Dr Ritsuko Akagi sips her tea and looks over the operation notes held conveniently in her clipboard. It is a break for her, not her subject, who may have water right now and nothing else. INTERFACE HEADSETS, still top of the list. Why did she expect otherwise. She taps the tip of a biro near the edge of the name, then scrawls a character. It is not a normal meaning, but she uses it to signify whenever she has a misgiving about the results based on this subject and she wishes to write a paper on it later. The doctor audibly scoffs. Can they really expect a working model gained from this subject will be useful on a person? She dents the paper with a firm tap of the biro three times. I. Think. Not. they signify.
She sets the clipboard aside and stands. The subject is a few passes away from her work desk, sitting in a chair of a mock cockpit. It is nothing like the final product will look like, but its look is no matter. On a rollable desk are the control handles, and a projector shines a fuzzy light in standby mode on the far wall. Around the chair, stand sensor arrays on three-legged bases. The girl, at least that is what shape it is in, holds a small paper cup of water, which Ritsuko pinches by the rim and pulls away. The small hands lower to her lap. "That is enough break, Ayanami. We are proceeding with the interface headsets. In this test, you will complete tasks as assigned to the best of your ability."
Rei does not answer. Ritsuko drops the cup in a bin on her way around to her control console. "Ayanami, answer me when I speak to you and give you an order."
"Better," the doctor says coldly. She boots the test programme, then sets the arrays to calibration. The main test protocols in the system, on the other hand, will take time to initialize. The simulator arrays, sensors, diagnostic suits, and so on were all built by the NERV counterparts in the United States. Powerful and sensitive equipment they are, the design architecture lacks elegance. Thus, they are all slow to work together. She does not have time to overhaul the whole system and fix the problem, but Ritsuko often muses that the American penchant for clumsiness has delayed the project by at least four months. It is just as well that she is alone with the subject; Ristuko feels she lacks the patience for having other humans in her lab today.
While the equipment prepares itself, Ritsuko brings the prototype interface headset to Rei. It is eight nodes, linked by a matrix of wires, and connected by a bundle of cabling to the computer system. She places it on Rei's head. When her hand frees, the doctor turns toward her a monitor which, which displays a NERV SCIENCE logo. A shake of the mouse dispels the screen saver. Wave forms appear, like undulating ice crystals. Each sensor has a display for its reading and its signal strength in real time. While she adjusts the headset according to what she sees on the display, she says, "Rei, do you know what a crustacean is?"
Ritsuko's cheek tugs in a smirk. The sensors are almost right, but she lingers near Rei. "Yes, a lobster. When a chef cooks a lobster he puts his knife right behind its head, near where its neck is." Ritsuko places her finger tip just below Rei's second cervical vertebra. She dips the point of her nail, "--and he pushes it in."
Ritsuko watches spasms spread down Rei's spinotrapezius muscles. "The lobster squirms as he cooks it and screams when he boils it, but that is just its nervous system being stimulated. The lobster can not feel real pain; it doesn't really suffer. It's a bug, basically a mud-powered robot. It's just like you." Goose pimples pucker the subject's skin from the superior nuchal line down the thoracic vertebrae and the same muscle.
Ritsuko looks back to the monitor. The sensors are placed properly. She returns to the control console. "Two squares appeared on the wall projection. Make them overlap."
"Acknowledged." Rei takes the mock control sticks in her hands and guides the tasks along. Though she might sense the squares, it all feels...empty.
"Good. Many shapes appeared. Overlap each with its corresponding shape."
Rei sits in the canteen. Arrayed on the plastic tray are a number of foods: potato salad, orange slices, kara age, a bowl of rice, stewed lotus root and a salad of sea greens. On the side is a small custard for desert. The girl sets about eating methodically, starting on one side of the tray and moving to the other, devouring whatever lay in the plastic cells.
