I Knew Him When
Disclaimer: for all of you who hated True Love Waits, this one's for you. And I don't own Evangelion. Evangelion owns me.
"Yeah, I knew him. I mean, I knew who he was. We weren't friends or anything. I was in the class next to him. To be honest, he kind of scared me. Not like, physically or anything. He was small, real skinny. Kind of shrank away from people. No, there was just something about him. Something about all of them. They weren't right, if you get me. Sort of messed up in the head. I mean, you'd have to be, right? To do what they did.
"I remember, I remember some of the girls thought he was hot, but weird. Like he was the artsy type. Heh. My little sister, she thought he was so cute. Wrote poems about him and everything. I was a little worried. It was strange, though. He never really talked to anyone or did anything in school. Like he was doing the bare minimum to get by. Like he was bored with life. Well, don't quote me or anything. I don't know what was going on with him.
"I heard he was pretty smart. Not a genius, I don't think, but pretty smart. Good at sports? Nah, not really. He kept to himself, not going out of his way to stand out. Actually, now that you mention it, I think he did hang out with some other kids. No, sorry. I don't know their names. It wasn't like I was stalking him. I just know what got around, you know?"
"Why are you asking about him? Is he in some sort of trouble?"
"Good. I guess. I don't know. Nowadays you hear all kinds of crazy stuff about him and that place he worked for. Uh, Nerf or whatever it was. But no matter what people say, it really pisses me off that they forced kids to do their dirty work, you know? It's like a bad anime or something. Forcing kids to go and fight in giant robots. Me? No, I was never really into that stuff. I wasn't into danger and adventure. I figured I was lucky enough to be living, so I shouldn't get greedy."
"What do you remember about the Impact?"
"The… the Impact… yeah, that's what they were calling it. The Impact. It makes it sound not so bad, you know?" A sigh. A longer pause. "I don't know. Even… even today people don't talk about it. Like mentioning it will bring it back. It's real personal, asking somebody about that. It isn't something you just chat about."
"Anything you can tell me will be appreciated."
"Yeah…" Forced exhalation through nostrils. "Yeah. I was home when I first heard the bombs. I was there with my sister, alone. My father, he worked in the city, doing… I don't really know. Something. He moved us out of Tokyo-3 after a real bad attack from those things. Those giants. It boggles my mind why people stayed there at all." He stopped, remembering.
"You were with your sister…"
"Huh? Oh, right. Right. We had moved outside Tokyo after one of the attacks, in with my aunt. She was out at work. My sister and I went to the window when we heard the bombs. It was real subtle. Almost went unheard over the traffic and the city. But we waited, thinking maybe another giant came or something. We waited for a long time, and then this… this wave just came up from the horizon, like somebody pulling a sheet up. And the sound it made, like somebody screaming. Well, the wave, it just kept coming, and coming, like it was going to blow us up, too, but then it stopped. And then—well, uh, you're not going to report this to anyone, are you? Like the media or anything? I have a wife and kids, and if this gets out—"
"This is all classified."
"Oh, okay. Well the wave faded, and the sky got all weird, and, well, way off in the distance was this… girl. Or woman, or something." Whispering words. "Like, she just stood up and… well, I mean, it had to be a hallucination, or something, right? I mean, giant naked girls just don't rise from the ground, right?" Biting lip. "Don't let this get out, okay? I don't want anybody to think I'm part of that cult that's in the news, okay?"
"This is all classified. Please continue."
"S-sure. Right. Well, this… this girl just keeps on rising, and I… I kind of freaked out. I mean, I was only fourteen. And, and my sister was screaming, and people in the streets were going crazy, and… God…"
"So I hid in my room with my sister. I… I even locked the door. And then… and then, I mean, I must have been going out of my head, my sister starts shouting that she sees mommy, I mean our mother. But she's been dead for years, but she keeps saying 'I see her! I see her!' and she got out of my grip, and she just… she just kind of… fell apart. Like liquid. Like she was made of liquid." Trembling, shaking. Edge of crying.
"If this is too hard for you we can continue later."
