Version 1.06 Corrections and typos done (thanks for the assist Vandenbz!)
[A/N] Okay, I'm normally not one for splitting my time, but due to many of the rather passionate requests I've received to get this moving, I've decided to at least work this fic in parallel with my other one. There will of course be spoilers for Evangelion Q/3.0 so if you've not seen it, might be best if you go get a copy (from a completely legitimate source) and give it a viewing. Either way I'll try not to make it too over the head for those who haven't or just aren't NGE fans. Enough intros. Let's get started…
Alpha and Omega
Book 2: The Fallen
Chapter 1: Miscalculation
Asuka stayed ducked behind the dune, watching carefully the proceedings in the valley below. She'd been worried that the Ayanami clone might try and give them away, or that Shinji might wander out into the open. However, neither did anything. Neither had uttered a single word.
Asuka barely managed to get off a communication to the AAA Wunder before everything had gone to static. And while she hadn't been able to relay the actual details about what was happening before comms were jammed, she had at least let them know where they were.
The three, hulking green forms of the Mass Production EVA's stood over the collapsed form of the new Unit-01, surveying it almost curiously, as if they were just as confused by it as Asuka was. Two had their pallet rifles raised in a guarded stance while the other carried a large, twin-bladed lance.
The situation was not good. Units 02 and 08 were quite literally in pieces, and now all WILLE had left in its arsenal, besides their flying fortress of course, was the power source they used to keep their ship in the air: the original Evangelion Unit-01, which they daren't use due to the risk of it causing another impact. And of course then there was Evangelion 13 which, assuming WILLE had even managed to salvage it after the battle, was probably about a thousand times more dangerous to use than Unit-01.
And now NERV had secured another EVA. And as Asuka hadn't heard any screaming or shouting on the other end of her communication before it cut out, she assumed therefore that the Wunder was still airborne, and that its main power source hadn't simply vanished into thin air only to reappear down here. Asuka counted that as a small blessing, else by now the ship would've plummeted to the ground, most likely killing everyone on board.
And wouldn't that have just topped her day off?
All they could do was sit and wait until finally the EVAs began moving. The one armed with the lance hoisted the limp form of Unit-01 over its shoulder, while the other two fell into step either side of it, their huge shapes moving dangerously close over the three figures below.
Asuka moved to stand, only for the sand to give way under her foot. She let out a startled curse that was far louder than she intended before ducking down again, hands clamped over her mouth.
Asuka's breath caught in her throat when one of the two guarding EVAs froze, the other two stopping a few steps ahead after that. To her mounting horror, it then turned fluidly around to look at her head-on.
Asuka now knew how the deer felt in the instant before the truck hit.
The second in which the EVA just stood there looking down at Asuka seemed to stretch on to forever, before it finally turned ahead once more, and then simply carried on its way.
To her surprise, Asuka didn't find relief washing over her like she expected. Instead she felt a wave of shame and rage welling up from within. She wanted to tell herself that the Evangelion's Dummy System simply hadn't recognized her, and that it must have just had higher priorities than dispatching one lone civilian, but she knew that wasn't the case.
Of course the EVA had recognized her; it knew she was a pilot for the enemy organisation.
But she hadn't been classed as a threat…not any more.
She was an EVA pilot without an EVA: a being of such little strategic value that she wasn't even worth the time it would take to step on her.
She felt an almost childish level of resentment rise up as she looked back at the two she was escorting.
Even they would have more value to WILLE than she would now.
Asuka steeled herself and pushed those emotions aside. That wasn't her any more: those petulant feelings were merely a result of the unending hormonal storm that she had to endure as a result of the childish body she was cursed with.
But then she remembered it: that one moment in the recent fight; the one where she probably could've made a difference.
Shinji had asked her why she wasn't actually there to help him fix the world, why she wasn't on his side.
And what had she told him? In that one instant, in that one second she had to stop everything; to explain calmly?
Shut up and die.
Not 'stop the EVA, it's a trap. You've been tricked and you'll kill us all.'
Shut up and die.
Not, 'Misato will explain everything, please trust me.'
Just…shut up and die.
Asuka clenched her eyes closed and suppressed a groan.
Even though her words had been said in the heat of battle and even if she hadn't meant them literally, the fact remained: she had royally screwed this up. One moment of childish petulance and it was over.
In the end she'd been reduced to begging him to stop, but that was at the last moment, when she knew he was too far gone, when even the lie was more preferable to him than the reality.
Shut up…and die: The words she had almost doomed the world with. And her error had cost her Evangelion Unit-02.
Asuka almost forgave him for backhanding her across the face with EVA-13. The only thing that had stung, that always stung, was that he hadn't come back for her. Her eyes flicked back to Rei.
He'd come back for her, even after he felt that NERV had betrayed him over the Dummy System incident.
Asuka shook her head and pushed herself back to her feet. It was not the time to be consumed by such thoughts. She might not be of much use in a combat role in the future, but for now at least, Asuka Langley Shikinami still had a duty to perform: She had to make sure her two charges got back to WILLE intact and, above that, Misato would need to know just how strange the day had really become.
