-*-

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


                 Children of an Elder God

                          Part 3

                        "Cherubim" 


                            -*-

        It was the same dream as before, Shinji within the
maglev train as it made its way around the city.

        There was no other noise to be heard aside from the
seemingly endless thrum of the train as it passed over the
tracks.  On the whole, it seemed like a rather pointless
dream to Shinji.

        The train plunged for a moment into a tunnel,
swallowing Shinji in darkness.  Unseen, something scuttled
along the floor, making rapid fire tap-tap-tap noises as it
moved.  Shinji turned nervously, trying to see what it was,
but the train was still in darkness.

        "H-hello?"

        There was a whisper in the darkness, a grating,
squealing, utterly alien voice that said a word that was
unknown by Shinji, yet somewhat familiar.

        "Atlach-Nacha."

        Suddenly, the train emerged from the tunnel,
flooding the cabin with light, revealing an endless
entanglement of spiderwebs.  On the floor, the ceiling,
between poles, over doors, crossing the windows, silver-grey
spider webs.

        And at the center of the train, its back turned to
him, was a single spider-like shape, lurking within a thick
nest of webs.

        Despite the fear he felt, Shinji slowly approached
the creature, brushing aside cobweb veils with trembling
hands.  As he came closer, the creature turned to face him,
its features still hidden by the webs.

        His hands shaking badly, Shinji parted the final
veils and stared at the creature.

        And screamed.

        Hideously twisted, yet still recognizable, the
monster within wore Shinji's own face.

                            -*-

        The world passed by in a blur, but Shinji was numb
to it, merely shambling through the streets of Tokyo-3 on
the way to school.  A serious lack of sleep had drained him
of energy, leaving him in his current state.

        Maybe, thought Shinji, maybe I should just skip
school today.  He stopped, leaned over, and took several
deep breaths.  The world faded into black for a moment and
he felt himself sinking into the ground. 

        A pair of hands reached out and held him up.

        "Ikari."

        Shinji blinked, shook his head, then looked into two
very red eyes.

        "Um, Ayanami," he said weakly.  "Good morning."

        "You are not well."  

        He wanted to believe there was just a hint of
concern in that voice, but he was too tired to tell. 

        "I didn't get much sleep last night."

        "I see."

        They stood there in silence again, Shinji taking
deep breaths while Rei watched over him, ignoring and being
ignored by the morning rush of walkers.

        "I wonder if I should just stay home today."

        Rei seemed puzzled.  "Stay home?"

        "I don't know if I can make it through the school
day." 

        "You are not going to school yet."

        Shinji looked at Rei curiously.  "I'm not?"

        "We are scheduled for more tests with Dr. Akagi
today."

        Shinji's head slumped, along with the rest of
himself.

        "Oh no."

        "We should return to school by third period."

        Great, grumbled Shinji to himself.  More lab tests
_and_ school.

                            -*-


        The wretched taste of LCL fluid was something that
just wouldn't leave his mouth for hours, an effect Dr. Akagi
said would decrease as his exposure to LCL was increased. 

        That didn't help his immediate discomfort.

        Alone, with his tongue hanging out from his mouth,
stumbling around the hallways of NERV in desperate need of
industrial strength mouthwash, Shinji settled for a can of
cola from a vending machine.

        He quickly opend the can and drank, holding the
liquid in his mouth for a while in hopes that it would
dissolve the nasty taste of tar and roadkill that LCL seemed
to emulate so well.  Instead, the lingering taste of LCL
somehow overpowered the soda, mixing with it into an
entirely new and amazingly more noxious combination that
forced Shinji to find the nearest water fountain and spit
into it.

        And so, as he was gasping for air and wondering if
trying to merely drink the soda quickly instead would be a
better solution, he passed by the massive vault where the
Eva units were kept.

        And he saw Rei, her back turned to him, talking to
his father. 

        His father.

        Talking.

        Smiling.

        Laughing.

        Shinji felt bitterness and envy rise within him. 
His father hadn't spoken any words to him since his arrival,
none at all.  And here he was talking to her and smiling at
her and laughing with her and... 

        He stalked away, the bitterness in his soul matching
the foul taste in his mouth.

                            -*-

        Being on the maglev train disturbed Shinji.  It was
all too much like those amazingly dull dreams he'd been
having lately.  Yet now seemed as good a time as any to
ask...

        "Rei?"

        She turned to look at him, her expression as flat as
always.  It didn't faze Shinji like it used to, but it was
still a bit unnerving.

        "I, um," Shinji scratched his head, not sure how to
put the question.  "What's my father like?"

        "Like?" she asked, sounding unsure.

        "I... I haven't talked to him," explained Shinji.
"Not since I came here."  He turned away, his expression
darkening.  "I don't know what he thinks of me.  I don't
even know if he cares."

        Rei's expression became subtly more puzzled.

        "I... I don't even know why I bothered to come
here."

        "You are here to pilot the Eva, as am I."

        "Is that it?"

        Rei shrugged.

        "I saw you talking with father earlier.  He was
smiling and laughing.  Why?"

        "I don't know."

        "You don't know?"

        Rei merely looked out the window, to the ocean.

        Feeling too tired and puzzled to follow this line of
thought any further, Shinji slumped in his seat and caught
up on another ten minutes of sleep.

        And in his sleep, he dreamt of uneventful trips on
maglev trains. 

                            -*-

        She stared at the script, along with all the other
so-called journalists, and sighed deeply.  NERV wanted the
press conference to run smoothly, which meant using scripts
that were most likely crafted for maximum deception.  Of
course she went along with it.  Everyone went along with it,
and anything else the government insisted on ever since the
2nd impact.

        Catastrophes were an easy way to turn a free nation
into a police state.

        'Freedom of the Press' wasn't what it used to be,
but that wasn't Megumi Kunzama's concern.  She was in the
business long enough to see that curiosity did kill the cat,
and would be a fatal exercise for some time to come. 

        So... just read over the script, say her lines, and
go home knowing she'd done her job well.

        Megumi was dearly trying to ignore that nagging
voice at the back of her mind that said otherwise.

                            -*-

        "Me?!  Why me?!" yelled Maya in shock, staring at
Commander Ikari.  Then she remembered the 'Commander' part
of his title.  "Er, Sir, Commander, Sir, I mean.  Why me, I
mean. Um, Sir?"

        Gendo frowned.  "You're photogenic.  Now follow your
orders.  Here's your script."

        Gendo strolled out of the room, followed by
Fuyutsuki, his second in command, leaving a somewhat stunned
Maya in the room alone.

        "I think that's the closest thing to a compliment
I've ever heard from him."  Maya shook her head, took a deep
breath, then left the room as well.  Whether she liked it or
not, it was showtime. 

                            -*-

        Megumi sat numbly as she witnessed the press
conference take place.  It was a joke, a sham, a big lie. 

        The rep from Nippon Sun will raise his hand, amongst
the many raised, and he will be selected.  Whether he raises
his hand or not, he will be selected. 

        She'll answer with beautifully made, carefully
constructed lies.

        And then others will raise their hands, selling
their souls to keep in line.  And what would she do?  She'd
sell out too.

        What other choice was there? 

        "Good afternoon," said the spokesperson, a
surprisingly young girl, probably ten years younger than
her.  "I'm Maya Ibuki, spokesperson for NERV.  We're a
subdivision of the United Nations, specifically created for
dealing with such threats as the creature that attacked
Tokyo-3 several days ago." 

        The girl droned on, a bit nervously.  They probably
picked her because she's got a pretty face, mused Megumi.
She didn't bother listening carefully as the spokesperson
talked.  It was going to be packaged and sent to her
newspaper anyway, so why bother? 

        Why bother indeed.... 

        Her editor told her of the times before the Second
Impact, when the media had _true_ power, a watchdog over the
government and society in general.  She was always
enthralled by his tales, and wished she'd been around back
then to enjoy it, the last glory days of the press.

        "Next question?" 

        Megumi realized it was her turn. 

        She knew her question, her lines.  It was time to
join in The Big Lie. 

        She could rebel.  Toss out her lines.  Demand to
know what NERV was covering up.

        "Megumi Kunzama, Japan Today.  How many casualties
were there in the attack?" 

        A small voice inside called her a coward. 

        She tried to ignore it. 

                            -*-

        She tried to drown out the lingering doubts by doing
what many legendary figures of history did: take a long
walk.

        And walk she did, through Tokyo-3's many streets, in
the shadows of its many towers, unable to shake the unease
that had latched unto her soul. 

        Curiosity killed the cat. 

        Best not to forget that. 

