A Glass of Wine (Chapter 18)

Shinji entered the kitchen on Thursday morning, expecting an empty room, and was surprised to see his commanding officer was already up. Not only that, but she was already in uniform, leaning on the kitchen table, sipping her coffee. She was looking away from him, toward the front door.

"Good morning," he said.

Misato turned to look at him, as if he had somehow startled her. "Morning," she said.

"Want anything for breakfast?" he said, moving past her to the countertop.

"No, I'm alright," she said. "I'll probably grab something on the drive."

"To where?" he said.

"Oh. Well, I'm leaving for Matsushiro today."

"That's for the Unit 03 activation test, right?" he said.

"Yeah," Misato said. "Kaji will come stay the night with you guys, though."

Shinji started pulling clean dishes from the dishwasher and putting them away. As he did so, he tried to choose his words carefully. "I, uh, heard that there was an accident at the American base."

"Yes," Misato said. "But that was just an accident. Everything will go fine here. Dr. Akagi is the best." She sipped her coffee and looked behind her back, toward the hall, as if checking on something. "How are things with Asuka?" she said, after a moment.

"Fine," Shinji said.

"That's the kind of fine that says things aren't fine." Misato dumped the rest of her coffee in the sink and leaned against the counter, right next to him. "She being difficult?"

Shinji shrugged. "I don't know. Things were fine, and then she woke up in the middle of the night, we talked, and she hasn't said a word to me since."

"What was the last thing you talked about?"

"My first sortie," he had said, then, "Unit 01 lost control. I couldn't remember any of it at first. It took till a few days later, after I got out of the hospital and moved in here, for it to come back to me. It hit all at once. I remembered it as if I had been the one doing it, not the Eva. If something like that happens to you, I want you to know that I get it. You can talk to me about it."

She looked at him, sideways. He hoped that she would admit it, or tell him something new that he could help with, or just give him some response that would let him orient himself in this chaotic new development.

"I want to be alone," she had said instead.

Shinji shook his head. "Just some stuff," he said.

Misato's expression was openly skeptical, but she didn't press it further. "Can I give you some advice?" she said.

"I guess."

"Whatever she's holding back on, whatever she's worried about, it isn't your fault. When she's ready to talk, she'll talk."

"She's taking her sweet time," Shinji said.

Misato knocked her fist against his shoulder, shoving him. "Don't be a little jerk," she said, then watched as he grinned, unable to help himself. "Hey, there you are. Welcome back."

He shook his head and went back to the dishes. "I just hope whoever you fly in to pilot the new unit isn't a weirdo," he said. "There's enough of us already."

Misato paused. "Yeah," she said. "I'll keep that in mind."


Asuka leaned against the hallway wall and listened until Misato was finished. She heard only snippets of the personal information, but it was enough. He was supposed to wait for her to talk? What was that supposed to mean? Like she needed time to figure out what she wanted to say?

A part of it was right. She had avoided him for a week, after all. He had tried to talk with her. Maybe she had needed the time. But the rest of her wasn't about to let Misato Katsuragi—the woman who couldn't keep any man—make her out to be some coward who couldn't talk to her own boyfriend.

She listened until she heard the front door slide shut behind Misato, then waited. She tried to gauge how long she needed to wait before stepping out so that it didn't look like she had been listening. Thirty seconds? A minute? What was the most natural?

A minute should do it. She had just begun counting silently when Shinji rounded the corner into the hallway and nearly ran into her.

He pulled back at the last moment, curling away from her. "Oh, sorry."

He looked her up and down, saw that she was hugging tight against the wall and that she was still in the big t-shirt she'd worn to bed. She watched him realize that she had definitely been listening to his conversation. His lips began to move, his eyebrows began to furrow, and she knew he was about to question her.

So, she went on the attack. "Watch where you're walking, Third."

"Me?" he said. "You're the one standing in the middle of the hallway."

"Oh sure. You were just trying to bump into me as an excuse."

"An excuse for what?"

"For a way to bump into me and, y'know, do stuff."

"I was going to my room to get my—wait what stuff?"

"I don't know. Whatever pervert crap you come up with."

