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 Nine:  Teambuilding Part 2

 

 


            "I can't believe we're in the Geo Front. Did you ever imagine such a thing?" Tokiko closed the cap on her lipstick tube and grinned at her reflection.


            Standing at the next sink over, Mikki put away her eyelash brush and dropped her glasses off her forehead and back into place. Tapping her chin she smiled lightly. "Oh, I knew it was only a matter of time."


            Tokiko giggled. "Oh? You knew Gombe-san would ask you to come?"


            Mikki's grin broadened. "He is an important industrialist; and a single, virile man. As such it'd be natural for him to be invited to such an event, and even more that he'd require... escort."


            Tokiko laughed as they left the bathroom and entered a small hallway. "Don't let him hear you say that."


            Mikki raised an eyebrow.


            "He'd think you were being serious."


            Stepping out of the hallway and into the ballroom Mikki heard Tokiko gasp, and the auburn haired secretary found herself joining her... coworker in wonderment. The room itself was only noteworthy for its size and elegantly understated tile floors and brushed steel pillars and accents.


            However, the entire far wall of the building was done in glass, revealing the lush forests, cavernous walls, and distantly looming ceiling of the Geo Front. Bookending the view was the Evangelion squadron. Two to a side, the titanic war machines flanked the view and stood at attention.


            Filling the plaza between them were a pair of giant rifles, their double barrels taken from16 inch battleship guns and a single revolver that was larger than tractor trailer. Inside the room were full scale mockups of the big gun's ammunition.


            "Man, hard to believe humans made those things," Tokiko whispered.


            "Yes... hard to believe they did." Looking up at a 16 inch shell, Mikki set her jaw. Three meters tall and half a meter wide, the case alone towered over her. The "bullet" added another two meters.


            Giggling, Tokiko snapped out of her awe and lowered her gaze. "So... you get any reply from that Russian pilot of yours?"


            "Huh?" Mikki followed Tokiko's gaze and watched the table full of Azazel officers for a moment. "Oh well. I'm pretty sure... he got the message." Mikki blushed and looked around the room. Many of the tables were full of politicians, defense contractors, and scientists, but among the flock was a gaggle of black-suited Section Two agents and platoons of Azazel Naval Infantry, carefully watching the... guests.

 
            Forcing a warm smile, Mikki followed Tokiko to their table. Looking up at the stage, Mikki shook her head.


            Tokiko glanced up and nodded at the quartet of banners. "It's a bit over the top isn't it?"


            "Yeah..." Mikki shrugged. Each banner was at least ten meters tall and three meters wide and came to a point at the tip. From right to left their colors went from powder blue, crimson, violet, and dark navy blue. Each had a different playing card suit dominating the banner. Power blue had a black club overlaid by a numeral 1. Red had a heart outlined in gold with two. Purple had a four over the Ace of spades. And dark blue had a five over the red diamond.


            "Kind of creepy. All big and imposing," Tokiko remarked.


            "I sort of think the giant war machines parked outside are more of a threat."


            Hearing the room quiet down, Tokiko looked up and saw the Nerv officers and Pilots file onto the long table that ran down the back of the stage. "We've got to hurry up!" Tokiko cried as she started to run as well as the pencil skirting of her dress would allow.


            Despite this Mikki had a hard time following. "Hey! I'm not as good in heels as you."


           

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

 


            Wearing the long black skirt and red-trimmed black jacket of her Nerv dress uniform, Misako stepped onto the stage. Before speaking she checked her mike and waited for the room to quiet down and people to find their seats.


            She smirked slightly as two pieces of arm candy ran to the table claimed by Gombe Heavy Construction. GHC was one of the main firms that did repair and construction work for the city. After the Matarael mess their trucks and dominated Tokyo 3's roads and their cranes had filled the skyline.


            Misako cleared her throat. "As many of you know, Nerv has gone through some changes. Unit 00 has completed its upgrades to bring it in line with the rest of the squadron. The Fifth Child, Warrant Suzuhara has received Unit 03, and the Fourth Child killed her fifth Angel, becoming an ace. The first of this war," Misako said, eyeing the Azazel table.


            Scanning the room the clone paused. "But there has been tragedy. The most recent battle nearly claimed the life of the Second Child. But I'm here to announce that she is ready for duty." Misako pointed to an open spot at the front of the stage. "I now present to you the Second Child, Pilot of Unit 02, Warrant Officer Asuka 'Kiko' Insana Soryu!"


            Trap doors flipped open and a platform raised, revealing Kiko. After the lifting completed, the gynoid smiled and snapped off a salute; she then exhaled. She had only stepped onto the platform when Misako started the speech but it had been dull waiting in the room underneath the stage.


            Looking at the hybrid of Evangelion flesh and human, Mikki's hand spasmed.


            "Huh, so those posters were real. I had hoped that Nerv had gone Avant-garde or something." Tokiko quietly remarked.


            "Now you know what the death of hope is like," Mikki spat under her breath.


            "What'd you say?" Tokiko tilted her head.


            "No, that was reality," the man known as Nanashi Gombe leaned back and adjusted his tie. "Desperation breeds innovation after all."


            Mikki nodded.


            "Least she looks cute enough. Shiny," Tokiko remarked.


            "They probably waxed her up real good this evening," Mikki said


            "Mikki!" Tokiko hissed. She eyed the gynoid. "Oh wow, maybe they did."


            "Yes all perfect, plastic, and packaged. She's a product fit for consumption. Something to sooth sensitive sensibilities," Mikki grumbled.


            "She looks a bit like an Eva," Tokiko noted.


            Mikki sighed.


            Gombe smirked.


            "Oh," Tokiko blushed.


            Up on the stage one of the scientists tittered at the audience's rapt reaction. "See," Insana whispered to Ritsuko. "Floor entrance: much better."


            Ritsuko sipped from her water. "I won't justify that with a response."


            "But look at the drama, the suspense. They see her power, her beauty. It stuns them, they cannot contain themselves."


            "Stuns? You think that's what's happening?"


            At the Gombe Heavy Construction table, the quiet conversation continued. "The stale cigarette smell of Miss Mann hovers above this," Gombe grumbled.


            Half listening to the abomination's brief speech, Mikki nodded. The chimera's babble about duty and sacrifice sounded depressingly like something Iry would spout.


            Then Mikki's eyes widened and she had to force her gorge and her powers down. Stepping onto the stage was Her. Tracking across the room, Her crimson gaze fell upon Mikki. Crisp white gloves and a purple hair band contrasted and complemented her Nerv tactical uniform For moment the Angel's breath stopped, her will concentrated on keeping her AT field from emerging.


            Then after a seeming eternity, the small girl's gaze slipped away and she continued crossing the stage, making eye contact with at least everyone immediately before the stage.


            Shinju cleared her throat. "Some of you may not know what day today is." Her bright smile lit up the room. "Today is Saint Crispin's Day."


            Her face turning dour she starts to slowly pace along the stage. "Henry the Fifth, Act four, Scene three. Battle approaches. King Henry and his men are outnumbered by the French five to one. The enemy is fresh, Henry's men are spent. Their doom seems certain. His men wish for reinforcements, wish for peace. Westmoreland, the Earl of Salisbury and trusted military leader advisor to the king, laments that they would need ten thousand additional men. But the King-" Shinju's eyes meet Gendo's, "the king does not despair."


            She smiled again and spoke her a gravitas entering her voice that Flins would recognize. "What's he that wishes so? My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin. If we are mark'd to die, we are now. To do our country loss; and if to live, the fewer men, the greater share of honor."


            Trying to dampen the pressure, Mikki closed her eyes and drifted away from the pilot's speech, the words becoming indistinct. It got worse. Absent meaning, absent context Mikki was left with tone and force. Battered by Her power, the Angel felt her blood chill.


            "That he which hath no stomach to this fight
. Let him depart; his passport shall be made. And crowns for convoy put into his purse." Showing her teeth, Shinju waved her arm. "We would not die in that man's company!" Shinju gleefully cried, eying the shivering secretary.

            Tokiko looked over "Are you okay?" she asked Mikki.


            Mikki focused on her lungs, her stomach, the other organs and tissues that held her spirit. "Yes. Peachy," she eventually stated, crisp, precise. She looked up to see the abomination continue her extroverted performance.


            Shinju pulled off her gloves and held out her hands. For those beyond the first row the cameras zoomed in on the scars crossing her palms. "Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.' "


            Smirking, Gendo adjusted his gloves.


            "Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot. But he'll remember with advantages. What feats he did that day: then shall our names. Familiar in his mouth as household words."


            Gendo barked out a little laugh.

            "Shinju the Princes, Rei and Kiko
, Toji and Yakov, Andrei and Owen, Yubari and Ikari." Her voice speeding up and gaining volume, the Forth child dropped her gloves and raised her arms. " Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd. This story shall the good man teach his son. And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by. From this day to the ending of the world!"

            She looked down, and demurred. " But we in it shall be remember'd. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers." Eyes tearing, she turned and faced Kiko who strode onto the stage.


            "For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
," Kiko said in sync with Shinju.


            "Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile
," Toji stated alongside the duo.


            Placing herself alongside the others, Rei added her voice completing the quartet. "This day shall gentle his condition
."


            Shinju stepped in front of the others. "And gentlemen in Japan now a-bed. Shall think themselves accursed they were not here. And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks. That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day!"


            Starting from the guards on the edge of the room a wave of applause raced towards the stage, and the front row. Nodding, Shinju basked in the accolades, while Mikki held her skull and winced at the noise.


            Pushing out the ovation, which grew louder as more and more stood up and began to cheer, Mikki tightened her breathing. "I suppose this makes me Montjoy then," she gasped out with a manic grin.


            "The herald of the French king?" Gombe clicked his tongue and laughed. "You give me too much credit."


            After watching the Pilots take their seats next to Nerv's senior staff, Mikki lowered her head. "Yes, of course, Sir."

 

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

 


            Standing in the elevator Kiko rolled her shoulders and whipped her neck to one side, twisted then flipped her head back.


            Hearing a metallic snap followed by a heavy clunk, Toji winced. "You okay?"


            Pupils dilating, Kiko flexed her jaw. "Just slept funny last night."


            "Oh, I thought it was due to all that standing at attention during the ceremonies yesterday." Toji twisted his own neck. "I don't get how you can do all those speeches."


            "Not like we have a choice," Kiko grumbled. "And Princess likes it."


            "She's been doing this all morning." Katrina leaned on a side wall and watched the two pilots.


            "Yes, yes, you already went off and told my Father about it."


            "Wait... sleeping funny? How's that happen?" Toji asked.


            Kiko raised an eyebrow.


            "What, did you get plugged in wrong?"


            The elevator stopped and the doors opened. Kiko sighed.


            "That's what happened wasn't it?" Toji asked following the gynoid and gauds out of the elevator.


            "It's embarrassing, okay." Kiko hissed.


