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   Blasphemy Chapter 1

By: Dante Abbey

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	Date/Time: Aug. 17, 2215 / 0426 hrs. SGT[Earth]

	Sol System News Network [SSNN]: Breaking news item.
	Date: Aug. 17, 2215

	Further investigations into Halley’s Comet yield no
clues to Entity’s origin or status.

	Today, the U.N.S.F. issued a press release stating
that the Entity that appeared in Solar space three
days ago has not reappeared in the vicinity of
Halley’s Comet.  After a short conflict with the
Evangelion space combat vehicle designed and operated
by the U.N.S.F.’s daughter organization U.N.NERV, the
Entity retreated into the debris following the comet
and was lost from all sensors.  Since then, the UNDD
Intrepid and the UNCRV Pegasus have blockaded the
comet, and are currently on yellow alert status.  They
state that the Evangelion did not suffer extreme
damage during the conflict, and that it will be
operational within hours of the press release.  They
reassure us that it will be ready to defend the system
again.
	Some members of the U.N., namely the public colonist
organizations of the Amaterasu and Freya colony
installations have protested the redeployment of their
guardian warships.  The U.N.S.F. has tried to quell
this unrest by providing informational releases about
the Entity and the potential damages it may cause.
	According to Dr. Maria Umberto of the University of
Mars, much of the political unrest concerning the
Entity stems from the recent war with the outlying
ex-colonies of Sirius, Bernard’s Star and Procyon. 
“The warships that orbit the various planets and
installations scattered throughout Sol and Delta
Draconis are often perceived as all-powerful wards
against alien harm, and removing them from their posts
will inevitably cause domestic upheaval and a general
feeling of insecurity.”
	Additionally, certain groups have decried the use of
force against the Entity, claiming it is our first
contact with new life.  While it is certainly not a
form of life with which we are familiar, they maintain
it is still a form of life, and that the U.N. should
have attempted making more peaceful and diplomatic
overtures before committing to attack it with the
Evangelion.  One group, the Fellowship of Believers,
has called the U.N.’s actions ‘discrimination’, and
has called for the withdrawal of the Intrepid and the
Pegasus.  U.N. press representatives declined to
comment on these groups.
	The press release has also renamed the Entity as an
‘Angel’.  It’s reasons for doing so at this time are
uncertain.
	More news on this topic can be available to you on
request by clicking here.

	End of file.

