~*~

	The team of divers made little noise as they swam
through the ruins of a once-great city.  Millions had once
lived here; now it was home only to fish.  Crack diver Eiko
Kappabungi led the team, who followed her directions despite
not being sure what they were looking for or why they had
come.  The harpoon guns they carried indicated there was
likely to be danger, although the only real danger was
smacking into a rock in the dark as far as most of them
could tell. 

	"Johnson, Taka, you go that way."  Eiko pointed to
the left entrance of the huge sprawling building they were
about to enter.  Once it had reached to the sky, dozens of
stories tall; now it couldn't even break the surface of the
water far above.  "Anderson, Hino, circle around to the
back.  Rippongi, you come with me around to the right." 

	They all nodded and split up, one diver in each pair
carrying a substantial lamp, most of them wondering why they
had to split up to enter an abandoned building.  They
wouldn't say anything, though.  Eiko had a sharp tongue. 

	Eiko and Rippongi were still poking around the foyer
when Taka came on the radio.  "Kappabungi-san, we've found a
huge well.  And...uh...You're going to have to see this." 

	Eiko and Rippongi quickly swam down the long hallway
to the grand central chamber of the building.  It would have
been impressive, once upon a time, carved of marble, basalt,
and onyx, the walls covered with reliefs and squiggly
letters.  The ceiling was about four stories above the
floor, a great dome studded with gems which sparkled in the
light of the flashlights the divers used.  They could only
see pieces of the room; it was too big for their lights to 
illuminate more than bits of it at a time. 

	And in the center, there was a great well, a shaft
sinking into the darkness.  The water was warmer around the
well; they could feel a gentle current running away from it. 
Reliefs in the floor showed people being hurled into the
well by ceremonially dressed priests who wore tentacled
headdresses and a contorted, inhuman mask.  Bits of yellow
paint still clung to the masks, and a band of purple stone
ringed the well for six feet.

	Anderson looked up at the ceiling.  "Everything's
so...it's too clean.  It's like this place sunk yesterday. 
There's broken stuff everywhere, but nothing is worn or
covered with barnacles or...anything.  But of course, this
is the really weird thing."  She shone her lamp upon a
statue made of limestone or some other sort of greenish rock.  
It was kneeling at the edge of the pit, gazing down, a look 
of horror upon its amphibian face, for it looked like a 
strange cross between a fish, a frog, and a man, for its hands 
and feet were webbed, its head fishlike, with bulging eyes 
and a receding, hairless brow, its flesh carved cunningly in 
the likeness of scales.  Yet its form was clearly human, bipedal 
and proportioned much like any man.  "Strange, eh?" 

	"Yes,"  Eiko said.  "Perhaps one of their gods." 

	Anderson nodded. "I thought that at first.  The
legends do claim some contact with fish-gods, but...look
closer."  The light flashed on the creature's wrist.  Not
only could they see the watch it was wearing, they could
read 'Timex' on it.  "I'd almost think this was all some
sort of fraud, but...what sort of conman would build a giant
underwater temple in the middle of the Pacific?  And then
make a mistake like that?"

	Taka was carrying a box whose purpose he didn't
know, other than the fact that it beeped periodically.  He
was being paid enough that he didn't care that he didn't
know.  NERV seemed to be big on giving orders and not
explaining them.  He just hoped it wasn't a geiger counter,
especially now that it was beeping louder and faster.  "The
box is having a fit," he said. 

	"Take it closer to the pit,"  Eiko said. 

	The box had a louder and longer fit.  Taka frowned. 
"I don't like this." 

	Hino nodded.  "This place gives me the creeps,
although the night sky ceiling is kinda neat."

	"The what?"  Taka asked. 

	"The gems are all laid out where various stars are," 
Hino said.  "It's a star chart."  She took Anderson's lamp. 
"There's Polaris.  Algol.  Aldebaran.  Betelgeuse.  Sirius. 
Fomalhaut."  The light jerked about, illuminating various
'stars'.  "There's the Big Dipper, Orion, Gemini...I'd guess
this shows the sky in a few months; some of these stars
won't be visible much at night until fall.  Especially
Fomalhaut.  I'm gonna take some photos...now I'm curious. 
Gimme the camera, Johnson." 

	Johnson didn't answer; in fact, he had moved out of
the light range of everyone else.  Then his head drifted
into the light of Rippongi's flashlight, neatly severed at
the neck.  For a moment, they all stared, then Rippongi and
Anderson both brought their lamps around to see what had
happened.  The last transmission from the expedition was the
sound of screaming. 

                           ~*~

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


                 Children of an Elder God

                          Part 8

                       Under the Sea

                           ~*~


                           ~*~

	"Ready for your checkup, Rei?" Maya asked
pleasantly.  Rei nodded, then stripped out of her clothes
and laid down on the examination table. 

	Slowly, methodically, mechanical arms holding a
dazzling set of sensor arrays moved over her body.  Screens
running along the wall came to life, streaming with data on
her body chemistry, brainwave activity, and dozens of other
details about Ayanami's body that an untrained eye would
find totally undecipherable. 

	"How's things going in school?" asked Maya, punching
a few buttons and flipping through charts as she did so. 
"Everything okay?"

	Rei nodded. 

	"And are things going well with Shinji?" 

	Something unexpected happened. 

	The sensors all beeped, not loud alarms, just beeps,
signifying a change in Rei's body chemistry.  Her body
temperature was slightly warmer, and there was an increase
in her blood pressure and respiration. 

	Rei frowned, looking unsure, and averted her eyes
from Ibuki's. 

	Maya looked at the screens, then scribbled a quick
note in her notepad.  "Rei, what's wrong?" 

	"Langley," she replied quietly. 

	"Asuka?  What about her?" 

	"She was with Ikari." 

	"With Shinji?" 

	Rei nodded. 

	"What do you mean, 'with Ikari'?" asked Maya.  "They
weren't..." 

	"Ibuki-san," said Rei evenly, "I want to kill her." 

-*-

	"Sit down, Langely,"  Gendo said, pointing to a
chair. 

	Asuka sat down, frowning.  "Am I going to be chewed
out again?" 

	"I want you to teach Shinji about controlling his
dreams." 

	Asuka blinked.  "You do?" 

	"Since the two of you live together, you are the
ideal teacher.  And I understand he is having recurring
nightmares." 

	"Yeah.  Sure I'll teach him.  I'm just...Anything
else?" 

	"That's all.  You have one month.  Possibly less." 

	Asuka frowned.  "Is something going to happen in a
month?" 

	"He must learn quickly, and some of our intelligence
indicates one of the Angels may be able to influence dreams. 
Rei has the training to defend herself, but Shinji..." 

	"Would crumple.  I'll do my best." 

	"You have one month, then I'll call in someone who
can do a better job if you can't handle it." 

	"I CAN handle it,"  Asuka said. 

	"We shall see.  Dismissed." 

	Asuka got up and left.  Gendo watched her go, then
smiled faintly.  That would light a fire under her feet. 

                           ~*~

	"You're going to what?"  Shinji said, sitting on his
futon. 

	Asuka leaned against the doorway.  "I'm going to
teach you to control your dreams.  You need to learn." 

	"Is this some hypnosis thing?" 

	"No, just some mental techniques.  It's easy, and
you'll sleep better and have more interesting dreams." 

	"My dreams are already too interesting." 

	She came over and sat down.  "Okay, let's get
started." 

	"Hey, I..." 

	She gave him a look. 

	"Okay, okay, I'll try it." 
	
                           ~*~

	He was on the train.  Again.  The maglev zoomed
through the Japanese countryside.  Shinji did his best to do
what Asuka had told him.  Focus on the image of a mountain
until it appears in the dream.  So he had chosen to think
about Mount Fuji. 

	He could see mountains out the window, but they
weren't the right mountains.  He concentrated harder, doing
his best to remember what Fuji looked like. 

	The train zoomed around a mountain, turning towards
the sea, whipping about so fast he nearly fell out of his
seat.  As it was, it turned him around and he looked out the
other window.  There was Fuji, looking lost in the middle of
the plain.  The train turned again and pulled into a station
at its base. 

	Shinji blinked.  The train never, ever stopped
before.  He got up, went to the door, and looked out.  A
road led up the mountain.  He thought about it and realized
Asuka hadn't told him what to do if the mountain actually
showed up.  Climb it, he guessed, so he got off the train,
which pulled away. 

	I wonder if there's a yogi who will tell me the
secret of life at the top, he thought as he started to walk
up the gently sloping cobblestone road.  Probably he'll just
ask me how many licks to get to the center of a tootsie-pop
or something. 

	The road seemed endless; while it was an easy slope
spiraling up the mountain, it was also incredibly long. 
Several times he passed steeper staircases and ladders cut
into the sides of the mountain, but he ignored them, not
feeling like going the hard way. 

	The easy way, however, was also proving to be the
slow way.  He had circled the mountain at least eight times,
but he still hadn't reached the top.  He looked back down
the mountain at the train station.  It would be easier to go
back down, get on the train, and leave, then even to keep
going up this road. 

	But then Asuka would laugh at him...she probably
would be climbing the sheer cliff face right now, just for
fun, he thought.  He didn't want her to laugh at him.  I'll
be here all night going this way, though, he thought. 

	With a sigh, he turned to the nearby steep staircase
and began to make his way up it.  Soon, he was sweating; the
steps were huge, the angle was steep, and the sun had become
relentless.  But he was making much better time. 

	Once he reached a high ledge, he sat down to rest. 
"I didn't think a staircase could be so hard to climb." 

	He sat for a while, looking out across the
countryside.  Rice fields, forest, hills, and a long beach
bordering the Pacific Ocean stretched out north and south to
the east of him.  The train track wended its snakey way
through the countryside, though there were no buildings, no
towns, and no human habitation.  Beautiful solitude, with
only the animals, the wind, the sun, and the long shadows of
the western mountains cast across the land as the sun sank. 

	As it sank.  It was going to be dark soon, Shinji
realized.  Climbing the mountain in the dark would be
dangerous, even just going up a staircase.  He then realized
two things.  The staircase down had vanished.  The staircase
up was fading away as the light faded.  He hesitated,
uncertain whether to run up the fading stairs or stay on the
ledge. 

	Shinji hesitated and was lost.  Within seconds, both
staircases were gone, and he was stranded.  I'm stuck, he
thought.  They'll have to send a helicopter to...wait, I'm
only dreaming.  I can just wake up.  He closed his eyes and
concentrated on being back in his bed. 

	A few seconds later, he was back in bed, staring up
at the ceiling.  I did it, he thought.  I got to the
mountain!  He jumped up, ran out into the hallway, threw
Asuka's door open and shouted, "I did it!" 

	Asuka, sprawled out on her futon with a stuffed cat
on her face, sat up groggily.  "Whu?" 

	"I got to the mountain!" 

	She stared at him.  "Good job, Mohammed.  Now let me
sleep."  She flopped back onto her pillow.  "We can talk
about it in the morning." 

	Shinji went back to bed and slept peacefully. 

                           ~*~

	"You made it partway up the mountain?"  Asuka asked
during breakfast. 

	"Yeah,"  Shinji said.  "Is that good?" 

	"That's great!" I didn't even have to tell him, she
thought.  Showing some initiative for once.  "You have to
climb the mountain to the top.  Once you do that, you'll be
ready for the next step."  If I can remember the next step,
she thought.  I hope I'm doing this right.

