-*-

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


                 Children of an Elder God

                        Part 17

                     The Second Sun

                          -*-

	The elevator descended into the depths of NERV, its
four passengers looking down.  Clad in their plugsuits, the
four Children were scheduled for synchronization checks with
their Evas.

	Touji, in particular, was eager to have the elevator
ride finish.  "Damn, I can't wait to see it!"

	"It'll probably just be a copy of mine," said Asuka
dismissively.

	"Whatever."
	
	"You DO know that my Unit02 is the first PRODUCTION
model, while Shinji and Rei's are the prototypes, don't
you?" she added haughtily.

	Touji looked at her blankly.  "Um... so?"
	
	"_SO_ that means all other Evas made after 03 are
based on MY Unit02."

	Touji frowned.  "Ew."
	
	At last, the elevator brought them to the holding
tank for the Eva units.  In the fourth holding bay stood the
new addition to the team, looking identical in physical
detail to Asuka's, though in colors of black and blue.

	Touji grinned.  "Ooooh, badass color scheme.  Me
like."
	
	"Black and blue, your Eva is one big bruise,"
quipped Asuka.  Touji, however, was too eager to give his
Eva a test spin to pay any more attention to her.

	"Yo!  Mission control!" he yelled to the observation
room jutting out from of the walls.  "Got the keys?  I wanna
take this bad boy for a spin!"

	Ritsuko's voice echoed from unseen speakers.  
//"We'll open the Evas in a moment, pilot.  Till then, try
to relax and take it easy, we need accurate measurements on
your interface with Unit03 and it'd help if you were more
calm."//

	"Oh... okay."
	
	A moment later, all four Evangelion plugs emerged,
the four pilots departing to their assigned machines.  
Touji hesitated at his, staring down at the black noxious
goo known as LCL.

	"Shit, I forgot about this part."
	
	//"Let's proceed, Mr. Suzuhara."//
	
	"Hey, can I, like, bring some air freshener or
something next time?"

	Asuka's booming voice rang from her own Eva02.  
//"Just get in the goo, moron!"//

	"Fine! Fine! Man, I hate this part..."  He took a
deep breath, then with a cry of "Banzai!" he dove into the
LCL.

	The four pilots in place, Ritsuko guided them
through the power-up phase, pleased to see that Touji wasn't
lagging too far behind the others.  The time he'd spent in
the VR trainer seemed to have paid off.

	//"All units proceed to individual testing rooms,"//
Ritsuko ordered.  //"Rei with room 1, Shinji room 2, Asuka
room 3, Touji room 4."//

        The four Evas waded through the LCL and out of the
main chamber, all departing to a side room, then into four
separate chambers.

	//"What's going on?"// asked Shinji as he settled
into his test chamber.

	//"Today you'll be doing some new training,"// said
Ritsuko, channeling her reply to all of them.  //"Well,
except for Mr. Suzuhara, who'll be getting more acquainted
with Unit03.  As for the rest of you, it's time we had you
exercise some of the powers you've been gaining from your
past battles.  You've done well so far, but practice never
hurts."//

	In Touji's Eva, he found himself being commanded
personally by Misato, which he had absolutely no problem
with.  If he'd seen what was happening in the other rooms,
he would have gaped with wonder as the other Evas shifted
their physical forms in one way or another.

	Asuka's Unit02 experienced some difficulty in the
exercise, sometimes instantly able to summon the powers of
the various monstrosities that her Eva had slain, sometimes
taking several minutes.  Shinji and Unit01 had as much, if
not more difficulty in doing so as well.

	Meanwhile, in test chamber one, Ritsuko marveled at
Rei's performance.  Without hesitation, Unit00 shifted its
form, one arm into a massive snake, then into a pincer, then
into a mass of writhing tentacles, then back to normal.  
Rei paused for a moment, then at Ritsuko's command a pair of
massive ebony wings burst from Eva00's back, majestic and
frightening.

	Rei never failed to impress Ritsuko, and today was
no different.

	Meanwhile, Touji had suddenly realized something.
	
	//"Hey, Misato-san, when can I wrap this up?"//
	
	//"You want out already?"// asked Misato, amused.  
//"You were so eager to start, what's the problem?"//

	//"I, er, just remembered a previous engagement,
y'know?"//

                          -*-

	Maya watched as her sempai gave orders to the pilots
with calm confidence.  She loved to watch her like this,
when Ritsuko was at her best.

	She was also concerned, watching as Ritsuko's hands
sometimes twitched, and she occasionally squinted at the
lights in the room.

	"Sempai," she said quietly.  "Are you..."
	
	Ritsuko gave her assistant a reassuring smile.  
"I'm fine, Maya, just a little tired."

	"Is the... are you..."
	
	"It's holding fine," said Ritsuko.  "I think we've
got things stabilized... for now."

	Maya nodded, looked around to see if anyone was
watching, then took Ritsuko's hand in hers with a gentle
squeeze.

                          -*-

	He waited at the gates of the school, whistling idly
as he did, waiting for his girl to arrive.  In his mouth
were a dozen mints, which he hoped would get the taste of
LCL out soon.  It wouldn't be cool for Hikari to experience
LCL breath. He didn't wait long, as she walked up moments
later.

	"You ready to go?" Hikari asked.
	
	Touji nodded.
	
	"Hold these."
	
	"Huh?"
	
	She handed him a large bouquet of flowers.  Touji
stared at it, unsure of what to say.

	"Hey, er, thanks?"
	
	Hikari stared at him.  "Those are for Mika, stupid."

	"Oh!  Oh, right, yeah."  He smiled nervously,
scratching the back of his head.  "Well, let's go, yeah?"

	"Hey, what's in your mouth?" she asked.
	
	"Mints.  Don't ask."

        With a somewhat puzzled nod from Hikari, they left.
The walk was a quiet one, mostly because Touji was really
lousy at small talk.

        When they reached the hospital, both of them paused
at its entrance.  Touji looked at the building, frowning.

	"Touji?"
	
	He looked to her, away from the building, and knew
what she was wondering.  "Just thinkin' of my sis," he said
quietly.

	"Oh."
	
	The two hesitated just a moment more, then Hikari
took Touji by the hand and entered.  After a brief talk at
the main desk, the two proceeded to wind through the
twisting hallways and stairways until they came upon Mika's
room.

	Touji found it to be terribly depressing.
	
	The constant droning of the monitoring equipment,
the steady hissing of the respirator, the pale fluorescent
lights, it was all too familiar to him.

	*beep* -hiss-

        "Touji, could you put the flowers over there?" asked
Hikari, pointing to the bedside table.

        He nodded, and set them down, but hesitated as he
looked at them.  The flowers seemed kind of wilted, though
they seemed fine when she gave them to him.  Maybe he just
didn't notice?  Whatever, it wasn't important.

        "Hi, Mika-chan," Hikari said softly. "We just came
to visit, Touji and me."

	*beep* -hiss-

	"Everyone back in school misses you, y'know.  It
just isn't the same without you."

	*beep* -hiss-
	
	"So... get well soon, okay?  We'll be praying for
you."
	
	*beep* -hiss-

        While Hikari looked with sadness at her stricken
classmate, Touji's face was the very expression of shock,
his eyes wide, his color pale.

	He'd seen Mika before, without a doubt.
	
	In the Dreamlands, he'd seen her.

        Her decapitated head, frozen in a horrified
expression.

	"Touji?"
	
	Rei had killed her, she'd killed her, their
classmate, and there wasn't a thing he could do about it.  
What proof did he have?  What could he say?

        He couldn't say anything if he wanted to. Commander
Ikari made it clear he'd have to stay out of it.

	And NERV had his sister.
	
	"Touji?"

	"Wha?  Huh?"
	
	"Touji, what's wrong?  You look like you've seen a
ghost or something."

	"Yeah," he muttered.  "Or something."

                          -*-

	Shinji looked up from doing homework when a feminine
shadow loomed over him.  "Yes?"  he asked.

	"There was something I was supposed to give you, but
I can't remember what," Misato said.  "How are you?"  She
had a quizzical look on her face.

	"I'm fine," he said.  "Just sort of...wondering
about Rei."

	"Wondering what about Rei?" she asked, sitting down
at the table.

	"Well, she seems sort of...It's like something's
happened to her."  Shinji said, tapping his pencil on the
table.  "She's gotten...creepy again.  I don't know how else
to describe it."

	Misato frowned.  "She did seem rather withdrawn at
the last training session," she said.  "Oh, now I remember
what it was.  Don't go anywhere."  She got up and ran off
towards her room.

	Shinji blinked, shrugged, then returned to his
homework.  Halfway into the next paragraph, Misato returned,
waving a stapled sheaf of paper.  "This is a sample of Rei's
handwriting.  It's from a test she took last year; I got it
from one of her teachers."  She put it down on the table and
sat down.  "So go get those cards so we can see if she's
your secret admirer!"

	Shinji nodded, got up and went to his room, grabbing
the cards from the pile of stuff which he wanted to keep but
didn't know how to best organize.  Coming back out, he sat
down at the table again and spread them out nervously.  I
wish I didn't have Misato staring at me so eagerly while I
do this, he thought.

	She grabbed them away from him and did a visual
comparison.  The earlier cards had been done with cut and
pasted letters, but later the secret admirer had started
simply writing the messages, giving a basis for comparison.  
"Looks like we've caught her," Misato said.  "Although I'm
surprised she didn't ask you to the dance."

	"Father ordered her back to the base the day of the
dance, right as she came to talk to me," he said, staring at
the essay on the products of Venezuela and the last of the
secret admirer cards, which contained the usual strange, but
heartfelt poetry.  He spent a few seconds wondering again
what 'You make me feel like cats and dogs' was supposed to
mean.  "And then she got all cold again.  I keep...I
mean..."  He couldn't bring himself to accuse his father of
doing something, not to someone who worked for his father.

	Usually, it was easy for him to forget that.  
Indeed, some days it was hard to remember Misato wasn't his
big sister or aunt or mother or older cousin or something,
instead of his boss at NERV.  He felt closer to her than
he'd ever felt to any of his blood relatives, except for a
few rare moments with his father and faded memories of his
mother.  But now he felt acutely aware of her status as his
boss and his father's assistant.

	"You think he did something to her," Misato said.  
She sounded a little troubled by the thought.

	Shinji nodded.  "I just...can't understand why.  
What would be the point?  Maybe he just...I mean...it could
be a coincidence.  Or something."

	"Well, she might be mad because you went to the
dance with Asuka instead of her, and being cold is her way
of showing she's mad.  Ritsuko's like that.  The madder she
gets, the more she clams up and gives you the cold shoulder.  
I bet if you went and talked to her, she'd probably get over
it pretty quickly."  Misato did her best to look confident
about this.

	"I tried talking to her at school, but she just...It
was like talking to a wall,"  Shinji said.

	"She'll get over it," Misato assured him.  "I
suppose it would help if you decided first how you feel
about her, so you know how to approach her," she continued,
getting up.  "Well, I'd better go work on some reports, but
I'd recommend you don't let this drag out too long."

	"Are you sure it's just her being angry?"

	Misato looked at him, started to speak, then fell
silent.  For a few seconds, her usual grin vanished and she
looked much more serious than usual.  "No.  I'll see what I
can find out if anything, Shinji.  But your father doesn't
answer to me; I have to answer to him, so I don't know if
I'll be able to get you any useful information.  I'm sorry."

	The doorbell rang.  "I'll get it," Shinji said.

	"Okay," replied Misato.  "I'll be in my room working
on a report if you need me."

	She headed out as Shinji went to the door.

	Touji was at the door when he opened it.  "Yo,
Shinji, it's hoop time."  He began dribbling the basketball
he was carrying for emphasis.

	"I need to finish my homework," Shinji said.

	"Homework can wait, but once the sun goes down, we
can't play.  C'mon, man, you can do it later."

	"Well, okay," Shinji said.  "I'll go tell Misato
we're going."

                          -*-

	A head-fake to the left sent his defender jumping
into the air.  Touji grinned and pulled himself low and to
the right, turning on the speed and blazing to the hoop, his
footsteps echoing loudly in the otherwise empty basketball
court.  With a flick of his wrist, he tossed the ball in.

	-whoosh-
	
	"You really suck at this, y'know?"
	
	Shinji would've said something, but he was busy
wheezing and getting his breath back.  Seeing his friend in
such sad shape, Touji decided to ease up for a moment.

	"C'mon, let's take a break."
	
	Shinji wheezed and nodded his head in affirmative,
for lack of enough breath to say 'yes, please'.
	
	The two sat on the nearby benches, Shinji electing
to lay down while Touji sat up and performed various
spinning and balancing tricks with the basketball.

	Touji asked, "So, how bad did things get with you'n
redtop?"

	"Asuka?"
	
	"Yep."
	
	Shinji blushed slightly, which Touji (luckily for
Shinji) didn't seem to notice.  "We had fun, it was okay.  
We didn't have anything better to do that night anyway."

	"Yeah?  Cool, I guess."

	Shinji, having recovered somewhat, sat up and faced
his friend.  "Hey, Touji?"
	
	"Whasa?"
	
	"What do you think happened to Rei?"
	
	At this question, Touji frowned slightly and stood
up, pacing about while he dribbled the ball.

	"Touji?"
	
	"Hell, I dunno.  Who understands women, huh?"
	
	"I mean... she's so... she's so cold now, like she
was the first time I met her."

	"From a certain point'a view, she's just back to
normal, yeah?"

	"I... I guess."
	
	"See?  So there ain't no problem."
	
	"But-"

	"Things got a way'a working themselves out, yeah?"  
Touji said uneasily.  "I figure this is one'a those things."

	Sensing the apprehension in Touji's voice, Shinji
decided to drop the matter.

                          -*-

	"So, then he finally kissed me.  I was starting to
wonder if it would ever happen."  Hikari rambled on while
Asuka tried to focus on her math homework instead of on
hearing poppycock about how Touji was the manliest man who
ever was a man, or whatever it was that Hikari was talking
about.  While Asuka knew it was her duty to support Hikari,
she really wished Hikari would date someone who wasn't pond
scum.

	Hikari paused to look down at her homework, still
spread across the floor of Asuka's room.  She dismissed it
with a shrug, then looked up at Asuka, who was up at her
desk.  "So, did you and Shinji kiss, hmm?"

	Asuka, to her surprise, had a moment of utter
paralysis when asked this.  She tried to answer, but her
lips wouldn't move.  It passed, and she said,
"Ummm...well..."

	"I swear I won't tell anyone."

	"If you tell Touji, I will kill you."

	She put her right hand on her heart.  "Cross my
heart and hope to die."

	"Well, we were talking about how his life had been
like before he came here, and I felt kind of sorry for him,
and...yes, I kissed him."  She stared at her homework
without really seeing it.  "It was my first kiss."

	"Was he good?"  Hikari sounded genuinely curious.

	"He was too surprised to be good," Asuka said.  
"But he wasn't bad, either."  Not that I'd be able to tell
with no experience, she thought.  But I won't mention...oh
wait, I did.  Damn.

	"So, are you going to wait for him to ask you out or
make the next move yourself?"  Now Hikari's voice took on a
gently teasing tone.

	Asuka waved her hands frantically.  "I am NOT
interested in dating Shinji.  He's a nice guy, but he's
about as romantic as...as a sock puppet.  But he's a good
dancer.  He's got rhythm, unlike most people.  So if we have
another dance, I guess I'd probably ask him to go with me."

	Hikari sighed.  "Touji will never be much of a
dancer."

	Misato stuck her head in the door.  "So, should I be
moving you and Shinji into the same room, Asuka?" she asked
teasingly.

	"No!"  Asuka shouted.  "We just went to a dance
together so we wouldn't have to be bored!"

	"Uh huh."

	"That's all!  Really!"

	Misato came into Asuka's room and sat down on the
bed. "So how are you and Touji doing, Hikari?" she asked.

	"We're doing well, Katsuragi-san.  How are you and
Kaji-san?"

	"Things are GREAT!"  Misato crowed.  "Now I just
have to get Ritsuko laid and the world will be a perfect
place."

	"..."  Hikari stared in shock.

