8. Two Become One
Author's Note: Yes, I know it's been ages since I last updated. Yes, I know I'm bloody useless at absolutely everything ever. To compound that ueslessness, this release is probably strewn with errors because I haven't proof read it. Unfortunately, you'll have to deal with it as I am too tired to function properly at the moment. Hope you enjoy nonetheless!
Ritsuko Akagi sipped at her coffee before lighting yet another cigarette. Her ashtray was filled with the butts from an afternoon of chain smoking. The air in her office stank strongly of the smoke but it was an atmosphere the good doctor usually found herself in. She took a long draw before exhaling above her. Putting the cigarette into her mouth for the time being, she typed in several commands into her computer and studied the results that appeared in front of her. She then reached for the medical report from NERV's hospital unit on the injuries sustained to Shinji during their last incursion. He had been the recipient of an experimental skin graft which appeared to have worked wonders and appeared very much less messy than a traditionally performed graft. That was not what concerned her, however happy she was that Shinji will only have light scars on shoulder. It was how he managed to physically sustain that injury. His synch ratio at the time wasn't high enough to that to happen according to every piece of data they had on the subject, yet it was happening anyway and very often. It had happened to Asuka as well and Ritsuko was yet to find a cause.
The past few months were filled with strange incidents, a lot of them involving Asuka. She had completed that test she had originally intended to perform before the earthquake and the battle with the angel that somehow managed to exist in a volcano. It turned out that nothing was different about Asuka's brain activity during sleep. It was just normal REM activity and on top of that, she had a completely clean bill of health. Nothing was making sense but at least she had one thing to look forward to. After her shift, she'd be drinking with Misato and Kaji, just like old times. She also suspected that they announce that they were getting back together. She smiled, thinking to herself that it really was like the old days.
As she continued to analyse the data, there was a tap on her door. Ritsuko turned around to see Maya Ibuki standing in her doorway. "Hi, I got your text and I ran the data through the MAGI," Maya said, handing Ritsuko a folder.
"Thanks," Ritsuko said. "What were the results from the MAGI?"
"It doesn't even notice that there is an anomaly," Maya replied.
"What? That's odd," Ritsuko noted. "We ran tests on the Eva's and all the data from them was the same but everything about synchronisation ratio related pilot injury doesn't match up at all."
"None of this makes sense to me, either," Maya added. "But if the MAGI don't realise that there's something wrong, then I don't know what to turn to."
"We're going to have to figure this out the hard way, it seems," Ritsuko said. "Anyway, I need a break from this for a bit. Could you man my terminal for a bit if you're not busy?"
"Sure," Maya said. Ritsuko took her leave while Maya worked on Ritsuko's laptop. "Gosh, it really stinks of smoke in here," she noted. "Maybe Dr Akagi needs to cut back."
Kaji pressed a button on the vending machine, waiting for his canned coffee to come out. While he took his first sip, Asuka walked into the same area as him, which prompted a smile from the man. "Hi Asuka," he said.
"Hey Kaji," Asuka answered with a weak smile.
"How are you? Are you okay? That was a rough fight last night," Kaji inquired.
"I feel…drained, I guess," Asuka said. "I didn't sleep too well last night and school seemed to take forever."
"I see," Kaji said. "I take it you're here to see Shinji?"
"Yeah. He slept all last night so I didn't get to speak to him," Asuka explained.
"That's probably why you're tired," Kaji chuckled. "You seem pretty close to him these days."
"Well, he's my friend," Asuka noted, "and he's going through exactly the same things I am."
"What about Rei?" Kaji asked. "How do you get on with her?"
"I have no problem with her and she did help save my life," Asuka replied. "Although something…I don't know what it is…something in my head's telling me that I shouldn't like her."
"Shouldn't you?" Kaji asked.
"That's the feeling I get. But I ignore it for the most part. I saw hello to her whenever I see her but I don't think she's the conversational type," Asuka noted.
"Fair enough," Kaji said. "How are you dealing with amnesia?"