A piece of kara age comes to her mouth. The crust is crispy, light, and nicely seasoned with salt and pepper and slightly spicy. She bites. The meat is moist. The fibers mash apart under her teeth, and spread oily, savory juices in her mouth. It is chicken, Rei thinks. It is an animal, processed into food. Someone put a knife in its skin, in its joints, pulled it apart. Rei's mouth defies commands to chew the flesh further. A lump in her throat rises up. It pushes up a bilious flavour. She gags around the mouthful.
Rei expels what is in her mouth back onto the tray. Before leaving the canteen, she brings the tray to the waste bin, where she dumps the contents and leaves the tray.
Rei watches the black diorite tiles. They shift in her perception, up and down, slightly as her body is disturbed by a periodic pressure from below her waist. Highly polished as they are, she can not see her reflection in the tiles. The single light overhead occludes nearly everything around, but a small tunnel of infinite space and the corona of a sun; she is but one body in orbit. Something clamps Rei's chin gently, but with a firm intention. The grip tilts her head and guides her gaze down, relatively to her supine form. The broad figure there is out of focus, appearing as two dark forms, semitransparent against the office beyond but for where they overlap in a meaningless silhouette.
"Rei, look me in the eyes."
The stereograph of Gendo snap-resolves in detail. Rei looks at his eyes, not in them.
Rei's entrance to the lab goes unnoticed. Ritsuko pours over reams of printouts. In one hand she holds highlighters in three colours by their caps. The other scans down a seemingly endless cascade of tables of figures and measurements. When she finds something of note, she highlights it in the appropriate colour, then returns the marker to its cap. She does not have to make sense of it yet, and an underling can compile the data later. There is something absorbing about these sorts of tasks. A sort of catharsis builds. It is a feeling long lost in chalky halls and late grad school nights; sleeping on a desk and continuing when waking; eating yesterday's take-away, tinted with the stale taste of Styrofoam.
The sense blankets her in nostalgia, and she hunches over the reams of printouts next to a cold cup of coffee. For now, Ritsuko is totally within her purpose. Her focus can not stray as it wonders the dark vaults of the figures--everything will come together in a great scientific edifice of chartreuse, fuchsia and cyan brickwork. The presence of the blue-haired monster, with her dead crimson eyes, is most unwelcome in the sacred space.
"Go away, Ayanami." The girl does not immediately obey. Ritsuko's fingers tighten around the markers. "I said go away."
"I don't feel well."
"Go to the infirmary if you are not feeling well."
"If you cut yourself, go to the infirmary. I'm busy."
"I'm not cut."
Ritsuko looks up from her papers. She already feels the revulsion bubble in her stomach. "Where are you bleeding, Ayanami?" The doctor knows the answer before Rei speaks.
"Between my legs."
"When did this start?"
While Ritsuko can keep her tone clinically cold, she can not suppress the autonomous twinges of the muscles above her lip. She mashes the markers onto the paper as she presses her hand down to stand. "Come," she orders the girl, and leads her on the infirmary. The doctor's heels tap impatiently down the corridors and her lab coat flutters behind her.
Ritsuko pushes open the infirmary door.
"Good afternoon, Dr Akagi," the desk nurse begins to speak before Ritsuko cuts her off.
"I need an exam room."
"Number Five is available. Is it an emergency?" the nurse asks as she reaches for the phone.
"No. Rei, go to Room Five, undress and get on the table." As Rei obeys the instructions silently, the nurse reaches past her phone for the room log and begins to fill in the details.
Room Five is clearly labeled. Rei lets herself in. She removes her school uniform and her underwear and climbs onto the examination table, where she lies. The vinyl cushion sticks uncomfortably to her skin. Soon her flesh is cold. The cell of lights directly overhead, rather than the ordinary clear plastic cover, has a translucent scene of clouds on a blue sky.
Ritsuko pauses outside the door while speaking to someone else. "Do a CMP, CBC, DHEA, ALT and AST, and make sure to include one for Gonadoliberin as well. Document any symptoms in the subject, and collect samples of any discharge that might contain an oocyte. I want to determine if it is anovulate or not."
"Yes, Doctor Akagi."
