Disclaimer: Neon Genesis Evangelion is a Studio Gainax production, its characters created by Hideaki Anno. They say the word, and this story ceases to exist.
ON THE AIR for May 22, 2017:
Dunlop Phoenix Tournament at Miyazaki City 11:45 a.m.
TV Tokyo, (National Radio)
Shiriowa Program 2017 Highlights 9:00 p.m.
New Yomiuri (Giants) at Hanshin 1 p.m.
NHK-1, (NHK Radio 1)
Hiroshima at Yokohama 4:30 p.m.
NHK-1, (NHK Radio 1)
Day 4 of Spring Basho at Nagano 2:15 p.m.
TBS TV, (Japan Radio Network)
Heaven or Hell: The ITDR AU Battle Royale Crossover
The shed was not really a shed at all, but a two story one-room warehouse slouched in a clearing on the northwest corner of the island. On its four flaking faces, old coats of weathered white paint were visible in layers of lead-chip strata, as if cratering the sheer wall of a vertical planet. Wide windows sat high on the walls, and on sunny days formed boxes of tainted light that mapped the terrain of the dirt floor. Today, however, smoldering whips patrolled the skies and marshaled all traces of radiant warmth with vaporous shrouds.
That left overheard fixtures to tint the insides a ghostly blue; obsolete machinery huddled in rusting industrial aggregates; wood crates in varying states of waterlogged rot were scattered or stacked; a girl, face down in a small, shallow, squalid lake of standing water, oblivious to the lack of oxygen; the boy that ventilated her torso, sitting on the side of an old oil drum.
Any and all things pushed to the walls were laced by the diffuse shadow of a decaying catwalk, coiled high on the perimeter and strung to ceiling trusses, perhaps supported less by its corroded struts and more by self-manifest will. A moaning swept through the building's rusted open bay to compete with the whine of the swaying platform and the hum of the flickering lamps.
Had the girl now corpsing in the stagnant pool survived long enough to regard him, she'd have been unnerved. The boy gave no indication he heard the wind or the catwalk or the intermittent electrical buzzing, or felt the air as it caressed his grime-streaked jaw. Moisture trickled from his damp, unwashed brown hair, filling a bloody channel running across the bridge of his nose.
His gaze remained unflinching, carrying over the pool of filthy water and beyond the building's mouth before diving into the ubiquitous umbrage twining within seventy meters of his position. A ring of metal with a red blinking beacon circled his neck, shining like chrome, and he barely addressed it with involuntary swallows as he tarried.
At such an advanced stage of The Program, it was no small miracle he awaited anything other than death
Suddenly the black-green woods birthed that other thing. Perhaps.
Shinji Ikari squinted. It was quite possible from the distance between them that what had actually emerged hoped to get just close enough to ruin his throat and make the last hour he had spent sitting and staring and waiting utterly pointless. They were coming this way, whoever they were.
The Third Child activated. He was up, spinning, swiping at the pump action handle of his Remington 870, daring briefly to turn his back to swing behind his seat and kneel, bringing the shotgun to bear on-
"IT'S ME, YOU IDIOT!"
The barrel of his weapon sagged. And so did he, with a relief so palpable the teenager trotting through the bay door noticed, reacting with feigned disdain.
"Shinji, I swear to God…if you start crying, I'll kill you myself."
"We got split up at the old hospital!" he yelled, his voice cracking under anonymous strain. He approached her now, loping. "That's five minutes from here! Why'd it take you-"
"This is why. Happy?" Asuka remained doubled over a large duffle bag colored a muddy green. She lifted a soiled knee to maintain her grip on the heavy sac and something inside it clinked.
"What's in that thing?"
She managed a grin, a slow upturning of the corners of her mouth that seemed to take more effort than it should have. "The high ground, that's what. It's about six at night, almost? We get the new report in a few minutes, and if this shit hole is in a danger zone, we relocate and have about seven hours to get our act together."
"Don't say we'll have to move," he cautioned, his new old calm asserting itself in his voice and posture as she coughed. "If there's a safer place on the island, I can't name it."
She coughed again and snorted, an odd phlegmy sound, before nodding at the dead, damp body in the middle of the building. "Yeah…doesn't get much safer than this, does it, Third?"
"That's Mitsuko. She followed me from the hospital…" Shinji managed a resigned sigh. "She had a gun…she didn't give me a choice."
"Just so you know, I would punch you so hard if my hands weren't full," she said calmly. "You're talking to the wrong person if you want to be condemned for putting that crazy bitch out of her misery."
Asuka shook her head. "Crazy bitch…"
Before tailing her, he looked outside, into the woods. Nothing stared back. The girl in the disheveled New Hakone High School uniform shambled back towards Shinji's makeshift sentry post, pausing to readjust her pack. "Do you think anyone followed you?" he asked.
The red head grunted a negative. "Three guys were on me and I picked them off for sure. Well, Niida and Sasagawa, and that was halfway between here and the hospital. Someone else got Oda off my ass."
He paused and brightened at this. "Who?"
"I don't know and I don't care. I mean, I'm grateful, but in the end…" She trailed off and stopped halfway to his seat. She coughed again.
"You should let me get that."
"What am I,pregnant?"
"No, so if it's heavy I'll just carry it the rest of the way."
"Look, I ran almost a kilometer with this thing. I can make it twenty more feet." Asuka did make it twenty more feet, maneuvering slowly until she sat on his barrel with the heavy bag resting against her stomach. She looked up at him, blinking. "There is no safe place here. We have seven hours to make a safe place."
Frowning, Shinji looked to a window tinted with translucent stains. "I know that. I just wish I knew who it was that helped you out. We could probably use them. Maybe."
"You know what I wish?" she asked as a minute spasm wracked her small frame, "I wish that we never, ever meet the person that's eat carbon-shit diamonds tough enough to survive nearly three days here on their own. And I don't think they'll be interested in teaming up with the only two people standing in between them and a full BR Act pardon. Do you?"
Asuka's head hung down, and he stepped closer when at first she said and did nothing. "At least that's how I would've been…"
"Don't say that about yourself," he weakly chided.