Asuka smiled, "I'd forgotten I had it."
Kaji laughed at Asuka's remark, noting that she had a wit about her that was in the place of what usually had been arrogance. There was no denying that her personality was changing in light of her lost memories. However, Kaji noted that smile of hers quickly faded away. She cut a worried figure that teetered on the edge. It was a recent change, probably brought upon the recent Eva battles and the damage it had caused Shinji. And because she had become closer to him in recent times, she was definitely hurting seeing her friend going through an experimental skin graft. Kaji didn't envy anybody the task that was placed on the shoulders of these 14 year old kids.
"Here, let me get you something," Kaji said, inserting more money in the vending machine. "What will it be?"
"Orangensaft," Asuka replied, unknowingly in German.
"Huh?" Kaji said.
"I said orange juice," Asuka pointed out.
"Well, you sure didn't say that," Kaji said with a chuckle, pressing the appropriate button on the vending machine. "Were you speaking German?"
"Was I?" Asuka asked with a confused look on her face. "I was sure if I even remembered how to speak German."
"You can and maybe, just maybe it's the memories slowly coming back," Kaji speculated while rubbing his rough, unshaven chin.
"Do you really think that?" Asuka asked with a hint of hope in her voice.
"Maybe," Kaji replied before handing the carton of orange juice over to the Eva pilot. "Only time will tell."
"Time sucks," Asuka said, taking a sip of her beverage.
"We all learn to hate it somehow," Kaji agreed with a sigh.
"I wish that you would all just go away," said Asuka, staring at Shinji, Rei, Misato, Kaji, Ritsuko as well as the commanders and the senior computer technicians at NERV. She watched them as they stayed still, unmoving. They stared at her with blank, cold eyes. Those eyes cut through her. It was like they could see down to her soul. She was naked. Her outer shell had been peeled away and exposed was the soft, fleshy fruit; the very essence of her being. It was something she didn't want anybody to see.
"I SAID GO AWAY!" Asuka screamed as loudly as her body allowed, her voice cracking as she did. Suddenly, everyone began to slowly fade from sight, leaving Asuka alone in the darkness. Then, Asuka realised another of her fears. While she feared being exposed, she feared being abandoned just as much. "Wait!" she cried. "Don't leave me! I…I didn't mean what I said!"
"You push people away with your arrogance," said Shinji from behind her.
Asuka snapped around. Shinji wasn't there.
"Yet you crave their attention," added Rei who was standing in Shinji's place.
"What do you want from me?" Asuka yelled.
"Recognition from others makes you feel good about yourself," Shinji said.
"But as soon as they get close, you push them away," Rei said.
"That…that isn't me!" Asuka cried, suddenly feeling completely out of place in her own body.
"Oh, it isn't?" Rei asked.
"Maybe you don't…remember," Shinji pointed out with a haunting smile.
"I don't…remember?" Asuka said, horrified at what these two were telling her.
Asuka opened her eyes and found a magazine lying over her face. She pulled it off her face and found herself in Shinji's ward. She had fallen asleep reading some teenage culture magazine. Shinji was still asleep. He must have been under a very strong sedative to keep him unconscious for as long as possible as the nurses had informed them that there was the possibly that Shinji would feel excruciating pain as soon as he woke up as a result of the experimental treatment. The other, more pleasant, alternative was that Shinji simply took time to get rid of the feeling that he was missing part of his shoulder. If the option were the former, then it was a good thing that he was kept sedated through the worst of the pain.
Which left Asuka alone with her thoughts once again. She was glad that she woke up because the dream she was having was horrible. The Shinji and the Rei in the dream were absolutely picking her apart, yet Asuka didn't understand why. Surely she wasn't the person that they said she was in her dreams? The person they so vividly described sounded so damaged, so vulnerable. Asuka wasn't in the best of fettles but she sure didn't feel that low. Which led to the next point brought up in her dream; maybe it was her, she just didn't remember and had changed as a result. She had overheard Misato and Kaji talk about changes in behaviour ever since she had gotten amnesia. If the person described to her in her dream was the real Asuka, then she was afraid to go back to being her.
