-*-

        "Shinji..."

        He blinked, then looked around.  Absolute black
filled his vision, obsidian night all around him.

        "Shinji..."

        Again, the voice, whispering his name ever so
lightly.

        "H-hello?" he called out.

        "Shinji..."

        Slowly, he felt the air around him shift.  No, that
wasn't right... it wasn't air...

        It was LCL.

        Shocked and surprised, he opened his mouth to
scream, only to be choked by an onslaught of warm, rancid
LCL pouring mercilessly into his throat.

        "Shinji," the voice whispered again.

        Within the darkness and warmth of the LCL, something
cold encircled his body.  Something unearthly, with inhuman
limbs and spastic quivering.

        As the thing's embrace tightened around Shinji, he
screamed one more time, and a burst of bubbles erupted from
his mouth and silently floated through the void.

        And cold, soft lips pressed gently on his forehead.

                            -*-

        "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH!"

        He bolted upright, covered in sweat, breathing
deeply and rapidly.  His hands, trembling, quickly checked
over his face, searching for traces of LCL.

        Outside, he could hear Misato and Asuka emerging
from their rooms.  Misato knocked gently, while Asuka was
letting a chain of angry German words flow from her mouth.

        "Shinji, you okay?" asked Misato, peeking inside.

        Shinji nodded weakly.  "Just... just a bad dream,"
he said.  "Sorry."

        "Y'wanna talk about it?" asked Misato.

        "No, that's okay.  I'll get over it."

        "If you say so."

        He waited till he heard their doors close, then
stood up and opened his window.  A gentle, chilling breeze
caressed his face, and a single strand of spider web drifted
by.

        "What the..."

        And far away, in the shadows of the night, a pair of
red eyes looked up with a sense of longing and desire, then
disappeared into the darkness.


                            -*-

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


                 Children of an Elder God

                          Part 7

                    Briefe aus Tokyo-3
                  "Letters from Tokyo-3"

                            -*-

        Motomu Kamiya was about to have the worst month of
his life.

        Motomu was not a bad man.  He was a generally
average person.  Co-workers would say, if asked, that he was
a fairly pleasant person, very friendly, and helpfull as
well.

        He was just a clerk, but a NERV clerk, so the pay
was somewhat decent.  Unfortunately, he had a small itch
that none of his co-workers knew about.  He liked to gamble.
And as luck did with many a gambler, it abandoned him at the
entirely wrong moment.

        Facing a large debt from very insistent people, he
became desperate for cash.  Fortunately, or so he thought,
someone had come forward to him, on that same day, making an
offer he literaly could not afford to pass up.

        They had offered him a dazzling amount of money to
do certain things for them.  It was mostly taking pictures,
copying files, that sort of thing.

        He got caught.

        Unfortunately, Motomu forgot the fines and penalties
for crossing NERV in such a manner.

        Being fired was the tip of the iceberg.

        He was also fined a monetary amount large enough to
boot him out of the green, far beyond the black, and
fumbling down in the red.

        And then there was the jailtime.

        Being the man that he was, Motomu ran for it.

        Homeless, broke, and on the run, it was the start of
a bad month.

                            -*-

                                        May 19, 2015

        Dear Doktor Himmelfarb,


        Guten Morgen!  My new life in Tokyo-3 is going well,
although it's all very strange to me, compared to
NERV-Germany.  You would not BELIEVE the price of meat!  I'm
starting to think there must only be twelve cows in this
country, and they only butcher one a month to sell or
something.

        Not enough fruit, either, although there are lots of
good vegetables, and I can get all the stuff I need to make
decent food, which is crucial since Fraulein Katsuragi
doesn't believe in cooking, and Shinji has no money to buy
anything worth eating.  We do, at least, have plenty of
beer, but unfortunately, it's all crap.  Pardon my language,
but I wouldn't make a dog drink the stuff Fraulein Katsuragi
buys.  I think today, I'll throw it all out and buy some
decent beer...if I can find any.  Everyone with any money
drinks sake, but I've already had enough rice to last me
until I get too old to chew.  So, basically, I've had to add
'Staff Nutritionist' and 'Head Cook' to my duties, along
with piloting EVA and going to school.

        Speaking of piloting EVA, we kicked Salgiel's ass up
in Canada, but it was one hell of a fight.  I broke my...I
mean, my EVA's leg got broken, but at least I didn't get an
N2 mine stuck in my chest like Shinji did.  You'd think he
was the kind of guy who would shit in his pants when
something like that happened, but he held together long
enough for me to save his ass.  Then he had to return the
favor later when we had to run, and I couldn't keep up
because my leg was broken.

        I can say I've seen more N2 bombs go off than I EVER
want to see again.  Salgiel was throwing them around like
they were going out of style, not that they did much.  We
finally caught him and...

        It's hard to talk about.  No one ever told me an EVA
could go berserk, although from the way Fraulein Katsuragi
was carrying on, I don't think they knew, either.  I...My
EVA drank Salgiel's blood, and then ate his legs, and the
LCL started boiling and I panicked and started shouting in
German and my EVA didn't listen and...hmm, maybe that was
the problem.  I had the interface set to Japanese.  I hope
that was it.  I can't figure out why my EVA would EAT the
Angel, anyway.  If they needed food, they would have starved
to death by now...and how could they run off of batteries if
they need to eat?

        Anyway, I'm gonna be pissed if this happens again;
at least that bastard Commander Ikari didn't blame me for it
this time, but I think he's looking for an excuse.  Maybe he
hates Germans or something.  He certainly doesn't treat Rei
or Shinji like he treats me.  He acts like they're
his...okay, Shinji IS his son.  Still, it pisses me off!
Verdammnt Scheisskopf!  I'm sorry...I just...The man makes
me want to smash something every time I deal with him.

        I had to put half my stuff in a storage facility;
everyone in Japan seems to like living in closet-sized
apartments.  I did get my own room, at least, although I
can't lock it.  Not that there's any danger of Shinji trying
to break in.  But the paper thin walls don't do much good
when Shinji has a nightmare and wakes up screaming as if an
Angel had snuck into his bedroom.  This makes twice now.  If
he does that again, I'll kill him.

        I guess I sound pretty whiny today.  I just needed
to get all this off my chest.  It's not all bad.  Fraulein
Katsuragi is a pretty nice person, although she acts like
some kind of drunken college student most of the time, and I
get to see Kaji all the time!

        They're calling me for some tests, so I'll just say
goodbye and continue this tomorrow.  We have to figure out
why our EVAs freaked out.

                                        Sincerely,

                                        Asuka Langely

                            -*-

        The Turing Test had failed, but Gendo had expected
that.  He wasn't worried about the EVAs starting to talk.
The real question was whether they would act under their own
initiative again.  There was no good way to be sure, unless
they could be provoked into acting.

        The way in which they had been made had always
raised the possibility of them achieving sentience.
However, the precautions they had taken with them should
prevent that.  It was possible the feeding frenzy had simply
been a reflex action, but that was bad enough...there was no
way to be sure what strange reflexes the things might
possess.

        He and Ritsuko stood in the observation bridge,
staring at the large chamber in which the three EVAs sat.
"There has to be some way to test it," he said.

        "Perhaps we could have one of the pilots fake an
attack with their EVA on one that lacks a pilot and see if
it defends itself," she suggested.  "If it has developed a
will of its own, it should do something."

        "We might lose it...I want to find a way that won't
risk damaging them too much."

        "I don't know another way to MAKE them take action.
And we don't have any Angels handy to let them eat."

        "Check on whether or not the pilots have changed
their tastes in food."

        Ritsuko frowned at him.  "You think..."

