At the Data Analysis Room, the ringing phone interrupted one of the researchers working on a routine report. He picked up the reciever and suddenly froze, realizing the voice belonged to Commander Ikari, telling him a request and then the phone went dead. He glanced around and saw Fuyutsuki, in conversation with Natsumi Odani and Misato Katsuragi over Ayanami's condition. Meanwhile, Makoto Hyuga was busy talking on another phone, probably discussion related to the compatibility test fiasco.

The researcher stood up from his seat and walked towards the Sub-Commander.

"Sir," the researcher said. "It's very important."

"Yes?" Fuyutsuki replied.

"The Commander wishes to talk to you in personally at his office."

"I'll be there," Fuyutsuki said and turned his attention to both women. "May I excuse myself?"

Natsumi and Misato nodded. "We'll take it from here, sir," Misato answered.

As Fuyutsuki left the room, Misato remarked, "Looks like Commander Ikari's trying to pick up the pieces."

"I'm afraid he has no choice except it's his responsibility," Natsumi replied frankly. "We're just doing what he says, good or bad."

"And that's a problem," Misato said, "which makes you wonder where we're heading soon."

Natsumi shook her head, as they watched Makoto put down the phone on its cradle and turned to Misato. "One of the chiefs down at the Test Facility said the crew crew did an inspection on that Entry Plug and the Bakelite system," he reported. "The Bakelite valves were found to have their power connectors removed a few minutes apparently after a routine inspection."

"No doubt it's sabotage to me," Misato said. "What about her Entry Plug?"

"It's fine. They found nothing except for exterior damage."

Misato sighed. "I see," she agreed, before facing Natsumi. "Can we leave for a while? Just for some fresh air?" she suggested, signalling that Misato needed to talk to Makoto outside, in private. Makoto nodded in agreement.

"It's okay," Natsumi replied, sitting down onto her workstation and began typing in her access codes. "I'll have a lot of work to do right now, then later check on the girls downstairs."

Standing outside the room, as he watched Shinji and Rei talk intimately, Kaworu focused on one memory fragment from Rei that intrigued him:

In his mind's eye, there was a dark chamber, probably underground, and making up as the wall of this chamber was a massive, circular tank made of Plexiglas; and in the middle of this chamber was a Plexiglas cylinder with a tangle of wires and what looked like a massive spinal column connected to the top.

This was now different, as it was too close to the truth. He was seeing through Rei's eyes, as she was right inside the central tank, floating in the amber LCL. But then, as he focused closely at the circular tank, thinking they were specks of impurities and silt, turned out to be the remains of the destroyed Rei clones, innards and all.

Kaworu was taken aback, mouth agape. This was one of Rei's terrible secrets, confirming his description of Commander Ikari as a cunning manipulator. Many questions now began to pepper his thoughts.

This is Ayanami? Who or what killed these copies of her, and why and for what purpose?

He now remembered a place like this, for the purposes of his master, because like Rei Ayanami, he was born to serve a specific purpose.

An alternate path fanfiction by soulassassin547
Written on 3/18/2010 12:40am

Kaworu opened his eyes, and he found himself in a Plexiglas tank full of LCL, wires snaking behind his back while bubbles rose from the bottom. He also felt that there were some electrodes stuck onto his head.

Kaworu heard voices, and he slowly turned his head to find where the voices came from.

Dazed and floating in the hazy orange light, he saw two men talking to each other. One was a bespectacled man in a lab coat, while the other was an older, obese man with a visor covering his eyes. Kaworu focused on their conversation and listened.

"So, I am glad that you have finally done the impossible," the older man spoke.

The lab coat man with tufts of gray hair adjusted his thick eyeglasses. "Yes, Herr Lorenz," he answered. "I'm very thankful for your help after all these years... and I'm pleased to be honored."

Keel smiled. "Ah... Doctor Steingarten, we should be seeing the fruits of your efforts soon," he replied.

"Yes, of course sir," Steingarten plesantly agreed. "Duplicating the procedures established by Fuyutsuki, Ikari and Akagi were indeed difficult, with so much trial and error. But now that we have pefected him after many years, I should daresay that we can go on to the next step."

"The Dummy Plug System," Keel said, supplying the answer. "It is one of several elements we need in performing the ritual for the ascension."