Little did Asuka know however, that as strange as her day had gotten, it wasn't anywhere near as bizarre as the events transpiring aboard the Wunder.
"This is Ibuki," came Maya's voice over the comm link to the Wunder's bridge.
"Maya," said Ritsuko, approaching the monitor screen, "What do you have to report? Surveillance is still down around the main engine section. Are there any anomalies down there?"
When those two bright flashes of light had shot out of the closing Room of Gauf, the Wunder's sensors had gone wild, and electrical systems across half the ship had been shot to hell by the energy surge. It was so bad that only half of their direct internal communication lines still worked, and radio was completely down. Ritsuko was just thankful that the energy feed from Unit-01 hadn't been disturbed any further than it had been when Mark. 09 tried to take control of the ship from them.
Full restoration of the main engine –or Unit-01 as it was best known— would take quite some time, and it would be at least a week before they dared generate a strong enough A.T. Field to use as a credible defence.
Ritsuko just prayed that the reprieve they seem to have been bought at the end of Near Fourth Impact lasted that long.
Her eyes traveled to the main display. It was currently zoomed in on a spot in low orbit. A strange swirling wisp of blue hung there, marking the spot of the almost-closed Room of Gauf, the same spot from which the two orbs of light had come through.
Just what did it mean?
"Ma'am?" came Maya's voice again, loud and urgent this time.
"What is it?" asked Misato as she crossed over to investigate the commotion, seeming almost grateful for the distraction. Ritsuko noted how Misato had been almost deathly quiet since the end of Fourth Impact. Though to be fair, she had barely spoken outside of giving commands since they had retrieved Shinji from Unit-01.
"We have a situation!"
"What's your status, Maya?" asked Ritsuko.
"Ma'am…it's…I think it's…" she trailed off.
"Maya?" repeated Ritsuko, prompting her to continue and exchanging a confused glance with the Captain.
"It's… an alien. There's…some kind of alien life form down here."
Confusion turned to alarm, and Misato stepped closer to the communication display, "I don't have time for jokes, Ibuki."
"Ma'am, I wish it was," she responded, "Now unless she has the best prosthetics I've ever seen, then what's lying in front of me right now is definitely not human, and she's not alone."
"Why do you call it a she?" asked Ritsuko.
"Well she looks humanoid," said Maya, sounding briefly flustered, "and…mammalian, if you follow my meaning, ma'am."
Ritsuko frowned, "Understood. We're dispatching a security squad to your location in isolation gear. We'll have to quarantine you all once they get there if what you say is true. Show caution in the meanwhile."
"I understand, ma'am. I'm approaching the other entity now," said Maya slowly.
"It's okay, ma'am. They both seem to be unconscious. This one, he looks human. There's some kind of weapon lying by him." There was a pause, "Disarmed him. I'm just going to check his…"
The long silence that then followed was almost audible, "What is it?" asked Ritsuko, her voice rising slightly, "Maya?"
"Ma'am…" she whispered, "I…It's…I…I don't understand…"
"Speak to me, Maya. That's an order, "said Misato. Being blind to events was bad enough, but deaf too was just pushing it.
"Captain, you need to get down here…" said Maya, as if giving up on explaining.
"Sum it up, Maya: Even if it's just one word, give me something."
"One word, ma'am?" whispered Maya, clearly spooked to the core, somehow even more so than by the supposed alien she'd just seen, "I'll give you two…" there followed the audible sound of the former technician swallowing a gulp, "…Shinji Ikari."
"What?" breathed Ritsuko.
"I don't know how to explain this, ma'am, but I know that face. I'm looking right at the Third Child, only…" she trailed off again.
"Only what?" snapped Misato.
"Only, he's not a child..."
Ritsuko didn't need to wait to know what her captain was about to say, "Have the area secured, Maya," said the vice-captain, "We're on our way over now."
Misato looked down over the room below. The isolation chamber was a dark, bloody red in colour. The tank in the centre was surrounded by numerous restraints and pillars marked with Angel sealing glyphs for added protection, "Well?" she asked, turning to the real time feed of the image from within the tank; of the young man who, for all intents and purposes, looked to be sleeping soundly.
Ritsuko shook her head and looked at the display pad in her hand, "He's…human. There's no other way of looking at it. No sign of mental or physical contamination whatsoever, I can't even see any of the markers associated with the effects of LCL exposure. Genetically speaking, he's identical to our Shinji Ikari. The only difference present is the lower hormonal levels in his bloodstream, which indicate he's no longer in adolescence."
"How old?" asked Misato, her arms crossed tightly in front of her as she continued to regard the image.
Ritsuko inclined her head and paced slightly, "It's a bit difficult to pin down precisely. My best estimate would be somewhere between eighteen and nineteen years old."
"All grown up…" murmured Misato under her voice. She then tilted her head around to look at Ritsuko, "Could he be a clone?"
Ritsuko shook her head, "There would be residual genetic markers. Plus, the neural activity we're detecting indicates years of development, which is at odds with being aged artificially." She then hummed thoughtfully as she read the next lines on the report.
