The Blue Rose

Chapter 4: The Train


Inside Central Dogma, the spacious pyramid-shaped NERV EVA operations control center, Major Katsuragi spoke in front of a series of giant video screens, each featuring the image of one of the five Evangelion pilots that were present. All of them were wearing their plug suits. Her tone was much more serious than yesterday."Okay, everyone! This is a simulated training exercise. We will pair you into teams of two: Units 01 and 02 will be on defense, Units 03 and 04 will be on offense. Rei, you will be on standby in EVA-00, and we'll give you special instructions."

"Roger!" they all replied, in whatever language they were comfortable with.

Misato then addressed the two Americans. "Yankees, your objective today is to penetrate to Central Dogma from the Tokyo-3 fortress city above. EVA-01 and 02 will try to stop you. After the first round we will switch positions, and EVA-03 and 04 will be on defense. Hopefully you can learn something from the experience." The two American pilots nodded as she finished. Misato then turned around and faced the other controllers, the petite short-haired Lt. Maya Ibiki, who was joined at the controller stations by Lt. Makoto Hyuga and Lt. Shigeru Aoba on the command platform. Hyuga was of average size and build and had large-framed glasses, while Aoba was tall and thin, and kept his long hair out of his face with a white headband. In addition to the controller staff, Dr. Akagi was also present. Commander Ikari and Vice Commander Futsuyuki were observing from the Commander own platform above them.

"Everyone begins on my mark," Misato called out. "3...2...1...Go!"

"Okay dude, rock and roll!" called out Vance to his teammate.

"Right," replied Patrick. "Ready to kick some rice-eating ass!"

"I heard that!" said Asuka. All of their audio was on an open channel, so every pilot could hear each other.

"Don't think we're pushovers!" said Shinji.

The first round of training consisted of a combat exercise that took place in a simulated environment. Each Evangelion pilot was present within a replica of his or her entry plug, but the actual battle was waged in a virtual world created and managed by NERV's artificial intelligence, the MAGI trinity of super computers. NERV controllers and staff were monitoring the exercise from Central Dogma, where all of the simulated action was portrayed on very life-like computer-generated images on giant viewing screens mounted on the ceiling.

"Okay, Forrestal, just like we went over it," said Vance.

"Got it, Double-V!" At that, both the simulated Units 03 and 04 ran full speed in unison towards the simulated EVA Units 01 and 02.

Asuka tried to read the situation from her opponents. "Shinji! They're trying to do a double-press!"

"Ready for them!" he called back.

As the two visiting EVAs got within twenty meters of Units 01 and 02, Vance ordered "Break!" EVA-03 jumped high above the pair of Japanese EVAs while Patrick's Unit 04 went low and slid into Unit 01, like a baseball player stealing a base.

"I got you!" Asuka's Unit 02 jumped up to meet EVA-03 on the way down and both EVAs tumbled into the ground, rolling around and struggling in the simulated Tokyo-3 environment. Shinji was less successful at evading the trap set by Patrick. "What? Oh, No!" Unit 04 had slid right into both of Unit 01's legs and flipped it over. He then called for help. "Asuka!" Shinji cried.

"Shinji, you dumb-ass! He tricked you!" Asuka shouted as he continued her own melee. EVA-03 then decked EVA-02 hard with its fists and threw Unit 02 down into the city streets, wrecking about half the street in the process. "Uggh!" she said with gritted teeth as her own EVA took the blows.

Misato was observing all of this, arms folded as she watched the monitors. "Wow, impressive!" she remarked to Ritsuko next to her. "Finally someone who can teach Asuka a lesson."

Asuka wasn't so sure. "No one puts me flat on my back!" she yelled, as she withdrew her Progressive Knife from its sheath and charged at the black Evangelion. Unit 03 drew its own knife and met her attack straight on. "I see she gives as good as she gets!" Vance quipped.

Elsewhere in the simulated Tokyo-3, Shinji worked at getting loose from Unit 04's wrestler's grip. "Roll over, roll over, roll over..." he said to himself as he struggled. "There, got loose!" Unit 01 jumped out and started to run for cover. "No you don't!" shouted Patrick as he pursued closely in Unit 04.

Unit 01 turned around a corner and then quickly withdrew its own Prog Knife. Just as Unit 04 passed the corner, the purple EVA came at him directly. "Here, take that!" Both of them got into their own melee and started bouncing each other into the nearby buildings.

