At the End of the World 10
Neon Gensis Evangelion: At the End of the World

Chapter 20

   Things could only get worse before they got better.
   Tashi, Risa and I got on each other's nerves so much that we wouldn't speak to each other for days. Unit-01 would start to talk to me, and then I would snap at him and he'd recede so far that the Eva wouldn't function very well.  To make things worse,
we lost power for a week due to an eathquake that damaged Unit-01 and 00 so badly that they had to be repaired with pieces from a white Eva. At least this time we were careful not to remove too much.
   The slump lasted for about a month. Then it started to even out, but not too quickly. It was hard to even notice the change. It might as well not even have bothered. A week later, things got much, much worse. It made everything from the past month seem
 like paradise in comparison.
   I should have figured that he would have been back. I think we all "forgot" about him, when we should have been preparing.
   We were eating lunch, and trying to be civil to each other, when several men burst into C&C, where we were eating, holding shiny guns and yelling at us to not move. We were so startled that we just stared at them, forgetting to chew or swallow or put t
he food down. They surrounded us; each of us had at least two guns trained on us. I started to shake; my sandwich fell out of my hands to the floor. **Are they going to kill us? Would I be able to kill one of I killed the Eva?**
   I would have turned to Risa. I had barely twisted my head around when the barrel of the gun was shoved into my neck. It was cold against my skin. "Don't move," the man holding it hissed. I felt tears come to my eyes. Kyle could have killed me, but it w
ould have been in anger...a human emotion. This man seemed cold, mechanical...yet still alive...
   "I'm so glad to finally join my lost children in their residence," a smooth voice interupted. I slid my eyes past Tashi's head. A tall man stood there, dressed in fancy clothing I had only seen something similar to once, with a smirk on his face that I
 wish I could have wiped off with a fist. He was handsome enough, I suppose, but there was an air about him that I could practically taste. He reminded me of Kyle, only a thousand times worse.
   "We weren't lost," Tashi replied softly. His eyes had glazed over.
   "Ah, but you were." The man came into the room, stepped into our circle and bent down to face Tashi, eye to eye though he still looked down at him. I couldn't see his face anymore, though I could clearly make out each thread in his long coat. It was ne
w, or close to new. It was barely damaged. Somewhere deep inside me, I envied him. He could get new clothes, while we had to make do with what we found.
   "All of you belonged to me," he continued on. "I brought you all here to work for me, to find these marvelous discoveries so that you may share in the glory of their rebirth." He was lying; not about finding NERV and Eva, but about "sharing the glory".
 The only thing he would share with us, I was sure, was the bullets in the guns.
   He sighed dramatically and stood straight. He turned to face Risa and bent to look her eye to eye. It didn't help that Risa already was shorter than one of the shelves Tashi stored his maps on. "You, my darling pilot. I have missed you." I still couldn
't see him; he was beyond my line of vision.
   I made eye contact with Tashi. His eyes had been blank; the moment I looked at him, they focused. It was so hard to read what they said....I missed everything else that the man said to Risa, and I jumped when his body stood between Tashi and me, and he
 bent to look me in the eye.
   I dropped my head. I refused to look at him.
   "Look at me, dear one," he said softly, persuasively. I looked at the black bottom of my plug suited feet. "Look at me," he tried again, more forcefully. I blinked.
   He took my chin in his hand and forced my head up. "I said, look at me," he hissed.
   I stared at him, hoping that I was keeping the fear out of my eyes. His eyes gleamed like Kyle's had...I couldn't help it. I started to shake even more.
   He smirked. "You're beautiful," he confided. "Perhaps with a bit of cleaning up here and there...a hairstlyist to trim that hair. Yes, you will be presentable." He let go of me and straightened, stepping away from us before turning, his coat swinging o
ut dramatically.
   "I suppose you're wondering who I am," he declared, even though we hadn't been wondering. "I am Adam Carson, and it has been my lifelong dream to rediscover NERV and revive the Evas. I plan on taking them out of this place, perhaps East to the American
 Alliance, maybe West to the European Alliance, or both. I will show the world that they exist. I will show them that there is nothing to worry about. There are no such beings as Angels. They will see that."
   I burst into tears. I could hardly believe I did that, but I just couldn't help it. So many pieces fell into place at once.
   Everyone knew the legend of the Evangelions. I used to be bullied by older kids that if I didn't give them the little food I had found that day -- perhaps the first food I'd had all week -- the Angels would come and get me. Kids with homes told me to g
et away from them, like I was diseased, or their parents would tell me to leave when I asked for shelter, or the Evangelions would stomp me to bits. I had never seen an Angel or an Evangelion. Yet I knew when we had found Eva, when Tashi and I had found h
im, that he would not stomp me. I knew he would stop the Angels. But I suppressed it. I forgot. Eva didn't remind me. He wasn't allowed to....or he didn't remember, either.
