At the End of the World 6
Neon Gensis Evangelion: At the End of the World
by Luna Ayanami (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Dream came to me again. It's different this time, but I remembered more of it. It started out in the EVA bay, only it looked much different. It was cleaner, the walls an off-white. Or at least, the part of the wall I actually noticed.
In front of me is a head; a gigantic head. It is purple, the eye sockets dark, the eyes a bright yellow-white, the teeth huge. A long, thin, flat pole rises off the front of the nose.
"What..What is that thing?" I demand, my voice rising.
"It is called Evangelion Unit-01," the blonde woman to my left informs me in a professional tone. "It's man's last, best hope for survival."
I can only stare at the giant head. "Is...is this my father's work?" I ask.
"Correct," comes the cold voice above me. My head snaps up. In the window above the head is my father. He looks the same as the pictures in the magazines about him. "We're moving out," he says then.
"What? But Unit-00's still in cryostasis!" the brunette on my right says. "No..You're going to use Unit-01?! But we have no pilot!"
"One has just arrived," the blonde says calmly.
"WHAT??" the brunette protests. "You can't be serious! He hasn't been trained! Even Ayanami Rei took seven months to synchronize with her EVA!"
"We don't have a choice," the blonde replies.
"Is that why you brought me here?!" I yell at my father, who stands absolutely still. "Is that why you wanted to see me?"
"Correct," he answers. I bow my head.
"I won't do it," I say.
The brunette bends over so that she looks more or less into my face. "Shinji, we have no one else," she says. "You would be helping all of mankind."
"I said I won't do it!" I yell. I clench my fists at my sides.
"Shinji..." she says sadly, rising.
Moments later, white robed people wheel a stretcher in from a side door. They stop and leave the stretcher in front of me. On it is a girl, my age, with blue hair. She is wrapped in bandages; a bag of plasma hangs from a pole attached to one corner of the bed. She stares at me for a moment before rising slowly into a sitting position. She obviously has to fight for each breath she takes.
Just then an explosion rocks the building. The girl's stretcher rolls away from me, and she falls off. I fall to the walkway, landing hard on my rear end.
"LOOK OUT!!" the brunette's voice calls out.
I look up; several beams from the ceiling are falling towards me. I raise my arms futilely to protect my head. I hear a splash of the liquid surrounding the giant head. I hear the sound of one hard material striking another.
For several moments I just sit there, waiting for the final blow I know isn't coming. When I realize it, I slowly lower my arms and look up. The Evangelion's hand -- that's what I assume it to be -- is above me. The beams from the ceiling have fallen away from me. It has protected me.
Startled, I look around. I see the blue-haired girl lying on the walkway outside of the beams. The stretcher lies on it's side in front of her.
I get up and run to her, pushing the stretcher aside. I drop to my knees beside her, lifting her up into my arms. She whimpers in pain; I can only stare at her. Lifting one hand from where it rests on her back, it is covered in blood.
They were going to make her pilot it, I realize. In the condition she's in...I musn't run away, I musn't run away, <b>I musn't run away!!</b> I tell myself.
"I'll do it!" I call to whoever's listening. "I'll pilot it."
I woke up as suddenly as I did the first time. On the other side of the room, Risa stirred. "What is it?" she mumbled. She couldn't possibly be fully awake.
"Nothing," I replied. "Just a bad dream."
Tashi had us working on dismantling one of the white Units, the one with it's head smashed in. Risa and I were hanging down at about it's chest, supported by ropes and harnesses from the grated walkway above. It was Unit-09, as far as we could tell. The designation on the arm was mostly scratched out.
I appreciated Risa more, since we started working together. She was studying to be a doctor when she had been taken, and she had been at the head of her class. She was actually working at a "high school" or even a "college" level, she said. The words meant nothing to me, but they seemed to impress Tashi. She had a vast knowledge of the kinds of illnesses and injuries we were likely to experience. She even took time one night to give us a full "examination". It felt much like what the doctors had done to me when they first took me away, so many years ago.
"What do you think?" she asked me, crossing her arms over her chest as she swung from side to side on the ropes.
