally claiming that off the Foundation. I lost it on their business, so they can damn well
pay for a new one.

Content that issue had been resolved, at least until it actually came to filling out the claim form
and dealing with the bureaucrats, she turned her attention back to the boy.

Shinji shrugged, which turned into a cough. "The normal," he said, once he had recovered.
"Pioneers in the arcane sciences, hold the IP on most arcanotech... but still a non-profit
organisation. Sort of actually a wing of the government, but not really, but actually; not like the
megacorps or the IPcorps... enough that Ashcroft Advisors have permanent positions in the
government... which is a bit odd."

Misato grinned at him, face concealed. "I'm a NEGA officer on permanent secondment to the
Foundation, with Advisor status; the rest of them," she pointed a thumb back at the other
soldiers, "...are other either NEGA seconded, or Ashcroft employees," she said, sweetly.

Shinji groaned. Serves me right for not looking at their badges, he thought. Although... come on.
I totally have an excuse for being more than a little distracted. What with the... the everything.

"My teacher said they do an important task to protect the human race," he said at loud. And I'm
sure the fact that the school was an Ashcroft Academy hasnothing to do with that.

Misato gazed deep into his eyes, for a moment too long. "I notice you haven't said anything
about your father," she said.

The boy winced. That was true. "I haven't seen him in two years, and that was just in passing,
because he was on some business trip." And I'm sure the only reason he dropped in was that it
would have looked off for him not to, he added, mentally.
"And yet you came when he asked you to," Misato said. Shinji didn't like this. He couldn't read
her expression, under that mask, and she was... well, the way she was acting, the way she was
paying attention to this specific point was making him uncomfortable.

"I came because my foster mothers told me to go," he managed. "And he only talks with me if he
wants something."

Somewhat surprisingly, the woman shrugged. "True. He's not a people-person. A little too much
of a sorcerer; he's my boss, but always creeps me out a bit. Still," she continued, in a more
thoughtful tone of voice, "I don't think you really get to the position of European Representative
by being a people-person... at least, I'd prefer a technocrat. A people-person is good with people.
What you want is a person who's good at their job."

Shinji balled his fists, not saying anything. He really wasn't feeling charitable, given that his
father's most recent request had led to the events of today.

And somewhere, a small child bawled his eyes out, left with two strange women by a man whose
silhouetted figure, a dark shape that touched the sky, even now receded from the desolate boy.

Things were still going about as well as they had been, up on the surface, and looked like they
were progressing as might be expected, to their ultimate conclusion.

"The Athens is KIA. Oh god. The entire front of the ship, just gone!"

"Asato maa sadgamaya."

"Hull breach. Ejecting! No! It's not firing!"

"Tamaso maa jyotirgamaya."

"Bravo Squadron has lost its Shinnan. Bloodmare is down."

"Mtryor maa amrtan gamaya."

"We have a lock on the sun-thing, Staff. Firing a Vecef. Hit. No effect."

"Aum shaanti shaanti shaanti."

That is to say, 'Everybody Dies'.

The cavernous room was lit in actinic brightness, a brightness only accentuated by the white
walls which reached up high into the air. Monitoring drones, their car-sized bulk hanging
motionless in the air, formed a stationary flock, their blue searchlights focussed at the middle of
the room, the light sparkling off the viscous dark fluid that filled the vast reservoir.

"Okay... okay... okay... yes, there it is."

The only breach of this perfect, motionless tranquillity was the barge that sat just above the
water, a large number of cables hanging down, forming lazy ripples where they broke the surface
of the fluid.

"Visual confirmation?"

"Yes, check the feed. There... 7732 has a tear in it. There's corrosion, too; looks like fluid stains...
yes, we have an i-seep." The man sighed, relaxing a bit. "Look at it on the 25x zoom. It's not
quite healed around the flesh-implant join."

The woman's voice remained terse. "Seal it, then replace 7732, and all adjoining strands. I want a
full examination of the contaminated section."

"It's a good thing we caught this," said another female voice. "We'd have had noticeable
performance degradation if the right TR-44 cluster had failed. None of this was showing on the
last maintenance check; I've cross referenced it already. I hate to think what would have
happened if you hadn't ordered this instant check, doctor."

"But I did," said the first woman. "Get it fixed... and be ready for any more finds; I ordered the
Operators to run a twitch-check on the rest of it, as soon as you're done."

"Understood, Dr Akagi" replied the man. Anything else he was about to say was interrupted by
the call over the radio system for his superior, who merely sighed.

"Get it done."

A humanoid figure emerged from the fluid, the thick, clingy liquid slowly oozing from the bright
orange suit to form stringy trails down to the surface of the pool. With a click, the power cable
was detached from the umbilical port on the bright orange hazard exosuit, leaving it to run off
batteries, as the A-Pod manoeuvred it into a decontamination chamber that led out of this
chamber.

The blond-haired woman who emerged from the other side was not looking pleased, worry lines
wrinkling over her forehead, and around the corners of her eyes. The roots of her dyed blond hair
were showing, and there was more than a fair amount of white mixed in, despite the general
youthfulness of her face. She drummed her fingers against the wall, as she waited for the airlock
seal to open.

"Dr Ritsuko Akagi to..."


"I heard you," she snapped at the muse. "Acknowledge receipt of message." She sighed. "Again.
Typical. How does she manage it?" The woman shook her head, and paused, taking a sniff of the
undersuit she had been wearing for the inspection, wrinkling her nose slightly. "No time to
change, either," she muttered to herself, as the door hissed open. "Oh well." She shrugged on a
lab coat over the sweaty undersuit, and connected her harcontacts back to the main network.

"How are we doing, Maya?" she asked, raising one finger to an ear, as she strode off down the
corridor, feet squeaking on the floor.

"Well, I'm a little annoyed you weren't a little more impressed by the Geocity," retorted Misato.

Shinji sighed. "It is identical to the Toyko-3 one. School trips," he explained. "It's not like I
haven't seen one in person before... and isn't there one under Colombo..." he started ticking them
off on his fingers, "...and Antananarivo-2, and on one of those Caribbean islands in Nazda-
Duhni, anyway?"

"... there was also one under Berlin-2," muttered Misato.

"So, yeah. It's not like a truedome geocity is rare." Shinji paused, and coughed, wiping his
forehead with a sleeve. He was feeling more than a little bit nauseous, no doubt from the lack of
sleep and the... everything. "Really deep, yes, but not rare. Now, um, where are we going?"

"We're down in BB21," said one of the soldiers, her close-cropped hair sweat-covered, visible
now that there had been a general removing of the skull-like masks.

"Yeah, great job, Valy," retorted another one. "Obviously you're some kind of positionomancer,
given that it's written on the wall. Now, where's that?"

The woman shrugged. "I don't know. This whole place is a morass."

"God, why did they turn off the Grid support?" a thin-faced man asked. "It's not like they could
emwar the Geocity; would it be far too much to ask for at least leaving map-tools operational."

"I don't understand," the Major said, getting back on topic. "It should be recognising us.
Something is wrong." She paused. "Honestly. I'm not just lost; this is actively sorcerous
countermeasures. Stupid, stupid, stupid."

"I'm pretty sure we've been here before," interject Shinji. "Look... that's the greenhouse bit under
the blue sign."

"That just proves it. There's no way that we could get that..." Misato frowned, her face suddenly
clearing. "Oh... heya Rits!" She waved at the blond woman who was, even now, bearing down on
the group with her eyes locked on the Major. She looked... annoyed. "The wards seem to be
snagging us; can you get them to turn the mazing off?"
Ritsuko frowned. "What on earth are you talking about? Why would we turn the mazing on? It's
not like something like that would work against a Harbinger, anyway."

Misato flushed bright red. "Are you sure..." she managed.

"Yes, I think I'd know if I'd gone and activated those procedures," said Ritsuko, stepping rather
too close to Misato. She tapped the other woman's head with two fingers. "Huh. Not hollow."

"Yeah, well, um... well, you turned off the automap functions," retorted the black haired woman.
"And it wasn't like it was just me who got lost," with a glance back at the other soldiers. "Who
designed this place?"

The blond shook her head. "This isn't the time to look for excuses. We're short of hands and
time." Ritsuko sighed, shaking her head, before Shinji found himself the centre of the focussed
attention from the white-coated woman. "You've had him genescanned. I presume that even you
can manage that," she said to the Operations Director, without looking away.

"I'm not so stupid as to bring a potentially Tainted individual into the Geocity", retorted Misato,
embarrassment transmuting into annoyance. "It checks out. He's Three-November, for sure."

Shinji took a breath. "Um... that's not my birthday."

"Oh, no," said Misato, with a laugh which, to Shinji's ears, sounded somewhat forced. "That's
just an ID code we're using for you."

"Don't worry," added Ritsuko. She looked at the boy. Yes, in the flesh, the family resemblance
was there... from both sides. Really, he should be panicking... maybe even gibbering. But, well, I
only told him not to worry, not that he shouldn't worry, she thought with a hint of
spite. Technically, I wasn't lying. People should pay more attention to the way that things are
phrased.

Out loud, she said, "You'll want to read this," as she passed a folded thread-type PCPU to the
boy. "Now, come on."

Shinji unfolded the paper-thin device, and the screen flickered to opacity, words flowing across
the surface.

Shinji coughed. "Um... it has some kind of briefing thing... and there's a security eula," he said,
to the women, flicking down. "A... a really, really long one."

Misato shrugged. "Just press okay. It's fine." The blond beside her shuddered slightly at those
words, but said nothing.

"... when taking into account the ego number (an analogous feature to the principle quantum
number in the limited condition that the r-state equals 1, but translated into a higher-
dimensional animaic arcane waveform), the procedures for full animaneural synthesis are
necessarily restrictive and chaotic and thus prevent the use of the homogenous medium
approximation. As a result, the model used for the behaviour and the desired attunement of the
waveform is the ANZU model (Ikari et al, 2070); we report that all later attempts to improve on
the accuracy of this model have failed, and so the inherent error (see Appendix 22. for details) is
still greater than one Cambion-modified standard deviation, under the discrete circumstances
of..."

Shinji's eyes glazed over. I'm pretty sure they're just making up these words. I mean, this makes
no sense. It makes positively negative amounts of sense.

The blond woman, Dr Akagi glanced at him, one eyebrow raised. There were gear-like lights
superposed on her irises, the blue speaking of active harcontacts. "You know," she said, as they
got into a lift. "It might be best to start at the beginning, rather than skip to the literature reports.
Unless you have some kind of advanced degree in the arcane sciences."

The lights were bright, harsh, actinic. Shinji raised an arm, trying to block out the glare, as he
blinked furiously, though tear-blurred eyes. The chamber itself was colossal, abuzz with the
sussurating echoes of refracted sound. From what he could see there was something darker
underneath them, on what must be the floor far below, and some vertical spire in the centre.

"So bright," he muttered.

"Beside him, Ritsuko shook her head, and passed him a pair of darkened argoggles from a pile.
"Apologies," she said, somewhat tersely. "I forgot that you wouldn't have... never mind. We have
to ensure near-uniform wide-spectrum illumination in the visible spectrum to maintain security
against extra-normal incursion."

"Some things can get in through shadows," clarified Misato.

Blinking heavily, he looked around. With a rustle, the thread fell out of his hand, with a rustle,
slithering down to the floor, where it lay unnoticed.

A face could now be seen to be staring back at him. A vast, inhuman, monstrous face, mounted
on titanic shoulders that protruded from a sea of dark, glutinous liquid, ripples lazily propagating
across the surface. A darkened shape in this bright ocean of light; grey and blue and purple and
green mottled in tree-like patterns in the midst of all this white. This room may have been vast,
the dark fluid that surrounded the head reaching out for hundreds of metres, leaving it isolated
and alone, but, undeniably, it dominated this space.

And it was looking at him.

It was looking at him.

It was looking at him.


He let out a yelp, and jumped backwards, back into the reassuringly solid figure of Major
Katsuargi. He clung to her, unthinking, as he gasped for breath a vast foot, the smallest hint of
the limb of a colossus, smashed through the wall, shivering and trembling.

"Try not to fall off," the dark-haired woman said, with a hint of a grin. "We went to a lot of
trouble to get you safely here." She paused. "It takes a lot of people like that. And it would really
go to waste if you went and splattered yourself on the floor."

Ritsuko glared at Misato, eyes narrowed, and then cleared her throat. "Behold," she said, with
more than a little hint of pride. "The zenith of modern arcane engineering; a Capital-Grade Titan-
Class Bipedal Arcanocyberxenobiological War Machine." She took a breath. "Evangelion Unit
01."

The boy could only stare up at the thing.

"This is the Test Model. And we believe this is the best hope we have for killing Harbinger-3."
There was a pause. "That's the monster that's attacking the city," added Ritsuko, when the
statement failed to draw suitable awe.

Shinji stepped away from Misato, who merely look a bit amused, and coughed. "So... uh, this is
some kind of super-Engel, then?"

"It's not an Engel!" snapped the doctor, voice suddenly harsh. "Engels are inferior copies of the
Evangelions! Made to be produced in bulk, as a vehicle-scale combat-system! They miss the
entire point of an Evangelion."

Shinji's mind highlighted the 'inferior copies' comment, and then drew a thick red line to the
'zenith of modern arcane engineering' remark, and another to the 'Test Model' one. Several large,
and purely hypothetical question marks accompanied these connections. Hadn't the Engels been
around for five years or so? How old was this thing, then, really?

"I'm sorry," he said, cautiously. "I just thought... no, I'm sorry." He paused. "Is... is this
something to do with my father," he said softly. "I... I know he's Representative for Europe, but...
well, I suppose I had no idea what he did, really."

"Something to do with me?" The voice echoed across the room, oozing confidence that bordered
on hubris, and not an inconsiderable amount of amusement. "You could say that."

The wall behind the Evangelion's head was no longer white. Looking up, past the inhuman
horned skull of the armoured monster, Shinji met his father's eyes. Orange-tinted arglasses, each
one the size of a tank, stared back. Gendo Ikari may have been elsewhere, but his image was
present, gazing down at the tiny figures on the platform. And despite his illusive nature (actually
painted against the back of the arglasses), he managed to dominate the room in a way which
complimented the Evangelion perfectly.
Father mouthed Shinji, lips moving silently. He may not have seen the man in years, but it was
certainly him, staring down at him, his parent's head the size of theother monster before him.

"Been a while, hasn't it."

"Father," he said out loud, nervously running his tongue over his lips. "I..." he trailed off. What
did he want to say? Yell at the man for never being there? For not even making the effort to stay
in touch? "I..." For dragging him to another continent, from a life which was going fine without
him, where he had, at last count, almost been trodden on by a monster, shot by cultists, and
nuked?

He looked away, and swallowed hard, setting his jaw.

"I..." he let out a breath. "Yuki and Gany send their regards," he managed weakly, letting the
words remain unsaid.

Gendo Ikari smiled, a hint of teeth flashing on that titanic face, before it became still again. From
where he was, he could see the feeds from all angles; see the inner war going on. And, although
his progeny had lacked the courage to stand up against him, that had been a rather good attempt
at a delaying action, to shift the conversation into safer, from the boy's point of view, territory.

"Prepare him", the man said, eyes cold.

Ritsuko nodded. "I will need," she cocked her head, "yes, that's the authorisation. Understood."

Misato spun to face the other woman. "You're decanting 01?" she asked, eyes flashing. "You're
actually going to do it?"

"You knew about it," said Ritsuko coldly, her hands already flying through AR diagrams that
only she could see. "And drew up some of the plans."

Misato swallowed. "Yes. It's just..." she paused. "No, it's nothing."

"We have no choice.

"What's going on?" asked Shinji, frowning. He really didn't like the sound of how things were
going. Mind you... well, what was the worst that they could do? Make him pilot that thing?

A horrible sinking feeling crept over Shinji. It wasn't a sense of nameless dread, but instead one
of quite specifically named dread, which was, in the boy's personal opinion much, much worse.

"I've checked her reports... you were right," responded Misato, raising her eyes from the keypad
at her wrist. "She's in no fit state to pilot. I had hoped, given that it took her seven months, and
what happened to... but, no. Not like that."

"Can someone tell me what's going on?" blurted out Shinji.


The two women glanced at each other, holding the gaze for a second. Ritsuko looked away first,
her gaze flicking to the boy.

"Shinji Ikari, we want you to pilot the Evangelion."

He had already been expecting it, but his knees still trembled, the hair on his neck standing on
end. "Against that... against that thing?" he said, voice hollow.

Ritsuko nodded. "Yes."

He said nothing, his gaze lowered, his hands clenching and unclenching. She could hear the
sound of his breath; he was hyperventilating.

"You wouldn't have to do anything major," she said, her voice slightly hesitant. "The onboard
systems could..."

"No!" he said, head suddenly raised, a wild look in his eyes. "Not a chance. No way." There was
a sudden strength in his voice.

"But..."

"I'm not a soldier. I'm not can't fight. And there is no way that... that..." his voice began to break,
"... that you're making me go near that thing again." He turned to stare at the image of his father.
"I saw it," he said, his voice suddenly falling in volume. "It... almost stood on me," he managed.
"No! No! You can't make me! I won't!"

Gendo Ikari stared at the images of his son, stared into the pleading eyes. Unseen, his hands, the
fresh skin on the surface still aching, flexed. "Coward," he said, simply. There was no rancour,
no aggression, no vast parochial disappointment. It was a sole word, two neutral syllables. He
flicked to another communications channel. "Fuyutsuki, wake Rei. The candidate may be
useless, and time is short."

"You are sure?" the older man replied.

"Yes. Stopping Harbinger-3 is our main priority."

None of this conversation was evident to Shinji. "Coward?" he shouted back. "If it's cowardice
to... be sane, yes!" He was visibly shaking. "I saw it! I saw it! And you... you don't even want
me! You abandoned me! You don't care!" A litany of grievances broke forth, the words flooding
forth from behind a dam, only to spill themselves into the hollowness of the chamber.

Gendo frowned. "And the unplanned premature exposure to Harbinger-3 is... problematic."

"At least he survived it," responded Fuyutsuki.


"Thank you for the observation," responded Gendo, drily. He switched back to the other
conversation, staring at the boy, face rigid. When his son fell silence, he spoke. "I did not call
you here for petty reasons. I called you here because I need you now."

"Of course," Shinji snapped back. "Why else would you see me? Why me?"

"Because no-one else was suitable."

"No-one was suitable? Is a sixteen-year old normally a suitable," the word was spat, "child-
soldier?"

"This is no time for histrionics," was the emotionless response, calm and level. "This Evangelion
is unique. These circumstances are unique. A pilot was needed." He paused. Shinji was sure that
he could see the faintest hint of a smirk. "You were a suitable candidate."

The entire room shook, the image on the far wall and warping, as the arglasses tried to account
for the sudden movement of their calibrators. Far above, the NEG had tried another, smaller
nuclear weapon; not an arcanochromatically-enhanced one this time, out of shear desperation.

"Do you really think you'll be safe, if you don't pilot?" The man's voice was flat. Again,
contempt was absent; just a terrible emptiness, a dispassionate clarity which made the words
more piercing. "Do you think that, just because you're not in the armoured war machine, that you
will survive if the Harbinger breaks the defences?"

The boy just shook his head, mutely. They didn't need him. There was the Army, and the Navy;
the latter had ships many times the size of the figure before him. It wasn't as if this Evangelion
could carry enough firepower to turn this kind of battle. There was something wrong with the
world if they needed a sixteen-year old to fight.

"Shinji, there's no time left," said Ritsuko, leaning forwards. The room shook again, to
emphasise her point. "It's started its decent."

Misato gasped. "It's found us." She tapped Shinji on the shoulder. "Please," she said, holding his
gaze, eyes fixed on the darkened arglasses that he alone was wearing. "Get in."

Shaking his head uselessly, Shinji looked away. "No. No. No, no, no."

Gendo watched his son, the cameras that filled the place allowing him to see the boy from any
angle. He could track his pulse rate, his respiration, see the sweat that gleamed on Shinji's
forehead, even make approximations of neural activity. And that was even before his natural
skills came into play; he could read the terror, the panic, the shame and the desire to survive in
the boy's posture and expressions. And despite that, despite all that information, he could not
compel obedience.
Well, technically he could, but they had found that mental compulsion caused adverse reactions
in the synchronisation process. At best, it caused the procedure to fail. The best outcomes were
rare.

He opened the channel back to his former teacher once again, turning off the video feed to the
chamber. "Fuyutsuki."

"Yes. Rei is almost there." The man paused. "She had already prepared herself for transport," he
added, voice uneasy.

"It was necessary," a soft voice interjected. "

"Rei,"said Gendo. Even if the link back to the Evangelion's hangar had been open, none of them
could have read his expression. "Are you... functional."

"Yes. Do not be concerned. I am capable of performing the task."

Gendo nodded. "Good."

Back in the bright room, Ritsuko shook her head, and turned away from the boy. "Switch the
active profiles. Maintain the EFCS at its current settings, but reconfigure the higher-level
functionality for Rei, then restart!"

"Yes, ma'am." She could hear the enthusiasm in Maya Ibuki's voice over her earpiece. Satisfied,
she turned back to the scene before her. She was eminently sure that her senior Magi Operator
(and wasn't that something?) would be able to handle the task; in fact, it was probable that she
would get it done faster than if Ritsuko had been there to perform the task herself. The blond ran
a hand down her spine, feeling the bumps, suddenly feeling old.

Mind you, she was. What was the saying? Smart, Sane, Old. Any arcane scientist got to pick
two. Far too true for her liking. And she didn't consider herself stupid. Pulling up a control
window, she got to work, hands dancing through the air.

It was amazing what a few words could do. Suddenly, Shinji was no longer the centre of
attention, the emptiness of the hall replaced by the commotion of work, exosuited workers
scrambling around the walls and between free-floating platforms like bees. Only Major
Katsuragi seemed to be paying any attention to him at all, and even then she looked... conflicted,
in his opinion.

I'm... it's good. I don't have to do this... I never had to do it. But no-one now expects me to
suddenly get in a mecha and fight. I'm glad. Yes, I'm glad.

But there was something nagging at him.

But still... this makes no sense, he thought. Why would they go to all the effort of getting me from
Japan if they could obtain a pilot here, in London-2. Thus, I am preferable to whoever the
replacement is. Which means that the effort required to transport someone to the other side of
the globe is considered less than the effort required to find a replacement. Who on earth would
keep a potential pilot so far away from the vehicle, anyway? Or not give them any training?

Frankly, none of this situation made sense. Of course, in the Aeon War, there were things that it
was better not to understand, not to be involved in. And Shinji suspected... no, he was pretty
sure, come to think of it, that this affair, with the 'Evangelion' thing, and his father, was one of
them.

Better not to know.

There was an irregular cacophony of noises from the machine, a chorus of bleeps and chimes.
Sibilant hisses formed the bass, while a drum-beat of the footsteps of the nurses picked out the
time. With effort, they slowed to a halt, straining against the inertia of the thing, as they prepared
for decent.

Rei Ayanami lay in the tank of orange fluid, her entire body immersed, eyes staring up at the
ceiling. No, that was incorrect. Eye staring up at the ceiling. The other socket was empty
blackness; hollowed out, in preparation for the transplant of the replacement for the punctured
eye. Despite the body-temperature liquid, she shivered and twitched constantly, as the implants
and drugs and sorceries that were keeping her alive, keeping her here, interfered with her
nervous system, sparking random firing neurons to burn like little sparks within her skull.
Random images and susurrations filled her ears. As best she could, she tried to block them out, to
ignore the had-beens and yet-to-be sights that danced across her vision. She was needed now, not
then or then or then or... she focussed on the bleep of the sarcophagus-like machinery, the sounds
attenuated by the fluid that filled her ears.

Shinji watched as another platform emerged from the roof of this place, silently lowering itself,
before landing near to where he stood. It was packed with men and women in medical uniforms,
faces staring out through transparent faceplates.

Actually, looking around, the only people in this place who weren't wearing that kind of
biohazard gear were himself, the Major, and the blond scientist. That was really reassuring,
wasn't it?

The answer was, of course, no, he pointed out to himself. The fact that you're one of the only
people not wearing some kind of a biohazard suit is not the time when you want
misunderstandings based off rhetorical questions.

He shook his head, and took a deep breath, refocusing on the... was that a tank, a fish-tank, not a
tank-tank, that they were unloading? No, he realised. There was a white shape in the midst of
that orange liquid, obscured, but still visible.

A white shape.
White hair.

White skin, not human white, but the colour of fresh milk.

One grey eye stared back at him.

Shinji jerked backwards, recoiling as if he had been electrocuted, falling back. There was a jolt
of pain as his bruised posterior protested that yet another indignity had been heaped upon it, but
it was nothing to the sudden, uncertain terror that filled his head and left him gasping.

Why? Why is this so creepy? It's just a sidoci in a tank... admittedly, that's a bit weird... a tank of
orange stuff, and she looks very injured. Very, very injured, actually, ran his babbling thoughts.
It was true. The medicinal blue of synthetic skin covered so much of her exposed flesh, fluid
drips and tubes snaking into the flesh, and then... and then there was that hollow eyesocket,
exposed and bare, obviously prepared for surgery and arcanotherapy given the preparatory
markings around it.

Okay, maybe, so, it was very disturbing indeed.

His line of sight was blocked by Misato, who bent down to pull him up. "I seem to be doing this
a lot," she said to him. She glanced back, back at the girl in the orange liquid. "Are you feeling
all right?" she asked. With a frown, something which almost looked like disappointment, she
added, "Is is Rei... the girl? You... you don't have a problem with sidoci, do you?"

The sidoci. White xenomixes. The anomalous vortex in the mixing of the human and Nazzadi
genepools, in the blend of Homo sapiens sapiens and Homo sapiens nazzadi. Almost all children
of such unisons (and, as subspecies of Homo sapiens, they were fully compatible) were just as
predicted by the genetics of the parents. These normal xenomixes, the amlati, to use the Nazzadi
word, exhibited a blend of the features of their parents; their skins used both brown-black
eumelanin and the darker, blacker voumelanin, giving them a greyish-brown skin colour, and,
likewise, their eye tones ranged between the oranges, purples and browns expected from
hybridising human colours with the Nazzadi red. They were predictable, understandable.

The sidoci were not. They used neither eumelanin nor voumelanin, but they were not albinos,
despite a tendency among the misinformed to call them that. Instead, they used paramelanin, a
white-grey pigment which had no apparent history in the mammalian lineage, and generated it in
vast amounts, enough that the red of haemoglobin didn't affect their appearance, apart from
where the flesh was thin, like around the eyes. They were, without exception, parapsychic, and
parapychic from birth, unlike most; able to manipulate higher dimensional energies from the
cradle not through the studied rituals of sorcery, but instead through intuition. And mentally,
they were strange, detached, and naturally resilient to Aeon War Syndrome.

It really wasn't a surprise that they were monitored by the New Earth Government, too often
taken into care because the parents couldn't cope with a child that could start fires when having a
tantrum. People were wary of them, yes, it was true.
Still breathing heavily, he gulped. "No, it's not that." He managed a weak grin, which faded
almost immediately. "I think I'm just sort of... tired. Even before all this... um, remember, I just
got off a long plane trip. And then... stuff happened"

There it was. There was the thought. She, the girl was related to fear... to the panic, and to the
things that had happened.

grey eyes

red fire

drowning in fluid

He shook his head, and shuddered. Nothing.

"What are you doing with her?" he asked quietly.

There was no answer. The reason for this lack of response was that the entire room shook, as a
terrible noise rang out. It was not some bestial roaring, some tentacle slobbering, some profane
slobbering. It was a single, pure, perfect note, than sang out, and died away, leaving its aftertones
to reverberate. The entire Geocity was ringing like a bell, the dome structure humming from the
impact which had punched through ten kilometres of dirt and concrete and armour to hit it.

Another.

And another.

The forth was enough to crack the Geocity, as a fragment of darkness broke from the roof, to
crash down with a tremendous impact into the ground, crushing buildings and trees as it cut into
the weak earth.

Far, far above, Asherah paused. It had breached the shielding, prevented any escape. It was free
to do what it wished, at its leisure.

A chorus of alarms was screaming, children wailing in futility into an unforgiving night. The
entire room was slanted at an angle, and the motion could be seen, because the hovering
platforms had stayed in the same place. Slowly, with the agonising paucity of motion of vast
inertia, one of the feed cables from the ceiling gave way, and gravity did the rest. It slammed into
one platform, sending exosuited figures flying like dolls across the room and continued on its
inexorable path.

Straight towards Shinji. He barely had time to even see it, to turn his head towards the crash of
the other platform, before, suddenly, the light was obscured by a vast, titanic mass that oozed and
dripped. The boy stared, in shocked horror, splattered in dark fluid which was chill (too chill)
against his skin, lit in a sudden harsh white light.
The hand of the Evangelion was in the way, having taken the blow on its forearm. The
containment fluid still bound it to the pool, thick strands of glutinous fluid chaining it to where
this drowned idol rested, but it had overcome both it, and the broken bonds that dangled limply
from the arm of the leviathan.

Shinji whimpered, as another ice-cold mass splattered down on his head. Slowly, slowly, the arm
receded, squelching back into the containment pool.

"What happened? Report."

"The Evangelion moved!"

"It broke the bonding attached to its right arm, and got out of the RCL!"

Ritsuko wiped her face against her lab coat, and coughed heavily, spitting out the goo.
"Impossible," she yelled, when her mouth wasn't filled with chilled mucus. "The entry plug
hasn't even been inserted yet! And neither have the D-Engines! It has no power! It can't do this!"
she added, in direct contravention of the evidence of her own eyes.

There was a gurgling noise from the right of Shinji, a coughing gasp that was pathetic in how
quiet it was. He looked to his right.

The tank of orange fluid was broken, shattered by the shrapnel from the impact against the hand
of the Evangelion. The girl within was propped against the wall, sitting limp in the small amount
which had not spilled forth across the floor. Fresh lacerations marked her pale skin, the red of
haemoglobin completely unexpected in its intensity compared to her seeming-anaemic skin. She
was drooling a thin trickle of the fluid, chest straining (an impressive one, thought Shinji, and he
hated himself for thinking that) but not breathing. Her one eye was impassive, neutral, shocked.

Picking himself up, he ran... no, he carefully made his way, in a sort of crouch-run across the
stained floor, where the orange liquid from the tank and the dark containment fluid intermingled,
to the tank. The material had broken cleanly, fortunately, so he was able to get in to... do what?
He had been operating on reflex. He lifted her out, the orange liquid seeping into his trouser legs
(at least it was warmer than the containment fluid), and lay the slick body down, outside. She
pawed at his chest, gurgling slightly, eye filled (he felt) with pain. The recovery position made
sense, but...

"We need to get the LCL out of her lungs," gasped Misato, as she tried to get up. She had the
advantage that she only had her face exposed, the heavy combat armour sealed around the neck.
She had the disadvantage that she had been hit in the face by a large globule of the fluid, and so
was almost unrecognisable, a pair of eyes only revealed through effort. "Broken ribs... won't be
able to expel it on her own."

The medical team rushed in, and took her from him, threading some kind of tube down her
throat. He was sure that he could hear a gurgling whimper, as he stared down at his hand. The
reddish-orange fluid, the LCL, was a darker shade of red, stained with blood. His hand began to
shake, before clenching into a fist.

"What is this!" he shouted, at the wall where his father's face had been. "You really expected
someone in that state to pilot?"

Gendo's face appeared. The impact had obviously heavily damaged the calibration sensors... or
maybe his arglasses; either way, it was off-centre, the gap in the image no longer aligned with
where the Evangelion was. He flickered slightly, too, a metallic buzz in the voice a sign that the
communications were not functioning perfectly.

"No." The tone remained neutral, but there was, finally, an undercurrent of disapproval, of
contempt. "I expected you to pilot. The fact that I have to do this to her, to put her through this..."
was that anger in his eyes? "...is entirely your fault."

"I'll do it, then," snapped back Shinji. "I'll do it!"

The neutral tone was back. "That was all I wanted," Gendo Ikari said, as his glitched image
vanished again.

"All right," called out Ritsuko. "Abort Profile RA, resume previous profile." She glanced at
Shinji, eyes narrowed. "We need to get you ready... Major Katsuragi can escort you, and also
explain what we want you to do." She glanced at her friend, still covered in the containment
fluid. "You'll want to get that cleaned off," she added, with a hint of a smile.

Silently, Gendo watched, as his son was escorted out, along with everyone not fully exosuited
left the room, in preparation for the ultraviolet wash that would free the Evangelion from the
glutinous containment fluid. He waited.

"Commander Ikari."

The man lent forwards.

"Rei."

There was a pause. Then;

"Yes." The word was pained, croaked out.

"Your opinion?"

"No deviation."

"Good." Gendo paused. "Why did you not..."

"It was necessary. The Harbinger must be eliminated. You have made this clear."
"Yes. Yes." The man folded his gloved hands. "Rei, I would like you in Unit 00. I do not intend
to launch, but we cannot risk the failure of this option. We will not have time. It is superior to the
alternative."

"Understood."

Gendo sat back, fingers steepled. Those who knew him would have been exceptionally surprised
to see the expression of puzzlement on his face. Puzzlement, tinged with perhaps even a hint of
worry.

He should not have responded like that to her. I know that he is not that sensitive, and he has
never seen her before... and the chromatic aberration is such that no other such connections
should be made.

Perplexing.

Shinji looked down, and flexed his hands, running them over each other. This 'plug suit' really
wasn't much more than a glorified drysuit, it seemed. Apparently there wasn't time to get him a
proper one. Biting his lip, he thought acerbic thoughts about people who could drag him across
the world with very little warning, bypassing all the normal permits to travel, but couldn't even
remember to get a proper... was costume the right word? Probably not, but he was going to use it
until he felt better about the whole thing.

He had a sudden feeling that he might be using it for a long time.

"Okay," he said out loud. "Let's go over it again."

An image of Misato appeared on the wall of the entry plug, the capsule-like thing where the pilot
sat.

"Certainly," said the Major, voice calm. "We're going to begin by activating the Evangelion. The
cylinder begins by flooding with LCL. Remember, you can breathe it, despite what your body
tells you. Just empty your lungs of air and try to stay calm... and try not to throw up or anything."

Shinji's breaths became more rapid.

"Don't do that," snapped Ritsuko on a second window. "Don't hyperventilate. We don't want you
to..."

"Well, I'm sorry," the boy responded, running a hand through his hair, "but I'm just about to
drown..."

"You won't drown."


"... but it's going to feel like it, okay. And so I think I'm allowed to be a bit..."

"He's getting worked up," muttered Misato. "Flood the plug before he talks himself into a panic."

Ritsuko, standing next to her, nodded, and gave the orders to the technicians.

"... and I've never done it before, and I don't even know... argh!"

"See, that wasn't so bad," Misato said a while later.

She received a glare in return.

"I did tell you to let all the air out at once."

The glare continued. "This stuff is vile! Like metal and oil and... bleargh!" He continued in a
softer voice, "I feel sick."

"Well, man up," snapped Misato. "If you're sick, you're the one who's going to have to put up
with it." She was silenced by a flap of a hand.

"Okay, Shinji," said Ritsuko, forced patience in her voice, "but we have more important matters
at hand. Just stay calm." She bought up an AR window. "Begin the first connection."

Shinji felt a sudden wash of static run across his skin, a crackling, buzzing feeling that made his
neck tingle. The tingly feeling was spreading, itching, running along under his skin, even as the
babble in his ears from the command staff began to... jump, skipping words, like a glitched
music file. Red, blue, green, yellow; all the colours of the spectrum danced before his eyes,
swirling and interweaving.

It was actually horribly disorientating. Shinji closed his eyes, and focussed on his breathing, the
thick swirls of LCL more work than air. Maybe there was a trick to it; if there was, he didn't
know it.

At least the itching seemed to be dying down.

"How is it?"

"The pilot's body remains intact. Vitals are elevated, likely from stress. No abnormal brain
patterns." Maya Ibuki looked up at her mentor, the cable snaking from the back of her exposed
skull into the chair bobbing. "He's still alive. And physically intact, too. Your predictions on the
necessary qualities for a candidate were correct. Shall I connect the D-Engines?"

Ritsuko nodded once. "Do it." She paused. "Monitor the synchronisation ratio if the Evangelion
achieves stage 3. If it goes above 90% or dS/dt exceeds 3 percent per second, abort immediately.
We don't want another repeat."
"Yes. Acknowledged and logged" Maya moved her hands through the three-dimensional matrix
before her.

A complex spiral appeared in the air before her. Consisting of two sin functions around a central
axis, the projection resembled a double helix more than anything. As they watched, the two lines
rotated around the axis, moving closer.

"Synchronisation is 32... 26, no, 39%. Stabilising... 31.3%." She made a complex gesture,
leaning forwards, and smiling. "Yes, we're holding at 31.3%. dS/dt is zero, plus or minus 0.8%."

Ritsuko stared at the graph, almost hoping for it to be wrong.

"That's... that's not going to be enough." She shook her head. "Is Rei in Unit 00 yet?" she asked a
Nazzadi Operator. The man shook his head.

Maya suddenly squeaked.

"What?" snapped Ritsuko.

"Spike!" was the answer, the younger woman grabbing onto the arms of her chair, back arching,
words spoken through clenched teeth. "We've... DMIN stable," she let out a shuddering sigh.
"Sorry, doctor."

"What! What just happened?" hissed the blond, biting into a knuckle. "Did we get him out in
time?"

Blinking rapidly, Maya let out a giggle. She swallowed. "Sorry, doctor," she said, blinking
heavily. "Feedback. No, no, not that at all," she added, with a wincing grin, even as one hand
went to her forehead. "Sudden spike, but it's stable." She shook her head. "46.2 +/- 1.1%. And it's
holding." There was a pause, as she, and the other Operators, ran checks. "Harmonics are steady
and strong. Vital signs are still strong. No mental contamination, as of yet." The other woman
grinned up at Ritsuko. "I'd celebrate more, but we were always going to manage it, weren't we?"

Ritsuko gazed down, suddenly feeling ancient. "Yes, of course," she said, her steady voice
concealing a hollowed out interior. She supposed it was nice to have someone who trusted her
that much. It was a change, certainly. "We're ready," she said to her Director of Operations,
maintaining the same, professional tone. "We should do this quickly," she added, in a softer
voice, so that no-one, apart from Maya, heard her.

The Major nodded, once. "Prepare for launch!" she ordered, as she opened a window to the
Representative. "Sir? Authorisation?"

Gendo Ikari nodded, once. "Yes. A Harbinger-class entity could doom us all."
The itching was getting worse, as he felt the pressure from the seat, as the Evangelion was
moved into position. The dark, goo-like liquid that had been containing (or, more accurately,
considering what it had done, had meant to be containing) the Evangelion had suddenly turned
into a proper liquid under the UV light, draining out through the locks at the bottom. Now the
forty metre biped inched, slowly, agonisingly to the launch chute. A truedome geocity was over
ten kilometres below ground, and was widely agreed to be a marvel of modern engineering.
What that did, however, make it, was rather inconvenient to get in and out of.

So they were going to use a system designed to launch missiles on a ballistic trajectory, before
the motors kicked in, to get him out of here.

That really wasn't reassuring to Shinji. But, frankly, so many things were worrying him right
now, that he had regrouped at fatalism. His father had been right, sadly. He was probably going
to die either way, if they were desperate enough to throw a teenager in some kind of war
machine, so at least this way he could do something about it. If only to speed it up. Sure, it was
fatalistic, but it was also slightly reassuring.

Not very, though.

And in all honesty, he wasn't fatalistic about the fact that he could feel the prickling pins-and-
needles running under his skin, like ants. But, considering he was about to be launched up a giant
railgun-assisted launch chute, to try to kill an alien monstrosity, it wasn't like it was too much of
an issue.

He ran over the instructions that they had given him for control. He just had to concentrate on the
actions he wanted the mecha to perform. Think about it, and the systems would interpret his own
muscle memory into motion.

Well, that seemed easy enough. Just think about it, and it would do it. How hard could it be...

Shinji Ikari suddenly found that the kind of accelerations that the launch system imposed not
only made thinking about one thing hard, but also made breathing a challenge. His head spun,
forced backwards into the rest, suddenly appreciative of the high, stiff collar-thing on the entry
plug, as the blood rushed into his legs, making his vision dim, everything turning grey The
feeling of the LCL, which suddenly felt like it was tar, made him feel unclean, within and
without; the way that it forced its way into both his lungs and his stomach, bloating them and
packing them to capacity, made him want to throw up, to cough up his lungs.

Such a relief was impossible. Muscular contractions were nothing compared to the forces behind
this machinery.

And then there was light; sudden, blinding light.

~'/|\'~
Chapter 3: Chapter 2: Lusus Naturae

Chapter 2

Lusus Naturae / What bliss even in hope is there for thee?

EVANGELION

~'/|\'~

"Perhaps one of the greatest scientific ironies of the twenty-first century parallels its equivalent
in the twentieth. Just as special relativity was founded around the fact that the speed of light was
the same in all inertial frames of reference, so has arcane theory removed the magic from the
arcane. The pseudo-reactionless drive of the A-Pod, the infinite-energy-finite-power from the D-
Engine, the discovery of variant r-state materials and their properties, and, of course, the
systematic categorisation of sorcerous procedures; though they all have reaped their toll in the
lives and sanity of researchers, we have, nonetheless, progressed. And the reason for this is our
extelligence, our culture, our capacity to transfer data and preserve it past the one who devised
it. Society is what defines humanity; the laws against the Tainted are concrete proof of this. And
if the Aeon War has taught us anything, it is that the survival of all of us outweighs the survival
of any one of us."

Sheng-ji Yang,
"Life in a Maltheistic Universe", 2089

~'/|\'~

August 20th, 2091 CE

"Damn it, he's starting to fade. Increase the mLCL-st-01 percentage feed on the drip to 60%."

The voices echoed out of a dark, empty space. This was not just the void, no mere absence of
light. This was an impossibility of light. It was not that there was no light here, it was that light,
as a concept, was undefined.

"Mental contamination! We've got... yep, AN contamination in the three primary components of
the waveform."
"But will he survive?" The woman's voice paused. "No, that's not the right question. Will he
survive, while still qualifying as human? It would be annoying to have to get another RTE
exemption, and would slow down progress notably."

There was a studied pause. "Yes," the first voice responded, eventually. "The damage... isn't
enough to flip the Pennington-Fuyutsuki determinant. It'll heal. Uh... that's the animaneural
damage."

"I'm concerned about the physical damage," added a male voice, a faint Nazzadi accent evident
in the clipped tones and the slight lilt. "We've got major internal bleeding; we're trying to stem it
as best we can, but until we can get the sorcery up and running... well, the problem is, we're
having to S-hack the H-L procedure, and that means we've invalidated a bunch of axioms. The
LCL is mucking with the operation of the medichines, too, so we really do need the
arcanotherapeutic assistance. We've waiting for the Magi to compile the rederived version, but..."
The statement was deliberately left hanging.

"Be prepared for the use of Option Zero, if necessary," instructed a fourth voice. "We need him
alive, and the increased recovery time and psychological strain is better than the alternative."

"Yes, sir. The sorcerers are in place."

~'/|\'~

August 21st, 2091 CE

Shinji Ikari opened his eyes slowly. A blank white ceiling, curving slightly in a ribbed arch, hung
above him. He felt... exhausted. Bone-tired. There were probably more synonyms that were
applicable for the situation, but, frankly, even thinking was more effort than it really was worth.
Certainly, though, as he tried to move, his arms and legs felt like overcooked noodles; barely
responsive and floppy.

"Hello?" he managed, his voice soft, and slightly husky. "Uh..." he trailed off, merely continuing
to stare upwards at the same, unfamiliar ceiling. He knew thatsomething must have happened,
because this wasn't where he normally woke up, and this wasn't how he normally felt, but, again,
to seriously do anything was too much effort.

"Good afternoon, Shinji," said a Nazzadi accented voice, a moderated, gentle voice practically
deigned to make one feel comforted. She was speaking to him in Japanese, and it was at that
point that Shinji realised that was what he had used.
Oh. That made a lot more sense. Yes, he was ill. That was a much more plausible situation, and
would also explain how weak he felt. He just had some kind of fever, and would be over it in a
few days. Even if, judging from how he felt right now, it would seem a lot longer.

"You know, Gany," he managed, a faint smile on his lips, "I had a really funny dream. There was
this giant robot, and my father, and some kind of monster. It was really weird..."

Shinji Ikari drifted back to sleep.

~'/|\'~

August 22nd, 2091 CE

Gendo Ikari stared over the top of his bridged fingers at the nine other individuals seated around
the ring-like table. They weren't actually there, of course; it was impractical (and foolish) that the
Ashcroft Representatives gather in one place, but the q-linked Augmented Reality images fed to
his arglasses were a fair simulation. These ten middle-aged men and women, human and Nazzadi
alike were private citizens. They held their posts at the whim of the Senate and the President,
they were not democratically elected, and they were technically speaking, nothing more than
advisors.

And if you believed that, then you might be interested in purchasing some prime real estate in
Tibet.

The eleven Representatives of the Ashcroft Foundation were, by most reckonings, some of the
most powerful individuals in the New Earth Government. Each one, tasked with managing a
broad portfolio, either classified as Geographic, or Conceptual, had massive, wide-ranging
authority and influence over the NEG, and, though they might not be able to tell a Minister or the
President what to do, their "suggestions" were disproportionately influential.

Europe. Asia. Africa. North America. South America. Oceania. Finance. Research. Ethics.
Society. Oversight.

Was there any wonder that it was seriously argued among political theorists that the NEG was
not purely democratic, but instead possessed a technocratic state-within-a-state that influenced
(though did not control) the primary government?

One might wonder how such a group, a private, not-for-profit organisation, no less, had garnered
such power. This was not some unrealistic, corporatist dystopian future, and the megacorps and
the IPcorps were quite firmly under the control of the NEG; it was not about to let them enjoy
things like "extraterritoriality"... and yet Ashcroft did. The roots of this lay back at the early
years of the century, and the revolutions in the sciences which had produced arcanotech and
bought sorcery into the public eye, but, fundamentally, it came down to one thing.

He who controls the arcane, controls the planet.

"Gendo Ikari," said South America, leaning back in her chair, "so nice of you to actually make
time to see us." Her chisel-like teeth were exposed, as she smiled in a not completely friendly
way.

Madesky Yugundi oy Jenufabrikati oy Brazilia-Twi oy Herena vy Representy vy Terra, thought


Gendo, keeping his expression neutral as he stared at the Nazzadi with the electric blue hair. This
was going to be fun.

"I have been dealing with the aftermath of an assault on London-2 by a Harbinger-level threat,"
he said back, calmly. "As has Deputy Representative Fuyutsuki. It was necessary to deal with the
civil authorities before I could spare the time to report to the Council in person." He paused.
"You have all, of course, received relevant data."

"Of course," said Oversight, leaning forwards. "But, Ikari, I think you can see why we might
want to consult with you in person. You did, I might point out, authorise the deployment of a
capital grade arcanocyberxenobiological organism... no, I might add, make
that two authorisations, even if one did not go ahead... and, as you of all people are aware, the
Evangelion Units are not exactly the most stable of weapons platforms."

Gendo bowed his head slightly. This is all part of the mummery. Oversight is compromised; they
will pose no threat. "Yes. The deployment followed the full necessary procedures; as per the
code of conduct, such a deployment was only made at the express request of a NEG Triumvirate-
level authority. We were explicitly permitted to use anything which had already been cleared by
the Restricted Technology Evaluation teams from the armed forces; the Evangelion Units have
been granted such status."

"That is true," said Asia, the elderly woman frowning. Gendo could read her like a book; she had
been his superior twelve years ago, and he had served as her Deputy Representative before his
transfer. She was an ally on the Council; an almost unconditional one. She was too linked to the
original Evangelion Project (though at a step removed) for it to be any other way. "The correct
procedures were followed in all aspects. "Indeed, I would say that Ikari's conduct was
immaculate. And... well, an Evangelion Unit has now eliminated... well, it has killed a
Harbinger. Asherah is dead. Honestly, I wouldn't say that, even with everything, that such a thing
was ever going to be possible."

A woman sitting opposite from him leant forwards, chin propped on her hands in a way which,
to an outside observer, would look almost infatuated, but Gendo knew to be anything but. Green-
brown eyes behind blue-tinted arglasses were focussed on him. "Yes, it has," said Research.
"And yet you continue to obstruct access to the MP Model. What this has demonstrated is that
the Units have an undeniable specialised use; why, then, do you refuse to let the Engel Group...
or, indeed, the Achtzig Group, for that matter, cooperate fully with the Evangelions?"
The man kept his face level, even though, internally, he sighed. It would not be done to be seen
to be patronising; this was a careful power play. "It is not my choice," he said. Technically true.
"The Director of Science personally feels that the Group, and its component Projects, will
function better without the influence of its spin-off Groups; they have gone down different paths
of development." Also technically true. "As for why the MP Model is still restricted; that would
be because it is still undergoing field-testing. The regime is slowed, because of the status of the
pilot and the limits that imposes. Nevertheless, it is proving successful on the Eastern European
Front."

"And by that, you mean the age of the pilot," retorted Research. "Oh, wait, no," she added, "the
age of the pilots. Plural. All of the candidates are underage."

"Among other things, yes," he replied.

"We have obtained a specific RTE exemption, as you well know, Christina," interjected Ethics.
"Please, we have more important matters to deal with."

Gendo nodded to the Nazzadi. "Yes. This has been the first encounter of a Harbinger-level threat
since..."

"... since Harbinger-1 and Harbinger-2," said Oceania. "Yes. This is indeed alarming. Do you
believe that it was summoned, Ikari?"

The Representative for Europe chose his words carefully; as the most capable sorcerer at the
table, that was one thing that they would defer to him on. "I do not believe we have enough
evidence to state it clearly, one way or another. If it is a summoning... then this is very alarming,
as it implies that there exists a group with the resources capable of doing such a complex ritual,
that can stay under everyone's radars... or a non-negligible element of the government has been
compromised."

By controlling the options one presented, one could always lead people down certain chains of
thought. He paused, as the other Representatives shifted. Good. That should have made them
uncomfortable. Because what he was about to say was something that he was sure that they had
been briefed on, but did not want to admit in public. It would be best to get it out in the open,
before he began the main thrust of his arguments, and was forced to justify every little minutiae
of the events.

"But I would not say that it is impossible that it woke up naturally. And I am sure," he said,
leaning forwards, "that you all know what that means."

They all knew what that meant.

~'/|\'~
August 23rd, 2091 CE

Shinji Ikari was somewhat disappointed. In the same way that water was somewhat wet.

It had turned out that it had not been a dream after all. Which meant that everything that had
happened... had happened. He, since the first time he had woken up, had been poked and prodded
and checked far more times than was really comfortable. All while feeling exhausted, it might be
added. And the man sitting beside his bed, clad in a doctor's uniform was here for the purpose of
finding out exactly how much he remembered of those events, and, to be frank, whether he was
properly sane. The fact that he was not curled up in a foetal ball, babbling blasphemous
glossolalia in honour of profane entities which predate mankind and its assumed dominion over
the planet, was viewed as a hopeful sign.

"... so, yes, after such an event, you will be expected, for your own mental health, to be honest, to
be attending regular meeting with a Health Service-registered psychiatrist," said the man, in
response to Shinji's question. "Uh... as for how long, well, that's until I... or anyone else, but I've
been assigned to your case while you're resident here. Yes, so, basically, until I feel that you're
clear of any trauma, and even then, I would recommend that you keep regular psycheval
appointments." He paused. "I'm sorry, I'm babbling. But is that okay?"

Shinji nodded. "Yes, that's okay, Doctor..." but the man interrupted.

"Please, call me Simon. I'm your psychiatrist, and that means you need to feel at ease."

Shinji paused. He would actually prefer a bit of formality, but, on the other hand, that was oh,
forget it. Too much effort to raise it, and it's not like I won't end up calling him that
anyway. "Yes, okay, Simon," he said out loud.

The psychiatrist made a motion on a pad with a blue-covered hand, and looked back up. "Are
you feeling okay? Do you want to continue? Your notes specify that you should still be feeling...
well, tired, limp, slight clumsiness... I can go on."

The boy felt that, on balance, it would be best if he did not. "No, I'm fine," he lied. "So..."

"Yes, yes. Uh... yes, we had got up to the point where you were in the launch tube. Please,
continue... but at your own pace. Remember... we can stop any time."

Shinji swallowed, and continued.

('_')
Staring out through the eyes of the Evangelion, Shinji blinked in the twilight sun. Compared to
the interior of the launch tube, this light was bright. And it was twilight sunlight, he realised; the
clouds had been... shredded, the moisture in the air boiled by the conflict.

"Listen to me, Shinji," said Ritsuko, unconsciously leaning forwards, eyes locked on the image
fed into her harcontacts, "the Evangelion is designed to be very simple to control. It uses a direct
animaneural interface; the A-10 Clips, that is, the things on your head, the superconducting QUI
devices, serve to interpret the signals from your brain. The Eva is humanoid arcanotechnology,
so the Operator Extension Side-Effect is in full effect. The AN waveform can be read and
translated into movement by the systems onboard."

"But there are..."

"The controls are there for things which don't have a physical analogue in the human body,"
Ritsuko explained quickly. "The weapons are tried to it, as are sensor controls, and it also serves
as a conceptual guide to allow you to retain separate modes of thought between when you want
to move your body and when you want to move the Evangelion."

"But then why do they..."

"It's not an accident it uses similar controls to a video game. These aren't the full set; they're
stripped down. You aren't trained to deal with the proper set." She paused, for a breath. "And
there are pre-existing reflexes we can take advantage of. We checked."

I... suppose that makes sense, thought Shinji, marginally annoyed by the refusal of the scientist to
let him get a word in edgewise, or, indeed, get to the point.

"You'll thank us the first time the Eva doesn't punch itself in the face when you scratch your
nose," added Misato, her face entirely serious. "That... that's happened a few times in tests." She
received a glare from Ritsuko for that remark.

Great. Now my nose is itching, thought Shinji. At least the rest of his skin had stopped feeling
like there were insects under it, or something. "What... what do you want me to do," he asked.

"You are to engage the Harbinger, and destroy it," stated the Major. "The Evangelion is capable
of generating an AT-Field which can be used against the target's own defences."

"A what? How do I do that, then?" Shinji was rapidly becoming convinced that they hadn't
thought this out at all, and, really, why hadn't they explained all the things before he got in the
Eva?

"It's not something that I can explain to you," Ritsuko said, shaking her head. "Think of the
Greek principle of gnosis, of the knowledge that can only be acquired through experience. Or, to
bring in another example, 'The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao'. This isn't a sorcerous
procedure; it's more like something parapsychic. You can't explain it, but you can know how to
do it; you were selected for the latent talent."
Shinji swallowed, and nodded, biting onto his lower lip.

Misato glanced sideways and the scientist. "That was... well said," she said. "Rather... mystical
for you."

Ritsuko shrugged, and checked that the communications link was off. "I lied," she said. "It's what
he wanted to hear. We're not expecting him to actually manifest one first go, after all; he's there
to distract the Harbinger, which will have to focus its own AT-Field to prevent the Evangelion
from shredding it. Then we can just shoot it in the back, when it's weaker." She turned the
communications back on. "Think only of walking," continued Ritsuko. "This is important, Shinji;
stay focussed, and only think about walking."

Slowly, ponderously, teetering, the Evangelion lifted a foot. With a crash that broke the road
underneath it, jets of water squirting forth from pipes broken directly under the impact, the rather
pointy heel smashed back down to earth. Biting his lip, eyes screwed up as he focussed on
walking, Shinji nevertheless grinned. "Walk!" he muttered to himself. "Walk! Walk!"

"It's working!" said Ritsuko, eyes wide. This is really good, she thought, as the boy ventured
another step, muttering the refrain over and over again. That was, of course, when the alarms
sounded.

"Spike! Another spike!" came a panicked call from the Operators. Lieutenant Epouvantable, eyes
watering, glanced sideways at Maya and sneezed, then flicked her eyes to Dr Akagi. "Uh...my
DMIN is stable," she automatically said, after a glance to see that it was so; the check-in
procedure was standard among Operators who survived their first few dives, "and the new
pattern is holding... uh oh."

Shinji flinched at the noise coming through the communications link, and the already-precarious,
teetering step completely failed. As, within the cockpit, Shinji pinwheeled, trying to keep
himself... No, the Evangelion, and, yes, therefore by default, myself, upright, all that managed to
achieve was to damage the as-yet-intact buildings to either side.

There were winces all over the control centre; even up on the observation platform, as Deputy
Representative Fuyutsuki's palm collided with his forehead with a noticeable smack. Only the
father of the pilot who was currently providing a wonderful opportunity for spontaneous urban
renewal, remained impassive, eyes locked on the projections on his arglasses.

"Ignore the impact," barked Ritsuko. "What do you mean, 'spike'?"

"I mean 'spike'!"

"Another one. Increase in synch, and corresponding increase in variance," clarified one of the
civilian Operators, voice slightly muffled from where she had bitten her lip. "We're up to 59...
um, plus-or-minus 2.5% and... well, it looks stable. It's holding."
"But it looked stable the first time," completed Ritsuko, softly. "I want us to be able to force an
ejection at any point," she ordered, more loudly. "I do not want it to jam up, or misfire. We will
not have a repeat! Abort if he breaks 75%."

Maya nodded. "I've set the Ouranos control system with those priorities," she said, blinking
heavily. "It should be prioritising runtime towards this."

Ritsuko sighed, and turned back to the main screen, where, despite the patient guidance from
Misato, the pilot lacked the fine control to be able to get up. Well, it's not surprising, she
thought. How long does it take children to learn this? She paused, mentally. That's children with
a small 'C'... I really mean 'babies'. Of course, babies don't have an extensive LAI suite... never
mind. She winced as a titanic arm smashed through an apartment complex with a shriek of
tortured steel.

"I can't do it!" Shinji shouted. "It's... it doesn't move properly! And my knees hurt!" he added,
face screwed up, staring down at his legs... wait, if he was actually face down in the Eva, that
meant that the plug was Argh! Disorientation!

"Don't think about your body, Shinji!" ordered Dr Akagi, grasping one balled fist in her other
palm. "Just think about the Eva!"

It was painful to watch, as, flailing, the Evangelion managed to get one hand under it, sparks and
debris flying up from the road as one knee ponderously scraped its way under the main body.

('_')

"But at least you were able to achieve that on your own," Simon (as he had insisted, multiple
times, on being called) said. "Consider that, with no practice, you were able to manage that." He
looked down at the PCPU held in his blue-gloved hands. "According to this, you were much
faster at achieving this than any of the other candidates. That's your accomplishment."

Shinji winced. "No. Um... this is where it gets..." he paused. "Painful," he said with a shudder.
"And fuzzier."

('_')
"They've lost contact with the Harbinger!" shouted one of the NEGA officers, whirling towards
his superior. "Location of Harbinger-3 is unknown! It... melted away again, into that black wave
thing, again."

"Oh no..." breathed Misato. "It can't have..."

The signal from the Evangelion was cut, the main screen blacking out. The panicked reports only
served to add to the confusion.

"Massive r-state flux. Identical to what happened on the approach." The Lieutenant was streaked
with sweat, dripping down his face. "Something big just happened. The Shaws have shut down.
We're... we're blind. Faster than the LAI systems could clamp down on the gain." The man
looked over at the central control desk. "It's here."

The Major whirled, gazing up at the Representative. "Sir," she began, "Permission to launch Unit
00?"

"Grabbing exterior feed. Let's see if the ArcSec cams have anything," added another one of the
Operators, hands twitching in Augmented Reality projections that only she could see. She turned
unseeing red eyes to Dr Akagi. "We have something. Feed requiring authorisation for
mainscreen. Autocensor active."

Gendo nodded once. "Permission granted, Major. Load the Evangelion for deployment." Behind
the now opaque glasses, his eyes closed. I am sorry.

The blond scientist frowned, and then shook her head. "Yes, yes," she said, bringing the link
from the security cameras, designed for nothing more than petty surveillance, up on the main
display.

It may have been a heavily autocensored feed, the image altered to reduce how real it looked and
remove flagrant reality violations, and so minimise the instinctual rejection that human minds
felt towards things that should-not-be, but it was still clear what was happening. Lieutenant Ibuki
gagged at the sight, and she was not alone; faces paled throughout the control centre, at the sight.

The void-black form of the Harbinger, its symmetry broken by the arcanochromatically-
enhanced warhead, stood in the middle of a terribly smooth plane, more akin to some kind of
amphitheatre, with the outside walls the buildings which were outside the area where the monster
had so violated reality again. It loomed over the now-motionless form of Unit 01. The air was
crackling with discharges, earthing on anything metallic, giving Asherah a skirt of blue-white
brightness.

"Abort launch order for Unit 00," ordered Gendo Ikari clearly, in the silence. "Unit 01 remains
intact. Only launch if Unit 01 appears critically damaged."

"We're getting signals back from Zero-One. Just... atmospheric... interference..." the Operator
trailed off.
The Harbinger reached one simian arm down, and grabbed Unit 01, yanking it up by its own
arm, as it dangled limply. Night-black flesh-substance met the mottled camouflage of the
Evangelion, as sparks coruscated across the surface.

('_')

Shinji stared up at the blank roof. It was good, he thought. It might be an unfamiliar ceiling, but
at least it isn't that thing. He swallowed. "I was screaming," he said, flatly. "It... it sounded really
odd, and it hurt. I mean the screaming hurt because that orange-stuff isn't like air... it's too thick.
And the arm hurt too; I could feel it." His eyes locked on the psychiatrist's. "It was like someone
was trying to pull my arm out of my socket. And that's not right. I mean, I was just piloting the
thing. Why did it hurt?" His voice dropped in pitch. "Why?"

Seriously, why? I'd like to find the bastard who decided that was a good idea for the pilot to feel
the pain of the machine, and... and make them pilot the damn thing themselves! It would serve
them right! See how they like it, to have to feel whatever the thing underneath feels!

"What were your reactions to the Harbinger... to the entity?" said the doctor, after a pause. "It
says here... yes, you said earlier that that when you saw it before... nausea, uncontrolled panic,
faintness." The man paused. "Did you feel the same this time? If it was different, was it better or
worse, in your opinion?"

Shinji glared at him, before his brow wrinkled, as he thought back. The two monstrous faces
stared deep into his eyes... no, into the eyes of the Evangelion, and then there was that burning
red sun on the front, filling his eyes. It was like staring at the sun through closed eyelids, only my
eyes were open. Just... everything I could see, full of redness. His eyes snapped open again, and
he saw a look of concern on the older man's eyes. "It was... better," he managed. "It was scary...
yes, really, really scary, but it was... it was," the words came out in a rush, "it was scary like a
man with a knife is. Um... well, like the idea of a man with a knife is, I haven't actually been
attacked by a man with a knife. Like it was a person that was trying hurt me, rather than
something which could stand on me without even caring. Like it almost did before."

He fell silent, gazing through the psychiatrist's head and beyond, as if he could see through the
mass of stone and steel and concrete to gaze into infinity.

"It wasn't wrong. It was just a thing. And... isn't that wrong?"

('_')
Shinji Ikari screamed and screamed. He could feel the chill, almost slick touch of the Harbinger;
a clinging, freezing touch, like a frozen, flayed hand and on earth did that image come to mind of
all things?, and that didn't make much sense. There was armour in the way and everything.

Asherah filled his eyes... his viewscreen. The red light was still bright, but above the false sun,
he could see the mask-like shapes, their broken symmetry far too evident up close. They weren't
the solid objects they looked like from far away; they were more like some two-dimensional
layer of paint over the surface. And yet they had depth. That was the thing. At once, they were a
discoloured projection onto the night-black skin-hull of the monster, and full, real objects,
floating in the void, rotating yet eternally the same.

And then, again, they were just pained protrusions on a black skin; merely an optical illusion.

"Activate the weapons systems," he heard the Major order, over the communications link.
"Listen to me, Shinji," she said, clearly. "I want you to look at the c... at the glowing red thing on
its chest. Move the Eva's head to look at it. Don't ask questions. Just think about it, as hard as
you can. Do it."

The Harbinger made a noise. It was a noise which lacked a frame of reference to describe. If
forced, Shinji would use words like "a kind of crackle, but also a tearing noise, and it was both
wetly organic and resonant, like if you were running your finger over the rim of a wine glass
made of meat," but, from the vagueness and general incoherence of the description, it was
evident that such a thing did not really describe the cohesive whole of the noise.

Moving... yes, he was moving his head to look at the radiant crimson sun mounted in the chest of
the thing. Slowly, painfully, the Evangelion's head slipped around.

The Harbinger was staring at him. He could feel it. His skin was itching all over, painfully, and
there was some kind of commotion going on in the control room, but compared to everything
else, that was meaningless. All he had to do was look.

"Listen, Shinji," said the Major, over the shouting from Dr Akagi and the Operators, "what we're
going to do is fire the head-mounted lasers into the core. When we do that, I want you to... well,
to try to attack the Harbinger with your other arm. Try to hit it in the red bit. The scientists are
claiming that it might be a weak spot. You can do that, right?"

The boy nodded. He could look around, yes, and... well, the attempts to get up had at least
proven that he could destructively flail around. There was probably time to feel guilty about the
buildings he had demolished later.

Why is it just holding me? What is it doing?

"Is the strike force ready?" the Major asked, making sure that the communications link was
closed.
"Yes, ma'am," was the answer. "Three wings are zeroed on the coordinates, and an armoured
company is locked on the thing's back. They're ready." There was a pause. "And extra NEGA
forces have followed Harbinger-3 here, including some M059-X MBTs."

The black-haired woman nodded. "Good. And that's an added bonus." She turned to face her
companion. "Are you ready, Rits?"

Ritsuko tucked an errant strand of hair back, and stared back, the blue light of her harcontacts
filling her pupils. "Yes," she said, the stress in her voice evident. "Another spike, but... still
within safe margins. Just. We're ready, weapons control has been passed over to the Ouranos
systems. Get it over with quickly, Misato."

"Right." The woman slammed her hand down on the table. "Fire everything!"

From within the Evangelion, the screen briefly darkened as the four head-mounted lasers fired,
the pulsed beams aimed at the dying star on the chest of the monster. These were joined as the
missile packs on the shoulders emptied themselves into the Harbinger at point blank range, the
guidance chips specifically overridden to arm themselves at less than their normal minimum
distance. Asherah recoiled, still holding Unit 01's arm, yanking it further upright, and Shinji
winced in pain clutching his hand to the trapped arm.

That had the bonus effect of bringing the Evangelion's arm in a neat arc, the open palm bashing
into the red light and passing through, warping it from a sphere into a broken ellipsoid.

"Good job, Shinji!" shouted Misato, to general cheering from the control room; a celebration
which was only accentuated as the impacts from the incoming missiles from the aircraft, and the
arcanomagnetically confined high-energy plasma beams and raligun projectiles from the tank
formation, which before had been doing nothing, tore off shards of the Harbinger's flesh. The
unnatural body sloughed off like molten wax to the impacts of the vECF charges, burning sun-
substance and the explosive warheads, splashing to the ground.

A celebration which was halted as, like a ragdoll, Asherah tossed up Unit 01 off the ground,
bringing one hand into the chest of the arcanocyberxenobiological organism with an impact
which audibly shattered the thickened armoured plates, and, in an egregious violation of the
conservation of momentum, sent the massive behemoth flying backwards through buildings in an
arc which was wrong; too flat for something moving freely, and far too fast for how lazily the
Harbinger had moved.

An arc which was halted as it slammed into the grey, crumbling facade of the Victoria Arcology,
smashing through the armoured superstructure before, finally, coming to a stop deep inside the
building, the impact denting the endoskeleton of the pyramid.

Blinking, thick breaths of LCL surging in and out of his lungs, Shinji blinked in the darkness.
There was... there was actually a vaguely Evangelion-shaped hole that lead out to the brightness
of the outside, the greyed, arcanochromatically-tainted walls no match for the momentum of a
forty-metre tall titan. They had broken like dust to such an impact, the brittleness shattering like
icing.

That was when the pain hit. All up and down his right arm. Turning his head... the Evangelion's
head slowly (ever so slowly), he could see the dark ichor oozing out, jammed machinery visible
under broken pale flesh under shattered armour.

That's not my arm. That's not my arm. That's not my arm, he thought to himself, over and over
again. Or perhaps he screamed it out loud. How was it possible to tell the difference?

And there was light; the fell radiance of the Harbinger illuminating the wrecked interior of the
arcology. It was walking towards him, slowly, placing one tank-sized foot after another,
smashing its own way through the entry hole. Screaming, whether in rage, in terror or in pain (it
was not clear, though the odds were on the latter two), he tried to focus on standing up, but he
couldn't. His mind jumped around, like there was a swarm of insects living in his brain and under
his skin, buzzing and humming from thought to thought without settling on a single one. The
Evangelion twitched and convulsed, but no definite motion could happen.

He could hear distant shouting and see the image of the control staff yelling at him, but his mind
was filled with the pounding, regular footsteps of Asherah, the harbinger of his fate. The steps
beat as one with his panicked heartbeats.

It stood over him, the sun on its chest the fires in which all thoughts are consumed.

In one smooth motion, a hand descended, and plucked out the eye of the Evangelion, crushing
the stolen orb like a ripe fruit in its hands.

A fountain erupted from the empty socket.

And then.

Nothing.

('_')

"... and that's it," Shinji said, his voice slightly croaky. "I mean, I don't know, maybe I knocked
my head on something, but I think I may have just fainted. Of course," he added, a slightly
vitriolic note entering his voice, "I suspect the experience of feeling like losing an eye is enough
to knock someone out. Maybe. Just maybe?"

The doctor was silent.


"Um..." began Shinji.

"Are you sure you can't remember anything else?" the man said, a slight hint of something Shinji
couldn't recognise in his voice.

The boy shook his head.

"Oh, well," the man said, with a shrug. "Well, I expect you'll want to rest again. Either way, I'll
be seeing you again, at some point... uh, we'll deal with scheduling later. Remember, if you're
feeling uncertain, or having nightmares, or otherwise feeling odd, note it down. Uh... yes," he
said, checking something, "you should have my Grid contact details, please, send me a message
detailing anything unusual you're feeling."

The boy frowned. "My... my PCPU got broken," he said, dredging out a memory which seemed
so long ago, but must really not have been.

"There's a new one by your bedside table," Simon said, his voice calm. "Given that it has a label
saying 'For Shinji' on it, I would guess that it's some kind of replacement. By which I mean, yes,
it's a replacement. After all, wouldn't it be kind of difficult to do anything without one?" he asked
rhetorically. He stood, pushing his chair back against the wall.

"Remember," he said as a parting comment, "tell anyone if you feel at all peculiar, or have any
unusual urges or thoughts." The man blushed slightly. "That is, apart from the ones inherent to
being a sixteen-year old," he added hastily. "By the reckoning of my profession, they don't really
count as unusual."

Shinji collapsed back onto the bed, staring up at the blank ceiling. One hand reached up to
massage his closed right eye.

~'/|\'~

In a small blessing, the clouds had cleared, and now the whole of the greater urbanised area was
lit in late August sun.

Of course, from the point of view of Misato Katsuragi, the "blessing" component was more
appropriately viewed as an "annoyance". Yes, certainly, from an ecological point of view, the
fact that it hadn't rained meant that the scrubbers had been able to bond to the arcanochromatic
residue from the massive number of variant-electron catalysed fusion weapons, not to mention
the tactical-scale warhead that had seen use, but from a personal point of view, it meant that it
was getting annoyingly hot inside the hazard suit at the site of the cleanup.
"Misato, you were a frontline soldier," Ritsuko had said, the smile obvious under her transparent
faceplate. "Are you sure you just haven't gone soft in your nice Ashcroft placing?"

It may have been true, but as she watched as they manoeuvred the scattered fragments of the
armour from Unit 01's arm and torso into the containment vessels, Misato couldn't help but wish
that she was in an exosuit, with a nice climate controlled interior, as opposed to just a thick layer
of protective material and an air supply that she had to carry around with her.

Anyway, she thought to herself, I was a mecha jockey. Not a ground-pounder or a sardine.

Slumping down to one of the chairs, she flicked through the channels, the image filling her left
eye. If they wanted her, they could come get her, she felt. At the moment, nothing required direct
military involvement or use of her Advisor status; it was just scientists fussing over the area, and
getting in the way of the engineers and the technicians who were actually clearing the place. The
colonel the New Earth Government Army had sent to supervise their part of the clean-up looked
just as bored as she did. She spared the man a wave, and got an equally lethargic one back.