            "Why? So, you had a bad night's sleep. It happens." Toji shrugged. "I had a bad dream last night. An angel attacked and you all went off to fight it, leaving me to give that weird Henry speech."


            Kiko raised an eyebrow.


            "Nothing too scary, I was naked. Then Doc Akagi started asking me questions while doing weird medical tests."


            "Rookie, that part actually happened, to all of us. Well not me, technically, I'm already nude."


            Toji opened his mouth. Then seeing Kiko's smug expression slowly closed it. He turned to Katrina. "This is a trap, isn't it?"


            "You avoided staring at her crotch, however you did look at her chest."


            "But I didn't say anything stupid! That was quite the opportunity, but if I were to say anything, I'd probably have to fear for my balls. And that's not counting what Hikari would do to me."


            "Yes, good for you." Kiko tapped her heel in annoyance; she then spun around and resumed walking down the corridor.


            Rubbing his chin for a moment, Toji ran to catch up to Kiko. "Well, what about you?"


            "What about me?"


            "You've had bad dreams right? I mean there's been plenty of stuff in your life to give you nightmares. Oh..."


            Kiko narrowed her eyes. "Yes, thanks for reminding me."


            "Sorry, is it bad?"


            Looking down, Kiko watched her legs neatly march forward, her feet clanking on the floor. "No.... not really. Actually..." She blinked.


            "What? You don't dream anymore?"


            "No." Kiko shook her head.


            "You do dream?"


            Kiko nodded.


            "So what's the 'No, not really' part about?" Toji asked.


            "Nightmares." Kiko stopped and closed her eyes. "I can... " She swallowed. "I remember. The moment when the plug failed; the acid. Pain."


            Her choker slowly shifted, yellow splotches forming and quickly overtaking the green. "My body burned, but then it started to dissipate. Numbness mixed with throbbing, gnawing pain. That was the second worst moment in my life, and I can remember just as clearly now as when I woke up."


            "But, you don't have nightmares?"


            Kiko's lips twisted in a smile while her eyes looked out flatly. "Not a one."


            "Really? Isn't that a bit strange?"


            "Personally, I take whatever little blessing I can get." The gynoid gave a hollow laugh and her choker started to transition back to green.. "I may sleep in an LCL-filled tube, but I don't have to relive... that."


            "What do you dream about then?" Katrina asked.


            Kiko stopped. Again her pupils dilated, especially the double trios of smaller secondary ones. "Nothing much," she said, her voice distant. "It's... repetitive, but normal. Mostly you guys, Princess, the Commander, Wondergirl, Ice Queen, Ritsuko... Father."


            Toji frowned, while Katrina's pensive expression was quickly concealed.


            "What? Isn't that normal?" Kiko demanded.


            Looking into her alien, orange eyes, Toji shook his head. Feeling his stomach twinge, he was reminded of Kiko smashing concrete with her fist and Shinju idly staring at him, knife in hand.


            "Well." He cleared his throat. "It's kind of normal. I mean you are having dreams, and they're not some sort of freaky robot dream."


            "Robot dream? What's that supposed to mean?"


            "Oh, electric sheep, calculating pi, killing all humans. Standard stuff," Katrina waved her hand.


            Kiko laughed. "Trying to reinforce my humanity?"


            "Well, I do have to guard your wellbeing," Katrina shrugged with mock flatness.


            "Yes, everyone cares about me."


            "Well, you are a valuable commodity," Katrina said as they approached a set of armored doors. Written above the door-head was: Test Chamber 16.


            The twin steel doors slid back, revealing a short passageway that connected to a room large enough that the side walls and ceiling were not visible.


            After stepping into the test chamber, Toji looked up, and up. It was a vast multi-story cubic chamber. Polished, square white tiles, five feet to a side covered the walls and ceiling. Some sections' tiles had been removed and replaced with doors, and further up the wall, with observation windows. Several block-like grey cubes were scattered about the room. A few folding chairs were in the center of the room, their scale and lines incongruent with the rest of the chamber.


            Toji shrugged; compared to the rest of Nerv's equipment and facilities, this was mundane. The Ayanami sisters were sitting down while Ritsuko, wearing spiral-patterned goggles paced behind them.


            The scientist looked up. "Ah, good." She nodded to Katrina and the officer's men. "You can go now. This meeting will be Nerv only."


            Raising an eyebrow, Katrina nodded.


            After the Russians had filed out of the room, Ritsuko waved a gloved hand and the doors locked shut.


            "You're really getting attached to those things," Misako grumbled.


            "So, what weird training are we going to do in this room?" Toji asked. "Maybe we'll learn another play. That thing Shinju did yesterday killed."


            Ritsuko raised an eyebrow. "I suppose we could study Faust."


            "We're bringing Rookie into this?" Kiko asked. "But he's-"


            Ritsuko twisted her head to face the gynoid,.


            "Reminds me of Father," Kiko muttered, recoiling at the goggles


            Sighing, Ritsuko made some motions with her hands.


            Kiko cocked her head, hearing a barely audible whine. Warnings popped up on her internal display. "Oh look... my radio's out."


            "Radio?" Toji asked. "It even works down here?"


            "Repeaters," Kiko sighed.


            "Yes, that's about right." Ritsuko pulled her goggles off and flipped a switch on the side.


            "So, what are you telling Rookie then?" Kiko asked, blinking away the warnings on her HUD.


            Ritsuko sighed. "Yes, yes, he's being cleared," she glanced over at Misako who raised a blue eyebrow.


            "Crap," Toji stepped back. "This is because I've got my own Eva right?"


            Ritsuko blinked. "Actually, yes."


            Nodding, Toji made his way to the chairs and sat down, across from Shinju. "They do something like this after you got your Eva?"


            "I talked with the Commander and got a hug," Shinju smiled.


            "Ah, so long as he doesn't hug me," Toji shook his head.


            "As if that's going to happen," smirked Kiko.


            "So, what's this about, Doc?"


            "It's about them," Ritsuko waved at the Ayanami. "And something they share with her," she pointed to Kiko.


            Looking between the sextet of crimson eyes, Toji swallowed. "Er?"


            "Er, indeed." Ritsuko chuckled to himself. "You see, Kiko was... constructed using Unit 02. The Ayanamis, on the other hand, used genetics that were later used to create Unit 01."


            "Stupid cheating clones?" Kiko grumbled, crossing her arms over her chest.


            "Clones?" Toji looked between the sisters and sighed. "Oh, gee. Everyone's part Eva then?"


            "Excepting yourself," Ritsuko chuckled.


            "How come Kiko's well..." Toji's question trailed off.


            Kiko raised an eyebrow.


            "They're clones, genetically modified and artificially grown." Ritsuko sighed. "The Ayanamis were born this way. They were half human from the start. Take Rei, you've known her for years. Where Kiko had to be rebuilt surgically and has a higher proportion of Evangelion components."


            "Cheating clones," Kiko repeated.


            Shinju pouted.


            "And the different ages?" Toji asked. "And wasn't Captain Ayanami born before the Impact?"


            "Why yes, she was," Ritsuko lied.


            "Is she a Pilot?"


            "Not terribly well. You've eclipsed her synchronization rate. Her progress has been very slow."


            "Thanks Rits, way to treat me like a science experiment."


            "You are one."


            Misako crossed her arms in front of her chest and glared.


            Ritsuko shook her head. "Anyway each subsequent clone was tweaked to synchronize better. That's why Shinju is such a natural."


            Shinju smiled, partially aware of the depth of Ritsuko's prevarication.


            "That doesn't make any sense! Misako would have had to have been born before the Second Impact. Before we even knew about the Angels, and for Rei to have been modified you'd have had to have had Evangelions right after the Impact."


            "You mean Nerv's been lying to us?" Kiko placed a hand to her cheek in shock.


            "Yeah Rits, tell him about Katsuragi Expedition," Misako smirked.


            "Is such detail necessary?" Rei asked, breaking her silence. "I doubt Warrant Suzuhara would accept the explanation his clearance allows."


            Ritsuko sighed and leaned on a cubic crate. "Look, Nerv had predecessor organizations, and those organizations also have predecessors. Top men, knew about the Angels and were working to stop them."


            "And the Second Impact?"


            "Clearly they failed," Ritsuko laughed, while Misako glared. "One of those precursor organizations was publically known as the UN Artificial Evolution Laboratory; its real name was Gehirn. The Ayanamis, the Magi, and the Evangelions were their primary developments. My mother, Sub director-Fuyutsuki and... others worked on those projects. Compared to the Evas, the clones were easier to build. That's why it took much longer to get a functional Eva prototype, not to say that there haven't been a lot of failed prototypes over the years."


            "I can see building Evangelions but why the clones?"


            Ritsuko smiled. "Part of it was the cover name. They really were trying to figure out the next stage of human evolution. Though the real purpose was to ensure that they'd have someone who could Pilot an Evangelion. Hence using human and Evangelion DNA to produce a series of clones." The scientist waved to the trio.


            "It wasn't until Rei that we were sure we had a functional pilot and unit. And even that was... buggy." Ritsuko then snickered. "But it wasn't needed. Turns out we didn't need clones, normal humans could Pilot, right Asuka?"


            "The universe has a sick sense of humor," Kiko sighed.


            "Yes, yes. We even had another Child, but the Third died before we could see if he could pilot. Hence, activating Shinju." Ritsuko explained.


            "If you were so worried about having enough pilots why not make a boatload of 'em? Also why wait on testing Shinju? What was this an attempt to fit some genre theme?" Toji waved his arms." Were Kensuke's rantings right? Do weird girls always come in groups of three, one 'standard' age for the potential audience, one younger, one older?


            "And what the heck is it about three? Five's a good number. Five's a goddamn great number. That'd also keep you from having shortage issues."


            "I somehow doubt you picked that number at random, Fifth Child." Kiko smirked.


            "Good to see I'm not too subtle for ya."


            Ritsuko pinched her nose. "Clones are expensive, temperamental things. Especially ones that have been genetically engineered to pilot giant war machines; war machines that are even more expensive and limited in number. Too many clones would be a waste of money. And be extremely difficult to explain."


            Rei frowned while Shinju pouted again.


            "Nice to see you care," Misako smiled at the scientist.


            "And Nerv tried to give them normal, stable lives. That's why we held off on Shinju's testing, and why Misako was made an officer. The commander himself raised Rei."


            "Wow... he raised the normal one?"


            "I'm as shocked as you are." Kiko nodded. "I thought he'd have screwed anyone up further..."


            "Why all the lying? Why not just tell the truth?" Toji asked.


            "The truth." Misako laughed. "In Nerv?"


            "Yes, Nerv should openly admit to human experimentation, and cloning." Ritsuko laughed. "Oh and knowing about the Angels before the Second Impact. People are already freaked out enough about the Evangelions. Sure, that'll go over great."


            "Kiko's publicly known. We just had a big expo to show her off." Toji countered.