-----

	The stated intent of the alarm clock is to rouse.  In
most cases, it accomplishes this through the means of
a repetitive and insistent sound that is highly
uncomfortable to human ears.  Effectively, by
presenting such an unnatural stimulus to the brain, it
disturbs the normal pattern of sleep and forces the
brain to take action against it.  This usually
requires the use of motor control, and this in turn
necessitates a state of awareness.  If this occurs,
the alarm clock has fulfilled its intent, and falls
silent until it is needed once more.
	In this particular case, it is the monotonous buzzing
that fills the room and reverberates lightly along the
floor that accomplishes the task.  A groan soon
follows it, and a clawing, groping hand reaches out
from beneath the thin, torn comforter to snare the
tiny mechanism.  After a moment’s pause, the fingers
convulse, like they were trying to choke the machine. 
As if suddenly remembering something vaguely
important, they relax, and the thumb fumbles over its
surface, finally finds the switch, and kills it more
politely.
	The comforter remains still for several more minutes,
then rises upward, rising bubble-like into the air. 
Then, when the bubble pops, the blanket slides away,
piling neatly onto the futon.  The faintly langorous
blend of natural oils counterpointed by the rot of the
wood beneath the beddings rises from the trap that had
held it over night.  Her figure rises from the unkempt
nest, stumbling to her knees amid the half-hearted
protest that the building calls out against her.
	Tangled and twisted strands of raven hair, unwashed
and uncombed, fall around the girl’s face, framing it
sloppily.  They sway tiredly as she climbs to her
feet, as if emulating the body on which they hang. 
They catch the light; even in the morning’s pale
brilliance, they are so dark that they appear a deep
purple under certain conditions, a testament to her
parent’s pure genetic heritage.
	She has the utmost respect for her mother -- in a
neighbourhood such as this, the simple fact that her
father was indeed her father is something to be proud
of.
	It’s seven in the morning.  The sun has barely risen,
casting an elegant fan of flame across the horizon. 
Fingers of rippling red light reach down the grime and
soot-stained roads and alleys of the city, momentarily
lending its beauty to the squalor.  The violent
graffiti and death-stained shadows blend together,
hiding each other while what little greenery that
still remains awakens at its own natural pace and
reaches out for the fiery orb.  Garbage and brittle
leaves alike blow along the curbs, catching and
slowing each other before finding a new breeze and
darting forward against the pavement.
	Misato Katsuragi stands still until her sight focuses
on the doorway to her room, and she reaches out with
her hand to push open the inexistent panel.  The
hinges, twisting on themselves, scream in agony as she
moves into the rusted bathroom.  As she steps into the
ceramic basin, the filth-coloured deposits staining
its floor rasp like sand against the soles of her
feet.  She barely notices, protected by the callouses
that have developed over the years.  She’s done her
best to scrub the ferrous stain out of the decrepit
bathtub’s interior, but it persists.  No matter,
though, as long as it’s clean.  She strips out of her
rags, leaving them draped precariously on the edge of
the sink.  She’s folded them in such a manner as to
keep the corner out of the way of the eternally
dripping tap, keeping time with its own, unsteady
rhythm as the miniscule drops pound into the drain
pipe.
	The washroom smells of burnt sulfur, or rotting eggs.
 The pipe traps are broken and empty, the odours
rising freely into the air.  Year round, Misato keeps
the miniscule window open, to vent the smell.  It’s
fairly intolerable, and she prefers to spend a minimum
of time in this room as she can.
	She showers, the cold, weak, spray only barely enough
wet her but still fresh against her skin.  She revels
in its chill, knowing that it’s only a taste of the
acrid sting she’ll find outside.  The shampoo bottle
is almost empty -- she’ll have to steal another.  For
now, she’s filled it an eighth of the way with water,
to use every drop of soap she has left.  She hasn’t
used soap in years, only the suds from the bottle.
	Afterwards, after there is no longer the pleasant
smell of shampoo to fill her nostrils, she takes a
deep breath and clamps her fingers down on her nose
while she prepares to brush her teeth.  Despite her
repeated efforts, she can never completely escape the
stench of the room; its rude effervescence is terribly
pervasive.
	She brushes her teeth, yes.  She read once that a
healthy smile can inspire trust and imply friendliness
and even intelligence.  She’s found that to be truth,
especially since she is far from ugly.
