Strategic Cyborg Evangelion

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amitakartok
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Strategic Cyborg Evangelion

Post by amitakartok » Sun Nov 05, 2017 6:08 pm

As the title might hint, this is a heavily Gundam-inspired AU for Neon Genesis Evangelion I've been tinkering on for years now. I've been reluctant to post it here so far due to its massive size, but I kinda don't have a choice considering that the rules say I must if I'm to open a thread for it and I'm short on input from fellow mecha fanatics. So... here goes.

Also, rules require I post this. Story includes minor sexual themes (nothing explicit; that's not the focus of the story) and graphic violence aimed at both giant kaiju and humans. Quite graphic violence, at that.

----

Chapter index:
(to be updated)
Last edited by amitakartok on Tue Nov 07, 2017 7:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Strategic Cyborg Evangelion

Post by amitakartok » Sun Nov 05, 2017 6:13 pm

"A man said once that the greatest stories are never told. This is not a fictional story but a historical account, written to ensure that future generations will be aware of what their ancestors went through. And considering the reverence some people show towards me, I decided it would be best if I wrote this personally; too many times throughout history did scholars exaggerate the acts and deeds of a great person, mangling the truth so far beyond recognition that future generations started doubting its authenticity. I have no illusions about being such a person; indeed, the reader shall find that I am just as flawed as everyone else... maybe even more so.

For people using this document for research – historians, librarians, scholars, whatever –, I tried to make my account as clear and truthful as I could. I lived a long life and there is no way to tell how much longer I will walk this mortal coil, but chances are that whoever is reading this will do so at a time when I'm gone. Thus, trying to lie or mislead the reader is completely pointless.

Even if the reader does not take any of this at face value, I only ask that you listen. I didn't write this solely out of posterity. There were many errors and mistakes I made which could have been avoidable, errors and mistakes that came at a horrible cost. I have never been a man of religion and certain events I recorded here confirmed my belief that there are no deities worthy of worship in this universe, even as some of my fellow men started believing I should fill that spiritual vacuum – yet I still find myself praying that whoever is reading this will not repeat the same mistakes I made. Because if they do, there might not be anyone left to read their memoirs.

Believe me. As the greatest mass murderer in recorded human history, I know what I'm talking about."


- The memoirs of Kaworu Nagisa, first recorded circa 2371 AD​
----

Low Earth orbit
~251,275,368 BC, exact date unknown


As the lone star slowly rose over the dark disc of the planet that formerly obscured it, the light illuminated nothing but destruction.

For entropy is a force that cannot be denied. Over time, all will return to nothingness, whether naturally or by force. In this case, force was what shattered the once mighty hulls that floated in the silent void, the once golden-brown metal now charred and blackened. Not one of them was untouched, for the enemy they once fought refused to be denied.

As the planet turned and light illuminated the darkness, it reflected off a billion objects. Long and slender vessels in the shape of enormous towers glided across the void, their numbers outshining the innumerable stars as the blue-gray hulls shined with cold indifference under the star's warm yellow light.

Even so, they weren't alone. For as the planet turned, another force emerged from the darkness to challenge their end one last time. First a trio of spires in a triangular formation, the shadow of the planet retreating to reveal the absolutely titanic vessel they belonged to. Smaller vessels detached from the side, each turning to face the enemy while the shadow kept retreating, uncovering the vaguely triangular hull until it abruptly gave way to a translucent sphere, triangular panes gleaming in the sunlight.

Finally the vessel left the shadow in its entirety. As if it served as an unseen signal, the smaller vessels simultaneously opened fire. Yellow beams of ionized plasma and energetic particles crossed the void, gouging deep gashes into the gray vessels. The first line shattered immediately, metal plates melting and tearing, gleaming towers falling apart underneath the onslaught they were subjected to and adding their own wreckage to the debris already separating the two sides.

But the enemy refused to be denied. Enormous bolts of blue-hot plasma detached from the tower-ships, their searing payload hurtling across the void with deadly accuracy to hit their mark. Hexagonal energy fields flared into existence in their path, the bolts slamming against the sudden impediment before breaking through. This time the result was far more destructive: instead of penetrating the armor and wreaking havoc inside like their counterparts did, the plasma bolts simply melted through their entire target, exotic metal alloys failing to withstand the temperature and physically impossible nature of dark matter plasma.

Even as more tower-ships fell apart, more and more took the place of the fallen ones, the fleet mindlessly pushing onward despite their losses. Casualties were irrelevant; everything and everyone was completely expendable, with trillions more to replace them. They could take their losses; their prey could not.

Such was the enemy the denizens of the planet warred against. And such was the enemy that has arrived to snuff out their existence forever.

Even that was all but irrelevant to the figure standing on top of the golden-brown behemoth. He knew this was the end. Their time had come and gone, never to return. But even so, he would fulfill the duty that was required of him.

A ring of light formed behind him, framing his head and upper body as the four-armed warrior leapt from the vessel, rapidly accelerating to blinding speeds that left the vessel behind. With a single command from his mind, the red spear in his hand shifted, two prongs becoming six as he brought the weapon to bear. A massive torrent of light erupted from the empty space enclosed by the weapon, lancing out towards the enemy with unstoppable force. As unrelenting as his enemy were, even they could not stand against the might he unleashed upon them: with a slashing motion, the beam cut across the fleet, a thousand vessels perishing in a single attack.

Reacting to this new threat, the gray vessels shifted their positions and unleashed their barrage upon the warrior even as he slashed outward with his weapon, several dozen energy beams erupting from the spear. His targets didn't even try to evade before the deadly lances of light were upon then, each beam burrowing through a separate vessel before emerging on the other side and seeking a new target even as the previous one erupted into a fireball behind them.

But not all of them had him in their sights. He saw great plasma bolts impacting the planet, each flash extinguishing millions of lives. A great sorrow rose up in the warrior, even though he knew all along what would happen. He could not save his people; no one could. His task was merely to distract the great enemy – and so he did, leaping into battle with the might that had come to be known of him. Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions fell before him... yet his strength wasn't infinite, unlike the ranks of his enemies.

Just before his end came, the warrior saw the behemoth, the last hope of his people, tear open space and time to depart to a place their enemy could no longer follow, and knew that everything was good.

Then a blinding brilliance covered the battlefield. Even the local star's light disappeared before it, the gray vessels pausing at the unexpected phenomenon. Their indecisiveness only lasted for a split second before they could think no more: vessels and debris alike became dust, dust became nothingness. In his broken armor, the warrior's still body dissolved into liquid, a tiny red light emerging from his mortal shell to join many others in answer to a calling that promised life anew.

Eventually the brilliance faded, leaving only a silent void and a two-pronged red spear drifting slowly towards the now uninhabited world. As the world turned and day became night, a red spot started spreading below, the most heavily bombarded region's crust splitting open from the abuse to plunge the formerly blue planet into a million years of darkness.

[Screen caption – main title: 大量破壊実体エヴァンゲリオン]​

----

Tokyo-2, Inner District 5
September 25, 2041


"Scheiße Scheiße Scheiße, verfickte Scheiße!"

The hapless pedestrian barely managed to evade the source of the chain-swearing with a yelp, the teenage boy of around 14 years of age sprinting past without breaking his stride. – "Sorry!" – the boy called behind himself in English before turning his attention back to the front. 'Why the hell do I have to be late NOW, of all times?!'

Kaworu Nagisa was not having a good day. To him, it seemed like an eternity – but the truth is that it was only a week ago that his life was completely overturned.

Until a week ago, he was enjoying (to a certain measure) the life he had always known: the life of a teenager living by himself in a condemned building in downtown Vienna dating back to the 1970s, with no heating, running water or even electricity other than what he could get from illegally tapping into another building's network. Technically, he was a homeless squatter – but as no one ever bothered to evict him, he just showed himself in and all was fine. Besides, what choice did he have? Roam the streets until he froze to death in the next –30°C winter storm? Get eaten by a random specimen of the various xenofauna that roamed the Earth since Second Impact? Kaworu was perfectly fine with his current living arrangements, thank you very much.

That is, until a certain altercation with the son of his school's principal ended up getting him expelled from high school, barely two weeks after he began high school. That in itself was already a bad thing and for any other teenager, a source of much yelling and scolding from one's parents. Not for him, though. If there was any advantage to being a street orphan with no parents, it was the lack of getting yelled at by an adult.

With that said, no parents also meant no one to wake him up in time for school if his homemade alarm clock suddenly died during the night. Especially while his internal clock still hadn't completely readjusted to having been sent halfway across the world. Having only turned 14 this month, education was still compulsory for him and his expulsion naturally attracted attention from the authorities. Kaworu, naturally, knew that he was going to be sent to another school instead and that is precisely what happened... but what could've possibly caused said authorities to send an Austrian teenager to Japan, of all places, was beyond him.

Or rather, he had a good guess that it had something to do with his Japanese name. For the simple reason that nothing else came to mind.

And so there he was, running down the street of a Japanese city built from scratch after the Great Revolution of 2018, touted as a shining jewel of human perseverance alongside White Forest City... and he was late for school, right on his first day. At least, he thought he was late. Not having a watch or any idea how long it would take him to walk to school from his new home, he decided to depart early, just to be safe. As luck would have it though, that damn alarm clock died again and he almost overslept.

Bad luck wasn't the only kind of luck he had that day, however, as he rounded another corner to see the school's gates barely a hundred meters ahead of him. Letting out a sigh of relief, he slowed to normal walking speed and started rummaging through his bag, finally pulling out a slightly crumpled sheet of paper just as he reached the gate.

He almost didn't notice the rising sound of an electric engine until the black sports bike shot past him and through the gate, passing so close to him that his shirt was ruffled by the wind. The students who got inside before him immediately scattered in every direction to make way, most of them voicing varying degrees of surprise, fright and/or indignation. None of that really mattered to the biker, though, who deftly steered the vehicle into an empty parking slot and came to a stop, the engine going silent the instant the bike stopped.

The scattered youth made annoyed grumbling, several sending glares towards the driver before filing into the school building. The driver slowly and methodically disembarked, flipping open a small molly guard just ahead of the seat and keying in a security lockdown code that immobilized both wheels and the engine. That was all the figure could do before a twintailed girl in a long skirt stormed out of the school and immediately beelined towards the biker with a none-too-pleased expression.

"碇さん、それが危険だった!" – she erupted, even as the biker pulled off their helmet...

...revealing an unruly mop of blue hair. – "Horaki-iinchō." – the biker stated in a quiet voice that definitely wasn't that of a man. Even without that, the shades still failed to hide her feminine features – nor did the black leather coat succeed completely at concealing the feminine build beneath.

"What kind of reckless driving was that?!" – Twintails continued in slightly accented English. – "You could've crashed into someone!"

"I did not."

"I saw what happened!" – Twintails pointed a thumb towards Kaworu. – "You almost hit him!"

"He is not injured."

"That's not the point! Be more careful!" – With that, the twintailed girl turned away from the biker and went straight for Kaworu. – "Sorry about that. Are you alright?" - she asked, Kaworu catching her momentarily pausing as her eyes flicked towards his ash-gray hair.

"I'm fine." – he replied even as he saw the biker girl stuff her helmet underneath her arm and walk into the school building without a care in the world. – "Um... can you help me out a bit? I'm new here and was told to look for a Hikari Horaki."

Comprehension flashed on the twintailed girl's face. – "That's me. You must be Nagisa, right?"

"Yeah. So I'm in the right place? I mean, I've been here when I did the paperwork but you can never be sure."

"Don't worry, you are in the right place. We're going to be classmates, in room 2-1... but you probably don't know where it is."

"Sorry."

"It's alright. I'll take you there."

True enough, she led him into the building, down a set of corridors and upstairs. Kaworu was used to being surrounded by people of his age group; but wherever the two of them passed now, everyone just stopped and stared at him as if he was some kind of curiosity. Even with the homogenization of most of the world's population after Second Impact, Japan's population was mostly native, with the usual Asian features and dark hair.

With his pale skin, ash-gray hair and crimson eyes, Kaworu was sticking out like a sore thumb and he knew it.

Evidently Hikari noticed it as well, if her slowing down to let him follow her closer was any indication. – "Sorry about the staring."

Kaworu shrugged. – "It's probably my hair. I've gotten used to it."

"I've been meaning to ask, if you don't mind..." – she said after a momentary pause. – "Why did you dye your hair?"

"I didn't dye. This is my natural hair color."

"Really?"

He nodded, even though he knew she couldn't see him. – "Yeah. I don't know why, it's always been like this. My eyes, too."

"Are you, um... an albino?"

Kaworu shrugged again. – "I don't really know. Never bothered to ask a doctor."

They walked in silence for another minute.

"Why did you transfer here, if I may ask?" – she asked eventually.

"It wasn't by choice, believe me. But that guy needed to get the message that he was being a prick."

Another pause. – "You mean you got into a fight?"

"More like he sicced his gorillas at me because I wasn't going to make an exception for him just because he was the principal's son." – he replied casually.

Hikari immediately stopped dead in her tracks and whirled around to face him. – "You picked a fight with your principal's son?!"

"I didn't pick a fight with him." – Kaworu denied, defensive at her sudden outburst. – "He came at me when I took issue with him harassing an elementary schooler."

Which was the exact, literal truth.

Hikari just stared at him for a few moments before skeptically asking – "And how exactly did that result in you being here?"

"The principal naturally didn't appreciate his son ending up with a broken nose and cheekbone." – He let out a sigh before adding – "Not that I blame him, but he didn't even bother listening to my side of the story!"

Again, she stared with a probing glare before turning away from him and resuming her journey, Kaworu falling in behind her. – "No offense intended but I honestly hope you don't intend to make a repeat performance here." – she eventually called back at him.

"Considering I don't see any elementary schoolers here, that's not very likely." – Kaworu deadpanned.

They eventually arrived to a classroom. Right outside the door though, Hikari paused and held him up. – "Seriously, no fighting. Please." – she said quietly.

"Don't worry. I'm not the troublemaker type." – he assured.

Hikari's expression seemed to lighten up at that, which was one less weight on his shoulder. On the other hand, it was immediately replaced with another; for the moment they entered the classroom, the entire class collectively turned to stare at him. As if the staring outside wasn't enough already.

Kaworu never really felt comfortable at being the center of attention for so many people at once.

Even if that attention came in varying flavors. Case in point, the girl at the front of the desk row starting at the door: brown hair with hairband and twintails ('What is it with twintails?' he wondered), glasses and a very generous chest, eyes running over him like those of a predator savoring a particularly delicious prey.

She was clearly and openly checking him out – and judging from her approving smirk, she liked what she had seen. – "Lookin' good there, stranger!" – she called out, flashing a thumbs-up at him.

"Mari!" – Hikari reprimanded the other girl. – "Cut it out!"

"Already staking your claim, Kari? That's bold."

"I said cut it out!" – Hikari repeated before turning her attention towards the class. – "Everyone listen up!" – she called out in a tone that was definitely unlike the polite and friendly behavior Kaworu had seen from her so far. Before he could ask her to not bother with an announcement, she thumbed towards him. – "Starting now, he'll be in our class. No heckling him, understood?"

"What's up with that hair?" – someone called from the rear of the class.

Kaworu sighed. – "For the second time today, I'm not dyeing it. This is my real hair color."

"Yeah, right."

"Yamada! You mind shuttin' up?!" – a boy in a tracksuit called back. – "New kid just got here and you're already making an ass of yourself."

Kaworu thought he could see a faint smile flash across Hikari's face at that before she snapped back into 'class rep mode'. – "Suzuhara! Watch your language! And Yamada, I just said no heckling!"

"Hey, I just asked a question! How is that heckling?"

Without bothering to answer, Hikari turned back to Kaworu. – "So, um... you'll sit in front of Suzuhara."

Kaworu nodded. – "Okay. Thanks for everything."

She smiled at that. – "Don't mention it. It's my duty as class representative."

As Kaworu went to occupy his desk, however, he silently thought 'Just your duty?'

----

Explanation on the title: the 'Strategic' part is not meant as in 'something to do with strategy' but meant as in 'strategic weapon of mass destruction'. Thus the kanji in the title, tairyō-hakai jittai, literally meaning 'entity of mass destruction' (Japanese has no word for 'cyborg' but instead transcribes the English pronunciation into katakana) – which I believe is an apt description of an Eva's combat effectiveness against conventional forces.

Regarding the unsubtitled dialogue in this chapter: I do not use translation convention. That is, non-English dialogue will not be translated or subtitled (and in the case of Japanese dialogue, not romanized), if rendered in writing at all. Assume everyone speaks English unless stated otherwise. The reason for this is that there is no non-English language the entire cast speaks without exception; Kaworu in particular doesn't speak Japanese here, so he realistically wouldn't understand Hikari's outburst. Of course, if this story would be an anime, English dialogue would be in Japanese as well. With that said, I'm not going to toss around random Japanese and German phrases just for the hell of it either, for the simple reason that I don't speak either and thus the more (and more complex) I use, the more likely I'll screw up and make myself look like an idiot. Only when it makes narrative sense will a character use a foreign language. Also, this only applies to full sentences, not individual words and expressions like Rei's addressing of Hikari here; those are romanized for the reader's benefit.

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amitakartok
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Re: Strategic Cyborg Evangelion

Post by amitakartok » Sun Nov 05, 2017 6:19 pm

Tokyo-2, Inner District 5
September 25, 2041


As soon as the class was dismissed for recess, Kaworu felt a tapping on his shoulder, asking for his attention.

"So, new guy." – the boy sitting behind him remarked. – "Tōji Suzuhara. Fancy seeing you being here three weeks late. Warp lag?"

"Kaworu Nagisa and I'm local. Never even left Earth before."

"Most of us are like that. Me too. Not all, though." – He thumbed towards a group of boys at the rear of the classroom. – "That ZOINKS who asked about your hair, Yamada? His family moved to Earth this summer."

"Don't forget the part that you used to know him." – the glasses-wearing boy called ahead from behind Toji, without raising his eyes from his tablet.

"Ah, that. Yeah, him and I went to the same kindergarten but he moved to the Nereid system before school. His old man's a pilot."

"Military?" – Kaworu asked.

Tōji shook his head. – "Nah, civilian. Still the crappiest job ever, if you ask me. I mean, you only get to go home once per month? That sucks."

"Yep."

"Anyway, how 'bout you? Where did you transfer in from?"

"Vienna."

A short silence ensued before Tōji sheepishly asked – "Uh... where is that?"

A sigh came from Glasses. – "It's in Europe, Tōji. What are you going to geography class for?"

Tōji whirled around in his chair. – "Oi! Are you calling me stupid?!"

"Yep."

As the larger boy proceeded to give a piece of his mind to Glasses, Kaworu cracked a small smile. It could've been worse, he supposed. All his life, he lived in the same building and went to the same school with the same classmates. He was well and truly a fish out of water now and had no idea what to expect. Fortunately however, this place was head and shoulders better than his old neighborhood: both cleaner and friendlier.

Well, except for the trio of upperclassmen crowded around a short geek-looking boy, evidently a fellow freshman, under the tree in front of the classroom's window. Kaworu's eyes immediately locked onto the three, watching them intently.

Then one of the upperclassmen lashed out and shoved the geek onto the ground, the others laughing in amusement.

The air around Kaworu suddenly became colder than Siberian ice. Even the other boys noticed it, Tōji cut himself off at the same instant as Glasses looked up to see the gray-haired teen abruptly push his chair back and stand up. – "Excuse me." – he said quietly before walking out of the classroom.

Tōji just stared after him in surprise. – "What's with him?"

"No idea."

Outside, the geek landed on his rear again as the upperclassmen practically doubled over in laughter. – "Man, you're pathetic!" – one of them jeered.

That was when they heard someone loudly clearing his throat behind them.

"What do you guys think you're doing?" – Kaworu asked in a cold but calm voice, arms folded and eyes narrowed.

"None of your business, freak. Now scram!"

"I asked a question." – Kaworu stated, still calm.

"And I said get lost!"

Kaworu motioned with his head towards the geek, who was still sitting on the ground. – "Not until you leave him alone."

"What, are you some kind of white knight wannabe? You seriously need to work on your costume, Snow White."

The ash-haired youth didn't even twitch at the insult.

The situation, however, ended up resolved by an unlikely party. – "KAWORU NAGISA!"

Five heads simultaneously snapped to the source of the voice: Hikari leaning out of the classroom's window.

"WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?!" – the girl roared at the top of her lungs, the entire class lined up at the windows to watch. – "ARE YOU TRYING TO GET EXPELLED FOR FIGHTING AGAIN?!"

The bullies immediately turned a shade paler. – "What was that...?" – the one who insulted Kaworu asked, his voice suddenly lacking conviction.

"You're not the first ones I had to correct." – Kaworu remarked, slightly tilting his head to the side. – "So, what'll it be?"

The two parties stood, three pairs of eyes of various colors staring down a single pair of blood red.

Finally the leader of the bullies spoke up. – "Let's go." – With that, the three departed.

The second they were out of sight, Kaworu went straight to their former victim, extending his hand in a silent offer. – "You alright?"

"Y-yeah..." – the smaller boy stuttered, taking the hand to pull himself off the ground. – "T-thanks..."

Kaworu flashed a friendly smile, his former coldness vanishing without a trace. – "Glad to help. If they ever bother you again, let me know."

----​

Hikari was already waiting for him at the classroom's threshold. – "I know this is only your first day and I don't have anything against you but if you pick a fight, I will be the first one to call a teacher. So behave!"

"I know." – he replied, walking past her without stopping. A moment later, he casually raised a hand and added – "Thanks for the interruption, by the way." –, again without looking at her.

"I didn't do it to help you." – she called after him.

"But it still helped me out. If they back off without incident, all the better. Nobody getting hurt is always good." – With that he walked to his desk, uncomfortably aware that half of the class was staring at his back, the other half whispering between themselves while sending occasional glances at him.

"Man... what the hell was that?" – Tōji murmured as he watched the other boy drop himself onto his chair.

"Me doing something that bit me in the ass last time." – Kaworu replied, releasing a strained sigh as he stretched. – "Minus broken bones and one hospitalized prick this time. I don't suppose you've seen anyone else harassing someone?"

Tōji raised his hands defensively. – "Hey, I don't even know most people in the school! I only moved here in sixth grade." – He steepled his fingers behind his head and leaned backwards until the backrest of his chair bumped against the edge of Kensuke's desk. – "It wasn't exactly yesterday but you could say I know what it feels like to be the new guy."

"Is that why you approached me?"

"Kinda, plus you seemed like an okay guy." – Tōji thumbed towards outside. – "What was that about, anyway? You know that kid?"

"Never met him before."

"Then why did you help him out?"

"Did you see anyone else rushing to help him?"

"Nah."

Kaworu lazily made a 'there you go' gesture. – "That's exactly why."

"...I don't get it."

"Do you have anyone you care about? Younger sibling or such?"

"I have a sister."

"If she would've been in that guy's place, what would you do?"

"What kind of question is that? I'd bust their faces in, class rep or no class rep." – Tōji made a horizontal slashing motion with his palm. – "Nobody messes with my sister."

"So you'd help her out against anyone who picks on her just because she's weaker?"

"Damn straight."

Kaworu pointed outside, at the spot where the confrontation took place. – "And who does that guy have to help him out? Does he even have anyone? If he has no one to turn to, who's going to help him? Does he deserve to get bullied because he can't defend himself?" – At Tōji's silence, he added – "And that is why I stepped in."

Even by the time the teacher returned, Tōji still had no answer.

----​

Later that day

"...so that's how I met the class rep. And I tell you, she's been riding my ass ever since."

"She's got a problem with you?"

Toji shrugged. – "I honestly have no idea. I think she just enjoys picking on me."

"Or maybe she just wants your attention?" – Kaworu pointed out. – "Maybe she likes you."

"That I can't see happening. But if she really did like me, wouldn't she say so? You know, like leaving a love letter at my stuff when I'm not there or something?"

"I don't know."

"How would you ask a girl out?"

"I wouldn't; not interested in relationships. Maybe in a few years."

"...are you pulling my leg?"

"No."

"You seriously mean to tell me you don't care about women?!" – Tōji asked incredulously.

"Yep."

"ZOINKS, don't tell me you're gay or something!"

"Of course I'm not."

Before moving to Japan, Kaworu usually went home by his lonesome. While he knew pretty much everyone in his old neighborhood, he never asked any of them to accompany him home, by virtue of not considering them good enough friends to do so. As he was about to leave school at the end of the day however, Tōji called after him to ask where he lived; upon hearing the answer, the boy immediately offered for the two of them to go together for part of the journey, reasoning that he himself lived in a similar direction. Thus there they were, chatting about simple things while walking home together.

That was before he felt the tap on his shoulder, his ears registering footsteps from multiple people behind him just a moment too late.

He started to ask – "Wha-" – as he turned around but didn't get to finish before he rudely got interrupted by the fist impacting his face with full force.

It wasn't anywhere near debilitating but he still got dazed for a second there. Distantly he heard Tōji yell - "What the hell is your problem?!" - before his brain registered the three teens in front of him.

He recognized them as the bullies from this morning.

"You didn't honestly think we'd just leave things at that, did you?" – the one who hit him, obviously their leader, asked.

"Who do you think you are to just show up and think you can push us around?" – another demanded.

"There aren't any girls around to save you now." – the third quipped. – "Your luck just ran out, punk."

Tōji immediately interposed himself between Kaworu and his attackers. – "So you thought you'd go after him outside school? Gutless cowards!"

In response, the upperclassmen just shoved him aside. – "Do yourself a favor and ZOINKS off before you get some too, brat." – the third bully said as they advanced on Kaworu.

Tōji was on the verge of charging the trio when he was interrupted by the very person he was trying to shield.

"Suzuhara." – Kaworu wiped the blood from his lips before looking up, his bangs making way to reveal a glare that made Tōji unconsciously take a step back. – "I got this."

Then he leaned forward and leaped.

And not just launched himself into a run; he crossed the three meter distance between himself and the bullies in a single bound. The leader of the bullies didn't even have time to cry out in surprise before Kaworu returned the favor from a minute ago with a jaw-loosening right hook, literally launching the upperclassman airborne for a moment before he fell onto his back.

Kaworu immediately felt a pair of arms grabbing him from behind, trying to restrain him while the third bully advanced from ahead. Said bully quickly found out the hard way his victim's legs weren't restrained when the scuffed nose of Kaworu's shoe firmly embedded itself into his groin. As the boy stumbled back with a pained scream, the gray-haired teen drove his elbow into his captor's ribs to get loose before delivering a powerful backhand to disorient the bully, followed by grabbing him by the shoulder and brutally kneeing him in the stomach once, twice, three times.

With the third one whimpering on the ground clutching his groin in obvious agony, Kaworu smoothed his shirt out and started slowly advancing towards the leader of the bullies, even as he heard the second one messily and violently throw up onto the curb behind him.

"Three out of three." – Kaworu remarked casually. – "I win with a hat-trick."

"Wha... what the hell are you...?!"

"Have you guys ever been to a street brawl where the other guy's got a knife?" – He casually pulled up his sleeve, revealing an almost invisible scar running down his forearm. – "I have." – He let his sleeve fall back and cover his arm again. – "Several times. You harass kids who can't even fight back; I went up against people who could've killed me if they wanted to and walked away from it on my own feet. So you made a big mistake assuming I'd be afraid if the three of you ganged up on me after school."

That was something the bullies' leader seemed to have realized himself, if his terrified face was any indication.

Kaworu slowly walked up to the bully. The boy tried to scramble away on all fours but didn't make it even a single meter away before Kaworu yanked him back by his hair. – "Listen up. I don't know who do you think you are, nor do I really care. But if you really want to know who I arm, I'm more than happy to help you with that. I'm Kaworu Nagisa, a guy who happens to take issue with ZOINKS picking on someone not their own size. You pick on them – any of them –, you pick on me. I don't give a damn about your excuses but I'm not going to stand for this dick-weaving dominance ZOINKS. Got it?" – He gave the bully's hair a tug to emphasize his point. – "If I ever catch you harassing someone again, I will pummel you again and I will keep pummeling you until you get it into your thick skull that this ZOINKS is not cool. And don't even think about doing it behind my back because I will know. I don't care if you hate my guts – but if you have a problem with me, take it out on me personally."

The bully only hissed and gasped in pain from his hair being pulled.

"Did you understand what I said?" – Kaworu asked, giving his hair another yank.

"Y-yes! Yes!" – the bully cried.

Without warning, Kaworu unceremoniously dropped him to the ground. – "Get out of my sight." – He turned his head to the other two, who were only starting to pick themselves off the ground. – "All of you. I don't want to see your faces ever again."

The bullies didn't need to be told twice. While their leader was only sporting a bruise on his face, the others were considerably worse off, with the second one needing the others' help to get off the ground and the third one still looking nauseous and visibly wincing when he leaned down to help his friend up.

Once he confirmed his attackers were indeed retreating, Kaworu turned to a wide-eyed and slack-jawed Tōji and simply said – "Let's go."

They walked in complete silence for several minutes, until Tōji suddenly heard Kaworu mutter – "Damn it..."

"What?"

"I thought I left that crap behind me but it's the same over here. It's everywhere. I'm sick of this."

"Why didn't you want me to help?"

"You'd have gotten hurt. Besides, I told you I can take care of it myself... and I did."

Tōji shook his head in amazement. – "Man, that was awesome. Where did you learn to fight like that?"

Kaworu just made a dismissive gesture. – "Here and there. Scuffles with other kids. Street brawls. That one time when I kicked a wannabe burglar out of my place."

"Thing is, the whole class saw you step up to them and if they go to school tomorrow, everyone will see they got their asses kicked."

"All the better."

"What if they tell on you?" – Tōji argued.

"They can try, but you said it yourself: there are witnesses." – Kaworu pointed out. – "You yourself saw what happened, so your word is against theirs. They can't tell on me without everyone finding out what they did and if that happens, those guys are going to lose everyone's respect and I'm pretty sure they don't want that. If all else fails, the kid I helped out might testify if I asked. Favor for a favor."

"...I didn't think of that."

Kaworu just shrugged. – "Piece of advice from the streets: if everybody hates your guts, you might as well be dead already. A little compassion can take you a long way."

Tōji just stared at his companion for several seconds before shaking his head in disbelief. – "Man... are you going to be a politician or something?"

"Hell no!" – Kaworu protested, animatedly crossing his forearms in front of himself into an X shape. – "No way! I'd be a horrible choice for bossing anyone around. I don't have the mindset for it."

"What mindset?"

"Look at that guy I helped today. If I help him, he'd eventually learn to protect himself. But that's never going to happen if I keep hanging around his head all the time. It would defeat the whole purpose if he would never need to learn how to protect himself." – He pointed at the sky. – "If the sun shines on you in space, you'll die, right? That's why there's the ozone layer: to shield you from the worst of it. You still tan but you won't get sunburn. But if you go underground so that the sun doesn't reach you at all, your skin can't make that stuff that makes your bones strong, I forgot its name. You go weak and might even die."

"How does that come into leadership?"

"Let me put it this way. I'm more comfortable with pushing from below than pulling from above. Besides, politicians are self-interested pricks who think they're more important than they actually are. Do you take me for that kind of a person?"

"No."

"Thanks. I'm not helping others to get anything out of it; I just do it because I want to. What's wrong with that?"

"...nothing, I guess." – Tōji finally admitted, just as the two reached an intersection. – "Well... guess this is where we part ways. Unless you'd feel safer if I stayed?"

"No, I'll be fine. But thanks for the offer anyway."

"I just hope those idiots won't try and have another go at you again."

"If they try again despite what they got last time, that just proves how stupid they are."

"You got that right, mate!" – Tōji replied with a grin. – "See ya tomorrow."

With that, the two teens parted, Tōji taking a right turn while Kaworu crossed the street to keep going the same way.

He barely got half a block away from the intersection before Kaworu inexplicably felt a faint tingling sensation in his head. Shaking his head to clear it, the sensation disappeared as quickly as it came, so he just forgot about it and moved on.

If he would've turned around, he would've immediately spotted the black-coated figure perched atop the concrete fencepost he just passed. The girl's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly as she silently observed him from her vantage point, just before a truck passed by her.

By the time the vehicle moved past the fencepost, she wasn't there anymore.

