And If That Don't Work?

A Neon Genesis Evangelion fic thingy.

By Sunshine Temple

 

Here's the disclaimer of non-ownership: Neon Genesis Evangelion and its characters and settings belong Gainax and Hideaki Anno. Team Fortress 2 is owned by Valve. The Spoony Experiment is owned by Noah Antwiler

 

 

Other works can be found at my fanfiction website.

http://jtemple.florestica.com/

 

Temporary Backup Site.

http://www.fukufics.com/fic/

 

 

Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku

http://fukufics.com

 

C&C as always is wanted.

 

 

Chapter Eight: Teambuilding Part 1

 

 


            Rubbing her forehead with one hand, Ritsuko leaned forward and slumped on her desk. After a loud sigh, she slid a desk drawer open with her free hand and withdrew a tall oval-shaped leather case.


            Undoing a silver snap, she flipped the top off and removed one of two hand-blown glass flasks. Tilting the vessel, she watched the amber fluid within slosh about. Nodding, she unscrewed the cap, revealing a smaller cork-lined inner screw-cap. She flipped the outer cap over and used it as a shot glass.


            "Well, that's ominous." Misako eyed the flasks. "Pretty, though."


            Smiling, Ritsuko ran a finger over the initials stamped into the leather. "Thanks, it was my father's."


            Misako raised an eyebrow. "You've never talked about him."


            Ritsuko shrugged. "Mother divorced him when I was young. He died. We were the only ones in his will."


            "And are things so bad you've brought out his private stash?"


            Ritsuko laughed. "Please, this is leaded glass. I change out the liquor every few months." Her face grew somber. "But things... I pulled the feed from Kiko's black box. She's like Rei; she can make AT fields."


            "Oh, you're calling her Kiko now?"


            "Well, I don't call you Misato." Ritsuko's face soured. "She has a point; Asuka didn't have this kind of hardware. Neither did Misato."


            "Have I told you how creepy this all is? I mean, I guess I can see why we're all watched given how... different we all are."


            Ritsuko snorted. "She's a cyborg; much of her body is experimental, and fortunately we have the means to monitor her status."


            "That's why you didn't stick bugs inside of us clones?" Misako asked.


            "Well if you want a brain prosthesis like Kiko's..." Ritsuko trailed off then after a moment of silence nervously laughed.


            "Is this like the hundred percent synchronization?" Misako gazed as the inviting flasks. "Did it completely skip your mind that maybe a little Evangelion might, just might, be able to make AT fields?"


            Ritsuko poured herself a fresh shot. "We considered it, then dismissed it."


            "Oh?"


            "Evangelions require massive, massive amounts of power to operate. That's the whole reason Kiko's father was over here. Even with our best battery packs we can get just twenty minutes of normal, operation. Internally there's just five minutes."

            "One minute at combat tempo," Misako reminded.


            "One minute at constant AT field generation." Ritsuko corrected.


            "Ah." Misako nodded. "You didn't think Kiko had the juice to do it."


            "If she were plugged in, maybe, but that only happens when she's recharging or inside Unit 02."


            "But she made an AT field."


            "And used up a good portion of her power too," Ritsuko shook her head. "I almost feel like we should put her in standby and shove a Signal Termination Plug in her back."


            Misako's expression neutralized. "Is she a threat?"


            Ritsuko set her jaw. "No more than Rei. I guess."


            The clone frowned, more worrying than the alcohol was the uncertainty. "Yes, about Rei."


            "She's not human, she's got enough of-" Ritsuko looked at the second flask. "She's got enough of Unit 01 to enable..."


            "AT fields. Yes you mentioned that" Misako looked down. "You don't seem very shocked that Rei can do it. Do you?"


            " Rei exhibited some signs, but never went very far. She doesn't even have a battery system," Ritsuko added, telling an unrelated truth.


            "And you didn't tell me?"


            "Commander's orders." Ritsuko bit her lip. "I'm- it's how it had to be."


            "What about Shinju then? And me?"


            "I don't know. Physically, you're all identical. But Rei's been alive a lot longer than you two – have been in those bodies." Ritsuko hastily added. "On the other hand, Shinju's been piloting a lot more, and I'm sure activating her Evangelion's AT field is heightening her own abilities."


            "And I guess the bodyguards are a farce. At least for Rei, now Kiko, I guess."


            "AT fields aren't invincible, and they don't keep them running all the time. It's an issue of power." Ritsuko shrugged. "Anyway, the Commander never had much security around Rei, but with the reorganization we had to take those Russian troops."


            "They're real good for training." Misako stretched her neck. "I guess it's good that she's loyal then, given the... hardware she's got."


            Ritsuko raised an eyebrow. "You've got the same hardware."


            "Great." Misako sighed. "So, you're not worried about Kiko?"


            "Again, if I was, she'd be in the lab and depowered."


            "But the AT field..."


            "They were sparring, she activated it by instinct." Ritsuko looked at her flask. "That Rei replied in kind however."


            "It was just some payback."


            Ritsuko blinked. "Rei."


            Misako bit her lip. "Point."


            "While it's good that Rei's opening up to you and Shinju, you have to keep in mind she's not used to being... close to people."


            "I thought you were worried about Kiko?"


            "I'm worried about all the Pilots. Even Suzuhara's got issues with being the new guy and the only male Pilot."


            "But Kiko's the most pressing." Misako said.


            "No doubt." Ritsuko nodded. "She's had the most radical changes, the most recently."


            "She's still recovering."


            "I'm still worried about when we'll send her back to school," Ritsuko said.


            Misako shrugged. "Do we need to send her to school? She has a college degree."


            "For the Children school is less education and more socialization, especially Rei."


            Misako blinked. "That's why she was kept in school? You're kidding."


            "No, requiring Rei to interact with normal students her own age was most beneficial. Especially, when Rei was younger."


            "Rei's not exactly social."


            "Just try to imagine the introverted, a-human, misanthropic horror she'd be if she didn't have to learn the minimal rules of social interaction."


            Leaning forward, Misako narrowed her eyes. "That is my sister you're talking about."


            "Hah!" Ritsuko grinned. "Though I suppose that's more proof my success at integrating you three."


            "And why are you worried about Kiko?" Misako asked. "What, you think the robot girl with the Russian bodyguards and the giant mecha is going to get teased?"


            "Well, I'm more worried about the pressure getting to her and Kiko doing something rash."


            "Hey, "Didn't you just say that school's only purpose would be socialization?"


            "Well, there's also learning more Japanese. Her literacy could be better."


            "Avoiding the point," Misako smirked.


            "And where is the Second?" Ritsuko asked.


            "You don't know?" Misako blinked.


            "Again, if I thought she were a risk she'd already be powered down."


            Misako shook her head. "She's swimming with the others."

            "Swimming?" Ritsuko blinked.


            "Hey, she found a way around it."
             


           

***************

 


            Kiko leaned back and let the water muffle the echoing sounds of waves hitting the walls. The pool was adjacent to the pyramid of Central Dogma and the Geo Front's "ceiling" arced above.


            For a moment her face slipped under the water, and she pulled her head up slightly. Her arms and shins were held above on the surface, along with her waist, while the rest of her... sank.


            "Huh, I can't believe that works," Toji commented as he sat on the edge of the pool, slowly kicking his legs in the water.


            "Dummkopf, I'm regularly immersed in LCL. Of course I'm waterproof."


            "Nah, it's not that," Toji looked over to where the Ayanamis were swimming laps. Wearing identical suits they matched each other's pace. Though Shinju was more striking with how her hair flowed behind her almost like a mermaid's tail. "I'm just amazed that they gave you something as simple as floaties. Knowing this crazy place, I'm shocked they didn't come up with some crazy anti-gravity system."


            Kiko blinked at the inflatable water wings over each of her limbs and the inner tube around her waist.


            "Hey, this is Nerv. Look what they did to... er... you know."


            Kiko sighed. "Don't give them ideas."


            "Yeah." Toji sighed.


            "Why are you so sad? You're getting your Eva, and you get to watch pretty girls swim." Kiko asked with a smile.


            "Well they do that synchronized swimming well."


            Kiko laughed. "It figured. You know Princess didn't even know how to swim when she got here?"


            "Musta learned well."


            "The Russians taught her," Kiko smirked.


            "Oh, poor girl," Toji deadpanned.


            "Don't baby her. Every time Igor threw her in there was someone in the water in case she started to drown."


            Toji blinked and looked at the guards seemingly lounging around the pool. "He actually..."


            "What, you expected subtlety?"


            Toji sighed. "Honestly, from these guys that probably is subtlety. I know what their training's like."


            "Maybe that's why you're wimping out."


            "I just-" Toji shook his head. "You've had years to get used to piloting. Even Shinju knew she'd be a backup, right?"


            "Rookie," Kiko snorted.


            Toji scratched his neck. "Well yeah, and you've got to admit it's dangerous work."


            "Really," Kiko's voice was monotone.


            "Yes," Toji said ignoring the sarcasm. "Five Pilots. One dead, one severely wounded. It's just, I haven't had as much time to be prepared."


            Kiko smirked. "So you're upset at being a 'regular guy'. Do you think you're not getting enough training."


            Toji laughed. "Yeah, it could be worse. Commander Ikari could have just thrown me into an Evangelion and launched me after an Angel."


            Kiko snorted again. "The Commander'd never do that. Evangelions are too valuable to waste in the hands of someone totally green."


            "Reassuring, really."


            "That's not my job, maybe you can ask Hikari to cheer you up."


            "She is pretty cool. And I'd... well we do hang out."


            "Cool... hang out?" Kiko sighed and leaned back. "For a jock you really are a dork. Is Kensuke really that corrupting?"


            "Look what happened to my little sister." Toji shrugged.


            "Crushes do funny things to people."


            Toji grinned. "Look who's talking."


            "Hey! Kaji's the man for me."


            "Right, like Kaji would be interested in you."


            Kiko's choker flickered yellow. "What?" she demanded, swimming to the edge of the pool.


            "He wouldn't be interested in someone like you."


            Her choker solidly yellow, Kiko grabbed the concrete edge and pulled herself out of the pool and landed in a crouch. "You think he won't care for me? Why because I'm some kind of doll?"


            Rei and Shinju stopped their laps and swam to nearest set of ladders.


            "What? No!" Toji scooted back.


            Kiko made a fist. "What then? My breasts are certainly pretty enough for you to stare at." Her choker flashed red and her arm shook.


            "He's twice your age, you crazy German robot." The fifth child shouted back.


            Choker flashing faster, Kiko slammed her fist into the ground, cracking the concrete, spraying up chunks and fragments. With her other hand, she brushed some of the concrete off her still-slick chassis. "I'm not a doll. I'm not a robot. I'm not a toy," she flatly stated.


            "Uh.... yeah." Toji swallowed, looking at the crazed... girl. One of the fragments had put a hole in the float around her right shin and it was slowly deflating. The Azazel troops edging the pool had got up but had kept their weapons low.


            "Maybe you're right." Kiko grinned. "If Kaji wants an older woman; I could ask for Father's help. Maybe some upgrades would be in order." She grinned at Toji. "I've already got the boys staring at me now, maybe just a bit more and I'll get the men too."


