Dressed in his full NERV service uniform, Patrick waited impatiently in the hallway outside of the pilot's lounge. He looked carefully to see if anyone was around him and other than his ever-present black-suited bodyguard there wasn't anyone else there except for the occasional technician that walked by every minute or two. Seeing no one else and careful to stand as far away from his security detail as he could, Patrick removed his satellite mobile phone from his pocket and called a contact that he had spoken to perhaps only once or twice before.
“Ah, how may I help you Pilot Forrestal?” said Sir John.
Patrick immediately got to the point: “How can I see Erin Forrestal?
“That's understandable that you inquire,” the general responded with a cheerful voice. “I was about to ask for your help in fact.”
“I thought that your sister might be more open about how she came to be in that hospital if she spoke to you rather than someone else,” Sir John explained. “Are you contacting me because you don't want Col. Katsuragi to know you're trying to see your sister?”
“Yes. Misato has her on lockdown, I'm banned from seeing her at all!”
“I'm aware of the circumstances but I can make some arrangements. Are you available now?”
“Then Go to A Deck and then Conference Room 404. I'll see to it she's there for you to meet.”
Patrick’s heart nearly leapt out of his chest. “Thanks!
“Don't mention it.”
Without telling anyone Patrick ran to the elevators and then took the first available car to A Deck, a trip taking a few minutes. Once there he moved at nearly a full sprint until he reached the conference area, a set of meeting rooms in the top deck of the GeoFront that was for more general public access.
After a run of about twenty minutes Patrick arrived at conference room 404. A few steps behind was his black suited security guard, who had rushed the entire way along with him. Standing in front of the doorway of the conference was Wellington, who was dressed in a NERV operations uniform.
“Is she inside?” Patrick excitedly asked her.
“She is, you can go in there now,” she replied to the boy. As Forrestal entered, Wellington held back his security guard. “This is class 1 priority,” she explained to the tall Japanese man. “Go have a smoke down the hall. I’ll be watching over this for the moment. Oh, and, “ she pointed her finger downstairs, “per General Sheffield, none of the other NERV staff is to know why he’s here. Is that clear?”
The guard was reluctant at first but didn’t put up a fight. “Yes, Lieutenant.”
“Good boy. Now run along and I’ll let you know when he’s done.”
The conference room was small and sparse, with a security guard posted in front. Patrick walked inside and saw Erin seated on the other end of a small, round table. Dressed in a green-colored t-shirt and blue shorts with runners, she had a sullen expression and watched with anger as Patrick entered the room.
Patrick sat at the round table, trying to control his own emotions and hoping that Erin’s hostile reaction at their first meeting was just temporary. Unfortunately Patrick could see the quivering of her emerald eyes with that wounded look on her face, and knew that he would have an uphill climb with her.
“Hi,” he said to Erin, trying to be as warm as he could. “Thanks for seeing me.” Erin didn’t respond, but glared at him instead.
“It wasn’t my idea,” she scowled, speaking in American English as he did. “They told me I should go through with this, part of readjustment.”
“Well, you were out of things for a while. I’m sure that was a huge shock,” said Patrick. “I went through that myself, you know.” Erin again didn’t reply but just kept up the hostility, leaning back on the chair and folding her arms in disgust.
“Anyway,” Patrick continued as he struggled to keep the mood upbeat, “once they give you a full clearance I can take you down and have you meet the rest of the pilots. I’m sure they’d all like to see you.”
“Like I care.”
The boy tried to emphasize. “I know this sucks for you,” he told Erin, “I spent three months in…in nowhere locked inside the EVA. When I finally got pulled out, I found out that NERV-2 was totally gone.”
“Yeah, because you blew it to hell!” Erin shot back.
Patrick recoiled from the verbal assault, pausing to try to think about what to say next. I’m so stupid. I didn’t consider that she didn’t know anything about what Dad was doing to mess up NERV. Oh, man this is going to be really hard. “I didn’t do that,” he defended.
