-*-

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


                 Children of an Elder God

                          Part 4

                      "Asuka Strikes"

                            -*-


                            -*-

        Wheels groaned and wood creaked as a dozen workers
heaved and pushed to move a massive display from the museum
and into a fairly large wooden crate.  Their work echoed
through the mostly empty museum, combining with the many
dark shadows to give them all a case of high nerves. 

        "You mean someone actually bought this thing?" one
of them asked, thumbing at the hideous wax figure in the
crate. 

        "Paid a hundred million freakin' dollars for the
ugly son of a bitch," said another.  "Can ya believe it?" 

        "They can sell it for a warm coke and a bag-o-chips
for all I care, as long as they get rid of it," added
another.  "Damn thing's always given me the creeps." 

        The work crew took a brief lunch break, then took
hammers to the crate as they nailed it shut.  With every
hammer strike, the workers winced, as if fearing they'd wake
the monstrosity up. 

        At last, after several nerve-wracking minutes of
hammering, the job was done.  The men all walked away
eagerly, glad to be away from that... thing.  Even if it was
only a wax figure, it was disturbing beyond words. 

        As the doors of the massive museum creaked shut,
they weren't sure, but they thought they heard a groan. 

                            -*-

       Gendo sat at his desk, carefully examining a map of
the Pacific Basin on the monitor of his MAGI terminal.  The
map showed few physical features except land and water,
although it did have a weather overlay, and several cities
were marked.  A dozen locations in the northern Pacific were
circled despite the fact that none of the locations had a
single inch of land as far as could be seen at this scale.
Four blizzards in eastern Siberia, Alaska, and northern
Canada were also circled.  A swarm of dots very close
together was making its way north along the coast of Mexico,
and a blinking dot was flashing somewhere near the
US-Canadian border in the vicinity of Montana. 

         Fuyutsuki walked in.  "I still think this is a
mistake."

         Gendo didn't have to ask what; they'd gone round
this mulberry bush several times in the last day.  "It is
done.  There is simply no point in waiting for him to wake
up when we can bring him here, instead of having to haul our
EVAs all the way to Canada and then pray he decides to
settle down near a handy power supply.  And for once, Keele
agreed with me completely.  And they arranged for additional
funding so we won't be having any shortages." 

         Fuyutsuki sat down at the chair in front of Gendo's
desk.  "We're still cleaning up the mess from the first one. 
We're going to have to send them to Canada soon, anyway.  I
received an intelligence report from V-5.  Three travelers
who went missing in Alaska a week ago were found frozen in a
snowbank in northern Quebec yesterday.  Which means that..." 

        Gendo shook his head.  "Until we're sure that the
mobile power supplies can function under Arctic conditions,
we can't deal with him.  The American base should finish the
tests in a few days.  Unlike our soon to be guest, he will
likely give them a real fight.  Also, I want a chance to see
how well the Second Child performs before sending all three
of them on that mission." 

        "And how do you propose to do that?  We haven't
located any of the others, and if we wait too long to deal
with the Wind-Walker, some of the others will likely rouse
themselves as well."

        "I doubt this one will sleep through us killing him,
after we finish studying him.  And if he does, we can stage
a wargame, I suppose.  They will need to increase their
fighting skills, regardless."  Gendo shrugged.  "Now come
take a look at this and tell me if any of these locations
have a significance I've missed."

                            -*-

        "Hey Kaji, what'cha looking at?" 

        Asuka popped up behind Kaji suddenly, wrapping her
arms around his neck in a rather amorous (though Kaji would
say 'octopus-like') way.  She peered at the photograph and
was shocked to see Kaji, a younger Kaji, grinning and with
his arms around two other girls.

        "Who are _those_ two?" she asked. 

        Kaji grinned.  "Jealous?" 

        Asuka pouted, a cute sort of puppy-dog-eyes sort of
pout, and leaned her head on his shoulder.  "Of course!  I'm
jealous of any woman that gets close to my Kaji!" 

        Kaji laughed and ruffled her hair.  "I forget who I
talk to, my lady.  These two ladies are old friends of mine. 
The drunk one's Misato.  The sober one is Ritsuko." 

        Misato... the name rang a bell somewhere in Asuka's
memory, but her current snuggling with Kaji put all other
thoughts on the back burner.

        "And while they both desperately longed for you, you
kept yourself chaste and told those two women you were
awaiting the day you met your true love?" asked Asuka. 

        Kaji laughed.  "Actually, I dated the drunk one." 

        Had he been able to see it, Kaji would've seen
Asuka's face slip into a worried and anxious frown.  "Y-you
did?" she asked. 

        "Well, yeah, we did for a while.  But, as with all
things in youth, it ended.  She and I had different career
ideas, I guess, so we went our different ways." 

        "Oh.  I see."  Asuka's hold of his neck loosened
slightly and she sighed.  "Do you... still... you know." 

        "Love her?" 

        Asuka cringed. 

        Kaji shrugged.  "It ended kinda badly, so I guess I
oughta hate her." 

        Asuka brightened immediately. 

        "But," continued Kaji, "I'd like to think that we're
still friends.  Sort of.  Kind of." 

        "She didn't appreciate you like I appreciate you," 
said Asuka, trying to sound seductive.  Coming from a
14-year-old, however, it didn't quite work its magic on
Kaji. 

        "You say the sweetest things, Asuka," Kaji said
casually. 

        Asuka blushed furiously and tightened her embrace
just a little bit. 

        "The other girl, Ritsuko, was our friend.  Well, she
was Misato's friend first, but we got along okay too.  Real
ambitious, but kind of shy too." 

        Asuka eyed the image of Ritsuko suspiciously.  "You
don't have a thing for Ritsuko, do you?" 

        Kaji sighed.  "No, Asuka, I do not have a 'thing'
for Ritsuko." 

        "Good," she purred, making herself comfortable on
Kaji's shoulder. 

