Disclaimer: I do not own Evangelion, or anything associated with it. I have written this story solely because I enjoy writing.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything belonging to Marvel Comics or anything associated with it. I have written this story solely because I enjoy writing.
Chapter 18: No Cure
"Noooo!" Shinji cried out helplessly as he tumbled helplessly through the air. The massive hole he, She-Hulk, and Maya had fallen through now little more than a pin prick he couldn't keep track of as he spun out of control.
"Misato! Misato!" Shinji cried out in a panic, out of his mind with fear as he search for any sign of his emerald guardian in the darkness of the pit.
"Shinji!" came She-Hulk's guttural roar, followed by further sounds of concern and fury. But there was no other sign of the savage she-beast, or her opponent. The 3rd Child couldn't even tell where either beast-woman was; the chasm he was falling through was like an immense echo chamber. And as he fell uncontrollably through the darkness, he couldn't tell up from down or left from right. Nor he could see how much further he had until he crashed down upon the floor; or whatever other solid surface lay waiting at the bottom.
I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die, I'm gonna -! Shinji thought feverishly, only to be cut off by a strange whooshing sound. Looking about towards the sound, the 3rd Child found himself looking up towards the hole he had fallen through, when he saw a figure diving towards him.
"Wh-what the -?!" Shinji blurted out…just as the figure caught up with him, and he felt something large and powerful clamp down about his waist…
I need to start going to the gym, Ritsuko thought as she ran through the labyrinthine corridors of NERV.
Ritsuko really didn't think overly much of her physical condition, what with all the work the doctor did at NERV, the many projects regarding the Evangelions and the Angels that were in constant need of her attention. Work that didn't allow her the time to keep in top condition, and stress that had driven her to smoke quite a bit in order to keep what sanity she had. Combined with less than healthy foods that were easy to prepare and easy on her wallet, she tended to be grateful that she was as trim as she was.
At that moment, however, Ritsuko was cursing herself for ignoring her physical wellbeing. Her heart was pounding heavily and her lungs burning as she made her way up to join Shinji and the others. Her legs were already protesting and her feet sore from both the efforts and the dress shoes that looked pretty and professional, but were good for little else. Sweat rolled down her face as she held tightly to the labtop that was Maya's salvation.
Who am I kidding? Who has time to work out with my schedule?! Ritsuko grimaced, blinking away a few drops of sweat that had crawled into her yes. Still…maybe I could whip some kind of health serum to whip me into shape. Super steroids with none of the nasty side effects. All the benefits of a gym, without having to spend hours a day sweating yourself to death.
It was an interesting notion in Ritsuko's mind, and one to be investigated when she wasn't in the middle of a crisis that could result in the death of a friend. So she shelved it for the time being and continued running as best as she could, turning down one of the corridors and running towards the elevator that was her immediate objective. Practically slamming into the wall, the doctor very nearly fell to the floor before she recovered, staggering about somewhat until she braced herself against the wall with her free hand. Taking advantage of this moment to heave breath after desperate breath, she shook her head clear of her exhaustion and pressed the call button for the elevator.
Taking advantage of this brief pause in her mad dash, Ritsuko heaved breath after deep breath, doing her best to recover and prepare for the next mad dash she would be making as soon as she reached her intended floor. Only to be jolted when a voice cried out over the PA system. "Dr. Akagi! We have a problem!"
"Huh?! What?!" Ritsuko started, looking about perplexedly, settling down when she recognized the voice. "I-is that you, Chihiro?! What is it?!"
"It's She-Hulk and Maya!" Chihiro fearfully reported. "They were fighting each other, and – Doctor, they bashed a hole in one of the equipment transport shafts! They fell into it!
Shock combined with exhaustion to prompt Ritsuko to gasp in horror. The Geofront was riddled with various tunnels and airshafts, all necessary for maintaining NERV's underground colony, as well as expediting weapons and equipment to the Evangelions when they battled in Tokyo-3. And if Misato and Maya had fallen into one of them…
"Where are they now?!" Ritsuko demanded.
"From what we can tell, it was Shaft 57C!" Chihiro reported. "But – Dr. Akagi…"
"Yes?" Ritsuko asked, a dread sensation rising up in response to the clear hesitation with which Chihiro spoke.
"It's Shinji," Chihiro finally informed her. "He…he fell in with them."
At this statement, Ritsuko's eyes went wide with horror. She knew the layout of NERV as well as any human being possibly could. She had been present for the construction of much of the current NERV complex, and had supervised the installation of much of the equipment used for both the Evangelions and their support equipment. So she knew that if Shinji had fallen into the shaft Chihiro referred to, then barring a minor miracle or intervention by one of the two she-beasts, than he was as good as dead.
Oh, no…! Ritsuko thought, icy claws of dread clutching at her heart. While she wasn't especially close to Shinji, she did care about him, and felt that he was a good person. A far better one that one would expect the child of Gendo Ikari to be, and someone who didn't deserve such a fate.
But there was more to the doctor's reaction than simple compassion in this case. Shinji was presently the only person who could command Unit 01, their most powerful Evangelion, as well as the most uncontrollable. He was also their best pilot, and getting better all the time. Losing him would be devastating to their efforts to defeat the Angels.
And if he's dead…and Misato finds out about it…! Ritsuko thought, her spine going rigid with fear. She knew of the lengths that She-Hulk was willing to go to in order to protect Shinji. All of Tokyo-3 had felt her wrath when she felt he had been imperiled before. If he died…
No! Don't think about it! Ritsuko ordered herself, doing everything she could to take that fear and shove it someplace where she wouldn't have to deal with it then and there. There's no way of knowing for sure what's happening until I see the situation for myself! Until then…all I can do is…what I can do.
With this thought in mind, Ritsuko demanded, "Get me Misato and Maya's exact locations! I'm heading to Level 2 now."
"Right away, Dr. Akagi," Chihiro replied just as the elevator arrived. Fresh urgency overriding her weariness, Ritsuko flung herself through the door, hurriedly pressing the buttons would send her to the proper level.
Please, Shinji, don't be dead! Ritsuko thought as she rode down to her destination. Because if you are…we might all die with you!
What an interesting game this is turning out to be, Gendo mused as he studied the rapid turns of events that was the battle between the transformed selves of Misato and Maya. Who'd have thought such mindless beasts could prove so intriguing…?
It was a battle that wasn't without its problems, of course. Gendo had suffered a pang when he had seen Shinji fall in with the mutated women, but as he continued to monitor the situation, he watched the 3rd Child be secured by one of the many pieces set into motion in this frenzied game of speed chess. As soon as he was satisfied that this vital piece of his scenario would soon be out of danger, he returned his attention to the two superhumans as they continued to tumble through Shaft 57C.
Ibuki's new absorbing power…it's quite impressive, Gendo thought, considering what he had seen thus far. She was able to siphon off Katsuragi's gamma energy, enough so that her color started to fade. Possibly a sign that she was beginning to revert to her human form.
"Yes, and as a result, Ibuki's strength is increasing considerably," came Fuyutsuki's voice within Gendo's mind. The Commander of NERV could practically see the old professor standing a short distance besides him with a knowing look on his face. "The longer this battle continues, the stronger she may become. Perhaps even strong enough to overcome Katsuragi."
Perhaps, Gendo agreed with a slight nod. But then, we still have no idea what her full limitations are. After all, her mutation is a result of a direct exposure to the power of Adam itself. A being that was power personified.
"True," the Fuyutsuki in his mind agreed. "And the tests we've run were rather ineffectual in determining her full capabilities." The illusory professor narrowed his eyes in a cunning manner. "Perhaps we should take advantage of the situation to put her to a real test."
An excellent idea, sensei, Gendo thought with an air of amusement. And how fortuitous that we have the perfect equipment in place to implement such a test.
At this, the illusory Fuyutsuki faded, allowing Gendo to focus on the only other living person present with him. "Activate the internal security systems, and prepare to deploy the Bakelite."
"Yes, sir," the girl nodded politely.
"Also, put me through to our units," Gendo continued, new plans and strategies rapidly taking shape in his mind. "I have something very special planned for our combatants. Something that should…stimulate them both nicely…"
No, no, no, noooo! Misato wailed helplessly, trapped within the confines of her own transformed body as she continued to fall through empty space. Feeling as if she were caught up in a nightmare from which she simply couldn't wake up.
Ever since her She-Hulk persona had shoved her aside and taken control of their shared body, Misato had been helpless to do anything but watch, overwhelmed by the intense emotions that swirled about in her mind that had given life to her savage other. Just capable of staying conscious, staying alert and aware while her other self dominated her body, doing whatever she wanted with it. Clinging tenuously to the waking world, knowing that it would only take the tiniest slip on her part to cast her into unconsciousness.
In a way, it would have been preferable to her current situation. Misato found herself wishing that she could have been oblivious to the way her She-Hulk self had strove to kill Maya, to act out on her brutish hatred of the Angels and take them out on an innocent. Oblivious to the way to the way She-Hulk had sent both herself and Maya plunging into these depths. Oblivious to Shinji's frightened cries as he also…
No, dammit, no! Misato thought, her own anger making it that much harder for her to hold on. He – he can't be – I didn't really see him -!
A sudden impact stunned Misato out of her thoughts, and very nearly sent her into the darkness. As she clung to awareness for dear life, she realized that the impact she had felt was She-Hulk hitting the bottom of the shaft they had fallen into. The next thing she became aware of was She-Hulk snarling her frustration, instantly shaking off the fall and leaping back to her feet. "Where Shinji?!" she demanded furiously. "Where Shinji go?!"
That's what I want to know! Misato frowned, trying to glean as much information as she could as her other self looked wildly about, searching for any sign of her ward. They had landed in one of the horizontal tunnels leading to other transport shafts, that much was obvious. But it was too dark for her to make out any real details as to their location. She couldn't even see a number detailing their location.
"Ooorrgghh…" came a groan from somewhere behind the green Amazon. A sound that She-Hulk oriented on and whirled about to face. Whereupon she saw a dazed and confused Maya propping herself up by one hand as she tried to rise to her feet.
"Angel!" She-Hulk roared savagely, her muscles bulging that more as her hatred mounted. "Where Shinji?!"
Maya didn't have anything to do with what happened to Shinji, you lime-green idiot! Misato groaned from within. You're the one who punched Maya so hard that you sent us all down that shaft! And as for Shinji… Pausing as She-Hulk again looked about, she considered what she had been able to see thus far. I'm starting to think he didn't fall in with us after all! If he had, he would have landed nearby! But there's no sign of him!
Unfortunately, Misato wasn't as certain of this as she would have liked. The tunnel they were in was dark, dark enough that she could have missed him while She-Hulk was whipping her gaze this way and that. And she wasn't going to get the chance to look any more, for Maya was rising to her feet, already recovered from the fall. Something She-Hulk didn't take well at all.
With a guttural roar of battle, the emerald destroyer charged forward, arms pumping and eyes narrowed with hatred. Maya had just enough time to cry out in dismay before She-Hulk closed into smashing range, delivering a devastating punch to her jaw that would have torn the head off of anything human. As it was, the mutated woman was sent tumbling through the air to crash into one of the walls, the force of her impact drilling her through solid metal.
"Angel!" She-Hulk snarled, gathering her legs beneath her and launching herself after her foe.
My legs! My body! Misato cried out in protest as her savage other leapt through the hole, smashing it even bigger in the process. This is still my body! Why can't I do anything with it?!