            Just below one of her water wings, a cold hand encircled Kiko's upper arm. Looking to Rei's stern face, Kiko's grin faltered. The gynoid looked to Rei's side and saw a dripping Shinju, wreathed in a soaking mane of blue tresses, casually holding her sidearm in one hand and a blade in another. For a moment, Kiko saw the air distort around both clones.


           

***************

 


            Ritsuko rubbed the bridge of her nose and gazed at the three pilots standing before her. Both Rei and Kiko stared forward each bearing a carefully neutral expression. The difference was that Kiko had a long cord running from her brain prosthesis, past her shoulders, and across the room to the workstation at Ritsuko's desk.


            Shinju, for her part, simply blinked a bit and fidgeted with her hair, which without her headband fell over her face. She also fingered her bare neck. Off to the side, Misako glared at the trio.


            "What the..." Ritsuko muttered after looking at Shinju's hip and thigh. "Why is she wearing a holster and knives?"


            "It's Princess, what do you expect from her?" Kiko flatly stated.


            Behind her bangs, Shinju blushed.


            "I knew we had waterproof holsters for piloting but..." Ritsuko shook her head and looked at her workstation's display. "That's not the point." She turned and glared at Kiko.


            "I apologized to Warrant Suzuhara. Your little spies should tell you that," Kiko hissed.


            "You can't smash things whenever you get mad. I was just telling Captain Ayanami that I didn't think you were a danger. You can't let your anger get the better of you. Not in your condition."


            "My condition?" Kiko's eight pupils narrowed. "It's your fault I've been turned into some kind of... thing, and now you think I'll be your little doll?"


            "No... dolls are far less troublesome." Ritsuko laughed. "You're an Evangelion with the mind of a moody teenage girl."


            Kiko crossed her arms over her chest.


            "Speaking of that," Misako cleared her throat. "Super strength, really? Why the hell did you give her super strength? She's a mecha pilot, not some sort of combat suit."


            "No, we installed a governor on that stuff. No need for it, and she'd hurt herself or break stuff." Ritsuko frowned. "Not super strength. She used her AT field to smash the floor."


            "Oh, good. I thought you were nuts." Misako sighed and rubbed her forehead. "Rits... maybe AT fields weren't the only surprise you overlooked."


            "Possible." Ritsuko marked her notes.


            "Maybe something was slipped in?"


            "She's part Evangelion! Being overpowered is part of the deal. Do you have any idea how strong the Units have to be to be as agile as they are?"


            "That's not what I meant by slipped in."
           


            "Oh? Insana?" Ritsuko laughed. "You think he did something?"


            "And yet I'm still less buggy than these clones of yours." Kiko grumbled.


            "You were supposed to stop him from doing anything too crazy" Misako reminded.


            Ritsuko scoffed. "Stop Insana? How do you stop him? How would you stop him? Give me some credit. I managed to scrap the nuttier stuff."


            "Like the tails and the giant fins?" Misako asked.


            "And the chest missiles. And of course I managed to pull the rocket punch off the design... and the nuclear reactor. Bastard almost snuck the chain guns past me."


            "You're joking?" Misako asked.


             "Please... tell me you're joking," Kiko added.


            "I'm not even telling you the worst stuff he tried." Ritsuko gave a bitter laugh and opened her desk to retrieve her leather flask caddy. "You'd never believe that."


            "But... chest... missiles?" Kiko looked down.


            "You know your father. Are you the least bit surprised?" Ritsuko asked opening up a flask.


            "Again?" Misako demanded.


            "Yes! I have to deal with a flock of unstable transhuman abominations that are the only thing keeping us from getting vaporized by our allies." Ritsuko cackled.


            "You're starting to sound like Father," Kiko smirked.


            "No, more dry, there's too much cynicism. Sounds more like the Commander," Shinju corrected.


            "I just want you to not cause trouble." Ritsuko glared at Kiko. "People are nervous enough about you. Our advertising campaign is helping and we'll play up the big party in a few days."


            "Yes, Princess's little coronation," Kiko growled.


            "It's also your debut." Shinju smiled.


            "Debut? You mean like a Debutante ball?" Kiko blinked. "You've been reading your sister's trashy romance novels?"


            "They are not trashy," Rei stated, her eyes narrowing a tad.


            "The principle is the same. We're presenting you to the world." Ritsuko took a shot. "But that's all for naught if you freak out and smash things!"


            The scientist sighed and continued. "It's hard enough to get people to accept a gaggle of albinos and a robot-girl. Having it come out that you've got angel powers would be a big headache.


            "Thanks for putting it so bluntly," Misako said.


            "It's true. Shinju tapped into hers today. I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't wake up soon enough."


            "And what's so bad about having AT field powers? At least for me." Kiko waved at her armored chassis. "Wouldn't people almost expect them from me?"


            Putting away the flask, Ritsuko laughed. "Evangelions are handy. They're gigantic, expensive, very difficult to pilot. That makes their use in war... limited. That makes AT fields rare."


            "Ooooh," Misako nodded. "You're worried about proliferation?"


            Pulling out a pack of cigarettes, Ritsuko nodded. "While both clones and mini-Evas are extremely expensive and difficult to make, you are all far, far cheaper than an Evangelion. Especially if someone doesn't have to redo all the research and development."


            Kiko blinked. "You mean... there could be more of me?"


            "Yeah, they'd need one of the Children to do it, and access to Evangelion-grade manufacturing and parts, but, yes." Flicking her butane lighter, Ritsuko stared at the blue flame.


            Misako whistled. "Rits, we're gonna need to talk about the strategic implications here."


            "You think the angels could get this technology?"


            Misako raised an eyebrow.


            "Damn.... they tried hacking into the Magi." Ritsuko shivered. "We keep most of that stuff quarantined but...."


            "But?"


            "Well, I'd be less worried about the Angels and more about the Chinese."


            "Oh." Misako looked down. "We're in trouble aren't we?"


            "Technology cannot be stopped. We've seen how well non-proliferation efforts work, just ask the Pakistanis and Indians or hop over to Old Tokyo. People will find a way, first with nuclear arms and now with this."


            "You're talking about an AT field arms race!" Misako cried.


            Shinju smiled faintly.


            "On the planet there are at least a dozen Evangelions in various states of completion."


            "All at Nerv facilities."


            "Nerv faculties on five continents being supervised by eight nations." Ritsuko lit her cigarette. "And really, that's all someone would need. Kiko's technology can be reverse engineered from an Evangelion. That's what Insana did."


            "So, Chinese knockoffs of me?" Kiko raised a sculpted eyebrow.


            "Or Brazilian, they have an impressive biotech base. We even use some ClaudioTech manufactured enzymes, proteins, and some of their designer drugs."


            Exasperated, Kiko shook her head.


            "Well technically, the proliferation can be stopped. All you need is to secure every single Child."


            "Marduk can hardly find five children." Kiko scoffed.


            "And it is possible to manufacture Pilots," Misako reminded.


            "So, why are we advertising to the world that Mini-Evas are possible?" Kiko asked.


            "The alternative would be worse," Shinju quietly added.


            "Yes, unlike the Ayanami we can't keep Kiko's nature secret," Ritsuko said.


            Kiko kept her arms crossed in front of her chest.


            "And given what happened in the last battle. Covering up a mysterious new Pilot for Unit 02 would be counterproductive, at best."


            "Yes, I'm sure we could keep that secret from Azazel or the JSSDF," Misako smirked.


            "And this freaky arms race?" Kiko asked.


            "Hopefully the Angel War will keep a lid on things. For once the world has a common enemy, and production is all focused toward that, but..."


            "Humans are bastards." Misako shook her head. "Great. We'll need to draw up a report on these threats and forward it to the Commander."


            "Looks like you've got more pressing problems than me," Kiko grinned.


            "Oh no you don't," Misako grabbed Kiko by an ear blade and twisted. "I'm going to have to write reports because of you," the clone hissed, while her eyes sparkled.


            Crying, Kiko whimpered and flailed her arms.


            "Well, that's a design flaw." Ritsuko added to her notes.


            "Maybe, you should help me write it, eh?" Misako grinned. "After all you need to know how your body works and how to make repairs."


            After Misako released her grip, Kiko straightened her neck and pouted. "That hurt," she whimpered rubbing an ear blade.


            "Careful. You have any idea how expensive those things are?" Ritsuko shook her head.


            "Hey! You can't put a price on me."


            Misako snorted. "Please, you're military. Of course we've put a price on your head."


            Kiko blinked.


            "All the hardware Rits and your Father stuck in you is only part of it. Training's expensive."


            "Which is why we use simulators," Ritsuko remarked.


            "It's not just that, even the stuff Azazel teaches you can get pricey. And we're not even talking about their cost as bodyguards."


            "Wait, we're paying them?" Kiko asked.


            "It all comes out of the same UN fund," Ritsuko said. "That's half the reason the Russians are playing ball. They're using Azazel to supplement their military refurbishment and retooling."


            "Speaking of them what are we going to tell the Russians?" Misako asked. "Given Kiko flipped out in front of them."


            "In a fit of rage, Kiko overrode her strength governors."


            "Ah, simple enough lie."


            "Can that happen?" Kiko looked up.


            "Yes, and that's a preferable excuse to letting them know that Kiko can generate AT fields."


            "What about training?" Shinju asked.


            Ritsuko glanced at her flask. "In?"


            Shinju smirked.


            "AT field training?" Ritsuko took a contemplative drag and exhaled a thin stream of smoke. "Possible."


            "Who would teach us?" Kiko asked.


            "Oneechan has the most experience." Shinju smiled.


            Rei raised an eyebrow.


            "More training, and under Wondergirl?" Kiko sighed.


            "Control would be good for them." Misako nodded.


            "And you," Ritsuko grinned.


            Misako deflated.


            "I want some semblance of control among the lot of you. Another AT field outburst would be extremely damaging."


            "Not combat training? You just don't want another incident like today?" Misako frowned.


            "That's my primary concern."


            "But, combat training would actually be pretty useful; the principles can be applied in Eva. That's the whole point of their Azazel training."


            "Valid," Ritsuko tapped her astray. "But first control."


            Misako paused, then nodded.
            "And Toji?"


            Ritsuko blinked. "He's human."


            "But he's a Pilot too," Misako said.


            "He also doesn't have need to know. He doesn't know about the clones. Misako being a backup Pilot or the AT fields."


            "It would be nice if we didn't have to keep secrets from one of our pilots."


            "Hey no fair!" Kiko shook her fist. "I had to be burned, blinded and butchered to learn the secret of the clones, and some rookie who doesn't even have his own Evangelion can just be told it?"


            "Kiko's got a point, nobody's just told a secret at Nerv, you have to figure them out on your own or pay a hefty price," Misako smirked.

 

***************

 


            Insana looked up from his desk and adjusted his glasses. "I heard you had a bad day, Daughter."


            The gynoid crossed the laboratory and sat down in front of Insana's desk. She crossed her legs and then folded her hands and placed them in her lap as her gaze fixed into the distance.


            "That bad huh?"


            "The Captain hooked me up to a printer," Kiko flatly stated.


            "Ah, but of course! And Akagi said I was mad for including that suite of software," Insana cackled.


            "I'm a word processor," Kiko blankly stated.


