-*-

	Shinji was bored out of his mind.  The teacher was
droning on about the production of afghans in Afghanistan
and the production of sweaters in Sweateristan, or some such
thing.  Shinji, on the other hand, was secretly trying to
see if he could sleep with his eyes open.

	He glanced over at Asuka, who was snoring openly,
and abandoned any effort at pretense.  His attempt at sleep
failed, however, when the loudspeaker came on.  It was
Misato.  "THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE WILL REPORT TO THE OFFICE
IMMEDIATELY. KATSURAGI SHINJI AND ASUKA.  AYANAMI REI. 
THANK YOU."

	Shinji snapped back to full wakefulness and got up. 
 
	The teacher frowned.  "This is a terrible disruption
to my class!"

	"My heart bleeds for you," Asuka said.  "Let's go! 
Must be time to save the world again!"

	"Yeah!  Kick some butt for us!"  someone shouted. 
They then tied up the teacher and put him in the closet,
after which they carried the three Children on their
shoulders to the office, where Misato was waiting for them
in her NERV uniform.  They could see a rope ladder hanging
outside the window.  "Let's go, kids." 

	They scrambled out the window and up the rope ladder
into the helicopter hovering above the school.  Kaji was
piloting it.  "Hi, kids.  How was school today?" 

	"Only slightly more fun than falling half a mile
into broken glass," Asuka said.  "So what's today's menace?" 

	"I decided we needed to take a family vacation," 
Misato said.  "We're going to rendevous with a jet which
will take us in luxury to the Riviera for a week.  Or would
you rather we go skiing again?" 

	"Commander Ikari will not be amused," Rei said,
sitting down between Shinji and Asuka in the back seats of
the helicopter.

	"Commander Ikari can kiss my butt," Misato said. 

	"Mom, YOU get to be the one who explains this to him
this time,"  Shinji said. 

	"Let's do the Riviera," Asuka said.  "We risk our
lives to save the world every day.  We deserve the best. 
And Witch Hagar will likely send the next Angel where ever
we go, anyway." 

	Misato nodded.  "And if the Riveria gets
trashed...well, France needs to contribute more to NERV
anyway.  Never let it be said that I don't take care of my
kids."

	Remarkably quickly, they were all in France,
relaxing on a nice beach in their swimsuits.  Well, Misato
thought it was nice; Shinji was nosebleeding rather heavily
because Misato had forgotten to mention it was a topless
beach.  No one else in the group seemed bothered, although
Misato whacked Kaji a few times for staring at other women.
She sometimes wondered if she should make him tattoo
'married' on his forehead.

	Having finally gotten Shinji some noseplugs so he
could go swimming with Rei without him bleeding to death (a
mother's work is never done), and helped Asuka find a nice
French boy her age to flirt with, she settled back to
sunbathe and relax before the inevitable monster attack. 
"Put some suntan oil on my back, Kaji-kun."

	"Are you sure it's not going to turn out to be the
next Angel again?" he asked, digging through her carrybag.

	"Hopefully Witch Hagar won't repeat herself.  But
scan it with the Ecto-Meter just to be sure." 

	It came up clean, so soon he was hard at work on her
back.  She relaxed under his tender ministrations, letting
sun and oil soothe away her cares.

	Asuka and her new friend Pierre le Blanc, a handsome
young blonde lad with touseled hair and blue swim trunks,
went over to the ice cream stand to get some ice cream.
"I'll have some vanilla and strawberry," she said to the
clerk, who was Bluto the Blue Troll in an ice cream seller
uniform.  Strangely, despite having fought Bluto a good
fifty times, Asuka could not recognize him.

	"And I'll have some cherry ice cream," Pierre said. 

	"We only have rocky road," the clerk said, despite
the fact that thirty other flavors were on display.

	"What's that?"  Asuka said, pointing at the vanilla
ice cream. 

	"Merely a heat induced hallucination." 

	"..." 

	"Look, take the rocky road, okay?  It's free!" 

	"Oh, well, in that case..." 

	They got two rocky roads and headed off to eat them
in peace.  Bluto got out his communicator.  "This is Bluto!" 

	Since he hadn't turned it on, nothing happened.  He
tried again, and this time, Witch Hagar appeared.  "Bluto,
have you unleashed the Ice Cream Monster yet?" 

	"People keep bothering me before I can taint all
thirty one flavors!  Also, I think I just saw one of the
pilots here." 

	"Oh come on.  What's the odds of running into
someone from Japan on the Riveria?  That you already know?" 

	"Maybe I'm just paranoid." 

	"Yes.  Now get on it!" 

	Misato and Kaji lay on the beach on lounge chairs,
relaxing.  "Isn't this better than that stuffy geofront?" 

	"Yeah," he said.  "Commander Ikari won't be happy,
though." 

	"It'll be fine.  He doesn't dare fire us.  We're 
world famous heroes.  There's even an action figure of me." 

	Her reverie was disturbed by Shinji.  "Mom, I need
an advance on my allowance.  Rei and I want to get some
lunch." 

	She dug a wad of bills out of her carrybag.  "It's
on me." 

	"Thanks, mom!"  They scampered off. 

	Seconds later, screams began to spread across the
beach in a wave.  She sighed.  "Here we go again," she said. 

	"Maybe they just took offense at Shinji's bad
French." 

	"I wish."  They could see a giant rampaging humanoid
form made from thirty one connected kegs of ice cream. 
"Witch Hagar must be REALLY reaching today."  She grabbed
her cellular from the phone and punched a button.  "We can't
even have a family vacation in peace," she grumbled. 

	"But at least we can risk a horrible death together. 
And this one will make good eating afterwards." 

	"You need to work on your snappy patter, dear," she
said, then jumped to her feet, shouting into the phone. 
"Scramble the EVAS now.  The Angel of Ice Cream has
appeared."  There was a pause.  "No, Ritsuko, I am NOT
drunk!" 

	The battle was short and fierce, once each of the
five of them got into their EVAS.  This just wasn't one of
Witch Hagar's better ideas; they didn't even have to form
Voltron to beat it, and that was rare. 

	Once everything was calm, they finally all settled
down for a nice swim on the beach, which was deserted as a
result of the fight.  "I'd almost think you staged this just
to get the beach to ourselves," Kaji said to Misato. 

	"It would have been the Angel of Beer in that case,"
Asuka said. 

	"Well, Rei and I are going to go make out in peace
now," Shinji announced.  Rei picked Shinji up and ran off at
high speed with him. 

	Asuka frowned.  "How come he gets all the girls?" 

	"Now, now, you shouldn't be jealous of your
brother," Misato said.  "The Fourth Child will be your
boyfriend, so once we find him, you'll be set for life too. 
Even Children with even, odd with odd." 

	"He's certainly got the odd part down," Asuka said. 
"Can I have some beer?" 

	Kaji tossed her one from the carrybag, and
everything irised out. 

	Misato woke up clutching her stomach, which was
mildly nauseous, and wondering if Asuka had put LSD in the
homemade pizza.  I'm never letting Asuka make saurkraut
pizza or whatever that was, ever again. 

	She rose from her bed, thinking about the dream. 
Standing by her window, she stared out across the city,
wondering why she had dreamed of being married to Kaji. 
Having Asuka and Shinji as her children she could
understand, but married to KAJI?  It wasn't that she didn't
have feelings towards him still, but the man was just...
she'd dated him once, and it had been a mixture of heaven
and hell.  He had no sense of responsibility.  Even though, 
he was obnoxious and loud and proud, she sometimes wanted him
desperately like right now.  He was everything she'd tried
to leave behind, and sometimes, it seemed like he was
everything she couldn't forget. Part of her wanted to call
him right now, while the rest couldn't forget past quarrels
and the ways he had hurt her in the past--though she'd done
her share of hurting him back. 

	Instead of dealing with it, she drifted out of her
room to check on the children.  If my iron-clad stomach
couldn't handle it, who knows how they might feel, she
thought.  She slipped down the hallway and slid open Asuka's
door.  She was sprawled out, sleeping peacefully, an arm
wrapped around a stuffed dog, which made her look like a
small child in a teenager's body.  Misato smiled faintly,
and moved on to Shinji's room. 

	Shinji was tossing and turning.  She couldn't make
out all of what he was saying, but it didn't sound very
happy.  "No, I...mean...knock it down...no...stop...I'm
sorry...I'll....fix it."  His face was contorted with fear,
and his voice sounded miserable. 

	She went over and shook him awake.  "Wake up,
Shinji." 

	He mumbled incoherently and opened his eyes. 
"Mo...Oh.  Hi, Misato.  Angel show up or something?" 

	"You were having a nightmare.  Are you okay?" 

	"My stomach hurts." 

	"I'll get you some Pepto.  Mine feels queasy too.  I
think we won't be trying 'German Pizza' again."  She tried
to decide whether to pry about what he had dreamed.  "You
just wait here." 

	"Okay." 

	Soon, chalky pink fluid settled both their stomachs.  "I
wish LCL tasted like this," Shinji said. 

	"I'll see what Ritsuko can do."  She laughed.  "New
Winter-Fresh LCL, from Akagi Laboratories." 

	They both laughed, and soon enough they were both
ready to go back to sleep.  "I hope we're not too much of a
bother to you," Shinji said as she headed for the door. 

	"It's kind of nice, sometimes," Misato said.  "I
always wondered if I'd make a good mother." 

	"You'd make a lousy role model for children." 

	Misato winced. 

	"You can't cook." 

	She winced more. 

	Shinji continued blithely along, apparently not 
noticing her reaction.  "And they might die of embarrassment." 
Misato was beginning to shrink.  "But you're the only person 
I've ever lived with who actually bothered to check on me to 
see if I was okay.  You care about people, and that's what 
a mother needs most, I think.  You'd love your children.  Not 
that I know much about mothers." 

	"Thank you, Shinji." 

	"I..."  He stared at the ground.  "Did you get along
with your father?" 

	"Papa was very kind when he was around, but he was
gone most of the time on his digs, and Mom resented that.  I
did too, sometimes.  Then Mom died, and he sent me to a
boarding school, which I hated.  But I was really excited 
when he finally took me with him to Antarctica... I don't 
know why he did that. Well, other than school being out 
for the summer, but given what happened... I sometimes wonder
if he knew what was coming."

	"He wouldn't have taken you into danger if he knew
about it, would he?"  Shinji asked.  He was afraid that his 
own father wouldn't have any compunction about such a deed. 

	"I don't know.  Our house was robbed while we were
gone, and then I was in a coma for a year, so if there was
any evidence he knew left behind, it vanished.  But I hope
he wouldn't have brought me if he really knew what would 
happen."  She sighed and stared off at one of the blank 
walls of Shinji's room.  "You need some posters.  This
room is seriously boring." 

	"I like it simple." 

	"It looks like you expect to have to run for your
life and you don't want to risk leaving anything behind,"
Misato said. 

	"I just don't have any posters." 

	"We can fix that," she said, laughing. 

	The bells of doom tolled. 
 

                           -*-

               John Biles & Rod M. Present
          A Neon Genesis Evangelion Elseworlds


                 Children of an Elder God

                         Part 11

                       Snake Eyes

                           -*-

	As everyone ate breakfast, Pen-Pen squawked by the
front door.  Shinji looked over and said, "Hey, there's mail
stuck under the door." 

