AN: Took me a little longer to get things underway. I decided to at least start with the next chapter before posting this and plan further ahead the next two stations.
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I hope to not disappoint.
The second part of the current chapter is a bit monologue heavy, I'm afraid. If the pacing is a bit slow for your liking - the story will pick up speed in chapter 4 or 5. Until then it's mostly ground work.
Ritsuko Akagi was not a light sleeper.
This was in part due to her sleeping patterns. Ever since collage she would stay awake long past any time a sane person would consider reasonable. When there was no pressing matters and she could sleep in she often ended up waking well past noon. Of course that wreaked havoc with her schedule. In most cases she ended up just skipping a 'night'.
No, once Dr. Akagi was out, she was truly gone. It went so far that she had a special waking system installed rigged to a separate number to be called in an emergency. And may God have mercy on the soul who decided it would be a good idea to use the number in anything that did not at least involve an Angel or a critical failure of the MAGI, preferably both.
Suffice to say it involved a bucket full of cold water and some speakers better suited for a club. Or an open air festival.
Thus it was rather uncharacteristic of her to snap awake like that without the help of said bucket. At first she felt disoriented, her mind not truly noticing the boy who stood before her. Then she dropped to her knees and started to retch and finally vomit LCL.
Shinji, his back to the doctor, was quite aware what the retching sounds behind him meant. He cringed in sympathy. Emptying ones lungs from the vile liquid was far from pleasant. Still he did not turn even after the sounds had stopped.
"Uhm. Shinji... where are we?"
Ritsuko's voice was raw, almost cracking. Shinji had never heard her so insecure and out of her depth. The Doctor had always projected an aura of confidence which sometimes even bordered on smugness or even arrogance. His body tightened like always when someone addressed him and he found himself unable to answer.
This was certainly outside his comfort zone.
For several moments both remained motionless. The woman slumped down against the inside of the tube still short winded and the boy with his back to her, once again coiled tight, head bowed.
Ritsuko was the first to regain some of her composure. First she removed the electrodes covering her body then did her best to cover herself up, more for Shinji's sake then hers. After she had regained her breath she addressed him again.
"Shinji, you can turn around. It's okay now. Where are we? Can you get me out of this tube?"
Slowly Shinji relaxed. Unsure he turned around but his gaze remained fixed on something above and beside Ritsuko. She couldn't help herself smiling. The boy was just so innocent. He took his time opening and closing his mouth a few times before he finally spoke. Usually Ritsuko would have been impatient and either teased or scolded him out of his stupor. But she was still fazed herself.
"We are somewhere inside headquarters, Akagi-Sensei. Section H-87. We are also... We are... I'm sorry I don't know how to get you out of there. You don't know how?"
For the first time Ritsuko looked at her surroundings past the tube. Section H-87? There is no such thing! But then I've never seen a room like this and if the boy is right and we are indeed inside the base...
"There is no Section H-87 that I'm aware of and I certainly have never seen a room like this. The tubes are vaguely familiar though. There should be a lever of some sort next to it. See if you can find it please. I would like to get out of here and start making sense of all this. Last thing I remember..."
She caught herself just in time. Telling the sensitive boy that she had been shot by his own father would hardly help them now. At best he would clam up again. She herself cringed inside at her last moments, never mind the boy. How the bullet had hit and she felt the emptiness creep in. But that had not been the end, she was certain. Not because of the very clear evidence that she was still alive but there was something else in between. A period of fear and blissful happiness, a strange amalgam that made her hearth ache for it and her insides turning cold with fear, all the while her mind screamed it was not right.
Shinji had apparently not noticed her slip and had busied himself at the control console. After a few minutes he gave up but rather then to talk to Ritsuko he turned to the ceiling.
"How do I open the tube?"
At first Ritsuko thought he had spoken to her and made to answer but before she could form her first word someone else answered.
"To open the tube, please bring the leftmost lever in the upper position. Caution: This operation is only advisable after completely draining the LCL from the tank. In case of emergency please pull the ring next to the lever to override internal safeguards. Warning: Remaining LCL will be released to surroundings."
Shinji apparently had expected nothing else as he mumbled his thanks and grabbed the handle and pushed with a grunt of effort. Simultaneously a sharp hiss announced the release of a seal from below and the glass retracted into the floor. The sudden loss of her brace tipped Ritsuko back, thumping her head against the tube behind hers, forcing a small groan from her lips.
"Are you alright Akagi-sensei?" Decency currently forgotten, worry written plainly on his face Shinji truly looked at the woman for the first time after his initial shock. After she waved him off he immediately snapped back to look at that interesting point just between the two tubes behind Ritsuko. The Doctor sighed, not for the first time frustrated with his shy passiveness.