"No. No. I want to get this out." Swallows, deep breath. "After… after that, I screamed, kind of went a little crazy, like I was trying to wake up from a bad dream. That's how it felt. Like a real bad dream you can't wake up from. And then… and then I saw this girl, wearing the uniform from my old school, just standing there by the door. N-no, I don't remember her face. Just that she was there. And then… nothing. The next thing that's clear is waking up on the beach, just like everybody else. Just like everybody else."
"And how long ago was that?"
"Geez… that time is still a little blurry, you know? I guess… about ten years ago. Yeah, I'm twenty-four now. Or twenty-six. Depending on how you count it. It's still… God. It's still freaky to think about it too much. Huh? Oh… no… my sister hasn't come back yet. No, that's okay. I mean, it's stupid to say it, but if she's with mommy, then… I don't know. Maybe she's happy. That's how I like to think about it."
"Are you seeing anyone? I mean, professionally?"
"Of course. Aren't we all?"
"Thank you for your time. The government appreciates your cooperation."
The man rose from his seat, his knees shaking a bit, a light sweat on his face. He turned to the woman who questioned him, and grinned.
"Yeah, the government. What's left of it. Sorry, didn't mean to offend you."
"Oh," the man said. "Good. Well, uh, see you later. I mean… well… I've never really talked about this stuff before, not in detail, but once I started… it just tumbled out. Sorry to burden you with it."
"No trouble. This is my job."
"Your job? Your job is to listen to survivors? God… I'm… I'm sorry."
The woman rose as well, shaking her head.
"No need to be. I actually find it interesting."
That seemed to turn the man off. He flinched, drawing back. He made for the door.
"Yeah, well, uh, goodbye."
"Goodbye. Thank you for your help in this case."
The door closed. The world became silent. She shut her eyes, and the world became dark.
He was the last interview of the day, and Kirishima Mana was glad for it. Talking to Impact survivors everyday, all day was tiring. Like their words sapped the strength from her. All the breakdowns she witnessed, the tears, the anger, the confusion, frustration, humiliation, all of it tended to blend together after a full day, each face becoming no different from the rest, each story sounding like the last. She knew she wasn't cut out for this sort of work, passively listening, but in the wake of Third Impact there was a desperate need for open ears. Not just for the government to piece together the facts of what led to the disaster, but for the minds and souls of those who returned. Mana was aware that her role was not to ease suffering, or cure pain, but to gather information. The slap-dash psychology degree the military fronted her was only a means to an end.
Mana sighed, locking her office for the night, working her shoulders to break up the exhaustion weighing on them. She made her way to the front of the military hospital, passing doctors and orderlies as she went. Though built for injuries of the body, it was common knowledge that this facility catered to injuries of the mind. Like most of the hospitals left on earth.
Like anyplace where a human would lend an ear.
She passed the receptionist at the front desk, each acutely conscious of the others' job. A mutual understanding had developed between them, each woman seeing a different face of the horror. Not that Mana particularly liked her, but it was best to keep up good relations with the underlings. No spit in her morning coffee, thank you.
"Goodnight, Dr. Kirishima."
Her car waited for her in her reserved space, sitting happily under a bright fluorescent light. A pair of moths fluttered near the source. Her car wasn't anything special, nothing fast or unique or expensive, merely a way to travel between her home and work. And on the weekend the small bistro she favored that overlooked the river.
It started for her key and she turned the radio on. She was careful to avoid any talk shows or news programs. The disinformation only served to irritate her. It would only remind her that there were many things kept from her, despite her rank. It simply wouldn't do to go against her commanders. It could be a frightening age, sometimes, with how easily people could disappear.
The drive from the base to her apartment was roughly eighteen minutes if she caught all the lights and didn't run into a traffic snarl coming into the city. It always gave her a small thrill to see the lights of the buildings glowing in the darkness, a pleasant change from what had greeted her when she returned. Blackness. Complete blackness, so dark not even the moon could light the hand in front of your face. Total blackness, with only the sounds of screams to keep you company. Tonight was a dark night. It was times like this she was glad she lived alone, and was single. She'd never admit it to anyone, but she kept the lights on when she slept. It made the nightmares less paralyzing when she woke up in a terrified sweat.
