Author notes:

Some stuff in this update might not make sense, because I have heavily [REDACTED] some earlier scenes. See notes at the end.


Chapter 46: The Last Love Song part 1

=][=

It was the spring of 2016 and prophecies were dust in the wind.

Lorenz Kiel sat alone in the SEELE council chamber. The door opened, splashing bright white light into a sealed room. Around him were corpses of white-haired boys. All of them had bullet holes to the head. All of them had a gun on their hands.

A familiar face strode in. Yui Ikari. An alien confidence glimmered behind glowing red pupils.

"You are too late," said Lorenz Kiel. "The trigger is no longer here. This Egg is barren."

Lillith frowned minutely. From the corridor a red tide flowed, staining her shoes, rising, then the edges of her white lab coat.

Lorenz Kiel stared back, his eyes glowing red in the dark. For he too had a thin, delicate face with a shock of white hair. To command the Mass Production Evangelions remotely, he had to cast aside what remained of his humanity.

This was a downgrade. Even as man stuffed full of machines to prolong his wretched life, he had pride that he was a man. Nagisa's hybrid body was nothing more than a hideous trap, short-term power in exchange for his soul.

Those fools at NERV did not understand, how at the end SEELE fought to save them all.

Kiel heard hissing from around his ankles. The plug suit would dissolve momentarily, then his flesh. Digestion. That was Lillith's way. Like a spider sucking out the juices of its prey. Metaphorically, the Lillith form of life was the harvest of civilizations. Like a dark phoenix, constantly dying and being reborn, twisting time and space to replay the same cruel play again and again.

"A murderous infant." he grunted through the pain. "Trying to make sense of your existence through a distorted copy of Yui Ikari's consciousness. Fine then, carry out her grudge. We have delayed long enough."

The physical pain was irrelevant. It was an old friend. The torment of failure was greater still. SEELE may have lost today, but it was crucial to draw Lillith away from Earth, to put the final plan into motion. He thought for a moment of those he had lost, his family, his daughters, and knew that even long dead they would not be safe.

"Third Impact was designed for us, not for you."

Lillith clenched her fist and Kiel felt his heart implode. As his vision turned white, then dark, he had only enough strength left to whisper - "... you fools. You knew not what you ha..."

Third Impact was supposed to be the plan of escape.

Many were worlds with bloody seas, dead, in the cosmos.

But all of them free.

That was Instrumentality.

And then -

There was only the hunger.

=][=

The Angels taught the world the meaning of ancient mammalian fear again. Man, this fangless, clawless biped, that had decided it was the master of the world, was reduced to scurrying again under the shadow of aloof giants. When Adam's roar shook the world, so did the delusion of mastery come crashing down.

And it was the stolen Earth's Cradle that taught them that they could still feel despair. Mankind had come to terms with its weakness, turned it into strength. No fur for warmth, but there was fire. No fang to tear, no claws, to catch, but nimble fingers that could build traps. No immortality, but the glory of civilization.

Nagisa and the Cradle had rubbed everyone's face in their own weakness, turned their hope into ashes, and told them all - that only power was power. Against the dark alien unknown, humanity had placed their faith in the torch of technology. They hedged their bets, and made that capsule to later reclaim a shattered world.

Hiding, surrendering, even before the battle has begun. If humanity was so eager to cower, then Nagisa had no compunction about treading upon their backs, saw it as the admission of a human's inherent need to be ruled. As much as someone might snarl at being forced, a part hungered for well-defined limits. Comfort enough, and no more.

Heroes were those who were outside humanity's fearful dross. He was willing to become a monster, because only in conflict did the human heart reveal the truth deep inside.

The Cradle was broken, Nagisa driven to flee. Half-human, half-Angel, but he was not as much of a monster as he pretended to be.

But it was NERV that made the world bleed. NERV, ever holding the dagger of betrayal.

NERV, whose greatest sin - was that they failed.

They were the gate, and the key, and they failed to keep the real monster locked up.

They set loose the enemy that could not be fought with an Evangelion and any amount of bullshit hax.

Lillith was free.

Adam slew half the world.

The Angels hurled themselves into the teeth of a Fortress-City, slaughtering everything in their way.

The Cradle crushed nations.

So much death.

Lillith... did none of things.

The moon above turned red, becoming a bloodshot eye. Lillith, source of all life on Earth, did inflict upon mankind a paltry little injury.

Human beings functioned best on at least eight hours of sleep. Humans, who feared the dark, would no longer rest in the darkness behind their eyes.

=][=

There was no one else the Prime Minister of Japan hated more than Misato Katsuragi. "You've made your point, Katsuragi. What are your demands?"

"And again, this isn't our fault!" Misato shot back. "We're just as lost about it as you are."

"I severely doubt that." he sniffed.

The rigors of office could prematurely age a man, but now he looked and felt as if he had one foot in the grave. Three billion people had suddenly come to a terrifying realization how much they took for granted the ease of a good night's sleep. He had bags under his eyes, his nose felt stuffed up, his day was a haze of muted pain.

Katsuragi looked as fresh as morning dew.

"It's convenient that you people are the only ones not affected." Unspoken was the question, are you even really human?

Misato narrowed her eyes. "You know why we're immune." She responded silently; and if anyone tries to push this, I'll break them, no matter who it is. "This place is where he sleeps."

Prime Minister Sakata winced.'Why does it always go back to that boy?' He had a feeling that the only reason anybody even had that two hours of sleep was that there was this faint golden thread that still tied them to sanity.

The Prime Minister sighed. "If he wakes up, can he fix this?"

"... you know, I have no idea?" Misato's voice pitched up at the end. She looked to the distance, perhaps at Ritsuko Akagi just offscreen from the monitor.

From the look on her face, the Prime Minister knew that Ritsuko's response was some particularly eloquent shrug.

When Misato turned back to look at him, her expression had firmed again. "I'm sorry, but the only thing we can do is to repair, rebuild, and enact Plan Nine. If we kill that goddamn Angel, yeah, sure, maybe this will all go away."

"Katsuragi, we're still displeased that NERV's been hiding something that could cause Third Impact all this time."

"Secrets and conspiracies. Just noise. It's better to have it all out in the open so we just get the job done."

"So be it. We're putting all our hopes in your hands." Too much power in anyone's hands. Sakata shut off the videophone and sagged down his chair. There's no guarantee that NERV would let go, after everything's all said and done.

His brain felt as if on fire, and he opened his desk to down some more painkillers. Too much more, and he'd be drowsy... but that was dangerous. Far too many have already died from overdose. People were willing to do anything that would force their bodies to shut down and give them a few hours of blessed sleep.

"Won't it end?!" he hissed.

His hands shook. The Angels had a way of making people feel weak and cowardly, and NERV - their protectors - doubly reinforced that feeling. "Just make it stop. Leave us alone. Someone. Anyone. Make it stop..."

=][=

The upkeep of NERV and its Evangelions could bankrupt small nations.

The Angels had wiped out cities from the face of the Earth.

Nagisa's attacks had wiped out most of the armies of Europe and displaced millions.

However, none of the attacks over the past year could actually shut down the world economy the way LILLITH's simple conceptual hack could manage.

People could not sleep willingly. Such a simple thing taken for granted. They would stay awake until their body had no choice except to shut down, but even on waking up afterwards they would not feel refreshed. Tempers were always short, drugstores and markets were looted for narcotics and alcohol.

Man, woman, child, adult, everybody was affected. Everybody fought over anything that could allow them to escape the waking world. People sought relief in whatever could break through the ache and the numbness.