"What do you mean of ascension, sir?" Steingarten asked, before he realized what it also meant. "Heaven... Yes, that's what we're expecting anytime."

Lorenz nodded, as if the word Heaven made him smile inside.

"Uh..." Steingarten mumbled. "Sir, if you could allow me to speak."

"Yes," Keel agreed. "You may suggest."

"I wonder if the final steps would be flawless," the wiry scientist remarked.

"It should be," Keel answered. "And as your superior, I expect it to be perfect. More perfect that what NERV does. Their own Dummy Plug System has flaws, incapable of synching with any of their Evas. Their pilots are imperfect, even with the First Children whom Ikari put his best hopes on, as well as the Second Children whom we found to be a suicidal wreck just like her mother."

Steingarten nodded.

"And indeed in many ways we have the upper hand in dealing with the fundamental problems they have," Keel continued. "As for Ikari himself, his willful defiance is an irritation. Any further signs of that, we will start dealing with him by putting this boy into Ikari's little organization."

"And then...?"

"I expect him to seek out the weaknesses in the Third Children and exploit them. I also want him to place NERV into complete disarray that we can see if their defenses can be neutralized and use it to our advantage."

Steingarten blinked slightly. "Sir, what about... what if there is a possibility of this boy failing his mission?"

Keel grumbled, as he closed his fingers to form a fist. "If that happens, if he sacrifices himself," he answered, "We will use more effective measures to ensure our ascension."

"How that will be accomplished?"

"If he dies as expected in the Secret Dead Sea Scrolls," Keel answered, "Then we shall initiate Operation Endgame."

Steingarten suddenly carried a slightly nervous look on his face. Apparently he knew anything about Operation Endgame.

"Doctor, is there any problem with that?"

"No," Steingarten disagreed, slightly unnerved.

"If you ever have any objections," Keel said, "There are many ways at our disposal to ensure your unemployment, some of them unpleasant. You also know that many will replace you on short notice, just like your Japanese counterpart, the late Naoko Akagi."

Steingarten kept himself still, daring not to make another move.

Keel turned around and gazed at the multitude of unconscious Kaworu Nagisas surrounding him, all of them willing to be sent forth. He faced Steingarten again.

"Doctor," Keel mentioned. "You will not mention about our conversation and assume that this has never happened between us. Do anything, but make it perfect," he emphasized, pointing out the first Plexiglas cylinder marked "101-17".

As the old Chairman turned to face Kaworu's container, the young man kept still, pretending not to listen.

Steingarten nodded. "Yes sir," he agreed. "As you wish, we shall accomplish this for the Complementation of Man."

Kaworu shook his head. In many ways, you're just like me, Ayanami, he sadly reflected.

At the same time Kaworu was waiting and thinking outside at the hallway, Shinji was apologizing to Rei for some of his misgivings. He felt downcast as he did, but he knew that at one point before, Rei was his confessor when they were alone.

"Forgive me for what I told myself about you," Shinji said.

"Why?" Rei wondered.

The young man shook his head. "For I saw the truth about you," he answered. "There were many of you. Copies just like you."

Rei was now trying to find the right words to explain, but she couldn't utter a word.

"Doctor Akagi said that they used you for the Dummy Plug," Shinji added, a bitter tinge in his speech, trying not to remember the gory aftermath. "But she was angry and destroyed your copies because she thinks you're responsible for her suffering. However, I don't think it's your fault."

Rei remembered that back at the Dummy Plug Plant after she came back from the Infirmary, as she was floating in the central tank she saw bits and pieces of herself.

"I was born for a purpose," Rei answered. "The Commander wanted to see to that, and he told me that I have a duty to fulfill his wishes. He also said that I was important for his goal, and thus I have copies of myself for the Dummy Plug."

Shinji frowned. "What goal?" he asked.

Rei looked away. "He never told me about it. Only I have to do what he wanted, even if it means I have to risk myself because I have replacements then."

The young man closed his eyes as if trying to relieve himself of the pain. Here was someone who was made, if not born, for a specific purpose for what end that he didn't know, and yet he was afraid of asking. Here was also someone who could not speak her own mind, or have the right to object or oppose, but simply to follow someone else's dictates.

Until now.