Shinji shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. "You were eavesdropping!"

"No," Asuka said, pointing at him, "you heard me standing here and tried to bump into me as an excuse to grab my boobs!"

Shinji turned beat red. "I-I-I didn't do that at all! I wasn't even thinking about your... your..."

"Uh huh. A likely story." Asuka said, moving past him to the kitchen. Take that, Misato. Now who isn't ready to talk?


Clamps locked around the Alpine's wheels and the car tram took off down the tunnel, whisking along a steep incline into the geofront. The ride would take about fifteen minutes, so Misato reclined her seat and ate her fast food breakfast like a slob. No one was around, anyway.

She thumbed her stereo control. This far underground, her car antenna couldn't pick up a thing. The CD player ca-chunked and whirred into action. Soon she had music to cover her chomping.

She watched the wall stanchions sliding past beyond her windshield, chewed, and thought. Shinji assumed they were bringing in a kid with the Eva, a new pilot with a new unit. She had spent the past days worrying about whether or not he would figure out that the pilot was Suzuhara, but it never occurred to her that he might just make the logical guess that the pilot would be an import like Asuka.

Not for the first time, she felt guilty about not telling him, but only for a moment. Once the test was over, once Unit 03 was added to the combat roster, then there would be plenty of time for Shinji, Asuka, and Rei to adjust to their classmate being the new Fourth Child.

By the time the tram came to a stop and the Alpine was released from its clutches, Misato had a whole new perspective. Maybe, since Asuka had definitely been hiding in the hallway this morning, they would even be talking again by the time she got back. Kaji was due to stay the night, so maybe he would even patch things up with Asuka and put whatever weirdness they'd had behind them. She would return from Matsushiro with a new pilot and new unit to a revitalized, happy home.

Sometimes, Misato reflected as she turned into the convoy muster, you just had to leave to make things better.

She pulled up the the lead vehicle and immediately lost her smile. "Shit," she said, balling up the last food wrapper and tossing it in the floorboard. She hopped out.

"Good morning, Sub-Commander Fuyutski," she said, saluting.

"Morning, Major," he replied. "That's quite a vehicle you have there."

"Oh, yeah," she said. "It's a hobby." She looked at Ritsuko, who was standing next to Fuyutski. "How is the loading coming, Doctor?"

"Fine. We're actually finished and ready to go when you are."

Misato opened her mouth to speak, but Fuyutski cut her off. He pointed to the massive, 24-wheeled hauler next to them. "Will we be traveling in the point vehicle, Doctor?"

"Yes, sir," Ritsuko said. "It should be about a three hour drive, sir."

"Fantastic. I'll get settled in, then."

Misato watched Fuyutski walk away. Once he was aboard the hauler, and out of sight, she rushed to Ritsuko's side. "What is he doing here?"

"He showed up twenty minutes ago. Said he's coming along."

"Why?" Misato said.

"I didn't ask." Ritsuko gestured to her clipboard, as if there was something interesting to show Misato. For her part, Misato pretended to be interested.

"Has he ever sat in on something before?" she said.

"Only a few synch tests, but those were for Rei, and they were years ago."

"You think he's keeping an eye on us?"

"Obviously," Ritsuko replied.

"What for?"

"I've no idea."

Misato nodded at the clipboard and pointed at it for emphasis. "How do you want to play this?"

"Play it?" Akagi said. "Misato, we've got nothing to hide here. We just do our jobs."

Misato wanted to press the issue, but realized A: it would get no where, and B: she could only fake this clipboard crap for so long before it became obvious and stupid.

"Fine," she said. "I'll follow your lead."


The two kids were in the kitchen together, Shinji continuing to pack his lunch, Asuka sitting at the table, watching.

"Misato is gone today, right?" Asuka said.

"Yeah. She's got the activation test. Kaji is coming over tonight."

"For what? As a babysitter?"

"I guess." Shinji gestured to the phone. "What are you doing?"

"Making your day better," she said. She opened the drawer beneath the phone and pulled out the notepad that always sat there, numbers and names scrawled across it. Horaki residence, takeout, takeout, takeout, Suzuhara residence, more takeout...