        She was ready to just call it a day, go home and
brush her troubles away, even if it meant living in the
ignorance NERV tried to wrap around her.  Two schoolgirls
passed her, absorbed with their own concerns.  Perhaps it
was luck, or fate, or just journalistic instincts, but their
conversation caught Megumi's ear.

        "Can you be believe _he's_ the new pilot for that
giant robot?"

        "I still can't believe it." 

        "He's weird, don't you think?" 

        "No, just quiet." 

        "Not as weird as the other pilot." 

        Pilot?  Those schoolgirls know the pilot? 

        She walked quickly after them, waving her hand. 
"Excuse me!  Girls?  Hi, I'm Megumi Kunzama, reporter for
Japan Today.  I'd like to ask you a few questions..." 

        Unseen by any of them, a small camera by the
stoplight adjusted its lens... 

                            -*-

        
        "Who is she?" 

        "Megumi Kunzama," said Fuyutsuki.  "Reporter for
Japan Today.  She was at the press conference earlier." 

        "Hrm."  Gendo gazed at the image of the woman on the
screen, his expression neutral.

        "Put someone on her.  I doubt she'll find anything
too sensitive, but it's best to be cautious."

                            -*-

        Makoto was drunk.  He was off duty, though, so it
didn't matter.  He could get drunk off his ass and pass out. 
Or meander on about his love life to someone he had just
met, which was what he was doing right now.

        His confessor was one of the most gorgeous women he
had ever met in his entire life.  She was a tall, lithe
platinum blonde whose breasts had to be either the result of
implants, plastic surgery, magic or the blessing of the
gods.  They were too big for a slender woman, and too
perfect.  He was too drunk to really notice or worry, though
he did stare a lot.  She simply watched him, amused, with
twinkling blue eyes and a pleasant smile as she sipped the
same kind of beer he was drinking by the goatload. 

        Not that goats were bringing him beer; they were
both ensconced at a table at 'The Tokyo-3 Brewery,' which
was a bar run by the city's main brewery. Not a very clever
name, but the decor of street signs from the original Tokyo
had caused quite a few dedicated patrons to become totally
lost as they tried to find their way home without leaving
the bar after becoming almost, but not quite, too drunk to
move.

        "So, I like, I like...don't know what to do.  She's
like beautiful, but she's my boss and I'd probably get in
trouble and I think there's someone else she likes, but
she's got a really nice ass and when she's off duty, she
dresses fit to make a man go nuts," he babbled, then chugged
another beer.  A thought struck him.  "What's your name
again?" 

        "Akane.  Akane Toshiba," she said.  "And what's the
name of this woman you're so in love with?" 

        "Misato.  Misato Kusanagi.  Kobachi.  Katsuniki. 
Katsugari? Katsucon. Kitsuragi.  Katsuragi?  Umm...It's got
a K in it.  And she's got big..." 

        Akane laughed.  "I assume you'd be less blunt when
you're drunk." 

        He nodded.  "I'd cower instead.  She's a good boss
though, and a good commander.  Given what she's got to work
with..."

        Akane leaned forward, revealing ever so slightly more
of her flesh. It got Makoto's attention.  "You don't like
some of your coworkers?  I know how hard that can be." 

        "The fate of the world is resting in the hand of two
kids.  One's creepy and the other is kinda...well, pathetic. 
His own father ignored him for most of his life.  I dunno
why we're letting kids pilot these things.  Well, I mean, I
sorta know, but..."  He took another swig.  "Hey, bartender! 
More beer!" 

        "So why are they using child pilots?" 

        He looked around, looked under his chair, then
inside his glass, checking for spies.  "You gotta, like,
have the right genetics and stuff.  I mostly just monitor
stuff; Dr. Akagi is the one who really knows how everything
works.  But I can tell you that all three pilots are about
the same age." 

        She blinked.  "You said two." 

        "Never met the other one.  She's off in another
country."  He looked at the bartender.  "Hey!  BEER!" 

        He got his beer, took a swig, then began to wobble. 
"Hmm.  Time to go home, but I don't think I'll make it." 

        She smiled.  "Let me help you home." 

        She had always thought of herself as strong, but by
the time she helped him stagger to the door, she was
rethinking that, or at least wondering how many pounds of
beer he had drunk. 

                            -*-

       The woods around Tokyo-3 weren't supposed to be
inhabited.  Regardless, there was a house, a relic of days
long ago.  Built in a time of greater freedom and
prosperity, it had been intended to be a summer home.  Then
the Second Impact had come, and its owner died.  The
government took the land, but had failed to destroy the
house; it wasn't worth the effort, and vague plans, now
forgotten, had been made to use it.

      It was being used now.  Tiny runners came in and out;
unseen by most people, Never mind that rats couldn't have
turned the water and power back on.  Nor was there much for
rats to eat in an abandoned house, unless they wanted to eat
wallpaper or suck on paint. 

     If something had been watching from the sky, it would
have seen an abnormal number of brooms upon the front porch
of the house, the beat up Toyota Corolla that was likely the
oldest functional car in Japan with no value to a collector,
the plain black van, and the Shinohara Motors SUV-5, whose
owner likely thought it was cool, but was rather wrong.  Or
perhaps this flying observer might have focused upon the
deep tire ruts that indicated a fourth car had pulled out at
very high speed at some time in the past.  Indeed, a
sufficiently knowledgeable and eagle eyed observer might
have been able to tell the model of the missing car.

     In fact, something was watching from the sky; Second
Impact had done nothing to destroy most of the spy
satellites circling the Earth. However, spy satellites have
three flaws.  First, you can't hear anything through them. 
Secondly, they're only useful if someone human is both
watching and cares.  This one belonged to France, which
could care less about small houses in the Japanese
countryside.  It was on its way elsewhere, due to the third
flaw of spy satellites: they have to keep moving or fall out
of the sky. 

      As a result, no one who cared noticed the rat except
for a woman with short spikey orange hair who was expecting
it.  She ran over, picked it up, and carried it inside,
petting it gently.  She didn't look like a threat to
humanity, but most threats to humanity weren't obvious until
it was too late.

      This one was no exception. 

      The woman carried the rat inside, talking to it, and
it talked back.  The largest amount of devastation caused by
a rat since the Black Plague, if only indirectly, would soon
begin.

                            -*-

        "(I want to rule the world)," one of the students
read from the book in English, then everyone chorused, "(I
want to rule the world.)" It was English class, and Shinji
was in a trance, as were most of the students, as the power
of sheer boredom smote them.  He had never quite understood
how anyone was supposed to learn anything from the teaching
method they used in English class. Other than how to speak
in unison, anyway. 

        The next student translated the next line of the
day's reading. "(The small mouse raised his fists and shook
them.)" Everyone repeated after him. 

        Shinji let his mind drift, thinking about the
previous day's tests. Dr. Akagi had been looking for
something, but wouldn't say what.  He couldn't tell if she
had been pleased or not pleased to not find it.  Although
maybe she had found what she wanted; she had the look of
someone waiting for something to happen the whole time,
though nothing did. 

        He glanced across the class at Rei, who was intently
focused on the day's lesson in English; indeed, she was
probably the only person in the class fully paying
attention.  A casual observer might have simply concluded
she was the class brain.  Shinji knew enough to know the
class brain was actually zoning out halfway across the room. 

        Only one other student was alert, and that was
Touji, who sat next to Shinji and looked like a mountain was
about to fall on him.  Shinji glanced over at his desk and
soon understood why; the students were supposed to translate
the next day's reading at home as homework so they would be
ready to read when called upon.  However, in practice,
because the teacher always called upon people in the same
order, most students only translated the sentences they
would be called upon to read.

        However, two people were absent today, which meant
that the normal order of reading was thrown off.  This meant
Touji hadn't translated the correct sentences and now as
trying desperately to translate them without the teacher
noticing; he wasn't going to make it in time.

        Shinji had translated the entire thing; not because
he had wanted to, but because Misato had caught him doing
the same thing Touji had done, and had chewed him out, even
though he was quite certain she had done the same thing
herself in school.  Touji glanced over and saw Shinji's full
translation, seemed to hesitate a moment in indecision, 
then finally looked at him pleadingly. 

        Shinji's first instinct was to let Touji rot in his
own juices, but the guy looked so pathetically doomed, that
Shinji couldn't help but feel a little merciful.  He did
some quick calculation while someone was reading "(But where
will we find any rubber pants at this hour?)"  Scribbling at
high speed, he passed what he hoped were the correct
sentences to Touji on a note, which the teacher didn't
notice, since he was busy chewing out another student for
reading the wrong sentence; apparently that one had done the
same thing as Touji, but failed to notice that the absences
had thrown off the class order. 