"It's all because of my father," Shinji said, as he remembered that mind-wracking experience while he was in a disintegrated form in the Entry Plug as Unit One nearly absorbed him; he was bombarded with endless questions about his purpose, existence, desires, fears, pain and pleasure. He wanted escape, but there was no place to run away from, and thus he had no other choice except to accept the expectations of others or the twists of fate.

Shinji lowered his head. "I wish all of this didn't happen," he thought aloud. "Not just for me or you, but everyone else around us. I wished a different life; I wanted to be someone else; I wanted to be normal."

He turned his attention to Rei, who was silent. "Neither of us have choices," he said. "I should've said this but I can complain, I can yell or throw things, but my father doesn't listen. Nothing could try to change him, nothing."

In Shinji's mind was his father's intimidating stare, stone-faced and those eyes behind glasses, expressing a single-minded determination. Under his withering gaze there could be no dissent, no opinion, and no freedom. Everyone will have to do as he ordered because he thinks what he does as a Commander is important.

"Exactly what does my father really want?" Shinji asked.

"I could not answer that at all," Rei replied.

Shinji silently clenched his teeth, upset at the fact that if he ever summoned an enormous amount of courage to ask his father why, he would only meet a frustrating blank wall and that patent murmur. It was also obvious that despite she spent more time with his father, Rei didn't know much about the Commander's true personality.

Then there was the job description. He remembered about the little NERV brief that Misato gave him to read not so long ago, which also described the roles of the Commander and other subordinates under his command.

"Was it that he was made a Commander because he wanted me to save the world?" Shinji thought aloud, "Or that because somewhere he sees Mother in his work?" He sighed and shook his head.

"Ayanami," Shinji said with a different conviction, "Until we get to know what he's truly up to, we'll never understand what we're actually here for, because it's killing me, unless you could at least try to get an answer for me because I know that you're much closer to him than I do."

"'Killing' you?" Rei queried, as sometimes metaphor and idioms defeated her.

"I mean, it's still driving me nuts," he clarified. "There are also still a lot of questions out here, even if Misato is still trying to find more answers. I bet that it's easier to solve a sudoku puzzle than this one."

Shinji sighed in despair. Other than solving mathematical solutions in school (and often with errors; he was not very good in math), his head never ached like this before, trying to crack the enigma that was his father. He decided to talk about something else, something he never broached to Rei before.

"I remember something when I was absorbed in the Entry Plug," Shinji said.

"What is it?"

Shinji made a wistful smile. "I saw Mother inside," he answered, "and I heard her talk to Father. Weird, I could also smell her. I think she said that if I wanted to live, anywhere can be heaven, and perhaps if I make it through, I have a chance at happiness. But right now this isn't happiness… except maybe with friends. They're happiness; they keep me from going crazy, and if I get hurt they also become worried for me, just like what Kensuke, Touji and Hikari said yesterday."

"Are my memories my happiness?" Rei asked.

"It can be," Shinji replied, "if they were good memories. Haven't you experienced being truly happy when we're all together? Like back when we went out eating with Asuka and Misato? Or when Misato got promoted? Or when I saved you once?"

To Rei the idea of smiling or laughing was still alien to her, as she was bred to be completely indifferent to the world outside, and since her enrollment at school then she was always alone and unsociable. All it was drilled into her mind was total obedience, but from the time she met Shinji he changed her gradually.

Perhaps that was what happiness was all about, a change within, a chance to try at least lighten up. Or is it in the company of others that one can be happy?

Yes, just like what Shinji said, interaction with people kept him from being sad.

"Is it when I am not lonely, when I am with others that I can be happy?" Rei queried, as it seems that in the process of talking to Shinji, she was beginning to entertain possibilities for herself.

"That's right," Shinji answered. "Kensuke said it all how important it can be to have someone to talk to, whether I feel bad or good. Just like what we're doing today."

Then he remembered something else from the Entry Plug experience: he heard his mother talk to his father again, deciding what name he wanted for the firstborn; if his mother gave birth to a boy, he would be Shinji; or if it's a girl, she would be named Rei.

A shiver went up to his spine. If what he heard in the Entry Plug was correct, then this girl present before him is possibly his twin sister.

Rei noticed the odd expression on Shinji's face. "What is wrong with you?" she inquired.

