Disclaimer: I do not own Evangelion, or anything associated with it. I have written this story solely because I enjoy writing.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything belonging to Marvel Comics or anything associated with it. I have written this story solely because I enjoy writing.
Chapter 1: The Beginning of an End
As consciousness slowly intruded on the blissful world of slumber that Mana enjoyed, the first thing she became aware of was a noise of some kind. It was brief in duration but quick to repeat itself, and worst of all, it was annoying. So annoying that it was slowly dragging her from her restful slumber.
"Yoohoo! Mana!" came another voice, a familiar one that Mana couldn’t place in her condition. "Wakey-wakey! It’s time to get up!"
Groaning miserably at this, Mana shifted about in her bed, sleepily drawing her blankets up over her head. "Aw…" she groaned, not at all willing to wake up and face the day. "…Just five more minutes…"
"That’s what you said last time! And that was precisely ten minutes and thirty-six seconds ago!" the voice informed her with a good deal more impatience. "Look, Mana, let me spell it out for you; either you get out of bed right this second, or I’m breaking out the big guns!"
"Wha…?" Mana wondered, her sleep-addled mind not up to the task of making sense of what was being told her. "Big…huh…?"
"Okay, that does it," the voice decreed with weary resignation. "Big guns it is."
An instant later, there was a mechanical whirr, and it was coming from somewhere beneath Mana. Alarm bells going off in her mind, she found herself slowly coming to full alertness. But it was a case of too little, too late as her cozy bed suddenly began to tilt. "Ah – what -?!" she cried out in dismay as the angle of the bed quickly increased, until the inevitable occurred and Mana was sent sliding off of her bed and crashing down upon a mat that had been set in place just for such occasions. "Ouch!" she yelped, fully awake even as she was pelted by her blanket and pillow. "Aw, Sid!!"
Quickly shoving aside the blanket and pillow, Mana sat up and glared at the one responsible for her current predicament, and found herself met with the ghostly image of a girl roughly her age. But it was no ghost, and it wasn’t truly a girl; the figure was female in form, but was turquoise in color, and was also transparent. "Sorry, Mana. But you know how heavy a sleep you are," Sid returned with a coy smirk. "So...are you finally awake?"
"How could I still be asleep after that?!" Mana incredulously demanded, shooting the holographic figure an intense glare of pure annoyance. Her father, Dr. Hiro Kirishima, was a brilliant scientist specializing in the fields of computer technologies and robotics. This was evidenced by both Mana's bed of humiliation, and the holographic representation of the AI Dr. Kirishima had developed to assist him in his many endeavors; the Synthetic Intelligence Data-Node Extrapolation Entity, or S.I.D.N.E.E. for short.
"It wouldn't be the first time you managed it." Rolling her eyes at Sid, as most people referred to her, Mana was brought up short when the holographic figure smiled in a dangerously playful manner, "So, are you ready to get up? Or do I have to give you both barrels?"
Wincing at this question, Mana looked up at her ceiling, and groaned at the sight of the barrels in question. Suspended right over her head were two small barrels that she knew to be filled with cold water, the perfect thing for waking her up on the rare occasions when even the rigged bed wasn’t enough to bring her back to the waking world. "No, you don’t have to go that far," Mana muttered sourly as she rose up on her own accord. "So where’s Dad at? Did he leave for work already?"
"No, he’s currently having breakfast," Sid reported even as the bed returned to its normal horizontal orientation. "And if you hurry and get dressed, you’ll even be able to have a conversation before he goes to work today."
That was all the incentive Mana needed to hurry to her wardrobe and start dressing. "Sid, do me a favor and tell Dad I’m coming!" Then she made a face, glanced up at the barrels once more, and added, "And try to convince him to take down those stupid barrels! I know I’m a heavy sleeper, but there’s got to be a better way of waking me up than that!"
Smiling helpfully at this, Sid responded, "I’ll do both, but since this is the 156th time you’ve requested that he remove the barrels, I highly doubt that –"
"Just do it, Sid!" Mana grumbled impatiently even as she doffed her pajamas. To Sid’s credit, she promptly winked out of sight, leaving Mana to shake her head. For while Sid was the most advanced AI in existence, exceeding the computational power of any one MAGI computer, and even possessing a personality that did an excellent job of conveying a genuinely sentient person, her sense of humor, simulated or otherwise, did tend to wear thin.
As Mana sighed and wondered if she could convince her father to give Sid a much-needed reprogramming, she set about the business of getting herself at least modestly cleaned up and dressed. Rummaging about in her wardrobe, she soon found a pair of clean white socks, as well as a sleeveless white shirt and a red skirt with crisscrossing yellow stripes. Deciding that this would do for her day’s attire, she made her way into the bathroom.
The first thing Mana did was quickly wash herself somewhat, cleaning her face and basically making herself more presentable. Once this was done, she combed out her short auburn hair, and then paused to study herself in the mirror. She was an attractive girl of fourteen, wore her hair short mainly because she didn’t like fussing with it, and possessed a modest build and cute face. She wasn’t the glamour type of girl, though, not the kind that could get away with using her feminine wiles to basically enslave boys to her will, and she doubted that she wanted to, anyway. All in all, an average, ordinary girl leading an ordinary life.