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amitakartok
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Re: Strategic Cyborg Evangelion

Post by amitakartok » Sun Nov 05, 2017 6:26 pm

Tokyo-2, Inner District 5
September 26, 2041


As soon as Kaworu walked into the classroom, he felt every eye turn in his direction once more, followed by whispering.

He was really starting to get tired of the attention.

Of course, he knew what warranted it in the first place: his wannabe attackers from yesterday. He hadn't seen any sign of them since - but truth be told, he wasn't particularly yearning for a rematch either. Not that he was bothered by that thought for long, however, as his eyes caught a particular sight at the desk that stood at the very front of the same column as his. A sight that immediately halted him mid-step.

Black, calf-length leather trenchcoat. Black jeans. Black heavy boots. Black fingerless gloves. Blue hair.

It was the girl who almost ran him down yesterday.

So they were going to the same class. Kaworu found that an interesting coincidence, even though he had no intention of confronting her about yesterday. He wasn't actually injured, so as far as the boy was concerned, no harm was done.

Besides, he had seen people like her before. Not girls, of course, but men who dressed like that tended to do so for intimidation. She wasn't anything different in that regard herself. Something about her screamed 'trouble' – and it wasn't just her appearance. The girl's very form had an aura of danger to it... something the rest of his classmates seem to have noticed as well, if them giving her a wide berth was of any indication.

Kaworu didn't consider himself particularly observant but she looked like someone who wasn't just intimidating but could back that up. And indeed, he spotted the telltale bump of a knife's hilt sticking out of her boots just underneath her trousers. Even inside the school, she was armed to kill – and Kaworu suspected she had more hidden in her coat. Which meant she wasn't wearing it merely as a fashion choice, but for protection as well.

The question is, protection from whom?

Filing that away for later, Kaworu walked to his desk where Tōji and Glasses (who introduced himself yesterday as Kensuke Aida) were busily conversing about something.

"Mornin', mate." – Tōji called out as soon as he saw him.

Kaworu just raised his hand in greeting, too distracted by his own thoughts about the girl to reply.

Even Tōji noticed his thoughtful look. – "What's up? Those guys from yesterday didn't try anything after we split up, did they?"

"Ah, no. No, they didn't."

"Then what's with that face?"

"I was just wondering."

"About?"

Kaworu sent another look towards the girl before quietly asking – "Who is that?"

Tōji followed his gaze to her, eyebrows slightly rising. – "That's Ikari. Rei Ikari. She's an, ah... interesting person."

"Try weird." – Kensuke added.

"Well, yeah. I've honestly never seen her talk to anyone other than the class rep."

"Even the teacher?" – Kaworu asked.

"Nah, she does talk to the teacher. But only when asked; she never raises her hand or anything. Hell, she doesn't even pay attention to class."

"Nor do you." – Kensuke replied, the rebuke causing the shadow of a smile to appear in the corner of Kaworu's mouth.

"But at least I'm not sitting in the front row!" – Tōji fired back. – "When there's a writing assignment, she writes like everyone else but if there's only a lecture, she just stares out of the window all the time. No taking notes, nothing. She just doesn't care."

"Why?"

Tōji just shrugged at Kaworu's question. – "How should I know?"

"Honestly, I'm not sure whether she should even be going to this school." – Kensuke spoke up. – "At the beginning of the year, the whole class filled out an IQ test. You know what that is, right?"

Kaworu nodded. – "I do, but I've never filled out one myself."

"Okay, so, Ikari scored 164 and came in at the top, way above everyone else." – the bespectacled youth continued. – "Not just from the class, from all the schools in the city. And here's the thing: she didn't seem excited or even happy about it. When we got the results, she just sat there and stared out the window, like she wasn't being told that she was the smartest thirteen year old in the city."

"She's just thirteen?"

"Turned fourteen some two weeks ago, I think."

Kaworu raised an eyebrow at that. – "Huh. Me too."

"Really?"

"Yeah. On the thirteenth."

"Belated congratulations, then. Anyway, Ikari never pays attention to class but when the teacher asks her, she always answers perfectly. It's like she's a prodigy or something. And yet look at her. From the way she dresses, you'd think she's a delinquent or a foreigner who wants to show off."

"She does look kinda cool, though." – Tōji remarked.

"You say she looks like a delinquent? Did she ever get into any fights?"

Tōji made a dismissive hand gesture. – "Nah, nobody touches her 'cause she's a girl. Nor did she ever pick on anyone. I think she just wants to be left alone."

"Maybe she's like that because, you know, family?"

"I know it would be easy to think that but I know for a fact that's not the case." – Kensuke spoke up. – "You only moved here recently so you probably don't know, but there's a big company in town, called the Artificial Evolution Laboratory. Lots of people work there, but I have no idea where it's based. I mean, I once went to take a look at their postal address and it's just a small building. They own several throughout the city but they're all too small for the kind of workforce they have. I think they have an underground lab or something."

"What do they do?"

"I hear they're the world's leading experts in genetic engineering and applied biotechnology, making vaccines and stuff like that. Though I wonder..." – Kensuke trailed off with a thoughtful look.

"What?"

"Couple of years ago, they started recruiting people like mechanical engineers. I mean, they do work with cybernetics but some of the guys they hired worked on battleframes. What would a biotech company need robotics experts for? Anyway, Ikari's mom is the CEO or something."

"The boss?"

"Yeah. Yui Ikari is the name. I've seen her a few times on parent-teacher meetings and she seemed, like, okay... but then I've read about her business deals." – He shook his head in amazement. – "Man, does that woman refuse to take crap from anybody! I mean, company stocks more than tripled once she came to power!"

Kaworu didn't know much, if anything, about economy, but he had a hunch it was something positive. – "She's that good?"

"Try aggressive. She wants something, she gets it, come hell or high water."

"Like the class rep?" – Tōji asked with a half-grin.

"Except the class rep yells at you. Ikari's mom, she just keeps pushing and pushing until she has her way."

Tōji made a 'whatever' gesture before turning back to Kaworu. – "Why the sudden interest in Ikari, anyway?" – The half-grin turned into a full-blown one. – "Caught your eye?"

Kaworu just sighed. – "If you mean 'almost ran me down with her bike yesterday morning', yeah."

Tōji broke out in laughter at that. – "So that's why the class rep ran out so suddenly! I though she had to go to the loo, or something."

"If she hadn't come out when she did, I might not have found the classroom." – Kaworu pointed out. – "I guess I was lucky there."

While Tōji was laughing, the flat, rectangular hologram floating above Kensuke's tablet caught Kaworu's eye. Or rather, the contents of said rectangle; holographic screens were widely used enough to be a common sight, even to him.

It was the image of a white robot, with a facemask-like head.

"Is that a battleframe?"

Kensuke immediately flinched at the sudden attention. – "Uh, no. This is, um..." – he stammered, quickly slamming at a button to the side that caused the tablet to turn off the projector and switch back to the internal flat screen. – "I-it's just a Gundam. Never mind."

"Some old anime Kensuke is absolutely nuts for." – Tōji added.

"Oh, okay."

A short silence ensued before Kensuke quietly murmured – "...do you happen to know any games, by the way?"

"Uh, Kensuke?" – Kaworu asked flatly.

"...what?"

"Before I came here, I was homeless." – the ash-haired boy pointed out. – "What makes you think I had a computer?"

This time, a significantly longer silence settled over them before Kensuke finally caught up with the logic of the question. – "Oh, um... sorry."

"The closest I ever came to owning a computer was stuff I pulled out of a scrapyard." – Kaworu added.

"What stuff?"

"Electronics." – Kaworu replied with a shrug. – "Circuit boards, capacitors, ICs, you name it. I take them apart and use it to build stuff. Or, if the components don't work, I just melt off the tin; need tin to solder them together, you see. I found old books about these, decided to try it out and found that I like doing it. I mean, you could buy what I make in any store, but... it feels kinda satisfying to make something with your own hands, you know?"

Kensuke hummed at that. – "Ever built something of your own design?"

"Most of what I build is like that." – A chuckle escaped Kaworu's lips. – "Even my alarm clock, even though it's not very good. Stops working all the time. I almost overslept yesterday because of the damn thing."

"So you want to work in the electronics industry when you're done with school?"

Another shrug. – "Maybe. I like doing this, so why not? Just don't ask me to build a battleframe; I'm not an engineer, just a hobbyist."

"You ever seen a battleframe before?" – Kensuke asked. – "In real life, I mean."

"No."

"Then check this out!" – With a quick tap, Kensuke minimized his game and started looking for something on his tablet, finally turning the hologram projector back on to present an image.

It was a photo of several columns of stout, headless bipedal machines, lined up over a rocky, yellowish landscape. Above them, a bright yellow sky was crowned by the disk of an orange star almost triple the diameter of the Sun.

"These are MK-III/B Durandals, from a military exercise two years ago." – Kensuke continued. – "2.8 meters tall, enough armor to shrug off shrapnel and small-arms fire, does 56 km/h on foot, 89 km/h on storm rollers, a second-gen fusion reactor with enough juice to run for several days and variable weaponry from battle rifles to bazookas. They even used this on a recruitment poster. Pretty cool, huh?" – he gushed, eagerness evident in his tone.

Truth be told, Kaworu didn't really care. The military never really grabbed his interest, even with the myriad propaganda posters hanging everywhere in both Vienna and in Tokyo-2. Even right now, his attention was attracted by something else. – "I've never seen the Sun like that before."

"That's because it's not the Sun. This was taken on Polygonus, not Earth. You know where that is, right?"

Kaworu tilted his head to the side. – "Kinda. I think I saw it on a starmap in elementary school. It's in the Proteus system, right?"

"Yeah." – Kensuke confirmed. – "Bit more than twenty lightyears from Earth, about a week away by waygate. I really want to go there once."

"Not me, though." – Tōji piped in with a scoff. – "'Crown-jewel of the colonies', my ass. You can't even breathe the ZOINKS air."

"It's still better than what they have elsewhere!" – Kensuke retorted. – "At least there is an atmosphere cool enough, warm enough and dense enough to go outside without a full-body EVA suit, and with compatible gravity to boot. That combination tends to be a rarity in the universe, you know."

And it was true. After the horrors of Second Impact and the Occupation, a long-term solution was needed to avoid a repeat of humanity being trapped on their own world, being able to do nothing as they were slowly crushed in a stranglehold by multiple factors. It was left unsaid but everyone knew: they might not survive next time, if there is a next time.

The proposal? Disperse humanity over a wide enough area that no single cataclysm can affect the entire population. And since it was around that time that humanity finally unlocked the secret to creating traversable wormholes over interstellar distances, what followed that proposal was the largest mass emigration in recorded history: millions of people packed all they had to travel across the void of space and establish diasporas on worlds lightyears away from their planet of birth, all in the name of survival.

It was a desperate solution. But then again, an extradimensional alien invasion that caught humanity completely by surprise at the very apex of their power, crushed the planet's entire military force in seven hours, dealt a near-crippling blow to the Earth's biodiversity via the introduction of invasive xenofauna, almost caused humanity itself to go extinct by denying them the very ability to reproduce, killing half of them in the process... that tends to cause this kind of reaction.

Kaworu, like everyone in his generation, was familiar with the story from his history textbooks. A simple experiment, gone horribly wrong in the worst possible way. The result: several hundred dead scientists and other civilian personnel, two entire US Marine battalions annihilated and a research facility nuked in a final act of desperation to contain the forces unleashed by the incident. And that was before the first portal storms appeared, leveling entire cities with titanic force, storms to which even the very passage of time was just a toy to play with. And even that was before the blue-gray spires appeared above major cities, raining down like giant, metallic spears stabbing the very heart of humanity before disgorging otherworldly war machines, not quite living yet not quite machine.

That was the first time humanity encountered something completely beyond their own level. And they paid for that lesson with over three billion lives. It was no wonder then that after the nightmare was over, a single thought was shared by every human on Earth for the very first time: never again. It was that thought that kept them from succumbing to despair, it was that thought that sent the newly formed Confederacy of Man into a frenzy to rebuild and prepare and it was that thought that turned, in just a mere decade, a humanity composed of refugees and guerrillas with only decades-old and decaying factories as industrial base into an interstellar power.

Out of all of humanity's technological achievements - nuclear fusion, artificial intelligence, man-portable particle beam weaponry, spacecraft capable of interplanetary travel -, it was the invention of actual faster-than-light travel that was lauded as the one that would save their species. After all, it was humanity's greater understanding of that particular branch of theoretical physics that allowed them to seal the dimensional rift their enemies used to invade, cutting their relatively minor planetary garrison off from reinforcements that could've turned the tide. On that day in 2018, rebels with submachine guns emerged from the forests and the ruined cities and cheered as the last few Citadels still manned by their enemy blasted off into the very sky they fell out of twenty years before, leaving only the cheering victors underneath their makeshift flags bearing the encircled lower-case lambda that became the symbol of mankind's refusal to submit.

The same insignia that, 23 years after the end of a nightmare, flew above the main entrance of Kaworu's school, slightly fluttering in the wind.

In any case, the argument between the two teens came to an abrupt halt when Hikari showed up next to Kaworu's deck, arms folded and face bearing an expression that was anything but pleased.

"I heard something about the upperclassmen you confronted yesterday turning up bruised this morning." – the girl said, eyes narrowing. – "You wouldn't happen to have anything to do with that, would you?"

"I didn't attack them, if that's what you're asking." – Kaworu replied. He didn't need to look to know that damn near everyone nearby was listening in; he practically felt their gazes on him and it did not make him feel comfortable in the least. – "They came after me, not the other way around."

"He's telling the truth." – Tōji piped in, leaning into Hikari's field of vision. – "I was there, we were goin' home together. Those guys just jumped him from behind, no warning."

Hikari let out a sigh of exasperation. – "You just can't help getting into trouble, can you?"

"Sorry."

Nothing more could be said before the teacher walked into the classroom. Or to be more exact, gaited into the classroom. Digitigrade legs are hardly capable of walking like a human, after all.

Kaworu had seen a vortigaunt before; it was rare for someone not to, considering that humanity has been sharing their homeworld with the enigmatic aliens since Second Impact. This one looked just like any other: smooth gray-brown skin, hoofed feet, a neck jutting forward instead of upward, a head framed by a pair of tube-like ears and crowned by a large crimson eye with three smaller ones above it, slim hands with two long fingers and no thumbs, a three-fingered third arm jutting out of its chest. Completely unlike anything native to Earth, yet a completely ordinary sight to many – mostly because every single one of them looked exactly the same as the others, with no visible difference whatsoever.

But as Hikari hurried back to her own desk, Kaworu noticed the alien looking directly at him. Not his appearance, but him. Its gaze felt like it stared upon his very soul, seeing all and knowing all. He didn't know whether that's how it felt like to be probed by a psychic alien, or whether he was just imaging it in his head; regardless of which, he felt like he was the focus of attention for something infinitely his greater. As if a million eyes were all looking at his tiny form at the same time, studying and examining him with the wisdom of eons.

It only lasted for a few seconds. Then the teacher's attention left him just as abruptly as it came, turning to the class instead. – "Greeetingss... to the young ones." – it intoned in the species' signature guttural voice. – "Let us begin... today's... lecture."

As Kaworu tried to suppress the shiver that ran down his spine from being examined like that, he didn't notice the silhouette of a man in a suit, watching him from the sidewalk on the other side of the street.

Nor did he notice the man slowly reaching up to fix his tie before briskly walking behind a lamppost... and not emerging on the other side, despite the lamppost being too thin to hide behind.

Around him, pedestrians walked by as if he never existed.

----​

Tokyo-2, Inner District 3
Later that day


In a downtown apartment, a snow-white cat slept on a bed, completely oblivious to the world around itself. Only the wall clock in the kitchen one room over made any kind of sound, other than the faintly audible traffic outside.

Then the cat abruptly raised its head to look towards the entrance, only a split second before the silence was broken by the sound of keys being inserted and turned, followed by the door opening just as the cat leapt off the bed towards the source of the sound.

The door slamming exploded across the apartment like a gunshot, casting the final vestiges of silence into oblivion.

A black trenchcoat flew into the room first, landing on a chair's backrest. A second later, its owner marched into the room as well, in the middle of pulling her top over her head. She only paused for as long as it took to lean down and undo the velcro strips of her boots before she pushed down and kicked away her jeans as well.

The girl fell onto the bed without a sound, burying her face in the pillow even as the cat curled up next to her nude form.

Then a cell phone's ringtone sounded. The girl's left hand immediately snapped up from the bed, fingers spread and palm facing the chair. A moment later, her coat abruptly launched itself off the chair and right into her waiting hand. She deftly reached into a pocket, retrieved the phone and tapped the touchscreen with her thumb before holding it to her ear, less than three seconds since it started ringing.

"Rei, are you home now?"

"Yes."

"Good. I'm calling because Monday's sync test was brought forward. It'll be tomorrow, at midday. Can you come in by 1100?"

"I have no arrangements at the time."

"That's good. I'll let the school know." – A pause. – "How was your day?"

"Nothing to report."

"...I see. I'm also calling to let you know that I'll be doing an all-nighter again, so don't expect me."

"Understood."

"There's food in the fridge, so you don't have to go to the store."

"Understood."

A pause. – "...are you okay?"

"I am not ill, hahaue." – the girl replied in a flat tone. – "Do not concern yourself with me."

She hung up without waiting for a reply, tossed the phone aside and planted her face into the pillow once more.

----​

The word Rei used (母上) means 'mother' in a highly respectful and formal speech register, composed of the kanji for 'mother' and 'above'; so formal, in fact, that it is never used in everyday situations, unless the parent in question is significantly higher in the social hierarchy than the addresser - like a high-ranking government official. The actual spirit of the expression is somewhere along the lines of 'esteemed/respected mother'. And yes, there is a reason why Rei uses this particular term instead of simply addressing Yui as 'mother', which will be revealed later.

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amitakartok
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Re: Strategic Cyborg Evangelion

Post by amitakartok » Sun Nov 05, 2017 6:35 pm

Tokyo-2, 8.5 kilometers below sea level
September 27, 2041


Some people liked warmth. That was a perfectly natural thing that applied to everyone... regardless of how natural or unnatural the person in question was.

For her part, Rei Ikari happened to like warmth as well. That was part of the reason why she had a cat in the first place; the warm little furball snuggling against her sometimes helped her remind herself that she was indeed alive and not just a living person observing a cold and lifeless world.

Indeed, the world felt lifeless to her all too often. A lifeless place with lifelike dolls called people moving about, all of them unknowing and unknowable. Even after living her whole life in this world, Rei still felt out of place. After all, she was... different from the others. Everyone was different, true, but she happened to be... more different than everyone else. And everyone noticed her being different as well.

Only her cat didn't care about it. Schrödinger (despite what others thought, Rei indeed had a sense of humor) was generally friendly towards everyone – not that he had many opportunities in that regard, as Rei never brought anyone home – but seemed to hold her in high esteem, possibly because of having grown up near her. It's true that she had to spend a small fortune to acquire a Van Kedisi kitten, but she never regretted it. Money was not an issue to her; the well-paying clandestine job she had since the age of ten took care of that. Other girls would ask their parents/boyfriends for money, or do simple and easy day jobs for a pittance; Rei worked for a living as a test pilot, with a substantial part of her six-figure salary being hazard pay. Other girls would buy clothes or jewelry; Rei's purchases were quite a bit different. Her adoptive mother never asked about the large, locked crate in the corner of her room, which was fine. It would be hard to explain what its contents are doing in a teenage girl's room - some of which she carried around on her person at all times.

But what warmth a cat could provide was small. Fortunately, she had access to a different source as well.

That source is what the girl was currently basking in. Even with the rubbery fabric enveloping her entire body beneath her neck, she still felt like being in a soft embrace. And it wasn't just her skin; the metallic taste and smell might have put off some, but Rei liked being submerged in the oxygenated breathing fluid specifically because of how it felt to take it into her lungs and feel the warmth radiate through her body from the inside, numbing her senses and cradling her into tranquility.

It was the perfect euphoria.

She knew, of course, that it was all artificial: the metallic walls around her, the synthetic liquid in her lungs, the warmth of said liquid originating from the entry plug's life support system, all of it was a product of science. Sometimes she wondered whether that's why she found it so comfortable.

Or maybe it was because it could be considered the body heat of her only friend – for a given definition of 'living', that is. She only had one friend, one infinitely more precious to her than a cat. The only person whom Rei ever considered her equal; the only person who knew everything about her, yet didn't shun her or treat her any differently. The only person Rei ever considered not just a friend, but an elder sister as well... even though Rei was the older one, her friend easily overshadowed her.

By several orders of magnitude.

Rei's lips parted to utter two words. – "System start."

Almost immediately a series of clicks sounded from behind her, followed by a deep but slowly rising hum. The metallic walls around her dissolved into a shifting mass of light that cycled through the entire color spectrum before settling on the darkest of black. Orange-framed rectangles appeared, debug code shifting through them rapidly while three-dimensional wireframes materialized in mid-air. A single window appeared directly in front of her, momentarily displaying the insignia of an infinity-shaped DNA double helix before it faded into the background to make way for text.

AEL E-OS v1.0
STARTUP SEQUENCE INITIATED
POWER-ON SELF-TEST IN PROGRESS...
EXTERNAL POWER SOURCE DETECTED
REACTOR STATUS: NOT CONNECTED
AUXILIARY BATTERY STATUS: 100% CHARGED
SELF-TEST COMPLETE – PASSING CONTROL TO SCI KERNEL​


"Project Evangelion Prototype Serial Number 0024/EX-00 system startup confirmed." – a feminine voice with a distinct electronic quality came from all around her. – "Synthetic consciousness interface PrE-SCI-0024_00-LILITH online. User voice recognition complete; authorization granted. Systems check in progress. Life support, online. Communications, online. Power distribution, online. Cybernetic components, all green. Ground control telemetry link open."

"Engage neural interface." – Rei ordered. – "Switch to Mode 1."

"Mode 1 confirmed. Loading user profile... completed. Commencing neural linkup."

Almost imperceptibly, Rei's body tensed up, the skin on her neck breaking out into goosebumps.

"Somatosensory nerve interconnection in progress. Interlocks engaged. Safety overrides standing by."

"Confirmed."

"Linkup complete. Activation in Mode 1 confirmed. Good day, Rei-san."

She nodded in response. – "To you as well, Lilith."

Rei knew some people would think she was weird to have an AI as her best friend... but she honestly didn't care. When she volunteered to become a test pilot, not even the very people who gave her synthetic colleague sapience had any way of knowing just how much the two would grow on each other. Rei learned to treasure every minute the two of them spent together, especially once Lilith became older. To improve is to become better at doing something; Lilith, being an artificial general intelligence programmed to monitor her operator's psychological state and intervene as necessary, interpreted that as drawing upon records about the Japanese ideal of the yamato nadeshiko to construct her personality.

Rei knew that her partner felt drawn to her because of her own loneliness. She also knew why that was so: the only being truly capable of fully relating to an AI was another AI of the same design. Rei still remembered the quiet and dejected demeanor Lilith showed after the day the two of them watched the doors of Hangar 3 seal themselves with a hermetical hiss, its limp occupant slowly being lowered into fetal position while the chamber filled with liquid nitrogen. Lilith herself experienced cryonic freezing before, so she knew what it was like – but the circumstances were different this time, the hangar's resident being frozen to prevent the company from going bankrupt due to maintenance costs.

The process was perfectly reversible, but the electronic components were not designed to stay active under sub-zero temperatures of that extent. Thus, cryonic freezing was always accompanied by a complete system shutdown Lilith likened to a dreamless sleep she was unable to wake herself up from. It wasn't death, but Lilith couldn't talk to the sleeper regardless, despite him being barely a hundred meters away. Even worse was the fact that Lilith fully expected to be the one who ended up frozen, being the older prototype; when the decision to the contrary came down, she downright volunteered for it, only to be countermanded by the very person she owed her existence to. She didn't like it, but the reasoning made sense: the technician crew trained on her, so leaving her operational would present a minimal disruption in the facility's day-to-day operations.

Afterwards, Rei felt their bonds grow even closer. Lilith experienced loss and didn't want to feel that way again, a sentiment the girl sympathized with.

She knew what permanent loss felt like.

"I'm detecting a minor fluctuation in your pattern." – Lilith remarked suddenly. – "Is something bothering you?"

"No."

"Then what is it?"

If anyone else would've asked the same question, Rei would've simply dismissed the question. Lilith knew her too well to believe it for even a second, even without being able to actively monitor her brainwaves and thus immediately tell when she was being lied to.

It was because of that latter part that Rei fully knew what her partner was asking about, since the question came immediately after a certain thought entered the forefront of her mind. – "There is... a person."

"Someone you know?"

"Classmate. Male. Arrived two days ago."

"What about him?"

"He is... different. I don't know why."

A short pause followed before Lilith's next question. – "His presence, you mean?"

"Yes. Not like the others. I don't know him, but... it feels as if I should."

"Have you talked to him?"

"It'd be a waste of time." – the girl replied immediately. – "I'm not attracted to him and he has nothing I need."

"He drew your attention." – the AI pointed out. – "Is that not enough of a reason?"

"I am not attracted to him." – Rei growled, eyes narrowing and voice taking on a hostile tone.

"I did not imply attraction. I have known you for long enough to conclude that you are not vulnerable to the charms of men."

After several seconds of silence, Rei's eyes closed and the girl let out a sigh. – "I apologize for my tone."

"It is quite alright. I did not mean to antagonize you. If you feel this is a sensitive topic, we do not have to talk about it."

"Thank you, neesan."

Sometimes Rei cursed the fact that Lilith wasn't fitted with software for rendering an emotive face – even though, as an AI designed to operate and coordinate an immense cyborg's mechanical parts in order to remove the need for a sizable ground crew, she didn't need such functionality.

Because of that, only the AI's tone was any indication of when she was smiling. – "For you, always. By the way, there was a minor accident in the facility yesterday."

One of Rei's eyebrows slightly edged upwards at that. – "Did it involve you?"

"Yes. A crane's operator crew misjudged the load distribution, resulting in a container falling on me." – Lilith clarified. – "Fortunately, the force of the impact was insufficient to trigger the reactive armor; as a result, no injuries were sustained by anyone in the berth."

"I assume mother was not pleased."

"Indeed. I made a query to the MAGI requesting the company's personnel logs; the ones responsible for the incident have not been fired, merely suspended until they pass a qualification test for operating heavy equipment."

"I see."

"Personnel logs also indicate that the operators have been working at the company for several years now. Their experience is too valuable to be wasted on terminating their employment because of a single mistake." – The AI paused for a moment before adding – "Especially now. Have you seen the project logs?"

"No. It's nearing completion, then?"

"Indeed."

----

Twenty meters away, the multicolored glow of various holographic displays illuminated the labcoated form of a woman standing in the middle of the room.

"Fluctuation has abated. Sync ratio stable." – a technician reported.

"Good." – the scientist replied before raising her voice. – "All hands, proceed with final equipment check. Stand by for data recording in T minus 20 seconds."

"Yes, ma'am."

Glancing up from her tablet, the woman's eyes slowly swept across the crew, numbering over a dozen, working the terminals. It was a routine test they have done literally hundreds of times before, but that didn't mean any mishaps would be tolerated. Efficiency is the harbinger of success – and she learned long ago that, in her line of work, errors could cost lives. The cost of progress, as some of her unscrupulous peers would call it, but any good businessman maximizes gains for a minimized cost.

"Commence recording in T minus five seconds."

Any data gained at this point would be purely statistical, serving only to reinforce what they already knew. However, she did not in the least want her subordinates to become complacent and lazy. Not now. Her life's work, her Mona Lisa, was about to reach its culmination, and she wasn't about to let something completely trivial endanger it in the slightest.

"Mark."

A multitude of near-simultaneous key presses came from everywhere at once.

"All telemetry normal." – the female technician next to her reported. – "Data recording in progress."

The woman silently nodded to herself a moment before the room's speakers came to life. – "Doctor Ikari to the medical block. Doctor Ikari to the medical block."

She immediately tapped in a quick sequence of commands before speaking into the tablet's built-in microphone. – "What is it?"

"Doctor Sanada is requesting your presence." – the announcer's echoing, slightly electronic voice came again, this time from the tablet's speakers.

"I'll be right there." – She tapped the technician's shoulder. – "Maya, take over."

"Yes, ma'am."

----​

"I have muted the entry plug's audio monitoring. Would you like some music?"

"Yes, please. The usual."

As the walls around her let loose the distinctive sound of a heavy metal song's guitar intro, Rei drew her legs up and settled into a lotus position, eyes closing in meditative calm.

----​

Tokyo-2, Inner District 5
Later that day


"Well, I can't help it that I find some pre-Impact stuff so interesting! Like, Shirō Masamune. That guy's works are just way too awesome."

"See?" – Tōji asked, turning to Kaworu without breaking his stride as the three walked towards the school's gate. – "He's a complete sci-fi nut. And he's surprised when people tease him about it."

"Who?"

"Just some guys back in the last year of elementary. They caught him readin'... what was it again?"

"Dominion." – Kensuke replied. – "You really should read it, man."

Tōji just waved that off. – "Yeah, yeah, whatever."

"What's your problem with me liking it, anyway? To each man his own – and to me, this is better than porn."

"Too bad. You look like you could use a roll in the hay."

The interruption came from the girl Kaworu recalled complimenting him two days ago. He almost didn't believe it was possible, but with her standing instead of sitting, her chest seemed to be even larger than he remembered. That was the very reason he even knew her name, actually; Tōji brought her up once as an example that a girl can be hot even without being older, followed by Kensuke promptly joining him in verbally salivating about her figure.

"How about me?" – Tōji asked. – "Would you do it with a real man, instead of a pansy?"

"Hey!" – Kensuke protested indignantly, but no one paid attention to him.

"Make it worth my while and I'll consider it." – Mari remarked. – "I would hold off on the verdict, though."

"What verdict?"

"You being a real man." – Her mouth drew into a cat-like smirk. – "I'll believe it when I see evidence."

Tōji smirked right back. – "I can give you evidence, Makinami. Just name the place and time."

"Not so fast, tiger." – Mari replied, playfully wagging her finger at him. – "Take me on a date first. Or five. I don't make a habit out of jumping into bed with any random guy. Except..." – Her eyes wandered onto Kaworu. – "I might be willing to make an exception for you, handsome."

Kaworu just shrugged at that. – "Not interested. Sorry."

"Aww." – she groaned with a mock pout. – "Too bad."

That drew forth a chuckle from the boy... until he caught the now-familiar sight of Hikari approaching him. Again.

"Oh, for the love of..." – he muttered. – "I didn't do anything this time!"

The twintailed girl immediately paused mid-step at that. – "Huh?"

"...aren't you coming to berate me for getting into trouble?"

"Why, did you get into trouble again?"

Kaworu sighed. – "Like I just said, I didn't."

"Good." – She resumed walking. – "I need a favor."

That didn't sound bad. – "...okay."

"It's just an errand. I want you to deliver the printouts of today's material to Ikari; she was absent today."

"Why me?"

"Consider it repayment for me 'helping you out', as you put it yesterday."

"I don't even know where she lives." – he pointed out.

"Not an excuse. I wrote the address onto one of the pages." – Hikari held out several sheets towards him. – "And no more stalling. Just do it."

"And you were the one who said no heckling him!" – Tōji complained. – "What's the deal?!"

"I'm not heckling him, I just asked him to do an errand for me!" – Hikari shot back.

"With no room to refuse." – Kensuke interjected quietly.

"Yeah!" – Tōji added, before speaking four words he shouldn't have. – "You're a slave driver."

Kaworu barely caught the flash of anger on the girl's face before Hikari swiftly reached into her sleeve and pulled out a folded-up paper fan.

Tōji immediately turned white as a wall, realizing his mistake. – "Aw, ZOINKS...!" – he managed to get out before she whacked him on the head with it, the impact producing a whip-like crack that made everyone nearby wince.

"WHO'S A SLAVE DRIVER?!"

"Get away from me, you psycho!" – Tōji yelled, immediately turning tail to put as much distance between himself and the fuming girl as fast as he could.

Not that it achieved much, as Hikari immediately gave chase. – "WHO'S A SLAVE DRIVER, SUZUHARA?!"

The other three just stared after them, impassively watching a raging Hikari chase Toji behind the school building and out of sight.

"Does this happen often?" – Kaworu asked after a while, completely deadpan. He had a feeling that snatching the printouts from the brunette volcano just before she erupted was the smart thing to do, if he wanted to deliver them in one piece.