“You’re the only survivor,” she angrily told him. “How did that happen?”
“It happened because EVA wanted it to.”
“EVA?! You’re joking, right? EVA just did that on it’s own?”
“She did,” he told her, trying to keep calm. “and she didn’t’ kill them.”
“Then where the hell is everyone?”
“You got me there. She told me she put them out of harm’s way.”
Erin chuckled in angry laughter. “So it just talks to you then?”
Patrick leaned forward towards her. “Erin,” he said in a quiet voice, “do you not remember the last time you were in the EVA?”
“Of course I do. It was a harmonics test.”
“And then during the test what happened?”
“Nothing,” she said to him, “I just blacked out and then woke up months later in that hospital.”
“And you don’t remember something inside the entry plug?”
“No,” she exclaimed nervously, “what are you talking about?”
“Something came to you inside the entry plug,” Patrick told her in a low voice, “and she told you something, said it right to your face.”
Erin became more nervous and leaned away from him. “I don’t remember anything!”
“But it happened! I saw it happen.”
“Liar! You weren’t there.”
“I was,” he said, tapping the side of his head. “I dreamed about it after it happened.”
“Oh,” she said in mock disbelief, “you dreamed about it! You talk to the EVA and you dream about me talking to ghosts.” Erin laughed. “You are so messed up, there is no possible way I am related to you.”
“You told Vance that you had dreams about a boy in the mountains,” Patrick said to her. “Like you were inside of the boy.”
The girl was shocked by what Patrick had said, and was reluctant to speak at first as Patrick continued. “I know that because Vance told me about it, plus I know that because I’ve got Vance’s tablet and he taped you talking about it while you were visit at his house, and I also know that because when I was living up at Big Bear I had dreams all the time about you.”
“If you saw me say anything like that, it was just me being stupid,” she said to him, her voice becoming louder with more emotion. ”And I’m pretty sure I didn’t dream about you!”
“Then how did you end up at my cabin?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about!”
“You came to our cabin one night and I found you at the door,” said Patrick.”’What’s dead is alive! What’s alive is dead!’ Isn’t that what you said to me?”
Erin thought for a moment and then leaned forward. “And when did this supposedly happen?”
“Right after your accident.”
“Okay, then. So I just got out of the hospital and walked across the desert like three hundred miles to Big Bear Mountain from Second Branch,” she scoffed. “Really?”
“I don’t know how you made it there,” Patrick told her, “but you were there.”
“You sure it wasn’t some other stupid dream you had?”
Patrick finally lost his patience. “I’m not kidding you! I freaking saw you with my own two eyes. Then dad sent his men and that’s when I came to Second Branch.”
Erin sat back on the chair, arms folded. Her face held a determined look again. “Look, I don’t know where the hell you got all these ideas but I’m pretty sure I didn’t dream about you, or meet up with ghosts inside of the entry plug, or anything else. Why the hell do you want to do this to me?”
The boy shrugged his shoulders, trying to be at least commiserating. “If I was your twin wouldn’t you want to at least know more?”
“Let’s get this straight right now: You are not my brother, no possible way!”
Patrick pointed at his face. “So, any similarity in our appearance is entirely coincidental then?”
“If I had some sort of a twin Dad would have told me.”
“Dad was a jerk-ass, Erin.”
That comment got a fierce reaction from the girl. Erin stood up from out of the chair. “DON’T YOU DARE SAY THAT!” she shouted at Patrick. “He loved me! He took care of me after mom died!”
“And just how did mom die?” Patrick responded. “Did he tell you that?”
“It was an accident!” Erin said, still with a strong voice. “It happened…”
“…when you were four,” he continued for her, “and then soon afterward he told you that you were going to be a pilot.”
“So? That’s not your business!”
Patrick stood up and leaned towards Erin, narrowing his glance at his sister. In the last five minutes his whole image of Erin had been destroyed by her fierce reactions to his existence but he couldn’t find any other way of breaking through her wall of hostility unless he countered it with his own.
