At the End of the World 13
Neon Genesis Evangelion: At the End of the World
by Luna Ayanami (ayanami@highlandgrey.com)

Chapter 26

   "Initial ratio was over 30 percent," Tashi said as the first
sync test progressed.
   I was watching the test from C&C with Tashi while Risa
provided the "stable" test subject in the entry plug.
   "That's good?" I asked.
   "Very," he replied, his eyes fixed to the screen of harmonics
patterns. "Her thoughts are a little scattered, but Unit-02 seems
to be responding well enough."
   I nodded to myself. "How long has it been?" I asked.
   Tashi checked the time counter in the corner. "Almost time to
let them out. About another half an hour. Better start getting
ready."
   I let out an explosive breath of air and ran my hand through
my hair. It bugged me, the new haircut. "I'll see you in a bit
then," I said, turning and walking from the room.
   I took my time getting the plug suit on. I just sat there, on
the bench in the change room, for at least ten minutes, wondering
what on earth I was going to do.
   **I'm almost 16...Tashi said that only 14-year-olds could
pilot...I changed her life forever...even if Unit-02 rejects her,
she's been inside of it...a part of it, even if it was for such a
fleeting moment...I can't pilot forever, can I?...This is all
I've known for so long...** The same thoughts ran through my head
the whole time. How _could_ I go on? What if Unit-01 suddenly
rejected me, didn't want me anymore? What would I do then?
   I shook my head. That wouldn't happen. Shinji had said so
himself.
   I jumped up in frustration. I was talking about a _spirit_!!
He didn't really exist! Just in Eva, powered it, made it
interface with me. Nothing more.
   I dropped back to the bench, suddenly tired and worn out. He
wasn't just a part of Eva...he was a part of me too...
   I slouched against the wall and stared up at the white
ceiling, lit by flat bars of light. **How many more times will I
see this ceiling?**
   It was a few minutes later that I started to undress and pull
on my plug suit.

   "Mei, your ratio is way below normal," Tashi said.
   "I know," I replied, feeling tears come to my eyes. "I'm
trying..."
   "Keep at it," he encouraged. "I know you can do it."
   How long I sat there, I have no idea. I knew I wasn't
synchronizing very well with Eva. I could actually feel that. It
was like there was a wall there, in front of me, and I couldn't
find a way to get over or around it. What was happening to me?
   It finally got to the point where I could talk to Shinji. His
'voice' seemed very far away, like he was on the other side of
the wall. I realized with a bit of a start that he probably was.
   **What's wrong?** he asked. It was hard to hear him through
the noise in my mind.
   I wanted to burst into tears right then. "I can't get past
this...wall!" I cried, remembering too late that I hadn't turned
off the internal microphones. I didn't care at the moment either.
   **You have to try to bring it down.**
   "I _CAN'T_!!"
   "I'm shutting the test down," Tashi interupted then, rather
abruptly.
   **You _are_ needed, Mei,** I barely heard just before the
screens shifted throught the spectrum again and the plug was
ejected. I wondered if I had imagined it out of a need to hear
it.
   I stumbled out of the plug. Risa and Kaori were there, with a
pair of matching towels to hand to me. Tashi joined us a minute
later.
   "What's wrong, Mei?" all three of them asked, fairly close
together. Tashi was the last one to ask. I looked up at him, saw
the concern, the questions, in his eyes...and burst into tears,
dropping to my knees on the catwalk.
   Risa and Kaori were there beside me almost immeadiately,
hugging me from either side. "I still love you, Mei," Risa
declared.
   Tashi just watched us for a moment before kneeling in front
me, carefully, and brushing Risa and Kaori aside, taking my
shoulders in his hands. "Get it together, Mei," he said softly,
shaking me gently. "We need you."
   "Why?" I cried, more forcefully than I'd wanted to. "You said
that only 14-year-olds pilot -- I'm almost 16 now! You _don't_
need me!" I was nearly hysterical. I barely recognized myself.
   I couldn't believe it -- Tashi raised his hand and slapped me.
   It was deathly silent, much like we had first found NERV. A
lot of the technicians were just contemplating repairs of the
white Units or on a break of some sort and not anywhere near us.
Time seemed to stand still as my head followed the direction of
his blow, and it seemed to hurt worse than it actually did.
   He grabbed me by the chin then and forced me to look at him,
even though I didn't want to at that paticular moment. "Will you
listen to me for a minute?" he demanded. "You have to be 14 to be
a pilot, but if you grow up over two years, Eva doesn't care!
Your mind is still the same as it was two years ago, maybe a
little smarter and a lot more in tune to the robot anyway. So get
over that! And we do need you. You are the only one with a sync
ratio high enough to be dependable all the time. I'll bet you
don't even know what it is!"
   "It's over 75% upon entry," Risa supplied helpfully. "Within
ten minutes or less it's 98%."
   I didn't turn my head to stare at her as I was staring at
Tashi now, even though the numbers did make an impact on my
scattered mind. That meant that when I got into Eva, it was like
it really was me, and not me inside a machine.
   "So smarten up, Mei," Tashi said then. "We really don't have
time to bring you back up to those levels." He got up and walked
away then.
   I could have cried again. He was being so mean!