"Shinji, could you please have a look if you can find me some cloths? And how many times do I have to remind you to call me Ritsuko?"
"Several sets of clothing are located in the drawers to your right. Scanning... Size 42 should be optimal." the voice interjected again. Again Shinji simply thanked the voice and made to open the drawers which almost perfectly blended with the wall at the far side of the room, digging for some clothes.
Ritsuko had had enough. She knew the base's inner workings better then anyone. There was no 'helpful voice'. No program that reacted the way this one did. It simply made no sense!
"Okay, that's enough! Who or what are you? And where are we? And what the fuck is going on!"
Shinji cringed at the sharp voice, looking back to the woman who stared at the ceiling with a ferocious snarl. Glad he was not the target of her fury turned back to the clothes. He had already spotted a matching set but decided to wait a few moments to give Ritsuko time to cool down.
"Detecting elevated levels of stress. User Akagi please calm down. There is no imminent threat. I am an artificial intelligence. My designation is 'Enhanced Monitoring Intelligence' but you may refer to me as 'Master'."
The delivery was deadpan. Both Shinji's and Ritsuko's jaws dropped.
"That was a joke. Please call me Emi. We have recently entered the star system Gliese 581, more specifically we are headed for its second planet. It appears to be in the habitable zone and may be convenient for resupply. As to what is going on I would advise to first wake up the rest of the essential staff. While I don't mind repeating myself it is a waste of time."
Utter silence. Ritsuko Akagi prided herself to be the foremost expert on what she sometimes called 'Artificial Biology', an amalgam of biology, physics and computer sciences. True, the MAGI were as close to an artificial intelligence as anything on the planet, the individual segments even had a rudimentary personality similar in complexity to some higher animals. But at the same time they where still only machines, running extremely clever programs creating an illusion of life. If what Emi said was indeed true and not some pre-recorded message...
And it jokes! For heavens sake this thing could pass the Turing test!
It took Ritsuko a full minute to notice Shinji standing next to her, offering a neatly folded set of cloths, shirt and pants coloured a blue reminiscent of hospitals. He simply stood there, arms outstretched, head bowed low in a posture of submission, not making any sound. For a few seconds she only stared at him in dumbstruck silence then she grabbed the offered clothes and began to dress. The familiar motions grounded her again. It was still much to take in but she felt somewhat ready to face reality again. Shinji did not seem to be fazed the slightest by the revelation - no - the bombshell, they just heard.
"Okay 'Emi'. What now? You said something of waking somebody. I assume they are in the other tubes here? Are they the only ones?"
Again the female voice answered at the same time as a deep humming started from below. A console next to them began blinking, the status lights changing at a seemingly random pattern. This time Ritsuko made sure to hear for hints of artificial voice synthesizing. There were none. The speech patterns were crisp but normal enough, all the pauses and cadences in the right places, the pronunciation precise. The only thing lacking was emotion. Or rather, it was there but muted to such a degree that Emi spoke in an almost disinterested voice.
"The essential staff is indeed located in this room and the next. I have started automatic de-hibernation of Lieutenant Maya Ibuki in accordance to the protocol of the current situation. There are currently one million, eight thousand hibernation pods, 587,347 are occupied. I am not aware of any mayor complications at the moment, however one pod reported an undefined anomaly from the beginning. The pod is occupied but some readings are outside the norm. As the impact was deemed minimal by the MAGI, they decided to not intervene and let you decide."
"Hmmm. More then half a million people. That's give or take the whole populace of Tokyo 3 just before the attack. So everyone in survived?"
"Incorrect. Only those who wished to survive did so. There were however a surprising number of outsiders inside the city borders who are not in my databases. By the way, automatic de-hibernation completed, please proceed to open the LCL valve at the base of the tank."
Ritsuko bowed to the task, instructing Shinji to get another set of clothes, guessing the lieutenant's size at 36.
Maya was to shocked to ask any questions, never mind helping, so Emi, Ritsuko and Shinji set to wake up the rest of the pods' occupants. They were mostly senior scientific staff, the best and the brightest Nerv had to offer, the other lieutenants serving on the bridge, Makoto Hyuga and Shigeru Aoba, among them.
After everyone was woken and dressed, Emi directed them to the adjoined room, an identical twin of the first. Apparently section H-87 was filled with rooms just like them. To occupy the time Shinji did some calculations in his head. Emi had claimed there were 1,008,000 pods and each room held 72. There had to be 14,000 rooms - a staggering amount! Shinji guessed they were sorted in 140 sections with 100 rooms each.