	It turned out to be two letters; one for Shinji, the
other for Misato.  They both opened their letters, trying to
keep Asuka from peering over their shoulders.  "C'mon,
Shinji, lemme see!" she said to him.

	"It's just another haiku," he said.  This card
showed Tokyo-3 as seen from the mountains, spread out under
a night sky, man-made stars competing with those above.
Inside, the words: 

     The stars shine brightly
     Watching over you always
     I will guard you too. 

were inscribed with precise handwriting.  It reminded him of
the dream he had of Rei.  But that was just a dream, and
this was reality.
     
	"Well, whoever it is, likes haiku."  Asuka said. 
She looked over at Misato.  "What did you get this time?" 

	"A really bad sonnet, and no you CANNOT look at it," 
Misato said, stuffing it into her pocket.

	"Hrmph," Asuka said.  Why doesn't Kaji send ME love
letters, she asked herself, not wanting to know the answer
she was starting to fear was true.

                           -*-

	It was a hot and stuffy day at Tokyo-3 Junior High,
and despite its best efforts, the air conditioning was
losing.  A great sweltering mass of hot, humid air had
settled down on the city overnight, turning it into a good
approximation of a swamp.  While the weathermen blamed some
phenomenon known as 'El Bano', everyone else just cursed the
heat.

	The entire class was drooping for two reasons.  The
first was the heat.  The second was the memory of the school
play, which still cast a pall over the class, especially
over those who had known Kensuke best.  A million rumors
were circulating; all that was known for sure was that he
was being held by NERV.  The three EVA pilots didn't want
to talk about it, as one school gossip had found out when
Asuka had hung him from the flagpole.

	Right now, the class was theoretically discussing
Japanese history.  Asuka, who couldn't have cared less on a
good day about Japanese history, was busy reading through
more of the notes she'd acquired from Kensuke's room and
speculating.  Part of her was hoping that Commander Ikari
would turn out to be in cahoots with the forces of evil so
she could squash him; she'd drawn a doodle of Unit02 doing
that in her notebook during math class. 

	The teacher said, "What were the major reasons why
the Tokugawa Bakufu collapsed?" 

	The larger part of her was trying to figure out what
the Angels WANTED.  Were they war machines?  Rahab seemed to
have existed for thousands of years.  But if they weren't
war machines, why were they waking up now?  Unless maybe
someone was waking them up deliberately.  But who?  And why? 
Some of them seemed to have cults worshiping them, if
Kensuke's notes were accurate.  Was there a global
conspiracy?  Did these people hope to use the Angels to rule
the world?  Then why were their efforts so poorly
coordinated?

	The teacher looked around at the class; no one met
his gaze.  "Anyone?  Anyone?" 

	Asuka thought that it just didn't make any sense.  A
ten year old could coordinate a better assault. On the other
hand, all their victories had been on the knife-edge, except
for Amaliel, who deserved to be the 'Angel of Weakness'.  If
they ever had to fight two Angels at once, they would be
toast.  Yet, the Angels didn't seem to have any interest in
cooperating with each other.  Why? 

	"Anyone?  Langely?"  The teacher turned expectantly
to her; despite her lack of interest, she was still usually
the best informed of his students in this particular class.

	Maybe the Angels are at war with each other, Asuka
speculated.  Some of them use humans as proxies, while
others take the more direct approach.  But why are they
coming into the open now?  It couldn't be the development of
the EVAs, which could actually kill them.  They had had
fourteen years to strike before the things were ready.  So
why?  Why now? 

	"Langely?  Langely?" 

	She tried doodling a map of the Earth and plotting
battlefields;  maybe they would make a pentagram or
something.  No such luck.  Maybe they were breaking through
from another dimension? 

	"LANGELY!" 

	She looked up in surprise.  The teacher was about
two feet away and looked irritated.  Everyone else was
staring at her.  "I want an answer, Langely!" 

	She tried to remember what class this was.  "We're
discussing 'Some Prefer Nettles', right?"

	"This is history class." 

	Everyone snickered and she blushed.  "Umm, what was
the question?"

	"Buckets.  Hallway.  Now." 

	She grumbled and went out to the hallway.  What an
utterly wretched practice, she thought.

	Behind her, the teacher said, "Do I have another
volunteer?  Anyone?  Anyone?  Ikari?" 

	Soon, she didn't have to be alone in the hallway. 
Shinji looked even more disgruntled than she did.  "Geez,
he's in a bad mood," Shinji said.

	The buckets weren't as heavy as Asuka remembered
them being from the first time she'd had to do this.  I must
be getting stronger, she thought.  Shinji didn't seem to
have any trouble, but he'd likely been doing this since he
was little.

	"This heat is just awful," she said.  "So where do
you think the Angels are coming from, Shinji?"

	"Dunno.  Aliens, I guess." 

	"So why don't they work together?" 

	"Maybe it's some kind of alien contest.  First alien
to conquer the world becomes big man on the campus.  Or
something like that.  Or they think we're so pathetic they
don't need to team up."

	"But we've killed four and captured one!  You'd
think they'd learn."

	"Maybe the ones we killed were all unpopular... 
hmmm, maybe someone who WANTS them to die is sending them
here."

	"..." 

	"Unless they manage to get some answers out of the
King in Yellow, I dunno how we'll ever find out.  Dr. Akagi
is pretty convinced they're not from Earth, but that's about
all we know."

	"If they're not, how was Rahab down there so long
that they built a city over him and worshiped him?"

	"How do you know they worshiped him?" 

	Asuka hesitated.  "They dug a tunnel straight down
to where he lived."

	"Good point."  Shinji thought for a little while. 
"Is it just me, or are these buckets lighter than they used
to be?"

	"Seems like it.  I guess we're getting stronger from
all this fighting." 

	"Well, I won't complain." 

                           -*-

	Shinji moped. 

	Asuka moped. 

	Even Pen-Pen moped. 

	The Katsuragi household had been deadly somber since
Kensuke's demise, their morale at an all-time low.  The
television droned CJNN news reports, but none were paying
any attention to it.  It was just background noise, filler
for their minds so that they wouldn't think too much about
their failure. 

	Into this gloomy atmosphere Misato crashed in, a
bundle of energy clashing with the current mood like a
polka-dot tie on a tuxedo. 

	"Hey guys!" 

	The children droned, "Hi." 

	She was underwhelmed by their response, blinking as
she put her bags down and pulled off her sunglasses.  She
knew that the kids' spirits were at an all-time low, but
hoped her news today would brighten things up, if only a
little bit. 

	"Guess what, guys?" she asked.  "Road trip!" 

	Asuka raised an eyebrow.  Shinji blinked.  Pen-Pen
squawked. 

	"Road trip?" asked Asuka.  "Where to?" 

	"Arizona!  More specifically, the NERV base over
there.  Wild wild west and all that, yeah?" 

	"What for?" asked Shinji.  "Did they find the next
Angel?" 

	Misato nodded.  "They suspect it'll attack next over
there, so we're gonna hit it before it hits us." 

	Asuka cracked her knuckles, grinning.  "Alriiiight,
ass-crushing time.  Oh... say, is Pen-Pen gonna go with us?"

	Pen-Pen blinked, realizing they were talking about
him.  He looked to Misato expectantly. 

	-Waak?-

	"No, Pen-Pen has to stay here." 

	-WAAK!-

	"But who'll take care of him?" asked Asuka. 

	-Waak waak!-

	Misato hmmed.  "Do you think your friend Hikari can
do it?" 

	-Waak?-

	"She might," said Asuka.  "I'll call and ask." 

	As Asuka departed to her room to call Hikari, Misato
turned her attention to Shinji.  While he was no longer
brooding as much as before, he was still fairly subdued. 
Misato noticed, and sat by Shinji and gently placed her hand
on his shoulder. 

	"Hey, Shinji, you okay?" 

	He shrugged. 

	"Worried about facing the next one?" 

	Shinji nodded.  "I... I guess after the last one,
it's changed how I look at things." 

	Misato nodded.  "I know how you feel, Shinji, I
really do," she said sympathetically.  "But life goes on." 
She gave his shoulder a squeeze, then stood up and left for
the kitchen.  "Start packing your things, Shinji.  S'a long
trip." 

                           -*-

	"Here's the key," Asuka said, handing it to Hikari. 
"Come by each evening and make sure Pen-Pen gets fed and
hasn't had any problems.  He's pretty smart, so he won't
need much supervision, but he doesn't have any hands to open
the fridge himself." 

	Hikari, who was sitting on Asuka's bed, laughed. 
"Have fun in the United States.  Bring me a souvenir." 

	"Well, I hope we get to do some tourist stuff, but I
dunno.  I'm not even sure how we're getting there." 

	"I'm sure Katsuragi-san will take you somewhere fun
at some point.  I wish I could go with you.  I'd love to see
the world." 

	"I'd love to see the world too, but I suspect I'll
mostly be seeing LCL," Asuka said.  "Just take care of
yourself, okay?" 

	"I will.  No more school plays for me."  She sighed. 
"Poor Kensuke.  Do you think they'll ever be able to...help
him?" 

	"I don't know."  In her heart, she felt sure he was
doomed, and it ate away at her.  There had to have been some
way to save him.  If I'd only known what was going on, she
thought, I could have found a way.  There's always a way, if
you learn soon enough.  If you're good enough.  She was
determined to be good enough.

	"It's eating away at Touji, but he won't talk about
it.  I try, and he changes the subject or get mad.  But if
he holds it in, he's just going to go nuts." 

	"Guys don't like to admit they feel anything," Asuka
said with wisdom based on her extensive reading of romance
novels.  "They just hold it in until they explode or break. 
Sooner or later, he'll need you."  Though why you'd want
him, I can't imagine, she thought.  "You just gotta be there
when he does.  Maybe he and Shinji'll talk about it; I know
Shinji went over to see him." 

	"The rest of the Angels aren't going to be like
this, are they?" 

	"I don't know," Asuka said.  "I wish I did.  The one
they've spotted in the US doesn't seem to have possessed
anyone." 

	Hikari shuddered.  "I had a nightmare about one of
them possessing me. It made me kill Touji and you and..." 
She gave a great shudder and fell back on the bed.  "It was
awful." 

	"You're going to be okay," Asuka said fiercely,
feeling a surge of rage at the King in Yellow for all the
fear he'd brought into everyone's lives since his
appearance.  "It won't happen again.  It won't."  She'd make
sure of it.  Somehow. 

                           -*-

	"Goin'to America, huh?" 

	Shinji nodded, watching Touji pace about the
basketball court with the ball, the sound of the ball
impacting on concrete echoing in the air. 

	"Chargin'off to take down the next Angel, huh?" 

	"Mm-hm." 

	Touji eyed the hoop, hesitated, then shot the ball. 

	-swish-

	"Different place, America.  S'got weird rules'n
stuff.  Like, they drive on the wrong side of the road,
y'know?" 

	"Really?" 

	"Yep.  S'the law over there." 

	"Huh." 

	Touji walked up to where the ball had landed, then
dribbled it back to his starting position, near the bench
where Shinji was sitting. 