I studied the chest plate. "I think it's mostly useable," I replied, also swinging on my ropes. "We can cut it off about...there, and go all the way over to maybe...there." I pointed at the spots we could use. "And down to about there."
She nodded, dropping her arms to her sides. "Let's get to it then," she said, taking the flame-tool from her harness. "I'll take that side; you take that one."
I nodded, taking my own tool out. Then I swung myself closer, grabbing onto the chest plate with the suction circles Tashi had found in a box somewhere. I pulled my goggles down, activated my tool and started cutting.
It was strange; I was still wearing my thought sensors (sometimes Unit-01 wanted to talk, for no paticular reason) and I could have almost sworn that this Unit was crying out in pain.
A whisper: no, exultation. I put the thought aside; I had to work now.
We finished in about an hour; there was a lot that could be salvaged. The plate fell away to the floor; it clanged loudly. Risa and I raised our goggles and grinned at each other. Then we turned back. "Gross," I said, staring at the stuff beneath. It was a pinkish colour, but a really gross shade. It looked slimy and strangely alive.
Risa was peering closer; "I'd like to study that," she said, more to herself than anything.
"Well, not right now," I reminded her. "We have to clean that plate up."
We loosened our ropes and slid down them to the ground, so far below. We stared at the mess on the inside of the plate for a long moment before plugging our noses from the smell. It was covered mostly in a red slime with darker red traces. And it smelt like the group latrines we'd had to share when we were still with the workforce.
"This is disgusting..." I started, trying to keep my stomach still.
"Well, it smells bad," Risa agreed. "I wouldn't say it's disgusting."
I rolled my eyes. "Of course. You went to school. You were going to be a doctor," I said, almost sarcastically. "Anyway, where should we take this? It's kinda big for the Hole..." The Hole was where we got our water from. It came from a hole in the ground and was fairly clean.
Risa regarded the plate thoughtfully for a long moment. Then she turned and cupped her hands around her mouth. "HEY TASHI!" she hollered across the bay. "WHAT SHOULD WE DO WITH THIS?"
He looked up from where he was working with Unit-00's entry plug and the one we had found the other day. He yelled back, "TAKE IT OUTSIDE TO THE LAKE!"
I threw my hands up in the air as I turned and started towards the stairs that would take me to Unit-01. "Of course," I muttered to myself.
We had found the lake about a month ago when I had been outside doing something or another. It wasn't very big, or very clean, but it was much larger than any body of water I had ever seen. Tashi said that old maps indicated that it had been much larger once, but so much time had passed since the maps had been made. That wasn't really the point though. The lake was a large body of water.
Unit-01 activated, I strode across the two steps it would take to reach the plate, took the edges in my hands and heaved upward. It was heavy, even with the Unit's powerful grip. Then I moved to take it out to the lake.
It was a long trip, especially with the chest plate of another EVA in my arms, held across my own chest. I made it all the way there by thinking about nothing in paticular, letting my thoughts wander.
Unfortunately, that only brought back a recollection of the previous night's nightmare. A half-remembered fragment, almost insignificant but for the hideous face, seen through the screen I now looked through as though reflected in a mirror.
I open my mouth and scream before all passes into blackness.
Startled, I almost dropped the plate. Luckily, it didn't really go anywhere, and by then I had reached the lake.
I took my time scrubbing the plate clean, wondering absently if the water would make the Unit or the plate rust up like so much of the metal we had found before. I didn't think it would, but I didn't know for sure. I'm not the expert on Units or entry plugs. I'm just a pilot.
...not just a pilot... came the almost unheard whisper.
I stopped my scrubbing, wondering now if my ears were betraying me and my head hearing things that weren't there. "Is that you?" I asked the Unit's concious directly, but there was no answer. I shrugged and continued on with what I was doing.
Back in the bay, Tashi was in the middle of a sync test on Risa. The plug was connected to a million different wires; he was in C&C at the last working computer. I made a mental note to myself to take some time out and try to get the computers back up. I didn't really realize how much we depended on them.
