At the End of the World 2
Neon Gensis Evangelion: At the End of the World
by Luna Ayanami (ayanami@highlandgrey.com)

Chapter 4

It was a month later that we really got Unit-01 working.

I had been practicing getting into the entry plug and connecting with the conscience in the Unit for the entire time. By now, I was an absolute whiz at putting on the sensors and hopping in, to the point where I was nearly positive that I could do it in my sleep and be ready to go before I was even half-awake.

Tashi had done all the tests on the plug while I was inside. He showed me what he was doing -- using a the computer in Central Control, he monitored what exactly was happening to me. He said something about my synchronization rate going up by exponents (only a couple, he said, but still...), but it all made very little sense to me. All I really knew was that the Unit and I had an understanding with each other...I would take care of it and it would take care of me. Simple.

The day of our big test came. We had set a date for when we would attempt it, and for a lot of the time when I was working on the Unit -- for whatever reason -- he had been trying to get the main power generator up again. We had been able to charge the Unit's internal power source for up to one minute, but it wasn't enough for the test we had to run.
We had to get Unit-01 clear of it's cage, out of the prison it had known for the past gods knew how many years.

The day started out great. Tashi and I took our time waking up, slowly extracting ourselves from our "nest" of blanketing (it got awfully cold down there, and we had been sharing a bed and blankets since we had come here). Tashi made breakfast while I washed my hair and body.
I had never practiced in the pilot's suit. I just couldn't bing myself to do it; I didn't want to get into the lovely thing when I was as dirty as I was. There was never really any opportunity for baths down here. I was lucky this time; Tashi had made sure there was enough water for me to have a bath.

I ate breakfast slowly, waiting for my hair to dry. Tashi was conversational, asking me mundane questions that had nothing to do with what we were attempting today. It was one of the best conversations I'd ever had.

He left after a time, saying that he had to make sure the power connections were working right. I knew that that was a cover -- he wanted to give me a little time to prepare myself.
I was grateful for it. I sat there a bit longer, thinking quietly to myself. I wasn't really scared of what I had to do, but I did need to think a bit. When I was done, I stood up and went behind the curtain we had hung to seperate our sleeping space from the rest of the place to change into the suit.

I had tried it on once, to see how it worked. I was glad to discover in the computer's files how it operated. It was designed to be worn over nude skin, and it went on loosely. There was a button on the left wrist that, when pressed, sucked all the excess air out of the suit and left it very form-fitting. This was good;  I didn't have to worry about taking anything but my shirt and pants off, or about getting it to fit right without having to sew it up again.
I slipped into it now easily, closing it over my body and pausing for just a second before pressing the button on the wrist. With a hiss, the material suctioned itself to my body, giving me a feeling of properness, for it hadn't felt right, sagging here and there in uncomfortable places before.

I looked down at myself as I attached the sensors to my head, pinning my now-dry hair back with them. The suit had been designed for a boy; that was obvious. I didn't have much in the way of a woman's body though, so I didn't really distort the lines of the suit. It did cleave nicely to the bits I did have, softening and accenting them subtlely. I smiled to myself. It really felt good to be in this suit...almost as if I was born to wear it.

I stepped out from behind the curtain, and had the pleasure of seeing Tashi's face go stunned. He had made it back early from the power generators, I guessed in time to see me into the plug safely. When I stepped out, he absolutely froze, a look of awe coming over his face. His eyes ran up and down my body, and for the first time in my life, I felt self-concious. I placed my hands behind my back, bowed my head a little and cocked one leg. "Does it look okay?" I asked. "I look silly, don't I?"

"No," he assured me quickly. "No, it looks...well, great." A smile crept over his features as his eyes met mine. I flushed at the lookof approval in them. "You ready?" he continued.
"As ready as I'll ever be," I replied, taking a step towards the passage we used to get to the EVA.

He stepped up beside me and offered me his arm. Confused and more than a little pleased, I took it, my gloved hand resting lightly on his forearm.

At the entry plug, he opened the door for me and as I stepped inside, he stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. "Good luck," he said softly, a strange look on his face.

I regarded him for a moment. "Thanks," I said, and climbed into the plug. Tashi shut the door behind me.

I was calm almost immeadiately, although a part of me was very geared up and excited. I felt the Unit's conscience link softly to mine, assuring me that everything was going to be okay. I smiled at it, knowing it would feel the gesture more than see it.

I was aware of the plug being lifted into the air. We had managed to get it almost level with the entrance for it on the Unit, but it still had to be lifted a bit to get it in. Tashi had been practicing that as well, and he was really good at lining it up and getting it in.