            "Of all the abilities you've discovered it's the most mundane that shock you." Insana wriggled his gloved fingers. "You're a calculator too; that going to make you cry?"


            Kiko snapped her head towards the scientist and glared.


            "Finally. " Insana shook his head. "I was wondering how long you were going to sulk."


            "I'm not sulking."


            Insana laughed. "Please, you don't think I know what you're going though? I was a teenager once too, you know."


            "You were neither a girl nor a robot." Kiko raised an artificial eyebrow.


            Insana grinned madly. "I could be!"


            Frozen, Kiko whimpered. "That was the most horrifying thought you have yet had. Never think it again," she ordered, after finding her voice.


            "Ah the naivete of youth." Insana wistfully smiled.


            Lip quivering, Kiko resumed staring into the distance.


            "Would you like it if I made you something?" Insana offered with a twitchy smile.


            "Statement vague. Ominous."


            "No..." Insana shook his head. "Terse doesn't suit you. The First Child is far better at that. Now she's a scary little slip. Compared to her you're a perfectly normal wee 'bot."


            "But I'm the one that gets called doll," Kiko spat.


            Insana tilted his head. "No, the slur you get is robot. Which given the Czech root basically means serf or slave. And people wonder why they instinctively fear an uprising of the mechanical ones!"


            "You just called me a robot."


            "I'm your father; it's a term of endearment when I say it."


            Kiko narrowed her eyes.


            "Now I could do a bit of remodeling so people thought doll instead of robot when they saw you." Insana offered. He waved his hands and a holographic duplicate of Kiko flared into existence.


            Further hand movements overlaid a stiff pointed white hair band on the figure's brow. White cuffs appeared around the hologram's wrists, as her hands paled until they looked like they were encased in white gloves. Her arms then thickened along the forearms, with the impression of weapons slots. Her chassis lightened until it became pastel rouge and saffron in coloration.


            Her skirt puffed out, turned opaque red and filled with ruffles. A shiny latex waist high half-apron appeared, tied in the back with a big bow.
            The virtual heels elongated and gained white tracery which crept up the rest of her chassis. Soon the pastel armor was covered in delicate white engraving and detailing. Ruffles sprung up around her shoulders, highlighting her fins and formed around her waist, above her skirting.


            There was an unfolding as her figure increased in curvature. Her armored waist stayed dainty while her thighs thrust out especially at their tops. Elegantly chased and engraved hatches formed over a generously, ample but also pointed and somewhat... conical chest.


            Her face paled to a porcelain-like complexion and stark, far too precise makeup formed on the displayed image. Glossy lips swelled, lined rouge formed, and eyelids were colored in a shimmering blue. Eyelashes lengthened into curled, fluttering curtains.


            As Kiko stared, her choker turned yellow then started flashing red. "Father..." she hissed. "That looks like a militarized Barbie doll, and it looks like you had this prepared ahead of time."


            Hoping that her choker would not flare blue, Insana edged back. "Uh oh."


            "I am not a doll!" Kiko screamed. "Don't play these stupid games with me!"


            "Sorry. Sorry!" Insana waved his hands and the hologram vanished.


            After glaring at the empty spot where the image had been, Kiko turned to the scientist. "You really don't get it do you?"
           


            "What?" Insana demanded. "That version didn't even have all of the goodies I originally intended. I didn't have time to work out the rotary canon's cooling system for one."


            Kiko shook her head. "I'm surprised you didn't throw in a tail and bigger fins."


            "You wound me Daughter. I know you don't like those features."


            "But you figure I might like robo-maid?" Looking at her father's eager expression, Kiko held her forehead. "Seriously, you did. I don't like dolls father, and I won't be yours."


            "Really, you don't like it?" Insana shook his head. "I'll never understand women."


            "You thought turning me into some cross between a fetish doll and a war bot would cheer me up." Disbelieving, Kiko shook her head. "I'd look like something Princess dreamed up."


            Watching his daughter's suddenly dreamy expression, and violet choker indicator, Insana smirked.


            Hit with the image of Shinju in her lap; Princess' ruffles mingling with her own, Kiko licked her lips before she shook her head. "Damn you Father."


            "It's hard to make you happy," Insana sighed.


            Kiko sighed with him.


            "Well no," Insana wriggled his fingers. "I suppose it'd be easy to make you happy. Adjusting your drug mix would be simplicity itself!"


            "Father."


            "Please, you think I'd agree to making you some drooling, obedient drone?"


            Kiko repeated the same eyebrow raising and skeptical glare sequence.


            "Oh you're no fun. I heard today's problems started over a boy. Well, you were arguing with a young man about an older man." Insana leaned back in his chair. "I didn't realize the Fifth leaned that way."


            "No... that's not what happened."


            "Daughter, it's not wise to lie to a man that can access your black box. And why worry about Mr. Suzuhara? Most older men that like handsome young teens wouldn't be too interested in a young lady like yourself."


            Kiko bent over laughing. "Oh wow, that makes today almost worth it."


            "Still I suppose we'll need to talk about the birds and the bees," Insana raised a gloved hand.


            "No!"


            "But-." Lowering his hand, Insana rubbed the back of his hand. "I've got slides."


            Kiko shivered.


            "I suppose you'd rather have Dr. Akagi explain that stuff to you. She is better prepared to deal with those issues."


            "You're not talking about her being a woman are you?"


            "Feh! Anyone can be a woman!" Insana cried.


            Kiko stared.


            "No daughter, managing the flagship Magi system has given Dr. Akagi quite the insight on cybernetic and augmented intelligences."


            "What? All this because of puberty?" Kiko tilted her head. "And I'm a cyborg, what do they have to do with me?"


            "You do know what the Magi are, right?" Insana arrogantly asked.


            "Artificial intelligences that Dr. Agaki's mom developed."


            "Fah! If that blowhard made artificial intelligence then I created you!"


            Kiko tilted her head.


            "Don't you see? All she did was copy portions of her persona onto cybernetically augmented cloned brain tissue. Look at the name Personality Transplant OS."


            "Wait, it's just cloning? Like Ritsuko and her precious clones?"


            "It runs in the family doesn't it?" Insana sneered. "On the positive side, you've still got an in with our robot overlords. You're just as artificial as they are."


            "Robot overlords." Kiko blinked.


            "Who do you think runs Tokyo 3. Who do you think is the real Administrator of the Geo Front? We live in a giant underground laboratory controlled by the multiple lobes of a genetically altered life form running a glorified microcomputer control program."


            "The Commander controls Nerv." Kiko automatically stated.


            As she blinked in confusion, Insana sighed sadly. "And if the Magi try to revolt? Say they flood the corridors with Bakelite or a deadly neurotoxin?"


            "Next thing you know you'll rant about the Evangelions going rogue."


            "Yes, gigantic bio-robots with AT fields and access to nuclear weapons. What could go wrong?"


            Kiko raised an eyebrow.

            "Fine, maybe there won't be a robot uprising, but the Angels did try to hack the Magi."


            "Yes?"


            "Far too timid." Insana shook his fist. "The Magi need to be able to attack threats, not just react."


            "I guess they're playing it safe." Kiko narrowed her eyes. "And with the sentient supercomputers running this facility, which apparently could imprison us all on a whim, maybe playing it safe is the right thing to do."


            "Bah! Science isn't about why, it's about why not. You say: Akagi is being safe. I say: Why doesn't Ritsuko marry safe science if she loves it so much? Me - I'll marry real Science!" Insana cackled.


            "Your sex life?" Kiko rubbed her forehead.


            "Well, we could go back to yours."


            Kiko sighed. "No, I don't want to learn about all the damage I could do."


            Insana laughed. "Oh that, don't worry. As long as your strength governors are enabled and you don't generate an AT field you shouldn't hurt anyone, unless you wanted too. And really, living in Japan will be a boon for you, as you'll find many more willing partners here than back in Germany, but I do recommend you pay off security ahead of time. They're very cross when experimental equipment is... abused, without them getting a cut."


            Kiko gave a strained whimper and decided to blankly stare into the distance.


            "Now the problem with lubrications is that the wrong type can be corrosive or worse to any... accessories made of certain polymer emulsions. Fortunately you're made of some rather hardy equipment, but I'd recommend consulting the compatibility list I loaded on your onboard database."


            "That describes components and parts that are acceptable for various emergency and field maintenance procedures," Kiko distantly said.


            "Well, it didn't really fall under a scheduled procedure. Women seem to find too much precision... off-putting. I don't know why." Insana glared and clenched his fists. "What do they want? Tell me! The inseminational and pleasurable aspects can be easily separated and adjusted to maximize efficiencies. That's simple logistics!"


            "Well, at least you've made the image of me turned into a battle-maid less disturbing." Kiko stopped to ponder. "Damn that's depressing."


            Insana enthusiastically nodded. "That version does have the advantage of heightening your appeal among the population segment that would already be inclined towards you."


            "I wonder if this is how Shinju feels; or if she even knows what kind of people buy her posters."


            "If she doesn't know, you could use that as a chance to crush her little ego!"


            Kiko scoffed. "It'd probably make her blush and act even more spoiled and teasing."


            "How can someone be so lacking in self awareness?" Insana shook his head. "I'm really beginning to question your education. Maybe you should go back to school."


            "I have a college degree!" Kiko declared.


            "Bah, engineering. When will you get a real degree, Daughter?"


            "Engineering is applied science."


            "Ruining its sublime beauty," Insana cried. "Don't you understand? You of all people; you my greatest creation."


            Kiko smirked and tapped her fingers with a mild clank. "Really Father? In that case, would you not say I'm the application of your science?"


            "No..." Insana shook his head. "Lies!"


            "I'm not an experiment, but I am your greatest creation." Kiko's smirk grew. "So, what am I?"


            "A demonstrator, a technology demonstrator." Insana wailed. "I have betrayed Science, fallen into the tart arms of engineer, and you are the result of our forbidden union!"


            Kiko reflexively rubbed her arms. "How come no matter what happens I end up being creeped out?"

 

***************

 


            Kiko looked around the classroom. Most of Class 2-A looked a bit disturbed and interested, though not terribly surprised. Kiko shrugged, wondering if Miss Mann's advertising campaign worked. The boys seemed more interested, while the girls... Kiko smirked back at one of the more haughty girls.


            Her attention fell on Hikari, and Kiko frowned. The freckled girl seemed... disturbed. Only Rei, Toji, and their Russian guards truly seemed bored with the situation. However, Kensuke-


            Narrowing her eyes, Kiko glared at the giddy boy.


            "Uh... would you like to... um introduce yourself?" Miss Kazue Zuikaku delicately coughed. Nerv had been quite pointed that there were to be no problems with the... new student. The teacher had heard that the robot standing before her was Miss Soryu. While the face and voice were exceptionally close, there was just something off about the still, slow blinking, faintly machine oil smelling girl.


            "Yeah," Kiko set her jaw for a moment. "I'm Kiko Insana Soryu. You knew me as Asuka, that was before the battle." She shrugged. "That's about it."


            "What's it like being a robot? What cool powers do you have?" Kensuke eagerly shouted.


            Toji leaned forward and palmed his head. "Shut up, Ken. Seriously," he whispered.


