Off the eastern coast of Japan lay a shallow shelf, covered in the sediment of the land: sand, silt and mud. Only a few hundred meters from shore, the sea bottom was lifeless; oxygen, sulfates, and even most organic carbon had been used by organisms at the base of the food chain to make a way of life. All that was left was anoxic mud and the castings of the sea creatures. At the boundary between the water and the sediment, something began to move. Not grandly at first; it was more as if a series of harmonic waves had been superimposed on the plane. Its movements built until a form of motion, a dance step, began. The thing's rippling moved from a single pulse in the center to the very outer lip, and as it rippled it rotated about its center. The detritus around it was kicked up into the water column, higher and higher, forming a dense cloud at the sea bottom. Its preparations were beginning. It needed time and energy, both of which it had at its disposal. It rode upon the circumstances. Soon, it would rise on its own. -- Touji and Shinji sat side by side at a table in a coffee shop. Each of them had an untouched cup of coffee and a full glass of water, ice cubes glinting in the interior light. They sat tense, frustrated by their inabilities to resolve the anticipation and dread they felt within their hearts. Outside, it had been raining all of the morning. The rain itself was by no means strong, but it was blown by an incredible wind. The boys watched umbrellas turn themselves inside out and people struggle to see their way down the street. "Touji?" "Uh-huh?" Aware of its awkwardness, Shinji withheld the question until it burst out of him, "What was it like?" "You mean...with Hikari?" "Yeah. I...I've been wanting to know for a while now, but I just...you know." Touji eased into a more relaxed position and thought about it. Shinji felt his confidence buoyed: Touji was taking his question seriously. After a half minute's consideration, Touji said, "It was...strange." "Strange? What do you mean, strange?" "It was confusing. It was like...I couldn't believe, right up until the moment I stuck it in that it was going to happen, and then we were doing it, and it felt really good, don't misunderstand me, but there was so much going on..." "It felt good?" Shinji caught himself sounding incredulous. "Yeah, like...like scratching an itch is good, y'know, but it's like you didn't even realize you itch. But I was so blown away, I wanted to watch Hikari, but at the same time I wanted to keep my eyes closed to concentrate...and I wanted to come right away, but I also wanted to enjoy it...it didn't matter, we were done in like five minutes." "That long?" "S'matter?" Touji gave Shinji a light shove. "How long does it take you to come when you're wanking?" Shinji turned a bright shade of red. Touji pressed him. "Come on, your turn. How long? How long?" "Am I interrupting something?" said Subcommander Fuyutsuki Kozou. Both boys whirled around and bowed deeply, offering apologies, but Fuyutsuki waved them aside. "Please don't be like that, gentlemen. I'm the one who should be apologizing. Your father, Shinji, wasn't able to come in person." Fuyutsuki bowed formally to Touji. "You must be Suzuhara. I'm Subcommander Fuyutsuki, Commander Ikari's second-in-command. I've been sent over here to speak with you. I understand you're interested in joining NERV again?" "Yes, er..." Touji leaned forward, fidgeting. "I've been thinking that, what with all the risks Shinji's been going through as a pilot, it isn't right for me to just sit around on my a--sit around all day. So I thought that, since NERV had wanted me as a pilot before, I could come back. "I don't even know if I'd pilot on a permanent basis or anything, maybe I'd be kind of a backup, or a sidekick. I don't know if you repaired the EVA or not. But I'd like to do what's right for humankind, y'see. I think it's important." Fuyutsuki nodded, but his face stayed blank. Touji said hesitatingly, "Is there something wrong?" "Oh, no, nothing's wrong, Suzuhara," said he replied. "I'm just thinking that it's a pity I wasn't able to speak with the Commander for very long before I came here. You see, NERV doesn't have a policy about pilots being re-recruited. Commander Ikari might be in a position to give you a definite answer, but I'm afraid to tell you that I can't, right now." "Oh. I see." "I will tell you...what I'll do. Here." Fuyutsuki took out a cellular phone and pressed it into Touji's hand. "This is my cellular phone. As soon as I know, Ikari or myself will call you. If we can offer you a position, we'll need to know your answer immediately, at any time of day, under any circumstances. NERV hesitates for nothing. Do you