She lived in a small family-owned complex, only two stories high, located on the skirts of Kyoto, north of the military base. She wasn't loud, though she did hold an affinity for off-key singing in the shower, and didn't invite strange men home, and was always on time with her rent. These factors undoubtedly aided her when the rest of the tenants discovered she was a military agent. Despite the name-calling, and the insults, and the threats, Mana had remained where she was, and the landlords supported her. Granted, a few people moved out, but good homes were hard to come by, and most had stayed. They learned to swallow their pride.
Mana pulled up to the complex just as a really good pop song ended. She was still humming it when she extracted the key. As she climbed out of her car, two young men passed by, remarking on her uniform and spitting beside her. Mana did not panic, or respond, assured that the two children were too cowardly to actually harm her. And the familiar weight of the sidearm that rested under her left arm made her feel invincible. She shut her car door and walked up to her apartment without missing a step.
It had long since ceased to bother her, the contempt civilians showed her regarding her job. She chuckled silently as she remembered her co-workers' terrified reaction to the knowledge that she lived in the city, risking all kinds of danger from the general populace. They urged her to relocate to the barracks on base, practically begged her, but Mana wasn't about to sacrifice her way of life for a bunch of ungrateful leeches. Nothing really bad had happened to her yet, and she was confident that nothing would.
"I'm home," she called out to the empty apartment. She quickly turned on some lights.
Dinner was an instant affair, boiling water in a cup of dried noodles. Mana ate with one hand, the other flipping through the few stations on the television. Each and every time she turned the set on she wondered why she bought it. The only programs being broadcast were government-controlled news and international reports on reconstruction. She cycled through the channels, reaching the top and starting over from the bottom. She caught glimpses of peoples and places far away, but none stayed her hand. She kept going, as if new shows would magically appear after a few dozen times through. As she slurped the last of the noodle broth she cut the power to the TV.
Mana sighed. The idea of a shower seemed unbearably difficult, so she went to bed dirty. She could change the sheets tomorrow. She collapsed onto her futon, the steady hum of the light above her head lulling her into a sleep. As she lay on her back, Mana gazed out her window at the night sky. The blood halo had almost vanished completely these past ten years. In a few more, it would be nothing but a foul memory.
She dreamed again that night. Not the familiar nightmares nearly every human was plagued by, but a different dream. The one from long ago, when the world was still whole. She dreamed of him.
Ikari Shinji. The pilot of Evangelion Unit-01, one of the select "Children" capable of manipulating those monstrosities. Son of the deceased commander of NERV, Ikari Gendo, and the deceased scientist Ikari Yui. Born in 2001, apparently returned 2015, the first of the survivors, along with Soryu Asuka Langely, another of the Children. Early reports were sketchy at best, but those two were alone for some time before others returned. Based on carbon dating and the alignment of the stars, it was determined that roughly six months passed between the Impact and the Return. Granted, the calculations were taken during a time of extreme chaos and fear, but those factors alone were not basis for throwing them out completely.
The day of the Impact. That was what nearly every organization directly under the government's control was investigating. Tokyo-3 and everything within a several mile radius of it was nothing but a crater, a dead hole on the face of the earth. Early excavations of the ruins were classified top secret, the mysteries of the ghost city and the technology within secreted away.
They weren't totally blind though. Recorders at the scene of the Impact captured the siege, the attack, and the emergence of the red Evangelion, Unit-02. Then nine white units appeared from the sky, were beaten, resurrected, and then disemboweled the red mech. The last image the recorders hold is a violent, swirling mass of power rising from the shattered remains of NERV on two, great burning wings.
After that, nothing.
After that, they were left to piece the truth out from the fragmented shards of human memory remaining on earth, and those who returned from the sea that smelled like blood. Those first few hundred to come back faced a broken world, besieged by disease, famine, death and despair. Somehow, as if guided by the hand of God, they survived. They managed to cling onto the scraps of humanity left on the planet. In a mere twelve years the survivors had picked themselves up, brushed off the terror of Impact, and resumed the world, pretending nothing had happened. Governments began churning again, peoples began living again. The world was returning to what it had been, but with one great exception. The nation of Japan was no more.