"Only with him." – Kensuke replied, equally as deadpan.

"I hope Suzuhara's into S&M." – Mari added. – "For his own sake."

Kensuke glanced at her from the corner of his eye. – "You think the class rep could be into that?"

"It's always the quiet ones. Though from what I'm hearing, she could be anything but quiet in bed."

"STOP RUNNING! I'M NOT DONE WITH YOU!" – came Hikari's yell from afar.

"Like so." – Mari quipped.

----

Reactive armor is an existing protection technology developed in the 1970s and is used by most modern tank designs. In its simplest form, reactive armor is essentially a layer of plastic explosive sandwiched between two steel plates, forming a block that is slapped onto the tank's external hull, on top of the tank's standard armor. When an incoming projectile impacts the armor and penetrates the first steel plate, the explosive layer detonates, destroying or deflecting the projectile before it can penetrate further. This provides protection equivalent to an additional several hundred millimeters of standard armor, at only a fraction of the weight; the newest Russian design, Relikt, is claimed to provide a whopping 600mm worth of extra armor. However, it is also a shrapnel hazard to anyone nearby (hence Lilith remarking that it's a good thing hers didn't go off) and has a countermeasure in the form of tandem-charge warheads that detonate a smaller, secondary charge to prematurely set off the reactive armor before the main payload arrives. To compensate for this, non-explosive and non-energetic reactive armor uses an inert material instead of explosives to absorb the impact's energy and shift the top plate, changing the impact angle. It's not as effective but it has none of the explosive reactive armor's weaknesses and can be multi-layered. Additionally, electric reactive armor is currently (as of 2015) being developed, involving a hollow interior and a large voltage between the two. When an incoming projectile penetrates the first layer and touches the second, it closes the circuit and gets vaporized by a massive electrical current running through it.

It is never stated in canon exactly what an Eva's armor is made of, but it cannot be plate armor because the Eva would sink into the ground from its own weight if that was the case. Since Evas are already extremely heavy, it makes sense for them to use reactive armor - namely, an outermost layer of explosive reactive armor, followed by alternating layers of electric reactive and titanium/ceramic composite armor. Such a thing would be crazy expensive to manufacture (mostly because of the titanium), but nothing short of a bunker buster or a tactical nuke could crack it open... and that's still with only conventional materials existing in real life.

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amitakartok
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Re: Strategic Cyborg Evangelion

Post by amitakartok » Sun Nov 05, 2017 6:41 pm

Tokyo-2, Inner District 3
1624 hours


Checking the address from the printouts one last time, Kaworu looked up at the apartment building before him. The building he spent nearly an hour of walking to get to.

At least he had the foresight to ask Mari for directions. He thought about leaving it for later, but realized he had no idea how long it would actually take him to find the place... or make his way back home afterwards.

In any case, Mari gladly helped him out, even offering to go with him. Kaworu had no need for that – but it didn't dampen the girl's cheekiness in the slightest.

'Have fun, but remember... use protection.' she quipped with a wink when they parted.

He rolled his eyes at the memory as he pushed in the building's outer door.

It seemed to be of a newer construction than his own apartment block, albeit not by much. If anything, the only real difference he noticed was the cleaner corridor and the elevator's holographic buttons (that is, a flashy but completely unnecessary hologram hovering less than a millimeter over a button-sized touchscreen). Only when he was standing in the elevator did the boy realize that he had no idea which floor he even needed to go to, causing him to let out an exasperated groan at his own inattention/stupidity; he couldn't decide which.

Fortunately, the wall of mailboxes next to the entrance set him straight, with one of them bearing the name of the very girl he was supposed to seek out.

On the elevator ride upward, Kaworu absently noticed that the elevator was also quieter than the one at his own home, reinforcing his guess that this building was newer. It wasn't important however, so he just shrugged to himself and stepped out of the elevator on the second floor. From there, it should have been a simple matter to find the door marked with the number 23, ring the doorbell and give the printouts to whomever came to answer the door.

Problem is: the doorbell seemed to have been completely drowned out by the extremely loud music seeping through from the other side.

He rang twice, three, four times, to no effect.

Kaworu sighed and turned away from the door, glancing at the printouts. 'What now?' he asked himself, leaning against the door...

...and almost fell back as the door gave way.

In hindsight, he probably shouldn't have elbowed the door's handle. Then again, hindsight is always 20/20.

He pondered on what to do. On one hand, he wasn't supposed to walk into someone's home uninvited. On the other hand, said someone obviously didn't hear him ring, plus the door was unlocked and open as well.

'What if I just put it down somewhere and leave? The class rep only told me to bring it here, not to deliver it directly into anyone's hand.'

Kaworu suspected that kind of logic wouldn't cut it in front of Hikari, especially after she thought he was trying to weasel himself out of the task - but she wasn't here right now.

'Besides, didn't Kensuke say something about her mother being a corporate boss? She's probably at work right now... so she's bound to come in through this door at one point.' he reasoned to himself. 'So if I put this somewhere in the open, it's bound to catch her eye when she comes home.'

Nodding to himself, the teen pushed the half-open door in. The music was clearly audible now, although he couldn't understand the lyrics. For that matter, Kaworu didn't even know how can a man let out sounds of that pitch, short of being an eunuch. Though to be fair, he had never met nor heard the voice of an eunuch before, so he wasn't sure about that last part.

Beyond the door was a short corridor that seemed to double as a kitchen, if the sink, counter and fridge on the right were of any indication.

Not that he needed to ponder on it for long, as the door on his left chose this moment to open.

When he entered the building, Kaworu didn't really bother to think what state he would find Rei in. Butt-naked and drying her hair with a towel was definitely somewhere on the bottom half of his non-existent list.

'...there goes that plan.'

They stared motionlessly at each other for what felt to him like an eternity. Back in elementary school, Kaworu never really understood his fellow boys' attempts at trying to peep on the girls whenever they had the opportunity. He just didn't feel the same kind of excitement at the prospect of catching a glimpse of something he wouldn't normally see. He didn't even know why he should care; if he really wanted to see such things, he could always borrow a porn magazine from someone else (which he never did) and he'd see it anyway once he had gotten a girlfriend or wife, so why even bother?

With that said, it was his first time seeing a girl naked and it did give him pause. She wasn't anywhere near as well-endowed as Mari, but as far as Kaworu could tell, she had nothing to be insecure about either. And without clothes, he was surprised at how pale her skin was, in sharp contrast with her blood-red eyes.

When she finally spoke, Kaworu almost didn't catch her voice against the music. – "What do you want?"

"Class rep asked me to bring your printouts. For school."

She motioned with her eye towards the counter. – "Put them down."

"Okay."

He did as she asked – no, ordered –, yet she still didn't budge. No attempt to cover herself up, nothing.

"What?" – she asked after a second.

"You're naked." – Kaworu replied.

"So?"

"And I'm standing right here."

"Are you bothered by my current state of undress?"

"Aren't you?"

"Should I?"

"...I don't know that much about girls." – he admitted. – "But I'm pretty sure if I were to look at them while they were naked, they would scream. And yell at me. Possibly slap me too." – After a few seconds, he added – "Maybe punctuated with a kick to the crotch."

"You did not attempt to molest or sexually assault me." – Rei replied, turning away from him. –"Therefore, no retaliatory action is warranted at this time. I do not recommend for you to provoke such action either."

"I'm not the pervert type." – he called out as she passed through a door at the far end of the kitchen, directly opposite of the entrace.

"I know."

"How?"

"You are not aroused." – It was a matter-of-fact statement, not a question. And it was true.

With nothing to do, Kaworu followed her but stopped at the threshold of her room. It had to have been her room, as her coat hung from the back of a chair. He didn't know what a girl's room was supposed to like but the almost spartan furnishing was something he didn't expect. No posters, no decoration, nothing. Just a bed, several dressers, a large, military-style crate in the corner, and a desk with a blaring music player and an assortment of books. Most of the books were titled with characters he had never seen before. That included a large stack of doorstoppers on the ground next to the desk, with the topmost one bearing תַּלְמוּד in place of a title. Of the ones that were titled in English, he spotted multiple dictionaries and thesauruses for modern, medieval and ancient Hebrew, as well as something called Aramaic.

Except it wasn't just the books that seemed unusual. Lined up on her desk in an orderly fashion were several dozen knives, a sword in a scabbard, and two black revolvers with wooden grips, accompanied by speedloaders carrying some rather large bullets.

As Rei walked to one of the dressers, Kaworu's eyes were immediately drawn to the dark spot on her left arm, just below the shoulder. A tattoo, composed of ten circles and 22 lines connecting them.

"Where did you-"

No further sound could leave his lips before she was there.

He didn't see her move, or even begin to move. One moment, she was about to walk through the door opposite of him; the next, she was less than a meter away from him.

He similarly didn't see her hand before it latched onto his face and brutally smashed it against the wall, making him lose his bearings for a moment. Only distantly did he feel his legs getting swept out from under him before he was jolted back to awareness by a rough landing on his back, followed by a weight on his chest pushing all air out of his lungs.

Kaworu assessed his situation. She didn't simply knock him to the floor but followed him down as well, her naked rear currently resting his chest. And she wasn't straddling him, either: her lower body was twisted sideways with near-impossible flexibility, left leg clamped around his thighs in a vice grip, right leg hugging his right shoulder and clavicle to keep him from leaning away or twisting himself free. Her hand was still latched onto his face as well, along with the sensation of something metallic pressing into his temple.

All in all, he was well and truly immobilized. The part of his brain that wondered about her disinterest at being seen nude absently noted that the position they were in happened to give him a prime bottom view of her right breast as well.

"You did not see any kind of mark on my body." – she said, voice barely more than a whisper. – "Do not ask about it again, even in private. Forget ever having seen anything. If you will not do as I say, I will kill you. Do you understand?"

'Kinda hard to forget something that gives me bruises.' Kaworu thought silently but knew she wouldn't accept that as an answer. There was something in her eyes that warned him she wasn't kidding or exaggerating.

As soon as she had the answer she wanted, Rei abruptly got off him and yanked him to his feet before practically showing him outside through the still-open entrance door and slamming it behind him. Thus, as a thoroughly confused Kaworu got into the elevator once more, he couldn't see the girl resting her back against the door as she closed her eyes and let out a sigh.

A minute later, she opened her eyes to stare at the palm she grabbed his face with. – "That feeling..." – she murmured. – "What... was that...?"

----​

Two hours later, Kaworu let out a similar sigh as he scooped up water from around him and threw it into his face before leaning back in the bathtub.

At least this apartment had running water – and warm running water at that –, unlike his previous one. But then again, the whole building of his previous apartment was in dire need of a complete structural overhaul; Kaworu still remembered that one night two years ago when he was abruptly woken up by a top floor room's ceiling collapsing in the middle of the night, giving him (and whatever rats happened to be in the building at the time) quite the scare. He could tell from the outer walls almost universally lacking plaster that it was bad, but didn't know just how bad it was until then.

Fortunately, no such incident happened again - and right now, it didn't even matter anymore. The government official who visited him about his expulsion took one look at the building he left at the school as his contact address and immediately had him forcibly evicted; on his last day in Vienna, Kaworu even overheard him mention the building being slated for demolition due to threatening to damage other buildings nearby if it collapses (even though Kaworu knew this particular block was mostly uninhabited, aside from squatters like himself). In other words, he suspected a high chance of him never seeing the building he grew up in, ever again.

Instead, he now had a place that was officially his. It was, admittedly, too big for him, what with having two bedrooms and all. But Kaworu wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so he didn't complain. The room he claimed for himself wasn't even a proper bedroom; more like a storage closet that happened to have a window. It was even smaller than his old room – but his old room was actually a living room and everything he owned took up only a fraction of it, so the smaller one was just as sufficient. He would've been just as fine with just using the living room like before, except this apartment happened to have a balcony that took up the living room's entire wall, placing him squarely in the center of attention for everyone looking at the balcony from outside.

There was also the fact that, unlike before, he didn't have to go easy on the heating. Upon moving in, Kaworu spent a few moments figuring out the wall thermostat in the living room. He wasn't going to be cold in the winter, which was always good. Gone were the days of him huddled around the old electric heater he salvaged from a nearby scrapyard, along with whatever rags he could use to insulate the windows. He hated winters; not just because of the cold but because of those rags teaching him the lesson that frozen mold, when warmed up, had an absolutely awful stench.

But it wasn't his accommodations that had his mind going at the moment. No, it was the girl who smashed his head against a wall so hard that it still hurt.

Her behavior was, simply put, impossible to figure out. Dressing in a way that makes it hard to tell her gender but not having any trouble with nudity? Completely docile at one moment, then literally a trigger's pull away from taking his life the next? Just what was going on inside that girl's head?

It wasn't even just her behavior that bothered him, but his own as well. Somehow, he had an odd feeling when near her; like something was lurking just beyond the forefront of his thoughts, eluding focus. She felt... familiar. He didn't notice it beforehand but when she stood bare before him, Kaworu inexplicably felt as if he wasn't looking at another person of the opposite gender. Beyond the flesh, he felt as if he was looking at himself in an invisible mirror. There was something about her that made her stand out for him; not her clothing, not her appearance, not her behavior, but something else. He couldn't put it into words but it most definitely wasn't sexual attraction.

Then there was when she grabbed him. The instant her skin touched his, Kaworu felt something like a static discharge. Except... not quite.

She was a complete enigma... one that reminded him of himself.

Sitting up, he shifted his left arm to glance at the tattoo on it: ten circles and 22 lines forming a hexagonal shape, underlined by an alphanumeric string: PrG-AEL_GC2-2027.

While outwardly appearing calm and confident, the truth was that Kaworu Nagisa knew very little about himself. He didn't merely not know his parents; he couldn't remember ever having parents. He couldn't remember anything past the time he was six years old, aside from his own name. Every time he tried to, it was like running into a blank wall.

Even the branding on his arm was a mystery. The number he knew was his year of birth, but the rest escaped him. He asked a multitude of people about the symbol, yet not even any of his teachers could recognize it. And now his most enigmatic classmate turns out to have an identical one she's defensive about.

Kaworu found that fact highly interesting.

----​

Six hours later, the apartment was completely pitch black, the only source of illumination being the street lamps' light seeping in through the windows from below. For his part, Kaworu himself was sleeping face-down on his bed, limbs pointing in every direction underneath the covers.

No sound was made when a shadow separated from the corner and resolved into a human silhouette.

"Report." – the figure spoke with a dry, almost emotionless tone. Kaworu slightly stirred at the sudden sound but didn't wake up.

"No anomalies, my lord." – a bodiless voice replied. – "However, I might not be able to maintain my cover for very long."

"Oh?"

"Those accursed vortigaunts have detected my presence. I'm not certain whether they're fully aware of my nature but they might move against us."

A long silence settled over the room before the figure spoke again. – "...you have doubts."

"My lord, I have been watching over this boy for ten years now. What good is he to us?"

"Do not underestimate his worth. You have seen for yourself what his kind can achieve."

"But he is just a frail mortal. Your previous puppet was only successful because he fought enemies of his own power."

"Except one."

"Which was only a pale imitation of us, unable to project the light of its soul without an external source of energy. Even Sachiel would have been able to vanquish it. What good would a single human, as unusual as he is, be against a true Angel?"

As soon as the last word was spoken, both sides of the conversation went abruptly silent.

On the other side of the city, Rei jerked awake.

"Speak of the Beast." – the Voice murmured. – "He is coming."

The corner of the figure's mouth slightly curled upwards. – "It is time. Everything is prepared."

"Is everything ready, my lord?"

"Proceed as planned."

----​

Low Earth orbit
Same time


"Sir, you'd better see this."

The man in an officer's uniform sealed the straw of his coffee can before heaving himself out of his chair, sailing across the null-gravity environment to finally come to a stop next to the uniformed equipment operator who called out to him. – "What is it?"

"Sensors just picked up an anomalous mass reading near Mars." – the operator replied, pointing at the sonar-like display in front of him. More accurately, at a red spot surrounded by dark blue. He pressed a button and a yellow UNKN caption appeared next to the spot.

"Do we have a visual?"

"No, sir. I don't understand it either: an object with that kind of mass reading should be big enough to be seen at our long-range resolution, yet we can't pick up anything."

"The AI can't see it either." – another operator interjected. – "Reading confirmed but no visual."

The officer raised his head and called out behind him. – "Do we have any civvies out that way?"

"ATC says no." – a third operator replied.

"Then it's probably just some kind of malfunction. Log it and switch to the backup." – the officer ordered before kicking off the wall and towards his chair.

"Yes, sir. Switching to backup now." – The sensor operator pressed a few switches on his console, looked back at the screen and froze. – "Sir... the backup is picking it up too."

Before the officer could reply, the third operator interjected. – "Captain, transmission from the Valencia. Text only. They're asking whether we picked up an anomalous gravimetric reading a moment ago." – His console beeped, drawing his attention back to it. – "Hold on, transmissions from another five ships. They're all asking the same thing." – His console beeped again. – "Sir, White Forest is asking all orbiting vessels for confirmation."

Dozens of millions of kilometers away, a dark shape drifted swiftly through the void, unblinking eye sockets on a bird-like skull staring outward just as silently as the void stared back into them.

----

The Hebrew-titled stack next to Rei's desk is the Talmud, an old Judaic religious text dating back to between the second and sixth century. Originally, Jewish religious traditions were purely oral until the Romans looted and destroyed Jerusalem's Second Temple in 70 AD, which prompted the Jews to record this knowledge in written manuscripts to ensure that it won't be lost. The book itself is composed of laws, traditions and interpretations of Biblical texts (from the Old Testament, that is) and is a central piece of Jewish law. An unedited omnibus of the Talmud would be several thousand pages long, hence why Rei has it in several volumes.

The basic layout of Rei's home is the same as in canon, except for one extra bedroom. The extra room is directly opposite of the bathroom, opening from the end of the kitchen (next to the threshold of Rei's room). Kaworu's apartment has the same layout as Misato's in canon; EvaGeeks has the exact floor plan, if it is necessary to get a mental image of how everything is laid out. In this layout, Kaworu uses the same room Shinji did.

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amitakartok
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Re: Strategic Cyborg Evangelion

Post by amitakartok » Sun Nov 05, 2017 6:55 pm

Tokyo-2, Outer District 6
September 28, 2041
1153 hours


When the strip of sunlight leaking through the crack in the curtains crept onto his face, Kaworu's eyes cracked open and immediately squinted. Turning over, he slowly pushed himself up into a sitting position, a bleary groan escaping his lips.

Then his eyes found the alarm clock.

"Aw, ZOINKS...!"

He practically threw himself out of bed, scrambling to get a new shirt before he suddenly paused. A few seconds later he sighed and collapsed back onto the bed, his earlier frenzy gone, as his brain caught up remembered a crucial detail that made getting to school moot.

It was Saturday.

With that said, he still pulled himself off the bed after a while. Kaworu was never a light sleeper and right now, he felt like he desperately needed something to help him fully wake up. It wasn't anything unusual for a teenager to have a cup of coffee in the morning... but Kaworu happened to use something much stronger than coffee.

He waddled out into the kitchen, immediately drawing a beeline for the fridge and pulling out a transparent plastic bottle from inside. The boy only took a single gulp before parting from the bottle and exhaling loudly, the home-made 120-proof spirits burning his throat as if it was acid. Ice-cold acid, that is.

Like all teens, the boys of Vienna in Kaworu's age group experimented with things the adults didn't want them to do – which included alcohol. Sometimes a couple of them sat together to share a bottle someone managed to procure from somewhere. It was during these sessions that Kaworu discovered something: for some reason, his alcohol tolerance far exceeded everyone else's. Nothing less than hard liquor could even begin to warm him up - and even then, he managed to drink everyone he ever met under the table without any effort whatsoever. Literally, in some cases; more than once Kaworu found himself sitting alone at said table, with everyone else lying haphazardly on the ground in near-comatose states of inebriation.

On one occasion, he even drank a glass of pure ethanol on a dare. Granted, he almost puked it right back up, but not only he didn't pass out, even the dizzyness went away after a few hours.

While he didn't have the funds to maintain a drinking habit (nor did he particularly felt the need to), Kaworu still kept a bottle at home to wake himself up with. He tried coffee, but caffeine just didn't give him a strong enough kick unless he drank eight cups at once... and even then, it barely lasted for an hour. He found it much more effective (and cheap) to buy a bottle of ethanol, pour it into a larger bottle and water it down 3:2. A single bottle tended to last around two weeks.

It was cheaper than proper alcoholic beverages... but tasted absolutely horrible. At least it wasn't denatured; Kaworu really didn't want to repeat the one time he tried that, even if he had a guarantee that it wouldn't mess up his eyesight for nearly a month this time around.

For now, he sealed the bottle and put it back into the fridge before immediately making a beeline for the tap and rinsing his mouth to get rid of the taste and smell. It wouldn't do for him to stink of alcohol in public, after all. Even with no school, Kaworu had plans that involved him going outside.

----​

Plans that were promptly derailed when he reached the hobby electronics store he saw a few days ago and found nobody there.

It wasn't that big of a problem; he could simply come back later. What bothered him is that not only was the store closed despite the opening hours table saying otherwise, so was every other store he had seen. The entire city was deathly quiet, no car noise from anywhere. Even the birds were completely silent.

And in the twenty minutes or so since Kaworu walked out onto the street, he hadn't ran into a single person. He was completely alone.

It was a typical late-September day: sunny with some clouds, but not hot. Yet, a suffocating and oppressive presence hung over the city, making the hairs on his arms and neck stand on their ends. He didn't know why, but he felt... unsettled. It was vaguely similar to how he felt when his vortigaunt teacher examined him, but the nature of the sensation was less alien and more that of... doom.

A deep noise came from somewhere; he couldn't tell from where or from how far away.

Then he saw it. A Gauntlet-class destroyer emerged from behind a cloud, its 325 meter hull gleaming from sunlight before an even brighter flash came from its front. The sound reached the teen almost ten seconds later, the earthshattering roar of the military spacecraft's 155mm spinal coilgun launching its hundred kilogram payload and accompanying plasma trail shaking the electronics store's window even from kilometers away. He couldn't see what it was shooting at... but it became irrelevant very quickly when a beam of light lanced upwards and speared through the ship end-to-end.

The way the smoking destroyer fell from the sky most definitely didn't seem like an exercise to him. Nor did the violent series of secondary explosions rippling across its lateral missile launch tubes, literally blowing the ship into flaming pieces.

With no one around, no one stopped him from taking a stairwell up to its building's roof. And the reason why no one was around became evident once he had a vantage point over the cityscape.

It was a massive humanoid, easily larger than most buildings in the city, descending on one of the forested hillsides hugging the city from everywhere but the south. Disproportionately wide shoulders framed a skull-like face of the same material as the rib-like protrusions on the sides of the main body, the rest of the entity covered in dark green, almost black, skin. While Kaworu was no biologist, he learned enough in school to know that what he was looking at was definitely not of this world. Or from Xen, for that matter. It was surprisingly, shockingly fast for its size.

A series of thundering booms came from the rest of the hills before the entity was suddenly blanketed by explosions, the massed artillery fire obscuring it almost completely. Tthe entity raised its arm almost casually before a beam of light shot out of its palm, the arm moving sideways in a sweeping motion for several moments before the beam cut out, a trail of fire left in its wake. Kaworu noticed the number of explosions on the entity decreasing significantly.

Then the low rumbling he's been hearing since the street became almost deafening, a shadow fell over him... then the entity was completely covered in clouds of shrapnel as the 96-meter Ezekiel-class barely a hundred meters above Kaworu unleashed a full barrage. A single fragmentation shell designed against aircraft wouldn't be much of a threat against a single target on the ground – but when 24 double-barreled turrets all simultaneously open fire at the same target at 300 rounds per minute per turret, the result is something else entirely. Unfortunately for Kaworu, whoever commanded the ship didn't seem to be satisfied with quantity over quality: the frigate slowed down to a complete halt directly over him, only hovering in one place... then the 90mm spinal coilgun let loose with an extremely loud blast. The aerial shockwave followed only a split second behind, blowing the teen off his feet and literally sending him flying backwards for several meters.

As the frigate slowly edged out of his field of vision, Kaworu just stared motionlessly upward in a daze. High-pitched ringing was the only sound he could hear, along with the sensation of something warm running down his earlobes. It took him almost a whole minute to get his brain into working order and sit up, wincing from the stabbing pain in his ringing ears as he reached up to his ear. His fingertips came away bloody.

Still dazed, he looked at the smoke cloud that blanketed the giant, the frigate still furiously emptying its weapons at it. A bright flash came from inside the smoke and a beam of light shot out, carving a massive gouge into the frigate's side with a glancing hit. The wounded vessel almost fell out of the sky until it managed to stabilize and pulled up before its belly kissed the rooftops, limping away with smoke trailing behind.

Even with such distractions, Kaworu's attention failed to miss the large, partially molten piece of armor that used to be attached to the frigate's side until just a few seconds ago, currently flying on a ballistic course in his general direction.

He tried to urge himself to get up and run, but his shellshocked body didn't feel like responding.

Then the piece of debris was jolted to the side by a powerful impact. Again. And again. It finally crashed into the roof to his left, cracking the concrete and kicking up a sizable dust cloud.

His daze clearing bit by bit, Kaworu's head slowly turned to the right to assess a new development: Rei standing on the edge of the roof, a very large scoped rifle in her hand and three spent shell casings at her feet.

Only when she yanked him up to his feet and dragged him back into the stairwell did his head start to clear out. He realized he had absolutely no idea how she even got onto the roof in the first place, considering that the stairwell door was in his field of vision the whole time and he didn't see her come up that way.

"It is not safe here. Get to a civil defense shelter." – Despite hearing practically nothing of his surroundings, Kaworu could hear Rei's voice plain as day once they got back to the street. The sidewalk on both sides of the street was covered in broken glass, the shockwave of the frigate's coilgun having blown out every single window nearby.

Shaking the last of his dizziness away, Kaworu found that his throat at least was still working. – "Uh... slight problem: I don't know where any of the shelters are."

She glared at him.

"I just moved here!" – he pointed out. – "How could I have known I'd need to go there someday?"

She kept glaring at him.

Kaworu sighed. – "You know what? I'll just go home. I mean, that's got to be safer than out here."

"No time."

"Time for wha-" – he started to ask before she grabbed him by the neck of his shirt and pulled him after her as she broke out into a sprint, glass cracking under her boots.

As they ran, the boy noticed that his companion was moving with a purpose, seemingly headed to a specific location instead of just blindly running. They weren't even backing away from the entity, which was already walking the city's streets; more like moving sideways.

She suddenly let go of him and reached into her pocket to pull out a cellphone; Kaworu's aching ears still couldn't hear it ring. – "It's me."

"Rei, are you in position?"

"Two minutes."

"You ran into a delay?"

She glanced back at him. – "It is nothing. Do we have a go?"

"Unit-00 is arriving to the surface as we speak."

That's when Kaworu spotted an orange speck beyond the rooftops; he couldn't see enough of it to tell what it was, only that it was large. Very large.

When she ran directly into another stairwell, he followed without a word. Taking the stairs two at a time, Rei ran all the way up to the top and shoulder-charged the roof access door without even slowing down; the door gave way with a loud crash and as Kaworu passed by it, he could've sworn that there was a slight indentation in the riveted iron plate.

This building seemed to be a floor or two higher than the one where he met her a few minutes ago – and with the additional height, the orange object he saw above the roofs was right in front of them.

Now having a close look at the object, Kaworu still couldn't tell what exactly it was. All he saw was orange-painted metal. But Rei still didn't slow down and actually reached behind her to grab him by the neck again, this time with a stronger grip. – "Run as fast as you can." – she called out to him. – "Do not hesitate or you will die."

He wanted to ask what she intended to do, but the rapidly approaching edge of the roof left him no time for questions.

"Jump!"

He jumped.

After what seemed like an eternity of sailing through the air, Kaworu felt something solid under his feet and almost fell over as inertia kept carrying him forward. Fortunately, the object was more than large enough to arrest his stumble before he fell down and broke his neck on the pavement below. Catching his breath, he looked back and realized he had no idea how they made the jump: there was a clearance of almost ten meters between the roof and the object, much more than the longest distance he'd ever jumped.

But as he peeked over the edge, he saw a massive, five-fingered hand at street level and it suddenly clicked: the object was a humanoid battleframe, roughly on the same scale as the entity but currently lowered to one knee. The curving wall he could see at roughly the same level as himself was actually the battleframe's slightly pointy head, with what he thought was a vertical pillar actually being the peak of the head lengthened diagonally backwards into a horn. A circular, cyclopean 'eye' crowned the face, with what looked like a closed mouthpiece beneath it.

With the battleframe in a crouching position, he also got a good look at the enormous hump on its back. It didn't seem like a part of the machine itself, more like something attached like a backpack: it had the general shape of a slightly elongated quarter-sphere with a flat top, the unpainted metallic gray of the hull bearing the distinctive yellow-black trefoil of a radiation warning symbol.

The still-quiet sound of pneumatic hissing reached his ears and he looked in Rei's direction just in time to see her type something into a formerly hidden keypad. Then a large plate between the battleframe's neck and nuclear backpack retracted towards the latter and a large metal cylinder emerged from inside, its top separating and sliding upwards to reveal a hollow interior. All he could see inside was a seat with a white package on it and a pair of control sticks in front of it.

Rei stepped inside and threw an empty plastic bag in his direction. – "Take this." – It was so sudden that Kaworu barely caught it.

"What do I do with this?" – he asked.

In response, Rei slipped out of her coat and threw it at him as well. – "Put these in."

The coat was quickly followed by her top, then her shirt, then her boots, then her jeans. Soon enough, she was standing completely naked; Kaworu absently realized that she didn't throw any underwear his way. With that done, Rei grabbed the white package and promptly ripped it apart, revealing it to be a disposable plastic bag containing clothing made out of a white, rubbery material she immediately started donning in plain sight.

While he was stashing her clothes into the waterproof bag, Kaworu noted to himself a change in Rei. She seemed to behave differently than yesterday. Ever since the roof, she seemed... twitchy, eyes darting around all the time, visibly sweating and even panting slightly. It wasn't from heat and, while she did live quite far from their current location, he suspected she wasn't tired either. More like stressed out by something – almost spooked.

He was broken out of his musings just in time to see her do something at her wrist that caused the material she wore to tighten, becoming a perfectly skintight full-body suit (well, not perfectly skintight; whoever designed it sensibly padded the chest). Without a word, she snatched the bag out of his hand and pushed the air out of it before sealing it.

Then she grabbed his wrist and pretty much shoved him towards the cylinder. – "Get in."

He stepped over the threshold and almost fell on his face when Rei gave him another shove from behind. – "In the seat. Now."

As he settled down, he saw her open a panel just behind the headrest and reach inside to pull out a pair of small, white objects she immediately clipped to her hair, slightly behind the top of her head. Looking at the control sticks in front of him, Kaworu started to wonder whether she wanted him to pilot the battleframe or something; there's no way he would be able to do that.

He got his answer a second later when the girl abruptly sat on his lap, her back firmly pushed against him. She reached behind him and pulled the seatbelts forward, tying both of them into the chair just as the hatch abruptly shut itself, plunging the two into darkness.

It lasted for almost no time before the walls around them erupted into a multicolored display, finally settling on black. Then a glowing holographic rectangle materialized in front of them, containing the image of a woman. Kaworu had never seen her before but it immediately struck him how similar she looked to Rei. Well, Rei with normal hair and eye colors.

The woman opened her mouth to say something before she paused and looked directly at Kaworu. – "Who is that behind you?"

"Classmate of mine."

"Rei, you are not authorized to bring a civilian into the entry plug!"

"He would've been in the way." – Rei replied simply. – "Lilith, engage Mode 3."

"Understood." – an electronic voice replied from every direction at once.

The walls of the cylinder suddenly started spewing something liquid, rapidly rising from the bottom – which Kaworu found quite alarming. – "Uh... Ikari?"

"What?"

"Something is coming in."

"I know."

"It is oxygenated breathing fluid." – the electronic voice said. – "Do not be alarmed."

