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File: NTE Title.jpg (47 KB, 510x390)
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>2017 A.D.
>17 years after Second Impact
>Perdition Base
>Anchorage, Alaska
>>
“Systems start.”

“All readings nominal.”

“Syncrograph reading 35.88%, fluctuation is minimal.”

“Pilot vitals are stable. Zero neural feedback.”

Your hands rest lightly on the control throttles inside the entry plug, the same place they’ve rested a
hundred times before. The same as any training exercise. Your eyes are closed, the soft, fluid warmth of LCL surrounds you, the womb-like thrum of the entry plug fills your ears. Your hands don’t shake, but you’re terrified.

“Alpha unit- Ethan, do you read us?” The voice was cold, impersonal, the voice of one of Perdition’s base controllers.

You exhale the nervous breath you were holding. The LCL you expel from your lungs is so thin that it feels little different than breathing air save for the dull burn in your nose. No matter how many activation tests you ran you never quite overcame that feeling. You grip the activation throttles a little tighter and will the sensation to go away.

“Roger,” you say, “Alpha copies.” Your voice sounds calm in your ears, betraying none of the fear that is worming its way through your guts. When you open your eyes you see the interior of your entry plug, but more than that you see the interior of one of Perdition’s Eva cages through the eyes of your Evangelion.

Your Evangelion, designated Alpha, isa godlike weapon of war. A biomechanical avatar brought to life by human hands and human minds. It is the greatest weapon in mankind’s arsenal, the only hope of defending humanity.

“We’re deploying you to the surface via the main launch tunnel,” the controller says. His voice is rendered cold by the circuits of your radio and the nature of his training. He’s as much a cog in this machine as you are. “Target has been confirmed. Blood pattern blue, an angel.”

An angel. As if it could be anything else.
>>
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Turning your head slightly you look to the picture-in-picture display on your entry plug monitors. It shows a remote camera view from the surface, outside the base. A grotesque, humanoid shape slouches through the black waters of the bay adjacent to the base, waves lapping at its sides. There’s something about seeing such a strange form against the natural backdrop of Alaska’s rolling, forested hills that makes you feel sick. Of course, that could also be fear.

Angels. The would-be destroyers of humanity. The scourge visited on this planet seventeen years ago when a giant of light exploded in Antarctica, vaporizing the ice sheets and starting a chain of events that ultimately resulted in a global holocaust that reduced the planet’s population by 50%. An event called Second Impact.

The view of the angel bobs slightly, the camera shaking as the VTOL gunship providing the video feed changes positions, flitting closer to the angel while remaining at what the pilot clearly perceived as a safe distance.

The angel stops. Its bowed shoulders twist unnaturally as it turns to look at the aircraft. It has no head, nothing like facial features either. Only three misshapen holes gouged in the protrusion that served as its face. These apertures flash once with unearthly energy and the video cuts to hard, white, static.

“Your target is the Fifth angel,” the base controller says. “Command has officially designated it ‘Ansiel’.”

A name for an entity that exists only to be destroyed. This is the moment you’ve been training years for, a moment to confront one of the destroyers of mankind. The first angel sighting in five years. Your first chance to prove yourself.

“Won’t be a problem,” you say with confidence you don’t feel.

The elevator launches upward with a force that jars you even through the shock dampening effects of the LCL. Lights race by with dizzying speed, G-forces keeping you firmly pressed into the crash couch as you and your eva race for the surface.
>>
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A moment later the eva launch elevator emerges from the underground launch shaft and jolts to a stop. Here, atop a rocky, sparsely forested hill you have a clear view in all directions over the woods and plains of the Evangelion proving grounds. How strange that your first real battle will take place on the very ground you trained on.

“Alpha Unit deployed.” Your radio crackles with the voice of the base controller. “Progressive glaive on site.”
True to word, your weapons arrive a moment later from nearby elevator boxes, unfolding on collapsible arms, ready for the taking.

You can just make out the Angel as it trudges through the ocean, its gait bizarre, almost simian. The thing’s body is entirely black, slick, like tar, and only marred by the three uneven holes where a face might go. Humanoid in form it has three crude fingers on each hand and a spiky, protruding spine.


Its alien nature makes you wrinkle your nose in revulsion. Invader, interloper, enemy. A single look is all that it takes to recognize that it and its kind don’t belong here.

“Bravo unit deployed. Impact rifle on site.”

Some good news from command at last. Bravo unit’s pilot, Linda, had been training with you here for years. Her eva is out of visual range, over a hill to your left two kilometers distant. All the same, just knowing Linda is here makes you feel better. As your friend and only other pilot in Perdition you’ve always worked closely with her.

“Alpha, Bravo, be aware that tactical data on this angel is limited. It’s dissimilar to all previous Angel encounters and we have not yet brought conventional forces to bear on it. You’re to engage at your own recognizance.”

Linda appears in your HUD’s display. Her normally cheerful disposition is replaced with nervous apprehension but she’s otherwise the same, her auburn hair pulled into twin braids. “Affirmative.” She bites her lip anxiously and double checks her controls with a glance.

“Where is this thing heading, anyway?” you ask.

“Target is on course for the Anchorage Refugee Zone. Reason unknown.”

No surprise there, the angel’s motivations - if any - were a mystery to humanity. While mankind tried to rebuild from the cataclysm of seventeen years ago, the angels only seemed interested in destruction.

Linda looks at you in the display. “Ethan, we’d better play it safe and shadow this one for now. See how it acts.”

As Linda says this, you watch the angel make landfall. Its dark, fleshy legs lift it from the waters of the bay and onto the sandy bank, trudging uphill.


>Good idea, let's keep our distance.
>No sense delaying the inevitable. I’ll close in and attack, you cover me.
>Let’s not let it get any closer to the city. We can move in and finish it off together.
>Write in
>>
>>4697729
TK... has returned
>>
>>4697739
>Let’s not let it get any closer to the city. We can move in and finish it off together.
>>
Hmm, seems ok so far but I can already tell this is no Animorphs Quest.
>Let’s not let it get any closer to the city. We can move in and finish it off together.
>>
>>4697739
>Let’s not let it get any closer to the city. We can move in and finish it off together.
>>
>>4697739
>No sense delaying the inevitable. I’ll close in and attack, you cover me.
>>
>>4697739
>Let’s not let it get any closer to the city. We can move in and finish it off together.
>>
>>4697739
>No sense delaying the inevitable. I’ll close in and attack, you cover me.
Can't let it get to the city, but let's not put all our eggs in one basket and approach together

Who wants to bet this is just a VR training exercise
>>
>>4698079
Fuck this website, I don't know why my trip came back
>>
>>4697729
>The Same as it ever was
Same as it ever was.
Same as it ever was.
Same as it ever was.
Same as it ever was.

Blah blah blah, days gone by, and I forget the words.
Once in a lifetime I, again forgot the words.

It's a song, anons.
>>
>>4697739
>Let’s not let it get any closer to the city. We can move in and finish it off together.
>>
>Let’s not let it get any closer to the city. We can move in and finish it off together.
>>4697753
>>4697769
>>4697800
>>4697969
>>4698466

Writing.

>>4697749
I live . . . Again


>>4697769
>this is no Animorphs Quest.
The late 90s are back in a big way!

>>4698109
Well . . . how did I get here?
>>
File: Episode 1.jpg (106 KB, 900x675)
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“The 217th Armored Cavalry is en route. Expected arrival time is forty five minutes,” control says.

Too late. Far too late. Not that conventional weaponry would have any real effect on the angel.

“Linda, let’s not let it get any closer to the city,” you say. A picture-in-picture map of the region flashes up on your display. Taking it in with a glance, you calculate the best path for both evas to intercept. “We can move in and finish it off together. UN ground forces are too far out.” You project a confidence you don’t feel, your voice cool and firm.

With an idle thought you depress the evangelion’s control throttles, activating the nerve-link and melding your will with the eva’s. Alpha’s arms move as naturally as your own, seizing the weapons from their deployment cradles. The progressive glaive goes to an electromagnetic holster on your back, latching on with a dull thud that vibrates through your plug.

“Ethan? You’re sure?” Linda asks.

You mentally recall the footage you’ve seen of the angels of the past. No two were the same, their motivations and capabilities utterly unknown until they decided to strike. The most recent angel - until now - had been a monolithic crawling pillar excavated from the thawing Siberian permafrost. Its destruction had cost the lives of two pilots. Seventeen years after the first angel and still humanity was no closer to understanding them.

“I’m sure,” you say, suppressing any other thoughts.

With another impulse, you set Alpha moving. Titanic strides clear the tops of scrubby pines and cross streams. The forest green paint scheme of Alpha seems to blend in with the woodland around it, thought that was hardly the point. Like the angels, no two evas are alike. Alpha sports three red lensed eyes, symmetrically arranged and centered on its face while Bravo was a mono eye design.

As your eva jogs down the sloping hillside, you drag behind you a gargantuan power cable that trails back to an armored coupling. Perhaps the one weakness of the evangelion is its ravenous appetite for energy, more than any battery system can reliably keep up with. It has enough slack to get you to your combat site though.

Within minutes you catch site of Linda’s dull-orange Bravo unit mirroring your movements on the opposite hillside, the angel between you.

“It doesn’t seem to care we’re here,” Linda says. “Do you think it’s after the pipeline?”

“I don’t think Angels care about that kinda shit,” you say.

“It has to want something doesn’t it?” Linda asks.

You’re not sure you can answer that. A glance at your map shows that the angel is on course for Anchorage, plodding along with mechanical certainty. The situation wasn’t about to change any time soon. No time like the present. “Let’s finish this. Engage it with the impact rifle after I’ve gotten into position,” you say. “I’m moving closer to it.”

(1/2)
>>
“Be careful,” she says, the deep concern in her voice unmistakable.

“Affirmative.” Bravo halts dead in its tracks, feet gouging trenches in the earth. It shoulders the heavy impact rifle, a weapon of ungainly length. The impact rifle’s its rocket-assisted shells were designed to pierce virtually any sort of armor mankind was capable of making.

You will your eva down the rocky slope toward the bottom of the valley the angel moved across. While virtually nothing on earth had a reasonable chance of stopping an impact shell, the angels were like nothing else. Their bodies are protected by an unnatural energy field which is capable of blocking any conventional weapon short of a nuclear device. This field is named for the feelings it evoked in the scientific team that discovered its existence. Absolute Terror.

The angel’s special weapon was not unique however. Evangelions are likewise capable of generating - and therefore neutralizing - AT fields. You’ll have to get closer to the angel’s AT field to give Linda a better chance with that rifle.

A sharp warning trills from your console and your head snaps up in surprise. The angel is staring back at you with those three rubbery voids.

“Ethan!” Linda calls. Her shout is accompanied by a shot. The impact rifle bangs, the muzzle flash igniting dry evergreens around it. The shell streaks out and smashes flat against a shimmering hexagonal pattern in the air. The field hasn’t been neutralized yet.

“Alpha unit, evade!” Control demands.

A brilliant, glowing halo coalesces over the Angel’s torso and its body lifts suddenly and violently into the air. Once levitated, the angel is thrown feet first toward you, a swifter attack than you thought it was capable of making.

With an involuntary cry of panic, you throw your Eva to the side and sweep with the glaive. It’s a clumsy and rushed strike, but it connects all the same. The blade of your glaive rebounds off of the angel’s AT field with a shower of sparks. The force of the impact lurches you back, and the two of you rock back from one another.

The angel lands in a hunched, animal-like crouch.

Your eva staggers awkwardly a moment before you find your footing.

“Ethan!?”

“Fine,” you say. The bone-shattering crash of that attack would have killed anyone without the benefits of automatic LCL pressurization. That was all that saved your body from the sudden G-shock,

“Alpha, use the progressive glaive and drive the angel back. Neutralize its AT field and let Bravo take the shot.” Control’s voice is a little more frantic. They know that their fates hang on the success of two teenage pilots.

“Affirmative!” you snarl through gritted teeth. Your eva adjusts its grip on the glaive and you look for a weak spot with your opponent.

The angels stares back, as blank as a stopped clock.

“Attacking!” you shout and lunge in.

***

Roll 1d6. I need 3 rolls total.
>>
Rolled 2 (1d6)

>>4698555
>>
Rolled 2 (1d6)

>>4698555
>>
Rolled 5 (1d6)

>>4698555
>>
>>4698565
>>4698567
>>4698588

>2
>2
>5

Writing
>>
You leap forward with a graceful downward strike. The blade cleaves through the angel’s AT field like cutting a sheet of paper. A trail of glowing sparks follows the cut, your heart soars. You can beat it after all.

“Target’s AT field has been neutralized!” your radio buzzes.

You smash backward in your crash couch as the angel drives its arm into your Eva’s face, knocking you off balance. With a twirl of your wrist you manage to hack off the angel’s hand at the elbow, avoiding a follow up blow. It’s fast.

The angel advances relentlessly at you, grabbing your glaive by the shaft and holding it firm, denying you more attacks. Muscles bulge grotesquely in its remaining arm and you’re overpowered, driven first to your knees and then your back.

Alarms squeal and warnings flash in your cockpit. Your ears ring with the sound. You’re staring up into the hollow face-holes of the Angel and listening to a persistent buzzing. It takes you a moment to realize you’re hearing your own screams.

Voices echo through your radio, shouting for action, demanding you get up and fight back.

Clamping your mouth shut, you haul back on your command throttles, trying to wrest your glaive free. The effort is futile.

The angel looms over you, its eyes filling with that white, sourceless light. You recognize it as the precursor to a powerful energy blast.

“Bravo Unit, firing!” Linda shouted.

A trio of rounds punch through the angel, rocket motors burning. Black ichor splashes out its back as each one fully penetrates the angel, tearing through its rubber flesh before burrowing into the hillside behind you. The rocket motors drive them into the hillside where they detonated with enough force to start a small rockslide.

The angel turns its body to look back up the hill to where Linda stands in Bravo. It’s apparently unphased by these hits. With a jolt, the angel releases your glaive, turns, and starts up the hill toward Linda with surprising speed.


“No!” Linda shouts. “No! Stay away!” Her words are punctuated by more gunshots. One of them clips the thing’s thick, amorphous shoulder before careening away into the air and exploding.

Struggling against gravity and inertia, you force your eva back to its feet. Loose, rocky earth slides around underneath you. Your glaive splits in half, the shaft smoking where the angel grabbed it. Acid corrosion runs in thick lines down the remaining pole. You drop the weapon and deploy your progressive knife, hurrying up the hill after it.

The angel falls upon Linda with an unearthly shriek. It’s body is twisting and distorting, revealing itself to be more malleable than you’d seen at first. An ebon pseudopod forms from its back and batts away her impact rifle a moment before it crashes into her. The angel’s body is melting and oozing like tar as it slams her down, distorting to envelope her eva in a sticky, hissing tangle.

(1/2)
>>
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Linda’s panicked cries twist into agonized screaming as the angel’s acid eats into her eva. Thick, black prys at armor plating and burns through flesh as it seeks to get at and into the eva.

“Mental contamination rising! The angel is interfacing with the Eva!” a controller says.

“Cut connections, sever all feedback!”

“Impossible, the control circuit is being overridden!”

“Eject the plug, now.”

“I can’t!”

As Perdition’s command staff frantically seek an answer, you find your own footing on surer ground and race to the rescue. With a thought, you power on the sonic knife, setting the blade blurring with intense vibration.

Ethan!” Linda screams. “Help! Someone help me, please!

“Contamination is spreading out of control, 32% and climbing! We’re reaching the pilot’s mental threshold!”

It’s inside me! I can’t see anything! Ethan! Where are you?”

“Alpha-” control began.

“I see it!” you retort, lunging up the hill, your eva’s power cable trailing along behind you.

A flash of black movement catches your eye a moment before a pseudopod lashes out from the angel’s back and strikes your eva in the ribs.

With a grunt and a cry of pain, you rock as the impact resonates through the eva and then your own body. Nerves flare and burn as residual sensation from the eva overwhelms the feedback filters.

“Contamination is at 78%!”


>Attack the angel with the knife, drive it off Linda
>Fall back so that it pursues you
>Retrieve Linda’s rifle and blast it off her
>Write in
>>
>>4698622
>Attack the angel with the knife, drive it off Linda
>>
>>4698622
>Attack the angel with the knife, drive it off Linda
>>
>>4698622
>Retrieve Linda’s rifle and blast it off her
>>
>>4698622
>>Attack the angel with the knife, drive it off Linda
>>
>>4698622
>Attack the angel with the knife, drive it off Linda
Don't have time for anything else, we just have to hope for good rolls
>>
>>4698622

>Attack the angel with the knife, drive it off Linda
>>
>>4698533
Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down.

Letting the days go by, water flowing underground.

Into the blue again after the money's gone.

Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground.

Same as it ever was! (ad nausem)
>>
>Attack the angel with the knife, drive it off Linda

Writing
>>
You don’t have time for clever plans or cunning tactics. You only feel an overwhelming drive to save Linda. Panic is rising within you as her time runs out, matching the crescendo of her screams. With a feral cry, you lunge again.

The half-formed angel turns its lumpy head toward you with a snap.

This time you’re ready for the angel’s counter attack. Parrying with your knife, you cleave it with a swift, upward stroke, severing the proto-limb and sending more foul, black, blood painting the rocky hillside. Thick gore drips in clots from the trees.

Linda’s scream of horror becomes one of agony, mirroring the damage you deal to the angel.

There’s no time to delay, daring in close you plunge the vibrating knife into the angel’s body, the blade sinking in and blood bubbling and spurting out. The ichor is churned to gray foam by the vibration of your knife before it drips down across Linda’s collapsed Evangelion. You tear the knife free and hack at the angel, carving it away chunk by chunk. Linda’s screaming leaves your ears ringing.

The cries of pain pause with a shuddering gasp, “Ethan, stop! You’re killing me!”

You freeze, knife held high for a plunging strike. Killing her?

The pause is all the angel needs to strike. A thick tendril lashes out and strikes your Eva in the chest with enough force to cave in armor plates. An eye blast follows a second later, vaporizing trees and rocks.

Only a swift sideways roll saved you from that devastating blow. The victory is bitter sweet though. A harsh electronic tone trills.

“Alpha Unit umbilical cable severed, battery backup engaged,” control says.

With the power cable severed, you’re down to mere minutes of activity before total shutdown.

Linda’s screams fade with exhaustion, dissolving into static distortion. You only make out one final word. A plea. Ethan.

“Contamination is . . . Alpha unit . . .”

“Ethan, attack and destroy the angel at once!”

The gelatinous angel is coiled tightly around the smoldering ruin of Bravo Unit, its armor scorched and distorted. Skeletal limbs protrude, stripped for flesh, leaving only blackened bones. Through this nest of carnage you can faintly make out a white capsule. Her entry plug.

You have one chance to save her.

“Alpha, you’re to withdraw at once, draw back to the base to-”

You jam the throttles forward and leap toward the angel.

***

Roll 1d6. I need 3 rolls total.
>>
Rolled 2 (1d6)

>>4699172
Watch THIS
>>
Rolled 2 (1d6)

>>4699173
oh boy
>>
Rolled 1 (1d6)

>>4699172
>>
>these rolls
Rip Linda I guess
>>
>>4699173
>>4699219
>>4699225

>2
>2
>1

Writing
>>
File: despairing duck.png (37 KB, 216x205)
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>>4699229
Trama time!


>6 rolls
>4 2s
>>
Your knife tears through the Angel’s flesh with sickening ease. You carve a path through its constant assaults to get close to Bravo Unit even as it's reduced down to its skeleton.

“Linda!”

You see your opening, a gap in its attacks. Heedless of danger, you throw yourself forward and reach for the core. You see your eva’s hand as your own reaching out, further, further. But too far away. The mass begins to constrict around the plug, its white-armored form starts to crumple.

Linda!

A savage blow sends your Eva tumbling away, landing hard on your back.

The angel coalesces back into its humanoid form, drawing in its separate appendages and releasing Bravo Unit form its tar-like embrace. A desiccated, humanoid husk falls smoking from the Angel. All that remains of Bravo unit. All that’s left of . . .

The eva’s empty eye socket stares blankly at the sky. Its jaw is cranked open, smoke wafting over charred teeth. The black skull is locked in a silent death cry. And with it . . .

“Linda . . .” You whisper, tears blurring your vision. “Linda?”

“Alpha, respond! Alpha, retreat immediately!”

“Pilot exhibiting shock response, syncrograph is falling, 22% and-”

The Angel explodes toward you. Its solid body becomes a wave of thick goo that streams over your eva’s armor, eating its way into the crevices and gaps, burning its way into your mind. Your world becomes one of piercing agony. And then blackness.
>>
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Warm sunlight bathes you. You close your eyes and drink it in. The refreshingly chill breeze blowing in from the bay invigorates you. The eternal summer of the northern hemisphere hit Alaska as hard as anywhere, but sometimes the weather can be downright pleasant.

“Hey, boss!” Linda says, approaching you.

You’re sitting on a cement barrier at the edge of the base looking down on the bay near Anchorage. It’s the day before and none of this has happened yet.

Linda sits beside you and delivers a lopsided smile.

She’s close, hip-to hip with you. Close enough to make you uncomfortable. It’s not that you don’t like her. Linda is . . . well you and her are close. But that closeness brings with it a sense of risk. What would you jeopardize your only friendship for? Why should you want to upset what you have?

You don’t share her playfulness today. You’re tired. Tired of the endless drilling and training. Tired of the nervous apprehension that any day could be your last. “We’re not on duty, Linda,” you say, “You don’t need to call me ‘boss’.”

“Acknowledged, boss,” She doesn’t miss a beat, her smile unbroken. “Wow,” she says. “Beautiful. Not like home at all.”

Home. A word without meaning for you. Home is where you lay your head. Home is where you’re sent.

Linda prods your side with an elbow. “Why so down, sunshine?”

You fail to restrain a smile. No gloom can resist that brightness. Unwilling to be dragged from your melancholy, you turn to stare at the horizon twice as hard as before. “Just thinking.”

Linda lays her head on your shoulder. Soft, reddish-brown hair spills over you. She loops a hand around your arm, holding you close.

“Wh- Linda?” You stammer, caught off guard. You’re totally unsure of how to react or what to say. You don’t dare move or shift her or do anything that might disrupt this one fragile moment.

She pulls tighter to you without speaking, watching the sun dip lower over the mountains. “It’s cold,” she says after a moment. “I’m cold.”

You feel a blush, strange warmth in your cheeks. Her skin is warm on your arm. You think about telling her that it’s warmer in the base but you stop short. She feels nice, whatever this is.

Linda wiggles in place, caressing her own cheek with your shoulder.

“I’m not much warmer,” you say.

“That’s not true. You’re not cold like this place.” Her fingers close over your hand and she holds tight. Her hand entwined with yours.

(Cont.)
>>
The silence is broken only by a fresh gust of wind that draws a shiver from Linda.

“Linda, you know that I . . . we-”

“I know,” she says, “It doesn't have to do anything. Just chase the cold away. I want to feel warm for a minute. Just a minute."

“Linda,” you try again. This can only end badly.

“Ethan.” She continues to stare out at the sun.

You’re too tired to resist this. You give in.

She puts both arms around you, her face against your chest. “We don’t have to be alone,” she says.

You don’t say anything. You know the two of you are alone no matter what you pretend. You came into this world alone and you’ll go out the same way. You know that even this moment of weakness she showed would only hurt her later. For now, you’ll let her pretend. Let her pretend that everything can be fine.

“When all this is over,” Linda says, “maybe . . .”

She doesn’t need to finish the thought.

You sit together as the sun sinks lower on the horizon. You don’t move. You don’t kiss. There’s no romance in this moment, just mutual human weakness. Mutual fear of the future.

“It’s funny,” Linda says, her head poking up.

“Funny?”

Linda blinks her eyes. “Doesn’t it kind of look like the sun is rising?”
>>
You scream as the Angel bores into you. It tears past the nerve filters, through the armor of your Eva and into your mind. Your memories cook away into water vapor as the thing drills deeper. Your soul is torn apart.

The Angel's tentacles entwine your body, burning through your armor and your flesh alike. Alarms bleat in your ears and warning lights flash. Your throat is raw from screaming. Voices are saying something to you on the radio but you can't make them out, all you can do is focus on holding onto yourself. Your mind is eroding like sand in the tide, you feel yourself being drawn into it.

You look up, past the static filling your monitors and see the angel’s empty-eyed face staring down at you. It’s an empty and pitiless gaze. It’s a gaze that fills you with raw, untamed rage.

With every scrap of will you have left, you stab your progressive knife into its face. Ichor spurts across Alpha’s eyes, blinding you.

You feel your pain and the angel’s pain all at once. The same. As one. The LCL boils around you as your body is wracked with torment.

“Finish it, Ethan.”

You reach across your cockpit and grab the heavy red ejection handle.

“Finish it!”

With all your strength you pull. You think of the sunset as you do.

Your world goes white. Your mind untethers and you slip away.

(Continued soon)
>>
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You were a teenager when the world fell apart.

Second Impact. The name carries different weight for different people. Everyone lost something, but some most more than others. You don’t generally like to dwell on it. Few do.

Seventeen years ago the world was dragged into hell and brought you with it. It’s taken nearly that entire time for what remained of humanity to pull itself out of the yawning abyss and restore something approaching normalcy.

You’re Aalyiah Sayid and your life experience has left you equipped with skills and talents that make you uniquely suited for your current position as a special agent of Nerv. You’re a jack of all trades. Leadership, administrative duties, firearms, hand-to-hand combat, espionage, infiltration, you can do them all.

Only the best of the best find employment in Nerv’s elite tactical branch.

As a young girl in Dubai, you’d grown up dodging roving gangs in the flooded city. Avoiding the depredations of sick men in the dark. Occasionally hiding from the ragtag militias that vied for control of the small nation’s vast oil supply as the world fell apart. Before the UN came and took control of everything.

A lifetime of fear and hiding hardened you into a woman ready to fight. But for what reason do you fight?


>Revenge
-The Angels took everything from you and so many others. You won’t rest until you pay them back.

>Brighter future
-Your childhood was awful, a struggle just to survive. You’ll do anything to save others this fate.

>Love of the fight
-Life is but a dream. You know you can’t choose the story, but you might as well enjoy it.

>Write in
>>
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>>4699311
>Brighter future
>>
>>4699311
>Revenge
-The Angels took everything from you and so many others. You won’t rest until you pay them back.

GOTTA MAKE THE MOTHER OF ALL OMELETS JACK
>>
>>4699311
>Brighter future
>>
The complete less of an EVA? So early? Wow, NERV is doing worse than usual.

>>4699294
>You sit together as the sun sinks lower on the horizon. You don’t move. You don’t kiss. There’s no romance in this moment, just mutual human weakness. Mutual fear of the future.
Thank you for this.

>Female MC
That's not usually my thing, but you've got a solid hook here. I'm willing to see where this goes.


>Revenge
>-The Angels took everything from you and so many others. You won’t rest until you pay them back.

You write well, Killer. Color me interested.
>>
>>4699433
>The complete less of an EVA? So early? Wow, NERV is doing worse than usual.

Just know that this isn't the first Eva Nerv has lost so far

>Well
Thanks!

Welcome to the party pal
>>
>>4699311
>Brighter Furure
>>
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I don't know what just happened, but I look forward to the next installment.

>>4699311
>Brighter future
>>
>>4699311
>Brighter future
Pragmatic Idealist go
>>
>Brighter future

Writing
>>
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Despite everything. Despite everything that happened: humans live on. A new generation was born in the aftermath of Second Impact. It’s a tenuous hold on the future, a generation that grew up under the comforting shadow of the Valentine's Peace Accords. A generation that hasn’t known anything other than total UN hegemony.

In the wake of Second Impact, when the nations of the world turned on one another to squabble over the remaining land and resources, a billion more people died. It was only when the nations of the world set aside their differences and came together as one that the violence ended.

The elevator dings and the doors crawl open.

Any outsider would be forgiven for thinking it was a standard civilian office place. It's mostly cubicles, desks, and ringing phones.

A few co-workers nod and smile as you pass. You return the gesture and throw in a word of greeting here or there. In your time here they’ve become something like family though you’ve always tried to keep them at arm's length.

You quickly adjust the fit of your suit and step off the elevator and into the quiet bustle of office noise. The Portland branch of Nerv is small, cozy almost. It’s been your home for the past few years now

The city is swollen with refugees from nearby Seattle and other coastal towns and as such rapidly grew in importance, eventually becoming the administrative capital of north western North America.

At the end of the hall you reach your office. It’s a step up from a closet, but it has a window so you can’t complain too much. Pausing at your desk, you note a flashing red light on your phone. You have no illusions about what it could be. It would be the same as the one that set you up with your new life in Portland. As such, it could wait for now.

(Cont.)
>>
Outside, the city hums with activity. A million lives going on heedless of the state of the world. A drizzling rain falls from a gauzy, grey sky.

It's a far cry from hot, dry Dubai. Nothing remains of that city of course. Cataclysmic tidal activity buried nearly all of it, drawing down the city of your youth as well as your family. The following war over resources consumed what was left as neighboring Arab countries and global superpowers attacked and counter attacked to secure the oil wells.

You find it’s best not to dwell on what’s been lost. Yesterday is lost to us, but tomorrow is ripe for the taking.

“Sayid?” You section chief pokes his head into your office, yanking you from your thoughts.

“What’s up, chief?” you ask, circling the desk to sit behind it.

The chief holds out a thin, white envelope. “Marching orders.”

No doubt it was what the phone call was about too.

You take the letter carefully from his hands. It’s stamped with the official Nerv apple logo. For now, you maintain appearances though you have an inkling of what it says. “Orders? What did I do this time?” A cocky grin mixed with just the right amount of uncertainty.

“Looks like a promotion,” the chief says.

You pulled the letter out, eyes running quickly over the page, absorbing everything.
>>
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“Wow!” You say with feigned enthusiasm. “New Tampa?”

“The big leagues,” the chief agrees, almost wistfully. A bureaucrat like him would plateau in a place like Portland. New Tampa was a fresh frontier to make a name for yourself.

You look up from the letter. “Does this have something to do with the angel attack?”

The chief sighs and shakes his head sadly. “First one in five years, Sayid. Just when you think you’re done with em . . . hell, who knows what goes on in the council. Could be. Nerv 03 is deep into the Evangelion project.”

“Do we know the final damage tally?” you ask.

“Officially?” the chief raises an eyebrow. “No. Unofficially . . .”

You bat your eyes innocently.

“They say they lost two evas.”

You let out a low whistle. You’re not supposed to know details about Nerv’s defense arrangements, but given the nature of your job, you do. If Perdition lost both of its evas then that was serious. “The pilots?”

He shrugs. “I know one is being treated for injuries. That’s all they tell me.”

“Some help you are,” you tease.

“Yeah,” he snorts. “Listen, the other guys in the office, we’re going to put together a little goodbye party. Jenna is bringing a cake, so don’t slip out early.”

You beam, “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Your smile fades when the chief leaves your office. Casting the letter to your desk you hit play on the voicemail.

“This is Michael calling from the Anselm company. I’m calling for Agent Sayid. I have someone you’ll want to speak with. He’ll be waiting for you at Memorial Square.” The voicemail ends.

It’s a lie of course. There is no such Anselm company. This is a call from your bosses. Your real bosses in the UN. No doubt wanting to let you know the true reason for your sudden transfer.

Officially you work as a special agent for Nerv, doing their dirty work weather that be bureaucratic or tactical. In actuality you take your orders from the UN Intelligence committee. Put more simply, you’re a spy.

You stay in the office just long enough for it to look productive - well, productive enough for someone on their apparent last day. Once you’re satisfied you take the elevator back to the ground floor. Memorial Square is only a short walk from your office.
>>
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You walk the busy streets, heedless of the rainfall until you arrive at Memorial Square. Like so many other monuments to the lost of Second Impact it is tasteless and morbid. The steps surrounding the square are covered with engravings of names. Not names of people, names of towns and cities lost in the cataclysm.

The steady rain begins to let up enough for you to raise your head, taking in the park. Beads of water drip from the tips of your short, dark hair. You sweep it back with a hand and start looking for your contact. The weight of your sidearm in its shoulder holster is reassuring though you know if you need to use it things will be beyond bad. You've never fired it in anger, but you're always prepared to.

You see your man a moment later. A twenty-something bike courier on break, sitting on a bench and sipping from a sports bottle.

“Do you mind if I sit here?” you ask.

The man looks up at you, his eyes hard. Any illusion that he’s just an enterprising young man evaporates in that moment. You recognize the eyes of a killer. You’ve seen them countless times before. “It won’t bother me if the rain doesn’t bother you.”

“The rain never bothers me,” you say, completing the code phrase.

You sit and the courier slides a messenger bag to you without looking. You draw out a thick manila envelope. Unmarked.

“My orders?” you ask, voice low, careful not to look at him.

“The Intelligence Committee is sending you to New Tampa. It’s been arranged as a work transfer.”

“I was just told,” you say. You open the envelope a crack and look inside. You see dozens of grainy, black and white surveillance photos of Nerv personnel as well as a thick stack of personnel files. “Keeping me busy?”

“This won’t be an easy assignment. New Tampa is a fortress. Nerv keeps a tight check on their personnel. The committee needs someone on the inside.”

“What happened to the last one?” you ask.

The courier smirks a little. “You don’t miss anything do you? Our last agent is officially a missing person. Unofficially we suspect foul play. The man in charge there, Colonel Versetti is a person of interest who we need an eye kept on.”

You leaf through the half-hidden documents and see a photograph of an older, grinning man in military uniform with short-cut, white hair. “What’s his story?”

“The documents are all there,” the courier says. “Read the dossiers and destroy them. There's an encrypted radio receiver and transmitter as well. This is how you'll communicate with us. Use it sparingly. Officially you're escorting a fresh Eva pilot to the base. Her file is in there as well."

(cont.)
>>
“They’re moving a pilot to Nerv 03?” you ask.

“They’re moving three pilots to Nerv. They’re going to have the largest concentration of Evangelions on the planet. All on Verestti’s orders.