"... and the main story remains the consequences from the unexpected assault by an unknown
extra-normal entity against the London-2 region," reported an almost-foppish-looking sidoci, his
long white hair artfully styled in a way which was a blatant example of manufactured dishabille.
"Despite the element of surprise, the primary component of the hostile strike force was quickly
isolated, eventually self-destructing to prevent capture by NEG forces. Although the area
remains sealed off, the Army and Navy have released footage..."

flick

"Casualty results still remain unknown, but they are estimated to be in the..."

flick

The woman stood, cape billowing, against a thunder-cloud backdrop. "You fool!" she
proclaimed to the square-jawed hero, who stood at the bottom of the tower, red eyes reflecting
the lightning in a manner identical to that of an owl. "I have bought him back again, and no one...
none at all, shall question my genius. They called me mad! Mad!" Peals of laughter broke out,
echoing the thunder.

"You're the fool, Baroness!" the man called back, pointing his gun (a rather nice looking double-
barrelled shotgun with a revolver feed and weird sparking machinery on it) at the deranged
aristocrat. "That isn't your husband... and it hasn't been your husband for ten years! He's dead;
the thing walking around wearing his skin isn't him! It just thinks it is! It's a shade corpus, and,
one day, it'll remember!"

The gun roared, as both barrels fired, but, too fast for the eye to track, the Baroness leapt up, the
camera panning in to show precisely how the shrapnel tore at her clothing, while leaving her
flesh untouched.
"Release the Claw Fiends, Igor!" she shrieked, crouching, nearly naked, on the roof.

"Yeth, Mithrethth, I will do ath you requetht."

Oh yeah, thought Misato. Meant to look like I'm at least keeping up to date on the reporting of
the situation. Plus Doom of the Revenge of the Baroness of the Darkness of the West is old. Seen
it before.

flick

"... the true heroes of this story have to be a squadron of Engel pilots, from the 3rd European
Mechanised, who managed to engage the sole hostile survivor of the blast, and critically damage
it." There were four portraits displayed; men and women in their late twenties to early thirties, in
full military dress uniform. "First Lieutenant Jenny Intry, Second Lieutenant James Hawass,
Second Lieutenant Sarah Athena, and Second Lieutenant Wera Kawimani vy Devora were all
killed, as the entity self-destructed, rather than risk capture, but in their actions, they saved
uncounted lives." The platinum blond woman bowed her head briefly, then continued.
"Genevieve Aristide, the War Minister, has promised a ceremonial state funereal for the four,
saying that they exhibited the best of the combined traits of humanity."

Oh my, thought Misato. They actually used Scenario B-22. Oh. Rits is going to be really, really
pissed to be letting Engel get the credit. She wouldn't mind so much if it was just the tanks, or
even conventional mecha, but the credit had to publicly go to an Engel squadron. Oh dear.

Turning off her optical bypass, she got up, and went to look for the Director of Science. An
outburst was not what they needed right now.

~'/|\'~

Shinji sat back down, breathing heavily. More checks, and they'd finally let him walk around on
his own, only being followed by a cat-sized drone, which clung to the ceiling and buzzed if he
walked too quickly.

Everything in the hospital was just so colourless and faded. No, not faded. Deliberately stripped
of all colour and life; cold and sterile and clinical. The lights were bright and uniform, and the
white walls were stark. Even the attempts at decoration somehow only managed to accentuate
the fact that this was not an environment which people were meant to be living in, that this place
was designed for function over form. And the angles; there was not a single right angle
anywhere. Everything was slightly curved, which spoke of the level of security that this place
must have, if that kind of structural precaution was necessary. Cold and lifeless; such
awonderful feel for a medical facility. The environment seemed to match his personal feelings.
What was it called? The 'pathetic fallacy', or something like that?
Well, Shinji was certainly feeling fairly pathetic. Less so than on previous days; he was, at least,
able to move around on his own, thanks to an approval from the psychologist. But he was still
bone-tired... what kind of phrase was bone-tired anyway? Are bones particularly famous for their
lethargy? Are they the most slothful component of the human body? You would think that, since
they're the ones giving rigid structure to the human form, they don't get tired, and never have to
rest. It was probably a gross failure of natural selection if the skeleton got exhausted. Seriously,
where did languages come up with these things...

They also had said that he might be easily distractible for the next few days.

Either way, he just sat back, and gazed out the window; out at the untouched, rural landscape
before him.

Now, actually, he could properly appreciate the marvels of the Geocity. It was unlikely that you
could find such an environment on Earth, properly, outside of such managed zones. A miniature
sun, and a true one at that, the arcanomagnetically-confined aneutronic fusion reaction burning
on the ceiling, rolled across daily, providing a sense of time which was so often lacking in
normal arcology sections, where only those who lived on the outer walls got regular access to
sunlight. Visible out the window, above the few low-rise buildings was an expanse of green. The
dome had to be kilometres across to fit everything inside. There were trees down here; entire
forests! There was a lake with... Shinji squinted, an island with a vaguely Greek-looking marble
building in the centre. And everything was actual green-green, not tainted by the slightly-off
prismatic hues that polluted too much of the surface, despite the attempts at ecological
preservation. It was a deliberate attempt, he read, checking exocerebrum on his new PCPU, to try
to recreate what a pre-human ecology would have looked like, as a source and a store of living
genetic diversity quite different from the vast genebanks which had, from the start of the century
onwards, begun the grim task of cataloguing an ecosystem blighted first by mankind's hungry
depredations, and later the horrors of the Arcanotech Wars and the Aeon War.

A flock of birds, bright cyan plumage shining in the man-made sunlight, poured past the
window, flowing like an unending torrent. Hah. There's actually some white ones in the mix, that
could be foam, Shinji thought. He wondered if they really knew what they were doing, what they
were like. And also if they ever flew too close to the sun, and got burned up, or got their brains
scrambled by the fields. Maybe there was some kind of system that stopped them from doing it.
Maybe they were just left to learn for themselves.

His thoughts were cut short by the sound of cushioned feet squeaking on the floor, and the
ponderous rumbling of something heavy. He glanced down the corridor, to the source of the
noise, to see a team of orderlies pushing a cylindrical tube, the top transparent and glimmering
with projections.

Wordlessly, Shinji watched as they passed. There was a princess in the crystal coffin. That is to
say, there was a girl in the life-support pod. That girl, the sidoci from before.

Her gaze never left his as she was wheeled past, the grey iris wrapped around a pin-prick pupil.
Shinji shuddered, icy-cold fingers running up and down his spine. She was almost invisible in
the sterile confines of the life-support pod, swathed under layers of fluid-filled tubes and the red
of blood stains on despoiled blankets. At least there wasn't the empty socket anymore; it had now
been covered by a post-operation protective casing.

But still she stared at him.

grey eyes
red fire
drowning in fluid
pain

nothingness

Slowly, Shinji's hand crept up to cover his own right eye, massaging it, feeling the spherical
shape under the skin of his eyelid. He now knew exactly how that felt.

And then the snow-white girl was gone, and his heartbeat began to slow again. He slumped back
down in the seat, suddenly feeling drained again.

Of course, in the original fairy-tale, didn't the prince... do things to her while she was in a
coma? the boy thought, with an internal wince. Yeah... I think he did. Yuck. Yeah, I distinctly
remember Gany reading me the story, and then warning me about overly romanticising history.
Or something like that. Pretty disgusting, really. He grinned, a little foolishly. I think I'd be a
much better prince than that.

What the hell was my father thinking, trying to make her pilot like that? He paused. On the other
hand... what the hell was he doing, putting a completely untrained person in that thing? Let's be
honest here. I really can't follow the kind of thought processes we're dealing with here. It's
possible that he had good reasons for doing it. Apart from the giant monster-thing, of course.
The giant-monster thing that wasn't him.

He did not know, and in unknowing, found no relief.

~'/|\'~

The Director of Operations for Project Evangelion found the Director of Science for the
Evangelion Group in one of the sterile tents they'd set up, and, after going through the
decontamination process, unsealed her helmet with relief, running a hand through her sweaty
hair.

"Heya, Rits," she said. Misato paused, not quite wanting to say anything which might raise the
touchy subject, but not sure how to proceed. "Ah, the air conditioning unit," she said, to no one
in particular, in the cool air of the tent. "It's really the greatest treasure of mankind. A real
scientific success. The power of control over the climate." A quick check revealed that the coffee
in the pot was cold; a moment's deliberation decided that putting it in the microwave was faster
than making a new pot, and so it was done.

"You finally got the message, did you?" said the blond, with a hint of sarcasm, as she poured
over a diagram. "Come over here; I need you to see something. Tune your implants to DEMO,
by the way," she added.

Flushing slightly as a check of her unit revealed that, yes, she had a missed message, the black-
haired woman nevertheless complied.

The diagram was revealed to be a full three-dimensional map of the area filling most of the
room, the ground-level hovering about eye-level, tracing the honey-comb of smaller arcology
domes underground. The Geocity wasn't shown. That was far too deep for this scale. And
marked in flashing red was an almost worm-like trail, which dug in through the grey area of a
chromatically-drained region, into the earth, before emerging again. And then there were the
craters that pockmarked the area, culminating in one great one.

"Is that?"

Ritsuko nodded. "We've finally been able to piece the full passage of the berserk Unit together,"
she said, with a sigh. "It's taken almost two days, too. We had major black-box corruption, which
made the onboard records unreliable."

"It really did all that?"

"Yes. And Victoria wasn't properly evacuated too, due to the attack on the airport. That would
have produced additional casualties, had it not been for the use of the vECF warhead..."

"... you mean, extra casualties caused by us," said Misato, flatly. There was a ping from behind
her, as the microwave declared that it was done, but she ignored it.

"Well, yes. We're not responsible for those deaths. That's something that the NEGA has to
answer for, not us. Makes everything easier." Misato frowned at that remark. "It does mean less
paperwork for you," pointed out Ritsuko, which only deepened the frown. She waved a hand.
"Never mind. What I was saying is... well, look at the passage. The fall through the weakened
superstructure was unavoidable, but it makes everything more difficult. The fight between the
Eva and Asherah collapsed several bunkers, and the damage to the endoskeletal structure of the
pyramid is worrying."

"Yep. I've seen what they're having to do to save it. And," Misato added, "having to dodge
falling debris. I hate working in colour-drained regions."

The scientist nodded. "I know what you mean. It's the way that everything goes crumbly."
Ritsuko sighed, looking up from the diagram on the table, and Misato could see, with surprise,
the redness around her friend's eyes and nose. "What kind of victory is this, anyway?" she added,
in a worryingly emotionless tone of voice.

Misato paused, before replying. "Ah," she said, in a soft tone. "I was wondering why there wasn't
anyone else in here." Ritsuko felt a hot mug pushed gently into her hands. Without taking a look,
she took a swig.

It almost instantly was deposited back in the cup. "Bleargh!" the blond declared. "Yuck."

"It's just coffee," said Misato, holding her half-empty mug, with a frown.

"Yes. It's coffee. It's so much coffee that you seemed to forget to put any water in. I should know
never to let you..." The scientist let out a bubbling giggle, a slightly sick sounding noise. "You
just heated up that pot, didn't you?"

"Yes. Why?"

"So did I. Several times."

"Oh. How long has it been brewing?"

"Since yesterday, some time."

"Oh." Misato paused, as the other woman's words caught up with her. "Oh. Ooooh." She sighed.
"Rits? How long have you been here?"

"Mmmmph," was the response she got; a somewhat predictable one, based on the fact that the
blond's mouth was full of the overly strong coffee.

"When was the last time you slept?" A slightly weary entered Misato's voice.

"Ah." Ritsuko thought. "Um. The night before Harbinger-3 arrived," she said, in a small voice.

Misato sighed. "That explains it, then. You've been hopped up on EOE for... four nights now."
The black-haired woman paused. "Okay... that's it. You know it doesn't replace sleep properly.
You've known it since university."

"Don't bring that up. Completely different circumstances."

"No, I'm going to do that, because after that time you spent a week up, and we had to drag you to
hospital before you killed yourself from a stroke, you promised me that you'd never do it again!"

"Wait a moment!" retorted Ritsuko. "You made the same promise after I had to take you to have
your stomach pumped, and how long did that take to be broken?"
"Six w... not the point! That was for fun, not for w..." Misato took a deep breath. "No. I've had
sleep. I'm not going to shout at you." She let out that breath. "Why are you doing this, Rits?
You're not so vital you couldn't have had one night of sleep in the last 4. Even four hours, or
something. And I know you do know how to delegate, even if you don't like to." She paused.
"Come on, drink your according-to-you vile coffee."

Ristuko slumped down, into a seat. "I had to make a report to the Council of Representatives
yesterday," she explained , in a small voice. "Oh, that went fine, don't worry," she reassured her
friend. "Research... Representative Egger, was unpleasant, but she always is. No, it's not that."
She winced, as she took another mouthful, blinking heavily as she swallowed. "But I passed the
Twin Obelisks on the way in to Headquarters. They'd put new names up."

Misato cursed under her breath. Of course, she thought. That's it. She gets like this when she goes
there. Add that to the lack of sleep... yeah, makes sense.

The Twin Obelisks were a fixture of any major Ashcroft Foundation; a way of commemorating
researchers killed, incapacitated, or sectioned by their work. It was a tradition not without
precedent. The eponymous Teresa Ashcroft, who had laid the founding grounds for arcane
theory (although, in truth, her role was somewhat exaggerated; she was a manifestation of a
wider school of thought, as the flaws in the Standard Model and Quantum Mechanics became
evident, at the start of the 21st century), was the first name on the White Obelisk, which marked
those driven to insanity by knowledge of that-which-man-should-not-know. Her supervisor,
Simon Yi, was the second. And then was the Black Obelisk, which marked those lost, to death or
irrevocable and absolute inhumanity; both fates were far too common for those who tested new
sorcerous procedures or arcanotechnology.

It wouldn't be fair to say that the former was for theoreticians and the latter for experimentalists.
But it wouldn't be utterly inaccurate, either. And it was arguable which one was worse. For at
least one granted a drink from the river Lethe; the unknowing that comes from the unbeing of
death or loss of self, while all the other could offer was the fractured existence of a broken mind.

Ritsuko glanced up at Misato, with reddened eyes. "I wonder which one I'm going to end up on,"
she said, in the same flat voice. "It's not going to be long. Just a matter of probabilities. Over half
my class are there, by now. I'm already beating the odds."

"Now, come on," Misato said, worry entering her voice. "It's not like everybody dies, or goes
insane. Look at," she paused, "well, I know you don't like him, but Dr Miyakame from Engel
was on the original Project, and he's still okay."

There was a short, bitter laugh. "Is he?" She shook her head. "And even assuming that's true, and
I don't think it is, well... look at it. Him, Sylveste from Achtzig, and the Representative. Those
three. The only three able to pass for sane, and still alive, out of an original Project of nine
specialists." She glared at Misato through narrowed eyes. "Dr Hathenep... torn apart by an
uncontrolled prototype. Dr Vandebough... committed after a mental break that left him claiming
that he could master n-dimensional terrain. And the murders, of course. And... and, well, the boy
we just put in Unit 01; you're aware of what happened to Yui Ikari. And, for that matter, Kyoko
Zepplin Soryu."

"I am," said Misato. Her voice softened. "It killed your mother, too, I know."

"Ha!" Ritsuko paused. "Yes, you'd almost think there was a reason I wasn't mentioning her
among the survivors!" she snapped, looking away.

Her friend's face remained calm, not rising to the bait. "Ah," the Major said. "Yes, it seems that
you're not in a fit state to keep on working. You've been awake for too long, and you're going to
start making mistakes if you don't get some proper sleep. Formally, in my capacity as Director of
Operations for Project Evangelion, I'm instructing you to call it a ni... call it an early afternoon. I
want you to go for a psychological check-up, too; staying up this long, even on EOE, isn't
healthy."

Ritsuko deflated. "Yes," she said, in a small voice. "Yes, that makes sense." She paused. "Thank
you," she said, softly. "Yes. You can drive me to the Clinic in the Geocity; you're picking up the
Third Child."

"I am? Well," Misato clarified, "I know I am, but I am now?"

"I did send you a message telling you that he'd passed the physicals and now the psychologicals."

"Yes. Well..." and the way that she tailed off said it all. "How is he?"

"Physically, no external wounds. Mentally?" Ritsuko gave a somewhat laconic shrug, which
turned into a slump. "Well... his memory is somewhat confused." She raised a hand, to forestall
the outburst. "His memory of the events is somewhat confused."

She failed. "Mental contamination?" asked the Major, eyes flashing.

"Some. Negligible. I've heard it's nothing to worry about."

The other woman relaxed. "Oh, right. It's... well, I've looked at Unit 01's history, and, well..."

"Yes, I know. But, no, it seems to be fine."

Misato relaxed. "Okay. Come on, then. The Foundation was... nice about getting me a
replacement car," she added, with a smirk. "It's a Ventek SF-47-X." At Ritsuko's empty and
somewhat weary look, she grinned wider. "Oh, it's good. And it's fast. And I have it. Well, at
least until the insurance comes in, and I suspect that won't be too long. Might even be fast-
tracked."

"It's really not charming to gloat about how the systems fast-track you," sighed Ritsuko. "Even
if... yes, even if it is true. And I don't need another explanation for how you managed to get both
the company discount and the military discount. I understood it the ninth time. And don't drive
too fast. And don't crash. In fact," she added, as a thought struck her, "let the autopilot drive. I...
uh, I need to talk to you about... um... things."

"What kind of things?"

"Important things."

~'/|\'~

There was a separate investigation going on; one on a much, much smaller scale. In a grey,
cracked and crumbling hallway, smothered in a thick layer of dust and ash, figures in bright
yellow hazmat suits were standing around, while a cluster of remote-controlled drones mapped
the area.

Every citizen should have been able to recognise who they were, from the small, geometrical
logo on their arms. They were from the Office of Internal Security. The OIS. They had marched
in, and taken over this investigation from the Federal Security Bureau almost immediately, the
suspect circumstances of the attack overriding the FSB's authority over terrorism and actions on
interarcology territory.

And, scattered around this lifeless, colourless environment, so rapidly succumbing to entropy,
there were the... manikins. It wasn't right to call them people. They weren't that. For starters, they
were dead, but it wasn't that. Even if they were dead, such a dehumanising term would not have
been used to describe their mortal remains. But these things, these brittle grey figurines were best
not acknowledged as something which was once human. Because if that was done, then the mind
fixed on those hollow, fragmented recesses which were once eye sockets, those glimmers of
white enamel in the disintegrating lips, and the streaks of bone visible under colour-drained
clothing and powdery flesh. Normally, there was something about a dead body which could only
be described as 'honest'; as in life, they were in death, cooling meat revealing the marvels of
natural selection that had led to their life. And from death, nature returned, the body breaking
down into the ecosystem.

There was nothing natural about this.

There was the hiss of an aerosol can, as another manikin was coated in a substance which bore
most resemblance to varnish. This was a crime scene, even if it had been thoroughly ruined, and
they were still going to follow procedure, because there still was a chance that they would be
able to find out exactly what had gone on here. A very slim chance. The Office of Internal
Security, as an organisation, was somewhat displeased by the fact that the crime scene had been
contaminated by the close proximity detonation of a one-kilotonne variant-electron-catalysed
fusion warhead. The only reason that it was only somewhat displeased was that the OIS did not
get angry, as a statement of official policy.
That did not, however, prevent individual agents getting bloody furious, as long as they did not
do so in an official capacity.

"Fucking army fuckwits and ArcSec morons and their fucking clumsy counter-intrusion
attempts," swore Agent Kain, pacing up and down, waving her hands in the air.

The only other woman in the back of the van sighed, and deactivated her harcontacts, her orange
irises returning to normal. "Another problem, Samea?" she asked.

"You better believe that there is!" was the snapped back response. "I haven't been able to get a
full list of all the counter-intrusion procedures that the police and army teams set up in the
databases... after four days! And there are active ghosts... hidden, I might mention. I was just
trying to bounce some requests from a standard civilian PCPU... in emulation, of course... then
dissect the countermeasures. My ghosts got fucking targeted! My goddamn ghosts! They have
high-grade Limited Artificial Intelligences specialised in electronic warfare running on the local
arcology Grid that are attacking any attempt to probe them. And tailoring their responses to how
smart the intrusion method is. They've been giving me a dummy-network for almost two days!"
She slammed her hand into the side of the wall, making the van rock slightly. "That is taking the
piss, Mary!"

Mary Anderson winced, shaking her head. "Ouch. Well, assuming it didn't spread any further..."

"I'm not an idiot. Of course they were boxed."

"... just checking. Then... you should probably get a high-end specialist team in."
The amlati paused. "This is serious, if they can trick your ghost LAIs. Put the request into the
Yard."

Samea sighed, an angry noise through clenched teeth. "You know what the worst thing is. I didn't
even notice them. And I've warned the other analysts. We've been falling for this dummy dataset.
Two days down the drain." She stomped back to her seat, collapsing back into it. "This entire
incident is a nightmare. Ruined scene. Complete systems lock-out. This is going to be taught to
cadets as a nightmare scenario. I mean, fuck it, this is the plot for some stupid film, not real life."

"I hope I'm the quirky intelligence analyst who guides the actual hero to his eventual success,"
Mary said, brightly. "Ooh! I might even get a promotion to love interest. I hope the hero is the
quiet sensitive sort. In glasses. Hmm. Maybe not glasses. What genre do you think we are?"

"What?" Samea squinted at her. "What are you talking about?"

"In the film."

She received a glare back.

"Well... I'm just saying, I mean, if he's an action hero, then glasses aren't appropriate, while if
he's more of an intellectual, then... arglasses for the win." She paused. "Okay, okay," she
continued, in a darker tone. "Look. I've been getting no more success than you have. It took long
enough to secure the site, that none of the brains are any use. I've been trawling them... nothing
of use. Too much decay to be able to get anything more than base response functions, even in the
ones which weren't greyed by the colour, or boiled by the blast. The people
were anfrazzadi, nazzadi, or amlati... no sidoci as of yet, but the sample size is small enough that
it could just be probabilities that they didn't show up, and, anyway, they're watched heavily
enough that, unless you want a PP, you don't want them, because they draw attention. That's
basically all I could grab so far. And you could tell that by looking at the bodies. So... nothing,"
she concluded.

"New sample submitted," stated the pleasant voice of her LAI.

"Oh!" Mary said, spinning her chair back around, and reactivating her harcontacts. "Let's see
what you have for me, baby... hmm. Male... Nazzadi for certain." She checked the attached form.
"Yes, knew so. I've always wondered why the Migou flipped the symmetry of the Nazzadi
body," she said, out loud. "Me, I take after Mum, but my older brother takes after Dad."

"I really needed to know that," muttered Samea.

Mary made a disgusted noise. "Too much decay. Won't be grabbing anything of use from the
cerebrum intact. And this one was frozen as soon as they found it, too. Useless and annoying. I
much prefer working on live brains. It's much easier than trawling dead ones. Hmm... actually,
no, the just-dead are the easiest; neuron activity tends to induce errors, unless you get permission
for a destructive map, and they tend to bitch about doing it to live subjects." She made a few
gestures. "Zombie, start the destructive trawl," she instructed the LAI. "No... abort that," she
corrected herself.

"What is it?" asked her colleague.

Mary spun back around. "It's just... well. Too much of this investigation is going wrong. The
body samples are all ruined, the brains are rotten, there's no live witnesses, and that's even before
the arcanochromatic contamination."

"We're all thinking that, I'm sure. I'm certainly finding it goddamn suspicious. It..." Samea
clacked her teeth together, while looking for the right words, "... it doesn'tmatch, frankly. On one
hand, we have this elegant, precise attack, which subverts ArcSec, the local security networks,
seals them off..."

"... and on the other hand, we have a disparate group with no shared backgrounds, using
unregistered, untraceable, brand-new, but light sharders and machine pistols... which isn't enough
to reliably do stuff to people in ArcSec type armour, let alone proper armour. But does, very
well, kill civilians." Mary sighed. "The former seems to have had a goal. The latter seems to have
just killed people."

"But even that doesn't make sense. Why waste the kind of assets you'd need to get all those
unregistered, unchipped weapons into a secure airport? You'd need to have subverted security to
get them in, and we haven't background-linked any of the civilian ones to have the kind of
distribution network you'd need to pull that off. Seriously, I'd swear that none of them knew each
other before this. I've seen the checks on their social networks."

"You mean the summaries."

"Well... yeah. But the civilian group must have been a decoy for the ArcSec group," Samea said,
slowly. "It's the only thing that I've heard that makes sense. But... it doesn't feel right."

"I know. According to the reports we have, the civilian group attacked first, and then the ArcSec
group opened fire. But if they're there for an objective..."

"Then what the fuck were they doing? And what did they want?"

"I have no idea." Mary paused, flicking her attention back to the LAI. "Go on, Zombie. Start the
trawl."

The same questions, and chains of thought (except from divergences into film preferences, which
were much more varied on an agent-to-agent-basis) were being repeated all throughout the local
OIS. And none of them had any answers.

~'/|\'~

Shinji sat in the atrium of the clinic, swinging his legs. The new clothing they'd given him
(apparently, the containment fluid had ruined his old set) was still rather stiff and had that slight
rigidity that wouldn't come out until it was washed at least once.

He hated it when they were like this. He would have changed, but... well, he didn't actually have
any other clothing on this continent. He'd lost his hand luggage at the incident at the airport, and
hadn't even had the chance to pick the other baggage up before the attack. There had actually
been some important stuff in there.

At the moment, he was engaged in an epic quest to try to recover his muse. The Limited
Artificial Intelligence had been linked to his now-sadly-deceased personal CPU, and thus had
been lost. Naturally, there were back-ups; it wasn't like the vast repositories of data that any
human being generated or obtained in day-to-day life were actually stored on a device that could
be held in a hand, or, in some cases, folded up like paper. The limits of information storage
capacity imposed by quantum mechanical effects were such that a standard PCPU couldn't have
held a fraction of what anyone generated (or stored, or retained). Each device was little more
than an terminal for a vast, hidden network of measurably more complex machinery; the
quantum computers and data archives (which disposed of their vast quantities of waste heat in D-
Dumps, D-Engines run in reverse) unseen by those that used them.
And, unfortunately, those data stores were, for him, in Japan.

The problem existed on two levels. Firstly, there was the simple issue of data transfer; the Grid
was not the open, free environment of the pre-AW1 Net. That had been murdered by the
invading Nazzadi fleet; its open, amorphous nature too susceptible to assault by a foe who knew
what they were doing. And the Migou had passed only a fraction of their systems knowledge to
the Nazzadi; even now, units engaging the forces of the Yuggothian fungoids had to physically
isolate the communications systems from the rest of their onboard computers, and work under
the assumption that any code which was not encrypted by a one-time pad, or by quantum
cryptography, was vulnerable. Hence, the Grid was isolated, segmented, with sections only
synchronising with each other at fixed intervals, any desired data transfers analysed by high-end
ghost LAIs for possible contamination.

There was also the problem of proof of identity. In a sense, one's data cache was one's self for all
non-face-to-face interactions. There was almost certainly enough information there to build a
convincing digital simulacra of its owner; several convincing celebrity sex scandals, back near
the birth of this technology, were enough proof of this. Hence, Shinji Ikari was dredging his
memory for ill-remembered passwords, and suspected that he might have to go for a gene-
verification. It would be easier, after all.

Muttering under his breath, he gave up, and slumped back in the seat. It wasn't like he couldn't
do that later, and, frankly, he just could not be bothered to go through this whole mess right now.

The PCPU chimed, the LAI (a stupid, generic one, by Shinji's reckoning; completely devoid of
the heuristic training that made a muse a muse) informing him of a call from Major Katsuragi.
He answered.

"Yes."

"Shinji, it's me," Misato said, unnecessarily. "I'm waiting outside. I've sent you a map beacon.
Come on."

Several thoughts ran through the boy's head. Among those were Couldn't you just have come
inside?, What's happening?, I don't want to speak to you, you put me in a giant robot and used
me as a child soldier!, I'm tired, and don't want to do anything, and, of course, I wonder what
she looks like naked. It remains eminently possible, of course, that the last thought was not
sourced from his brain. But what he actually said was, with a groan, "Okay," as he pulled his
aching body to a vertical position, and slouched towards the exit, following the map on the
device.

Misato greeted him with a wave, standing next to a greyish-green car which looked vaguely like
it was breaking the speed limit, even while remaining still. Inside, though, she was slightly
nervous. She hadn't ever intended for the Foundation to pay attention to the fact that she'd
claimed the "Assets" subsidy when getting her current apartment. Well, that wasn't quite true.
She had actually vaguely contemplated the possibility of getting a nice, pre-house-trained flat
mate, or, at least, failing that, a cute man who she might be able to 'accidentally' walk in on.
A sixteen-year old boy had not been who she had planned. Come to think of it, she probably
should have cleaned up the flat in the time since she had been told, but... eh, what was the worst
that could happen?

Actually, this kind of slightly perverse humour meant that the finger of blame was quite possibly
directed at the Deputy Representative. She wouldn't put it past that old man, especially since
she'd also been, discreetly, told that when they moved Unit 02 over from the Eastern Front, there
would be another guest. She always had the feeling that he was somehow laughing at a lot of
things, watching silently from over Gendo Ikari's shoulder. It was probably better than crying,
which she suspected that she would do if she was forced to spend too much time around her
penultimate superior. One of her penultimate superiors. She had once tried to work out who she
actually reported to, and had given up in confusion. And had needed to be been drunk to even
attempt it.

The boy that stood in front of her, she thought, the chain linking seamlessly into another, as she
looked him up and down... well, there was something physically that suggested that he was
related, a certain sense of familiarity about his appearance. But from the rest, well, he hadn't
shown any sign of being a suave political operator or a cold technocrat... unless he was really,
really good at it. No, that wasn't plausible. The very idea was ridiculous.

His gaze was also, notably, lowered a certain amount. Well, it was really her fault; she had
known that she was going to be spending the day in various hazard suits, so was wearing a
strappy top. At least she was wearing a bra; that would have been rather embarrassing. She still
coughed, and suppressed a smile at the way his gaze guiltily leapt back up to her face. She kept
her eyes on his face as she explained the situation, that she was now his legal guardian, and that
he would be staying with her. There was a surprising lack of protest; not only a lack of vocal
objection, but very little chance in body language, either. He'd either been told already, just didn't
care, or... well, those were the only two possibilities she could think of. He certainly didn't seem
to be a skilled enough dissembler to cover such things. Although there was always his heritage to
take into consideration...

No. She had to stop being paranoid about this, just because he was Gendo Ikari's son.

"Are... are you okay with that?" she finished.

There was a shrug. "I didn't think it was likely I'd be allowed to go home," he said, no real
emotions in his voice. "And one place is pretty much the same as another."

Misato sighed, an emotion split between annoyance and relief. "So you're fine that you're not
living with your father, then?"

Something flashed in his eyes. "Yes, I'm fine with that. It's probably for the best, all in all. I
haven't lived with him since I was four." He paused. "I'll still be able to keep in contact with Y...
with my foster mothers?" he asked, with a warmth in his tone which notably hadn't been there
when talking about his father.
The black-haired woman nodded. "Yes, of course."

"Then it's okay, then." A hint of sadness in his eyes belied the statement.

"Don't worry," said Misato, with a grin at his discomfort. "I'll be on my best behaviour. Come
on, it'll be fun!"

~'/|\'~

"Nah... na na na!" Misato sang, along with the radio, as she pulled down, skipping just over a
section of flooded ruins, leaving a wake behind her. "Na na na na, there are three floooooooo-
wers in a vaaaaaa~aaaaase..." She pulled the control yokes sharply, and the car pulled upwards,
pushing Shinji back against the seat, as the stereo blared.

Why! Why! Why did she drive like this? He had a slight tendency to motion sickness normally,
but this... this was far beyond anything he had experienced that didn't involve sitting in a giant
robot and being fired up a chute. And at least that had been linear. He was feeling sick. He was
feeling so sick that the contents of his stomach were feeling sick, and they weren't about to
move, or they themselves might throw up.

On the plus side, it did mean that he hadn't actually been sick yet. And it wasn't that she was a
bad driver, in a technical sense. In fact, in a technical sense, she was very good. It was just that
she seemed to treat the car as a low-flying fighter craft, taking hostile fire, rather than as a... well
a car. Certainly, he hadn't met anyone before who would disengage the autopilot just so that she
could fly at just above building level, and ... argh! That had been a spire from a ruined church or
something!

"Na na na, the third of theeeee-em is... huh," Misato turned her head sideways to the boy, who
had a fist crammed into his mouth, and was trying to whimper and hyperventilate at the same
time, with only limited success.

"Keep your eyes on the road!" Shiniji tried to say. It came out as an incoherent, unintelligible
squeak, but at least he had tried, right?

"Don't worry," she said, cheerfully, "we're almost there. I've got something to show you. It's a
good place." The car levelled out once again, at a nice, safe, not-less-than-one-metres-above-the-
ground-while-in-free-flight-mode flight. "You know," she added, drumming her fingers on the
control yokes, "I really don't use my out-of-Arcology permit enough. Haven't had time recently, I
guess. Oh, and make sure you're wearing your mask when we get out of the car. The scrubbers
should have caught most of the a-chrom contaminants by now, but... better safe than sorry,
right?"
Shinji declined to comment, and, when they landed, limply sort of flowed out of the car and out
onto the grass.

"Oh, come on," he heard Misato say. "Get up. It wasn't that bad, was it?" He wanted to make
some kind of incredibly witty comeback, which would leave her grovelling in knowledge just
how unpleasant her driving was, but, looking up at her, figure over him looming in the twilight,
he just couldn't bring himself to do it. She looked so enthusiastic, eyes gleaming, and a wide grin
on her face, visible under the filter mask, like she had really enjoyed the drive, and couldn't
understand why anyone else would not.

Also, he couldn't think of anything good enough to produce the desired result.

"I... I... uh, I think I'm just feeling a bit weak from all the... everything," he lied. Well, it wasn't
exactly a lie, he was still feeling a bit floppy and uncoordinated, but it was by no means the main
cause. She helped him stand, and guided him over to a seat by a railing, looking north towards
London-2.

Above him, he heard the cry of a bird, and looked up. There was some kind of... he squinted into
the setting sun... some kind of predatory bird, he guessed, circling up above, free and
unconstrained.

Misato followed his gaze. "Huh," she said. "Isn't that a... a falcon?"

"I don't know."

"Me neither, really. I think it's a cybird, though."

Ah, yes, thought Shinji. That sort of took the pleasantness off the naturalism; the knowledge that
even a bird was nothing more than an autonomous surveillance system from the point of view of
mankind, and something it would make use of as it saw fit. It was monitoring them even now,
the cameras implanted into its body tracking their thermal signatures, and sending its signals
back to its handling systems.

But that didn't mean that it wasn't still beautiful. Well, maybe not beautiful, but at least awe-
inspiring in some way.

"But look," said Misato, gazing back towards the north. "Look at it."

Lit by the setting sun, London-2 was visible. The flattened, tiered pyramids of the above-ground
arcologies were gleaning in the light, painted red by the sunset. In between their kilometre-wide
bases, was a forest of interconnected skyscrapers and apartment buildings, sealed off from the
world outside in their own way. Looking around, the boy could see the matt shapes of defence
systems, breaking up the city and shaping it to resist assault; London-2, like all modern arcology
complexes, was a fortress city. And that was not to mention the honey-comb of arcology domes
under the city, protected by the surface and the armour plating or, even deeper, the Geocity, ten
kilometres down. That they could build something like that, so deep... well, Shinji felt, in
retrospect that was far more impressive than the mere fact that there was an artificial ecology
down there.

"Wow," he said, softly. "It is impressive, isn't it."

The Major shook her head, sadly. "No," she said. "Look... look to the east. Wait a moment." She
went back to the car, retrieving a pair of binoculars. "These'll help. And don't look at the sun
directly," she added.

Shinji signed. He was looking to the east, and it wasn't like he was an idiot. But, yes, looking in
the direction Misato had directed, up above the shining river of iron oxide and silver that was the
Thames, he could see it. One of the arcologies was not shining in the light. No, it was matt grey,
and through the lenses, Shinji could see the crumbling, broken outline. There were tiny brightly
coloured dots flocking all over it; he thought for a moment that they might be birds, before he
got a sense of the scale, and realised that they were maintenance vehicles, trying to hold the
structure together, and remove the damaged sections, before they collapsed and damaged the
largely intact skeleton of the structure. And looking around, he could see the trail of damage
around the area, the later, smaller blast mark, and then the area where he had... done the thing.

"Is that..." he asked, already knowing the answer.

Misato nodded. "Yes. That's the place they used the warhead on." She sighed. "I know why we
use arcanochromatically enhanced warheads. The variant-state electrons mean that you need less
energy to set it off, and the colour does something funny to Migou and Storm monsters, even if
they survive. I've seen it happen. But... " she sighed again, "I'm not always sure it's worth it.
Look at the grey. Look what it does to stuff. They're going to have to ship it off to a dump-site,
because it's useless. And... I just hope too much colour didn't enter the water system. It's just
good it didn't rain."

"We were too close to that," said Shinji, in a small voice.

"Yes... oh, no, if you're worried about that, people only really get affected at the kind of ranges
that mean you'll be dying from the blast." She turned to face him then, eyes gazing down from on
top of the filter mask. "Listen to me, Shinji. Look at that. Look at how much damage that did.
And it didn't kill it. But you... but you," said the Major, her eyes aflame, "you did. You saved the
city, which meant that they didn't have to use any more of those things. And... 24 million
people... that's like half a percent of the world population. They're all alive, thanks to you." She
paused. "You did well," Misato added, the corners of her eyes crinkling up.

They stood together in silence, gazing out over the city, as the sun set.

"Come on," said Misato. "Let's go home."

~'/|\'~
Misato, as it turned out, lived in one of the deeper domes, which stacked like honeycomb under
the surface (though still far above the Geocity). A cluster of apartment buildings made a series of
concentric circles around a central garden-square, the architecture all too typical of 2070's neo-
post-classicism; the structures vaguely Mesopotamian in their stepped pyramid design, but cast
in the whites of marble and in steel and glass. The dome and apartment security was rather
impressive, too.

"Oh, this is a fairly common place for higher ranking people in the Foundation or some of the
IPcorps to live," explained Misato to his question, once they had cleared the inevitable blood
scans. "It's a bit of pain, but I... and you, too, were always going to have to put up with it, here."
She paused. "I haven't been able to get the rest of your stuff shipped over," she explained, with a
slight awkwardness, "but that should be coming soon, right? And, uh, I have been kinda busy the
last few days, so, the apartment might be a bit of a mess."

The door slid open. Shinji paused, before stepping in. "May I come in?" he said, almost
reflexively, in his native Japanese.

Misato smiled at him, widely. "This is your house from now on," she replied, in the same
language.

He stepped across the threshold. "Well, I'm back," he said, softly.

"Yes, you are. Now, come on," Misato said, hefting the bag of shopping she'd picked up in
between the... 'flight' was still, unfortunately, the best word he had come up with to describe it,
and actually getting here, "You'll want to put this in the fridge."

The boy paused. Shouldn't that be your job? I don't even know where the fridge is?

"It's on the right. Go on through... it's a fridge. It's kinda obvious."

That was a lie. That is, insomuch as it was obvious. It was, in fact, obscured by masses of plastic
crates, the kind that any civilian nanofactory could make cheaply, and in large numbers, and the
sheer number of bottles of various alcoholic drinks which littered almost every available surface.

Shinji could feel his skin crawl at the sight of all that mess.

It's not like it's even hard, he thought. Just dump the rubbish in the nanofactory, and it'll be
broken down, and you get the raw materials back. He could even see the bulk of the machine,
tucked away in a smaller room off the kitchen. Can she really not be bothered?

Of course, he didn't say any of this out loud. But if he was living here, then there would have to
be some changes. Gingerly, he poked at the pile of stuff on the table, clearing some space for the
bags, so he could unpack properly, and swung open the door of the nearest of the two fridges.
There was beer. There was ice. There were bottles of various sauces and spicy things. The
grinning man on the Planetary Hot had a large thumbprint stain over his torso.

Oh... yuck. She really must have no sense of taste. The actual food in the fridge was the cheapest,
blandest open-source stuff you could find, the kind of thing that only poor students, or people
who were morally opposed to IP locks and were bad at finding alternatives on the Grid ate. Slaps
of greyish-pink-white protein in plastic containers, the kind that you'd take whole out of a
nanofab, and slice off when you wanted to use it. Sacks of noodles, and, worse, they were the
ones made pre-cooked, that you just heated up, the insides of their bags coated with starch that
crackled when he swatted them aside. Greenish fibre-mash, that somehow managed to have the
texture of something organic while lacking anything specific. And nothing that they'd bought,
looking through the bags, was a valid meal; it was all side dishes and more beer and/or sauces.

Shinji shuddered, and patted for his PCPU. Well, at least he'd bought some proper saved
templates, and some good-quality raw material designs, saved in the... internal... memory... of...
his...

Damn. Hello, bad quality food. Must remedy this. Fast. Or will lose will to live.

"I've finished changing! You can go make yourself at home, your room's first on the left... or is it
second. Oh, I'm sure it doesn't matter." Misato stepped into the kitchen, dressed in... well, she
was decent. Decentish. "I think it's time to start cooking!" she declared.

The lack of a thunderclap or howling of wolves in the background just showed, in Shinji's
opinion, that reality did not have a proper sense of dramatic necessity.

The food was not actually as bad as he expected, as he stared at the bowl of green and greyish-
yellow and pink before him. It was worse, because it was mixed in with a bright orange and a
dull red that had blended in a way, he shivered, looked a lot too much like LCL for his stomach
to really handle. Just looking at it bought to mind the metal-and-oil-and-something-else taste,
and that thick texture filling his lungs and stomach and...

At least he had managed to grab some of the prawn crackers before Misato had smeared blue all
over them. He was currently contemplating making a play for the vegetable-rice which, despite
the red poured on the top, didn't look too inedible, compared to the pink stuff on the meat she'd
bought, which even the smell of had left him clutching for a glass of water.

"Well, eat up!" she demanded of him, already cracking open another can of beer.

Now, if I were some kind of Machiavellian genius, he thought, I would have some kind of ploy to
deal with this. The grey protein floated in the noodle soup.Okay, well, let's take a look at my
priorities here. I know that the protein is going to be bland and functional, as are the noodles. I
don't want to eat the fibre-mash, because that stuff... well, it'll keep you alive, but on the other
hand, it's sort of disintegrated in the soup, so it might not be so bad, as it's declumped. The sauce
is right out, because nothing that's called 'Planetary Hot' is ever a good idea to eat, and that
colour... bleargh.
Well, here goes. Like a falling eagle in pursuit of a job as a prophetic symbol, his chopsticks
snatched up a snake-like mass of noodles. The metaphor broke down at that point, because his
mouth did not resemble a cactus, not even topologically, but, nevertheless, he ate them.

The mix of tastes was interesting. To a forensics expert, certainly. And if he closed his eyes, they
didn't look LCL-coloured, which made them almost palatable. Emphasis on the 'almost'.

"Oh, come on, don't be a wimp," he heard. "The sauce is the best bit! And you need to eat
properly. After all, you're just out of hospital!"

And I'd really rather not go back there, he thought, with a hint of vitriol.

He opened his eyes to find that he was staring down her top, as she leant towards him. He
quickly lowered his eyes to the bowl, and fished out a chuck of protein, swallowing it with a
weak grin in her direction, which he tried very hard not to turn into a wince.

"Good. I don't want you to wither away, after all," Misato said. She flushed slightly. "And I'm
not just saying that as the Operations Manager for Project Evangelion," she added hastily.

A thought that had been nagging at the boy raised itself again. "Why are there so many Japanese
people involved in the Project?" he asked. "I mean, there..."

Misato flapped a hand, narrowly avoiding slopping beer from the can it held. "No, I get it. Was
originally going to be in Toyko-3, that Geocity. But, you know, they decided... some time ago,
ten years ago, maybe, that the way that the threat from the Storm, the way that Leng just ate
Tibet, and kept spreading... well, it was too dangerous." She shook her head, a darker expression
on her face. "And that was before the Fall of China, back in '86," the Major added, in a morose
tone quite out of keeping with her normal voice. "It was very worrying then."

"I... I suppose that makes sense that they moved it, then. But... didn't you object at all to having
to move everything. I mean, wouldn't it make everything more difficult." He smiled. "I mean, it
must have been a pain to move the Evangelion all the way here."

Misato glared at him, though narrowed eyes. That... that had probably been the wrong thing to
say. Then, quite deliberately, she slopped some beer onto the boy. "I'm not that old," she said,
her tone outraged. "I... I was still at uni then, I'll have you know! Not much older than you are
now!"

"Uh... sorry." Wait! Why am I apologising! You just splashed beer in my face! If anything, you
should be saying sorry to me!

"Eh, it's all right. I can see that you were using the group 'you', and so not at all suggesting that
I'm that old. Were you?"
"Of... of course not." Hag. Wait, no, should I be thinking that? Probably not. That's a bit
extreme. Mentally, I'm sorry, Misato, but I'm not saying that out loud, because then I'd have to
admit that I thought it, and I don't want to be splashed in the face with beer again.

"Then you should probably go clean yourself up, then. There should be some fresh clothes in one
of the rooms... I can't remember which I dumped them in, and there should be a bath ready. It
should be free, now."

Shinji nodded, and got up. Actually... that hadn't gone as badly as he might have thought. Sure,
he may have got some beer sloshed onto him, but at least he hadn't needed to eat the food. So,
with a bit of luck, Misato would be selfish, and eat the rest, and then he could go prepare himself
something bland and functional from the ingredients in the fridge; something that hadn't been
ruined by the addition of too much flavouring.

Wait, what had she meant by 'should be free, now'?

Sitting back, her third beer in hand, Misato heard the scream from the bathroom. Oh yeah. No,
wait, he should have seen him by now. Or had he?

She shrugged. Well, they'd probably met now.

"Misato!" she heard the desperate call. "There's... there's a giant albino p-p-penguin in the
bathroom."

"Oh, that's just Pen-Pen," she called back. "He's a lodger."

"H-he's not letting me out of the corner!" was the desperate-sounding response. "He's... he's
staring at me!"

"Oh, that's just because he doesn't have very good eyesight," she called. Should she get up? No,
not really, she thought, as she leant across, to take the remaining prawn crackers. "He's just
getting to recognise you. Just flap at him with your hands if he's being a pain."

"I... I really, really don't want to move my hands. He might go for me. They're guarding..." Shinji
paused, "...something very important. Do birds eat... uh, sausages?"

"Well, they certainly eat worms," Misato called back, with a grin.

"You're not helping!" There was a note of panic in the boy's voice.

Misato sighed. She'd probably extracted the most comedy that she could out of the situation.
Reaching for the toothpicks, she extracted a chunk of protein which had got stuck, as she leant
forwards, scooping some food onto Shinji's plate, before putting it on the floor. "Pen-Pen," she
called out, "Food! Also, beer!"
There was a noise which sounded remarkably like "Wark!", and the monochrome bulk of an
Antarctican Urbanised Albino Emperor Penguin came barrelling through, red eyes filled with
hunger, and decended upon the plate. There were, indeed more "Wark" noises, as its atavistic
tooth-like ridges that ran along its beak got to work on the food. There was a pause in the noise,
as he stopped, to squint up at his mistress.

"Wark."

Misato nodded. "Oh, right. Sorry." There was the sound of her breaking the seal on the can of
beer, before she passed it down. A clawed wing-hand took the can, and put it down next to the
plate. "Pen-Pen, that was Shinji. Don't hassle him, please."

"Wark?"

"Oh, yes."

"Wark? Wark-wark."

"Yes, he'll be here for a while."

"Wark?"

"Of course not!" Misato shook her head. "I... I don't... it doesn't..."

"Wark."

"Oh, right."

Shinji lay back in the bath, and listened to the insanity outside the locked bathroom door. This...
wasn't what he expected. Not the fact that there was an Antarctican Urbanised Albino Emperor
Penguin living with him. That wasn't anything that anyone could expect reasonably. If he had
expected anything, it was that he might be placed with someone like his foster mothers. Not
like... this woman. Whoever had thought that she was a good carer for a teenage boy should
probably lay off the hallucinogens, and stop listening to the green elephants.

Still... Misato might be okay. I don't think she's a bad person. He paused. Well, she has no sense
of what's good food, and is a slob, and, when we get down to it, is sort of responsible for using
me as a child soldier. So, she's sort of a bad person. But that's sort of her job... wait, the cooking
and laziness has nothing to do with that. So... well, she's no worse a person than most people.
Except most people don't use child soldiers.

Well, she's not my father.

~'/|\'~
The two figures stood on the hovering platform, high above the Evangelion bays. Below them
Unit 01 was covered in moving figures, the remote controlled drones under the control of the
Ouranos systems, as it prioritised sections for manual repair, and ran containment protocols.
Beside it, on the other side of the massively reinforced wall, Unit 00, obscured by the bright-
orange and raw metal of the emergency restraint Type-Null armour stood. Its back was exploded
outwards, deconstructed as a team pulled apart its power systems, trying to fix the flaw that had
prevented proper deactivation.

"How was Rei?" asked Ritsuko, softly, lowering the exo that she had been working on. Gendo
merely stared down, through obscured eyes. The scientist couldn't tell which of the Evangelions
he was looking at, though.

There was an uncomfortable silence.

"You went to the hospital today, didn't you?" she asked.

Gendo did not look at her. "She'll be able to move independently in 23 days. The new eye will be
functional in 15. I have taken actions to ensure that she will remain useful during that time
period." He paused. "Less recuperation would have been needed, had she not been moved." The
last words were not 'admitted', nor were they 'muttered'. They were merely 'said', in the same,
clinical tone.

"It's for the best that we didn't have to use Unit 00 in the Type-Null," Ritsuko remarked, glancing
back down at her thread. For once, her harcontacts were off, her pupils and irises no different
from any unmodified person's.

"The Council of Representatives backed me fully in this," Gendo said, ignoring her. "Even
Research, though it pained her. Our allies on the Council have agreed that we should try to keep
all the Units operational; we have all the valid RTE exemptions."

"If only one hadn't been in Vegas..."

"Yes. That was an... annoying loss. Though it was expendable, assets should not be wasted like
that."

Ritsuko paused. "Have... have you talked with Herkunft yet?" she asked. "After what
happened..."

"Yes. I have a meeting with the Director on the 27th. She is... concerned, too."

"She is afraid what happened eight years ago will happen again." It was not a question.

"Undoubtedly." Gendo paused, a deliberate silence. "Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich," he said,
softly, as he stared down at the arcanocyberxenobiological monstrosities below.
~'/|\'~

Staff Sergeant Grigol Marikiev lay up at the ceiling, and stared blankly up at the darkness.

His hand crept to the side, and slid the dimmer switch up, until the darkness was banished,
leaving a grey. Besides him, Ponaya rolled over in his sleep, and muttered to himself. Grigol
ignored him. He was pretty sure that he wasn't going to be sleeping tonight. He hadn't slept
properly yesterday, either.

Or the night before that.

He was certainly going to have to talk about it at his next PsychEval. He sat up, and rubbed one
tired eye with the back of his hand. Did they have any sleeping tablets left? A check in the
bathroom cupboard, up high, revealed that, no, the packet was empty.

He could run out and get some. There was a diagnostic booth nearby, as there was near all
military housing. The Limited Artificial Intelligence would certainly give out weak sleeping
tablets, and it would automatically flag it for his next PsychEval.

The man let out a grunt. Like he was going to forget to mention that.

He crept downstairs, feet light upon the pale carpeting, and, scrabbling at the wall, flicked the
lights on. Ponaya wouldn't be able to hear the tap from down here, would he? Probably not.

The water was cold against his skin. He felt flushed, overheating. Staring at his reflection in the
darkened window revealed puffy, bloodshot eyes, obvious even at a glance.

There was some paracetamol in the medical bag in the kitchen, wasn't there? Or there might be
some sleeping pills.
"Holding position," Zaly had reported in, from her Type-M059-X main battle tank. This had been
followed by reports from the rest of his squadron.

"Hold fire," he had reminded them. "Don't fire until authorisation comes from Command, even if
we're fired on."

"Yeah," his own gunner had muttered, from her pod above him. "Don't want to draw
the ilumihamobi's attention.

He had reprimanded her with a brief word, but she had been right. It was horrible, parked here,
A-Pods slowly inching their way along, tracking the beast. It was a dark silhouette in the
twilight, a patch of nothingness that blocked the own fell radiance of that sun on its chest. It had
not been moving much; it had been almost as if it was looking for something.
Oh God, let there be sleeping pills.

There were none.

The urgent orders had come through, and they had been forced to move, as, suddenly, the
blackness of the Harbinger had welled and swelled into a tumultuous wave of unreality. The
Type-M059-X and Type-M055 MBTs had disengaged from their low, ground-hugging combat
tactics, and given chase, more akin to pre-arcanotechnology helicopter gunships than a tracked
tank.

The useless medicine bag slipped out of his suddenly slack hands, and clattered to the ground,
the contents spilling all over the place with a rattle and a clatter, the pills inside their containers
bounding around with a noise like dice.

Following in that terrible smooth region that the dark-wave gave, the electrical discharges of the
reneutralising air arcing harmlessly off the hardened shell of the hovertanks, had been
unpleasant. Buffeted by the air-currents, chasing something that he could barely perceive, so
heavy had been the autocensors' marks; he never wanted to go through it again. He never wanted
to remember it again.

With a muffled curse, he grabbed a beer from the fridge. And paused, and put it back, and went
in search of something harder.

There had been other units, waiting where the thing had reformed, and, on the battlefield map
displayed on his optical jack, there had been air units holding place above the battlefield.

And there had been the other thing. It was not like the Harbinger; it was manufactured, in the
splotched, split colours of human camouflage. But... if it had been smaller, he would have said
that it was an Engel. He had served with Engels before, even if they were a bunch of over-
promoted, arrogant creepy wierdos with thousand-yard stares, and those blatant cybernetics on
their spine that, he was sure, was part of the reason they were... off.

That had been a difficult break-up, in retrospect.

But that thing... it had been too large, for one. Even the biggest Engels, the Seraphim and
Chashmalliam (and they were the superheavies) would only have reached up to its thighs. At
most. God. It had to have been forty metres tall, at least.

And the Harbinger had grasped it, and it wasn't fighting back.

Grigol sat down heavily in front of the television, and took a mouth of the... he'd picked up a
bottle of konbutwihyohi, and it burned like the blazes when going down. That... that had probably
been a mistake, he thought, as he blinked. This was the stuff which could be used to make a
Molotov cocktail or sterilise a wound. The stuff that you didn't need to put in a clean glass.
He winced, as he took another swig. No, he hadn't made a mistake. This was exactly what he
needed.

Slipping on a pair of arglasses (he couldn't be bothered to connect his optical jacks up), he
bought up the control panel. After all, the so-called television was just another terminal for his
Grid profile. Turning down the volume, he flicked to the main news, and took a smaller mouthful
as soon as he saw what they were still showing.

Liars. That's what they were, liars. There hadn't been any Engels involved. He'd have seen them.
Which meant, by (drunken) deduction, that that thing hadn't been an Engel.

as it went flying, backwards, following a trajectory that was wrong to the eye. Grigol had
mourned, as his heart fell, because they'd actually been doing damage to the Harbinger, and the
armoured not-Engel had managed to weaken it, with that close-up attack on that red... red,
scarlet, crimson...

Gagging, Grigol Marikiev dribbled what remained of the burning alcoholic drink, as he bent
over, gasping with sudden remembered nausea. A wave at the control panel turned the screen off,
and he sat in the darkness, breath ragged, the bottle held at his side. He had to get out of the
house. It was cramped in here. Get to somewhere else. Maybe one of the other domes, one of the
ones that didn't follow the terrestrial day-night cycle. Get out of the dark house, without waking
Ponaya.

from in the crumbling arcology, something roared. No, 'roared' wasn't the right word. It was the
gargling scream of a man with his tongue removed as his lungs filled with his own blood, of
something young and yet old in pain. So much pain that there was no more intellect to
spare; something bestial and horrible and terrible.

He shrugged on a jumper. It was the nearest to hand. No need for a shirt, and it wasn't like it ever
got cold down in the underground arcology domes. Quite the opposite; they had to keep D-
Dumps running to get rid of all the waste heat that so many power-hungry citizens produced.
Shoes were slipped onto bare feet; his pyjama bottoms wouldn't draw any attention.

The bottle of konbutwihyohi was resealed, and slipped into a pocket. It was still useful. And with
that done, Grigol lurched out the door, wiping his drenched forehead with a sleeve.

Then, there had been nothing, but a crashing, as the greyed out, arcanochromatically
contaminated overground arcology slipped. Even the red light of the monster was gone, and the
babble of Command's contradictory orders had filled his ears. Confusion had reigned.

It was better outside. Better in the hallway for the military apartment complex, brightly lit and
cooler. Clutching at the railing, to overcome the feeling of vertigo, and the suddenly too-close
drop, the man staggered along. It took him three jabs with a thumb to hit the lift button

the ground cracked, one of those smooth areas where the thing had done what it did which
melted everything. The ground... everything shook, lethally grey buildings falling into shards of
brittle colourlessness, the thick dust choking the air. The ground shook again, and again. There
was something happening underground.

The man could barely stay upright by the time that he got to the ground floor. Everything was
spinning. Pausing, he took a mouthful of the burning liquid. It seemed to help, in a not very
helpful way. That is to say, although things stabilised, the nausea only worsened, as the fluid
stung his mouth. He only managed to swallow about half of it, the rest dribbling out through lips
it hurt to close, numbed by the alcohol.

Wincing, he felt his lips. The red of blood could be seen on his hands, even through tear-filled
eyes, and the taste of iron was now a necrotic undertone to the ethanol taste of
the konbutwihyohi. He'd bit his own lips or tongue or something. Didn't matter.

and then the pair emerged from the ground, locked in an embrace, rolling, rolling, a pair of
brawling gods cut from their father's stomach. Poisedon's hands beat down upon the black skin
of Hades, before Pollux got one lamprey-tipped finger into the guts of Castor, and sent it arcing
once again through the air, tumbling helplessly as it smashed through buildings and crushed
armoured units. The fire from the tanks and the aircraft was almost meaningless in the fight
between the two behemoths; the sun-bright beams from the Type-M059-X experimental main
battle tanks only chipping at the flesh of the thing, only for the void-flesh to regrow, twisted and
broken.

The figure of the Harbinger was barely humanoid anymore, as the humanoid symmetry was
broken. It was a monstrosity of warped, cancerous unflesh, those bone-like protrusions shattered
and smeared across its surface, tenebral blood-fluid oozing from its flesh. Right on the top, by its
right arm, was an entire section torn out, with what looked like teeth marks scoring it.

The bottle fell to the ground, the slow glug of emptying fluid an echo to the gloing of the resin as
it rolled across the floor.

Oh God. Grigol patted his pockets for his PCPU. He needed help. And he succeeded in turning
up nothing. Of course. It was in his trousers. Back in the room.

Slumping down on the floor, the man stared up at the light. It was good, right? It was light. It
wasn't dark. Not dark like the monsters. And not red light, either... proper white light.

white light.

Shimmering, glimmering crystalline light. Silver and silksteel and silent sussurations that sang in
his skull and spoke of the silence that stood just out of sight.

No. Oh no.

oh yes.
The not-Engel pulled itself to its feet. It was slick with some kind of dark ichor, flowing freely
from its punctured eye and the cracks all along its arms, and the gut wound from which
fragments of flesh hung freely. It opened its maw again, though, diamond-teeth contaminated
with the shadow-flesh of the Harbinger, and roared its dying, gurgling scream, the hydraulics in
its jaw gnashing and twitching. Lowering its head, leading with the vicious horn, it charged at its
foe again, claws on too-long arms slick with the mixed blood of the two monsters. If its arm was
damaged, it was ignoring it.

No. Please. No. I don't want to remember this. Let me forget. Please.

it happened. Why deny it?

Because...

...one of the Harbinger's arms was entirely useless by now, swollen and bloated; more akin to
some leg afflicted with elephantiasis than any kind of manipulator. It managed to raise the other
arm, though, and the line of force it had used to slice apart the battleship suddenly was, again.

It hit the not-Engel in the chest, and... stopped. The oncoming monster screamed, but it was a
scream of rage, of hunger, not one of pain, and leapt upwards, shifting in mid-air so that its
clawed hands and open maw were pointed towards its prey.

And there was light

Not the light. Wrong! Wrong! Unclean!

He had seen the diorama, even through the autocensor. On the left, stuck in mid-air, the human
monster, unmoving. On the right, the alien thing, that one remaining useful hand held upright,
palm forwards. In between them... the light. A wall of broken diamond, making its own light and
letting light shine through it, to make a lattice of should-not-be-yet-is.

The not-Engel reached out, with a gesture that was too subtle for a beast, yet was not something
a man would do. Almost gently, it penetrated the brightness with the long, thin claws on its
damaged right hand; pale, ichor-soaked flesh prominent in the bright light. That apparent
gentleness was nothing but a lie; with a sudden burst of violent speed that left the air screaming
in chorus with the triumphant agony of the armoured beast, it tore open the light. Sudden dark,
almost vein-like channels ran through the adamantine brilliance, before it ceased to be, in a
ripple of force that propagated out, knocking the hovertanks around like toys.

The not-Engel slammed into the Harbinger, bowling it over and over and over, the metal
fiend obviously in control of the grapple this time.

Grigol clutched at his skull, palms clutched to his eyes, as he writhed around on the floor. He...
he didn't remember this! He hadn't seen it! Not like this! The autocensor had been in the way! He
couldn't have seen it.
evangelion was hungry. Kneeling on the chest of the Harbinger, it began its butchery. The claws,
blades shimmering with the light of broken diamonds as the D-Fields were forcefully activated to
supplement its arsenal, found their way into the void-body of Asherah, levering out the bony
growths, tossing the fragments of corpus away, as the rigid definition of the Harbinger softened,
resembling the wave-form in the areas where the Evangelion had begun to work. But that was
not its main goal. The arcanocyberxenobiological warmachine slammed its horned forehead into
the radiance on the centre of the chest, over and over and over again, prominences erupting
from each impact, squirting disturbingly vital jets out with each impact, which burst over the
landscape, painting the greyed, crumbling landscape in Picassan tones.

Something, a single something, hung from the Evangelion's mouth; something disturbingly
organic, almost akin to a tongue. But if it was a tongue, then it hung down far too far, and
writhed and spasmed with an intent which seemed conscious.

I don't know this! Writhing, twisting, spasming! Horrible!

One desperate last blow from the Harbinger missed its intended target, as the Evangelion
ducked, the blow catching one of the shoulder-fin things, snapping it off, and sending it spinning,
like a deranged coin, off. The Evangelion caught the arm above its head, and, with a twist at the
waist, first broke it in one place, then at a second. With a malevolent slowness, Unit 01 worked
the breaks against each other, twisting and turning in the gouts of tenebral fluid that escaped
from the thing.

It grew bored.

One blow to the already-damaged shoulder severed the limb, tossed away idly, before the beast
got back to its fun.

Grigori was in a ball, sobbing freely. His body felt wrong in every way. Crawling blindly along
the ground, he mewed for anyone to find him, on hands bloodied and scraped.

fun indeed. Perhaps that was too much for Harbinger-3, too much for that which mankind had
dubbed Asherah. Twisting, it wrapped its bloated remaining limbs around the Evangelion,
expanding and swelling, losing coherence as it assumed and consumed Unit 01 under unshaped
darkness. The alien organism lost all cohesion, and detonated, propagating outwards, twisting
and deforming anything it touched. A vast crater was its gift to the Earth, a perfectly spherical
pit of destroyed matter, one last abuse.

Nothing could survive that.

Surely.

Surely?

The Evangelion raised back its head, both intact eyes aflame with a terrible actinic light in the
darkness, and screamed its triumph to the universe at large.
Its armour was damaged.

Its flesh was mutilated.

But it was alive.

Gloriously so.

They found Staff Sergeant Grigol Marikiev at 05:08, on the 24th of August, 2091, curled in a
corner, out of sight of the cameras.

He had chewed out his own tongue.

He was not the only one so affected. The manifestations of the rapid-onset Aeon War Syndrome
were by no means identical, of course. But in the patterns of self-mutilation, in the mutterings of
those who could still speak, there were certain patterns. Certain themes.

It was to be expected, after all. The exposure to a Harbinger-grade entity was a terrible thing.

~'/|\'~

In the middle of the night, Shinji Ikari woke up on an unfamiliar bed, shivering uncontrollably,
forehead slick with the sweat of nightmares.

Rapid, hollow pants filled the silent night air.

Hugging his legs close to his body, he stared at the light of the alarm clock, watching it tick away
the seconds, shaving time from infinity.

What happened out there! What did it do? What did I do?

That was not the source of the terror.

I think I'm starting to remember.

~'/|\'~
The room, if indeed such a term could be used to describe an apparently infinite plane surface,
was cold. Gendo Ikari did not let such things show though, even as he felt his blood freeze. It
was only an illusion, anyway, he thought, as he stared at them, over the top of his steepled
fingers, concealing his mouth. He wasn't actually physically here. And neither were they.

They. AHNUNG. They may once have had names, but now, it was best to think of them with
mere identifying tags. Gendo actually had some fairly accurate guesses for their true identities,
but that was all that they were; guesses. He didn't know for sure. But they were all, bar one,
ancient. And that one, he was sure, was no longer even close to human.

White. Blue. Red. Green. Yellow. There were others, but only those five had deigned (as they
would no doubt view it) to meet with him now.

White spoke.

"Your success against Harbinger-3 has been noted."

Green spoke.

"As has the collateral damage inflicted on the surrounding city, and which the Evangelion itself
has suffered."

Blue spoke.

"Was it wise to give such a vital component to your son as a plaything?"

The contempt in the old man's voice was painted on his face, fringed beneath wisps of hair.

Gendo gazed back. "Such losses were inevitable. Now the NEGA is aware of the least of the
dangers posed by the Harbinger-type entities, the Evangelions will be given free rein to deal with
the threats."

Red spoke, her voice halting, not stuttering, but somehow distorted.

"Y-y-you are sssaying that it was inherently n-n-necessary." She paused. "Per-per-perhaps. But-
but-but I do not believe that you... went about it in the m-m-most efficient manner. I think you-
ou-ou were grandssstanding. That isss... highly inelegant."

Green spoke.

"Nevertheless, it has been deemed to be adequate."

White spoke.

"Satisfactory."
Blue spoke.

"Tolerable."

Yellow spoke.

"What must be done is necessary."

Red spoke.

"Y-y-you know what wasss so un...expectedly di-di-discovered by the... fools of preceding


generationssss."

Green spoke.

"On Callisto."

Yellow spoke.

"On Pandora."

Blue spoke.

"On Europa."

White spoke.

"In Lemuria and Antartica."

Gendo stared impassively at them; no emotions showing. To an outside observer, it was as if he


could have waited a thousand years for their answer. Certainly, he was not about to let his inner
feelings seep out in from of them.

Blue spoke.

"The goal has been deemed one worthy of any sacrifice which does not compromise the end-
objective."

There was a pause, as if some kind of internal discussion was going on, in a circuit he did not
have access to. In fact, that was almost certainly what was happening.

White spoke.

"Your progress has been deemed satisfactory. This meeting is over."

One by one, the other figures, lit in their colour, vanished into the blackness of this infinite plane.
White remained, and spoke again.

"Gendo Ikari. You are instructed to ensure the success of the Human Iteracy Project. It is not
possible for you to back out now. The only valid route is success." The final figure vanished.

Gendo smiled; smirk hidden behind white gloves.

Are these old fools so blinkered that they believe that their way is the only way.

Or are they just too scared to step from their path?

Well.

They will be shown another way.

~'/|\'~
Chapter 4: Chapter 3: Becoming a Child

Chapter 3

Becoming a Child / There was a listening fear in her regard

AEON

~'/|\'~

"...and no matter what others may claim, it has been, and always will be the position of the
Church that the so-called 'soul' is nothing of the kind, that it is not the perfect, inalterable gift
blessed upon us by God, and that, in fact, to call it a 'soul' is a gross inaccuracy. The True Soul
is a blessing by the Lord; itis the self in a very real sense, and so is far beyond the understanding
of Man's reason. It grows and swells with Virtue, and suffers and withers with Vice. By contrast,
the arcane construct which, sadly, has been given the title of 'soul' by a secular scientific
establishment, which, by that very deed, seeks to denigrate faith, is not, and cannot be the True
Soul. One can live without an animaic waveform, and many do; to lack it is a mere medical
condition, which removes the possibility that one can study sorcery or possess parapsychic
powers. But no person is born without a True Soul, and one cannot lose one's True Soul, though
the weak and foolish may give it away to the servants of the Adversary. The True Soul is the
concern of faith; the animaic waveform is nothing but secular physics. And the two are
fundamentally different."

Carlos Fernadez, Bishop of Brazilia-A


Excerpt from his speech, February 19th, 2091.

~'/|\'~

25th of August, 2091

The two figures faced each other over the expansive desk. One leant forwards, face utterly
impassive, his eyes obscured. That one was impossible to read. The other was slumped back in
his seat, eyes skipping from the man's face, to glance around the room, never settling on one
place for too long. Nervousness, fear, tiredness, an underlying current of simmering anger; all
these could be read with ease in the bright white light that filled the room.

Around them, in this vast hollow space, occult symbols floated, the light from the drone-screens
occasionally painting Shinji and Gendo Ikari in colour when they moved close, only for the hint
to be overwhelmed as soon as they moved away.
They didn't actually mean anything, to anyone who could actually read Enochian, Tsath-yo,
Salaamian Standardised Code, or any of the various formats in which sorcerous rituals were
commonly. That did not really matter. Gendo knew that his son could not comprehend them, and
they looked really impressive. Even if the modern sorcerer was more of akin to a doctor or a
scientist than some tower-dwelling demon-summoning occultist, some things never changed.

Of course, Gendo Ikari did actually have a tower. And he was scrupulous in denying that he
summoned unsanctioned extra-normal entities.

Shinji, for his part, was feeling suitably intimidated. And tired. And a bit nauseous, because
Major Katsuragi had decided that he shouldn't take public transport yet, and so had driven him
here, even if it involved going up to the surface, and back down. The thing was, Shinji liked nice,
predictable, smooth maglevs. They didn't induce motion sickness. Or require the use of fighter
pilot-grade restraints.

The inconsistently locked gazes were broken by Fuyutsuki's cough.

Gendo nodded, once. "Shinji," he began. "You are aware of why you are here."

"I can guess, father," the boy replied, trying to keep his voice neutral, level, and failing.

Good, the man thought. He is in the right emotional state. Some might have queried whether one
really wanted to negotiate with someone who was angry at you. Those people missed the point.
Gendo had no intention of negotiating. As far as he was concerned, there was only one way that
this could end, and in the pursuit of that goal, it was his task to ensure that the conditions were
optimal.

"Then we can skip the unnecessary preamble." One finger pushed a slipping pair of arglasses
back up to the bridge of his noise, as he stared down at his son. "You have a natural talent for
piloting the Evangelion. That talent is needed; in all the time that we have been searching, we
have found only two other people, and you have seen Test Pilot Ayanami already. She is in no
state to do so at the moment. Therefore, we want you to join the 'Children' Test Pilot
programme."

Shinji glared up at his father. "Really? In that case... no. No, I will not."

There was an almost unnoticeable shake of the older man's head. "You failed to enquire about
what it would involve, or what the alternatives are," he said, a faint noise of disapproval entering
his voice. "Fuyutsuki, explain what the Test Pilot programme entails."

The white-haired man cleared his throat. "The Test Pilot programme is designed to ensure that
candidates can be involved in the activities demanded by the Evangelion Group and the
necessities of training and testing, while ensuring that the ethical concerns are minimised. It
enables a normal life to be maintained by the candidates, including full-time, mainstream
education, rather than tutoring, to prevent them from ending up detached from society. The
candidates, the so-called Children, are paid as a full-time test pilots, despite a greatly reduced
work schedule, and count as employees of the Ashcroft Foundation when it comes to access to
IPLibraries. The programme has been vetted by both the Foundation committee on Ethics, and
the New Earth Government, as being legally compatible with child-labour and risk laws."