Except for…well, a lot of stuff, Mana admitted as she quickly dressed, eager to get out to the dining room while she still had time. None of the other kids at school have their own live-in holographic AI.
As it happened, luck was with Mana that day. Her father was seated at the dining room table, enjoying a modest breakfast of toast with bread and jam. As he raised his cup of tea to take a sip, he took notice of his daughter’s approach. "Good morning, Mana," he greeted her cheerfully even as he set his cup down. "Well, you look more-or-less dry. I guess I won’t have to refill the barrels after all."
Wincing at the mention of the barrels, Mana shook her head before seating herself. "Dad, I really wish you would just take those stupid things down," she pleaded of him. "It’s bad enough you rigged my bed to dump me on the floor, but that -!"
Chuckling deep in his throat, Hiro replied, "Now, now, Mana! You remember our deal! You go thirty days without oversleeping, and I’ll take down the barrels!" Taking a bite out of a piece of toast, he gave her a playful wink and added, "And since you’ve yet to make it a week without Sid having to dump you out of bed…well, there you go."
Making a face of cute annoyance at her father, Mana muttered, "You never had a problem with Mom oversleeping…"
As a dark shadow appeared on her father’s face, a shadow of pain and loss, Mana sucked in a breath of shame, and immediately cursed herself for her stupidity. But even as she did so, Hiro managed to recover, and shot her a playful smile. "Yes, and so you want to know why?" When the auburn-haired girl just sat there, saying nothing, he went on to say, "Because I liked it when she overslept. It meant that I could be warm and cozy and have something nice and soft to keep me company in bed. And that I had something wonderful to wake up to each morning." As Mana blinked a few times at this, the doctor snorted a laugh and added, "Besides, if I tried adding any gadgetry to our bed in order to wake her up, I would have been on the receiving end of it as well! And I have to put with enough at work without having to worry about that!"
Now it was Mana’s turn to chuckle. "And speaking of work…how’s everything going at the university? Any problems with the new computer interface?"
"No, none so far," Hiro reported. "There are still a few bugs to work out of the system, but it won’t be long now before the new interface will be ready. If you like, I can have Sid bring you up to speed on the exact details."
Mana let out a slight groan of disappointment at this, despite being unsurprised. Though she knew her father loved her, he wasn't the biggest conversationalist she knew. About the only thing he really knew how to talk about with her was his work, and in regards to some projects, he didn't really like discussing them. Especially when it came to the ones that he considered to be rather boring, which seemed to categorize this latest endeavor.
And while Mana could certainly appreciate this, and was even used to her father being this way, she still couldn't help but be saddened and even a bit frustrated at how he spent so much of his time focused on his work. Even at home, he preferred to have Sid relay things to his daughter, rather than speaking to her himself.
Heaving a low, quiet sigh, Mana did her best to not be overly disappointed at her inability to get father to actually talk to her, and moved on to another topic. "Well, maybe you can talk to me about it at the science far."
This got a reaction from Dr. Kirishima, but the puzzled frown he gave Mana was not the kind of reaction she had been hoping for. "Science fair?"
Getting a bad feeling at the way he blankly repeated these words, Mana furrowed her brows. "The school science fair!" When these words failed to budge the furrowed brows that made clear her father's confusion, her concern increased and she added, "The one that Haruka and Reiko and I have been working on?! The mag-lev train?!"
Dr. Kirishima's eyes opened and closed a few times before comprehension appeared in them. "Oh, right, right! The one with the super-conductor you worked up, right!" Letting go a sigh of relief that her father hadn't completely forgotten, Mana found her hopes increasing when he said, "Well, sure! Of course! I mean...when is that, anyway? Next month?"
Those last two words were all that were needed to cut Mana's relief short, and once again twist her insides into worried knots. "Uh...it's actually this month." A beat passed before she added, "This weekend, in fact."
The way Dr. Kirishima's eyes flew open at this was all the proof Mana needed that she was in for further disappointment. "This weekend? As in...this weekend?!" he asked in a voice of embarrassed disbelief. "You're sure about that?"
Groaning her dismay, Mana retorted, "Dad, it's written on the calendar! I've even got an advertisement for the fair on the fridge!" When Dr. Kirishima simply sat there, looking at her, the auburn-haired girl looked about and demanded, "Sid, back me up here!"
"Mana's right, Dr. Kirishima," Sid announced even as her holographic avatar resolved into existence. As Hiro looked at the AI, she went on to explain, "You even had me log the date of the science fair so you wouldn't forget it."
A beat passed before Dr. Kirishima asked, "And you didn't remind me of this...why?"
"I have. Several times, in fact," Sid informed him with what appeared to be a trace of annoyance. "Unfortunately, you fail to remember things the same way that Mana fails to wake up in the morning."
A noise of hesitation and a bit of shame escaped Dr. Kirishima's lips at this point. "Oh. Umm..." he hesitated, glancing between Mana and Sid for a time, with the auburn-haired girl dreading what he would say next. With that dread being made real when he asked, "Uh, Sid, do me a favor and check the floater camera. Make sure that it's ready, and -!"