I practically tiptoed back into the bay, not wanting to disturb the test. I set the clean plate down by Unit-00 and creeped back to my cage, where I locked the Unit into place and ejected the plug. Then I joined Tashi in C&C. The test was progressing quite well, by the look of things. Her ratios were quite high. I was impressed.
After a time, he stopped the test, took a few moments to let Risa readjust to the normal pattern of her thoughts, and then turned to me, smiling charmingly. "Your turn," he said.
I barely registered what he said. Where did he get that smile from? I asked myself. He was just full of surprises. Instead of commenting on anything, I just nodded and headed down into the bay.
Risa helped me get my entry plug out of loading position (that's where the end was still inside the EVA so that all I had to do was climb in and activate) and hooked up to the wires as Tashi recalibrated the computer program for me.
The test went smoothly, uneventful, as usual. The only thing different was the stress levels Tashi was using; it was really no huge feat to balance them out with a change in my thought forms.
I knew the test was over when there was a sudden absence of all stress. I waited for a minute or two to reorder my thought patterns, before trying to get out of the plug.
It wouldn't work. The crossbar over my lap refused to budge.
"What the...?" I said to myself, staring down at the crossbar in puzzlement.
Not just a pilot, came the thought again, stronger this time. And different. The mental voice had a different quality to it, not that of the Unit-01 voice I was so used to hearing.
I would have responded, but I was dumbstruck. The voice and even all sense of the presence disappated rather quickly. Still confused, I pushed at the crossbar again; it refused to move.
"What's going on?" I whispered, more to myself than anything. Almost desperately, I pushed at the bar again; this time, it moved, and I was able to get out of the plug.
Kyle joined us days before I turned 15. Tashi had said that records stated that only 14-year-olds could pilot the EVA's, but there was no real record of anyone having their 15th birthday and continuing to pilot. The records ended rather abruptly, even. There was a mention of one 15-year-old being a pilot, but his Unit disappeared before it could even be used. Tashi didn't see any real harm in letting me continuing to pilot Unit-01. After all, it did respond to me better than it did to Risa.
I found Kyle when I was above ground one day, carrying a long length of wiring for our newly-rebuilt computers. I needed to hook them up to a power station on the surface. Risa offered to help, but Unit-00 wasn't quite ready yet. It was fully rebuilt, but a lot of the systems were faulty; or at least, that's what Tashi said. It reacted violently to Risa, but that may have been because she had been out of it for so long. It reacted even worse to me. I had been left with the biggest migraine I'd ever had and was useless for almost a week because I couldn't move of the pain.
He was huddled in a corner of the power station, trying to stay warm in front of a tiny, feeble and all but useless fire. It was raining, as it always seemed to be, and he was in the driest corner of the station, but he would have died if I hadn't found him. Even after I'd brought him back, Risa had to fight for days to keep him alive. She said he had pneumonia and hypothermia and a few other things I can't remember. But he was in "critical condition" and needed to be "isolated" for several days, until she was sure that he would be fine.
My birthday this year came and went just like last year: uneventful. Tashi wished me Happy Birthday and gave me a small chain to wear around my neck. It wasn't anything special. Risa wished me a Happy Birthday as well, but she was exhausted from having to fight with Kyle's "vital signs" again for the third or fourth time that day.
He did get better. It's not like his name was pinned to his shabby clothes in plain sight, even if I had been able to read. He recovered from the worst of his illnesses in no time, really, but spent several more weeks getting his strength back.
All three of us spent an hour or two each day with him, getting to know him and letting him get used to us. Risa and I felt paticularily protective about him; I had saved him from death on the surface, and she had saved him from death down here. Tashi seemed indifferent. Before long, he was walking around; slowly and with help, but he was getting better.
My dreams took a different twist soon after that. I made my way through each day, dreading falling asleep because of the dreams from Ikari Shinji's point of view, especially when each dream became longer and I could relive several days in night. But as usual, I was so tired that I fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.
The dreams changed.
"Midori!" Lina exclaims, sitting down sideways in the seat in front of mine. "You cut your hair!!"
"Do you like it?" I ask, tossing my shortened hair back from my face.
