Chapter 1: Little Girl in the Hallway
At 7:45 AM students began to slowly trickle through the courtyard gates of Tokyo-3 Middle School Number One. Dressed in blue and white uniforms, dozens of mostly Japanese teenagers walked past the gates chatting with one another or calling out to friends before the start of the day.
Toji Suzuhara walked through the gates along with his friend Kensuke Aida. Unlike the rest of the students Toji wore a black vinyl tracksuit over his school uniform, a throwback to his earlier childhood years in the Kansai region of Japan where wearing such a tracksuit was very much the local fashion statement. The bespectacled Aida, who was much shorter and demure than the athletic Toji, wore the school's standard boys uniform but carried an extra camera bag along with his white school bag over his shoulder.
"God, it's gonna be hot today!" Toji remarked to the other boy. Aida was however distracted by what he saw in the school courtyard and started to pull out his video camera from its bag, something he did usually about a dozen times or more every day.
"What's goin' on?" Toji asked him.
"New pilots today," Kensuke calmly answered.
Kensuke kept his camera focused on it's target and pointed towards what he meant with a finger from his other hand. Toji followed Kensuke's index finger and saw two Caucasian boys wondering around the school courtyard, each of them also wearing the standard boys' school uniform of white shirt with blue trousers. One of the boys was of medium build and height with unkempt blond hair and emerald green eyes, while the other was much taller and more muscular, with closely cropped black hair and dark brown, nearly black eyes. He could see that both of the new boys were looking at a map they had unfolded and trying to find their way around the school. Other students curiously glanced at them as they walked by to their morning classes but none of them made any attempt to talk to the two newcomers.
"How do you know they're pilots?" Toji asked.
"Why else would two more gaijin students be dropped in here," replied Kensuke with a sigh. "Lucky bastards! Why can't I get that job?"
Kensuke was correct about the two boys, who spent the next few minutes getting lost inside the school grounds as they tried to follow their Japanese-only map and find their starting classroom. "This building is a maze!" the tall boy said in exasperation as they both went up another flight of stairs. "How are we supposed to find our way around this place?"
"You could just ask someone," his blond companion suggested.
Taking the suggestion the taller boy singled out two girls walking up the stairway next to them. In very broken Japanese he tried to ask for directions to their new homeroom but as they listened to him the two girls just smiled and giggled a little, and then waived and ran downstairs.
"Oh, well," the taller boy remarked. "I'm sure they thought I was at least charming."
"Maybe, but your Japanese really sucks!" the blond boy said to him, and proceeded to address another boy close by who was climbing up the same stairway. After a quick set of questions and answers he said "thank you" in Japanese to the boy and motioned to his friend to go to the third floor.
Once on the third floor the boys wondered down the hallway and tried to find their particular classroom, having to fight an increasingly larger crowd of students as the clocked moved closer to 8:00AM. To the two of them, the school seemed clean, plain, and very structured, much like the Japanese that built it.
"Why are we here again?" the blond boy asked.
"Cultural exchange," the taller boy replied. "I think today's a holiday: Make Fun of Foreigners Day."
"You shouldn't have slept during the language classes," his mate quipped.
"We're just suppose to be able to talk to the Japanese," he defended. "Not go to freaking school here!"
The teenagers kept looking down the hallway to find their starting room when the blond boy noticed one of the students sitting on the floor with her knees bent upward, quietly reading a book.
"Well, hello there," he said mostly to himself, taking a keen interest in the blue-haired girl seated down the hall. The taller boy then saw who had caught his friend's eye. "Oh, wow. Blue hair," he observed. "That's something you don't see every day." He expected a sarcastic reply from his blonde-haired friend but noticed that instead he was becoming increasingly entranced with the girl who was reading.
"She's probably like in a...punk band or something," the tall boy said.
"I don't think so," the blond boy replied. "That face...just like a little girl." He kept staring at her trying to get a better look as his friend looked on. After a couple of minutes the tall boy playfully knocked his friend on the head with his fist. "Yo. Earth to Patrick: pull out!" Patrick brushed him aside. "There's something else about her," he told the tall boy. "Look at the eyes!"
