Disclaimer: In this universe in the quantum foam, I do not own in any way shape or form hold a claim to the .hack series or Neon Genesis Evangelion.
A crossover between the worlds of .hack and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Set in early 2015, shortly after the defeat of the fourth angel. CC Corporation, creator of the ALTIMIT OS and the internationally popular MMORPG "The World" has recently recovered from a disastrous fire at their headquarters in Osaka-2, which destroyed most of their game data. Newly released is The World: R2, and to ensure that it becomes popular, several thousand individuals around the world were selected as part of the Renaissance Project, the first wave of new players.
" " denotes speech
'italics' denotes thought
'bold' denotes written word
Caps denotes skill use
'Shinji's Lovely Suite', Misato's Apartment, Tokyo-3
A troubled youth lay upon his futon little more than an hour or so till dawn, still clad in his school uniform and clutching his SDAT player close to his chest as he waited for a sleep that would not come. Though perhaps it would be closer to the truth to say that he was curled up into the fetal position and shaking, for his mind boiled with thoughts of war and strife, as images from his past insistently replayed themselves for his viewing pleasure.
'His father abandoning him when he was three. The note of a few weeks ago, summoning him with a single word: 'Come'. The sight of Unit 01, the hideous horned monstrosity that he was forced to pilot, on pain of watching Ayanami die. The pain of synching and combat, of a spear of light being rammed into his eye and fire searing every bit of his flesh in phantom pain.
Suzahara' fist striking him, though his words hurt even more. Hammer blows of guilt upon his heavy conscience, knowing he had badly injured a little girl. Almost crushing Suzahara and Aida by accident, getting them involved in a battle that wasn't theirs. The fourth angel's energy whips piercing his abdomen, as he pierced its core in a dance macabre. The sting of Misato's slapping him, over and over again, as everything faded into darkness.'
A moment later, Shinji bolted upright, a white-hot pain exploding in his head as he did so. Apparently, from the evidence of his dreams, he had not yet recovered from the past few days, to say nothing of the past few years.
He found himself whimpering, his breath coming in quick, shallow gasps as he fought for a small measure of control. Apparently, his body was still convinced that it had been mortally wounded, and his mind had not yet found the nerve to tell it otherwise. But then, he'd never had much of a backbone. If he had, he wouldn't be Shinji, would he?
"I mustn't run away. I mustn't run away," he whispered hoarsely to himself, though he wasn't entirely sure if he was trying to be ironic or not. The few times that he hadn't run away, people had ended up getting hurt, so why shouldn't he leave? Nothing he did was ever good enough, not when he followed orders, not when he didn't. And what was he? A coward, just a coward that NERV needed to pilot their giant purple people eater. Nothing more.
Even Misato, who he thought cared about him, was just another of those who was using him for her own purposes. He had seen the journal, the supposed 'log' of his activities, and he guessed it was because of that that she had asked him to move in with her. Easier to monitor what he did, he supposed.
"Easier to keep track of and watch over," he mused, with a brittle smile. He knew what it meant to be used. After all, it was the story of his life, right? And like any story, once it begun, it would draw to its inevitable tragic conclusion, leading him alone and unwanted, or worse, dead.
Sure he could put on a false front and pretend to be brave, but maybe it would be better if he ran away.
'That way at least I won't have to pilot anymore. No more EVA, no more pain…no more Father. I'll do it…I'll run away, at least for a while. I need time to think.'
His mind made up, his features set themselves into a determined expression, and he swung out over the floor, touching the floor gingerly so as to test his strength before applying more weight to his unsure legs. Once his feet were firmly planted on the ground, he stood, almost immediately wincing afterward. Regardless of the fact that it was his EVA that had been injured, not he himself, the pain refused to go away, and it seemed like every step was going to be another agonizing adventure in this ludicrous world.
His eyes clamped themselves tightly shut, and an unwitting cry escaped his throat as he fought the beast within him for control. There was, as he often thought, a self that others saw, and a self that perceived the self, but the self within the self could be far more animalistic than he had ever imagined. He knew that to be true after Unit 01 went berserk while fighting Sachiel, and knew too, that that part of him that was like an animal would only lead to him hurting others…and probably himself as well. So he fought himself, trying to push back the powerful instinct for self-preservation and simply run instead of endure more to push him over the edge.
It was what he was used to, after all. Running from his problems, escaping, whether physically or through the music in his SDAT, being a coward. It was a wonder that his unit hadn't been yellow, though the LCL was certainly colored appropriately to hide any…involuntary reactions due to fear. Despite the agony from moving, he couldn't quite suppress a chuckle at the thought of that as a possible reason for why.
'It's my father's design; I wouldn't be surprised. I'm not the only one who hides from life; he does it too, just on a bigger scale. Maybe he's even more sad and wounded than I am. No, that can't be…I'm sure he has a purpose for what he does.'