	Asuka was not so shocked.  "With who?  Makoto?"

	"Hey, great idea!  He could use a girlfriend.  
Although I tried to hook her up in college with a guy like
that; it was a total disaster."  She shook her head.  "I've
never seen a man cry after a date."

	"Cry?  Did she slap him or something?"  Asuka asked.

	"He never would tell me the whole story, but I
managed to pry a few bits away from him.  He took her to a
seafood restaurant, even though I told him not to do that.  
She fell asleep during the movie he took her to.  And
finally, he took her down to the beach and...something
happened.  I'm not sure what.  But for the rest of the time
I knew him, every time you said 'frog', he would just run
away screaming.  I dunno what she did to him, but he
wouldn't even come within fifty feet of her any more."  
Misato shrugged.  "I guess she's one of those 'married to
her work' sort of people, but I can't see how anyone could
live like that.  On the other hand, my dad was like that
too."

	"My father is like that too," Hikari said.  "I had
to take care of my younger siblings after my mother died,
while he worked.  But your father took you to Antarctica
with him, didn't he, Katsuragi-san?"

	Misato fingered her pendant.  "Just once.  Right
before Second Impact happened."

	"So how did you and Kaji-san meet?" Hikari asked,
sensing it best to change the subject.

	"We'd better work on our homework," Asuka said, not
wanting to hear this.

	"I guess so," Hikari said.  "It's just so boring."

	"Boring is good for you, Dad always said,"
Misato said, getting up.  "I'd better go work on that
report.  It's so boring, I'll probably be ready to run
a marathon by the time I finish."  She went to the
door.  "Who's cooking tonight?"

	"You are,"  Asuka said.

        "Hmm.  It's been a while since I used beer with
my cooking," Misato said as she went out.

	Maybe I'd better see where I put that takeout
number, Asuka thought.

                          -*-

	Metal hinges groaned and squealed as the
bulkhead-esque door of Rei Ayanami's apartment swung
open.  Standing in the doorway was its sole occupant,
staring inside with an empty gaze.  She entered, turned
mechanically, and closed the door.

	With the lights still off, the only
illumination available was the faint light pushing
through the curtains and the dimly glowing crimson of
her eyes as they swept through the contents of the
room.

	On the bed was an assortment of stuffed toys,
among them superdeformed versions of herself, Asuka and
Shinji. Her attention was focused on those odd little
figures for a moment, then turned elsewhere.

	Hanging from a nail on the wall was a framed
picture, the collective NERV team in a group pose
during their stay in Disneyworld, Shinji and Asuka to
her sides, both leaning on her shoulders.  Rei's finger
reached out, tracing the crack in the glass frame, then
pulled away silently.

	In the recesses of her mind, there was
recollection, a stir of echoes, memories recent and
distant.

	Third Child, Shinji Ikari.
	
	[you're beautiful]
	
	Second Child, Asuka Langley.

	[we just... y'know... wanna see you laughing or
something]

	Reflections of what used to be, muddled in her
mind's eye by the ever-present flickering of red
sigils.

	On the floor was a dusty rag, unused for a
while and due for some cleaning.  She looked at it a
moment, blinking once, then bent down to reach it.  In
slow, small circles, she began to clean the floor.

                          -*-

	Evening fell soon enough, and the dying rays of
light illuminated Jimmy's Lounge in hues of red.  At a
distant edge in the horizon, the first few points of
starlight took their place in the sky.

	Makoto would've thought it beautiful, but he
was too miserable to take notice.  Instead, he idly
stirred the swizzle-stick in his drink, staring
vacantly about the room.  Jimmy, the bartender, was
nearby, shining empty glasses with a cloth.

	"Somethin' bugging ya, eh kid?"
	
	Makoto nodded slowly.
	
	"If you don't mind me askin', women problems?"
	
	He turned his eyes to the bartender.  "Yep."
	
	"Ah, yeah, the eternal mystery of mankind.  
Women."
	
	Makoto laughed briefly.  "Yeah, that they are.  
I really thought I had a shot with'er, but then she
goes off'n shacks up with someone else."

	Jimmy nodded.  "Oh, that sorta problem."
	
	Makoto frowned, leaning towards Jimmy.  "An'
that ain't all, either!  She's shacked up with a guy
she's done nothin' but bitch at, while I'm over here
bustin'my ass trying to get'er to notice me!"

	Jimmy shrugged.  "Maybe she's masochistic?"
	
        Makoto sank back onto his barstool.  "Hnh.  
Yeah. Mebee."  He stared morosely out into the room
again, his eyes falling on the empty stage.  "Hey,
where's your piano guy?  Wosisname.... 'Buddy'
something?"

	"Oh, y'mean Neil?  He said he hadda move on,
something about gettin' bored with things, I think."

	"Really?  Huh.  Too bad, I kinda liked the
guy."
	
	Jimmy smiled, the kind of smile that said he
knew something niiiiice.  "Well, it ain't all bad, kid.
Just wait till ya see who I got to replace'em."

	"Hm?"
	
	As if on cue, the auto-tint on the windows
darkened slightly, blocking the last of the sun's rays,
dimming the room in artificial candle-light and hues of
blue.  A soft spotlight fell on the stage, and a woman
sauntered up to the microphone.

	The first thing Makoto noticed was her eyes,
they seemed to draw him in as he looked at them.  
There was something there, like starlight or fireflies,
something not quite describable.  Her skin was caramel
tanned and smooth, and her ebony hair snaked down in
long, luxurious strands.

	She smiled warmly to the crowd, looking about
the room, while another person quietly took position at
the piano bench.  Makoto wasn't sure, but he thought
she winked at him.

	"Wow, who's that?"
	
	"She's a looker, ain't she?" asked Pat.  "Lynn
H. Taparote.  Just came in from Miami, she says."

	"You're right, Jimmy.  One heck of a
replacement."

	Makoto went back to his drink, the crowd
settled in, and Lynn charmed the crowd with a winning
smile while the pianist played lightly.

	o/~ In my eyes, indisposed o/~
	o/~ In disguise, as no one knows o/~
	o/~ lies the face, lies the snake o/~
	o/~ the sun in my disgrace o/~

	Makoto blinked for a moment, something nagging
at him.  "This song sounds familiar."

	"S'an oldie," said Jimmy.  "Black Hole Sun, by
Soundgarden."

	"Oh, an old lounge band?"
	
	"No, an old grunge band."

	"A grunge band?"

	o/~ Boiling heat, summer stench o/~
	o/~ 'neath the black the sky looks dead o/~

	"They were a grunge band that played lounge?"
	
	"No, they were a grunge band that played
grunge."

	o/~ call my name, through the cream o/~
	o/~ and I'll hear you scream again o/~

	Makoto scratched his head.  "So, er, what she's
singing..."

	"Should be done with lots of loud electronic
guitar instead of a piano, yeah."

	"Kinda guessed that by the lyrics, yeah.  Er,
why?"

	o/~ Black hole sun, won't you come o/~
	o/~ and wash away the rain o/~

	"She said she liked mangling the intent of the
original artist and making it still sound good, or
something like that," replied Jimmy.

	o/~ Black hole sun o/~
	o/~ won't you come o/~
	o/~ won't you come o/~

	"I think she's gonna try to do Elvis in acid
jazz style tomorrow night."

	Makoto blinked slowly.  "Riiiight."

                          -*-

	"So why exactly are we up here on the roof?"  
Misato asked Kaji.

	"Because the view is better," he said.  "We can
watch the sun go down."

	He sat down near the edge and Misato plopped
down next to him.  A cool breeze played across them as
the sun worked on vanishing behind the mountains to the
west.  "Our first hint of winter," he said.

	"Winter won't come for a few months," Misato
said, wrapping her left arm about his right and holding
his hand.  "We're not even into fall yet.  It's just a
summer breeze."

	"The equinox is coming," he said.  "The days
are shrinking.  Everything winds down towards its end."

	She frowned.  "Must you be so pessimistic?"

	"No." He smiled at her in an infuriating way.

	She stuck out her tongue at him.  "Then stop."

	He leaned over and kissed her cheek.  "Yes, my
lady.  As you command."

	"I wish we hadn't wasted all that time," she
said softly.

	"If we'd stayed together, I'd have probably
ended up a salaryman, working for my father, and you'd
be wasting yourself as a housewife.  Tokyo-3 would have
fallen by now, and we'd all be dead."

	"So you saved the world by dumping me?" she
asked sarcastically.

	"More or less.  Pebbles and avalanches, you
know.  A butterfly flaps his wings in Tokyo-3, and an
Angel attacks in Canada."

	Misato laughed.  "So, will the Angel die if he
flaps his wings another way?"

	"The trick is finding the right butterfly.  I
want to know why the Angels are attacking...where's
their butterfly?"

	"So do I," Misato said.  "But we have no way to
find out unless we can capture and interrogate one.  
The King in Yellow wasn't much help in that regard."

	"I think NERV already has," Kaji said.  "The
question is where they keep it."

	Misato frowned.  "Poke your nose where it
doesn't belong and it'll get cut off."

	"Curiosity may kill this cat, but you can't
make wise decisions if you don't know what's going on."

	"Kaji, don't do something stupid," she said.  
"You've got that look on your face."

	"I think Ritsuko knows more than we do, but I'm
not sure how to winkle it away from her."  He stared
off across the city, tapping the fingers of his left
hand on his left leg.

	"You could offer to paint her condo again,"
Misato said, laughing.

	"Let's not think about that incident," he said.  
"I still wake up seeing that awful color on my walls,
and then I blink and realize her revenge is still in
place."

	She kissed his cheek and got up.  "Time for me
to cook dinner."

	"Should I run for my life?"

	"You get to help make it."

	"Right.  I'll warn the kids to run for THEIR
lives, then," he said, getting up and going down with
her.

                          -*-

	Asuka had planned to simply sleep through the
night, but she felt the need to ask Uoht something.  
This had forced her to spend two weeks of dream time
stomping around the back country of Celephais, trying
to track down Mizraim the Seer, who was said to be able
to communicate with other worlds.

	Her quest had led her to Mizraim's hut, a
ramshackle wooden building nestled in a small valley
amongst the Tanarian hills on their eastern edge, where
they began to fade into gentle ridges.  Mizraim was a
withered, one-eyed hag who wore a tattered red dress
that might have once been elegant.  "So you want to
speak to someone at the Kingdom of Joy?"

	"Can you do it?"  Asuka asked.

	"Can you slay the Devil Hounds of N'bar?  
They've been eating my sheep."

	"Red hounds which breathe fire?"

	Mizraim nodded.  "The very ones."

	"I had to kill them all on my way here."

	"Oh.  Well, then, come over here."  She hobbled
over to the fire and threw a few herbs into it.  The
flames roared up.  "Who do you wish to see?"

	"Uoht of the Kingdom of Joy."

	"Uriron, ward us against the sight of the
Unblinking Eye.  Urpaniel, shield us from the malice of
the Crawling Chaos.  Nath-Horthath, hear the plea of
this Knight of Celephais, and bear her messages to Uoht
of the Kingdom of Joy.  Karakal, we beg thee to bear
Uoht's messages back to her."  Red flames turned
orange, then yellow.  Onwards they shifted, finally
becoming blue, then gradually moving back along the
spectrum to red.

	The flames became a solid wall of fire, and in
the middle, the image of a startled Uoht appeared, a
tiny one foot tall image of her.  "Asuka?"

	"Hi, sorry to bother you," Asuka said, suddenly
feeling ridiculous.  "I just...uh...You're not busy,
are you?"

	"I can spare a few minutes for you, my friend,"  
Uoht said.  "What do you need to know?"

	"I...uh..."  Asuka looked over at Mizraim.

	"Sorry, if I leave, the spell ends," Mizraim
said, going over to her table and pouring herself a cup
of tea.  "Having love problems?"

	Now Asuka felt like she was going to die.  
"Well, I was just wondering...if Alars ever decided
which of you he was going to marry."

	Uoht blinked, then sighed.  "He STILL can't
make up his mind.  I've half a mind to just pound him
flat one of these days."

	Asuka's head thumped on the table.

	"Scheise. I should have known."

                          -*-

	"After Polaris began picking up periodic, but
brief manifestations of Angelic energies, I ordered a
NERV reconnaissance unit into the area," Fuyutsuki
said.  "They recently recorded the following footage."

	He pushed the play button, and the briefing
room view screen kicked in.  Gendo, Ritsuko, and Misato
turned to watch.

	The film was somewhat grainy, but they could
see a crude stone altar on a small plateau up in the
mountains.  The lights of a city could be seen off in
the distance.  A collection of black robed figures
stood round the altar, to which was tied a man and a
woman, both naked.  They looked drugged.  A bonfire
blazed next to one side of the altar, on the far side
of it from wherever the cameraman had observed this.

	As they watched, one of the cultists, clad all
in red, stabbed down and cut out the heart of each of
the two victims.  He held one heart in each hand, and
clearly shouted something, although the tape had no
audio component.

	"What's he shouting?"  Misato asked.

	"The report said he was offering a sacrifice to
the sun," Fuyutsuki said.

	Two red streaks erupted down from the sky,
closing in on his hands, then slowing to bob about his
callused fingers.  Each was a sphere of flame, floating
in the air above him.  They settled down onto his
hands, and then rose, having consumed the hearts.  
They then streaked skywards out of sight.

	Fuyutsuki rewound the film and ran through it
in slow motion, pointing out the time stamp on it.  
"This matches one of our Polaris readings for Angel
energies in this area."

	"Has Section Seven dealt with them yet?"  
Misato asked.

	"We've searched the site, and they've rounded
up several members of the group.  Most of them are
violently insane, but the most lucid one gave the
report which forms Appendix I of the packets in front
of you," Fuyutsuki said.  "What is of most concern is
their master plan.  He claimed there were six other
groups allied to them, all intending to cooperate to
bring about the 'Coming of the Next Sun'.  Apparently,
they believe it will replace our sun, which is fated to
die soon."

	"And you suspect this 'Next Sun' could be an
Angel?"  Ritsuko asked.

	"Given that they are apparently allied to alien
fire beings," Fuyutsuki said, "which radiate Angel
energies, yes, I do suspect that."

	Gendo nodded.  "Any indication of when they
expect this to happen?"

	"The Fall Equinox.  We have three weeks,"  
Fuyutsuki said.

	"I'm surprised it's not the Winter Solstice,"  
Ritsuko observed.  "It seems more natural for a 'new
sun' to come into existence then."

	"We should move operations to Lima, then,"  
Misato said.  "I'll prepare plans for attack by
Tactical squads once I finish going over this report.  
And take measures to get our EVA squadron in motion."

	"Good," Gendo said.  "I will approach the
Peruvian government and prepare our cover story.  
Akagi-san, we'll need some high energy experts."  He
pushed his glasses back up his nose.

	"Yes, sir."

	Gendo rose, taking his copy of the report.  
"Let's get moving.  We have work to do."  He departed.

	Fuyutsuki turned off the view screen and
extracted the video tape from the player.  "I'll
forward any further intelligence to you as it comes
in."

	"I'll get to work as well," Misato said,
rising.

	Fuyutsuki departed, but before Misato could
follow him out, Ritsuko caught her by the sleeve.  
"Hold on a second."

	"Okay."

	"Did you get the feeling they know more than
they're telling?"

	"I always get that feeling.  Sometimes I wonder
if they rehearse these briefings," Misato said.

	"I'm just wondering how these human cultists
keep being able to call up the Angels," Ritsuko said.  
"And how they got this lore.  Surely it wouldn't have
been preserved for thousands of years without being
used, but since we have no reports of any sightings of
Angels before Second Impact..."

	"Well, maybe they kept it because it was linked
to the lesser beings they can somehow call on," Misato
said.  "You may not read all of an encyclopedia, but
you don't throw out the entries you've never used.  
And these lesser beings...for all we know, these cults
have always called on these things, but it never
happened anywhere that would be recorded."

	"You really think that it's only just now that
someone has noticed?"

	Misato frowned.  "So what are you getting at?"

	"I wish I knew.  We're building
towards...something.  Can't you feel it?"