"What is it?"
"Nothing, we're just picking up some residual ethanol traces in his blood works; Indicative of alcohol consumption within the past twenty-four to forty-eight hours, at least from his perspective anyway."
"And why is that strange?"
Ritsuko shrugged, "it's not. If anything, it's almost surprisingly mundane. I was just hoping for something a little more…abnormal."
"So he's been enjoying himself. That's hardly an issue. You have anything else?"
She shook her head and sighed, "No, but his endorphin levels are unnaturally high, almost as if he's been recently engaged in prolonged…" she trailed off and just mumbled the rest under her voice.
"It shouldn't be for me to say. It's most likely irrelevant regardless."
Misato shot the doctor an even icier glare than usual, "That's for me to decide."
Ritsuko resisted the urge to roll her eyes, "A prolonged period of extremely intense sexual activity," she intoned, her voice raising just a few decibels to express her exasperation, "Would you like me to put that in the report also, Captain?"
"No. That will do, Ritsuko. Do you have any theories about where they came from?"
"Only vague ones, nothing concrete. There's only one way to know for sure."
Misato returned her attention to the monitor, "You mean we wake him up."
"What else do you have?" asked Misato.
Ritsuko inclined her head and led the Captain out. They travelled a short distance to another lab. Inside was a series of sealed scanning tables. Visible through their transparent tops were various articles.
Ritsuko stopped by the nearest one. Within was a white garment. In shape it resembled a long tuxedo jacket complete with tails, only it was white in colour and seemed to be made of a leathery material as opposed to regular fabric, on its back was emblazoned a logo none of them recognised, "There's this…" said Ritsuko, nodding at the item of clothing.
"His coat? What about it?"
"It's not just a jacket; it's body armor," said Ritsuko, "Every single thing he was wearing was. And while we can't tell if it was designed for that function primarily, we've done some prelim tests and confirmed it certainly does double up to serve that purpose admirably.
"One of our security team fired a full magazine of armor piercing rounds at this from almost point blank range; there wasn't so much as a blemish left behind. Whatever this thing is designed to stop, it must pack a lot more force than our regular ordinance.
"The materials surface is actually comprised of billions of microscopic honeycombs. Each is covered by a thin membrane containing some unknown form of liquid polymer. When that polymer reacts with air it instantly solidifies and becomes harder than steel, the membrane then restores itself and becomes solid once more after a short period. I've…never seen anything like this. The material and design methodology, it's completely and utterly alien. It's also well beyond anything we have. We added about three different elements to the periodic table just by running an electron microscope over the surface."
"Can you duplicate the armoring technology in the short-term?" asked Misato.
She shook her head, "It would take decades to even figure out the basic fundamentals. The sheer gap in terms of technological generations is too vast to allow any simple reverse engineering. We would also need large quantities of minerals and elements that don't even occur naturally on this planet to replicate it to any useful quantity."
"We also don't have the time to be researching new technologies from scratch," said Misato, "What else?"
She led her to another table. A glove-like device attached to a bracelet was set within, "The device we retrieved from his wrist." She explained, nodding at it, "We think it's some kind of personal computer." Ritsuko unsealed the table and retrieved the device. She pressed a control and a holographic screen shimmered into being. An angry red message was visible, written in clear Japanese script. "This you might find interesting…" she said, handing it over to the Misato.
Misato read the message, and indeed, it was quite telling:
LOCKOUT MODE ACTIVE.
BIOMETRIC SENSORS DETECT UNKNOWN USER.
IF FOUND, PLEASE RETURN TO IKARI SHINJI, C/O ARIA T'LOAK, AFTERLIFE NIGHTCLUB, OMEGA STATION, OMEGA NEBULA/MESSIER 17/NGC 6618, SAGITTARIUS CONSTELLATION.
A 10000 CREDIT REWARD IS ASSURED FOR THE FINDER.
"Messier Seventeen?" murmured Misato.
"Misato," said Ritsuko, "that's over six thousand light years away."
"And yet it reads like it's just returning a suitcase. Can you access it?"
Again, a shake of the head, and Misato could see the frustration this time, "Nothing. I've scanned the device and the layout is…nonsensical would be the best way to describe it."
"You mean it's beyond you."
Ritsuko looked away and tossed the device back down, a brief loss of professionalism on her part, "There are no seals or access ports on the device. Whatever's used for taking it apart or interfacing with it, we don't have anything like it. Short of breaking it into pieces, there's nothing we can do."
"How more advanced is it? Are we talking decades..." Ritsuko looked away, "…centuries?"
"I don't know. Once you get to more than one or two generations of technological advancement ahead, it gets hard to predict how long further advancement will take. But ignoring that, and ignoring the actual technology, with computer code and software we could make leaps and bounds in mere days or weeks, if we could only get into the damned thing.
"New software and encryption methodologies could help us overwhelm NERV electronically if we could get into the software architecture."
Misato nodded, her eyes going to the other device on the table. It was obviously a variant of the one the 'new' Shinji had been wearing, even if it did have a slightly more curved and feminine design, "The alien's?" asked Misato, nodding at it.