        At lunch time, Touji came up to Shinji.  "I owe you,
man.  Umino-sensei was on the rampage today; I think you and
me and Rei were about the only people who were ready.  And
Hikari." 

        Shinji blinked.  While he did do Touji a favor, he
didn't expect the other boy to become so friendly.
Especially since...

        "Um, about your sister..."

        "Huh?"  Touji blinked.  "Oh, hey, I gave ya a few
good hits already.  Figure we're even, yeah?"

        Odd logic, but Shinji accepted it with a nod.

        "Hey," asked Touji.  "Did you get that math homework
done?"

        "Yeah, though I still don't understand it."

        "Don't understand it?  Then how'd you finish it?"

        "Rei helped me finish it.  She was at my apartment a
few days ago; it was kind of scary."

        "Helping you with your math was scary?"  Touji
agreed Rei was a bit creepy, but the only scary thing about
math was the grades Touji usually got.

        "It was like..."  Shinji tried to think of a
metaphor and failed. "Rei said she needed help, but she
ended up helping me more than I helped her. It was like she
didn't know why she had come to me to get help."

        Shinji opened his bento and nearly fainted. Misato
had insisted on making him lunch, which usually meant that
he got a cup of ramen, but he found a sandwich, a bag of
chips, and an apple.  Not only was the fact that she had
actually gone to the effort of making a sandwich instead of
simply putting one of her infinite horde of cup ramen into
the box surprising, but the fact that there was actually
fresh fruit in it, when he would have sworn they had no food
that didn't come out of a can or a box or a cup, was quite a
shock.  For that matter, they didn't have any fresh bread
that he could remember. Maybe she mugged someone, he
thought, then dismissed the thought. 

        Touji glanced over at Rei, who was eating by
herself.  "Maybe she likes you." 

        Shinji's eyes widened.  "You gotta be kidding." 

        "Women'll come up with crazy excuses to spend time
with someone they like."  Touji started eating his own
bento, which was full of pickled vegetables and rice.  "I...
hey, who's that?"  He pointed at a nicely dressed adult
female who was busily talking to two of the other guys in
the class across the yard. 

        She was short with close-cut brown hair with a red
streak over her left ear. Her complexion was disgustingly
perfect in comparison to a class full of students now
starting to 'enjoy the pleasures of acne,' and Shinji
guessed she was around Misato's age.  She wore a black
skirted black suit with a red tie and held a digital
assistant which she was using to take verbal notes.

        Shinji wasn't sure he knew the names of the two
students she was talking to, but he thought they might be
Taiki and Youta.  The woman looked was even less familiar. 
He'd seen her on TV or maybe in a newspaper or maybe just on
the street.  "I don't know.  She looks like a professor or
maybe a businesswoman."

        "Why'd she be talking to Taiki, then?" 

        Taiki pointed right over at Shinji and the woman
turned to look at him.  He smiled back nervously; she had a
predatory look which made him uncomfortable. She walked over
and said, "I'm Megumi Kunzama.  I'm from Japan Today.  Mind
if I ask you a few questions?" 

        "You're a reporter?"  Touji asked. 

        "Yes," she said. 

        "Err...aah...sure," Shinji said.  He had a nagging
feeling that talking to her wasn't such a good idea.

        "So, I understand you're the third EVA pilot?" 

        "Yeah," Shinji said.  "The second one is off in
another country, though." 

        "So what sort of training have they given you?" 

        Shinji glanced across the yard at Rei, who was still
eating her lunch and giving no sign of being aware of what
was going on.  "I've been training intensively since I
arrived.  Combat training, synchro training, shooting
practice, all kinds of stuff." 

        "Did you really go into action on your first day
here?" 

        Shinji nodded.  "I got here only a few hours before
the first Angel attacked." 

        "It was awful," Touji said.  "Our apartment got
overrun with spiders and we had to flee.  That's why we were
outside when..."  He fell silent and stared at the ground. 
Shinji was pretty sure he knew what Touji meant.  That was
how his sister had gotten injured. 

        I didn't mean to hurt anyone, Shinji thought.  "It
was a hard fight, but we beat him." 

        "So they sent you into battle with no training?" 
Megumi asked. The question was casual, but Shinji could feel
the sharp edge. 

        "We had no choice," he said.  "Rei was injured and
I was the only one who could pilot it." 

        "Why?"  Megumi asked.  She stared at him intently,
and he wilted. 

        "Umm...because..."  Shinji had no idea.  "Only some
people can pilot an EVA." 

        "And the fact that the commander is your father had
nothing to do with it? No nepotism at work here?" 

        "My father couldn't care if I lived or died," Shinji
said, staring off at a tree instead of Megumi.  His voice
dropped.  "I didn't want to do it, but they need me and..."
It had been exciting.  He had liked it.  Liked it enough to
scare him.

        "So what do you think of the other pilot, Rei
Ayanami?" 

        "She's creepy," Touji said. 

        "She's a good EVA pilot," Shinji said.  "I hope the
other pilot's as good as her." 

        "Any truth to the rumor that you two are dating?" 
Megumi asked, her voice lightening a bit. 

        Shinji blushed.  "I'm not dating anyone." 

        "That's enough," Rei said, cutting abruptly into
the conversation.  She had come over while they were all
distracted, making her way through the crowd which had
gathered around them.  Her red eyes locked onto Megumi's,
seeming to freeze her in place.  "You're not supposed to be
here."  Her voice remained flat, but with a hint of menace.

        "But I just wanted to ask a fe-"

        "Ask Ibuki-san," said Rei.  She hooked an arm around
Shinji's and simply dragged him away.

        Touji shrugged.  "Some guys just can't admit how
they feel, I guess." 

        Megumi said nothing, simply watching them go. 

                            -*-

        Makoto should have been at work.

        He also should have had the hangover that ate New
York.  
        Neither of these were the case.  

        When he finally struggled his way to wakefulness, he
found himself in a nice apartment that clearly wasn't his.
Unless he had gotten so drunk he had bought and put up pink
flowered wallpaper, hung new white curtains, painted the
carpet blue and thrown out all his furniture and clothing
and had it replaced.  Even the time he had gotten so drunk
he thought the vacuum cleaner was out to get him, he hadn't
done anything that bad.

        Usually, he didn't get very drunk very often,
anyway. But the previous day he had gotten caught listening
to Misato talking to Dr. Akagi about some old boyfriend of
hers, some guy named Kaji, and it had just made him utterly
depressed.  So he had gone out and gotten hammered. 

        Now, he was awake, and feeling better than usual,
but he had no idea where he was.  There had been a
woman...some blonde who had patiently listened to his entire
story.  Maybe she had been kind enough to take him in.  

        Then she walked in the door, wearing blue denim
shorts and a Kyoto Mariners T-shirt.  He'd always thought it
strange that a landlocked city like Kyoto had a baseball
team called the 'Mariners,' but since the Mariners'
original
home city, Seattle, was now underwater thanks to the Second
Impact, they had moved to Japan.  It was hard to understand
why that had happened, unless one considered that they were
already owned by Japanese investors. 
""
        "Hi, Makoto.  I was starting to think you'd sleep
all day," she said.  Her name was...Akane.  Yeah. 

        "Akane?" 

        She walked over and sat down on the edge of the bed. 
"Yes.  How much of last night do you remember?" 

        "Umm.  Drinking.  Talking to you.  Trying to go
home...that's about it." 

        She slid a little closer to him.  "You forgot the
rest, then?"  She sounded disappointed. 

        "Uh, rest of what?"  He hadn't been this close to a
woman since college; he'd had some girlfriends then, but
since taking a job at NERV, his love life had gone down the
toilet, although getting a crush on his boss hadn't helped
with that. 

        She reached out and took his hand; he could feel the
softness of her skin and the hardness of the single ring she
wore, a plain band of silver.  It felt warm, which was
strange, given that metal didn't absorb heat from flesh
well. Usually, rings felt cold.  "I suppose..."  She smiled
a naughty smile.  "I'll have to remind you.  I'm sure you're
much better sober." 

        He felt remarkably sober, in fact.  "You mean..." 

        Soon, he was unable to finish his sentence.  In
fact, soon, he wasn't able to think about very much at all
that wasn't very intensely physical.  The fact that he was
supposed to be at work completely slipped his mind. 

                            -*-

        Maya said, "So this reporter came by and asked you
some questions?" 

