Prologue - End of an Era

Death, Misato Katsuragi mused, comes in two forms.

There was death of one type, and she found that one annoying. It was uncertain death. The sensation of putting ones head into the lion's maw and wondering if it was this instance that it would choose to bite was somewhat akin to the feeling that ran down her spine every time she exited a room that contained Gendo Ikari. Every time she wondered if that would be the time he put a bullet in her back.

And he would, one day, she was sure, and she was also sure that he would do it with less compunction than running his sink's disposal.

The other kind of death, the type she far preferred, even under these circumstances, was certain death. Quick, clean, and efficient were preferable, but even if that was not meant to be, the knowledge that it would be this instance and no other that she felt it's kiss was comforting in its own twisted fashion.

Misato clutched the cross at her throat and looked calmly up at the fourteenth angel, Zeruel, as it poised itself to slice her, and just about everything else around her, in half.

But, as certain as it may have seemed, death did not choose to claim Misato this day.

A rumbling sound to her right distracted it, and a purple fist smashed through the wall, slamming into the angel's weakened AT Field, sending it sprawling back.

The rest of Evangelion Unit 01 tore through the wall shortly after that, giving the angel time to reorient itself. As the Eva come barreling though, Zeruel shot out a bladed 'arm', but Shinji miraculously batted it aside.

Shinji's other hand swept in with the prog knife, but the angel skimmed back, only to come crashing in while he was off balance, sending him back to the ground. Shinji raised the knife to defend himself, but the knife was cut off - as well as half of the left arm. Misato swore, trying to blank out Shinji's scream of pain on the monitor.

"Cut the nerve endings for that piece of the arm, NOW!"

Her command was swiftly heeded even as the third child bit through the pain and got back to his feet. Zeruel was waiting. The razor edged arms blurred out again, but this time somehow managed to miss. Shinji dove in with his remaining arm, aiming right for the angel's core.

It was not to be.

The angel simply skimmed back again, attempting to cut off the other arm at the shoulder as Shinji overextended. A second swift command from Misato cut the pain from Shinji, but while the arm was still halfway attached, it was simply dead weight.

That was when things got worse.

Makoto swore and yelled at Misato. "Major! It's almost got enough for another blast!"

Misato hit the comm. button to the 01. "Shinji, get out of there, it's almost ready to fire!"

Shinji's eyes widened on the screen. He'd seen what that blast could do on his way in. He started moving away, and was almost too late. In an attempt to keep it's prey in place, Zeruel shot out a razor tentacle, slicing off the right leg at the knee. As it was, Shinji's half attempted escape maneuver vaporized the dead left arm and the leg below, doing massive damage to the torso, and exposing the now damaged core, before continuing up and blowing a hole in the outer wall out the geofront.

Zeruel slung one bladed arm down through 01's neck to stop most of the thrashing, and poised the other to finish the job. Shinji slipped into blissful unconsciousness.

But, this too, was not meant to be.

The angel's victory was stolen from it in the form of something else. It was kneed out of the way, then was batted back by a pair of wings.

The new player was mostly humanoid in appearance, vaguely female in it's shape. Clearly mechanical, it's long legs came up to a relatively short torso and head. While it possessed shoulder guards, it had no arms to speak of, and the wings were mounted on a small platform on the back of its head.

It turned to face the downed angel as it stared to right itself, floating protectively in front of what remained of 01. Misato gaped for a moment in shock, then corrected herself. She turned to the others in the room. "What the hell is that thing, and where did it come from?"

Shigeru, serious for once, gave her what his instruments read. "It's mechanical major. There's a small life sign for a pilot, but that's it. Its engine output is incredible though… it's not quite the S2 that the angels have, but it's damn close. As for where it came from…"

Maya interrupted. "It just flew in through the hole the angel made, major."

Misato nodded, glancing back over her shoulder at Gendo, who just stared on impassively. She shuddered a bit, wondering how he could just sit there, then refocused her attention. "Okay, while that thing has the angel occupied, I want a small team down there to extract Shinji. We are not loosing a pilot, you hear me?"

They nodded.

Zeruel and the new machine had not been sitting idly by. Zeruel opened by flinging it's razored tentacles at the new machine, but it slipped past at a speed only theoretically possible for Evangelions. It countered by flying around the side of the angel and slapping it with its wings and occasionally kicking it in various places.

The angel came around, not being more than annoyed by the wing hits, really, and launched its arms again. This time the winged machine simply blocked, throwing the wings in front of its body to protect it.

They made an impressive clang as they bounced off, but were otherwise ineffective. The winged machine darted in again, and this time slammed both wings into both sides of it, stunning it, so that it would have an unobstructed kick at the core. This was blocked at the last second by the angel's armor, and it backed off.

As it did so however, Zeruel snaked its arms in, taking on the torso this time, causing deep cuts to appear. The winged figure backed off a bit more and glowed green momentarily, the brightest patches coming from the gashes. Which started to regenerate.

When the light cut, the machine stood there like it hadn't been touched.