"There," she muttered, finding the correct number. She dialed.

"What are you doing?" Shinji said.

She held up a finger. The phone rang. Then a voice.

"Tokyo-3 First Municipal Middle. How can I help you?"

Asuka coughed and pitched her voice to do her best impression of her commanding officer. "Uh, yes, this is Major Katsuragi with Nerv Operations Management. I'm Shinji Ikari's legal guardian."

Shinji moved in, reaching for the phone. Asuka planted a palm in his sternum and turned him away.

"Yes," said the voice on the phone, waiting for more.

"I'm calling to inform you that Shinji won't be in today. He's terribly sick."

Shinji grabbed her arm and tried to pull her in, to get the phone. "Asuka!" he hissed.

"Shut up!" she said, holding the receiver away for a moment.

"Ms. Katsuragi? Is everything alright?"

Shinji pushed her hand aside by the wrist. His fingertips grasped for the phone, nearly reaching it. Asuka spun again and stuck her foot in his shin, sending him tumbling.

She righted herself and put the receiver comfortably back in the crook of her shoulder. "Sorry, I'm feeding my penguin."

"Your what?"

"Do you need anything else from me?" Asuka said. Shinji was standing back up, so she jogged away, down the hall and into her room.

"Not really," the voice continued. "We'll be sure to send his homework to him this evening. Would you be okay with a student aide bringing it by?"

Shinji followed her, running into her room before she could stop him. She bit down a laugh and she jumped onto her bed, still holding the phone to her ear.

"That'll be fine," she said.

"You have a good day, Ms. Katsuragi."

Shinji launched himself toward her, arms outstretched.

"Okay you too bye-bye!" Asuka said. Her thumb found the end call button just before Shinji tackled her. They landed together on the bed, one of his hands pinning her wrist while he pried the phone out of her grip.

"Hello! Hello?" he said, into the dead receiver. He tossed the phone aside. "Why did you do that?"

Asuka was laughing too hard to respond. She slapped his shoulder and closed her eyes.

"Why did you do that?" he repeated, but through a smile. He tried to wipe it away, but couldn't. "I had a test today."

That did it. Her laugh became a howl.

Shinji couldn't contain it and started laughing, too. He rolled onto his side and laughed with her.

"'I had a test today'," she said, as the laughs gave way to chuckles.

"I did," he said, as the chuckles faded to an occasional grunt.

"Yeah, well, now you don't," she said.

They laid there for a moment, both staring at the ceiling. Asuka listened. Outside, the noise of a truck rumbling by. From the kitchen, the clatter of the ice maker on auto-cycle. In her chest, the beating of her heart; next to her, the breaths of a boy she loved.

"I'm sorry I've been a jerk," she said, without looking at him.

"You haven't been a jerk."

"I wanna tell you stuff but I don't know how." It was easier to speak to him like this, in the aftermath of the silliness. It was easy to not look at him. "I'm worried you'll hate me."

She heard him shake his head. The brush of his hair on the bedsheets. "I'll never hate you."

Overhead, her fan chopped the air, slowly. She watched the blades spin, tracking them with her eyes until the ceiling behind the fan became as blurry as the blades had once been. When she couldn't look at it anymore, she closed her eyes. It was then that she spoke the truth.

"My mom killed herself when I was four," she said. "She was in a hospital. My dad never told me why, really, but I know that she was crazy."

The lump in her throat showed up immediately, but she forced it down and continued.

"I went to see her every week. She had this doll she would talk to. She acted like it was me, called it my name. She used to feed it from plastic bottles." She wiped her eyes preemptively. "There was a glass window I could see her through. Not like on the door, but on the wall, like I was meant to."

"Like an observation window." Shinji's voice was quiet but not distant. He wasn't trying to shush her, she realized.

"Yeah, exactly. I saw her every week through that window, talking to that doll. I wanted to bang on the glass and tell her that I was right there, that I needed her more. But I never did."

"Did she ever see you?"

"Once. She looked at me and pointed me out to the doll. She said the doll needed to drink its milk, or that 'mean girl over there' was going to laugh at her."