"Why? Because it's true? Because it makes you nervous? Because you're not that naïve and you know me better than anyone else?"
"And that's why-"
"Besides," she blurted, "we win tonight, and we won't have to fight with or team up with this guy."
The taller teenager opened his mouth, but no words escaped that would have rebutted the German's leaky reasoning. Her heavy eyes narrowed at his deep silence before she broke it.
"We're going to think of something. We've had less time to dig ourselves out of deeper piles of shit than this, and you know that for a fact. They can't kill me. They tried already. You're Shinji Ikari. C'mon, this is your fucking world! You can't die!"
"Yes I can," he murmured. "I know because, like you said, it's my world. If you're sure there's only one person left besides us, then there's no point in both of us-"
"I want you to listen to what I say next, Shinji," she intoned, cutting him off with tender enmity. "Between now and one o' clock in the morning, we are going to get off of this island. Maybe not in one piece, but alive. Both of us. So from now on, if you even entertain, for even a second, the idea of killing yourself to save me…if you leave me alone…I will never forgive you for as long as I live."
Asuka's collar jumped as she swallowed. "Do you…do you understand me, Shinji?"
Her words or eyes or suddenly desperate tone got through to him, and he could only stare down.
"Tell me you understand. Please…"
He could only grimace, now.
"Of course you do," she remarked assuredly, seemingly unaware of the naked despair reorganizing his face…until now. "All you have to do for me is wipe that look off of your face. That's it."
"I don't blame you anymore, you know."
His knowing cobalt blue were tainted with an old false hope, but he asked anyway. "For…for what? Don't blame…"
Sohryu gave a rare laugh, shaky. "You really thought I was going to hold it over your head forever?"
"Then why didn't I leave? Years ago? Dummy…" She laughed again. Shakier. "Don't think you have to make up for it, because I'm not holding you to anything."
"…Why are you telling me this?" He whispered, suddenly infused with wariness. She coughed, and her soiled auburn tresses swayed as she shook her head.
"Because you can't protect me anymore."
"Why are you telling me this now?"
He dropped the shotgun when the answer dribbled down her calf like molten red wax.
He shook his head and stared at it, sounds climbing up his throat only to slip back as he gasped, over and over and over until she somehow smiled.
Instantly, Shinji was crouching inches from her, lifting the bag from her lap which was so red, and tossing the package to the side like it weighed less than nothing. His eyes locked onto a red blouse where a muddied, wrinkled white one should have been. He stared at the crimson splash for ten seconds before the sounds climbed out.
"YOU WERE STALLING?"
She shrugged, shrugged like dismissing study hall. "Tell me what the point would've been in you running off and getting killed trying to save me when it'd be impossibaaaAAAHHH!"
The girl screamed, squirming pitifully as her partner's fingers clumsily probed her imbrued, seeping torso.
"If I can…I can just find the bullet and I can-"
"Stop touching it!" she seethed, spraying his face with spit and bloody freckles as she ripped his slick hands away. "There is no bullet…I was cut."
Shinji's eyebrows twisted downward and twitched. "You stalled…it wasn't going to be this way, you…bitch…" His remaining lamentations were muffled when he sank into her lap and sobbed for the first time in over two years.
Asuka's ebbing vitality momentarily jumped back to full power, her glare tunneling through the back of his skull. "Be what way, Shinji? You were going to wait until we were the last two left and then blow your head all over the island when I wasn't looking? That's what you crying about this tells me. You'd still do it even though I'd hate you forever?"
That part of Shinji Ikari deactivated, and the crying immediately ceased. "So what," came his low, controlled reply.
The dying girl allowed a spasm to pass before calmly ordering Shinji to "Look at me." He did when Asuka grabbed the sides of his head to meet his impotent rage, as plain as her gore on his ensanguined face.
"There's enough munitions in that bag to take out a small country," she stated bluntly. "You're going to use every bit of it to keep this…this predator from ending you, okay? Promise me."
The son of Ikari promised nothing as he alternated between blank stoicism and blind fury. The Second Child softened, leaning forward to touch her forehead to his. She swallowed a jagged breath.
"Don't ruin this…God, at least pretend like you're not going to just give up."
"You mean like you just did," he added, unblinking.
"I got caught, okay? I GOT CAUGHT. The only reason I even made it back here was because of…because I wanted to give you a chance. You don't have the heart to waste it." Her grip hardened. "Let me believe you'll get out. Say it."
She changed. She tonelessly wheezed through shivering lips, tears tracing her bloody cheeks. "It hurts. My stomach, it's all shredded and…and I feel everything. I want to throw up, but I can't. It hurts to breath. It hurts to see. It hurts to talk. So much. Nothing's worse than this."
She tilted her head until their noses touched, tilted more until their lips brushed, fighting the force weighing down her eyelids for a moment, just one more moment. "Shinji…don't make me beg…"
"Of course you will," she mouthed assuredly, seemingly oblivious to…
"It's okay. It's oka…"
A keening wind slid past them, and carried the rest of her away.
Time unremittingly forged past her final words, and with every footstep he remained crouched before her, their foreheads married, his steady hands pressing hers to his temple.
That was how they were found. Real footsteps approached.
"HOW IS SHE? HOW'S SHE DOING?" Splashing.
"She's not doing anything."
His answer, or perhaps the flatness with which the answer was delivered, froze Mariko Buick a few paces from his kneeling form, and when she stepped out of the sooty water-
"SHE'S DEAD?" The girl's breath became short and unstable. "But I saved her…I know I saved her…"
"Just long enough, you did. Thank you."
"WHAT'RE YOU THANKING ME FOR?" she screamed, pacing behind him like a caged tiger. "You jerks…why'd you two leave the compound before I came out? I could've kept you safe!"
"We tried," the solemn young man answered, sliding back to allow Asuka to slump forward into his arms. "You know the game starts as soon as you leave the classroom. Someone was on the roof with a crossbow, and good enough to kill Tendo. We even saw you leave, but you ran the opposite way we did, and…"
He paused to adjust Asuka's weight in his thin arms, "and I didn't think anyone could move that fast. I knew you'd be okay, then."