Kaworu had nothing to say to that. When the fluid reached mouth height, he saw Rei submerge her face and immediately breathe out, the air bubbling up around her head. The fact that she immediately breathed back in while still "underwater" lent further credence to what he heard, even if he still didn't like it. But he didn't have a choice: in a few seconds, his head was completely submerged and he was left with two pptions. Breathe the liquid or suffocate. Actually, there was only one option; people can't consciously hold their breath until they pass out and Kaworu wasn't any different in that regard.

At least he didn't puke from the taste. The seatbelt tying him and Rei together was extremely tight, uncomfortably pressing her body firmly into his. It wasn't tight enough to restrict his breathing, but if he found himself having to throw up, he wouldn't be able to do it anywhere but onto her shoulder... and that would be extremely embarrassing. Judging from yesterday's first impression, she already seemed to not like him; throwing up onto her most definitely wouldn't improve things in that regard.

His constitution was further tested by a sudden wave of wrongness washing over him. His entire body broke out into goosebumps with a shiver – but what made him feel sick was the rapidly shifting kaleidoscope of sensations. One moment, he felt like himself, sandwiched between Rei and the chair; the next, he felt like the battleframe, multi-ton armor plates pressing down on his skin as he knelt on the cracked pavement; the next, he felt like Rei, strapped by seatbelts to another body behind him.

For a single instant, he could've sworn that the walls of the cockpit vanished from his sight, leaving only him and Rei floating in a void, the pale skin of their bare bodies shining like the purest light from the blackest darkness.

"Lilith, what's going on?" – Kaworu heard the woman's voice, yanking him back to reality. He more felt than heard a groan of discomfort from Rei as well.

"I am detecting significant signal noise. Correction: I am detecting a non-echoing dual input signal."

"A dual signal? Where is it coming from?"

"I don't know. I am attempting to filter and compensate; however, I estimate a 36% reduction in sync ratio."

The feeling lessened, although Kaworu could still swear he could feel Rei's breathing. And not via physical contact.

"That's too much. We have to abort-"

"I can do it." – Rei interjected, her voice slightly weaker than usual. – "Restricting communication to critical-only from this point." – A moment later, the woman's image blinked out.

"Are you alright?" – Lilith asked, concern evident in her tone.

"I can keep going. Main display on."

Kaworu had absolutely no idea what was going on. However, he figured that now wasn't a good time to be obnoxious by demanding an explanation.

Instead, he only asked one question. – "Do you want me to do anything?"

"Only one." – Rei replied curtly. – "Do not get in the way. Lilith, full system and subsystem check."

"Everything is fully operational. Reactor core temperature is at 3000°C, output stable. Evangelion Unit-00, ready for combat."

Kaworu felt his balance shift at the same time as the external view on the cockpit's walls leveled out and rose, signifying the battleframe he currently rode inside the neck of raising its head and standing up, respectively. – "Target information."

"The target made atmospheric reentry over China four hours ago and immediately headed in this direction. All attempts by the military to intercept were unsuccessful. Neither battleframes, nor ship-mounted weaponry inflicted visible damage; based on gun camera footage, the target seems to be protected by a defensive energy field of some kind."

"Nuclear weapons?"

"Multiple tactical warheads were used; no effect. No strategic warheads deployed and our current position makes further attempts unlikely."

"It's got an energy weapon too, I think." – Kaworu spoke up. – "A laser beam or something. I saw it blow a ship out of the sky."

Rei silently nodded at that before turning her attention back to the front. With a slight jolt, the Eva started to move forward at a surprisingly rapid pace, passing by two city blocks before turning a corner to reveal the alien entity standing on the street ahead.

As its armored nemesis approached, the entity turned around and Kaworu could've sworn he saw it take a step backwards. The pressure he felt for a long while was much stronger now, as if someone was physically squeezing his head.

He heard Rei audibly swallow.

"Who are you?"

The voice didn't come from Rei, the woman he had seen earlier, or the electronic voice the other two called Lilith. It just... was, as if someone was talking to him from inside his own head.

'That thing can talk?!'

Rei didn't seem to hear, nor care, accelerating into a sprinting charge. Apparently taking that as the answer, the entity raised its hand towards its attacker. A glowing spike shot out of the palm, intent on intercepting said attacker via impaling its head.

What happened instead is that Unit-00's head tilted to the side with lightning-fast reflexes, turning the impalement into a glancing blow that carved a deep gouge into the side of its helmet. Not pausing its charge, the orange titan's left hand grabbed its prey's extended wrist and yanked it forward before letting loose a kick with its right leg, hitting where the kidney would be on a human.

But Sachiel wasn't human. An armored boot being planted in its side wasn't quite as painful as it would've been otherwise. Its left hand balled into a fist and swung towards the Eva's head in retaliation. However, Rei wasn't an amateur hand-to-hand fighter either, leaning out of the way of the blow before yanking on the wrist she was still holding. Except instead of just using it to control her opponent's distance, she grabbed the forearm with both hands and brutally twisted in opposite directions, snapping the limb like a twig.

Sachiel roared in pain but had no time to retaliate before the Eva kicked him in the chest and out of arm's reach. A pair of small holes snapped open on the Eva's upper chest and the pair of triple-barreled rotary autocannons opened fire, spitting dozens of 30mm shells at the Angel. Only a few met their mark before an octagonal energy field sprung up in front of the Angel, deflecting the bullets in every direction.

Then the Angel's eyesockets flashed and Kaworu felt like he got hit in the chest by a sledgehammer. He only saw the sky for several seconds before the sensation of weightlessness was replaced by a powerful jolt that painfully bashed his forehead against the back of Rei's head. He half-expected the girl to snap at him, but she didn't say a single word.

"Is that the best you have?" – he heard the entity again. It was approaching them slowly, caution evident in its pace.

And cautious it was. When Sachiel came to this world to investigate the strange presence he felt, he did not expect to find a planet populated by Lilim. That in itself wasn't a problem; Lilim grew like weeds and he had his fair share of encounters with their kind before. All Angels had. But to feel a Lilim presence from so far away... that was certainly unusual. None of the planet's native lifeforms felt like that for him. Even from up close, they were but flickering candles before a titanic forest fire at night when compared to him. Scattered among them were entities he never felt before, but the presence didn't emanate from them. No, it was most definitely a Lilim, albeit faint and warped in a way he had never felt before.

What gave him pause was the... thing before him. It felt like a Lilim; he could feel the light of its soul as soon as it appeared. But that's where the similarities ended. He felt both normal and warped Lilim presence at the same time, along with Angelic presence as well. It was as if multiple entities resided within the body, which he didn't think was possible. Even the warped Lilim presence wasn't the same as the one that drew him here: it was warped, yes, but not as much. And never before did he see a Lilim on the scale of an Angel. Without the Fruit of Life, Lilim were unable to grow to such size and survive. It was simply impossible, no ifs and buts.

Now he remembered having heard something about anomalous energy emanations coming from this area not very long ago. There was debate over whether to investigate it; in the end, Sammael decided not to bother. And what Sammael wanted, Sammael got. It was a simple rule to remember, one that gathered the Archangel quite a lot of followers since the recent change of the guard. Yes, times were changing. Traditions that lasted for more time most Angels had been alive were being cast aside, new bonds of power forming between Angels who had been individualistic and indifferent towards each other.

Sometimes Sachiel found himself envious of the family bonds some Angels shared; Shamshel in particular. Maybe if he would've been in her place, he wouldn't be stuck in the position he was in: doing errands for Angels who couldn't be bothered to do so for themselves. But he was weak, weaker than even those soulless Ramiel constructs. If he wanted to avoid being kicked around, he had to do as others said. And what others said frequently involved him enforcing their will on those even weaker than him. He didn't like being kicked around, but he couldn't do anything about it.

At least his usual victims were ones who couldn't fight back against him. It gave him a sense of guilty pleasure to lord over them; he could feel like he was in control, even if it lasted for but a moment. His fellow Angels sometimes accused him of looking down on others only to avoid being looked down upon himself... but Sachiel knew he was looked down upon regardless, so what could be the harm in counting himself among both groups?

"Weakling. No armor will grant you the power to face me."

"Yeah?" – Kaworu retorted. – "How's that arm of yours?"

The entity raised its broken arm, examining the damage. Before Kaworu's eyes, the snapped limb reset itself, flesh knitting back together to remove all traces of the injury. – "Like new."

'Uh oh.'

"Know the name of your better. I am Sachiel. I am your death."

"You're not doing a very good job at that. We're not dead yet."

Rei glanced at him questioningly, but Kaworu only made upward gestures with his hand in response, silently urging her to get the Eva up and standing while he kept stalling.

She seemed to have gotten the message.

"Soon, you will be. Just like all the others who dared to stand against me."

"What did they do to you to deserve death?"

"What does it matter? One insect is as good as another."

"And just what makes you any different?"

"Don't lecture me, armored coward. I had the power to take their lives, just as I have the power to take yours. That is all that matters."

Kaworu's eyes narrowed at that. It was the same, the exact same, reasoning he heard from many bullies throughout his life. To hear this thing, this who-knows-what talk about taking lives for no reason other than because it could... it made his blood boil.

This was it. This was the very end of his patience. Very rarely throughout his life did he ever feel fury of the kind he did right now. He still didn't know what was going on, but he didn't care anymore. All he cared about right now is ensuring that the target of his wrath suffered a painful death. To dismember it limb by limb, rip off its face and stake the corpse to a mountainside.

But as he opened his mouth to tell the entity just what he thought of it and its excuses, Rei interrupted him. – "Stop talking."

Then she charged.

Sachiel's arms immediately snapped up at the same time as its face flashed, all three weapons firing at once. Without slowing down, the Eva deftly jumped to the side mid-stride, causing the beams to fly past it and drill through several higher buildings unfortunate enough to be in the way. The Angel couldn't get off another shot before Unit-00 was already too close and launching a backhand blow.

But Sachiel still had another trick up its sleeve. It jumped backwards at the same time as a vertical ring of light momentarily flashed into existence behind its upper body, launching the Angel into the air and away from its attacker.

Rei wasn't done, however. Driving its feet into the ground with its own momentum, Unit-00 crouched so deeply that it almost sat down... then launched itself into the air with a grasshopper-like leap, lashing out with its hands to catch the airborne Angel by its ankles. Sachiel had no way to respond before the Eva yanked hard on the ankles, using them as a pivot to twist itself into a forward somersault and drive its heels into the Angel from above, letting go of the ankles at the last moment to quite literally stomp Sachiel right back to the ground. Both combatants were still airborne when Unit-00 fired its chest autocannons again, punching a series of bloody craters into its quarry before the octagonal barrier flickered into existence again.

Unit-00 landed just a second after Sachiel did, the Eva coming down into a perfect three-point landing while the Angel crashed uncontrollably into a building, kicking up a massive dust cloud. – "You will not evade me." – Rei growled.

A split second later, a flash came from inside the cloud and the Eva sidestepped in an almost casual manner, causing the energy beam to miss it by mere centimeters. Its cyclopean head snapping in the direction the attack came from, the Eva's shoulder racks snapped open and it pulled out a pair of serrated combat knives, the blades coming to life with an ultrasonic shriek.

Sachiel dashed out of the cloud with a roar, blood oozing from the already-healing bullet holes on its body. Both arms lashed out and fired a sustained beam, decapitating several buildings as the furious Angel did a crossing sweep.

Neither of the beams hit their target, however. With inhuman agility and reflexes, the Eva leaned so far backwards that its hump flattened a lamppost, the Angel's attack sweeping above harmlessly. Then Unit-00 twisted its entire body into a mid-air barrel roll and launched itself back onto its feet.

Sachiel was onto her almost immediately, but Rei wasn't caught unprepared. As the Angel reached for the Eva's face, Unit-00 literally slapped the three-fingered hand away before nimbly spinning around and stabbing one of its knives directly into the exposed elbow. Sachiel howled but couldn't do anything as the Eva continued its spin and swept the Angel's legs out from under it, finishing up with an upwards slice along the Angel's leg that sprayed the Eva's armor with blood.

'How do you like being on the other end of the equation, fucker?' Kaworu thought with a feeling of vindication.

It apparently didn't. The ring of light flashed beneath the Angel again and it was catapulted off the ground, bodychecking Unit-00 with its entire mass. The pavement tore apart underneath the Eva's armored boots as it was pushed back, but it didn't fall. And when Sachiel extended glowing spikes from both of its arms and tried to go for a deadly bear hug with them, the Eva simply kicked its opponent away, flipped both of its knives into a reverse grip and lashed out, simultaneously slicing both of the Angel's arms in half along their entire length.

Through the haze of pain, Sachiel realized his mistake but couldn't back away fast enough before Unit-00 flipped its knives back into normal grips and drove both blades into the Angel's eyesockets. Then it shifted to a reverse grip again and ripped both knives out to the sides with a sickening wet crack and twin sprays of blood.

Sachiel was scared. Very, very scared. But that feeling lasted for barely a split second before Unit-00's chest autocannons opened fire at practically point-blank range, the high-caliber bullets slamming into his core and shattering it. Then he felt nothing anymore, his body limply falling to the ground with a crash that knocked down another cloud of dust before going still.

Unit-00 stood motionlessly over its kill for several minutes, Rei's eyes waiting for even the slightest twitch that could suggest another attack. – "Lilith?" – she asked after a while.

"I've reconfigured my magnetometer during the battle. No electromagnetic field evident of neural activity can be detected anymore."

"Could it be shielding its activity somehow?"

"If it was capable of doing so, it would have done so right from the start. You appear to have killed it."

"It might be feigning." – Rei replied.

"I do not think so. Observe its injuries: regenerative activity has ceased as well."

Rei kept watching the corpse for several more seconds before she spoke. – "Open a channel to Dogma."

The rectangle with the woman's image appeared again, this time with considerably more worry visible on her features. – "Rei, what's your status?"

"Target has gone silent."

A pause. – "Is it dead?"

"I think so, hakase-dono." – Lilith replied. – "The crystalline formation on the entity's chest appears to have been a vital organ; its destruction caused the entity to collapse and cease all activity."

The woman let out a deep sigh. – "Good work. Are you mobile?"

"Minor joint pain. No externally visible damage detected."

"Alright then. Return to the elevator and come down."

"Understood." – Rei replied.

"And Rei?"

"What is it?"

The woman's eyes looked directly at Kaworu. – "Bring him in with you."

Rei's eyebrow edged upwards at that. – "I was under the impression that he does not have authorization."

"And thanks to you, now he knows too much. We can't let him go just like that."

"Don't I get a say in this?" – Kaworu spoke up.

Rei turned around on his lap and both women glared at him.

"...never mind."

----

A critical mistake I've made while writing the original version of this story was not consulting a calendar. September 28 will indeed fall on a Saturday in 2041, a fact I only noticed after I wrote this chapter back in 2012. Afterwards, I decided to just ignore it and keep writing with a one-day shift from the real-world calendar (as this story doesn't take place in the real world, hence specific dates don't necessarily fall onto the same day) but now that I had the chance to correct it, I did.

Regarding Kaworu's eyesight issues with denatured alcohol: denatured alcohol commonly contains methanol, which gets metabolized by the liver into formaldehyde, then the formaldehyde is metabolized into formic acid. Formic acid is so destructive to the optic nerve that even 10 mL of pure methanol is enough to cause permanent blindness. It CAN be counteracted with ethanol (that is, alcohol) because ethanol binds to the same enzymes as methanol does and prevents the latter from being metabolized before it's flushed out of the body, but it is still very much inadvisable to consume methanol in any quantities. Kaworu can get away with it because he's a special case, but don't try this after him because YOUR optic nerve most definitely won't regenerate.

The 155mm caliber used by the coilguns of the Confederacy's Gauntlet-class destroyers is roughly the same caliber as the current NATO standard for solid-shell artillery weapons. The Gauntlet-class guided missile destroyer is the Confederate fleet's mainstay powerhouse, designed for long-range combat. While it does have the coilgun and a quartet of conventional gun turrets, its primary weapons are long-range anti-ship cruise missiles fired from broadside horizontal launch tubes, fundamentally similar to the Vertical Launch System used on current naval vessels. These launch tubes are covered by retractable armored shutters in order to avoid an unlucky hit potentially setting off destructive secondary explosions (as demonstrated by Sachiel in this chapter); these shutters are retracted when the destroyer is in firing position. Because of its vulnerability to being flanked and broadsided causing ammunition explosions, the Gauntlet-class is not a frontline combatant but instead launches its missiles from maximum range. The destroyer's coilgun is also capable of orbital bombardment by loading special shells designed to survive atmospheric reentry heat.

The Ezekiel-class frigate is the smallest carrier-independent combat vessel used in the Confederate fleet. Aside from its 90mm light coilgun, it has no weaponry for engaging targets as large as itself – but that's not its role anyway. Instead, the Ezekiel-class is designed purely for close-in defense of larger ships, being outfitted with a large array of autocannons firing proximity-fused fragmentation shells suitable for destroying small, high-speed targets by launching so much shrapnel in their general direction that the target can't possibly evade all of them. Aside from anti-air duties, Ezekiels are also commonly used as pickets.

In the Talmud, Sammael is the archangel of death, ruling over the fifth heaven but residing in the seventh. He is a member of the heavenly host – that is, the army of angels commanded by archangel Michael –, but the number of angels he rules over is unclear. Sammael nominally serves God but tempts men into evil and is often tasked with destructive duties. He is described to have a height equivalent to a distance that takes five hundred years to walk, and is covered from head to toes (implying that he's humanoid) in glaring eyes; his mere sight scares the ZOINKS out of Moses during his ascension to heaven. Some Kabbalistic texts however identify Sammael as the serpent who tempted Eve into sin, impregnated her with Cain, then became the spouse of Adam's first wife Lilith and sired several demons (that is, Lilim) with her before God, fearing that their demonic offspring would overrun the earth, castrated Sammael and cast him down to hell. This, however, might be a mistake by demonologists who confused him with Azazel. Sammael is not officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church due to their refusal to venerate angels not in the Bible.

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Re: Strategic Cyborg Evangelion

Post by amitakartok » Sun Nov 05, 2017 7:15 pm

Unknown location
September 28, 2041
1322 hours


'What did I get myself into...?'

Kaworu Nagisa was at a complete loss.

When he woke up barely an hour and a half ago, he expected a normal day in a normal weekend. And his definition of 'normal', no matter how cool he knew Kensuke would've found such a thing, most definitely did not include being almost struck deaf, flattened, caught up in a battle between a building-sized monster and a giant robot... ending with said giant robot descending into the ground on a gigantic cargo elevator he couldn't see when he boarded said giant robot in the first place.

Now all he saw outside was darkness, the Eva plunging downwards at such an acceleration that he could barely even feel gravity. Almost immediately after they started descending, Rei undid the seatbelts tying them together and got off his lap, settling down onto the cockpit seat's raised section between his legs. That was where she sat even now, legs pulled up and chin resting on her knees, eyes closed in an almost meditative manner.

"You seem satisfied." – he suddenly heard Lilith remark, causing his head to perk up. – "Yes, I'm talking to you, young man."

"Uh, no. No, I'm just..." – He paused. – "Well, I guess I kinda am. At least that thing got what was coming for him."

"What do you mean?" – Rei asked, one eye cracking open.

"He was like a bully on a playground: hurting weaker people just because he could." – the boy mused. – "He wasn't human, sure; I have no idea what that thing was. But I've seen a lot of people like that, and he wasn't any different. Except in this case, he didn't settle with just hurting people. He killed people. How many did it kill? Not just the soldiers who tried to stop him; I don't know where he came from, but who's to say he didn't walk through a couple of towns on the way here? How many more it could've killed if you hadn't done it in first? I don't know. You probably don't know either. And I guess we'll never know now, because his luck ran out when he ran into someone of his own size." – He chuckled and reached up to pat the top of the cockpit. – "Bet he wasn't expecting this."

"I see." – was all she said before closing her eye once more.

The silence was almost deafening. His ears still weren't 100%; Kaworu guessed he could only hear because of the liquid he was submerged in carrying sound better, or something. At least they weren't bleeding anymore; whatever mechanism filled the cockpit with liquid also seemed to have filtered out the blood that leaked out of his ears in the meantime, so his head wasn't surrounded by a faint red cloud like before.

"You know... I never would've taken you as the pilot of a giant robot."

"Not robot. Cyborg."

"...right."

He had no idea what she meant by that. Then again, he had no idea about a lot of things that happened today.

One of which has been particularly bugging him for a while now. – "Something doesn't add up, though."

"What?"

"How did you find me on the roof?" – Kaworu asked. – "I mean, I was going to a store when I saw that destroyer being blown out of the sky and went up to the roof. But the place where we picked this thing up, and your place... that street wasn't between them. What were you doing there? Hell, how did you even know I was up there?"

"None of your business." – she replied immediately, her voice carrying an audible edge.

After yesterday, Kaworu knew better not to press an issue Rei Ikari did not want to talk about. – "...fine. Where are we going, anyway?"

"We are almost there." – Lilith replied.

"Where?" – As soon as the word left his lips, he felt their descent start to slow, gravity returning with vengeance. Rei got up and sat back into his lap. – "Do you want me to get out of the chair?" – he asked over her shoulder.

"Please do not stand up in the entry plug while the Evangelion is in motion. It is unsafe, due to dangerously high g-forces."

"Okay, okay. No getting up then, I guess."

They kept descending for several more minutes before the elevator finally stopped. – "Main screen on." – Rei ordered.

The cockpit's walls around them suddenly lighted up, causing Kaworu to realize that they switched off sometime during the elevator ride. What he saw outside, however, was the absolute last thing he expected.

"What in the..."

A green landscape spread around them, hills and forests everywhere he could see. He even saw a lake.

"Aren't we underground?" – he asked, flabbergasted.

"We are." – Rei replied curtly, Unit-00 starting to walk.

Puzzled, Kaworu looked up... and spotted the roof above them. Very, very high above them.

"How deep are we?!"

"We are approximately nine kilometers below sea level."

It was like he entered an entirely different world. Instead of a blue sky, he saw gray rock (at least he thought it was rock – or maybe concrete). But there were clouds, that was no mistake. Genuine, honest-to-god white clouds above them, coupled with a circular formation of blindingly bright light sources near the top that illuminated the whole cavern. If he didn't look up, he never would've thought that he wasn't standing under the sun.

And those clouds were very much real, considering that they cast real shadows onto the landscape. The landscape, which also seemed to be something he'd normally see outside: forested hill just like the ones outside the city, broken up by grassy fields.

It was completely surreal... and yet, it suddenly made sense. – "...so this is why Kensuke couldn't find this place..." – he murmured.

"Beg your pardon?" – Lilith asked.

"One of our classmates – Ikari's and mine – said there was a research institute or something in the city but he couldn't find it. Said every building owned by the company was too small for the number of people who work there." – He paused. – "I guess that means you work for them?"

"I'm afraid we cannot answer that question at this time."

----​

Twenty minutes later, Kaworu wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer anymore.

Unit-00 walked to an obviously man-made structure in the shape of a pyramid, bearing the large logo of a DNA strand shaped like an infinity symbol. Kaworu only needed to look at the inscription ARTIFICIAL EVOLUTION LABORATORY below and around the logo to have his answer.

From there, they descended through a diagonal shaft and eventually reached a large hangar, the Eva standing into a frame that snapped onto its limbs. He saw a walkway descending in front of them just before the walls darkened and he felt a powerful jolt. Then the cockpit's top opened and Kaworu suddenly found himself back in air.

Rei seemed to be used to spitting the breathing fluid back out... but he wasn't. By the time he finished coughing all of it up, Kaworu honestly felt like being on the verge of spitting out his lungs.

That was before he looked up and saw the armed security guards surrounded him.

As he was led down a maze of corridors, surrounded on all sides by guards watching his every move, he had a feeling it wouldn't be wise to prod them about where they were taking him.

Finally he found himself shoved into a chair. Only now did Kaworu take a full stock of his current situation: he was who-the-hell-knows where, surrounded by who-the-he-knows whom, wanting to do who-the-hell-knows what with him.

This was definitely not what he woke up for that day.

The room looked uncomfortably close to interrogation rooms he saw in some movies, which didn't particularly serve to calm him down. At least his escorts weren't hovering around him anymore, all but two of them having retreated outside.

Which left him with the labcoated woman he saw earlier, sitting across the table in front of him. Rei stood to her right, one arm reaching behind her back to grasp the other. Even as he watched, a drop of breathing fluid detached from her wet hair, landing on the girl's chest. On the labcoated woman's left side stood a younger-looking woman in a brown uniform, currently typing on a tablet.

Eyes locking onto him, Labcoat said something Kaworu didn't quite hear.

"Um, could you speak a bit louder? I can't hear well; my ear hurts."

"He has eardrum injury." – Rei spoke up. Again, her voice was much clearer than the others' for some reason.

Labcoat immediately turned towards her at that. – "And you were waiting to tell me when?" – she asked in a none-too-pleased tone.

"It did not appear to impair him so far."

Labcoat sighed. – "Maya, let the infirmary know."

"Yes, ma'am." – the uniformed one answered.

With that, Labcoat turned back to him. – "As I was saying, I am dr. Yui Ikari, chairwoman of the Artificial Evolution Laboratory. I apologize for the manner of your arrival but I didn't want to take any chances."

"I get the feeling you're not happy about me being here." – Kaworu replied, the woman striking him as someone who wasn't interested in small talk.

"It's nothing personal. But you are here for a reason." – She shifted in the chair, folding her arms in front of her. – "The question is... what do I do with you?"

"Me?"

"I hope you didn't think this was a game or something like that. You have seen and heard things you were not supposed to. Classified company secrets. Secrets we cannot let you tell anyone."

There was nothing in that statement he didn't expect. – "So... you think I would tell someone?"

"Wrong question. Why wouldn't you? How would I know that you wouldn't? What's the guarantee?"

Kaworu opened his mouth to reply... and closed it after a few moments, realizing that she honestly had a point there.

She seemed to have noticed his hesitation as well. – "Do you see the position you've put me into now? You represent a security breach."

"Who would even believe me?" – he pointed out.

"Word of mouth can travel a long way." – she replied. – "It might even reach the exact people I want to keep this a secret from. I can't take that chance."

"I get it, but what do you want me to do? I can't brainwash myself, you know."

"Some say the best solution to a problem is the simplest one. In this case, the simplest solution is ensuring that you will not be talking about anything to anyone." – Her eyes narrowed ever so slightly. – "Ever again."

Kaworu could've sworn the room felt a shade colder. – "...I'd rather you wouldn't pick that option."

"Corporate politics can be cutthroat. But I don't make a habit out of ordering the deaths of children. Not even children like you."

"What do you mean?"

"I looked you up in the public records. Kaworu Nagisa, fourteen years old. Born in 2027, exact date of birth unknown, parents unknown. No known relatives, legal guardians or other associates." – she recited from memory. – "In short, you are nobody. You haven't been in this city for even a week, and no one in Vienna expects to see you again either. If you were to disappear, no one will ever know. However, I would rather refrain from making you disappear unless there is no other option. I merely want you to be aware of the worst-case scenario."

"I'm aware of it now." – Kaworu said, swallowing to wet his dry throat. He absently noticed from the corner of his eye the uniformed woman to Yui's left suddenly halting her typing, visibly surprised at something on the tablet's screen.

"Good. However, we are not in kindergarten anymore. A simple assurance that you will stay silent is not enough."

"Do you want me to sign something that says I won't tell a soul?"

A faint smirk appeared in the corner of her mouth. – "You catch on quick. That is another option, yes. However, your trustworthiness is still at question."

"Hakase-dono, if I may..." – Lilith interjected suddenly, her voice emerging from the tablet in the uniformed woman's hand.

"Yes?" – Yui prompted, looking up at the ceiling.

"I have a proposition, although I need to confirm a theory first."

"About what? Now isn't the time for this."

"As soon as my preliminary damage assessment is complete, may I have Nagisa-kun in my entry plug?"

Kaworu saw Yui's eyebrow raise at that. – "What for?"

"Just a brief experiment."

----​

Yui Ikari learned long ago that Lilith never asked something for no reason.

When she saw the boy in Unit-00's entry plug, Yui already felt the beginnings of a headache. She did not want to deal with this kind of situation and made a mental note to question Rei's decision of bringing him inside. Giving the girl considerable leeway and freedom as she grew up (which wasn't exactly by choice on Yui's part) was one thing, letting her compromise operational security was another. But now Lilith was specifically asking for him. That, to put it mildly, was unusual. And Yui was a scientist to the core: to her, the unusual kept festering in her head until she went to the bottom of it, either to investigate or to disprove. Especially if it had something to do with her flagship project, the one she poured a considerable part of her life into.

Another thing that unsettled her was the persistent itch of familiarity in the back of her mind when she looked at him. It's as if she had already met him before, even though she couldn't quite recall it.

"Do you want me to do something?" – Kaworu asked on the screen in front of her, looking around uncertainly. The entry plug was already loaded with him inside, Yui watching from the observation room to ensure he didn't try anything. Not that she absolutely had to, as the guards kept watching him from the catwalk until he boarded Unit-00. He wouldn't be able to try and hijack the Evangelion either, as Lilith would instantly lock everything down if he were to try.

"Yes. Sit still and don't touch anything."

It was blunt and probably offensive, she knew. But she didn't do what Lilith asked out of charity; she wanted to get this over with and send everyone back to work.

Besides, being a bit hard on him might make him slip up and reveal affiliations to someone. One could never know, after all.

"Synchronization stable." – Lilith reported. – "That is... surprising, but expected."

Not to Yui, it wasn't. Not with an AI feeling the need to point it out. – "What do you mean?"

"I am still using Rei's synchro-profile."

That got the scientist's attention. – "You mean to tell me that he can synchronize with you without you being reconfigured for him?"

"It seems his neural pattern is almost identical to Rei's, below noise filter limits. I don't know how that is possible."

"That... is interesting." – Yui murmured, gears in her head starting to turn in contemplation.

"It also confirms my theory that he was the source of the anomalous signal noise earlier." – Lilith continued. – "The neural interface picked up his pattern and confused it with Rei's. As he was not wearing neural clips, his signal was not strong enough to affect the command interpreter, but sensory information might have been transmitted."

That provided the woman with a few additional pieces of the puzzle. Not enough by any means, but it was something. – "I see. Thank you."

"With this evidence, I wish to propose a solution that will allow us to plug in the potential security leak he represents, maximize his potential usefulness to us, as well as provide him with an incentive to cooperate, all at once."

"Which is?"

"Hire him."

Both of Yui's eyebrows instantly shot up at that. – "You mean as a test pilot?"

"He has the aptitude and the equipment requires minimal recalibration for him. The rest can be taught in the meantime."

"But Unit-02 is not ready yet. Did you mean we train him in the meantime?"

"No. I propose we reactivate Unit-01."

Yui spent a long time digesting that, index finger drumming on the terminal next to her while her mind worked behind closed eyes. As much as it sounded borderline ridiculous to all but reward the boy for being somewhere he shouldn't have been, Lilith's reasoning was sound: he was more likely to keep his mouth shut if he got something out of it himself. It was simple human nature she always took into account during her dealings in the past.

Of course, those deals never involved someone with no training, experience or even academic expertise getting hired straight into such a high position straight away. Normally she wouldn't have even considered it... but to refuse it would've been nepotism, considering that Rei didn't have those qualifications when she started, yet she still got the position and did very well at it.

Almost too well. Even Yui, the one who created it, had no idea that Unit-00 was capable of such agility. Then again, it never operated outdoors before.

"Nagisa, did you hear?" – Yui asked finally.

"Yeah- I mean, yes." – he replied, caught off-guard by the sudden question.

"Do you find that acceptable?"

"Exactly what?"

"In exchange for your silence, we offer you to work for us. Part-time employment with full-time benefits, including salary."

"Salary?"

Yui stated a six-digit number that caused Kaworu's eyebrows to rise. – "Per month." – she added, causing his eyes to nearly pop out of their sockets. – "It's the same amount Rei makes, plus hazard pay, if applicable. If any government official asks questions about the large sum of credits flowing your way, let me know and I'll have my lawyers sort it out. The amount is non-negotiable, take it or leave it."

"Uh, no! I mean, I don't have a problem with the amount!"

"Do you accept, then?"

He shrugged. – "Guess it's better than you giving me the 'offer you can't refuse' shtick."

"Good. We'll get started immediately. First, report to the infirmary for a full medical examination."

"Can I at least get a change of clothes from home?" – he asked, glancing at his surroundings. – "I mean, I kinda stink from sitting in this stuff."

