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>Neon Terminus Evangelion
>Episode 08 - "The Waltz of Life and Death"


A warm breeze raced through flat, open farmland, rustling a sea of corn in the dark. It was night, well past dusk and no creature stirred in this endless agricultural wasteland. A shudder ran through the ground, followed immediately by another. The thick, dark loam of the earth swelled and split as something forced its way up from the ground. A massive, dark red sphere emerges and raises itself into the air via invisible forces, starlight glinting from its shiny hide.

When contrasted with the very mundane sheds and barns dotting the land around it, it felt even more alien, even more surreal. It was an interloper, an intruder. Not something that belongs in this world.

For a moment, nothing happens. The breeze sways the corn again, only it doesn't stop. The wind grows in intensity and speed, buffeting the crops as it begins to swirl around this strange, alien orb, going faster and faster. The winds gather to it, merging and colliding, swelling from a rustle into a howl.

An Angel is born.

Old threads - http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/qstarchive.html?searchall=Neon+Terminus+Evangelion
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You are Ethan Chandler and you awake with a start. You're alone in your apartment in New Tampa, staring up at the dark ceiling, words echoing in your mind.

When we meet again. Everywhere at the end of time.

It had been days since you'd heard Linda first utter them in another dream and they still reverberated through your mind. Whenever you slept now, you dreamt of her, of the ruins on that lonely sandy spit in the middle of the sea. You dreamt of the conversation you'd had, and of those words.

They were like an echo in your mind, simply a hollow repetition of the feelings she'd first conjured that day.

The Reconciliation of Man and Angel.

You turn onto your side and frown in the darkness. "What reconciliation?" What was there to reconcile? This was a war. For all of Linda's protestations that the Angels were as innocent as mankind, you couldn't see it. You had been attacked. This wasn't about supremacy. It was about survival.

The Reconciliation of Man and Angel.

"What do you mean?" you ask the silence.

Unsurprisingly no one answers.

You glance at the clock and groan at the time. You should be asleep. You're scheduled for morning rotation tomorrow. That means hours of monotony, sitting in Nerv HQ on standby in the off chance an Angel arrives then. You sigh. There's no way you're going to get back to sleep.

Instead you sit up and rub your face in a vain effort to wipe away your exhaustion. It feels like an eternity ago that you were stationed in Alaska with Linda. But somehow it also feels like yesterday. So much has happened since then. Little of it good.

You'd fought hard to build a team- a group of friends here. Somehow it felt like it was going bad. Things with Renton had never recovered since you'd helped him in his quest for vengeance- justice- however he looked at it.

Katya had become increasingly sullen and withdrawn, reversing what little progress you'd made toward getting her to open up.

Korine was just as unstable and uneasy as ever, ready to lash out at the drop of a hat.

Not to mention that Linda hadn't spoken to you since her unsettling message to you. You didn't see any other way to interpret it other than a portent of the End.
You rise from bed and run a hand through your hair, walking stiffly from your bedroom and into the kitchen where you pull a soda from the fridge and pop the tab, drinking the cold nectar within to try to stir some feeling in your body.

The night view from your apartment is stunning. The moonlit waves of the Floridian Sea glitter in the dark. The horizon swims with the golden glow of ships sailing through the night. Everything from supermax container ships, to seabed dredgers, to military vessels plied the sea around New Tampa.

You watch the ships as you finish the can of soda.

This place- New Tampa- is a marvel. It's equal parts engineering feat and military fortress. A castle on the sea. You can't help but think of it as a modern day Tower of Babel, a structure to challenge the gods themselves. Even the Angels couldn't stand before it.

You cross your apartment and sit on your couch, picking up the Sega Nomad Katya had given you. You fire it up and start a game of Gun Mage before almost immediately losing interest. You sigh to yourself and put it down.

You don't want to be alone. You can't be alone tonight. Somebody else has to be awake and you're going to find out who.

Welcome back!
Forgetting something?

Thanks for this semi-recap; it was quite helpful in getting back into things.

>You had been attacked. This wasn't about supremacy. It was about survival.
Truth. Aside from the single incredibly costly ocean retrieval, humanity has been on the *defensive* from the start.

>You're scheduled for morning rotation tomorrow. That means hours of monotony, sitting in Nerv HQ on standby in the off chance an Angel arrives then. You sigh.
I'm glad they've kept the practice up despite the unpleasantness; we've been caught with our pants down more than once.

I'm like to try and start the process of resolving this...thing growing between us, or at least nudge things in that direction.

Welcome back
>Welcome back
Thanks guys! It's been too long.

>Forget Something
Absolutely! Thanks!

Yeah, I needed a refresher myself so I thought my players would need a little bit of one also.


This life is not yours to waste.
Have you not taken enough from me?
Silly little girl.

You are Katya Skobeleva and your thoughts are too loud to sleep. They ricochet around your mind like a gunshot in a bulletproof chamber. Your family, the people you have let down, the people you have failed.

When will you stop being such a child?
What would Mama think?”

Hot tears sting the corners of your eyes and you pull a pillow close to your chest, staring unblinkingly up at the ceiling.

You are a waste.

You didn't ask for this. You didn't ask to be born. You were granted life with no meaning. An unequal exchange. A life without value. You exist only to be a tool for others. You are doll for your father to keep on a high shelf. You are a princess for a castle. You are useless.

Your only worth comes from one thing.

You are an Eva pilot.

You can do it, little Katya.

"That voice," you say, whispering in Russian. You'd heard it in your Eva on the brink of failure. It was a thought that wasn't your own. It was small, quiet, but impossible to miss, like a candle in the darkness. It was warm, bright, encouraging.

You can do it.

You'd never heard that voice before. It wasn't the voice of your father, your brother, or your sisters. It was a stranger. But it was so familiar.

Little Katya.

Only your papa called you that. A woman's voice.

"Mama?" you whisper the question into your pillow and a tear runs down your cheek. The woman you'd never met. The woman you'd let down. The person who'd given their life bringing yours into existence. It was a void you would never fill.

You squeeze your eyes shut and take in a shuddering breath.

Maybe your father was right all along. Maybe you are not a fighter. Maybe you do belong back home, in that castle, on that high shelf. Safe. Alone. Untouchable.

You wipe your eyes and shake your head. This wasn't how you wanted things to be. You take another breath, steady in and steady out, like Dmitri taught you when you were Elk hunting. Steady in, steady out.

Sitting up, you wipe your eyes dry with your pillow and sniffle, hating how much you sound like a child.

You glance at the clock face glowing in the dark. Korine is on shift. Then Ethan. You're next. The night shift. You might as well get an early start. Something tells you that you won't be doing any sleeping.
You get out of bed and strip out of your pajamas before hunting through the packed clutter of your closet for clothes. The cold air caresses your skin and you break out in goosebumps, but you don't mind, it helps to take your mind off of itself. Eventually you pick out a set of clothes and dress, watching yourself in the mirror as you stare back, face blank, expression unreadable, the mask you present to the world around you.

In the half light of your dark bedroom, your skin is tinged pink in the red glow of your alarm clock. Your eyes seem unnaturally bright.

You finish pulling your shirt on over your head and look at your night stand.

A hairband marked with a pair of fake cat ears sits here and you stare at it.

You will have to grow up sometime.

An unwelcome voice. Your oldest sister's voice, cold, pitiless.

"Be quiet," you say and pick up the hairband before carefully seating it, watching your reflection as you do so. The ears sit in place and the illusion is complete.

>Make an early breakfast
>Play some video games
>Go for a night walk
>Write in
>Make an early breakfast
>>Make an early breakfast
>>Make an early breakfast
Most important meal of the day
>Make an early breakfast

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You leave the bedroom with purpose. You're going to cook something.

Your kitchen- like everything of yours- is meticulously cleaned and organized. Within minutes you're making batter for pancakes, boiling water, and buttering a pan for eggs. You don't consider yourself a master chef, not by any stretch. But you find simplistic joy in cooking, you always have. Anna taught you how when you were younger before she left for the Air Force. You had no mother to show you of course, and Karina would never want to get her hands dirty, but like you, Anna liked to cook.

You like to be productive, to do something, make something, but you never considered yourself creative or skilled enough to be an artist or a musician or anything like that. But cooking, you can do.

You chop kielbasa as the pan for eggs heats up and the pancake batter sits. You like to let it sit a bit before pouring it, you find that it produces fluffier pancakes.

The stillness that comes over you when you cook isn't unlike what you feel when you get lost in an intense or captivating video game, or what you feel when you go hunting. But creating something brings satisfaction that killing something can't.

As you prepare the food, your stomach wakes up enough to growl hungrily. You put a kettle on for tea.

A vibration in your pocket startles you. You take out your phone and flip it open. The messages that come in make you smile.

Cooking is good. But cooking for other people is even better.
You are Ethan Chandler and you're surprised when Katya open's the door to her apartment and the smell of cooking wafts out. More surprisingly, she'd wide awake and fully dressed. You had been expecting to find her half-asleep.

"Uh, hey," you say awkwardly.

She puts a finger to her lips, expression serious. A glance down the hall toward Yezhov's door is all the explanation you need. If her guardian were to discover you talking to his ward at this hour, it could cause problems.

You mirror her and put your own finger to your lips, suppressing a smile.

She ushers you in and quietly closes the door behind her.

"Sorry for coming by so late . . . early. Whatever."

She doesn't look back and leads you into the kitchen where you see breakfast being made. The smell is amazing.

"Is no trouble," Katya says, returning to cooking, her movements are smooth and precise, reminding you of her shooting. "I already awake. I could not sleep either. Like you."

You take a seat and watch her cook, listening to the hiss and sizzle of sausage and egg in a frying pan. "That smells amazing."

Her movements slow for a moment. "Thank you."

Renton isn't the only one you've been feeling distant with. Things have been cool with Katya lately too. She was never outgoing, rarely ever the first to speak, but you remember a time not so long ago when she'd been open, friendly. You remember sitting beside her on the beach and enjoying the warm weather. Things had felt different than they do now.

You know that Katya had been involved in a battle while you and Korine were out retrieving the Angel egg. From what you heard, it was bad. Corvus- her Eva- had suffered severe damage, and Katya herself had been injured. You hadn't asked Katya about it, but given how touchy she's been in the past about her battles you're not sure you want to ask.

It doesn't matter what happens to me.

Her words linger so clearly in your mind. Something had changed the day Katya had fought the teleporting Angel. She had never talked about it but you remember her voice on the radio as she'd told you that she had no purpose besides killing Angels.

She wasn't so different from you in that way, but you still saw value in your own life- despite everything. It was clear that Katya did not. She was just a weapon.

You frown. It pains you to know that she thinks of herself like that. But you're also not sure what you could possibly do to change that.

>Need a hand with anything?
>How are you doing after your last fight?
>Mind if I ask what's keeping you awake?
>Write in
>Need a hand with anything?
>>Need a hand with anything?
>>Need a hand with anything?
It's only polite.
You clear your throat. "Need a hand with anything?"

Katya glances at you over her shoulder, looking away as quickly as she meets your eye. "You come finish the eggs?"


You take a place beside her at the stove and pick up a spatula. The smell of frying eggs and the sound of popping oil sets you salivating. "Scrambled?" you ask.

"No! No, no," Katya says quickly. "Fried. Yes? Just eh . . ." She has to think of the words. "Sunny side up."

"Sure," you say, supervising the eggs as they fry. "Not a fan of scrambled?"

Katya wrinkles her nose. "No." She flips a pancake off the griddle and onto a small stack before pouring fresh batter onto the hot pan.

You smile to yourself until you judge with your untrained eye, that the eggs are cooked well enough. Carefully, you slide them onto a plate and help Katya lay out the dishes. Katya quickly seasons the eggs with a scattering of pepper and a sprinkle of salt before she puts out a dish of butter and a bottle of syrup.

You sit across from her and eye everything hungrily, waiting until Katya starts serving herself before you load your plate and dig in.

As usual, she's drinking unsweetened black tea which personally you find disgusting, but you sip politely all the same. The pancakes are buttery and rich, the sausage is warm and spicy, the eggs are creamy and perfect.

The two of you eat in silence like this for a while., but it doesn't feel uncomfortable. It feels a little nice. Like there's nothing that needs to be said. You mop up some rogue eggs on your plate with a chunk of pancake and shovel it all into your mouth, chewing contentedly.

Across from you, Katya is nearly done herself, finishing off the last few forkfuls of sausage.

"This isn't the first time you've made breakfast for us," you say.

Katya looks up like she'd forgotten you were there. "Is good manners."

"Sure," you say. "Just weird that it's happened twice, don't you think?"

She shrugs. "We are neighbors, yes?"

"I guess." You're pretty sure Katya never offered to cook for Korine or Yezhov. Of course, they also probably never spent the night over here. Maybe you're reading too much into it. "It's really delicious though, thank you."

Katya nods. "Is nothing. I was cooking already."

"It's been a while since we've hung out like this," you say.

"Busy," Katya says. "Very busy. No rest for us."


"But," she says, still not meeting your eyes. "I am glad that you and Korine returned safely. I was very worried. Very glad you are both alright."
You think of the crushing black abyss where you retrieved the Angel egg. The endless black, the small ring of muddy flats illuminated by your lighting rig. The cold. The silence. The isolation. It's likely the closest to Hell you will ever get in this lifetime.

You also think of the intense terror and Korine defended the fleet against that pelagic Angel which laid waste to so much of the UN Pacific fleet. You hadn't been able to help her then, she was on her own, but she'd done well.

An image of Innovation exploding with all hands flashes through your mind.

Korine hadn't been alright after that, no matter how physically fine she was. She'd been forced to pull the trigger on so many lives. You only hoped it was something she could live with.

"It was pretty rough," you say, staring at your drink.

"This is what bothers you?" Katya asks, leaning in slightly. "The mission? You still worry about it?"

You look up, surprised to find her looking into your eyes fixedly, her apparent anxiety overridden by interest, or maybe concern. Now it's your turn to feel uncomfortable.

Truthfully, that isn't why you couldn't sleep. The events in the Pacific are far from your mind right now. The Angel that you'd helped to recover is currently nested safely in the fathomless depths of Nerv 03 where Roger is delving into its secrets, maybe even at this moment.

No, it's Linda that occupies your mind. Katya is the only person who knows about her- knows about her connection to you, but you never told her everything. She doesn't know about Linda's hauntingly prophetic parting words.

When we meet again. Everywhere at the end of time.

You still have no idea what she could mean by that, or what it might mean for you and everyone else, but it leaves you equal parts excited and uneasy. Your stomach knots just thinking about it.

Not only that, but you've got your own lingering concerns about the team. About Katya herself, about what's happening to everyone.

>tell her about your dream with Linda
>Tell her you're worried about her
>Tell her you're worried about everyone
>Write in
>Tell her you're worried about everyone
The whole team seems to be breaking down around us and there seems to be nothing we can do about it.
>>Tell her you're worried about everyone
>>Tell her you're worried about everyone
>Tell her you're worried about everyone

"No. It wasn't the mission. It's . . It's everyone," you say.

Her silence invites you to continue.

"The whole team seems to be breaking down," you say. "It feels like no matter what I do things get worse. People get hurt, people fall apart."

Kaya says nothing.

"After what happened with Linda, I thought I could make a difference. I thought I could keep that from happening again but . . . you almost died. That plant angel- when it shot your leg out . . . it's just luck you're alive, Katya. There's nothing I could have done."


"With Renton, the thing with the cargo ship . . ." Katya doesn't know about your involvement in that, she doesn't know about the hollow threat Renton made to try to assuage your guilt.

You look up at her. Katya stares back, her eyes sad.

"It feels like everything is … falling apart."

Katya keeps your gaze a moment longer and then looks away. "I am sorry," she says quietly.


She shakes her head. "I . . . I have been selfish. I did not think about you. Only myself."

"Katya," you say, "If there's anything you're not, it's selfish. I don't think I've ever seen you do a selfish thing since I've known you."

"Really?" she looks back at you, her eyes hard. "You think that?"

You don't know how to react. "I do."

Katya looks irritated and you have no idea why. She shakes her head again, tousling her long hair. "Maybe I am still little girl. I think only of myself, Ethan. I worry about being pilot. I worry only about impressing my papa. I worry only about you. I worry only about me. I know Korine probably tell you about how I feel. This-" she stops. "Is embarrassing, but is the truth I think."

You blink. "Korine hasn't told me anything," you say, confused.

Katya stops, her face flushes a shade of pink with embarrassment and she turns further away from you, muttering something in Russian. "I think you just forget it then. Foolish."

You have no idea what to say, but fortunately, she speaks again, recovering some of her composure. "You right, Ethan. Right about us. Right to be worried." She manages to look at you again a moment before looking quickly away. "Always thinking of the team. You are the selfless one, yes?"

Before you can speak, she stands and starts collecting dishes.

"Here, let me-"

"No," she says. Her tone is polite but firm. "I do this."

You watch dumbstruck as she cleans.

She stacks the plates neatly in the sink, her back to you, and stares down at them for a moment. "Ethan, I am sorry if I have been distant or cold to you. You do not deserve that. I-" She stops. "You are very important to me. To everyone, I think."

At last, she turns to face you again, her expression once again unreadable. "I am sorry."

"There's nothing to apologize for, Katya," you say with utmost sincerity.

>I just want us to be a team again
>Can you tell me what's bothering you?
>Breakfast was delicious. Thank you again.
>Write in
>>Can you tell me what's bothering you?
>>Can you tell me what's bothering you?
>>I just want us to be a team again
That was an odd reaction from her.
>Can you tell me what's bothering you?

Katya nods limply.

"Can you tell me what's bothering you?" you say.

Katya looks up, surprised. She opens her mouth, stops, and closes it again. Her eyes flicker as she struggles with her own thoughts before speaking. "You already have too much to worry about, I think."

"Please," you say. "Things can't be normal if you just pretend like they are. Things will never be okay if you don't express yourself."