"It looks great!!" Jun says, sitting on a corner of the desk where Lina sits. Lina leans forward, feeling my hair in her fingers.
"It feels so nice! What did you use on it?" she asks, sitting back down.
"My aunt was in town last night," I explain. "She didn't want to stay long cause of the robot incident, but she cut my hair for me and then she put egg in it."
"Egg??" they ask, slightly off from one another. I nod, my eyes travelling in the direction of the door, seeing movement. It is the transfer student.
"I'm going to use egg on my hair," Jun declares. "How do you do it?"
"Scramble an egg, rub it in nice and good and rinse after ten minutes with cold water. Simple," I tell them, spreading my hands in conclusion. "Don't use hot water, or you'll have scrambled egg in your hair!!" We start laughing.
"Oh, did you hear the rumor yet?" Lina asks, excited. She leans closer to me, grabbing Jun's arm to bring her in too. "Ayako told me just this morning -- the transfer student is the pilot of that robot!"
I woke up suddenly, as I always did these nights. My mind still played the dream; whoever "Midori" was, she was not me, but that wasn't anything new. Shinji wasn't me, either, and neither was the EVA.
I shivered, and it had nothing to do with being cold. Jun and Lina were still etched in my mind, clear as day, and the feel of the desk...the sights of the school...the people in the class...were all still so real to me. I sighed and lay back down, pulling the thin blanket up to my chin and curling up underneath it, my knees drawn high against my body. After a while, I fell back asleep. Unlike before, the dream continued.
"Do it!" Jun says, pushing me gently in the direction of the transfer student.
"Why should I do it?" I ask, resisting her. "Why can't you or Lina do it?"
"Because, Midori," Lina says anxiously, pushing me along with Jun, "we're too shy to do it. You've always been bolder than us put together."
That is a lie; for the first time I doubt our friendship. I turn to face them; they look truly scared. I sigh resignedly. "All right, I'll do it. But only if you two come with me."
They nod, looking relieved. I turn again and walk down the aisle to the transfer kid's desk, Jun and Lina clinging to my sleeves.
"Hi," I said as I sat on his desk. He looks up at me, startled. Then he reaches up and pulls the headphones out of his ears.
"Uh...hi," he replies, dropping his gaze again.
"I'm Midori," I say, sticking my hand out. "These are my friends Jun and Lina." They smile nervously and wave.
"Ikari Shinji," he replies softly, taking my hand in his. He raises his eyes again.
I am surprised, but not overly so. His eyes are blue. It is no big thing, I suppose, for more and more kids to be born with lighter coloured eyes; my own are green. To my knowledge, only he and Kensuke have blue eyes in the class. Mine and Yui's are green. Ayanami's are red.
"Well, Shinji-kun, it was nice meeting you, see you later!!" I hop off his desk and breeze back down the aisle to my own.
"Midori!!" Jun and Lina whine. "Why did you just leave like that?"
"I don't know," I reply, shaking my hands in front of me. My heart is fluttering in my chest. Just then, the class rep calls everyone to attention as the sensei enters the room.
"So what is it that you guys do around here?" Kyle asked, leaning back in his chair. The only thing he still wore from his illness was the bandage around his arm where he had been cut very badly.
I yawned hugely before anyone could reply. My dreams took so much out of me every night that the hardest time for me was waking up and getting through breakfast. "Sorry," I said when they all turned to look at me.
"We're not really sure," Risa replied. She sounded and looked tired, too. "So far all we've done is repair things."
"I go outside every now and then," I supplied, yawning and then apologizing again. "You were lucky that day."
He bent his head to his chest and smiled. "Yes, I was," he agreed softly.
"How old are you, anyway?" Tashi asked. He was more awake than me and Risa put together, but I kind of expected that of him. He was always a morning person.
"Last time I checked...um, 16 years old, I think," Kyle answered thoughtfully. "It's hard to keep track of days when you're on your own. After awhile, you just kind of forget."
"Well, maybe you can help us get the computers back," Tashi continued, almost regretfully, but I doubted he was being truly serious about it. "You're too old to pilot."
"Pilot?" Kyle asked, an utterly blank expression on his face.