You blink. “It sounds like he’s preparing for war. Does he know something we don’t?”

“That’s one of the mysteries we hope to answer.”

“Anything else I should know?”

“Your contact in New Tampa is codenamed Pinion. If you should need something we can arrange a meeting.”


>What’s the plan for my extraction if I’m compromised?
>What exactly is the Committee hoping to learn about Versetti?
>I guess this goodbye then
>Write in
>>
>>4699994
>What exactly is the Committee hoping to learn about Versetti?
>>
>>4699994
>>What exactly is the Committee hoping to learn about Versetti?
This intrigue intrigues me
>>
>>4699994
>Write in
Any particular vice Versetti prefers partaking in?
>>
>>4699993
>>4700543
Supporting
>>
>>4700022
>>4700379
>>4700543

>Writing
>>
You glance over the files again. “Versetti seems like a stand up guy. What exactly is the Committee hoping to learn?”

The courier’s façade cracks a bit with a smirk. “If I can get poetic a bit-”

You chuckle, “Why not? Be my guest.”

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”

You’re a little surprised to hear classic Latin from this stone-faced spy. “Who watches the watchers,” you translate aloud.

“Versetti has been given the keys to the kingdom. Absolute authoritarian control over Nerv’s most advanced and formidable base. He’s being trusted with a lot of power. Nerv 03 controls the lion’s share of Evangelions in active use.”

“And the Committee doesn’t know if he can be trusted anymore,” you suggest.

The courier shrugs before adjusting his elbow and knee pads. “Something like that. I’ll know even less than you do after you read those documents. All I know is that Versetti’s recent efforts seem to be centered around two goals: gather more Evangelions and Eva parts for Nerv 03, and securing New Tampa against outside interference.”

“You mean against UN involvement.”

“Bingo.”

“So he’s building an army and he’s turning New Tampa into his own personal kingdom.”

“That’s for you to figure out.” The courier stands, stretches, and mounts his bike.

“What else can you tell me about this guy?” you ask. “Any known vices?”

“It’s all in the dossiers. Good luck.” The courier stands and pedals with practiced ease, weaving through the crowd. In a moment he’s gone, out of sight like he never existed.

You stare after him a minute before looking back at the plain envelope in your hand. It’s heavy with possibilities. The weight is foreboding. In any case, you have a party to get to and then, tomorrow, a plane to catch. Plenty of time to review these files and prepare yourself for the mission ahead.
>>
You are Ethan Chandler and you’re standing on a rainy tarmac watching an enormous UN ultra-heavy lifter taxi down the runway toward you. Its white hull paint looks gray as water beads and drips off of it.

The sky blue UN logo is faintly visible. Just below it you can see grey Cyrillic lettering. It's come a long way from the Russian Pacific coast to get here.

No one bothered to tell you what happened to Linda. In the days following the attack as you recovered in the hospital you had plenty of time to replay the moment in your head. You'd gone over it again and again, watching that tiny, white capsule crushed by the malleable bulk of the angel. You heard Linda's screams die. You-

The roar of jet engines fades as the flying wing turns to park nearby. A long boarding ramp extends to meet the craft and you're ushered forward by security personnel.

The hand over is swift and professional. It is conducted like a cargo transfer. And with the sign of a form you become someone else's responsibility.

You march up the steps, mindful of your injured arm in its sling. Your body aches all over from your ejection. The subsequent explosion of your eva's core was powerful enough to vaporize the angel and what was left of Bravo Unit. It also ate a crater into the side of the mountain large enough to be a new lake.

The doctors had said you were lucky to be alive. It was funny in a way. You don't feel lucky.

The interior of the ship is strangely comfortable. Despite it's military exterior it has a roomy passenger cabin like would be found on any civilian airliner, only this one is near totally deserted.

You navigate down the empty aisle toward the only other passengers on the plane. With a bit of effort you manage to wedge your lone duffel bag into an overhead bin. As you struggle to load it, you take a glance at the others.

There are two, an adult man and a girl your age. The man has dark, slicked back hair and wears a cheap suit. He catches your eye a moment and then looks away, suddenly preoccupied with his tray table latch. He has the look of Nerv security about him. He also seems intent on not helping you with your bag. You can just make out the grip of a handgun holstered under his armpit, half-hidden by his suit jacket.

The girl never looks up. Her clothes are casual, plain enough to not seem flashy but somehow nice enough to be obviously expensive. Long, platinum blonde hair is held in place by a simple cat-ear headband. Her eyes are cool and vacant, fixed on the flashing screen of a Sega Nomad III. From this angle they look like dark mirrors, revealing only the glowing rectangle of the monitor.

Neither says anything.
>>
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You pick a seat at random across the aisle from them and stare out the window. You're near enough to the girl that you can hear the rapid plastic tapping of the game console's buttons. You look out the window and watch the green countryside as the plane takes off minutes later. In a short time the rolling Alaskan countryside is lost beneath a sea of rain-heavy clouds. New Tampa is many hours away..

You're still not really sad to go. Home is where you lay your head. The only thing keeping you tied to Anchorage and Perdition was Linda but-

Finish it, Ethan.

You shake your head. Linda's voice has been playing in your mind since you woke up in that hospital bed. She'd encouraged you, helped you with that last, desperate act but . . . It couldn't have been her. She was dead by then. It seemed like maybe your memory of her outlived her body.

An hour into the flight, the spooky-looking agent gets up from his seat and adjusts his tie.

You can't help but look at him and again make eye contact. The look he gives you isn't friendly. He says something in Russian to the girl.

She responds with a curt "Da.

The agent leaves for the rear of the plane, leaving the two of you alone.

The latching of the lavatory door sounds like a gunshot in the relative stillness of the cabin. Then the only sound is the hum of jet engines and the electronic sounds from the Nomad.

The girl mutters something in Russian, that sounds like a swear. You hear the game reboot and start again.

You don't feel much like socializing. You don't feel like much of anything. Your heart feels like a block of ice in your chest. You don't feel pain as much as numbness. You'd always known since you became a pilot that you were a soldier and that this is a war. You’d told yourself that you might die, that your friends might die. You thought you were prepared for that.


You glance over at the girl again. The only reasonable explanation is that she is an eva pilot just like you.


>Spend the trip trying to clear your head
>Ask about the game the girl is playing
>Ask the girl if she is an Eva pilot
>Write in
>>
>>4700653
>Write in
>Take a nap for the duration of the flight, this has been a very awful week.
>>
>>4700653
>Office lady is a spy for the global hegemony
Welp.

>>Spend the trip trying to clear your head
We don't feel like talking, and she pretty clearly isn't interested either.
>>
>>4700670
Support
>>
>>4700653
>Spend the trip trying to clear your head
>>
>>4700653
Actually changing my vote >>4700969 to this >>4700670

It'll be good to be well rested when we arrive, and I'm curious to see what, if anything, we dream about
>>
>>4700653
>nap time
>>
>>4700670
>>4700763
>>4700878
>>4700969
>>4700971
>>4701277

>Sleep

Writing
>>
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You turn over in your seat, bunching up your jacket underneath your head as a makeshift pillow. You’re no stranger to stealing snatches of sleep when you can. A climate-controlled airplane cabin would work as well as anywhere. Pulling the shade over your window to shut out the daylight, you close your eyes and steady your breathing.

In. Out.
In. Out.
In.

Like the lapping of the tide on the beach. Each crystal-blue wave rushes over the sugar-white sand and toppled cement blocks. The tops foam white with the impact and spray stings your cheeks. The sun is low on the horizon over the ocean, gold and vibrant.

You sit on a falling concrete piling and savor the breeze.

In. Out.

You hear humming nearby. It’s a tune you can almost recognize. Something so familiar that it nags the edges of your mind. Soothing, but lively. That song-

A hand touches your cheek.

“Ethan.”

***

Your eyes snap open and the hum of muffled jet engines returns.

The PA system crackles a moment. “Passengers and crew, please be advised. We are now beginning final descent toward Snelson Air Force Base in New Tampa. We expect to be on the ground in less than fifteen minutes.” The announcement was then repeated in Russian.

You exhale.

Looking to your right, you see the girl and man are both in their seats. She’s put her Nomad away and is staring out the window, chin resting on a hand.

The man brushes off his suit, checks his watch, and then looks at her for a few moments before looking away.

You’re here.
>>
You’re Agent Aaliyah Sayid and you’re southbound on an airliner, traveling from Portland to Nerv-2. Outwardly you’re idling the time away. Inwardly you’re mentally reviewing the dossier. You’d studied and memorized everything all last night. You’d read as you smoked and after finishing each page you’d burned it with your lighter. Letting the blackened remains drip down into an ashtray.

It didn’t exactly add up. The situation made your head ache in a way that made you long for another cigarette.

The man in charge of Nerv 03, Colonel Mathias Versetti is career military. US Special Forces before Second Impact, transferred into the United Nations after the Valentine’s Treaty. His file doesn’t have much on his service. He participated in leading stabilization efforts of the American Gulf coast when the flooding hit. He’d demonstrated a penchant for leadership and improvisation. By all accounts a good and loyal officer.

Versetti apparently had connections as well within the upper echelons of UN leadership. Bold, charismatic, and enigmatic, he’d been a key figure in the chaos following Second Impact.

In 2001 Versetti had been in Buenos Aires when the Second Angel had attacked. While that combat record is still sealed, you know it was the first angel defeated in battle, and the only one handled purely with conventional weapons. That battle was the reason Buenos Aires wasn’t on the map anymore.

The colonel had made a name for himself there, eventually being placed in charge of the construction and development of the New Tampa reclamation zone.

You drum your fingers on the seat rest in agitation.

The man was clean. Or at least no one knew the dirty parts yet. Versetti doesn’t drink, smoke, or even fraternize much outside of work.

His closest associate is another military type, a man named Holiday. Major Brent Holiday was special forces like Versetti, his record much the same. He primarily handled ill-fated search and rescue missions on the Venezuelan coast following Second Impact. Despite what having a name like ‘Major Holiday’ would imply, he seems in many ways the opposite of Versetti. Quiet, withdrawn. He’s scowling in virtually every one of his photos.

Of note is his daughter, Captain Rose Holiday, the current head of operations in Nerv 03. Rose has the unusual distinction of being the first Evangelion pilot to see combat. Retired now, she saw action in 2004 where she destroyed the 3rd Angel outside of New Tampa. A hero by all accounts.

So what the hell was the Committee worried about?

(Cont.)
>>
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Before it drives you too insane, you mentally close the book on it. You’ll be there soon enough after all. Instead, you take out the documents you’re legally meant to have. The personnel report on the pilot you’re picking up. The document is hardly flattering in the portrait it paints.

The pilot, a girl, age 17. Korine McIntosh, American. She has a colorful history of emotional problems that span back to her upbringing in a state orphanage. In her official photo, paperclipped to the top of the stack she looks markedly unhappy. Her oil-black hair is cut short and erratic. Her eyes are circled with thick, dark rings of makeup.

You sigh and turn the page.

After some genetic information and an uninteresting stack of training stats you thumb through her psych evaluations. Korine has a noted lack of enthusiasm for her work. The words ‘clinical depression’ and ‘social disconnect’ get thrown around a lot. There’s some suggestion that these problems are genetic, stemming back to her mother, but it’s all speculative.

As with Versetti, you suppose you’ll see soon enough.

(Cont.)
>>
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As the airliner descends below the clouds the base comes into view. Once one of the most secretive facilities in the world, the Groom Lake base was converted to house a large scale Nerv facility. You see Evangelion production buildings and the usual collection of military vehicles and personnel.

The plane touches down and you debark into dry, whipping wind. It’s oppressively hot but it reminds you of a childhood left far behind.

Stepping off the plane, you button your suit jacket and put on sunglasses. The horizon is a dull tan. Dusty and destroyed by rising heat waves in all directions. You descend the boarding ramp and approach a group of Nerv personnel standing nearby looking miserable in their dark suits.

“Agent Sayid?” one of them asks.

Before answering, you glance at the outlier in the midst of the group, Korine. She wears a scowl and all black. You’re surprised she hasn’t melted in this heat.

Behind them all is a massive cargo plane with an Evangelion being loaded onto it. Your next ride.

“I’m Agent Carver,” the woman who spoke continues, stepping forward to offer her hand.

“Aaliyah,” you introduce yourself and shake her hand. “This must be Korine,” you say, indicating the young girl.

Carver looks back at her with thinly-veiled contempt. “This is her. You’ll be taking custody at this point and bringing her the rest of the way to Nerv 03.”

You look at Korine again who is looking everywhere but at you. “Pleasure to meet you,” you say, offering a hand.

Korine finally looks at you, eyes hard with hate. “Charmed.” She says. She doesn’t shake but does briefly rest her hand lightly in yours.

“You've got a tight schedule to keep Agent Sayid,” Carver says. “That-” she points back at the massive super-heavy lifter. “Will take the both of you the rest of the way to New Tampa.”

Korine starts walking for the plane without being prompted.

“Let’s get going then,” you say and follow after her.

You and Korine are the only passengers on this particular fleet, an entire passenger cabin completely empty.

Korine unloops a small bag from her back and throws it into a seat before plopping down beside it and staring out the window, waiting for take off.


>Things might be easier if we try to get to know each other a bit
>I don’t want to do this any more than you do. If you cooperate with me I’ll make things easy for you.
>Leave her alone
>Write in
>>
>>4701368
>I don’t want to do this any more than you do. If you cooperate with me I’ll make things easy for you.
>>
>>4701368
>Leave her alone
>>
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>>4701368
>I don’t want to do this any more than you do. If you cooperate with me I’ll make things easy for you.

>>4701364
>Versetti apparently had connections as well within the upper echelons of UN leadership
Seele
>In 2001 Versetti had been in Buenos Aires when the Second Angel had attacked. While that combat record is still sealed, you know it was the first angel defeated in battle, and the only one handled purely with conventional weapons. That battle was the reason Buenos Aires wasn’t on the map anymore.
pic related
>>
>>4701368
Wow, she's got even more problems than most EVA pilots. I've sure when our nature as a spy is eventually revealed, it won't give her even more psychosis.

>>Leave her alone
Give her a bit of space before trying to be friendly.
Desired or not, she is our cover; we need to at least try to keep up appearances.
>>
>I don’t want to do this any more than you do. If you cooperate with me I’ll make things easy for you.
>>4701681
>>4701844

>Leave her alone
>>4701711
>>4702005


Tied. Holding for 15 minutes and then I am breaking it with a dice roll.
>>
Rolled 1 (1d2)

>1 I don’t want to do this any more than you do
>2 Leave her alone

Rolling and writing
>>
You linger a moment, looking down at Korine.

“Listen,” you say, pulling off your sunglasses. “I don’t want to do this any more than you do.”

Korine turns and looks up at you. Her smudgy, dark eyes simmering with disdain and apathy in equal measures.

“I mean, look at me.” You hold your arms out. “I’m not exactly the baby sitting type, right?”

The pilot looks you over and shrugs.

“So if you just play along with me and cooperate, I’ll make things easy for you. Sound good?”

She shrugs again. “Whatever.” Korine turns to look out the window. “Just dump me off on someone else when we get to Tampa or wherever.”

You never had the luxury she has. You never had the luxury to be a petulant teenager. At her age you were just fighting to survive. You want to be pissed off. You want to see this kid as a parasite on society. But still, you can’t help but see something beautiful. A promise of tomorrow. You weren’t like her as a teenager because you couldn’t afford to be. Civilization allows weakness because civilization is meant to protect the weak.

“I’m not dumping you off on anyone,” you protest. “I’m not exactly cut out for it but I’m going to do what I can, okay?”

She looks back at you again. “Your name is Said right?”

“Sayid,” you correct. “But you can call me Aaliyah."

“Aaliyah,” she says, “I’ve heard it all before. You guys are all the same to me, okay? Suits, sunglasses, guns, business. I get it. My job is to pilot the Eva, and your job is to make sure I do mine, right?”

You smirk at her assessment, “Something like that.”

Korine fishes in her bag and produces a pair of headphones and audio player. “I’ll keep doing my job.” She says the words softly, almost under her breath. “So you don’t have to worry.” She snugs the earphones in place and hits play.

You turn away with a silent sigh and sit nearby. As if you didn’t have enough on your plate. Now you have to be the guardian of a kid. You can’t wait to see what your new higher ups at New Tampa assign you on top of this.

At some point you doze off during the flight but wake up during final approach. Gravity and inertia compete for control over your body as the massive flying wing circles and descends toward the city.
>>
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New Tampa. An engineering marvel and technological citadel. A fortress city built in the midst of the loss of Second Impact. The city is a manmade island surrounded by a shallow sea, what used to be Florida.

As the plane circles in you see waves breaking along the massive cement dyke that encircles the city. Rising up from within this concrete ring are row on row of glittering towers of steel and glass. The highest points in the city are dotted with gently turning wind turbines. The roofs of the buildings are covered in solar panels that flash and glint in the sun. The city sits on land dredged up from the bay around it, the sea kept out with fortifications fit to stop an army.

Even Korine seems impressed, unable to look away, face glued to the window.

On the final loop you can see the ruins of old Tampa to the east. They rise from the water like jagged bones. Steel frames are stained brown with rust. Vines climb their exteriors and clumps of mangroves rise from the shallow water around them. Strange ecosystems seemed to have formed in the skeletal remains of human civilization. A painful reminder that even in the face of man’s majesty, nature remains unbowed.

Your flight descends to make touch down at the northern tip of the city, Snelson air force base. The base itself is unremarkable. It’s just like any of a dozen other military facilities you’ve seen in your time. Noteworthy only for the broad expanses of open space in an otherwise densely packed urban island.

You debark the plane minutes later, Korine following behind you. Your first impression is the damp in the air. Thick, tropical humidity clings to everything, made worse by the rain evaporating off the pavement. Thunder rolls distantly, distinct from the shriek and roar of jet aircraft taking off and landing. A storm has just recently passed through here, spiking the moisture of an already humid environment.

A wide-windowed terminal building is nearby. You and Korine cross a short stretch of wet tarmac and enter. As a military facility it is largely without frills, purely functional. It is also conspicuously deserted save for a gaggle of personnel with Nerv ID cards pinned to their chests. Your welcoming committee. Unlike Carver at Nerv 02, at least they look pleased to see you.

“You’re Sayid?” a woman in her early thirties asks, stepping forward from the rest of the group. Her blonde hair is shot through with pink highlights that seemed entirely out of step with the rest of her appearance. She wears a black, silk eyepatch that covers her right eye. A pair of dark, parallel scars run up from the patch, over her forehead and across her temple. Where the scars pass through her hairline her skin is laid bare.
>>
Her distinct appearance makes her easily identifiable to you. This is Rose Holiday, former Eva pilot and daughter of Major Brent Holiday who is Versetti's second in command. The scars are a product of a fight against an Angel. Her only battle, one that saved this city years ago. The same ones that ended her short-lived career.

You meet her halfway and shake her hand. “Aaliyah,” you say. “And you’re Captain Holiday. Head of operations and the tactical division.”

She smiles, almost embarrassed. “Oh, I don’t like to be so formal. Rose is fine. And this must be Korine.”

Korine hangs her headphones around her neck and gives a sarcastic half wave. “Yo.”

Rose beams at the two of you. “Welcome to New Tampa, the bastion city. Up for a tour?”

“Absolutely,” you reply. Free intel is free intel.

“Um, can you like, drop me off somewhere?” Korine asks. “I’ll pilot but I don’t need the whole tour thing.”

Rose replies with a tight-lipped smile. “I’m afraid I must insist.”

Korine sighs loudly enough to be heard.

“This way,” Rose says, gesturing you toward a nearby parking deck. "How was the flight?" she asks you.

“When you fly for free, you can’t complain,” you say, stretching your arms overhead as you walk. “Plenty of leg room too.”

Rose chuckles.

You exit the terminal and enter a parking garage. Rose leads you to a nearby sedan where she gets in the driver's seat. You take shotgun and Korine gets in the back.

"You've been with Nerv a while, is that right Aaliyah?” Rose asks and starts the car with the hum of an electric engine.

“A couple years,” you say.

“And you never made it out to New Tampa?”

“As I understand it, this is a pretty exclusive posting,” you return.

“Is it? Maybe I’m out of the loop. Been here since the beginning. I grew up here as you probably know.” She pulls out of the garage and into the sunlit city. "You'll like it here. Newest city on earth, and that's saying something."
>>
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As the car pulls onto street level you notice that everything seems to be sparkling. Beaded water droplets trace glittering lines down the glass fronts of buildings. Water-slick roads flash in the sun and crystal pools gather in drainage recesses.

“Big storm?” you ask.

“Oh,” Rose says, merging into modest traffic. “You'll get used to that. Thirty minute thunderstorms. Old Tampa was the lightning capital of the world and Second Impact didn’t do as any favors so we see a lot"

“That so?” you muse.

Everything in the city seems fresh and clean. Pavement is smooth and unblemished, the buildings are shining and spotless. You notice also that the streets are mostly clear for a city of this size. Lots of foot traffic.

“How many people live here?” you ask.

"Over a million," Rose says proudly. "A million more waiting to move in when we finish the outlying suburban districts. The dredging boats run all day. 24/7. You two will see them from your place."

Most other traffic on the road appears to be tied to the government in some way, army vehicles, police, service and maintenance crews, with most people apparently traveling on foot or via monorail.

“The city is fairly compact,” Rose says, “We make do with public transit when and where we can. Busses, metro, monorail. The city is broken into districts which are each sectioned off with interior seawalls in case of a major breach. The idea is any one section can survive independent of the others. Snelson air base -- where you two landed -- provides tactical support and we also have a mechanized brigade and static defenses in the sea wall. All to supplement the Evangelions."


>Why build a fortress city in the middle of the sea like this?
>This is all so amazing! Growing up here must have been incredible
>Tell me more about the city’s defensive capabilities
>Write in
>>
>>4702443
>>Tell me more about the city’s defensive capabilities
>>
>>4702443
>Why build a fortress city in the middle of the sea like this?
Looks like angels really love attacking shore cities (Anchorage (5th), Buenos Aires (2nd), New Tampa (3rd)). But there's no defense in depth plan for this place, is there?

Also we're missing the story of the 4th angel.
>>
>>4702646
>Also we're missing the story of the 4th angel.
There was a short blurb about it earlier.

>>4698554
>The most recent angel - until now - had been a monolithic crawling pillar excavated from the thawing Siberian permafrost. Its destruction had cost the lives of two pilots
>>
>>4702652
Oops, sorry. Tried to find it by direct mention.
>>
>>4702443
>>Tell me more about the city’s defensive capabilities
>>
>>4702653
No worries! I had a moment of inward panic that I skipped something.
>>
>>4702443
>Why build a fortress city in the middle of the sea like this?
>Tell me more about the city’s defensive capabilities
>>
>>4702443
>>Why build a fortress city in the middle of the sea like this?
Angels almost always come from the sea, no? why on Earth would you go to all the effort to build a new city on an artificial island?
>>
>Tell me more about the city’s defensive capabilities
>Why build a fortress city in the middle of the sea like this?
>>
>>4703611
>Tell me more about the city’s defensive capabilities
>Why build a fortress city in the middle of the sea like this?
Writing
>>
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“I wanted to ask about that,” you say. “Why build a fortress city in the middle of the sea like this?”

Rose spares a second to smile at you. “Because we can.”

You can’t help but smile back at her flippancy. “I’m no strategist, but that seems a flimsy reason to spend billions of dollars.”

“No, you’re right of course,” Rose says. “There’s more to it than that. New Tampa is a lot of things, but one of the most important is ‘a symbol’.”

“A symbol?”

She nods, eyes on the road. “A symbol of the future to come. If we can reclaim this then there’s nothing we can’t do. A city almost utterly erased by Second Impact reborn again but better. It is also well situated to act as a staging point between North and South America and can handle commercial traffic from Europe and Africa.”

“But given what we’ve seen, three of the last five angels have attacked by sea. This city itself was a target.”

“All the more reason to build an island fortress then, wouldn’t you say?” Rose asks.

You’re not sure you agree.

“We know so very little about the Angels,” Rose says. “They’re as alien to us now as they were at the turn of the millennium. But it’s really no surprise the angels come from the ocean. Three quarters of this planet was covered by water even before the deluge. It’s an unknown frontier. What better place for the Angels to gestate or grow?”

“Assuming they even do anything like that,” you counter.

Rose smiles faintly. “I wish I could answer your question better. Really. Colonel Versetti would be a better person to ask, though I’m not sure you’d get a clearer answer.”

“Or your father,” you suggest, prodding for a reaction.

Her expression doesn’t change. Not obviously anyway, but you note a subtle tensing of her jaw muscles. “The major might know.” She does not elaborate.
>>
“What about the city’s defensive capabilities?” you ask. “I know you mentioned conventional air units and armored brigades.

“Nerv 03 operates four Eva units currently,” Rose says. “They are our main line of defense. Everything else is supplemental. The seawall is armed with a variety of weapons, the airbase has nuclear capabilities. All vital infrastructure is hardened against megaton yield explosions. But we’re not a purely military camp,” she adds quickly. “There are plenty of things to do. Parks, restaurants, arcades, malls." She looks at Korine in the rear view mirror. "You like the mall right, right Korine?"

“Sure,” Korine says from the back seat. “Love it.” It’s impossible to know if that was sarcasm or sarcastic sarcasm.

“Doesn’t it seem ill-conceived to mix military and civilian like that?” you ask.

“One day this is all going to end,” Rose says. The levity in her voice is gone, replaced with a cool determination. “One day we’ll defeat the angels once and for all, and then we can start to undo the damage they’ve done to us and our planet. When that day comes, we won’t need bombs and shells, or even Evas. We’ll need families. Children. We’ll need engineers and architects, students and teachers. New Tampa is a promise of that future.”

Behind you, Korine sighs and puts her headphones back on. A moment later you can hear the dull pound of music.

“Has she been like this since you got here?” Rose asks, voice low.

“Pretty much.” You glance at Korine in the rearview mirror but she’s looking at the buildings as they pass. Her chin rests dejectedly on a hand. “I only met her earlier today though.”

“It’s a tough job,” Rose says. “Especially for kids.” Her boisterousness is gone, giving you a look at the military professionalism you imagine she shows at work. “We ask a lot of them and it can be hard to process all that. Mentally. Emotionally.” She glances at you. “Let me know if you have trouble with her, maybe I can help.”


>You were a pilot too, weren’t you?
>I appreciate the effort, thank you.
>I’m not sure you or I can help her
>Write in
>>
>>4703659
>I’m not sure you or I can help her
>>
>>4703659
>I’m not sure you or I can help her
They have her over a barrel, and they know it. There really isn't much she can do, It's not like they would let her run away, or leave at this point; and things are only going to get worse.
>>
>>4703659
>I’m not sure you or I can help her
>>
>>4703659
>You were a pilot too, weren’t you?
>I appreciate the effort, thank you.
Keep digging for information. Hopefully she won't get suspicious
>>
>>4703659
>four EVAs
That's quite a few, considering how limited pilots are, and how expensive they are to build and maintain.

>>I appreciate the offer, but I’m not sure you or I can help her.
She wasn't in a good place even before becoming a pilot, and has only gotten worse since.
>>
>>4703659
>>4703751
>>
>>4703658
>>I’m not sure you or I can help her
we've asked enough that kinda pushed the line. wait until later to keep at it, and don't try to let the disturbed kid get pestered by Rose
>>
>I’m not sure you or I can help her

Writing
>>
You look back at Korine one more time. Her eyes are troubled, face sullen. Dappled sunlight plays across her as the car passes through a row of palm trees.

“I’m not sure you or I can help her,” you say. “She wasn't in a good place even before becoming a pilot and it’s only gotten worse.”

Rose nods understandingly. “We’re going to need her soon enough I’m afraid. Right now we only have one other pilot and . . . well he can be a bit much.”

“Only two pilots?” you ask.

She nods. “Renton has been stationed here for years, but now we’re increased our compliment to four evas. We’re pulling in two other pilots as well, but for now it’s just Korine and Renton. Oh!” she exclaims. “I almost forgot.”

She reaches past you to open the glove compartment while keeping her eyes on the road. There is a packet in there. "Your new Nerv security card and Korines. There’s also some orientation material, maps, et cetera."

“Thank you,” you say.

“Of course!”

Rose’s tour of the city helps get you better acquainted with your new home. The city isn’t much different from anywhere else you’ve been. It’s more modern and newer, but it’s a city all the same. The fact that it’s built atop an artificial island seems almost secondary.

As Rose said, each district is blocked off with an interior seawall. Grey cement walls cut between high rises to cordon off certain areas. Rose takes a few quick turns through the winding city streets before passing through an armored gate set into the bottom of one of the massive seawalls.

"Let’s swing by and take a look at your accommodations, shall we?”

“Let’s,” you agree.

“You’ll be staying in the third district which has the best view. I think you’ll like it.”
>>
She parks beside a tall residential building that sits near what must be the external seawall. "Dolphin plaza," she indicates the building and gets out of the car. The apartment building before you is, like the rest of the city, fully modern, an obelisk of reflective, photovoltaic glass.

You and Korine follow and enter the building together. Rose shows you how to swipe the keycard to get inside and use the elevator.

The ground floor of the building is open and has a small generic fast food place, a little convenience mart, and a laundromat. There is also a stairwell that leads to the metro system which runs beneath the building.

You board the elevator and take it up. "The whole building is secure," Rose explains, "We house a lot of VIPs here."

"Other pilots?" Korine asks, taking off her headphones.

"Just you so far,” Rose says. “But I expect the others to join us soon.”

You glance up at the camera in the corner of the elevator car. It's easy to spot. The harder one to see is the one behind the glass panel displaying the floor you are on. You haven't seen any guards but this place is almost certainly watched closely by Nerv security.

“And I’ll be staying here too?” you ask.

“That’s the plan. We want you close to Korine for convenience sake.”

“Do you live here as well?”

Rose gives you a polite smile. “I’m afraid not. I have my own place.”

Seems like they want to keep an eye on you as well.

The elevator stops and you follow Rose down the hall. The place feels more like a high end hotel than an apartment building. Everything is sleek, minimalist, and new. "This is yours," she taps on a door and looks at you, "And this one across the hall Is yours, Korine."

Korine looks indifferent.

Rose smiles politely again. "Private suites for each of you." She opens the door to Korine’s room.
>>
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You all step into a small entry hall connected to a comfy living space. There is a simple couch, chair, and coffee table, while the entire exterior walls are taken up by a floor to ceiling window that peers over the seawall and out to the shallow sea. You can see the distant waves flashing in the midday sun, sparkling and blue.

There are doors off the entry hall that presumably lead to a bedroom and bathroom as well as an open-concept kitchen that similarly looks out to sea. It's fancy and modern.

Korine walks in and starts looking around, dropping her bag to the floor.

"Yours is identical," Rose tells you.

Entering the living room, you’re fixated by the view which - as Rose said - is remarkable. This room is high enough up to peer directly over the seawall beneath you. Sure enough you see distant dredging ships spraying wet sand up in piles to form artificial islands not far off. Even further away you can faintly see grassy, islands dotted with white windmills. It’s hard for you to imagine that all of this was dry land twenty years ago.

Korine patrols the place poking at things and examining her furniture.

“Aaliyah, are you ready to see Operations?” Rose asks.

“Sure. Korine, why don’t you stay here?” you suggest.

Korine flops down onto a couch, looks at you, then puts her headphones back on.

You and Rose return to the car. “So where exactly is the base?” you ask. Back at Snelson?”

Rose chuckles. “No, it’s actually here beneath our feet. Nerv 03 runs throughout the city. You’ll be given detailed information about elevators and access tunnels once you’re formally briefed.”

Moments later, she drives over a section of road marked with broad, white letters. EVA ACCESS DANGER.

“You weren’t kidding when you said this place is a fortress city,” you say.

The car reaches a checkpoint and Rose provides her ID to the armed guard who waves you through. The car enters a tunnel which becomes a ramp going down. “We can’t be too careful. No expense was spared in building this place.”

“Right,” you say, “You said it’s like a show case. An indication of what could be.”

“That’s right!” Rose agrees.

After winding down through a subterranean parking garage and another security checkpoint, Rose parks the car on a massive two-tiered freight elevator full of spats for cars. After a warning chime, the doors close and the elevator begins to descend.

As the elevator climbs downward, you marvel at just how expansive this facility must be. Nerv-03 is situated at least a few hundred meters underground. The freight car ride is short, stopping a minute later. The doors roll open and Rose pulls her car out and into a massive underground garage. She pulls into an empty spot, parks, and exits the vehicle.

The two of you pass through another security check and enter through a set of automatic doors into the base proper.
>>
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"Nerv-03 has Eva maintenance cages and launch elevators and tunnels all throughout this complex which runs beneath the city and beyond,” Rose says. She talks as you walk. The twisting and branching passageways and tunnels all look identical to you but she seems to find her way easily.

“All of the major infrastructure is hardened and redundant. Theoretically New Tampa can operate totally cut off from the outside world almost indefinitely. Our power comes from wind, solar, and tidal generation as well as an array of backup nuclear generators and battery banks. Our food is produced by surrounding farmsteads, local fishing, aquaculture, and vertical hydroponic groweries."

You pass through a series of heavy automatic doors.

"We also house a set of Magi supercomputers,” Rose says. “The originals reside in the MIT campus of course but our copies are identical in every way. They provide the computing power for all of this."

“Very impressive,” you say. You pass through a warren of tunnels and emerge into the control center.

"This is central control," Rose says. You see displays showing reams of data, fixed camera positions, satellite imagery, video from patrolling aircraft, weather patterns, etc. Any tactical data you might need, not just for New Tampa, but for much of the North Atlantic region. “"From here we can dispatch and monitor the Evangelions.”
>>
“The epicenter of human progress!”

You and Rose both turn automatically at the voice to see the man himself. Colonel Versetti.

He stands in the open mouth of a nearby elevator, hands clasped behind his back, smiling at each of you. There is a knowing quality to that smile, something almost fatherly.

