Tabris sets foot upon the shore.
Without inhibition, he removes his footwear and allows himself to savor the sensations of the sand and the surf. He ’s felt them before, but never in this lifetime, nor ever in a body quite like this one. Fourteen years, he’s been denied most opportunity to experience the differences.
Now, mere days remain before all that opportunity is gone forever. A source of mixed feelings. Mostly ones of unbound jubilation. But sorrow, too, because of what this body represents. They might meet again, but under circumstances ushering in unprecedented change. This is Tabris ’s last chance to experience the world much as he had.
An ocean breeze picks up, caressing his face, and pushing the qualia of the moment into perfection. Soon enough, this state of the sublime is shattered by the impatience of his minders, eager to remind him that his life is not his own, and that all human experience must conform to an arbitrary map of time constructed by emotional tyrants.
As Tabris is led toward the terrestrial transport, he gazes behind him at the marine birds assembling in the morning light, envying their obliviousness to uniquely human cruelty, and pitying their lack of any say whatsoever in the future that is to come.
“The Fifth Children has been officially handed off to us,” Aoba says. “Intake process starting now.”
Misato has been anxiously hanging out in or near the Command Center ever since she received word that his transport arrived in Japan around 07:00. “I see,” she says, continuing to nurse from her mug of coffee. No part of her is looking forward to the rest of the day, but she can’t show any fragility. Following intake, the Fifth will be under her command. She can’t let weird gut feelings get in the way of professionalism.
Curiosity gets the best of her. “Can we get him on the main screen? Let’s see this kid.”
Within seconds, multiple camera feeds appear on the wraparound. Lt. Ibuki and various other staff are accompanying Nagisa past the gates, presumably heading to Security, then to Medical after that. He ’s wearing a blue-and-green uniform variant she’s never seen before. Visually, it reminds her a little of a fighter pilot, while also clearly being a throwback to the uniforms at UN Underground Base 02. Hopefully it doesn’t have the heat-retention properties of either…
“Huh,” Hyuga says. “They gave him an actual pilot uniform. Why didn’t Shinji and the others ever get those?”
“You got me,” Misato says. “It’s not like it was never suggested. They just never wanted to approve of the additional expense.”
“The Fifth Children is special enough to warrant it, I suppose,” Aoba pitches in. “His security detail was insane and he didn’t even have an Eva being transported with him.”
“I know, right?” Hyuga says. “Did you see—”
Misato knows the two of them keep talking, but she doesn ’t hear them. She’s staring fixedly at a camera feed providing a close-up, front-angle view of the boy. The feeling of deja vu is kicking in hard again. It’s not just his face that’s eerily familiar. It’s everything. The way he carries himself, his body language… levels of minutiae she can’t even find words for… She’s almost terrified now to hear him speak.
Nagisa suddenly stops now, even though the group has provided no cue for him to do so. Like he just heard something odd.
Then, his neck swivels, and he looks over his shoulder at something.
At first, Misato doesn ’t realize. But then her eyes wander over to the main camera feed for that room.
It ’s like he’s looking straight at her.
This time, the coffee drops, and she isn ’t able to catch it. It goes all over the floor. Doesn’t get on any consoles, thankfully.
“Fuck…!” she says, immediately scrambling for something to clean up with. Misato lets her eyes dart back to the main screen for just a split-second, but Nagisa has already moved on.
The guys see what happened. “Don’t worry about it, Major Katsuragi,” Hyuga says, rising from his chair. “I’ll take care of it.”
“You really don’t have to, Hyuga-kun…” Misato says. “It was just me being careless.”
“I don’t have to,” he says, “but I want to. Besides, cleaning up your messes is part of the job.” He winks.
She feels herself blush, just a little. God damn , he ’s getting daring, isn’t he? Well, she doesn’t mind; the distraction is nice. She’s able to smile, and after the weirdness that just happened, that’s no small feat. “Thanks, Hyuga-kun.”
The paperwork from Nagisa ’s processing is waiting for her, fresh off her office printer. She compares what’s there to what Lt. Ibuki told her to expect, and everything does seem to be in order.