        "And in case you're wondering why I'm looking at
this relic of my glory years... these two ladies will be
joining us in a few days." 

        "What?!" 

        "We're picking up some hazardous cargo for NERV. 
They'll be flying in to make sure everything goes well." 

        "You mean they're with NERV?!" 

        "Oh, I didn't mention that?" asked Kaji, sounding
suspiciously not like he was surprised.  "Ritsuko is the
head technician for NERV, and Misato will be your commanding
officer." 

        Asuka's eyes widened.  "Wait.  She's _that_ Misato? 
Captain Misato Katsuragi?"

        Kaji grinned a humorous little grin.  "Yep.  Small
world, isn't it?"

        "Yeah, small world," replied Asuka, though not at
all in an enthusiastic way. 

        This, thought Asuka, was not good. 

                            -*-

        The aroma of fresh food grilling filled the kitchen
of the Katsuragi apartment, a sure sign that Miss Katsuragi
herself was not cooking. 

        It was, in fact, Shinji's turn to cook, which meant
no undescribably bad flavors were to haunt him on this day. 

        He ate alone at the table, something that seemed to
be a regular thing now.  Misato always woke up late, and as
a result always had a mad-dash scramble to work.  Despite
the regularity of those events, he still couldn't help but
feel annoyed by it. 

        With the last of breakfast done, he took a seat at
the table, took a sip of water, unfolded the morning paper,
then nearly spat his drink out. 

        On the lower half of the front page was a picture of
him and Ayanami together.  The caption underneath the
picture read:


    YOUNG HEROES IN LOVE?  Ayanami Rei (left) and Ikari
    Shinji (right), the two pilots of the EVA robots,
    are rumored to be dating.  More in section A10. 

        "Ah-hah!  I knew you liked her!" 

        "Yaaah!" 

        Shinji nearly fell over, shocked by Misato's sudden
appearance.  As he wobbled in his chair, she easily grabbed
the paper from him and flipped over to page A10. 

        "My my, Shinji-kun, I didn't know but I guess I
should've expected," teased Misato. 

        "W-we're not like that!  R-really!" 

        "Riiiight, Shinji-kun."  Misato patted him rather
condescendingly on the head, then went into her blazing fast
breakfast routine. 

        Grab beer.  Guzzle beer.  Shovel rice.  Impale fish. 
Devour fish.  Skewer seaweed.  Shovel seaweed. 

        Get another beer.  Guzzle. 

        "Aaaaah." 

        Done. 

        "Great breakfast as usual, Shinji-kun.  Thanks." 
She hesitated at the door, then turned around.  "Oh, forgot
to mention.  I'm gonna be out of town for a couple of days. 
Can you take care of yourself?" 

        I always have before, thought Shinji bitterly. 
"Yeah, I'll be fine." 

        "Ah, good.  I'm gonna be escorting the Second Child
over from the Pacific." 

        "The Pacific?" asked Shinji, puzzled. 

        "Yeah, she and Eva Unit 02 are being brought over
via fleet.  We oughta be back in about a week, maybe less. 
If you need to reach me, my number's on my desk.  And if you
need anything, just ask Maya.  Okay?" 

        "Um, yeah." 

        "Be good now.  Seeya!"  Misato took Shinji by
surprise and gave him a quick, motherly kiss on the
forehead, and then she was gone.  Shinji blinked at the now
shut door, still not sure what to make of the situation. 

        The kiss was unexpectedly nice of Misato... but... 

        He was apparently home alone. 

        Was this a bad thing? 

        Well... no.  But it didn't seem incredibly good
either.  He realized he was actually missing her already... 
sort of. 

        Finally, he shrugged off the entire line of thought
and headed for school.  Shinji hoped no other great
surprises would be there waiting for him.

                            -*-

        "Shinji you SLY DOG!" roared Touji. 

        "I knew there was _something_ going on," added
Kensuke. 

        "Huh?  What are you talking about?" asked Shinji. 

        "THIS!" yelled Kensuke triumphantly, pulling out the
morning paper.  Shinji immediately went pale. 

        "I-it's not like that!" protested Shinji.  This
stirring appeal utterly failed to persuade his classmates
otherwise, and they continued cheerfully egging him on. 

        "So tell me, buddy," asked Touji.  "Exactly how far
didja... y'know... melt the ice queen, if ya know what I
mean?" 

        "Huh?  Wha-" 

        "First base?" asked Kensuke. 

        "N-no!" 

        "Second?" added Touji. 

        "But we-" 

        "Third?" asked Kensuke. 

        "Wait a-" 

        "HOME RUN?!" they both yelled cheerfully. 

        "NO WAY!" 

        "Stop it." 

        All three boys froze in place, nearly turning as
pale as the girl who spoke the words.  As if the voice
wasn't chilly enough, the stare she was giving them was
absolutely Arctic.  Had they looked up, they would have seen
a passing fly suddenly explode into black dust in mid-air. 

        "A-Ayanami!" stuttered Shinji.  "Um, hi!" 

        "W-we were just going," stuttered Kensuke. 

        "Yeah, um, seeya in class!" added Touji quickly,
then the pair beat a hasty retreat into the building. 

        Meanwhile, Rei saw the newspaper drifting to the
ground and picked it up. 

        "That's me," she said simply, looking at the front
page story. 

        "Y-yes." 

        "That's you," she added a moment later. 

        "Um, yeah."  As Rei flipped to A10, Shinji quickly
regained his color and zoomed to a reddish blush.  "Er... 
about that story..." 

        She merely blinked and looked at him with a plain,
emotionless gaze.

        "I mean... er..." Shinji managed to stumble.  "I
hope you aren't bothered by that... um... I mean... well..." 

        She finished reading the article, folding the paper
neatly back into place, and tossed it aside. 

        "I'm not bothered." 

        And with those few words, she walked to class,
leaving an extremely confused Shinji Ikari in her wake.