Shinji shook his head. "No, nothing," he answered sheepishly. Deep inside, though, he felt better being with her this time, hoping that nothing should ever take that cherished moment like this away from him.

While Shinji and Rei were still deep into their conversation, Kaworu took his time to approach Asuka's room and looked through the windows. The Second Children remained completely drugged, wired, and almost motionless on her bed. The broken expression was also marked on her face, as she had surrendered all of her personal will to chemicals.

Asuka laid there, begging to be helped in some way to get away from her misery even in that seemingly lifeless state. Perhaps tonight he would take advantage of his service to Rei by sneaking into Asuka's room. It was a risky move, but his urge to intervene was greater.

He thought of his secret gift, trying to know its potential and its limits. True, SEELE trained him to make the most of his powers, such as generating and manipulating his AT-Field into any form he wished, or levitate with his will, but even now he was still learning. There was much that he never knew about himself, waiting to be unearthed.

Kaworu closed his eyes. I wish I could know you better, but it's time for me to look into you. You can't live like this.

"You were right," Gendo Ikari said sourly to Kozo Fuyutsuki. "I should have thought more carefully before doing this."

Both men were in his office, alone and behind closed doors. Sitting on his chair and arms on the desk in the standard pose, Gendo also wore a scowl on his face, clearly bothered by the failure of his attempted experiment.

"Why do you have to restart the Dummy Plug program?" Fuyutsuki asked. "It could've raised a lot of Committee eyebrows." Floating on the older man's mind was George Santayana's oft-quoted warning on the failure of understanding history, the terrible consequence of repeating a historical mistake. "I'm pretty sure they would know about it," he added.

"I thought today would be the perfect opportunity," he answered. "Apart from trying to get a good chance on a compatibility test, I was also hoping to record the Fifth Children's data, synthesize with the First Children's pattern and then incorporate into the revised Plug."

Fuyutsuki looked afar at the bucolic scenery out in the Geofront. "But I think it's too late, and as I have said previously, the Dummy Plugs we have built carried too many defects."

"That's enough," Gendo answered tersely. "From now on, no more of that nonsense, we're wasting too much time and money on those useless things."

The Dummy Plug project was now offficially dead. For a while both men pondered before Fuyutsuki broke the silence, asking, "Care to ask why you remained standing as Unit One tried to kill you, even as there was clear and present danger to your life?"

"I remember recovering Rei from the Entry Plug," Gendo answered after a long pause. "You know that I got my hands burned while opening the escape hatch, and I broke my old glasses."

"I know that," Fuyutsuki said.

"Personal sentimentality, something I seem to miss in these days, or that I have forgotten completely."

"Thinking of her again?" Fuyutsuki asked, referring to Yui.

"She's the only one who said to me that she actually liked me," Gendo said. "I wished I known her much better."

Fuyutsuki then turned to confront Gendo. "Then perhaps you were too trusting. Back then, you were so absorbed in your work."

Gendo said nothing, but Fuyutsuki recalled that Ikari spent a week of alcoholic debauchery after Yui's failed contact experiment, and afterwards came out with the Instrumentality Project and proposed it to SEELE.

"If I could remember correctly," Fuyutsuki continued, "Your wife risked herself just to do something she thinks is noble, so she made herself a test subject for that contact experiment. I can also remember that day now, and I can even remember her words. She is the reason why we're here today."

Gendo shook his head. "It's her choice, because she wanted to follow the path of the Scrolls; everything can fall into place as forecasted, but anyone can participate as part of their destiny."

"Speaking of prophecies," Fuyutsuki said. "Do you really believe that everything can happen in accordance to the Scrolls?"

"Even with setbacks, everything goes according to plan," Gendo answered. "That's why I put my faith in it."

Fuyutsuki shook his head. "You may not like this, but it has come to my mind right now that not everything can happen as planned."

Gendo frowned. "What do you mean? Most of what the Scrolls predict and later correctly confirm every incident we encountered."

"Some variables could affect everything and create unpredictability," Fuyutsuki explained, "including things beyond our control or knowledge, and even things we did not conceive of as part of our planning. But just as a fluttering butterfly in Tokyo-2 could possibly cause a storm in Miami, there will be always these variables because everything we do and what occurs in our complicated world, are always interconnected with each other."

