“Misato, no! Don't do this!” shouted Patrick as he stood in front of her desk, clenching his fists in angered protest while Rei stoically stood alongside.
Leaning forward, Misato folded her hands together as she gave Patrick an unusually serious look. “The story that she gave us when she came here doesn't match the story that you gave us from your visions. Until we can work out which story is correct we're putting her on a security hold as we investigate everything.”
“But why can't I see her?”
“Because I need to determine if she's a potential threat or not,” the colonel explained. “Patrick, think about it: if what you're saying is correct and she was held somewhere else for the last few months, that doesn't match with her story of just waking up at the hospital. She could be lying.”
“Or she could be scared!”
“Possibly. We just need to investigate further and then we'll figure out what to do. In the meantime pilot security is ultimately my responsibility and I'm not going to expose any pilot to an undue risk, especially after what happened to us in the mountains a few weeks ago.”
“Fine, I get that,” Patrick argued, “but can't I at least see her? It's my sister we're talking about!”
Misato was firm. “I understand your feelings, but you just need to be bit more patient.” Patrick's temper was unfortunately still out of his control.
“This is so much bullshit!” he yelled at Misato. “You guys promised me you'd find her and bring her back and now you won't even let me see her!”
Misato stood up from the desk, her own temper now flaring. “Think it through, Forrestal! Or are you telling me that your visions don't mean anything? Kaji and I took what you told us at face value and now he's out there, possibly somewhere very dangerous, because of what you said. Or were you just making that up?!”
The boy shuddered a bit, unnerved by Misato's fiery response. “No, no,” he protested. “I saw what I saw.”
“Then let us make sure everything checks out. I wouldn't want Kaji-san to be in danger because of something you just dreamed up. In the meantime, you don't go to see her. That's an order.” Patrick was about to continue his protest but Misato then cut him off. “That's it! Disobey and I'll restrict you to the Boys' suite except for training and deployments. Understand?”
“Fine,” Patrick growled, turning his back on Misato and leaving her office.
Rei remained in Misato's office for a moment after Patrick left. As the boy bolted out the door Misato leaned back in her chair and let out a long, frustrated sigh. She looked at Rei and said “try to talk some sense into him, will you?” Rei nodded without saying anything and then promptly went out the door.
After exiting Misato's office Rei walked down the corridor as she searched for Patrick. It didn't take long to find him, as within a few seconds she heard crashing noises coming from around a corner. She picked up her pace and then as she turned the hallway corner found Patrick furiously slamming his fists into a drink vending machine.
Patrick was so enraged that he then grabbed a small, silver cylindrical trash can that was standing next to the machine. He was about to lift it over his head when without saying a word Rei gently placed her palm on his shoulder. The boy violently swung around to his left, his eyes bulging with anger until he saw who it was that had touched him. Shocked he suddenly dropped the trash can on the floor. He panted heavily for the next few seconds. Comically, from the now damaged vending machine that he was pounding on a small paper cup dropped out and then fell to the ground, and soda came pouring out and onto the floor. Two black-suited security guards also arrived at the scene, but did nothing but watch the couple from a distance.
The boy managed to calm himself down as Rei glared at him, her hands now at her sides. Looking around him, he saw the damaged machine in front of him, now spilling out several flavors of drinks. “I always hated that machine anyway,” he remarked, trying to find some humor in the situation.
“Your reactions are useless,” she told him in a voice without emotion.
“Probably,” he said. Taking another look at the damaged machine he said with a sheepish grin “Sorry. I guess that's our date money for the next month!” Rei didn't respond, but remained standing until Patrick's smile was gone from his face.
After they both cleaned up the mess on the floor from the leaked beverages, Patrick and Rei both went to the pilot lounge to talk. He plopped down on one of the easy chairs as she picked out two iced green teas from a small fridge in the room. Rei handed one to Patrick who sloppily gulped it down as she gently opened and sipped her own.
“You do believe me when I talk about what I see in my visions, right?” he asked her.
“I do, which is why Misato is correct in holding your sister.”
Patrick couldn't help but be agitated with Rei's response. “Whose side are you on?”
“Considering the contradiction between what you saw and what she said it's the most logical response.”
“If she's such at threat why don't we just lock her up in a prison cell, then?” Patrick said facetiously.