                            -*-

        Asuka awoke feeling... it was hard to say exactly
what, but the closest equivalent would be the words "mild
discomfort".  Even those words, however, weren't quite
accurate. 

        Peering out from her porthole, Asuka saw that the
ship was, at last, docked once more.  That was good.  She
might be able to pick up a few nifty souvenirs. 

        She strode merrily out of her cabin and out to the
upper deck, where she ran into Kaji. 

        "Heya, Kaji!" she chirped merrily, taking a hold of
his arm. 

        "G'morning, kid." 

        "Where're we docked at?" 

        "Nuevo Los Angeles.  We're supposed to pick up some
old relic for NERV, safeguard it and such." 

        "Do you know what it is?" 

        "Old statue, or something like that.  It's supposed
to have a clue about the nature of the Angels, or something
like that." 

        "Think we'll be docked long enough for me to get
some souvenirs?" 

        "Hm.... probably." 

        "Yay!"  She walked eagerly to the docks, pulling
Kaji along as well. 

        "Hey, wait a minute!" he said.  "Why am I being
dragged into this?" 

        "Are you gonna let me wander out there all by
myself?" asked Asuka with a pout.  "I need you to protect
me!" 

        Kaji laughed.  "Okay, okay, but we're gonna keep
this short.  Got it?" 

        "Okaaaay!" 

        The day was looking better already, but Asuka still
couldn't shake that feeling of... something akin to mild
discomfort. 

                            -*-

        Four hours later, Asuka returned to her cabin
triumphantly with several shopping bags of souvenirs.  She
wanted to model the t-shirts for Kaji, but he insisted that
he _really_ was needed somewhere else at the moment. 

        Fooey. 

        That little disappointment didn't damper Asuka's
spirits too much.  She still had the digital camera, and
hoped to send some pictures back home to Frau Himmelfarb.

        She immediately began unloading her purchases: 
postcards, statuettes, odd trinkets, t-shirts.... 

        With a concerned frown, she held up her baseball
t-shirt.  "Nuevo Los Angeles Angels" was printed in large
letters along the back.  Kaji had told him that, all things
considered, the shirt might be in bad taste. 

        Naaah. 

        The shirt was too cute.  If only as sleepwear, she'd
use it.  Definitely a keeper. 

        A chill suddenly ran through her spine.  That
earlier feeling... that unidentifiable disturbing feeling... 
came back stronger than before. 

        Cautiously, she stepped out to the upper decks and
looked around.  The sun had set minutes ago, leaving the
city and the sea to be swallowed in darkness.  All seemed
quiet, except for several bright lights surrounding one of
the other ships from the fleet docked next to hers.  A
massive crate was slowly being lifted unto the ship's cargo
hold. 

        She stared at the men, scurrying to put it in place,
just a moment longer, then went back to her cabin. 
Hopefully, a few romance novels would shake this bad
feeling. 

                            -*-

        After three and a half romance novels, two of which
had details which would've made Kaji blush, Asuka still
wasn't feeling quite right. 

        She'd go to Kaji, but then she wondered what she'd
say.  There didn't seem to be words to properly summarize
what was bothering her. 

        Perhaps taking a walk would calm her nerves?  That
didn't seem too bad, no.  A moonlit walk along a ship, that
did seem romantic... she'd look positively beautiful, she
was sure, if she happened to cross Kaji's path. 

        Asuka grinned. 

        Why yes, a moonlit walk was a great idea. 


                            -*-

        A moonlit walk was a bad idea. 

        Not only was Kaji not there, but the seas were a
little turbulent and the winds were chilly.  She stood at
the stern of the Frederick The Great, idly watching the
waves ripple away into the endless dark waters. 

        Something underwater caught her eye. 

        A few meters away, she saw a faint glow, something
spherical and green.  As it moved by, she could see it was a
pair of glowing, green, spherical things.  They stopped for
a moment, then turned towards Asuka. 

        And then the lights flickered. 

        No... it wasn't a flicker, thought Asuka. 

        It was a blink.  Those were eyes. 

        Frozen in fear and fascination, she gazed right back
at those eyes. 

        And suddenly dozens of glowing eyes emerged from the
deep, all staring at her.  She wanted to scream, to scramble
away, but found herself unexplicably frozen to the spot. 

        She could, however, talk. 

        "Gott in Himmel," she whispered. 

        Almost as one, the eyes turned away from her and
moved to the other ship, the one carrying the cargo that had
been picked up in Nuevo Los Angeles.  They circled it once,
then sank to the endless depths. 

        Asuka got very little sleep that night. 

                            -*-

        The next morning was an improvement for Asuka, at
the start.

        The seas were calm, the skies were clear, and she'd
managed to find Kaji lounging leisurely on the starboard bow
and humming a song to himself. 

        "Guten morgen!" she yelled, cheerfully glomping onto
him from behind. 

        "Ah, Asuka, good morning." 

        "It is now," she purred, moving to his side, taking
hold of his arm. 

        "You look a little tired, kid.  Something wrong?" 

        Asuka opened her mouth, then hesitated.  "You're
gonna think I'm crazy." 

        Kaji raised an eyebrow.  "Try me." 

        "Well... I was wandering around the deck last night,
and I thought I saw something in the water?" 

        "What sort of something?" 

        "Um, well... eyes.  These green, glowing eyes.  Lots
of them.  I didn't see what they were attached to, but they
were there, really!" 

        "Calm down, Asuka.  I believe you."  Kaji put an arm
around the girl, soothing her far more than he would ever
know.  "Now, when did you see this?" 

        "Around midnight, I think," she said.  "They swam
around the fleet.  I think they circled the boat that has
the thing we picked up in Nuevo Los Angeles." 

        "Hm.  Figures." 

        "What?  What figures?" she asked. 

        "Nothing for you to worry about," he replied. 

        "Aww."  She was willing to let it slide, though,
since his arm was still around her.  "So, what'cha doing out
here?" 