	"No." Misato laughed.  "Well, maybe just a
little, but I have no idea what might be coming."

	Ritsuko laughed and rose. "Perhaps I'm just
paranoid today.  But I keep wondering...why now?  Why
are they all coming out to attack now?"

	"Probably they were sleeping, and Second Impact
woke them up," Misato said.  "I wish I knew how many
there were, though, so I'd know when we're going to be
done."

	"Me too."

                          -*-

	Ritsuko wondered again how Kanephren had known
about the backdoors she had into MAGI that let her
bypass the various security codes.  Perhaps he simply
assumed it was the logical thing to do, she thought.

	All of the data they'd given in the briefing
checked out as far as she could tell, but there had to
be more they hadn't mentioned.  An hour spent sifting
POLARIS logs gave her one clue; its orbit had been
adjusted to more frequently bring it over the area
where they'd detected the cult activity, a good week
before they started picking up signals.

	On an impulse, she plotted out all the Angel
attack sites, trying to see if they traced out some
sort of pattern, but they didn't, except for the fact
that only one of them had been in the Southern
hemisphere.  Three in North America.  Two in Tokyo- 3,
plus a third which had been in North America but had
been brought to Tokyo-3.

	Why not Europe or Africa or the rest of Asia,
she asked herself.  It could be that the ones in Europe
were simply taking longer to wake up for some reason,
and the same for Africa.  She shook her head.  I just
don't have enough data.

	Her fingers flew across the keyboard, and the
requested file soon opened up on her monitor.  The
book's name was Unausprelichten Kulten, 'Nameless
Cults', written over a century ago by a degenerate
named Von Juntz, who had studied and joined many
strange and perverse groups in search of enlightenment
and entertainment.  There were two copies of the book
in MAGI's data storage.  One version was heavily
censored and formed part of the cult information
database.  And the other one was Seraphim clearance,
which meant only Gendo and Fuyutsuki were cleared at
this facility to see it, and hardly anyone else at any
NERV facility.  Which wasn't going to stop her for
long.

	A quick word search later, she'd plucked out
what looked like the most relevant passages and she
settled back to read them.

	["Where did your beliefs originate?" I asked
the withered old man.

	He looked at me with his beady eyes, sunk back
in their sockets and underlined with deep wrinkles.  
"The Second Sun first appeared to M'yal, son of T'kal,
who was but an humble farmer in the Kiyat valley of Mu.  
He sought vengeance on the local lord, who had been
abusing his peasants, and after many years of studying
lore, he found a way to travel to the Throne of the
Second Sun, far far away across the Heavens.  There he
studied and learned the lore of what the Greeks called
Pythias-Apollo."

	"You know of the legends of the Greeks?" I
asked in surprise.

	"You think me a simple Indian fool because you
are a white man," the old man said, pausing to spit a
wad of tobacco out.  I had to dodge to keep it off my
shoes.  "But I know things you have tried to forget,
the things you've covered up with your shiny, bright,
clean lies about how you are the masters of the world.  
Even when you tear yourselves apart in the wars that
are coming, you still won't open your eyes to the
truth.  You don't matter.  None of us matter.  Only the
stars matter, and those who serve the stars will share
in their power and wisdom.  They slumber now, but soon
they will awaken and come in power.  And we will dance
under the light of the Second Sun and make our
revelries across the ruins of your so-called
'civilization'."

	I found his presumption annoying, but I knew
there was much to be learned from him, so I choked back
my pride and let him ramble on in his mad power
fantasies, not bothering to ask him why he was so
certain the stars would care about him any more than
they cared about me.  Soon, it would be time for the
rite, and that was what I truly wished to witness.]

	Ritsuko paused to let her thoughts percolate.  
She'd consulted this book several times, and each of
the times there had been certain common themes between
most of the cults it described.  Their masters always
predated humanity, were now sleeping, and would soon
awaken to reclaim the Earth, at which time they
expected to rule with the beings they worshipped.  The
'gods' slept because the stars were not yet right.

	If only I knew why they had fallen asleep and
why they all came here in the first place, she thought,
then I might actually get closer to understanding why
they're waking up now.  Clearly the Angels were some
sort of powerful aliens who had come to Earth and
'fallen asleep' for some reason...but why?  Were they
imprisoned here?  Had some sort of space vehicle
crashed and stranded them here?  They couldn't possibly
be native to the planet...they were made of substances
that didn't arise naturally on Earth, and they had no
DNA at all that she had been able to find.

	Why Earth?  Perhaps every habitable world had
some, and these had simply ended up on Earth because
other places were crowded.  Or perhaps this was some
sort of game by yet another set of aliens, pitting
artificial creations against humanity in order to test
it or to relieve their own boredom.  If this was all
just some sort of game or test, it would make more
sense of certain things such as the failure of the
aliens to cooperate.

	And yet, the Angels had clearly been here for
millennia without doing anything.  Why put your game
pieces in play without using them?

	Ritsuko shook her head and went back to
reading, hoping she'd find some crucial clue which
would explain everything.

                          -*-
 
	"Sure, I can take care of PenPen again," Hikari
said.  Turning, she saw Shinji clumsily lugging a heavy
suitcase.  "Don't carry it like that," she said, going
over and getting him to carry it in a manner better for
his back.  "Do you two really need so much stuff for
the trip?"

	"Don't know how long we'll be gone," Asuka
said, putting one of her suitcases down near the door.  
"But I'll pick up some coffee for you while we're
there, okay?"

	Hikari laughed.  "Do you think you'll have time
to get coffee?"

	"I don't see why not.  It's not like the
Angel's actually shown up yet," Asuka replied.  "And
we'll have time afterwards, if not before."

	"So when is your friend from Germany supposed
to get here?" Hikari asked Asuka.

	"Anna's supposed to arrive in a month," Asuka
said, stretching and listening to her joints pop.  "I
can hardly wait!"

	"Where's she going to live?  You don't have
much room left here."

	"They'll probably give her a room in one of
those condos down in the Geofront," Asuka said.  "You
know, I wonder why Misato doesn't live down in those."

	"It's kinda humid around there," Shinji said.  
"And I've heard a few staff people complain about
getting roaches.  But she would have more space."

	Hikari went over and perched on the back of the
couch.  "Maybe she gets claustrophobic."

	Misato stuck her head out of her room.  "The
rent is higher down there," she said, then vanished
again.

	The three stared at where she was a moment ago,
blinking.

	Asuka shook her head.  "I will never get used
to her doing that."

	"Doing what?" asked Shinji.

	"Popping in and out like that.  It's like she's
got some ninja skills or something."

	"I guess..."

	Hikari bounced off the couch, saying, "Well, I
need to go say bye to Touji.  Have fun in Colombia!"

	"Bolivia," Shinji said, putting down the heavy
suitcase.

	"Peru," Asuka said firmly.  "Don't either of
you two know anything about geography?"

	"I'm afraid I haven't memorized every city on
Earth," Hikari said with just a tiny touch of
irritation.  Brightening again, she said, "Anyway, good
bye, and I don't envy you the amount of homework you're
going to have when you get back."

	"Ugh, don't remind me," Shinji said.

                          -*-

	Hikari walked along the school's border,
arm-in-arm with Touji as he escorted her.  As they
walked, she leaned on him slightly, savoring the
moment.  She wanted to talk to him, but he felt
uncomfortable talking at his house, so they decided to
do what they'd done the first time he'd let her into
his heart, they wandered across the evening city
streets.

	"So," she said.  "First big mission, huh?"
	
	"Yeah," he replied, somewhat distant.
	
	"Feel ready for it?"
	
	"Not at all."
	
	Hikari frowned.  "Touji..."
	
	"Maybe," he replied.  "Then again, Shinji still
don't feel ready for it either, and he's been at it
longer'n me."

	"Just... be careful, okay?"
	
	"I'll try."
	
	She squeezed his arm tighter.  "I mean it,
buster.  If you don't come back to me, I'm gonna get
really upset, you got it?"

	Touji smiled slightly, then played along.  
"Fine, fine, alright.  I'll stay faaaar away from the
Angel and throw shit at it.  How'sat?"

	"Good enough for me."
	
	"Damn right."
	
	Their conversation paused for a while, giving
way to silence as they crossed city streets and walked
onward.

	"Hey, I got an idea," Touji said.
	
	"That's a first," teased Hikari.
	
	"Veeery funny, babe.  I was thinkin, maybe we
could meet in the Dreaming while I'm away."

	"That'd be nice," agreed Hikari.  "Can you do
it?  And can I?  Asuka told me that only a few people
could enter."

	"Hey, if wonderbit-"
	
	"Touji!"

	"-Langley can do it, so can you.  Don't worry,
no big deal."

	"I hope we can," she said quietly.
	
	"Yeah... anyway, while I'm over there, I'll
getcha some of that Peruvian coffee stuff, s'supposed
to be the best in the world."

	Hikari giggled, which made Touji a bit curious.
	
	"What's so funny?"
	
	"Asuka had the same idea."
	
	"Eeeew, don't be comparing me to her."

                          -*-

	The NERV air fortress Scimitar cruised across
the Pacific, its speed somewhat respectable but still
far too slow for everyone on board.

	Fortunately, NERV and the Children learned from
their last experience and brought plenty of
entertainment along. At the moment, they were in the
pilot's lounge, a small living room-like area complete
with sofas, a stereo and a television.

	Asuka sat on one sofa's edge, looking through a
large pile of discs.  "What do you guys wanna watch
first?"

	"Depends," said Touji.  What'cha got?"
	
	"Um.... Springtime Cherry Blossoms, the
director's cut!"

	Both Touji and Shinji paled slightly.  Asuka
noticed this.

	"Aw, c'mon guys!" yelled Asuka.
	
	"Got any Tiger Wang?" Touji asked.
	
	Asuka flipped through her discs.  "Ah....  no,
sorry."

	"Do you have Gekiganger X?" asked Shinji. "I
never got to see that yet."

	"You too?" asked Touji.  "Damn, we-"
	
	"Sorry, don't have it."
	
	Shinji frowned while Touji palmed his face.  
"Lemme see what ya... aw, for cryin'out loud, these're
all chick films!"

	"And I'm a chick!" barked back Asuka.  "You got
a problem with that?"

	Touji scowled at her a moment, then flopped
back down on the other couch with Shinji.  "No, forget
it, whatever."

	"Um," Shinji said timidly.  "Maybe we can plug
in the GameStation?  I got a few new games..."

	"How'd you afford that?" asked Touji.
	
	"We get paid," Asuka said quickly.  "What games
do you have?"

	"We get paid?"
	
	"Um, I've got the Gekiganger X game..."
	
	"We get PAID?"

	"Star Blaster Mokono, Destroid Battler J,
and..."
	
	"How much do we get paid?" asked Touji.
	
	"Shut up already!" yelled Asuka.  "Go ask
Misato."
	
	"Oh, yeah, I almost forgot!" said Shinji,
brightening considerably.  "The new Evangelion game."

	Touji and Asuka stopped in their bickering to
look at Shinji expectantly.  "They made a game about
us?" she asked.

	"It's a fighting game," he replied.
	
	Touji smiled.  "Hey, cool!  Let's play it!  
Wonder how my Eva plays."

	"Actually, you're not in it," said Shinji.
	
	"WHAT?!"
	
	Asuka gave him the 'are you stupid?' look.  
"Your Eva just got built recently, moron!  You think
they told the game guys about it in advance or
something?"

	"Aw, man!"
	
	Shinji turned to Rei.  "Hey, Rei, wanna join
us?"
	
	The First Child, sitting by the window, did not
reply. Instead, she merely stared out into the sea,
silently.

	"Um, Rei?"
	
	Still no reply.
	
	Shinji frowned, and he rose out of the couch to
talk to her.  He was surprised when Touji held him by
the arm.

	"Hey, don't worry about it," Touji said.  
"S'better if you leave'er alone."

	"I... I guess."

	Silently, he vowed he'd confront her later.
	
	Silently, Touji cursed Gendo Ikari for getting
him into this mess.
	
	Silently, Asuka tried to deny she was feeling
jealous.
	
	And silently, Rei's eyes briefly flickered,
glancing at all of them.

                          -*-

	Elsewhere on the Scimitar, in the cafeteria to
be exact, two lone figures had the large room to
themselves.  It was past dinner, and the rest of the
crew were either attending to their duties or resting
in their cabins.

	"You wanted to talk to me about something?"
asked Misato.

	Ritsuko, who'd been staring absently out the
window, nodded.  "Yeah, it's... it's... a bit
complicated."

	"Issat so?" replied Misato, raising an eyebrow.
	
	"I... ah..."  Ritsuko wasn't sure where to
start. There was a lot she felt her oldest friend
should know, though she wondered if she'd still be her
friend afterwards.

	"Must be serious," said Misato.  "You never
were talkative, but you never used to be at a loss for
words."

	Ritsuko sighed, resting an elbow on the table
and her chin upon her hand.  Might as well go with the
easier news first, not that it was easy to begin with.

	"I... ah... there's this person that... I
recently found out cares about me... really cares about
me.  But I don't know... I'm really not sure what I'm
feeling.  Am I making any sense?"

	Misato nodded.  "Go on, go on."
	
	"I... you know, I never did date in college, I
just wasn't really interested in anyone, and nobody
ever seemed really serious anyway."

	Immediately, Kaji came to Misato's mind.  She
shelved that thought for another time.

	"But this person... s... er... seems serious,
really serious."

	"So, Maya finally spoke up?"
	
	Ritsuko stared at Misato, aghast.
	
	"You knew?!"
	
	"Weeeell, we kinda guessed, we didn't know for
sure."
	
	"_We_?"
	
	"Me'n Kaji.  It was kind of hard not to notice
how Maya is when you're around, you know.  Those
puppy-dog eyes, big bright smile.  Kinda of a giveaway.  
So Maya finally confessed?"
	
	Ritsuko blushed, looking down at the tabletop.  
"Yes, she did."

	"So... ah..."  This time it was Misato's turn
to sound wary and unsure.  "What're you gonna do?"

	"I... don't know."
	
	"I mean," said Misato, "Do you... y'know...
swing that way?"

	Ritsuko blinked in confusion.  "What?"
	
	Misato's discomfort was apparent.  "Are you
a...  y'know..."  She waved her hands about vaguely,
for effect, it seemed.  "You a lesbian?"
	
	Ritsuko looked at Misato dryly.  "I wasn't
exactly spending my life pondering my sexual
orientation.  It's always been about my work and my
career... and other things."

	"You've never thought about it?" asked Misato.
	
	"Unlike you, my world does not revolve around
sex and beer."

	"Hey!"

	"Just joking, just joking!" laughed Ritsuko,
though she sobered up soon after.  "But... the way she
makes me feel, I've never felt so... so loved in my
life.  It's kind of scary, but... it's nice."

	"Sounds to me like you've made up your mind
already," said Misato.

	A moment of silence passed between the two, as
the Scimitar glided steadily over the endless waves of
the sea.

	"Yeah... I guess I have," Ritsuko finally
admitted. "I just... needed to talk to a friend about
it."  She smiled at Misato. "Thanks."

	"Hey, no problem," she replied, though Misato
still seemed ill at ease.  "Hey, er, in college, did
you ever... y'know... when we were roommates..."

	Ritsuko once again looked at Misato dryly.  
"Misato, to me you will always be like a sister, a
little sister, a younger, sloppier, unorganized,
drunk-"

	"Okay, okay, I get the idea!"

	Ritsuko laughed again, then looked at Misato
seriously.  "Hey, you'll still be my friend, right?"

	"Hey, gimmie some credit," said Misato
grumpily. "Just because you're a lesbian, you're still
good old Ritsuko to me."

	Ritsuko smiled a genuinely warm smile.  
"Thanks."
	
	"Yep, still the frumpy, icy, workaholic,
no-humor, stick-in-the-mud, bookish, nerdy-"

	"Okay, okay, I get the idea."

	The two laughed and watched the sun set,
reminiscing on old times once more, bonding as old
friends tend to do. Silently, Ritsuko cursed herself
for not having the courage to tell Misato about the
other thing.