Meanwhile Units 02 and 03 had everyone's attention in the control room with the intensity of their own struggle. "Hey, you're really aggressive!" said Vance to Asuka, as Unit 03 parried another Prog Knife thrust by the Red Unit 02.

"Get back here, you asshole!" Asuka cursed.

"Oh, testy, aren't we?" Vance playfully replied.

"No one beats Asuka!" she shot back. Unit 02 again lunged but Vance's EVA caught the thrust and then swung EVA-02 straight into a building. Even though this was a simulated exercise, the biofeedback from the neural interface was still feeding back the pain the Evangelion unit faced from the outside trauma. "Ow!"

"Ouch, that had to hurt!" observed Hyuga to the others.

"Unit 03 seems to have the upper hand," said Dr. Akagi.

From his own position Shinji saw that Unit 02 was now in trouble. "Asuka, I'm coming to help!" he shouted to her.

"Stay the hell away! I can handle this!"

Vance overheard the two on the open audio and worked out his next move. "Just as I thought" he said. "Let's see you handle this!" As Asuka charged again, EVA-03 quickly grabbed EVA-02's ankle and in one motion flipped it 270 degrees in the air and into a water tower, smashing the tower into pieces and dropping Unit 02 on the ground flat on its back after it fell. Recovering herself again, Asuka was seeing her battle plan turn into a complete disaster. "THAT'S IT NOW I'M REALLY PISSED OFF!" she shouted angrily.

Shinji tried to move his Unit 01 over to Asuka's side of the battlespace, but Patrick reacted quickly and again put EVA-01 into a wrestler's grip. "Asuka!" Shinji continued to cry out as he struggled with Unit 04. He finally grabbed hold of a large truck in the street and then threw it at EVA-04's face. Patrick was shocked by the blow, enough to let go and EVA-01 broke free. "What?" Patrick said. "How'd he do that?"

"Good move, Shinji!" complimented Misato.

"Dang, he's better than he looks!" said Patrick to himself.

Asuka continued to make blind charges at the black Unit 03, as Vance continued to taunt her. "Uh, oh, she's a violent type! Here, here!" She, on the other hand, hadn't been so pissed off since the Seventh Angel. "DON'T MOCK ME! YOU'RE GOING TO GET THRASHED!" But Asuka's aggressiveness played right into Vance's hands. "Just like I expected," he whispered to himself. "Come to papa!"

At this point in the match Misato thought to herself that the Americans were perhaps having a bit too much fun, and now threw in another card into the mix. "Rei, Now!" she ordered, and the blue EVA-00 moved in from the outside border of the environment to join Unit 01 and -02. Patrick spotted the new opponent come into the combat zone and let out a loud breath of frustration - they had been winning until now. "Hey, no fair!" He protested aloud. "It's 3 on 2 now!"

"Life's not fair, Patrick," said Misato smugly. "Learn to deal with it."

Patrick took a good look at the new opponent, and saw the sniper rifle Unit 00 carried in her hands. "Double V, look out!" he shouted to his partner. "She's got long range weaponry."

"Point taken!" Vance replied, while Unit 03 violently threw Unit 02 into another wall.

Asuka was shaken from the constant attacks and became all the more furious at the beating she was getting at the hands of Unit 03. "THAT'S IT YOU BASTARD THAT'S THE LAST TIME YOU TOUCH ME!"

"Asuka, calm down!" Misato warned. "If you lose your temper, you're going to get defeated"

"THAT'S SO NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!" Asuka was shouting at the top of her lungs but her confidence had quietly fallen. She maneuvered EVA-02 into yet another charge on Unit 03.

"A little closer." whispered Vance as he watched her EVA rush towards his own.

"Asuka!" Shinji shouted as he darted towards Unit 02 in an effort to help shield Asuka. She saw Shinji start to come towards her but again warned him off angrily. "SHUT UP SHINJI! LET ME PUT THIS GUY DOWN!" She marshaled all her remaining emotional energy and with knife in hand, charged one more time at Unit 03. The moment Vance had prepared for had come as he quietly counted the seconds while Unit 02 approached him. 3..2..1 "Now!"

As EVA-02 thrust its knife at EVA-03, Vance quickly moved his Evangelion to the side, took his own Prog Knife and quickly stabbed it right into the upper chest of Unit 02. Simulated LCL came crashing out of the wound. The biofeedback from the sudden simulated attack was intense and Asuka screamed in absolute pain.