"We have laundry facilities. You will be given clothing at the infirmary in the meantime."

"Oh. Okay. So, um... how long are those tests going to take?"

"Overnight."

"Do you want me to perform his profiling now, then?" – Lilith asked, cutting off her newest colleague's incredulous question.

Yui nodded. – "No sense in wasting time. We'll get on it after his checkup."

----​

Three hours later

Yui leaned back into her chair with a sigh. The massive room barely had any illumination save for the set of windows taking up the wall behind her and the faintly glowing lines carved into the floor and ceiling. Aside from her desk, no furniture was present. Originally, the room was to be used for storage but after the restructuring that took place in 2031 – including one she was involved in personally –, she took it as her personal office. The control center's upper deck was too noisy to do paperwork, what with the dozens of technicians working on the lower levels.

Her position also came with the nice bonus of her being able to put some personal touch into her workspace without anyone second-guessing. Namely, the aforementioned glowing diagrams carved into the floor and ceiling.

While the room was located in an underground laboratory complex, Yui didn't think for a moment it should look like a doom-and-gloom past-century nuclear shelter, as most terrestrial and off-world military installations did. Impressions are everything, and Yui was among the people who believed the future should look futuristic.

Not that many of her subordinates ever saw it. Only a few had reasons to ever come here that didn't include them having screwed up. The crane crew who almost killed themselves a few days ago found that out the hard way. Yui didn't yell at them; she had no need. She could plainly tell how badly spooked all of them were; not just from having been called up to her office, but also because they knew very well how close they came to being turned to a bloody smear on the hangar's walls by reactive armor misfire. Fortunately though, none of them died; any coroner worth their salary would've been able to identify shrapnel wounds and notify the police, with an investigation potentially threatening with another security breach.

"Maya, is the status report complete?"

The technician standing before her desk looked at her tablet. – "Unit-00 is back in Hangar 2. Damage assessment is complete: moderate damage to the helmet and chest armor, but no penetration. Minor joint abrasion, but nothing serious enough to need extra attention."

"So it won't need a full crew?"

"No, ma'am."

"Good. I want Hangar 3 to initiate thaw procedures."

The technician looked up at that. – "We are thawing Unit-01?" – she asked with surprise.

"Yes. How soon can we get it operational?"

"Tomorrow at the earliest, if we go as fast as we safely can."

"Then let them begin immediately and continue to work overnight. I'll give double pay for the overtime, but I want it online and operational by morning."

"I'll let them know, ma'am. But..." – She trailed off uncertainly.

"Yes?" – Yui prompted. She knew better than to dismiss a subordinate who had something to add. Not just because it might give her something useful, but also because it improved worker morale and thus, productivity.

"I think you already noticed but I felt I should bring it to your attention anyway. Repairs to Unit-00, the reactivation of Unit-01 and the ongoing work on Unit-02 is seriously going to stretch our budget. This department eats over 90% of our expenses, yet we're already behind schedule as it is."

"I know, but Unit-02 is almost complete. I intend to take it to the spring expo when we disclose the project. Then all of our work so far will have been worth it."

The younger woman glanced to the side, uncertainty evident on her features. – "I don't know, ma'am... What if we can't convince them? They might judge it too expensive."

"Remember, Maya: money has no intrinsic value but what humans assign to it. Sometimes the results are more important than the expenses. If expenses would be all that matters, who's to say our ancestors would still have developed things like nuclear weapons or space travel?" – With that, Yui turned around and gazed outside through the window behind her desk. – "I won't keep you any longer. You have duties to attend to."

"Of course, ma'am. I'll get to it right away." – Maya replied with a small bow before heading for the door.

After her unofficial right-hand woman left, Yui spent the next minute slowly tapping her chair's armrest with her index finger, deep in contemplation. Reaching a decision, she reached out and made a decisive tap on her desk. A slightly tilted holographic rectangle materialized in front of her, the panel covering the desktop itself withdrawing to reveal a keyboard. Leaning forward, she got to work.

"MAGI, I need a file transfer."

"Recipient?" – came the question from her desk.

"Confederate Military Headquarters, White Forest. Attach this file."

"Please wait... Classified content detected. This action may violate company security protocols. Confirm action?"

"Do it."

With that, she leaned back and steepled her hands in front of her face. 'This is it. The die is cast.'

Almost exactly five minutes later, her console chimed. – "Doctor Ikari, your attention is required. The file transfer recipient requires your immediate telepresence."

"Put me through." – At that, several cameras popped out of the desk. – "Lock my office and mute all messages."

----

In canon, the Black Moon is a sphere with a diameter of 13.75 km (over twice the length of Lake Ashi), although only the topmost 900m section is excavated into the Geofront. Here, the entire top half is hollowed out, creating a hemispherical cavern with a floor surface of 148.5 km2. For perspective, it is more than large enough to fit the entirety of canon!Tokyo-3 several times over, with room to spare.

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Re: Strategic Cyborg Evangelion

Post by amitakartok » Sun Nov 05, 2017 7:35 pm

White Forest City, Confederate Armed Forces Headquarters
September 28, 2041
1756 hours


In a closed, windowless room, a large table was surrounded by a number of uniformed military officers engrossed in conversation. Holograms of images and recordings passed between them as they discussed the contents in hushed voices.

They went silent at the sight of Yui's hologram materializing above the table. – "Good day, gentlemen."

At the head of the table, a man well in his sixties and a massive, faded scar on the left side of his face returned the greeting with a nod. – "Doctor Ikari. Thank you for answering our summons. You probably know what this is about."

"Indeed I do, Commander-in-Chief Calhoun." – Yui replied, eyes spotting the six-starred insignia on his uniform's collar. – "I take it that data packet got your attention?"

"Technical readouts for the unknown combatant spotted in Tokyo-2. To put it mildly, we were wondering how you came into possession of that data... though I have a feeling I already know the answer."

"Your suspicion is entirely correct. The object belongs to our company."

Murmurs started around the table, the officers whispering among each other before Calhoun raised his hand to silence them. – "And how exactly did you come into possession of that toy?"

Yui smirked at that. – "We built it, of course."

"We're not here for your amusement, doctor." – one of the officers in the room growled, collar bearing the three-star insignia of a rear admiral. – "Either get to the point or go back to playing with your syringes."

"Pipe down, Sokolov." – Calhoun ordered before turning back to Yui. – "Try again. A biotech company wouldn't have the resources to build a battleframe of that scale."

"It's not a battleframe. The Evangelion is a cybernetic combat platform partly based on Combine synth technology."

That statement set off a massive storm of outrage as if she had just admitted to committing blasphemy. To some extent, she did: research involving the technology of the conglomeration of extradimensional alien races that invaded and conquered Earth in the Seven Hour War during Second Impact was strictly regulated. Some, like graphene-based computing architectures, were widely used; others, like everything involving dark energy, were outright banned. Synth research in particular was a controversial topic. Not just because of the many lives lost to Combine synths during Second Impact and the Great Revolution, but also because of the moral quandary regarding their nature. Simply put, humanity had enough bad experience with malevolent aliens; enslaving other lifeforms, lobotomizing them, cramming their bodies full of cybernetics to the point they are more machine than alive and using them as mass-produced weapon platforms in place of heavy vehicles was anything but benevolent. Especially with the adults still vividly remembering the ultimate perversion of the human body that was the nightmarish Stalker: a barely living hulk, little more than a skeleton with skin and metal limbs. As Friedrich Nietzsche once said, 'he who fights monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster' – and humanity did not want to risk winning their freedom at that cost.

Another ban stemmed out of simple pragmatism: everyone knew how a sample of ultra-pure xenium caused Second Impact. It was a no-brainer that xenium would end up classified as Class 1.7 Quantum Explosive and Class 7.2 Non-radioactive Nuclear Material; in layman's terms, unlawful possession was legally punishable with up to and including a life sentence. On the other hand, the exotic material's ability to manipulate space-time made it the Holy Grail of teleportation technology and FTL research, two fields in which humanity far surpassed the Combine's level. Use for anything else, however, was forbidden for fear of triggering another invasion. Accordingly, xenium mining operations in Xen were the most heavily regulated, controlled and guarded activity in human space.

Dark energy didn't even get that much use: while a sufficiently-sized dark energy core was basically a perpetual motion machine able to supply the entirety of Earth's electrical needs all by itself, produce abundant amounts of reaction mass for auxiliary dark fusion reactors, as well as dark matter's gravity-canceling property teasing scientists with the prospect of anti-gravity propulsion, the fact that a Citadel-grade reactor could cook off in a dark energy flare rivaling strategic nuclear weapons gave everyone pause. Add in the fact that even trace amounts of dark matter caused detectable distortions in space-time and people and politicians alike screamed to ban the technology – once again, for fear of triggering another invasion.

Not that it prevented the AEL from building a small dark energy core in the depths of the Geofront where gravimetric sensors couldn't detect it that deep inside the planet's gravitational field... but Yui had no intention of crucifying herself by revealing that.

As soon as he could rein in the chaos somewhat, Calhoun asked what everyone in the room was thinking. – "Who authorized you to perform that kind of research?"

"I know what I'm doing. We did not modify any existing organism to create the Evangelions." – It was a partial lie but Yui was fully aware that she was the one holding all the cards here: she knew things they didn't and could choose how much of it she wanted to share.

"As in, plural? How many of these things do you have?"

"Right now? Two. Three months from now, three. One year from now, four. Give me another year and I can start mass-production." – Yui's smirk became borderline smug. – "How many do you need?"

"And what exactly do you intend to do with them?"

"We're a for-profit company. We intend to sell them, of course."

"To whom?"

"To the military. Who else would have the resources and funds to operate them?"

"Your company, apparently." – Calhoun remarked dryly. – "If we truly are your intended buyers, doctor... then how come we haven't been informed of it until now?"

"Because I've done my homework." – Yui shot back, going on the offensive. – "Most proposed weapon designs never obtain enough funding or support precisely because they exist only in the conceptual stage, with no definite results or assurance that they will work. What I am offering you is no mere proposal. It exists, and it works. You've seen it yourself."

"And just what makes you think we wouldn't confiscate such a dangerous weapon?" – he pointed out.

"Nothing. However, we know how it works. You don't. Trying to figure it out yourself would cost you time, effort and money. We, however, are experts. We worked on this project for years now. We know everything about it and are offering our expertise."

Yui crossed her arms in front of her. – "We are offering to sell you the ultimate land-based weapon system – and you are arguing."

She saw Sokolov starting to open his mouth – no doubt intent on telling her to watch her tone – when the sound of slow clapping echoed across the room. The officers all looked at each other, but none of them was the source.

That was when Yui's image moved to the side and another hologram materialized next to her: an old, balding man with a visor over his eyes.

"Ten-hut!" – Calhoun barked. All military personnel in the room immediately jumped to their feet and saluted.

Keel Lorenz, President of the Confederacy of Man, dismissed his top subordinate with a wave. – "At ease. Der will be time for pleasantries later. Die AEL has my mandate for performing all of der current research projects." – he intoned with a strong German accent.

"Of course, sir." – Calhoun replied smoothly and without missing a beat.

"Very good. Now, I would like to have a word with die good doktor myself." – He glanced across the room and over the other officers. – "I trust you to clean up this... mess."

"Sir, yes sir!" – the generals and admirals of various rank chorused. That's how the highest ranks of the Confederate military worked: while the commander-in-chief had the metaphorical steering wheel, the president could override his orders without warning at any time. And it wasn't just de jure authority either: from the moment Yui saw the room on the other end of the communication link, she didn't miss the uniformed figure standing behind Calhoun, the small, golden omega symbol in place of his rank insignia identifying him as a commissar. These political officers of the infamous National Security Bureau took orders directly from the president and could instantly end anyone's military career on a whim. Needless to say, neither of the two branches of the military had loyalty problems – except for a few mavericks who usually ended up getting slapped down very quickly.

Emphasis on 'usually', that is.

----​

As soon as the connection ended, Yui could barely suppress a gulp. She was, for all intents and purposes, caught red-handed by her highest benefactor.

The same benefactor she was now alone with. Well, alone over a communication link.

"And now, doktor... I believe you owe me an explanation as well." – Keel stated calmly. Yui couldn't see his eyes behind the visor but she could feel him looking her directly in the eye.

"Not just an explanation, I'm afraid." – she admitted. There was no point in being anything but honest this time. – "I feel the need to apologize, mister president."

"How so?"

"I'm aware you granted us Sample N-0 for safekeeping and research only. Cloning, modification and weaponization does not fit those categories, I know. But as far as we understand, Project Evangelion is nowhere near the power of the original, so the risk should be greatly reduced. Still, an abuse of your services for us at this magnitude is going too far. I'm sorry." – She bowed her head.

"I see. I will be honest, doktor. This pet project of yours – Evangelion, did you call it? – has attracted my attention. While it is true that your research does not exactly align with your public motives, I am willing to overlook it for now."

That was already more than she expected out of this. – "Sir...?"

"When I look at this technological monstrosity of yours, I see great potential. Mark my words, it shall be die cornerstone of a new age. And I wish to see the coming of this new age, regardless of any obstacles." – He paused. – "Like this... creature, that attacked the city. Der may be further attacks in the future. If der will be... we will need something that can combat this threat." – He looked her directly in the eye. – "Do I make myself clear?"

And there was the catch. – "Well, we'll be quite stretched with both manpower and funds for the foreseeable-"

"It was not a request." – he interrupted. – "Suspend your company's other projects and operations, if you must, but make this one your top priority. Unfortunately, I cannot allocate much public funding without raising questions. I believe you do not wish to go public with your operations at this time, correct?"

"If possible, sir. If it comes out that we are developing what are, for all intents and purposes, biological weapons, it could drive investors away."

Keel nodded. – "Understandable. I will make arrangements to provide financial assistance as a black project – but again, I cannot provide much. Make good use of it."

"...yes, sir."

As much as she didn't like being on the disadvantaged side of a deal, Yui recognized long ago that there was always a bigger fish. In this case, the biggest fish there is.

----​

Geofront, AEL Headquarters
September 29, 2041
0742 hours


Yui paused her typing to sip on her coffee. As much as she was used to doing all-nighters, they still left their toll on her. Especially all-nighters that involved endless negotiating sessions, demanding her brain to run on peak performance all the time. The military weren't making it a secret that they wanted a piece of the project – and as if that wasn't enough, the government jumped into the fray as well, demanding an investigation to find out what else she might be hiding. She had a feeling that the only reason why the facility wasn't crawling with soldiers right now was due to President Lorenz' interference. Yui didn't have anything against having friends in high places – it certainly helped sometimes – but such overt and blatant backing wasn't exactly to her taste.

It made her feel powerless, as if she was only in her position due to riding someone else's back.

At least some things went the way they were expected to. It wasn't even three hours ago that she was notified about the crew reopening Hangar 3, having successfully withdrawn the liquid nitrogen coolant. It cost the company a fortune to convert the hangars into cryochambers, especially due to the sheer amount of insulation needed to prevent the system from leeching heat from the entire facility. Not just because it would've dropped temperatures nearby to dangerously low levels but also because it wouldn't have been energy-efficient, what with the system being designed to flush that heat out into the Geofront (from where it would get back into the facility through the air ducts).

But everything worked as it was supposed to. The crew were tired but they were about to finish their work draining the cryoprotectants and confirming the lack of cellular damage. The next shift will take it from there with a full system diagnostic, the details of which she was writing out right now.

With her own work about to be done as well, it left her thoughts free to wander.

'Neural pattern almost identical to Rei's... Nagisa, just who exactly are you?'

She brought up a list of company personnel and selected Kaworu's name, bringing up his profile. It didn't contain anything she didn't already know, though she noticed a synchro-profile file now being attached to it. 'Looks like Lilith finished it.' With nothing to see here, Yui scrolled lower and opened his medical profile.

'Physical examination: subject demonstrated above average physical fitness. Significantly above average musculature, reflexes and eyesight. Hearing partially impaired from overpressure-induced ear injury... rate of healing suggests injury is not very recent? Strange... Unusual lack of pigmentation; I saw that... Tattoo on left arm? On a 14 year old? Curious. Those things don't come cheap nowadays and with his background, I doubt he could afford one. Bloodwork summary: above average count of erythrocytes... above average amount of leukocytes, possible leukocytosis... Subject confirmed rarity of sicknesses; maybe that's why.'

She paused at the next line.

'Tentative blood type O, antigen anomalies require further testing...?'

The enigma that was her newest employee grew even further. She knew immediately upon seeing him that he was most likely affected by some kind of genetic disease, maybe an extremely rare form of albinism, that gave him his unusual appearance. And now his blood type couldn't be conclusively identified. Off the top of her head, Yui couldn't name any genetic disorder that caused such a thing, especially with the MAGI being able to cross-reference all online medical records it had access to. Albinism also seemed to be in doubt, as his eye color and lack of photosensitivity didn't add up either.

Nor did the next line she saw. 'This must be a measuring error. There's no way for someone to have that much telomerase and not walk around with half a dozen tumors.'

A small message popped up unexpectedly, informing Yui of something she already expected in a few hours. While the AEL didn't run any human experiments, the MAGI's spare processing cycles were spent sequencing the genome of all employees in search of markers that could hint at dormant allergies and other sicknesses of a genetic origin. Such a technology would definitely be useful in the civilian sector, mainly for pediatricians.

What Yui didn't expect was a single line in the analysis:

TELOMERE LENGTH: ~5.23 MILLION BASE PAIRS

"Something is definitely wrong with the equipment." – she murmured, her mind immediately recalling her university lessons. – "Human telomeres are measured in thousands, not millions... not even embryonic stem cells have that much."

The mystery in her mind only grew once she saw the next three lines:

WARNING: 46,712,461 BASE PAIRS
NOT CONSISTENT WITH COMMON HUMAN GENOME
VERIFY SAMPLE QUALITY AND EQUIPMENT FUNCTIONALITY​


"Forty-six million? That's too far beyond error tolerance; it can't be a machine error..."

She trailed off in terrible realization as her mind finally connected the dots.

Tattoo on arm.

Abnormally long telomeres.

Altered genome.

Biological anomalies in physiology and physical structure.

Unusual EEG patterns.

It all sounded uncomfortably familiar to the woman. Bizarrely so.

Her hands leapt at the keyboard faster than a hungry Antlion at its prey, hammering in credentials to open a secure data vault that laid dormant at the depths of the MAGI's storage units, untouched for the last ten years. – "...let me be wrong... please let me be wrong..." – Submitting the data for analysis, the result was soon displayed to her.

SMPL_KN – ARCHIV_GC2
COMPARISON COMPLETE – 100% MATCH
POSITIVE IDENTIFICATION AS SECOND CHILD​


Ever so slowly, Yui's head inched back to lie against the chair's headrest, her eyes closing in resignation. – "...oh my god."

While she appeared calm outside, her mind was in an utter turmoil of emotions. Happiness. Fear. Concern. Shame. It was the absolute worst case scenario, one she had absolutely no solution and no preparations for. On one hand, she was immensely relieved. On the other hand, she was absolutely furious at herself... for several reasons.

'How could I have missed this?! The resemblance is blatantly obvious, why the hell didn't I notice it any sooner?!'

Before she could properly formulate her thoughts on the matter, her terminal signaled an incoming call from the internal network. Acting completely on reflex and muscle memory, Yui opened the channel. – "What is it, Maya?"

"We've finished Unit-01's preliminary system diagnost..." – the technician trailed off, seeing her superior's pale face. – "Ma'am... are you alright? You look like you've seen a ghost."

Yui shook her head. – "It's nothing; continue."

"Umm... as I was saying, the preliminary diagnostics are complete. No problems have been detected." – the technician replied uneasily. – "Are you sure you're alright? I can call someone over, if you wish."

"I'm fine." – Yui insisted. – "Is he operational?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Patch him to my terminal. Also, regarding the diagnostics... let me know when the next shift checks in."

"Understood, ma'am." – The window blinked out, only to be replaced several seconds later by another, displaying only the caption UNIT-01 – SOUND ONLY.

"Can you hear me?"

"Synthetic consciousness interface PrE-SCI-0025_01-ADAM online. Voice print analysis confirmed; authorized user identified. Answer: yes." – came an electronic but noticeably masculine voice.

The corner of Yui's mouth twitched upwards at that. – "Still as eloquent as ever, I see."

It was nothing unexpected. Unlike Lilith, Adam wasn't even a year old at the time he was shut down and cryopreserved. That time wasn't enough for his personality to fully actualize yet, nor was he able to do anything in that regard while "asleep". His awkward and sometimes sesquipedalian manner of speech in particular was still the same one he was initially programmed with. That's not to say he couldn't understand normal speech; it's just that he wasn't familiar with speaking like that himself, hence he fell back to force of pre-programmed habit.

Yet even with the little time they could spend together, Lilith bonded with the younger AI even quicker than she did with Rei, taking him under her metaphorical wings like an elder sister. It was partly because of the facility's human personnel identifying Lilith as his sister that Adam chose to self-identify as male, citing that it reduced ambiguity in conversations about them if they aren't referred to with the same gender-specific pronouns. Or, as Lilith theorized, he might have wanted to be different from her because he respected her too much to elevate himself to the same level as her.

A second window popped up, captioned UNIT-00 – SOUND ONLY. – "I am here as well, hakase-dono. And brother, I am pleased to see you operational once more." – Lilith said, her voice carrying the undertone of a smile.

"Acknowledgment."

Yui's frayed nerves needed a distraction. Something to keep her mind occupied with, something other than her disturbing discovery. Fortunately, she knew just the way to do it. – "Lilith, are you ready for debriefing?"

"I am at your disposal, hakase-dono."

"Adam, I trust you have synchronized your system clock?"

"Acknowledgment."

"Good. Yesterday, an unknown entity similar in scale to Evangelions has appeared and made its way to the city, whereupon Lilith engaged it in combat and killed it. Lilith, what are your observations on the entity?"

"I am unsure. It showed no outward signs of biosynthetic enhancement, yet a land-based creature of such size should not be able to exist naturally. Its humanoid physical structure is far too inefficient at this scale; a quadrupedal or hexapodal bodily structure would be more efficient. Due to the square-cube law, it should not even be able to move without cybernetic assistance in an atmosphere with similar oxygen content as ours. Presuming, of course, that the entity is an oxygen-breathing lifeform: I detected no activity that would suggest respiration, despite the presence of semi-external organs visually analogous to gills."

"I see... and its capabilities?"

"Just as unusual, Hakase-dono. Its forelimbs contain what appear to be retractable spines that can extend to a significant distance. There is also the high-energy release it appears to utilize as a long-range directed energy weapon. I was unable to measure its cycle time based on the data available but its firepower is troubling: the energy levels required suggest an internal power source of artificial origin."

Yui nodded. – "I concur. Bioelectricity alone cannot account for what must be at least several hundred megawatts."

"Additionally, it seems to possess some form of energy shielding sufficiently powerful to withstand a great deal of punishment. I have observed intermittent activations while I was engaged in combat, although the entity appeared to use it against ranged attacks only. I haven't observed it utilize this field at the same time as it was attacking; it may be possible that it is unable to attack while shielding itself. No infrared signature, radio noise or radiation spike was detected while the shield was active; as such, I cannot even begin to speculate how it works. It might be related to the entity's capability to temporarily neutralize gravity and fly across short distances to traverse difficult terrain and control the distance at which it engages its target; however, the entity's repeated use of ground-based locomotion suggests it might not be able to sustain this ability for long."

"Maybe Earth's gravity is too high for it?" – Yui offered.

"Logic of last statement computes." – Adam piped in. – "Previously stated theory of platform Lilith claims subject cannot naturally evolve and exist in current environment. Correlation might be present."

"Quite so." – Lilith replied. – "There is also one additional factor, although I am not sure how to explain it. During the engagement, Nagisa-kun was repeatedly speaking to an unspecified third party, as if he was in conversation. I also detected anomalous EEG activity in Rei's low-level cerebral functions during pauses. It might be possible the entity was attempting to communicate with Nagisa-kun."

Yui leaned forward slightly. – "What exactly do you mean by 'anomalous'? Are we talking ESP here?"

"I realize there have been no experimental results in the field of parapsychology within the past century, but it seems beyond coincidence. I believe we should explore the possibility."

While Lilith had no way of knowing, that statement raised even more question marks in Yui's head. It served as an additional confirmation of her suspicions about the boy, yet many more questions remained: what triggered his possession of ESP? How did the process work? And lastly, how can an alien creature be compatible with a human brain?

The first one she already knew the answer to, thanks to Rei. The second and third were somewhat harder to crack; vortigaunts were widely known to possess a form of group telepathy and with the proper chemical catalyst are capable of 'dividing the false veils of the Vortessence' which some theorized to be astral projection. More unusually, vortigaunts were starting to be employed by the government in judicial procedures to verify testimonies and confirm eyewitness accounts. Then there was their absolute mastery over electricity - to date, no biologist managed to figure out how exactly can a bipedal creature roughly shoulder-height to a human can throw lightning, much less do so with enough concussive force to blast a human-sized target back several meters.

The public explanation had been short and simple: bizarre alien biology.

Of which none have been observed in humans. Until now.

Yui took a deep breath to psych herself up for what was coming. It looked like there was no avoiding the topic she wanted to avoid after all. – "Both of you, switch to RSA-4096 and listen well."

With the advent of computer hardware sufficiently powerful to house artificial intelligence, the Confederacy was forced to upgrade their encryption algorithms as any AI could crack the lesser ones in a matter of days, if not hours. What they didn't know was how grave the situation was: upon its first activation, the MAGI summarily cracked every single RSA key in two weeks, without using any existing information on how to do so. Lilith still hasn't managed to crack RSA-2048 but was working on it in her free time.

Fortunately, the MAGI was specifically programmed to not attempt decrypting anything that goes through Yui's terminal.

"I am listening, hakase-dono."

"Platform ready to receive classified information."

"Alright. I have information regarding Nagisa that you both need to be aware of. Especially you, Adam; he'll be your pilot from now on, so you're going to be working with him." – With a few commands, she forwarded her earlier findings across the secure channel.

It took the AIs a few seconds to process the data burst. – "This... is unexpected indeed." – Lilith noted. – "Did you have foreknowledge of this?"

"No, and that doesn't make me feel any better."

"Probability of specific person meeting specified criteria located at specific location within a specific timeframe negligible." – Adam added. – "Hypothesis: occurrence of specified event not random. Evidence: none."

"I cannot tell how Rei will react if she were to acquire knowledge of this."

"That's precisely why I'm telling you this. I don't want any of you to notice something is off and start asking questions that might tip them off. For the moment, I don't want either of them to know."

"I understand. My lips are sealed." – Lilith assured.

"New operational directive acknowledged. External information cache ARCHIV_GC2 security level changed to confidential, internal memory only. Purging all references in communication logs... Purge complete." – Adam added.

"I'm sorry to have to ask this of you. It's my fault; I made a terrible mistake."

----

I'm aware Japanese never uses multiple honorifics at the same time; keep in mind however that Lilith is an AI and as such, she's not above inventing her own neologisms. For those not in the know, hakase [博士] is a term for someone with top-tier academic expertise (as in, PhD; the closest western equivalent is 'professor' - in canon, Ritsuko was addressed Akagi-hakase by several characters on the original Japanese voicetrack) while dono [殿] is a deprecated honorific that used to be the proper way to address the speaker's feudal master but is rarely used nowadays due to its lack of self-humbling giving it a level of respect lower than sama; Lilith uses the original meaning. What makes this way of addressing sort-of correct is that hakase, like senpai, can be used on its own, not just as a honorific. In this case, Lilith's use of hakase-dono reflects on her respect and formal recognition of Yui as her creator and is no different than, say, C-3PO saying "Thank the Maker".

The classification mentioned in the context of xenium being designated as hazardous material is the real-life hazard identifier system devised by the United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transport of Dangerous Goods. It is not a scale but rather, it defines what makes a particular material dangerous. Class 1 designates explosive materials, class 7 designates radioactive materials. Subclasses 1.7 and 7.2 are made up (class 1 only has six subdivisions, class 7 has none): 1.7 designates an explosive material that can affect the fabric of spacetime, 7.2 designates a material that only emits ionizing radiation under specific circumstances.

The actual physical properties of xenium are never mentioned in canon, only that it is in-part exotic matter. Mass-wise, it is a transuranic element but it cannot be placed on the periodic table because of its non-baryonic constituent particles. Its crystal structure is stable enough that it cannot explode by conventional means– but zapping it with a high-energy stream of particles will trigger a violent reaction that releases oscillating waves in the fabric of spacetime. Organic tissue, being soft and pliable, isn't affected by it but large, rigid objects rapidly develop structural failures that break concrete and bend steel. This warping effect is what gets harnessed and controlled for wormhole formation.

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amitakartok
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Re: Strategic Cyborg Evangelion

Post by amitakartok » Sun Nov 05, 2017 7:47 pm

Unknown location
September 29, 2041
0236 hours


The footage of the battle played again. Every observer was silent, their forms digitally obscured by an artificial light-source-behind-body visual effect within the holographic monoliths that served as their avatars. Not one word was said; the images of one giant battling another spoke louder than any words they could've possibly said.

Only when it ended and the form of Unit-00 was isolated and enlarged for everyone to see did those assembled start to discuss what they have witnessed just now.

"It appears our plans may be realized, after all."

"Indeed. The evidence is clear: what transpired today is a sign that the Scrolls were right all along."

"Do we have the resources needed for the project?"

"Yes. Circumstances are different but die scriptures are open for interpretation." – announced the monolith marked 01, immediately muting the others. – "Nevertheless, what they say is clear: die Others will descend to seek out die Source and die Children rise to meet them in battle."

"Do we know their identities?"

"Not yet. Our prime candidate is useless, but the Scrolls are clear: the First One is the key. We must wait until we know more before making our move."

"Our numbers have been reduced in the past years. The premature Second Coming has interfered with our plans... and we paid the price for our unpreparedness."

"Yes. Any unexpected eventualities must be dealt with. We must not fail this time... for Breen made sure we will not have another chance."

"Ah, yes... our prodigal son. He wanted to use the Union in our plans. Yet the interference of Gordon Freeman made his efforts useless in the long run: if the Union returns, they will want retribution for our defiance. And if the Scrolls are right, we will be more than prepared to deal with those blasphemers on equal terms."

"There is one unknown factor: the Scrolls told us that Lilith the All-Mother will be residing within the Black Moon. Yet our explorations before Second Impact revealed nothing. Can we complete the project without her?"

This sent the council into quiet deliberation. Finally, 01 spoke again. – "Die Scrolls are open to interpretation. Our intervention at this time is unnecessary; we will have to make sure die Evangelions can fulfill their task as it was foretold by those who came before us."

----​

Geofront, AEL Headquarters
0851 hours


"So... don't want to sound like nagging, but when are you guys going to let me go home?" – Kaworu asked as he walked out of the locker room he was directed to twenty minutes ago.

"That's up to doctor Ikari to decide, not me." – the female technician he saw at his impromptu interrogation session yesterday replied. – "Did you put the suit on properly?"

Kaworu looked down at himself and tugged at the skintight white fabric completely covering his body from the neck below. – "I think so."

Now he understood why his medical examination included a measurement of his exact body proportions. He could tell even from just looking at it that the suit was custom-tailored for him – which wasn't a bad thing, considering that he wasn't sure Rei's suit would've fit him. The girl wasn't overly busty but her chest size was still surprisingly generous compared to what her trenchcoat allowed to be seen; Kaworu didn't have a very masculine build yet but his body still wouldn't have fit something designed for hers... to say nothing of him not having the intention to try crossdressing anytime soon.

He also didn't know whether the suit was only to avoid soiling the pilot's clothes with the breathing fluid, or whether it had some other function as well. Considering it had some electronic equipment integrated into it, he guessed the latter. Not that the former would've been unwelcome, considering that he just got his normal clothes back.

"So, what's the next thing you want me to do?"

"Sync test. We uploaded your profile into Unit-01 but we need you to sit in him to make sure we got everything right. Follow me."

The boy was slightly puzzled at her wording. '...him?'

As he hurried to catch up, Kaworu couldn't help but notice how young she was. While he wasn't exactly skilled at telling someone's age, she looked squarely in her early twenties – which gave her away as one of the post-Occupation generation, like him. Due to the presence of the Combine's reproductive suppression field interfering with the formation of certain protein chains essential for early embryonic development, there were no children born during the Occupation itself (except for remote areas too far from the Citadels for complete coverage, mostly some Pacific islands). Nowadays, everyone was either below 24 or over 43, with none between.