Ritsuko nodded, "Yes, it was wearing this one. It doesn't seem to be locked out like the other, but it still seems to require an access code. At least we think that's what it's asking for…" and, as if to explain what she meant, Ritsuko tapped a control on the device. Again a display came up, only the writing was completely illegible in this instance.
"An alien language?" murmured Misato, looking at the curved, almost artistic scrawls across the display. Despite their bizarre nature, Misato couldn't help but notice a strange, almost elegant order to the script. She noted the blinking text indicator. It certainly did look like a log in screen.
"We assume as much. The creature wasn't wearing armor, and while the fabric in it's garments was also certainly alien, it appeared to actually be hand woven, albeit to a very high standard."
Ritsuko opened the table and lifted out the red dress, "It's been scanned. There's no bacterial or radioactive danger present," said Ritsuko, offering it out to Misato, "What do you notice?"
Misato pulled a glove off and ran a hand over the surface. It had a texture like silk but seemed slightly more durable. However that wasn't what hit her first. There was a slightly perfumed scent emanating from it, but above that, there was something else clinging to it, something familiar, "It smells like smoke; like…gunfire?"
Ritsuko nodded, "My thoughts exactly. The creature also had signs of slight bruising and minor lacerations on it's skin, as if it had recently been in a combat situation."
"And 'Shinji' – for lack of a better name at the moment, was armed when he arrived…"
"The question is:" said Ritsuko, "Were they fighting as allies, or were they enemies?"
Misato nodded as she stood over the remaining bench. A white pistol lay within. The top of the weapon barrel was open, revealing an empty cylindrical chamber, "No mysteries about what this is."
Ritsuko nodded, "The weapon has what appears to be an empty slot for a clip of some kind. Neither of them had any ammunition on their persons however."
"They could've dropped it," commented Misato.
"No, I don't think that's the case," said Ritsuko. And she nodded to the final bench. On it was a small pile of blackened soot and charred fragments, "Do you know what that is?" she asked.
Misato looked down upon it, "Tell me."
"It's debris we pulled out of the coolant filtration system around the main engine. The trace alloys and elements match some of the alien ones. Shinji's sidearm was also lying open by his hand."
"You think he detonated his ammunition," assumed Misato.
Ritsuko nodded, "And then locked down his technology before losing consciousness; a sound tactical precaution in an unknown environment."
"If you're right," said Misato, "then it's doubtful he intended to come here at all, else why bring the ammunition at all?"
"I suppose that's logical."
"So it's likely he won't have any real designs in mind. Is there anything else?" asked Misato.
"No, that's all we've managed to learn so far, besides one small thing, and I do mean small." She then turned and tapped a control on the wall. Two black screens lit up, revealing a pair of images similar to x-rays in appearance.
The images were both of limbs, and while one seemed to be laid out differently to the other physiologically, there was one thing that they had in common: both clearly had some kind of tiny metallic object embedded in them under the surface.
"What are they?" asked Misato.
Ritsuko shrugged, "Some kind of cybernetic implant. Our scans almost missed them. Shinji's is embedded among the nerves in his arm. The alien has one in a similar position in it's right leg."
"Do you know what they might be for?"
She shook her head, "Sorry. However, with your permission we could attempt exploratory surgery to-"
"-for what purpose?" cut in Misato, "Do you think you could learn anything more than what you already do by simply being able to hold it in your hand?"
"At the moment? Most likely not, but we could still remove them for safety's sake."
"And if they're some kind of medical implement? For all you know they could be keeping them alive in some way."
Ritsuko said nothing.
"And if you damage them physically by digging unknown technology out of their nerves?"
Again, no response.
"Ritsuko, permission denied. What about the alien? That is, you have confirmed-"
"-The entity is most definitely an alien," cut in Ritsuko, drifting over to a nearby table. On it was a Plexiglas case sealed with orange biohazard tape. Resting within was a lone test tube containing a dark violet fluid.
"Alien blood," confirmed Ritsuko, "or at least what it has that passes for blood. Our doctors had trouble even locating a vein initially. It may have similar organs, but it's vascular system is completely different to ours in terms of layout. The composition of the blood is completely unlike our own also. While oxidised iron gives our blood its colour, the alien's seems to have an element in it with properties similar to zinc. It would give their race an almost natural immunity to slightly elevated levels of radiation that would normally cause tumours in humans over long periods of exposure. It's very impressive.
"Whatever the creature is, it most certainly did not evolve on this planet, though their world is most likely very similar to Earth, hence why it evolved into a shape so similar to ours and why it seems to have no trouble surviving in our atmosphere."
They departed the room as Ritsuko walked to a window overlooking the quarantine ward. Within, figures in sealed hazmat suits drifted about the bed containing their only patient, "You keep referring to her as it," commented Misato as she looked across at the unconscious form.