“Because what you hope for may be correct, but we do not yet have all of the facts.”
“So she just sits there until they investigate or whatever. Such crapola!” Patrick crumpled up the aluminum can of the iced tea that he just finished and threw it towards a distant wastebasket. The two of them remained silent for a moment as Rei continued to sip her tea.
“You're upset because you are prevented from contacting with her,” she told him in a straightforward manner.
“Of course! Damn it fourteen years this shit goes on and no one sees it from our point of view!”
Rei set her tea down on a nearby table and stood up to face Patrick. “If your link to your sister through the EVA is the source of your visions there are only three possibilities to consider,” she said to him. Patrick sat up on the chair.
“Okay, I'm listening.”
“First: her memory has been altered. If that is true, then her captors would have been the ones to alter it. That leads to further questions, such as why would they do this and why would they release her. She could be programmed to react in some harmful way once she encounters NERV or yourself.” Patrick thought to protest but then just decided to her Rei out, nodding in reluctant agreement. “Go on,” he told her.
“Second: she is lying but her motivation is from fear. She is afraid the Alliance will not believe her or protect her.”
“She's afraid of someone from inside of the Alliance?”
“Or NERV, perhaps.”
“Then who would that be?”
“Again, unknown. Third: she is lying to conceal her true objectives. She is attempting to infiltrate NERV.”
“No way!” Patrick expounded. “There's no way she would do that!”
Rei ignored his outburst. “The explanation must be one of these three. In two of these possibilities, she is potentially a threat.”
“I can't...I can't believe that she's a threat to anyone! In the beginning she was trying to get to my cabin to get help from me in the first place! How could she be trying to go against us?”
“Do you know that to be true?” Rei asked him.
“Well...it had to be! I mean, she was just clinging onto me when she got there, there was real fear in her eyes! No way that she was just faking that!”
“There is too much uncertainty,” Rei concluded. “It's impossible to know why she is here and why her story contradicts yours until it’s investigated further.”
“But if she's afraid of someone here,” added Patrick, “she probably won't open up to anyone...except me.”
“Forri-kun, she could be a threat to you,” warned Rei. He shook his head. “No. Not her. This thing between us goes two ways. If I know her like this, she has to know me too.”
Inside the girls’ suite, Asuka waited outside of Hikari’s bedroom as she changed. Asuka wore a black tank-style leotard with a pink-colored top, and as Hikari emerged she wore the same outfit with the exception of her top being colored soft yellow. She looked quite embarrassed as she showed Asuka her new physical training clothes. “Well, what do you think?”
The redhead nodded her approval, as the leotard showed off Hikari’s slender figure quite well. “Not bad, you look pretty cute wearing that.”
Hikari was not as impressed. “I feel naked wearing this.”
“Trust me, you get used to it,” Asuka remarked. “Just wait until you get a plugsuit: nothing left to the imagination.”
The other girl nodded nervously. “I guess it’s okay, I sort of like the way I can move around in it. I just don’t want Toji to see me in this thing.”
Asuka raised an eyebrow. “He’s seen you in a swimsuit already, right? What’s the big deal?”
“I don’t know, this just seems more…revealing.” Examining herself in a full-length mirror mounted on her bedroom door, Hikari changed the subject. “Why didn’t you go on leave today with Shinji?” Hikari said to her from inside the bedroom.
“Because he’s going to see that other girl today,” replied Asuka.
Hikari nodded in recognition of who Asuka was referring to. “You didn’t want to go with him?”
“Nope. He’ll be all sentimental and sad, and I hate it when he’s like that. Let the dead bury the dead, so they say.”
“At least he keeps her memory,” said Hikari.
Asuka leaned inside the doorway. “By the way, where’s the Brit?”
“Lusty-chan got leave today too. She said she was going outside for a walk in fresh air.” Asuka narrowed her glance at the class representative. “You don’t think they’ll going in the same direction, do you?”
After Hikari left for her physical training session, Asuka picked up her mobile phone and called Kikuchi, who answered on the first ring.
“Yes, Miss Langley.”
“Kaji said when he was away if I had any security problems I could report them to you.”
“What’s the trouble?”
“Can you tell me the location of pilots Ikari and Illustrious?”
