Jane Lane lifted her fork and scrutinized the syrup-drenched fragment of pancake upon it. "You're telling me this is vegan? But it looks so ... real."
"My cubicle-mate at my last job gave me the recipe," Daria explained. "She said she lost the ability to digest milk, and without cheese, most of the fun of meat was gone."
"Huh. That makes a disturbing amount of sense." Jane stuffed the forkful of pancake into her mouth and began to process the experience contemplatively. "Mm-hmmm!" She swallowed. "And I guess it's automatically healthy, right?"
"Exactly. Just like my deep-fried quinoa fritters."
Midway through her syrupy stack, Jane paused to lean back and pat her stomach. "I've got to hand it to you, Dariatron: You make me want to say breakfast of champions about something that isn't booze."
"Got to keep you from kicking me to the curb somehow."
"Man, and I never have pancakes. Never awake enough to make them for myself, so I only ever get them when I'm out on a brunch of shame."
"Yes, it's one of our Earth emotions."
"I kind of figured you'd ... I mean, you haven't gone out on a date since I've been here."
"Taking a break for a while," Jane said. "Gotta recover after my last experience. Boy wouldn't shut up about Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality."
Daria smiled her little Mona Lisa smile. "I've got an AO3 bookmark you should see. Remember that night in college when we stayed up to binge Evangelion?"
* * *
The Commander said, "My son imagines himself the hero of his own story."
Fuyutsuki replied, "Most do."
"He believes that he knows that I know that he knows that I know his plan. Well," and the Commander allowed himself a smile behind his gloved hands, "let him."
* * *
The escalator hummed as it carried them further into the NERV geofront. Rei asked, in her typical soft voice, "Do you not trust your father?"
Shinji said, "He doesn't say anything interesting. He doesn't respect me. Adults never do. Why should I listen to them when I could be playing my Richard Feynman audiobook instead?"
Rei said, "Feynman admired his father."
He inserted his earbuds, turned up the volume on his S-DAT and said nothing.
* * *
"Baka!" shouted Asuka. She raised her right hand and slapped Shinji full in the face. He stumbled back, tripped over his box of Warhammer miniatures and landed with a thump that made three of the thin walls of Misato's apartment vibrate.
From beyond the fourth, they heard laughter.
* * *
Misato sighed and pulled her jacket more tightly around herself. If the world still had seasons, this night in Tokyo-3 would have been unseasonably cold. Ritsuko stood beside her, leaning against the rail of the scenic overlook. Misato said, "Some days I just don't know how to reach that boy."
"Shock therapy," Ritsuko suggested. "Tell him Feynman was quantifiably wrong about the double-slit experiment being the only mystery of quantum mechanics."
"Maybe... maybe he needs a male example in his life. Someone to look up to."
Ritsuko suggested, keeping her face straight, "Kaji?"
"Bite your tongue."
* * *
"Get out," Shinji hissed. "Go back and tell my father that I've seen through his tricks."
At the door, he turned to face Shinji again. "Remember: I will understand, and I will forgive you, always."
And then Kaworu was gone.
* * *
The corridors on the way to Central Dogma stank of LCL. Shinji passed military uniforms, labcoats and the jumpsuits of NERV technicians, all sodden with the organic liquid, seemingly abandoned in piles on the floor.
Just outside the door to the primary control center, Shinji heard a voice from within. He recognized it as Maya Ibuki, the quiet and efficient computer specialist, shrieking with a degree of delight he had never imagined. "Senpai! Senpai!"
And then Central Dogma was silent.
"Hello?" He was not sure his ID card would open the door.
"You don't need to go anywhere."
He spun about. "Rei? Where did you come from?"
"I appeared to her," Rei explained, "as what she desired most. I have appeared to them all."
A second Rei now stood beside the first. "This was to ease the process and make their transition a joyful one."
A third Rei spoke, and he turned to face her. She said, "You want as strongly as any of them, but you reject that about yourself."
The door slid open, and a fourth Rei emerged. "We regret that we must resort to force of numbers, but this is the simplest approach."
"Instrumentality is at hand, Ikari Shinji."
"We welcome you, Ikari Shinji."
"We understand you, Ikari Shinji."
He put up his hands and began to scream, but the screaming did not last for very long.