            "That is annoying," Kiko conceded. "I get shown off like a new car, but we have to pretend that a bunch of blue-haired albinos are perfectly natural sisters."


            Ritsuko sighed and reached into her pocket for her lighter. "The procedures conducted on Asuka were prosthetic not premeditated. She was injured; we rebuilt her. The Ayanamis were built out of whole cloth."


            "Would people care?"


            "Science is a touchy issue." Ritsuko pulled her hand out of her pocket, but left her cigarettes and lighter in place.


            "Only when you take it to crazy levels like this," Misako reminded. "Cyborgs, clones, artificial intelligence, giant military robots, this is all pretty scary stuff."


            "Speaking as another abomination of science, she has a point," Kiko allowed. "You going to tell him the rest Doc? He is in the training room."


            Ritsuko rolled her eyes. "Yes, yes. He's cleared for the AT fields."


            "AT fields?" As Toji spoke, his quizzical expression slowly shifted into shock. "Oh no, part Evangelion." He twisted to look at Kiko. "Is that what you were doing when you got angry at me?"


            Kiko smiled wistfully. "Yeah."


            "I thought that was just your super-strength."


            "No, they've put governors on the real fun stuff." Kiko frowned.


            "You'll tear yourself apart," Ritsuko sighed.


            "Yeah, yeah." Kiko said.


            "AT fields then? Without an Eva? That's... something else." Toji whistled.


            "Sure, at the cost of my batteries I can make a pretty little shield."


            "Little? It's an AT field!" Toji cried.


            "Given her power limitations it isn't' nearly as strong as a full sized field."


            "Yeah, there's a reason Evangelions need to be plugged in. AT fields use a lot of juice," Kiko sighed.


            "And the Ayanamis? They don't have batteries." Toji frowned. "Do they? Can they make AT fields too?"


            Ritsuko nodded.


            "No batteries, they can pass as human," Kiko sneered. "Stupid buggy clones."


            "Buggy?"


            "Both the Ayanamis and Kiko require medication to help manage their biology. As for batteries..." Ritsuko smirked. "The Ayanami have even less capacity for their AT fields."


            "Why have AT fields? If it doesn't last very long? Were you trying to make super soldiers?"


            Ritsuko rolled her eyes. "We didn't plan on AT field powers. Those abilities emerged recently. It's a side effect of being part Evangelion, and from generating AT fields within an Eva. Our goal was to build pilots, not infantry."


            "So, will this affect me?" Toji glanced at his gloved hands. "Will synchronizing do anything to me?"


            "Definitely not, you're still human."


            "So sure?" Misako smirked. "You didn't expect us to get these powers either."


            Ritsuko shrugged. "Well based on Asuka's performance, not for a few years at least. Beyond that, no data."


            "That was just training. If you count combat time Asuka's got a bit less than Rei," Misako reminded.


            Shinju turned to Rei. "Oneechan, when did you start to exhibit those powers?"


            Rei blinked and looked to Ritsuko.


            "Shortly after Kiko did," the blonde said. "So, it could be related to combat stress. Just, great." After sighing, Ritsuko forced a smile. "Congratulations Fifth Child!"


            Toji winced. "Damn."


            "You just volunteered for another series of tests. While I don't think a normal human would get altered by his Eva, it's definitely something we'll have to keep an eye on."


            "This must be that new definition of 'volunteered' I've been hearing about lately."


            "Nah, it's just like how you volunteered when the Commander asked you to be a pilot."


            "Or how like I volunteered," Kiko smirked.


            "You don't hear the clones complaining about their lack of choice do you?" Ritsuko asked.


            "Rits..." Misako smiled through her teeth. "It's a bit demeaning to call us 'the clones.' "


            "She calls me robot too," Kiko pouted.


           

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

 


            Iry paced around the living room set which seemed to hang in a vast expanse of nothingness. Eventually, she stopped and tapped the toe of one of her high heeled boots impatiently. Quickly, she grew bored with that and slumped onto the couch.


            She put her feet up on the table and looked at her wrist. The humanoid representation sighed and pinched her nose. "A watch would be handy... or at least a bound scale of causality."


            She looked behind the recliner opposite her and a tall, thin wooden frame appeared. It was then paneled and fronted in glass. Brass gears, springs, and bells coalesced above the frame and assembled themselves.


            The machinery was then covered with a clock face and had hands attach to the central shafts. A small wooden enclosure formed around the mechanism, which was then linked with a long brass pendulum. Springs were wound, the pendulum was set into motion, and the clockwork began to tick away.


            Iry smiled at her work, but after what appeared to be a couple of minutes of calm ticking returned to her bored slump. "Well... now what?"


            "Boredom, pride... time?" A voice behind Iry laughed. "My, someone's being very anthropocentric today."


            "Shall we discuss your activities, Dear Sister?" Iry asked without turning her head around.


            "Jealousy, too?" Stepping into Iry's view, Mikki shook her head. Following a step behind her were two others.


            One had a somber expression that clashed with her riotous green and orange paisley dress, bright crimson eye shadow, and long green hair. The other was shorter and bore an expression of wonderment that was equally incongruent from her starched and prim black dress. It had white buttons, sleeves and cuffs but they only served to highlight the inky darkness of her clothing. Her hair was cut short to about her neck and the off-white tresses bounced about as she moved.


            "Who are you?" the darkly-dressed girl asked, running up to Iry.


            Before Iry could reply the girl's attention had gone to Mikki's chair.


            "What is that?" She then turned to the clock. "Oh, what's that? That thing has numbers on it!" she happily cried.


            Iry turned to Mikki. "Sister?"


            The auburn-haired Angel laughed. "Oh don't mind her. Leli just woke up and she's very excited."


            "Ah," Iry turned to the other girl who was watching Leli's antics with bemusement. "And this must be... Saha?"


            The girl in the paisley-patterned dress nodded.


            Apparently bored with the clock, Leli's attention returned to Iry. "What's wrong with your legs?"


            Iry looked down at the high heeled boots that went to just under her knees. "They're shoes."


            "Why?"


            Iry saw Leli's own feet were bare. "Ah..."


            "She raises a good point," Mikki smirked.


            "No, she doesn't," Iry crossed her arms over her chest.


            A frown flickered across Mikki's face. "You seem perturbed," she observed, taking her chair, across from Iry.


            "How perceptive of you. All your time among humans must have honed your ability to read expressions."


            Behind her glasses, Mikki's gray eyes glinted. "Well, I've learned how to read humans."


            "Humans sound interesting," Leli added as she sat down next to the table and started examining one of its legs.. "What are they like?"


            "Emotional." Mikki smirked. "Clever in their way."


            "Given they've managed to defeat us at every turn," Saha remarked leaning on the couch.


            "Yes, it's not like one of us could simply walk into the Geo-Front and free mother." Iry smiled, showing her teeth.


            Mikki's eyes flashed red for a moment. "That was business."


            Iry rapped the table. "I just find it odd. Here we had a room full of pilots, both of the abominations and the soul killers, their military leaders, and their head scientists. Not only that but all four of the abominations were just outside." Iry closed her eyes and her voice slowed. "And you did nothing."


            "As you said, they had all the Evangelions. They were prepared for an attack. What could I have done? Gone out in a blaze of glory, sacrifice myself in the hope of weakening them? Setting them back wouldn’t have freed mother."


            Iry stared. ""Maybe Mattie should have known that, or Ramie, or the rest." She narrowed her eyes. "What game are you playing, Dear Sister? Are you saying that your life is more important than ours?"


            Mikki straightened her glasses. "Mother's life is more important than ours."


            Iry laughed. She looked over her shoulder up at Saha. "So, you're next?"


            Saha nodded.


            "I'm not sure I like your attitude." Mikki glared at Iry.


            "Well, you shouldn't have tempted me with knowledge. Are you going to send Saha out alone?"


            "Oh? Are you offering to help again? Maybe be a bit more involved this time? Actually fight instead of run away?"


            "At least I hurt the enemy, instead of clapping as they showed off a parade of perversions of mother's flesh." Iry spat. "Maybe you're waiting for them to perfect harvesting our sister's corpses. That way you can enjoy champagne and little sandwiches as they show off a human that they've endowed with mother's flesh and the Fruit of Life."


            The blonde angel giggled. "Is that it? Did you give up on saving Mother and decide to let the humans build their own?"


            Ignoring Leli, Mikki sighed "Iry, Iry, Iry."


            "What? Tell me I'm wrong." Iry turned to her sisters. "What do you think? Doesn't it seem crazy that the eldest of us managed to penetrate the humans' lair and did... nothing?"


            Saha froze, and her image flickered. For a moment, she appeared as she actually was. "Well, it is odd, but Mikki had to have a reason for it," she said straightening her long green hair.


            "Maybe she was curious." Leli absently said as she poked the couch.


            "To prepare for the next party she gets invited too?" Iry shot back. "I know all about the Geo-Front. What could you learn by actually going there?"


            Her ire sublimating, Mikki snickered. "You have to consider the human factor. There is more to them than blueprints and databases."


            "Yes, there's imbibing dilute ethanol, consuming portions of monocot seeds and actinopterygii muscular tissue, acipenser gueldenstaedtii  ova, and let's not forget the theobroma seeds."


            Leli tilted her head. "What's that?"


            "Drinks, sushi, caviar and chocolate." Mikki sighed.


            "Oh?"


            Mikki shook her head. "Look what you did. Now she's interested in human food."


            "Yes, one of us walking among humans. Heaven forbid."


            Mikki clenched her jaw. "You're awfully close to insubordination."


            "Coming from someone who would rather party with humans than save mother, I'd take-"


            Mikki's eyes flashed red. Iry found herself shoved forward, slamming into the coffee table which collapsed as its legs snapped off. An orange AT field shimmered over Iry's back as the girl struggled to pull herself up.


            Brushing her hands, Mikki stood. "Inexperience breeds arrogance."


            "And what does experience breed? Complacency? Even more arrogance?" Iry stilled herself and waited for the pressure to be released.


            "Can't you trust that I'm working in our best interests, or are you so short sighted and suspicious that you... what? Do you suspect me of treachery."


            Iry giggled.


            "Is she okay?" Saha asked.


            "Maybe this is how we're supposed to act," Leli ventured.


            Iry's laugher increased.


            "Stop it! You're ruining them!" Mikki screamed as her AT field flashed brighter. Iry's face was pressed against the floor, scratching her forehead.


            "Hah!" Iry gasped. "You've done more to hurt your own kind than Nerv and the Russians combined."


            "It's not my fault they died! And I've killed plenty of humans."


            "Our sisters, Mother's children still died." Iry tried to lift her shoulders. "What are you going to do about it?"


            Lifting her glasses, Mikki rubbed her eyes. The AT field vanished.


            Smirking, Iry drew herself to a crouch and wiped her forehead. Looking at the mix of blood and sweat she blinked and looked down at her tattered dress. "Will Saha get the same level of support? Helping Mattie was a good start, but hardly sufficient."