The tears came on fast. She wiped her eyes again.

"She hanged herself not too long after that. I had just been selected to be a pilot that day, and I told my dad I wanted to tell her. Some idiot part of me figured that if I became a pilot, my mom would start looking at me, would talk to me." She took a deep breath, steadying herself. "I walked in on her hanging there. The doll was hanging next to her on its own noose."


She didn't let him finish. She had to plunge ahead and finish this now, or she'd never say any of it again. "I didn't cry at the funeral. I told people that I was done crying, that I didn't need to cry. I didn't need friends, either. I didn't need my dad, and I didn't need my step-mom. I didn't need anyone. I needed me and my Eva, that's all.

"Now I don't have my Eva, I'm over here crying, and I've spent the last week being a bitch to the only boy who ever said he loved me, so I'm thinking maybe my crazy mom was right. Maybe I was that mean girl the whole time."

"You're not a mean girl."

"Oh yeah? What do you call a person who promises she'll never need anyone and then ends up crying like a baby?" She balled her fists and slammed them into the sides of her head. "I'm pathetic!"

She felt him move by the way the bed rocked. The next thing she knew, his arms were around her, one across her chest, the other slipping across her shoulders. His forehead touched her temple; his nose was against her cheek, and she smelled the tears that ran down his face, too.

"Stop that," he said, a tremble in his voice.

"I'm worthless."

"I don't want to hear you say that." He pulled her close.

She felt his breath on her cheek. "Why?"

"It's too sad," he said. "And it's wrong. You're not worthless."

"I'm an awful person."

"No," he said. "You're my favorite person."

She giggled through the tears and rolled into him, pressing her forehead to his. "I'm a coward for crying like this."

"Then I'm a coward, too."

She lay still. His arms were around her. She placed her palm on his chest and felt his heart beating.

Time passed. The rays of the sun grew longer in the room, and she felt their heat on her bare shoulders and legs. Her tears dried. Shinji didn't leave.

She opened her eyes and found him looking at her, his blue eyes filling her vision.

"Were you watching me?" she said.

He shrugged. "A little."

"Do you hate me now?"

He shook his head. "Never."

"Do you trust me?"


She bit her lip. "Do you wanna kiss me?"

"Always," he said.

So he did.


Kaji came over at a quarter-to-six. Shinji met him at the door, and walked with him into the kitchen. Dinner was already on the stove, simmering. "You can put your stuff in the living room for now," Shinji said, standing rigidly by the refrigerator. Asuka appeared and stood beside her co-pilot, watching Kaji. Something was clearly up.

"Thanks," Kaji said. He glanced at the kitchen trash can and saw the crumpled snack wrappers, chip bags, and soda cans. He looked at the two children, then, his eyes checking them from head to toe. Then he looked at the charging base for the apartment's cordless phone, its phone missing. He looked back at the kids.

"You skipped school," he said, to Shinji.

"What!?" Asuka started. "He did no such thing! That's a lie!"

"Crap," Shinji said.

She punched him in the arm. "Shut up!"

"He figured it out!" Shinji said. "I told you it wouldn't work!"

Kaji let the bickering continue for a minute while he placed his overnight bag in the living room. From the kitchen, he heard more slapping and whimpered apologetics. When the noise died away, he returned.

"Got that out of your systems?" he said.

"I think so," Shinji said, rubbing his bruised shoulder.

"Good. Asuka?"


"Good enough." Kaji looked between the two of them. Smoke was wafting from the stove, and the crackle of too much flame under a pan was audible. "Dinner smells good."

Shinji's eyes went wide. "Oh, crap."

The Third Child ran across to the stove and started work, lifting the pan aside and swatting the smoke with a towel. The smoke alarm buzzed, and Pen-Pen took off across the kitchen, running for cover.

Kaji walked to the fridge and pulled out one of Katsuragi's beers and a soda. He held out the soda to Asuka.

"Want to show me the balcony?" he said.

"What for?" she muttered, taking the soda.

"For one, so I can see it. For two, so we can get away from all this noise," he said. "And, for three, so I can apologize to my friend."