	But, as with everything else, she salvages her
toothpaste from the garbage bins in the alleys around
the condemned building where she lives, shaking the
coffee grounds and shards of broken glass from the
tubes before pocketing them.  Not this time, though. 
She’s decided it’s the one luxury she can allow
herself, and has saved enough money -- albeit earned
questionably -- to buy herself the best tube of
toothpaste that she can find in the constantly
shifting map of stores masquerading as legitimate
places of business.
	After rinsing her mouth with water sipped from cupped
palms and spitting out the minty foam, she feels her
mouth with a finger.  Indeed, there is no trace left
on her teeth, but there is the bitter tang of
ill-managed chlorine against her tongue.  Collecting
her ragged cloak, shirt and pants, she brings them
back into the bedroom, dropping them on the ratty
futon.  They’ll spent the day in the place of the tiny
alarm clock her father had bought for her so many
years ago.  In fact, it’s one of the last things she
can claim she truly owns.
	Without a mirror, she can never be sure whether or
not she is presentable, but one of the girls at school
will always correct her.  She finishes dressing in a
uniform two years old -- this was one of the last
things her mother had purchased for her.  Now, it is
too small.  The skirt ends high on her legs, and if
not for the good fortune of exchanging the blouse with
a girl whose parents had bought one a few sizes too
large, it would have been embarrassingly uncomfortable
around her growing chest.  It would have also
compromised her ability to move freely through the
city unnoticed.
	She feels physically sick, as she strides through the
gaping doorway of her room, and traverses the hallway
to the rickety stairs that corkscrews around the
central elevator shaft like a ragged, shedding snake. 
She hasn’t eaten properly in days, her skin stretched
across the regular protrusions that mark her ribcage. 
She’s still surprised her body has the energy to grow.
	Her stomach is a screaming maw within her, yawning
like Charybdis even though its physical proportions
are only a fraction of what it should be.  Even
shrunken, it calls out to her, begging.  She would
like to do the same, but here charity is neither given
nor earned.  She has never seen an unarmed vagrant --
those few that have escaped predation by their
neighbours or the feral beasts that stalk the night
are like her -- full of wiles and wits.
	Another pang winds through her, forcing her to pause
on the stairs.  As she stops on the stairs, the
swirling cloud of tawny dust that has followed her in
her descent catches her and climbs into her
respiratory passages, clawing at her throat.  As it’s
already dry, there is nothing to prevent the
irritantion, and she is consumed by wracking coughs.
	Her head is clouded, weak from hunger.  It hurts,
aching in sympathy with her stomach.
	Steeling herself, she fans the smoky particulate away
with an open palm, but she accomplishes little more
than a few dark spirals of clean air that begin to
dance in the narrow beam of light entering through a
broken window far above.
	Since the police have barricaded the neighborhood to
contain the violence, there have been no unsuspecting
tourists.  The museum, once her favorite hunting
ground, has been ransacked and abandoned.  She lacks
prey, the locals too street-smart to leave any useful
openings.
	She feels no remorse at having to turn to petty theft
to survive -- she hasn’t in almost a year.  It’s
almost second nature, now.  As she passes quietly out
of the alley into the main street, her eyes rove back
and forth, continually scanning for bulging pockets or
open handbags.  She needs no more than a second to
make a withdrawal from those lint-lined bank accounts,
and the service fees are nonexistent.  But today, as
with the day before, there are none to be found, at
least not that she can see.  And she still needs to
eat.
	The school isn’t too much farther.  Today is the
first day it has been open since the fighting started.
 The police have finally set up a secure zone around
it and the neighbouring hospital.  She’d rather avoid
the police -- she has nearly been caught before, and
she’s sure they’ve got her face on record.
	No matter how much she needs the money, though, she
refuses to sell herself.  She knows there’s a market
for it -- in fact, she knows of at least three men and
one woman who would certainly be willing.  She’s seen
them before, their eyes licking at her exposed legs as
she walks past.  The thought disgusts her, more so
when the most obvious of that perverted lot -- an
oily, corpulent bastard with poor personal hygiene who
she’s evaded more than once -- surfaces in her mind.
	Shuddering, she turns her shoulders into the wind and