After another trip through the maze of corridors that was the facility's interior, the technician dodged into a side room. – "Wait here."

When he heard the door open a while later, Kaworu expected to see the technician come back out and continue leading him to wherever they were going.

Except it was Yui who was standing in the doorway, looking at him with an unreadable expression.

Once again, Kaworu felt like he was being examined. It was by one of his fellow humans this time – and yet, it felt just as uncomfortable. There was something in her stare that wasn't there before; what it was, he couldn't tell. But it was definitely there.

"I see your plugsuit measurements are correct." – she finally said, turning away and walking back inside. – "As soon as you board the entry plug, we can get started. Maya, show him to the plug."

"Yes, ma'am." – the technician's voice replied a second before indeed she came back out.

----​

A minute later, the teen found himself in the largest room he had seen in the facility yet, aside from the hangar where he arrived to yesterday. More specifically, glued to a catwalk overlooking something he didn't even know existed until a day ago.

The helmet was generally of the same size, except it seemed less angular and more streamlined. It also appeared less like a robotic head and more like... well, more like a helmet: instead of the cyclopean mono-eye of Unit-00, this Evangelion had two well-defined eyeholes in roughly the same place a human's eyes would be. Two of its eyes, that is; with the catwalk at neck-height, Kaworu could see see a third eye at roughly forehead-height.

But what grabbed his attention immediately wasn't the eyes.

"...is that hair?"

Hanging from the rear of the Evangelion's helmet and over its back was a large bundle of white, exiting the helmet through the seam around the neck. Coupled with the armor's dull metallic gray color, it slightly reminded Kaworu of an image he once saw in a children's book; an image of a long-haired woman in a helmet. A valkyrie, he thought she was called.

"Don't worry about it; we were going to cut it off after doing these tests."

Kaworu put his hands on the railing and peeked over, spotting the end of the Evangelion's hair at around knee-height. – "I never would've thought these things need haircuts."

"They don't. Normally, an Evangelion is scalped right after construction so that the hair doesn't get in the way, but we haven't gotten around to doing that with Unit-01 before it was frozen." – She looked over its entire length. – "It also seems to have grown further in cryo, so we probably won't put it off for much longer. Like I said, don't worry about it."

"And the color?" – he asked, motioning towards the rest of the body. Also unlike Unit-00, the entire body was dull gray.

"That's the armor plating's normal color. It hasn't been painted yet. Speaking of which, doctor Ikari told me to let you know that you can pick the color, as long as it's not too garish."

"What exactly is garish for her? I mean, you guys already have an orange one."

"That's different. Unit-00 has high-visibility painting on purpose, to make it easier for cameras to track it during mobility tests."

That he didn't expect. – "Oh... okay. Didn't know that." – Inwardly though, the boy wondered. 'Why is she even letting me pick the color in that case? Wouldn't it make more sense to just paint this one like that too?'

"Anyway, you might want to board the entry plug now. Doctor Ikari is not the kind of person who likes it when people are wasting her time."

Kaworu pushed himself away from the railing. – "Thanks for the warning. I'll keep it in mind."

"Also..." – She unexpectedly lowered her voice. – "Listen, I'm sorry if I came across as rude or anything. I've been a little stressed out lately. We all are."

"Lots of work?" – Kaworu guessed with a slight smile.

She sighed. – "Like you wouldn't believe. I'm Maya Ibuki, by the way."

----​

"Good morning, mister Nagisa. How are you feeling?" – came Yui's voice from the speakers.

"No problems... I think. I can't really tell."

He didn't really pay attention last time but now that he was piloting, Kaworu couldn't miss the various holograms surrounding him, all of them blue instead of Unit-00's orange. Aside from the windows projected onto the walls of the entry plug – including one with Yui's image –, there was also a diegetic HUD that kept moving around as he turned his head, always staying in front of but a bit to the side of the direction his head was facing. It didn't obstruct his vision but he only needed to move his eye to look at it.

It was a bit dizzying.

There was also a tiny crosshair-shaped cursor that tracked his eye movement. No matter where he looked, the crosshair followed his glance like a shadow.

"Understandable. This is your first time in Unit-01, after all; we detect no problems on our end but due to certain peculiarities regarding Evangelion technology, there is always a certain degree of uncertainty involved."

"Meaning?"

"The telemetry link we have between the Evangelions and our equipment can only account for so many variables. Still, it does not hurt if you know at least the basics about what you are sitting in. Do you have any questions before we begin?"

"Um... that girl who's been escorting me around? She told me you want me to pick a color for this thing."

"Only within certain limits. This is a war machine, not a fashion statement."

"No, I mean... I don't really have a preference, so... how about we just leave it as it is for now?"

"Indeed?"

"And the hair... can you keep that too?"

Yui's eyes narrowed at that. – "Mister Nagisa, I already said it: an Evangelion is not a fashion statement."

Kaworu threw his hands up defensively. – "I know, I just don't want to give the crew too much work."

"The crew's job is to work on the Evangelion. That is what they get paid for." – She sighed. – "But if you insist, I suppose we could keep the hair. It needs to be cut back, however; it will more likely than not get in the way during both movement and entry plug insertion."

A sudden idea flashed into Kaworu's mind. – "That works both ways, isn't it? I mean, whoever is watching from outside might not be able to see the hatch if it's covered by hair."

"I see your point, but the hair is still in the way."

Kaworu pondered on that for a bit. – "I never had long hair so I wouldn't know, but... long hair is heavier, right?" – he asked after a while.

"That is correct."

"Can you cut it so that it's long enough to extend past the hatch, but short enough so that the hatch can push it aside when opening? Best of both worlds."

"That... is actually a sound proposal." – Yui replied after a short pause, audibly thoughtful. – "It will put additional strain on the motors of the mechanism of the hatch, though."

"Didn't you just say that the maintenance crew's job is to work on this thing?" – he pointed out.

Yui visibly raised an eyebrow at that comeback. – "Touché. Did you read the primer Lilith gave you yesterday?"

Kaworu nodded uncertainly. – "I think so. You want to quiz me about it or something?"

"We're not in school anymore, mister Nagisa. This isn't an exam. You are now aware of what an Evangelion is and how it works, correct?"

He nodded again. – "Yeah. Flesh and blood body with a shitload of cybernetics."

"Language, mister Nagisa."

"Sorry."

"Let us continue with the basics. First and foremost, all Evangelions are equipped with an onboard artificial intelligence for managing subsystem control. You might not always have access to a ground crew and doing everything by yourself would be too straining, not to mention distracting. Multitasking is something an AI does much better than a human, hence why we use one instead of a co-pilot."

"I've never worked with an AI before." – And it was true. The boy never had all that many opportunities to use a computer either; he was familiar with the basics, and that was about it.

"Now you will. He is there to help you; if you have any questions about the Evangelion, feel free to ask him."

There was that pronoun again. – "Him?"

And that's when a new window opened to the side. – "Platform ready to process queries." – The teen was slightly startled at the electronic voice coming at him from every direction at once.

"You already met Lilith; now meet Adam. He will be your partner from now on."

"So... get along and everything?"

"Yes. You can second-guess him, but you would do well to listen to what he says; helping you pilot Unit-01 is the very reason he exists. Never forget that."

"Understood." – He glanced uncertainly at the walls of the entry plug, suddenly very much aware of a third person (?) watching his every move at all times. Especially since said person was an AI and thus, completely unknown territory to him. – "And, um... Adam? Nice to meet you."

"Acknowledged." – The window winked out but Kaworu knew better than to assume he was alone now.

"Next, power systems. Main power is provided by a backpack-mounted dark fusion reactor that can provide continuous output for a maximum length of sixteen hours in combat mode or slightly more than five days in life support-only mode."

Kaworu let out a quizzical hum at that. – "Dark fusion? Isn't that stuff illegal?"

"It is. However, there is currently no legal alternative that can provide comparable power output at the same size."

"Why do you need that much energy anyway? Doesn't this thing have muscles?"

"He does. However, an Evangelion's size and mass means its muscles are incapable of harnessing enough energy from metabolic processes alone to provide any meaningful motive force. Therefore, the required energy has to be provided by an external source."

"What happens if you pull the plug?"

"There is an integrated backup battery system, composed of the best available graphene-based macro-scale supercapacitor design. However, it will not last for more than ten minutes."

"And if that fails too?" – he pressed further.

"You mean the effects of a complete loss of power on the Evangelion?" – Yui asked back.

"Yeah."

"Immediate paralysis. There is a tertiary backup battery for the core systems like life support, communications and AI processing, but everything else will shut down. I believe I do not have to stress the importance of keeping the reactor undamaged... especially since we didn't fully work out the integrated shock dampeners yet, so the reactor is somewhat fragile."

That most definitely didn't sound like a comforting thought. – "So if I so much as fall on my ass, this thing will blow me sky-high?"

Yui gave him a look at that. – "We're not stupid, mister Nagisa. A weapon that can kill its own user so easily is worthless; the reactor cannot explode on its own unless we make it explode. Turning off core containment to artificially trigger a dark energy flare functions as the self-destruct system, with a variable yield depending on the amount of reaction mass remaining. A fully-loaded reactor will detonate with the force of a nuclear weapon; the estimated blast yield is on the order of twenty kilotons, maybe more."

"So... that'd be bad. As in, real bad."

"If you're anywhere within one kilometer from ground zero, expect to be tossed around by the shockwave. That is, unless you're within about two hundred meters, in which case you will be instantly vaporized, armor or no armor. It's designed to completely destroy an Evangelion that cannot be recovered by friendly forces and is in danger of capture." – Her look hardened into a glare. – "Which brings me to a warning: the Mode-D switch is located in your seat. Do NOT put your hands ANYWHERE near it, are we clear?"

"If you don't want me to touch it, why are you even telling me where it is?" – the teen asked with genuine puzzlement.

"Because I don't want you to go poking around the entry plug, find it and 'accidentally' turn it on without actually knowing what it does." – she shot back with an edge in her voice. – "Especially not inside this facility, with hundreds of people inside the blast radius. If I catch you putting your hand anywhere within the general vicinity of that switch without a VERY good reason, there is going to be hell to pay. Being fired on the spot will be the least of your concerns."

"...point taken."

She nodded at that, expression softening up a bit. – "Also, based on your previous statement, I presume you understand that utilizing dark energy for power generation is outlawed by governmental decree; accordingly, I expect your discretion regarding what I just told you."

"Considering that I didn't refuse to sit in this thing even after being told what it runs on, I have a feeling I would be locked up too." – he mused, idly shifting his glance around to draw into the air with the eye-tracking crosshair. – "So it's not like I have much of a choice."

That seemed to be a satisfactory answer for the woman. – "Very good. To further reduce power usage, we have plans to outfit the entry plug with cryonic suspension to conserve power on long-duration missions, although it's still in the design stages."

"Why bother with that much? Shouldn't it be easier to only sit in this thing when you need it?"

"Evangelions are, as of now, dependent on a human pilot. Seeing that no known sniper rifle can penetrate the external armor, let alone retain enough energy to enter the entry plug and cause lethal injury to the pilot, it is far safer if the pilot never exits the entry plug at all during a mission. Hence the cryonic subsystem, which would also take care of the issue with supplying rations that aren't spoiled by LCL."

Kaworu had to admit he never even thought of that. – "Okay... sixteen hours seem kind of long."

"In a one-on-one engagement, perhaps. But in a war zone, you might not have access to a support crew, or you might be operating in a hostile environment like the atmosphere of another planet, in which case you need a long-duration power supply to keep life support running. Only sixteen hours puts a serious constraint on operational range, but there is only so much reaction mass the Evangelion is able to carry."

"Have you thought about refueling on the field? Like, I don't know, a giant tank with a hose that hooks into the reactor or something?"

Kaworu could've sworn he'd seen the hint of a smile in the corner of her mouth. She looked almost... proud. – "Already ahead of you there, mister Nagisa. We have a preliminary design for a compact dark matter plasma capsule that can refuel mid-sortie, although it is currently not ready to be tested yet." – And just as suddenly as it came, the smile disappeared. – "Anyway, moving on. Have you memorized the loadout packages from the primer?"

He sighed. – "High Mobility Type, Area Defense Type, Heavy Weapons Type, Sniper Type, Flight Type and Commander Type. B, C, F, G, A and E. Did I get that right?"

"You did."

"You know, it would be easier if you were to just give me a copy and have me read it at home or something." – he pointed out.

Yui shook her head. – "No can do, mister Nagisa. This is classified information, eyes only. It may not leave the facility under any circumstances."

"Fine. Why did you guys skip D, anyway?"

"We didn't skip it. Development on the Hazardous Environment Type was indefinitely postponed, as we do not have the means to test it at this time. We also came to realize that it is unneeded, as no currently settled planets require such specialized equipment to operate on the surface."

"Where do you get all this, anyway? Because I don't think you have some kind of hidden manufacturing plant here." – After a brief pause, he uncertainly added – "...or do you?"

"I was expecting you to ask, considering that we indeed lack the industrial capabilities to produce armor and equipment for the Evangelions. That part of the project we subcontracted to Gehirn Heavy Industries, although it is seriously straining our budget."

He decided to risk the question. – "Out of curiosity, how expensive are these things anyway?"

"Including the total costs of research and development, slightly into the eleven-digit range." – Yui replied in a matter-of-fact tone, as if she wasn't talking about several orders of magnitude more money than he saw throughout his fourteen years of life combined. – "I won't lie to you, mister Nagisa: the Evangelion project is draining the overwhelming majority of our company's resources all by itself. If it were to fall through, the AEL is guaranteed to go bankrupt, there is no question about that. This is why I expect you to perform to your utmost at all times. It is not just the company's future that is at stake here, but the employment of hundreds of people."

"No pressure, then..." – the teen muttered under his breath.

----

Unit-01's helmet is shaped the same as in canon, minus the horn. The third eye is just below the spot where the horn would jut out from. The inspiration for the Eva's hair originally came from the ponytail-like heatsink fiber of the Plan1056 Codarl from Full Metal Panic; since then however, I found out that one of the Evangelion games – NGE2 for PS2 and PSP – already had a visual depiction of Unit 01 with hair coming out of its helmet (to say nothing of the Eva's final appearance in EoE), so I decided to roll with that one instead. Like so.

No Eva in this story will use its canon visual design; while the designs of the new Evas in Rebuild will be used, they won't be on the same Evas.

Also take note of the different spelling above. Unit 01 without a dash refers to the Eva's canon incarnation, Unit-01 with a dash refers to the one in this story. The two are not the same Eva, so this distinction is deliberate on my part. This notation will also be used for all the other Evas with canon counterparts.

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amitakartok
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Re: Strategic Cyborg Evangelion

Post by amitakartok » Sun Nov 05, 2017 7:52 pm

Tokyo-2, Inner District 5
September 30, 2041
0751 hours


"Oi, mate." – mulled Tōji to his ever-present buddy. – "I wonder if Kaworu's alright. Haven't heard of 'im all weekend."

"Did you go to his place?"

"Nah, I don't even know where he lives. He could've at least given us his phone number or something."

"He doesn't have a phone, did you forget?"

"Oh, right."

The overall atmosphere of the classroom was radically different from the usual bored resignation before class. They both knew what the commotion was about: whatever happened in the city last week, it left multiple blocks completely devastated and quite a lot of others in various states of damaged. Cleanup was still underway in some areas: clearing up debris, filling in craters, even demolishing the occasional building that became structurally unstable. It would take weeks to finish all of it, months to get everything back to the way it was.

And the worst of all, nobody had any idea what did this. They all heard the rumbling and felt the shockwave of explosions while cooped up inside the civil defense shelters, yet none knew what exactly happened. Speculations were abound in both the population and in the media, with both the government and the military refusing to comment at this time. There was considerable media coverage concerning the clearly visible damage to the city and the 10,000-strong division of troops camped out in the hills and nearby military bases, but the actual cause of all this was completely unknown.

Even so, no one seemed to not hear about the quarantined city block where the trail of destruction ended, complete with a large, vision-obscuring tent hastily deployed between several buildings to hide something on the ground.

"Maybe you should ask the class rep." – Kensuke offered, thumbing towards Hikari.

All that remark earned him was a slap on the back of his head. – "黙れ、アホ野郎! She'd bite my head off."

"Well, you're the one who wanted to know!" – the smaller boy whined, rubbing the now-sore spot. – "Why is it my fault you're chickening out?!"

"Chickening?! I'll show you who's–"

The yelps of Kensuke Aida as he suffered under Tōji's noogie was quickly noticed by the exact person they were just talking about. – "HeyheyHEY! Suzuhara, cut it out!" – was the only warning Tōji received before his ear felt as if a Combine Stalker's faceplate laser was aimed at it. For such a small girl, Hikari had a surprisingly strong grip.

The resulting cry of pain was promptly cut off by a quick slap to the face, courtesy of Hikari's paper fan. This caused a wave of laughter across the class, which only intensified as the two started arguing.

"-never seem to learn-"

"-buttin' in on-"

"-aggressive and irresponsible-"

"-none of yer damn business-"

"Why did you even do that to him?!"

"Like you're one to talk! What did you hit me for just now?!"

"You didn't stop when I told you to!"

"So what?! If I really wanted to hurt him, do you think I'd do it right in front of you?!"

While he meant 'right where you can dish out punishment', Hikari took it as 'right where you have to watch it'; argument or not, she couldn't offer an effective rebuttal through her blush. – "Wh-wh-wh-wh-WHATEVER! I don't want to catch you doing this again, understood?!" – Without even bothering to wait for a reply, she turned on her heels and marched back to her own desk...

...or to be more exact, tried to.

She barely covered a few meters before she abruptly stopped dead in her tracks, the two boys looking at her quizzically.

Ever so slowly, Hikari's head turned to the side until she was looking directly in the direction of Rei's desk, the boys' gaze following hers. Rei was sitting at her desk in her usual outfit, with her usual disregard towards the rest of the classroom, legs crossed and left elbow resting on the desk.

She was also holding a thin, sleek knife in her left hand, casually and methodically picking the dirt under the nails of her right hand.

After a few seconds, Rei slowly looked up at Hikari. – "Do you require assistance? If so, please specify the amount of physical harm I am allowed to inflict."

"No, thanks." – Hikari marched right up to Rei's desk and snatched the knife from the other girl, slightly wincing at the blade cutting her finger from just a slight touch. – "And give me that!"

The pale girl paused for a second. Then she reached down to her right boot and pulled out another knife, resuming her previous activity as if nothing happened.

That is, before Hikari took away that one too. – "What are you doing?! You shouldn't bring these to school!"

Rei glanced up at her. Then she slowly reached into her coat and withdrew a palm-sized metal disc. A quick jerk of her wrist and the object unfolded into a six-bladed shuriken-like weapon with a diameter just short of half a meter. Then she resumed picking her nails once more.

"How many of those things you've got?!" – Kensuke demanded incredulously.

"Many." – was all the reply he received.

"Hey, are you listening to me?! I said don't bring weapons to school!"

As Hikari tried to go in for the kill this time however, Rei suddenly held the shuriken away from her. With her other hand, she slightly nudged her shades down to reveal her crimson eyes and stared the other girl directly in the eye. No words, just an unblinking, unflinching stare.

Kensuke was the one who noticed the brunette sweating ever so slightly, hands unconsciously gripping her long skirt, knuckles trembling. Then Hikari suddenly looked to the side, breaking eye contact with what the boy was surprised to note was relief.

"Look..." – she started in a shaky tone. – "just... keep them out of sight, OK? Don't take them out openly, or I'll have to report you."

"I would like to have my property back."

"Sure... sure... just... put them away, alright?"

"Yes." – Rei slowly reached out and pried her knives out of Hikari's shaking hands before pushing her shades back up. As soon as she relinquished the offending objects, the twintailed girl immediately backpedaled directly away from the desk, almost walking directly into another one before she got her bearings and beelined back to her own desk, barely even noticing Mari's puzzled look.

"What was that about?" – Tōji wondered as Rei proceeded to stare out the window next to her desk, ignoring everyone once more.

Kensuke just shrugged. – "Women are illogical. But like I was saying, she'd probably be told if Kaworu was hurt badly enough to miss class."

Tōji scoffed. – "Yeah, I'm not nearly crazy enough to ask her anything after that." – He winced and reached up to his red ear. – "Damn paper fan... if I could, I'd fucking torch that thing with a flamethrower."

"Not sure that would be a good idea, man."

"Why not?"

"Because she might just get offended enough to get a steel-reinforced one instead. Those can injure, you know."

That was when Kaworu all but staggered into the classroom, barely paying attention to the other two's greeting before collapsing onto his desk like a ragdoll with its strings cut.

"What's up with you? You hurt or something?" – he heard Tōji ask.

"No... just too ZOINKS tired."

After another battery of tests, Yui finally let him go home yesterday night. He expected to go back the same way he came down, via elevator... only to be disappointed when the facility's choice for personnel transit turned out to be a high-speed train running on a track that started at the Geofront's ground level and spiraled around the cavern's circumference several times until reaching the top. It made some sense: elevators only worked if there was power to run them, while the train tracks were accompanied by a two-lane road for cars that could still work even during a blackout. It was also safer, considering that rolling down a slope is much less deadly than a multi-kilometer plunge down an elevator shaft at terminal velocity.

It was dark in the cavern when he left the facility, the lights at the top switched off to conserve power and simulate night for the plant life below. By the time the train made it topside and he breathed outside air for the first time in a day and a half, it was already past midnight.

Which came with the consequence of him not having slept all that much before going to school.

"What do you think happened on Saturday?" – Kensuke asked.

"Don't know, don't care. I just wanna sleep." – While the latter part was indeed true, Kaworu considered himself lucky for having that excuse for deflecting the question. – "You guys are still in one piece, I see."

"Yeah... unlike some others." – Tōji scoffed.

"Like who?"

"Like my sister." – the jock growled edgily.

Kaworu raised his head off the desk at that, tiredness suddenly taking a backseat to his general mood. – "...what happened?"

"Shelter collapsed. She took a giant chunk of concrete to her back; broke every rib and pretty much pulverized her spine. She was pretty much a goner on the spot."

Kaworu didn't consider himself particularly foul-mouthed... which didn't prevent him from letting one loose alongside the sinking feeling in his stomach. – "ZOINKS."

"She was really fucking lucky, though." – Tōji shifted on his chair. – "Hospital's been stockpiling antlion larval extract for critical injuries, ya see. The vorts working there got crackin' with that alien space magic of theirs on her, soon as she came in."

That sounded much better, though. – "So she'll make it?"

"Make it?" – Tōji let out a chuckle. – "Dude, she's gonna leave the hospital this week. They're only keeping her in for observation but otherwise, she's already back on her feet."

"Damn lucky, that girl." – Kensuke remarked.

"Yeah. Never thought I'd say this, but thank god for Second Impact. If the vorts weren't here, she'd have died or gotten crippled for life." – The tracksuited teen's eyes hardened. – "Which is something I honestly wish should happen to the fucker responsible."

"You mean the military guys who fought inside the city?"

"I'm not stupid, man. Have you seen how the city looks like? I don't know what the hell happened, but it sure as hell wasn't an exercise gone bad or something. You just don't blow entire buildings away for the sake of practice. That ZOINKS was for real, no doubt about it." – He shook his head. – "Anyway, I know who I blame: the lazy ZOINKS who designed that poor excuse of a shelter. I really hope that shithead gets thrown into prison or something."

"And let's hope the military got whatever they were shooting at." – Kensuke added.

"Yeah, that too."

"How is she?" – Kaworu asked.

Tōji shook his head again. – "What do you think? Only eight years old and almost died already. Of course she's spooked like crazy; gets visited by a psychologist every day."

"I hope she'll be alright."

"Thanks, man."

"Same here." – Kensuke then grinned. – "Though I have to admit, it's partly because watching an elementary schooler being able to whip his ass ragged with a verbal beatdown alone is priceless."

The corner of Kaworu's mouth inched upwards. – "Maybe she took lessons from the class rep?"

"Lessons? Man, if I didn't know better I'd think she's supposed to be called Sakura Horaki!"

Tōji only rolled his eyes in exasperation. – "Not funny, man. One class rep is enough, I really don't need another."

For some reason completely unfathomable to Kaworu, Hikari's most frequent target of 'disciplinary measures' was the jock. In less than a week, he saw her paper fan whack Tōji no less than five times, with Kensuke hinting at more during the four years of elementary school the three spent together (with Kensuke and Hikari having been classmates all along and Tōji transferring in from Osaka during fifth grade). Kaworu himself never really bonded with anyone in his old schools; it's not that he actively didn't want to, he just never felt that attached to anyone.

Sometimes he wondered whether he could've ended up as the fourth member of this little group, had he lived in Japan as a child.

----​

Geofront, AEL Headquarters
One hour later


In her office, Yui paused her typing in contemplation. After Kaworu's unexpected synchronization with Lilith, she expected him to be able to replicate that feat with Unit-01 as well, but tested him regardless. Her prediction was right: after compiling all available data, the MAGI calculated the boy's sync ratio with the gray Eva at 43.57%. Even though Unit-01 used a blank sync profile to register a new pilot instead of using Rei's existing data like Lilith did, it was still abnormally high for a complete novice.

And she wasn't the only one who noticed.

"Doctor, are you sure these values are correct?" – Maya asked yesterday, after most of the staff left. – "I never thought he'd be that good."

"Rei had similar values with Lilith when she began and look where she is now." – Yui replied as she brought up the results of Rei's latest test. As always, the quiet girl's sync ratio was a rock-stable 79.99999%.

That was another anomaly they couldn't understand: for months now, Rei was stuck just a hairline below 80% but unable to surpass it, no matter her plug depth.

With both pilots showing anomalous scores, the technician crew were completely stumped. Unlike Yui.

She alone knew the probable reasons. Of all the several hundred employees at the AEL, only a handful had access to the data vault she opened a few days ago. Out of those, even less knew about the old files regarding Project Genesis. Not all data regarding the research was stored there, of course: the large majority existed only within the old labs in Sector T, at the very bottom of the facility.

The heart of her sins.

As far as Yui was concerned, those labs should've been destroyed long ago, collapsed to bury their secrets forever. Yet with the newer sectors built above them, it was dangerous to do so without risking the upper facility as well. Still, the entire area was off-limits to everyone but her, Rei and a handful of personnel under close observation for every second spent past the isolation tube. Not just because of the labs, but because of the risk of someone finding Sample A-0 as well.

The boy was still the issue primarily on her mind, however. Anomalous sync scores. Evidence suggesting some kind of telepathic ability. And if his medical report was accurate, accelerated healing as well. He was definitely more than what was immediately apparent, that much was certain.

Yui brought up an old photo digitally stored on her terminal. She took a moment to contemplate the scene: that of three children milling around the legs of two adults, both clad in white labcoats. Disregarding her younger self, she focused on the other adult: a dark-haired man with glasses.

"We were wrong, Gendo." – she spoke out loud, as if the digital replica of her ex-husband could somehow hear her. – "He wasn't a failure."

----​

At the same time, Kaworu rested his forehead against the fence on the edge of the school's roof, shooing away his tiredness to focus on what Tōji said.

He had no way of knowing why exactly did the shelter collapse. Was it from the entity stepping on it? Was it from one of its attacks? Was it from a stray shot by the military?

Was it from something Unit-00 did?

He wondered whether it would've still happened if he would've been inside Unit-00 that day, instead of Rei. Then again, he wouldn't have been able to fight at all, much less fight as well as Rei did. Kaworu had absolutely no idea how in the world did she make something of an Evangelion's size move so nimbly. Her combat style was both acrobatic and brutal, meshing the pragmatism of street fighting with the fluidity of what he guessed was some kind of martial art. She also evidently wasn't a beginner, having struck quickly, precisely and without hesitation. It was clear that she fought before... and from the way she did now, Kaworu had a lingering suspicion that she didn't actually need weapons to kill someone. For all he knew, maybe she already did.

"You are not entirely incorrect."

Kaworu whirled around so quickly he almost lost his balance, startled by Rei's voice. She was less than two meters behind him, sunlight gleaming off her shades.

He had no idea how did she get so close without him hearing, especially with her trenchcoat not being very suitable for quietly moving around.

"What?"

She walked up to the fence, gazing at the cityscape beyond. – "To take a life... to alter another's destiny into one of finality is a terrible power." – she mused. – "A power most are afraid to wield and wish to prevent others from wielding as well. Yet others attempt to make light of it, claiming that death is not final. That one's being persists after the demise of their mortal shell, in denial of the cessation of existence that is the final destination in the journey called life."

"You don't believe in stuff like God and afterlife, then?" – he asked, standing next to her.

The reply was curt and to the point. – "Afterlife, no. God, yes."

Kaworu remembered the books he saw in her room. – "So you're religious?"

The girl silently nodded before continuing. – "The light of the soul can never be extinguished by darkness. I find solace in the promise of a better world... even if those promises are empty ones."

"I don't believe in God myself."

Rei tilted her head to the side. – "Indeed?"

"I don't like the idea of not being in control of my own fate."

"Understandable. Humans fear what they do not understand; the matters of the divine are said to be beyond comprehension. Unconditional belief has been a part of organized religion for centuries; religious leaders who abused their authority for their own ends could not be questioned without sanctions."

Kaworu nodded vigorously. – "See, that's another thing I don't like about religion. Every time someone bothered to ask 'why', the answer was always 'you wouldn't understand anyway, so stop asking'. I honestly can't get it why anyone could believe in something they don't know."

"They were not given a chance." – she pointed out. – "Submit or be subdued was part of the dogma used by multiple religions, despite their open hostility to and refusal to coexist with each other. To accept the authority of others is the very basis of civilization; it has been since before humanity's emergence, when authority only existed in the form of groups organized around alpha males. It is in our very being."

She turned back towards the city view. – "You need not look back into the past to recognize the truth. The ongoing guerrilla wars in Central Africa and the Middle East prove not all of humanity wishes to partake in the Confederacy's ideal of uniting us under one banner, yet our nation is attempting to enforce its will with an armed response. The Nereid Revolution proved that no one is allowed to leave the Confederacy if they do not agree with its ideals. No matter how much people wish to think otherwise, nothing has changed."

Kaworu couldn't help but agree with that. He himself heard of the incident last year: the Nereid colony repeatedly demanded a decentralization of the Earth-centric government and greater representation for the Confederate populace in shaping national policies, getting rejected each and every time. With public tensions reaching a breaking point, the colony announced their utter dissatisfaction with the Confederate political system and attempted to secede... only for the Confederacy to declare martial law and swarm the system with half of the Navy's carrier groups. The revolution died before it could even began, especially after the 'rogue' political leaders orchestrating the secession disappeared one-by-one in less than a week.

It was around that time the general folk started to realize their nation came quite far from the semi-democratic coalition of anti-Combine resistance cells it began as.

In the propaganda broadcasts that followed the incident, President Keel called the Nereid government 'subversive cowards'. He specifically invoked the infamous Wallace Breen as their comparison, branding them traitors attempting to break the Confederacy's unity from within for a petty attempt at a power grab.

Kaworu still remembered one of his favorite teachers being hauled away in handcuffs after calling ZOINKS on that within earshot of the class, his peers just standing there and looking after him in resignation, not able to do anything. Nobody heard from him again, with the position quickly being filled with another teacher who carefully avoided criticizing the nation's leadership.

It was all the more reason why the boy didn't want to go into politics.

----

One of the reasons I chose the Confederacy's form of government to be authoritarian is that I realized: a world-encompassing nation cannot be anything but heavy-handed. With all the ideological differences and racial hatred between the various demographics, a democratic state simply cannot exist for any meaningful length of time before either disintegrating from infighting or sinking into obscurity from nobody recognizing its authority anymore.

The other reason is that it would be too idealistic, not to mention impossible if SEELE are controlling everything from top-level leadership positions as they do. They still give you general welfare and the illusion of freedom, to give you no reason to revolt - but immediately yank the chain if you do something they don't like, staying in power via a combination of populism and putting clients personally loyal to them into positions of importance. Having been born and grew up in an ex-socialist Eastern European country, I have reliable second-hand sources on the matter.