Asuka looked at Shinji as he fought the smoke, then back to Kaji. "Alright," she said.


"I didn't think we were friends," Asuka said, a moment later.

Kaji slid the deck door shut behind him and walked to the railing. He cracked his beer open and took a swig. "What else would we be?"

Asuka stood apart from him. She had always felt comfortable around Kaji, but since the watermelon incident she felt awkward even thinking about him. She leaned on the railing, too, a full five feet from him.

"You're an adult," she said. "Kids and adults aren't friends."

"That sounds like an Asuka rule."

"It's an everyone rule."

"Well, forgive me all to hell for caring about you, kid."

Asuka looked at him. "Apologies start with 'I'm sorry'."

"I said I was going to apologize to my friend." Kaji gestured broadly, turning his waist to let his arms encompass all of creation. "But since we aren't friends…"

"Fine," Asuka said. "You can be my friend."

"Thank you," Kaji said. He placed his forearms on the railing and looked out across the evening skyline. "Sometimes, we have to get things off our chests and tell someone how we feel. I wanted to give you that chance, so I took you to a place that I find very peaceful, where I go to let off steam."

Asuka watched him, silent.

"Everything you mentioned the other day, I already knew about. I've known about it all since before I met you. I never brought it up because, most of the time, people need the space to bring things up on their own. It isn't my place to tell you how to be or how to live your life, Asuka. I'm not your father.

"So I apologize if that trip made you feel uncomfortable. My goal was to help you out, but I don't think I did." Kaji took a drink. "Anyway, you know that I'll never share that information with someone who doesn't already know it. Anything you say to me is private. Always has been."

Asuka was quiet for a moment. She held her soda in both hands, thumb rubbing the lip of it while she watched the street below.

"You did help me," she said. She cleared her throat. "I found someone to talk to."

"I'm glad to hear that."

"It's Shinji," she clarified.

"I figured."

"Hey, so, I think I owe you an apology, too."

Kaji shook his head. "None of that stuff in the garden was your fault, Asuka."

"I don't mean in the garden." Asuka thumbed her can again, flicking the tab. Ting. Ting. Ting. She hunched her shoulders, cringing at what she wanted to say. "I don't like thinking about this," she said.

"Oh," he said, "that."

Asuka nodded. Her mind placed her back several months, to a sunset much like tonight's, but in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. She remembered lying on the deck, watching the last rays of light, Kaji next to her. They had talked, and then she—

"I shouldn't have done that," she said, shuddering despite the warm weather.

"You didn't do anything," Kaji said.

"But I tried." She put one hand to her face. "I've spent a lot of time trying to be an adult, Kaji. I don't want to do things like that anymore. I don't want to be that way. Not to you."

A part of her worried that Kaji might try to hug her, but he kept his distance.

"I know you don't," he said. "I knew you didn't really want to be like that even that night. You're a good person, Asuka. I don't judge you for that mistake."

"Thank you," she tried to say, but choked on it. She stopped herself, took a deep breath, and, for the second time that day, wiped her tears clean without trying to hide it. It felt good.

"Thanks," she said, more successfully.

"Anytime," Kaji said. He reached out with his beer. "To being friends."

"Sure," Asuka said, smiling. The cans clinked.

She looked behind them, into the kitchen. Shinji was finishing dinner. The smoke was gone, and Pen-Pen was calmly standing next to the table, waiting for his own food. She watched Shinji as he prepared three plates, then took his apron off and hanged it on its hook.

"Uh-oh," Kaji said.

"What?" she said.

"I know that face. What are you thinking about?"

"Nothing," she lied, grinning. "Okay. I've got a favor to ask."

Kaji finished his beer, then crumpled it with a squeeze. "Let's hear it," he said.

So she told him.


Friday morning. First bell was to ring in five minutes, and Tokyo-3 First Municipal Junior High School secretary Hiroko Mizuno was running late. Her kid sister was late waking up, late getting dressed, and late at everything else, which in turn made Hiroko late for work. She had just enough time to get to her desk in the front office before the first class of the day. As she entered, she caught a disapproving look from Principal Takashi, who then disappeared into his office. The rest of the women in the office secretary pool did not bother to look up at her.