	"Be careful out there, man," said Touji.  "Y'know
how it is in America." 

	"Actually, I don't." 

	"Ya don't?" 

	"Not really." 

	Touji took the ball in his hand, then spun it on one
finger for a moment. 

	"Well," he said, "here's a few things ya gotta know. 
First of all, they're all as rude as Langley." 

	"She's not _too_ bad, when you get to know her,"
said Shinji. 

	Touji just stared at him.  "Hey, you gettin' a thing
for her?" 

	"A what?" 

	Touji glared at him.  "You're gettin' all mushy on
Asuka, ain'cha." 

	"D-don't be ridiculous!" 

	"I see the way she fusses over ya sometimes," said
Touji, arms crossed with a stern expression. 

	"It's nothing like that!" insisted Shinji. 

	Touji snorted.  "Whatever.  Anyway, s'a nation fulla
pigheaded, arrogant, loudmouthed gaijins.  If ya don't act
as rude as them, they think yer spineless, so as disgustin
an idea as it may be, try ta imitate Asuka." 

	Shinji looked at him doubtfully.  "Um.... okay." 

	"What else..."  Touji paced around once more, the
ball still spinning in his hand.  "Oh.  What part'a America
you going to?" 

	"Um, not sure.  Some place in the west, I think." 

	"The west?" asked Touji.  "Oh, that place." 

	"What about it?" asked Shinji. 

	"Well... lesse... most of the roads ain't paved,
there's tumbleweed everywhere-" 

	"Tumbleweed?" 

	"Big chunks of... I dunno... big dead plant that
just drift along with the wind, or something.  Anyway, yer
either gonna be in a truck or on a horse, 'cause that's how
it's done in the west." 

	Shinji gave Touji a skeptical look, but the boy
seemed confident of his facts. 

	"One more thing," said Touji.  "Get a bullet proof
vest or something.  Those Americans are gun-crazy." 

	Shinji's eyes widened.  "They are?" 

	"Yep, worse'n Ken..." 

	At the mention of their fallen comrade's name, the
mood sank quickly.  The two boys stared at the ground, not
sure what to say next. 

	Touji broke the silence with another dribble of the
basketball.  He eyed the basket once more, then took his
shot. 

	-swish-

	"Hey, Shinji?" 

	"Yeah?" 

	"Careful out there, eh?" 

                           -*-

	Asuka screamed. "I'm IN HELL!!!!!" 

	Shinji, having finished packing an hour ago, was in 
his room listening to some music.  He got up and ambled down
the hall, then stuck his head in through the door to Asuka's
room.  "You okay?" 

	She had gone from shouting to jumping up and down on
her suitcase.  "It won't shut!  I can't take enough
suitcases and I can't get everything I need into my
suitcases!" 

	A mixture of clothing, books, wargames, and odd bits
of paper stuck out of two half-closed, overstuffed
suitcases.  One of them was now tied shut with twine, while
Asuka unleashed her wrath on the other one. 

	"You really need all that stuff?" 

	"Yes!  Or I will surely die!" 

	He sighed.  "Die?"  Asuka had a tendency to
exaggerate, he'd learned. 

	"I just...Every time I go on a trip, there's always
something I didn't bring that I end up needing."  She
frowned at the suitcase, but it refused to yield to
intimidation. 

	"I guess so.  You really think we'll have time for
those games?"  He pointed to them. 

	"It's a long flight.  We can't play poker all the
way to the US." 

	"How do you plan to open them up on a plane,
though?" 

	"Feh.  I'll think of something." 

	"With them in the luggage compartment?" 

	"Hmm...maybe in my carry bag..."  She pulled them
out, and now it closed.  "Thanks, Shinji." 

	"Uh, no problem." 

                           -*-

	Shinji and Asuka rode up one of the giant escalators
with Misato.  NERV seemed to have bought a large number of
them in some sort of close-out sale.  "So how ARE we getting
there?"  Shinji asked. 

	"Our new Mobile Command Headquarters," Misato said. 

	They reached the top and exited through double doors
onto a huge grassy field which was on the south side of
Tokyo-3.  A small building stood behind them, and a larger
one was somewhat to the west of them. 

	In front of them sat a massive aircraft, built like
no other they ever seen: twin zeppelins fused to a central
structure close in appearance to a high-tech aircraft
carrier.  Many gun turrets lined its hull, and the barrels
of a few more peaked out from above. 

	The entire aircraft was astonishingly huge, big
enough to carry several of the EVA units and a little more. 
In fact, they could see trucks loading the EVAs into the gondola.  
Ritsuko, Maya, Aoba, and Makoto were hauling their luggage up 
the steps into it, and dozens of techs were running about, 
checking on things or scrambling about the rigging. 
                                              
	"A war blimp?"  Shinji asked when the shock
subsided. 

	"A war ZEPPELIN," Asuka said proudly.  "Some of my
relatives invented these things, you know." 

	"What happens when the Angel shoots the balloon?" 
Shinji asked. 

	"We don't plan to get up front and personal with the
command center," Misato said.  "And it has defenses.  Among
other things, it's compartmentalized to lessen the effects
of leaks." 

	It still made Shinji nervous.  Asuka, on the other
hand, seemed about ready to die from joy.  Hopefully, the
next Angel won't fly, Shinji thought. 

                           -*-

	The immense flying NERV command center was indeed a
showcase of technology, but it had one drawback - speed. 

	The trip to Phoenix would take ten days, and in
those ten days they had nothing to do.  The EVA units were
locked down securely and only required minimal daily
attention.  The zeppelin was piloted by professionals,
taking another task from their hands. 

	Lacking anything better to do, the first night they
decided to have a poker game.  

	The site of their battle was the commissary, located
near the bottom of the ship.  Large windows across the port
side provided a breathtaking view of the landscape below,
but after three days of watching it, the view lost some of its
novelty. 

	The game was the largest one they'd ever had, with a
long list of players (and in their seating order): Shigeru,
Makoto, Maya, Ritsuko, Misato, Shinji, Rei, Asuka, and Kaji. 

	Maya handled the deck this time, showing a remarkable 
dexterity. The cards flew from her hands in a dazzling cascade, 
good enough to draw applause from everyone.

	"You're good with your hands," said Ritsuko. 

	Maya blushed and gave a nervous grin.  "T-thanks,
sempai." 

	This did not go unnoticed. 

	Makoto and Shigeru looked at each other, while
Misato and Kaji both raised an eyebrow at the same time. 
Ritsuko hadn't noticed, much to Misato's surprise,
especially since Ritsuko was sitting next to the girl. 

	Shinji was too busy looking at his cards, and Asuka
was too busy admiring Kaji. 

	Rei was Rei. 

	"Not gonna clear us out this time," said Shigeru. 

	"Yeah," added Makoto with a smirk.  "We're not drunk
this time."
               
	Misato blinked.  "He cleared you out?  You guys are
sad."

	"It was nothing," dismissed Shigeru.  "We were
drunk."

	"Yeah, drunk," said Makoto. 

	Misato shook her head and smirked.  "Whatever you
say, boys."  A moment later, she screamed, "AAAH! I FORGOT!" 

	"Forgot?" asked Kaji. 

	"I forgot to bring some beer!" she cried.  "And
we're stuck here for the next ten days!"

	The bridge crew paled.  Misato without her daily
intake was scary.

	"Oh, stop it," chided Ritsuko.  "A little abstinence
will do you good."

	"She didn't see Misato the last time," grumbled
Shigeru.

	Misato sighed.  "I guess I'll have to settle for a
soda."

	The first few rounds went with no great surprises,
Shigeru and Kaji taking most of the wins.  Shinji was on the
verge of winning his first, when a voice nobody was
expecting--and a few dreaded--suddenly cut in.

	"What's this?" asked Gendo. 

	Misato nearly spat out her cola, Shigereu and Makoto
froze like statues, Shinji stared in disbelief, and Ritsuko
raised an eyebrow.

	"Just a little game of poker, commander," said
Ritsuko.  "Care to join us?" 

	The stern look on Gendo's face did not leave.  He
stood rigidly for a moment, making nearly everyone sweat in
silence. 

	"All right." 

	Gendo looked around, then took a seat next to his
son.  This only further rattled Shinji, reducing him to a
statue-like status as well.  Gendo regarded him with a mere
grunt and a nod as he took his chair, and then sat in the 
manner that everyone was accustomed to - elbows on table, 
hands linked, forming a bridge that covered half of his 
face and generally gave a feeling of foreboding. 

	After one hellish hour, that ominous feeling was
justified. 

	Gendo looked at his watch, stroked his beard, then
stood up.  "Excuse me, I have a previous appointment." 

	And then he left. 

	Shigeru slumped, his head hitting the table.  "Oh
God, the commander just cleaned us out." 

	"If I wasn't here," droned Makoto, "I wouldn'ta
believed it." 

	Shinji nodded.  "Dad is... scary." 

	"I think," said Misato, "I need a beer." 

                           -*-

	Alone in his room, Touji sat on his bed, leaning
against the wall, staring at the clock.  At about this time,
he'd usually be somewhere else, with someone else, but that
was then and this was now. 

	The sounds of life continued beyond his closed
door... Dad watching television, Mom washing dishes, same
routine.  It was reassuring in a way he couldn't find words
for. 

     It was something he needed, in light of recent events. 

     Outside, the doorbell to their apartment rang.  Touji's
eyes widened. Kensuke used to visit at around this time.  He 
scowled and dipped his head a bit lower. 

	Kensuke was gone. 

	He tilted sideways until he was flat on the bed, and
blindly groped for the remote.  It was somewhere under the
blanket... 

	Outside he could hear the front door open... his
mother talking with someone... odd, they didn't usually get
visitors.  Oh well, he was sure it was nothi-

	"Hey Touji!  You have a visitor!" 

	"Huh?" 

	There was a timid knock on his door, and a shy
girl's voice spoke.  "Um, Suzuhara-kun?" 

	"Hikari?" 

	What was she doing here?  He suddenly stood upright,
fixing his hair and wondering if his clothes weren't too
badly wrinkled. 

	And after a brief moment of hesitation, he opened
the door. 

	"Hey Hikari, what's up?" 

	"I was just nearby and.... um.... do you wanna go
for a walk or something?" 

	He blinked.  "Um, sure." 

		-*-


	The sun had set a while ago, but daylight still hung
on the horizon like a curtain of orange and red.  Touji and
Hikari admired the view from the local park, both on swings
and swaying in a relaxed, steady rhythm. 

	They'd been silent since they left Touji's
apartment, unsure of what words to say, or if any words
should be said just yet.  It was Hikari who broke the
silence first. 

	"Suzuhara-kun?" 

	"Yeah?" 

	Hikari's slowed her swaying slightly, and turned to
look at him.  "You okay?" 

	He lowered his feet, dragging to a stop, and looked
as if he was really thinking about an answer.  Finally, he
said, "Nah, not really." 
 
	"Wanna talk about it?" 

	Touji hesitated. 

	"Touji?" 

	"Ya know," said Touji, "I was lookin out fer Kensuke
since we were kids.  Any time he was inna scrap, I backed 'im
up."  He hunched forward and scratched his head.  "Dunno
why.  I mean, let's face it, the guy was a geek... but he
was my buddy, ya know what I mean?" 