The next thing I was aware of was the plug somewhere below my feet being pushed slightly into the tunnel beneath the panel. That was all it needed. The Unit took over, twisting the plug around until it was securely into place, the panel closing protectively over it.

A light came on inside the plug, a red light that was fairly dim, but bright enough to see by. I closed my eyes, calming myself and mentally running through all the preperations the Unit needed to be ready to take off. I could feel the Unit responding to the silent commands.

A new voice cut into the silence of the pod. "Mei?" It was Tashi; who else would it have been, down here on our own?

"Yes?" I asked softly, still not opening my eyes.

"I have to fill the plug with LCL. It's a chemical that will help you breath in there."

"All right," I replied. I felt so calm...

I barely noticed the liquid rising up around my feet and over my legs. When it rose up to where I could feel it on my bare skin, it was too late and I had inhaled it. I choked at first, my eyes flying open, but eventually I realized that it wasn't killing me, and that I was actually breathing marginally better.

"Can you still reply?" Tashi asked, sounding anxious.

"Of course," I said, not even noticing the bubbles that rose out of my mouth.

"Oh, thank goodness...Okay, Mei," he continued, all business now, "I have the generators rigged and ready. They're all powered up and waiting."

"Roger." I moved one control a little to the left and another closer towards me. A display showed that power systems were online, charged and ready to go.

"I'm now checking the clearest route to the surface....done. Transferring data now."
Another disply showed a series of tunnels, all with green lights, going up to the surface.

"Roger," I said. "Systems show that the route is clear."

"Prepare for take off."

I braced myself. The Unit assured me that everything would be fine.

"NOW!"

The Unit lurched and I had the impression of being shot up against gravity at incredible speeds. It seemed to go on forever, until I thought that my brain would join my feet at the bottom of the plug. And then suddenly, it stopped. My stomach leaped into my throat.
"Visuals!" I said aloud as well as thought. A screen in front of me displayed what was on the outside.

At first, I thought the visuals were busted, the screen was completely black. Then, almost right overhead, lightning flashed brightly. I realized that the the head was tilted up. With a great effort, I managed to get the Unit to lower it's head.

It's much harder in here, actually piloting it, rather than just sitting in the plug, I thought.

It's easy, came the thought from the Unit. Just relax.

I was starled; I always was when it spoke to me like that, which wasn't often. But I tried to do as it asked and sat back in my seat, closing my eyes and forcing myself to relax. When I felt calm enough, I pictured the Unit taking a step forward and felt it lurch. My eyes flew open. I was still calm enough to move the head around, barely noticing that it was much easier now, and Ilooked down. There, visible in a flash of lightning, was one of the Unit's feet, placed in front of the other as though it had paused in mid-stride.

"Whoa," I said.

The internal speakers crackled. "--ei?" came Tashi's voice. "Mei, can you hear me?"

I flipped a sitch. "I can hear you," I replied. "Can you hear me?"

"It's a little broken up," he said, the speakers cutting out as lightning flashed. " -- problems."

"What? We have a problems?" I paused as lightning flashed again, hitting the ground a few hundred feet off to the left. "What kind of problems?" I continued once the speakers cleared.

"We're generating lots of power, and I think it's enough for the leaders to register it on their sensors back at their HQ. I'm also registering movement about an hour from where we found Unit-01, but they could be a lot closer or farther because there's so much interference from the generators."

"Drat," I said, thinking hard. "How long do we have before they get suspicious?"

"Maybe...5, 10 minutes. Twenty at the absolute most. We really can't let them find out about this yet."

"Roger that," I said, and turned the speakers down. "All right then, Unit-01, let's see what you can do." I relaxed myself again and pictured the Unit walking forward. It responded beautifully, walking down the street and over rubble easily. I picked up the pace until we were running and then turned a corner. Thrilled by how well the Unit was doing, I turned it into a cartwheel.

"Yahoo!" I yelled.

"Mei!" Tashi's frantic voice cut in on my excitement. "Abort the test! "Repeat, abort the test!"

The Unit faltered on the last of the cartwheel as I lost concentration and we crashed to the ground, sliding several hundred feet from the momentum and stopping only when we plowed into a fallen building.

"What?' I demanded. "Tashi, what's going on?"

"Those teams are in the farthest shaft of HQ here! I see them on various levels, so there must be another Unit there! We can't let them have it! I need you here to stop them!"