            "There are three of you." Mikki sighed.


            Iry looked to Leli who was carefully examining one of the table-legs. The white-haired angel pried off a thick splinter and after feeling it between her fingers put one end in her mouth and bit down.


            "Yeah, we'll do just great." Iry coughed


            Mikki rolled her eyes. "There are more of you to be found, and we can afford to bide our time."


            "Why didn't we?"


            Mikki pinched her nose. "Yes... that's what I'm trying to say."


            "Ah. It only took seven of us dying for you to figure that out."


            "Israfel was the first one of I found. I was too late for the others, they had already attacked, and can you really blame Sandi on me? The humans sought her out, they killed her well before she was ready."


            "She should have been better protected."


            Mikki smiled thinly. "Yes, we did learn that."

 

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

 


            "Who's a puppy?" Shirane gushed as she tried to pick up Flins.


            Smiling, the dog bonelessly flopped over and leaned on the dark-haired girl. Flins stretched out his head and tried to lick her.


            "Good boy; good Flins." Shinju soothed, petting the animal. She sat on the couch, next to Shirane with the heavy puppy between them.


            "He's too cute." Nozomi sat on the coffee table in front of them and outstretched her hand, which was dutifully sniffed and licked.


            "He's a good pup," Shinju agreed patting him on the head.


            Rei looked up from her book and watched the puppy before resuming her reading.


            Flins rolled back onto Shinju's lap lying on her ruffled skirt.


            "Any problems housebreaking or chewing?" Shirane asked.


            "Not really. Lieutenant Flyorov seemed to have the basics down, but I had to correct Flins... after he ran off with something." Shinju blushed and adjusted her hairband.


            "Ah, my brother seems to be warming up to Lev. I think he's relieved that his Russian isn't so... scary."


            Nozomi eyed Shinju's hair band, specifically one of the big, puffy bows that adorned either side of the girl's head. The right one seemed to have little bite marks on it. "Shinju... what did Flins run off with?"


            Shinju's blush brightened. "He brought it back when I asked. No, when I ordered him to."


            "Ooooh, did you use your scary voice?" Shirane teased.


            "Yes, she did," Rei noted.


            Shirane laughed.


            Pouting, Shinju stopped petting and Flins opened his eyes.


            Nozomi coughed. "You can be pretty scary Shinjuko."


            "You have killed five Angels," Shirane added.


            "But I'm cute..." A sad whine edged into Shinju's voice.


            "Oh, now you protest that you're cute?" Shirane laughed. "When you first arrived you weren't nearly as adamant about it."


            "When she first arrived she didn't wear stuff like this." Nozomi waved at Shinju's lacy, lavender dress. "Or wear pearl earrings and a choker full of cute little charms."


            "You suggested this dress," Shinju's pout grew.


            "Only because you look so cute in them."


            "Aren't you worried about Flins shedding on it?" Shirane asked.

 
            "Brushing him helps. See." Shinju reached to an end table and picked up a brush. She then ran it through Flins' fur. The puppy smiled and rolled over on his back.


            "Awww," Shirane cooed as she rubbed the puppy's belly.


            "Well, I suppose you already spend plenty of time brushing your own hair," Nozomi allowed.


            Shinju smiled slightly.


            "So, how was training today?" Shirane asked.


            Shinju blinked.


            "Oh. Was it secret Nerv stuff?"


            "As opposed to what?" Nozomi asked.


            "Well, secret Azazel stuff?" Shirane shrugged. "Maybe it wasn't secret. It could have been another photo-shoot."


            Shinju looked down and brushed Flins' side. "You're a good dog. You don't ask me burdensome questions."


            "I'm just asking. Toji seemed a bit... distant today."


            Shinju shrugged.


            "Well, dark existential revelations tend to do that." Rei lowered her book.


            "Ooooh." Shirane grinned. "Now you've got to tell us!"


            "No." Rei resumed reading.


            "No fun." Shirane pouted. "Shinju?"


            The younger clone shook her head.


            "Meanie."


            "Careful," Nozomi warned as she patted Flins. "You know if you keep pushing her, she'll get sad and cry." She paused in thought. "And then she wont make us cake"


            "That can't be!" Shirane cried. "That's a lie! We were promised cake."


            Lowering her book, Rei arched an eyebrow and exhaled sharply.


            "It is a piece of cake to bake a pretty cake," Shinju smirked lightly.


            "So you're going to bake one?" Shirane grinned.


            "Which recipe?" Nozomi asked.


            "I was thinking of a Black Forest for Kiko, but that will take a while."


            "Can't you modify the recipe a bit? Make it quicker to bake?"


            Shinju tilted her head. "You have to do the cooking by the book. You can't be lazy."


            "Fine, fine. Don't get all crazy about it." Shirane sighed.


            "You know... Kiko does love cake." Nozomi allowed. "So if you want to make her some comfort food."


            "What's wrong with her? She need some cheering up." Shirane asked.


            "If she needed cheering up her dosage could be adjusted," Rei stated.


            Shinju nodded and lifted Flins up off her lap.


            After a brief frown, Flins jumped off the couch and followed Shinju to the kitchen.


            "Awww, you've got a little shadow," Shirane smiled.

 

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

 


            "What's this?" Leli asked peering over Saha's shoulder.


            The green haired Angel frowned and looked to Iry.


            Iry sighed. "It's a map." She explained as she smoothed the representation of a map on the representation of a table. She pointed to some of the glowing dots on the map. "Target locations."


            Saha grinned. "Mikki's idea?"


            Again, Iry sighed. "Yes, but I researched the locations. Saha, you'll need to strike simultaneously."


            "To prevent them from alerting the others?" Leli asked, leaning over and staring at the map. She tapped one of the dots and scanned the information that popped out.


            Iry's face brightened. "Actually yes. Do you understand, Saha?"


            The garishly dressed Angel nodded. "But how does this all get Mother back?"


            Clapping, Iry cracked a grin. "Very good! Well, to be honest, it doesn't."


            Saha frowned at the scattered targets.


            "Not directly at least," Iry added. "The goal is to weaken the enemy and Mikki's idea is that attacking these targets will weaken their ability to mount a resistance on subsequent attacks."


            "So, she's not trying to save Mother?" Saha set her jaw.


            "I know; you want to run right in and attack the humans and their abominations. We all feel that way, but... we have to fight smarter."


            "But you don't think this is fighting smarter," Leli happily noted as she lifted up a corner of the map.


            Iry closed her mouth.


            Saha ran her hand over the map's surface. "This is a poor representation. It's flat; it has no depth, it ignores the curvature of this planet."


            "Yes, yes, it's only a model." Iry rolled her eyes. "This is to get you familiar with the scale of what Mikki wants from you."


            "It's easy to make one with depth," Leli folded her hands and within her fingers a a miniature of Japan formed. "See and we can zoom in on the targets." She flicked her fingers and the model shifted forming a scale model of the center of the main island of Honsho.


            "That's very good," Iry said nodding in thought.


            "You're map is good though," Leli blushed. "For your purposes it shows the locations. Mine's really too much."


            "Can you make a more detailed simulation?"


            Leli nodded.


            "Good, we'll talk in a bit about something I had in mind."


            Saha shrugged and went back to the flat map. "So I take out these targets, what next?"


            "The first round should get the human's defenses exposed, or at least deployed. Currently the plan is for me to maintain a communications blackout while you target their assets."


            Grinning, Saha nodded. "And then I can attack their base myself and save mother?"


            Iry frowned. "Well, I wanted Leli to do that job. She would enter while you covered her back and took out any counter-fire."


            "And what does Mikki want. I mean what will happen?"


            "Mikki considers Leli too inexperienced and is worried about deploying her now."


            Leli pouted. "I'm further along than Sandi was!"


            "Not by much, and it took just two abominations to kill her." Iry shook her head. "We should be waiting. That way Leli will be mature, and we can all benefit from more experience."


            "We must rescue mother," Saha stated. "The enemy is getting stronger."


            "Patience would benefit our numbers and skills." Iry glanced at the map. "Yes delaying gives the enemy more time, but we control the tempo. Except for the attack on Sandi, we've attacked at moments of our choosing, and I've been thinking about... training."


            "The enemy is looking for us. They've been studying our dead." Leli pulled the map to one side.


            "We only need to win once. Once we get Mother, that's it." Distant, Iry's voice lacked conviction. "All going off half-cocked does is get us dead."


            "Nope." Leli rolled the map up and studied the cylinder. "They get our dead. They learn. They make themselves more like us." Unrolling the map, her eyes brightened as the ends curled slightly. "You modeled this well!"


            "Well, I'm sure you can model it better," Iry smiled.

 

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

 


            Entering Gendo's office, Fuyutsuki frowned. A light barking came before him and a smallish brown ball of fuzz raced towards him. Confused, he looked up and saw a pale girl in a ruffled and lacy dress sitting on the corner of the Commander's desk. Her crimson eyes were contemplative as the barking puppy raced towards him; the dog's oversize paws skittered on the hard stone floor.


            "Flins! Sit! Stay!" Shinju sternly shouted. Still woofing, the dog immediately sat down.


            At that moment, looking into her face, Fuyutsuki saw the girl's parentage. Then he remembered himself. "And what are you doing here?" he asked, glancing down at the dog, seemingly frozen in place.


            Shinju slowly tiled her head, and blinked. "Waiting for Father."


            "Ah, I didn't realize the Commander gave you a pass," Fuyutsuki coughed.


            "I let her in." Rei said, immediately behind Fuyutsuki.


            After suppressing a surprised yelp, the older man slowly turned around to see Rei holding a largish bowl full of water. The clone silently passed him and placed the bowl before Flins who leaned down and started lapping up water.


            "So, you're both waiting for the Commander?" Fuyutsuki asked, eyeing the white dress Rei wore. On anyone else it would be plain, on her it was indulgent.


            Shinju nodded.


            Still kneeling down, Rei put a hand to Flins' back and held it there as the dog drank.


            "Good Oneechan!" Shinju cheered. "Get him used to your scent."


            Fuyutsuki raised an eyebrow. "I'm a bit surprised, you're waiting here. Where's Captain Ayanami?"


            "At a strategy session with JSSDF. Discussing proliferation risks of various Eva related technologies." Pouting slightly, Shinju hopped off the desk and walked over to Flins and patted him. "Good boy."


            Despite himself, Fuyutsuki smiled at the puppy.


            Looking up, Shinju's eyes shone mischievously. "Go ahead, he's safe."


            Slowly kneeling down, Fuyutsuki reached out.


            Flins sniffed his outstretched arm and sneezed.


            The door opened and Gendo Ikari barked out a single laugh. "Really professor? I leave you alone and this is what happens?" He walked past Fuyutsuki and absently ruffled Flins's ears. Making it to his desk, Gendo took his chair.