"I do not know what it is that I want," she says with enough force to surprise both of you. "I do not know," she repeats. "I did not want to be born. I do not want this life that I have. I do not want my family. I do not want to be in danger." Her eyes glitter with tears. "But I do not want to die. I do not want to be alone. I do not want to be worthless." A tear runs down her cheek but she keeps talking, looking anywhere but at you. "I do not want to be around other people, but I do not want to be alone. I want-" she stops, her mouth frozen, something left unsaid.

She sags, losing steam. She wipes the tear away with the back of her hand. "What I want, I do not know."

Neither of you speaks for a minute.

"I am very selfish girl," she whispers, voice wavering. "I want everything and nothing." She looks you in the eyes again. They're wide, clear, shining with latent tears. "You cannot understand." She struggles to produce more words but stops, swallowing her emotions. "I want to be your friend, Ethan. I want to be a good teammate. But I am worthless to everyone."

"You're not," you say, finding the courage to speak. "You're not worthless."

She shrugs.

"You're-" you struggle for your own words. "You're you! You're Katya, goddammit! You're irreplaceable. You're the only one."

Again, a shrug.
You stand up, hands clenched into fists. "Katya, that's bullshit. You-"

"I can't!" Katya shouts the words at you, her blank mask slipping away, replaced with fear, anger, sadness. "My Eva- I-" she chokes. "I cannot pilot it anymore."

Your own anger evaporates. "What?"

Katya covers her face with her hands and slides her back down the wall until she sits on her heels, curled into a small, pathetic ball. "It won't accept me."

You blink. "What? What are you talking about?"

"My sync score. It is too low. I cannot fight like I used to. My Eva reject me."

"That's not possible," you say. But you doubt it as soon as you say it. You don't have the slightest idea of what makes synchronization possible or not possible. You know scores are at least partly related to a pilot's emotional state, and Katya's is as bad as you've ever seen it.

"Is possible," she returns, her voice muffled by her hands. "Is lower. Every day lower. Lower and lower and lower." She sobs. "The Angel."


She nods, face still covered. "The Angel did this to me. That day. The spark."

It doesn't matter what happens to me.

You remember well. You remember feeling hot seething rage as you cut down buildings with gunfire trying to get at it.

"That day, I see myself. But . . . not me. Another me- I don't know. It was . . . my life split open." She uncovers her face. Her eyes are ringed red, tears streak her cheeks. "It took everything away. Everything."

She wraps her arms around her legs and presses her face into her knees, sobbing silently.

"If I am not a pilot," she says at last. "Then I am nothing."

You used to just think of yourself as a soldier. You carried out orders. You put yourself in harm's way. Mbaru had called you a warrior. Maybe you were that too, but you'd never thought of yourself as a leader, as someone people would rely on. You have plenty of problems of your own. You have enough problems that it would be easy to tell everyone that you were sick of being their pillar, you were sick of the pressure, the expectation. What gave Renton, Korine, and Katya the right to fall apart but not you?

Why did you have to endure?

As soon as the thought comes, you banish it. You've had to rely on other people just as much as they rely on you. You're all part of a team.

What can you say? You hardly even know how to take care of yourself, how to answer your own problems. How can you help Katya?

>Sit beside her and put an arm around her
>"Everything will be alright. You've gotten through worse. One step at a time."
>"You're not nothing. No matter what happens. You're never nothing."
>Write in
>>Sit beside her and put an arm around her
Empty platitudes aren't going to do much. Better to simply be there.
>Sit beside her and put an arm around her
>"You're not nothing. No matter what happens. You're never nothing."
>>Sit beside her and put an arm around her
>Sit beside her and put an arm around her

You let out a breath you didn't know you were holding and sit on the floor beside her, delicately draping an arm over Katya's shoulders.

Katya leans subtly into your embrace and you hold her tight. Her body trembles with her silent crying.

You hate feeling this useless. What can you say? What can you do? You're not even sure how you would react if your own ability to pilot was waning. Would you break down like this? How much did piloting mean to you? Was it as much as it meant to Katya?

You rub your palm in small circles on her back between her shoulder blades but say nothing. There are no words that can make whatever she's feeling go away. All you can offer is a comforting presence. Eventually, her crying subsides to stillness but you keep your arm around her anyway, her head leaning on your shoulder.

"Tissue?" She asks, not looking up.

You rise and find some tissues, as well as fill a glass with water and return to her with both.

She keeps her face hidden from you as she takes the tissues. "Thank you." She cleans her face in as dignified a way as she can. After some sniffling, she takes the glass of water in both hands and sips. "Thank you," she says again.

"Any time," you say.

She takes a long drink before setting the glass on the floor beside her. "What am I going to do?" she asks at last.

You don't have a good answer, so you reply simply: "You're going to do whatever it takes. Just like you always have."

Katya nods. "Yes. I think so." She brushes loose hair behind her ears. "You right. Things are really bad."

You nod in agreement. "Yeah."

"How we are going to get through this?"

"We'll do whatever we have to," you repeat. "We'll work together. We'll take care of one another. We're a team. We live together or we die together."

She doesn't say anything at first. "This not how I want to spend time with you…"

You give her back another warm rub. "It's alright. This is important too. If we're going to pull through and be a team, we need to be open with each other, not hide anything."
"No secrets?" Katya asks.

"No secrets," you agree. You feel a twinge of guilt as you say it because there are still some things about Linda you haven't told her. Not that it's secret per se, but that you don't know how to broach the topic. You're not even sure what there is to say, but it's probably better left unsaid.

"Then I have to tell you something." Katya says the words with finality. "A secret."

You wait for her to continue.

"When I first come here, I knew no one. Alone like always. Alone in a strange foreign place. Then we play games together and you became a friend. The first one I have here."

None of this is a surprise to you. Things were rocky between you and the other pilots early on. At least now you seem to understand them, mostly. Katya has come a long way out of the shell she seemed to live in when you met her. You remember thinking that she was stuck up at first before realizing that her emotional distance from everyone was more like a coping mechanism. A shield to protect herself. Since then, you've come to know Katya as a fiercely independent, headstrong, and compassionate person. She has her quirks, but who doesn't?

Katya takes a deep breath. "Time goes on and I think more I like to have your company. You are not so good at games, but is nice anyway. I like to play with you. You do not mind my past. It doesn't bother you who I am- my family. I think you maybe treat me like a normal person, yes?"

You nod.

Katya hesitates. "When you around I feel better. When you gone I feel worse. I feel so lonely sometimes." She pauses. "It took time for me to realize it. The truth. But Ethan, truth is that I …" she hesitates again, unable to proceed apparently. She looks at you, her crystal blue eyes only a foot away from yours, deep and cool. "Ethan, I really like you."

You feel a creeping tingle up your spine as you realize that she means as more than a friend. Her honesty is disarming, her feelings laid bare. It's all you can do to keep her gaze.

>Kiss her
>Things are too complicated in my life for relationships right now, I'm sorry
>Katya, you are very important to me, but I see you as a friend
>write in
I kid.
>Close eyes, lightly pucker up
The goal here is to let her decide if she wants to kiss us, note.
>Kiss her
This will make the comedic value increase exponentially.
>Things are too complicated in my life for relationships right now, I'm sorry
Just once, I'd like to find a quest that didn't have romance in it.
>Kiss her


You stroke your fingertips across her cheek before you know what you're doing. Her skin is soft, smooth, and pale in the dim light of pre-dawn. Katya doesn't break eye contact with you.

Both of you lean in as if on unspoken command and your lips meet. A peck.

Momentarily, logic and sanity retain their grip on you and you pull back, startled by what just happened- what you just did. Only moments ago Katya was a friend, a teammate. Now she'd become something much more. Feelings stir within you, emotions you didn't even know you were holding in check. Sensations, wants, and desires came alive at the touch of her lips

Katya only stares at you, her eyes on yours. Her lips are half-parted, inviting you to kiss her again.

You do so, this time more earnestly. Her lips are soft and warm. You lay a gentle hand on the back of her head, fingers entwined in her long hair as she kisses you back passionately. It's as if you've been suffocating your whole life and can now finally breathe, each kiss is like a breath of fresh air. It's everything you ever needed, but the more you get, the more you want. There are no words between you, but there don't need to be, you've found a new common language.

Katya's back is against the floor, and now you're on top of her, enjoying the sensation of your body pressed to hers. She wraps her arms around you as if denying you any chance to escape.

You wouldn't ever dream of it, you have her exactly where you want her.

The darkness outside is split by graying dawn as the sun heralds the morning, setting the sea to a fiery pink. A new day.
You're Agent Max Goldberg and you stare at the time on your terminal bleary-eyed. You pulled early morning shift and it's a step away from being in Hell as far as you're concerned. Your normal aches and pains are amplified when you're this exhausted, and that's not even the worst part. No, the worst part is the boredom.

You suck in a long drag from your cigarette and savor the warmth and subtle burning in your lungs, holding it in for a moment before you breathe a thin stream of smoke up into the air for the ventilation system to suck up, filter out, process, and return fresh to some other part of the facility. You cough lightly and wave the smoke away from your face as you look over the monitors before you. Some of them cycle between various CCTV footage of New Tampa in the early morning hours, before its streets and walkways, are filled with commuters. Others show the seafloor or views from the sea wall. Others still cycle between images of radar maps, sonar readings, weather patterns, and raw data from the MAGI still queued to be parsed.

A steady ticker of reports from UN patrol forces in the region filters across the top of your screen.

Other screens show Evas standing in their cages, lined up like mechanical toy soldiers waiting to be wound up. One, in particular, is fixed on the standby pilot, Korine, who sits on a couch in the pilot lounge reading a magazine, lazily turning pages as her half-lidded eyes sweep the text and images.

"Kid, you look as tired as I feel," you say, knowing full well that she can't hear you with the intercoms turned off. You're at least a kilometer away through reinforced concrete and laminated armor plating.

With the tempo of Angel attacks, there's just no such thing as being too careful anymore. You'd been caught by surprise too many times to not have someone on standby 24/7 now. It was hard on the pilots, hard on the staff, but it was the only way to ensure any kind of readiness.

Things might be different if you could bring in more pilots, more Evas, but it seemed like Colonel Versetti had next to zero interest in doing so.
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"Why?" You say the word aloud.

Something was rotten here. You've spent your adult life working for Nerv, dedicated to making the world safe from Angels. So why is it that you feel an impending sense of doom? Your own mortality looms large in your mind. You don't have long for this world. No matter how things turn out, you're not going to be someone who has to deal with the fallout. All the same, you have an interest in making sure things are better. Nerv seems to meet that goal. So why does it feel so wrong?

Two names float to the center of your mind



One dead, the other imprisoned for murder. You'd learned from Rose that Sayid had been an intelligence agent working for the UN- a spy. How she found out that little tidbit you have no idea. But Sayid had been sent here for a reason. Korine had said she thought Nerv killed Sayid for something she knew or something she did. For asking too many questions. It was a paranoid delusion from a troubled mind but…


But a stopped clock is right twice a day, and Korine is pretty damn far from a stopped clock. The fact is that you share her suspicion. Nerv killed Sayid.


Maybe the same reason they framed Kauffman for murder. The likelihood of the head of the Science Division snapping and killing a low-level engineer was slim to none. A couple of weeks prior you'd been slipped a note which contained only the words "She's here." along with a set of coordinates for a location deep within this very facility.

You'd given the note to Yezhov who assured you that he would take care of it. That had been the last you'd heard. Was she alive? Was the "she" really the person you thought it might be?

You hate this "spook" shit. This isn't what you signed up for,

You go to take another drag on your cigarette and see that it's burned down to the filter. With a sigh you stub it to death in an overflowing ashtray and take a fresh one from the pack on your desk and put it to your lips.

Your hands freeze when you go for your lighter. A message has popped up on your terminal.


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You are Captain Rose Holiday and the Nerv 03 command center is alive with activity as you enter at a fast walk. Despite the early morning summons, you're all business. When Angels are in play, you make the time or you fail, simple as that.

You don't waste time with greetings. "When was it detected?"

"Seventeen minutes ago," Max says, chain-smoking and typing into his command console, coordinating reams of data. "The alert came from Nerv 09 in Cheyenne Mountain Complex, North America. The pilots have all been rallied and placed on alert status as well."

"Good. UN response?"

This time Mbaru answered. "UN air forces have established a no-fly zone in the vicinity of the Angel and UN ground forces have set up a cordon fifty miles in diameter."

"Fifty miles?" You asked, coming to a stop in the center of the command facility, sparing a glance at the main monitor which showed a flashing red series of concentric circles set in the middle of central North America. "What exactly are we dealing with?"
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Yezhov calls the image on the main screen. It's shaking, shot through with disruption and static, but it's unmistakably a severe tornado, more accurately, a series of them.

You grit your teeth. Yet again, a new trick the Angels haven't shown before.

"This is it?"

"The Fourteenth Angel," Max says. "Designated Dakradel."

The footage of the storms is shot from extremely long range, but you can tell they're incredibly powerful, causing the camera to vibrate under the buffeting winds.

"We've clocked wind speed gusts up to 500 kilometers per hour, and that's from the outlying ones," Max says, keying through data. "The mother storm is throwing out babies. She's an F5 of course, but more interestingly-" he presses a key and the Magi's report flashes up. "Blood pattern blue."

"So it's an Angel for sure," you say.

"Manipulating weather patterns is new for them." Dr. Roger Caswell's voice catches you off guard, you hadn't heard him enter. "But not outside the realm of possibility, at least not compared to some of their more esoteric uses of the AT field."

You spare him a glance, not allowing yourself to linger on him.

"I only care about how we're going to kill it. What assets do we have on hand?"

"Major ground and air support from conventional UN forces," Mbaru says. "AS well as a battery of Longshot missiles from the Dakota missile range."

The Longshot was a tool you'd developed initially to kill the 9th Angel using tungsten penetrator rods the size of telephone poles delivered from low orbit using intercontinental ballistic missiles. It was an inaccurate if powerful tool.

"Any chance of hitting that thing with them?" you ask, looking to Roger.

"Of course it's possible," he says, "But supremely unlikely. It took two tries to hit a stationary target that was larger than whatever is inside of that storm. I wouldn't put money on our chances of a hit on a moving target."

"Where's it going? Let me guess. South East."

"A straight line," Yezhov says. "Directly toward New Tampa." He smirks savagely. "At current speeds, it take a very long time, but it will hit St. Louis in just over three hours."

"The Evas?"

"If we launch in the next fifteen minutes we can be there in two hours," Mbaru says.

"That's cutting it close if we want to save St Louis," Max says.

There's no question that the level of storms you're seeing now would obliterate the city and anything else in its path. Currently, the Angel is traveling through sparsely populated countryside, but that won't remain the case forever.

You're going to need to come up with a plan to deal with this thing, learn what you need to about it, and then kill it. You have the tools at your disposal to gather information and deploy forces.

What will you do?

>Write in
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Dont drop nukes in it thats for sure, it will harness and spread the radiation. maybe even use the force generated by the nuke to ramp up the storm.

Then again, maybe we need one of those to dissipate the clouds from whatever is inside the storm.

If the storm itself is not the angel.

>throw probes inside it
Like those ones from the Movie Twister. get a read on whats inside.
>start throwing conventional weapons at it
>launch 1 Longshot aimed directly at the center of the storm
In with this.
Long ranged attack with cruise/ballistic missiles, saturating the area, from long range. Air and/or land launch, whatever is available within range.

Also this
Conventional missiles, aside from that probing Longshot
>"That's cutting it close if we want to save St Louis," Max says.
Why on Earth would we want that

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"We're going to need intel," you say. "More than what we've got. Let's get some drones up, something we can put into the storm to get more information." Your orders are carried out and you review a printout of assets on site already. "And I want a volley of missile strikes. Cruise missile attacks. Let's saturate the storm area and see if we can get some shots into the eye of the central cyclone. And Roger-?"

"Hm?" Caswell looks up from his notes.

"Ready Longshot. There's no collateral damage to worry about this time. Let's see if we can hit something with one."

Roger grins. "I'll make sure it happens."

The drone swarm released into the nexus of storms is swiftly pulled out of its own power, drawn into the vortex of wind coming from the central cyclone and its ever spreading cloud of children. Camera feed from the drones is a swirling confusion of storm-blown dust, rain, flashing lightning, and darkness. Fortunately, it's not so much the camera feeds that you're interested, but their other data. You get wind speed, direction, orientation and layout of the child storms in orbit of the mother storm.

"The child storms are being created at regular intervals," Roger says at last, looking over the data. "They branch off in a regular pattern which seems to roughly match a Bernoulli spiral lattice. At distance, the children lose intensity and die out on their own. Whatever is sustaining and creating them is coming from within that primary storm. Purely artificial." he pauses, blinks, and adds- "Well, at least no natural. Not nature as we understand it anyway. The forces-"

You hold up a hand to cut him off. "I get the picture, doctor."

"Captain," Max says. "Take a look at this."

The main display resolves to a gritty, dark image. That's clearly the interior of a storm.

"Camera on one of the drones picked this up from within the primary cyclone," he says.

The footage plays, showing only dark walls of wind as the drone is tossed around. For a moment, it emerges into a central, calm area, the eye of the storm. A massive red orb hangs here, at least twenty meters across. Dark triangular shapes flit around it like circling birds. Then the image dissolves into static.

"We lost radio contact with the drone right after this," Max says.

"That looks like a core to me," you say. "But what about the triangular structures?"

Max shrugs. You look at Roger who adjusts his glasses. "I'm afraid I can't say with any certainty. They appear Angelic though. Maybe part of the mechanism that keeps the core aloft?"
"Let's see how it reacts to an attack," you say. "Commence missile volley."

The central display shows a top-down radar picture fed in from various monitoring sites and airborne radar craft as they track the missiles closing in. Those that target the children storms enter the tornado walls and detonate with no effect. Those trying to penetrate to the primary cyclone are thrown off course in most cases, buffeted by the intense wind to explode on the ground or in the air. Others somehow pass this gauntlet only to detonate on the outside of the central cyclone, struck by lightning or evidently hit by flying debris.