	Hikari nodded. 

	Touji seemed to tense up at that, his fists
clenching.  When he spoke, his voice was shaky, on the verge
of crying.  "An'I couldn't do anything to save'em.  Nothin." 

	"Touji, it's not your fault," said Hikari gently. 

	"Yeah, I know... but I feel so damn useless!"  He
turned and slammed his fist into a tree.  To Hikari's
surprise, the tree actually shook.  It was only a sapling,
but she was still impressed.  He slumped, his forehead now
resting on the tree; if his hand hurt, he didn't show it. 

	"Hurting yourself won't help," she said softly.

	"Damn, damn, damn, damn," Touji muttered.  "I just
can't stand this anymore.  This just fuckin' sucks!"  He
screamed at the sky, then remembered Hikari was there.  He
went beet red.  "I..uh...sorry...uh..." 

	She stepped forward and put a hand on his shoulder. 
"It isn't easy for me either." 

	He relaxed a little, and said, "How can you stand
it?" 

	"Think about other stuff.  School.  Friends.  My
family."  You, she thought, but could not say. 

	"Both of my friends are gone," Touji said.  "Man, I
wish I coulda gone with Shinji.  Even if I got stepped on by
an Angel.  Nights like this, me and Kensuke used to go do
stuff.  Stupid stuff, I guess, but...you ever been out to
the overlook?" 

	"The what?" 

	He turned and looked off across the city, then
smiled.  "Follow me." 

                           -*-

	One of the highways that approached Tokyo-3 came
through the mountains, and at one point, it arced along the
top of a high cliff.  Night had fallen, and the city was
a spider web of lights glimmering across the plain on which
it sat.  From the cliff, you could see it all.

	Hikari had to resist the urge to push Touji over the
edge when they arrived; she was exhausted from the long
ride.  Touji, on the other hand, seemed exhilarated by it. 
He leaned his bike against the railing and stood, gazing out
upon the sea of neon and sodium lighting.  At first glance,
it was a meaningless landscape of randomly placed lights,
but when you looked more closely, you could make out the
major streets, and then the minor ones, each of them lined
with glimmering sparks that merged into lines from this
distance. 

	It was a night sky created by humanity, the fruit of
thousands of years of progress since the first man had lit a
fire below to mirror those above.  Lights marked roads and
buildings and parks, and told a story about where people
went at night.  You could see which sections of the city
were bustling with life, and watch the swarms of lights that
marked the passage of cars through the arteries of the city. 
For a moment, Hikari could imagine that Tokyo-3 was alive,
with roads for veins and people and cars as its blood. 

	The heart of the city beat with all the noises of
humanity in the night--the hum of the electronics, the roar
of the motors, the tramping of feet--a song of modern life,
the music of the modern spheres.  Hikari listened to it, and
watched the city live, and understood why Touji had brought
her here. 

	They gazed upon the city in silence, watching it
live, normal life continuing in the shadow of doom as it
always did.  You couldn't even tell a giant spider had
rampaged through it a few months ago, or that the largest
military base in the history of mankind was located under
it.  It was just a city, like hundreds across the world,
home to nearly a million people whose lives largely
continued as they always had, regardless of what went on
around them. 

	"Ain't it beautiful?" Touji asked.  "It's cool with
the sun up, but it's even better like this.  We used to come
up here and watch it sometimes."  There was no need to say
who the other part of 'we' was. 

	"Yeah," she said quietly.  She stared about, trying
to find her house.  It was there, near the base of the
mountain; that square of lights was around the park they had
gone to.  In her mind's eye, her gaze flew down like a bird,
and she could see her house from above.  Her mother was out
in the backyard, pulling up weeds from her garden under a
spotlight;  she didn't like to work during the day, saying
it was too hot.  Her younger sister was chasing the cat
around, and her father was inside reading the paper. 

	Electricity surged along the wires into the house
and out, connecting them to the life of the city, as did the
road that ran past their house.  They were part of an
invisible web that bound them all together into a greater
whole, and a larger web bound this city to others. 

	It was... beautiful. 

	She'd never really stopped to look at things this
way, and of all the people, Touji Suzuhara, the jock, opened
her eyes. 
                           
	She laughed, and suddenly, she was simply back on
the overlook, gazing down on what mankind had wrought. 

	"Whatcha' laughing at, Hikari?" he asked. 

	She turned and smiled at him, and her laughter
faded, though the joy did not.  "It's a crazy world, isn't
it?" 

	He nodded.  "Yeah, it is a crazy world."  He looked
at her thoughtfully.  "You like basketball?" he asked
hopefully. 

	Not really, but for him, she would.  "Sure.  We'd
better play somewhere we don't have to worry about traffic,
though." 

	He began to laugh.  "Race you down the mountain." 
He jumped on his bike and began to peddle at high speed down
the steep slope. 

	"You crazy...you're gonna get yourself killed!"  She
shouted as she jumped onto her bike and began to chase after
him. 

	"That's the idea!  Makes ya feel alive to ride the
edge, ya know!" 

	Men are all insane, she thought.  She followed him
anyway, and they both screamed in unison most of the way
down, a scream of exhilaration more than fear. 

                           -*-

	Gendo sat at the helm of the bridge, his elbows on
the table and hands forming an archway as they usually did. 
Underneath that archway was a frown, as an unexpected quirk
had just popped up. 

	In this line of work, unexpected was usually bad. 

	Down below, the communications officer was trying to
raise the American base, with little success.  "NERV-A, this
is NERV command ship Scimitar, please respond.  NERV-A, this
is NERV command ship Scimitar, is anyone there?" 

	"How close are we to the base?" asked Gendo. 

	"Should be over the next mountain range, sir." 

	Gendo nodded.  "Switch to yellow alert.  Once NERV-A
is on visual, I want a full scan.  And put the pilots on
standby." 

	//"Yellow alert.  Yellow alert.  General
Quarters."//

	"Sir, we've got a visual of the base." 

	"On screen," said Gendo.  "Zoom in." 

	The sprawling base that was NERV-A sat before them,
eerily still and silent.  There were no signs of any
fighting, no damaged buildings, no craters on the
surrounding land from gunfire. 

	There were, however, many dead bodies. 

                           -*-

	The three EVA units lumbered cautiously through the
base, careful not to step on the strewn corpses.  The trio
stood on platforms much like the ones at NERV-Japan, which then
slowly descended into the base. 

	After a few seconds of descent, the three found
themselves in a vast underground military complex.  It was
somewhat like the NERV-Japan base, but more industrial in
appearance. 

	And littered around them were more dead bodies. 

	"It's too clean," said Asuka. 

	//"Too clean?"// asked Shinji. 

	"No torn down buildings, only a few signs of
gunfire, and the bodies aren't bloody.  Nobody's maimed,
shot, or otherwise leaving big bloody streaks around." 

	Asuka saw Shinji's image grow pale on her HUD, and
she smirked.  "Jeez, you've got a weak stomach." 

	//"It's not weird to not like seeing dead bodies,"//
he grumbled. 

	She stuck her tongue out and nyaaahed.  "Wimp." 

	Another HUD with Misato in it appeared.  //"We're
not getting any signs of an Angel down there.  How about
you?"//

	Asuka looked at her sensor array and shook her head. 
"All quiet here." 

	//"Same here,"// said Shinji. 

	//"Nothing,"// said Rei. 

	"No sign of forced entry.  No big monster
footprints.  It's like... they just dropped dead," said
Asuka. 

	Misato nodded.  //Asuka, Rei, search out the rest of
the underground.  Shinji, go topside and cover the troops
we're sending in."//

	//"Cover?"// asked Shinji. 

	//"Just because we don't see anything doesn't mean
it's safe."//

                           -*-

	The NERV forces fanned out quickly, securing the
base and restoring it to working order.  They were also
assigned the grisly task of collecting the dead.  Through
their work, it was confirmed there were no survivors among
the members of the American branch of NERV. 

	NERV was bringing in medical experts to examine the
bodies, but they would not arrive for hours, since NERV had 
lost all of its American personel and was going to have to 
borrow them from other agencies.  Gendo did not wish to wait 
that long, since whatever had happened might strike again.  
The duty fell upon Ritsuko and Maya to wade through the dead.

	The two were, at the moment, wheeling one cadaver to
the center of the examining room.  Ritsuko was the picture
of calm, while Maya was looking a bit ill. 

	As they lifted the sheet from the cadaver, Maya
turned a shade paler than usual. 

	Ritsuko raised an eyebrow, noting Maya's look.  "You
sure you're up to this?"

	The younger girl smiled nervously, though the face
mask ruined the effect.  "I'll be fine," she replied. 
"Really I will." 

	"If you say so," said Ritsuko.  "If you puke in the
cadavers, I'll be a little upset." 

	Together, they removed the clothing from their first
subject, a young soldier found by the front gates. 
Ritsuko picked up her recorder and began to speak. 

	"First subject, Cross, Dalton J.  Subject shows no
no evidence of head trauma, no bruises-" 

	"Sempai, look at this," said Maya.  She turned the
man's foot at an angle. 

	"What's this?  Multiple puncture wounds on the back
of the legs, ranging from the Achilles tendons to the knees,
slight discoloration around entry points. Very interesting. 
Maya, pass the syringe."

	"He... he was bitten to death?" 

	"Probably," replied Ritsuko.  "But I have a feeling
we're dealing with something very unusual here."  She drew a
sample of blood, then passed the syringe back to Maya.  "Run
this through the analyzer."

	"Does this mean we can stop if the next one's the
same?" asked Maya hopefully. 

	Ritsuko tsked.  "Too low a sample, Maya.  You should
know better.  We can announce something after ten, maybe,
but we shouldn't stop until at least a hundred are cleared
through."

	Maya winced. 

                           -*-

	Misato rewound the tape, just to be sure she was
seeing things correctly.

	And she rewound it again. 

	And again. 

	And again. 

	"Holy shit." 

	She saw it, but she couldn't believe it. 

	One moment the base was running smoothly, then
suddenly it was overrun by swarms of serpents.  Some of them
burst from the ventilation shafts, others seemed to just
erupt from the ground.

	Hundreds of men wiped out by an impossible ten-second 
flood of snakes.  She eyed a hole in the floor by her
foot warily, and pulled out her phone.

	"Security?  Katsugari here.  Switch back to yellow
alert.  I have a feeling this place isn't as secure as it
should be."

                           -*-

	The pilots were seated around one of the tables in a
lounge in the 'parked' command center, waiting for the base
to be declared safe for them to move around in.  While they
waited, they were playing Spades.

	"I bid four," Asuka said. 

	"Five," Rei said. 

	"Two." Shinji said. They both stared at him. 

	"You're underbidding again," Asuka said.  "C'mon, be
a little bold!"

	"I am not underbidding!" 

	"There's seventeen tricks and only 11 have been bid. 
Unless the Angels stole six of them, you should be able to
bid higher."

	"Maybe you should bid higher," Shinji said
stubbornly. 

	"You've taken at least two more tricks than you bid
on the last eight hands!"  Asuka slapped her cards down on
the table.  "You can't win by playing so cautiously!" 