"On my way!" I got EVA-01 extracted from the wreck of the building and ran back the way I had come. When I got to the corner, I slid into the intersection, purposely crashing into another building and using it as a springboard to run back down the first street, barely noticing the building crashing to the ground.

I didn't know I had been shot to street level in an open elevator-like thing, but I didn't stop to wonder about it as I ran up and turned at the last moment so that my momentum carried me right into it, facing the way I came. "Clear!" I shouted. The elevator shot downwards immeadiately, and about a minute later, I was back underground in NERV HQ.

"Where to?" I asked Tashi.

"To your left. Be careful, though. There might be other Units."

"I will," I whispered and spun around in the tiny cage. My own sensors were starting to display movement to my left, and it also showed what was in between me and them. It registered seven other presences, barely visible on the heat sensors; I didn't have or take the time to let Tashi know or wonder about it. But now I did know they were there, and spared them from the damage I could have casued.

I crashed throught the last wall and skidded to a stop before hitting the opposite wall. I froze, waiting for them to register my presence while I already knew about theirs. I was amazed at the amount of people; seven or eight entire divisions -- twenty pairs each -- and most of the people higher up who kept them in line. They had high powered lights which the turned on my about four seconds after I stopped. I whipped my head around to face them, glaring at them through their lights.

Through the external sound recievers, I heard every last one of them gasp. Several pairs screamed and a couple even turned tail and ran.

I knew I made an impressive sight. Sure, I was dusty from crashing into two buildings topside and ten walls or so down here, but I was still much, much bigger than them and I moved, unlike the still Unit underneath it's protective sheet on the left. Slowly, I came out of the posture I had held -- one foot in front of the other, arms held out and bent at the elbows, body bent over slightly as though I was a still frame in time and was about to go running through the other wall, my face glaring balefully at them and my jaw, full of lots of sharp teeth as big as a man, partly opened -- and turned to them, taking one slow step towards them. Several more pairs screamed and ran; a couple more fainted dead away. Even one of the higher-ups fainted.

I flipped the external speakers. "Leave," I said coldly. "You have no business here."

One of the leaders stepped forward. I recognized him as the head of the project, though I knew that even he was just a pawn in a much bigger game. I had always been afraid of him, but now he was the one who looked afraid. His face was absolutely pale and his body temperature was way up. He cleared his throat.

"Um, we come in peace," he started, but stopped when I stepped towards him and reached out a hand to take him in it. He nearly fainted when I took hold of him carefully and brought him to eye level. "No you don't," I said. He fainted.

I turned to the rest of the people. "Anyone else want to tell me lies?" I set him down again.

No one moved.

"Good. Now why are you here?"

No one answered for a moment. Then one of the higher-ups cleared his throat and timidly said, "We're supposed to find the lost Evangelion Units of NERV."

"You're too late. Obviously, I am found."

"There must be more, like this one here -- "

"There are no more!" I cut in. "This one is the last, but it is dead. No one can resurrect it. Now I suggest that you all leave."

There was a long pause. I noticed an almost imperceptible movement out of the corner of my eye and turned towards it almost too late. Someone was setting up a gun -- a big gun.
And pulled the trigger. The barrel was aimed straight at my head.

Chapter 5

Before I fully knew what was going on, I dropped into a crouch, the missle going right past me and barrelling through the wall. Snarling with anger, I jumped up and knocked them down, not caring at that moment if they died or not. When I turned to face the group again, the higher ups all had handguns trained on me.

"Freeze!" the first one said, having recovered from his faint. "Now, you're going to give us some answers."

"The hell I am!" I took a step towards them, but stopped when they opened fire. I raised both arms in front of my face, protecting it with my forearms. But I kept walking towards them, and when they paused to reload, I brought one arm and slammed it down in front of them, effectively blocking their aim.

"You are going to give me some answers," I snarled. "Why do you want the EVA Units?"

"We're working for Adam Carson," the first man said, somewhat disgustedly. "He wants the Units so he can get the UN to agree to his demands. I swear, that's all I know." He looked up, trying to see around my arm.

I didn't move for a long moment. Then I slowly lowered my arm. "Leave, " I said again. "You won't find what you're looking for here."

I watched impassively as the entire team filed out through a hole in the wall. The higher ups
all took the time to glare at me one last time before going.

When they were gone, I flipped the external speakers off and sighed, sitting back in my seat, not realizing how tense I had been. The Unit relaxed as well, throwing one arm against the wall and resting my head against it.

"How did it go?" Tashi's voice cut into the silence.

"They'll be back," I replied. "They weren't too impressed when I squashed their heavy-duty gun and the gunner, and they were even less impressed when their handguns couldn't affect me and I made them leave. They'll be back."

