At the End of the World 4
Neon Genesis Evangelion: At the End of the World
by Luna Ayanami (firstname.lastname@example.org)
"So what do you think?" Tashi asked, staring up at the impossibly huge, covered Units.
"About what?" I replied, mimicking his pose.
"How do we uncover them? I know you've been looking forward to this for awhile, and I have to admit, it's been getting to me too." I sensed his smile, rather than saw it. "How about we just run up and pull covers off?" He turned to me, and when I looked at him, he was grinning, an unrestrained glint of incredible amusement in his eyes.
This was shocking to me. Tashi had always been quiet and restrained, and he almost never laughed. But I returned the grin and laughed. "Yeah!" I cried, jumping up into the air. Then I ran to the nearest EVA, took hold of the cover and yanked.
It slid off easily and covered me in a dusty heap, and it took me twenty minutes at least to fight my way out from underneath it. When I emerged, I was covered in dust and pieces of debris, and I was coughing horriedly, trying to get some clean air into my lungs. By that time, Tashi had already pulled off the other covers of the EVA's, having had more sense not to get underneath the silly things.
"Are you okay?" he asked, helping me to my feet as I coughed some more.
"Sure," I replied, smiling at him. "I like to get underneath huge sheets of dusty cloth every now and then just to remind myself how nice it is to breathe."
He grinned again, brushing my hair back with one hand and pulling me into a one-armed hug. I returned it as best as I could, coughing one more time before looking up at the uncovered EVA's.
They were an impressive sight. Unit-01 stood at the far end by itself, as always. I wasn't sure if I'd ever let any other Unit get that close to it, especially when I didn't know if the other Units would react like Unit-00 did...
In the middle was a red one, much like Unit-01. On either side of it were three more Units, all the same. They were white. But other than that, it was like trying to see a flag when you were at the base of a cliff.
"Can't tell much from here, huh?" I said, trying hard to forget that Tashi hadn't let go of me yet.
He shook his head slightly. "Nope," he agreed. "Why don't you get in that Unit of yours and get a closer look.
"Good idea," I said, slipping out from under his arm and running across the bay to get to Unit-01.
It was perhaps ten minutes and a very long stair climb later that I was climbing into the entry plug of Unit-01. Less than a minute after that, the plug was filled with LCL and my view of the outside was on, only that much bigger due to the size of the EVA.
I released the clamps that held it in and stepped out, shaking the ground -- as usual. I just couldn't seem to step quietly whenever I was in Unit-01... I walked across the bay in a half-dozen steps, stopping next to Tashi and taking my first real look at the other EVA's.
The red one was the nicest-looking one of the whole lot. It had four eyes, two mouths, though one looked like it had been broken, shoulder blades like Unit-01's and no horn on the end of its nose. That was a shame, really, but by this point I was predjudiced against all the other Unit's having been with Unit-01 for nearly three months now. Compared to the other Units, the red one was gorgeous. It needed repairs of course -- they all did -- and it was the least damaged of the seven.
Now the other six...they all looked the same. They reminded me of pictures Tashi had shown me from one of his storybooks when we were children, pictures of things he said were demons. Their heads were smooth -- relatively of course; one was missing the entire right side and two more had the tops crushed in. The faces were absolutely featureless except for a wide, grinning mouth, the outer edges painted bright red, even after all this time. It looked as though they had been eating something that had been alive...They were missing the shoulder blades that characterized Unit-01 and the red one. Overall, they were kind of scary...
I flipped on the external speakers. "They'll need repairs of course," I said and I could hear my voice echo through the bay. "But you really have to see these..." I knelt and put my hand down for Tashi. He climbed on and I lifted my hand, standing up as I did so, until he was eye level with the other Units.
I heard him gasp and I saw his body stiffen. "They're kinda of ugly, aren't they?" he said after a moment, one hand pressed to the collar of his pilot suit.
I shrugged inside the EVA; the movement wasn't copied outside. "I dunno. If you think about it, so's Unit-01."
He looked up at Unit-01 and grinned. "Yeah, it is kind of ugly, isn't it?"
I raised the Unit's free hand and waggled a finger at him. "Be nice now," I teased.
He stuck his tongue out at me.