Shinji called out "Asuka! Asuka!" Distracted by Asuka's fall, Shinji fell back on the throne as EVA-04 elbowed his unit in the face, and pushed Unit 01 into the street. "Take that!" said Patrick, who got his own Prog Knife into a killing position. "First down, now out." Then something from outside distracted him. "Wait a minute!"

"Ayanami!" exclaimed Shinji as EVA-00 moved in front of him. She shielded him as he backed his own EVA away from Unit 04. Patrick couldn't bring himself to attack Unit 00 however and just stood there looking at it instead, something that didn't go unnoticed to the others. Misato called out to Patrick. "EVA-04, what are you doing? Pursue the target!"

"Rei? What, oh, yeah." Patrick stammered.

Too late. "Gotcha!" EVA-01 took aim with a newly-acquired Pallet Gun and shot EVA-04 squarely in the chest. Unit 04 immediately went down, and Patrick could feel the burning pain from the hit as his own EVA fell.

Nearby, Vance in EVA-03 was nearly done with his opponent, who was backed against a building, profusely bleeding LCL onto the ground. "Time for the kill..." he growled. "uh, oh." Suddenly Vance started to feel faint and dizzy with the sensation of the EVA plug spinning around him. Oh, no, not now!

Maya, one of the controllers, also noticed something unusual with Vance and his EVA. "EVA-03 pilot is suffering from sudden loss of consciousness," she reported. "Vital signs declining 34%!" Dr. Akagi then looked at the pilot monitors and studied the display for Vance Vinson's own vital signs and physical condition. "What is going on?" she whispered to herself.

Asuka saw the opportunity provided by Vance's momentary stumble and took it. "GOT YOU!" EVA-02 thrust a Progressive Knife right across EVA-03's neck, slicing its throat in half. EVA-03 immediately went down in a thrashing orange pool of LCL.

Misato knew that even in the simulation there was a risk from the suddenness of Asuka's attack. "Quickly, cut the feedback signal to the pilot," she shouted to the controllers.

"EVA-03 and 04 are both down!" pronounced Lt. Hyuga. "Stop the simulation! Recover all pilots!" Misato then ordered, taking a deep breath as she looked at the screens above her. She was not happy.

Ten minutes later in the pilot ready room, Misato confronted her charges, narrowing her glance at Shinji and Asuka. "What the hell was that?" she demanded.

"What are you yelling at us for?" defended Asuka.

"That has got to be the sloppiest fighting I've seen since I've been here!" Misato shouted to the pair of them. "You guys let yourselves get caught off guard by rookies! You defeated all these angels yet today you nearly get nailed by a couple of cowboys!"

Asuka was nonchalant about it. "Hey, we won," she replied. "What's the big deal?"

"You won because Vinson hesitated!" said Misato, still angry. "You were damn lucky."

"I wouldn't call it luck," Asuka countered.

"Then I'd call it mercy," Misato replied. "If this was real we'd all be dead by now."

"Give them credit, Major," chimed in Vance, who was standing a few feet away. "They did get the advantage of us!" Misato now turned to the Americans. "That's right, both of you just froze when you need to push in the kill. Forrestal?" Patrick looked at Misato in a reluctant expression. "Yes?"

"Why didn't you hit EVA-00 when you had the chance?"

"Well," Patrick looked at Rei as she silently stood there in front of him and then back at Misato. "I...wasn't sure if she posed an immediate threat." He of course knew the real reason why he held back and bit his lip to keep from saying anything further.

"What do you mean posed an immediate threat?" Misato yelled at him. "It doesn't matter! This is a kill or be killed situation, no mercy on your opponent. At least the others understand that part of the deal!"

In Commander Ikari's office above, both the commander and vice commander reviewed the day's simulation on a video monitor, playing back the entire combat session. "What's your evaluation?" Gendo Ikari asked Dr. Futsuyuki after they both watched the video.

"Vinson fights very well," the vice commander surmised. "He's clearly been trained to a high degree. His skills are at least the equal of Miss Soryu."

"And the other one?"

"Not as much skill but he is very comfortable in the EVA, much like Ikari-kun. With a higher synch rate he can compensate for a great many faults." He stood up from his chair, and looked away from the commander. "Together they make an excellent team, one that almost won. "

"As far as I'm concerned they won this match," Gendo said. "It's only because the Vinson boy momentarily hesitated that EVA-02 was able to get the better of them." He took off his glasses and placed them on the table, then folded his hands. "The next round is the live round: intensify opposition. Don't let the Americans have a cake walk over us."