presses onward.  The summer is dying quickly, and the
normally benevolent harvest wind seems to bite at her
with teeth of ice.  
	She carries a small bag slung over one shoulder.  It
contains everything she owns, save the ratty futon she
had found left behind in the building she now lives
in.  Even the alarm clock lies comfortably nestled in
its depths, between her binders and the little,
obsolete reader she was able to obtain from one of her
kinder teachers.
	It still took a shy smile to get it, though.  She’s
glad she was able to invest in the toothpaste.
	To the east, she can see the roiling cloud of thick
black smoke where two of the local gangs have set fire
to a large fuel tanker during an ill-planned
firefight.  Sirens fill the air, and subsidiary
explosions crackle as they burn out.    In the wind,
the column twists like a dying wyrm, snapping wildly
in the air even as it stretches across the
twice-charred and thrice-damned skyline.  Misato takes
no notice.
	An armoured vehicle cruises past, lights flashing as
it skims across the ground, only inches from the
concrete.  Hot ozone fumes from the thrust jets poison
its wake, and Misato’s nose wrinkles as she passes
through it, though her bare legs welcome the warm
blast with immesurable gratitude.  More pass by,
headed towards the new hot spot, white noise blaring
from their sirens.
	She’s coming up on a little restaurant, on the right.
 If it can be called a restaurant.  Despite the title
with which it flatters itself, it’s still nothing more
than a grease-stained diner, whose owners would do the
bare minimum to meet public health standards -- if
they even cared.  The windows are stained with the
rancid yellow of aerosolized fat and covered with
filthy newspaper that grows more and more jaundiced
with every passing day.  Together, they form a mosaic
of disease.  Nevertheless, she doesn’t see it, partly
because she is too busy watching the aircars as they
rush past and partly because her mind had filtered it
from her consciousness before her memory had even
finished its development.
	“Hey, there.”
	A heavy hand falls on her shoulder, gripping it
roughly.  She halts, unable to move as the fingers
grind into her collar bone.  It feels ready to snap
under the pressure.  “You look hungry,” the voice
wheedles, trying to sound sympathetic, but only
succeeding in making itself all the more odious.  She
hates it when people patronize her.  “Maybe I can
help.”
	The sentence, a stringent whine -- not even having
enough depth for real dignity -- comes forth as a
statement, rather than a question.  No doubt about it,
there is something expected of her.
	Misato turns her head, hatred in her eyes.  Both for
the greasy man -- yes, he’s the same one -- and for
herself, for allowing herself to fall fascinated by
the police vehicles rather than her environment
proper.  She glares up at him.
	“No, thank you.  I’m fine.”  She tries to shake
loose, to no avail.  His build should be one of
weakness, yet he is replete with a hunger not at all
like her own.  And yet, for some reason, he’s the one
who seems more desperate.
	“Are you sure?  You certainly look hungry to me.”
	His other hand has appeared, rubbing her ribs through
her blouse.  She can feel the hatred surging through
her body.  The hand on her shoulder is still there,
clamping her in place.  She’s not sure she’ll get
enough leverage to hurt him seriously enough when she
drives her knee into his groin, as the angle is too
awkward.
	She shivers in revulsion, letting her outer foot
slide a few inches to the left...preparing to
strike...and she is interrupted by a rolling, basso
growl.  The city itself seems to deform around them as
an invisible meniscus of scalding air explodes outward
towards the predator and its prey, then rushing past,
driven by gale-force winds.
	An Air/Space Personnel Transport appears at the end
of the street as its hypersonic approach is suddenly
halted, its stub wings bristling with weapons.  It
pauses momentarily, then rushes forward.  Carbon burns
streak the asphalt and windows shatter, leaving empty
facades to glare after it.  Blowing debris and
fractured glass surround her, flying first in one
direction, than the other as the source of the wind
itself outstrips the hurricane of its own creation.
	Misato shields her eyes, the glare from the massive
machine rivaling the hot light of the sun for a second
as it drifts past, the blue-gray flame torching what
air remains behind.  If there was ozone in the air
before, this is exponentially worse, and it burns a
chemical burn in her chest.
	Despite the cover afforded by the tiny store’s
alcove, the fat man ducks instinctively.  Misato kicks
him in the head, hard, then runs, kicking up pebbles
as she does and choking on the vile flame of defiled
oxygen.
	She runs, away from him, away from the A/SPT.  Now
she has to hide.