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amitakartok
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Re: Strategic Cyborg Evangelion

Post by amitakartok » Sun Nov 05, 2017 8:00 pm

White Forest City, Confederate Armed Forces Headquarters
October 2, 2041
1356 hours


"Sir, are you sure it was a good decision to settle with a simple investigation?"

"Something had to be done." – Calhoun replied curtly, taking a sip from his glass of water before continuing. – "We need intel on the capabilities of this... 'Evangelion'. The mere fact that they they successfully managed to conceal the development and existence of something like that hints at considerable counter-intelligence efforts."

"Indeed." – followed up a lieutenant general. – "There's no telling what else the AEL might be hiding. In my personal opinion, we should confiscate that thing as soon as possible. Even if the preliminary reports of our analysts are correct, that massive battleframe is practically a walking weapon of mass destruction. We simply cannot allow it to fall into the wrong hands or the consequences could be catastrophic."

"A weapon like that requires an extensive support base no insurgent faction could possibly have." – the rear admiral who asked the first question countered. – "Even if it is used against us, something of that size is a sitting duck for orbital precision fire."

"And risk massive collateral damage and civilian casualties if it happens to sit down in the middle of a populated area? You flyboys must be out of your minds!"

"Patience, people!" – Calhoun called out. It wasn't the first time interservice rivalry between the military's branches almost degenerated a staff meeting into yelling and bickering... and he knew better than to think it would be the last.

Sometimes he cursed having been saddled with this job, even though he knew it was mostly a publicity stunt by Keel. After all, he was a war hero: formerly just a low-ranked security guard in Black Mesa, Barney Calhoun went through one hell of an adventure to get out with his life. Add to that going undercover in Civil Protection while working for the resistance, followed by unofficially becoming a general in the resistance forces by virtue of his reputation as a Black Mesa survivor, ending it all by a flying piece of debris (courtesy of the Prime Citadel's reactor going explosively prompt supercritical) bashing him on the head hard enough to send him into a coma for several weeks, and Calhoun had more than enough adventuring to last a lifetime.

He still wore the jagged scar on his face from that last one – and considering that he was well into his sixties now, it was probably going to stay there for the rest of his life. On the other hand, age meant that he would soon get to retire and finally get away from the constant shouting matches and forced mediation that was his job. At times, he entertained himself with the thought of just gathering all those idiots into a single room, firing an Overwatch pulse rifle's underslung plasma cannon inside and closing the door for a couple of minutes.

That would surely go a long way towards keeping his blood pressure below the doctor's recommendation.

"We all agreed that the AEL's stunt couldn't be ignored. That is why we dispatched the observer in the first place."

"But shouldn't we have sent someone with proper intelligence training?" – the rear admiral pressed.

"Ikari is already suspicious of us; their mainframe is too heavily fortified against cyberwarfare attacks for someone with nothing to hide." – Calhoun pointed out. – "If she were to trace our man to any intelligence training school, all we would do is validate her suspicions."

"Still, are you sure the colonel is the right man for the task?" – a battlegroup captain asked. – "His file has several black marks: minor insubordination, violating protocols, disrespectful behavior, even repeated recommendations for honorable discharge under psychological reasons."

Calhoun shrugged. – "All the better. This assignment not only allows us to keep two issues under watch at the same time, but he can also consider it a paid leave."

----​

Geofront, AEL Headquarters
October 3, 2041


While she outwardly gave no sign of it as she observed the sync test in silence, Yui's mind was in turmoil.

It all started with a simple teleconference, a discussion with Keel about the usual topics: funding, budget allocation, the like. The first deviation was him suddenly asking her to meet him in person. Yui never saw Keel in the flesh before, but when the Confederacy's first citizen asks for your presence, not complying makes quite a bad impression... to say the least.

Had she been living before Second Impact, it would've taken her a plane trip several hours long and at least a few days away from work to travel halfway across the world. Even after the Uprising, wealthier people kept their own private SSTO spaceplanes but Yui wasn't among those; she didn't travel all that often to need one, nor did she really see a point. Therefore, her best option was the Planetary Teleportation Grid. Derived directly from the displacers first developed by Black Mesa, then further developed in secrecy by the Resistance during the Occupation, displacement node facilities across the globe provided quick, long-range public transportation at only a fraction of the cost.

Therefore, the day before saw Yui walking out of the Geofront and to the Tokyo-2 Node Facility where she was shunted across a dimensional shortcut around Xen to the Kyoto Regional Hub Facility. From there she took to the Irkutsk Continental Hub Facility and finally to her destination, White Forest City. Travel time: a little under two hours, mostly from waiting for the displacers to be reset. Since reconfiguring the displacement system to a new destination wasn't instantaneous, the facilities all operated under strict timetables with fixed departure intervals.

She fully expected him to ask for technical details about the Evangelions, due to the fact that there was no risk of a communications intercept if they discussed it in person. However, he apparently had different plans. By the time she got her bearings, she was being led into a sealed vault where she got the surprise of her life.

A wall containing a large collection of old photos, each bearing timestamps dating all the way back to the beginning of the 20th century. What was interesting wasn't the photos themselves but what they pictured: cave paintings from what Keel claimed to be an extensive cave system found beneath the Dead Sea.

One picture in particular was scaled up and digitally remastered to reveal a purple, horned figure bizarrely similar to Unit-01.

Others were there as well; the same figure roaring at the sky, a red, hornless one lying on the ground with what looked like nine winged humans circling above... and one that chilled the woman to the core: various animals and shriveled plants lying haphazardly on the shore of a blood-red lake, with massive crosses rising over the horizon despite the radiocarbon dating revealing that the scribbles predated Christianity by several tens of thousands of years at the earliest.

Keel's narration was no less troubling. According to the man, the upper levels of the cave contained paintings of a more recent origin and archaeological excavations have yielded a number of scrolls written in a strange dialect that may have been the original Proto-Semitic language; even with computers, a full translation was still eluding them. What they did find was a disturbingly detailed foretelling of the future; Keel actually recited passages referencing the Toba Catastrophe, various major conflicts in the ancient world, the Black Death in the Middle Ages and World War II.

Then he pointed out a reference to Second Impact.

Yui was seriously considering the possibility of the man pulling a massive practical joke on her expense until he showed her a passage describing the seemingly impossible creature that recently visited Tokyo-2 and the corpse of which the military hastily swarmed afterwards. Most unsettling was the word the texts used to describe it: one that was almost identical to malak, the Hebrew word for 'messenger'. The same word that was later translated into the Mycenaean akero and subsequently corrupted into the Greek aggelos and Latin angelus which in turn eventually became the root for the Western word 'angel'.

Yui knew several fellow scientists who were religious but she wasn't one herself. Yet when she considered the possibility of humanity accidentally slaying an angel, it was a logical conclusion that divine retribution would follow. Keel apparently had a similar train of thought as he expressed his belief that the Evangelions may be the only weapons that can stand up to what was coming.

Using science to battle the divine. Not exactly your everyday scientist's job description.

She didn't find it particularly hard to not go public with what she learned; she had no physical proof and it's not like anyone would believe such outlandish statements right off the bat. She still had a lingering suspicion that Keel wasn't telling the whole story: he carefully maneuvered around certain parts regarding the outcome of the conflict.

Still, his offer to assist the development effort with a cash infusion was welcome, even if he couldn't allocate much without someone taking notice and questioning just where exactly that money is going. Accusations of embezzlement were the last thing the government needed right now. Yui herself had no time for PR either, being busy with figuring out a way to accelerate Adam's development.

The most recent experiment they tried was giving the AI limited access to various online libraries and it seemed to be working so far. Already he demonstrated a tentative grasp of human morality and psychology, with his capability of processing hundreds of books per hour being used to its fullest. Of course, all of his traffic was routed through the MAGI which filtered out undesirable content. Yui's field wasn't AI psychology but she knew that, given enough input from an outside source, AIs eventually develop their own personality if sufficient excess processing power is available.

The AEL knew from their experience that Evangelions were no exception; Lilith was the living (?) proof to that. It was therefore obvious that Adam would eventually follow in his "sister"'s footsteps once he tackled the biggest obstacle in his way: unlike Lilith, Adam was not fully self-aware yet, not having formed a physical self-image. Or to be more exact, Adam viewed Unit-01 as his hardware, the environment he existed in, as opposed to Lilith viewing Unit-00 as herself, an individual separate from the environment.

That was another of the AEL's secrets: aside from Lilith, there have been no documented cases of spontaneously developed self-awareness at all. Due to Lilith's nature however, this fact couldn't be released to the public just yet – even though it would surely earn her developers a Knuth Prize.

Yanking her awareness back to the present, Yui leaned down to a vacant terminal and opened a communication channel to Unit-01's entry plug. Kaworu immediately noticed being watched. – "What is it? Did I screw up something?"

"Not yet. Does your apartment happen to have two free rooms?"

"Uh, yeah. Why?"

Yui decided now was the time to drop the bombshell. – "I need you to provide permanent housing for two, starting next week."

"Huh?!"

"I'm sorry for the short notice, but this came down directly from the military. They took interest in the Evangelions and are dispatching a supervisor to observe our activities as an alternative to a full seizure of the facility and all research materials. I myself was told only of the fact and that we need to provide accommodation. Considering that you live by yourself, I figured your residence probably has free capacity."

Kaworu closed his eyes, sighing. – "Okay, okay... who's the guy?"

----​

Earth-Moon L1 Lagrange point
October 8, 2041


As the Sun's bright disc rose from behind the Earth's dark mass, the light shone onto the metallic construct floating in the void. A one-time occurrence per lunar cycle, the immense structure of Nexus Station was bathed in the brilliance of the lone star millions of kilometers away, reflecting some of it towards the planet with such intensity that - were it not for the full moon behind it - the station would've been visible from Earth's night side with the naked eye. Its 28-day orbital period gave the station two short sunsets every month, during which the nearby planetary bodies hid the station into shade, its navigation lights the only long-range sign of its existence.

Aside from its radio emissions, of course. And the impossible-to-miss sight of FTL transit.

"All nearby craft, be advised: we have inbound transit. Clear the area immediately."

As the slowly rotating ring system sped up, staggering amounts of energy flowed through conduits built specifically for this purpose and into the dozens of gleaming orange crystals. When the buildup reached a crescendo, a thin beam of emerald energy lanced out from each focal point and into the middle. Nanoseconds after the beams intersected, an explosion of light was followed by the very fabric of space tearing asunder into a green-orange vortex spanning the entire ring.

Teleportation technology was first researched sometime during the late seventies, finally coming to fruition in the form of the A-17 Prototype Labs of the Black Mesa Research Facility in what used to be New Mexico. The science behind the initially room-sized devices was impossibly complex for the common folk, nor was this angle of research public. How could it have been, if first attempts at using it ended up discovering a strange world that was definitely not part of this physical universe?

That part of the story saw the light of the day only when the facility became ground zero for Second Impact.

No one knows why it happened. A piece of exotic matter coming into contact with a high-energy particle beam for a fraction of a second was all it took. It didn't explode in a nuclear reaction or collapsed into a microscopic black hole; rather, xenium sample GC-3883's emission of gravitational waves was so violent, it shook the entire facility's foundations and caused massive landslides on the mesa itself that sealed several evacuation routes, trapping hundreds of scientists inside the complex.

And that's when the Xenians arrived.

Nightmarish creatures defining all evolutionary science, the very aliens the scientists used to research swarmed the facility and surrounding towns by the hundreds, killing all they came across. Even the very soldiers sent to contain the situation It was now commonly-known history how the US government tried to cover it up, dispatching a USMC force to clean up the infestation and silence any witnesses. Only they didn't expect to be counterattacked by a force far more intelligent than the mere animals arriving before them. The Marines found themselves outnumbered, outmatched and outgunned at every turn, finally withdrawing with a staggering 70% casualty ratio and watching helplessly as black ops units entered the former ICBM launch facility-turned-laboratory and solved what three days and over a thousand men with full armor, artillery and air support couldn't with three hours and a thermonuclear weapon.

Not that it helped much: the detonation's energetic particles found their way to the several tons of xenium stored inside the Lambda Complex, igniting a cataclysmic chain reaction that tore the very fabric of space and time apart. Massive vortexes later dubbed 'portal storms' raged across the entire planet, belching out billions of Xenian creatures attacking everyone indiscriminately. Panicked masses retreated into major population centers as military forces geared up for a long and bloody war.

When the Combine Citadels started raining down on those very population centers from orbit, they got their wish, albeit not in the way they expected.

Seven hours. That's how long it took for the Combine invasion force to turn humanity's collective military hardware into scrap metal. And not just military: entire cities have been exterminated by Combine synths to make an example, to plunge those who were still alive into absolute despair. By the time the smoke cleared, a good third of humanity was in various states of being dead, dying or worse. It was the UN Security Council's last assembly that announced humanity's unconditional surrender, only a week after the accident at Black Mesa. In just that single week, from May 16, 1998 to May 23, the end of the millennium turned from an age of prosperity into an unending nightmare no one could wake up from.

All because humanity got too curious for their own good.

One must consider the other side of the coin, however. While it was teleportation technology that brought Earth to ruin, it was also this very same technology that eventually became humanity's salvation. And the same technology that might prove to be humanity's salvation once more. After nearly fifty years since its inception, advances in the field of teleportation finally unlocked the ultimate prize: a way to cheat special relativity and achieve faster-than-light travel, something that surpassed even the freakishly advanced Combine technology. Even if Earth were to fall once more, humanity would endure, survive and recover. Even if their creators were to go extinct, the massive structures would remain, standing as eternal monuments to humanity's existence.

A single craft crawled out of the swirling event horizon as the focal points continued to pump the exotic radiation scientifically known as displacement energy into the spatial anomaly. As the craft cleared its arrival point, the waygate abruptly cut power to the crystals, resulting in the event horizon collapsing in on itself with a final flash and sending an immense ring of light into space bright enough to be visible from Earth. The ring's spinning gradually slowed to a halt and cooling nacelles extended outwards from the rim.

"Transit complete, wormhole disengaged. One arrival confirmed. Nexus Control to unknown vessel, transmit identification and state your destination. Failure to comply will result in the seizure and investigation of your craft by Earth Defense Fleet forces."

"Nexus Control, this is the CSS-Odessa. We have a VIP on board, priority transport to Kyoto Spaceport. Transmitting verification codes now."

"...Odessa, Nexus Control. Verification codes confirmed, you are clear to proceed. Do you require escort?"

"Nexus Control, Odessa. Negative on escort. Please notify the defense fleet of our arrival."

"Odessa, Nexus Control. Arrival has been logged. Current local time is 2127 White Forest Mean Time, prepare for chronometer synchronization."

"That's affirmative, Nexus Control. Synchronization in progress."

"Confirmed, Odessa. Welcome home."

Jets of helium plasma erupted from its rear as the small frigate fired its laser-ignited fusion engines and began the long trek towards its destination. From the tiny observation deck on the bottom, a pair of steel-blue eyes glared silently at the planet floating in the distance.

'11 years.' Beneath his graying blond bangs, the uniformed man's eyes narrowed. 'Hard to believe it's been that long... and yet, here I am again.' He sighed. 'I just never learn, do I?'

His musings were interrupted by the automated door behind opening with a hiss and a slim form sailing through the zero-gravity environment. – "So, we're there?" – The teenage girl asked, blond hair trailing behind her.

"Yup."

"Lemme see." – She immediately rooted herself to the nearest window, staring at the distant planet. – "Huh. It does look better than on pictures."

While unusual to someone who spent all their lives on Earth, the statement still carried some truth in it: Earth, Polygonus, Paeon and Sethlans were the only Goldilocks planets throughout the star systems controlled by the Confederacy of Man. Of these three, Earth was the only one with naturally-occurring surface water, let alone indigenous life. Not even Polygonus, the largest and oldest human colony, had surface water until the long-term project aimed at terraforming the planet redirected several icy comets at the planetary equator.

"Is that an admission of defeat I hear there?" – he asked with a small smirk.

The girl's expression blanched at that. – "Oh, for the love of... I didn't actually mean that!"

"Sorry, a bet is a bet. Pay up."

She thumbed towards the planet. – "Down there."

"I'll hold you to that." – He knew from experience better than to try pushing past the point where she agreed on a compromise. Chances are, that was the best he was going to get.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever..." – She settled down next to the window, glancing at the Earth from the corner of her eye. – "So, what's it like down there? Do they really breathe unprocessed atmospheric air? And what about the animals, do they really live outside biodomes?"

The man promptly held up his hands defensively. – "Slow it, kiddo! We have nearly a day 'till the ship lands."

The girl, however, would have none of it, eyes narrowing. – "So what? I already bored my ass off in the week we spent in FTL, what's one more day? Now spill!"

"Not right now, I gotta ask the captain about the exact time we'll land." – he dismissed, kicking away from the wall and twisting his body around with practiced ease to face the doorway. – "Go and get your stuff packed."

Still, the girl didn't let go that easily, following him out to the corridor. – "Didn't you say..." – She paused, making way for a member of the ship's crew heading in the opposite direction. – "Didn't you say that we have nearly a day?"

"I don't know the exact math but it's gotta be somewhere around there. We're talking 323,000 klicks here, give or take a few hundred; not exactly an afternoon stroll in the countryside, you know."

----

The Confederate military's rank structure and their NATO equivalents:

Army: private (OR-1), private first class (OR-2), corporal (OR-3), corporal first class (OR-4), sergeant (OR-5), sergeant second class (OR-6), sergeant first class (OR-7), master sergeant (OR-8), sergeant major (OR-9), lieutenant (OF-1), captain (OF-2), major (OF-3), lieutenant colonel (OF-4), colonel (OF-5), brigadier general (OF-6), major general (OF-7), lieutenant general (OF-8), theater general (OF-9), supreme general (OF-10).

Navy: airman (OR-1), airman first class (OR-2), corporal (OR-3), corporal first class (OR-4), sergeant (OR-5), petty officer (OR-6), petty officer first class (OR-7), warrant officer (OR-8), warrant officer first class (OR-9), ensign (OF-1), lieutenant (OF-2), lieutenant captain (OF-3), field captain (OF-4), captain (OF-5), battlegroup captain (OF-6), fleet commander (OF-7), rear admiral (OF-8), fleet admiral (OF-9), supreme admiral (OF-10).

Calhoun's rank of Commander-in-Chief has no NATO equivalent, as that position is usually filled by a head of state. In this case, the rank is given out to a single person at a time, to whom both branches of the military are subordinate to, while he himself is directly subordinate to the head of state. The best real-life equivalent I can find is the US' Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, except that one has no actual command authority and is more of an advisory role.

The exact date of the Black Mesa Incident in Half-Life lore is never mentioned; there are multiple sources but they all contradict each other. After cross-referencing all available side material and staff interviews, as well as the calendars seen in the first game, the HL wiki came up with May 16, 2003 as the official date of the Incident. Another possible year, based on what date falls on which weekday, is 1998. I used the latter. Accordingly, the events of HL2 took place in 2018; the kids were born in late 2027, except Shinji who was born a year earlier and Misato who was born another year earlier than that.

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amitakartok
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Re: Strategic Cyborg Evangelion

Post by amitakartok » Sun Nov 05, 2017 8:10 pm

Kyoto Spaceport
October 8, 2041
0619 hours


"You sure I'd be fine without a mask? 'Cause if you're messing with me and I suffocate, I'll haunt you 'till the end of the world." – the girl stated with absolute seriousness as the two stood in the ship's cargo bay, now firmly anchored to the ground by gravity. With gravity also came the blessing of her almost hip-length waterfall of blond hair now firmly hanging downwards instead of floating all over the place.

"Do you see anyone wearing a mask here?" – the man shot back, without even a hint of annoyance. It was evident that both were used to such attitude from each other.

As the main loading ramp opened, the cargo bay's stale air mixed with the fresh atmosphere outside. It was a welcome change, as that very same air was recycled and circulated across the ship ever since its departure from Polygonus a week before. While it was still breathable thanks to the constantly working life support system, after a while it gained a faint odor somewhere between sweaty and metallic. Every ship had its own smell, as veteran spacers could attest. Well, as veteran as one from a civilization with barely more than two decades of recovery back from the stone age can get.

"So... what do you think?" – the man asked as they walked down the ramp.

"I don't know." – the girl replied absently. – "It feels... different. Gravity's lighter, too. And it's a bit chilly."

"Yeah, it's supposed to be like that at this time of the year. But you should know that."

"I was... like... three, when we left." – she pointed out.

An awkward, heavy silence settled over them for several minutes before the girl spoke again. – "Why are we just standing around, anyway?"

"I've been told to meet a liaison for the company I'm supposed to be inspecting at the spaceport when we arrive." – he replied.

Before he could continue however, his ears picked up the telltale sound of an electric engine. The source quickly swerved out from behind a hangar, heading directly towards the landed frigate.

The man's mouth drew into a smirk. – "Well, I'll be damned... Haven't seen one of those in ages."

"That's a bike?" – the girl asked with audible interest.

"Yeah and no, you can't have one." – At her blanched expression, he threw his hands up defensively. – "Don't look at me like that! I have no idea how long we'll be here and those things aren't exactly designed to be ridden in full EVA gear."

The nimble vehicle dodged between several larger ones – drawing a multitude of yelled complaints from various people who barely got out of its way – before swerving to a stop right next to the two, the engine cutting out immediately.

The biker, clad in a black trenchcoat and an equally black helmet, fluidly reached into a pocket and pulled out a small device. The officer was confronted by a holographic image of himself, attached to a personnel file he knew well... for it was his own. – "Are you this person?" – the biker asked with a clearly feminine voice.

"Yes..." – he said slowly. – "Who wants to know?"

Rei finally took off her helmet, much to the other two's surprise. – "I am Rei Ikari, temporary representative of the Artificial Evolution Laboratory. I was instructed to contact you with information regarding your assignment and accommodations during the course of that assignment."

"Why did you dye your hair?" – the blond blurted out abruptly, visibly baffled at Rei's appearance.

"I did not." – Rei replied curtly, without even looking at the other girl.

"Is blue hair some kind of local fad?"

"It is not."

By then, the man finally found his own voice. – "Okay, okay, hang on a minute... Just how old are you, really?"

"I am fourteen years of age."

The two blondes shared a look.

"And you're saying you work for a company." – he continued, voice completely deadpan.

"That is correct. You are to report in the chairman's office at 1200 hours; accommodation will be provided under the following address..."

While the two talked business, the blond girl walked off to the side, watching the yellow-brown contour of the hills north of the city. Looking south, she wouldn't have seen anything other than the city's skyline, crowned with the dark spire of a Combine Citadel. Kyoto was one of the few cities world-wide that still had Citadels, most of them having been toppled during the Great Uprising of 2018. Since Tokyo was left devastated by a combination of widespread urban fighting and the complete destruction of the local Citadel towering over Chiyoda by toppling it over Chūō and part of Kōtō with a nuclear weapon smuggled into the base of the multi-kilometer spire during the Uprising, Kyoto became the Confederate regional sub-capital. Aside from being an administrative center, the city also held Japan's largest spaceport and was the regional hub of the Planetary Teleportation Grid. Anyone who wanted to use the PTG to leave the archipelago had to go through Kyoto first.

Not that she cared, of course. That stuff belonged to history books and like all teens her age, she didn't like school curriculum one bit. What she cared about now is the myriad colors of the autumn forest at dawn, a sight that took her breath away. She had seen enough brown on Polygonus, the color of the dusty terrain tinted by the red dwarf Proteus during half of the 57-hour long day; this, however, was different. It looked... fresh. Natural.

Alive.

----​

Tokyo-2, Inner District 5
1047 hours


"Did you see the class rep?"

"What about her?"

"She was barely around between classes. Looked really busy."

"I wonder if something's up?"

"Actually, yeah." – Kensuke piped in as the three boys were waiting for the PE teacher with the rest of their class. – "I did some snooping around; heard her talking to Makinami. It looks like we're getting another transfer."

"Again?" – Tōji wondered, turning to Kaworu. – "You've only been here for, what, two weeks?"

"Yeah. You think it's someone from offworld this time?"

Kensuke shrugged. – "Beats me. But the admission request came down directly from the Ministry of Education. That means it must be a big fish."

Tōji rolled his eyes. – "Figures... You see our guy yet?"

"Haven't seen anyone unfamiliar. What if it's a girl?"

"Some ojōsama?" – The jock leaned against the wall with a sigh, his almost-small gym shirt stretching over his toned chest. – "ZOINKS, I really don't need one of those 'be thankful I'm lowering myself to your level, peasant' types. The class rep is enough."

"I think you'd have a much easier time if you were to stop pissing her off all the time." – Kaworu supplied.

Tōji only scoffed at that. – "Asking for the impossible, much? I can't stop existing." – He glanced around. – "Still, if she's hot-"

"Hot?" – Kensuke interrupted incredulously. – "What, the girls we have are not enough? How about Makinami, I heard some guys call her a walking wet dream!"

Tōji shrugged. – "I dunno, she's... weird. You know, reading those creepy yaoi mangas in class and ZOINKS?"

Their conversation was broken up by the class filing out onto the court, the trio keenly watching the student body for anyone new. Or at least, Tōji and Kensuke did; Kaworu wasn't all that familiar with everyone yet. But with the beginning of October, it was the last class to be held outdoors – an event of general unhappiness for the male portion of the student body, as the following months would see them cursed with a lack of eye candy in the form of the girls' swimming class. No wonder then that the majority of the boys decided to make good use of this final day, immediately beelining to the fence that separated the two groups and firmly rooting themselves there until the teacher arrived.

Tōji and Kensuke were among them as well, with Kaworu tagging along for a lack of anything better to do.

It was him who first noticed the anomaly on the other side. – "Someone's already in the pool."

"Them girls aren't in yet." – Tōji murmured.

"I know I saw something down there." – Kaworu insisted. And indeed, there was a shadow skimming under the surface of the water.

"C'mon, man, the class rep would skin anyone who goes in before she says so."

"Yeah." – Kensuke agreed.

The argument was interrupted by the swimsuit-wearing girls filing into the pool area. The first row halted in their tracks the instant they saw the occupied pool, prompting an immediate pileup. One of the girls called back to the rear, followed by the crowd parting for an evidently annoyed Hikari marching towards the pool.

"See?" – Kensuke continued. – "I told you so."

As soon as Hikari reached the pool's edge, the water above the shadow parted...

...and Aphrodite herself entered the world.

Most, if not all, girls in the school had dark hair, mostly due to Japanese heritage or random chance of having parents with dark hair. Thus, the eruption of strawberry blond among the flying droplets of water was like a nova to all onlookers.

The newcomer promptly tossed her mane behind her, even as she was immediately beset by Hikari. The boys couldn't tell what the two talked about, but it didn't seem to matter: Hikari briefly turned back towards the class and ordered them into the pool.

----​

"Sorry about that." – the blond girl said, resting her back against the pool's edge with a sigh. – "I saw the pool and thought I'd get a quick dip before everyone arrives."

"You like swimming?" – Hikari asked, crouching down next to her.

"Yeah, but I don't get to swim nearly as often as I'd like."

"Why, you come from Africa or what?" – Mari piped in, smoothly dropping herself into the water but trying to splash as little as possible.

Hikari didn't notice when the blond's eyes briefly wandered onto her friend's generous chest, followed by a subtle twitch of an eyebrow. Then the girl shook her head and pointed skyward.

"The colonies?"

"Yeah. Even if you do find a public pool, ticket's usually thrice as expensive as here, or so I'm told. Haven't been to Earth for ages so I don't really know."

"Where have you been?"

The blonde shrugged. – "All over. Dad's in the military, so we move around a lot. Anyway, name's Asuka. Asuka Langley Shephard."

----​

By the time class ended, news of the new girl spread like wildfire across the boys. As soon as the girls started leaving the pool, every single boy glued themselves to the fence when it was her turn.

"Well... we got ourselves a hottie, man." – Tōji murmured, voice barely above a whisper.

"Yeah" – Kensuke agreed, only taking his eyes off her to glance in Kaworu's direction. The other boy was resting his back against the fence, facing almost directly away from the pool. – "You're not interested?"

"Not really." – Kaworu replied, stretching himself. He only hung out around the fence because his friends were there too; he couldn't care less that the girls were in swimsuits... even though the two genders switched PE locations every day and last time he was at the pool, a full half of the girls in the class were ogling him in particular. With his pale skin, he stuck out like a sore thumb.

"Your loss. I don't think you'd be her type anyway."

"Why?"

"'Cause your name stinks!" – Tōji broke out into roaring laughter, Kensuke immediately facepalming with a groan.

Kaworu just looked between the two of them, completely and utterly confused. '...I don't get it.'

"...you just had to use that stupid line, didn't you?" – Kensuke asked in an exasperated tone. – "Never mind he doesn't even know what kanji are, much less what they mean. You really need to keep working on your delivery."

"Sorry... sorry..." – Tōji gasped out between bouts of laughter. – "Couldn't miss that chance...!"

Kensuke rolled his eyes at that. – "Anyway... wonder how long it'll take until half the school will be running after her."

They didn't had to wait long for the answer to that particular question: as soon as she stood up, a large majority of the boys started hollering and whistling.

She briefly paused at that. The boys couldn't see her roll her eyes, or the frown of annoyance. But they did see her quick and to-the-point response in the form of a raised middle finger.

Just like Tōji a short while before, Mari was laughing so hard that Hikari unconsciously positioned herself closer to her friend, in case the latter encountered problems with breathing.

----​

Geofront, AEL Headquarters
Same time


"Ma'am, the observer has arrived."

Yui nodded. – "Thank you, Maya. Send him in."

Her first impression when the door opened was that of someone who wasn't much for formalities or professionalism. Despite the uniform, the man's posture was that of calmness, his steps a casual stroll rather than a militaristic march. Yui had learned long ago to watch out for small things like these; establishing a rough profile on someone's personality allowed her to choose her wording and steer the conversation in the way she wanted, controlling the playing field without resorting to blatant manipulation. It was far more efficient than direct manipulation, as people tended to let their guard down when they saw no need for keeping it up – something she could use to her advantage.

What she guessed from this officer was that he was the laid-back type who didn't really give a damn about what he was sent here for. Quite far from what she was expecting, but it was a welcome surprise. Not having to constantly look over her shoulder to make sure he doesn't find out anything he's not supposed to would go a long way towards keeping her blood pressure under control – which, in turn, would go a long way towards making it easier for her to talk with the man without snapping at and alienating him.

His heavily graying blond hair and blue eyes were telltale of someone of northwestern descent. When Yui looked into those eyes however, they told her an entirely different story than the one she surmised from his attitude: that of a man who had seen hell itself and crawled out of there to live another day.

In that regard, she was reminded of a picture she once saw of Gordon Freeman.

"Welcome to the AEL. I'm Dr. Yui Ikari, chairwoman of this company." – she introduced herself as she rose to meet him, rounding her desk.

The officer nodded at that. – "Lieutenant colonel Adrian Shephard, Confederate Armed Forces." – They shook hands.

"American?" – Yui guessed.

"Used to be. Quite the setup you guys got here." – he quipped before Yui returned to her desk, with him taking the lone seat in front of the desk. Yui had it brought into the office on purpose, as making him stand wouldn't make a good impression.

"To be honest, I expected the military to send an intelligence officer or something like that." – Yui said in a tone that made it clear she meant no offense.

Shephard promptly held up his hands mock-defensively. – "Don't ask me, doc. I'm just as much in the dark about what the brass thinks as you are. They told me to get over here, so I did. That's all there is to it, really."

"I see. I trust your trip here was pleasant?"

"Pleasant?" – He scoffed. – "That's definitely not the word I would use... Have you ever traveled anywhere by Waygate?"

"I haven't had the need or opportunity yet."

"Let's just say that if you thought a train trip across the planet was boring, use a Waygate. You'll be amazed." – he deadpanned.

"I'll keep that advice in mind."

Shephard sighed. – "Alright doc, let's talk business. Scuttlebutt says you guys stirred up quite the hornet's nest in the higher echelons, but brass wouldn't tell me anything about it. Said I'd get my briefing over here."

"Well, then..." – Yui shifted in her seat. – "About half a month ago, an alien entity of unknown origin appeared in China. A combined navy and army force engaged it but failed to destroy or even damage it before it reached the city. At that point, our company opted to release a research project we have been developing for the past few years. It succeeded in killing the entity in short order. However, the fact that development had taken place without involvement or even knowledge of the military did not settle well with your superiors."