Unconcerned by such questions, She-Hulk landed in the next tunnel, pausing just long enough to hurriedly scan her surroundings, searching for her foe. Only for Maya to find her first, launching her metal hand at the jade destroyer. An instant after the cold metal fingers wrapped about She-Hulk's neck, her body was jolted, followed by a strange lethargy spreading through her body as Maya siphoned off more of the jade giantess's gamma energy.
Her outrage spurred by this latest assault, as well as Maya's moans of ecstasy as fresh power filled her body, She-Hulk ripped the metallic hand off her neck. Turning to face her assailant, she crushed the hand in her implacable grasp while taking hold of the attached cable with her free hand and pulled hard on it. To her surprise, Maya responded to this tactic by leaping forward, going with the sudden yank and using it to rapidly close the distance between them.
She's getting smarter. Or at least learning from her mistakes, Misato determined as Maya wrapped her arms and legs about She-Hulk, pinning her arms to her sides. Her metal hand having already rebuilt itself, she grabbed the emerald Amazon by the back of her head. Taking full advantage of this opportunity to siphon off even more power. And she's definitely getting stronger! Shake her off, Greenie, before -!
An outraged roar exploded from She-Hulk's throat, causing the air to ripple with emerald destruction. The Impact Roar slammed Maya full in the face, knocking her back enough so that her grip was loosened, allowing She-Hulk to effortlessly break free of the energy thief's arm lock. Raising her arms and swinging them forward, she slammed them against the sides of Maya's head, releasing a thunderous shockwave with her foe's brain at the epicenter. All but drowning out Maya's agonized shriek as she toppled to the floor, clutching the sides of her head as she curled up on the ground.
"Smash!" She-Hulk snarled, taking full advantage of this opportunity. Grabbing hold of Maya's gauntleted right arm, she reared back with her free hand and drove her knuckles into the side of the mutant woman's head. Maya yelped in even greater pain, a cry that was repeated when the enraged gamma mutant struck again, and again. Smashing her foe in the face no matter how much Maya thrashed and cried out in protest.
No…stop it! Noooo! Misato cried out, feeling everything as She-Hulk used her hand to slowly crush the EMF generator that was Maya's life support, her knuckles to mercilessly bludgeon her face, breaking her nose and shattering bone, only to grow even more furious when they miraculously healed after each strike. Ignoring her friends cries of pain and confusion as she tried to beat her to death. Dammit, this is still my body! There has to be some way of stopping her!
Thinking feverishly, Misato strove to think of something, anything she could do to deter her bestial other. Only to be distracted from her thoughts when the Maya's metal hand launched from her wrist, trailing a cable behind it. A second later, Maya shot up and away from the ground, using her line to try and pull free from She-Hulk. Unfortunately for her, the enraged titan would not surrender her grip so easily, and was promptly pulled off her feet and dragged along for the ride.
Snarling her outrage, She-Hulk tightened her grip on the gauntlet, crushing it even more as she flailed about, searching for an additional handhold. Made even more difficult by Maya's thrashing about, kicking wildly and shoving at She-Hulk's face with her free hand.
Maya's not a fighter. She has no training in hand-to-hand, and its showing right now, Misato thought, trying to better analyze the situation. She's panicking, but…is she trying to get away so she can get in a better position to grab more energy, or is she just trying to get away now? There was no way of knowing. All Misato could really be certain of was that Maya's absorbing power depending on her metal hand. If she could drain energy using the bulk of the generator or any other part of her body, she'd have done it by now. So we could stop her if we put her hand out of action, but how do I get Greenie to -?!
She-Hulk found her other handhold, in the form of Maya's face. The jade nightmare snarled triumphantly as she wrapped her monstrous fingers about the other woman's cheek bones, clenching at her hard enough to grind normal human bones into powder, and pulled herself closer. But the life leech refused to submit, grabbing her antagonist by the wrist. With a growl of effort, Maya was able to push the hand off her face, not much, but enough to reposition it so that she could open her mouth and bite down. Hard.
Ouch! Misato thought as She-Hulk screeched in hatred. Maya must be pretty close to Greenie's power level, because that definitely hurts!
The outraged Gammazon responded to this attack instinctively, struggling to withdraw her injured had while tightening her grip on the gauntlet. Grunting around a mouthful of She-Hulk's hand, Maya drew her legs in, trying to brace her feet against her attacker's abdomen. She was too close to effectively kick, but she was able to push her a bit further away. A low growl of outrage sounding in her throat, She-Hulk took a deep breath.
Oh, no! Misato cried out, realizing what her other self was about to do. Not now, you stupid -!
She-Hulk roared, releasing a green shockwave from her mouth into her foe. The Impact Roar slammed into Maya hard, and as a result, the two of them were pushed apart, the emerald Amazon flung to the side by the force of her own attack, with only her grip on her foe's gauntlet stopping Maya from escaping entirely. A situation that Maya was quick to address as she grabbed She-Hulk's wrist, and with a cry of pain and desperation, wrenched it free of the generator. Leaving the emerald savage with nothing to show for her efforts but some crushed metal plating in her hand.
Dammit! Misato swore as she watched Maya shoot further away from She-Hulk, unencumbered by her mass and the damage to the generator mending as the nanites rebuilt the exterior. Whole once more and with a safe distance between herself and her aggressor, Maya released her hold on the ceiling and fell back to the floor. Landing in a crouch, she held up her metallic hand, her eyes filled with need as she glared at She-Hulk.
Looks like she's still hungry! Misato thought as She-Hulk stared furiously at her foe, curling her arms before her and roaring in challenge. The nanites haven't recovered yet, so she still needs more power! And with Greenie being a walking nuclear reactor and Angelic power source all wrapped up in one, she's probably tastes like sweet wine to those nanites! So she won't go after anybody or anything else until the Angel recovers, but -!
A sudden hissing sound pricked She-Hulk's ears. What's that noise? Misato wondered while both She-Hulk and Maya frowned and looked about, searching for the source. But it wasn't until her bestial other looked up at the ceiling and saw several nozzles situated in the ceiling that the Major groaned, Aw, no…don't tell me…!
An instant later, sprays of red fluid erupted from each nozzles. Covering any surface in sight with the crimson gel, including the two combatants. Bakelite! Misato cried out, watching as the liquid polymer reacted to the body heat of both women, already hardening even as the sound of metal slamming against metal was heard. Partition gates closing off the section of the tunnel they were in, creating a space the Bakelite could fill. A substance that, once hardened in sufficient quantities, was strong enough even to stop a rampaging Evangelion. Dammit, no!
Snarling her disgust at the spray, She-Hulk raised her arm to shield her face from the Bakelite. Only to growl in confusion when she noticed her movements stiffening as the spray hardened, with Maya reacting in a similar fashion. We have to get out of here! Misato ordered her brutish other self. The green beast growled, flexing her muscles beneath the hardening polymer, causing it to crack and break apart even as more rained down on her. If we stay here, we'll be trapped like bugs in amber! We have to grab Maya and get the hell outta – wha -?!
With a savage grunt, She-Hulk leapt over to Maya, who was already coated head-to-toe with Bakelite, and wrapped her massive arm about her more slender frame. Lifting the mutant woman up off her feet, the enraged gammazon then leapt up towards the ceiling, firing a punch with her free hand. To Misato's awe, her other self smashed her way through the ceiling and leapt into another chamber altogether. Looks like a maintenance tunnel, Misato thought as she dumped Maya on the floor of the dusty, dingy surroundings, recalling Shinji's tale of how Asuka had gotten him and Rei lost in them during the blackout. I just hope that there isn't any Bakelite sprays in here, and that we can get this stuff off Maya without -!
A sudden punch to She-Hulk's jaw cut Misato's chain of thought off, sending the jade destroyer flying down the tunnel to come crashing down to the floor. Roaring in protest at this unexpected affront, She-Hulk looked about for the source of the strike, only to grunt her surprise while Misato gaped.
Maya was still covered in hardening Bakelite, but as She-Hulk looked on, quantities of her polymer coating sank into her skin, hair, even the generator, all of which were transforming. Taking on the same color and texture as the Bakelite that had been sprayed on them both. Crap, I forgot! Ritsuko warned me about this! Misato thought, cursing herself for overlooking this. She might need her generator to feed on energy, but she can absorb things like metal through her skin!
As this thought ran its course, Misato saw more of the Bakelite falling away from Maya, whatever process her absorption ability utilized loosening the remainder of the polymer enough to allow her to regain her full mobility. Too bad Greenie can't say the same thing! the Major thought as She-Hulk struggled to rise to her feet, only to find herself impeded. In the short time she had been exposed to the sprays, a large amount of Bakelite had accumulated on her body and the tattered medical gown she still wore, and it had hardened about her. Her face was mostly uncovered, but virtually every other part of her body had coated with a few inches of the restrictive substance.
It wouldn't stop She-Hulk for long, Misato knew. The savage she-beast was already thrashing about furiously as she fought her way to her feet, cracking and crushing the hardened polymer in the process. A few seconds would be all she needed to be completely free. But those were seconds that she didn't have, for over the din of the gamma Amazon's struggles, Misato detected a cry of anticipation. Startled from her struggles, She-Hulk looked up to see her now crimson foe was bearing down upon her.
The She-Hulk mentality was confused, distracted, trying to deal with both the hardened Bakelite and the approaching foe at the same time, something she simply wasn't capable of doing. Smash red rocks! Smash Angel! were the two conflicting impulses shooting through her mind as she sat up. Smash red rocks! Smash Angel! Maya closed in moments away from grabbing her with metal hand. Smash red rocks! Smash Angel! But there wasn't enough time to do both, less than a second left. Smash -!
The crimson mutant came within reach, stretching out with right hand. Grinning eagerly at the prospect of draining more energy.
Only for her grin to falter when She-Hulk caught her by the wrist.
"No, you – don't!" the emerald superwoman snarled, her right arm just free enough to move with the practiced ease of much combat training. In a move that would have been impossible for a normal human being, she turned Maya's own momentum against her, flinging her overhead and sending her flying down the corridor. The crimson woman cried out in confusion as she tumbled through the air..
Except it wasn't She-Hulk that was responsible.
It had happened so quickly, so suddenly, that Misato didn't realize at first the significance of what was happening. It had been so simple, so natural, a combination of the result of her combat training and well-honed instinct. But as she fought her way to her feet, shattering much of the Bakelite, she realized that it had been her will that prompted her body to do these things, not She-Hulk. That when she turned to face Maya, who was already scrabbling about to regain her feet, she realized that it had been her that had turned, not the savage within. No way…! she gasped inwardly as she looking down at herself, watching as she flexed her arms, breaking off more of the Bakelite. As she stepped closer to her downed foe, watching for any sign of hostile movement. Is this – can it be -?!
Even as she realized that it could and in fact was, someone else realized what had happened. No! came an outraged voice inside the mind in which they both lived within. A voice Misato immediately recognized as that of her savage other. No, noooo!
"Oh...yes!" Misato grinned aloud even as her other self began clawing at her, trying to regain control of their shared body. "I don't…know…how it happened…!" she declared aloud, moving her lips and using her voice for no other reason than she could again. Grabbing hold of her caked over medical gown and shattering it, ridding her of the last of the obstructive Bakelite as she took a battle-ready stance. "But…I'm back…in the…driver's seat!"
Nooooo! She-Hulk snarled hatefully. Let She-Hulk out! Want to smash! Smash Angel!
"We've been…doing it your…way, Greenie! And it's…gotten us…nowhere!" Misato declared as Maya again rose up to her feet, looking uncertainly at her foe. "Now it's…my turn!"