I heard him sigh, relieved. "Thank goodness," he murmured. "So, is there a Unit there?"
I straightened up and took a step towards the covered Unit. "Yes. I'm just checking now to see which one."

I reached out a hand, saw it in my viewscreen and froze, my mind reeling.

"Whoa," I whispered, my eyes widening.

"What?"

"I just realized...."

"Realized what?"

"I keep thinking of the Unit as myself...like it really was me.'

But I am. I am a part of you, and you are a part of me.

I took my hand off the controls and sat back in my seat, turning the internal speakers off and closing my eyes. I sat there for several moments, my mind utterly blank.

You can't keep me out. We are a part of each other. There is nothing to worry about.
"There is plenty to worry about!" I cried. "I didn't want to kill anybody! I didn't really want this -- "

Yes, you did. You've always wanted freedom from them. I could tell that right from the start.

"How?"

When you first stepped into me, without the entry plug. I wanted to close up around you, but I need the plug. You are so close to my first pilot...

I wanted to cry. I buried my face in my hands, willing myself not to talk to it anymore. I couldn't resist, though.

"Who was your first pilot?"

The thought softened. My son, Shinji.

I thought that over for a bit. "How can a machine have children, much less human children?" My internal speaker light was flashing urgently. I ignored it.

I wasn't always in this body. I was human once. And even this body isn't completely mechanical. This is just a protective armor of sorts. Part of me is organic.

"Then how did you survive this long?"

I had the distinct impression that the Unit was laughing. I'm not too sure myself. It must have something to do with how I was created. I was never told the details. And now, young one, you must uncover that Unit. The presence slowly extracted itself from me, staying in the back of my mind.

Recovering my senses, I put my hands on the controls. "Alright, let's do it," I said quietly. I pictured the Unit taking hold of the sheet and pulling it off, which it did. It was easy to fall back into the thought pattern that I was actually the Unit and not just plain old Mei. The cloth fell away, and my sensors read what I couldn't see in the dark.

I flipped on the internal speakers again. Tashi was in the middle of a tirade. "-alright? Mei, please, speak to me!"

"I'm here," I replied softly. "And I found another Unit."

"Oh thank heavens. Why did you turn off your speakers?"

"I needed to think a bit."

"Another Unit? Which one?"

I paused for a moment, my eyes glued to the viewscreen. "Unit-00."

There was a longer pause on his end. "What?"

"Unit-00, Tashi. They almost had hold of Unit-00."

***

It was quite awhile before Unit-00 was even remotely operational.

It was in far worse shape than Unit-01 had been. I found it kneeling, and I remember thinking somewhere in the back of my mind that it was awfully short for a Unit, seeing as the computer had said they were all around the same size. The reason why was obvious -- part of the leg was missing. It looked as though a lot of the structural support was missing. One arm was completely off, torn halfway up the upper arm. The rest was lying beside it, and it looked as though someone had started repairs to get it reattached. And it was just as dusty as Unit-01 had been, if not more. I think the fact that an air shaft was some hundred feet above it had a lot to do with that fact.

The entry plug was lying half-buried under some rubble that was probably created by the hole that the work force had blasted into the shaft. I cleared it off and lifted it out easily in Unit-01, though I felt like I was commiting sacrelige...the EVA's had been designed as Earth's last defense against the Angels, not as a hard labor force. The Unit assured me it didn't mind, but I still felt odd about it...

The entry plug was a bit battered up. The front end was definitely going to need some repairs before it could be used. That took both me and Tashi -- me out of the Unit -- an entire week to get it any where near usable. Then it took a few more days to get the manual door release working.

Inside, it was exactly the same as Unit-01's was. It even had the thought sensors and pilot suit in the seat. The suit was very obviously female, but by then, I had grown very attached to the one I was wearing and I even considered it mine. We were lucky to search the other shafts, finding a cage empty of a Unit but having an entry plug. The plug said Unit-03, but the Unit was listed in the computer as 'lost'. The plug had a suit and thought sensors in it, but we left the sensors there. The suit was far more to Tashi's liking; it fit him like mine fit me -- tight without being uncomfortable, and made him look fantastic.