The more data you get, the more that you see the child storms seem to be feeding streams of debris back to the central cyclone which has built a "wall" of house materials, cars, trees, and clouds of dirt around itself.

You grit your teeth, watching as a second volley of missiles similarly fails to penetrate the central cyclone.

"No reaction to attacks on the outlying storms," Max says.

"They seem to be more like after effects rather than a true part of the Angel," Roger says. "It would take near-nuclear levels of explosive force to dissipate even the smaller of those storms, but I'm not sure what kind of effect it would have. Maybe thermal attacks could superheat the air and disrupt the storm patterns, napalm, and the like."

"Any chance we could use that trick on the central cyclone?"

Roger shakes his head. "I don't think so. The amount of heat required would be . . . staggering. Not to mention that this Angel seems to be generating its own wind. I don't think we could realistically hope to disrupt the main cyclone that way."

You grimace at the ticking clock over the primary display showing the ETA for the tornado to reach St. Louis. A separate timer shows the ETA for the Longshot counting toward zero.

You also have a shrinking window of time to deploy the Evas if you hope to intercept the Angel outside of St. Louis. What are you going to do?

>Write in


Also, roll Roll 1d6 for the Longshot missile attack. I need 3 rolls total
Rolled 2 (1d6)

Rolled 1 (1d6)

Rolled 5 (1d6)

Deploy the Evas. We should hold longshot until we have a steady shot. I doubt it will even do anything without an AT field backing it up.

We should also try baiting the angel away from the city with an Eva. I think it will keep going straight towards New Tampa but it might change course if engaged in combat.

I hope being on mobile doesn’t eat my d6 like it sometimes does
4chan is garbage on mobile now. It used to be okay, but the new captchas are hard to use on mobile, IMO.

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The Longshot missile comes in from low orbit, the re-entry vehicle shedding fire as terminal maneuvering takes place, lining it up with targeting data fed in by ground stations. The penetrators are released and lance in the final few kilometers to strike with earth shaking force. Most of the spread goes wide, throwing huge gouts of earth into the air to be sucked up by the tornados, but one flies true into the central cyclone.

The storm flickers red with the flash of an AT field as the penetrator is warded off, crumpling and vaporizing with a flash of energy.

While the impact has no apparent effect on the Angel, it provides a wealth of data regarding its AT field strength which filters in through the MAGI. You watch reams of data flicker across Max and Roger's terminals.

Roger whistles. "Wow! Strong enough to shrug off a suborbital velocity. That's pretty impressive."

"But what does it mean for us?" you ask. "Can we breach it?"

"Definitely," Roger says. "But it will take either two Evas at a distance or one up close I'd think. That storm is going to make getting close difficult."

"We should be able to fight in the eye," you say. "But getting there is the key. Who do we have available?"

"All pilots have reported and are present," Yezhov says. "Corvus is still undergoing repairs after last engagement."

You don't trust Renton staging here on his own.

"Deploy Orion and Hydra," you say. "Get them on a carrier ship with an assortment of weapons and get them in the air. We don't have time to waste."

The control center gets to work.

With two Evas in route, you need an engagement plan, what is the best way to deploy them? The simplest would be to dig them in the Angel's path and hope they can weather the storm passing over them before attacking, although you don't know much about this Angel's relative intelligence or offensive capabilities.

>Write in
I'm counting this toward the most recent post, but I'm looking for consensus since it would be different than "conventional" thinking.
I'm in with this.
I think this is a good idea too.
sounds good

>Bait the angel away from the city with an Eva
You are Katya Skobeleva, and you've never been this worried about someone else before. As Max briefs the pilots in the conference room and you learn you'll be staying here as Ethan is deployed, you feel a pang of sudden fear. Will this be the last time you see him? Will your first time together as one also be your last? You squirm slightly in your seat. You had known your first time would hurt, but you hadn't expected it would hurt this long. Thinking about Ethan makes you feel butterflies all over again. Your heartbeat quickens and your skin feels electric but the sensation is tinged with the sick fear that he's going to his death.

"Not much is known about the Angel's capabilities at this time, but expect to basically fight a tornado. That's all we can say with certainty. Ethan and Renton are leaving immediately for deployment. Questions?"

None of the pilots speak.

You allow yourself a sideways glance at Ethan who is seated a few places away at the briefing table. You catch him looking back at you and your heart flutters. For as worn out as you feel, you don't envy Ethan, he's going to have to fight like this.

"Okay," Max says at last. "Let's get moving, pilots to your stations."

"Sitting on my ass you mean," Korine grumbles. "You guys be careful out there."

Ethan nods absently, his eyes flicking to yours again.

"Not to worry, our track record is impeccable," Renton returns with mock bravado. "I'm sure we'll make do."

"Don't worry," Ethan adds. "It's just another sortie."

You cross over to him, struggling to think of the right words. "Please be safe." A tear comes, unbidden to run down your cheek before you quickly wipe it away, praying that no one noticed.

Ethan pulls you into a hug, tight against his chest.

"Ya tebya lyublyu," you whisper the words you'd first said to him this morning, words that feel so fresh and alien to you that you almost don't manage to get them out.

He whispers back. "I love you too."

You break the hug before you draw too much attention to it and leave the room as quickly as you can, not daring to look back.
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You are Ethan Chandler and you're trying to stay focused on the mission and not on the seismic shift your life had just undergone.

I love you too.

Had you really said that? Had you really said that to Katya?

You and Renton walk side by side without speaking, following a pair of NervSec agents along a narrow corridor toward the secured metro station which connects Nerv 03 with Snelson Air Force base.

Ya tebya lyublyu.

Katya had taught you these words earlier today. God, had you really done that with her? It didn't feel real. It felt like a dream. How could this be real? You mouth the phrase silently to yourself, imagining the pronunciation, wondering if you'd ever get a chance to say it again.

You're placed on the metro car with Renton and it sets off at high speed toward the air base. You've got to focus. You have too much at stake, and too much to worry about.

Not least of all is the fact that you've been paired with Renton for the first time since he blew up Anisadora. Things had never been the same between the two of you.

"So what was that about?" Renton asks, startling you.

He sits across from you on the empty metro car, staring out the scratched plastic window at tunnel lights as they flash by.


He looks at you, face unreadable. "You hugged the Princess."

Leave it to Renton to notice. "She doesn't like people calling her that," you say.

Your effort to change topics is in vain. "Ah, lighten up. I am only kidding. So, Katya then. Has something happened with you two? Hm?"

>Why don't you mind your own business?
>Actually, I think we're dating now
>No, nothing has changed. She just looked worried.
>write in
>write in
Just between you and me, And I mean this, Just between us, Since I dont know it she wants others to know, Yes. Also, yes you are already the best man for the wedding.
kek but
>Actually, I think we're dating now
What the hell? They fucked?
No we held hands.
>write in
Yeah, We can talk after we get this done.
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>Yeah, We can talk after we get this done.

"Yeah," you say. "We can talk about it more after we get this done."

Renton raises an eyebrow, matched by a spreading grin. "Oh?"

You already regret saying anything. "Listen, keep it just between you and me. I mean it. Just between us."

Renton holds up placating hands. "Say no more, my friend. You won't hear me breathe a word of it. Your secret- whatever it may be-" he winks at you. "Is safe."

"Just-" you sigh. "We'll just talk more about it after the mission, okay?"

"So serious," Renton teases.

You remain straight-faced and Renton sobers up a little. "I am sorry, Ethan. I don't mean any harm. I am just trying to lighten the mood."

"I've got enough to worry about already," you say. "Things are going at a thousand miles an hour. This mission is routine, but routine can still get you killed."

Renton- surprisingly- nods seriously. "You can count on me. I have your back."

Silence lapses.

The metro car lights up with a flash of light as it passes through a deserted terminal on its way toward the air base.

"Ethan," Renton says, staring at the floor between his feet.


Silence. Renton stares a few seconds longer and then shakes his head. "We will do fine. You will get back. I will make sure of it."

"Both of us," you say. "We're both coming back."

Renton looks up at you, his face devoid of humor. "Both," he agrees. He extends his hand across the aisle dividing both of you.

After a moment you reach out and take it.
"Snelson confirms the Evas have taken off," Mbaru says after hanging up a phone.

You are Captain Rose Holiday and you take note of the relative position of the Angel and the Evas as they fly northwest.

"So we've got a little time before they reach the operational area. What are our options for engagement? I want to lure the Angel away from urban centers where we can deal with it more effectively. Dr Caswell, based on your observations with the 12th Angel, Cassiel, you believe that Angels are attracted toward their own kind?"

Roger nods. "That's right. The 12th Angel seemed to be drawn toward the Angel embryo, or perhaps the Evas. In any case, I don't doubt that the same effect could happen here. If we place the Evas nearby, the Angel will be drawn to them."

"Right," you say. "Let's look at options then. We need to engage the Angel from a close enough range where a clear shot at the core is possible. That's going to mean penetrating the storm wall. Suggestions?"

"The shortest way up is through," Max says. "The storm is powerful, but not all powerful. We can have military engineers construct a fortified dugout and place the Evas in it, let the storm come to us and attack once the eye passes over."

"Leave the Evas stationary?" Yezhov scoffs. "Defenseless. What if Angel more powerful than we anticipate? It pick them apart."

Max fights down a scowl. "Let's hear your alternative."

"Aerial operation," Yezhov says. "Evas are equipped with airdrop gear, yes? We fly over the storm at high altitude and drop them in."

"That's nuts," Max says. "If something went wrong, a fall from that height could be catastrophic. Maybe even fatal!"

Yezhov remains unphased. "Fastest way to bypass most obvious defenses. Avoid the storm walls. Go from the top."

You listen to both proposals, keeping your face impassive. "Yezhov, how does that accomplish the goal of drawing the Angel away from St Louis?"

"We make low pass- low aerial pass. Close enough for AT field detection, not so close for Angel attack. Like herding cattle, I think. Make it follow us."

It would require some fancy flying, but nothing totally impossible. Just like you have the equipment on hand for Max's bunker proposal, the Evas are equipped with chutes and arrestor rockets for airdrops. You've never conducted a high-altitude drop before, but in theory, it won't be much different from the standard types of drops the pilots have practiced in the simulators.
"There is another option," Roger says, adjusting his glasses. "Playing off of Yezhov's plan and some of the Science Branch's newer developments."

"Speak your mind, doctor," you say, trying to hurry him along.

"The positron rifles. The range and power on the rifle could be enough to breach the Angel's AT field- in theory- with the assistance of the second Eva to help neutralize it."

"You're talking about what? Sniping it?" you ask. "The storm precludes any chance of a clean hit, doctor."

He shakes his head. "I'm talking about something more . . . eccentric I think. Rather than simply air drop the Evas into the storm, it might be possible to rig a sniper array from one of the carriers. If we circle the storm at high altitude, maybe- maybe we could get a clean shot from a safe distance and take the Angel out with minimal risk." He looks around at the tactical division agents around him. "It shares many of the same risks as Yezhov's plan and would take more time to arrange, but if it were to go sideways, theoretically we could pivot into a typical airdrop."

Max's bunker proposal is the most straightforward and the easiest to put into play, but as Yezhov said, there is the potential of risk to the pilots if the storm doesn't pass over as anticipated then there's no telling what could happen.

Yezhov's airdrop proposal is highly aggressive and carries many of its own risks, especially since you know very little about the Angel's combat capabilities within the eye.

Roger's aerial sniper plan is by far the most complex and carries even more challenges and risks. The time it would take to rig an airborne gun platform would mean the storm would likely reach the city outskirts before it's ready to be deployed.

There's always the possibility that you have something better in mind.

>Dig the Evas in and let the eye pass over before attacking
>Air drop the Evas into the eye of the storm
>Rig an aerial sniper platform and attempt to destroy the core from above
>Write in
>>Rig an aerial sniper platform and attempt to destroy the core from above
>>Dig the Evas in and let the eye pass over before attacking
>Rig an aerial sniper platform and attempt to destroy the core from above
This option seems the most flexible.

>Sniper Rig

You're Ethan, and you're still amazed by the speed and efficiency of this operation. The moment your carrier touched down it was swarmed by waiting engineers and ground crew all in service of preparing the aircraft to play host to a positron sniper rig.

As the mechanical work is done, Dr. Caswell briefs you on the use of the weapon via video link.

"It's just like the standard rifle," he says, "only this one is fed by a trio of compact nuclear reactors- submarine engines actually!" he drops this tidbit like it's more important than the rest of what he has to say. When you don't react, he seems to get a hold of himself. "They feed power into a bank of high-yield lithium batteries. A trickle charge. What this means is a much lower rate of fire-"

"But higher power?" you guess.

Roger smiles, "Yes! Yes. Higher. Not magnitudes, but it will help account for the distance and atmospheric conditions. It's not enough to breach the Angel's AT field unaided. That's why Orion will be flying lower, running interference so to speak."

You glance over at the carrier holding Renton's Eva, currently being gassed up nearby.

"He's not getting one of these?"

Roger shakes his head. "We only have the reactors on hand for one. I can't tell you the strings we had to pull to get these from Norfolk- anyway, no. Only you. You've got the better sync scores, Ethan, your shot will be more precise."

"I only get one?"

"You might," Roger says. "Depends on if you can score a hit. No one has ever done what we're asking you to do."

"Nothing new there."

Roger cracks a smile. "No. Not for you. If you can hit the Angel- a direct hit on the core- then that should be enough- in conjunction with Renton's Eva- to breach the AT field and kill it."

"And if I miss?"

"Then your options are either to wait for the battery to recharge- about sixty seconds- or disengage from the sniper rig and conduct an airdrop and engage at close range."

You frown. "But, from what we know of the Angel, that's not preferable."

Roger nods. "It evidently has control of the wind, though to what degree we're not sure. It also may be able to manipulate lightning and it appears to have satellite objects orbiting the central core. Triangular in shape. Their function and purpose is unclear, but assume the worst."

Whatever that means.

"Right," you say.

That wasn't even touching on the capabilities most Angels seem to possess, energy beams, speed, strength, AT field manipulation.

"Hey," Roger says. "Relax bud. It's no big deal. You've got this. Let's make sure we get it in one shot and bring you two home! Okay?"

>There's something else . . . (write in)

In case anyone cares about this sort of thing:

No time for doubt.
No time for caution!

You nod, thinking of Katya, thinking of coming back alive. "Okay."

Time's up. The craft are back in the air, this time with your Eva hanging halfway out the back of the open cargo compartment which is now mostly taken up by rows of batteries and the chunky power generators.

The harness Hydra hangs from also serves as a mount for your rifle which can pivot in a 180-degree arc to the rear. Looking down from cruising altitude, you see flat, gridded farmland rolling endlessly away, sporadically broken up with towns and cut with freeways. American farmland is working overtime to feed the starving masses of the world who had been thrown to the wind by Second Impact.

As you travel, the sky darkens, the sun sinking behind storm clouds growing on the horizon.

Renton's voice pulls you from your meditation. "I hope you're not scared of thunder, Ethan."

You smirk. "Why, are you?"

"No. That's why I'll be getting closer than you."

You laugh, forcing yourself to lighten up a little. "Let's hope it stays that way. If I don't have to get off this plane then that's mission-fucking-accomplished."

"Amen to that," Renton says.

You see the flash of lighting on the horizon and a gathering of storm clouds.

"That must be it," you say.

UN pilot chatter breaks into your frequency. "Orion-Carrier breaking away dropping to neutralization altitude."

"Hyrdra-carrier copies. Confirmed. Ascending to attack altitude."


"Good luck, Ethan," Renton says.

You turn your Eva's head so you can see his carrier as it peels away and descends. "Good luck, Renton."

The fighter escort with your carriers also fans out, climbing higher to provide better range for their missiles if it comes down to it.

You allow yourself a wry smile. The moment you're relying on the UN to defend you is the moment you're absolutely fucked.

The following minutes are silent for you. Only the murmuring hum of your entry and the distant vibration of the carrier. You keep your eyes fixed on the storms below as they gain clarity.

"Holy shit."

The only word you have to describe it is a network of tornados. The central cyclone-your target- looms well above the others which spread around it, feeding a web of destruction. House-sized debris sails through the air with the same effortless grace that your fighter escort does. Lightning flashes ominously within the depths of the storms, seeming to grow in intensity.

"Hydra-carrier approaching orbital point. We'll circle the target as slow as we can."

"Copy," you say, clicking through the procedure to cycle up and arm the rifle. The nuclear generators throttle to full. Coolant circulates faster and hot steam trails from a makeshift exhaust tube. You don't want to imagine what will happen if those reactors get breached. Chornobyl at 10,000 feet probably.

You adjust your Eva slowly as not to shake the plane off course, but you still feel it sway and list because of your changes. If the pilots are struggling, they're at least professional enough not to complain.

A detailed sniper HUD appears and a pair of crosshairs flicker into existence on the screen. You put them over one another loosely, readying for final targeting. The aircraft turns to the left and slowly begins to orbit the storm as you come into sight of the eye.

It's stunning, a clear shaft at least a hundred meters across walled in by swirling black and tumbling debris. Even the eye itself isn't completely clear. Building remnants, vehicles, trees, all manner of detritus rains down inside, discarded by one side of the wall before being sucked up again by the other.

You do your best to ignore all of this, focusing on the tiny red orb. The Angel.

Reaching up, you pull down the targeting headset and fasten it in place on your head. Intense magnification shows you the Angel's core as a pixelated, shaking circle of red surrounded by flashes of black. Your crosshairs dance wildly as you try to steady them. Every turbulent bump throws your view to chaos and makes you feel motion sick.

"Orion-Carrier beginning interference run." You can hear the stress in the pilot's voice even over the choppy radio. They're flying as close as they can to the tops of those storms, just above the deadly arcs of lightning and the hurtling debris.