"Yes, commander," Futsuyuki nodded.

In the Male Pilots' locker room, Patrick approached Vance as they were changing out of their plug suits. Vance's plugsuit design was jet black with red stripes, which Patrick thought was a bit ironic considering Asuka's plug suit pattern was the opposite pattern.

"Dude, are you OK?" Patrick asked him. Vance looked tired but still alert. "Yeah, I'm fine," he responded. "Just got the wind kicked out of me!"

"Damn! You almost had her!"

"No kidding! Just a couple of seconds faster and this would have been our match," Vance replied, pounding his hand into his fist. "Ikari's a lot better than he looks, though." Patrick had to agree. "His technique's not perfect, but he fights with heart, not the head."

"Sometimes that's more dangerous," the taller boy commented. "Don't forget he's had more angel kills than the others. And also…"

"Yeah?" Patrick asked.

"I know you like the weird girl," Vance chided. "But don't let affect your fighting!"

Patrick had to admit it was obvious. "Sorry, couldn't help it!"

Vance was more serious. "Better get it under control next time."

Vance told Patrick that he needed to see the American technical crew again, so he suggested that they meet up later at their temporary apartment. By himself and now with time on his hands, Patrick figured that he might explore Tokyo-3 some, but also wondering where the little blue-haired girl might now be. After changing back into his school clothes, Patrick went to the front of the girl pilot's locker room but saw no one come out after fifteen minutes while he waited outside. Figuring that Rei and Asuka had already left, Patrick then managed to find his way out of the maze that was the GeoFront and return to the front gate on his own after about an hour of wondering around the insides of NERV. As he approached the exit gates at the top level, he then spotted Rei just as she was exiting, dressed in her school uniform. Patrick called to her. "Rei? Rei! Wait up!" He waived to get her attention.

Rei looked at Patrick at first, but then just kept walking out of the facility.

"Wait up! Here!" he shouted, as Patrick then ran to catch up with the blue-haired girl. Once he reached her he momentarily caught his breath, Rei didn't say anything at all but just stood there and stared at him.

"Um, uh, I've been meaning to talk to you since school," he said to her.

"Why?" she asked.

"Why?" Patrick gave a nervous laugh. "Well, I don't know, it's really that as we're now all training together, I'd just like to get to you know you know."

"It is not really necessary," she said plainly, in a monotone voice.

"But it still might be nice!"

"I must go now." She then turned and headed out of the entrance.

"No, wait!" Patrick called. "Please hang on a second!" He almost thought to grab her, but then held back his hand. Rei noticed the move and then looked sternly at Patrick. "Please allow me to go."

Oops, pushed it too far, he thought to himself. "Oh, okay. I'm sorry if I was rude." Rei didn't reply but just turned around and headed towards the nearby train station. As she walked away, Patrick again called after her somewhat in desperation. "Look, let's go out sometime...!" She ignored the invitation and just kept walking away.

Well, that didn't go well, Patrick thought to himself. I guess there's always school. But maybe Asuka's right; it's not worth the trouble. Still, I can't help but be charmed by her. Maybe… He watched Rei walk to the train station entrance, turn a corner and go out of sight. Just after she went around the corner he made his decision and went after her.

Patrick ran to the station and looked around. After a few minutes of searching among the outgoing tracks he managed to get a glimpse of her blue hair moving onto a boarding train. He quickly ran for the same train and managed to leap on board another car before the doors closed.

Now on the same train as Rei, the American boy walked through a series of cars as it moved, bumping into several passengers on his way as they stood amid the crowds of the packed train cars. None of them said anything as he went through, though a couple of people gave him rude looks while he pressed onward towards the front. After a couple of minutes he reached the front car of the train and spotted Rei sitting on a sideways bench in the middle of the car. Careful to not let himself be seen by her he then found an open seat near the rear entrance of the train car and sat down.

Auska and Shinji walked out of the GeoFront a few moments after Patrick started on his pursuit of Rei. The two of them slowly made their way to the train station, talking along the way. Auska was still upset over the afternoon's match. "Misato-san is so stupid!" she complained to him. "I can't believe that she'd chew us out over a match that we WON."

"She probably just thinks that we're not taking it seriously enough," Shinji suggested.

"Oh, right...she's probably just got PMS!" Asuka retorted. She blew out a breath and shook her head in frustration. Shinji waited a long moment before speaking to her again. "Asuka?"

"Hmm?" Asuka purred, now smiling at him. Shinji had noticed that she was suddenly over her bad mood. "I always thought you were German," he told her.