-----

	“Are you sure that’s her?  Should we do another
fly-by?”
	The pilot spins the aircraft on its central axis,
turning cumbersomely in the narrow confines presented
by the edifices on either side.  Behind him stands
another man, his face marked by a long, narrow scar
that cuts jaggedly through his empty left eye socket. 
He pats the pilot’s chair, his good eye both relieved
and anxious.
	Beside him, on the sensor operator’s screen, is a
clear image of a girl, her black hair flying wildly as
she breaks out of a strange man’s grip.
	“No...that’s definitely her.  Put us down,
Lieutenant.”
	“Aye, sir.  Deploying landing gear, sir.”
	A distinct whine is heard throughout the aircraft’s
frame as the hydraulics push three pairs of reinforced
pads out of its belly.  Then, as the thrusters cut
out, the weight of the massive machine is transferred
from them to the metal struts with only the tiniest
and minimal of shocks.
	The craft stops vibrating as the engines dull
themselves to a minimal power mode, the tongues of
flame shrinking to flickering cerulean cones that only
barely peek out from behind the black-streaked slats
of the afterburners.
	The scarred man swings out of the cockpit into the
hold of the craft, where the egress ramp has already
been extended.  It’s empty, save for two other men,
dressed entirely in black.  They acknowledge him as he
passes between them, and he motions them to follow.