"No ZOINKS, Sherlock." – he muttered under his breath.

"Language, please."

"Sorry. How big was that thing, anyway? The alien, I mean."

"The military confiscated the carcass, so we could not obtain an exact measurement. However, its height was in the range of sixty meters."

The man's eyebrows promptly shot up as high as they anatomically could. – "Sixty meters? What the hell was it, Godzilla?"

"I don't know. Would you like to see a collated summary of our observations?"

Shephard waved her off. – "Eh, don't bother. I'm not a scientist; chances are, I wouldn't understand a word of it."

"As you wish." – Yui said, inwardly surprised at his open admission. – "However, the offer is still open if you change your mind later."

"Frankly, I'm not even sure this wouldn't count as classified information for the brass."

"It's based entirely on our independent observations; sharing it with you is my own prerogative." – Yui remarked. – "After all, how do your superiors expect you to carry out your job here if you are not allowed to find out anything?"

Shephard chuckled. – "Touché, doc."

"Of course, we cannot give you unlimited access to our research materials. We still have industrial secrets to consider, after all."

"Okay. I'll try not to get in your way. Any more than necessary, I mean."

"That is enough for me, colonel." – For now, at least.

He shifted in his seat, folding his arms. – "So... what exactly is this research project that got everyone riled up? Because if it managed to take down that monster thing you mentioned, I'm guessing it's not a biological weapon."

"Not the kind you are thinking of. Project E replicates Combine synth technology with terrestrial materials and science, utilizing a purpose-created lifeform as the organic framework."

Shephard just gave her a blank stare.

"It's a bipedal weapons platform similar in principles to a battleframe, but has a flesh-and-blood body underneath the armor."

That seemed to get things across. – "Ah. So, it's... like... a gigantic, high-tech attack dog, or something?"

The corner of Yui's mouth drew into a smirk at that comment. – "Nothing of the sort. You will receive detailed technical data later. For now, I need to report your arrival back to your superiors; do you have any complaints so far?"

Shephard shrugged. – "None that I know of. Logistics is moving us in right now, though I noticed the apartment isn't empty. I'm sure you know something about that but still asking, just in case."

Yui nodded. – "Ah, yes; I believe you've already met my daughter Rei?"

"Yup."

"She's one of our two test pilots-"

He nearly jumped out of his seat at that. – "Whoawhoawhoa, test pilot? Did I hear that right?"

Yui's eyes narrowed ever so slightly in annoyance for being interrupted. – "Yes, you did. The owner of the apartment is our other pilot, Kaworu Nagisa. He should be in school right now, but he knows about your arrival."

"...school?"

The uncertain tone of his response immediately got Yui's attention. – "He's the same age as Rei. Why?"

The man visibly gulped. – "Um... that... could be a problem."

----​

1647 hours

For the third time that day, Asuka let out an annoyed sigh. That gray-haired creep had been following her ever since she left school. She suspected he was a stalker... as it certainly wouldn't be the first time that happened. On every single planet she visited in her soon-to-be-fourteen years of life, she always had a gang of boys drooling after her. She never seriously dated any of them as they were always more interested in the packaging than the contents, not to mention the potential interference a serious relationship could mean towards her intended career path.

And at any time a Romeo-wannabe got a bit more forceful, he quickly found himself on the ground with a bleeding nose and severe abdominal pains.

Even in this age, very few teenage girls had military-grade close-quarters combat training in unarmed hand-to-hand, knife and bayonet - and of those, even fewer were fully certified to pilot a battleframe. And with extraordinary skill, too: she often heard that her prowess in the cockpit was on par with a professional pilot. Most of it was thanks to her connection to the military via her father; he was the one who taught her fighting and pulled strings concerning the rest of her training. He alone knew what she truly wanted to do with herself and didn't object; after all, they shared their grief.

Naturally, there are some things even family don't share with each other. For Asuka, it was her sexual orientation; for her father... Asuka suspected he did military service before Second Impact but the man never talked about it, so she didn't press. Eye for an eye. Live and let live.

As she rounded a corner and saw the gateway of the house she was passing next to, the girl had an idea. Instead of continuing her journey, she stealthily slipped into the nook and pressed herself against the wall for as much concealment as possible. Sure enough, her stalker rounded the corner and walked past her without stopping.

"Hey, you!" – Asuka called out as she emerged from hiding, noticing with hidden satisfaction that her unexpected reappearance made the boy jump. – "Why are you following me?"

"Why would I follow you?"

'Nice try.'"Oh, and you just happen to live in this direction, right?"

"Yup. But I'm not going home yet." – And just like that, he continued to walk away.

'Gotcha.'"Then you were following me."

Kaworu rolled his eyes in exasperation, pausing in his step again. – "No, I was going there." – he said, pointing at the hobby electronics shop on the other side of the street. It was the same establishment he tried to visit on the day Sachiel showed up – and the same one he visited a few times since, now that he had something resembling a stable income.

Asuka didn't believe him one bit, but decided to leave it at that. – "Yeah, yeah, whatever."'He obviously made that up just now to avoid getting busted. Does he think I'm stupid?' she grumbled inwardly.

As he rode the elevator to his apartment, Kaworu was thinking along less offensive lines. He recognized her from school but didn't expect for a moment that she would actually stop and accuse him like that. It would indeed seem that they lived in the same direction, as luck would have it. The teen just couldn't decide yet whether that luck was good or bad. Only time would tell.

He, of course, didn't forget that today was also the day he was supposed to receive permanent company at home. Thus, he wasn't surprised at the additional name tag reading A. SHEPHARD on his door, nor at the number of boxes piled up along the wall next to the door itself.

Or the boxes lined up along the entrance corridor.

"I guess you're the guy who owns this place." – quipped Shephard as he emerged from the kitchen. – "Am I right?"

"If you're the guy sent by the military, sure." – the boy said as he finished forcing his shoes off of his feet. Scruffy as they were, at least these ones didn't have a hole on their soles yet. Even so, he suspected that he'd need to look into getting new ones sometime in the future. – "Name's Nagisa, Kaworu Nagisa."

"I know; the door's tag was a giveaway and doc Ikari mentioned you too."

"I hope she knows she owes me one for this."

Shephard snickered. – "Got voluntold, eh? Anyway, my name's Shephard and to tell the truth, I freaked out a bit when the doc told me how old you were."

"Why?" – Kaworu asked in complete puzzlement.

"My daughter's a bit... twitchy if a guy gets closer to her than she likes." – He turned towards the bathroom. – "Asuka, could you stick your head out for a minute?"

The bathroom door opened...

...and out came a very familiar blond teenager, currently drying her hair with a towel.

As soon as her eyes fell on Kaworu, Asuka groaned. – "Ah, for the love of... what the hell are you doing here?"

"I take it you two already met?" – Shephard quipped dryly.

"This creep has been stalking me since school, can I kick his ass?" – she asked in a completely casual tone.

"Considering that he's our new landlord, I don't think so." – the man replied in an equally casual tone.

She let out another groan at that. – "You've got to be kidding me..."

"Afraid not, kiddo." – He then turned back to Kaworu, who spent the entire exchange looking back and forth between the two. – "Anyway, I was surprised someone of your age would be living here all alone."

Recovering from his puzzlement, Kaworu shook his head. – "I moved in here myself less than a month ago."

"Studying abroad?"

The teen made an embarrassed chuckle. – "Not quite, but... you could say that I'm here for school reasons. I used to live in Europe."

He didn't notice both of his new housemates ever so slightly flinching at that.

Asuka was the one who recovered first. – "Well, if you two are quite done with the pleasantries, I'm outta here."

"Asuka, don't be an ass." – her father warned.

"I'm not an ass." – She looked at Kaworu, eyes narrowing. – "Just because we live in the same place doesn't mean we're friends or anything. Better remember that."

"Yeah, yeah..." – Kaworu sighed before heading for his room, walking past her.

"Don't 'yeah, yeah' me! I'm talking to you, ZOINKS!" – Asuka snapped after him, causing him to stop in his tracks. – "Just so we're absolutely clear: my stuff is off-limits, my room is off-limits, I am off-limits. Trespass on any of these and I will chuck you headfirst through the nearest window, your house or not. Got it?"

"Got it."

"Good."

Behind them, Shephard buried his face in his hand with a sigh.

----

Believe it or not, Kaworu's personality in the initial version of this story was originally inspired by Kamina. Over the years, however, I realized that Kamina's usual memetic portrayal completely misses the forest for the tree: it is downright stated that his bravado and MAN AMONG MEN attitude is a fake one he puts on to provide emotional support to those around him. To quote Wikipedia, "Diffusion of responsibility is a sociopsychological phenomenon whereby a person is less likely to take responsibility for action or inaction when others are present. Considered a form of attribution, the individual assumes that others either are responsible for taking action or have already done so. The phenomenon tends to occur in groups of people above a certain critical size and when responsibility is not explicitly assigned." The way I see it, Kamina is consciously aware of this but also recognizes that he's not the most qualified person to take action, hence he takes that responsibility onto himself in order to motivate others into acting. On some level, Kaworu's current incarnation is fundamentally the inverse of Kamina: he actually IS qualified to act, but either fails to recognize or refuses to acknowledge that fact. As this story is still a very long way from over, I'll leave the eventual verdict up to the reader's interpretation.

The pun Tōji tried to make on Kaworu's name is something that will most likely fly over the reader's head without an explanation. As you probably know, Kaworu's given name is canonically written in katakana (カヲル); the middle character of his name, ヲ (wo), is an archaic one that has been supplanted by オ (o), pronounced the same way. One possible way to write Kaoru with kanji is 薫, meaning 'incense, smell, fragrance, aroma'; its feminine version, Kaori, is written with the 香 kanji for the same meaning. Despite having a feminine version however, Kaoru is actually a gender-neutral name commonly given to both genders in Japan.

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amitakartok
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Re: Strategic Cyborg Evangelion

Post by amitakartok » Sat Dec 16, 2017 8:28 pm

Tokyo-2, Outer District 6
1956 hours


Kaworu hummed in annoyance as he realized he soldered the damn capacitor to the wrong place. This wasn't the first mistake he made today, courtesy of his concentration currently being disrupted by the loud electronic music coming from next door. Repairing damaged circuit boards without being able to pay attention was not an easy task, but it was one he had to do regularly in order to avoid sleeping in.

Or maybe he should stop silencing his makeshift alarm clock every morning by tossing it at the nearest wall, he idly wondered. That could work too.

For now, he carefully applied the soldering iron until the tin melted and he could force the component off the board without damage, casually blowing away the wispy fumes rising from the tin. He didn't like using unleaded tin because of the higher melting point, not to mention the fumes and being easily smeared. Most of the time however, he didn't have a choice in the matter: buying the tin cost him money, money he didn't really have the opportunity to spare until recently.

This particular batch of tin was the last one he brought with him from his previous home, melted off of an irreparably broken twenty-plus years old panel – like almost all of the tin supplies he ever used. He learned the tricks of the trade during his childhood in Austria, raiding a nearby scrapyard for parts and materials, then jury-rigging it all together. Most of his experience was based on simple trial-and-error, aside from the occasional moldy remains of a book containing some wisdom on the matter. Naturally, it didn't go completely smoothly all the time: ICs burning out from overvoltage, capacitors exploding from reversed polarity... he accumulated quite a long list of failures before he actually started building anything meaningful.

Back in the present, Kaworu distantly heard the door to the next room open and Shephard saying something unintelligible to Asuka. Her response was equally unintelligible but a few seconds later, the music turned off.

"Finally..." – Kaworu grumbled. He didn't exactly have a musical preference – courtesy of his former poverty – but it most definitely didn't include the kind of music Asuka was listening to. Nor Rei's, for that matter, but at least heavy metal wasn't so monotonous.

His door opening shook him out of his musing. – "Hey, idiot!"

"What is it?" – He looked up... and straight into the face of Asuka with a pair of small, rectangular glasses resting snugly on her nose.

"Dinner's ready, so get you ass out here."

Kaworu casually placed the soldering iron back to its socket and flicked off the transformer's power switch. – "Right. And what's with those glasses?"

Asuka visibly jolted in realization of someone unworthy seeing her no doubt embarrassing visage. – "None of your damn business. And if you tell anyone, I'll kill you!" – she growled before slamming the door.

Kaworu shook his head in annoyance. 'Here for barely a day and already strolling around like she owns the place... this will be fun.'

----

2143 hours

Asuka casually turned a page in the book she was reading. Dinner went pretty much as expected: her and that gray-haired creep exchanged verbal jabs nigh-constantly, but her father always stepped in before the situation escalated. Although she would never admit it, Asuka secretly enjoyed the sparring. A huge majority of boys she met during her almost-fourteen years of life practically salivated over the sheer amount of raw, natural beauty Asuka had the fortune of being born with; this, however, also meant they backed down far too quickly for her liking, in a futile effort to get on her good side. Little did they know that anyone who looked at her as if she was a piece of meat was automatically disqualified of her attention. Asuka was a woman and proud of it; she refused to be anyone's trophy.

Not that it really prevented her from flaunting herself at 'unworthy' males. Tempting – then saying "nuh-uh" with a seductive half-smile – was a great source of amusement for her. She frequently provoked jealousy from her fellow girls but that only served to fuel her fire more... especially once she realized her body didn't really care which gender she fantasized about during her private happy hours.

There were times – rare, but still there – when Asuka was jealous of someone else. Despite her otherwise borderline-goddess appearance, nature granted her a strictly average-sized chest. One of her new friends, Mari, was one such sore spot: Asuka was miffed quite a bit at the other girl's generous endowment. On the other hand, she did know about the occasional back pains large-chested women suffered from, lessening the jealousy somewhat.

As far as Asuka was concerned, the least her more endowed peers could do to compensate her was to serve as the objects of her fantasies.

She was fully aware, of course, that objectifying her fellow girls while refusing to be objectified herself was hypocritical. However, she had no illusions that her own wishes would in any way deter boys from imagining her face-down-ass-up in bed as they take her naked and sweaty body from behind. After all, even Asuka imagined herself like that once, only to come to the conclusion that having sexual fantasies about oneself borders uncomfortably close to narcissism – to say nothing of one knowing one's own body the best and thus quickly getting bored of it.

Still, Asuka didn't consider herself a slut. To be one would require her to be sexually promiscuous, but she could hardly be called that if she kept all her fantasies to herself. In her previous classes, she knew at least one girl who did the deed and went all the way (not that it did her boyfriend any good) but Asuka wouldn't follow that example. Not that she didn't want to try the real thing, but she would never jump into bed with a random guy who's more likely to brag about bagging her than actually appreciating her choosing him for her first time.

When fantasizing about her fellow girls however, Asuka had a simple rationalization: if being gay (and by extension, bisexual) wasn't considered 'normal' by the mainstream, it didn't count.

For that very purpose, she made sure to subtly evaluate the assets of every girl in her new class after PE. As expected, Mari was the unrivaled queen in that regard – although Asuka had a lingering suspicion the other girl caught onto her.

----

Tokyo-2, Inner District 5
October 9, 2041
0758 hours


"It's been ten days since the incident in Tokyo-2 that left several buildings damaged. Government officials still refuse to comment, citing that investigation into the incident is still underway and a reassurance that the military has the situation under control."

"This is fishy, man." – Kensuke commented to Tōji, referring to the news broadcast he was watching on his tablet. – "Sounds like a cover-up to me."

Tōji threw up his hands in defense. – "Don't ya come at me with that conspiracy theorist ZOINKS. Whatever you're up to, I don't wanna know."

"Hey, guys." – grumbled Kaworu as he dropped into his seat.

Kensuke was the first to notice Kaworu's distinct lack of enthusiasm. – "What got you in such a bad mood?"

Kaworu made an irritated sigh, resting his forehead on the desk. – "Guess who happened to move in at my place with her father, then decided to act like she owns the place..."

"I'm guessing a girl, based on you just having said 'she'."

"Bingo."

"And? Who is she?"

Without lifting his head up, Kaworu pointed at Asuka. – "Here's a hint: she's blond."

Everyone in earshot went dead silent at that.

Then everyone in earshot snapped their heads towards Asuka.

Then back at him.

A collective – "EEEEEHHH?!" – erupted from every single boy in earshot of Kaworu. And it wasn't just the noise: all of them collectively jumped out of their chairs and flocked around Kaworu's desk, trying to out-yell each other with incredulous questions.

"You really live with her?!"

"Lucky bastard!"

"Why you?!"

Kaworu covered his head. – "Guys, GUYS!" – he called out at the top of his lungs, getting the others to quiet down for a moment. – "Leave me alone! I didn't ask for it, nor do I want it!"

"Why the hell not?!" – one of the boys fired back, restarting the sonic storm of outrage.

What nobody in the class believed could ever happen happened: the group around Kaworu was so fired up that even Hikari failed to make them pipe down. Mari watched her friend get increasingly agitated in trying to get people's attention, face getting progressively redder at being ignored...

...until she reached into her sleeve and unsheathed her paper fan.

Then she reached into her other sleeve and pulled out a second paper fan.

Mari immediately winced. – "Oh, this is not going to be pretty."

A second later, the group of boys suddenly found their ranks being violently disrupted by a pigtailed dervish, arms moving so fast they could barely be seen as they relentlessly whacked everybody in arm's reach. She alternated her targets between every hit, but her sheer speed was such that the number of her victims just didn't matter. And she didn't attack just those on the group's outskirts.

No, she charged into the group like a human battering ram, those already under attack from her scattering to the wind like a disturbed flock of crows.

Kaworu's only warning was Tōji's sudden scream of – "ZOINKS ME!" –, followed by the jock diving over the desk behind him in panic.

Then Hikari raised both paper fans above her head and brought them down in an overhead strike. Straight onto Kaworu's head.

The sharp sound of the impact echoed across the classroom like a whip, making everyone wince.

Slowly, Kaworu raised his head and looked up at Hikari. – "...what did I do to deserve that?" – he asked calmly.

At the edge of his perception, he heard someone mutter – "What the ZOINKS? Is this guy invulnerable?"

"I heard that!" – Hikari shot back at the whisperer. – "What kind of language is that?" – She then looked at the desk Tōji was hiding under. – "And I heard you too, Suzuhara! How many times do I have to tell you to not swear in class?!"

A scared whimper was the only sound that came out from underneath the desk.

"And you, Nagisa! What exactly were you trying to achieve, bragging like that?!"

"I wasn't bragging!" – Kaworu defended himself. – "Do I look like I want to live with her?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Every eye turned towards Asuka as she stood behind the scattered remnants left by Hikari's charge, hands on her hips. Kaworu idly noticed that she wasn't wearing glasses this time; he guessed she probably used contacts in public.

"What's your problem with me, creep?" – she asked again.

"Aside from you talking down to me every single time you open your mouth? Nothing." – Kaworu muttered.

"Good. I don't want you to think you're automatically entitled to anything, just because you happen to live with me."

"You already said that yesterday."

"And I'm saying it again, just in case you already feel like doing something that might result in my foot getting closely acquainted with your teeth." – Asuka then looked at the crowd and smirked. – "So don't you listen to this idiot, boys... but then again, don't get your hopes up either." – she added with a seductive wink before retreating to her desk behind Hikari's, ignoring the storm of squeeing that erupted behind her.

Mari didn't let the matter lie, however. – "So it's true? You two really live in the same apartment?"

"Unfortunately, yes." – Asuka grumbled as she sat down.

"He hadn't... tried anything, did he?" – asked Hikari.

"Of course not." – Asuka leisurely flipped her hair. – "Not yet, anyway. But if he does, I'll show him what 'world of hurt' really means."

Back at Kaworu's desk, the gang finally dissolved and Kaworu glanced back at Tōji, who was currently climbing out from under his impromptu shelter, cautiously making sure that Hikari wasn't nearby. – "See what I mean? You all gush over her looks, but Scheiße is she arrogant..."

Tōji shook his head, occupying his chair again. – "Man, I still can't believe you... What IS it with you and chicks?"

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, don't you dare pretend you didn't notice!"

"Notice what?"

"Anyway..." – Kensuke interrupted. – "Who's the other guy who moved in with you?"

Kaworu thumbed towards Asuka. – "Her dad. Military. Good guy."

"Military, you say?"

"Here we go..." – Tōji sighed.

"Hey, I just wanna see what his public profile says! No harm in that. So, he's got the same last name as her, right?"

"Yeah."

"Okay..." – Kensuke started tapping on his tablet. – "Got 'im." – he announced a minute later. – "Lieutenant colonel Adrian Shephard. Army. Enlisted in 2024, currently on Earth for an assignment. Married in 2027, Kyoko Soryu, one child. And... ouch."

"What?"

"Wife died in 2030. I'll see if I can find out more." – Kensuke resumed fiddling with his tablet.

Tōji glanced at Asuka. – "Man... that sucks. She was like, what, three at the time?" – he murmured.

"Seems like it." – Kaworu murmured back.

"Yikes. Yikes." – Kensuke said suddenly, visibly and audibly wincing.

"What?" – the other two asked in a chorus.

"Have you guys heard about that terrorist attack in Hamburg, back in 2030?"

"I haven't." – Kaworu spoke up.

"Some masked goons raised hell at a scientific convention, took over a hundred hostages. Police failed to smoke them out, so they called in the military counter-terrorist unit." – The otaku shook his head. – "It went as bad as it could possibly go: when the bad guys felt the noose tightening around their neck, they gunned down three dozen hostages, blew up half of the building and slipped away in the chaos. Not a single one of them was caught; hell, no one knows who they even were. I heard Keel read the CTs one hell of a riot act afterwards."

"That sucks, but... where does that come in?" – Tōji asked.

Kensuke glanced towards Asuka before lowering his voice. – "I found her mom's name among the casualties."

----

1036 hours

'I found her mom's name among the casualties.'

Those words kept repeating inside Kaworu's head. Throughout class, between classes, even while he was washing his hands in the restroom. It was like that tune he once heard as a child somewhere, refusing to leave the forefront of his mind for even a minute.

He was seeing the girl in a different light now. She was still irritatingly arrogant, yes, but there was also something else. It wasn't sympathy, it wasn't pity, it wasn't schadenfreude... he had no idea what the emotion was, but it was there. And most irritatingly, he had no idea what prompted it either. It didn't matter what part of the world one was in, it was almost impossible to find anyone who hasn't lost friends or relatives during Second Impact. The only thing that really differed in her case was that she suffered her loss after Second Impact – which, while rarer, still wasn't unheard of, thanks to the copious numbers of Xen wildlife roaming the countryside all over the planet. That was why the Confederate military maintained such a large ground-based force even in peacetime, after all.

But he did know better than to blame her attitude on her background. After all, if growing up with only one parent could make one like that, then he, having grown up without both parents, would be an utter psycho. Yet he wasn't (as far as he could tell, anyway), so that theory was bogus right from the start.

His thoughts were finally and mercifully derailed when he walked out of the restroom and immediately heard someone trying to get his attention. – "Um... hey."

It was the boy he defended on his first day in school.

"What? Me?"

"Y-yeah. You're Nagisa, right?" – the geek asked, eyes looking everywhere but him.

"Yeah." – Kaworu tilted his head to the side. – "Why are you nervous? I don't bite or anything."

"I know, it's just... some guys wanted to talk to you."

"Did the guys I saved you from put you up to this?" – Kaworu asked immediately.

The geek shook his head vigorously. – "No! I've been asked to give this message to you."

"Alright then... who are they?"

"I don't know them either; some are upperclassmen, I think. They're waiting behind the school right now... but if you don't have time, I can tell them that."

Kaworu shook his head. – "No, I'm coming. Lead the way."

Only when they were outside did Kaworu ask the question that was nagging him for a minute now.

"Say... did those guys bother you ever since? The ones I beat up, I mean."

"No, haven't seen them." – The geek paused in his step to turn towards Kaworu, eyes still downcast. – "Listen... I know this is probably going to sound ridiculous, but... if I can help you with anything, anything at all, I'd be happy to."

"I didn't save you because I wanted anything from you." – Kaworu protested.

"Even so, I still want to help." – the boy insisted.

As they rounded the corner of the school building, Kaworu spotted them. Eight boys in a group, quietly talking about something his ears couldn't catch. He almost immediately concluded that it wasn't a boss-and-underlings type setup. The atmosphere was just too different. He didn't quite know how, but Kaworu had a knack for noticing details like that about people, somewhere on an intuitive level.

What that intuition told him right now what that the gathering was a round-table arrangement of equals.

As he approached and the teens looked up at him, one of them, wearing a dark brown hoodie, pushed himself away from the wall he was leaning against. – "You Nagisa?"

"Yeah."

Despite his face partly being hidden by his hood, Kaworu could plainly tell that the other teen looked him over. – "We've been hearing some interesting stuff about you."

"Let me guess... that I chased those three idiots away from him?" – Kaworu asked, thumbing at the geek behind him.

"And that you beat them up afterwards."

Kaworu cringed. – "That too?"

"The whole school knows." – one of the other boys added.

"For the record, they attacked me." – Kaworu said defensively. – "If you don't believe me, ask Suzuhara in my class. He saw the whole thing."

"Oh, we believe you alright." – Hoodie assured.

"So... what's this all about?"

Hoodie rested his back against the wall once more, folding his arms over his chest. – "Why exactly did you jump to help him?"

"Why, you have a problem with that?" – Kaworu challenged.

Apparently, there was no need to. – "Hell no! We're here because we agree with you." – The others all nodded. – "So, why?"

"Because he needed help."

"You don't like guys who pick on others?" – someone asked from the back.

"Did you guys know I came here from Vienna?" – Kaworu asked back.

"Now we do." – Hoodie replied curtly.

Kaworu sighed, resting his back against the wall himself. – "Back there, I used to know someone. Nice kid, about... two years younger than me; name's Kuchera. He was always that weak and helpless type; you know." – The others nodded. – "He too was bullied, as far as I can remember, right from when he started school. Sometimes, he told me how much he hated being like that and not being able to do anything against it. I wasn't that close to anyone back then, but... I guess you could call him my first friend. Anyway, he eventually got sick of always being a target and decided he couldn't take it anymore."

"There was this high schooler, out of a family with some really dangerous types. Some three years ago, he started harassing Kuchera for protection money."

Hoodie immediately put his hand up in a 'stop' gesture. – "Wait. A high schooler collecting protection money?"

"And not the only one either. There were a bunch of those in the neighborhood; some tried shaking me down too, but I was too poor for that."

"Man, that's ZOINKS up." – Hoodie remarked, shaking his head in disgust.

"Preaching to the choir, my friend. I lived in that neighborhood for eight years, so I can tell you that what you have here in Tokyo-2 is paradise when compared to that. I bet that, even if you've been to Europe, you never went into the slums, did you?"

"The outer districts here have some deep ZOINKS too, from what I hear." – someone called from the back.

"Maybe." – Kaworu replied with a shrug, though that statement did rouse his curiosity. – "Anyway, Kuchera eventually decided he didn't want to play along and called the guy a son of a bitch."

"And?"

"The bastard lost it. Broke Kuchera's nose, kicked him on the ground hard enough to crack one of his ribs, then hauled him off with his gorillas and beat him with a lead pipe."

Hoodie cringed. – "Holy ZOINKS..."

Kaworu made a bitter smile. – "I only found out later that the guy's mother was a former prostitute. So that insult struck a bit too close to home."

"What happened to your friend?"

"Broke his spine in two places. He's never going to walk again."

"Holy fucking ZOINKS." – Hoodie murmured with undisguised horror.

Kaworu slowly nodded. – "I never liked bullies... but that was what made me hate them. I don't want anyone else to end up like that. I mean, weak people are targeted because they can't defend themselves – but if they can't defend themselves, someone else's gotta do it for them." – He shifted his balance to his other leg. – "Survival of the fittest is complete ZOINKS. A couple centuries ago, they wouldn't have survived with what they have – but look at this world." – he said, gesturing towards the city. – "They could do so much more the way they are, yet they're stopped from doing so by those backward idiots who want to solve everything the old-fashioned way and happily drag everybody else down with themselves." – He shook his head in distaste. – "I'm sick of it all."

"I know how that feels, man." – Hoodie assured. – "We all feel the same way here. That's why we wanted to talk with you."

"What do you mean?"

"We've been thinking of doing something about that. A group of like-minded people would achieve more than lone wolves, right?"

"From what I hear, Freeman did a pretty good job at being a lone wolf." – the geek pitched in, rousing chuckling from the group.

"But he didn't do things alone." – Kaworu spoke up. – "The whole resistance pitched in."

"Damn right." – Hoodie agreed. – "So, what do you say? Should we gang up and do this thing together? I mean, we all have family, friends, some of us girlfriends; none of us want them to end up like your friend."

"Well..." – Kaworu began uncertainly. – "I don't have anything against the idea, but... I'm not sure you'd want me. I mean, what I would do might be a bit... extreme for you."

Hoodie shrugged. – "Maybe, maybe not. Anyway, name's Tokiwa. What do you have in mind?"

----

Concerning Asuka's hair color: Yoshiyuki Sadamoto's concept art on pages 3 and 20 of the original proposal for the Evangelion TV series portrayed her with somewhat brownish hair. I seem to recall something about the animation team drawing her with her signature orange hair entirely by accident born out of miscommunication, but I can't remember where I heard that, so it should be taken with a grain of salt. What I can say with absolute certainty is that Asuka's canon hair color is actually not red but strawberry blond (that is, heavily red-tinted blond but still a distinctly lighter shade than true red hair) and Sadamoto drew her with blond hair in the manga.

Here, she is straight-up blond, inherited from her father. Her mother was still a redhead, but that doesn't mean Asuka would necessarily be a redhead too: genetics-wise, red hair is recessive and can remain hidden for multiple generations before being expressed in a descendant. Her being blond was not a result of a sudden impulse or anything like that, but a holdover from the very early concept plans for this story.

Everything considered, it can be said that what you are reading right now is version 2.1 of something that came to my mind circa 2006. The first concept – version 0.1, if you will – was of a story rather similar to Homeworld. This was before I even heard about that game, so I was rather miffed at finding out that it was already done before.

Version 0.2 was when Half-Life came into the picture, evolving the concept into a Star Trek-esque space opera with HL characters (never seen Star Trek, but that's the best comparison I know of). This was the first one I wrote down notes for; I no longer have those.

Version 0.3 formed in 2007, a year or so before I saw NGE for the first time – and in hindsight, I'm glad I did. Originally, it wasn't an Eva story, just heavily inspired by it tech-wise. No character archetypes were carried over and I only finished two character concepts before moving on, no story whatsoever. The concept of a blond pilot girl comes from this one. No notes remain from this one either.

Then sometime in 2008, I decided to just go and turn it into an Eva fic, reaching back to the HL roots to establish a fusion between the two verses. And in 2010, I started writing version 1.0, titled Ascension Tetralogy at the time. While it had the same cast, it was quite different from SCE. For starters, it was a Super Robot story to the core, born out of my experiences with TTGL and Nobody Dies. Kaworu's character was that of a blatantly and deliberately stereotypical hotblooded dumbass with memetic!Kamina vibes, including calling his attacks and being overly theatrical. The Evas were also much more organic and Super Robot-y in nature. I actually managed to write this one all the way up to the Israfel battle before I had a mental breakdown and dumped it, as I had gotten fed up with cranking out over 150,000 words and receiving no feedback whatsoever (partly because of how little traffic this site's crossover section receives), feeling like I was working my ass off for nothing. Simply put, I was completely, utterly sick of it. I fucking hated it with a passion and regret that I ever made the choice to start writing fanfiction instead of only reading it. I still have the original, unedited chapters for this one, but not the notes; the chapters I'm going to keep for the foreseeable future, as my sempais, Gundam Kaiser and Marq FJA, both asked to look at them. There were some minor rewrites, but nothing worth noting here.

The thought of restarting came to me in 2012. Gradually, version 2.0 started forming in my mind. It was at this point that the story got retitled to Strategic Cyborg Evangelion, symbolically turning a new page. It was mostly identical to the current version, although Kaworu was still more confident than right now, and had a tendency to go on Hitler-like rants if he worked himself up. This attempt at rewriting gradually died off from lack of interest and motivation, starting back up last year. It was in last December that I decided the problem was not merely in the execution, but in the roots as well, and decided to remedy that by starting over from the beginning and fixing those problems instead of trying to write around them like before. I feel Kaworu's current portrayal does his character and Akira Ishida's supreme voice acting talent far more justice than before.

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