	If she was lucky, Misato would never have to
know.

                          -*-

	Shinji scribbled more notes on the Incan
empire; their social studies teacher had assigned all
four of the Children a report on the Incans to make up
for the work they would miss while they were gone.  It
was his turn to use the books they'd checked out of the
school library (which was not exactly a vast font of
Incan lore), but it was slow going.

	A shadow fell across the table he was sitting
at.  "I'm not done yet, Touji," he said without looking
up.

	"I must admit no one has ever mistaken me for
Suzuhara-kun," Gendo said.

	Shinji froze up and slowly lifted his head,
feeling like a fool and trying to muster the courage to
demand to know what had happened to Rei.  "Uh...hi."

	Gendo sat down on the other side of the table.  
"So what are you working on?"  He actually sounded
interested, which surprised Shinji.

	"Homework," Shinji said.  "I have to write a
report on the Incans.  We all do.  But we don't have
enough books for everyone, so we have to share them
out."

	Gendo nodded.  "The Incans were a magnificent
people before they were destroyed.  Still, it shows
what a few determined people can do.  Francisco Pizzaro
had only a few hundred men, but with them, he brought
down an empire of millions.  He didn't even have a
prophecy working in his favor, the way Cortes did."

	"But why didn't they just get a new emperor
when Pizzaro captured their old one?"

	"Because the emperor was thought to be divine.  
You can't just pull another god out of your pocket.  
It also helped that they had just finished having a
civil war when Pizzaro arrived.  When the gods war on
each other, a clever mortal can slip in and take
advantage."  Gendo paused to push up his glasses.

	"God-kings have the advantage of great
authority, but if you pull down the god, the society
becomes like a headless chicken--all body and no brain.  
Not that chickens have much brains to start with.  And
god-kings foolish enough to buy their own propaganda
start thinking they are invincible, and then usually
learn the truth too late."

	Gendo leaned back in his chair and smiled.  
"Those who follow after a god are the sort of people
who want to be saved instead of saving themselves, and
once you destroy the idol they worshipped, they don't
know what to do without him.  They are sheep-- strike
the shepherd and they scatter.  And that's why the
Incans fell.  Once the wolf Pizzaro pulled down the
emperor-shepherd, he could chase the sheep as he
willed.  Of course, the Spaniards failed to realize
they were in much the same boat.  If the Incans had
killed Pizzaro, the Spaniards would have been the sheep
and the Incans the wolves.  And perhaps we'd be living
in a very different world.  It's hard to say."

	"I suppose that makes us the shepherd's sheep
dog, protecting the flock," Shinji said.

	"And a dog is simply a tamed wolf.  Some
soldiers are sheep in wolves' clothing, some are dogs,
and some are wolves.  Every unit is a pack.  But some
packs cooperate on the hunt and others tear themselves
apart over who gets to be the alpha.  So how are you
getting along with the other Children, Shinji?"

	The sudden transition jolted Shinji, who took a
few seconds to bring his brain around to the new topic.  
"Well, Touji and I get along pretty well, although he's
more into sports than I am.  And Asuka can be kinda
pushy, but she's nice too.  And..."

	Shinji paused and tried to muster the courage
to demand to know what was going on with Rei.

	"So you and Langley haven't have any problems?"

	"Nothing big.  We went to the dance the other
day and had a lot of fun.  She's a good dancer,"  
Shinji said.  "Although I keep wondering why she has to
go to school with us if she already has a college
degree."

	"It keeps her busy," Gendo said.  "And helps
her improve her Japanese."

	"It bores her out of her mind, though," Shinji
said.  He mustered all of his courage reserves and
managed to blurt out, "Father, what is going on with
Rei?"

	"Has there been some sort of trouble with her?"  
Gendo asked.

	Shinji could feel a wall coming down, shutting
off Gendo's inner self.  He wasn't sure how he knew it,
but he could sense his father knew more than he was
telling.  Even his body language changed, becoming just
a bit more tense, moving slightly further back from
Shinji.

	"Father, she was finally getting to where she
didn't have to...where she could just..."  Shinji
wasn't quite sure what he was trying to say.  "She
seemed a lot happier before you sent people to take her
away and made her get all cold and...and creepy again.  
What did you do to her?"  He tried to put some force
into his words, though to himself he sounded like a
squeaking rat instead of a roaring bear.

	Storm clouds gathered on Gendo's face.  "I do
what I must, Shinji, and I don't answer to you.  There
are good reasons for what I had to do, but what happens
with Rei is none of your business.  You will not take
that tone with me."

	"What did you do?  Brainwash her?  Do you WANT
her to be like that?  Why?  She wasn't hurting anyone!"  
Shinji, much to his own surprise, could feel anger
growing inside him.  His voice was getting louder and
there was more power behind it.

	"Boy, you have no idea of her capacities to
hurt someone," Gendo snapped.  "You don't even
understand what she is."

	"So what IS she?"  Shinji demanded.  He stood
up and stared into his father's eyes.  For a moment, he
felt dizzy, as if they were vast abysses into which he
was plunging head first, but he grabbed onto the table
and steadied himself.  The feeling passed, and now they
were a wall instead of an abyss.  A wall he could feel
give slightly as he pushed against it with his anger.  
"Tell me!  WHAT IS GOING ON?"

	His father's eyes widened slightly, and a
single bead of sweat ran down his brow.  "You would not
understand if I told you.  It is best that you not
know, for the knowledge would break you in the telling
of it."  He stood up, took off his glasses, and
polished them with a handkerchief.  Putting them back
on, he said, "You can stay and fight, not asking me
questions I won't answer, or you can leave Tokyo-3 and
go live with another foster family and you still won't
find out.  Those are your choices."  His voice was
cold, but Shinji could hear it wobble ever so slightly.

	Shinji stared at him angrily.  He couldn't bear
to leave his friends, not now.  And he would never find
out the truth if he left either.  If you've hurt her,
Father, I WILL find some way to get even with you, he
thought.  "I'll stay," he said, trying to match his
father's coldness.

	"Good.  Now finish your homework."  Gendo
turned and walked away, very slowly and deliberately
until he was out of the room.  After he closed the
door, Shinji could hear him speed up in the hallway.

	Shinji sagged down into his chair.  Dammit, I
blew it, he thought.  Now Father's mad at me and I
still don't know what happened to Rei.  There has to be
something I can do to...to undo what he did to her.  
But why?  Why did he do it?

	He sighed and went back to his homework, so
preoccupied he didn't notice the dents in the table
where his fingers had gripped it.

                          -*-

	Unable to work on the Incan assignment while
Shinji had all the books, Asuka pored over her snippets
of information about what was really going on, trying
to see if anything else from Kensuke's notes made any
better sense now.  If Anna was going to be the Fifth
Child, then there must be five lords of the elements,
Asuka thought.

	Five elements could be fire, earth, air, water,
and spirit, or they could be fire, air, water, metal,
and plant.  If I'm fire, she thought, Shinji could be
air, Rei would be water, Touji would be metal, and Anna
would be plant.  Whatever exactly that means.

	Asuka looked at the map she'd done of Angel
attacks.  No pattern at all, except that...She thought
for a moment.  Two female children from Germany.  Two
male ones from Japan.  One creepy female one who's
probably Japanese, but doesn't really look all that
Japanese.  And what's between Germany and Japan...North
America, where four of seven Angels had come from.  
And another one was in the western hemisphere in the
South Pacific, and this one is in South America, and we
don't actually know where the other two were living...

	Hmm, the Western Hemisphere civilizations were
very distinct from the Eastern Hemisphere ones, Asuka
thought.  Maybe the sleeping Angels somehow influenced
them...they must have been here for a very long time.

	But on the other hand, the King in Yellow
seemed to have started out as just an ordinary person
on Aldebaran, Asuka thought.  Maybe they all were, and
somehow became empowered by...

	Then she thought about what Ritsuko had told
her about what was happening to the Children.  They
were evolving to a higher state of being...mutants who
were the next step of human evolution.  They were
developing abilities other people didn't have.

	She thought about biology classes she'd taken
and about how certain periods had shown a great
profusion of new species.  New species arose by
mutation over time, she knew.  Perhaps she and Shinji
and the others were the start of a new species that
would succeed humanity.

	And many of those explosions had also been
accompanied by extinctions as old species died out.  
Was this all part of some turning of the cosmological
wheel?  Maybe the Angels had wiped out all those
perished species, making room for new ones at all those
past changings of geological ages.  They might be a
sort of force of nature like a fire that burns away old
growth to make way for new.

	Perhaps there was some cosmological cycle with
certain forces arising that mutated old species to
create new ones and woke the Angels to clear out those
of the old who were no longer fit.  Once the wave of
energy or whatever it was passed, the Angels would sink
back into slumber, and the new species would go on to
thrive.  Perhaps Second Impact had simply been a marker
for the start of the process, a natural disaster
triggered by the shift in cosmic forces.

	Was it humanity's turn to die out?  Perhaps
we're being punished for destroying so much of our
world and killing so many species, she thought.  Or it
might just be irony that the Angels are trying to do to
us what we've done to so many other life forms.  And
yet...

	She couldn't believe humanity deserved to die,
and she refused to lie down and let it happen.  
Whatever was happening to her, she still felt human,
and she would fight the Angels so long as she still
could, until they all died or she died herself.  God is
on our side, she told herself.  We're His children, and
he will protect us, she thought.

	She stopped and prayed clumsily in silence for
a few minutes, hoping for some sort of revelation,
though she didn't really expect to get one.  No voices
spoke, no angels sang, but she felt better afterwards.

	Turning back to her notes, she resumed the work
of trying to puzzle her way through to the truth.

                          -*-

        (from the Daily Standard)

           NERV to stage training maneuvers in Peru

          LIMA, Peru (IP) -- In a surprise announcement,
        NERV has announced training maneuvers will be held
        near Lima.
          Maya Ibuki, spokesperson for NERV, said the
        mission was needed to give the pilots more real
        life training and experience.  "They've been
        working on VR trainers for a while now, they
        need to be reminded how it is in the field,"
        Ibuki said.
           There are rumors the NERV visit is linked to a
        suspected Angel Cult, which Ibuki declined to
        comment on.  Another speculated reason for the
        NERV visit is to court Peru's UN vote for future
        funding, which was also denied.

                          -*-

	It was a small bar, on the outskirts of Lima,
nothing fancy, but a place for decent men to hang their
hats and take in some alcohol.

	In one corner of the room, a smiling fellow of
tanned skin and an uncertain origin sat, nursing the
karaoke machine.  The speakers warbled out a cheap
sounding version of a carribean tune, and he sang along
with it.

	o/~ Look at my king all dressed in red o/~
	o/~ Iko Iko un-day o/~
	o/~ I bet-cha five dol-lahs he'll kill ya dead o/~
	o/~ Jock-a-mo fee na-ne o/~

	o/~ Talk-in' 'bout, Hey now ! Hey now !
	o/~ I-KO I-KO un-day! o/~
	o/~ Jock-a-mo fee-no ai na-ne o/~
	o/~ Jock-a-mo fee na-ne o/~

	o/~ My flag boy and your flag boy o/~
	o/~ sit-tin by the fire o/~
	o/~ My flag boy told your flag boy o/~
	o/~ I'm gonna set your flag on fire o/~

                          -*-

	Forty men and women circled a great bonfire.  
The stars tried to shine down on them, but the lights
of the city to the west of them, down on the seashore,
drowned out many of the stars.  Normally they conducted
their rites much further from the great metropolis, but
today they needed to be close enough to smite it as
they had so long desired to do.

	Some of them were nervous, for they were about
to do something they'd never done before.  Even those
who had been through the rite felt a moment of fear,
for they usually used a bum who would not be missed,
rather than a policeman, for obvious reasons.  Still,
he had to die, so he might as well become the sacrifice
which would feed the gods, feed the next sun, the sun
that would rise on the day of their triumph, the day of
return.

	They had to move up that day, which also
worried them.  NERV, the would-be slayers of the Gods,
had brought their warriors to Lima.  Their agents had
come sniffing around, looking for them.  They had to
strike now, tonight, before the man could be missed.  
It would be dangerous, for the best day for the rite
had not yet come.

	There was nothing to be done about that.  They
sang their praises to the glorious Second Sun and
raised the NERV agent onto their crude altar, made from
tombstones and bricks.  He should have been conscious,
ideally, but they didn't have time for that either.

	The knife plunged into his heart, and they held
it up to the heavens, chanting the ancient litany.  
And far above, the stars began to come down from the
heavens to dance among mankind once more.

                          -*-

	The Plaza de Armas was crowded with people
around the platform which had been set up.  Many of the
great buildings of the city towered over the plaza, and
nearby a great cathedral reared its head, thrusting a
cross up to heaven.

	The platform was crowded; the Children, their
various superiors, the Mayor of Lima, the President of
Peru, and many other people jostled for space on it.  
The front of the platform had a podium with several
dozen microphones below which the hounds of the press
jostled for space.

	Pedro Catequil, the Mayor of Lima, was in the
process of delivering one of his trademark long,
rambling speeches which didn't actually say anything
worth the length.  "As we brave the rapids of the
experience of the second decade of this twenty-first
century, we must acknowledge our world has become a
global village.  The struggles of one are the struggles
of us all, and we must come together to support those
who fight in our stead.  We are pleased to welcome
NERV's Evangelion Squadron, and we hope they enjoy
their practice exercises here in the..."

	Shinji finished nodding off and slumped over
onto Asuka, who pushed him the other direction so that
he fell onto Rei, who ignored him except for shifting
her weight slightly.

	Touji spent a few seconds wishing being one of
the Children had given him the ability to speak any
language, then decided from the way the crowd was
starting to get restless that it probably wasn't worth
understanding.  There was a translator for them, but he
couldn't hear the man over the blathering mayor.  He
glanced over and saw Fuyutsuki was beginning to nod off
and grinned.  I feel better now, he thought.

	A murmur went through the crowd, and some
people began looking up.  Touji followed their gaze.  
Looks like shooting stars, he thought.  Although
they're kinda low looking like...

	One of them struck the top of the cathedral,
and the cross began to burn.  Given it was made of
stone, this had Touji staring at it in total shock.

	"Global unity seems easiest to forge in time of
war and disaster, but it's always encouraging to see
these children building unity between nations through
cooperation.  Yes, they are warriors, but they are also
children who will build our future..."  The mayor
seemed blissfully oblivious to the burning cross.

	In Touji's memory, what followed would always
play out in slow motion.  Ritsuko and Misato's
cellulars went off in unison.  Misato leaped to her
feet and shouted something.  He couldn't tell what it
was, but he and Asuka and Rei were on their way off the
platform towards the back as the flaming spheres
plunged into the crowd, which erupted in abject panic.  
More of the spheres struck the platform and began to
roll about it, igniting everything.

	He looked back and saw Shinji just now getting
up and rubbing his eyes.  Misato cursed and began to
run towards him.  Touji felt his flesh crawl and the
air distinctly chilled where he was.

	But where Shinji was, eight of the spheres
descended upon him, limning his entire body in fire.  
For a moment, Shinji stood there dumbfounded, staring
at himself, and then his flesh visibly began to char.  
Shinji's scream tore through the air.

	Touji began looking for something, anything he
could use to put the fire out, and he noticed Asuka
doing the same thing.  There was a wind, and blue hair
streaked past Misato to Shinji's side.  The chill
around Touji faded away.

	Rei embraced Shinji, and light erupted from her
flesh, driving the fires off him.  They burned blue and
then went out.  She still held him as Misato arrived by
their side, quickly followed by Ritsuko.

	Time seemed to resume its normal flow as Gendo
shouted to him and Asuka, "Get in the van NOW."

	"But..."

	"GO!"

	Touji made his way through the now panicked mob
of Peruvians on and off the platform towards the van
parked behind the platform.  "What the hell did Rei
do?"

	Rei sprinted past them, carrying Shinji, and
the crowd was flung to both sides as she went by.  
Asuka and Touji followed through the gap.

	"I don't know," Asuka said, "But she... shit!"  
One of the balls of flame dived straight at her face.  
"GET AWAY FROM ME!" she shouted.  Something surged
inside her, and she felt herself get hot.  Her eyes
ached as if they'd been stabbed.