   It was just as well that he was being mean. I found myself
struggling to bring myself back up to my original standard to try
and please him, and even though it never seemed to make him
happy, I got better and better.
   One of the problems was, everyone could tell I was trying to
please Tashi. It got to the point where rumors were running
around the building about us. I didn't hear any of them until
some of the worst ones had had a chance to take hold. And then
they bashed me down a bit. It was hard to ignore them.
   My ratios had dropped again in the two weeks I'd known about
the rumors. One day, Tashi called me down to the infirmary. I
entered the room and found Kaori sitting on the counter there
with a sour expresion on her face and Risa applying a bandage to
her cheek.
   "I couldn't stand it anymore, Mei!" Kaori explained when she
saw me in the doorway. "They were making me so mad, saying all
those bad things about you -- so I punched 'em one. OW!"
   "Quit talking or it'll hurt again," Risa said impatiently.
   "Apparently, some of the technicians were being less than
kind," Tashi said to me. "Kaori took it upon herself to...defend
your good name." It was then that I noticed the bandage just
above his eyebrow.
   "How does that explain that?" I said, stepping closer to him
and peering at the bandage.
   "Oh that. Someone had to break up the fight," he said
noncommitally.
   "Hmm," I replied, just as noncommitally.
   The rumors stopped after that. Either that, or whoever was
repeating them did it very quietly.

   It took about two months to get back up to where I had been,
and even then I couldn't maintain it for very long.
   One thing I never counted on was how much I had depended on
Shinji's voice in my head. He didn't talk to me the entire time I
was trying to build myself back up, and I never realized how much
I had missed hearing it.
   **Better now, I see,** he said at last during a sync test.
   I actually jumped, I was so surprised.
   "You're back," I replied, telling my heart to calm down.
   "Who is Mei talking to, Risa?" I heard Kaori ask over our
radios.
   "Don't worry about it, dearie," Risa replied. "It's not
important."
   "But she's talking to herself -- "
   "Don't worry about it!"
   "Are you girls done yet?" Tashi interuptted impatiently.
   "Yes sir," all three of us replied together, and then we
promptly started giggling.
   He sighed. "Girls," he said wonderously, as if that would
explain it all. "We've lost the test now," he went on. "You can
all get out."
   I didn't get out right away, though Risa and Kaori did. I
heard Carson's voice over the speakers; "What is going on?!"
   "Thank you," I whispered to the Unit and then deactivated the
plug.

   A week later was a day that Tashi had declared our rest day.
We wouldn't do a thing that involved Eva, Carson, any kind of
paperwork, _nothing_ that could be considered work. So he was
taking us for a trip to the growing city above ground. Even Kaori
was excited, and she had lived in the city for a time. She had
offered to take us around even, and Tashi agreed, whispering to
me that he really had no idea what he was doing or where he was
going anyway. I don't know how he did it, but he got Carson to
agree to let us go. He couldn't have stopped us, that I could
see.
   Risa and I were the most excited. The last time I had ever
been on a trip like this was so long ago that I couldn't even
remember it. Risa had lived in a city before, but it had been a
long time for her too. Kaori was always excited about something.
The three of us were infectious; Tashi was often grinning when he
saw us talking about it.
   It was almost hard to believe when we finally did leave. We
got to the city above, were confronted by the sunshine --
   And basked in the warmth we weren't forced to endure. Before,
we had always been above ground for some sort of event that
Carson cooked up. Excited, we ran to the nearest intersection.
   Construction of the new city was still going on. Right across
from us was the beginnings of a tall building. Kaori ignored it,
grabbed Risa's hand and ran away down the street. Laughing, I
chased after them, Tashi following me.