The She-Hulk mentality was furious at this loss of control, just as Misato had been before, and responded with all the fury and hatred that was at her command. But the woman that had worked long and hard to cultivate the discipline that was one of the reasons she was NERV's Director of Operations would not give into it, not now, not after all the damage that savage, primitive aspect of herself had done to her efforts to save her friend. No matter how that other part of her roared and bellowed, no matter how her body jerked about, trying to act on ancient instinct and her base emotions, Misato stayed focused, stayed in control. Not allowing her other self an opening.
"Now, Maya…here's how it is…" Misato stated in She-Hulk's voice, narrowing her eyes and tensing herself for what was to come. Refusing to give either adversary an opening. "You either surrender…or I make you…surrender…for your own…good!"
Unsurprisingly, the crimson woman responded to this as her jade counterpart would; brutally. Holding up her right hand, she morphed it into its morningstar shape and launched it squarely at her target. That didn't work on She-Hulk, Maya! Misato thought as she charged forward, ducking beneath the incoming projectile, letting it pass harmlessly overhead. And it isn't working on me!
Straightening up even as she ran, Misato reached up and grabbed the cable. Even as Maya started to retract the morningstar, the emerald Major put on an additional burst of speed, leaping into her mutated friend, firing her knee directly into her jaw. Sent shooting up from the blow, Maya crashed through the roof of the tunnel, flying halfway into another section of NERV before Misato pulled hard on the cable, yanking her back down. Flailing about in pain and confusion, the crimson mutant fell down on her ass with an indignant squawk. Not losing a moment, the jade Amazon pounced on her transformed friend, grabbing her by her shoulder and forcing her about so that she was facing down.
Smash her! Smash Angel! the She-Hulk persona demanded, but Misato fought off those urges. Even as her other self demanded that she clench her hands into fists, hands the shuddered as the Major fought off these urges, she grabbed Maya's forearms and pinned them behind her back while placing one of her feet down upon her back. The crimson mutant resisted, fighting back with all her considerable strength, but Misato fought back with all the power that normally was She-Hulk's to command, and there simply was no comparison. Still, Maya continued to thrash about as best as she retracted her morningstar.
"Not – happening!" Misato declared as she wrapped her left arm about both of Maya's, making certain to keep them pinned, not give her a chance to free herself. As she did so, she yanked hard on the cable linking the morningstar to her forearm, hoping that she would draw out more of the line instead of just snapping it.
Fortunately, it seemed that the Angel wasn't in the mood to lose any more of its substance. The cable stretched out nicely, allowing Misato to begin wrapping it about her forearms. Once she had enough loops in place, she pulled the cable taut, making certain that Maya's arms would remained pinned as she continued to truss her up, all the while remaining cautious to avoid the metallic end in whatever form it might take. "Not a…bad job…huh, Maya?" the gamma mutant declared as she continued her labors, denying her transformed friend any chance to escape or to drain more of her power. "Wrestling two…bulls…at once. And to think…this is my…first actual…rodeo!"
Not a bad job at all, Major, Gendo agreed. Watching and listening through the eyes and ears he had sent after them. It would seem that the old adage of brains over brawn has proven quite apt. Wouldn't you agree, sensei?
"I would indeed, Ikari," concurred the Fuyutsuki in his mind, nodding his approval. "Though brains working in tandem with brawn is better than either one alone." Then he cocked his head to the side, a thoughtful smile on his aged face. "I am curious as to how the Major was able to reassert her control over She-Hulk's body."
Humans are complicated and sinful creatures, sensei, Gendo replied with a thoughtful look. There are any number of things that could have caused the change in power.
"True. But it would make sense to learn what those things are, and what came into play here." His eyes narrowing with cunning, the inner Fuyutsuki went on to elaborate with, "After all, the better you understand the people and the forces around you, the better you can use them to your advantage."
A valid point, Gendo thought, tempted to lose himself in this dialogue, imaginary as it might be. More and more, it reminded him of debates and discussions he had had with Fuyutsuki back in college, as well as other, more pleasant times. Times when he and the old professor had not been alone in their debates. Which brings me to another matter. Now that Katsuragi has subdued Ibuki, what shall we do with them both?
"Good question, Ikari," Fuyutsuki admitted with a nod. "We could allow the Major to carry Ibuki back up to the base proper for treatment. See if Dr. Akagi's reprogramming of the nanites proves to be as effective as she seems to think it will be."
That's one possibility, Gendo nodded, And it's certainly the least risky one. Minimal risk of imperiling the scenario.
"There is that," Fuyutsuki concurred. "However, we still haven't seen what either woman is capable of. And with the bulk of the Angel subdued, it would be a waste of an opportunity."
Especially after setting everything in place to truly test their abilities, as well as secure new power for myself, Gendo agreed, a devious curl twisting his lips.
"And it seems to me that, after all our setbacks to date, it would be in your best interests to try and…take advantage of what's happening here," Fuyutsuki continued with a dangerous air to his voice. "Take what's happened here and turn it to your benefit."
Agreed, Gendo thought, pausing to mop a bead of sweat from his brow. However, implementing these tests would be far more difficult with Katsuragi again in control of her faculties.
"Since when is anything truly worth doing ever easy, Ikari?" Fuyutsuki inquired in a knowing manner. "And when has any step in your scenario ever been what anybody would call easy?"
As was often in matters such as this, Fuyutsuki was correct. Even if he was only a manifestation of his inner thoughts, the old professor was an invaluable source of wisdom. The scenario Gendo had planned was a decade in the making, and had been fraught with difficulties. So many problems, and so many failures, and yet the Commander of NERV had dealt with them, adapted to the many situations he had been thrown into, and overcome them all. Just as he would overcome the potential threats posed by She-Hulk, Spirit, and so many others.
Very true, Gendo admitted as he continued to study the situation unfolding before him. And I believe I have the perfect means to separate them. With this, the illusory Fuyutsuki faded to the side, allowing the Commander to focus on the girl nearby. "Has Captain Chiron recovered from his encounter with She-Hulk?"
"No, sir," the girl replied.
Nodding to his, Gendo frowned, knowing that he would have to make do with what he had. "Put me through to his team. And have our units readied." Then he smiled cruelly before adding, "And make sure that the 3rd Child is made ready for his part in this."
"Yes, sir," the girl replied as Gendo sat back, again mopping his brow.
Environmental controls must be malfunctioning, Gendo decided, not allowing this to distract him from his plans. I'll have to look at them later.
The first thing Shinji became aware of as he slowly regained consciousness was a light breeze rustling through his hair.
Huh…wh-what…? Shinji thought as he clawed his way back to the waking world. Assisted by the gentle breeze he felt, as well as a quiet, rhythmic whooshing. His eyes fluttering open, providing him with nothing but a blurry silhouette nearby, like someone looking at him. Misato…where is…is that…?
The wind continued to breeze past, the whooshing continued with the regularity of a metronome. And as the sound continued, Shinji saw something else, something rising and falling in the background. He couldn't make out what they were in the low light and his eyes not yet recovered enough to be dependable, but…
"S…Spirit…?" Shinji groaned out. "Is…that…?"
The head changed orientation, as if it were going from looking away to looking at him. An instant later, Shinji's eyes shut as he fell once more into the world of the unconsciousness.
"I hate – Bakelite," Misato grumbled as she marched through the maintenance tunnels of NERV.
It had only been a few minutes since the jade giantess had succeeded in thoroughly trussing Maya up, at least enough so that her hands were completely bound and her weaponized right hand bound and embedded in the cable so completely that it put the Gordian Knot to shame. Leaving the crimson mutant with little option but to thrash with her legs as Misato carried her slung over her shoulder. With her right arm occupied with keeping Maya from escaping, this left the Major with her left hand free, something she took advantage of by massaging her hair, crushing the Bakelite that hung from it in clumps.
Stupid red rocks! her She-Hulk mentality chimed in as Misato crushed another lump of hardened polymer, grinding it to dust and letting fall from her hair.
Definitely, Misato chimed in as she continued in her efforts. That's why I'm smashing them.
The She-Hulk persona seemed satisfied with this, which was of considerable relief to Misato. Ever since she had retaken control of her body from her other self, that brutish manifestation of her most primal, primitive, instinctual self had struggled and fought to once again shove Misato's mind out of its way and take back her physical form. It was unrelenting and unutterably determined in its attempts to do so.
But at the same time, Misato was having a somewhat easier time in keeping her more wrathful self at bay. She still had to maintain her guard, couldn't allow herself to truly relax, but at the same time, her other self didn't seem as effective in its efforts to overcome her. Like it was lacking something critical, some form of motivation.
Then again, that might exactly be the case, Misato realized even as her other self continued to try to overcome her. She-Hulk wanted control because she wanted to smash the Angel. But Maya's down and all tied up now. The enemy's already been dealt with. As the woman in question thrashed a bit more, the emerald Amazon narrowed her eyes in annoyance. Maybe not killed, but she's definitely not in a position to fight anymore.
And the more Misato considered this, the more sense it made. The She-Hulk mentality was primitive, based on simple emotions and base instincts. With her enemy already defeated, there wasn't as much to motivate her into seizing control as there had been when Maya had been freely moving about, an active threat to herself and Shinji.
Even as she thought this, Maya grunted and again tried to squirm free of Misato's grip. Stupid Angel! the She-Hulk mentality snarled in disgust. Should have smashed!
Wincing at this bit of resistance on Maya's part sparked some extra fight in her other self, Misato thought quickly to come up with an argument that could get her to ease off. We've already wasted too much time on her, she finally told her She-Hulk self. Right now, I'm more concerned about what happened to Shinji when we got dumped in that hole.
Not bothering to mention that she still held her brutish other responsible for that occurrence, Misato listened as She-Hulk replied with, Shinji…where Shinji? What happened to Shinji?!
I don't know…yet! Misato returned, shuddering as her own argument stirred her inner beast's anger and concern, stoked the fires that were her strength. That's why I couldn't waste time on Maya. I had to wrap her up quickly; so we can get back up top and go find Shinji.
Smash way up! the She-Hulk persona eagerly suggested. Get back faster, find Shinji faster!
Misato's initial response was to scowl at her other self's one-track mind. But even as she did so, she had to admit that her She-Hulk persona had a valid point. Smashing her way upwards would certainly be a much faster method of getting out of the service tunnels and back into the Geofront proper. But I can't just leap up there in one shot. Not when I might come up from under someone. Then Misato scowled, On the other hand…I don't want to go through what Shinji and the others did, wandering around down here for hours! Not when I have to take care of Maya, and find Shinji! Pressing her lips into an uneasy frown, the emerald Amazon stopped crushing the Bakelite in her hair and held up her left hand, balling it up into a fist. Still…if I bash my way up one floor at a time, and I'm careful about it, that should be alright. Then she looked up at the ceiling, which was just inches away. And it's not like I'll have a hard time reaching the next floor, even with Maya.
At this, the She-Hulk mentality growled her approval, apparently sensing that Misato would be heeding her will. Yeah, well, don't get used to it, Greenie, the Major grumbled as she reared back with her fist. Now, let's see…where should I – huh?!
Something else was registering in Misato's mind. Another sensation of danger, of destructive power. The same toxic feeling that she had sensed from before, that Maya now generated. But – wait! she thought, her eyes widening as her captive let out a low gasp, then began to thrash much more furiously in her grip. It's not coming from Maya! It's from somewhere else, back…behind me?! What the -?!
Angel! the She-Hulk mentality snarled, her voice rife with hatred once again. The pressure it exerted on Misato's mind increasing tremendously even as Maya continued to squirm, forcing her captor to lower her enough so as to be able to take hold of her with both arms. Smash! Smash Angel!