Ritsuko looked away from the being, "Because I'm not quite sure it even qualifies as what we would refer to as a woman. Our scans indicate what appears to be a reproductive system that looks at least cosmetically similar to that of a human female, but…"
"But, having mapped some of its…her…genetic code, she appears to lack many of the markers that would even indicate…"
"Indicate what?" asked Misato, a note of irritation in her tone.
Ritsuko shook her head once more, "That there even is another gender in her species."
Misato's brow furrowed, "If that were the case, then why-"
"-Why would they have evolved a reproductive system that seems designed to be compatible with a bigendered race such as ours when it appears to serve no purpose, complete with apparent nerve clusters seemingly designed for nothing but to create enjoyment from such a form of copulation?" cut in Ritsuko, having asked the question to herself already.
"I have no idea. One of the only possibilities I can conclude is that they were genetically engineered in some way to be compatible in that sense, as if to promote the concept of copulation with races other than their own. Though I'm not sure how that could be possible either. The sheer finesse and skill needed to genetically engineer an entire species to this level would defy belief."
"Could she be some kind of genetically engineered life form? As an individual, not as a species."
Ritsuko shook her head, "No, at least not from what I can tell. Though some of what we've come back with has been so erroneous and bizarre that we're stuck with sheer conjecture."
"What do you mean, erroneous?"
"Well we've done some skin tests, and after analysing the layering on some of the scaled sections on her neck and the protrusions on the rear of her head, we've come back with a result that makes no sense."
"What do you mean? What kind of test was it?"
"Well, you're familiar with how the age of certain long-lived races such as sea turtles and reptiles can be calculated by examining their shells and the number of epidermal layers they've built up over the years, yes?"
Misato nodded. It was a lie, but that didn't mean she didn't grasp the concept.
"Well, we did a similar test with the alien and then did some calculations based of what we've observed from her rate of cellular division."
"You were trying to work out how old she is," assumed Misato, "and you failed?"
She frowned, "It wasn't so much that we failed. More like the results were simply ridiculous, and so we've diverted our attention to other areas for now."
"Ridiculous in what way?" asked Misato, briefly curious.
"Ridiculous in the way that, if our calculations were right, the creature lying on the bed in there would have to be nearly a thousand years old."
"Since when did you spare people's feelings, Ritsuko?"
She didn't rise to the jibe, instead continuing, "As you can see then: preposterous. No humanoid life form can possibly have that kind of longevity, at least not…"
"At least not while maintaining that kind of appearance," finished Misato, "What have you estimated?"
"Well, her constitution is certainly impressive. Physically, in human terms I'd put her somewhere in her thirties, but that's just an educated guess."
"What about intellect?"
Ritsuko tapped a nearby screen, illuminating some scans that had been taken, "We've done the usual tests. Her brain is certainly impressive. Neural pathways that are far more complex than ours with lobes and redundancies whose purpose I can only guess at. Electrical activity is well above average too, or at the very least it was." She tapped several points on the screen, "Then there were these…"
Misato stepped closer, narrowing her eyes at the evenly spaced out white points on the scan, "What are those, some kind of tumors?"
"These nodules…we did think of them as possibly some kind of cancer that she may have been suffering from, but in a human, and with this level of growth, you wouldn't have anywhere near her level of vital activity, in fact you'd most likely be in a totally vegetative state." Ritsuko tapped her pen against her jaw, frowning in thought, "No, I'd say they serve some definite purpose. But short of doing a biopsy there's no way of knowing what."
"I would rather avoid cracking open the skull of a sapient alien life form if at all possible, Ritsuko." Misato's brow then furrowed, "What did you mean: her brain activity was above average?"
Ritsuko averted her eyes and seemed to shift on the spot. The reaction was not lost on the captain, "Ritsuko…Ritsuko, what did you do?"
"I did nothing," she snapped, looking sharply back at the Captain, "You ordered she be kept sedated, but her constitution was so strong that she would've probably regained consciousness moments after we brought her in. We had to…improvise."
"Ritsuko…" said Misato quietly, her tone low and warning.
Ritsuko's eyes remained glued to the floor for a long moment before finally speaking again, "A concentrated dose of acepromazine…" she finally said, her voice small.
Ritsuko closed her eyes and shook her head, "It's…a broad spectrum animal tranquiliser."
And Ritsuko wasn't shocked when she found herself slammed back against the bulkhead, "You used an animal tranquiliser on a creature from another planet?"
"We had nothing else at hand!" she snapped back, "The drugs we use on humans were too complex and would've probably had even more complications."
"What happened, Ritsuko?" growled Misato.
The vice-captain took a calming breath and stepped away from the wall, not meeting the captain's eyes, "There was…a complication. It's normally used to calm dangerous animals, so we thought it might delay her from coming round long enough to prepare countermeasures. We had to keep her under. We didn't know if she was hostile or not, nor what she was capable of."
"Well?" said Misato, prompting her to continue once she was sure the excuses were done with.
"The drug however is also an antipsychotic, and it ended up having a reaction with something in her neural chemistry. The end result was that it pushed her into a far deeper state of unconsciousness than we initially intended."
"W-well you have to-"
"Answer the damned question!"