        "Oh, just waiting for our guests." 

        "Our guests?" 

        Suddenly, from the other side of the ship, the sound
of a jet's engine roared, descending from above. 

        Kaji frowned.  "Well.  Aren't I embarrassed." 

        "Hm?" 

        "I was looking the wrong way.  C'mon, Asuka, let's
go." 

        The two walked to the landing pad, where a VTOL
transport jet had just finished descending.  Descending from
the small side stairway was a blond woman, about Kaji's age,
with short blond hair and a figure that Asuka envied
slightly. 

        Wait a minute. 

        Asuka tugged at Kaji's arm.  "Hey, is that... what's
her name..." 

        "Dr. Ritsuko Akagi, head technician and researcher
for NERV."  Kaji lifted the arm around Asuka and used it to
wave at Ritsuko.  "Hey!  Over here!" 

        Oh no, thought Asuka.  If Akagi was here, that would
mean _she_ was here.

        Ritsuko smiled, though Asuka wondered if that was a
warm smile or a sly one.  She reached back into the plane
and dragged another person out by the arm. 

        "And that would be Misato," hissed Asuka. 

        "Hey!  Rits-chan!  Misato-chan!" 

        Asuka's left eye twitched.  Rits-CHAN?  Misato-CHAN? 

        Misato stomped down the ramp, seething with every
step.  Kaji merrily strolled up to greet them, with a
not-so-merry Asuka in tow. 

        "Rits-chan, Misato-chan!  Good to see you again!" 
said Kaji cheerfully.

        Misato grumbled something they couldn't hear. 
Ritsuko frowned and quickly elbowed her colleague. 

        "What are _you_ doing here?" she finally said to
him. 

        "Me?  I'm the NERV Special Inspector." 

        "Ah, just my luck," grumbled Misato. 

        "It's been a while, Kaji-san," said Ritsuko
pleasantly.  Asuka definitely didn't like the smile on that
woman. 

        "Ah, Ritsuko, as beautiful as ever," said Kaji
smoothly.  He took her hand in his and kissed it.  Both
Misato's and Asuka's left eyes twitched, and their mouths
curled up in slight snarls. 

        Ritsuko laughed and pulled her hand away.  "Enough
of that, flatterer."  Sue looked down at Asuka, light smile
still in place.  "My, Asuka, how you've grown." 

        Asuka blinked, clearly thrown off track.  "Have we
met?" she asked. 

        "No, but we've been receiving pictures of you as
you've grown up.  I know it sounds silly, but I feel like I
know you already." 

        Asuka's opinion of Ritsuko became a bit less
negative.  Almost positive, actually. 

        Kaji noted Misato's scowl.  He knew he shouldn't say
it, but he had a reputation to uphold.  "And I see you're as
cheerful as ever, Misato." 

        "Just tell me where my room is," grumbled Misato. 
She grabbed her bags and stalked off to the decks below. 

                            -*-

      For once, Shinji had exactly what he wanted.  He was
alone with no one to bother him or make demands, no one to
add to the pile of pain he had accumulated over the years. 
No one to force him to do anything. 

      Many people like ice cream.  Many people like lots of
ice cream.  Nobody likes having it pumped into their mouth
twenty four hours a day until they get so sick they want to
die. 

      Shinji could feel himself starting to go out of his
mind.  He couldn't understand why; he'd always enjoyed, and
usually prefered solitude before.  The first day had been
wonderful; no distractions, he could actually play his music
on the stereo without Misato getting bored of it, no beer
belching, no one suddenly demanding to play frisbee when he
was trying to practice the cello. 

      By the evening of the third day, he was starting to
wish for the sound of a beer can opening, loud music blaring
on the stereo, something, anything...he was approaching the
point of ultimate boredom.  It scared him; he had been able
to go weeks with minimal human interaction at one time.  But
now...well, he'd reached the point of playing chess with
Pen-pen.

      He never would have thought of challenging a penguin
to a chess game, except that while he had been practicing
his cello, he had seen Pen-pen playing around with a chess
set that he hadn't even realized Misato had.  While Shinji
had never been a chess buff, he did enjoy the game.  So he
was now on a three game losing streak as they started game
four. 

      He twitched quietly as his inevitable doom approached;
Pen-Pen's white pieces were 'swarming across the border' and
his carefully constructed defense was collapsing.  When his
queen died, it was simply too much for him.  Shinji wasn't
made for fighting to the death.  "Alright, I resign."  He
got up, sighed, and decided to go for a walk. 

                            -*-

       A nice long walk through the park was relaxing; he
was actually looking forward to school tomorrow, simply to
have something to do.  After a while, he started to get
tired and sat down on a park bench.  A few seconds later, a
guy he vaguely recognized from Nerv...Makoto something or
another...came jogging up the winding path.  "Hi, Shinji!" 

      "Hi,"  Shinji said back. 

      Makoto came over and sat down.  "Don't know what to do
with Misato gone?" 

      "Yeah."  Shinji blinked.  "How'd you guess?" 

      "I suppose Misato should be glad you're not the type
to have a wild party while she's gone like most kids your
age would,"  Makoto said, leaning back against the bench and
breathing heavily.  "Then again, knowing her, she'd probably
be happy to throw a wild party if you asked her." 

       Shinji smiled.  "Every night is a wild party if only
for one person with Misato, I think." 

       "Is she..."  Makoto started to ask something then
stopped.  Usually this is a cue they want you to probe
further. 

       Shinji wasn't too good at taking cues, however. 
"Yeah, she likes to party.  How she became the tactical
commander of NERV...she doesn't even seem like the kind of
person who would want the job, let alone be able to do it." 

       "There's more to Misato than you can see at one
glance, Shinji,"  Makoto said quietly.  "You know what she's
like when it's time to be serious." 

       "I know...I just...Which one is the real Misato?" 