"Oh – damn!" Misato groaned, wishing she could spare a hand to massage her forehead. The deadly dangerous sensation that she was sensing had served as a perfect wakeup call for her other self, spurring her back to full force. But of even greater concern was the growing sensation she detected. A sensation that could come only from another Angel. "What – now?!" Gritting her teeth and growling deep in her throat, Misato clamped down on herself, resisting the urges of herself. Fighting back against the impulse to follow the sensation like a siren song, struggling to keep her reinvigorated other self at bay. All the while making certain that her grip on her captive was secure.
But what could be causing it?! Misato demanded of herself. It can't be Spirit; there's no way she'd come down here with Gendo having a permanent bull's-eye on her! And as for the rest of the Angel…! Frowning as she struggled to think properly around the battering of her other self, she analyzed the situation. Ritsuko and the others had neutralized the bulk of the Angel, forcing it to work as one with the MAGI, rendering it harmless. Could a part of it still be active?! Possessed someone else, or -?!
The sound of approaching footsteps sounded through the tunnels. She-Hulk interpreted it as a new enemy approaching, their body tensing in readiness for battle. But then Misato noticed that the sound was coming from the opposite direction of the new Angelic power she was sensing, and barely managed to restrain herself, making certain to keep hold of her prisoner. "Damn – it!" she snarled aloud, not in the mood for any further complications. "What – the -?!"
It wasn't long before Misato got her answer. In a matter of seconds, armed and armored Section 2 troops spilled into view, filling the cramped maintenance tunnel. And to her considerable annoyance, each and every one of them fell into a firing position, cocking their weapons and aiming everything from automatic rifles to missile launchers at her and Maya. "Commander Ikari, we've located She-Hulk and Ibuki!" one of the Section 2 idiots declared. "Awaiting your orders, sir!"
Groaning irritably, Misato held up one of her hands to them. "Before you – bastards – do something – stupid – tell Commander Ikari – that I'm – back in – control!" she announced in a halting manner, taking solace in the fact that at least there was no sign of Chiron. Making it just a bit more feasible that she would be able to talk some sense into these idiots. "And - as you can – see yourselves – I've got Maya, so -!"
"Sorry, Major Katsuragi," replied the Section 2 man who was apparently standing in for Chiron. "But Commander Ikari has given us direct orders! We are to secure Captain Ibuki and escort her outside of the Geofront to be disposed of!"
Bristling in rage at this, rage that only served to further fuel her inner beast, Misato just barely clamped down upon her anger in time to keep the She-Hulk mentality in check. "Tell – Commander – we don't – have – to – kill – Maya! Ritsuko – she -!"
The sound of a rocket being fired echoed through the cramped maintenance tunnels. Misato didn't even see where it was coming from, let alone who had fired from. All she had time to do was turn to see something explode right in her face, blinding her and leaving her temporarily deafened. "Grrarrgh!" she snarled as she tottered backwards, acting on pure instinct, bringing her hands to her eyes, trying to wipe them clear. "Stupid -!"
No! Wrong move, idiot! Misato cried out, knowing from experience what was about to happen. Already sensing another part of her moving in, shoving away at her conscious mind. Don't let her take over again! Focus on Maya! Clamping down with all her strength, doing everything she could to override millions of years of evolution and instinct, she forced down her hands. Focus on the ANGEL!
Angel?! the She-Hulk persona growled at this thought, caught between her instinctual reaction at being attacked and her absolute, seething hatred for the Angels. Caught between two responses, too distracted to once again assume control, the primal personality instead lent Misato her quickness in turning about to look towards the Angelic energy that was generated from Maya. The mutant woman, having apparently landed on her feet when Misato had instinctively released her, had taken full advantage of the situation and was now running away as fast as was possible. Angel!
"Angel!" came She-Hulk's voice, tearing free of Misato's lips. "She-Hulk sm-!"
Not now, stupid! Misato countered, clamping her hand over her mouth and balling up her free hand as she struggled to rebuff her other self. Wishing as never before that she was like Spirit, and didn't have to share space in her mind with a braindead beast that existed solely for smashing things. Heaving a deep breath, she turned to glare hatefully at the Section 2 men. Deciding to give vent to some of her rage, she stepped forward to grab the weapons from the hands of two of the agents. "You – back – up top – now!" she told them, her words closer to incoherent snarls than intelligible speech. Placing the pilfered firearms between her hands, she wadded them together with all the ease of crushing a newspaper, and compressed them into a tiny little ball that she let drop before her. Watching in satisfaction as the Section 2 morons looked from it to her face, paling a bit as they did. "Screw up – again – and – She-Hulk will smash! Got – that?!"
"Yes, sir!" the Section 2 idiots replied in unison.
Not wasting time to watch them make lemonade in their pants, Misato turned and started in the direction that Maya had gone in. Should smash stupid men in black! her She-Hulk self muttered hatefully. Should smash Angel!
We don't have time to waste on those idiots right now! Misato countered as she ran full out, already out of view of the Section 2 screw-ups. Later, smashing them will be an option! But right now, we -!
The Angelic energy vanished.
Once again, Misato was staggered with surprise, with her She-Hulk self even more astonished. The both of them both staggered with shock that they ground to a halt, unable to believe what their shared senses were telling them.
The energy generated by Maya had simply disappeared. Along with the other source of Angelic power that she had sensed.
Where Angel?! She-Hulk demanded. Utterly flattened with confusion.
"That's what – I want – to know!" Misato growled as she swung her emerald irises this way and that.
"Captain Ibuki has been secured, sir," the girl assisting Gendo informed him. "The FLS cloak is apparently functional. Her red/blue pattern is now hidden."
"Excellent," Gendo mused thoughtfully, ignoring the fresh sweat that was rolling down his brow. The heat was steadily rising, but the Commander did his best to ignore it, to not repeat the sign of weakness he had shown when he had mopped his face before. Environmental controls malfunctioning or not, in the company of the entire bridge crew or alone with one of his creations, he refused to demonstrate any physical frailty. "Have our units take her to a secure location. When I give the word, they are to allow Ibuki to feed upon them. But make certain that at least one of them keeps her distance; we don't know how much they will be impaired by the feeding process, and I need at least one functional unit at the ready at all times."
"Yes, sir," the girl replied, showing no sign of distress, doing nothing to protest an action that could quite possibly result in the death of at least four of his creations.
They could be replaced. Gendo could easily make more. It would take time, but he would make more.
"I want a detailed record of Ibuki's feeding. Its full effects on both her and her target's physiology. Everything we can learn about it," Gendo continued, determined to take full advantage of this latest wrinkle in his scenario. "Judging from what I've seen so far, it may be possible to weaponize the process, enable other Genesis subjects to take advantage of it."
As this statement hung in the air, a quiet beeping sound was heard. "Commander," the girl began, "Section 2 is calling in with a report."
"Put them through," Gendo responded.
A beat passed before Gendo's demand was made reality. "Commander Ikari, this is Agent Sato reporting in, sir," came the voice of the Section 2 man he had spoken with before. "Sir, we have a problem. We intercepted the targets, but…Katsuragi had already subdued Ibuki."
"Was she still alive?" Gendo asked in a bored fashion. Deliberately giving the impression that his information wasn't as good as it was.
"Yes, sir. And – we told Katsuragi that you had ordered us to secure Ibuki for disposal, but - !" Agent Sato hesitated before going on to say, "Sir, something happened when we confronted them. Someone fired an RPG at Katsuragi, and Ibuki was able to get free."
"Are you telling me that you allowed Ibuki to escape?" Gendo wondered in a voice of low menace.
"N-no! I mean, she got away, but – it wasn't us, sir!" Agent Sato hurriedly explained. "After the – incident, we checked all ordinances. None of us fired that grenade, sir!" A beat passed as the agent swallowed a deep breath. "Sir, I think there's someone else in here. I know it sounds crazy, sir, but there has to be someone else in here! In the maintenance tunnels with us!"
"You're right, Agent Sato," Gendo dispassionately declared. "It not only sounds crazy, but like a pitiful excuse for – arrghh!"
"Commander?" came Agent Sato's voice. Something that barely registered with Gendo as he again clutched at his right wrist.
The pain. The injuries he had suffered from Maya's mace, and even worse, the wound the Rhino had inflicted upon him. These things had been steadily growing worse, but this sudden spear of agony that now shot from his right arm through the rest of Gendo's body was far worse than anything he had endured before now. Unlike anything he had ever felt in a life filled with sin and pain.
As the girl that was his sole living companion in this room at the heart of NERV looked on in silence, Agent Sato demanded, "Commander, what is it?! Is something wrong?!"
Heaving breath after agonized breath as he once again forced this fresh pain from the forefront of his mind and into the background where it belonged, Gendo narrowed his eyes and shot back, "The only thing wrong…is your own blundering." Taking a few more breathes as he regained control of himself, the Commander of NERV finally released his wound. "I will deal with your…incompetence later. For now…proceed to the following coordinates. We have reason to believe that Ibuki is heading in that direction, and I want you to be ready to intercept her."
"Yes, sir!" Agent Sato replied, crisp and military.
Quickly feeding the Section 2 team the required location, Gendo then cut the signal and sat back in his seat. More drained than he could ever admit from his latest bout of agony.
"Sir…" the girl began with a somewhat querulous expression. "The coordinates you gave them…that it is where the other units are proceeding with Ibuki."
"That is correct," Gendo nodded, more sweat streaming down his face. "Agent Sato and his people are aware of an additional presence within in the tunnels. They cannot be allowed to spread word of this."
"Really?" came a familiar voice in Gendo's mind. Once again, the Fuyutsuki that lived in there, the old professor from his days in college was looking at him with a look of curiosity in his eyes. "What about Katsuragi? She was there as well."
"But she was distracted, and more importantly, in her She-Hulk form. Her perceptions cannot be trusted in that state. Even she will be forced to admit that," Gendo replied. "Agent Sato and his men are a different matter. And I cannot afford to risk people spreading suspicions about something hiding in the tunnels around the base." Clenching his gloved right hand, putting his pain where it belonged, the Commander furrowed his brows before adopting his more traditional pose. "Notify our units. When Section 2 arrives at their location, I want the agents to be killed as quickly as possible." A beat passed before Gendo added, "No ordinance or ranged attacks, though. I want the Section 2 people killed by hand, as brutally as possible."
As the girl nodded her understanding, Fuyutsuki again appeared from within the confines of Gendo's mind. "You realize, of course, that you are sacrificing…what, half of Chiron's best team?"
I know, Gendo inwardly responded. That's why I only sent half of his team in after Katsuragi.
"You were planning on sacrificing them right along, weren't you?" Fuyutsuki asked, speaking in a way that made it clear that he wasn't asking a question.
Of course I was, Gendo retorted with a slight smile curling the corner of his lip. Section 2 has proven to be utterly useless in dealing with these superhuman menaces. They've suffered losses, been trampled underfoot…it's pathetic. Shaking his head slowly at the miserable spectacles that were Section 2's laughable attempts in dealing with these half-Angel freaks. They're obsolete, sensei. But I can still make use of them…as fodder for Genesis.
"Their souls, Ikari?" Fuyutsuki spoke. Again, it wasn't a question.
Their souls, Gendo confirmed, smiling knowingly. Angelic DNA…we can experiment with it, we can shape it any number of ways, but our attempts at cloning it result in lifeless shells…unless we make a sacrifice to breathe life into them.
"True. The children of Adam and Lilith…they are so very different, Ikari," Fuyutsuki nodded. "And I trust that's why you are luring them to Ibuki's location?"