	"I haven't gone set the last three hands like you,
either," Shinji said.  "It's hard to lose big if you're
careful."

	"C'mon, Rei, back me up here!" Asuka demanded. 

	Rei said nothing, staring at her cards instead. 

	"Hrmph.  Whatever." 

	Shinji felt something move across his leg.  He
jumped, banging his leg on the table.  "What the..."   He
looked down and picked up the intruder. It was just a 
grass snake.  "How'd you get in here?" he asked it.  
It didn't answer. 

	"Ugh!  Snake!"  Asuka said, whipping out her pocket
knife. 

	"It's harmless!" 

	Rei looked at the snake curiously, and reached a
hand out to it.  Suddenly, the snake writhed violently in
Shinji's hand, hissing and twisting until it escaped his
grasp.  It hit the ground, writhing and turning. 

	"I hate snakes," Asuka said, quickly stabbing the
unfortunate snake, and nearly stabbing Shinji. 

	"GEEZ!" he said, jumping back and knocking down his
chair.

	Asuka quickly finished off the snake.  "Damn thing
was probably spying for the Angels like those spiders for
the first one."

	"Remind me not to take you to the zoo," Shinji
muttered.

	"Don't take Langely to the zoo," Rei said, then
simply stared back at them when they both stared at her.
"Your lead, Langely." 

	"Lemme get rid of the dead snake first."  She picked
it up and headed over to the garbage can, then managed to
trip on a snag in the carpeted floor and ended up sticking
her head in it instead.

	"Looks like the snake's getting its revenge," Shinji
said.

	"I hate snakes," was Asuka's reply. 

                           -*-

	Everyone gathered in one of the conference rooms on
the Mobile Command Center as Maya gave her autopsy report. 
"They all died from snake venom." 

	"I was right!"  Asuka bellowed.  "That snake WAS
spying for the Angels!" 

	Shinji looked embarrassed as everyone turned and
stared. 

	"What snake?" Maya asked. 

	"One got onto the command center.  Shinji wanted to
keep it as a pet or something, but I killed it," Asuka said
triumphantly. 

	"It got into here?"  Misato said.  "Damnation.  Now
we're going to have to search the whole thing for more." 

	"So, everyone was bitten by snakes and died?"  Gendo
asked. 

	"Pretty much," Maya said. 

	Misato nodded.  "Security cameras confirm it,
although normally people don't die that fast from snake
poison.  Right?" 

	Maya nodded.  "Exactly.  The Angel must have somehow
strengthened their venom, although if it possessed them, we
would have expected its AT-Field to trigger their alarms." 

	"Perhaps it can hide its AT-Field.  Or possibly the
snakes responsible were some kind of special servitor
species with enhanced venom, like some of the spiders we
captured when the first Angel attacked Tokyo-3," Ritsuko
said.  "I hope the latter is true, or we could be in serious
trouble." 

	"I'm ordering an immediate withdrawal to Phoenix,"
Gendo said.  "We can send in investigative teams to do a
full search.  And we need to make sure there aren't any
snakes infesting the command center, either." 

	"No sleep for us tonight," Misato said.  "I'll draw
up a search plan immediately.  Good job, Asuka; who knows
what might be hiding on here now, but I wouldn't have
thought of it without you pointing out that snake." 

	Asuka beamed, and Shinji grumbled.  "I told you that
snake was trouble," Asuka gloated just a little. 

                           -*-

	The pilots and command bridge crew sat in one of the
briefing rooms as Misato gave them the mission briefing. 
"We've codenamed the next angel Hayyel.  POLARIS has a
partial lock on him; he's in this area, but we all need some
rest before we hunt him, and it will likely take a few hours
to get a pinpoint position anyway.  We're retreating to
Phoenix to get some sleep while the command center is
checked out to make sure there aren't anymore snakes." 

	"Tomorrow, once we're all rested and ready, we'll
load you up, haul you out to near his location, and drop you
to go after him.  I'll have a more detailed plan tomorrow
when we know his exact position.  Any questions?" 

	"Can I have my own bed?"  Asuka asked. 

	"You'll be staying with me and Rei," Misato said. 
"Shinji will stay with Makoto and Shigeru.  Any other
questions?" 

	There were none, and the meeting soon dispersed. 
	
                           -*-

	Motel 6 was simply not what Shinji or Asuka had
expected to stay in during their stay in the United States. 
The Command Center was big enough to have its own dormitory. 
However, it was currently in the process of being rooted
through to find all the snakes, if any, that might be
lurking on it. 

	"Geez, you'd think with NERV's budget, we could
afford something better," Asuka said. 

	"Maybe Commander Ikari was hypnotized by their
advertising,"  Misato said.  "Anyway, Shinji, you get to
stay with Makoto and Shigeru.  Asuka, Rei, you're with me." 

	"There's three beds?" Asuka asked as they tromped
over to their room. 

	"No, there's two.  I get one, and you and Rei get to
share.  It's a double bed, so you'll be fine." 

	The room was nicer than Asuka had expected from the
rundown exterior, though she still thought NERV ought to be
able to get a nicer place to stay.  And the bed was easilly
large enough for two.  She put her suitcase down on the small 
table by the window, then sat down and started rooting through 
it. 

	Misato simply plopped down on her bed and passed
out, immediately beginning to snore.  Asuka shook her head. 
"Yeesh.  I wonder if she does that every night." 

	"Don't know," Rei said. 

	Asuka jumped; she hadn't really expected Rei to
answer.  She looked over; Rei was standing by the bed,
pulling the sheets back.  She was stark naked.  While Asuka
had seen women naked before, she immediately averted her
eyes.  Geez, why is seeing her naked making me feel weird,
she asked herself.  "I didn't know you slept naked." 

	Rei gave Asuka a mildly puzzled look, but said
nothing. 

	"Don't you ever get cold?"  Asuka dug out her red
and gold pajamas and some fresh panties; she felt the need
to go take a bath. 

	"Blankets," replied Rei. 

	"Oh, yeah." 

	Rei climbed into the sheets and closed her eyes. 
Asuka went and took her shower, then got into her pajamas
and came back.  Rei was curled up into a fetal position,
sleeping quietly. 

	Asuka felt a hundred excuses not to climb into bed
flooding into her mind, but she squashed them; it was silly
to not want to sleep in the same bed with Rei.  What's she
gonna do, sprout fangs and bite me? she asked herself, and
laughed. 

	She sat down on the bed and pulled the sheets back
on her side, just as Rei stretched, rolled over, and went
back into the fetal position, her legs pulled up in front of
her chest and her head curled downward.  Her face was
utterly peaceful, and all the nervous tension Asuka had felt
melted away. 

	She's like a baby, Asuka thought as she clambered
into the sheets and lay on her side facing Rei.  She sleeps
so peacefully.  She shivered slightly; the airconditioning
was blowing down directly on her and Rei's bed, but it
didn't seem to bother Rei at all.  She reached over to
check, waving a hand over Rei's head; she could feel the
cold air blowing down.  Rei was unaffected by it, as far as
Asuka could tell. 

	On an impulse, she reached down to touch Rei's face,
half expecting it to be ice cold, but it was warm to the
touch, flesh like any other.  Asuka wasn't really sure what
she had been expecting...Rei was just another girl like her,
after all.  Maybe she just likes it cold, Asuka thought. 

	She settled back to her side of the bed and smiled
slightly.  I know I must be tired; I'm acting really
weirdly, Asuka thought.  She rolled over onto her back and
stared at the ceiling.  "I wonder if she's ever slept with
another human being," Asuka muttered to herself. 

	"No, I haven't," Rei said, her eyes still shut. 

	Asuka yelped and fell out of the bed.  Rei had been
AWAKE during that?  She hadn't reacted at all.  It wasn't
human.  It...Oh great, now she was going to get weird ideas
in her head about why I touched her, Asuka thought.  I was
just...she wasn't sure why she'd done it.  It had just been
the thing to do at the time. 

	She looked up and Rei's head was sticking out over
the edge of the bed, peering down at her curiously. 

	She got up, and Rei moved back, half covered by the
sheets, but still topless.  Asuka tried to not look without
making it obvious she wasn't looking.  With a little effort,
she clambered back into the bed.  "Good thing Shinji didn't
sleep with us, or he'd be getting an eyeful,"  she muttered. 

	"Eyeful?" 

	Asuka blinked, and turned to Rei, who had slumped
back under the sheets again.  "You wandering around naked." 

	"I'm not wandering." 

	"You know what I mean!" 

	"No." 

	Asuka scratched her head.  Maybe no one had ever
explained about nudity to Rei?  She did live alone, but... 
"You do know about men and women not seeing each other
naked, right?" 

	"No." 

	Well, that did settle that.  "You're not supposed to
go around with no clothing in front of men, Rei." 

	"Why?" 

	"It's not proper." 

	"Why?" 

	Asuka was starting to feel like she had the time
she'd been conned by Oscar into an online conversation with
that Eliza program.  For a moment, she wondered if Rei was
actually an android, then dismissed the thought as
ridiculous.  "Because it isn't.  It just isn't done." 

	Rei made no reply, and since her eyes were closed,
Asuka wasn't sure if she was awake or asleep.  She was awake
before, though.  "Have you always lived alone, Rei?" 

	"Yes." 

	"That's awful.  Do you like living alone?" 

	"Like?" 

	For a moment, Asuka wondered if Rei didn't
understand that concept...no way.  She had to know what
liking was.  "Would you rather live with someone?" 

	"Yes." 

	I wonder who, Asuka thought.  Should I ask who?  Or
would that be too rude.  She'll never volunteer it.  "Anyone
I know?" 

	"Yes." 

	Asuka argued with herself again and curiousity won. 
"Who?" 

	Only silence greeted her.  "Are you too embarrassed
to tell me?  I promise I won't tell anyone." 

	Rei stared blankly at her for a moment, then closed
her eyes and curled back into a fetal position. 

	I guess that's that, though Asuka.  She looked down
at the naked girl in her bed and sighed.  Just lie down and
go to sleep, nothing weird here, nothing weird here. 

	As she settled into the bed next to Rei, she took a
deep breath and calmed down.  Everything's fine, no problem. 

	Except she could feel Rei's breath on the back of
her neck. 

	Asuka shuddered.  This was going to be a long night
after all. 

                           -*-

	Meanwhile, in the room next door, Shinji faced a
somewhat similar situation, rooming with Shigeru and Makoto. 
The two men decided to be nice, letting Shinji take the
single and splitting the other bed between them. 

	Shinji sat in bed, watching CNN-A along with the
others.  There was nothing better to do.

	Shigeru flopped back on the bed, sighing.  "Aaah,
finally some sleep on solid ground at last." 

	"Know what you mean," said Makoto.  "The Scimitar's
nice, but that constant thrumming gets to your head, and
the way the thing moves gets me just a little airsick."

	"At least Misato didn't get too bad this time
without her beer," said Shigeru.

	Makoto nodded.  "Yeah, I remember last time."

	Both men shuddered.

	"What happened last time?" asked Shinji.

	Makoto looked at Shigeru.  "You tell it."

	"Why me?" asked Shigeru.  "You were there for most
of it."

