"We're not ready," Ritsuko said.  "There's clear
signs of tampering with the records of the testing of the
microfusion engines.  Not to mention the records that do
seem reliable include at least one incident in which
installation of the engine caused the test EVA to 'melt to a
puddle of black and yellow slime'.  A second one became so
heavily contaminated with radiation that it had to be
destroyed.  We can't risk the pilots being destroyed by some
unforeseen malfunction."

	"We have to do it," Misato countered.  "I don't want
to risk the pilots' lives, but on the next operation,
running a power cord or supplying fresh powerpacks is simply
going to be impossible.  Even maintaining communications
will be difficult to impossible.  And the base itself is
being powered by microfusion right this minute.  The records
indicate they'd worked out all the bugs and successfully
installed a microfusion engine in Unit03.  While they
couldn't run a full range of tests with no pilot, it's been
installed for at least three weeks without any disaster
whatsoever.  It's a risk, but a necessary one." 

	"I believe we need to first reliably establish that
we can actually use the EVA units in the next operation
before we make a final decision,"  Fuyuutsuki now said. 
"Many natural caverns are far too small for the EVA units.
While preliminary scouting indicates the EVA will be usable,
 I would suggest waiting to install them until we are
certain we will be able to actually conduct this operation
and won't have to wait for Orifel to come to the surface." 

	Gendo looked at each of them impassively, then
nodded.  "There are suspicious irregularities in the
records.  We will wait here until we are sure we can get the
EVAs into the cavern network.  If we can, we will install
the microfusion engines and proceed.  My communications with
this base indicated they were quite sure they had worked out
all the bugs.  All of our equipment is rather experimental,
but we are under too much pressure to take the full
precautions that were allowable before the Angels began
their assault.  We should have confirmation within the next
three to five days at most."  He rose.  "You know your
duties.  Do them."  He turned and departed with Fuyuutsuki
trailing after him like a shadow. 

	Misato and Ritsuko waited until both of them were
gone, then Ritsuko said, "I still think this is too
dangerous.  Even without the risk of the microfusion
engines, there's a million natural disasters that could doom
the mission.  What happens if there's a cave-in?" 

	Misato sighed.  "What if Orifel decides to erupt up
in the middle of Oklahoma City?  At least this way, no
civilians will be at risk.  I hate to put my...to put Shinji
and Asuka at risk, but we have no choice.  We're all
soldiers here, and soldiers have to risk their lives.  My
only regret is that I can't go with them."  She fingered her
necklace, letting the familiar routine of running her
fingers along the odd angles and smooth curves of its star
like pendant soothe her nerves. 

	"Do you believe in fate, Misato?" Ritsuko asked,
staring at the pendant.

	"I believe in something.  I'm not sure what its name
is, but I know something saved me from dying in the Second
Impact.  There's just no way I could have survived that
without divine intervention.  Not unless this thing has a
lot more power than just..."  She struggled to remember how
to express it correctly.  "Short circuiting servants of the
Angels."

	"I want to believe something is watching out for us,
but I can't find any evidence I can trust," Ritsuko said.
"But the only godlike beings we've seen are hostile." 

       "Any being that man can destroy can't really be a
god," Misato said.  "Unless they were... what's it called... 
demi-gods... like Hercules, yeah?"

	"Too bad we can't call him on the phone, then," 
Ritsuko said wryly.  "Maybe he's the one who kept you alive
through Second Impact."

	"Nah, that'd be Poseidon." 

	"Ah, true." 

	"I dunno how I lived through it; I was adrift at sea
for two weeks, at least." 

	"And you don't remember anything at all?" 

	"Not after seeing Antarctica go up in flames.  And
then I was catatonic for a year...haven't I told you about
all this before?"

	"I've been thinking." 

	Misato rolled her eyes.  "You're not the only one
around here who thinks, you know."

	"That's not what I meant.  I've been trying to put
the big picture together.  We still don't know where these
Angels are coming from, or what they want, or if they're
ever going to stop.  Or how they're getting here." 

	"Well, I do have a theory," Misato said.  "It's
pretty much just wild speculation, but it sorta makes sense
of it all.  Although I'm just kinda pulling some of it out
of my ass." 

	"What is it?" 

	"Well, possibly, they're all the losers of some sort
of alien war, and they were imprisoned here for their
crimes, maybe millions of years ago when humans hadn't
evolved yet.  The people who imprisoned them might've died,
leaving thse 'angels' forgotten, still trapped in suspended
animation.  Second Impact started to stir them out of that,
and now they're all waking up.  Or maybe their prison
sentences all ran out fairly close together." Misato
laughed.  "Kinda crazy, but I don't have a better idea." 

	Ritsuko tapped her pencil on the table as she
thought for a few minutes.  "Hmm.  Or it could be some sort
of natural cycle, like hibernation, although what would be
the signal for them to awaken...I'd think Second Impact was
the signal, but why did they wait so long?"

	"Whatever it is, they've been here a damn long
time," Misato said.  "Whoever built that underwater city
built a temple over one of them, and that city was probably
Atlantis or something, which would make it really old. Maybe
they're just really deep sleepers."

	"It's just all too convenient.  Nearly unstoppable
giant monsters not showing up until right after we have the
technology to stop them.  Coming one at a time like a bad
kung fu movie.  Each fight is ALMOST lost, but not quite." 

	"Maybe they're trying to lull us into a false sense
of security,"  Misato said.  "Although I tend to think it's
a matter of them not liking each other.  For that matter,
they might not actually know the others are here.  If they
think it's them against the world and the only possible help
is light years away, then they have to make do on their
own."

	"It just makes me wonder if we're pawns in some
cosmic game, that the Earth is just a board where someone
has built up NERV as his champion and is letting his friends
build their own monsters to throw at us for fun.  Or
something."  She sighed.  "I'm rambling." 

	Misato stood up.  "Well, we can speculate until our
brains run out our ears, but we don't know enough to do more
than guess wildly.  I can only conclude that I'm hungry and
want to eat.  Want to join me?" 

	"Sure." 

                           -*-


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


                 Children of an Elder God

                          Part 12

            Fear and Loathing in Oklahoma


                           -*-

	"This bodes ill," Gendo said, standing on the
platform looking down on the hanger where NERV-America had
kept its test EVAs, and they now kept the three they had
brought with them, and Unit03, which they planned to take
with them once they departed this site.  "The commander's
records have been tampered with as well." 

	"Well, Unit03 has yet to explode or melt,"
Fuyuutsuki said.  "Perhaps someone was trying to shift blame
for the disasters with 4 and 5." 

	"Perhaps.  But I think SEELE has taken them." 

	Fuyuutsuki blinked.  "Why would they bother?  And
what use would test EVAs with no pilots be?" 

	"Perhaps they have pilots.  Perhaps DAGON has been
more successful than we've been led to believe." 

	Fuyuutsuki frowned.  "You think Dr. Akagi is
secretly working for one of them?" 

	"Science is not magic.  Indeed, duplicability of
results is the ideal.  Given SEELE's access to information,
they could easily be monitoring our experiments and learning
from our mistakes, then using the information to perfect
their own work.  If I was SEELE and had its resources, I'd
have several groups working on that project. Perhaps they
have reached the point where they need test EVAs of their
own." 

	"But then they could manufacture them themselves. 
If they have the resources to duplicate DAGON, they can make
EVAs as well.  Of course, this could be intended to make us
think they don't have the capacity to make them, so we'll
believe SEELE has only two, and then an army of them,
controlled by DAGON units, could show up when matters come
to their final resolution," Fuyuutsuki said, frowning.  He
leaned on the railing and stared down at the four EVAs. 
"Neither NERV-Japan nor the Scimitar would last long against
that." 

	"Or possibly there really were two accidents, and
we're simply descending into paranoia.  Commander Irons was
never very good with machines; I wouldn't be surprised if he
simply accidentally deleted half his records and tried to
reconstruct them from memory without telling anyone. 
Although that's why we gave him that secretary, but it is
possible." 

	"Well, all of the witnesses are dead who could tell
us,"  Fuyuutsuki said. 

	"Not all of them.  A handful were on vacation.  I'm
having them rounded up so we can find out if they know
anything important." 

	Fuyuutsuki nodded.  "Good idea." 

                           -*-

	The site having been declared 'clean', the repair
and reconstruction of NERV-America was underway.  Shigeru
and Makoto stood at the top of a bank of escalators and
watched workers busily cleaning them; many had become jammed
up from having snakes caught in them.  "I wish I could
requisition these guys to clean my apartment," Shigeru said. 
He looked over at the envelope in Makoto's hand.  "Hey,
they're delivering mail to us now?" 

	"Yeah, Misato had all our mail forwarded by air.  I
haven't read it yet, but it's from a writer friend of mine." 

	"So when are you going to stop sending her anonymous
love letters and tell her how you feel?" Shigeru asked. 

	Makoto stared at Shigeru.  "How'd you know?" 

	"Who else could it be?  Anyone who's not an idiot
can tell.  Anyway, you'd best make your move before Kaji
finally wears down her resistance." 

	"Do you think...she knows?" 

	"She'd have either told you to forget about it, or
jumped into your arms by now if she knew.  Just don't wait
too long like I did.  Although if Maya really does...lean
that way, I never had a chance, but still...you know what I
mean." 

	"Yeah.  So who do you think Shinji's secret admirer
is?" 

	"No clue.  If Rei had any hormones, I'd guess her,
but I think she's probably still neuter like a little kid." 
He shrugged.  "Who do you think is gonna win the World Cup
this year?" 

	"Brazil." 

	"No way!  The Germans will crush them." 

	"I'm sure Asuka thinks that, but given they've lost
to Brazil five years in a row, they're dead." 

	Soon, a proper sports argument was in full swing. 
The maintenance crew was rapidly sucked into it, and by the
time it was over, the day was completely shot. 

                           -*-

	Kaji wondered again why someone had opened a place
called 'Eskimo Joe's' in Phoenix, Arizona.  The bar and
grill was decorated in a polar theme, and the
airconditioning was certainly strong enough to evoke the
Arctic wastes.  As he stared at the stuffed penguin hanging
up over his booth, he wondered what Pen-Pen would have done
if he had seen it. 

	The man he was waiting for soon arrived, sitting
down at the booth.  He was middle aged, and nicely dressed
in a suit and tie, drenched with sweat, since it was nearly
a hundred degrees outside.  His hair was short and black,
his eyes grey and harried.  "Mr. Kaji?" 

	Kaji nodded.  "You're Bill Harker?" 

	"Yeah."  The man slid his briefcase under the table
and signalled a waitress.  "Rum and coke, please." 

	She nodded and went to get him one.  Kaji sat and
sipped his fruit drink.  Once the waitress brought the man
his drink, Kaji said, "You had something to tell me about
the microfusion engine?" 

	"Yes.  It's impossible.  If you get through the
mumbo jumbo the old project head, Dr. Schwarzenwald,
surrounded it with, you got a bunch of science that didn't
make any sense.  Maybe if the microfusion engine was in the
heart of a star, you could build one that would actually
produce enough energy to have an output, instead of needing
energy input to work." 

	"I understood that it involved inducing high gravity
fields in some manner?" 

	"A gravity field high enough to enable one to induce
fusion of say, sandstone, which was used in one test, would
cause the EVA to collapse in on itself.  You can't slap a
'containment unit' on gravity.  It's the result of mass
bending space, not some kind of particle.  That's why
practical or even impractical anti-gravity devices have
never been invented." 

	Kaji nodded.  "Do you have any documents laying out
your arguments in scientific prose?  And how does the
microfusion reactor powering the base work if it's a hoax?" 

	The man frowned.  "I don't know.  But I have some
written up documents.  I'll get you copies as soon as I can;
I hadn't finished polishing them when I went on vacation." 

	"Get them to me as soon as you can.  We need to know
what was really going on here before the Angel attack killed
everyone." 

	Harker shuddered.  "I'm glad my wife demanded I
finally take a vacation." 

	"Now, what do you know about the accidents with the
two destroyed EVA units?" 
	
                           -*-

	He stood in his cavernous underground lair, brooding
on insults of yesteryear and the burning desire for
retribution. 

	Around him, filling the entire cavern, his children
hissed, rattled and slithered, filling the air with their
reptile song.  They were eager to serve their master. 

	At last, he decided who would die today.  The two
who persecuted him, who always blamed him, the ones that
made him feel worthless. 

	Shinji Ikari smiled a malicious smile.  Time for
dear old uncle and auntie to die. 

	And with that thought, his legions of snakes
slithered away into the tunnels. 

	The prey was set. 

	The hunt was on. 

	Suddenly, the roof of the cavern shattered, debris
and daylight pouring in from above.  He and his minions
hissed angrily at the intrusion, and he glared angrily
skyward to see who dared to confront him in _his_ kingdom. 

	Before he could act, a gigantic hand came from above
and grabbed him.  He yelled, screamed, and roared at the
audacity of the invader.  Opening his mouth, a pair of fangs
emerged, and he bit down on the giant hand. 

	It didn't have any effect. 

	Instead, Shinji was at last pulled out from the
cavern and into the open air, and found himself staring at a
giant purple behemoth, the words 'Unit01' marked on its
side. 

	"I'll kill you!" yelled Shinji.  "I'll kill you!" 

	The Evangelion opened its mouth, and shoved him in. 

                           -*-

	"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!" 

	He sat up suddenly, his arms trembling, his body
drenched in sweat. 

	"It wasn't real, it wasn't real, it wasn't real," 
Shinji muttered to himself. 

	Outside, he could hear Misato and Asuka stirring. 
Shinji hoped it wasn't him that woke them up. 

	"Hey, Shinji," asked Misato from behind the door. 
"You okay?  Can I come in?" 

	"Good lord, he's doing it AGAIN!" yelled Asuka. 

	"Asuka, be nice." 

	Shinji sighed.  This wasn't a good start to the day. 

	"I'm fine, Misato!  I'll be out in a minute!" 

                           -*-

	Having nothing better to do, Asuka talked Shinji
into wandering around the Scimitar with her, not a small
feat considering the titanic size of the aircraft.  It was
more for keeping in shape than for the sightseeing, Asuka
had said, though they both would admit that the endless
coridors of the Scimitar were still impressive to them. 

	After an hour, the pair made their way to the top
deck of the Scimitar.  Blue skies with fluffy clouds
welcomed them, as well as the many gun turrets laid across
the carrier's deck.  Asuka emerged from the Scimitar first,
standing easily atop the ship, even peering over the edge of
it, while Shinji stayed very close to the entry hatch. 

	"Scared of heights?" asked Asuka. 

	"It's not the height," said Shinji shakily, with a
weak grin. "It's the lack of walls." 

	"Oh.  Hey, Shinji?" 

	"Yeah?" 

	"What do you think about Rei?" 

	"W-what?" 

	Mercifully, Asuka missed the embarrassed look and
slight blush on Shinji's face.  Instead, she was staring at
a vague point straight ahead, deep in thought. 

	"Haven't you noticed anything weird about her?" 
asked Asuka.  "She's... it's like she's not exactly human." 

	Shinji frowned.  "That's not a nice thing to say." 

	"I'm not looking to insult her, I'm trying to figure
her out," replied Asuka.  "There's a lot of things about her
that don't add up." 

	"Like what?" asked Shinji. 

	"Like what?" echoed Asuka, angrily.  "Have you NOT
been paying attention to her at all?  She's nearly albino,
except for the blue hair and red eyes.  _Red_eyes_, Shinji. 
That is not normal." 

	"So she looks a little strange," said Shinji, though
he wasn't sounding so certain himself. 

	"Have you asked the other guys at school about her? 
I have.  She never talks to anybody.  Ever." 

	"She's just shy." 

	"You'd think that Rei would be bullied or something,
being timid like that, but she's _not_.  People are _scared_
of her, Shinji, though they can't really say why." 

	"They just don't know her!" 