Riots and mobs flashed into being. Cities burned. More people died in suicides than all the casualties through the war against the Angels. Murders and rapes skyrocketed. Babies never stopped crying, until their helpless wails turned into weak plaintive whimpers.

Somewhere in America, a man who was trying to drive to work, mindful of the DMV's warnings about the lowered speed limit and making sure to keep substantial distance away from the next car over, died anyway. There was little difference between a truck and a crushing death machine, except a driver that usually had to force himself to stay awake.

Somewhere in Spain, a man who had a gambling problem was knifed to death after a game. This would usually have been a statistical blip, except that it happened in a high-class casino. A mob had stormed the place, shouting that those who act in God's name will be granted rest. God had ordered places of sin and vice to be burned and those inside sent to Hell. It was a lie, started by someone who was feeling tired, bored, and spiteful.

A thick carpet of corpses floated down the Ganges.

In parts of South-East Asia, people were going amok at random. A psychotic rampage, when a person just goes berserk, wanting nothing more than to kill and hurt until slain in turn.

But such psychotic breaks were not uncommon, even in other parts of the world. Many people found themselves far too willing to entertain quick, bloody, final solutions to any obstacles. If not a sudden urge to murder, some found cold premeditated destruction to be strangely compelling. Fire was so beautiful. Knives glittered enchantingly. High places so inviting.

Here, a college student of good repute decided to burn down a computer shop and everybody in it. He laughed as he too burned. There, a man had taken fireworks, cans, nails, and a minivan. He spent thirty minutes breaking people's windows. A woman bled her cheating husband, a child smothered a noisy baby, and a sudden brawl in the street ended up with burning tanks.

Criminal elements had far less restraint now that even the police were stressed, but as much as some expressed their violence more openly, just as many found themselves literally torn apart by sudden vicious mobs. It was amazing in its own way, how a burning haze through the days could make someone ignore all the fear of death.

People were willing to try anything, anything at all, just for the promise of relief. Drugs and alcohol, of course, the easy and obvious recourse. People were willing to try poisons, first weak one, psychotropics, then stronger toxins. Some tried self-inflicted impacts and blows, maybe enough disorientiation to escape the mind-crushing pain.

Some tried to just pass the time. They wanted to consume, but few were still willing to work and deliver. They wanted to be entertained, but few felt well enough to provide. Government, media, and medical services tried to keep things functioning even if at minimal levels. Because no one felt well enough to produce new things, people tuned into the recycled works of years past. They shut themselves in, and pulled the hole in after them.

Thus, all over the world, communities began to dissolve into clutches and closed homes. Violence or isolation. No reason for it except the burning of their eyes and the crushing pressure inside their own skulls.

Mankind was a being halfway between angel and ape. How so easily, if that equilibrium was ever disrupted, they could so easily turn back into a savage animal. Higher thought fled.

If Kaworu Nagisa was still around, he would have said, "Humanity is a slave to his own biology. This is why I wanted to free you from the prison of mortal flesh."

If Shinji Ikari was awake, he would have replied, "An external force messing with human minds isn't indicative of any weakness, it's an attack. Victim-blaming is just as evil and injust."

Not even SEELE could guess what LILLITH wanted to know out of seeing humanity destroy itself. That, and they were all already dead anyway. They sought apotheosis, failed, were slaughtered for their affront, and perhaps in some small way escaped the living hell.

=][=

But not Tokyo-3.

Katsuragi had ordered all roads closed. Japan's JSDF were called upon to enforce that order. Hundreds of thousands, even millions of citizens were ready to storm the gates, and no one would have been able to stop them.

Fortunately, a sleep-rotation schedule was worked out for everyone's benefit. There was a tent city around fortress city, even going halfway up the Hakone mountain range.

Rika Izuna was once known for being a mouthpiece of criticism again NERV, and had Shinji Ikari and the strange, strange liberties afforded to the boy. Now however, if she spoke people would stop everything and listen, and people of all walks of life gave her undue deference.

Because she was there, in that Golden Moment. Her proximity to the Third Child's awakening had somehow burnt something into her soul.

It was a strange feeling, being the subject of inquiry for a change. All because, for some reason, she was immune to LILLITH's brain-hack. She could get tired, and feel sleepy, and dip into slumber, the next day stand up and smile. And more than that, she had a proximity similar to the Sleeper Zone in and around Tokyo-3.

People around her could sleep. Her range was around twenty meters.

World leaders were all but begging for her to visit. Celebrities were promising anything just to stand near her. Kidnapping and experimentation were credible dangers.

"So, this is what he must feel all the time." Rika said dryly. "Only now can I really sympathize with the boy." She laughed, and her mouth tasted ashes. "Only now that I've gained everything I ever wanted, if only I could take back all that I'd lost."

"People love you and resent you because you have what they don't have. What they can't have." answered Kozo Fuyutsuki. He looked just as well-rested. He didn't have a Sleeper Zone, but for some reason he was also wakelock-immune.

They sat inside a private tea room. Both knew that outside, their security detail was formed of half people on alert and half people taking the chance to finally take it easy.

"What have you done?! Katsuragi's official reason for sending you here is to finally come clean about NERV's secrets."

"I know my share, yes."

"But that's not important anymore. You people! How can you keep going on, always getting the best end of the deal, why everybody else just suffers?! It's not fair. And now they think - I'm from there, I'm one of you, and I'm not. I just want to be normal. I just wanted things to make sense. I just wanted you people to be accountable for your actions."

"Plainly, Miss Izuna, we don't. From the outside, it seems as if NERV's mandate is unshakable. Now, you're experiencing how it feels from this side. For every step forward, it seems as if we actually step back.

To be blunt, we have done many things. Many evil things, to be honest. We had a plan. That plan was junk. What works for us is just to do what we can and hope it works out somehow."

"You people pull miracles out your ass, that's what you do. I've interviewed people at the Sleeper's Zone in and around Tokyo-3. You know what they say about this new problem you caused? "

She paused, remembering anguished faces, faces full of greed and desperation, and the difference a single night makes. 'Normal' was available, at a steep price, along the Hakone slopes. It was an irony that was cutting at her.

Rika waved at a blank wall. "Out there... why is it still so tiring even when I'm asleep? It's like I spent all that time screaming."

"Ah. Akagi did mention a theory about that. We've got a theory that it's working through the communal consciousness, and that is the vector for this attack. It is similar to how there's a part of our brain that's still reptilian. The human soul is also composed of layers. This time, we think it's actually a safety feature."

"A safety feature? How so?"

"There is the terror that if you sleep, you won't wake up again. Human minds subconsciously recognize the existence that is LILLITH, lurking just at the edges, and fear being devoured. Awake, we can throw up walls to maintain our identity, but asleep the barriers weaken."

"... that doesn't explain why some people don't suffer this. Is it just that you're not afraid anymore?"

"Oh, gods no. I am as terrified as anyone. Running NERV did not in any way toughen me up or inoculate me against existential horrors."

"If it's not some technology of NERV... then... it can only be..."

Rika grimaced. Even now she was afraid, as if saying it would break the world.

After a while, she added. "... that boy."

It was not just Tokyo-3. Not just her. There was this little town up in Sendai, and the only newsworthy thing other than the rest afforded to its citizens was that it was the Third Child's hometown.

Some places in Egypt, in Brazil, in Romania, in Tibet, in Utah, and in South Africa, radiated a Sleeper Zone much smaller but similar to Tokyo-3. There was only one common thread tying those place, that he had spent some time there. Occcasionally to battle Nagisa there.