What am I, a babysitter? “Why don’t you just call him?” Kikuchi replied in an annoyed voice. “I’m sure he’ll tell you if you ask him.”
“I’m very concerned about pilot Ikari’s safety and well-being,” said Asuka in an imperious voice. “I need you to help me conduct surveillance of him to be sure that he’s not in any kind of danger.”
“He’s an Evangelion pilot,” the agent argued, not wanting to be involved in any of the pilot’s personal affairs. “I think he can handle a walk in the countryside.”
Unfortunately for Kikuchi Asuka wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer. “Help me or I swear that when he gets back I will tell Kaji that you were using surveillance cameras to spy on me in the bathrooms.”
“Nice try,” the agent calmly responded, “he’s not stupid and neither am I.”
“Then I’ll tell the Admiral.”
“Go ahead,” Kikuchi said calmly. “You’ll just look more like an idiot for wasting everyone’s time.”
“What’s with you? Did someone take your gonads off?”
“Miss Langley,” Kikuchi explained as he ignored the insult, “right now I have six agents with the two of them plus a surveillance drone. He’s not in any meaningful danger.”
The pilot steeled herself further. “In the interests of maintaining morale and proper relations among the pilots I’m going out there,” she declared, “and if you don’t want me to do anything we’ll all regret later you had better go with me!”
There was a pause on the phone. “Fine. Elevator Five. Five minutes.”
Asuka smiled. “Thank you!” she said in a cheerful voice and hung up the phone.
Shinji walked along the hillside going south, looking up at the sky as he did so. It was a cloudy day today, with a slight cool breeze blowing his brown hair as he made his way forward. He wore a green rain jacket over his sweater and blue pants, and kept an umbrella in his hand in case he needed it. At the pace he was going at it would take him another thirty minutes to reach his destination, a place he hadn’t been to since last year during the Angel Wars of the previous year.
He heard footsteps behind him but didn’t bother to look at first, as he knew NERV security would be shadowing him as they usually did. The footfalls seemed to get closer to him, so after another minute he finally turned around.
Walking about fifty yards behind him was Mari. She wore a green rain jacket like his, but with a black turtleneck sweater and plaid skirt, black tights and boots. She continued towards him as he waited for her to catch up. “Good morning, Puppy-kun!” she called to him.
“Lusty-chan,” he replied, quite surprised at her presence.
Mari stopped right in front of Shinji. “I’ll be honest. I heard you were going out alone and figured I might join you. Is it alright?”
“Of course,” Shinji said, and he turned to continue on with Mari walking alongside.
“By the way,” she said to him, “where are we going?”
“I’m going to visit someone,” he said softly. He kept going and Mari didn’t ask anything further.
Within another thirty minutes they reached their destination. A small lake was in front of them. Mari took a careful look around them as Shinji started searching for something on the ground. As Mari studied the lake she realized that the shape was too circular to be a completely natural formation. “This is a bomb crater.” she told Shinji.
“Yep,” Shinji said to her as he scanned the ground in front of him. After another minute he found what he was looking for, a small mound of dirt that was piled up next to the lake crater. He sat on his heels and carefully felt the dirt in front of him, making sure the little memorial was still secure. Mari walked up to him and also knelt down next to the mound as Shinji looked on in silence.
“It’s for Kirishima-chan, isn’t it?” Mari interrupted. Again he was surprised at her. “How…how did you know?”
“Hikari told me the story when I visited them in Osaka-2,” said Mari. “She said they never found her after what happened.”
Shinji closed his eyes and breathed deeply for a moment, clearly moved by what was in front of him. “She, um, was a pilot for something called T-RIDEN-T. It was a competitor for the EVA. Anyway, she was ordered to try to sneak into NERV somehow but we met and I guess we hit it off.”
“What was she like?”
“Really cheerful, and bubbly,” answered Shinji. “Pretty.”
“She seemed very sweet from what Hikari said. Not the sort of girl to get into trouble like that.”
“Yeah, she was in way over her head,” he recalled. “When she got caught we tried to rescue her but then the T-RIDENT-T unit showed up and she got inside with the pilot instead. They dropped an N2 right on top of it while Asuka and I watched inside Unit 02.“ Shinji paused for a long time as he looked at the mound, swallowing hard as memories of Mana flooded his mind. “We kept hoping that somehow there was an escape pod and she got out, but we never saw her again after that.”