	"No animals will get close to her," continued Asuka. 
"Remember the time that snake got into our room in Arizona? 
When Rei tried to touch it, the thing went _crazy_." 

	"Asuka, her private life is none of our business!" 

	"The heck it isn't!  Our lives are depending on each
other, Shinji!  I wanna be sure I can trust her!" 

	"She's saved my life and that's good enough for me!" 
shouted Shinji.  "Just... just stop worrying about it. 
Leave her alone." 

	And with that, Shinji went back into the entry
hatch, climbing down the ladder in a sour mood.  Asuka
sighed and quickly followed.  "Hey, Shinji?  Aw, don't be
mad!  C'mon, wait up!" 

                           -*-

	"Not to mention the time she left icy footprints on
the floor, and all.  WHAT is she?" Asuka demanded of
Ritsuko. 

	They were in Ritsuko's office, such as it was, which
was more of a cordoned off part of the lab than a formal
office, even if she was head of research.  In theory, she
had a fancier office, but it was too far from the labs for
her to normally bother with it. 

	"Rei is one of the Children.  Like you, she isn't
entirely human." 

	Asuka nodded, then her eyes widened.  "What?" 

	"Second Impact has had an impact on every child born
since it happened, though we don't fully understand why. 
The rate of stillbirths and deformities has gone up, but at
the same time, so has the number of prodigies.  All three of
you have the ability to pilot EVA because due to some quirk
of genetics, you are more attuned to the energies used by
the EVAs than a normal human, and also able to keep your
sanity in the face of them." 

	"But Rei is...I mean she..." 

	"No normal human can pilot an EVA.  Either they fail
to accomplish anything, they go mad, they die, or they
become a horrible twisted thing.  Whatever makes Rei
special, you and Shinji possess it as well, if not so
strongly.  And what has happened with her is happening to
you as well." 

	Asuka's eyes tried to widen more and failed. 
"What?" 

	What followed was a flood of charts and graphs
demonstrating physiological changes in all three of the
Children.  They were becoming stronger, faster, and
healthier.  Their metabolism was becoming more efficient. 
There were brain-wave activity changes as well, common to
all three. 

	A wave of data overwhelmed Asuka, leaving her little
choice but to accept Ritsuko's conclusions.  "So, we're
going to start...getting pale and...everything?" 

	"That's simply a quirk of her genetic background. 
But sometime soon, you will likely begin to manifest psychic
abilities like hers, weaker forms of the powers of the
Angels you have slain.  I wouldn't be surprised if some very
low level effects too subtle to notice weren't already
taking place." 

	Asuka frowned.  "Why didn't you tell us this
before?" 

	"We didn't know before.  I've only gradually pieced
this together myself from studying the three of you, and my
conclusions are still tentative.  We'd hoped the EVAs would
adapt, but we couldn't be sure.  Even less could we guess
what would happen with you three." 

	"So what's going to become of us?  Are we going to
turn into monsters?  Are we going to have to be killed
because we're not human any more?"  Asuka's voice started to
rise in pitch, and her hands clenched and unclenched. 

	Ritsuko's voice was harsh.  "You're not turning into
monsters.  Rei is not a monster any more than I am.  But if
you treat her like one, you'll make it a lot more likely
that she'll treat you as one in return.  You're more
like..."  She thought a moment.  "Demi-gods." 

	"..."  This didn't seem to be much comfort. 

	"It's hardly a scientific term, but I don't know a
better one.  But you're not going to sprout tentacles and
rampage through Tokyo-3, fifty foot tall.  You're more like
the next step in human evolution.  But you're still human." 

	"I...But why is it stronger with Rei?"  Asuka wasn't
ready to simply accept she was being...transformed. 

	"A quirk of her genetics.  Or perhaps she's simply
figured out how to do these things while you haven't.  I
should talk to her about it." 

	"And the animals being afraid of her?" 

	"Pheremones.  Same for the humans.  As I said, many
people born since Second Impact suffer some kind of genetic
flaw; that is likely one of hers.  And I suspect she's so
introverted because of the fact that her pheremones make
people fear her.  Plus, she had a bad upbringing."  Ritsuko
sighed.  "To the extent you could call it an upbringing." 

	Asuka stared at the ground.  "Are you sure we're not
going to...turn into something awful?"  The fear of it
clutched at her, but a part of her was almost eager for it,
and that scared her even more. 

	"For all I know, we could be squashed flat by a
meteor five minutes from now.  Life doesn't come with a
guarantee.  But I have no reason to believe you're going to
be as heavily affected as your EVAs, since you're far more
human than the EVA units.  I suppose it could influence any
children you might have, though." 

	"I just..." 

	"You're not going to become a puddle of slime after
your next fight, and worrying about it will just make you
feel old before your time.  Go do something fun and relax,
Asuka." 

	Asuka got up slowly.  "Thank you for talking to me,
Dr. Akagi." 

	"You're welcome." 

	Ritsuko watched her go.  I hope I'm right, she
thought.  We can't afford to lose them.  And these changes
may be going further than I thought they would.  This merits
study. 

                           -*-

	Even though he told Asuka not to, Shinji found
himself wondering about Rei.

	And so it came to pass that he found himself
standing before her cabin aboard the NERV flagship Scimitar.

	He looked at the door, wondering what he'd say to
her, what to ask. 

	And then the door swung open. 

	Shinji nearly jumped away in shock, while at the
doorway, Rei merely looked at him with a neutral expression,
though her eyes did widen ever so slightly. 

	"Shinji-kun." 

	He breathed a deep sigh, trying to calm down from
the surprise of Rei's sudden appearance. "Hi, Rei."

	She blinked at him, tilted her head slightly, then
went back inside the cabin.  She left the door open behind
her, allowing Shinji to follow inside.

	He followed her inside, as she walked through the
short but dark passageway to her room.  Rei sat on her bed,
then looked up at Shinji with a hint of expectation and
curiosity.  Daunted by even this minor display, Shinji
looked around and sat on the chair by the desk. 

	Now, what was he going to ask? 

	Er... 

	He sat there silently, sometimes twiddling his
thumbs, other times tapping his feet while trying to figure
out the words to what he wanted to ask.  On her part, Rei
silently, patiently waited for Shinji to do something. 

	"Um... Rei..." 

	"Yes?" 

	"I was wondering..."  Are you a mutant freak?  Why
are you nearly albino with blood red eyes?  Why do you scare
the hell out of everyone?  How do you leave icy footprints
on the floor?

	Shinji shook his head and tried again.  "Um... 
Rei... how do you do those... um... things that you do." 

	Rei looked slightly puzzled, but otherwise remained
silent. 

	"Like... like... like when you left those icy
footprints on the stage... or how you outmuscled Touji... 
or... um..." He suddenly realized that asking her how she
manages to scare animals into a fleeing panic was not a good
choice of words. 

	However, this seemed to be enough for Rei, who
surprised Shinji by answering.  "It is the power of the
Children." 

	It was an enigmatic answer, one that didn't sound
reassuring. 

	"I... I don't understand," replied Shinji. 

	One of Rei's eyebrows lifted, slightly.  "You... 
cannot do these things?" she asked. 

	Shinji shook his head. 

	"We take from those we slay," said Rei.  She looked
expectantly at Shinji, waiting to see some sign of
comprehension. 

	He still looked relatively clueless. 

	Looking around her room, Rei frowned.  She stood up
and left the room, pausing only to look at Shinji
expectantly, a sign that he should follow.  He did, and they
were soon walking along the grey steel corridors of the
Scimitar, through twisty mazes and bulkheads.  It seemed
like mindless wandering to Shinji, until Rei suddenly
stopped.  She seemed to peer into a dark corridor, then
gestured for Shinji to come closer. 

	"Huh?" he asked. 

	"Look in the corner," she said. 

	"Okaaaay."  Shinji walked down the hallway,
frequently looking back at Rei.  The girl merely waited for
him.  Having nothing better to do, he continued on his way. 

	As he reached the end of the corridor, he noticed a
spider's web, slightly unusual in a way he couldn't put into
words.  The spider's web was large but barely visible, a few
shimmering strands of light stretching across the alleyway. 
At its center was a modest-sized spider.  Its body was
small, about the size of a few peanuts, but its legs were
surprisingly long, each of them longer than his hand. 

	As he approached the web, the spider paused and
seemed to look straight at him.  It almost seemed.... 
expectant? 

	He looked back towards Rei with a questioning look. 
She merely replied, "Command it." 

	"Um... hello." 

	It still stared at him expectantly. 

	"Ah... go left." 

	The spider paused a moment more, then began walking
left.  Shinji stared in disbelief.  This couldn't be, it was
just coincidence, right? 

	"Stop." 

	It stopped, looking at him expectantly once more. 
He found its gaze suddenly uncomfortable. 

	"Walk in a circle." 

	The spider began crawling along its web, in a nearly
perfect circle. 

	Shinji's blood ran cold.  Visions of the nightmare
he had earlier came back, haunting him.  "No... this can't
be..." 

	He walked, almost stumbling out of the corridor,
towards Rei.  Confusion and fear filled him. 

	"Rei... what are we?" 

	Rei merely replied, "The Children." 

                           -*-

	Shinji put down his homework, having had more of it
than he could stand.  After his conversation with Rei, he
couldn't focus on it anyway.  He got out his cello, and
began practicing a simple piece he had mastered long ago. 
As he played, he remembered long afternoons with
Taiyama-san, his cello instructor.  He had treasured those
sessions, for Taiyama-san had been the only person who had
ever praised him before he came to Tokyo-3, though he also
constantly pushed Shinji harder and harder, more so than
Shinji usually wanted to exert himself. 

	As memory carried him away from the present, his
burden eased, carried away by a river of notes flowing out
into the air around him.  He did not know how long he played
before there was a knock on the door. 

	"Come in," he said, continuing to play, since his
instrument needed no voice to sing. 

	Asuka came in with her violin.  She looked tired and
a little scared.  "I heard you playing," she said softly. 
"Mind if I join you?" 

	"Go right ahead," he said, pointing to his simple
bed.  His room in the dormitory on board the ship wasn't too
large, but he had a desk at which he had been sitting with
the chair turned around, a dresser drawers, and a bed.  Room
enough for two. 

	She sat down and began to play, joining in the
piece, not speaking.  They played in near-silence through
three pieces, their instruments joining into a union like
the one they experienced with their EVAs, but far more
beautiful.  Slowly, the music worked its magic on Asuka, as
she ceased to slump and frown, replaced by a relaxed posture
and a tiny smile. 

	As he began a fourth piece, he suddenly realized he
hadn't even told her what any of them were.  She's good, he
thought. 

	"I went and talked to Dr. Akagi," she said quietly
as they launched into the wistful fourth piece. 

	"What did she have to say?" he asked, suspecting he
knew. 

	"You were right, Shinji.  She already knew.  She
claimed she'd just recently figured it out, but...Now I'm
wondering about what else they haven't told us."  Her face
darkened again. 

	"I'm sure Misato and Dr. Akagi don't want anything
bad to happen to us.  They didn't have any way to know what
would happen.  But it is kinda scary." 

	She missed a few notes as she said, "I keep
wondering what strange abilities I'm going to start getting,
or if I'll start...looking different." 

	"I can make spiders obey me," Shinji said faintly. 
"I went and talked to Rei." 

	"What did she tell you?" 

	"That we gain the abilities of what we kill, to some
degree.  She was surprised we didn't already know." 

	Asuka frowned more.  "And how did she know?" 

	"Figured it out, I guess.  I suppose I'd make a good
snake charmer now," he said.  He fumbled a few notes and
frowned slightly.  I'm not used to talking while I do this,
I guess, he thought. 

	They began a new piece; this one was spritely and
quick.  Their hands raced back and forth with their bows,
and for a time, they played without speaking until they had
both reached the proper pace.  Then Asuka said, "I hope I
didn't absorb being pathetic from the Koosh Ball Angel." 

	"I hope you don't start biting people's feet so they
rip off your hand," Shinji replied. 

	Asuka laughed.  "Geez, he was a loser.  I could do
with fighting a few more idiots like him." 

	"Me too." 

	They played in silence again for a time, then
switched to a complex piece, darting up and down the scale
and repeatedly changing key.  Both of them could almost hear
the rest of the orchestra racing along with them, the
crashing of cymbals, the deep booming of tuba and basoon,
the lilting of the french horns, the gentle chiming of
bells, the other violins and cellos striving to keep up with
them.  Music surrounded them, suffused them, erupted from
inside them.  The walls, the ceiling, the furniture they sat
upon faded from their awareness, and there was only
themselves, their instruments, and the orchestra. 

	They raced along to the conclusion, and then they
were done, with only a few lonely violin notes lingering on
to say that they had played at all.  Indeed, for a moment,
Asuka thought another violin was playing out a final coda to
the tune, but that was, of course, impossible, since no one
else was there.  "That was really cool." 

	"Yeah, I wish we'd had a tape recorder running,"
Shinji said.  "And a real orchestra to accompany us.  That
would have been even better, since that's what it was
written for." 

	Asuka had the sudden realization that she couldn't
remember what that piece was they had just played.  She
could remember what it sounded like, but not the name.  "So
what is that one called?" 

	"Umm..."  Shinji racked his brain, and had no idea
whatsoever.  "I can't remember." 

	"Me neither, but I'm sure it'll come back to me,"
Asuka said.  I know it by heart, why can't I remember its
name?  I'm probably just trying too hard, she thought.  Like
the way I froze up during that physics final two years ago. 
It'll just pop back into my head. 

	"It's not that important.  Lemme see if I can find
another good one."  He got his folder of sheet music and
began fumbling through it.  "See if you know any of these. 
I'll go get Rei." 

	Asuka frowned.  "I...I'm not sure if I want to deal
with her." 

	"You sure of that?  I bet the piece we just did
would be better with three.  And I could get a tape
recorder." 

	"Uh, well...okay," Asuka said. 

	Shinji stared at her for a moment; she normally was
a lot more forceful.  She's just got stuff on her mind, he
thought. I can't blame her. 

	He went and borrowed a tape recorder with a
microphone from Misato, then found Rei in her room, a short
distance down the hallway.  As he knocked, he heard violin
music coming through the door.  It ceased, and she opened
the door, still holding her violin, then stepped back. 

	"You wanna come practice with Asuka and I?" 

	She advanced, and he retreated, then she turned and
closed the door, starting down the hallway to his room.  He
followed her, then realized she was humming a tune, which
startled him.  Moreso, it was the tune he and Asuka had been
playing earlier; she was humming the violin part. 

	"Do you know what the name of that tune is?" 

	"No." 

	"Do you remember who wrote it?" 

	"No." 

	"Do you remember where you learned it?" 

	"The same as you." 

	They reached Shinji's door, and he rubbed his head. 
"Where was that?" 

	"In battle." 

	Shinji took quite a while to follow her through his
own door after that. 

                           -*-
	Shigeru sighed. 

	The setting sun just didn't look quite the same in
Arizona as it was in Japan. 

	Probably from the lack of water. 

	And the large stretches of desert wasteland. 

	The hot, arid wind didn't help either. 

	The wild west, Shigeru thought dimly, was quite
overrated. 

	The bridge technician was taking a much needed
stroll, suffering from a nearly non-stop day of system
checks, double-checks, safety checks, redundancy checks, all
sorts of mundane yet essential tasks. 

	Ah, but he needed the break.  Shigeru paced slowly
around the massive NERV carrier, a cigarette dangling from
his lips. It was a filthy habit, he knew, but such was life. 
At the moment, he was in no mood to quit. 

	The truth of the matter was that he was feeling a
bit homesick.  Shigeru thought a little travel might be
nice, but now he had a full change of heart. 

	Unfortunately, a return trip home wasn't in the
works, not yet anyway.  Still had to head over to Oklahoma. 

	Man, Oklahoma. 