	The ball dove to within three inches of her
face, then suddenly stopped moving and fell to the
ground.  It suddenly looked like a carving of a sphere
of flame, made of some sort of red crystal, rather than
a ball of flying fire.

	There was no time to ask questions; she thanked
God and ran to the van, squeezing between the black
uniformed NERV security who were keeping everyone else
away from it.

	A few seconds later, Misato jumped in.  "Get us
OUT OF HERE!"

	Nothing happened because no one was in the
driver's seat.

	She cursed and scrambled into the driver's
seat, only to discover there was no steering wheel.  
Then she saw it was over on the wrong side of the car.  
She scrambled into the real driver's seat and started
trying to find the keys.

	"What the hell is this?"  Touji asked, looking
down at Shinji, who Rei had laid out on the front
passenger seat.  "We need to get him to a hospital.  
Geez, those things screwed Shinji pretty hard."

	Ritsuko scrambled in and tossed Misato the
keys.  "Let's get going."

	"What about Commander Ikari?" Asuka asked.

	"He can get his own damn van," Misato said,
revving the engine.  "I told him this press conference
was a stupid idea.  Anyway, he can take the other van.  
My job is to keep all of you safe."  She frowned.  "As
possible."

	The van began to pull out with Section Two
Security men scrambling about trying to clear a path.  
"Ritsuko, find me a map, because I don't know where the
hell anything is."

	Ritsuko got out the map of Lima.  "Okay, we're
here, so..."

	"So what the hell are those things?"

	"The cult of the Second Sun calls them lesser
stars.  I'm designating them 'Seraphim', since the
Seraphim are said to be angels of fire.  Which would
make the Second Sun Uriel--fire of God."

	Asuka looked up from staring silently at
Shinji.  "Is he going to live?"

	"He must," Rei said.

	"Luckily, Rei got to him in time," Ritsuko
said.  "You see, she..."

	"Excuse me, Ms. Wizard, but I NEED DIRECTIONS!"  
Misato snapped.  "You can explain how to make plutonium
out of common household objects later!"

	Ritsuko nodded and turned back to the map while
Asuka and Touji sat back and worried.

                          -*-

	"We CANNOT send him into battle!  He's got
second and third degree burns across over half his
body!"  Misato said, folding her arms under her
breasts.  "Only the pain is even keeping him awake!"

	"He MUST go," Gendo said.  "We will need him."

	Misato narrowed her eyes. "He won't be any
use."

	"He has experience, and they cannot hurt him
further in his EVA.  And the LCL will help him heal
more quickly."  For a moment, Misato saw his eyes
flicker with just a hint of nervousness, and then his
usual calm returned.

	"You're making that up," Misato said.

	"He isn't," Ritsuko said.  "It prevents
infections, soothes pain, kills bacteria, and speeds
healing.  If it didn't cost so much, we'd be selling it
to hospitals.  While I don't think Shinji should be
trying to fight in his condition, it won't actually
hurt him to do so.  He just won't be much use."

	Fuu, a blonde haired woman who had taken over
Shigeru's job on the command bridge, started to say
something, then saw the look on Commander Ikari's face,
paled, and fell silent.  Not a good time to stick my
neck out, she thought.

	"He can think, and if he can think, he can get
his EVA to generate an AT-Field.  And that is what he
will need to do, especially if Uriel himself
manifests," Gendo said.  "Suit him up and get him in
Unit01."  His voice was cold now.

	"If he dies, it'll be your fault," Misato
snapped.

	"If he dies, I suspect most of us won't live
long enough to point fingers," Gendo replied.  "As soon
as they finish bandaging him, get him in motion."

                          -*-

	Touji gritted his teeth as he brought his EVA's
hands together.  Getting it to generate an AT-field was
a lot harder in the field than it had been in the
simulators or even doing a 'dry run' in the EVA.  A
dozen of the tiny balls of flame bounced off the two
hemispheres projected by his Unit's hands cupped around
them.  Slowly, he brought his hands together, until
finally they were snuffed out.  He felt a tiny jolt and
the LCL got marginally warmer.  "That felt weird."

	"Your EVA absorbed some of their energy and fed
some of it to you," Misato said.  "Now, start heading
west.  Polaris has picked up more of them between you
and Shinji."

	"Are y'sure splitting up like this is a good
idea?"  Touji asked.

	"It's probably a lousy idea," Misato said.  
"But it's the only way to root them all out; they'd
level the city by the time you got them all if you
weren't split up.  But if the Angel appears, then we'll
bring you back together.  Our security squads are
trying to find the cultists before they can free it."

	"So how can a bunch of loonies free an Angel
anyway?"  Touji asked as his Unit loped down a broad
avenue past burning buildings.  "And what's this weird
smell.  It smells like..."

	"That's classified," Gendo said flatly over the
comlink.

	"Coffee.  That's it," he said.  "It smells like
coffee."

	Asuka cut in.  "Smells like coffee over here
too," she said.  "Some warehouse is burning and there's
a burst water line and..."  She shook her head.  
"There's this big black puddle and...you know this
looks like a Throne."

	"We're not getting an Angel reading from your
vicinity," Maya said.

	"Well, we didn't get one from the one that rode
around inside Shigeru's head either," Ritsuko replied.  
"Approach it cautiously."

	"What the hell is a Throne?  And who the hell
is Shigeru and how did it get inside his head?"  Touji
asked.

	"Be quiet; we'll explain later," Misato
snapped.  "But this is probably just a big puddle of
pseudo-coffee.  Just go around and head towards the
coordinates Fuu is giving you."

	Asuka watched it carefully, but it failed to
attack her.

	Meanwhile, Shinji snuffed six more with his
EVA's AT-field, and felt a little better emotionally,
if not physically.  //"How many more do we have to
get?"// he asked, then winced as another wave of pain
washed over him.

	//"A lot,"// Misato said.  //"But you're doing
great, Shinji.  Now, you need to go one block over and
head south."//

	He nodded and did so, doing his best to ignore
periodic stabs of pain from many different parts of his
body.

	//"How long have we been doing this?"// Touji
asked.  //"It's starting to get lighter...or is it just
all the fires?"//

	//"It's probably just the..."// Misato began.

	//"POLARIS is picking up a massive and growing
Angel signal in downtown Lima!  It's one hundred times
the level of the Seraphim, two hundred times, three
hundred..."//

	The four Children turned without needing
orders, driven by an instinctive pull, turning to face
the center of Lima from its four corners.  Each of them
saw a great red light shining from the heart of the
city, blotting out the stars and turning the night into
a red-litten day.

	As they watched, Uriel, the Second Sun, rose
over Lima.  The heart of the city crumbled away, and a
great wall of flame began to spread outwards.  Far
away, small knots of cultists gave a great cheer, for
their god had come to dwell among men, the glorious Day
of Return for which they had awaited had arrived.  Now
the unbelievers would perish by fire and a new age
would dawn.  Their age, or so they believed.

                          -*-

	//"Rendezvous at these coordinates,"// Misato
said, sending directions to each of them.

	The Children turned their Units and began
lumbering towards the chosen location.  It quickly
became apparent from the POLARIS readings, however,
that Uriel's motion was going to bring him into contact
with Shinji fairly quickly.

	//"Shinji, change course to go more south by
southeast."//

	Shinji tried to remember what direction that
was.  During the seconds it took him to remember that
concept, Uriel drifted through eight blocks of
buildings, vaporizing them and leaving a trail of fire
in its wake.

	//"It's coming right at me!"// he shouted,
frozen by fear and feeling another attack of
grogginess.

	Damn you to hell, Commander, Misato thought.  
He shouldn't be out there.  //"RUN!  RUN!"// Her fist
kept swinging down to emphasize this, not that he could
see it or that it did anything at all.

	Shinji ran...right across Uriel's path of
movement.  If Uriel even noticed his presence, he gave
no sign, continuing his rapid arc through the city
towards its fringes.

	//"GET OFF ME!  GET OFF ME!"// Shinji began to
shout, and his EVA glowed as it projected an AT- field
that held long enough for him to stumble out of Uriel.

	//"Fucking hell!"// Touji shouted and deviated
from his ordered course, heading towards Shinji's
position.

	Rei was off like a bolt, with Unit00 smashing
through buildings, crushing cars, and flattening what
few fools were still out on the streets.

	Only Asuka held to her orders, and she said,
//"Should I change course?"//

	Ritsuko recalculated their positions and gave
some suggestions to Misato, who took them, sending out
the revised orders.  Unfortunately, no one but Asuka
was actually obeying them.

	Shinji's screaming, long after he'd gotten out
of Uriel, echoed across the com channels, and Maya
quietly cut off his links to the other Children and
lowered the volume on the feed.

	//"Touji, STOP!"// Misato ordered.

	Instead, Touji somehow formed a sword and
shield from his AT-Field and leaped at Uriel like an
armored knight when he reached it.  The sword sliced
through Uriel with the greatest of ease, but this did
no actual damage to the Angel.  Uriel ignored him and
kept going.

	Touji kept chasing it, swiping at it wildly.  
//"How the fuck are we supposed to kill this damn
thing?"//

	//"Not like that!"// Misato said.

	Gendo frowned deeply.  "This is not
acceptable."

	"WHAT A BRILLIANT OBSERVATION!"  Misato
shouted.  "Gosh, I thought this was just FINE until you
decided to help!"

	"Do not take that tone with me," he said
sharply.

	For a few seconds, she felt tempted to just
beat him down with her chair, but she swallowed her
irritation and turned back to the viewscreen.  //"You
will all pull back now, or I will eject you all from
your EVAs and try to fight that thing with a damn fire
extinguisher myself!"//

	Unit00 charged up and pointed at Uriel, who was
now coming right at it.  Howling winds began to blow,
laced with ice and rain.  Uriel's leading edge was
doused by the initial onslaught, but then a huge lance
of flame a hundred and fifty feet across erupted from
it, immolating Unit00.  Unit00 was hurled a half mile,
smashing more buildings and falling still among them.  
While the comline to Rei was still open, she stopped
responding.

	More lances of flame stabbed out, flinging
Unit03 and Unit01 a good half mile as well.  Shinji
went silent, while Touji was simply stunned.  03's
'AT-Shield' had absorbed some of the blast, so he soon
got back up.  //"Now what the fuck do we do?"// he
demanded.

	//"You obey orders or I'll ensure you spend the
rest of your life envying drug addicts lying in the
gutter,"// Gendo said.  "Commander Katsuragi?"

	//"Touji, secure Unit01.  Asuka, secure Unit00.  
Move to the coordinates Fuu sends you."// She gave Fuu
the coordinates, then turned to Ritsuko, "We need
Shinji and Rei conscious and we need it NOW."

	"Maya, get on it," Ritsuko said.  "I'm going to
figure out what Uriel is doing."
	
	"Commander Katsuragi, the Peruvian government
wants to talk to someone in charge."

	"I'll take that," Gendo said, rising from his
chair.  "I will return once I finish this call.  Patch
it in to my cellular."

	"Yessir," Makoto said.  "Hmm, government
currently estimates 200,000 casualties."

	Everyone on the bridge winced, except for
Gendo, who walked out the door as he opened his
cellular.

	Once he was gone, Fuu asked, "Is he always..."

	"Yes," Misato said.  She looked up at the
diagram of Uriel's movements.  "What the hell is this
thing doing?  Sightseeing?  It's just wandering around.  
It completely ignored the EVAs until they hurt it."

	"Section Seven reports four cultist
concentrations have been eradicated.  Two others
defeated the dispatched security forces with the aid of
Seraphim; the Peruvian army has been called in,"  Fuu
reported.

	"Good.  At least Uriel won't be getting any
more help from his Seraphim," Misato said.

	"Unless he can bring them in himself," Maya
helpfully pointed out.

	Misato sighed.  "Gimme a report on how far the
fire has spread."

	"Working on it now," Fuu said.

                          -*-

	Twenty minutes later, Ritsuko said, "I have
it."

	An elaborate pattern in purple appeared on the
view screen charting Uriel's course, then moved to
overlap it.  The fit was nearly perfect; Uriel had less
than ten percent of the pattern left to complete.

	"What is that?"  Misato asked.

	"It's a rune used by the Cult of the Second
Sun.  I don't know what a giant sized version of it
will do, but I think it can't possibly be good."

	"Then we have to stop him.  How are you coming
along with Shinji and Rei, Maya?"

	"Rei is conscious, Shinji is groggy but
conscious."

	"Good.  Commlink me to all four of them.  Time
to lay out our plan."

                          -*-

	Five percent of the rune remained to be
completed.

	Uriel's leading edge smashed diagonally through
a row of apartment houses, sending acrid black smoke up
to join the great ocean of smoke that largely obscured
the stars.  Beyond the row of buildings stood Unit00.  
Another massive lance of flame jutted forth from Uriel,
but this time it struck a glowing square field in front
of Unit00.  The flames dissipated with little effect
except to shove Unit00 back a few feet.

	Uriel continued to advance, its massive bulk
simply shoving Unit00 through another row of buildings
as it surged forward.  Its AT-field shimmered like the
Aurora Borealis as it rubbed against the EVA Unit's
field.

	Four percent of the rune remained to be
completed.

	More AT-fields pressed against it as the other
three EVA units closed in on it from 'behind' and its
left and right 'sides'.  It compacted five percent as
they advanced, but Unit00 was unable to resist the
pressure from it, continuing to be shoved through
buildings, over parked cars, block after block.

	Then Uriel changed course and they all lost
their footing from the sudden shift of pressure.  It
turned to make the final connecting arc.

	Three percent of the rune remained to be
completed.

	Bright red Unit02 now barred its path.  It too
could not stop Uriel's progress, yet Uriel was
beginning to slow.  It reached twenty percent
compression as well, then thirty percent, then forty.

	Two percent of the rune remained to be
completed.

	Fifty percent compression.  Sixty percent.  
Uriel was slowed to a third of its original speed, and
it shrank in on itself further.  Seventy percent
compression.

	One percent of the rune remained to be
completed.

	Unit02 had dug in its heels, and as it was
shoved back, it left a great rut in the ground.  It
suddenly shifted to the left, and the other units
rotated to match it.  Now two of them (Unit02 and
Unit03) stood at forty five degree angles to Uriel's
axis of motion, and Uriel's movement slowed to a crawl
that even a child could have outrun.  It was at eighty
percent compression, a shadow of its former state.

	Then it played its final card.  With a shudder
inwards that threw the Evangelion Units off their feet
like a door that suddenly gives way after much pushing,
it shrank in size to ninety percent compression.  High
above, the clouds parted and hundreds of Seraphim
poured down through the hole onto Unit02 and Unit03.  
They both became pillars of flame and their restraining
AT-fields dissolved away as concentration broke.

	They swiftly snuffed many of their assailants,
but for crucial seconds, they no longer barred Uriel's
course.  He surged forward and closed the remaining
ground.

	Zero percent of the rune remained to be
completed.

	The entire course of his movements erupted with
fire and what remained of him spread out along the
trail of complete devastation, marked with black soot
and ash, which now ignited.  The Sigil of Uriel burned
brightly, a beacon to the heavens above.

	The heavens answered, and a great arch of flame
slammed down from the sky into the heart of the city,
and there, Uriel's new body began to take shape.  
Thousands of Seraphim erupted through the city, soaring
up and down the lines of the Sigil like electrons
through wires.

                          -*-

	//"Dammit, we did what you told us!"// Touji
said.

	//"You did well,"// Misato said.  //"Now we
just need a different plan."//

	"Five hundred thousand casualties is the latest
estimate, and still rising," Fuu said.

	"That's nice, Fuu," Misato said irritatedly,
"But we can worry about that AFTER we beat this thing."

	Gendo returned.  "MAGI, compute the utility of
dropping an N2 bomb in order to attempt to disrupt the
energy matrix."

	A few seconds later, Balthazar reported, "Fifty
percent, decreasing by ten percent per hour the matrix
remains functional."

	"What's the fastest we can have an N2 bomb
dropped?"