-----

	Panting, Misato slumps against the flaking brick
wall, the shards crumbling beneath her hands and back
like loose slate, scratching against her palms.  It’s
taken nearly all of her remaining strength to run like
this, so hard, so fast.  Then, the twice failed
acrobatics required to lift herself up onto the fire
escape has drained her.  She can barely stand, but at
least the pressing fears have quelled her stomach for
now.  Her head is still in pain, however, thorns
pressing against the inner surface of her skull as she
squeezes her eyes shut.
	She’s saddened -- she won’t be able to attend school
today.
	But, at the same time, she can still smile.  Her
fingers unclench, and the fat man’s creased and
well-used wallet rolls happily between the slender
bars of its new prison.  It’s not thick, but it has a
few threadbare bills in it.  And perhaps she can sell
the driver’s license to a counterfeiter.  Not a total
loss, after all.
	She stifles her laboured breathing, the cacaphony of
breaking glass and escaping cats warning her of a
disruption in the alley from which she came.  Gravel
cracks under heavily soled feet, sliding where the
traction is inefficient.  Nevertheless, she never
hears them lose control, not once.  Cautious, but
curious, she peers over the edge of the dumpster, her
hand sliding against the much that has amalgamated
from all the liquid waste that has spilled there over
time.
	One...no, two men are filing into the alley.  They
are covering each other with their guns.  The hissing
crackle of radios filters towards her.  They are full
of their authority, fearless as they enter a
playground that was lost to them long ago.
	She’s cornered, again.  Normally, the jump to the
ladder would have been a simple matter, but she’s just
not strong enough.  It’s dark, narrow shape hangs
above her, taunting her with her immobility and
frightened impotence.  She panics.  What can she do?
	The scarred man steps into the alley, into the
shadows.  As he turns aside a garbage bin in his path,
it scrapes against the cracked asphalt covering the
ground, trembling as it jerks along its forced path.
	“Miss Misato Katsuragi?” he asks, his voice calm,
searching...just like his eye.
	She has no options left.  She’s too weak to run any
further.  Best to give herself up.
	“Y...yes..?”
	Her knees are trembling against the slimy walls of
the dumpster.  She feels stupid, lifting her arm as if
she were in class with her teacher taking attendance.
	The man steps deeper into the darkness, crouching
down next to her.  He smiles, but she can see it feels
hollow to him as well.  “Misato...I’m Major Shinji
Suzuki.  I need you to come with me...”  His voice
trails away, like he wants to say more.  So far, he
hasn’t opened his left eyelid, yet, and it only
amplifies the fear she feels.
	“...H...hi?”  She’s not sure what to say, what to do.
 She’s waiting for the handcuffs, the manhandling, the
baton, the body search.  Shinji only stays crouched,
watching her squirm under his gaze.  He looks...he
looks like he’s pitying her...but she can’t dislike
him for it...as if he knows it’s not her fault.
	A cat hisses somewhere, then slinks away, its hackles
raised at the sudden intruders.  Shinji suddenly
understands that territory is immesurably valuable,
here.  He’s not on his own turf, nor does he
understand the rules.  Embarrassed, he pulls his hand
back, aborting the handshake.
	Misato realizes she’s made a mistake as well, too
afraid to have noticed his hand extended in ritual
salutation.  Isn’t he here to arrest her?
	A bright light rains down into the alleyway as the
A/SPT hovers high above, it’s muted engines still
thunderously loud in the tiny space.  The hot, burning
light from its engines illuminates the interstice like
the sun never could flooding it.  Misato squeezes her
eyes shut.  The men are unmoved by the brilliant
light, only their frowns betraying the fact that their
sunglasses do not completely obstruct the fire from on
high.
	“Well?” Shinji asks, finally opening his eye, but
still squinting in the preternaturally powerful glare.
	“...Well, what?” she replies, too tired and too
confused.
	“Will you come with me?”
	Misato’s still too suspicious.  She can’t help it. 
She’s heard too many stories about the police and
their ways.  She’s heard of women being raped in the
boundaries of the precinct headquarters, by none other
than those charged with their protection.  She wants
to fight, or die trying, but she can’t.  She...the
world is fading too rapidly.
	Her eyes swallow the throbbing light, and it the
unearthly rumble overwhelms her senses.  The steady
shaking fills her ears, and even her sense of touch is
replaced by the quaking.  She feels like a tender
sapling weathering a storm.
	The last thing she remembers is her knees buckling
under her, and the taste of dirt and decaying sugar in
her nostrils.