	Shigeru laughed, then shook his head. 

	o/~ Oooooooooklahoma! o/~
	o/~ Where the wind comes sweepin down the plains!
o/~
	o/~ And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet o/~
	o/~ When the wind comes right behind the rain! o/~

	That's what I get for surfing the cable channels, he
thought to himself, foreign musicals stuck in my head. 

	As he walked by the aft section of the Scimitar, he
heard something rustling in the grass. 

	More snakes? 

	He quickly took a step away from the noise, then
stepped on something slippery.  Shigeru tried to quickly
stand up, but there was something slippery under his hand... 
slippery, pulpy, and warm. 

	And moving. 

	"What th-" 

                           -*-

	The security guard posted at the entry lift of the
Scimitar looked at Bridge Officer Aoba curiously as he
staggered slowly forward. 

	"Hey, Aoba-san?" 

	Shigeru blinked, though there was something
disturbing about the very movement of his eyelids, something
_wrong_, like there were ants crawling under his skin... or
something. 

	"Aoba-san?  You okay?" 

	Shigeru grinned, though the very movement of his
face was unnatural.  With a low, monotone voice, he replied,
"O.K." 

                           -*-

	Gendo signed the report and tossed it into his 'out'
box.  Yet another piece of mindnumbing paperwork had been
defeated.  The next item on his agenda was to go over the
monthly requisition requests and try to deduce which were
legitimate, and which had been approved as part of
embezzlement schemes by various subordinates, and which were
simply stupid.  Once Rei showed up.  He was surprised by her
lack of punctuality. 

	He reached over to the inbox, only to see Rei
sitting quietly in the chair in front of his desk.  How long
has she been there, he wondered. 

	"Next time, alert me to your presence," he said. 

	"Yes, sir," she replied. 

	"I understand you've had some problems with the
Second Child." 

	Rei nodded. 

	"I believe it's affecting your performance as a
pilot." 

	Silence. 

	"Such as when you were ordered to subdue Unit02
during the recent operation and you engaged in excessive
force." 

	Silence. 

	"That cannot be tolerated." 

	"Yes, sir."  Her voice was flat. 

	"Is that all you have to say for yourself?" 

	"I have no defense of my actions to make.  I accept
your judgement." 

	But did she?  Gendo wasn't so sure.  "Why do you
dislike the Second Child?" 

	Rei fidgeted slightly, surprising him; Rei could
beat a statue in standing still, usually.  "She attacked
Ik...Shinji."  While her face remained calm, he could hear
the slight waver that with anyone else would have been
meaningless, but with Rei was like someone else screaming. 

	"She was suffering from hallucinations induced by
the Angel.  That was quite clear from her transmissions. 
Why do you dislike her?"  His voice grew a little harsher. 

	"She is...like me, but not." 

	Gendo resisted the urge to make a sarcastic remark,
since it would be wasted on her.  "How?" 

	"She...We are both Children.  But she...They make me
feel." 

	"Feel what?" 

	"I don't know the words."  For a time, she was
silent.  "I want to be with Shinji." 

	"You want to live with Shinji?" 

	"My...feelings around him are good." 

	"And your feelings around the Second Child are bad?" 

	"She is closer to him than I am." 

	"So you want to get rid of her, so you can be the
closest one to Shinji?" 

	She nodded. 

	"You are aware that human beings normally don't
settle this sort of thing with violence?"  he asked, then a
few seconds later, decided that she probably didn't. 

	"How?" 

	"How what?" 

	"Is it settled?" 

	"The usual method is to make him want to be with
you, not to kill everyone else he is with."  I can't believe
I'm having this conversation, Gendo thought. 

	"How?" 

	In all his dreams and plans, Gendo had never once
imagined his duties as commander of NERV would involve
giving romantic advice to a repressed teenage girl.  It had
been decades since he had been a teenage boy, let alone a
teenage girl.  And knowing what Rei was, he wasn't sure it
was a good idea to give her any advice.  On the other hand,
if it enabled her to get rid of her her jealousy towards
Langley, it could avoid a total disaster.  He'd transgressed
far more important boundaries to get where he was, and there
were passages in the prophecies which hinted of forbidden
love among the Children. 

	Still, regardless of all that, what really kept him
silent was not being sure what to say.  He spent a minute
thinking, then said, "I suggest you ask..." He quickly ran
through names in his head.  "Commander Katsuragi." 

	"Yes, sir." 

	"And I don't want you to ever attack Asuka again,
either in person or with your EVA unit." 

	Rei nodded. 

	"There's no reason for you to be jealous of her. 
You're a better EVA pilot than she is.  Your performance has
been very good so far; I don't want to see any further
damage done to your record." 

	Rei nodded again. 

	"Dismissed." 

	He watched her go, then pushed his glasses back up
his nose, wondering if he ought to talk to Shinji about
this, and whether or not this had been a mistake. 

                           -*-

	Shinji sat down in a chair in Ritsuko's 'office'. 
"I'm sorry I was late, Dr. Akagi." 

	"Try to be on time next time," Ritsuko said. 
"Anyway, I called you in to talk to you about the other
Children.  We'd like to head off any problems before they
can fester." 

	"I don't really have any problems with the others,"
Shinji said.  "It's hard to get a straight answer or any
kind of answer out of Rei, and Asuka can be kind of
loudmouthed and a bit bossy at times, but that's about all. 
I never thouht I'd actually like living with other people,
but living with her and Misato is kinda fun." 

	"So Misato no longer tries to get everyone else to
do all the housework for her?" 

	Shinji laughed.  "Well, yes, but Asuka usually
badgers her into helping out.  And her job does keep her
more busy than we are.  I'd rather have Asuka cook than
her." 

	"Do you and Asuka ever fight?" 

	"Well, if I have one more nightmare, I think she may
kill me.  Other than that...not more than anyone living in
the same house does.  We have little fights over who's
supposed to do what chore, sometimes.  Or over leaving the
toilet seat up or down." 

	"Any problems with Rei?" 

	Shinji shook his head.  "Not usually.  Other than
trying to pry the answer to a question out of her." 

	Ritsuko laughed.  "I know.  I know.  So what do you
think about what Asuka has been saying about her?" 

	Shinji stared at the floor.  "I just...Rei can do
weird stuff, but so can we.  I made a spider do what I told
it to.  She said we gain the power of what we kill.  But how
does she know that?" 

	"I don't know.  We didn't suspect anything until
recently; I suppose she just figured it out for herself." 

	He looked up at Ritsuko.  "She thought I should
already know." 

	Ritsuko frowned.  "Well, unless someone else has
been telling her things, I don't know why she would think
that.  So you can make spiders obey you?" 

	Shinji nodded.  "For whatever that is worth.  It
doesn't mean...I'm going to start sticking to walls and
stuff, am I?" 

	"I don't think so.  I doubt you're going to develop
the proportionate strength of a spider, or anything like
that.  Or extra limbs, or spinnerets.  Real spiders can't
command other spiders, you know." 

	Shinji nodded again. 

	"Still, I think I'm going to need to run some more
tests.  I would assume you would manifest a power related to
each of the Angels you played a part in terminating."  She
began scribbling a list on a notepad.  "We'll have to do
some experiments once we return to Tokyo-3, but I believe
the next mission is coming up very soon, so don't worry
about it right now." 

	Shinji wished he could easily take that advice. 

                           -*-

	Asuka laid on her bed and stared at the ceiling,
listening to some music from her jambox without actually
hearing it.  It was a wall to keep the world out, to keep
her from having to think.  Unfortunately, the world kept
creeping through it into her head. 

	What am I becoming? she wondered.  A quote came
unbidden to her head.  'Let he who hunts monsters beware,
for when you gaze into the abyss, it also gazes into you'. 
She mentally kicked Nietzsche into the abyss and tried to
forget he had ever existed. 

	There was a subtle gnawing void in her mind, and it
wouldn't fill up, no matter what she shoved into it.  I
can't even focus on being a vegetable, she thought.  She
gave up and got her school books.  Best to try and not get
too far behind, she decided. 

	An hour later, there was a knock on the door.  She
welcomed it.  "Come in." 

	Nothing happened. 

	"Come in!" 

	Nothing still happened. 

	Before she could speak again, she realized the
problem.  She turned the jambox down to '2' instead of '8'. 
"Come in!" 

	Misato entered, looking sufficiently cheerful to
aggravate Asuka.  "You busy?" 

	"Not really." 

	Misato went over and sat down on one end of the bed. 
"I've noticed you've been moping." 

	"I am NOT moping."  Asuka frowned.  "Who told you
that?" 

	"I could feel it coming through the walls," Misato
said.  Asuka jumped slightly.  "You're worried about what
may be happening to you." 

	"No one ever told me I could...turn into something
horrible!" 

	"Well, for one thing, we didn't know.  Virtually
everything connected to the EVAs is poorly tested and
incredibly risky, simply because we didn't have the time or
the means to test it.  For eight years, we had exactly two
test pilots.  Half the time, we don't even know for sure why
something works, and we still aren't sure exactly what
enables you, Shinji, and Rei to pilot EVA without losing
your mind, your humanity, or both.  I hate it, but we have
no choice.  It's this or humanity dies." 

	Asuka stared at the floor.  "It's weird.  I'm not
afraid of being killed in battle, but the thought
of...turning into some kind of...thing, terrifies me." 

	Misato nodded.  "I'd be scared too.  But worrying
about it won't do any good.  Ritsuko will do her best to
make sure nothing bad happens to you, and she's very good at
what she does.  She's worked practical miracles in the
biological and computing parts of what we do, so I'm sure
she can keep you okay." 

	"I had this dream where I...and we..."  Asuka began
to shake.  "And I ran through the city, burning and
destroying, watching the humans run like ants, and I liked
it.  Their fluids were sweet in my mouths and their cries
were like music and..."  She was crying without tears now,
and Misato moved over to hug her, patting her back gently. 
"And I liked it.  That was the worst part."  She tried to
say more, but all she could do was cry.  Real tears came
now. 

	For a time, Misato simply held her, making soothing
noises.  As Asuka began to calm down, Misato said, "It was
just a nightmare.  If all my nightmares reflected what I
really wanted, I'd be a horrible monster, but they're just
all your hopes and fears thrown into a blender." 

	"What do you have nightmares about?" Asuka managed
to choke out. 

	"I screw up and you all die.  Then the Angels
destroy all of humanity, but they let me live.  They make me
watch each and every death, and everyone curses my name as
they die.  And then they all fly into the sky and leave me
alone, the last person on Earth.  I try to kill myself, but
I can't die.  And that's when I usually wake up." 

	"You're not going to screw up like that," Asuka
said.  "We usually get in trouble when we don't listen to
you, not from taking your orders." 

	"I want to believe that, but it'll only take one
mistake for me to ruin everything.  I can't afford to make
any mistakes at all.  But I can't live like that.  So I
worry." 

	"Thank you," Asuka said.  "I feel better now."  Both
the words and the being held brought her comfort, though
part of her wished Kaji was holding her.  "And I think you
shouldn't worry." 

	"I wish I didn't.  And I'm glad you feel better. 
I've got to go work on the briefing for tomorrow morning,
but I think Shinji and Rei are wandering around trying to
find something to do." 

	"Is that a order, commander?" Asuka asked, laughing. 

	"I command you to go have some fun, for tomorrow, we
head to Oklahoma." 

	"Do we have to sing?" 

	"Don't make me hurt you." 

                           -*-

	The pilots and crew sat around a large table in the
main briefing room on board the Scimitar.  Misato stood at
the head of the table by the large wall screen, on which
currently a map of a cavern network was projected.  "Polaris
has located the next angel, code named Orifel, in this
cavern network under central and eastern Oklahoma.  Our
preliminary excavations have revealed that the EVA units
will be able to enter and operate in a majority of this
network.  We hope to have you enter and stop Orifel before
he surfaces." 

	"How are we going to refresh our power?  It'd be
really easy for a cave-in to destroy our power cords," Asuka
stated. 

	"We're going to install the new microfusion engines,
which should remove that problem.  Our biggest worry
currently is communications.  While we can send a cable down
with you, that's vulnerable to being cut or snagging.  We
have an experimental communications system that uses
radiation capable of penetrating all that rock, but it
hasn't been tested very well yet.  If communications proves
impossible, we may have to abort the mission and wait for
him to come to us."  Misato frowned.  "After the disaster at
NERV-America, I don't want to give the Angels the chance to
do any more damage than we have to." 

	"These caves are really big enough for our EVAs to
walk around in?"  Asuka asked. 

	"Much to the surprise of our geologists, yes.  This
large one," she pointed to the huge cavern at the center of
the map, "is miles across, and contains tunnels leading down
to an even larger one.  We haven't explored that one yet,
since that is the level at which Orifel dwells, and we
didn't wish to alert him to our presence.  We have reason to
believe that some of this cavern complex is artificial,
since we've found buildings down there." 

	"A lost city?"  Shinji asked. 

	Misato nodded.  "Yes." 

	Ritsuko cut in.  "Possibly connected to certain
North and South American cultures who claim their ancestors
came up from some sort of home inside the Earth." 

	Asuka pursed her lips and began speculating on the
odds of finding two Angels under ancient ruined cities not
known to normal history.  Maybe some ancient civilization
built these things, she thought.  But then why have they
been asleep so long?  She had no answer. 

                           -*-

	Kaji frowned at the newspaper.  'Local Scientist
dies in Car Crash'.  Mr. Harker had supposedly driven his
car into the statue in front of a 'Foney's Big Boy'.  It had
toppled and the burger in Big Boy's hand had crushed his
head.  Autopsy reported he was heavily intoxicated. 

	Kaji would have found it more plausible if Elvis had
supposedly killed Harker.  Harker had no reputation as a
drinker, and his wife said he'd simply left for the grocery
store.  The question wasn't whether foul play was involved,
but who was behind it. 

	There were ten other people who'd missed the
massacre at NERV-America, not counting night staff and other
people who would not normally have been at work when the
disaster took place.  Two had been gone talking to various
vendors with whom NERV had dealings in the United States. 
Three had been on vacation.  Four had been sick.  And one
had simply not come to work and was still missing. 

	Perhaps I'll have some luck with the others, Kaji
thought, but he didn't believe it. 


                           -*-

	Only the fact that Gendo knew he was dealing with
tiny- brained fools kept him from being worried as he strode
into the Steering Committee meeting.  As far as he could
tell, the American had a brain like a sieve, the British
ambassador was still living in the nineteenth century when
she wasn't busy spouting self-help platitudes, the Chinese
representative instinctively vetoed anything he hadn't
proposed himself unless he was bribed, the Russian was
usually thinking about prostitutes, and the very concept of
Bermuda having a representative on the Steering Committee
struck him as utterly ludicrous.  It apparently struck the
Bermudan ambassador as ridiculous as well, since the man had
never spoken once in Gendo's presence.  Only the Ghanan
ambassador had Gendo's respect; she was reasonably
intelligent and a trained physicist.  One sane person in a
pack of madmen could do little, however. 

	The dogs began to howl as he entered.  "What is the
meaning of this?  How much of the budget did you spend on
this...this...stupid blimp!  One F-15 and you'd be wiped
out!  What about fire?  What about accidents?  Why didn't
you use a giant cargo plane?  Do I get to ride on it for
free?  I've always wanted to ride in a blimp." 

	Gendo waited for the storm to settle.  "First of
all, you all approved the construction of the Scimitar.  Or
to be more precise, your predecessors in the job you are all
currently holding.  I didn't just go down to 'Blimp World'
and pick it up out of petty cash.  We've been building the
Scimitar for several years now." 

	"Secondly, its purpose is to serve as a mobile
headquarters, not to go into battle.  Yes, if an Angel
attacks it, we are doomed, but that's true of any
headquarters without protection from an EVA.  No
conventional defenses can stop an Angel.  However, with the
Scimitar we can efficiently transport everything we need to
deal with Angels to any point on the globe, regardless of
whether it's at sea or on land, and whether or not there's
anywhere to land.  It can remain in the air for months if
necessary and be resupplied by helicopter.  The reports I
had sent to you by Commander Katsuragi compares her
experience with an improvised headquarters in Toronto and
the use of the Scimitar against Hayyael."  Assuming any of
you bothered to read it, he thought. 