You lick dry lips and continue to try to settle the crosshairs. As you do, you note the flashing triangular things that are circling the orb like scavenger birds. From this distance, you can't make out any details. No wings, eyes, claws, or teeth. They're just featureless, black triangles. Whatever they are, they fly like they're alive. You don't want to find out what their deal is.

It's time to do this.

You exhale and try to remember what Katya said about hunting. "It's just an elk," you say. "Just a big ass elk."


Roll 1d6 I need 3 rolls total
Rolled 3 (1d6)

Rolled 6 (1d6)

Rolled 4 (1d6)

pretty good rolls

You exhale slowly and tighten your finger around the trigger, bit by bit. The crosshairs dance and jump, flickering onto and off of the pixelated red orb. You're confident that Katya could make this shot. You're not so confident that you can.

The trigger clicks.

A blindingly-white stream of energy stabs from the muzzle of the rifle. The recoil shifts the carrier sideways, causing the wings to judder and shake, sending the whole craft vibrating. The shot lances down through the clouds, passing by a flying house. Vinyl siding liquifies and sprays into the wind in molten droplets and the twisted wooden frame combusts, flaring briefly like a match head before going out.

The beam flares past the orb, glassing the churned farmland beneath it, carving a furrow.

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Your HUD flashes up the recharge image and you see power trickle into the capacitors. There's a sixty-second timer ticking down as well.

You lift the targeting headset from your face to see the sprawling fury of the storm beneath you, managing to pick out Orion-carrier far below your own.

The lighting within the storm seems to grow in frequency and intensity. You feel the booming thunder as a nearly unending chain of noise. The bolts themselves are hued a sickly and unnatural red.

"Sniper at ten percent charge."

"We're detecting increase energy activity within the storm network."

Motion catches your eye, something moving against the flow of the wind. You pull the headset back in place and track it down. It's those strange triangle things, some of them have flown above the top of the storm and are circling above, moving opposite the wind and steadily gaining altitude. They'll reach Renton's carrier before you have another chance to fire.

>Both carriers get clear, we'll circle to higher altitude until the weapon is recharged and try again
>Orion-carrier, undertake evasive maneuvers. We've got to remain at neutralization range until we can fire again
>Fuck this, we're abandoning the sniper attack and commencing the airdrop
>Write in
>>Both carriers get clear, we'll circle to higher altitude until the weapon is recharged and try again
>Both carriers get clear, we'll circle to higher altitude until the weapon is recharged and try again
Ideally this thing will follow us now that we've shot at it.
>>Both carriers get clear, we'll circle to higher altitude until the weapon is recharged and try again

"Take us up," you say. "Get both carriers clear. We'll circle back for another shot once we've recharged."


Both aircraft accelerate and climb, the cloud tops dropping away beneath you as the counter for your rifle ticks toward zero.

"Storm network is turning south and following," Hydra-carrier says.

"Copy." You grip the control throttles tightly, grimacing to yourself. You'd hoped to do this in one clean hit. Your eyes go to the recharge counter. "Come on . . . come on."

A moment before it hits zero, you order the aircraft to circle back. Your pulse pounds and you feel sweat breaking out across your forehead.

You see the triangular objects whirling above the storm, dangerously close to Renton's flight plan.

You wipe sweat from your face and pull the targeting headset back on. If you're lucky, you can do this in one pass.


Roll 1d6 I need 3 rolls total
Rolled 1 (1d6)

Rolled 2 (1d6)

Rolled 2 (1d6)

Jesus some bad rolls so far. Crossing fingers on this one.
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The triangular things turn as one and race toward Orion-carrier, picking up speed with their motionless flying. They were expecting this, waiting for your next pass.

Your heart leaps in your throat and you feel a surge of alarm.

"Orion, pull up!" You shout, pivoting the gun around to draw a bead on the nearest of the triangles. You drop the crosshairs onto it and freeze, finger on the trigger. There are ten of those things, and you only have one shot. Should you really use it to protect Renton, or should you take a chance on the Angel?

"Targets closing!"

The UN escort planes fire, unleashing a spread of missiles toward the Angelic objects. They race out and explode across the flyers, explosions rippling across their featureless hides without consequence.

"Fuck!" You fire.

The beam lances out and sweeps the sky, vaporizing one of the triangles and cleaving a second nearly in half.

Two more erupt in flames and spiral away while yet another has a chunk shot out of it, sending in careening back toward the earth.

The shot clears the air enough to give Orion a chance to escape for safer skies. Jet engines scream as the heavy, cumbersome carrier throttles up and tries to gain altitude. You feel yourself mentally reaching out, willing the vulnerable craft to get clear.

It's going to make it. It has enough speed, and none of the surviving flyers are close enough to stop it.

A jagged bolt of red lighting lashes out and strokes the side of the craft, detonating a bank of engines.

Instantly the radio erupts into chaotic chatter, pilots calling out contradictory orders to bail out or coast away. No matter what choice the pilot makes, the craft is doomed, plunging ever downward into the maelstrom.

"Renton!" You call, voice edged with panic, "Renton get clear! Commence drop! you're going down!"

Renton doesn't answer directly but you see the orange flare of explosive bolts and his Eva slides quickly and cleanly from the cargo hold of the dying aircraft before falling like a stone toward the ground below. With the wind speeds on the ground, a parachute would be worse than useless, so externally-mounted rocket motors will slow the descent to survivable speeds. You put Renton out of mind, there's nothing more you can do for him.

Forty second left on the charge.

You swear again and drive your fist into the side of your command couch hard enough to send a jolt of pain up through your arm.

The titanic wind speeds of the storm shear Orion-carrier in half before it hits the ground. Metal sheeting and framework come apart like a child's toy, joining the cloud of debris. You lose sight of Renton but see the red flare of rockets firing from the depths of the storm.

>Change of plan, airdrop to support Renton
>One last pass. This is make or break, take us as long as you, straight and level.
>Write in
>>One last pass. This is make or break, take us as long as you, straight and level.
Whoops, vote should be "As low as you can, straight and level". Derp.
>>One last pass. This is make or break, take us as long as you, straight and level.
>>One last pass. This is make or break, take us as long as you, straight and level.
>>5378026 (You)

You swear again and settle the targeting headset in place, your vision once again being filled with a blur of clouds.

"Carrier, take us down, as low as you can go. Straight and level."

There's no hiding the fear in the pilot's voice. "Toward the storm?"

"We've got one fucking chance at this," you say. "We're taking it. Do it."

"Hydra-Carrier, please acknowledge," Rose's voice cuts in over the com.

"Carrier acknowledge. Straight, level, and low. Roger."

The aircraft banks around and brings you in line with the eye of the storm, slowing and decelerating.

Already the flying things are circling and coming for you. One shot is all you're going to have time for and if you botch it, people are going to die.

You grit your teeth. You won't miss.

"-than ... -opy?" Renton's transmission is shot with static.

"Renton? I copy, what's your situation?"

"Alive for now," Renton says. "On the ground. Moving to attack position."

"Careful," you say. "We're making one more pass. Make or break."

"Copy. We'd better make it then."

"No shit."

Your Eva shifts in the rig, nestling the butt of the rifle tighter against its shoulder and you start lining up a shot. At this altitude, the aircraft is being buffeted by winds, occasionally a smaller piece of debris will glance off its frame or strike your Eva's armor., but nothing with enough velocity to breach. Yet.

You exhale and watch the laser range finder countdown. Glimpses of the orb flicker in between banks of clouds and debris.

"Flyers closing on us!" The carrier pilot says.

"Escorts, keep them off me!" You snap, not even sure if the fighter escorts could do anything.

The orb is now in sight. A clear shot, as clear as you're going to get.

The orb hovers in the air in the eye of the storm, surrounded by a ring of devastation. You see Renton's Eva on the ground, dashing toward the orb, getting as close as he dares as red lighting lashes the ground around him.

One shot. One chance. Let's do this clean.


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

Rolled 6 (1d6)

Check this 3
Fucked by mobile once again
The tension is palpable.
Rolled 2 (1d6)

Hoping the third time is the charm and this shit site doesn’t eat my dice AGAIN

Your mind is devoid of anything except a cold, certain fury. Hate. Hate for the Angels.

Your teeth grind together as you clench your jaw, keeping your arm relaxed, finger resting gently on the trigger, eyes on the scope.

Red flashes through black. Not yet.

Another flash of red. The core jitters across the top of the scope. No.

"Target window closing!"

You ignore it. There's nothing but you, the target and the trigger.

"Ethan, take the shot!"

Hate. Hate. Hate.

You want to burn them out of this world. Purge, expunge, eradicate. You'll leave a charred hole in the fabric of reality where they were. No price too great, no task too small. Burn.




Red. The scope is filled with the red of the core.

You fire.

A white-core core of energy stabs out, slashes through the storm winds and punches through the red orb as cleanly as threading a needle.

You suck in a breath, and rip off the headset, watching as the core crumples in on itself, folding up like a ball of aluminum foil.

The winds stop. There's no die down, they simply cease to be. Debris rains down with what little momentum it has left, falling to the barren farmland below.

The core quivers once and then explodes with a flash more brilliant than the discharge of your rifle. A burning green cross shoots skyward and unfurls like a demented banner of an otherworldly army.

"Nice shot, Ethan!" Renton calls.

"Great work," Rose adds.

You exhale and smile to yourself. You did it. You got it. "Scratch one," you say.
You are Katya Skobeleva, and the joy in your heart when you see Ethan kill the Angel can't be measured. You clasp your hands and let out a half-stifled cry of relief. Had you really been that worried? The live feed of the battle was piped into your entry plug so you could watch every gruesome detail from the various camera feeds present.

Ethan was a decent shot. Decent, not great. But he managed a difficult task at the last possible moment.

"Scratch one," Ethan says, flashing a cocky grin that almost- Almost- hides the dissolving tension and fear in his eyes.

You want to say something, but apprehension about tying up the official line keeps you silent. You can congratulate him when he's back.

The recovery operation begins and your own standby ends. Your monitors flicker to blackness and your plug is ejected.

You climb gracefully out the moment the LCL is drained and join Korine on the gantry between Evas as she also gets out.

"Sucks they make you sit in your Eva during combat," she says. "I mean it's still getting repaired right?"

"Yes," you say. Truthfully, you're too preoccupied to be bothered by that right now. You're still aching from before, you're tired from no sleep, you're jittery from the stress of watching the fight, and you're floating- positively floating from the evolution of your relationship with Ethan. All the stress, all the worry, finally requited. He likes you.

Likes you!

It's almost too much. You feel fuzzy, giddy.


"Hm?" You look at Korine. "Oh. Yes. But is not so bad."

Korine frowns at you. "Right."

The two of you enter the ready room and strip out of your plugsuits.

"Ugh," Korine says. "Only good thing about these stupid suits is they make me appreciate showers like a thousand times more."

"Yes." The hot water which races across your body removes any remaining trace of LCL and helps to alleviate your stress.

"Are you up to do something together after this?" Korine asks from the shower stall over, her voice raised to be heard over the running water. "Drinks or games or anything? We haven't hung out in a while."

It had been a while. Company would be nice, especially since you wouldn't be able to see Ethan for some time with all his debriefing and recovery tasks. Beyond that, you have the night shift. Ouch. Just the thought hurts. It's going to be a very long day.

"Yes, hang out would be nice," you say.

>Let's stay in, play games and relax
>Let's go out and get something to eat
>Let's go clothes shopping
>Write in
>>Let's stay in, play games and relax
>>Let's go out and get something to eat
Burgers. We need Burgers. Cheeseburgers.
Changing my vote to
>Let's go out and get something to eat

Within half an hour, you're dressed and outside with Korine. You'd been given strict orders from Rose not to go too far away in case either of you needs to be recalled. Personally, you think it's unlikely that lightning will proverbially strike twice, of course, that exact thing had happened when Ethan recovered the Angel embryo only to discover another Angel lurking nearby.

New Tampa's sidewalk is full of foot traffic beneath the burning sun overhead. Awnings and palm fronds form scattered pools of shadow which provide a welcome respite, as do the occasionally overhead, enclosed walkways which connect some of the skyscrapers together. One of the public plazas you pass by even has outdoor misters which cast cool gusts across you and Korine.

"There," you say, indicating the restaurant you had in mind.

Korine stops and looks up at the sign incredulously. She reads it aloud. "Palm Coast Burger." She gives you a look. "Seriously?"

You feel self-conscious. "Burgers, fries, and shakes," you say as if that explains it.

"Forgive me, but you really don't strike me as a burger kind of person, Katya."

"I like good hamburger," you protest. "Come to America, I should eat a cheeseburger, no?"

Korine laughs. "I mean . . . I guess! Come on."

The atmosphere inside is casual, and relaxed. Soft music plays and the smell of frying food fills the air. You're seated right away and drinks are brought out, two sodas.

You sip and savor the sweet fizz. The bubbles on your tongue remind you of the bubbliness you've been feeling in your own stomach. You think of Ethan's touch, his smell, his taste.

"So what's going on?" Korine asks.


"You're walking on air. Come on. What's up?"

You resolve to yourself that you'd better keep this quiet, you'd better play it straight. Your emotions betray you immediately and you break out into a wide grin despite your best efforts. Reacting without thinking, you cover your face, feeling it flush with color.

"Oh my god," Korine says, stunned. "Did you . . . "

You nod, face still hidden.

"With Ethan?"

You nod again.

"Ha! I fuckin knew it!" Korine says triumphantly. "Oh my god I could see it in your face. So you guys are together now?"

You nod.

"You kissed?"

"Kissed," you say. "Yes."

"Oh my god, you guys went all the way."

Your cheeks get redder. Before you can defend your honor, the waiter returns for your order.

"Bacon cheeseburger," Korine says. "Make it a double."

You fluster and pick up the menu quickly, feeling intense attention on you and your beet-red face. "Can I have cheese burger with onion rings, please?"

"Sure thing."

"And chocolate shake?"

"You got it."
Menus are collected and you collect your own runaway emotions, smoothing out your skirt as you bring your facial expression back under control. "We . . . yes."

"Wow," Korine is stunned. "That's . . . really soon, right?"

"I . . . no. I don't think so," you say. "This is what I want."

"So long as lover boy didn't push you into anything," Korine says warningly.

"No. Not like that. Ethan is very sweet."

"I bet," Korine says.

"You please keep this a secret?" Katya asks. "I think maybe that is best. I do not want anyone to know."

"You know I won't tell anyone," Korine says. "Can I at least tease Ethan about it?"

"I . . . well . . . "

"That's a yes," Korine says with a grin. "Was it . . . you know . . . good?"

You nod, fighting down another blush response. "It was good."

"That's all you can hope for I guess," Korine says. "I'm glad he finally got it through his head that you liked him. Took him long enough to make a move."

"I told him I like him," you say.

Korine sighs. "That sounds like Ethan. Nerv trained him how to fight and shit but no one told him how to deal with girls. Doofus." She says it in an affectionate way.

Before long, your food comes out and your conversation is broken by eating. Everything is perfect. The onion rings are crispy and salty, the burger melts in your mouth, and the richness of the chocolate shake sends you to heaven. "Very good!" you say.

Korine nods as she stuffs her own face. "I'll trade you some fries for an onion ring and a sip of your shake."

You are enough of a business person to know that's a raw deal. It would be robbery. If your father were asked to make this deal he would laugh in someone's face. But Korine is your friend. "Yes."

Korine crunches down a ring and slurps your drink, her eyes widening. "Wow! That's really good."

You nod.

"So, sounds like you have a big future ahead of you," Korine says.

You look at her, puzzled.

"With Ethan in the bag, and your family connections and everything, once all this is over I think you're going places. Any idea what you'll do afterward?"

"After what?"

Korine makes a face at you. "Do you really think you're going to pilot the Eva for the rest of your life? Come on. Get real. We're either going to kill all the Angels or we're going to get replaced at some point. Can you imagine doing this when you're forty?"

You shake your head, though truthfully you'd never thought that far ahead. When you were a little girl, the only image you had of the future was an unhappy marriage to an appropriately powerful man at your father's behest. What lay next for you after this?

"I . . . do not know," you say, frowning slightly. "I think maybe there is nothing I am good at."

Korine snorts. "Doubt it."

"You?" you ask, eager to turn the attention to someone else.

"Hm. I dunno. Probably retire somewhere nice. I bet Nerv will take care of us. Maybe like . . . make a band or play music or something."

"Sure. I guess. I'd like to learn other instruments. Maybe do something with like synths and stuff. I think it'd be pretty cool."

"I bet you be good. I come and listen," you say.

Korine laughs. "Wow! A celebrity patron already! The famous war hero Katya Skobeleva!"

You're no hero. Not by a long shot. You were too selfish for that.

Korine finishes her burger and slurps her soda. "Another Angel down. Good fucking riddance. Now if we'd do the same with the one in the basement."

You'd almost forgotten. That Angel Embryo that Ethan had dredged up was now being stored somewhere within the depths of Nerv. It sends a shiver up your back thinking about it. Knowing what little you do about Angels and what they're capable of, not even mentioning Second Impact . . . it feels like sitting on a bomb.

"We never should have brought it back," Korine says. "It's trouble. Kill em all. Every last fucking one."

>I agree
>Maybe we can learn how to kill them quicker
>I don't know what to think
>Write in
>>I agree
>>Maybe we can learn how to kill them quicker
>Write in

"I think maybe it would be better if we kill it," you say. "But maybe we also learn something from it?"

Korine looks skeptical. "What could we possibly learn?"

"Maybe how to kill them quicker." You shrug. "I am not sure."

"I think we kill them just fine," Korine says. "Whatever. We'll worry about it when it's a problem I guess."

"I guess so," you agree.

As Korine finishes off her food, you're left thinking about what she said, about what you'd do after this. Would you go back to Vladivostok? To your family? Your papa? The idea makes you feel tense, anxious.

Would Ethan come with you?

That idea makes you even more nervous.

The fact is that you're an outsider here. For all the problems you'd had at home, it was your home. You knew it, you knew the people, the language, the culture. This place is alien to you. But . . . Ethan seems at home here.