       "Both, I guess.  One is for play time, and one is for
work.  A lot of people are like that."  He got up. 
"Speaking of playtime, I have a card game to go to." 

       "Card game?" 

       "Weekly card game with the bridge techs.  Misato
comes sometimes, but she usually gets skunked pretty hard. 
You wanna come?  You look bored to me." 

       "I'm not bored," Shinji lied.  "But I'll come watch. 
I'm not very good at cards." 

       Much later, Shinji went home about three thousand yen
richer. 

                            -*-

        Maya frowned.  Before her was a 3D image of Rei's
body, cycling through images of her nervous, circulatory,
and respiratory systems, as well as close-up representations
of the sections of her brain. 

        With Dr. Akagi gone, the duty of checking up on the
children had fallen on her.  And on this day, much to her
surprise, Rei Ayanami had come to her with a complaint. 

        "No, Rei, I just don't see anything wrong." 

        Rei seemed puzzled by this answer.  "Nothing?" 

        "Not a thing," replied Maya.  She really wished Dr. 
Akagi were here, since the doctor knew Rei more than anyone
else with the possible exception of Commander Ikari.  And
Maya was not eager to intrude on Commander Ikari's time. 

        Maya looked at the scans one more time, wondering if
she was missing something.  "Tell me again why you feel
something is wrong?" 

        Rei seemed at a loss for words, staring thoughtfully
at the floor.  Finally, she spoke.  "I had... a moment." 
She frowned and looked away, to one of the walls.  "I was at
Commander Katsuragi's apartment.  I did not know why." 

        "Are you saying you had a memory lapse?" 

        "I do not know." 

        "Hrm.  Tell me... what happened while you were at
Commander Katsuragi's?"  Rei gave her a questioning look. 
"What did you do, I mean," added Maya.

        "I helped Ikari-kun with his math homework." 

        "Ikari-kun?  You mean Shinji Ikari?" 

        Rei nodded. 

        "And then...?" 

        "I helped Ikari-kun with his history homework." 

        Maya blinked.  "Uh huh.  And then?" 

        "I helped Ikari-kun with his chemistry." 

        Maya suppressed a giggle.  "And then?" 

        "I had a snack with Ikari-kun." 

        Maya laughed, a light, warm laugh.  She didn't think
it was possible.  Not with Rei.  But if it was true, well,
that would be great.  She always felt saddened at Rei's
perpetual loneliness, despite the fact that Rei made Maya
feel somewhat nervous.  After years of working with her,
however, Maya had become accustomed to the girl.

        And now, it seemed someone else might have to get
used to Rei being close too. 

        "Rei," said May, with that somewhat motherly smile
on her lips.  "There's nothing wrong with you." 

        Rei looked at her doubtfully, but let her continue. 

        "I think, Rei, that you've got a crush on young Mr. 
Ikari." 

        Rei looked at Maya, more puzzled than before.  "A
crush?" she asked. 

        Maya nodded happily.  "You just might be in love." 

        Rei frowned, slightly.  "Is this... a good thing?" 

        Maya laughed again, taking a hold of Rei's hand. 
"Rei, it's a wonderful thing." 

        Rei looked doubtfully at Maya.  "I don't like it." 

        "I know these feelings are new to you, but don't
worry, they're just natural." 

        "Not to me." 

                            -*-

        *riiiiiing*riiiiing*

        Shinji blinked, his morning ritual of breakfast and
newspaper broken by the unexpected phone call.  Who, he
wondered, would want to call here, especially this early in
the morning? 

        *riii-

        "Um, hello?" 

        A familiar voice came through the phone line. 
"Heya, Shinji! Miss me?" 

        "Ah!  Misato-san!" 

        "Everything okay over there?" 

        Shinji nodded. 

        "Good.  Listen, can you do me a favor?" 

        "Favor?" 

        "Me and the Second Child will be arriving in
Tokyo-2's JSD naval port.  The details should be arriving in
my fax machine now.  Could you bring Rei and meet us there?" 

        "I guess," he replied.  "Why do you need us there?" 

        "Just wanna give the Second Child a good welcome,
y'know?" 

        "Oh.  Okay." 

        "So you can make it?" 

        "I'll be there." 

        "Okay then, seey- oh, one more thing." 

        "Hm?" 

        "If you wanna bring any of your friends along, feel
free.  The more the merrier, ne?" 

                            -*-

        Shinji had no intention of inviting anyone else to
go meet the Second Child.  Who would he invite?  He didn't
have any close friends, anyway, so... 

        "Daydreaming about Ayanami again?" asked Kensuke. 

        "Hey!" 

        "Just kidding!  Just kidding!"  Kensuke laughed,
arms up in mock surrender.  "Hey Shinji, what'cha doing
after school today?  They've got Gekiganger X down at the
movie theatre today." 

        "Can't go," said Shinji.  "I've gotta go meet my
guardian and the new pilot today." 

        Kensuke's eyes immediately widened.  "The what?" 

        "New pilot." 

        "Where?  Who is he?  CAN I GO WITH YOU!?" 

        "Er... I guess you can come..." 

        "YEAH!"  Kensuke sprang up with glee, then yelled,
"HEY!  TOUJI!  GET OVER HERE!  WE'RE PICKING UP THE THIRD
PI-" 

        A cold hand immediately came down on his mouth, and
Kensuke found himself eye to eye with Rei Ayanami. 

        "Shh," was all she said.  He'd never been more
scared in his life. 

                            -*-

        "Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!" Kensuke said,
zooming his video camera everywhere wildly.  "ThankyouShinji
theMAN!" 

        "It's okay, really," replied Shinji nervously. 

        Touji smirked.  "Tolja he was a big military nut." 

        Rei just stared at the boy. 

        They stood at the pier, watching workers fasten
anchors to the many warships that were docking.  The one
they were supposed to be looking for was the "Frederick The
Great", a German battleship. 

        "Does anyone see it?" asked Shinji. 