        Shinji nodded.  He and Rei were in what passed for
Maya's office, which was basically a cubicle.  It was full
of stacked folders and bits of computer code taped to the
walls.  Other than the Magi terminal, it was a chaotic mess. 
A dusty mess.  It was clear most of her work was done
elsewhere now.  "She thought Father picked me because I was
his son.  And she wanted to know...I mean...Actually, I
didn't know." 

        "Know what?" 

        "Why was I picked?  Why any of us?  Why are we all
so young?" 

        "Well, my understanding is that it has to do with
you being born close to the Second Impact.  You know about
how there have been a lot of stillbirths and deformities
since then in new children, right?" 

        Shinji nodded.  "I went to school with a boy with
only four fingers on his left hand.  No middle finger."  He
shuddered slightly. 

        "Basically, there was a lot of radiation released
in the form of radioactive particles into the upper
atmosphere.  It's been slowly raining down ever since. It's
worst at the South Pole, but luckily no one actually lives
there. That's why all the penguins had to be evacuated. 
Anyway, it causes mutations, and most mutations are
malevolent; they either kill the children or cause
deformities.  But a handful of those affected develop
benevolent mutations.  For example, you've seen Hinako
Kotobuyki, the idol singer, right?" 

        Rei nodded.  "Yes." 

        Shinji was surprised at that.  "Yeah.  She's...a
mutant?  Isn't she too old?" 

        "She should be your age, but she looks twenty. 
That's a bad mutation, because she's going to have a shorter
lifespan, but she also got a perfect singing voice out of
it.  Well, probably.  We can't prove it, but it does seem
likely."  Maya tapped a pencil on her coffee cup idly. 
"Anyway, so each of the Children has a special mutation that
greatly enhances your ability to pilot an EVA.  Anyone could
try, but most people either can't synchronize at all, or
they can't deal with the experience.  You'd have to ask Dr.
Akagi for the details, I'm really a computer specialist. 
Anyway, so any pilots we find would be your age at the
oldest.  There's probably a five year old somewhere who
would make a great EVA pilot, but we need the oldest people
we can find." 

        "So I'm...not human?"  Shinji asked nervously. 

        "I said you had a mutation.  But lots of people
have mutations. You're as human as I am.  You just have a
special talent.  This isn't some comic book where being a
mutant makes you fire lasers out of your eyes and everyone
will fear and hate you.  Probably lots of famous people had
some tiny mutation that gave them a little edge in what they
did best.  You're just special."  She smiled at Shinji in
the sort of way that no one ever smiled at him; it was a
'Mom smile'. She turned to Rei.  "I thought you knew about
this." 

        "I never asked."

        "Well, I'll ask Ritsuko to give you two the full
lecture.  I'm sure there is one. Hmm.  I suppose I'll call
this reporter and ask her to not pester you. School is for
learning, not for reporters." 

        "Thank you," Shinji said.  "The reporter seemed like
an okay person, but..."

        A rat scampered across the floor.  Maya threw a
folder at it, but it leaped between Shinji's legs and ran. 
Shinji got hit by the folder and toppled over onto Rei. 
They ended up face to face.  Rei looked calmly at Shinji as
if this was as normal as breathing.  Shinji blushed.  He
blushed more when someone spoke. 

        "Can't wait for somewhere private, Shinji-kun?"
asked Misato with a gleefully teasing voice.

        Shinji leaped off Rei, crashed into the entrance to
another cubicle, and toppled into it, knocking down a pile
of file folders on himself.  "It was an accident!" 

        Rei stood up and dusted herself off.  "Another rat,
Katsuragi-san." 

        "Yeesh, I hope this doesn't mean a giant rat is
going to attack next," she said.  "Has anyone seen Makoto?" 

        "He called in sick around nine," Maya said. 
"Akagi-san logged it, I'm sure." 

        "Well, we're not doing anything urgent, but I wanted
to ask him about yesterday's test results."  She shrugged. 
"Well, if you two are done slaking your lust, it's time for
some more tests." 

        "Someone help me up," Shinji said feebly from under
a sea of folders. 

                            -*-

        The Frederick the Great, a German battleship, had a
human figurehead as it made its way across the Atlantic
towards the Straits of Panama.  What had once been a canal
had now become ocean as the rising water level destroyed the
nation of Panama. 

        While several other nations had been almost entirely
wiped away from the face of the earth, such as Bangladesh
and the smaller, flatter Caribbean island nations, Panama's
annihilation had opened the way for an even greater volume
of ocean going traffic as the area, now under UN control,
had become toll free.  It was one of many areas brought
under direct UN control in the crisis years immediately
after the Second Impact, when only coordinated action had
saved humanity.

        Asuka stood at the ship's prow, watching the waters
part before them in gentle waves.  Land could be seen, a
fuzzy blur at the far horizon, brown and green against a
cloudy sky and deep blue waters.  She could hardly wait to
make it to Japan.  It wouldn't be Germany, her homeland, but
she was ready for battle, and there was no one to fight in
Germany.  Well, no one to fight with her EVA. She was a
little worried, though; what if the next one attacked in
Germany?  The base would be destroyed before she could get
back.

        They'd given her a folder on the other two pilots,
but it wasn't very informative.  Although knowing they
played musical instruments too was nice. All they needed was
one more person, and they'd have a string quartet, for what
that was worth against monsters... 

        It didn't tell her anything she really needed to
know.  Could they fight?  Would they like her?  Did they get
along or was she going to have to force them to work with
each other?  She was used to doing that; her alleged
'bosses' had squabbled all the time back in Germany.

        "Trying to make the boat go faster, Asuka?"

        "It's not working," she said, then turned around,
smiling at Kaji, who she was quite certain was the man of
her dreams.  Sure, he was nearly twice her age, but that was
no barrier to true love, she was sure.  He saw her as a
child now, but once he saw her in action, he wouldn't be
able to resist her. 

        Kaji was a scruffy man in a suit which was missing
a tie and a jacket.  He needed to have shaved about two days
earlier, and his hair was a mess.  But he did have a certain
rugged handsomeness, and the heart of a fourteen year old
girl was his for the taking if he wanted it.  "I'm sure
we'll get there before the next attack." 

        "I just...are we sure there won't be any attacks in
Germany?" 

        "Not that you could stop by yourself.  We have to
concentrate our forces so you don't all get picked off one
by one." 

        "But an Angel could attack Berlin and destroy it
before we got back.  I mean, since these things are too big
to carry in a plane and even a plane would take hours and
hours and..." 

        He stepped forward and put a hand on her shoulder. 
"Don't worry about it." 

        "Do you think I'll be able to get good bratwurst in
Japan?" 

        "I wouldn't count on it." 

        Asuka frowned.  "Ach.  Verdammt."

        And so the day went on. 

                            -*-

        Kensuke gazed across the athletics field, where the
solitary form of Rei Ayanami moved amongst her classmates. 
He wasn't sure if they were doing it unconsciously or not,
but they seemed to move out of her way much like water
before a shark's fin. 

        "Y'think she likes Shinji?" he asked.

        "Why?" asked Touji.  "Jealous?"

        "Huh?"

        "I'd think you'd be into Rei, y'know?  She _is_ a
pilot, and you seem to be nuts about that sorta thing."

        "Oh.  Well, I am, but I have my limits."

        They watched Rei run;  she was fast, faster than the
other girls, even the ones taller than her.  And she made it
look easy.  He had the feeling she could make them eat her
dust if she really tried.

        "So, she might like Shinji?" said Touji.

        "I dunno if she even likes herself," replied
Kensuke.  "Maybe if someone at NERV told her to like him,
she would.  I guess she is the perfect EVA pilot, though," 
Kensuke said, taking off his glasses and cleaning off the
dust in the air from them with his shirt.

        "What's that got to do with her liking Shinji?" 
Touji asked. 

        "Haven't you noticed?  She hardly does anything,
other than act creepy, unless the teacher tells her to. 
She's like...I'm sure she'd never disobey an order," Kensuke
said.  "Although if I was her boss, I'd be scared to give
her orders." 

        "So, like, do you think she'd..."  Touji sounded
thoughtful; this was rare. 

        "Go to bed with you?" 

        "I suppose she's probably a virgin." 

        "We're only fourteen, man.  I'd like to, but I
mean... And who could do it? With her?" 

        "Do what with who?"  Shinji asked.  He'd just hurled
his javelin. To his surprise, while most of the others had
hurled their javelin further, he had a lot more accuracy
than the others.  Too bad accuracy didn't count for much in
the sport.  Strength, on the other hand, was something he
lacked.  But he had known that before he picked it up. 