As his thoughts turned to his father, it was as if someone had spilled a tank of liquid helium in the room, for the temperature seemed to drop precipitously, enough to allow the agony that burned in him to subside to bearable levels.
Once he was sure he could control himself, Shinji opened his eyes and slowly walked over to the door to his room. He opened it, looking around to see if anyone was awake, but as expected, saw no one. Some 'home' this had turned out to be. Misato was either working late, or had collapsed from drunken revelry, as usual, and it was obvious that she had abandoned any pretense about caring for him (and who could care for such a weak person anyway?), so he should go, as not to trouble her any longer.
With a sigh and another of his brittle half-smiles, the young man took a step forward—and found himself flying through the air until he met an old friend: the ground. Luck really wasn't on his side today, was it? Not only had he been reprimanded after winning his battle against the Fourth Angel and slapped, but now he had…tripped…over a box.
'Wait—there wasn't a box there when I went into my room. I wonder who its from and who its for. It couldn't be for me…no one would send me mail.'
He didn't think it could be him, but as he was rising unsteadily to his feet again, Shinji's curiosity got the better of him and he instead found himself crouching over the box, his eyes flitting over it for a better look.
It was an ordinary cardboard box, plain and brown without any special markings.
'No hints and no packing label. Maybe its something Misato left out.'
He thought better of it though, since he had never seen that box laying around. Besides, he realized in a moment of sheer denseness, this one was sitting upside-down, and seeing as he didn't have x-ray vision or superpowers like some people in animes, it might be just a tad difficult to read the shipping label, if one existed at all.
Warily, Shinji flipped over the box, raising an eyebrow to see that it was indeed addressed to him. But it wasn't from anyone he knew…it wasn't even from NERV or from school. Instead, it was from the company called CC Corp, which had briefly become famous for creating the unhackable ALTIMIT OS, which almost every computer in the world used today, as well as the game called "The World."
Fully interactive, with a full-featured sensory interface and realistic experiences, it had been something that his teacher had talked about once as eating up a person's time. The teacher had called it a waste, shaking his head in despair and frustration that people would rather live out a virtual life than one in the real world.
But at the moment, a virtual world sounded better than the life he was living now, and he was curious to see what could be in the box.
'If it's a bomb, at least I'll be dead. If its money, I can take it with me when I go. If its something else...maybe it will be a reason to stay.'
He dragged the package back into his room and quickly tore into the box, ripping off the packing label and top of the box with ferocity not unlike EVA 01 ripping into Sachiel. Inside, he found a laptop, a rather expensive-looking headset and controller, an instruction manual of some sort, a box with a game in it, a strange looking plushy of what appeared to be a cow-snouted pig, and sitting above all of it, a letter.
With shaking hands, he reached for the letter, holding it up so that an errant ray or two of the light beginning to filter in through his bedroom window would illuminate the text. Upon it was written the following.
'Dear Mr. Ikari,
Congratulations. As part of the Renaissance Promotion, you have been chosen as one of the lucky few to receive a laptop preloaded with the new ALTIMIT MINE OS, as well as a one-year subscription to The World: R2, the most popular MMORPG on earth. Please reference the game manual for details, and if you have any questions, please contact us online.
Thank you for your continued interest and support of CC Corporation, and we hope you enjoy your journey of discovery. May we be the first to say:
"Welcome to the World."
System Administrator, The World: R2'
Rather stunned, Shinji unceremoniously dropped the letter back into the box, collapsing to the floor once again as he tried to think what this could possibly mean.
'I was…chosen for something? Could it be that I'm actually worth something, that someone doesn't want me to run away? What is The World? Maybe I should try it…it can't be worse than Misato's cooking. '
At that cheery thought, a thin sliver of a smile flickered upon his lips. True, it wasn't for long, but it was just long enough to get his ever-present mantra going again, like an insistently addictive riff on a bass guitar. And Newton's First Law of Motion applied even to cowards: 'Things in motion tend to remain in motion, Things at rest tend to remain at rest.'
His mental pleas for no more pain having lost the initiative to a box and curiosity, he wouldn't be running away from home. Not physically at least, for why do that and experience more of the same misery and skullduggery he had experienced ever since his Father had abandoned him. No. He wouldn't run this time, except perhaps into a place where his foes could not reach him, a brand new life atop the old.
Maybe it was for the best, maybe it wasn't, but this time, it would be his choice. Not his father's, not Misato's, not anyone else's. His.
Turning to the box again, he retrieved the manual and began to thumb through it, pursing his lips in thought as he perused the elegantly crafted backstory of the game. It was set in a world where humans had warred against the gods, where a great Shadow had come over the land, a world that had been devastated by an attempt to destroy the gods and set up humanity as the masters of the earth. In short, it was a world much like his own.
In the early morning light, Shinji's eyes seemed to gleam with the shards of barely perceived possibilities, and anyone looking at him might have thought him possessed, for he was not the same as he had been last night. He had been given something precious, and yet that which the Greeks had once called the worst of all evils: Hope.