	"When you get to the top, ask the old man if he
knows any good auto body repairmen," Misato said.  "I need
to get rid of some dents." 

	Shinji laughed.  "I have to find out how to get you
to do your chores first." 

	"Hey!  I do my share of the work!" 

	"If you define 'share' as 'nothing',"  Asuka said. 
"Can you go shopping today?  I made a list of stuff we
need." 

	"No problem.  I have to go pick up some stuff,"
Misato said.  "I have a little surprise for you tomorrow
afternoon."  She winked. 

	"Ooh...I have to remember to watch the Shark Attack
Hour on the Discovery Channel tomorrow...Helga is going to
be on it!"  Asuka smiled excitedly.  "I ought to tape it." 

	"Who?"  Shinji asked. 

	"She's a marine biologist from NERV-Germany.  They
filmed this a few weeks before I left; I've been wanting to
see it." 

	"Why was NERV employing a marine biologist?"  Shinji
asked. 

	"She was helping develop equipment for EVAs to
operate underwater.  In fact, I think she was trying to
build one with gills or some such weird thing."  Asuka
shrugged.  "She had a great aquarium." 

                           ~*~

	Shinji brought the mail up to the apartment when he
and Asuka got home from school.  They quickly sorted it. 
Asuka had a letter from Anna and junk mail from a credit
card company, which she quickly tossed out, laughing. 
Misato had a large pile of junk mail and bills.  Shinji had
a single purple envelope with no return address.  His name
was typed onto the envelope.  "Weird."  He tore it open and
found a greeting card.  It showed two children playing in
the rain on the front.  The printed message inside stated,
'Thinking of you on a rainy day.' Shinji blinked.  It hadn't
rained in a week. 

	In addition to the printed message, someone had
composed a message by cutting out letters from magazines and
gluing them into the letter.  They spelled out a haiku. 

	'Here is rain for you. 
	You make me feel these things
	Do you feel them too? 

		A Secret Admirer.'

	Shinji stared at the card.  What the...here is rain? 
Why would I want rain?  Feel WHAT things?  Is this a love
letter or a missive from a lunatic? 

	"Is it biting you?"  Asuka asked. 

	"Eh?" 

	She got up and came around.  "You're staring at it
like it's going to...ooh, a love card!"  She grabbed it. 
"Haiku.  Here is rain for you?  Is this some culture thing
foreigners can't get?"

	He tried and failed to grab it.  "I don't know!" 

	"Oooh, a secret admirer!  That's so romantic!" 

	Misato surprised them both by stepping out of the
hallway and saying, "Shinji's got a secret admirer?" 

	"Yeah!"  Asuka handed Misato the letter, holding
Shinji at arm's length.  "You're a lucky guy, Shinji!" 

	She read the poem.  "Hmm.  This reads like something
Shinji would write.  Did you send this to yourself?" 

	"NO!!!!"  He tried and failed again to get the card
back. 

	"I'll take it around and see if I can get a
confession for you, okay, Shinji?"  Asuka asked, grinning. 

	He sighed.  "Whatever." 

	She waggled a finger.  "Now, Shinji, it's no fun if
you give up." 

	"You've got a weird idea of fun." 

                           ~*~

	"That's MY chair!"  Asuka said, pointing at the
recliner, which Touji had snagged for himself.  It was the
only nice chair in the entire apartment. 

	"Ain't got your name on it," he sneered. 

	"Touji!  She had it first!"  Hikari said from the
chair next to it. 

	The taping had turned into a 'Shark Attack' party,
and Hikari, Touji, and Kensuke had joined Asuka and Shinji. 
Misato was in her room, fiddling with something she wouldn't
let them see which she had picked up the previous day. 

	Asuka looked over at Shinji.  "Tell your friend the
moron to get out of the chair!" 

	"Umm...she was... er... there first,"  Shinji said,
with enough authority to not make an impression on Touji.

	"It ain't gonna kill her to sit on a wooden one!" 
Touji said.  "And my feet hurt, so I need to put 'em up." 

	"The show's starting!"  Kensuke said.  "Sit down and
be quiet so I can hear!" 

	Asuka fumed and sat down.  "Thug." 

	The show soon started, and soon images of people
getting mauled and chased by sharks took control of the TV. 
Shinji asked himself why he was watching this and failed to
get an answer.  Kensuke and Touji started cheering the
sharks on. 

	"Be quiet!"  Asuka shouted. 

	"Hey, I can't understand their English...they're
talking too fast,"  Touji said.  "Nothing to do but cheer on
the sharks." 

	"I'm getting a beer.  Anyone else want one?" 
Kensuke asked. 

	"You shouldn't drink up Katsuragi-san's beer!" 
Hikari said. 

	"She doesn't mind," he replied, getting up.  He then
frozen in place.  "Uh..." 

	"You're blocking the TV,"  Shinji said. 

	"She..."  Kensuke gaped and pointed. 

	Everyone turned around and saw Rei standing there,
wearing a wetsuit and carrying some diving gear.  Hikari
said, "Going swimming?" 

	Misato stepped out of the hallway, also wearing a
wetsuit.  Kensuke and Touji stared, as did Shinji, though
not so blatantly.  She laughed and struck a magazine-style
pose, then laughed some more.  "The Children and I are going
diving.  The rest of you want to come along?" 

	"We're going diving?"  Shinji said.  Images of shark
attacks danced in his head.  "I've never been diving." 

	"It's easy to learn,"  Misato said.  "And since
you're going down underwater for your next mission, you need
to know how.  Although doing it in an EVA won't be exactly the
same, it's a good way to start learning." 

	"Sure!"  Touji said.  "I'd take up skydiving if you
were going to do it wearing that!" 

	Hikari promptly thwapped him in the head.  Asuka
snorted. 

	"Ready for service, Captain!"  Kensuke said,
saluting. 

	"I bet a shark will bite you,"  Hikari said. 

	"No way,"  Kensuke said.  "I'm too cool for a
shark." 

	"C'mon, Asuka, Shinji.  We'd best make sure these
wetsuits fit...The rest of you too."  Asuka and Shinji went
with her, leaving the others to bicker about who would be
eaten first. 

                           ~*~


                           ~*~

	The NERV van pulled up to the beach.  It had been a
fairly lengthy drive, farther than the kids had thought
would be needed.  They were just south of the ruins of
Tokyo; someone had set up a tent pavilion here, and two more
NERV vans were parked here. 

	It soon became obvious why.  Maya and Ritsuko were
here, fiddling with some equipment set up on a table.  Maya
was wearing a yellow one piece bathing suit with an
incongruous labcoat over it, although the fact that Ritsuko
had done the same thing with a blue bathing suit and labcoat
made it look a little less odd. 

	Kaji was stretched out, shirtless, on a beach chair,
next to Shigeru Aoba, who was playing a catchy pop tune on
his guitar.  A fishing pole and a tackle box lay in the sand
next to Kaji.  Makoto was wearing a wetsuit; he was sprawled
out next to Shigeru, half- asleep with a newspaper over his
face. 

	Asuka blinked.  "Is this the NERV bridge beach party
or something?" 

	Misato blinked as well.  "Makoto." 

	He didn't answer. 

	"MAKOTO!" 

	He started up, snagged his leg, fell over and ended
up in the sand, face down.  Finally, he got up.  "When I
mentioned we were going diving..." 

	"I thought it would be a good idea to have a party,
since we all have the day off,"  Shigeru said.  "And Maya and
Akagi-san needed to test some equipment anyway, so..." 

	Asuka zoomed over to Kaji.  "You'll be my diving
buddy, won't you?" 

	"Sorry, liebchen," he said.  "I have a hard enough
time swimming in a pool.  But I have an extra reel in the
car if you want to go fishing with me when you're done." 

	"Sure!" 

	Hikari looked faintly disgruntled.  "So much for..." 
She turned to Touji.  "Want to be my diving buddy?" 

	He blinked.  "Who, me?" 

	"No, the evil kappa behind you.  Yes, you." 

	Touji scratched his head.  "Uh, sure." 

	"Hey, what about ME?"  Asuka frowned at Hikari. 

	"You can...," Shinji began. 

	"And Rei and Asuka will be partners,"  Misato said. 

	Maya twitched faintly.  "I think you should partner
Rei with Shinji and Asuka with Kensuke.  Keep them
in...ummm...balance." 

	Ritsuko looked over at Maya, amused.  "They're not a
math equation." 

	Makoto came over to Misato, cleaning the sand off
his glasses.  "I think Maya's suggestion is good.  Shinji
needs an experienced partner." 

	"Hey, I've been diving four times!"  Kensuke said. 

	"Rei has been learning since she was seven,"  Makoto
said.  "She's better than you.  And I'll go with Misato so
she doesn't drown." 

	"HEY!" 

	"You nearly got yourself caught in that reef last
time, you know," he said. 

	"I've got as much experience as YOU do!"  Misato
said.  "And I'm the highest in rank!  So there!" 

	He sighed.  "Okay, so who do you want as your
partner?" 

	"You, of course.  We've got to play instructor to
all the others.  This way none of us is tied down with just
one person." 

	Maya laughed, and he shook his head.  "You're
confusing, Katsuragi-san." 

	"Just agree with what she says, then do what you
would do anyway, Makoto,"  Kaji said.  "That's what I always
do." 

	"I'll keep that in mind." 

	"Kaji!  BE QUIET!"  Misato said. 

	The tactical commander of NERV and a NERV inspector
were soon demonstrating the fine art of kicking sand at each
other. 

                           ~*~


                           ~*~

	Wait for me!, Shinji thought as he paddled along
after Rei.  She was zooming about like a fish, completely in
her element.  He wasn't even sure if she remembered he was
alive as she circled about him, darting along the edge of
the ruins to the north. 

	The ruins of Tokyo-1 were a little creepy, a
reminder of a great failure of humanity, and the loss of
millions of lives when it sank in a single night.  They were
well lit, for the water was shallow, and the buildings far
apart here at the fringes.  Many of them poked up above the
surface. 

	Moving with the tank on his back felt strange,
though it wasn't too much of a burden.  He wished for a
moment that he was a fish, able to swim about with need for
tools and fake flippers.  Rei would make a good fish, he
thought. 

	She darted past him, her red eyes glinting almost
cheerily.  I guess she really likes swimming, Shinji
thought.  The pitch black wetsuit accented the pale skin of
her face and her blue hair.  He found it a very pleasant
sight.  She circled around, and paused in front of him, then
beckoned him to follow her.  She began to swim lazily
towards one of the buildings, and he followed. 

                           ~*~

	Makoto wished desperately he could speak underwater. 
Being able to shout would have helped.  The kids had
scattered all over, and it was running him ragged trying to
keep rounding them up.  Misato looked harried as well.  I
feel like we're the parents on _Six is Sweet_, he thought. 

	He got a mental image of himself and Misato married
and living in a nice little house like the one he had grown
up in, and he smiled.  Sometimes I envy Shinji, getting to
live with her, he thought.  He watched her waggling a finger
at Kensuke, who had been trying to get into one of the
buildings, and he laughed.  We should have picked a site
further away if we'd known they'd all be coming. 

	Still, the Children would have to go into a ruins,
so they needed the practice.  Kensuke probably had some
crazy idea about trying to get Asuka to make out with him. 
Makoto couldn't blame him; he'd had a few fantasies about
doing that with Misato himself on times they had gone
diving. 