Ritsuko flinched, "In terms of the actual amount of activity in her brain, it's still very high…at least in human terms. Proportionately though…" Ritsuko looked off again, and Misato knew she wouldn't like the answer, "…she's bordering on being in a comatose state."
When Misato spoke again, her voice was far too calm, "Can you bring her out of it?"
Ritsuko could see the Captain was doing her best to control her temper, and so she continued, "We're doing all we can. If she were human we would just introduce the right series of stimulants to help bring her around, but we daren't risk it without further tests. One shot of the wrong form of adrenaline and we could cause a heart attack or even instant death. She is stable for now though, Misato."
"What's the worst case scenario?"
"Worst case: We're unable to find the right series of drugs and treatments to bring her out of it; she'll slip into a deep coma; rapid neurological damage will then set in, assuming some hasn't been caused already by the shock to her system; brain death will then occur soon after that."
"-Estimate," cut in Misato with a hiss, her patience long gone.
Ritsuko took a breath, "Four days, at best a week. After that…there'll be no point in even trying."
Misato pushed her anger to the side for now and went quiet, deep in thought.
She then made a command decision, "What if you had more information?"
Ritsuko saw instantly where she was going, "You can't seriously mean to-"
"Assuming he does know something, then I admit that it would boost her chances of survival substantially, but as vice-captain I must log my official objection-"
"-objection noted. Have Shinji Ikari moved to a secure ward and post a guard. We should have enough time to get the information you desire along with the information we need to correct this mistake."
"You assume it was a mistake. We still don't know what she can do."
"I'm well aware of that, but that still doesn't excuse what's been done." She turned to Ritsuko when she made no move to leave, "Is there something else?"
"Just one thing: We may also get the opportunity to gain access to invaluable intel and equipment. I just want your permission to take advantage of the opportunity should it present itself."
Misato looked away, "We'll do what we must to survive…"
"Understood, I'll have the process started immediately."
Misato turned to regard the unconscious alien once more. She would be tended to as best they could of course, but Misato had to also consider that Ritsuko might be right: Just what might this other Shinji know? Being older meant also the possibility that he was from the future, and a lot of the evidence certainly pointed towards that. And if that was the case, he might know what was coming; what Gendo Ikari was really up to.
That information could save the world. It would have value beyond comprehension. She had no doubt Ritsuko would go to any lengths to get it also; the sort of lengths she never could. But then that was why she was in command, why she hadn't, couldn't pull the trigger on the DSS Choker despite Ritsuko's urging: Misato Katsuragi had to remain human. If she didn't, what would be the difference between her and the enemy she now fought to destroy?
But even then, Misato had to wonder: did she really have the luxury of morality any more, especially now that the world teetered on a knife edge?
Ritsuko certainly didn't think so.
Time would tell, for she was sure that many of their questions were soon to be answered.
"How are you doing, Mari?" Asked Ritsuko as she walked alongside the gurney being wheeled out of the containment chamber, Mari Makinami Illustrious having been waiting outside and had immediately begun prowling alongside.
Ritsuko had noticed the pilot on her way in, and that she'd been looking down upon the contained Shinji with a mischievous curiosity that she never seemed to have quite grown out of. Unlike Asuka, to Ritsuko it seemed as though Mari practically reveled in her perpetual youth.
"A little tender around the hands, but fit and ready." said Mari, holding up her bandaged limbs cheerily before leaning back in to pay close scrutiny to the sleeping form, her face hovering inches above Shinji's as she walked alongside, "Well would you look at Puppy-kun? He… got…hot."
Ritsuko glanced over her clipboard at Shinji and back, "I wouldn't know."
"The lady isn't a bad looker either, for a Martian anyway."
"You're strange, Mari, have we ever mentioned that to you before?"
"Anyway, how did you know about that?"
"I sneaked into the quarantine ward after lights-out to take a look," said Mari, blatantly not caring that she just admitted to breaching a secure wing.
Ritsuko sighed, "Did you at least wear an isolation suit?"
"Maybe…" chimed Mari in a sing-song voice, still strolling alongside, all the while keeping her curious, catlike stare locked close to the elder Third child, "Why, worried I'll catch Martian mumps or something?"
"I'm quite sure she's not from Mars, Mari…"
There was silence again for a moment, broken only by the squeaking of the gurney wheels.
"She smelled like lavender and war…"
Ritsuko just rolled her eyes.
Mari sighed dreamily, "Hmmm, but Doggie-kun smells like LCL and war. I think I might be in love."
Ritsuko clipped her pen pointedly closed, "Are you here for a reason?"
"Nope, I'm just here as an observer."
Some time later…
"What's his status, Sakura?" murmured Ritsuko as she entered. There was a single bed in the isolation room, which was in turn currently flanked by a pair of security officers armed with assault rifles. The light of the sunset flowed in from the long window that occupied one wall.
"His vitals are strong, Vice-captain, but…"
Sakura set the chart back down at the base of the bed and turned fully toward Ritsuko, "But are we sure it's Ikari-san? I mean we just got that report that he's still down on the surface with Captain Shikinami. How could it possibly-"
"-We don't know yet," cut in Ritsuko as she circled around the bed, "But the Captain says we need to find out, and so that's what we're going to do."