The door opens, then closes. Rei continues looking at the clouds, though she shivers a little. A tray stand clatters quietly as it is rolled over the floor, and footsteps follow with it. "Ayanami, set your feet flat on the table and open your legs. Wider. Stay there." Ritsuko pulls over the stool and sits at the end of the table, then drags over and positions an examination light nearby.
She spreads some of the lubricating gel on her gloved fingers. It is still cold when she applies it to the girl's vaginal orifice. Likewise, the dioptre and gel on it are no warmer, but far more intrusive. Even the bright light has no heat. Ritsuko locks the dioptre open and leaves it in place while she removes a swab from its sterile package. There is not as much to sample as Ritsuko might have wanted, but she takes what she can get. The swab goes back into its cigar-tube-like case, which she labels and sets back on the tray. Then she unlocks the dioptre and removes it.
"Put your legs down. We're done."
Rei obeys. Ritsuko takes the sample tube from the tray, which is left behind, turns off the examination light and departs. Rei is alone, for a little time. Shivers disturb her limbs. The motionless clouds float overhead. She is not sure how long later, but after a bit a nurse comes in. There is a cool wind on a small patch of her arm, then a sharp prick. There are occasional, painful tugs as the vials are changed. Glass tube after tube is filled, labeled and initialed. Only after the last vial is in the specimen rack does the nurse open the cabinet under the examination table and remove a blanket, which she unfurls over the girl's body.
The nurse leaves, but her voice carries back into the room from the hall. "I can't stand the sight of her, how she just lies on the table like that. It reminds me of the cadavers in med school."
Gendo's office door is closed. Rei does not try the handle, nor does she knock. Voices come from inside.
“-- is denied,” Gendo's baritone voice paces the syllables calmly.
“But it is necessary,” Ritsuko replies with the urgent certainty of a scientist. “To determine what effects this might have on the project and any further implications.”
“The further implications are irrelevant. Nothing justifies these invasive procedures. The subject's priority is piloting. ”
“The subject exhibits failures to perform that could cause cascading failures in later stages. It is justified to determine if this is having an effect.”
“The tests demonstrate nothing out of the ordinary. All the panels are within acceptable constraints for a girl this age. You will continue the project as planned.“
“A girl this—But-”
“Dr Akagi, I trust your judgment, but this time your efforts are better spent elsewhere. You are a brilliant scientist.” Feet move around the room. “Everything here is birthed of your mind. The project would be nothing without you, not even years behind the other branches, nothing.”
“Stop it,” the doctor faintly protests.
“You are a remarkable woman, Ritsuko.”
“I said do--” Something smothers off the doctor's words.
The conversation ends, but other sounds come from the room, soft sounds, moaning passions. They continue for some time as Rei waits in the hall with her book bag in hand. After a time, the sounds stop. Ritsuko ultimately emerges, clipboard cradled to her chest. She looks down her nose at Rei, then steps around the girl and walks briskly down the hall. A linger of her hand swings the door on a slowly closing ark in her wake.
The door stops before it closes. Gendo looks out, the knob in hand. “Rei. Come in,” he says and swings the door open.
Rei enters the lab again. The equipment is off, and the lights are at half strength. The many banks of instruments, computers, printers, monitors, screams, arrays, hoods and cabinets stands as inert as tombstones. A space is cleared in the middle of a room, where a steel table stands. An examination light hangs by its articulated boom over the table and shines a perfect light. Rei approaches the mirrored form lying on the table. The form is still. A fissure bisects its chest with a yellow seam that disappears into a murky pit of red ochre walls, punctuated by porcelain supports.
Rei's hand touches the mirror image's shoulder. It yields like flesh, but it is as cold as the metal of the table. Slowly, she pulls open the doll-like eyelids. The red eye opens, dull and unfocused. Rei finds she does not wake to it—it has no sight. She lifts herself enough to peer into the fissure. Empty. She lowers herself, stands and stares at this mysterious reflection of herself on the table.