“Colonel,” Rose says, “This is our newest tactical branch operative. Agent Aaliyah Sayid.”

Versetti approaches you, a smile fixed on his face. His face is weathered, lined. Older than you think it ought to be given his age. Behind him is another officer, this one dark, sullen, quiet. Rose’s father.

“Agent Sayid,” Versetti extends a welcoming hand to you and you shake it.

Your face betrays nothing but you have to wonder if he knows who you are. If somehow he can sense you’re the one sent to watch him. “Colonel, your reputation precedes you.”

“And yet it pales in the face of what we’ve accomplished here together. The human race I mean. This-” he gestures around you at the control center. “This is the mind that controls the wonder we call New Tampa. This is the front line of the fight to control our future. Our destiny.”

“Destiny?” you ask the question automatically.

Versetti gives you that quizzical grin. “To tame this planet, Agent Sayid. To harness the power left here for the taking. To re-master our destiny and become the lords of all we survey.”


>I’ll settle for just defeating the angels, sir
>That’s quite a lofty goal. Is that why we’ve gathered so many Evas here?
>Captain Holiday has shown me the first steps in that journey. It’s quite impressive.
>Write in
>>
>>4704824
>Captain Holiday has shown me the first steps in that journey. It’s quite impressive.
That feels much more like a statement of fact, then a good opening to ask questions, it's probably best to just move on.
>>
>>4704813
EVAs aren't much good without pilots. With how much of a logistics tail EVAs have, it seems extremely odd pilots weren't lined up for them before they were completed.

>I’ll settle for just defeating the angels, sir
It's great to have dreams and goals, but I have a creeping suspicion the reason this place has 4 EVAs, despite not being able to use all of them, is because of its proximity to the ocean, and the resulting vulnerability. There are a plenty of places where a single EVA would go a long way, but this place is shiny and new and vulnerable, so it gets priority.
>>
>>4704824
>>Captain Holiday has shown me the first steps in that journey. It’s quite impressive.
>>4704868
>>
>>4704824
>I’ll settle for just defeating the angels, sir
>>
>>4704824
>I’ll settle for just defeating the angels, sir
>>
>I’ll settle for just defeating the angels, sir
>>4704912
>>4705117
>>4705788

Writing
>>
You return a polite smile. "I'll settle for just defeating the angels, sir."

"Then you've found yourself in the right place. This base will be able to provide strike capability for half the hemisphere. With a little luck and a little skill, Agent Sayid, you'll be a part of the effort."

"I look forward to it."

Versetti looks back to the Major behind him, nods, and then smiles at you. "Welcome aboard, Agent Sayid." With that, the two men proceed on, exiting the control center.

"Interesting guy," you say.

"Colonel Versetti is . . . he can be a little enthusiastic at times. You get used to him."

"Enthusiasm isn't a problem," you say. "Or eccentricity, as long as he gets results."

"I think you and the Colonel will get along well," Rose says. "Let me take you to operations, show you the team you'll be working with."

Just behind the main control center, through a narrow concrete corridor you come to a small office setting. It's a single, open room with a handful of cluttered desks and a large computer display on the far wall. Two other people are here, skinny, a pale, tired looking white guy in a gaudy Hawaiian shirt and a tightly muscled black guy in a loose dress shirt and khaki slacks.

"Our division office," Rose says. "And your desk-" She indicates a clean desk. A single computer terminal sits on it, powered off. "And your new co-workers. Agent Max Goldberg-" she indicates the white guy. "And Agent Ken Mbaru."

"Hey," Max says, he's shuffling through the mountains of paperwork on his desk, apparently looking at something.

Ken says nothing, but regards you silently before returning back to work.

Max finds what he's looking for in his pile and slaps it on top before coming over to shake your hand. "I heard they got you too."

"Got me?" you ask.

He grins mischievously, "Bet you didn't think you'd be babysitting after all this time. Max."

You can't help but smile back. "Aaliyah Sayid. It wasn't high on my list of expectations."

"Pass Nerv tactical training, get high marks. Prove your technical ability, and then get saddled with a kid to raise."

"You're a guardian also?" you ask.

"First and only till you showed up. Renton's mine."

"Renton. That's the other pilot here?"

Max nods, "Yup. Fox Renton. You'll meet him sooner rather than later. I'm sure he'll be excited. You and I are gonna have to grab a drink sometime and share notes on being single parents." He grins to show he's kidding.
>>
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"I'll consider that, Max" you say.

"You'll meet Renton," Rose says, sounding not excited about it.

You glance at Mbaru who is filling out some kind of form.

Max follows your eyes, "Ah, don't mind him. Quiet guy, he'll warm up to you. His bed doesn't have a 'right' side."

Mbaru gives Max a quick glare before returning to work.

"Unless you have any questions," Rose says. "I figure I can show you the ins and outs of work here."

"I think I'll pick it up quick," you say. "I'm just curious about my role here. What exactly will I be doing?"

"Dirty work," Max teases.

Rose gives him a look. "Whatever arises honestly. Guardian and bodyguard work for Korine, administrative duties, paperwork, readiness training. In the event of Angel attack then the tactical division assumes command. We'll be in charge of the city and its defenses, most especially in coordinating the Evas."

The rest of the time you spend in the office is spent learning systems, procedure, and the ins and outs of your work. Mostly what you do is administrative. A glorified secretary. Some of it is more in your alley though, security arrangements for the pilots and personnel. It's simple enough, not so different from what you did in Portland. Once you are shown the ropes things go smoothly for the next few hours until you manage to finish up your starting tasks and the others are getting ready to leave for the day.

"Ken, you've got night watch tonight, right?" Max asks, getting up from his desk.

"Yes."

You walk with Max out of the office. "Night watch?"

"It rotates," Max explains. He draws a cigarette from his shirt pocket and lights it. "Sorry, do you mind?"

You shake your head.

He smokes as he walks. "You'll get there soon enough. The Angels aren't 9-5 so neither are we. Normal working hours apply but we always have someone watching the fort, you know?"

"I assumed as much."

"Can I ask where you're from, Sayid?"

You return a tight smile, "What makes you think I'm from somewhere?"

He laughs, "This is New Tampa, everyone is from somewhere else. New York for me."

"Your home?"

"Was," he says. The smile seems a little strained.

"I'm the same. Dubai. Nothing left there either. Can I bother you for a spare smoke?"

"Yeah, no sweat." Max draws you a cigarette and hands it over. He flicks his lighter and holds it out for you. It's a battered novelty lighter with I <3 NY printed on the side.

"Thanks."

He walks with you out of the offices and the two of you return to the car park. "This one's yours," he indicates a black sedan, identical to Rose's. "Don't get it mixed up."

"Right," you say, taking the keys from him.

"So, free tonight? How about that drink?"

You're a little surprised that the invitation was serious. Max's body language is open, casual. It seems to be just a friendly invite, but you can't be too careful.


>Go for drinks with Max
>Explore New Tampa/Nerv 03
>Go home to check on Korine
>Write in
>>
>>4706195
>Write in
Any friendly psychiatrists you can grab for those drinks?

...they do have at least one here, right?
>>
>>4706258
For clarity, are you trying to invite a hypothetical psychiatrist along or are you telling him to get a drink with a psychiatrist?
>>
>>4706286
My bad. Get one to tag along, we're gonna need them sooner or later.
>>
>>4706195
>Sorry, I had a long flight and I should probably get myself settled in tonight. Maybe another time
>Explore New Tampa/Nerv 03
>Go home early to check on Korine

If it was getting to know the team, then sure, but this is just us and Max. I think he has some ulterior motive.
>>
>>4706312
No worries, just wanted to make sure I didn't grossly misunderstand
>>
>>4706195
>>Go for drinks with Max
He seems cool, and it'll be nice to have a friend in a new town, for however long that lasts.
>>
>>4706195
>>Explore New Tampa/Nerv 03
>>
>>4706195
>Go for drinks with Max
>>
>>4706195
>Go for drinks with Max
>>
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>>4706195
>Go for drinks with Max
Then see if we can nudge him towards
>Explore New Tampa/Nerv 03
>>
>Explore New Tampa/Nerv 03
>Go for drinks with Max

Going to hybridize this.

>>4706258
>>4706359
>>4706690
>>4706752
>>4707228
>>4707270
>>4707361

writing
>>
"Drinks?" You look at Max curiously.

"Yeah," he says. "I know a place. I know a lot of places." he laughs. "You in?"

"I was really hoping to get to see a bit more of the city," you say. "I like to get to know an area before I settle in."

Max nods understandingly, "Sure, makes sense. You can go wandering around if you want. But maybe you'd rather have a tour."

You laugh, "Drinking buddy and tour guide?"

"Babysitter and bodyguard," Max adds. "Seriously, I'll show you around if you want. But if you'd rather-"

"No, it's fine. I'm up for a drink."

"Then let's get moving." Max and you get into his car and start on your way back out.

"How long have you been stationed here?" you ask.

"Coming up on four years," Max says. "Long enough for me to start thinking of this place as home. It's changed a lot just in the last year."

"How so?"

He shrugs. "Eh. Less business, more pleasure. People who aren't soldiers started to move in. Bureaucrats and their families. The city kinda came to life, you know?"

"It's amazing," you say. "How fast this place sprang up I mean."

Max nods. "Versetti is a ballbreaker when he wants to be. This place is his dream."

He pulls the car into the cargo elevator and waits as it fills with other waiting vehicles to get shuttled to the surface.

"People here seem to have a lot of respect for the Colonel."

Max nods. "He's a pretty private guy, but he's the one holding this place together. His decisions, his visions." His tone is neutral.
>>
"Do you like him?"

Max looks at you, puzzled.

Maybe it was a question too far. "Veresetti's alright. A bit too intense for me. Talks about destiny and shit a little too much. The only destiny any of us have is that we're all gonna end up six feet under someday."

You grimace. "A little morbid don't you think?"

He shrugs, frowning a little.

The heavy elevator doors close and the car starts to ascend.

You decide to back off the questions a little bit. Something more casual to prime the pump: "Tell me about this place. Where are we going?"

Max's grin returns. "O'Malley's. It's an Irish pub, near District 04 and the docks. Great atmosphere, good people. Good place to get blitzed if you-"

His car's center console chirps.

Max glances and sighs. "Hang on a second, will ya?" The electronic chirping sounds again and Max reaches out to toggle on the car's speakerphone. "Max."

"Max, are you driving?" It's a boys voice.

"Yep. Leaving work. Renton, say 'hi' to Sayid." Max says.

"Hello Sayid, whoever you are," Renton says over the speakerphone.

"Hello," you say awkwardly.

"Max, consorting with women when on duty? For shame." The boy's accent is not American, but you find it impossible to place. It's vaguely European with a hint of Latin American.

Max sighs. "What do you want, Renton?"

"I am on my way to get dinner. Are you still on duty?"

"Nah. I'm out with Sayid. We're going for a drink," Max said.

"Ah good. I will join you," Renton says this with a flat casualness that makes it sound normal.

"The hell you will," Max says.

"Same place?" Renton asks.

"Renton," Max warns.

"Ciao, Max, Sayid."

The line drop, plunging the car into awkward silence.

Max is silent for a moment, staring fixedly at his steering wheel. "Kids."

"I think if you seriously expect wise advice about children you came to the wrong person."

Max laughs. "Oh on. The blind leading the blind. What's your pilot's name? Carmine?"

"Korine," you say.

"How's she doing?"

"Petulant," you say. "Bratty. Very very teenaged. Hard to blame her though with what we expect of them."

It's evening outside and the city is lit by street lamps. Max drives faster than you are comfortable with but the roads are mostly empty.

"Bratty? Better keep her away from Renton then unless you like dangerous combinations," Max says.

"I'm sure it won't be that bad. Teenagers are a different breed."

"Isn't that the truth?" Max says.
>>
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Minutes later he pulls into a parking spot outside of a small, trendy bar on the ground floor of a high rise. Despite the flashy exterior it does seem to be an Irish pub.

The two of you exit the car and enter the pub. The sounds of drinking, eating, and revelry wash over you. You find it immediately relaxing. You're struggling to remember the last time you just went out for drinks or did anything fun for yourself. It wasn't like your lifestyle really allowed for it.

You're given a booth seat. Drinks and snacks are served. It's pretty quiet here and feels private which is good.

"I dunno if Renton will show but if he does you might get to see some bad fathering on the fly," Max says. He looks a little irritated.

"Sure," you say. "Maybe it will make me feel better about my own abilities. Maybe you should dare him into a drinking contest. Establish dominance."

Max sips his beer and gives you an unamused look which only makes you grin harder. "The kid thinks he's enough of a bad ass. I don't need to show him how fucking old I've got."

You sip some beer too. The real trick is to not make it obvious that you are drinking less than your drinking partner while also staying more sober than them. It's an art.

Max thumps his stein down. ""You seen the two other pilots we got on the way?"

You shake your head.

"Nerv 08 in Vladivostok is sending Katya Skobeleva over. You know the name?"

You shake your head again. "No. Should I?"

Max smirks in a conspiratorial way. It's a gossip smirk. "People call her the 'Ice Princess'. She's the daughter of some bigtime oligarch over there. Rich, powerful. Smells like bad news to me."

"I don't know much about the wealthy," you say, "But it seems out of character to send your child into harm's way."

Max shrugs. "Who knows what kind of scheme they're cooking. It's all cloaks and daggers if you go high enough up in the command structure." He helps himself to a handful of pretzels from a bowl on your table.

An oligarch's daughter as one of the new pilots? It was an unexpected turn. Intrigue at the higher levels of government wasn't your concern however. Nerv was.

"Even here in Nerv?" you ask.

Max sips again. "Yeah, well with the trouble between Technical Branch and Science Division we're not free of problems."

"I hadn't heard."

Max looks up, surprised. "Ah. It's nothing interesting. Power struggle among the eggheads after Dr. Kaufman skipped town."

The name is unfamiliar to you. It wasn't in your briefing documents. "Kaufman?"

Max looks conflicted a moment. "It's part of an ongoing investigation. I probably shouldn't say too much. Rose might be able to fill you in better. I'd really hate to color your perspective with my opinion."


>I don't mind. Department drama is interesting.
>What do you know about pilot number 4?
>So what's next on our New Tampa tour?
>Write in
>>
>>4707517
>I don't mind. Department drama is interesting.
I could very easily become our problem if it gets out of hand, or the pilots do something dumb.
>>
>>4707517
>I don't mind. Department drama is interesting.
>>
>>4707517
>What do you know about pilot number 4?
We just got told that we might be asking a few too many questions. I'm sure this will come up another time
>>
>>4707517
>>What do you know about pilot number 4?
Don't drill too much into any one topic, it's suspicious.

I'm starting to get disappointed in the lack of the pilot MC. He's what hooked me into the quest, not this babysitter/cloak-and-dagger stuff. Will he be playing second fiddle to the spy?
>>
>>4708038
He's coming back shortly actually. I don't mean to discourage, I just have a lot to cover. Pretty soon there will be a long Ethan stretch. He's not second fiddle either. The intent is dual main characters with possible short-stretch side characters depending on what's going on.
>>
>>4708043
That's reasonable. I've bait-and-switched more than once, plus I don't really like the spy, which is why I asked. Thanks.
>>
>>4707517
>What do you know about pilot number 4?
>>
>What do you know about pilot number 4?
>>4707781
>>4708038
>>4708551

Writing
>>
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As much as you want to know what the situation with Science Division is . . . "What do you know about pilot number four?"

Max swirls his beer idly. "It's some hotshot pilot from Perdition base in Alaska. Rumor is he killed an angel up there. First one in five years."

"Impressive," you say.

"Maybe," Max allows. "If rumors are right it cost him his Eva. Not exactly a winning ratio."

"We're going to need all the experience we can get," you say. "I can't fault that."

"No," Max agrees. "You're right. I'm just a little dubious of these kids is all. I know they'll fight but . . . " he leaves the rest unsaid.

"You're not sure about them?" You ask, surprised.

"Are you?" he counters.

You search for words for a moment. "I was their age once. So were you. I'm sure our parents didn't think we were capable of what we did. The things we had to endure."

Max frowns a little.

"We're turning out just like them," you say with a half-grin.

"Who?"

"Our parents. Worrying about the next generation. Wondering who's going to save the world."

Max downs his drink and starts to answer before looking over your shoulder suddenly. "Ah shit."
>>
Following his glance, you see an older teenage boy enter and flash his Nerv ID to the bartender. "Nerv business," he says looking around until he sees Max, then approaching.

"Hello Max, and Sayid."

His confidence and boldness draws a smile from you.

"Renton, what the fuck," Max says, he sounds tired.

The boy, Renton, sits. He's tanned, athletic, confident. His ethnicity is difficult to place, but right now he is smug as hell. He offers you a hand. "Renton," he introduces himself. "You must be the latest addition to the vast Nerv machine."

"That's a pretty bleak view," you say, "But yes."

He smugs harder. "Bleak does not mean untrue. What is Nerv if not a machine to serve humanity and defeat the angels, hm?"

Max sighs loudly. "You haven't had a drop to drink and you're already doing this weird shit. Sayid, meet the daily struggle I face." He indicates Renton who just shrugs.

You sip beer to hide your grin. There's something primaly satisfying about seeing someone else struggle.

"What's on the menu?" Renton asks optimistically.

Max gives you a tired look. "Renton." he rubs the bridge of his nose. "You had your fun. But unless you want this to be an official disciplinary action-"

"I got it." Renton rises to his feet. "Plenty of time for us to get acquainted later. Is that right, Sayid?"

"That's right," you agree.

"I have other haunts," Renton adds. "I'll make myself scarce."

"Straight home, Renton," Max warns.

The pilot's lips curl devilishly as he backs away. "And you'll be there to verify I go home, yes?" He leaves without waiting for a response to the taunt.

You wait until Renton is gone before looking at Max. "Does he force his way into bars often?"

"When he wants to be a pain in the ass," Max says. "Look, do me a favor? Keep that between you and me, okay? The kid is in enough trouble as it is. He doesn't need the Holidays or worse finding out."
>>
"My secret," you promise. "Is the Captain really that much of a hard ass? She seems like a softie to me, or is that just an act?"

"Rose is a sweetheart," Max agrees. "If you're on her good side. God help you if you cross her.

He takes out a pack of cigarettes before continuing and shares one with you.

"She's got that whole 'school teacher' thing about her. But I've seen her tear Ken apart for screwing up a security detail. She can be just as ruthless as her dad when it suits her."

"Apple not far from the tree?"

Max lights up his cigarette and yours. "The Major is hard as fucking nails. Tough army type. No bullshit. Doesn't like bureaucracy. But he keeps it in check. Keeps us working." Max inhales deeply and puffs smoke out. "He's twice as hard on Rose."

"The stern type, huh?"

"Very. Saw some shit in Second Impact I guess. He was the guy on the ground doing refugee work all over South America and Africa." Max blows a stream of smoke toward the floor. "He keeps to himself. You might not ever talk to him."

"It doesn't sound like I want to," you tease.

Max laughs softly. "Jolly bunch we are." He glances at his watch. "Ah. Time grows short. Let's start that tour, shall we? We can start with the best places to grab a bite."

"Sounds good."
>>
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You are Ethan Chandler and you're sitting in the passenger cabin of an Eva transport plane watching its cargo be unloaded. The massive mecha is in the process of being painstakingly extracted from the cargo hold and loaded onto a waiting pair of gigantic flatbed vehicles. The Eva's form was mostly covered with a tarp but you're just able to make out part of a forearm. Its armor is white with gold trim which shines in the sun.

"It must be hers," you say to yourself.

“Chandler, coming?” the question comes to you from a plainclothes Nerv operative. The voice is cold and authoritative but . . . it held a hint of sympathy. It doesn't matter to you though. You still feel cold all over. Empty. The irritating sting of failure and defeat clings to you no matter what anyone else said.

They'd told you that you saved Anchorage. What did that matter when you couldn't even save the one life that mattered to you?

Behind you, the Russian pilot and her chaperone were still gathering their bags. Since you travelled light, you exit the plane with just your duffel.

The gangway off the plane is full enclosed. Broad windows look out at the blistering Floridian heat, warded off only with thick window tinting and heavy air conditioning. This place is a far cry from Alaska.

A parked car is nearby along with two Nerv personnel.

"Ethan Chandler?" A man with ruffled blonde hair asks. He squints in the bright sun like he doesn't get out a lot, but he has a warm smile on his face.

"Yeah, that's me," you say.

"Wonderful! I'm Dr. Caswell," he says, "Call me Roger." He offers a hand to shake, notes your arm in a sling and then awkwardly switches hands.

"Roger," you say, shaking.

"Captain Holiday and the Colonel were tied up with some meetings and asked me to pick you all up. I'm head of the Science Division here. I handle all the . . . well the science." Caswell- Roger, looks young for a head scientist. Maybe it's because Angels are a new field of study and he’d come in on the ground floor, or maybe he's a lot smarter than he sounds.
>>
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You look to the other man with Caswell. Tall, imposing, the man exudes a deadly competence.

"Oh. This is Ken Mbaru. He's going to be your guardian during your time here."

"Oh," you say.

Mbaru nods but says nothing else.

You didn't have a guardian in Anchorage, not one you knew about anyway. Some bureaucrat somewhere was probably legally responsible for your upbringing, but if so you'd never met them.

"How's the arm, bud?" Roger asks.

You look at the cast. "Hurts. Am I going to be on active duty? I heard you have a new Eva for me."

Roger's eyes tighten, "Ah. We sure do. But it's gonna need both arms to pilot. I mean, to pilot it well anyway."

You frown. "I don't really want to be some kind of dead weight."

"Hey, don't you worry about that! Soon as that arm heals we'll get you back in the cockpit in no time! How's that sound?"

You don't manage an answer before Roger's attention turns back to the boarding ramp.

"Agent Yezhov and Katya Skobeleva is it?" Roger asks.

The Russians stop a short distance away. The girl, Katya, hands her game system disinterestedly to Yezhov. The annoyance in his eyes is impossible to miss as he takes the clunky console from her.

"Hello," Katya says. "You are . . . ?"

"Roger Caswell! Doctor. Call me Roger." He offers a hand which she looks at blankly a moment before lightly shaking. "Must feel good to get off that plane, huh? Long flight."

"Yes," Katya says.

"Did the three of you manage to get acquainted on the plane?" Roger looks among you.

An awkward silence follows and Katya gives you an uncomfortable glance.


>No. We didn't.
>I didn't get a chance, I fell right asleep
>We met briefly (Lie)
>Write in
>>
>>4708974
>>No. We didn't.
>>
>>4708974
>No. We didn't.
>>
>>4708974
>No. We didn't.
>>
>>4708974
>>No. We didn't.
We're not in a good headspace. We can be civil, but not much more than that.
>>
>No. We didn't.

Writing
>>
You don't return Katya's look. "No," you say. "We didn't."

"Oh." Roger blinks. "Well." He looks to Mbaru for support but the Agent says nothing. "Why don't we get you guys acquainted with the city and then we can get you settled in before training starts tomorrow?"

You nod. As if you have any choice. You're led to a waiting car. Mbaru drives, Roger takes the passenger seat. You, Agent Yezhov, and Katya are crowded into the back seat with Katya in the middle.

"It's a lot different than Anchorage or Vladivostok," Roger says excitedly. "Brand new from the ground up. A planned city. I think you'll notice the difference."

It looks like any other city to you. Flashy, shiny, but otherwise no different.

Katya is hip to hip with you in the back. It's an already uncomfortable situation made worse by the fact that you still haven't really acknowledged one another. Every time the car takes a turn you're pressed into one another despite your efforts to stick close to the door.

She turns her console back on with a happy chime. The game's splash screen explodes onto the monitor. Gun Mage II. You've heard of it but not actually seen it played. Honestly you never got too much into games. Spare time was sparse. Katya slaughters her way through a hoard of demon monkeys with spells and automatic weapons.

You turn away and look at the window, watching faces and places flash by. Roger drones on about the city's foundation, development. He lists a few "interesting" statistics that roll over you meaninglessly. Linda would have liked this place probably. She was always more metropolitan than you.

Katya makes a soft noise of disappointment as her character is dragged to his death.

You frown. Something about her presence reminds you of Linda. A dagger twists in that wound.

"Ethan?"

You look up.

Roger stares at you expectantly, looking back over his shoulder. "Do you play a lot of games too?" He repeats the question patiently.

You gawk for a moment. "No."

"No? Really. I'm surprised. Kids your age seem all about them. Never really had much time with them myself. Wasn't part of my childhood. I guess I never got hooked."

"I . . . I've always been too busy I guess," you say.

"Hey, busy can be good. I know you're eager to get busy again."

"Yeah," you say.
>>
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Eventually even Roger lapses into uneasy silence. The tour ends at Dolphin Plaza. The building towers over the titular plaza. A few fountains burble happily and greenery rustles in the tropical breeze.

"This is it, home sweet home!" Roger says.

"Do you have a phone?" They're the first words Mbaru says and they catch you off guard. His firm gaze meets yours unwaveringly.

"A phone? Yes."

He makes an affirmative noise. "I will send you my number. Should you need anything, call me."

"Alright," you say.

"That's right!" Roger says quickly. "Agent Mbaru is going to be taking good care of you. He'll pick you up to take you to the base for harmonics testing and anything like that."

All Roger gets is another nod from you.

"I'm sure you guys are totally exhausted from the flight," he says, "Get rested up because we've got a lot of ground to cover tomorrow. Physicals, exams, harmonics testing, not to mention your sync test with your new Eva, Ethan."

"Sure."

You're taken up to your floor by Roger and each get your rooms. Yezhov, Katya, and you are all going to be on the same hall. Katya and Yezhov split off from you and go to their rooms, leaving you alone.

You stare at the keycard in your hand blankly. Linda would be standing here and holding a keycard too if you were a little faster. You clench your fist tight enough that your fingernails cut into your skin and squeeze your eyes closed. Your teeth grind soundlessly together.

Rage, white hot fury boils up from within you. Rage at the angels. Rage at Nerv. Most potently, rage at yourself. Your brash decision to attack without recon, your slow reaction, and your weak attempts to save her killed Linda. It killed your only friend. You killed her.

You open your eyes and suck in a shuddering breath, forcing your hand to unclench and dousing the acidic hate in your heart. You don't know that. You tried to save her. You tried to save the city. You tried to do everything right. This is a war. You were soldiers. This outcome was inevitable.

Even as you think it you doubt it. The shadow of anger lurks in your heart, burning darkly.

Pushing these toxic emotions aside you swipe your keycard and enter the room.
>>
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The apartment isn't exactly a large space, but the view makes it seem fantastically huge. You're taken by the sight and let the door fall closed behind you, staring at the line where sky meets ocean.

You drop your duffel bag and walk inside. Over the soft hum of air conditioning you become aware of music. Heavy rock music is faintly audible through your wall. A neighbor without any common courtesy or self awareness you assume.

You let the minutes tick by as you stand and stare at the ocean. Boats occasionally flit across the sea. Some are huge Panamax cargo vessels, others are just small fishing boats. It's almost hypnotic. Turning away, you enter the kitchen and check the cabinets one after another. Empty. Empty. Also empty.

You're going to have to do some shopping.

As you turn around you freeze, suddenly struck with the realization that you're not alone in here.

A young woman stands before the windows, gazing out to see like you were moments ago. She's fully nude, standing barefoot on the carpeted floor. Twin, reddish braids drape over her shoulders, offset by otherwise close-cut hair.

Your eyes are magnetically drawn to the enormous set of wings that protrudes from her back. They're white and feathery, just like . . . just like-

She seems to suddenly notice you and turns her head. Linda's blank gaze meets yours a moment before her face lights up with a smile.

"Ethan," she says.

You try to say her name but nothing comes. Your heart hammers in your chest, your mind is racing.


>Linda! Is that you?
>What are you?
>Stay away from me!
>Write in
>>
>>4709735
>>Linda! Is that you?
I doubt it, but who else could it be? I fear hope.
>>
>>4709735
>Linda! Is that you?
>>
>>4709735
>Stay away from me!
>>
>>4709735
>What are you?
>>
>>4709735
>What are you?
>>
>>4709735
>Write in
"You're dead. I killed you."

That was Ethan's position merely minutes ago, I think it's worth restating.
>>
>Linda! Is that you?
+
>What are you?

Writing
>>
She takes a step closer to you and your heart catches in your throat.

"L-Linda?"

She beams at you, smiling as brightly as she ever has. "I'm so glad you're here! I've been waiting all morning for you." She reaches out a hand for yours.

"Is that . . . you?" you ask.

"Of course it is!"

You shake your head, feeling dizzy. You don't dare blink, you don't dare look away. Thoughts and emotions clash and conflict in your mind. "No. No. It can't be. I . . . You're dead, Linda. I killed you." A hot tear rolls down your cheek as you say the words. The truth burns you.

Linda stops short and her smile fading. "Dead?" She blinks. "No. Ethan, I'm right here!" she approaches again. "I missed you."

Your back finds the kitchen wall, any escape cut off. "I-" your mind reels as she closes in for a hug. "I- I missed you too." You throw your arms tight around her and pull her into a hug.

She nestles her head into your chest and you breathe in her smell. You'd already forgotten it, now it's so fresh. Her skin is soft and warm under your hands, her hair soft. She squeezes you and hums happily.

Tears are flowing freely down your cheeks now. Your breaths come uneasily. "I missed you," you repeat, trying not to sob. "I thought I lost you."

"I'm right here now. I'm fine, silly!"
>>
As you tighten your hold on her, your hands brush across her folded wings. A stab of reality pierces through the veil of your relief. It's unshakable, a sense of wrongness. This just can't be possible. This isn't right.

You release her. "How did you survive? I saw it happen, I saw the Angel . . . I saw it kill you."

Linda blinks up at you. "Kill? No."

"I saw it," you repeat. "How is this possible?"

Linda's joy fades again. Emotions flicker across her face before settling on sad confusion. "I don't understand. Why are you upset? I thought you'd be happy."

"I-" you stop. "I am happy, Linda, I just . . . I have questions. What is going on? How did you get here?"

"Here?" She looks around the apartment like she hadn't considered it. "I've just been waiting here."

"But how did you get here?" you press.

She thinks on that. Her expression darkens again. "I was . . . we were together and then . . . and then I was here." She says it like it makes sense but even she is starting to sound confused.

"Are you real?" you whisper. Fear is crawling from your cut to throttle your mind. Fear that more than your arm broke in that battle. Fear that you lost more of yourself than you realized.

Linda considers this a moment. She prods her stomach with two fingers. She opens her mouth and runs her tongue over her teeth like she was checking they were still there. A gust of cold air washes over you as she flaps her wings once, testing them. "I feel real," she concludes. She lifts a hand and bruises her fingers across your cheek.
>>
You flinch at her soft touch.

"You feel real. You feel nice." She rubs more insistently and takes another step forward, pressing her body against yours. "Really nice."

Your whole body is trembling with fear and confusion. Your mind is a tumult of conflicting emotions. "H-how is this real? Linda, you have wings!"

Linda stops stroking your face and takes a step back. She tries to look over her shoulder to see the wings. "Wha-? I . . ." she reaches back and touches them gently, like she's never seen them before. "I . . . " Her wings unfold again and knock over a lamp. Linda squeaks in alarm and jumps. Fear, hurt, and confusion flash over her face. "I . . . "

You're afraid to speak, afraid to do anything.

She shakes her head slowly, "I don't . . . Ethan." Her voice is terrified, it sounds like it did the day she died. The day she pleaded for you to save her.

You squeeze your eyes shut. You stay frozen in place a moment, waiting. Whatever you're waiting for never comes. You open your eyes again and look around your apartment. Empty. The lamp lays toppled on its side still.

Over the next few minutes you search the entire apartment top to bottom. You find no sign that anyone else was ever here. Eventually you end your search and sit on your bed, exhausted, physically, emotionally, mentally. You flop onto your back and stare up at the blank ceiling, just breathing.

"I wonder if they'll let me pilot," you say, "when they find out what's wrong with me."
>>
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You awaken in the dark to the boom of thunder. A flash of lighting out to sea illuminates your darkened apartment and makes you jolt with shock. A second later you hear the sound or rain lashing the windows of your building, swept by the sea breeze.

A storm. Just a storm passing by. You vaguely recall that Roger had said something about storms being common here.

You lay back down and slow your breathing, letting the storm's white noise lull you back to sleep. It was just your imagination. Whatever you thought you'd experienced was nothing. The product of a tired and strained mind. Sleep. Rest will cure all ailments.

You fall asleep as thunder rolls again.

The next morning brings with it a relieving freshness. A sense of a new beginning. You change, shower, and prepare to face the day. A knock on your door interrupts your morning routine, but you answer it all the same.

Agent Mbaru is here. "It is time," he says. "I will take you to Nerv for the harmonics test." He leaves no room for discussion.

Within minutes you're driving together for the base.

Mbaru’s car is sleek, black, and new. It smells strongly of cigarette smoke, despite being otherwise clean. Aside from a full ashtray and a submachine gun jammed into the door well, there was no sign that this car had ever been driven before.

Mbaru seems content to drive in silence.


>Ride in silence
>Ask about him
>Ask about the other pilots
>Write in
>>
>>4710705
>Ride in silence
>>
>>4710705
>Ride in silence
>>
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>>4710705
>Ride in silence
>>
>>4711054
Absolute Flavor Field
>>
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>>4710704
>wings
>Linda is an angel in the traditional sense
pic related

>"I wonder if they'll let me pilot," you say, "when they find out what's wrong with me."
Buddy, if you'd seen the psychosis pilots usually have, you'd brush this off like it was nothing.

>Ask about him
We gotta distract ourselves from the stress dream-thing.
>>
>Ride in silence
>>4710823
>>4710930
>>4711054

Writing
>>
You look over at your guardian. He has a wicked scar on his cheek which only makes him look more fearsome. You've seen a lot of strange characters working for Nerv, but this guy is definitely one of the most memorable for you.

"You are a soldier."