	Makoto sighed.  "Fine, fine."  He sat up in his bed,
turning towards Shinji.  "Okay, this took place... last
year.  We were still finalizing a lot of details about NERV
and Tokyo-3, so there was a lot of paperwork to be done.
We don't know the specifics, the hows and whys, but for some
reason Misato and Ritsuko placed a bet on how long Misato
could go without alcohol.

	"The bet was for two weeks," said Shigeru.

	Makoto frowned.  "Hey, who's telling this story?"

	"Okay, okay, go ahead."

	"Ahem.  The bet was for two weeks," continued
Makoto. "Two weeks of Misato staying dry.  She thought it
was no big deal, and for the first couple of days it seemed
like everything was gonna be fine."

	"It was the third day that things started going
downhill.  She arrived a little late, and everyone noticed
that she seemed to be twitching every couple of minutes.
She started muttering to herself, and jumped anytime someone
asked her a question.

	"On the fourth day, she got... scary.  When
something went wrong, she'd either get furious or cry... or
both. "

	"I saw her in the commisary," said Shigeru.  "When
the machine malfunctioned.  She took her pistol out, shot
the machine, and grabbed five sandwiches and a cup of
ramen."

	"You wanna tell this story?" asked Makoto.  "I mean,
if you really want to..."

	"No, just wanted to say that, that's all."

	Makoto looked at Shigeru warily.  "Riiiigh.  Anyway,
we felt kinda sympathetic to her, so we decided to treat her
out for dinner.  So it was me, Shigeru, Maya, and Misato. 
We went out to the New Tokyo-3 Bar and Grill, where Misato
ordered... let's see... beer battered tempura, beer battered
fries, sirloin steak marinated in beer sauce..."

	"She even ordered non-alcoholic beer," said Shigeru.

	Both men shuddered.

	"She was desperate," said Makoto.  "Anyway you get
the idea."

	Shinji nodded, and Makoto continued.  "Anyway,
unfortunately for her, whenever you use beer in cooking the
alcohol gets burned away.  So while she thought she was
getting a little relief, but it was more like an illusion of
an oasis in the desert. It was, surely, a cruel tease to her
beer-deprived system, though during the meal she seemed
happier than she should be.  The mere flavor of beer
pacified her somewhat, but without the alcoholic effect,
she would later return to her nervous, grumpy self."

	"The next three days would be sheer hell for us all,
as Misato became more demanding and shrill.  The carefree,
happy spirit that we all knew and loved became the very
embodiment of evil management.  At one point, when a
department was late turning in signatures, she went there in
person carrying a sledgehammer and the stack of unsigned
papers.  The 12th block security division still refuses to
comment on what she did to this day."

	"Now, this next part isn't confirmed," said Makoto.
"It's just a rumor, but it's said that on the seventh day,
Gendo asked to see Misato in his office... and ordered her
to have a beer."

	Shinji stared at Makoto for a moment, then the trio
broke out in a fit of snickers.

	Laughing, Shigeru said, "I just can't imagine
Commander Ikari saying that, can you?  'Captain Katsuragi,
you are ordered to have a beer.'  Wahahahaha!"

	Makoto nodded.  "Women are scary."

	"Speaking of women," said Shigeru.  "Did you guys
notice Maya when she was around Akagi?"

	"Yep," replied Makoto.  "Skittish as a schoolgirl
around Dr. Akagi.  You think...?"

	Shigeru frowned.  "Hate to admit it but... maybe...
maybe.  Has she ever dated any men?  I haven't heard
anything."

	"Nor I," said Makoto.  "I think this calls for more
observation."

	"Indeed," said Shigeru.

	Satisfied that their conversation had run its
course, both men eyed Shinji, who they both figured was due
for some good old fashioned ribbing.

	Makoto fired the first shot.  "So, Shinji, which
one?"

	Shinji blinked.  "Um, what?"

	"Isn't it obvious?" asked Makoto.  "You've got two
lovely girls around you at all times.  Which one would you
pick?"

	"Asuka, or Rei?" asked Shigeru.

	"I-I dunno!  I'm just a kid, I don't think about
stuff like that!" protested Shinji.

	Shigeru raised an eyebrow.  "Hey, you're not gay,
are you?"

	"No!"

                           -*-

	At long last, Asuka the Eva pilot entered the
Dreamlands, becoming Asuka, knight of Celephais once more. 
She found herself in a forest, one of many between
Dylath-Leen and Celephais, and quickly recalled what it was
she was doing there. 

	Having finished vanquishing the slave trade around
Dylath-Leen, she was now returning to Celephais to report
and see what else in the kingdom needed her attention. 

	She methodically put on her red armor, then mounted
her trusty steed.  The forest was abnormally quiet as she
rode through it, the only sounds being the wind rustling
through the trees and the clap-clop of her horse's
footsteps. 

	Something was wrong. 

	As she passed one tree, a small monkey-like creature
emerged from it.  Its hair stood on end, as if it had a
severe case of static electricity, and its trembling seemed
to add to that impression. 

	Asuka eyed the creature with curiosity, for it was a
zoog.  Zoogs were intelligent creatures that inhabited the
forests of the Dreamlands, but it was highly unusual to see
one alone. 

	"Hey there," she said.  "What's the matter?" 

	The zoog chattered in an agitated voice, a
rapid-fire series of chitterings and screechings, as it
gestured deeper into the woods. 

	"Something terrible?" asked Asuka.  "Hunting you
guys down?"  She looked doubtfully at the tiny zoog.  "You
guys probably got it mad when you tried to eat it." 

	The zoog looked terribly embarrassed, but still
protested the innocence of the zoogs.  Asuka rolled her
eyes, but her doubts were all cast aside when a herd of
zoogs suddenly raced by her, all in a panic and a few with
noticable gashes. 

	"What the hell?"  Asuka leaped off her horse,
pulling out her sword in the air, and landed battle-ready. 
The tide of zoogs had since left, the sound of their retreat
quickly faded behind her.  In front of her, she heard
something moving through the brush.  Bushes and tall grass
shuddered in the wake of something unseen, moving towards
Asuka at an unbelievable speed. 

	She wanted to yell, to call for the entity to halt
in the name of the knights of Celephais or something like
that, but it was far too fast.  In the short time she had to
decide, she wondered if she should just stand aside and let
it slaughter the zoogs? 

	All doubt was cast aside when she saw two burning
red eyes advancing through the dark forest.  The haunter of
the dark?!  There was no choice, then. 

	It moved fast, too fast, a blur of movement blowing
by her like the wind.  She slashed at it, and smiled grimly
as she felt her blade make contact.  The creature
disappeared before she could turn around, but she knew it
was somewhere in the forest once more.  She heard a deep,
feral growl, and the glowing red eyes made themselves
visible once more.  This time they were aimed at her. 

	Asuka had a moment of self-doubt.  It wasn't _that_
fast last time.  Could she still beat it?  No, there wasn't
room for doubt, she _would_ beat it. 

	It charged again, and this time she charged at it as
well, brazenly rushing into the shadows of the forest.  It
burst out of the bushes, once more barely visible as a blur
of movement.  She swung at it, but it eluded her blade with
alarming ease, shooting past her.  Suddenly, it was behind
her, wrapping a cold appendage (an arm? she couldn't tell) 
tightly around her neck, more appendages binding her arms. 

	She tried to struggle, to scream in rage, but her
arms were bound tightly and her throat was being crushed. 

	With little effort, the unseen terror lifted her
high, then flung her through the air.  She tumbled
helplessly, then slammed into a tree, shattering it on
impact.  After tumbling along the ground like a rag-doll,
she finally came to a stop.

	"Ow... shit."  She hurt.  Her back hurt.  Her throat
hurt.  Her entire body hurt.  Everything was blurry, fading
to black, so hard to keep her eyes open when everything hurt
so much.  The darkness creeped into her vision, promising
the sweet oblivion of unconsciousness if only she'd stop
struggling. 

	She found it hard to resist. 

	Her eyes opened one last time, her vision tainted by
swirls, black spots, and blurriness, and the last thing she
saw was the creature with red eyes, kneeling next to her,
its breath on her face, its hand touching her cheek, its red
eyes looking at her curiously.

	"R... Rei?" 

	And all was black. 

                           -*-

	"Aaaaaaagh!" 

	The red-haired girl sat upright suddenly, her heart
pounding, arms trembling.  She put a hand to her throat,
trying to massage the soreness in it, and looked at her
surroundings in a panic. 

	Dark. 

	It was still dark. 

	The clock glowed an uncomfortable shade of red,
showing 2:18AM as the time.  Nearby, Misato snored in her
own bed, while next to her Rei slept silently. 

	Just what the hell was that?  Was that just a
nightmare, or a real incident in the dreamlands?  Why did
the creature look like Rei?  Was it just her own fears
distorting her dreams? 

	She shook her head, then took another look at Rei. 
Still in the fetal position, still as soundly asleep as
ever. 

	Just a dream.  Whatever. 

	She took a deep breath, then laid back down and
tried to get back to sleep. 

	Unseen by Asuka, Rei's hand slowly moved away from
the gash torn into the bedsheets. 

                           -*-

	o/~ There's a tear in my ear and I'm drowning in my
beer, oh, I think my dog stole my car... o/~ Chuck Anderson,
late night DJ for KLAT101.5 in Phoenix Arizona, half listened
to the song drone on while he chugged coffee and strove
desperately to stay awake. The National Weather Service 
terminal flashed, announcing a weather alert.  Clouds were 
heading for Phoenix at high speed, with accompanying
heavy winds. 

	Clouds?  This early in the summer?  In Phoenix?  This
was only slightly more likely than a giant tumbleweed
attacking the city.  He shook his head.  Must be a glitch
somewhere.  He ignored it and went back to worshipping his
coffee and trying to find something to play next which
wouldn't destroy his last few brain cells. 

                           -*-

	The NERV Mobile HQ had a very sophisticated system
for monitoring weather, using the latest technology.  It
was, however, completely useless if no one was watching it. 
Thus, when the reports of the oncoming storm arrived on it, 
there was no one there to care. 

                           -*-

	The secondary bridge crew was half-asleep; hours of 
hunting down snakes, followed by hours of abject boredom on 
the command bridge, had left their mark. While everyone else 
was asleep, they just wished they were.


	Their reverie ended when the alarms began to sound,
and the online computer announced, "Angel Energies detected,
approaching from three o'clock, at 100 MPH." 

	Kumi Fukuda, the blonde crew leader, said, "Fuu,
signal Commander Katsuragi.  Looks like our target's come to
us." 

	Fuu nodded.  "She's not gonna like it." 

	"Hopefully we won't level too much of Phoenix." 

                           -*-

	Shinji staggered under the impact of the high winds
and was grateful he had short hair, as he tried to make it
across the tarmac to the stairs up into the Mobile Command
Center.  It had only been a short drive from the Motel 6 to
where the Command Center was parked, but the wind seemed to
have doubled.  Asuka stumbled, which made Shinji feel
better. 

	"Try not to fall down," Misato said, then nearly
fell herself.  "Too much.  Geez, I hope we can get the
Command Center in the air with this much wind." 

	"That storm looks pretty nasty," Asuka said,
pointing off towards the large pitch-black chunk of sky 
where the clouds blocked out the sun.

	"I thought it didn't rain around here," Shinji said. 