A door in the back of the lab swings open and heeled shoes tap on the linoleum. Ritsuko sets down the pans she is carrying and lifts from the pile boxes of slides and dishes and packs of labels. She carries what she needs to a study station. Then she opens the nearby refrigerator, where rack and rack of trays covered with plastic film hold specimens from the sample, whole organs. Ritsuko removes one, a spleen, and, as she turns away, her eyes scan the room. “Ayanami, what are you doing here?”
Rei stares at the table without reply. “Come here.”
Presuming she will be obeyed, Ritsuko turns back to her work bench and sets the tray down. With the twist of a switch, she turns on an exam light and cranes the boom arm into position. Then she peels away the film and removes the spleen from its tray and sets it on a polymer board under the light. Her fingers run along it, feeling the texture, the quality, probing for bumps or cysts. Nothing on either side.
A figure joins her by the side. “Ayanami, have you ever prepared a slide in science class?”
“It is not too hard. The slides are already clean, so we only need to not contaminate them. Select one with the forceps and set it here. Now, pick up the scalpel. Make an incision here, by my finger, and bisect the specimen. Let the blade do the work. Don't force it. Now thinly shave a sample. Thinner... no, that is too rough. Try again. Now you've made the wall uneven. Give us.”
Ritsuko takes the scalpel from Rei, and she drops the rejects in a small bin with a red liner. The bin and liner are all clearly labeled with the tri-crecent symbol of biohazard. She then trims the sample, made rough by an inexpert hand, and slices a crepe thin film of tissue from the sample with a single draw of the scalpel. She mounts it onto the slide, over which she then lowers the cover slip from one side to the other, to prevent air bubbles. She repeats the process a few more times rapidly: forceps to slide; knife to tissue; tissue to slide; forceps to cover slip. After a number of slides are procured, she bisects the organ again, and shaves more thin samples. When she is down, she says to her solitary audience.
“We don't really need all this organ. Practice what you learned on these bits while I continue. If you can do it right, we'll look at it under the microscope.”
“Acknowledged.” Rei picks up the scalpel and refines her skills. A small pile of slides builds up by Rei, and the girl soon enough runs out of supplies. She stands again and finds Ritsuko, who is quietly at another work station with dissecting another organ.
“Are you finished, Ayanami?”
“Yes. … Is something wrong with me?”
Yes, Ritsuko interjects bitterly in her mind. “The nurses did not explain it?”
“In a normal girl, what happened to you shows a change of the body growing into adulthood. In something like you, we don't know what it means. That is what I'm figuring out here. Did the nurses at least tell you what to do and give you dressings?”
“Good, see that you don't make a mess. Go find your best slide and show me.”
Ritsuko comes to he door of the meeting room. She is not scheduled, but she knew Gendo should be here, just about to finish a meeting. In her arms is the report she came to deliver to him in person. It is not just the report, with which the doctor intends to surprise him. It is not about the small point of interest the MAGI super computers or the slight and day-long project that will be needed to fix that. It was not even her mother's doing, but rather the fault of some technician that came after her—perhaps not reading a schematic quite correctly. But Ritsuko tells herself it is about these things—no matter what needs her body may have.
There are sounds inside.
Ritsuko listens. She hears gasping, a woman's throat is open and airy. There is a rougher sound, a man. She knows these sounds. Her fingers tighten around her clipboard. She does not know who the girl is, but she knows the sounds, which she should be making. How foolish can she be, she thinks. How foolish?
Ritsuko's insides knot. Her breath seizes. Suddenly, her feet take flight down the hall and carry her with them. Her clipboard slips through her hands. Papers flutter behind her. She runs, down the corridor and into the stairwell. Two flights up. It has been years since she ran for sport. Could she reflect on it, Ritsuko would be surprised how easily she managed such a pace in those shoes. But, she can only find herself in her laboratory.
The doctor leans against the wall and cradles herself in her arms and pants for her fleeting breath. /How stupid can you be, Ritsuko? You're not a little girl. Stop acting like a teenager. You are no better than Misato—no, you don't drink and fuck it away—but you are not being much better,/ the doctor chides herself.