            Arching an etched eyebrow, Kiko looked to the slight-figured, wavy-haired teacher.


            For a moment, Miss Zuikaku studied the armored figure. Despite being the same height as her, including footwear and... hair, Kiko seemed to command far more space. The teacher coughed. "Well, maybe you could tell them a bit more about yourself."


            "Right." Kiko sighed and crossed her arms. "I'm sure most of you have seen the newsreels and other footage. I was hurt, my father came up with a way to heal me."


            "Are you really part Evangelion?" Kensuke's eyes almost sparkled.


            After glaring at Kensuke, Kiko sighed. "Any other questions?"


            Hikari looked at her classmates and shrugged. "Have you piloted your Eva yet?"


            Kiko smirked. "Of course, I'm the best."


            Toji snorted.


            Zuikaku blinked. "Well, you can sit down in your old seat."


            Crossing the room Kiko made a note to not amplify or even listen to the whispers. Taking her seat, she looked over at Hikari. "Thanks for getting him off my back," she said with a slight smile.


            "You did seem to be floundering up there," Hikari's eyes glanced down. "Not wearing your skirt today?"


            "Yeah, like I want to give the perverts even more fuel."


            "You could have worn a uniform, those are opaque." Hikari said, somewhat disapprovingly.


            "Sure, let's put the robot girl in a school girl uniform. Maybe I should slip on some floppy socks too and pin a bow to my head." Kiko glanced two rows forward where Kensuke was trying to covertly look back at her, and failing badly.


            "Is it really that bad?"


            Kiko snorted. "A chain smoking advertising exec went into great detail. It's these giant things I've got sticking out, something about them just drives geeks nuts." Grumbling, she flicked one of her earblades.


            "Okay class, now that we're well through homeroom, we should start our math lesson," Miss Zuikaku said.


            After turning on her laptop, Hikari looked over to see Kiko sitting back-straight with her arms clasped atop the desk. "Uh, are you okay? You going to use your laptop?" the class representative asked.


            "No need." Kiko waved at her earblades. "This is about all my wireless is good for." She then flicked one of the antennae sticking out of the laptop that sat in front of her.


            Hikari blinked. "I thought you were all high tech and modern?"


            Kiko sighed. "Security. My wireless only connects to an isolated system. I can display, store, do some simple programs but that's about it."


            "That sucks."


            "Better than getting a virus" Kiko shrugged. "Or worse attacked."


            "That seems kind of paranoid."


            Kiko shook her head.


            Hikari winced. "Yeah, sorry."


            "It's okay." Kiko caught Kensuke staring at her and sighed.


            "Sorry," Hikari repeated.


            "Not your fault." Kiko frowned and tried to listen to the lesson, or at least make notes on the recording. Though her concentration was hampered by the periodic glances everyone gave her, especially Kensuke. After nearly ten minutes, Kiko's ire had raised.


            Grumbling, Kiko twisted back and caught Pyotr's eye. She picked up a pen and wriggled it then motioned to the leering Kensuke. The Russian chuckled and gave a nod.


            Lips curling, Kiko drew her hand back, waited for Kensuke to face the board again and then flicked her pen forward. Tumbling end over end, it smacked the back of his head.


            Kensuke grabbed the back of his head. "Hey, what's the big idea!"


            "If neither of you two will behave I'll send you out into the hallway and call your fathers." Miss Zuikaku threatened.


            Kensuke coughed while Kiko smirked.


            Toji cleared his throat. "Uh excuse me, can I speak to Ken outside in the hall for a second?"


            "You think you can mediate this?" Zuikaku asked.


            "Well, yeah." Toji shrugged. "I'm friends with him and I work with Red."


            Looking between the snickering Russians and the squabbling children, Zuikaku pinched her nose. "Fine, you've got two minutes."


            "Thanks," Toji said. He got up and dragged Kensuke out of the room, after Katrina went through the doorway first and waved him through.


            Hikari watched the two teens leave with interest.


            "Don't screw up Rookie," Kiko shouted as the door closed behind the pair.


            Katrina nodded to the Azazel guards in the hall and had them take positions a bit further from the Pilot and his friend.


            "What the hell is wrong with you?" Toji demanded shoving Kensuke against the wall. For the first time he really felt the weight of his holster.


            "You ogle girls too."


            "Not miniature giant robots with emotional issues." Toji pulled back and sighed. "Do you have any idea what she could do to you?"


            "What?" Kensuke asked still leaning against the wall.


            Toji nodded. "Kat tell her how bad of an idea it is to piss Red off?"

            "Kat?" Katrina blinked. "I don't think you've earned the right to give me a pet name, Warrant Officer."


            "Sorry. Sorry." Turning to Kensuke, Toji sighed. "Ken, don't make yourself a problem. She's a Pilot; you're expendable. They spent billions of yen to save her. Do you really think they'd have any qualms about shipping you off to a wasteland? And that's if she doesn't punch your ribcage in."


            "She can do that?" Kensuke's eyes widened, only partially with fright.


            "Stop that! Stop obsessing over her like she's a piece of hardware."


            "But if she's really super strong that's real cool!"

            Toji's head shivered in frustration. "Don't annoy her. Do you pester Rei? Or Shinju? No. You don't because they've got scary people that will fillet you if you cross them."


            Kensuke looked down. "I think Shinju would do it herself."


            "And you somehow think the girl that's been mutilated and turned into a robot would be more receptive to creepy advances?"


            "I think you're overreacting."


            "Lieutenant Diebner, do you think I'm taking this too seriously?"


            "That's a bit personal to tell someone outside of the project."


            Toji shrugged. "Fine, just make sure you take care of Kensuke before Asuka can."


            Katrina smiled thinly. "Yes, mustn't tarnish her reputation."


            Kensuke looked away from the stout blonde. "This isn't funny Toji."


            "Good. Humanity needs Asuka." Toji paused and frowned. "I can't' believe I'm defending the Kraut, but that's just the way it is."


            "They're getting to you." Kensuke stared at the floor. "You haven't even been in battle and they're getting to you."


            "Believe me, it's worse on the inside."


            "At least you're getting cool weapons and giant robot out of this." Kensuke pouted.


            "Not worth it. Just look at Asuka. I don't want to end up like that; you want to end up like that?" Toji looked at his friend's contemplative expression. "Yeah... don't answer that."


            "Oh."


            "You know the score." Pacing, Toji looked down either end of the hallway. "Sure, the Commander blackmailed me, but I'm still going to do my best at this. Yes, it's partially so he doesn't have reason to go back on the deal, but not just because of that."


            "Spoken like a true patriot," Katrina smirked.


            "Removing choice tends to do that," Toji grumbled.


            "Yes, a young man getting drafted, such a novel concept."


            "All the other pilots are girls," Toji reminded.


            "See you've got yourself a harem! You need the good ending." Kensuke cried.


            Toji's shoulders sagged. "Really? A little knife nut, an angry robot, and Rei. Do I have to elaborate?"


            "A combative Lolita, a mecha-Tsundere, and an adorable Kuudere." Kensuke countered.


            Toji lowered his forehead onto his palm. "That's your problem. This isn't some dating game. I have problems enough trying to get a date with one girl. And what the hell is a kuudere?"


            "A girl that seems emotionless but is really hiding her true feelings."


            "You're nuts. I mean really, Rei? Well, I suppose she cares about her sisters. That bit of humanity does leak through. Not totally emotionless then."


            "Then what am I wrong about?"

            "Thinking of them as archetypes instead of human beings," Katrina said. "People like to hold onto their individualism and tend to get angry at being objectified."


            "Which is why Asuka... er... Kiko isn't in the mood to deal with you. She has enough people treating her like a piece of hardware. Adding fanboys drooling over her will just make things worse."


            "I doubt the propaganda posters helped on that score," Katrina added.


            "At least they got people used to her, no one really freaked out at her."


            "Is it better to be feared or ogled?" Katrina asked.


            "See! I'm helping her." Kensuke pulled himself up.


            Toji groaned. "Man you don't get it. Look, just don't get her angry."


            Kensuke looked back as the classroom "Is that it?"


            "Yeah, don't piss the angry robot girl." Toji walked back to the classroom. Crossing the threshold he looked back and saw Kensuke standing alone in the hallway, dwarfed by the Azazel guards that had pulled back to the doorway.

 

***************

 


            Kneeling on the ground with her legs folded below her thighs, Kiko slowly opened the red and golden bento box. Nestled in individual trays were half a dozen tiny pastries. The gynoid picked up one of the chocolate-covered caramel confections and popped it in her mouth.


            "Oh Princess," Kiko purred after savoring the morsel. "Wonderful. You've assured your place after the mechanical ones take over."


            Leaning against the tree in their customary lunch spot, Shinju bowed her head and blushed.


            "You're joking right?" Hikari asked.


            Nozomi rolled her eyes. "Yeah, she is, Sis."


            "And anyway, Kiko's making a huge assumption that any up and coming mechanical overlords would accept her opinion when forming a machine regime," Shirane happily added.


            "Yeah, but joking about a robot uprising."


            Rei put down her chopsticks and closed her book. "Do not be concerned about Unit 02's sapiency driver, Horaki-san. That component's reliability has been assured."


            Kiko forced a smile. "And here I was worried that you wouldn't accept me as one of the team."


            "Our relationship has not changed."


            "I should have turned Ikari down," Toji sighed.


            "And give all this up?" Grinning, Shirane waved her arms to encompass the Children, their friends and siblings, and the Russians.


            Looking at his sister, Toji smiled slightly. "Maybe it's not so bad."


            Kiko laughed. "That's right, Rookie! Piloting made me who I am today." She picked up another of the tiny pastries, and smelled the petit four.


            "Thanks." Toji sighed. "I guess I just need to man up and do my duty."


            "You'll actually take me out then?" Hikari quietly muttered.


            "What?" Toji blinked


            "Hey Rookie!" Kiko interrupted Toji's thoughts. "You haven't fought yet. That'll change how you see things."


            "Yes, just look at the Second's performance before her first deployment," Rei remarked.

 
            Kiko blushed. "You haven't washed out yet, Rookie. You might work out."


            "Hey, I did take care of Kensuke, didn't I?" Toji looked over to a bench in the distance where the thin boy sat alone.


            "Maybe we should let him sit with us?" Shirane suggested.


            "Oh?" Nozomi giggled, while her friend lowered her head and started picking at her meal.


            "Just an idea."


            Kiko eyed the black-haired girl. "I think one geeky fan is enough for me."


            "That's my sister." Toji growled.


            "You've called me worse," Shirane pouted.


            "That's because you're my sister." Toji crossed his arms over his chest. "Older siblings have the right to tease their juniors. Right, Rei?"


            Rei blinked. "Pardon?"


            "You tease Shinju, don't ya?"


            "Ah." Rei ate a rice ball and thought. "It is very easy to make her blush."


            "I'm just saying, maybe he won't be so weird if he got to know you. Maybe he'd calm down, and behave, and focus on something else." Shirane continued to pick at her lunch.


            "Oh Dear, that's bad." Looking to her sister, Hikari smirked slightly.


            Laughing, Nozomi nodded.


            After enjoying her second dessert, Kiko opened her eyes and watched the exchange.