   I looked at Tashi. Tashi had been nice to me...he had played with me, given me shelter when it rained, given me food when I was hungry. He would read me stories, draw pictures with colour sticks with me, show me how to play games properly. He gave me c
lothing, a blanket, a pillow, a strength inside I could never repay him for...
   My eyes widened, even as the tears continued to pour. No one moved. Tashi had given me something I could never hope to give back...something I could never give of myself...
   And it all fell into place now. I had never seen it before, never seen the whole picture. I had only seen my corner...had only wanted to see my corner.
   The gun was removed from my neck. The two men grabbed my arms and lifted me to my feet, dragging me away. I continued to cry, wishing I had the strength to turn my head, twist around, do something...just to see Tashi.
   I didn't eat, slept when I was tired, lay around the rest of the time. I could feel myself dying.
   And I didn't care. Adam Carson was going to use Eva as a tool for himself. He wanted fame, that was all he wanted. He didn't want to save the world, or prove anyone wrong. He just wanted to be the man that had rediscovered NERV and revived Eva. And he
was going to use me to do it.
   He had told me what his plans were. Risa and Tashi were being held somewhere nearby. He wouldn't have them stand in the way. He was going to bring in a bunch of people, then let them go, and then have me take Unit-01 up to the surface to the waiting tr
ansportation, and then take me and Eva to where ever he wanted, and show us off.
   Like dolls.
   I was damned if I was going to let myself be a doll.
   He came to me often. I either pretended to be asleep or stared at the ceiling, unmoving. He would hold my hand, and my skin would crawl. I thought I would never have preferred Kyle's company to anyone else's. "You have to eat, Precious," he would say.
"You have to look good in that suit for everyone." My body was already so thin. Now, I could see my ribs and my hip bones if I cared to look.
   He came to me one last time. I stared at the wall as he sat next to me and rested a hand on a protruding hip bone. "We're leaving tomorrow," he said. There was something about his voice...something threatening. Like the clouds that covered the city on
the surface. "Everyone is coming here, because I don't have anything big enough to transport the Evangelion anywhere. I'm asking you once more, Precious: Will you pilot the Evangelion?"
   His words turned over in my mind. I licked dry lips with an almost equally dry tongue. "I want to see Tashi," I whispered.
   "No. Out of the question."
   "I said no."
   "Then I'm not piloting. I have nothing more to say to you."
   He was mad. His hand on my hip tightened ever so slightly, but the air around him so compressed with anger that I could have choked on it. He got up and left, slamming the door behind him.
   In my mind, I thought about what would happen. Would he kill me now, and find a new pilot? Maybe use Risa? I didn't know if Eva would accept her or not. I had thought a lot about Eva recently...I wondered how Shinji was, what he thought of all this, wh
ether he would do it or not...
   **How long have I thought about the Unit as a person? Or cared about Shinji?**
   The door opened again, and closed. Soft footsteps, barely audible, the bench creaking under added weight as he sat down.
   "Mei?" It was Tashi. "Are you alright?" I think he was afraid to touch me.
   i didn't answer. "He's going to killus," I said instead.
   He was nodding; I could feel that. "I know. But he won't do it yet. He needs you tomorrow, and for however longs he plans to show the Unit off, until he can train a new pilot. If he can. He's already tried to use Risa and me, and another kid. I'm too o
ld now, and it's never liked me in the first place -- "
   "He," I interupted.
   "He. Eva is a he."
   "Oh. Well, he's never liked me from the start, and Risa says it -- he -- told her to get out, rather meanly. I don't know about the other kid. He's been unconcious since before he came out. They had to cut part of the plug door off to get him out, even
. You have to do it, Mei."
   I rolled over to face him. "Why."
   He stared at me for a moment in the dimly lit room. "Because it doesn't want anyone else. It told me that when Carson forced me into the plug. The screens changed, like they used to, and then there was this voice, saying that he wanted you. I had the b
iggest headache for nearly a week. Risa told me that he said, 'You are not Mei. I don't want you. Get out,' to her. The other kid, well, Carson won't let me see him. I don't like him, Mei. We have to stop him. I have this horrible feeling that something i
s going to happen, something big, and we can't handle it without you." He looked up at the ceiling. "We really need you, Mei...I need you. You can't let Carson take control of Unit-01, or any of the others. He'll destroy them, the world and us with it. He
 doesn't care about anything...nothing but himself."