Gendo cut him short with a signature murmur, which Fuyutsuki took as an agreement.

"The Entanglement Theory, is it correct?" Gendo asked, recalling an ancient but unconventional theory that was discussed in Nature. Once part of teachings of Eastern religions, it was now being studied seriously in subatomic physics. "Now that it makes sense to us," he went on, "if we apply this theory into our current situation, I'm pretty sure that even the Committee, for all of its influence and money, can have its own set of problems, just as we do. They can be also be affected by variables outside their responsibility."

Gendo was now thinking, as he caressed his beard.

"So that means that we'll have to closely look for variables that either we or they could take advantage of," Gendo continued. "Now that you made me think again, that brings us to one variable that may soon be a bone of contention, especially now that we have little time left. Either this could turn the tables on the Committee, or against us."

Gendo's glasses glinted for a second in the light, as if his confidence was restored by a quick stroke of genius.

"And what is this variable?" Fuyutsuki asked, slightly perplexed.

"Kaworu Nagisa."

Shinji recalled his previous dispute with Rei on the escalator, in which as a rebuke she struck him on the face.

"Do you remember when you slapped me?" Shinji queried.

Rei looked at him, trying to remember the circumstances, and then she answered, "I was being defensive then because I thought you were insulting him by telling me that you could not trust his work."

Shinji shook his head. "Do you still trust him? Me? No, I still don't," he added, "Especially for what he did to you today."

Rei said nothing, as she was trying to sort herself out. She remembered Kaworu's promise before they boarded the Evas, vowing to be at his side should anything go wrong; and before that, Kaworu vowed to help her deal with that amnesia, and the Commander's lesson on the value of trust:

"Trust is, I believe, is a very precious commodity that we must be aware of and must be given carefully."

Rei bowed her head low and spoke, "Today I am beginning to doubt the Commander."

Shinji looked puzzled, completely struck by her decision, as he always knew she was loyal to his father. "Why?"

"I am now unsure of your father's wisdom," she admitted. "I could no longer rely on his work, and I also fear the future, of what may come soon to me."


Rei looked into Shinji's eyes. "Because of it and I want to live, I have now put my trust on Nagisa… and you."

Outside the main NERV building, Misato was talking with Makoto Hyuga over some of the more sensitive concerns, especially the probable sabotage of the Bakelite system and the secrets the glasses-wearing lieutenant brought out for her. He explained what happened when he tried to use Bakelite on Unit-01 but the dispensers were fouled.

"This reminds me of what happened to that Jet Alone junk heap," Misato recalled. "Somehow there's somebody on the inside who's trying to screw things up."

Jet Alone was a robot built by a local industrial consortium in a bid to supplant Evas in the role of fighting off Angels, but this mechanical monster went out of control during its field demonstration months ago, forcing Misato and Shinji to completely shut down its nuclear engine before it could blow up.

"They're not ruling that out," Makoto answered, "So as the chief down there said, he's conducting an investigation by questioning the crew. Maybe then Section Two would latch in there with an inquiry, but, no surprises, I'll expect nothing just like when they tried looking for Miss Langley."

"That's what I'm afraid about those guys," Misato remarked, shaking her head. "Okay, what else… Ah, yes, Unit One," she added, wishing to change the subject.

"I'm not surprised with its odd actions, either," Makoto replied. "We also know that Unit One had a history of being unpredictable, such as eating and using the S2 Engine from an Angel, absorbing Shinji in the Entry Plug, rejecting Ayanami and the original Dummy Plug, and so on."

Misato recalled talking with Ritsuko on the physiology of Angels, as they were recovering the remains of one that Shinji took down several months ago. Ritsuko admitted that for all of her efforts, learning all about the Angels' functions and powers were beyond their comprehension, and so far they were scratching the surface. Like the Angels, the Evas were also very complicated to begin with, and even today the resident NERV scientists understood only a fraction of their potential. Only when the Evas unleash the impossible, they reveal a little more of their terrible secret.

Then an idea entered her mind; it was unthinkable but plausible. Maybe it could explain why Rei now suddenly had a different state of mind.

"Do you remember about that Angel that fused with Unit Zero? And then it also tried to join with Unit One?"