The redhead stood up and walked up to Shinji's bed where her fellow Eva pilot lay dormant. She hoped for his sake that when he did wake up, it would be a fairly painless experience. She couldn't bear to hear Shinji's screams again. Not only did they all too graphically show the physical pain he was going through, they showed hits of a deeper anguish, as if something was already hurting him from the inside. Maybe it was Shinji's father, maybe it was because he resented having to pilot the Eva, Asuka didn't know. One thing she was certain of was that she did not want to have to hear him scream again.
After about an hour of waiting and reading, Shinji finally woke up and thankfully, his pain was bearable. "It feels like…I don't know, like a light cramp," Shinji said to the attending doctor.
"That's good," the doctor said. "It means that the procedure went well. I'm happy to discharge you with some painkillers if you're feeling up to it."
"I think I can," Shinji said.
"Okay then. Also, you should thank your friend. She's been waiting for you to wake up," the doctor added with a smile before taking his leave.
"Asuka?" Shinji asked.
"Yeah, I was here," she replied with a weak smile. "And last night."
"Thanks," Shinji said. "How long has it been since…?"
"Just one night," Asuka replied. "That's some miracle surgery they did on you."
"It feels weird," Shinji noted.
"I thought it hurt," Asuka said.
"Yeah, that, but something is up with it…it's like it doesn't belong or something," Shinji said.
"I'm sure you'll get used to it once it heals," Asuka said. "Anyway, you must be starving. How about we get you out of here and get something to eat?"
"Sounds good," Shinji said, managing a weak smile.
The two ventured into the NERV cafeteria which somehow managed to provide above average food, making it a convenient pit stop before Shinji returned back to Misato's flat. After grabbing the most appetising looking things on the menu, they were about to take their seats when they noticed Rei sitting out on her own. She was slowly nibbling on a sandwich and reading a book. Shinji and Asuka looked at each other before moving to sit by her. "Hi," Asuka said as the two of them joined their fellow pilot at the table.
Rei looked up from her book and quietly said, "Hello." She then glanced across to Shinji after acknowledging Asuka's greeting and asked, "Are you well, Shinji?"
"Apart from feeling hungry, I'm fine," Shinji replied with a smile. "Thanks for asking."
Rei nodded before descending back into her book. Asuka wondered whether she was just cold by nature. It appeared that way, anyway, a she did ask about Shinji's wellbeing. Maybe she was just that kind of person. "Anyway, what were you doing in HQ on your own?" Asuka inquired, hoping that she could get some conversation out of the blue haired conundrum of a person.
"I was…seeing the commander," Rei replied without looking up.
Shinji's eyes perked up from his plate upon hearing those words. His relationship with his father wasn't help with his apparent preference of Rei over his own son, something he couldn't understand. However, it was a fact that Asuka wasn't quite aware of in her state of mind after losing her memory, causing her mouth to be looser than taster would allow. "How the commander doesn't visit his son in the hospital yet still makes time to see you? He sounds like a horrible father," Asuka said without thinking.
Shinji sighed and said, "That's just how he is."
Asuka, unsatisfied, turned to Rei and asked, "You just let this happen? You don't think it's wrong that he neglects his son while he panders over you?"
"I…I think I understand the significance of this but I am not in a position to act upon any perceived wrongdoings," Rei answered, looking visibly flustered.
"Perceived wrongdoings?" Asuka exclaimed, suddenly getting angry. "What is up with you? You'll follow his orders to the letter, won't you?! You're a doll!"
By the end of her outburst, she was standing and several NERV staff members were all staring at her. As soon as Asuka realised what she had said, it was all too clear that it was too late and the impact of her words had hit home, hard. "What's wrong with you, Asuka?" Shinji asked, stunned by her outburst.