"What about them?"
The taller boy took another look at the pale teenaged girl and saw her eye color. "Red," he said.
"Yes. Bright red."
"OK, She's weird. So anyway..."
"Think she'll talk to me?" Patrick suddenly asked his friend. Vance looked around again and noticed that none of the other students had greeted or spoken to the blue-haired girl the entire time they had been spying on her.
"No," he said flatly. "If I didn't know any better I'd say she has her own AT Field. Notice how no one goes anywhere near her: that can't be a good sign."
"Well, it's a good thing I'm an EVA pilot then," Patrick replied.
Vance put his hands on his hips. "What did I teach you? Couldn't you stick to normal girls?" he asked
"Normal girls are boring," Patrick replied over his shoulder as he started to walk to where the blue-haired girl was sitting.
There's something about her, Patrick thought as he walked towards her, finding himself strangely drawn to the quiet girl with the book. Something...unearthly.
The boy stopped right in front of where the girl was sitting and waited to see if she would look up from her book. She didn't, however and from about ten steps away Vance crossed his arms and watched the two of them, a knowing smirk on his face. Danger, danger...
Not seeing any response at all from her, Patrick then took a deep breath and then tried speaking in English. "Uh…Hi!" The blue-haired girl ignored the boy and instead just kept reading her book. Patrick then tried to speak Japanese to her: "Umm… excuse me?" After a few moments of awkward silence she then finally, silently looked up at him.
"Uh-H-H-Hello! How are you?" Patrick said nervously. The girl still silently stared at him, without making any obvious facial expression. "I'm Patrick...Um...What's your name?" From the hallway Vance watched his friend's pick-up attempt and fought hard to suppress his own laughter while he watched as he thought to himself Oh man, he is so blowing this!
As Patrick struggled to figure out what else to say the girl then suddenly broke her silence. "Ayanami...Rei" she said in a whisper-like voice.
The blond boy was shocked. "Uh...what did you say?" he said in English.
"Rei," she repeated, looking directly at him as she said it.
Patrick never felt so nervous in his life. "Oh, Okay." He then said in Japanese: "Nice to meet you, Rei! I'm Patrick! Patrick Forrestal."
"You are American," she replied back in English.
His eyebrows raised high in response. "You know English?"
"Yes. I learned it."
"Oh," he sighed in great relief. "Well that's great! It seems like no one here speaks it. Well, anyway…" The musical chime of the starting bell sounded over the loudspeakers. Any students that were still left in the hallways quickly moved into classrooms as teachers began walking down the hallway towards their respective classes. Oh, crap. Just as I'm getting started here.
Upon hearing the bell Rei quietly closed her book and stood up off the floor. "Time to go," she said to him and without saying another word started to walk away toward one of the classrooms. Patrick called out to her. "Hey! What class are you?" he said in English. She didn't reply back to him but just kept walking away.
"No, that's not it!" he said to himself. He tried to rephrase the question in Japanese and again call out to her but the blue-haired girl didn't answer him but instead just silently slipped into one of the classrooms nearby. Patrick wasn't sure if she had heard him or not and realizing he had failed in his attempt was quickly deflated. "Oh, okay then. See you later!"
Vance, the tall boy, was observing all of his friend's interactions with a smile on his face as walked over to the now-defeated Forrestal. "I told you she's a lost cause!"
"At least she speaks English," Patrick replied, trying to find a silver lining. "That can't be bad!"
"Then maybe you'll have another shot at it," Vance said and pointed at the classroom Rei had slipped into a moment earlier. It was labeled "2-A" which just happened to be the classroom that they were looking for in the first place.
The boys quickly walked inside and stopped after only a few feet as stares meet other stares. The noise level of the room suddenly dropped to silence as all of the students in the class interrupted what they were doing and silently looked straight at the two newcomers in the front of the classroom. Patrick noticed that one of the students had already pulled out a video camera and was filming them.