	At least I've got a chance to show her I'm more
responsible than her ex-boyfriend, he thought.  Assuming
they're still ex.  He had seen them kissing, and he wasn't
sure what was going on.  Maybe I should ask Shinji, he
thought. 

	Off in the distance, he spotted Touji going farther
out than they had been told to go, so he tapped Misato on
the shoulder.  She blinked, followed his pointing finger,
and nodded.  He went after Touji (and Hikari, who Touji was
outpacing). 

                           ~*~

	Asuka frowned slightly.  Why do I feel so...
uncomfortable?  I like to swim.  She had a vague feeling of
lurking doom, as if the water...didn't like her or
something.  Which was ludicrous. 

	Kensuke tapped her on the shoulder.  She turned,
wishing she could talk without drowning.  He pointed and she
looked. 

	A large school of iridescent fish were swimming in
and out of the broken doors and windows of a nearby former
store.  They were beautiful and apparently quite unafraid of
humans.  For a few seconds, she and Kensuke simply watched
them. 

	The ruins, in Asuka's mind, changed from a haunted
place to feeling more like a sort of giant aquarium.  She
almost expected to see an abandoned diving suit nearby, or
to look up and see a giant hand dropping flakes in the
water.  She grinned and gave Kensuke a thumbs up. 

                           ~*~

	Kaji sat up and went to his car.  "You should be out
in the water, Rits-chan.  I don't think I've ever seen you
be at the beach for more than ten minutes without jumping
in."

	"I have no intention of swimming,"  Ritsuko said,
gazing at the sea with a bit of a longing look, like she was
denying herself candy.  "Maya and I are here to do work,
unlike you.  We're just suited up since we'll likely have to
get wet."

	"Playing with that sonar thing again?"  Shigeru asked,
coming over to look at it.

	"Something's interfering with it,"  Maya said, "But
yes.  We've planted some drones that are going around,
testing it.  It's called Hypersonar."  She glared at the
monitor, which kept fuzzing out.

	"You used to love to swim,"  Kaji said.  "I remember
the time you went topless at that one beach."

	Everyone swiveled and stared at Ritsuko, who caved
in on herself slightly.  "So did Misato...everyone was like
that!"

	"Sempai!  That was daring!"  Maya said, smiling. 

	"Better not tell Makoto,"  Shigeru said.  "He'd die
because he missed that."

	Kaji began walking down to the shore with the toy he
had gotten out of the car.  "This won't interfere with your
test, will it?"

	"I don't think so,"  Maya said.  "In fact, you can
use it to help us!"

                           ~*~

	It's creepy, looking at all these sunken buildings,
Touji thought.  He glanced over at Hikari, who was looking
at a shop front window. Somehow it survived intact, and some
decade and a half old dresses were still standing on
mannequins in a store.  He shook his head; leave it to a
girl to find dresses in a sunken city, he thought.  She'll
want to try them on next. 

	He looked down the street and saw a shape move
through the next intersection.  It had been gray with
streaks.  Somehow familiar... a really BIG fish. 

	Then it circled back, and he recognized it.  A
shark.  He poked Hikari in the shoulder.  She turned around,
looking irritated, so he grabbed her and started swimming.
She would have yelled at him if they could speak.  Then she
noticed what was following them, and she started swimming as
well.

	No way we can outswim this thing, he thought.  We've
got to split up or take cover or something, he thought.  He
pointed to a building, and they swam through the door, then
slammed it.  Touji was breathing hard.  Gotta warn the
others somehow, he thought.

	He waited for the thing to try to ram down the door,
bracing himself against the metal.  No shark. 

	After a while, he looked out through a crack.  No
shark. 

	He waved for Hikari to move back, then stuck his
head out.  No shark. 

	They headed out into the street and looked around. 
It was gone.  They stared at each other, then started
heading back towards the beach.  A few seconds later, Makoto
swum into sight, and a game of underwater charades began.

                           ~*~

	Soon, a stream of would-be divers erupted from the
water, fleeing up onto the shore.  Touji shouted, "Shark! 
Shark!"

	Maya giggled.  "Uh huh.  And a wolf too, I'm sure." 

	Kaji shook his head.  "No wolves around here." 

	Shigeru said, "Can't fool us!"  He started playing the
theme song from Jaws, laughing.

	More people came out of the water.  Misato did a
quick head count.  "We missed Rei and Shinji!" 

	"Damn it,"  Makoto said, turning around.  "I'll find
them." 

	"You stay here, I'll go." 

	"Better I risk my life than you.  You're the
tactical commander; I'm just your assistant," he said.

	They stared at each other.  Finally, Misato said,
"We'll both go.  They're my responsibility." 

	He nodded.  "Well, if I can't persuade you to stay,
then let's go."

                           ~*~

	Shinji stared at the kanji painted on the side of
the building he and Rei were next to.  Some of it had
eroded, but he could still read some of it.  'The Yellow
Sign rises in place of .  The stars move. 
The time of  has ended.  After winter,
summer, after summer, winter.  All is '
The end of the 'message' was eroded beyond recognition,
except for a strange scrawled sigil, an eye of flame in the
heart of a five pointed star.  Rei had pulled him over to
it, but couldn't tell him why. 

	He turned to her questioningly, and she stared at
him.  Her right hand rested on the sigil, her left drifted
freely.  Then it came around, and pulled his right hand over
to touch it.  For a moment, he felt a strange thrill, as if
the wall had tried to jolt him.  She guided his hand along
the contours of the sign.  The wall was pitted and eroded,
but the sign remained vibrant, and seemed even brighter,
somehow, where they had touched it.

	Just as they were about to trace over the eye, he
saw the shark.  It was a fair distance away, swimming
languidly towards them.  He jerked back and pointed.  Rei
turned and saw the shark and began to swim towards it.

	Maybe she DOES think she's some undersea princess,
he thought.  He wanted to run away, but he didn't want to
leave Rei to face it alone.  He compromised by not moving,
placing his hand on the oddly comforting sigil.

	A few seconds later, Makoto came round the corner,
then turned to wave off the way he came.  He came over to
Shinji, pointed at the shark, then gawked as Rei swam up to
it and poked it in the eye.  It tried to swim away, and she
grabbed it.

	Misato came around the corner just in time to see
Rei swimming towards them, dragging the shark by the tail. 
It thrashed about, so she stopped and broke its tail.  A
black fluid leaked out of a rip in it, and began to rise
slowly, feathering out into rivulets of dark liquid.

	Shinji stared at the liquid.  It wasn't LCL, it
was...

	Misato stared at the shark, then at Makoto, and they
both nodded, then sighed.

                           ~*~

	"KAJI, YOU DIE!"  Misato stormed out of the water. 
"Where the hell did you get a mechanical shark, anyway?"

	"You'd be amazed how much weird stuff is stashed
away if you can find the right storage room in NERV,"  Kaji
said, dropping the remote control.  "You didn't have to
break it."

	"It could have been hostile,"  Rei said, dumping it
on the beach. 

	"I think it's funny," Asuka said, laughing. 

	"I think we should throw Kaji out in the ocean
without his swim trunks," Hikari said.

	Misato grinned.  "Perfect." 

	It was fortunate that Kaji could run quickly. 

                           ~*~

	Ritsuko and Maya had taken over the beach chairs
somewhat later, while most of the assembled company were
swimming, except for Asuka who was cooking dinner with help
from Shigeru.  Pleasant, though unfamiliar smells were drifting
towards them.  Maya said, "I guess the next step is to build
the EVA sized units."

	"And to field test those.  And to build a larger
version of the mechanical shark to use as a hunting
subject."  Ritsuko sniffed the air.  "Been a while since I
last had sauerkraut."

	"Is that what I'm smelling?"  She looked over at the
grill.  "Where did Asuka find that thing, anyway?" 

	"Aoba-san brought it.  I think he planned to make some
okonomiyaki with it, but Asuka had other ideas.  Now, how
she knew he would bring a grill...don't ask me."  Ritsuko
shrugged.  "I won't complain." 

	"Are you sure you don't want to swim?" 

	"Yes,"  Ritsuko said.  "I don't like brine."  Her
voice took on a bit of a sharp edge.  "And I can swim all I
want back at the Geofront anyway."  She looked at Touji and
Kensuke, who were having a race.  "I'd just get in the
children's way, anyway." 

	Maya blinked, then frowned.  "I knew I had forgotten
something."

	Ritsuko cocked her head.  "You have children you
forgot about?"

	Maya laughed, as did Ritsuko.  "No, Rei came in for
her checkup and..."

	"She's not starting to degenerate like DAGON subject
32 is she?"  Ritsuko frowned.  "You should have told me
before."

	Maya shook her head fervently.  "No.  It's not
physical.  Not directly.  I mean...the machine pretty much
told me about part of it, but...She has a crush on Shinji,
and she's jealous of Asuka."

	Ritsuko stared intensely at Maya.  "Are you sure?" 

	"She said she wanted to kill Asuka.  And the feeling
comes on whenever Asuka touches Shinji."  Maya frowned. 
"With most children her age, I would be sure she is
exaggerating, but...Rei doesn't exaggerate." 

	"And you didn't tell me this?"  Ritsuko fought to
keep her voice low.  "What did you tell her?" 

	"I forbade her to kill Asuka.  And that Shinji would
be very unhappy if she did that.  So would everyone else. 
The creepiest part was that she didn't understand why she
wanted to kill Asuka.  She can't quite understand she has a
crush on Shinji."

	"Are you sure that's it?" 

	"Why else would she care?  And just asking about him
caused her to have a physical reaction.  Of course, it could
be that she just doesn't understand her own feelings about
Asuka either."

	"Or it could wreck everything," Ritsuko said.  "I
wouldn't care if Rei simply hated Asuka, though I'd rather
they all like each other.  But if Rei has actually reached
the point of saying that...This could be disastrous.  She's
losing her balance."

	"Well, I think she'd be better off if she wasn't so
passive, but...better passive than homicidal."

	"I will talk to her.  I have a few ideas for things
that might help.  It may simply be jealousy.  I hope you're
right.  Do you have any idea how the boy feels about her?" 

	Maya tapped her cheek thoughtfully.  "I don't know
for sure, but I think he does like her.  Just look at how
comfortable he is around her."  She pointed out at the
playing children.  "I think they've all gotten more
comfortable with her."

	"She needs human contact," Ritsuko said.  "But it's
also dangerous to her, I think.  We all have monsters
lurking inside us; I fear Rei's may devour her if we handle
this poorly."  Her voice wobbled slightly.  "And if she goes
out of control..." 

	"What can I do, Sempai?" 

	"You can start by never forgetting anything this
important again."

	Maya blushed. 

                           ~*~

	Makoto picked up his mail.  Most of it was junk
mail, but one letter came in a purple envelope and smelled
faintly of lilacs.  He blinked and sat down at the table to
read it after hanging up his wetsuit in the bathtub to dry.

	'Dear Makoto,

	I have finished the first draft of 'Forbidden Love
in NERV', the story I'm writing about a romance between two
fictional EVA pilots, inspired by the stories you told me. I
will be in Tokyo-3 in a few weeks; I'd like to drop you off
a copy to look at.  I need help making the action scenes
more realistic; I don't know much about how things operate. 
Or at least so they SEEM realistic.  Most people don't know
much about how you run things either. 

	How are things going with you and Misato?  I suggest
you start a secret admirer type thing if you haven't made
any progress.  See if she finds that exciting.  You can
always cut it off without losing any face if she doesn't
respond, and it just might get you where you want to be! 