"Will it be safe though? He's not even restrained."
"He's under guard, Sakura," replied the doctor, indicating the masked security officers, "And the fact remains that it is still just Shinji Ikari. We're quite confident we can contain one young man if he chooses to become hostile. There's also no sign he's even piloted an EVA before. He therefore poses no strategic threat in terms of becoming another Trigger."
"R-right," said Sakura, hesitating before asking, "D-do we know if Ikari-san is okay down on the surface?"
"He's uninjured from what we've been informed," replied Ritsuko offhandedly as she lifted one of Shinji's eyelids and shone a penlight over his iris.
The guards tensed when Shinji suddenly let out an irritated grumble, his brow scrunching up.
"Inform the Captain," said Ritsuko quickly as she leaned in closer.
"Yes, ma'am," replied Sakura, quickly departing as the guards moved to the bottom of the bed and took up defensive positions.
Shinji let out an incoherent mumble before rolling over and burying his face in the pillow.
Ritsuko opened her mouth to speak, only to be cut off, "Turn off the damned light, Aria…" Shinji growled, "Hmmm did not sleep well at all." He murmured, voice muffled, "I had this horrible nightmare that Kaworu came to me in a vision and warned me that I'd been sent back in time and into an alternate reality, and everyone from NERV was there, only they're older…and assholes."
Ritsuko cocked a single eyebrow up.
"Shinji…can you hear me?" she asked tentatively.
An aura of sheer dread seemed to wash over Shinji Ikari as a horrible, detestable realisation came to him:
'I know that voice…'
Shinji shuffled his head around a few millimetres; just enough to allow him to flick his eye open and look at who was standing over him.
"Shinji…" said Ritsuko.
Slowly, Shinji rolled back over, a look of utterly disgusted disdain on his face, "Oh…god."
Suddenly the door at the other end of the room opened, and Misato Katsuragi strolled in, "Oh god," repeated Shinji the instant he sighted her.
Another figure entered, "Oh go- who the hell are you?" asked Shinji with a scowl.
She blinked, "S-Sakura, Sakura Suzuhara."
"Oh god…" moaned Shinji, finding no further recourse other than to facepalm himself, "You're not Sakura," he objected, shaking his head from behind his hand.
"Yes I am."
"No you're not. Sakura was small…and cute. She used to do this funny blowfish impression whenever Toji did something stupid."
"I did not do a blowfish impression!" snapped Sakura, puffing up her cheeks into a pout.
Shinji rolled his eyes full circle, "Oh god, it really is you…" he groaned, massaging his temples in the hope of halting a rapidly oncoming headache. He threw his hands up into the air, "Anybody else want to turn up? Really? Anybody at all…"
Suddenly, a voice came through on a loudspeaker, "Vice-captain Akagi, this is Hyuuga…"
"I was fucking joking!" barked Shinji.
The voice continued, "We just thought we'd let you know that we've received another report from Captain Shikinami. You might want to come up here when you have a second. It's…quite urgent."
"Are you feeling at all disorientated?" asked Ritsuko, making a mental note to look into that at the next opportunity.
"Why no, Ritsuko," replied Shinji with a smile that was just a bit too wide, "How've you been? I mean you are Ritsuko Akagi, aren't you?"
"Yes," she replied, "Listen, we just need you to answer some questions."
Shinji rubbed the bridge of his nose. Kaworu had somehow been able to impart the lowdown and warn him in advance of where he was, but he had been praying it was just some horrible Angel joke.
"Listen, Doctor Akagi…"
"That's vice-captain Akagi," said Ritsuko.
Shinji's left eyebrow seemed to rise of its own accord, "Who in the hell would be stupid enough to put you in a command position? I mean, no offence, but you're a bleach-blonde neurotic cat lady with unresolved mommy issues who is really only good in a tech support or middle management sort of role."
"Don't…presume to know me," said Ritsuko coldly.
"I did say no offence," murmured Shinji.
"Some taken," replied Ritsuko through her teeth.
"In that case…sorry."
Shinji then turned to regard Misato. She had been pacing and was now standing at the foot of his bed, looking down at him.
Never had she done that before. Even when she was much taller than him, she always seemed to look at him like she was on his level.
"Oh, Misato-san…" said Shinji sadly, his hand rising up as if wanting to reach out towards her, "What happened to you?"
There was a flicker in her icy expression, the briefest of cracks, "I don't follow."
Shinji's eyebrows rose, "You don't follow?" he echoed disbelievingly, "Misato, you're wearing a silly Captain Ahab hat and a pair of child molester sunglasses. Now kindly permit me to repeat myself: what in the hell happened?"
She stopped her pacing to stand by the side of the bed, though she did steal a glance at her own reflection, "I had to change..." she responded quietly after a pause.
"You changed?" echoed Shinji with narrowed eyes, his tone sounding as if he really did not buy a word of it.
She nodded slowly.
"And so, out of all the people you chose to change yourself into, you picked…my father?"