        "Sychronization is dangerous.  That's why we've lost
so many pilots.  You have to become one with EVA, but that's
not safe, as we both know.  We need the EVAs to adapt, not
the pilots.  Not like that."

        "I'll run some more tests on them and ask about
their diet, then,"  she said.  "Rei's been showing some
irregularities, although it is probably puberty, as Maya
thinks."

        "What kind?"

        "I'll get the charts and show them to you."  She
departed, leaving him to stare at the three EVAs.  If
something went wrong with Rei before DAGON was complete...it
would be a disaster.  The most recent DAGON tests had been
fairly successful, but so had several of the past ones, and
they had ended either in disaster or a useless side alley.

        The Day of Return was coming.  He could feel time
slipping away, could feel the end approaching.  With every
day, there was less margin for error, less room for
mistakes.  Less room for any deviation.

        His pager went off.  His superiors were calling him.
Another random element he feared might bring all to ruin in
the end, but an element he could not simply eliminate.  Too
many things in his life were becoming like that.

                            -*-

                                        May 20, 2015

        Dear Doktor Himmelfarb,

        Shinji had another nightmare.  So did I, but unlike
him, I didn't wake up screaming so that NO ONE would get a
good night's sleep.  I think I'm going to have to try and
teach him how to control his dreams like you taught me, even
though I don't have a feedback machine or anything.
Otherwise, I may never sleep again.  Although, really, I'm
not tired.

        I just can't believe that the pilot of Unit01 is
REALLY such a pansy.  He whines, he screams in the middle of
the night, he lets people push him around, but then when
he's in his EVA, he suddenly comes to life and acts more
like a normal human.

        He's got two friends.  One of them is kinda geeky,
named Kensuke, while the other is a complete monkey named
Touji who thinks he's God's gift to women or something. When
he's not busy making stupid jokes about us.  I keep hoping
an Angel will wander by and squash him.

        No one will give a straight answer on why I'm having
to go to school when I have a university degree!  It's so
utterly boring, except for Phys. Ed.  It is kinda nice to be
around kids who can keep up with me, but the teachers are
boring and the only stuff I don't already know is Japanese
Literature, but that's taught by a complete moron.  I've
also decided the Tale of Genji is the most boring book in
the entire universe.  But he loves it.

        Still, I find stuff to keep me busy.

                            -*-

        "Hey, look who's back!" yelled Touji.

        Shinji entered the room sheepishly, smiling and
scratching his head.  "H-hey."

        Kensuke's eyes welled up into tears, and he clenched
a fist as he stared up into the ceiling.  "Dammit, I envy
you, Ikari!"

        "Huh?"

        "You get top military clearance!  You get to live
with two hot chicks!  YOU'VE GOT IT ALL!!!  I FEEL SO
ENVIOUS!!!"

        Shinji cringed, Touji sighed, and Kensuke shook his
fist and wept in envy.  The rest of the class took stock of
the situation and discussed it amongst themselves, much to
Shinji's embarrassment.

        "Hey, c'mon, it's not a big deal!" said Shinji
quickly, trying to calm his friend down.

        "Yeah, living with a babe like Misato, must be a
reeeeal pain," said Touji.  "Though that Asuka... I dunno,
there's something about her that I don't like."

        As if right on cue...

        "GUTEN MORGEN!" boomed Asuka, striding proudly into
the doorway.  Her grin was sharp and full of confidence, and
every move she made expressed a certain arrogance that only
Asuka could pull off.  "The world saviour is in the room.
You may give thanks at your conviencence."

        As Asuka strode to her chair, the classroom cheered
her on.  A line of girls gave high-fives as she walked by,
ending with an exhuberant high-five/low-five with Hikari
that was topped off with a hip-bump.

        "Aaaagh," groaned Shinji.

        "Third Child!  Howyadoin?" hailed Asuka loudly.
"Did we or did we not kick ass out there?"

        "Do you have to be so loud?" whimpered Shinji.

        "Loud?  Me?  OF COURSE!  I'M THE GREATEST!" boomed
Asuka.  "And you oughta be loud too, third child!  You're
one of the few, the proud, the Evangelion pilots!"  Asuka
turned to the class and yelled, "am I right or am I right?!"

        The class gave a loud cheer, and Shinji's
embarrassment deepened even further.

        And then the First Child walked into the room and it
became unexplainably quiet.

        Asuka tried to keep her upbeat mood up, facing Rei
and smiling.  "Heya, Ayanami!"

        She stared at Asuka for a moment, blinked, then went
to her seat.  Asuka felt remarkably stupid.

        The rest of the class period was spent in silence.

                            -*-

        You asked me about the First Child in the letter you
sent me, which I got this morning.  Thanks for writing me!
Anyway, she's...She's the weirdest person in the entire
universe.  You remember that kid...Otto von Kleinbeck?  The
one who sealed his nostrils shut trying to sniff glue?  And
kept trying to wear underwear as a hat?  She makes him look
normal.

        Okay, I'm exaggerating.  She's just so passive it's
creepy.  But I'm going to try to make friends with her
anyway; we need to work as a team, and if I wait for Shinji
or Rei to take the initiative, I'll be married with children
by the time it happens.

                            -*-

        Asuka gazed across the school grounds, to where Rei
Ayanami sat.  She was under a tree, all alone, and looking
as emotionless as ever.

        When Asuka found out she was to be working with
other pilots, she figured they'd have to work as a team to
be successful.  This also meant, in her view, the pilots all
getting along well together.  A sense of camraderie was
something vital to the success of the pilots.

        So far, it wasn't quite going as well as she'd
hoped.

        Shinji was spineless, remarkably spineless.  She
believed that he'd probably jump at his own shadows.  His
introverted nature wasn't good either.  However, he did have
a chivalrous streak to him, and on occasion he would open up
and let people know what was in his heart.

        Rei, on the other hand, was the very definition of
an ice maiden.  She did her duty, and did it well, but
seemed to treat socializing as if it were an option, and one
that she wasn't planning to exercise.

        Asuka admitted to herself that she hadn't exactly
tried to get Rei to talk yet.  That was something she was
about to change.

        "Ayanami!  Hi!" she said, walking up to the albino
girl.

        Rei looked up.  For a moment, a brief flicker of a
frown appeared on her face.  Then she looked down at her
food again and resumed eating.

        Not a good start, thought Asuka.

        "So, er, mind if I join you for lunch today?" asked
Asuka, trying not to sound unnerved.

        Rei silently nodded.

        Asuka, for a moment, was at a loss as to what that
meant.   Was that a 'yes you can join me' or a 'yes I mind,
go away'?  After a moment's deliberation, she decided to
think positive and take it as a 'yes you can join me'.

        She would never know if she was correct.

        Asuka ate her sandwich slowly, then looked at Rei.
The albino girl was slowly picking her way through a cup of
ramen.  Though she really wanted to break the silence, Asuka
found herself at a loss for words.  This was unusual,
especially for her.

        Rei finally noticed her stare, then looked right
into her eyes.

        Asuka trembled for a moment, struck with several
feelings at once: vertigo, claustraphobia, the chills,
dizziness, a feeling that something was just _wrong_ in the
universe.

        She shook it off quickly.  Asuka was that kind of
girl.

        "What?" asked Rei.  If there was any malice in her
voice, Asuka missed it.

        "Look, I'll be blunt," said Asuka.  "We're Eva
pilots, a team.  We're gonna be out there fighting things
that could destroy the world. If we're gonna survive, I
think we're gonna need a sense of teamwork, camraderie, that
sort of thing."

        Asuka paused to see if Rei was following this.

        She didn't seem to not be paying attention, though
the constant emotionless stare was getting a bit unnerving.