"Well...I grew up there," she explained, "so I really think of myself as German. It's my first language and all. But actually, officially, I'm a US Citizen,"

"Have you ever been to America?" Shinji asked her.

"A few times," she replied. "Mostly it was to see relatives or on a vacation. There's not much to see there, these days. The period after Second Impact was pretty bad. There used to be a lot of nice places like New York or Washington, but those are gone now. It's kind of a mess."

"I see."

"But I LOVE the food there!" she said, her eyes now wide open. "Oh, steak, and ribs, and crab cakes, and pizza, and hamburgers. REAL hamburgers, with real cows in them, not the fakes they have here!"

"What about Japanese food?" Shinji asked. "Do they have that over there?"

"It sucks," she told him. "A lot of times they just slap sweet soy sauce on something and then call it Japanese." "Ugh!" said Shinji.

"Yep," Asuka replied. "But still, I could pretty much eat my way through the whole country, given the chance."

"Are all the Americans like those two?" Shinji asked, referring to the American pilots.

"Unclean, disorganized, and aggressive," she remarked. "Plus they like everything big and showy, no delicacy. Bad bathroom habits, too. But those two have one big difference over almost everyone there."

"What's that?" Shinji asked as they reached the station entrance.

"They both speak Japanese," she answered while they both reached for their train passes. "Nearly everyone there speaks only English, or maybe Spanish."

"That's quite a coincidence." Shinji observed.

Asuka went through the station turnstile first, sliding her card through the slot on top. "Baka Shinji! They KNEW they were coming here!" Asuka darted out of the other side and Shinji, distracted by her, ran right into the lowering gates. Alarms buzzed as he tried to extract himself from the metal jaws. Auska watched the pathetic struggle of her fellow pilot to get out of the turnstile's closed jaws and slapped her palm to her face in frustration. "What am I going to do with you?"

In the train car Forrestal spent the next 10 minutes just watching Rei read her book while on the train seat. He had earlier reached into his backpack and grabbed a travel brochure to hide behind in case she looked around the car, but she never looked up once from reading. Must be really interesting, he thought.

After several stops most of the train car emptied of the night-time commuters going back home or for entertainment elsewhere. He had no real idea where within Tokyo-3 he actually was, but Patrick was just determined that he was going to follow the First Child for as long as he could. Finally at one stop a somewhat heavy-set man in a black suit with dark sunglasses sat at the bench next to Rei. She didn't budge, but continued to read her book without even glancing at the man. Patrick kept watching and started to notice that the heavy guy was slowly making his way down the bench towards Rei.

The man on the bench looked about fifty, with tussled black hair and a flush red face. Patrick also noticed that the man had a small earpiece inside of his ear, a hearing aid perhaps? he thought to himself. Just as the stranger was adjacent to Rei, he pulled out what looked like a news magazine out of his jacket pocket and started reading it. And Patrick watched as his hand suddenly landed on Rei's thigh.

On the intrusion, Rei silently jumped up with her book bag and moved across the train car to another bench by the front of the car. To avoid being seen Patrick quickly dodged under his travel guide but she didn't seem to notice him. Patrick then saw the old pervert cross the train car and again sit on the same bench as her.

He looked around. The car was sparsely filled with passengers, but they were sleeping, involved in reading something, or, unbelievably, pretending not to notice Rei's attempt to evade the creep. There were no policemen in the car, and the train driver (if there was one at all) was hidden behind the front door.

Clearly the pervert had noticed the lack of attention in the car and he slid closer to Rei on the bench. She had already moved to the front edge of the bench, still reading her book, but now aware that she was being pursued. The creep moved closer until he was right next to her. Magazine still in one hand, he silently slid his other one to touch her. Suddenly he felt a tap on his shoulder.

"Excuse me, but leave her alone!" Patrick was standing up next to him.

The old pervert turned and spouted at him in Japanese. "Screw off, kid! Don't you know is rude to talk in a train car!"

"I think she doesn't want you to touch her!" Patrick said loudly.

"I think you're in my fucking way!" the man cursed in mispronounced English. The creep tried to stand up to strike Patrick but Patrick swung his backpack into his face, pushing him off the bench and onto the train floor. With the man struggling to get up, Patrick quickly grabbed Rei's wrist and pulled her off the bench and down the train car, backpack in his other hand. He raced through the back doors into the next car.

"Quick, this way!" he told Rei. As he looked back over his shoulder, her eyes were wide with surprise.