	"A blimp isn't very fast," the Ghanan ambassador
said.  "That's the biggest problem.  We recognize any
transport would be vulnerable, but if Mombasa is attacked by
an Angel today, you could not get there in time to save the
city using the Scimitar." 

	"If an Angel attacked Mombasa, even loading the EVAs
into ICBMs would not be fast enough to save the city.  With
only four functional EVA units, and only three pilots, we
can't react fast enough to save anything without many hours
advanced warning.  Any plane large enough to carry an EVA is
going to have limited speed, but even if we had supersonic
cargo planes, the world is simply too big.  The only way we
can beat the Angels is to find them before they strike with
Polaris, which is why I'm taking as proactive a stance as I
can.  Should a crisis arise, we'll use faster modes of
transportation and sacrifice the advantages the Scimitar
grants us.  We hope, however, to force the enemy to react to
us, and not vice versa." 

	"What about the destruction of NERV-America?"  the
American ambassador bellowed. 

	"What about it?  You recieved a report that it was
the result of an attack by Hayyael." 

	"Losing an entire base doesn't exactly impress me
with your competence!  If you weren't hoarding all of the
pilots to defend YOUR homeland, they wouldn't be dead!" 

	Gendo choked back his instinctive response and went
to work soothing the committee.  I suppose some of my
long-term plans would be much harder if they weren't fools,
he thought, but in the short-term, I hate dealing with these
people. 

                           -*-

	Virtually every child tries eating rocks or worse
when they are very small, though most don't remember it. 
Shinji only remembered the last time he had eaten rocks
because there had been moss on them, which had given him a
massive allergic reaction.  It was one of his earliest
memories. 

	For a moment, Shinji wondered if Unit01 would have
the same problem from what it was eating.  Then he
discovered he could taste the rocks, which shocked him; 01
didn't seem to have a sense of smell or taste before this,
although he'd never really tried to use it. 

	The Children were practicing getting their EVAs to
'eat'.  The microfusion engines would theoretically enable
the EVAs to consume just about anything and use it as fuel
to keep operating.  They would need this for their next
mission, they'd been told. 

	//"You know, rocks taste pretty lousy,"// Shinji
said.  //"And this sandstone is gritty."//

	//"It's better than Misato's cooking,"// Asuka said,
grinning. 

	//"Har har,"// Misato replied.  //"You'll be praying
for my cooking once you've been underground a few days,
living on LCL."//

	Shinji's stomach rumbled.  //"Ugh.  Can't we take
food with us?  It may make sure I don't starve, but you
still FEEL like you're starving." 

	//"Contaminating the LCL with other materials could
have unforseen results,"// Ritsuko said.  //"But we can try
testing that once we finish this mission and return home. 
Any problems with chewing or swallowing?"//

	//"Nope,"// Asuka said. 

	//"Negative,"// Rei replied. 

	//"So our EVAs have an actual digestive tract?"//
Shinji asked. 

	//"We believe it isn't fully functional, but yes,"//
Ritsuko replied.  '//"The microfusion engine has now
replaced its stomach"//

	A thought hit Asuka.  //"What about...umm..."//

	//"Sufficiently prolonged operation will require us
to pump out various waste products.  But don't worry, you
won't need to potty- train your EVA,"// Ritsuko said wryly. 

	Shinji was glad Asuka had asked instead of him. 

                           -*-

	Shinji was flying.  It was only a dream of flight,
but to Shinji, it was a wonderous thing, for Shinji had
never before dreamed of such a thing that he could remember. 
He flew over farmlands, endless amber waves of wheat and
darker waves of barley, his powerful wings flapping in the
gentle breeze, the sun warming his back. 

	He reveled in it, his mobility far superior to that
of his waking form upon the Earth, zipping down to startle a
herd of purple cow- like beings, who scattered.  His friends
laughed and flew down to join him in a game of cow
scattering.  Kensuke was there, his madness forgotten, and
Asuka and Touji competed to see who could best scatter the
cows.  Rei and Hikari watched the four of them cavorting,
simply shaking their heads in unison at it all. 

	Their wings were brightly feathered, matching their
hair, and they all wore short belted tunics of various
colors, usually in contrast to wings and hair, in the same
style for both men and women. 

	As Shinji rose into the air, the dream suddenly
shattered, and he awoke, suddenly urgently aware that nature
was calling him.  He staggered out of bed, fumbled for the
light so he could find the door, then opened it. 

	Rei was curled up just outside his door, wrapped up
in a blanket, lying in the hallway.  He could hear her
breathing, and one of her arms was batting at the air, like
a cat playing with a ball of yarn. 

	Shinji stepped over her, and resolved to ask what
she was doing when he took care of business.  Once he'd gone
and relieved himself, he came back and knealt down next to
her, shaking her gently.  She lashed out at him, and he
leaped back.  A few seconds later, her eyes opened, and she
blinked.  "Real?"  She asked. 

	"Ummm...why wouldn't I be real?"  Shinji decided to
avoid waking up Rei in the future. 

	She looked in through the open door, then back at
him.  "Is it morning?" 

	"No.  I just had to use the bathroom.  Why are you
sleeping in the hallway?" 

	She looked up and down the hallway.  "Standing
guard." 

	"Against what?" 

	"Not sure." 

	"Did you have a bad dream?" 

	"Yes." 

	Ahh.  She must have gotten scared, or something,
Shinji thought, though it was hard to imagine what could
scare Rei.  "Maybe you should ask Misato or Asuka if they'd
mind you sleeping with them tonight." 

	Rei stared blankly at Shinji.  "They're safe." 

	Is she...trying to get in to sleep with me? Shinji
wondered, then dismissed the thought.  I'd have woken up
with her in my bed, if that was the case, he had a feeling. 
"But I'm not?" 

	"Maybe." 

	"What would I be in danger from?" 

	"Don't know." 

	Maybe I should ask her to come in and...he shook his
head.  She was cute, but everyone would get the wrong idea,
and he wasn't ready for anything like that yet.  He was
surprised he'd even thought of it.  But I can't leave her
out in the hallway.  "Umm...someone might trip on you if you
sleep out here." 

	She nodded.  "Goodnight, Shinji."  She turned and
walked the short distance to her room, which was just past
Asuka's.  Once she vanished out of sight, Shinji shook his
head and went back to bed, dreaming repeatedly of tripping
over Rei in the morning and falling down. 

                           -*-

	"Four of a kind," Shinji laid down his four twos. 

	"Not again!"  Makoto said, sighing and tossing down
his cards.  "I had three threes and two sixes.  I thought
you were bluffing." 

	Misato threw her cards in the air.  "Let's play
fifty two card pickup." 

	The door opened and Gendo stepped in, carrying a
simple manila folder under one arm.  Maya groaned.  "Now
we're really dead.  Did you two plan this?" 

	"Come to destroy us again, sir?"  Makoto asked. 

	Gendo ignored him.  "Shinji, come with me." 

	Shinji stared at him in surprise.  "Is...Did I do
something wrong?" 

	"No.  Just come with me." 

	As everyone stared at them Shinji got up and scooped
up his winnings.  "Where are we going, Father?" 

	Gendo took Shinji out the door and down the hallway
to one of the conference rooms.  They sat down, staring at
each other across a table.  Gendo assumed the standard Gendo
position, and then regarded Shinji silently. 

	Shinji tried to read his father's face and failed,
it was utterly blank.  No, wait, there was a slight twitch
at the corners of his mouth, and his ears were wiggling
slightly, Shinji realized.  Whatever that might mean. 
Shinji tried to think about what his father could possibly
want him for.  Did I do something wrong?  He said I didn't,
but... 

	Shinji mentally reviewed his actions for the last
week, but he couldn't find anything that could possibly be
wrong, unless he and Asuka and Rei had made too much noise
practicing music the previous night.  Dr. Akagi had actually
complimented them, and so had Misato.  Maybe he's mad
because we all call Misato by her first name instead of
Commander Katsuragi, he thought. 

	Gendo finally broke the silence.  "We need to talk
about something that should have been addressed a long time
ago." 

	"Yes, Father?" 

	Silence.  More silence.  Shinji suddenly realized he
could hear the air conditioning. 

	"My father never gave me this talk, and I had a lot
of trouble as a result." 

	Shinji nodded, wondering what his father could be
talking about.  As seconds turned into minutes, he wondered
if he would ever find out. 

	"Of course, they may have taught you some of this in
school.  I suppose I should have checked the curriculum." 

	Shinji prayed his father would not spend several
minutes between every sentence of this conversation. 

	"It has come to my attention that you and Rei are
closer than anyone else has ever been with her." 

	Shinji started to wait for the next sentence, then
realized he might actually be expected to respond.  "She is
very shy, but very mature." 

	"How close have you been?" 

	Shinji tried to figure out what his father meant,
and then it hit him.  "You mean..." 

	"Yes." 

	"We haven't done anything.  I mean...just hung out
and played music together and stuff.  I mean...Did someone
tell you we'd done something?"  Shinji began to worry what
kinds of rumors were floating around. 

	"No.  But I believe you're old enough to have a
relationship with a woman, so, I've decided..."  Gendo fell
silent and stared at the table for a moment.  "You need to
know about...women." 

	For a moment, Shinji thought his father was afraid
of the subject, but he dismissed the thought.  An Angel
could threaten to step on Gendo Ikari, and he would probably
just stare it down.  "Know what about women?" 

	Shinji listened to his own heartbeat. 

	Gendo got out two anatomy charts from the folder he
had been carrying.  He looked at them, then put them back
very quickly.  "We'll save that for the end of this...let's
talk about relationships first." 

	The full reality of this finally sank in.  Sex.  The
sex talk.  The talk he had assumed he would never get. 
And...his father was actually doing something fatherly for
the first time in Shinji's memory.  He resolved he would do
his best to be a good son and not embarass his father any
more than was almost certainly inevitable.  He'd never seen
his father so hesitant before.  "Okay." 

	"Your mother wasn't the first woman I ever dated,
but she was the first one I truly loved with all my heart. 
So don't be surprised if your first dozen relationships
don't work out.  I was as shy as you once." 

	Shinji couldn't imagine that. 

	"I can tell that surprises you.  We all change,
Shinji, sometimes for the good, sometimes not.  I changed
before I met your mother, and I changed while I was dating
her, and while we were married and after she died.  Not all
of them were good changes.  But I didn't bring you here
simply to listen to me reminisce.  We're both too busy for
that." 

	"Were you really like me?" Shinji blurted out. 

	Gendo smiled faintly.  "Old blood breeds true,
Shinji.  And our blood is old indeed.  Anyway, the first law
of relationships is to not press too hard.  That's how
things fell through with me and Meiko.  You see, in high
school, there was this girl..." 

	The story that followed rambled on for a good twenty
minutes, with Shinji nodding appropriately and trying to
figure out what it had to do with anything.  It might have
helped if he actually had any idea who any of the people
that his father was talking about were, since new names
showed up every few sentences with no explanation. 

	"Eventually, she started leaving beheaded voodoo
dolls of me everywhere."  Gendo sighed.  "So, if you do
decide to pursue matters with Rei, you shouldn't push too
hard.  Given how shy she is, you'll probably need to take
the initiative, but don't show too much, if you know what I
mean." 

	"Father, I hate to interrupt, but..." 

	Gendo interrupted him.  "Go ahead.  This is for your
benefit." 

	"After Asuka told me she thought Rei was a monster,
I went to talk to her and..." 

	"Like you and Asuka, Rei's condition flows from the
events of Second Impact.  One of her parents was quite close
to that disaster, and as a result, she has some very rare
traits.  We don't fully understand why Second Impact did
this, but it has increased the frequency of a variety of
unusual mutations." 

	"She showed me how to...I mean..." 

	"Use a psychic power?" 

	Shinji nodded mutely. 

	"All humans have some potential for such.  In the
Children, that potential is magnified a thousandfold or
more.  That is how you can control an entire EVA with your
mind, where most people can do nothing or their mind breaks
under the strain.  Such people have existed in the past as
well, and are probably the root of many folk beliefs about
magic.  However, Second Impact has increased the number of
people who possess this trait.  Exposure to the strange
energies used by the Angels have no doubt influenced what
abilities you have developed." 

	"But it's not..." 

	"Rei does not act like a normal human because she's
not lived like one.  The more she interacts with normal
people, the more normal she will act.  We tend to become
like those we associate with.  I'm glad that you're willing
to be her friend, Shinji.  She needs friends." 

	"I know what that's like," Shinji said. 

	"I'm sure you do," Gendo said.  "Now, back to
relationships..." 

                           -*-

	Maya turned a corner, and saw Shigeru approaching. 
Her brain immediately went to pieces; she still wasn't sure
how to deal with him.  Ever since she'd made it clear she
wasn't attracted to him, he'd been avoiding her.  It had
been really bad the last few days; she hadn't heard him
playing his guitar once, and he'd even been avoiding Makoto. 

	He must be depressed, she thought; he looked grim. 
His eyes were dark, lacking the pleasant gleam they usually
had. 

	She carefully chose her words, only to have him go
right past her before she could say them.  Turning, she
said, "Are you okay?" 

	"I'm fine," he said hoarsely.  It sounded like he
needed to drink something, although maybe he just had a sore
throat.  "Just going to take care of a few things before we
arrive and it's too late" 

	"Okay," she said.  "See you later." 

	It was a good three minutes later when she realized
he was carrying a large toolkit.  I wonder what he's going
to fix, she thought, then dismissed it as unimportant. 
Probably something had come loose in his room and he didn't
want it annoying him for the rest of the trip. 

                           -*-

	"Hah!  I sank your battleship!"  Asuka crowed. 

	Shinji sighed.  Asuka seemed to have a knack for
naval warfare, as far as he could tell; this was their
fourth game of Battleship, and he was well on his way to his
fourth loss.  His only consolation was that she was less
disturbing to play against than Rei, who didn't seem to care
if she won or loss, and remained stonelike through the
entire game. 

	Well, except for a very faint smile when she'd wiped
out Asuka's entire fleet without taking a shot in her first
game against Asuka.  Asuka had come back and won the second
one, though.  Right now, Rei was doing geometry a little
further down the table they were all seated at in the
lounge. 

	"Well, the Yamato did sink historically," Shinji
muttered. 

	Then the alarm kicked in.  *Whoop, Whoop, Whoop!*
Rei quickly stood up and moved over to the door, then stuck
her head out in the hallway. 

	"I hope we're not being attacked in the air," Shinji
said. 

	"Oh, we'll kick the Angel's ass." 

	"How do you propose our EVAs fly?"  Shinji asked. 

	"Ours can," Rei said without turning to face them. 
"Hers can't." 

	"Say WHAT?"  Asuka asked. 

	"Well, we did kill all those Cherubim, and when we
fought Salgiel, 00 sprouted wings.  I guess maybe mine could
too." 

	"Hrmph.  That's not fair." 

	"Well, I suppose yours would be good at ripping off
people's hands." 

	"Har de har har."  She went over to the door.  "Do
you see anything, Rei?" 

	Three security men ran past them with two
flamethrowers and a fire extinguisher.  Asuka tried to
remember what was in that direction.  "I hope we're not on
fire.  No...they want to burn something...It had better not
be more of those damn snakes!" 

	"Hayyael is dead," Shinji said.  "But the Command
Bridge is that way.  Maybe there's a saboteur." 

	"That they need two flamethrowers to stop?  Unless
it's the Terminator, I can't think of why they'd use
flamethrowers inside the Scimitar.  Too dangerous." 

                           -*-

	A few minutes earlier... 

	"Hey, you!  Freeze!" 

	The security guard shone their lights on a figure
huddled in the corner of the engineering room.  He was
hunched over a control panel, a hammer in one hand and wires
torn from the surrounding equipment in the other. 