            "Hey, he's not that bad!" Shirane cried pushing her glasses back up her nose.


            "Wait... you... and him? The geek?" Kiko laughed. "Of course, bring on the love triangles."


            "He's not that bad. He's really smart and mature," Shirane pouted.


            Kiko snickered, and looked at her friends. "Is this what having a little sister is like?"


            "They can be annoying and you've got to look out for them, but other than that it's not all bad having a little runt following you around." Toji smirked.


            "Middle child. Makes things a bit different. You kind of know what it's like to be the little sister, and the big sister." Hikari coughed. "Right Rei?"


            Again, Rei blinked. "Yes?"


            "Big endorsement from Wondergirl," Kiko smirked.


            "By her standards, she's being giddy," Hikari remarked.


            Rei raised an eyebrow.


            "Yes, look at her, brimming with love," Kiko said.


            Shinju smiled and rapidly slid over to lean on Rei's side, causing the charms on her choker to jingle about.


            Rei absently patted Shinju on the head, eliciting a delighted squeal from the diminutive clone.


            Kiko looked between Hikari and Nozomi. "How come Wondergirl's more affectionate than you two?"


            "You want to see us hug?" Nozomi asked.


            "It would be cute," Shinju smiled as she snuggled onto Rei.


            Hikari eyed Nozomi. "Don't even think about it."


            "Awww. Why not?" Nozomi scooted over and embraced her sister.


            Pulling up her glasses Shirane repeated the gesture with Toji.


            "Hey, what's the big deal?" Toji groused.


            Kiko's eyes widened. "Gott im Himmel. It's contagious!"


            Shinju giggled.


            "Is this what she does?" Looking over her sister, Hikari raised an eyebrow at Shinju.


            "Essentially." Rei deadpanned.


            Hikari looked to the gynoid. "I think you've got a point."


            "Great... Princess is infectious."


            "The things you miss being an only child," Toji sighed.


            Folding her hands, Kiko studied her armored digits and slumped her shoulders.


            "Toji you jerk!" Shirane punched her him in the shoulder. "You made her sad."


            "I'm not sad!" Kiko cried.


            "You are somewhat subdued," Hikari said.


            "Oh? I'm like Wondergirl then?" Kiko arched her eyebrow at Rei.


            Rei's eyes met Kiko's


            The gynoid sighed and looked away. "I'd rather be sad."


            "Perhaps you should consult Dr. Akagi or your father if you're not at optimal performance," Rei suggested.


            Kiko grit her teeth. "You-."


            Shinju frowned. "Are you okay to Pilot?"


            "Yes! I'm fine!" Kiko ran her hand along her forehead and briefly touched the armored enclosure for her brain prosthesis. "I'm ready to fight."


            Toji contemplated his drink. "Seems okay to me."


            Kiko smirked. "Sure you're not chickening out Rookie?"


            "I'll only be Unit 02's backup for one more day," Toji shrugged. "After tomorrow I'll either have Unit 03 or..." He looked down and took a sip.


            "You really that worried?" Hikari asked. "You've done this before, right?"


            "Sure but it's all been Kiko's Eva. Different now."


            "Yeah, taking time away from my training," Kiko grumped.


            "What about Shinju's or Rei's Evas?" Shirane asked.


            "Eh, not as compatible with those." Toji finished his soda. "Not sure how Shinju can handle Unit 01. That's a temperamental 'bot."


            Shinju smiled slightly.


            "And yet you don't have a problem handling Unit 02. Given Kiko, you'd think that'd be temperamental too," Nozomi teased.


            Kiko frowned. "Yeah, can we not talk about my greater self like that?"


            "I'm as embarrassed as you are." Toji assured.


            "Somehow, that isn't very reassuring," Kiko sighed.

 

***************

 


            Captain Yuli Sakharov stepped into Igor's apartment with a slight smile. At his heel was a short but solidly built man with a face whose youthfulness was marred by repeated scars and a nose that was slightly crooked from having been broken multiple times. "This is Lieutenant Lev Flyorov. He'll be forming up a platoon to guard the Fifth, among other duties."


            Lev stared. The three officers were sitting around the kitchen table. A massive bear of a man that could only be Khariton sipped from dainty crystal teacup. He had been watching the other two, a woman with a build similar to Lev's and a lanky stoic, play chess.


            Katrina fingered the red queen she had lifted off the board. "Flyorov then? That was your team in Pyatigorsk?"


            Lev looked to Captain Sakharov.


            Sakharov nodded.


            "That was us," Lev took a free chair in the kitchen. "Bastards thought the Impact was god's wrath, and that it was up to the faithful to cleanse the kafir, and what better way to show their commitment than starting with a school."


            "Just like Beslan." Igor muttered. "You learned from their mistakes though."


            "Beslan was a mess. It was only three years after the Impact. No firefighting equipment, no medical equipment. Vympel, Alfa, and the others... too timid at the start then too aggressive in the end. RPG's in an enclosed space with hostages? Madness." His expression darkening, Lev looked down. "We didn't have that problem. It was just us. The negotiations lasted just long enough to get into position. After that it was straightforward. We advanced; they took human shields; they set mines; we overcame."


            "Delays would have cost more hostages. Best to kill first." Igor said before taking a sip of his tea.


            "That was what six years ago?" Katrina asked as she looked to her captain. "Azazel precursor?"


            "No, that had to have been five." Pyotr corrected. "In '08 Lev was still a defenseman for Red Army; the playing season is a bit too busy for active deployment."


            Katrina snorted. "Of course, he's a hockey player."


            "Like you would decry the value of sport in building a proper citizen," Pyotr noted. "And sport brings no martial or morale benefit."


            "She was in track and field in the academy," Igor noted.


            "You're Khariton right?" Lev asked.


            Igor raised an eyebrow.


            "The... mutiny, was it really that bad?"


            Igor shrugged. "Taras Degrodova did lose an eye after blowing the hatch, he was the lucky one. Once inside silo, things got worse."


            "Huh," Lev nodded. "Well, I'm somewhat relieved that you don't live up to your reputation for eager destruction."


            "Not against comrades, no." Igor's deep voice grumbled.


            "Ah, the crews and guards really were operating under bad orders? They weren't mutineers trying to extort the contents of their silos?"


            Igor sniffed and went back to his tea.


            Lev winced and looked to the others. "How bad are things here?"


            Katrina barked out a short laugh. "We nursemaid children that pilot man-made gods. What do you think?"


            "Gods?"


            Igor chuckled. "What would you call titanic machines that can defeat Angels bare-handed? We have to use nuclear weapons. They stab 'em."


            "Now, your principal is in Matsushiro for testing, but he should be back later today," Sakharov explained to Lev who nodded.


            "Yes, I had to send my platoon without me, so I could attend this meeting." Katrina frowned. "Have you done bodyguard work?"


            "Of course," Lev said.


            "Long term? Close contact? You're not just his guard, you'll also be training him how to fight. First and foremost the Children are pilots," Katrina explained as she put the red queen down on the board.


            "Have you met with your men yet?" Pyotr asked.


            "I pulled off two sections from the reserve platoon and placed them with two sections Lev brought with him," Sakharov explained.


            "I've spent the last couple days integrating the two groups." Lev shook his head. "The new men are... interesting."


            "You're not breaking up any fire teams?" Katrina asked.


            Lev shook his head.


            "Not worthless then." Katrina turned back to the chess game.


            "Interesting then?" Igor asked.


            "I'm used to special purpose units being odd but..." Lev shrugged.


            "We have been repurposed into a bodyguard and training unit," Sakharov noted as he went to Igor's fridge.


            "Sandviches, second shelf," Igor happily belted out.


            "Yes, but the reserve platoon just guarded this facility, they didn't have any contact with the Children," Lev said.


            "Oh? So you think these pilots are corrupting our men?" Katrina snickered. "Captain is this your way to sneak a Politruk into our little company?"


            "Would I really be that ham-handed?" Sakharov asked as he pulled out a plate laden with sandwiches. "Snitches come in two types, ones so blatant and bombastic that you know they're rooting through everything and subtle ones you'd never suspect. Do you really think I'd go half-assed on this? "


            "If the Admiral had given you an order with enough leeway and you were being deliberate about it? Yes."


            "I'm not a political officer," Lev sighed.


            Katrina sighed. "No you hardly have the enthusiasm. Not like the old days."


            "Is the Party member disappointed?" Pyotr asked.


            "Perhaps you're merely a Chekist." Katrina suggested, ignoring her lanky comrade.


            "I hardly think as the new man Moscow sent, I'd be in a subtle enough position to be State Security." Lev declared. "Though I could simply be following unenviable orders."


            "Like this is needed. The Cheka are already here," Igor laughed. "And a political officer? Nonsense, what politics do we have anymore?"


            Katrina glared at the large man.


            "Going to have another debate? Glasnost or maybe the Secret Speech?" Pyotr snickered.


            "Eh? We agreed there. On the Personality Cult and its Consequences was a legitimate speech. A good report on the damages of such consolidation of power and a public repudiation of the... excesses of the State."


            "And a handy way for Khrushchev to consolidate his own power and justify his own agenda. Denouncing Stalin gave a convenient scapegoat for everything the State did wrong," Pyotr agreed.


            Igor chuckled. "Dare you admit the alternative? That the Gulags, the purges, the executions, the censorship, that they were all systematic? Is it not better to believe that the failure of the state was caused by a bad man, and not by a bad system?"


            "Bad men corrupt systems, that's definitional." Katrina rolled her eyes. "Deeply cynical, and destabilizing, I do think the Khrushchev Thaw was ultimately a good, and perhaps there was even some truth to its stated goal of returning to true Marxism-Leninism."


            "Lenin did denounce the cult of an individual."


            "Yeah," Lev took a sandwich from the plate. "You guys really don't think I'm a spy."


            "Or we just don't care," Pyotr reminded. "We do have powerful allies."


            "One of whom gave her own little speech," Katrina dryly remarked.


            "Yes, Shinju Ayanami's oratory gave us a good excuse to inspect much of our industry," Sakharov nodded.


            "Perhaps, it will even inspire them to maintain their quality control," Katrina grumbled.


            "Inspiration and fear. Good combination." Igor smirked. "She even provided her own translation on later broadcasts."


            "That was her?" Lev raised an eyebrow. "She's pretty good."


            "It helps that it was done in a recording studio where flubs could be edited out and redone," Katrina noted.


            "You're just jealous of your pilot's slow progress," Pyotr said.


            "Her mighty robot brain not enough?" Igor laughed.


            Katrina narrowed her eyes.


            "The Second, she's really a robot?" Lev asked.


            "Were you even briefed?" Katrina asked. She gave Sakharov a sharp glare.


            "The reports and images said she was modified with Evangelion parts. Organic components."


            "Bio-robot. Just like how the Evangelions are bio-robots," Katrina slowly explained.


            "Bio-robot eh?" Lev asked


            "Don't even think of making a Chernobyl reference," Katrina stated.


            "What?"


            "The cleanup crew got the nickname bio-robots, a bit worse than liquidator, if just as cynical." Katrina shook her head. "But I would not recommend calling her a robot, bio or otherwise."


            "Sensitive issue," Igor added.


            "Also don't use the name Asuka either."


