Chapter Fifteen: Plans not Plots
Soft, upturned topsoil flattened beneath Kyle's boots as he approached the spot marked on the garden-plot. He thrust his shovel into the loam for what seemed like the hundredth time, digging a small hole for Shinji to place a young strawberry plant in. They had been doing this for nearly an hour now, ever since they arrived right after school.
"This sucks," Kyle complained, taking a moment to wipe a bead of sweat off his forehead with the back of his arm, "I can't believe Misato is making us do this nonsense."
"This isn't so bad," Shinji replied, kneeling down on his good leg to pack dirt around the sides of the plant, "I think we got off pretty easy."
"Says you. We have way more important things to be doing right now than messing around with the dirt."
"Like what?" Shinji asked.
"Like figuring out a way to get to Ibaraki," Kyle answered, as the two of them moved on to the next plot. Shinji was dragging behind them a small cart filled with strawberry plants. It was not their first, and they weren't allowed to leave until all of them had been planted into the rows.
"I thought you said you already had a plan," Shinji frowned, waiting for Kyle to dig another hole.
"I said I was working on one, but Misato's been keeping her eye on us a lot more lately, so I haven't figured a way to give her the slip."
"Hmmm," Shinji chewed his lip and shrugged, "Well, I have no idea."
Kyle clicked his tongue in annoyance, dug a new hole and said, "Wow, what a great help you are."
"Sorry, but I'm not used to coming up with crazy plots like you…no offense," Shinji laughed nervously.
"I do not plot," replied Kyle somewhat defensively, "I make plans and I…"
"Hey!" a rough voice barked at them, "Stop talking and get back to work!"
It was the volunteer coordinator, a bald man with a thick mustache. Kyle grumbled and hurried up his digging. For the next half hour, Kyle and Shinji sped their way through the remaining strawberry plants. By the end of it, Kyle was covered with sweat from the heat and the activity and had tied his denim jacket around his waist.
"I'm thirsty," Kyle said, "Let's go get some water from the shed."
Shinji nodded and the two of them walked across a nearby field to a tin shed with a slanted roof. Inside was a table where several coolers had been placed for the volunteers to get water. Kyle attempted to pour himself a cup but found that each and every single one of the coolers was empty.
"What gives?" Kyle shouted, "Where's all the water?"
"The other volunteers finished their assignments ages ago," a female voice spoke from behind them, "You were so late we emptied out the refreshments."
Kyle turned around and groaned. It was the girl from his class, the one with pig-tails who had tried to keep him from leaving at lunchtime.
"What are you doing here?" Kyle said.
"I am a volunteer," she replied, "Just like you and Ikari here. A better question would be why you are here, because you don't seem like the type to be here out of the goodness of your heart."
Kyle scoffed, "You don't know anything about me, I love…uh...helping the community?"
The girl crossed her arms in a huff and scowled, "Yeah, right. Unless you're here to help clean up you need to get out of here."
"Fine, fine, we were just leaving anyway. Come on, Shin, we're out of here."
Rei opened her eyes upon hearing the muffled sound of footsteps approaching her synchronization tank. She stood placidly in a tube of filtered LCL, the light glowing from its base rendering the liquid a luminescent amber color. There was nothing else in the room, besides the approaching figures of Commander Ikari and Doctor Akagi.
"Rei," the Commander said, "Are you ready to come out?"
Rei nodded. Moments later, the LCL began to drain out through the holes of a grate placed at the bottom of the tank. As she stepped out, dripping wet, the Commander handed her a fluffy towel to dry herself off with.
"Dr. Akagi will do a check-up on you, then we'll meet for dinner in my quarters."
"Yes, sir." Rei replied.
Ritsuko waited for Rei to get dressed, then took her up to the former's office. Rei stepped on a scale, had her blood pressure taken, stuck out her tongue and had a bright light shone into her ears.
"Looks like you've fully recovered from the accident a month ago. How have you been feeling recently? Sleeping well?"
"I feel fine," Rei replied, "And I have been sleeping adequately."
Ritsuko began to scribble down some notes on her clipboard, "Hmm. I've been told that you've been a little more active at night recently."