	"Eight hours."

	"Can we use the pilot's AT-Fields to disrupt
the matrix?" Misato asked.  "Or conventional bombs?"

	"Ahah!  We could try drawing a gigantic Elder
Sign across the city, using the Units and conventional
bombing to put it in place," Ritsuko said.  "Then the
pilots could empower it with their AT-fields.  The
feedback from that would probably stun Uriel long
enough for him to finish them off.  There is a downside
to this, however.  Well, two."

	"Namely?" Misato asked.

	"First, we'd likely obliterate Lima in the
process.  Hundreds of thousands of civilians would die,
although by now most of the city's population is dead,"
Ritsuko began.

	Fuu nervously interrupted, saying, "Current
estimate is 1.5 million dead out of 3.5 million.  But
that probably..."

	Misato glared at her and she caved in on
herself.

	"Secondly, with the Sigil of Uriel in the way,
it might not work.  The Children might not be able to
break through Uriel's Sigil in order to empower theirs.  
For that matter, they might not be strong enough to
empower one big enough for an entire city."

	"Ahah!"  Maya slapped her forehead "I can't
believe we didn't think of this before!"

	"Think of WHAT before?" Misato asked.

	"Lima is a SEAPORT!  We've got an entire ocean
of water only a few hundred yards away from one of the
sides of the big Sigil.  We could use bombs and the EVA
units to just crack the ground open and let water rush
over the rune, or maybe combine bombing and their
AT-Fields to drive a huge wall of water into the city.  
But that would probably kill a lot of people."  Maya's
face wrinkled into a frown.

	"MAGI, estimate time remaining until Uriel
grows large enough to fry the Earth to a cinder at
current rate of growth," Gendo said coolly.

	"Define 'fry to a cinder'," MAGI replied.

	"Until Earth becomes uninhabitable."

	"Insufficient Data.  In three hours, all of
Lima will burn to the ground. Fires already spreading
across the grasslands beyond the city.  At current
growth rate, if uninterrupted, Uriel will reach the
size of the Earth in two weeks."

	"We can make more humans; we can't make another
Earth," Gendo said.  "I will arrange for the bombs to
be available.  Katsuragi, brief the Children.  Akagi,
compute the necessary bomb pattern and AT- field
pattern." He got out his cellular phone.

	Maya watched as everything began to unfold, and
felt her stomach curdle as she thought about how many
people were going to die.  Then Ritsuko put her to
work, and for the moment she shoved such thoughts
aside.  But she knew she wouldn't sleep tonight,
whatever the outcome.

                          -*-

	Touji looked across the bonfire that was once
Lima.  //"So what the hell are we doing down on the
docks?"//

	//"You're going to use your AT-fields to crack
the ground by triggering a micro-earthquake,"// Ritsuko
said.  //"Then the bombs we're dropping out at sea will
go off and drive a huge wave into the city.  That
should disrupt the matrix of energy.  Then the four of
you will have to fly up and cut the energy conduit to
make sure it can't reassert itself.  Then you should be
able to use our original plan to destroy Uriel."//

	//"Um...fly?"// Touji asked.

	//"Yeah, fly, dummkopf,"// Asuka said.
//"Didn't you watch the footage of us fighting Salgiel
or that furry frog Angel?  Rei's better at it, but we
can all do it."//

	//"How the hell am I supposed to fly?  Grow
wings?"// Wait a second, he thought.  He had seen them
grow wings in that film.  But how?

	//"Yes,"// Rei said.

	//"Rei can do it,"// Shinji said.  //"And Asuka
and I can...but I'm not sure if Unit03 can, since it
didn't fight the Cherubim..."//

	//"Shinji, Asuka, you'll have to carry Unit03,
then. Get to your positions, then I'll guide you into
vibrating the ground correctly."//

	//"Isn't this going to pretty much kill
everyone who's left?"// Asuka asked nervously.

	//"We have no choice,"// Misato said wearily.

	//"Wanna sleep,"// Shinji muttered.

	//"Some six hundred thousand have gotten clear,
if the Peruvian government is correct,"// Fuu reported.

	//"Out of how many?"// Asuka asked as she
started to head towards her designated point.

	//"Don't think about that,"// Misato said.  
//"It won't help.  Just do what Ritsuko tells you to
do.  And pray."//

	//"Wait...how are we going to get to Suzuhara
in time if we spread out?"// Asuka asked.

	//"Both of you have to converge on him as fast
as you can once the Earthquake starts."//

	Asuka was never quite sure what she did with
her AT-Field to trigger the Earthquake.  Ritsuko gave
various orders, and she fed it into the ground,
adjusting various variables by a process of biofeedback
without consciously understanding what any of them
meant.  The ground began to shake as she suddenly
wondered if there was actually a fault line near Lima.

	If there wasn't one before, there was one once
they were finished.  The harbor ripped open and the
ground wrenched in two different directions, a great
crack stabbing towards the center of the city,
eastwards towards the far distant Andes Mountains.

	She began to run towards Touji's coordinates,
aided by the bright light of Uriel's sigil, and reached
him just as Unit01 stumbled to his side.  The ocean was
lit by the light of the city, and they could see a vast
wall of water rising up as the wave soared towards the
city.

	She concentrated, and her shoulder blades ached
as brilliant scarlet feathered wings erupted from
Unit02's She could see Unit01 had sprouted purple
feathered wings, and high above them, black winged
Unit00 was already soaring skyward.

	Despite stumbling, Unit01 reached Unit03 first.  
Over the comlines, Shinji said, //"I don't know if
Asuka's going to get to us before the water does."//

	//"You think you can lift me yourself?"// Touji
asked.

	//"I'm coming!"// Asuka said, and launched
herself into the air; flying was faster than running.  
She swooped into position and they rose into the sky,
each holding one of Unit03's arms.

	As they flew to join Rei by the huge arch of
fire, they could see the wave was about to hit the
city.  Just before they moved into position, the wall
of water slammed into the city, roaring up the great
gash in the ground they'd created, and cascading down
on Uriel in a great torrent.  Lima became a giant cloud
of steam.

	//"Now, combine your AT-Fields and cut off the
power,"// Misato said.

	Four irregularly shaped rectangles formed
before them, shimmering lights which fused together
into a wall of energy that thrust forward,
perpendicular to the ground.  As the steam boiled
upwards to surround them, the combined AT-field knifed
through the conduit, severing it.

	For a few seconds, it beat futilely at the AT-
field, then guttered out in a single second.  The steam
began to clear, and a strong sea breeze began to blow,
pushing the smoke away from the city.  Lima was a vast
pile of ash, torn with a great gash through its middle,
now full of water.  Only in its suburbs did a few
buildings stand undamaged, while in its heart sat a
shrunken Uriel, its servants dead, itself now a fox at
bay instead of a hunter.

	Blood and coffee and ash and burnt plastic and
ozone and smoke mingled in the air, tickling the noses
of the four Evangelion Units.  It was the smell of a
dead city and of prey not yet fallen.  It was the smell
that called them to the final hunt.

                          -*-

	There was nothing left to do but the kill.  
Uriel began to pile himself up into a cylinder, as if
he intended to vault to the sky, but Touji reached out
with his will, not knowing what he was doing, and
pinned him in place, surrounded by a cloud of black
spheres dotted with tiny lights.  His vision faded, and
he never did remember clearly what came next, for he
was too busy gazing upon the universe in all its cold,
magnificent glory, tiny pricks of light struggling
against an endless black void.

	Three winged and one wingless EVA began to
descend.  Unit01 stretched forth its arms, and the
winds grew fiercer, the clouds of ash and soot turned
to rain clouds pregnant with the moisture of the sea.  
Those clouds began to pour forth their wrath upon
Uriel, who began to shrink as the waters ate away at
his very being.

	Through the rain they still came on.  Asuka
glared at him with all of her hate for what he had
done, all of her rage at the needless loss of life, the
vast destruction, the fact that they'd been forced to
help level the city to stop him.  Parts of his fire
began to crystallize, falling into his heart and being
vaporized by the rest of his body, a process that sped
up his shrinking.  She hardly saw it, for her mind was
far away, lost in thoughts of other battles she had
fought, how she had cast down Yidhra and slain Gothmog
in a five day battle, how she had kept Gothmog as a
statue for an eon until he finally withered away, and
how she had laughed when the last bit of him was gone.  
In comparison, Uriel was hardly a threat at all.

	It was hard for Shinji to focus, for his pain
still ate at him, but his anger grew even stronger than
the pain, shoving it away.  Finally, he descended close
enough to unleash his power.  Unit01 vomited forth an
ocean of webbing, snaring Uriel in thick purple cords
which began to compact themselves, crushing Uriel ever
smaller.

	Half-transfixed themselves, the four EVAs
settled down around Uriel and began to advance on him,
compressing him ever smaller.  He shrank to the size of
a building, then of a small house, then the size of a
van.  They stood within a few feet of each other now.  
Their arms reached out and hands joined.  Uriel was the
size of a compact car, then a shopping cart, then down
to the size of a seraphim.

	Webbing and water and crystal and strange black
spheres fused together around him, and he shrank to a
pinpoint, then vanished with a bright flash.  The
Children felt a jolt of energy run through them.  It
was agony and ecstasy mixed together, the greatest
pleasure Touji had ever felt in his entire life.  He
wanted to jump out of his EVA and run around the world
a few thousand times.  For a few seconds, each of them
was limned by fire the color of their Unit, and then it
faded.  Their Units gave great, incoherent sounds of
joy that echoed through the ruins.

	And then to the East, the sky, which had
finally darkened with Uriel's fall, began to brighten
as the sun poked its head above the horizon to find its
rival gone.

	His head still reeling from the sensation of
the Angel's dying energy passing into him, Touji weakly
asked, //"Does it always feel so good when we win?"//

	//"Wow, I feel awake again,"// Shinji said.  
//"Yeah.  It's like...a coffee rush or something."//
For the moment, he could forget his pains as the power
suffused him.

	//"We came, we saw, we kicked his ass!"// Touji
shouted.

	Asuka was silent, simply staring towards the
sea with Rei.

	//"Time to come back to the Scimitar,"// Misato
said.  //"Once we find somewhere to land."//

	//"Why not use the..."// Then Touji realized
why the couldn't just use the airport; it was a charred
pile of ash and rubble.  Everything was.

	Except for the strong sea breeze blowing things
about and the far distant whir of the Scimitar's
engines, everything was utterly, totally silent.  
Nothing was left but the twisted and bent iron frames
of sky scrapers and an endless sea of asphalt, puddles
of water, shattered concrete, and broken glass.  Black
smears on the ground might have once been corpses.  
Out of place sea weed draped across the wreckage in
places.  And not a single human was to be seen.

	//"We had to destroy the town to save it,"//
Touji muttered, remembering a movie he'd watched with
Kensuke once.

	Asuka began to cry uncontrollably, and Shinji
felt himself tearing up as well, both from the pain
that was starting to return and from the horror that
surrounded them.

	//"At least we didn't have to nuke the town,"//
Touji said faintly.  //"They can rebuild it."//

	//"If you don't count the radioactive sea water
that flooded it,"// Shinji said.  He winced; his rush
was fading, and his pains returning.

	//"Most of the radioactive water wouldn't have
made it all the way to the city,"// Ritsuko said,
//"But there may be some mild radioactivity."//

	Wearily, Misato said, //"Head north, we're
going to land in a field in that area.  Mission
accomplished."//

                          -*-

	Touji knew Gendo was going to kick their ass
before he even opened his mouth.  He'd rarely seen
anyone so angry.

	"I am VERY displeased with all of you," Gendo
snapped out.

	The Children, seated around one of the
Scimitar's briefing room tables, all winced slightly,
even Rei.  The force of his voice had felt like a
physical slap.  Shinji, who was wrapped in enough
bandages to do a good mummy impersonation, winced the
most, then winced again when the act of wincing caused
more pain.

	"Because you failed to obey orders, Uriel ended
up destroying most of the city, and we had to destroy
the rest to stop him.  Two million dead.  Nine hundred
thousand injured, and many of them may die.  Six
hundred thousand got out relatively unhurt.  We had to
pollute the off-shore waters of Peru, and if Peru had
any nuclear weapons, they'd probably be dropping them
on Tokyo-3 right now to show their displeasure.  What
were you THINKING?"  he bellowed, leaning across the
table.

	Shinji nearly fell backwards with his chair,
while Asuka and Touji both shoved back instinctively.  
Rei said, "The Third Child was in danger."

	"Did Uriel actually attack anyone before you
attacked him?"

	"What, you expected us to beat him with peace
and love?" Touji asked, leaning towards Gendo, his own
hands on the table.

	"If you had WAITED and coordinated your attack
as Commander Katsuragi wanted you to, you could have
quickly defeated him.  While the city would have been
heavily damaged, it wouldn't have resulted in utter
annihilation.  Did Unit01 actually suffer any damage
from Uriel before people started attacking it?"  
Gendo's gaze raked across them like a cannon barrage.

	"I don't know," Shinji said faintly.  "You made
me go out and fight while I was stoned on painkillers.  
I can hardly remember anything I did."

	"If you hadn't gone out and fought, Uriel would
have overwhelmed the others.  Although given the number
of mistakes all the people who were NOT on painkillers
made, it almost makes me think it was a mistake, as
apparently they all became idiots because you were
hurt."

	"Hey, I did everything I was told to do!"  
Asuka asserted.  "And I want to know what the hell is
REALLY going on!"  She stabbed at him with a finger.  
"How did you know this was going to happen?"

	"We detected cult activity and believed they
had a reasonable chance of successfully freeing this
Angel to launch its attack, as well as detecting Angel
energies with POLARIS.  Fortunately, we arrived in
time."  Gendo had regained his calm, and he paused to
push his glasses back up his nose, for they had nearly
fallen off while he was yelling.

	"What about the Prophecy of the Elemental
Lords?" Asuka cut in.

	He blinked, then his gaze narrowed.  "Such
natterings are but the babblings of deranged madmen
whose response to the truth is to retreat into mindless
mysticism to shield themselves from what they don't
want to be true.  The Cult of the Second Sun, for
example, believed that their god would usher them into
a glorious new age in which they would rule, instead of
realizing he'd simply bake them to death without even
noticing.  The gods of men are but distorted memories
of very powerful beings who care nothing for humanity
unless we annoy them.  Humanity cannot count on
benevolent elemental gods to save it; it must save
itself.  And where did you learn of that anyway?"  He
stared into her eyes.

	Asuka had intended not to answer, but she found
herself pinned to her seat by his gaze, unable to lie
or even to be evasive in the face of it.  "Kensuke had
made some notes before he died, and I've read a few
books."

	"Ahh yes, the deranged ramblings of a man being
slowly possessed by an alien entity that seeks to
corrupt and destroy mankind.  Of course you can trust
them to guide you to some accurate understanding of
what's going on," Gendo said with contempt in his
voice.  "Would you like me to send you some transcripts
of interviews with inmates at the Osaka Asylum too?"

	"What about the Elder Gods?" Touji asked
weakly.  "They seem to be..."

	"To be dreams.  That is all.  Everything in the
Dreamlands was dreamed into existence.  Benevolent
savior gods are just that, only dreams.  This is not
cowboys and Indians where the divine cavalry will swoop
down and chase off the black hats.  This is a war where
two million people are DEAD because you didn't follow
orders!  Do you understand?  This is no game!  
Millions have died, and millions more WILL die before
all is done, especially if you don't obey orders!  You
WILL be punished for this."  He slammed a fist into the
table.

	"But we won..." Touji said faintly.

	"If you hadn't stopped him, I'd be putting a
gun in your mouth and blowing off your head, boy,"  
Gendo said.  "You WILL NOT disobey, ever again.  EVER.  
Do you understand?"  He leaned forward again, invading
Touji's personal space, then turning to stare at each
of the others.

	"Yes, sir," they all said faintly.

	"Good.  There are lives depending on you.  We
cannot afford to make even a single error in the
future.  The Peruvian government wants to execute you
all.  Don't give me reason to regret telling them no."  
He turned and stormed out, leaving four drained and
silent Children behind him.