        Touji shook his head.  Rei kept on looking.  Kensuke
was still springing around from ship to ship like a child on
Christmas morning in the middle of all the gifts. 

        Their search was interrupted with a jolt, as an
explosion rocked one of the cargo ships, sending flames and
smoke into the air. 

        Suddenly, the sirens came to life, shouting, "RED
ALERT! RED ALERT!" 

        Kensuke pumped his fist in that macho sort of way
that only men could do.  "Woohoo!  Battle sequence!" 

                            -*-

      "I told you so," Fuyutsuki said.  It would have been
petulant if he hadn't been so much older than Gendo.  Well,
more petulant.  "The primitive natives who worshiped him
may have been crazy enough to live near him, but that didn't
mean we needed to bring him to live with us.  This will be
difficult to cover up." 

      "This will provide us a good chance to see the Second
Child in action,"  Gendo said as they both strode towards
the Bridge.  "And luckily, both of the other Children are
there as well.  We'll simply kill him sooner than was
planned." 

       "That may not be wise," Fuyutsuki said.  "The
Revelations of Hali, the fifth volume of the Seven Cryptical
Books of Hsan, and the Eltdown Shards all contain versions
of the Great Prophecy which assert that his survival is
crucial to the Great Return.  In fact, all but the Eltdown
Shards go so far as to say that if he is destroyed, the
ancient masters of the Earth may never return.  Now, many of
the other sources of the Prophecy, such as the Revelations
of Glaaki or the R'lyeh text make no reference to such a
requirement, but..."

        Gendo blinked.  "You never mentioned this before." 

        "I had forgotten them, but I was doing research in
preparation for our guest's arrival when I discovered this.
There are so many variants of the prophecy and some of them
contradict each other.  And of course, many use veiled
language, and..."

        He was cut off.  "I am well aware of the
difficulties of interpreting prophecies.  Very well.  I'll
order him to be captured."

        "Which will likely be easier said than done." 

        "Make up your mind."  They passed through a door and
entered the bridge.

                            -*-

        When the sirens began wailing, Asuka didn't panic. 
She didn't look around in terror, fearing for her life. 

        She grinned like the devil. 

        "SHOWTIME!" 

        In the blink of an eye, she was in her red plugsuit
and sprinting across the docks to the cargo ship that held
her EVA-02.  An angel was attacking!  Perfect timing!  Asuka
Soryuu Langley was going to make her perfect debut! 

        She breezed past crewmen and guards, jumping into
her entry plug with glee. 

        The plug sank in, sealing Asuka in darkness.  A
moment later, LCL fluid smothered her.  She focused her
concentration on her surroundings, and slowly began
synchronizing with her Eva. 

        "Erst Erfuellung, Anfang der Bewegung, Anfang des
Nervenanschlusses, Also loese sie es von links kleidung,
Synchro start!"

        Her world briefly became a dazzling rainbow of
colors, then snapped into focus.  She and Eva-02 were one. 

        "EVA-02, come in immediately.  This is Commander
Ikari Gendo of NERV command."

        "This is Unit-02."

        "There is an angel in your vicinity of unknown
power levels."

        "No problem.  That thing will be dead faster than
you can say Okinaw-"

        "You will not kill it."

        "-wa... WHAT?!"

        "You are to capture the target, designated
'Amaliel,' and bring it back to NERV headquarters." 

        "Are you people mad?!"

        "You will follow orders."

        "Scheiss egal.  Fine.  Orders received."

                            -*-

        Majestically, Eva-02 emerged from the tanker, rising
and towering above everything.

        "OHYEAAAAAAAH!" roared Kensuke.  "WOOHOO!"

        "Lemme guess," said Touji dryly.  "The new pilot?"

        Shinji shrugged.  "Er, I guess."

        "The pilot's got a cool color," observed Touji. 
"Red.  Sporty.  How'd you get stuck with purple?" 

        "I, um, don't know."

                            -*-

        "Eva-02, this is Commander Katsuragi."

        "This is Eva-02.  What's up?"

        "I'll be tac-com for this mission, so listen
carefully.  Got it?"

        "Right."

        "Amaliel is to your north, last seen on the cargo
ship Zephyr.  Approach with caution."

        "Can you send me description of my target?"

        "Sorry, Eva-02, we have no information."

        "Great.  Send me in blind, thank you."

        Eva-02 stalked across the piers cautiously,
wondering if her enemy was lurking underneath the waters
like a massive crocodile.

        Suddenly, Asuka felt a stinging sensation on her
lower left toe, like an ant bite.  Reflexively, she ground
her foot into the ground, scraping something off in the
process.

        "Ow!"

        The Eva leaned down, looking for whatever it was
that had just stung its foot.

        "Come on out, you bastard..."

        Something emerged from the rubble.

        Something dark.

        With claws.

        And tentacles.

                            -*-

        "...an almost globular torso, with six long sinuous
            limbs terminating in crab-like claws.  From the
            upper end a subsidiary globe bulged forward
            bubble-like; its triangle of three staring,
            fishy eyes, its foot-long and evidently flexible
            proboscis, and a distended lateral system
            analogous to gills, suggested that it was a
            head."

                - From the journal of Stephen Jones

                            -*-

        Asuka stared at it.

        "It's a.... a koosh ball."

        "What was that?" asked Misato.

        "THIS is what I've been hunting after?!" asked
Asuka, sounding mortally offended.  She was expecting, no,
HOPING for an epic struggle, a test of her skills that would
reaffirm her ability as the best Eva pilot in all of NERV.

        The creature growled at her, waving its claws and
many tentacles menacingly.  For Asuka, it only seemed to
enhance the koosh-ball-esque nature of the creature. 

        Unit-02 bent down, thwapping the beast with a
backhand slap, sending it tumbling backwards head over
heels. "Feh, this is lame."

        "Hey, don't get cocky," warned Misato.