   I already had known that. Adam Carson was no better than the people who originally built NERV.
   Tashi bent down and gathered me up in his arms, crushing me against his chest. My head rolled back on my neck, so I was staring up at the ceiling. His hair was soft against my cheek. "I love you, Mei," he whispered, his voice sounding tight. I felt a d
rop of wetness roll down my shoulder. "I always have. I need you to be the person I once're like a shell now, and I can't help but think that I made you that way. I should have warned you about Kyle, should have warned many things I sh
ould have done, so many things I didn't do."
   He was crying.
   I tried to picture him, my Tashi, my savior, crying. I couldn't see it. Yet he was doing it, and all because of me.
   "I'll do it."

Chapter 21

   The plug suit made me look healthy, if a little thin. The material and the patterns on it fattened up my protruding bones and fleshed out the thinned areas, like my arms and legs. Carson had had it remade. It no longer had tiny holes that were growing
bigger in places like my toes, heels, knees and hands.
   He escorted me to Unit-01, walking slightly ahead of me and to one side. He wore that coat still, but there was a different outfit underneath it. His shoes, slightly scuffed, clanked noisily on the grated walkways. My feet made no sound, and I couldn't
 feel the grate underneath my toes.
   "You remember the plan, right, Precious?" He smiled at me as I climbed up onto the Unit to get into the plug. I only nodded. I didn't want to talk to him. Then I closed the door, turning the handle inside to lock it.
   I sat in the seat, bringing the crossbar up to lock into place over my lap. I pressed the activation button and felt the plug twist in. It filled with LCL and the screens changed. The moment that I had a clear view in front of me, I was assaulted menta
   **MEI! YOU'RE BACK!**
   I winced. "Yes, I'm back. Don't shout."
   **You're different inside...your mind feels wierd...almost, slippery.**
   "Yes. you know anything about what's been going on?"
   **I know that that man out there is like my father. He was trying to put the others inside me. He doesn't care for the people, just what I can provide him with.**
   "Trust me, that's all he DOES care about. For now, I will go along with what he says. Tashi says something is going to happen, but he doesn't know what." I paused.
   **And he loves you.**
   I felt my face go red. "Yes."
   **Do you love him?**
   "How would I know?!"
   "Let's go, Precious," Carson interupted. For a moment, I wondered if he had heard me talking to myself. Then I remembered that he couldn't. I turned the outside speakers on.
   "Yes," I replied softly.
   The catwalk in front of me swung away and I stepped out of the cage. I heard several gasps as I slowly moved over to the launch shaft. There were so many people on the bay floor that I was afraid I was about to step on them.
   We launched. When we reached the top of the shaft, I was nearly blinded.
   I could hardly believe it. I covered my eyes and shrieked in pain. The last time I had seen sunlight had been before I was taken to be a part of the work force. My eyes were so used to the darkness and artificial lighting of NERV. How long had it been.
 Seven years? Eight? Nine? Unit-01's hands came up as well, blocking a lot of the light coming in over the screens.
   What had happened to the clouds? To the storm that cast perpetual darkness over the city since before anyone could remember, before the earliest records said?
   Carson joined me about an hour later. Unit-01 still had it's hands up, blocking the light. Mine still covered my eyes, and I whimpered in pain. Sunlight...the sky was a clear blue, unlike any blue I had ever seen, except in my dreams. Not a cloud in si
   Something was thrown over me, blocking the light. I peeked; it was a black cloth or covering of some sort. My eyes still hurt. I could hardly open them to look at anything.
   The radio crackled. "Can you come out of there, Mei?" Carson's voice came.
   "No," I replied.
   "Why not?" He sounded annoyed.
   "The's too bright."
   "Oh that." Now he was really annoyed. "It's not like we can flip a switch and turn the sun off, Precious. You have to get used to it."
   "You can't readjust so many years of total darkness in a hour," I said calmly. I felt just as calm inside...too calm.
   "Fine. Be that way. I'll let you know when I'm ready for you to do something."
   I shut the radio off. I didn't want to listen to him.
   **Why are you doing this?** Shinji asked.
   "Obeying him? Because I have no choice."
   **Yes, you do.**
   "If I didn't do it, he would have killed Tashi, Risa, me, and countless others, trying to force them into you. One boy is still unconcious because of you. What did you do?"
   **I don't want them,** he said finally. **You are the only one I want.**
   Now I was silent. "Why?" I asked. I could barely hear myself say it.
