Part 30: Downward Spiral

"Stand. Bow. Sit." Said Hikari as the sensei entered the classroom. Silently, the class did as they were told. Settling comfortably in his well-worn chair, the old man began his lecture on the Pre-Second Impact world. Most of the class tuned out. Hikari booted up and opened her messaging program.

ClassRepGrrl: Where's Shinji?

FireGoddess: Not here.

ClassRepGrrl: Well, no shit, Asuka!

FireGoddess: I mean n-o-t h-e-r-e. Get me? Hikari suddenly understood.

ClassRepGrrl: Oh. Got it. Lunch?

FireGoddess: No. Come over for supper tonight.

ClassRepGrrl: Is Misato cooking?

FireGoddess: No. You're cooking.

FireGoddess logged off. Scanning the people logged on, she noticed that Rit-chan and Rei hadn't even opened their laptops. Rit-chan was busily writing on a piece of paper, and Rei was staring out the window. Her laptop chimed. Frowning, she studied the screen. Who is DivaGirl? She wondered, running a quick search. Getting the answer, she blinked. Since when does Tomoko Satusami deign to talk to me? She opened the chat.

DivaGirl: Hey, Horaki, do you know where Touji is?

ClassRepGrrl: No clue. Why?

DivaGirl: Well, he called me early Friday morning and told me he had something to tell me when he got back. I was wondering where he went.

ClassRepGrrl: Good question, but I don't have an answer. Might want to ask Asuka or Rei at lunch.

DivaGirl: No thanks; we don't get along. If Shinji were here, I'd ask him, though.

ClassRepGrrl: I see. You could try Ritsuko.

DivaGirl: You're right. I'll think about it.

-

Akagi stood in her lab, reviewing the notes Maya had given her that morning when she entered NERV for the first time since her near-death at Matsuhiro. Misato was still on medical leave for another five days. Hyuga was hand-delivering his reports on her duties to her each morning, though. Ritsu had been impressed. Maya had done an excellent job, much as she had thought she would. Still, there were aspects of the Project that Maya was not privy to, and those areas had fallen a bit behind in the last three days. "Time to get back to it." She sighed, fishing out a cigarette and her lighter. Not finding her lighter, she growled, reaching for the cigarette. Just as she touched it, she heard the hiss of a lighter igniting.

"Allow me, my dear Ritsu." Came the confident voice of Kaji.

"You again?" sighed Ritsu as she sucked her cancer stick to life. "I thought for sure you would be hounding Misato."

"I can't believe that you would think that I would be so thoughtless as to run off after an old girlfriend who doesn't want to see me without even saying hi to you." He parried.

"Well, you've said `hi', so now go elsewhere." Said Ritsu, too tired and sore to deal with him just now.

"Well, if you feel that way, then I shall do as the lady wishes." Said Kaji, his voice depressed.

"Bye now." Said Ritsu, sitting at her computer and beginning to type up her report for her so-called lover. Kaji stepped out into the hallway, his mission accomplished. In his pocket rested a Tier 1 access card.

-

The group stepped out of the classroom for the lunch break. Silently, they moved through the other groups of students. "Roof?" asked Hikari, sensing the dark mood of the pilots. Asuka shook her head.

"Let's go to our spot." She said softly, glancing at Hikari to make sure the rep understood her meaning. Hikari nodded.

"Sure." She said. The pilots and Rit-chan were outside before Aki caught up with them.

"Hey, where are you going?" she asked them.

"Just follow us." Said Asuka, her tone lifeless. Aki blinked and fell into step. Within a few minutes, they were deep in the woods, and five minutes later, they were sitting on the worn stone bench and grass, opening their bentos. Aki tore open her pre-packaged bento and frowned as Asuka opened hers.

"That doesn't look like what you normally have." She observed.

"Sorry. I made the lunches today." Said Rit-chan. "I'm not as good at it as our usual chef."

Asuka took a bite out of her egg-and-ham sandwich, chewed and swallowed before answering. "You do fine, Rit-chan."