Rei glanced sideways and replied, "That is correct."
"Any particular reason why you've decided to suddenly come out of your shell?" Ritsuko asked dryly.
Rei didn't know how to answer that at first. Ritsuko handed her a comb to straighten out the wet strands of her messy cyan hair. As she did so, she thought, I would never have gone out on my own. It was Rhodes-kun and Ikari-kun that made me act this way.
"The other pilots, I suppose," was all Rei said, handing Ritsuko back her comb. Ritsuko slipped it back into her pocket.
Ritsuko wrote down something on her clipboard and underlined it sharply, "Interesting," she said, "But you seem to be alright, for the moment. I'll take you to the Commander now."
The Commander's quarters were located towards the top of the glass pyramid that had been constructed over the main entrance to Headquarters. It had a grand view of the lake, and in a sunset such as the one that shone that day, the ripples on the lake's surface seemed to shimmer like newly minted coins. The patrol cruiser that floated on the lake's surface had made it to the far side of the lake and would most likely return within the hour, an endless back and forth to defend NERV from any would-be saboteurs.
Rei found it peaceful up here in the few times she had been summoned. She and Dr. Akagi emerged from the elevator to find the Commander standing at the far side of the room, seemingly admiring the view or lost in thought. He turned around to see them and smiled.
"Thank you, doctor," the Commander said neutrally, "You may be dismissed."
Rei didn't see it, but a look of surprise passed across Ritsuko's face. "Is there anything else you need?" she asked.
The Commander gave her a long, cool stare and replied, "That won't be necessary. We will speak later."
Ritsuko nodded and then said, "Alright, I'll take my leave then."
The doctor left the way she came and the two of them were alone. The Commander bade Rei sit across from him on one side of the table, and within a couple minutes food was brought for them. Rei didn't show it, but she was indeed very hungry. She never hesitated to eat a good meal when the opportunity arose, especially when it was Miso soup, her favorite.
"How is Unit-00? Any problems piloting it?" the Commander asked her.
Rei shook her head, "No, sir. Everything is fine."
"And your studies?"
"The same, sir."
"That's good," the Commander took a small spoonful of soup and blew on it gently before tasting it. In the privacy of his quarters he had taken off his gloves, and she could see the burn mark on the palm of his hand for a brief second before he set his spoon down again.
"I wanted to talk to you briefly about your recent activities in the city," the Commander said.
"It came to my attention that you were in the commercial district when the angel appeared three days ago. I was curious as to what you were doing there."
Rei stiffened a little and set her own spoon down, "Have I done something wrong, Commander?"
"No, of course not. Its just not like you to be out in the city, and I was concerned that day."
Rei softened back up again, her biases seemingly confirmed. She nodded and replied, "I was with Rhodes-kun, sir."
"Yes, I know. Where were you two?"
"We were at the music store."
The Commander laced his fingers together and assumed his usual thoughtful pose, "The…music store."
"Rhodes-kun wanted to go there, sir. He likes to play the guitar."
There was a moment of silence between them. Rei took a moment to take a sip of the warm, hearty broth before the Commander asked, "And what happened there?"
"Rhodes-kun played the guitar for a bit, then asked if he could show me how to play it. I agreed and he taught me a simple tune."
"He taught you…to play the guitar?"
"A little, sir."
"Did you want to learn? Or did he make you?"
"He didn't make me…" it was hard for Rei to explain how she felt. In the moment, she didn't have any reason to want to pick up a guitar and play. She never really listened to music unless it was playing in the background. But she thought back to that moment…
This riff, literally anybody, so long as they have hands, can play. She pictured Kyle saying that and smiling back at her. She had never seen anybody act like that before, so passionate about something. Everybody around her was so serious or lost, like Ikari-kun.
"He said I could do it…that it would be easy," Rei continued, "And I believed him…and he was right."
The Commander didn't say anything to that. He spent enough time away from his soup that he had begun to turn cold. When he finally spoke again he said, "I want you to be careful around him, Rei."
"Kyle has proven himself capable of piloting Unit-00, but he lacks any kind of self-discipline. He's ruled by his emotions, which makes him dangerous. If you put too much trust in him, he will let you down. For that reason, I ask that you try to limit your interactions with him to school and work, if possible, and if not…keep me informed of his actions."