        "So, are you sleeping with Rei?"  Kensuke asked
bluntly. 

        Shinji got big eyes.  "Who told you something crazy
like that?" 

       "Just checking.  Little Miss Spooky seems to
intervene every time you're in any kind of danger or
threat." 

        Shinji had a very brief flashback to being saved by
Rei from the first Angel, then her saving him from Touji,
then her intervening to drive off the reporter. "We're
partners.  She...I'd do the same for her."  Okay, I'd
probably run away and hide, actually, he thought.  But I
suppose I should. 

        "She likes you, man," Touji said.  "I can tell, you
know.  I can just look at people and I know who likes who. 
And if there's ANYONE in the universe she does more than
tolerate, you're the one." 

        "She likes my father," Shinji grumbled.

        Touji spun on one foot to face him.  "What?!  Her
and your father are-"

        Shinji waved his hands back and forth in gestures of
negativity. "No!  I mean she likes him.  Like a father.  Not
a..."  He blushed.  Please don't let this rumor get around.

        "She's watching us," Kensuke said.  The other two
looked, and they could see Rei coming around the bend,
looking at them.  While they couldn't be sure who she was
looking at, Kensuke and Touji both were sure they knew. 

        Then the coach grabbed Kensuke and told him to go
again, and soon all three were distracted off the topic
entirely. 

                            -*-
            
        Makoto finally came up for air some time in the
afternoon.  He was so exhausted, he could hardly believe
it.  Akane looked like she was ready for another round, but
he was almost too tired to breathe.  "Wow," he finally
managed to say. 

        She laughed.  "It's been a while for me.  So you
work for NERV, right?" 

        He nodded.  "Monitor room stuff.  I can't really
talk about it.  It's so classified, I sometimes wonder if
I'm allowed to even THINK about it, off base."  He sank back
onto the pillow and mattress as she crawled on top of him,
resting her head on his shoulder and upper chest.

        "But you've met the pilots?" she asked.  "I'm going
to have to be jealous, if you have." 

        "Oh yeah.  Rei's been at NERV longer than I have,
longer than most of us.  Commander Ikari practically raised
her, I understand.  And his son, Shinji, just arrived
recently.  He's a nice boy; I haven't seen much of him.  He
lives with Commander Misato." 

        Akane sighed.  "It must be awful having this new guy
come in and make a move on the woman you love." 

        Makoto laughed.  "He's only fourteen.  She treats
him like her son.  In fact, she acts more like his mother
than his father acts like a father to him as far as I can
tell.  If they ever became lovers..."  The laughter came
louder.  "If anyone gets to her first, it won't be Shinji."

        "So there's just two pilots?  To fight all those
Angels?" 

        "There's another one, but she's not here yet.  She
won't be here for days.  I think.  So what do you do for a
living?" 

        "I'm a novelist," she said.  "I write romance
novels."  She ran a finger up and down his chest.  "Right
now, I'm doing a little research."  Giggling, she kissed his
cheek.  "I bet I could write a very good book about you. 
You'll get a happy ending, of course." 

        He sighed.  "I wish I could be sure of a happy
ending." 

        "You'll do fine," she said.  "So what are the two
EVA pilots like?" 

        "Well, if you put them in your novel, you ought to
name them Creepy and Mouse..."  He launched into a long
anecdote about the day he first met Rei which made her
laugh, and then several more stories.  She simply listened
quietly, asking a question every once in a while when he
slowed down.  And thus they passed the afternoon. 

                            -*-

        "Shinji-kun!"  Misato said.  "I have a very
important mission for you!" 

        Shinji looked up from his homework.  "Huh?  Did we
just get a report?  Is another Angel attacking?" 

        "No.  I'm out of underwear, so it's time for you to
do the laundry."  She pointed at the overflowing laundry
hamper, then at the 'job list,' which showed whose turn it
was to do what chore. 

        "But I've got all this homework." 

        "I'll do it for you.  I'd rather do that than
laundry." 

        Eventually, she hustled him out, and he headed down
to the laundromat.  He arrived just as the sun set.  A half
dozen people were there, but he didn't have to wait for a
machine.  He'd taken some paper with him; he didn't trust
Misato to write poetry for him, but he thought she could
handle his math homework. Once he got the laundry loaded, he
went to work. 

        As he tried to think of a way to use the word
'angst,' Rei walked in.  She glanced over at him, and he
smiled feebly and waved.  She stared at him, then moved on,
taking her laundry and swiftly loading it into available
machines.  Picking up her school bag, she came over and sat
down by him, looking at his efforts.  "Haiku?" 

        "Yeah." 

        "I lack skill at poetry."  She looked at him calmly,
and he stared back, not sure what to say. 

        "You want help?" 

        "Yes." 

        "Um, sure, I can try.  Show me what you've done." 

        Rei's haiku was,

              'Five syllable line. 
   This line is seven syllables. 
               Five green blades of grass.'

        Shinji stared at it, blinking.  "Umm...well, you've
got the format right.  And it refers to nature, but..." 

        Unseen by them, two separate pairs of eyes were
watching them.  One pair's owner simply clicked a button on
her camera, which she had removed the flash from.  The other
chittered and scampered away. 

                            -*-

        Makoto was surprised to find he had drifted off to
sleep again.  He was more surprised to wake up back in his
own apartment as if the entire tryst had never happened.  In
fact, he wasn't sure that it had.  Normally, he would never
have gone to bed with someone the first night he met them,
although it was for the reason that no one ever decided to
sleep with him the first night. Especially not when he
already had a crush on someone else. 

        He scrambled out of bed and got on the phone.  Time
to make sure I still have a job.  One way or another, I
definitely missed work today, he thought. 

                            -*-

        Under a starry sky, whistles blew and words were
chanted by the old house in the woods near Tokyo-3.  It was
a call, a summons which was ancient when men still thought
that banging rocks together to make flint blades was the
greatest invention of all.  The whistling had been a bit
trickier then, though.

        The stars shone down serenely, slowly moving in
their courses across the heavens, unshrouded by a single
cloud.  Aldebaraan hung low in the sky, and Fomalhaut could
be seen far off.  The forest was silent, a thing of beauty. 
 Well, if the five humans making all the noise had shut up,
it would have been silent.  As it was, three of them were
trying to chant in unison and failing, another one kept
blowing a silver whistle as if his life depended on it, and
the fifth one was trying to surreptitiously do her nails
while holding a book for the first three. This wasn't
working so well. 

        Still, the summons was more a formality than a
necessity, and those summoned heard the mangled call. 
Indeed, they had heard it before it began;  they had to, for
while they were fast, they had a far, far journey to arrive
in time to aid those who served the same master as they. 

        Slowly, wingbeats broke the not-silence as they
came, descending from the sky into the clearing, the frost
of space still shrouding their limbs, slowly shaking off the
cold that will kill any human.  But they had never been such
a frail thing as a man. 

                            -*-

        "Oh, I did call in sick?"  Makoto said into the
phone. 

        "You must be pretty sick if you don't remember
calling in," was the reply from the night shift secretary. 
"But Dr. Akagi logged you as sick.  It says you called in
around 9 A.M." 

        He shook his head in disbelief.  What a crazy day,
he thought. 

                            -*-

        Misato frowned.  Maybe I should have done the
laundry, she thought. Math had never been her strong point
and neither was poetry, although she was pretty sure she
already had a haiku she'd written in high school about beer
that she could have scribbled down.  If she had been aware
that Shinji was doing the poetry himself, she would have
been somewhat relieved, but still not capable of doing the
math very well, either. 

        She scratched out more frantic scribblings and
started over on problem eight.  Why are they giving him math
homework, she thought.  Math is for science people; it only
gets in the...aha!  she thought.  I bet I can trick Ritsuko
into giving me the answer to this. 

        As she got up, heading for the phone, she noticed a
humanoid shadow outside her balcony window.  Given she
didn't live on the ground floor, she concluded this was
likely bad news, and sprinted for her bedroom.  The sound of
breaking glass convinced her that she had chosen wisely.  A
few seconds later, the phone began to ring.  She ignored it,
getting her handgun and taking cover behind her dresser. 

        They started trashing her apartment, and with
every breaking noise, a little cash register in her mind
began to tote up the cost of fixing everything.  Shattered
glass.  5,000 yen a pane.  Broken TV.  50,000 yen.  She
heard the refrigerator door open and the sound of beer being
scattered across the room.  Hundreds of yen there.  There
was a loud squawk of terror.  Pen-pen! she thought.  And
through it all, the phone kept ringing. 