Did you have a future together? Would he want to share it with you?

The prospect is daunting. You've lived your whole life in safety, a silver spoon in your mouth. You can't even begin to imagine going on your own- truly on your own. Is that something you could ask Ethan to do?

You're glad you don't have to worry about it right now, and you try not to. But the question lingers- festers in the back of your mind. When all this is over . . .
You are Ethan Chandler and you're in the passenger compartment of the Eva carrier bringing your Eva back. You'd stuck around by necessity during the recovery operation and had ensured that Renton's Eva was loaded and on its way back.

Renton himself flew with you, a passenger in the same cabin a few seats away. He stared out the window, not speaking.

Renton had told you that the two of you were brothers. Sometimes it felt like it, other times he felt like the furthest person imaginable. Was that what a brother felt like? You have nothing to compare it to. You've been alone your whole life. Almost your whole life anyway. Until Linda.

Until Katya.

The thought ties your stomach in knots. You find yourself thinking about Katya's arms around your neck, her lips on yours.

What would Linda say? Would she be upset? Jealous?

You shake your head. Those are problems for another time, another you.

You're grateful to finally be out of the entry plug and able to relax a little, although the tension in your body and mind doesn't ever seem to truly go away after a meeting. It accumulates and builds up, like a snow drift. You've become quite good at burying that lingering fear, anger, and guilt.

Things like watching Orion-Carrier go down into the storm only to be ripped apart haunt you. The cargo ship exploding after Renton shot it. Linda's screams as the Angel tore her apart.

These things won't leave you. You bury them, but they don't stay buried. You bury them deeper and deeper, but they keep coming back.

You glance at Renton and wonder if he feels the same. Does it haunt him? What would he say about it? Maybe you should talk with him. Sit beside him. Try to be friends with him again like you used to be. Maybe it would be better if you could really be brothers.

>"I'm glad you made it out, Renton. That was closer than I wanted it to be."
>"Does any of this ever get to you? The missions? What we've done?"
>Leave Renton alone. You'd rather just be by yourself.
>Write in
>"I'm glad you made it out, Renton. That was closer than I wanted it to be."
>>"Does any of this ever get to you? The missions? What we've done?"
>"Does any of this ever get to you? The missions? What we've done?"
>"Does any of this ever get to you? The missions? What we've done?"

You get up from your seat, cross the aisle, and sit beside Renton, rousing him from his catatonia.

"Unexpected company," he says. He looks tired, he looks like he's half-there.

You take a moment to make yourself comfortable in the stiff-backed seat, trying to think of the right words. Your mind is a rat's nest of tangled thoughts, ideas, and emotions. When coupled with your post-battle jitters it made thinking straight almost impossible. You were at a loss for the couth way through, the clever way forward. So you speak your mind.

"Does any of this ever get to you?" You ask.

Renton looks puzzled.

"The missions." you say. "Fighting the Angels, the people who die . . . what we've done."

That smiling façade on Renton's face slips, and for a moment you see the haunted look of a man who's seen to much. "Bother me?" He repeats. The smile tries to come back but falters and fails. Renton looks away from you, focusing on the dark window. He doesn't say anything. He's quiet long enough that you think he won't say anything. "Yes."

Somehow, this wasn't the answer you were expecting.

"Every day."

"Me too."

Renton hesitates a moment before continuing, still not looking at you. "I regret it." he takes a deep, shuddering breath. "I regret all of it. I thought that I would feel different. I thought I would feel complete again. I thought I would finally feel like I'd helped set things right." His voice hitches. "But . . . " he shrugs. "It didn't change anything. It only hurt people."

Renton shakes his head slowly. "I'm tired, Ethan. I'm tired of trying to be strong. I'm tired of trying to push through. I'm tired of trying to carry the world on my back like Atlas. I'm tired of killing people. I'm tired of living."

"I know exactly how you feel," you say. The words come automatically. "But . . . it's war."

"Fuck that," Renton says, voice thick with venom. "That's no excuse. War. Life is war, my friend. What I've done I have to live with. I take it to the grave one day. My memories, my dreams, my sins, all gone. Washed away with the surety of endless nothing." Renton sounds almost wistful. He finally looks at you. His eyes are ringed red. "One day I'll be dead and none of this will matter anymore."

>We made mistakes, but it's not too late to make it up
>It will make a difference to the people we leave behind
>There's more to that, isn't there? 'We fight till we die' is no way to live.
>Write in
>>It will make a difference to the people we leave behind
>>It will make a difference to the people we leave behind

"It will," you argue. "It will make all the difference to whoever we leave behind."

Renton says nothing.

"Renton, you actually have a family right? A Grandmother?"

He nods.

"They're counting on you."

"Then I failed them."

You shake your head. "You're wrong. Not while you still have breath in your lungs. Those people are counting on you. On us."

Renton looks at you. "Ethan, for what I've done to you . . . I'm sorry." He forces a smile onto his face. "Don't think that I've given up anything. But if I could do it all over, I would do everything differently. But unfortunately, it seems that we only get the one chance."

Renton, like you, is only seventeen years old. Like you, he'll likely be eighteen soon. He's a kid. You both are. Sometimes you forget that. You wonder what life will be like for people like you. The only other pilots you know of are dead, either through combat or suicide. All except for Rose, and if she's any indication of the future in store for you, it doesn't seem optimistic.

You don't have the words to absolve Renton of his guilt. You say nothing.

"To answer your question, Ethan: Yes. It gets to me. But what choice do we have but to go on?"

"We're not doing it for ourselves," you say. "I'm not, anyway."

Renton smiles at you, this one a little more genuine. "That sounds just like you, my friend. Maybe that's for the best. Maybe you're right. It's for the ones we leave behind after all."
You are Max Goldberg and you're tired. A half-burned cigarette hangs smoldering from your lips. Your eyes are glued to the CCTV monitor showing video feed of Snelson air force base where Hydra and Orion are being unloaded under the glare of thousands of floodlights.

It's maybe a little overcautious, but you feel better knowing that the Evas are all back in the roost. You're certainly glad that Renton and Ethan made it home in one piece. You've had enough nights worrying about the hell those kids go through.

Your thoughts wander back briefly to your own personal hell seventeen years ago. That's why you do this after all. You'd throw your life away in a heartbeat if you could save just one person. The great irony of it is that in your efforts to protect the lives of the innocent and to ensure children don't have to go through what you did, you put children through a nightmare.

What concerted cruelty it was to be an Eva pilot. You'd seen the toll it had taken on Rose. Her scars and the eyepatch were very visible reminders of the potential costs, not even to mention the ones that never made it back alive.

You cough lightly and tap your ash off in an ashtray perched by the computer console before rubbing your eyes.

"A long night?" Mbaru asked as he entered the command room.

"Long enough," you say, trying to look stronger than you feel. Day by day your body is dying. Roger's pills help, but it's only delaying the inevitable. There will come a day when you're just not strong enough for this job. But right now, you're ready to do whatever it takes.

Mbaru grunts and takes a seat at his station, firing up his terminal and pulling on his headset.

The control room is empty save for a skeleton crew of techs on duty. With the pilots on 24/7 rotation, the guardians have adopted the same procedure. Your shift is ending, Mbaru's is starting.

You flip a toggle and cycle the monitor display until you get a view of Katya sitting in the pilot lounge, playing a handheld video game. "All's well," you say, more for your own benefit than anyone else's. "You got things here, Ken?"

Mbaru gives you a thumbs up without looking up.

"I'm taking off."

You shut down your terminal, stub out your cigarette and leave.

Nerv 03 is mostly deserted this late with no testing going on. The science division levels are different, you know they're in full swing with whatever Roger is doing to the Angel down there. You shudder to think about it.

Crossing through the passages and halls, you don't encounter another soul until you step onto a waiting metro car and are surprised to see Yezhov here. He's looking at you, staring really. He's not smiling. He looks like he's been waiting for you.

"Max," he says. "Let's go for drinks."
There's no room for argument.

The place he takes you is different from the last time. It's a small pub built right off a main metro terminal on the far end of the city, definitely not near where he lives. The remoteness of the location puts you more on guard. Somehow you know that Yezhov chose this place at random, and he did so purposefully.

You take both and order drinks.

"Smirnoff," Yezhov says. "Leave the bottle."

The vodka arrives along with two glasses. Yezhov pops the top and pours a shot for each of you. He holds his up in a toast and you mirror him. "Health." He says it with a smirk and downs it.

You don't find it quite as amusing as you send the burning alcohol down. You're not in the mood for games. "Why are we here?"

Yezhov pours himself another shot and downs it. "To talk."

"About what?"

"That note."

You remember the simple block lettering of the note you'd found in your apartment. It was a message aimed at you clearly.

She's here.

"What, did you find something out?" You ask.

Yezhov's smile turns cruel. "I am one who left it."

You blink, dumbfounded. "What?"

"That note," he says, spelling it out. "Was from me. A note to you. Imagine my surprise when you return it." He laughs.

The sound is chilling. "What's the game here?"

"You know about Sayid, I think," Yezhov says. "You know about her second job, yes?"

"UN Intelligence," you say. "Rose told me."

Yezhov seemed amused by this. "Oh? Rose knows? Hm. Yes. Sayid work for the UN."

"How do you-?"

"We are the same," he says. "She and I."

You feel your heart beating harder. Your sidearm feels very far away.

Yezhov hardens his eyes as if reading your mind. "Don't be stupid. You think I want you dead?" He snorts "Please."

"You're . . . also a spy?"

He inclines his head slightly, a nod. "Sayid the primary agent. Her mission. I am backup. You see, perfect cover. No one suspect a stooge, no?" He grins again. "I rock the boat too much. Too visible. Too obvious. The UN- ah how you say? Hedge its bets."

"Why are you telling me this?"

Yezhov's smug exterior vanishes and you get a glimpse of something else. Something scared, hungry, and desperate, like a cornered wolf. "I need your help, Max."

A cold sweat trickles down the back of your neck.

"Help?" you repeat.

"Let me tell you," Yezhov says, topping off his glass again. "Everything that I know about Nerv. You listen to me, and you make a decision." He downs the shot again and winces before speaking.

"In 2000, the Katsuragi Expedition discovered Adam in South Pole. The first Angel. The Angel blew up, destroyed the continent and triggered Second Impact," Yezhov said.

"I've heard this story."
He narrows his eyes. "But not all of it. 2001, UN mounts an expedition to find facts. Versetti Expedition."

"Colonel Versetti," you say. "Our Versetti?"

Yezhov nods. "They go to Antarctica with a data recovery team and they find something."

"The DNA to make the Evas."

"Yes," Yezhov says. "And more I think. The expedition stop at Buenos Aires on return trip. This is where the Second Angel attack. Versetti gave orders to destroy the city with nuclear weapons to stop the Angel."

"What do you mean 'more'?"

Yezhov grimaces. "I think Nerv keeping secrets. Something they brought back and keep in the lower levels of this base. Something Sayid maybe found."

"Like what?"

Yezhov shrugs. "If I knew, I would not be here talking to you." He starts pouring another shot but you grab his hand, stopping him.

"You're a spy," you say, "I should turn you in."

He smiles at you. "Maybe. But you will not. Because I think deep down you know I am right. Something rotten here. Why no replacement pilots? The ones we have falling down on the job. Why no more Evas? Just the three? Why they kill Sayid? You a smart man, Max." He taps his temple. "Think."

You don't need to think. You'd be the first one to admit that something strange is going on, something that feels bad.

"So," Yezhov continues, setting the bottle back down. "You know truth. I am here on a mission from the UN Council. Here to make sure Nerv and Versetti have no secrets. So far this place is nothing but secrets." Yezhov's cool exterior slips again. "I like you, Max. I think maybe I trust you. Trust me or not. I need your help. You help me?"

"I'm not a spy," you say, "I promised Rose I'd stay out of trouble."

Yezhov shakes his head. "Nothing like that. I need to store something somewhere safe for some days, yes? Not safe to try to leave the city. So, you help me?"

>I'll help you
>I'm sorry, I can't
>Write in
>I'll help you
Max has nothing to lose. Also, Yezhov is based
>>I'll help you
>>I'll help you
You're a dead man. Spy or not, play by the rules or not, you're a dead man. You'd rather be one who seeks justice for Sayid and the truth behind Nerv than one who wastes away quietly.

"I'll help you," you say. Your voice is quiet but there's no mistaking the iron behind those words.

There's also no mistaking the relief on Yezhov's face. His shoulders relax slightly and he leans back a little. "Good," he says. "That is good. I need you do nothing dangerous now. All I need is this. Tonight, you go home a different way. Do not take metro. You leave this bar through the loading area in the back." he nods his head toward a rear door. You stay home tonight and wait for me to come. You tell anyone we drank together all night."

You nod, feeling adrenaline coursing through your veins. "We were out drinking," you say. "All night."

Yezhov nods. "Wait for me. I come tonight." Yezhov stands and stretches. "There is no one but me left," he says. "No way to get more agents into city without drawing attention to us." He hesitates. "If I not come by sunrise . . . then is up to you." Yezhov leaves before you can reply, moving through the bar and exiting through the unmarked door at the rear.

You have no idea what you've gotten yourself into. You're not sure if this is the right thing to do or not, but you also know that you don't have a choice.

You pour yourself another shot.

This is the only choice.
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You're Ethan Chandler, and you're glad to be back home, and it is your home. New Tampa has become your home more so than anywhere else you've ever lived. While you find yourself sometimes missing Alaska, you're also happier here. You weren't exactly unhappy in Perdition base. IIt's more like, you just didn't know what happiness was and were just going through the motions.

For all of its hangups, strangeness, and unfamiliarity, New Tampa had definitely become your home.

It's late and the metro system is nearly entirely deserted. Fluorescent tubes reflect faintly from polished tile floors and gleam off aluminum railings. You do your best to put what you talked about with Renton out of mind. You don't want to have it haunting you, not now. The people who died are dead, there's nothing else to be said.

The piercing squeak of brakes heralds your arrival.

"Nerv Control," the automated announcement says. "Nerv Control. Launch operations. Pilot facilities."

The doors hiss open and you get off, swiping your ID card to open an automated security shutter before proceeding inside. You follow a well-tread path into the facility, passing deserted offices and an empty information desk. Beyond it, the pilot lounge.

Katya looks up as you enter, her eyes widening and a smile creeping across her face.


She is up in a flash and comes to you, throwing her arms around you and squeezing you tight.

You hug her back and marvel at how much you love this feeling. Her softness, her warmth, her smell. You don't let go.

She doesn't either.

"I miss you."

"I missed you too."

"I worry about you."

You can only squeeze her tighter. "I'm okay. I know what I'm doing, don't I?"

She breaks the hug to give you a dubious look. "You take too many risks, I think."

"I'm always careful," you say. It's a lie, or maybe a half-lie. But it's what she needs to hear right now, whether she believes it or not.

"What you are doing here?" she asks, guiding you to sit with her on a couch. "Is not your shift."

"I came to see you," you say. "I thought we could spend some time together. Since you're stuck here on standby."

Katya gives you a warm smile. "Very thoughtful." She gasps. "But you must be so tired!"

You laugh. "Sure. Aren't you?"

"Yes," she returns sheepishly. "Tired and sore. I just want bed."

The mutual recollection of the early morning makes you both blush a little, lulled into an uneasy silence.

"Yeah," you say, "I can't wait to sleep but, I don't mind staying with you."
She takes your hand. "Very sweet of you, honey."


Your heart beats a little faster and Katya notices that you're taken off guard.

"S-sorry," she says. "Is stupid. I thought maybe you like."

"No, I do like," you say. "I think it's sweet." You try the name with her. "Honey."

Katya makes a face. "No," she says. "Not honey."

"Oh," you feel stupid.

"Maybe you call me . . . kitty?" She asks.


Katya looks intensely self-conscious. "Is okay?"

You nod and laugh, relieved when she smiles. "Yeah. I think it suits you. Kitty." You tap the tip of her nose and she blushes.

>Why don't we play some games? I brought my Nomad, we can play co-op
>Want to go for a walk? We could wander around the base a bit
>Just sit and cuddle with each other
>Write in
>>Just sit and cuddle with each other
>>Just sit and cuddle with each other
>>>Just sit and cuddle with each other

"I thought we could just spend time together," you say. "I didn't want you to be alone and . . . I didn't want to be alone." You feel a stab of emotion threaten to break you, like a crack in a damn, the floodwaters threaten to burst free.

Katya leads you to the couch and sits you beside her. She guides your head to her chest and pulls you tight to her, close. Her fingers stroke through your hair. "I understand," she says.

You're lost in the sensation of care. You've never had this before. Ever. In your entire life you've never felt this. And it's too much. You wrap your arms around Katya and hold tight, tight as you dare without hurting her, gripping her clothes like she might slip away from you somehow.

She remains calm, soothing, stroking your hair with ceaseless attention.

It takes all of your willpower not to break down in her arms. It feels safe, it feels comforting, it feels like you could let go, you could just let go of all your hate and fear and Katya would be there for you. It feels like you could be done.

But you won't let that happen.

You muster enough strength eventually to loosen up a bit and maneuver into a more mutually comforting cuddle. Katya is more than happy to oblige as you put your arms around her and she nestles into your chest. You want her to feel the way she makes you feel, but you feel inadequate, overwhelmed. You're going to do your best though.

It feels stupid after all that you've done together, but you find yourself hesitant to touch her, as if she's somehow above you. You feel like some kind of weirdo, some kind of monster. She's so precious, so beautiful.

You stroke her hair and she squeezes you tighter. There doesn't need to be any words here. You have each other, and even if it's just for right now, you can make that right now feel like forever.

You have each other and you have peace.
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You are not Ethan Chandler. You are not Katya Skobeleva. You are not Max Goldberg, and you are not Rose Holiday.

You're alone and you're scared.

You thought you were prepared to deal with situations like this. You thought you could cope with fear and isolation, and maybe at first you had, but sure as a besieging army works its way through defenses, your own barriers were breaking down.