Pulling the laptop, headset and controller out of the box, he put them onto his desk, flipped open and powered on the computer before plopping into his chair, sinking into whatever meager comfort its austere frame could provide. To his amazement, it was only a matter of seconds before it was amazed at how quickly it booted. And with a completely different OS than anything I've ever seen before. There's even an ethereal melody that seems to play as I browse the system.
There were few icons on the desktop, as it was a new system, but at the moment, that didn't matter too much. His attention was drawn to the small icon in the upper right corner: 'The World: R2'
Taking a deep breath, he selected it and waited for the game to load. The hard drive spun and whirred, and the opening splash of the game popped up on screen, quickly finishing its loading sequence to reveal the title screen.
'Create a Character', he selected, and the program obediently took him to its character class selection screen. It was the moment of truth, where Shinji would have to decide what his role would be in this online world. A Healer, a warlock, or a more physical attacker? One who relied on power, speed or magic?
On one hand, he wanted to be powerful enough so that no one would be able to hurt him, so maybe a Steam Gunner, allowing him to attack from range? Or an Edge Punisher, whose massive sword could rend any opponent who came too close? On the other hand, running away from battle never hurt either, and a decent dose of speed was always helpful. Maybe Tribal Grappler, then, with its extreme attack speed and enough HP to survive most encounters? Or perhaps Twin Blade, with its easy to combo weapons and agility?
But those were too far to the extremes, and he had never been good with choosing. Would a Blade Brandier be a better choice? It was average on almost all counts, except for much better speed than most classes. A Flick Reaper? Too vulnerable to attacks from range, even if it was good for attacking a number of foes. And Lord Partizans were out. He didn't want to be slower than an EVA with no synch if push came to shove.
Maybe it would be best to try something completely different. There were the three tempting magic classes: Shadow Warlock, Harvest Cleric, and Macabre Dancer. But which one? Feared Sorcerer, Respected Healer, or Mysterious Spell Shaman?
Suffice it to say that decisiveness was not Shinji's strong suit, not with so many choices available to him. This wasn't exactly one of the one-option scenarios that he was routinely found himself in, after all.
And so he sat there, in front of the computer screen, paralyzed with doubt. He would move the cursor over an option, and then reconsidering, over another. Which one to choose? He could only choose one…right? So why did he have the nagging feeling that he was forgetting something?
A few seconds later, he wanted to smack himself for being an idiot. It dawned on him that there was one class that he was overlooking: Adept Rogue. Unlike the other classes, it didn't specialize in a single weapon or form of combat. It could allow him to choose up to two or three classes, with the exception of a few that were restricted. Sure, he would start the game with the first of them and have to unlock the others, but it didn't seem too bad. Then, too, his stats would be nicely balanced, meaning that while he wouldn't have bone-crushing power, at least he would still be able to run (and at about this point, his 'mustn't run away' mantra kicked in again).
So he made a decision, finally. Choosing to become an Adept Rogue, he vacillated between the combinations of Twin Blade and Steam Gunner, or Blade Brandier and Macabre Dancer?
It was then that an insidious little voice began to whisper at him from the recesses of his memory: 'Center the target, pull the switch. Center the target, pull the switch. Center the—'
He shook his head and blindly stabbed at the keyboard, selecting option 1, remarkably similar to the weapons he learned to use in EVA. And even that minor connection was a bit unnerving,
The game moved to the next screen and awaited his choice of appearance, as this version was fully customizable.
'I'll make this one different from what I look like in real life, that's for sure.'
Among the choices for his character were options for long silver-blue hair, crimson eyes, pale skin, slim body form, and charcoal-gray robes with a shimmering water elemental symbol on them over a coat of dark chain mail. Those were the ones he selected, and he blinked in surprise to see just how closely it resembled Ayanami. But then, he had wanted to look different, and if anyone looked different from how he was in real life, it was her, the quiet, mysterious, undeniably beau—
Shinji quickly cut off that train of thought before it could derail or cause a nosebleed. Now the game prompted him for a name, but his creativity had given out after his intense use of focus to choose the other details of his character.
'I never thought it would be this difficult to create an identity for myself. But I guess I'll call myself…
That completed, the computer beeped, informing him that his account was ready.
'This is it. No turning back. I mustn't run away…'
Picking up the headset and controller from the desk, he plugged them into the computer, placing the headset over his head. Surprisingly, he felt a moment of feedback not unlike what he knew in EVA, and he wondered what other revelations would come to him in this brave new world, and from the people in it. He clicked 'Log in', and synched to his game character, as the room around him faded away to reveal a strange new city of stone and iron, already bustling though it had been around for only a few hours.
Daybreak had come, and the light of the sun over Mac Anu danced upon the waters and the cobblestones of the streets.
Looking around, Shinji found himself repeating the last line of the letter that he had received from CC Corporation.
'Welcome to the World.'