“Just who was it you saw in the plug then?” Patrick said to Erin in a low voice.
“I told you, I didn’t see anything!”
“Dad just used you,” he accused, “he sets you up and keeps me hidden away as a spare in case something happened, which it did. Then he pushes people around like chess pieces until he can make his move.”
“That’s not true at all!”
“Did he ever leave you alone at the base?”
“Where did he go?”
“He went to see people in Washington or other places, he had an important job!”
“Yeah, he went to go check on me in the mountains.”
“No he didn’t! If you were actually my real brother he would have told me!”
Patrick ignored her rebuttal and changed his focus. “Erin, if fighting Angels were so important why was Dad only training you to fight other EVAs?”
She paused to think after that, her eyes shifting as her thoughts raced between emotion and fact. “EVAs are just Angels, right? Copies of them. That's what they told us!”
“Dad was training you to attack NERV with Unit 04. He just used everyone so that he could bring on Third Impact himself.”
“Why would he do that?!” Erin shouted. “What would be the point?”
“Because he hated the world and everything in it after Mom...Mom...” Patrick faltered, his own deep emotions coming out. “Mom was lost to the EVA.”
“My mother has nothing to do with the EVA!” Erin countered. “She's just gone, that's all! And who are you to talk about her like that?”
“Because I saw her inside of it!”
“It's true and you know it,” Patrick said to Erin as she trembled with rage. “Dad just manipulated everyone. You, me, NERV, Second Branch, the Alliance, SEELE, everyone. After you freaked out he grabbed me out of the mountains, put me in Unit 04 and then send both Vance and I to Japan to set a trap for NERV, only I didn't know what was going on. He tells me all of this after Vance dies and he flew me back to Nevada, and then throws me in a cell for two weeks until he needs me again,” he explained as tears started to roll down Erin's cheeks. “He didn't give a rat's ass about anyone, he just wanted the world to end.”
Erin was in complete denial, her whole body shivering with emotion as Patrick calmed himself down and tried to explain everything to her. “It's not true,” she said with tears streaming down and her face becoming flush red. “It's not, it's not...”
“He killed Vance, Erin.” Patrick said softly. “Dad...” He was about to explain further but suddenly Erin slapped him hard across the face.
“DON'T YOU EVER SAY THAT!” Erin shouted at him as Rei stood up out of her chair and moved to Patrick's side. “Don't you ever say that! He would never do that! Never!”
“Erin,” he told her as he rubbed his cheek. “I'm so sorry.”
His sister pointed at him, accusing “I know who really killed Vance, alright? You, you, never speak to me again, you just leave me alone!” As she moved to leave the room Patrick grabbed onto Erin's arm but she violently shook it off and then ran out of the conference room. Patrick followed her for a few feet but then stopped as he watched Erin running down the hallway towards the doors at the end. He let out a grieved moan and fell to his knees, releasing his own pent-up emotions in tears as he watched her burst outside through the double doors.
In the pilots' lounge, Kensuke was playing a mecha combat game on a video game console with a large video screen and Toji threw basketballs continuously against the backboard of another game system nearby. Both of them engaged in animated chatter as each gamed away, only turning their attention away when they heard the doors of the lounge open up behind them.
“Toji! Kensuke!” Both boys looked to face Hikari as she entered the lounge. Her face was strained and worried. “Red Alert!” she warned them.
“What's going on?” asked Toji as he tossed one last basketball against the game backboard.
Hikari took a deep breath and then blurted it out. “Asuka just broke up with Shinji!” The two boys gasped in shock.
“No way!” Toji declared. “Those two were stuck like glue!”
Kensuke paused his game and then walked over to a table as Toji and Hikari sat down. “He finally tripped a mine on the minefield, huh?”
“This one's big,” Hikari told the others, pausing for a moment. Toji was still skeptical. “Like what?”
