At the End of the World 5
Neon Gensis Evangelion: At the End of the World
by Luna Ayanami (email@example.com)
"What did you think you were DOING???" Tashi yelled.
I only stared at him, my eyes wide with shock. Tashi had never yelled at me. He bent over the girl again, forcing open her eyelid and peering into her eye.
"Well?" he demanded, glancing back over his shoulder at me.
"What I was supposed to do," I replied.
"Oh," he said, sarcastically, "so what you're supposed to do is put EVA pilots into states of shock, hmm?"
I was quiet for a few moments. "I don't understand why you're yelling at me," I whispered.
Tashi turned to me then. "Because you don't think, Mei. You never think before doing anything. Didn't it even occur to you what may happen when the pilot of a Unit is torn out of the EVA that way before they have a chance to disengage properly? The psychological shock -- it could kill them!" He turned his back to me again, checking the other pilot again. "Damnit," he swore, under his breath, though at what I couldn't tell.
"Mei -- " I heard him start.
But I didn't respond. I had turned and walked out of the room. I even started running down the hallway when he called after me. Whatever he wanted me for, it could wait, I decided, ignoring the tears that burned my eyes. The image I had built of Tashi in my mind -- the kind, caring Tashi who was always there for me -- had been shattered.
I had sought refuge in Unit-01, sitting in the entry plug and sliding into the Unit, but not activating it. I sat in the seat, the crossbar pulled up across my lap, my arms drawn tightly across my chest, my head bent. I wanted to cry, but I couldn't. I felt like I was just an shell, wanting all these needs, and being unable to express them.
What is bothering you? the Unit asked.
I was used to the Unit's conciousness popping in and out at random by now. "Tashi," I said shortly.
Ah. I never liked him. His thought patterns are too organized. Rei's were, but she put them out better.
I ignored it.
Why do you even put up with him? I could never understand that. I don't know why you would even --
"Would you shut up?!" I all but shouted. "If you must know," I continued, quietly, "I stay with him because he is the only person who ever cared enough about me to make sure that I never got hurt."
Yet you hurt now.
I was long in answering. "Yes," I said finally. "He... Why am I explaining this to you?"
Because you want to...and because you need to.
It was sometime later that I was able to return into the main complex of rooms we had cleared out. I had explained what was wrong to the Unit, wondering the whole time about explaining anything to a being I couldn't even be sure was real. But I felt better after getting the story out of my system, and I sat there in the entry plug for a while longer before feeling brave enough to dare Tashi's temper again.
My luck: he wasn't around, and I wasn't about to go look for him. I just got myself something to eat for dinner, picked up a very worn book that we had found sealed in a airtight box, so it wasn't in too bad a shape, and still readable, and went to my room. I lay there on my bed, reading (or trying to at least; I still couldn't read that well) and just waiting to feel tired enough to attempt sleep. Only once did I hear footsteps in the hallway outside. I stayed absolutely still as the footsteps paused, and then they moved on. I let out a sigh of relief. I could at least make it through this one night...
The next day, Tashi burst into my room, demanding loudly that I get up now, thank you very much, and that we had an emergency, so I'd better get going and blahblahblah. I ignored him, or tried to, as I hadn't slept very well or long, because sleep evaded me for some time and then I was troubled by dreams.
When he started to shake me, I just mumbled for him to leave me alone, but then he grabbed my arm roughly and hauled me out of bed, ignoring my state of undress.
"MEI!!!!" he shouted in my ear. "GET UP!!!!!"
Awake now, no small part of me indifferent to the freezing floor, I stared up at him, wondering what I had done now to deserve such rough treatment. Then I saw the look in his eyes.
He was afraid. Very afraid. And I was scared and confused all in one moment.
"What's wrong?" I asked, trying to control my wavering voice and being largely unsuccessful.
"Everything," he moaned, waving his hands nervously, a gesture I had never seen him use. "The entry plug for Unit-00 is badly damaged -- " and here he glared at me briefly " -- but the pilot is the main reason. She's in some kind of neural shock and I don't know what to do!!"
My Tashi didn't know what to do. This was a surprise in itself, but I covered it well. Instead of staring at him, dumbstruck as I felt, I got up from the floor and pulled my plug suit on, thinking brifely that I desperately needed to take a bath. "Let me see her," I said dispassionately. I couldn't say why I felt no emotion to this strange girl.