Shinji cocked his head, a faint sneer creeping onto his lips. "Very nice presentation," he said,
only glancing to Fuyutsuki for a moment, before his stare returned to his father. "On the other
hand... I could just not be a child soldier, especially not in a giant Engel, and
especially, especially not after how I ended up hospitalised after the first time. So, really, no."

"Fine." Gendo's words were flat and level.

"Fine?" Shinji echoed.

"Fine," the man repeated, the corners of his mouth turning up in a disconcerting manner. "I
cannot legally force you to do it. Of course," he added, as if the thought were just striking him, "I
also cannot prevent your institutionalisation on global security grounds."

The boy groaned. "And here comes the stick," he subvocalised, as his father's head remained
unmoving, presumably staring at him . "Explain?" he said out loud, trying to keep the shake out
of his voice.

"The genetic factors that contribute to a talent for synchronisation with an Evangelion are not
understood, and that makes them dangerous," the man said, in a level tone. "It may be a form of
Outsider Taint which somehow has evaded detection . It may be a previously unknown form of
parapsychic ability; he is about the right age for manifestation, is he not?" Gendo asked
Fuyutsuki, rhetorically.

"Indeed, he is," was the response.

"It may be even be something more sinister, like..."

"I get it!" snapped Shinji, visibly paled and shaking. "You first give me the nice option, then you
threaten to have me declared non-human

"Of course not," his father said, flatly. "You would have to choose to join the Test Pilot
programme of your own free will, so we cannot therefore be threatening you, if we want you to
join... which we do. And," he added, "do you really think I would do that, that I would be able to
do it, if there wasn't a real risk? You think that I would not be affected by the fact that I too
would be under suspicion for carrying the same factors?" There was a sudden forceful tone under
Gendo's voice. He paused, the motion of his eyebrows showing the fact he was blinking. "You
have a choice," he said.

Shinji glared at the opaque glasses that covered his father's eyes. What was that man looking at
under there? he wondered. Did he not even want to give Shinji his full attention? Well, he
thought, okay. I'm going to end up doing this, because he has given me no other choice. But... it
can't be too bad, right? Well, yes, it can, because that thing, that Harbinger-thing, was horrible.
But they called it Harbinger-3, which, logically, means that it must have been the third one they
identified. Or maybe the fourth. Do the numbers start with zero, or one? He shrugged,
mentally. But if this is only, at most, the fourth, then they must be rare. I mean, this was a
massive story, and I'd have heard about it if they were more common. So they shouldn't be that
frequent. And it's not like I'd have to do it alone; there are other Evangelions, so it's not like I'd
be sent out on my own to face the next one. This was just a special case because thesidocy was
injured. It's going to be all right.

No, it's not going to be all right. But I'm going to have do it anyway.

"No," he said out loud. "No, I don't have a choice. If I didn't take the offer, then I'd be crazy
enough that I'd probably deserve to be declared mad and mentally unfit."

Gendo leant further forwards. "Good," he said. "Kozo, you will take him to the briefing room,
and give him the full details and explain in full. After that, come back so we can sign them."

The older man nodded. "Yes. Come with me," he said, turning down to glance at Shinji, who,
with one resentful glare at his father, stood and followed.

Gendo Ikari was left sitting, alone, in the cavernous office, staring blankly at the door. Shaking
his head, he took off his arglasses, and pinched the bridge of his nose, running gloved index
finger and thumb over his closed eyelids. That had been harder than he'd thought it would have
been. The boy had Yui's jawline, and the sight of it set like that had been a far, far too familiar
experience. Well, that and the tone of voice.

No, there was neither time for sleep nor remorse yet. He had far too much he had to do before he
could spare the time for either.

The glasses went back on, and the mask returned, as if it had never been removed.

~'/|\'~

26th of August, 2091

"Okay, Shinji. This time we're going to take it slowly. We're starting with," Ritsuko checked the
data stream on her harcontacts, "simple limb movements. We're not even going to ask you to try
walking again, until we're sure that you have control over your limbs... we estimate that we
might be able to try some time today."

She stared into the fluid-filled testing chamber, at the vast shape which hung, too-long limbs
restrained, impersonating the Vitruvian man. Of course, this exercise had an equally important
purpose; calibrating the user profile and synchronisation tests. She would have loved to have
used the simulation bodies for this, but that wasn't an option, sadly, as experience with previous
Test Pilot candidates had shown.

A small window opened up in her left eyeball, from one of the Operators. "Dr Akagi," reported
Second Lieutenant Cheung, her body down in the full immersion chamber, "we are ready. I am
pleased to report that my Direct Magi Interface Node is stable. We can begin building a
personalised profile as soon as we start getting the data."

Ritsuko unconsciously nodded at the amlaty, a human reflex quite separate from the fact that the
other woman was only an image on the permanent hard contact lenses fused with the front of her
eyeballs. "Yes, thank you, July." She closed the window with a gesture, and leant down to one of
the conventional technicians. "You can begin now, Aoba; start running him through the checks."

~'/|\'~

27th of August, 2091

"You know, Rits, it probably would make sense to get him to learn how to stand up on his own,"
Misato said, as they waited, once again, for the superheavy lifters to pull the Unit back up to an
upright position, the cables tied to it straining under the tension of a forty metre high
arcanocyberxenobiological monstrosity. At least it was a nice day down in the Geocity. Of
course, when one controls the entire moisture cycle of a self-contained self-sufficient sphere with
a false sun, there is very little excuse for not knowing what the weather will be like. Even in the
British Isles.

"Yes," the scientist snapped back. "And when he's capable of the complex series of motions
required to get him to stand up on his own, he won't be falling over so much."

"At least he's doing it less."

"Yes, that is something."

Misato threw the other woman a sideways glance. "You're just annoyed that he's damaging the
paintwork, aren't you?"

"You're one to talk, getting irritable about people damaging your paintwork. And, no, for your
information," the blond added, "we're specifically using the test paint, not the standard
deployment camouflage. It's easier to check for cracks."

"It is very... purple. Except when it is very green," said Misato, solemnly. "Looks almost like an
A-War 1 Vadoni."
"Same type of paint, actually," Ritsuko admitted.

"Makes sense."

There was a pause.

"So, how long do you think he's going to last this time? He's been improving... I'd say he's going
to last," Misato wobbled her hand from side to side, "...hmm... half an hour, as long as he doesn't
have to run."

"Misato! We are not starting a betting pool, especially when sensitive and, yes, potentially
breakable military equipment is involved!" snapped Ritsuko.

You might not be, but I'm already ahead against the Operators, is what Misato Katsuragi very
much did not say.

~'/|\'~

1st of September, 2091

The weather outside had apparently stayed clear for over a week; something that the hazard
teams in charge of the clean-up after the battle against Harbinger-3 had been thanking whatever
deities they believed in. Already, the debris was largely cleared, the contaminated,
chromatically-drained areas demolished and the remains reprocessed into blocks. Some were
fated to be used; there was certainly a use for such a material, but inevitably with such vast
quantities produced, most would simply be deposited in underground storage facilities, ironically
used as shielding and containment for Colour production facilities. It was important to
distinguish chromatically-drained regions from arcanochromatically contaminated substances;
the former were merely dead, anathema to 1-state life, while the latter contained traces of the
Colour, which could contaminate other things, and breed. The slightly... off nature of vegetation
in many parts of the world spoke of improperly contained Colour.

The concerns of clean-up were not exclusively concerned with such arcane matters. There were
also more conventional worries; munitions did not have a 100% successful detonation rate, and
vast quantities had been hurled at the monster, let alone the ones which missed, their smart
systems safely disarming the dangerous weapons, leaving them littered across the ruins of Old
London.

For that reason, more than a few illicit organisations had been expressing interest in the area of
the conflict. One of the major restrictions what could be produced by the kinds of nanofactories
available to civilians, and even most private groups, was the limits on arcanotechnology in all its
myriad forms. And a major component of almost all arcanotechnology was variant r-state
elements, the so-called elem-n-ents. Compared to the amount that could be obtained by breaking
open D-Cells, to extract the minuscule amount of elem-n-ents in the superconducting battery, the
existence of a vECF warhead was a motherlode.

The New Earth Government was quite aware of the fact that there were people interested in such
things, of course. A restricted state of martial law was still in effect, under the Environmental
Safety Act of 2084, and a truly comprehensive network of security cameras and CATSEYE
scanners (the latter to detect the presence of warding sorceries designed to obstruct electronic or
human-visual detection) had already been set up as a perimeter. LAI-controlled drones, the car-
sized bulk nevertheless hard to see, as their colour shifted to match the background sky, hovered,
armed and permitted to fire upon invalid persons within the excluded zone, guiding patrols of
armoured vehicles and powered armour.

Sadly, this was Old London. A city which had been the site of population for millennia, a dead
metropolis lying on the corpses of its ancestor-selves. It was not exactly short in underground
routes, and, although the extranormal-entity-infested remnants of the old Underground network
were sealed off, it was not as if anyone capable of surviving a trip through the expansive
catacombs down there was not capable of making their own way out.

In the filthy, vile-smelling darkness, a middle-aged woman knelt, fingers pressed into the dark
mud. She was of Indian sub-continent origin, that much was certain, but beyond that... there was
an uncertainty about her features; something slightly blurred, as if there was a thick layer of glass
that moved to cover her, no matter which angle one looked at her from. "Death..." she muttered
softly, to her companions. "Rot... carcass, multiple days dead." She nodded. "Our contact is
here."

The teenage amlaty beside her, waif-like in her proportions, but similarly blurred, gripped the
almost-comically-oversized submachine gun in her hands tighter. "Sure?" she asked, a hint of a
Nazzadi accent in her voice.

"Yes."

"Good, 'cause, well, we've been looking for him for too long. I don't like it down here. It... tastes
bad, smells bad, you know what I'm saying? I just want to get outside, out into the proper air."

"I'm less sure about the taste... but, yes. I just hope we get to him. There are too many butterflies
flapping around up there. They've got their own sources, but they know we'll be after it."

"You know we can go when we find our contact, Many, and not any sooner."

The girl slumped. "Yeah, I know."

The woman stood up, adjusting the strap on the rocket launcher slung on her back (a
cumbersome weapon, especially in such tight quarters), and pointed down one of the paths
splitting from the intersection. "This way. Not too far."
'Not too far' in this case involved half a kilometre of slow, ponderous climbing down old
maintenance hatches, as the scent of rotting mud and sewage grew stronger. This wasn't a place
for convenient bioluminescent bacteria or faintly glowing magic crystals; this was a made place,
the only light coming from the all-too-irregular emergency lights, which remained embedded in
the flesh of this dead city, kept alive by... someone.

And then they found their contact. Sprawled on the ground lay a body several days dead, the
bloated rigidity speaking of clotted blood in veins. There was not even the mercy of an intact
funeral for this man (not that bodies were buried nowadays; they were broken down into their
raw materials, as a precaution against the myriad uses there were for an intact corpse); things had
obviously feasted on his body, the flesh gnawed off and the guts picked out. That was not the
thing that the two women were paying attention to, though; there were moving shapes packed
around the edge of the room, pale, leathery-skinned things, with a canine set to their features.
They were clad in clothes so covered in the filth of the down-below, that their original garments
were almost invisible, under the layers of caked-in muck. In the light, their teeth, thin, dagger-
like things, the teeth of a carnivore on a too-wide jaw, gleamed.

But their eyes; their eyes, in blues and greens and browns, were all too human.

The older woman broke into a grin. "Ah, Christopher!" she said, to the largest of the needle-
toothed ghouls, as she looked at the stacked piles of military-grade munitions, high-explosive
and microfusion warheads stacked on top of each, while utterly ignoring the commonplace sight
of the body. "You have done well. I think that's enough to have earned your bonus... if they're all
intact. If they're not, of course, and you're trying to cheat us, I'll have to set Mantodea on you,
but... it looks hopeful. We will be able to use this to good ends."

The monster echoed the smile, pieces of flesh caught in his stinking mouth. "I am not dumb. I
will not lie to you," it gravelled, the words made in the back of its throat. "I do not want to die."

~'/|\'~

Shinji looked around Misato's apartment, and stretched, aching muscles still sore from the
extended periods spent in the entry plug. The control chair wasn't actually uncomfortable, it was
not as if the New Earth Government or the Ashcroft Foundation were unfamiliar with the fact
that being stuck in a fluid-filled capsule for hours at a time was not the most pleasant thing that
one could be doing. The problem was that he had been stuck in it, for the majority of each day,
for a week. And all that sitting down and thinking was really hard work.

Shinji was aware of how that would sound to a purely hypothetical observer capable of hearing
his thoughts. Or a mind-reading parapsychic, who could actually be doing it. Either way, if they
objected, he was going to hold their heads in a tank of LCL until they dro... damn it!. Hmm, he
should think up some other ironic punishment.
Or he could just sit down, and do nothing for once. That was probably easier. At least he had got
the apartment cleaned up, and therefore could actually touch the surfaces without his skin
creeping. There really was no excuse for that. Seriously, had Misato never been taught to clean
up after herself, or was she just a slob?

No, he corrected himself. Had she never been taught to clean up for herself, as well as being a
slob?

Either way... Shinji groaned. He had been able to properly walk... uh, that is, he while piloting
the Evangelion had been able to properly walk since Sunday, which had been the first day he
hadn't fallen down at all (which had, he was pleased to say, resulted in some compliments even
from Dr Akagi and the technical staff, though, he frowned, Misato had seemed a little
disgruntled, which was confusing), and now they had started weapons training.

They don't seem to get how hard it is, he thought. The control sticks interfere with fine
manipulation with the hands, and it's hard to keep the chains of thought separate. Aim with the
Evangelion, fire with the controls. It couldn't be worse if they made the thing have to pull some
oversized trigger; at least then, I wouldn't have to think-pull my body-fingers, not the Eva-
fingers. So what if I make a few mistakes?

At least they had been feeding false sensory data to the Unit, as a form of a simulation. It would
have been mortifying to have actually levelled a non-negligible area of the pseudo-arcology
around the pyramid-structures. And in his defence, he had thought that the Ouranos Limited
Information Tactical Analysis Network that was apparently the interface between the
superconducting QUI devices on his head and the actual Evangelion, was meant to stop that kind
of thing. And then he had been scolded by both Dr Akagi and Major Katsuragi for relying on an
LAI for target discrimination, instead of thinking for himself, and things had gone downhill from
there.

This entire thing was stupid. If they wanted proper, professional pilots, then they should have got
them. And if they didn't want to do that, for whatever stupid reason, then they should expect him
to act like a person forced into something that he didn't want to do because of
his father metaphorically offering him a carrot or a stick to pilot, and then threatening to stab him
with the carrot.

Pulling out his PCPU, a scowl on his face, he flicked through the most recent squirt from the
Japanese networks. At least he'd got his archives transferred over, and his muse operational, but
it was still annoying, the fact that there was now a good ten minute ping for even pure text
transfers over approved free channels, and up to six hours for more complex items, as the files
were quarantined and checked by vast arrays of ghost LAIs. For someone used to near
instantaneous links to everyone he knew, this was just another burden in the heavy weight that
was a move to an unfamiliar place. Of course, it was possible to get faster transfer, and even live
interaction; the condition was that you were willing to pay for it.
That was specifically relevant because there was a message from his foster mothers, demanding
that he contact them, and telling him that he should pay for it, because they hadn't heard from
him in two weeks.

Ah.

...

Ooops.

As the boy searched down his contacts list, and waited for the system to guarantee approval the
request for a valid link, his thoughts were in turmoil. Very guilty turmoil. He really should have
thought of that. He should have even told them that he was alive; they wouldn't even have known
that he hadn't been caught up in everything that had happened... well, actually he had been
caught up, but he hadn't been caught up terminally, and that was what was important, right? No...
no, they had to know that he was alive, because he'd be getting a lot more worried messages, so
someone, maybe his father, more likely someone else, had to have told them that he was okay.
And when he thought about it, it was perfectly understandable that he had forgotten to contact
them. First there had been the whole hospitalisation and the tiredness and the check-ups, and the
almost immediately as soon as he had been let out, he had been in the training. He groaned.
Fourteen hours down in the Geocity, and then another hour eaten up by travel. It was inhumane.
He just wanted to collapse after the end of it. Well, he would certainly have a thing or two to
say...

Oh.

Oh. Yes. He was going to have to reassure them, without actually telling them anything. The
lengthy secrecy contracts he had been forced to read and sign (and he had read them all, despite
the growing irritation of the Deputy Representative as he poured over the fine print) had been
quite clear about this; that, quite specifically, he was not permitted to tell anyone outside the
Group anything about what he was doing without express consent from a very small list of
people. This was going to be complicated.

Shinji Ikari seriously considered just hanging up, and working out what to do tomorrow, but by
now the transfer had already been approved, and the hum of the pre-connection line activating
had already started. It was probably better to apologise as soon as possible.

"Connection approved," said his muse, the emotionless voice clinical and precise. "Waiting for
response from other end."

Shinji waited.

"Hello?" asked a young girl, in Japanese.

Shinji took a breath. "Hello, Hikary," he said. "It's Shinji. Can I talk to Yuki or Gany, please."
There was a pause on his end, as he waited for his six-year old foster sister to calm down.

"I've missed you too, Hikary," he said, patiently, once it had got a little quieter on her end of the
phone. "But where are Yuki or Gany? I want to talk to one of them, please."

"Mummy's already left for work," the girl explained. "Memany is getting Haruhy ready up stairs
because she managed to spill food all down her front, and make a mess everywhere!" The line
crackled, the noise of what was almost-certainly-the-phone-being-swung . "She's clumsy and
silly."

"Left for work?" Shinji paused. "Oh. Time zones." He sucked in a breath. Ah. Well... that was
broadly keeping in with how well he had organised this. He was tired, for goodness sake. He was
just lucky that the nine hour difference had bumped them forwards to... he checked his watch,
okay, it was 08:26 there, if he added nine hours.

"Time zones?" the little amlaty echoed. "Oh, I know all about them! We did them in nosesukasi!
When it is mid-day in Toyko-kei, it is 9 at night the previous day in Chicago-twi and twelve
hours ago in Brasila-twi and..."

"Hikary..."

"And it is three in the morning, but on the same day, in Londoni-twi, and..."

Shinji sighed. This was hard work. And actually quite impressive, if she'd memorised... wait a
moment. "Hikary?" he asked. "Are you just reading them off the map in the hallway?"

"... which hallway?" asked a guilty voice.

"The downstairs one."

There was a patter of bare feet. "Nuh-uh! I'm not even in the hallway, so I can't do it. Unless I
can see through walls. Oh. Oh! That would be so awesome. I could see everything on the other
side, and then they couldn't see me!"

Shinji smiled to himself. "Okay, now, Hikary. I want you to go fetch Memany. She wants to talk
to me."

"'Kay!" The patter of feet resumed. "Why aren't you here any more, Shinji?" she asked. "When
are you coming back?"

He winced. "I did... um, well." He gave up. "That's one of the things I need to talk
to Memany about," he lied.

"'Kay!"
He could hear the fuss in the apartment, as Hikary's sister (it was complicated) protested. Shinji
took a deep breath, which turned into a yawn despite his best efforts to suppress it.

"Hello?" he heard a voice say in Nazzadi-accented Japanese.

"Um... it's me," he managed, his jaw aching.

"Oh, someone remembered to check his PCPU," Gany said, her voice acidic. "You have had us
worried sick... two weeks, and not a word, not even a message from you... it's Shinji, darling...
and... no, he's fine, and isn't in trouble... asisi," she added, in a warning tone.

The boy winced. "Da seraba resoreni," he said, in a peace offering, switching to Nazzadi to
prevent the younger two from being able to follow it properly. "Da ginozakrona, pla dedifatabi
ni soli salenitukasi." He braced for the inevitable outburst that was to come. It really, really
would have been easier to explain this to Yuki; she was less... volatile.

It did not erupt. "Hikary, Haruhy," he heard over the phone. "Go downstairs... I'll be down in a
moment. And... Hikary, don't throw any more food at your sister, understand? I will find out, and
if I do, you certainly won't be getting that Zinabi doll you wanted... no, no protests from either of
you two. Okay? Good. I need to talk to Shinji, don't worry." She paused. "No, we're still going to
make it to school on time. Good. Now... downstairs, please."

Shinji waited. The voice, once the noise of his foster-siblings had gone, was unnaturally
controlled and calm; the kind of calm that speaks of a great deal of internal pressure. "What
exactly do you mean that you were hurt, and that you had to spend time in the hospital?" Gany
asked quietly, her accent thickening.

"It wasn't anything too major, " he hastened to reassure her. "Bruising... nothing broken. But...
well, you know that a thing happened on the day I arrived in L2?"

"Yes. It was all over the news. A maj... well, it certainly wasn't a small extranormal incursion. It
got worryingly close to the arcologies, before they managed to stop it." The woman made a
tutting noise. "You think it's a wonder we've been worried about you?"

"Uhm..." Shinji massaged that back of his neck, feeling an acute mixture of guilty and
embarrassment. "Well, uh, I really didn't mean to worry you!" The words came out in a rush. "It's
just a lot of things had happened... and my PCPU got broken, as in actually physically snapped,
and I'm really sorry and I should have listened to you two when you told me that I should have
got a soft one, not a hard one, and then it took several days to actually get a new one and get it to
grab my archives and move it to the London severs and before that I had to prove that I was
actually me, and that ended up taking a blood check to actually get a proof of ID before I could
move my full archives here and... and I'm babbling, because I'm nervous, and I'm in a strange
city and I'm not going to be able to move back and I've been worrying you and..." he choked.

"Shinji!" his foster-mother snapped. "Breathe! Stop talking!"


He gulped down a few breaths of air.

"I've only ever seen... well, heard you like this a few times before," she said, more calmly. "You
don't normally go wobbly like this. Just... calm down."

Shinji breathed out, slowly. "O-okay."

"Listen, let's get the important things out of the way. You're physically fine, yes?"

"Yes. Yes. It's all healed."

"Good. And you're feeling all right? That is, you're not feeling any more wrong than you should
be feeling, when you've suddenly been moved to a new city?"

No, he thought, but I can't explain any of it to you. "Yes," he lied. "I... I think it might just have
been hearing your voice."

"Sure, Shinji." There was doubt in her voice, but it was a generalised, unfocussed suspicion.
"And you're getting on all right with Gendo? Uh," she corrected herself, "with your father?"

Well... where do I start? Oh, let's start a week ago, last Wednesday, Shinji thought, angrily. The
day after I got out of the hospital. He didn't come visit me once while I was actually in there. Not
once! Oh, I'm sure he checked my records. He didn't want one of his precious prospective Test
Pilots to suffer too many complications. But once I'm out, then he demands to see me... in fact, he
orders Misato to drive me there! That's monstrous! If he wanted me off balance when he saw me,
then that's possibly the best way to do it. He knows I get motion sick!

Shinji paused in his mental rant, and took a metaphorical breath.

And then, and then, he sits me down in his obviously-designed-to-be-intimidating office, along
with his second-in-command, and tells me that 'it is necessary' that I become a permanent pilot,
and so I'm being moved to here for the indefinite future. I get told that there are two ways I can
do this; I can be a 'test pilot', and get paid and a more normal life, or I get basically held as a
research subject, or whatever was going to happen. Well, of course I took the first one, and then
I had to sign lots of things explaining everything. And then got dragged immediately off to get a
proper plug-suit fitted. That's all I've seen of him, apart from the occasional glimpses in the
building. I've been forced into being a child soldier by my father, who doesn't even seem to care
that I exist apart from this. Oh, we're getting on just fine, thank you very much.

He longed to say all this, to let it out in one vast outpouring to Gany, but, of course, he couldn't.

"Yes," he said.

"And can you say anything apart from yes?" The tone was joking.
"Yes..." The boy made an annoyed noise at the classic linguistic trap. "Um... I mean, certainly."
He smiled, before the smile turned into a yawn.

"Oh, yes, it must be pretty late over there, mustn't it?" said Gany, rhetorically. "Well... it was
nice to know that you're alive and well, but I have to..." there was a pause as she checked the
time, "Okay, I really have to get the girls to school, before I have to go to work. So... well, I'll
talk to Yuki, and we can get a proper talk when it's better for both of us, and keep in touch. The
feed time isn't bad for pure text, anyway, so you have no excuse for not doing so. I want to hear
from you at least twice a week, okay?"

Shinji nodded. "Okay."

"And you will remember this, right?"

"Yes. Yes, I will."

"I will be sending messages to check that you do, if you don't."

"I know," he said, a slightly harassed tone entering his voice. "I promise."

"Good. Well, then, it was nice to hear from you, Shinji. And the girls have been missing you,"
she added, a note of sadness present. "Okay, then. Goodbye."

"Goodbye." The connection ended.

Shinji let his hand fall, and stared at the PCPU, tired eyes vacant.

~'/|\'~

4th of September, 2091

The purple and green of the Evangelion, still in the testing colour scheme, was bright in the false
sunlight of the Geocity. The Unit was operating freely, this time permitted to roam as it wished,
lacking even the superlifters and binding cables to right it should it fall.

Shinji removed his hands from the joysticks, and carefully willed his hands, specifically, to
move. The fact that the Evangelion did not mimic the gesture was proof that he was managing to
keep the trains of thought separate; that was a good thing. There had very nearly been an
accident, the day before yesterday. But at least he'd managed to stop in time, and from the
remarks that Dr Akagi had made, some other Test Pilot hadn't.
He could feel the viscosity of the LCL through the thinner material over his hands as he
massaged his face, feel the difference between the soft flesh of his face, and the hardened cowl
that wrapped around the rest of his head. They said that it was there to stop him breaking his
neck if the Evangelion was thrown about excessively, and provide a more secure mounting for
the A-10 superconducting QUI devices. Which was, in Shinji's opinion, not at all reassuring,
given that he'd already been thrown around to a degree which was certainly excessive; it had
been bad enough to fight a horrible giant monster-thing, but to know that he'd been at risk of
breaking his neck throughout was almost embarrassing.

Admittedly, it was not as embarrassing as having to wear the breathing apparatus each time he
climbed out of the Evangelion, being fed a supply of LCL until he could get it removed properly.
The orangey-red fluid was not only vile (almost unutterably so), but too viscous for the lungs to
cough up without possible damage to the fine structure, so every time he went back to breathing
air, it meant that he had to connected up to that machine, which temporarily shut down his
breathing (which was... strange) while it exchanged LCL for air. He had been told that it was
possible to clear it naturally, but it was very unpleasant and potentially dangerous; after how, on
that first day, he had seen the White (Rei, he thought her name was) choke on it, he was inclined
to agree.

In fact, generally, Shinji had decided that a lot of things to do with the Evangelions were so
stupid that they must have required geniuses to implement properly.

He lowered his hands back to the controls, and signalled that he was ready.

"Good morning Shinji," said Dr Akagi, her face appearing in his left eye. She paused. "Oh...
wait, is it still morning? Yes, yes it is. Just. Prompt with the ready signal as always, I see." Her
figure jumped sideways slightly, as if she had just been elbowed in the ribs. "Well!" she could be
heard to mutter, before she looked back at him. "Today we'll be doing your first formal
evaluation; complete with independent operations and a full firing drill. If you're deemed to have
passed this, you will enter the Test Pilot programme properly, and be formally referred to as the
Third Child."

Shinji nodded, reluctantly.

Ritsuko flicked onto the next page, wincing slightly, as she saw all the things that she had to read
to him, for this to be a valid evaluation. "Okay. In this evaluation, you will be piloting
Evangelion Unit 01, the Test Model of the "Evangelion" series of arcanocyberxenobiological
Titan-grade capital-class humanoid combat war machines." The scientist took a deep breath.
"The Evangelion Units utilise a standardised configuration of six DEV12/DDV13 Dimensional
Engine / Dimensional Refrigerator pairs in the torso, with a further one in each limb. This has the
function of balancing the constant power of the D-Engine with waste heat produced. This means
that... you will not be mandated to observe heat levels in this test." Inwardly she groaned. There
were pages of this stuff, old warnings and instructions dating back to the first tests with
arcanotechnology, which had accumulated like sedimentary rock over sixty or so years. Like
these heat warnings. They may once had made sense before the D-Refrigerator (or D-Dump, as it
was more commonly, if inaccurately, called) was invented; a thermodynamically violating
perfect refrigerator which fed heat back into the same source where the D-Engine drew it from (it
was, after all, a D-Engine run in reverse), but now, it was just detritus. And, worse, as the
Director of Science for the Evangelion Group, the regulations insisted that she, as head of the
science team, personally read them to any new candidate, as opposed to simply have a text-to-
speech programme do it. How annoying.

She was going to petition that a committee was set up to deal with this, that was for sure. There
was no way she was going to have to do this again.

Further back, the Director of Operations was congratulating herself on having dodged this task,
by the medium of job descriptions. Normally her job description forced her to do things that she
didn't want to do; it was a too-rare event that it saved her from something like this.

"Are you worried, Major Katsuragi?" asked an elderly voice from behind her.

The black-haired woman glanced back. "In all honesty... no, Deputy Representative," she said to
the white-haired man, shaking her head. "This is pretty much a triviality... we've seen that he can
pilot, and whether he passes this time or the next one, he's going to be the Third Child." She
paused. "From what I've heard," she added, picking her words carefully, "the previous failures
have all been early; they've washed out after at most two or three sessions." She shrugged.
"Haven't even got as far as walking."

Fuyutsuki was silent for a moment. "Yes," he said, eventually. " That's broadly true... a few have
got a little further, and dropped out for other reasons, but... yes."

"And, anyway..." Misato added, "... we've seen that he's fully capable of piloting when pushed to
it. Really, if things were going to have gone wrong, they'd have gone wrong when Harbinger-3
showed up." She licked her lips. "I mean, sir, that was basically the worst possible time for a first
test... from what Ritsuko has told me, at least. He'll be fine under these calmer conditions."

The pair listened to Ritsuko's mechanistic reading of the safety precautions, and the more lively
technical babble among the technical staff.

"Is Representative Ikari still in Chicago-2?" Misato asked.

The old man nodded. "Yes. He has to liaise with another Group, and he has more reports to make
in person to other Representatives, and to the Cabinet in person. There's still a lot of fallout from
the Asherah Incident; the NEG is," he smiled, faintly, "somewhat disturbed by the appearance of
a Harbinger."

"It's just..." Misato paused, "I would have thought that he would have been here for... this."

Fuyutsuki shook his head. "The Representative and his son don't get on," he said, a guarded
expression on his face. "Before that day, they hadn't seen each other in years, hadn't lived
together since Yui... his wife, Shinji's mother died. And," the man winced, "the events of the last
month haven't done anything to endear Gendo to the boy."
"Oh."

"I know." Fuyutsuki winced. "It's a shame, but... when you look at everything, what is one more
minor tragedy?" He gazed up at the screen with eyes which had seen the events of the last
seventy-two years, seen the wars that had reduced the human population from a peak of over
eight billion to just over two billion, and the appearance of monsters which none would have
believed possible. "Nothing on the cosmic scale."

~'/|\'~

The technical and scientific staff were pouring over the data from the test.

"The tweaks to the pilot profile seem to have fixed the stability issue, once and for all," declared
Cela, one of the civilian Operators, with a proud glint in his purple eyes.

That, naturally, drew an immediate counter from Lieutenant Cheung. "You mean, of course,
that, from the available data, it appears that the anomalous synchronisation spikes have been
fixed, of course," she said, her voice cold. "Or, at the very least, have not reoccurred in the time
period that we are dealing with."

"That's what I said! You're just inserting in semantics which were implied by the use of the word
'seems'!"

"Yes, because implications are so very useful for precise arcane engineering!"

Maya sighed to herself. This happened every single time those two spent any time in the same
room. No matter what the topic, it degenerated into petty bickering and semantics. And they
seemed remarkably resilient to the logical (or at least narrative) conclusion of this kind of
tension, preferring just to maintain a just-below-the-borderline-of-unacceptable level of mutual
disdain. "What do you think, Dr Akagi?" she asked out loud. That was the most sensible option,
if they wanted to cut this pointless argument off; the Director of Science would know. She
always did.

Ritsuko was staring up at the waveform, her fingers flying through augmented-reality projections
only she could see. "Yes," she said, tilting her head to one side. "It is holding a lot smoother.
After the initial start-up, we have a nice stable 56.1 +/- 4.2 % synchronisation... which,
incidentally," she added, "... is still amazing me, even after a few weeks. He's talented, certainly.
No..." she corrected herself, "talented implies learning. Test Pilot Soryu is talented. He's gifted."

"The replacements after the damage taken against Asherah have been integrated perfectly,"
added Lieutenant Hyugi, continuing the previous line of discussion. "The slight dislocation
fracture suffered in training the day before yesterday was found to be due to improperly-bonded
rods in the endoskeleton; they have been resunk, and the problem did not recur today."

"And the Ouranos reports that the Evangelion has adjusted to the enhanced regime of
immunosuppressants and regrowth inhibitors, after the incident against the Harbinger," said
Lieutenant Aoba. "It does, however, suggest that this should be something we should keep an
eye on. It seems that, at times of stress, the Unit is capable of exceeding its natural restrictions,
beyond the abilities of the systems to keep it under control. This is... alarming."

"True. It will be necessary to look into this further... which will be hard, as Unit 02 has not
exhibited the same behaviour. This is an anomaly." Ritsuko paused. "What do you think, Misato?
Not specifically on that, but in general," she added.

"Well, speaking as Director of Operations," the Major said, leaning against the wall, "I don't feel
happy clearing him as having passed the initial training phase. He needs another week of full-
time practice, at minimum."

"Really?" Ritsuko raised her eyebrows, echoed by surprised noises from the other staff.

"Yes. His synchronisation scores may be excellent, but tactically? Tactically, he's a child in a
massive mecha with too much firepower for me to feel comfortable about it." The Major's words
were clinical. "He doesn't have any kind of combat instincts, and that's not surprising. Just watch
the actual performance, as opposed to the technical aspects. He freezes, he hesitates too much, he
takes too long to aim; all classic signs of an untrained mecha pilot. Speaking now as an officer in
the NEGA, I wouldn't want him supporting my troops with his current capacities. The Ouranos
LITAN can't compensate for an untrained pilot."

Ritsuko sucked in a breath. " Well, I suppose..."

"I have already consulted with Captain Martello," the Major continued. "Compare the Third
Child's performance to the data he forwarded on the most recent test for Unit 02; an actual live-
fire test on the Eastern Front. The difference is immediately obvious. And any NEGA officer
familiar with mecha will be able to see it."

"That is true," Dr Akagi said, with a nod. "I'll forwards the recommendation to Deputy
Representative Fuyutsuki. Looks like we have another week of intensive training," she added, to
the Operators and the technical staff in the room. "At least." A generalised, non-local groan
could be heard. "Now... I have a few things I want to look at from the black-box, and
discrepancies with the feed..."

"Just one more thing though, Rits," Misato said to her friend after the end of the meeting, as they
were leaving. "Can you..." she sucked in a breath through her teeth, an embarrassed look on her
face, "can you sort of put it to Shinji that this is for technical reasons? Please?"

The scientist paused, frowning. "Why?" she asked.


"Ah. Well. Um." Misato stared blankly at the blond. "It's kind of... uh."

Ritsuko fixed her with a level gaze, one flat-shoed foot tapping against the ground.

"Well, you don't have to live with him!" Misato finally managed. "He's basically taken over the
house! He leaves politely written notes on any bottles or cans I leave lying around, and makes
me feel guilty. He emptied out the main sections of the fridge of my noodles and stuff, as he said
that, if he was going to have to do the cooking...

The foot had stopped tapping, frozen in mid-air. "Did you make him do all the cooking, Misato?"
interrupted Ritsuko, in a slightly shell-shocked tone of voice.

"He volunteered, if I would keep the nanofac loaded. He seemed," she frowned, "oddly happy
about persuading me to do that, even when it's a lot more work." She shrugged. "I don't know.
Maybe he likes cooking." She frowned as Ritsuko laughed, for some reason. "What?"

"Oh, nothing," said the blond, with a smirk. "No, really, it's nothing. It's... it's scientist humour."

"The kind that's not actually funny, you mean," said Misato, with a hint of a pout.

"The kind that needs a sound foundation in the sciences before the more refined elements can be
appreciated," corrected Ritsuko near-automatically.

"So... what I said."

"No... but, what were we talking about?"

There was a pause. "He's taken over the house!" said Misato, again, the mock-outrage and real-
embarrassment fresh again. "I don't want to have to take the blame for making him go through
another week of training, so can you just say something about needing more synchronisation
testing...it's... it's not funny, Rits. Really, it's not!"

"Sure... sure it is-is-isn't," managed Ritsuko, before she gave way completely. "I-I-I just think it's
h-h-hilar..."

Misato crossed her arms, and held her face perfectly level, the image of the sainted martyr.

It didn't help.

~'/|\'~
The girl was almost invisible in the hospital bed, surrounded by whiteness. Only the
haemoglobin-red which had seeped into the bandages over her ruined eye, and a slight hint on
the thinner skin around her mouth and visible eye, gave her any semblance of human life, that
she was flesh and blood, rather than a marble statue. Even her breathing was barely visible, a
slight slow flow of the blankets. And she was alone. There were no nurses in here. After the
issues with the unexpected rejection of the first transplanted eye, they had decided that she just
needed rest, to build up her strength, before they would try again.

"Yes, Representative Ikari," she said softly, voice almost inaudible, in response to the question
from the face on the screen before her.

"And your opinion?" asked the glassed man.

"He has a talent for synchronisation. His mean synchronisation ratio is 29.3% better than mine,
with a standard deviation 4.6 % better. However, his training is inferior. Major Katsuragi will not
pass him."

Gendo nodded. "Correct. It is satisfactory."

Rei sat up slightly, a slight wheeze of breath the sign of the exertion. "It is?" she asked.

"It is."

"Then it is satisfactory, Representative," she said instantaneously, her words almost overlapping
with his.

The man looked at her in silence. She gazed back, unmoving. "How are you feeling, Rei?" he
asked.

"My right eye remains absent. They are preparing another transplant, and the operation will
occur on the 7th of September. They have attributed the failure of the first to correctly connect to
the optical nerve to a flaw in the growth." The girl paused. "I did not correct them. It was not
necessary," she said, with a slight tilt of her head.

"Good, Rei." Gendo Ikari could be seen to relax slightly. "But I did ask how you were feeling."

"The combination of arcanetherapeutic-aided cellular regrowth, and the limited amounts of pain-
inhibiting compounds which I am permitted have ensured that I am currently in limited
discomfort. I can tolerate it with ease. I have suffered worse. Yesterday is an example of a day
when I have suffered worse," she added, with a straight face.

"So you are feeling better, then?" Gendo asked.

Rei paused for a long while. "It still hurts to breathe," she said, eventually. "The alveolar damage
has not healed. But, yes, I am better."
The man looked at her, noting the stained bandage over her eye. Yes, she does look better than
before, he thought. Even if...

The pale girl coughed, gasping with the sudden pain. "I am aware of that," she said, attentively.

Gendo frowned, blinking in confusion. "What was that a response to?" he asked. "I have not
asked any more questions." Perhaps Rei was not as well as she had looked, if she was still doing
that. He might have to tell them to reduce the dosage of painkillers, if she was getting detached
from the present.

She simply stared at him, head tilted slightly. It was not pleasant to see that familiar face with the
repressed pain evident in the way that her jaw was set.

"How are you keeping up with your school work?" Gendo asked, almost as a triviality.

"I have completed all the tasks set of me by the teachers. The cover story that I was involved in a
car accident is holding. There has been one bouquet of flowers, and twenty-five "Get Well Soon"
messages. Of those messages, twenty-three were sent under coercion. One was from an
individual from whom I have had to repeatedly turn down mating requests."

Gendo paused for a moment, squinting slightly. "You mean he was asking you on a date, Rei?"
he asked with a hint of trepidation.

"Yes." She paused, for just a beat too long to be quite comfortable. "He is genetically
unsuitable," she added, coldly.

"Rei," Gendo said, in a warning tone.

"I understand. I will avoid such things. As instructed."

"Yes." The man frowned at her. "Try to get some more rest," he commanded the girl.

"I will try." Rei paused, her one eye locked on the Representative's face. "You should not talk to
me. You are late for your meeting with Director Wade. She is not late yet, but she will be."

Gendo managed to keep his expression calm, as he cut the connection.

Rei Ayanami lay back on the bed with a slight gasp, as stiff muscles screamed their warnings.
Slowly, a hand went up to her empty eye-socket, palm flat against the bandage. Her lips moved,
as she mouthed something, but no words came out.

~'/|\'~
The man with the newly trimmed short brown hair fumbled in his pocket for his PCPU, a
muttered curse emanating from his mouth when he realised that he had left it inside the house.
Sighing, he turned around, belatedly patting his other pockets, in the hope that he might find it.
No such luck.

What he did find, however, was a slip of paper.

I remember you, Mr Habegger, it said.

The man's heart ran cold, and he dropped the scrap of white, which fluttered to the ground like a
chicken coming home to roost.

~'/|\'~
Chapter 5: Chapter 4: Interconnections

Chapter 4

Interconnections / As if calamity had but begun

AEON

~'/|\'~

"The Army has requested that I speak to you about the role of the mecha in the combined arms of
the NEGA. But, frankly, I know that you already know it. So I'm going to talk to you about
something else, and something that I'm really rather good at. Psychological warfare. Yes, some
might think that against the foes we face, that's foolish. But even inhuman monsters have their
breaking points, and... well, more human ones are even more flawed. Look at the symbol on my
beret. Do you wonder we took that as an emblem? It's a translation of what the Nazzadi Loyalists
call us. Soli Vodili Dexti. And now? Now they fear us. The same tactics apply to the Dagonites,
and more so; Deep Ones are far more mentally vulnerable than the Migou, and we've managed
to pick up a lot more about what they believe. Even the monsters of the Rapine Storm have their
own primitive taboos, though they are often nonsensical. Break their minds, break their will to
fight, break everything they hold precious and leave them in the midst of a ruined landscape,
only with the knowledge that we took everything but their lives, because we could.

And then kill them. Because that's the other thing about psychological warfare. It is a means to
an end, not an end in itself. The end is the preservation of mankind. Never forget that. I
personally will have any officer of mine who crosses over into petty sadism court-martialed, and
I would want them to do the same for me."

Colonel Oxanna Kristos, New Earth Government Army


"Lectures to [REDACTED]"

13th of September, 2091

"Shinji, we need for you to catch that aircraft! We can't let it roam free like that!" shouted Dr
Akagi. "Aim at the centre of the target, switch on, and then fly after it! Bring it back, and we'll
give you your own car!"

"But I don't know how to fly!" Shinji protested. "And I don't want a car!" He checked the rifle in
his bluish-grey and purple hands, and aimed it at the target.
"No, don't shoot it, Shinji," ordered Misato. "Do a barrel roll! It'll disrupt the flight feathers of
the plane, making it easier to catch. If you fall too far behind, I'll have to drive you so that we
can catch up!"

"I can't fly! Please don't drive!"

"Shinji, catch the aircraft!"

"Shinji, walk! Put one foot after the other. Don't fall down, or your father will have to pick you
up."

An Evangelion-sized Gendo Ikari (the same height as him, it might be noted), winked at him,
and threw set another aircraft free, flapping its wings in a cloud of blossom-like feathers.

"Shinji, jump. If you jump, you can fly to the moon. That will give you a tactical advantage.
Remember the rules of camouflage; Shape, Shine, Shape, and Shadow!"

"This makes no sense! I can't fly! Why are you making me pilot, anyway?"

Suddenly, alarms went off and all the lights went off (the two phrases somehow meaning exactly
the opposite), the emergency signs painting everything in shades of red.

"Filling the chamber with LCL!" shrieked Dr Akagi. "Shinji, you need to drown!"

The LCL was dark and viscous, and tasted of blood and metal and oil. He was stuck in here,
floating, as the sirens grew louder and louder, the red light swirling madly over the inside of the
entry plug. "Let me out," he tried to yell, but only bubbles came out, and he swallowed more
LCL. Even the red emergency lights died, trapping him floating in darkness, even as the warning
grew louder and louder.

The clarion call of the alarm sirens blended into the bleeping of his alarm clock, and Shinji
groaned under the covers. He didn't want to get up. They'd let him have yesterday off, after he'd
managed to pass the evaluation (apparently he'd improved enough for Dr Akagi to pass him this
time), and it was nice. He wanted to sleep. And do nothing.

Then his muse started berating him, and telling him that he needed to get up. And turned on the
lights.

I will hunt down the person who devised this kind of LAI, and something something
something... were his incoherent thoughts, as he rolled out of the bed with a thud, failing to get
his legs in the right position to not crash onto the floor. It's wrong for a thing to be able to do
things like this thing is doing.

Technically speaking, he could turn that feature off, if he wanted to miss school. That was the
flaw in doing so.
"Well done. Perhaps you would like to have a shower before you get dressed?" the muse said,
choosing an appropriate response from its vast heuristic library. Muses weren't self-aware, but
when they were connected up to the Grid, given sufficient processing power, and had been
attuned to a user's preferences (especially a high end model like this one; a fourth birthday
present which had been continually upgraded since then), it was hard to tell the difference. It
paused, a mechanistic beat. "Would you like me to connect to local news?"

"Do it," he said, rubbing his eyes, as he stumbled off to the toilet.

"...the leader of the Federalist Alliance, Alan Alva Casto, argued that the proposed changes
fundamentally altered the balance of power between the New Earth Government as a whole, and
the Regions, and was another example of the centralising instincts of Unionist politicians."

The voice switched to that of a man, with a notable Spanish accent. "This is yet another slow,
creeping attempt to crush the autonomy of the regions, to break the freedoms that can be traced
all the way back to the reformation of the League of Nations in 1946, and implement... no,
to enforce the unstoppable desire for homogeneity of the Unionists!"

The newsreader continued. "President Nyanda, however, rejected the allegations, and cited the
fact that opinion polls have shown that over two thirds of the population are in favour of the
move to standardise election procedures between Regions, especially following the recent
scandal in Madagascar, which commentators are already calling 'Vice for Votes'."

Shinji was by now feeling vaguely human, in more than a genetic sense. Splashing water over his
face, he stared, bleary-eyed at himself in the bathroom mirror. He felt drained, still exhausted
despite the inactivity of yesterday, and his appearance, washed out in the overly-bright lights
reflected that. He pinched himself in the cheek. No, sadly, he was awake, and this wasn't just a
dream. Because, if this was a dream, it would mean that he was still asleep, and thus would be
less tired when he actually woke up. The fact that he briefly contemplated whether one would
feel more rested if they were capable of sleeping in their dreams was probably just a sign that he
wasn't fully awake yet.

He couldn't hear the sound of Misato moving around, which meant that she was probably still
asleep, or possibly just hadn't come home last night. He suspected the former. Either way... it
really wasn't that nice of her to not be there to say goodbye, given that he was starting a new
school today. It didn't matter that there was a security detail waiting to guide him to the place for
the first time. It was the principle of the thing.

Let's see. If he put on breakfast on a slow prep, he would have time to have a shower, and get
dressed, before it would be ready. He'd feel better after a shower.

By the time he sat down at the now-cleaned (and it would stay this way, if he had anything to say
about it) table, he almost seemed like a different boy, still-wet hair flattened down. He was, by
now, barely phased by the fact that a giant albino emperor penguin, holding a towel in its hand...
wing... manipulator had confronted him as he left the bathroom, and quite possibly complained
at him, if he had understood the sequence of 'Wark!'s correctly. He would take his fights where
he could win them. He would accept that understanding would indeed come with a price he did
not wish to pay; that there were things in this universe, terrible, blasphemous things, which it
was better not to know.

But... seriously, what was up with the penguin?

That his thoughts were running like this was a sign that Shinji was nervous and the weight of the
ballistic vest which they were making him wear under his shirt was just a reminder of things that
he didn't want to think about. He adjusted the high collar of the black overjacket, still stiff, and
checked yet again that the things which needed to be in his pockets were there. Civic Ident card.
Ashcroft Ident card. PCPU. Emergency contact PCPU. Keys. Wallet (it would make much more
sense to put the cards in the wallet, he realised, and so he did). Unlimited use travel card (even if
he wasn't planning to be using it today). He'd had all the forms filled out for him, digital and
physical alike. He'd put the print-outs of the digital transfer forms in his bag yesterday, and a
check revealed that Pen-Pen hadn't eaten them, even if the penguin had been so inclined.

Silently, he thanked whoever had designed the uniform to have so many pockets, and loosened
the too-stiff neckline to allow him to actually eat properly, and began to eat. Buying mainstay
food from elsewhere was the province of the very poor, and the very rich; the former because
they could not afford their own nanofactory, and the latter because they could afford to purchase
things which were grown naturally. For the majority of the population, the basis of their diet
came from a home nanofactory. Protein and carbohydrate chains were woven together into
various structures, but the final quality of the product depended heavily upon the resolution and
complexity supported by the nanofactory, and the detail of the template. And the time it took to
prepare something grew rapidly with the complexity of the object. As a result, Shinji had been
taught by his foster mothers to cook properly, taking simple raw ingredients (many of which
could be found in opensource format, if you knew where to look on the Grid), and making
something more easily and cheaply than having a long preparation complex cooked meal. Some
people, and Shinji was not pointing fingers at Misato here, had obviously not; a trait only
amplified by the fact that she seemed to use the cheapest, freeware meals, rather than actually
buy a half-decent template.

None of this was really relevant, of course, when his breakfast was a heated nutrient brew that
was only not described as porridge because it wasn't made out of oats, and was frankly really
easy to make.

A shambling figure lurched in through the front door, clutching its arm, collapsing in the chair
opposite to him, head lolling to the side. And then it stole his tea, emptying the mug in a single
gulp.

"There's more tea in the pot, you know," he said, in a slightly disapproving tone. "And... um, I
thought you were still asleep."

"I wish I was," grumbled Misato. "I was meant to have today off, but the one who was meant to
be observing the live feed from test for a new possible anti-orbital weapon, over in Test 9... that's
in Australia... is tied up on the Eastern Front with a Migou counter-attack, and, of course," she
said, her voice bitter, "I couldn't just watch it later, I had to be actively watching the weapons
demonstration, so that I could comment on it." She tried to take another drink, before realising
that she had already emptied the cup. "I mean, it didn't even work. The stupid primary ignition
worked, but the testers told me that the blast shape was wrong. So I wasted an entire night, and
then I had to listen as the testers through ideas, and watch the Operators feed data, and blah blah
blah, let's stop Misato getting any sleep, ha ha ha."

"Ah," said Shinji, with his mouth full.

"I hate Australia," continued Misato, waving the thankfully-empty cup around wildly. "Who
builds a continent so far away from normal time? Day is night, summer is winter... it's wrong. I
wish I didn't have to deal with it ever again." Dragging herself upright, she stumbled over to the
fridge, and grabbed herself a beer. "So, thanks to that, I've been up all night, it dragged on longer
than expected, and because of that, it never seemed worth starting on the Extended Operations
Enhancement, so this is pure tiredness. It sucks."

Okaaa~aaaay thought Shinji. We are not dealing with a rational thinker here. Out loud, he said,
"Well, there's tea in the pot, and there should be enough breakfast... or whatever meal it is for
you..."

"Fourth dinner, I think. I hate third dinner. It's worse than second dinner. And fourth dinner is
worse than that."

"... yes. Well, I made you some, because I thought you were asleep."

Misato grunted at him, nursing her beer. "Uh..." she said, yawning, "you should forget I
mentioned this to you. It's still classified. And stuff." She yawned again. "Well... obviously, it's
not classified that I'm tired... well, it is when I'm on active duty, but not otherwise, but the rest..."
There was a third yawn, and Shinji felt his jaw ache sympathetically.

You could have at least said 'Thank You', Shinji thought in a peeved tone, as he finished up his
breakfast, and went to clean the plates. And I bet you won't even clean up your plates or cans,
and I'll come home to find the place a mess.

Picking up his bag, he glanced back into the dining room. The older woman, still in her uniform,
was sprawled forwards onto the table, luckily-emptied beer can on its side. Sighing, and shaking
his head, Shinji stepped out of the house, to where his security escort had told him to meet them.

Agent Mary Anderson smoothed down her long skirt, and recrossed her legs. "Yes, ma'am," she
said, in response to the Deputy Director's query to her early morning report. "I've run the results
through all the statistical tests I can think of. Within the limiting parameters I detailed in my
report... that is, taking into account the post-mortem decomposition of the brains, and the like, I
can give an R-squared of 0.61 that the two groups, the renegade ArcSec officers and the civilian
insurgents, were in fact from separate organisations, and were furthermore, an R-squared of 0.53
that they were after separate objectives." She paused. "That is, separate illicit, cultist groups; I
have already accounted for the different backgrounds of the individuals, with the models which I
have detailed, again, in my report."

The Deputy Director ran a hand over her shaven head, and the hints of dirty-blond stubble
growing through. There was something clinical in those fine-boned features, the freshly grafted
skin still not sitting on them quite right, as she examined her subordinate. "Would you stake your
career on those results?" she asked.

"No, of course not... with all due respects, ma'am," Agent Anderson said, shaking her head.
"There's a limit to what a trawl can do, especially..." a faint sneer of professional contempt
appeared on her face, "...especially when the degeneration of the neural structure and the
presence of the arcanochromatic contaminants, which do terrible things to cellular integrity, are
taken into account. If I'd got the same results from a live trawl, or better yet, a destructive map,"
she wobbled her hand, "well, I'd have been doing something wrong, frankly, to botch it that
badly and get such a poor success rate. But, taking only the successful results, I'd be more certain
if they were fresher. But these brains..." she shrugged, "... it's naturally limited in utility."

The other woman grinned. "Good," she said. "Too many people over-estimate the reliability of
trawls, especially post-mortem ones."

"Again, with respect, ma'am, I suspect those people don't actually have to deal with the business
of interpreting the structure of a rotting, Colour-contaminated brain."

There was a chuckle. "Oh, I'm sure." The woman passed an actual, physical folder of documents
over to Agent Anderson; a rarity, but sometimes it was necessary to limit the propagation of
information. "Look through this," she said. "I want your immediate impressions, your gut
reactions."

The amlaty's eyes automatically flicked to the contents page. "Is this related to the same case?"
she asked.

"Just read."

There was a rustling of paper, and silence in the office for a few minutes. "Ikari," Mary
Anderson said, slowly, choosing her words. "So... there is evidence which suggests that a
possible target for the attack... for possibly one of the two attacks, was the son of the European
Representative." She was gestured to continue. "Hmm..." she flicked through a few pages, "... the
timeline fits; the flight he was on certainly arrived just before the attack. On the other hand... we
have the contaminating factor of the simultaneous attack from the Harbinger entity." She looked
at her superior. "I do not feel that the evidence from the trawls give me sufficient evidence to
support either way. As a hypothesis, it might be possible that one group was after him, but there
isn't enough evidence either way." She made an annoyed noise. "If only the Army hadn't had to
use such a large arcanochromatic weapon and ruined the samples!" Mary coughed. "Of course,
I'm being self-centred here," the amlaty admitted.
The Deputy-Director smiled, the skin folding in ways which weren't quite right. "Yes, you are,"
she said. "We haven't been able to interview the witness yet... yes, we know he survived, and
have been tracking him, but the Ashcroft Foundation," the words were said with a hint of
contempt, "is being obstructive with our attempts to interview him. He's been on the Grid, has
transferred to the local Academy, and yet footage from the networks indicates that he spends
almost all his time down in the Geocity, where we can't see him." She sighed. "We don't have
uniform surveillance permissions down there; there are entire sections sealed off under NEGA or
NEGN blocks. There are medical records attached to his profile, but they're only slight; mild
bruising, nothing more, yet the Foundation is still blocking access to him. There has been...
pressure to delay the questioning for as long as possible, and we're doing it, because there are
other people we still need to track down, but," the woman blinked, black film-like layers sliding
across her eyeball, her eyelids still not reconstructed from the damage, "... there is
something off about it."

Agent Anderson cleared her throat. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but... why are you telling me this?" she
said, uneasily, folding her pale greyish-brown hands on her lap to stop them moving. "It isn't
directly relevant to my current position; I'm a Cerebral Reconstruction and Information
Structures Analyst, and unless you want to capture him and trawl him, I don't see how I can
help."

The other woman snorted. "Of course not," the Deputy Director said, rolling her eyes. "We're not
the OSS; we don't do that kind of thing. We are the Office of Internal Security. But... Agent
Anderson, I notice that you haven't cross-trained into the occult; in fact, your file notes that you
didn't even take a course in Occult Studies while at university. Why is that?"

Agent Anderson stiffened up. "I'm a neuroscientist by training," she said, calmly. "It is, quite
literally, brain surgery. I didn't have time to take humanities options, and they found I had no
talent for sorcery and no PP potential whatsoever when I was tested, so it seemed meaningless."

"Hmm," said the older woman, and it was precisely the word, not a noise in the back of her
throat. "Mary," she said, relaxing slightly, "you have been with us for..."

"... just over four years."

"Yes. We recruited you straight from university. And I would strongly recommend that you book
onto an Occultism training course."

Mary blinked. "But... but why?" she managed.

"There's a task force which is looking for a trained CRISAn and TSEAPer; you fit the criteria,
but they demand that a candidate has passed the Oc103 module before they'd consider the
candidate. And your work on this case, the fact that you've been getting some of our best results,
has persuaded me, along with other contributing factors, that..."

The conversation was interrupted by the Deputy Director's muse. "Deputy Director Echo," it
said, in a clipped, Nazzadi-accented voice, "a situation demands your attention. Systems drones
have detected a series of events in Dome 046A which flag as an out-of-control parapsychic.
Dome has already been locked down. Linking you to conference."

The woman swore, and waved a hand through the air, as AR projections popped up all around
her. "Where's the nearest Containment team?" she asked to the floating heads. "Looking at the
data I'm getting from ArcSec and my subordinate, we've got a ZZ09-Charismatic type... at least;
look at the flash mob. We're going to want a soulless sniper with a full optical jack and loaded
with both lethal and less-than-lethal for this, in case this goes south and we can't talk him into
surrendering... and, looking at this, the negotiating team is going to have to be soulless, too.
Damn it, a new eruption shouldn't be this powerful!" She ground her teeth together. "I hate
mindworms. Could he be a Zoner?"

"We have an ID," reported the representative from ArcSec. "Hyun Young Ko, aged 56. Fired two
months ago by Barletine Services... it's a minor IPcorp... and, look, headquarters in 046A. Not
registered as a PP, no serious criminal record, on Level 1 Watchlist for purchases of occult
tomes... nothing major, basic books on theory." The man paused. "Looking at his travel record...
business trip to Paris-2 on 12/02/2091, and again on 01/04/2091. Nowhere near the Zone."

"When was the last time he was tested?" the Deputy Director asked, hands flying through the air.
"Any latency?"

"Oh seven oh six ninety one," came back the result from Archives. "Minor possible latent
abilities... but less than one SD above baseline... ah, but consistently so. He's on benefits, so has
mandatory Orgone donation... oh, and look, he missed the last donation, and fizzled on the one
before that."

"Damn. That should have tripped the scribe LAI flags... how did he pass under the net? A
fizzle should have bought him in for further testing, let alone a fizzle followed by a miss. I want
a full audit on the centre responsible. Now, what's the response time for Containment..."

Inclining her head to her distracted superior, Agent Anderson let herself out. This meeting had
raised some issues that she really needed to think about properly.

This Ashcroft Academy (one of several in the city) was located below ground, in one of the
deeper of the honeycomb-like arcology domes which formed a mesh below the above-ground
parts of the city. It was not, obviously, as deep as the Geocity; that was ten kilometres down, and
the normal arcology did not even reach two. Nevertheless, the tonnes upon tonnes of earth and
rock and concrete waiting to crush the inhabitants, if things went sufficiently wrong, was a
disconcerting thought to those not familiar with such places.

Shinji Ikari, as a child of the 2070s, one who had lived his entire life in one arcology or another,
didn't even think about it. It was, after all, how people lived. The majority of the population lived
in these dense structures, built after the devastation which the First Arcanotech War, the Nazzadi
Civil War, and the conflicts which had solidified the New Earth Government's control of the
planet. Those people like Misato who owned a form of personal transport, whether one given
motive force by an A-Pod, the pseudo-reactionless thrusters which pushed against the fabric of
spacetime itself, or the far more common electric cars with their D-Cell superconducting
batteries, were rare figures among those who actually lived in the newer pyramidal or
underground arcologies. The inhabitants of the older sealed-building arcologies, or the open
buildings that clustered around the cities and made up the Enclaves were more dependent on
personal transport , but there just wasn't the space, let alone the need, when the public transport
system was taken into account.

The maglev finished its long, looping spiral down, pulling into the station. Already, the
automated voices playing the standard security messages could be heard from inside the
complex. The other passengers, all clad in somewhat excessively bulky garments, in his
compartment stood up, gesturing at him to stay seated. Shinji sighed. The way that the security
detail had commandeered an entire carriage to the extent that they had moved other children, all
in the same, high-necked black overjackets, out, had been really embarrassing. He could only
hope that the somewhat sullen teenagers (and a few preteens) hadn't got a good look at his face,
and had stepped behind the one of the bodyguards who had to be two metres tall, and built like
a... well, he would have said, "built like an Evangelion", but when you looked at them, they were
actually surprisingly slender, to try to ensure it. He was aware enough to know that a reputation
as "the one who got you kicked out of your train carriage" was not a useful thing to have.

But he had mentally apologised to them, and that made it better, right?

Everything degenerated into the mundanity of security checks, of blood-testing and checks that
he was a valid student here. This might have posed a problem, but the bodyguards had been
remarkably persuasive... by which, he corrected, had actually known what to do. He could
remember what the start of term was like at his previous Academy, and almost every year it was
a nightmare, as all the new students choked up the scanners and the help desk, inconveniencing
everyone. The only year it was different was the year in which you joined, when you were too
busy panicking and running off to ask how to get the machine to accept your card, and not
knowing where to go even with an automap, and... well, Shinji was just glad that school had been
going since mid-August (the self-contained environments of the arcologies have broken the old
seasonal terms), and that he had guides.

And, best of all, guides who weren't Major Katsuragi. So, guides actually worthy of the title. She
had been taking him to the training in the last weeks. She was better than on that first time only
because the automap features had not been shut off. At least he had now learned the way. And no
more would he be doomed to see the same staircase section five times in one trip.

Stepping out of the white-lit maglev station (built on the outside of the dome, as not to waste
space, as well as enhancing the security of the dome itself), Shinji blinked in the naturalistic
light. And sneezed, as the floral scent suddenly became evident, as other students, a crowd of
ravens swarming around him, chatted. It was quite obvious that whoever had planned the layout
of the Academy had also been responsible of the Geocity; the technology was hidden in the same
way, leaving grassy fields and even trees to grow inside the man-made structure, deep
underground. Of course, here the nature had been tamed by playing fields , and, notably, the area
used a proper light dome, rather than an arcanomagnetically confined burning fusion reaction
(which would probably have cooked the school had they done so), but similar fingers on the
worked clay shone through. The crowd of students, with only a few puzzled glances and a
modicum of whispering at the figures that formed a cordon around him, were dispersing, off to
wherever they had to go, while the bodyguards directed him to the main building, to the entrance
area.

The man at the reception desk flashed a brief, almost flickering grin at him, and checked the
Ident Card that Shinji offered. "Yes," he said. "All your paperwork has been filled out,
forwarded, and been approved." He reached under the desk. "Let me just get you your
introductory pack."

The boy blinked. "So... um, you don't need to see any of the transferral documents, or the
residency permits, or the transferral forms, or the fee papers, or... or anything?" he asked,
wrinkling his forehead.

"Nope."

"Are you sure?" he said, in a slightly perplexed voice. "I mean, I have them all here, in my bag...
both the paper ones, and print-outs of the digital forms."

"No. They've been done."

"But... I spent quite a while filling them all out," said Shinji, in a plaintive tone. "Did... did I just
waste a lot of the weekend doing that?"

The man nodded, with far more cheerfulness than the boy really thought was appropriate, as he
handed over a translucent blue folder. "These are things like how to access the Academy Internal
Grid, rules on the use of muses, setting passwords, rules and regulations... if you lose this, once
you're on the AIG, it should be all in your profile. Remember to recycle it!" he added.

The boy slumped, and ran a hand through his hair. "Okay," he said. "So... where... what... um."

"It's in the folder. You've been assigned a class." The man looked more uncomfortable. "Your
teachers will assign you remedial work if you're behind where you should be... though you're
transferring from," he flicked his eyes down to the screen in front of him, "...yes, you're coming
from one of the Tokyo-3 Academies, so the difference should be negligible."

Shinji coughed. "Well, first there was the move, and then I was ill," he said, using the 'agreed'
cover story, "so I only really caught the first week or so."

"Oh." The receptionist managed, if it was possible, to look even more uncomfortable. "In that
case, yes, you're going to have to catch up. It is the first year of your International Standardised
Comprehensive Higher Aptitude Tests, after all, and... well, talk to your teachers. And good
luck!"
Stepping outside, the boy shuddered. People should not be that enthusiastic, energetic and
efficient this early in the morning. Looking around, the security detail had faded away, although,
he felt that the cleaner pushing a mop around was rather bulkier, and in better shape than might
be expected. He shrugged. He'd got used to the ever-present watchers back in Toyko-3, where
they'd been there only because of who his father was; he would eventually get used to the fact
that the guard had suddenly been radically increased, after he had protested, and fought to remain
some normalcy. Shinji did not mention to himself that so far pretty much every such battle had
ended up with him giving up, with only a nominal concession.

Coming up to the classroom door, having followed the signs to the right general area, Shinji
swallowed hard, smoothing down his overjacket, feeling the plated ridges of the ballistic vest
under it. A few deep breaths into cupped hands, and he was moving, swinging the door open.

Anticlimatically, none of the teenagers paid more a cursory glance to him, and he breathed a sigh
of relief. Of course, that meant that there was no opportunity to explain, and ask what he should
be doing. He could go and ask one of them, go introduce himself, insofar as he was physically
capable of such a deed, but instead, he chose to lurk by the door. After all, it was okay to be
nervous on his first day here, and this way, when the teacher arrived, he could talk to... Shinji
checked the folder... him immediately. To pass the time, he diverted his attention to the class,
looking at his new classmates.

The first thing that struck him was the heterogeneity of the group, the variety of races in both the
colloquial and biological sense; or, to put it another way, the mix of both ethnicities and
subspecies. Just looking around, there were almost as many greyish-brown, the skin colour of
the amlati, faces as there were ones which were purely pigmented by eumelanin or voumelanin.
From that, Shinji could tell that the previous generation had been rather enthusiastic in the post-
A-War 1 reconciliation efforts between the Nazzadi and Homo sapiens sapiens. More seriously,
it spoke volumes about the socioeconomic makeup of his new school; intersubspecies breeding
was many times more common in the higher wealth brackets than it was among the unskilled
poor of both branches of mankind. The skilled, trained members of the Nazzadi invasion fleet
had been integrated into the society of the newly formed New Earth Government relatively
painlessly (and so had shown to their counterparts that the Nazzadi were just human); it was
those whose skills were nothing but that talent for soldiering that the Migou had built into them
who had suffered.

That wasn't surprising, of course. For all that the Ashcroft Academies prided themselves on their
bursary and scholarship schemes, the simple fact was that the ones who they skimmed from
mainstream education were always going to be in the minority, not least because the children
who had been through the challenging educational regime since the age of five were always
going to have had more opportunity, more accumulated educational advantage, than those not
pushed to such heights. And the way that a disturbing number of students were themselves
children of Ashcroft employees, or had parents who had been prenatally modified (as opposed to
merely selected for) in that brief belle époque of genetic engineering, a transhuman flower cut
off at the stem by the First Arcanotech War, bought mutterings of a new aristocracy. The
Ashcroft Foundation's denials, that as a highly selective employer, of course more of the children
of their workers would meet their criteria, and that the children of people selected and tweaked
for enhanced intellect would themselves be brighter, were unconvincing to too many.

As the son of Gendo Ikari, Shinji was largely deaf to those kind of accusations, and was rather
more occupied with looking around somewhat desperately, hoping that someone would notice
him and ask him what he was doing so that he could explain, as opposed to being worried about
the socioeconomic privileges he took as a base assumption of his worldview.

"Excuse me?" asked a girl from behind him. Shinji turned and smiled somewhat desperately.
"You're blocking the way," said a nazzady, red streaks dyed in the jet-black hair universal among
the sub-species.

"Sorry," said Shinji, as he stepped aside. He tried not to stare at somewhat-lower-than-regulation


neck of her uniform, nor at the sharply angular whitework tattoos which snaked downwards past
her collarbone. "I'm sorry but..." he trailed off, as she swept past him without a second glance. "I
don't..." He gave up.

At least the entrance of the other girl attracted some attention, as she sat down with a small
cluster of both Nazzadi and xenomixes, of both genders, in the centre of the classroom, and a few
more looked towards him. Finally (and Shinji breathed a sigh of relief), a pigtailed amlaty, her
entire appearance (she, for one, was still wearing her overjacket, the collar fully done up) almost
painfully precise, got up from where she had been talking with friends, and made her way over to
him.

"Hello," he said immediately. "Uh... I'm Shinji, and I've... um, well, I've just transferred to the
school, and the people at the reception... when I say 'people', I mean 'man', said I should go here.
Um."

Inwardly, he cringed. Okay. As an introduction, that could have been a lot better. And more
precisely, less rambly... generally better.

Fortunately, the girl smiled at him. "Don't worry," she said. "It was mentioned towards the end of
last week that we might be getting a transfer student. I'm the Class Representative; my name is
Hikary Horaki."

Shinji paused, mental cogs automatically processing. Okay, so that means that her parents'
names were Hory and Aka... wait, not, she's xenomixed, so the scheme breaks down. It might be
a surname, as opposed to the whole Nazzadi name-chain thing. Best not to make any
assumptions. Wait, why am I getting distracted by this... oh yes, nervous. Focus, Shinji, focus.
And not on the way that the overcoat suits her remarkably well. Out loud, he said, "Well, okay."
He paused. "Do you need to see this folder or anything?" he said, lifting it.

The xenomix shook her head. "No... let me just... aha," she said, checking her PCPU. "Yes,
you've been added to the class list, and you have your options registered, Shinji... Ikari..." her
voice trailed away.
"What?"

"Nothing," Hikary said tersely. "I expect you'll have to introduce yourself to the rest of the class
during the tutor group time. After that, you'll need to pick a Social Work Task," she looked at
him with a hint of pity, "and considering we're already into the term, your options will be more
limited than they would have been at the start of the year."

Shinji coughed. This was one of the cover stories. "Actually, I already have one; I have a work
placement down in the Geocity. Environmental preservation work." He was sure that someone
had found that far, far too funny when picking that official title for the Test Pilot programme.

And, in truth, though Shinji did not know it, Deputy Representative Fuyutsuki had in fact been
highly amused.

Hikary nodded. "Oh, that's good. Arcology biosphere management is a vital role that people too
often overlook. Although I expect you're not looking forwards to the commute."

"I would rather not have to do it," he admitted.

The girl shrugged. "It is mandatory, and I feel it's good that it encourages a sense of social
responsibility. But, yes, you already have a placement, and so you don't need to worry about
this." She sucked in a breath. "And that means that you might need to put up with a bit of
pestering from Dathan."

"Who? Why?"

She glanced over at a brown-haired boy, sitting at the back of the classroom, idly nodding his
head to some unknown music. "He's heavily involved in the OIS Cadets, and they always have
more room for Social Work Tasks. He's... enthusiastic."

"Enthusiastic," said Shinji, flatly. If the Class Representative warned him about that, then how
bad must it be?

Hikary nodded. "Enthusiastic," she said tactfully. "Of course, if you're still interested, you could
join the Cadets anyway, but there will be other clubs trying to get you to join, so," she flashed a
brief smile at him, and Shinji couldn't help but notice that it was a pretty smile, the teeth human-
like, rather than the chisel-like Nazzadi dentures, "I would advise you not commit to anything
too soon, until you've seen all the options. Unless there's something you really want, like if you
play any sports or an instrument?" she asked, the pitch of her voice rising at the end.

"Uh, yes, cello, actually, but mine hasn't been transported over yet," he said, smiling back. "And
I'll keep that in mind, thanks. Um... is there any class seating order here?"