        Footsteps in the hallway, getting closer.  More
squawking.  More wasted beer.  She tensed and readied her
gun.  They would be framed in the doorway. She could see the
shadow first...it had wings? 

        Then it stepped into the doorway.  It was naked and
bipedal, with a black chitinous hide run through with
streaks of grey and blue.  On a few places, ice clung to its
wings and its limbs, and there was a faint sheen of moisture
all over it.  It had two arms, with ended in thick three
pronged claws, and two legs which it stood upon shakily, its
legs bent unnaturally.  Its black leather wings were folded
in somewhat, compacted to allow it passage down the narrow
hallway. 

        Misato stared at it in shock; what the hell WAS
it?  She couldn't move, transfixed by a primal fear like
that which traps deer when they gave into headlights.  The
room's cheery lamp left yellow highlights on its black hide
and glittered off its disturbingly human eyes, one on each
side of its head, which somewhat resembled a buzzard without
any feathers.  Two antennae arched backwards from points
just above its eyes, twitching about independently as it
moved. 

        It looked into the room and sniffed.  She tried to
shoot, but her fingers wouldn't move.  Her brain felt
stuffed with cotton.  It shook its head and stepped back
out, heading down the hallway, where it promptly began to
ravage either Shinji's room or the bathroom.  Probably
Shinji's room, she was sure. 


        Pen-pen squawked again, and her volition returned. 
She crept over to the doorway and peeked out into the
hallway.  The smashing sounds in the living room had
stopped, but there was still some scuttling noises and
periodic squawks from Pen-pen.  There's at least two of
these...things, she thought.  If the next Angel is a giant
version of one of these things...she shuddered.  Well, if I
don't panic THIS time, I should be able to take it down, she
thought.  But if there's two... 

        At least Shinji isn't here.  She had to get out and
alert headquarters.  And find Shinji.  Even if it means the
house is trashed...how am I going to pay for this? she asked
herself. 

        While she thought to herself, the creature walked
right past her, ignoring her completely.  She blinked in
surprise.  It had to have seen the gun, unless it had no
peripheral vision at all.  Given the way its eyes were set
into the sides of its head, it probably had much better
peripheral vision than straight forward. Maybe it couldn't
recognize a gun. 

        As it stepped into the living room, Pen-pen stopped
squawking. She ran down the hallway, raising her gun to
fire.  Might as well take them down before they can get away
if they're too dumb to recognize a gun, she thought. Then
she saw there were four of them in the living room.  She
froze, and they all turned and stared intently at her.  For
an endless moment, they all stared at each other across the
room.  Then they turned and departed, finishing off her
window. 

        The living room was a disaster.  Pen-pen was
unconscious, maybe dead, but seemingly unwounded on the
tipped over couch.  Shinji's homework was gone.  In fact,
she now realized one of the creatures had stolen it. 

        I bet his teacher will never believe this, she
thought. 

        The phone was STILL ringing.  She ran over and
picked it up. "Hello?" 

        It was Ritsuko.  "Are you alright?  We picked up
unexpected blips on the radar headed for your apartment, as
well as Rei's, the hospital and a few other locations.  And
now...moving away from your apartment and hers." 

        "We're under attack.  Scramble everyone."  She
sighed.  "You're not going to believe this." 

        "I can believe quite a bit when there's evidence,
Misato." 

        "Well, to start with, they stole Shinji's homework. 
Secondly, they weren't human.  Thirdly, they looked sort of
like...big humanoid insects with beaks and...Anyway, we need
to scramble ground forces.  Get the EVAs ready, but we're
probably going to need flying units and ground forces; these
things can go places EVAs can't.  And let's see..." 
Planning the counterstrike was quite soothing.  Misato
needed soothing. 
        
                            -*-

        Shinji had concluded he would never become a poetry
teacher.  "It has a nature reference because it does. 
That's just what you put in a haiku.  It's like asking why
you don't use broccoli in sushi instead of raw fish." 

        Rei shook her head.  "I would." 

        "What?" 

        "I'm a vegetarian." 

        Shinji resisted the urge to strangle her.  It wasn't
a very strong urge, anyway.  "But do you understand what I'm
saying." 

        "Yes.  Some things are not to be questioned."  She
tapped her pencil against one leg in a five/seven/five beat. 
"Show me yours." 

        "Right."  He dug around and pulled it out.  "Here it
is."  It said,


             'I stare at the sky,
             empty just like my life is,
             and wait for the rain.'

        She stared at it.  "What will you do when it
rains?" 

        He blinked.  "When it...oh.  I don't know.  I'm not
sure I even want rain. I've just...I don't know why I'm
alive.  Sometimes." 

        "We live to pilot EVA.  That is why we were made,"
Rei said. 

        Before he could reply, his washer sounded off.  It
was time for him to go move his laundry to the dryer.  Rei
silently got up and helped him.  As they were finishing off,
something caught his eye through the huge glass windows on
the front of the laundromat.  Something winged and inhuman. 
Two of them.  Watching him and Rei.  Coming towards the
glass.  Instinctively, he grabbed Rei and pulled her back
between two of the huge dryer banks. 

        Seconds later, the glass shattered inward;
apparently they didn't have much use for doors.  The few
people still in the area howled in fear or froze in terror.
One of the two creatures grabbed one of them with a clawed
hand, pulling it close, while the other sniffed the air,
then began to lope over towards the row of dryers as the
first one enjoyed its snack. 

        The screams of the dying and the sickly sound of
flesh being ripped and bones torn asunder snapped the
remaining people into action, namely running away. Shinji
was terrified, but Rei remained calm. "We must escape," she
said.

        "Shhh!" he said, hoping to not draw its
attention.  The creature headed over to the dryer which now
held Shinji's clothing and opened the door, sticking its
head in.  He blinked in surprise, then got an idea. 
Grabbing a hold of the top of the row of dryers, he gestured
to Rei to grab the bottom.  She did, but gave him a
quizzical look.  Then he shoved with all his might.  Not
much happened until Rei straightened most of the way up and
shoved also from above instead of below. The whole row of
dryers, a huge contraption of ten linked machines, stacked
in two rows of five, toppled over onto the creature, which
gave out a great howl. 

        The first one looked up from its snack, while the
other one twitched feebly under the weight of hundreds of
pounds of metal.  Tossing the now headless corpse aside, it
cocked its head and stared at Shinji and Rei with one beady
brown eye. 

        Its gaze was hypnotic, or perhaps Shinji's earlier
fears simply rushed back in upon him.  He stood, and stared,
and slowly, the universe began to fade to black, shrinking
in on him and dissolving into darkness.  He felt his legs
turn to water, but he never felt himself hit the floor.

                            -*-
       
        Megumi Kunzama shook her head.  She could only
take so many shots of the pilots working on homework. 
Still, that would be something none of the other reporters
would have.  And the pilot romance angle...that would bring
in the readers.  She was starting to think it was true. 
'Help me with my homework' was a classic ploy of young teens
in love.  If even half the information NERV HAD been willing
to give out on the pilots was true, there was no way that
girl could really need help with her homework. 

        So, she had departed the vicinity of the laundromat
to go get dinner when she saw two...shapes...flying towards
the laundromat.  They were faster than her, so they got
there before she did.  In fact, she never did get there. 

        The reason for this was a blur that came streaking
down the street past her. She snapped a photo instinctively,
which she had to develop later, in her hotel room.  It
showed her something she wouldn't have expected to see.  The
girl pilot, Rei, running full tilt down the street carrying
the boy pilot, Shinji, her eyes almost glowing red, though
it was probably just the flash, she was sure. Thinking back,
Megumi was sure the girl was running...very, very fast. 

        The black streak that shot past in the air a few
seconds later...she took a photo, but when she developed it,
there was nothing there.  She never did quite figure out for
sure what it was.  But she was glad it had no interest in
her. 

                            -*-

        Touji was visiting his sister when the alarms began
to go off. "So I was talking to Kensuke and..."  He looked
around.  "I hope that isn't a fire.  I'll stay here until
they throw me out of here."  He tried to remember what he
had been about to say.  "Oh, right.  So we were talking
about whether this Shinji guy...you remember him, right?" He
paused, even though he knew she couldn't really answer.  It
was simply habit.  "Anyway, he really helped me out.  I
guess he's not such a bad guy after all.  So, we wanted to
know if..."

        Gunfire shocked him out of his monologue.  He ran to
the door and looked up and down the hallway, then nearly
died as bullets whizzed past him.  He got a quick glimpse of
a black chitinous creature, or maybe two, at one of the
hallway and four well armed NERV security guards at the
other end.  Pulling his head back in, he ran to his sister,
picking her up, and hid under her bed until the shooting
stopped.