        "Anyway," continued Asuka.  "I just wanted to break
the ice and get to be friends, okay?"

        "Friends?" asked Rei.

        "Yeah, friends, y'know?"

        Rei blinked.   "I see."

        And with that said, Rei went back to eating her
ramen.  Asuka blinked once, twice, then sighed in defeat.
Saying any more words, she knew, would just make her feel
more stupid.

                            -*-

        I've already made friends with Hikari, the class
president.  She's just the kind of person I like.  We can
hang out and talk and play video games and she just
understands me.  I think she and Anna would like each other.
How is Anna doing?  Did you give her my address?

        Anyway, Hikari's father works for NERV doing some
kind of lab work so secret he can't even tell her what it
is.  But since he's a geneticist, I assume he's probably
studying those samples from that stupid koosh-ball I killed.
They've got all the pieces down in some lab.  And there's a
few samples from Salgiel, although our EVAs...ate most of
him.  I'm gonna see if she can come over and help me figure
out how to arrange all the stuff Misato let me keep.  I'm
afraid I may have put the picture of Mom and Dad in one of
the boxes I sent to the storage place.

                            -*-

        Hikari worked on her ice cream cone as she sat near
Asuka, who was busily sorting through her boxes of stuff.
They were listening to one of Asuka's CDs of Zwei Herzen, a
German pop band.  While Hikari couldn't understand the
lyrics, she liked the breezy tunes.

        Asuka pulled out a t-shirt with a picture of a
Valkyrie on it.  "This is from when I went to the Wagner
Festival in Munich.  I couldn't believe how long the
Nibelunglied was.  And everyone died."  She shook her head,
and tossed it over to Hikari, who took a quick look at it
and tossed it on the bed.

        "So you're a big opera fan?"

        "Yeah.  I like classical music,"  Asuka said.  "I've
got my tickets from a performance of Marriage of Figaro that
I went to with Doktor Himmelfarb and Pieter for my
thirteenth birthday."

        "Was Pieter your boyfriend?"

        Asuka blushed.  "He was three times my age!  He was
my combat instructor and a really great guy."

        Hikari smiled faintly.  "So you just thought about
him but didn't do anything."

        "I DID NOT HAVE A CRUSH ON PIETER!!!!"  Asuka
shouted.

        "Uh huh.  You don't have a crush on Kaji either."

        "It's not a CRUSH!  I really love him!"

        "Uh huh."  Hikari smiled faintly, remembering how
she had gone through something like that with the gym teacher
a few months earlier.  It had taken seeing the gym teacher
with her literature teacher to get her over that.  "What makes
you so sure of that?"

        "I've had crushes, and they never lasted this long."
She'd been in love with Kaji for a good three months now.  "Not
like when I had a crush on Franz, just because he had a nice body,
and he caught me when I fell off the roof...anyway.  Kaji is
handsome and a nice guy and charming and likes to do fun stuff
with me."

        Hikari was not too impressed.  "He's twice your age,
though."

        "Age means nothing to true love!  Every time I think
about him, my heart beats faster, and it's hard to breathe and
I feel all...wonderful.  Just like in all the books.  It has to
be true love."

        Hikari couldn't argue with that...directly.  "But how do
you have any idea how he feels?"

        "He wouldn't spend so much time with me if he didn't
like me.  He's a busy man,"  Asuka said.  "And I'm as well
educated as him, as smart as him, and as good looking, so..."

        "And your head is as big as his too," Hikari said,
laughing.  "You'll never die of humility, Asuka."

        Asuka snorted and went back to the box, then pulled
out a carefully folded black satin outfit and laughed.
"What did I bring THIS for?  Doesn't even fit."

        "What is it?"

        "I was Batgirl for Halloween when I was eight..."
She unfolded the costume, which was now clearly too small
for her.  "Doktor Himmelfarb and Gertrude made it for me."

        "Gertrude?"

        "One of Doktor Himmelfarb's assistants; she was a
geneticist.  Her daughter Anna went to school with me; she
was my closest friend in Germany.  She has a brother named
Oscar, he's a loser, but he had the most MASSIVE crush on
me."  She put the costume next to the box and kept digging,
pulling out three novels and a history textbook.  "This must
have been one of the boxes I just starting throwing junk
in."

        "So what did you do about it?"

        "What...Oscar?"

        "Yeah."

        "Ignored him and his annoying cat.  Stupid thing
always clawed up all my stuff, but he took the cat
everywhere except school.  He was just whacko.  Really
smart, though, but no common sense at all.  Nothing like his
mom or his sister.  Doktor Himmelfarb always thought it was
because his father died when he was little, but that never
made any sense to me."

        Asuka pulled out a photo album.  "Ahah!  Here it
is!"  She paged through the photo album, and found a picture
of herself, Doktor Himmelfarb, Pieter, Gertrude, Anna, and
Oscar.

        Pieter was tall and muscular, dressed in fatigues.
He had brown hair in a crew cut and deep green eyes.

        Gertrude was tall and thin with short blonde hair,
dressed in a nice blue blouse and a knee-length light blue
skirt.

        Anna looked much like her mother, except for having
long blonde hair in the same style as Asuka's, soft grey
eyes hidden behind glasses, and like Asuka in the picture,
she was wearing a black shirt that said 'NERV SCIENCE
AUXILLARIES', complete with the NERV logo in red, and blue
shorts.

        Oscar was rather cute (for a thirteen year old), had
short ash-blonde hair, a similar t-shirt to the girls and
jeans, and had a black cat tucked under one arm. They were
standing in front of a museum, but their bodies concealed
the sign, other than the word 'Berlin'.

        "Here we are,"  Asuka said.

        "He took his cat to the museum?"

        "He tried,"  Asuka said, shaking her head.  "Pieter
ended up having to stay outside with him while the rest of
us went in."

        "Do you miss your friends?"  Hikari asked. "I know I
would."

        "Yeah,"  Asuka said quietly.  "Anna and I pretty
much grew up together, and I miss Gertrude and Doktor
Himmelfarb and Pieter too.  I don't miss Oscar, though."

        Hikari laughed.  "Show me some more pictures."

        This went on for quite some time.
        
                            -*-

        Shinji was in the living room practicing his cello
as Asuka and Hikari came out of Asuka's room.  "Tell
Katsuragi-san I'm eating dinner over at Hikari's tonight."

        "Have you done your chores yet?"

        "It's your turn."

        "It is NOT!"  He pointed at the calendar, then
realized Misato had been tampering with chore assignments
again, and it had become an illegible mess.  "Ummm..."

        Asuka grinned.  "I'll armwrestle you for it."

        Shinji began to sweat.

                            -*-

        My love life is NOT working out like it's supposed
to.  Fraulein Katsugari is after MY Kaji.  Oh, she denies
it, and acts like she hates him, but I'm not blind.  I can
tell.  She ought to make up her mind!  She dumped him back
in college, so he's fair game now!

        Not that he helps by flirting with her.  I'm
starting to realize he flirts with just about everyone,
though.  Even Ice Queen Akagi.  That's not fair.  Doktor
Akagi is very nice, she's just...I think she scares most men
off by being so regal and smart.

        I just can't figure out how to get Kaji to pay more
attention to me.  He seems distracted, like he's thinking
about something.  And it's not Katsugari.  I hope it isn't.
I can't see what he would see in her...I'm far more mature
than she is.  Surely, he doesn't WANT someone who acts like
that.

                            -*-

        The command center was unusually quiet, with the
exception of two figures sittin at its center.  One of them
was looking through paperwork, a horrendous backlog of it.
The other was doing the age old tradition of trying to
score.

        "How'bout a backrub?" asked Kaji smoothly.

        "How about I kick your ass?" said Misato sweetly.