The orange-eyed amlaty shook her head, pigtails flicking behind her. "No. Some teachers have
their own plans, but this is the tutor group, so you are free to sit where you like."
"Thank you," said Shinji, even as he paled slightly. "I think I probably need to start reading this,"
he patted the folder, "and... well, nerves. That is, it might be a good idea to sit down."

"I understand," she said, nodding, as she returned to her seat, returning to the conversation he
had interrupted. "Remember to speak to the tutor as soon as he arrives." Sitting down, Shinji
could hear the babble of vaguely interested chat of teenagers spread out from that focal point,
including several repetitions of his name. One of which was heavily mispronounced, and another
which was just plain wrong.

Sigh.

"Stand up when a teacher enters the classroom," he heard the surprisingly commanding voice of
Hikary say, and there was a general scraping of chairs as the class stood for the elderly male
teacher.

"Sit down, sit down," the elderly man said, flapping a hand at the class, as he pulled out his chair
and sat down himself, with a slight sigh. There was the snap of a pair of arglasses unfolding, as
the man put his on, and turned on his desk. "I hope everyone had a nice weekend."

There was an apathetic muttering chorus to the effect of 'yeah' and 'why did it have to end' from
the teenagers.

"Now... let me see," he continued, scanning his way down the desk, the touchscreen that was the
surface yielding to his gestures. "Ah... yes." He looked up, tired-looking eyes scanning the
classroom. Shinji winced slightly, as they settled on him. "You're the new one, aren't you?" the
teacher asked. At Shinji's nod, he said, "Please come here, then. You have the folder... yes, you
do. I need to see that."

With a slightly fixed smile, Shinji got up. He could feel the eyes down his spine, he was sure of
it; the hair on the back of his neck was standing up.

Come on, Shinji, he told himself. You routinely drown, as part of piloting an arcanoxeno...
biocyber... uh, magic cyborg alien robot. You musn't run away from having to do the whole
'introducing yourself to a class' thing. That would just be silly.

He still wanted to.

"Hey, you!" demanded a voice from behind him in the corridor, on the way to the history
classroom.

Great way to start a conversation, Shinji thought. Turning around, he could see the brown haired
boy that the class representative... Hikary... had noted to him, already holding a form in
hand. Yes, as I thought. A wonderful way to persuade someone that they want to spend more time
with you. 'Hey, you!' Perhaps you would like to be a little more abusive. Maybe some profanity.
Perhaps you should try punching me, and then I'd really want to hang around with you.He
paused. I hope he doesn't punch me, Shinji added hastily to himself.

And from the way that the Nazzadi girl standing slightly behind the other boy had one hand
clutched to her forehead, and seemed to be groaning slightly, it seemed that someone else, at
least, seemed to agree that that was probably not the best way to go about persuading people.

"Yes?" Shinji said.

"You're the transfer student, aren't you?" The boy loomed over Shinji; he looked like another one
of those tall Europeans, perhaps descended from evacuees from Migou-occupied Scandinavia.
"Why did you move, anyway; it's unusual to move so close to the start of term."

"Dathan..." hissed the girl beside him. "You're being..."

"I'm Shinji, by the way," he said, a slightly caustic note entering his voice. "And," he shrugged,
pulling out the cover story, "the move was to do with my father and his work." Inwardly, he
frowned. Whoever had put these cover stories together seemed to take pride in setting them up so
he had to lie as little as possible, while mislead as much as possible. "Now, what do you want?"

The hint of confrontation failed to dissuade the other boy. "Since you're new, you're going to
have to get something to do on Wednesday afternoons. I want you to join the OIS Cadets."

There was another groan from the girl.

"Uh," Shinji put on a smile, "well, I would like to, but I'm afraid I already have something
booked." Jerk.

"Hikary got you into old people visiting that quickly, huh?" the boy said, a petulant look on his
face. "It's like she's trying to undermine the Cadets, with the way she pushes people away from
us..."

"Dathan, don't get started on..."

Shinji said nothing, and tried to indicate that he was otherwise occupied with trying to get to the
next class.

"... but, you know, you can still change. It's a lot more fun with the Cadets. I mean, there are
puzzles all over the world, and this way, you can hunt them down, andsolve them," Dathan said,
balling one fist and slamming it into the other palm. Shinji recoiled slightly. "Permanently," he
added, unnecessarily.

"I'm fine, really," said Shinji. "I might consider it," and I have, and I've rejected it he added
mentally, "but now isn't the time."

The other boy shrugged. "Suit yourself, Transferee." He looked rather sullen as he walked off.
"Sorry about that," said the girl, softly. "He's like that. All the time." She had a hint of an accent
he couldn't recognise; it wasn't a pure Nazzadi accent, but was instead blended with something
else. "I'm surprised Hikary didn't warn you about him."

Shinji sighed. "She did. And I've met people like him before," he admitted. "They seem to think
that 'tact' is... um... a percentage of your income you have to pay to the government."

"I've heard worse descriptions of him," the girl said, with a flick of her ponytail, "in the far-too-
many years I've had him in my class. I'm Jony, by the way."

"Shinji," he said, looking down at her. "Um... nice to meet you. So... why do you hang around
with him, then?"

She shrugged. "I'm used to it. He's not my boyfriend, by the way," she added hastily. "I just want
to get this clear up front."

Shinji raised an eyebrow. I... I didn't ask. There was the characteristic slight darkening that was
the closest that the black-skinned (and voumelanin was actually black, unlike human eumelanin)
Nazzadi came to blushing.

She winced slightly the expression on his face. "Uh... and I wasn't asking you out, either." Jony
coughed. "Can we pretend this part of the conversation never happened?" she asked
uncomfortably.

Shinji nodded, blushing too. "I think... yeah." He coughed. "So. Um."

"Um. Yes, the OIS Cadets aren't actually that bad," she continued weakly, "and as an official,
state-sponsored club, we do have a clubroom and stuff. I know you said that you were doing
something else, but," she smiled weakly at him, "you might want to consider just taking a look."

"I'll think about it," Shinji said. He felt his PCPU vibrate; checking it, it was his muse (newly
updated with his timetable), nagging him that he was going to be late, even though he had her on
'silent mode'. A similar gesture on behalf of the girl, at exactly the same moment, revealed that it
seemed to be a standard part of the software update from the school's Internal Grid.

"Where is H107?" asked Shinji.

"This way. It's Mr Rokpol droning on about Modern History," Jony said, as they hurried through
the thinning crowd of students. "1931, discovery of Elder Thing city. 1937, discovery of Yithian
city. 1939, start of World War 2. 1946, end of World War Two, Berlin and Hiroshima blown up,
Axis powers surrender, reformation of League of Nations into United Nations."

"Wait, you've already covered all that?" groaned Shinji. "Why did I miss all that school?"

They both got glared at by Hikary as they arrived at H107, despite the fact that the teacher wasn't
there yet.
Shinji was heavily laden with books and work given to him by various teachers by the time he
got home.

Well, metaphorically, he was. In actual fact, they were all in electronic format, loaded up to his
personal filespace, and so did not, in fact, weigh anything. But the metaphysical weight of yet
more work, on top of his training, was crushing.

As he arrived back at the apartment, he could hear loud noises coming from the longue. Putting
his bag down with a sigh, he poked his head through.

Misato was sitting cross-legged on the sofa, clad in a strappy yellow top and very short shorts, a
bowl and a spoon in hand. Her meal, however, was rather interrupted by the frequent bursts of
laughter and unfeminine snorting emanating forth from her. She was watching something on the
large screen, which, from what he could see, seemed to be some kind of cartoon.

"What are you doing?" Shinji asked her, his brow wrinkling in a frown.

"Oh, heya Shinji," she said, turning and cheerfully waving with the hand with a spoon in it.
"Have fun?"

He narrowed his eyes. "Yes. I'm a big fan of work," he replied, in a studiously neutral tone. "I'm
really looking forwards to catching up on a month of schoolwork at the start of my ISCHATs."

Misato appeared to be impregnable to sarcasm, or at least chose to ignore it. "That's good," she
said, hitting the pause button for the programme. "Tests and school are important, Shinji," she
lectured him, "and that kind of attitude will serve you well."

Right. I'm just going to assume that was deliberate, because I don't want to believe that she took
that seriously.

"Meet anyone?" she added.

"Yes." Misato looked at him expectantly. "Are you feeling better?" he asked, changing the
subject. "This morning, you seemed..." he paused, "... very, very tired," he finished. If she missed
the sarcasm, she probably wasn't going to be observant enough to get similes or metaphor.

"Yeah. You'd be amazed what getting to sleep does for being tired. And," she said, through a
mouthful of... whatever it was, it smelt, Shinji sniffed, like beer, but he could see noodles
swimming in it, "getting to do nothing apart from a nagging call from Rits checking that you'd
left was nice." She shook her head. "I have no idea why she did that, actually. I mean, she was
there when I finally got to leave. She knew that I would only just be getting... I guess, it was
meant to remind me to wake you up, if you'd somehow slept in, as if you could... and that
reminds me, can you tell your muse to keep it down. I meant to mention it earlier, but it's loud
when it turns on the radio and stuff."
Shinji frowned. "I'll lower her volume, yes," he said. "I guess it must have been annoying for
you, to have been there when the morning people came in," he added with a shrug.

Misato shook her head. "Nope. Rits was there all night. I swear, I think she probably gets less
than 20 hours of sleep a week. That's the problem with being a genius, Shinji. It's much more fun
being a normal, and getting to have a life outside of science. Don't put too much of your life into
school and tests. It's better for your health."

Wait a moment. You just said that schools and tests are important! Shinji thought, his inner voice
a blend of irritation and exasperation. Less than a minute ago! Consistency isn't your strong
point, is it?

"So, what are you watching?" he called through, as he dodged a giant albino emperor penguin,
which had apparently got its own drink, to get to the fridge.

"'Instructional Lessons For the Youth of Today and Stuff'," Misato called back, as the noise
resumed. "Haven't you seen it before?"

"Wark!"

"Oh, yeah, can you bring the bottle opener through, Shinji?" Misato added, apparently at Pen-
Pen's request.

Bottle opener, bottle opener the boy's thoughts ran, in the ancient mantra used and developed
independently by almost every culture in human history. "Misato! It's meant to be in the drawer
with the red handle," he said, after checking the place. "And it's not."

"Oh." She paused. "Check the other drawers," she commanded.

"This is Hemiechinus auritus, the Long-Eared Hedgehog," came the voice of the resumed
programme. "It is a species of hedgehog native to Central Asia and the Caucasus Mountains,
although the eastern end of its habitat has been negatively affected by the expansion of Leng. It
is primarily an insectivore, and is smaller and faster than its European cousin."

"I'm checking the drawers," Shinji responded, "and it's not there!"

"It might be in the fridge."

"Why would it be in the fridge?"

"Look at him. What a happy little fellow. He may be covered in spines, but look at that twitchy
little nose, and those floppy ears, and you can see that he's cheerful to be alive."

"... because maybe I might want to open a bottle as soon as I get it," said Misato, eventually.
Shinji stopped, and his palm collided with his forehead. "So you leave the bottle opener in the
fridge?"

"Yes. And?"

"No, it's fine. I'll find it, and bring it through. Don't worry. And then I can put it back in its
proper place, too."

"He is also, sadly, a randy little bugger. A lonely, randy little bugger who'll fuck pretty much
anything with spines on it, whether male, female, dead or alive."

Shinji's jaw dropped open, and he gazed, unseeing, into the fridge, as Misato snorted. What is she
watching? What... what... huh. He blinked as his brain rebooted, only to hit another fatal error,
and shut down again.

"In this, he shows a profound lack of intellect. Look. He's found another hedgehog. And it's even
alive and female. He might be in for some luck. Watch as he tries to sneak up on her. She's a
cheap slut, too. The characteristic high heels and fishnets of an illegal and unlicensed
prostitute."

Shinji's face was getting cold, as he stared, empty eyed into the fridge. What. The. Hell.

"Oh, wait, no. I was sitting on it. It's okay."

"Wark. Wark!"

"Sure thing." There was the snap of a breaking seal.

Why is the world not making sense anymore?

The sound of tearing flesh and a rhythmic squirting noise boomed through the apartment,
accompanied by Misato's hysterical laughter.

"Oh dear. The hedgehog just skewered himself. Even now, he is bleeding to death. He was not
able to get too close to the other hedgehog without hurting himself. If he had stayed at the right
distance, he would have been fine, but he got too close, and when two hedgehogs get too close,
one of them always gets hurt."

Standing in the doorway, the boy gazed at the screen, where the blood-covered, anthropomorphic
hedgehog in high-heels was running around screaming, the other, dead male hedgehog in a
trenchcoat impaled on its back, then over to the laughing woman, and penguin with a bottle of
beer in its hand... wing... manipulator, then back at the screen."

"The moral of this story, children, is this. "The Hedgehog cannot be buggered at all."

Shinji worked his jaw, a few times, but no works came out. Finally, he managed a "What?"
Misato turned, a grin spread over her face. "It's 'Instructional Lessons For the Youth of Today
and Stuff'," she said, as if it explained everything.

"... what?"

She rolled her eyes at him. "It's not serious. It makes fun of stuff like teaching programmes."

"...what?" The female hedgehog was now on fire.

"Oh, lighten up." She gazed at his shocked face. "Are you seriously telling me you've never seen
it before?" she asked. "You're a teenage boy, aren't you? Aren't you meant to be all about the
pointless rebellion against good taste, and the damaging of previous generation's moral values
and stuff?"

"How is that funny?"

Misato sighed, pouting at him. "You're boring."

And you're sitting in shorts, and a skimpy top with blatantly no bra... yes, I can tell, it isn't hard...
eating cheap noodles which you seem to have cooked in beer. I think it's rather clear that you're
immature.

Anyway, I thought I threw out all those cheap noodles. Seriously, they're starchy junk. They taste
horrible. Did you seriously go and make more while I was at school, and not use the good
quality ones I made? Do you actually like them? Why? What possible reason could you have for
willingly eating them?

"Maybe," he said, blushing. "I'm going to start my school work. Try to keep the noise down."

Misato watched him go. Ooops, she thought.

Seriously, what was up with him? This was her day off, and she was still tired, but was keeping
herself awake after the nap in the morning, to try to get her sleep cycle back to normal, and then,
as soon as he came in, he was already complaining about something petty like where the bottle
opener was. It wasn't even as if he was the one who used it ever; the only bottles in the house
were the ones she bought, and so if she was the only user, she could leave the opener wherever
she felt like. And then he acted all stiff and formal about something that was funny, and blatantly
not meant seriously. To be honest, he needed a surgically implanted sense of humour. Although,
thinking about it, that might not be enough. That particular trait might be genetic.

She yawned, and stretched, glancing down at Pen-Pen, who was sprawled, belly-first, on the
carpet. What should she watch next? She had the entire series, so she wouldn't have to pay-
select... hmm, yeah. With a few words to her muse, Misato selected 'Episode 29: Sexually
Adventurous Bees', and settled back, taking another mouthful of the beer-boiled noodles.

If only people would be a bit more understanding.


16th September, 2091

Shinji had his arms sprawled forwards on the desk, head rested on them. The music playing
through his headphones was the only thing keeping him awake. He had been up late, trying to
catch up on his work, and hadn't had time for breakfast; the only reason he hadn't been late was
that Misato had started flicking water at him to get him out of bed. He'd even managed to sleep
through his muse's alarms.

Of course, the only reason he had been up so late was because he had been in the Geocity from
two until eight. Other people got a nice easy four hours of reading to primary school children, or
visiting old people with no living relatives. Shinji longed for that kind of easy life. He had to
train in a giant robot covered in guns, with the ability to crush buildings underfoot and drop-kick
any hostile Migou unit smaller than a capital ship.

It was nowhere as cool as it sounded.

Ah, I can doze off, right? I know technically I should be socialising, but I can't do that when I'm
like this, and more sleep is better.

"Are you all right?" someone asked from behind him. The voice was familiar, but he couldn't
link it to a name, and didn't want to move to look who it was.

"Just tired," he muttered. "Not ill. Trying to catch up on work. Failing. Want more sleep."

Whoever they were patted him on the shoulder. "Good luck."

Good, they weren't talking to him anymore. He just wanted to rest his eyes.

Somewhere towards the rear of a classroom, a brown-haired boy, active arglasses opaque, was
doing... something. It was impossible to see what he was actually manipulating unless one was
actually tuned into the same viewing frequency. Whatever was being done, though, was inducing
certain vocalisations. Like "rat-tat-tat-tat", and "whoosh... boom!".

He felt a solid hand grip one wrist, and froze, tilting his head down to peek over the top of his
spectacles. With his free hand, he scrabbled down on the desk, until he managed to deactivate the
link, and let the glasses turn transparent once more.

"What is it, Class Rep?" he asked, blinking as he was forced to deal with the real world, rather
than the models floating in the air before his eyes.

Hikary was looking at him with more than a little disapproval, the hand not restraining his wrist
resting on her hip. "Firstly," she began, "stop making those noises. They are annoying people,
and you really should be using the tutor group time to socialise with your friends, not playing
around with AR models." The boy shrugged, which prompted a sigh from the amlaty. "Secondly,
Kensuke, have you heard anything from Toja?" she asked, letting go of his wrist.

Kensuke massaged his newly freed arm (She has a grip like steel!, he thought), and shook his
head. "He buzzed me over the weekend, said he was going into hospital for his sister's operation.
Haven't heard anything else yet. Even his muse is bouncing all messages," he boy fished around
in his pocket, "... uh, wait a moment."

Hikary shook her head. "No, I know about that. You're on good terms with him, aren't you?" She
crossed her arms in front of her. "Are you telling me that you haven' heard from him at all?" the
girl asked, a note of disbelief entering her voice. "I mean, I know his sister was hurt in the
incursion, but... nothing since the weekend?"

"Nope. Not at all. It's been almost a month, too; she must have been really bad if she's still in a
critical state." He paused. "You don't think something has happened to him, do you?"

"I hope not." There was worry in her orange eyes. "I mean, I haven't been forwarded anything
about..."

Behind her, there was a laconic, "Yo," as a tall, athletic Nazzadi boy entered the room, one hand
raised in a desultory greeting. Compared to the stark black overcoats which were part of the
regulation uniform, his coat was scrunched up underneath one arm, with a sports jacket taking its
place.

"Hey, Toja," called out Kensuke, as Hikary's mouth twisted into a silent "Oh".

He glanced around the mostly full room, before dumping his bag and overcoat down on a free
table with a solid clunk. "Nice to see everyone seems to love turning up early as usual," he said,
the noticeable accent in his voice only accentuating the slight hint of contempt.

"Yeah, well," Kensuke said back, with a shrug. "What do you expect here?"

Hikary stared at the brown-haired boy for a moment, before switching her attention to the new
arrival. "Where have you been?" she asked, her tone formal, even annoyed. "Your muse was
even bouncing all messages back, so you have quite a bit of work to catch up on... and you still
aren't wearing the proper uniform!"

Toja groaned, "Give me a break, Class Rep. I've been in the hospital since Sunday. There were
complications in my sister's operation."

The girl's face immediately flushed, embarrassment covering her face. "I'm so sorry," she said,
hastily. "Is... is... she's going to get better, right?"

With a grunt, Toja slumped down onto a desk. "Yeah, she's... she's stable," he said. "She woke up
yesterday, and seems to be," he tapped his head, "fine up here. Now she just has to learn to walk
again, and stuff."
"What happened? I mean, I know you live up in Victoria, but..."

"Nah," the boy shook his head, "We're deeper inside." He gave a disgusted snort. "We'd have
been fine had we just stayed at home, rather than evacuated."

"Huh?" Kensuke looked confused. "But the legal minimum for construction materials for an
evacuation bunker is twice that of an arcology superstructure..."

"Yeah, and it doesn't help one bit when some harangi thing goes underground and manages to
crush everything, does it!" snapped Toja, eyes flashing. "I'm really pissed off!"

"Calm down," the girl said, leaning back from the sudden anger. "Please."

The Nazzadi boy took in a breath, and let it out, slowly, teeth gritted. "When the bunker... it just
crumpled, you know... when it gave way, I saw the roof bend. And I grabbed her and tried to pull
her out the way." He swallowed. "Just managed to pull her into the way. She'd have been fine if
I'd just left her there. But, no, I interfered, and because of me, she got her spine crushed!"

The other two, and the class around them, were silent. "It... it's not really your fault," Kensuke
said softly, hand hovering ineffectually. "I mean, if you'd been wrong, you'd be blaming yourself
for not doing it."

Toja groaned, "People have been saying that. It doesn't make it better." With a sigh, he shook his
head. "It'll be better when she's up and about again."

Kensuke nodded intently. "Yes. And at least they killed the ENE. Believe me, the forums are
going crazy about it. It was awesome, the way that a squadron of Engels managed to get in close,
and take it down. Those pilots," there was awe in his voice, "they were real heroes."

There was a short, bitter laugh from his friend. He glowered when the other two, and several
other classmates stared at him. "I'm still annoyed," he said, tone abrupt. "Don't listen." Toja
forced a breath of air out in a huff. "So~ooo," he said, elongating the syllable, and obviously
trying to change the subject, "what did I miss?"

Hikary tilted her head. "You have all the notes sent to you," she said immediately, "and if you'd
stop telling your muse to bounce all mail, then they would get through."

The Nazzadi boy groaned. "I don't guess you'd get them to let me off, thanks to family stress and
stuff?" he asked, a note of hope in his voice.

"Of course they won't. This is an Ashcroft Academy, and you're expected to live up to the
school's reputation," she replied.

Kensuke smirked, and gestured to the front of the classroom. "You think you have it bad, just
think about what the new transfer student has to put up with," he said. "Apparently, he's missed
everything from the start of term, thanks to a move, and then an illness. He's got a month of stuff
to do... you've got, what, four days?"

"Oh, we have a new person in the class?" Toja only sounded vaguely interested.

"Yes, but have you heard the rumours?" interjected a girl, her hair in tight braids, leaning in to
the conversation. She was almost dark-skinned enough to pass for a Nazzadi, although her
surprisingly-green eyes put lie to that. "We think he's..."

Hikary glanced at her with narrowed eyes. "If you don't mind, Enu..." she began, but was
ignored.

"As I was saying, I've heard that he's the son of the European Representative. After all, his
surname is 'Ikari'. And I did some browsing... it could be him. Pictures could match, although I
couldn't find any good quality ones."

The amlaty sighed. "It's not like 'Ikari' is an especially rare surname in Japan, Enu" she said, a
weary note in her voice. "You shouldn't jump to that kind of conclusion."

"So you don't think he's related?" added a Nazzadi girl, the one with the dyed red streaks in her
hair, to the rapidly growing conversation.

With narrowed eyes, Hikary said, "No, Taly. I just think that we shouldn't make a fuss about it if
he doesn't choose to. It isn't as if it matters."

The Nazzadi girl flashed a sudden grin, chisel-like teeth evident. "Sure thing. Hokari," she said,
with a mocking tone in her voice.

"We could settle this, of course," said Enu, with a glance to the front of the classroom, where the
figure of Shinji Ikari was sprawled out, head resting on arms, obviously asleep. "We could just
go poke him, and ask him while he's still confused.

"No."

"Oh, come on, it's a real thing. That's why important people have bodyguards who stop them
being questioned when coming out of operations, while they're confused." The girl grinned. "I
read it on exocerebrum."

Taly sneered. "It's important. For one, the Ashcroft Council of Representatives still has a
disgraceful lack of Nazzadi members. Four Nazzadi, to seven anfrazzadi, and we're pushed into
Regional posts, too, rather than Conceptual ones."

"If that is the case," Hikary said, eyes narrowed at the other girl, "then men have more reason for
complaint than the Nazzadi do. They make up more of the population, and have fewer seats. But,
no, it does not matter. And it's not nice to discuss classmates behind their back. So everyone
should go sit back down; it's almost the end of tutor group, and I'll have to take the register, if the
teacher isn't going to show up."

It began with the scream of sirens, and the babble of Limited Artificial Intelligences, as the lights
brightened and Emergency Mode activated.

"Alert," stated a clear, androgynous voice over the top. "Pattern Blue detected. First perimeter
breach..." before it cut itself off.
"Second perimeter br...
"Third perimet..."
"Fourth perim...
"Fifth..."
"Si..."
"S..."

"Oh," muttered Lieutenant Aoba, as the warnings blanketed out his screen, taking over from the
report he was writing up. The above-ground security cordons, a massively multilayered defence
system which covered, at the widest, most of the south of what had been the United Kingdom,
were simply being ignored. He blinked, twice, as he absorbed the information. "Oh."

"Get me Major Katsuragi right now!" screamed the duty officer, her heart-shaped face pale. "Get
a line to EuroHighCom ready!" She took a deep, shuddering breath. "Audhu billahi
minashaitanir rajeem," she muttered to herself, the words calming her slightly, before
continuing. "Do we have a location for the..."

The voice of Major Katsuragi came from behind her, "Status report, now! What's happening,
Captain Bakr?" and the duty officer relaxed slightly.

"Massive anomalous Pattern Blue, Major," she responded promptly. "It's... it's..." she turned to
face the on-duty Operator, "... what's the current status?"

"The Pattern Blue has passed all the above-ground defensive perimeters," Second Lieutenant
Estat said, eyes gazing unseeing into nothing, as the optical jacks in his Eyes streamed data from
the cable connected to the back of his head. "And then it continued straight through, and turned...
it's coming back, but slower. It's still moving at Mach 12. We don't have any reports of contact,
Captain... and Major."

The Major turned chalk white. "Is it genuine?" she whispered. "No, don't answer that. She
slammed her fist into her palm. "Right, contact EuroHighCom, and request permission to deploy
Evangelions. Ready Unit 01 for an emergency deployment." She took a breath. "And tell security
to execute Protocol Echo. We don't have time for any other way."

Major Misato Katsuragi was not a happy woman. Just tracking the pattern of burned out sensors
(she made a note that they needed less sensitive ones installed, just so they could keep actively
tracking such beings), this thing was moving far too fast. It had just punched right through the
defensive perimeters, overshot, and was coming back. Even Asherah hadn't been this fast. And it
was moving too quickly for the NEG to get a workable firing solution for any tactical nuclear
weapons. Hells, it was moving too quickly for most air defences to get a proper lock. Only
specialist Migou craft ever reached these velocities in atmosphere, and those things were
basically engine. Even laser defences would have problems mechanically tracking it fast
enough... not that they knew what it looked like. It wasn't leaving a shockwave, it hadn't been
seen, in its turns it showed no sign of observing conservation of momentum. Harbinger-3 had
acted at least partially like a real thing, but this... she would have suspected that it was a false
signal, but false signals didn't burn out sensors, did they? And, anyway, they had to treat all
signals as if they were real, because this was one area where failure was not an option.

What the hell was this thing?

And that wasn't her only problem. Unit 00 was still not operational; Test Pilot Ayanami may
have been able to move again, but she was still in no state to pilot. That left one, undertrained,
underprepared Child... no, child as the sole military forces at her disposal. She was going to have
to work with what she had, she thought, as she heard Ritsuko pant, apparently having run all the
way from her office. She was really going to have to see if NEGA Command would let her move
Unit 02 off the Eastern Front, but... no, there wasn't time to ponder such could-have-beens now.

The light streaming in through the windows, from the illumination panels on the roof of the
arcology dome cast long shadows in the classroom. This was rather unhelphful, as Shinji was
trying to simultaneously listen to the teacher, and, on a larger, borrowed A4-sized PCPU, cram-
study the things the course had covered before now.

As it was, the aforementioned things were making insufficient sense without context. And he
should probably think about getting one like this; the pocket-sized softscreen he had didn't have a
large enough screen, if one wasn't wearing arglasses.

"Now, as can be clearly seen, numbers like this come in two parts; the real part, that is, the
normal part, which you have been used to up until now, and the imaginary part. If the component
is multiplied by a factor of i, it is imaginary; otherwise, it is real." The teacher smiled, tucking
back a lock of his dark brown hair behind his green-tinted arglasses. He had to be one of the
eldest amlati, Shinji thought; although there were conceptions before the end of the First
Arcanotech War, they were rare, and almost never consensual. "And, well, they may be called
'complex', but they're not actually that hard."

There was a dutiful chuckle, and a rebellious groan, from the class.

"The first thing you have to do is separate the terms with an i from the ones which don't have
one. And, at this point, I should probably point out that all the numbers you're likely to ever
meet, unless you chose to specialise in high-end mathematics, or become a sorcerer, can be
broken up in that way. Tsuka, how do you identify whether you are taking the real or imaginary
part of (3 + 5i)?"

The black-skinned boy glanced from side to side nervously. "Um..." he said, biting on his bottom
lip.

The teacher sighed. "Okay... hmm, Taly?"

The Nazzadi girl with dyed red streaks in her hair stood up. "The imaginary component is
denoted with Im[3+5i], the real component with Re[3+5i]," she said, before sitting back down.

"Correct." The teacher ran his fingers along his desk, glancing down at the touchscreen which
was its surface. "Now, take... well, take i, the square root of minus one. Despite the fact that it is
purely an imaginary number, it can still be written in complex form, as (0 + i). Now, how would
you separate out the components... Ullr?"

The chosen boy blinked, orange eyes flickering. "You specify whether you want the real or
imaginary component, followed by square brackets," he said softly. "The real component of i is
zero; the imaginary component of i is one."

The teacher nodded. "Note how Mikael didn't slip up the classic mistake, as normal," he
added, sotto voce. "Im[i] is 1, not i. We're looking for the coefficient of the i term. That means
that the imaginary component does not actually have a..."

He was interrupted by a squad in full combat gear, Ashcroft Foundation insignia clearly evident,
bursting through the door to the classroom. In deference to the fact that they were in a school,
their weapons were lowered. Nevertheless, they were carrying them in a position which
suggested that they could be unlowered should it prove necessary.

"Go! Secure the Third Child!" ordered the mechanical voice of the lead figure. Two more
soldiers, combat masks fully opaque scanned the classroom, and advanced on Shinji, who, much
like the rest of the class would have been in shock, had he actually had time to respond.

"Protocol Echo, sir," said one of the two figures.

"Why, what..."

"This way," said the figure tersely, as they pulled him upright.

Shinji groaned. "I'm needed in the Eva?" he asked, as they escorted him through the ranks of
chairs, crushing bags underfoot.

"Come this way, sir. Don't talk." The boy was hustled out of the room, all but being carried by
the armoured figures.
There was an uncomfortable pause, as the squad leader stared at the maths teacher, who had
dropped the tablet in his hand, and was staring back, jaw handing open. Forty-eight teenaged
eyes were locked on the grey-and-blue figure.

With a creek, the door fell off its hinges, echoing in the silence.

"Carry on," said the lead figure, in the mechanical voice which, despite the fact it was designed
not to convey emotion, still managed to sound embarrassed.

The teacher's jaw flapped a few times, a noise almost exactly not like escaping steam coming
out. The soldier saluted, turned around, and left.

The silence was broken by a brown-haired, bespectacled boy punching one arm in the air. "That
was totally sweet!" Kensuke yelled. "That was Eschaton XI-F semi-powered heavy combat
armour. It's meant to be able to shrug off 10mm rifle fire!"

"Everyone, silence!" snapped Hikary, turning to glare at the boy. It didn't have the proper effect.

"And those rifles. They... no, they couldn't have been..."

"Silence!"

"... specialist squad support 16mm anti-material integrated coilguns with underslung..."

"Be. Quiet." The girl turned to face the teacher. "Sir, have we received warning? Do we need to
evacuate?"

The teacher's brain had, by now, rebooted. Well, mostly. He still looked rather shell-shocked.
"What the hell is going on?" he managed. "Was that... was that real?" He glanced at Hikary.
"What?"

"Have we had an evacuation notice, sir?" she repeated.

"I think it was real," a boy behind her said. "After all, i wasn't involved." He was promptly
elbowed in the ribs by the Nazzadi boy next to him. "Ow. That hurt, Kaga."

"You deserved it. Idiot." They were both silenced by a glare from Hikary.

"Sir?"

"Uh... uh... uh. Uh, no. No evacuation notice." The teacher swallowed. "I... I think we can
probably call it a day here," he said, glancing at the crushed bags, and the door lying flat on the
floor. "It... well, for one, the classroom is rather damaged." There was a nervous titter. "I... I
think I probably have to go to talk to some people. Quite urgently." And with that said, he
almost-ran out of the classroom, PCPU already in hand.
And as the class dispersed, the babble was already turning to the question of the new boy, and
what had just happened, which had only deepened the questions that already existed about him.
It seemed that mathematics was nothing compared to how complex the real world had just
become.

The oddly heat-neutral feeling of LCL flooded Shinji's lungs, and he gagged. Unfortunately, it
tasted no better. He shook his head, and tried not to vomit.

"Shinji, our analysts are building up a pattern for the sweeps," said Ritsuko, eyes wrinkled with
concern. The boy stared at her. Those blue, cog-like lights from the active harcontacts were
almost hypnotic. Human eyes should not look like that, there was something inside him
screaming, and yet they did frequently. "We're going to launch you into the path of it."

Wait, what?

"Remember your training," the Major said. "We're sending the Babylon up with you; be aware,
the primary magazine is loaded with vECF shells. Keep it loaded from the secondary, until we
have a positive contact."

Shinji reflexively swallowed, wished that he hadn't, and then nodded. "Yes, I understand."

"We are unlocking full combat mode for the LITAN; don't worry, it will aid with target
acquisition, and handle firing for the lasers, missiles and charge beam." Ritsuko ran her hands
through her hair. "Brace for launch. Initialise final stage preparations," she paused, "Maya, I'm
passing launch authorisation to the Magi. Fire when optimal."

An image of the brown-haired Operator appeared in her left eye. "Understood, Dr Akagi,"
Lieutenant Ibuki said, from her position down in the full-immersion chamber, floating in a tank
of transparent fluid. "Sosily has a valid solution... t-minus eleven, ten, nine..." As she counted
down, numbers on the main screen gave it to all. From the way she could see the boy stiffen,
gloved fists tightening around the control sticks, he knew it was coming too.

And then the Evangelion went shooting up, with an acceleration which would have been
crushing, had it not been for the design of the plug, and the LCL that filled it.

"We have a launch, sir," she heard Misato say from behind her. "Acedia is deployed in Zero-
One," referring to the 'official' reference to the Third Child; the internal Ashcroft name was
somewhat problematic due to the (accurate) links to the idea of child soldiers. "Is there any more
data on the target?" She was almost begging.

Field Marshal Jameson's voice was harsh with stress. "None whatsoever. You're getting
everything we have, and all of that's coming from the Shaws. Radar... nothing. IR... nothing.
Visual... nothing. All we can tell is that it's less than 0.4 klicks up." He gave a bitter laugh.
"Asherah was 'just'," and the sarcasm was palpable, "an unstoppable killing machine that could
take an arcology-fired nuclear weapon to the face. But we can't even see this thing."

Those were the unspoken words between the two of them. Against Harbinger-3, the entity had
diverted its attack to target Unit 01. Perhaps a launch would force the thing, whatever it was, to
appear and attack the Evangelion.

Shinji's head spun, as the deceleration kicked in, and the force required to counter the momentum
of a forty metre arcanocyberxenobiological warmachine made the magnetic rails glow red hot,
illuminating the vented coolant. Objectively, it looked pretty awesome, as the titan emerged from
the hole in the ground, wrapped in clouds of freezing gas, in a pleasingly Mephistophelesian
manner.

Of course, any performance of Faust where Unit 01 had appeared from the stage trapdoor would
have probably led to the entire replacement of the theatre, unless it had been built to a scale quite
above the normal.

Falling immediately to one knee, newly trained instincts already kicking in, Shinji snatched up
the grossly oversized rifle, and broke into a run, feet punching holes in the streets which
connected the buildings between the pyramidal arcology structures. In the early autumn , late
afternoon shadows casting a thick contrast with the bands of striped sunlight, he scanned the
area, Babylon raised and ready.

The Babylon rifle was, by any reasonable standard, a grossly overpowered weapon.
Fundamentally, it was built around the main weapon of the Type-S025 artillery piece, a 155mm
coilgun. It bore about the same resemblance to that weapon as a tiger did to a small rodent-like
mammal of the type that a dinosaur would stand on. It was, to be frank, an overengineered
solution to one of the major problems which the Evangelions had. Specifically, despite the fact
that they were a capital-grade unit, they were far too small to use even a frigate-grade D-Engine.
As a result, they were powered by ten Engine/Refrigerator combinations, of a type which a
Behemoth-class Engel (the next largest ACXB mecha) would use one of. Such a system took up
non-negligible amounts of space in the Unit, pushed the localised Yi-Ricci spacetime tensor
around the Engines to dangerous levels, and still was vastly inferior to the economies of scale
which a true, frigate-scaled D-Engine would grant.

The fact that, as height doubled, volume (and thus mass) increased eightfold, was a bitch.

As a result, for their size, the default integrated armaments of an Evagelion were underpowered.
The bipedal form was not conducive to the most powerful weapons anyway (as recoil was a
tragic fact of life), and there was a limit to what missiles, in an era of laser point-defence
systems, could do.

And, sometimes, one just had to hit a target very, very hard. Preferably with something which
blew up.
The Babylon was thus an over-engineered, hypervelocity coilgun artillery piece converted into
an assault gun, given an extended barrel, and enough coolant systems to allow it to achieve a
reasonable rate of fire without melting into a pretty pool of glowing metal, and loaded with the
same vECF shells used by NEG ships to target landed Migou Drone Ships from over the horizon.
It had its own D-Engine, larger than the ones used by all but the largest mecha in the New Earth
Government arsenal. Each round took a trained sorcerer four hours to ward after they were
manufactured, just to enable it to survive the acceleration without damaging the delicate internal
mechanisms needed to make it detonate with the force of 12.52 metric tonnes of 2,4,6-
trinitrotoluene. It could fire one shells every 0.8 seconds, and carried an internal magazine
preloaded with 24 of these monstrosities, as well as an identical, secondary magazine loaded
with conventional anti-armour rounds.

It was still suboptimal, compared to the armaments of a true capital ship.

"What am I looking for?" he asked nervously, as he span, trying to keep moving.

"Target not acquired," stated the LITAN.

"I wasn't talking to... Misato!"

The Major appeared on his viewscreen. "Shinji! It turned. It's coming right for you!"

"What is? I can't see anything!" he snapped, spinning, and almost losing his balanced. Ducking
behind the deep shadow cast by a building, he relaxed for a moment. "What. Am. I. Looking.
For," he asked, flicking his attention away from the world outside to the connection down to the
Geocity.

"You're..." Misato began, before trailing off. "You're..." She was pale, her mouth shaped into an
'oh' of shock. "It's... it's gone."

"What do you mean, it's gone?" he snapped, adrenaline running through his veins, and making
the hands on the control yoke shake.

"There's... there's no Pattern Blue anymore," Ritsuko said, slowly, each word unconnected to the
previous one. This was not a patronising tone of voice; it was muffled by the fact that she had a
knuckle in her mouth. "It's gone. Sensors are reading all clear."

The boy said nothing, breath shuddery as the mental exertion hit him. "Seriously?" he asked,
hyperventilating, not even really noticing the thickness or the vile taste of the LCL.

"Apparently."

"S-so, all of this, all of this was for nothing." He groaned. "There's going to be hell to explain at
school," he added, with a sudden giggle, which turned into another groan. "They kicked down
the door, you know," he added, leaning forwards, resting his head on his armoured forearms.
"No, don't relax yet," snapped the Major. "Ritsuko, you are going to get a full decontamination
team up there as soon as possible. I want Unit 01 taken to Quarantine Dome Beta. I want a full
check, including internal systems. Understand. As Director of Operations and as an officer of the
New Earth Government Army, I am refusing to let Unit 01 back down into the Geocity until I
have been personally convinced that Zero-One has not picked up... whatever that was... as some
kind of diminutive hitchhiker. Do I make myself clear?"

Ritsuko took her reddened knuckle out of her mouth, and nodded. "Perfectly. As Director of
Science, I support you fully in this."

"Good." Misato sighed. "And now I'm going to have to try to explain this to the Representative
and the European Triumverate... and probably the Minsister of War, if she gets herself involved,
and she will. What am I supposed to tell them? 'It magically vanished as soon as we deployed
Unit 01?' Or maybe, 'Well, we don't have any evidence it actually existed as more than a sensory
anomaly' Really... could it have been a false alarm caused by astronomical phenomena?" She
sighed. "I don't know. What I do know, is this is going to produce stupid amounts of paperwork
for me."

Gendo Ikari stared over the top of steepled gloves at the other members of the Ashcroft Council
of Representatives. He could see the stress humming in his peers' veins, the concern and worry
evident.

"Ladies, gentlemen," he said. "This was not a false alarm." He paused. "However, the source of
the phenomenon is not known. It did not correspond with the signature emitted by Harbinger-3,
Asherah. That entity is dead."

"Then, what was it?" asked the snowy-haired Representative for Africa, the eldest of the
individuals around the table.

Christina Egger, the Representative for Research, leant forwards, a smile on her lips. "I do hope
you have eliminated the obvious candidates, Ikari," she said calmly.

Gendo stared back. "Naturally."

"Are you sure?" That smirk was still hovering there.

That was a matter of concern. The Representative for Research had her own sources of
information, he was aware of that. That meant that she had assets he was not aware of, just as he
had ones that he knew she did not know of.

"Yes," he said, flatly. "The Magi have determined that it was from an unknown entity which
would be classified as a Herald, at minimum."

"But was it a Harbinger?" asked Society, urgently. "That is what is relevant."


Gendo leaned back, slightly. "It is impossible to say, Jeltje," he said, a slight condescending note
entering his voice. "Entities of this level have an animiaic waveform of such magnitude that the
nuances are entirely lost. We can track where it was, by where it burnt out the relevant sensors."

"Yes, Ikari," said Oversight, adjusting her own arglasses. "And if we track the path, it flicks
across the London Administrative Area."

"Can we be sure that it was looking there, though?" added North America. "How do we know
that it was not looking elsewhere on Earth, in places which we lack detection equipment?"

Gendo nodded. "Correct. We cannot be truly certain."

The Representative for Oceania, the youngest on the Council by over ten years, and the only
Nazzadi not a product of the Migou gene-vats, crossed her hands in front of her. "In that case,
Ikari, I believe we cannot speculate any further, and to do so is counterproductive. At least, not
until the specialist teams have extracted more information from what limited data we have."

Asia leant forwards. "Rimy is correct. All we can do is maintain our readiness, and be wary for
any more such events."

There was a broad consensus that such a course was for the best.

"In that case, would there be any protests to ending this emergency meeting here?" the
Representative for Asia continued. She smiled, wrinkles bunching at the corner of her eyes. "It's
getting early here, and we seem to have covered everything we need to."

The meeting was adjourned, and one by one, the virtual images of the Representatives blinked
out of existence.

Gendo Ikari, Representative for Europe, deactivated the link, and removed his arglasses, blinking
heavily as the light came back up. The man pinched his brow, running his fingers over closed
eyelids. It would be a lot less painful, he knew, if he could use harcontacts, or even simply have
his eyes removed, and replaced with improved Eyes, complete with optical jacks and a rebuilt
optical nerve which connected the eye together the right way around. Arglasses were an obsolete
solution, in a purely technical aspect.

And yet he continued to use them. Why was that?

Putting them back on, he looked up, and blinked; the only overt sign of his shock.

"Rei," he said calmly.

The girl, skin the colour of fresh snow, protective lens still over her replaced eye, stood in front
of his desk. She was not moving, not making a sound. How long had she been waiting there, for
him to notice her? Impossible to say, without consulting the security footage. At least she was
mobile again, and possessed binocular vision, even if one arm was still bound in a cast.
"Yes, Representative Ikari," she said. Her voice was cold, a flat, dead monotone. Some would
have viewed it as a tone of contempt, even of hatred. Gendo knew better.

"Rei, why are you here?" he asked.

She raised her mobile hand, a datapad clutched within. "It was hard to type with one hand," she
said, by way of explanation for the delay.

Gendo nodded, a faint smile twitching at the corner of his mouth. He had not expected her to be
done so soon; a mistake, he realised in retrospect. "Thank you, Rei," he said, reaching out with
one gloved hand to take the thin device. "I checked your medical report; I note that there is only
bruising and a minor fracture to heal now."

"Yes." The girl paused. "I do not wish to experience that again, unless it is necessary."

"I do not believe it will be, Rei," the man said.

She said nothing.

"That is all, Rei."

She tilted her head slightly, resting her free arm on the broken one. "You do not know what that
was, Representative Ikari," she said, voice level. "You have merely deduced what it was."

Gendo looked at her for a second, before standing up, a wave of his hand setting part of the wall
of the dome which was his office to transparency. The light from the false sun above streamed
in, the light in the office adapting to remove the shadows. With a few measured paces, he was
over by the window, staring out from his cold, dead, clinical office onto the greenery.

"Correct," he said simply.

"Logic can be replicated," she said. Was that a hint of chiding in her voice? "Logic has been
replicated."

"Yes," he said, still staring out.

"And there are others who know, Representative Ikari."

Closing his eyes, letting the light paint his world red through the eyelids, he took a deep breath,
as he leant forwards. Under his palm, he could feel the fractional, almost negligible curve of the
hemisphere. It was, despite its transparency, perfectly solid and unyielding.

But that was always a problem, wasn't it? Things that might seem plane would turn out to be
subtly distorted.

"Thank you, Rei," he said, turning back to face the girl. "You can..."
Rei Ayanami had already gone.

~'/|\'~
Chapter 6: Chapter 5: Absent Communication

Chapter 5

Absent Communication / As if the vanward clouds of evil days had spent their malice

EVANGELION

~'/|\'~

"Not coping well after NH's death. I miss her. So does everyone else. Funereal was today; closed
coffin, obviously. Saw her parents crying, couldn't say anything to them. None of us could.
Everything to do with M is classified. Muttered some condolences. They were just crying. DN is
still in hospital... she said she'll be getting new legs by the end of the month. She managed to
make the funereal; probably forced them to let her go at gunpoint, knowing her. SM resigned; he
feels guilty, saw what happened in full. Not surprising. Really hope that he doesn't do something
stupid; told them, off the record, to keep an eye on him. Think they were going to anyway; for the
best. Him and NH were close. Foundation will be assigning new team supervisor. Don't know
who it will be. CS thinks that KI isn't going to get it, that they're going to send in someone else.
AV, JK and NA agree, KS and OR don't. Don't know what I feel. God. NH was just alive when we
got into the test chamber. I don't get how she was still breathing. M managed to tear the
restraints clean off, and just went berserk. Wasn't like the blastscreen was going to keep anyone
safe from that.

Don't understand how it managed to get free. Doesn't make sense. Not much to do with M does."

Personal Diary of Anton Miyakame,


23rd of July, 2072

~'/|\'~

Monday, 20th of September, 2091

Shinji Ikari's eyes snapped open as soon as the alarm went off, but he did not move. He simply
lay there, eyes staring up at the featureless ceiling. No... that wasn't quite true. There was a lump
just to the right of the middle, where the plaster was slightly cracked. A small spider, only visible
as a speck of discolourment in the mists of the dusty threads of its web, seemed to have taken up
residence around the break.
He blinked heavily, and shifted in bed, rubbing the side of his face against the pillow, and slowly
levered himself upright, to a sitting position.

"Would you like to hear the morning news, Shinji?" asked his muse, much as she did every
morning. "It is currently 7:12 am. Remember, you need to leave the house by 8:10 am, if you are
to arrive on time."

"Yeah, yeah," he muttered, sitting on the edge of his bed.

"... reports of widespread successes against Migou landers, striking north against Australia from
both Antartica and New Zealand. Military sources are now reporting that this appears to have
been nothing more than a testing attack, both from the Loyalist-heavy composition of the forces,
and the immediate withdrawal when they hit Navy resistance. The Armed Forces will be giving a
formal statement in three quarters of an hour." The newsreader cleared her throat. "In economic
news, the GFTS," she pronounced the abbreviation for the Global Financial Trading System as
one would 'gifts', "is up ten points, currently standing at 13,342, following a strong boost to the
games sector after the unveiling of the new Apotheon Infinity, the latest dedicated gaming
system from Processerion, which led to a forty point climb in Chrysalis shares. Meanwhile, the
Chair of the Nazzadi Business League..."

Shinji picked up his folded clothes from his chair, placing them on his bed, and frowned.
Things... were not going well at school. He personally blamed whoever had used the highest
level of "grab the pilot and run" for that thing which had turned out to be a false alarm. They
could have just done one of the lower ones, even merely sent him a message to leave the
classroom before the armed escort arrived, but noo~ooo. Apparently that would have been too
much effort; that, or they had just been panicking too much. There had been far too many strange
looks for the rest of the week, and things had been worse yesterday. Apparently, there had been
'discussions' between overenthusiastic classmates. The kind of discussions that involved Grid
searches, and there had been occasional problems with privacy-breaking journalists back when
he was only special because of who his father was.

If he were feeling more sympathetic, he might have been able to understand the mindset which
they were coming from. It wasn't every day, after all, that a classmate get snatched during
lessons by heavily armoured and armed Ashcroft security troops. Even at an Academy. It was
understandable that they might start asking questions of him, and... well, in honesty, he wasn't a
good enough liar to be able to conceal the fact that something was going on. Not that he was
stupid enough to actually let anything slip, because he quite liked his personal freedom, thank
you very much, but there were strictly defined limits to what he could conceal without looking
like he was concealing something.

And, so, as it was, he was feeling rather unsympathetic, poorly inclined towards the Evangelion
Group for putting him through this, and just wanted to get through school for a few weeks so that
the rumours could die down again. Gods, the meeting with the OIS at the weekend had been bad
enough. He didn't need his classmates digging into his background and interrogating him too.
~'/|\'~

"Right... so, what have we gathered?"

The only good thing about Monday mornings was that... wait, there wasn't any good thing about
Monday mornings, if one were to take the mode opinion among the students currently trickling
into the classroom. It felt like a chilly, cold, depressing morning. Of course, since this was in an
arcology dome, the weathers systems were controlled, and so were the normal, designed-to-be-
pleasant temperature (with a moisture cycle not planned until this evening), so the mimicry of
climate was completely inappropriate for how most people were feeling. Jony leant back, and
sighed. But internally, so Dathan wouldn't hear. Nothing, because I wasn't going to waste my
weekend... well, what weekend I got, because we still have to attend school on Saturday
mornings, and my father made me do something with my little brother on Sunday. So I did
precisely nothing, and enjoyed doing it. And then remembered this morning, and searched it on
the Grid.

She noticed the boy was staring at her, and coughed. "It's the right name," she said, trying to
make it sound like she cared. "I cross-checked."

The brown-haired boy's face settled into a scowl. "Is that all?" he asked.

"I checked too," interjected Enu, leaning in, and getting (in the nazzady's opinion) a little too
close. "There are pictures... low res ones, but, I got a squirt from the Region 11 networks, and...
yeah, the face is right

"Now, that's a lot better!" Dathan said, in a rather more enthusiastic voice. "That's living up to
the goal of the OIS Cadets!

Dathan, just listen to yourself. We're not real OIS Agents. I do it because you drag me around,
and have since we were... seven, or something, and because it's an easier Social Work Task than
having to trek all the way to a primary school to read to small children or anything. Children of
all sorts are annoying, and more trouble than they're worth.

The door to the classroom slid open again, the temperature dropping slightly, as air circulated.
"Oh, hello," Hikary could be heard to say. "How are you feeling?" she added, with a hint of
caution in her voice.

There was a pause. "The pain is reduced," a clinical, cold voice replied. "There is mild
discomfort as the bones finish healing."

"Well... that's good," the amlaty said to Rei, trying not to stare at the anti-septic seal still
covering one eye, or the pale blue cast over one arm. "Uh... have you managed to keep up to date
with the work? I mean," she gave a slightly forced laugh, "you're not expected to have done it all,
but..."
"I have."

"Excuse me?"

"I have completed all the work which was set."

"Oh." Hikary, as most people were forced to do at least one per conversation with Rei Ayanami,
blinked, and reset her inner expectations. Nevertheless, however, she pushed on. "Do you need
someone to help you write or type?" the Class Representative asked, eyes dropping to the still-
bound arm.

"No." There was a pause. "Thank you for the cards and the flowers," Rei said, almost
mechanistically.

Hikary smiled; a somewhat self-satisfied little grin. "Oh, really, it was nothing," she said, with a
flick of her pigtails. "It was the least that we could do."

"No." The other girl blinked heavily at that word from Rei. "The least you could have done
would have been to do nothing. You did more than that."

Internally, Hikary squinted. That... that seems to be thanks, didn't it? On the other hand, it might
just have been a technical correction. She blinked, slowly. Nozomy certainly wasn't this hard to
read. The Class Representative stepped aside, to let the other girl manoeuvre past her to her
customary seat next to the window, in front of the Cadets clique, and, with a shrug returned to
her seat.

"It must have been pretty bad, if Rei's still in a cast after a month," Ala said to her, red eyes
looking up from his PCPU. Hikary liked Ala; he was from an Integrationist family, and their
fathers got on, but she also know that he liked her. Which was a little uncomfortable, because she
didn't feel the same way. "What was it, a car crash?"

"Yes. And... yes, that must have been bad, for such a long absence." Transplanted limb bad, was
what neither of them said, even if there were slight winces. The simple fact was that these kind
of injuries were rare, that the mass proliferation of public transport had radically decreased
certain types of injuries which, even fifty years earlier, would have been commonplace, in a
society with ubiquitous personal transport. There were the conflicts of the Aeon War, of course,
but they were kept far away from society, and medical treatment was such that the physical scars,
at least were repairable. For a person to end up in hospital for a month, from brute trauma, was
rare enough to be something shocking. At least in the privileged socioeconomic bracket of the
Academy students.

Hikary glanced back at the pale figure, book (and it was actually a hardcopy book, rather than a
booklike PCPU, which was the norm) already in the free hand. Her eyebrows rose in surprise, as
she noticed that Taly Talerni oy Chicago-twi oy Londoni-twi vy Nosesudevorazy vy Salenity
(there was a sardonic twist in her thoughts, over the fact that the girl insisted on using a full
Nazzadi-style name) and Kensuke Aida were sitting over in a corner, talking with a certain
intensity which was far more than a casual chat. That was surprising. The girl was the unofficial
head of the... well, 'Traditionalist' wasn't the right word, considering that the original Nazzadi
culture had been designed by the Migou sometime this century, and the attempts to create a
cohesive identity post-dated the Nazzadi Civil War, but "non-Integrationist" summed up all the
disjointed cultural groupings, and (the amlaty thought, disapprovingly) tended to self-segregate.
And she was less than kind to people from Integrationist families. To see her talking like that to a
human was... unusual.

The Class Representative shrugged. She severely doubted that anyone could be interested
in that way in Kensuke Aida, let alone a Nazzadi culture-fanatic. Unless... yes, that would be it.
Hikary felt stupid for not thinking of it earlier. If there was one thing which the two had in
common, it would have to be an obsessive love of military technology. Shaking her head at the
silliness, the girl returned to the conversation of her friends.

"I think it was just a good thing you had a recorder on," Kensuke said in a low voice.

The Nazzadi girl flicked her hair, dyed red streaks standing out from the black, and grinned. "I
always do," she explained. "It's much easier to just record all classes. Helps with revision."

The boy nodded. "Makes sense." He glanced down at his PCPU. This was not his main device;
that was sitting on his desk. This was a smaller, specialist one; one with a surplus of internal
memory and processing capabilities, which could function perfectly well when not connected up
to the Grid. Which it was not, right now. Everybody knew that the Academy monitored your
activities when you were using the AIG, and what they were doing right now was... well, they
didn't know for sure that it was illegal, largely because they didn't know exactly what they were
looking into, but both students knew that what they were doing could probably end up legally
problematic, if they found out too much.

"Did you manage to clean up the sound on your end?" Taly asked. "I did, but... yeah, nice to
have a second opinion. What were you using?"

"AudioRedact 5."

"Ah. I used Solilaki-Laki-Soli."

"I tried that... didn't like the user-interface, and... well," Kensuke paused, "... it read like they'd
just stuck the text into a freeware translator from the Nazzadi."

Taly looked around, checking that no-one else was trying to listen in. "It's actually a better piece
of software in every way. Naturally. Some of us have a slightly better sense of hearing than
baseline humans." She'd told her friends it was something niche, that he owed her a favour, and
neither of them wanted to be caught. "My end..." She held out the screen. On it were the words,
'Go! Secure the Third Child!', 'Protocol Echo, sir,' 'Why, what...', 'This way,' 'I'm needed in the
(Eva/EVA)?' and 'Come this way, sir. Don't talk.'
Kensuke compared them to the words he'd got, and didn't make a remark on the fact that
humanity had notably better colour vision than the Nazzadi, who had sacrificed (which was to
say, the Migou had sacrificed it for them) it for superlative night vision. "Yes, matches perfectly.
Same uncertainty over Eva/EVA, too. Might be a name, might be Extravehicular Activities."

There was a sniff from the girl. "I would think that the use of 'the' is enough to indicate that it's a
proper noun, don't you?" she said, with a hint of acrimony.

"Yeah, but the way people talk is like that." Kensuke leant closer, huddling over his screen. This
was going to be more delicate... after all, all that they'd admitted to having done so far was listen
to speech in a public location. The boy rummaged around in a pocket, pulling out a cable.
"Connect them up, and... you know..." he said.

She did know. Even if typing would be slower, it would also prevent eavesdropping. Of course,
wireless communication was, and had been ever since its inception, an open invitation to
listening in, and, especially in an era when there were quantum computers, most forms of non-
quantum encryption were trivially breakable. It was rumoured that the school used a full suite of
ghost LAIs to monitor every electromagnetic signal (which, incidentally, meant that the science
labs were supposed to be more secure, if you wanted to do something that the Academy wouldn't
approve of, thanks to all the random electromagnetic fluctuations which ISCIAT and ISCHAT
lab work produced) which was sent from within the arcology dome.

Of course, that was the same sort of rumour which claimed that there were hidden cameras in all
the toilets and showers which had been installed by one of the slightly creepy biology teachers,
and was widely viewed to be a little bit on the paranoid side. If only because of the fact that there
was no real need to use proper ghost LAIs to deal with the sort of things that an average student
could get up to on a safe network, when a multipurpose drone would do the job perfectly well.

There was a flick, as the devices recognised the connection, and started the messaging client.

ArmoureDRusH: So, I focussed on the mention of Eva/EVA. Nothing specific on Protocol


Echo... just a general name.

Zidony: Probably go from Alpha to Zulu. Agreed.

Zidony: Standard code name.

Zidony: But is it counting down, or up?

ArmoureDRusH: Is Alpha bad or good, you mean?

Zidony: Yeah.

ArmoureDRusH: Dunno.
ArmoureDRusH: On the Eva thing. Just searching for the word on the Grid churns up tonnes of
stuff. It's a short word. Plenty of stuff.

Zidony: I started to narrow it down. I checked the SWP timetable. He spends his time down in
the Geocity. It's an AF place.

ArmoureDRusH: ... and we know that he's the Rep's son. Just slacking? Family connections to
get him away from

"No," Taly said out loud, shaking her head. Obviously, she was reading over his shoulder, even
as he typed. Kensuke deleted that sentence.

Zidony: Doubt it. You don't drag someone out like that with no warning, and he's not the only
one here with senior AF people for parents. Did you see that armour? That wasn't VIP stuff. That
was high grade SPHCA. Military grade.

ArmoureDRusH: That was awesome.

Zidony: Oh, yes. I'd love to get my hands on one. And you were right at the time. That was the
Eschaton XI-F. It was at ArmachamExpo this year. Can't you just see the Nazzadi influences in
the design?

Kensuke looked up. No, he really couldn't. It was the kind of heavy, overengineered design
beloved of Homo sapiens sapiens which could take a 20mm shell to the chest, and maybe not die
(although the wearer wouldn't be in a very good shape, and it had a fair chance of being a
mission kill, just from momentum transfer). Although... he opened another window... now that
she mentioned it, there was something about the legs, under the exterior plating...

ArmoureDRusH: We can talk about MilSpec any time.

Zidony: Yeah. Even if H bitches at us about it.

ArmoureDRusH: So... let's sum it up.

Zidony: ...

Zidony: ...

Zidony: Yeah. Pointless. Nothing concrete.

ArmoureDRusH: At least we know where to start looking.

Taly smirked at Kensuke, looking up, as she popped out the cable, passing it back to him. "Oh, I
don't know," she said out loud. "One of the things that's quite easy is knowing where to ask." She
paused. "Uh, I mean, sort of like how... I would say perukweranaby, because Reformed English
doesn't really have the right word... possible-asking. Asking in a way that makes people give
away things you didn't know."

Kensuke tapped his fingers on the desk. "Really?"

The girl leaned forwards with a slightly predatory grin. "Oh, yes. Especially on boys."

The aforementioned boy shifted uncomfortably, feeling suddenly a little hot under the collar.
"Uh... talk to you tomorrow?" he asked, voice raising in questioning.

Taly nodded. "You were right. 'Least we know where to look, now."

At the front of the classroom, the door opened, and Shinji Ikari slunk on. He wasn't late,
technically speaking, but the classroom was full... fuller than he'd expected. Which was to say,
someone he really hadn't expected to see here was here. His eyes locked upon milk-white skin
and snow-like hair, and he flinched back slightly.

grey eyes.

orange fluid.

utter darkness.

He swallowed, and shook his head. Calm down, Shinji, he told himself. It makes sense that she'd
be here. They'd mentioned that she went to the same school. She's the 'First Child', you're the
'Third'. He paused, and briefly wondered who the 'Second' was, then. Could it be someone else
in this room? No... no, he'd have seen them down in the Geocity, and now that he'd thought of it,
he was sure that Misato had mentioned that the Second was somewhere else. Yes. It made sense.
And it would make sense to get to know Rei, as a... co-worker was the right phrase, considering
that he was actually getting paid for this. He'd just have to get around to talking to her...

Shinji suddenly blushed. The fact that he was disturbed to see her... oh no, people were going to
interpret it as if he had some kind of problem with sidoci. More than a few people had noticed
his twitch, upon sight of Rei. And he couldn't deny it, because he couldn't explain about the
Evangelions, and if he tried to deny it, he'd look like he was just trying to cover up.

He did not need this right now!

At the back of the classroom, Kensuke snapped his fingers. "Fishing for information! That was
the English phrase!" He sunk back down, as the others stared at him.

~'/|\'~
It was 10 am, and four suited men and women were sitting on one side of a table. The wall
opposite to them was a multifaceted viewscreen, tens of static portraits facing them, waiting for
the start of the meeting. There was a common feel about all the faces, too; a certain cut of the
hair and set of the face, despite the heterogeneous mix of subspecies and ethnicities.

The white-haired, grey-eyed man sitting on the far right cleared his throat, and glanced down at
his watch. "We're only waiting for Pretoria-B, aren't we?" the sidocaasked, with a hint of
boredom in his voice blended with the nervousness.

The nazzada to his right ran a hand through his prematurely greying hair, and shook his head.
"No," the older man, Agent Para (to use the Nazzadi tendency to use the first name with titles,
rather than the pseudo-surname of the matropatronym, or the deed-name) said. "Pretoria-B isn't
on this. Orders from the top, from Director Gohda. He's assigned them to the SSTF on Non-
Governmental Organisations C, and so they're not allowed to sit in on A meetings." He shrugged,
wearily. "Standard policy for preventing cross-contamination. Makes everything more difficult,
of course." Shaking his head, he added, "We're waiting for Captain Joyeuse."

They waited in silence. Although the State Security Task Force on Non-Governmental
Organisations (A), more colloquially (or, at least, more pronounceably) known as Grigori-A, was
an OIS-dominated organisation, there were others, like Captain Joyeuse who were from the
Global Intelligence Agency (although, to complicate matters further, she was technically from
the New Earth Government Army, on permanent secondment to the GIA, as both the GIA and
the OIS were civilian agencies and thus their military forces were technically from the Army or
Navy), or the Federal Security Bureau. There were even a few individuals from the Office of
Special Services, the feared, legally-non-existent penultimate agency, which dealt with threats of
a cosmic nature; the bland, entirely (almost suspiciously) nondescript face of the sole
representative was isolated in the bottom left corner of the viewscreen.

A human leaned around his co-worker, to look at the young sidoci with a hint of compassion.
"You're worried, aren't you?" he asked, in a tone of voice which wasn't really a question.

Junira Julusanari nodded, a jerking movement of his head. "A little," he admitted, his voice stiff
and formal. "I... I have to say, I didn't expect to end up interviewing such a high-value target. Let
alone to be giving such a report to a State Security Task Force on Non-Governmental
Organisations."

"You'll be fine. We have full recordings of the interviews, after all. What we're looking for is gut
feelings, personal perceptions, rather than raw biometric data."

"With respect, sir," the younger man straightened up his chin, "I am familiar with the procedure.
I do know that I need to justify my decisions and questioning choices to the SSTF. You don't
need to ease me into it easily." The corners of his mouth twitched up slightly. "That is not to say
that I do not appreciate the attempts to ease me in," he added. "And I did grasp that you wanted a
rookie to be talking to him, in front of those Ashcroft lawyers, even if you were feeding me the
questions. I noticed the parapsychic badge on one of them." The look in his grey eyes was
knowing.
"Actually, no." The voice from behind them had a hint of harshness underlying the melodic
tones; almost akin to how a singer with smoke-damaged lungs might sound. "She's merely an
AC03-Observational, not any kind of mind-reader." The heavy sounding footsteps as Captain Ori
Joyeuse scraped a chair into position were quite out of type with how she quietly she had
entered. The woman herself was short and stocky, and, from what could be seen under her tan
uniform, very heavily muscled; the sort of physique which only came about from experience in
the sort of cleansing teams which operated in terrain too dense or broken up for power armour.
The sort of physique, in fact, which, to those in the know, came as much from artificial
musculature and subdermal implants as it did from human biology. "Now, that does mean that
she's terrifyingly good at reading body language and those kind of subtle social cues, but that's
not even something she has to legally wear ID for. She does so as a courtesy, under Ashcroft
Foundation internal policy."

"Makes a sulusanginojy good lawyer, I know that," grunted Agent Gjorgji Mile, the eldest of the
men at the table, and until the arrival of Captain Joyeuse, the only human. Not that fact meant
that he didn't swear in Nazzadi. "I've dealt with her before. She's far too good at it for it to be..."
he gave a self-depreciating chuckle, "... well, for it to be fair."

"Which is why we sent in someone who knew nothing about it," added the younger of the two
Nazzadi, his hair prematurely iron-grey despite his youth. "What did you think of him, of it,
Junira?" he asked the sidoca.

"In all honesty, well, you've seen the tapes," the White answered. "The 'what happened in the
attack' bit went normally. I was... well, in truth I was somewhat surprised to find that the
Harbinger almost stood on him." He shook his head. "Of all the bad luck. Although," he added,
in a more thoughtful tone, "it raises other questions. Like, where, exactly, were his bodyguards? I
find it impossible to believe that a potential target like that would be permitted to travel without
minders."

"That's my general problem with it," interjected Captain Joyeuse, running a hand through her
close-cropped hair. "There are just too many... coincidences," the word was said with disgust,
"for it to be so. He happens to arrive on the same day as Harbinger-3 shows up, it happens to
head for the AG arcology he was in, getting close enough to almost stand on him, and then
there's the thing about how he's saved at the last moment by an Ashcroft Armacham squad from
traitor ArcSec officers. A squad led by an Ashcroft-seconded NEGA Major, and accompanied by
two Nephilim... high end combat models, too. Not that there are any other kind for those things,
of course." She shook her head. "It sounds like the start to a bad film, really. And yet we've seen
the video footage, from both the stuff in the airport, as well as the helmetcams, guncams, and
unitcams from the Armacham squad. Now, the latter especially could have been forged," it
wasn't as if it was that hard in a world with easy access to computing power and video-editing
software, "but what would they have to gain by telling such a contrived and unrealistic story?"

"It's so stupidly false that it might actually be real. Sucks to be him, though. Although I wouldn't
mind betting against him at poker, if he's that unfortunate."
"He must have been really glad to get down to the safety of the Geocity," added Agent Mile,
with a barked laugh.

"And that was when everything started getting vaguer, and the lawyer kept on interrupting and
advising the boy... Shinji... to keep silent." The man with skin the colour of snow sighed.
"Perfectly legally, of course. He was just in for questioning as a witness, he wasn't a suspect or
anything. He had all his human rights. And what happened afterward he was safe wasn't relevant
to the questioning. But it's annoying when you can't get a sentence out without someone else
interrupting."

"They're concealing something," said Captain Joyeuse. "The Foundation are, and given the way
that he disappears frequently into one of the null-surveillance zones in the Geocity, one of the
ones sealed under NEGA orders," she paused, "I suspect that they might be abusing the NSZ
exemptions. They're meant to only be used for sensitive research," she added, with disapproval.

"So, what do you think, Junira?" asked Agent Hikara, the taciturn man finally speaking.

"Honestly," Junira answered, "I believe that, yes, he probably was the target for the rogue
ArcSec officers. It just seems to match up with everything; the way they were herding things,
and, of course, the way that, as ArcSec, it's their job to check people one by one. If things had
gone as planned," he shook his head, "well, I suspect that Shinji Ikari would have vanished at
some checkpoint, when he 'failed' a blood scan, and was escorted away for higher level tests. It
was... worryingly well planned out."

"That does seem to be the consensus," the older man agreed. "And the way that ArcSec was
compromised like that..." The man winced. "I refuse to believe that they would send someone
with no bodyguards on a plane just like that," he said slowly. "It makes no sense. And I was with
the FSB's VIP unit before I came to the OIS. I know what I'm talking about. There's something
else going on."

"Doppelganger-replacement of bodyguards?" The question from Agent Para was clipped.

"Possible. But... well, they should have been caught by the checks on plane travel."

"Which means that, either we've just found there's a new threat, who can replace people
perfectly, and escape past full airport-type security; bloodchecks, brainscans, psych-profiling..."

"... or they don't exist, and we're just clutching at straws," said Captain Joyeuse, sardonically.
"Just like everything else when trying to get this incident to make sense."

For example, who then who were the others? Who were the civilian group? was the question all
of them were thinking, as the larger meeting with the rest of Grigori-A began, to report on the
interview.
~'/|\'~

It was now evening, and the mournful sounds of a cello filled the apartment, as Misato settled
down on the sofa, sinking deep into the cushions with a squeak of springs. Wincing slightly as an
off note indicated the slip of a finger, she broke the seal on a can with a snap, and took a slow,
thoughtful mouthful.

A white penguin with little beady red eyes waddled past her, a towel slung over one shoulder.
She paid him no... wait a minute!

"Hey! Pen-Pen! That's one of my towels!"

"Wark?"

"You've got your own. Use them. Don't make mine smell of bird!"

"Waaa~aaark..." The bird sounded slightly affronted, but turned on its heel... if one could indeed
describe the bit there the back of a bird's foot met the bottom of its leg as a heel, as Misato had a
feeling that the heel was something to do with bones that humans had and birds didn't...

Urgh. She needed another drink, if she was still thinking like this. She was trying to unwind after
a hard day, and she did not need to have the military part of her brain start obsessing over what
to call a penguin's heel. Stupid overtrained connection-making not-realising-that-I'm-off-duty
head.

She silenced that particular part of her thoughts with the rest of the can of beer, and, crushing the
emptied can in her fist, tossed the ball into the new bin. A small cheer and a fist thrust into the air
accompanied the successful in-off-the-wall throw. It was certainly the new bin, because Shinji
had written on it, in marker pen, "BEER CAN BIN: FOR RECYCLING" in English, Japanese,
and, quite possibly to show off, Nazzadi as well. It was a little pathetic in her opinion, but she
was willing to make this kind of small compromise, if it was going to make life easier.

Perhaps in some kind of response to her thoughts, there was a loud twang from the other room, a
yelp of pain, and she was sure that, immediately after that, she heard a long, frustrated sigh in the
silence which followed.

"What was that?" she asked, when Shinji, a few minutes later, entered the room, rubbing the
palm of his right hand.

"One of the strings broke," the boy answered, a tone of sullen annoyance in his voice. He raised
his hand, to show the livid welt across the flesh. "The tip just caught me."

"Ouch."
"Yes. Yes, it does hurt." He sighed. "And I don't have any replacements, either. I'm going to have
to find somewhere that sells them." Shinji paused. "Come to think of it, I should probably just
get a pack. The higher pitched strings always end up breaking a lot more than the lower ones."

Misato frowned. "Why not just make a new one?" she asked.