-----

	Shinji puts down the satellite phone in disgust. 
“You have your orders,” the Commander had said.  But
he should have known.  Misato will be coming with
them, regardless of whether or not she wants to. 
Resignedly, he has one of his two companions secure
her on one of the empty bunks in the A/SPT’s rest
area, then dismisses them to the back.  The craft
rumbles as it takes off, leaving the dirty city far,
far behind.
	Tiny vibrations shake through the hull, climbing the
metal plates and emerging even through the soft
padding on which the girl now lies.  Across the narrow
passage from her, seated on another bunk, elbows
comfortably resting on his knees, Shinji observes
quietly.
	Outside, the wings are unfolding, unfurling like a
bird’s.  The additional engines embedded in them light
off in sequence, and the ship accelerates, plunging
further into the void.
	Misato tosses uneasily in her sleep, her short bangs
jerking first with her fitful motion, then with the
inherent shaking of the vessel.  She moves her head
from side to side, trapped in a nightmare, and unaware
that she is being watched over.  Half-blind in more
ways than one, Shinji cannot tell what this means, so
he remains seated, his hand wrapped around a metal
tube for support.
	Her clothes are ruffled and torn, evidencing great
wear and the insecure nature of her life.  Her blouse,
once a starchy white, is now a light, rumpled ash
colour.  The individual fibers of the fabric are so
worn that it seems almost as soft as silk, but as
delicate as onion paper.
	She is barely slender.  Just as had the man who had
run from them, Shinji could see that she was almost
dangerously thin.  He hadn’t thought to bring along a
medic, nor had he expected to find her in such a
condition.  He has no access to an intravenous line;
all he has are some of the bland, pasty food bars the
U.N.P.C. hands out to all its soldiers.  It will have
to do.
	Reaching out, he shakes her gently.  Misato groans
something, and tries to turn over, but the wall
prevents her.  He shakes her again, this time
garnering the desired response.  Slowly, Misato
returns to a state of consciousness, her eyes opening
slowly, like a breaking rift in the Earth’s crust. 
For the first time, he gets a close look at her eyes.
	They are black.  But it’s not a harsh black, not the
bitter, nihilistic black he’s seen in the eyes of some
his previous captives.  Nor is it the surprised,
fading black of a dying man.  He can see she’s
intelligent, and remarkably so.  Her look darts about
the narrow room, seeking an escape, but, when she
cannot find one, it comes to rest on him, watching his
every move.  As slowly as her eyes opening, she begins
to sit up, but a weak half-slouch against the side of
the bunk is all she can muster.
	This new world breaks into her conscious all at once,
inundating her.  The smell here is powerful, but
considerably less nauseating than that she is
accustomed to.  It’s a smell of industrial oil, a
darker, heavier grease that weighs heavily on the
senses and is nearly inescapable.  Once again, there
is the familiar bite of ozone in the air, and the
cold, flat smell of plate metal.  There is sweat, too,
from the battle-ready legions of soldiers that have
ridden this ferry to war and back again.  And even
then, on top of all this, there is a subtly exotic
smell -- Misato does not know this, but it is the
smell of pre-fusion hydrogen, before it is pushed into
the seemingly too-small furnace at the ship’s core and
vented in part at the rear.
	Shinji pulls the white-wrapped bars of nutritional
base from his pocket, handing them to her.  After a
second, he pulls back, breaking open the wrapper on
one and handing it to her again.  Misato reaches out
carefully, unsure of what this means.  Her fingers
deftly wrap around the bars and pull back, almost so
quickly that Shinji doesn’t have the time to see them
move.
	“Th...thank you, sir.”  Misato begins nibbling on the
bar, absorbing it slowly.  She’s been hungry before;
she knows if she eats too quickly, her body will
reject it.  She resists the urge to cram the whole
thing in her mouth.  It’s tasteless, and it has a
grainy quality to it, but she’s not picky.
	“Shinji will do.  I’m not one for formality...”  He
pauses, almost embarrassed.  “I’m sorry, I never
really got the chance to introduce myself
properly...I’m Major Shinji Suzuki, of the United
Nations Peace Corps...Intelligence branch.  I’m not
looking to hurt you, Misato.”
	“I’ve heard that before..,” she mumbles into the bar.
 She’s still only about an inch into it, but she’s
still watching to see if he’ll take back the gift. 
She swallows another half-mouthful.
	Absently, Shinji scratches at his forehead, near the
rough top end of his scar.  He laughs lightly, trying
to establish whether or not she’s told him a joke or a
part of her reality.  He goes on with the
introduction; formally, it will be called a briefing. 
“I...ah...right.  More specifically, I’m attached to
U.N.NERV.  Have you heard of us?”
	Misato shakes her head.  She’s not even sure she’s
heard of the Peace Corps.  Neither have ever done
anything for her.  Her news consists of school yard
gossip and the current whereabouts of the largest
cluster of police.
	“Hmm...I see.  You must know we are capable of space
flight and travel, then.”  Misato nods.  “Good...and
the recent war?”  Another nod.  Shinji relaxes,
leaning back against the back of his bunk.  “Recently,
we’ve been attacked again.  Not by the same people as
last time...that was a...a civil war, I guess you
could say.  U.N.NERV is in charge of defending us...as
people...from the Angel.”
	“Angel?”
	“...Yeah.”
	Misato stares a little longer, still chewing.  Most
of the first bar is gone now, and she feels much
better.  Her stomach grumbles happily, digesting. 
She’s still not sure she can trust him...but he
feels...he feels benign.  He feels like he’s so
clueless he couldn’t do anything to hurt anyone.  It
would have been so simple to take his money and run
with it.  On the other hand, what does U.N.NERV want
with her?
	Her fingers snag the other bar, and begin tearing it
open.  Again, she begins slowly, but gradually
increases the pace, encouraging her body to take it
in.  Shinji’s smiling again.  He’s looking at her
face.  She feels...a little uncomfortable, but she
can’t sense any danger.  Not this time.
	“Shinji, sir?  Where are we?”
	“Us?  We’re about two hours outbound from Earth. 
It’ll be another five before we get to the
installation.”
	Misato nods again, knowing she’s just being
pretentious.  She hasn’t got a clue as to what Shinji
is talking about.  But she knows she’ll be stuck here
with him for at least another five hours.  Best not to
get on his bad side.  She picks the most obvious
conversation piece available.
	“Where’d you get that scar?” she asks, craning her
head towards his face.  Startled, Shinji leans back,
away from her.
	“This?”  Shinji’s finger runs along his brow,
stopping at the roughly vertical line that crosses
through it.  “This is old.  I’ve had it since I was
your age.”
	“Not during the war?  I thought you said you were
some kind of military guy.”
	“Well...sort of.  I’ve...tried to give it up.  It’s
why I’m in NERV, now.  This was from just before.”
	The moment’s just a little too awkward for her to
continue, so she nibbles on the nutrient bar a little
longer.  “You’re nicer than I thought,” she says,
staring at the floor.  