That quickly changed when I saw her. She had been stripped down (which was to the better, as she hadn't been wearing the proper suit anyway) and covered with a thin blanket. Her eyes stared blankly up at the ceiling, her skin a pasty, unhealthy white. Her eyes were dark green, I could see, and a very pretty shade, too. I knew my eyes were blue -- we did have a single, tiny mirror -- and I thought absently that mine were too dark to be pretty.
I bent over her, holding my hair back with one hand, and pressed my ear to her chest, listening to her heartbeat, which was wildly erractic. I peered into her eyes, much as Tashi had done the day before, and the pupils didn't do a thing when my head blocked the light. Her hand felt cool to the touch, as did the rest of her skin.
"What have you tried?" I asked Tashi.
"Everything we have," he replied nervously.
I looked up at him sharply. "Everything?" I repeated, incredulous.
"Yes, everything," he assured me, too worried to be annoyed with me.
I stared at the girl a moment or two longer. She was my age, maybe a little older, but certainly no older than Tashi. And she was far prettier than me. Her hair was a bright green, several shades lighter than her eyes, and her skin would be pale, but healthily so, especially living underground as we were. I don't know why I cared so much about my appearance just then, with only the vaguest inkling that it had something to do with Tashi.
"What happened to her thought sensors?" I aske then. "She did have some, ne?"
"Of course," Tashi said, confusion written all over his face. "They're right over here..." He moved to where they lay on a nearby counter top, got them and brought them to me.
I took them and mumbled a thanks, judging the best place to put them on her head. I pushed her hair away from her face, attaching one sensor and then the other in a fair approximation of where mine sat.
For a moment, nothing happened. She continued to stare blankly at the ceiling, looking nothing more like one of the corpses Tashi and I had come across once before we rebelled, the only sign that she was alive the spasmodic jerking of her chest as she breathed.
Then, she came alive all at once. She started shrieking and thrashing on her bed, to the point where both Tashi and I had to use our entire bodies to hold her in place while she calmed down. Neither of us had much body mass, so she almost fell off the bed twice before we found the best way to pin her down.
"Nice going," Tashi breathed heavily once she stopped moving.
"It worked, didn't it?" I hissed at him.
"Oh, Mama," the girl wailed then and started to cry like her heart was breaking.
Risa accepted the mug Tashi handed to her with a tiny, almost imperceptible smile. She was now dressed as an EVA pilot should, in the original suit we had found with the plug (I would have worn it, but I didn't have the figure for it; she did), the thought sensors on her head and her hair bound up in two identical buns on the top and on either side of her head. Two faded ribbons hung down from the buns, holding them in place.
She had introduced herself as Risa once she had fully woken up from the shock, a scant hour ago. She had explained to us -- briefly -- that her mother had been killed years ago and she had watched it happen before several large men had carried her off in a white van and brought her to work in the tunnels to find NERV.
I was angry; more at the men who had done this than at her or myself. I knew what it was like to be carried off to be put to hard labour, but I had never had a mother, so I couldn't relate to that part. Tashi's mother had never really liked me, and he had told me one night that he felt no paticular loss at his leaving her. That had enraged me too. At least you HAD a mother, I had thought darkly, as I did now.
I apologized -- again -- for the huge mistake I had made in tearing her and the plug from the Unit.I felt terrible about it now, wishing I could go back in time and correct that mistake, but Risa assured me that she would be alright and that if I hadn't done it, she might have done the same to me.
She told us how she had lost all hope of ever being free from the men who had held thousands of children for labour, until a man with dark hair and a small beard has approached her and asked her if she would be willing to help him out. It would mean getting out of the dark and dangerous tunnels for her, and she was glad for the chance.
"That was, oh, I don't know how long ago that was," she said softly, staring down into her mug and it's contents. "Too long. It was ages before I could sit in the plug -- is that what it's called? -- and not have to worry about being the victim of such internal anguish..." Here she broke off, though I knew there was more to the story.