"Okaaay," Vince quietly said to his friend. "What do we do now?"
The homeroom teacher, an older man with glasses and white hair now spoke to them in broken English. "Are you Mr. Forrestal? And Mr. Vinson?"
"Yes!" they both exclaimed, and then in Japanese they bowed and said "Sumimasen! Hajememashite!"
The old teacher politely replied "It's okay. My English is not good, but enough. Please stand here." He motioned to both of the boys to stand in front of the class, whereupon they did so feeling so much like goldfish in a bowl being watched by a pack of hungry cats.
"You will introduce yourselves now," said the old teacher, who then spoke something to the class in Japanese that the two American boys couldn't quite understand. He then slowly walked over to the chalkboard and wrote the boys names on it in both in roman letters and in Katakana, the syllabic characters reserved for foreign names and words. The teacher then motioned for the two boys to introduce themselves to the class.
Vance addressed the class first in good English and then in bad Japanese. "Hi! I'm Vance Vinson, and this is Patrick Forrestal." Patrick then also greeted the class, only his Japanese was much smoother than his co-patriot's. There was murmuring among the students until the teacher motioned to the class to quiet down.
"Please take your seats." The old teacher motioned to two empty desks at the very back of the classroom. The boys started to walk down the aisles as the other 38 students in class 2-A continued to stare at the foreigners. One of them however, a slight, pretty girl with long legs and flowing red hair, actually seemed happy to see them. "Finally some other Americans here!" the girl exclaimed in slightly accented English. With blue eyes, she didn't look at all Japanese.
"Have we met?" Patrick asked her.
The red-haired girl replied haughtily. "I don't think so. You would have remembered it!"
Vance was impressed with the red-haired girl. "Damn, girl! Your English is good!" The girl smirked, speaking in a sharp, condescending tone. "Of course, stupid! I'm American, just like you." A short, slender boy next to her said in Japanese "Asuka, you're from Germany. Why is your English so good?"
"Baka Shinji!" she teased back. "I'm American, too. The name is LANGLEY, isn't it?" At the mention of that Vance's eyes went wider in recognition, but he said nothing in response.
"I always thought that was German," Shinji said, ignoring the insult. As the couple bickered in front of them Vance whispered something in Patrick's ear, surprising him. "Damn, why didn't you tell me earlier?" Patrick whispered back. "NERV, huh?" Both boys found the empty desks in the back of the classroom and then sat down. As he got into the seat Patrick noticed that Rei, the blue haired girl from the hallway, was sitting at a desk by the window a few rows in front of them. She wasn't paying any attention to the entire ruckus inside the classroom that they had caused but instead just stared out the window into the distance. He waived to her to try to get her attention and thought for a moment that she could see her looking at him out of the corner of her eye. She did nothing in return however, but just continued to look out the window.
At the beginning of the lunch break the two boys remained in their seats at the back of the classroom and compared notes while the other students went about their own business, eating lunch and conversing with each other.
"So she's the German pilot?" Patrick confirmed with Vance as they watched Asuka alternatively chatting with another girl student and then arguing with three boys nearby.
"Correct. Asuka Soryu Langley," said Vance. The Second Child. She's their wunderkid, trained in just about every art and science, especially the martial ones. Only fourteen and already has her college degree."
Patrick looked at her with a narrow glance. "Seems more like their uberbitch to me." Vance laughed at his snide comment. "I don't doubt it. Now that boy next to them," he pointed out, "that kind of wimpy-looking one."
"Yeah?""That's probably Shinji Ikari, the Third Child." Patrick was shocked at Vance's observation. "He's Unit 01's pilot? That kid!" He whispered.
Vance nodded. "Probably."
The blond pilot had seen the video footage of Unit 01's combat actions with the Angels and had earlier noticed how ferociously EVA-01 had fought. "That kid looks like swatting flies would give him trouble."