The remains of Berlin and the shell of the Earth's Cradle seemed to have this aura of significance too.

Some children were for some reason better able to deal with the lack of sleep better. They could go into a semi-restful state. They reported a synesthetic sensation. Green. And drums. Far away, but impossibly vast.

Rika Izuna bit her lip. And when she slept, she saw a sword in flame, and its warmth seemed to burn away the cloying acidic mist billowing out from the depths.

Fuyutsuki said nothing. He looked away, and called up in his mind how Yui never showed him any tears. He admired her beauty, her intelligence, her reserve. During his time in the Post-Second Impact world, but before Gendo found him, he had to console women who had lost their loved ones. When a doctor of philosophy was called upon to perform surgery, the madness of those days.

He could tell Rika Izuna was just about ready to break down. 'Those who think she has it easy, have it wrong.' he thought. 'This plague of wakefulness is tearing her apart as much as anyone.'

He had never really gotten any better at consoling anybody.

"I've been interviewing those who are able to sleep once they enter the Sleeper Zone..." Rika continued. "That say, that while they sleep they're still so afraid, and they don't remember any dreams, they have this powerful vision of a golden thread. And as long as they hang onto it, they'll be okay."

"What they see, those who sleep in your range?"

"They don't see anything, but they say it's as if they hear an echo from far away. And they shout at it, and hear another echo. And it bounces. Louder and louder the more they yell. And as long as that sound rings in the dark, they'll be okay."

Fuyutsuki nodded. "Fascinating."

"You?"

"Nothing so poetic, I'm afraid. I sleep, sometimes I dream. Nothing has changed." The old man shrugged. "I understand this may be very irritating to some people, but I'm an old man. It's lucky that I don't have to deal with any more stress."

"You're lying." Rika hissed through clenched teeth.

"My connection to Shinji Ikari is only peripheral. I'm just not that important in the grand scheme of things."

"What's so special about Shinji Ikari?"

"I don't know."

"Stop lying!"

"Look, I honestly don't know. Akagi doesn't know. The strongest psychics on Earth don't know. Not even Nagisa hinted he knew what was up with that. I can't help you here."

Rika snorted. "Secrets and lies. That's what you're built on. Secrets and lies."

Fuyutsuki put down his cup and nodded again. "Literally. Yes."

"You must have done something. NERV's experiments... you took an alien god and make slaves wrapped in metal and pain! You made Ayanami as a disposable weapon! Of course it makes perfect sense that Ikari, the Younger, is just one more of your tools!"

"... unfortunately, that is just not so."

"He's a just a boy. Or is he? What is he?"

"This is getting downright biblical." Fuyutsuki chuckled. "Of course, one could argue that it has always been biblical, but we did not go into this whole thing to create a messiah."

"It has to end. We can't keep on doing this forever..."

"Oh, I see. You are exhausted." Understandable, really. He halfway approved of how she kept rationalizing instead of embracing the madness like the esteemed Dr. Akagi had. "The world is exhausted. Even the human spirit can take so much."

"It has to be worth it. I don't care about Shinji Ikari. But Toshiro! He had faith. He died, for me, it has to mean something!"

Her mind flashed back to the minutes before the Golden Moment -

"Sorry, Rika. I guess you'll have to manage things by yourself from now on." He stood with his back to hers, refusing to turn around, to let her see just how blindly terrified he was. It was still obvious in his voice.

"You... stupid! I won't do it! There's no hope..." Rika's hands were shaking. "I'm not strong enough. I can't... don't leave me. Not now. What's this boy done to you?!""

""I'm not doing this for him. I'm doing it for you!" Toshiro Manabu shouted.

He had a piece of rebar in his hands. He stood between her and a mad goddess. "Rika... what an annoying woman you are." You're selfish, you're loud, you're so full of yourself. You're so afraid of not being seen. The woman I love is stronger than this!

Dry your tears, Rika. You have to survive!"

"This must end!" He died, accomplishing nothing, except to serve as more fuel for the boy's ascension. In between dry heaves, Rika whispered, "So, you old bastard, lie to me."

Fuyutsuki smiled and patted her hand. "It will end. Soon. We have a plan, and if you have faith, we will prevail."

"You fucking liar." She coudn't help but to laugh.

=][=

Ritsuko Akagi beheld her laboratory.

"I'm one of the world's most renowned geneticists, computer scientists, and biomechanists. I understand more about the Evangelion than anyone still alive." she mumbled to herself. She clenched her fist, feeling the pull of artificial muscles from the outside and the tingle of minute electric pads that forced her muscles to respond from within her suit. "I still should not be qualified for this."

She took a deep breath. She was not a surgeon. She was not a mechanical engineer.

Someone with her own spinal injury should not be trusted to perform an operation involving extreme amounts of finesse. But this was the sort of nonsense that seemed to keep NERV going day after day.

She turned away from the observation window down into the operating table.

=][=

"I had to practically vivisect your boy, you know," she told Misato later. "Just to get him out of that weird armor. All analysis showed that it was solid gold, 96% purity, the rest being a diamond weave through the metal. It should have been easy enough to cut through, except for being... y'know, practically invulnerable."

Misato sat in Gendo's chair. Where the former commander of NERV would have curtly ordered Ritsuko to get to the point, she waited. Ritsuko needs to brag, Misato had realized long ago. Not for self-validation, but to place the impossible into the context of her reality.

"I couldn't risk bringing in heavier cutting tools - seriously, why do I even have a 4-gigawatt laser drill anyway? - or it might just cut all the way through and kill the patient. Even psychoreactive materials didn't help, and you know how that cuts through even Evangelion plate with no resistance at all."

"Ritsuko..." Misato sighed and tried to keep frustration from creeping into her tone. "So, what did you do?"

"In the end, I decided that red jewel on the breastplate looked too much like an Angel core, and that the whole thing sounded like an application of the reinforcing properties of the AT-field. So to beat it, I had to look for something which had greater authority."

"I'm... pretty sure I would have heard about you using Unit-02 for that."

Ritsuko chuckled. "No. In the end I had to improvise a wire cutter out of the most fragile and most improbable of materials." She smirked and pushed up her glasses. Glint. Flash. "What has greater authority over Shinji Ikari, what being does he allow to command his powers with no hesitation? A single strand of your hair did what monomolecular edges could not."

"... bullshit."

"I wish I was joking, but this is completely true. Your hair is a conceptual weapon now, Misato."

"I still call bullshit on that."

"I've been there, Misato. Seriously, you put me there. That's not a good place to stand."

"My hair should fire lasers."

"... and now I remember why Shinji looks up to you. I can't even tell if you're joking right now."

Misato's raised a finger to her chin. "Note serious face." Then the light just seemed to fade from her eyes. "What's happened to him, Ritsuko?"

"On the outside, nothing. On the inside, he has injuries consistent with a fire-related event several weeks ago. I saw scar tissue inside his lung walls, and through his esophagus. His tongue is likewise a mass of scars." Ritsuko laid down a large photo. "But you want the obvious. Yes, his eyes are gone. Scar tissue consistent with burns, again. His eardrums have also burst, with the same pattern." With a shrug, she added, "Actually, it goes all the way through. There is similar scarring identifiable through the rectal cavity and -"

"Stop."

"Look, Misato, I can't explain this. It's a wonder he didn't cook himself. For all intents and purposes, he should be dead."

"Doing the impossible has consequences." Misato groaned. "Damn it, Shinji. Why do you have to try and shoulder everything on your own?" She looked up. "But he's alive. What will happen now? What can we do to help?"