"Yes, sir." Rei didn't know what else to say. She had never opposed the Commander before. Until recently, she never doubted a single word he said or any command he had given her. He had risked his life for her after all, burned his own hands. But the words Kyle had said to her the other night, right before they took part in Operation Yashima, rang through her head like a bell.
I think the Evas serve another purpose. And whatever that purpose is, I highly doubt it is going to be any good for the people of the world.
The Commander smiled at her, and they returned to the rest of their dinner.
The next day, Kyle and Shinji walked to school. Before they could walk into the building and take off their street shoes, a wild Touji appeared.
"Ikari!" the tall boy shouted, immediately putting Kyle into a defensive position, "Stop right there, I got something to say!"
Shinji took a step back in surprise, eyes wide, "What do you want with me, Suzuhara?"
Touji took a proud stance and pointed back at his face with his thumb, "Hit me."
Kyle's eyebrows flattened in confusion. What the hell is this idiot up to?
"What?" Shinji said, completely dumbfounded.
"You heard me," Touji replied, "I want you to belt me one."
"Look…I got you good before, but I didn't realize that you saved our skins, so I want us to be even! So go on, don't hold back!"
Kyle and Shinji looked at each other for a second. Kyle put his arm around Shinji's shoulder and turned him away from the other boy for a second. Closely, he whispered, "This gives me an idea."
"It will be fun to hit that guy," Kyle explained, "But I think we can get more mileage out of him if we string him along for a favor, don't you agree?"
"I don't know…"
"Look, he obviously feels bad, I mean I got him to come with and find you when you were lost in the woods, right? Why not use that to our advantage?"
"Since you mentioned it yesterday I've been thinking up a plan to sneak out of the city this weekend. He might be able to play a role in that, provided he's not a complete retard."
Shinji looked behind his shoulder to see Touji standing there expectantly. Finally, he sighed and said, "Alright, if you think its best."
Kyle grinned and took his arm off Shinji as they turned back around.
"Uh…" Shinji said awkwardly, "I've decided I don't want to hit you, I'd rather you just owe me."
"What! That's not fair! I just want to settle the score and you want to hold it over me?"
Touji narrowed his eyes and glared at Kyle, "This is your idea, isn't it?"
"Of course," Kyle admitted plainly, crossing his arms together and grinning with satisfaction, "Makes sense to me. Shinji is a lot smaller than you, so any punch he does to you is going to hurt a lot less than what you did to him. So its not really proper retribution."
Touji scowled and walked away. Kyle shrugged and walked with Shinji inside. From there, the day continued on like any other, much to Kyle's disappointment.
When the old man who taught their homeroom class began droning on again about the after-effects of the Second Impact, Kyle began to stare outside the window and reflect on his journey so far.
I've finally killed one of these Angels…he thought, I pulled the trigger myself and saved the city. But nobody cares. When the Angel came the sirens rang and they all went to their hiding places. And when the Angel was dead they waited for the clean-up and came back out of hiding like nothing had happened.
In the modern world, everything runs on a schedule. There's no time for glory or legends or heroes, as fake as heroes can be. Supposedly the Angels threaten the world but they're nothing more than a nuisance – keeping people from school or work or whatever activity has been planned out for them.
The only real problem the Angels present…is a few minutes without power. But this system…this system has an answer for even that, and that's us. And we're no different than a plumber or a mechanic. Here to keep the gears of the machine turning forever.
Kyle sank into his chair and nearly fell asleep before the bell for lunch rang. He picked up his satchel and followed Shinji outside, where Touji and Kensuke had already gathered on the bleachers overlooking the running track.
"Hey, there you are," Kensuke said happily, "I've been dying to know what happened that night the power went out."
Kyle smiled, mostly to himself. Well, at least one person appreciates what we've been doing.
Kyle told them everything that happened. Even Shinji hadn't seen everything and was shocked and surprised when he heard what had happened to Rei. When he was done with his story said, Kensuke exclaimed, "Wow! That's so cool! Now I wish I had been chosen to be a pilot!"