"And then," Risa continued briskly, "Adam -- he's the one who asked me if I would volunteer -- approached me and told me of some renegades he had lost several months back, and that if I felt up to it, I was to track them down and bring them back, and report whatever it was they held. That's you two, right?"
I nodded solemnly, the gesture repeated by Tashi.
Risa sighed heavily, leaning backwards and closing her eyes. "I thought so," she whispered, more to herself than either of us. "Some of the other kids talked about how two lucky kids found NERV and had gotten away, and that Adam wouldn't dare touch them now. They wished most heartily that they could get away too, but none of them had the first inkling of where to go or how to find you. You are quite an inspiration model to them, you know. They go through each day, hoping to find where you'd gone through to NERV and join you here. And when they don't have any luck, they hope to have more the next day." She shrugged carefully.
Tashi and I exchanged glances. More was known about us than we had first supposed.
"Risa," Tashi began gently, "you are more than welcome to stay with us. Gladly, would we have your company."
She looked up at him and smiled ever-so-charmingly. "Thank you, Tashi," she said softly, with no hint of deception, only true gratitude. "And you too, Mei," she added, flicking her glance in my direction.
I only nodded my head absently in response. "Tashi, how bad did you say the entry plug was?" I asked, wanting to immerse myself in work.
"Pretty bad," he replied, his manner curious about why I was suddenly so interested in working on something so tedious.
"I should go see to it then," I said, rising from my seat and striding from the room.
Risa shared a room with me; made sense, Tashi had said. After all, why clear out another room when there was plenty of room in mine?
I didn't know how to react to this. I wasn't sure that I wanted Risa in my room, for various reasons. The first of which was that I had always had to share my sleeping space with something, and for the past few months, this room had been mine and mine alone. The second was that I still didn't know how I felt about Risa.
She seemed nice enough, very quiet and not talking much, and when she did say something, it was always worth listening to. Now that she was walking around, she was a little bit taller than me, and I was again struck with the slenderness of her body and figure. A small part of my mind criticized me for being too short and nothing but skin and bones.
"So what do you do?" I asked, sitting rigidly on my bed, my knees drawn up to my chest.
Risa looked up at me, confused. "Hmm? Oh, nothing special. I just did whatever they told me to do." She gave a little laugh, sounding like the one bird I remembered from my childhood: happy and uncaring. "My mama..." Here she paused, her face clouding over with grief. "My mama was a doctor, and I wanted to be just like her."
"Where did you live?" I asked, wondering briefly -- and too late -- if I was being rude.
"In a city. South of here, I think." She smiled. "I was studying to be a doctor. It was hard. All the spots in schools were given mostly to boys. The odd girl who could make it in often dropped out because of what they did." Her eyes flashed angrily. "I wouldn't let them get to me -- "
"How old are you?" I interupted.
She stared at me for a moment. "Fourteen," she replied.
"And you made it to school? Now aren't you lucky." I was being just a touch sarcastic, but then I got up from the bed and left the room without waiting for her to reply.
That night, for the first time, I had The Dream.
It was short, almost beyond recollection, but I remembered the face. I woke up suddenly, sitting up straight in my bed with the blankets clutched to my chest. My hair felt sticky with sweat, and a drop of it ran down my cheek to land on my hand.
I stared at it in the semi-darkness caused by the one emergency light in the corner, weak as it was. That was when I remembered the face. It was huge; a sickly-coloured pink, oddly shaped, with a bulging eye socket. The socket bubbled in several different places and then a green eye rolled out of the folds between the bubbles, the triple-iris swinging around and focusing. And that was when I woke up.
I shuddered, pulling the blankets evern closer. On the other side of the room, Risa was sleeping soundly, her mouth open slightly, probably in response to the moist air here. Her hair was loose; it was spread across her pillow and over her shoulders in soft waves.
I turned away from her. I couldn't bring myself to lay back down and close my eyes. If I can see that face with so much clarity when my eyes are open, I reasoned, how much more clear will it be when it is ALL that fills my sight?
The next day, I was exhausted. I had gone to sleep after the dream, but it was a fitful, restless sleep. I thought that maybe I would have felt more rested if I hadn't slept at all. So I sat there as Tashi brought out breakfast, staring into my mug full of water sightlessly.
"Mei!" Tashi finally had to almost shout before I heard him.