"And yet we've seen what he's capable of," Vance said. Patrick shook his head, figuring that maybe his friend's information on the Japanese pilots wasn't quite accurate. "Well, if she's the Second, and he's the Third," Patrick asked him, "where's the First?" Vance said nothing but pointed at the now familiar blue-haired girl who had left her desk by the window and now walked out the classroom door, speaking to no one as she left. Patrick's eyes went wide.
"Her? Why the hell didn't you tell me?"
"Actually, all I had was the name," replied Vance. "I didn't realize it myself until you hit on her before class." Patrick sat back in his chair after that, going into dream-mode as through the open doorway he watched the petite girl walk down the hallway, seemingly oblivious to everyone around her. "Still, though, she's really very...interesting."
Vance just shook his head. "Oh, man, you are in love!"
"No, it's not that," Patrick protested. "It's just, well, anyway, if she's a pilot I'm sure to meet her later, right?"
After school both boys boarded a train from a nearby station and traveled to the headquarters of NERV, the United Nations agency responsible for the Evangelion project. Their train ride was short and Patrick noted that most passengers on board were either personnel of NERV or looked like civilians associated with it in some way. During the short trip none of the other passengers on the train paid the two boys any notice.
One they disembarked Patrick and Vance walked a short distance to what looked to them like the entrance to a theme park, at least a very high security one: there was a series of gates, each requiring a pass card to open a large steel door after the gate. It was in fact the entrance to the GeoFront, NERV's giant underground facility. Standing just in front of the gates was a very attractive Japanese woman in her late twenties, wearing a red NERV jacket and uniform, with a red beret over her long black hair and carrying a LCD tablet case. Vance cheerfully waved to the woman and called out to her, "Hello, Misato-san!"
"Hello, Vance!" the woman waived back, replying in accented English. "It's nice to see you again." She turned to the other boy as they arrived next to her. "Hello, Patrick, do you remember me?"
"Oh, do I ever!" he replied with a smile.
She smiled too, pleased at the flattery of the two American boys. "I guess I'll take that as a compliment. I need to give you both of your security cards so you can get in and out of here, there's some paperwork to be done, and then we'll get together with the others. I heard that you ran into them already."
"We had our first day of class today," Patrick told her.
"Good, nice to know we're getting a good start," she replied. "Besides, I think Asuka wants the company. For someone who's part-Japanese, you'd never know it!"
The two boys had met Misato once before, as two weeks prior to their coming to Japan she had been sent to NERV's Second Branch in Nevada to observe, as it was put to her, an "interesting development" by the American branch of the Evangelion project. The Americans had been tasked with constructing two Evangelion units, EVA-03 and EVA-04, but their responsibilities lay only for the units' manufacturing and engineering. Once they were constructed they were to be delivered to the main NERV center at Tokyo-3 for their actual operation. Three weeks ago however the leadership of Second Branch made a surprise announcement to the rest of NERV suddenly revealing that they had actually found their own pilots and were operating the two now fully assembled EVA units completely on their own.
Following that surprise announcement Misato was dispatched to NERV-2 in Nevada with orders to investigate the matter further. When she arrived, the Americans immediately arranged a demonstration for Misato so that she could see their two own EVAs in action, and then afterwards allowed her to meet briefly with the two pilots of the units. After everything Misato found herself very suitably impressed.
After the demonstration in Nevada Misato quickly flew back to Japan and reported to Commander Ikari everything she had seen. Shortly thereafter NERV-2's director then proposed to Commander Ikari that they send their two now-complete units to Japan for a joint training exercise with his three operational ones. Ikari immediately accepted the challenge and now after extensive preparations the two EVA units had finally arrived in Japan along with their pilots.
The major led both boys through the security gates, each one of them sliding their new security cards in the provided slot to gain entry. Once going through the steel doorway and inside the top level of the GeoFront, Misato then led them down a corridor and to a bank of escalators, making small talk with the two boys along the way.
As they rode the escalator downward towards the lower level of the Geofront, both boys looked all around at the enormously spacious interior that they could now see. Above them were mounts for the taller buildings of Tokyo-3 Central, which would be recessed inside in time of battle, while below them there were acres and acres of ground covered with green landscape, tall fir trees, and even a lake. Sunlight was reflected through giant collectors on the surface and then relayed into the GeoFront in order to providing lighting. "Wow," said Patrick, "this place is incredible! You could put a whole country inside here!"