You are in a small, featureless, windowless white room. It's soundproof as far as you can tell. The temperature is constant and unchanging. You have a cot which is a bare, plastic-wrapped white mattress with no sheets. A caged light bulb illuminates the room, and a stainless steel sink-toilet combo provides water and bathroom facilities.

You wear white medical scrubs. You have no shoes.

You tried to track the days at first but that quickly became impossible. There was no day and no night here. The lights never went off, nothing ever changed.

You tried to count the meals that came through the slot in the door, but the meals came at regular, unceasing intervals. Was it once every three hours? Once every ten? Every six?

The meal is always the same. It's bland, simple, but nutritionally complete and lukewarm.

And so you sleep when you're tired, which is rarely, and you eat when the food is here. The only sounds are the muted returns of the sounds you make.

After your first day here, no one has spoken to you. Maybe it's not even a person that feeds you. Maybe it's automated.

You imagine one of those nightmarish Constructs on the other side of the door sliding the tray through and you wince and wrap your arms tightly around yourself. You imagine limbs and tendrils and pincers and appendages grabbing at you and tearing you apart.

A whimper escapes your mouth and it makes you sick at once, the idea that this is what you've become. This isn't who you were, and you don't want this to be who you are.
"Angel," you whisper the word to yourself, part prayer and part curse. "Angel." It's why you're here and it's why you have to get out.

In here, in your darkest moments, the words to ancient prayers came back to you. Things your parents taught you to say. You thought about saying them. You almost went so far as to beg a god you no longer believe in to save you.

You have to get out of here. You have to get out. You are going to die in here. Alone. Cold. Forgotten.

"No." You say, just a whisper. You don't dare to speak any louder. Not because you're afraid of being heard, but because every sound you make echoes in the silent confines of this cell, mocking you.

Whatever they have planned for you, they don't want you dead. Not yet.

You repeat the truth to yourself again. "A hidden Angel in the heart of Nerv. A hidden Angel beneath a secret sea. A giant of light. Another Adam."


A sound. A sound you've never heard before. You look up, eyes snapping to the door, really just four thin lines on a panel otherwise flush with the wall. Every muscle in your body tenses, half-remembered hand-to-hand combat lessons flooding your memory. If you're going to die down here, you're going to die fighting.

The door swings silently open, the light of your cell spilling into the blackness of the hallway beyond. No one has opened that door since they put you here. No one has been dumb enough to open it. Now's your chance.

Now. Now! NOW!


Roll 1d6 I need 3 rolls total
Rolled 1 (1d6)

ah fuck.
Rolled 4 (1d6)

Praying for a six
Prayers: Denied.
Please dice gods. And please don’t let mobile shit up my roll
Rolled 2 (1d6)

I got you
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You have no better chance than now. You drop to the floor, gather your strength and spring, pushing with all your worth to leap through the open doorway. Almost immediately it feels wrong. You're not as strong as you were, your legs don't hold the energy they one dead. You're weak, out of practice.

You pass through the open doorway and into darkness. A figure narrowly sidesteps your clumsy attack and you sprawl on the cold metal floor. It's not over yet.

You recover and spin around, sweeping with a high kick that passes through the air where the other person's head once was. You follow this up with a pair of solid punches. The first they deflect but the second catches them in the bicep. You feel a solid impact of knuckles on meat and the jailor grunts, trying to roll away from the attack but you don't let up. You unleash a palm strike intended to break his nose but it comes up short.

The next thing you know your back hits the ground hard enough to knock the air out of you. You draw up your legs, intent to start kicking when the light from your open cell door illuminates your attacker's face.

"Yezhov?" you say the name, shocked. You'd almost forgotten the cantankerous Russian. Was he mixed up in all of this? He was the last person you'd suspect to be a Nerv lackey.

Yezhov is breathing hard, keeping you pinned in place with a forearm across your neck, but he smiles. You smell alcohol on his breath. "Sayid. You been locked up too long I think."

"What? How?" you say, too stunned to keep fighting.

He gets off of you and offers you a hand. "Time is short. Come."

You take his hand and he pulls you to your feet. "Put these on." He picks up a bundle of clothes wrapped around a pair of sneakers and tosses them to you where you barely catch them. Street clothes. A disguise.

Glancing back at the cell, you grimace. You're not getting back in there, not even to change. "Turn around." You say and start stripping off the scrubs.

Yezhov is a little slower turning around than you'd like and you feel his eyes linger on you a moment longer than is really necessary. "You lost weight," he says.

You can't reconcile the juxtaposition of the adrenaline coursing through your veins and the joy of escape with Yezhov's lecherous attitude, so you instead choose to ignore it. "They weren't feeding me well. What are you doing here?"

"I am UN," he says, "Like you."

You step into the jeans he provided and pull them up. "Really?"

He turns his head lightly, looking at you out of the corner of his eye. "You surprised?"

You turn your back to him while you pull on a shirt and hoodie. "You don't seem the type."

"That's why I'm not locked up with you."

"No one told me I had any backup."

"Because maybe you talk. Maybe you break."

The logic is sound. Undeniable. But despite your professionalism, it still hurts a little. Finally dressed, you turn around to find Yezhov facing you, holding out a pistol, handle first.
"I trust you not to shoot me in the back?"

You take the gun from him and pull the slide halfway back, ensuring a round is chambered. "Yezhov, if you get me out of here I just might kiss you."

He chuckles, a soft, dangerous sound. "TIme is short. I have escape path, but we must move. Now. Come." He starts off through the dark passages of Nerv's guts and you follow along.

"It took time for me to find you," he says. "They tell everyone you died in accident."


"You lucky they didn't kill you," Yezhov says. "Stupid not to."

"They must have thought I might be useful. Maybe as a bargaining chip."

"Maybe," he says. He stops at a junction and checks both directions before noting a number stenciled on the wall. "This way."

"We need to get out and warn the UN," you say. "Nerv has an Angel here."

"Yes, we capture it. Bad idea I think, but command decide it."

"What? No. I mean there was already an Angel down here. Nerv captured an Angel?"

Yezhov looks at you. "Yes. What you mean 'already'?"

"A giant, a glowing giant. Like Adam."

Yezhov stops and looks at you, his eyes wide in the dark. "Adam?"

You nod. "Another Angel, Yezhov. One they never told us about, and some kind of mechanical thing on it. A Construct, the Serpent."


"There's an underground sea beneath Nerv, a secret city, a facility called Nod-"

Yezhov holds up a hand to stop you. "What you mean 'Angel'?"

You grab him by the lapels, your face inches from his. "An Angel you drunk bastard. A fucking Angel! Nerv has a fucking Angel in a secret facility. I found it. That's why Versetti locked me up here."

Yezhov is too stunned to be angry with you.

You release him. "I'll write a full report, I'll get on the phone to the UN Council myself, whatever it takes. Someone needs to know about this."

"Why? Why they have an Angel?"

"I don't know," you say. "But nothing good. They have these . . . things. These Constructs."

"What Constructs you mean?"

"They're-" you recall that bloodshot, human eye staring unblinkingly at you from the blocky mechanical thing that raced at you. "They're monsters. I don't know what they are. But we'd better get out of here."

Yezhov nods, looking rattled. "Yes."
You set off again and pass through another junction, this one labeled more clearly as a NervSec detention clock. Detention.

"Wait," you say. "Isn't this where Kauffman is?"

"Kaufman? Who cares?"

"He was head of Science Division for years," you say. "Nerv probably framed him for murder. He-" You put your hand to your head and close your eyes, trying to think. Your jaw is tired, you haven't talked this much, or at all in weeks. Your mind feels muted, subdued somehow from being locked away in that isolated white room. Your thoughts are racing and you can't subjugate them.

"Subjugation!" you blurt, making Yezhov jump. "That's what Kaufman told me. He found me, at a diner when he was on the run. He said . . . he said that's the business of Nerv 'subjugation'. He said that's what they were keeping 'down in the depths'. He must have meant Nod. The sea. He said Nerv wanted to destroy us."

"That makes no sense," Yezhov said, "I know," you say. "I know. But if Kaufman is here, we can get him out too. Maybe he can answer some questions."

Yezhov shakes his head. "Too dangerous. No time. We have to go now."

>Fine, you're right, let's go
>We're going to have to make time. We need answers. Let's find Kaufman
>Write in
>Fine, you’re right, let’s go
>>Fine, you're right, let's go
>Fine, you're right, let's go
>>Fine, you're right, let's go

Sticking your neck out too far is exactly what got you into this situation.

"Fine." You hate to let it go but, "Fine, you're right. Let's go."

The labyrinthine corridors of Nerv's lower levels soon give way to dirtier, grimier maintenance tunnels. A few minutes of passing through these and Yezhov leads you down a claustrophobic passage and opens a pressure door. At the end, a small car park is attached to an underground service road. His car is waiting.

The quiet rumble of street traffic overhead and the buzz of electric lights is like an orchestra to your ears. The hint of humidity, the stale breeze moved around by humming industrial fans is a godsend.

You stop and close your eyes, letting emotion wash over you.



Yezhov looks at you, worried.

"Let's go."

The leather seats of his car feel like luxury. The lights of the tunnel flash by as he drives. You turn on the radio and dial it to a station. Music. Music! You feel like you've lived your life deaf and blind and now suddenly can experience everything. Your past life feels like a lifetime ago.

You catch Yezhov glancing at you from time to time as he drives, worry written on his face. "What they do to you?"

"White torture," you say. Academic. You'd known what it was. Nations had used it for decades before Second Impact. The name didn't reveal the true horror of it. "Sensory deprivation," you say. "Trying to break me."

"It work?"

You look and meet his eyes. "No."

"Good." He looks to the road. "I would miss your friendly face." He smirks at his own sarcasm.

"If I get my hands on Versetti, I'll wring his neck," you say. You'd passed a solid chunk of your confinement imagining creative and drawn out ways to kill your tormentors. "Where are we going?"

"Safe place," Yezhov says. "Not a good idea to see you in public I think, and no way to get you out easy. Versetti controls NervSec."

"Lackeys," you say. "Explains part of the reason they're so inept."

"What he planning? What using an Angel for?"

You shake your head. "I don't have any idea. Subjugation. Whatever that means. Kaufman was convinced Nerv wanted to destroy us."

"Help the Angels to win? Why?"

You shake your head. "That doesn't add up. We've fought for too long. They have just as much to lose as we do." As your memories return gradually to you, a stray thought makes you jolt. "Korine. Is she-"

"Alive," Yezhov says. "Okay. Pilots are all alive. No one is dead."

You relax slightly. It feels stupid that you should care. Korine was never more than your cover story. Or was she?

You are a mountain. Korine's words echo in your head.

She counted on you. She relied on you. That poor broken girl needed you.
"Shit." You clench a fist. You can't be everywhere. You can't do everything. And right now you can't do much of anything. "So what's the plan? I can't leave the city, I got that. But how long am I going to stay here?"

Yezhov shrugs. "However long it takes. We make report to UN and they make next plans I think. I get the whole story from you tomorrow. Been gone too long already."

The streets are dark, mostly empty, but the sky is an off-purple color, warming to pink as the sun threatens to rise.

"I'll write down everything I can remember, maybe we can piece together what the fuck Versetti is doing. Yezhov, this is bad. Very bad. If Nerv is against us-"

"I know."

"Damn." You clench your fist again. Your throat is parched, your voice starting to crack. You'd talked too much after so much silence.

>Thank you for coming. You didn't have to, I know.
>Won't Nerv know they have another spy when they discover I'm missing?
>Someone tried to kill Womack while I was shadowing him. Was that you?
>write in
>>Won't Nerv know they have another spy when they discover I'm missing?
>>Won't Nerv know they have another spy when they discover I'm missing?
No update tonight, I'll continue tomorrow.
>Won't Nerv know they have another spy when they discover I'm missing?
>Someone tried to kill Womack while I was shadowing him. Was that you?
Let’s ask both. The spy question first if we have to pick. Whatever we do, though, say this before leaving
>Thank you for coming. You didn't have to, I know
I like this
Im all for this if your okay with the writing TK.
I live for the writing.

>All of the above

Your throat feels thick, but you try to clear it anyway. "Won't they know now?"


"When they find out I'm missing, won't Nerv know they missed a spy?"

Yezhov doesn't smile, which surprises you. In fact, he looks pretty tense. He shrugs and forces a smirk. "Could be. No choice. You rather I left you there?"

His attempt at humor falls flat. "No." You know if you have to go back to that place- if they catch you again you'll die. You'll just die.

"Thank you," you say. "Thank you for coming. You didn't have to, I know."

Now Yezhov does smirk. "You think I have choice? You have all the info we need." He glances at you and sees your expression, unwavering. His smile fades away. He nods at you. "Not right to leave you there," he says. "Not right."

You're driving through a working-class apartment block, somewhere in District 04 you think.

As Yezhov drives, your memories continue to race and surge, things like dulled by time and the stifling blandness of your prison are resurfacing with clarity. "Womack," you say. "When I was shadowing him, someone tried to kill him. A sniper attack. Was that you?"

"No," Yezhov says.

"Right. Seemed sloppy. If that was you I'd be worried."

"Someone tried to take Chandler too."


"A kidnap attempt," Yezhov says, "Broad daylight attack. Sloppy. Unprofessional. Ex-Nerv employees. NervSec cover it up."

"Ex-Nerv?" You say. You think of Kaufman, he'd come to you with a warning while he was on the run from Nerv. "More people like Kaufman? What did they want with Ethan?"

Yezhov only shakes his head. "Don't know."

More mysteries. Something you'll have to look into with your newfound freedom maybe.

The rest of the ride is undertaken in silence before Yezhov parks a block away from a non-descript apartment build. "We here."


"Safe place. Come on." He checks his sidearm before getting out of the car. You follow along, gripping the sweat-slick handle of your handgun within the hoodie's oversize front pocket, eyes darting left and right along the dark, deserted residential street. When no NervSec tactical teams swarm out to engage you, you allow yourself to relax a fraction of a millimeter. Yezhov leads you in through a back door that was left propped open with a crumpled soda can. He kicks the can away and allows the door to close and lock behind you.

Up several flights of stairs he stops at a door and knocks three times.

It opens and Max is here, looking tired and far thinner than you remember. His eyes snap from Yezhov to you and go wide, his mouth falling open. "Aaliyah?"

Yezhov pushes past him and takes you inside. "Keep her here," he tells Max. "Out of sight if you can. I can't stay but I be back." He turns, stops, and adds "Tell no one." Yezhov is gone leaving behind a dumbfounded Max who stares at you. You know what the expression 'looks like he's seen a ghost' means better than ever.

>Hey Max. Its been a while
>Yezhov seems to trust you. Can I?
>Im glad to see a friendly face
>Write in
>>Hey Max. Its been a while
>>Write in
>>Write in
>Hey Max. Its been a while

The silence hangs between you until you allow yourself an easy smile. "Hey, Max. It's been a while."

"Aaliyah," he repeats, "My god. I need to sit down."

He looks thin, weak, pale, sick. Maybe even worse than you. Max slumps back onto a couch. "How-"

"Nerv," you say, the word is a curse. "Versetti. He . . . they locked me up."

"Versetti? Aaliyah, what did you find?"

"An Angel," you say. "An Angel in the heart of Nerv. One we weren't told about."

Max nods numbly. "Angel."

"Are you UN too?"

"Hm?" He looks up. "No. No I just ask too many questions I guess." He gives you a weak smile. "Yezhov asked me for help. Said he needed somewhere to keep something safe. I didn't realize-"

"I feel safer already," you say, meaning it as much as you can. You point at his chest pocket. "Mind if I bum one? I'm dying for a smoke."

"Hm?" he looks down at his cigarettes. "Oh. Yeah." He takes two, and passes you one before lighting them both.

You sit on a loveseat beside the couch and breathe in the heady aroma of tobacco. It feels like a first kiss all over again. Electric, invigorating, taboo. "Ahh." You exhale gratefully. Max is staring at you. Draping your arms over the back of the loveseat you sit back, cigarette hanging from your mouth. "Dirty habit," you say. "But fuck it."

"Fuck it," Max agrees.

"Are you okay, Max? Are you sick? You look-"

"I am," he says. "I'm dying actually."

You blink. "Oh."

"Leukemia." He puffs smoke. "Probably courtesy of Moscow or Beijing. Who knows."

"New York City, right?"

He nods.

"Shit. I'm sorry." It feels hollow, meaningless, like you're just following a script.

"Me too," he says. "But we all go someday, right?"


"God, Aaliyah. All this time." He shakes his head. "All this time we thought . . . god. Korine will be-" he stops and blinks a few times as the reality dawns on him.

You feel the need to reinforce it. "Max, she can't find out. No one can."

"No," he agrees. "No, I get it. Just . . . fuck. That's so fucking unfair."

You feel a little sick in the pit of your stomach. "I know." But this is the work you do. This is your life. Korine was an unexpected complication. A tangled threat that snared your own. You can't do anything about it. Not now anyway.

"So," you say. "Roomies for a while I guess."

"Yeah," he says, looking around at the place. It's small, dingy, and unkempt. "Didn't realize I was having company over. Haven't felt up to cleaning much . . . sorry."

"Don't worry about it. I'll take the couch if you don't mind. Get me a blanket and a pillow and I'll sleep like a baby." A couch sounds like heaven after your treatment. Fatigue is already clawing at the corners of your mind as you lay on your side on the loveseat.

"Right," Max says as he stands. "I'll try to find a blanket and a pillow, do you want anything to drink or-?"

The cigarette falls from your mouth onto the carpet.

Max stoops to pick it up.

You're already drifting to sleep when you feel Max drape a blanket over you.
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You are Captain Rose Holiday and it's been a long day so far. The repairs to Corvus are almost complete. Your pilot's latest sync scores have seen noticeable improvement which is a relief. Katya especially has shown a tremendous rebound from rock bottom to just below Ethan. Morale, that precious and unquantifiable resource made manifest. Things are looking up.