She leans her head back, against the wall, and brushes at her eyes with the sleeve of her white coat. Gendo is a man, and Ristuko must admit, she is not young any more. Surely he might find himself attracted to some young thing. But, so what? He respects Ritsuko; they do not just fool around.
Dr Akagi looks up to the ceiling, then around. … There is a light in her office she did not leave on. She takes a deep breath. Her tears seem to dry up as her face becomes serious, and she paces to her office. Her shoes tap the ground with her authority as head scientist.
She regrets opening her office door the instant she looks in. It is standing there—the purple-haired specimen, in life. It's horrid eyes fix on a picture in a picture frame; a precious picture. “Ayanami, what are you doing in here? Put that down.”
“The old hag...” The pose in the picture is a ubiquitous sight amongst graduates of all levels in all societies in Japan. In the background is a placard with Ritsuko's class and year of graduation. She is a member of the Honours Society. The older mentor stands with the pupil at some culmination, a graduation or ranking. Here, Ristuko, dressed in her graduation hakama, stands beside a woman in a white lab coat, who looks not dissimilar to Ristuko now.
“What?” Anger beats Ritsuko's tongue against her teeth.
“This old hag—you 're not her...” The voice is robotic, monotone.
“What did you call her?” Doctor Akagi Naoko—Ritsuko's mother.
“Old Hag.” Ritsuko's hand lashes across the Rei's cheek. The girl stumbles and drops the picture.
Old hag! Naoko's brilliance shines even to this day. So much of Ritsuko's work derives from groundwork of Naoko; Naoko's papers were genius; the merest slivers of her personalities drive the MAGI SC that determine the course of world governments this day. She created the pivots on which mankind now turns. Every day Ritsuko wakes and strives to be that woman—to be better. She has continued her mother's work, perfected it—advanced beyond it. Old hag!
Then this—this—thing crawls into Ritsuko's lab. Every time there is a failure, an anomalous result, this little bitch of Gendo's is there. Ayanami infests her work.
“Little bug.” The words drip from Ristuko's lips. Before Ritusko knows it, her first curls around the girl's messy hair. The doctor drags her out of the office, stumbling. She acts without thinking, but she knows what she is doing, like an out-of-body experience. Her free arm furiously sweeps a table clear of the clutter on it. Binders, reports, instruments clatter and flutter. She shoves Rei into the edge of the table. “Get on there.” Rei obeys.
The doctor's blood boils as she turns to the medicine cabinet. She mustn't, she must stop, she tells herself. But, why? Her eyes dart over the labels for something specific. A nueromuscular inhibitor of some kind....
Why stop? No one can stop her. Words pass in Ritsuko's head: murder, termination, failure. More complex images follow: The loss of her career, disgrace. No, she is immune. Gendo can always have the next one. He can not have another Ritsuko, not at this stage of the project. I am Project E. She might be reprimanded, but no more. Nothing like what this thing will suffer.
… In the refrigerator! Raging winds alight Ritsuko limbs and blows them into place. She takes a syringe to the refrigerator. There! A vial of atracurium besylate. It will do nicely. She tips the vial over and inserts the needle. How much? She's not an anesthetist; how much does the bug even weigh? She draws the plunger back until the barrel pulls air from the vial. Too much. Not too much, less than she thinks it will take. The subject's heart mustn't stop; it must feel everything. Not too much.
Ritsuko returns to the table. The horrid crimson eyes stare at the ceiling directly above. The tile is dark—there is no occluding light, no halo around the doctors. The needle pierces Rei's arm without any sign of a reaction, but a flutter of her eyes, which seems unrelated. Ritsuko roughly injects the drug into Rei's veins. A dark blotch appears and a drop of blood tickles when the needle is removed. Were Ritsuko her own technician, she would never allow such sloppy work. The doctor gathers what she needs: a scalpel—doesn't matter if it is used--and a sheers, which immediately go to removing the girl's frock.
She observes. The subject's breathing slows. It becomes deeper, shallow. A delay develops; moments of stillness punctuated by a gasp, which release under the weight of the sternum; then the stillness repeats. “Ayanami, lift your arm.” Nothing.