"Pretty impressive, isn't it," said Misato, "Completely self-contained and armored to withstand nearly anything the Angels can throw at us.
"Nearly anything," Vance repeated. "But not absolutely everything." Patrick pointed out a tall black pyramid on the surface level. "What's that?"
"Central Dogma," said Misato. "NERV"s central command post, it's where we control the EVAs from."
They finally exited and again walked through a long maze of corridors within deeper layers of the GeoFront. They made several stops along the way so that Misato could exchange paperwork with various NERV departments regarding the two boys and then after another hour of meetings and more walking the three of them finally reached a conference room.
Waiting inside the room was another Japanese woman about the same age as Misato, with dyed blond hair, a lab coat over her NERV uniform, and brown stockings on her very noticeable long legs. Standing next to her were Japan's three Evangelion pilots, all still wearing their school uniforms. Misato did a quick introduction to Dr. Ritsuko Akagi, who was the scientific director of NERV, and then began on that afternoon's agenda.
"Everyone," she began, "You've already met Patrick and Vance. Officially Patrick and Vance are considered by NERV only as back-up pilots, but in effect they are the pilots of Evangelion Units 03 and 04."
Dr. Akagi now joined in. "We will be conducting a joint training operation between the Japanese and American branches of NERV and among EVA units. Because only NERV in Japan has fought Angels, it's important that NERV-2 get some experience. The best way to accomplish that is for their units to train with our own pilots."
"That's right!" Asuka exclaimed. "We are the best!"
Misato chided her. "Now Asuka, there's no need to boast. You guys work in a team effort!"
"Sure, that's what you're supposed to say," Asuka retorted. "But we all know Japanese kick serious ass!" Everyone else in the room just winced at her comment. Fortunately Shinji was more serious. "How long have you piloted EVA?" he asked the two Americans.
Vance replied "I've been with Unit 03 for three years. Patrick is newer to this." Three years? Misato thought to herself as she listened to the boys further. She quietly looked at Ritsuko, who had the exact same thought. How is that even possible?
Patrick chimed in. "Yeah, I've only been piloting a few months."
Dr Akagi then continued. "Right now we have some tests to conduct and then you can all talk later."
"Correct!" finished Misato. "And both of you boys are invited to my place after we're though here!"
Following the meeting all five of the pilots went to their respective ready rooms. As they prepared for the upcoming harmonics test Patrick donned his plug suit, an orange-colored bodysuit with black stripes, and walked over to Shinji. "Hey, let me introduce myself, again. I'm Patrick," he said, offering his hand.
"Ikari Shinji. Nice to meet you." They both shook hands. "You speak Japanese very well."
"Thanks," Patrick said, feeling relieved at the compliment. "I was learning for a couple of years before I got into this."
"And Vance, too?" Shinji asked.
"I think he's a bit newer at it. Anyway, your fellow pilot doesn't say much," Patrick said to Shinji. Shinji had to think for a moment about who Patrick meant. "Oh, Ayanami? No, she really doesn't. That's just the way she is."
"Anyway," Patrick inquired "Will she be going to Capt. Katsuragi's place after we're done?"
"It's Major now, actually, and I don't really know if she'll go. She sort of keeps to herself," Shinji replied.
"Actually, we don't know all that much about her at all," Shinji commented as he finished putting on his own plug suit, "But she's still one of us."
One of us…
The harmonics test took about one hour as each pilot sat inside their entry plug while various test protocols were run. Mostly the testing was done to determine how well each pilot was able to mentally synchronize (or "sync") with their respective Evangelion unit. From the outside the test was silent and motionless, with only dynamic readings on computer monitors to indicate any activity. The real action took place inside each pilot's minds, as electroneural probes invisibly passed through each pilot's brain, registering their conscious and unconscious response to various stimuli. The process was usually not painful but Patrick always felt it was strange at times, like some unseen force was pushing his thoughts around. He had learned earlier that he could push back and usually after some effort he was able to match the intruding probes exactly move for move. It was one of the weirder things about being an Evangelion pilot.