        "Aw, Misato-chan, c'mon, don't be so mean.  Just one
drink, for old times sakes..."

        "Don't you have a job to do?" growled Misato.

        "Why yes, I'm on a special assignment," said Kaji
seriously.  "A very important job."

        "And they put YOU on it?" asked Misato.

        "Mm-mm," nodded Kaji.  "My mission: to rescue a NERV
commander from datelessness, as soon as possible, by any
means neccessary."

        He smoothly went by her side as he talked, then put
an arm around her.  "Whadaya say?  Let's break a few
headboards."

        ****SLAP****

        Misato stalked off, fists trembling in fury.

        Rubbing his freshly slapped face, Kaji sighed.  "My,
she's lost her sense of humor.  She always used to laugh at
that line in college."

        Unseen by Kaji or Misato, Makoto slipped away into
the hallways, looking a bit ill, worried, and very much
jealous.

                            -*-

        Shinji chewed on the end of his pencil, trying to
figure out what exactly the literature teacher expected him
to do with the poem they had been given in class.  What did
he mean by 'analyze' the poem?  Analyze what?  Shinji stared
at the twelve lines.  It was a quatrain about flowers.  That
was about all he really had to say about it...which wouldn't
stretch to a full page, very well.

        Violin music began to drift through the room,
catching his attention.  Asuka had gotten her violin out and
was playing instead of doing homework.  He listened to the
tune, trying to figure out what it was, but couldn't quite
place the style.  "What is that?"

        "A polka," she said, laughing, then switched to some
more sedate music.  "Not the sort of thing I was supposed to
be learning, but...C'mon and play something with me."

        "You already did your literature homework?"

        "I compared it to some work by Goethe that was much
better."  She paused, then grinned impishly.  "Actually, I
dragged out an old paper about the Goethe poem and added one
paragraph of comparison."

        "A poem about Goths?"

        She shook her head.  "Goethe.  The author."

        "That doesn't sound like a Japanese name."

        She frowned slightly.  "It isn't.  He's a famous
German author."

        "You had a paper in Japanese about a German author?"

        "No, I translated it as well."

        Shinji boggled lightly.  "Whoa."

        Asuka shrugged.  "So I'm all done."

        "You did the astronomy homework?"

        She blinked.  "The what?"

        "You did go and get the assignments from when we
were gone, right?"

        A single sweatdrop ran down Asuka's forehead.  "They
assigned us homework when we were gone?"

        He shook his head.  "School does go on without us,
you know."

        "Ummm...can I see this list?"

        He handed her three handwritten pages.  "I put it
all together so I wouldn't lose any of it."  She got up and
took it.

        If Asuka had been the fainting type, she would have
passed out.  As it was, she simply sat down hard.  "I can't
do all this in..."  She looked again.  "Whew.  Only the
Astronomy and the...oh great, more literature homework.
Bleah."

        "You don't like literature?"

        "Not the kind of stuff you study in school.  If
they'd let me write about something decent, I'd like it.  I
did Math and Physics as my majors in college," she said,
talking as she ran off to get her books and paper.  "Well,
I'm used to tight deadlines from that."

        She turned in the literature book and stared at the
first assignment page as if it was an evil demon.  "Urgle.
Stupid poetry.  Analyzing poetry is like dissecting
butterflies."

        Shinji blinked.  "True, but I don't think Mr.
Ichiyama will accept that as an answer."

        "What are we supposed to do with these damn things,
anyway?"

        "Beats me.  Make paper airplanes, maybe."

        They stared at each, and Asuka laughed.  "Have you
done them yet?"

        "Soon as I finish the assignment he gave out today."

        "Right.  Together, we will OVERCOME!"

                            -*-

        After two hours, Misato still hadn't come home, and
the poetry had defeated them.  They were both standing by
the window watching the lights of the city at night,
instead, taking a break from reading about 'glistening dew'
and 'the chirping cicadias'.  "I think I'll write a haiku
about a car wreck,"  Asuka said.  "One more nature poem, and
I'll..."

        "They're all like that,"  Shinji said, faintly
irritated.  "We don't write poems about mangled metal here."

        "Has your father always been such a pushy bastard?"
Asuka asked idly.

        Shinji blinked; he couldn't see the connection.
"Huh?"

        "The man just...he grinds my gears."

        "I don't know.  I haven't really seen him since I
was five or maybe six.  After Mother died, he sent me away."

        Asuka stared at him.  "He did WHAT?"

        "He sent me off to a foster home, which I guess must
have been tricky since he wasn't actually dead.  The
Shimodas weren't bad people, but they didn't really care
about me either.  I was just sort of in the way, most of the
time.  But they liked my music; it was the only thing where
they ever gave me any encouragement.  And they had lots of
pets, which was kinda nice.  I like animals."  He smiled a
little.  "They had eight cats, and half the nights, they'd
get into some kind of brawl with half the other pets in the
neighborhood.  Shiro was my favorite; he was so smart, I
almost thought he could talk, sometimes."

        She glanced over at Pen-pen, who was watching a
gameshow on TV.  "He may have been smart enough to really
understand you.  I mean...Pen-pen watches TV and can beat
Misato at chess."

        They both laughed.  "So what are your parents like?"
Shinji asked.

        "Dead."  Her voice was a little sharp.

        Shinji looked away.  "I'm sorry."

        "Don't be such a wimp, Shinji.  It's not your fault
they died.  They died here, in Tokyo-3, back when it was
still under construction and NERV was just starting to
operate out of here.  Dad was an aeronautics engineer; they
were hoping to build flying EVAs as well as ground ones.  I
don't think they anticipated Rei's EVA's little trick."  She
shook her head.

        "And mom was a geneticist working for NERV's
research wing.  They both were based in NERV-Germany, but
Mom was called in to oversee a special experiment, and Dad
came with her since he had some vacation time and she was
six months pregnant with a boy."

        "You have a brother?"

        "No."  She made a tiny choking noise.  "While they
were gone, they tested everyone at the base, and discovered
I had the potential to pilot an EVA.  I was so excited that
I ran around the base, telling everyone."  Her voice was
very soft now.

        "The experiment went horribly wrong."  She gripped
the windowsill.  "Are you familiar with how you can grow
some kinds of tissues in a petri dish?"

        "Err, sort of."

        "They were trying to grow more Angel tissue for
tests from the remains of the one that sunk Antarctica."

        Shinji's eyes widened.  "They WHAT?"

        "Something went wrong...it released fumes which
conducted electricity well.  The whole lab went up in flames
when a spark got to the wrong place, then ignited various
chemicals.  Poisonous fumes went everywhere.  Dr. Akagi's
mom died almost immediately, and almost everyone else passed
out and would have died, but Mom and Dad had more resistance
and weren't as close when the really bad fumes went off.  So
they were able to get most of the people out of the lab.
But they breathed in so much of the poison that they
couldn't be saved.  Mom died within an hour.  Dad lived long
enough for them to fly me in to say goodbye to him."  She
was shaking faintly now.

        "At least you got to say goodbye,"  Shinji said
faintly.  He hadn't gotten to say goodbye to his mother.

        "He told me to be brave, that he was proud I would
be an EVA pilot, and he wanted me to do my best to save
humanity."  Her fingertips pressed into the wooden
windowsill, and her she stood tensely.  "And then he died.
He looked awful; his skin had turned a kind of
blackish-green in some spots and his eyelids were puffy
and..."  She let out a deep breath.

        "But he wasn't afraid at all.  So I promised him
that I would do my best.  I was sent back to Germany, and
Dr. Himmelfarb, my mom's boss, took me in.  She's the head
of research for NERV-Germany, now.  I got combat training
from Lt. Pieter Haarbeck, and they gave me the best
education they could.  I got my diploma a week before they
summoned me here.  Pretty much, I've lived with Dr.
Himmelfarb most of my life.  She's been really good to me."