"Oh, pipe down will ya?" Touji remarked, "All you ever do is go on and on about how cool those robots are, give it a rest."
"Rei is okay though, right?" Shinji asked, "I mean, I noticed she didn't show up today…"
Kyle scanned the nearby area. Shinji was right. Rei was nowhere to be found. Usually she was over on the other side of the track, reading one of her books if she wasn't eating with them.
"I'm sure she's fine," Kyle said, trying to convince himself as much as Shinji, "If anybody deserves a vacation, its her. Though I wouldn't say no to one either."
"Ayanami gives me the creeps," Kensuke said, "Touji feels the same, though he won't admit it."
"Hey!" Touji barked.
"What, why?" Kyle asked.
"Because she never shows any emotions and she never says anything, and she has scary red eyes."
Kyle shrugged and nodded, "Alright, fair enough. But I've spent some time with her, and I can tell you that she's alright, just a little shy."
"You've spent time with her?" Touji asked, "Alone?"
"Of course," Kyle replied, "I took her with me to the music store."
"You took Ayanami on a date to the music store?!" Kensuke exclaimed.
Kyle sighed, "No, no, no. I took her with me to the music store, it was not a date, alright?"
"What did you do there?" Shinji asked.
Kyle shrugged again, "I just played the guitar a little bit. She was getting bored, so I offered to show her a few things and she agreed to go along with it."
"Wait…" Touji interjected again, "You taught Ayanami how to play…guitar?"
"Can you teach me?" Kensuke asked.
"That sounds like a date to me," Shinji said.
"Yes, yes, no! Ugh!" Kyle rubbed his hands through his hair and scratched his head roughly, "Guys, you can hang out with girls and have it not be a date, alright?"
"You can?" Kensuke said.
"Are you gay?" Touji asked.
"No!" Kyle replied forcefully, "Not that there's anything wrong with that," he added with an awkward laugh., "I'm just not interested in Rei that way, alright?"
"Why not?" Kensuke asked.
"Because she's our co-worker," Kyle replied, "It's not a good idea to date people you work with. Besides that, I think she might have Asperger's or something."
"What the hell is that?" Touji asked.
"It's a condition that makes it hard for you to pick up on social cues. People who have it may also have problems showing emotion."
"Oh," Kensuke said, adjusting his glasses, "That makes sense."
"So, if she didn't act like that," Touji said, "You'd want to get with her?"
"I don't know, maybe. I don't really know her that well. I've been nice to her because she saved my life the first time I got in the Eva and because..."
The other three boys blinked in anticipation, "Because she's an orphan...like me."
"Oh," Kensuke said, somewhat deflated, "Never mind then."
Touji coughed awkwardly and looked away.
Kyle took a deep breath and changed the subject, "Anyways...since you guys are here, I need to ask you two for your help."
"Our help?" Kensuke asked, "With what?"
"Shinji and I have a need to get out of the city to Ibaraki," Kyle explained, "I can't tell you why, but I can tell you that ever since we all went into the woods that night, we've been put on lock-down. We're not allowed to leave the city. So we need your help to give Misato the slip."
"Misato?" Touji asked, "Is that the babe you guys live with?"
"Yeah, but she's no babe. She's pretty much a pig, to be honest with you."
"Oh, well why should I risk getting in trouble with NERV for you guys?"
"Because," Kyle explained, "You owe Shinji one, and Shinji owes me one, thus you owe me one."
"What! That's not how any of this works!"
"I have altered the rules," Kyle said coolly, "Pray I do not alter them further."
"You agree with this, Ikari?" Touji asked Shinji.
"Yeah, I'm letting Kyle be in charge on this," Shinji replied.
Touji swore under his breath and crossed his arms in a huff. Satisfied with his answer, Kyle turned to the boy with the glasses, "What about you?"
"Are you kidding? I wouldn't miss this for anything! Count me in!"
Touji groaned, "You are so dumb sometimes, Kensuke."
"Well...I assume Kyle has a plan, right?"
Kyle looked back at Kensuke and let a wide grin pass over his face, then crouched down and replied, "Alright, so its going to go a little like this..."