The Vault 07: “Only Connect”–An Eva + Lain fanfic

Explanation of the Vault series. This is the final Vault entry before I return from my hiatus.

Originally written on July 25, 2002. Yes, folks: this is the one and only piece of fanfiction I’ve ever written. It’s an Evangelion-Serial Experiments Lain crossover fic, and it’s rather long (50 pages double spaced). So I’m only posting the first couple of sections of it here, but you can download the entire story below in three different formats!

Honestly, I’ve written better stories since, and some of the sentences now make me wince. However, I’m thinking of writing a “light novel” soon, and if you like my storytelling–and would be interested in contributing some art to go with it–stay tuned. And maybe leave a comment or two. Things are starting to cook in my creative kitchen!

The story begins after the cutaway. Enjoy.


Only Connect

by Michael Huang

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. –E.M. Forster, “Howard’s End”

“Shinji,” Ritsuko said as she and Misato carried the cardboard box through the doorway, “we have a little present for you.”

“For me, Dr. Akagi?” Shinji laughed nervously. “But—it’s not my birthday or anything or–”

“Does there have to be an occasion, Shinji? Come on, relax. It’s for you.” Misato then nodded in his direction. “There’s one more box outside the door, would you mind getting that for us?”

“Ah, hai!” Shinji’s conditioned reflexes snapped to attention, and he briskly walked down the hallway toward the entrance. The two women were having little trouble carrying both ends of the bulky box, but when Shinji tried to pick up the equally bulky package outside, his fourteen-year-old forearms strained at lifting it even a few inches.
“That’s the system unit, Shinji,” Misato shouted. “Is it heavy?”

“No—that’s all right—I’m coming, Misato–” He set it down once the box was inside the apartment, and pushed it down the corridor until he reached the kitchen. There, he finally got a good look at the box’s side. It read “TAICHIBANA LABORATORIES NAVI-MODEL 2015A.”

Shinji’s eyes widened. “A Navi for me?” He looked at Misato and Ritsuko, who were seated at the kitchen table and sipping cans of Yebisu beer. “But why?”

“Well, Shinji,” Misato said, “if you must, think of it as a reward. For all your hard work at NERV–”

“–and for agreeing to cook tonight instead of Misato,” Ritsuko said.

“Hey! There’s nothing wrong with instant food,” Misato replied, sniffing. She turned to Shinji again and smiled. “This is the latest model, you know.”

“What?” Shinji gasped at all this unfounded, unusual generosity “How much did it–”

“Never mind about that, Shinji,” Ritsuko said. “We can afford a little extra for our pilots.” He then heard her mutter under her breath, “As long as the Committee’s not looking, that is.”

“So—can it go on the Wired, and all that?”

“Don’t be silly. Of course it can. It’s even got an Accela chip.” Ritsuko put a finger over her pursed lips. “Don’t tell anyone.”

“Wait a second—Kensuke said–aren’t those illegal?”

Ritsuko shook her head and grinned slyly. “Not for NERV.”

“Oh, OK . . . the Wired . . . hmm . . .” Kensuke mentioned his daily trips to the Wired at school sometimes. He always was talking about the latest hardware upgrades to his Navi at home, with his father bringing home all the latest defense technology. He had even boasted of hacking the school Navilettes so he could play dungeon games while the teacher droned on about the Second Impact. But Shinji had never been on the Wired before.

“Misato?” he asked.

“Hmm, Shinji?” She leaned back in her chair, downing the last dregs of her beer.

“Do you think, uh, I could set it up now? I’ve never really tried the Wired.” He put his hand behind his head nervously. “Of course, uh–”

“How about after dinner,” Misato said. “Aren’t you hungry?”

“Well—yeah, but—”

“Misato,” Ritsuko said. “I think he wants to do it. Now.” She stood up. “Come on, I’ll help you, Shinji.”

“Ritsuko, really, I’m starving–” Misato sighed. “Oh well, all right. If it makes him happy.” She chuckled, muttering, “at least he’s smiling now.” And Shinji was smiling, as he pushed the unit through the kitchen into his “lovely suite” with Misato and Ritsuko carrying the other box behind him. When he slid the door open he noticed how bare his room seemed, with nothing but a wooden desk, a neatly-made bed, and posterless walls inside. Now there was going to be a computer inside, sitting on the desk. It was one less empty space in the room to stare at, at least.