“She saw Mari and Shinji kissing.”
Toji's eyebrows raised high in surprise. “With Lusty? You're kidding?”
“I kind of wish I was,” said Hikari. “I asked Mari and she confirmed it.”
“Damn,” Toji rubbed his head in amazement. “I didn't know Shinji had it in him.”
“I guess this isn't going down well,” Kensuke analyzed out loud. Hikari nodded in agreement. “Yeah, Mari's already moved out of the suite, she's in with Lieutenant Wellington now. Misato says she's too busy to talk with either of them, and Asuka just stays in her room.”
“And we all know how Shinji deals with this sort of thing,” Toji observed. “Well, so much for teamwork.”
The three of them sat at the table silently looking at each other as they thought about what had just happened. Between them they knew both Asuka and Shinji well enough to know how each took personal mishaps, and it was never pretty for either of them or for the people surrounding them. With both of them at conflict at each other it would be an unpleasant storm cloud that would hang over the whole piloting team and at just the wrong time. Kensuke however found a silver lining. “So,” he said Toji in an upbeat voice. “Soryu-chan's available then.”
“Don't you even think about it,” Toji warned his best friend. “She is totally out of your class!”
“I don't know,” Kensuke said with a smirk as he adjusted his glasses, “I'm already a pilot, I've beaten her in combat, and I've kissed her once. I like my chances!”
That morning inside of the boys’ suite Patrick sat dejected at the kitchen table. To try to keep himself motivated he had broken out yet another jigsaw puzzle and spread it out on the table but after only a few minutes of separating pieces his gloom returned and he found himself staring at the adjoining wall. He was so sunk in his depressive mode that he had not opened the door for Rei in the morning.
It took about two minutes for Patrick to register that Rei was standing in the kitchen next to the table. She wore a black turtleneck and uniform skirt while Patrick had not changed from his athletic shirt and shorts that he normally slept in.
“Oh,” Patrick said to Rei as he finally noticed her standing next to him. “Hi. I guess I should have let you in.” His voice was distant and slow, and that unnerved Rei. She stared at him in silence for a long moment and Patrick just sat there and looked at her.
“What is wrong?” Rei finally asked him.
“I went to go see Erin,” he said. “It didn’t go well.”
“She rejected you.”
“She blames me for everything. NERV-2, Dad disappearing, Vance getting killed. She has no idea what really happened and she’s fixated all the blame on me.”
Rei sat down at the table next to him. “It is a logical conclusion for her, as you are the only survivor of NERV-2’s disappearance.”
Patrick shook her head. “I tried to fill in everything, tell her what really happened but she’s having none of it. I guess she was a lot closer to Dad than I realized.”
“Why was her story different from what you saw?” asked Rei.
“She won’t admit to the link between us, and even convincing her I’m the other twin is difficult. She claims she doesn’t remember seeing me in the cabin or having visions of me at all. Even when I bring up what she said to Vance she denies it.” He again put his hands through his hair. “I can’t believe this. All I wanted to do is just see her again and this is how it turns out.”
The two of them sat at the table for a long while, either one of the saying nothing as Patrick toyed with a puzzle piece on the kitchen table. Rei stared at him as his depression seemed to increase further. “Do you know what you will do now?”
“I got to try again,” he concluded. “Somehow get through to her who I am. I know the link is there between us, but why she’s continuing with this is really what’s getting me. Why not just admit it? What is she hiding?”
“Perhaps Misato-san should intervene, then,” Rei suggested.
“Misato doesn’t trust her. I mean, she might be right even after what I saw today. But, I gotta still try and somehow get through to her, and even now I still think I might be the only one who can.”
Suddenly the kitchen door opened and Shinji walked in. Wearing a t-shirt and blue pants, he looked dour and morose. In his ears were earplugs from an old S-DAT music player that was tucked into one of his front pockets. Without saying anything to Rei and Patrick he walked straight to the refrigerator to get a drink.