There was a faint look of horror on the boy's face. "As in, use a home nanofac one?" he asked, in
seeming disbelief. "No, really, no." He shuddered slightly.

"I wouldn't have put you down as some kind of musical purist." Misato paused. Actually, come
to think of it, she would. That kind of passive-aggressive obsessively-cleaning personality was
likely to make a fuss over two different types of string which sounded identical to her.

"I'm not. It's just..." Shinji paused. "Well, firstly, for the type of string I use, it's a mix of P-O and
T-M modes, and quite a lot of home ones don't really combine them that well..."

"... mine does," Misato said, with a smirk.

"Well, okay. But the point is, a proper one... you know." Shinji realised that she probably didn't
know, and didn't feel like explaining right now. "Um... well, a proper string is metal-coated, but
on the inside, it's catgut... not actual catgut," he reassured her, even though she didn't seem that
distressed, "that's just what it gets called. And, well, if it isn't done properly, you end up with this
really tinny note. You can really hear the difference when you're actually playing... not that I'm
brilliant, by any means, but it's still obvious to a musician, or just someone who's still learning,
like me..."

Leaning back, and rubbing the strap of her top idly, the black-haired woman sighed. This wasn't
interesting at all. Time to change topic. "It did sound very nice," she said. "Have you joined the
school orchestra, yet?" she asked.

Shinji shook his head, a slight pout on his lips. "No. Because, as I mentioned the last time you
asked, the string section has its practice after school on Wednesdays. Which I can't make. For
some reason. You wouldn't happen to know why, would you?"

Ouch. He was getting sarcastic. And a little worked up. "It was very pretty," Misato said hastily.
"What was it?"

She was fixed with a level stare. "I was practicing scales when it broke," said Shinji, his voice
flat and controlled.

"... they were very pretty scales."

~'/|\'~
Tuesday, 21st of September, 2091

The smell of food wafted through the lunch hall. That was one real, concrete advantage of the
Academy over other schools; the food was really, really good. In quite shocking disregard for the
stereotypes which fiction would propagate about the quality of school food, the Ashcroft
Foundation had decided that the benefits of actually having a proper on-site kitchen more than
outweighed the (to them) trivial costs of doing so. As Shinji carried his tray back from the
counter, he thanked this one little comfort to his day. It was nice not having to cook. Yes,
technically, he didn't have to, as Misato was willing to cook once in a while. Technically, he also
didn't have to keep on breathing. Technicalities were not useful in such circumstances.

And, looking around, his classmates and co-scholars did seem to be taking advantage of it. The
place was crammed. Just from the lack of any seats at all, anywhere, he wouldn't be surprised if
the take-up was universal.

No, not quite universal. He couldn't see any glimpse of Rei Ayanami. And it wasn't as if she
could be hiding in here; white xenomixes, the sidoci, were not exactly hard to see. White was not
a natural hair colour for teenagers, and those among the Nazzadi who did dye it were easy to
distinguish. There were some Whites here, true; more than in the ambient population, because
the increased number of amlati naturally resulted in more of their variant siblings. Roughly one
in every hundred xenomixed couplings produced a sidoci, and although the termination rate was
notably higher (and not frivolously; a pre-natal parapsychic could be dangerous to bring to term,
quite apart from the problems such children had) than baseline, they were a not unique. In fact,
there was a whole table of them over there, a bleak white group. Many of them were wearing the
identifying badges mandatory for someone with parapsychic abilities of a nature that it was felt
that should not be kept secret. A vivid blue for those able to affect the mind, an orange-red for
those with abilities that could hurt; the categories were broad. There were, in fact, noted human
rights issues with such identifiers, and they were acknowledged. They were a messy solution to a
messy problem. But when people compared them to the yellow stars of Nazi Germany, or the
forehead tattoos of Byukan-era Malaysia, it was pointed out that, despite the ravings of
conspiracy theory-obsessed lunatics, at no points in verifiable history had Judaism enabled one to
set others on fire with one's mind, or sever heads with invisible lines of telekinetic force.

Shinji paused, as he realised that Rei actually didn't wear any identifying badges. That normally
just meant that her abilities were internally focussed; more limited scope. But, no, he thought, as
he finally found a seat, and began to eat, she wasn't here.

He vaguely wondered where she did eat, before putting the thought from his mind, and loosened
his collar slightly, before picking up his knife.

On the other side of the room, however, there was a conversation with him firmly in mind. "I did
a search... blank, pay-as-you-go PCPU, and not my muse, I should add," said Kensuke. "Tried a
few spelling variations." He looked thoughtful. "Apart from the technical stuff, and the
exocerebrum page, even with the muse's filters... well, heh," the thoughtful look turned into a
slightly lecherous grin, "...turns out that a lot of porn stars are called Eva. Both male and female."

Taly snorted. "Of course there are. 'Ev-' is the stem of..." she waved her hand in the air, "... uh,
well, it sort of translates as 'organic', 'plant-like'... but tall plants, like trees. And so when you add
the male ending to it... no, 'male ending' isn't funny..."

"... I didn't say anything," Kensuke said, biting his lip as his face turned more than a little bit red.

"No, but you were going to. Anyway, when you shift it to the male variant 'eva', rather than the
neuter, 'evi', which you would be using if you were talking about a normal tree or something, um,
well..."

"I see. That actually makes sense." Kensuke exhaled. "It's like someone being called 'Woody',
isn't it?"

"Yeah. Yeah, that would be it. Almost exactly. So... anyway, there's a lot of Eva porn out there."

"I found out." The boy sighed. "It wasn't helpful at all."

"You have to admit, if you were trying to hide it in plain sight, that kind of name would throw up
massive amounts of data-spam to conceal the real project," Taly said.

"Yes, but then no-one would take it seriously. It'd be like an LAI system being called the..."
Kensuke flapped a hand, "... Tactical... Information... Total... System, or something."

"That is kinda true." The girl narrowed her eyes. "But we've wasted enough time. See," she
glanced from side to side, "I think I managed to find something. On a pilot's board." At
Kensuke's glance, she shrugged. "I borrowed my older brother's log-in."

"Borrowed, or 'borrowed'."

"I konfikatakrony it, if we're going to be correct," she said, with a smirk. At Kensuke's blank
look, she sighed. "That's 'borrowed', yes."

"Was that borrowed or 'borrowed'?"

There was a disgusted noise. "Oh, forget about it. But... yes, you know the Engels?"

"How could I not?" And, indeed, Kensuke certainly knew about them. From their first field
deployment, back in 2084, up to the modern day, the Engel-type arcanocyberxenobiological
humanoid combat war machines had been a poster-child of the propaganda departments of the
New Earth Government. Unlike conventional mecha, they were, one-on-one, superior to Migou
units in the same weight category (which put them as considerably better than the Nazzadi
Loyalist units, which, with the exception of the Elite, were starting to fall behind the tech-curve),
and there was something about the image of a Malach, or, even better, a Seraph or Chashmal (the
super-heavies, standing nearly twenty metres high), punching a super-heavy Migou unit in the
face which just seemed to miraculously raise morale.

Of course, those familiar with actual military tactics knew that something had gone horribly
wrong for both parties if one was that close to a Migou unit, because large units were vulnerable
if they fell, and such an engagement was likely to end with both participants on the floor. And at
the very least, even if they survived, the mecha pilot would have to put up with a week of hell
from the tinheads in the tanks, who would be sure to rub it in. And make sarcastic comments
about stable firing platforms, and optimised weight distributions, and low target profiles.

But, despite all this publicity, there was very little actually known about the Engels. They had
come from almost nowhere, already in mass-production by the time that the first battlefield tests
had begun, and the distribution of the publicity materials was very asymmetrical, favouring
certain models (or, technically, groups of models, because the broad category of each Species,
like the Hamshall or Aral, was actually composed of multiple Types) above others. It was
certainly acknowledged universally that Dr Anton Miyakame was a genius, for the way that he
been the driving force behind such an innovation. The fact that he fitted perfectly into the
modern stereotype of the shy, driven, slightly obsessed and reclusive sorcerer-scientist only,
perhaps ironically, made him more famous, if only for how well he fit the image.

"... and, you've heard of the proto-Engel?" Taly continued. "Of the idea of the proto-Engel?"

Kensuke nodded. It was a continual rumour among military obsessives; the idea that there had
been some kind of Engel-before-there-was-an-Engel, which had seen active field use. It was...
not implausible. Of course there would have been test models and prototypes before the mass
production models. There were plenty of theories on what it might have been, though. The
majority position was that it was akin to the Malach (which, had, after all, been the first Species),
but had been an inferior, unrefined subject; lightly armoured, and quasi-autonomous, piloted
from a remote command vehicle. That was obviously a bad idea, but earlier in the War, the full
horror of Migou emwar capabilities hadn't really been obvious. There were other, crazier ideas;
dog-like close-combat units designed to be fired into orbit to board the Migou ships and tear
them apart from the inside, skyscraper-sized insect-like centauroids with high-yield directed
plasma weapons, even the idea that they had been testing the prototype in Las Vegas, before it
had been destroyed by the Zone, that seeping hole in the fabric of reality which drove men mad,
awakened latent parapsychics, and vomited forth things alien to even the Second Arcanotech
War.

"Well, look at this."

It was a simple plaintext file, obviously merely copied from some kind of forum post. It
purported to be written by a mecha pilot stationed around London-2, who had been there for the
attack by the extra-normal entity. That wasn't what the revelation was about, though. There had
been another NEG unit there; something akin to an Engel, but much, much larger. They had
known that it was an arcanocyberxenobiological organism, because it had bled, and roared, and
all the other things that Engels did, but conventional units did not.
And there was the name which it had been called, as forces were pulled away from the capital-
grade titan.

Evangelion.

Kensuke slowly closed his mouth. "Wow."

"I know." The girl's red eyes were alight.

"Wow."

"Yep." Taly smirked. "I think we can say that I win this one. And you owe me a favour for
showing you this. Like, a big one."

Kensuke worked his jaw. "Yeah," he said, a little hoarsely. "Yeah, I think I really do."

Picking up her tray, she flashed chisel-like teeth at him. "And I'll be sure to remember it," she
said, as she walked off.

~'/|\'~

"... now, for this kind of problem, we are assuming that the local gravity is constant, so we can
use the standard value of 9.81 metres a second downwards, or a force of 9.81 Newtons, and,
yes," the black-haired woman, her hair tied back in a tight bun, shot a piercing glance at the
class, "we are operating in a one-state environment, so inertial mass is the same as gravitational
mass, and all those little things which those of you who read far ahead have heard about, are not
applicable. We're trying to keep things simple. This is a simple question of harmonic motion,
understand." She steepled her fingers on the desk, leaning forwards. "So, who among you wants
to tell me how to start?"

Ms Sweet-Corazon was, it was generally agreed, impressively acerbic, and less politely, a
complete bitch. On the other hand, her classes tended to get very good grade averages, even if
they did have a wider standard deviation than others.

Either way, there was silence from the class in front of her.

"Oh, come on," she said, a slightly predatory smirk creeping over her lips. The hand of a brown
haired amlata crept up. "Ah, Mr Ullr. A volunteer."

The orange-eyed boy wetted his lips. "We have the limits, and we know the equation of motion,
including the effects of the spring. We can set up the integral, and solve for time from there on
in."
The teacher nodded. "Yes, that would be the sensible way to do it. Unfortunately,
my esteemed colleagues in the Mathematics department, on behalf of the Board of Education,
have decided that you don't formally learn more advanced calculus... beyond the basics from
your ISCIATs, that is... until just before Christmas, so cunningly spiting our attempts to make
proficient scientists out of you lot. I do not personally believe that integration tools can
compensate for a lack of actual knowledge." She paused. "And, in fact, there is no way to easily
solve this, without the use of calculus. This leaves us with a conundrum."

Some of the brighter members of the class were already groaning.

"Quite. I believe this is called 'super-happy fun time' for you, yes?" Ms Sweet-Corazon was
enjoying this a little bit more than was healthy. "You'll find you've been sent a full explanation of
the techniques. I expect you to have read this by the next time we meet, as I will be setting you
problems for your homework which require the use of trigonometric integrals. There is no
excuse for not having done so."

I'm a pilot of a forty-metre tall arcanxeno... biocyber... something something... robot, and have
got training far too often. Obviously the fact that I'm responsible, in part, for your safety, is
nothing to do with it, and is not a valid excuse at all, was what Shinji didn't say, even if he was
thinking it very hard. And considering what a mess he made of the designation for the
Evangelion, that was probably for the best. That, and the necessity for operational security.

"But, until you have read the documents, I want you to do Section 3a..." she paused, "... the odd
numbered questions. Just go down the left hand side. Looking at the time, you should be able to
get at least up to 9 done by the end of the lesson. If, that is," her tone clipped, "you do not spend
all the time staring out of the window."

There was a pause.

"That comment was directed at you, Miss Ayanami," the teacher added, when the subtle hint did
not seem to sink home. Rei turned to face her, one eye still covered in protective bandages, her
head tilted slightly. "Answer the questions."

"I already know the answers," Rei said, her tone with a hint of confusion .

The teacher blinked twice. "What?"

"The answers to questions 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9, from exercise 3a." There was a slight downwards
twitch of her mouth. "That was what you wanted answered."

The facial expressions pulled while resetting one's brain during a conversation with Rei could
sometimes be rather amusing. All in all, Ms Sweet-Corazon did quite well, and managed to snap
back to narrowed eyes almost instantly. "Then write them down, please. And pay attention to me
when I am talking, even if you do know the answers."

Rei locked her eyes on the teacher, and nodded once, a precise movement of her neck.
"Well, what are the rest of you doing?" snapped the teacher, glaring at the rest of the class.
"Obviously, if you can spare time to sit around, you must find all of this easy. I think you
probably should have done 11, by the end of the lesson, if you have that much time..."

As the class filed out of the room, the babble of conversation began afresh, as soon as people had
determined that the teacher was nowhere near.

"She is made of pure, unrelenting evil."

"I hear she springs this on every year. Believes the curriculum is, like, a suggestion, at best."

"I heard she can melt you into a pool of blood with a glare, and crawl on ceilings, because she
was bitten by an arcanochromatically-tainted spider." There was the sound of someone being
slapped around the back of the head. "What was that for, Kaga?"

"She's not a supervillan, Enitan. Idiot. It's not even as if you came up with a novel origin story."
The Nazzadi boy glared. "Of course, if you actually did your homework, instead of copying off
me, cramming at the last moment, and spending too much time playing games..."

"But that's against my religion!"

"Do you want to be hit again? In fact, do you want to have more stupid slapped out of you?"

"...no."

"So it's fair."

"Still religious discrimination." There was another slap to the back of the head.

"You know, repeated impacts to the skull can cause brain damage," interjected an orange-
eyed amlata. "Although the human skull is designed to protect its contents, the principle of
conservation of momentum still applies. In that case, the rigidity of the skull causes its own
problems, as it is forced back, while the brain moves less, causing an impact with the inner wall."
The boy paused. "Of course, that's probably still better than what would happen if the skull was
cartilaginous," he added.

"That's our Mr Exocerebrum, that's for sure." The boy turned to his compatriot. "See, Kaga!
You're the reason! I guess you just need to lend me your homew... ow!"

Standing behind the improvised pantomime, Shinji unconsciously pursed his lips a little. Not out
of irritation (although, it should be noted, they were blocking the corridor, and slowing down
traffic), but out of... well, he wasn't quite sure how to describe it. 'Bewilderment' would probably
be an accurate approximation, though, with elements of 'amusement'. Of course, it still wasn't
enough to compensate for the fact that the teacher had just dumped another set of extra-
homework on them, and he was still behind compared to the rest of the class. And tomorrow was
Wednesday, so he couldn't get anything done tomorrow.
Oh, boy. Tonight was not going to be fun. Why couldn't they have just had him personal-tutored
or something? Anything that would have allowed them to schedule his education around the
intermediate bouts of giant robot piloting? And, yes, it may have been illegal to home-school
children, but Shinji was fairly sure that it was also very much against the spirit of the law to put
teenagers in capital-grade war machines and make them fight extranormal entities, and that
hadn't stopped them. The sudden outbreak of law-abidingness of the Ashcroft Foundation and
the Army when it came to little things like education regulations was a source of great
disappointment, in fact. Disappointment, and annoyance.

He was broken out of his reverie by a tap on his shoulder.

"Mmmph?"

It was that Nazzadi girl, the one with the red streaks in her hair, and the brown-haired boy who
always wore arglasses; the big, full-eye ones, not the more modern style that his father wore. Oh.
Ah. What were their names? Um... ah... um. Okay, I don't remember. Stay calm, Shinji, and just
act like it's a perfectly normal conversation. Oh, why didn't I pay more attention when people
were introducing themselves back when I joined? Now it'll be really embarrassing to just ask.

No... no, it's okay. I'll just see if I can find a list of pictures of the class on the AIG, and then I
can go memorise them, and then no-one has to do that embarrassing bit where everyone goes
'So, what was your name again?', and then they look at you with that slightly pitying look where
they're obviously thinking 'I've already told you, why are you asking? Are you really that
stupid?', and then it's all a bit of a mess.

He realised that the other two were talking to him. 'At him' was probably a more correct way of
putting things.

"... and I'm really not liking the way that she did that," the girl said. "I mean, it might be all right
for some people, but, come on, the Physics modules aren't the easiest. I mean, one of my friends
had her last year, and she's always been a twihyohojy drekony."

"Yeah, it's sort of..." Shinji blinked twice. "Wait, a 'wet tyrant'? Did you mean to say..."

The girl flashed a grin at him. "Heh. Didn't expect you to actually catch that. You didn't look like
you were paying attention."

I wasn't he thought. Out loud, he added, "I'm trying still to actually catch up with all the stuff I
missed. More work isn't a good thing, but I think it's worse for me than you."

"Ouch." The look on the glassed boy's face was sympathetic. "It must have been a really bad
time for you to move, right at the start of term," he added.

You have no idea. "Yes, kinda."

"Still," the boy continued, "you get to say that you were nearish when that they killed that ENE."
And at that comment, Shinji's blood froze, the whole world shifting under his feet. His pupils
dilated, and he could feel his heart begin to pound.

"It was really awesome, the way those four Engels took down the thing."

Okay. He doesn't know. He's just mad. Why on earth would you want to be anywhere near a
major attack? There was nothing awesome about that, at all. I mean, even if I hadn't been
involved, I know a lot of people died. And the whole chromatic bomb, too. Those things are
nasty. It's not a game or a film.He took a slight step back, as marginally, almost imperceptibly,
the girl leaned in.

"Of course, have you heard any of the rumours going around?"

Biting his lip, Shinji shook his head. "No. About what?"

The other two looked at each other. "Oh, nothing really," said the boy. He adjusted his glasses.
"Just that there was some kind of proto-Engel involved in the battle."

"I... I hadn't heard that," said Shinji. "What does that mean, um, anyway? Wouldn't a proto-Engel
just be an Engel?" He could feel the sweat on his forehead, and hoped that they wouldn't notice
it.

"Maybe, maybe." The boy shrugged.

"I guess, it is only a rumour," added the girl. "I don't know. My friend... he's normally pretty
good at these sort of things."

"Is he?" said Shinji, who was currently trying to look for a way out of the conversation without
looking like he was trying to look for a way out, and failing at both objectives.

"Oh, yes, he is." There was an undeniable smirk on the girl's face, as she added, "Yes, Eva's
pretty good."

"Really?" It was almost a squeak.

"I don't suppose you know Eva, do you?"

Calm down, calm down, calm down, Shinji thought to himself, with acute mental urgency. They
haven't said anything which couldn't be just me being paranoid. And I'm just giving myself away
if I do anything silly like this. So I'll just deny everything. He mentally paused. I'll just deny
anything which isn't directed towards me in a negative form to make me use a double negative,
and thus confirm it, he corrected himself, both of his foster sisters being a little too fond of that
piece of linguistic trickery. He took a breath.

"I don't, sorry," he said, managing to hold his voice a lot more level, as he motioned to leave,
"Now, if you'll be excusing me?"
"Is it true that you're the pilot of that mecha?" blurted out the boy, as Shinji began to walk away.
Besides him, the girl frowned.

Shinji breathed out slowly. This, he could handle. "What mecha?" he asked, confusion layered
into his voice.

"The one I mentioned."

Shinji sighed (perhaps a little too heavily). "Don't be silly. What kind of idiot would put a
sixteen-year old in a mecha?"

"Arcanotech War One China," the brown-haired boy promptly answered.

"For one," Shinji continued, ignoring the comment "wouldn't it be illegal? I'm not some super
secret spy officer person." He let a mass of restrained vitriol seep into his voice. "I get enough
trouble because of who my father is, without that kind of stupidness." And with that said, he
stomped off. Inwardly, he was shaking. Tomorrow... he'd really need to talk to that person who'd
talked to him about cover stories and the like during the training session. At least he hadn't done
anything stupid like admit it, right?

Kensuke and Taly watched him go. "Why the hell would you ask something like that?" Taly
asked the boy, frustration in her voice. "It's obvious that they wouldn't have him as the pilot. As
he said, he's sixteen." She paused. "Mind you, it did help. We know, now, that he's the son of
Representative Ikari."

"So it was a good idea then," Kensuke said, in a slightly hurt tone of voice.

"No, it wasn't. But... yeah, that makes sense. He obviously knows something about it, and, so,
obviously, his dad must have told him about it, maybe even shown him it." There was a pause,
and then Taly let out a muffled squeal. "That that means that the Proto-Engel is reeee~eeeaaaal!"

"I know!" Kensuke was fighting to keep a straight face, and loosing, despite the odd looks that
they were getting.

"So awesome!"

"Yes!"

Kensuke managed to last almost ten seconds, before he started to giggle out of sheer elation,
hands clutched together against his chest. He even permitted himself a little twirl, before coming
to a stop, and noticing a pair of rather confused-looking red (and male) eyes locked on him.

"What the hell are you doing?"

Breath coming quickly, maniac grin split over his face, Kensuke glanced at his friend. "Oh... oh
wow."
"Do you have a date or something? You're acting like my sister on a sugar rush." The other boy
paused. "More than usual, I mean."

"Oh... better than that. Better, better... no, awesome! Much more awesome." Kensuke shook his
head. "You won't believe what I just found out, Toja..."

~'/|\'~

The hospital room was bright and as cheerful as a place which people only went to because there
was something seriously wrong with them could be. Compared to the deathly cold, clinical feel
of the high security hospital down in the Geocity, this was a much more human place, built to a
human scale, and lacking the subtle shift in architecture which came from a deliberate decision to
ensure that there were no sharp angles or areas of deep shadow anywhere. In fact, there were
even fresh flowers scattered around the place; the genetically engineered, hot-house-grown
blooms blue and white and green, as well as more conventional colours. Some of them looked
very fresh, in fact.

"I don't recognise those ones," Toja said, pointing at the plants on the bedside table.

"Hrmm?" Kany twisted her head. "Oh, a bunch of my friends gave me them yesterday. They all
came in after school." She frowned. "Uh... the red ones are from Hikara, the white-and-blue
spotted ones are from Imi, the orange ones are from Mary... uh, and I can't remember the others."
She smiled, a little dreamily. "They're pretty. I like them."

They may have been pretty, but this did little to reassure Toja, as he sat beside his sister's bed,
feeling his nails dig into his balled fists. The rhythmic bleeping of the machinery around her,
monitoring her post-operation condition, and the mass of cables and fibres which cocooned her
within the transparent, sterile cylinder, were a sign that she still in a poor condition; stable, yes,
but not well. He wanted to reach out, stroke her hair (cut short, and sealed in a bluish gelcast)
and her sweat-covered brow, reassure her and tell her that it is, was, and always will be okay, but
he couldn't.

He was trapped here almost as much as she was, feeling useless, unable to do anything...
anything at all, to make her feel better. There may have been plenty of doctors and nurses who
were responsible for her care, but he was her brother, and he should have been looking over her,
keeping her safe, like his father had told him to.

He certainly shouldn't have been the one who was responsible for her getting hurt. An idiot
who'd pulled her from safety into the path of a falling piece of ceiling, because he thought that
she wasn't safe where she was.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.


He dragged his attention back to the conversation. It wasn't exactly progressing quickly, because
Kany was still exhausted, and on painkillers to negate the discomfort as the medichines flooding
her bloodstream knitted the cloned, transplanted flesh and nerves into her body. He wasn't
exactly the most attentive brother, either, for obvious reasons.

"What?" he asked. "I'm sorry, I just... sorry, I wasn't... I was distracted."

"I said," a hint of her normal fire returning, "you did get my MP," an abbreviation
for manuprokedi, the Nazzadi word for a Personal CPU, "from home, right?"

Toja blinked, and patted his pockets. "Yeah," eventually finding it in the top one. "It wasn't in
your room, it was on the side downstairs," he said, as he pulled out the paper-thin, bright pink
when in opaque mode. He paused. "Um... how am I meant to give it to you?" he asked, which
was, all in all, a pretty sensible question, given that she was still encased in the bubble.

"Put it in the in thing," she said, fingers tapping the side of the tube, where a black box connected
onto the transparent side. "They've got all kind of stuff which means stuff can come in and out of
this thing inside that thing."

Toja squinted at the sterilisation input, as the thing was marked, taking note of the "Warning!
Strong Source of Ultraviolet Radiation!" on the side, and the attendant list of things you weren't
meant to put in. "Uh, Kany?"

"Muh huh?" she mumbled, eyes already starting to droop again.

"I can't put a thinscreen MP in. It says so."

"Oh." A moment's thought. "Give me your one, then."

"What?"

"Come oo~oon, Toja" she moaned. "I'm bored in here, and I don't want to use the hospital ones,
'cause they don't let you load your own LAI up. And, anyway,Dedaka told them I wasn't allowed
to use one without Aly to supervise me, and she's loaded up onto my MP. Which totally isn't fair
at all."

Her brother said nothing about the little bit of biological curiosity on... well, not where babies
came from, but how they got in there in the first place, which had led to their father imposing
that rule on his nine-year old sister.

"So... come on, and give me your casescreen!"

Toja hesitated. "But I need it for school, and yours is pink," he said, weakly, already pulling out
his own, to transfer the memory-unit between the two.

"Pink is the best colour there is!"


"Yeah, and you're a girl. Of course you like..." he trailed off, as he saw the mischievous grin on
her face. "Oh." His shoulders slumped. "How come I'm the one being outsmarted, when you're
the one who's ill?" he asked, in a mock aggrieved tone of voice.

"'Cause you're not too bright, remember," Kany said, with a weak grin. "And because I'm the one
in the tube, and you're my brother, yoo~oou have to be nice to me, until I'm better," she pointed
out, triumphantly; a triumph somewhat interrupted by a yawn. "And then afterwards, and
forever," she added. "'Cause it's your job."

The boy winced. She said she had forgiven him for what had happened, but he couldn't believe
that he really was off free, like that. It wouldn't be right. It was hisfault, and so he was going to
do everything he could to make it up to her. And if it took having to use a pink MP for the next
few days... he would do it. With pride. Even if it wasn't enough.

"... cheer up, Toja," Kany said, breaking him from his thoughts.

He shook his head slowly. "You shouldn't be telling me to cheer up. I should be the one who's
making things better for you, you know."

Her shoulders bunched, in a sort of pseudo-shrug. "They'll be letting me out of this thing soon,
right?"

Her brother swallowed. "Umph... yeah. Probably at the weekend, the nurse said."

"I know that. What I was trying to say is that it'll be better then, right?"

No. It wouldn't be better. That was the thing that Toja knew, and which his sister wasn't really,
properly, intellectually aware of. People who hadn't looked into it, hadn't been forced to be aware
of the limited nature of such repairs, tended to assume that it was some kind of magic, which
allowed you to get instantly over any injury. And, yes, technically, arcanotheraputic procedures
may have been used to ease the healing process, and from a historical perspective, they may have
been technically magic, but that didn't mean that some doctor could just snap their fingers, and
make it all better. Toja knew that his sister was looking forwards, to use the phrase in a bitterly
ironic sense, to several months of physiotherapy, before she could walk properly again. Several
long, painful, months of trying to regain something that she had once taken trivially.

All his fault.

Except... no, it really wasn't. It wasn't his fault. Because that was the thing that he hadn't
mentioned to Kensuke, or that nazzadi kivilitexcedivity his friend spent too much time around.
The official story, that it had been Engels which had taken down the thing that they were calling
Harbinger-3, was a lie. Or, at the very least, it wasn't the absolute truth. Because there had been
something else involved. Something big.

He had seen it when they were getting people out of the ruined bunker. Normally, they wouldn't
have done this, and the occupants could have just gone back to the Victoria Arcology, which was
where they had been before the incident, but... well, after the arcanochromatic warhead, his home
arcology hadn't been in a state where they were going to let people back in, until they had
checked for structural integrity. But, as the mass of people, filter masks on, flowed like ants from
a crushed nest into the transports, he had seen the bulk of something humanoid, the construction
vehicles and mecha swarming around it merely giving a scale to the thing. And it had terrified
him; it had radiated, even fallen, an air of the Other. He couldn't describe anything which gave
the impression. In fact, Toja suspected that, had he merely been looking at a picture, he would
have been able to dismiss it.

But he hadn't been looking at a picture. And he couldn't dismiss it. No matter how much he
wanted to. No matter how much the psychologist, in those mandatory post-traumatic stress
evaluations, talked to him. No matter how much the people from the NEG, who had gone around
to all the people who had been in the bunker, to offer their condolences, and mention how such a
thing merely showed the danger of a Harbinger-level entity, would have preferred it.

That wasn't where the feeling came from, though, this certainty that the thing had been what had
crushed the bunker, as it fought with Harbinger-3. The feeling came from the nightmares. That
vast, vaguely-demonic face, looming from the shadows; a thing of terror, fear and pain, locked in
embrace with a dark shape. It was near. It was close. It was hunting him, and the only way to
escape was to wake soaked in sweat.

Toja knew, he just knew that this proto-Engel, this "Eva", was the massive thing.

And he now knew that the new transfer student knew something about it.

~'/|\'~

Wednesday, 22nd of September, 2091

Print-out in hand, Ritsuko strode into the control room. Her harcontacts were alight, and her eyes
was filled with phantom images and glowing wireframes, a world of augmented technological
illusions which she spent more time in than not.

"Who's down in the Immersion chamber right now?" she asked the duty officer. Technically, she
could have pulled up the information, but it was, actually just faster to ask the person whose job
it was to know when they were right there.

"Uh... that would be Sary," the Arabic woman said, with only a moment's hesitation.

"Good enough," Ritsuko said, after a moment's thought, as she sat down at one of the control
consoles, bringing up her log-in. "Sary, I'm sending over a burst which Herkunft sent us over the
high priority q-encrypted line. UNITY has got several hits for a potential Pattern Blue. Nothing
precise, but it looks enough that I'm moving us up an alert level. I want you to flip to Melichor,
and get me a Del-Sigma on it."

"Understood, Dr Akagi," the civilian Operator said, her voice slightly distorted.

"Should I send out a recall for Major Katsuragi?" asked Lieutenant Aoba. "It's not high enough
to be automatic, but she's in a meeting up at EuroHighCom, and then she has to liaise with
Project Moneta, and, well, if it is genuine..."

Captain Bakr frowned. "What do you think, Ritsuko?" she asked.

Internally, the blond sighed. The Captain was technically speaking proficient, but was really
rather uncomfortable around anything which seemed to hint towards a Herald or Harbinger-level
threat. She did score rather high for latent parapsychic sensitivity, after all, and Ritsuko
suspected that it might be necessary to get her transferred to another position. She would almost
certainly be happier there; certainly happier than she would be if she found out more than she
should.

Ritsuko was fully aware of the subtle menace in that kind of statement. It was fully intentional.

"I don't feel it's necessary yet, Zakiyya," she said, sticking her hands in the pockets of her lab
coat. "UNITY isn't the most precise detection grid, after all; it's too sensitive. Too many false
positives for me to slavishly follow it. And should it turn out to be genuine... well, Misato can
certainly do her job from the European High Command headquarters. It isn't as if we don't have a
hotline to them, anyway."

Captain Bakr nodded. "Understood."

"Good. Now, about the..." Ritsuko paused, as a high urgency icon appeared in the upper right
corner of her harcontacts. It was from Representative Ikari, currently... well, he'd probably be
somewhere near Geneva right now, if she could remember his itinerary. "Excuse me," she said,
raising two fingers to her right temple. "Start conversation," she told her muse, which opened the
connection. There was a slight chiming noise, as the protocols synchronised, before the glassed,
bearded face of Gendo Ikari appeared before her eyes, the static, voice-only identifying picture
much more efficient than the bandwidth which a live video feed would consume.

"Dr Akagi." The man's voice was perfunctory, brief.

As usual, she thought. "Yes, Representative?"

"You have received the message from UNITY." It was not a question.

"Yes."

"It is genuine. Have the Third Child recalled to the Geocity, and prepared for launch in Unit 01;
Rei should be on back-up, if it should prove necessary."
"Even without the successful synchronisation start?" she subvocalised, eyes flicking over the
others. Oh, it would be so much easier to just be able to be able to think such things and transmit
them as electronic signals, rather than relying upon a throat mike, but such things were much
harder than the science fiction she had read in her youth would have one believe. As she had
found out, when she had learned more about biology and computers alike. That wasn't to say that
it wasn't possible, but she wasn't wired up like a full Magi Operator would be. The complexity
required to be able to think, and have a machine respond to your thoughts with true precision was
insane; just look at the problems with the Evangelions.

"Yes," the man said. "Be ready to launch at the request of the NEG, but do not volunteer before
that. It will be necessary to see if they have learned the lesson that Asherah extracted from them
in blood."

"Understood." She paused. "Is it from..." she didn't even dare to say the name.

"Among other sources, yes." The words were level. "Ikari out."

The icon disappeared, and Ritsuko blinked a few times, the blue lights of her harcontacts shining
out through her eyelids. "Change of plans," she said, to the obvious curiosity of the duty officer.
"Tell Misato she's needed, and get both of the Children down to the Eva bays. That was the
Representative; he believes that this has a good chance of being genuine, after the incident last
week. He wants us prepared and completely ready."

"Both the First and Third Child are currently at school... it's Wednesday today, so they'll be
coming down at 14:00 for training anyway. We could..." began Makota, before Ritsuko
interrupted, a slightly weary note in her voice.

"No. I said to recall them now. But," she paused, "only on Protocol B. No need to go on an E,
like last time." Ritsuko was still more than a little irritated that such an emergency had turned out
to be... not a false alarm, because it had been something, but there had been no contact with
whatever it had been.

Oh well. At least the incident hadn't had any lasting consequences.

~'/|\'~

The fist collided with Shinji's face with a solid, meaty 'thwack', and the boy fell back onto the
ground, one hand already instinctively clutching for his nose. From the too warm feeling within
it, he already suspected he had a nose-bleed. Shaking his head, to shake away the slight sway in
the world around him, his eyes skipped over the bluish-grey floor, the streaks of shoe scuff-
marks marring it, the white walls and their attendant image boards, the sparse scattering of other
students on the way to lunch, and the heterogeneous mix of faces all looking at the scene. The
light streaming in through the windows, from the glow strips that marked the top of the arcology
dome, seemed really bright, oversaturated, drawing his attention to every little detail.

Oh, and the tall, black-skinned, red-eyed boy looming over him, Wow, he really was even taller
from down here, chisel-like teeth slightly bared. That was a rather important detail in the tableau.

"Let me put it to you again. You know that giant robot, that Engel-thing," growled the boy,
leaning forwards as he massaged his fist. "My sister's in hospital, going to have to learn to walk
again because of that thing, so you..."

"It wasn't my fault!" Shinji blurted out, to a sudden susurration from the surrounding students

The other boy blinked. "What?"

"Do you think I wanted to be in that thing?" Shinji snapped, his voice nasal and muffled by the
hand clamped to his nose. His PCPU chimed, but he ignored it.

The gears could be seen to be turning in the other boy's mind, slotting this new information into
place, as Shinji suddenly realised, with a sinking feeling, that he had just done something very,
very wrong. Both in the short term, in that he was going to be beaten up by a bigger, stronger,
taller, and generally 'er'er (stupider, he thought with a hint of malevolence, because he realised
that he could put context to the face, as one of his classmates), but well, how should he put it?

Some people were going to be a little irate that he had let that slip.

... oh dear.

"Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait," said a shorter boy, arglasses lit up. "Are you seriously telling me that
you're the pilot of the proto-Engel!"

"Not now, Kensuke," growled the nazzada, grinding his teeth together. "I swear..."

Shinji didn't like the look on either of their faces. One might have been contorted with rage, but
the other was a little too intent, and too interested for it to be really healthy. "N-n-no," he
managed. "I'm n-not saying that."

Bending down, the taller boy thrust his face down. "What did you say?" The growl in his voice
was gone; now there was just suddenly an ice-cold anger. "Because I don't think you're telling
the truth. I think you just admitted that you're the reason my sister's in hospital!"

The chattering around them was louder; in fact, the people around them seemed to be forming a
circle. Shinji had just about enough time to bemoan the fact that apparently, there was not one
decent person among his schoolmates who would stop a poor, innocent person like him from
being beaten up like this, before he saw the first which had already had one impact with his face
draw back again.
Everything seemed to slow down. Newly born instincts, from all those training drills they had
put him through, emerged. It was very simple. He just had to move his arms like this and this,
and then aim the targeting reticule at the sensory organs and activate the lasers and... and realise
that all that had been in the Evangelion-Thinking-Mode, not the Actual-Body-Thinking-Mode,
and then get punched in the face because he barely even moved his arms at all, because, as it
turned out, the other boy was quite a lot faster than he was.

And now his right cheekbone was hurting quite a lot. At least the other boy was massaging his
hand such that it suggested that he really didn't know how to throw a punch properly, which,
even through the pain, gave a spike of satisfaction to Shinji. Even if it was taking the idea of
taking his victories where he could get them alittle far, he thought, as he closed his eyes, and
tried not to start screaming or crying or anything.

"Owww. Ngh. Nhgh," Shinji just about managed, as he worked his jaw, before he realised that
suddenly everything had gone quiet. And the reason it had gone quiet is that one of the cleaning
staff was pinning the tall Nazzadi boy to the wall, in a decidedly professional hold. And another
one had a gun pointed at the trapped boy. And more seemed to be forming a cordon.

And stood, just behind the men and woman in blue, was Rei Ayanami, her white hair and grey
eyes and snow-like skin a stark contrast to the regulation black overcoat. That look in her eyes,
one of them still covered by a protective lens; it wasn't clinical, it wasn't even cold, as that would
imply a detached observation of the scene. It was something, somehow, somewhat dead. No
emotional investment at all.

Shinji shivered, as he was helped up, the adrenaline flooding his system leaving him shaking.
Looking around, there were shocked faces of students, staring at him, and a faint buzz of
conversation. But only a faint one. The people in blue overalls separating them, stun batons out,
were enough to cower even the most privileged schoolchild here. One did not argue with people
like that, especially when they seemed to be setting up a cordon. There was, in fact, an
instinctual assumption among those children born in the Strange Aeon that the government,
fundamentally, did know best, because while overparanoid vigilance was annoying, laxity was
lethal.

The scars of the last forty years lay deep in the social psyche.

"Here. You'll want this," said a blue-clad woman, handing him a cloth. Licking his upper lip,
Shinji could taste the blood, and, somewhat wearily, folded it up to staunch the flow, a sudden
sense of déjà vu sweeping him.

"DNA checks human, no Outsider taint or trace of Hybridisation beyond tolerated gene-pool
levels," reported another member of the 'cleaning staff', stepping away from where Toja was still
pinned to the wall.

"Good. Have we sealed off this corridor?"

"Affirmative. All witnesses have been isolated."


"Acknowledged." The woman sighed. "Right, we're going to have to do the whole 'John'
scenario. Take," she nodded her head towards Toja, "that one off for more detailed examination.
The rest are going to have to debriefed." She paused. "Is Theatre 1 free?"

A man shook his head, after checking his PCPU. "No. One of the drama clubs is in there."

"Well, that counts as free by my standards. I think this is a little bit more important than a play,
don't you?" the woman said, a caustic note in her voice, as she glanced sideways towards Shinji.
"God, no security incidents for over three years, and two in less than a week," he heard her
mutter, as her co-workers began to herd the other children away.

Well... there goes any hope of normalcy, went his distracted thoughts. Now that all this... argh,
my nose hurts. And my cheek. How on earth did they find this out? Bah.

"We are needed down in the Geocity," said a soft voice. Blinking, Shinji turned to stare at the
Rei Ayanami, the only student left in the corridor. "There has been a recall, at the B-level of
urgency."

"I thought we weren't meant to go for... the thing... until two?" he said, still muffled by the
blood-soaked cloth.

"No." No anger, no frustration in her voice; just a mechanical recitation of the facts. "There has
been a recall. There was a message sent to you three minutes and thirteen seconds ago. It was
high priority."

"... what?" Shinji fumbled around in his pocket with his free hand, now acutely aware of how his
cheek ached. He was sure that he had a bruise; he could just feel that hot bruise-feeling, only
made worse when he talked. And that was the problem with soft-screen PCPUs, the ones which
kept the entire thing flexible, compared to the technically-old-fashioned ones with a hard casing.
It was much harder to remember which pocket it was in.

"That was the time at which I received it," she added.

Checking it, he could see that she was right about the recall. Pulling the cloth clamped to his
nose away gingerly, he immediately returned it to place, as he felt a trickle resume. With a sigh,
he shook his head. "Okay." He paused. "So... uh, um, we're going to the station then?"

"No. You will go with the security personnel, to receive treatment for your nasal haemorrhage
and the minor hematoma of the tissue of your facial epidermis. They will then escort you to the
Geocity, as per their orders. I will go on ahead." And with that said, she turned on her heel, and
strode down the corridor, heading towards the exit.

"I..." Shinji trailed off. I don't understand what you're saying. Please, use shorter words, was
what he wanted to say, but that would make him look a bit stupid, and anyway she was already
far enough away that... Never mind. I... I think she was talking about a nosebleed and a bruise,
from context, but... um "Is a hematoma a serious thing?" he asked the 'cleaner' beside him, who
seemed to be in charge.

"I... actually don't know," she admitted.

"It's a bruise," interjected another one of the escorts, and Shinji relaxed somewhat. And felt
slightly smug that he had, in fact, been correct.

"But we will be taking you to Medical, before we go down to the Geocity." She paused. "How
are you feeling?" she asked, as they began to move. "You don't appear to have any major
injuries, but...

"A-a little shaken up," Shinji admitted, adding, "Oh, and my nose is still bleeding."

One of the men trailing them sighed. "We have to clean these floors. Please don't bleed over
them."

He was silenced with a glare from his superior.

~'/|\'~

How much of what a human being sees is true? How closely does the perception of the world
within our heads correlate with what exists externally? Is there, in fact, an external reality; is life
nought but a dream and all the other entities we believe we perceive are but dancing puppets?
And if one were to continue the metaphor, that line of speculation, who would be the
puppetmasters? Some part of the self who the conscious being is not aware of; a part who a
sceptic might point out resembles an empirical, external reality? Some demiurge; a god that lies
to all senses in the name of power? Who knew?

Well, quite a lot of beings knew more than humanity, for one. And, indeed, many of the
arguments were rooted in the human mode of thought. What would the idea that all other minds
could be an illusion be to a species which could connect to any of its kin with a thought, for
example? Indeed, such a species would probably view all others as non-sapient, a strong
xenophobia linked to their internal unity. But such an argument was an irrelevancy to the subject
at hand.

This place was dark. This place was not dark. Such a term was not truly defined here, because
the human perception of the qualia of light (and the corresponding absence which men had called
'dark') was based on electromagnetic radiation, and if one were to take the density of photons
over this higher dimensional space, it would be negligible, restrained to an infinitesimal
hyperplane in a low r-state environment. Almost a rounding error. The greater beings here 'saw'
by gravitation, Sol a source of illumination just as it was for those who relied on
electromagnetism.

If one were to render this space in three dimensions, and in human sensory impressions, merely
to get a glimpse of its immensity, then all the spatial dimensions familiar to Homo sapiens could
be rendered as a mere line, and the unseen higher dimensions into merely two. And, then,
protruding out from this line would be gleaming, twisted spires of metal and flesh, twisting and
turning, bloated and cancerous; a jagged mess. A few, higher r-state photons, drawing a curved
world-line which gave them a non-zero curvature in this space, illuminated these spires in green
and purple and yellow; sometimes they tore through these structures, twisting them further as the
bloated cancer warped to account for the damage. With closer examination, smaller, matt-black
blots moved between the twisted spires; these things showed conscious control and awareness,
compared to the mute towers, but they were so small, so tiny by comparison to the vast
biomechanical fronds which shadowed over them.

But these were just background, to the main constructs. If the smaller protrusions from the three-
dimensions-which-are-one were spires, then these things were mountains. Heaving,
amorphous, things which go beyond the ability of this weak metaphor to explain; fungi-like
mountains which sprouted forth from the world to spread themselves far away above the line,
where the limits of the low r-state did not constrain them so. They waited. Unmoving. Sleeping.
Dead? No, not really, but quiescent, certainly.

One could zoom out further, from this viewpoint from under the canopies of the mountains, until
the spires became figures, and then became blades of grass, finally receding to silvery fuzz, and
one would not have yet broken the immensity of the canopy of mountains. To the beings here,
gravitation cast a dim light now, attenuated by distance, and those few higher r-state photons
were long forgotten. They relied on other, stranger particles, which mankind merely clumps
together under the broad auspices of Arcane Theory, to "see". Things basked and swam and flew
and crawled in this terrible space, completely detached from, and uncaring of, the affairs of man.
'Plants', the autotrophs which existed in any ecosystem, sat (Flew? Floated?) passively, absorbing
energy, while things preyed upon them, and upon each other. Creatures akin to fish swam
through denser areas of spacetime fluid; while 'birds' flew and squirmed and wriggled where
space was thinner. Cultures bloomed and blossomed and died, knowing this as their world; just
as native to them as what mankind knows. The songs of unknown beings, expressed through
resonance and frequency of spacetime itself, reverberated through the spaces.

They sang of their terror and fear. They could feel what was happening, and the shifts which
were occurring in their ecosystem. To them, this was not altogether unlike the distress that a
saurid might have felt upon the sight of a very bright light in the west, at dawn. They could not
escape outwards, because they had adapted to dwell around the shallows of this ink-dark void,
relatively close to a world-line, and deep in the depths of this cosmic universe, they would be
shredded by forces which they could not control. Though they did not call it that, they could feel
Leng, and its existence close to them, and they could feel that which sleeps around Sol. There
was a vast migration beyond anything which has ever been seen on Earth occurring, flocking
away from the gravitational "light" of Sol, trying to go somewhere, anywhere, to get away from
what it coming.
And then one broke the boundary-ceiling of the mountains, and suddenly, terribly, the
perspective shifted. The mountains that sprouted forth from the line did not do so. They were not
growing from the line, which was the entire world which mankind intuitively knows. It was a
ridiculous idea, anyway. That such a being could grow from such a limited set of dimensions, so
tiny and meaningless in the immensity of this void; preposterous.

They were not growing from the world. They were reaching out, to touch it.

One new one reached out with an appendage, to that distant line, and its vast, coalesced bulk
followed it, compressing into the harsh environment of this low r-state environment.

It was being called.

It was time.

~'/|\'~

There was always something slightly stuffy about this dome and others like it, Hikary had always
felt. It didn't matter that the internal biosphere and environment was controlled, and entirely
artificial. There was a dryness in the air, a certain smell that spoke of the ages contained within.
It might have been the lack of children, she considered. Around her home, there was always a
slight buzz; the sound of the inevitable sounds of life in a communal living area. But here, in a
place like this, which really, if one was to be honest, existed as a place where the elderly waited
to die, the noises of life were quietened. They were filled with examples of the indignities of age,
reduced though they may have been over historical levels, and with the odd dialects of pre-
Reformation English common, it was no wonder that they were frequent settings for horror films.
Too frequently, the citizens merely retreated to the comfort of the Grid, spending their time
where they didn't have to deal with the realities of the Aeon War (as, after all, the elder
generations had more problems with such things; to them, sorcery was still something unnatural,
rather than an everyday part of society).

Places such as this existed to fulfil a demographic problem. The simple fact was, the First
Arcanotech War, when the Nazzadi (including her father, created as a child in a vat somewhere
in the Oort Cloud) had launched their misinformed attempt at conquest, had killed almost half
the human global population. It had not been decimated. Decimation would have been a blessing;
to only lose one in ten would have been a mercy. Over eight billion humans had been alive in
2059; less than five billion had seen the end of the war, in 2065. With those kinds of casualties,
there was a demographic cliff-face, where the Gaussian which the population would normally
have been was skewed heavily towards the youthful end of things. And those who were already
elderly had the second lowest survival rate; second to men and women in the 21 to 30 age
bracket. Almost without exception, a person here would have lost family members, loved ones,
children to the black-skinned, red-eyed cousins of Homo sapiens.
There was a very good reason that pure-Nazzadi children were rarely accepted onto this specific
Social Work Programme. It had simply been found to be too distressing for them. Amlati were
somewhat less common, too (and most of them were from Integrationist families, like her, or
raised by their human parent), and so would have been sidoci had it not been that the white-
skinned xenomixes were already not the best choice for this type of task.

Hikary personally doubted if there was a single resident here under the age of 80, which meant
that they had been in their fifties at the time of the First War. The man she was visiting today
was one of the eldest here; he was, as he frequently pointed out, almost 102. And almost none of
them had living blood relatives. That was the reason for these visits, after all. It did the
inhabitants good to meet people, to socialise with others outside their interactions on the Grid.

Checking the address on her PCPU again, she nodded to herself, and pressed the button for that
particular flat. The intercom hummed, and she could hear the faint whine of a mobility
exoskeleton, as the occupant answered.

"Yes? Hello? Who's there?"

Hikary cleared her throat. "It's me, Hikary, Mr Britton." She paused. "It's Wednesday afternoon,
remember? I'm your assigned Visitor."

"Oh yes. Yes, yes. Come on in." The door light flicked green, and the girl let herself in, shaking
her head fractionally. She honestly didn't understand why some of her classmates complained so
much about this. Not only was it a vital, marked part of the ISCHAT (part of the Social
Responsibility module), but it wasn't actually much hard work. It wasn't as if talking to a lonely
old man for a few hours once a week was much of an effort (and usually taking him in his
exoskeleton on a walk). But, then again, Hikary had decided long ago that, secretly, most of the
children at the Academy were irredeemably privileged, and didn't understand the responsibility
they owed to society from being born into such a position of wealth. That wasn't true for her. Her
father had made sure that she and her sisters understood that well.

In another dome elsewhere barely under the upper reaches of the city, the shallowness speaking
of the relative poverty, a cluster of students waited for the transfer to the final maglev to their
destination. They were already in the boiler-suit garb which SWP 'volunteers' wore for messier
assignments, and they stood out.

"Gatestown: 5 minutes," read Beatriu, softly. "Now... is that the one we want?"

"No," Reyokhy said, squinting slightly, as she also stared at the display board. "It's Sameki we
want, remember. So we want the First Circle line." She paused, waving her finger in the air.
"Yes, we want Anti-Clockwise."

"Are you sure?" asked Ferdina, leaning in.

He received a glare from a pair of violet eyes for that question. "Yes."
The boy shrugged. "Just checking." He (an amlati from an Culturalist family; technically he was
Ferdinand, but didn't like being called that) turned his head. "Heya, Taly, you're being quiet
today. I mean, we do have Sasaky with us, so we need to keep the," he gave a self-indulgent
chuckle, "levels of banter up."

"Huh?" Sasaky looked up from her manuprokedi. Well, not that much up; she was still the tallest
of the group, but at least her attention was now focussed on her classmates.

Reyokhy shook her head. "Nothing, Sasaky. Go back to looking at your kayawojy stefy."

"Anyway," Ferda continued, "yeah, what's up?"

Taly shook her head, but even the manner in which she flicked a red-dyed lock of hair back was
distracted. "Nothing. I'm fine."

There was a silence, although, to an outside observer, the noise of the platform, as people filed
on to and off from a train, made such a thing unnoticeable.

"More... problems with your step-mum?" Beatriu asked, hesitantly.

"No. Not that. She's still a sanginoy harangy," the girl hastened to add,"... but, no, I'll be fine."

There were glances between the others. She certainly wasn't acting fine.

There was a snort from Sasaky.

"Hmm?"

"Oh," the girl said, her voice slightly husky, "a message from Jony."

A pause. "And it was?"

"Mostly complaining. The Cadets have them studying murder scenes. She's getting annoyed by
Dathan. As usual."

"I don't like him," Ferdina said, with narrowed eyes. "He's... more than a little crazy. I was
actually sort of interested in the OIS Cadets, but, spending more time around him? When he
managed to get to be Cadet Leader. Bleargh."

"Well, he's fairly cute," Reyokhy said, raising one eyebrow.

Ferdina shook his head, a faint sneer on his face. "Not my sort." The sneer turned into a smirk.
"Plus, I think Jony has first claim on him, anyway."

"Yeah." Reyokhy sighed. "I'll never get a chance. They should just admit that they're going out to
themselves, so then they can then break up properly, and the rest of us can have a go."
"And you have poor taste, if you like him."

"Says you, Mr Floppy Eyes Over..."

"Ua, uy, mandatmutati, dy aprecy," Taly eventually intervened, flapping a hand in their
direction. "I think the train's coming."

Indeed it was. And as they filed onto it, to get to the maintenance area, for their Social Work
Programme placement with Arcology Maintenance, Taly felt that, personally, she could be
excused a little bit of distractedness. Not because she happened to be not looking forwards to this
(and she wasn't; she didn't exactly have the sort of influential parent who could ensure that she
got onto the easiest SWP, and she wasn't thinking any names, especially not a certain daughter of
the Ashcroft Advisor on the L2 Board of Education), but because, well, she had been distracted
ever since the revelation that one of her classmates was involved in a really,
really, really awesome NEG weapons project. The Proto-Engel was real. Really real. The talk
from the security people had made it very clear that they couldn't mention it to anyone at all, and
faced criminal charges if they did, which meant that it really was real. And, sure, it was a shame
what had happened to Toja, but, well, he was an idiot. In fact, if there hadn't been the security
personnel, she might have stepped in, because, well, the new boy was basically a hero, and so
she was duty-bound to help him.

And the fact that she might get to see that "Eva", if she helped him, was only an added bonus. A
very, very large one.

Feet pounding against the floor, Toja sprinted down the undersized corridors of the primary
school, past water fountains which only reached up to knee height and lockers which seemed far
too low. He was still shaken. Very, very shaken. Although his underwear remained clean, it had
been a close one at several points, in that 'little chat' which the security at the Academy had with
him. If one defined a 'little chat' as involving bloodwork, a full NAS examination, and then, once
they had checked properly on his mortal and non-Blanked status, the actual talk about not ever
doing it again, and a full list of all the nasty things which could happen to him if he talked about
it.

He was now quite aware, now that his brain was working again outside the heat of the moment,
that he had punched the pilot of a capital-grade war machine. One which had been deployed
against the Harbinger, and had seen active use. That... that was scary. That was like punching a
naval captain, or something. He didn't ever, ever want to have to go through a talk like that
again. Ever. They had even been dropping dark hints of getting the OIS involved, on possible
extranormal influence grounds. He had been taken there just after midday. It was almost three
now; there had been hours of questioning. He was very, very late; he was meant to be here, at the
school, at two. He'd been so scared, that he hadn't even asked for some kind of form to explain
why he was late. And... well, to be honest and to move away from the terror of what had just
happened here, he needed the easy marks here, picked up from helping out here at Wade Primary
as part of his Social Work Programme. It gave him a safety margin for other, harder exams. It
was why he didn't mind it when the Class Rep, Hikary went on her little "social-conscience"
talks. The SWP was easy, and you probably had to try to fail to actually fail. As long as you
showed up and, in his case, spent the afternoon helping out with primary-school aged children,
you basically got full marks for the module.

Although, he would quite like to find out just who had decided that he was going to be assigned
his little sister's class, for the duration when she was still in hospital. The last few weeks, he'd
spent a lot of time answering questions about her, which hadn't been too enjoyable, especially
when she was stuck in the waiting list, just due to how many people had been hurt, and needed
transplants, after the Harbinger-3 incident. He hadn't been able to say anything good, and her
friends had got distressed when he said nothing at all.

Pausing for a moment to get his breath back, he adjusted the too-tight neck of his uniform
overcoat (one of the things they insisted was that the student be in proper uniform, which Toja
found aggravating), and took a deep breath. It was hotter up here on the surface. Sure, the
buildings were still sealed, but this school, unlike the Academy deep underground, had actual,
real sunlight coming in through the windows (a legacy of 2080s design choices, from politicians
concerned that some young children were growing up without ever seeing the sun), and so it got
hotter, especially in the early autumn sunshine outside. Slowly, he opened the door, hoping in
futility to look like he had been there all along, waiting for someone to notice his presence.

All in all, it would probably have worked better if he hadn't been an hour late, almost to the
minute. And, in fact, he had not missed the first afternoon class, and arrived during registration
for the second.

"Christine Mnemina."

A little girl with platinum blond, almost white, hair raised her hand. "Here."

"Napa Nabusakoraki."

"Hee~eere," droned a boy, slumped forwards on his desk.

"Imi..." the teacher noticed the interruption, and turned to stare at Toja; the older man making a
tutting noise. "Ah, Mr Suzuhari. So nice of you to show up." There was a titter from the mass of
nine-and-ten-year olds, who were, on the whole, at the age when sarcasm reigns from its rightful
pedestal as the highest form of wit. The teenager spared a glance at them; to him, the ethnically
and racially heterogeneous mass merely blended into grey-blazered homogeneity. Man, he'd
really hated that uniform, back when he had to wear it. It'd been even worse than the one from
the Academy, because at least with this one, they accepted that you could just take off the
overcoat if it was too hot. They'd made you wear the blazer all the time.

Toja winced. "Sorry. I got, um, caught up at something at school." The hesitancy was noted.

"... caught. Up. At. Something. At. School," the man said slowly, overtly making a note on his
desk, to more laughter from the children. He flashed an insincere smile at Toja. "Well, don't
worry. I'll be sure to explain this to the evaluators, and I'm sure they'll be really sympathetic."
"Sorry."

"Did you at least pick up the lesson plan?" the teacher asked, a hint of exasperation in his voice.

Toja nodded. "Yeah." He patted his pocket, where his-sister's-but-temporarily-his MP resided.

"Well, at least that's something. With that said, you'll be with the Bluebirds work group, rather
than the Treefrogs, despite what it said." The man paused. "Now, where was I?"

"I am here," said a brown-haired girl, raising one thin hand.

"Oh, yes. Thank you, Imi," the man tapped his desk. "So... Joseph Ouramba."

"Here!"

And that was when the sirens started.


"Today, at 15:02, a special state of authority has been declared by the New Earth Government.
All students in the school are to head immediately to the designated secure bunker. Access to
surface levels in London-2 is forbidden. Protective gear should be worn, as a precaution.
Temporary martial law is in full effect."

"Asisi radisi, ni plancki solilaki-kei pla laki-twi, soli Newi Earthi Governmenti canalabi absul
homisapi. Absul nosesudevorazi ni nosesukasi serakausi mandatuchanposakausi
velecuscipubuyuteri. Absul ui opuvami ot piwuteri oi arkologusufiki Londoni-twi.
Mandatudohunakausi soli scipugaremeti delo absul scipunosesudevoraz. Vuli-oi-gurilutermi,
delo estru radisi, serabi canalabi."

The response was immediate. Even as the message was still playing, the hatches on the floor,
under each desk, popped open, to reveal child-sized filter masks. These were not full ANaMNBC
(arcane, nanological, micrological, nuclear, biological, and chemical) protection, but what they
did do was filter the air, as well as providing a self-darkening facepiece which prevented
blindness from the large number of high intensity lasers used in any modern combat. Even when
only observing reflected light, it was still dangerous enough that the blink reflex was not enough
to preserve retinal integrity; a situation made worse by the fact that both the NEG and the Migou
designed their units so that, under the first layer of camouflage, was high reflectivity material
(called 'mirrorgloss' by tank crews). At least with one of these worn, one would have to be in the
approximate area of the laser's target to actually be hurt by it, which was widely agreed to be an
improvement.

There was a buzz of commotion, as the class began to chatter, already reaching under their desks
to the compartments.

The teacher passed one from behind the desk to Toja, who wordlessly accepted it. "Okay,
everyone, be quiet, and listen to me," the man called out. "You should know how to put these on,
but if you don't, ask! Me and..." he glanced sideways.
"Toja."
"...Toja are going to check everyone, before we head off to the bunker. The straps need to be
tight, and the memoform needs to have unfolded around the head properly. If you have any red
lights on the internal surface, you are to show me, because that means it's not working properly,
and you need a new one. That is not a good thing. You are to tell one of us. You aren't to just
think that it will be okay. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, Mr Rarinujeri," the class echoed.

~'/|\'~

Over blue sea and under blue sky, it came.

A vast, somewhat-ophidian, somewhat-cephalopodian, and utterly inhuman bulk swam through


the air faster than the noise of its passage could propagate. Its carapace was the colour of a
libation to gods unknown. Twitching tentacles trailed behind it, writhing and thrashing in
disordered chaos, the faint crystalline glisten of the AT-Field sparkling on their surface, and
finger-like, insectoid limbs pulsed and clutched on its underside. There were eyelike bulges on
its broadened front; the harsh of their black and white quite unlike the wine-like colour of the
rest of its body, but, like its bloated abdomen, these were far more akin to some cancerous bulge
than an eye as a human (or, indeed, a serpent or a squid) might recognise it, for they were
continuous with the flesh, and not a necessity for sight.

To think that it might need such a thing to detect electromagnetic radiation? Pathetic.

And, despite its supersonic velocity, there was all-pervasive hum in the air; a roaring crescendo
of noise which made the jaw ache and eyes blur. Some might have compared it to the hum of
power cables, or a horde of locusts, but if that was true, then this was an energy which could
illuminate the heavens, a creature which could consume a planet. Below its bulk, the water
danced along to this terrible sound, a thin mist effervescing forth from the water, twirling and
swirling in the early autumn sun, only to be torn asunder as the shockwave it carried with it hit.
Around it, lightning arced as the air molecules shredded by contact with its AT-Field discharged.
The booms of thunder from the superheated air was far too similar to that of modern warfare.

"We have a hard lock on the target!" called out the Nazzadi officer on the sensor desk. "Data
from the CATSEYEs matches the optical and radar image; no active ECM or ECCM detected."

"Approach vector calculated. First contact will be with Hotel Papa Tango Zero One Five One."

"Readings from the Shaws have been passed to Analysis. It's certainly a Herald at the very least;
we're waiting to hear back from the MAGI on whether it's a Harbinger."
"Report: RALCL serum has been administered to 96.2% of front-line capital-weapon operational
crew. Risk of Aeon War Syndrome should be correspondingly reduced for vital operational
staff."

"Air units standing by, maintaining safe distance from Unidentified Hostile Target. ECM/ECCM
birds are in the air."

"Satellites are no-go... I repeat, satellites are no-go. Migou orbital units are too close to risk
detection of stealth observers. Communications are routed through ASIT birds."

"MCUs have been deployed across line of assault. Deployment of tactical arcanochromatic
weapons can now proceed."

Slowly, all along the concentric lines of defence, the vast emplacements of capital-grade
weapons emplacements ground around to face the target, megatonnes of armour designed to take
a direct hit from a Migou Swarm Ship, and continue fighting moving with inertial bulk. On the
vast map in EuroHighCom, icons indicating readiness to fire

"Phalanx 034 has target. Requesting fire authorisation." All around, the mechanical recitations of
hussar-type LAIs, and the more concerned words of the humans in the control room, filled the
area.

A blue ring of concentric circles appeared, the AR projection floating in mid air, facing the
Command Triumverate. "Six Phalanxes have acquired the target. Their commanders are
requesting fire authority."

Field Marshal Lehy narrowed her eyes. "No, THEMIS," she said, to the Total Information
Tactical Analysis Network. Even if, technically, there wasn't a single entity to speak to; the
TITAN LAIs were, as the name suggested, a network; a composite of tens of thousands
thousands of lesser, focussed LAIs, each one dedicated to a specific task. What she was talking
to was merely the end-user component, not dissimilar to that which a muse or a civilian drone.
"Hold fire."

The inner three rings began to spin. "That is against standing orders. We are not to permit an
entity..." the TITAN paused, the outer rings flashing yellow, "... positive confirmation has been
received from the MAGI of the Ashcroft Foundation that this being can be classified as a
Harbinger-class Herald. Assigning new designation: Harbinger-4. Assigning new codename:
'Eshmun'. All future references to this being are to utilise this designation."

Another voice from the LAI began to speak. "Requesting fire authorisation, as per Directive 07,"
stated the TITAN, this voice slightly deeper. "Standing orders are to prevent a Harbinger-grade
threat from approaching an urban area. Due to the recognition of a Harbinger-grade threat,
requesting a Triumverate confirmation on refusal to authorisation fire."

"Fire authorisation is not given. Authorise fire only on our orders," said Field Marshal Jameson;
a decision supported by Admiral Tatuta.
"There is unanimity," said the TITAN, blandly. "Awaiting fire command." The voice shifted
back to the higher pitched one. "The Ashcroft Foundation is requesting permission to deploy
Evangelion Unit 01 at will, to support ground operations."

"Denied," said Jameson, his blue eyes cold. "They are aware of the plan, and they will stick to
it."

"Response transmitted," said THEMIS, with the same passivity.

On the ground, the actual men and women in the stationary defence positions were not so calm.
For one, their close ground support had not been deployed, after the horrific casualties inflicted
by Asherah, so they were feeling more than a little nervous, if this thing was accompanied by
anything smaller. There was also the issue of this thing's size.

Put quite simply, it was unfairly small and low emissions, by capital-ship standards. Not enough
to mean that they couldn't target it, of course; that would be ridiculous. But this thing, barely
frigate size, would, by precedent, be able to take a battleship-killing relativistic particle beam,
and survive. And could kill a defence station with a single shot.

This was... distressing to the defence crews.

And still no authorisation came.

Down in the Geocity, ten kilometres below the surface of London-2, Major Misato Katsuragi
was gripping onto the railing in front of her with whitened knuckles, the muscles in the back of
her hand straining. All her instincts were telling her that they needed to get the Evangelion
deployed as soon as possible, because the deployment chutes were a point of weakness in their
strategy. What if the Harbinger could detect the characteristic magnetic fields of the rails as they
propelled the Unit upwards? If it were in line of sight, the Eva would be exceptionally
vulnerable. They'd seen the damage that Asherah had inflicted on the Unit, and there was no
desire for the same to happen again.

She opened a window to the Evangelion. "How are you feeling?" she asked the boy. His face,
wrapped in the armoured cowel of the plug suit, looked even more worried than she felt.

Shinji swallowed a gulp of LCL, and forced a fake smile onto his face. "Scared," he said. "It's...
it's actually a real Harbinger, isn't it, Misato? Not like whatever it was last time? It's actually
really real."

"All evidence suggests so," interjected Dr Akagi, the worry lines around her eyes creased up.
Misato spared a glance at her friend. 'Yes' would probably have done, she thought.

"I'd... I'd say that the waiting was the worst part, but I'd be lying," Shinji continued. "The piloting
and the fighting and the... and the," he winced, "the way it hurts are the worst."

"Don't worry. If things do go well, you won't be needed for more than the clean-up."
Misato thought that she could see that there was a little bit of a smile, at the corners of his mouth.
"I think I'll just be a little bit worried, though," he said, a hint of self-mockery in his voice which
sounded a lot more genuine than the forced smile before. Somehow, that cheered her up a bit.
Yes, if things did go properly, this would be considerably less unpleasant than Harbinger-3. That
one had been a complete surprise. This time, they had had warning, and knew better about how
to deal with such things. Silently, she blessed Representative Ikari, and the slight edge of
paranoia which had turned out not to be paranoia, which had led to them having everything in
place for a Harbinger, properly this time.

Mind you, it would be very hard for things to go as poorly as they did against Asherah she
thought, a bitter smile directed inside. At least this time we actually have a trained... well, semi-
trained pilot available, and, as a bonus, Rei is unlikely to die if we are forced to put her in Unit
00 without a proper restart test.

She sincerely hoped that they didn't need to do that, though. That would be a sign that things had
gone very, very wrong again.

Either way, it was time.

~'/|\'~

If one could look into the mind of a being such as the one which the New Earth Government had
chosen to call Eshmun, Harbinger-4, what would one find?

Raving, unintelligible, inchoate chaos, obviously. When the utter dissimilarity in evolutionary
history, biology, soul-structure, r-state and indeed local physical laws which comprised the 'body'
were taken into account, it was not exactly surprising that such a mind would be
incomprehensible. The minds of the pathetic parapsychics of mankind would erode like a pile of
sand in a hurricane, should they attempt to interface with such a soul-form, to access its mind.

But if one could, what would be there?

The regimented beauty of the ordained


Futile obstruction
Necessities of the utter madnesses
Things exist that I desire
Of Those-Who-Are-Above All defy the
Time for consumption
Comprehension of all these tiresome toys.

The great leviathan could feel how this place was unclean, feel the disgusting brush of the
scintililating soul-forms of this entire ecosystems. Unnatural, impure, loathsome. A human may
have compared it to wading through sterile sewage; it was not likely to be harmful, but still not
pleasant.

Do the dark waters of forgetting drown all?


The void consumes all.
Not I! Not I! Above the waves I raise
Always, nothingness is being
My banner high and sing greatly my triumph
Inevitably true
For I come to bring that which this world needs.

It was heavy, bloated, gravid, laden with its eggs. It could feel what was nearby (though its sense
of 'nearby' was rather different from a man's), and it knew that this was the optimal route to
ensure its own survival, and that of its children. It was not a strong being, there were things
which could prey on it, and in the time which was to come, it would need all the advantages it
could get.

A falling dying star! A broken shattered throne!


Once respected ones
All things fade and die, for the Beast wills it.
Foes and rivals, but worthy
You do not understand, and you never shall,
What filth remains now?
For the world you thought you knew was never real.

This place was sick. The shells of base metals it could feel around it, the ones which each had a
tiny , warped radiance within them, which bent higher dimensions, were clean, pure, compared
to the filthy, saponaceous and oleaginous things that brushed against it with every move it made.
It would wipe this planet clean of the sickness.

Such a place was not right to raise one's children.

Pencilled pale figures dancing around


Sterilise the land
Faint grey shadows cast by crippled maimed hands.
You shall not deny me this
Puppets without strings, peasants without kings,
I shall boil the sea.
My children will make it so you never were.

"Sir!" The woman's words were harsh. "THEMIS reports that all designated units now have
direct line of sight to target Eshmun."

"Requesting permission to authorise fire," the TITAN said, the discs of its ARvatar motionless,
as if its entire composite-self waited upon this decision. That was a lie, of course; that would be
inefficient of it, a waste of its massive computing powers, quite apart from the fact that the
majority of its sub-components were completely unsuited for human interaction.

Field Marshal Lehy glanced sideways at the other two members of the Triumverate, two silent
nods enough. She grinned then, chisel-like teeth bared somewhat maliciously. "THEMIS, you
are granted fire authorisation, as per Operation Xerxes."

"Understood, Field Marshal." The ARvatar vanished, as the map of the target zone expanded, to
fill the entire floor, such that the officers stood on it like titans of old.

All along the front, the serried ranks of Type-S025 tubular artillery and Type-S033-A and S033-
B missile launch vehicles received a pulsed signal, the hussar LAI systems aligning their
trajectories along a very specific launch vector. Previously hidden files of orders and combat
doctrines were unlocked, as the TITAN set up the attack. This would not have worked against
the Migou, of course; they were a technological, sapient species, and thus carried out their
operations with such high levels of infowar and ECM that such networking abilities were
actively dangerous to use against them. But with a foe like this, who appeared to not even note
the presence of the armoured vehicles and stationary positions around it, it could be used to the
full of its capabilities. And they were mighty indeed.

The Harbinger was continuing along its path, now over the ruins of Old London. Below, the
ground sparkled, a thin layer of gleaming dust covering every surface, the area covered in
scrubbing micromachines. This proximity was not as alarming as it might have sounded; that
dead metropolis did cover most of the South of England. And, indeed, the NEG had been loath to
let such a thing get this near, but it had been decided that the naval forces stationed in the North
Sea would not be sufficient to guarantee a kill, judging by the durability of Asherah, and should
they fall, they would leave an invasion route open for the Migou, from occupied Scandinavia.
Hence, it was up to the stationary positions to take down the foe.