"Hmm?" I murmured, turning to him, startled. I got the impression that he'd already tried getting my attention several times.
His face transformed in less than a second from annoyance to worry. "Are you alright?" he asked, his brow creasing. "You look like you haven't slept...It's not because of Risa, is it?"
For a brief moment, I was tempted to say that it was. But I didn't; whether it was because I was just too tired to lie, or some deeper sense of morality, I couldn't say. I yawned and shook my head instead. "I just didn't sleep well last night, is all," I said, managing a weak smile.
He didn't believe me; I could see it in his face and eyes. "Well, alright," he allowed. "But if you're having problems, come and see me. No matter what it is, okay?" His eyes urged me to believe him.
I nodded, holding his gaze until I yawned hugely, nearly dropping my mug.
"Good morning," Risa said quietly from the doorway. "I'm not interupting anything, am I?"
Tashi and I both looked over at her. She was dressed in Unit-00's plug suit, just as I was dressed in Unit-01's. Her hair had been done up in the two buns again.
Tashi smiled at her; I just yawned and turned back to my food. "No, not at all," he assured her. "Come, sit and have a bit to eat."
With a timid smile, Risa sat down across from me. I tried not to stare at her, but I was too tired to really care. I thought again how the suit accented her slender figure...bolstering her where she needed to be held up and flattening out areas that needed to be...I dragged my eyes back to my mug.
"So today," Tashi said towards the end of our tiny meal, "we should continue fixing the entry plug and then do sync tests. And if we have the time, try to fix the power supply or at least find out what's wrong."
I yawned hugely at the end of his day's plan. "Sorry," I muttered as Tashi fixed me with an odd gaze. This is going to be a long day, I thought
It was all I could do to stay awake during the fixing of Unit-00's entry plug.
I didn't need to be in Unit-01 to help with the repairs of the plug, though I would be when we could get around to fixing Unit-00 itself. The people who stole it had almost destroyed it again; I got really mad that they would be so careless with such a lovely piece of equipment every time I looked at it, leaning against one wall in it's cage like the broken doll I'd had as a child, so I tried to keep my back to it whenever I could.
Most of the damage to the plug was not the damage I inflicted. The only thing I had done, it seemed, was leave finger dents where I had picked it up, and even that was not directly my fault. The material was so weakened -- by what we couldn't tell, though Risa said they had submerged the plug in several different solutions to discover what it used as an oxygen suppliant; that made me even more mad -- that if I had tightened my fingers even the tiniest bit more, I just might well have shattered it.
So now we worked inside the plug and out to strengthen it up. Tashi said it was a near miracle that Risa had been able to operate Unit-00 with it at all, it was that bad.
Our entire day was dedicated to the plug. We had it ready to test the next day by the time we went to bed. I fell asleep easily and didn't dream.
We got the power fixed first thing the next morning. More acurately, Tashi and Risa did. I slept late, something I had never done before.
It felt so wierd, I thought, sitting in my bed and looking around in a confused, half-asleep state. The area was silent, the only sound a tiny dripdrip of water on the far side of the hallway.
Water, I thought, trying to clear my mind of sleep-fog. I need a bath.
I took one, still puzzling over the absence of sound. The water was cool against my skin, and I felt greatly refreshed after my bath. After I dressed in my plug suit, I pulled my wet hair up in a tail against the back of my head. Then I went to find Tashi and Risa.
They found me. I was just entering C&C when they came down the hallway behind me. Tashi called my name as they both ran to meet me. Both wore excited grins.
"We fixed the power," Tashi explained breathlessly. He must have been running for more than just down this hallway "And we also found something."
"It's another entry plug," Risa burst out. "It's markings have been erased by time, but I think it used to be the plug for one of the white ones. The first number is almost guaranteed a '1'."
I just stared at the two of them, wondering absently what kind of picture we made, standing in a triangle in plug suits. All of a sudden, I felt so useless. I had been sleeping while they had been hard at work.
"That...that's great!" I exclaimed, trying to put on a cheerful front. "You didn't bring it back, did you?"
Tashi shook his head. "It's half buried in rubble, and we couldn't have done it anyway. You know how big they are. We wanted to ask if you'd mind helping us get it out."