"I…I don't know what's gotten over me," Asuka said, her voice almost a whisper. "What's…what's going on?"
You know exactly what's going on.
"Who's there?!" Asuka cried.
"What? There's nobody there!" Shinji said, standing up, trying to help the suddenly delusional redhead.
You know who this is.
"Go away!" Asuka screamed, clutching her head.
"Rei, I think we need a doctor," Shinji said. Rei nodded and went to the nearest NERV staff member while the inside of Asuka's head quickly became a much more turbulent place.
Look at Rei. Doesn't she make you sick? Doesn't the very thought of her make you angry? Doesn't the very mentioning of her name boil your blood?
"Please…go away," Asuka whimpered while Shinji wrapped his hands around her.
She's a doll. You've known that all along. A worthless doll. All she does is follows orders. A doll. A puppet.
"She's soaked through with sweat!" Shinji cried.
"I'm a medical orderly," said a NERV staff member. "Get her in the recovery position until a stretcher arrives."
"All right," Shinji said.
Let the world know she's a doll. They need to know. They need to know that she's the doll and you're the person that's worth something. You're worth something. All your life you've needed to prove you're worth something. You've tried but they never seem to notice.
"No," Asuka whispered, her eyes wide open and staring into the space in front of her.
They never notice what you're worth. Maybe it's because…
"No," Asuka whispered once more.
"AAAAAAGH!" Asuka screamed at the top of the voice, literally leaping off of the stretcher that she was being carried on.
"Restrain her!" one of the paramedics cried. "Hold her arms!"
"What the hell is going on?!" Shinji, as he watched in horror.
"Hell if I know, kid!" the paramedic cried.
"She's not breathing!" the medical orderly that called the paramedics exclaimed. "No pulse either."
"You mean she's gone into cardiac arrest?" the paramedic asked, stunned. One second ago, she had be fighting and flailing. Now, her heart ceased beating. "Get her back on that stretcher, stat! Let's move it!"
"Can't you start her heart with CPR or something?" Shinji asked desperately.
"Not likely. We need a defibrillator!" the paramedic said before almost running with the stretcher. Both Shinji and Rei both followed, wondering what they just witnessed.
Misato stood at the end of Asuka's bed with Shinji and Rei either side of her. Ritsuko stood to the left of the bed with her hands in the pockets of her lab coat. None of them could say a word.
"The reasons for her falling into this coma are beyond all of us," the doctor explained. "Once we got her heart started again, she was unable to regain consciousness."
"Her medical records show no history of heart problems yet she's fallen into cardiac arrest twice in the space of months," Ritsuko noted. "The initial incident was unexplained and she walked away with a clean bill of health."
"Her records only show psychological counselling when she was younger but no other health issues. That surely an insignificant factor," the doctor thought aloud.
"Pursue all avenues," Misato ordered. "We're short one pilot until you figure out what's wrong with her and you can make her better."
The words 'psychological counselling' perked Shinji's attention. He wondered whether it was to do with losing her mother. She didn't speak about it, much like he kept any personal details about his mother to himself or rather, he knew very little of them thanks to his father. Still, this whole incident with Asuka seemed too far-fetched to be actually happening. People don't just collapse and go into cardiac arrest. Surely there must be something the doctors weren't letting on and it those cases, it usually was something serious and often fatal. Shinji hoped that for Asuka's sake at least that his presumptions were incorrect.
"The medical team here will do our best to try and wake her up from her coma. However, the circumstances are unique and we're not really sure where to start," the doctor said.
"Just do whatever you can," Misato said, who appeared uneasy. She, like Shinji, feared the worst for Asuka. She had been informed of the outburst and it seemed out of character for the Asuka that they've come to accept. This was the Asuka that had little recollection of who she actually was. "Do you think she'll be okay?" Shinji asked Misato.
She feigned a smile and said, "I'm sure she'll be fine. She's a tough one."
"I hope so," Shinji said, glancing back towards Asuka's lifeless body.