The musings kept him from breaking down. He was on edge and tired at the same time. He dreaded what they would find inside the next room. The first was mainly occupied by scientific staff. Ritsuko had sent most off to scout the base, although Shinji guessed the task had more to do with computers then actual scouting. Most of them reacted to Emi better then the Doctor did, some were even grinning like schoolchildren on Christmas eve. 'Awesome' was muttered more then once, most prominently by one Makoto Hyuga, generally considered to be the top ranking nerd.
The point was, people in room 59 were easy to get along with. They seldom spoke other than polite, even kind words, the voices never risen except in excitement. Shinji was quite comfortable among them. Room 58 however, Emi informed them, held the administrative and military staff. They were an entirely different breed. Japanese culture demands politeness in all things, but behind the curtain they are just as mean and rude as anyone else. Someone half sensitive will figure that out soon enough, and if anything, Shinji was very sensitive.
To be fair not everyone in room 58 was loud and rude. There were others like Miro Hatsumoto, the head of Section 2, who never said much and seldom rose his voice much above a whisper – he still scared the crap out of Shinji. But Kozo Fuyutsuki, the Deputy Commander, was nice enough, if a little bit aloft. Shinji had asked Emi if Misato would be there and was overjoyed to hear her affirmative. So there was that. Seeing the Mayor again might just be worth a confrontation with his father. Not that he would actually acknowledge him with anything more than a grunt. Still Shinji was tempted to just bug off. The technicians were far better equipped to handle the situation than him anyway. He was, once more, not needed.
He half expected that his father would be the first in this batch, but Emi managed to pleasantly surprise him by announcing the first pod held Misato. Shinji immediately set to fetch some clothes for her. After all he knew her size, being the only one in the Katsuragi household that bothered with laundry. Out of the corner of his eyes he saw Makoto steal some glances towards the tank which still held the woman obscured by LCL. Being almost as shy as Shinji himself the lieutenant had made a point of giving the women as much privacy as possible, not even sneaking a quick glance until they were decent again. In fact most did, except Shigeru who would openly look at anybody. His completely relaxed manner miraculously kept him from being slapped. Apparently because he did not make a big deal out of the situation everybody just decided that it was, in fact, no big deal. Shinji filed that insight away for future reference.
Misato's awakening was different then anybody else's. The others were confused, groggy, anxious or even afraid. They snapped awake like Ritsuko did or rolled over mumbling something about five minutes. Misato grabbed the nearest standing technician, who just happened to be Makoto, in a flurry and got him in a choke hold in a blink. Only Ritsuko's timely intervention saved the man from unconsciousness. He still gaped for air for fully ten minutes, thoroughly shaken.
Her state of undress did not faze her in the slightest. Brow furrowed she took in her surroundings, visibly perking up as soon as she saw Shinji standing back a little bit. She made to move towards him but after a step, she looked down on herself as if she just hat noticed her lack of clothes. Only then did she snatch the offered clothes out of Ritsuko's hands and donned them. The male audience, all of them unable to have kept their eyes of the Mayor after the commotion, sighed in unison at the loss. Misato, now dressed and aware of the situation gave them a sly wink and made a point of lavishly stretching herself, practically flaunting her assets. Which got another sigh.
Ritsuko cleared her throat forcefully, dispelling the moment. Her glare send her underlings into motion once again. Most had been on the receiving end of her displeasure and none were keen to relive the experience. Her expression still stern, dark even, she turned towards Misato intending to scold her perky friend, only to see her hugging Shinji tightly, almost crushing the boy. Ritsuko's expression softened immediately and for once decided to let things go. If experience was any guide the argument wouldn't have been anything but the silly banter of good friends, no real use anyway.
Shinji did not know how he had ended up in the debriefing room with all the important people. He was however immensely glad that it was not his father who sat at the head of the table, but rather his right hand Professor Fuyutsuki. Strangely Gendo Ikari had not been among the people of room 58, nor had Emi known of his whereabouts. That irritated him. As much as he despised his father he still sought his acceptance, any affirmation of him really. And how would he get that if the man simply was not around?
He even felt a little bit uneasy about Misato. He simply didn't know what to expect. When he had seen her last, just before she had not died, they had kissed. Or rather she had kissed him in a decisively adult way, hinting at more to come when he came back. They both had deep down known that that was not going to happen. Misato had been critically injured and in a situation where she would have been overrun in a matter of minutes. Shinji had headed out to face the mass production Evangelions that had just brutally finished Asuka. There was no chance one of them made it out alive, yet alone both.
Yet here they were.