"Nothing. He's in a coma, Misato. Not even I can predict when someone will wake up out of that."

Misato wanted to shout and rage, but could only nod numbly. Ritsuko gathered up her things, excused herself, making sure to leave the medical files, and left the room. Misato Katsuragi sat there, alone, in silence, until a few minutes later her desk beeped.

"Commander Katsuragi, the ambassador from the People's Republic of China has arrived at the Hakone checkpoint. He has an appointment. Would you like to see him now?"

"No. We scheduled things so people can get a few hours of extra sleep before talking to me. Remind him that being made to wait five hours is supposed to be a courtesy, not an insult."

"The Russian ambassador is also here."

Misato paused. "Same thing." Taking her finger off the intercom, she shot Ritsuko an annoyed look. "Those bastards, they're trying to double-team me, aren't they?"

"They both know we need their resources." Ritsuko replied with a shrug. "Which one is it, you think? Priming you with unreasonable requests for the next one, or easier terms the first time around so that you have to pick either one big windfall or a bunch of smaller concessions?"

"Who cares? I just need their help to build a launch facility."

"You have to start thinking for the long term now, Misato. If we lose now, we've got nothing left. But if we win - then the world changes forever. You're the one building that world now."

"Ritsuko... damn it, I'm just a soldier. I'm not qualified for this geopolitical bullshit. The old man should have stayed."

"You know Fuyutsuki-sensei doesn't have near enough personal authority for that. NERV's mandate used to derive from the United Nations. Your mandate is derived from... well, blatant extortion."

Misato let out a strangled little laugh. "Oh god I have no idea what I am doing. I'm going to fuck this up so bad..."

=][=

"Misato Katsuragi is a genius. No wonder Yang approved of her. It's always pleasant dealing with an officer who knows what she's doing." Nikolai Mihaylov mused idly while the elevator descended into NERV.

"Choosing to meet with us simultaneously is a breach of protocol and prevents voicing concerns best done in privacy. This may be a mistake." replied Ming Huan.

"But you do not believe that. That would mean your venerable Yang made a mistake in extolling her competence."

"This... was not anticipated, I admit. If the purpose was to put us on the wrong footing, then it has succeeded. Katsuragi is no fool. She must have seen that despite the friction between our nations, it is to our best interest to cooperate."

The truth was, Misato just said "Fine. I'll just meet them both at once, and we can get all this over with in double time."

The two rode down the cable car leading from the surface of Tokyo-3 down to the geofront. They had taken the chance to nap, upon entering the city, and it was convenient that the ride was slow. It gave them the time to wake up fully.

They did not have a security detail to escort them down. They were treated as if mostly harmless, which was an insult in itself. Part of that was Katsuragi's policy that she mostly emphatically did not care anymore if anyone snooped around. Intrigue was irrelevant in the face of human extinction.

"Impressive." said Mihaylov. "This geofront is a true wonder of the world."

"NERV Shenyang had one as well. NERV Hakone simply lucked out in finding a natural geofront. Ours, we had to dig out with the labor of a billion hands and nuclear arms." Huan paused and frowned at his turn of phrase, then continued in a banal tone, "And it was much more defensible."

The scars from the recent battles still marred the terrain, scorched scars across a green backdrop. The hole in the geofront's roof drew a sparkling curtain of sunlight across the gap. Dropped buildings were sprawled over here and there, like fallen gravestones. The skeletal remains of Mass Production Evangelions.

"I hear most NERV sites had extensive underground works anyway. The Americans' Nevada site was rumored to be four kilometers deep. This is a pretty sight, though."

"It is a wasteful use of space. Inefficient forests and lakes, instead of internal housing and farmland for a fortress-city. A monument to ego."

"And yet, with such limits, they were able to beat back the enemy again and again and again. I both wonder and dread what they will do with proper resources."

He could not help sounding miffed about it. Russia, for all it had contributed to Project E, did not possess a NERV site. It made up for it with multiple regional defense bases, however. NERV facilities had strong defenses simply because they were so important as production sites. Properly designed bases meant for command and control were supposed to form the center of humanity's defense against the alien Angels.

"Now that we why the Angels kept attacking only NERV, why three Evangelions could do what whole armies could not, I also wonder if it was lucky we did not have a NERV site." Then belatedly realizing the implications of what he'd said, "My apologies, I did not meant to belittle the tragedy at Shenyang."

As much as NERV-Berlin was paid for by the countries of Europe, NERV-Shenyang was an unprecedented cooperative effort by China and Russia. That was how Russia could feel comfortable reaping all the benefits of Evangelion tech without having their own build site. Russia had two slices of the pie, one in the east and another in the west.

"NERV Shenyang... the Shen-Ji Site, would have been the perfect killing ground." Huan whispered through grit teeth. "Well away from anything important. All facilities buried underground in levels with alternating armor plates. None of this floating city retracting building tourist trap nonsense...! Plenty of extra room to build. Walls, real walls, and enough artillery to darken the sky. Japan prototyped the control systems, Germany the physical frame, America the power systems, but we were meant for Mass Production."

"Then the Angel codenamed SAHAQUIEL happened..." Mihaylov said somberly.

The largest death toll through this year of war against the Angels was suffered by China. The US suffered the total loss of the NERV Nevada, but it happened in the middle of nowhere. Shenyang was deep inland, supposedly to mitigate the damage, but SAHAQUIEL wiped it off the face of the Earth. The only reason it didn't cause greater tectonic shocks and tsunamis was that the bombardment relied much more on AT-field matter disruption properties than sheer kinetic force.

Millions died all around the Yellow Sea anyway.

"A billion hands! A billion hearts being as one! If they could perform miracles with only this many people, imagine what could have been, if the reason given wasn't just an elaborate smokescreen. They made us waste hundreds of trillions just to have an excuse to build up this place. It would have been... acceptable... if we could have fought it. All that death, if only it had meaning."

"Acceptable? They would have died anyway, but as long as they could have performed one final gesture of spite, that's all you need to feel comfortable with it?"

"We exist for a purpose. It doesn't matter if we fail, as long as we attempt to fulfill that purpose. Our nations are were made on the precept of the people having collective power to free themselves. Instead, we were just tools to further NERV's lies."

"Shenyang was a legitimate military target. As you said, you were building the Mass Production Evangelions there."

"We were! And the later we saw multiple Mass Production Evangelions! From where? Who built them? Meaningless! The power of the Eva was never contained in the first place! The risks we suffered was for nothing."

"There was a rumor that Misato Katsuragi had said, 'Give me three Evangelions and I can conquer the world'."

Huan paused and took a deep breath. Considering the sheer bullshit Evangelions based here could pull, conventional armies were completely useless against an Eva. They had no peer opponents. "That may be possible, if one did not consider how long the world remains unconquered. Our nations also understand the pains of asymmetric warfare more than most."

There was also that she already HAD those three Evangelions. Three Children to pilot them, already proven slayers of would-be gods-in-the-flesh. Was that supposed to be a boast or a threat?

It also kind of explained the whole personality cult they were building around Shinji Ikari, come to think of it. It was a not a hypocritical thought for Huan, because that was something they had deliberately cultivated around Yang.

"It all comes back down to resources. Katsuragi is a brilliant tactician, but she may not be so adept at dealing with logistics. That is what you call Yang "The Great Strategist", correct? I wonder what she expects in exchange for resolving this global affliction that is, for once, something we can trace as -completely- NERV's fault."