Of course. I can't have Section 2's slaughter go without someone to place the blame upon. And in the event that Ibuki does survive this…it will make her so much more malleable in the future, Gendo nodded, schemes and manipulations taking shape in his mind. Which reminds me…since Dr. Akagi is so preoccupied with trying to track down Ibuki and the others, I should take full advantage of her…distraction.
As Gendo began to work at his station, initiating a wireless connection to the laptop Ritsuko carried, Fuyutsuki raised an eyebrow. "I hope you have something planned for when Katsuragi discovers what you've…set up for her," the old professor admonished him. "Knowing her as we do, she'll be liable to bring the entire Geofront crashing down upon our ears if we don't find some way of getting her out into the city."
I've already considered that, sensei, Gendo nodded as he began typing furiously. But I've made arrangements to –
Another blast of pain shrieked through Gendo's mind, twice as bad as the one that preceded it. It was all the Commander of NERV could do not to fall out of his seat as he cried out in sheer agony, his left hand again wrapping about the wound left by Rhino's horn. "Sir?!" the girl cried out, showing more alarm in her voice in that moment than she had since the day of her Genesis. "Sir, what is wrong?!"
Gendo couldn't answer. He was too busy clamping down, fighting back to regain control of his body, to be the master of himself, not this accursed pain. As he held up his right forearm before himself, wondering what in blazes could be happening, the Fuyutsuki that lived in his mind circled his desk and studied his agonized face. "Hurts, doesn't it, Ikari?" When Gendo looked back at him, gasping as sweat rolled down his face in sheets, the old professor smiled knowingly. "Yes, well…being born usually does…"
The creature that had once been Maya Ibuki couldn't remember being so perfectly content and at ease since her conscious mind had been shoved aside by a wave of Angelic instinct and primitive need. She was indulging in the one thing she truly needed right now, the only thing that eased the gnawing hunger that burned through her veins.
She was feeding.
Her mind and memory was fragmented at best, as it had been since her metamorphosis, but she remembered a creature, a woman. A magnificent woman with green skin and a powerful body. So rich and powerful, overflowing with the energy that was life to her. Every time she had been able to feed upon her had been nothing short of pure ecstasy, her power far sweeter and more invigorating than anything else the creature had sensed before. But the woman was not easy to feed upon, had fought back, trying to deny the creature the life she craved. In a way, on a very primitive level, the creature understood this; the woman wanted to live, just as the creature did. It was undoubtedly fighting back in order to keep the stuff of life that flowed through her veins.
But the creature's hunger would not be ignored or denied. It had shrieked at her, demanding her to fight to survive, to do whatever it took to feed. But ultimately, the woman had defeated her, trapping her. Capturing her.
While the creature had struggled to free herself, the woman carrying her along, bound and helpless, unable to feed, she had sensed something else. Another source of energy, similar to the woman, something else she could feed upon. Something possibly easier to drain than the woman that had fought back. But she had been unable to escape and seek out this sweet nectar until little men in black had appeared. The creature wasn't certain what had happened, as she had been facing in the wrong direction, nor did she care. All that mattered in her simple mind was that she had been given a chance to escape, to satisfy her hunger. So she had ran, escaping the magnificent woman. And then…
And then…she wasn't certain what had happened next. The creature had suddenly found herself wrapped in darkness, had sensed that she was being moved elsewhere, and that was it. She could sense nothing else, not the woman, nor the other source of life that had driven her to run. All she could sense was her growing hunger.
Eventually, the darkness had been lifted from her, revealing the creature was…somewhere other than where she had been. She couldn't tell where, nor did she care. All she knew was that, when she was released from the shroud of blackness, she was surrounded by the men in black, who were lying in pools of red. It was a sight that had been frightening for her, though she wasn't certain why. But that fear had been quickly swept away when she saw five women in strange garbs and green cloaks hovering a short distance above her. Women that were smaller than herself, but each emitted a portion of the energy that she had sensed before.
Hunger for their energy warring with a caution borne from facing the powerful woman, wary of what would happen if she attempted to satisfy her hunger, the creature had watched in confused awe as four of them had descended before her. They had worked to release her cable from about her forearms, allowing her to once again use her right hand. Then, to her astonishment, they had discarded some of their strange garbs, exposing their bare skin. Almost as if they had been presenting themselves to her.
As if giving her permission to feed.
The creature had not been able to resist. The energy in these cloaked women wasn't as potent or delightful as was in the woman she had been feeding upon before, but there were four of them before her. Even though the fifth was keeping her distance, did not shed her garments as had her fellows, what was being offered was tantamount to a banquet feast. And so she had grabbed one of the cloaked women with her right hand, and begun to feed.
The first cloaked woman had offered no resistance, did nothing to discourage the creature as her red skin faded before a fresh wave of green, her muscles again swelling with power, her bones crunching and rebuilding themselves for greater size and strength. As she moaned time and again in delirious ecstasy as her power grew, as the gnawing hunger slowly faded.
Eventually, the first cloaked woman collapsed, her strength mostly drained, but alive. The creature ceased feeding upon her, not wanting to kill to live. She wasn't sure why, but she couldn't bring herself to rob the first woman of the precious energy she needed to survive. Especially when there were three more presenting themselves to her. And so she had started feeding on each of them in turn.
Finally, as the creature was feeding upon the fourth, she sensed something shifting in her. The relentless, gnawing hunger that had plagued since she had stopped being Maya Ibuki was fading away, more completely than ever. It no longer ate at every bone, every muscle, every nerve she possessed. It was subsiding, disappearing as new power began to radiate from within her, spreading deliriously throughout her being.
With a cry of consummate delight, the creature released the fourth of the cloaked women, who was now only barely able to remain on her feet, unlike the three the creature had fed upon beforehand. She felt vibrant and alive as she heaved deep, cleansing breaths, her breasts rising and falling as she bathed in new strength, as sheer power flowed through her.
As the creature stepped away from those she had fed upon, she noticed the fifth cloaked woman moving about, tending to her fellows. The first ones she went towards were those that could barely move, and one by one, she carried them out of the room they were in. The creature had no idea why she was doing so, but she didn't care any longer. She was full, she was whole, she was alive and had fed upon what she had needed to survive. She didn't want to hurt these cloaked women, not after they had allowed her to feed upon them, and so she let the fifth one go about her business, removing all four of her fellows from the room.
After this was done, the fifth cloaked woman returned, carrying something else. A figure as small as her, a figure that seemed oddly familiar. The figure was prone, completely still as the cloaked figure placed him on the ground nearby, resting him in one of the pools of red that were spread across the floor. The creature watched as the cloaked woman gathered some of the crimson liquid up in her fingers and began smearing it across the prone figure's face.
The creature simply stood there, watching with a spark of Maya's curiosity and concern. The notion that she should go someplace else never once occurred to her, simply because her needs were met, and there was no apparent danger. This place wasn't really pleasant, but she had no idea where to find someplace better. So she stood there, watching and waiting. Until…
She sensed it. The power radiated by the woman of power she had first fed upon. The woman that had resisted the feeding with such vigor. The creature could sense her approaching.
The creature frowned somewhat, uncertain what to do. Her first impulse was to leave before the woman arrived. She no longer had reason to fight her, now that her hunger had been satiated, and she really didn't want a battle to begin with.
But on the other hand, the green woman had pursued her, attacked her. Captured her. Even now, she was following her. She was potential threat to her when all the creature wanted was to survive.
And there was something else, something that made the creature grin in anticipation. For she could still feel the sheer nirvana she had experienced, feeding up that woman's power. A power that was far beyond that of the cloaked women that had freely given themselves to her. And she felt so much stronger now, far stronger than she had ever felt before.
If drinking so deeply of the cloaked women had filled her with such strength and vitality, such pure, absolute power…than the creature couldn't help but salivate at the thought of what she could gain by drinking deep of this woman as well. Gaining even greater power, and stopping a potential threat that had hurt her before, and was clearly intent on hurting her again.
And so, the creature stood in waiting, holding up her metal hand, opening and closing it slowly. Eagerly awaiting the chance to feed once more…
I don't like this, Misato growled as she trudged through the labyrinthine maze beneath the floor of the Geofront. Navigating the poorly lit maintenance tunnels with the aid of a sense she didn't really understand, playing a game whose rules seemed to being made up as they went along, and whose players weren't entirely accounted for.
There's another Angel down here. Or at least someone else infected by this one, Misato continued, absolutely convinced of this. She had sensed another source of Angelic power, at the same time Maya had increased her efforts to escape. And she was too far away from the infection that had run through the rest of the base for it to interfere with her bizarre senses. That can't be a coincidence. And neither can the fact that they both just disappeared without a trace!
And now, Misato was again sensing the horrific power of Adam's children in her mind. Just the one she would have expected to sense. Maya's power. And as near as she could tell, it was unmoving. Like Maya was standing still, waiting for her.
And if Maya has the same senses that I do, then she has to know that I'm coming, Misato rumbled inwardly, glancing down at her formidable form. Which can only mean two things; either someone or something has captured her and is using her to lure me in, or she's waiting for me. Growling deep in her throat, a sound that was more like thunder, she concluded, Either way, it all adds up to one thing; it's a trap.
As this possibility burned in the pit of Misato's stomach, her other self continued to struggle and strain to get back control of their body, She-Hulk's unrestrained hatred and hunger for the destruction of the power they were pursuing a hideous, unrelenting thing.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised by that, though, Misato thought as she continually fought down her other self's impulses. My military training, my joining NERV…everything I've done for the past twelve years has been about getting revenge on the Angels. Frowning unhappily at this thought, she once again flashed back to the horrors that had left her in a waking coma for three years. Is that why She-Hulk is so strong, so hard to resist? Have I been feeding her all this time, and…?
Pausing in mid-step, Misato frowned and shook her head. No. I need to stay focused, she told herself. I can wax philosophical about how badly screwed up I am after I save Maya, take care of this Angel, and get back and kick the asses of those Section 2 looters that were cleaning out my home away from home!
Smash puny men in black! the She-Hulk part of her snarled eagerly.
Yeah, that's definitely on my 'to-do' list, Misato confirmed, not willing to get in a debate with her other self that could give her more fuel for her anger. That…and finding something I can wear that won't get obliterated when I go green…
Pausing just long enough to wish that she could get into one of these situations without winding up in the buff for everyone to see, Misato pressed onward, all business as she closed the distance between herself and Maya. I hope it's just me, but her…whatever it is she's radiating…it feels stronger now, she mused, not liking that in the least. She must've been feeding on something…other than me. Maybe whatever it was that I sensed before.
Recognizing that she was walking into a fight, Misato geared herself for it as best as she could. I can't lose control…not even for a second. I give Greenie a chance, she'll screw up everything and maybe kill Maya while she's at it, she thought distastefully. I can handle this. I can take Maya down without hurting her, and then Ritsuko can cure Maya. A happy ending…for a change.
Wishing not for the first time that happy endings in Tokyo-3 weren't as rare as miracles, Misato continued to close in on her target. Certain that she was as ready as she could be for what was about to happen as she turned a corner into another section of the tunnels.
Only to stop dead in her tracks at what she saw.
In the center of the room was Maya, standing completely bare and holding up her gauntleted right arm and hand. This Misato had expected, but what took her by surprise was the change in her friend. She was once again a deep green, and had grown considerably larger. She was about the same height as She-Hulk, and nearly as heavily muscled. But what really shocked her was the broad, eager grin on her face as she stared at Misato, the way the Major would eye a keg of Yebisu.
Yeah, she's been snacking again! Misato thought as she tensed herself for battle. But on…what…? A strong, metallic scent reached her sensitive nose. A scent that she recognized, and that prompted her to look about the room they were in. At which point her heart plummeted into the depths.