"Of course not," I replied, trying to keep my voice neutral.
"It's in a place where the Unit can't go," he continued, smiling gratefully at me. "So Risa and I were going to go in and attach a bunch of cables or ropes or whatever and then you can just pull it out. Sound good?"
So that's how it is, I thought in despair, though I nodded and refused to let my inner feelings show. I'm just the muscle, rather than the brain. Later I thought that that theory was unreasonable; Tashi hadn't yet found an EVA that would accept him and Risa's was in such bad shape that I wouldn't have let her take it out if she'd wanted to.
Tashi showed me where the plug was on a map and directed me to the nearest large space near it. He said that he and Risa would go around through NERV to get to it and that one of them would meet me there to make sure I didn't get lost. The space I was supposed to go was a place I hadn't been yet, so I thought that it was kinda nice of them to make sure, though at the time I was insulted that they would think I could get lost.
They took off in one direction while I went to the Unit. With the power working now, it was very nice to sit in the plug, feel it twist into place, activate it and have the LCL fill the plug up. I wondered, as I tried to force my mind to accept the idea of breathing liquid, where so much LCL came from. Tashi and I had found a tank of it nearby, but it was hardly enough to keep the plug filled as many times as I used it, and now it would go doubly fast with Risa around.
It was nice to walk down a hallway without wondering if I was going to have to blow the cable off and switch to internal power. I experienced again -- as I did everytime -- the feeling of power that came of sitting inside the Unit and controlling it's every move.
Risa met me at the appointed spot. She waved and indicated that she wished to say something to me, so I turned on my speakers and told her to go ahead, adjusting the volume appropriately.
"Tashi says that it might be a tight squeeze, but the cords only go to here," she said, pointing inside the hole in the wall. "So he asked me to tell you that you'll have to squeeze partly into here to get them out." She disappeared back into the hole, waving me to follow.
I stared at the hole for a moment, wanting to just laugh. I would have to get my head and at least one shoulder in, and it looked as though I could only get an arm in, much less the shoulder or head. The shoulder had a huge blade on it, and my nose had a similar, thinner one. I shrugged and laid on my side, determined to do the best I could.
I hated sticking my arm, palm up, into a hole when I couldn't see what I was doing. I had no idea if I was going to knock out a support pole or something.
I lucked out. I was laying down for what seemed like forever. Then I heard Tashi shout, "Now, Mei!!"
Bracing my free hand against a solid wall, I grabbed the cord that was looped around my fingers and yanked. The plug came free easily and I even swung a bit on my hip as I exerted too much force than the situation required.
Amid the cloud of dust and grime, the plug was beat up. But the most important parts of it were salvageable.
Tashi actually cheered. "Good job, Mei!!" he yelled, his voice echoing in the huge, empty room. The walls and ceiling shook, showering plaster and cement down on us.
"Oops," he said, almost sheepishly.
"Get into the plug," I ordered through the speakers, lying on my stomach and ejecting the plug. LCL poured out of the open door as they clambered up the Unit's side. They crawled into the plug; I shut the door as soon as I could and reactivated it. "Think like me, or don't think at all," I told them, getting to my feet. Grabbing the other plug and clutching it to my chest, I ran as fast as I could with two extra thought patterns disrupting the performance of the EVA.
Once back in the EVA bay, I stopped, set the plug on the floor and locked the Unit into place. Before disengaging my own plug, I heard the Unit angrily say, Get them out of me! Surprised at the vehemence of the Unit, I wasn't allowed to dwell on it long as Tashi broke the seal of the door.
He stepped out first, gallantly offering his hand to first Risa and then me as we exited the pod. I ignored the gesture; I was still kinda mad at him, and I was perfectly capable of getting out on my own.
"So now what do we do?" I asked, leaning over the safety railing of the walkway around the EVA, looking down at the plug lying on the floor far below.
"Well, since the plug for Unit-00 is finished, we should either start the sync tests or see what we can do about fixing Unit-00 itself. I was thinking that pieces of one of the white Units would work," Tashi said casually. "Almost all of them are so badly damaged that I don't think they will be usable. Maybe we can salvage the outer casing."
"Sounds like a plan," I replied, starting to the stairs that would take me down to the bay floor.