It takes a moment for the words to register in your brain. Another moment for it to register that Mbaru is talking to you. The conversation came out of nowhere.

"Soldier? Yeah. I mean, I guess."

He glances at you, appraising you. "No. Not a soldier perhaps. A warrior."

It's more than you can take seriously. "Warrior? Man, I'm a pilot."

"Yes," Mbaru says. "But you do not pilot a jet plane. You pilot a weapon, become one with your Eva, yes?"

"Well . . . yeah."

You slayed an angel, yes?"

You can still feel the sensation of pulling the eject handle. Your arm aches with echoes of the original pain that day. "I guess."

"Then you are a warrior," Mbaru says confidently. "A soldier must stand in line and take orders. A soldier does what he is told to do. You fight on your own."

You were not expecting to get dragged into some half-assed battlefield philosophy with your intense guardian.

"This troubles you?"

"No," you say quickly. "I- no. It's . . . I'm just doing my job."

"Your job?" Mbaru sounds both shocked and amused, though his face remains unreadable.

"Yeah," you say, biting back anger, "My job. Same as you. Same as anyone else."

"Did you not choose this life?"

Your life before Nerv is faint to you. It's just a shadow of what it was. You remember being afraid. You remember being hungry. You remember the crowded orphanage and the staff who didn't have time to see to more than basic physical needs. Men had come to test all the children. They'd told you that you were special. They told you that- if you wanted- a different life awaited you.

"Yeah," you say. The memory is bitter. "I chose it."

“Then it is not ‘just’ a job.”

You're too tired to argue. You don't know what else this guy will pull out on you. You're not in the mood to be interrogated about your life choices.
>>
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The road Mbaru drives on veers suddenly down, descending into a reinforced tunnel. The sun vanishes behind a concrete lip and disappears entirely. The radiant glow of daylight is replaced by the sickly yellow of sodium lights. The road continues sloping down, steeper and steeper until it levels out at a small parking area that butts up against a security checkpoint.

Mbaru whips his car into an empty spot and exits. You follow along awkwardly, having to walk faster to keep pace with your bodyguard's wide stride.

“Welcome back, Ken,” a Nerv guard at the checkpoint says, checking Mbaru’s card.

Mbaru makes no reply.

You had your own card over and the Nerv guard scans it. "Looks good."

You're waved through the checkpoint and join a small handful of other Nerv personnel boarding a subterranean tram car.

Mbaru returns to his characteristic silence and so you busy yourself reviewing the introductory material about Nerv 03 you were provided.

At first glance, the facility seems similar to Perdition: an underground base with heavy launch and repair facilities for Evas, but on closer inspection it seemed much more than that.

The booklet is light on specifics and much of it was left classified but just from what you can see, Nerv 03 is truly massive with housing for cage space for half a dozen Evangelions and transit and launch tunnels. The base sits over a hundred meters beneath ground level for New Tampa. Its tunnels run throughout the city like an ant nest lurking just beneath the surface. Based on what limited information they provided it seems like this facility extends well below the waterline. Keeping it dry must be some miracle of modern engineering.

Still, a swampy, dyked-off island in the middle of a shallow sea seems a poor place to site a facility like this.

The tram forges steadily onward, lights flashing in the dark as it dives into the depths of the earth. The train car rattles and hums, the ambient sounds of a vehicle rapidly crossing tracks. The cabin you're in is sparsely occupied. A pair of men in the olive-drab fatigues of base security sit together. You see an older woman in a lab coat browse data on a tablet computer while a technician in an orange jumpsuit sips coffee. All of them ignore you and Mbaru, giving you both a wide berth.

The rest of the trip through the base is like traveling a rat’s warren, a maze of concrete tunnels. Mbarau navigates them with practiced precision though you quickly lose your bearings in the seemingly identical corridors and massive, open galleries.
>>
The question that's burning in your mind refuses to be kept in check any longer. “How do you not get lost?”

“I remember.” Mbaru says.

"What? Remember?"

Mbaru nods. “Yes. I walk the path and I remember it.”

Oh Christ. This guy is a machine. You can only imagine what the selection process for Nerv agent must be like.

A fresh elevator ride brings the two of you into a cloistered laboratory, packed with computer terminals and displays. The front of the room is taken with a bank of armored windows looking out over a series of isolated entry plugs suspended over a deep pool of LCL.

“The harmonics lab,” Mbaru says.

It's not dissimilar to the harmonics lab in Perdition, but much larger.

It's full of technicians and scientists monitoring displays and calibrating instruments. Dr. Caswell flits through this organized madness like it's a walk in the park. He grins on spotting you. "Hey bud, good to see you again"

You give Roger an awkward, half-hearted smile.

"Better get changed, the others are here and we're about to get started. Exciting stuff!" Roger sounds like a kid on Christmas.

"Sure."
>>
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The pilot changing room is far too large for its purpose, a standard-sized locker room like you might find in a high school gym but painted a sterile white. You open the locker with your name on it and take note of the plug suit hanging here. Without hesitating, you begin stripping out of your clothes, letting them fall to the bare tile floor.

“Ethan Chandler.”

You jump at the sound of your name and look over your shoulder.

The other male pilot is here. He comes to stop at another bank of lockers and begins changing as well. He peels off his shirt exposing smooth, tanned skin.

You turn away and resume undressing. It takes a moment for you to recall his name from the orientation materials. "Fox, right?" you say.

“Renton, please,” Renton replies with a sound of dismissal. “Fox is embarrassing.”

“Renton, okay.”

“You are from Alaska?” Renton asks.

"I'm-" the last thing you want to do is go through your past with this stranger. "-Not really from anywhere."

Renton clicks his tongue. "That's an impressive feat."

From his deadpan tone it's hard to tell if he's joking. You hear Renton's locker open and the rustle of clothes.

“My parents died in Second Impact," you say. The words are out before you even thought them. "I was on my own for a while until Nerv took me in.”

"'Took you in'," Renton repeats. "How charitable of them."

Once undressed, you carefully slide into your plugsuit.
>>
"I have a family to think of,” Renton says. “To be alone, it must be nice.”

“Nice?” You'd never thought of it like that before. You might be offended if you had any memories of your parents to be insulted. "I guess." Once your suit is on, you depress the button on your wrist. The suit constricts into place, forming a skin-tight body glove.

You turn around just as Renton does. You in your forest green plugsuit, him in dark gray. Feeling conversational, you press on with this budding conversation. "Do you live in the Dolphin Plaza building?”

“No. I am in the Fourth District. Near the docks.”

“Oh,” You don't know the city well enough to know what exactly that means, but can tell from Renton’s tone it's far away.

“You’ll get accustomed to the city layout," Renton says dismissively. "There is a question I want to ask you, Ethan. You killed an angel, didn't you?"

You feel that dull ache in your arm coupled with the ache in your heart. You think of Linda's face. "Yeah."

“What was it like?” Renton asks.

Cold terror claws at your heart. “It was . . ." How can you tell him? How can you tell him what it was like to feel so powerless to stop your own death, let alone anyone else's? How would he react if you tell him that you fear going back into it more than anything. "You've done the training," you say. "It's like the simulations." A lie, but one you try to make sound convincing."

“Was it really?” Renton asks, no ulterior motive apparent, just plain curiosity.

“Yes," you say. You feel that smoldering anger boiling deep within you.

“I heard that someone was killed.”

Your blood is ice in your veins, your skin crawls. There it was. The accusation. Renton knows more than he's letting on.


>I don't want to talk about it.
>Yes. A close friend of mine. It was horrible.
>My advice is worry about your own problems, not mine.
>Write in
>>
>>4711552
>I don't want to talk about it.
Maybe later, if we ever actually feel like it; but now really isn't the time for introspection, we have tests to complete.

I'm sure that he had access to whatever footage was recovered from the onboard camera(s) from both Eva. And so this may be him trying to feel us out, to see how badly effected we are.
>>
>>4711552
>Yes. A close friend of mine. It was horrible.
>>
>I don't want to talk about it.
>>
>>4711552
>My advice is worry about your own problems, not mine.
Renton's a fucking creep
>>
>>4711639
He is probably trying to scope out if we are 'still' a liability, or if we have turned a corner or not.
>>
>>4711644
He was weird when we saw him from Aaliyah's perspective too. Besides, he's a pilot. He shouldn't have any information on whether we're a liability or not, and he shouldn't be the one scoping us out
>>
>>4711552
>>4711639
Changing to this
>My advice is worry about your own problems, not mine.
>>
>>4711647
He is the one that will probably be working with us, while putting his life (and the continued success of NERV) on the line so it is, sort of in his interest to figure out if he needs to bail us out before things actually get serious, and one of us gets caught flatfooted.
>>
>>4711552
>Write in
A simple "yes" would do.
>>
>>4711552
>My advice is worry about your own problems, not mine.
>>
>>4711541
>They'd told you that you were special. They told you that- if you wanted- a different life awaited you.
Does it count as a choice when you don't really understand the options?
Not too different from questing, now that I think about it.

>Based on what limited information they provided it seems like this facility extends well below the waterline. Keeping it dry must be some miracle of modern engineering.
That seems like asking for trouble; An angel would have a much sorter path by staying underwater.

>I don't want to talk about it.
This trauma is still too fresh to talk about openly like this.
>>
>>4711552
>I don't want to talk about it.
>>
>>4711552
>Yes. A close friend of mine. It was horrible.
>>
>My advice is worry about your own problems, not mine.

Rude but whatever
>>
>I don't want to talk about it.
>>4711591
>>4711989
>>4712007

>Yes.
>>4711593
>>4711780 (Write in)
>>4712072

>My advice is worry about your own problems, not mine.
>>4711639
>>4711658
>>4711785
>>4712092

>My advice is worry about your own problems, not mine.

Writing
>>
You hear Linda's scream fading to nothingness as the life ebbs from her.

"My advice is to worry about your own problems," you say. "Not mine."

Renton folds his arms and raises an eyebrow. "And what about this makes you think it's not my problem?"

"What happened to me and her has nothing to do with you. If you're worried about me fighting: don't. I'll fight. When you're face to face with an angel you'll find you don't have much choice." You say the words through gritted teeth.

Renton shakes his head, like he's disappointed. "You understand that among us you are the experienced one, yes? You are the combat veteran. We are going to be looking to you for advice and for help. If you are too self-absorbed to provide that then you're not much use."

You fume silently, glaring back at Renton who is unimpressed with your simmering anger. He stares back coolly, saying nothing. You pull your temper back under control incrementally. Just for a moment you imagine caving in his face with your fist. Driving your knuckles into the bridge of his nose and sending him sprawling. You imagine kicking him in the ribs where he lays on the ground. Your nostrils flare, your pulse races. Whatever you feel personally right now, you know it's not worth the effort.

"Stay off my back," you advise, stepping around Renton and making for the exit.

"You were close?" Renton asks.

You stop by the door.

"You said 'she'. Was she close to you?"

You look back at Renton, his expression still unreadable. Without another word, you turn and leave the room. You make it a short distance down the hall before you stop. You look down at your hand. You feel shame, guilt, rage, all washing over you, coming in distinct tides that fight for control of your emotions. Was Renton right? Would the other pilots be counting on you? Or was he being a nosy asshole?

A door closes and snaps you from your misery.

Katya stands in the hall before you, having emerged from the female locker room. Her long, white-blonde hair is tied back, but her cat ear band has been replaced with nerve clips. A moment of silence passes before she turns and leaves for the harmonics chamber, leaving you alone again.

No. No one was going to be looking to you for anything like support. You're a mess. You're cracking up. You've got to try to get it together.

In the main testing area you see the fourth pilot. Korine. Unless she goes by her last name too. She looks about as miserable as you feel, standing off on her own beside the test plug. So far the only pilot you've had any interaction with is Renton, and you'd really rather not have had that happen at all.

Renton and Katya follow you into the testing chamber and a voice comes over the PA. "You're all here. Enter the plugs and let's get started."
>>
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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOTFm1n3A9g

You grip the activation throttles as the entry plug fills with LCL.

Breathing the liquid is unpleasant but your body adapts quickly. It smells of blood in here. It's a smell you're not fond of.

"Initializing first stage connection."

You feel it, a pulse that runs through your body and somehow makes you more outside yourself.

"Connection accepted, no anomalies."

"Proceed with the test," Rose says, her voice tinny on your onboard speakers. "Establish nerve connections 11 through 101."

Multi-color patterns flash as the entry plug harmonizes with your brainwaves.

"Proceeding. No anomalies."

You've done this test countless times and you follow your training. Pushing all unwanted thoughts from your mind and letting yourself wander. As unpleasant as the physical sensation of breathing LCL is, as much as you hate the smell of blood . . . you feel at home here. Maybe "home" is the wrong word. It's familiar. It's what you're used to. That unearthly hum fills your head, pushing out all other thoughts.

You half-open your eyes and look at your cockpit display, seeing the other pilots through picture-in-picture displays.

Korine and Katya have their hair tied back and out of their way. Katya's long hair in a ponytail, Korine's shorter hair in pigtails.

Korine bites her lip and closes her eyes.

Renton has a faint smile on his face as he focuses, like he's recalling a joke.

Katya looks blank.

You used to do these tests with Linda.

You visualize her. Naked and with those ridiculous angel wings.
I thought you'd be happy. Her eyes wet with tears.
>>
You push it away. It’s nothing. Just shock from the battle is all. Just your imagination. It's only been a few days. People don't recover from trauma quickly. Even as you think it, it feels wrong. How could that have been a hallucination?

“Hey bud, this is Roger. I know you're in the zone, sorry to butt in. Looks like your harmonics are dropping a little, everything okay?”

Shit. You close your eyes and push the thoughts away. "Just an intrusive thought. I'm okay."

You clear your mind again and focus on the ghostly 'other' sensation you feel.

"Increasing plug depth four points."

You feel a strange pressure on your mind, like something trying to coexist in the same mental space, something huge. You will the discomfort away.

"Okay everyone," Rose says, "Initial readings are coming in and look good. Well done. Ethan, can you hear me?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"We've matched your latest harmonics with your old sync data. We'll be using that to pattern your new Eva. We'll start activation tests as soon as your data is written over."

"Affirmative."

"Captain," Renton says. "So who came out on top?"

There is a pause, a delay as Rose checks figures. "It looks like Katya is number one this time. Well done, Katya."

Katya opens her eyes. "Thank you."

The LCL drains from your plug a moment later and you carefully climb back out. Korine stands at her plug beside you, toweling off her hair.

"Can't wait for that shower," she says. You realize she's talking to you.

"Yeah," you say.

"I'm Korine."

"Ethan."

She smiles at you a little. "You're the guy from Anchorage, right?"

"Yeah."

"Cool. I think you live next door to me."

You blink, taking a moment to connect Korine to the loud music you'd heard. "Oh, that's you." you say the words without thinking.

She grins wider. "Ah, you heard that huh? Sorry." She doesn't look very sorry. "That's how I unwind. I suggest you get some good headphones or a better sound system than me."

"It's alright," you say. "I really didn't notice that much."

"Uh huh." She doesn't believe you. "Have you been around the city much?"

"No," you say.

"Want to?"

"To?"

"See the city and stuff. I've got to get some shit. You can come if you want."


>Sure, I'm game.
>I'm not feeling up to it, sorry.
>Write in
>>
>>4712241
>Sure, I’m game.
>>
>>4712241
>I'm not feeling up to it, sorry.
>>
>>4712241
>I'm not feeling up to it, sorry.
>>
>>4712241
>Sure, I'm game.

What was his plan for the day anyway? I thought military loves their schedules.
>>
>>4712517
Sorry for the lack of clarity: This is meant to be AFTER the day's testing and training.
>>
>>4712241
>I'm not feeling up to it, sorry.

Just finished reading up to here, this looks Interesting
>>
>>4712725
>this looks Interesting
Welcome to the party!
>>
>>4712241
>Sure, I'm game.
>>
>>4712241
>Sure, I'm game.
>>
>Sure, I’m game.
>>4712242
>>4712517
>>4712865
>>4713027


>I'm not feeling up to it, sorry.
>>4712244
>>4712366
>>4712725


>Sure, I'm game.

Writing
>>
You can't live in isolation forever. It might help to at least have a civil conversation with one person.

"Sure," you say. "I'm game."

She smiles sadistically. "Sick." Korine looks toward the control room, that smile collapsing into a scowl. "After we get the rest of this training shit done." Her eyes go back to you. "Don't you feel like a bug under a microscope?"

"Yeah," you say, "I mean sometimes. I guess I'm used to it."

She scoffs. "Sure."

The intercom snaps on. "Pilots, we'll take a short break and then run some practice launch drills."

Korine sighs. "Catch you later."

"Yeah," you say, "Later."
>>
You are Agent Aaliyah Sayid.

The monotony of testing proceeds normally. Here, in the harmonics lab you don't have much to do but sit and watch. The pilots were off memorizing launch procedures elsewhere, but here you were watching lab technicians parse and collate the data from the test.

“Readings coming in now, Captain,” a technician says.

Rose is here supervising the work. She seems tense to you, on edge though you couldn't say why.

The technician monitoring the data swears under her breath.

Rose shifts her attention to the technician struggling with her console, “Is there a problem?”

A look of irritation flickers across the controller’s face before she flicked her eyes back at the source of the annoyance behind her. “The algorithm is catching that harmonic fluctuation again.”

You follow her eyes back to a computer scientist seated at the back of the room. He looks tired, bored. His long, greasy hair is tied back in a sloppy ponytail. He fails to suppress a yawn. "That's been ironed out in my latest patch."

You sense mounting tension in the room, though the scientist who speaks seems oblivious to it all.

"Have you not deployed the latest version to the test chambers then, Dr. Womack?” Rose asks, her irritation unmasked. It's strange for you to see her so hardened.

Dr. Womack yawns again. "It's going out in the next update which is uhhh-" he checks a watch. "Tomorrow."

Just when you think Rose is going to explode, Dr. Caswell speaks up. "Dr. Womack, you're the head of Technical Branch. Do I really need to remind you how vital these tests are for the normal functioning of the base?"

The pieces click into place. This must be fallout of the 'power struggle' Max had mentioned to you between the

Science Division and Technical Branch. Caswell as head of science, Womack as head of technical. It's strange considering in the organizational chart you'd been originally given, you knew the Technical department was a branch of the Science Division. Caswell was ostensibly Womack's boss, but the dynamic was all wrong.
>>
"That won't be necessary, Doctor." Major Holiday, Rose's father, enters the lab, his face locked in that perpetual frown. Despite his Nerv uniform, he has a clear military bearing.

Rose stiffens, "Major Holiday. I wasn't expecting command staff to make an appearance."

“Dr. Womack is, I assure you, quite aware of the importance of these tests,” the Major continues. He speaks as if his daughter hadn't said anything. “The Doctor has been tasked with improvements to the Magi’s base functions so far- including integrating them with the city defenses’ fire control systems. The delay is understandable."

Rose says nothing, but it's clear she wants to.

The Major looks at Womack. "Doctor, will you make sure you push out the update at first opportunity?”

Womack's airy demeanor is gone, replaced with quiet tension. He nods silently.

Finally, Holiday turns to address Rose, his stare icy. “Captain, Science Division has made benchmarking our pilot's performance levels a top priority. I believe this is worthy of the command staff's attention. Don't you?" His tone is calm, quiet, but a powerful rebuke all the same. He sounded disappointed that she would even ask.

"Yes, sir," Rose replies.

The analysis of the data resumes, technical glitches overcome. All the same, the palpable tension in the air never fades. Max had said Dr. Kaufman was the old head of Science Division. He'd also said the doctor had skipped town. That was a puzzling move for someone in his position to make. You didn't climb to such lofty heights in Nerv by being flaky. That was the crux of the trouble between Technical Branch and the rest of Science Division. It was as good a place as any to dig a little further.

At the conclusion of the data process, Womack gathers his papers and data disks. You watch him speak to another technician. Their voices are low, discussing data and software challenges. You catch enough to hear that Womack is slurring some of his words. It's bad enough that you wonder if his yawning is exhaustion or a side effect of medication.

The scientists and technicians leave the lab in singles and groups. Womack and Caswell seem to purposefully take different paths out of the room while Rose stays behind to finalize some reports. The Major is gone already, having slipped out at some point previously.

Time to start getting answers.


>Go after Womack
>Go after Caswell
>Stay with Rose
>>
>>4713093
>Stay with Rose
See if there is anything we can help with.
>>
>>4713093
>Stay with Rose
>>
>>4713100
>Stay with Rose
Let’s get an outside perspective on the power struggle before we accidentally pick a side
>>
>>4713290
We already have a side, find out what is going on, and feed it back to the UN so they can put pressure on the commander, in order to extract some level of concessions and control over them.

So actually solving their problems, or beating the Angels isn't what we are here for, we're here to make sure that the war gets won the "right " way and leaves the UN in control, not NERV.
>>
>>4713093
>>4713100
>>
>>4713090
>Science Division and Technical Branch. Caswell as head of science, Womack as head of technical. It's strange considering in the organizational chart you'd been originally given, you knew the Technical department was a branch of the Science Division. Caswell was ostensibly Womack's boss, but the dynamic was all wrong.
>“Dr. Womack is, I assure you, quite aware of the importance of these tests,” the Major continues.
Ah. Lots of pieces fall into place. The dynamic is wrong because the Major is back the subordinate. Which is also undercutting his daughter, causing (or at least contributing to) their odd relationship.

>Stay with Rose
Our official job is as a pilot handler. Let's at least pretend to take an interest in how our charge is doing.
>>
>Stay with Rose

Writing
>>
You pull up a seat beside Rose and pretend to study readouts with her as she sips coffee. Eventually the lab is mostly empty, empty enough that you feel confident questioning her.

"Mind if I smoke?"

"Go ahead," Rose says. "That's a bad habit though."

You light the cigarette and breathe in the smoke. "I'm full of bad habits," you say. "Picked it up when I was a kid."

Rose makes no comment.

"How did Korine do?" you ask.

The captain keys in some code and the display flickers, changing to bring up Korine's piloting data. Most of it means nothing to you. "Room to improve," Rose says. "She's bottom of the pack right now, but stable. Her sync ratio has never been particularly high looking at her records."

"Why do you think that is?" you ask.

Rose rocks back in her chair and sips her coffee a moment. "You're asking the wrong person. Roger would be better suited to answer that one. The way I understand it, the pilot needs an active A10 nerve of course. Then it has to do with various factors of personality, emotional state, focus, et cetera."

"Dr. Caswell is a smart guy," you say, puffing on your cigarette.

"Very," Rose agrees.

"I'm a little surprised that he's not in charge of Technical Branch. He seems to know his stuff."

There it is, that slight wince. "Well," Rose says. "Womack actually is head of the whole Division. He's just fairly new in the role, we have some kinks to work out."

"Kinks?"

She looks at you with her good eye. "I'm sure you noticed that little bit of tension a moment ago."

You grin sheepishly. "I didn't want to be impolite. What was that about?"

"Growing pains," Rose says cryptically.

"Does it have something to do with Dr. Kaufman?"

Her eyes widens and she looks at you, surprised. "Who did- ah. It doesn't matter. Word travels, huh?"

"I heard that he was head of Science Division."

"He was," Rose agrees. "Officially he's missing."

"Missing?"

She nods.

"And unofficially?" You carefully tap your ash into a waiting tray.

Rose is silent in thought. It only lasts a handful of seconds, but it's long enough to indicate to you that she's thinking how to respond. "I didn't want to drag you into our mess but Dr. Kaufman is the prime suspect in a murder investigation."

You raise your eyebrows. "Murder?"

Rose looks around the room, ensuring you have privacy. "Nothing has been formally charged, I'd appreciate it if you didn't contribute to the spread of rumors."

"Of course, Captain. I didn't mean to pry."

She shakes her head and sighs. "No. This is just paranoia on our part. NervSec is looking for him. An engineer died under strange circumstances and Kaufman vanished around the same time."
>>
"What happened?" you ask.

"I don't know," she says, adding nothing further.

If NervSec is looking for Kaufman they must have good reason to suspect him, but a murder in Science Division with the Head of Science as the chief suspect seems questionable. Add to that the strange power struggle, and the question of how a man can disappear in a high-tech man made island, arguably one of the most secure cities on the planet.

"Dr. Caswell is filling in for him then?"

"He was vice chair of the division. Roger was definitely the best person for the posting."

"But Womack didn't agree," you suggest.

Rose looks up from her work at you again. She narrows her eye slightly. "I'm not really familiar with the way Science Division operates, Agent Sayid." You struck some kind of nerve there. Something uncomfortable for her.

Could it be that Major Holiday was backing Womack over Caswell's head? And why? From what you saw Womack wasn't exactly a model employee.

"I just like to know where the pieces go," you say. "Not trying to butt into anyone's business."

"I understand," Rose says. "Things here are probably different from the Portland Branch. I don't mean to sound pretentious but Nerv 03 is the big leagues. Emotions and egos run high here. It's a small pond with a lot of big fish. It's bound to cause friction."

"Of course," you say. "I'm no stranger to office politics, and I know better than to get involved."

Rose nods as she finalizes the form she's filling out, ending it with a signature. "Aaliyah, can you take this off to records to be filed?"

You take the manila folder. "Sure."

"How is Korine doing by the way?" Rose asks.

In truth, you've hardly spent any time with her beyond driving her here to the base. "She's good," you lie. "I think she's settling in okay."

"That's good. Now that there's other pilots her age, maybe she'll open up a bit more."

Korine's emotional wellbeing is the last thing on your mind. You'll probably need to at least make an effort to appear involved. Strangely, no one really seems to care too much about her at a personal level. As long as she shows up to work and does the tests they seem content.

"Yeah," you say, standing up. "I'll go run this file for you."

"Thanks, Aaliyah!"
>>
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You are Ethan Chandler and you're standing outside the door to your apartment. The rest of the day's training went by quickly and you were taken home by Mbaru. Now, here, at your doorstep you're paralyzed. Your hand rests on the doorknob. The keycard light is flashing green, unlocked. But you can't bring yourself to open it. Not yet. Not after what you saw yesterday. What if you see her again?

The door light goes red.

"Ethan?"

You jump.

Korine is standing in her own doorway, looking confused. "You alright?"

"Yeah," you say automatically. "Jus tired."

"Not too tired?" she asks, teasing.

"No. No. I'm ready." You release the door handle and step away. "Who's taking us?"

Korine gawks and then laughs. "No one?" she says, confused. "We're just gonna go."

"How?"

She looks exasperated. "Um, the metro? Were you not listening in the briefing today? This place has metros and buses and shit."

"Just you and me?"

She puts a hand on her hip and looks skeptical. "You wanna drag your bodyguard along? He looks real fun."

"What about yours?"

Korine shrugs. "She doesn't give a shit what I do. Now are you coming?"
>>
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Of course, you go with her. It's strange at first being on your own. You've never really had anyone to take care of you but you've also never really been purely on your own. You follow Korine down to the lobby of the building and then into the metro itself.

It's just like the city above, clean, modern. People are boarding and waiting for trams. Some wear suits and professional attire, others are more casually dressed.

"What's Alaska like?" Korine asks. The two of you are waiting for a train.

"Uh. It's really green," you say. "And wild. Undeveloped."

"Yeah?" She seems interested.

"Not many people out there. The talk about resettling refugees up there from time to time but it's just not feasible yet. Where are you from?"

"Arizona," She says. "It's brown, dry, and hot as fuck."

A train rolls into the station and you join the crowd boarding it. "Where are we going exactly?"

"Captain Holiday said there were malls and stuff here. I'm going to try to find them. I need to get some new clothes."

Riveting. Not exactly your idea of a good time, but you really just want to get away from the apartment.

The train interior is standing room only. You and Korine take a pole in hand and hold on as it accelerates. You can't help but feel awkward. Like you're suddenly unsure why you're here with her. Even so, you can't deny that it's kind of relieving to hang out with someone else, to have something to do.


>Have you met the other pilots?
>What's your guardian like
>What kind of music do you like?
>Write in
>>
>>4713884
>What kind of music do you like?
>>
>>4713880
>Korine's emotional wellbeing is the last thing on your mind. You'll probably need to at least make an effort to appear involved.
Please do. This girl runs an EVA, and appears to have been fairly neglected for her entire life. If you don't put some actual effort into her, you might find yourself under an Angel's foot.

>You can't help but feel awkward. Like you're suddenly unsure why you're here with her. Even so, you can't deny that it's kind of relieving to hang out with someone else, to have something to do.
We're here partially as a distraction from our trauma and whatever is going on with angel-Lisa and because we're lonely. Plus it's good to at least try to be friendly to friendly people.

>What kind of music do you like?
>>
>>4713884
>Have you met the other pilots?
>>
>>4713884
>What kind of music do you like?
If this is going to go down the Evangelion route, we need to achieve some level of connection before the world goes Tang
>>
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>>4714007
>If this is going to go down the Evangelion route, we need to achieve some level of connection before the world goes Tang
In what kind of form? Like in give my one last kiss before everythings fucked or like pic?
>>
>>4714016
In the original the everyone tended to deal with their issues alone, if at all. and even though they could see others struggling they had better things to do then to try and help.

I don't think Ethan is on top of his issues enough to be at that point but groundwork needs to be laid so he 'notices' that something is wrong and infers that he might be able to help.
>>
>>4714020
From his point of view, I figure he wants something to distract himself from his grief (and possible psychosis). Plus Korine has been the first person at this place that's shown him any sort of warmth, however small, and that's worth responding to.
>>
>>4713884
>>What kind of music do you like?
and
>>Have you met the other pilots?
might as well ask her what she thinks of the other pilots if she met them
>>
>What kind of music do you like?
>>4713904
>>4713935
>>4714007
>>4714034

Writing
>>
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"So, you like music right?"

Korine looks at you like you took a severe head injury.

"I mean what do you listen to?" You rephrase.

Korine digs into one of the many wide pockets on her pants and pulls out a compact cassette player. "I'm into all kinds of stuff. I was into Darkwave for a while before that totally died out. Then I was big about classic grunge rock. Industrial, Metal. Stuff that really kicks ass, you know?"

You think you do.

"Here." She offers ear buds. "This is Nullmancer."

You put them in and she hits play. It's an assault of noise at first. It takes your brain a minute to parse the data it's getting and break it down to its separate components. Drum loop, guitar, fuzzy bass, vocals, synth. It's dark, it's harsh, and it's angry. You weren't expecting to like it but . . .

Korine grins and says something.

"What?" you shout, taking out the earbuds.

She laughs. "I said 'do you like it'?"

"It's . . . interesting."

"Yeah?" She says. She looks momentarily conflicted before frowning. "It sounds like how I feel. All the time."

"You must feel loud," you suggest.

She gawks a moment, like she can't believe you just said that, and then laughs again. It's a surprisingly light and free sound. It feels very genuine. "What about you? What do you like?"

"I'm . . . I'm not sure."

Korine takes the earbuds back from you and starts wrapping them around her fist.

"I think I liked that, though," you say.

She stops, then unwraps the cord again. Before putting an earbud into one of her ears. "Want to listen?" she offers the other one to you.

You take it and put it in.

Korine hits play.

Your senses are assailed again, but this time you're ready. A lot of it is noise to you, but even that seems to resonate with you. It's a raw anger that mirrors the dark absence in your gut. The fire that threatened to erupt when you were talking with Renton.
>>
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You and Korine don't talk as you ride. The song plays to conclusion, and then another. In those minutes she seems content to just exist. You steal glances at her as you ride. You would have expected her to be more unapproachable. She's cute, she's strange. Her clothes, that makeup, all of it adds up to suggest she's not someone to strike up a conversation with casually.

Still, when she's not talking to you her face is sort of tired. Sad. You thought maybe it was just an affectation, something to better fit with her vibe, but now, up close, you're not so sure.

"Next stop: Mabry Circle. Mabry Circle."

Korine fishes in her pockets again and drags out a metro map of the city. Tracing a black fingernail along the red route you're on, she reaches Mabry Circle. "I think this is like the commercial area," she says. "Malls and shops and stuff."

You remove the earbud as the train starts decelerating. Your left ear is ringing now. "Lead the way."

The shopping centers of New Tampa are more of a culture shock to you than anything so far. Anchorage was more akin to a militarized dockyard than anything. It had nothing like this.

Digital signs flash advertisements. Fountains burble peacefully. Palm trees are lit with multi-color lights. Crowds of people filter from store to store, milling in the aimless haze of consumerism.

"Holy shit," Korine says. "It's really crowded."

She's not wrong. This shopping concourse extends from the metro level into the high rises above. Escalators, elevators, and moving walkways carry groups of people between the different sections and levels.

"Come on." Like that, Korine is determined again, forging her way through the crowd.

"So, you need clothes?"

She nods. "Yeah. When they picked me up they didn't let me take anything. I hardly have anything to wear. It's bullshit. They'd probably be happy if we just wore those fucking plugsuits all day."

"I'm not so sure about that, you say. "Those things are expensive."

Korine stops and turns to face you, incredulous. "Are you making jokes? Wow. And here I thought Nerv drilled that out of you. I guess you're still human under there, huh?" she pokes your chest lightly. "So you are going to help me pick out clothes or are you going to get something for yourself?"

"I have my own clothes, you know."

"Yeah? And it's all like boring weird lumberjack stuff. You look like you just came back from a gold digging expedition in the Yukon."

You look at your clothes. They are pretty basic and utilitarian. Comfortable, durable. Shit, maybe she's right.


>We can shop for me after we shop for you
>Good call, I'll meet you here in 30 minutes
>I'm pretty happy with my wardrobe actually
>Write in
>>
>>4714128
>Good call, I'll meet you here in 30 minutes
>Write in
Whatever we do find a good pair of headphones.
>>
>>4714128
>>4714143
+1 to this
>>
>>4714143
+1
>>
>>4714128
>>We can shop for me after we shop for you
>>
>>4714128

>>4714143
might as well

+1
>>
>>4714125
>and pulls out a compact cassette player.
huh. neat.
>"Yeah?" She says. She looks momentarily conflicted before frowning. "It sounds like how I feel. All the time."
What is it with metalheads and mental issues?