"But Asuka's not okay!" she said.
Shinji Ikari rose, his arms full as he made his way to a long, low wooden crate. The Sixth Child choked back something. She adjusted her single strap backpack across her body as she watched him lay Asuka on the box and patiently interlock her fingers over her ruined stomach.
"I was right there, Shinji. But she just took off and I couldn't find her, she took off so damn fast." Her face was creased by immeasurable hatred for a half moment. Long enough to be dismissed as an aborted sneeze. "I should have done it…I wanted something good for once…"
Shinji advanced on her. "I wouldn't have been able to even say goodbye without you. I'm thanking you because you're good-"
"Oh, everyone says that," she spat. "I wanted them to and I liked hearing it, but they don't know what I can do."
"It's what I've been doing on this stupid fucking island for three damn days and I just wanted them to be right about me."
"You're good," he said flatly, hugging her just as she lost composure.
"Shouldn't this…" she managed with unsteady breaths, "shouldn't this be going the other way around?"
"I was there when she left and that'll have to be enough, because I can't do anything else for her."
Mariko calmed at this, but didn't pull away just yet.
"At least," she began hesitantly, "it all didn't come down to you and her, you know?"
He sighed before saying, "All that would've meant was that Asuka had won. I'm supposed to be making my own decisions, and I'm choosing to lose this game. So you win, Mariko."
The girl swallowed over his shoulder. "But that's…you know Asuka wouldn't let you do that-"
"She'll hate me forever, I know. But I don't owe this life to her. And you don't have what it takes to keep me here, either. No offence." She allowed him to hug her tighter. "It's over. Win and go home."
The American teen gave a fractured, synthetic laugh. "Y-you think I'm gonna kill you? I can't kill you!"
It was six o' clock.
"How's it goin', my little warriors?"
All around them, all at once, was a rollicking, lilting march of blind whimsy.
And then Yonemi Kamon, Program director, ringmaster of the Cruelest Show on Earth, began the update.
"I gotta confess to you guys -all two of you- this is always the saddest part of the contest for me. See it from my perspective…more than two whole days of top-notch soap opera, mixed in with a bit of triumph and old fashioned backstabbing, wild, desperate sex, the thrill of victory, the agony of being stabbed in the lower intestine…and before you know it, day three's half over and everyone smells like my dead cat. Just had to get that off my chest, that's always bothered me.
"Oh well. Can't win em' all, as all your classmates eventually found out. Except for…" Dry crinkling over the speakers, "boy number four, Toshinori Oda. Jesus, Mariko, where's the fire? You didn't even give him time to shit himself!"
Mariko remained in Shinji's arms, as still as the late Mitsuko Souma.
"Don't feel bad for good ol' Toshi, not when you got traveling companions like boy number sixteen, Kazushi Niida, and boy number ten, Ryuhei Sasegawa." Kamon could have been smacking his fat lips. "Now…this is where it gets good!"
"Let go of me," said Mariko.
"Every once in a while here on The Program, we are treated to genuine works of sanguine art. So I'd be a remiss, piss-ant ingrate to not personally thank our very own resident Rembrandt, for bestowing upon us…well…whatever the hell it was she did in that lighthouse to girls nine, Yuko Sakaki, twelve, Haruka Tanizawa, sixteen, Yuka Nakagawa, two, Yukie Utsumi, seventeen, Satomi Noda, and twenty-two, Aki Ando. So show off that cute little backside, Mariko, and take a bow! Just try not to kill anything when you bend over."
"Don't hold me anymore."
"Bumping the impartial lottery up two grades was the best decision I'd have the nerve to take credit for." The man made a smooching noise."Call me when you get off the island, babe, I love a challenge…and I'm dying to know how you get their heads to just dangle like that."
"Don't listen to him-"
"Whose blood did you think this was all over my shirt, Shinji? Please stop touching me…"
"Girl number eleven, Mitsuko Souma. Girl number nineteen, Asuka Langley Sohryu." Kamon tsked disappointedly. "Just something about those foreign women, you n' me both, Mister Ikari. You luck out and get hold of one and it's like you've hit the pussy jackpot! But, to turn down Mitsuko? I know she was packin', but what a fucking waste. Or not a fucking waste, you know what I mean.
"Even if it really was that good, don't do anything drastic like stabbing yourself in the balls, because you'd think something like that would never get old. But you'd be wrong. If it's any consolation, you and Sohryu would have had ugly babies."
"I would've named her Misato…"
"Enjoy these last few moments, Mister Ikari. Play your cards right, perhaps Miss Buick'll let you get to second base before she hollows you out and uses you as an umbrella stand. If, on the other hand, you are running for your mother-fucking life minutes from now, as I expect you will, here are the danger zones: B-Five and E-Three after six-thirty, A-Eight after eight, D-Six and F-One from now until eleven, and H-Three until eight-thirty. That's H…as in Hyuga says hi."
The music and Kamon's voice left on a sharp ridge of static. The rusted gangway swayed high above them, for a minute. A minute more.
"I wouldn't hollow you out and use you as an umbrella stand."
"I still don't hate you," he said.
The raven-haired girl shook.
"You played, Mariko? So what? I wasn't going to play, and I begged Asuka not to. And that worked really well, right up until Motobuchi tried to shoot me in the back. Then she played to save me, and I played because she did."
The Sixth Child countered instantly with faltering stability, "There is something seriously, fundamentally wrong with me, and that's why I played, okay? I belong in this place, and now you're going to make me-"
He let her go.
"I wouldn't ever force you to do this. Not ever. You don't do anything. You don't watch, and if you're far enough away you won't even hear the gunshot. You heard the danger zones, didn't you?"
Mariko could only nod as she began to tear-up once more. "I should die. Right here."
"But you don't want to."
"But Ishould…something's telling me-"
Shinji's face exponentially hardened as he drew up the shotgun that had been leaning against a bevy of splintered crates. There was a metallic snap when he pumped the handle and aimed the muzzle between Mariko's widening eyes.