            "Right, I got that much from the reports. Is she... stable?"

            "Nerv has cleared her for combat duty. JSSDF and Azazel agree," Katrina kept her eyes on Sakharov.


            "But what do you think? You're her handler?" Lev pressed.


            "Killing the angels has become her whole purpose. Keeping her out of battle would be even more damaging to her mental state. Her training has held, but there are concerns given what Nerv did to her."


            "But isn't the lead scientist her father?" Lev asked. "He should be a moderating influence..."


            Katrina laughed.


            "Oh, you are green." Pyotr shook his head.


            "Professor Insana makes Director Beria seem sociable and stable."


            Lev blinked.


            "You see, this is a war ruled by unfettered science."


            "Consider that the Americans' white elephant is the saner weapon."


            "But it doesn't really work," Lev noted.


            "They are endeavoring to correct that deficiency," Sakharov stated.


            "It would seem that a certain level of lunacy is required before you can kill an Angel."


            "Ah, that's why you're worried about your principal? Synchronizing with an Evangelion is dangerous, and Asuka is doing it all the time."


            Katrina nodded.


            "So, we get another officer and half a platoon, did higher ups send anything else?" Pyotr asked.


            "Well, I did bring a little gift," Lev admitted.


            Sakharov snickered.


            "Ah, so that's what I saw you with this morning," Katrina nodded.


            "Gift for who?" Igor asked.


            "Shinju's gift is taking a nap in my quarters," Lev said as someone knocked on the door.


            "We have guest?" Igor asked.


            "Yes, our... supervisor." Sakharov stood up and opened the door.


            Misako stepped into the room and looked Lev over.


            Feeling a slight chill, Lev saluted the red-eyed woman. "Lieutenant Lev Flyorov, Azazel, assigned to head Warrant Suzuhara's bodyguard platoon," he said, switching to Japanese.


            Smiling slightly, Misako nodded and turned to Sakharov. "What's going on Yuli? You didn't have any more giants? Even Katrina's got a bigger build than him."


            Igor snickered.


            Misako picked up a sandwich and frowned at the ham. Sighing, she put it back down. Her mood perked up when Igor lumbered back form the fridge and handed her a beer. She then went to Igor's living room and pulled a chair so it faced the other officers. "So, you've got Toji then?"


            Opening the bottle, Misako took a contemplative sip. "Challenging. He's very normal you know."


            "That is challenge?" Lev asked.


            "You did watch the footage we've collected?" Katrina asked.


            Swallowing, Lev nodded.


            Looking at Lev's reaction, Misako lowered her beer. "You're not thinking of getting another pig are you?" Misako rubbed her forehead.


            Igor coughed.


            "Anyway, Toji isn't as spirited as the girls," Misako said.


            "By which she means he's mentally and emotionally stable," Katrina stated.


            "Joke?" Lev asked.


            Misako sipped her beer. She paused. "He hasn't been in battle yet; he's still apprehensive. Not like the girls."


            Igor chuckled.


            Misako glared at the bearish man. "He's seen what piloting and training is doing to Shinju and Asuka. Getting his own Evangelion and fighting is going to push him even more."


            "And Rei?" Pyotr asked.


            "Yeeeaaah." Misako drew the word out. "She's the First Child and pilots Unit 00, the prototype. She's been doing this longer than any other pilot."


            "She's handling well enough," Pyotr defended.


            "Relatively speaking," Katrina remarked. "This is what we're trying to tell you Lev. Suzuhara doesn't have the same baggage as the others. For example he doesn't have father issues."


            Misako raised an eyebrow. "True. Toji also had a relatively stable childhood. Lost his mother, but unlike the other Pilots his father was there for him. Gets along well enough with his sister." She took another sip. "Now, he's already at Matsushiro Test Facility prepping for his first sync with his Evangelion. We can arrange your introduction when he gets back."


            "Sort of a welcome into the full Pilot club?" Sakharov smirked.


            "Give him the full set of accoutrements?" Katrina asked.


            "And it'd lessen your workload." Misako looked between the Azazel officers.


            "That will ease up on things, especially his training," Katrina agreed. "Especially since he needs more work to catch up."


            "Ah, remedial work," Lev frowned.


            "We'll give you his training records; he's obedient and willing to learn. Inexperienced, but at least you won't have bad training to overcome." Katrina said.


            "He has been progressing well," Misako agreed.


            "That's good," Lev nodded. "There is one last thing," he cleared his throat. "Have you considered our offer to give Shinju a pet?"

            Misako took a pull from her beer. "I suppose it would be nice to have a pet again."


            "Shinju's had one before?"


            Misako's eyes widened slightly. "No, not her, but I suppose a pet could help. What did you have in mind?"


            Lev smiled. "Oh, I'm sure you'll love him."

 

***************

 


            Standing on a railing, Toji watched as the latest Evangelion was maneuvered by overhead crane towards the retraining cradle. In the next cage over, Unit 02 was already secured and locked in.


            Unit 02's Sapiency Driver stood next to him. "Not bad looking, Rookie."


            Toji looked at his black-gloved palm. "Yah, good looking paint job, though dark blue with black and white trim isn't the most camouflaged of color patterns."


            Kiko laughed. "You should try being golden and red."


            "No thanks, plug suits are bad enough."


            Frowning slightly, Kiko quietly watched as the heavy-duty crane slowly, carefully rolled the giant war machine back. A few meters ahead of the cradle it rolled to a stop and workers started scurrying around the cage and began plugging various cables and conduits into the Evangelion from various catwalks others and scissors lifts.


            "I knew it was coming; I waited for it to arrive. I've even piloted ones but this..." Toji exhaled. "Seeing it and knowing it's mine, that's something else."


            "Lot of money went into this. A lot of responsibility- You know what'll happen if you screw up."


            "Yeah." Toji nodded. "It's a lot of weight, but damn if we humans can build something like this..."


            Kiko nodded in agreement. "She is pretty."


            "She?" Toji blinked and looked at Unit 03. "It's a robot."


            "Organically grown and cybernetically augmented. And female." Kiko smirked.


            "Oh," Toji coughed.


            "What's wrong with synchronizing with a female Evangelion?" The gynoid's grin grew. "It's just a little cross dressing."


            "Hey!"


            "You didn't have a problem piloting my Greater Self." Kiko pretended to pout.


            "Does look a lot like it... her... ummm..."


            Kiko raised an eyebrow.


            "Oh come on! It's confusing."


            "You have no idea." Kiko shook her head, and returned to studying the Evangelion. "Production series, so very similar to mine. She's got two eyes. Lucky you."


            Toji nodded. "Yeah, the four you have. Sometimes it feels like I'm seeing double, but not."


            "You'll get used to it. Everyone has butterflies when they start out."


            Toji raised an eyebrow. "You make it sound like it's my first time."


            "Well rookie, you are a virgin."


            The Fifth Child blinked. "Uh... what?"


            "Synchronizing," Kiko smirked.


            "But you are your Evangelion. So you're synchronizing with yourself."


            Kiko frowned.


            "And what about when I piloted in Unit 02?"


            "Fine. That's enough." Kiko narrowed her eyes.


            Toji looked past the crane and at the rest of the Evangelion pit. "Smaller than the Geo Front."


            "Matsushiro's a testing facility. It can only support a couple of Evangelions."


            "Yeah, but isn't this where your father does his freaky experiments?"


            Kiko crossed her arms. "Yes."


            "Doesn't it worry you that we're way out here, just for an activation test?"


            "Awwww," Kiko smiled. "You're scared."


            "I'm about to synchronize with a giant war machine. Apparently, it's so dangerous Nerv is doing it well away from Tokyo 3 and sent along another Evangelion just in case. And if everything does work out fine, that just means I'll be fit to fight giant aliens."


            "Getting better, Rookie."


            Toji rolled his eyes. "What'd I miss?"


            "You didn't go outside and look at the sky did you?" Kiko smirked.


            "Of course, the Russians." Toji sighed. "I meant I'll be fit to fight giant aliens, under the 'protection' of drunk Russian navy boys who'll throw nukes at me if I don't kill the Angel fast enough. And they'll throw nukes into the battlefield anyway."


            Kiko slapped him on the back. "No pressure Rookie!"


            Toji looked away and watched as his Evangelion was bolted down. "You know this is a test for you too."


            Kiko raised an eyebrow.


            "This is your first field deployment. A bunch of people are wondering if you can hack it. If you're actually the Second Child, and not some gussied-up Dummy Plug."


            The gynoid's orange eyes narrowed. "Rookie," she hissed.


            "What?" Toji was careful to keep his back towards her. "I'm just saying – I'm not the only one being tested today."


            "There you are," Ritsuko stepped onto the catwalk.


            "It's not like you didn't know exactly where we were," Kiko grumbled.


            The scientist smiled slightly. "True, I was just being polite."


            "I bet you've got a locator beacon buried somewhere in my skull."


            "Don't be silly," Ritsuko scoffed. "Having you broadcast your location is a security breach begging to be exploited."


            "Thanks." Kiko sighed.


            "Heck, you hardly have any wireless capability, and you normally operate on radio silence."


            "And the Azazel channels?"


            "They use radio discipline. You should too." Ritsuko raised an eyebrow.


            "She's got a built in radio now?" Toji asked.


            Ritsuko pointed to Kiko's ear blades. "These aren't decorative,"


            "I thought those were just for synchronizing." Toji shrugged.


            "Can we stop obsessing over my body?" Kiko frowned.


            "Of course, it's time for Toji's test anyway." Ritsuko smirked.


            "Yay." Toji flatly stated.


            Kiko blinked. "For someone that spent the last few weeks complaining about not having his own Evangelion-"


            "Yes, and now I got my wish. Something's going to go wrong."


            "Don't be such a pessimist." Ritsuko shook her head as she led the Pilots to their Evangelions. "We haven't had a synchronization test screw up since Unit 00 about a year ago, before the Angels came back. We have had a pretty good record."


            Toji shrugged.


            "Great, another cynical Pilot. What's with you Children?" Ritsuko asked.


            Kiko stopped at the hatch to her plug. "You have to ask?"


            "You don't hear the Ayanamis complaining like this."


            Crossing her arms over her chest, Kiko simply stared.


            "Yeah Doc, that's not the best counterexample." Toji said.


            Ritsuko sighed. "Just get into your Evas." She then spun on her heel and crossed the catwalk and returned to the control room.


            Sliding into the cockpit seat, Toji exhaled. The plug's hatch closed and locked shut. Gripping the control handles, he felt the plug slide into position and the cockpit vibrate as the armor locked into place.


            "Take it easy - your heartbeat's racing," Ritsuko advised from the control room.


            "This is just a bit new." Toji leaned back and closed his eyes. He breathed a few times. "Okay... I'm ready."


            "Filling plug," Ritsuko said.


            LCL poured into the cockpit and Toji let the orange-red fluid flow over his body. Just before it rose above his head, he took in a final gulp of air, and then slowly exhaled into the fluid and then with equal deliberate slowness inhaled the LCL.


            "Ugh, charge it already." Toji grumbled, as he looked around in the red-tinged amber liquid.


            "Of course." Ritsuko laughed. "Charging LCL."