He did not know what to make of it. Apparently Misato still cared for him deeply, as evidenced by the bone-crushing hug she gave him. Had that passionate kiss only been a spur of the moment thing with no real meaning? She did love him, as socially inept as he was he still had come to realized that. But like a mother? Or a elder sister? Or something else? And what about his feelings towards her? He cared about her, more than anything in the world. How could he not? His life before Misato had lodged herself so forcefully into it had been a bleary dullness, no friends, the relatives he had stayed with barely acknowledging him past the necessary minimum. Misato gave him a home. She was so open with him, she almost drowned him at times. Most of all she cared. Cared enough to actually becoming really angry when he did something stupid instead of merely being disappointed in him. He loved her but there was no lust. Well, not more than any healthy pubescent boy would have in front of a goddess like Misato. Less actually. Not like Toji and Kenskue who got a nosebleed practically as soon as they were in the same room with Misato. Apparently living with a person changed quite a lot. Seeing Misato in her flimsy home attire might sound like every boys dream but it got old pretty fast. Especially combined with her laziness regarding all household chores and her frequent hangovers. Having Asuka around as well did not help the matter.
Don't go there! I don't want to think about her!
He was pulled out of his reverie by Ritsuko clearing her throat once again, starting the improvised meeting. Besides her, deputy director Fuyutsuki, Misato and Shinji there were at least ten other people in the room, the heads of the various sections, from weapons design to Section Two's Miro Hatsumoto and finally Maya assisting Ritsuko with the presentation. Currently the Lieutenant typed furiously at her tablet bringing up a schematic view of Nerv HQ on the small holographic projector on the table, much like the bigger one Shinji had seen in the CIC.
"As you know, we are...," Ritsuko broke off. "Shit, I don't know what to say. We simply know so little. Perhaps introductions are in order. Some of you have already heard from our friendly helper, Emi."
Emi, apparently playing along, decided to shock the good Doctor yet again by exchanging the holographic representation of the base with a strange, blue glowing, geometrical form. It consisted of a orb atop a cone. While Emi spoke the orb opened and closed. Shinji had to think of a three dimensional Pac-Man balancing on a traffic pylon.
"It is my pleasure to meet you."
"Yes, well," Ritsuko continued. "Emi appears to be full AI, something I did not expect to see for at least another twenty years, if ever. Be that as it may, she has been very helpful in our current situation.
"As to what our current situation is, we have little information. Currently there are 144 people awake. Emi assures us that nearly another six hundred thousand are still in hibernation as she puts it. I've sent teams of four to scout the base to determine the state we are in. I also sent a team up topside. Reports are slowly trickling in, but we apparently got power, water and food enough to last us a long time. The surface teams have reported that we are indeed in space. There is no sun, no moon, the stars are different from what they should be but not by much. The purpose of this meeting is to determine what the fuck happened and what our next steps are. Emi, do you have any insights to the first?"
Emi's representation appeared again as she began to answer in her almost monotone voice.
"As Doctor Akagi already mentioned I am a full AI, tasked with observation. I was designed and brought into being by Doctors Kyoko Zeppelin Soryu, Yui Ikari and Naoko Akagi. And while I have some knowledge of what happened it is mostly second hand and very selective. Also there is a curious anomaly in some of my memory. I am aware of information that simply is not there. It is quite frustrating. Nevertheless I will try to give you a comprehensive summary.
"As most of you know Nerv and its predecessor Gehirn had a powerful secret organization behind them, called Seele. Their board of directors consisted of the most powerful men on Earth in terms of influence, wealth and power. It is unclear what information they actually possessed but they sought out Third Impact, believing that through proper guidance they would become, as Yui Ikari put it once, like gods, but also advancing humanity as a whole."
"That's bullshit! Why would such a organisation fund us, when our sole purpose is to avert Third Impact? I don't believe this," one of the seated man shouted. The way he held himself, rigid but alert, gave Shinji the impression that he was ex-military. It was a safe bet, as most non-scientists in Nerv were.
"Seele is indeed real, Mister Tomokazu and so far Emi's depiction is quite correct," Deputy Commander Fuyutsuki cut in. "Emi, please continue."
"My makers, the most brilliant scientists of their time, soon came to realize that Third Impact was a trap. After the original Angels Adam and Lilith waged war following First Impact, they fell dormant. There is insufficient data to pinpoint when exactly Lilith began to influence evolution but Dr. Soryu was able to determine that intelligent life was closely tied to Lilith. The first clue was a remarkable similarity in genetic code between Angels and humans - and in extension primates. A more thorough analysis revealed more similarities like the possession of an AT-field.