"They are a single city, and are completely dependent on outside forces for their resources and upkeep. By all rights, they should be begging for donations."

"Like the Vatican?" That mini-state on top of a hill survived Second Impact well enough, but for some reason someone had decided to use a nuke on the place. No one claimed responsibility in the chaos. "Katsuragi's little fiefdom exists only because others allow it. What's that old saying? A paper tiger. In the short term, we need her. In the long term... she isn't much of a threat, if properly handled."

"Yes. With Yang there, NERV had the tacit approval of the dragon. Ikari, and now Katsuragi, was by implication able to use us as leverage against the own Japanese government for concessions. It is only fair that we gain something from this arrangement."

"Katsuragi has the right to throw into our faces any attempt at taking advantage of this situation at the expense of what would help the survival of all mankind."

"She does not have the luxury of turning away help, as well. Everybody I know wants to help as long as she promises the hurting will stop. If we can finally end this futile senseless conflict. All I'm authorized for now is a discussion of the new status quo after the war is won."

Considering the rampant escalation after every battle, it was a valid worry IF the war could be won at all. Or if there would be a planet left after the end of it.

"A world without Angels, a world without nuclear weapons. Let's hope there's something there."

=][=

Thirty minutes later, halfway into their discussion about technology exchanges:

Misato hid her face in her hands. "You know, it's totally a funny coincidence that you compare our situation here to the Vatican..."

When they found out Misato's plan, it was not funny in the least.

=][=

Misato Katsuragi now sat in the unnecessarily wide Commander's Office, in Gendo's old desk, and the amber of sunset lit the room as if on fire. She had a grim look on her face, and had laced her hands together just under her nose. It was a pose familiar to those that knew Gendo Ikari.

It had less to do with plotting deviltry, than to keep herself from smashing her own head into the desk until either it breaks or she'd knocked herself unconscious.

Kaji stood before her, grinning, with a lit cigarette on his lips.

"So, how does it feel being the most powerful woman in the world?" he asked.

"I'm not in the mood for any of your jokes, Kaji." Misato hissed. "Honestly? It feels like shit. I never asked for this."

"Can't contest the fact though. Look at it from other people's perspective.

Fact: Tokyo-3 just managed to defeat attacks by enemy Mass-Production Evangelions.

Fact: Sohryu single-handedly defeated the Earth's Cradle, a floating battle fortress that no amount of earthly power could defeat.

Fact: Ikari just shielded a whole city from every nuke that the whole world could send, without even using an Evangelion.

Fact: With Sohryu's return, you now have command over the world's only functional Evangelion.

The only other functioning NERV site is NERV Boston... and they know, even if they have the facilities to build Evangelions, there is fuck and all they can do to match the inhumanly efficient killing machines that you'd all but decided to adopt as your kids."

"Enough! They're not monsters, dammit. We forced this on them!"

"If they were afraid before, Misato, now they're too terrified to even be resentful about being shown up as powerless and insignificant. You know Yang's plan. The Treasure Box is open, and Akagi's Toy Box is ready to be wound up. This, or something like this... was inevitable."

Misato slammed her palm down on a folder on her desk. Shinji Ikari's medical records. "It's not worth it. I never expected this... children, they're the ones that suffer. I can't... I can't accept always taking advantage of their sacrifice."

"If you don't, that sacrifice is worthless! Misato, stop pitying them."

"It's another miracle, they told me, you know? That Shinji-kun's still alive. They found burn scarring down his throat. They have artificial lungs pumping oxygen into him, his own lungs became this lattice of black crystals. They said his hair is made out of superconductors now. What the fuck is this, Kaji?!

I swear, I will fucking shoot the next person who offers me congratulations! I refuse to profit off my child's pain!"

"You know, that's probably why Yang trusted you so much. He knew you didn't give a damn about glory, advancement, patriotism, humanity... whatever. You only care about doing good to your kids, and if what they want is to save the world... you'd support them the best you can."

"Yang's dead. I don't care about his plans. And you - stop trying to turn me into some tyrant."

"If you won't do it, maybe Asuka would like to serve as the figurehead uniting humanity? Sohryu the Great isn't too unlikely."

"You're trying to goad me, and it's working. Uggh. Any more, and I'll shoot you. Somewhere non-lethal, but trust me - I will."

The spy only gave back a completely nonchalant smirk. "The old man's already off to meet the United Nations as your mouthpiece. Part of why the government's so pissed at you is because you've got the support of China and Russia, who are competitors if not old enemies. Old grudges, ethnicity, who cares? Japanese, Chinese, Russian, German... that's all irrelevant now. At least, irrelevant -here-."

Kaji spat out his cigarette and ground out the embers under his shoes. "Come on, Katsuragi. You know this is the best way to protect your children. They... and you... can't keep on running forever. You know what they say... with great power."

"Stop. Dammit, Kaji. Just stop."

"... comes great responsibility."

"... nngh. You don't work for the UN or the Japanese government anymore. They fired your ass, because they thought you were compromised by me. I'm only going to give you a job to make sure it'll be the lowest, stinkiest possible thing I can make you do."

"I'm happy to serve the Republic of Katsuragi."

"I'm not calling it that!"

=][=

The word on the street was secession.

Tokyo-3 had just declared itself an independent nation, and all NERV sites across the world as part of its sovereign territory. There was nothing strange about micronations - the Vatican, for one, was one of the most famous examples. And disturbing, Tokyo-3 has too much similarity to the Vatican. All they needed now was a public cult.

Cerberus Base was built by the UN, staffed mainly by the JSSDF, and nominally under international control. Most soldiers decided to defect. Their base and all equipment were seized by the new government.

The entire Hakone region ceased to be part of Japan.

That was what Fuyutsuki was arguing for at the UN Headquarters.

Officially, the Japanese government protested such a rash decision. Unofficially, war was no way to quell this rebellion and Katsuragi had too much political capital to just ignore. Even economic sanctions would not suffice, for the people all around Tokyo-3 knew just how much those who stuck with the Fortress City suffered for all the world's sake. Refusing food and trade with Hakone would just look ungrateful.

They could only present it as a power play by Katsuragi. But the woman didn't even care to deny it.

"This war with the Angels will end. And soon we will all be free." she said calmly. "And the power of the Eva must not be misused in the world we're leaving to our children. I'll be honest, I don't trust any of you not to put your own regional interests first. I'm not going to conquer anybody, nor will I waste my time playing peacekeeper. Solve your own damn problems to prove you've grown up, instead of asking my children to sacrifice for you."

That Katsuragi was offering such insult to her own country was perhaps one part of why Yang's plan was palatable to his students, the generals. Better to be friendly and seek a closer relationship with the fortress city, and perhaps the better to find and exploit a moment of weakness. With their own NERV site gone, this was their best chance at acquiring Eva technology.

Perhaps this was the same reasoning why Germany backed Katsuragi's declaration full-tilt. Sohryu's legend had just begun, but it continued to grow.

Katsuragi's call for a sort of 'Foreign Legion' drew plenty of volunteers from all over the world. Only about half of them were expected to be spies.

=][=

All one had to do to remember the danger that excused Katsuragi's brass was to look up at the sky at night.

The lover's moon was gone. The Moon bled, an angry red, somewhere up there was a horror that could take you even when you're dead. Human beings all over the world could not sleep simply because somewhere deep in their souls, they recognized the presence of something that deemed them prey.

Only NERV truly understood that they had nothing anymore - zero capacity - to undertake Plan Nine. Ikari and Ayanami could not be martyrs, not yet.

There was only again that agonizing wait.