Patrick looked behind him and saw man, his face now even brighter red, rushing toward them, through the train door window. "Foreign bastard!" he called out.

Moments later the train came to the next stop. Having no idea where he was, Patrick looked for the next open door. The door chime sounded and other passengers started to get up out of their seats. "Here, out the door!" he said to her, as Patrick pulled Rei through the nearest open door and out into the station platform, both of them running as they went outside the car.

Patrick didn't try to look back, he just ran as fast as he could through the station and to the exit, dragging Rei along with him. Only as they reached the exit turnstiles did they finally stop. Rei released herself from his grip and reached for her train pass.

Patrick turned to her. "Are you okay?" Rei silently nodded.

"You can't be too careful, I guess," he said. "I'm sorry, I was rude again."

"It is okay," she replied.

No 'thank you' huh? "You're more than welcome." He fumbled and found his own train pass. "Let me take you back home. Are you far from here?"

"Not far," she said. "I can walk there in 20 minutes."

"Good. We don't need to get on the train again. Besides, I don't want your family to worry about you here."

"I am able to walk by myself," she told him, still in a monotone voice.

Patrick shook his head. "Oh, no. There's no way I can let you walk alone now."

"It is not necessary," Rei replied. "The way is well lit and I will be safe here."

"So was the train," Patrick retorted. "At least let me walk with you to your place."

Rei looked at him for a moment and then just turned away, walking through the turnstile and out the station. Patrick shoved his train pass into his pockets after using it to exit the turnstile, jogging to keep up with her. "Umm, then this way, huh?" he said, as she just starting walking down the street. She said nothing to reply to him but didn't try to move away from him either as she progressed forward.

At the Geofront, Misato sat in her office and was playing over the day's simulation again when she heard the door swing open. How rude not to knock, she thought to herself. Could only be one person…She swung her chair around and faced the door.

"Well, how did it go today?" Kaji said to her with a smirk on his face. He was wearing a blue dress shirt and dark blue slacks, a red tie very loosely tied over his neck.

Misato initially thought to chew him out for the interruption but she decided that she had enough trouble today as it was and besides, she could use someone to talk to. "Not well."

"I heard our side won," said Kaji."Just barely. Their pilots are very well-trained; otherwise they wouldn't have gotten the jump on us like they did." Misato took a swig at her coffee.

Kaji leaned on the wall and stuck his hands in his pockets. "Worried that we might not be the only winning team?""Actually, I'm more worried abut Asuka," said Misato. "She's too overconfident. It's not good for her, and it could get her killed in the wrong situation."

"She's a smart girl," Kaji defended. "And very determined. No doubt deep inside, she realizes the problem herself. I'm sure she'll work out something." Misato changed the subject. "You said you met the Vinson boy earlier? What was that like?"

Kaji now sat down and reached for his cigarette pack. He knew he wasn't supposed to smoke, but at the moment he needed a nicotine hit to think. Besides, he knew already, Ritsuko had deactivated the smoke detectors in Misato's office as well as her own. "NERV Intelligence sent me to Admiral Vinson's home in Maine six months ago. He was in the process of being appointed security chief of NERV North American operations, for both 1st and 2nd Branch."

Both of them knew that NERV, the UN agency charged with fighting the Angels, had several worldwide branches in addition to the main Tokyo-3 location. First Branch, or NERV-1, was in Cambridge, Massachusetts on the site of the old Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Second Branch, or NERV-2, was in Groom Lake, Nevada, the location of the much-fabled "Area 51" of popular UFO lore. Third Branch, or NERV-3, was located in Germany, with facilities in both Berlin and Hamburg, and was where Kaji, along with Asuka, was most recently posted.

Kaji continued. "As part of the vetting process, I met with Vinson and his wife, and I met their 14-year old son. Captain Vinson was a highly decorated special operations officer in the U.S. Navy SEALs, prior to coming to the UN unified military. Unlike many of the American military, he didn't seem to have issues with UN control."

"There wasn't much choice given at the time," Misato commented.

"Since coming to the UN military, he continued his outstanding military record, seeing action in several conflicts from the Second Impact aftermath. Then about three years ago he requested re-assignment to NERV."

"He wanted a break?"

"Perhaps," said Kaji. "In any case, he had many endorsements for the position and no apparent links to any type of nationalistic or anti-UN groups, so it was certain he would get the assignment, and a promotion." Kaji finished his first cigarette and proceeded to start another one. "My visit was just to get a feel for the man at home, then report back to my superiors." Kaji then offered Misato a cigarette, which she politely declined. "What was your observation?" she asked.