"What are you being told now?"
"That I want to live," she instantly replied.
"Are you sure?" The black barrel was steady.
"…Yes," she hissed.
The barrel was lowered. The hardness polymerizing his mouth and brow wasted away.
She fixed his back with a dull emerald stare as he knelt before Asuka. "I should find Mister Hyuga, don't you think? When I get back, I can find him. I can slowly break him. For hours. For days. For you."
"Is that really in you? I think…you need help. Serious help. Or at least you will once you leave. But of all the people you killed here, how many because you hated them? Or because they had wronged you?"
Mariko said nothing.
"Whatever it was that made you like this," Shinji continued softly, "I'm not about to contribute to it by adding vendettas to the list of excuses you have for being this way."
"You shouldn't have to end like this…"
"Let's do this, then," Shinji suggested with resolute contriteness, "You find a way to bring Asuka back. And Misato. And Rei and Kaji. And Kaworu, and keep my mom from vanishing into nothing, and keep Asuka's mom from hanging herself for her daughter to find. Then, maybe, I'd consider fighting you for the right to stay here. Because otherwise, I think it's about time I pay for not remaking the world so that things like this could never happen."
The Third Child paused, and when Mariko did not speak -did not make a single sound- he looked at Asuka. "If I had done it right, she'd be yelling at me right now. I'd be apologizing to her right now..."
Right now, Shinji was kissing Asuka Langley Sohryu goodbye.
There was a flash, then a click and a whirring sound.
"What was that?" he asked suddenly, pulling himself up as he spun to meet the only living thing in the vicinity. "What did you just do?"
That was when Shinji caught the small black rectangle that Mariko suddenly found the need to clutch to her chest. She swallowed and the collar around her neck leapt.
"I couldn't help…Shinji…it would've killed me not to have that shot-"
"A picture of Asuka?Dead?"
Understanding, complete, base comprehension flooded Shinji's face before it all gave way to the conviction that had been earned with the blood of all that had been dear to him.
"Give me the camera."
"You know why."
"I can't do that."
"Yes you can. You can give it to me and then walk away. A few minutes after that, you'll be declared the winner." He held out a hand, as steady as his cobalt gaze. "But first thing's first. Please."
He stepped forward, but she maintained the distance by backpedaling into the shallow pool. Filthy ripples raced from her ankles.
"I have to have this, Shinji…so you'll stay with me. You'll go right next to Jackie and I'd be able to see you everyday-"
"And see Asuka, too. So would every sick mind that'll want pictures of what happened here, because that photo will be on the MilNet fifteen minutes after you step off the island and they confiscate that camera."
The tall young woman watched him with severe trepidation, sloshing backwards through the contaminated liquid glass as Shinji reached for a bulge in his hip pocket. "Y-you can't take this," she stuttered, gulping once more. "I'll die without it."
"You'll die with it," he established as his voice grew colder, "because you know giving me a reason to live means giving you a reason to die. You realize that, don't you? I don't lose when it counts, Mariko, and you're making this count."
"YOU WANT TO TALK TO ME ABOUT THINGS THAT COUNT?" she finally screamed. "AT LEAST YOU HAD ASUKA! AT LEAST YOU CAN BE NEAR SOMEONE AND NOT DREAM ABOUT TAKING THEM APART! YOU KNOW WHAT COUNTS FOR ME? HAVING A GOOD 'BEFORE' PHOTO!"
"Here. You can have this, too."
He absently flung the thing from his pocket towards her, and Mariko watched silently tumble over her head a black thing the size of an electric razor, crackling arcs of blue lightning bridging its silver prongs…
She was airborne in full, horizontal extension by the time the Taser touched down in the water, and she was rolling into a crouch as Mitsuko Souma began to convulsively splash.
Thunder shook the squalid structure as something beside Mariko's head disintegrated. Dazed, she scrambled on her hands and knees to a pile of rusted scrap. There was a metallic snap, roaring fire again, and an explosion next to her head once more. The Sixth made herself small behind her new hiding place. Two more rounds thundered to her and blasted debris from the fringes of the junk heap, eliciting a shower of sparks like white embers.
A low singing wind swirled through the large open bay, but other than that, silence. Mariko waited a full ten seconds before venturing a peak around her protection.
"Shinji, this-" was as far as she got before she had to pull back and politely allow the lead spray from his Tec-9 to embed itself in the back wall instead of her face. The typewriting ceased. "IT'S JUST A GODDAMNED PICTURE!"
Another squall of gunfire.
"YOU'RE CRAZIER THAN I AM!"
"I'm not crazy," he said matter-of-factly, "just clinical. It's a family trait; even mom orchestrated her own death. It just took me a couple of years to realize it. To accept it."
A sharp click as he expertly loaded a new magazine. "And if it was just a picture, you would've just given me the stupid camera."
Mariko Buick was searching now, her gaze twisting wildly around her cover; left and right to stacked crates with stenciled serial numbers, to junked trucks and tractors draped in tarps of knotted dust; the rickety -he was shooting again- the rickety promenade floating high above her head swinging from a ghostly force, the Sig-Sauer P239 in front of her, gleaming from its silver finish and Dalmatian patches of drying blood smears; skeletonized aluminum engine blocks lynched from a crane that ran the length of the building on a set of rails; tires with treads so worn they-
She dared to rise above her protection and stare down the barrel of her barking firearm, watching it buck twice and Shinji fling himself over a cluster of steel drums. Before she could fire again his semi-automatic weapon suddenly popped up over the metal cylinders and danced, jittering like a deranged Kabuki doll as Shinji blindly squeezed off another clip.
Her voice echoed twice over in the room, each reverberation capturing the sweet sickness of the original speaker. "Still think I'm good, Shinji? Because you wouldn't be wasting your ammo like that if you knew what I just thought about doing to your liver."
"You can't scare me," he said.
"It's never been about fear. It's about knowing about me, because no one has a choice when I get like this. I think they deserve to know something of me before I dig their eyes out, you know?"
There were two loud, hollow thumps against the crates to Mariko's right.