=][=

"The famous strategy room..." Mayumi whispered, as she and the other pilots arrived at the Commander's office. A large mirrored desk now dominated the space, though the desk was still a foreboding distance away. Misato waited at the head of the conference table.

It certainly fit the aesthetic of a place where momentous world-shaking decisions are made. It was a pity that she did not know, it was the first time for all of them to use it.

Mayumi looked at the people deemed worthy of this gathering, and blushed at being so honored to even just sit and listen to them.

Katsuragi looked forbidding in her formal uniform, wearing her jacket like a cape. She was the very picture of a woman that can be a respected leader of men without surrendering her femininity.

Sitting to her left was Ritsuko Akagi, in her distractingly adult version of a plug suit. All black, with exposed myomer bundles running into caps over her joints and curves, it made her look nuder than nude. Her eyes could not be seen behind the eerie golden reflection off her glasses.

'This is the ferocious genius that saves the world,' Mayumi thought.'The court magician wrapped in the arcane that no one else can understand.'

On the opposite, sat Kaji Ryouji. With his stubble and exaggeratedly relaxed posture, his handsome face could only look seedy and untrustworthy. Yet, it was known even to her that this was a man who somehow had many masters. Who but a master of spycraft could convince so many competing forces to simultaneously use him as a castpaw?

Such a thing like that does not arrive by coincidence. 'Even now could he truly be on Katsuragi's side?'

Two sets of chairs were left vacant, mostly for elbow room and so Ritsuko could stand up and move things around on the table without getting into other people's personal space. However, to Mayumi, it also showcased the gap between the core of NERV's power and the other forces that fought to support them.

Colonel Nasuno, who had thrown away his pride (and some might say honor) as a man of the JSSDF to defend Tokyo-3 alone. The commander of Cerberus Base had the haggard expression of a man constantly called to perform outside of his depths, but was doggedly determined to see it through anyway. He sat on the right, below Kaji.

Facing him, was a man in orange robes. The monk named Autumn, now the last of the UN PSYKANA's command staff. Mayumi did not let his gaze linger too long. Though most of the more powerful psykers had died defending Shinji Ikari from the CODE LILLITH humaniform Angel, she had no idea if he could also just casually pluck thoughts right out of the air.

Then two more empty rows. The pilots sat as a power block unto themselves.

Sohryu, of course, drew Mayumi's attention first. Though the girl affected a bored expression, Mayumi could see dark shadows under her eyes. Rage and despair at being too late, and worry for the one she loved. Mayumi could hardly begrudge her idol that. Even the legendary Red Devil had a right to be human and flawed, in precious privacy.

And facing her, was a girl as opposite as could be. Red to blue. A skin so pale and so flawless it might as well have been that of a doll. Were it not for the bandages and eye patch she was still wrapped in, Ayanami's placid expression could have made Mayumi think this was an emotionless mannequin instead of a person.

She had to remind herself, that Ayanami was also friend and rival of sorts to Sohryu, an equal in all that matters. The Blue Angel, a moniker with many meanings.

Then, facing her personally, was Mana Kirishima. Though she was not born with the aptitude to be an Eva pilot, she was still special. A short-haired, boyish face... she could only look cute even when at the fiercest. The Komissar of Cerberus Base, inspiring normal people to fervor via example.

She was also sometimes called the Girlfriend of Steel for some reason. She looked mulish and impatient, tilting her skull-decorated cap down over her eyes as if to hide an attempt to take a nap. 'A normal person...?'Mayumi could only snort. 'Not likely. It takes a special person to fight beside the Eva...'

And lastly, herself. Mayumi Hamagishi. Nervously she scratched at the mole near her lips. She could not even imagine being as strong as these other girls her age. If she could only dare wish, she'd be anyone but herself.

Maybe with red hair like Sohryu. Even a different name, a stylish one like... like... Makinami or something.

"All right. Let's get this meeting into order!"

Mayumi was jerked out of her idle fantasies by Misato's shout. She blushed and cowered in embarrassment.

"Before we begin, perhaps we should list our assets?" Ritsuko said. At Misato's wave to continue, Ritsuko lit up the table to turn it onto a display screen. A larger version without letterboxes was displayed on the ceiling above. "These are our forces - no offense, Col. Nasuno, if the regular forces aren't part of this list. "

"None taken," he replied easily.

"Ahem. One fully functional Evangelion, Unit 02;
One semi-functional Evangelion, without legs, Unit 04;
One non-functional Evangelion, without a head, Unit 00; and...
That's it.

Unit 01 is on the Moon. The Trident Land Dreadnought is still lacking a reactor."

"So basically it's just me." said Asuka.

"Unless someone wants to play Guntank." Mana said with a slight smirk, her eyes still hidden under the brim of her hat. Mayumi blushed.

Col. Nasuno raised his hand and said with all seriousness "I vote that any suggestion that Aida might say be preemptively classed as 'retarded' and not be discussed at this table."

"Agreed." Ritsuko and Asuka in unison.

"I also agree. Motion passes." Misato sighed. "Any more interruptions? No? Ritsuko, go ahead."

"As you all know, our Governor-General..."

"... I realize now you all kept calling me El Presidente just to make me think that title was any better."

"Ah-hem. Governor-General Katsuragi announced her authority over all NERV bases and assets worldwide. The US government has agreed to cede NERV Boston, but then pulled out all personnel and locked down the base.

It's petty, but understandable. It's not like we have the budget to keep going. They offered a new agreement for shared ownership of the base, allowing them to build new Evangelions."

"I'm actually surprised they're not putting up a fight about it," Col. Nasumo spoke in a hush. "We don't have anything seize control of the base, if they decided to challenge NERV's ownership."

Ritsuko pointed to Mayumi, the pilot from NERV Boston, who eeped. She raised her hand as if to ward off the attention, then realized that Ritsuko - Ritsuko Akagi! - was actually expecting her to explain for her. Her vision began to white out.

"Hey. Relax, Little Beast."

And just Asuka's tone was enough to bring her back from the brink.

"Oh. Uh. Um... N-NERV Boston is the only place on Earth still capable of producing the S2 Engine. That makes them the best target for everybody who wants to gain or destroy Eva technology. They want Unit 04 back."

"Or at least an Eva to defend themselves." Ritsuko added. "Misato?"

"What's a NERV site without an Evangelion?" Kaji mused.

Misato just shook her head and waved for Ritsuko to continue.

"Let's leave that for later, then. The next item on the agenda. The S2 Engine that was supposed to be sent here to repair Unit Zero? China has it."

"That's bullshit. They can't get away with that. That's NERV property!" Asuka spat.

Misato sighed. Asuka apologized and waited for NERV's official response.

"Yes, but if we send you out to take it back, that compromises our defense of Tokyo-3. Sure, in an open war, we could crush all the armies of the world combined, with the power of the Eva - but we can't move, and they know it. Bastards."

"Yang's Toy Box Agreement... they're using that as the excuse. They'll give us the S2 Engine if we help them - if we get NERV America to agree - to build them a new Evangelion. They'll even send a pilot to us, 'no strings attached'." Kaji spoke out.

Misato groaned again. "Already everybody's trying to loophole me about proliferation! What the hell."

"Our own country already thinks we're a threat. Aligning even more with China's not going to help secure our funding and resources from just the next city over." said Col. Nasuno.

"Just as the Vatican is dependent upon the auspices of Rome, so we depend upon the cities around the Hakone region." said Autumn. The PSYKANA was now a much diminished body, and he was not confident in speaking up about military affairs. The need for food and to keep people's goodwill however, of that he was sure.