	"Just our luck, eh?" Asuka said. 

	"I guess we get to find out how well this handles in
a raging storm," Misato said, not very enthusiastically. 

	"At least we won't be hooked up to some stupid cable
that could get a power surge," Asuka said.  "Or do the EVAs
have really big surge protectors?" 

	"I have no clue," Misato said. 

                           -*-

	The EVAs had been loaded and launched, and were
heading for the Angel, though they couldn't see any kind of
target, just a storm high above.  The winds were very high,
but the EVAs plowed through them easily.  There was no rain,
only clouds and wind, and no lightning or thunder, either.

	//"Seriously weird storm,"// Asuka said. 

	//"Maybe it'll just blow through and not rain,"//
Shinji said.  //"Maybe this happens all the time, but it
doesn't make anything wet."//

	//"Maybe the storm IS the Angel,"// Asuka said. 

	//"How are we supposed to fight a storm?"//  Shinji
asked, looking around.  They were nearly a mile outside the
city, surrounded by lots of packed dirt and gravel, with the
occasional bush doomed to be stomped flat. 

	//"Contain it with an AT-Field,"// Rei said,
breaking her silence.

	//"Yeah, what she said,"// Asuka replied. 

	The first crack of thunder boomed, and dark streaks
began to fall around them.  It didn't look like rain to
Shinji, more like bits of dark cable, usually about a foot
to two foot long.  Tubes with rounded off ends or something; 
it was so dark, he couldn't see them well.  //"What in..."//

	Asuka said, //"If this is a threadfall, I'm gonna
be pissed."//

	//"A what?"//

	//"In this book...oh never mind.  Wait, a second,
those are snakes!"//

	//"Raining from the sky?"// Shinji reached out and
caught some.  They wriggled about, and several bit Unit01's
hand.  "What the hell are snakes doing raining from the
sky?" 

	//"Yeah, what a stupid Angel.  I guess he must be
some stupid looking giant snake.  Shall we squish them,
Commander?"//

	//"Keep an eye out for a big one.  We have a bit of
a problem here."// 

	//"Problem?"//

	//"There's thousands of these damn things falling on
us, trying to get inside.  And some of them are trying to
chew through the gasbags.  Luckily, they're too tough for a
stupid snake to chew through, but..."//

	//"How far is the Angel?"//

	//"It seems to have stopped a half mile from you at
four o'clock.  Head for it while we try to deal with these
snakes."//

	"Righto."  Asuka turned.  "Alright, let's head out!" 
She started sprinting along and the others followed, while
all around them, the heavens spat snakes at the earth. 

	//"You're getting closer,"// Shigeru reported. 
//"2000 feet.  1000 feet.  SHIT!"//

	//"What?"//  Shinji asked, blinking. 

	//"Oh crap, there's freaking snakes coming under
the door!"//

	Gunfire rang out over the comlines, and shouting. 

	//"Shit,"// Asuka said. 

	//"Now what?"//  Shinji asked. 

	//"We keep going and kick the Angel's ass."//

	//"If we can find it,"// Shinji said, peering
through the rain of snakes. Unless this Angel specialized in
impersonating mountainsides, he couldn't see anything that
could be it.

	//"We will.  Nothing we can do to help them at the
carrier, dammit.  I HATE SNAKES!"//

	Shinji looked around.  //"Where is he?  I'm not
seeing anything?"//

	Asuka looked around, and then she spotted him. 
Hayyel was huge, the size of an EVA, like a man with scales
and a serpent's head.  Indeed, his hands seemed to waver
back and forth between being hands and being serpent heads
as she gazed upon him.  She rubbed her eyes, but the
wavering didn't stop. He was right next to Unit00, having
apparently crept up behind Rei's EVA without anyone
noticing.  //"He's right in the middle of us!"// She leaped
at him, progressive knife drawn, stabbing it into his right
arm before he could react.

	Shinji screamed when 02 suddenly drew its knife and
stabbed his EVA.  For a few seconds, the agony overwhelmed
him, then he got control of himself again.  //"What are you
doing, Asuka?!"// He looked around, but saw no sign of
Hayyel.

	Asuka raised her knife for another stroke, but now
00 intervened, grabbing her right arm with both hands, then
rolling backwards, flinging her high into the air to crash
into the ground hundreds of feet away.  The throw did little
damage, except to her pride.  //"Rei, what are you doing?"// 

	//"Defending Unit 01"//

	//"That's not 01!  That's Hayyel!"//

	//"Where?"//  Shinji asked. 

	//"And where the hell has Shinji run off to?"//  She
looked around, and couldn't see him anywhere. 

	//"You stabbed his EVA,"// Rei said. 

	For a moment, Makoto's voice came over the line. 
//"The Angel is moving away from you at six o'clock."//
Then he shouted and the line went silent again. 

	Shinji turned and saw a humanoid shape moving off
that direction.  //"I see him!"//  He pointed. 

	//"You won't fool me, Angel!"//  Asuka shouted and
jumped at Hayyel. 

	00 intervened again, tossing her aside.  //"Pursue
him, Ikari-kun,"// Rei said to Shinji. 

	He nodded and gave chase while Rei tried to prevent
Asuka from chasing him.  He must be making Asuka think I'm
him, Shinji thought.  I hope he can't do something like that
to me. 
                           -*-

	Rei took a moment to glance behind her, watching
Shinji's Eva running into the distance, then turned her
attention back to Unit02 and its delusional pilot.

	//"What the hell are you doing?!"// shouted Asuka.
//"It's getting away!"//

	"You are suffering from hallucinations, possibly
made by Hayyel."

	On her HUD screen, Rei watched as Asuka shook her
head and quickly became more agitated.  //"What are you...
you..."//  Asuka's stare seemed unfocused for a moment, then
became an angry glare.  //"You!  You're one of them too!
You're a snake-person!"//

	"Langley, calm dow-"

	//"DIE!"//

	The red Evangelion rushed forward with a quick
slash, which Rei dodged easily.  She didn't dodge the
spinning roundhouse kick that Asuka followed it with,
sending her slamming into the earth.  She rolled away
quickly as Asuka's foot came slamming down where the
Unit00's head was a moment ago.

	In the darkness of her entry plug, Rei's eyes glowed
a brilliant red.  A grimace formed on her lips.

	She was far from happy.

                           -*-

	//"Only a few sections of the Scimitar were hit, and
the situation is under control now,"// said Makoto.

	Gendo nodded.

	The alternate bridge crew looked at him in
disbelief, specifically at his unflappable demeanor. They
were all currently huddled in the upper plateau of his
station, since the deck below had been hit with a scattering
of snakes.  Down below, Aoba Shigeru and Hyuuga Makoto
walked around warily, wearing environmental suits and
weilding crowbars and fire extinguishers. 

	To their astonishment, the suits were enough to
protect against the snake bites, and slowly but surely the
two bridge crew members had sealed all the entrances to the
command center and cleared away the snakes.

	Makoto went to one station, tapping clumsily at the
keys through gloved fingers.  After staring at the screen
for a while, he looked back up to Gendo's command station. 

	//"Command center all cleared, sir."//

	Gendo nodded once more.  "Is our communications
restored?"

	//"Another couple of minutes, sir.  The crew in that
section is still wrapping up a heavy snake infestation.
Should be just a few more minutes."//

	Gendo nodded, then turned to Misato.  "Everyone, to
your stations." 

	Reacting quickly, Misato and the others went to
their posts.  "Get ready to reestablish contact with the 
Evas,"  she said.  "No telling what happened while we were
disconnected."

	After minutes of anxious waiting and silence, Makoto
announced, //"Restoring communications in ten seconds, nine,
eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one-"//
	
	The main screen flickered for a moment, then came to
life.  The sight that greeted them was Unit 02 being lifted
into the air, one-handed, by Unit 00.  Unit 02's left arm
was twisted back and dangling uselessly, and its head, held
high by Unit 00's hand, was encased in ice.

	The entire bridge crew gasped.

	"Ayanami!" yelled Misato.  "What are you doing?!"

	Rei's image suddenly appeared among the many
displays, and her quiet glare sent a chill through everyone
present.

	An audio feed from Unit 02 kicked in, and Asuka's
shrieking voice slammed into the room.

	//"-ILL YOU!!! I'LL KILL YOU!!!"//

	"This is trouble," muttered Gendo.

                           -*-

	//"Ayanami!  What are you doing?!"//

	Rei spared a quick glance at the side display of
Misato, then turned her attention back to Unit 02.  Its head
was still frozen, but its pilot was still alive and raging
against her.  On another side display, a screaming and
ranting Asuka could be seen.  She ignored it.

	Instead, she slammed Unit 02 head-first into the
ground.

	//"Rei!  Stop!"// yelled Misato.  //"What's going
on!"//

	"Langley is suffering hallucinations of snakes," she
said quickly.  "She attacked us."

	Asuka's Eva stood up once more, then lunged at Rei
with a wild punch.  Rei caught the arm and twisted it,
snapping it at the elbow.  Asuka's scream of pain came
through on Rei's comm, but she ignored it.

	//"Where's Shinji?!"//

	"He is chasing the angel."  Unit 00 once again
lifted Unit 02 off the ground, then hurled it into the side
of a hill.  The red Eva crashed into the earth, creating a
small crater on impact.

	//"We're conducting a forced ejection now, Rei.
Back off and let her wind down!"//

	02 shook as it recieved the signal from the Command
Center, and the entry plug rotated and popped partly out of 
its back, causing it to remain immobile, half driven into 
the ground.  Rei saw this, then slammed her Eva's foot 
into Unit 02's back.

	//"Rei, that's enough!"//

	The red-eyed girl hesitated, then nodded, walking
warily away from the downed Eva.  "Permission to assist
Ikari, commander?"

	//"Go on, we'll keep an eye on Asuka."//

                           -*-

	Shinji had never liked running.  Running through the
mountains of northern Arizona was especially not fun, though
his EVA was big and tough enough to handle any mistakes he
made, like nearly running off a cliff.  He was miles and
miles away from Asuka and Rei now, chasing the Angel, who
remained a shadow in the distance.  At least the rain of
serpents had ceased, and the clouds had broken up.  There was
only running, the crossing of endless distance, to occupy
him. 

	The five minute warning on his pack kicked in.  The
EVA also had an innate five minute reserve of power, but it
was clear to him that he wasn't going to catch up with the
Angel in time; while he was gaining on his fleeing foe, it
was a very slow process. 

	He had to catch Hayyell.  After all the damage it
had done, it had to be brought down before it could cause
another massacre.  He thought about all the corpses, and his
imagination put faces he knew on them.  Asuka.  Rei.  Touji. 
Misato.  Kaji.  Ritsuko.  Maya.  Makoto.  Shigeru.  His
father.  He shuddered.  That had nearly happened on the
carrier, and he couldn't risk giving the Angel a second
crack at them.  It had to die, and it had to die now. 

	He had to run faster.  Somehow.  He told his EVA to
speed up.  To his surprise, it suddenly lurched forward at a
faster pace.  This came at a cost; the 'power remaining'
clock sped up, moving faster than real time, as he traded
power for speed. 

	Misato said, //"Shinji, you're losing power."// 

	"I have to catch this thing!" 