        "How can I not get cocky against this... this...
this slimy little koosh ball?"  She thwapped it again,
sending the monster crashing into a warehouse wall.

        "Asuka, stop playing around and capture it."

        "Capture it?  You wouldn't happen to have a big net
handy, would you?"


        "Um... no."

        "Then how am I supposed to capture it?  I'm not
HOLDING that slimy thing!  I wonder if it squeaks when you
squeeze it."

        Eva-02 reached out with a palm, then suddenly
flattened Amaliel into the pavement.  It did, actually, 
seem to squeak. 

        "HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHA!"

        Like a balloon filling with air, Amaliel rose again,
and this time seemed to be extremely agitated.  It growled
and snarled at the Eva, but due to the disparity in size,
Asuka heard it all as pitiful squeaks and barks.

        "Oh, this is pathetic."

        She reached down to squish it again.

        And then a most surprising thing happened.

        It ripped the Eva's hand off.

        "AAAAAAAAAAGH!"

        "Asuka!  Asuka!  Are you okay?!" yelled Misato
frantically.

        "ICH WILL DIESEN KLEINEN SCHEISSKOPF TOTEN!!!"

        Amaliel seemed smugly satisfied with itself, its
tentacles piercing the severed hand in a feeding frenzy.
Meanwhile, Asuka looked for something large and heavy.

                            -*-

        "OHYEAAAH!  BATTLE FOOTAGE!" yelled Kensuke.

        The giant red Eva, in a surprisingly swift movement,
heaved an empty tugboat out of the water and repeatedly
smashed Amaliel with it. 

        "You call this a battle?" asked Touji.

        Unit-02 grabbed a fistfull of tentacles, then ripped
them savagely off of Amaliel's body.  A horrific shriek of
pain ensued.

        "Looks more like a savage beating to me," observed
Touji.  "So, Shinji, how d'ya like the new pilot so far?"

        The children paused a moment to watch Asuka perform
three elbow drops in a row, flattening Amaliel and burying
him in a concrete crater.

        Shinji shrugged.  "Well... um.. violent."

        Rei merely watched in silence.

                            -*-

        Gendo frowned at the viewscreens.  The Second
Child's fighting skills were reassuring.  Her failure to
obey orders was not.  "Second child, you are to capture the
Angel, not slay it.  We want to study it." 

        The reply was the sight of yet another claw flying
into the air and arcing down into the water, then sinking
out of sight. 

        "Are the First and Third Child ready to go out to
intercept the Second Child and cease her rampage?" asked
Gendo.

        Another claw landed on the roof of one of the
buildings by the dock. 

        "At this rate, she'll have it ready to be sold at
a supermarket by the time they even get into their plug
suits,"  Maya said.  "We can study the corpse." 

        "Five hundred yen says there won't be one in twenty
minutes,"  Makoto observed.  "Maybe only ten minutes." 

        Gendo looked over at Fuyutsuki, who said, "I'm
impressed she's still functional after her EVA's hand was
ripped off." 

        "She'll be lucky to still be functional when I
finish with her," Gendo said. 

                            -*-

        Flashing lights and sirens filled the air as the
NERV crews scrambled to to gather the chunks, bits, and
pieces of Amaliel.

        Looming over them all was the hunched form of
Eva-02, like a lion hunched over its kill.  The children had
gatherered near it, waiting for the second child to emerge
from within.

        "Wonder why she's not out yet," said Kensuke.

        "Maybe she's talking with NERV headquarters?"
guessed Touji.

        Shinji shrugged.

        A large panel in the back of the Eva hissed, then
opened, and the entry plug came sliding out.  The door to
the entry plug popped open, and from within emerged a figure
covered from head to toe in some sort of black sludge.

        "Hat jemand ein Handtuch?"

        The three boys stared at the apparition.  Rei shook
her head.  As the black sludge peeled off of the figure's
body, the boys couldn't help but notice that figure was very
much female and very much healthy.

        The girl tried again, this time in Japanese.  "Does
anyone have a towel?"

        Kensuke searched his pockets.  "Nope, sorry."

        "Nuh-uh," said Touji.

        Shinji fished around in his pockets.  "Um... I've
got a handkerchief."

        Through the black sludge, a pearly  white smile
became visible.  "Heh, no, that's too small.  Nevermind, the
water looks clean enough for the job."  She slid down from
the side of the Eva, leaving a trail of black goo, walked
gracefully a short distance to the water's edge by the pier,
leaving black goo footprints, then dove into the bay waters.

        "What the hell was that black goo?" asked Touji.

        "LCL," said Shinji with a large measure of disgust.
"It's some liquid they have to fill the Eva with before we
can pilot it."

        "Eeeew."

        Kensuke winced.  "You have my sympathies, Shinji."

        A moment later, a red hand emerged from the water,
gripping the pier's edge.  It was joined by another red
hand, and then they served to pull up a shapely young
redhead in a skintight suit of sorts.

        "Aah, nothing like a swim after battle," she sighed.
The three boys stared at her in awe.  She wasn't what they
were expecting, though definitely far more attractive.
After shaking her arms dry and wringing her hair, she
realized they were still looking at her.  "Oh.  Forgot to
introduce myself.  Asuka Soryuu Langley, Eva pilot for
NERV.  Nice to meet you!"

        "Ah, nice to meet ya," fumbled Touji.

        "You're the new pilot?" asked Kensuke.  "That's
cool!  Don'cha think, Shinji?"

        "Huh?  Oh, um, yeah."

        "Shinji?" asked Asuka.  "Shinji Ikari?"

        "Um, yeah, that's me," said Shinji.  "Third Child,
whatever that means.  Piloting Eva-01."

        She looked at him thoughtfully for a moment.  "Not
quite what I expected, but that's okay.  I wasn't what you
guys expected either, huh?"

        A cold breeze seemed to ripple through the four,
even though no wind had actually blown.  Kensuke and Touji
shuddered.  Asuka furrowed her brow.  Shinji turned around
and saw Rei.