The small room they were in was filled with death. The shattered corpses of several Section 2 men lay strewn all over the place, their blood spilling across the floor. Oh…oh, no…! Misato moaned, even her She-Hulk self taken aback by the carnage that they saw. By the realization that they were literally standing in the blood of the dead. Oh, God…Maya, what have you...what has the Angel done to – Shinji?!
It happened so quickly that it took Misato a second to realize what she was seeing. At first, she thought it was just another savaged body, but then she took note of the clothing that body wore; a short-sleeved shirt and pants. Then she noticed that this corpse was much smaller than the others there, and that his hair and face were…
"Shinji?!" Misato and She-Hulk gasped out as one. There simply was no other way to explain it, the shared moment of mutual grief and horror and loss they felt as they looked into his face, forever frozen in horror and fear. His body shattered and broken, his blood spilling out across the floor to mingle with the others that had been killed.
Killed by the Angel.
Killed by Maya.
"Help!" Maya grinned eagerly, drawing their shared eyes back to her. Her face eager and happy, not all concerned with all the death that surrounded her. "Feed!"
At this last word, Misato looked from Maya to Shinji's lifeless body and back again. Just before her world exploded with green…
"Shinji!" came an urgent voice. One that pierced the darkness that Shinji was veiled in. "Shinji, wake up!"
"Huh?" Shinji replied groggily, his mind filled with fog as he slowly climbed his way back to the waking world. As the voice repeated its cry, he frowned, just cognizant enough to realize that the voice was somehow familiar. And that, given the urgency with which the voice was calling his name, as well as the fact that he felt like someone was shaking him by the shoulder, prompted him to decide that opening his eyes might be a good idea. And so he did, only to blink rapidly at the fog of light he found himself in. "Wha…who…?"
"Shinji!" came that same voice, followed by a sigh of relief and a wearied chuckle. "You had me scared for there for a second!" A beat passed as the 3rd Child massaged his eyes, trying to get them to function as they should. "A-are you alright?!"
"Uh…y-yeah, I…I think so," Shinji reported, once again opening his eyes. Only to get a surprise when he did. "Uh – Akagi-san?" When Ritsuko gave him a relieved smile, he looked blankly about his surroundings, getting more baffled by the second. "Wha…how'd I get in this elevator…?"
"I was hoping you could tell me that!" Ritsuko admitted as Shinji struggled back to his feet. "I've been all over the place, trying to track down Maya and Misato, but with the security system still down, we have no idea where they are! I decided to take a chance, head down to the lower levels and hope I got lucky, but when I called the elevator…well, there you were!" As the 3rd Child issued a wearied groan, the faux-blonde again placed her hand on his shoulder. "Listen, do you have any idea where Misato or Maya are?! I finished the program to make the Angel work as one with Maya's body, but it's useless unless I can get it to her!"
Sighing heavily at this, Shinji replied, "The last thing I – that I really remember was falling into that hole with Misato and Maya." Pausing to dredge at his memories, he shook his head helplessly and shrugged. "I – I think I woke up a few times, but I – I didn't see Misato, or -"
Shinji was cut off by a huge, horrifying roar, a roar that shook all of NERV Headquarters, echoing through the hallways and causing the boy's blood to quake. It was an awesome, terrible roar, as if all the pain and misery and hatred and fury that all of humanity was capable of feeling were caught up in it. A manifestation of pure sorrow, misery, and rage that seemed to expand several seconds into an eternity.
When that awesome, petrifying roar ran its course, leaving silence in its wake, Ritsuko looked nervously about. "Well," she warily gulped, "I think we know where Misato is, don-?"
A massive shockwave shot up from the depths of the earth, very nearly sending both Shinji and Ritsuko tumbling to the floor. "Dammit!" the doctor cried out when she recovered. "Bridge, somebody talk to me! What just happened?!"
"What happened is that something just shot up to the roof of the Geofront, Doctor!" came Fuyutsuki's voice over the PA system. "We're not sure where it came from!"
"To the roof of the Geofront?!" Ritsuko repeated perplexedly.
"Make that through the roof, Doc!" came Makoto's voice, overflowing with alarm. "I'm getting readings from the Geofront's sensory net, and – oh, my god…!" His stomach falling at the consummate fear and awe that filled the Lieutenant's low, horrified voice, Shinji felt his eyes practically explode from his sockets when the bespectacled otaku concluded, "It just punched through fifteen of the defensive layers of armor!"
Now it was Shinji that was overcome with awe and dread, and he could tell that Ritsuko felt the same way. The Geofront was protected from Angelic attack by twenty-two layers of protective armor plating sandwiched between multiple layers of earth. When the 5th Angel had tried to breach those layers of defense, it had taken almost ten hours to do so. And now something had smashed through fifteen of them in the span of seconds.
"What was it?!" Ritsuko demanded, not quite concealing the panic she was experiencing. "Was it Misato?!"
A beat passed before Fuyutsuki announced, "I'm…afraid not, Doctor…"
Agent Tenkawa of Section 2 had seen his share of action since coming to Tokyo-3. He had witnessed the awesome power of both the Angels and the Evas alike, had been caught up in that horrific nightmare that was still known as the Day of Destruction, and had experienced bizarre situations that would make even the most hardened of tough guys make lemonade in their pants. It had gotten to the point where he had honestly believed that nothing could give him pause.
As he tried to keep his bowels from destroying his dignity, Agent Tenkawa was forced to admit just how wrong he had been.
The awful, mindless, savage roar he and the others had heard moments ago had been terrifying enough, the kind of thing to make anybody break out in gooseflesh. Made even more horrific when, without warning, the ground trembled and shook, followed an instant later by a large portion of it exploding like a bullet had just shot up from it. A very large bullet that hit with the force of a dynamo, followed by a series of crashing sounds that made thunder look tame and harmless by comparison. Hurriedly distancing themselves from the site of the huge mound that had resulted of the explosion, Tenkawa and his fellow Section 2 agents found themselves looking up at roof of the Geofront, and were rendered slack jawed by the sight of the new hole that had just been drilled into it.
"This…is bad…" Tenkawa heard himself mutter numbly, knowing all the while that those three words couldn't even begin to capture what was about to happen. He had no idea what was going on, but he had seen enough while in Tokyo-3 to know an utter and complete disaster was in the offing when he saw it.
As if in confirmation of his words, a second, even more pain and hate-filled roar thundered from the bowels of the Earth, chilling them all to the depths of their soul. Alerting them to the arrival of something horrendous even as the ground shook once more, and something else launched itself from the hole the first projectile had appeared from, shattering more metal and earth in its passing, trailing a burning green corona. It flew high up, not as high as the previous object, but impressively high before gravity reclaimed its hold on it and caused it to come crashing back to the floor of the Geofront. An impact that cracked the ground, sending shockwaves that sent Tenkawa and his people staggering.
"Wha-?!" one of the Section 2 people spat out, his voice mangled by shock and horror. "Wh-what the hell?!"
As far as Tenkawa was concerned, the speaker was correct in this statement. Except he knew this monster, had seen it before. And as much as it looked like something that had been spat up by the depths of hell itself, he knew it was something else. Something even more terrifying in his mind. A figure that he knew very well, but was completely different at the same time.
His training not entirely abandoning him, Tenkawa grabbed for his radio. "This is Agent Tenkawa to the bridge!" he cried out, barely keeping himself together. "I don't know where you sent the Evas, but you better get them and their pilots back down here! As in right freakin' now!"
"What's the situation, Tenkawa?!" came the voice of Fuyutsuki. "What's happening?! What do you see?!"
Watching as the creature that looked like nothing less than embodiment of pure destruction roared in pain and hatred, Tenkawa gulped loudly as another figure tumbled down from the Geofront, falling out of the hall it had just drill in it. "What do I see, sir?!" he got out as the plummeting figure hit ground, with the green monster marching towards it, sending shockwaves rushing through the earth with each step. "Pain, horror, and the end of the world! All wrapped up in one big, mean, green package!"
"You're telling me Misato punched Maya through fifteen layers of defensive armor?!" Ritsuko cried out in horrified disbelief as she and Shinji ran down the halls of NERV.
"I'm afraid so!" Chihiro announced fearfully. "She's out there right now, and – Doctor, her gamma signature is through the roof! Power levels are completely off the charts here!"
"What about Maya?!" Ritsuko demanded as the two of them continued to run towards the exit. Heading for what could be the end of the world as they knew it, barely keeping their footing as the ground shook and trembled. "Is she still alive?!"
"I think so! Sensors are still a mess, but it looks like she's moving after falling out of that hole!" Shigeru announced. "But if she lets the Major get her hands on her, then I don't think she'll be alive much longer!"
This statement caught Shinji by surprise. "Huh?! You mean – they're not fighting right now?!" he demanded perplexedly as another shockwave ran through the ground. "So – what's that shaking?!"
"Those are the Major's footsteps, Shinji!" Makoto announced in a trembling voice. "She's causing an earthquake just by walking!"
Shinji very nearly fell flat on his face at these words, while his jaw felt like it did. Staggered with the shock of this declaration, he slowed down enough to look at Ritsuko, only to find that she was no longer beside him. "What?!" came the doctor's horrified voice from behind, prompting Shinji to pause and look back to see her looking up at a nearby PA speaker. "Do you have any idea how much kinetic energy she must be generating to cause this kind of impact from just walking?!"
"Unfortunately…yes!" Chihiro reported with a sense of gallows humor.
"Dr. Akagi, it's too dangerous for you to proceed," Fuyutsuki's voice sounded through the hallway, still dignified despite everything. "The Major's She-Hulk aspect is clearly in control, and her gamma output is increasing steadily. If you get too close -!"
"I can't just abandon Maya, sir!" Ritsuko immediately protested. "The program is ready! I can save her if -!"
"If you try to get between two destructive titans who are acting like a berserk Evangelion," Fuyutsuki broke in, employing the stern voice of the Sub Commander of NERV. "I'm sorry, Doctor, but it's too dangerous now. I'm afraid Ibuki's fate is out of our hands."
These words sank into the pit of Shinji's stomach, where they promptly began to fester and burn, with Ritsuko's expression of sheer despair serving to do little more than throw even more fuel on the fire. "But…no!" the doctor moaned despondently. "I…I just can't – Shinji?!"
That moan of sheer despair was as of that infamous last straw to the mounting pile of guilt and shame that Shinji felt, the last thing needed to make him turn once more in the direction of the main entrance to the NERV pyramid. To run flat-out towards the section of the Geofront that was once again a battlefield. This is all my fault! the 3rd Child thought miserably, ignoring the crashing din that was Misato's – She-Hulk's footsteps. I failed her! Misato needed me to stay in control! She was counting on me, and I let her down! Wincing as he thought back to that moment when there had still been a chance of him putting an end to the conflict, of stopping She-Hulk and saving Maya's life.
And now both women caught up in this nightmarish tragedy had returned to the original stage of this conflict. With only Shinji still missing from it.
I mustn't run away, I mustn't run away, I mustn't run away! Shinji told himself time and again as he reached the exit and exploded from the pyramid doors. I won't run away! Never again!
As Agent Tenkawa stood by, slowly backing away from what was sure to be a battle unlike anything seen before, he couldn't help but feel as if he was watching two slabs of uranium about to be slammed together.
The Section 2 man had seen Misato Katsuragi every now and again, either on the base or around town, and he had seen her brutish other self, She-Hulk, during the climax of her battle against Section 2. Tenkawa had been suitably impressed by the emerald Amazon and her overwhelming power, both then and earlier that night when she had battled the mutated Captain Ibuki.