"Well, yeah," Makoto answered. "The Angel even did enter Ayanami's brain, just as her psychogram data tells."

"And then at the mission debrief Shinji said his hands were sprouting small heads of Ayanami, or so he claimed, while trying to stop it. He even mentioned about the Angel talking in his head. At any rate, however, I was never told exactly what happened to Unit Zero or that girl, as Ritsuko kept totally mum about it. But now, I'm not discounting the possibility that the Angel may have served as a psychic conduit between the Evas while it was trying to fuse with them."

Makoto frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I'm talking about not just a physical or a psychological attack, but something else that could be the answer as to what happened to Ayanami today."

"Do you want us to look into that?" Makoto asked. "I wonder if we still have much time."

"I don't care. We'll need to review the post-combat data, and every second of it. Check every variable, run the numbers, and then we'll have our answers because the Sub-Commander said the Evas know everything."

She remembered the strange pictures and the secrets that Makoto gave to her a few days ago. "Anyway," Misato said, "in the last two nights I looked into the data you gave to me."

Makoto adjusted his horn-rimmed glasses. "How did it go? Have you found something?"

"You're right on the mark," Misato replied. "Besides the odd pictures, there were many discrepancies with Nagisa's data. I've also talked to the Vice-Commander about this anomaly, and he said that he was just as suspicious as we are. That's why I'm waiting for a chance to get close and personal."

"It's going to be sooner than we think."

"However, curiosity can kill a cat," Misato warned. "Remember, what we're getting into is becoming deeper than we ever expected, so we'll have to be extra careful because now I think we have traitors in here."

"Ikari, I should have told you this as well," Rei said. "It occurred on the last minute as I tried to stop the Angel."

"About what?" Shinji asked.

Rei took a deep breath and spoke, "I liked you."

Shinji blinked. "Y… You do? But you said…"

"I liked you because you are… kind," Rei admitted, cutting him off. "Because you did everything good to me, something that your father hardly does. That is why sometimes I worry about you, thinking about you, and I fill that emptiness in me by having you in my heart."

The First Children bowed her head and continued, "There's a void in me… It's always there, empty, and I feel like as if I was made of straw. I remember being afraid of it, I would fill it up by thinking about your father."

Shinji was speechless. He couldn't believe what she was admitting now to him, especially that she was speaking from the bottom of her heart.

"But one day, before I knew what was happening… you were there inside."


"Until you came, I could not understand myself except I existed because of the Commander. However, because I connected with you I changed, I became different and I have even felt the change in my heart."

Shinji felt his heart swell, seemingly glad that she was crediting him for what she became now.

"There is, however, what I fear… I fear loneliness." Rei's face now had an expression of personal regret.

"Why?" he asked doubtedly.

"The Angel challenged me to look into myself, and she was right that I was truly alone, I was hiding this fact from even you. Forgive me, but the Angel told me without speaking that my heart wanted you only for myself, to see only you."

Rei tried not to burst into tears again, but it was too late as the salty drops spattered her blanket.

"Do I look guilty to you, for me having that sorrow, hatred and distress in my heart?"

Shinji shook his head. "N… No, you were never like that bad to me. You're really amazing, I swear."

"Please forgive me for having these thoughts, but I need you to know what I truly feel."

"Don't," Shinji answered, trying to reassure her as he took the girl into his arms. "You don't have to blame yourself... Instead I thank you for telling this."

Rei rested her head upon Shinji's shoulder, knowing that he was one of the few persons she could actually lean on, but the Commander was not among them: he never did an act like this for her.

Fuyutsuki was poised to leave, as it appeared that Gendo recovered better out of today's otherwise hard events after he thought about the possibilities of making better use of Kaworu's presence and talent, so the old man felt it was the best time for requests.

"One word before I go," Fuyutsuki said, "Just a favor or two."

"Hmmmm…" Gendo murmured, as his arms and hands were still in the same pose even after a half-hour.

Fuyutsuki cleared his throat. "Is it acceptable if we should just release Miss Langley and return her to Germany as a humanitarian gesture to her parents? You know, I don't think she should remain in that condition for too long."

Gendo frowned, but he was considering Fuyutsuki's request.