	Anyway, I hope to see you!  Give me a call at
555-975-9066, or you can email me at Akane@Ozaka.Net.  Well,
I'm going parachuting.  See you! 

						Hugs and Kisses,

						Akane Toshiba'

	She writes fast, he thought.  I suppose she'll want
to write Asuka into it.  And the shark.  He laughed, putting
down the letter.  Going down to face the shark together was
the closest thing to a romantic moment he'd managed to get
with Misato-san, although the other times they'd gone diving
had been nice too. 

	Kaji didn't help himself with the shark stunt. 
Misato-san was REALLY mad.  No one had been hurt, but... 

	Hmm, he thought.  Secret Admirer...I need to find
out what kind of flowers she likes.  Although I probably
should send flowers and beer instead of chocolate... 

	He laughed and started making plans. 

                           ~*~

	Shinji came out to the kitchen to get a drink of
water before bed while Asuka was showering.  Misato had
changed into a set of actual pajamas; he hadn't realized she
had any.  And she was wearing her amulet.  With a start, he
suddenly realized the amulet was identical to the glyph that
had been painted on the building.  "That...there was
something like that where Rei beat up the shark." 

	Misato blinked.  "Something like what?" 

	"Your amulet.  There was some freaked out message
about winter and summer and rising signs and something.  And
a thing like that." 

	"Weird.  Continuing your dream training tonight?" 

	He nodded.  "Climbing the mountain." 

	"I had to go down a staircase," Misato said.  "Ever
down into the dark." 

	He blinked.  "You've done this?" 

	"I used to have horrible nightmares after...Second
Impact.  I was there, you know." 

	"WHAT?"  He stared in surprise.  "In Antarctica?" 

	"I was the only survivor.  I still can't remember
most of it.  But the dreams were awful.  Ritsuko taught me
how to stop them in college.  I mostly dream about food and
friends and driving now.  What do you dream about, Shinji?" 

	"Riding on a maglev train." 

	"And?" 

	He looked embarrassed.  "That's the happy one.  The
other ones get disturbing, but...I think this mountain thing
may actually work."

	Asuka stuck her head into the room.  "Of course it
will!  Because I'M the one teaching you.  Now, go take a
bath so you can go to bed and dream your way up the
mountain." 

	"I didn't go fishing with Kaji and get fish stink on
me like you did,"  Shinji said.  "And I already took a bath.
I'll be fine." 

	"I do not smell like fish!"  Asuka started chasing
Shinji around the apartment while Misato simply laughed. 

                           ~*~

	The ledge had an occupant when Shinji returned to it
in his dreams.  A spider had made a web in one of the
corners, and sat in the middle, waiting for business.  The
pattern glistened in the sunlight, the pattern of Misato's
good luck charm, of the glyph on the wall in the sunken city
of Tokyo-1.  She had told him it was supposed to bring good
luck and ward off evil spirits. 

	A good sign, I hope, he thought.  He stared at the
rock face; the staircase was still gone.  This wasn't much
help.  I can't climb this, he thought.  Now, if I had wings,
I could fly, but... 

	There had to be...ahah, he thought.  This is a
dream.  I ought to be able to MAKE a staircase like I made
the mountain.  He closed his eyes and tried to think of a
staircase, imagining the one in his apartment building. 
When he opened his eyes, there was a tiny model of his
apartment building lying at his feet, along with a tiny toy
model of Misato's car. 

	Something buzzed in his ear, so he swatted at it. 
It dodged, buzzing around his head, a tiny winged annoyance,
which he started chasing around the ledge.  A few seconds
later, a thick stand of webbing shot down where he had been
standing. 

	Shinji looked up.  A spider the size of a horse was
perched just below the next ledge on a huge web it had spun. 
It stared at him with multifaceted eyes.  Its eyes grew, or
perhaps the universe shrank.  Dozens of reflections of
himself hovered before his gaze, swallowing up the universe. 
They danced and sang and ran and burned and pillaged and
killed and howled at the moon, growing more and more alien
as he looked at them. 

	They were around him, a sea of Shinjis.  Shinjis in
plug suits, Shinjis in school uniforms, Shinjis dancing
half-naked and daubed with paint, Shinjis wearing masks of
bone and wood and metal.  They sought to tear him apart, to
devour him, tugging him in a million different directions;
there was nothing in all the universe but himself, and every
Shinji was insane. 

	He had failed.  He was going to die.  He couldn't
fight this many of himself.  No one could.  The cold black
pit that lurked inside him began to grow, chilling him,
leaving him unable to move, to act, to do anything but
suffer. 

	A few months earlier, he would simply have died,
unable to find the strength to fight back.  Even now, it
was, perhaps, only chance which saved him.  One Shinji
carried a spear and wore a mask of cleverly carved wood that
depicted some sort of snarling bestial face with eyes dyed
red.  He knew the mask; one of the priests in his dream of
the sacrifice in the forest during the mission against
Salgiel had worn it.  And the spear he carried... 

	Shinji howled with anger as his mood suddenly
snapped.  I would never do something like that!  NEVER! 
"You're not me!  NONE OF YOU ARE ME!"  He leaped at his
other self, ripping off the mask and pummeling his face
until he collapsed, then he launched into the other Shinjis. 
One by one, they popped like balloons, and as they fell,
crumbled into threads; they had been made out of webbing. 
He stood on the web, confronting the spider, hanging over a
great chasm in a subterranean cave. 

	Shinji pulled out a knife he hadn't known he had,
and charged.  The web bounced under his feet, trying to
catch him, but unable to hold him.  The spider leaped at
him, and the knife came down.  It popped like a balloon, and
with it, the cavern popped.  He was back on the ledge, and
now the huge spider kneeled at his feet. 

	Shinji blinked.  "What the..."  The knife was gone
back to wherever it went from.  He patted the spider on the
head, not sure what to do.  "Uh...good boy." 

	It jumped up like a dog, ran around him once, then
began to climb up the long thick ropelike webstrand which
ran down from the next ledge to this one.  Shinji blinked
again, then began to shimmy up the rope.  It was easier than
he expected, less tiring than the stairs had been, and soon
he reached the next ledge, a broader one. 

	He sat down for a rest.  Next time, I'm gonna dream
every ledge has some food on it, he thought. 

                           ~*~

	The next day, Shinji had other things on his mind,
like the three people bearing down on him at high speed.  I
hate soccer, Shinji thought, looking around desperately for
someone to pass to.  He spotted a reporter...Megumi
something or another...at the edge of the field, taking
pictures.  Now what's she up to, he wondered. 

	This took just long enough for a kid named Youta to
steal the ball from him.  "Hey!"  Shinji ran over, but Youta
passed to another kid, and soon the other team scored. 

	"Whadya zone out for?"  Touji asked Shinji while the
game raged around them. 

	"That reporter's here again,"  Shinji said,
pointing.  But now she was gone. 

	"I ain't seeing nothing,"  Touji said.  "Rei didn't
do nothing to ya, did she?" 

	"Huh?" 

	"No magic whammies?" 

	"What are you TALKING about?" 

	"Dunno.  I wouldn't be surprised if she did magic on
the side.  She's..."  *Whack!* Luckily, touching the ball
with your head is legal in soccer.  This doesn't make it
feel good, though.  Touji fell down.  "Take it, Shinji!" 

	Shinji blinked.  The ball was at his feet, and the
five man line of the other team was boring down on him,
while his three other teammates yelled at him to do
something.  He kicked wildly, the ball soaring over the wave
of humanity, zooming down the field, and bouncing into the
net while the goalie was still trying to accept that Shinji
had actually managed a kick like that. 

	The onrushing horde paused, turned, stared, then
turned back and stared again.  "How the hell did you do
that?"  one of them asked. 

	"I... uh... used my foot."  Shinji said.  "I just
got lucky."

	"I wish I had your luck," the guy said. 

	I wish I didn't, he thought.  Except when it's like
this.  He smiled a little smile for the rest of the game,
although his luck didn't hold out. 

                           ~*~

	Asuka charged down the field with the soccer ball,
having broken through the pathetic defense of the opposing
team.  Hikari loped along beside her; they had left the rest
of their own team behind as well.  Only one thing stood in
the way of her scoring. 

	Rei was the other team's goalie, and she was good. 
Rei's team had scored five goals to Asuka's team's two, and
the reason was that Rei had stopped a good dozen shots that
might have scored.  Asuka had a simple plan.  Drive forward,
set up for what would look like a shot by herself, but
instead pass to Hikari and let Hikari take the shot at a
different angle.  Ideally, Rei would move to block Asuka's
shot. 

	Time seemed to slow down.  Asuka moved in, and Rei
responded by moving over.  Then Asuka twisted her leg around
and passed instead of punting.  Hikari spun slightly and
took the shot. 

	And Rei was over, positioned perfectly to block
Hikari faster than Asuka could blink.  Her leg reared back
to kick the ball, even as the ball left Hikari's foot.  As
time continued to slow, Asuka knew the ball was going to
come right at her.  It was still possible to take the kick
with her head and bat it in, though it would hurt like hell
and maybe not even work. 

	It was a stupid gamble; she took it.  The ball arced
up towards her forehead, and as it struck her brow, she
wondered why Rei hadn't simply caught it and gone for a
longer kick.  The pain was incredible, like being slammed
with a hammer, but the ball arced off and zoomed into the
net, rolling off Rei's shoulder as she tried to intercept
it.  Then Asuka fell to the ground and passed out. 

                           ~*~

	She woke up in the school clinic with Rei and Hikari
seated nearby watching her.  Hikari said, "Are you okay?" 

	"I'm fine."  Her head didn't even hurt.  "I can't
even feel it." 

	"You shouldn't have done that!" 

	"I do what I have to do to win,"  Asuka said.  "And
I feel fine." 

	"Rei, you shouldn't have kicked it at her head!" 
Hikari said. 

	"She knew the risk."  Rei's voice was calm, her face
expressionless.

	"Rei, that..." 

	Asuka shook her head.  "She's right.  I'd have done
the same thing if she'd been charging me.  It wasn't like
she wanted to kill me or something." 

	Rei started slightly.  Hikari laughed.  "True.  So
when are you going to wear that dress you bought, Rei?" 

	Rei asked, "When should I?" 

	"..." 

	Asuka said, "Well, you can't wear it to school, but
some time when you want to impress someone, you ought to
wear it." 

	"Like Shinji,"  Hikari said, smiling slightly. 

	Asuka nodded.  "Yeah, we could all tell Shinji liked
seeing you in it.  Hmm...I've been wanting to do a date with
Kaji.  We could set up a double date with him and me and you
and Shinji.  Sound good to you, Rei?"  Here's where she just
stares at me, Asuka thought. 

	"When?" 

	"Next weekend?" 

	"Okay."  Rei turned and left. 

	Hikari watched her go.  "She's weird." 

	"I guess Shinji has weird tastes.  Maybe he just
likes her body.  She is cute, although I'm better looking
than her." 

	"All hail goddess Asuka, Norse Goddess of Love,"
Hikari said.  "Will you carry me to Valhalla on your winged
horse now?" 

	"Anyone you want to ask out, Hikari?  We could make
it a triple date." 

	Hikari blushed.  "Well, maybe."  I don't know if
taking Touji on a date with Asuka would be a very good idea,
though, she thought.  "I'll think about it." 

	"Don't think too long!  You gotta show a guy how you
feel; if you wait for him to make up his mind, you may wait
all your life."  Asuka jumped off the bed.  "Let's go, even
if it is just back to class." 
	