>I'm pretty happy with my wardrobe actually
Nothing wrong with what we have. And I'm sure she she has much space to talk.
But I'm game for the headphones.
>>
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>>4714463
>>and pulls out a compact cassette player.
Pic related>

>Go buy yourself headphones
Writing>>4714143
>>4714148
>>4714155
>>4714394
>>4714463

Writing
>>
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"I'll leave the clothes to you," you say. "You probably don't want me picking your wardrobe."

She raises an eyebrow, "Oh? Why's that?"

"Are you into lumberjack-chic?"

She considers it. "Point taken."

"Meet back here in thirty minutes?"

"Try forty-five," she counters. "I've got a lot of ground to cover and dressing to kill isn't easy."

"Right," you smirk. You watch her vanish into the crowd. She pops her headphones in and dives in like it's nothing. You were expecting a little more trepidation, but she seems comfortable enough on her own.

Soon enough you lose yourself in the haze of capitalism. Every corner of this complex is like an altar to acquisition. Clothes, computers, trendy drinks, jewelry, fast food, all are on display and every sign and marquee tugs at your eye. Everything demands your attention and you find yourself swept up in the spectacle of it all.

Following Korine's suggestion, you first shop around for a quality pair of headphones. It doesn't take long to find an electronics store. As you shop it occurs to you that you don't have any music or a music player either. Might as well make a spree of it.

Your Nerv ID doubles as your line of credit. There are caps on it of course, but you've never found out what they are. As much as you like the veneer of consumerism you've never been particularly trendy or keen to spend money.

Headphones, music player, and a collection of tapes gets you started. You're in and out fairly quickly. As you fiddle with the tapes and player, you decide to take a few extra minutes to pick up some new clothes, nothing crazy, some T-shirts and jeans will do.

Before you know it, time is up and you find Korine waiting for you with four bags stuffed with clothes. A glance shows you it's more of the same. Black, and darker than black. You hold up the headphones as you approach. "I took your advice."

"Clever boy," she says approvingly. "I think we'll be better neighbors if I'm not rattling the fillings out of your teeth. New shirts?"

"Yeah," you say. "Just a few."

"Sick." she seems pleased.

You gesture to the bags. "Is Nerv really going to pay for all that?"

She shrugs. "They have so far. What are they going to do? Cut me off? The job has a few perks, might as well use them, right?"

You're not really in the right frame of mind to see many perks, but she has a point."

Korine brushes back her messy hair with a hand, holding her bags clamped to her side with an elbow. "Ready to face reality yet?"

You consider it. "What's the alternative?"

"Ice cream and boardwalk fries," Korine suggests.

"That sounds more like the reality I want," you say.
>>
The late afternoon fades into early evening and you spend it with Korine. The two of you explore the mall and its surrounding buildings. You eat, you walk, you talk, you sit, you listen to music. She doesn't ask you about Anchorage or the battle. She doesn't talk about being a pilot at all if she can help it. You find yourself wondering if she even knows about what happened with Linda.

The name threatens to dredge up the face, the face threatens to bring your raw emotions back to the surface. You refuse to give in. You salve your aching heart with idle pleasures and distractions. You're not sure if it's healthy, but you know it's what you need right now.

Eventually, after a whirlwind of activity you inevitably return home.

Your boisterousness is muted on the return trip. It's easier to blank your thoughts than it is to face what's coming up.

"Can I ask you something weird?" Korine says.

The two of you just got off the metro and are climbing the stairs back to the main lobby of your building.

"Sure," you say.

"Do you think they like put cameras in our rooms?"

The question is surprising, not one you ever considered before. "I . . . don't think so? I don't know why they would."

"Cause Nerv are creepy assholes," she says. Her expression sours and she looks distant.

"No one's ever done that to me," you say in a way that you hope sounds reassuring.

"Right," she doesn't sound reassured. "I just don't want some creepy Nerv Security asshole watching me shower and stuff."

"You should ask your guardian . . . uh-" you struggle to recall the name.

"Sayid," she says. "And why? I told you she doesn't give a shit about me. She told me that I wasn't her problem. I'm on my own out here."

"Not totally," you say. "You're always welcome to shower in my place or something." That came out a little awkward.

She makes a face at you.

"I mean, whatever." Nice recovery.

You both arrive at your floor and face your doors.

"Thanks for coming with me," Korine says.

"Yeah. It was fun."

Something's bothering her. She frowns. "Listen, if I ever like . . . " Korine trails off.

You wait a moment for her to continue but only silence follows.

"Forget it. Later." She opens her door with the force of a tactical breaching team without any more hesitation.

"Later . . ." You say, staring at the door bewildered. With nothing left to distract you, you face the door to your apartment. You open it.
>>
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There is blood on the tile.

The door closes behind you with a soft click. You can hear your heartbeat thundering in your ears, your pulse is rushing.

You take a step further in, following the drips of blood. Here is a feather. You stoop down and pick it up. It's large and white, the base is pink with blood. You see more feathers scattered about, lying in fitful clumps like loose drifts of snow across your floor. They've gathered in the corners of the hall.

You follow the molted trail, each step stiff and robotic. You're afraid of what you'll find, but you're also somehow certain of what it will be. The trail leads to the closed bathroom door. A sweep of feathers is spread across the floor as if scattered by a sudden gust of wind. Some are pristine, others speckled with blood.

You can hear something moving inside the bathroom. There are hollow echoes of movement.

The door swings open upon a chaotic blizzard of plucked, bloody feathers.

Linda is here. She's naked like before, sitting in your bathtub, her knees drawn up to her chest. Her face is streaked with tears. She looks up on your arrival lip quivering, eyes ringed with red. Her fingers are streaked with dried blood and caked with fuzzy down stained pink. Her wings, once elegant and expansive, are cramped in the confines of the tub. They're dotted with patches of bare, raw skin. Blood dribbles down over her feathers in thin rivers.

"I . . . " her voice wavers. "I tried to get rid of them . . . but there are so many."

You stand speechless, looking over this bloody scene.

"It was hurting too bad . . . I had to stop," she says, sniffling. "I'm sorry. I . . ."


>Close the door. This can't be real.
>"You're not Linda, what are you?"
>"Please, stop. Don't do this to yourself."
>Write in
>>
>>4714627
>Close the door. This can't be real.
>>
>>4714627
>>"Please, stop. Don't do this to yourself."
Real or not, this isn't good. Even if she is only a figment of our imagination, there's nothing wrong with trying to help her.
Plus, with how rapidly this escalated, I suspect if we ignore or brush her off this is going to get worse.
>>
>>4714627
>>"Please, stop. Don't do this to yourself."
>>
>>4714627
>"Please, stop. Don't do this to yourself."
All aboard the trauma train
>>
>>4714627
>"Please, stop. Don't do this to yourself."

And, if possible
>Write in
"What do you want from me?"

I wonder if there were any remains that were shown to Ethan. Was there a burial, perhaps?
>>
>>4714627
>>"Please, stop. Don't do this to yourself."
>>
>>4714627
>"Please, stop. Don't do this to yourself."
>>
>>4714771
Considering that she was caught in an explosion, whatever was left probably looked more like ash and hamburger meat than an actual person
>>
>>4714937
Well Linda was absorbed by the angel or in the process of it when we killed it and it had a connection with us, so Linda might be "alive" in our head more or less
>>
>>4714944
How bad should we let this get before we tell anyone?
>>
>>4714627
>"Please, stop. Don't do this to yourself."
There should be a basic first aid kit somewhere around here, we should attempt to render aid.
>>
>"Please, stop. Don't do this to yourself."

Writing
>>
"Please," you say. "Please stop."

Linda snaps for misery to surprise.

Anguish pangs your heart. Linda or not, real or not, you can't watch her suffer like this. You hold out a hand to her. "Don't do this to yourself."

Linda looks at your hand and then back to your eyes. Her tears have stopped. A second later she reaches up and takes your own hand uncertainly.

With little effort, you help her to her feet. You grab a white, fluffy, bath towel from a rung and carefully wrap it around her. It covers her, but just barely. "Over here," you help her to step out of the tub and lead her over to the sink.

As soon as catches sight of herself in the mirror she gasps, squeezes her eyes shut, and looks away. "I'm a monster!"

The words hurt you, wounding your soul. Is she reacting this way because of how you'd acted last time? Does she think you think she's a monster? You shake your head. "No. Don't say that." You pull her more insistently back to the bathroom sink.

Linda allows herself to be led and doesn't protest. She opens her eyes again but refuses to look at the mirror, staring off to the side.

You run some warm water and soak a washcloth. Once prepared, you gently blot at the bare, bloody skin on her wings.

Linda winces at first touch, but doesn't resist. She allows you to clean away the dried blood as she stares at the floor. She doesn't speak as you first, diligently clean her wings, and then her hands. You lightly hold her by the wrist as you run her hands under the tap. Caked on flood and feathers rush down the drain in a pink spiral.

The moment is surreal to you, cleaning an angel's hands. You don't know how else to think of her. This is Linda, but . . . it can't be. This is something else. You can't be positive if she's even real or if your mind has gone. Maybe she is just a hallucination, a trauma-induced vision of the friend you'd lost, but either way, you're not going to stand by and watch her suffer.

"You shouldn't hurt yourself," you say, breaking the silence. You open a first aid kit from beneath the sink and set about carefully wrapping her raw skin with gauze. "There's nothing wrong with your wings."

"I'm an Angel!" Linda exclaims, threatening to burst into tears again. Her eyes are wide, afraid, despondent.

"I don't care," you say firmly. "You're Linda." The words are a half-truth. You don't know what she is, but you know she's not your enemy. She's not dangerous. She's a scared girl who needs you.
>>
Linda looks up and searches your eyes with hers. "Ethan," she says, afraid. "I'm, afraid."

"Why?" you ask. Now that you've finished cleaning her and treating her you realize that you have no idea what to do now.

"I don't remember . . . what happened or . . . how I got here. I just . . . " she looks at her now clean hands. "I saw you and . . . and you saved me." She smiles to herself.

Knowing that what she's saying is a lie hurts more than anything. You could have saved her. If you'd just been a little faster. If you'd just been a little better. Tears come before you can stop them. You cover your face with your hands and sink to your knees on the bathroom floor. "Linda," you sob. "Linda. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I-"

Linda kneels beside you and wraps her arms around you, a wing circling you comfortingly. "I'm right here, Ethan. I'm fine. I'm right here."

You lean into her embrace.

Linda strokes your head as she holds you. "You've been through so much, Ethan. No wonder you're exhausted. Let's put you to bed."

You are too weak to resist her as she helps you back to your feet. You're led to the bedroom and Linda sits with you before laying you down. You look up at her smiling face through eyes blurred with tears.

"Sleep," she urges.

You grab her wrist tightly. "I don't want to lose you again," you say.

Linda shakes her head. "I'm here now. I'm not going anywhere. Sleep."

You don't know what else you can do. You don't know what you should do. There's still a part of you that thinks you're cracking up. That the strain of the battle has broken you forever. But there's another part of you now, a part of you that wishes that were true.
>>
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You're Agent Aaliyah Sayid and you're in your apartment. Yours is across the hall from Korines and so rather than looking out to sea, you have a fantastic view of the city itself. A dense cluster of gold and silver-lit high rises extends across the city to the artificial horizon of the far seawall. Rivers of traffic flow on the streets below and helicopters and VTOLs buzz by overhead.

The city view has no allure for you now though. You're deep in thought. Sprawled on couch in your living room, you lay on your back, head resting on a folded arm. A half-burned cigarette hangs from your lips and you stare at the ceiling.

Your suit is disheveled, half-buttoned from where you initially began undressing after work. A phrase is running through your mind on repeat. The line the courier had said when you'd gotten this assignment.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes

You puff a stream of smoke up at the ceiling and watch it fan out when it reaches the apex of its climb. A murder in Nerv. A power struggle in the Science Division. A father/daughter strain. The master of Nerv 03 no longer trusted by his superiors in the UN.

It was time that you dug in deeper. You were going to have to get wet for this one.

Your phone buzzes on the floor beside the couch. Reaching over, you scoop it up and flip it open to reach the message.

NERV SECURITY
Second Pilot has returned to her apartment. No incident.

You snort and drop the phone again before plucking the cigarette from your lips. Ever since Korine took off with Ethan you'd been getting text updates from NervSec, monitoring their progress. It was strange, voyeuristic in a way. You remotely followed her journey into each and every store. You were told what she bought and who she talked to. You can only imagine what Korine would say if she knew how closely she was monitored.

She's ultimately your responsibility to keep an eye on of course. You're not sure how much you like her running around unsupervised in this city. Juggling this with your investigation is going to be difficult.


>Check in on Korine and see how she's doing
>Tell Korine she has to tell you before running off
>I don't have the time for baby sitting right now
>Write in
>>
>>4715024
>>Check in on Korine and see how she's doing
>>
>>4715024
I can't say I'm surprised at how heavily monitored the pilots are, considering how valuable they are. But it goes without saying they can't know about it.
>>Check in on Korine and see how she's doing
We've hardly spoken to her since we told her we don't care about her.
>>
>>4715024
>Check in on Korine and see how she's doing
Gotta act like we care about our "child"
>>
>>4715024
>Check in on Korine and see how she's doing

She's at the age when people stop bothering pretending they give a fuck until they have a good material reason to do so. Thankfully, Aaliyah gets paid for this, so Korine might as well tell her if something's bothering her. I think if we frame it like this, it will give us some sort of mutual understanding not to expect too much of this relationship, but at least establish some baseline about how is it going to be.
>>
>>4714951
The moment she begins slipping out of our room maybe? That or if she takes over our Eva during a fight
>>
>Check in on Korine and see how she's doing

Writing
>>
You rise from the couch and stub out your cigarette. You should take the effort to socialize a little with your charge at least. She's at an age where she can mostly handle herself, but it wouldn't hurt to check in on her.

It only takes a second to get your clothes in order and cross the hall. You hear silence from Korine's room, so you knock lightly on the door. "Korine? It's Aaliyah." A few seconds of silence tick by. You know she's not asleep since she only just got home. The silence drags on enough that you worry. Using your ID, you unlock her door and enter.

The place is a disaster. It's almost remarkable since it was spotlessly clean last you saw it.

Shopping debris litters the floor. Bags, receipts, price tags. New clothes are strewn about haphazardly. You see a shirt ripped to ribbons lying in the middle of a hallway and the scattered shining orbs of a necklace pulled apart.

You step over and around the mess and enter the living room.

Korine is here sitting on the couch in the middle of the field of destruction like the eye of a storm. A lamp is smashed on the floor beside her. Korine is motionless, only her eyes following you as you cross the room toward her. Her chest rises and falls as she breathes. Her eyes are cold, distant, glowering from the coal pits of the makeup around them.

"Korine?" you ask.

She says nothing.

"Are you alright?"

"Do I look alright?" she asks. Her voice is alarmingly neutral given what you see around her.

"Who did this?" you ask.

"I did this," she says.

You look again at everything. The mess, the destroyed clothes. "Why?"

Her scowl deepens. "Does it matter?"

"I think it does," you say.

"You've read my file," she says.

"I have."

"Then you should ask stupid questions."

This is not at all the situation you were prepared to walk into. You expected a little 'gal time', a light pep talk, maybe you give her your cellphone number. Now you feel like you've walked into a hostage situation or a bomb defusal.
Whatever the case, you've survived worse things than teenage hormones. You step over a discarded pair of jeans and sit on the loveseat facing the spade and Korine. "Korine," you say, keeping your voice level. "Whatever your impression is of me, I think you have the wrong idea. I'm not here to be your enemy. I'm not here to cause you trouble. I know you're capable of taking care of yourself, so I am not going to get in the way of that. But I am here to help you how I can."
>>
Korine looks away from you like you no longer interest her.

"Did something happen today?" you ask.

Korine blinks slowly, her expression unreadable. "No."

"Then what's all this for?" you gesture to the mess. "They get your size wrong?"

She looks at you again, unamused by your attempt at humor. "Sayid," she says, "The sooner you stop pretending to be my friend the sooner we can get back to our own problems."

Your lip twitches, "No," you say. "You're right about that. We're not friends. I'm not pretending to be anything. I know you have problems-"

Korine scoffs.

"I know-" you try again, "I know that your life . . . things are hectic. You're under a lot of pressure. I get it. I don't need to be your best friend, I don't need to do anything you don't want to do. Hell, I'm not cut out of this at all. I think you can tell that much. "

Korine rolls her eyes.

"But I take my work seriously," you add. "And my job right now is to make sure you're alright."

She only stares back.

"Did Ethan say something to you?" you ask, taking a guess. "Did he do something?"

Her face registers momentary surprise and then bewildered frustration. The change comes so quickly it almost startles you. "He didn't- No." She frowns. "No, he didn't do anything."

You let the silence lapse hoping for something, anything.

"Why the fuck am I even here, Sayid?" She asks angrily. "What am I doing here?"

"You're a pilot," you say softly.

Her lip quivers. "And who says I want to be!?"

"You always have a choice," you say.

"A choice? What? Stay here and risk getting fucking killed? Or what? Go back to my sad shitty life alone in the fucking desert!?" she exclaims, getting shrill. "I should just choose to give up the one and only thing that makes me anyone worth giving a shit about!? What would I be if I wasn't a pilot?" She's screaming the words now. She grabs a handful of clothing on the couch beside her and holds it up in a fist. "You think anyone would buy me fucking clothes if I didn't have some stupid nerve thing!?" She hurls the clothes into the floor. Her fury subsides into dull exhaustion


>We're at war, Korine. We all have to do things we don't want to.
>I'm sorry, Korine. It's not fair that we put you through this.
>You're a vital part of this team, Korine. The truth is we need you.
>write in
>>
>>4715211
>>We're at war, Korine. We all have to do things we don't want to.
>>
>>4715211
>I'm sorry, Korine. It's not fair that we put you through this.
but
>We're at war, Korine. We all have to do things we don't want to.
Yeah forcing emotionally disturbed children to fight otherworldly monsters is fucked up, but the alternative is humanity getting wiped out.
>>
>>4715211
>>We're at war, Korine. We all have to do things we don't want to.
This is only only one that doesn't feel patronizing, but I don't think it's going to make her feel any better.
It also invites her to reverse it on us. When she inevitably asks (possibly with a sting about our current babysitting duties), what would our response be, I wonder?

>What would I be if I wasn't a pilot?
We can also try and have her think about this question more seriously. This war won't last forever; what might she want to do when the dust settles? From there, we can encourage her to start laying the groundwork now for that future.
This is assuming she takes all this dialogue in good grace, of course. But If we get this far, I think it's worth encouraging her to look into, to give her something to move towards.
>>
>>4715211
>>4715238
lets go with this one
>>
>>4715211
>write in

"Even if you are a pilot, the sad truth is that no one can care enough for you to feel it. I can come here and talk to you and listen to you, but I can't make you feel that I care. From my perspective, I care enough to come here. I can't imagine how it may look from yours."
"As for your safety, it's all relative. We're in a fortress city with all the cannons and air support we can get. But what good is it when 150 foot monster that shits plasma just shrugs at all of it. Do I feel safe? Not particularly. Can I do anything about it? Fuck no. But in that machine, you and only you can make the difference. You could not have asked for better protection. Once you're out there, it's all up to you and no one else. I haven't heard of any teenagers who want to give up what control they have over their life. You just don't realize how much control you have."

Two main points - how she feels is something no one truly can 'help' her with; safety is relative and she has much better chances when shit hits the fan if she actually chooses to fight. Omit or take what you can, because it's all pretty cheesy.
>>
>We're at war, Korine. We all have to do things we don't want to.
+
>Write ins

Writing
>>
You take a deep, steadying breath before speaking. "We're at war, Korine," you say.

Her expression falls further into despair.

"I know that's not what you want to hear, but it's the truth. We're at war and we're fighting to survive." You think back to your own past. The smell of smoke and the taste of blood. "We all do things we don't want to. Things we don't think we're capable of. It's not easy but it's what life is sometimes. A struggle."

"I can't fight a war," she says, her voice almost a whisper.

"Anyone who thinks they can is deluded or crazy," you say. "I don't think you're either of those things.

Her mouth hangs open as she struggles for words. After a moment she gives up, slumping in defeat. "I'm going to die here," she says.

"You think so?" you ask.

Korine doesn't reply.

"I'll tell you something, Korine. We're in a fortress city. One with all the cannons and air support money can buy. But what good is it when a one hundred and fifty foot monster that shits plasma just shrugs it all off?"

Korine doesn't have an answer.

"I don't pilot an Eva. I can't. Do I feel safe?" You pause. "Not particularly. But is there anything I can do about it? Fuck no."

Your candid response draws Korine's attention again.

"Korine, you do something that few people can do. You can pilot an Eva. In that machine you- and only you can make a difference. The way I understand it, there is no safer place to be than inside an Evangelion."

"It's terrifying," she says.

You nod. "I can imagine. But you know what it is? It's ultimate freedom."

Korine blinks, surprised.

"When you're up there and it all comes down to you, you're on your own. That's freedom, Korine. I haven't heard of any teenagers who want to give up what control they have over their life. You just don't realize how much control you have."

She bites her lip and closes her eyes. It takes you a moment to realize she's fighting back tears. She's too proud to cry in front of you. After a minute she nods silently.

You look around at the mess again. "Let me help you clean this up, okay?"

She nods.

You take a few minutes to gather up the clothes and things. Only a few are ruined, most are just crumpled and scattered. At first you work alone but after a minute Korine joins in, working silently. You return everything to their bags and stack the bags against the wall. It's a small step, but the room feels much better with everything returned to a semblance of order.
>>
Korine won't look at you. She spends her time staring blankly at the floor as she cleans, and now awkwardly waits by the couch.

"Nice haul," you say. This is not at all your style. You don't understand it in the slightest, you've always preferred to look professional, put together. Korine's grungy darkness thing doesn't make much sense to you. But maybe if you can get her to open up a little . . .

"Thanks."

"Ever give thought to what you'll do afterward?"

She finally looks at you, confused. "After?"

"When all this is over."

She blinks.

"You seem to like music, right? Maybe you can be a musician. Can you play anything?"

"I . . . piano."

The answers catches you off guard. "Really?"

She nods. "I learned in foster care. Before . . ."

"Right. Well, maybe you can do something with that? If I get you a keyboard, do you think you would practice?"

Her eyes widen in surprise. "A . . . yes. I would."

You give her a tight smile. "See, I care more than you thought, right?"

The jab makes her frown again, but this is more characteristic teenage petulance than despair. "I guess."

"Also, I don't know shit about keyboards, so I'll need you to help pick one out. Tomorrow?"

She rubs her arm anxiously, thinking. "Alright."

"Perfect!"

"Sayid- uh. Aaliyah . . ."

"Yes?"

"I'm . . . thanks for . . . " She either can't or won't put it into words.

"We're all human together," you say. "We all have our struggles. I won't pretend to understand yours but I can try to help you with it if you help me."

She looks guilty. "I'll . . . try."

"That's all I ask. Tomorrow then, you're sure?" you ask.

"Yeah, I'm sure."

You leave Korine's room, quietly closing the door behind you. Once free, you rest your back on the wall and let out a tense sigh. This babysitting shit is going to be tougher than you thought . . . still, you can't help but feel bad for the kid. It's a fucked up world still. But the alternative is global vivicide. No choice at all, really.
>>
You are Ethan Chandler and you're tired. You're awoken in the morning by the bleating of your alarm clock. Automatically your hand goes to the other side of the bed, feeling for Linda. It's cold. The sheets bare.

You open your eyes and look, feeling a mixture of sadness and relief. She's gone again. Last night you'd fallen asleep with her arms wrapped around you.

You sit up and blink, rubbing tired eyes. Had you? Did you? Was she really here? You're out of bed in a flash and you scour the apartment looking for blood, feathers, anything. You find the first aid kit open. Some gauze is gone. One of your towels is also in the bottom of the tub. Wet but clean. Nothing.

Pushing this aside, you begin your routine. You shower, dress, and start on breakfast.

Oh. Right. You stare at the empty fridge and your stomach rumbles dejectedly. You never got any food.

The door chime sounds and makes you jump out of your skin. After you take a breath to slow your racing heart, you close the fridge and cross the living room to peer through the peephole.

Instead of the towering Mbaru you see pale hair and fake cat ears. Katya stands in front of your door, her expression blank, staring back at your peephole.

You draw back, surprised. You try to imagine what she could want and come up cold. After a second you open the door. "Hello?"

"Excuse me," Katya says, "I am locked out." Her voice is soft, her accent thick but understandable.

You blink. "Locked out?"

Katya stares. "Of apartment."

"Oh. Oh! Come in." You step aside so Katya can come in.

She stares at you a second before stepping into your apartment. You close the door behind her. "I can use your phone?"

"Sure," you say. You fish in your pocket and hand your phone to her. You watch as she dials a number and puts the phone to her ear. It's almost amazing to you just how unreadable she is. This particular blankness seems somehow familiar to you. After a moment you realize it reminds you of fashion models. It's a sort of practiced emptiness, but no less pretty.

Katya looks up at you staring at her and you pretend to be doing something else.

You hear a soft beep through the phone speaker, voicemail. She hangs up and offers the phone back. "I think Yezhov busy then. I wait for him outside."


>Why don't I call building management for you? I'm sure they can let you in.
>Do you want to wait in here? It might be more comfortable.
>I can call Mbaru and we can go straight to Nerv together if you want.
>Write in
>>
>>4715676
>I can call Mbaru and we can go straight to Nerv together if you want.
>>
>>4715676
>write-in
We could ask if she's eaten yet, see if she wants to get something with us.
if getting breakfast is the reason she locked herself out in the morning,
>Do you want to wait in here? It might be more comfortable.
>>
>>4715676
>>I can call Mbaru and we can go straight to Nerv together if you want.
+ get something to eat on the way for the both of us
>>
>>4715676
>>4715686
Support
>>
>>4715686
+1
>>
>>4715686
>This

Writing
>>
"You don't have to do that," you say.

She blinks.

"Have you had breakfast yet?"

"Breakfast?"

"Yeah," you say. "I was just about to go get something. You can come if you'd like."

For the first time, her features are graced with something like an expression. Her eyes widen slightly. Katya says something in Russian.

You hesitate, "Excuse me?"

She blinks again. "I think maybe not."

"Not hungry?" you ask.

"I . . . eh." She seems to struggle for a word. "Do not like your food for breakfast."

"Oh," you say. Silence lapses as you struggle to find something to say.

Katya begins to look visibly uncomfortable as you stare at her.

"Well, that's okay," you say. "You're welcome to hang out here until Yezhov comes to get you." You're sure you botched his name. "If you want."

"This is . . . no problem?" she asks, raising an eyebrow.

"No problem," you agree. "I don't see a reason to make you wait alone in the hallway. We're both pilots, right? Might as well get to know each other."

She doesn't look very excited about that prospect. "Yes. Okay."

Katya goes to your window and looks out over the sea, captivated.

"Nice view, huh?" you ask.

She looks surprised that you spoke to her. "Yes," she agrees.

You chew your lip awkwardly as you stand behind her staring outside. "Well, make yourself comfortable," you say.

She nods.

You wander into the kitchen and look through your empty fridge again. Your stomach growls. It seems no hospitable act goes unpunished. You hide in the kitchen for a bit until you hear the electronic chime of a Nomad starting followed by clacking buttons.

You peer out of the kitchen and see Katya sitting on your couch, leaning forward, engrossed in her game. Blue light shines on her face as she concentrates.

You know virtually nothing about her, you realize. You know she's Russian obviously, an eva pilot. You know that she- or her family have money if the quality of her clothes is to be judged. You know that she always seems to be wearing those cat ears and she loves her games. That's about it


>Ask her about her game
>Ask about her cat ear band
>Wait for Mbaru/Yezhov to arrive
>See if there are any Russian food places that do delivery here
>Write in
>>
>>4715880
>Ask her about her game
>>
>>4715880
>Wait for Mbaru/Yezhov to arrive
Might be best to wait for the agents to arrive
>>
>>4715880
>Ask her about her game
Might as well share whatever hobbies we had back in Alaska
>>
>>4715880
>Ask her about her game
Easy thing as any to talk about
>>
>>4715880
>Write in
>Ask if she knows of anywhere near here that delivers her prefered food
If yes, dig up a menu for the place. While we're waiting for it to arrive, or if she doesn't know of a place,
>>Ask her about her game
>>
>Ask her about her game
>>4715883
>>4715921
>>4715974
>>4715996

Writing
>>
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You feel nervous, then you feel stupid for feeling nervous. It's just a conversation. It will only get easier. You re-enter the living room but Katya doesn't seem to notice. You dredge up the game title from memory.

"Gun Mage II?" you ask.

Katya startles and looks up. "Yes," she says.

"You were playing that on the plane. Have you beaten it yet?"

She stares at you a moment, like she's trying to decipher what you said. You're starting to get worried that it was lost in translation before she speaks. "Yes. I already beat. This is uh . . . for true ending."

"I only ever played the first one," you say. "Feels like forever ago."

She holds the boxy console toward you. "Here. You play." It is a command, not a suggestion, one that takes you completely off guard.

"What, me?"

She nods.

"No, sorry, I'm terrible. I'll ruin your save."

Katya hesitates, then looks defeated, like you've insulted her by refusing her offer.

"I'll give it a try," you say. You take the console. It's cumbersome and awkward. The controls are even moreso. You stare leaping through the Yucatan jungle blasting swarms of mutant creatures. Copious amounts of firearms and intense magical powers aren't enough to make up for your gross lack of skills.

YOU PERISHED the game notes helpfully.
>>
"Shit," you say. "Sorry."

She shakes her head. "No. Is okay, I like challenge."

Encouraged by her enjoyment of your shitty playing, you carry on, wasting a few more of Katya's hard earned lives in foolish gambles and total blunders. "Shit, this is hard," you say.

Katya shrugs. "Harder than first one I think. Not so hard with practice."

You offer it back. "Here, I'm going to totally run your run."

"No. Is okay. You keep. I have others."

"Others?" You're bewildered by the idea that she has multiple game consoles.

Katya opens her mouth to say more, seems to think about it, then closes it, looking away.

"I mean, I'm happy to borrow it," you say. "I can bring it back when I'm done."

"If you want, yes," she sounds defeated somehow.

Before you can add anything else, there is a loud knock on your door. You look at Katya looks back at you, vaguely guilty.

You rise to open the door and come face to face with Yezhov. He looks pissed. The skin on his face is tight, his eyes narrow. He glares at you and you imagine he thinks of at least two ways to kill you on the spot. "Agent Yezhov," you say. "I was-"

He looks past you and at Katya. "Katya, come." He says before rapidly adding something in Russian.

Katya hardly reacts at all. That blankness is back. She stands and walks past you without saying anything.

Yezhov looks at you again, sizing you up, then he too turns away to follow her.

You're speechless, unable to think of anything intelligent to say. And just like that, the Russians are gone. Yezhov unlocks Katya's door and they both go in.

Your stomach rumbles.

"Yeah yeah." You turn around and see Katya's Nomad III sitting on your couch where she left it. Your Nomad now, you suppose, at least for the time being. Picking it up, you sit back on the couch and turn it back on. A few more rounds won't hurt.
>>
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With video games to rot your mind, time passes quickly. You manage to tear yourself away before it's time to get to work. Mbaru picks you up and delivers you to Nerv where training begins anew. You could have never imagined that so much time could be taken up with doing so little practical work. Between synchronization testing, harmonics calibration, tactical simulation, and classroom learning you waste the day away.

You don't get much time to interact with the other pilots, or anyone else for that matter. Renton doesn't speak to you, Korine acknowledges you with an awkward wave, and Katya keeps to herself.

Around lunch time, you're taken to Science Division. The Science section of Nerv 03 reminds you more of a hospital than anything else. Sterile white walls, color coded directional paths on the floor. Everything is labeled, marked, and carefully mapped. Scientists and technicians in lab coats and coveralls move to and fro with a whisper of fabric. No one speaks above a whisper.

Except for Dr. Caswell.

"Ethan, seems like we just saw each other," he grins at his bad joke.

You give a half-hearted smile back.

"Come on in, bud. Let's get you checked out."

You were told this medical checkup is standard procedure after an injury like yours. You sit on the exam table as Dr. Caswell runs through a battery of simple tests. Reflexes, coordination, pupil dilation.

"Right," he says. "So far so good. Let's take a look at that arm."

You've been keeping it in a sling intermittently, trying to rest it up.

Caswell grips your bicep. "Okay, flex for me."

You oblige.

"Any pain?" he asks.

"No."
>>
He scoots back in his rolling office chair and makes a hasty note on a clipboard. It looks like a scribble to you. "Uh-huh," he says. "Sounds like the muscle's healing up nicely. No residual nerve damage or evidence of damage to the bone. You're just about all healed up here, bud."

You hate doctor's offices. They are cold, devoid of feeling. Every doctor you've ever been seen by has always made you feel more like a component than a person. They treated you like livestock. Caswell at least makes an effort at small talk and

With the news that you're almost cleared for active duty, you should be glad. You should be glad, but you're not. You feel sick to your stomach. You keep replaying Linda's final moments whenever you have time to be alone with your thoughts. The idea of piloting an eva in combat again is terrifying to you. First it was Linda. Who will you let down next? Korine? Katya? Renton? Whose blood will be on your hands?

Beyond that, you were hounded by Linda's memory in an even more literal way.

"So, all my readers are normal then?" you ask.

Caswell seems surprised by the question. He studies you a moment before flashing a humoring smile and flipping through the pages of your medical record. "Let's see. Heightened harmonics, ego borderline registers as normal. A-10 activity within expected parameters, psycho-boundary limits intact, no signs of mental contamination or residual neurological damage."

Relief floods your mind. So whatever it is isn't an Angel, and it's not brain damage.

"Good news?" Caswell asks, smiling like he missed a joke.

"Ah, sort of," you say. "I mean, better than the alternative right?"

"Oh, sure," Roger agrees, "But I think we'd notice if something was wrong. You certainly would anyway."