In the control room Misato watched the five pilots on the monitors and turned to Dr. Akagi. "How is the test going?"
"EVA-03 and 04 are still being calibrated so this is only preliminary, but our two new pilots seem to be performing adequately," Ritsuko replied.
Ritsuko checked monitors as she spoke with Misato. "Vinson is moderate, lower than Asuka but stable. Forrestal seems better, more on a level with Shinji."
"I see," said Misato. "I thought the Americans were only supposed to build those two EVA units, not operate them by themselves!""That was the original plan," replied Ritsuko. "Evidently they found a way to employ their own pilots."
"But the Marduk Institute was supposed to be the only organization able to find pilots. How are those two able to pilot the EVA?"
The scientist took her eyes away from the monitors. "I don't know myself. That information is held by NERV-2 and they haven't let me see it. I think that the Americans are holding them as an insurance policy."
Ritsuko took off her glasses. "Meaning if Tokyo-3 were to be destroyed there would be something left to fight the Angels."
Misato was indignant. "Really meaning that they don't trust us!"
"It's reasonable from a certain point of view, really," continued Ritsuko. "In any case, if Marduk hasn't identified them, I do wonder how they've been able to determine how they're capable of piloting EVA. Interestingly enough, I've met Forrestal's father."
"Dr. Harrison Forrestal. He co-developed the MAGI along with my mother."
Misato sat down in one of the chairs. "I thought your mother was the primary designer of the MAGI?"
"She was, but Dr. Forrestal worked on many of the sub-components of the system, especially in the networking between MAGI-type units worldwide. He's also the technical chief of NERV-2. If these two boys are capable of piloting EVA, it's probably his doing." Ritsuko carefully checked the monitors again and turned to her assistant, Lieutenant Maya Ibiki. "Maya?" The petite young officer eagerly swiveled in her chair. "Yes, sempai?"
"Finish the test. I think we have enough for now."
Dr. Akagi and Major Katsuragi were not the only ones with a strong interest in the abilities of the American pilots as several stories above them NERV commander Gendo Ikari and Vice Commander Kozue Futsuyuki both reviewed the test data in the commander's office. "How well are the Americans adjusting?" asked Vice Commander Futsuyuki.
"They are conducting harmonics tests currently and will be settling in for a couple of days," replied Commander Ikari. "We should be able to start conducing joint training shortly."
"Interesting that the Americans would choose now to reveal their little secret," Futsuyuki commented. "We had no idea before now that they were doing this?"
The commander mulled a bit. "Conducting full-scale operations with two EVAs would ordinarily be quite difficult to hide. They wouldn't have been able to go this far without a great deal of help."
"Do you think they don't trust us?" queried the Vice Commander.
Gendo looked at him. "Who, the Committee?"
"Yes. No doubt they have their own fall-back plan in case of our failure."
"Or a way to police us if we succeed too well," Ikari mulled. "While the revelation of their own side program is troubling, I'm more concerned that they've even found pilots. That wasn't supposed to be possible without us being involved."
"I understand that Dr. Forrestal is brilliant," Futsuyuki said, "An expert both with quantum computers and with genetics. He had a Nobel Prize at a young age before Second Impact."
"Nonetheless he seems to know more than he has a right to," commented the commander as he folded his hands in front of him. "Put their pilots to the maximum test possible. Let's see if they're capable of masquerading as well as they seem."
The man stood before a window overlooking the desert as the sun was just now coming up again in the East. Behind him a young officer opened the door and stood at attention. "Yes?"
The young officer spoke. "A message from MICHAEL, sir. He says they've achieved penetration into Tokyo-3."
"Good." He motioned to the officer and he left the observation room. As sunlight began to illuminate the desert in front of him the man stared out into the horizon. Now is the beginning of the end.