"Good. Because tomorrow is your turn." Said the elf hunter. Asuka just made a sort of indistinct sound and kept munching. Rei sat silently eating her simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Hikari had chicken fried rice, egg rolls and pickled radishes and cucumbers in her box, while Aki's prefab lunch was Chinese dumplings and sweet and sour chicken.

"So, where is our favorite hunk `o man meat at, anyway?" asked Aki casually. The momentary complete freeze of the two Children and Rit-chan told her all she needed to know. "He's not…dead, is he?" she asked, her heart feeling tight at the thought.

Asuka kept eating in silence. "Please, Asuka, tell me."

"He is not dead." Came Rei's soft voice. "But we can not say more than that." She added.

"Well, that finishes that topic." Said Hikari in a forced manner. "How was your weekend?" she asked.

-

Ritsuko Akagi stopped by the hospital wing and perused the chart of Maki Suzahara. The girl was responding as predicted to the bio-adjustment tuning process that had worked so well on the Evas. Within a month, she would be walking again. A month after that, she would be returning to school. Assuming that Gendo's plan didn't work. Ritsu closed the chart and exited the room, turning to the right to go to the nurse station to grab a cup of coffee.

With her caffeine needs taken care of for the moment, Ritsu went to check on her other Suzahara patient. Moving off to a different ward, she entered a room and saw the remains of Touji laying silent on the bed, multiple machines hooked up to his wrecked body. Picking up the chart, Ritsu considered it. Right leg amputated at the thigh due to massive blunt force trauma, right arm amputated at the elbow at scene by metal debris, left knee crushed, left arm broken in five places, sternum broken, seven ribs broken, four vertebra cracked, skull fractured, fractured pelvis, ruptured spleen, punctured lung, optical nerve damaged…and on, and on and on! Damn, this kid shouldn't have survived the crushing of the entry plug! He must be one tough kid. Ritsu closed the charts and briefly perused the EKG and EEG. Touji's heart was beating, and there were occasional bursts of brain activity, so, in the strictest sense, he was alive. Gendo must be disappointed about that. Mused Akagi. Still, the room was monitored, and if Touji regained consciousness, it would be to the sight of a full squad of Section 2 agents with itchy trigger fingers. His Eva had been taken over body and soul by an Angel, so it was very likely that had been too.

Shaking her head, Ritsu exited the room. There was work to be done, and the repairs to Units 0 and 2 were falling behind schedule. Unit 1 was her primary concern though. Gendo had made it painfully clear that he wanted a new, functional Dummy Plug installed. Unfortunately, Unit 1 was being uncooperative. Each time the crews tried to install a new dummy plug, the Eva would reject it. Violently. Two engineers had fallen to their deaths that morning alone. Several others had had insanely close calls. You're a stubborn one, aren't you? She thought to the monster in cage 2.

-

"How long do you propose to keep him in there, Gendo?" asked Fuyutsuki of his boss.

"As long as it takes." Said Gendo.

"You are aware that the signs Unit 1 is exhibiting indicates that he has been chosen, aren't you?" prompted Fuyutsuki.

"It's still early enough that the Pilot data can be switched." Replied Gendo. I will not allow him to wreck my plans. "I have a meeting to attend, Fuyutsuki. I will see you later." Said Gendo, rising from his seat. Vice Commander Fuyutsuki walked over to his office and settled into his chair. After several moments of thought, he picked up the phone and punched in a number.

-

The door chimed and Misato made her way to the door to open it, wondering who it might be. The Major, on medical leave, had been working on a beer drunk, but she just couldn't get it going. Over the course of the day, she had only consumed a case of beer; for her, that was barely a drink. Her entire body ached, she had several nasty cuts and lacerations, and her left arm was all but useless, hanging in a sling below her breasts. Still, she was able to do some small amount of work as her faithful Hyuga brought the reports each and every morning, usually arriving just after the kids had left for school.

Opening the door, the Major was surprised to see Hikari standing there, a slight smile on her face. "Uh, hi, Hikari." Said Misato, somewhat stupidly. Why is Hikari here? She wondered. "No one but me is home right now." She said.