"I have no data to verify their assessment but the Doctors came to the conclusion, that Lilith considered you a mistake she sought to rectify. It was deemed impossible to prevent the annihilation of the human race on a large scale. Instead they focused their efforts to preserve a small portion of humankind.
"At this point Project Evangelion and Project MAGI were well under way. As the MAGI were a failure at first, Dr. Akagi constructed me. She was in charge of the hardware while Dr. Ikari focused on my logic. She is also responsible for my constrains, based on Isaac Asimov's 'Three Laws'. My original purpose, like that of the MAGI, was to be integrated into an Evangelion, however this proofed impossible. I was given a new purpose, to safekeep the human exodus and to gather and analyse intelligence.
"The plan was to use Third Impact itself to loosen Lilith's grasp on humanity from at least a few individuals. During Human Instrumentality just after the collapse of the individual AT-fields each of you carries there was a window of opportunity that made it possible for specialized equipment and the guiding influence of Unit 1 and its pilot to allow the still only loosely intertwined selves to re-separate and settle in the tanks you woke up in. There they were able to reform their bodies out of LCL similar to when Pilot Ikari merged with Unit 1 during the fight with Zeruel.
"As I said earlier humanity is dependant of Lilith. They can not exist outside her sphere of influence which corresponds roughly to the solar system, for an extended period of time. However the Evangelions and the Black Moon can serve as a sort of substitute, albeit with a lower range. I am afraid to tell you, but until another solution is found, humanity is confined to the Black Moon and the planetary system it inhabits.
"As staying in the Sol system was not an option Dr. Soryu investigated several nearby systems in search for a habitable world to colonize. Gliese 581 was the nearest, and albeit not optimal it offers a possible garden world and can act as a stepping stone to several systems with prime candidates for colonization."
Kozo Fuyutsuki began to chuckle softly to himself, while most of the people were still dumbstruck, visibly trying to come to terms with the situation presented to them.
"Ah, Ikari-sama, I should have known. You never cease to surprise me."
"So... we have failed, haven't we? Third Impact has happened. Earth is gone. We are all that's left," Misato asked with a small voice.
"Correct, Mayor Katsuragi. Earth still remains as a planet but is inhospitable to humanity in this form. Going there without protection would destroy your 'self'. The humans fate on Earth is not clear, but all recordings I made during Human Instrumentality support the Doctors conclusion that individuality was lost soon after you were 'pulled out'. The resulting amalgam of selves flowed into Lilith, finalizing Human Instrumentality. I have kept monitoring Earth as long as I was able, but no apparent changes were recorded."
Another solemn silence followed this statement. The people present were used to get things done, even against impossible odds. That was the very reason they were recruited by Nerv in the first place. To be told that their last years were an utter failure was not easy to swallow.
Another trait sought out by the organisation was resolve. To go on in spite of everything. To keep pushing even when the whole world comes crushing down. The silence did not last as long as one would expect.
Ritusko cleared her throat yet again.
"Well, that's bad news. We will have to think about it later. Right now I think it's best if we focus at the situation at hand. Emi, can you give us some input on what to expect?"
Shinji tuned the meeting out, while Emi droned on about the Gliese 581 g, the need to resupply and a lot of things he simply did not understand and quite frankly couldn't care less about right now.
They had failed. In spite of his frequent vocal declarations Shinji had cared after all. He did not like to fight, it literally made him sick, but at some point he had realized the necessity of it. Because he had found people he cared about. Misato and Rei, Kensuke and Toji, even Asuka had all done their part to draw him out of his shell. And now he could not remain indifferent about others he had never met. The old Shinji would have shut everything out; told himself that it was not his fault, that he was not involved, that he should not feel regret or anything at all. The new Shinji was aware that he was only a pawn, to be used and discarded at the whims of others. But a pawn was involved. It played its part. It stood for all the nameless, faceless people that did not even register on the great board. They might have saved half a million people, the best outcome possible, if Emi was to believed. Yet it still felt like a crushing defeat.
Misato seemed to have picked up his brooding mood and gave his thigh a gentle squeeze. But as he looked up, her smile was forced.
"… Yes Doctor Akagi, it is possible to establish an orbit around Gliese 581 g. The Evangelions can then be used to make trips down to the planet itself."
"Wait, how many Evangelions do we actually have? As far as I remember both Unit Zero and Unit Two were destroyed. And what of the pilots?"
"Unit Zero's whereabouts are unknown as are Pilot Ayanami's. Unit Two is in orbit around the Black Moon, providing deceleration. Pilot Soryu is inside the Evangelion."
"Wait, Asuka is alive?"