At least in the political sense. Word spread surprisingly fast regarding NERV and the Evangelions. How it spread was never investigated, only the why mattered. It provided the impetus to realign the world according to fear and revenge. From a unanimous edict the flailing world powers decided to punish Japan, and those who lived within it. National sovereignty was stripped, and an occupying force of military from around the globe settled on the island nation, establishing a provisional government that ensured true power to its overseas rulers. Naturally, anyone seen cooperating with these new authorities was believed to be traitors, defectors, scum. There was a sharp disconnection between the common people and those above them. It bred hate and fear and frustration.
Mana couldn't blame them, not really. The military, like the government, was on the short leash of the reformed UN, ad hoc rulers of the world. The returned rulers turned on their backs and let the foreign powers roll over them, scraping and begging for forgiveness the whole time. Better to be a living coward than a dead hero. At least that was what the higher-ups thought.
Every aspect of the country was now decided by foreigners, paranoid gaijin who both feared the impossible power of the Evangelion, and lusted for its touch. It was almost amazing how quickly the occupying forces swept everything under the rug, collecting and hiding the various pieces of Project E and NERV. Where the cache was now, and what was being done with it was beyond Mana's clearance.
She rejoined the military as soon as she returned, intent on correcting her past mistakes. While not her fault in the least, the aborted plan to make contact with the Third Children had eaten her up inside. For years she tortured herself, believing if she had just gone with the original plot of cornering Ikari Shinji, that this hell might have been averted. That she could have made a difference. That the outcome would have been better. Of course she had no way of knowing the plan would've even worked, let alone changed the course of events leading to the Impact. But still, even now, sometimes late at night she would wake up in a sweat, guilt pouring off her, grasping at the world as it used to be.
But it was pointless to crucify yourself for events past. She had learned that after a few years. All that remained was the truth. The undeniable facts of the matter. Though carefully hidden and concealed, they were open if one looked hard enough. And at the center of those truths, the heart of every exposed lie and unturned deceit, one thing kept appearing.
The Third Children. The Angel slayer. The berserker devil. The God killer.
To know him was to know the truth.
It was Tuesday when she awoke. It was a struggle to rise from her futon, but Mana was rather adept at forcing her own actions, at going through the motions required of her. She existed in a vacuum, devoid of intense emotions and even enjoyment. Life was not a game to delight in. It was a trial. Only the strong survived. There was no room for weakness, or fault. Cowards could stay in the bloody sea.
Mana idly glanced over at her calendar. It was still Tuesday.
"It's the fifth," she whispered.
The day Japan died. Seven years to the day.
In the aftermath of the Return, there was nothing that operated unaffected. Except human nature. So in hindsight maybe it wasn't so ridiculous to think a radical group of super nationalists obtained a working N2 mine and detonated it inside the largest rebuilt city in the nation, murdering nearly two million souls.
It was a protest, a desperate cry against the encroaching UN, and the crushing guilt of nationality. It was a foolish, arrogant, pitiful display of personal weakness and Mana despised it for that. The additional facts that it completely stalled the government, and the foreign emissaries killed in the blast insured foreign intervention, were not lost on her. But it made the act no easier to comprehend.
The Tokyo-2 Massacre.
It made no sense to her. Granted, political science and repercussions were never a strong point in her studies, but the insanity of the bombing always astounded her. What were they hoping for? Of course, everyone was a little insane back then. It was only recently humans deigned to allow reason and logic back into their lives. Kicking and screaming.
Mana looked back to her calendar. It was still Tuesday.
She sat up. The world would not wait while she lay in bed contemplating the idiocy of mankind. She'd spent too many years doing that already.
Mana went through the motions of morning life in a fine fog. She recalled eating breakfast and taking a shower, but she could not remember what she ate or when she dressed. Simply that she did. The trip to the military base was likewise carried out in a hazy, half-forgotten manner.
She supposed she could take the day off, most of the non essential workers in the nation did, but a selfish pride steered her out of the city and onto the connecting highway. The date had no impact on her work ethic, only the weaker part of her emotions. She pulled into the base during the fifth minute of an observed seven minutes of silence on the radio. She waited in the silent car another two before getting out.