"Dad!!" Mana protested, thinking of that miserable invention of her father's that was a cross between an RC helicopter and a digital camcorder, looked like a UFO from an old movie, and was quite likely the one invention of his that she had wanted nothing more than to take a sledgehammer to. For he had built it as a substitute for himself. Something that Sid could use to attend anything special Mana was doing on Dr. Kirishima's behalf, and record it for him when he was too busy to be her father.
"Just in case, Mana!" Dr. Kirishima promptly assured her, intuiting what she was thinking.
"That's what you said at Christmas! And on my birthday!" Mana reminded him in a far harsher manner than she had intended to. Not wanting to go into detail on all the other times the camera had appeared in her life instead of him.
Even as Mana was wincing at the way she had spoken, painfully aware that it would take very little to corrupt one of the few times when she was able to spend time with her actual, flesh-and-blood father into an ugly argument. And it was clear from the heavy frown marking Dr. Kirishima's face that he was aware of this. "Look, Mana...I'm sorry," he told, his voice making it clear that he knew how many times he had made similar apologies. "But...this new project...it's really important, and..."
More important than me? Mana was sorely tempted to demand. With only her mild nature and desire to avoid a shouting match keeping her from doing so.
"...And I really...there's so much that I need to get done!" Dr. Kirishima continued. "The interface...you have no idea how important it is!"
Because you won't tell me! Mana countered inwardly. The only things I know about it is that the university wants a way for the human brain to synch with computer! You don't tell me why, or what it's for, or -!
" - incredibly complicated!" Dr. Kirishima continued, heedless of Mana's inner torment. "Me and Dr. Gakusha have spent months on this! And it needs to be completed before our grant runs out!"
I'm not asking for months, Dad! Mana pleaded in her mind. Just a day! A day out of the whole week! I just want you to be there for once! Not a robot camera!
" - and I will do my best to make it!" Dr. Kirishima continued. Pausing to give his daughter a look, he let go a weary sigh, and once more, a deep shadow of sorrow appeared on his face. "Now, I am sorry I forgot. And I realize that I...I...haven't exactly been the best of fathers. But I...I'll do my best," he told her in a solemn, almost weary voice. Then, with a forced, fake smile Mana knew all too well. "I'll really try and make it to the science fair. And...maybe later, we could...you know, do something fun. Go out to the movie, maybe?"
At these words, Mana's disappointment deepened, as well as taking on a different tone. Moving dangerously close to true anger. "Dad, you promised that last week," she reminded him, doing her best to reign herself in. For while she wanted her father to act like her father, she didn't want to completely destroy the all-too rare moment they were sharing by turning breakfast into an argument. "Look, I..." she began, pausing to carefully consider her next words. "I know you've been...been busy and all, but...you're hardly ever here! You don't talk to me about what you're doing, you...you...!"
Caught between the need to express her unhappiness and the pain that was twisting into something more dangerous, as well as the knowledge of what that pain could ultimately make her say, Mana fell into an uncomfortable silence. Leaving the two Kirishimas unable to do anything but look at each other, until Hiro sighed and smiled. "Look, we'll talk about it some other time. But you have to get to school, and I have to get to work."
"Huh?" Mana started even as her father got up and out of his chair. "But you haven't..." she began, only to look at the breakfast he had been eating...only to find that he had somehow finished it while giving her his usual litany of excuses.
As Mana sat there, staring at the empty dishes and wondering how her father had polished off his admittedly meager meal without her realizing it, she became aware of her father's motions. Looking up, her mouth fell in surprise when she saw him at the door, briefcase in hand and that same smile on his face. "Be sure to get to school on time, alright?" he asked as he opened the door. "I'll see you later, Mana. Love you."
"Uh - Dad, wait!!" Mana called out, but her protest was in vain as her father disappeared out the door. Blinking a few times in surprise, the auburn-haired girl sank back in her seat.
As she sat there, staring aimlessly at a breakfast she no longer had the appetite to finish, Sid piped up. "Dr. Kirishima's right, Mana," the AI spoke. "You need to get going soon."
Not caring about school or much of anything else at the moment, Mana turned her eyes towards the hologram. "Be honest with me, Sid," she began, speaking in a mix of sadness and dread anticipation. "Those...recordings you make for Dad? Of my birthdays and stuff?" Pausing to take a saddened breath, she asked, "Does Dad...does he even...watch them?"
"Yes, he does," Sid quickly assured her.
"The whole thing?" Mana wondered, wanting the full truth of this matter. "All the way through?"
A beat passed as Sid considered this before. "He...plays them all the way through. And he...he listens to them while he works. But..."
Holding up her hand at this, Mana issued a sigh. "I get the idea," she muttered, letting her head hand forward in despair. And as she did so, thoughts of better, happier times dancing in the back of her mind. Of a time when her father didn't rely on technology to fill in for him at every opportunity. When his work had not been the only thing that he was willing to spend his time on.
When Mom was still alive, Mana thought somberly, glancing over at a wall, where hung a photograph of her family before it had been broken. When we lost her...I lost Dad as well...