He opened the main system unit’s box, and after Ritsuko helped him lift the unit out of the box and shed all the packing material, Shinji looked at his new machine. It looked like a monolith, an obsidian cube whose metal exterior shone under the pale fluorescent light. The front panel had black buttons and dark slits for disk drives, and the backside contained a few ports, but from a distance it resembled a smooth, solid metal block, like black ice.

“No wonder it’s so heavy,” Shinji said.

“Well, it was designed for more secure environments,” Ritsuko replied. “Like the Command Center. Or Terminal Dogma.”

“Swiped it from the inventory, eh, Ritsuko?” Misato said, jabbing Ritsuko’s shoulder.

“Don’t be silly, Major. We have plenty of surplus machines that can’t be sold on the regular market. Shinji, you should feel very special.”

“Thank you, Dr. Akagi. I do.”

“Anytime, Shinji. Why don’t we start setting up now? I’m getting hungry too.”

They unpacked the 21” LCD display from the other box, and soon both the unit and the monitor stood on Shinji’s desk. There were only a few cables to connect–”most everything’s wireless now,” Ritsuko explained—the most prominent being a fiber-optic cable for Wired access. “It’s come a long way since 10 years ago,” Ritsuko continued. “No one had fiber access—except NERV, of course—until two years ago, and now everyone’s installing it like mad . . . so you’ll get to meet a lot of people on the Wired, Shinji.”

“Really?” Shinji wondered if they were all people like Kensuke, who certainly seemed like a computer nerd. “Well, I don’t know.”

Ritsuko plugged the last of the cables into the back port. “You might even find it easier to make friends online. You can be almost anyone you want. No one can see you through the computer screen, after all.”

“Ritsuko,” Misato said, “I don’t know if that’s so healthy–”

“Oh, stop being so backward. The Wired is supposed to bring people together. It connects people across the world. I don’t know how I’d keep up with the latest research without it. And Shinji can meet some new friends.” She smiled at Shinji. “Just don’t get too addicted, all right, Shinji?” He nodded. Ritsuko then checked all the cable connections, adjusted the monitor’s viewing angle, and stood back proudly.

“Well, Shinji, it’s all yours. Go ahead, turn it on.”

“OK.” He peered at the black cube quizzically. “Um, where’s the—oh, there!” He found the power button, and pushed it gingerly.

The near-silent whir of the system fan hummed from behind the unit. A green LED blinked to life, and on the display, a 3-D animation of a spinning globe sprung to the fore. Superimposed over the field of stars were the words:

TAICHIBANA LABORATORIES NAVI-2015A
WORLD WIDE WIRED NODE #3B0FF
WELCOME!
WHAT IS YOUR NAME?
_____?

“Um . . .” Shinji searched on the keyboard for the katakana characters that would spell his name.

“Just say your name,” Ritsuko said. “No typing.”

“Oh, all right!” The cursor blinked patiently on the screen, waiting for his command. He took a breath and recited, “Ikari Shinji.”

“Ikari Shinji,” a warm, female voice from the computer echoed. “Irrashai, Ikari-san.” VOICEPRINT IDENTIFIED! The screen proclaimed, with a cheesy electronic fanfare. A little white ghost then popped onto the screen with a poof! “Hello, Ikari-san,” he said. “Welcome to the Wired. Would you like me to check your e-mail?”

Shinji saw Ritsuko grimace with displeasure. “I thought I ordered the professional version, not the consumer operating system . . . damn requisition people . . . don’t worry, Shinji, I’ll tell you how to turn it off later.”

“It’s OK, Dr. Akagi,” Shinji said. “I’ll get used to it.”

“Anyway . . . .” Misato yawned loudly. “Shinji, go cook dinner, I’m starving. And, I want you to finish your homework before you get on the computer.”

“Hai, Misato-san.”

With that, he took off to the kitchen, leaving Misato and Ritsuko by themselves.

Misato sighed. “I don’t know, Ritsuko, a Navi? Do you really think he needs it?”