"That would be acceptable," Gendo decided. "Provided that she should not tell everyone and everything about our activities, but given her psychological state, I am sure that her words will not be given credence. To the world, she's broken."

"Another thing: what about Doctor Akagi? In the long term, what are you going to do with her now that she's in jail?" Fuyutsuki asked.

The Commander snorted in contempt. "She'll remain here, as she's the only one who knows the MAGI inside and out, and any subordinates under her department may be allowed to ask her for guidance regarding its operation, but should she try once more to derail our plans, then I will have her permanently removed and imprisoned. Her crime will bring her only a discredited reputation more as a conspiracy theorist than a scientist, and no one will accept any of her allegations should she decides to go public."

Once again, Fuyutsuki told himself, he has no regrets judging their fates.

"Very well, then," Gendo continued, "Tonight I'll sign the release papers for the Second Children, and by tomorrow afternoon she should be gone from here. I am through with useless people."

Fuyutsuki nodded, inwardly displeased with Gendo's use of the derisive word 'useless', but then he thought of the Committee, probably angry by now and demanding for an answer.

"Finally," Gendo spoke, as if he seemed to have read his mind, "Should the Committee know what I did today and they want to talk to me, you shouldn't worry as I will deal with them personally. I am not afraid of a little word-sparring."

Shinji glanced at the wall clock above the bed, and told him it was past three in the afternoon; still much time to talk about. The First Children felt relieved that her personal self-burden was eased by his presence.

"Thought you might want to know," he began.

"Yes?" Rei asked.

The young man sighed. "Dunno, but I noticed that lately you're really stuck with Kaworu."

"It was necessary that he was required to work with me."

"No… It's something different."

"What do you mean?"

"After I told Kensuke that you and Kaworu look alike," Shinji disclosed, "he thinks both of you make a nice couple. Since the day Kaworu first came here, you couldn't avoid being with him… But I'm okay with you being with him, not against it; I'm really happy about it because I think you… You also need someone besides me to have good company."

Rei was speechless, but Shinji thought otherwise as he wondered if Rei was falling for Kaworu after nearly three days from their first meeting; had things here were normal and all of them were in school, many of Shinji's classmates would've whispered rumors, guessing whether they were made for each other or whatever romantic notions entered their minds, generously fed by nightly local and Korean soap operas.

But Shinji didn't want to hurt Rei by asking too much about her relationship with the Fifth Children; he'll leave that for Rei to find out for herself, just as he was trying to find the meaning of his relationship between him and Asuka.

He wanted to get Asuka out of her misery, but he had none of the power to do so except he was hoping Misato was trying her best even if the odds were mostly against her. It didn't matter if Asuka could return as a pilot; he wanted to see her live, he wanted to settle things and perhaps hopefully they might finally come to terms with themselves.

Just as he was about to resume talking, Kaworu walked in.

"How's it going?" Kaworu asked.

Shinji smiled. "Everything's fine; it's just that we had so much to say as if we haven't seen each other in a long time."

Rei was silent except she made a faint smile of satisfaction.

"I guess that now both of you settled your differences," Kaworu remarked.

Shinji nodded, and turned his attention to Rei.

"Ayanami," he said. "Looks like I have to go because you need to rest."

"Yes, you are right," Rei answered.

"Okay." Shinji stood up from his seat and faced Kaworu. "I'll owe you nothing for her, so today I'm putting my trust on you."

"Thanks," Kaworu replied happily, and he reached out his hand to shake Shinji's. "I never expected that we have a whole day full of surprises."

"That's right," he agreed. "We'll never know what comes next. Again, thanks for saving Ayanami."

Both bowed to each other, before Shinji walked away, smiling and waving his hand at Rei as he left the room. Once they were alone, Kaworu turned to Rei as he sat down on the bedside chair.

"I think he's happy to see you like that," Kaworu said. "He never doubted you this time," he added as he began to push a button on the bed's recliner control to lower it, then he gestured Rei to sit up a bit as he fixed her pillow, before she lay down again. Kaworu covered a blanket over her form.

"Thank you," Rei said as she closed her eyes.

"You're always welcome," Kaworu whispered.

Once she was completely asleep, Kaworu looked at Rei. She looked delicate, at peace with herself, a child and a woman at once. This prompted him to briefly and gently stroke her blue hair with his fingers.