The tactics had been derived from observations of Harbinger-3, as well as co-operation between
the best and brightest of the military minds of the New Earth Government Army and Navy. Not
only that, but the full abilities of the Achtzig Group's Total Information Tactical Analysis
Networks had been utilised, the Limited Artificial Intelligences tasked with the analysis of all the
contradictory information about them which could be extracted from mythology, and the results
finally checked with the use of the MAGI supercomputers, in a full-immersion dive.

The tactics could be summarised as "Use A Gun. And If That Doesn't Work, Use More Gun".

The attack began with a thudding cascade. Carefully timed, the legions of artillery pieces and
missile launchers opened up, the barrage working in from the furthest to the nearest, the attack
calibrated such that there would be three discrete impacts of the mass of projectiles. Unknowing,
uncaring, the Harbinger continued onwards, possible not even aware of the oncoming horde of
projectiles, counting down the few seconds before they impacted.

And then, a quarter of a second before the first wave of arcanochromatic-warhead tipped missiles
and shells (each one only a few tonnes of TNT each; the Colour-contamination was the main
function of this attack, and keeping the yield-per-blast down prevented too-wide dispersal)
impacted, the capital grade weaponry fired. Some had been aimed at a separate part of the
Harbinger's anatomy by THEMIS, attempting to cripple it, while others were all aimed at a
single point. The precision of the targeting was such that it had been necessary to account for
signal transit time. The accuracy was, in fact, inhuman; the people operating the capital grade
weaponry, buried behind layers of radiation shielding and thermal insulation were handlers for
the LAIs which did the actual fire control. There remained manual, hard-wired restrictions on
what the LAIs could do; they required the physical authorisation to fire, but even then, some
were concerned by just how little individuals were involved in the firing of these colossal
weapons.

But the effects were glorious.

The Harbinger, Eshmun, was enveloped in a Colour-tainted storm of plasma, the relativistic
impacts of the stationary charge-beams collapsing the phase-space of its AT-Field, while the
directed arcanomagnetically confined beams sheared straight through its unnatural flesh.

As the fireball expanded upwards and dimmed, a dark-shape in the blinding brightness slowly
fell to pieces, the crystalline brightness of its AT-Field weak and broken, torn asunder by the
tainted light and incredible energies thrown at it. Through magnification, they could see, even
through the radiance, the colossal flesh splinter and fragment as it fell. The abdomen of the thing,
if that was the correct term, was wrecked and scattered, globules of ichor-coated viscera
pattering down to earth, bursting like rain in the heat. The larger, frontal section was more intact,
though riddled with worm-like holes from the impacts, greying-craters torn out of the wine-
coloured carapace. Wriggling and spasming, it slammed into the ground, tearing through rotting
buildings with its bulk.

"Multiple direct impact have breached the AT-Field," stated THEMIS, back in the command
bunker. "Xerses was conducted at 88% of HME. Continuing fire on location, until destruction of
target can be verified."

Field Marshal Jameson leaned forwards unconsciously, linked to the Geocity and the command
team for the Evangelion Group. "Deploy Evangelion Unit 01," he ordered. "We know Asherah
survived the shot from the EVR, but it was injured. If it survived, we want to kill it now, while
it's weak."

Major Katsuragi nodded, once. "Understood, sir." Turning away from the link to command, she
permitted herself a small smile, despite her nerves. "Launch the Evangelion!"

~'/|\'~
There was a slight pulse in the ground, an irregular beat which could be felt in the bones.
Leaning back against a wall, Toja took a deep breath, and unconsciously reached for his MP,
patting his pockets with increasing desperation when he couldn't feel its solid bulk. Oh.
Yeah. Feeling stupid, he pulled out his sister's thinscreen, self-consciously trying to cover its
bright pink back. He had nothing to do, while they checked the register, just before they let
everyone through the airlock.

The Grid is currently operating in Restricted Access Mode, he read. Full User Rights are
suspended under Code 11 of the Digital Communications Bill, 2087. Temporary Martial Law in
Effect. Under that, was a selection of links, to official information sites, and emergency
information. Nothing which could be used to break the tight seals between compartmentalised
areas of the Grid in Restricted Access Mode. He was sure, wherever Kensuke was (Naval
Cadets, come to think of it), he was probably setting up node-to-node stuff to try to bypass it, or
something. Toja wasn't quite sure exactly what you'd do to do that kind of thing. But at least it
would be nice to have someone to talk to.

The Nazzadi boy shook his head slightly, and shivered. This was far too similar to what had
happened when the thing they had called Harbinger-3 had shown up. The same explosive
thudding pattern, the same emergency evacuation. And he was stuck in a shallow bunker again,
not deep enough to be properly safe. He used to think a hundred metres down was okay. It
wasn't. He'd learned that last time. And yet, again, he was here, surrounded by young children.
He had a bad feeling about this.

At least Kany was down deeper this time, safe down in the hospital. That was a mercy.

And... and he'd punched the person who'd been piloting the thing which had killed Harbinger-3.
He'd actually done it. It didn't make him feel better. In the cold light of insignificance he now
saw himself in, cowering down here in this bunker, he suddenly realised how small he was
compared to the bulking figure of that thing, that "Eva". Not least because he could have just
blamed the Harbinger for the damage done. But that wasn't the same. That was a faceless horror,
and incidentally dead. He'd wanted someone to blame, not something. Although, saying that...

He was broken from his reverie by a tug on his sleeve. He looked down to see a little boy, his
purple eyes crinkled up in worry. He looked somewhat familiar, too.

"Come on, Kany's brother," the boy said. Yes, that was it. He was one of his sister's friends.
Hikara, was it? Or was it Bernard, or Tomek? No, Tomek was human. Toja was sure that his
friends hadn't looked so similar when he had been that age. "Mr Rarinujeri needs to see you,
'cause we can't find Imi. Have you seen?"

"Imi?" Toja asked, following the small boy.

"You know, Imi." At Toja's blank face, the boy gave a sigh which was too old for him. "Oh,
come on. I know you've seen her, 'cause we were all there for Kany's birthday." Toja continued
to look blank. "Human? She's pale, brown hair," he raised one hand to the left side of his head,
"has her hair lop-sided?"
That rang a bell. "Oh, Pigtail Girl."

The teacher, Mr Rarinujeri was arguing with someone over his MP. "I don't know!" he snapped.
A pause. "I followed all the normal procedures for evacuation. No, no-one else is missing. Yes, I
have checked." A longer pause. "Yes. I'll keep you posted." He lowered the device with a
frustrated sigh. "You!" he snapped at the boy. "Toja! Have you seen her. Is she anywhere around
here?"

"No. I don't know."

"Damn. Damn..." the teacher glanced at his students, "...and drat." He took a deep, shuddery
breath, audible through the filters. "Does anyone at all know where she could be? We had her in
the classroom, because I took a register. How could she have gone missing between here and
there?"

A little girl raised one hand. "Um... sir, remember, she has that medical thing, where she
sometimes can't breathe or talk properly."

"And then sometimes faints," added the boy who had taken him here.

"I know, Bernard," groaned the teacher. "But... well, there isn't a proper team in the gear you'd
need to risk going out. They're using arcanochrom..." he glanced at the children, "... nasty big
bombs to kill the enemies, and it isn't safe."

"I'll do it," Toja said, in a low voice. They hadn't been let through the airlock yet, because it took
time to cycle between groups, and they did have to evacuate the entire school. There wasn't much
of a rush, as they were already underground (they didn't know what he knew about that). He
could do it. He'd be able to get her.

It wasn't conscious thinking on his part. It wasn't something he chose to do. There was no inner
monologue, no debate. He just knew that he had to find her. It was necessary. She was one of his
sister's friends. He had to protect her, and she'd be upset if one of her friends died, especially if
her brother could have done something, and didn't.

It would be a way of making up for what he did to Kany.

"What the hell are you doing?" the teacher yelled at his back, as he barged his way through the
mass of nine and ten year olds.

"I'll find her!" he yelled.

He sprinted for the exit, safe in the knowledge that the lights on the inside of his filter mask were
still green. It'd be safe, right, if he was fast?
~'/|\'~

Expansion.

Contraction.

Expansion.

Contraction.

The shattered bulk of Eshmun lay on the ground, the broken iridescence of its AT-Field weak
and shattering, covered with the blossoming of missile impacts and artillery shells. And always,
the Colour, burning it, draining it, the light arcing through higher dimensions and consuming it.

Ichor pooled around it, in the middle of the glassed region where it lay. Further out, fires burned
rampant through this dead city, ignited by the incredible heat of the weapons used by the
decedents of those who had built it, but around it, bar the fresh explosions, all was grey, and
crumbling, and flat, and dead. The all-consuming, reverberating buzz the creature emitted was
weakened, and dying, drowned out by the shattering noise of the bombardment.

No.

It was not dead. And it would bring the life it planned to this broken, despoiled world.

Of all the damned sins in all the worlds,


Gnawing at my skin
This affront is not one I wish to do.
The pain. I feel so much pain.
I would not wish it be this, but it is.
Survive. I must live.
Come, my children. Come into this vile place.

Behind it, the globules of anathematic flesh which had fallen from its broken and survived the
fireball lay quiescent, unmoving. With a thought, it cracked them open, the momentary
weakening of its AT-Field enough to permit another blast to slam into it, before it could retain
itself.

The hatching began.

The coruscating vile light may burn me,


Burning! Stop it all!
But the puppets cower in their metal boxes
What are they? What do they do?
Weak and pathetic! They shall all be taken,
Pain, sorrow and pain.
No more metal boxes and no more puppets!

Pulling itself up onto the legs that ran along its underside (the joints not exactly like a crab's, and
not exactly like a spider's), Eshmun raised its broad 'head' up, andscreamed, the noise tearing the
air and making electrons dance away from their bound partners, tearing apart the Colour-drained,
greying ground around it, and making the dust burn. A thick, cloying, bruise-coloured gas began
to pour from the open wounds that ran through its corpus, the greyness that marked the edge of
the arcanochromatically-drained wounds shifting, though still not returning to the wine-colour of
the main carapace.

And scuttling, crawling, creeping, it began to move, its legs expanding and extending as its form
flowed like wax towards its new goal. Smashing through an ruined apartment block, the rotting
concrete flying out in vast clouds of filth, it began to half-squirm, half-bound along, followed by
the smaller figures of its offspring, floating around it like a flock of carrion birds around a
corpse. And although the weapons might burst like rain against its AT-Field and its thickening,
strengthening carapace (already adapting to the new constraints), and might slay its children, it
would not be stopped. Not by these faded shadows in their limited, barely real boxes of metal.

~'/|\'~

Down empty corridors, the boy ran, his breath heavy, and his heart pounding. He could hear the
noises of war, far away, and, in fact, he was unconsciously in a sort of crouch-run. Left at the
corridor, and up a flight of stairs. Just at the top, he stopped, panting heavily, resting his palms
on his thighs, as he tried to catch his breath.

What the hell did he think he was doing?

Now, he was really thinking, and what he had just realised was that he hadn't been thinking. At
all. He could barely remember what she looked like, for one (although, actually, she'd be wearing
a filter mask, so he wouldn't be able to tell), and had no idea where she was, for two. Oh, and
there was some kind of major incursion going on outside, to the extent that they could feel the
blast detonations even deep underground, and just to finish it off, he'd already been in trouble
once today, and running out of a bunker like that was exactly the sort of thing which would go on
your permanent record.

He knew that he'd always been a bit impulsive, but this was just taking it too far.

Shaking his head, he caught a glimpse of the post hung on the wall to his side. It was a hand-
drawn picture of a Giant Panda, with both the name and 'Favourite Food: Bamboo" written on it
in childish handwriting. That... that didn't help solve his dilemma at all. Neither did the similarly
crude picture of the tiger, nor did the one next to it, although that did inform him that 'Reading Is
A Good Thing!'.

Straightening up, he took a deep breath through the filters, and sighed. No. He may have failed
his sister; he wasn't going to fail one of her friends. If he was stupid and impulsive, then he was
going to make the best of the situation that his stupidity and impulsiveness had got him into. Still
jogging, he made his way to the classroom.

Toja really began to regret the decision about the time something slammed into the diamond
windows, spider-web fractures dancing across the surface.

~'/|\'~

"Lima-Two! Lima-Two! Going live!"

The paths of the two red-wavelength laser beams were barely visible in the air, sketched out in
the dust and micromechanical emfog that filled the air. Far more obvious was their point of
contact with the vaguely cephalodian thing that buzzed just above ground level, already into a
fairly dense urban area. The main defences had been trying to kill Eshmun, the Harbinger, and as
a result the horde had broken through in several places. It was a disparate mass, of varying sizes
(and where had the mass come from for all of these things, which had matured so quickly?), and
yet it was not stupid. There was some kind of greater strategy going on, some give and take
which attracted the monsters best suited to a task towards it.

And the combat was a mess. There, one of the Harbinger-spawn was sliced in half, the
continuous arcanomagnetically confined plasma beam of the Type-H047 Tank Destroyer cutting
through a bloated mass ten metres long; there, a swarm of meter-long fiends crawled and
clambered over the outer skin of a ZNB-13, the micromissile launchers and plasmathrowers
utterly useless against the things which, with glowing tendrils, systematically dismembered the
mecha, before flowing apart before the rest of the squadron could avenge their comrade. The
spawn of the Harbinger were weaker than their progenitor, true; much smaller and weaker , and
entirely lacking in the AT-Field which caused so much trouble. But they were tough, too tough,
and oddly spongy. Weapons like charge beams, optimised for blowing the fuck out of anything
which reacted adversely to relativistic particle beams, just punched straight through the
epidermis of those things. They were killable, yes. But they weren't killable easily.

And overpenetration incidents were causing non-negligible amounts of damage to the local areas
of the city, too.

"Be aware, friendly units, Sickle-Prime is on station, and providing close-air support."
Above, a flight of Toxotes missile gunships snapped by, their twin A-Pods utterly silent, before
they let loose a hail of rockets into one of the larger Harbinger-Spawn, nearly tearing it in half,
before a flock of smaller ones gave chase. The anti-missile lasers, hastily reprogrammed to track
these things, tried to do their best, but these creatures were simply bulkier, and tougher, than
anything that they would normally deal with. As other flights had been forced to, the Toxotes
pulled up, the turn sharp enough that it would have sheared the engines off something more
conventionally propelled, and headed straight up, up into the region of safety where the anti-air
defences could track the smaller targets, and swat them like files.

But all this was too clinical, too cold to truly represent the havoc on the ground. In truth, the dogs
of war had long since slipped their chain, and even now they ran amuck. Long-limbed greyish-
blue walkers, their aesthetics an odd mix of pseudo-organic curves and the harsh brutalism of
human engineering loped from cover to cover, taking position in armoured redoubts, which
protruded from the ground, and ruined buildings equally. Hovering tanks, which looked like
armoured gunships, and gunships with tank-like turrets on their underside belched forth cracks of
explosive death and sun-bright plasma without prejudice, bracketing the targets in LAI-
synchronised fire. And, all around, the terrible noise of the capital grade defences and the shriek
of artillery continued unabashed, the bulk of the Harbinger.

Circling, circling, a cluster of the Harbinger-Spawn darted forth, radiant white tendrils shining
like a star, smashing through a building and into a squadron of tanks destroyers. Up close,
especially when surprised, the charge beams and a-mag weapons were all but useless, as the
glowing tentacles that each of the spawn had melted through the layers of heat-resistant armour
like butter. The vehicles were ripped apart, their crew an irrelevancy to the creatures. A sudden
burst of painfully bright yellowish-purple (or was it green?) light from one vehicle signified the
catastrophic failure of its D-Engine before the shutdown could function, a Horizon Event tearing
through the fabric of reality. The resulting blast tore the front off the surrounding buildings, and
shredded the spawn which had been responsible.

Its kin ignored that, and set off. They could feel the presence of the D-Engines of one of the
capital defences, sense the 'glow' of the dimensional violation, and instinctively knew that it was
bad. As were the things that were trying to kill them, it should be noted, and to remedy that, they
would take preventative actions. One reached down, scooping up the remnants of a tank-
destroyer (the wreckage about the same size as its own body), and hurled it, with a sudden
straightening of its tentacles.

The pilot of the VDN-24 main battle mecha which happened to be in the path of the projectile
would have been surprised, had the impact not crushed the missile tubes, the damage meaning
that the failsafe unsafely failed, and the resultant blast turned the contents of the pilot's cockpit
into mince.

On the human side of things, the alarmed chatter of pilots and the warning messages of hussar
LAIs were quickly silenced by the terminal sanction of the spawn, though their numbers were
whittled down by the railgun and plasma fire which tore through their ranks, and further by an
overflight of Chalybion gunships, who retreated back before the things could target them too.
One, though, managed to break through the hasty cordon, its broad 'head' slamming into the torso
of a Malach, and knocking the Engel down, as its tentacles severed both arms (and the pilot
inside screamed from neural feedback, before the Engel Synthesis Interface embedded in her
brain cut out). With a sudden burst of speed, it barrelled through a building, unintentionally
ricocheting off an interior support, and, swelling, bulging, it made its way towards...

*splooosh*

The child of Eshmun burst like overripe fruit, as a hypervelocity 155mm shell detonated just
before impact, and shredded the spongy flesh, leaving the remnants of the carcass to slam down
into the front of a school. Wrapped in clouds of freezing mist illuminated by the autonomous fire
of the laser defence grid, the Babylon rifle venting coolant, Unit 01 stepped over Wade Primary
School, following the orders to find the Harbinger.

"Target eliminated," stated the Ouranos LITAN. Shinji nodded, unconsciously (and the Eva's
viewpoint shifted slightly, too), and, eyes flicking over the world around him and the AR
displays in front of his eyes alike, kept on searching for any movement. He was trying to make
his way over to the Harbinger, but the city was not designed for ease of transit for forty-metre
tall mecha, and he was trying to avoid (an idea supported by the support staff, down in the
Geocity, at least for the moment) destroying anything more of London-2.

He somehow had a feeling that "But that skyscraper was in the way" wouldn't receive much
credence, if he were asked to explain why he had demolished it. I guess I could pretend I fell
over... No! No! I'm walking, I'm walking, I'm not thinking about falling over, walk! Walk!

That was a bad habit he really needed to learn not to do. On pain of pain, and Dr Akagi being
offensive about it. Even if, to be honest, Unit 01 had been deployed in the wrong place, although
they had not known it at the time. The Harbinger had taken a different path than had been
expected, and so he was out of place.

"The Eva's AT-Field is fully developed," reported Lieutenant Ibuki, fingers dancing across her
keyboard, as the Evangelion worked its way through the districts.

"Processing fresh data feed from NEGA field units," said the Operator, down in the full-
immersion chamber. "Opaque to radar, lidar, microwave... Harbinger-4 doesn't seem to have a
core-equivalent, unlike 3."

"It may be internal," said Ritsuko, concern in her voice. "At least we have a hard limit on its
regeneration, given that it hasn't regrown its abdomen. Misato?"

The Major was simply relieved that there had been time for that extra training, and, in fact, that
she had not passed him into the Child programme before Shinji had shown some basic combat
skills. Emphasis on the 'basic', of course. She wouldn't have ever wanted someone like that
piloting alongside her, and the LITAN couldn't compensate for everything. "I think..." she began,
before the bleep of the proximity alarm alerted them all to the sudden shift in the vector of
Eshmun.
It was coming straight towards the Evangelion.

"Shinji, remember your training," the Major ordered. "I'm authorising the use of vECF
muntions." She winced slightly. "Remember what you'll be firing."

With a cycle of machinery, and the brief appearance of a progress bar on the Evangelion's HUD,
the Babylon switched internal magazines from the perfectly conventional 155mm hypervelocity
shaped charges, to the somewhat less mundane variant-electron catalysed fusion warheads.
Shinji swallowed a mouthful of LCL (it barely tasted of anything anymore; all he could taste was
the bitterness of adrenaline), and squatted down, keeping one eye on his map, the Harbinger an
electric-blue dot. Yes, he knew quite well what vECF shells did. It had been half-a-day of
instructional videos explaining just how dangerous the things they were giving him were.

The blue dot was getting nearer. There was a slight shift, as the LITAN assembled a wireframe
projection of it, through the solid cover of the building. Hah! Like a building counted as cover,
or, indeed, solid, he thought bitterly, as he worked his fingers, tightening them in position around
the control yokes.

Let LITAN get lock. Aim with Evangelion. Fire with fingers. Babylon vents. Let LITAN get lock.
Aim with Evangelion. Fire with fingers. Babylon vents. Let LITAN get lock. Aim with
Evangelion. Fire with fingers. Babylon vents, he thought, running over the procedure again, and
again. Okay.

And in one smooth motion, Unit 01 stood up, hand-held weapon raised at the flea-like bulk of
Eshmun, even as the autonomous weapons began to fire.

~'/|\'~

Quite simply, Toja knew that he should flee, knew that he should look away, knew that he should
do anything but stand there, and stare vacantly at the scene through the ichor-covered windows.
But he couldn't. Frozen on the spot, barely blinking from behind the darkened visor of the filter
mask, his eyes flicked between the vast humanoid figure of the Evangelion, and the wine-
coloured, scarred mass that was the Harbinger, crawling on its insectoid legs, still leaking ichor
from the mess where it was nearly torn in half. And... oddly, he didn't want to run. There was
something sickly fascinating about the sight, which even overrode his survival instincts.

He watched, as the Evangelion rose from behind its building. A sudden crack of thunder, and
there was light; blinding light that was merely bright, as both the window and the filtermask
suddenly went opaque. In the rising fireball that enveloped the monster's head, the Nazzadi boy,
even with the reduced colour vision of his subspecies, could see hints of the Colour, rising
upwards in a fungoid bloom. The freezing gas vented from the rifle as coolant was lit in
prismatic colours, before being blown asunder as the shockwave hit, thundering across the land.
There was barely time to raise a hand, before the Babylon fired again, and again, and again, the
windows and his filtermask as black as pitch, the cracks along the window alone transparent and
casting their own broken, crystalline and prismatic light into the room.

Toja fell over backwards, not from how the ground shook, but from how his leg muscles
suddenly turned into jelly from the sudden terror.

Through the darkness of his visor, something burning bright, through the dust and the freezing
mist, could be seen to lash out, whipping forwards towards the humanoid figure, into the
Evangelion's arm. A spurt of dark-coloured blood splattered its way across a nearby building,
before the wound sealed. As a result, the next shot went wide, the vECF warhead blowing out the
core of a building and sending a skyscraper plummeting to the ground, only throwing up more
dust.

Dust which was blown aside as, from the fireballs, came scuttling the bulk of the Harbinger, its
broad head held low, two twitching, sun-bright tentacles reaching before it. Unit 01 barely
managed to throw itself out of the way from the charge, falling to one knee, but managing to turn
just in time to take another lash against its right arm. With just a hint of slowness which had not
been there before, it turned, and another crack spoke of another shot from the Babylon, at very
close range. There was no detonation this time, only the shimmering light of Eshmun's AT-Field
and the vented coolant illuminated by the lasers mounted over the Evangelion.

With a sudden burst of speed, which was not quite a jump, and which was not quite flight, the
wine-coloured monster surged forwards, the 155mm shell it took to the middle of the forehead at
point blank range, and the resultant gush of bruise-coloured vapour, not enough to dissuade its
passage. Over and over it rolled, locked in a tight embrace with Unit 01, its whip-tendrils leaving
wherever they touched slagged, even as its crab-like legs dug at the Eva's back. The passage of
the two titans demolished buildings, free-standing and sealed arcology alike. The sun-bright
tentacles melted whatever they touched as they rolled, even as the Evangelion frantically clawed
at the Harbinger with the hyperedged blades attached to its fingers.

The deathly embrace was only broken by human intervention, as a rain of missiles, zeroed in
from the Geocity on Unit 01's own signature, punched a line of fleshy craters along the back of
the creature, the impacts small stars in the thick dust. The resultant fireballs tore through the
buildings which the two leviathans had wrecked, only adding to the chaos, but the alien
monstrosity largely protected Evangelion Unit 01 from the blast, and the warning which it had
received had been enough for, in the confusion (as the hellish buzz of Eshmun grew higher in
pitch), for it to get one foot under the chest of the Harbinger, and send it flying back into another
building, shattering the insectoid legs which had been wrapped around the Unit.

Those blasts had been much, much closer, and larger too. The shockwave battened the building,
knocking over chairs, part of the ceiling collapsing. Half-crawling, Toja managed to make his
way under one of the desks, and curled up into a ball, survival instincts all that remained to him.

Slowly pulling itself partially upright, the Evangelion straightened up. It had lost one of the
wing-like pylons which protruded from its back, in the brawl, and dark blood dripped forth from
where it had shattered, running in rivulets down the small of the Unit's back. Nevertheless, it was
ready. Its left, uninjured hand groped for the fallen Babylon, while the right arm supported its
weight.

Which was, naturally, when the tentacles whipped out again, both attacking in perfect
synchronisation. One punched through the right arm arm, severing tissue and muscle and
machine, and somehow expanded within the wound, tearing it up from the inside, sending the
Evangelion crashing to the ground. The other sought out the torso, and found it, burrowing
within like a flesh-eating luminescent worm, before digging down into the ground. Slowly, too
slowly, the Harbinger crawled (on now-broken legs) towards the pinned Evangelion.

~'/|\'~

"Warning! DEV12/DDV13 RA Offline. Reconfiguring power and heat distribution grids.


Restricted power flow to right arm. Class 4 weapons disabled."

Icons all down the left side of the Evangelion's body were flashing red. The armour there was
seared, cooked; the sophisticated heat-resistant ceramics and high-reflectivity layered armour no
match for the brute force of the Harbinger. The right arm hung entirely limp and useless,
unpowered and heavily damaged, the servos in the armour, and the muscles, both synthetic and
arcane, of the underlying organism, melted. The LITAN was reporting on the most urgent of the
errors, even as unfamiliar messages scrolled down in front of the pilot's eyes.

"Warning! DEV12/DDV13 T-1 and DEV12/DDV13 T-3 Offline. Warning! Insufficient power
for peak operations. Switching to back-up supply. Warning! Insufficient heat disposal capacity.
Class 3 weapons disabled."

"How did it do that?" Ritsuko muttered, eyes hollow. "It knew exactly where to target the
engines. Harbinger-class entities possibly sensitive to D-distortions?" she spoke into her PCPU.

"Shinji, you've lost three of your D-engines!" the Major snapped, leaning into the microphone.
"Pull back! I'll get you cover-fire. Shut off all the weapons down his right side," she added,
turning to the technical staff. "I don't want him cooking himself without the D-Fridges working,
either."

"The Ouranos has already done that, Major Katsuragi."

Whimpering, Shinji gripped onto the control yokes as tight as he could. His arm... the
Evangelion's arm felt funny, even through the pain. Weak and floppy. And all of his right side
felt like... well, it felt like that one holiday they had had to Shikoku, back before that major
Dagonite attack had led to the restriction of arcology exist passes. He'd managed to get horribly
sunburnt then. It felt exactly like that.
"Shinji, get up!"

Pinned to the group, it hurt even more to move.

Overhead, a flight of Chalybion gunships could be seen, emerging from the dust that filled the
skyline from the conflict. The roar of charge beams from the tail-like turret of the fliers, and the
extrapolated-from-scatter paths of the ultraviolet lasers, was nothing compared to the infernal
buzzing of Eshumn. The silvery-white light of an AT-Field above the Harbinger showed where
the blasts were hitting, but even the ones which broke the shattered light didn't seem to stop it.

Kill! Kill! You are not a shadow! Kill! Kill!


Kill kill kill kill kill.
My own children are dead, piled into mounds,
Kill kill kill kill kill kill kill.
And your barren colour has entered me.
Kill kill kill kill kill.
Too real! You bring the final death! Too real!

"He's trapped. Synch ratio is falling."

"Mental pattern is destabilising. Loss of concentration, probably."

"Scramble whatever forces you get! I don't care! I have Advisor status for exactly this situation,
and so I'm advising you that the Evangelion is your best current hope for killing that thing! And
it can't do that if it's pinned to the ground."

"Rei is suited up, correct?"

The vile, convolving, broken form of the Harbinger, was dragging itself across the ground. It was
sheared in half even before he saw it, behind it, even as he writhes in pain on the burning
tentacles, he can see the trail of bruise-coloured liquid drooling out, and it has only been injured
further. The loss of its rear half seemed to have removed its capacity for true flight. Its carapace
is pockmarked with craters, some grey and crumbling from the use of tactical arcanochromatic
weapons. And its legs are now shattered and broken. It seems to be regenerating slowly, but the
legs are malformed and twisted, no longer able to truly support its weight.

"Shinji! You need to get up!"

"Bravo Company is on rou... damn it, more of those things."

"Thunderbird-6 inbound. Please retreat to minimum safe distance."

"It's no good."
No. Something snapped inside, as he watched that broken, purplish shape pull nearer. It was
pathetic. He had crushed its children, popped them like water balloons. And look at it! It was
more damaged than he was!

With the one functional hand, the Evangelion reached out, and grabbed the tentacle that was
stuck into his right hand side. Wincing in pain, but with a slight mad look in his eyes, Shinji
tightened his grip around the sun-bright plasma, and, AT-Field suddenly flaring into iridescent,
crystalline light around his hand, snuffed it out, crushing it in the inexorable claw.

Shinji began to pant, lips wide open in a rictus grin, deep gulps of LCL flowing in and out of his
lungs. With his left hand, he groped for the Babylon, getting his hand on the firing mechanism,
and, as the weapon synched up with the Unit's internal controls (no, of course he didn't fire it by
squeezing a trigger. That would be inefficient, and problematic, considering the fact that trigger
design was not a science well advanced for 40 metre robots), he grinned, lips pulled tight over
his bared teeth.

Then, leaning forwards into a sprinters position, he charged. The other one energy tentacle was
torn right out of the arm, jets of dark ichor accompanying it, but the sudden rush of adrenaline
blanked out the immediacy of the pain, replacing it with a dull ache which seemed irrelevant to
the fact that he was going to kill this thing.

The Harbinger might have had just enough time to experience the sensation of shock, before the
colossal boot of the Eva collided with its 'face', sending it flying backwards. Luckily, locally all
the buildings had been knocked down by their preceding brawl, so at least there wasn't any more
buildings to damage along this path, but on the negative side, the Evangelion had kicked it really,
really hard, so judging by this trajectory, that was only a temporary state of affairs.

Misato was yelling something at him down the radio. He really couldn't hear her, a mix of pain,
adrenaline, and suddenly unleashed anger making her words only so much noise.

"Shoot it! With everything!" he roared at the LAI, as his momentum carried him onwards, a
second kick, the AT-Field sparkling around the foot nearly disembowelling (if it had bowels) the
Harbinger before it, or he, had hit the ground. Tumbling backwards, Eshmun continued to roll,
tearing up the ruins with its reigniting tendrils. Waving his arm, Shinji just managed to regain
balance, thinking very hard about not falling over, before he took a step back, levelling the
Babylon one-handed at the twitching Harbinger.

The recoil was immense. It was, in fact, so great that he accidentally slapped himself in the face,
his arm moving with the Evangelion's. Ignoring the stinging pain (heh. He had already been
punched today. That was ages ago, wasn't it?) he struggled, stepping back on the uneven ground,
to both stay upright and lower the weapon. The Babylon was an Evangelion-scale rifle, and that
meant it wasn't meant to be fired in one hand. Much as a conventionally-sized one wasn't. Shinji
could feel the bruises blossom up his forearm, as the yellow lights reported multiple fractures
along the left arm's armour, even as clouds of freezing coolant obscured his visible light vision.
Nevertheless he watched with open eyes and feral grin as the blasted-open underside of Eshmun
appeared from under the fireball, greyed and poisoned and spasming.
"How do I kill it?" he screamed at his support staff. Oh. Oww. That really hurt. Oh. Had he
broken something?

Ritsuko looked momentarily shocked. "Sufficient damage. It doesn't have an external core-
equivalent, so it's probably inside its body."

Pushing forwards on the control yokes with both hands, teeth gritted, Shinji... no, Unit 01 made
its way to the twitching Harbinger, right arm limp at its side, dark blood leaking from the
multiple cracks in the arm, the puncture holes in the torso, and from the torn-off pylon. Its feet
shook the ruins, crushing demolished building underfoot. Ahead, the Harbinger lay, that noxious,
bruise-coloured light-gas leaking from all of its many wounds.

What if it does the explody thing like the last one? Shinji suddenly realised, with a sinking
feeling. Too late to think about that. He tried to will the other arm to move, jerking on the right
control yoke as hard as he could. Nothing.

"Switch ammo on the Babylon," he told the LITAN. The loading bar flashed, and was gone. That
was sensible. He didn't want to forget, and accidentally blow himself up. Of course, he also
didn't want to have his arm hurt like that again... generally, the Babylon wasn't a good weapon
for that. That reminded him; Shinji checked that all the other weapons, the lasers and the
shoulder mounted missile pods (oh, they were empty, he noted) and the 20mm cannons (also
empty) were still hitting the target. Certainly, it seemed that the LITAN was not sparing with the
ammunition based weapons, though, of course, there was a strict limit to how much the
Evangelion could carry, because, where a normal mecha had storage space, an
arcanocyberxenobiological organism had organs and stuff.

It seemed so far to walk. He really was feeling light-headed now, from the pain. But now he was
here, and, yes, in the centre of the blasted open body, spewing forth that bruised-light, was some
kind of cracked crystalline structure. Dropping the Babylon (it landed with a very expensive
sounding clatter), he pulled back one clawed fist, and slammed it with a sudden brutal finality
into the core, an impossibly pure note sounding out, as the pre-existing cracks widened and
spread.

Beneath him, the Harbinger twitched.

What are you? What are you? What are you? What
are you? What are you?
Can't I see? Somehow familiar? Hard to
think. What are you? Do not know.
Killing me. Sorrow and pain. So much pain.
My children are dead.
Pain. Pain. Somehow familiar. What are you?

Another blow. And another. And another, the left fist descending over and over again.

Finally, a rupture.
And oblivion.

Slowly, the remains of Harbinger-4, so damaged, so abused, sank into a foul, effervescent fluid,
the same tainted bruised colours as its core.

Slowly, Shinji Ikari clutched at his arms and let out a scream of pain through clenched teeth,
from the pain all down his right flank, and shooting up his left arm.

Slowly, Unit 01 sagged and fell to the ground, collapsing on top of a formerly relatively intact
building and demolishing it.

~'/|\'~

All too slowly, Toja pulled himself out from under the table. He... he was alive. He was actually
still alive. And with all limbs attached, too. Looking around through the dust filled air, at the
classroom of fallen chairs and broken ceiling tiles, he reflexively coughed.

The windows were caked black with... something. No, he realised, it wasn't something. They'd
denatured? Was that the right word? They'd done that think where photosensitive stuff got stuck
on the opaque mode, normally after being exposed to really bright light.

Stepping back, he realised that there was a pattern. A patch of less-dark glass, in the middle of all
the darkness. It was... it was human shaped.

Wrapping his arms around himself, Toja began to shiver. That... that was its shape, wasn't it. A
patch of less-darkness, where it had been obstructing the radiance from those blasts. Just looking
at it was making the colour drain from the world. Just like outside, in the greyness. And there it
was, its legs sticking out of a wrecked building. Sprawled on the ground. In the middle of
something dark. And fluidy.

Someone was calling out something. With an effort, he realised it was his name. Turning slowly,
he could see a little human girl, head poking around the doorway.

"Toja."

He blinked, heavily. "Yes," he managed.

There was a moment of silence, as the girl stared at him. "You are Kany's brother, aren't you?"

"Yes." Why was he here? What was he looking for. Why had he come out of the safety? Oh yes.
"Are you... are you Imi?"
The little girl nodded. "Yes."

"I... yes. I went to find you. We need to get down to the bunker. Now."

Crossing the classroom to his side, standing on tiptoes, the girl peered out of the lighter patch of
the window, too. "But the sirens have stopped, and the thing is dead," she pointed out, staring at
the sight before them.

"Doesn't matter. Need to get to bunker." He paused, and blinked, the mist that seemed to fill his
mind lifting for a moment. "Where have you been?"

"I had to get another injector from my bag, because I had lost mine," the little girl said. "And
then everyone was gone, and the sirens were still going, and I did not know the way to the
bunker. So I hid in the art cupboard instead."

"Did you?" That did, even in the boy's current mental state, seem a lot more sensible. Certainly
more sensible than hiding under a child's desk, and watching a lot of the fight.

She tugged at his sleeve. "Can you take me to the bunker then, please."

The world around him seemed grey and filled with fog, all sound muffled. Even his sense of
touch was muted, so that surfaces seemed padded. Silently, mutely Toja stumbled onwards,
down the stairs, leading the girl by instinct.

The relief on the teacher's face could not erase the terror which had been there before. "My
God," he said, and while Toja knew, intellectually, that the voice was packed with emotion, in
the obfuscated world in which he dwelt there was only a cold, feelingless drone. "You found her.
And you're both alive. Our wireless Grid coverage was down, so we couldn't even track either of
you."

"I found him," the little girl, Imi said, her voice similarly unreadable to the boy's addled mind.

The teacher turned to face her. "What were you doing." It was impossible to tell if that was a
question, or an outraged exclamation. "Why did you run off like that."

"I dropped my medicine when we were trying to leave," she said, as childish fingers tried to
undo her mask, now that they were down in safety. "And it broke. It was necessary. I needed to
go get some more from my bag."

"You know you're not meant to do that. You're meant to tell a teacher, and never, ever, ever run
off on your own, especially if we're trying to evacuate."

"But I need to have my medicine with me. Else I won't breathe properly."

"That means you tell a teacher, and they'll go get it with you." The man sighed. "You did get it,
though."
"Yes."

"And you're feeling alright."

"I am now. I had to take some, though, because I was scared," she said. The girl turned, and
pointed at Toja, a thin, pale face framed by brown hair blending into the greyness (it wasn't
really grey, though, now that he thought about it; it just felt grey and tired and misty) around
him. "He's not well, though. He was looking out the window when I found him." The teacher
turned to look at him, worry on his face. This was interrupted, though, as a swarm of small
children managed to break the teacher-cordon near the exit, and flocked in.

"Imi!"

"What happened!"

"Kany's brother saved you, didn't he? He said he would, and then he ran out of the bunker!"

"So coo~ooool!"

"Awesome."

"What a hero!"

That was the thing though. He wasn't a hero. He was just an idiot. God, the nine-year old girl had
been brighter than him; at least she'd hidden somewhere safe, rather than under a table. A stupid,
impulsive idiot who'd rushed in without thinking, and hadn't accomplished anything at all. He
never did. Better this way, than get her hurt, like he had his sister. But that didn't mean he was
brave, or a hero, or anything but a stupid little boy.

What an idiot.

He had punched the real hero.

~'/|\'~

Leaning back on the bed, Shinji stretched, squirming against the mattress. Above him, the bright
white lights of the observation chamber shone down on the stark room. That was not to say that
it was bare, just... ruthlessly utilitarian. Although there was furniture in here, there was a certain
roundedness, paddedness and weight to it which clearly spoke of the design considerations which
had determined its structure. Namely, the designers had not wanted for it to be something the
occupant of the room could use to hurt themselves, or, indeed, others.
It was quite astonishing that, primarily, he was feeling bored.

"We're going to keep you down here for a while, for observation," Misato had said, as they'd got
him out of the recovered entry plug, but before they'd run the battery of medical checks, or,
indeed, extracted the LCL from his lungs. It was a strange, sloshy sensation to walk around in the
sealed plug-suit variant, the world tainted orange by the fluid which filled the area behind the
transparent faceplate. But he was used to it, too. She... she hadn't been too happy about what he'd
done. He should have pulled back once he had freed himself, and they would have dropped a
nuke on it. Not damage the Evangelion further.

To be fair, neither had he. That had hurt. And Dr Akagi had noted that 'Don't fire rifles with one
hand' was now going to be added to the basic training guide. And, no, apparently, it wasn't that
easy to make it otherwise. He had been in some pain, and largely saying it to annoy her, in
fairness.

That didn't matter. He had heard the unspoken words from both of them, because, outside of the
anger, he had thought them too. Why didn't you try to take it alive?

Well, they hadn't told him to. It was their fault, if that was what they had wanted.

Pulling up his t-shirt, he checked his stomach again. Nothing. He'd felt the pain as it stabbed into
him... not quite true pain, but more like some kind of reflection; a dull ache. But his body looked
fine. He still wasn't feeling well inclined towards whoever came up with the idea of a war
machine which hurt the pilot when it got damaged. Not well inclined at all.

At least he wasn't feeling the same utter exhaustion after the incident with Harbinger-3. He was
tired, yes, but this was just the kind of tiredness which came from a temper outburst, that kind of
weariness after exertion. Actually remarkably like an exam, come to think of it. Still, with luck,
whatever had happened, what the Evangelion had done, what he had done to that first Harbinger
would never happen again. He still wasn't sure; there were flashes of memory, nothing more.

Sitting up, he pulled his t-shirt back down and flattened down his tousled hair (now, mercifully
clean of LCL; they were very careful about that in the decontamination procedure, and that was
something he fully understood. It tasted vile, after all), and moved over to the seating area,
booting up the desk with a button press.

Let's see... yes. Oh, good, they transferred my muse over here. That was nice enough, he felt. At
least this way, he could keep himself entertained. But, first things first.

"Go to the PBO site," he told the LAI, "... and connect to the news channel." Shinji had to admit
that he was more than a little curious to see how they would be reporting... or not reporting, as
the case may be, what had just happened. I'm certainly not an egotist. I don't want to see
whatever they're saying, and feel all hot and smug inside that it was me. Even if it hurt. And
they're probably not giving me the credit. Not that I want it, of course; I never wanted to have to
get into the Evangelion in the first place. But that doesn't mean that I can't feel irritated that
they're not worshipping me as their saviour.
Actually... that would really be kind of embarrassing, to be worshipped as a god-king. Some
thanks would be nice, but I'll settle for not being punched this time. Inwardly, he groaned. Oh. I
really hope I didn't hurt anyone else this time. I know it's not my fault, really, but it's still sort of
my fault.

"Access denied," the muse said, in its clear voice.

Shinji frowned. "Why?"

"You are currently in psychological observation. Access to outside sources of information has
been restricted."

Shinji let his head slump forwards, and banged it against the desk. "Et tu, you brute?" he
muttered, as he rubbed his forehead.

"I am sorry." The LAI paused. "You currently have three pieces of homework which you have
not yet completed," it added. "If you are bored, access to these activities is unrestricted. By
previous behaviour, you will not complete it on time if you do not do it now. And it will free up
more time later, when you have access to outside data feeds."

The boy groaned. "What are you, my mother?"

"No."

"That wasn't a question." Shinji paused. "Well, it was. But it was a rhetorical question."
Something which muses tended to have problems with, as it had been found that false negatives
annoyed people more than false positives, when trying to interact with a LAI. The thing was to
remember that the LAI wasn't a person; something which was hard, when you had one so
attuned, as he did. Shinji shook his head. It actually did make sense. But the LAI had always
seemed to co-operate with Yuki and Gany to make sure that he got homework done, and,
generally, nagging him. That was, from the point of view of the designers, a feature, not a bug;
Shinji was fairly sure that whoever came up with these things was of the opinion that people
needed to be prodded into doing things, and this held doubly true for children. And, yes, in truth,
he probably would have a lot more problems handling his life, without his muse to do the menial
organisational stuff. But... wait a moment.

"I thought I hadn't set a priority for the homework yet," he said slowly.

"The priority of the homework was set to Urgent by a direct override by Major Misato Katsuragi
of the New Earth Government Army."

Stupid emergent heuristic behavioural programming. And stupid Misato.

~'/|\'~
Sitting back in his chair, Gendo Ikari began to reread the formal report he was preparing for the
Minister of War. Sections had already been tagged in yellow by his muse for checking, the
phrasing adjusted from the rough description of contents into a fully fledged and verbose essay.
He had had this Limited Artificial Intelligence for over a decade, after all, and so it was fully
conversant with his style. In fact, it amused him that, unless he put in more effort than he could
spare at the moment, the muse in fact wrote more idiosyncratically like him than he did. With a
few keystrokes, he deleted half a sentence, pausing as he considered how to rephrase it.

It had been necessary to be rushed back to the Geocity in order to deal with the local civic
authorities in the aftereffects of Harbinger-4; something rather inconvenient, as he had been
involved in some rather important meetings with local Ashcroft personnel and the Navy, in
Geneva, about the topic of Annulus, which he would now have to reschedule. The way that the
Harbinger had shown up was annoying, a disruption to his schedule, especially for a man famed
for his tendency to micromanage. Everyone knew that he would have preferred to be in the
Geocity when the threat was detected.

That had, after all, been the point.

"Deputy Representative Fuyutsuki is outside," the muse informed him.

"Send in him," the man said, not looking up from his desk.

The echoing, statacco beat of the older man's footsteps pulsed through the empty space. Gendo
sighed, and waved a hand at the desk, turning off the screen. He was going to have to deal with
this later.

"I've gone over the preliminary budget for the operation," Fuyutsuki said. "Both mass-energy and
financial. And," he winced, "we really have to get your... the Third Child more familiar with the
concept of 'not damaging the Evangelion'. Ritsuko is... not pleased with the damage. Massive
damage to the right arm, several fractures in endoskeleton of the left, quite a bit of torso damage.
She's especially displeased about the left arm, because that was avoidable."

His protégé tilted his head slightly. "She is also fully aware that such things are necessary. She
merely complains at you because you are someone she can complain at."

"Oh, I know that." The old man sighed. "But she does go on."

"Quite," and Gendo left it at that. He paused. "I have a meeting with her tomorrow evening. I am
sure I'll be hearing the same, if she hasn't calmed down by then."

"Anton will be pleased that they managed to capture a few of those things it hatched alive, quite
apart from the corpses."
"No doubt." The younger man tapped his fingers on his desk idly. "And I can hardly wait to see
how many people he'll lose, trying to weaponise them. I've already granted the Engel Group
more resources, to deal with the study of these things."

"That might also explain some of Ritsuko's irritation," said Fuyutsuki, sighing. The white-haired
man sunk down into the chair in front of the desk with a small groan. "I've been standing up for
too long today," he said. "My spine is playing up again."

"I am sorry to hear that," Gendo said, curtly.

"I should be enjoying my retirement."

"You have the option of doing so. I cannot legally stop you taking a well-earned rest."

Fuyutsuki sighed. "You know I can't retire, not now. You'd have to find a replacement, and the
disruption could be dangerous. But that does mean I can complain about my age occasionally!"

"I believe we had agreed upon that, yes."

"Do you have to be..." the older man shook his head. "Talking to you is like talking to..." The
Representative raised an eyebrow at him. "Never mind. The reason I am here, really," he
continued, "is that... I presume you've seen the reports from the Academy."

"Yes." Gendo turned the screen of his desk back on, telling the muse to find the relevant
documents. "It appears that a pioneering group of students managed, from only a very little
evidence, to deduce the existence of the Evangelion Group and of the Test Pilot programme."
The words were said completely without emotion. "Internal Security has been informed of the
holes which they stumbled across, and will act to fix them, as best they can. The named students
have been briefed on the need for secrecy, and the consequences of failing to maintain it."

Fuyutusuki squinted at him. "Most people would be a little more concerned about the kind of
flaws in security which would let out information about a top secret Project."

"I am terrified." The tone was deadpan.

"I see," the older man sighed, leaning back in his chair. It was slightly annoying that the chair for
visitors was just slightly lower than the one which the Representative sat in; it put all guests in a
position of supplication. Quite deliberately, of course; it was merely another way that this room
served to intimidate.

"The Evangelion Units are not a subtle weapon. A non-negligible number of military personnel
not cleared for such knowledge are already aware, through mere observation, that the New Earth
Government possesses some kind of secret, capital grade mecha. The Project was always going
to be discovered at some point, after it was deployed in defence of the city."
"And the fact that students were capable of doing so merely backs those who argue that the
secrecy, once it has been shown that there are multiple viable Test Pilots, is unnecessary?"

Orange-tinted glasses reflected the light of the desk back. "It would be possible to read things
that way, yes."

"And the fact that knowledge that you have, among your assets, access to capital-grade ACXB
units, only plays to your own advantage, strengthening your hand against the Research
Representative, as well as NEG military and civilian authorities?"

"Is purely coincidental."

"And the fact that it appears that part of the data which," he checked his palmtop device, "Taly
Talerni oy Chicago-twi oy..." he sighed, with the weariness of a man who had already been in his
forties when the First Arcanotech War started, "... and I think we can skip the rest of the overly
long name... part of the data one of the students used has already been lost in a server crash, and
so the only evidence we have that it exists is the back-ups that she and another student made of
it? Given that it was a server crash which seems to have corrupted that site's own, off-site back-
ups? And all the Grid archival sites we have tagged?"

"That is a problem. It would have made it easier to have traced the leak if we had access to such
a thing."

Fuyutsuki sighed. "Neither the Council of Representatives nor AHNUNG will be pleased."

"And that is a terrible shame, but they must be made aware of the necessities on the ground. I am
sure that the Council will agree with me, that it is better that we go public in a method we
control, and can play to our own advantage." Gendo paused. "Well, apart from Christina, but she
objects to pretty much anything I suggest on general principles," he added with a frown.

"And you are completely innocent of any antagonism towards her, Ikari."

Ignoring the older man, Gendo continued, "And as for AHNUNG," the man's lips were
concealed behind his white, sterile gloves, "... well, they have influence, but for all their
pretensions and obsessions, they lack control. They know it; they know that I know that. They
will accede, once the advantages are explained to them."

Stretching his neck, Kozo Fuyutsuki slowly levered himself upright. "How goes research into
'The Heart of Rogziel', by the way?" he asked, knees clicking.

"Poorly," Gendo admitted. "I have not made any more progress into finding the solution for the
c-language, although it does bear some resemblance to Salaamian sorcerous markings... not in
the vocabulary, nor in the grammar, but in the structure." He paused. "What I presume to be the
structure," he admitted. "And you know of my beliefs that there is some kind of sapience within,
which acts to circumvent such attempts. All that stands are the brute-force attempts, and the
construct that results from such things is unstable and incomplete. And I do not have the time to
spare at the moment, and cannot risk another accident." For a moment, he looked lost. "I wish
Yui were here," he added softly. "She was always better at esoterics. Not the actual practice of
sorcery, she couldn't do that at all, but this kind of study of the root cause, this study of the
obscure, the non-intuitive leaps... I miss her."

There was a hollow silence in the office. Gendo blinked, and just as suddenly, the mask was back
on.

The older man shifted uncomfortably. "When are you going to propose that Project Evangelion
be revealed to the public?" asked Fuyutsuki, the words coming out a little too quickly, as if he
were trying to get the conversation away from the previous topic.

"Not until we have shown that Unit 00 can start up, and maintain a stable synchronisation link,"
the man answered, his eyes hidden by the opacity of his arglasses. "Such an event was a black
mark in our book, and we cannot hope for the Evangelions to be viewed as a stable combat
platform while the risk that such an event could happen again still hangs over our heads.
Schedule the reactivation test for as soon as Rei is physically capable of doing so."

"I understand." Fuyutsuki's footsteps receded, off into the distance, as he left. Gendo did not
watch him go, but instead returned, head lowered, to his report.

~'/|\'~
Chapter 7: Chapter 6: Die Grabesmutter

Chapter 6

Die Grabesmutter / And the sullen rear was with its stored thunder labouring up.

ENTELECHY

~'/|\'~

Die Natur des Menschen bleibt immer dieselbe; im zehntausendsten Jahr der Welt wird er mit
Leidenschaften geboren, wie er im zweiten derselben mit Leidenschaften geboren ward, und
durchläuft den Gang seiner Thorheiten zu einer späten, unvollkommenen, nutzlosen Weisheit.
Wir gehen in einem Labyrinth umher, in welchem unser Leben nur eine Spanne abschneidet;
daher es uns fast gleichgültig sein kann, ob der Irrweg Entwurf und Ausgang habe.

The nature of man remains ever the same: in the ten thousandth year of the World he will be
born with passions, as he was born with passions in the two thousandth, and ran through his
course of follies to a late, imperfect, useless wisdom. We wander in a labyrinth, in which our
lives occupy but a span; so that it is to us nearly a matter of indifference, whether there be any
entrance or outlet to the intricate path.

Johann Gottfried Herder


"Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit", Vol. 2, p. 186; translation vol. 2, pp.
266-7

~'/|\'~

21st of February, 2079

"But Mama, I'm hungry!"

The little girl's mother glanced down at her, the corners of her eyes creasing up in a smile. "Now,
come on, Asuka," the woman said. "We don't want to ruin your appetite, do we?"

"I do!"

"No, we don't. We're having a big dinner with Uncle Cal, this evening, and that means that you'll
want to be on your best behaviour."

The little girl pouted. "But I'm hungry now!"

Kyoko Zeppelin Soryu sighed, a slight smile in her voice, and searched through her handbag.
"Would a drink be okay, Asuka?" she asked. "I have orange juice..."
The little girl slumped to the ground, arms folded, a frown on her face. "But I want food now. I
don't want a fancy meal or stuff with Uncle Cal." She stuck her hands into the pockets of her pale
dress, made of undyed cotton. "Why can't I have food now?"

"Don't do that, Asuka, you'll ruin the lining of the dress," Kyoko snapped. She consciously tried
to calm her expression. "Because," she explained again, "we have a big important dinner
planned." She sighed. "Do you want the juice or not?"

"I want it."

"Okay, now take your hands out of your pockets, and stand up, and you can have it."

The child slowly, hesitantly pulled herself upright, both hands held out. The suction-capped
bottle was handed over.

"I'm sorry it's taking so long, Asuka," Kyoko said, shaking her head, as her daughter began to
emit slurping noises as she lifted the sports bottle in both hands. "And Cal's going to be in a bit
of trouble when he shows up, because he's late."

"So it's all his fault that I'm hungry, then?" the girl asked, lowering the bottle.

"... I wouldn't put it exactly like..."

"So, right," said her daughter, a calculating look in her blue eyes, "that means he should be
bringing me a nice present, right?"

"That is possible?" Kyoko said, blandly.

"But is he doing it?"

"Maybe."

"Is he?"

"It is possible."

"But is he?"

Kyoko sighed. "It's a secret. Drink your orange juice."

There was silence. Then, "Mama?"

"Yes?"

"Are you going to marry Uncle Cal?"


Kyoko coughed loudly, spluttering, while her daughter, clutching the bottle of orange juice close
to her, looked up in worry. "Where... what... where did that come from?" she managed, weakly,
gesturing to pass the orange juice.

"I asked you."

The red-haired woman, almost as red in the face, took a long drink, and wiped her mouth. "No..."
she paused, rephrasing the question. "I meant, why did you ask that?"

"Oh, well, I was thinking, you like him, and he gets me presents, so you could get married, and
he could be my daddy."

Kyoko shook her head sadly, at the combination of innocence and childish greed in the
suggestion. "It doesn't work like that, I'm afraid. He's already married. And you can't marry
someone who's already married," she explained, trying to simplify matters.

"Oh." The little girl looked upset, as she raised her hands to have the bottle passed back to her.
"But Mamas always marry the nice Uncle on TV."

Kyoko paused. How to explain this? She suddenly had a wave of sympathy for her own mother;
Asuka was just as curious as she had been at the same age. "Things don't happen like they do on
TV in real life," was the answer she settled for.

"Why not?"

Of course. The inevitable response. "Because sometimes, things on TV happen because people
want them to happen, rather than because they're realistic."

"Why?"

"Because it makes people happy to watch something that isn't realistic. I mean, bad things
happen in the world sometimes, but people don't like it when it happens, so they tell stories
where only nice things happen."

"But that's lying!"

"Not really," Kyoko winced. "It's just telling stories to make people happy."

The little girl tilted her head, and narrowed her blue eyes. "Sooo~oooo," she said, elongating the
word, "it's okay to lie to people if it makes them happy, then?"

"No. No, it's not. Drink your orange juice, Asuka."

"I'm sorry I'm late," a precise, elegant male voice called out, from behind them.
The little girl dropped the bottle of juice to the floor, where it began to leak, and ran over,
colliding with the man's legs with a slight squeak, and hugging onto them. "Uncle Cal!" she
squealed.

"Hello, Asuka," the man, who was not her biological Uncle, said to her, scooping her up and
clutching her to his shoulder.

Kyoko smiled, as she bend down, and picked up the bottle, wiping the top clean and resealing the
lid before tucking it back in her bag. The man, tall and thin (even taller than she was, and she
wasn't short), had a neatly trimmed beard matching his precisely cut, rust-coloured hair. He was
a bit of a narcissist, actually, she noted; most male scientists tended to either let the beard grow
to a manageable length, and just trim it, or keep clean shaven. It took more effort than most were
willing to take to keep such a fine state of grooming. More than most of the women actually put
in either, probably. There was something around his eyes which didn't match his features, the
hint a product of Vietnamese blood in his broadly Gallo-Russian heritage.

"Can we go have food, now, plee~ease?"

"Soon, soon," he answered, bouncing her up and down slightly, as he turned his head to the girl's
mother. "Kyoko," he said. "Sorry I'm late; the Magi were being uncooperative."

Kyoko snorted. "As always. Hello, Calvin."

"Yes. Magi-80 finally managed to get a valid build." He shook his head. "I'd swear, -83 and -88
hate me. Never seem to work. But Eighty... Eighty is lucky for me. Naoko was very unhelpful,"
he added.

"Yes, because that's totally a change in behaviour for her." Kyoko paused, and rolled her eyes.
"Well, actually, yes it is. Normally, I'd call her 'exceptionally unhelpful'. I swear sometimes..."

"But you shouldn't swear," interjected the little girl.

"Shush, Asuka. I think sometimes," she said, changing her words, "that she'd marry them if she
could. Like the names? Calling Magi-80 Casper, and -83 Melchior, and... so on. Just a little
pretentious. How is it..."

Calvin waved her quiet. "Guess what, Asuka?"

"What?"

"I got you a present."

"Yay!" She began to squirm in his arms. "What is it? What is it? What is it? What is it? What is
it?"
Carefully, he put her down, and took off the backpack he was wearing. "Be careful with it," he
said, "because it is fairly delicate."

"Not too delicate, I hope," Kyoko interjected, a worried look on her face. "Remember, Calvin,
she is four. And you did check that the pieces are child-safe, didn't you?"

"I might be four, but I'm still a big girl. What is it? What is it?"

A small, metallic quadruped was lifted out of the bag, and put down. It was maybe 30
centimetres all, coloured a metallic bluish-grey, and vaguely canine in shape. It was, however,
very smoothed down, as appropriate for a child's toy, the only protrusions from the body of
plastic coating and the clear bits which showed the black artificial musculature being the flaps on
the head, which could close to protect its torch-like single eye.

"Well it's a... technically, it's not a LITAN. More like a LIPFA."

"A what?"

"A Limited Information Pet For Asuka. It's a small LAI network in the body of a robotic pet
dog."

"But dogs' heads don't look like that. I know, because we looked at the books last time we went
to Chicago-3."

"Chicago-2," Kyoko corrected her.

"Oh. Chicago-2, then." She frowned. "I thought we went to Chicago-3. Or something -3,
anyway."

"That was Toyko-3,darling."

"Okay." A childish finger prodded the toy, making it wobble from side to side. "So, how do I
make it work?"

Calvin nodded. "Can you pass me your PCPU, please, Asuka?"

"'Kay!"

The man took the small, child-safe computer (a piece of technology devoid of sharp edges, and
with a nice, solid build which wouldn't break when someone in the intended 2-5 age range
dropped it), and plugged a cable in from the side of his own, considerably more sleek model.
"Just wait while it does the... okay. That's it. Okay, Asuka, look at the screen here," he said,
detaching it.

"Uh huh."
"Look. You can see the icon here. You can see that it looks like its head, yes?"

"Yes! It does! It has the light, and the flappy bits."

"Well, look. Underneath, it says 'Jeff'. That's its name."

"I can read, you know. I am four, after all.

"Only just," said Kyoko, with a smile, looking at the pair of them crouched down on the floor
together, next to the small quadruped.

"That doesn't matter, Mama. The point is, I'm four, and only stupid people can't read properly.
Look. J. E. F. F. Jeff. And next to it is G. R. I. D. Grid. And next to that..."

"Okay, Asuka," said Calvin. "I believe you. You're a really smart little girl, aren't you? Just like
your Mama."

The girl blushed as red as her hair. "I'm not that smart," she said. "Mama's like the smartest
person in the world."

Kyoko coughed. "Well, I'm certainly in the top hundred," she said, with a smirk. "As are you,
Cal. So it's not really a..." she shook her head. "Never mind."

"Anyway," continued Cal, "You just press that, right?"

"Uh huh."

"And then it activates. And you can press the buttons and make it do things, and you can teach it
tricks. It's like a real dog, but it's smarter."

"Cool!"

"It is really nice, isn't it," Calvin said, with a self-satisfied grin. "It would take some kind of
genius to design it, wouldn't it?"

He suddenly found a pair of arms fastened around his neck. "Thank you Uncle Cal! Thank you
thank you thank you!"

He slowly detached her arms, and, standing up, tousled her hair. "I'm glad you like it, Asuka," he
said, still smiling. "Now, can you just see if you can work out how to get it to talk to you,
because I hid that feature in it. I'll be over here, talking to your Mama."

The two adults sat down at the side of the room, and watched the little girl, tongue sticking out,
as she starting pressing buttons. There was a moment of silence. Then;

"How are you feeling, Kyoko?"


The red-haired woman shook her head. "Like I've got that kind of squirming feeling where you
know that you're doing something that you shouldn't do, but also that you can't not do it."

"I really don't quite get your objections," Calvin said. "You had no problems with doing it
before."

"Yes, but as we get closer to the 24th, I suddenly realise what I'm staring in the face. Do I have
the right to do it?"

"Yes."

Kyoko shook her head. "Oh, it's hopeless getting into ethical debates with you. You've just got
this damnable certainty. It's one of your better traits."

The man smiled. "Why, thank you."

"I meant it seriously. From both my arcanobiological, and sorcerous training, I'm fully aware of
how much of my reactions are determined by old evolutionary programming. It doesn't help at
all. I mean, look at the last 13.4 seconds of data from Y... from the incident with Unit 01. She
panicked." Kyoko sighed. "I hated her towards the end, but she didn't deserve that. No one does.
Fear won't help me. And yet I'm scared." She cocked her head. "And I can't even drug those
feelings into oblivion, because we found that the experimental test subjects in the test bodies
responded... badly to that. How reassuring."

"Well... at least, I hope tonight can help calm you down a bit," said Calvin seriously, resting one
hand on her shoulder. "This should be reassuring, make you feel more confident. That is, after
all, why I persuaded Gendo to take you off the development team for the last week." He paused.
"That man doesn't seemed to be concerned about another test."

"I know why you did that, because I needed time to prepare stuff. But, mein Gott, I wish I was
working. I just get to sit here and worry, and try to hide things from Asuka. Obviously, I've had
her at nursery in the day, because I don't want to break her routine, but the nights haven't been
fun. There's only so long I can stare at my will without... hah... breaking my will. And you've
been working all the time, too, so there hasn't even been..."

"We're sure we've found the problem with Unit 01, remember. We've got the enhanced LITAN
handling animaneural integration, and we got Amunet to devise a new LCL-mix. And let's not
even get into the ways that you're different from Yui."

"I... I suppose."

"Remember, we've made sure you've got an escape route from the Test which Yui didn't have.
You'll be able to survive, if it all goes wrong."

"I know. I... I know."


"It will be fine."

There was silence, only broken by the slight mechanical whine of "Jeff", and the occasional
squeals of "Look! Backflip!" and "Coo~oool!

"You'll look after her?" Kyoko said, her voice almost a whisper. "Won't you? If things
go really wrong, and it doesn't work at all?"

"Of course," Calvin said, taking her hand, and staring into her eyes.

"It's almost time, isn't it?"

"Yes."

~'/|\'~
Chapter 8: Chapter 7: Die Brandrosenfürstin

Chapter 7

Die Brandrosenfürstin / One hand she press'd upon that aching spot where beats the
human heart,

ENTELECHY

~'/|\'~

"Our century is probably more religious than any other. How could it fail to be, with such
problems to be solved? The only trouble is that it has not yet found a God it can adore."

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin


"Le Phénomène Humain"

~'/|\'~

The Migou.

What were the Migou? What did they want? Why were they here? What, in fact, was their
ultimate goal?

And, of course, how could one kill every last one of those fungoid, insectoid,
Yuggothian fuckers?

These were all questions that the New Earth Government would really rather prefer that it knew
the answers to. But, as knowledge was thin on the ground, too often it had to resort to guesswork
and estimation, piecing together information from the pieces they could gather from mythology
and misunderstood histories, from the extracted memories of the Nazzadi Firstborn, the generals
of the Migou-built fleet, and from what had been gathered since the start of the Second
Arcanotech War. Even the name 'Migou' was a misnomer, derived from misunderstandings of
the tales of Tibetan peasants of a creature which bore resemblance to the yeti. That was quite
eminently false; the white-furred, vaguely anthropic creatures native to Tibet were actually a
result of the Leng Intrusion Zone there, leaking through and permitting the ingress of one of the
denizens of that place, and not at all related to the Migou, although, in fairness, there were traces
of what could have been their activity in those regions.

Where to begin, then?

Why, with what was known, of course.


The Migou, or Mi-go, were not an Earthly lifeform. It was likely that they did not even originate
in the Sol system; evidence obtained from the ruins of the Elder Thing city in Antarctica, and
what could be translated of the writings found there, showed what appeared to the arrival of
beings which bore some resemblance to the kind of Migou most commonly encountered piloting
crashed craft. That would put them as, by human standards, an incredibly ancient species;
estimations from the strange, dateless rock used in the city put the images at somewhere between
one and two billion years old. The resemblance was not exact, though, and it was debated
whether they were truly the same species; even if they were, it was implausible that they would
remain identical across these vast gulfs of time. Certainly, the modern Migou exhibited massive
morphological variation, although the evidence was such that this appeared to be a deliberate,
self-inflicted change. This hypothesis was backed up by their self-evident mastery of the
biological sciences, and their pronounced proclivity for enhancing their servant-races. There
were cybernetics which appeared to be grown from the body itself, rather than grafted in like
human-made ones, massive neural rewiring, complete rebuilds of organ systems; the list of the
accomplishments of their clinical genius was endless, and an object of subtle and not-so-subtle
envy by New Earth Government scientists.

But, regardless of their origin, it was known that the Migou did possess holding outside of Sol,
and they occupied most of the Oort Cloud. The vast cities of darkened Yuggoth, that place which
mankind called "Pluto" riddled the fabric of the dwarf planet such that it was one vast habitat,
and it was not alone. The flares of fusion drives, false stars in the night's sky, which had
accompanied the start of Migou operations against Earth as they discarded long-held stealth,
were proof of this. The industry required to build the billions of Nazzadi, quite apart from the
invasion fleet itself, which had attacked in the First Arcanotech War, was proof of this. The way
they valued their own much more than they did their drones or constructs, preferring to risk a
division of manufactured Loyalist Nazzadi rather than a company-formation of Migou, was
proof of this, for they held an unimaginable amount of territory in the Outer System, and
corresponding amounts of resources. On the other hand, it was known that they had not
historically ventured in even as far as Uranus, at least in any major numbers, for the human
colonisation of the Solar System, in that brief belle epoché of the 2040s and 2050s, had never
found any trace of them; of other things, yes, strange and wondrous and terrifying things, but not
of the Migou.

And perhaps because of this, the actual amount of Migou involvement in human affairs seemed
to have been minimal. A few scattered contacts, a few peculiar corpses, never found for autopsy;
they seemed to dissolve in less than a day, in what was suspected to be self-destruct mechanism.
A few mad tales screamed by madmen in asylums after unpleasant encounters in remote areas.
Nothing concrete. There had possibly been an upsurge in activity at the start of the twentieth
century, but it had died down again by the time of the Second World War. The infamous Roswell
Saucer was an urban legend, nothing more; rumours and tales blown into a mythology by the
gales of human ingenuity and boredom.

And then one came to the Nazzadi. And they were a perplexing change in Migou behaviour.
Built using archaic Homo sapiens as the clay upon which the Migou sculpted their designs, they
were sufficiently diverse that it suggested that there had been considerable genetic sampling.
Despite the archaic, pre-agriculture base, there were extensive gene segments which had almost
certainly been imported straight from modern humanity, to the extent that some of the original
Nazzadi had been, according to the genetic tests, sufficiently Jewish to satisfy Reformist, if not
Orthodox, believers. The evidence suggested that the Migou had effectively rebooted human
evolution, taking elements that they liked from Homo sapiens sapiens, but systematically
cleansing the gene lines of Outsider Taint. None of the original Nazzadi had any signs of Deep
One heritage, necrophagic proclivities, or Tcho-Tcho taint, to name but three of the
morphological incongruities which existed among modern mankind, and which the eugenics
programmes of the New Earth Government were trying their best to cleanse.

The First Aracnotech War had been a war of control, not extermination. The black-skinned, red-
eyed cousins of mankind had come en masse, but to colonise and subjugate, not necessarily
extinguish. Even the tales that the Migou had programmed into the Nazzadi, memories implanted
without events, had backed this up; mankind was nothing more than a renegade branch of a
failed colonisation attempt by the slow, cyclic mass of the slower-than-light Nazzadi peoples,
records and contact lost by the terrors of civil war. The Reclamation had been an attempt to
retake a failed, renegade colony founded by a long-dead cruel empire. Habitable planets were
rare, after all, and it was all for the greater good that the world be used by real people,
literally, nazzadi, not the degenerate, wrong-skinned descendents of illegal miscegenation and
genetic manipulation. Of course, those humans who had been interned in the Nazzadi "re-
education" camps would not agree, but they would thank them, later.

Yes, the Migou had studied human history and human psychology well, for the internal
justifications and self-belief were all too familiar.

The First Arcanotech War was widely agreed to have begun on the 16th of December, 2059,
when the American Cressida research station, in orbit around Uranus, the furthest that mankind
had reached into the system, was destroyed by pin-point accurate laser fire. History credits the
deed to a light interdiction ship from the first of the three fleets, the Nostalgy fer Solitudiny and
five hundred million Nazzadi had cheered its name, as the lasered message had passed from ship
to ship that the first blow of the Reclamation had been struck, even as the four billion inactive
bodies of to-be colonists and soldiers slept in an undying sleep, packed densely into holds. And
on Earth, still far enough away that the light from the destruction was still crawling its way there,
over eight billion humans had more metaphorically slept on in peace, unknowing what was
coming.

There had been no cheering, and no sleeping, in 2065, when two billion Nazzadi and four and a
half billion humans had signed the peace treaty that had bought the war to an end. And had
promptly splintered, as the nation-states which had allied under the New United Nations tried to
go their separate ways, some rejecting the idea of peace with the Nazzadi while others made
power plays for intact territory on the wrecked earth. There were also Nazzadi Loyalists still
present on Earth; the combination of stealth technology, and the infinite-energy-finite-power of
the D-Engine, meant that they could go worryingly long without resupply. The diamond fist of
the nascent New Earth Government, growing out of the NUN, had enforced a new order for this
changed world, in part using the assets of the now-surrendered Nazzadi fleet. Orbital insertions
and strikes had decapitated any splinter faction which tried to oppose them. In an almost
convulsive spasm of activity, rebuilding had begun, engineering projects beyond anything
historically seen. Some might have been impressed by the wonders of ancient civilisation. The
pyramids, the Parthenon, the Flavian Amphitheatre; they were nothing, as specks of dust to the
arcologies which had desperately blossomed to repair a shattered civilisation.

And then, ten years later, the Migou had come again, against both the forces of mankind and
their own renegade assets, and had swept orbit clean, bringing the so-called "Hive Ship" with
them, a 1200 kilometre behemoth which dominated an entire hemisphere at once.

They showed that they had only given the Nazzadi trivialities, toys carefully designed to be
marginally above human technological levels, such that should they fail, mankind would receive
no extra boost. In an ironic inversion of popular culture, it was the bugs who were the elite,
technologically superior, intelligent foes, against whom the swarms of humanity dashed
themselves. The simple fact was that the fungoid creatures were smarter, tougher, more
technologically and mystically advanced, and, by most objective measurements one care to
name, just better than humanity. But the New Earth Government had found that it was willing to
go where the Migou would not. To dabble in things that the Migou chose not to know. Because
they were desperate. Because they were ignorant.