   It was a great day. By the time the sun was setting, we were
all pretty tired, but we felt great. Our last stop was on a
hillside in an undeveloped area, away from the construction and
all the noice associated with that. Tashi had insisted. "I want
to see if the sunset is as beautiful as I remember," he had said.
   So there we sat, watching as the blue sky slowly changed from
blue to pink and then to yellow, red and gold. It was
breathtaking. I had all but forgotten how nice the sunset was.
Only when the sun had disappeared beyond the horizon did we start
the walk back into the city to get back to NERV.
   Poor Kaori. She was still so young and a bit fragile. Tashi
ended up carrying her piggyback. She fell asleep on his shoulder
within moments as he walked ahead of Risa and I. It was quite
cute, and I had to smile.
   "She's really adorable," Risa said fondly, also smiling. "I
can't believe she's synchronized so well with Unit-02."
   "Why not?" I asked, a little confused. Despite the recent
events and everything, I think she was doing exceptionally well.
   She looked over at me. "Didn't you say that it felt wierd,
being inside it?" she asked.
   "Well, yeah, but that's because I've been with Unit-01 for so
long," I answered.
   "Is it now. Seriously, Mei, think about it...I've read some of
the old reports. No one was allowed in Unit-02 besides the
designated pilot, yet the pilots of Units 00 and 01 switched.
Only 01 accepted the other pilot, but that's not the point. The
thing is...I don't think Kaori really has the mentality to handle
this very well."
   "What makes you say that?" I wanted to know. "I wish I had
been like her when I started piloting." I made a face and shoved
my hands into my jacket pockets. "Maybe I was...I feel so
different now. I can hardly believe I was ever as innocent as
Kaori is."
   "You weren't," Tashi called back to us. "Trusting, certainly,
but never innocent."
   I stuck my tongue out at his back. "Thanks for sharing that,"
I shouted to him.
   "As I was saying," Risa continued loudly, before lowering her
voice again. "She's still very young in all respects. I mean, maybe she's naive enough that Unit-02 just latches on to her...what if it won't let her go?"
   "Mmm," I started, thinking hard. "Kinda like -- "
   "The way Unit-01's latched onto you," Risa confirmed. "I swear, I have never seen _anyone_ hold onto someone or something as much as that machine has held onto you. I'm not trying to disturb you, Mei, really, I'm not. But I'm telling you honestly..." S
he slowed down until she wasn't walking anymore; I stopped too, but Tashi kept on going. "There's just no other explanation for it. That machine is ALIVE. It has feelings and emotions and it's more than just a biological body with an armour suit. It's sca
ry...it's almost human."
   I stared at my feet. "I know I've asked before," I said quietly, "but Unit-00 talks to you, right?"
   She looked up at me. "Yeah...but not very often, or with very many words."
   "Mmm." I looked up to where Tashi has stopped, sat down and was waiting for us, holding Kaori in his lap. "He...he talks to me a lot. I know his name, and who he was...and he knows everything about me."
   "Who is it?" Risa asked, stepping closer to me. "Who was he?"
   I looked at her finally, wondering if I could tell her. Before I could do anything, a bright flash of light from the other side of the city distracted all of us. Our heads turned immeadiately, fast enough to catch the huge, silent explosion that sent u
p a fountain of dirt and debris.
   Risa and I glanced at each other before running to Tashi. He was already on his feet and swinging Kaori to his back. "It's an Angel; it has to be," he said. "We have to get back NOW."

