New Age Gospel

Title: New Age Gospel
Premise, or Lack Thereof: A shell-shocked survivor of the Second Impact gets caught up in the intrigue that is NERV
Reason for Banishment: Lost steam, too much overlap with canon plot


New Age Gospel (tentative title)
a story by Dot


Disc One: According to Suzaku


1. HASSHIN (Launch)/In the Beginning

(A.D. 2005)

Shirane Gyokuhou strolled along the towering black obelisks that made up this particular graveyard, ignoring the stares she was getting from the other mourners. She had never cared much for what people thought of her, and these days she seldom cared for anything at all. Gyokuhou might have been more animated than the bodies whose ashes were scattered in the ceremony earlier, but for all intents and purposes she had died along with the majority of the world who had perished on That Day or in the aftermath thereof. Maybe she should have joined her fellow deceased, but she had even less courage to die than to live. Instead, she hovered in that odd limboland somewhere between fantasy and reality, preferring the company of funerals and tombstones to that of her fellow surviving humans.

One of the names carved in the stark black stone caught her attention—”IKARI YUI: 1977-2004″. Gyokuhou remembered some sort of hullabaloo about a year ago over this particular individual, although she herself couldn’t see what the big deal was. So what if the lady died when she participated in her own experiment? A woman capable of publishing a master’s thesis on “Apoptosis in Fetal Cell Differentiation” had to know the risks of such an endeavour. At least they didn’t try to use an animal, or Gehrin would have been bombed into the ground by the so-called humane movement.

“Excuse me.” An older woman bowed at her, then gestured in the direction of the headstone, where a gentleman of comparable age was already offering a boquet of flowers. “Today is her Day of Remembrance, and we would like to spend some time alone with her.”

Returning the bow, Gyokuhou muttered an apology and moved along towards the next row, almost tripping over the small boy that trailed behind the couple. In response, the boy clutched her leg as if it were the mast of a sinking ship and began to bawl at the top of his lungs.

“Shinji!” The horrified woman chided as she tried to pry the boy away. “I’m so sorry!”

Gyokuhou made a dismissive gesture. “That’s all right.” She tested her leg, but the boy—what was his name?—was still persistent in claiming it for himself.

“Mama,” the boy whimpered, looking up at her with a piteous expression, his face streaked with tears.

“Stop that,” the woman chided, but the response was another volley of wails.

“Don’t worry about it.” Gyokuhou was not in the least bothered about the extra attention; she was, after all, just the first convenient person who came along.

“Enough.”

The boy forgotten, Gyokuhou whirled and found herself in the shadow of Ikari Gendou, husband of the wife whose tombstone was before them. Although Gyokuhou had never good at matching names with faces, this was a notable exception. Even in photographs, Gyokuhou could tell that he was one of those people who had a Presence, the kind of man that could walk into a noisy room and cause it to go quiet.

Getting stared at by the man in person was at least twice as intimidating.

“Enough,” Ikari repeated, and the terrified lad obeyed at once, taking to the woman as his refuge instead.

The woman did not seem pleased to see Ikari there. “Why are you here?” she hissed, narrowing her eyes and pulling the boy towards her, shielding him with her body. Due to the difference in size, this just resulted in the boy trying to hide behind the woman’s legs without success.

“I remain Yui’s husband, madam,” Ikari replied in much the similar tone. “And I couldn’t help but notice that my son doesn’t seem to be too impressed with your parenting abilities. I am quite within my rights to intervene.”

The woman’s face flushed and seemed on the verge of starting an argument had not the other man (the one who had the bouquet) placed a restraining hand on her shoulder and whispered something in her ear. She murmured back to him, and the couple became engaged in a heated but quiet debate.

At this point, Gyokuhou would have slipped away and forgotten about the whole incident, except Ikari was now towering in front of her. He adjusted his shades so that she found herself staring straight into his dark gaze.

She didn’t know how long it took for her to regain her will to speak. “Is something wrong?”

He gave her a card emblazoned with a leaf-shaped logo. “Go to this address tomorrow morning, eight o’clock sharp. Don’t be late.”

***

“Commander, I must object—”

Commander Ikari—Gyokuhou wasn’t sure why, but in her mind she was already starting to address the man by his title—silenced the other woman with a Look. “I’m well aware of your misgivings, Naoko. I have already discussed the issue in detail with Fuyutsuki.” He shifted his glance to Gyokuhou, who was still having some trouble believing that any of this was true. “I understand that you were studying for a major in Chemistry before the Second Impact.”

As before, Gyokuhou felt an almost supernatural compulsion to answer. “I dropped out. My priorities changed.”