                           ~*~

	Later that day, Asuka said, "You're pretty good at
the flute,"  as she listened to Hikari play.  "But you need
to take up the viola so we can have a string quartet." 

	Hikari finished her piece, then laughed.  "Why don't
you take up the viola?  I found a piece for flute, viola,
violin, and cello that Mozart did." 

	Asuka stuck her tongue out.  "You want to stay for
dinner?  We're having some of the fish Kaji and I caught. 
Kaji will be here in a few minutes to help me cook it." 

	"To stand around and watch you cook it, more
likely,"  Hikari said.  "Men are like that." 

	"I'll make Shinji help if I have to."  She shrugged. 
"Kaji has other talents." 

	"Like chasing other women." 

	Asuka frowned.  "He..."  She sighed.  "Yeah." 

	"I think you ought to find someone our age," Hikari
said.  "Just about every guy in our class wants to ask you
out, you know." 

	"Kaji's better than any of them." 

	Hikari began digging through her flute music sheets. 
"He's gonna break your heart." 

	"He is not!" 

	"At least if you're gonna date someone twice your
age, find someone responsible,"  Hikari said.  "Like maybe
Katsuragi-san's assistant or the guy with the guitar." 

	"You don't even know their names!  How can you tell
they're responsible?"  Asuka waved her arms about; she was
getting aggravated. 

	Pen-Pen came over and looked at the music Hikari was
about to play, then shook his head.  Hikari blinked.  "How
smart is this penguin?" 

	"Smarter than Shinji sometimes," Asuka said. 

	From his room, Shinji shouted, "I HEARD THAT!" 

                           ~*~

	Misato plunked down the mail just before they were
going to eat.  "Hmm.  Two anonymous purple envelopes.  One
for Shinji, one for me." 

	Kaji laughed.  "Someone's in love with you AND
Shinji?" 

	"How'd you know about..."  Shinji asked. 

	"Asuka asked me to help her figure out who sent you
that card."

	Shinji ground his teeth and opened the card while
Misato opened hers and oohed and ahhed over it.  This one
showed Dorothy asleep in the poppy fields.  On the inside
was printed, 'Dreaming of you'.  The poem made of snipped
letters read,

	'You make me forget
	Why it is that I exist
	You make me feel good. 

		A Secret Admirer'

	Asuka tried to grab it, but Shinji sat on it. 
"Asuka!"

	"Hey, I'm just trying to help you!" 

	Kaji tapped his chin.  "Let's see...it's a bisexual
bad poet.  That rules out Pen-Pen." 

	Misato and Shinji thwacked him in unison. 

                           ~*~

	Shinji knocked on Rei's door.  After a long pause,
he heard footsteps, and she opened it, staring at him.  He
said, "Hi.  I...uh...wanted to ask about why you took me to
see that thing on the wall.  Do you know what it is?" 

	"Katsuragi-san wears one.  I thought she had put
that there for us to find." 

	Shinji nodded.  "Did you understand it?" 

	"The seasons." 

	That part had been pointless, but comprehensible, he
agreed.  "I guess it was just a coincidence.  Misato didn't
know anything about it." 

	"There are no coincidences."  Her voice was level,
making him wonder if she was saying there had to be some
meaning to it.

	"So you think it means something?" 

	"It meant something once."  Silence. 

	"Umm...have you done the math homework?"  He glanced
around, feeling silly standing in the doorway.

	"No." 

	"Wanna...er...do it together?" 

	She looked at his hands.  "You don't have books."

	"Well...we'd need to go back to my place." 

	"Wait."  She closed the door, and he heard her
footsteps recede.  Then they drew closer again, the door
opened, and she came out, carrying a briefcase, which she
was in the process of closing.  He caught a glimpse of
something that looked like 'Vogue', but he assumed it
couldn't possibly be. 

	For a moment, he had a mental image of Rei hiding in
the dark under the sheets of her bed, reading Vogue by
flashlight and giggling to herself, then carefully hiding
the magazine and faking emotionlessness when Akagi-san came
in to check on her.  He laughed loudly at the thought. 

	Rei glanced over at him, but said nothing. 

	As they walked, Shinji began to feel curious as to
what exactly he had glimpsed.  I suppose I could ask her, he
thought.  Somehow, he just couldn't quite do that, though. 
He tried to think of something to talk about.  "How many
more Angels do you think there will be?"

	"Ten." 

	He blinked.  "Just Ten?" 

	"Yes." 

	"Why?" 

	"I don't know." 

	They walked in silence for a while after that, then
Shinji blurted out, "Do you really have an issue of Vogue in
your bag?" 

	"Maya said to study it." 

	"..." 

                           ~*~

	"So who do YOU think Shinji's secret admirer is?" 
Asuka asked Rei as the three of them rode up the elevator to
get into their entry plugs.  They were on their way to do
some special training in their EVAs. 

	"A secret," Rei replied. 

	"Well, DUH!" Asuka shouted. 

	"Can we discuss SOMETHING ELSE?"  Shinji asked. 

	"Okay, who do you think is Misato's secret admirer?" 
Asuka asked. 

	"I don't know, but she sure is enjoying it," Shinji
said. 

	"There's a lesson for you, you know.  You should
LIKE having a secret admirer,"  Asuka said. 

	"I didn't say I didn't like it!  I just don't want
you reading my mail!" 

	"Do you... like it?"  Rei asked.

	Shinji blushed.  "I never had one before.  I never
thought that..."  He blushed more.  "It is kind of nice." 

	"o/~ First comes love, then comes marriage o/~"
Asuka began to sing. 

	Shinji simply quietly wilted. 

                           ~*~

	The underwater exercise went well, although Asuka
managed to snag Unit02's cord on a sunken telephone pole in
the ruins of Tokyo-1 at one point and unplugged herself. 
Unit01 stepped on a shark without noticing, which got a few
laughs once they loaded the Unit into the transport, as it
was still embedded in his foot. 

	They returned home, and slunk contentedly into bed,
exhausted.  Shinji went to climb the mountain some more,
while Asuka had other business on her dreaming mind... 

                           ~*~

	The Red Knight threw a few more logs on her fire,
then got back up to finish brushing her horse, which was
tethered to a nearby tree.  She was passing through a light
forest which ran up and down the thinly occupied hills
between Zakarion (her destination) and Thorabon (her
starting point).  Thorabon was a dying sea port along the
coast of the Southern Sea, east of Dylath- Leen, where she
had recently made herself not welcome by burning all the
slave traders' ships in the harbor.

	Loathsome half-human things had leaped from the
burning boats, confirming her suspicions about the black
galleys which came to port in Dylath-Leen, accepting only
humans in return for the wines and cloths and spices and
gems they brought there in trade.  They would think twice
about returning to Dylath-Leen. 

	On the other hand, she would also have to think
twice, as the locals had not taken kindly to this.  Indeed,
there was some risk now of war between Celephais and
Dylath-Leen.  She needed to return home and warn King
Kuranes. 

	Thorabon had been no help in that regard; the city
was vanishing, fading away bit by bit.  Once it had been a
place of wonders, of buildings made of shining crystal which
would accept no paint but took on the colors willed into it
by their owners.  Great galleons of the same crystal, mined
in the hills, had sailed forth to all the cities of the
Southern and Cerranian seas. 

	But one day, the city had begun to fade, and nothing
could restore it.  Buildings vanished, and with them their
inhabitants.  Thorabonian crystal everywhere began to
vanish, stripping wealthy homes of windows and glasses,
devastating its fleets, and even slaying its king when the
balcony of his palace faded away beneath his feet. 

	Only a few desperate people remained, trying to find
some way to save their city or unable to afford to leave, a
village huddling amongst the fading wreckage of greatness. 

	So she had turned north, to cross the infertile
lands that lay between Thorabon and Zakarion, a city of
sages too wise for the waking world, it was said.  Knowing
the waking world as she did, she could believe it. 

	It was a region of gently rolling plains, covered
with short grass tinged with brown due to a lack of water. 
A few trees with thin trunks and deep, wide roots clung to
the land, doing their best to shade it with their leaves. 

	Asuka took off her helmet and shook out her hair,
then began to comb it.  She sat by the fire, having finished
brushing her horse (with a seperate brush of course).  She
gazed up at the stars.  I wonder how long Shinji's going to
take to climb that mountain, she thought.  I wouldn't mind
having a travelling companion.  Although maybe I can hook up
with Anna again once I get back to Celephais if she's
finished her quest. 

	Her stomach rumbled.  She got up and got her bow off
her horse, stringing it.  Time to shoot me a rabbit or even
a squirrel, she thought. 

	An hour's tramping about caught her a rabbit and
finished the job of the sun going down.  It was dark, and
the stars came out, not the constellations of Earth, but
familiar to her now, for she has passed much time in the
strange world that Dr. Himmelfarb had taught her to enter,
and which she now strove to teach to Shinji. 

	The hardest part was getting in, whether it be to
find the ninety nine steps of dream from the cavern of
eternal flame, or to swim across a river full of piranha, or
to climb a mountain.  A true Dreamer had to be determined in
order to find the place where dreams were reality. 

	And yet, in time, it grew harder for even the most
determined dreamer to enter.  Asuka had no idea why.  Doktor
Himmelfarb had a very hard time, though Asuka still ran into
her sometimes.  Not since her arrival in Tokyo-3, though. 
That time had not yet come for Asuka.  I ought to teach
Hikari too, she thought.  She'd like this, I think.  I just
have to make sure no one EVER teaches Touji. 

	A shape blurred across her sight, drawing her out of
her thoughts.  There was something among the trees, its
shape blurred by rapid movements.  Something with red eyes
and a faint blue halo above those eyes. 

	The haunter of the dark, she thought.  She had
fought it once, long ago, when it had stalked her dreams. 
By defeating it, she had won her way into the Dreamlands. 
Doktor Himmelfarb had warned her it would not stay dead,
that one day it would likely come again. 

	She had beaten it before, but she feared it
nonetheless, for it could take a thousand forms, some of
them horrible beyond measure, but others quite innocuous
until one realized one had placed one's head into the lion's
mouth. 

	She slung her bow over one shoulder, and drew her
sword, an onyx blade forged for her by the smiths of
Ilek-Vad after she had defeated a great sea beast that had
threatened the city upon the great glass cliffs and the
labyrinths of the Gnorri, the sea-dwelling allies of the
people of Ilek-Vad.  Fire flickered along the blade,
lighting a circle around her with its comforting, warm glow. 

	The shape blurred away from her into the darkness of
the half-moon lit sky.  It was flying with great bat-like
wings.  She remembered the wings, the eyes, the tail with a
stinger that had injected a poison that had nearly killed
her in their last confrontation.  She had been unarmed then,
a panicked child, saved only by her strength of will and the
lessons she had been taught.  She felt she was no child now. 

	"Come and fight me!  Don't skulk in the darkness,
you bastard!  I am Asuka Soryuu Langely, the Red Knight of
Celephais!  I've whooped you before and I'll do it again!" 

	She felt a gust of cold air, but her sword flared
brighter, the warmth dispelling the cold air, the light
shoving back the darkness.  "FIGHT ME!" 

	The red eyes stared at her from above, then settled
to the ground far away.  They closed, and vanished.  She ran
about for a while, trying to roust the thing out, but it was
gone.  She spent the rest of the night fruitlessly on edge,
but it never returned. 