                          -*-

     (from the files of the NERV censorship bureau)

        LIMA DESTROYED IN ANGEL ATTACK
        Two Million Killed, NERV Held Responsible
		
		   LIMA, Peru (IP) -- Over two million are
		estimated dead, possibly more, in the
                aftermath of the most devastating Angel
                attack ever, leaving Lima in flames and
                ruins and many questioning NERV's actions.

                          -*-                                

	The four pilots were still in the debriefing
room after Gendo left, not sure where else to go.

	Shinji, feeling the dull and throbbing aches of
his injuries, just sat in his seat and stared blankly
forward.  Touji had his seat turned away from them all,
staring out at the ocean.  Rei was as always, silent
and observing.  Asuka was in the worst shape, curled up
into a fetal position in her chair and crying.

	The shock of it all was still sinking in on
them, even as the ashen shores of Peru become more
distant in the horizon.

	"WILL YA STOP CRYING?!" Touji yelled.
	
	"Fuck you!" Asuka shot back, tears still
running down her face.  "We let TWO MILLION PEOPLE die!  
What am I supposed to do, sing a damn song?!"

	Touji scowled, turning his chair partially
towards her. "It ain't our damn fault," said Touji
bitterly.

	"Well who was the first moron to break orders,
huh?"
	
	Touji whirled around in his seat, slamming a
fist into the table.  He glared at Asuka with more
anger than anyone had ever seen in him.  "Oh, I'm
sorry, I'm not like you, I can't just STAND THERE AND
WATCH SHINJI GET FRIED!!!"

	Before Asuka could retort, Touji stormed off,
out of the room angrily.  Asuka glared at his
retreating form, then at Rei and Shinji.

	"A-Asuka," said Shinji weakly.  "I-I'm
sorry..."

	Asuka covered her face with her hands, elbows
resting on the table.  "Damn you, Shinji, for getting
hurt when we needed you most," she said bitterly,
causing Shinji to recoil slightly in shock.  "Damn you,
Rei, for breaking orders like that asshole Touji."

	"Asuka, that's enough!"  Shinji's anger finally
sparked.
	
	"And damn me for not being good enough."
	
	"Asuka..."
	
	She ran out of the room, crying, leaving Shinji
alone with Rei.  He looked at her, wondering how she
could be so calm.

	"So," he said weakly.  "I... guess we really
screwed up."

	Rei, looking out at the sea, nodded slightly.
	
	"I..."  What to say?  He was at a total loss
for words, and Rei wasn't helping.  Shinji gave a sigh,
then slowly rose and tried to ignore the ache of his
burns as he made his way back out the door.

	Rei turned to watch him leave, observing
silently, then found herself alone in the debriefing
room.

                          -*-

        Misato sat on the floor ungracefully, beer cans
littered all around her.  What she wanted was another
beer, but the world was uncooperative at the moment,
spinning and reeling under her.  The beer was on the
table, in a cooler, while she was down on the floor.  
Misato managed to crawl partially up the chair, but
upon reaching for the beer, collapsed to the floor
again.

        She stared at the beer balefully.  There was
only one thing left to do, use the force to get the
beer.  "C'mon, if that moron Luke can do this, anyone
can," she mumbled.

	Thus, she was still gesturing towards the open
cooler when Ritsuko came in.  Ritsuko smelled her
before she saw her, and Ritsuko's eyes narrowed
slightly.  "What are you doing?"

	"Getting wasted off my ass," Misato said.  
"But the damn Force won't bring me another beer."

        Ritsuko walked over and shut the cooler,
putting it on top of the refrigerator and more
importantly out of Misato's reach.  She kneeled down
next to Misato, frowning.  "It's not the beer you're
looking for."

	"Bite me, bitch, I need a beer!"  Misato
shouted and tried to lunge past Ritsuko.

	Ritsuko caught her with one hand, then shoved
her back onto the floor.  There was no visible strain
as she held Misato down.  "If you don't stop
struggling, I will take the beer with me when I go."

	"Nooooooo!!!!!"  Misato curled up on herself,
trying to sit in a fetal position, which didn't work
well.

	"Next time we go anywhere, I'm finding all your
beer and tossing it out the window."

        "You wouldn't dare, you... you dyke!"  She
shook an impotent fist at Misato.

	Ritsuko's eyes narrowed.  "Pull yourself
together.  I'm sick of your damn drinking.  If anyone I
know has no excuse to need alcohol, it's you."

        "Two million people fuckin' died!  Now geddouta
my way!  I needa BEER!"

	She lunged forward again, and for a few
seconds, Ritsuko gave ground, but the steam soon went
out of it.  Ritsuko shoved her back down into her
chair.  "You've got to stop living with crutches,
Misato.  You use beer and men to prop yourself up, as
if sex and alcohol could erase your past so you don't
have to face your guilt.  Well, I'm sick of it.  You
have a job to do, and instead, you're hiding in here
getting soused.  You did this in college and I never
stopped you because it was your life and you could do
what you wanted with it, but it's not just YOUR life
any more!  There's people depending on you, and you
can't help them with a bottle in your hand!"

	Misato began to cry.  "But it hurts so bad...
gotta make the pain go'way."

	"The pain never just goes away," Ritsuko said
faintly.  "You can hide from it, but it just comes back
stronger than before.  Painkillers don't make you well,
they just hide the symptoms.  You have to heal the
wound or the disease itself."

	"Can't bring back the dead," Misato mumbled.  
"I tried.  I prayed and prayed and prayed, but they
stayed dead."

	"Did you kill them?"

	"No."  Misto had curled up on herself again;  
only Ritsuko's hand was keeping her from falling out of
the chair.

	"Was it your fault the Children didn't listen
to you at first?"  Ritsuko tried to turn Misato's head
to look at her.

	"No."  Misato stubbornly resisted having her
head turned.

	"Then don't blame yourself," Ritsuko said.  "I
wish they hadn't died, but I know I did my best, so I
don't..."

	"Not your job," Misato muttered.  "'s my job to
kill the bastards."

	Ritsuko lifted her to her feet.  "You need to
go sleep."

	"Can't sleep.  Need beer."  Her voice was half-
mechanincal, running on instinct.

	"No, you don't," Ritsuko said.

	Makoto came in.  "There you are, Misato. I..."

	"Makoto, take that cooler of beer and dispose
of it.  And find the rest and get rid of that too."

	He glanced at her, then at the beer.  "She's
gonna get mad."

        "DON'T YA DARE GET RID OF IT!"  Misato howled,
trying to break loose from Ritsuko's grip but failing.

	"I don't care if she gets mad.  Find every drop
of alcohol on this thing and flush it.  Now."  There
was steel in Ritsuko's voice.  "I'm not going to
tolerate this any more."

	"Yes, ma'am," he said faintly, and headed for
the cooler, watching Ritsuko haul Misato away.  She's
strong, he thought.

	Misato's howls faded in the distance, and he
shook his head.  I hate seeing her like that, he
thought.  It's just not like her.  Maybe I should check
in on her later once she's gotten some rest.

                          -*-

        Cold.

        That was the first thing Misato felt.

        It was cold, the air, the floor, in her bones.
As she opened her eyes, the world refused to focus,
instead becoming a slowly spinning unfocused blur.  
The constant throbbing headache didn't help much
either.

        She tried to get up, but her stomach churned in
protest and Misato found herself crawling at an urgent
speed over to the toilet to vomit.

        Damn hangover.

        With a supreme force of will, she stumbled from
the bathroom to the main room.  There was a beer can on
the table, and she checked to see if it was empty.

        It was.

        "Shit."

        The events of the last few days dropped back in
to say hi, and she didn't want to think about them.

	There was a knock on the door.  "Come in," she
said.  "If you don't mind me looking half dead."

	Makoto stuck his head in.  "Busy?"

	"Just woke up," she said.  "And I'm starving."  
Her stomach rumbled.

	He walked in with a tray of stew and crackers.  
"Breakfast for you, lunch for the rest of us."

	"I hate changing time zones," she muttered,
taking the tray and beginning to devour the stew
hungrily.  Makoto sat on her bed and watched her eat
for a while.  Once the edge came off her hunger, she
said, "I can't remember where I put my cooler of beer."

	"I flushed it down the garbage chute," he said
nervously.

	"YOU WHAT?"

	"I flushed it down the garbage chute," he said
more firmly.  "The regulations say..."

	"Screw the regulations!  I want my beer and I
want it now!"  She shook her fists at him.

	"No," he said.

	"What do you mean, NO?"

	"Even if I wanted to, there isn't any beer to
give you.  We're out over the Pacific Ocean, and I
flushed all the alcohol.  So unless Commander Ikari hid
some in his desk, it's all gone.  And more importantly,
you shouldn't have any."  Makoto said firmly.  "You're
about this close to being an alcoholic," he said,
holding two fingers only about an inch apart, "And NERV
can't afford to have someone like that commanding its
troops."

	"I am NOT an alcoholic!"  she said.  "How DARE
you accuse me of that!  I never drink on duty!"

	"You're always on duty!" he snapped.  "Another
Angel could have attacked last night, and you would
have been so soused that we would have been better off
with PenPen in charge!"  He stabbed at her with a
finger.  "The Angels aren't going to wait for you to
sober up!  This is a war, and until it's over, you
can't go running off to drown your sorrows every time
something gets wrong!  There's people depending on you,
and you can't help them with a bottle in your hand!"

	She started to retort, then stared at him.  
"Didn't you already say that?  No, wait, that was the
talking seagull who put me to bed..."  She shook her
head.  "Don't tell me you've never gotten drunk.  
Because I've seen you do it!"

	"There's a difference between getting drunk at
a party and turning to the bottle every time something
goes wrong!"

	"Is not."  Deep down, she knew better, but she
couldn't afford to admit it.

	"What kind of example are you setting for the
Children?  Do you think they should be getting drunk
right now?"

	Misato winced.  "They must feel awful," she
said faintly.

	"They had a screaming match and nearly beat
each other up, from what I've heard.  Now they're all
off pouting in their rooms and hating each other.  And
you've been wasting time getting soused while they're
suffering."

	"I'm not the one who screwed everything up!  
They SHOULD feel bad!"  she bellowed.

	"You really think that?" he asked softly.

	She crumpled up on herself.  "No."  Her voice
was hard to understand with her talking through her
knees.  "They just wanted to help Shinji, who shouldn't
have had to be out there.  I should have made SURE he
got moving fast enough not to get burnt."  She started
to cry.  "I'm supposed to take care of him, to take
care of everyone, but he got burnt and the city burned
and everyone died and I don't want to be alone.  Not
again."

	He got up and came over and put a hand on her
shoulder.  "You did your best.  We won.  A lot more
people would have died if we hadn't figured out how to
stop Uriel."

	"Maya figured it out," Misato said feebly
through her tears.  "You should put her in charge."

	"She's no tactician like you," Makoto said.  
"I've seen your scores.  You came one point short of a
perfect score on the Yamato scenario, the highest
anyone's ever gotten.  You've got a great talent,
Misato, but you've got to be sober to use it.  Even
Commander Ikari doesn't blame you for what happened."

	She looked up at him, and stared into his eyes,
looking for something.  Finally, she said, "I wish Kaji
was here."

	"But he isn't.  And wishing never makes it so,"  
Makoto said.  "We just have to make do with what we
have."  I wish it was me you were wanting, he thought.  
I hate seeing you hurting like this.

	For a moment, she gave him a hungry look, the
likes of which he'd only seen on one other woman in his
entire life.  Is she really going to..., he asked
himself.

	Then she turned her head away.  "It wouldn't be
fair to you," she mumbled.  "I've really made a mess,
haven't I?"

	"Nothing you can't fix if you don't work at it.  
We can't bring back the dead, but we can at least make
sure more people don't go to join them."  He felt
regret that his chance had passed, but he didn't want
to do something like that with Misato when she was
feeling like this.  Especially when he would have only
been a substitute for what she really wanted.

	She finally began to relax.  "I'm going to
finish eating, and then I'd better go talk to Ritsuko,"
she said.  "Tell her to give Maya a bonus for this
month."

	"Commander Ikari already did.  Raised her pay
too."  He stepped back from her.  "I guess I'd better
go work on my reports."

	"Don't go," she said.  "I could use some
company."

	"Okay," he said, sitting down on the bed again.  
"We're going to show some movies in one of the briefing
rooms later tonight, if you want to come."

	They continued talking as Misato ate, and
slowly, she felt her headache began to fade.  I've got
a lot of work to do, she thought.  Best get cracking on
it.

                          -*-

	Hikari's eyes lit up the moment she stepped out
of the school gates.  Waiting for her, leaning on the
concrete fence, was her man Touji.

	"Touji!"  She ran to him and leapt into his
arms, but her smile soon faded when she noticed he
wasn't nearly as happy.  "Touji... what's wrong?"

	"Can we... can we go somewhere'n talk?"
	
	She silently nodded.  They took Touji's bike
across the city, Hikari embracing Touji from behind
tightly. Through the city streets and across sun and
shade they walked, until they came to Kensuke's point,
as they called it, the stretch of highway that he and
Touji used to admire the city from, where the road
snaked along a jutting cliff, providing an uncomparable
view of Tokyo-3.

	Touji brought the bike to a stop, then walked
with Hikari to the guardrail, gazing out at Tokyo-3
with an intensity she'd never seen on him before.

	He asked, "Hey, tell me, what're they sayin'
about what we did on the news?"

	"Not much," Hikari answered.  "NERV ran into an
Angel, there was some fires, some deaths, but NERV
saved the day."

	"Issatso?" he asked, his tension rising.
	
	"Touji... what's wrong?"
	
	"I don't know if I oughta be glad hearing that,
or pissed off."

	"Touji?"
	
	He finally faced her, anger setting into his
features.  "It was all fucked up, dammit.  Everything.
Nobody knew what the fuck they were doing, I tell ya.
They sent Shinji out there doped up and taped up, that
goddamn bitch Asuka woulda let Shinji die-"

	"Touji!  Don't say that!  Asuka wouldn't-"
	
	"YEAH SHE WOULD!  She would and she did, and I
get my ass busted for sticking my neck out for a friend
and... and... dammit."

	His anger gave way to weary sadness.  "Y'know,
I joined up so my sis could get better medical
attention, but this damn deal's looking worse every
fucking day."

	She reached out slowly, giving his arm a gentle
squeeze.  "Honey, just tell me..."

	"Baby, we fucked up.  We really fucked up."
	
	"How... how bad was it?  Are the others okay?"

	"Oh... Shinji's wrapped up like a mummy 'cos
he's burned all over his body, the entire nation of
Peru wants all our asses in a firing squad, and I think
I'm gonna be docked outta my first paycheck."

	"Shinji's burned?"
	
	"Oh," he said, his voice cracking slightly as
his eyes welled up into tears.  "Did I tell ya two
million people died?"

	Hikari stared at him.
	
	Touji sank to the floor, leaning on the guard
rail. He curled his arms over his head as he began to
cry. Hikari sat next to him, embracing him gently as he
did.

	"Two million peope, man!" he yelled.  "Two
million..." He sank into Hikari's embrace, still
crying, as she gently rocked back and forth, her hand
stroking his hair slowly. She couldn't think of
anything to say.  With two million dead, words like
'you did your best' and 'it wasn't your fault' felt
hollow and empty.

	Instead, she did the only thing she could do,
and stayed by his side.

                          -*-

	Kaji knocked on the door of Misato's apartment,
not sure if he should be there.  He was afraid of what
her state of mind would be, and not sure if he had
enough strength to help her pull herself together.  
He'd been expecting her to call him afterwards, but he
hadn't heard anything.  She hadn't answered her phone,
either.  I hope she isn't mad at me, he thought.

	"Come in," she shouted through the door.

	He came in, clutching a bouquet of flowers,
hoping it would be enough.  She was at the kitchen
table, poring over a stack of reports, while wearing a
suit-dress and listening to the American Oldies
station.  He shook his head; she probably doesn't even
understand the lyrics, he thought.  Not that most
English speakers probably understood what Nirvana was
singing, but still...

	She looked up and smiled at him, looking a
little tired.  "I wish you'd come with us," she said.