"No, I don't," said Shinji.
Then the grenades went off.
He watched as wood and metal and dust and Mariko scattered like autumn leaves. She was mostly in one piece and struggling to her feet, a charred plank sliding from her shoulder; long swaths of soaking crimson peaked from beneath the back of her white shirt, the flesh rent by claws of shrapnel.
She heard him readying his next weapon and she was whirling, aiming and squeezing, rewarded with empty, spring-loaded clicks.
"You wouldn't believe how trigger-happy Mitsuko was. Or maybe you would, since you're out."
She was out. Out of ammo. Out of the warehouse, stumbling then sprinting on bloody, blurring legs. The veteran pilot pursued her, easily hefting the RPG-26 on his thin right shoulder. He approached the front bay, she the threshold of the encroaching flora. There…a square of wrinkled white with jagged red candy-cane ribbons…that's where he aimed before the forest consumed her.
There was a jolt against his collar as he knelt, and a smoky contrail lancing the black woods before sound became a painful thing. He rose with the blacks and grays billowing above the canopy. He stepped away from the warehouse, staring, frowning. It was his father's frown.
"IMAGINE HOW EASY THIS CAN BE!" he yelled, his voice marshaled by absolute control. "IMAGINE WHAT I'D LET YOU DO TO ME! YOU COULD BE PEELING ME RIGHT NOW! ALL IT'S GOING TO COST YOU IS ASUKA'S DIGNITY!"
Only the smoking deflagration just beyond the brim of green-black answered him. The corners of his mouth bowed further.
"SEVEN HOURS, MARIKO! LESS THAN SEVEN! RUNNING ISN'T GOING TO STOP THAT COLLAR FROM RIPPING YOUR THROAT OUT, UNLESS YOU RUN BACK HERE! I'LL BE WAITING."
He had to wait the length of time it took him to turn around and take a single step.
Because it took no time at all for Mariko to break his ribs.
Shinji flew backwards, gasping from the forearm smash to his midsection. She stood between him and the warehouse, waiting for a nameless cue to finish him and not just breathe and watch him struggle to do the same.
The order came.
She strode robotically, her arm swinging behind her to purchase a smooth, wooden haft. The axe blade swept out from the handle -gore-lustered, dulled from application to heads and spines, shins and slippery entrails…
…to Shinji Ikari, curled over his broken torso, hacking up wet and warm things as Mariko hovered over him, lower. She was lower, a knee to his chest, a foot at his back. She was sighing.
"How about that, Shinji…you got to me," the green-eyed Child breathed, turning him over to make it easier to bisect his face. "Too bad for you, 'cause Kamon was right; I would've let you get to HRRRK!"
A tremor ran though her. So did the dagger pinned through her left breast up to its hilt.
Her eyes reduced to points of jade in wide white saucers, locked on the foreign hands at her punctured chest. Vital viscous streamers raced from the wound and over his hands in channels of hot syrup.
But it probably wasn't syrup.
"…second base," she hissed.
Mariko listed to her ventilated portside, sliding off of Shinji and crashing beside him sans further utterance.
She was still. For a minute more, so was he.
Shinji got up in sections. Propped up on his elbows. Up on a knee, panting. Rising now, dragging his other foot forward to stand straight and ta"aaaAAARRGGHHH!"
She was still. For a minute more, so was he.
Shinji got up in sections. Carefully.
He took Mariko's axe, and floated above her as if waiting for his own sign. None forthcoming, the Japanese boy staggered back to the warehouse, stopping periodically to agonize. He endured, however, and ventured into the building…
And then something told him to snap a wide glare back to where she fell, only to find…Mariko Buick with a knife lodged in her chest, lying on her ravaged back. Cooling.
"Gah! What the…" Mariko actually shivered as she slipped into the living room. "Why's it so cold in here?"
"What's it matter?" the German sighed as she sat on the couch, luxuriating in the (super) chilled apartment air. "They don't have air conditioning in Nagoya?"
Mariko shrugged. "Sure they do. They got common sense, too."
"Wanna talk to me about common sense…" Asuka groused. Then putting a finger to her pursed lips, "could it be that you actually are cold-blooded?"
The American tiredly groaned. "I'm not trying to fight you, okay? I'm just asking…turn it down a little?"
"All in favor of not taking full advantage of the miracle that is automated household climate control before we all venture into the never-ending swelter of the tit-sweat, stroke-generating Post-Second Impact, Post-Third Impact Tokyo-3 summer, raise your sweaty, sweaty hand."
Rolling her eyes, Mariko slowly reached for a ceiling vent shooting knives of chilled air into the space.
"All not in favor…" and Asuka lifted a scarred arm.
Then she kicked Shinji, who had sat on the floor looking small and lost as his flat mates bickered. Flicking an apologetic look to the green-eyed one, he raised his hand.
"Misato did always say AC is man's triumph over nature," Asuka gloated before smirking at the other girl. "And I've never met an Eva pilot that couldn't appreciate that. You know?"
"And if I knew this was all it took to get you to talk about Misato," Mariko said gently, "I would've turned on the heat weeks ago."
The Wall went up, and Asuka's mouth became small. She touched Shinji on the shoulder as she stood.
"Get me when you're ready to go." She brushed by Mariko, grimacing. "Do whatever you want with the thermostat."
When the red head's door snapped shut, Mariko stormed over to the (new) coffee table and sat down heavily. "What the hell? I can't even talk to her about crap if she brings it up!"
Shinji favored her with a tentative smile. "She'll talk to you about most things. Unless the fight you two had was that bad."
The short-haired girl laughed, a little, nervous sound. "Didn't buy the story about the dog, huh?"
Mariko stopped laughing. "It's her fault, you know. She was going through all my pictures for some reason, just rummaging, like a big red raccoon. And she just saw some she wasn't supposed to…"
Shinji reddened considerably. "Ohhhh…" He shifted uncomfortably.
Mariko started as if to counter him, but stopped as her shoulder drooped. "I just really wish that was the whole story. There was some private stuff in those books, and maybe any normal person would get a little freaked…I wouldn't know…"
He looked stupidly at her. "Me neither. To be honest. Sorry."