                           ~*~

	Kensuke, Touji, and Shinji lay in a field on the
outskirts of the city goofing off when they were supposed to
be studying, watching the clouds drift by instead.  "I envy
you, man,"  Kensuke said. 

	"Why?"  Shinji asked. 

	"I think deep sea diving is cool.  I bet you'll
probably meet a mermaid or something,"  Kensuke said.  "Or
find some golden treasure.  I wish I could pilot an EVA." 

	"I wish you could do it for me.  LCL is disgusting. 
And we'll probably end up stranded on the ocean floor," 
Shinji said.  He idly tied a long stalk of grass into a
circle, then began to weave a second stalk into the first. 

	"I wish I got to live with a babe like you do," 
Touji said. 

	"Yeah, but you'd be living with Asuka too,"  Kensuke
said.  "I wouldn't mind, but I think you two would kill each
other." 

	"Naah.  I'd get Shinji to go out with her so she'd
focus on him while I got Misato,"  Touji said. 

	Shinji laughed.  "I don't think Misato dates people
our age."  I wonder if he's Misato's secret admirer.  He
laughed.  As long as he isn't mine... 

	"Hey, a man can dream a noble dream!"  Touji said,
shaking his fist at the sky.  "It'd beat living with my dad
the prick anyway."  He snarled.  "Bastard won't even go see
my sister.  Says she's already dead." 

	Shinji blinked.  "What?" 

	"Mom was like that for a while before she died, but
I mean...she and Mom didn't get hurt the same way."  He
sighed.  "Mom just breathed in the wrong chemicals.  She
died a lot faster than my sister.  I mean...Miki's been in
the hospital a lot longer than it took Mom to die." 

	Shinji sat up and frowned, feeling guilty.  "She's
still in the hospital?" 

	"Yeah.  She hasn't come out of her coma fully,
except to babble sometimes," he said, sighing.  "But the
doctors say she should recover." 

	"I'm sorry,"  Shinji said. 

	"It ain't your fault,"  Touji said.  "Just beat the
hell out of the next Angel for me, okay?" 

	"I will."  Shinji said. 

                           ~*~

	Asuka pirouetted on the deck for Kaji as the sun was
setting.  She was wearing a white sundress with red tongues
of flame dotting it, and a matching white hat.  "How do I
look?" 

	"You missed a step," he said, laughing. 

	"I meant the dress!" 

	"It's very nice, though not too practical for deep
sea diving," he said, leaning back on his deck chair. 
Several crewmen stared at both of them and grumbled, then
moved on. 

	She came over and sat down on the one next to him. 
"Do you think we're ready for this?" 

	"Nope." He said. 

	She frowned.  "Then why are we going?" 

	"You'll never really be ready.  Not when we can't be
sure what we're fighting or where they come from.  The
universe is a large scary place, and we're really tiny.  We
can't even be sure if the rest of the universe obeys the
same laws as ours.  Certainly the Angels you've fought so
far...we can't explain how they do what they do." 

	Now she felt a little worried.  Usually he was much
more confident.  "Do you really think we're going to lose?" 

	"I fear we will lose.  I hope we will win.  You're
carrying the weight of the world, Asuka.  If you die,
there's no one to replace you.  Not yet.  And there's no way
of knowing how many of these things there are, or if they'll
get lucky and nail one of you."  He turned to face her. 
"Gertrude would never forgive me if I let you die." 

	"I'm not going to die," she said.  "You...you'd miss
me if I died, wouldn't you?" 

	"Of course I would.  I'd only have Misato left to
tease for one thing; Rits-chan won't take my bait anymore." 

	She'd hoped for him to say something more romantic
than that.  "I'd miss you a lot if you died." 

	"Let's not give the universe any hints, okay?" he
said. 

	The sun finished setting, and the red sky faded to
darkness.  One by one, the stars came out, and Asuka settled
down to watch them and listen to the sea. I wonder what Rahab 
will be like, she thought.  That was the name of their next
target, the Angel of the Sea.  Probably going to be a great white
whale, she thought.  She drifted off into a nap, dreaming of 
Shinji's father as Captain Ahab.  

                           ~*~

	Diving in an EVA had several advantages.  No worries
about the bends, for one thing.  The pressure in the entry
plug would never change and an EVA could handle the outside 
pressure with ease.  No need to stick close to an aircord or
anything.  However, they did need power, which effectively
was the same thing.  There was a cable for each of them, and
a fourth one which held several powerful explosive charges;
EVAs weren't likely to fit through any doors they found, and
they hadn't come to do archaeology. 

	Another advantage was that EVAs could carry BIG
lights.  Each of them had the largest headlamps in the
history of the world.  It was like having a portable sun. 
They could see the ruins as they descended into it. It sat
at the base of a mountain, spreading out along three roads
away from the plaza that sat at the point of the mountain's
base directly below a building that perched halfway up the
mountain on a small plateau.  A great gully ran through the
city that must have once been a river. 

	The buildings were of stone, with odd gaps between
them in some places.  The gaps were not ruined buildings,
simply empty spaces with no coherent pattern.  The buildings
themselves were made of many kinds of stone, from basalt to
granite to a handful of buildings faced with marble.  Most
were only two or three stories high at best, though near the
plaza some rose as high as ten stories, interconnected by
now broken walkways above the level of the road. 

	Asuka said, "Hey, Rei, is this your underseas
kingdom?" 

	Shinji laughed.  "Rei is from Atlantis, not Mu." 

	"Mu?" 

	"I don't see any cows,"  Shinji said, laughing. 

	Asuka frowned.  _Someone_ was showing a bit more
spine than usual at _her_ expense.  "Don't make fun of me! 
What is Mu?" 

	"In the nineteenth century, a man named Colonel
Churchward claimed to have deciphered a set of tablets which
told the story of a continent named Mu in the Pacific Ocean,
which had once held a great civilization, then sank into the
ocean.  He was generally laughed at because of two reasons. 
First, his method of translating them basically involved a
lot of mysticism since it was a supposedly dead language,
and secondly, he couldn't produce the tablets." 

	"Sounds to me like he made it up." 

	"Well, unless he built this city too, he must have
known something." 

	"There are other writings besides his which speak of
Mu," Ritsuko said over the comlink.  "While this city may or
may not have ever been part of a kingdom named Mu, it does
show there's some truth to the legend.  Indeed, it's
possible that Atlantis and Mu are simply both distorted
versions of the same truth--this city, whatever it may be
named." 

	Rei pointed at the building on the mountainside. 
"Looks Mayan." 

	It was a huge step pyramid, taller than the EVAs,
though not by much, sitting on a small plateau, most of
which it occupied.  They couldn't make out much detail from
this distance. 
	
	"Maybe Mayans colonized this place before it sank," 
Asuka speculated. 

	"Or vice versa," Shinji said.  "I wonder how old it
is." 

	"Thousands of years," Misato said over the comlink. 
"The sensor feeds we're getting indicate you need to climb
the mountain to that pyramid." 

	"Right,"  Shinji said, and they started down one of
the broad streets to the plaza at the mountain's base. 

	"I can hardly believe this place is real,"  Asuka
said.  "It's at least as advanced as the Egyptians or the
Aztecs or the Maya or Incas.  Just look at the architecture. 
But if it's thousands of years old, it must predate them. 
When we're saying thousands, how many thousands do we mean,
Katsuragi-san?" 

	Misato consulted someone off screen.  "Older than
any known civilization." 

	"Wow!"  Asuka said.  "This must have been the first
human civilization then.  What kind of people lived here?" 

	"We have no clue," Misato said.  "Probably they
looked just like us, though.  It's not THAT old." 

	"The temple looks sort of like the Mayans.  Maybe
they came from here," Asuka speculated. 

	Shinji looked about as they crossed the great plaza. 
"Reminds me too much of Tokyo-1.  I wonder if people will
wander through the ruins of Tokyo-3 one day and wonder what
we were like." 

	"Don't be gloomy," Asuka said.  "This place is
really neat!" 

	Rei, who was lugging the explosives said, "How many
charges to level the temple?" 

	"Try just one,"  Misato said. 

	"We can't just destroy it!"  Asuka said. 

	"Unless you want to get out and swim, we don't have
much choice," Misato said. 

	"They probably sacrificed humans if they were really
like the Mayas or the Aztecs," Shinji said.  "It looks just
like that one in our history books." 

	"Whatever.  I guess we blow it up," Asuka said. 

                           ~*~

	The building was tougher than it looked, but two
charges levelled it.  Clearing the rubble took a while, but
since they had power from above, this wasn't a problem. 
They also had power packs with them for an emergency. 
Finally, they found the huge well which had once sat at the
heart of the temple.  Infrared sensors indicated the water
welling up out of it was warmer than the surrounding
ocean water by a good twenty degrees.

	"Go to Hypersonar,"  Misato said. 

	"Why?"  Asuka asked. 

	"Just do it,"  Misato replied, frowning.  She started 
to say something, then heard something the pilots could
not, frowned more, and said, "Conserves the flashlight power, and
we need to make sure it'll work in the confined space of the
shaft.  You're going to have to go one at a time.  The Angel
is down below.  Do not turn on your lights under any circum- 
stances without a direct order." 

	Misato wasn't happy giving these orders; they had come 
down from Commander Ikari, who she suspected had censored the 
report they had gotten from the divers before passing it on to 
her.  Why fight in the dark?  It made no sense.  Not for the 
first time, she was certain Commander Ikari knew something he 
wasn't telling.  More precisely, that he knew far more about
the Angels than he was telling.  How had the divers known where 
to look?  And why was it so important for the Children to fight 
Rahab in the dark?  Did he get stronger with light or something?

	"Are we gonna have enough cable for this?"  Shinji
asked. 

	"As long as they didn't dig a half-mile shaft, yes," 
Misato said.  "Our readings indicate it isn't much more than
five to eight hundred feet down." 

	"Why is it just sitting here?"  Asuka asked. 

	"We believe it isn't fully functional yet,"  Misato
said.  "It hasn't left since we found it." 

	"I'll go first.  Shinji, you go second.  Rei, you go
third."  Asuka switched on her Hypersonar, as did the
others.  The ocean turned into a black void with shapes
outlined in green with distance markers by them.  "Can I
turn on infrared too?" 

	"Affirmative," Misato said. 

	Asuka gritted her teeth and swallowed, then relaxed. 
"Let's go." 

                           ~*~

	The shaft dove three hundred feet and let out into a
huge cavern that would have been vast and impressive under
most conditions, extending hundreds, maybe thousands of
feet, lacking the stalactites and stalagmites that one
normally finds in caves, the walls polished smooth.  Two
things reduced its impressiveness.  The first thing was that
hypersonar made everything look like a cheesy late seventies
video game.  The second thing was that the EVAS were so big
the cavern shrunk in comparison. 

	Asuka dropped down into the chamber first,
progressive knife in hand. She wished they had been able to
take better armnaments, but most weapons work poorly
underwater.  It would likely do the job anyway. Assuming she
could find the enemy to hit him.  Feh, she thought.

	The ceiling was low, which bothered her; it was
going to be hard to move in here without whacking her EVA's
head into the ceiling frequently.  To make matters worse,
she could make out a huge shape on her Hypersonar which
occupied the far end of the cavern.  Hypersonar couldn't
handle it well; it was too complex, a tangle of tubes and
arms and legs and spheres and bulbous malformed hunks of
seemingly pointless flesh, all mounted around a large sphere
which might have been an eye, but which was featureless to
hypersonar.  It had no infrared signature at all. 