	Slowly, the person turned towards the guard, and it
was a face the guard recognized.  His eyes were wide, but
unfocused, and his face seemed paler than usual. 

	"Aoba-san?  What the heck are you doing?" 

	Aoba's head tilted to the right, very slightly,
accompanied by a disturbing sort of crackling noise.  His
jaw opened, trembling as it did. 

	And then Aoba's face exploded. 

	A large black blob lingered in the remains of his
skull, writhing for a moment.  It was black and oily, a
shapeless puddle of blackish tar that slowly pulled itself
into a snake-like form. 

	The guard took a suddden step backwards, then pushed
the button on his comm headset, firing rounds at the
approaching creature as it advanced. "HQemergencyinsector
28engineeringAAAAAAAAAAAAG!"

                           -*-

	Master Seargant Allen watched as his men struggled
to keep the creature trapped in the room.  Only one thing
was keeping it from killing him and his handful of remaining
men, and that was the two flamethrowers they were using to
slowly back it into a corner. 

	They'd managed to push it away from the air
conditioning duct; if it got in there, they would never have
been able to kill it. 

	Allen glanced over at Chris Johnson, who was short
and dark haired, popular with the ladies for no reason Allen
could understand, since the man didn't treat anything but
his gun and his dog very well.  The man was a good soldier,
though, alert and obedient without being mindless.  He had
the other flamethrower, while behind them Yvonne Daubainne,
who was blonde and twice their age, a veteran of the brief
wars that followed Second Impact, finished putting out the
fires they'd started.  He had three more people, but they
were all off desperately scrounging for weapons.  "Ready,
Chris?" 

	Chris was sweating.  "Ready." 

	They advanced, and the creature tensed.  As the
flames began to lick over it, it arched upward, growing
thinner as parts of it burnt to ash and from elongating
itself.  Its 'head' engulfed Chris' head, and it pulled what
was left of its body off the ground and up to Chris' head. 

	Unable to scream, Chris simply toppled, and only his
loss of grip on the trigger kept the flamethrower from
setting everything on fire.  Mutely, he tried and failed to
pull the thing off his head as he rolled around on the
ground. 

	Crying, Allen took the only choice available to him,
and hosed the creature down with flames from his
flamethrower.  It would inevitably kill Chris, he knew, but
the thing had to be stopped.  He told himself Sgt. Johnson
was a soldier, that he had known the risk when he entered
the service. 

	He was still crying when the last of the black tarry
flesh of the creature turned to greyish ash and Chris' flesh
charred to blackened chunks as well.  Silently, Daubainne
put out the fire, then put a hand on his shoulder. 

	Commander Ikari appeared in the doorway.  "Good job,
Allen.  The Throne has been stopped."  He looked about the
room.  "Well, this will be unusable, but we have an
auxillary bridge, fortunately, for just this sort of
situation.  I'll arrange for you and Daubainne to receive a
bonus for this." 

	"Sir, Johnson..."  Allen tried to pull himself
together.  Soldiers weren't supposed to cry. 

	"He can be buried when we arrive in Oklahoma.  At
least we don't have to worry about him rotting."  Daubainne
gave him a reproachful look for that, which he gave no sign
of noticing.  "We'll need double patrols from here on out. 
Arm one man in each with a flamethrower, if we have enough." 
He looked at Shigeru.  "Now I see how it got in.  I'll have
to see who to promote from the auxillary crew.  Prepare a
full report for Commander Katsuragi by tomorrow morning,"
Commander Ikari said. 

	"Yes sir,"  Allen said faintly, saluting.  He stood
stiffly at attention until Ikari left.  "I think the man has
no soul," he said to Daubainne. 

	"I'm grateful we usually deal with a real human
being, and not him," Daubainne said.  "But he's not in
charge of being nice.  War is often ruthless.  And this is a
war."  She sighed.  "Let's get to work, I guess." 

                           -*-

	"I've got bad news," Misato said solemnly to the
three Children. 

	"Did we have a saboteur on board?"  Asuka asked. 

	"Are we going to crash?"  Shinji asked. 

	Rei listened impassively. 

	"Shigeru is dead.  We're not sure exactly what
happened, but it apparently cracked his head open and ate
his brain.  And it was trying to sabotage the Command Bridge
when it was caught." 

	Asuka and Shinji's eyes widened.  Rei frowned
intensely for a moment, then her face returned to normal. 
Shinji said, "He's dead?  Just like that?"  His voice was a
little wobbly. 

	Misato nodded quietly.  "Yes.  We'll be shipping his
body to his family for burial once we arrive at our
destination." 

	"What killed him?"  Asuka asked nervously. 

	"We've designated it a 'Throne'.  They look like
puddles of oil or tar that can form themselves up into
different shapes and become solid enough to injure or kill
and to operate machinery.  The only thing we're sure can
kill them is fire, although Ritsuko believes acid should
work as well, and possibly intense cold.  We're searching
the Scimitar for more of them and trying to figure out how
it got on board."  Misato had a bad feeling she knew how it
had happened, but she wanted to be sure before she said
anything that could send the Children into intense paranoia. 

	Shinji shuddered some more.  "I'm going to have a
hard time sleeping tonight." 

	"Yeah, could be one of those things hiding under the
bed or something."  Asuka shook a bit now, and wondered if
such a creature had been the origin of the whole concepts of
monsters under the bed, or waiting in your closet for the
lights to go out.  She wondered if she'd ever be able to
sleep in the dark again. 

                           -*-

	Misato sat and stared at the papers on her bedside
table.  The end of a life in print:  the formal report of
the incident, the autopsy, the orders to ship his body to
his family for a funeral, an accompanying condolence letter,
and the form promoting Shigeru's replacement from the backup
team to the primary bridge crew.  The words of each were
cold and clinical, except for the letter to his family,
where she'd let her sorrow spill out; she was afraid they'd
think she needed condolences when they read it. 

	She felt like a failure, though he was hardly the
only casualty in the war against the Angels and their
lunatic human worshippers.  Kensuke hadn't been the first,
either, they'd lost several dozen NERV troopers in actions
against various lunatic cults in the last few years, many to
humans, but a few to some of the strange beings who served
the Angels. 

	The deaths of the soldiers had hurt, but it was a
war; she had been hardened enough to expect that and be able
to deal with it.  It was losing people she knew well that
really hit home.  Kensuke, who had just been an innocent
bystander had been the first, and that had hurt.  But losing
Shigeru hurt more.  She'd seen him virtually every day for
the last few years, and while they'd never been as close as
she was to Ritsuko or even to Makoto, he had become a part
of her life, a steady, stable worker with a playful side
that helped perk up the often gloomy NERV-Tokyo-3 base,
which she sometimes thought had been designed for two
purposes:  making people get lost, and inducing depression. 

	Deep down, she'd thought they were safe.  It had
made her feel guilty at times, sitting back in an armored
(or flying) bunker while she sent other people to risk their
lives.  While it made her feel less of a hypocrite to know
she could die too, that wasn't much comfort. 

	Orifel had to know they were coming; there was no
way one of his minions could have gotten on board to
sabotage it if he didn't know it.  Which meant that his
underground lair could be one big trap.  She could be
sending the Children to dive into the lion's open mouth. 

	For all she knew, he could be monitoring their every
movement.  She shoved that fear away; surely he would have
tried something they couldn't have stopped so easily if that
was the case.  Second guessing herself to death wouldn't
help.  All that could be done would be to make the best plan
she could with what they actually knew, and to pray it would
be enough. 

	Bits and pieces of the puzzle of the Angels drifted
through her mind.  There was evidence they'd been here for
thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of years.  But if
they had been here so long, why had they just been sitting
around?  Perhaps they'd been in some sort of hibernation,
somehow awakened by Second Impact.  Whatever exactly that
had been.  She wondered again why her father, an
anthropologist, had been taken along on an Antarctic
expedition, and why he had taken her. 

	Whatever had been unleashed, it had destroyed most
of Antarctica; only the most northerly regions of the
contienent remained in the form of scattered islands. 
Stranger still, the waters remained warm and the ice did not
reform.  She had never been back, both from lack of
opportunity and lack of desire.  To gaze upon the waters
wouldn't bring back her father or make it easier to say
goodbye. 

	There was a knock on the door.  "Come in," she said
listlessly. 

	The door opened, and Ritsuko walked in, shutting it
behind her.  "You'd better get some sleep, or you'll be too
tired tomorrow to do anything." 

	Misato turned her chair around.  "I'm done.  Just
busy berating myself.  I'm too depressed even to drink." 

	Ritsuko put a report down with the others.  "I know
the feeling.  I've lost twelve technicians over the years to
various disasters, mostly connected to DAGON.  And every
time, I wish it could have been me who died.  But I have to
live for the living, not the dead.  I can't help them." 

	"I know.  But it still hurts." 

	Ritsuko now came over to Misato and put a hand on
her shoulder.  "Have you cried yet?" 

	Misato grimaced.  "Not yet." 

	"It'll happen sooner or later.  Might as well be
sooner." 

	Misato let herself go, and cried onto Ritsuko's
shoulder for a few minutes, then sat up and wiped her eyes. 
"Thank you.  I feel better now." 

	"You're so like a child at times," Ritsuko murmured. 
"You fall apart quickly, and bounce back just as fast." 

	"While you hold it in until you explode," Misato
replied.  "You ought to be more open with your feelings like
your mom was."  She sat back in her chair, visibly relaxing. 

	"I don't want to be like my mother," Ritsuko said
sharply.  "She was a good scientist, but lousy at everything
else."  Unlike Misato, she was tensing up.  Misato was used
to it; when challenged, Ritsuko had always gotten stiff. 

	"And being repressed will make you a better human
being?" 

	They stared at each other, then Ritsuko sagged
slightly.  "I need my self-control.  I suppose it doesn't
always make the best human being, but it's better than being
a chaotic mess like mother." 

	"Then how do you put up with me?"  Misato had a
faint smile on her lips as she said that. 

	"It's a lot harder to avoid your mother's flaws than
your friends' flaws," Ritsuko said wryly.  "Which is why I
haven't roomed with you since college; I WOULD have killed
you by now if I had." 

	"Hey, Asuka and Shinji never complain about my
housekeeping habits!"  Misato tried to look indignant and
failed. 

	Ritsuko laughed.  "Your nose is getting bigger." 

	Misato checked it without thinking.  "Is not." 

	"You don't tell your 'mother' those things, even if
you want to," Ritsuko said.  "Or more likely, you're just
lying." 

	"Hrmph."  Misato put on her best pout. 

	"At least they haven't picked up your worst habits
yet."  Ritsuko sat down on the bed.  "Like not making your
bed." 

	"Like sheets you can bounce a quarter on are going
to stop an Angel,"  Misato said.  "Do you think he knows
we're coming?"  She turned and stared off in a direction
that might or might not have been the way they were moving. 

	"It all depends on if the Throne had some way to
contact him, which we have no idea if it could.  I'm
inclined to think it couldn't." 

	Misato turned back to Ritsuko.  "He could have built
a giant death trap or something." 

	"Well, it's go down and bell the cat or wait for it
to come up in the middle of a city.  We have to take the
risk."  Ritsuko shrugged. 

	Misato nodded.  "I just don't like taking risks with
people's lives." 

	"Who does?"  Ritsuko sighed. 

                           -*-

	Normally, Shinji fell asleep pretty easily, and when
that didn't work, he could usually play some music and relax
enough to pass out.  Tonight, however, Mozart and Schubert
lacked the power to calm his mind.  He had tried putting the
lights out, but the light coming in through the window had
made the shadows move in ways that were far too suggestive
of shadows moving under their own power, coming to ooze up
his bed and onto his body to smother him.  Closing the
window shade had simply created more darkness for
potentially present Thrones to hide in.  Leaving the light
on let it cast suggestive shadows under the furniture and
leak through his eyelids, preventing slumber. 

	Then the footsteps started in the hallway, going
back and forth past his door.  It could just be people going
to the bathroom.  But it sounded more like someone pacing up
and down the hallway without ceasing, as if they waiting for
something...like for him to come out of his room.  The
footsteps gradually faded into silence.  They might be
gone...or it might be another trick. 

	He tried burying his head under his pillow and
shoving away paranoia, but darkness brought no comfort or
rest.  He couldn't see it coming like this. 

	Finally, he couldn't take it any more.  He didn't
know where he could go, or what he was going to do, but he
couldn't just lie here and wait to either be eaten or to be
exhausted in the morning.  He threw on some more clothing
and stepped out into the hallway just in time to smack into
Rei. 

	They both staggered backwards, but didn't fall down. 
"Sorry about that," he said. 

	She nodded.  He could see she had gotten dressed as
well, and he suspected she couldn't sleep either, so he
asked.  "Couldn't sleep?" 

	"Looking for more, if any." 

	By yourself?  Even Asuka isn't that insanely brave,
he thought.  "I...I'd been wondering about that." 

	A few seconds later, Asuka's door opened, and she
stepped out dressed in a long shirt that went down to
halfway down her shins.  "You two too, huh?" 

	Shinji nodded.  "I just...I can't sleep in a
brightly lit room, and if I turn off the lights, it's
like...geez, I feel like a little kid."  He frowned and
clenched his fists.  "I shouldn't be this...this scared." 

	"I had a nightmare.  I got in my EVA, and the LCL
was a Throne.  It killed me and took over my EVA."  She
shuddered and hugged herself.  "And then it went on a
rampage and killed everyone else." 

	Shinji's eyes widened.  "I did NOT need that
thought.  Great, now the next time I get in my EVA..." 

	"I'm sorry," she said.  "Then I woke up and saw a
shadow moving across the floor and...well, there's a burnt
patch on my carpet now." 

	Shinji laughed.  "What did you burn it with?" 

	"I borrowed a cigarette lighter and some
aerosol...it was a stupid idea.  Luckily, I only made a
little bit of flame before I realized it was just being
caused by the light coming through the window.  Didn't even
set off the fire alarm.  But..."  She turned and stared down
the dimly lit hallway, which was illuminated only by the
light from Shinji's room and periodic dimmed ceiling lights. 
"I don't want to...I mean...I don't feel safe." 

	"None are ever safe," Rei said. 

	"I didn't need to hear that," Asuka said. 

	A little further down, Misato's door opened and she
poked her head out, "Having a hall party?"  She yawned
groggily, her eyes bloodshot. 

	"You having trouble sleeping too?"  Asuka asked. 

	"Usually happens when people start talking in the
hallway at 1 AM," she replied. 

	Asuka and Shinji glanced over at each other, trying
to figure out how to admit to her that they were scared to
go to bed without actually saying it.  Rei simply walked up
to Misato and said, "You do not fear the Thrones?" 

	"Are you scared, Rei?" 

	"It is unsafe for some to be alone," she said, her
voice wavering briefly as her eyes wandered to Shinji. 

	Misato reached out and took Rei's hand.  "It's okay
to be scared.  If I knew that thing was still on the ship,
I'd be scared shitless."  She squeezed the hand and released
it.  "But it's gone.  And I've hung up my pendant on the
door; hopefully that will keep it out.  ....And if it
doesn't, worrying won't stop it."  Misato looked at the
children thoughtfully for a moment, then spoke again.  "Tell
you what, you guys wanna crash in my room?  There's not a
lot of floor space, but if it'll help you sleep, I won't
mind." 

	"I brought a sleeping bag," Asuka said.  "I'll go
get it." 

	Misato's floor soon had three fairly crowded
children lying on it on top of an unrolled sleeping bag,
with several blankets thrown over them.  Shinji felt like
the middle filling of a sandwich.  He did his best to keep
his arms off them, and prayed he didn't roll over and sprawl
on them in the middle of the night. 

	As he was praying this, Misato said, "I suppose
taking turns telling ghost stories would be a bad idea." 

	"YES!"  Asuka shouted. 