"Do you think I'm weird?" His eyebrow twitched at her question. "I mean, do you look at me sometimes, and just go, 'Why's she here? What's she doing?'"
"No, I don't."
"'Why won't she get her own damned apartment and leave me and my girlfriend alone?'"
"Asuka's not my girlfriend."
She leveled something admonishing in his direction before lowering her head on the table with a painful sounding clunk. "Ouch…I think those things, sometimes. You all are nice. Even Asuka on good days. But, God, the tiniest thing happens and it's like a plane with all your family on it crashed into the Indian Ocean."
"He was a classmate of mine in Junior High. Mine and Asuka's. His mom and sisters were on Flight 707 from Kansai…"
"Asuka may have been a little obnoxious about it, but she had a point. Eva pilots do share some things. My guess is that no one should be able to judge you-"
"I want to hurt you."
She looked up and saw confusion and concern take turns twisting his mouth and brow. Mariko did not turn away from it.
"Two things, Shinji."
"First…don't ever let me hurt you or Asuka. Never give me the chance."
"Second…when we leave out, please don't let me forget my-"
And just like that, consciousness swarmed all over him.
He drew up from where his head had laid next to Asuka's, not bothering to look outside as furtive sounds inside the warehouse made their way to him. Small sounds. Tinny. Scratching, shuffling, sneaking. Creeping…
Shinji was standing with a wood-axe and Beretta escort, favoring his left side when something in his right side shifted. He yelped, and favored his right side when something in his left side shifted.
Clinking. Creaking. All along the wall to his left, so he shambled that way, crouching, reducing his signature and the pain immolating his torso. He was soon below the old catwalk, its shadow dicing him as he touched the wall to correct a momentary imbalance.
Rotting boxes were lined up to his right and running parallel to the wall at his left, forming a makeshift aisle that ran all the way down to a warehouse corner…the one closest to the front. Shinji could see all the way down only in patches. Most of the view was obstructed by all manner of tall and precariously arranged piles of bulk garbage.
He caught a black blur in an unobstructed patch, somewhere between him and the far wall. The teenager looked behind him, and when nothing inhuman plowed into his ribcage with impossible force, he turned back around to venture forward.
Shinji was halfway down when he heard scuffling, just a few meters away. He stilled himself completely; closing his eyes and dipping his head to focus on the weak, diffuse, echoing sound. Screeching to his right, now, beyond the wall of crates that exploded inward and toward him as they yielded a mass of hurtling metal now slamming into him, popping something vital in his body.
The sounds of wood, of crashing and chaos subsided. His ears began working again, though his left arm did not.
But Mariko lifted him by it anyway. The gun in his broken hand fell to the ground in a tap-dance clatter.
Shinji managed, "Y-you threw…threw an engine block at me…"
Mariko managed to reach to her left breast with her free hand, grasping the leather-bound hilt growing from it. And pulling. Being rewarded with dampened scraping as the blade left its flesh-scabbard, the crimson glint along its edge showing violet under the indigo lighting.
Reversing her grip and driving the steel fang through his hand and the wall, him screaming, it all happened so fast it might as well have been simultaneous.
"It was a small engine block," she said.
"Why'd you let me hurt you?" she cried. "Why'd you promise it wouldn't happen and let me believe when you know this makes me sick…"
She lifted her head to look for an answer in his twisted face, her desperation met with gross intractability.
Mariko stepped away, her air intake so ragged it hardly passed as breathing. "You…please trust me to do this right. I swear to you, I won't make this hurt-"
"Because I feel so good right now," Shinji finally spat when he blinked back into consciousness.
She put her hands to her red breast as the axe in his right hand rose, poised to…
"What're you…what the fuck are you doing?" she whispered.
Before Shinji Ikari went berserk, he regarded the Sixth Child with abject, unadulterated, unconditional pity.
After the axe went through his left wrist, Shinji Ikari went berserk.
Mariko could only stare at first as he swung and swore at her in blind, animalistic fury. She parried just as the gore-slicked blade cleaved the air where her shoulder had been. The girl was backpedaling now, startled but ducking and dancing warily, gauging the distance between her and the primal dervish attempting to split her skull.
Shinji launched a whirling, decapitating blow while spitting bloody obscenities, but the weapon hit stale air again as she reared back. In the half second it took for momentum to spin Shinji halfway around, Mariko went on the offensive, dashing in just in time for the butt of the axe handle to complete its round trip and break something in her face.
"I think you're slowing down," he said, his first intelligible words since his left arm became a purpling, shattered twig terminating in an oozing stump.
Mariko could not even manage words as she lay in the fetal position and huffed, cupping the split flesh on her broken cheek.
"It's not just because you're tired. You're special, I think, and you wouldn't get tired under normal conditions."
She tried to stand.
"You're having trouble breathing, like someone's trying to choke you."
Mariko gritted her teeth and rose on rubbery legs, blinking furiously. Then she lurched forward and vomited.
"You're sick to you're stomach."
Her confused green eyes locked on him as she tried to speak, but her stomach betrayed her again.
"Do you think it's the island, Mariko? The people and the killing, is that making you sick? Or is it the poison I had wiped all over that knife before I stuck it in you?"
The girl slurred something before a drunken force pulled at her, causing her to tumble backwards. Oblivious to his maimed limb and liberated hand, Shinji began stalking her.
"I still don't hate you," he said. "You know that? You're still damaged, still just a girl. You're an Eva pilot. You still have things that you can live for. I only have one thing. As soon as you give it to me, I can give you the antidote."
She shook her head and made a pitiful sound in her throat. He threw her a simpering look, further walking her down as she approached the bay door.
"You don't have to hurt me anymore. I took what you said to heart, Mariko, and I'm just following through on my end of the bargain. So just…stop."
Mariko wiped at the streaming gash below her eye, and then backed into something. A metal railing against the building's front wall. It belonged to a stairwell which rose to the platform ringing the warehouse meters above them. Quickly but clumsily she swung around and began to ascend. Predictably, he followed.