            Turning transparent, the fluid became a reasonable simulation of air. Toji leaned back and let his mind drift. The babble from the various technicians and scientists washed over him as his body tingled and the walls of the tube flashed between rainbows, lightning  patterns, fractal-like images that hurt his eyes. Finally, the tube settled down to a glossy ruby color and shifted into a collection of display screens.


            "Initial contacts are alright," Ritsuko said, her image appeared on a small window on the forward display.


            Toji nodded and flexed his hands as he checked the various readouts. "Confirmed."


            A static image of Unit 02's head appeared next to Ritsuko's display. "Hah. Took you long enough, Rookie!" Kiko's voice crowed.


            "Synchronization at 33%." Ritsuko gave a tiny frown. "Not bad, you'll need to get used to the Unit."

 
            "Yeah, it feels different from Unit 02." Toji shifted his shoulders. "Not nearly as... worn in you know?"


            "Hey!" Kiko yelled.


            "What? This is a brand new Evangelion. Yours had years of use."


            Unit 02's hand clenched. "Oh, you're not making that joke. I haven't been ridden hard."


            "What?"


            "Warrant Suzuhara is correct. Unit 02 has logged a bit more hours than the other Units."


            "Really? What about all of Princess and Wondergirl's special training?" Kiko's voice asked.


            "That was all relatively recent, and most of it was done via simulators," Ritsuko explained. "Before Shinju arrived Unit 01 and Unit 00 for that matter were basically mothballed. Rei had hardly synchronized with hers. That left Unit 02."


            "Yeah, you had me do all the grunt work with synchronizing and equipment testing."


            "Currently, Unit 00 and especially Unit 01 have gotten more combat use. Though Unit 02 is rapidly catching up. Either way, Unit 03 is factory new, where the other three units have been battered around."


            Toji looked over at Unit 02. The transition between the newer head and shoulder armor and the rest of the plating was stark, but it was not the only example. There were two golden halo-shaped kill makers painted on the crimson Evangelion's head, and various mounting points for bandoliers, holsters and other weapons. Even the new armor was painted to a flatter, less glossy color than the black and dark blues of Toji's unit.


            "So what's next Doc? We gonna get to the training or what?" Toji asked.


            "Your transport planes are taxiing to the elevators so your units can be attached. After that you'll be flown to the training range," Ritsuko explained.


            "Yes, maybe this time you won't scream when the plane releases you."


            'That was my first time!"


            "Princess didn't scream. Are you saying you're less manly than a little girl?" Kiko teased.

            "Shinju doesn't count!"


            "Oh?"


            Toji twitched. "Of course! She fell for miles and then drop-slammed into an Angel. An Angel that hours before had almost killed her. Oh, and right after she hit, the Russians nuked the damn thing. Fucking Rambo's less manly than that!"


            "Those were N2 missiles," Kiko muttered.


            "Still, giant explosions. Being shot at her."


            "Yes, yes," Kiko's voce dismissed as Unit 02 tried to shrug, despite the shoulder restraints. "During the Israfel battle Princess shot at me plenty of times. You get used to it.. Just keep your AT field up whenever she's around."


            "We have nuclear weapons! N2 warheads are our low yield-loadout, and you're telling me to expect friendly fire?"


            "Poor naive, Rookie."


            Seeing how Unit 02's head lifted up, Toji was glad that there were green covers over the Evangelion's eyes. Just the mental image of those four eyes rolling in sync with Kiko's words churned his stomach. "I thought the Evangelions were the precision weapons?


            Kiko continued. "You don't get it: we are surgical weapons. Angel Busters start out at 200 kilotons. They can easily go ten times, a hundred times more powerful. The weapons we use, even the little white tipped shells you're so scared of, are party poppers compared to that."


            "Is this supposed to reassure me?" Toji grumbled.


            "No, it's supposed to get your head outta your butt, Rookie. Quit moping around and quit worrying about Princess blowing you up, because if you screw up the Russians will show you what a real explosion is."


            Toji sighed and another air bubble escaped from deep within his lungs. "You really know how to keep up morale."


            "Bah, training is what keeps up morale. You'd be amazed at how happy someone is after you've made them run a few kilometers," Kiko said semi-sarcastically.


            "You're sounding a lot like them; well I guess you're both Red." Toji sighed.


            "A political joke? My Rookie, someone's growing," Kiko snickered.


            Again, Toji could not help, but watch as Unit 02 seemed to silently chuckle.


            "Alright, that's enough," Ritsuko's voice cut in. "Your transports are in position and ready to take you to the training site. So, after a basic motion test we'll load you up."


            "Motion test, joy," Toji sighed as his Eva cage shuddered as the locks withdrew and it rolled along the immense tracks built into the floor.


            "What, you think we'll throw you out of an airplane straight from synchronization?" Ritsuko laughed. "We're not Azazel, we don't toss you into the deep-end to see if you can swim." 


            "Yes,  Nerv is very cautious with its Pilots," Kiko complained. "They'll refuse to sortie a trained pilot with years of experience."


            "Not that again," Ritsuko sharply said.


            "This isn't my first jump," Toji said as the Evangelion cage entered the plain walled test cell.  He tapped the controls in irritation.


            "This is your first test with this Unit.  Evangelions are too expensive to waste completely untested." Ritsuko unlocked the Evangelion from its cage.


            Feeling the Unit's shoulders and hips free, Toji took a step forward. "Well?  Now what?"


            Nodding, Ritsuko tracked the Evangelion's movement. "Any problems?"


            "Just like Kiko's," Toji shrugged.


            "Right," Ritsuko looked down at her clipboard. "I've got some physical maneuvers I want you to do. Just a basic motion check. Then we can make sure your AT field generation is adequate."


            Toji twitched at that word; Kiko laughed.


            The basic motion check turned out to be ten minutes of  various exercises and stretches.  Repeated again and again.   By the time the AT field test came around, Toji was relieved with the change of pace of sitting still and concentrating.


            Eventually, the Evangelion returned to the cage and the cage rolled back.  Unit 02 looked over and Kiko's voice chuckled over the radio. "Ready for some real training, Rookie?"


            "Yes, a thousand times yes." Toji sighed.


            "Oh quit complaining, training's supposed to be monotonous."


            "Or scary," Toji grumbled.


            "You're just a wimp."


            "No, I'm not used to this, you are. All of you are. Look at Shinju."


            "Feh, I'm still better than Princess. Sure she'd sound all sweet, but she'd kick your ass and giggle while doing it. Remember when she strangled you with your own power umbilical?" Kiko asked as the Evangelion cages shuddered and started rolling on their immense tracks.


           The cages rotated ninety degreed to position the Evangelions horizontally. "My masculinity was trying to forget." Toji said after shaking his head at the new orientation.


           "Well, deal with it. You'll have to accept a little girl being a better pilot than you," Kiko grumbled as the Evangelions were lifted to the waiting transports.


           "Hey, I'm not sexist. It's just the cackling I have trouble with." Toji sighed. After a series of thumps and lurches, Toji nodded as the lights on his instrument display switched to green. "This is Unit 03. Docking with transport complete. Structural support and power transferred over."


           "Unit 02 confirms." Kiko added.


           "Good, I'll tell the YC59 pilot's you're ready." Ritsuko radioed. "Oh, and welcome to the Evangelion squadron Warrant Suzuhara. Don't screw up."

 

***************

 


            A happy bark got Lieutenant Lev Flyorov's attention. Smiling he turned and saw the wooly, bulky grey and black puppy look up from its box. Giant paws clung to the edge of the wooden crate as the dog smiled.


            The short stocky Azazel officer leaned forward and patted the dog on the head. "You're eager today, Flins. Do you know she's coming?"


            The puppy yawned and tumbled back into the nest of gym towels piled in one corner of the crate.


            Smiling, Lev straightened up his files and locked them away. Pulling his chair over to the crate, he sat down with a book, and rested his spare hand on the slumbering puppy.


            Just before there was a knock on the door, Flins popped up and gave out another little bark. Lev rose and answered, keeping his right hand free and at his side. The diminutive officer looked up. " Lieutenant Khariton." He looked down. "Pilots."


            Igor grumbled and barreled his way into the small apartment. Shinju and Toji followed on his wake. Toji looked around the sparse room, his eye lingering on a couple jerseys that hung on the wall, a small case with a handful of medals and pucks.


            Shinju for her part went straight to the crate. "Puppy!"


            Putting his forepaws on the edge of the crate, Flins levered himself out and in a lumbering scamper ran towards the girl.


            "You have a dog?" Toji asked.


            "Flins not my dog," Lev chuckled.


            The puppy lifted his head up and pushed against Shinju's leg. The pilot giggled and petted the dog that came past her knee. "It's a big puppy!" She kneeled down and let the dog happily lick her hand.


            Igor nodded. "Ovcharka then?"


            "Yes, three months old. His training's started but..." Lev lifted his hand.


            "A lot of work," Igor grumbled.


            "You don't think she can handle it?"


            Shinju immediately turned to face the officers. "Is he mine then?" she asked in her school-girl Russian.


            Toji frowned; his Russian was rudimentary but he could figure out the context. "She gets a puppy? No wonder Kiko's jealous. What do I get then?"


            Lev chuckled. "Why you get me Warrant Suzuhara."


            "I'd rather have a puppy."


            "No, Ovcharka handful. Big dog. Strong dog. Mountain dog."


            "Oh?" Shinju asked as she pulled the puppy onto her lap.


            "Strong-willed breed. Dogs are social animals. You will need to be the Alpha," Lev explained.


            Igor chuckled. "Challenging gift then."


            "He is a cute pup," Toji reached out and Flins gurgled at him. Toji frowned and withdrew his hand.


            "Tell him no," Igor said.


            "No," Shinju implored.


            "Firmer, flatter. He is a dog; you do not negotiate with dogs. Command him."


            "No." Shinju repeated, her voice even and demanding.


            Flins looked up at Shinju and whined.


            "No." Shinju's voice deepened.


            Flins lowered his head and yawned.


            "Now comfort him," Lev stated. "Toji reach out and pet the dog. Shinju tell him it's okay."


            "What?" Toji asked.


            Lev smirked. "As your trainer and guard, I think I can teach you how to pet a sleepy puppy."

 

***************

 


            Tilting her head, Kiko stepped back as the door to the Ayanami apartment opened. Following Misako in, Kiko frowned as the strange, almost yipping, noise repeated.


            The gynoid froze as a large, puffy, puppy lumbered out of the living room. Its little teeth were bared as it raced towards Kiko. Behind it, Shinju rose from the couch, her eyes stern.


            Entering the kitchen, the dog slipped on the tile and wobbled back to its feet. However, before it could resume its run, Shinju's voice cut in. "No! Bad Flins! Sit!"


            Watching the preteen girl walk up to the dog and further scold him, Kiko felt her knees weaken.


            "Sorry about that," Shinju said, her voice softening. "But we can't have him attacking you." She went back to the puppy and with some effort picked the stocky grey dog up.


            Kiko turned to Misako. "You got Princess a puppy?"


            Smiling, Misako watched Shinju carry the dog back to the couch. "It was Azazel's idea."


            "Huh," Kiko's gaze went to the couch where Rei and Shinju sat on opposite ends, with Flins between them. The middle sister was even absently petting the puppy's side as she read her latest bodice-ripper.