There was a sudden intake of breath on her part. That one had hurt, "We are at war with NERV," she replied, her tone barely above a whisper.
"Really, and so you became your enemy," he nodded ponderingly, "An interesting strategy, if a bit self-defeating."
Shinji's words may have sounded cold and designed to do nothing but hurt and dent those around him in their most sensitive spots, but that wasn't his goal. No, now that he had come to his senses, Shinji's current aim was something far more simple and short-term:
Get one of them within arm's reach.
There was someone he had to find. He had a responsibility, and he could worry about himself later.
But Shinji Ikari couldn't help but feel a bit low when it turned out to be Misato that his words worked best with. Things seemed to slow as her hand lunged down to grab a handful of his hospital fatigues.
She leaned down into his face, "You've talked enough, now it's my turn to ask a-"
There was a blur of movement and Misato suddenly found herself dragged onto the bed and straight into a chokehold. Shinji's arm was about her throat, his knee buried into the curve of her spine, completely immobilising her.
The guards brought their weapons to bear and Shinji shifted, dragging Misato back further and keeping her in their line of fire. The pressure on Misato's throat increased, "Nobody move!" he barked, "One twist of my arm and you lose your Captain!"
Misato tried to struggle, only to find the difference in upper body strength to be too great.
He had her.
Shinji was then mildly shocked when Misato seemed to relax in his arms, "Do as he says. And lower your weapons also."
"Ma'am?" one of them asked.
"You heard me," she replied calmly. She then turned her eyes to look right into Shinji's, peering out at him over the top of her glasses, "You've become strong, Shinji-kun…"
Shinji's eyes became just a little forlorn, "I had to change too…"
She stared into the dark blue depths of his eyes for a moment, "Would you really kill me?"
Shinji hissed a breath through his teeth and just looked right back at her, "Damn you…" he whispered.
"Too late for that…" she replied just as quietly.
After what seemed to be an eternity of silence, they seemed to just melt away from one another. Shinji then flopped back again against his pillow and just stared listlessly at the ceiling. The guards made a move to advance, but Misato just shook her head at them and they halted again. She took a second to straighten her attire before returning to her former posture over Shinji.
Unshaken and unbroken.
How very Misato.
"Will you cooperate?" she asked.
"Can I ask you something first?" asked Shinji.
"How old are you now?" he asked, seeming genuinely curious, "Late thirties…"
Shinji blinked, and he smiled for the first time, "fourteen years...or it would've been if you were my Misato. I'm glad time has been so kind to you..."
Misato didn't seem to know how to respond for a moment, before finally saying, "Same."
Shinji just smiled weakly and shook his head, bangs ruffling against his pillow, "Oh no, no it hasn't. I'm old, Misato-san, and I am so, so tired..." He said, his voice breaking for one brief instant.
"I don't understand."
He just shook his head again, "You were right about one thing: I could never kill you, any version of you. That much I admit." He then sat fluidly up and locked eyes with Misato once more, "Now then. I'm going to ask you the same question you just asked me: Will you cooperate? Or are you going to make this difficult?"
Her brow furrowed, "Is that some kind of threat?"
Shinji shook his head, "I would never threaten you, Misato-san, never you. And I really am sorry, but now that I'm convinced this isn't just some horrible nightmare, I have an obligation to a client whose appointment I never quite got to finish, and who is therefore technically still in my care as far as I see it. I'm sorry, but I simply cannot risk you refusing to answer the following question…"
Misato frowned, "What are you talking about, what question?"
Shinji didn't respond with words. Instead, with one smooth movement, he withdrew his left hand from under the blanket and Ritsuko Akagi suddenly found herself looking right down the barrel of Misato's service pistol.
Everyone in the room tensed, both guards froze, neither daring to move.
Like a switch flipped, Shinji's expression had become hard. His eyes were far colder than Misato's, his expression more impassive than his father's.
The gun was pointed at Ritsuko, but still Shinji kept his eyes on Misato, and only now did Misato Katsuragi finally realise that she wasn't dealing with a completely different kind of Shinji Ikari. No, she had always told him to do things because he wanted to; to follow through to the end and not because he was just being told to.
This was the Shinji Ikari who just smirked at her when he'd been dragged back after running away for days; the Shinji Ikari who picked up that positron rifle when nobody would've blamed a child for giving up right then and there; the Shinji Ikari who climbed back into Unit-01 after NERV had stabbed him in the back and then burned a world just to save one child.
No, this wasn't a different Shinji...
This was her Shinji.
A mechanical click resounded through the small room, and Consort Ikari of Omega just smiled, "Now then…where is Councillor Tevos?"
To be continued…
[A/N] This is always a joy to write, and fun to be back into it. As normal, this is alpha version and corrections will be handled should I spot them . Well, splicing my writing time between two fics seemed daunting, but I really think it helps keep things fresh. Yes…this fic is officially a go. Just an intro chapter to set the scene for now though. I won't give my plans away, but I still hope you enjoy what's to come.
Catch you in Chapter 2: Shadow Consort