        "I don't even know how my mother died; it was some
sort of accident here.  It might have even been the same one
where you parents died; I don't know.  I can't remember
anything before I was sent away by Father, except for a few
brief snatches of my mother's face, and running through
snow, and a book.  It was bound in a sort of red scaley
hide, and it had weird letters on the cover.  I tried to
look at the pictures, but I couldn't find any, and then
Father found me and spanked me.  It's the only time he ever
spanked me, I think.  But he looked sort of..."  He strained
to catch the memory.  "Sort of like he was proud and mad at
the same time."


        "I can't believe he just sent you away for ten
years!  That's just..."  Asuka fumed.  "Does he hate you for
some reason?"

        "I think he just didn't have any time for me,"
Shinji said quietly.  "It would be easier if he actually
hated me; I could hate him back, but..."

        "Maybe the next Angel will eat him,"  Asuka said.

        "I don't want him to die,"  Shinji said, drumming
his fingers on the sill.  "Hey, look, it's Misato."

        She peered.  "How can you tell?"

        "I can hear people honking at her."

                            -*-

                                        May 25, 2015

        Dear Doktor Himmelfarb,

        I'm starting to think NERV is run by complete
idiots.  We ought to be training instead of going to this
stupid junior high.  We have hardly any time to practice
fighting together, and Shinji DESPERATELY needs training. He
tries hard when he's piloting, and he's got a lot of talent,
but he doesn't know anything about fighting.

        I should be fair.  Rei and I have been training
since we were about six years old, while Shinji just
started, but still...they've only found THREE pilots in
eight years?  This doesn't bode well.  I guess the mutation
that lets us pilot EVA is REALLY rare.  It doesn't help that
Shinji has no drive.  I think sometimes that he would just
sit down and never move if he didn't get hungry, sometimes.
He's nothing like his father.

        Which is a good thing in some ways.  He's friendly
and easy to deal with, and he does do his chores on time,
unlike Oscar.  And he plays music; he's pretty good, in
fact.  I'm trying to find some music we could play together.

        My effort to befriend Rei didn't go very well,
although it didn't go BADLY, either.  It just...really, it
just didn't go.  It was like...I could probably chew her out
and she wouldn't react.  But I'm going to keep trying.  The
three of us have to work together.  The fight with Salgiel
proved that.  When we cooperate, we can't lose.

        At least, I hope we can't.  That might have just
been a fluke.  We beat Salgiel because he made some
mistakes, and our EVAs suddenly pulled out a lot of tricks
he couldn't anticipate, like Rei suddenly sprouting wings.
We have to win...we have to!  Or humanity will be destroyed.
But if our opponents ever have the sense to team up...I
don't know what will happen.  Assuming they can.  Maybe the
aliens didn't program them very well.

                            -*-

        "C'mon, slowpoke!  Let's go!" said Asuka.


        Her victim for the current and forseeable future,
Shinji Ikari, hurriedly packed his bag, then followed Asuka
out the door.

        "Why are you in such a hurry?" he asked her.

        "No particular reason," said Asuka.  "I just hate
being slow."

        "That's it?"

        "Yep."

        Shinji rolled his eyes, then slowed down.  "And I
thought it was something important," he grumbled.

        "Hey, what's with you?" asked Asuka.

        "P.E. class," said Shinji.

        "What?  We just ran a few miles," said Asuka
casually.

        "Yeah, a few miles," muttered Shinji.  Why he took
up Asuka's challange, he'd never know.  He also vowed to
never do so again.  "I wasn't trained since birth to be a
pilot," he whined.  "Give me a break, okay?"

        Asuka merely rolled her eyes, slowing down and
matching Shinji's pace.

        "Ah, well, I guess I'll have to keep on working on
you then."

        "W-what?"

        "You're an Eva pilot!  The best of the best... or in
theory anyway.  You can't afford to be in such sad shape.
We're saving the world!"

        "Um... yeah.  Just don't say weird things like
that."

        "Like what?"

        "Never mind."

        The two of them plodded through the school's empty
halls, their footsteps echoing all around.  After a while,
Shinji did all the plodding, while Asuka alternated from
fast walking to a standstill in an attempt to keep the walk
interesting.

        As the two passed an open room, the sound of a
single violin drifting in the air, a mournful melody strong
enough to bring Asuka to a stop.  Next to her, the
auditorium doors hung open, leading into darkness.  As
Shinji plodded by, she reached out and grabbed him, bringing
Shinji to a halt as well.

        "I wonder who's playing?" she whispered.

        "Hm?"

        "Sounds like 'Death and the Maiden'," muttered
Asuka.

        "Wha?"

        "C'mon, let's go see," said Asuka.

        "What?  Why?"

        "Why?  Because whoever's playing can play good.  And
I'm curious."

        The two fumbled clumsily in the dark, Asuka leading
Shinji by the arm.  She wondered just where the hell the
light switch was.  The dim aisle lights were enough for them
to know where to walk, but not much else.

        On stage, a silhouetted figure continued playing the
violin, passion and sadness exprssed with every note.
Shinji had to admit, it was very good.

        "Um, hello?" said Asuka.

        The music abruptly died.

        A pair of red eyes flared brilliantly in the dark,
staring down at them.

        Asuka froze in place, old memories filling her mind,
childhood nightmares of a shape with red eyes, an ever
changing beast that stalked her dreams until she learned to
drive it away.  Or perhaps it had merely grown bored and now
had returned, somehow made real.

        Shinji bumped into her from behind, knocking her out
of her trance.  "Asuka?"

        Instinct took over; best to take no chances.
"Shinji, get out of here.  It's..."  She dropped into a
combat stance, then sensing he hadn't left, she said, "Get
moving!"

        "Umm...it's just Rei," he said.  "Hi, Rei."  He
waved.


        She stood and stepped forward, out of the shadows
and into the light, looking straight at Shinji.  "Hello."

        Asuka blushed faintly, embarrassed.  "Oh.  Of
course.  I just..."

        "What, you thought she was an Angel or something?"

        "Nothing."  She sighed.

        "You're pretty good, Rei," said Shinji.

        "Thank you,"  Rei said, sitting back down.

        Asuka started towards the stage.  "Want to try a
String Trio with me and Shinji some time?"

        Rei stared at them for a moment, then said, "When?"

        Asuka glanced back at Shinji, who now came forward.
"Umm...tomorrow night?"

        "Sounds good to me,"  Asuka said, clambering up onto
the stage with a nimble leap.

        "When tomorrow?"

        "Uh...seven?"  Shinji said, going around to the side
access.

        Rei nodded, then turned back to her music and
beginning to play.

        "Got any pieces you'd like us to try?"  Asuka asked,
coming over by Rei.

        "I think I have some stuff we could do,"  Shinji
said, walking across the stage.

        "Movement of the Stars, by Erich Zann," suggested
Rei quietly.

        "Who?"  Shinji asked.

        "I've never heard of him, but sure,"  Asuka said,
smiling a little.  "Bring that."

        Rei continued to play, and for a while, they simply
listened.  Her mastery of the music was flawless, and Asuka
felt a little envious, while Shinji was simply awed.  While
Rei's expressions and movements were efficient, minimal, and
seemingly emotionless, the music seemed entirely the
opposite.  The piece had far more emotion to it than either
of them had ever heard her express, and neither was sure if
it was simply the piece or if she was letting something show
that was normally locked away.  Or perhaps somewhere
inbetween.