"I know. Rit-chan, Asuka and Rei are at NERV to see someone, but will be back soon. I was invited over for dinner, and since you're banged up, I thought I'd volunteer to cook for you all." Said the girl. Not to mention that everyone says your food it lethal! "May I come in?" she asked. Misato was simply standing in the door, her mind blank.

"Oh! Um, sure." Said Misato mechanically, moving aside awkwardly. Her knee hurt, though it was just from being hyper-extended as she dove for safety as Unit 3 demolished the base. Hikari moved past her and into the kitchen as Misato closed the door and made her way to the couch again. Hikari eyed the beer cans on the couch, table and a couple on the floor. Silently, the middle Horaki daughter began to gather the cans, crush them, and put them in the trash.

"Sorry about that." Said Misato when she noticed Hikari's activity. "I hate down time." She added. Hikari shook her head.

"No problem. What do you say to hamburgers and potato salad?" said the girl, collecting the beer cans by the couch. Misato was laying back on the couch, dressed in her normal tiny shorts and tight top. Hikari noticed that the woman wasn't wearing a bra under her shirt, the nipples clearly visible through the thin top. She felt a bit jealous about the size of the Major's chest. Shaking her head to clear those thoughts, she moved back to the kitchen with the last of the beer cans, disposed of them and began to lay out ingredients.

-

Kaji and Airi swiftly and silently strode down the passageway toward the primary LCL plant and Heaven's Door. It was late at night and most of NERV was still absorbed in the Unit 1 phenomenon. Four more attempts to swap the destroyed Dummy Plug had failed, and two more techs were injured. Akagi had even been goaded into a cursing, clip-board throwing rage by the inability of the tech division to swap the plug or access the core files for the test model. Opportunity, indeed.

Glancing back one more time, Kaji swiped the card through the reader. A moment later, the light flickered green and Heaven's Door opened. Neither of the two was prepared for the sight before them.

"God in heaven." Breathed Airi, gaping at the giant white form nailed to the gargantuan cross above a sea of orange-ish liquid that she was certain was LCL. It smelled like a sea of blood, after all. Huge spikes were driven into the being's forearms, and buried in its chest was a spear that only and Eva could wield. Airi's eyes picked up the plate of armor over the being's face. That's the seven-eyed symbol of the Seele group. What could they have invested in this thing that they would lock a faceplate with their emblem on this…thing? Her agile mind shook off her stupor and began to run at it's normal, efficient pace. More research tangents were logged in for pursuit.

"I'm guessing that this is the First Angel." Said Kaji. Well, I can report to Seele that the First Angel is still nailed to it's cross, and to the JMI that White One is still inert. But, there is another reason I'm here. "Come on, there's still more to see and precious little time to do so." He said urgently, gently taking Airi's arm and leading her toward a small door situated off to the side of the far end of the lake. The two jogged toward the door.

-

"We're back." Came Asuka's voice from the door. She and Rit-chan slipped off their shoes and trudged into the apartment. Neither girl looked particularly happy.

"In here, guys!" Called Hikari from the kitchen. She was busy with a stove full of sizzling beef and a large bowl of potato salad. The girl was also humming a bit as she calmly supervised the entire process with practiced ease. "Food will be on in about ten minutes, ok?"

"Sounds good. I'm gonna go change." Said Asuka, turning her head a bit to loosen her neck.

"Me too." Seconded Rit-chan, following her fellow redhead. In the shared room, the two girls swiftly stripped and selected comfortable lounging clothes. Asuka selected her preferred green shorts and tee-shirt, stepping into her shorts and pausing to ditch her bra before pulling on the tee-shirt as Rit-chan selected a pair of loose nylon running shorts and a silk button down shirt. As Asuka tugged at her clothes to adjust them for maximum comfort, the older teen dropped her bra to the small pile of shared clothes and slipped into her shirt, buttoning the middle four buttons. Both comfortable, they returned to the living room, where Misato was staring blankly at the TV, her mind obviously elsewhere as her right hand absently scratched her left arm lightly as it lay in the sling.