                            -*-

        "You look a lot better than you sounded this
morning," Ritsuko said to Makoto as he settled into his
chair. 

        "I feel fine now.  Must have been a really messed up
hangover," he said. "What are we fighting?" 

        "They stand to the Angels as a rat stands to us,"
Ritsuko said.  "Dangerous to an unarmed human, and
terrifying, but capable of being slain with normal
armaments.  We probably don't need to scramble the EVAs to
deal with them, but..." 

        "But I'd rather be ready, in case this is like the
spiders," Misato said.  "Also, we're hoping to find where
they came from and launch a strike, once the spy satellite
monitors give us a proper report." 

        "And it will be good practice against live, but
not very threatening to an EVA targets," Ritsuko said. 
"Also, an EVA might be able to take one alive." 

        "Just don't stare them in the eye," Misato
muttered to herself, feeling embarrassed.  I should have
done more when they were in my apartment.  She fingered her
medallion without being aware of what she was doing.  It was
simply a soothing activity.  "I'm going to be cleaning up my
apartment forever,"  she said.  "And how I'm going to
replace everything they broke...I don't know." 

        "They broke into your apartment?"  Makoto asked,
horrified. 

        "And they stole Shinji's homework." 

        "No doubt the whole attack was just a diversion to
steal Shinji's homework," Ritsuko said sarcastically.
"Perhaps that's what the Angels are after as well."

        "They did!" 

        Everyone looked at her dubiously, so she simply
ignored them and turned to the screen so she could pout
without them making too much fun of her. 

                            -*-

        Shinji woke up dressed in his plug suit, inside his
plug, already inserted into Unit01.  "Hey, what's going on?" 

        A tiny viewscreen window opened.  It was Misato. 
"We're under attack, Shinji.  It's time to get even with the
bastards who trashed my house." 

        He remembered now.  The creatures.  He'd squashed
one at the laundromat and then...darkness.  "They attacked
our apartment?" 

        "And stole your homework."  He could hear laughter
faintly behind her, and she flushed.  "They did!" 

        He looked at her, clearly confused.  Shinji knew
Misato didn't like math, was lazy to begin with, and liked
to joke around, so he had to wonder if this was her way of
squirming out of it.  Then again, stranger things have
happened...

        "They really took my homework?"

        Misato flushed.  "They did!"  Louder laughter now. 
"Dammit. Anyway, you and Rei get to squash them all. 
There's three major bands, so we get to practice search and
destroy.  Then we'll likely send you to their base, which we
think we've located." 

        "We'll need a longer extension cord," Shinji mumbled
to himself.

        "What's that?"

        "Nothing.  Nevermind."

        "Ready, Rei?"  Misato asked. 

        A tiny viewscreen of Rei appeared.  "Yes." 

        "Let's go, then.  Launch the EVAs." 

                            -*-
       
        Gendo looked at a topographic map and compared it to
the viewscreen in his office.  His second in command stood
nearby, looking over his shoulder.  "Satellite reports
indicate here."  A finger stabbed down. 

        Gendo looked over at him contemplatively.  "A bit
more creative an assault than I expected, I have to admit. 
A reminder not to underestimate ants; a swarm of weaklings
can win through numbers where a lone champion loses through
strength." 

        "So what are we going to do?" 

        "Alert the armed forces.  A good bombing never
hurts." 

                            -*-

        Shinji ran amuck.  The only hard part about killing
the creatures with an EVA was hitting them; it was like
swatting flies.  If you hit, they died, but they were pretty
small and agile in comparison to an EVA.  Rei's EVA was
splattered with purple-black goo from dead winged beasts,
but the stuff just ran off his EVA onto the ground.  One had
tried to attack Unit00's left eye, but Rei had trapped it
with the mandibles that her EVA now possessed, then ripped
off its head. It still hung at mouth level, apparently
forgotten. 

        "Try to take one alive," Misato repeated for the
eighth or so time. 

        This was easier said than done.  It reminded Shinji
of the goldfish game often found at festivals, where you
tried to flip a goldfish out of the tank and into a smaller
bowl or bag or some such thing, using a fragile net.  He
always ended up breaking the net or killing the goldfish. 
His 'net' wouldn't break, but he was leaving a trail of
'goldfish' in his wake.  He had trouble making subtle
motions with his EVA.  A strike, a crushing blow, smashing
things...that was easy. He was fairly certain he couldn't
use EVA to write a kanji yet, or grab something with less
than heavy force yet. 

        "They die easily," Rei said.  "We need a net." 

        "Ahh, perhaps you can use an AT-field to confine
one," Ritsuko said.  "Cup your hands around one and
concentrate on generating the field.  That should do it." 

        "Right," Shinji said, as the last squad of whatever
they were closed in down the long street that Unit00 and 01
stood on.  "What are these things?" 

        "For lack of a better name, we're designating them
as 'Cherubim,'"  Ritsuko said.  "They are like Angels, but
much lesser.  Essentially, we can think of a sixth kingdom
of life forms, distinct from the ones we are familiar with.
Both they and the Angels belong to that kingdom of life,
which is quite distinct from ours, but Angels are much
greater, in the same way that a human and a termite are part
of the same Kingdom, but one is more important than the
other."

        It wasn't a perfect explanation, but it was good
enough for Shinji.  And the name was comforting, even if the
things looked little like the image he had of Cherubs.  To
name a menace was to lessen it, to make it knowable.  It
helped. 

        Catching one the way Ritsuko advised was still not
easy.  The Cherubim buzzed around like a swarm of bees,
evading Unit01's flailing arms and Unit00's more careful
movements.  At one point, he accidentally slapped Unit00
upside the head, knocking it down and crushing a Cherub
against the side of its head. 

        Fortunately, Rei did not retaliate.  Instead, she
began to herd one of them towards Unit01 with a series of
one handed blows deliberately aimed to force it to dodge
towards Shinji.  Unit01's hands then came together, forming
a bowl, and as he focused, his hands glowed.  "I think I've
got it!"  He felt excited.  It had worked! 

        "Good job, Shinji.  Bring it back to base.  You can
finish the last few off, right, Rei?" 

        "Yes." 

        Shinji looked up, hearing multiple engine noises
closing in somewhere above him.  The jets zoomed past,
heading to the northeast.  "What was that?"

        "Nothing you need to worry about right now," Misato
said. 

                            -*-

        "Target acquired," Captain Hikaru Hibino reported. 
"Fire." 

        Missiles, followed by bombs, streaked from the sky
into the small house in the woods.  In seconds, it was
reduced to a flaming pile of charred boards, shattered
bricks, and ash.

        Captain Hibino enjoyed destroying things, although
she rarely got to do so. The best part of it was blowing up
all the cars, though, especially the Porsche, which reminded
her too much of the car an ex-boyfriend of hers had driven. 
Seeing it burn made her grin.  The death of the Corolla
wasn't as much fun, and the trashed SUV wasn't too much of a
thrill, but she kept turning over the image of the burning
Porsche in her mind.  And life was good.

                            -*-

        "Are you okay, Touji?" the class president asked. 
She was a brunette, and somewhat cute, but often rather
brusque.  Not this time. 

        Touji had a bandage on part of his head.  "I got
grazed by a bullet during the attack on the hospital," he
said.  "I stuck my head out into a fire fight." 

        "So one of those monsters attacked you?"  Kensuke
asked.  Everyone was out in the yard of the school eating
lunch. 

        "A couple of them broke into the hospital," Touji
said.  "Some attacked Rei and Shinji at the laundromat,
too." 

        The small crowd of students turned and stared at
Shinji, who blinked.  "Uh, yeah." 

        Kensuke got an evil smile.  "So you and your
girlfriend make out at the laundromat?" 

        "We were NOT making out!"  Shinji shouted, drawing
more stares.

        Megumi walked across the yard towards them, keeping
an eye on Rei, who was eating by herself.  What a shy girl,
she thought.  But how did you...There was something unusual
about her, Megumi was sure.  No normal person could run so
fast. 

        "Yeah, yeah, that's what they all say.  You should
be sitting with your woman, Ikari," one boy said.  "Or does
she scare you too?"
         
        "You shouldn't be scared of her!"  Shinji
protested.  "She fights to protect all of you too!"  He felt
something, like a warmth at the back of his head.

        Rei was looking at him now, he knew. 

        Megumi stepped forward.  "Got a minute, Ikari-kun?" 