	"That's the Angel!"  Misato said.  "Our sensor feed
from you is heading up the scale." 

	"It looks like old, rotten spaghetti,"  Asuka said. 
"Just like Oscar used to make."

	Rahab, the Angel of the Sea, charged across the
cavern, its hundreds of tentacles, tubes, and limbs flailing
about, and Asuka charged it as Unit01 dropped down.  "You
call this 'not fully functional'?  Shinji, draw your knife
and move left.  Rei, move right when you get down.  I'll
take the middle." 

	"Good plan," Misato said, slightly irritated. 
"Produce an AT- Field as you strike.  Force your way through
the limbs to the center; you'll spend all day hacking at him
otherwise." 

	This was easier said than done.  Up close, Rahab was
one big smear on Hypersonar, and you couldn't see him on
Infrared at all.  While they could swat things aside on
touch alone, soon, each of them was effectively snared in a
sea of limbs which tried to crush them.  His AT-Field was
strong, but it was the sheer weight and strength of his
extremities, combined with the problems of trying to
navigate through them which was holding them back. 

	It was hard to keep from being tangled completely
and immobilized.  Asuka was sure she had sliced a good two
dozen tendrils, tentacles, tubes, arms, and even one thing
that had resembled a leg.  "We need to use our lamps!  It's
like fighting two dozen perverts in the dark!  I can't even
tell what direction I'm facing and..."  Unit02 smacked into
the ceiling. 

	"Request denied," Ritsuko said.  "We have reason to
believe that using light against this Angel would be a bad
idea." 

	"It's trying to cut my cord, but I'm afraid to
strike or I may hit it myself!"  Shinji said.  "I can't tell
the difference in this mess!" 

	"Absolutely not," Ritsuko said. 

	After a few more minutes of fighting, Asuka couldn't
take it any longer.  Her left leg was immobilized and
despite hacking up dozens of tentacles, she wasn't gaining
any ground.  Hypersonar just wasn't hacking it, she thought. 
I need light or I'm going to die. 

	She clicked her light on. 

	He was a nightmare, looking as though someone had sewn
together thousands of random body parts of various sizes
into a huge throbbing mass with a single eye in which danced
a cold blue flame.  She could now see the pain in her EVA's
left leg was from a huge mouth which had bitten down on it. 
His flesh was multicolored, greens and browns and tans and
reds and harsh purples, and many of his limbs flailed about
apparently mindlessly. 

	I'll go for the eye, she decided.  Then her EVA
wouldn't move, and her eyes widened.  "MOVE!" she shouted,
but it moved only in slow motion, ever slowing.  Something
was wrong. 

                           ~*~

	Back at the bridge, Ritsuko cursed.  "You idiot! 
Anything that can see Rahab will..."  She sighed.  "Maya?" 

	"The Angel's AT-Field is invading the three EVAs. 
At this rate, they have about three minutes before it's too
late." 

	"You didn't say we'd get paralyzed just LOOKING at
it!"  Asuka shouted over the comlink. 

	"You wouldn't be in trouble if you hadn't disobeyed
orders!"  Misato yelled. "And someone didn't TELL ME THAT!"

	"You have to generate your own AT-Fields," Ritsuko
said.  "And drive out the energies invading your EVAs. 
Otherwise, you'll be rendered immobile and it will likely
eat you or worse." 

	Shinji winced and began to concentrate, as did the
others, and soon the bridge sensors showed a struggle of
pure energy was in progress between Rahab and the three
EVAs.  The tentacles ceased to move, as the battle became
one of will and power rather than physical might. 

	Asuka found herself thinking about Kaji.  I love
you, she thought.  I can't die...I have to come back to you! 
Not to mention I have to show that bastard Touji I'm not so
weak I got killed by just LOOKING at the Angel.  And Shinji. 
I have to finish his lessons, and he's counting on me!  And
Hikari...I'd miss you if I died.  Thoughts of her loved ones
(and a few hated ones) sustained her will to struggle. 


	Shinji found it hard to focus at first; efforts of
will didn't come easily to him; paralysis did.  The void
opened before him, and he saw the Earth from space.  It was
a tiny marble, just one of millions, doomed to die when the
Sun swallowed it.  Humanity was just a crawling fungus upon
its surface that one day would die.  That day had come;
somehow he could see the horrors rising from the deeps,
crawling from the cracks of the earth, descending from the
sky, all come to reclaim the world that once was theirs. 
The stars were right, and they sang the fall of mankind. 
How could one man stand against that? 

	If he had been alone, he would have likely failed. 
But he could see Asuka and Rei's faces on his monitors, and
he didn't want to fail them.  They were counting on him. 
Asuka wouldn't give up, and neither would Rei.  Misato was
counting on him too, and his friends...he could hardly
believe he had friends.  His life had changed more than he
could imagine since he had come to Tokyo-3, changed for the
better, despite the bad parts of it.  He didn't want to die. 
He wanted to live.  He was going to live.  I refuse to die,
he thought.  The image of humanity's doom hung before him,
and he denied it.  We're not going to die!  I'm not going to
die!  We beat all the other Angels and we WILL BEAT YOU!!!! 

	Shinji snarled, and then his Eva's arm began to
move, followed by its legs.  Slowly, it began to press
forward.  Asuka's EVA was beginning to move as well, and so
was Rei's.  They shoved forward, hacking through the flabby,
pustulent flesh, ignoring the gore that repeatedly showered
the three EVAs. 
	
	"Its AT-Field is wavering," Ritsuko said.  "Asuka,
use your feeding tendrils." 

	"That's disgusting!"  Asuka shouted. 

	"Shinji, use your claws and bite it.  You can chew
through it faster than you can use your knife," Misato said. 
"Ditto for you, Rei." 

	Rei seized one of the tendrils, and ice began to
spread up it to the central tangle of body parts which
formed what passed for Rahab's torso.  Shinji reluctantly
forced himself to make his EVA bite a pulsating arm, then
began to rip his way forward at a much higher pace.  It felt
disturbingly good to just shred his way through the
repulsive thing, and he could almost taste its vital fluids. 
He would have spat if his spittle wouldn't have ended up on
him.  His body quivered with nervous energy as his EVA
sliced and bit and rended and chewed and fed upon Rahab. 

	Unit02 sprouted the facial tendrils, and where they
struck, the limb soon lost all its color and crumbled to
gray flakes, then dust.  At random intervals, large veins
pulsed visibly under 02's skin, and Asuka felt a horrifying
euphoria.  What her EVA was doing repulsed her, but it also
brought a faint pleasure she tried to reject. 

                           ~*~

	Back at the Geofront, Maya frowned.  "Asuka and
Shinji's synchro rates have fallen slightly." 

	Misato shuddered.  "Can you blame them?"  She
couldn't see clearly; they weren't accepting visual signals
from the Children, just Hypersonar, but it still looked
awful.  She fingered her necklace nervously. 

	"Angel AT-Field has fallen to fifty percent," Shigeru
said. 

	"I'm surprised it hasn't actually severed their
power cords yet,"  Makoto said. 

	"Let's not give it any ideas," Misato replied. 

                           ~*~

	Much of what was left of Rahab was covered with ice
and dripping with its own gore.  Unit00 slashed its 'torso'
with mandibles, Unit01 was eating one of its...legs?, and 02
moved forward, sinking its feeding tendrils into the huge
eye. 

	A shriek erupted through the cavern, shaking the
walls, and Asuka's monitors suddenly filled with a flurry of
images, her ears filling with sounds, her nose with smells,
all her senses overloading. 

	For a moment, the Earth floated before her as seen
from space.  Then she saw a vast continent, and a volcano. 
Pink scabrous creatures, winged crustaceans flew down and
built a city, mining the local area for rock, and silencing
the volcano with a machine.  They built a city to guard the
cave where Asuka slept.  One day, they were gone, and much
later humans came and dwelt above her, worshipping her. 

	She howled; these were not her memories, not her
senses, not her, but she could not resist them, could not
fight them off.  Much of it was utterly alien to her and
incomprehensible.  Angled time.  The smell of a dying world. 
Twelfth dimensional spheres.  A music which permeated the
universe.  A universe dying as the atom which contained it
was crushed in a cyclotron.  An ever surging, constantly
changing blasphemous mass surrounded by a court of idiot
gods and mindless flautists playing a tuneless symphony.

	And over and over, snatches of the words of the
priests in a language she refused to know, but which
overwhelmed her, forced itself upon her.  They spoke now, on
the last day before her home sank beneath the waves, calling
out the final prophecy of their time supposedly in her
service.  She had always ignored them, a buzzing annoyance,
along with the stupid people dropped down the great well. 
They had talked of her wrath, her desires, her hopes and
fears for their land, but they had meant nothing to her any
more than one would care if the termites in ones walls
worshipped one.  She had simply waited for the Day of
Return.  And yet one day... 

                           ~*~

	"The priests of Ythogtha have destroyed us all,"
Zar-ya said, as he looked out across the land and watched
the rising waves of waters devour it, watched the great
cracks in the land consume it, watched the people flee up
the mountain towards the temple.  He was an old man, pale
skinned and white haired.  "We have gambled and lost." 

	"Great Ghatanathoa is watching over us!"  Yarke-shu
was dark skinned and young, with bright yellow hair, an
humble acolyte of the temple.  "He will save his faithful
ones!" 

	"He cares nothing for us," Zar-Ya said.  "We have
only pretended to speak in his name, used his power for our
own personal gain.  Have you not studied our histories?  He
did not save those who built this temple and this city from
destruction.  He will not save us." 

	"That...that is blasphemy!"  Yarke-shu was shocked. 
"We are his chosen!  We have closed down all the other
temples at his command!  He...he has to save us!" 

	"The Gods care nothing for men," Zar-Ya said.  "Only
the weak Great Ones who live now only in dreams have any
caring for mortals, and they cannot touch this world; they
are but a shadow.  The Gods, the universe...it does not care
if we live or die.  We have gambled, and we have lost.  Now
we pay the price." 

	"NO!  It is not possible!"  Yarke-shu paled as much
as he could, which wasn't much.  "We have served him well,
given him blood and lives!  Are you saying we slew those
people for nothing?" 

	"Perhaps it appeased his lust for blood...if he
lusts.  We know nothing of him save that to look upon him is
to die.  Only one thing comforts me as I gaze upon the wreck
of all there is."  He stared out across the railing and
watched some people huddling in the wreckage of one of the
banned temples, the temple of Cuthag, the fire god, trying
to light fires in the hopes their lord would notice them. 
No chance of that.  If he did notice them, it would likely
spell their deaths.  "One day, he too will die.  I have seen
it." 

	"That is not possible!  The Gods cannot die!" 

	"All things die.  On the day of Oracles, I have
taken the sacred drug Leri, as you would have one day.  I
have travelled the curves and angles of time, dodging the
hounds that guard its ways, and I saw the day...the day that
the Slaying Gaze would be no more.  Destiny cannot be
escaped.  When I saw that, I knew one day Mu would be
destroyed.  But I knew that the one who abandoned us to our
fate would perish as well." 

	"No!"  Yarke-Shu screamed.  "He will come!  He will
save us!" 

	"Three of his fellows, beings like himself, will
slay him, three Gods masquerading as men.  They will come in
the visage of man, the ultimate insult.  They will smite him
with the power of the Gods, and steal away his might.  On
the very eve of his freedom, on the verge of triumph, he
will be destroyed just as we have been smitten on the day of
our victory.  I will die with his deaththroes in the eye of
my mind, and I will die content to know his turn will come
in time." 