	Shinji stared up at the five pointed star pendant
hanging from a nail hammered into the door.  It looked like
just another hunk of metal; could it really keep out a
Throne?  It had stopped the King in Yellow's power, but... 
And yet, he felt safer.  Maybe it was simply not being
alone, or maybe Misato's lack of fear was contagious. 

	Misato and Asuka began to bicker, and he just
listened and laughed inside his head.  Slowly, he drifted
off to sleep, and peaceful dreams took him. 
	
                           -*-

	An angry mob was shouting outside the huge fenced
off area, but the staff of NERV did their best to ignore the
protesters.  The fence surrounded a huge mound which now was
missing a large chunk, as squads of workers were busily
tearing a hole in it big enough for an EVA to walk through. 

	Which was exactly the idea. 

	By means of which the pilots had no idea, NERV had
discovered that this old burial mound stood over a set of
caves big enough for an EVA to walk through, and was in
fact, internally connected to them, although the tunnels
through the mound weren't big enough for an EVA.  It struck
Asuka as remarkably convenient, although she supposed Orifel
had to have gotten down underground somehow. 

	She did wonder why they hadn't simply dug a tunnel
down to the caves from off to one side of the mound, so as
to not antagonize the locals, who seemed to be angry about
it.  Her English was good enough to read protest signs.  I
wish we didn't have to disturb their mound, Asuka thought. 
I wouldn't want someone digging a tunnel through my
ancestors' graveyard either. 

	"Do you believe in ghosts?" Shinji asked Asuka. 

	"Not really, although I think people live on after
death.  I just don't think they hang around here." 

	Shinji smiled at that.  "I suppose I wouldn't
either.  This place feels like it ought to have some,
though.  What do you think, Rei?" he asked, despite not
really expecting much of an answer from her. 

	Rei was silent, which didn't surprise either of
them.  When they noticed she was kneeling and looking at a
gopher, which was staring back warily at her.  It obviously
wanted to get past her, but couldn't. 

	"You're standing on its hole," Asuka said.  "You
oughta move." 

	Rei looked down at the ground, then stood, stepped
back, and knealt again. 

	"Why are you staring at it, Rei?"  Shinji asked. 

	"It's not very scared," she replied. 

	He blinked, then as it darted forward and dived down
its hole, he realized what she meant.  Most animals ran away
from her.  The gopher had been wary, but it hadn't been
terrified.  For a moment, he wondered if one of the Angels
they'd killed had been 'Lord of Gophers' or something, then
dismissed the thought.  Maybe only Japanese animals and
snakes are scared of her, he thought, then dismissed that
one as well, chalking this up to the 'unsolvable mysteries'
category.  He turned to Misato.  "How soon do we go down?" 

	"Tomorrow morning if Orifel doesn't strike first. 
The ramp down is taking longer to build than planned.  It
was supposed to be done when we got here.  At least they got
the landing field for the Scimitar done in time." 

	"Then back to Japan when that's done?"  Shinji
asked. 

	"Yep.  Although we'll be stopping briefly at
NERV-America again after the mission.  I just wish we had
time for sightseeing.  I'd like to see the Grand Canyon." 

	"Just pretend that's it," Asuka said, pointing at
the excavation. 

	They laughed, then drifted off to get ready for the
next day's mission. 

                           -*-

	The next morning, they went down the ramp into the
huge caverns below the mound.  The caverns were rough and
dusty and ugly as hell, the walls folded into pointless
curves, and the ceilings were riddled with things to bump
one's EVA's head into.  It was damp, and would have been
cool if they'd been able to feel the temperature. 

	A small heads-up display gave them directional
readings of what way Orifel was along with a constantly
updating map of where they had been.  //"I feel like I'm
playing some computer RPG,"// Asuka said.  //"Like Quest for
the Nine Rings,"// or something.  //"I mean, the map
graphics look EXACTLY the same."//

	//"Well, as long as no orcs start showing up on your
display, it shouldn't be a problem,"// Misato said.  //"It's
working so far."//

	//"How can Polaris spot Orifel this deep beneath the
surface?"// Asuka asked. 

	//"Rock doesn't do much to block the distinctive
energy signature of an Angel,"// Ritsuko replied. 
//"Thankfully.  Or we'd be looking for him forever and he
could pop up just about anywhere.  We're using a similar
trick to keep up our 'radio' broadcasts, which aren't
actually radio waves at the moment.  Otherwise, we couldn't
communicate with you."//

	//"Is he active?"// Shinji asked. 

	//"He hasn't moved more than a mile since we started
monitoring him weeks ago,"// Ritsuko said.  //"But don't
expect to catch him napping."//

	//"Right."//

                           -*-
	
	For an hour, they plunged down deeper into the
earth, the caverns slowly growing larger, until finally,
they came to the edge of a great carven ramp descending into
the largest cave any of them had ever seen.  The ceiling
rose high above them, hundreds of feet from the ground, a
reminder of how deeply they had descended in that hour.  A
great vault, lit by a strange blue light given off by the
ceiling, which changed in this cavern from stone to crystal. 
It was as bright as twilight, and nigh unbelievably, the
floor was covered with blue-green grass.  There were some
trees, smaller than those of the surface above, but
otherwise normal, though tinted by the blue light.  A broad
paved road ran from the ramp across the fields towards what
looked rather like a vast city in the distance. 

	//"Is this some kind of joke?"// Asuka asked. 

	//"If it is, the joke's on us,"// Ritsuko replied. 
//"Spectrometer readings indicate...it's like sunlight with
most of the harmful radiation filtered out.  Not very hot,
although warmer than the surrounding caves.  But
still...what's making the light?  And how...This should be
interesting."//

	The readings from Polaris told them to head towards
the city, so they did, passing through a series of wheat
fields on the way to the city.  The plants were ready for
harvesting, but there was no sign of harvesters, or
harvesting equipment.  Ruts in the dirt beyond the road told
the story of the passage of vehicles at some time in the
recent past, but none could be seen.  They did, however,
spot several birds, and a herd of bison idly feeding in a
field.  It was hard to tell their true color, but they
looked to have mixed green and black hair. 

	//"They domesticated Bison?"//

	//"Well, they're the closest thing to cattle
available,"// Ritsuko said.  //"Before Europeans imported
cows.  No time to investigate now, though."//

	Their EVAs were quick, and the distance to the city
wasn't too long; they soon left fields behind and followed
the road into the outskirts of the city.  A handful of
buildings were made of marble, most were simply made of
granite or brick, carved and shaped with ornate decorations. 
Most were in quite good repair, the whole place looking as
if it had only recently been abandoned.  The architectural
style seemed naggingly familiar, but Asuka couldn't quite
place it. 

	The streets were paved with flagstones, still
intact, though puddles of water covered them in a few
places.  They were wide, wide enough for an EVA Unit to walk
down one. 

	Shinji shook his head.  //"Another ruins?"//

	//"Various civilizations native to the Americas have
legends of having coming up from a world inside the Earth. 
Perhaps the inhabitants of this city had something to do
with that legend,"// Ritsuko said.  //"And certain local
legends whisper of an underground city named K'n-Yan.  I
think we've just found it.  I can't imagine where everyone
went...that wheat looked recently planted, not run wild."//

	//"Well, if it killed them, it did it without
actually doing any damage to the city.  Which would be
rather a trick,"// Asuka said.  //"This place could have
held tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands."//

	They began to pass down the great avenue which lead
into the center of the cavern, following POLARIS' signal. 
Asuka took the lead, while Rei took the rear and Shinji
looked side to side down the side streets.  The entire city
seemed to be a large grid, very carefully planned and laid
out, all of it in quite good repair.  A few buildings had
faintly glowing fungi growing on them in small patches, but
overall, it seemed like the population had just packed up
its posessions and left when they heard the sound of the
mound being dug through. 

	Perhaps they did, Shinji thought.  Maybe they
worship Orifel and have tried running to him for protection. 
Or they might have doused the lights and be hiding in an
underground shelter or something.  Well, a more underground
shelter. 

	As he mused, something moved at the corner of his
vision.  He turned his EVA's head, but all he could see was
a dark alleyway between buildings.  Nothing was there.  He
shook his head.  I'm starting to imagine things, he thought. 

	They eventually came to a great central plaza,
bordered by large palaces, a huge colliseum, and a large
step pyramid with a huge well in front of it.  Asuka stared
at it.  //"It looks a lot like that one from the underwater
city."//

	//"A colony, perhaps,"// Ritsuko speculated. 

	//"Where could they have gone?"//

	//"They can't have been gone long, whatever happened
to them.  If this cavern can support plant life, the plants
would be encroaching on the city if it had been abandoned
long.  And those bison looked fairly tame.  The signal
indicates Orifel is beyond the city and deeper down, though,
so don't worry too much about the city."//

	Shinji saw movement again, and this time turned fast
enough to see it.  It looked like an oil flow, a slick of
black tarry fluid flowing across one corner of the plaza
towards one of the main boulevards.  //"What is that?"//

	//"It's a creature we've designated as a 'Throne'. 
One of Orifel's servants,"// Misato said.  //"Capture it
with an AT-Field before it can report to him!"//

	Unit00 pivoted on one foot and sprinted after it at
high speed with the others in pursuit.  They chased the
thing, which was remarkably quick for a puddle of slime,
down a major boulevard, then down a side street.  The
buildings here looked a little battered; many were missing
doors or had shattered glass in the street near them.  They
were mostly two or three stories tall, and looked like
residences. 

	The street dead-ended because it ran up to the
entrance to some huge fifteen story tall building that
blocked off the street.  The puddle turned and faced them,
forming a large snake-like extension, although its head was
fringed with what looked similar to a black, oily mane. 

	Unit00 ran up to it, knealt, and trapped it in a
spherical AT- Field as it snapped at her.  She stood, and
inquired, //"Now what?"//

	//"Good question."//

	Shinji peered over at the creature, which hurled
itself futiley at the AT-Field, unable to penetrate it. 
//"We can't carry it around with us while we fight."//

	Asuka nodded.  //"Crush it with the AT-Field, I
guess."//

	//"I'd rather we could take it alive, but you're
right, Rei would have to stay out of the fighting to keep it
contained.  And it might not survive Orifel dying,"// Misato
said.  //"Kill it."//

	Rei brought Unit00's hands together, and the light
of the field flared.  Black turned to gray; tar turned to
ash.  Powder rained down to the pitch-black street.  It was
at that moment the three pilots remembered the street hadn't
been pitch black when they arrived, nor had the darkness
covered their feet. 

	//"Scheisse!"// Asuka shouted.  //"The street's full
of these things!"//

	And with that, dozens of semi-discrete Thrones began
to pour up their EVAs' bodies, trying to find a chink
through their armor in order to get inside.  Unit01 and 02
flailed about, trying to peel them off, or scrape them off
with their progressive knives, but this was about as
effective as trying to fight water with a knife.  On the
other hand, the Thrones seemed unable to get up 01 past its
knees, and kept falling off, although 02 posed no problems
for them.  00 simply stood still as the blackness rolled
over it, covering it completely. 

	//"You've got to use your AT-Field!"// Misato
shouted.  //"Emit it from your body to force them off, then
start trapping them."//

	Shinji concentrated, visualizing his EVA emitting a
glowing field from its every pore, driving the Thrones off
of him.  Soon, 01 shone brightly in the blue-litten gloom. 
Streamers of blue-black ichor gouted off of him, fleeing the
AT-Field.  Nearby, 02 also began to shine, even more radiant
than 01, sending more Thrones fleeing. 

	Unit00, on the other hand, was still covered in
blackness.  But a fine white sheen was starting to cover the
blackness, and where it touched the blackness, the dark
Thrones ceased to writhe, remaining in whatever contorted
shapes they had assumed when it touched them.  As 01 and 02
began scooping up and wiping out Thrones in great oozing
piles, and many of the survivors fled, the gleaming coat of
frost finally covered every inch of the darkness.  00 flexed
and the darkness shattered into hundreds of long black,
glassy shards, and light erupted from 00's 'skin', pushing
the shards away to smash into the buildings around them,
breaking into blackish powder that turned grey, then faded
away entirely. 

	The last of the Thrones fled, vanishing into
buildings and slipping through cracks in the flagstone road. 
As they departed, Asuka said, //"What the hell was that
trick?"//

	//"A gift of battle,"// Rei said. 

	//"Could I do it?"//

	//"Don't know."//

	//"Hopefully, they won't try that again."//

	//"Well, they didn't seem like they could actually
do all that much to us, now that I think about it,"// Asuka
said. 

	//"If they found a chink in your armor, they could
ooze inside your EVA, find your plug, and crack it open,
attacking you."// Misato grimaced, remembering what had
happened to Shigeru.  I won't let them die, she thought. 
Not like that.  He never had a chance, but they will. 

	//"Then what Rei did was REALLY dangerous,"// Asuka
said. 

	//"It worked,"// Rei said. 

	//"Asuka is right,"// Misato said.  //"Don't take
chances like that.  We can't afford to risk any of you more
than we have to.  But probably they won't try anything
again."//

	//"Until we're busy fighting Orifel,"// Shinji said,
frowning.  //"Be careful, Rei.  That was risky."//

	//"I will,"// she replied. 

	//"Well, let's get you all moving again,"// Misato
said.  //"Find the east road from the main plaza and head
out of the city.  The readings indicate you should find
Orifel off to the northeast and down."//

                           -*-

	The city was far behind them, and they had reached
the far wall of the cavern.  The tunnel before them had
clearly been walled off deliberately by the inhabitants, but
now there as a large hole in it, and huge amounts of rubble
strewn about the natural tunnel beyond the wall. 

	//"Looks like they knew something was this way and
wanted to keep it out,"// Shinji said. 

	//"Looks like they failed,"// Asuka replied. 

	Unit00 moved closer and peered through the breach,
then began smashing it open wider, though the hole was
already large enough for an EVA to get through. 

	//"It's smashed in from this side.  If whatever they
sealed off broke through from the tunnel, why didn't the
rubble fall this way?  Maybe something once tried to seal
the city folk out of THEIR territory."//

	//"The damage looks recent to me."//

	//"I guess we'll find out."//

                           -*-

	Another hour of descent took them yet deeper beneath
the earth, and gradually the blue light of the abandoned
city's cavern faded into darkness.  Then the wind started,
gentle at first, then stronger and hotter, though it was
still fairly weak, unable even to annoy the EVAs and their
pilots.  After a time, a reddish light beckoned to them, and
they emerged into another land that apparently time had
forgotten. 

	The light was dim and red, shining down from the
ceiling high above them, but somehow it sustained a dense
forest of archaic plants, some of them not seen in the world
above for millions of years.  Asuka simply stared at it
blankly for a few minutes.  What's a bleeding JUNGLE doing
down underground?  she asked herself.  The air was
unnaturally warm. 

	Then a unicorn ran by in the forest, or to be more
precise, a purple and silver zebra with a single ivory horn. 
A saber-toothed tiger was chasing it, gradually losing
ground.  The creatures ran out of sight, and Asuka finally
spoke.  //"Is this some kind of joke?  This is some kind of
crazy simulation, right?"//

	//"Amazing,"// Ritsuko said, her voice full of
wonder.  //"The scientists of the world are going to be busy
for years exploring these two places.  From the readings
we're getting, this cavern is even larger than the one above
you.  You won't have too much further to travel, though. 
Orifel is on the move.  He's rising towards a point about
five miles north of your current position.  I suppose you'll
have to clear your own path, which is a pity.  Try not to
kill anything extinct on the surface world."//

	//"What if I don't have a clue if it's extinct?"//
Shinji asked. 

	//"I'll do my best to guide you,"// Ritsuko said. 

	//"We can play nature boys and girls later,"//
Misato cut in.  //"We have to stop Orifel now before he gets
it in his mind to head for the surface."//

	//"Right."// Asuka said, and took the lead, crashing
through the forest and clearing a path for the others. 