Another day, another dollar, another round of survivor's tales. Mana shook her head, clearing the cobwebs, reminding herself how important her work was. It was frustrating though. She felt dehumanized listening all day, absorbing their emotions and feelings like an object, a thing. Sometimes she couldn't help but think that a tape recorder could do her job just as well as she did, if not better.
She passed Miho at the reception center, not bothering to wave, seeing she was on the phone. After she was a good two yards behind her she called out, saying the commander wanted to see her.
Mana groaned. She didn't like her commanding officer. It wasn't that he hit on her, no, that could be forgiven. It was because he was arrogant and proud.
And an American.
She rapped on his door, even though he knew she was coming, and waited. In a small, private display of dominance and ego, the man let a full twenty seconds pass before allowing her to enter. Mana sighed through her nose.
"Ah! Agent Kirishima. Oh, excuse me, Dr. Kirishima, forgive me. I was in the middle of an important call."
Even if her degree was for decorative purposes only, she still worked hard at it, damn it. She wished people would show her a little respect, and not gape, awed by her young age.
"Good morning, colonel Taper, sir."
Taper smiled, ushering her in with a stroke of his hand. She came in, staying on her feet, ignoring the chair sitting before his desk. He had it decorated with odd little miniatures, cast iron replicas of army vehicles and weapons. Mana imagined he played war when he was alone.
"Good morning. I hope you're well today."
She hated the way he spoke, the way his tongue stumbled over the language, the way he overcompensated for his mistakes. Granted, the man had less than a year to learn it, but Mana didn't know that. Or care.
"I'm fine, sir. Thank you."
"Excellent," Taper said. He smiled. "Well, how goes the interviews? You've gathered a lot of valuable data for us, and we're very thankful. I and my commanders, I mean."
Sensing this was going to take a while, Mana sat.
"Are you sleeping well? It's just that you have to relive the events everyday. It must be hard."
"No, sir," she said. "I've learned to cope."
"Good. Glad to hear it." He ran his forefinger across his chin. "I hope you find time to enjoy yourself every now and again. I realize you don't have a lot of free time, but I want to make sure you utilize it properly."
"I want all the people under me to be in top condition. This entails that they know how to take time off when necessary. Do you understand?"
"Good." Taper cocked his head for a moment, then straightened one of the miniatures facing him. "I read your latest report." He flipped through a stack of papers on his desk. "Ah… here. Kawashita Mariko. She was in class 2-A in Tokyo-3. You remember that one?"
"Good, good." He read a moment, squinting. His mouth moved as he went over the kanji, trying to recall the language training he received. "Anyway, good job. We feel this gives us a better understanding of how things were back then. It's important to figure out exactly the way things were."
"Good. Well, it seems she wasn't in the city during the Impact either. But still, it's important to question everyone who might have seen anything."
"Yes, sir," Mana said.
"Right." He cleared his throat. "It's been decided that you're ready to move on to a more direct approach regarding the investigation. Your training previous to the Impact makes you perfect for this job." Taper leveled his gaze at her. "I'm to give you your new assignment, doctor." He withdrew a folder from his desk, weighing it in his hand, letting it bob up and down. "All our past efforts on this subject have failed. He just won't crack. I mean, he'll talk readily enough, but never about what we want. It's like he's playing a game with us."
Mana tried to read the name on the file, but the up and down motion was making her feel queasy.
"He's under house arrest," Taper went on. "Has been for years. He seems content enough with the way things are, never complaining, never making a fuss. We believe that he holds the answer to everything we've worked towards these past twelve years."
"Who is it, sir?" she asked, feeling the certainty build inside her.
Taper slapped the folder down, his face drawn.
End of chapter 1
Author's notes: hooray for Mana. Time to make it up to all the people who cried when I kicked her out of TLW. I know this was a slow chapter, but I needed to set a lot of things up. Next one should be a little more interesting.
Basically, this story arose from all the people who were angry about how my last story went with Mana. Yeah, kicking her out like I did was pretty weak, but that fic, in my mind, was never about her. To be blunt, she was a means to an end. For me, even from the start, it was always about Shinji and Misato… and later Rei. The early ideas for this were formed as I realized that yes, Mana should have played a larger role in that fic. To all my early reviewers, you were right, I was wrong.
And don't worry. Taper, as an ACC, will only be in the bare minimum of scenes.