understand, Suzuhara?" "Yes, sir." "Very well. Now," he said as he stood, "Ikari and I have some business to discuss in private. Will you excuse us for a moment?" "Sure. Nice to meet you, Fuyutsuki-sama." Fuyutsuki and Shinji both bowed, then walked quickly into the men's lavatory. They were alone. Fuyutsuki said quietly and severely, "Shinji, we need you to be ready at a moment's notice for the next 72 hours." "What? Is it an Angel?" "I hope not," he replied, "but something isn't right. There's this storm that's making its way straight for Tokyo-3, and there's reports of water spouts up and down the coastline, and there's been a burst of strange readings from just off the coast. We'll let you know as soon as anything strange happens." "Is that why my father wasn't able to come?" Shinji's question was so laden with disappointment it was almost a statement. Fuyutsuki gave a curt nod. "If there's one thing your father believes in, Shinji, that thing isn't 'coincidence'. He believes that something bad is going to happen, and it's his job now to find out. "I'd best be going. Tell Langley when you see her, if you would." "Yes sir." -- Shinji woke up before his alarm that next morning. He woke up to the sound of crying. He lifted his head off the pillow, the remnants of his dreams sticking in his mind, and glanced about him. His room, dark before the morning light, seemed to be in order. Then the sound came again, the long low wail of a spirit. He grabbed hold of his blanket and pulled it up to his chin as he looked across the room to the white window, where a third time a groaning and a rushing came from. There was no monster there. It was only the wind and the rain. Shinji had no more than a spit second of relief before light coursed like a tsunami into his room, around through every corner, blasting whitewashed images and ebony shadows against the walls. It roared the boy's name as it came, came to snatch him up out of his bed and tear him out of his home. He was violated. There was no solace. As his scream died on his lips, the last scraps of his dream fell away. It was only thunder and lightning. The storm had come in the night, in all its force and might. Asuka, dressed in a bathrobe, burst in through the door to his room. "Mein Gott! Shinji! Are you all right?" "Yuh-yuh...uh-huh." "Are you sure? What's come over you, you're as pale as a ghost." She walked across Shinji's room and sat beside him on the bed. She walked without looking; the boy's room was immaculately clean and sparsely filled. In her left hand she held a piece of writing paper. Her right rested on his shoulder. "You're shaking like a leaf, too. Did you have a nightmare or something?" "It was just the storm, Asuka," Shinji said. "I guess my imagination ran away with me." "Hmph! Well, I need your help, now that you're up. Misato left us this note this morning, and I can't decipher the kanji. Her handwriting's smudged." "Uh...all right." Shinji slipped into his own bathrobe, then they walked to his desk. Shinji turned on the reading light and set to work piecing some meaning out of the blurred characters. "'Dearest Roommates of Mine...I've got bad news and good news. The bad news is that you won't...uh...be seeing my cute face this morning, because I've been called to NERV. The good news is that we're on...um...blue emergency status.' What's 'blue' status?" "Not as bad as yellow, I guess. Go on." "OK. 'You two are to stay at home today and wait by the phone in case we need to find you--' No, wait, '_contact_ you. Have a nice time, and don't bother Pen-Pen when he's napping. Smoochies, Misato.'" He put down the piece of paper and leaned back in his chair. "Huh. No school for us today." "Well, great!" said Asuka. "What are we doing up at this hour? I'm going back to--/" At that instant, Shinji's alarm clock went off. Shinji's nerves, while slightly more relaxed than they had been, were not prepared for the shock of a loud buzzing alarm, even from across the room. In his surprise and terror, he clutched at the nearest object that might provide him some security, which was Asuka. Now, not only was Asuka unprepared for Shinji's seizing hold of her and screaming bloody murder, but she was off-balance herself in the midst of departure. The sudden appearance of Shinji's full mass against her right side, combined with his arm's appearance around her waist and his hand against her left hip, caused her to tilt away from her vertical axis; and, in brief, they fell. Their journey downwards was occasioned by much noise on all parties involved, culminating with the impact of Asuka's backside against Shinji's floor, rug and lower left arm. The rebound and follow-through was painful, humiliating, and