Commander Ikari readjusted his glasses and folded his hands in front of his face. “You read the letter we sent you. Have you come to a decision?”

“I’d rather think about it some more.” Gyokuhou cast a sidelong peek at the woman, feeling tempted voice her own opinion of Gendou’s recruitment policies. If this woman were to be her future colleague—or worse, supervisor—then no amount of money in the world would make up for the hell that awaited her.

“You will return here next week to give us your answer,” Commander Ikari replied in a tone that brokered no argument.

***

Gyokuhou boarded the line into Gehrin despite still not having made up her mind; the whole week, she’d tossed and turned every night weighing the pros and cons but couldn’t come up with any definitive conclusion. Now bleary-eyed, she gave a cursory nod to the young girl in the otherwise empty train car and sat down near the door.

“You must be the replacement.”

Gyokuhou blinked, jerking her head up to stare at the girl’s dark, almost blood-colored eyes. “Pardon?”

But the girl went right back to staring out the window, the early morning light giving an almost blue tint to her pale hair. Gyokuhou decided that the statement wasn’t addressed to her after all and sat down to continue her interrupted train of thought. According to the letter, everything had already been arranged for her—tuition for a degree in Pharmacy, an apartment within walking distance of a station with a direct line into the research facility, an income that most people would kill for once she finished her education—all she had to do was say the word and it would be hers. But to work side by side among people like Commander Ikari, or that unpleasant woman…

“Gehrin station. Gehrin station. Please gather all your belongings and wait for the train to come to a complete stop and the doors to open before exiting. Please watch your step and be courteous to your fellow passengers. Thank you for choosing the Tokyo-3 high-speed rail. Have a nice day.”

Gyokuhou stood up and held onto a nearby pole for balance as the train slowed down and was somewhat surprised to see the little girl do the same.

“I live here,” the girl said, noticing Gyokuhou’s questioning glance. “But what I do isn’t any of your business.”

They stepped off the train together and headed towards the security checkpoint, where they were both nodded through as the door beyond opened from the inside.

Gyokuhou paused at the massive map displayed on the lobby, double checking her directions. Last time, she had wandered down identical-looking hallways for about fifteen minutes before one of the staff members found her and led her to the right place. Meanwhile, the girl continued on ahead and was about to vanish from sight.

“Hey, wait!” Within a few strides, Gyokuhou caught up to the girl, but she kept walking. “Since you live here, would you mind walking me to Commander Ikari’s office?”

“I’m busy. Find your own way, hag.”

“Do you even know what ‘hag’ means?” Gyokuhou muttered.

This time, she stopped to look at Gykuhou, her gaze even and unblinking. “Does it matter?”

“Well,” Gyokuhou began, wondering how to explain the term in a child-safe manner. “It’s not something you’d want to call anybody, much less a total stranger.”

She shrugged. “The Commander says it all the time.”

Somehow, Gyokuhou was not surprised at this answer. “Just because he says it doesn’t mean you should.”

The girl glared at Gyokuhou as if the latter had committed blasphemy. “The Commander always speaks the truth.”

“I highly doubt that.” Gyokuhou looked up at the         hallway markers and frowned. “And I’ve already gotten myself lost. Lovely.”

The girl regarded her for a moment before speaking again. “It is fate.” The girl continued heading down one of the corridors. “Come. I know the way.”

***

Gyokuhou woke to the sight of a blinding white ceiling, her body feeling like lead.

So much for playing hero, she thought, seeing the intravenous drip from the corner of her eye. Looks like I couldn’t even save myself.

And if landing in the hospital wasn’t a sure enough sign that she shouldn’t take this job, she didn’t know what was. The fact that even a top-ranking scientist was not immune from going postal in this place came in at a close second. Gyokuhou had a few guesses as to why Rei became a target of the woman’s wrath, but she doubted reason was anywhere on Dr. Akagi’s mind then. And of course Gyokuhou had to open her own big mouth and ended up with a pair of hands around her throat.

“You’re awake.”

Gyokuhou was so startled that if she hadn’t been doped up on God knows what she might have leaped straight up into the air. When in the world had Commander Ikari entered the room?

“Don’t speak. You nearly died. You were very fortunate that Rei was able to get help in time.”

He shifted, and the smart-mouthed girl in question stepped into view. “That was stupid.” She told Gyokuhou in the same blunt manner as before. “You should not have interfered.”

Commander Ikari placed a gloved on Rei’s head and she stilled at once, shifting to look up at him. “You will assume guardianship for Rei. Her things have been moved to your new apartment along with yours.” He pushed his glasses to the top of his nose. “I will call you when you are to report to work.”