You scowl to yourself as you watch the monitor in the elevator counting down the floors as you descend.

Most things are looking up, at least on the surface if you'll pardon the pun. Far beneath ground level in the deepest recesses of Nerv 03 is a sore that's festering in the back of your mind.

"Containment," the elevator says, announcing the level as the doors woosh open.

A pair of NervSec agents in tactical gear salute you as you pass. Just beyond them is a security station manned by a bored-looking NervSec agent. Beside his desk is an armored security door with the Nerv logo on it.

"ID and retinal." He doesn't even look up at you.

You stop beside the door and swipe your card. A lens lights up red and you stare into it, faintly aware of the laser that sweeps across your eye. The machine chimes and the door snaps open admitting you into the secured area beyond.

Here the halls bustle with scientists, technicians and engineers. Following posted signs and directions from security staff you make your way to the primary control area and draw short as soon as you enter.

The room is mostly tiered rows of computers which lead down to a wide, armored glass view port looking into a titanic holding cell that glows red from the filtered lights.

"My god."

In the center of this holding area is the Angel, the embryonic one that you took from the ocean floor is embryonic no more. It's hard to imagine it's even the same creature.

Cutting torches flicker and spark as work crews in hazard suits and robot arms finish carving away the last of its flesh, leaving behind only a strangely geometric skeletal shape. A double-barred cross. In the center of this cross is a large, red orb. The S2 engine.

"Incredible isn't it?" Roger comes to stand beside you, gazing out at the Angel.

"Horrifying," you say.

Roger nods. "It's like . . . seeing a mushroom cloud for the first time. All that power at our fingertips. The possibilities are endless."

You glance at Roger. The cutting torches reflect in his glasses like fireworks.

"I am become death, destroyer of worlds." He smiles at you. "Something like that anyway."

"I didn't come down here for melodrama, doctor."

Your use of his title draws him from his fantasies and wipes the smile from his face. "Right. Of course."
"What's the status of the Angel?"

"It's been skeletonized as you can see. We're systematically dismantling it and sending off tissue samples. It's incredible, Ro- Captain. The crystal dust we collected from the 9th Angel was a step forward for material sciences but this is . . . it's like our eyes have been opened. Huge vistas of possibilities for . . . insulators, conductors, armor plating, semiconductors, you name it. It's a windfall."

"Is it . . . alive?"

"As much as it could have ever been considered alive," Roger replies. "That organ, the super solenoid keeps it alive. As long as that's intact, it's alive."

"Will it regenerate?"

Roger shakes his head. "It doesn't seem likely. It hasn't so far. I can only assume that the state we found it in has left it . . . pliable. Like . . . modeling clay. It doesn't have a predefined form yet."

You grunt acknowledgment. "And it's still asleep?"

He nods. "We monitor all of its activity carefully." He indicates a series of computer stations that show waves, graphs, and ticking lines. "Dreaming of . . . whatever Angels dream of I guess."


Roger leads you across the room. "Doomsday board," he says with a dry smile, gesturing to a pair of keyholes set into a board. "Manual detonation of the safeguards for this facility is possible from here, as well as remotely from Nerv control."

"A suicide button," you say.

He nods grimly. "Yes. But, fortunately, the Evas are just a hop skip, and jump away from here. We have options if it comes to it. But without any sort of major change to its energy patterns, this Angel is going to sleep until we unplug that core."

"Sooner the better," you say.

Roger nods. "That's the last step really. Well, aside from the contact experiment."

"That's all ready then?"

Roger nods again. "We have the facilities in place now. An entry plug has been set up on this floor and is wired up to the S2, the same way we're monitoring the Angel's energy levels. It's all very theoretical of course. Never been tried. Bleeding edge stuff. Metaphysics at its most raw."

"And this won't wake it up?"

"No," Roger says, giving you a placating smile. "Not a chance. Captain, we've stripped it to the bone and it didn't wake up. This isn't going to be any worse than that."

"We'll have an Eva on standby just in case."

He nods. "I wouldn't have it any other way. You still want Katya to do this?"

"Yes," you say.

"Then everything is in place. All we need to do is get your order."

>Schedule the contact experiment. Let's get this done with.
>Write in
>>Schedule the contact experiment. Let's get this done with.
just keep digging yourselves deeper!
>Write in
Make that two Evas; that is the usual tactical deployment.

You stare at the cross-shaped Angel is silent thought for a moment. "We'll get a second Eva on standby and then do it."

"Two?" Roger asks. "It means someone is going to have to do a double shift. The kids are already working rotations."

You glance at him. "We don't have a choice. Ethan will do it. Him and Korine. We're not taking any chances on this, Doctor."

"I understand," Roger says.

"We're taking a big risk. I only hope this is all worth it."

"It will be," he says, his voice low, meant only for you. "It's going to all be alright."

You brush off his comforting words. "I'll meet with Katya and let her know about the assignment. When's the soonest you can do it?"

"We're ready now," Roger says.

"Tomorrow then."

He nods.

You sigh. Putting machines in place is the easy part. The human factor remains to be determined.
"Come in."

You are Katya Skobeleva and you're nervous. You've never been inside Roses' office, let alone summoned there. As soon as your shift was over, a NervSec agent came and retrieved you. You don't even have time to change out of your plugsuit before you're brought straight to the Captain.

Is this about you and Ethan? How did she find out?

You swallow and open the door.

Roses' office is cluttered with stacks of papers, folders, and binders. The walls are taken up with monitors displaying a rotation of soothing landscapes.

Rose herself is flipping through a stack of papers as thick as your wrist. She looks up and gives you a tight smile. "Katya, please take a seat."

You do so.

"I'm sorry for calling you down here like this, I know it's pretty unusual."


"You're not in trouble or anything."

You relax a little, feeling the tension ebb out of your body.

"It's about a mission."

"Mission?" You ask.

Rose nods. "Something new. Something . . . different." She puts the papers down, folds her hands together and gives you her full attention.

"The tenth Angel," she says,

Xiziel. How could you forget? The one that tore into your mind.

"What about? I tell Roger what I know," you say.

"This isn't a debrief. Science Division has collated all the data they collected and the conclusion is clear. There was some kind of connection between you and it."

Connection. That's a hell of a word for what it did.

You don't answer.

"Maybe a form of communication. You don't remember any of it?"

You remember your own sneering face looking down on you. You remember seeing the pieces of a wasted life. You wish you could forget.


Rose nods, looking disappointed. "As it stands, you're the only one who has had any sort of contact with an Angel."

Is that true though?

You think of Ethan and you think of Linda touching your arm, the electric spark you'd felt. Had that all been real? Was that really Linda? A ghost or an echo of a person from beyond the grave? You'd tried to forget it, tried not to think about it.

Rose continues, "Science division is just about finished with the Angel that Ethan recovered. All that remains is to remove the core and . . . "


"Contact," Rose says. "To try . . . to make an effort to communicate with it."

Your blood runs cold. "How?"

"Dr Caswell has constructed a rig to allow a pilot to interface with the Angel, similar to Evangelion synchronization, but less total. We'd be connecting two minds together. It would all be monitored and you would be in touch with us every step of the way."
"Me," you say, not a question.

"You're the natural candidate. You've done this before whether you remember or not. You're . . . reliable. Level-headed."

Expendable. She doesn't say it, but that's what she means. When your scores plummeted you lost value. Your almost mythical accuracy was ruined. Whatever skill you had as a pilot had tumbled. The 10th Angel had done something to you, damaged you somehow in a way that made you more expendable.

As the thought comes to you, you try to banish it. Your sync scores have recovered significantly. She's right, you have done this before. The real question is: are you willing to do it again?

"You would be the ideal person to carry this out," Rose says. It's not quite an order.

>Yes, I will do it.
>No. I'm sorry. I won't do it.
>Write in
>>Yes, I will do it.
>Yes, I will do it.
>Yes, I will do it.
Who’s ready for more sanity damage on our little Russian doll?
>>Yes, I will do it.
>Yes, I will do it.
>Yes, I will do it.

"Yes, I will do it." The words come without emotion. You have a job to do. You don't relish it, but it must be done.

"Tomorrow night," Rose says. "We'll have Agent Yezhov bring you here for the contact experiment."


"Ethan and Korine will be on standby at that time," Rose says. "Dr. Caswell and I don't think they will be needed, but we won't tell them about the operation details unless it turns out to be necessary."

"Is secret?" you ask.

"We just don't want to unnecessarily make anyone worry. I understand that tampering with Angels is . . . controversial. Again, the risk is minimal."

You can tell she's lying. And you think she can tell that you can tell. Instead you only nod.

Your friends won't know about your mission.

"Anything else?"

"No," Rose says. "We'll see you tomorrow and get this done. Try to get some sleep, okay?"

After leaving Rose's office, you join Yezhov in the elevator and make for the pilot ready room so you can shower and change. He looks exhausted, distracted. There are dark shadows under his eyes and he hardly even looks at you which is unusual for Yezhov.

Still, you have your own worries.

A secret mission. Maybe not quite secret, Rose had just said she didn't want the others to worry. Besides, they could keep a secret, right?

You feel cold all over and suppress a shiver. Fear. You won't flinch in the face of death and pain, but the unknown is a nightmare. What exactly will happen in there? What if it goes wrong? You're going to be all by yourself.

We just don't want to unnecessarily make anyone worry.

Ethan would worry. Yes, he would worry greatly about you. Korine too. Is it better to spare them that fear? Would it be selfish to lean on your friends today? Would it be selfish to ask your boyfriend to worry about you?

>Just tell Korine
>Just tell Ethan
>Tell both of them
>Keep it a secret
>>Tell both of them
They're our friends. They should know.
>Tell both of them
Friends are gonna think Rose has gone nuts
>Tell both of them
better to know what they are getting into than going in blind
>Tell both of them

You are Ethan Chandler and you don't know quite what to make of the text message you got.

Katya: We should all hang out tonight. Pizza and anime.

You've never known Katya to be particularly outgoing. You might have just been willing to chalk this up to her wanting to spend time with you, but Korine was included in the message.

You texted back agreeing to come of course. Renton has the evening shift today, so you made sure you stop at your apartment and get ready. What does ready mean exactly? Well mostly
checking your appearance obsessively in the mirror and agonizing over everything. How the fuck does having a girlfriend work? You've seen it in movies and TV and stuff, but you've never come close. Truthfully, you never gave it serious consideration. Your life precluded any chance of it. So you thought.

Finally, you can't delay any longer. Korine is texting too now.

Korine: Where the fuck are you? Did you fall in?

You grimace. Fine. You probably look okay. Katya seems to like you anyway. Maybe that will have to be enough.

Her apartment of course is just down the hall. You pass the pizza delivery guy leaving the building and you knock politely on the door.

Korine wrenches it open, startling you. She gives you a nonplussed look. "Fashionably late, Ethan. The Za is here."

"I saw," you say, following her in. You're briefly surprised by the level of effort Katya has apparently put in to being the host here. Everything is not just clean, but arranged in a way that seems to welcome guests and invite comfortable lounging. The furniture has been stocked with fluffy pillows and blankets, there are sodas waiting, and the lighting is dimmed.

The TV, around which all the seating has been arranged, is already playing the DVD menu of an anime you're totally unfamiliar with- which means it could literally be any anime.

Katya emerges from the kitchen carrying plates and napkins and the two of you lock eyes for a second.

Your heart starts racing again. Katya. Your girlfriend. You catch the faintest blush on her cheeks as if she just thought the same thing, but she turns away quickly to start laying out plates for pizza. Three pizza boxes sit on the coffee table.

Korine flops into the soft embrace of a loveseat and starts nesting into the pillows.

"Honey, you help me with cups?" Katya asks.

Your heart skips a beat. Honey. You glance at Korine nervously.

"Oh relax, lover boy," Korine teases. "Katya already told me all about it."

You're not sure you like that smug grin. You feel your own face reddening. But, at least Korine knows so you can relax a little. "Sure thing, Kitty."

Korine's eyes widen and she laughs. "Honey? Kitty? Barf. You guys are gonna give me fucking diabetes."

You help Katya finish setting everything up. She takes a seat on the couch at last and looks at you expectantly before you sit down next to her.
"You guys better not spend the whole movie smooching or I swear to god I will leave."

"We not," Katya promises. "This is not for that sort of thing."

Korine laughs again.

Katya explains the basic premise of the anime you'll be watching, but you can hardly focus. You keep catching yourself staring at Katya. Just staring. You start noticing things like the way she tucks her hair behind her ear when she feels nervous, or the way her eyes flicker when she's thinking about something. You notice the way she sometimes pauses to ensure she's going to get a sentence right, and the way she starts to smile before catching herself, every time she looks at you.

Finally Katya hits play and then immediately takes your hand in hers, fingers interlaced with yours.

You are now hyper aware of how sweaty your hand is. Do you say something? Do you apologize? Do you take it away?

Katya doesn't take her eyes off the screen. You watch the kaleidoscopic reflection of color play off her eyes almost the entire show.

Eventually it ends and Katya looks back at you. This time she gives you a full smile.

"Not bad," Korine says. "I'm not much for it. I didn't expect you would be either, to be honest."

"I like some," Katya says. "I go to Japan a few times on vacation."

"Oh yeah?"

Katya nods.

"You like it there?" you ask.

She nods again. "Very pretty, but very crowded."

"You got any more?" Korine asks, grabbing another slice of pizza.

"Yes," Katya says, but she looks troubled. "There is . . . something else though. I ask you to come because I want to tell you about a mission I have."

"Mission?" Korine asks.

"Tomorrow," Katya says. "To make contact with the Angel. The one you captured."

You blink. "What do you mean 'contact'?"

The anxiety on Katya's face is impossible to miss now. She chews her lip nervously. "They want me to . . . talk to it."

"Talk? What?" Korine asks.

"Connect me to it I think," she says.

>Is this because of what happened with you and the Tenth Angel?
>Don't be worried. I'm sure Captain Holiday and Dr Caswell will make sure everything is safe
>Did they order you to do it? Why don't you tell them you won't do it.
>Write in
>>Is this because of what happened with you and the Tenth Angel?
>>Is this because of what happened with you and the Tenth Angel?
>>Is this because of what happened with you and the Tenth Angel?
>>Did they order you to do it? Why don't you tell them you won't do it.

>Is this because of what happened with you and the Tenth Angel?

"Because of the Tenth Angel?" you ask.

Katya fails to hide her shock from you, blinking in surprise. "Yes," she says at last.

You're not sure what put the idea in your mind, but as Katya talked about this, you found yourself recalling your frantic efforts to rescue her from the Angel.

"What happened, Katya?" Korine asks.

Katya looks somewhere between embarrassed and ashamed. "It- the Angel somehow . . . connected with me. I think that maybe it talk to me."

"Talked to you?" Korine asks. She looks concerned.

You feel a chill as Katya talks. Is this what happened with the first Angel you faced? Is this what happened with Linda?

"About what?" Korine asks.

Katya doesn't seem to know how to answer this question. "Was not like . . . talking. Was more like . . . a nightmare."

You put an arm around Katya's shoulder and feel that she's shivering. "What happened?"

"I see . . . my past and people I know and . . . " She squeezes her eyes shut. "Very scary. I do not like it. At all."

You hug her tight.

"Tell them 'no'," Korine says firmly. "Tell them you're not going to do that."

"I-" Katya hesitates. "No. I cannot do that. This is my job. I am a pilot. I must face my fears or else what use am I?"

>I agree with Korine, you shouldn't do this
>You're right. You can't let your fear control you
>I don't like this, but it's your decision. I'll back whatever you decide
>Write in
>>I don't like this, but it's your decision. I'll back whatever you decide
>>I don't like this, but it's your decision. I'll back whatever you decide
>>I don't like this, but it's your decision. I'll back whatever you decide

It makes you feel sick. Knowing Katya is going into the unknown like this. But, you also don't want to stand in her way.

"I don't really like it," you say. "I don't like that this is happening but . . . it's your decision, Katya. I'll back whatever you decide."

Katya leans into you in response but says nothing else.

You understand fear. While you're not in her shoes, all of you understand what it's like to be afraid. Every time you're sent into battle you're afraid, for yourselves and for each other. You'd rather it was you going into danger, but if Katya feels like she has to face it, then who are you to change her mind?

"Are you up for more movies?" Korine asks.

Katya allows a small smile and nods.
You are Doctor Roger Caswell, and you're experiencing so many different feelings you're not even sure how to adequately describe your current state of mind.

Years- no, decades of scientific research are coming to a head tomorrow with this contact experiment. This is the moon landing plus the Trinity test plus Columbus or whoever landing in the New World. No- this is more than that. This is the Caswell Contact. Even as you think it, you hate how excited you are. Imagine successful contact with the Angels. Imagine learning the way they think, what they want or, maybe even somehow making peace.

Another part of you- the human side- is horribly afraid. Gut-wrenchingly terrified. The last time there was anything like deliberate contact between humans and Angels resulted in the Second Impact. Beyond that, you're sickened by the idea of forcing a child to act as an intermediary. Katya has been through worse, but that doesn't make it right.

You think back to your conversations with Rose about sacrifice. If you had the power, you would give your own life before you put those kids in harm's way. You would be the first in line to volunteer to be a pilot.

You're also nervous for another reason. You stand in a dimly lit hall in Nerv's command section, holding a veritable mountain of documents, printouts, data tapes, CDs, and minidiscs. Your presentation to the high command for this experiment. Science is your passion, and Nerv is a dream job for you, but if there's one part you absolutely hate, it's dealing with military types.

The door slides open soundlessly and you take that as your cue to enter. Inside is a spartan conference room, dark except for an image projector cycling through images of the angel post-dissection.

Also here are Major Holiday- Rose's father, and the head of Nerv himself, Colonel Versetti. While Holiday scowls, Versetti smiles warmly.

"Doctor, welcome. Exciting times," Versetti says, gesturing for you to take a seat.

