Blasphemy Chapter 1 By: Dante Abbey System upload-auto: ISIN-216.745.2233.901.352:20715 Upload source: SSNN Server 802-Golf Destination: User/Subscriber 0159052-4773 Content type: text 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.