            Shinju quickly scooped up Flins and carried the bulky puppy back to the corner of the desk where she sat down. Rei took the water bowl and placed it on the corner opposite Shinju.


            "How was the meeting?"


            Ikari smirked. "The old men were as short-sighted as they ever were. Even knowing what they do, they prefer to fortify their own hidey-holes."


            "Is this appropriate?" Fuyutsuki's eyes glanced between the clones.


            "I am merely complaining about my... superiors." His smirk returning, Gendo folded his hands. "Is griping not the right of all soldiers?"

            "Is that what we are now?"


            "We are using advanced weapons and trained troops to save the world. What would you call that?"


            "Honestly?" Fuyutsuki raised an eyebrow.


            Gendo chuckled. "We must destroy the Angels."


            Shinju nodded in agreement.


            "The clones will fight. Even Insana's little project is performing well."


            Fuyutsuki saw Shinju beam and even Rei smile knowingly.


            "I have no doubts regarding that, but I do have other doubts."


            Gendo nodded. "Our path is a treacherous one."


            Fuyutsuki locked eyes with Gendo then looked to the two girls flanking the Commander's desk.


            Ikari sighed. "Right, girls I'm afraid you'll have to go."


            Giving a little nod, Shinju hoped of the desk, her arms full of squirming puppy. She placed Flins on the floor, told him to stay, and ran around the desk and reached over Gendo's chair to hug his side. "Thanks for letting Asuka's father save Kiko!"


            Rei raised an eyebrow and watched her clone scamper back to her puppy and followed the small girl out of the office.


            "You are shameless," Fuyutsuki said after the door had closed and relocked.


            "Loyalty should be reinforced," Gendo stated.


            "I suppose it fits; you always were a sucker for the right woman," Fuyutsuki managed to withhold most of his distaste. "Though I am shocked that the child you abandoned for so many years ended up as such a daddy's girl."


            "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." Gendo chuckled.


            "And thus you take advantage of a poor little clone's daddy-issues. Bribing her with trinkets and dolls and your affection. For shame."

            "You had a legitimate concern to raise?" Gendo tapped the desk. "Or did you simply trick me into kicking out my... Pilots."


            Fuyutsuki smirked. "It's times like this that I cherish our private moments."
           


           "I am only human, Professor."


           "Oh I'm well aware of that." Fuyutsuki looked out the windows at the Geo-Front below. "And that comes to the core of my concern: humanity."


           "Dr. Akagi's proliferation concerns?" Gendo asked. "Captain Ayanami is talking with JSSDF and Azazel about that very issue.


           "Clones are cheaper to build than Evangelions and easier to conceal and operate, and we have concerns about rogue Evangelions."


           "Also an Evangelion requires a Child, Cyborg, Clone, or Dummy Plug."


           "All of which are similar at their core, but as you can see proliferation of... trans-humans is a worthy concern."


           "It's the AT fields?"


           "Such power in a cheaper, smaller platform is a real concern. Just consider what someone, like you, could do with them."


           "What would I do?" Gendo folded his hands before his nose. "Well, that depends on what my goal would be. Command decapitation perhaps?


           "AT field capable soldiers could tear through any defense short of truly heavy weapons or a similarly capable bodyguard. Which means I would have to stay near the Pilots, at all times."
          


           "Perish the thought," Fuyutsuki's tone was dry but there was a hint of bitter jealousy in his voice.


           "A similar decapitation of our science staff is another option." Gendo nodded. "After that the goals become more challenging but no less insurmountable."


           "Such as?"


           "Sabotage. This facility could be destroyed and without it our work would be that much harder. We designed the Geo-Front to withstand the Angels. Not a conventional force.


           "One armed with... special forces could cut through our defenses; we only have four Evangelions, and man-portable nuclear weapons are cheap enough. Such weapons do not have enough power to defeat an Evangelion, and at seventy kilograms they are not easy to lug around. However, once inside the facility they'll do."


           "Do you consider it a possibility? I mean really, soldiers with that kind of power?"


           "The Special Atomic Demolition Munition or the clone soldiers?"


           "The latter, though combining them with the former adds a special chill."


           "Professor, the concept you mock is a reality. Consider our own Pilots." Gendo smirked lightly. "You've seen Dr. Akagi's training, compare it with the Azazel training the Pilots receive. Yes, her work is deliberately conservative, focusing on control, but consider the potential."


           "What of the Impact? Could it be initiated?"


           "And now we come to the strategic goals." Briefly, momentarily, uncertainty entered Gendo's gaze. "Consider our own plans. Flesh of Adam. Flesh of Lilith. Technically neither requires an Evangelion. What is required is to breach Terminal Dogma possessing the correct equipment."


           "Such as our pilots?"


           "Nigokiko is not complete, a critical component remains to be installed.."


           A frown flickered across Fuyutsuki's face. "Meanwhile said component rests in bakelite. What if it gets stolen?"


           "It's in a secure location." Gendo held out his palm. "Would you prefer we stored it elsewhere? Terminal Dogma is out."


           Fuyutsuki stepped up to the glass wall. "Frankly, keeping both... devices within Geo Front is concern enough for me." Sighing, he looked at the miniature world below.


           "Say it was kept in Matsushiro; would that not exacerbate your fears? Placing it further from our grasp."


           "I'm just apprehensive."


           Gendo smirked. "You always are."


           "It's not just the Old Men and the Russians. The Angels are advancing. Our pilots are evolving. The Evangelions, have you considered that they've yet to go berserk?"


           "The training is a significant factor. You will remember that Unit 00 did go berserk. Also our pilots have a natural affinity; even the Fifth has been acclimated."


           "That's not the berserk I'm worried about. The Second has shown her instability."


           Gendo narrowed his eyes. "She has been conditioned."


           "And that's kept her sane, but she's still... human," Fuyutsuki smiled lightly. "It wouldn't take much to set her off, the truth perhaps."


           "Her mother's death perhaps?" Gendo ran a fingertip along the table. "Yes, learning that you've become in body and soul your mother's murderer and warder."


           "That's only part of it; we have built an empire of lies."


           "Measures are in place." Gendo eyed the picture on his desk.


           Fuyutsuki shook his head. "And what are we doing to ensure such measures are not needed?"


           "I have been avoiding her."


           "You're serious," Fuyutsuki blinked.


           "Why should I unduly antagonize her?"


           "So, the same approach as with your son?"


           "Lieutenant Diebner is an adequate surrogate and for his quirks Professor Insana is better with her than I am."


           "Yes, abominations of science need their love too," Fuyutsuki smirked, looking to the picture-frame on the desk.


           Gendo followed his gaze. "It's certainly worked well enough for those three."


           "Love? Socialization then?"


           "There was a reason we enrolled Rei in school. It was an insufficient measure, but the concept was correct. Have you considered the effect? She is no longer alone, no longer unique."


           "She was never unique," Fuyutsuki turned away.


           "Indeed."


           "Socialization then? Doubtless your plan is to let Azazel and the JSSDF continue their training regime, which provides a group identity, shared experiences and thus strong bonding among the Pilots."


           "Why should I get in the way of our rivals doing our work for us?"


           "Consider their loyalties. As you said, Diebner is a surrogate mother to Kiko. Kurchatov lets Rei be Rei. And Khariton gave your child confidence."


           "Yes?"


           "Does this not increase the risk to our own plans?  Would even Rei not have doubts when the critical moment came?"


           Gendo smirked. "You believe that their emotional bonds will draw them into making the incorrect choice?"


           "It is clearly a risk.  What of misinformation?  What of the truth?  Do you think Shinju would destroy all that she knows to please you?"


           Gendo raised an eyebrow.


           The professor studied the younger man's face. "So, you have considered this then?"


           "The concern comes down to trust and choice.  If they do not trust us, they will make the wrong choice.  For that I will endeavor to make sure their trust is adamantine."


           "And if your bond fails?"


           Gendo looked to the silver framed picture. "Then the choice can easily be removed.  We will alleviate the weight of responsibility from their minds. Such things will no longer concern them."


           "You would do that... for them?" Fuyutsuki asked, his voice quiet.


           Gendo folded his hands. "I am not without my own... generosity."


           After laughing, Fuyutsuki sobered. "Perhaps you're correct. Your child longed for your approval, for your recognition, and you gave it after she became a good little angel-killing clone. Similarly, Rei's obedience is rewarded." He laughed again. "I suppose it's in your favor that they're susceptible to such base conditioning."


           "That was rather fortuitous," Gendo admitted with a smirk.

 

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

 


            "Took you long enough," Iry said without looking up from the map pulled out on the table.


            Smiling Mikki stepped into the ersatz living room. "Where are the others? What are they doing?"


            "Ironic of you to ask that."


            Mikki smiled thinly. "Using a colloquial definition now? My, we're adaptive."


            Iry ignored the comment. "They're training. Leli has a knack for setting up simulations you know." The dark-skinned angel eyed her elder.


            "And your absence?"


            "I'm somewhat redundant. Saha can jam communications too. She's more effective on satellites, obviously."


            "Obviously." Mikki snickered. "So you decided to let her play with Leli while you brooded over maps?"


            "She needs the training. Her accuracy was atrocious." Iry looked over the map and watched as a bright dot zeroed in on a hollow-square.


            "Orbital simulation?"


            "The equations are simplistic." Iry shrugged. "It's just ensuring the package falls on target, and Leli can simulate those physics easily."


            Mikki nodded. "Leli does have a gift."


            Iry lowered her head. "Maybe you were right."


            "Acquiescence? From my doubting Thomas?" Mikki laughed.


            "Holding Leli back from the next battle is probably a good idea. She's quite young and there's so much she could do for us."


            "Perhaps we're more alike than we admit."


            Iry blinked.


            "Clearly I've been rubbing off on you. I learned these... habits," Mikki waved to herself. "-out of necessity, but here we are."


            "Yes, here we are."


            Tapping her chin, Mikki paced opposite Iry's side of the table. "Leli's illusionary abilities? What, you suggest training simulations?"


            Nodding, Iry waited for Mikki's dismissal.


            "Good idea." The auburn-haired angel smirked at the blonde angel's shock. "Don't think I'm mindlessly bullheaded; I have my reasons for what I do."


            "Then where were you? I know you weren't at... work or playing with your little friends." Iry's voice chilled at the last sentence.


            Mikki's smirk grew, revealing her teeth. "I was seeking." She snapped her fingers and an angel in the form of a small girl stepped into sight. She was wearing a frilly yellow sundress tied with orange ribbons. Matching ribbons pulled her long curly strawberry-blonde hair back into a loose ponytail.


            Mikki leapt to her feet. "She's... you found her? What about all the others?"


            "I had to skip to the end. As the youngest, she was especially vulnerable, remember Sandi."


            "Who's Sandi?" the young angel asked, looking up to Mikki.


            " An innocent little Angel ruthlessly killed by the humans. This is why I found you and why I woke you up, Armi, because you weren't safe there."


             Armi quietly nodded.