	"I missed you too," he replied, coming over and
kissing her on the lips.  "But I had to go hunt down a
few ex-NERV operatives and squeeze some secrets out of
them."

	"I thought we were like the Mafia, where you
never get out."  She smiled faintly at him.

	"They were allegedly dead, by their own design,
but not dead enough to hide from me.  Mind if I grab
something to drink?"  He walked over to the fridge
without really waiting for an answer.

	"Go right ahead," she said, taking a chug of
some orange fizzy liquid from a mug near the reports.

	He opened the refrigerator.  The beer was all
gone, replaced by milk, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and a huge
amount of something called 'Orange Fresca'.  He picked
up a can and stared at it.  "What's this?"

	"Don't know.  There's a storage room full of
various kinds of soda pop down on the storage level in
the base," Misato said.  "So I raided it.  I dunno
where the stuff even comes from.  But it tastes
different, so I kinda like it."

	"But what's a 'Fresca'?"

	"Who knows?  What's a 'Pepsi' besides being a
drink?"

	He got a glass and some ice and poured the
orange fizzy drink into it.  "Did they finally throw
out your beer?"

	"Threw it out myself," Misato said.  "Got sick
of it."

	He blinked.  "I never thought that would
happen."

	"I'm a damn drunkard, and I have to quit," she
said.  "And I will.  I'm not going to have another beer
until we kill every last one of those damn Angels."

	"That could be a long time," he said.  While he
thought Misato drinking less was a good idea, he'd seen
her decide to quit before, and it usually didn't last.  
Most people he'd known who tried to quit cold turkey
ended up back on whatever hooked them fairly quickly.  
They usually got worse, too.  But he didn't want to
discourage her, either.

	"The talking seagull was right," she said.  
"Or whoever that was."

	"..."

	She didn't notice.  "We could be attacked at
any time.  And I have to be ready.  I want...I want to
be someone people can count on.  So I don't...So I
don't fail them."  She took his hand and gripped it.  
"I have to be an adult," she said.  "Not a child any
more."  She sounded like she was trying to convince
herself.

	"Well, some of us were about to have a little
meeting to talk about what's going on.  Among other
things, I came over to see if you'd join us."

	"What other things?"  She looked at him
invitingly.

	He smiled.  "Those can wait until later
tonight."

	She purred and stood up.  "Are you thinking
what I'm thinking?"

	"I think so, but Ritsuko would look pretty
silly in a clown costume."

	Misato laughed.  "Let's go."
	
                          -*-

	"You think she'll come?"  Makoto asked.

	"She'll come," Ritsuko said.  "Didn't you see
her today?"

	"I assumed I was hallucinating," he replied,
sipping his Pepsi.

	Lynn launched into her next song.

	o/~ I know, I know I've let you down o/~
	o/~ I've been a fool to myself o/~
	o/~ I thought I could o/~
	o/~ live for no one else o/~
	o/~ But not through all the hurt and pain o/~
	o/~ Its time for me to respect o/~
	o/~ the ones you love o/~
	o/~ mean more than anything o/~

	"She looks really good in her uniform when she
bothers to wear it," Maya said.

	"She looks really good in anything," Makoto
said.

	"I used to envy her that in college," Ritsuko
said.  "She could have split ends and be wearing rags
and she still would look better than me."

	"Oh, but you're pretty too, Sempai," Maya said,
sounding just a tiny bit embarrassed.

	"I never felt beautiful," Ritsuko said.

	o/~ So with sadness in my heart o/~
	o/~ I feel the best thing I could do o/~
	o/~ is end it all o/~
	o/~ and leave forever o/~
	o/~ whats done is done, it feels so bad o/~
	o/~ what once was happy now is sad o/~
	o/~ I'll never love again o/~
	o/~ my world is ending o/~

	"But you were," Kaji said.  "Pretty like a
maiden carved of ice, sometimes, but I didn't just
flirt with you to keep in practice."  He flashed her a
warm smile.

	"You wanted to be the one with bragging rights
for conquering me," Ritsuko said flatly, but then
smiled.

	"Exactly."  He sat down with Misato at their
table, then waived to a waitress.  "Two Cokes."

	"Is Pepsi okay?" the waitress asked, looking up
from her clipboard.

	"Do you have anything that isn't wretched?"  
Kaji asked.

	"Hey, Pepsi is good!" Makoto protested.

	"Would Dr. Pepper be acceptable?" the waitress
asked.

	"Sure," he said.

        o/~ I wish that I could turn back time o/~
        o/~ cos now the guilt is all mine o/~
        o/~ can't live without the trust 
        o/~ from the ones you love. o/~
        o/~ I know we can't forget the past o/~
        o/~ you can't forget love and pride o/~
        o/~ because of that its killing me inside o/~

	"I'll have coffee," Misato said.

	"No beer?" Maya asked in disbelief.

	"No beer until we win once and for all," Misato
said, yanking herself away from a longing glance at
another table where someone was drinking beer from a
huge mug.

	"Coming right up," the waitress said, quickly
getting their drinks.

	Once she was gone, Kaji said, "Well, I call
this meeting to order."  He banged the salt shaker down
on the table.  "Now the first thing to do is to figure
out what we all actually know..."

        o/~ It all returns to nothing, o/~
        o/~ it all comes tumbling down, o/~
        o/~ tumbling down, tumbling down, o/~
        o/~ it all returns to nothing, o/~
        o/~ I just keep letting me down, o/~
        o/~ letting me down, letting me down, o/~
        o/~ in my heart of hearts, o/~
        o/~ I know that I called never love again o/~
        o/~ I've lost everything o/~
        o/~ everything that matters to me, o/~
        o/~ matters in this world o/~

                          -*-

	Shinji couldn't sleep well due to his burns.  
They'd gotten a lot better, but there was no position
he could sleep in that didn't put pressure on them,
although at least he didn't look completely like a
mummy any more.

	Sleep fled completely, however, when Asuka
started screaming in the middle of the night.  After
the first few seconds of it, he groggily wobbled out of
bed and slid his feet into his slippers, hobbling in
the dark towards the door.

	The screaming stopped just as he stuck his head
in her door.  "You okay?" he asked.

	She had sat up, but was busily sobbing.  "The
city was on fire," she managed to get out.  "Tokyo-3
was burning."  Her face was pressed into her knees.

	He opened the door, then paused for the
obligatory five seconds of random agony from his left
thigh.  He stumbled, caught the handle, and his hand
decided to ache.  Then he staggered over to her.  "It
was just a dream."

	She looked up at him, her face streaked with
tears.  "Uriel's brother came looking for revenge and
burned down Tokyo-3 and everyone died.  I had to watch
Hikari's flesh burn away."  She buried her face in his
shoulder when he got within grabbing range, which made
him wince as her nose pressed padding into tender
flesh.

	He put his arms clumsily around her.  "Don't
cry.  It was just a dream."

	For a while, she simply sobbed, soaking the
bandage under his shirt.  Then finally, she looked up
at him.  "You're not mad at me, are you?"

	"Why would I be mad at you?" he asked.

	"You were in trouble and I didn't...I mean,
Touji and Rei both came running, but I tried to show I
could follow orders and...I shouldn't have left you
like that."  Her fingers gripped his shoulders, making
him wince.

	His brain refused to call up any memories of
what had happened.  "I shouldn't have fallen asleep on
the platform.  I wouldn't have gotten hurt if I'd been
awake."

	"It's not your fault," she said.  "You
shouldn't have had to fight like that."  Her voice
wavered.

	He shook his head.  "You all needed me and I
screwed up."  He winced as his left thigh throbbed
again.

	"Am I hurting you?"  Asuka asked nervously.  
"I forgot you're still hurt."  She let go of one of his
shoulders.

	"No, I'm fine," he said, wincing again.  
"Don't worry about me."

	"I just can't believe your father sent you out
when you were so hurt," she said.  "Doesn't he care
about you at all?"

	"Father puts his job ahead of family," Shinji
said.  "Although it probably didn't help I had a fight
with him."  He sat down next to her.

	"You had a fight with him?"  Asuka asked,
turning to face his new position.

	"I tried to make him tell me what he did to
Rei, but it didn't work.  But I felt a lot better
afterwards for standing up to him," Shinji said.  Just
thinking about it made him feel a little better about
himself.

	"Good for you," she said.  "That old bastard
needs to be told off.  He's hiding stuff from us.  I
know it."  She snuggled up to him without really
thinking about it, enjoying the comfort of human
contact.  "I'm glad you're not like him, Shinji."

	Shinji winced more, but didn't say anything
about the fact that now the right side of his chest was
aching.  He didn't really want to be alone right now,
which surprised him.  "I have times when I wonder how
we could be related."

	"And I'm sorry I yelled at you when we all had
that big fight on the Scimitar.  I was just...I wanted
to hurt someone, and I couldn't go after the one I
really wanted to hit."

	"I shouldn't have gotten mad either," he said.  
"I forgive you."  He could feel her hair cascading down
the right side of his body, and to his surprise, her
head on his shoulder didn't make his shoulder ache like
it should have.

	"I forgive you too," she said.  Her voice was
far softer than he was used to.  "But you really don't
have anything to apologize for."  She looked up at him
from his shoulder, and smiled.

	They were staring at each other, faces only a
few inches apart.  They sat like that for a few
seconds, and then she closed her eyes and puckered up.

	Does she want me to kiss her? he asked himself.  
Do I want to kiss her?  Yes, he did.  And so he closed
his eyes and lowered his lips, and felt a thrill when
his met hers.

	They held that pose for a few seconds when
Misato said, "Can you be quieter?  I'm trying to... oh,
I see you're busy."

	They sprang away from each other, blushing.  
"We weren't doing anything, Mom," Asuka said.

	"Asuka had a nightmare, Mom, and I was just
trying to...Uh..."  Shinji froze up mentally, and then
his leg decided to try on a new wave of pain for size.

	She raised an eyebrow.  "Mom?"

	They both felt ridiculous.  "Uh...I really need
more sleep," Shinji said.

	"I...uh...ah..."  Asuka said.  She looked like
she'd been hit by a cream pie, minus the pie.

	Misato laughed.  "Well, you can call me Mom if
you want to.  Just don't wake me up in the middle of
the night if you can help it.  Were you screaming
earlier, Asuka?"

	"I had a nightmare," she said softly, staring
at the ground.

	Misato came over and squeezed her shoulder.  
"Buck up.  You did your best.  I'm very proud of both
of you."

	"So many people died..."  She looked up into
Misato's face, too tired to cry again, but with the
evidence of past tears still clearly visible.

	"I know.  And I'll never forget them.  But we
have to bury the dead and move on," Misato said.  "Or
else we won't be able to stop more people dying."  Her
voice dropped to a lower level, and her face turned
very serious.  For a moment, Asuka could see pain in
her eyes, and then it was gone.

	"I know, I know."

        Shinji said, "I wish we knew how many of these
things we are going to have to fight."  He tried to
find a comfortable sitting position.

	"We're trying to figure that out," Misato said.  
"And I'll let you know when we know."  She got up.  
"Well, I'm going to bed.  You two had best get some
sleep, together or alone."

	They both stared at her embarrassedly.  Shinji
got up.  "My legs hurt."

        "Misato...Do you have any idea what keeps
Shinji's father going?"  Asuka asked.  "He doesn't seem
to believe in anything."

	"He believes in himself and science, I think,"  
Misato said.  "He has the most absolute self- assurance
of anyone I've ever known.  And most of the time, it is
justified by events.  But no, I don't think he believes
in any god or gods or causes, except the triumph of
humanity over its enemies."
	
	"Do you, Misato?"  Asuka asked.

	"There has to be something," Misato said.  
"Something more than just the laws of nature, something
that makes us more than rats in a maze.  But what
worries me in the middle of the night is that I'm not
sure it actually likes us.  I'd rather live in
Commander Ikari's world than one where God is just
toying with us for his own amusement.  Sometimes I'm
sure that my surviving Second Impact was a miracle,
that God saved me so I could use my talents to help
stop the Angels.  And sometimes I think He saved me so
he could watch me suffer as I failed again.  But right
now, I'm glad I was saved, whatever the cause or reason
behind it.  Do you believe in something, Asuka?"

	"I believe in Jesus," she said softly.  "But
sometimes He seems so far away."

	"Some gods like burnt sacrifices," Misato said.  
"But I hope ours doesn't.  Just remember this.  Jesus'
best friends were the Apostles.  But they all died
horribly.  I think one of them even got fried on a
giant waffle iron.  Or am I thinking of Buddha?"  She
scratched her head.

	"You're making that up," Shinji said.  "A
waffle iron?"  He gave her the dubious look he'd
carefully developed through months of living with
Misato.

	"It was a long time ago.  Anyway, from what I
know of Christianity, I don't remember it ever being
promised we'd have it easy, Asuka.  Or as Buddha would
say, if you meet the Angel in the road, kill it."  
Misato did her best to look wise.

	"I doubt he said that," Shinji said dubiously.

	"Well, I'd better go to sleep before I
blaspheme some more.  Ask me when I'm awake," Misato
said, rising and heading for the door.

	"Me too," Shinji said.  "Good night, Asuka."

	"Goodnight, Misato and Shinji."  She sank back
down onto her bed once they were gone, and sleep took
her swiftly.

                          -*-

	Down in the bar, a lone figure sat on the
piano, staring out at the night sky with a sentimental
expression on her face.

	Lynn paused, looking around to make sure the
place was empty, then looked up, beyond the window, to
the stars.

	"Hmm... let's see what's next on the playlist,
shall we?"  She spent a moment lost in the endless sea
of lights, then smiled.  "Ah.  Yes."

	o/~ See that guy all dressed in green? o/~
	o/~ Iko Iko un-day o/~
	o/~ He's not a man, he's a lovin'machine o/~
	o/~ Jock-a mo fee na-ne o/~

                          -*-

  	The next day, Fuyutsuki greeted his superiour
with the expected bad news, "The Security Council is
howling for your head."

	"I know," Gendo said.  "The Peruvians want a
scapegoat, and we can't afford to give them the guilty
parties.  Not while DAGON still isn't working."

	Fuyutusuki nodded.  "I read the report.  Two
researchers dead, and a third confined to his bed
babbling, 'Red Rum' over and over."  He sighed.  "With
only three to go before the Day of Return, perhaps we
should just give up on it.  The restabilization of Rei
seems to have worked adequately.  She performed fairly
well, except during the start of the fight."

	"We could not restrict her behavior further
without paralyzing her in any circumstance we did not
foresee," Gendo said.  "Did we learn anything further
from our 'guest'?"

	"We were finally able to convert his
descriptions to fit Earth's current geography,"
Fuyutsuki said.  "The Scimitar should be in our hands
soon."

	"Excellent.  Any further progress in deducing
the location of the next attack?"

	"Unfortunately, the phrase 'A Great City' means
very little in our day and age, when small rural towns
would have been great cities by the standards of that
age.  Also, it remains unclear from the various texts
as to whether the Burrower Beneath or the Defiler is
actually the next to surface.  If you go by the Sussex
Fragments or the Revelations of Glaaki, the Defiler is
next to arise, but according to the G'harne Fragments
and De Vermis Mysteris, the Burrower Beneath should
attack next.  Of course, each of the authors of those
had reason to glorify one over the other with an
earlier emergence."

	Gendo nodded and rose.  "I will be going to see
the Security Council tomorrow, but for now, I
must...rest."  He rose.

	"Going down to Sector 13?"  Fuyutsuki asked.

	"No," Gendo said.  "I will see you tomorrow."

	Fuyutsuki frowned, pursing his lips.  He's
lying, Fuyutsuki thought.  I suppose I shouldn't
begrudge him, we all need some vice.  But...  He shook
his head.  It's a mockery, he thought.  And sooner or
later, those who mock pay the price.  Though given that
we're both involved in a much larger mockery, this
pales by comparison.

	He rose and went to his office to get the next
batch of reports to read, then went home to stew in his
thoughts.



 end part 17


notes:

'Black Hole Sun' by Soundgarden
lounge version available on the 'Lounge-a-palooza' CD