"I should let you in on something," the boy said as he rose with her. "The chances of you winning the game and keeping your camera are exactly zero-point-zero percent. I'm not being arrogant, either. It's how this world works."
She suddenly swooned, slipped and smacked her tailbone on a cold steel tread, but she was up again within a blink.
"I told you how Third Impact worked for me. I was getting really good at seeing things and understanding them. Before I blew it, I mean. It came to me like a spreadsheet, almost. Men and Women: Yes. Stupid people, angry people, people who're too smart for their own good: Yes, yes, and yes. Flying people, people that breathe under water: No and no. People that get off on being jerks for no good reason: I couldn't tell you why, but for some reason, I said yes."
The back of Mariko's head was level with the catwalk. Her gaze was leveled on him, fearful.
"Asuka never told me about her mom. I saw it for myself. I could see it like it happened to me, and maybe if I had known you, if I had been close to you back then, I would've seen what happened to your mom-"
"SHUT UP!" she finally shrieked, "SHUT THE FUCK UP! STAY AWAY FROM ME!"
"No." And he stepped lightly as she retreated on the swaying platform, turning a corner to withdraw along a perpendicular wall. "There's just one truth that matters right now, anyway. I can't lose, Mariko. So you can run away from me…or at me, if you like. It won't matter in the end."
She wept softly through clenched teeth. "I can't see without my mom…" The fact seeped from her like air from a punctured tire. Mariko could only deflate further, defeat crushing her into the grated platform coated with her own plasma. "Don't…don't take her…"
"But it's written in stone. You're stuck on an island where you die in a little more than six hours if someone else is breathing. You don't have any weapons. You're bleeding profusely, and internally, probably. You have neurotoxins circulating through you, and only I have the cure. I'm not trying to live. I just want the camera to save Asuka the…shame. You will belong in this world if you just make saving you a goal of mine."
Some base agent in his final words instantly stilled her shivering as she cowered against the rust-stained guardrail.
It made her smile. "I…I understand." It tore spattering, hysterical noises from her constricted windpipe.
And then it made her stand.
"He was right…"
The metal around them protested as the maimed boy silently reassessed the situation.
"He was right!" she repeated, lost in her epiphany, somehow commanding her failing body to stay upright.
"Who was right?"
She thumped her head with a blood-caked finger. "Think about it! You keep telling me you fucked up Third Impact! You were supposed to get rid of me, and youfucked it up!" Mariko laughed or cried. Or both.
Had it not been for the compound break in his left arm, his amputated hand, his fractured ribs or separated shoulder, the confusion that passed over his face might have been more obvious. Not by much, though.
"I didn't screw up that bad," he said finally, inching towards her. "There's a place for everyone here-"
Delirium vaporized from the heat of perverted righteousness. "Oh, like there's a place for all those Self Defense soldiers that helped kill Misato? Like there's a place for your dad?"
Her strings were cut for a split second, but she caught herself and stared at him. "You should've sent me with them. Because…now? Now I'm free."
"No, you're only free if you give me-"
The Sixth waved drunkenly at him.
"Shinji, I think you're nice. I think you're lovely. I want to kiss you. But shut up. Shut up and realize that we're at an impasse, here. I'm notever giving you my most cherished, sacred material possession, because that thing's been places that you don't want to go. But…" And she held out her index finger. It looked broken. "But…I don't belong here. You don't want to stay. And Shinji, it doesn't get anymore symmetrical than that."
Mariko lunged at the nearest support cable and grasped it. Her thin arms hardened. She pulled down. The corroded strut connecting the section of catwalk they stood on fractured like peanut brittle, snapping away from the truss above them. A corner of the grated platform shot downward as the three other support cables strained to pick up the slack. The gangway swung like a trapdoor as another fixture yielded.
Had this all taken longer than a second to transpire, Shinji Ikari could have done more than open his mouth in a silent scream.
They twisted in a soundless vacuum, waiting for gravity's hand to fling them down and dash them across the wood and steel and dirt topography.
They did not have to wait long. Sound erupted and died again.
Nothingness began blanketing the island the moment New Hakone's Junior Class 3-B stirred from their drug-willed slumber to find themselves imprisoned and collared like strays awaiting euthanasia. Nothingness came to them individually, in pairs or groups, at the business end of black rifles and arrowheads, by thirsty tempered edges or hands far too strong to belong to a person. At last, it rolled in to claim its final, stubborn prize.
And then Mariko ruined it all by breathing.
Three minutes passed before her neck and eyes agreed to work in concert, allowing her gaze to loop around her in agonizing, glacial arcs. Her field of vision was obscured here -here being the remains of the crate she landed in/on. Her insides were also pooling around her outsides. So she did the sensible thing and rolled out of the damp, splintered place with poor sightlines, and spilled the remaining two meters onto the dirt floor in a decidedly bone-filled heap.
The poisoned teenager fought to bring her legs under her, to keep down what her stomach kept bringing up, to see out of her right eye, which was slowly but surely shutting itself from the light of the outside world. The first thing happened and she stood. The second thing did not, but she only dry-heaved this time. The third thing was inconsequential to her current action; Mariko only needed one eye to inspect the camera, which came through unscathed.
Synthetic venom ravaging her, holes in her chest, waist, and back milking her dry, she sighed in relief.
It was her bad eye that found Shinji, and found a sheered, twisted iron staff that rose from a metal aggregation on the ground.
Pieces of him clung to it and shimmied down like gobs of strawberry preserves.
"Like a starfish…" she slurred to herself, sleepwalking to him.
Plip plip plip, as her bloody teardrops descended, spattering on his peaceful face. Mariko paid her cheek no mind as she stood over him and depressed the power button on her old Nikon D2X. The screen washed over in soft light and she could see him though it, blissfully unaware of the oxidized, perforating pike.
"I belong to my own truths, thank you," she whispered in a choked rasp. Mariko was flicking a thumb to zoom in on his head when her eyes glazed over. She snapped back to correct her cant, inhaling sharply as she refocused on Shinji.
Shinji stared back. She didn't notice the axe.