"Both him and his wife were very professional and courteous. But who I found intriguing at the time was the boy."


"Yes. When I first met him, he seemed very much like a regular teenage American boy, strong and friendly, interested in technology and girls."

Misato's curiosity was peaked. "And then?"

"At Captain Vinson's suggestion, we went on a hunting trip in the woods outside their house. Deer hunting." Kaji looked at her.

"Deer hunting? Isn't that illegal?" Misato exclaimed.

"Not over there. It's practically religion in some parts. Still, I went along with the two of them. Within an afternoon he went 5 for 5." Kaji finished his second cigarette.

"Who did? Vance?"

"Yes. Five shots, five deer. All clean hits."

Misato leaned back in her chair, impressed. "Wow. That sounds difficult."

"It was. Deer hunting requires a combination of accuracy, stealth, and strategy. That boy had all of those attributes in spades."

"A combat prodigy," Misato said. "Like Asuka."

"Not like Asuka," answered the NERV agent. "Asuka is highly intelligent and the product of a very considerable amount of training, but she still sees the struggles with the Angels as one big video game. Vance, on the other hand, is a born hunter. There was a sort of ruthless quality about him. I thought to myself at the time that, if he were Japanese, he'd be the reincarnation of Kintaro." Kaji referred to the boy warrior of ancient Japanese lore.

"But ideal for an EVA pilot," Misato concluded. Kaji said nothing but nodded and they both knew the meaning of her comment. Clearly the Americans had been active at their own secret EVA project with significant effort. "Did you report to NERV on the boy?" Misato asked him.

"No," Kaji replied. "The issue at hand was his father, and I saw nothing suspicious about him. However, now that the boy is here I'd think I'd have to re-evaluate everything that I saw earlier." Misato crossed her legs and thought a bit. "Did NERV intelligence have any idea that the Americans had a secret pilot program before those two showed up?"

"Not to this extent," Kaji said, fingering his cigarette case as he considered going for a third stick. "They were quite skilled at hiding it. But there is one other issue regarding their pilots."

"What's that?"

"Dr. Harrison Forrestal, the scientific director of NERV-2, was on record as having a 14-year old daughter, not a son. Supposedly she lived with her father at the NERV-2 facility," Kaji told her.

"Where is she now?" Misato asked.

"Unknown." Kaji replied.

For the next 20 minutes Rei kept walking down a series of streets as Patrick followed her. She said not a word, but rather robotically proceeded into areas that seemed much more run down than the parts of Tokyo-3 that Patrick had seen so far. Finally they reached a series of old apartment complexes that looked abandoned to Patrick. Rei walked into the stairway of one of the high rises, climbed up three flights of stairs, and then went onto a run-down hallway of an equally run-down building.

"So," Patrick said nervously, looking around at the shabby exterior of where they were. "This is your place, huh?" She nodded as she opened the door and walked in. Patrick silently leaned in after her in the doorway, at first careful not to go too far inside.

"Ni….what the heck?" He looked around and saw...almost nothing. Rei's apartment was as drab and dull as an empty warehouse, with only a bed, a single dresser, a small kitchen, and equally small shower stall. There was nothing on the walls for decoration but just concrete, and no TV, radio, or anything else electronic visible within the room. A large amount of unopened mail was strewn all over the floor by the front door where he was standing. Patrick also saw various pills and other medications spilled over one counter of the kitchen, and there were dirty bandages all over the floor. Everything inside the apartment was painted (or was it painted at all? Patrick wondered) a dull gray.

Rei was totally oblivious to his shock at seeing the drabness of her apartment while she went about putting her book bag away. Patrick then decided to come inside, treading carefully to avoid stepping on junk mail, bandages, or any other trash.

"Rei?" he called to her. She didn't respond, but just kept unloading her book bag with her back towards him. "Rei?" he asked again as he stepped further inside. "Do you live alone here?"

"Yes." She put her book bag on the small desk. Patrick just looked at her. "Your parents. You don't live with your parents?" She said nothing in reply.

" have family close by, right?"

She didn't answer for a moment, then without looking at him she said softly "I do not have a family."

Patrick was silent at first as he was still trying to absorb all that he was seeing and now hearing. Then he said "Oh, you're an orphan then? I'm sorry, I'm being rude again. Shinji had told me that Commander Ikari took care of you."