I sighed, knowing it would be heard outside. "So what do we do now?" I asked, dropping my hand back to my side.
"We get started," he replied. "If you can set me down on the red one, I'll see how much work needs to be done to that jaw while you go fetch all the rest of the equipment."
"Yes, sir!" I replied, stepping up to the red EVA and letting Tashi off on the shoulder. Then I turned to the other end of the EVA bay and went to fetch the huge mass of ropes and pulleys that we used to clamber up and down the gigantic sides of the EVA Units.
"Damnit," I swore as the Unit shut down for the fourth time.
The plug went dark, and I sat back in my seat, sighing heavily. We had been having power troubles all week, and we just couldn't figure out what was wrong. All the contacts and power supplies had checked out all right...
The power came back on, and I quickly took advantage of it, taking Unit-01 back to it's cage, locking it into place and ejecting the plug. There was just no point to trying to keep up with it...
Back at the command center, Tashi was staring at a printout of what looked like a topographical map. I didn't know what he used for the few printouts he made, and I didn't think that I really wanted to know. He'd made a comment once about borrowing someone's supplies, and I just decided to ignore it.
"Look at this, Mei," he said as I closed the door, pulling the thought sensors off my head. I crossed the room to where he sat, combing my hair out with my fingers. Then I leaned over his shoulder, my eyes running over the map.
It was actually a very nice map. It was the colour of the printout material -- a kind of yellowish -- covered in wiggly black lines. There were small coloured dots with numbers and a "+" or a "-" next to them, and I took those to read as heights of the landscape. Though where the zero was for these markings, I hadn't the foggiest idea. There were more coloured marks with Tashi's writing next to them.
"What's this for?" I asked.
"It's a topgraphical map of the surrounding area," he replied. "See, here's the lake." He pointed at one spot on the map.
I shook my head; all the squiggly lines and coloured markings confused my eyes. "It makes no sense to me," I told him. "That's why you sit up here with these things all day," I continued as he half-turned to explain it to me, "and I sit in an entry plug all day. You're the thinker; I'm the doer. Let's just leave it at that, alright?"
He shrugged and turned back to the map. "Okay, I think I know what's been causing all these power fluctuations."
"Oh really?" That perked my interest. It was hard to get anything done when the power didnt work.
"Yes really. Over here, by this mark here - " He pointed at a pale blue "X" next to a yellow "-1450". "There's an old tower of some sort there. I think it may have been hit in that last electrical storm, and its been leaching power since then."
I thought about it for a bit. "It makes sense," I said slowly. The only knowledge I had of this sort of thing was what Tashi had told me; and the reasons I had given him -- he was the thinker, not me. "What do you want to do about it then?"
"I want you to take Unit-01 and dismantle it, any way you can. The easiest would probably be to just knock it over and then stomp on it for a bit."
"But how? I can't keep the Unit operational for more than ten minutes with the fluctuations we've been having."
"There is...one way," he said, cautiously. "I didn't mention it before, because i would rather it be used only in emergencies..."
I waited patiently; he would get to the point sometime today.
"The Unit has a back-up power supply, enough for five minutes. You release the umbilical cable; the back-up kicks in. But it's only for five minutes. Then the Unit shuts right down." He leaned forward over the map then, making a small mark with a pale pink pencil.
"Where did you get those?" I asked absently. I straightened and stretched tiredly.
"Get what?" he replied, just as absently. "Oh, these pencils? I found them in a storage room." He swiveled around in his chair. "You look dead. You should go get some sleep."
"I'm not tired," I lied, yawning.
Tashi smiled and rose to his feet. "Sure you're not. Come on; I'll help you into bed."
"I can do it myself," I protested, though it lacked any sort of conviction. I yawned again.
"Mei," he said simply, catching my chin in his hand and tilting my face up to his. "You work too hard. Go get some sleep."
"Okay fine," I said, sounding a little grumpy to even my own ears. Maybe it was time I had a bit more sleep than I had been getting...
Without waiting any longer, I turned and left him alone to his maps while I went to bed.
Unit-00 was returned to us that night.