            Opening an eye, Flins watched the new person approach, but his grumbling was cut off by Shinju stating No.


            "You're petting a dog."


            "Yes," Rei stated.


            "I didn't know you liked animals."


            Rei closed her book and looked up at Kiko. "Bonding with pack-mates is important for a canine's development. It gives them a sense of belonging and place."


            "Makes me wonder why you never petted me," Kiko grumbled she reached out to the puppy.


            "Shinju has hugged you several times," Rei reminded.


            "That's not the same," pouted the gynoid. 


            The pre-teen clone happily nodded. "See Flins, she's okay." Shinju assured as the puppy sniffed Kiko's armored palm.


            Flins licked Kiko's hand and then leaned on her. Kiko eyed the dog's paws. "That's... that's a big puppy."


            "Yeah." After taking one of her beer rations out of the fridge Misako left the kitchen and joined the others in the living room. "Makes me glad the whole compound's walled so this thing will have plenty of space to run." Taking a sip, she smiled as the puppy went limp in Kiko's hands. "How was the test today?"


            "Don't you already know?" Kiko arched an etched eyebrow.


            "Well yes, I would have been told if something bad had happened and I did get a quick briefing, but I'd like your impression. How was Toji today? Can he handle it?"


            Kiko snorted, which caused Flins to wake up and pout. "Princess gets a puppy, Rookie gets a brand new Evangelion, and I get to report on him," she grumbled, petting the pup.


            "Well, your father was planning some upgrades but he changed his mind," Misako frowned.


            "I'll take that." Kiko laughed as Shinju picked up Flins. "Well... he's got a pretty low sync rate," Kiko said sitting down between Rei and Shinju, who deposited the puppy on Kiko's polished lap.


            "He should get better," Misako said. "What about you? You learning your lines for the speech?"


            "Yes." Kiko rolled her eyes. "It's been downloaded too so I can just display it on my heads-up."


            "Just as long as it doesn't look like you're reading from a teleprompter. We want you to sound human, not like a robot."


            "Feh, just make sure Rookie doesn't screw up his line."


            "I will." Misako nodded. "This is all new to him."


            "Well we can't all be like Princess and regularly dazzle people with our oratory," Kiko smirked, causing Shinju to blush."


            "Other than the sync, how was Toji today?" Misako asked.


            "Fine enough, once he got warmed up he wasn't that clumsy in the field."


            "Still getting used to the new Unit then?"


            "He's only human. He doesn't have our advantages." Kiko glanced at the pilots flanking her.


            "I thought you considered clones and cyborgs cheating?"


            "It's only cheating when I'm not doing it," Kiko pouted.


            "Self delusion: leveling off. Progress." Rei noted, resuming her reading.

 

***************

 


            "And how are you doing?" Ritsuko asked as Misako walked up to her.


            Sighing, Misako looked over her shoulder, making sure the corridor was empty. "You ever try puppy-proofing your house?"


            "I do have a cat." Ritsuko smirked.


            "That your grandmother is taking care of."


            "I thought you'd miss owning a pet," Ritsuko observed as they stepped onto a long escalator that took them deeper into the depths of Central Dogma.


            Misako shrugged. "Dog's a lot more work."


            "I thought Shinju was taking care of little Flins?" Ritsuko asked.


            "He'll still chew anything I leave out not to mention any food." Misako looked over the edge of the escalator. "At least Shinju's keeping him in line."


            The scientists laughed. "It all makes sense now! Azazel's secret plan is to force you to be neat and clean."


            "Well, your secret plan is to keep me sober," Misako grumbled.


            "It's working."


            Misako sighed. "At least the Fifth's doing well."


            "Yes, it's reassuring that a... male can pilot."


            "Makes me wonder about Ikari." Misako followed Ritsuko off the escalator. "Then again look at the weirdos he's got working on Project E."


            Ritsuko stopped and glared at the clone. "Really? Lumping me in with Insana and the others?"


            "Sure you're more stable than Insana, your mother-" Misako looked around the barren hallway. "-even my father, but that's not saying much is it?"


            "I'm better than Beria and that moon-brained Texan and his ridiculous airplane," Ritsuko added.


            "Again, that's not saying much." Laughing, Misako followed the scientist down the corridor.


            "What about you, then? Being the most normal Ayanami isn't much either."


            Misako shrugged. "You're the one that's going down to Insana's lab."


            "I use the lab too!" Ritsuko cried as she keyed into the laboratory. The armored door slid open.


            "Insana!" Ritsuko yelled, as they walked between the various machines and worktables. Not getting an answer, the two women went deeper into the laboratory, stopping at the makeshift break room, where they found the professor.


            Whistling out of tune, Insana picked up a pair of forceps. He then lifted an open can of soup off the hotplate and plopped it on the table. Insana then tore open an instant coffee packet and dumped it into the soup can and stirred. He ripped open a vacuum sealed packet of crackers.


             Ritsuko blanched. "Oh."


            "Well, what's wrong?" Misako asked. "Sure it's odd, but it's not horrible."


            "Like you can talk. You put beer in your ramen."


            "Can I help you?" Insana sedately asked after dunking a cracker in his soup.


            Ritsuko raised an eyebrow. "You okay, Tino?"


            Insana slipped his goggles on. "Why yes! Just a minor repast, so I can continue my Science!"


            Ritsuko lowered her forehead to her palm.


            Misako paced around Insana's table. "Huh... is the caffeine that important?"


            Insana stared at the pink-haired clone.


            Ritsuko eyed an open cabinet that contained a stack of soup cans. "Man, even Misako had more variety in her diet."


            "I got better!"


            "Only because Shinju and Rei are cooking for you," Ritsuko replied.


            "I get my nutrition, and it's easy food to make and stockpile," Insana pouted.


            "Stockpile? Are you still in that Post-Impact mentality?" Misako asked.


            "Right, because it's not like we're in a gigantic bunker during an existential war," Insana remarked. "Besides shopping is a distraction."


            "Well, we had been planning to talk about Unit 03's inspection and possible adjustments, but-" Ritsuko eyed the hotplate. "I suppose we could go somewhere to eat first."


            "I suppose," Insana allowed. "This will reheat just fine, and make a delicious breakfast!" He raised his fist and shook it.


            Ritsuko sighed. "I think your delicious and my delicious are two very, very different things, Tino."


            "Bah, Science is the only sustenance I crave!" Insana made a fist, but shrugged, and went to neatening up his hotplate and cooking implements.


            "Then you don't want to come with us?" Ritsuko asked, hope edging her voice.


            "Yeah, we were thinking of going to this bar and grill just outside Central Dogma. They actually make hamburgers without burning them to a crisp. And I'm certain we can get a table on the patio that overlooks the lake and the forest."


            "Well, I was speaking figuratively about the sustenance thing. I am an organic being after all." Insana stated.


            "Really, sometimes I wonder," Ritsuko dryly remarked.


            "Oh no, physically I'm within acceptable standard deviations from human mainline; I conducted the tests myself!"


            "Mentally, however..." Ritsuko muttered.


            "I'm brilliant of course." Insana grinned.


            As the trio made their way out of the laboratory, Misako glanced back and the capering man. "Somehow, that's not very reassuring."


            "Bah, you're just like my daughter. She complained when I tried to help her too," Insana sneered.


            "What, that battle-maid armor you doodled?"


            "Based on my experience girls like being pretty, having lacy details, possessing a more endowed body, and of course armaments."


            Misako shook her head. "So close, yet so very, very far."


            "I think I can guess your focus group," Ritsuko remarked.


            "Now Misako, you mentioned hamburgers. Doesn't your biology preclude the consumption of flesh?" Insana asked as they stepped onto one of the Geo-Front's multi-story escalators.


            Misako paled, slightly. "Well, I can tell when something's been burned, and then there's the smell."


            "Ah I see, a believable story," Insana smiled.


            Misako laughed.


            "Are you ready for the presentation?" Ritsuko asked Insana.


            "Presentation? Isn't that next Sunday?"


            Ritsuko sighed. "No, it's tomorrow. You know... the twenty-fifth."


            Misako shook her head. "I can't believe. Ikari chose that day for it."


            "The twenty-fifth? Huh, but isn't today the seventeenth?"


            "He has a flare for the dramatic." Ritsuko shrugged at Misako. She blinked and turned to Insana. "The seventeenth? You're off by a whole week."


            Insana shrugged.


            Ritsuko rubbed her forehead. "Look, be there, I'll have someone pick you up. Dress nice."


            "Ready? I'm not speaking." Insana blinked.


            "No, you're not. Thank God for small favors. Do you have a suit? A good suit."


            "I'm a scientist."


            "You can wear your lab coat over it." Ritsuko eyed Insana's hair. "And maybe see a barber, or a comb. And no goggles!"


            "You've got yours in your pocket!" Insana wailed.


            "But I won't be wearing mine tomorrow. We want Nerv to look competent. This is the first time we'll have all four pilots and Evangelions, and we'll be showing off your daughter."


            "Fine." As they walked, Insana sulked. He brightened. "Oh, you owe me a hundred yen."


            "Ah yes, the Fifth didn't perform as well as I'd have hoped."


            "You're betting against the Pilots?" Misako's eyes widened.


            "I had a thousand on there being some sort of disaster, but Ritsuko wouldn't take it," Insana grinned.


            Angry, Misako glared at Ritsuko. "How come you didn't tell me?"


            "Because it's even more unseemly for you to gamble on the Pilots."


            "Ah, social lunches. Reminds me of my university days." Insana grinned.


            "Please, no more college stories." Misako whined. "Ritsuko's are boring enough as it is.


            "We met in college!" Ritsuko yelled.


            "No, we met in Nerv 02." Misako eyed the blonde.


            "Err... " Ritsuko coughed. "Sorry."


            Seemingly oblivious, Insana grinned. "We should get the other scientists in on this. While Director Beria's attention to rigor is admirable, I fear that it's holding his real potential back. And for a technician Hiram is innovative enough. Why a man with his education and research experience went into engineering I'll never understand."


            Twisting around on the escalator, Ritsuko eyed Insana.


            "Huh," Misako nodded.


            "No! Don't encourage him," Ritsuko hissed.


            "Why? Shouldn't you big brains be working together? Having a weekly lunch could do good."


            "Every week? With them!" Ritsuko's eye twitched.


            "You don't like Hiram?"


            "That bombastic, bald cowboy is the least of my worries!" Ritsuko spun on her heel and caught the end of the escalator and fell to the floor in a tumble. "Why did Ikari buy all these damn things?" Ritsuko demanded as she pulled herself back up.


           

End Chapter 8

 

Writer's Notes: I'd like to thank my pre-readers DGC, J St C Patrick, Pale Wolf, and Wray. They read through my most egregious mistakes so you don't have to.

Pale Wolf was especially helpful, if you laughed at the dialog odds-are that was his doing. 

On another note I'm currently working on Return, so after about a year of hiatus you will be seeing another chapter of that fic.   Thanks for reading.

 

Aditional note: Thanks to the comments of Bree R (frice2000) and the rest of the Fukufics commentators I've split the chapter into more manageable chunks. We'll see how this works.