Supposedly, all of the new records have been provided to her, since she ’s Nagisa’s senior officer and all. But as she scrutinizes the contents more carefully, she can’t help but feel like something very, very big has been left out. After Ritsuko revealed the truth about Rei to her and Shinji, does anyone seriously think they’ll be able to play this game again with Nagisa? But, then again… the intel department made it clear what was at stake for her if she failed to uphold silence about what she saw that day. Officially, Misato doesn’t know shit; she has to keep mum, even to Hyuga. Certainly, though, they don’t believe they are actually fooling her. This is all theater.
And there ’s nothing she can do about it.
Just yesterday, they finished reconfiguring Rei ’s test plug to enable her to practice with Eva-01. They already forwarded urgent requests to the Nerv branches — other than those in Germany, which provided aid recently — for any thing they might have that would help HQ fill the gap left by Eva-00. Misato of course knows that many of them are constructing actual Evas, but the request was phrased under a pretense of mere optimism. None have answered that call, and so Rei has been reduced to nothing more than a spare for Shinji. In less than an hour, Shinji will perform his usual sync test, and Rei will test the functionality of her refitted plug.
What about Nagisa, though? One very gratuitous omission that Ibuki already brought up with her is that Nagisa was sent without any core data. They ’ve been given absolutely no basis upon which to reconfigure Eva-02 for his use. The incompetence is simply astounding — send over a new pilot, but completely neglect to provide any way for him to actually pilot. R&T got in touch with Germany, and supposedly the “real reason” for this is that they were only recently given access to Nagisa themselves. The core configuration data will be sent over as soon as it’s ready, they said.
It ’s rather transparent bullshit. Maybe not to everybody, but certainly to Misato. Down in the abandoned Gehirn facilities, Ritsuko laid bare the lie that the Evangelion pilot interface is a ‘Personality OS’ based on a close relative of the pilot (preferably the mother), supposedly used as an intermediary between the pilot and Eva to reduce the strain on the former. Like all effective lies, there was a little bit of truth in it, but now Misato knows: that’s no mere “data” inside the cores. Unless Germany plans to wire them a literal human soul, which sounds outlandish even by Nerv standards, this is all just a distraction.
Her phone starts ringing. She breaks from her train of thought and answers. It ’s Hyuga.
“Major Katsuragi, we’re getting ready over here. How do you want to handle the Fifth Children for the sync test? He’s requested to participate in spite of the hangup with his core. Wants to start getting a feel for his new routine, he said.”
She considers this. “I don’t suppose it could hurt any.” And if this is all precisely as fishy as it seems, they might as well get it over with. “Let’s see what he can do.”
Not only is Nagisa able to produce any sync ratio at all, what he gives them is nothing to sniff at. For what ’s supposedly his first time doing this, and with a core he should have no compatibility with, it’s nothing short of suspicious.
The Deputy Commander verbalizes Misato ’s thoughts. “This shouldn’t be possible. Not with the current core.” Given Fuyutsuki’s actual discipline, if he thinks this shouldn ’t be possible, that removes any and all remaining doubt that a huge piece of this picture is missing. “Double-check everything,” he tells the technicians. “Retake all measurements from the bottom up.”
“But sir,” one of them protests, “there’s no hint of any malfunction. The First and Third Children are producing the expected data. Our instruments are working fine.”
“Do it anyway,” Fuyutsuki says. “A full recalibration.”
A thought suddenly comes to Misato, and she lets herself muse out loud. “You don’t suppose the Fifth could be related to Asuka?” Is that why he seemed familiar? She can ’t think clearly at all right now.
Maya promptly chimes in. “He lived in Germany all his life, didn’t he? That doesn’t mean anything on its own, but… The Major’s suggestion would certainly go toward explaining why he’s compatible with Eva-02’s current core.”
Fuyutsuki ’s face becomes more severe. “Have your people pursue all potential leads, Lt. Ibuki. We don’t want to rule anything out.”
Misato takes her leave as soon as the tests have finished. No lingering around. She doesn ’t want to leave any possibility that she might bump into the Fifth Children. She just wouldn’t be able to deal with that today.
Before she can get very far, however, she hears the Deputy Commander ’s solemn voice calling out to her.
“Major Katsuragi… I would like a word with you.”
At first, she can only assume the worst. Does he know? About all the shady things she ’s been up to? But, then, if he does know, why wait until right this particular moment to talk to her about it? She puts on her best facade of decorum. “Of course, Deputy Commander.”
He ushers her to a quieter part of the corridor and there, in hushed tones, he says, “Due to Dr. Akagi’s unsolicited actions, you are in a unique position among most of the staff. You know that there is something suspicious going on here.”