Maya Ibuki was astonished at some of the results she was looking at. On a hunch, she ran the original data combined with new data from Asuka collected from the hospital through the MAGI. After performing incredibly complex calculations in the space of microseconds, Maya was left with something that was contradictory yet profound. She sat back, no longer able to smell the stench of cigarette smoke, not knowing how to take it all in.
"Hello Maya," Ritsuko said, entering unannounced. "Any new findings?"
"Um, I think so," Maya replied.
"Care to expand on that?" Ritsuko said.
"Well, according to the MAGI, Asuka is not Asuka, yet she is, at the same time," Maya explained nervously.
"What? Let me look at that!" Ritsuko said. "On what basis did the MAGI come to this conclusion?"
"Her brainwaves, basic thought processes, they all showed variations between two definite patterns. After her incident in the cafeteria, these variations became even more pronounced," Maya answered.
"You're right. There are two well defined spreads. The MAGI went for the logical answer in saying she is two people in one," Ritsuko agreed. "This is...astonishing. I mean, this doesn't answer anything but it's intriguing on its own."
"You have no idea what this could mean?" Maya asked.
"Well, we have a starting point," Ritsuko said. "If we take the data we've collected while she was dreaming and had those incidents in Unit 02 and try to match them to a spread of this new data..."
Ritsuko furiously typed streams of code into her console before slamming the enter key and was immediately given an analysis from the MAGI. "See this?" Ritsuko asked.
"Incredible," Maya said.
"All the incidents, her dreams, they are all linked with one spread of this new data. The other spread of data in her thought processes and brain activity must be her concious and current self. She is two well defined individuals in one body. They are both Asuka, but different Asukas," Ritsuko theorised.
"So everything was caused by this other Asuka, you're saying?" Maya asked.
"We can only speculate," Ritsuko replied. "But I think we want to dive into her subconscious to try and extract this other Asuka because it seems to want to escape and has tried to do so."
"This all sounds so ludicrous. I mean, two people in one? That's really strange, right?"
"It's impossible. We're all one person, we may sway here and there in points of view and thoughts but something like this just isn't possible. This isn't a coincidence. We have to look into this."
"Electroshock therapy?!" Misato exclaimed. "Sorry for being blunt, but are you out of your fucking mind?"
"We need to unlock this other Asuka," Ritsuko said. "These incidents are no coincidence; this other Asuka is trying to escape."
"Ritsuko, the girl is in a coma. A coma. Her heart stopped just three hours ago and you're thinking of cutting her skull open to directly apply electrical shocks to her brain?! Sorry for being less than cooperative!" Misato cried. "You could turn her into a vegetable!"
Ritsuko blew a sigh of frustration before leaving the ward. She knew some semblance of an answer lay within this girl's mind but now she had an ethical barrier in the form of Misato. The doctor retreated back to her office and tried a different approach with the MAGI to get more relevant data, this time looking into possible causes. Ritsuko quickly scanned the output and quietly read the results out to herself.
"Two causes found. One highly improbable, other improbable. Highly improbable: subject is the biological joining of two separate conciousness. Highly improbable because there is no known cases of such a joining and no evidence that such a joining is physically possible. Improbable: space-time rupture due to crossing of parallel universes..."
Ritsuko blinked when she read that last statement and took a moment to collect her thoughts before reading on. "Unusual events outside of subject and two separate people in one could imply crossed parallel universes centred at subject, resulting in space-time rupture. Improbable as multi-verse theory is unproven and current theory of general relativity does not predict such space-time ruptures to be possible." Ritsuko got out her seat and headed straight for the commander's office.
"You want me to temporarily relieve Captain Katsuragi of her command?" Gendo Ikari inquired harshly.
"She is providing an obstacle on this procedure based on emotional attachments. I have a scientific basis to go on," Ritsuko explained.
"The cause from the MAGI is merely speculation, doctor. You simply cannot jump to such a conclusion based on instinct," Gendo rebutted.