	A few miles later, they came to an opening in the
forest.  It was another city, this one carven of basalt and
done in a very different architectural style from the one
above.  The buildings were short, blockish, and solid, but
every inch was carved with reliefs, runes, and other
decorations.  In the heart of the city, a building that
looked like the Pentagon, except for being carved from
basalt, towered over the other buildings, though an
octagonal building near it almost matched it for size.  Both
were heavily carven with reliefs which couldn't be made out
from this distance. 

	This city, however, was crumbling.  Many of the
buildings had partially or totally collapsed, and while no
plants grew on the buildings themselves, the streets had
vanished in a riot of greenery.  One of the five sides of
the great pentagonal building was ruptured.  Only one thing
in the city stood completely undamaged: the vast octagonal
building appeared utterly unaffected by time. 

	//"Geez, how many lost ruins are there?"// Asuka
asked.  //"And where did they get basalt in Oklahoma?"//

	Shinji shrugged.  //"If they could build like this,
they could move it.  I want to know why the plants aren't
growing over the buildings."//

	//"If our readings are correct, Orifel is waiting
for you inside the pentagon,"// Misato said. 

	//"Check,"// Asuka said.  //"Everyone ready to kick
ass?"//

	//"No, but I won't get more ready by waiting,"//
Shinji said. 

	Rei simply began to head for the pentagon. 

	They arced around through the city to reach the
pentagon from its broken side; short of climbing it and
coming down through the top of it, there was no other way to
get an EVA into the huge building.  The readings indicated
Orifel was still waiting for them. 

	Rubble was strewn about the broken side of the five
sided building, and as they passed through it, they could
see many different rooms on the ten floors of the building. 
Most of the rooms were empty now, although a mosaic caught
Shinji's eye.  It showed strange snake-men building the very
edifice they were entering.  A few months ago, he would have
guessed it was supposed to be symbolic, but now he suspected
it was probably showing literal truth.  He'd seen too many
strange creatures to dismiss the idea. 

	The central courtyard was vast, hundreds of feet
across, with a path leading from each of the five sides to a
now defunct fountain in the middle.  A strange, highly
realistic, painted statue stood at the heart of the
fountain, which was full of brackish black liquid.  It
resembled a huge furry toad-man with distorted eyes and
limbs, a faintly amused smile on its lips.  Its eyes were
closed as if it was asleep. 

	The courtyard also had several great stone limbs
scattered about it, as if another statue had been
dismembered and tossed about at random.  Shinji spotted a
huge serpentine head lying by the fountain; it looked
disturbingly like Hayyael's head. 

	//"So where's Orifel?"// Asuka asked. 

	//"He's the statue,"// Ritsuko announced. 

	The statue's eyes opened.  "I SUPPOSE THAT TRICK HAD
TO FAIL SOONER OR LATER." 

	//"The fountain is probably full of Thrones,"//
Misato said.  //"Deal with...bzzt...crackle...bzzzt."// Her
signal suddenly winked out, as did the date flow from the
Command Center. 

	//"Scheiss!"// Asuka swore. 

	"NOW, NOW, CAN'T HAVE ANY INTERFERNCE IN OUR LITTLE
DUEL.  WOULDN'T BE FAIR.  NOT THAT THREE TO ONE IS FAIR." 

	//"This is a war,"// Asuka said.  //"Wars aren't
about fairness."//

	"AS I WELL KNOW.  HOWEVER, I HAVE DECIDED TO EVEN
THE ODDS, BECAUSE I WANT IT TO BE FAIR TO ME." 

	And then the ground shook faintly, and massive
footsteps reverberated through the courtyard.  Shinji felt
his hackles rise, and slowly he turned to look. 

	From the great hole in the side of the pentagon, two
massive forms emerged, covered in grit and black stains.
Each figure carried a long spear of seamless metal with a
head that grew organically from it, tapering to a long
point, a lidless eye carved into the blade. 

	And they both looked very familiar. 

        Asuka's voice came in suddenly, filled with alarm. 
//"SCHIESSE!  Shinji, they're Evas!"//

        Orifel's smile seemed to turn up a notch. 

	"I TOO HAVE CHILDREN." 
	
                           -*-

	Misato turned to Fuu, who had taken Shigeru's old
job.  She was blonde with glasses, short and slender,
wearing a silver ring of a dragon swallowing its tail. 
"What's happened to communications?" 

	"He's jamming it somehow.  I'll try boosting our
signal, but since the Children can't boost theirs very much,
we may end up with only a one-way line." 

	"That's not good enough!"  Misato brought her hand
down on the armrest of her chair, then regretted it, since
that hurt.  "I can't help them if I don't know what is going
on!" 

	"Maybe we should have waited for him to come to the
surface, then," Fuu replied, going to work trying to
strengthen the signal. 

	The doors opened and Gendo entered.  "That would
have been unwise.  I have just recieved a report from our
men in Arizona that they've established those two test units
were stolen, not destroyed.  They have functional
microfusion engines." 

	"And Orifel has them?"  Misato said. 

	"It seems quite possible." 

	If Commander Ikari hadn't been watching, Misato
would have sworn up a storm.  Instead, she cursed inside and
banged her fist again.  "He's played us for fools." 

	"In the end, it is up to the Children to fight the
battle," Gendo said.  "We shall see if they are up to the
test." 

                           -*-

	One of the EVAs was covered by pale blue armor, the
other was as dark a pink as pink ever gets.  The blue one
looked vaguely feminine, while the pink one had a male cast
to it, though it was hard to tell.  Their nasty looking
spears, however, were identical. 

	//"Shinji, you take the pink one, I'll take the blue
one,"// Asuka said.  //"Rei, you take care of Kermit the
Angel,"// she continued, trying to sound as confident as she
could.  Her EVA briefly knealt and she grabbed a huge stone
serpent that had once been part of a huge basalt statue.  It
would have to do as a weapon.  Shinji saw what she did and
did the same thing.  The serpent looked much like one of
Hayyael's arms; he shuddered slightly. 

	Orifel continued to stand in the fountain as Rei
warily approached him, drawing her knife.  He looked amused;
it seemed to be his perpetual state.  As she approached him,
the water of the fountain rippled and erupted into a mass of
Thrones, which struck at her in the form of a giant tongue,
wrapping around Unit00 and pulling it down to the ground,
slamming its head into the basin. 

	Unit00 suddenly shone with a bright light, and its
AT-Field drove them off it, but not before Orifel got onto
00's back and began grappling it, pinning its arms behind
it.  They began to struggle. 

	Unit01 took a swipe at the pink EVA's left arm, and
to Shinji's surprise, some of its armor flew off, revealing
reddish-black flesh which began to bubble, growing spikes. 
He stared blankly, then just barely parried a thrust from
its spear.  It began to drive him back, and he gave ground,
desperately trying to fend it off.  Unfortunately, it was
quite good, and he was quite not good at fighting with
weapons. 

	Meanwhile, Unit02 began to trade blows with the Blue
EVA.  It was fast and skillful, but she was faster and more
skillful, having actually practiced some fencing.  After
letting it attack first a few times, she began to press it,
driving it back and scoring several hits, until finally she
had it backed up against a wall. 

	It tried to sweep 02's feet, but Unit02 jumped over
the blow and she delivered a solid kick to its chest,
followed by a blow to its head with the huge basalt serpent
she was using as a staff.  The chest plate caved in, and
blue-black ichor squirted out.  Part of the head armor came
off on the right side, and its 'ear' squirmed free,
elongating and turning a deep blue with veins of black and
red.  Several tendrils erupted around the edge of the chest
plate and began to pull it back into place. 

	Asuka stared at it, and wondered what her EVA would
look like with its armor off.  A sudden mental image of
tendrils writhing around its mouth under the face armor,
like the first angel she had fought had posssed, filled her
mind, and she had to stifle the urge to rip off her face
armor and find out. 

	Unit00 suddenly went limp, and Orifel finished
pinning its arms.  Asuka and Shinji felt a moment of terror
run through them.  If it had beaten Rei so easily, they were
doomed.  //"Rei!  What's going on?"// Asuka demanded. 

	She got her answer seconds later when Unit00
suddenly sprouted huge black wings, flinging Orifel off of
it as the wings erupted into his face.  He gave a muffled
cry as he smashed into one of the walls, then got back up,
grinning once more.  He charged at her, and she simply
embraced him and took to the sky.  They rose out of sight. 


	//"Rei, what are you doing?"// Asuka asked again. 

	She answered by flying all the way up to the roof,
then slamming down at high speed into one of the sides of
the temple, using Orifel as a shock absorber.  The entire
side collapsed in a massive haze of fine black volcanic
dust.  For the moment, nothing emerged from the cloud. 

                           -*-


	The viewscreen flickered and kicked in.  They could
see Shinji's viewpoint; he was being grappled by his
opponent after it had pinned him to a wall with its spear. 
Ironically, Asuka had done the same thing to her opponent
across the courtyard, while Rei was nowhere to be seen. 

	"Shinji, smash the wall behind you so it breaks!" 
Misato shouted. 

	Shinji did nothing of the kind, and didn't answer. 
Instead, he grappled desperately with the pink EVA while it
kicked him repeatedly. 

	"Dammit, Shinji, acknowledge!"  Misato shouted. 

	"I think we have video, but not audio,"  Fuu said. 

	"This isn't much help!" 

	"We can get some readings at least," Ritsuko said. 
"And..." 

	Unit01 managed to kick the Pink EVA away, sending it
toppling into the fountain.  More of its armor fell off, and
it sprouted small limbs, mouths, and eyes on tentacles along
its right leg and right arm. 

	"And we know the armor used on those models isn't
good enough." 

                           -*-

	Unit00 and Orifel grappled silently among the
wreckage of dozens of rooms and enough basalt to form a
small volcanic island.  After he had ripped one of its
wings, Rei had retracted them, as they would be a liability
now.  Her efforts to freeze him had failed; he was resistant
to cold, possibly due to his fur. 

	Unfortunately, he was, simply put, better at
wrestling than her, and soon Unit00 was pinned again.  Rei
began trying to run through her tactical options, when he
spoke over her comm line.  //"WHY ARE YOU FIGHTING US?  YOU
ARE ONE OF US, NOT ONE OF THE ANTS WHO BUILD THEIR PATHETIC
LITTLE NESTS IN OUR SHADOW."//

	//"I am no Angel."//

	//"YOU KNOW BETTER THAN THAT.  YOU ARE NO NORMAL
HUMAN.  ARE YOU LIKE THE MASTERS YOU SERVE?  DO YOU FEEL A
KINSHIP TO THEM?"//

	Her voice wavered.  //"I exist to slay Angels."//

	//"AND WHAT DO YOU THINK THEY WILL DO TO YOU WHEN WE
ARE ALL SLAIN?  DO YOU THINK THEY WILL NOT FEAR YOU IN
TURN?"//

	//"I will do my duty,"// she said very flatly. 

	//"DON'T YOU WANT TO LIVE?"//

	//"Yes."//

	//"DON'T YOU ENJOY THE HUNT?  THE KILL?  THERE ARE
FAR MORE HUMANS TO HUNT THAN THERE ARE OF US.  WE WILL NOT
SIMPLY KILL YOU WHEN YOU CEASE TO BE OF USE.  WITH US, YOU
COULD BE FREE TO HAVE WHAT YOU WANT."//

	//"There is nothing I want,"// she insisted a little
louder than usual. 

	//"CAN YOU NOT FEEL THE KINSHIP BETWEEN US?  DO YOU
NOT HEAR THE MUSIC OF THE HARBINGER?  HOW IT CALLS TO US,
BRINGING ABOUT THIS TIME OF RECKONING?  CAN YOU NOT SEE THAT
THE STARS ARE RIGHT?  THEY ARE CALLING YOU TO JOIN US."//

	Rei could hear it, a chorus of voices, louder than
the one she sometimes felt from her sisters, a seductive
siren song, beckoning her to cast off her restraints and run
wild.  She could do whatever she wanted, revel in what she
now only could feel in her dreams.  She would be the hunter
of the gods, seeking and destroying their foes. 

	And for the first time in her life, Rei felt
temptation.  It would be so easy to turn and destroy
Langely.  She wanted to, and the wanting terrified her more
than what she wanted, for Rei had little understanding of
desire when she walked among mortals under the sun.  The
song beckoned, and if she opened herself to it, she could
become whole once more; it was only at this moment she
realized a part of herself was missing. 

	She turned and stared through the cloud of dust in
the courtyard.  Langely was locked in battle with the Blue
EVA, but she had the upper hand, kicking and pummeling it. 
It managed to smash the wall behind it and got free,
recovering its spear, only to have Langely disarm it again. 
She was winning...unless Rei chose to intervene.  Two on one
would easily strike her down.  Then Shinji would be hers and
hers alone. 

	Shinji... 

	And then she saw it.  The Thrones were oozing across
the ground, coming up behind Shinji, aiming to strike at the
gaping wound in his back, to enter him, and find the tube
where his lesser form dwelt.  He would never see it; his
attention was focused on the Pink Eva, which had lifted a
scaley basalt leg and was trying to beat him down with it,
though it wasn't having much luck. 

	Time seemed to slow, and all she could do was watch
as the Thrones erupted up at his back and slipped in through
the huge circular hole in the back of Shinji's armor.  He
fell to his knees, and his flesh began to bubble and boil
under the armor, making it bulge and cave in oddly.  The
Pink EVA began to beat him down. 

	Orifel's children were hurting Shinji.  Her Shinji. 
They were going to kill him, and then she would be all
alone, for Langely would die as well, and even though she
wanted to kill Langely, only Langely and Shinji were truly
like her. 

	For a moment, she remembered going to the store with
the other Children.  She had felt a strange kinship with all
of them, though the power of the others had been dormant. 
And she had put on the dress, and somehow, it had made them
smile at her, and for a moment, just a second, she had been
whole.  She hadn't understood then why she smiled, smiled
like Shinji.  Like Langely.  Like Suzuhara and Aida and
Horaki.  Did they feel like that all the time?  He had
called her cute...whatever that meant...it was good.  It had
made her feel good.  Even around Langely, she felt better,
even when Langely had to die. They were her kin, her kind,
the ones who could make her whole, if only for a moment. 

	And then she was back in the present, and the song
of the Harbinger tugged at her, but she could not look away
from Shinji as he howled. 

	//"WILL YOU ACCEPT MY OFFER, OR WILL YOU DIE?"//

	//"I will eat your heart,"// she announced, and
threw him off her with a great effort.  She rose, but before
she could go to Shinji's aid, he grabbed her and tossed her
across the plaza into another building.  He would be no easy
meat. 

                           -*-

	Shinji felt his EVA spasm, and its monitors told him
what was going on.  The Thrones were inside him, trying to
find his plug and kill him.  For a few moments, he gave in
to blind panic.  He was going to die, there might already be
one in the LCL, maybe there had been one all along, he was
doomed, doomed, doomed. 

	Fear wracked him for a time, and then something rose
within him.  He didn't want to die.  There was no hope, but
he wanted to live.  He'd driven them off before with an
AT-Field...could he make one inside himself?  He didn't
know.  Rei...Rei could make one.  They were both
Children...if only I had some spiders or snakes handy, he
thought. 

	And then a horrible thought struck him, but he was
too desperate to care.  He lifted his right arm, barely able
to move it as it bent and contorted, and focused on its
hand.  In the palm, a reptilian mouth with fangs and a
snakey tongue formed.  He thrust it into the wound in his
chest and began to focus on making an AT-Field erupt from
it, even as he felt the hand reshape itself into a full
reptillian head. 

	He put his real right hand behind himself; he feared
to look at it.  Then he concentrated all of his will in
extending the AT-Field through himself to flush his EVA's
system of Thrones, imagining it like white blood cells
gobbling up black invaders.  And Unit01's flesh ceased to
bubble, and black gouts poured out of the wound in its back. 

	Unfortunately, this didn't stop the Pink EVA, now a
twisted mockery of human form, from beating the hell out of
Unit01 with improvised weapons and its own fists, maws, and
tentacles. 