“I never forgot her,” Shinji said. “She shouldn’t have had to go through this.”
“But you got to see that side of her,” said Mari. “At a dark time for both of your lives you had a good, solid moment of happiness. That doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.”
“I guess that’s one way of looking at it,” he said. “She didn’t have family, so we buried a necklace she had here.” he patted the little mound. “I hadn’t been back to this place since after the SEELE attack.”
Mari looked at him warmly. “Then let’s say a prayer for her, right here, so that wherever she is, she’s at peace.” Shinji nodded, a bit cautiously. “Okay.”
She then crossed herself, folded her hands on her lap, and closed her eyes, spending the next minute in silent prayer. Shinji didn’t do any of that, and in fact prayer was something of an unknown to him having never done it before that he could remember. Instead he just kept his eyes focused on the little memorial and tried to think of every good memory of Mana that he had. In his mind he could still see her in a white dress and hat, spending a sunny afternoon by Lake Ashi, holding her hand and gently kissing her in the glittering sunlight. He hoped with all his heart that she was alive and well, somewhere, and that she was happy, which Shinji figured was good enough as a prayer.
“Well,” Asuka asked as they hid behind the slope of a small hill with agent Kikuchi. “What are they doing?”
The agent looked ahead of them with electrobinoculars. “It appears that they are praying,” he said in a straightforward manner.
“Let me see,” she told him, pulling on his pantleg until the agent came down from the top of the slope. Before he could say anything she pulled the binoculars out of his hands. She motioned to the top of the slope. “Boost me up,” Asuka ordered. Without saying anything Kikuchi allowed Asuka to sit on his shoulders as he pushed her up to the hillside’s edge.
“You better not look up my skirt,” Asuka told him as she maneuvered along the top of the ridge to try and get a good look at the others.
“Sorry, I prefer women that are all grown-up,” Kikuchi defended as he carefully balanced her on his shoulders.
After their prayer both Shinji and Mari stood up by the memorial. “Thank you for sharing that with me,” Mari said to him.
“It’s no problem,” replied Shinji. “It’s probably better not to do these things alone.”
“You’re special in that way.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re considerate to want to keep the memory of her. Anyone could have excused you for just wanting to forget.”
Shinji looked away and off into the distance. “It’s like if I forget she doesn’t exist anymore,” he said. “And I couldn’t let that happen to her.” He looked up at Mari who was beaming at him and standing very closely.
“You’re a good person, Shinji Ikari,” she told him. “Don’t let anyone ever convince you otherwise.”
Shinji blushed a little at the compliment. “Thanks.”
The two of them faced each other for the shared moment. He could somehow feel closer to Mari, seeing her brilliant blue eyes brightly looking at him, and the soft, kind expression of her face. It was enough to make him forget for just a moment, and a moment was all that was needed.
Mari bent over and gently kissed Shinji on the lips. He closed his eyes and held his breath, feeling her tender lips touch his for a few seconds until his eyes went wide with realization of what they were doing. He quickly broke off the kiss.
“Um...You know, I probably shouldn’t have…”
The tall girl knew the reason behind his sudden reaction. “I’m sorry,” she told him, genuinely surprised herself at what had just happened between the two of them. “It’s my fault! I shouldn’t have been so forward like that.”
“It’s okay,” Shinji told her, blushing more now. “I understand your feelings too now.”
Mari nodded in agreement. “Do you forgive me for it?”
“Yes,” he said. “You’re great, you really are! But I guess I’m spoken for.”
“Alright,” Mari said, trying hard to hide her disappointment. “I suppose we should go back then?”
“Yeah,” agreed Shinji, and the two of them started their way back to the GeoFront. “I’m just glad no one else saw this.”
Behind the hill Asuka was paralyzed in shock as she watched the two children make their way back to NERV. Her hands quivered as she watched them slowly walk back together. She could feel her soul sink to depths even she had not realized she had until now.
“Hey,” Kikuchi whispered to her, “are you done yet?”
Asuka quickly hopped off his shoulders and onto the ground next to their little hill. She looked at him with fires burning inside of her eyes. “Oh, yeah,” she said in low voice. “You better believe we’re done.”
Continue to Chapter Thirty-Two