However, the She-Hulk he was looking at now compared to the one he had seen not that long ago the way that She-Hulk compared to Misato Katsuragi. She was at least three feet taller than she had been before, veins bulging from the rippling titanium cables that were visible beneath virtually every inch of her skin, save for the cannons gracing her chest. Her eyes shown like jade flares as emerald energy spilled out from her body, shattering whatever she touched as she stomped forward, every breath she took causing the grass to blow backwards and tree branches to bend and even break. A dynamo of pure, unstoppable destruction unleashed upon the world, and she was marching towards the creature that had once been Maya Ibuki.
Clearly aware of her peril, Maya scrabbled to her feet, but she was moving with difficulty. Her bare body was in full view, giving Tenkawa a perfect view of the many scrapes and lacerations marring her emerald skin, green blood spilling out all over the place. Limbs that were bending in ways that betrayed numerous broken bones, and her metallic forearm a twisted and mangled wreck. And even though these injuries were healing before his eyes, the desperation with which Maya forced her battered body to move betrayed her terror. Terror that was reflected in her expression as she looked up to see She-Hulk, and although he couldn't hear Maya over the constant rumblings of She-Hulk's footsteps, Tenkawa had no doubt that her voice was raised in sheer terror.
I know mine would be! Tenkawa thought as he and the rest of the Section 2 people slowly distanced themselves away as She-Hulk closed in on her opponent, her every movement overflowing with unbridled rage, plumes of emerald fury spilling forth from her eyes and even some from between her clenched teeth. Finally regaining her feet, Maya stumbled backwards from her adversary, her mouth opening and closing like a fish gasping for air. Holding out her hands in a universal gesture of pleading, as if begging for mercy, the mutant woman was denied this when the jade berserker reached out and grabbed her by her left wrist. Even at a distance, Tenkawa could hear the bones in her forearm being crushed by She-Hulk's implacable grip.
As Maya shrieked in pain, she thrashed about in She-Hulk's grip, wrapped her metallic right hand about the emerald berserker's wrist. As before, glowing green circuits appeared on her gauntlet, signifying that she was draining energy from her attacker. This last for roughly a second before She-Hulk grabbed Maya's right hand, and with no apparent effort, wrenched it off of her wrist. Crushing this hand as she had Maya's left wrist and forearm, the monstrous Amazon forcibly spread out her enemy's arms, leaving her suspended like laundry from a clothesline.
And then she roared.
The Impact Roar that tore free of She-Hulk's throat was as great and terrible as the green beast-woman herself had become, forcing Tenkawa and the Section 2 personnel to clasp their hands over their ears in a desperate attempt to muffle the pain. Helpless witnesses as Maya was trapped at the center of the devastating emerald shockwave, tears of blood running down her face as she shrieked her pain, shrieks that were drowned out by the Impact Roar carving a swath through the floor of the Geofront, causing trees, bushes, and foliage to burn away, melt and explode all at the same time.
As the Impact Roar ran its course, eventually fading after an unknowable amount of time, leaving Maya to hang limp in She-Hulk's arms, the jade destroyer snarled and pulled hard on her in opposite directions, as if trying to snap her like a wishbone. As her helpless victim again cried out in agony, her body being strained to the limit, Tenkawa cringed in anticipation, knowing it was only a matter of time before something gave.
As it happened, it was Maya's gauntlet that gave. Everything from the center of her right forearm to her metal hand ripped away from the rest of it, revealing her naked forearm beneath, entangled in a horde of cables and wiring that stretched out to an obscene length. As the new slack caused its wearer fell to the ground like a broken marionette, again wailing in torment, She-Hulk looked down at her, snarling in loathing before changing tactics. Releasing Maya's left forearm, she then grabbed the gauntlet just below the break. Stretching out the mass of cables, something the elicited even more cries of suffering from her victim, she then wrapped the cables about Maya's neck and pulled it taut.
Every member of Section 2 stood by as the cables compressed about Maya's throat, squeezing so tight that it seemed impossible that her spine could survive the pressure. As it was, the mutant woman flailed about helplessly, instinctually trying to run, to pull free. When all this won her was dragging She-Hulk a few scant feet, the emerald nightmare digging in her heels and pulling even harder, Maya reached back with her already-healed left hand and what was exposed of her right, flailing about to try and grab hold of something, anything. She-Hulk snarled viciously and delivered a punishing kick to Maya's spine, sending her whipping upwards in a half-circle, her eyes bulging from her sockets.
When she fell back to the ground, Maya grabbed hold of the cable with her left hand, scrabbling back to her feet. Frantically doing everything she could to escape, only for She-Hulk to jump up a short distance, raising a leg up so she could bring it crushing down upon her spine, driving her down into the earth as she continued to pull hard on the cable. No mercy in her features as her victim's struggles became weaker, her face turning a deep, ugly blue as she slowly ran out of air. She-Hulk issuing a roar of hatred, of misery, of –
When Shinji had run off towards the place that was once again Misato's and Maya's battlefield, Ritsuko had done the only she could think of doing. She had set out after him, running as fast as she could. Her brain on overload as she tried to cope with everything that was happening.
Nothing about their current situation made any sense. Shinji's surviving a fall that would have splattered any normal human being, his sudden appearance in the elevator, and She-Hulk's current power levels. All of which Ritsuko lacked the information she needed to explain away. And at the moment, she was too overwhelmed and too frantic to think about any of these things.
All she could focus on was Maya. On the friend that was presently trapped in a nightmare. At that moment, Ritsuko didn't care about her wellbeing, or the fact that their best pilot was currently charging into a battlefield unprotected, or any of the thousands of things that could and most likely would go wrong in what they were doing. All she knew was that, for the first time in a seeming eternity, she had the ability to do something to help someone she cared for, and after everything she had been through, the quagmire of deceits and evils and secrets that was her life at NERV, the logical part of her that was a scientist was taking a backseat to the part of her that acted on feelings such as caring and friendship.
Whatever's going on, we'll deal with it! Ritsuko told herself as she followed Shinji outside of NERV Headquarters, drawn by the screams and roars of a battle for survival. We've pulled off the impossible in this damned war more times than I can count now! I do the impossible every day, dealing with the Evas and the MAGI and everything else! I don't care what I have to do, I'm keeping my promise, Maya! I will help you any way I can! I'm going to -!
Ritsuko cut herself off when she saw Shinji staggering to a halt. The quiet boy very nearly fell over before he came to a full stop, hunched over with his jaw hanging open in utter and complete shock. "No…!" he moaned, his voice too low with awe and horror to truly convey the emotions that were carved into his expression.
And when Ritsuko snapped out of her inner musings, and followed Shinji's gaze past the Section 2 people and the other obstructions between them and the battle, she understood why. Her own look of horror matching Shinji's own at the sight of Misato, far larger and more destructive than she had been before. Lost in a berserker rage that would make Unit 01 at its worse look positively tame by comparison as she ripped apart the generator about Maya's right arm.
"No! The generator!" Ritsuko cried out, her heart plunging into the depths of her stomach. "That's our only chance of loading the program!"
Sucking in a tiny gasp at this, Shinji managed to tear his eyes away from the horror before them for the briefest of moments before again focusing on She-Hulk as she looped the cable from the generator about Maya's neck. "No…Misato, please…!" he pleaded in a tiny, desperate, fearful voice. "Stop…you have to…!"
The emerald savage Misato was trapped inside of didn't hear Shinji's pleas. She continued to strangle the life out of Maya, fighting her down and beating at her. Snarls of rage and grief escaping her lips as she turned all her monstrous strength towards the task of killing her friend.
"Don't do this…!" Shinji moaned, tears of fear and shame and misery. "Please…stop, you have to…!"
She-Hulk drove her foot down upon her victim's back, setting off another earthquake in the process. Maya tugging fruitlessly at the taut cable, gasping for air as her skin flushed from the lack of oxygen.
"Stop it, please! You have to stop!" Shinji got out, shaking his head in denial. "Misato, please listen!" Tears building up in size and frequency, the boy almost choked on his own sorrow. "Don't do this! Misato! STOOOOPPPP!"
This last word, carrying with it such pain and desperation that it sounded as if it had been torn from the very depths of Shinji's soul, cut through She-Hulk's roars and Maya's struggling, freezing the emerald titan in place. The jade destroyer fell silent as the cables she had been using as a garrote slipped from her hand, just before she slowly turned to look behind her. An expression of astonished disbelief on her face as her eyes fell upon Shinji, disbelief that was immediately magnified tenfold. "Please…don't do this, Misato!" Shinji pleaded of his transformed guardian. "I – I don't know what happened down there, but – please, you have to stop this!"
Seconds passed as the dumbstruck gamma mutant studied the boy before her, various emotions flowing mercurially behind her eyes "Shin…Shin…ji…?" She-Hulk gasped out, her words thick and confused. Her body jerking and twitching with unspent violence as she stepped away from Maya. While the life-stealer weakly pulled away the cables tangled about her neck, heaving breath after desperate breath, the monstrous woman held up her hands, her mouth opening and closing over and over before she gasped, "Shinji-kun…?"
Nodding hurriedly, Shinji slowly stepped closer, clearly striving to avoid doing anything to provoke her. "I-it's me, Misato! Please…don't hurt Maya anymore!" he entreated her. "I…I know you must be confused, but Maya isn't the enemy! We can -!"
"Shinji-kun…alive?" She-Hulk gasped out, her hands rising up before her face, not quite obscuring the way the rage fled her features, to be replaced by overwhelming joy and relief. Tears welling up in her eyes to come streaming down her face even as the corona of emerald destruction about her faded. As Ritsuko looked on in astonished silence, the jade berserker began to revert to her prior state. With each step she took, she became a bit less massive and muscular, the rage that had driven her to such heights fading like a morning fog. By the time She-Hulk came to stand before Shinji, she had returned to her baseline size of eight-feet-tall, at which she fell to her knees. "A-Angel…no kill…Shinji…?"
"No, no! Maya never hurt me, Misato!" Shinji quickly assured the jade giantess as she tenderly cupped his check with her monstrous hand. "I'm alright, don't you see? You don't have to hurt anyone, you don't -!"
"Shinji!" She-Hulk cried out, her bestial voice overflowing with relieved delight as she scooped the boy up in her arms and clutched him to her chest. "Alive…!" she murmured, openly sobbing in relief and joy as she nuzzled his cheek with her own. "Shinji-kun…alive…!"
As She-Hulk continued to hug and cuddle Shinji, weeping uncontrollably, Ritsuko let out a low sigh. Well, that explains one thing, she decided, already taking advantage of the situation to move past the sobbing mutant and her charge. She-Hulk must've thought Maya had killed Shinji while they were down there. That's why she went berserk like that. Pressing her lips together, the doctor continued forward, studying the prone figure that lay coughing and struggling on the ground just ahead. At least Shinji was able to calm her down. That's one impossible thing done today. Now all I have to do is pull off another.
With this thought in mind, Ritsuko approached the battered figure before her, groaning fitfully as she propped herself off by her organic hand and knees. Her immediate focus on the generator the nanites had warped into the gauntlet about her arm, a piece of machinery that was already reforming and rebuilding itself. I just hope they left enough of the generator's original design intact for this to work! Or else -!
As Ritsuko drew closer, Maya took notice of her footsteps and looked up in her direction. And responded to it by getting to her feet, or at least trying to. The transformed woman gasped and cried out in fear, too afraid and confused to coordinate her body effectively, a situation made worse by whatever injuries she had suffered that remained unhealed. Wishing she had a better idea of what was going on inside of her cellular structure, the doctor held up her free hand in a disarming manner. "Maya, no! Please, don't run!" Ritsuko pleaded her, speaking in as soothing a manner as she knew how. Which she realizing wasn't very soothing, given her lack of people skills. "It's me, Dr. Akagi? Ritsuko, remember?"