The girl pulsed, shuddering in response to the hard thump against her left thigh; blood cascaded from it like stew over the side of a boiling pot. With her foundation compromised, Mariko sank. The wherewithal to plant her hands at his sides kept the sheered metal shard from puncturing her and running her through. Just like him.
He snatched up a filthy handful of her ruined shirt to make her just like him. He wrenched downward wordlessly, looking through her, siphoning her own fading light to bring her low, to Asuka's level, their mothers' level. All of their rotting mothers.
That mouth of his propagated across his visage, the crusted fault welling with blood, his throat filling with sibilating moans which grew in urgency.
Her arms shook as she gritted her teeth and tried to lock her elbows, but she drew nearer, gasping as the serrated ferrous edge raked narrow channels along her stomach.
Air burst from her abruptly with sobs and deviant laughter.
Counterfeit instinct took over and she swung mindlessly, dashing bits of his face and black plastic, flip-chip packaging and worn rubber. He was looking at her still, holding her, wheezing. Her arm blurred again and regained definition at his caving trachea, killing the whining sounds before rising and blurring a third time. A fourth time.
A fifth, sixth, and seventh. Eighth, ninth…
Roiling, keening giggles were eclipsed only by reverberating cracks as his face pulped. Collapsed. Shifted…
He was still looking, still holding.
She was still laughing as she bent his clutching arm at an obscene angle with an obscene snap.
He was still looking.
She was still laughing when her fingers dove down, found round, glinting orbs…and squeezed.
She was still laughing.
It was a while before she stopped.
Battle Royale Concludes with Foreign Citizen Victor, First in Program History
By Kouji Kurata
Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
Monday, May 22, 2017; Page E01
TOKYO-3, May 22 – When the final shot had been fired and blow landed, one person remained, as usual. For the first time ever, it was a foreigner.
Asuka Langley Sohryu was officially declared the victor of this year's Battle Royale, today at 20:43 JPT by Program officials. The seventeen year-old girl, an American citizen of mixed German and Japanese ancestry, is the first foreigner in history to survive the three-day trial and emerge victorious. Excluding this year, thirty-seven gaijin have officially participated in the annual event since its inception in 2003.
Yonemi Kamon, this year's Program director, believes Sohryu's sharp mind carried her through the day – By the age of thirteen Asuka had already graduated from a top German institution with a degree in applied math, and had received an honorary degree at America's Duke University, located in Durham, North Carolina. Kamon also intimated the girl was unusually skilled with a variety of firearms and several forms of unarmed combat.
"Someone with Miss Sohryu's abilities would have been a favorite in any year," he opines, "but I couldn't help but be a bit disappointed one of our kids didn't pull this one out."
From the last four of the initial forty-eight contestants, only two, in fact, were Japanese: Mitsuko Souma, who survived through half of the third day through "cunning" (Kamon raises an eyebrow), and Shinji Ikari, Sohryu's partner, who was similarly proficient with firearms and melee weapons. It is reported that Ikari defeated Mitsuko.
Despite the success Souma, Ikari, and Sohryu had achieved throughout the course of the game, none accounted for more eliminations than Mariko Buick, the last of the Final Four.
Buick, also American, was responsible for twelve of the forty-seven outs, including Shinji Ikari. Her elimination totals (See: BR Box Score, page E04) do not count herself, although her game ended when she knowingly walked into a danger zone and automatically detonated her radio collar.
"She actually bowed," Kamon says. "Can you believe that?"
Kamon asserts that Mariko, Shinji, and Asuka were affiliated with Nerv, a research institution under the auspices of the United Nations, and whose role in the December 20 3-I event remains highly disputed (See: Nerv Captain Gunned Down, page A24).
Could the children's remarkable success during this year's Program run be attributed to their association with Nerv? Kamon thinks so.
"When Nerv was still a paramilitary outfit," he says, "it was rumored they used young teenagers to pilot their machines and fight the Angels.
"The things that adults will do to mere children…I get sick just thinking about it."
Once Sohryu was confirmed the victor by Program officials, she was airlifted via MEDEVAC from Shiriowa --the island on which the game transpired -- and is now recovering from her injuries in an undisclosed location.
To Yonemi Kamon, it is no small miracle the American girl will recover at all.
"Our onsite medical staff took one look at her and their jaws just dropped. For a long span of minutes, Asuka was actually, clinically dead, and none of our doctors can say for certain why she didn't stay that way."
Added Kamon, "Some of us are just made special, I guess."
Koushun Takami contributed to this article.
End of Heaven or Hell
A/N: That's some bullshit, man. Asuka being alive even though she was mortally wounded. After all, there's nothing in ITDR suggesting that Asuka is fated to live through all manner of grievous bodily harm due to a little divine tinkering during Third Impact.
Or is there?
Over the top, melodramatic, ultra-violent. Adolescents that can absorb far more damage than should be humanly possible. Yup, sounds like Battle Royale to me. I had two choices, either I could have Shinji and Mariko fight… or I could have them FIGHT. After all, that was the whole point of this, wasn't it? So I decided on just throwing shit in there for the hell of it. After all, this is an AU of the ITDR universe, not the original anime. I love writing myself licenses for doing whatever the hell I feel like.
Back to Reality for me. No, it's not dead. I've been working on this for literally a month and a half. Over Christmas. On New Year's Day. It's finished! I'm done and I cannot believe it!
Thank you very much for being patient, and I hope you enjoyed it. Because there's two or three more side stories coming. Some day. Perhaps when I finish NTR, which will be a little while. Chapter four of that story will be out in perhaps three weeks. The plan now is to post them as I finish them.
Random A/N: Nuthin', man…y'all ain't tired of reading my shit, yet? I know I am…
Oh, what the hell…one more?
Roused by the sudden drop in ride quality, Shinji peeled his eyes open and peered out of the bus window.
He did not like what he saw.
He, Asuka, Mariko, Yukie, Aki and Maya screamed.
End of Everyone Dies
Thank you for reading and your criticism. Ja.
Next Chapter: Our Lady of the Blueberry Waffles