"I don't trust them, the US or China or anybody with control over the Evangelions." Misato said flatly. "Pressuring me won't earn them any points."

"I'm not sure if anyone can be trusted with all the power you're trying to monopolize, Misato." Kaji replied with a smirk.

Mayumi's breath stuck in her throat. But then Misato just groaned again. 'So... this is the famous NERV laissez-faire, then?' It's a wonder they could get anything done.

But her respect for the spy rose. Brave to so blatantly contradict the chain of command, even with the rumors of his relationship with Katsuragi. 'He's acting like a fool - but in the old days, it was only the fool that could get away with criticizing the king.'

"Your ideals on Eva proliferation aside, we do need more Evangelions and Evangelion pilots. With... Pilot Ikari still unconscious, and 'Ayanami', unable to synch with the Evangelion anymore, our options are incredibly limited."

Mayumi's attention snapped to the blue-haired girl. What?!

Asuka leaned back on her chair and glared at the other girl. Rei stared back at her, compeletely unperturbed. "This useless doll..."

"Sohryu." Mana's tone was curt, and designed to cut through the noise of a battlefield.

"Don't presume on things you don't understand, Kirishima."

"I understand enough about -respect- for a comrade's sacrifice."

"Enough!" Misato laid her hand gently onto the table, and yet that drew everyone's attention more than if she had slammed her palm down with full force. She tapped at the conference table's surface lightly. "This isn't the place for that. Settle down. Or you can solve the issue with your fists outside."

Asuka and Mana looked sorely tempted, but then bowed in apology.

'What.'Mayumi blinked again.'With their... fists?' Shouldn't a commanding officer discourage that sort of thing?

"What are our options, Ritsuko?" Kaji asked to suddenly shift the mood.

"We have the option of removing Unit Zero's legs and placing them on Unit 04. If our Governor-General approves?"

"Sorry, Rei. It's only going to be temporary." Misato said.

The girl gave no response, only to stare blankly ahead.

"Then, we have the option of accepting BOTH offers of China and the US; the S2 Engine and new incomplete Evangelion they were building in Boston. That gives us the soonest possible new Evangelion."

"No."

"Katsuragi, we don't have the resources to build another Eva here. And while China may have outright stolen the S2 Engine, we still need that. It's extortion, but what can we do? That's politics."

"No. There's something else. Something simpler." Misato smirked. "Those guys over there, they think they're so clever trying to think - what would Yang do? Well, I tell you what he wouldn't have done - piss me off like this.

Yang and Shinji-kun... I have a feeling this is something they've been expecting me to do... making it necessary for me to do it... for a while now."

"... Katsuragi, our constitution explicitly requires consensus between Kaji, me, and at least 3/4 of the pilots before you're allowed to declare war on anybody."

"Hah! No. That's stupid. It's time they realized why those two were so insistent on NERV becoming its own independent entity. They want the Toy Box? Ritsuko! Open it!"

"... that's even worse reckless escalation, you know this?"

'What's the Toy Box?' Mayumi wanted to ask. If it could influence Katsuragi's decisions to this extent, it had to be really important.

(Former) NERV America didn't expressly ask her to spy, but unless NERV Hakone forbid it, they said they would appreciate any information she could give.

Mayumi Hamagishi stared at each of the people in that room, arguing over her head about Katsuragi's idea. A naturally shy and work-oriented person, already mentally filing away impressions and thinking about how to word a report, she wondered at the value of what she was allowed to observe.

Priceless, probably.

If they would send her away from Tokyo-3, and away from her hero's side, Mayumi felt she may be spiteful enough to give away such information.

It would not count as betrayal, probably.

=][=

Mayumi Hamagishi was told a clone of Ayanami Rei went berserk and killed the original.

Then Kozo Fuyutsuki appeared before the UN and under Katsuragi's policy of 'No More Secrets', told the world about LILLITH, the Second Angel, and ADAM, the First Angel. Second Impact was the First Angel's early awakening and it seeded the world with Angels. Potentially thousands of Angels. Like a Phoenix burning as its dies, only to be reborn in flame.

The Second Angel, a being equal to ADAM, was used as the source of the biomechanical organs that make up an Evangelion. In a lesser way, LILLITH's cells was also fused into a human, to become a living weapon, a disposable pilot.

Before her now stood a girl of icy countenance. Ayanami, the girl who dies and dies again. NERV's Blue Angel.

And now, in an empty corridor with Asuka Langley-Sohryu, the Red Devil, accosting her. Really, Mayumi considered, there was no other way she could put it. Asuka looked like a schoolyard bully facing down her favorite victim.

"You there," Asuka "Who the hell do you think I am?"

"You are Pilot Sohryu."

"And do you know who you're supposed to be?"

"I am the Fifth."

"You're not her." Asuka added with a sneer. "The fourth was my friend. She gave her life - she gave her soul! - and you... you're an insult. You're worse than a doll...

Mayumi gasped. Even through the haze of her hero-worship, that sounded too cruel, too full of blind prejudice. Never did she imagine Sohryu could be so spiteful.

The stories said that NERV Tokyo-3,'s stable of high superhuman (and occasionally blatantly) superhuman pilots were fiercely competitive, but did it actually cross into clear hatred?

Rei only nodded."It is as you say."

Something red flashed, and Rei's head snapped back.

She blinked. She reached up to touch her nose, and her fingers came away red with blood. Asuka lowered her fist, her expression firm, and her shoulders shaking.

"She... wouldn't have let me get away with that."

"I am sorry."

Asuka's fist shot out again. Rei didn't even flinch. Her head snapped to the side as Asuka's fist caught her by the edge of her cheek.

"She was a person! She had feelings, she had hopes,- she was my friend! Damn you all! Nobody should get to sigh and relief and think , it's just Ayanami...

Her death... her life... has meaning. She was my friend and she died...

I was too late and she died."

"Sohryu."

"Speak for yourself, damn it. Fight back. Tell me she's still alive inside you."

"I cannot."

A third time, Asuka reached out, but this time pulled her fist short.

"Fight back, damn you!"

"You are Sohryu. You are able to pilot the Evangelion, while I cannot. Your well-being is infinitely more valuable than my own."

Asuka bared her teeth and shook with rage. She bent down, preparing to scream and leap.

"Stop!" Mayumi stepped forward, finally ready to keep her idol from committing murder. "Please, stop this!"

"RARGH!" Asuka tackled Rei to the ground, with Mayumi's grab missing her by mere centimeters.

"Are you listening to me? Ayanami!" Asuka screamed while straddling the other girl. She grabbed Rei by the shoulders and slammed her against the floor. Rei only betrayed the slightest grimace of pain.

"I am listening."

"This shouldn't have happened. Ayanami, stop sacrificing yourself. All three of us - we were supposed to be legends forever."

"I am not her."

"Don't you remember? You, and him, you fit together so well, I was jealous. I thought there would be no room for me in there, but you - you stubborn bitch, you stalked me, and taunted me, and argued with me, and before I knew it we were friends."

"I do not remember."

"Ayanami... I'm sorry. I was too slow." Some of her tears fell over Rei's red lips. "I broke our promise. I'm sorry."

"..."

"Please... he's in a coma, you died, I don't want to be alone again..."

Mayumi ached to say something, but it was as if she'd lost control over her own body. She felt numb yet warm all over. She pressed her hands over her face, as if trying to muffle the sound of her own breathing, trying her hardest to become invisible. She tasted copper at the back of her throat, and her nose stung.