“Hey,” Patrick greeted him, trying to sound cheerful even while knowing why Shinji was upset. “How is it going?”
Shinji didn’t reply at first, and as he passed by the two of them on the way to the refrigerator Patrick they both saw the bright red impression on his left cheek. As he opened the refrigerator door, he said to Patrick. “Oh, okay I guess. Hi, Ayanami,” Shinji said to Rei as he passed by her on his way out of the kitchen.
Rei gave him a very small smile and watched him as he went out the door. Patrick let out a big sigh as Shinji left the room. “If I wasn’t feeling bad enough already. Something else I helped screw up.”
“Ikari-kun made his own choices,” Rei told him, “as did you.”
“Yeah, thanks for reminding me,” Patrick said as he gave Rei a broken smile. “Hey,” he said to Rei, finally warming up a bit. “You should go cheer him up.”
Rei was pensive for a moment. “I want to, but I am not sure of what I should do,” she said.
“He needs family at the moment and at least he’s got you there,” said Patrick.
“You know what I mean.”
She looked at the table for a moment, pondering what Patrick was trying to tell her. Am I scared of the other part of me coming out, she wondered. Should I be anymore?
“Go,” Patrick encouraged her. “I’ll be okay…somehow.”
Rei nodded and then stood up from the table. As she moved to go to the living room she turned to face Patrick.”Forri-kun?”
“Will you attempt to contact your sister again?”
“Yes, I will. Are you going to tell Misato?”
“No, I will not tell her,” she said to him, “but if she asks me I will not lie to her either.”
Patrick nodded. “Fair enough.”
Just before she turned to go, with a little emotion in her voice Rei said to him “Forri-kun…Please be careful.”
Inside of his bedroom Shinji at on the edge of the bed and stared at the ceiling. Blaring in his ears was a song from his old S-DAT player, a familiar pop tune from a long-ago singer that was soft and sad even in its upbeat notes. He had not listened to the S-DAT for months, having put it away among his things after the GeoFront battle. Perhaps he was too busy than before to listen to it or maybe he just didn’t feel the need for it, but now with the connection between Asuka and him broken he had come back to it like an old friend, or perhaps a security blanket. In his hand was the gold monkey necklace he had given her for Valentine’s Day, but now the chain was broken: she had ripped it off her own neck and thrown at him in his fumbled attempt to beg forgiveness for his crime.
A single moment of weakness on his part had broken up over two months of what had arguably been the happiest moments of his life. Despite the difficulties of piloting in this new phase of the war he hadn’t been worried about it, just as long as she was there besides him. Asuka was sun to his darkness, but now thanks to him the sun had gone down, and it was getting much, much colder for him.
I deserve this, he thought to himself. I broke her trust. Maybe sometimes she was just a little too bossy or demanding, but I still loved being with her. The fun we had, playing around like two little kids. Feeling the warmth of her in my arms. God I am so stupid! Why couldn’t I see what Mari was playing at all this time?
He felt his cheek where she had struck him after he had tried to apologize. I don’t know what to do now. I want her back so badly but sorry’s just not enough.
Shinji felt something had entered the room and looked towards the door. Standing in front of him was Rei. She looked at him stoically as she sometimes did, her arms down at her sides.
“Rei,” he said to her softly, not even realizing he had called her by her first name.
For a long minute their eyes met, neither sure of what to say to the other. Rei then stepped up to where he was sitting on the bed. In one swift motion she placed her hands on his shoulders, bent over and as she closed her eyes she gently kissed him on the lips.
Shinji also closed his eyes and felt Rei’s lips against his. They felt warm and he felt tingling all over his body as she kissed him. His body seemed to float in the few seconds that their lips met. He thought to himself that her lips reminded him of something, something long ago forgotten, and he opened his eyes in sudden realization of what that was.