            "What about Ara or Zeru? Even Bardi."


            Mikki shook her head. "Armi was more important. Could you imagine if she fell into human hands? If we're lucky they'd kill her and loot her corpse."


            Armi whimpered and tried to curl into a ball or at least pull her hands to her feet.


            "You're scaring her," Iry chided, leaning down to eyelevel with Armi.


            "I don't want to die. I just want Mother." Armi whimpered, falling into Iry's arms.


            "It's okay." Hugging the young Angel, Iry looked up at Mikki. "She's even younger than Sandi was."


            Mikki nodded.


            "Fortunately, we grow fast."


            Mikki raised an eyebrow.


            "Well, we do." Standing back up, Iry patted Armi on the head. "Our development cycle is far faster than any human's."


            "Yes, there may be issues." Mikki glanced at the young angel then back at Iry.


            Iry sighed. "What did you do?"


            "How come you always blame me?"


            "Because you always do something." Iry rubbed her eyes.


            "Hey, if not for my help-"


            "We wouldn't have all died at the hands of the humans?"


            Smirking. Mikki's eyes flared red. "We're learning, it's only a matter of time before we defeat them."


            " 'The general situation was favorable," Field Marshal Haig, Battle of the Somme, the first day." Iry snorted. "At least he tried to use his forces in a bulk to overwhelm; you're sending us 'over the top' piecemeal. Also he managed to drain the Germans of half a million of their best trained men. What strategic loses have you struck?"


            Mikki clenched her fists. "For one thing, I've enabled you to become an ungrateful little amateur historian."


            "Fitting, being the issue of an amateur general."


            The auburn-haired Angel froze. her nails cutting into her palms. "What... what did you say?" She asked, her eyes flashing.


            "Amateur." Iry stepped forward. "Dilettante, hobbyist, novice, dabbler, neophyte."


            "Ah." Mikki's body relaxed and she let her hands hand loosely. "You really are insubordinate aren't you?"


            Armi whimpered. "Why are you two fighting?"


            "Just a little disagreement." Iry tried to smile reassuringly before going back to Mikki. "If you wanted mindless drones you could make them yourself. That's what Mattie and Isra did."


            "Yes, clearly I don't want that," Mikki said as she knelt down. "It's okay, Armi. Sometimes sisters... fight."


            "Please if this were a real fight-"


            "I'd have already subdued you and exposed your core?" Mikki completed with a grin.


            Armi made a mewling noise and backed off.


            "I wasn't talking about you."


            "You're scaring her," Iry said, picking up the curly-haired angel. "It's okay. Mikki's just excitable."


            Armi nodded and leaned on Iry's shoulder.


            "How young was she?" Iry's eyes widened. "Was it really wise to move her?"
            Looking at the two blondes, Mikki set her jaw. "As you said, we grow fast."


            "And she was at risk, right?"


            "Oh yes, the humans were close to finding her. Well, more stumbling into her, but that was enough for Sandi."


            "She was poorly placed," Iry admitted.


            "Mother's ways are a mystery."


            "Now look at who's being all human."


            Mikki tensed for a moment then gave a lazy, languid smile. "You're right. I have to live among them. It... gets to you. You should be thankful; if you had to experience them first hand... the smells, the noise, the pondering, greasy, selfish incompetence..." She shook her head.


            " 'The life of man: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.' The Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes."


            "Yes, their species is not without its moments of introspection. Say what you will about my efforts but at least I've removed some commonality with the enemy."


            "Our lives are still short, but we are no longer alone." Frowning minutely, Iry absently patted Armi who cooed happily. "We do have you to thank for that."


            Mikki smiled flashing her teeth. "I'm glad we've come to an understanding."

 

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

 


            Smiling, Kiko stepped up to the target, gravel crunching under her feet.


            "Are your ears still okay? The gunshots aren't too loud?" Katrina asked.


            Kiko nodded as a hand idly went up to one of her earblades. "Yeah, the signal filter's working fine." She then straightened her green shooter's glasses and took position, with her back to the target.


            Hand resting on the butt of his gun, Toji watched as the gynoid shook her shoulders, and then raised her hands up, palms out. Her revolver, speed-loaders, combat spade, and knife were all supported by the same gun-belt and suspender rig that the rest of the pilots wore.


            However on Kiko, the similarity to the "full size" versions of that equipment made her look even more like an Evangelion, albeit one with much sleeker armor and a far more human face.


            Looking back, Katrina made sure the other pilots were well uprange of Kiko, which at the moment was before her.. The Azazel officer pressed a few buttons on the metal box she was carrying and then held it near Kiko's head. She pressed a button and a few seconds later the box buzzed.


            Kiko's left foot twisted to the side and her right foot lifted and circled around her left, spinning her body a hundred and eighty degrees. As that happened her right hand went to the grip of her revolver. The very moment her right foot planted down she drew the weapon out of the holster, snapped her elbow down to rotate the gun to the horizontal. Then she extended her arm, put her left hand in a support grip and thumbed back the hammer.


            The front sight came up against the first target and she fired, thumbed the hammer again and fired again. Two neat nearly touching holes appeared in the heart of the silhouette. Her arms tracked over and she repeated the process on the next two silhouettes.


            Immediately after the sixth shot she flipped the lever above the hammer and flicked the revolver open. The cylinder spur extended and the spent casings were flung out. Her left hand had already grabbed a speed-loader, popped the fresh cartridges into the cylinder, and snapped the gun closed.


            She extended her arm again and rapidly fired a measured shot into each target's head. Kiko exhaled and slowly holstered her revolver. She turned to Katrina who was looking at the box's display. The device had a microphone that linked with its internal timer.


            "Fifteen seconds," Katrina said neutrally.


            "Damn," Kiko sighed, picking up the empty speed loader.


            "Oh come on." Toji groused.


            "You'll do better," Shinju cheered. "If you win you'll get the rest of that Black Forest cake!"


            Lev leaned to Toji. "What's wrong? She shot well."


            "She's a little bit slower," Toji replied back, trying to keep his voice down, despite the hearing-protectors.


            Kiko looked up. "Yes, I am." She held up a hand. "You try shooting with thick armored gloves. Stupid father."


            "You're focusing on accuracy, which is important." Katrina said. "You can work on speed with practice."


            "Yeah, I guess I should be happy that I've even got hands." Kiko flexed her fingers.


            "Really what would you have instead?"


            "Grabby claws, tentacles, death rays. Something crazy and stupid." Kiko rolled her eyes. "Damn Angels."


            "Don't worry, you'll kill many more," Shinju happily promised as she walked to the targets and used little strips of tape to cover up Kiko's holes.


            "I guess you should count your blessings where you can," Toji coughed.


            "Oh? You mean like how I'm an advanced cybernetic war machine forced to train with a hundred and forty year old weapons?"


            "Evangelions are surgical weapons... by mass destruction standards," Toji sighed. "You're the one that told me that."


            Kiko pouted.


            "Fine, we'll run some shoot-house drills with your carbines. Will that be okay?" Katrina asked, eliciting a nod from the gynoid. Katrina then reset the timer and turned to Shinju. "Ready?"


            Shinju nodded. The buzzer went off and she spun around in a blur. After snap-drawing in one motion, she used her support hand to snap the hammer back and quickly fired all six shots.


            Speed loader already in her off hand, she thumbed back the release; the cylinder and barrel rotated forward on the hinge. The retention clasp failed, and propelled by the spur spring the cylinder shot off the gun.


            For a split second, red eyes tracked the flying cylinder. She then dropped the gun grabbed her combat knife and in the same extending motion threw the blade into the right-most target. Unsnapping her spade, Shinju sprinted the remaining seven yards and with a long side-arm sweep decapitated the remaining two targets.


            Sighing, Katrina manually stopped the timer. "Do you really think that counts?"


            After retrieving her knife, Shinju blinked at Katrina. "We're supposed to stay in the fight."

            "Very good!" Igor laughed. "Yes, kill them all!" He raised an eyebrow at Katrina. "Things go wrong; did you really expect her to run away when they did?"


            Smiling Shinju began to collect the parts of her revolver. She looked at the top-strap and where the retaining lugs for the cylinder had been sheared off. "Would this happen on the full scale model?" she asked, holding the part up to Igor.


            Igor's brow furrowed. "Possible, this shouldn't have happened on a small-scale at all. We will need to inform Captain Horaki."


            Lev stepped up and blinked at the part. "Doesn't the full scale version use a different retaining system? There's like grooves and a bolted support structure around the axial."


            Katrina gave a pitying smile. "We report these kinds of weapons failures. The sad truth is that the full-scale weapons don't get nearly enough field use to shake them down."


            "Really?" Lev asked an eyebrow. "They're just artillery pieces, sure they're fitted to be fired by giant robots, but there's got to be some sort of cradle to –well- bench fire them."


            Katrina nodded. "There is, and there's even plenty of practice ammunition for the pieces, but that's still nothing compared to the stresses of actually using the weapons."


            "Yes." Shinju sadly nodded. "Take Wisky, my original Mark 9; she broke after I used her as a club, poor Dearie."


            "You do have BB63, the Mighty Mo, now," Rei reminded.


            "Kensuke couldn’t stop giggling when he heard that," Toji sighed. "Such a geek."


            "Do I want to know?" Adjusting her holster, Kiko eyed him, her orange eyes washed out by the green lenses of her shooting glasses.


            Toji shook his head. "No, not really."


            Down range, Igor finished repairing the targets, including taping back on two heads. He turned and gave a thumbs up and lumbered away. He walked past the other pilots and to the guarded pavilion just outside the range and opened one of the cases resting on the table.


            Lev tapped Toji on the shoulder. "You're up."


            "Right, right." Shaking his hands, Toji walked up to the target and turned his back to them.


            Lev reset the clock. "Look, I know you're not gonna win, but I think you can beat at least one of them. Shinju had to finish with a knife."


            "Gee thanks." Toji sighed before getting into position, with his hands raised up.


            The buzzer sounded.


            Further up range the other three Pilots watched the drill. "Rookie's getting better, I guess," Kiko allowed.


            "Practice," Rei stated as Toji reloaded and finished the shoot.


            "Meanies." Hearing Lev shout the time, Shinju clapped her hands. "Adequate job, Toji!"


            Turning back from the range, Kiko put her fingers under her glasses and rubbed her eyes. "Princess... you do know that that's not a compliment right?"


            "It's accurate," Rei countered.


            "You're such a pod, Wondergirl."


            Rei tilted her head.


            Kiko snorted. "And you, Princess, now you're doing it on purpose."


            Lip quivering, Shinju lowered her head.


            Snapping the cylinder to his revolver shut, Toji holstered his revolver. "Being mean again?" he asked the gynoid.


            "Oh, you're taking her side?" Kiko asked.


            "Not really, you being angry and Shinju seeming sad, is the natural order of things."


            Kiko narrowed her eyes.