Her nose was bleeding.

This was a very private, very intimate moment. Asuka was in a full-blown panic attack, grinding on top of Ayanami. Days of repressed anger and despair and stress exploded in a single moment.

Asuka let out a plaintive "Aaah..!" and Mayumi almost fainted right there.

"I can't treat you like wonder girl. Her life had meaning. That means you are your own damn person now! Got it?"

Rei-V blinked.

"... no?"

"You are Ayanami's little sister. I have decided. I won't use you as a replacement for her, that would disrespect her memory. You will become your own person, and we will be friends all over again. We are shaped by our experiences, and however your personality develops after losing the last year of your most important memories, fine, we'll deal with it!"

Rei said nothing, but seemed to be deep in thought.

"Please get off. This is uncomfortable."

"Uh, sure. Shit. I've gone overboard right there, didn't I? I'm -am- sorry, Ayanami, believe that. Here, let's get you to the infirmary."

"That will not be necessary. Please stay away from me."

Asuka flinched. "... whatever you want, Fifth. Again, I'm so-"

"I refuse your apology."

"All right. Fair enough."

"You are Sohryu. You pilot Evangelion Unit Two. That is all that is necessary."

"... I am going to have to beat some self-respect into you. Again."

"You are welcome to try."

Asuka brightened up. "Wait, did you just..."

"wagh." said Rei. Then she headbutted Asuka.

Mayumi staggered back and collapsed against a cold corridor wall. Her knees had finally lost strength, it was all she could do to try and burn into her memory this example of beautiful, writhing, violent, entangled, and utterly unbound friendship between girls.

=][=

It was snowing over Tokyo-3. For weeks now, the Hakone region was blanked in white, in a country that had not known winter for fifteen years.

There were only three entry points into the Hakone valley region. Anachronistic as it may be, the Kriegers that accompanied Luftschloss Sturmbrand had begun to dig out trenches and lay down barbed wire. Armor and air attacks were not a problem, Unit-02 could blast away whole companies at a glance. As ever, it was from the ground that The Fortress City was so vulnerable.

A final battle was coming, the Gotterdamerung of god-machines. It seemed only fitting that they should fight in the grip of an unnatural winter.

Hans Ingram Wulfenbach nodded in thanks as a NERV employee handed him a cup of warm coffee. He still didn't understand a word of Japanese, though at least most people in Hakone understood some English. And the psychics could understand all human languages by instinct. Slowly he was starting to piece together what it meant to live inside The Fortress City.

There was pride there, bordering on arrogance, he could see it in their faces. There was hardness, but not of the paranoid type that saw every shadow as a potential enemy. If anything, the people, no matter if they were civilians, or military and NERV employees first, or had followed Ikari on his strange crusade later... they were too accepting. Too eager to help. Too willing to smile at a stranger, too relaxed about their own safety. It's as if death itself could not touch them.

He knew that feeling. He'd expected it to fade, as mundane reality reasserted itself.

So far, reality was losing.

When the blinding green light smashed through the clouds from above to the geofront, he was blown back. Scalding hot coffee spilled over his jacket and slowly soaked to his neck. As he stared up at the light, he could only think, 'Huh. That's weird. I should be more surprised than this.'

Examining just why he was so uninterested seemed the more fascinating thing, even as the ground trembled beneath him. He felt weightless. He saw the fallen cup shake and begin to impossibly rise up on its own. 'Someone turned off gravity. I wonder if it's possible to make this permanent. That would be cool too.'

The floating feeling abruptly twisted.

And then that cruel laughter that dug into his soul.

=][=

Misato was at the cafeteria when it happened. She clung to the table, which was bolted onto the floor, and with a stern look forbid Asuka from running off.

After a few more seconds the weightless feeling settled down. Everything was still trembling, everyone felt too light on their feet, but they could move again. She nodded to Asuka, who kicked off and half-floated to the door. Someone approached to hand her a phone.

"Ritsuko!" Misato yelled into it. "What's happening?!"

"The geofront is trying to rise again. I guess someone's trying to reclaim her lost property."

"What? Damn. Well, what can we do to stop it?"

"This is why we've been remodeling Tokyo-3. The Toy Box is ready to initiate. This Black Moon is ours now, it's about time that alien bitch realized that!"

Misato took a deep breath. This will change... everything. Nothing in all of human history, save Second Impact, would ever be so significant. "All right. Do it."

ooo

Suddenly, NAGISA INTERRUPT.

ooo

Space rippled into violet hues, and as if rising from still waters the lost pristine reflection of the Moon returned. Shining bright, too bright, like silver tears from Luna's face.

As the globe emerged fully, those monitoring the situation realized it was not as large as the moon. Smaller, smoother - a cold, sphere. And deceptively gently, at a leisurely 4.7 kilometers per second, it crashed onto the bleeding red surface, sending viscous oceans rippling.

Boiling fountains rose around the point of contact, and the veins of hot crimson agony crawled up the white sphere.

Through the empty void of space, one could almost hear a white-haired boy's shout:

FFFFFFFFFUUUUUCCCCCKKKK YOUUUUU!

It was Pluto.

Kaworu Nagisa's solution to Lillith's Awakening was to drop Pluto on her head.

It wasn't as if anyone would care. Pluto was no longer a planet anyway.

No more schemes. He cut Gordion's Knot, along the remains of his sanity.

Pluto and Luna clung to each other, shivering. Then they began to shatter.

Space rippled again.

Charon ripped free of the void at much greater velocity, slamming into the back of its former parent, in a flash fracturing the larger planetoid and driving it even deeper into the Luna. Something screamed. Unnatural fires raged across the earth's own captive planetoid, burning black the biomatter that covered its surface.

Fissures burst out, exposing the Moon's soft mantle, suddenly transformed into hot viscous liquid again. Luna bled. Pluto began to break apart, still deceptively gently, into shards delicate like eggshells and the size of continents.

Down below, Asuka could only think: 'That guy has no sense of restraint at all.' Her grip tightened on her Eva's controls. 'We taught him that.'

A star fell from the heavens.

As always, trouble aimed towards Tokyo-3.

=][=

End The Last Love Song part1


end notes:

Sorry, it's been years.

Yeah, that Noviiy Soviet thing was unrealistic. Although the divergence from OTL is in 2000, it's still only been a decade since the fall of the Soviet Union. Without an ideological imperative, there is no reason to bring it back. For survival and economic recovery, a commonwealth or alliance of republics is all that's necessary.

Russia would still be able to apply military pressure and take advantage of the resources uncovered by the Siberian melt, but to me it seems it would rather encourage them to contract rather than expand. Secure their own regional control instead of attempting to bring back the old coalition.

China's 'occupation' of Korea after the mess that happened after Impact and North Korea decided to flatten Seoul and move south with everything they had is not necessary. The mess did happen, but Korea lacking the security of its pre-Impact export economy would find it beneficial to cooperate better with its bigger neighbor. Yang still brokered unifying the country again though.

In this timeline, Yang served as the UN's 'beat stick' for about a decade, occupying and resolving major conflicts all over the world. He had no desire to export ideology, just to calm things down and pull out asap. The United Republic of Korea gave China permission to base a few air wings, but not much more than that.

Lastly, the whole War in Heaven thing is a plot tumor, but there was a time to stop and clearly we've long passed it. So let's keep going and see what happens.

...

There was also a long section that might as well be called 'Kozo Fuyutsuki Explains Stuff to World Leaders, Promises No More Lies, and then Proceeds to Lie His Ass Off', but it ended up being snipped.