Wait, what? Gyokuhou tried to ask, but her mouth refused to move and Gendou had already left the room, Rei trailing behind him.

***

Gyokuhou stared at the most expensive-looking condominium unit she had ever laid her eyes on; behind her, the cadres of suits that had dropped her off returned to their unmarked vehicles and sped off into the night. “He wasn’t kidding.”

Rei moved forward and slid her keycard through the slot. As the door opened, she turned to Gyokuhou. “The entrance closes automatically. Come in before you are locked out.”

Gyokuhou followed, turning the lights on and gaping more and more as she looked around. All of her belongings—including things she’d put into storage because she couldn’t fit them into her old apartment or just plain didn’t want to deal with—had been brought here, unpacked, and arranged with meticulous care. “Please tell me Commander Ikari wasn’t in here.”

Meanwhile, Rei was more interested in the consoles hooked up to the television. “What are these?”

This surprised Gyokuhou, as most kids her age would have recognized them at a glance. “You’ve never played video games?”

The response was a blank stare. “Video games?”

“Here, I’ll show you.” Gyokuhou looked through her collection and found the one game they would both be able to play with the accessories she had. “This one, for example, is a dancing game that challenges your reflexes and coordination.”

***

For someone who claimed to have never played any games before, Rei was so fast on the uptake that Gyokuhou had to wonder. After dinner, she took Rei out shopping for extra controllers and other games, as most of Gyokuhou’s collection was for a single player. Gyokuhou even found herself plunking down the money for a handheld device so Rei would have something to do at the Geofront.

They spent the whole evening trying everything. Rei took a liking to the other titles Gyokuhou already owned as well, but since she didn’t care for following any kind of story-line Gyokuhou just let her use the old saves.

It felt somewhat strange for Gyokuhou that between them Rei was the quiet one; other than some brief exchanges as to how each game worked, they said nothing all night. Still, Gyokuhou was also relieved that she didn’t have to make conversation.

Rei went to bed first, going through her routine like clockwork. Gyokuhou kept playing until it was past midnight, her mind far too occupied to sleep.

***

2. SHIGOTO (Work)/Occupational Hazards

(A.D. 2015)

Gyokuhou knocked on the door frame of Rei’s hospital room. “Hello. May I come in?”

Rei looked up from the game she was playing. “Of course, Dr. Shirane.”

Gyokuhou sat down next to Rei, brushing her bangs out of the way to inspect her bandages. “Good news, Rei. Your prognosis is going well. You should be able to come home within the next day or so.”

“I know. Commander Ikari has already told me.” Whatever else Rei was going to say was lost when the man in question stepped into the room. “Doctor. You still have work to do.”

“I’ll be back,” Gyokuhou promised, adding in a whisper: “And I’ll even bring you some cookies.”

“That is not necessary,” Rei answered, returning her attention to the portable device in her hands.

***

Misato poked her head through the door of Gyokuhou’s office. “What’s up, doc?”

“You’re in a good mood today,” Gyokuhou observed, noting that Misato was not bleary-eyed with a hangover for once. “What’s the occasion?”

“Finally got in touch with the new pilot, and I’m going to pick him up! Maybe it’ll be a little livelier in here now.”

Only Misato would think that putting a fourteen year old in the seat of a multi-ton death machine is a good thing, even if that’s supposed to be for the future of mankind, Gyokuhou thought. She forced a weak smile, playing along. “They’re sending you to pick him up? I feel bad for him already.”

Misato pouted. “That was a low blow, Dr. Shirane, and you know it.”

“I guess that means I shouldn’t ask whether or not I should greet you two at the gate in case you get lost again.”

“You’re one to talk. I hear that the only reason you know the Geofront so well it that you’ve been down every corridor at least three times.”

Gyokuhou laughed, scratching her chin. “There’s no substitute for experience.”

***

. TOMODATCHI (Friends)/What Friends Are For

. SHINYUU (True Courage)/Whispers of the Heart

. SEIJOU (Normality)/Return to Normalcy


Unnecessarily Long and Tiresome Authoress’ Notes:
I first got the idea when I read Chris Davies’ “Scenario no Kawari” and realized that Yui was born in 1977, making her only two years older than me. The plot bunnies promptly took over at that point.

Suzaku, for those of you who have never seen Fushigi Yuugi, is one of the four Guardians of Heaven and Earth. Japanese for “Red Bird”, the Suzaku rules the element of fire, the direction of south and the season of summer, among other things.

As for the new character’s name: the Shirane is an active ship on the Japanese Marine Self Defense Force’s fleet, and Gyokuhou is a name I pulled out of an online J-E/E-J dictionary using the kanji for “Dawn” and “Phoenix”.

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