On the ground behind them, a tech crew was just extracting the unconscious and bleeding Shinji from the entry plug. The machine's head turned a little to notice this, then seemed to give off an aura of anger.

Up in the command room, Shigeru swore. "Major! That thing's energy signature just changed into one of the strongest blue patterns I've ever seen!"

Misato snapped her head around to look out at the two battlers just sitting there. "Tell that crew to get the hell out of there with Shinji! NOW!"

They complied, as they watched in horror as what seemed to be two angels confronted each other.

The winged machine (angel?) seemed to activate an external speaker then. "Want you know before I destroy. I ANGRY!"

The winged machine lit up with sky blue energy then, and flew faster than they'd seen so far, right at the angel, dodging between the arms as they came out. It slammed two kicks into the angel's chest, then spun rapidly in place so that its wings buffeted Zeruel with incredible force. It backed off a bit then, and used the blue energy to send blue shockwaves into the fourteenth angel, knocking it back a bit, before a horizontal shockwave knocked it onto its back. Then, the aura darkened, deepening into pitch black.

Makoto swore. "The energy is still intensifying."

It picked up Zeruel then, and the black energy collected around the thing, shrinking the original angel until it was no larger than a large car. Then the winged thing gave Zeruel a soft toss straight up and backed up a bit.

And slammed a wing into it hard when it came back down to the right height, slamming it into one of the still remaining walls to the geofront. As it landed the black aura dissipated, rendering it back to its full size.

This time it was Maya who gulped. "Good news, the crew has Shinji back in the complex. Bad news, our winged companion out there could probably tear into the complex with almost no effort."

An orange glow appeared in the center of the blackness and expanded as the angel attempted once more to rise. Then, the wings detached from the head of the greenish machine, and curled until they resembled fists.

And began pummeling Zeruel into submission. The last hit was an uppercut, knocking the battered angel back to the ground as the wings flew back and reattached.

The winged one had one thing to say as it hovered over the heaving chest region of Zeruel:

"Die."

And then it dropped with incredible force, the tips of its feet crushing the angel's core.

Shigeru sighed in relief as that happened. "The other one's levels are shifting back out of the blue pattern, Major. I think we might be safe for a bit."

Misato nodded, looking out at the winged machine, which slowly lifted itself out of the angel's body, before winging off the way it came in.
Shinji Ikari awoke to the familiar sight of the hospital ceiling. He said something to commemorate the occasion.

"I know this ceiling…"

Looking quietly over at his side, Shinji did not see any of the usual faces sitting next to his bed. In fact, the only other person in the room was an armed guard, standing at ease near the foot of the bed.

Noting he was awake, the man addressed him. "Third Child, you are hereby directed to accompany me. I am ordered to shoot you if you resist. Is that clear?"

Shinji nodded slowly, and started getting up out of the bed. He wobbled for a moment when he stood and had to brace himself against the wall. Noticing that he was still in a hospital gown, Shinji politely asked if he could change. The answer surprised him, but not by much.

"No. You are directed to accompany me to the Commander's Office immediately upon awakening. Follow."

Realizing that he would get nothing out of the hidebound officer, Shinji followed quietly. The floor was freezing to his bare feet, and the rest of him wasn't much better in that gown. He followed the guard through several empty hallways until they stopped at an elevator leading down. The door opened, and they stepped inside. Shinji leaned against the far wall and contemplated his fate. What does father want with me this time? For that matter, what happened to me? I should have been mincemeat after I blacked out…

No answers came and the elevator soon came to a halt. Stepping from the lift, Shinji once more followed the guard through suspiciously empty hallways until they came to a large set of doors. The guard stepped to one side, and stood ramrod straight next to the wall. The blast doors opened, and revealed another set behind them that opened just moments after. Shinji stepped through, to meet his father.

The doors shut behind him far faster than they opened, sealing him inside.

Gendo watched Shinji stand there, a little cold, a little frightened, and mostly confused. He let his mouth sneer behind his hands, but the rest remained impassive. The boy was useless, he could see that now. He should never have bothered to call him in the first place. Some idiot off the streets would have been a better choice. Though he'd arranged for Shinji to have been specifically brought up to have no spine, he couldn't help but hold that against him as well. Even though he wanted to rail out against Shinji, and berate for everything he'd done, for ruining years of effort in a single lapse of ability, he kept his voice impassive as he spoke.

"Third Child, do you understand why you have been brought here?"

Shinji shook his head and looked down. "No, father."

Gendo moved his left hand down to touch a button on the desk, the most movement he'd allowed Shinji to see at this meeting, before replacing it. A video clip of his loss against the angel, and its subsequent defeat by the newcomer began to play behind Gendo, and above Shinji's head, so that both could see without moving. "Do you understand now, Third Child?"

Shinji shook his head again. He'd been defeated in battle. It wasn't the first time. "No, father."

Gendo reached with the exact same motion and touched the exact same button before returning his hand once more to its previous position, making Shinji wonder for half a moment if there wasn't a robot there in place of his father.