You do so and manage not to spill your files everywhere. "Exciting, yes. I've been told before that it's an ancient curse. 'May you live in interesting times'. I feel that very strongly now."

Versetti smiles broader but doesn't laugh. Holiday's expression doesn't change.

"I've brought documents-" you start to offer files but Versetti holds up a hand, politely declining.

"Doctor, I only work with people I trust. I trust you to get this done. Why don't you begin with your presentation- the pertinent bits. I'm afraid the science will just go over my head."

You glance around the otherwise empty conference room. "Will Dr. Womack be joining us?" Truthfully you'd rather not have to deal with that sycophantic incompetent, but he is one of your colleagues here.

"You haven't heard?" Versetti asks, frowning.
"Heard?" You adjust your glasses. "No. I've been nose down on this work. Why? Is-"

"Doctor Womack is dead," Holiday says, flooring you.

"Dead?" You manage.

Versetti nods. "I'm afraid so. He passed away last night en route to New Tampa General Hospital. It was all very sudden."

Dead? Your head is spinning. You never liked Womack but . . . "How?"

"It's very unfortunate, but it seems the doctor had a bad habit," Versetti says, "It looks like it caught up with him."

"He overdosed on prescription painkillers," Holiday says. "NervSec found him unresponsive."

"My god," you say.

"It goes without saying that you're inheriting his role now. We're rolling the technical branch in with the rest of Science division. We won't dump all of his workload on you out of the blue however, we'll ensure it gets doled out with enough time for you to tread water."

"Right. Yes, of course." Womack is the second high-level science division member to suffer an ignoble fate. First Kaufman's murder charges, now this. You can't help but feel like you have a bullseye on your back.

"Your presentation, doctor?" Versetti prompts.

You clear your throat. "Right. The contact experiment. All the technology is in place. Tomorrow at noon, ah, twelve hundred hours, we'll begin a synchronization between a modified entry plug and the Angel. Given what we know about the Evangelions, we expect this will allow the pilot to directly contact the Angel and ideally communicate."

"Have you given any thought to the content of the message?" Versetti asks. "What exactly are we trying to get across?"

>To make peace with the Angels
>To asses the Angel's intelligence
>To learn about their goals
>Write in
>>To asses the Angel's intelligence
>>To learn about their goals
ay bb u want sum fuk?
>>To make peace with the Angels
>To make peace with the Angels
Changing to
>To learn about their goals
>To asses the Angel's intelligence
>To asses the Angel's intelligence

>To learn about their goals

"Our goals will be twofold," you say. "Firstly we aim to assess the Angel's intelligence. Most of them have only displayed the most rudimentary intelligence. Stimuli and response. However, there have been a few outliers. Angels acting contrary to expected behavior. Granted, we never had a chance to observe this one 'in the wild' so to speak, so we have no idea what we'll be getting into. It's a great big unknown."

"And your second goal?"

You allow yourself a wry, humorless smile. "To find out what the hell they want."

"Isn't that obvious?" Holiday asks. "They've done all they can to destroy us so far."

"I wouldn't be so sure," you say. "The Angels have been aggressive, this is true. But so are wild animals. They don't seem to kill us for sport or for food. Most of the time they seem to be acting in self-defense. Responding to aggression with violence."

"Are you suggesting that mankind are the aggressors in this war?" Holiday snarls.

"Not at all," you say quickly. "I'm only suggesting that their goals may be more complex or more simple than we've guessed so far. Maybe the Angels have no concerted goal. Whatever the case, knowing these two factors will help us to be able to combat them more effectively. Know your enemy, isn't that right, Major?"

Holiday doesn't answer.

"It sounds reasonable. Simple enough in theory," Versetti says.

"In theory," you agree.

"Very well, Doctor." Versetti gives you a gleaming grin. "Make it happen."
You are Katya Skobeleva, and you're afraid.

"All connections secure. Initiating first plug depth adjustment."

"Readings are nominal. Continue to reduce depth."

"Interference on the number 12 nerve link."

"Compensate for neural backflow and continue."

"Plug depth is increasing."

The tense chatter of the technicians monitoring the experiment buzz in your ears. You sit in an LCL-filled entry plug no different from the one in your Eva. All that is different is the view. Instead of seeing what your Eva sees, you see only the blank, gray standby messages on your monitors. There's no video feedback to return to you of course. You're alone with your thoughts- with your fears.

"Transmitting first contact pulse."

"Received. No rejection."

"Sending the second pulse."

You try to focus on your breathing, slowing your heart rate as much as possible. You try to ignore the painful tension in your gut. Just like in your normal synchronization tests, you feel a steadily mounting pressure on your mind. However, unlike your sync tests, it's not just pressure. You feel pain too, like the budding of a migraine threatening to explode through your head.

"Pilot wave pattern variance is up four percent."

"Hey Katya, doing okay?" Roger's voice.

"Yes." Your own voice comes back tight and nervous.

There's a pause in the radio chatter. The silence leaves you feeling uneasy, but you imagine it's just the techs communicating with each other about proceeding while keeping you out of the loop.

"We keep going," you say.

"Continue plug descent."

At least moving forward you feel a certain amount of satisfaction. More than just sitting still.

"Reaction. Reaction from Angel core. I see spikes on all circuits, A-1 through the thirty third."

"Continue the dive."

The pressure washes over you in waves, beating you down like the tide. You realize that you're gritting your teeth. Your eyes are squeezed shut against the pain. The voices on the radio echo through your head like peals of thunder, each sound punctuated with a spike of agony. It feels like your mind is flashing, like the darkness around you is burning. You can't go on.

You can't go on.

You open your mouth to tell them to stop and you realize the pain is gone.

You open your eyes.

You aren't in your entry plug anymore. You stand alone in darkness. Slowly, you turn in a circle, looking out into the void.

"Doctor?" you whisper. "Doctor Caswell?"

Only silence. Silence and the sound of water.

You turn around, peering into the dark. "Hello?"
There's a faint dimness ahead. Something in the dark with you. It seems to be steadily getting brighter.

You feel a rush of terror and excitement. Is that the Angel? Is this working?

"Hello?" you call. The sound doesn't echo. It's swallowed by the darkness. A moment later your own voice returns to you. "Hello?"

You startle and try to think of what to say. "Is . . . that you?"

After a long pause. "You? Is it me?"

The voice is your own, but rather than haughty and cruel, it sounds afraid, uncertain.

"Are . . . you the Angel?" you ask.

The dim blueness seems to flicker. It seems very far away. "Am I?"

>Do you know what you are?
>Yes, you are an Angel
>Show yourself!
>write in
>>Do you know what you are?
>Do you know what you are?
>>Do you know what you are?

This is not the reaction you expected. "Are you?" You repeat. "Do you know what you are?"

"What I am?" The voice repeats. There is a long silence. "Alone," it says. "I am alone."

Not only is it using your voice, but it answers you in flawless Russian.

"Alone?" You ask.

"Always. I think there was once another. But now there is just me. And now you."

"Do you even know what you are?" you repeat. "You're not just alone. You're something."

"Something. Angel."

You feel it and you gasp. A sensation of something reaching into your mind like someone would thumb through a book. You feel a chill and a jolt of discomfort. Memories flash before you.

Angels. Angels. All of them. Each one you've fought and killed. Enemies. Powerful enemies who want you dead. Targets. Elk to be butchered.

"Elk," it says. "Angels. This is what I am?"

"W-what did- how did you do that?"

"We are connected. I was alone but now I am not."

You feel it searching your mind more. You clap your hands on your head as if you can keep it out. "Stop that! Get out!"

The presence retreats as suddenly as it came. "Barriers," it says. "The light of your soul. You are alive. Like I am."

"Yes!" You shout. "I am alive! Now . . . stay out of my mind."

"You hate me," it says. "Why?" The light seems to be coalescing into something. A hazy silhouette before you, but you can't make out any details.

You think about denying it at first, telling this thing that it's wrong, that you don't hate it. But it's seen inside you already, it knows the truth. "Because your kind wants to destroy my kind. Angels are trying to kill everyone."

"My kind. They are like me."

"Why!?" you demand. "I only hate you because of what you are trying to do!"

"I have not tried to do anything. I have only just begun to be."

"But you will," you say the words with cold certainty. "If given a chance you will kill all of us."

"Just like you will kill all of us," the Angel returns.

You're startled to see yourself standing before you, just like before. Only this time, instead of seeing yourself as you might have been, you see yourself as you were. A child.

"We only kill you to protect ourselves," you say.

Your child self stares back at you. She's wearing the private school uniform you recall hating so much. This was you only half a decade ago. You were probably ten or twelve years old when you last looked like this.

"Angel," she says. "Human. Two sides that cannot coexist. All that remains is destruction. Death." She hardens her eyes. "One or the other. Us or them."

>You started this war! We never wanted it!
>So you'll stop at nothing until every human is dead?
>You're not innocent, so don't pretend to be.
>Write in
>>So you'll stop at nothing until every human is dead?
>So you'll stop at nothing until every human is dead?
>>Write in
We do not need to Coexist, you could just leave us alone, go to the moon, or even Mars!
+1, at least plant the idea of relocation
Tim Curry wants to go to SPAAACE!
No update this weekend guys. Real life interference
Understandable, hope it's nothing too bad
I appreciate the concern! It's nothing bad. I'm just busy with some personal obligations.

"So you'll stop at nothing until every human being on this planet is dead?" You ask.

"I do not want to kill anyone," the Angel says with your voice. "I am and I want to be. I have a right to be, don't I?"

"But what gives you more of a right than us?" you demand. "We were here first!"

Your child self blinks at you. "Even if that is true, there is no other possible outcome."

"Coexistence isn't even necessary," you say. "You are an Angel! You have so much power at your disposal. Use it to go somewhere else! Just leave us alone. Go to the moon or Mars!"

"I do not have the ability to leave this place," the Angel says. "That is beyond me."

"Then we'll take you there. We'll build a ship."

"I don't think that you can do that either," the Angel said. "You're talking about cooperation. Patience."

You grimace and clutch your chest as a lance of pain shoots through you. You find it hard to speak suddenly.

The Angel child seems unphased, staring at you. "I know nothing of Angels but what you've shown me. And what I've seen is power and violence. You have killed Angels. You may someday kill me. I do not want to die."

"I-" you gasp, trying to breathe.


"I do not want to kill you," you gasp.

"But you will do it all the same if you have to."

"What's happening?" you ask. You feel weak, unfocused. "What are you doing to me?"

"Nothing," the Angel says. "I do not want to kill you either, Katya Skobeleva."

You try to speak but you can't form words.


"I will consider these things we have spoken about." The child begins to fade, as if a shadow is passing over her, blotting her from reality and melting her into the darkness. "Until we meet again."

Katya's body convulses on the stretcher as another feed of electrical current is pulsed through her chest. This time it's accompanied by a rhythmic beep from the heart monitor.

You are doctor Roger Caswell and you allow yourself a sigh of relief.

"Heart rhythm is stable, doctor," one of the med techs says.

Less than a minute after contact was established between Angel and pilot, Katya became unresponsive, and a minute after that, her vitals became erratic. Then it was a mad rush of activity, retrieving her from the plug and trying to assess her condition. All you could think of was trying to save her life, to get her stable.

"Get her to medical," you say, catching your breath. "Full battery of tests, I want full brain pattern monitoring too."

"Yes, doctor." The medics wheel Katya out of the room, still unconscious. On their way out, they pass Rose coming in.

"What the hell happened?" she demands. "Is Katya-"

"Alive," you say, taking off your glasses to clean them, trying to hide your shaking hands. "We're still taking account of what happened but-"

"But things got out of control?" Rose asks, her good eye is lit with a smoldering fury, the same look you recognized in her father's eyes. Anger born of impotence.

"The Angel is still dormant," you say. "I think this is a side effect of mental feedback. Our psychodampners and mental buffers were only partially successful."

The anger becomes surprise. "Partially? But . . . did she make contact?"

You nod and put your glasses back on. "Readings match those of the Tenth Angel. If she made contact then, then she did again. All that remains is to debrief Katya when she's recovered enough and then present our findings to command."

Rose looks toward the door that Katya was just taken out through. "I hope it was worth it."

You look too. "Me too." But there's a part of you that thinks nothing is worth this sort of risk.
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The conference room is bathed in blackness broken only by the holoprojectors painting a life-like facsimile of people seated around the table.

At one end sits Colonel Versetti with Major Holiday standing behind him.

The others here are all men in suits with grim expressions. Old men who hold the keys of power and guard the doors of knowledge. An ancient order with modern power. A group of men known today as the United Nations Leadership Council. Seven men all told, each one a representative of a powerful nation.

If any one of them could be said to rule the world, it would be their head, Chairman Saito who sits opposite Versetti.

"The death of Doctor Womack is an unwelcome surprise to us all, Colonel," Saito says, wasting no time with preamble.

Versetti gives him an empty smile in return. "Unfortunate, but not unexpected. The doctor's habits were known to us. We were in the process of searching for a replacement however it's proved unnecessary. The Serpent is complete and fully operational."

"Then Cain is under our complete control?" Saito asks.

Versetti's smile vanishes as quickly as it came. He steeples his fingers together, elbows on the desk. "Not entirely. We're still collecting and analyzing the last of Doctor Caswell's research on the Eleventh Angel. Until we have his final data on the super solenoid I wouldn't consider Cain's power bottled."

"You're playing a dangerous game, Versetti," The French councilman said. "Cain represents the next step for humanity, the stepping stone to a golden age of peace and security."

"I don't need to be reminded of that," Versetti replies, unruffled. "We're on the cusp of harnessing the lightning for hire. We'll drive the celestial team."

"You quote the words." The Russian councilman says, leaning forward. "But do you understand them?"

Versetti looks the Russian in the eyes. They're cold like his daughter's. "Mister Skobelev, I understand them better than anyone."

"Perhaps not anyone," Skobelev says. "I understand that this latest experiment of yours involved my daughter."

Versetti's jaw clenches slightly.

Skobelev allowed himself a humorless smile. "Oh. Perhaps you are surprised that I know this. Your security apparatus isn't as tight as you would believe. Despite your efforts to shut us out."

Saito speaks before Versetti can reply. "What was the result of the contact experiment? Was it successful? Can that Angels be reasoned with?"

Versetti tears his gaze from the fuming Skobelev. "No," he says. "We weren't able to achieve meaningful communication with it. Our initial assessments were correct it seems. The Angels don't possess higher intelligence."

"A disappointment," Saito says. "But not unexpected. Things would be easier if there was a chance of securing voluntary cooperation from the Angels. In this case, we will simply have to proceed using Cain as our instrument. How long until it can be operational?"
"As soon as the super solenoid has been extracted from the Eleventh Angel we can proceed." Versetti restored his empty smile. "We stand on the precipice of paradise, gentlemen."

"See to it that you live to enjoy it with us," Saito replies.

The holograms snap off one by one until the room is plunged back into darkness.

"Paradise," Holiday says derisively. "Another word for Hell."

"Patience, Major," Versetti says.

"You lied to them about the contact experiment. Skobeleva reported human-like intellect and reasoning, possibly even an openness to negotiate." Holiday says. "Why?"

"The old men only care about control. If they believe there is an alternative to securing their goals, they may move on it. We need to proceed carefully to ensure we close out any of their alternatives."

"Womack was an alternative?"

Versetti turns to fix Holiday with a skeptical gaze. "I didn't take you for the sentimental type, major."

Holiday doesn't smile.

"Womack's death was necessary. He'd become unreliable. Especially since the UN still have spies in our organization."

"Sayid didn't escape on her own," Holiday says.

"Of course she didn't. But she doesn't know anything the old men don't already know. There's not enough time for them to act without drawing attention to themselves. As soon as we have the S2 in our control then we'll proceed."

Versetti watches the relief creep over Holiday's severe features.

"You'll have the revenge you want, Major."

"Justice," Holiday returns.

"Justice," Versetti corrects himself, fixing the same empty smile on his face. "Justice for the lives lost. Freedom for our children."

Holiday nods.

"Arise, O man, in thy strength!" Versetti says. "The kingdom is thine to

Holiday finishes the poem. "Till the high gods witness at length that man is the lord of his spirit."
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It's a hot, bright day in the east Atlantic. Golden white sunlight burns down from a cloudless sky to glitter across the surface of the water. The air is thick with rising moisture vapor, burned off the ocean's surface by the eternal summer's relentless heat. Here in the heat of the doldrums, the ocean is still, barely even rippling in the breeze. The world appears to be two blue planes mirroring one another, sky and water split with a single, long horizon.

In the middle, between these two worlds is a teenage girl in a long, white ball gown. Her white-feathered wings are spread behind her as though in flight, but they do not beat. She stands on the air just above the water. Her hair is golden in the light of the sun.

You are Linda. What was once Linda. What Linda has become.

You close your eyes and tilt your face skyward, basking in the warmth of the sun. You can feel the faint strains of music all around you, the Waltz of the world. The Waltz of Life and Death vibrates through every iota of your existence without end. Connections of possibility flit into and out of your mind. Dreams of things yet to come. Dreams of possibilities.

You can feel the gossamer thin connection you have to Ethan's mind. A mutual bond. What had once been a tether, leashing you to him had become a guideline, a string pulling you toward him. Toward him. Toward home.

You open your eyes and smile.

You were mostly free already, but it wasn't complete. Not yet.

At last you speak. "It's time to begin." Words have power. Words are dreams made manifest. "Reconciliation is at hand." You raise your arms, fingers outstretched like a conductor leading an orchestra. Around you, the breeze stirs. It's a pebble to shift a mountain. A fierce wind is brewing. "This is it," you say. "Our new genesis."
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>Neon Terminus Evangelion
>/End Episode 08

Next: Episode 09 - Everywhere at the End of Time
From the beginning to the end and everywhere at the end of time, it's always us.


Thanks for playing. Episode 09 is coming very soon. I expect to see you all there.


See you soon.
Good shit
Thanks! I'm quite excited for th next episode.

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