   More silence. This time, he didn't respond. "Answer me, Shinji," I demanded. "I'm not going to do a thing until you tell me why."
   **I shouldn't tell you now. You won't be able to function with me, I know it. I need your mind open to me still, and if I tell you, it will be closed.**
   I wrapped my arms around my chest, dropping my head down and letting my hair fall in front of my eyes.
   "I'll tell you something," I whispered. "I care about you, Shinji. I always wondered...what you felt, what you thought, about me and the others. Whether or not we were toys for you, or so much more..."
   **Never toys, Mei. I don't know if I can feel anything in this form except emotions...but they are far away. Like ghosts of myself. And thoughts are all I am left with. It's so hard to explain.**
   I sat in silence for a long time. "So what do you feel?" I asked finally.
   **Emotions. I feel...relaxed right now. You are inside of me, where you belong, where no one else should be. I have no reason to be worried...well, except for him.**
   I nodded. "Carson," I said knowingly.
   **Yes. Him, and...**
   The radio crackled again. "We're going to pull off the sheet, Precious," Carson said, smugly. "Are you ready?"
   I lifted my head. "Do I have a choice?" I asked. **I wish there was a way to at least dim the light down...**
   As the sheet was lifted, the darkness remained the same. I was surprised. It was dark, yet I could see a lot of people gathered in front of me...a LOT. I had never seen so many people in one place before, not even in the work force. "Why is it dark?" I
 asked softly. Outside, over my radio, I heard Carson say, "I present Evangelion Unit-01!"
   **I can control the light intensity. I forgot about that.** Shinji sounded sheepish.
   My eyes still hurt, even with the darkness I now sat in. I closed them briefly, and then made the Unit stand up straight. I heard people in the crowd either gasp or scream. "But I didn't do anything yet," I protested.
   "Precious," Carson said then, "I want to give these kind people a demonstration of your outstanding skills. Would you be so kind as to oblige me?" I really hated his voice. It sent shivers up and down my spine.
   I sighed." What should I do?" I asked.
   Carson said it was "press coverage".
   I hated it.
   It took three days for my eyes to stop hurting, and another three for the spots I saw all the time to fade to a point where I could ignore them. Carson's medics were nearby at all times. One of them would always hand me my lunch or dinner and watch as
I ate it, glowering if I did not.
   I had been locked in that tiny room with the hard bench for at least two weeks. My body weight, already low enough as it was, had sunk even lower because I had refused to eat. One of the medics, a lady I was beginning to like, had explained how importa
nt it was that I eat properly. She gave me a list of what I should eat, but I had stared at it blankly, and flatly informed her that I couldn't read. She assigned someone, instead, to make sure that I ate my meals, on time and healthily.
   Carson had revamped NERV entirely. For the first time, all hallways were brightly lit, repairs and construction were being done all over the place and it was filled with people. Luckily for Risa, Tashi and me, Carson had allowed us to continue our "dut
ies" as the Eva specialists and pilots.
   "Yeah, REAL lucky," Tashi had said sourly as we ate dinner one night.
   Tashi was still in charge of the sync tests, which Carson insisted we run daily now. This upset my dietician -- that was the word -- a lot, because they often ran through my meal times. He was also testing other children for their compatibility with th
e red Eva, and maybe even one of the white ones when it was finished repairs. Tashi was in charge of that too. He had to show all the technicians that Carson had brought in how to repair the Evas properly.
   And press people from all over the world were flocking to see it.
   Carson had said one night, after insisting that I eat with him, that we were the hottest item in papers and news broadcasts everywhere. NERV and Eva were common topics at many people's dinner tables. The disappearance of the storm over Tokyo-3 had weat
her and atmospheric specialists baffled, and they struggled and scrambled to explain it.
   I never once mentioned Shinji to Carson or anyone associated with him. I know Risa and Tashi kept their knowledge to themselves.
   I found myself trusting my doctor more and more. She was a very nice lady, and I began to find it hard to believe that she was an employee of Carson's. Risa trusted her as well, because she was furthering her medical studies. Risa was thrilled to be le
arning so much. Tashi had a few technicians in his control who he was beginning to delegate more and more responsibility to. I had no one else. Carson kept me in his company whenever I wasn't in tests of any kind, making it hard for Tashi and Risa to see
me when they had time, but it also made it hard for the press people who were allowed in certain areas of NERV to see me and get pictures or film clips. He said he wanted to surprise the world, when he finally revealed that Unit-01 was piloted by a 15-yea
r-old girl. So far, all the press had was speculation as to how Eva worked.
   I hated him.