        She finished the piece, stood, gathered her music,
nodded briefly to each of them, then quietly walked away.
Asuka and Shinji stood and watched her go.

        Asuka finally said, "I just don't get her."  She
glanced over at Shinji.

        "Despite what the papers may think, I don't get her
either."

        "Despite what the papers may think?"  Now Asuka was
curious.

        "She... uh... This paper thought we were dating
and..."

        Asuka's lips quirked in a smile.  "Ahh."

        "It's not like that!"

        "Uh huh."  Asuka jumped off the stage.  "C'mon.  We
need to get going.

        "It's not!"  Shinji followed her.  "Slow down, will
ya?"

        "Nope."

                            -*-


        Playing music together isn't the same as combat
piloting, but it does take teamwork.  And they're both
pretty good.  Rei plays the same instrument I do, and Shinji
plays the cello, so all we need is a viola player.
Unfortunately, Hikari plays the flute.  I don't suppose you
know any pieces for flute, cello, and two violins?

        I got a letter from Anna!  Is she really going to be
tested to be a pilot?  That would be really great if she got
to come live with us.  Well, live here in Tokyo-3.  Fraulein
Katsuragi's apartment is pretty much full.  And it may get
more that way soon.

        Our whole gang is going to the mall in a couple of
days.  You'd think a hand-designed city could come up with a
cooler name that 'Tokyo-3 Shopping Center', but I guess they
had other priorities.  Misato told me it has a really great
selection of stuff.  Then she warned me not to get a whole
new set of junk since they can barely fit all my old junk.
It is NOT junk!

                            -*-

        It was supposed to be a day of bonding, when Shinji,
Asuka, Rei, and friends gathered together for a day of
relaxation.  For one day, they'd be like ordinary children.

        Instead, this would be the day that firmly
established Touji and Asuka as mortal enemies.

        "Springtime Cherry Blossoms?!?!" yelled Touji.  "I
ain't watching no movie called Springtime Cherry
Blossoms!!!"

        "And what's wrong with Springtime Cherry Blossoms?!"
boomed Asuka.

        "It... it's so GIRLY!" argued Touji.  "And besides,
the new Tiger Wang movie is out!  How can you not like a
Tiger Wang movie?"

        "Yeah!" said Kensuke.  "It's the premire of Tiger
Fist and Snake Bite!  We can't miss that!  Right, Shinji?"

        "Um... well..."

        "Well Hikari and I have been waiting to see
Springtime Cherry Blossoms all week, we've been planning to
see Springtime Cherry Blossoms, and we're gonna SEE
SPRINGTIME CHERRY BLOSSOMS, DAMMIT!"

        "LIKE HELL WE WILL, YOU SAUERKRAUT-EATING BITCH!"

        ***POW***

                            -*-

        "See?  It was a good movie," said Asuka.  "Right,
Hikari?"  She sat back on the park bench, in the afterglow
of the nice, romantic movie.

        "Er, yeah," said Hikari, splitting her attention
between listening to Asuka and applying ice to Touji's jaw.
"Hold still, Touji."

        "I'r git yuu fr iss," mumbled Touji.

        "Hey, at least you were unconscious for the whole
film," said Kensuke.  "Shinji'n me had to actually watch
it.  Horrible stuff, right Shinji?"

        "Well, kinda..."

        "It was not!" protested Asuka.  "It was deep,
meaningful, romantic, and moving.  Isn't that so, Shinji?"

        "Er, well, I guess..."

        "Shiji wnnt kno rmntic ffit bit'm nna ass," said
Touji though the icebag.

        "I guess I wouldn't," mumbled Shinji.

        "Hey!" yelled Asuka.  "Did you enjoy it or not!
Stop flip-flopping!"

        "Er... um..."  Shinji sweated nervously as both
sides of the war of the sexes stared at him.  "Um... how'd
you like it, Rei?"

        Rei looked at Shinji curiously.  "Like?" she asked.

                            -*-

        Still nursing a sore jaw, Touji sat with the other
two boys, impatiently tapping his foot.  They were in a
place of many conflicting desires: outside the women's
dressing room of a clothing store.

        On one hand, the idea that the women within were
stripping down to their bare essentials got them fired up.

        On the other hand, they had to sit there and wait
until the women were done changing.  They had to wait in THE
WOMEN'S SECTION of the store, something that no man ever
felt too comfortable lingering in for too long.

        Touji held his fist up and yelled in agony.  "Aaagh!
How long does it take'em to try on a buncha freakin'
dresses?!"

        "Shattup, arschloch!" yelled Asuka from the dressing
rooms.

        "What?!  What'd she call me?!"

        "Touji," said Kensuke, "you two were just born to
hate each other, y'know that?"

        "Don't you start," snarled Touji.

        Just when Touji's patience was about to snap again,
the three girls stepped out in their selected clothes.

        "Ta-daah!" said Asuka, stepping out first.  She
twirled about in her pink sundress, then strutted proudly
before the boys.  "Looks good, hm?"

        Touji glared at her once, grumbled, then folded his
arms and looked away.  Kensuke nodded approvingly.  "Not
bad," he muttered.

        Shinji seemed entranced for a moment, looking at
Asuka with stunned eyes.  She really was beautiful, he
thought to himself, when she wasn't terrorizing him.

        Asuka stared down at him with an amused grin.  "Hey,
get that lecherous look off of your face."

        Flustered, Shinj stammered denial quickly.  "H-hey!
I-I was not!"

        "Whateeeever," said Asuka.  "Hey Hikari, come on
out!"

        Hikari stepped out next, meekly, looking very
sheepish in a strapless light brown dress.  This time Touji
was the one staring.

        Kensuke elbowed Shinji and leaned towardshim.  "Ya
know," he said to Shinji in a mock-whisper, "he's got this
thing for the class prez."

        Hikari blushed deeply, turning away to hide the
silly grin creeping on her face, while Touji suddenly put
Kensuke in a vicious headlock.

        "Shaddup!"

        "Ow! Okay, okay!"

        "Rei, come on out!" called Asuka.

        Emerging from the curtains of the dressing rooms,
Rei emerged reluctantly, looking far more unsure of herself
than Hikari.  That, by itself, was something nobody had ever
seen before on Rei's face.  The second unique thing about
this situation was that the usual slight edge of uneasiness
that was felt around Rei was far less than usual.  It wasn't
entirely gone, but it was barely felt at all.

        And the final first was done by Shinji, as he stared
in admiration at her, dressed in a pale blue, full-length
skirt and silky blouse.

        "You're beautiful," he told her.

        "I.... am?" asked Rei.

        Shinji nodded.

        Rei blushed.

        The whole scenerio thus far was much more than Touji
or Kensuke was expecting.  Rei, not creepy?  Rei, actually,
sorta, cute?   And blushing?

        It was far more pleasant than the usual way they
felt around the girl, but they both would agree later that
it still felt wrong.  It was as if some constant in the
universe had been violated.

        And then she smiled.

        It was a small smile.

        A very small one.

        But it was a memorable one.

                            -*-

        The next stop in their day was something heavily
demanded by Touji.  It was, as he put it, a matter of
balance.  The girls got to do girly things, now it was time
for the boys to do manly things.

        So they hit the arcade.

        Touji, in particular, was looking forward to this,
as the arcade was where he felt he could unwind, do what
_he_ enjoyed, and wouldn't have to take any more crap from
Asuka.

        He was dead wrong.

                            -*-

        "WAHAHAHA!  Wanna try again?" asked Asuka
arrogantly.  She stood next to Touji, both of them at the
controls of the new hot fighting game World Warriors.  This,
thought Touji, was a chance to not only finally do something
he'd enjoy, but he'd also get a chance to humiliate Asuka.