Not for the first time in the past year, Hiroko wished that she could quit this stupid job. The climate sucked, the responsibilities sucked, and the paperwork definitely sucked. In the past two weeks alone she'd spent seven hours with Nerv administrators running security checks for "inter-school pilot enrollment changes". For every other kid, a change in schedule or attendance was handled in a few minutes. But not for the 2-A kids, no. For them, every change had an NDA attached, every file had to be scrutinized and approved by a licensed Nerv agent, and all of it needed signatures in triplicate. It was exhausting.

Unfortunately, there weren't many jobs available in the current economic climate—impending war at every turn didn't help—and so here she was, stuck.

At one minute to first bell, a man appeared in front of her desk. She looked up and saw his Nerv uniform. She looked higher and saw his scruffy, handsome face. "Hello," he said. "I'm Inspector Ryoji Kaji, Nerv intelligence. I'd like to talk to you about one of our pilot's enrollment status."

"Shit," said Hiroko Mizuno.


Shinji walked with Asuka to class. The hallways were empty, and from each classroom came the sound of teachers starting the first class of the day—a chorus of standing, bowing, and sitting, the tick-tack of chalk hitting blackboard, and chair legs sliding on tile. Shinji looked at her quickly, then put his eyes back on the hallway.

"What?" she said.


They walked the rest of the way in silence. Hikari was in the hallway, leaning out of 2-A's door as she hanged the completed morning attendance roster on its peg. She saw them approaching and grinned. "Asuka!" she said, letting the door close behind her, muffling the sudden noise of the class reacting to the name.

"Hey, Hikari," Asuka said, trying to downplay her excitement. Hikari hugged her nevertheless, and it did a lot to lessen her faux-dour mood.

"Are you back?" Hikari said.

Asuka nodded. "I am. I still don't know any Kanji." She indicated Shinji. "Plus, he needs my help. With everything."

"Here's the transfer notice," Shinji said, handing over the office-approved slip of paper.

Hikari took it with a glance at him, but didn't seem to care about his presence. "I'll go in and announce you," she said, walking away. Before she re-entered the classroom, she turned. "Hey, Asuka?"


"I'm really glad you decided to come back."

Asuka nodded, forcing a small smile. "Thanks, Hikari."

Hikari disappeared into the classroom. Asuka and Shinji stood in the hallway, waiting. To Shinji, she seemed to be thinking her way through her decision again, and took her silence as a worry.

"You going to say something or keep staring at me?" she said.

"Oh," he said. "Uh…"

"Just spit it out, Third."

"I just… Yesterday you said you hated going back on all that stuff you promised yourself as a kid."


"Well, today you're back here, re-enrolled. Didn't you promise you were done with this?"

"I did," she said.

"I was just wondering if you had any trouble with this." Shinji shrugged. "Like, do you see this as going back on a promise to yourself? Did you see it that way?"

"I did, yeah. I'm definitely breaking a promise." Asuka looked at Shinji. "But then I figured, who cares? I'll do what I want."

The door opened again and Hikari smiled at them. "Come on in," she said.

Asuka took a breath and stepped inside. Immediately, Shinji heard the room detonate with the clamor of surprised teenagers. Asuka gave an extravagant bow to the room, soaking in the noise. The sight brought a grin to his lips.

Hikari, still holding the door open, looked at him. "You, too, Ikari."


Nerv's Matsushiro base was little more than a collection of prefab buildings erected around a central test bay, which itself was a reinforced, Evangelion-sized concrete hole in the ground. It was also very empty when the supply convoy arrived at the site. Most of Misato's Thursday was spent with Ritsuko as she supervised the process of filling the hole with gimbals, power cabling, sensor banks, lights, gangways, and a fully functioning cage system—all the things that a newly-arrived Evangelion needed to pass its first activation test.

The ride to Matsushiro had been awkward. The workday after had been awkward, too. No matter where Ritsuko was, Sub-Commander Fuyutski wasn't far behind, checking her work, making comments, and questioning everything. He was entirely pleasant about it, but all the pleasantness in the world couldn't outweigh the foreboding brought on by his constant presence and illusive purpose.