“It’ll give him something to think about and do,” Ritsuko replied, “when he’s not piloting Evas for us anyway. He can’t stay useful for us if he doesn’t get some kind of relief.”

“’Useful.’ Is that how you talk about another human Ritsuko?”

“A fact’s a fact, Major. Besides, he seemed a happier today than usual.” A sly grin crept up her lips. “Even if it takes a little unreality, a happy pilot is a winning pilot. And Kami-sama knows we can’t afford to lose.”

“Right, right.” Misato shrugged. They both rose and left for the kitchen, where the sound of the running faucet and the stove fan filled the air, and the aroma of fish stew trickled into her nostrils. Well, she thought, at least the food tonight is real.

* * * * *

Shinji could not remember what any of them said to each other over dinner. There must have been some banter, because he did recall Misato’s raucous, beer-induced laughter and inaudible mutterings coming from Dr. Akagi’s lips. Pen-Pen, as he was given edible food tonight, had remained quiet. After the usual “itadakimasu!” at the meal’s start, his memory skipped ahead to him standing up with the dirty dishes in his hands, ready to pile them on the kitchen sink for washing. The only remnant of the food he himself had cooked was its aftertaste. As soon as he finished scouring and sponging the stains off the dishes, no proof remained that anyone had eaten anything. It was like this almost every night, and Shinji never had any specific memory of any of the dinners they ate together. The numb routine had almost rendered such scenes unreal in his mind.

“All right, Shinji, do you have a lot of homework to do tonight?” Misato asked him after Ritsuko left. He shook his head. “Nothing? At all?”

“Just some physics problems,” he replied, shrugging.

“How long do you think it’ll take you to finish?”

“An hour at most.”

“Well . . . hmm . . .” Misato gazed at the ceiling thoughtfully. “All right, Shinji, if you want to go online for a little, you can. For an hour. But then you have to finish your homework.”

“Um—oh! All right.” Oh yes, he had a new machine in his bedroom. Ritsuko had set it up for him, hadn’t she? He wondered why the thought of trying it out didn’t excite him more—for one, he doubted Ritsuko’s claims that it would make him more friends, and that he could be anyone he wanted. It was only a computer, after all. But any generosity pleased him, and he had been the recipient of much today, so he smiled politely and said, “Thanks.”

“Shinji? Are you all right?” Now her brow creased with worry. “I thought you’d be interested and eager to try it out.”

He shrugged. “I dunno. I’ll see.”

“Hm. I could tell that Ritsu was into it more than anyone else. Well, give it a try, then, and see how you like it, OK?”

“All right.”

Shinji left the kitchen and went into his room, which was already dark as the sun had set. He flicked the light switch on. There stood the Navi sitting proudly on his desk, all set up and shiny and untouched. When he drew near to the display, it flickered back to life from its screensaver and the white ghost announced cheerily, “Welcome back, Ikari-san!”

“Call me Shinji,” he replied. He sat down at the chair, his eyes fixed on the screen.

“Of course, Shinji,” the ghost replied, bowing. It then perked up again and asked “Shinji, where do you want to go today?”

“Umm—the Wired.”

“The Wired it is. My records indicate that you have never been there, however. Would you like a tutorial before you explore?”

“Um, I dunno if I need one–”

“The Wired can be disorienting to a new user such as yourself. The tutorial will help you get your bearings, Shinji.”

“Well . . .”

“Taichibana Labs has carefully designed this tutorial based on careful user-interaction studies and has been proven to–”

Now the ghost was really beginning to irritate him. “Look—just stop. Go away.”

A sad, droopy face appeared on the ghost’s face. “Are you sure?” it whined.

“Yes.”

Suddenly the ghost popped out of existence, and was replaced with a full windowed user interface. Shinji, unfazed, used the cordless mouse to maneuver over a conspicuous icon that read in clear letters, “CLICK TO GET WIRED.” He double clicked, and deep inside the cube unit’s innards, a hard drive whirred.

He only needed to wait a second before colors swirled on the screen, his eyes glazed and crossed over, and darkness enveloped him–

–and then blankness, pure whiteness swallowed up the darkness around him. Shinji looked below him, and there was no floor; above him, and there was no ceiling; around him, and there were no walls; he felt completely weightless in the void. He raised his arms to look at them, only to find the sketchiest outline of an arm, a hand, and five fingers.