Rei looked at Shinji as he sat there, tears forming in his eyes. He wanted to say something to her, his mouth quivering with something that he just couldn’t blurt out. So much sadness, so much longing in his face, she thought, and by doing what she did Rei had unlocked emotions from long ago.
The memory from over a decade ago came to the fore of Shinji’s mind. Being held in his mother’s arms his tiny hands had held her cheeks as the two kissed in affection for each other. For the first time in a long time, he could see his mother’s face and the gentle smile as she looked upon him. The clean scent of her hair and skin was all around him.
He looked up at Rei and saw the same gentle smile as she looked down on him, and he could smell in the same scent. It was then that tears flooded his cheeks. He just wanted to be picked up and loved at that moment, he didn’t care how it came.
Rei gently sat down next to him on the bed as Shinji cried, putting his head on her shoulder while he sobbed repeatedly. She took his hand in hers and gently caressed it and then let him place all of his fears and worries onto her for the next few hours as she silently watched him.
Misato walked into Admiral Vinson’s office as he and Sheffield were looking over several maps projected on the wall digital displays. “You asked for me, Commander?” she said as she entered the room.
“Yes, Colonel,” Vinson replied as he turned around and motioned for her to come to where they were standing. “New activity from SEELE.” Misato came and stood with the two men as she studied the digital map and video image displays. On one of them was a camera view of two large, white humanoid figures that looked to her like Mass Production EVAs.
Sir John explained as Misato studied the video images. “For some time now we’ve received several reports of Harpies maneuvering around in the Himalayas,” he said, “but now we’ve got a precise fix on where they’ve been going.” Sheffield pointed to a location on the map. “They keep going to this location, which is a 18,000 foot mountain named D44. What they’re doing there we don’t know but that we have multiple sightings over the last few days and weeks indicates this area is somewhat important to them, perhaps a staging area for attacks or even the main base itself.”
Misato was pleasantly surprised. “Do you want us to attack it?” she asked the Admiral.
“We want you to do a reconnaissance in force and see what exactly we’re dealing with,” he replied. “Don’t engage the enemy unless you have to. If this is their major base we need to survey what we’re up against and then come in with a full-scale attack when we’re ready.”
She nodded. “Understood, sir.”
Vinson added. “Put Units 01 and 02 on this, and get ready to go by tonight.”
Misato hesitated slightly. “I want to hold back Unit 01. I’m shaking up the teams and forming a new one centered around Units 01, 04 and 08.”
The Admiral raised an eyebrow. “I thought those two were your best team? Why break them up like that?”
“Truthfully,” she explained, “they’re not compatible with each other at the moment. I’d rather send Unit 07 this time. Rei hasn’t had a deployment yet and she needs the experience.” Misato tried to keep her tone serious, but the smirk and look between the two commanders let her know they knew the real reason she didn’t want Shinji and Asuka to deploy together this time.
“Then Colonel,” Vinson said in a lighter tone of voice, “let this be a lesson to you that unit cohesion suffers when pilots are allowed to fraternize too much with each other. Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” Misato replied, slightly flustered.
“Get your team ready,” the commander told her, “and then later find a way to get Unit 02 and 05 working together in the future: given her uniqueness I’d rather not deploy the First Child as an EVA pilot if I can help it.”
“Yes, sir,” she repeated and then, “sir, was there any news on the Forrestal girl?”
Sheffield spoke up this time. “We were able to confirm that she was indeed checked into that medical clinic since July of last year, and that it was done with a private bank account of her father’s. So far her story holds up.” Sir John then quickly switched the subject. “Have you been contacted at all by Director Kaji?”
“No, General. Not since he left a few days ago.”
“Do let us know if you hear from him, will you?”
“Of course, sir.”
Vinson waived Misato off. “Dismissed, Colonel.” As the two commanders went back to studying the digital display, she quickly left the room and pulled out her mobile phone as she marched down the hallway. “Hyuga? It’s me. Prep 02 and 07 for deployment. We’re going tonight.”
Continue to Chapter Thirty-Three