            Returning down range, Igor handed Shinju a fresh revolver. "New gun," the bearish man rumbled. "Will replace broken part and give back old gun after report."


            Snapping the action open, Shinju inspected the cylinder. As she worked the hammer, her expression brightened. Grinning, she loaded the weapon and holstered. "Thank you!" she chirped in Russian giving Igor a quick hug.


            "And how does this fit with your little 'sad Shinju' theory?" Kiko asked.


            "Give a little girl a new gun and of course she'd cheer up," Toji shrugged.


            Kiko blinked. "You... you don't spend much time around girls?"


            "Have you met my sister?"


            The gynoid laughed. "Fine, what else?"


            "Well, there's training every day with you guys."


            Kiko flicked an ear-blade. "Yeah, good influence, Rookie. You do realize that not every girl loves guns."


            "Really? Huh." Toji rubbed his chin. "Well... Hikari does get pretty bored when I talk about this stuff."


            "See." Kiko said. "Now please tell me you won't bore her to tears tonight."


            "She told you about our date?"


            "Hikari is my friend."


            "You finally asked out Hikari?" Shinju asked.


            "Yeah, just a bite to eat and maybe go to the overlook. It's not a big deal."


            Kiko snorted. "Wrong. Anytime you go someplace it's a big deal. Well, I guess you could just hang out with her here."


            "She was getting a bit annoyed at that." Toji coughed. "Still I'm better than Kensuke's or Shirane's fan-gushing."


            "Shirane-chan's still gushing?" Shinju asked as she replenished her speed loaders. "I have been taking her to the range."


            Toji exhaled. "Yeah... that's just encouraging her."


            Shinju frowned. "Good?"


            "Good? She's becoming- she's becoming like us."


            "She is your sister," Rei stated putting an arm around Shinju. "Siblings are useful."


            Shinju blushed happily.


            Toji nodded. "Yeah, so I guess its only a matter of time before she starts sleeping with a gun under her pillow."


            Shinju tilted her head. "What kind of wimpy girl doesn't?"


            "I don't," Kiko grumbled.


            "You sleep in a giant plastic tube."


            "Thanks for reminding me, Rookie."


            "Just saying... you don't actually have a pillow."


            "Yes I do. It's just... waterproof, and bolted to the wall, and has an open slot where my brain prosthesis gets plugged in." Kiko looked down. "Can we stop talking about this."


            "Awww sad Kiko-chan," Shinju slipped out of Rei's loose hug and put her arms around Kiko.


            "I'm not sad!" Kiko pouted


            Igor exhaled. "Yes, yes you happy killing machine. Much like Princess."


            Shinju cheered.


            "Now, we go back to shooting. Hostage practice."


            "Not with live targets. Right?" Toji pleaded.


            Holding his belly, Igor laughed.


            "Awww, poor baby doesn't want to get shot," Kiko teased.


            "Yes!" Toji yelled.


            "No, no." Katrina sighed. "You're much to valuable to risk downrange."


            "So, we'll just have to wait until battle?" Shinju quietly asked.


            "Not helping..." Toji sighed.


            Katrina nodded. "I'll talk with Major Osumi for the next wargame."


            Toji sighed. "Damn."

 

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

 


            "I guess Asuka, well... I guess Kiko is doing well enough." Catching herself, Hikari frowned. "She seems... is happy the right word? I can't imagine what its like for her, but its not like she had an alternative is it?" Rising from the railing, she glanced at Toji.


            Still staring at the sprawl of Tokyo 3 below them, the Pilot absently nodded.


            "We're still friends, but I don't know sometimes she seems so alone."


             Toji shifted his shoulders causing his loose, untucked shirt tail to print against the sidearm on his hip.


            Hikari sighed. "You don't even know what I'm saying."


            A smirk flashed over Toji's face. "You're wondering if Kiko is still Asuka. You'd like thinkin' that she was inside all that armor and electronics, but you're afraid that your friend is lost. You might even be a little bit afraid of her, given what she's become."


            Hikari exhaled sharply. "So, you're worried too?"


            "About her?" Toji stared at the city, watching the cars and trains move about. He looked up and saw the jet contrails that normally crisscrossed the sky; it was all so fragile. He rolled his shoulders again. "No, not really. Like you said, she's got no choice. We've got no choice. I do think she'll do the best she can, if that matters."


            "I never thought you'd be so fatalist."

            Toji looked over at the Russians that had surrounded them. "Yeah."


            "Are things really that bad?"


            Straightening up Toji looked down at the freckled girl. "They're-" He closed his eyes. "No... I can't say. You wouldn't want to know anyway."


            "My friend's been turned into a mini-mecha. What could Nerv be hiding that's worse?"


            Toji laughed.


            Hikari's face darkened.


            "Er, sorry." he coughed. "Look it's, um, Nerv."


            "You see what I'm talking about?" Hikari sighed. "I'm worried about Asuka, I'm worried about you."


            Toji shrugged.


            "Why'd you even agree to this?"


            The pilot clenched his bottom three fingers but kept his right pointer finger held straight. "I told you; we've got no choice."


            "Sure the others were trained to this since they were little kids, but you're new at this you could have said no."


            Toji laughed. "And what kind of a man would I be?"


            "You're fourteen!"


            "So? That's plenty old enough to get dumped into the cockpit and be plenty tough. Just look at Kiko and Rei. Hell Rei's twelve-year old little sister can kick my ass." His bitter laugh returned. "They all can."


            Hikari nodded. "It's Shirane isn't it?"


            Toji set his jaw. "Yup. Old bastard. He knew she'd jump at the chance; he knows little sisters can pilot-"


            "Yeah she'd jump at the chance, cheering all the way." Hikari laughed.


            "She likes these robots way too much," Toji grumbled.


            "I thought you liked yours?" Hikari raised an eyebrow. "You did gush about it's paint scheme and how you don't have to share with Kiko."


            Toji flexed his hands. "That's different."


            "How?"


            "For one, sharing an Eva with Kiko is just freaky. It felt... wrong."


            "She is part Eva..."


            "Yeah that's it." Toji nodded. "There was too much, er, Kiko. As for the rest. It's cool, scary, but cool. And it's still a thing, a tool you know? To me at least."


            "What do you mean?" Hikari raised an eyebrow.


            "I guess Kiko doesn't count, with all that talk about Unit 02 being her greater self, and Shinju's about as close with her Eva. It's less creepy when she treats it like it's another giant puppy. Rei's about the only normal one. With her it's a tool; I hope."


            "Oh." Hikari tapped the guardrail. "Shinju would be like that. It is a giant purple weapon."


            Toji smiled. "Yeah, she's like that. She can be real cute, real scary but cute."


            "So, you're afraid of a tiny pre-teen girl?"


            "It's Shinju."


            "Aww, are the ruffles too much? Or maybe it's her puppy."


            "Right, let's ignore the red eyes or her gleeful mayhem."


            "Sure, she can be enthusiastic," Hikari's eyes flicked down, "but it's still cute."


            "Disarming, infectious."


            "You're sounding pretty paranoid."


            This time Toji's laugh was bitter. He then waved his hand at the collection of Russians, with Lev nearly at his side.


            "And who would she infect? I mean Rei's, well, Rei, and Asuka is... Kiko. Are you worried about little Lolita dresses?"


            "Nah, ain't me." Toji snorted.


            "Oh," Hikari nodded in understanding. "You know you can't protect your sister from everything."


            "My giant robot and platoon of Russian special forces says otherwise."


            "Naval Infantry," Lev discretely corrected.


            "Right, my mistake," Toji snickered. "Point is I'm not sure I like the influence Shinju has on my sister, on the other hand..."


            "Your sister was one of Shinju's first real friends?"


            Toji nodded.


            "Yeah, Nozomi mentioned that to me. Look, it cuts both ways our sisters are helping Shinju become more normal," Hikari said.

            "Aren't they the reason Shinju dresses like some gothic princess?"


            Hikari blinked. "Um."


            "See!"


            Frowning, Hikari looked back out at the city. "What are you trying to say? Should our sisters not be friends with Shinju?"


            "Nah," Toji shook his head. "I like Shinju. She's got heart, but she's not normal. I don't know what's happening to us, all of us."


            There was a crackle of static as Lev spoke into his radio. He then stepped forward and put a hand on Toji's shoulder. "Warrant, a word please."


            Toji's eyes went to Hikari.


            "I'm sorry, but this is Pilots only."


            "Be right back, babe." Toji sighed and followed Lev away from the observation point and to where the BTR-80s they had arrived in were parked. "What's going on? It can't be an attack, else you'd have thrown me in and stormed off." Toji rapped a knuckle against the armored vehicle.


            Lev coughed. "I'm sorry for the deception. but allow me some advice."


            "Advice?" Toji followed Lev's gaze, back to Hikari who had resumed looking over the city. "Geeze, you're giving me relationship advice?"


            "If you'll call this a relationship." Lev chuckled.


            "Oh man..." Toji rubbed his forehead. "None of the other Azazel guys did this."


            "They were a bit distant with you," Lev frowned. "Too attached to their own charges."


            "No, not that. They didn't give romantic advice to their pilots either."


            "Why would they?" Lev asked.


            "I dunno, Rei's always reading those girly books."


            "True, but she doesn't actually have any prospects, as far as I know, anyway. The only boys in your age group who really stand out are you, and Aida."


            Toji laughed. "Yeah, and let's not talk about Kensuke's prospects."


            "How serious is your sister's crush?" Lev lightly asked.


            "That's enough." Toji rubbed his forehead. "Okay back to me and Hikari. Do you know about relationships?" He asked, noting the absence of a wedding ring on the solid man's hand.


            "I was a professional hockey player."


            Toji nodded. "Good enough. So, what do you think?"


            "Show more interest in her concerns. She's just as worried about her family as you are. That gives her the chance to vent and allows you to support her. She'll realize that you can listen to her and care what you think."


            "Yeah, but I don't know how to solve any of that. I'm just as worried as she is!"


            "Good. Empathy very seductive. If she believes that you care what she thinks you'll get a lot more latitude with her."


            "I do care what Hikari thinks."


            "Excellent!" Lev slapped Toji on the back. "Sincerity easier, lies take effort to maintain. The less lying the better."


            "I suppose it's best to minimize the secrets I have to keep from her."


            Lev nodded. "Such is the bane of our work."


            Toji raised an eyebrow. "Was this just some romantic advice? Or is this another little lesson?"


            Lev chuckled. "You're getting paranoid."


            "Yeah, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong." Toji looked back at Hikari. "I suppose it's not as blatant as giving a little girl a giant puppy."


            "Size means nothing. Dogs need a dominant, alpha leader; a being who is calm and strong minded." Lev stated. "Unstable humans make unstable dogs. If you lack confidence, a dog will not listen to your commands."


            "Right, no hidden motivations at work there."


            "Such cynicism in one so young. Is it so unreasonable to envision the Russian Federation giving an allied war hero a simple gift? Must you see shadowy figures and secret plots."