I was sleeping very soundly, and I was having troubled dreams that eluded memory. There was a huge crash that showered parts of the ceiling down on me; the noise and the crumbling of plaster and cement and other choice pieces of the ceiling falling on me woke me up.
I got out of bed hurriedly, taking time only to pull on my pilot suit before dashing out of my room, still struggling to get the thing closed. I ran all the way to CC, hitting the suction button on my left wrist moments before bursting into the room.
Tashi was brushing ceiling bits from himself and the map, alternately. He looked pretty sour.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"I don't know," he said irritably. "Whatever it was, it was big, and it made a mess on my map." He looked up as the room shuddered again. "Damnit," he swore. "It's not natural, either, I'll bet. I'll track it; you see if the Unit will respond. If you have to, blast the umbilical cable away."
"Got it," I replied, dashing from the room.
It was somewhat easier to get in the EVA from CC, seeing as i had to go down some stairs to get level with it. Not much later, the Unit was active again.
"It looks like it's coming from the northwest, Mei," Tashi said once I turned on the radio to let him know that I was active. "In one of the launching shafts." He sounded puzzled.
"The launching shaft?" I repeated, also puzzled.
"That's what the sensors say," he assured me.
I shrugged. "Okay. I'll be back in a jiffy." With that, I disengaged the safety locks and went to investigate.
The power had went out yet again, and I was now operating on four minutes of temporary power. The ceiling continued to crumble in bits and pieces, and a part of my mind worried about the structure falling in on us. Then another part told that part to shut up -- NERV had been here for who-knew-how-long, so it wasn't likely to collapse anytime soon. That didn't stop me from worrying about being crushed, or -- more so -- about Tashi being crushed.
I couldn't let that kind of thinking bother me, because it was starting to reflect in the Unit's performance, so I started singing -- horrendously off-key -- to myself. I didn't know what I was singing; it was just a bunch of words to me.
I reached the northwest launching shaft moments later, tracking the disturbance by the amount of noise and destruction going on. Peering up into the shaft, I could tell that the innermost doors were just about ready to burst, so I stepped to one side of them and flattened myself as best as I could against the wall.
The doors burst downwards, landing on the floor with a great clatter, and Unit-00 fell down after them.
I was surprised. I suppose I shouldn't have been, looking back on it, but I was. I didn't think Unit-00 would ever be returned to us. Yet here it was, and somehow, I knew that it wasn't here with the express purpose of rejoining me and Tashi.
The Unit had fallen in a jumble of arms and legs, but it righted itself quickly. I stayed absolutely still, hoping that it wouldn't notice me. It didn't; it started to walk in Tashi's direction. I followed behind, matching it's footsteps exactly. I was a little concerned that I wouldn't have enough time; my counter read two minutes left.
Unit-00 paused at a intersection in the EVA-sized passageways; I took the opportunity and jumped on it from behind, knocking it flat to the ground. The pilot was surprised enough, I guess, to not fight back. Whoever it was had only started to fight back when I pulled up the back panel covering the entry plug and yanked it out. Unit-00 shuddered once and lay still. I grabbed the plug in my hand, got up and ran back to CC as fast as I could, the counter now reading less than a minute.
I was lucky, I got back to CC and knelt, laying the plug down on the floor and ejecting my own just as the counter ran out. Unit-01 froze in place, one hand still on the other entry plug.
The power had come back on, it looked like; Tashi joined me on the floor, carrying a large battery-powered lamp in case it went out again. "Power cord first," he yelled up to me. Waving to show that I had heard him, I jumped down to the floor, grabbed the power cable for Unit-01 in both hands and started dragging it back. Luckily, it wasn't far. Tashi helped me drag it back to the Unit, lift it up to the back and guide it back into place. I got back into the EVA, let the other plug go and cupped my hands around it and Tashi so that when he opened it, whoever the pilot was wouldn't get away.
I needn't have worried, it turned out. Tashi opened the plug, the LCL pouring out around his legs, and crawled inside cautiously. He was inside longer than seemed necessary and when he came out, he was carrying a semi-concious girl, no older than me. I lifted my hands, letting him take her away.
I went and fetched Unit-00, setting it up in the cage next to mine. Locking it in place, I put Unit-01 back into it's cage and went to join Tashi.