        Or so he thought.

        After all, girls don't play fighting games, right?

        "Touji, she just beat you with the weakest character
in the game," said Kensuke.

        "Shaddup."

        "And she used only one move, repeatedly," added
Kensuke.

        "I know.  Shaddup."

        Asuka laughed haughtily.  "Oh-hohoho!  Don't feel
bad!  It's only natural that I excel in a fighting game.
After all, I AM an Eva pilot."

        "Shaddup, shaddup, shaddup," grumbled Touji.  "I'm
goin' to get a drink."

        "Aww, too much for ya?" taunted Asuka.  "Anybody
else wanna take me on?  Eh?"

        Kensuke stood up, his fist clenched.  "I, Kensuke
Aida will avenge my friend!" he declared.

        "Bring it on, geek!"

        Kensuke confidently put on the VR helm and slid his
hands in the gauntlets.  A minute later, he nearly threw the
helm off as Asuka killed him with a backhanded slap.

        "Nnnnnext!" yelled Asuka.  "Hey, Shinji!  Get up
here!"

        "M-me?"

        "Yeah, you!  You're an Eva pilot, so _surely_ you'll
put up a decent fight.  C'mon!  I'll even pay for you."

        Thirty seconds later...

        "You've got to be kidding me," mumbled Asuka.

        Shinji took off the VR helm sheepishly.  "I never
was good at these games."

        "I mean, c'mon," said Asuka.  "You're an Eva pilot.
You do this for a living.  I just can't believe it."

        "Well-"

        "Let's go again," said Asuka.  "C'mon.  No way can
you suck that bad."

        "But-"

        Ten seconds later.

        "Aaagh!  You really do suck!" yelled Asuka.

        "I told you!" whined Shinji.

        "We're back," said Kensuke as he and Touji returned.
"Miss anything?"

        "Asuka beat Shinji," said Hikari.

        The boys sighed.

        "You're a pilot, ain'cha?!" asked Touji.

        "Look, I said I never was good at these games!"
cried Shinji.

        "This is indeed a dark day for man," said Kensuke.

        "Hey, Rei, give it a try?" asked Asuka.  "You
certainly can't be as pathetic as Shinji, anyway."

        The albino girl blinked.

        Ten seconds later...

        "No way..." Asuka muttered.

        Behind them, Touji and Kensuke danced merrily, while
Hikari and Shinji looked on in surprise.

        Rei took off her helmet and gave Shinji a puzzled
look.

        "HA!" yelled Touji, pointing at Asuka. "HA! HA!"

        "Oh, shut up!" snarled Asuka.

        "HA!"

        The red-head slammed the VR helm on agrily.  "Okay,
ONE more time, Rei!"

        Ten seconds later...

        "HA!"

        "SHUT UP!"

                            -*-

        And with both Touji and Asuka feeling equally
humiliated, they soon left the arcade and roamed the streets
of MegaTokyo-3.

        "So what's next?" asked Hikari.

        "How about ice skating?" suggested Asuka.

        "Sounds good!" agreed Hikari.  "Right, Touji?"  He
was about to protest, when Hikari sidled up to him and took
his arm in hers.

        Of course his willpower died.

        "Ice skating!  Haha!  Yes!  Sounds good!"

        Kensuke shrugged.  "Oh well, why not?  You ever
skated before, Shinji?"

        "Not really, no," mumbled Shinji.  "I'll probably be
bad at it, anyway.  Do you know how to skate, Ayanami?"

        Rei blinked.  "Skate?"

        "It's real easy, Shinji," said Asuka.  "I'll show...
show..."  Her face froze suddenly, locked in disbelief and
dismay, as she stared at something behind Shinji.  "Kaji?"

        "Kaji?" Shinji turned around with everyone else,
then saw what Asuka was staring at.

        Across the street, kissing Misato passionately, was
Kaji.  And in that instant, if they listened closely enough,
they could hear Asuka's heart breaking.

        Hikari quickly turned to Asuka, but she had already
run away.

        "Oh Asuka," she sighed.  "Guys, we've gotta find
her."

        "What? Us?" asked Touji.

        *WHAP*

        "Hey!"

                            -*-

        As fate would have it, Shinji was the one that found
Asuka at last, sitting by a downtown water fountain and
staring blankly into its depths.

        "Um, Asuka?"

        She ignored him, tossing a one yen coin into the
water.

        "Um, everyone's worried about you, Asuka," said
Shinji.  "Are... are you okay?"

        Toss... *splash*.

        "I, uh, well, er..."  Needless to say, Shinji was a
total stranger to the use of comforting words.  At best, he
was on the revieving end of them, but never had to use them
himself.

        Asuka turned to him, her face pale and blank.  Her
eyes weren't red, as he was expecting them to be, but they
were on the verge of tears.

        "You know," she said, "I never really seriously
thought he could love somebody else until now."

        "Well... um..."  Shinji scratched the back of his
head.
        She smiled weakly, then turned away.  "Don't feel
bad about it, I wouldn't expect you to understand anyway."

        He sat down next to her, cautiously putting a hand
on her shoulder.  "You'll... you'll find someone else."

        And with those well-chosen words, Asuka finally
snapped, tears flowing from her eyes.  "I don't WANT anyone
else!  I want KAJI!"

        "I... I'm sorry."

        He gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze.

        What happened next took him entirely by surprise.

        She suddenly turned around and cried on his
shoulder, holding him tight as she sobbed.  He didn't know
how long she cried on his shoulder, and it didn't seem to
matter.  She was someone in need, and all he could do was be
there for her.

        From the darkness of a nearby ally, a pair of red
eyes glared at them, burning with fury.  Nearby birds took
to flight and all other small creatures quickly ran away as
a small but intense wave of fear washed over the area.

        A moment later, the red eyes stalked away into the
shadows.

                            -*-

        It was the end of a bad month for Motomu Kamiya.

        He was still a fugitive, homeless, and broke, but he
had a chance at salvation.

        Those unnamed people that had offered him money in
the first place had given him one last chance.  Free passage
out of Tokyo, half a million in American, and a new
identity.

        All he needed to do was obtain samples of blood,
hair, and urine from all of the pilots, and copy whatever
files he could get from the central computers.

        Of course he was suspicious.

        Why him?

        However, the more he thought about it, the more it
made sense.  He didn't know who they were, had no ties to
them, and was familiar with NERV operations.

        The central computer would be a tough one, but he
still had his old clearance cards, and knew a few
maintenance tunnels where he could cut into the lines with a
laptop.  Risky, but doable.

        As for the hair, urine, and blood samples...

        He wasn't sure.  Pose as a plumber or something?

        After thinking it over, hitting Ayanami's apartment
for the samples first seemed to be easiest.  She lived
alone, and her apartment wasn't exactly high security.  He'd
never met the girl personally, but from what he heard, she
wouldn't be much trouble.  Just a quiet, creepy little girl
that often got injured piloting the Unit00 early in the
program.

        So that is how it was that Motomu Kamiya found
himself in Rei Ayanami's bathroom at sunset.  What he was
going to do there, he admitted he wasn't sure.

        Perhaps she forgot to flush?

        He turned on the lights.

        No such luck.

        "Damn."

        Well, at least there was hair in the sink.

        He closed the lid and sat on the toilet, a perfect
imitation of Rodan's sculpture, "The Thinker".  He was a
clerk, not a waste disposal specialist.

        And then the feeling hit him.

        It began as a tingle at the back of his neck, and
slowly boiled over into a shivering fear.  Something was
_wrong_.  He tried to move, but he couldn't, paralyzed by an
overwhelming wave of fear.

        The lights flickered, then died.  He caught a
whimper in his throat and his trembling grew to epileptic
proportions.