        "Oh, Asuka," said Shinji.  "This is Rei Ayanami,
First Child."

        Asuka waved.  "Hey, nice to meet you."

        Rei merely nodded.

        "Ah, good to see all three of you here," said a new
voice.  It sounded slightly sarcastic.

        "Misato-san!" greeted Shinji.

        As if one stunning girl wasn't enough for the lads,
a second one appeared before them.  "Heya, Shinji. Missed
me?"  Misato ruffled Shinji's hair in passing, then looked
sternly at Asuka.  "Asuka, weren't you listening?  You were
supposed to _capture_ Amaliel!  CAPTURE!" 

        "Okay, so I lost my temper!"

        "And ano-"

        It seemed to be a stream for introductions at this
point, when another figure stepped in, this one a rogue of a
man with a ponytail and a smug expression.  "Now now,
Misato-chan, this was her first time out.  You can't blame
her for being a bit battle-crazy."

        Misato's fury index rose a full meter as she turned
to face Kaji.  "YOU butt out of this."

        "C'mon," said Kaji soothingly.  "Let's iron this all
out back at headquarters, okay?"

        "Get your arm off, sleezebag."

        "Can I put the other one on, then?"


        "You just don't know when to stop, do you?"

        Asuka looked at the two, grinding her teeth as she
saw Kaji flirting shamelessly with Misato.

        And then she had an idea.

        Asuka quickly stepped up to Shinji's side, taking
his arm in hers, and strolled along with Kaji and Misato.
"So, Shinji, I've heard that you've already fought some
Angels.  Tell me all about it?"

        Shinji Ikari was not a people person.  He lacked
severely in people skills.  This went doubly so for girls
that showed signs that they liked him.  With Asuka's arm
entwined with his and her warm tone of voice, his mind
turned to mush.  "Um, well, you see..."

        Asuka took a moment to check if Kaji was noticing.
He wasn't.  This only encouraged her to try harder.

        Left behind in the aftermath, Touji and Kensuke just
stood there gaping.

        "For such a dweeb, that Ikari's got chicks all
around him, huh?" asked Touji.

        Kensuke nodded, still videotaping.

        Suddenly, his camera died.

        They heard a growl.

        It wasn't just your ordinary growl, from a dog or a
wolf.  This was a deep growl, the sort of growl that
suggested monstrous origins, dark and shadowy nights, and
the promise of endless hours of pain.  It was accompanied by
a blast of cold running down their spines.  The two turned
around, slowly.

        Rei was staring at Asuka, intensely, her face
twisted in anger.  Her fists were clenched, shaking
slightly.  It was hard to tell in the sunlight, but they
thought they saw her blood red eyes glow brightly for a
moment.

        "Ohshit," whispered Touji.  "She's mad."

                            -*-

       Deep beneath the more commonly traveled areas of
NERV HQ lay the restricted zones, the security areas where
the most classified materials were kept.  One such area was
studded with large stone, metal, and ceramic containers,
several of which were now full of slowly dissolving body
parts from the now defunct Second Angel. 

        Gendo and Fuyutsuki stood on an elevated walkway
which ringed the room at an elevation of twenty feet,
looking down on the open container which held the remains of
the Angel's head.  "The American base reports that the field
test of the remote generator packs are a success.  And the
transport planes were a success as well.  We'll need to do a
field run, but we should be able to deploy them from planes
and then they'll have a half hour instead of five minutes to
operate with being plugged in.  Until they get rid of the
final bugs in the S2 engines, it will have to do." 
Fuyutsuki looked down at the head.  "Hard to believe that
even primitives worshiped this ludicrous thing."

         "Certainly I would never make such a mistake," 
Gendo said.  "Which explains why his cult became extinct. 
What I want to know is why he woke up when he did.  I don't
believe in coincidences."

        "The stars were right.  Perhaps it could be some
side effect of the Three Children assembling themselves. 
Although I would think the Fourth would be needed as well
for such a thing." 

          Gendo continued staring down at it.  "Maybe this
wasn't the real one." 

         "What?" 

         "Surely the real one couldn't have been so
pathetic." 

         "Perhaps it's identification as a power of the
first rank was a mistake by some ancient scribe, but you
should remember the battle would have been QUITE different
if it had been a matter of conventional technology versus
our fallen friend." 

          "I suppose you're right," Gendo said.  "If the
Second Child goes on another rampage when they face their
next target, they will likely lose." 

         "Perhaps.  You have to admit she was impressive." 

         "This isn't a Greek epic.  They're not supposed to
fight heroic single combats against the enemy.  Their last
few opponents will wield enough power that if they don't
work as a team, they will die.  And if they die too early,
all our efforts will have been for naught.  We must find the
Fourth Child.  We will need them all for the Great Rite.  I
have not worked this hard to let a petulant child wreck
everything." 

         "If the Revelations of Hali are right about our
deceased friend, it will all be for naught, anyway.  Would
it not be ironic if this was how it all ended?" 

         "I'm not interested in irony.  I am interested in
achieving the plan we have been working towards for years
now.  And what possible need could the Great Old Ones have
for this pitiful creature, anyway?"  He looked down at the
mangled bits of flesh.  "I need to relax.  I will be in
sector 13. Make sure I am not disturbed." 

         "I will make sure."  Fuyutsuki watched Gendo go,
waiting until he departed to shudder.  There were places
Gendo would go that he would not, although he could
understand the temptation Gendo faced.  He had his own ways
of coping with the stress, but it was Gendo who most
frequently had to place his head in the lion's mouth.  And
if SEELE ever found out their true objectives, the lion's
mouth would most likely bite down on Gendo first.  The
potential reward, however, was worth it if all went well. 
He was not so optimistic as Gendo that all would go well. 

        He turned and departed.  It was time to once again
walk the tightrope over the abyss that sought to claim them
all. 

                      - end part 4 -