-----

	“The child has been contacted, hasn’t she?  I hear
Major Suzuki is bringing her now.”
	Commander Rokubungi stands still on the metal
decking, his feet barely grazing the floor.  The
lapels of his jacket, unrestrained by the forces of
gravity, float to and fro, like kelp leaves in the
tide.  His expression is unreadable, molded into an
unmovable mask by years of experience.  
	Across the room, his interlocutor drifts past a wall
of hydroponic plants, slowly spinning to stimulate
outward growth.  He stops at one slightly sickly
plant, the edges of its leaves beginning to show signs
of yellow.  After a moment, Fuyutsuki touches the
plant, his aging, wrinkled fingers feeling for
crumbling.  He makes a mental note to adjust the
nutrients being fed it, then spins away from the wall.
	“Misato Katsuragi...age fourteen.”
	“Yes.  She has been recovered.”
	Fuyutsuki smiles for a moment, turning back towards
his plants.  He’s drifting backwards, away from the
wall.  His feet touch the floor, and his knees bend so
that he’s almost sitting against the wall without a
chair, like a mime.
	“I’m interested to see how she’s turned out after all
these years.  It’s been quite a while since the
project was initiated.”
	The Commander smirks, the corner of his mouth
twisting humourously.  “Why don’t you greet her, then,
Professor?” he asks, his voice cold.  “You could
introduce yourself to our head of Intelligence.  He’d
be absolutely thrilled to meet you.”
	Fuyutsuki doesn’t find any humour in the words at
all.  His eyes remain fixed on the plants and their
docile pirouettes, a vertical sea of green ballerinas
in captivity.  “You know very well I can’t do that. 
This is enough for me.”

-----

	“So...Shinji?”
	Shinji turns around.  Misato’s...changed, over the
last half hour.  She’s not so quiet, any more.  She’s
consumed all the ration bars the skeleton crew of the
transport have to offer; perhaps it’s the extra sugar
now flowing through her system.  Or the fact that her
bag of personal belongings has been returned to her. 
Perhaps it’s the knowledge that she now has
unrestricted access to most parts of the ship except
the cockpit and maintenance bays.  Maybe she feels
less trapped.
	In any case, she’s more...alive.  She still avoids
his gaze when she can, but she knows there’s no
escaping it.  It’s a closed environment, one in which
she can’t run or hide.  It’s really not that different
from the dumpster in the alleyway.
	“Why am I here?  What do you want?”
	She’s sitting upright, now, but no less pallid than
she was before.  He’s not surprised by her question.
	“Misato,” he says, sitting down himself, “it’s
because we believe there’s something you can do. 
Something only you can do...we need your help.”
	He hands her a datapad.  Misato looks at him for a
moment, she’s never seen one of these before.  But the
interface, she has.  She remembers it from a long time
ago, when her parents had a radio...the buttons are
the same.  She pushes the ‘play’ arrow, and the
recording begins.
	She’s never seen anything so beautiful in her entire
life.  Eight long, flowing bands of light converge at
a brilliant point in the centre of the screen.  Almost
like feathers molting from a dove, each glowing swath
trails a path of energy behind it.  Or like frost on
glass as light passes over it, shining into and out of
existence.
	Breathless, she watches as it comes closer and closer
to the original camera.  She almost expects to see
something appear in its centre, something even more
stunning and incredible...but the image dissolves into
white noise.
	 Shinji gently nudges the datapad.  “The video was
taken from a freighter...it was destroyed during the
encounter, just before Unit-00 arrived.  At last
count...some three hundred people died...”
	“Unit-00?” she whispers.  Shinji doesn’t hear her
this time, his eye fixed on the plastic device in her
hands.
	“And...and that’s why we need you.  They told
me...they told me you’d be able to pilot
Unit-01...that’s why you’re here.”
	“Me?”  All she can do is stare into the scarified
static as it tears across the screen.