        "I...uh...They told me to not talk to reporters,"
Shinji said nervously.  He could feel Rei was coming. 

        "So are you and Ayanami-san really dating?"  The
notepad was out;  the woman was in full reporter mode. 

        "No!  We're not dating!  I just helped her with her
homework!" 

        Rei had arrived very swiftly.  "Go," she said to
Megumi. 

        "I can tell you about my adventure in the hospital!" 
Touji said as Megumi and Rei stared each other down. 

        "I'll talk to you later," Megumi said, finally,
turning and walking away swiftly. 

        Rei turned to go, but Shinji took her arm.  "Why
don't you eat with us, Rei?" he asked quietly. 

        She stared at him, looking for something on his
face, something that he couldn't tell what it was.  Then she
softened, ever so slightly. "Okay."  She went to go get her
food. 

        Kensuke whispered, "Shinji's got a girlfriend." 

        Shinji blushed. 

                            -*-

        "Read yours now, Ayanami-san," the teacher said,
straightening his glasses. It was language and literature
class, and they were reading their haikus to everyone. 

        She stood, as had the others before her, and read in
a monotone. 

           " I pilot an EVA. 
           Under heaven's gaze, I fight. 
            That is why I live." 
  
        She stood and waited for judgement. 

        He nodded.  "Good use of the form, Ayanami-san. 
Usually, one writes about something one is observing,
although that observation may bring one to greater
understanding of one's own situation, but you did what I
told you to."  Rei smiled a tiny smile.  "You may sit down,
Ayanami-san." 

        "Touji-san, you are next." 

        Touji stood nervously, accidentally crumpling his
piece of paper. He carefully flattened it out, then read it. 

           "The class president
           Really needs some larger breasts. 
           But still, she is cute." 

        He stared at the paper.  "Hey, I did NOT write this! 
KENSUKE!" 

        Kensuke began to snicker, at least until the class
president began to beat him to death. 

                            -*-

        Ritsuko watched the creature hurl itself at the
glass again.  She sighed.  "It's going to kill itself at
this rate."  The Cherub didn't look very healthy, although
it hadn't looked very natural when it was brought in,
either. It was starting to fade, to turn the same sickly
grey the first Angel had turned just before it died, the
same color as the flakes that were all that remained of it.

        "Maybe it's too hot.  I mean, it lives in deep
space, right?"  Maya asked, standing by her.  "And maybe it
can't take long term exposure to oxygen? Or maybe it's
photosynthetic." 

        Ritsuko blinked.  "Hmm.  You may be right.  I wish
we had more in order to test...it might die before we find
the right thing." 

        "Or perhaps it just can't stand captivity," Maya
said.  "Some creatures wither away in captivity and die.  Or
maybe it's moulting or..." 

        "I do remember my biology classes," Ritsuko said,
just a little sharply. 

        Maya blushed.  "I'm sorry.  I didn't mean
to...Computers are my specialty.  I wish I knew as many
different kinds of things as you, though, Akagi-san." 

        Ritsuko nodded, and smiled again.  "I know you just
wanted to help."  She turned to go.  "Well, staring at it
won't help.  I need to go check the chemical tests." 

        Maya nodded.  "And I need to go over the reports
from the big fight."  She took a final look at the creature. 
"I wonder what I would do if I was trapped in a cage like
that." 

        "When you are doomed, it's best to go down
screaming into the dark, taking your enemies with you and
fighting to the death," Ritsuko said.  "I think it's trying
to escape.  I respect it for that." 

        "I think it wants to die," Maya said.  "Poor
thing." 

        "Then it is a coward that deserves the death it
desires," Ritsuko said from the door.  "I have never
surrendered to anything, even when it was inevitable. And I
won't.  I won't give up.  There's always a cure.  Always." 
She walked out swiftly, slamming the door. 

        Maya frowned.  A cure?  A cure to what?  She's not
sick, is she? Maya didn't want to think about that
possibility. 

                            -*-

        Makoto saw a shadow lurking over him as he sat in
his cramped, rarely used cubicle.  You'd think a secret
agency capable of building an entire city that sinks into
the ground could build adequate office space in the process,
he thought. "Hello?"

        Misato dropped a letter in his lap.  It was a pink
envelope with little red hearts all over it.  "Somebody
likes Makoto," she said in a sing-song voice.  "So where
have you been hiding her?" 

        Makoto blushed.  "I...I don't know what you're
talking about."  He fumbled with the letter. 

        "C'mon, open it.  I bet she scented the letter with
perfume. Hmmm...She knew to send it here."  Misato grabbed
it back and held it to her forehead.  "Could it be...Maya?" 

        He snatched it back.  "Maya has someone else on her
mind, I'm sure." 

        "If you don't open it, I will!"  Misato said,
lunging forward to grab it.  They wrestled around in
Makoto's chair, the letter changing hands a dozen times. 

        Finally, the chair toppled over, crashing to the
ground, and knocking the cubicle wall over on one side.

        "Hmm.  I see you're busy," Ritsuko said.  "When you
two are done, I need to see Misato."  She turned and walked
away. 

        Misato leaped off Makoto and ran after her.  "I was
just trying to find out who his girlfriend is!" 

        As they passed out of sight into the nearby
elevator, he heard Ritsuko say, "I suppose he had it written
on the inside of his underwear or something?"  The elevator
door closed before Misato could reply.

        Makoto looked around.  Everyone else was gone.  He
set his chair back up and nervously opened the letter. 
There was no return address.  It held a simple note, scented
of lilacs.  "Had a wonderful time.  I'll send you the first
few chapters of 'Forbidden Love in NERV' when I finish them.
I've got to go plan getting even with a few people who've
caused me some trouble lately right now, but I'll come see
you again when I can.  Good luck with Misato.  Hugs and
Kisses, Akane Toshiba."

        He slumped down into his chair.  It had been real,
he thought.  But how did she...why did she...his head spun
for quite a while.
 
                            -*-

        Megumi slumped down onto her hotel bed, tired.  I
wonder what my editor will think of all this, she thought.
If he won't publish it, it'll come for naught anyway, but... 

        She picked up the sheaf of pictures; she had
developed them herself, to avoid them 'vanishing' at the
photomat.  One by one, she went through them, then paused. 
One of them was missing.  The photo of Rei carrying Shinji
at high speed.  It had been replaced by a picture of Rei
running track.  No note, no threat, but someone...someone
had to have done this.  Right?  I couldn't have dreamed
that, she thought.  Surely not. 

                            -*-

        "Elegant," Gendo said, as he sat at his desk.  "But
she will likely be trouble."

        Fuyutsuki shook his head.  "Not guided properly. 
If we lead her, poke her, prod her, give her bits of
harmless information, such as pictures of the pilot in
school...she will get a reputation for knowing the inside
scoop without really knowing anything.  Indeed, we'll be
able to leak things to her and get them spread around
without anyone finger us.  After all, surely what we want
people to believe is all in our press releases, right?"  He
sat down. 

        Gendo blinked, then smiled.  "Alright, I'll allow
this.  It does have potential."  He picked up the photo on
his desk.  "Those fools don't really understand what Rei
is," he said.

        "And we do?"  the older man said gently.  "Just
because our methods were less crude than the Massachusetts
experiments doesn't mean we fully know what we've
unleashed." 

        "She will do what we want.  When the time comes, she
will be the key to the door we must unlock.  That is how and
why she was made.  And if she proves unsuitable,
replacements will be ready."

        "If we ever get them to stay mentally stable," 
Fuyutsuki replied. "DAGON has caused quite a few
casualties, more than any of our other projects." He paused.
"Almost more."

        "The Fount is not unguarded now," Gendo said.  "No
fools will stumble into it."  He rose.  "I must go and
confer with my 'superiors' now." 

        "Will the Second Child arrive before the next
attack?"

        "Our scouts indicate he has not yet awakened, though
he stirs. And when he does...it will be a long swim from
where he slumbers.  Although I would not wish to be living
in Toronto this year," Gendo said, walking towards the door. 
"This would be much easier if we could simply order him
transferred to a secure facility, but..."

        "Even we have our limits.  Everything has limits," 
Fuyutsuki said.  "And we must remember them or be broken by
them."
         
        "Mankind exists to transcend its limits," Gendo
said.  "I will not be bound by limits."  He closed the door
behind him.

        Fuyutsuki shook his head.  "It is the job of the
young to hurl themselves at the limits which their elders
know cannot be breached.  But as to which of us is
right...history will tell."  He started for the door, then
muttered to himself.  "If history itself is not about to be
at an end." 

                            -*-

                      - end part 3 -

                            -*-