            Toji blinked, then snickered. "Wow, you're almost as good at deadpan sarcasm as Rei."


            "You'll want to work on that. Easier to stay sane that way."


            "So I can be as sane as Rei? Wonderful." Toji sighed. "I guess she is the second sanest Pilot."


            "I wouldn't say that around Shinju or Kiko." Lev thought for a moment. "Rei too."


            "Great, any other advice?"


            "Just remember that it's her problems you're listening too. She's worried enough about you."


            "Right the whole Pilot thing," Toji nodded and started walking back to Hikari. He glanced back at the Azazel officer at his heel. "Thanks Lev."


            "So? What was that all about?" Hikari asked, tapping her foot.


            Toji looked to Lev.


            "Just a check back to base and some signals training." Lev crisply bowed his head. "Apologizes for the delay."


            Hikari eyed the Russian with his slightly crooked nose and sprawling facial scars. "Yeah no problem. It's important and all."


            Nodding again, Lev took a couple steps back, at the very least leaving Hikari's immediate vision.


            Toji cleared his throat. "So, you're worried about Kiko? What else is on your mind?"


            Hikari glanced at the Russians, specifically Lev. "Kiko's got it the worst, but I guess you're right, I'm worried... about all of you."


            "Even Shinju?" Toji asked with mock levity.


            "Of course, she's the youngest. For heaven's sake Toji, she's in elementary school. She's going to grow up thinking this is normal."


            "For her it is," Toji muttered..


            "There's a reason using child soldiers is normally considered a war crime."


            "It's not like we have a choice. I mean what's the alternative?"


            "Child soldiers or nuclear weapons? Lovely."


            Toji smirked. "Besides, you tell Shinju that she's a war crime and she'll cheer."


            Hikari laughed. "She would wouldn't she?"


            "It's Shinju." Toji repeated. "How are things going with your family? I have a pretty good idea what Nozomi's up to but what about Kodama, she's knee-deep in Nerv too."


            Hikari nodded. "Yeah... heading procurement is not fun. She nearly strangled Kiko's father when he gave her a list of all the parts and tools he needed to –um- save her."


            "She did get them. Kiko was... built." Toji shook his head.


            "Of course, she's Kodama Horaki. Fulfilling mad scientists' demands is her job."


            "Don't forget the Commander," Toji laughed.


            "He can't be worse than Kiko's father. At least he's not an obsessive nut."


            Recalling Ikari's piercing, focused gaze, Toji shrugged. "Sure. Sure."


            Hikari raised an eyebrow. "Something wrong?"


            "They're both very driven. I don't think either has a life outside of their work." Toji glanced back at Lev. "At least Insana's got science, I don't know what's pushing Ikari. I'm not sure I want to know."


            Hikari frowned.


            Recalling Lev's advice Toji winced. "Sorry for bringing that up. I guess that's just a part of being in Nerv. Everyone is really, really driven: Ritsuko, Kiko, do I even need to mention the Ayanamis? Look at what they've done, look at what they've sacrificed," his voice grew remote.


            "What about you?" Reaching out, Hikari took his hand. "Don't sell yourself short. You kept that thing with Kensuke and Kiko from blowing up."


            "I didn't want him to get hurt." Toji grinned weakly. "I'll do the job. I'll fight, but..."


            "But?"


            "But I'm not like them. They're naturals." Toji coughed. "Take the Ayanamis, it's like they were born to fight Angels."


            "They were raised by Nerv, Asuka too. Ah." Hikari nodded. "But wasn't all their old training really bad?"


            "Sure, that's why I'm not that far behind, but still..." Toji squeezed Hikari's hand back. "Take Shinju, it's like the Commander. Something inside is pushing her. I mean she's twelve years old!"


            "Isn't she doing it for her sisters?" Hikari asked. "It's love."


            "Yeah, but what about the Commander? You can't tell me that love's driving that old bastard."


            Hikari laughed.


            "Well, maybe it's good that he's in charge."


            "Oh?"


            "Sure, Captain Ayanami can get real heated in battle, impulsive even, and Shinju's even worse. Ask Kiko how many times Shinju's shot her."


            "Shot at her."


            "With an N2 warhead." Toji released her hand and tried for Hikari's shoulder. "And then there's Kiko. She's very spirited."


            "You mean angry."


            "Not quite." Toji bit his lip. "There's annoyed and then there's angry. I don't think we've seen her truly enraged."


            Hikari frowned at his distant words.


            Toji gave a weak smile. "All I'm saying is that that emotion needs to be..."


            "Tempered? That raw passion has to be channeled?"


            He nodded.


            "So you think Nerv needs someone cold and calculating in charge."


            "Yeah, take your sister."


            Looking at how Toji's arm was draped over her shoulder, Hikari raised an eyebrow.


            "Err, not the cold stuff, but she is a good influence. Stable, grounded. Just think of how bad it'd be if it were some crazy romantic or grandiose science-nut running things. No, Nerv needs all the help it can get."


            Hikari leaned onto Toji. "Well, maybe that's your role. Maybe you can help reign in the Pilots. Temper their passions."


            Toji looked down at her and sighed. "Damn."

 

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

 


            Stepping into her bedroom, Kiko eyed the regeneration tube. The open chamber was inviting, tempting. Halfway across the room, she looked down and frowned. A quiet whine escaped her lips.


            "Is problem?" Katrina asked, standing at the door.


            Reaching the chamber, Kiko slowly ran a hand over the seals on the hatch. "No, I love being stuffed in a tube to get recharged and waxed," she sharply stated.


            "Is that why you're caressing the damn thing?"


            Kiko pouted. "The drugs, can't forget the drugs."


            "Is it really that bad?"


            Kiko raised an eyebrow.


            "Ah," Katrina nodded. "But part of you likes it?"


            "Yes, but not with any real passion."


            "So not like cake?"


            Kiko smiled dreamily. "Did you have any of Shinju's Black Forrest?"


            "Yes, she is a natural." Katrina nodded. "But liking sweets is one thing, this is a tube."


            "Part of me is Evangelion. Also, no nightmares." Turning back to the tube, Kiko's expression softened. "Maybe this is how Eva's sleep. Do you think they dream?"


            "Will you be okay?"


            "Yeah, sure. I'll just get into my tube like a good girl." Kiko's sarcastic tone waned on the last words.


            "Should I call your father?"


            "Hah." Kiko laughed. "Why, so Daddy Dearest can tuck his little science project in?"


            "I was thinking that he could setup a more normal sleeping arrangement for you."


            Kiko blinked.


            "You told me that he was against this whole regeneration tube thing, that it was Dr. Akagi's and the Commander's idea."


            "A bed?" The gynoid smiled dreamily, her choker flashing purple. "Like a giant four poster bed with a canopy, fluffy cloud-like pillows, and layers and layers of soft quilting."


            "You're describing Shinju's bed."


            Kiko blushed. "It is very comfortable."


            "Right, I was more thinking your original bedding. It's just in storage. We could bring it up, if your father approved."


            "If." Kiko glared at the tube. "I'm tired, Katrina."


            "More than physically it seems."


            "That just adds to it." Kiko checked the display screen on the tube. "Today was long like –well- every day. Though Toji did beat me on that last hostage round."


            "You did get the best time."


            "Sure, by grazing the hostage target." Kiko laughed. "But that's the thing, I’m tired, and I don't want to deal with my father. Not right now."


            Katrina walked towards the gynoid. "If you want, I could handle him."


            Orange multi-pupiled eyes shimmered in delight. "Would you? Nah... I think killing him would cause more problems than it solves."


            "Not quite what I had in mind," Katrina shook her head. "Are you okay?"


            Blinking, Kiko looked up from the display. "I'm an abomination of science; I sleep in a tube. So, no. I'm not okay."


            "Good, I was worried you were taking all this too in stride." Katrina rubbed her chin. "Though I suppose you get your most apprehensive around bedtime, meals, and when you have to go to the bathroom."


            "Please... I really don't like... " Kiko shivered in revulsion. "But thanks for reminding me, about something good the tube does for me."


            Katrina nodded in sympathy. "Moments when you feel your most vulnerable, most inhuman."


            "Also gross. You've seen what it's like down there, all armor and seals. Stupid crazy father," Kiko muttered.


            Katrina coughed. "Yes, well."


            "Oh?" Kiko cackled. "Does that make you uncomfortable"


            Standing before the regeneration chamber, Katrina studied the device. "It does seem rather personal."


            "You've seen that stuff." Kiko raised an eyebrow. "After Rei sucker punched me in the crotch."


            "Yes, not something I really want to pry about."


            "Not like I have any privacy." Kiko tried to adjust the recharge cycle and frowned. "And it looks like I don't even have full permissions on the software that runs my own stupid tube."


            "To keep you from hurting yourself?"


            "I'm powered off and cushioned in LCL, this is probably my father's doing," Kiko grumbled.


            "Were you trying to turn off the recorder?"


            Kiko's bought of bitter laughter degenerated into light sobs. "What's the point? I've got a blackbox running in my own damn head."


            "It's okay." Katrina circled back and pulled the gynoid in a one-armed hug.


            Kiko leaned her head on the larger woman's shoulder. "I'm not okay; you know that."


            This close Katrina could not help but stare at the girl's earblades and other prosthetics. At such an extreme proximity the illusion of humanity was completely shattered. Even her skin had an unnatural sheen and stiffness. "You've got friends; you've got comrades. You have a cause; you have a reason to fight." Katrina tightened her arm, feeling the strangely flexible armor give under her embrace.


            Kiko gave a little whine.


            "At least there's proof that you're not a robot," Katrina chuckled.


            Blinking, Kiko looked up at the blonde. "Oh?"


            "Robots don't have existential crises. They don't question their purpose; they don't have all this human baggage. You do."


            The gynoid cracked a smile. "So, my flaws make me human?"


            "They prove you're more than a machine." Katrina gave another squeeze. "No, if you came out of this confidently obedient and eagerly assured... then I'd worry."


            "You're describing Shinju." Kiko lightly laughed.


            "And the other Ayanamis," Katrina noted with a slight frown, before turning to Kiko. "Are you okay to go to sleep?"


            Glancing at the tube, Kiko nodded.


            "You won't have nightmares?"


            "I told you, I don't get those." Kiko bit her lip. "My dreams are... normal. Mostly you guys." Slipping out of Katrina's embrace she went to the front of the tube.


            Forcing herself to nod in agreement, Katrina helped Kiko into the inclined chamber. She watched as the gynoid's anxiety abate and a sort of serenity passed over her.


            Rolling onto her back, Kiko felt her power socket and pharmaceutical supply plug align. The door slid shut and locked into place. As LCL flooded the chamber she leaned back into the soft padding and felt her mind drift. Kiko saw Katrina's remote concerned expression, just before her consciousness cut out.

 

End Chapter 9

 

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.