	//"If you run out of power, you're going to be
defenseless.  Turn back so we can try to get another pack to
you."//

	"If I let it go, it'll just come back and kill us
all while we're trying to resupply me!  Give it to Rei and
have her reinforce me." 

	//"She'll never catch up with you in time.  It took
her too long to subdue Asuka, who's still ranting...we don't
know what's gone wrong with her."//

	"The Angel did it to her, somehow," Shinji stated,
though he had no proof.  "And I'm going to kill it now!" 

	Shigeru cut in on the line.  //"He's closing the
gap; he should still have a few minutes of power left when
he catches the Angel."// 

	//"It's too risky.  Most of the Angels couldn't be
stopped by one EVA.  Fall back, Shinji."//

	"He's got to die!" 

	//"Shinji, this is an ORDER!"//

	Shinji hesitated.  He could see the Angel ahead of
him; he was getting closer to it, finally.  He couldn't turn
back now, not when he almost had it.  "I've got to kill it! 
I've got to!" 

	//"Turn back!"//

	He cursed and turned back, almost slipping due to
the speed at which he had been moving before.  He started 
running back as fast as he could without running the power 
down at an accelerated rate.   He could feel it following 
him, though he couldn't see it.  It was matching his speed.  
Suddenly, he knew he would never make it back to the ship 
before his power ran out.  He'd been running over twenty 
minutes and had less than ten minutes of power left.  
"I'm not going to make it." 

	//"We're coming to meet you, Shinji,"// Misato said
as soothingly as she could.  //"And Rei is coming."//

	Not fast enough.  He couldn't see Rei, but somehow
he could feel her, and she wouldn't make it.  It had taken
too long for her to wrestle down Asuka and force a plug
ejection.  The wind had turned and was blowing against the
zeppelin, which would slow it, and the Angel was easily
matching his own pace. 

	"It's going to catch me!"  He was down to five
minutes. 

	//"Just keep going, Shinji.  We're coming."//

	Four minutes.  No sign of Unit00 yet. 

	Three minutes.  The starry sky was still devoid of
help. 

	Two minutes.  The Angel made no sound except for the
slap of its huge feet against the rocky ground. 

	One minute.  The Angel drew closer.  "I've only got
one minute left!"  Shinji shouted. 

	Misato cursed.  //"We can see you.  Just a little
while longer."//

	"I don't HAVE a little while longer!" 
			
	Rei appeared on his monitor.  //"Strike while you
can, Ikari-kun."//

	And so, Shinji turned to face his foe.  He drew his
progressive knife and leaped at the serpentine Angel,
stabbing the blade deep into its chest.  To his surprise, it
wrapped its arms around him, embracing him, pulling him down
on top of it as it fell backwards. 

	As a result, 01's arm went right through the Angel's
chest, and when they struck the ground, it twisted and
broke.  The Angel snapped at 01's face with its elongated
snout, and only the head armor turned aside the bite. That
wouldn't stop him for long.  Between them, a shimmering
field glowed as two AT-fields battled with one another,
filling the air with sparks. 

	//"Just thirty more seconds, Shinji, that's all you
need to last"//, Misato said. Shinji was too busy fighting
desperately to bother keep track of his timer, or time in general.
Once he got his arm out of the Angel's chest, it suddenly
lost its grip on him, much to the surprise of both of them. 
My EVA always seems to slip out of Angels' grips, he thought.  
This had happened with Salgiel as well. Thank heaven for 
small blessings.  He had lost his knife, so he smacked the 
Angel in the head when it started to get up to give himself 
a few seconds to think.

	Unit01, however, wasn't interested in thinking.  It
suddenly lunged forward and drove both its hands into the
hole in the Angel's chest, then ripped the wound further
open to either side.  Two seconds later, its head descended
into the wound, and it began to eat the Angel, which howled.

	Shinji felt agonizing pains in his sides as the
Angel drove its two serpent head hands into 01's flesh and
tried to do to it what it was doing to the Angel.  The
shimmering fields of light around them wavered. 

	//"Almost there!"// Misato said.  //"What the hell
are you doing?"//

	Shinji didn't bother replying.  Anger overwhelmed
him.  He wanted to go berserk, to destroy this filthy thing
that had somehow warped Asuka's mind...what if she never
recovered?  If she had to be locked up like Kensuke?  "NO! 
I WON'T LET IT DO THAT TO HER!  DIE!  DIE!  DIE!" 

	//"Whoa, calm down, Shinji!"//  Misato said. 

	He didn't want to be calm.  He wanted the Angel to
die horribly, screaming, at his hands.  Unit01's arms came
around and grabbed the Angel's arms, ripping them off.  Then
they fumbled blindly for its face and poked out its eyes as
it continued to consume gobbets of blue-green flesh and
golden scales.  The shimmering field closed in on the
twitching, howling Angel, its flesh charring and burning
away as the field crushed it. 

	Shinji howled along with his EVA, lost in the rage
it shared with him. Seconds later, the Angel vaporized,
turning to dust, even the chunks in his mouth, and he felt a
flush of vitality run through him.  Together, they shouted
in triumph and stood over the last dusty remains of the
Angel. 

	Unseen by him, fangs sprouted in his EVA's mouth,
and on some patches of his EVA's flesh, scales formed.  Then
the power gave out, and 01 slumped to the ground. 

                           -*-

	Asuka looked up at Ritsuko, who had been running
some physical tests on her.  "Am I okay?" 

	"Nothing that would explain your hallucinatory
episode.  There's some evidence from the data tapes that 
the Angel may have influenced you, however; we picked up
some traces of its pattern in your EVA while it was alive,
though we were too busy fighting to survive to notice at the
time."  Ritsuko frowned.  "If you have even the slightest
hallucination that you can distinguish from reality, tell
me." 

	Asuka nodded.  "I will."  She hoped desperately that
it was over, that this wasn't the prelude to her cracking up
or being possessed.  She wanted enemies she could fight, not
ones she couldn't, like madness.  "Will I...be able to go on
the next mission?" 

	"Yes, I think so.  It's risky, but we have so few
pilots, we have to take risks.  I'm glad you're not going to
let this make you think about giving up." 

	"I NEVER give up," Asuka said fiercely.  "It's
always do or die for me." 

	"Good.  There's always some way out of a dilemma as
long as you keep trying.  And even if there isn't, it's best
to go down fighting.  At least then you can stick in your
enemy's throat." 

	Asuka laughed.  "Thanks.  I'm glad you agree with
me.  Can I go now?" 

	"Go right ahead," Ritsuko said.  "I'll get back to
you if we discover anything." 

	Asuka ran off, and Ritsuko watched her go.  Good for
her, Ritsuko said. I'll never surrender like Mother did. 
Never. 

	She turned, and went about her business, lost in
thought. 
  
                           -*-

	Asuka was very quiet as the Command Center departed
the vicinity of Phoenix, heading northeastward.  Shinji had
invited her to play Gin with himself and Rei, but she hadn't
even replied.  As a result, the 'pilot's lounge' was very
silent.  Shinji and Rei sat at a small circular table, while
Asuka sat on a bench by the window, staring out at the
clouds and the desolate landscape. 

	Finally, on the eighth hand of Gin, Asuka broke the
near silence by saying, "I'm sorry, Shinji." 

	"Eh?  You don't have to play Gin if you don't want
to." 

	Asuka blinked.  "I meant about attacking you.  I
really thought it was the Angel." 

	"I know.  He just pulled some kind of trick on you." 
Shinji turned for a moment and smiled at her.  "It really
made me mad.  I'm just glad you're okay." 

	"You're really not mad at me?"  Her voice was full
of surprise.  "Your father chewed me out.  Misato chewed me
out.  Kaji chewed me out."  Now she sounded hurt. 

	"Well, Misato chewed me out too, for not turning
back immediately when she told me to, but I just..."  He
hesitated, not wanting to think about how mad he had been. 
"I had to get it for what it did...for killing all those
people.  And...everything." 
	
	"I promise it won't happen again." 

	"It won't."  Rei said, laying down a card.  "Your
turn, Ikari-kun." 

	"Shinji," Asuka said.  "His name is Shinji.  You
should call him that. You keep treating him like you hardly
know him."

	Rei stared at her, then nodded.  "Your turn,
Shinji."  Her voice stumbled ever so slightly over his name. 

	"Okay.  You sure you don't want to play, Asuka?" 
Shinji asked.

	"Sure.  I'll play," she said.  "Better watch out,
you're toast now, Rei."

	Rei shook her head, they dealed Asuka in, and the
game went on.

                           -*-
	
	Ritsuko frowned at the snakes they were autopsying. 
The ones remaining on the ship had dropped dead the second
the Angel had died, and now they were rotting at an advanced
rate.  Nothing seemed able to delay it.  "Well, it looks
like we won't have many samples from this mission," she
said.

	Maya nodded.  "It certainly looks like it, sempai." 

	Ritsuko smiled faintly.  She makes me feel like I'm
back in high school again, she thought.  "Well, no danger of
something like this next time; the Children will be going
underground."

	Maya nodded.  "I was looking at the cables earlier. 
How deep are they going to have to go?"

	"Very, very deep, most likely.  The hardest part is
going to be keeping in contact with them.  Which is part of
what the cable is for."

	"At least there's no danger of drowning if the cable
is cut, unlike the ocean mission."

	"But plenty of chance of being buried alive." 

	Maya frowned.  "And it would be very difficult to
recover them." 

	"This is going to be a difficult mission." 

	Maya nodded and went back to her work. 
	
                           -*-

	As the Command Center continued on its way to the
northeast, Gendo and Fuyuutsuki stood in one of the
observation lounges, watching the world go by.  "This feud
between the First and Second Child could lead to disaster.
Something must be done," Gendo said. 

	"I think you read too much into that fight,"
Fuyuutsuki replied. 

	"Is that so?" asked Gendo.  "Did you see how she
struck Unit02 after it was down?  Why drag on the fight like
she did?  The First Child would never do that much damage
accidentally.  She may have wanted that fight.  This will
set us back somewhat on the next operation.  It couldn't
have come at a worse time." 

	"But why would she have any reason to dislike Asuka? 
She doesn't seem to like or dislike anyone." 

	"I don't know.  But we need to find out.  I will
have a talk with her." The sunlight flashed off his glasses
for a moment.  "And we need to be certain no such problems
exist between any of the Children.  If they fail to
cooperate, the results could be catastrophic for us all." 

	"Perhaps we should cancel this operation.  Our
agents believe they should identify the Fourth Child in a
matter of days.  Given the possibility of more problems,
that child's presence could make quite a difference.
Especially if Asuka has another episode." 

	Gendo shook his head.  "I'm quite certain the Angel
caused that, and he's gone now.  If we don't go now, he
could go anywhere, once he awakens.  And while he might
awaken before we arrive if we go now, he definitely will
rouse himself in our absence.  We must ride the tiger." 

	"And never sleep." 

	"Our destination will be worth it." 

	"Assuming we can slay the tiger before we have to
dismount." 

	"We have slain many tigers." 

	"But can we fight tiger with tiger?" 

	Gendo blinked, then laughed.  "We shall have to find
out."

                           -*-
                     - end part 11 -
                           -*-