You can't think of something to say to that.

"Is there something wrong?" Caswell asks.


>Nothing.
>I can't get what happened out of my head.
>I've been seeing things. Hallucinating. I've been seeing Linda.
>Write in
>>
>>4716104
>I've been seeing things. Hallucinating. I've been seeing Linda.
I think we should come clean, but hide the fact she has wings though, because we don't want to get section 2ed immediately
>>
>>4716104
They will take us to the funny farm if we tell them we've been having full blown hallucinations. And if we read clean, it's nothing they can help us with anyway.
>>I can't get what happened out of my head.
>I wasn't sure if it was due to the angel, stress, or something else. Good to know I'm verified clean.
>>
>>4716104
>I can't get what happened out of my head.
It's the truth, at least. The middle ground, not everything is fine, but we don't want to tell him how hard we might have cracked.
Say that we see an angel-winged dead person in hallucinations and we get instantly sidelined.
>>
>>4716104
>I can't get what happened out of my head.
Better that they think we have PTSD than think we're insane. Maybe this isn't the smartest idea, but I have a nasty feeling that NERV won't hesitate to try invasive experiments on us if they think there's something to discover
>>
>>4716104
>Nothing.
>>
>>4716132
We don't actually know that we came up clean, just that Caswell said we did; and the strategy in place at the moment is to watch and see what happens.
>>
>>4716137
>Say that we see an angel-winged dead person in hallucinations and we get instantly sidelined.
Yep, especially with how many other fully ready EVA units are available here. They'd view a cracked pilot as huge, needless risk with so many others available.
>>
>>4716104
>Nothing
Lets not say anything for now
>>
>I've been seeing things. Hallucinating. I've been seeing Linda.
>>4716119

>I can't get what happened out of my head.
>>4716132
>>4716137
>>4716138

>nothing
>>4716139
>>4716414


>I can't get what happened out of my head.

Writing
>>
"I can't get what happened out of my head," you say at last.

Caswell frowns sympathetically. "About the battle?"

You nod, unable to meet his gaze. "And about . . ."

"Linda?" He suggests.

"Yeah."

"That's only natural," Caswell says. "I'm sad to say that the grieving process isn't quick or easy, but it is natural, my friend." He gives your shoulder a reassuring squeeze but you don't feel much reassured.

"It's just . . . sometimes it feels like . . . it's like . . . I can see her," you say at last. "It's like she's there with me."

Dr. Caswell nods, nonplussed. "Sure. It's hard for our conscious minds to accept cataclysmic change like that. That's where things like denial come from." He finches scratching on the notepad before setting it down on the counter and spinning the chair to face you again. "What you went through was traumatic for mind and body. Our brains have evolved to hold onto traumatic events. To process them. To analyze them. Back when we were just apes on the savannah, this was a good way to do a sort of post-trauma review. An after action report. You could learn from your mistakes, or the mistakes of others."

You wince at the word 'mistake'.

"But," Caswell says firmly, "Our brains don't know when to stop. I've seen the combat footage, Ethan, I've reviewed the logs. If I were in your shoes I would have done exactly what you did. You're not at fault for what happened."

You look up at him, surprised.

"If you want someone to blame-" he gestures upward with his pen. "Blame the Angels."

"Right."
>>
"So your subconscious mind can't rationally accept what's happened. I can't give you a magic pill to make that better," he says. "I can do two things." He tears off a sheaf of prescription paper and hands it to you. "I can give you a light sedative for now, something to help you sleep a little better."

You take the prescription and look down at it.

"I can also say this: these feelings will pass in time. If you want them to."

"I . . ." you say, stopping yourself. "I want to let her go." A pang of guilt stabs through as you say them. "That's not right," you correct yourself. "I never want to let her go."

"You want the memories," Caswell says, "But you don't want to feel haunted."

"Right," you say. "Haunted."

He nods. "It can be tough. We all lost people in Second Impact. Friends, family. Some of my school friends, I can still imagine them. Their voices, quirks, mannerisms. I still think of them today. But it doesn't hurt as much now," he says. "Take the pills at night when you go to bed, don't mix with alcohol-" he winks, "and forgive yourself, okay?"

"Okay." You feel strangely relieved. Like a burden has been lifted. This is just some kind of intense, unusual, fucked up grief. It's normal. It will pass.

"Anything else man?" Caswell asks, clicking his pen closed.

"No," you say. "No, that's all."

"Alright," Caswell stands. "Adios, bud." He pulls open the office door to allow you to make your escape. "Oh!" he stops you. "I mean to ask, how are you adjusting to the city?"

You stand from the table. "So far so good. It's nice. Hot . . .but nice."

"Yeah," he cracks a grin. "Takes some getting used to. Good view from your place?"

You nod.

"Third District?" he asks.

"Yeah."

He lets out a low whistle. "That's what I though. Best view in the city. Waves, sunrise. My old place looked straight into the seawall." He chuckles. "Korine and Katya are in your building right?" he asks.

"Korine is my neighbor. Katya is down the hall."

"You like em?" he asks.

You fluster a bit, "I mean, sure. They seem nice. Katya keeps to herself."
>>
Caswell grins. "Probably just needs someone to open up to. She is a stranger in a strange land after all. How about Renton? Talked with him?"

You frown a little, "Not much."

"Mbaru?"

You shake your head.

"A lot of withdrawn people, huh?" he says with a sad smile.

"I guess so."

"Maybe," Caswell says, sitting back down in his chair and leaning back. "Maybe they seem withdrawn because you're withdrawn."

The statement blindsides you. "Withdrawn?"

He shrugs and spins around lazily in the chair. "Sure. New guy, new place. You don't really know anyone here. Makes sense to me." He looks over at you as he spins. "Want my advice? It's free."

"Sure," you shrug.

"Reach out more. You've got two pilots on your hall. I bet if you reach out more, they will too."

"I've been trying," you say.

He smiles. "Then keep at it! Forming connections is how we stay sane in crazy times. It's how we move forward as a species. Don't let isolation drag you down."

"Right," you say. "Thanks Dr. Caswell."

"Roger," he corrects, "Later, Ethan." he gestures broadly to the door and you make your escape.
>>
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Later in the day you have classroom work. Tactical education with Captain Holiday. It's conducted in a large lecture hall which is comically oversized for the captain and four pilots.

The four of you sit in a loose cluster. Renton is behind you, Korine in front of you, Katya a bit off to one side. As Rose talks, Katya takes diligent notes. You can see over Korine's shoulder that she's doodling. Small, cartoony imps and blobs.

"Nerv-03 is primarily protected by a reinforced, armored seawall that serves as our primary defense against nature and angel alike. The city is surrounded by monitoring equipment intended to detect the presence of an angel," Rose says.

"We also have heavy lift facilities to get the Evas anywhere in the world within 24 hours. That said, the world is your battleground. Not just this city."

"We have four Evangelions on hand. Orion, Lupus, Hydra, and Corvus was transferred in from Nerv 08. We have a full arsenal of Eva-based weapons. You will get more familiar with these in training. First I want to talk about our enemy."

She taps a key and the map of Tampa becomes a pixelated still shot of the First Angel. The one called Adam.
>>
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"We call them Angels." She looks back at the tar creature and grimaces, her remaining eye tightening. "Their exact nature is still unknown to us," she says, "But they are for all intents and purposes destroyers. Everything the Angels touch falls to ruin. Seventeen years ago the first one was encountered in Antarctica. Adam. The nature of that contact is unknown but it resulted in the Second Impact."

She flips through slides of the aftermath.

You've seen it all a hundred times before. The older Generation can't seem to stop talking about it.

"The Second Angel appeared shortly afterward in 2001." She keys up a distant surveillance image that shows an impossibly long, nightmare thing, like some kind of pelagic monster. A skeletal, crawling, centipede made from discarded rib cages and tipped with a maw like a food processor.

"This Angel attacked the Buenos Aires reclamation zone."

More pictures of flooded buildings being toppled and military vehicles being destroyed.

"It was only stopped with the concentrated application of nuclear weapons. The city and its refugees did not survive this attack."

She looks grim. "This was the battle that showed us the futility of conventional weaponry. The Angels secret weapon is something called an AT Field. An impenetrable energy barrier that protects them from virtually all harm."

The final image is the 2nd Angel silhouetted in a nuclear firestorm moments before being incinerated.

“It was because of this that the Evangelions were developed. Each Eva produces its own AT field when interfacing with a pilot. It finally gave us the tools to fight on something like even footing.”
>>
She changes slides. “We had a chance to test this theory in 2004.” The slide is a navy blue, single-eyed Eva fighting in the salt marsh outside of New Tampa. The 3rd Angel is a pallid, manta ray-like thing that emerged from the ocean.

“For the first time we were successful in defeating the Angels in a true battle.” She subconsciously touches her eyepatch. That victory clearly had a cost.

She taps to the next one. “In 2012 a Russian oil-drilling team located an Angel buried deep in the permafrost. The consensus was that it was inert. This theory proved to be incorrect.”

The 4th Angel was a one hundred meter tall white column with no visible seams or parts, one that ended in four claw-like appendages for mobility. There is a single image of it eviscerating a yellow Evangelion with energy beams.

“It was stopped at the cost of one Eva,” Rose says. “Now, a few weeks ago we encountered another one. The 5th Angel.”

You see photographs of your battle, of the amalgamated blob that was Linda’s Eva. Pictures of your entry plug ejecting. “It was also destroyed, saving the city of Anchorage,” Rose says.

Your blood rushes in your ears and you fight down panicked breathing.

“The Angels are immensely powerful, capable of directing intense, zero-point energy into focused attacks and other abilities. Some appear to be biological in nature, others are more . . . esoteric. Questions?”

No one volunteers any. You've heard all this before.

"Today," Rose says, "We're going to be running simulations some of these encounters for you. Let's go to the simulation chamber.

The simulation chamber is a massive complex filled with entry plugs mated to simulation bodies. Using artificial nerve stimulation and virtual reality, a reasonable facsimile of eva piloting can be constructed.

Each pilot is put into a separate plug. After your interface with it, you're presented with a list of Angels. Combat choices. You highlight the First angel.

01 "ADAM" - Insufficient data for combat simulation.

You proceed down the list, checking them each in turn. The only other one locked off is

03 "GARBIEL" - Combat record sealed as TOP SECRET.

This leaves you only three choices.


>2nd Angel - Buenos Aires
>4th Angel - Severnaya
>5th Angel - Anchorage
>>
>>4716940
>>5th Angel - Anchorage
Even if its only a simulation this time we can save Linda we have to
>>
>>4716940
>4th Angel - Severnaya
Whatever we pick how about NOT the 5th angel
Laser/claw dodging practice sounds like something we can always use more practice at.
>>
>>4716940
>5th Angel - Anchorage
We know how this one works, it would probably be best to start here and get back into the swing of things.
>>
>>4716940
>4th Angel - Severnaya
Best not to relive Anchorage and risk cracking in front of everyone
>>
>>4716940
>5th Angel - Anchorage
All aboard the trigger train.
>>
>>4716998
If we manage to handle it ok, don't we prove that we can at least compartmentalize well enough that it won't be a problem in the field.
>>
>>4716940
>2nd angel
How might have things been different if an eva had been available?

The doc gained a lot of points in my book with how he handled our admission.
>>
>5th Angel - Anchorage
>>4716946
>>4716985
>>4717001

Writing
>>
File: Cockpit.jpg (369 KB, 1071x846)
369 KB
369 KB JPG
Your heart is racing as you navigate down the list and highlight the 5th Angel. You select it. The cockpit monitors fade to black. Then nothing.

A picture-in-picture window pops up, indicating an audio-only transmission.

"Ethan? It's Captain Holiday."

You recognize her voice, an introduction is hardly necessary.

"I've got you on a private line here. I saw you chose Anchorage," she says.

"I did," you say, anxious.

"I thought that you might," she says. "I have that particular simulation locked off for you."

"Why?" you blurt the question even though the answer is obvious.

Rose is silent a moment. "It's . . . I'm not sure you're ready. I know this was recent for you and I didn't want to put you through this again. I'm sorry, I should have spoken with you before the training. I just . . . "

She hoped you weren't going to pick it.

"I'm fine," you lie.

Rose doesn't respond. The silence ticks on and you feel your fear replaced with frustration.

"Listen, the next time an Angel shows up, I'm not going to have a choice, am I?" you say, fighting to keep your voice level. "Let me do this."

Rose is silent. She's going to shut down the simulation and pull you out.

"Good hunting," she says.

You blink surprise and the audio disconnects. A second later the screens flash and cycle through a series of rapid, meaningless patterns and sensors calibrate and parse data. You rest your hands on the activation throttles lightly, forcing your breathing to slow.

The images resolves finally to a picturesque view from a lush, Alaskan hillside.

“Alpha Unit deployed.” Your radio crackles with the voice of the base controller. “Progressive glaive on site.”

The weapon springs from an elevator box beside you, extended via collapsible arm. Your heads up display tags it and spits on a few lines of data.
>>
There it is. The Angel. The Fifth Angel. The one that took Linda from you. The one that trampled the delicate thread of her life beneath an uncaring march.

You tighten your grips on the activation throttles, grinding your teeth. Rage is your buffer against the pain.

The voice of an angel comes over your com. “Bravo unit deployed. Impact rifle on site.” Linda.

You almost forget for a moment that this is a simulation. Your emotions threaten to run away from you before you pull them back into check. Not here. Not now. You won't break so easily. No image displays for Linda, only her voice.

“Alpha, Bravo." The familiar voice of Perdition control. "Be aware that tactical data on this angel is limited. We have not yet brought conventional forces to bear on it. You’re to engage at your own recognizance.”

"Alpha, moving," you say. The throttles click forward and your Eva takes its first titanic steps from the gantry. You grab the glaive with an idle through as you advance. You're going to save Linda this time.

“Target is on course for the Anchorage Refugee Zone," Control says.

No surprise there.

Distantly the Angel climbs from the shallow bay and onto land, like some kind of twisted mockery of the evolution of life. It's deceptively soft legs buckle under its weight without its natural buoyancy to support it. Rather than collapsing in on itself, it leans into its walk and trudges onward, advancing along the valley that you and Linda are destined to engage it in.


>Keep your distance and tail the Angel, wait for military backup
>Advance and attack, Bravo will provide cover fire
>You and Bravo unit will forego ranged attacks and both close to melee range
>Write in
>>
>>4717431
>Advance and attack, Bravo will provide cover fire
+Give me Linda back!
>>
>>4717431
>Advance and attack, Bravo will provide cover fire
We can do this.
>>
>>4717431
>Advance and attack, Bravo will provide cover fire
>>
>>4717431
>Advance and attack, Bravo will provide cover fire
>>
>>4717431
>>Advance and attack, Bravo will provide cover fire
Isn't this what we did last time?
But I can think of no better tactical choice.
>>
>>4717431
>Advance and attack, Bravo will provide cover fire
>>
>Advance and attack, Bravo will provide cover fire

Writing
>>
>>4717581
Last time we went in together with Linda.
>>
“The 217th Armored Cavalry is en route. Expected arrival time is forty five minutes,” control says.

You ignore them. "Linda, adva-" you stop yourself, clenching your jaw. "Bravo, advance to attack range and provide cover fire."

"Affirmative," your simulated wingman says with Linda's voice.

You're already moving forward at a jog, going as fast as Alpha's massive power cable can unspool from the armored receptacle. Alaska's tree cover flies by you at an alarming rate as you race forward.

Soon enough you see the dull-orange of Bravo unit. Linda's Eva shadows you on the opposite hillside, pincering the oblivious angel.

You can do this. You have to.

"Bravo, now!"

Bravo skids to a halt, shoulders the impact rifle and fairs a pair of shells. The first punches clear through the angel's gelatinous body, burrows into the hillside and explodes in a shower of rocks and dust. The second smashes into a glimmering red AT field that materializes behind the angel. A third shot strikes the AT field, rocket motor flaring as the shell's warhead sparks off the barrier.

The Angel executes a ponderous about-face to look at the shells coming in. It's your opening.

You jam the throttles forward and take off in a sprint toward it. The edges of the simulation blur and pixelate as the graphics fail to keep up with your lightning advance. The rendering becomes ghostly, drawn out.

"Alpha in position," Control says, "AT field is neutralizing."

The Angel senses you. Wheeling about, its eyes flash with malignant, unearthly energy. A furious beam of light follows, coalescing and spewing forward, incinerating trees and turning exposed rock molten.

You're ready for it and roll to the side, pulling your power cable free of the attack, ending up in a crouch. The Angel turns to follow you, its three empty eye sockets pulse and glow with light.

"High energy reaction from target," Control says.

A pair of shots from Bravo bisect the Angel, punching into its hide before exploding, showering black tar across the forest.

The Angel's beam goes wide, arcing harmlessly into the sky as it staggers from the hits.

Your chance. You lunge forward behind the tip of your glaive. The hyper-vibrating blade passes effortlessly through the eroded AT field and pierces the Angel's skin. The monster convulses, impaled on the end of your glaive. The blade vibrates so quickly that flames and sparks erupt along with thick, black blood.

Your lips peel back in a savage grin, a rictus mask. Die.

"Die!" You shout, ripping the blade up and free before plunging it back in, probing the angel's guts for a weak spot.

The angel grabs your glaive on the second strike, holding it firm.

***

Roll 1d6. I need 3 rolls total.
>>
Rolled 5 (1d6)

>>4717705
>>
Rolled 5, 1 = 6 (2d6)

>>4717705
>>
Rolled 1 (1d6)

>>4717710
Woops
>>4717705
>>
>>4717710
>>4717713
I'm only taking the first roll you made which is a 5.

Still need one more roll
>>
Rolled 4 (1d6)

>>4717705
>The angel grabs your glaive on the second strike, holding it firm.
That's not good. Go for the knife?
>>
>>4717709
>>4717710
>>4717730

>5
>5
>4

Writing
>>
>>4717731
>5
>5
>4
Hey, look at that! Not terrible rolls!
If we'd rolled like this during the real thing, Linda would still be alive.
>>
The angel's body begins to melt away, bubbling like molten plastic as it seeps along the glaive shaft, probing for you.

You release the glaive and kick the shaft, driving it deeper into the angel and sending it staggering back.

"Progressive knife deployed," Control says a step after you trigger the process.

The humming knife is in your hand and hacking into the Angel a moment later. Thick hunks of ebon meat tear away with your relentless plunging.

"Alpha," Linda says, "get clear, I don't have a shot!"

You ignore her, stabbing furiously as the Angel. Your blade carves up its face, leaving only bleeding rents in its flesh. "Die!"

A sudden blow from the Angel's forearm sends you reeling, your vision tumbling. Your body fights to make sense of the sudden rush of sensation, your balance faltering and failing.

Your Eva crashes to its knees, flattening a grove of trees in the process.

"Come on!" You roar at yourself. "Get up!"

A shadow passes over you, the Angel looms adobe you. It raises a three-fingered talon, dripping with blood.

Sacrificing your balance, you lash out with a foot, stomping at the Angel's shin. With a sickening crunch, the limb buckles and the creatures topples over to the ground.

"Alpha, get clear!" the thing with Linda's voice says again.

You pull yourself back to your feet. Wordlessly, you turn to face your foe. Its broken body twitches and convulses. You don't know if Angels feel pain, but you hope they do. It's beginning to liquify again, tendrils of liquid flesh reaching out for your Eva.

You seize the shaft of your glaive and pull it free from the Angel's body. As you do, you catfish a glimpse of something round -deep within its torso. A small orb, red like blood, previously buried in the tar. The S2 core, the source of Angel's fantastic strength and power. The source of whatever approximation of life they have.

You stab for it without a moment's hesitation, your blade striking the core with a shower of sparks. The vibrating glaive head eats through the core's hardened exterior and chews its way into the interior.

Clenching your jaw tight, your knuckles turn pale from gripping the control throttle so tightly. Yanking the glaive free, you make a final stab into the core which pops and shatters like glass.

Life ebbs from the creature in a second, its tendrils turn grey and drop away. Its limbs shrivel up to its body like a dying play.

The simulation fades to black.

Operation Successful. Target Destroyed

The ambient light of your cockpit comes up. Reality rushes in to fill the void. The operation wasn't successful. Linda is dead. She's still dead. No matter what you do, she'll stay dead. The feeling comes like a gut punch, taking the breath from your lungs.

You suck in a shaky breath. It's too much. Too much to handle. Tears fall onto your lap. "Linda," you whisper the name.

This is proof. Proof that you could have saved her.

"Linda."
>>
You're Agent Aaliyah Sayid, and watching anyone cry is hard, let alone a teenager.

The control room of the simulation chamber is silent. Angled windows show the darkened chamber where the simulation Eva bodies hang like cuts of meat. Across the front wall are various computer monitor banks. Each monitor carries some facet of data. Vital signs, combat statistics, computer code. Some show the virtual worlds the pilots are fighting in. Simulated Angels and Evas doing battle on virtual landscapes. Others show the pilots themselves as they struggle and fight.

Everyone is watching one.

Ethan sits alone in the dark confines of his entry plug, sobbing. Fighting back tears and failing. Whispering the dead pilot's name.

You've seen a lot of things in your line of work, but watching a child cry is no less uncomfortable.

Rose stands in the center of the room, arms folded, watching. She doesn't look away like many of the technicians. She stares at this image head on. Her face is hard, jaw set. Her lone visible eye betrays nothing.

Dr. Caswell looks at Rose, saying nothing. After a second he speaks, "Cut feed from simulator four."

"Yes, doctor."

The monitor goes black, taking with it Ethan's crying.

Rose turns away without a word and goes to check other tests.

You come to stand by Roger as he takes notes, watching Renton's combat feed.

"It's hard," you say to him, your voice low.

The doctor doesn't look up as he works. "Using kids like weapons?"

"Does it bother you?" you ask. "I mean, knowing about it is one thing . . . but seeing it?"

"Of course it does," he says. None of his normal levity is in his face. You see only cold determinism. "Children. They're just children. But it has to be children. The A10 nerve doesn't-" he stops and shakes his head before going into a technical explanation. "The Bordeaux girl- Linda. Rose. The kids we have now."

You sense a- "But?"

"But," Caswell allows. "We have to. In the grand scheme of things, with the survival of the human race at stake, we have no choice. If and when we ever find a way to sync an Evangelion with an adult brain pattern then I'll be the first one in line to volunteer to do it. Until then, we use children."

"You make it sound clear cut," you say.

"It is," Caswell replies. "Simple math. The suffering of a single individual against that of a species." He looks away from the computer monitor to look you in the eyes, "If children don't fight, then we all die. Even if it means-" he stops and returns to taking his notes.

Even if it means churning out dead kids like Linda and maimed ones like Rose.

"Just because a fact is unpleasant, doesn't mean it isn't a fact," Caswell says. It's a statement you find hard to argue with.
>>
"Captain," the voice is Russian accented and tinged with aggression.

You and Caswell look to see Agent Yezhov addressing Rose. You've not had a chance to speak with Yezhov yet, but he looks like a mean son of a bitch. Wiry, gaunt, a face like a rat. You dislike him automatically.

"Agent?" Rose asks.

"This child, fourth pilot. Chandler. This is it for him then, yes?"

Rose tilts her head, face neutral. "What do you mean?"

Yezhov gestures to the blank monitor. "A wash out. The pilot is clearly unstable. He is clearly unwell and should not be used."

"Is that your assessment, Agent Yezhov?" Rose asks. Despite the levelness of her voice, you sense a challenge. An implied threat.

Yezhov is too bold or too ignorant to back down from it. "It is. I think we owe it to the human race to ensure only best pilots are selected."

The corner of Roses' lip turns up, creasing into her scar. A humorless smile. "I think you are correct. For that reason, Ethan won't be pulled from pilot status over what is really a minor and understandable reaction. He's been through trauma. But he's also learned from it. Dr. Caswell?"

"His reflexes are up across the board," Caswell says, not missing a bit. "Improved harmonics data. It was a tough price to pay, but Ethan has made it count for something. He's better than he was. Not to mention he's the only one of the four with any combat experience. He's the only active Eva pilot with any experience, Agent."

Yezhov sneers. "He is unstable. A risk."

Rose nods once. "That may be so. But, keeping him on the training regimen keeps him sharp. It also gives him a goal, something to do. If we cut him loose, even let him take a break, he'll shake himself to pieces. His best shot is it powering through this, Tempering himself."

The Agent frowns bitterly.

"But," Rose adds. "I agree that he's a liability in his current state. For that reason I have him on the standby roster."

"Standby?" you ask.

Rose glances at you. "Unofficially. The pilot isn't to be told. I won't let him anywhere near actual combat in his current state. Given enough time he'll work through it."

Yezhov looks like he wants to argue more but simply folds his arms and shrugs his soldiers as if it isn't really his problem anyway.

Rose turns back to her work and clasps her hands behind her back.

You watch Katya finish off the Severnaya Angel with a pistol round to its core.

Minutes later, the test ends. The pilots exit their entry plugs without fanfare and make for the showers. You make a point of giving Korine a thumbs up from the control room. She looks nonplussed, but she always looks that way so she's hard to read.

You promised her to go shopping for a keyboard today. Do you have anything to take care of before you go shopping with Korine?


>Ask Yezhov about his opinion of Ethan
>Ask Rose about her experience as a pilot
>Proceed to shopping
>Write in
>>
>>4717793
>Ask Rose about her experience as a pilot
having been on the other side of the decision making process now can't be easy, how does she manage to find her balance.
>>
>>4717793
>"It is," Caswell replies. "Simple math. The suffering of a single individual against that of a species." He looks away from the computer monitor to look you in the eyes, "If children don't fight, then we all die. Even if it means-"
Math is the most cruel and brutally honest subject. The numbers won't lie, no matter how much you want them to.

>You've not had a chance to speak with Yezhov yet, but he looks like a mean son of a bitch.
I suspect he won't be lasting terribly long as a guardian. He's too aggressively unpleasant to everyone, his charge included.


>Proceed to shopping
>>
>>4717793
>Ask Rose about her experience as a pilot
>>
>>4717793
>Ask Rose about her experience as a pilot
>>
>>4717793
>Ask Rose about her experience as a pilot

>>4717817
Ever read Kipling's "Arithmetic on the Frontier?"
>>
>>4717793
>Ask Rose about her experience as a pilot
>>
>Ask Rose about her experience as a pilot

Writing
>>
You sit beside Rose. "I think you handled that well, all things considered."

"Do you?" She asks, tone readable. "Sometimes it's hard to tell how things are going."

"It's a tough situation," you say. "Dr. Caswell- Roger was just telling me about his philosophy on all this."

Rose smiles mirthlessly and keys through data. "Have to break a few eggs, right?" She shakes her head like she's amused. "Roger is . . . you wouldn't guess from the way he acts."

"No," you agree. "But I guess you don't become head of Science Division by being soft."

"No," she agrees.

"You think Ethan will pull together though?"

Rose looks momentarily troubled. "I don't know. But I did."

"I mean no disrespect, Captain, but I am not sure the situations are the same."

"No?" Again she looks at you. Monitor light flashes from her eye. "You're right about that. He lost his friend. I hate to say it, but he's also lucky things weren't worse. Even so, he and I have something in common. We're the only two pilots alive who have fought Angels before."

You blink. "The only two?" it's strange when put in that context, given how much material and financial investment the UN has made into the Eva project. "Didn't one of the Severnaya pilots survive? That was only five years ago."

Rose nods. "He did. The Angel isn't what killed him." She turns back to her console. "Guilt did."

The meaning opens a void in your stomach.

"Sometimes," Rose says, keying in a sequence. "Physical survival isn't enough. Sometimes the mind decides that it would rather not go on with what it's experienced. I won't say it's weakness, but I will say that not everyone can be put through that sort of trauma and come out intact."

"Do you think there's a risk that Ethan will-"

"No," Rose says firmly. "Whatever else he is, he's committed to see this through."

You watch her work for a few moments. "It must be hard for you," you say. "Having been on the other side of this. Now you're making tough calls."
>>
"Hard?" She says the word like it never crossed her mind. "I suppose. I've done what I had to do. What I was ordered to do."

"In your shoes I'm not sure I could do the same," you say. It's a half-lie. Like Rose, you're willing to do what it takes to accomplish the mission, but you know you would have some strong feelings about sending pilots into harm's way.

Rose doesn't say anything at first. "I try not to dwell on it," she says. "I try not to think about lives I'm sending into danger. I think about the millions of children who'll get to live normal lives because of our sacrifices. It's the only way to stay sane."

"Can I ask you something else? A personal question, a point of curiosity."

"Sure, what is it?"

You hesitate before speaking. "What's it like? Piloting one of those things."

Rose stops typing and sits for a moment, staring at the keyboard. "That's a question that would be better asked to Korine," she says. "It's been a long time for me and a lot of it doesn't seem real anymore." She gives you a tired smile. "I'm sorry if that's not very helpful."

"Don't be," you say, checking your watch. "Thanks for the chat, Captain, but I promised Korine I would take her shopping."

Rose perks up. "Oh, that's excellent Aaliyah! Please let me know how it goes. Thanks!"

You stand and wave goodbye as you go.
>>
New Tampa's streets glow a warm amber as the sun dips between the buildings. Traffic as usual maintains a steady rhythm. Though the streets are busy, they are not choked and congested. Korine sits beside you in the passenger seat.

Your car is filled with music. Korine's music. You don't want to say you hate it, but you definitely do not like it. Despite the harsh metallic banging and screeching synths she seems to find it relaxing. Hard to say though since she's hardly addressed you at all since you picked up the keyboard from a music store.

"So what's it like?" you ask, glancing at Korine.

"Hm?"

"Piloting the Eva," You say. "I'm curious."

Korine is surprised by the question, momentarily locked in thought. "It's . . . It's like . . ." she struggles, then shakes her head. "I dunno. It's weird."

"I bet," you say.

No response.

Since your moment in the apartment she really hasn't opened up much more to you. At least she doesn't seem to hate you. She just seems . . . indifferent.

"Aaliyah, why do you dress like that?" Korine asks.

"Hm? Like what?"

She gestures at you. "Suits, sunglasses, you look like you're about to start some kind of one woman fashion show or something."

You smirk. "That's one way to look at it."

"Seriously, though. I'm curious."

"Why?" You ask.

Korine thinks for a moment. "Cause you kind of . . . you know, you look different. Short hair, suits. "I mean, come on. It's a distinct look."

You smile to yourself. "Well, I grew up in a pretty shitty place," you say. "Pretty much always wore rags. When the UN finally stabilized things I promised myself two things. One, that I would get out of there and become someone important. Two, that I would never wear rags again."

"Mission fucking accomplished," Korine says, drawing a bigger grin from you.

"Lack of rags? Yes. Important? That remains to be seen. But I am glad you appreciate my style."

A sign on a building ahead catches your eye. "How about some ice cream?"

"Ice cream?" Korine looks skeptical.

"Sorry, is frozen dessert not cool? I'm not really hip."

"Nooo," Korine protests. "Ice cream is fine, just weird."

"I can just keep driving."

"Just stop the car," she whines.

You pull into a parking spot. "Go in and grab me two scoops of chocolate, okay? And whatever you want."

"Sure," Korine says. She gets out of the car and goes inside. As she does, you adjust your rearview mirror to get a better look at the car that has been tailing you. It's a nondescript civilian car that's a little worse for wear and it's been following you since you emerged from the Nerv access tunnel. You thought it might have been NervSec at first. You were going to criticize them for how clumsy they are when you noticed the man driving was over the hill, beyond middle aged. Not the usual fare for a NervSec spook.
>>
Now that you're parked you have an even better look at him. Definitely not NervSec. He pulls his car into another parking space a few cars away from you and sits.

You take out your phone and begin crafting a message to NervSec before you stop yourself.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”

“Who watches the watchers?” you say. Checking your side arm, you quickly open your door a crack and duck out. Following along behind the other cars, you draw your weapon and come up to the tail, noting that his window is rolled down.

He catches sight of you just as you are walking up to his car door and reaches to start the vehicle.

You raise your gun so he can see it, muzzle trained on him. "Don't try it," you say. "I'm a great shot."

He looks startled at first and then slumps down, eyes and hands on the steering wheel. He's older, hair gone gray, cheeks and chin covered with white stubble. His clothes are shabby.

"Are you going to kill me?" he asks, more resigned than afraid.

"Should I?" you ask.

He doesn't answer.

"Who are you, and why are you following me?"

He glances around, looking nervous. "You don't know who I am?"

"No. Talk." You're painfully aware that Korine might come outside at any moment, or any passerby might notice this scene unfolding and you would really rather not get NervSec involved in this.

"My name is Hans Kaufman," he says.

You blink. "Dr. Kaufman?"

"Whatever they've told you about me is a lie. Please. You have to believe me."

You hesitated a moment and then holster your gun. "Start talking."

Kaufman looks around again, terrified. "No here. Not now. If they see you with me they'll kill us both." Please."

You see Korine emerge from the ice cream shop and start looking around for you.

"Please," Kaufman repeats, more urgently. "I will meet you when it is safe, I will tell you everything."

Time is rapidly running down. If Korine is being monitored it's just a matter of time before they close in on you. You have time for maybe a single question.


>Is Womack involved in this?
>Did you kill someone?
>Write in
>>
>>4718238
>>Is Womack involved in this?
>>
>>4718238
>Write in
"Answer yes or no. Do you trust Caswell enough to help? Is he involved?"

We already can infer that Womack-Holiday duo is somehow involved. Womack seems to be directly reporting to Holiday (>>4713093) and he ended up as a Science Division boss, so he technically benefits. But what we want to know whether we can get any help on the inside if it comes to it. Poor doctor may not survive until our next meeting.
>>
>>4718238
change from>>4718244 to>>4718445
>>
>>4718238
Supporting >>4718445
>>
>>4718445
>This

Writing
>>
Your heart is racing. You have to fight the animal urge in your head to claw for the protection of your gun again.

"Aaliyah?" Korine calls.

"Do you trust Caswell?" you demand. "Is he involved?"

"Caswell?" Kaufman looks bewildered.