"Oh, I hope it's ok, but Aki is coming over to eat with us tonight." Said Hikari as the two teens settled onto the couch on either side of Misato. "And where is Rei?"

"Wondergirl is dining with the Rat Raping Lord of Assholia." Said Asuka sardonically.

"Would you have preferred to dine with him?" asked Rit-chan.

Asuka had no come back to that, instead she snatched the remote from Pen Pen, who had been sitting in Misato's lap, beer in hand, watching a penguin documentary on the newly-evolving warm-water bird.

"Wark!" he protested. Hey, bitch, I was watching some hot chicks!

"Shut up, stupid bird." Snarled Asuka, turning a seething glare on him. Pen Pen turned his beak away disdainfully before slipping off Misato's lap.

"Wark!" he retorted as he headed for the Temple to replenish his supply of Holy Drink before turning in for the night. Up yours with an old railroad tie!

"And same to you, drunken little pervert bird." Shot back Asuka as she began to channel surf. Misato was still blankly staring at the TV. "Hey, Misato!" yelled Asuka, snapping her fingers in front of her guardian. Misato blinked a time or two.

"Wha…what, Asuka?" asked the Major weakly.

"What gives, Misato? You're all zoned out!" complained Asuka.

"Just thinking." Said Misato, bringing her beer to her lips before realizing that she was holding an empty can. Sighing, she tossed the can toward the trash can, missing by a bit before starting to stand. She groaned as she felt her abused body protest. Ok, so it's not worth it to get up for another beer. She thought.

A sharp hiss and a cool sensation caught her attention as someone pressed a fresh can of beer against her shoulder, just above her collarbone. Craning her neck to see who it was, she caught sight of Hikari standing behind her, a slightly weak smile on her face. "Here." Said the girl softly as Misato took the can. The Class Representative was saved by the door chime before Misato could ask her about her motives for bringing her a fresh beer.

-

"Damn. This should have worked." Muttered Kaji tensely, trying the card once more. The door light stayed red. "Well, I guess that's as far as the tour goes; for now anyway." He added, turning away without another word and tugging on Airi's arm. The actress got the message and two double-timed it back the way they had come. They had managed to get through two more doors after entering the room with the white being nailed to its cross. In the process, they had seen an odd room that seemed to be deserted except for an old, worn bed, some medical machinery and a changing screen.

They had most recently encountered a single glass cylinder, attached to a positive maze of odd and ominous gear that sprouted like a human brain from the top of the cylinder and grew into the ceiling of the room. A single MAGI terminal was in the corner near the door, and there was a ring of endless characters circling along the walls; four characters, all repeated in a non-sequential, un-repetitive ring. A moment went by before Airi realized that the four letters, A, G, T, and C were the core units of human DNA sequences. Kaji hadn't caught that, or at least, he gave no sign of understanding the importance of the seemingly random letters circling the large room.

It was the third door that had stymied them. Airi had been carefully assimilating the new data and trying to fit it into her own puzzle-cut view of things. She realized that it was not feasible to discover the missing linking pieces without involving one of the most unknown players in her plans. And there was no way in hell that Airi would approach that person without thoroughly planning out every possible outcome of putting most of her cards in front of them. Time for another meeting with Rit-chan. Thought the actress as she and Kaji exited Heaven's Door and made for the elevator. As the elevator rose toward the normal areas of NERV, she tolerated Kaji's roaming hands and sexual advances for the most part, her mind busy with plans, contingencies and alternative methods of achieving her goals. When her panties joined her skirt on the elevator floor, Airi decided that she better shelve the planning for now in favor of deflecting Kaji's amorous desires. Turning into his embrace, she slipped her hand down and took control of his erection, smoothly preventing him from entering her. Stroking him expertly, she swiftly managed to end his reign of sexual conquest; for the moment, anyway. As she redressed herself, she had one thought in mind.