Ritsuko's hands tremble as she lowers them to the girl's stomach. Venom seeps from Ritsuko's teeth. “You're nothing but a puppet, the parts of a doll, Ayanami. Replaceable parts.”
The yellow subcutaneous layers bulge up as the knife incises. Ristuko can not even think where it is scientifically on the body, what part of the abdominal anatomy is cut. A decade of learning evaporates under the heat of rage. It is just belly. Blood trickles from the growing wound and fills the sallow culvert. Ritsuko impatiently thinks over what she will excise first. Not the intestines—that will just be a mess. She can work around them. If the kidneys, the bug will bleed out too quickly. The glandular organs. She'll pull them out. All of them. Then open the thoracic cavity. She'll squeeze the lungs—crush any gasp of breath out of them until every sign of life has stopped.
Something falls on Ritsuko's forearm, a soft weight. A hand, limp at the ends, bending peculiarly, like a cheap movie prop. The subject obeyed. It knows it is being slaughtered, yet it still wills itself to follow the last order. That is all it does: obeys, enacts programming. It knows no kind of malice. It does not understand words like hag. It can't know what it said. This is not murder. This is dismantling. Ritsuko realises she lost her mind to a malfunctioning, soulless tool.
The doctor recoils from the table. The knife falls from her hand. Her limbs shake uncontrollably with a nervous energy. Then her legs take flight again, away from her lab, away from NERV—anywhere, someplace where she can be alone.
The door to Gendo's office stands before Rei. She lets herself in. No one is present. The red glow off the LCL lake in Central Dogma illuminates the cavernous room. The filigree inscriptions on the polished black surface above and below glint clearly in the light. A short bookshelf stands against one wall, and a computer station against another. Rei rests her bag on the floor as she comes around the desk and examines the many papers organised on it. SUBJECT: THE APPROVAL OF PROCUMENT OF CONTRACTORS OF CO...RE: THE SUPPLY OF CONCRETE FOR...SUBJECT: SUSPICIOUS PERSON AT PERIMETER FENCE SECTOR 17... There is also an envelope labeled REI in red felt pen.
When she lifts the envelope, Rei can feel a small weight shift in it. She opens it, she removes a scrap of paper and a single key. There are few words hand written:
Rei, I can not meet with you today. We will no longer be living together. This key is to your apartment. You will have an account for expenses. If you need anything, speak to Fuyutsuki.
Below this is an address.
The girl sets it all down on the desk, and then she looks on. In the drawers are ordinary office supplies: alligator clips, stamps, staplers, hand gun, staples, pens and pencils, eraser, white-out and so on. The computer is locked, and she does not know the password, but there is the book shelf. The volumes are all well worn, ragged along the corners, dirty on the sides, fraying on the covers. She tips them to look at the titles. One, a smaller one, bound in grey cloth she removes for no reason in particular. She places it in her bag, then collects the key and note before departing.
School finishes, and Rei departs immediately through the bustling throngs of chatting children. She walks down the brightly lit streets to the train station. She rides the line, counting the stops in her head as they are called, but mostly staring at her shoes. People come in, people go out.
Then she finds her way through shadowless streets between housing blocks. Finally, she checks the scrap of paper in her bag for the address. It is confirmed. There are stairs to climb, a balcony veranda to cross and a door to open. The interior of the small apartment is hot, almost sweltering. The air is stale. Rei enters. There is a bathroom to one direction and a small kitchen to the other. Ahead of her is a bed, bare shelves, a desk with nothing but another note. A beam of sunlight streams through a small window.
Rei leaves her shoes at in the entry way and goes to the room. She rests her bag beside the bed and rests herself supine over the covers. Her eyes linger out the window. The sky is blue, and a cumulus clouds bloom in the distance. They seem to hover still.
For a time Rei lies, staring at the small scene of the cloud's imperceptible march toward the edge of frame. A cicada drones, and drones, and drones ... Then she rolls on her side and reaches into her bag. She removes the small grey book and opens the cover to the title page: DIE LEBENSFORM