        In the darkness, he herd the bathroom door swing
open.  A pair of red eyes shone like blazing red stars,
glaring down at him.

        At this point, he made a terrible mistake.

        He reached for his gun.

        Before he could even touch it, his hand was torn
off.

        And that was only the beginning.

                            -*-

        The 4th district of MegaTokyo-3 was a place of heavy
construction.

        If one were to take a walk down her streets, the
sounds of jackhammers and other heavy equipment would be
deafening, and nearly overwhelming.

        On this day, if one listened very carefully, in the
rare breaks of silence between the nearly endless hammering
and pounding of construction, one could hear the tortured,
dying screams of Motomu Kamiya.

                            -*-

        I guess I really am settling in now, and starting to
like it here.  Some of it, anyway.  I don't think I'll ever
like that slimeball Gendo.  I refuse to use his last name
here, in our private conversation.  It's not like he'll ever
see this.  The man is simply a slimeball, and he doesn't
deserve any respect.  The way he's treated Shinji...no
wonder Shinji's like that.

        I always wished I hadn't lost my parents, but now
I'm not so sure I missed out.  I'm sure father wasn't like
Gendo, but...well, my father was a hero, and his father was
a rat bastard.  It's a pity he didn't die instead of Father
and Mother back in 2007.  He probably sat and watched them
die.  I'd have a brother if they hadn't died...well, if
wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

        I have to put up with him, whether I like it or not.
I'll be polite, I'll take my orders, but I hope an Angel
eats him.  Why's he in charge anyway?  All he ever does is
look ominous and chew people out.  And push his glasses up
his nose.  I've half a mind to ducttape them to his
eyebrows.

        Anyway, I'm having fun, at least sometimes, and I'm
glad to be here.  Say hello to everyone, and tell Franz he
was right about Japanese beer.  I never should have doubted
him.

                                        Sincerely,

                                        Asuka Langely

                            -*-

        Gendo put the letter down and frowned.  "What do you
think, Fuyuutsuki?"

        They were in his office with the door closed.

        Fuyuutsuki laughed.  "I think you DO need to do
something about your glasses."

        Gendo stopped his hand, which was halfway to his
nose, putting it down on the desk in what he hoped would be
a casual manner.  "Normally, I would not care if a fourteen
year old wanted me dead, but since she has an EVA at her
command, it's another story."

        "She won't do anything.  It's just a way of letting
off stress.  She threatened to kill Shinji if he kept waking
her up in the earlier letter, but do you really think she
would kill him?"  Fuyuutuski found the whole thing faintly
amusing.  Gendo would be having the censors forward people's
love letters to him next, at this rate.  "She's clearly
adopted Himmelfarb as a surrogate mother, which is exactly
what you wanted when you arranged for her to become Asuka's
foster mother after her parents died."

        "They would still be alive if I had my way," he
said, frowning.  "If we had discovered Asuka's aptitude a
few months earlier...we need our pilots as sane as possible
so they don't break before we finish."

        "And Himmelfarb has given her that sanity.  She's a
fourteen year old child.  What do you expect?"

        Gendo's hand twitched.  He kept it down.  He would
NOT push his glasses up if it killed him.  Milimeter by
milimeter, they slid further down.  "She has none of
Himmelfarb's discipline.  She's rude, disrespectful,
violent, and..."

        "If she had no discipline, would she have a college
diploma?  Would she still be alive?  Could you have piloted
an EVA in a fight to the death at age fourteen?"  Fuyuutsuki
leaned forward.  "She is still a child, with all the
strengths and flaws of youth.  She is still young enough to
change, to be forged into the weapon we need.  At least with
her, we won't have to do as much work as we will with
Shinji.  You could not have picked a worse way to raise him
in order to be an EVA pilot."

        Gendo frowned.  "I did not have time for a child,
and you know that."

        "Nor did I, but there were still better ways.  You
might as well have thrown him on a rubbish heap.  And
imagine how useful he would be to us if you HAD raised him."

        Silence.

        "It's never too late to start."

        Silence.

        "Or are you more afraid of your own son than you are
of the powers of the universe?"  There was an
uncharacteristic edge to Fuyuutsuki's voice.  "The true
master can only master the outside world after he masters
himself."

        "I am not afraid."

        "Liar."

        They stared at each other in silence, gazes locked.
Gendo looked away, staring down at the letters.  "Should we
let Asuka teach him about the Dreamlands?"

        "Now who's running away?" Fuyuutsuki said sharply,
settling back into his chair.  "But I say yes.  Otherwise,
he will likely break before the crisis comes.  If the
account was accurate, the last time, the nightmares started
months in advance.  We already know he's having nightmares.
Now, getting back to what I was saying before, you need to
build a bond between you and Shinji.  Unless you want him to
be more loyal to Misato and the other pilots than you."
Fuyuutsuki frowned slightly at having to put it that way,
but sometimes you caught more flies with honey than vinegar.

        Gendo's eyes flared slightly.  "The woman is..."

        "Have you ever actually looked at them?"

        Gendo blinked.  "What?"

        "I'd think they were brother and sister if I didn't
know better.  If Shinji had to choose, he would choose her
over you every time.  Now, given you're her boss, that's not
a problem, but if she ever revolts..."
        
        "I can manage her."

        "If she learns the truth?  Or even some of it?  If
it comes down to a conflict between you and her, which side
do you think Shinji will take?"

        "I think he would simply waffle, unable to act."

        Fuyuutsuki frowned.  "Do you want him to waffle when
it comes down to the final act?  When we reach the point
where our plans come to fruition?  Him doing nothing could
destroy us as surely as him acting wrongly."

        "I do not have time to play the doting father.  I
barely have time to do my duties, let alone...take him to
play baseball or something."

        "Whatever.  I will plan my funeral now, then."

        Gendo narrowed his eyes, then nearly lost his
glasses entirely, finally giving in and pushing them up.
"You really think this is that important?"

        "The pilots must not just do what they are told,
they must trust us, at least a little, or our plan cannot
possibly succeed.  Unless you plan to try hopping into an
EVA on the Day of Return?"

        "They could not handle the truth!  I can see it
eating away at Dr.  Akagi as it did at her mother.  I can
see..."

        "I did not say to tell them everything.  But if they
distrust and hate us, if they grow suspicious...imagine what
could happen if Katsuragi got ahold of the Prophecy?"

        "There are no copies in Japanese.  And she couldn't
read it in another language.  That's one reason we chose
her."

        Fuyuutsuki was beginning to wonder if someone had
stolen part of Gendo's brain today.  "Her father had one."

        "That's one reason he's dead."

        "There are hundreds of people who could potentially
translate it into Japanese.  But there are copies in GERMAN.
And Asuka is fluent enough to translate it."

        "They would never..."  Gendo shook his head.  "If
they learn the truth, they will become useless to us.  Even
Rei can't be allowed to know at more than the instinctive
level."  He paused and sighed.  "You're right.  The boy
needs better training, and he needs...to trust us.  Asuka is
likely a lost cause in that regard, but if Rei and Shinji go
along, she will."

        Fuyuutsuki rose.  "And now I must 'go along'.  Time
for the finance committee meeting.  Hmmm....whatever
happened to Yui's cello?"

        "I donated it to an orchestra.  A good idea,
however.  I do still have a lot of her sheet music, boxed
up...somewhere."  He began thinking.  "I shall have to look
for it."

        "Good bye," Fuyuutsuki said, leaving Gendo in his
thoughts.


                            -*-
                      - end part 7 -
                            -*-




editor's note: thanks to Tae Jensen (ajensen@orion.ac.hmc.edu)
for the images of Rei with violin and Gendo in red.