I had seen pictures of the original pilots, but only as their security shots had depicted them -- sullen children who never seemed to smile. The files had contained a head shot and one full body, two of each if you counted the same sideways shot as a different picture. The original pilot of EVA-00 was a sad looking girl with blue or purple hair (it seemed to change between the two shots), red eyes and dressed in a pretty blue dress with a white blouse. The file displayed her name as Rei Ayanami. The original pilot of EVA-01 was Shinji Ikari, and I could see why the Unit was proud of him, though it never came out and said that. He had a quiet determination and courage about his face which was reflected in his dark eyes. He was dressed in dark pants and a dark shirt with a white one over top. The pilot of EVA-03 was another boy, taller than Shinji, and labelled as Touji. He had dark hair and eyes as well, dressed in a black running suit. He had a kind of arrogance in his picture, but even I could tell that he was sad about something. I later found out that he had no parents and his sister had died in the Angel attack on Tokyo-3 in which Shinji had first piloted EVA-01. I also found info on the other two human pilots, Asuka for EVA-02 and Kaworu for EVA-04, but their pictures were lost or corrupted and were unreadable. A few days after I had found those, I managed to hack into the classified files of NERV, where pictures of the pilots in their suits were found. Rei had gained an air of competence and determination, Shinji looked damned near impossible to stop, Touji had the look of one you didn't want to cross swords with (I don't remember where I heard that line...it must have been something Tashi said once) and I saw pictures of Asuka and Kaworu for the first time. Asuka was wearing a crimson pilot suit, her brown hair pinned back by matching thought sensors on her head. She had a look of foolish confidence on her face. Kaworu was very serious, though he had a dashing smile on his face. His eyes were the same colour as Rei's, though his hair was grey. I thought that was odd for a fourteen-year-old...

Tashi joined me at that point, placing a hand on my shoulder and leaning forward slightly. "Who's that?" he asked, tapping the screen with a gloved hand. We had both taken to wearing the pilot suits nearly constantly; they were very comfortable and our own clothes were wearing out. We had no idea where we could get more.

"Kaworu," I replied absently. "The original pilot of EVA-04."

"I wonder if that one is still here," he mused quietly. "Is there pictures of the pilots of 00 and 01?

"Of course," I murmured and brought the pictures up without looking at the keyboard. First 01, then 00. Tashi drew in his breath sharply when Rei's picture flashed onto the screen.

"What is it?" I asked, feeling him tense up.

"I've seen her before," he replied. "In my dreams."

I frowned a bit. "You've seen her in your dreams?"

He nodded. "She never says anything, but she is always trying to show me something. I can never see it, and just when I think I can, I wake up."

I pondered that. "Well," I said briskly. closing the files and shutting the computer off. "Are you ready to try it out?" I stood up and turned to him. He searched my face for a moment and then smiled.

"You betcha."

I smiled back and then led him from the room. It was a bit of a walk to the shaft that held Unit-00, but I had planned for that and had left Unit-01 waiting as transportation. I climbed into the plug, closed the door and sat down just before it twisted itself down into the tunnel behind the panel. Then I connected with the Unit and offered the huge hand to Tashi. He climbed into the palm, and I curled the fingers in protectively before taking off towards the far shaft.
It wasn't far by EVA, but it would have taken a human on foot -- especially with all the rubble that was still lying around -- at least a couple of hours.

Unit-00 had taken so many more repairs. When we had reattached the arm, I held it up in one hand, in line with the part that was still attached to the body, while holding Tashi in the other as he welded a lot of the connections back together. The leg repairs had gone much the same way.

Today would be the first time Tashi had attempted contact with Unit-00. The files all said that it was volatile and even tried to kill the pilot a couple of times. That told me that it had a personality as strong as Unit-01's and I was a little reluctant to let Tashi try and pilot it. I didn't know what I would do if it decided to kill him...

He got into the entry plug as soon as I set him down. Once the door was closed, I picked up the plug as levelly as I could and got it lined up for insertion into the Unit. "Here we go," I whispered to myself, and placed it inside the little bit it needed.

Nothing happened.

I frowned, and shoved a little on the back end. It slid in then, twisting around, although it did go grudgingly. Once it was fully in, the back panel slid closed over it.
I waited a few tense moments. Then the left arm twitched once, twice, a third time. The Unit lurched to its feet. I jumped to mine easily, backing up two steps and dropping my arms loosely to my sides. Unit-00 turned jerkily to face me, looking at me unblinkingly with it's one eye. I turned my internal speakers on. "How is it?" I asked.

Tashi took a long moment to reply. "Wierd," he said finally. "I can sense it in here, but it refuses to fully join with me. I think -- " The speakers suddenly cut out.

"Tashi?" I said, worried. "Tashi, what's going on? Why aren't you on?"

I was surprised out of my skin then as Unit-00 leaped forward with sudden agility and attacked me.