"Answer the question," you hiss. "Yes or no."

"Caswell doesn't know," Kaufman says mournfully., "God willing, he doesn't know."

"Aaliyah?"

You force yourself to turn away from Kaufman and walk for your car. You don't look back when you hear the engine start.

Korine looks puzzled, "What were you-"

"That's not three scoops!" you say with a jovial smile.

Korine looks at the ice cream she holds for you, confused. "You said two?"

You chuckle like it's part of a joke.

Kaufman's car flashes by as he drives out of the lot. Your faux smile stays frozen on your face.

If Korine notices your change in mood she doesn't show it. Licking ice cream contentedly, she climbs back into your car.

You turn the ignition key.

God willing, he doesn't know.

Know what? You adjust your sunglasses and pull into traffic. Kaufman seems to think Caswell is an innocent then, whatever that means. Neutral is better than hostile, but it's not an ally. Not yet. You're alone in this for now. Although as you think it, you realize it's not entirely true. You still have Pinion, your undercover contact in the city. It might be time to arrange a meeting.
>>
Whatever Kaufman knows, whatever he's seen, it was enough to leave him terrified. It was enough for someone to be out for him.

You expect a messenger on your phone from NervSec. You expect unmarked security cars to pull out and block your path. You expect every turn to be your last. But nothing comes. Ultimately you arrive back at Dolphin Plaza and take Korine back to her room.


"Thanks for the keyboard, Aaliyah," Korine says, hefting the large box under an arm.

"No problem," you say. "Put it to good use for me."

"I'll try," she says.

When you leave her room, your thoughts are swirling around Kaufman, still on the run. What was he tailing you for in the first place? It's a miracle the man is alive at all. In all likelihood he's trapped in this city. A fortress turned prison. He may not have much time left.

Yezhov is here in the hall, leaning on his door, a cigarette hanging from his lips, his eyes on you.

You stare back over the top of your sunglasses for a moment, silently regarding each other. It might be your imagination, but you think you see Yezhov crack a smile. You have other things to worry about. Returning to your room, you use a concealed radio transmitter to schedule a meeting with Pinion.
>>
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NEW TAMPA OPERA HOUSE. 8:00 PM - PINION.

The digital display decodes the return message and flashes it to you on a small LED readout. You stare at the tiny text until the module's memory blanks itself, leaving only a palm-sized hunk of electronics in your hand. Carefully, you clip the receiver back into its hiding spot in your alarm clock and sit on the bed.

Everything in your room glows a pale, sickly red as the dying sun streams in through your westward-facing windows. You reach into your nightstand and pull out a fresh pack of cigarettes before lighting one and drawing the smoke into your lungs. You hold the breath as long as you can. You hold until it burns and then let it out slowly.

Kaufman said he'd meet you. For now you'll have to take his word on that and look for answers elsewhere. Assuming there is something rotten here, it likely involves Versetti or the Intelligence Committee wouldn't have tied you to him like a bell around his neck. It seems a safe bet that if Verseetti is dirty then so is Major Holiday. That also might implicate Dr. Womack, the Major's apparent pet scientist. Even his daughter, Captain Rose is suspect. So far all you know is that Kaufman is persona non grata, the prime suspect in a murder investigation. By Kaufman's admittedly brief statement, Caswell isn't involved.

It doesn't leave you much to go on.

You put it out of mind and get ready for the opera.
>>
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The New Tampa opera house is such a spectacle of restrained opulence and architecture that it feels like showing off. It's as if the city isn't content with being a towering pinnacle of scientific advancement and municipal engineering, it also has to be a center of arts and culture.

At least your usual dress fits in nicely at this black tie event.

Opera, it seems, is not on the menu today. As you quietly make your way through the venue, the charming strains of ballet play. Tchaikovsky. You don't know the title exactly, but you recognize the melody, a waltz.

After a little bit of side stepping through a crowded row of seats, you come to the preordained meeting spot. A seat is empty and waiting for you. Beside it sits your contact.

You sit, crossing your legs and studying the lobby card you were given on your entry. After a few moments you look. "Pinion, I assume?"

He smiles. "Marvelous, isn't it?"

Pinion is an old man. His mostly bald head is fringed with a ring of white hair. His skin seems somehow too loose for his skull and the result is a cascade of wrinkles down his face. His apparent age is offset by a broad grin. His eyes don't leave the stage.

"The ballet," he explains. "Seems a shame to talk through it.

"We all make sacrifices," you reply.

Pinion doesn't speak for another moment, lost in the melody of the song. "Go on my dear," he says at last.

"Kaufman."

"Yes."

"Who is he?"

"Former head of Science Division, Nerv 03. He was the last member of the Gehirn Group left working for the modern Nerv."

"Gehirn?"

Pinion nods, wispy strands of hair floating above him. "The predecessor of Nerv. Responsible for the development and production of the first Evangelions. Formed in the aftermath of Second Impact. Kaufman was by all accounts a genius."

"And a murderer?"

Pinion doesn't answer.

"Who was this engineer who died?"

"One of our agents," Pinion says. "Your predecessor. He was in deep cover as an engineer in the Technology Branch. He turned up dead and Kaufman got the blame and vanished."

"Not quite as vanished as some would like, you say. "I met him."

"Really?" Pinion sounds amused. "Did he have anything interesting to say?"

"Not yet," you say. "I'll get more." You fidget, wishing for another smoke. "And no one thought it prudent to tell me about this man I'm replacing turning up dead?"

Pinion grins with a mouthful of false teeth. "We don't like to rattle the replacements."
>>
"Rattle," you say, snorting. "I think that should be the least of your worries. What was he on to?"

Pinion shrugs. "Something with the Technology Branch. We didn't get much. I'm hoping you have more luck."

"Naturally," you say wryly. So if your predecessor had been killed, it stood to reason he'd gotten too close to something. "They took the chance to try to eliminate Kaufman," you suggest. "Two birds, one stone."

"It was sloppy," Pinion agrees. "A gamble. Whatever Kaufman has, they want."

"Hm."

You watch the dancers on stage spin and twirl, their paths intersecting, crossing, but never colliding. "Tell me about Womack."

"A true wunderkind. Top marks across the board in computics, AI theory, programming, computational science. His work with the Magi system and the field of robotics and artificial intelligence is unmatched. His inclusion into Nerv and the Evangelion program was a given. He stands on the shoulders of giants certainly, but he's a cornerstone of Technical Branch."

"Major Holiday's pet?" you suggest.

Pinion shrugs. "Versetti hired him on directly before making him head of Technical Branch."

"There's a power imbalance in Nerv Science and it seems to center on Womack. There are still too many questions to be sure of anything."

"I'm sure," Pinion says, "that's no small part of why you've been brought in."

You smirk at his dry wit. "I've been asking questions at the office but I haven't got much to go on so far. I think I need to try some wet work."

"Risky," Pinion says.

"Necessary," you correct.

"I am your servant," Pinion says with exaggerated patience. "Whatever you will have of me."


>I'll stake out Womack to see what he's up to outside work (Easy)
>I'll run a DataVac on the Magi's temporary data files and see what comes up (Medium)
>I'll need to get access to Nerv Archives for details about Kaufman (Hard)
>Write in
>>
>>4718933
>I'll stake out Womack to see what he's up to outside work (Easy)

AI theory, programming, computational science seem like a weird choice for leading the development program for biomechanical war machines, we should remember to ask Kaufman about what they could need someone with that skillset, if we can.
>>
>>4718933
>I think I need to try some wet work.
Last I checked, wet work referred to assassinations and similar lethal work.


>>I'll stake out Womack to see what he's up to outside work (Easy)
>>
>>4718933
>I'll stake out Womack to see what he's up to outside work (Easy)


>>4718988
Yes, clearly we need to kill a few people and get more replacements in. /s
>>
>>4718988
>wet work
Poor phrase choice.
Or Maybe Aaliyah is just excited about the work.
>>
>>4718933
>I'll run a DataVac on the Magi's temporary data files and see what comes up (Medium)
Nothing ventured nothing gained
>>
>>4718933
>I'll run a DataVac on the Magi's temporary data files and see what comes up (Medium)
>>
>>4718933
>>I'll stake out Womack to see what he's up to outside work (Easy)
>>
Post will be later today. Sorry for the delay.
>>
>I'll stake out Womack
>>4718940
>>4718988
>>4719007
>>4719496

Writing

>>4719035
HELLO GORDON
>>
"I'll take it slow. Womack I think is the lynchpin here. I'll keep a watch on him. Lift that rock over and see what bugs crawl out."

Pinion grimaces at your analogy. "Charming. Surveillance gear is no object. I'll make arrangements for you."

The ballet reaches its crescendo. Dancers jump and twirl across the stage.

"The sooner the better," you say.

"In a hurry?"

"Can't you feel it?" you ask.

Pinion puzzles at you a moment. "Feel what?"

"The tempo," you say. "The timing of the beats. A mole dead, a valuable asset like Kaufman thrown to the wolves." You chew your lip in thought. "Versetti is up to something and his moves are getting more bold."

"In that case, I shouldn't keep you here. Enjoy your night, my dear."

You smile politely despite the condescending pet name. "You as well." You rise and leave.
>>
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You are Ethan Chandler and your stomach is in knots. Tomorrow is your activation test with your new Evangelion. Alpha, your last unit was the only Eva you'd ever known. You'd never thought of it as anything other than a weapon, an interchangeable piece of equipment. But now, with it gone and a new Eva on the way, it seems somehow more than that.

This new Eva is called Hydra. A name instead of a designation seems more . . . permanent? More final. You wonder if it will be your grave. You wonder if Linda had any fears that Bravo would be her grave.

You lay on your bed staring up at the ceiling, hands behind your head, fingers interlaced. With your new headphones on, the world seems to get pushed away. The inexorable grind of time seems to stop. You're only here and now. It's pleasant in a way to anesthetize yourself to reality. To "Switch off" and simply exist without worrying.

With the lights off in your room you exist only in a void. Shapless thoughts drifting through nothingness. You wonder if this is what death is like.

In one, swift move you sit up and pull your headphones off with disgust, tossing them to the foot of the bed.

You'd broken after the test. You fell apart just like you were afraid you would. Getting out of that test plug after the simulation had been one of the hardest things you'd ever done. When you showered the bloody-smell of LCL away you let the water wash over your face. You wanted it to wash away the thoughts eating at you, the memories haunting you.

Dr. Caswell had told you that this was part of the grieving process. You don't want to grieve anymore. You want to be done.

Getting off your bed, you walk into the living room. The grand windows show you the dark ocean. Moonlight glows on the furrows of waves as they move with the tides of the Earth. Boats are only faintly visible by the wakes they leave in the dark.

Strangely, you hear no loud music from Korine's room.

You grab a soda from the fridge and sit on the couch. Popping the top you look at Katya's Nomad where it sits on the coffee table.

Tomorrow you'll officially be a pilot again -- Hydra your Evangelion. Are you ready for it?

You lay your head back over the back of the couch and stare up through the window behind you. The moon hangs in the sky, white and full. Despite the evening calm, you feel restlessness. You're not ready for sleep yet.


>Go visit Korine
>Go visit Katya
>Stay home
>Write in
>>
>>4720205
>Stay home
Linda might show up
or
>Go visit Korine
>>
>>4720205
>>Stay home
>>
>>4720205
>Stay home
>>
>>4720205
>Go visit Katya
>>
>>4720205
>Go visit Korine
>>
>>4720205
>>Stay home
I'm kinda hoping Linda will show up again. Even if she doesn't, we can give the game a try.
>>
>Stay home
>>4720212
>>4720218
>>4720219
>>4720447

Writing
>>
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The Nomad chimes as you click the power switch into position and lay back on the couch. The glow of the screen kills your night vision to nothing, swallowing you in darkness.

GUN MAGE II

The words explode furiously onto the screen. You almost select Katya's old save, the one you'd been playing, but you stop yourself, your thumb hovering over the key.

Katya had told you to keep it but . . . it doesn't seem right to override her old save. Really, you were going to treat this as more of a gift. She said she had others but you can't believe she really cares so little. Looking over the progress of her save file it's obvious that she's diligently- or obsessively- poured in hours on hours. Not just raw grinding time either, but actual skill and talent. She's practiced, experienced. She's good.

You select a new save file and start the game from the beginning, trying to recall what scraps of info you can about the plot of the first one.

Dr. Caswell had told you to reach out more, that it was you who were withdrawn, not the others. But what did he know? Withdrawn or not, this is where you feel happiest. Even Linda was an outlier. You're just not one for making friends. It took someone naturally outgoing to bond to you.

The pre-game story ends and you're dropped into the nightmarish jungles of the Yucatan. You're being hunted. You're outnumbered, but not outgunned.

Crushed audio of gunfire plays as you start blasting the mutant swarm, leaping from platform to stony platform.

It wasn't as if Katya made a special effort to get to know you when she had the chance. She just sat where you're sitting now and played the game you're playing now. It took a lot of effort on your part to drag more than the barest conversation out of her. The product of someone raised with a silver spoon in their mouth.

Viscera fills the screen and you cast a fire spell to sweep back the swarm before purging their hive.

And Korine only wanted company. It was you, but it could have been anyone. She doesn't really interact with you much in the tests. She's just looking for fun and a way to ditch reality a bit.

You narrowly leap over the enemy overlord's swiping attack before countering with a deadly flurry of ice lances.

And Renton. What remains to be said about Renton? Pushy, nosy, callous. You were a source of info to him. You tried to be friendly. You'd tried.

Your character is impaled on a spiny tendril, the colors fading from his sprite.
>>
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YOU PERISHED

You sigh and load the level again. And even if you did get to know them, then what? You form strong friendships? Build trust in one another? Then you get to watch them die all over again.

Hardly focusing on the game, you're cut down outside the ziggurat entrance and swear under your breath.

You're being unfair. Monstrously unfair. Yes, the other pilots haven't exactly been the most open, but Dr. Caswell is right, you've isolated yourself. Maybe you are letting isolation drag you down. You'll need to do something about that tomorrow.

"Another game?" Linda asks, her voice in your ear.

You bolt up, dropping the Nomad to the floor. "Linda!?"

She's leaning over you in the dark, grinning wide. "Hello!" Her wings are neatly folded behind her back.

You notice that this time she's not naked. She's wearing something like a plugsuit. Black, featureless. You blink and stare, letting your eyes adjust to the dark. A minute passes like this, Linda content to stand and smile at you while you stare back shocked.

"Are you really there?" You ask.

She nods.

"Are you going to disappear?"

She gives this some thought. "No, I don't think so. I told you I'm here with you now."

"How long have you been watching me?" you ask.

"Just a few minutes. It looked like you were having fun. Can I try?"

You look, slack jawed at the Nomad lying on the floor before looking back at Linda. "Linda I- . . . Dr. Caswell said . . . that this is normal."

"Sure it is," she says confidently.

"That this is just grieving."

She looks confused. "Grieving?"


>Ask her something only Linda would know
>Ask her why she was pulling out her feathers
>Ask her what she remembers about the battle
>Write in
>>
>>4720687
>Crushed audio of gunfire plays
Heh. Now that's a distinctive sound.

>write-in
>Let her try the game
This will be a good subtle test for her ability to manipulate real objects. Plus, ya know, she seemed interested.
After a few minutes or she dies,
>Ask her what she remembers about the battle
If she is a figment of our imagination, anything we'd know to ask her she'd be able to answer.
>>
>>4720718
+1 to this. Test our sanity, right?
>>
>>4720687
>>4720718
+1 to this
>>
>>4720687
>>4720718
>>
>>4720687
>Write in
"I am grieving because you are dead."
Letting the narrative of 'oh no, I am not dead' to continue means our guy is deluded. He's not five years old, he knows what delusion is. I'm still waiting on the memory of the burial, even of a symbolic one, because that's a major part of the closure. I wouldn't put it past NERV to skip that part and just send him away.

>"Linda I- . . . Dr. Caswell said . . . that this is normal."
Caswell said this is normal, because you lied to him by omission. If Linda's a-ok, why would you skip that part?
>>
>>4720687
>>4720718
+1
>>
>>4720718
>This

Writing
>>
"I'm . . . grieving because you're dead," you say, carefully picking each word.

Linda frowns, "I told you that I'm not. Why do you keep saying that I am when I'm right here, Ethan?"

You struggle for a reply. It would be so easy to just decide she lived after all. You never saw a body, you never saw her put into the ground, her ashes scattered. One minute Linda was fragile and alive, the next she was gone. Was it really so impossible that she's back> Some way, somehow.

Of course, the logical part of your mind knows that's impossible. You know that she died the moment her capsule imploded. There was no surviving that. But yet you find yourself staring into the eyes of an angel.

She cocks her head, confused.

"I don't know," you say at last. "It really just doesn't make sense."

She frowns deeper, "Is that all you care about? How? Why?"

"No, I-" You're arguing with an angelic version of Linda. This is too surreal. "No, I'm happy to see you, Linda. I am just confused is all."

"Don't be," she says. She leans over you and envelopes you in a hug. "We're together now. Let's be happy with that."

She smells like you remember.

"Linda," you say.

She breaks the hug and looks into your eyes ago, alarmingly close to your face. Her eyes are wide, clear, unguarded. Her lips turned into a pleasant smile.

"Did you want to play?"

"Sure!" She plops down beside you on the couch, wings rasping across the fabric and bumping into you. She doesn't seem to notice.

You pick the Nomad up off the floor and hold it out to her, watching her reaction.

She takes it gleefully, flipping it over to stare down at the screen. "Oh," she says, smile fading. "Ethan, it's broken."

She holds it out so you can see it.

The Nomad's monitor is run through with a lattice of spiderweb cracks from where you dropped it when Linda scared you.
>>
"Ah, shit," you say, suddenly overwhelmed with regret. You broke Katya's Nomad.

She gently puts it down on the table and looks ashamed, "I didn't mean to scare you."

"No," you shake your head. "It's not your fault. Just an accident. Don't worry about it, okay?"

She nods sheepishly.

"I feel bad because I wanted you to play," you say.

"I was never any good," she laughs.

"What do you remember about the battle?" you ask.

"Battle?"

"With the Angel."

She purses her lips and thinks. "Hm. I remember . . . I remember being afraid. I remember being glad you were there to help me."

You feel a pang of guilt.

"I was really scared. And then when the Angel came after me . . . " her eyes dart side to side as she thinks. "I thought that I was going to die. I remember calling for you to help me. I . . . didn't know what else to do."

It takes all your willpower not to reach out and hold her as she talks. You force yourself to listen objectively.

"When it started eating into me . . . I just . . . I panicked. I remember . . .darkness and pain. I remember feeling like I was . . . dying." She says the word like it's a taboo. Her shadowed look fades and she grins again. "Then I saw you, Ethan. I saw you come for me. And I went to you. You were like a spotlight in the night, Ethan." She looks at you as she says this. "And then I was here with you."

You're speechless.

"Which is exactly where I want to be!" She wraps her arms around you tightly.

Unable to resist anymore, you put an arm around her and hold her tight against you. As you hold she hums absently to herself.


>What about the gaps? People don't just show up places, how did I save you?
>We can watch some old movies like old times if you want
>Come with me to see Katya, I need to tell her about the Nomad
>Write in
>>
>>4721494
>What about the gaps? People don't just show up places, how did I save you?
Inb4 she's been grafted onto our soul due to Ansiel linking us before we killed it
>>
>>4721494
>>Write in
Linda do you remember what you wanted to ask me on the cold place before the fight ended but couldn't? My answer is yes, lets stay together till the end.
>>
>>4721494
>Come with me, i'd like you to meet someone. (Korine)
>>
>>4721494
>>4721507
Support
Linda route here we go!
>>
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>>4721494
>Write in
"Now that you're here, what do you want to do in the future? Should we just leave all of this? Run away?"
I'm also supporting any visits (Korine, Katya, whoever). If she wants to be real, she should act like she's real. But most of all I want to know what exactly does she want apart from sticking to Ethan. Does she have any wishes?

>>4721504
>What about the gaps? People don't just show up places, how did I save you?
>Inb4 she's been grafted onto our soul due to Ansiel linking us before we killed it
Well then the bloody angel itself could be somehow in there, since her image itself is pretty suspicious, wings and all. I just hope she won't throw another feather-plucking fit after the question. Those damn dead girlfriends, I swear.
>>
>>4721494
>>4721627
Supporting this
>>Come with me, i'd like you to meet someone. (Korine)
>>
>>4721494
>What about the gaps? People don't just show up places, how did I save you?
Guys she is NOT real to other people. Bringing her to see others could be disastrous. I bet that the nomad isn’t even broken, it’s just how our mind is coping with her inability to play it.
>>
>>4721507
Actually suppor
>>
>>4721494
>>4721507
>>4721509
Supporting both of these, actually
>>
>What about the gaps?
>>4721504
>>4721682

>My answer is yes, lets stay together till the end.
>>4721507
>>4721615
>>4721687

>Come with me, i'd like you to meet someone. (Korine)
>>4721509
>>4721687
>>4721627

>Should we just leave all of this? Run away?
>>4721627
>>4721680


This was a super close vote, but I am going to close it with:

>My answer is yes, lets stay together till the end.
+
>Come with me, i'd like you to meet someone. (Korine)

Writing
>>
"Now that you're here again," you say, "what do you want? For the future I mean."

Linda pulls back to be practically nose to nose with you. "What do you mean?"

"I mean . . . what do you want?"

She thinks a moment, "I want you, Ethan," she says like she's asking for dessert.

The simple admission is enough to set your heart pounding.

"I just want to be with you." She nestles her head into your chest. "Wherever you are, wherever you go, I want to be there."

"I think I can do that," you whisper.

She hums contentedly.

"Linda?"

"Hm?"

"Do you remember the day we watched the sunset? And you said it looked like it was rising?"

She thinks a moment. "Sunset?"

"You told me you were cold and you just wanted to be warm for a minute."

"Yes!" she exclaims, "Oh yes, I remember."

"I-" you hesitate. "You wanted to ask me something, but you couldn't."

"Mhmm."

"My answer is 'yes'," you say.

She looks up into your eyes again, awed.

"Let's stay together till the end."
>>
She gasps, shocked. Her eyes go wide. "Ethan! Do you mean it!?" Her voice is edged with intense excitement.

You nod. "I lost you once," you say. "I won't take that chance again. Stay with me, Linda."

"Oh, I will!" she exclaims, overjoyed. "I will I will!" She nestles into you and you hold her tight. Her wings curl around you protectively.

Something like bliss settles over you. Dull and warm, it feels good. It feels like success. It feels like forever. But-

Reality never quite leaves your mind. Even as you feel Linda's warm skin on yours, you can't shake it. You might still be losing your mind. This might still be some fucked up grieving process. Unless-

"Linda, let's go meet someone."

"Meet?" She sounds intrigued.

"My neighbor. Korine. I think you'd like her."

Linda frowns slightly, "I don't really know, Ethan. I don't know if I really want to meet people."

"You'll like her," you say reassuringly. You help Linda off of you and off the couch and get out. "Come on, she's just next door."

Linda seems satisfied with this. "Okay!"

You leave the apartment, Linda following behind you, studying everything from the carpet pattern to the light fixtures with a childlike wonder. Korine's door is a short walk away. You stop and prepare to ring the chime when you hear . . . a piano? You listen faintly to the sound a moment and determine that it's coming from Korine's room. You ring the chime.

The music stops. A shadow passes over the peephole and then the door opens.

Korine is here in a short-cut shirt and gym shorts, her hair is a dark, tangled nest. She looks ready for bed. She looks so ready for bed that you feel kind of like you're intruding.

Linda stares at Korine with a mixture of interest and suspicion.

Korine blinks, her expression just shy of being "annoyed". "Yes?" She asks.

Linda steps closer to Korine, studying her face, her hair, her clothes.

Korine's eyes don't waver, remaining fixed on you. If she's noticed the girl with ten-foot angel wings looking her over, she's doing a good job of hiding it. "Ethan, can I help you?"


>Just stopping by to see if you want to hang out
>I thought I heard music
>Nothing, sorry you're about to go to bed
>Write in
>>
>>4722058
>I thought I heard music
>>
>>4722058
>>Just stopping by to see if you want to hang out
>>I thought I heard music
>>
>>4722061
Changing to this actually, both seems good
>>
>>4722058
>I thought I heard music
>Sorry you're about to go to bed, I'll go back to my room
>>
>>4722058
>Just stopping by to see if you want to hang out
>Or maybe just listen to you play for a bit?
>>
>>4722058
>I thought I heard music
>Sorry you're about to go to bed, I'll go back to my room
>>
>>Just stopping by to see if you want to hang out
>>I thought I heard music
>>4722061
>>4722062
>>4722177

Writing
>>
"I-" you glance at Linda who looks back at you and smiles.

Korine follows your eyes to Linda and raises an eyebrow at you.

"I thought I heard music," you say.

"Did you?" Korine asks, disinterested.

"Piano music," you say.

Korine frowns and leans her shoulder against the door frame, crossing her arms but saying nothing.

"Were you playing something?"

"Yes," she says at last, "I was playing something."

"It sounded pretty good."

"Did you come here to tell me you're creeping outside my door or what?"

Linda walks into Korine's room, stepping around her and out of sight.

"Ah-" you say, feeling a rush of panic.

Korine makes a face at you.

"No," you say quickly, "I wanted to see if you wanted to hang out."

She rolls her eyes. "No thanks." Before you can say anything else, she steps back into her room and closes the door.

Worry about Linda mixes with confusion. Had you done something? Why was Korine acting like this? You're frozen with indecision, standing and staring at the door to her room. A moment later piano music starts again, faintly visible. It plays for a second before you hear a bang of keys and it stops.

"Ethan?"

You jump in surprise.

"Sorry," Linda says. "Everything okay? Can we go back?"

"Back?" you blink.

"To the room," she grins like you're cracking jokes.

"She- Linda, why couldn't she see you?"

Linda looks confused. "I don't know." She thinks for a second "The only one I want to see me is you."

"Linda-" you stop yourself, suddenly cognizant that this hallway is likely monitored in some way. You glance around and spot a camera perched above the elevator bank further down the hall. It's unblinking eye is fixed on you. A red record light winks in the dark. You turn away from it quickly, heart frozen. If anyone from Nerv saw you standing alone and talking to Linda, that would be it for your career. "Lets go back inside."
>>
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"Sure!"

Korine's comment about the rooms being monitored has you nervous and on edge. Of course, if that were true you'd already done more than enough to incriminate yourself.

You close the door behind you and exhale anxiously. So you're the only one who can see her and she doesn't follow the laws of reality. That much was pretty clear from the start but . . . You look at Linda.

She stands in the middle of your apartment staring out to sea. Moonlight washes around her feet. Her wings spread in the dark, the feathers seeming to glow in the soft light. She tilts her head back, a placid smile fixed on her features. She seems to be basking in the night.

As strangely alien as it is to you to see Linda like this, it's still unmistakably her. You thought you'd lost her forever. Crazy or not, you're glad she's still here.

"You-" you stop yourself.

Linda looks over her shoulder at you.

"I'm glad you're here, Linda."

She smiles. "Me too. Ethan?"

"Hm?

"We should dance together."

"Dance?"

She nods. "Dance. I want to dance with you."

"We'll dance," you promise. "But I've had enough excitement for one night. I just want to get some sleep." The rush of emotions from earlier capped with the spike of fear when you saw the camera has left you drained.

"Okay" Linda says. "Let's get to sleep."
>>
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The only thing worse than waking up tired, is waking up alone. Linda is gone again. The spot she'd occupied on the bed is cold and empty. You run your hand over the sheets, stopping when your fingers brush something.

You pull out a single-white feather, holding it up to catch the morning sunlight that filters in through your window.

You recall with some disappointment that your activation test is today. It shouldn't be anything to worry about and yet . . .

The more primal part of your mind recalls that there is still nothing to eat in your kitchen. Sighing, you stand, stretch your aching body, and get dressed. You walk to the living room and see the Nomad on the coffee table. You pick it up and flip it over. Morning sunlight sparkles off the cracked screen.

"Ah, shit," you sigh.

There's a heavy knock at your door. It's notable since the ring chime is right there.

You look through the peephole into Yezhov's irritated face. You open the door and see the Agent and his charge, Katya. The pilot stands behind him and to the side, like a shadow. Her face is down over another game console. She looks up when you open the door, eyes meeting for a second before she looks back at the game.

Yezhov looks down his nose at you for a moment before speaking. "Chandler. I been asked to take you to Nerv."

You look both ways down the hallway. "Where's Mbaru?"

"Busy," Yezhov says. "Come."

You don't argue.

In a minute you're in the back seat of his car with Katya driving to Nerv. She's playing another Nomad III, though this one has a custom case on it for a game franchise you don't recognize. It's colorful and fantasy-themed. She says nothing to you.


>Apologize about the Nomad you broke
>Ask her what she's playing
>Ride in silence
>Write in
>>
>>4722286
>Moonlight washes around her feet. Her wings spread in the dark, the feathers seeming to glow in the soft light.
I wonder if she can fly using those wings...

>You recall with some disappointment that your activation test is today.
This is going to be interesting.


>Apologize about the Nomad you broke
>>
>>4722286
>>Ride in silence
>>
>>4722286
>Ride in silence
>>
>>4722286
>Ride in silence
>>
>>4722286
>Ride in silence
>>
>Ride in silence

writing
>>
The noise of the road and Katya's video game form a strange harmony as Yezhov drives. You keep thinking back to your meeting with Linda last night. What she said, how she acted. You're not really sure what it all means but . . . you don't dislike it.

However, the fact that no one else can see her is problematic. She's said you were the only one she wanted to see her. Does that mean she can be visible to others and chooses not to be? If it were possible to prove her existence, would you want her to? What would happen?

Korine had suggested Nerv would dissect a pilot if given a chance. What if this is all the excuse they needed to cut you open and poke around in your head? You have a hard time imagining Dr. Caswell signing off on something so barbaric and pointless, but maybe someone else would, someone higher up.

Or maybe they would just say you're broken. A man with a shattered mind. You have no illusions about your future in that case. A Second-impact orphan with no special qualities still has a debt to pay to the government that provided for his care. There are a million places they could disappear you to.

You lean your head on the car window and look up at the tops of the buildings passing by. They shine as the integrated solar panels rotate to lock onto the sun as it rises.

This test is your chance to change all that. A chance to be useful again, a chance to be a pilot again.

"You nervous?"

Katya's question takes you by surprise. You look up at her and her steady gaze. The Nomad is off and sitting on the seat beside her.

"Nervous about what?" you ask.

She blinks. "Test today, yes? Activation test."

"Yeah, it is." You catch Yezhov glance back at you in the rearview.

Katya hesitates, looks uncertain, then picks up her Nomad again.

"I'm a little nervous," you say.

She stops in the process of turning it back on. "Tests make me nervous," she agrees. "Activation. Harmonics. Tactical. They eh-" she thinks for a word. "Make me uneasy."

"Why?" you ask. It's surprising since Katya consistently seems to perform the best in her tests.

The question takes her off guard. "Just . . . " she says. "Eh . . . I want to do good. Sometimes is hard."


>You always do well, you have no reason to worry
>I know how you feel. I want this test to go well
>Nod and return to silence
>Write in
>>
>>4722823
>>You always do well, you have no reason to worry
>>
>>4722823
>You aren’t alone in that feeling. This isn’t an easy task, piloting.
>>
>>4722823
>>Nod and return to silence
>>
>>4722823
>I know how you feel. I want this test to go well
>>
>>4722823
>I know how you feel. I want this test to go well
It's the truth
>>
>>4722823
>>I know how you feel. I want this test to go well
>>
>I know how you feel. I want this test to go well

Writing
>>
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"I know how you feel," you say. You know maybe better than she realizes. Renton said you were the only experienced pilot, but it didn't mean you were irreplaceable. "I want this test to go well."

Katya listens but says nothing.

The car's tires thud softly as it passes over a retracted spike barrier and into the Nerv entry tunnel, descending beneath the city.

You wind through the labyrinthine parking structure and eventually make your way to park at the personnel ingress point. Yezhov ushers the two of you inside and through the various security checks.

On reaching an exchange hub, you meet Mbaru. He's standing watch, waiting patiently until the three of you enter through a retracting armored door. "Ethan," he says. "You are ready?"

Yezhov continues on with Katya wordlessly.

"Ready," you say.

Katya stops in a doorway and looks back at you, "Ethan, good luck today."

Before you can answer, she's turned back around and hurried through another armored door which closes behind her.

You stare at the closed shutter a second before following Mbaru.

Before long you reach the Eva cage. This massive holding facility acts as a sort of dock for Evangelions. A place to conduct maintenance, repair work, battery recharging, anything. Your new Eva, towers over you like a biomechanical god, dwarfing you. It's slit visor stares sightlessly ahead while you look up at it.

"Hydra," Rose says, approaching across a metal gantry.

"It's the same color," you say.

Rose looks up at it. "Yes. I had them paint it green for you. I figured you would want that."

"It's lucky," you say. The words sound hollow to you.

"Ethan." Rose's face is cold, serious. "I know how hard this is. To get back in after what happened. I want you to know that I believe in you. I know you won't let us down."

You notice she doesn't give you an alternative.

"I won't."

Rose smiles, it doesn't quite reach her eye. "We've uploaded your harmonics data to the entry plug and calibrated the nerve links. Everything is all ready for you. I think you know what to do from here." She turns on heel and walks back the way she came, leaving you alone.

You look back up into the unfamiliar face of Hydra. The name of a monster.
>>
"System start."

"Nerve connections one through 101 accepted. No errors."

"Genetic data is good, harmonics nominal."

"We have a pattern. Orange. Sync initiated."

Pressure mounts on your mind as the Eva awakens around you. A titanic mental presence rushes to encompass you like a storm cloud. All you can do is focus on your breathing. In. Out. In. Out.

"Proceed to the second stage." This voice is Rose's. It buzzes faintly over your cockpit speakers, but it's recognizable all the same. You wonder if Mbaru or Dr. Caswell are present.

"Stage two nerve connections accepted. No errors."