He suddenly felt very afraid.

“Where am I?” He felt his lips move, but no sound echoed in his ears. “What’s going on? What is this place?” His loudest thoughts were silenced by the vacuum. “Where’s the ground?” he thought, and then, suddenly, he felt gravity yanking him down and he fell to a newly created ground. “Ground?” he thought. He looked below him, and sure enough, there was a line separating one part of the whitespace from the other, and he was standing on the lower end.

“Ground . . . sky?” His thought instantly animated the view above him with the brilliant blue haze of a clear day—but the ground was still white. It was still a blank world with a blue canopy. “Clouds?” Clouds then floated overhead. “Grass?” Green leaves sprouted instantly all over the bare white floor.
He raised his arm again—it was still an outline. He thought of all the times he stared at himself in the mirror, cursing his scrawny muscles and short stature. The reflection that had stared back almost always wore a downcast face, with sad, blinking blue eyes that tried to see any worth in his body. If only he could be taller, and built, and not have such a soft, round face–

Unknown power began to ripple through his arms and legs. The level of his eyesight rose by several inches. He looked down and watched as a sketchy body began to fill with color, and muscle, and then clothing as he remembered what he was wearing that day.

“You can be almost anyone you want,” he recalled Ritsuko saying, and, seeing that it turned out to be true after all, Shinji leaped into the air and shouted, “YES!” His newfound voice echoed over the heavens, blowing the blades of grass back and scattering the wispy clouds above. When he jumped, he launched himself straight into the sky, leaping high above the newly created trees before his personal gravity set him down on the ground as gently as a feather. Thinking again, he took off into the air again, and with his arms outstretched, he could fly like a bird, surveying the endless fields of green below and punching through clouds ahead. The wind blew freely through his hair and caressed his skin. “I’m flying! I’m flying! I can’t believe it–” In the wake of his disbelief, the weight returned and he felt his stomach and body dragged down by a sickening lurch. His now heavy body tumbled toward the earth. “Don’t crash—don’t crash,” he shouted, which saved him from crashing just seconds before he hit the ground; it was as if someone had cast a levitation spell that set him down safely into the waiting blanket of grass.

Shinji stood up, shook his head in disbelief, and spun around twice to marvel at his new Wired world, a world where thoughts made things so. To think that he had to do homework and had to wash dishes and pilot painful robots when he could have been here! He could live here forever if he wanted.

“But . . . .” Another of Ritsuko’s statements came to mind. “Where’s everyone else? Aren’t there supposed to be lots of people–”

The entire landscape dissolved, and before Shinji could reorient himself, he suddenly landed on his butt on a cold, hard surface. He looked up to find a sea of legs and feet moving rhythmically in all directions around him. Loud, bass-driven music throbbed in his ears. Strobe lights flashed in his eyes as he struggled to pick himself up amidst the dancing crowd.

“A club?” Shinji asked himself. “Where–?” Somehow, information popped unbidden into his mind; he instantly knew that this was Cyberia, one of the most popular dance clubs on and off the Wired, and that the current track the DJ was spinning was the extended mix of Negative Light’s latest hit single.

Well, Shinji thought to himself as he scurried away to leave the floor to people who could actually dance, at least I found some people. Then, as he moved to the sidelines, he remembered: who said that his feet were clumsy here in the Wired? With his head held high, Shinji strode back onto the floor.

“Dance,” he whispered, and soon he felt a natural rhythm guiding the muscles in his legs to move in time with the music.

Then the music changed, along with the beats. But Shinji could not stop, and soon, his feet were tripping out of control on the floor. His limbs were being jerked around like a marionette and soon, he tumbled onto the ground, nearly knocking over someone next to him in the process. He could not see who it was as he fell.

“Hey, watch it!” a female voice cried. “Damn klutz.”

“Huh?” Shinji rubbed his eyes as he recovered from disorientation and saw an angry girl standing over him. A lock of her hair was tied in an X and a scowl cut across her expression. Her chestnut-brown eyes glared fiercely at him.