By Thursday night, Misato had been convinced that Fuyutski was there just to watch Ritsuko. But now, on Friday, she was less sure. The Sub-Commander had started the day by finding her in the communications trailer as she finished up a call to air traffic control in Kyoto.

"Any word?" he said.

"The flight is behind schedule," she told him. "We should have a drop-off by 0930."

"And the pilot?"

"On schedule, just as we thought. I'm planning to speak with him once we get the Unit squared away."

"Very good. And now?"

Misato pointed at the backup generators, in the next equipment shed. "Checking power requirements."

"Ah. Mind if I join you?" he asked, as if she could say no.

Unit 03 arrived at its new time. The carrier lowered it into position within the testing cage, hovering in place, blasting the work site with downdraft from its turbojets while the auto-gimbals disengaged the Evangelion from its transport crucifix. Then the carrier lifted off, peeling away towards home again.

Misato checked the test site, ensured that the technicians were following Ritsuko's orders, made adjustments to the control booth's logistical layout, and gave a pep-talk to the new pilot. Fuyutski stayed with her the entire time. Mostly he just watched, which compelled Misato to narrate her actions to him, explain everything as if he were judging her decisions. But he simply nodded, smiled, and kept right with her.

"How is he?" Ritsuko asked, once they were all together again in the control booth.

"The Fourth Child?" Misato said. "He seems confident. Prepared."

On the screen, Toji Suzuhara was stepping into the entry plug. His new plugsuit looked good on him, as if he belonged in it. There was no audio feed, so Misato saw him talking with a technician as he got settled. He looked the tech in the eyes and listened intently.

"Quite a bit different from Shinji, don't you think?" Ritsuko said, checking her datapad.

Misato didn't reply.

Fuyutski appeared beside her, done inspecting a control terminal at the other end of the room. "Everything seems to be on schedule. Well done."

"Thank you, sir," Misato said.

"Soon you'll have four Evangelions under your command, Major. How does it feel?"

Misato smiled. "Like I could conquer the world, sir."

She was worried that the joke might not land, but the Sub-Commander returned her smile.

"I'm sure it does," he said. "Just try to designate a place for us old folks in your new utopia, eh?"

"No promises, sir."

On screen, the plug's lid sealed shut, and the body of the plug corkscrewed into place. The covering groaned into place and locked tight. Soon, the familiar sounds of start-up chatter surrounded Misato as Ritsuko led her team through the final safety checks.

"Initiating level one connection. Beginning pulse broadcast."

"Nominal values across all graphs."

"Checklist complete through item 1350."

"Initial contact: status green."

Ritsuko held her datapad at her side, watching the test intently. "Permission given to move to phase two."

"Nerve system interlink is a go."

"Checklist complete through item 2550."

"All harmonics are reading normal values."

"Approaching absolute borderline."

Misato swiveled her head to watch the harmonics readout. The absolute borderline was red, red, red, and then flickered green.

Then it suddenly flowed backwards, a complete harmonics cascade failure. Red emergency lighting blitzed across half the consoles in the room.

"Rits—" she started, but Ritsuko was already shouting.

"Break the circuit! Total systems shutdown now!"

One of the techs wheeled around. "No response. I'm reading an autonomous energy signature within the Eva."

"An Angel?" Ritsuko said.

Misato looked at Fuyutski, who seemed just as shocked as anyone else. The control booth was panicking. Someone moved to the exit, slamming open the door. Outside light splashed in. Another tech ripped a circuit board out of the primary harmonics console, trying to hard reboot it.

Ritsuko grabbed Misato by the arm. "It's going to blow," she said.

"Energy signature rising!" someone shouted.

Misato grabbed Fuyutski. "Get down!" she said, yanking him off his feet.

She felt the floor as she slammed into it. Fuyutski exhaled with a grunt, landing next to her. He looked at her, some last-ditch idea springing to his lips. "We need to—"

Then with sudden brightness and incredible sound, the world was whiplashed into darkness.