Such was the Second Arcanotech War. Man versus Migou... and both of them against the Others.

~'/|\'~

25th September, 2091

Flat on her back, head aching, Lance Corporal Xuan Do dropped her rifle, and fumbled for the
fallen seeker-launcher, staring up at the overexposed sky. It was tainted with silver, everything
slightly misted by the emfog of micromachines and smaller nanological weapons which both
sides pumped out. The thin, gritty layer which was starting to accumulate on every surface
drained the colour from the world; a grey dust which removed red and green and blue and yellow
alike, leaving only a greyed out world which was disturbingly similar to an arcanochromatically
drained region. Accompanying it, unseen, waves of ECM flooded the electromagnetic spectrum,
both sides trying to flood the areas which their foes used. Images and messages flashed and
skipped along the inside of both her helmet and her Eyes, jolting and twisting. For a moment, the
legionary LAI in her armour's systems flashed bright red, picking out a glowing red hit-box
around a perfectly innocent piece of wall, before dancing away again. Crackles of static filled her
ears. The launcher wasn't even giving her a response code, and she swore. The uplink ports on
the fingers of her armour obviously weren't working, and she scrabbled at the wrist of right hand,
trying to pull out the hard-link cable to physically hook it up to the smart micromissile system.

Her breath was shuddering, harsh under her helmet. Her new orders... she wasn't going to survive
them. But she would still carry them out, because she believed.
What looked like a crack of lightning whipped overhead, the white-blue brightness forcing her
filters opaque. The impact blew apart one of the trees which grew inside this ruined church,
vaporising leaves and branches that strove to reach up and out, towards the light. Creeping
vegetation growing up the walls of rotted, stinking, plaster-covered stone ignited, basking the
rubble in a flickering light whose black smoke only added to the dust in the air. The patter of
dust and shrapnel against her semi-powered armour was like rain, wet sounding patters against
the hard plates. Rolling, beating, the woman tried to scrape the superheated material off, before
the heat got too much even through her armour.

Besides her, the remnants of her fireteam lay. Though that was not quite accurate. Baguna and
Rereny had been shot, yes, heads torn apart by neat clusters of rifle fire, but Nahuel had been hit
in the chest by a seeker-scale explosive, and as a result was smeared around the inside of this
ruined church. The splatter was largely red, though right around the blast, it had been burned to a
brownish-blackish colour which, Xuan had been told, smelt like a mix of ozone, burnt hair, and
overcooked pork.

Slowly, agonisingly slowly, the woman pulled herself along her back, trying to find a lower point
in the cratered floor. There were both Migou, and Loyalist Elite out there, and she wasn't even in
a true powered armour. She wouldn't be able to carry out her mission if she died in the same way
that Nahuel had.

[Reboot complete. WARNING! Corrupted files detected. Attempting auto-repair.] Text


began to scroll down in her left Eye, the red warning of several failures in the LAI.

"Cancel! Cancel! Cancel it!" she hissed at the AICS system in her armour. "Hide text overlay in
Eyes, as well." The text, phantom images inserted by the circuitry which lived in-between the
vat-grown, cybernetically enhanced tissue of her standard-issue Eyes, and the optical nerve she
had been born with, vanished, and Xuan sighed. It was important that she know what was not
working, true; it was also important that she be able to see, and have the LAI operating as best it
could, rather than trying to autorepair. "LAI, check connection of Hornet HMLS."

[Hardwired connection detected. Weapons system is slaved to smartlink. WARNING!


Error: 550A-2. Without repair, functionality cannot be guaranteed. WARNING! Standard
Interface Ports are offline. WARNING! Contact with Charlie Team lost. WARNING!
Contact with Command lost. Trying to re-establish contact..."]

"Shut the fuck up, Aches! Will it work?"

A pause, while a progress bar zipped across her Eyes. [Smartlink is operational. Weapon is
operational] it 'answered' in the form of text, the weapon icon turning green.

The woman sighed in relief. "Good. Aches, exit diagnostic mode, go to combat mode."

The Limited Artificial Intelligence was silent, which was at least a small mercy, though it kept
the red flashing icon up. Grinding, scraping, she managed to get as low as possible, and snaked
her camera up, the smart fibre optic cable a much smaller target. What she saw made her swear.
She had been wrong. There weren't Loyalists or Migou out there. Well, if there were, she
couldn't see them, which was alarming. But not as alarming on the gut-deep, visceral level, as
what she saw was. The Migou were alien, cold, and inhuman. The Nazzadi Loyalists were their
willing slaves, built by the Yuggothian fungoids as weapons to use against mankind. The
majority may have defected at the end of the First Arcanotech War, as the subspecies discovered
their origins, and had promptly slaughtered most of those who did not turn in the Nazzadi Civil
War, but Loyalists still remained. They were bolstered further by fresh reinforcements, and the
NEG believed that the Migou had set up forward growth vats in the Asteroid Belt. The Nazzadi
Loyalist Elite, meanwhile, were a more recent appearance; while the normal Loyalists tended to
use modernised variants of AW1 gear, the Elite aesthetic screamed of the design influences of
the Migou, and the corresponding increase in lethality was a worry to anyone who saw them.
They were still expendable, but they were a more valued asset, laden down with implants and
enhancements.

But out there, were Combat Blanks.

Blanks. Men and women 'utilised' by the Migou, as infiltrators and soldiers alike.

Blanks. Any human or amlati could be one, until you'd put them through the tests. And even
then, you couldn't be sure, because the Migou and the NEG were engaged in a constantly
escalating war of counter-intelligence and counter-counter-intelligence, so a near-infinite variety
of Blanks existed.

Blanks. There was empty horror in the word, a horror that the Migou had deliberately chosen, for
it had been given by the first captured examples. And it just made things worse.

These ones were Combat Blanks, too, not just Infiltrators. Infiltrators were basically base human,
just... changed... in the head. Combat Blanks were more heavily modified. Fitted with many of
the same enhancements the Loyalist Elite had, they were faster and stronger than a normal
human being, their entire nervous system rebuilt for disassociated autonomous control. Shoot
them in the head, and they did not die. Sever their limbs, and they would wirelessly control the
integrated weapons. They were, naked, not dissimilar to an ultralight suit of powered armour,
and then they were fitted with stolen NEG or Migou-built gear. The energy for all their combat
systems came from the tiny amount of antimatter contained within a magnetic bottle inside their
chest, replacing useless organs, which meant that not one had been taken alive or intact for full
scans. They blew up, if there was a risk of being compromised, so the NEG did not even know
how the Migou did what they did to make them.

The three, slightly misshapen shapes in combat armour, bulked out by synthetic musculature and
integrated weapons, and their helmets covered in bubo-like bulges of sensory equipment, were
making their way towards the ruined church. With smooth, precise efficiency and perfect
coordination, they were bounding between cover, covering all angles. Clutching her seeker
closer, Xuan checked that all three targets were highlighted in red on her smartlink. The rifle
wasn't going to do much against these kinds of things, but she could switch to the underslung
seeker launcher on it when she ran out of ammunition for the dedicated launcher. Stay in cover,
fire the seekers upwards, and let them home in. Sadly, these weren't proper anti-mecha seekers,
just the lighter version issued to infantry for use on powered armour, Combat Blanks and
Loyalists, and weren't a certain kill, especially if her smartlink wasn't working properly. Which it
might not be.

No. She'd done everything she could here. She should pull out of these fortified church ruins, let
the Migou have it, and re-establish contact with the NEGA forces. It would be clear to even the
most blinkered officer that one person could not hold against three Combat Blanks. She'd be
useless if she was dead.

"Contact with Command re-established," reported the AICS. "Codes are valid. Override patching
you through."

Xuan's thoughts were turning to homicide. They'd know, now that Command had forced contact.
As if the Migou couldn't track a radio signal.

"Report in!" The voice of the Lieutenant in charge of her platoon was audible, even through the
heavy encryption.

"Lance Corporal Xuan Do." She rattled off her code.

"Verified. Report."

"Rest of my team is KIA; I can confirm that. Hostiles advancing on my position; three Charlie
Bravo Tangos, plus possible Loyalist or Bug units. Contact lost with Charlie Fireteam and
Sergeant Bana; munitions detonation, I think." She paused. "No contact, but I think they're dead.
They can't have survived that. Migou artillery got a precise hit on one of our ammo dumps."

"Understood." There was a pause. "We have the squirt from your armour... what there is. There's
a major data loss, and a lot of error reports, can you confirm?"

"Yes, Lieutenant. The Migou were using some kind of AEW... maybe EMP, but that doesn't
match the crash. Systems went down, and my AICS is running in safe mode, due to damage."

"Received." There was a pause. "Yes, that matches the feed. You're the forwards-most observer
we have. Hold position, and observe. We're sending reinforcements. Keep in contact. Over and
out."

"Understood, sir." Underneath her breath, she muttered curses, scuttling over on her stomach to a
fresh position. She'd need to get higher, to see what was happening properly.

~'/|\'~
This command centre was nearly identical to EuroHighCom, back in London-2. That was not
surprising; these armoured bunkers were built to identical standards, after all.

"The Eidelon Combat Units are in position, Colonel Rury," reported the interface unit of
COEUS, the Total Information Tactical Analysis Network component stationed here on the
Eastern Front. Quite simply, its various interface components cut past a lot of the chain of
command, to ensure that orders were transmitted accurately, and to connect the humans who
were making and implementing the decisions. "Ready to move at your order."

The black-skinned, red-eyed woman nodded once. "Thank you, COEUS." She stared across the
room, catching the eyes of a blue-eyed, blond woman in the identical uniform of a Colonel of the
New Earth Government Army, who gave her a slight twitch of the corner of her mouth, almost
unnoticeable, and a similarly small nod.

That was reassuring. As a member of the Special Weapons Division, it was necessary to
maintain a good working relationship with the main chain of command, and the other woman
was attached directly to Vice-Marshal Slavik's office. The Serbian Wolf was a good ally of the
SWD, especially in the interdictine politicking which somehow managed to arise, even in a fight
for species survival.

Shaking her head slightly, the nazzady glanced back at the strategic map, which only existed for
her as an image fed directly into her optic nerve by her Eyes. The New Earth Government forces
were being pushed back, it was true. That damned Migou commando strike had taken out one of
the anti-capital lasers, and the bugs were pushing this to their best advantage. With a few
gestures, she zoomed in on the landing zones on the east of Nova Kakhovka. One... two... three
Drone Ships were already on the ground, kilometre-long vessels positively loaded with Nazzadi,
Blanked and Migou forces, and worryingly invisible to radar, and Orbital were tracking several
more, with Swarm Ship escorts.

But it was imperative that they hold Nova Kakhovka. The city had been built by the long-dead
Soviet Union for the construction of a nearby dam, the source of hydroelectricity inherited by
Ukraine, a nation which had sprung up from the carcass of that superstate, and left to rot by the
European Union, one of the superstates that had formed the core of the NEG. The D-Engine had
crippled this city, as its invention removed the raison d'etre for this place. Now it was an
overgrown cemetery to progress, the trees and grasses having largely reclaimed rotting buildings
and pot-holed streets. However, it was also useful as an airbase (the launch chutes dug deep
under the city, into the sandy ground), and as a defensive hold-out. There were bases like this
systematically placed all throughout Eastern Europe; some in the remains of old cities and towns,
some built for this purpose, all designed as a weirdly trench-like counterpart to the so-called
"Great War" of 175 years ago.

The calculus of warfare was quite simple. A capital-grade stationary defence could kill a capital
ship, as they would always be better armoured and armed; they did, after all, not have to waste
space, and limit their mass, due to the need to be mobile. Migou forces which came from orbit
left their approaches obvious, and thus made themselves easy targets (and a high-atmosphere
airburst nuclear weapon was an excellent way of ruining such a target's day), hence enemy
reinforcements had to be landed in "safe" areas, and moved in. Space them out, give them
sufficient defensive forces and anti-air/missile capabilities, and suddenly, mobile warfare bogged
down.

And the Migou did the same, too; their own stationary weapons upon Earth's surface, their own
smart-missile batteries, their own air-bases and underground facilities. The Contested Zone on
the Eastern Front had barely changed in over four years. It had been static longer than the
Western Front in the misnamed 'Great War', the "War to End All Wars".

The question was, of course, whether, if the equilibrium was disturbed, would it prove to have
been stable, or unstable. Would a small change be negated, or reinforced by subsequent events?

"Falling back! We can't hold; multiple Mantises inbound, accompanied by... " there was an
explosion, "... Silverfish. Get those cloaked bastards!" the voice yelled.

"Roger that. Regroup at Charlie-Zero-Nine. We have a squadron of Type-Hotel-Zero-Four-Fives


dug in there, but they need more Papa Alpha support."

"Understood."

The blinking, dark-red icons of the Migou units were shifting forwards, the organic flows of the
lines of control intensely disturbing. Marshall Hassan was sweating heavily, his olive-coloured
skin grey with stress. Of course, it was probably a lot more stressful on the ground. Here,
constant waves of the horrifically smart Migou missiles swept across a fortification, the ones
which escaped the laser defences blasting deep holes into the massively reinforced walls, while
dart-like submunitions targeted individual men. There, Loyalist forces clashed with NEG-forces,
a bitter fight between the extant varieties of Homo sapiens, until the Migou-enhanced Loyalist
Elite hammer could fall upon the hardest pockets of resistance. And there, the Migou units,
perfectly coordinated despite the fact that no electromagnetic transmissions detected between
individual units, systematically took apart the front line, blue-white flares and the burning sun-
radiance of directed plasma weapons illuminating the day in horrible light.

Suddenly, a change. The dark-green of New Earth Government forces suddenly multiplied, as
icons indicating power armour and mechanised units swarmed out from underground bunkers,
some to reinforce areas under threat, some into areas already cleansed by Migou forces.

"Eidelon Brigade-Zero-Zero-Seven," Colonel Rury said, with a hint of pride in her voice. "Four
and a half thousand soldiers; a proper mechanised formation. They have a company of G-Three
Lilim serving in a command-and-control role." She leant forwards, her teeth in a predatory grin.
"Didn't see that coming, did you, you fucking minions, and your bug masters?" she said, her
comment directed at the hostile forces on the map. "Perhaps you should look underground better,
before rushing forwards like that at a tiny weakness in the line?" she added, rhetorically.

Marshall Hassan stared at the screen, running one hand over his shaven head. "That won't be
enough," he muttered, before blinking heavily. "Where is the Navy?" he asked. "We won't be
able to do anything, until they get capital support up, and we can stop the landing craft. We need
to prepare for evacuation, should they take down the second cap-laser."

The blond woman stepped forwards and saluted, black-gloved hands a contrast to her pale skin.
"Sir," she said with confidence.

"Yes, Colonel Kristos?"

"We have one capital unit on station, which is currently engaged in training exercises at Facility
2501. I had it moved up, when the anti-capital defences went down, and it is waiting for
authorisation to deploy." She permitted herself a slight raise of her eyebrows, at the
improbability of her own statement.

The man paled. "What... where? What do you mean?"

There might have been a look of disdain in Colonel Oxanna Kristos' eyes, as she kept her gaze
locked on her nominal superior. "I'm afraid you don't have the clearance for that, sir," she said,
her tone remaining professionally neutral. "Nor do you have the clearance to authorise
deployment." She blinked. "I am merely informing you of this such that you are aware of the
presence of friendly units." The woman bought up a menu, the gestures perfunctory. "The details
and codes for the Unit have been added to your IFF database. I request that you confirm my
authorisation to distribute them."

Marshal Hassan ran his gaze over the file. It was very, very short. "Bipedal acksebee organism,
authorised to deploy tactical nuclear and arcanochromatic weapons, innate functions capable of
replicating third-tier sorceries," he read in disbelief. "What? What is this?"

"It's a capital-grade ACXB organism. It's best to think of it as a corvette-scale Engel. And, I'm
sorry, sir, but you aren't cleared for anything more. I have been authorised, if you see the notes in
my file from Vice Marshal Slavik, to handle this operation with his authority," Colonel Kristos
said, to head off the next objection, a faint smile creeping onto her lips. With a press, she
transmitted the relevant files to COEUS, which the TITAN verified. She then disconnected from
Marshal Hassan, before he could waste any more of her time, and opened up a separate channel.

"Captain Martello," she said, her voice dripping with pride, and a hint of anticipation, despite the
dire situation. "Unleash Superbia."

~'/|\'~

The apartment block disintegrated as the titanic greenish-grey shape smashed through it,
hunched low. It was surrounded by the snap of superheated air, as laser fire emanated forth from
every one of its surfaces. Its sudden appearance made it the target for everything that now had
line of sight, and a hail of fire was promptly directed towards the bulk.

As it turned out, that was an unwise decision.

The behemoth paused for a moment, one colossal foot digging into the ground, as it turned on its
heel and slammed the leg through a building in a sweeping kick which tore down the entire
structure. Then it was off again, the noise of the damage which its path inflicted upon the grass-
covered streets muted by the cataclysm which followed it and it mutely encouraged. If it cared at
all about the Loyalist platoon which had been trying to set up in the now-ruined structure, there
was no sign. Certainly, the artillery barrage which almost immediately streaked down from the
heavens, upon the surviving hostile troops in their smashed-egg of a building, did not care.

West. The figure, its outer carapace mottled with five-branched tree-like markings, interlocking
and interweaving, was heading west through shattered streets and ruined roads. For those who
could see outside the human-visible spectrum, the titan was sprouting a hedgehog-like array of
ultraviolet light, protruding out to touch anything which tried to harm it, fist-sized chunks
devoured by whatever its invisible limbs touched. And then there were the blasts which rippled
across those who survived that lethal caress; shrieking demons descending from the heavens at
the orders of their master to detonate in explosive martyrdom. To target it, to inform the beast
that you were aiming at it, was a death sentence.

In the skies above, human and Migou craft fought. It was not the brave, 'honourable' fights of the
fighter ace; no, this was a conflict of technological supremacy. The men and women in the NEG
air supremacy craft were massively rebuilt; new eyes and spines and hearts and lungs and
tendons all there to allow them to sustain marginally higher accelerations, their senses jacked
into the feeds of their craft, LAI systems performing the actual tasks while the human intellect
merely guided this technological mess. And such a thing was necessary; even with these
enhancements, the Migou craft were darting insects compared to the birds of humanity, albeit
insects capable of slaughtering their foes. They could operate at the maximum thrust from their
A-Pods, unheeded by the constraints of mammalian biology. They thought and fought in, at a
minimum, three dimensions natively, and, of course, they were the technical superiors of
mankind anyway. In this airspace, however, the NEG made up for it with numbers. The skies
above the grey-green monstrosity were being kept clear, through both ground based systems, and
the swallow-like fliers which emptied their racks of missiles before resorting to standoff laser
fire. To those who had eyes to see, the thick clouds of emfog were lit in red, blue and ultraviolet
by the violence of the conflict, swirling in chaotic vortices as the passage of craft and projectile
alike tore through the clouds. Lower down, gunships and ground attack craft plucked victims
from the mortal coil through missile and direct fire, even as they themselves were swatted by
ground-fire.

Down below, the behemoth raised one hand, still charging inexorably along its path, and a sun-
bright lance of plasma evaporated a hostile mecha squadron, the slicing cone boring into the
ground without regard for the foes in the way. One colossal foot stepped over the radiant inferno
it had created, the red-hot ground sagging and giving way into a new crater, before that obstacle
was past. More stellar flares from its outreached arm, the air around it warped by the intense heat
andsomething else, marked its passage.

Somewhere along the monster's line of approach, a squadron of Loyalist Elite pilots waited, their
mecha powered down and almost inactive. The Elder Sign-derived basilisk camouflage on the
thing did nothing to stop a physical aim; they had ascertained valid firing solutions with ease.
They were Nazzadi, after all, basically human; merely... enhanced, as befitted their function, and
so that perplexing symbol had no effect on them. The implants in their brains and in their
nervous systems made their movements impossibly smooth and precise, the minimum of effort
utilised as they tracked the double-mounted charge beams into the ever-moving left knee of the
grey-green shape. The targeting systems did the rest to maintain the hit. With a few thoughts,
baseline Loyalists were dispatched to begin the diversionary strike. It had been calculated that
they would fail, and unless they evacuated the launch sites as fast as possible, they would be
caught in the efficient counterbattery fire. But what they would do is divert attention away from
the less... expendable assets.

The Loyalist Elite, and through them, the Migou, found this aesthetically pleasing. They were,
however, not foolish enough to let an appreciation for aesthetics induce tactically unsound
methods, nor force them to show mercy.

But it noticed them.

Twirling, the titan raised the implement of destruction it cradled in both hands, and, all four
viridian eyes seemingly staring straight at the attempted ambush, eradicated them and a good
proportion of the district they were stationed in. As the brief flash of the fireball faded, a cloud,
discoloured by the arcanochromatic material within it, blossomed upwards. It was not quite a
true mushroom cloud; the stem was insufficient for it to really be called that, and, indeed, it
resembled nothing quite unlike a malformed, twisted rose, particulate petals shaped by the
buildings at the edge of the blast which still stood.

Through the superheated air and burning, tainted dust the greenish-grey figure ran, now smeared
in black and grey tar-like dust. The clouds of its passage billowed behind it, drawn with it as a
veil of shadows which swirled and hissed with the freezing gas it had secreted. A patter of
tainted ice-dust fell like rain, as the two mixed, to splatter, freeze and burn nearby combatants, as
the thing passed. With a slight change in gait, it punted a heavy Loyalist mecha which had
originally been part of the diversionary attack, sending the red jam-filled crushed tin can
tumbling off far into the distance, and left its foe's compatriots behind, assured that they could
not harm it.

Yes. A building was crushed underfoot. Yes. The behemoth was nearing its target. It was nearing
its prey.

And then the four, utterly inhuman, viridian eyes fell upon the foe. It had been tracking it earlier,
of course, through other senses it had, but they were unreliable. The prey was illusive, after all,
made of substances which made the 'sight' of its other eyes hazy, and furthermore it knew how to
hide, how to camouflage itself in the electromagnetic mists of battle. It had set up cordons of
defences, lesser beings to guard its concealed bulk from anything which might hunt it. They were
heavily armed and armoured, machines that were to as gods to a naked ape.

They all died. They died in light and in heat and in colour, but they all died. Their feeble death
throws scorched the surface of the behemoth, chipped into its unnaturally tough carapace, and
were sometimes even simply negated by the shimmering crystalline iridescence of the air around
the monster.

Futile. Utterly futile.

And, no emotion on its mask-like face, it aimed the tool of destruction it bore in its hands at the
five hundred metre long landing ship, and fired. The rose-like blossom grew forth from the matt-
black hull, spire-like weapons systems and extra armour melting like ice in a blast furnace as the
thorns tore a vast swath of the ship away, boiling and broiling and swirling in unearthly radiance.

And, coddled in white freezing gas, the leviathan fired. Again. And again, until the broken spine
of the kilometre long fallen craft was fully separated, its mechanical innards exposed to the air.
Sheathing its weapon on its back, darting in, sun-bright plasma emanated from its hands to
utterly slag those parts of the inside that had survived.

Pausing for a moment, for its task was done; the titan crouched in the red-hot remains of its slain
prey. It was safe in the knowledge that such a bulk would allow it a moment's respite and
concealment.

"Target destroyed," reported the pilot of the black-smeared green-grey monstrosity, her voice
dripping with self-confidence. And more than a little hint of smugness. "Requesting new orders."

"New coordinates transmitted. Be aware, we have heavy hostile resistance in the area. We
believe they may be trying to set up a beachhead cap-defence; it is necessary that you eliminate it
or casualties will be severe when the Navy gets here. If it is operational, it will also be an active
threat to you."

"Understood. It's doomed." The pilot flexed her fingers around her control yokes, the dark-red
fabric which covered them moving perfectly in line with her skin, as she stared up at the change
in force disposition on the map. "Gehirn, display status." The Ouranos LITAN obeyed, and she
nodded, once. "No need for resupply, no real damage," she muttered. "Running a bit low on
vECF, but, otherwise, plenty for all of them." Out loud, she added, "Command still has priority
artillery authorisation slaved to you?"

"Yes, Test Pilot."

"Good." Evangelion Unit 02 rose again, Babylon already raised, and a barrage of cracks from the
launchers on its back accompanied the resumption of its terrible advance. The booster trails of
rockets kicked in once they were at a safe height, filled the sky, only for unseen cluster bombs to
rain down again, seeking their prey. All it had taken was a thought, and an authorisation from the
control yokes. And along her new path, a cascade of dusty orange-red explosions marked the
way.

"Good," she said, hands barely twitching as she willed the Evangelion into motion once again.

~'/|\'~

Her semipowered armour was down to 36% battery, and caked in carbonised mud, as well as the
somewhat less pleasant remains of the deceased Private Nahuel. She was bruised and battered.
Even her Eyes ached. But nevertheless Lance Corporal Xuan Do was awake and alert; possibly
more so than she had ever been.

What... what the hell was that? I didn't know the New Earth Government had anything like that!

Shaking her head, she focussed again, and stuck the fibre-optic cable out of the cover again,
under a propped-up section of fallen roof, staring down at the casescreen on her lap. The parts of
the camera network stationed around the building still alive weren't sufficient, and so she had to
use her armour fibre-optic for this particular angle. She had a full launcher positioned in the
remains of the aisle, elevated on its stand, staring up into the skies. In the launcher closer to her,
there were two shots left, before she would have to go to reload it. That one was set up down the
hallway, the command cable linked into the network which she and her squad had been setting
up here before... before they had all died. The seeker, as a sort of hybrid micro-battery/missile
launcher, the electrochemical propellant kicking the missile out of the launcher before the
guidance system engaged, was exceptionally useful for this kind of indirect fire. She certainly
liked the way that the firer didn't have to be too near the weapon. Something large and Migou,
some disc-shaped lander, had crashed nearby, and she'd lost two launchers which she'd salvaged,
when counterbattery fire had zeroed in on them.

Of course, if the first, targeted blast, which had taken out the other fireteam, hadn't hit the cache,
this entire building would have been wired up with seeker sites. And not just the light, grenade-
scale ones she had remaining; true anti-armour ones. And proper anti-air launchers, too. A dug-in
squad, even if they were only in SP-armour, could slow down an advance no end.

But she was the only one left. The others were dead.

There. A standard three-man Loyalist powered armour squad, taking cover in one of the other
ruined buildings, some kind of gutted apartment blackened by fire damage and covered in
creeping ivy. The smooth, pseudo-organic lines of Nazzadi design were unmistakable, especially
since the mecha used by the NEG had been hybridised with human aesthetics, and so had a
certain utilitarian brutalism about them. Her smartlink flagged them with red outlines,
extrapolating their positions from the glimpses she could get.
Her fingers danced on the casescreen on her lap. Two shots on each of them, from Hornet-2. One
HE, one Shaped. Don't want to risk them surviving... armour may be weaker in the head, but
can't be sure it's a kill and they'll kill me if they find me. Synch the arrival times so one hits each
one at the same time for the first wave.

Yes. Sorry about this. And execute. The woman let out a slight, almost crazed, giggle; alone as
she was in a ruin, her squad dead around her. In both senses of the word.

A sequence of six thuds hurled the seekers into the air, just another noise of conflict, lost in the
immensity of this conflict. They were projectiles at this point, fired by the electrochemical
launch packets, only guided by the small adjustments made by their unfolding fins. Crossing her
fingers, Xuan watched their progress and arc on the feed in her left Eye, silently counting down
in her head along with the decreasing number on the screen.

The thrusters of five of the six seekers fired at the same time, and the arc suddenly became
guided, the dumb LAI systems in each missile acquiring the target fed from the smartlink and the
launcher, before cutting all communications and running on their own visual systems. The sixth
failed to ignite, and the dumb warhead continued on its parabolic arc, sure to overshoot by far.

From an outside observer's viewpoint, what could be seen was the streak of small comets,
tracked by their flame-lit tails, which dropped down into the ruined apartment. The blast,
a whoompth of dust and rubble barely lit by the actual flames, rushed in a swirling cloud out of
the ruins. There was a clatter of dislodged bricks, followed by a rumbling, as one of the walls
gave way, sagging and falling inwards, the impact only knocking more dust into the air. If any of
them had survived the hits, or, indeed, hadn't been hit at all, they were at least going to be
seriously inconvenienced by the load-bearing wall that had just hit them,.

Hah, she thought. One of the advantages of being on foot. SP-armour can hide properly in ruins;
true power armour can't. If I'd known the wall was that weak, I wouldn't have wasted those
seekers. She swallowed. Need to reload first, before firing again. Popping her case closed, and
sticking it back in her pack, she scrambled on her hands and knees out from under the collapsed
arch, over to the seeker, pulling off the magazine and making her slow way over to one of the
armoured cases. There were still two shots left; it made more sense to reload the revolver-like
cylinder from loose seekers, rather than slot a fresh one in.

Somewhere far overhead, there was a cluster of thunderous sonic booms, and a few seconds
later, a ripple of blasts she could feel through the ground. Where those craft NEG, or Migou? She
didn't know.

A crash of rubble behind her. With a sudden jerk of motion, spilling the seekers all over the floor
with a clatter which left her wincing, Xuan swung around. Nothing. Rifle braced, gun-cam filling
her left Eye, she slowly edged to the left, trying to get behind cover without lowering the
weapon. Rifle, or underslung seeker launcher? Not sure. Don't think it's a Papa Alpha, too quiet.
Use the rifle.
Another series of blasts, outside. Very close this time. Too close; the pulse of air was a palpable
force, and her left Eye wobbled as the weapon shook, even with the attempts of the AICS to keep
the weapon steady.

Something moved, something over two metres tall, four blue eyes around a central orb staring
from its blank mask-like head. A massively overengineered rifle was clutched in its arms, as it
fluidly moved through the cover, far too quiet for something with that bulk. The woman
just knew without knowing that something of that size should be making more noise. She flicked
her rifle to the seeker launcher, and aimed for the head.

A second one, also highlighted in green in her Eyes, could be seen moving behind it. Slowly, she
lowered the rifle. They were New Earth Government units... not a model of powered armour she
was familiar with, but her AICS was getting a match for the armour and the codes were valid.
She had to hold fire. That didn't mean that they weren't compromised, of course; one of the
terrors of the war against the Migou was the way that Blanked Infiltrators, if not detected, could
turn on their comrades without a moment's hesitation, gunning them down with neither mercy
nor pity. But the institutional paranoid this provoked could be just as harmful. It was a problem.
Fortunately, it was unlikely that any entire squad would be Blanked and be able to slip under the
detection processes; not impossible, but in the constant technological war between creation and
detection for these saboteurs, the NEG's techniques had improved enough that the old-style total
rewiring were demoted to Combat Blanks. They were just too overt, now. Of course, that didn't
mean that there weren't Loyalists in captured, or Migou-made, human gear, and they did come in
squads.

Paranoia was a way of life.

There were more troops moving up behind them, engineering exosuits carrying anti-armour
railgun turrets and seeker launchers, and the silent bulk of an IFV.

Actual NEG reinforcements...

Lance Corporal Xuan Do slumped down, shaking.

She... she wasn't actually dead yet.

~'/|\'~

The roughly disc-shaped craft was a wreck. It had ploughed into a young forest, in the middle of
what had been an industrial park, leaving a trail of splintered wood behind it. It had eventually
come to a rest in the middle of a twisted, rusted pile of metal, which might have once been some
kind of storage silo; grain, perhaps, or maybe sand. Once, it had hung lazily in the air (or, in
actuality, moved quickly to avoid hostile anti-air, only hovering when it was picking up or
deploying assets); now, it was a mere sixty metre wide tombstone. The D-Engine was offline, the
termination switch kicking in to prevent the crash from tearing open a dimensional rift, as the
impact knocked vital components out of place. The A-Pods had been specifically targeted by the
NEG; two of the three had been punctured by the same relativistic particle beam, and half the
craft was a melted, slagged wreck because of that. The D-Fridges had been working fine, but the
Migou on board who had survived the crash had shut them down, because without the heat
produced by the D-Engines, it was not necessary to maintain their functionality.

The snap of superheated air from a laser could be heard inside, to be joined by another, and
another. There was a louder, more explosive noise from inside, and a brief gout of blue flame
flared out, flaring through the outer hull.

"Bravo Command, this is Bravo Zero-Zero-Two-Three."

"Bravo Zero-Zero-Two-Three, this is Bravo Command Actual. You have boarded a Migou
lander."

"Correct, Command Actual. This looks like a Bravo-Victor-0067-Sigma Field Conversion Ship.
Zero-Zero-Two-One and Two-Two are KIA. Necessary security measures have been taken.
Synchronising data."

"Roger, Zero-Zero-Two-Three." There was a pause. "The data is synchronised." Another pause.
"Do not, repeat, do not attempt an intact capture. We cannot salvage the craft at the present date.
Cleanse and occupy, then hold position until we can get armoured units forwards. I'm sending
Echo and Foxtrot squads to back you up."

"Roger, Command Actual." A pause. "There are Migou test subjects on board, in the standard
fluid tanks. They appear to be recent captives, although they have had their IFF tags removed,
and have been prepped for preliminary surgery. We have survivors, as well as corpses. Confirm
'Cleanse and Occupy' order. "

"Zero-Zero-Two-Three, do any appear to be Category Two Blank candidates?"

"Negative, Command Actual. We have a database match with standard Infilitrator prep."

"Roger. Order is confirmed, Zero-Zero-Two-Three. Cleanse and Occupy. The chance that any
can be salvaged has been deemed negligible, compared to the security risk, and there is nothing
new to learn."

"Roger, Cleanse and Occupy, Command Actual. Bravo Zero-Zero-Two-Three out."

It was trivial for a suit of self-powered armour to crush a human skull.

~'/|\'~
"Well. That went fairly well." Colonel Rury of the SWD took a swig of coffee from the can, and
winced slightly at the taste. Evidently, it wasn't displeasing enough to prevent a second sip,
however. Well, she did have to start the paperwork for the Eidelon deployment, as there were
things that LAIs couldn't do, and she didn't want to start on the Extended Operations
Enhancement yet, so caffeine was going to have to do.

Colonel Kristos nodded, as she rummaged through her pockets. "Mhmrmph. Yes, I'd say so. At
least relatively. It could have been a lot, lot worse, if they'd been able to push through, or even if
they'd got those forwards defences up and running." She paused. "Chocolate or blueberry?" she
asked herself. "Chocolate or blueberry?"

"Hmm?"

"Muffins." She leant forwards against the vending machine, staring at the confectionary through
narrowed eyes.

"Can't stand chocolate, myself," the red-eyed woman said; a comment which produced rolled
eyes, because it was not aiding with the muffin conundrum at all. "Mind you, don't really like
blueberry much, either." She leant over to glance at the machine. "Oooh. Banana. I like banana."

"That's not helping, Rury." The staring match between the confectionary and the Colonel
continued.

A pause.

"Congratulations on Eidelon, by the way," Oxanna said, her forehead now resting against the
transparent front to the machine.

"Zy aprecy," Rury grinned. "And you, as well. That thing has real promise as a stiletto-force
component. And... well, it's so nice to have organic capital support, instead of waiting for the
Navy to get dressed and ready before they show up."

"Oh, yes. That is after all why Anton's so interested in them."

Rury looked at her flatly. "Oxanna, I do know about the links between... between the ACXBs."

The blond woman turned away from the muffins, and frowned for a moment, before smiling.
"Oh, no, I meant Vice Marshall Slavik."

"Oh." The nazzady tapped the side of her head with a finger. "Buh. Brain jam."

"I could have been clearer," the other woman shrugged.


"Just that, well, at the SWD we have to... interact with Miyakame a lot," she continued, in a tone
which implied that such a thing was more frequent than she would have preferred.

"I do know, yes. I've had to deal with the man, too."

"Sorry."

Another pause.

Colonel Kristos growled. "Damn it, I'm getting both of them, and some proper chocolate as well.
I can eat them on the way there, after all, and I'm hungry." She glanced at her colleague. "Don't
raise your eyebrows at me like that."

"I didn't say anything."

"I know you didn't. And I know you have less... never mind." She shook her head, as she tapped
in the numbers of the products, and then scanned the chip in the back of her hand.

"Say thanks to As... to Superbia for me," added Rury, as Oxanna knelt down, trying to fish the
muffins out of the catch bay.

"'Kay. She'll certainly appreciate it," the blond said, with a slight glance upwards. "Well," she
paused, "yes, we have a meeting with Hassan tomorrow. Together. Not going to be fun, is it?"

"Nope. He's such a haranga. And a haranguer." Rury shook her head. "See you there."

~'/|\'~

The warning sirens sounded, as Unit 02, sealed within a camouflaged transport container, was
slowly moved into the decontamination bay. The 2501 training facility, designed for testing of
units which could feasibly be deployed on the frontlines, was still considerably further back than
any of the more forward bases, where the mainstay. The bay was cramped, designed for Engels,
not their progenitor-project, and so the Evangelion only just fit. In the observation room, a man,
his dark-red lab coat sealed all the way up to the high collar, pushed his old-fashioned, bulky
argoggles up onto his forehead and pulled off a thick black control glove, to wipe his forehead.
With a sigh, he removed the other glove, discarding them carelessly on the surface.

"What's up, Dr Schauderhaft?" a lieutenant, his face damp with sweat, asked the head scientist
for the Unit 02 team.

The man shook his head. "She's so hard on it, Feucht," he said, running a hand through his
sandy-blond hair. "I've been looking over the internal status feeds... we're going to have to
replace the top few levels of mirrorgloss due to the fact that she chose to run through an
arcanochromatic blast cloud, and we're going to have to go through all the breaches to check for
contamination. That's even before we get to actual battle damage."

"Ah," the younger man, Feucht, said, choosing not to say any more. He mopped at his forehead
with a handkerchief.

Wilhelm Schauderhaft tapped his fingers against the diamond window. "Actually... it's not really
even that," he admitted. "Captain Martello is pushing for increased deployment, and we can't
sustain it. He can't get it into his head that the Evangelions are not ready for extended field
deployment. They're a sensitive arcanocyberxenobiological organism, which require constant
check-ups, and simply don't have the endurance of... of a frigate, say. Which is just armour plus
D-Tech plus armaments plus a little bit of space for crew. You just can't do that and he
doesn't get it."

"Ah."

"I wonder if I could beat it into his head with a mallet," the chief scientist continued, his voice
turning speculative. There was a pause. "That was a joke, by the way," he reassured the other
man. "I don't intent to commit violence against the Deputy Director of Operations."

"I understand, sir."

Wilhelm sighed, a weary note entering his voice as he glanced at the uniformed man. "I'm not a
'sir'," he said.

"Would you prefer 'ma'am'?" the younger man said, in a deadpan.

There was a snort from the scientist. "Fair enough," he said, sliding his argoggles back over his
eyes. "Gehirn, accept the hibernation plug as soon as the docking port is in place," he ordered the
Evangelion's LITAN.

"Understood," the mechanical voice responded, the four green lights of its ARvatar bobbing
slightly in acknowledgement.

Dr Schauderhaft had never understood why the Second Child had insisted on using such a crude,
obviously non-human voice for her LITAN. There were plenty of other options she could have
used. But, no, she insisted on using this slightly grating, synthetic one. He shrugged. Never mind.

"Dr Schauderhaft!" someone called from behind him. He knew exactly who it was. "I need to
talk to you!"

Come to think of it, she could be rather grating too. Maybe it was some kind of kinship.
Rather than turn to face her, he sat back down, and pulled his control gloves back on. "I'm
listening," he said, in a tone which he hoped might imply that he was busy right now, and she
might be better advised to talk to the local Deputy Director of Operations, Captain Martello.

Not to be dissuaded, the girl stepped around him, standing in front of his desk, left hand on hip.
She would always be a little girl to him; after all, he had first met her when she had only just
turned nine, when he had been transferred from the Unit 00 team to replace the near-total losses
from Berlin-2. She had certainly changed since then, though. Clad in a mid-red version of one of
the jump-suits that any mecha pilot wore when not in one of the dedicated interface suits (in her
case, a plug suit), she loomed over him when he sat. Her reddish-blond hair was darkened by the
fact it was still wet from the decontamination, hanging limply from where it was bound by her
A-10 clips. Two blue eyes, their shape one of the few obvious signs of her mixed heritage, stared
down at him over a face paled, like so many others, from lack of sun. The gaze was steady, level,
and more than a little impatient.

She was tapping her foot. Peeling off the gloves again, the doctor kept his face calm, even
attentive, even as he sighed internally. She would not give up, and it would just be easier to deal
with her now, even though it was probable that the issues she was about to raise would be
covered when he had looked over the data that, even now, she was delaying his work on.

Still, at least she wasn't the First Child.

Test Pilot Asuka Langley Soryu folded her arms in front of her, and nodded once. "The systems
failed to adjust correctly to the loss of Torso-5's D-Fridge," she said in an accusatory tone. "Why,
exactly, did it shut down T5's D-Engine, when there were no heat issues? I still had all the other
T-series functional and intact at that point; you don't need to have it do that. It was only one
DEV12 operating without a DDV13!"

"Asuka," Wilhelm began, "it's the precautionary principle. It's good to have precautions set up so
that if things do go wrong, there's a margin for..."

"Precautions?" Asuka's nose wrinkled slightly in a sneer, as she leant forwards. "That's funny, I
was under the impression that my laser defence grids were an important precaution when
operating against the Migou! Given that they give me my anti-infantry, anti-light-power-armour,
and anti-missile defences!"

Running a hand through his hair, Dr noted that Lieutenant Feucht had already retreated. He was a
lucky man. "Asuka," he began, "yes, I understand that a loss of an engine is going to be an
inconvenience..."

"An inconvenience!" the girl snapped. She took a breath, composing herself, her tone turning
icily polite. "Are you aware, Deputy Director of Science," she continued, "of what the loss of ten
percent of my continuous operating power... and that would be gross power, not net power,
because the limb sets are basically committed... are you aware of what that does to combat
performance in a hot zone where there are enemy capital grade units!" Her icy politeness thawed.
"I need my primary and secondary integrated weapons for the heavier hostile combat units, I
have finite ammo for the Babylon which is needed for my objectives, and so, in a dense urban
environment, and against the Migou, I need my LDGs!" She took a deep breath. "Now, I can
understand the loss of an Engine to enemy action. But the Engine was fine!"

Wilhelm did not sigh, because that would not help the situation. And not only because the
sixteen-year old before him would certainly be able to beat him up. "Yes. The Engine may have
been fine. It would not have been had it melted."

"Then I suggest that you find a way to make use of the extra capacity of the DDV13 over the
DDV12, then?" Asuka replied, a sudden smirk on her face, as she tucked a wet lock of hair back.
The red jumpsuit was darker, where it had been in contact with the hair. "Given that you chose
not to upgrade the DEV12s when you did the DDVs."

The man with the dirty blond hair leant back in his chair, tapping the outside of one of his control
gloves, idly. "We didn't switch to the DEV13s," he said, in a distracted tone, "because of the fact
that we couldn't fit the extra bulk into the Eva. Organs in the way."

"Irrelevant," Asuka said, putting her hands on his desk. "That's wasted capacity in my
Evangelion, Dr Schauderhaft. Wasted capacity that led to me getting," she pointed at the diagram
of Unit 02, and the doctor lowed his argoggles to look at it too, "there... look at that cluster of
hits, section 44ZZ, just under the right shoulderblade." The section was lit up red, craters dug
into the armour, laser defence grid melted, the pale flesh of the Evangelion scabbed over by
repair systems. "I took pretty much a Wasp squadron's worth of missiles there, and because the
LDG wasn't working at 100%, some anti-corvette missiles got through." Her eyes were narrow.
"And one hit before I could shift my AT-Field enough. I can show you the sympathetic burns,"
she added, turning slightly to show him the padding of bandages under her jumpsuit. "So deal
with it."

The doctor nodded. "Yes, Asuka," he said, wincing slightly in empathic pain. No wonder she
was in a bad mood. "I'm sorry, I was waiting for the black box and the data from Gehirn to get
in. I didn't know."

"Okay," the girl replied, obviously slightly mollified. "In that case, I have more issues to raise,
especially to do with the sluggishness in the right arm... did you shift the armour distribution
there, closer to the hand? It's bad, and there's a sympathetic twinge in my wrist when I rotate it
too fast... I think you're stressing my Eva too much. Not the same with the left, though, and you
did the same there. So either there's asymmetry, or..."

Wilhelm raised a hand. "Asuka," he said, in a gentle, non-confrontational voice. "You should go
eat. It's going to take us a while to read the data properly, even with Gehirn and a feed to the
MAGI... they're busy with other things, too, so we're lower priority than normal, and we'll be
able to understand your issues once we can sort out the battle damage from any other problems."
He paused. "You did very well," he added. "But, right now," he could see on the AR images
floating around her, from her implants, "...right now, you've got low blood sugar. You need to
get something in your stomach, too."
Asuka smiled weakly, relaxing slightly. "I understand, Wilhelm," she said, face softening. "Yes.
I've been in LCL for over fourteen continuous hours today. Because of that, decontamination
was Grade Three, which isn't fun. I took an anti-corvette missile bleedthrough to the back. Yes. I
think I deserve some food, and," she pulled a lock of hair, and squeezed it, water running down
her fingers "yes, a shower which doesn't involve UV washes."

"We'll probably be done with an initial report in about," the man looked at the clock on his desk,
"... two hours. Check with me, and I'll tell you if you can come in. But... yes, food, relax," he
ordered.

"Technically, that comes under Operations, not Science," the redhead pointed out. "I chose to
comply because it is advantageous to me, not because you have the authority," she added, with a
twitch of the corner of her mouth.

"You do that," Dr Schauderhaft said, his voice and face studiously neutral, before he smiled
slightly, too. He pulled his control gloves back on, and, with a few gestures, checked how the
auto-summary was doing.

With a shrug, lopsided from the presence of the bandages under her jumpsuit and the numbness
in her rights side, Asuka strode out, on her way to the mess hall.

She wondered where Kaji was, what he was doing, and hoped that he had seen how good she had
been today, and that, for his sake, he would have had a less painful day than she had.

Because, of course, she thought, smirking, this couldn't really be a bad day. No day that she got
to add another strategic vessel icon to Unit 02's kill-count really could be. Sure, Drone Ships
were less impressive than Swarm Ships, for all that they were larger, because they were merely
heavily armoured transports, not capital ships, but still...

She threw a glance back at the grey-green, wounded shape of her precious Evangelion. Yes,
another white marker for the black-painted hands of the Unit, those only bits of 02 that she was
allowed to customise.

Her accomplishment.

~'/|\'~

Mass-produced N-Pop blared through the smoky bar. The computer-generated vocals were bland
and uninspired, although, it should be noted, the harmonic synthesis of classical violins and the
thin whistling of gladisuharmoki did merge rather well with the lead singer's voice, especially if
one's goal was to have problems hearing anyone saying anything at all, and possibly end up with
a migraine. The dark-skinned man sat back in his seat, breathing out a long, draconic coil of
smoke, before sucking in another breath through his cigarette. The man sitting on the other side
of the table did not react, although the slight unconscious twitch in his nostrils possibly
suggested that he did not appreciate this particular brand of cigarette. If that was true, it couldn't
be seen in his carefree smile.

"... and, so, I know he knows you. I was wondering if you'd seen him recently."

The man with the cigarette snorted, coughing. "Yeah. 'Cause, you know, I really look like a
tourist guide. Just search for him on the Grid, you know."

The blue-shirted man shook his head. "No Grid activity apart from some one-time pad encrypted
pulses. No profile checks. No movement on transit networks." He smiled slightly. "Enough that
he might be dead, and yet there's evidence that suggests he isn't."

"Oh, really?"

"Yes." The man shrugged. "Of course, if you're not going to be cooperative..."

The black man ran a hand over the top of his close-cropped head, and reached for the drink in
front of him. Faster than he could do that, though, the man in the blue shirt leaned forwards, and
covered the top of the drink with his palm.

"I know you saw him on the last day he appeared on any main Grid records, Alesandro," the man
said calmly, with even a faint hint of a grin. "I know he met with you in this bar. I know he was
very, very worried. I know he was more than a little drunk, and had opiates in his system as well.
I know he tried to get emergency transport away from here, and I know you turned him down."

The man leaned back, and blew another cloud of smoke at the standing figure. "I know you know
all these things, Mr Kaji. So, please, tell me why the GIA is interested in this man. After all,
surely a vanishing like this is the affair of the FSB, or maybe the OIS, if there's something
suspect about it, not the GIA."

"Oh, I'm merely a concerned citizen," Ryoji Kaji said, with a slight flick of his ponytail.

"Suuu~uuure, you are," the cigarette-smoking man replied, with a role of his eyes. "Well, you
know, I can't help you. I've already... hells, you already know everything I know about Charles
Habegger. Yes, he was sort of floating around the base. Yes, he came to me in a panic. But,
beyond that..." the man shrugged.

The GIA agent, Kaji slumped down into his seat. "I understand," he said, in a somewhat
melancholy voice. "Damn." He shook his head. "I'll see myself out."

The cigarette smoking man snorted. "Yeah. You do that." He reached into his jacket, and Kaji
froze, for just a moment, hand twitching. "Want one?" he asked, proffering the packet.

"You know my virtues, Alesandro," Kaji said with a grin, hand swooping in to take one.
"It's pronounced 'vices', Kaji," the man said, coughing. "And... now, shoo!"

Sitting back, Alesandro watched as the blue-shirted man left the building, strolling out with
almost insulting casualness. With a sigh, he shook his head, and stretched his arms forwards, lit
cigarette dancing a trail of bluish smoke in the air. There was a burst of swearing, as he
accidentally knocked over his glass of beer, the smash as it rolled off the table loud even against
the music. Pulling himself to his feet, he went in search for a cloth to clean up the mess.

An outside observer might have noticed the beer-soaked credit chit, loaded with the equivalent of
two month's salary for a senior officer, tucked in the folded skin of his hand.

Alesandro hoped that Kaji would enjoy his cigarette very much.

~'/|\'~

"She's a prodigy; that cannot be doubted." The man's voice was clipped, precise, conveying
information with no revelation of his personal feelings. Only the very faintest hint of his native
Spanish accent crept through. "It isn't exactly surprising; she has been in the Ashcroft 'Children'
programme since its foundation, and was involved in its predecessor group, too, before that had
to be bought to an end. That's twelve years of active training. Even with her youth taken into
account, she's the most experienced ACXB combat pilot in NEG service currently... although
heavy on the theory and simulator training, compared to an Engel pilot, who are, after all,
actually front-line soldiers, and taken from the military before that. The fact remains, however,
she's been training since before there were Engels."

The room was dark, hollow; the presence of still air could be felt above and around, even though
the edges of the room could not be seen. The glowing figures of men and women, sat or
standing, were not Augmented Reality projections, but were instead holographic. The speaker
did not know why they chose to do that, but it was not his place to argue. The arglasses perched
on his olive-coloured nose were lit in green, relevant data for his presentation which nevertheless
gave him a slightly sickly cast to his features.

"... which would be why she has lasted this long," interjected a nazzady, in a neat, pale blue suit,
a hint of cynicism entering her voice. "Active field combat cannot be compared to long term
training. The difference in conditions alone..."

"That is true," the bland-looking man admitted. "I should note, however, that she has been
systematically and frequently exposed to extra-normal entities under controlled circumstances
throughout her life, as a part of her desensitisation training. The stress induced by such exposures
was suitably mitigated, after the events."
"And?" asked a blond man, leaning forwards, hands resting on the back of his neck. "What were
the results of desensitisation?"

The first speaker nodded, instinctively tucking back a lock of black hair. "As covered, she has
been an exceptional success in those regards. As it currently stands, her Instinctual Fear
Responses to all the common ENEs are in the bottom two percentiles, and her Conscious Fear
Responses are, although higher... as is common for the methods used on her... are eminently
satisfactory. Moreover, she is nearly completely desensitised to actions against Loyalists or
Blanks; her Bladdiov Empathy Value against targets identified as hostile is 0.11, plus or minus
0.03 points."

The blond man leant back. "That is... exceptional," he said softly. "Although... the impact on her
long term psychological health?"

"Acceptable, by the standards which Ethics has set. The combination of neural plasticity, due to
the youth at which the training started, along with the detachment which comes from the EFCS-2
ANW-interface, means that... well, may I speak freely, sir?"

"Yes. All the people here are cleared for whatever you know."

"Well, in that case, Project Ngoubou has been around since the old New United Nations. And
that's before you get to our predecessor groups, because a lot of people have always been
interested in how the human mind works, and why it responds to extra-normal things as it does.
Herkunft, Moneta, the Army Psychological Counselling Department... they've all adopted some
of our practices. Quite simply, the exposure to the ENEs, combined with the other practices, are
repeatable, reproducible, and provide that all-important reduction in IFR scores across the board.
With clearance, I can provide the proper papers, rather than have to explain it here. We know
what we're doing, and with so long to work on someone, any errors can be corrected in a way
that the standard Army six month Desensitisation Programmes simply cannot."

"Thank you," said the nazzady. "We will take that offer up. Although," she added, as if the idea
was only just striking her, "is it not true that Project Ngoubou started as a NUN Project, from A-
War 1, specifically set up to extract information from captured hostiles? Should such a group
really be..."

"No, ma'am," the bland man said, shaking his head. "The Project was merely repurposed in
wartime. Specialists in extranormal, and thus, inevitably, xenobiological psychology were
needed, after all, and one of the major pre-A-War tasks of the Project was building a
psychological parallel to Professor Fuyutsuki's work on ghoul physiology. When there is an
'alien'," the click of the inverted commas around the word was palpably audible, "species, it is
inevitable that anyone of any use is called upon."

The red-eyed woman nodded. "I see. That makes sense. I was merely curious about what I had
heard about your group."
The man shifted slightly, smart grey jacket tight against his body. "No, ma'am; we are a Project,
not a Group," he said.

She sighed. "Small 'G'."

"Oh, I apologise. Is there anything else, or is that all?"

"For the moment, yes," the blond man said, his hologram vanishing, along with the others,
leaving only those who were really there. The bland man who had been speaking, and a woman
in her mid-twenties, shaven-headed and pale skinned, a barcode obvious against her scalp.

And as she took a few steps towards the man, there was something obviously wrong about how
she moved. Maybe a stroke, maybe something else, but she stuttered and jolted, the flow of
human movement inconstant and broken. A sudden burst of speed moved a leg, and then it
coasted; her entire gait held by pulses of muscular motion. Her face was sweaty, and now that
she got closer, the paleness did not seem to come solely from her natural appearance, but instead
from some kind of nausea or sickness.

"Ma'am. I... I did not expect you to be watching. Was that deemed satisfactory?" the man asked,
suddenly looking worried. "Was I not my best?"

Red spoke.

"Y-y-yessss. It... was s-s-satisfactory. I was on-ly here in a... m-m-monitoring capacity, after all.
J-j-just to check that our... trust in you wasssss well pla-ced."

~'/|\'~

"Please roll up your sleeve," the white-clad medical orderly said. Xuan complied, wincing
slightly as she looked away from the needle descending towards her arm.

The orderly smiled, his teeth sparkling white. "Don't like the sight of your own blood, eh?" he
asked, the blue light of harcontacts overlaid on his eyes as the small camera on his headgear fed
him the location of her veins.

Xuan winced. "Not really," she admitted. "I don't like needles much. Why can't you just use the
standard scrapers for the check?"

"Because this isn't a DNA check, Corporal. We've already checked that you are who you claim to
be, and you haven't picked up any gene-carried taint. This is a medical procedure, to check for
other forms of contamination... also," he added, checking the files superimposed on his eyes,
"you did have a suit puncture. Can't be too careful. After that, we've just got the ANI map, the
nervous system tests, and the CAT scan for the neurological Blank structures, before we can
send you off to Mental, for a psychological analysis." He shook his head. "Okay, just relax and
look away... it's just a small amount of blood..."

The woman groaned, turning away. She still winced, as the needle went into her arm.

"There," the man said, a few moments later, as he stepped over to the machinery . "That wasn't
so bad."

Xuan merely grunted at him.

"It's funny how people react differently," the man said, as he drummed his fingers on the side,
watching as the test sample was lowered into the bulk of the machine.

The woman swallowed. "I think it hasn't really sunk in yet," she said, her voice slightly muffled.
"I mean... I keep on expecting to see them again."

The man paused. "I was actually talking about people and blood tests," he said, hastily. "I mean,
there are some people who don't mind having needles stuck into them, but go green at the
thought of seeing someone else, and the opposite, and then the other mixes."

"Oh." Xuan forced a smile onto her face. "So... heh... what are you?"

"Me? I don't really care. Go through med school, and any dislike of needles will be gone, you
know," the man said. "I was... well, not terrified of them, but I didn'tlike them before..."

That was when the alarm sounded, the raucous squawking accompanied by red lights
illuminating the white of the lab in scarlet. At the exact same moment, something rocked the seat
Xuan was sitting on, an all-too-familiar thump which pulsed through her backside.

Immediately, she was down onto the ground, rolling under the bed with muscle memory which
overrode consciousness. She could recognise an explosion, after all.

"What the hell!" the orderly yelled, flinching back.

Code Amber Alert! All personnel report to their stations. Evacuate Hangars 012, 013, 014, 015,
016, immediately. All personnel in proximity to those locations should ensure that they are
wearing full ANaMiNBC protective gear.

And interspersed with the announcement was the emergence of a crackle of distant gunfire.

"What the fuck!" the man added, hysteria entering his tone. Pulling himself back up to a fully
standing position, he rushed over to one of the green-painted cabinets in the room, and stuck his
hand against the memomorph lock, fingers twitching as the skin samples were taken. The
machine was evidently satisfied, as the front of the cabinet flowed away, to reveal a standard
emergency cache. The man grabbed one LAR-18 carbine for himself, and, after a moment's
hesitation, tossed one of the light weapons to Xuan, who caught it smoothly.

Technically, he shouldn't have been doing that at all. She hadn't passed the checks run on any
solider who had experienced a combat incident with Migou forces, so she wasn't allowed to carry
a weapon on base. But... hells, she wasn't going to raise it, if he was going to throw her a gun. It
would make things a lot easier if she were armed.

"I need ammo to actually use this," she pointed out; two magazines were passed, to make it an
actually-useable weapon. She could see that he was looking at her with slightly dubious eyes,
weapon clutched close to him in a position such that it could be raised if it was needed, as she
checked the weapon, before sliding in one of the two magazines, and prepping it.

"You know what you're doing, yes?"

She nodded, and he could be seen to relax slightly. That didn't comfort her much.

Xuan swallowed. "Alright... erm. Oh God, I can't even remember your name."

The man flashed his sparkling white teeth at her in the dimmed lighting. "Corporal Janckowski.
Marek Janckowsk, Medical Corps."

That was more information than I really needed, Xuan thought, a hint of irritation in her voice,
which was quickly removed by the scream which sounded just outside the room. She clutched
the rifle tighter, and internally let off a cluster of curses at the fact that this was both lacking a
smartlink, and chronically underpowered, by the standards she was used to. Infantry in semi-
powered armour carried weapons which would probably leave a person firing them normally
with hideously bruised shoulders, if they were lucky. This... this one, a 5mm carbine, was the
kind of thing that the Dagonite fish-fuckers used, and got rightfully slaughtered by a modern
military force for doing so; something combat and small and which probably wouldn't even
stagger a Loyalist Papa-Alpha, even with a direct joint hit.

She could only hope that this was only an Infiltrator Blank, rather than one built for combat, or
anything worse. Because if it was anywhere above baseline, or had any integral Migou weapons,
then things were going to go badly for her.

Raising one hand, she gestured for Marek to wait. Reaching out with one hand, muscles aching
with deliberate slowness, she rested her bare palm against the door handle. Then, taking a breath,
she eased it down, pushing slightly, just enough to have it swinging freely. She gestured at
Marek to cut the lights in the infirmary; it wouldn't be a good idea to be silhouetted here, and
every little advantage would count.

I wish I had my FO-cable with me, she thought, anger in her mental voice. I hate going in blind.

And with that thought, she gave the door a hard shove with her foot, keeping her back against the
doorframe. Trying to expose herself as little as possible, she flowed into the room, clearing the
danger of the open doorway door as fast as she could. Carbine raised, her gaze flipped between
the persons decorating the interior of the antechamber, the corpses sprawled around, unarmoured
figures mutilated by the ferocity of the assault, and the flickering from the cracked light above,
the ceiling indented, as if something had been thrown into it. No one, no thing was standing
upright in the room.

Slowly, leading her way forwards, step-by-step, Jancowski behind her, Xuan kept her gun
trained on the door opposite to her. To be more precise, she kept her aim trained on where it had
been, because the attack had left it splintered and shattered on the floor.

"Check them!" she ordered the man, gaze not shifting. "See for survivors."

"Too recent for thermals," Jancowski muttered, "don't have heartbeat sensor with me. Triage,
triage, triage." He swallowed, the air coppery in the mess. "You... you have the doorway
covered?"

"Do it!" she barked, gaze still not moving. "We might be able to save some of them."

There was the sound of metal hitting wet meat behind her, and something thudded on the ground.

We didn't check the bodies, Xuan thought, as she swirled, gun raised, pointed at the Blank who
had its hands around the medical orderly's throat. It was a female body, and Heavy Combat
Infantry, too, but that didn't matter now. It was a Blank. Except in the fact that the underskin
armour and enhanced musculature of a HCI soldier would make things harder, and would also
explain how a Blank got so far in. The rifle chattered, and she fought to keep it level, bullets
punching through the unarmoured man it held as a shield and into the Blank. The desensitisation
training, among other things, tried to teach you to ignore the "human hostage" reflex.

Who remained intact enough to throw Jancowski at her, the slam of his bulk bowling her to the
ground and the rest of the shots spraying wide. Up above, the light shattered, casting the
anteroom into the dimly-lit red of emergency lighting.

Not that it affected either of the combatants overly; both had NEG-construction Eyes, and
whatever the Blank had on top of that.

Xuan groaned, and, gritting her teeth, tried to stop the world from spinning. Fuck, fuck, fuck! she
thought, as she rolled out from under the bleeding corpse, and scrabbled for her empty
carbine. It's an HCI, I'm just a combat engineer. It's faster, stronger, and more armoured than
me. Any plan than involves me having to fight something like that unarmed is a bad plan. What
to... urk.

Her chain of thought was suddenly interrupted, as the Blank, bleeding from multiple impacts, her
skin a strangely smooth texture from the subdermal plating of a HCI, reached down, and grabbed
her neck. The thing hoisted Xuan up to thrash and kick, her attempts to get. The woman
could feel her spine creak and grate, agonising spikes shooting up and down her neck. Little
black dots started to dance in front of her Eyes, and Xuan was suddenly aware of how little time
she had.

A left heel, swung back into where she guessed the kneecap of the Blank was, managed to
connect, and the reprogrammed woman staggered backwards. HCI implants didn't have the solid
plating around the joints, and so a military boot could still harm. And the combination of the
mass of all the Blank's plating, and the fact that she was trying to snap Xuan's neck meant that
they went down together. Furniture splintered as the Blank crashed down, its head impacting
with a solid noise not entirely unlike a dropped bowling ball, and the Lance Corporal screamed
in pain, as her ankle was crushed by the mass.

Still, she still had the empty carbine close to hand. No bullets, but any leverage was good, she
thought, as she pulled herself out from under the heavy body, stress-given strength enough to
push it off. Forcing the pain from her ankle away, teeth forced together in a screaming grin, she
slammed the butt of the weapon into the right Eye of the Blank, rupturing the hard surface and
tearing a chunk of flesh off the woman's face, as it ricocheted off the hardened plates. The thing
thrashed and writhed, so the second blow went into windpipe; armoured, yes, but still vulnerable
to sufficient force. It wasn't striking back now, just lying there, taking each blow.

Screaming, swearing, sweating, Xuan Do smashed the light carbine into the throat again and
again, the lightweight plastics splintering, smeared in crimson, which suddenly went bright red
when a major artery was ruptured, gushing forth from one of the flexible joints.

Xuan didn't stop. If asked later, she would have claimed that she couldn't be sure that this was
just an Infiltrator, that it might have been a Combat Blank of some form, and thus not merely a
mentally-rewired human, and so she needed to do as much damage as possible. But, to be frank,
that was not what was passing through her mind.

There was a noise behind her, followed by the sharp pain of a stun baton thrust into her back.
People were shouting, and the pain in her ankle was even worse. It was standard protocol; they
couldn't be sure that she wasn't compromised, that this wasn't some kind of Migou false-flag
operation, to get them to trust one Blank for taking down another, to allow them to accomplish
their objective. She was going straight for a neural scan, to see if she was a Blank. It made sense.

But as she convulsed on the floor, muscles spasming, her only rational, as opposed to pain-
induced, thought was that she needed to damn well get a medal for this to be all worth it.

~'/|\'~

"Asuka?"
The reddish-blond girl, her now-dry hair swept back with the two A10 superconducting QUI
Devices holding it in place, stiffened, standing to attention. "Colonel," she said in response,
turning to face the older woman. Actually, technically, she was looking down at her, but only in
a physical sense; quite the opposite was true in a social sense.

Colonel Kristos followed where the girl had been looking, before her interruption. Already, the
hordes of red-exosuited workers and car-sized drones which swarmed around Unit 02 had
stripped away the contaminated upper layers of armour. Now, the titan stood in the chamber,
almost perfectly reflective, as the layers of mirrorgloss, designed to minimise damage from the
ubiquitous laser weapons of the strange aeon, were exposed to the air. In the white of the
chamber, the workers were strange, distorted red shapes reflected in the war machine, the only
distinction on the smooth surface being the bubbled and warped sections where the upper layers
had been damaged by the action.

It was a mundane sight to anyone experienced with the necessities of maintenance.

Oxanna permitted herself a short, mono-shouldered shrug, and turned her attention back to the
girl. "How are you feeling?" she asked.

"A little annoyed," Asuka admitted, after a calculating glance at the black-uniformed woman. "I
made some stupid mistakes out there."

The blond woman raised her eyebrows at that. "I was actually talking about your back... but I
don't believe you did."

"The fact that I have," she reached over her shoulder, to point at the region around her right
shoulder blade, "this is a sign that I made a mistake. I should have done better." She shook her
head, hair flicking in a tight controlled arc. "That was too close to the entry plug. And the pilot is
the primary point of failure in an Evangelion."

"Asuka," Oxanna said, with a small smile in her voice, "you personally took down two Drone
Ships, and a capital-grade charge beam and its attached lander today. Errors are inevitable on
actual battlefields, and you made few enough that they can be fixed." She watched as the girl
relaxed slightly. "Less than your opponents made, certainly," she added.

"That doesn't mean what I said wasn't true," Asuka said, blinking once, those blue Eyes staring at
the Colonel. "I know I'm the best pilot there is, but the fact is, compared to the Evangelion
organism or the cybernetics in the machine, anyone is weak... prone to failure."

Colonel Kistos restrained a sigh, running a hand down the sleeve of her black uniform. "Asuka...
is this about the adrenal system or neurachem modifications again?"

The girl just stared at her, a look in her eyes which seemed far too old for her sixteen-year old
body.
"Those are alterations which neither the NEGA Biomorality Board, nor the Ashcroft
Representative for Ethics, will sanction. You know this. You're still maturing, and we can't risk
the endocrinal or neurological damage that might result." She held Asuka's gaze. "You are too
valuable as a pilot now to risk that."

"I wasn't fast enough today," Asuka said, flatly. "I didn't notice the second squadron of Wasps
flanking me, so I got hit. I did notice the launch, but if I'd been faster, I'd have been able to
switch LDG priority back. And because of that, the Eva got damaged, I got hurt, and I lost
several secondary weapons systems. My body just can't live up to what my mind wants to do, so
I need it to be better." She put her hands on her hips. "You don't understand. I am the best
Evangelion pilot that you can get. And it still isn't enough."

The older woman did sigh then, adjusting her black beret. "Listen to me, Asuka," she said. "I
think you are forgetting just how exceptional your achievements are, and just how much more
time you have. We... that's the Army speaking here... don't intend to deploy you as a proper field
unit until you have a proper commission, and that won't be until you can legally get one. Today
was an emergency; I had you pulled forwards, because it was that, or risk a breakthrough at
Nova Kakhovka. And," her face softened slightly, "I know there have been emergencies in the
past as well, and live fire combat tests, but you are not a field-active pilot at the moment. You are
a Test Pilot for the first Mass Production model of a series of experimental
arcanocyberxenobiological combat units. And you are amazing at it."

She could see the girl's jawline tighten slightly, before loosening again, breaking into a confident
smile. "I can be sure you mean that, Oxanna," Asuka said. "I know you'd tell me if I wasn't good
enough."

"... and have, in the past," the older woman said.

"Which is why I can trust you with these things," Asuka agreed. "Not like that idiot Malvolio,"
she added, in a darker voice. "Always telling me that I'm 'good enough'. No one can ever be
'good enough'; you always, always can do better. I can't tell if he's someone's sycophant, or just
an idiot."

There was a pause, as they watched the teams strip away one of the empty seeker launchers, its
rails utterly warped and melted by an impact from a Migou plasma weapon.

"Could be both," Oxanna suggested.

"Good point," Asuka said, with a smirk.

"She's right, you know," a voice said from behind the pair, making them both jump slightly. "Not
about Captain Martello, because as a neutral observer I cannot..." and that was about as far he
got, before he had to save his breath for dodging a ballistic sixteen-year old, and her guided hug.
Deploying countermeasures such as a worried look proved to be eminently ineffectual, and he
was finally forced to mitigate the damage by keeping the embrace chaste, and brief. It would be
rude to try to dodge it with his full capacities, after all; the girl would be offended, and that
would just be unnecessarily mean.

"Didn't you see what I did today!" Asuka asked the newcomer, her voice suddenly a lot more
girlish. "Wasn't I amazing?"

Ryoji Kaji smiled, and stepped back, disentangling one of her limbs as he did. "I've only looked
over the reports, but, yes, Asuka, you did very well." The man from the Global Intelligence
Agency turned, and smiled at the Colonel. "Debriefing her, are you, Oxanna?"

"That's largely been done already, Ryoji," Colonel Kristos said back, matching his smile.

The man frowned. "I have to say, I just thought it was going to be a training exercise today," he
admitted, raising his eyebrows at the military woman.

"So did I," admitted Oxanna. "And that was what it was meant to be. I had to move Unit 02 up
from 2501 to Nova Kakhovka because otherwise we'd have had a line collapse. The bugs
managed to take out one of the anti-cap lasers there, and... well, you know the rest."

He knew the rest.

"So, did you do anything exciting, today?" Asuka asked him, still holding onto one of his hands.
"Hunt down and kill a horde of Dagonite cultists, or maybe thwart the evil goals of a traitor to
humanity? Did you use any good one-liners as you shot anyone?" Her eyes were sparkling.

Kaji sighed. "Honestly, no. I'm not a field agent anymore, as I have told you. Most of my job
involves paperwork. Although..." he stroked his unshaven chin, "perhaps you would be
interested in my valiant bravery against a most dreadful foe."

"Sure!"

Oxanna rolled her eyes. "Why not? Although, if this turns out to be the story of the black-and-
white-armoured pilot in the black-and-white Blizzard... well, I do have a loaded gun."

The man's face fell, in a comic overreaction. "Well, looks like the nice lady from the Army has
just de facto classified my work," he said.

"Oh, well," said Asuka, a sly smile creeping onto her face. "Well, that's a shame. I suppose we
should go home now, because I've done pretty much everything I need to, haven't I, Oxanna?"

The Colonel nodded. "I think that's fine," she said, Eyes flicking for a moment, as she checked
her PCPU. "Yes. Be careful with her," she told Kaji, in a warning tone, "she took sympathetic
burns from ordinance to the back of Unit 02. The medichines managed to stabilise them in-plug,
and they've been treated, but..."
Kaji nodded, face momentarily serious, before he smiled again. "I've got the car outside, Asuka,"
he said. "We can leave now, if you want?"

The girl considered it. "Can we get something to eat on the way home?" she asked. "I needed a
Level 3 Decontamination, and so... well, I've eaten since then, but there's a lot of eating to make
up for." She rolled her eyes. "I'll never end up fat, if that keeps on happening."

"Yeah." The man paused. "Actually," he admitted, "I'm kinda hungry too. I had to skip lunch.
Where do you want to go..."