Hiding her feeling of overwhelming relief as best she can, she replies, “Yes, sir.”
“Until such time as the Final Angel reveals itself,” he continues, “I would like you to do an independent investigation.” Then, with a subdued wink, “I’ll pull on Intelligence’s leash a bit. Report back to me with your findings. Understood?”
“Yes, Deputy Commander.” Misato bows. “Thank you, sir.”
He nods, folds his arms behind his back, and departs as if nothing of importance had just happened.
Misato takes her lunch to one of the small employee parks up top and, just as planned, finds her co-conspirator there.
“The Deputy Commander what?” Hyuga says. “That’s crazy.”
“Is it really?” Misato asks. “It’s no secret that he and Commander Ikari butt heads frequently, even if they have their own language with each other.” She breaks open a bag of bread. “There must be something the Commander isn’t telling him. I can’t think of any other reason for him to use me of all people.”
“There are plenty of agents with a basically nonexistent profile he could tap into.” Hyuga scratches his chin. “Using you doesn’t make any sense. As some kind of set-up, maybe.”
Misato clears a couple of crumbs from her blouse. “The Deputy Commander never struck me as that kind of man.” Then, grinning, “You can tell just looking at him that he was dragged into his position kicking and screaming.”
Hyuga laughs. “Yeah, I can see that. Wasn’t he a teacher once? Hard to imagine him in charge of a class.”
“I guess all of us are his class now,” she says whimsically.
“I guess. So are you going to do it?”
“I can’t rightfully refuse, can I?” Misato cracks open a coffee. “And besides… He’s not asking me to do anything I wasn’t planning to do anyway.”
Hyuga ’s face turns severe. “Don’t think you have immunity from Intel because of this, though. It could still be a snare.”
“I’ve made it this far. I’ll be okay.”
For a moment, the two of them eat their lunches together in quiet. Hyuga is looking around, very slowly and deliberately. Eventually he leans in toward Misato, careful to keep his mouth covered, and he whispers, “I found out where they’re keeping Ritsuko.”
On the way back to her office to finish up some paperwork, Misato notices someone standing right in the middle of the corridor up ahead, facing her direction. When she gets a little closer, she sees it ’s the Fifth. He’s like a sentinel, completely still, back perfectly straight. Both hands are hidden in the pockets of his uniform jacket. He unflinchingly looks straight ahead.
It feels like he ’s staring right at her. Into her, even.
She must be imagining it, though. Just like that oddity of coincidence with the camera feed earlier. Surely, he ’s just waiting for someone else. But if so, this is a strange place to do it. She doesn’t allow herself any eye contact and proceeds to walk past him as quickly as possible.
As she passes, his head pivots and he spins around. She stops and looks behind her.
“Major,” the boy says by way of greeting.
“Oh? Were you waiting for me?” Misato faces him. “We’re done for the day, Nagisa-kun. You can spend the rest of the time however you like.”
He simply stands there, continuing to look straight at her. Like he ’s expecting something. The silence and eye contact endure slightly beyond the point of simply being awkward. In haste, Misato attempts to redirect him in some way. “I assume you’ve already been told that you’ll be privately tutored at HQ, due to all the public school closings? You could study with—”
“Misato Katsuragi, lone full-Lilin survivor of the Second Impact.” There’s an irritatingly broad smirk on Nagisa’s face. “You may not remember me. But I remember you.”
The hell was that he said just now? “Have we met before? Was it when I was stationed in Germany?” She frowns. “I’m sure I would remember you.”
Nagisa goes on. “He wanted you to see a bright new future take wing. On that day, his eyes were resplendent with joy and hope. But yours were full of anxiety and fear. For the man you thought you hated.” His red eyes become uncomfortably intense. “For the physical god you could not believe stood before you.”
The words leave Misato so dumbstruck she can ’t articulate a response until whole seconds after Nagisa has finished speaking. As her face contorts in a motley of fear and anger, she growls, “What the hell are you even saying?” A horrible feeling is crawling up the inside of her throat. “Who are you?! ”
He provides no more reaction than a sly grin. “For now? I am whomever the Lilin want me to be.” The boy casually strolls off. Misato doesn’t attempt to stop him.
Her head starts to feel light very suddenly. Crossing her arms in self-embrace, she rests her back against the wall, and slowly sinks down, eyes staring blankly ahead.