Kaworu felt satisfied that everything was all right between her and Shinji, hoping this rekindled relationship could continue from now on. To be honest and yet he never broached this directly to Rei, Kaworu slowly came to like her despite the girl's character deficiencies, and the odd, unavoidable circumstances seemed to have made them gravitate to each other. Kaworu now also had this growing sentiment of responsibility that Rei owed him for, and that he sensed in her a desire to live.

As he left the room, Kaworu knew that should anything untowards happen to her, he will defend her at all costs.

In her office, Misato was hunched over her desk, reading every report from the Unit One-induced mayhem that was stacked and emailed to her. Usually folders and emails landed upon her desk after every incident involving the Evas, especially damage reports and repair estimates. She was often annoyed by this bureaucratic morass, but as the officer responsible for all Eva operations, she had to respond to each and every one of them.

Already halfway through the stack her eyes were becoming heavy, no thanks to the exhaustion mostly generated by today's crisis. Misato was feeling sleepy, and now she needed a shot of coffee to jumpstart her system. She grabbed her mug and went to the pantry room where the coffee maker was plugged in.

As she filled the mug with the dark-brown java and added two cubes of sugar, Misato summed up all of the day's events.

Looks like the Commander is getting desperate, she thought. He suddenly gets this rash idea of kickstarting his dead project. Now that it's dead again, I wonder what's he's going to do next.

Misato sighed, as she sampled her coffee. Sure, we have the budget and apparently there's no end in sight for us down here, but signs are appearing all over, telling me that our time would be up soon.

How we would end up? What would happen?

Whatever the end would be, I intend that I want to survive once more in the same way I made it out of Antarctica.

Just as she was about to take a sip, Shinji appeared at the pantry's doorway.

"Oh, there you are," Misato said, tabling her coffee mug.

Shinji smiled a little. "Ayanami and I had a long talk," he answered. "She was okay. Don't know how it happened, but suddenly she could remember."

"How did you found out?" she asked, blinking in near-disbelief.

"Well, I asked her if she remembered me bringing her new ID card, and she did… She said it exactly as if it happened yesterday."

Misato suddenly shivered. She then leaned closer to Shinji and whispered, "Fuyutsuki, Doctor Odani and I discussed this a few hours ago, as we found out Rei's different today because apparently Unit One affected her hippocampus. It's a part in the brain that's where your memories are."

"Like psycho…" he stammered, trying to get the spelling right, "Is it like psychological contamination?" he asked.

The older woman shook her head. "No, Shinji, this is completely, damn-crazy different. When we say psychological contamination, usually it means that the Eva affects your head by trying to mess up everything inside. Too much and you get brain damage, leave you as a vegetable, or even kill you."

Misato now looked closer into Shinji's eyes. "However, if what you said about Rei remembering everything is for real, then it confirms what we suspected after checking her brain scans and test records. Anyway, I'll try to debrief Rei and Kaworu as soon as they're ready."

Shinji said nothing as she drank her coffee, but then Misato suddenly tabled the mug, gestured to him to come with her and led him out of the pantry. As she passed by her desk, she quickly picked up her purse and pressed the power button on her computer to shut itself down.

"What about those?" he asked, pointing at the junk on the desk. "Where we're going?"

Misato shrugged. "Maybe I'll finish the rest of that crap tomorrow, so come on, you and I should get home and forget this for now. I had enough for this day," she answered.

Inside the elevator, Kaworu pressed the button for the Cafeteria's level, and the doors closed shut. As the elevator began to move up, he placed his palm over the heart, sensing a strange throbbing inside, before he touched his lips with his fingers.

I never felt something like this before, he contemplated. I can't even tell what this unusual feeling is. What's going on with me? he asked himself.

Author's Note: This chapter took so much for me to think about (amidst personal problems on my side), trying to guess what happens next and what they would say (and me trying not to allow those personal problems to interfere with the writing). The important thing is that I wanted some of their personal issues to be settled with, but in a gradual way, and then what's left is to deal with some of the other remaining characters, most especially with Asuka and the Command Bridge crew.

We're just getting started.

By the way, today's OP/ED songs for this chapter are Mutemath's "Spotlight", and Angela Aki's "This Love" respectively.