“Yeah, you!” she shouted, pointing at him. “Little boy thinks he can dance, eh?”

Somebody dared to laugh, but most of the clubgoers had stopped dancing and talking and gave the girl wide berth, as if she were radioactive. The music had stopped and the room was lit only by dim red spotlights. But the girl looked brighter than everyone else in the dark floor; she seemed to emanate a strange glow, a ghostly light from inside her skin. But this was clearly a displeased spirit.

“I was just trying to . . . come on,” Shinji said, with an unfortunate whine in his voice. I really do sound like a little boy, he thought. But he took a good look at the girl, whose face seemed awfully fresh and was no taller than he. She can’t be much older than me. “Sorry.”

“Yeah, watch where ya going next time, boy,” she replied gruffly. Then she began stepping forward, toward his direction. What is she doing—Shinji felt her hand pushing against his chest as she shoved him aside, almost knocking him down again. The crowd began to disperse and the chatter rose. “You tell him, Lain!” someone shouted through the rising din. The girl chuckled and moved on, toward where the DJ stood.

Lain. So that’s her name—and she had just pushed him aside as if he were just another piece of meat. Blood rushed through his virtual body, filled with the anger that he so often felt in the real world but never dared show. That’s right—I’m in the Wired now! He didn’t have to put up with such treatment here, not where he could stand taller and stronger than anyone else if he wanted. No. No more. Lain wasn’t going to get away with a shove and a shrug on the way to her own business.

Shinji followed her. She had almost reached the DJ’s counter when she turned around and spotted him. For a moment, her eyes looked glazed over and half-open, burdened by too many hard nights or drugs, before they widened and hardened into the familiar glare. “What?” she demanded.

“What’d you push me for?” Did I sound angry enough? Shinji was still new at this role. “It was an accident. I apologized.”

“You were in my way,” Lain declared flatly.

“You could have walked around me.”

“Too much trouble.”

“Hey Lain,” the DJ said, “who is this guy? Haven’t seen him before.”

“Dunno. I just bumped into him today. He can’t even dance, the little jerk.” She laughed caustically. “What are you doing here anyway?”

“I’m Sh—Shinji.” He almost lapsed into his old, scared voice before he caught himself.

“Shinji?” The DJ nodded. “Lain, if this Shinji’s giving you any trouble, I can haul his ass outta here in no time–

“Screw that, he’s not worth the trouble.” She turned to Shinji. “Look,” she said, almost snarling, “just stay the hell away from me.”

Shinji instinctively backed away, and as he was turning around, he felt his pulse rising again. He turned back in her direction. This time, he would settle things. Don’t run . . . don’t run . . . don’t run . . . This time, his mantra would actually mean something. He stood with his feet planted firmly on the ground.

“No,” he said. “Not until you apologize.”

Lain sniffed. “Apologize! For what?” She shook her head. “You don’t even know who you’re crossing, do you?”

“Maybe I don’t, Lain,” Shinji said, telling his vritual body to stand taller, “but–”

He felt a yank and suddenly the height effect was canceled, as were all the modifications he made to his muscles and build. He was Boy Shinji again, and Lain was cackling. “You think you can fool me, boy? I already know all about you. You live in Tokyo-3 and it’s your very first trip on to the Wired. Anyone can see through that pathetic disguise of yours, Shinji.” She laughed some more. “You think you’re pretty brave, don’t you?”

No, no, no, not at all, I’m a sneaky coward—but as the sting of her words drilled into his mind, Shinji swallowed his tearful outburst and clenched his open fist shut. “Why do you care?” he said with all the defiance he could manage.

“You want to earn my respect, don’t you?” A cocky smile spread across her lips. “A lot of people want to earn Lain’s respect, boy. But I know. There’s one way.”

“What?”

“A game. You like games don’t you?” Shinji shrugged, though he was confused. “You’ll love it. Phantoma. I can set you up and we can have a little . . . deathmatch.”

“Phantoma?” Shinji had never heard Kensuke mention it.

Lain rolled her eyes. “And you don’t even know. Sucks to be a newbie, ha. Fine, I’ll set you up–”

Suddenly Lain’s eyes were closed and she held an outstretched palm in front of her. She clamped her hand on his forehead, and in a few seconds, a voice inside Shinji’s head proclaimed, “executable downloaded.”