   Within an hour, we had all the information we could possibly get and were decided on the course of action. It _was_ an Angel, and it was even uglier than the last one, what little I had seen of it.
   "We're counting on you, girls," Carson had said gravely as we were leaving the room to activate the Evas. "Don't fail us." His last words had held an element on threat.
   "He acts so tough!" Kaori had complained, slamming her fist into her palm when we were out of earshot. "I'd like to pop him a few -- BAM! Then he wouldn't be so high and mighty anymore!"
   "Calm down dearie," Risa advised. "It's not good to go out with that attitude."
   All three Units activated minutes after that and we moved towards the launch area. I watched Kaori climb into the harness, directed her to move her arm _that_ much to one side, before climbing into my own. "Ready!" we all reported.
   "Good luck," Tashi said over the radios, right before all three harnesses flew upwards.
   Above ground, a bit more of the city was now destroyed. Buildings lay in ruins, dust still floating in the air where they used to be. And in the center of all the destruction was the Angel.
   Kaori made a disgusted sound. "_THAT'S_ an angel?" she asked in wonder and amazement. "That doesn't look anything LIKE the angels _I've_ seen."
   I would have laughed if the situation wasn't so serious. I made a face at the big ... _lump_ that was the Angel. It didn't look like any Angel _I'd_ seen either.
   It looked nothing more like a big blob of black goo, lying in a puddle in the middle of the street. It was sickenly pretty, just lying there calmly with the dark raised circle of the globe in the center. The city lights that were still on after the des
trucion it had caused reflected off its surface. Yet it seemed that they weren't so much reflected as swallowed up...and shone back out. Even as I watched it, another explosion sent up clouds of dust and debris behind it.
   "Just remember the plan," Risa reminded her, sounding disgusted. "You had to go up against one of those, Mei?" she asked.
   "It wasn't that ugly," I said.
   "Get on with it, girls!" Carson shouted over the radios. "That thing is destroying the city!"
   I rolled my eyes, said nothing, and moved Unit-01 into the planned position. "Ready," I reported, hiding behind a building. Risa and Kaori were ready moments later. "Okay...on three," I started. "One...two...thr--" I didn't get a chance to finish the s
entence as my building suddenly disappeared. Unit-01 whipped around. The black mass that was the Angel confronted me.
   I just stared at it, not moving, and it didn't do anything either. After a moment, it gathered its "body" into a dark semblence of Unit-01. The red globe was set near the "ribs", and it had a dark center, just like the last one.
   "I don't believe it," I whispered. Slowly, I reached a hand out to touch it...
   **Mei, NO!** The warning came too late. My view warped briefly.
   The Angel's globe lit up. In it's center was the curled human form of my dream. A blast of light, and Unit-01 was pushed backwards, toppling the building behind me.
   "What is that?" I gasped, staring up at the dark sky.
   **Its weapon and AT Field,** came Shinji's voice distantly, like he was concentrating on something else. **I can't explain now. I need you to focus. Get the progressive blade out of your shoulder.**
   I untangled myself from the building and rose shakily to my feet. Risa had moved forward to engage the Angel. I could only watch as it sent out the blast of light again, which sent her flying backwards, crashing into another building and not getting up
. "Risa..." I whispered, staring at the melting feet of Unit-00.
   **The KNIFE!**
   I shook my head slightly, dropped the one shoulder and activated the knife. At the same time, Kaori ran forward to attack the Angel. **Why isn't my radio on?** I wondered. The Angel didn't even turn around to deal with her in the same way. She landed m
uch farther away, in an area that was already destroyed. I was amazed that she got up and tried again. Another flash of light, and this time...she stayed down. **They can't be dead...** Unit-02 lay on it's side farther away than before, the shoulder plate
s melting downwards.
   In that moment, I realized how much they had meant to me. I started to get mad. I grabbed the handle of the progressive knife, yanked it out of the holder and dropped to one knee. I barely noticed the extra presence within my own.
   I didn't know if I would ever remember the details. Unit-01 launched itself forward, encountering a bright red field of some sorts for a moment, but it quickly disentegrated. I brought the knife up, jamming it towards the globe. It contacted, and the g
lobe cracked. My knife started to bury into it, shooting out sparks of light, but its "body" jellified and wrapped around me. The force of it knocked my hand away from the handle and pressed both it and the red sphere agaisnt my viewscreen. The light emit
ted from behind the globe grew brighter and brighter, and the last thing I saw before it destroyed itself was the curled form stretch out, turn towards me and open it's eyes.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Epilogue

   Tashi stared down at the sleeping forms of the girls that were the Evangelion pilots. It was amazing they'd survived...He knew he was going to have to devise better fighting techiniques if these...beings...continued to come.
   He moved around the closed, well-windowed room to the side where Mei lay. He pressed a hand to the glass, wishing he could be in that room, by her side. She lay there, so still, the white sheets pulled up under her arms and a clear plastic mask over he
r face. Risa and Kaori were similarily laid out on their beds. None of them had the slightest marks on their bodies to show the damage they had taken.
   He had seen the Evas though. All three had been badly damaged. He wondered where they would get the replacement parts for them. He also wondered if they could be ready in time before the Angels came back.
   He didn't doubt that they would come back, either. Something deep within him _told_ him that they would return.
   Now he wondered about his ability to protect Mei. She never knew it, but he'd made a promise to himself, years ago, to watch over her and keep her from harm. That's why he had felt so bad about Kyle's violation of her, the only thing he'd ever hated hi
mself for. He still did, too. He felt that he'd betrayed her somehow...that he'd failed her trust. He had seen it in her eyes every time he'd been near her, the fear there, and something else, something he still couldn't put a name to. His hand shrunk int
o a fist, still pressed to the glass window by her bed.
  **Why can't I be with her?** he thought in frustration. **I want to take her away from all this...and I'm sorry I got her into it in the first place.** He sighed, and willed himself through the glass to sit on the edge of her bed, hold her hand and kiss
 her forehead. Like he used to.
   No matter how hard he tried, he still stayed on his side of the glass. Right before he would have turned away, Mei rolled her head towards him and opened her eyes. They seemed defocused, but he got as close to the window as he dared and pressed his han
d there again. She just stared at him with those unseeing eyes. But a tiny smile crossed her face briefly and then she went back to sleep.
   Heartened, Tashi rested his head on the window for a moment before going to see what was being done about repairs. Yet he couldn't shake the feeling of something important about to happen.

-finis-

Author's Notes:

Eh, it's finally over. At the End of the World has finished. Thanks go out to the creators of Eva for letting us enjoy the world of Eva (wierd and confusing as it is), to everyone who read the first few parts before they were "published" and demaned more,
 and to everyone who emailed me with praise, the extremely rare critism (bad spelling, I know) and encouragement ^.^ A big thanks goes out to anyone who cared to read this story, because otherwise it would have remained an unknown and I would never have k
nown how popular it could be. Arigatou!!!