"Initializing Evangelion-CPU interface. Interface is confirmed."

"Affirmative," Rose says. "Ethan?"

"Here, ma'am," you say.

"How are you doing?"

The thick, metallic scent of blood stings your nostrils. That strange, invisible presence weighs heavily on you as you struggle to bring your own mind atop it. The machine hums tunelessly around you and you can faintly feel a thudding vibration like a distant heartbeat.

"Everything nominal, ma'am."

"Very good. We're proceeding to final activation."

You close your eyes and try to relax your body.

"Signal increasing, sixty-six percent. Seventy. Eighty five percent and climbing."

"We have neural feedback from the sixth node." The voice sounds worried.

"Compensate for it. Initiate neural dampening on connections 116 through two hundred." Dr. Caswell's voice barks out clearly on your speakers. You can hear his stress, his irritation, his fear.

Pressure builds in your mind.
>>
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A sharp tone indicates the test has concluded.

"Activation test complete. Hydra successfully activated. No anomalies."

"Excellent work, Ethan," Rose says.

You let out a shaky breath and relax your grip on the toggles. "Thank you ma'am."

"Sit tight and let us finish tabulating the activation data. We have a few bumps we need to iron out for next time. We'll let you out as soon as we're done."

"Affirmative."

The audio channel goes dead. You stare expressionlessly at the main monitor of your plug, seeing the interior of the cage with your new Eva's eyes. A slow smile creeps across your face. You did it. You're a pilot again.


***

Emerging from that entry plug is easily one of the happiest moments in your life. All your mounting fears dissolve away to nothingness. Despite it all, you're still a pilot.

Exiting the eva cage, you come to the annex adjoining the locker rooms. Renton is just leaving, disappearing into the men's locker room to change, but Korine and Katya are here.

Katya is trading her nerve clips for her hairband, Korine is already in her street clothes, sitting on a bench and listening to music.

Last you'd talked to Korine she'd been . . . off. Not exactly friendly which was strange given that you two had just recently been hanging out and shopping. You thought you'd had at least one person you could count on.

You still haven't told Katya about the Nomad. You're not even sure if you should. Even so, despite her standoffishness she did make an effort to wish you luck today. It was minimal, but it was something.


>Talk to Korine
>Talk to Katya
>Just go shower
>Write in
>>
>>4723422
>Just go shower
It might be worth it to see if we can find somewhere to fix the Nomad for us, since it is technically on loan to us, and it's not like money would be a problem.
>>
>>4723422
>A slow smile creeps across your face. You did it. You're a pilot again.
Back in the saddle. We can do this. For her.

>Emerging from that entry plug is easily one of the happiest moments in your life. All your mounting fears dissolve away to nothingness. Despite it all, you're still a pilot.
Cherish this moment, Ethan. Happy moments, truly happy moments like this, will be few and far between. Good work.

They've both reached out to us, in their own ways. I'm torn.
>Talk to Korine
Katya is more difficult to connect to in general, but if something has changed in our relationship with Korine, scant as it is, better to find out and possibly deal with it now instead of letting it fester.
>>
>>4723422
>Just go shower
>>
>>4723422
>Just go shower
>>
Why does no one want to talk to anyone?
>>
>>4723545
We only need Linda
>>
>>4723422
>Talk to Korine
Get ye gone, Lindacels
>>
>Just go shower
>>4723439
>>4723448
>>4723457

>Talk to Korine
>>4723442
>>4723592

>>4723545
>Why does no one want to talk to anyone?
Don't worry, pretty soon it won't be a choice.
>>
Things are strange with Korine, and things are strange with Katya. Better to let sleeping dogs lie for now. You want to bask in the glory of success.

Neither one of them looks up as you pass. Making for the locker room, you enter, strip out of your plugsuit and hit the showers. Hot water scalds your skin, but you don't mind. You savor the sensation of warmth, washing away the lingering smell of blood and the traces of LCL. You run your hands over your face and through your hair.

Once you're satisfied, you shut off the shower and dry yourself off amidst the steam clouds that linger in the air. Your mind is flush with success.

You almost don't notice Renton before he speaks.

"Your activation test was today, yes?"

It takes a moment not to scowl. You were not looking for an intrusion into your celebration. "Yes."

"I had heard from Max that you were successful. No small feat with a new Eva."

You don't say anything. You're half dressed, Renton stands in his street clothes across the empty locker room.

"I think congratulations is in order. Well done."

You think for a moment he might offer a hand to shake, but he doesn't.

You look Renton over before pulling on your shirt and closing the locker. You turn to leave.

"Ethan."

You stop.

Renton hasn't moved, standing in place and looking at the back of your head.

You turn back to look at him.

"I ran the Anchorage battle," Renton says. "Same as you. Linda. Was that her? The one you lost?"

The name sends a spike of anger into your heart.

"It was a tough fight," Renton says. "Even for a simulation." He smiles sadly, "I'm afraid I didn't pull it off either."

"Did you come to make jokes about it?" you ask, hand clenched into a furious fist.

"Hardly," Renton says, suddenly serious. "I'm here to tell you that I understand a bit more. I think perhaps you and I have had a bad start. I hate to leave things like that." Now he does it, he extends his hand for you to shake. "I'd rather we were friends than enemies. Don't you agree?"


>Shake his hand
>I think I'm fine with things as they are
>Leave
>Write in
>>
>>4723686
>Shake his hand
>>
>>4723686
>>Shake his hand
No one is perfect; look no further than ourselves.
But he only gets this one 'slate wipe'.
>>
>>4723686
>Shake his hand

We have more than enough enemies to deal with outside the city walls
>>
>>4723686
>Shake his hand
>>
>>4723686
>>Shake his hand
>>
>>4723686
>Shake his hand
>>
>Shake his hand

Writing
>>
You take his hand and shake. It feels solid, meaningful. "We have enough to worry about outside these walls," you say.

Renton brightens, "I am inclined to agree with you, Ethan." He releases your hand. "It seemed to me that you're quite a hothead, I'm happy that that won't come between us though."

His frank assessment of you leaves you momentarily off balance.

"I mean no disrespect," Renton adds quickly, "I hope you'll forgive me. I don't see much use in wasting time on lies. I prefer the truth."

You grin uncertainly, "Well truth is that you come off pushy and weird, Renton."

Renton grins wider. "This I have heard before. I don't think we will let our flaws come between us, do you?"

You're really not sure what to make of this so you only smile back awkwardly.

"We'll have to get some drinks sometime. Talk about the past, talk about girls."

"Uh, sure."

"Have you had a chance to speak with Korine or the Princess?"

"Both a little," you say. "They're . . . "

"They're strange," Renton supplies. "But I think strange is normal for Eva pilots. Ours is not a normal life."

"No," you agree.

"I expect our next encounter won't be a tense stand off in a locker room, hmm?"

"Hopefully not," you add.

Renton sticks his hands in his pockets. "Max will be expecting me back. Ciao, Ethan."

"Later." You watch Renton go, still puzzled. You're a little less clear about where you stand with Renton now, but it seems like an improvement over where things were before. "Drinks?" you shake your head and close the locker.
>>
You are Agent Aaliyah Sayid and you're sitting on the floor. This apartment is unfurnished, ostensibly uninhabited. Aside from the built-in fixtures there is only you, an ashtray, and your surveillance gear.

A cigarette hands from your lips, smoke curling lazily upward as you take periodic drags. You sit cross legged, a pair of heavy headphones clamped over your ears, eyes fixed on a tiny portable TV display.

This room had been procured by the UN for you. You aren't sure of the exact arrangement, only that no one knows you're here or who this place really belongs to. It would be totally unremarkable except that it happens to be the room directly above Womack's.

It had taken most of the day to make preparations. Using a silent hand drill you'd steadily bored a pinhole from the floor of this unit and into the ceiling of Womack's place. You were careful to do so above a light fixture which caught all the drywall dust and hid your work. That same pinhole was now host to a fiber optic camera and a high-gain microphone.

You're careful not to look away. Anything you miss could prove to be key. Right now however, there isn't much to see. After returning home, Womack proceeded to sit on his couch and take a handful of pills. Afterward he more or less passed out.

He's self-medicating, like you suspected. It's hard to know for sure exactly why, but if you had to guess, you would say it was to cope with stress.

No phone calls have come for him, no contact with anyone. He takes the metro too and from work. Beyond that, he's almost a non-entity.

Times like this, alone with your thoughts and the smell of cigarette smoke, your mind wanders, returning often to the past.


>Being hunted
>Being hungry
>Being alone
>>
>>4724650
>>Being hungry
>>
>>4724650
>>Being hungry
>>
>>4724650
>Being hungry
>>
>>4724650
>Being hunted
I guess as a result of not being hungry due to stealing, killing or both.

Looks like they push Womack for what it's worth.
>passes out at the first opportunity
>takes the metro
I wonder how easily one could swipe a keycard or a phone from him when he's asleep during transit. But then again someone could be watching their prized genius closely now that one of their senior staff members decided to vanish.
>>
>>4724650
>Being hunted
>>
>Being hungry

writing
>>
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You are Aaliyah Sayid and you are twelve years old. The air smells of smoke. Not the sweet aroma of cigarettes, but the eye-burning stink of charred plastic.

"Aaliyah," your brother says. "I'm hungry." Asad is ten years old and as such you've been looking out for him. He's always hungry. You're hungry as well, but you have the decency and self control not to complain about it every few minutes. You hope if you ignore him that he won't bring it up again.

You sit by the empty window at the edge of the room. Outside, the soft sound of lapping water echoes through the city. You can hear the roaring thud of helicopter rotors in the distance. At this range it's impossible to say if they are army faction gunships taking off to trade blows with one another or if they're peacekeeper cargo choppers bringing in aid supplies. No matter how much the helicopters bring, it's never enough to feed everyone.

Your stomach growls like a caged animal, defiant, angry, and powerless.
>>
"Aaliyah-"

"I heard you," you snap. Twelve is too young an age to raise a child. You're only a child yourself, but Second Impact gave you no choice. The waters came first, and then the chaos. Militias and gangs vied with foreign occupiers for control of Dubai's oil supplies. Between all that, you lost your parents.

"But I'm hungry," Asad presses. "Isn't there food?"

"If there was food I would give it to you just to shut you up," you reply.

He eats so much, he complains so often. He's a stone around your neck. You hate him right now because you haven't lost him yet, although you will in time.

"They have food in the camp," Asad says, a sharp whine in his voice.

You grit your teeth and stare harder at the flooded city. The camps sprang up in the marshy wastes further inland. Men who lived like princes now scrambled for scraps alongside the foreign laborers stranded here. Asad is right, there is always something to eat in the camps, even if it isn't much. What he doesn't understand is that the camps aren't safe for children. Young boys like him make the perfect fodder for the militias and gangs that haunt them which are always hemorrhaging members. Religious zealots who believe the flood was brought on by decadence launched ill-conceived attacks on the foreign mercenaries guarding the wellheads further inland. Army factions struggle for control of what is left of the government. A boy like Asad can follow orders and pull a trigger, or set off a detonator.

For a girl like you, although you're still not yet a woman, there are other unsavory possibilities. You've heard that some girls can sell themselves to pay for food and water. You're hungry, but not hungry enough to feed the debased appetites of the depraved.

"Aaliyah-"

You squeeze your eyes shut, feeling ash and grit on your skin. You wish things would go back to how they were before. You wish you didn't have to hide in the flooded city. You wish you didn't have to go to bed hungry just so Asad could have his fill.

A tear runs down your dirty cheek, one you quickly wipe away. If Asad sees it then he'll just feel worse than he already does.

You don't yet know that peace is coming. A new day is dawning. One that will come too late to save Asad but just in time to usher you into a new life.
>>
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Your phone rings and draws you back from your memories. Your cigarette has burned down to the filter. You stub it out in the ashtray and look at your phone again. You had the foresight to set the ringer to silent even though you doubt Womack could hear or would care in his current state.

Max is calling.

You've got no idea what Max could want. It's early afternoon and you asked Mbaru to take Korine home from testing for you. Your schedule should be free.

Your phone eventually goes dark.

You return your attention to the monitor and to Womack. Was a NervSec agent out there somewhere watching the doctor sleep through the day like you are? Was there an agent watching you watch Womack? You shake your head and light a new cigarette. You could drive yourself crazy with paranoia here.

Your phone starts ringing again. Max is calling again.

"Shit." You pick up the phone, careful to keep your voice low. "Sayid."

You've never heard panic in Max's voice before, but right now it's impossible to miss. "Aaliyah, it's an Angel."

Your blood runs cold. "An Angel?" you repeat.

"On course for New Tampa. Get here ASAP. We're putting out a general alert now." The second Max finishes the sentence you hear the echoing drone of an alert siren sounding through the city.

"Right, I'll be there." You hang up the phone and look out the window and into a city suddenly gripped with mortal panic. "Another one? So soon?"
>>
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You are Captain Rose Holiday and you arrive into the central control room and a scene of chaos. Technicians and operations personnel bustle about, checking computer displays and relaying orders to personnel through headset mics.

All the monitors of the main board are currently projecting the hazy sonar image which tripped the alert. It appears to be perfectly spherical, at least as far as the low-res scan can determine.

You see Max nearby hang up a phone before he notices you and hurries over.

"How the hell did it get so close to us?" you demand.

"No idea, ma'am," Max says. "It tripped a sonobuoy out by the Hopeland Shallows. It'll be here in less than half an hour."

"Not much time to deploy," you say. "We'll have to intercept it at the city's edge. We try anything further out and we're asking for trouble."

"Doesn't that put the city in harm's way?" Max asks.

"The city is already in harm's way," you reply. "It was built to handle this sort of thing. We're going to have to rely on that." You turn your attention to Mbaru. "Pilot status?"

"Katya and Renton are on standby," he says. "Korine and Ethan are on the way."

"Get Corvus and Orion ready to launch," you say, listing Katya and Renton's units. "Lupus and Hydra will be on standby."

"Where's Sayid and Yezhov?" you ask.

"Sayid is on her way now," Max says, "She was out sightseeing, I can't get a hold of Yezhov."

"Any word from Snelson?"

"They're scrambling their alert fighters now," Max says. His tone makes it clear just how helpful he thinks that will be. "Armored assets are deploying to the sea wall."

You nod and come to stand front and center in the control room, where your father stood when he was head of Tactical. This is your show now. "Analysis?"

"Blood pattern is blue," Max confirms.

"Then it's definitely an Angel," you say. "Update the Magi."

The data is fed into the supercomputers which return a name a moment later.

"Target is the Sixth Angel. Designated Sarathiel," the controller's voice is cool and even despite the circumstances.
>>
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"The 30th Tactical Bomber Wing is on standby," Max says, hanging up the telephone handset. "They report ready to launch a nuclear attack on the target."

"UN Naval forces also report available," Mbaru adds. "Two frigates. UNS Almirante Brown and UNS John Sylvan."

You nod. "Target is fully submerged?"

"Yes, ma'am."

The frigates won't stand a chance in hell of killing the Angel, but they just might be able to probe it and determine its capabilities. It will be a risk to the ships and their crews, but it just might gather more data for you.

The nuclear attack also won't be enough to kill the angel, but it might weaken it. The problem lies in range, the distance is short enough that dropping nuclear weapons has a high possibility for collateral damage to the city.


>Attack target with nuclear ordinance
>Order the frigates to probe the Angel's capabilities
>Order all UN forces to stand down, we'll wait for the Evas
>Write in
>>
>>4725411
>Order all UN forces to stand down, we'll wait for the Evas.
They will likely come in handy either later or for another encounter entirely, so depleting them now would be a waste since the EVA's aren't there to take advantage of any openings they create, it also might provoke a response.
>>
>>4725411
>write in
We're an island city, we should have tons of sonar, radar, and similar systems in place all around the city. Use them for recon as best we can.
If for some reason we've been incredibly stupid and haven't done that, make a note to do so.
In either case, get something, anything, airborne over the Angel and/or along it's trajectory. Use them for in-flight recon and preferably to drop any and every type of detector they have available. If nothing else, more forms of missiles and torpedoes have limited active sensors.

In the mean time, space the frigates a fair ways away from the angel, but in line with it's movements. They are to act as the second line scouts, and unless told otherwise are to bug out once they get us the info we need.

Leave the bombers on standby. Set a 'line in the sand' for the closest the angel can get before nuking it will do serious damage to the city, and tell them to take flight at 5 minutes before the angel reaches that point, but to only drop on our order.
>>
>>4725450
>we should have tons of sonar, radar, and similar systems in place all around the city

For clarity, you do. Hence why it's so alarming that the Angel is so close without being detected.

Sonar etc can only tell so much about it. Size, shape, course, speed. That's all basically done. What is unknown is its combat capability.

>>4725450
>tell them to take flight
The bombers are already taking off and will circle at altitude, ready to conduct bombardment on your order. At CURRENT distance a nuclear attack might cause light damage to outer buildings and the sea wall. With each passing moment that risk will only increase.

As far as calculating a "minimum" distance, should is easily done.
>>
>>4725411
>Order the frigates to probe the Angel's capabilities

the soon we know what it can do the better
>>
>>4725450
Some notes/musings on prep for angel attacks:

Make sure some portion of the conventional forces (preferably majority air assets) are dedicated to scouting and recon via onboard sensor suites and droppable sensors of various types. During a scramble, these units take priority for getting in motion. Conventional units may not be able to damage an angel much, but they can can be our eyes just fine. The is especially true for fixed wing air units, as a few of them at high altitude should be mostly free of danger while being able to relay valuable intel.

In a similar vein, almost every munition above a bullet in use today has a lovely little sensor package built right in, and ammo is much more disposable than manned craft. Make use of them in dangerous areas when possible; a tomahawk to the face is just as likely to draw an attack as running a plane across its nose, but is cheaper and safer.

Someday it would be interesting to see a quest focused around the conventional forces in evangelion. They can do so little, and even that comes at a high cost. What must it be like to be the protectors of humanity, yet so powerless against the foe?

>>4725470
>For clarity, you do. Hence why it's so alarming that the Angel is so close without being detected.
That makes more sense.

>Sonar etc can only tell so much about it. Size, shape, course, speed...What is unknown is its combat capability.
Any sort of sensor we can get close enough to it to provoke a reaction from it should hopefully be able to get us some sort of useful data as it's being destroyed. Anything is better than nothing, and such probes are cheap compared to the alternatives.

>At CURRENT distance a nuclear attack might cause light damage to outer buildings and the sea wall. With each passing moment that risk will only increase.
hmm. Tell whoever is in charge of that aspect to get us a full distance/damage map. I suspect this won't be the only time we'll need it. Have someone notify us when the range closes from light > moderate > severe > extreme.
>>
>>4725411
>Order the frigates to probe the Angel's capabilities
Fair winds and a following sea, for those who die so that more important assets don't.

It's cold, but every capability uncovered by probing gives our Evas a better chance of not being caught off guard by something.
>>
>>4725411
>Order all UN forces to stand down, we'll wait for the Evas
>>
>>4725411
Instead of a frigate charge, how about fixed-wing ASW assets like a P-3 or P-8? Surely the Navy has one on call. . .
>>
>>4725411
>>Order the frigates to probe the Angel's capabilities
>>
>Order all UN forces to stand down, we'll wait for the Evas.
>>4725430
>>4725629

>Order the frigates to probe the Angel's capabilities
>>4725475
>>4725503
>>4725980

>Order the frigates to probe the Angel's capabilities
Writng


Also, just for the record, this is not ordering a frigate death charge. Angels have historically not reacted to over the horizon weapons and long range attacks. They seem to function with animal intelligence, and without a clear threat, they typically won't attack. If you want to provoke a response, a short-medium range frigate attack is your best best.

Fixed wing aircraft will be used in conjunction of course.
>>
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"Have the frigates close range," you say. The weight of the order lies heavily on you. "I want them to execute a probing attack. Let's see if we can find out what this Angel is capable of."

The order is related by Mbaru over the telephone and the radar map adjusts accordingly. The two frigates accelerate to speed and move to interpose themselves between the Angel and the city. A small flock of attack aircraft joins them. Along with the buzzing attack VTOLs comes long-distance camera feed of the frigates and associated aircraft.

Rocket-launched torpedoes come first. Plumes of smoke erupt from the frigates as the weapons launch, arcing through the air. Seconds later they splash down in the path of the Angel.

"Torpedos in the water," Max says, following the feed. "Torpedos are going active- sonar fix on target."

A twin pair of underwater shockwaves foams the ocean surface white for a moment before a geyser of steam and water erupts upwards.

"Detonation confirmed," Max says, uselessly.

A cloud of attack craft pass over a second later, ordinance dropping from their wing pylons into the churning sea. More explosions ripples the ocean surface.

“Negative reaction, no effect on target." The voice comes over the control rooms speakers. It belongs to a nearby recon pilot, hovering and observing the airstrike effect. "Angel's course remains constant."

The attack craft break, accelerated into the sky, and reform, circling about for another attack run with depth charges and torpedoes.

"Target is- Jesus!" the scout pilot blurts.

Pink light lances out from the water, spearing the lead fighter and sweeping across the rest of the squadron. Fuel tanks and ordinance burst and ignite. In a flash, the attack group is reduced to a cloud of burning scrap which rains down over the ocean.

You grimace.

"Frigates are launching another salvo," Max says, sounding sick.

"Cancel it," you say, "Order them to pull back."

Max relays the order into the phone and then after a second adds- "That's an order not a suggestion. Commander, your ships are ordered to stand down. Acknowledge re-"

You see both frigates launch a second round of rocket-deployed torpedoes.

Max hangs up the phone and sighs. He gives you a look. "The Navy wants another shot at it."

You look back to the monitor, horrified and annoyed. "What kind of harebrained moron-"

Weapons explode harmlessly underwater all around the angel.

"Get United Nations naval command on the line, remind them who has command authority in the event of Angel attacks if you please."

"You got it," Max says, punching in the call code.

You fold your arms and glare at the futile naval assault. "Idiots."
>>
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The blue surface of the ocean suddenly ripples white around the Angel. You think it's another explosion shockwave at first before it spread in a conical shape, toward the frigate. "Analysis," you demand. "What is that?"

Your sonar feed of the Angel fuzzes to meaningless static as every monitoring station burns out at once.

"Sonic pulse," Mbaru says.

The pulse hits Almirante Brown bow-on. Metal plates buckle and shatter. The frigate rocks backward, like it's trying to scale an ocean wave. John Sylvan is likewise struck, but more obliquely, the wave shoving the warship sideways in the water.

Both ships cease firing and list for a moment before turning about and bringing engines up to full.

"Commander of the task force acknowledges order to withdraw," Mbaru says.

You wonder how many lives that little act of macho defiance cost. "Get that data to the Science division at once," you say. "Where is Roger?"

"Here!" Caswell enters the control room at a jog, followed shortly by Agent Sayid. "I got stuck in traffic," he explains. "What did I miss?"

"Relevant data is being fed to your team. I want analysis on it ASAP."

"Right," he says.

You look back up at the aftermath of this small probing attack. A squadron of attack craft destroyed, one frigate seriously damaged, another only lightly damaged. All for little outright effect, but at least you know what to expect.

"Target will make landfall in fifteen minutes."

You nod. "Right. Deploy Katya and Renton."
>>
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Muted humming sounds all around you. The soft drone of the entry plug comforts you.

You are Katya Skobeleva and you're sitting in the cockpit of your Eva, Corvus. You close your eyes and breath, tasting the LCL around you. You're nervous. This is your first real battle.

"Entry sequence start."

The Evangelion command program activates and your monitor flashes to life. You feel the rumble of distant machinery and a multi-color nonsense pattern flashes across the screen to be replaced with Cyrillic detailing the boot process.

"All connections good, readings nominal."

"Nerve sequence completed. Syncrograph reads 65%, no flux."

"We have activation."

The Cyrillic vanishes and you are now greeted with the inside of an elevator shaft flashing by as your Evangelion races up toward the surface.

"Sarathiel," you whisper the word to yourself. "A holy name. The Sixth Angel." No one ever explained to you why the Angels were given names, not that you asked. It's a safe assumption that mankind simply can't resist the urge to classify, organize, and label.

Your Eva emerges from the elevator and jolts to a stop. Here, atop the seawall you look out toward the sea, and over the battlefield, your first

This reclamation zone is the main focus of a small fleet of dredging ships which operate nearly 24/7. As they suck sand and muck up from the sea floor, they dump it here in turn, piling it outside the seawall, forming land, beaches. The city needs room to grow, more room than its seawall can provide. Everything else is skeletal. Unpaved grid roads. Steel girder frames. It's a construction site that spans your field of vision.

"Corvus, Orion, do you read?" It's Rose.

"Copy, Corvus read you," you say.

"Orion here," Renton says.

"UN naval forces just finished a probing attack on the Angel. The full extent of its capabilities are still unknown, but it's exhibited two ranged attacks. A direct energy weapon as well as some sort of sonic attack, the latter is still being analyzed."

"Affirmative," you say.

"Hydra and Lupus are on standby. This is going to be your show. Key in your weapons selection."

You note Renton select an assault rifle. Long range, high rate of fire. A good all-around ranged weapon.


>Vibro-lance
(Long-reach stabbing weapon. High penetration, low damage)
>Heavy Impact Rifle
(Long-range, high damage weapon. Cumbersome, low-rate of fire)
>Dual SMGs
(High rate of fire, maneuverable, low penetration)
>>
>>4726216
>>Vibro-lance
>(Long-reach stabbing weapon. High penetration, low damage)
>>
>>4726216
>Pink light lances out from the water, spearing the lead fighter and sweeping across the rest of the squadron. Fuel tanks and ordinance burst and ignite. In a flash, the attack group is reduced to a cloud of burning scrap which rains down over the ocean.
>The pulse hits Almirante Brown bow-on. Metal plates buckle and shatter. The frigate rocks backward, like it's trying to scale an ocean wave. John Sylvan is likewise struck, but more obliquely, the wave shoving the warship sideways in the water.
bleh. Make sure next time all assets are much more widely spaced. No single attack should be able to hit more than one unit.
>>Heavy Impact Rifle
>(Long-range, high damage weapon. Cumbersome, low-rate of fire)
With two ranged attacks shown, ideally we can outrange it.
>>
>>4726216
>Heavy Impact Rifle
>>
>>4726216
>Heavy Impact Rifle
>>
>Heavy Impact Rifle

Writing
>>
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You key in the selection for the Impact Rifle. A moment later the weapon springs from a nearby elevator box. As you take it in your Eva's hands, you think about when your brother Dimitri would take you shooting out in the Kamchatka wilderness.

This rifle can penetrate the steel of a German helmet at one thousand meters. Imagine what it does to an Elk at one hundred.

The memory triggers a faint smile. Your father had never approved, which is why he so seldom found out about your involvement in those excursions. Your brother's face was red with alcohol, split into a wide grin. Get him, little Katya.

You step off of the elevator and onto the seawall, striding over the narrow causeway that ran along the top. The UN ground forces beneath you look up in awe. You see small, helmeted figures in green crane their necks to watch a manmade god marching to battle.

"Corvus, the target will make landfall in three minutes. Close and engage. We can't let it enter the city," Rose says.

"Affirmative."

An icon for Renton flits into being in your peripheral vision.

"Ready, princess?" He asks. "You do fire support and I'll neutralize AT Field. Sound fair?"

"Yes." You frown slightly. "Don't call me Princess."

Renton chuckles. "No worries, just having some fun. Let's go get our cherries popped, what do you say?"

You don't reply. Lifting your rifle to ready position, you dart down the street, mindful to weave around construction equipment scattered about like discarded children's toys. In seconds you come within sight of the shoreline. A cement levy lines the water. Someday it will have sidewalks and fishing piers. Right now it is just bare cement and sand.

The water churns and foams as something emerges. Something big.

You slide to a halt, frozen in amazement at the sight.
>>
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The Angel rises from the waves in a slow, smooth motion. A perfect, white sphere, marred only by a strange, beak-like mask. Flashing purple tendrils dangle beneath the Angel as it floats upward.


"I make contact," you say.

"Corvus, engage."

You can't move. All you can do is stare, your finger hovering over the trigger of your throttle. Your heart pounds in your ears.

The Angel stares back at you from hollow eye holes in its mask. In that instant, all your training is forgotten and you feel only primal terror.

The glowing tendrils writhe to life, slapping at the ground to drag the spherical body forward. The sphere doesn't seem to be supported by the tendrils so much as it seems to just hang in the air, vertically motionless once it reaches a desired height. The tentacles merely hang down from the floating body and pull at the ground beneath as if dragging the evidently weightless body along.

"Corvus- Katya, engage!" Rose repeats.

You depress the trigger with a thick "Click" and the rifle bangs out a heavy slug. The gyrojets on the shell engage and propel it forward. The round explodes on the shimmering AT field that materializes between the two of you.

Something bright flashes behind the billowing wall of smoke left by the explosion.

"Katya!"

You dodge.


***

Roll 1d6. I need 3 rolls total.
>>
Rolled 2 (1d6)

>>4726816
>>
Rolled 2 (1d6)

>>4726816
Do you think the orthodox church blessed her eva?
>>
Rolled 2 (1d6)

>>4726816
Behold
>>
>>4726834
>>4726853
>>4726935

>2

Writing

>>4726853
>Do you think the orthodox church blessed her eva?
Canonically speaking They did.
>>
Your instincts are sharp, reflexes honed to a razor's edge. But it's not fast enough. You roll away, ducking behind the steel frame of an unfinished building as the energy blast courses past you. The steel beams sag and lean under the intense heat.

You think you're home free, until the Angel pivots, scything the beam through your would-be cover.

With a cry of alarm, you raise a warding hand on instinct.

White hot light washes over you, bringing with it a stinging pain that rolls across your skin. It lasts only a second, but it's long enough to blind you and leave you stunned\.

Voices on the radio vie for your attention but all you can do is blink your eyes and try to regain your bearings. You're alive. Corvus's armor and AT field took the brunt of that hit. Your Eva's right arm is burned down to the raw flesh, armor having boiled away. You feel an echo of the pain radiating through your own arm as the neural feedback filters are overwhelmed.

"Covrus! Katya, report!"

You don't have a chance to answer before you see the Angel pull itself around the corner, it's eyeholes staring at you, beginning to glow with a second attack. You won't be able to shrug it off at this close range.

"Cyka!" you swear and raise the Impact Rifle one handed, firing from the hip.

The first shell burrows into the pavement of the street, detonating and carving out a crater in the rubble. The second caroms off the Angel's shell-like exterior, exploding in the sky behind it. The third shell smashes into the Angel and explodes with a flash of fire and smoke.

This final hit seems to have registered with the enemy. The Angel unleashes a shrill, piercing wail that makes all your monitors flicker and wobble.

You release your control throttles and clap your hands uselessly over your ears. Blood trickles from your nose.

The Angel comes even closer, pulling itself forward with those glowing tendrils.

Energy builds up behind the Angel's eyes again, a killing blow.

Rapid shellfire peppers the monster's flank. Each round exploding, casting person-sized slivers of shrapnel through the air.

"Princess, get clear!" Renton says. His Eva smashes through a half-finishes structure to deliver a powerful kick against the Angel's body.

It flies back and topples a pair of incomplete high rises before stopping itself with its tendrils, attention fixed on Renton.


>Withdraw to over watch position while Renton keeps it occupied
>Press a close range attack while it's off balance
>Fall back with Renton to an ambush position
>Write in
>>
>>4698565
>>4698567

>>4699173
>>4699219

>>4726834
>>4726853
>>4726935
What is it with us and 2s?

>>4726982
>write-in
break contact, but only long enough to buy us some distance; not a full withdrawal to overwatch. Then turn around and re engage, to buy Renton some room in turn. If we can alternate it's attention between us, it should prevent it spending too much time wearing on either of us.
>>
>>4726982
>>Withdraw to over watch position while Renton keeps it occupied
>>
>>4726995
Actually, supporting this
>>
>>4726995
Supporting this also.

The 2 is the sacred number of this quest, the dice have spoken.
>>
>>4726982
>Withdraw to over watch position while Renton keeps it occupied
>>
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>>4727066
>The 2 is the sacred number of this quest, the dice have spoken.
>>
>>4726995
Supporting
>>
>>4726995
>Write in

Writing
>>
>>4727082
Anon rolled another 2 in this thread all's right with the world
>>
Tendrils lash out from the expanding cloud of dust and debris, wrapping around nearby structures. The Angel pulls itself forward again.

With a bit of concentration, you turn away, leap over a topple building and dash a few blocks. Turning, you skid to a stop and shoulder your rifle. Your digital crosshairs converge and overlap on the angel.

The weapon booms as you take the shot, another explosion blossoming on the Angel's tough hide.

"Renton, you pull back."

"What for?" Renton asks. He rolls under a tentacle swipe, firing his rifle from the hip.

"Do I say," you say more emphatically.

"Orion, drawing back." Renton evades another attack, but only just barely, before retreating.

Weapons fire from the nearby armored battalion scatters off of the angel's armor. Tank shells ricochet and Tomahawk missiles erupt into fireballs.

You draw the Angel back through the reclamation zone like this, alternating fire and retreat. No matter how much firepower you and Renton put onto it, the damage seems negligible. The white shell is cracked in places, thin red blood leaks out to paint crimson rivers down its body.

You'll need to score a killing blow, and soon, before the Angel renews its advance on the city wall.

"Renton, focus fire beneath face."

"The face?" Renton asks.

"Yes!" You hiss. You drop your Eva to one knee and shoulder your rifle, lowering your crosshairs just beneath the thing's mask-like face.

Renton fires a long burst, shells blasting a line of destruction across the Angel's body, centering on the area around its mask.

You exhale slowly, your finger tightening on the trigger, just like your brother taught you.

Squeeze slowly. Slowly like you don't want to scare it. Too quick and the gun will pull.

***

Roll 1d6. I need 3 rolls total.
>>
Rolled 3 (1d6)

Let's roll the dice!!!
>>
Rolled 6 (1d6)

>>4727719
>>
Rolled 6 (1d6)

>>4727719