~'/|\'~

The table in the apartment was heaped with plastic containers. Within these mounds could be
seen rice, noodles, and all sorts of protein and woven vegetable substitute floating in various
sauces. The iridescent colours of this alchemical mess would have driven ancient peoples into
awe, at such wonder and light in the world. Also, there were prawn crackers.

They were having Chinese.

"Don't take all the egg-fried rice," Kaji warned Asuka, who was shovelling it from the container
to her plate in vast amounts.

Her eyes momentarily narrowed, before returning wide and innocent. "But, Kaa~aaji," she said,
flicking her head slightly, "I was piloting today, and had to go through decontamination. You
know that always makes me feel like I haven't eaten in ages. I'm actually really, really hungry...
and, yes, I know I've already eaten, but one meal isn't enough."

"I know," the man said, "but, just try not to take it all. I like it, too. I mean, no one's touched the
chicken chow mein yet."

She screwed up her face. "Not in the mood for that."

"You normally like it." That was said in a joking tone.

A shrug, followed by a wince, as a jolt of pain came from the sympathetic burn on her back.

"That reminds me," Kaji said. "I got you a present." He watched as her eyes lit up at that remark.

"What is it?" Asuka asked, with a hint of hunger in her voice. "Although, of course, you really
shouldn't have," she added, hastily. "But what is it? What is it?"
"I managed to get you the action-reports from the Harbinger-4 incident," the man said in a
deliberately casual tone, before biting into a prawn cracker. For all her talents, Asuka really
wasn't that good at feigning disinterest.

"Thank you, Kaji," she said, in what he was pretty sure could accurately be described as a squeal.
She leant forwards, and he resolutely kept his eyes upwards. "What can I do to repay you?"
Asuka said, in what he thought was meant to be a seductive tone. From his perspective, it was a
failure.

"You can pass me the soy sauce," he suggested, watching the faint flicker of disappointment
warring against the ecstasy, before being resolutely crushed.

"Well," the reddish-blond girl said, as she passed the aforementioned condiment, "thank you. A
lot. Really." Her hand hovered over her own plate for a moment.

Kaji smiled. "Yes, Asuka, you can go watch them right now." He dug a hand into his pocket, and
withdrew a storage chip. "It's locked, so you can't copy it, and... well, you know how classified
everything Eva-related is."

"Understood," Asuka nodded, picking up her plate, and adding a few more things to it for good
measure. "If you'll excuse me..."

"You are excused," Kaji said, gravely, his face twisted into a grotesque mask of 'reasonable
authority figure'. It looked rather comic on him. He shook his head, as Asuka disappeared into
the next room.

It took less than an hour, as he cleaned up the table (there had been several distracting calls from
his superiors, so the last parts of the meal had been cold), for the laughter to start. And it wasn't
nice laughter; he could hear the contempt dripping from it. Depositing the plates in the sink, he
poked his head into the living room.

Augmented Reality interface before her, Asuka was working her way through the autocensored
footage from Unit 01 and surrounding units. At the moment, she had the same image of Unit 01,
from multiple angles paused. With a finger poke, she set it to play again.

On the screen before him, from multiple angles, the grey-blue figure of Unit 01 fired its Babylon
in one hand. The structural diagram to her right, complete with flashing red, showed the
consequence of that decision, as fractures propagated up the

"Useless," Asuka proclaimed, mirth fighting with superiority. "What an idiot."

"Really?" Kaji asked. From his point of view, it had looked fairly impressive.

There was almost a faint hint of pity in the stare she directed at him, quite unlike her normal
interactions with him, before her normal exterior returned. "Yes. Complete and utter idiot." She
shook her head, hair whipping behind her. "Seriously, what kind of an imbecile tries to fire a
Babylon with one hand, and hasn't even grasped the concept of bracing yourself with your AT-
Field?" She paused. "Well, this Third Child, obviously. Mein Gott, I can't believe he passed the
handling tests to even qualify. I mean... arggh! It'd be like trying to fire a man-sized rifle without
bracing it." The disgust on her face was evident. "If someone like him is piloting... they must be
desperate. Or stupid. Facility 0343 needs to get Unit 03 ready, so someone competent can pilot,
even if they have to ship them all the way from Australia."

"And yet he's managed to eliminate two Harbinger-level threats," Kaji pointed out, mildly.

"Hardly," Asuka snapped. "Asherah; he lost control, and the Eva did it. And Eshmun... that
doesn't count as a kill! The Army and Navy had already blown it in half. That's... that's like half a
kill, at most." She crossed her arms. "And he should lose points for getting so damaged both
times."

"So there's a point system now?"

"There should be!"

The man stroked his chin. "Aren't you a little harsh on him, Asuka?" he asked.

"Hardly! I'd say, the problem with him is that whoever's been responsible for his training hasn't
been harsh enough. I mean, he's my age, so he's had..." she paused, "well, this Third Child
obviously started after Berlin-2, so he's had maybe eight years training. Now, that's still less than
me, but... it's inexcusable to be this bad!"

"Asuka..." the man began, trying to prevent the rant.

She ignored him. "I-I-I'm glad I'm here on the Front," she continued. "I never want to pilot with
someone that useless. Look at him! An utter lack of control! I bet he's still utterly reliant on the
control yokes for memophysical association! What a crude, bumbling idiot." She was almost
spluttering. "I'm actually offended that someone like that is allowed in a masterpiece like an
Evangelion, even one as crude as the Test Model!"

Internally, Kaji sighed. He actually couldn't tell her the truth. The identity of the Third Child was
still classified; all Asuka was allowed to know was his age, and sex. And... actually, the GIA
agent didn't understand why the age wasn't classified for the other Children, too. Probably some
mistake when sealing his file, was his opinion. The whole misunderstanding over how long the
Third Child had been training was something he was going to raise with the Evangelion
people. It wasn't healthy to promote misunderstandings, the spy thought with deliberate irony.

"He does have a very good Synch Ratio," he pointed out.

"And I'm sure that if Evangelion piloting was all about that one number, he'd be the biggest,
bestest pilot ever," the girl snapped. "Oh, wait, no. Mine is still better. So, just to clarify, I'm the
best pilot in a technical, synchronisational, tactical, and strategic sense, and am also in the best
Evangelion." She snorted. "Well, at least they have their priorities right there. It'd be worse if that
idiot was in my Unit 02."

Kaji frowned. She did seem to be actively offended by this stuff about the Third Child and Unit
01; probably the idea of a competitor at all, he thought.

Out loud, he said, "Well... um, Asuka, I've just has a call. I'm needed in the office, some new
data's come in over the Migou response to what you did today, and I need to check it out. Will
you be okay?"

"If I don't die of laughter first," she said, rolling her eyes. "No, I'll be fine. But be back soon, and
maybe we can watch the rest of this together."

"Maybe," the man replied, his face deliberately blank.

The schadenfreude-rich laughter resumed as he left.

~'/|\'~

Her uniform was already hanging up neatly. The smart fabric didn't crease, after all, but it was
still a good idea to leave it like that. The dark-green shorts and black top, the entopic image of a
white hand flowing and shifting over the surface of the material, were, by contrast, worn-in and
comfortable, soft fabric not designed for any kind of formality.

In Colonel Oxanna Kristos' opinion, her current position here at Facility 2501, assigned by
Anton as the Army supervisor of this sub-facet of the Evangelion Group, as they couldn't trust
the officers seconded to the Foundation fully, was a rather nice one. It was, in fact, almost a bit
of a break, compared to the last time she had been dragged off to handle an operation. What had
happened in Balleydehob had been... messy.

By contrast here, the most she had to deal with was deployment issues, logistics, and the work
from Slavik which she could do remotely. The Evangelion team ran most of the day-to-day
affairs, and so she was very much looking in, rather than involved in the day to day affairs.

Perhaps that was why she had started to interact with Test Pilot Soryu more. It really shocked
Oxanna how little attention some of the Evangelion team paid to her. Personally, she had put it
down to the length of time they had known her; they still looked at her as a little girl. Despite the
fact that this "little girl" was, apart from having far more potential in her little finger than some
of the engineering staff had in their entire bodies, also walking around at the age of sixteen with
a degree in the Natural Sciences. In fact, the only reason she had not moved onto the Arcane
Sciences was the fact that it was not permitted, at her age, to do so, which was
acontroversial decision with her, to say the least. And the fact that she had that known
association with the head of the Achtzig Group... well, Oxanna had spent time around the man,
and it showed. Oh God, it showed. So, yes, she had effectively begun to mentor the girl, who had
instinctively responded, opening like a flower (albeit one with lots of thorns) in response.

Of course, such an association came with fringe benefits...

That was when the house LAI informed her of a visitor.

Checking that her pistol was still in place, she went to the door. Really, though, she thought, the
pistol won't do much. If something that's trying to kill me can get past the blood checks, the
CATSEYE scans, the wards, the neural scans, they're probably prepared enough that a 10mm
won't do much.

Something ran the bell. Checking the camera and the CATSEYE, she nodded to herself, and
stepped up to the door.

No one.

She looked to her left, and then right, up and down the corridor.

Still no one.

"Who are you looking for?" a confused-sounding man asked. A certain blue-shirted unshaven
individual was leaning against the wall, to her left.

"Goddamnit, Ryoji," she swore, flinching. "Don't do that."

"You always look left first," he explained. "So I just stepped around you. It's not hard. Especially
if you're very fast."

"It's not hard? You're very fast?" She left a deliberate pause. "Then why are you here?"

The man winced, "I walked into that one," before shrugging. "Well, anyway, I bought you some
flour," he said, holding a white bag. "Well, I couldn't find any flowers, and I thought that, given
it's pronounced the same..." He put it down on the table, smirking at her.

"You're late," she said, trying to both raise an eyebrow and not laugh, while at the same time
taking off her top. It was surprisingly hard to multitask like that, especially when he got up close
and did that to her ear.

There wasn't much talking after that.

~'/|\'~
26th September, 2091

She stood on a tarmac road. She could feel the material, heated in the height of summer, suck
slightly at her shoes, whenever she stopped, and so kept on moving. She had to keep on moving.

It was hot. Sweltering. She couldn't understand why anyone would want to be outside here.

And yet she was surrounded by dark-robed figures, veiled and masked, a legion trudging on foot
as one vast, collective organism. They were giants as to her, figures that towered above her. One
was holding her hand, clutching it tight, and, she realised, half-leading, half-pulling her along
with the crowd.

"Was passieren?" she asked, confused. She didn't know, and it was confusing her. No. That
wasn't quite true. She knew, but she'd forgotten. She couldn't remember. She couldn't even
remember remembering. But she could remember remembering that she remembered, and that
was enough to tell her that something terrible was happening.

The looming figure above her stopped, and glanced down, a hint of green light visible under the
hood, casting the dark material in a viridian light, before it looked away, and continued pulling
her away.

There was a grittiness in the air. She could feel it, horribly dry, horribly itchy, sucking at her skin
like some swarm of infernal insects. Moving her fingers of her free hand as she was pulled along,
her palm felt like sandpaper.

There were guardians by the side of the road; tall, taller even than the giants in the crowd, and far
more bulky, bearing their weapons in grey hands. She began to count the glimpse of their
helmets she could see over the top of the masked and robed throng, eins, zwei, drei... If any of
the crowd tried to leave the road, they would push them back onto the path. If any stumbled and
tripped in the march along this baking road, pairs of the guardians would step onto the road ...
vier, fünf...and take the fallen. She didn't know where they were taking them, and any questions
she asked of the robed figure with her at most gained her a stare, and the same hint of green light
from under the deep hood, before the march continued.

... sechs, sieben, acht, neun...

She couldn't stop the march. It was going to happen, one way or another. All she could do was
try to stay upright, and stay with the giant who clutched her hand.

Another fall. ... zehn, elf... Another one taken.

In the distance, far behind her, something began to scream, ancient, horrid, and yet horrifically
young; a mechanical rise and fall which rose until her teeth vibrated, the sensation dropping just
as the sound did until she could feel it in her gut. She wanted to turn to see what it was, but she
now knew that she had been told not to look back. She couldn't look back. She would be in a Lot
of trouble if she did, she thought with a sudden giggle.

The crowd, the pilgrimage, only picked up its pace.

...zwölf, dreizehn, vierzehn, fünfzehn...

And that was when it happened. The first sign was the sudden white light which lit the giants
from behind, and cast deep, dark, hungry shadows on the road in front of them. There was a
sudden wash of heat, extreme even in the already baking temperatures of the height of summer,
and she screamed in terror and pain, as did the robed and masked giants that surrounded her. And
then came the noise, a terrible booming thunder to go with the flash of sun-lightning.

She looked back.

The pillars of light erupted from the great city, devouring its pyramids and consuming those
pilgrims which had not gotten far enough away. The wrath of the heavens came for all alike.

Screaming in pain, clutching the rods of agony into her skull which she had once called eyes, she
fell to the ground.

And strong hands closed around her feet and her arms, and carried her off.

...sechzehn, siebzehn...

Asuka Langley Soryu awoke, streaming with sweat. The acrid scent of terror filled the room, the
hint of red light from the nightlight plugged in at the end of the room enough to cast the place in
striations of crimson and black, but not enough to banish the shadows which lurked at the edge
of vision, even to her eyes.

Arching her back, sticking her chest into the air (and suddenly feeling a hint of welcome cool,
for the covers had evidently slid off in the night), she took a deep, shuddering breath, and let it
out slowly. The gauze bandages, sealed over the sympathetic burns from the missile, were a
patch of warmth, tight against her inflamed skin. Slowly, slowly, her spine lowered itself back
into the hollow in the mattress, and she scrambled for the light at her bedside table.

In the soft glow, Asuka stared up at the ceiling. Then, with an effort, she swung her legs out of
bed, to sit upright. No longer lit in red, it had the identical feel of so many military-type
accommodations. Identical feel, and identical structure; this was a standard room design. In a
sense, although she had only been here for a week, for the training at 2501 which had turned
into... into what had happened today. No, what had happened yesterday, now, she realised,
glancing over at the clock. She shook her head, an exhausted gesture of annoyance at how
distracted she was feeling. Yes, despite the fact that she had only been here for a week, the
ceiling was so utterly familiar that even the smallest quirks of design were known.
Clumsily, with stiff-feeling fingers, the girl peeled off her soaked top, the slight chill of the night
air against her wet flesh a reassuring feel. Taking the drier front, Asuka dried herself off against
it, further. She might as well feel more comfortable, as the top was already ruined for sleeping in,
at least this night. Scrunching the sodden garment into a ball, she hurled it into the laundry
basket, bouncing it in off the wall.

If one were to look at the contents of the plastic basket, one might see identical garments forming
geographic strata of disturbed nights.

Asuka shivered slightly, and crossed her arms in front of her, before uncrossing them again. Why
did she care about that? Either Kaji was home, and he might get a look at her wonderful body, or
he wasn't, and she didn't need to care. Either way, there was nothing to be ashamed of. In fact,
yes, after all, Nazzadi culture, insofar as one could refer to one culture, rather than a vast and
complex noosphere of experimental memeplexes, didn't have a nudity taboo, and if he did get a
look at her, she could just say that she was emulating the cultural practices of Homo sapiens
nazzadi.

It would probably be more convincing if she didn't smell of hot and dampness and fear. And,
always, underneath everything, the scent of LCL. It never came out, not really. Not when it was
being swallowed and taken in through the lung walls and through the tear ducts and through
anything exposed. There was a reason the plug suits were sealed at the neck, after all. It just
diffused into the body, and stayed there. The injections and the scrubbers and the medichines and
the UV-washes and the denaturing agents and the... and the everything did their best.

Their best wasn't good enough. She could always, always smell it in her sweat. Just a hint,
normally, but in these terror-filled nighttimes, it was notable to people who didn't spend time
around it, a recognisable tang of metal and blood and something to the air. Bed coverings didn't
last long with her.

She licked her forearm.

God, she could even taste it.

Sagging forwards onto her lap, Asuka stared down at the green carpet. She just wanted to sleep.
It was true that she only needed about five or so hours, and could cope on less; a gift of what her
grandmother had had done to her mother. It still wore her down, to live like this. Physiologically,
she would be able to operate fine. Psychologically, the reddish-blond girl always wanted more
sleep. That had to wait, though, as she'd feel even worse in the morning if she didn't shower
before putting on a fresh top.

But before that, there was the necessity to write down what she could remember of the dream.
Her psychologist insisted on it; a problem made worse by the fact that all the dream suppressants
they had tested on her interfered with the synchronisation process. Or, in one case, caused a
violent allergic reaction, which had almost put her in a coma.

Which made them not an option.


Clumsily, she reached for the PCPU on her bedside table, without looking, gaze still locked on
her pale feet and the green carpet which they rested on. By touch, she turned it on, and only then
did she drop it between her feet, as she composed her thoughts, trying to ensure that she could
record everything.

~'/|\'~

"Ryoji?"

Two naked bodies, entwined together.

"Hmm?"

"You're good at this."

"Hmm." His tone was rather self-satisfied.

"Just one thing."

"Hrhmm?"

"Shave, man!" Oxanna propped herself up on her elbows, mussed blond hair hanging loose
around her face. "For... mmmrph... for fuck's sake, shave! Stubble is not good."

~'/|\'~

In the cold, harsh white light of the bathroom, Asuka stared at her reflection. Few would have
recognised the Second Child, the confident, assertive, almost-arrogant prodigy, with her face
grey with fatigue, hair soaked in sweat.

The faint scent of LCL was making her slightly hungry.

There was a hiss of water, as she turned on the tap, grabbing a pink mug from beside the basin.
She filled the cup, and took a gulp, before spewing it all out, and unleashing a blister of
profanity. The water went into the sink, and the tap was switched to "Cold", before the process
was repeated.
"Who the hell leaves the tap on 'Hot', anyway?" Asuka angrily muttered to herself. It was a brief
outburst which would have been far more recognisable as the face she wore to the outside world
to an outside observer, before the cold brightness of the light and the dull grey of her exhaustion
snuffed it out.

The gush of water was a momentary distraction. The splash of the cold, as the jet hit the plane
surface against her skin was a sudden chill quite unlike that of sweat, and Asuka flinched away,
hairs already standing on end. She didn't really have to clean herself down now, did she? She
could just sleep like that, just sleep, and do it in the morning. There wouldn't be anything wrong
with that, would there?

Yes. There would be. She forced her cupped palms into the water, and splashed it over her face,
massaging the water in. And then, because it really was cold, she turned around and grabbed the
nice dark red dressing gown, a birthday present from Uncle Cal a few years ago, and wrapped
herself in the fluffy warmth. It was only as she turned back to the mirror that she sighed. This
was going to have to go in the wash, for sure. She liked this dressing gown, and didn't want to
see it ruined. And a replacement just wouldn't be the same, for all that it would have the same
structure.

Automatically, unthinkingly, she cleaned her hands, carefully scrubbing at them with soap and
the nail brush. Then, with slow deliberateness, she looked down at her hands. Fine, delicate
fingers, the nails cut short and, on the left hand, a little bit bitten. Asuka reminded herself that
she'd have to go get some new ones, soon. Long nails were completely impractical for a plug
suit, and tended just to get broken (sometimes messily) if they got too long, but it was nice
sometimes, just for an afternoon, before her next synch test, to get to show them off. Before she
had to trim them down, the synthetic keratin discarded, to be recycled. Just like everything else
in her life.

With equal slowness, she raised her right index finger, and jabbed herself in the eyeball. She did
not even blink.

The smooth, inorganic hardness of an Eye met her questing finger. As always. Just as every time
she did it.

Good.

They might be able to make them look real, but they weren't real to the touch. The surface was
hard, solid, quite unlike the squishiness of the jelly-filled eyeball she had been born with. The
retina was engineered for efficiency and effectiveness, quite unlike the haphazard ministrations
of Darwin. They gave above and beyond peak-human clarity of vision, quite apart from the other
tweaks incorporated from nature, from Nazzadi, avian and mantis-shrimp alike.

She had had them for so long, since just before her ninth birthday, periodic upgrades necessary to
adjust for her growth. And that made them her eyes. Not the ones she had been born with. Her
Eyes. Not anyone else's.
She ran her finger under the eyelid, around the point where the Eye fused with her rebuilt skull.
The eye socket was a weakness, an entry point, and, in more technical matters, they needed
somewhere to anchor the heavily rebuilt, only partially organic sensory organ. Asuka
could feel the difference between pseudo-flesh and flesh, feel the transition from conventional
bone to the vat-grown variant that edged the Eye. Removing her finger, she cleaned it off, under
the running water.

Yes. A shower. Good. No, Kaji might be asleep. I don't want to wake him. If he's here.

I could always go check...

Slowly, carefully, she placed one naked foot after another, making her way without sight (not
that the low light levels were a problem for her) through the familiar corridors of the
standardised housing. The carpeting under her feet was warm, even if it was a little hard, and
perhaps wearing thin in places from the roughness. She placed one hand on his door, to push it
open.

Asuka then paused, and tweaked her dressing gown, such that an almost indecent amount of
cleavage was showing.

Through the open door, she could see that the bed was untouched, the neat sheets obviously
unslept in. Again.

If she cried as she showered, alone in this empty house, then it was lost in the torrent of warm
water.

~'/|\'~

As it turned out, Lance Corpral Xuan Do was actually going to be getting a medal. In fact, she
was going to be getting more than one. There would be the standard White Laurel of Bravery,
because she had managed to acquire a broken ankle in the fight, as well as the fact that her neck
was in a cast. But she was also going to be getting the Kanala Seal, for "Valorous Deeds While
Unequipped For Combat."

The morning light, streaming in through the east-facing windows of the surface hospital, was
warm; they'd moved her far enough back that there wouldn't be any of the emfog clouds, legacies
of previous battles, to cast the world into silver-lit greyness. The sight from the window was less
pleasing. The Blank, the Infiltrator that she'd killed, had not been working alone. And they had
succeeded in their missions, at least partially. They'd managed a lot more than putting her in
here, and killing all those people in the anteroom. The wreckage of Hangars 013 and 014 were
visible, the fires extinguished, but the wreckage clear to see. The bugs had managed to
compromise a repair technician, she'd heard, and the damage that had caused was evident. Only
one wall of Hangar 013 was still standing; the rest was just rubble, while Hangar 014 was riddled
with worm-like holes around which the building had run like wax. The recovery vehicles,
hauling away damaged mecha and tanks, were still trying to extract as many assets as they could,
in case the Migou attacked again.

Still, it could have been worse for the NEG. If they'd managed to get access to large amounts of
explosives...

Cutlery clinked, as Xuan hungrily devoured the nutrient broth that was her breakfast. Her left
hand was lay beside her, bandaged and in a cast; she had managed to fracture two fingers, as well
as break her ankle, and it was numb through the targeted painkillers. At least she hadn't broken
anything in her right hand, as well. She'd have been useless if both hands were incapacitated like
this.

Finishing up her bowl, she stared up at the ceiling, and told the LAI monitoring her that she'd
finished. It took only a short while for a nurse to show up, to collect the waste.

He was kind of cute, too. Nicely built, square-jawed, very green eyes...

"How are you feelingly, Lance Corporal?" he asked her, as he picked up the tray, and added the
pile on his trolley. He glanced sideways at the machine. "You seem to be doing well."

Xuan shrugged. "I've had worse." A smile crept onto her lips. "I've had worse in training,
actually."

The young man winced. "Really?" he asked.

She nodded. "Yep. Fell off a wall, managed to break my leg." The woman paused. "You can
check my record. I always throw everything I can into doing things. It's something you should
always do, live for the moment. Don't you agree?"

Inwardly, Xuan groaned. That had been a really, really bad pseudo-pass at him. God, the
painkillers must be affecting her more than she thought they were. With luck, he wouldn't have...

The man raised one eyebrow at the remark. "I'm sorry, Lance Corporal, I do have a boyfriend."

Damn. He noticed. And is in a relationship. And prefers men. Why me? She managed to stifle the
outwards manifestation of her annoyance, though, and smiled weakly. "I had to try."

The man shrugged. "Well, I think I'll interpret it as a compliment. But... hang on a moment," he
said, raising one finger to an ear, his left Eye lighting up to show that it was actively intercepting
his vision. "Yes?" He paused. "Yes, sir. I'm actually there at the moment... yes." Another pause,
longer. "Really? Understood, I'll inform her."

Xuan made a curious noise.


"Um... well, I don't know exactly how to put this, Corporal Do, but..." the man paused. "Wait a
moment, that's a lie. I do know how to put this. You'll be getting a visit from Marshal Hassan in a
few minutes."

Xuan turned chalk white. "R-r-really? M-m-marshal Hassan, while I'm still in hosp..." She
paused, and shook her head. "I didn't expect that," she said, forcing a smile onto her face.

The nurse smiled. "Well, he's visiting the victims of last night's attack on the base, and, well," the
corners of his eyes crinkled up, "well, you did manage to kill the one Blank which made a break
into the base, rather than military assets. I heard they think may have been part of an
assassination thing... you know, going for commanders, before it got caught in the lockdown. Of
course he was going to want to meet with you," the man said with increasing enthusiasm.
"You're a hero."

"Oh... yes. That makes sense," Xuan said, slowly. "Just bad luck me and all those people
happened to be in the same section as it."

The green-eyed man nodded, more seriously, the smile gone. "Yes. Indigo Blanks are very hard
to detect, and... well, you did what you had to do," he said, seriously.

Xuan nodded. "What I had to," she said slowly. "I just wish I could have got it before it killed all
those people."

A stomp of heavy boots, and the slow, crushing steps of Centurion powered armours in the high
and wide corridor spoke of the arrival of the senior officer. Taking up position by the door and
by the window, the grey-armoured figures were alert, scanning the exits and windows. Compared
to all this elaborate security, the Marshal himself was just another man; shaven-headed, with
aristocratic, even pharaonic features and high cheekbones. His dark eyes matched his neat
uniform.

"Room is secure, sir," reported a mechanical voice through the speakers of the armour. "We've
got all exits covered, and windows were already set to opaque."

"Thank you, Sergeant," said Marshal Hassan, with a nod of his head. He took several steps into
the room, coming to a stop at the end of Xuan's bed. "Lance Corporal," he said, his accent, from
his childhood in the slums of old Cairo before the First Arcanotech War, still prominent,
"congratulations."

"Th-thank you, sir," Xuan said, stuttering.

The shaven-headed man looked down at the injured woman. A small, slightly superior smile
crept onto his lips. "Really, Corporal Do, you can relax a little. I don't expect you to stand at
attention. That would be a little hard in your current condition, for one."
Xuan's laughter was nervous, and overloud. She winced. "Sorry, sir," she said, her face pale. "It's
just... well, I didn't expect to get a chance to meet someone like you... um... to have you visiting
my hospital bed... um, okay, now I'm babbling."

The smile was somewhat paternalistic. "Actually, Corporal, I've had a look at your file." He
pulled up a chair, and sat down, by the side of her bed, on her left. "Well... what to say? You
managed to survive the loss of the rest of your squad, held out against both Migou and Loyalist
forces while keeping hidden enough that they didn't find you, and managed to provide vital
observational data. That alone would be impressive. Then, before you'd even cleared checks, you
managed to take down, while unarmoured, a Heavy Combat Infantrywoman who'd been
Blanked, by... well, by beating her to death with a rifle butt."

Xuan blushed. Put like that, it did sound rather ridiculous, almost contrived. A look of
embarrassment on her face, she massaged her right Eye with her palm. "I was just doing my job,
sir," she said. Then, with one precise, quick motion, she punched Marshal Hassan in the
unarmoured thigh.

The man barely had time to look shocked, before the nerve agent in his bloodstream hit his brain.
It was quick. The tiny carbon-fibre syringes, which had been hidden in her standard-issue light
underskin bioweave, couldn't carry much, nor could much be hidden without the NEG finding it,
but the rigid hair-like fibres now sticking out of her knuckles still had enough to kill one man in
less than ten seconds.

"Just doing my job," Xuan Do said.

~'/|\'~

"Movement!" The tone was alert, concerned. "Camera 12, north. Looks like... yes, it's a
Dragonfly."

There was a slight shudder among the troops. The Dragonfly classes may have different from
example to example, but they were always shockingly fast fliers, with superlative stealth systems.
The ideal scouts, in fact.

"Do!" the leader of Charlie Fireteam, the other half of her squad, ordered over the radio, "get
those AA-Hornets set up!"

"Alpha-one's operational," she replied, checking the status on her casecreen, "and alpha-two is
being loaded right now." She paused. "We've got four Spada up, too."

"Good. Make sure you tag'em into the Foxtrot-Oscar network when you're done. Over and out."
That was when the booming announcement resounded, the echoes shaking dust from the walls

"Surrender," it said, calm and impassive, eminently reasonable. "We offer you a chance to
surrender. Just surrender, and accept our entirely reasonable demands. There are much worse
things out there than us, and we shall protect you from them. That is what we have done for
billions of your years, and that is what we shall continue to do. Be not afraid."

"Sanginoji progogandi," muttered Rereny, next to her, in her irritation applying the grammatical
rules of Nazzadi to an English word.

Xuan paused. Yes, that was it. She had her provisional instructions.

Eliminate all witnesses if possible, then prepare for additional instructions.

"Baguna, Nahuel, you're on overwatch. Maintain radio silence until you have positive contact,"
she ordered. "Rereny, you're with me. Cover me while I check the feed." The rest of her squad
moved to obey.

Pulling out her casescreen, already connected up to her AICS, she opened up the control
window, with codes that she shouldn't have known, and turned back on the full-integration
networking. Which absolutely, completely, utterly should not have been active when facing the
Migou, and their superlative grasp of technology.

A coordinate was quickly put into an insecure datafeed, and then, before the artillery strike had
even hit Charlie Fireteam, summoned in precisely on the cache they were preparing, she was up.

"Behind you!" she gasped at Rereny, her own rifle already raising, and as the woman turned, she
shot her in the back of the head, a cluster of three bullets at point blank range. Settling back
down, rifle aimed at the door, she took a deep breath, and controlled her voice.

"Baguna, Nahuel, get here," she ordered, the measured tone of a NCO deliberately underlain
with a hint of hysteria. "Rereny is down, needs medical assistance!"

The cautious movement through the ruins, to get to her position, was designed to make them
harder targets for any snipers. All it did was meant that they were moving slower, and thus they
were easier targets. The seeker took Nahuel in the chest, the explosive charge smearing him over
the walls. Baguna was knocked out by the blast, bleeding from multiple puncture wounds in his
SP-armour. Another cluster of bullets to the head finished him off.

Yes. Good. It was now clear.

"Operative in place," she said, rattling off her identification code into the unsecured link.
"Security is maintained. Requesting briefing."

The voice was sibilant, thin, whispering.


Good it said. We now have access to your Armour Internal Command System. Necessary data
alteration has been performed. Stand by for instructions.

~'/|\'~

"How... how, I would like to ask you, did a fucking Blank manage to get past all those scans to
be able to get far enough in to be able to take out a fucking Marshal!" Colonel Oxanna swore,
pacing up and down in the observation chamber. "I am going to be bringing in so many fucking
internal investigators that people won't be able to take a step without getting probed!"

Agent Kaji, in his role as the local representative of the Global Intelligence Agency looked up
from his PCPU, face grim. "Because I'm beginning to suspect that she wasn't a Blank. Even
before we get back the results from the trawl. Just a common , garden-variety traitor. Mind
changed through persuasion... not even trauma, that leaves characteristic mental patterns which a
trawl, or if she were ever pulled in for a deep scan, might get." He shook his head. "So much
harder to catch, and..."

"... and we have a tendency to neglect that possibility, because of how we know Blanking
works," continued a female GIA agent with coffee-coloured skin, somewhat more neatly dressed
than her co-worker. "That is to say, how we know that it works; Blanks can't be turned or
compromised or feel regrets... unless it serves their objectives, of course... unlike someone who
just chose to work for the Migou. So we're more scared of it. But these damn Migou operatives,
they're trained not to think about what they're doing. Even a surface sweep from a trawl, or a
parapsychic mind-reader won't catch them."

"Three-hundred-and-seventeen LITAAI subroutines were dedicated to an analysis of her


background, as directed," reported COEUS, its ARvatar suddenly appearing, and making several
people in the room jump. "Attempting to correlate relationships, to build up who subject's cell is.
The report is now complete."

"Thank you, COEUS," Colonel Oxanna said, her tone clipped. "Forwards the results to the GIA,
EuroHighCom, C2, and to Vice Marshal Slavik."

"Understood, Colonel." The virtual 'presence' of the TITAN departed.

"You really think we'll get back anything meaningful?" a man in a white coat asked, one
eyebrow raised. "You know how the bugs like their operational security."

Kaji winced. "It could have been worse. Could have been another Anchorage incident."

Most of the room shuddered at that. It had been much, much earlier in the war, and the NEG
correspondingly less aware of what the Migou could do. As it turned out, what they could do was
conceal a tiny amount of antimatter, approximately two milligrams, in a tiny, sorcerously
reinforced arcanomagnetic containment field, planted in an adjunct to a senior member of the
North American Command. It would not work now; the magnetic field and the sorcery were
blatant if you were aware of what you were looking for. But back then, they had not known. The
resultant blast had decapitated the Regional command structure, and in the chaos, a massive
Migou attack had hit. And Alaska had fallen.

As a result, the people in this room, in the here and now, were more than a little concerned about
what might be coming next.

"Do we have a secure link to Vice Marshal Slavik yet, COEUS?" Colonel Oxanna asked.

"Yes. Quantum link prepared. Please report to Communications Room 03, Colonel."

She glanced around the room, over through the one way glass, to where the traitor was being...
well, it had started as a vivisection, but after the tiny charge the bugs had evidently built into the
back of her Eyes to detonate at a full level mental trawl had gone off, it had turned into a
dissection. It had been just enough to release one of their tailored chemicals which caused rapid
neural degradation, making her brain useless for the extraction of data. She shared a glance with
Ryoji... no, Agent Kaji, in these circumstances. There was almost certainly a Migou-cult
operating here. Except that wasn't quite the right word. They weren't cultists, in the same sense
that the Dagonites, or other ENE-worshipping fools were. They were more akin to trained cells,
of people who actually believed that submission to the Migou was the best thing that humanity
could do to ensure its own survival. They were dangerous, because they were comparatively
sane. They didn't sacrifice people to dark entities, or set up child molestation rings, or smuggle
captives off to the Dagonite camps. They just stayed in position, the rare few communications
following ingenious paths to get to them. Just stayed there, living normal lives, watching,
waiting.

Until they did something like this.

As she strode down the corridor, and was subjected to the necessary security checks, Colonel
Oxanna Kristos really wished that they didn't do things like this. Adjusting her beret, she entered
the communications room. Only one other person was there, his image displayed in her Eyes,
with the possible addition of COEUS, a nebulous blue presence, depending on how one
classified the TITAN.

"Sir," she said, saluting her direct superior. Although she was only a Colonel, an O-6, and he was
a Vice Marshal, an O-9, she was nevertheless his direct subordinate, attached directly to his
command. She served as his liaison, and as a field command officer; a specialist in psychological
warfare and the strategic use of terror best deployed to where she was needed, rather than
holding a permanent command.

More unofficially, she was his left hand, his sinister hand, for experimental projects, black
operations, and things that the Army as a whole wanted kept at a step away from High
Command. Things like the Army Special Weapons Division and the Evangelion Group, in fact.
Slavik paused, his image clear enough that even the beads of sweat on his forehead were visible.
"COEUS," he told the TITAN, "return the optimal strategy, assuming the Migou do attack with a
Level 4 attack force."

"Level 4?" Oxanna echoed, the data in her Eyes bringing her up to date.

"Yes." The man's face was grim. "That's assuming they use all the potential assets. They've been
planning this, Colonel. The TITANs have noted a slight shift in troop rotations over the last two
months; just slightly more coming in than being cycled out, but no increase in frontline troops.
And, of course, the establishment of one of their forwards repair bases for capital ships."

The blond shook her head. That was not good.

"Computation complete," COEUS reported. "Assuming a typical Level 4 force, there is an


approximately 70% chance that they will break through at Nova Kakhovka. Forces stationed
there are insufficient. If all available military forces are scrambled, the probability is reduced to
approximately 55%. Casualties will be severe even in the case of success."

Colonel Kristos leaned forwards. "And if field-capable prototypes are deployed as well?" she
asked, supported by her superior's nod.

"Unknown. There is a lack of data."

"Extrapolate from file EVA_02_25092091, then!"

A pause. "Breakthrough probability is reduced to approximately 45%. Error bars are plus or
minus 10%."

The two humans shared a glance over the link. "Not good enough," Slavik said.

"By pulling the majority of the forces at Nova Kakhovka back to Position Alpha-Indigo-Xray-
Xray One-Zero-Zero-Six, the line can be restablished," COEUS added. "Moreover, Nova
Kakhovka will be an inviting location for their own fortifications. By pre-emptively use of
strategic-yield weaponry while they set up, a favourable outcome, within the limits of this
scenario, can be achieved."

Slavik paused, leaning his head on one hand. "Define 'favourable outcome', COEUS," he
ordered.

"They all die," stated the TITAN, impassively.

"That'll do," said the Vice Marshal. "Colonel, obtain the data from COEUS. Tell Brigadier
Anama to base his plans on its scenarios." He paused. "And there's one more thing. About
Evangelion Unit 02..."
~'/|\'~

To a human, it would have been night-dark inside the hold. To a baseline-Nazzadi, it would have
been dimly lit.

But to the Loyalists, both conventional and Elite, it might as well have been midday, for all the
difference it made to their implants.

Rack upon rack upon rack of main battle mecha were stacked there, ready in position for a
combat drop from the inside of the Drone Ship. The faint blue lights marking the path up to their
cockpits were, in fact, the main source of illumination in this cavernous space. Back in the First
War, they would have been all colours; relying on a lack of cohesiveness and distinction to force
the foe into suboptimal firing choice. And, more subtly, the Migou had not wished for the
Nazzadi to win to easily. It had been part of their plan for both sides to be heavily mauled, such
that the Nazzadi would not think of expansion into the outer system. That had been stripped from
them by the grim necessities of the Second Arcanotech War, though; the same greys and greens
and blues that the New Earth Government used were now also present on the Nazzadi mecha.

And then there were the mecha of the Elite. The lesser Nazzadi used units which were still built
with human-level technology. They were cheap, expendable, and could be repaired by the
Loyalists. The Elite did not; their machines were sleek, almost techno-organic, but approaching
the line from the other side. They were not flesh merged with machine; they were machine so
advanced that it had almost become flesh. In some of the more specialised ones, the pilots were
fused with the machine, little more than another processing centre for the Migou-designed
machinery. For the others, the cockpit was more akin to an iron maiden, an-inwards facing coffin
of fine nails designed to make the flesh and the machine twinned in unity.

Red eyes. Glinting red eyes, everywhere, reflecting the hints of light like a cat's eye.

A signal was sent around, instructions to the computational equipment in the cerebrums of every
member of Homo sapiens nazzadi present, alerting them that it was time. In neat, organised
ranks, they filed, climbing the ladders to their assigned craft. Slowly, the light levels in the craft
increased, bringing it up to the daylight outside, to give them a chance to adjust. There was
camaraderie, and bickering going on from the more normal Nazzadi, dialogue and attitudes that
would have been scarily familiar to anyone from the New Earth Government.

There was none from the Elite. They knew what they had been instructed to do, and they were
ready. There was nothing else that needed to be said. They would survive, or they would not;
either way, they would complete their missions.

And if they did not survive, well, their knowledge would live on, ready to go into the melange
which new Nazzadi, grown in the facilities in the Asteroid Belt, would be decanted with. It was
immortality, of a sort; all that was worthy, useful of you would live on in others.
The hatches were sealed. The motion felt, as the Drone ship folded back up, the armoured
landing area folding back as a ribcage would into its hull.

A faint buzzing. A thin whisper. The noises of one of their masters, emulating human speech
through the motions of their wings.

the sensory data is such that it has been determined that the forces of the New Earth Government
are retreating it whispered, in the Nazzadi language. this was expected and desired; there will be
no changes to the plan. The buzzing shifted, the tone sounding almost satisfied. your duty is to
strike and harass their fleeing forces, while your kin hold the new conquests until the capital
defences are set up; that is all that matters.

A cheer rose through the hollow space; a jeer of victory foretold.

There was a second message for the Elite, uploaded straight to their cerebral cortices. They did
not hear it; they merely remembered hearing it.

they will be targeted, it told them. they are a diversion. The facility identified as 'Testing Facility
2501' must be destroyed, for it cannot be captured, and cannot be permitted to exist in hostile
hands. Let nothing escape.

There was no cheer from them. Only silent acknowledgement.

~'/|\'~

Asuka Langley Soryu donned her plug suit with all the solemnity of a medieval knight preparing
for battle. And for much of the same reasons. The black undersuit; soft and padded, came first,
covered in interface ports and conduction mechanisms. A press of the button at the neck, and the
suit suddenly contracted, the memomaterials hugging up to her like a second skin. Next came the
outer layer, the crimson carapace obvious to the rest of the world. "02" was emblazoned just
above her breastbone; she had got permission to put the white hand and triangle of the Soli Vodi
Dexti on her right shoulder. Thicker, clumsier, it was nevertheless there for a very good reason,
as an impact and acceleration suit, as well as functioning as full ANaMiNBC protection should
she find herself out of her Evangelion. That was vital. Berlin-2 wouldn't be permitted to happen
again. Last came the cowl, the plated material folding out from a collar on the outer skin, to
cover the A10 superconducting QUI Devices. A hiss, and it sealed itself. Her face was a thin
mask of pale flesh, a heart-shape rimmed by her brow line and her jaw.

All she had to do input a few commands, and the plug suit attached itself to the A10s, and to the
ports for her Eyes, just under both earlobes, and she was ready. Eyes reflexively flicking back
and forwards, she read the feed from the local fork of Gehirn, Unit 02's Ouranos LITAN, and
nodded once, in satisfaction. Another perfect plug-suit set up. Naturally.
"COEUS, I am ready," she informed the TITAN, as she stretched, the bulk weighing her down. It
seemed sometimes like the plug suit was accumulating mass as she got older; years ago, it has
just been the undersuit, but they kept on refining the technology.

"Good," was the LAI network's response. It paused. "Colonel Kristos is coming to see you for a
tactical briefing," it added.

The girl tilted her head slightly. "Hmm. We will be retreating," she said, with narrowed eyes. "I
don't like it, but it's the only sensible thing."

The bluish-light of the ARvatar of the TITAN pulsed in her Eyes. "Why do you believe that?" it
said, in the same neutral tone.

"Two reasons, COEUS," she said, the smirk not quite overcoming the frown of annoyance.
"Firstly, after the loss of one capital grade defence, Nova Kharakhov will be very hard to hold.
You'll have been unable to properly decide what I could do in the defence due to lack of data,
and the fact that my AT-Field ruins your statistical databases. And the stupidity of the Army
means that they won't be willing to risk it, even though I know that I can pull it off."

The TITAN was silent.

"You will've come to that line of logic," Asuka said, leaning forwards, blue Eyes shining.
"You're conservative, COEUS. Just something to do with how your LAI programmes interact...
your personality, if I were to anthromorphise you. Like RHEA, and not like CRIUS. Uncle Cal
always says that it's funny how your emergent 'personalities' are different."

"What is the second reason?" it asked, its voice even a hint more mechanical than usual.

Asuka shrugged. "'Cause if we were going into action now, she'd have been briefing me in the
entry plug, not externally," she said with a smirk.

"Then why would I insist that you wear your plug suit?" came a voice from behind her.

"Because you're afraid that the Migou will be targeting Facility 2501 and want to have me ready
to pilot in case they break through before they can get 02 into the transports." Asuka rolled her
eyes as she turned. "It's not exactly hard to work out. The entire fact that they're hitting Nova
Kharakhov, rather than Gladiator or Sentinel," two of the purpose-build military facilities along
the line, "suggests that they're after something." The girl frowned. "And the way that they got
Marshal Hassan suggests they have enough infiltrators in place to know about it."

"Continue that line of logic, then, Asuka," said Oxanna, tilting her head slightly.

The girl smiled. "Which means that the retreat is just an opportunity for the counterattack," she
said, confidently. "You're going to let them have 2501; why does it matter, when you've got rid
of everything important from it, especially me and Unit 02. And considering our position...
you're going to hit them, because they'll have to overextend to hit 2501. Which means that I'll be
spearheading the counterattack, because that's exactly what I've trained to do. A Evangelion
doesn't take and hold ground; it smashes weak spots and flanks, eliminating specific targets. It's a
lance, perfect for a counterattack backed up by naval support."

"No." The words were flat, measured. "That is incorrect."

"B-b-but," Asuka stammered, "that's the optimal use of an Evangelion, tactically and
strategically! It's what I've trained for! I can do it!"

The blond woman stared at the girl, dressed up in the thick, almost slightly insectoid, from the
smooth lines and the bumps on the head which marked the place of the A10 clips, without overt
emotions. "You are being moved back to Ostberlin-2. You are not a front-line soldier, not yet,
and so it is not appropriate to use you in that fashion. You are still a Test Pilot."

"I-I-I..." The girl was almost incoherent, before her shoulders slumped. "I understand," she said,
eyes closed and downcast. "Can't I even..."

"No. Unit 02 is being attached to a Phoenix for transport. You will be riding in-plug, back to
Ostberlin." Colonel Kristos' face softened. "If what I've heard is true," she said, reaching out to
lift Asuka's chin, "it's probably going to be moved over to Chicago-2, for final field tests. You'll
be able to..."

One black-gauntleted hand, the thinner material around the hands a different colour, batted the
hand away. "Don't patronise me; I said I understand," the girl hissed, turning on her heel, and
stalking off. "I'll be getting this... this toy checked over by professionals," she said, jabbing
herself in the chest, "since obviously the SecondChild can't be trusted that her plug suit is
operational on her own."

The blond gritted her teeth, eyes narrowed, but said nothing, and let Asuka go.

~'/|\'~

Through the line of defence, the oncoming Migou forces swept; like the onrushing tide they
washed away the bastions of defence, weakened by the withdrawal. The skies were filled with
the booms of their hypersonic craft tearing through the air, as, below the contrails of warped air,
the vast, heavy shapes of Migou craft moved their own stationary capital grade defences
forwards, deploying the new additions on site. The lines had move forwards, and Containment
was proceeding on the third planet in a horribly contaminated system.

This was the Aeon War.


~'/|\'~
Chapter 9: Chapter 8: Rei 01, Something White

Chapter 8

Rei 01, Something White / As if just there, though an immortal, she felt cruel pain.

EVANGELION

~'/|\'~

Every Angel is terror. And yet,


ah, knowing you, I invoke you, almost deadly
birds of the soul. Where are the days of Tobias,
when one of the most radiant of you stood at the simple threshold,
disguised somewhat for the journey and already no longer awesome
(Like a youth, to the youth looking out curiously).
Let the Archangel now, the dangerous one, from behind the stars,
take a single step down and toward us: our own heart,
beating on high would beat us down. What are you?

The Second Duino Elegy


Rainer Maria Rilke

~'/|\'~

A Day That Has Past


A Time Which Is Now

Representative Gendo Ikari stared at the projected screen. He adjusted his glasses, pushing them
back up onto the bridge of his nose.

"Activate."

"What's the first thing you remember?"

The buzz of the Technical Centre started up again. Status updates came from all the technicians,
staring down at the white-painted behemoth that stood, restrained to the wall, before them.
"Connect internal power supply to all circuits," ordered Dr Akagi. "Initialise connection of
exterior power in T-minus twenty seconds."

Feeling rather useless, Major Misato Katsuragi, Director of Operations for Project Evangelion,
and the woman who would be responsible for tactical command of this Unit if this test
succeeded, did the best thing she could, and crossed her fingers. One hand unconsciously crept to
the bulge under her uniform, where her cross-shaped necklace hung .

"What is the first thing you remember?"

"Main power system connected," reported Lieutenant Ibuki, heading up the team of nine
Operators running in full immersion mode, down in the Magi tanks. "Activation system online.
We are ready to begin adjustment of attunement pattern at your signal, doctor."

"Who are you?

Dr Ritsuko Akagi looked around the observation chamber. The Representative stood closest to
the diamond viewing plates, Deputy Representative Fuyutsuki taking up his customary position
just behind the younger man. In a very real sense, despite the fact that she was the Director of
Science for Project Evangelion, and the Director of the Evangelion Group (as was customary for
the eponymous Project of a Group), the Evangelions were not hers. Both men, the former a
prodigy sorcerer who had climbed the ranks of the Foundation with almost indecent speed, the
latter a legend in the field of arcanobiology, as the man who had done the first systematic study
on the variant hominids known as 'ghouls', were much more tied to it than she was, had been
involved in it longer than she had. It was theirs.

The woman ran her tongue over her lips, and swallowed, watching the digits count down in her
harcontacts, time-as-volts ticking down until the critical activation voltage was hit.

This Test Pilot Candidate shouldn't fail. Not like almost all the other ones before her.

"Who are you?

"It's reached," announced Lieutenant Aoba, the man leaning forwards towards his screen, his
long hair tyed back, for once, in a ponytail. "Attunement is in process. Synchronisation is non-
zero... 0.04... 0.13... rising."

"We're getting some fluctuations here," Maya's voice, coming in over the speakers in the room,
said. "She's... no... we're stabilising. Subject is forming an EFCS Type-1 Attunement.
Synchronisation is... clarifying second order harmonics... third order... yes, we have a stable
animaneural wavefunction."

"Who are you?"

"Start Phase III," ordered Dr Akagi.


"Who am I?

"Plug is level 2. Beginning test sequence."

"LITAN feed is clear... reports from in-Unit correlate with external feeds."

"Feeding external power to non-vital systems. Right arm... left arm... all limbs are powered."

"Releasing limited motor controls. D-Brakes are operating at full capacity."

Slowly, ponderously, like the upswing of some vast pendulum, Unit 00 raised its head, to stare
directly at the onlookers. It was just an illusion, though; it couldn't actually see them. Not
through the reflective surface. Could it?

Was it really just staring at its own reflection?

"Absolute borderline in... 0.5..."

"Who are you?"

"... 0.4..."

"Who are you?"

"...0.3..."

"Who are you?"

"...0.2..."

"Get away from her!"

"...0.1..."

"..."

"I know who you are."

"The pulses are flowing back! Chaotic breakdown in AN-waveform!"

"EFCS-2! Mode has flipped to EFCS-2! No... back to EFCS-1!"

"Synchronisation is constant!"

"What?" Dr Akagi spun, to stare at the unfortunate civilian technician. "That doesn't even make
sense! Abort! Break the connection!"
Straining, the white giant fought against its bonds, the dimensional technology that wrapped over
its hull trying to keep it in place. It was fighting a losing battle. A deep-bass roar, that shook the
gut and the walls alike, emanated from the beast as it fought its bonds. Its one red eye swept
from side to side, with jerking, wrenching motions. The deep crackle of breaking ceramics
accompanied each jerk of its head.

"D-Brakes are failing! We have an AT-Field! Systematic breakdown of r-state differenatiation!"

"Abort!" barked Dr Akagi. "Operators, break all connections, raise plug to level 0."

A cacophony of screams buzzed through the speakers, made mechanical by the limits of the
technology. In Ritsuko's harcontacts, the icons for four of the operators went yellow; two more
were a fatal red.

"My...m-my DMIN is stable," blurted out Maya, the pain evident in her voice, "b-b-but the Unit
just attacked the retrieval process. My... my... that wasn't the LITAN... only just enough time to
cut before it broke thr..."

"Mute the Magi link," ordered Gendo Ikari, coldly, the LAIs complying with his orders and
silencing the Operators. "Cut external power, blow the D-Engines."

The shutdown of the external power was immediately effective. Together, the legs and the arms
slumped loose, swinging back down to slam into the wall, tearing chunks out of it as they
impacted again and again. The head still wrenched, that same bass roar filling the air, but then
the charges placed on the D-Engines mounted in the torso blew, shattering the power sources
safely. The design for such tests was quite clear; it should always be possible to cut all power.
All that the Evangelion, when set up like this, had access to at this moment were the life-support
batteries, and they were on a completely different power circuit to the armour systems.

There was a communal sigh of relief from the observation room, now that the Evangelion was
now back under control, and a set of blessings for the people who had been careful to ensure that
the Unit failed-to-safe.

An almost animalistic cry of rage and terror and pain, made worse by the fact that the voice that
cried out was unmistakably human.

"No!" A shrieked exclamation.

White fog; surrounding, enveloping, obfuscating everything.

"What are you doing with her?"

"You will be a god among men."

Evidently, someone had forgotten to inform Unit 00 of this.


In a single, terrible motion, it tore itself loose of the wall, the barrage of broken connections and
constraints impacting like an artillery bombardment against the other side. Fighting the inertia-
thieves of the D-Brakes, the vast body slammed itself back into the wall, crushing the
sophisticated technology with sheer bulk. The shift in its inertial mass only aided it, as it pushed
off from the wall and crushed its front in the same manner.

In terror, the onlookers stared, and the one vast eye of the Unit stared back.

"Initialise TCP-7!" ordered Representative Ikari, the red eye reflected in his own orange glasses.

Softness, gentleness, calm. All was fogged light, but it did not matter, for two vast hands held
her, and rocked her from side to side.

A children's rhyme, fumbled by someone who only half-remembers the words.

"You will show men that they do not need gods."

And then she was plunged into warmth and darkness.

Roaring, screaming, Unit 00 began to scrabble at its own back with fingers locked into claws.
With another impact which shook the room, it pushed backwards into the other wall, and that
was enough, for the superstructure snapped of this armoured shell, designed to take a point-blank
nuclear blast. It had been ravaged impossibly by the impact with a cleanness which brute force
should not have achieved. The containment protocols that Gendo Ikari had ordered were already
kicking in, as jets of hard-setting plastic began to coat the white a dull brown, but it seemed
unlikely that they would be enough.

[WARNING! AT-FIELD DETECTED!] reported a dumb LAI, audible even over the
tumultuous chaos of the titan's violence.

Yet it seemed that escape was not the beast's goal, even as the bass took on a strange, shrill
whistling.

Black and white blur to make grey, a finger retracts.

The damage done to its own back was enough to get a finger under the armour plating that
protected the plug.

The look of horror on the bearded man was indescribable. "Rei! No!" he yelled, face as pale as
death.

"I see you."

With both hands, the titan tore at its own back, reaching up and around with inhuman flexibility.
With both hands, it flensed the white plating, and tore at its own implants. With both hands, the
flagellant sought its own plug. Gory ichor, dark and septic, ran down, to swirl and mix with the
constraining fluid, but the beast did not care, and indeed the shrill noise began to ululate, in a
cacophony that sounded all too much like celebration.

"My baby..."

One vast finger crushed the exposed end of the entry plug.

And the beast went limp. Legs now sealed in hard-setting plastic (though the onlookers now
doubted how effective it would really be), it fell backwards, pivoting at the knees, to slam into
the floor with one last terminal impact. Wounded, self-maimed, the fallen titan lay upon its back,
dark seas of ichor and tainted plastics pooling around it like some perverse cloak around its white
hide.

"Rei!" roared Gendo, in a cry of horror, as he sprinted out of the control room, his glasses falling
from his face to land with a snap on the ground. Ritsuko watched him go, and glanced down at
the fallen Evangelion, before screwing her eyes shut. She did not see, minutes later, Gendo rush
across the floor of the test chamber, only wearing a protective suit because the medical team
behind him had forced him to put one on as they waited for the airlock to cycle.

No, she knew how badly she had failed.

Standing behind the behemoth, the man could see the damage in a much more personal way. He
was already knee deep in the dark blood of the Evangelion, and was having to wade against the
slowly decreasing flow. The transparent faceplate of the suit was blacked out in wide areas, the
autocensors doing their best. With a few words, he overrode them, to turn down the filter level.
The LAI's protests were ignored; he needed to see what he was doing. Hooking his fingers into
the fibrous musculature and broken armour of the Evangelion, he began to climb, up to the
partially protruding plug.

The end of the metallic cylinder was a mess, crumpled and crushed by the two impacts. By his
estimation, a third one would have wrecked it completely. The second might have been enough,
he thought, with a sinking heart, but those thoughts were discarded as he clambered along the
plug, a crumpled metal ladder barely enough of a foothold for feet slick with ichor. The damage
made it easier to balance on top of the cylinder, but he was still perilously close to slipping as he
made his way down it.

With his suited hands, Gendo grabbed the twisted metal around the largest tear in the outer shell
of the tube, and pulled. The metal was sharp, and the gloves of the containment suit, although
insulated, were not enough. Screaming into the helmet as blood seeped from his palms, he
levered open the shattered plug, and clambered inside, screaming again as the edges tore at his
back.

The remnants of the LCL that pooled in the nooks and crannies were much redder than normal.

Rei was on her back, still in the pilot's seat, almost inverted from the angle at which the Eva lay.
This was not by choice; the control yokes were crushing her midsection, the structure of the plug
warped and bent such that they were rammed into her abdomen. It was, in fact, probably the only
reason she had not been thrown free by the impact with the ground. Her plug suit, just the
undersuit for the test, was lacerated all over; red blood welling up white fabric and white skin.
Her breaths were laboured, wet-sounding; she had evidently managed to hack up enough LCL to
have marginally functional lungs, but the red drool which stained her lips pink told Gendo just at
sight that her lungs had been severely damaged by the effort. It was a marvel that they hadn't
collapsed.

And then there was her face. Almost unconsciously, he had been skipping over her face, which
lay limp against the headrest. Because one eye, her left one, was a ruined mess, perforated by
shrapnel, the ruined eye spilling forth from the socket. The other eye was closed.

Gendo Ikari had seen worse. But he had not seen much worse for someone who survived, and
not in a long time.

"Rei," he gasped, through the pain in his hands and his back. "Rei? Are you alive?"

Slowly, wonderfully, the intact eye crept open, a dilated pupil nevertheless focussing on him.
She gurgled something through ruined, fluid-filled lungs.

The man smiled, even as the rescue team climbed in behind him, having coated the edges with
plastic to make them safer, and widened the hole. "Good," he said, before turning his attention to
the others. "Get her to an LCL tank," he ordered. "Keep her alive." And with that said, he
collapsed, as the pain overcame him.

The first medical team called for a second one.

~'/|\'~

24th September, 2091

"Well, I'm rather surprised," Ritsuko said, running down the details in the file on the desk in
front of her. "I will, of course, defer to your expertise in your field, Dr Tam, but..." she left the
statement hanging.

"No, no," the younger man said. "I'm really rather surprised, too. I did not expect this at all. But,"
he shifted in his seat, in front of Ritsuko's desk, "well, he's mostlybored. Well, and a little
irritable from the sympathetic burns, but that's natural." He snorted. "Most people tend to be."

"I see," the blond said, running her eyes over the file. "Well, we'd always suspected that the
EFCS-1 would provide better anti-AWS shielding than the Type-2," she said, almost to herself,
"but this... well, we'd need a bigger sample pool before we could say so."
"I believe the relative lack of trauma... um, especially the psyche-corpus animaneural synthesis
issues that arose due to the sudden and traumatic loss of the eye, this time, was also a
contributing factor. From conversations with him, he was much better able to come to terms with
the fact that he has mild sympathetic burns which match with the injuries, than experiencing the
muted pain of the loss of an eye, without actually doing so."

Ritsuko looked up at him, gazing at the younger man with blue-encircled eyes. All of those were
reasonable suggestions; the man had been a prodigy of a medical doctor, before transitioning to
psychology after a nasty family-related incident, after all. That was why he had been assigned to
Project Evangelion. "Maybe," she said out loud. She wasn't willing to commit to anything. "But,
you believe that he can be released from observation?"

"Well," the man licked his lips, "erm, it would be more accurate to say that observation can be
reduced to the standard day-to-day level..." he glanced at his superior, "oh, you meant that?
Then, yes, he can be released from the Observation bay."

"Good." Ritsuko signed the document, and handed it over. "Well, I'm sure Misato will be
pleased," she said.

"And you aren't?" The tone was questioning.

Ritsuko rolled her eyes. "Please. This isn't the time for that. But I wouldn't call myself pleased,
no. Satisfied, yes. It's important to remain detached when considering these things." She held the
gaze of the brown-haired man. "We all know the issues with getting too involved in matters
which are important, don't we, doctor?"

The man took the signed document, gathering it to him, to hold, almost as a protective barrier.
"Yes," he muttered, before blinking. "Thank you, Dr Akagi, for your time," he said, more
formally. "I'll be off then."

"Yes," Ritsuko said, her head already lowered to the progress report for Unit 00.

~'/|\'~

"Potenejactakrona what!" the little black-skinned, red eyed girl screamed at him, remarkably
active for someone only just out of intensive care, before continuing to babble at him in an
incoherent pidgin of Nazzadi and English. Her friends, clustered around the bed recoiled from
the invective. A nurse rushed over at the outburst, obviously worried that she was going into
convulsions or that some other medical emergency was occurring. "No, I'm fine," Kany told the
orderly, panting, teeth locked together. "But my brother is an idiot!"
The man stared at the boy through narrowed, suspicious eyes. "She's still on the mend," he told
him, in a somewhat patronising tone of voice. "Do not agitate her, or I'll have to ask you to
leave."

Toja winced. How, exactly, had his sister's friends managed to talk him into coming with them,
to explain everything? How was it that he had been persuaded by a bunch of nine-year olds?

"I am fine, by the way," said the dark-haired one, Imi, the girl who had been the reason for him
running out.

"And what did you think you were doing, huh?" continued Kany, turning her head to stare at her
friend. "Why'd you run out! You know we're not meant to!"

"I did not run out..." The little girl blinked under the glare from the red eyes. "Oh. Because I
needed my injectors, and they don't keep spares down in the bunkers, only under the desk. It was
necessary." She seemed almost pleading. "You know I need them. Otherwise I get very ill."

The little nazzady relented a little. "Well... maybe. But," she yawned, "but it was silly of both of
you. Well, it was silly of you, Imi, and stupid of you, bro."

There was an awkward pause. It wasn't helped in Toja's books by how much Kany managed to
sound like their mother had. The voice was younger, higher, but the intonations were near
identical.

Toja raised his hand slowly. "Um... can I have back my manuprokedi? Since you're out of the
tube..."

She shook her head.

"Awwww, come on. Why can't I?"

"Punishment! For making me worry like this when I'm sick and all that."

"I am sorry," he said, the guilt hitting him again, dropping his head.

"You should be!" Kany drew a breath, and seemed to calm down a bit. "Now, come on... not my
stupid brother... but what have I missed?"

A boy grinned. "There hasn't been any school at all," he said, "'cause the school building got
damaged and stuff... I can see it from the observation place, and there's a big tent thing whole
area, and silvery dust everywhere. And really cooooool machines sucking it up. So we get to just
do stuff."

Kany pouted. "Bleargh. I'm still in this bed, haven't relearned to walk yet, and I'm not even
missing school."
A little girl, her hair platinum blond, poked him in the side, while the conversation continued.
"Well, I think it was pretty cool," she whispered to him, gazing up at the tall boy with eyes that
he suddenly realised were adoring. "And tonnes of us agree. You're totally like some kind of
fairytale prince, coming back with..." she giggled, "Princess Imi and stuff. Of course, Imi isn't a
very good princess. She played the witch in the school play," she informed him, with all apparent
seriousness.

"Ah," was all that Toja could manage.

"So... you know, if you're looking for a princess..." The ten-year old, her t-shirt covered in
childish entopics, smiled shyly at him, then headed over to the rest of the group.

This was... awkward. Of all the consequences of leaving the bunker, he had never expected his
little sister's friends getting a crush on him to be one of them. A talk with the FSB over the
breach of Bunker Security, yes, an immediately scheduled meeting with a counsellor from the
Health Service to look for any instability induced by the exposure to the being (fortunately fairly
small, and Toja could live with bad dreams), yes, immediate scans, for the second time that day,
for any contamination, yes.

At least one nine-or-ten-year old getting a crush on him, no. And there was another thing that
he'd have to do, too, because of what had happened on that Wednesday.

He was going to have to handle them both like a man would handle them.

For this problem, Toja ran away.

~'/|\'~

25th September, 2091

Of all the unfair things in Shinji Ikari's life, the fact that the Academy has classes on Saturday
morning had to be pretty low down the priority list, all things considered. It wasn't as if he wasn't
used to it, after all; the Academy back in Toyko-3 had been the same. But this morning, of all
mornings, he really didn't enjoy the sight of children who went to other schools who were getting
to hang around in normal clothing, not the high-collared black overcoat of the Academy, and
make remarks at him and the other students on the maglev.

I mean, it's not like they even need to be up this early, he thought to himself. For me to see them
on the way to school, they'd have had to get up that early, and not chosen to lie in at the
weekend. Are they doing it just to rub it in our faces?
And talking of rubbing in faces, Shinji had been somewhat surprised when the boy who had
punched him in the face, and that one with glasses who had been hanging around with the rather
attractive Nazzadi girl, came up to him, with a special request. In fact;

"Actually, why are you here?" Shinji asked the human boy, Kensuke. "I mean, you didn't hit
me..."

The brown-haired boy blushed slightly, and glanced sideways at Toja. "He said he'd hit me if I
didn't come to apologise too," he explained. "It's... it's sort of my fault that he found out, because
Taly and me were the ones who sort of worked out a link."

"So why isn't she here?"

Toja gritted his teeth. "I couldn't really threaten her in the same way as Ken, here."

Shinji raised his eyebrows. "Chivalry?"

Kensuke shook his head, with a hint of a grin creeping onto his face. "Nope. She'd kick him in
the balls again. She's... she's kinda heavily into her martial arts. 'Specially hun zuti."

"We're getting off topic," Toja said somewhat hastily, with what Shinji suspected was a hint of
remembered pain creeping into his expression. The boy straightened up again. "Mr Ikari," he
said, in a formal manner, "I want you to punch me. So that we'll be even."

"In that case, shouldn't I punch you twi... no, I'm not going to get started on that." Shinji blinked.
"Why? I mean, I know why I want to punch you, but why do you want me to want to punch
you?"

"See! You want to, so just do it!" The boy's jaw was stiff, his eyes closed.

"But..." Shinji drew back his fist, but paused, wavering. "I... it... it's not the same," he said out
loud, trying to work through the mess of feelings and emotions. "I mean, it was sort of my fault."

"Rubbish!" Toja snapped. "It's all my fault. I'm a hot-headed idiot who never thinks about
anything. You need to do it, I want you to do it, and it's kinda the only way to be fair!"

The Japanese boy's hand wobbled, moving back and forth. On (and with) one hand, he actually
did want to punch this guy. But... this would be in cold blood. It was completely different to
snap, and try to attack someone which angry, to just going and punching someone.

"Do it! As hard as you can! Don't hold back!"

He... he actually wants to be hurt? Why? That doesn't make sense. And... and how dare he force
me into this kind of situation! This is just a normal school day, and I'm being forced to think
about whether it's okay to hurt someone when they tell you do. Why does this happen to me!
The blow, as it happened, went low, into the taller boy's stomach, who doubled over with a
meaty-sounding oooof. Hands on thighs, the other boy began to wheeze, falling to his knees.

"You've got a nasty streak," Kensuke said, shock creeping into his voice. "Right in the gut? Not
cool." He paused. "Not cool at all."

Shinji, meanwhile, was staring down at the boy before him, guilt and just a smidgeon of self-
satisfaction blended together. The very presence of the self-satisfaction, however, was causing it
to get diluted. Because, in the boy's self-image, he wasn't the sort of person who'd do that. And
yet he just had.

"Why...the...gut..." croaked out Toja. "Meant... to be face."

"You didn't say that!" protested Shinji.

"I..." he started coughing, "I... thought... obvious."

"Not to me!" Shinji said, wincing. He paused for a moment, before adding, "And... um, well, I
didn't want to hurt my hand!"

Toja continued to cough.

"Skulls are hard," Shinji continued, realising how pathetic he sounded.

The Nazzadi boy began to emit a burbling noise. It took a few seconds, before Shinji could work
out that it was, in fact, laughter, which grew stronger as Toja pulled himself upright, face still
taut with discomfort.

"Nice one," the boy croaked. "Teach me to tell someone to do it as hard as they can, and not hold
back."

Kensuke smirked. "That's what she said," he said, almost automatically.

"Shut up, Kensuke."

Shinji stared at the pair. "You're mad," he said, slowly. "You're... you're mad. Utterly, utterly
mad."

Toja was still clutching his stomach. "Yeah," he said, looking up, "but at least we're now even."
There was something in his eyes that Shinji couldn't recognise. "Listen," he said, "I... um... I got
stuck outside... on Wednesday. Not outside outside. But in a surface building. A school."

Shinji felt his stomach boil with sudden terror. "... I," he blinked. "What... happened?" he said
softly.
There was a sudden expression of shock on Toja's face. "Oh, no," he said hastily. "No one got
hurt. But... um, I saw it."

Shinji relaxed, a sudden rush of adrenaline making him shake. "Don't say things like that," he
said. "I don't want to think that I've hurt people."

"No... no, what I mean to say is, right, I saw how that thing you're in is like.

The brown-haired boy grinned, weakly. "Thank you," he said, relief in his voice. He paused.
"Uh... why were you stuck outside," he asked, gingerly. "Was it just an evacuation thing, or..."

Toja blushed, a slight darkening of his face. "Um... no," he admitted. "I ran out to look for
someone in the class who'd gone missing."

Shinji felt his eyebrows raise without prompting. "That's pretty brave," he ventured. "I mean, I
probably wouldn't have the guts to do it."

"No, it was just stupid. It may have looked brave... I just wasn't thinking." The Nazzadi boy
blinked. "Can we just put everything behind us?" he asked.

Unnoticed, unobserved, a white-haired girl watched the scene through dead grey eyes, no
expression on her frozen face.

~'/|\'~

"Rei Ayanami." The muse's voice was calm, emotionless; disturbingly similar to the subject of
discussion, thought Misato with a shudder.

Ritsuko caught the brief twitch of emotion, and nodded, sympathetically. "Pause briefing," she
instructed the system. "I know, yes?" she said. "Spend time around her, and you start hearing her
voice everywhere," the scientist said, a hint of dark humour in her voice.

"I was trying to make a point, Rits," the Director of Operations said. "Resume briefing... pause
briefing." She glared at the blond. "And don't pause my muse without my permission," she
added. "Resume briefing."

"The subject is sixteen years old; date of birth: 5th of November, 2074. Subspecies: Homo
sapiens sidoci. Genetic parents: classified. Subject was recovered in raid on cult organisation
aged 4, and, after evaluation, was placed in state custody pending further investigation. Subject
was inducted into newly formed Test Pilot programme as the First Child immediately upon
programme formation in 2083, following discovery by Project Marduk that she possessed the
appropriate characteristic factors. She is the exclusive and designated pilot of Evangelion Unit
00, the Prototype Model. Her current legal guardian is Representative for Europe, Gendo Ikari.
The rest of her personal history is classified. Her psychological profiles are classified; a redacted
file may be viewed separately. The subject possesses intuitive extranormal waveform
manipulation capabilities, as is universal among her subspecies. These capabilities are classified;
a redacted file may be viewed separately, and they have all been classified as non-dangerous and
non-invasive."

"I think that's enough," said the Major, her tone controlled. "Now, Director of Science, why don't
you explain why your Director of Operations has almost no knowledge of one of the assets she
has to command?"

Ritsuko sighed. "Misato..."

"Don't 'Misato' me. You've dodged this point before. I saw what happened at the last Unit 00
activation test, and things destabilised in a way that they never have even looked like they might
for Shinji or Asuka. The next activation test is scheduled for next Wednesday, and I might be
kinda worried that it might happen again."

"You presume I have any more knowledge about her," the scientist retorted.

"... well, yes. The Project Marduk is part of the Evangelion Group. That means they report to
you."

Ritsuko gritted her teeth. Misato could have both a rather perceptive mind and a highly
functional memory when she put her brain to it. "And certain details are sealed even beyond
what I can view. Yes, I do know more about her, but those are technical issues. I mean, I could
ask for permission to release the details on... on the details of how her medichines react with her
immune system, say, but I'm not exactly sure how useful it will be for you, so..."

The black-haired woman ran her hand through her hair. "Sorry, Rits," she apologised. "I'm just a
little... worried."

She received a sympathetic nod in return. "I understand. But... please, don't take it out on me. We
don't think it should happen again; the issue last time... well, we're not sure what caused it, but
we suspect it may have been mental instability in the pilot."

<