"An EVA," Risa told him, giving Tashi an odd look which I'm sure he noticed and pretended not to. "The computers all say that only 14-year-olds can pilot them, but Mei is still doing fine. Unit-01 still responds to her."
He looked so confused that I sighed and stood up. "Come with me," I said, heading towards the door leading to the bay. "It'll make more sense if you see them."
"Don't forget about today's sync test!" Risa called after me.
I walked down the hallway in an almost half-awake state. I was aware of everything around me, but it was hard to focus on it. I heard Kyle following behind me. His shoe soles were harder than ours.
"Where are we going?" he asked at one point as I started up the flight of stairs to the walkway around the Units' heads.
"We're almost there," was all I said.
He reacted much like I did when I first saw Unit-01 up close and personal. The eyes made an impressive sight on their own, glaring yellow in the dark sockets, the teeth gleaming in the dim light.
"WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING???" he demanded, clutching the railing behind him tightly. His eyes were wide, and he looked like he was having trouble breathing.
"Unit-01," I informed him, as though everyone in the world knew that. "It's not so bad," I continued, much nicer. "I was piloting this thing when I rescued you, only you were too sick to remember it." I spoke of Unit-01 affectionately, as though it were my right arm or something else I needed. I was struck with the idea that I did need Unit-01. I honestly couldn't think of what I would do without it right now.
Tashi and Risa joined us at that point. Risa looked hard-pressed not to laugh. "Come on, Mei," she said, waving me towards her. "We're doing in-Unit tests today."
I followed her around in behind Unit-01's head and got into the plug. As I settled myself in the seat, taking a moment to yawn, Risa leaned into the plug and started laughing.
"He was hilarious!" she exclaimed. "Does everyone react to Unit-01 like that?"
I shrugged. "I dunno. Not many people have seen it." I turned in my seat and grinned at her. "Quite a few of those who have almost shit their pants though." We both had a good laugh, and then Risa got out of the plug, closing the door behind her.
I sighed as the plug activated and twisted inside the Unit. I waited as LCL filled the plug and inhaled it when I was supposed to. I closed my eyes as the view changed, the viewscreens running through every colour I could dream of and several I couldn't. When I opened them again, I was seeing the bay and everything around me, including Kyle, who was still on the walkway and still clutching the railing tightly Risa and Tashi were nearby. I laughed to myself, and then shifted in the cage. Kyle actually screamed when I moved the Unit.
That only made me laugh harder and as I leaned over the crossbar because I was laughing so hard, the Unit shifted forward a bit more, stopped by the restraining bar over the chest. I had the unimanginable pleasure of seeing him pass out. It always amused me to no end when someone passes out, just because I move.
"Let's get going!" Tashi shouted over Risa's gales of laughter. "Mei, are you ready to go?"
I flipped the speakers on. "You bet," I replied, trying to hide the fact that I was laughing and failing miserably. I turned them off as soon as I could, but Tashi could tell and rolled his eyes, turning around and walking back towards C&C. "Come ON, Risa," he said over his shoulder, "and bring him with you."
I had time to organize my thoughts for piloting while they got back to C&C. The Unit was strangely quiet.
"Begin test," Tashi said in my ear suddenly and plunged the Unit into the test.
It was like a smack to the head with a nice wide beam from the ceiling. I almost passed out myself, but I managed to stay concious, though I felt dazed afterwards. Then I had to concentrate on the test.
It seemed to take forever, and it seemed to take a moment at the same time. The reactions of my mind and body in the LCL were different than an empty plug. All I was really aware of was the changing pressure of the plug during the test.
Once it was over, I came out of my trance-like state, aware of a building pressure in the back of my mind. "Deactivate," I said tiredly. Nothing happened.
"Deactivate," I tried again, hitting a button on my control panel. The viewscreens disengaged, but otherwise, nothing else happened.
I'll show you what I am capable of! That was the Unit, and it sounded mad.
"What?" I exclaimed, wondering what brought this outburst on. I stopped talking as another memory flashed into my mind, so real that all I could do was sit there in the seat and stare.