“What?” Shinji suddenly felt dread creeping up his spine. “What did you just do?”

“God, kid, I just gave you the program. It’s hard to get, it’s only available on illegal servers. But I see you got a Psyche chip anyway, so I guess that wouldn’t matter to you.”

“It came with–”

“Whatever. Spare me the sob story. So if you beat me in a game of tag in Phantoma—then I’ll apologize.”

“Tag?”

“What kind of boy are you? Never played tag? We’ll be in a maze, that’s all. Like that game, DOOM XII.”
Shinji nodded. “Oh.” That kind of game, a dungeon-style maze, but presumably this time in full motion 3-d.

“You have two days to practice and get ready,” Lain said. “So, do you accept the challenge?”

Shinji stepped forward, right in her face. “Yes.” No! I haven’t even thought about it . . . His mind quickly reasoned that Kensuke could probably teach him whatever he needed to know about the game. How do you know he even knows how to play? But Lain was nodding smugly.

“Fair enough, then,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it.” She chuckled again, and Shinji was unnerved by its tone.

The DJ whistled. “You don’t know what you just got into, kid,” he said. “Do you?”

“Well, I’m going to find out, aren’t I?” Shinji said.

“Heh, whatever suits you. This’ll be fun. Lain’s going to beat the hell out of you and your ass.”

“We’ll see.”

Lain laughed, and, unexpectedly, put her hand on his cheek. It was cold to the touch. “You know, I kind of like foolish guys like you,” she cooed. “You’re going to be so much fun to break.” Shinji’s face filled with blood, both out of embarrassment and anger, but before he could shout at her she was already slipping back into the dancing crowd.

Shinji felt exhausted. How long had he been on anyway? He still had homework to finish . . . he shrugged, and looked for the club’s exit sign. He found it eventually and as he stepped out into the virtual city night, he thought he saw a shadow moving ahead of him, walking up the stairs away from the club’s entrance. When he reached the stairwell, he found Lain, standing on top of the stairs. But she was dressed differently, in a pale pink blazer with a pink cab emblazoned with a teddy bear on it. She seemed much younger, her eyes wide with naivete and her expression blank—and yet, she wore a single braid hanging down the side of her head, tied with an X. How did she change clothes so quickly? Shinji thought.

“Lain?” he called.

Lain blinked, and then, to his surprise, faded into nothingness.

The Wired is certainly an odd world. Maybe that’s how Lain was in real life—as innocent as he was. He shrugged. It was time to go back, so he said to himself, “exit.” The cityscape dissolved into a swirl of psychedelic colors, and before long he found himself staring at his computer screen, his eyelids blinking furiously as they adjusted to its glowing glare.

“Two hours, Shinji.” Startled, he turned around to find Misato standing in the doorway, her arms crossed. “I told you one hour.”

“Ah—sorry,” he said. “I kinda got—caught up.”

“Did you now?” Misato could not help but smile. “Well, it’s your first time. So did you meet anyone, like Ritsuko said?”

“Well . . . .” Shinji paused for a moment. “Kind of.”

“That’s good, Shinji. Your first day and you’ve already met a new friend.” She beamed. Friend? Not exactly . . . . Shinji forced himself to smile in return, though. “But your schoolwork is important too, right?”

“Right, it is.”

“So finish your homework before you go to bed, is that clear?”

“Hai.”

“OK, then.” She left. Shinji plopped down on his bed and stared at the still-glowing screen, and then at the blank ceiling. Lain . . . they all seem afraid of her. Yet she came in two guises, and Shinji could not tell which one was the real Lain. And the game, “Phantoma,” and the way she offered to play against him so quickly . . . strange. All so strange.

He sighed, got up, and pulled out his homework assignment. At least physics equations and math problems were unfamiliar things that he could handle in one night.

Continued in the full story. Download the Word 2000, PDF or RTF version!


Michael Huang is on hiatus for the remainder of August. The Vault series resurrects entries from his personal blog about anime, written from 2002-2006. This is the final entry in the series.

Leave a Reply