Shinji is bigger than him, just as Mi-chan said. I wonder if…

-

"I'm home." Announced Airi as she entered the Zoo. The first thing she noticed was the smell of food. The second thing she noticed was Aki standing by the refridge, soda in hand. The third thing she noticed was that she was ravenous. "Mmm. Smells good." She offered to the tall girl.

"Well, you can thank Hikari for that; she's the one that cooked this. Hamburgers and potato salad." Smiled Aki, tossing her head at the remaining food stuffs. The actress needed no further encouragement. Grabbing a bun, she began to layer up a truly impressive hamburger.

"Hey, Airi." Came Rit-chan's voice. Airi glanced at the entrance to the short hallway and saw Rit-chan's gray-green eyes on her. "What kept you?" asked the teen.

"Oh, I was doing some busy work for the Vice Commander, and lost track of time." Replied Airi. Glancing around, she noticed that Misato was absent. "Where's Mi-chan?" she enquired.

"Went to her room about ten minutes ago. She seems really down." Said Rit-chan quietly.

Airi nodded. "She took a real beating." Her answer had more than one meaning, and Rit-chan knew it.

"So did his friends." Murmured the teen. "Hikari's here, too." She added in a more normal voice.

Airi nodded as her mouth was full of succulent food. "I noticed." She smiled as she swallowed. "Where is she now?"

"She and Asuka are in our room, comparing outfits." Laughed Rit-chan. "I was sent to get you, Aki." She added, looking at the tall girl.

Aki grinned. "So, they want an expert opinion on those outfits, do they?"

"Something like that." Returned Rit-chan as Airi sank into her chair at the table, taking another bite from her sandwich. "Be in there in a bit." She added as Aki passed her.

"If there's room. Four people in there is a bit close." Mused Aki.

"So, let's just move it into the living room." Suggested Rit-chan.

"I'll pass along the suggestion to Her Highness." Mocked Aki, waving as she disappeared into Asuka's room. Rit-chan knelt next to Airi, pressing her face up to Airi's cheek.

"Anything?" she said, so softly that Airi barely heard her. A slight headshake was her answer. Feeling Rit-chan sag a bit, the older woman draped an arm around the teen's shoulders.

"We're not done yet, dear Rit-chan." Said the actress, her lips against Rit-chan's ear. The two were interrupted by the sound of feet approaching the living room. Airi dished up some potato salad as Asuka, Hikari and Aki exited the hall and settled in the living room. Hikari was in a miniskirt and a tight, sleeveless, high-necked top that ran from her throat to her hips, both the skirt and tight top in medium gray.

"I still think it's too monochromatic." Said Hikari, turning a few times.

"It looks good, Hi-chan." Said Aki, smiling. "A bit more elegant that your normal get-up, but good. Now, we just have to find the right panties for that skirt."

"Panties?" asked Hikari blankly.

"Mm-hmm." Hummed Asuka. "You have to wear some come-get-some panties with that or the whole look will be ruined." Hikari felt herself blush, though not from embarrassment. No, she was blushing as she imagined Shinji peeling the outfit off her and fucking her brains out.

-

Celsia was sitting in her room, munching on microwave popcorn as she watched TV. This world has some useful technologies. She thought, fishing out another handful of buttery, salty popcorn. It had amazed the elf to discover that you could place a small, flat bag into a metal box, hit the symbol labeled `popcorn' and a few minutes later, there was a fresh bag of popcorn in your hands. In her world, popcorn was done over live flame, and rarely turned out this good; or as uniform for that matter.

On the screen, an infomercial was exhorting the practicality of a breast enlargement pump that also doubled as a vacuum and a food preserver. So many things that can do so many different jobs! Marveled the elf. And while I don't know about making ones chest larger by sucking on them, it must work or these people wouldn't be selling it! Another mouthful of popcorn met it's end. I can't wait to get back to my world! I've got this wonderful idea on making money by combining smaller spells into one charm so that…! Celsia's mouth dropped open, her hands releasing her mostly-finished bag of popcorn, which landed on the floor of her room/prison.

That's it!!!