                           -*-

	Asuka watched this and cursed.  She was slowly
beating her opponent, but it was taking far too long, and
now it had gotten in close to her and was trying to bite off
her right arm.  She had her face pressed into its shoulder,
but that wasn't much good without any fangs or...the
tendrils. 

	She shuddered at the thought of them, then thought
about the things her EVA had done, and Rei's abilities. 
Like it or not, her EVA could...drain this thing dry, if she
told it too.  But the experience was....exhilarating.  No,
it was wrong.  It was horrible.  It was...necessary. 

	Feeling the feedback pain from her arm made up her
mind.  FEED, she commanded her EVA. 

	And it did.  Hundreds of tendrils erupted from its
head, from its neck, from its shoulders and even from its
arms.  Some of them quested up inside the mouth biting down
on the right arm and began to bore towards its brain. 
Others erupted down its throat and down to its Microfusion
Engine, beginning to suck out its power. 

	And a lone tendril made its way down the throat and
through the softer inner flesh of the EVA to the Entry Plug,
then bored through it.  It began to slurp up the LCL inside
it, and with it, the hapless Throne piloting the EVA.  It
was digested in seconds. 

	The memories hit Asuka like a brick, flooding her
mind with alien thoughts, and snatches of images seen
through alien eyes.  She saw a mass of heat patterns that
bore some resemblence to humans, and she followed one of
them, then flowed over him and in through his orifices,
devouring his brain and taking its place.  Then she rode
around in the man and gave the orders that enabled the
lobotomized gods to be stolen.  Her reward had been to
recieve one with which she could merge, and one day unite
with.  She would be a god! 

	And then the memories faded, swept from her mind by
a tide of revulsion, a tide heightened by her inability to
stop her EVA from feeding on its fallen foe to the last
drop, and by the delicious ecstasy that flowed through her
veins from its power.  Only by supreme willpower could she
keep her lips from trying to suck at the LCL, and alone
within the darkness, she shuddered, though whether in
pleasure or fear, she could not have said. 

                           -*-

	Shinji could see Asuka's EVA feeding on its foe, and
he shuddered, though experiencing something like that would
be better than what was happening to him right now, which
was the process of being beaten to death.  He'd driven out
the Thrones and sealed his wounds, but he couldn't get up
now under the hail of blows raining down on him. 

	He tried desperately to think of some trick he could
use on his foe, but he couldn't think of anything.  If only
I could call a million spiders to...Maybe I could make a web
myself, he thought.  He focused on his left arm, trying to
form a spinneret on it, and the armor and flesh beneath it
began to bend and expand, forming a sort of tunnel, which he
hoped would work. 

	Concentrating on it, he told his EVA to web his foe. 
It worked, erupting in a quick gout of black, sticky goo
which quickly solidified into huge, ropy webs all over the
torso and arms of his opponent, who staggered back.  A
second gout covered its face. 

	Staggering to his feet, he tried to attack, but
could barely move.  It lunged into him, and they both fell
down. 

	However, by now, Asuka had finished feeding, and she
charged in, stabbing it in the back with a knife.  //"Finish
him off, Shinji!"// she shouted. 

	And he did.  He used the one weapon that didn't take
much strength; he bit its neck.  His EVA began to chew, and
as it fed upon the unfortunate Pink EVA, its strength began
to return.  He felt stronger himself, and had to try to
restrain himself from making chewing motions.  But the more
it fed, the more he wanted to keep feeding, for he could
feel its strength infusing him and its EVA.  He remembered
what Rei had said about gaining the strength of what he
killed; he wanted strength.  If he could have thought
straight, he would have been scared, but at the moment, only
hunger and his desire to survive drove him on.  He fed, and
fed copiously. 

	Soon, the Pink EVA was head and shoulderless, and he
shoved his EVA's face into its chest, burrowing until he
found the Entry Plug, then bit it in half with one bite,
swallowing the Throne, which poured into his microfusion
engine and gave him a rush of power.  He stood and roared
triumph at the heavens as the dead EVA crumbled into grey
flakes beneath him. 

	And then the hunger and the triumph left him, and
there was only a shocked and confused Shinji.  He said to
Asuka, //"Where's Rei?"//

	//"I can hear her outside,"// she said, and they ran
together out of the temple. 

	Unit00 rose into the sky on battered wings, nursing
a mangled left arm bent in all the wrong ways, shining with
the light of an AT- Field.  Another such field glimmered
around Orifel, who turned to face them, his lips now turned
in what would have been a leer on a human.  //"YOU LIVE."//

	//"You die.  Surround him,"// Rei said. 

	They fanned out and did so, forming a triangle
around him, and raising AT-Fields which spread out and
merged, forming a triangular wall around him, distorted by
Unit00's elevation.  It settled to the ground, and the field
grew a dome over it.  Then they began to relentlessly
advance. 

	Their fields caught on his, and for a time, he held
them off, chanting in some strange language that they had
never learned, yet knew in their bones, a dozen incantations
that might have been called spells by some, and advanced
applications of hyperphysics by others.  All were to no
avail. 

	He began to gibber, and to try to shout, even to
beg, but they could not hear him through their AT-Fields,
and step by step, they drew closer to him, until his field
was pressed in on him, and he fell to his knees, then was
compressed into a furry ball of flesh.  And they held hands
around him, and he collapsed in on himself, exploding in a
ball of light which struck their fields and merged with
them, and flowed into them, giving them another rush. 
Shinji felt his face suddenly sprout a beard like his
fathers, and Asuka had a very bad feeling about how she was
going to need a chainsaw to shave her legs, and Rei's EVA
smiled. 

	Eons of experiences flooded their minds, and then
was gone, leaving only a thin residue behind, and a few
eddies that might pop up when least desired.  Perhaps Orifel
had fled back to Saturn, but if he lived, they knew he had
left most of himself behind.  Or perhaps he was truly gone. 
Perhaps that would one day be their own fate. 

	And in that instant, Misato's voice kicked in. 
//"Can you hear me?"// She didn't sound like she thought
they would. 

	//"It's over,"// Asuka said.  //"Can we come home
now?"//

	//"We saw you fight, but we couldn't say anything. 
You did great,"// Misato said.  //"Come on home,
Children."//

	//"Shinji,"// Gendo said. 

	//"Yes, Father?"//

	//"I saw what you did.  Good job."//

	The command room fell silent, and so did Shinji.  He
stared in shock, and then he smiled a tiny, exhausted smile. 
//"Thank you, Father."//

	//"You all did.  I was very pleased.  I fully
expected you were all going to die once I learned Orifel had
the EVAs.  It is sometimes pleasant to be surprised."// He
pushed his glasses back up.  //"That was far too close."//

	//"Amen to that,"// Misato said. 

                           -*-

	It is generally best not to combine a victory party
with a wake, as it tends to defeat the point of both. 
Having not had time to mourn the fallen before properly,
however, they ended up doing this on the way back.  The end
result was a large number of NERV personel drunk off their
ass, with only Shinji and Rei sober, sitting at a table
playing 'Battleship' while everyone else made spectacular
fools of themselves, including Asuka, who Misato had
practically forced to drink a large portion of a bottle of
vodka she'd picked up in Phoenix. 

	As Makoto launched into a long rambling story about
the time that Shigeru had been attacked by one of his
neighbors for playing his guitar too loudly at two o'clock
in the morning, Shinji said, 'E-4'. 

	"You hit a destroyer," Rei replied, and looked over
at Makoto.  "What is he doing?" 

	"He's telling a story about Shigeru.  What do you
think he's doing?" 

	"Why?" 

	"When someone dies, people share stories about them,
to remind themselves of why they cared about him." 

	"Will you tell one?"  She looked down at her board. 
"G-6." 

	"There goes the Aika.  Carrier down."  He sighed. 
"I don't know any good stories about him.  And they'd make
me start drinking if I let them notice me." 

	"Then why stay here?" 

	"Because I want to hear the stories.  Why are you
here?" 

	Rei looked up and stared into his eyes, her face
calm, her lips closed.  Her red eyes were soft, instead of
harsh, and for once she looked serene rather than blank or
slightly cold.  "You are." 

	He blushed slightly.  "I...uh..." 

	"Your turn, Shinji." 

	"Hey, is anyone not wasted yet?"  Misato bellowed. 
"As tactical commander, I order everyone to get so drunk
they fall up!" 

	Asuka looked around.  "I drink Shinji already went
down.  No, wait, he's over there!" 

	The ensuing battle was struck from the records later
by the mutual agreement of all involved in it. 

                           -*-


COUPLE DIE OF SNAKEBITES ON TRIP KYOTO, JAPAN (AP)  by Mika
Kisaki

	Surprising park rangers, who believed the vicinity
of the historic Orisaka shrine to be free of vermin, a
middle aged couple, Rokobungi Shun and Kyoko, ages 52 and
53, were killed by poisonous snakebites today.  Shun, a
salaryman employed by Fujimoto Industries, is also the older
brother of Commander Ikari Gendo of NERV-JAPAN.  Commander
Ikari has yet to make a public comment on the death. 
Investigation of suspected foul play continues. 

                           -*-

	The flagship Scimitar made for a majestic craft. 
With its twin ballast compartments flanking an
aircraft-carrier-like central body, it looked somewhat like
a more squat, compact version of the vessels seen often in
Star Trek.  Intended more for support than actual combat,
the Scimitar had a staggering 20,000 ton capacity, able to
carry four Evangelion units plus supplies, ammunition for
its defense batteries, and fuel. 

	It also had another nice feature, though the
designers of the craft hadn't thought of it. 

	At the very top of the craft, nestled between
antenna arrays and gun batteries, several landing pads were
built.  The intention was to give accecss to helicopters or
VTOL jets if the situation was necessary, but NERV hadn't
brought them along this time.  This meant that the decks
were still clean, spotless, and empty. 

	It also made a nice place to unwind and watch the
sunset, which is exactly what Misato was doing.  With a
fold-out table, deck chair, and a keg of beer, Misato sat
back and enjoyed the incredibly majestic view.  Below her,
the vast plains of America stretched out, grassy plains and
arid desert lands sprawling below.  The setting sun was a
massive red sphere, already sinking under the horizon.  The
steady breeze tempered the warm Oklahoma air, making the
experience all the more enjoyable. 

	"Now this," she said, hefting a mug of beer, "this
is what I call travel. Kampai!" 

	And like the pro she was, Misato guzzled the beer
down in 3 seconds flat.  She'd learned her lesson from the
trip to Arizona - Don't Forget The Beer.  She had a keg here
as well as several more kegs stowed away in her quarters. 

	"I think we need a refill," she said cheerily to
herself.  "Yes we do."  She turned to the keg, filled her
mug, began guzzling it as she turned once more to the
sunset, then spat out her beer as she suddenly found herself
locking eyes with Rei. 

	"Yeaaaaaaaaaagh!  Shit!  Jeez, you scared me!" she
screamed.  After a moment of deep breathing, she collected
her wits and smiled at the girl.  "Do _not_ do that again." 

	"Do what?" the girl asked. 

	"Don't sneak up on me like that," said Misato. 

	Rei merely blinked at Misato, looking just slightly
puzzled. 

	"Ah... something I can do for you, Rei?" asked
Misato, feeling slightly ill at ease.  While Rei showed no
signs of hostility, she still had a sinking feeling about
the situation. 

	"Commander Ikari ordered me to ask you." 

	Misato blinked, slowly, while looking at Rei with a
puzzled curiosity.  "Ask me....?" 

	Rei remained silent for a while longer.  Misato
wasn't sure, but it almost seemed as if Rei were
uncomfortable.  Almost. 

	Against her better judgement, she tried to down her
second mug of beer, and that was when Rei told her. 

	She spat the beer out again. 

	"He WHAT?!" 

	Rei stared at Misato expectantly. 

	Misato poured herself another beer. 

	"Have a seat," Misato said without thinking, then
realized there weren't any.  "Ah, don't-" 

	Rei sat on the deck, cross-legged. 

	"-nevermind." 

	Rei looked at her, once again, with expectation. 

	This sort of thing was not her territory, talking
about it, that is.  Misato stared into the depths of her
beer, as if the foam swirls would give her a revelation on
what to say. She certainly knew the ins and outs of 'the
birds and the bees', but explaining it to a girl with a
relatively innocent mindset on the topic was something else
entirely.

	"Um," started Misato. 

	Rei waited. 

	"Ah..."  Misato smiled nervously, scratching the
back of her hand.  "Well... why are you asking, Rei?" 

	Rei remained silent, but slowly averted her gaze
away from Misato. 

	The first child being bashful was something Misato
was not used to.  "Rei?  Hey, Rei?  What's going on?" 

	"I..." 

	Misato smiled warmly.  Rei almost seemed... bashful. 
It was neat, seeing Rei like this, kinda cute actually.
"C'mon, Rei, you can trust me." 

	Rei remained silent.  Was it the colors of the
setting sun upon her face, or was Rei blushing?  It was hard
for Misato to tell. 

	The gears in Misato's head began to turn, dots began
to connect.  Rei is curious about boys.  What boy would she
be curious about? 

	Who's the only boy that Rei really talks to? 

	Whoa. 

	"Hey, do you like Shinji?" 

	Rei frowned. 

	She couldn't help it.  Misato grinned like a maniac. 
"You like him." 

	"The commander asked me to ask you..." 

	Misato blinked.  Oh, that was right.  She still had
to explain THAT. 

	Well. 

	Hrm. 

	"Um... tell you what, lemme show you a movie when we
get back to Tokyo-3.  Have you seen Springtime Cherry
Blossoms?" 

                           -*-

	"Well, that was nearly a disaster," Fuyuutsuki said
to Gendo, as they stood on the rear observation deck of the
Scimitar, watching the Rocky Mountains pass by. 

	"We triumphed, and all the nearly a disaster
elements could not have been avoided, except perhaps if we'd
been able to lure Orifel into a trap on the surface.  Given
he was no idiot, we would never have succeeded.  We had to
come to him, and we both knew it.  Our real hope was that he
wouldn't know we were coming, but once I learned a Throne
had boarded us, that hope was shattered.  Still, once again
the prophecies are fulfilled.  And with his death, new doors
open up for us." 

	"The Lord of Saturn has fallen, the False Children
are slain, the Fourth Child has been found.  Yes, yes, but
the Book of Eibon warned that if 'three children triumphed
over two, then the world would be given over to the old lord
of Cykranosh.' Given that Cykranosh was the name given by
the people of Mhu Thulan to Saturn, one could have believed
that the triumph of our Children would still have led to
Orifel's victory."  Fuyuutsuki turned to Gendo.  "And the
sources of most of these prophecies were not very friendly
to Mankind, nor caring of our final fate." 

	"There are enough holes in the prophecies through
which we can slip to weave our webs and bring our hopes to
fruitition.  The Children have shown unexpected strength; I
find myself more hopeful than ever, despite our brush with
disaster."  Gendo smiled.  "They are each a source of
trouble in their own way, but with a little guidance, they
will bring our foes far more trouble than they bring to us." 

	"And despite my worries, the microfusion engines
worked perfectly."  He turned back to the glass.  "I suppose
sometimes I am just a worried old man." 

	"We could not do this without you," Gendo replied. 
"Age brings wisdom as well as regrets and fears." 

	"And sometimes they are the same thing," Fuyuutsuki
replied.  "Are you going to tell Shinji before we arrive?" 

	"He'll learn soon enough.  Best to let him focus on
his schoolwork for now, and relax with the other Children. 
They've earned a rest." 

	Fuyuutsuki smiled wryly.  "I never thought I'd hear
you say that." 

	"Push anyone too hard and they'll break.  I can be
relentless, but I only break people who I want to shatter." 
He turned from the window.  "Time to begin thinking about
where the next Angel will be found." 

	"And to figure out who the next one is.  The
descriptions are so enigmatic, it could be almost any of
them." 

	"Time will tell," Gendo said.  "Though it often
tells things we'd rather not hear."