The screen changed, this time to a limited time frame, on an image enhanced zoom, replaying the moment that Zeruel's cannon blew through 01's side, focused entirely on the damaged core. Gendo spoke again. "That, Third Child, is the core. The vital point. With it, the rest of the Evangelion may be rebuilt over time. Damaged as it is, Evangelion 01 has been forever destroyed."

Shinji's mouth dried up. 01 gone?

Gendo continued unimpeded, however. "As such, compared with your previous record of failure, insubordination, and lack of control, most notably in the battle where your incompetence cost the Fourth Child his life, you are hereby dishonorably discharged from service with NERV, knowing that your lack of effort may have doomed all humanity.

"As Captain Katsuragi and the Second Child often come into contact with classified information, you are directed on pain of execution to obtain other quarters within two days time.

"Dismissed."
Asuka Langley-Soryu smiled triumphantly as the front door opened and closed quietly, as if the person doing it were desperately afraid of attracting attention.

Shinji's trademark.

Shooting the equally relieved Misato an I-told-you-so look, they both walked over to the front door. Then they collapsed back from the reeking air. Misato was the first to recover while Asuka started cursing in German. "Shinji… what the hell is that… that…"

Misato couldn't find a word. Shinji was wearing rags out of a dumpster, and there were an absolutely amazing amount of flies folling behind him.

Shinji didn't even try to reply, something new with him. He simply walked into the bathroom and shut the door. They heard the shower running a few moments later.

Misato and Asuka looked at each other. What was that about?

Later, when Shinji had cleaned himself, dressed in his own clothing, removed the odorous clothing and taken it out to a dumpster, Misato tried again. "What happened earlier? They didn't even call to tell us you were getting out of the hospital…"

Shinji, sitting across from the two, shrugged, sliding back into old patterns. "I no longer work for NERV. The wouldn't even let me keep the hospital gown I had on when I woke up. I was forced to scavenge through a dumpster or two so that I didn't end up streaking the whole way."

Asuka was flabbergasted, and ordinarily Shinji would have been amused to see her like that. "For what?!"

"Failing."

She shook her head. "That's ridiculous. None of us managed to stand up to this one. What the hell is he thinking?"

Shinji shrugged. "Perhaps, but I was the only one who's core was destroyed."

Asuka, actually understanding what that meant, wilted a little. "But still… he doesn't even want you to stick around as a back up or something?"

Shinji shook his head. "No… and I have to move out tomorrow-"

Misato growled. "That's stupid. You let me talk to him. We'll see what-"

"Or I'm dead." Shinji finished.

There wasn't a lot either woman could say to that. Shinji rose then. "On that note… I should start looking for a place."

Misato nodded. "Alright… let us grab our coats-"

Shinji shook his head and interrupted. "No."

"Now listen-"

Shinji shook his head again, this time at Asuka. "No… I need some time to myself. I'll be back tonight."

And Shinji walked out the door.

"Dummy…"

Misato just smiled sadly at Asuka, and draped a sisterly arm over her shoulder.
Several hours of wondering just how it had come to this and absolutely no luck with vacancies later, Shinji stopped off somewhere else, and knocked on the door. A boy with glasses answered a moment later. He brightened. "Shinji? When'd they let you out?"

There was a sudden shouting behind Kensuke, and he stepped outside, muttering a bit. "Sorry about that."

Shinji smiled, his first all day. "It's okay. I just got out this morning. Unfortunately, I didn't just get out of the hospital. I got kicked out of NERV, too."

Kensuke's eyes widened. "Oh man… that sucks…"

"And I have to be out of Misato's by tomorrow or they kill me."

Kensuke's jaw dropped. "Wow…"

Shinji nodded. "So I was wondering if maybe…"

Kensuke grimaced and opened the door a little, letting the sounds flow through, yelling and screaming, crashing noises followed by more yelling. "You sure you want a part of that? I've been wanting out for a few years now… not that I think my parents would let you in anyways."

Shinji looked at his friend with some concern. "You okay, Kensuke?"

Kensuke shook his head. "No, I'm alright, they just constantly scream at each other all the time."

"And that the reason you've always wanted into NERV so bad? So you could move out?"

Kensuke grinned. "One of them."

Shinji shook his head, then sighed. "Well, I think I'd best get back to Misato's before she comes looking for me." Shinji looked at Kensuke strangely for a moment, then smiled. "See ya."

"Yeah," Kensuke was a little distracted studying Shinji's face for the meaning of his words and expression. "See ya."

Kensuke stood there a moment, watching Shinji walk down the hallway, then nodded to himself. Then, he cringed momentarily as he opened the door and entered his noisy apartment.

Tokyo-3 woke the next morning to find both Shinji and Kensuke, last two of the three stooges, gone.
Neverwhere: Chaos Mode - Well, I don't have too much to say, other than the standard disclaimer junk. Don't own it blah, blah, blah.

Well, I would like to say that this is being co-authored with Classic Cowboy, with massive input from FusionBlaster. And I don't know if anybody cares, but I'm not 'new' to this collaboration here, I've been around since the second chapter of Reborn Angel. I write the delightful little quotes at the tops of the chapters.

Oh, and Kudos to anyone who knows what the cross is already. Out.