startling. The scene ended as Asuka, endeavoring to make eye contact with Shinji, followed his gaze downward to observe firsthand the consequences of urinary pressure upon the prostate gland in the male. Abstaining from her usual taunts and vehemence, Asuka simply offered a homegrown and timeless remedy for morning wood--she kneed him in the groin. Its effect proved ideal. Shinji rolled off of her, incapacitated. Asuka got up off the carpeting, straightened her disheveled nightwear, and left the room, leaving Shinji to recuperate and turn off the culpable alarm clock. -- Touji brooded and ate his lunch in a foul mood. He stared hard out of the window. The storm matched his inner feelings. Fear and anger warred in his heart. He had had misgivings about returning to NERV even when he had first suggested it to Shinji, and time had eaten away at his courage. He might not be a good pilot. He could die. His sister...he might lose his sister's love over some choice, some new obligation or responsibility. Or, his anger replied, he might win it anew for his courage. And he would seem more of a man in Hikari's eyes. Hikari...her former ambivalence to him, the ambivalence that the preceding week had marked her, was gone. Touji's anger captured every movement she made, and they were all those of a perfectly sweet and innocent 15-year-old girl. Her feigned innocence emasculated him. Her blithely carrying on, in the face of the abortion of a child he had never known, that he _knew_ he had not fathered, infuriated him. And he let it fester, because there was no one he could confide in. Kensuke and Shinji were not present, nor was half the class. Many parents were afraid to let their children away from them in the weather. Touji watched a fully grown man struggle to stay upright in the wind. _Hell,_ he thought, _I'd almost rather be outside than be stuck having to speak with..._ "Hi there!" Touji rolled his eyes as Hikari dropped into the seat one row in front of him. She pulled out a bento box for herself, and another one for him. "How was your weekend, Touji?" "Swell." She held out his lunch to him; he glared at her across the top. "How's your boyfriend?" Hikari remained perfectly still, with a look of mixed surprise and confusion frozen on her face, for five seconds before she said, "Eh?" "I said, how's your boyfriend?" She finally lowered the box lunch. "Touji, I have no idea what you're talking about. What do you mean?" "I found out what you did on Saturday..." The words cut through Hikari's soul like knives. Her arms fell to her sides; the bento landed on the floor, spilling rice and vegetables. A cluster of girls sitting nearby stopped talking to stare. "...and since you didn't even bother to tell me, I'm wondering who your boyfriend is." Hikari rose from her chair, trembling. Black emotions of sorrow and fury ran through her veins. She gasped, "How...how...how did you..." "What, do you think I'm stupid or something?" Touji stood up and moved into her space, not breaking eye contact with her. "I can figure things out for myself, thank you very much. Now, what I want to know is, who was the guy?" "Touji, stop it." Every eye in the classroom was fixed on the pair, moving in concert along the row of desks towards the head of the class. "You're scaring me, Touji. There wasn't anyone else, now stop saying such things..." "They're true, aren't they, _senpai_?" With that, he seized her by the shoulders and shook her. She wailed. "SAY IT! SAY I'M RIGHT! SAY IT!" "TOUJIIIII!" Hikari tore free from him and ran out into the hallway, slamming the door behind her. Behind her, Suzuhara Touji remained frozen exactly where he had been. He caught himself feeling nothing other than relief that his emotions were out of his heart. One of the girls in the class followed Hikari's footsteps into the hall, while everyone else stared in open disbelief at him. Touji paid them no mind. His cellular phone rang once. He flipped it open and pressed the 'talk' button. "Mosh' mosh'." "Suzuhara-san." The voice sounded much like Shinji's, but deeper and grave. Touji guessed who it was, but thought it impolite to announce it to the world; instead, he said, "Yeah." "If you are interested in rejoining NERV, there is a car waiting for you outside of your school. You may proceed there and get inside. You will be debriefed when you arrive at NERV HQ." There was a pause, then Touji grunted in the affirmative. "Tell 'em I'm on my way." He hung up, flipped the mouthpiece up, and slipped it into his jacket. Then he slipped on his bookbag and left the room without a word. Daniel Snyder in his new abode at firstname.lastname@example.org If I wasn't such a strange person, this would all seem so confusing.