"Not to mention that you risk putting one of our pilots out of commission," Fuyutsuki added. "A pilot that is very difficult to replace."
"I know it all sounds a bit stretched but along with the data from her brain activity, I think we may unlock something that is potentially valuable. This other Asuka may possess information we could use," Ritsuko said. "Especially if the MAGI is right in saying she is from a parallel universe."
Gendo and Fuyutsuki looked at each other for a moment, considering their options. Gendo then faced the doctor and said, "Very well Dr Akagi. You have 48 hours. No more than that. In the event of an angel attack, Captain Katsuragi will regain her authority regardless of what stage your procedure is at. Understood?"
"Yes commander," Ritsuko said before rushing off to begin preparations.
The best neurosurgeons Japan had to offer were in NERV HQ within 6 hours and an operation theatre was prepared in 2. Ritsuko wasted no time getting what she needed as soon as she had the go ahead from the top. "I hope you know what you're doing," Misato said to Ritsuko as the doctor was about to enter the operation theatre to oversee the procedure. Ritsuko nodded before entering, hoping that all events would conspire to serve her and prove her theories. Otherwise, she would either kill a young girl or leave her to a life of mental disability. The risks were severe, especially for such an experimental procedure but she had long convinced herself that the ends justified the means.
The mood in the theatre was tense. Ritsuko watched nervously as the surgeons cut into Asuka's skull to expose her brain. And to think this was the routine part of the operation. Once the brain was exposed, came the part where anything and everything could go wrong. Two electrodes would be placed at strategic locations on the brain surface before an electric current was induced, hopefully waking up the subconscious mind of the patient. It worked in theory, but in practice was incredibly complex. If the surgeon missed the vital spots by a millimetre, nothing would happen at all. If he missed by two, he could turn Asuka into a vegetable. The margin of error was minuscule. The cost of a mistake was huge. And there was also no way of telling with Asuka asleep.
"Okay, placing electrodes on the surface of the brain," the head surgeon said. He wasn't doing it by hand but with the aid of a machine. That way, they could make adjustments on the micron scale if necessary. After fifteen minutes of the most minute adjustments, the surgeons glanced at each other before looking towards Ritsuko for the go ahead. She nodded nervously, hoping that this gamble would pay. "Okay, we're about to induce a current in the brain," the head surgeon. "Has anaesthetic been applied to her head in case she wakes ups?"
The other doctors nodded. "Okay then," the head surgeons said before blowing a breath of trepidation. "Here we go. Inducing a current."
He pressed a button on the machine. Nothing happened for a few seconds. The entire theatre was dead silent apart from the regular beeping of the monitoring equipment. Ritsuko was about to ask what happened before Asuka gasped for air and snapped immediately back into conciousness. Her eyes began frantically looking everywhere around the room and she began sweating, indicating she was in extreme shock. However, no sedatives could be given just yet. "Quickly, get a brain activity read out from the MAGI!" Ritsuko ordered. An orderly quickly got a print out and handed out to Ritsuko. She smiled upon seeing the result before quickly turning her attention to Asuka.
"Where...where am I?!" Asuka said, beginning to hyperventilate.
"All will be explained in due time, Asuka. I just need you to calm down and answer a few questions," Ritsuko said. "Do you remember being told about having amnesia?"
"Amnesia? No!" Asuka cried. "Just tell me where I am!"
"Calm down, Asuka," Ritsuko said. "Describe the last angel you fought."
"I...I fought the Eva series, they...they killed me," Asuka replied. "I think...I can't think straight...my head is killing me."
"The Eva series?" Ritsuko wondered out loud. "Incredible. Doctor, give her a sedative."
At the exact moment, alarms began blaring all around the base. Another angel attack. Thankfully for Ritsuko Akagi, she knew everything she needed to know. They had an Asuka who knew about things that hadn't even happened yet. It seemed the MAGI were right, although now the priority was fending off the angel before Ritsuko could get more answers to the hundreds of questions that were already formulating in her head.