	"BLASPHEMY!"  Yarke-Shu screamed.  "You must be
thrown to him!  It must be you who brought down his wrath!" 
He drew his sacred knife and charged. 

                           ~*~

	Asuka did not see the end of that tableau, for she
remembered she had lost interest with the end of the
prophecy.  She screamed.  "I AM NOT THIS MONSTER!  GET OUT
OF MY MIND!" 

	Her brain swam with names.  Ythogtha, Illisia,
Toriak, Knn- Yrr, T'yui'oik-H'al'sha, Yuggoth, T'yog,
Zanthu, Idh-yaa, Tlaloc, Ghatanathoa, Ghadamon.  They might
have been people or places or names, she could not remember. 
She did not want to remember.  They were not her memories! 
They were not! 

	She called forth her deepest resources.  Berlin in
the summer.  The Wagner festival.  Goethe's house.  Anna. 
Dr. Himmelfarb.  Her parents.  NERV-Germany.  They faded in
and out of her sight, and then soldified, the alien images
popping one by one. 

	And then it was over.  There was nothing left of
Rahab but currents of pus and gore floating through the
water and massive gray flakes of flesh quickly dissolving
away into the water which took on a dismal tinge. 

	A ripple ran through the cave outwards from Rahab's
remains, and when they struck the explosive charges, they
went off.  The water boiled and that part of the cavern
collapsed, cutting off their com lines.  More importantly,
their power line went out.  While they each had a backpack,
they were now down to thirty five minues power, while
trapped in an underwater cave with no explosives. 

                           ~*~

	At the Geofront, the remote transmissions went
blank.  A comline from the boats kicked in.  "Something
severed the cables, we think," Kaji said. 

	"They won, DAMMIT!"  Misato shouted.  "They beat
him!  Who's the...WHO MADE THOSE EXPLOSIVES?" 

	"Some armnaments company," Makoto said.  "I can look
it up." 

	"Find them.  Kill them," Misato said grimly. 

	"MAGI estimates there's only a one percent chance
they were actually slain.  Probably their cables were simply
cut," Shigeru announced.  "If their backpacks were not damaged,
they have enough power to try to dig their way out." 

	"Maybe," Misato said, crumpling up sheet after sheet
of paper into tiny balls.  "If they're dead," she rubbed her
eyes to avoid crying.  "They can't be dead.  They have to
live.  They HAVE TO!" 

	"DAGON is not yet ready," Ritsuko said.  "We cannot
afford to lose them." 

	"And we could if it was?"  Misato said fiercely,
glaring at her. 

	"This is a war.  They're soldiers.  Soldiers die. 
Right now, they're the only soldiers we have, but if we
didn't need them...I like them.  But I'd watch them die a
thousand times to keep humanity from being destroyed.  And
one of these days, likely one of them WILL die.  Are you
going to let that break you, Misato?"  Ritsuko's voice was
intense.  "This is a war.  A commander who collapses when
someone dies isn't much use to those who lived." 

	"I'll do what I have to," Misato growled. 

	"And so will I.  I intend to fight to the last and
stab the Angels in the eye with my mechanical pencil as they
eat me if I must," Ritsuko said.  "Let us hope it doesn't
come to that." 

                           ~*~

	"SHIT!"  Asuka said as she peeled her EVA off the
wall; they'd all been flung into them when the explosives
went off. 

	Shinji looked around.  "There's some tunnels going
further off from here...this whole cavern complex is HUGE. 
Maybe we can find a way out." 

	"We have to try.  Lead on, Shinji,"  Asuka said. 

	Shinji quickly played eenie-meenie-minnie-mo with
the various tunnels, then picked the largest one.  Fifteen
minutes later, it seemed like they had been wandering
forever.  Then Rei pointed down one of the many cavern
forks.  "Lights." 

	They saw tiny lights off in the distance.  "It can't
be people," Shinji said. 

	"Maybe the crabs came back," Asuka muttered,
remembering the vision.  It disturbed her...that thing
couldn't have been here when the city was built, could it? 
Why the hell would the aliens put it down at the bottom of
the sea, anyway?  Well, I suppose it would keep people from
finding the thing before it was ready... 

	"Crabs?"  Rei asked. 

	"Nothing.  Let's follow them." 

	For five minutes, they followed the lights, and then
the nature of the caverns changed.  There were signs of
workmanship, as if the caves had been widened, and blast
marks.  The last two minutes took them through a great
carven hallway, completely artificial, finally issuing out
through a great arch to one side of the mountain.  The
lights had vanished by that point, and looking around, there
was nothing which could obviously give light. 

	"What the...what made those lights?"  Shinji asked. 

	"Let's not question luck," Asuka said.  "Let's go
find the temple; the cables should still be there.  We
can...umm...climb them if nothing else." 

                           ~*~

	"Something's pulling on the lines,"  Lt. Hamnes, a
young blond from Germany, said to Kaji.  "Should we reel it
in?  It seems...to be tugging in morse code.  S. O.  S." 

	"Do it," he said.  "We've got to get them to the
surface before their power goes out." 

	"Is everything to do with NERV this weird?"  Lt.
Hamnes asked. 

	"Often it's much stranger," he said.  "But we've won
this time." 

	"How many of these damn Angels are there?  And when
are their makers gonna come back for them?"  Hamnes asked as
he punched in commands to the computer operated cables. 

	"When the stars are right," Kaji muttered. 

	"Don't give me that astrology shit," Hamnes said. 
"My damn grandmother hated my last girlfriend because she
had the wrong sign." 

	Kaji simply laughed. 

                           ~*~

	Asuka nearly crushed Kaji to death once she got out
of her entry plug.  "That was...awful!" 

	He hugged her loosely.  "Yeah, I know.  But you all
made it back okay.  So how was your underseas kingdom, Rei?" 

	"Wet." 

	She stared at them in confusion as they all began to
laugh hysterically. 

                           ~*~

	As the boats headed back to Tokyo-3, that evening,
Shinji found Asuka staring out across the water.  "What are
you looking at, Asuka?" 

	"Shinji...when it died...did you see anything?" 

	"I got a big gusher of green-gray pus in my face and
a wave of nausea.  That was about it.  And a sort of...I did
see a lot of scary stuff about how pointless humanity was
when we were trying to break its AT-field, though."  He
sighed.  "Do you think...do we matter?" 

	"Of course we do," Asuka said.  "We're made in the
image of God."  A memory of her vision struck her, and she
shuddered slightly.  Gods in the visage of men...  "He tried
to pull that 'You don't matter because the Universe is real
big and you're real small' bullshit with me too.  Who gives
a flying...We're here, and that's what matters.  A big
universe just gives us a bigger playground.  We'll walk
among the stars one day," she said. 

	"If we don't die first," Shinji said, standing by
the railing and watching the gentle waves.  "We nearly
died." 

	"But we didn't.  So how did you overcome what Rahab
was trying to make us believe?" 

	"I...I didn't want to let you and Rei down.  To let
my..."  He hesitated, part of him fearing that saying the
words would make them cease to exist.  "My friends needed
me.  You all...you matter to me."  He blushed, though only
slightly.  Mercifully, Asuka either didn't notice it or
didn't comment on it.

	"You matter to me too, Shinji."  She thought a
moment.  "Have you ever heard of...a god named Ghatanathoa? 
Or Ythogtha?  Or..."  She couldn't quite remember the other
one. 

	"Nope," he said.  "Although it sounds vaguely
familiar.  Why do you ask?" 

	"I had a..."  I must have just tripped out, she
thought.  It made no sense...and yet...the temple was
clearly built to sacrifice to the thing that lived under it. 
But it couldn't be that old if aliens made it.  Something
was fishy.  "It was nothing...don't worry about it." 

                           ~*~

	Shinji found it hard to breathe as Misato hugged
him.  "Urgle..." 

	She let go.  "I'm glad you all made it back!" she
said.  "We thought we'd lost you." 

	They walked from the docks towards her car together,
her and Asuka and Shinji.  "I need to talk to you later,
Katsuragi-san," Asuka said. 

	"That's fine," she said.  "But right now...how does
a nice juicy steak dinner sound?  I feel like celebrating." 

	"Sounds great!"  Asuka said.  "Can we bring Kaji?" 

	"This is just going to be a 'family' outing," Misato
said, winking. 

	"Can I have a raise in my allowance, then, 'Mom'?" 
Shinji asked, laughing. 

	"NERV already pays you a hundred thousand yen a
week,"  Misato said.  "And I NEED my salary." 

	"They do?"  Shinji asked. 

	"Yes.  It goes right to your bank account." 

	"I have a bank account?" 

	"Did you read all the stuff I gave you?" 

	"Umm...I read the 'Welcome to NERV' brochure and the
one on Penguin Care..."  A moment later, after a little
thought, he said, "So I have money?"

	They reached the car.  "Get in the car.  I'll tell
you about it on our way home." 

	"I... I have money?"

                           ~*~

	Kaji pulled up in front of Rei's building.  "There
you go." 

	"Do you live alone?"  Rei asked him as she picked up
her clothing bag. 

	He blinked.  "Yes." 

	"Always?" 

	"No, I lived with my folks growing up, and I've had
roommates a few times.  I lived on Misato's couch for a
semester.  Well, when I wasn't...anyway.  Tired of living
alone?"  I always wondered why they made the poor kid live
by herself, he thought. 

	Rei started to get out of the car.  "I do need
sleep."

	He blinked.  "I meant...you want a roommate or
something?"  Maybe Misato would have room for her, he thought. 
Kids need someone who can at least fake being a parent.  Then 
again, maybe Maya would be a better choice in that regard.

	She turned back to face him.  "Something.  Thank
you, Kaji- san." 

	"You're welcome." 

	He watched her walk into the building.  She
shouldn't be alone, he thought.  Maybe she could move in
with Maya or something.  Or Misato, although Misato's 
apartment was already holding three.  The girl shouldn't 
be living alone at that age; it could lead to trouble, he 
thought.  Especially if certain rumors were true. 

                           ~*~

	"It's a pity we can't just skip the next one,"
Fuyuutsuki said. 

	"It's a pity we can't FIND the next one," Gendo
said.  "They could turn him loose almost anywhere." 

	"Anywhere that people won't notice a few monoliths." 

	"Space them widely enough...they could already be in
place for all we know," he said.  "And POLARIS won't feel
anything until they use them."  He stroked his chin idly. 
"And there's the Rei situation." 

	"It was bound to happen eventually.  But compared to
DAGON, she's still a success," Fuyuutsuki said.  "I suspect
DAGON will never work in time.  It took years to properly
train Rei to maintain her balance.  And even that may not be
enough.  The DAGON subjects have days at best.  Only the
ones whose functions are too minimal to be of use to us
survive." 

	"And now she risks losing it.  We will have three
weak links instead of two.  Until DAGON succeeds..." 

	"IF DAGON succeeds." 

	Gendo frowned at Fuyuutsuki.  "When DAGON succeeds,
we can reassess, but until then...she must be made to lean
towards her human side, if she cannot be kept balanced. 
Because if she leans the other way..." 

	"We could easily end up with one pilot or none
instead of three," Fuyuutsuki said.  "How do you propose to
do this?" 

	"I must think on this," Gendo said.  "It is far
easier to destroy innocence than to create it." 


                           -*-
                      - end part 8 -
                           -*-