Still without looking at him she asked "What else did Ikari-kun say?"

"He said that you sort of kept to yourself, but that they still considered you one of them."

"I am an EVA pilot," she stated to him as she walked over to the sink.

"Yeah, and so am I, but there's more to life than that." She started to wash her hands at the sink. "It is my purpose."

"Purpose?" he asked.

"Yes, I was made for EVA." She turned off the water.

"I'm sure you are," he said, "But not just EVA all the time right?" Rei finally turned to face him. "EVA is my only reason for being."

Well, there's dedication for you, Patrick thought. "Rei?" Rei didn't respond but she was looking directly at him now, no visible emotion on her face. Without really noticing, Patrick sat down on her bed. "Rei, you've been a pilot for a while, right?" He asked her. She nodded silently.

Patrick nervously ran his fingers through his hair, his thoughts now turning to a subject that suddenly came to the forefront of his brain. "Well, I've been meaning to ask this of someone, and I'm not sure the others would understand this. Double-V certainly doesn't. Perhaps you do." He looked at her but she gave no reaction either way. "Well," he decided, "here goes."

The boy took a deep breath and then everything he said next came out very rapidly. "I've been piloting the EVA for the last three months. And before three months ago, my life was completely normal, sort of. I mean, I was just some normal kid living in California having a normal life, if you could call living in a remote cabin in the mountains normal. Okay, maybe not that normal. It was sort of boring actually, but safe boring. Mostly. Then a few months ago I started having these strange nightmares about being inside of some sort of chamber, and having some ghost-thing come after me. A while after that, this girl knocks on my door in the middle of the night, and then all of a sudden she just starts going crazy in the cabin, like she's totally freaked out. She starts screaming out loud 'What's dead is alive! What's alive is dead!' and my uncle has to stun her to get her to calm down. Then all of these special ops-type guys just rush in with helicopters and stuff, and they take her away in a stretcher. Do you follow me so far?"

She just stared at him. If she was confused by his tale she didn't seem to show it.

He continued. "Then I get this phone call from my dad, who I haven't heard from in, like, a year and he says 'There's been an emergency, you need to get to Nevada now!' And then he just hangs up! I get flown in the middle of the night to the middle of nowhere and then they tell me I have get into this EVA thing to, like, save the world. Anyway," he went on, "before I left I ask my uncle who that girl was and he says 'sorry to hide this from you, lad, but that's your twin sister Erin.' What the hell!? I didn't know I even had a twin sister! I mean, my mom died early on, but no one said anything about a sister. Not my dad or anyone else. It's like Star Wars, or The Parent Trap, or something, but anyway, she was the pilot of EVA-04 before I did it and she was fine for a while and then suddenly she freaks out, enough that they had her put in some kind of mental hospital. "

Patrick was still talking very fast, and was very emotional by this point. "What I'm getting at is, well, whenever I'm in the EVA, in the plug, I really get this sort of creepy feeling, like, well, like it's ALIVE or something, like it's got thoughts of its own." He looked up and faced her. "Do you have any idea what I'm talking about?"

Rei just stood there, still with a blank expression on her face. Patrick was now clearly embarrassed by his sudden outburst. "Uh...well…umm…"

"You should talk to Ikari-kun," she said to him. "You have a lot in common."

"Really? But, do you understand what I mean about with the EVA?" he asked. "I really don't want to get freaked out like my sister, if that really was my sister, but..." Patrick turned away from her as he spoke.

"You need to listen before you can hear," she said to him, almost like a whisper.


"The EVA." She repeated. "You need to listen to her before you can hear." She then walked to the back of the apartment. Patrick really didn't quite know how to react to what Rei just said, but instead just sat there on the bed and faced the drab cement wall in front of him.

"I am going to take a shower," she said to him. The tone of her voice sounded a bit puzzled. "I don't think I'm supposed to let you look at me while I do this."

Patrick turned around and noticed Rei now standing there in front of him wearing nothing but just her white school blouse and bath slippers. "Whoa! No, no, no, don't mind me at all. I'll just be going! Sorry to intrude!" He hastily ran out of Rei's place and down the stairs. Rei looked after Patrick as he ran down the stairs in a panic.

He might know already.

Patrick ran out of the apartment building and onto the empty street. Whew! That was a close one! Still, maybe like 30 seconds more and I might have seen the rated R version. But how can she live like that? As he ran away and towards where they had come from earlier he looked up at Rei's apartment and he could just barely catch a glimpse of her through the veranda window.

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