Maya didn't say anything to this. Ritsuko wasn't certain if she was even capable of speech in her state. But she was still gathering herself up, as if preparing to flee at the slightest sign of a threat, even as her gaze drifted away from the doctor's eyes. Frowning somewhat, Ritsuko followed her friend's gaze before comprehension caused her to look back. "No, no, you don't have to worry about Misato anymore!" the doctor hurriedly assured her transformed friend, even as she did a quick double-check. Once assured that She-Hulk was too busy celebrating Shinji being alive by wrapping herself around him and pressing him as tightly against her as she could without hurting him, Ritusko considered what to say next. She could try to explain why Misato had attacked her, but she wasn't sure how much of Maya's keen mind remained intact at this point. She decided it would be better to keep things as simple as possible, and explained, "Listen…I'm here to help you. I know you're afraid and probably pretty confused, but I can make it better."
Maya didn't ease down from her current position, but she didn't move, either. Taking that as a good sign, Ritsuko carefully knelt down before her former understudy. "Do you remember how we were working to make it so that the Angel would work as one with the MAGI? To make it so it wouldn't hurt anybody?" the doctor told her slowly, hoping that there was enough of Maya awake in this new mutant's mind to be able to comprehend her. "Well, I finished the program. I can make it so that the Angel works as one with you. And when that happens, no one will want to hurt you anymore." A beat passed, then Ritsuko cocked her head to the side, and asked, "Do you understand?"
At first, Maya didn't respond. But as Ritsuko continued to kneel there, looking into the transformed face of her friend, her eyes widened ever so slightly, a hint of the woman she had been. "Not…hurt…?"
"That's right. They won't hurt you anymore," Ritsuko assured her, hoping that she was indeed speaking the truth. "But I need you to stay very still for me, alright?"
Maya didn't say anything to this, made no gesture that would imply she was giving permission, but she didn't move, either. Deciding that this would be about as good as she could get, Ritsuko heaved a deep sigh. Making doubly certain not to make any sudden moves, the doctor inched forward, always making certain to never look away from her friend's eyes. Inch after inch she moved, closing in on the generator, knowing that all it would take was one slip on her part or She-Hulk renewing her interest in smashing Maya into oblivion to ruin everything.
Neither happened, but Ritsuko refused to tempt fate until the job was done. As soon as she reached the generator, the faux-blonde set down the laptop, and pulled out the network cable. Just hold still a little longer, Maya! Ritsuko thought as she examined the generator, the final bits of damage being mended. And keep your fingers crossed…!
To Ritsuko's amazement, luck was still with them that day. There was indeed a USB port on the surface, just below where Maya's arm fit into the transformed generator. Exactly what we need…assuming it still works! The doctor thought as she hesitantly moved to insert the cable. Let's hope the Angel didn't see any evolutionary need in wrecking it!
With her goal in sight, Ritsuko watched her friend's face carefully even as she inserted the cable. Fortunately, while Maya was clearly wary, watching every move the doctor made, she didn't bolt, she didn't retreat, she didn't make move to thwart the doctor's efforts. She just sat there calmly as Ritsuko connected the laptop to the generator, and then pressed the enter key. Sending hundreds of lines of code scrolling across the laptop's screen before spreading to the generator, and hopefully the nanites within.
Ritsuko wasn't certain what exactly would happen when the complete program she had made amalgamated with the incomplete one contained with the potentially countless nanites melded with Maya's physiology. Leaving her unable to do anything but watch and wait as Maya studied the download, her eyes suddenly fluttering. Which was all the warning the doctor had before her transformed friend fell on her side, dragged down by the weight of the generator. "Maya?!" Ritsuko, glancing at the cable to make certain it hadn't been pulled out before checking on her friend. Watching as the program did its work.
Before the doctor's eyes, Maya's flesh began to pale, shifting from a deep green to a lighter green to a sickly yellow. Her muscle mass diminished while her skeleton restructured itself. It was a quick, smooth process, and in the span of half a minute, Ritsuko once again found herself gazing at her friend's human face, with only the fact that she was nude save for the transformed generator ruining the image.
"Maya?" Ritsuko began gently, looking into Maya's eyes as she looked back. The physical form was correct, but what about her mind? What damage had the Angel done to her friend that might not heal? "Can you…are you…?"
As Ritsuko fumbled, unsure how to phrase her question, unable to give voice to the terrifying possibilities that her imagination was conjuring up. Only to very nearly collapse when Maya smiled a tiny, weak smile. "Hello…" she began, sniffing lightly, "…sempai…"
Allowing herself the luxury of a deep sigh of relief, Ritsuko shoved aside the knowledge that this victory was only the beginning. That there was a great deal of cleanup needed to be done, and a great many questions that remained unanswered. But as she looked from Maya to Shinji, who was being loved and cuddled by a bare-naked, human Misato, and back again, she smiled. It might not mean anything in the long run, she found herself thinking, her knowledge of things forbidden keeping her from a greater rejoicing, but…at least I was able to make a difference. For once.
"I must say, I'm…surprised by all of this. As well as disappointed," Gendo intoned, forced to mop the perspiration from his eyes as he sat in the darkness, studying the holographic window containing the image of the bridge crew, including Ritsuko and Fuyutsuki. "Especially in you two, Sub Commander, Doctor."
A relatively brief amount of time had passed since Ibuki had been neutralized, time in which she and Katsuragi had been spirited back into NERV Headquarters. Just long enough for the bridge crew to gather themselves together to give a proper report on their treacherous actions to Gendo, detailing events that he knew more about than they did. And more than long enough for him to prepare himself to remind them of their positions in the grand scheme of things. That his was the ultimate power in NERV. "I gave you all explicit orders. You were to allow Section 2 to dispose of Ibuki," he intoned in the voice of doom. "This attempt at rescuing her was not only unauthorized, but it was also foolhardy."
"I won't argue with you about our going against your standing orders, Ikari," Fuyutsuki replied, the real Fuyutsuki with a life and a mind of his own. The one that had once been hellbent in putting Gendo in his place before the Commander of NERV showed him the futility of such actions, showing that he still had a streak of rebelliousness in him when he smiled and added, "As for our actions being foolhardy…given what happened to Section 2, and that we were successful when they…" Shrugging lightly, the old professor went on to say, "Suffice it to say, I don't think there's a person here who regrets making the choices we made."
I can change that very easily, sensei, Gendo fumed, scowling dangerously despite knowing that the people on the bridge couldn't see him, not when he had disabled visual transmission from his end. "Your actions may have been successful, but that is no justification for such blatant insubordination." Makoto opened his mouth to protest, but the Commander of NERV was quick to cut him off. "Where is Ibuki now?"
"At NERV Medical, in decontamination," Ritsuko reported. "We gave her a tranquilizer, and we're already working on a way of safely removing the generator. However, we did an analysis of the nanites in her system." A beat passed as the doctor allowed herself a mild smile of triumph. "As near as we can tell, the program worked on her as well as it did on the MAGI. The Angel is now completely dormant, with no sign of any adverse effects. She doesn't even have any level of a blue pattern."
"Continue monitoring her, Doctor." Heaving a deep breath, clenching his teeth in an effort to keep control of himself. "And Katsuragi?"
"Pilot Ikari has already escorted her back to her quarters," Fuyutsuki informed him. "She's…upset about everything that's happened, but given what happened to the Section 2 team, that's understandable. We're going to check up on her as soon as we are finished here. Give her a preliminary debriefing on these events, see what she can tell us."
"Very well," Gendo muttered, wishing that he didn't have to keep mopping his face in order to see. "Initiate maintenance protocols and a security sweep of the base. With the defensive armor layers taking priority." Heaving a deep breath, he scowled at this former student and supposed lover in disdain before adding, "I'll be dealing with you more…thoroughly later. Ikari out."
With the press of a button, Gendo broke the connection to the bridge, then allowed himself to lay back in his chair. Heaving deep, pained breaths as his partly healed wound throbbed in agony. "Commander Ikari." Looking about to see the girl studying him, her eyes narrowed in concern, the Commander frowned as she went on to say, "You appear to be in considerable physical distress. Do you require medical attention?"
Gendo 's first impulse was to deny this. The idea of acknowledging any weakness of any kind was galling to him, an open invitation to those who would take advantage of that weakness. But as the pain continued to assail him and the heat seemed to grow ever worse, he was forced to admit that something was wrong, and it was getting worse. "Possibly," Gendo grudgingly conceded, recalling the blow from Maya's morningstar and deciding that it must have caused more damage to him than he had initially realized. Forcing himself to his feet, he paused to straighten out his uniform. "Prepare the medical chamber, and –"
Gendo's world exploded into pain, pain so harsh and terribly that he cried out despite himself. Pain so horrendous that it sent him crashing to his side, curling up into a ball. Pain so utterly overwhelming that it made it made him feel as if his right arm was literally on fire.
"I'd say it's too late for…medical treatment, Ikari," the Fuyutsuki in his mind intoned, a satisfied smile on his face. "But don't be afraid."
Wh-what in the -?! Gendo thought incredulously, staring at what he thought was just a product of his own wearied imagination. What madness is this?!
"It's not madness, Ikari," Fuyutsuki intoned as Gendo glanced from him to his right forearm and back again. "It's simply…evolution."
His eyes widening in shock, Gendo let go another gasp of pain. Marginally aware of the girl moving to assist as he looked at his right forearm. Feeling his heart go cold at the sight of something bulging up beneath the fabric of his glove…
I'm dead, Ritsuko thought as the holographic window disappeared, signifying Gendo had severed the connection between his private lair in the depths of Terminal Dogma and the rest of NERV.
In a way, Ritsuko was more resigned to this notion than frightened or alarmed. She had been at NERV for close to a decade now, she knew the darkness that lay behind the noble façade of trying to protect the world from the Angels. And she had seen the bodies of good people that had made the mistake of trying to defy Gendo as she had, with the constant threat of death a knife at her throat, keeping in her line. Reminding her that to defy the Commander of NERV was to court death.
She had known that when she had consciously made the decision to defy Gendo, to try and save Maya. And as Ritsuko stood there, knowing that his judgment would soon be falling squarely upon her head, she didn't feel afraid, or nervous or even concerned that she may well have signed her own death warrant.
All Ritsuko could think of Maya's smiling face as she had been escorted back to NERV. Safe, sound, and whole after a nightmarish experience that she wouldn't wish upon anyone.
Too bad it doesn't wash away any of the other dirt on my soul, Ritsuko thought, reality dimming her satisfaction. I wonder if I'll feel this way when Gendo –
"You know the Commander's gonna kill us for this."
Ritsuko started, looking about, wondering why Fuyutsuki would be speaking such things in public, only to catch herself when she realized that it hadn't been the Sub Commander that had spoken, but rather Makoto. The bespectacled otaku was sitting at his station, looking at the other two members of the bridge staff, with Shigeru nodding. "Tell me about it," the long-haired guitarist grimly nodded. "Maybe I should get to work on my will and get it over with."
"Not much point in me writing a will," Chihiro noted with a wry smile. "Still, I could leave my organs to science."
"Maybe I'll do the same," Makoto remarked. "Seriously, if the Commander had his way, disobeying him would be punishable by death!"
"What makes you think it isn't?" Shigeru wondered in a joking manner.
Ah, I get it, Ritsuko thought, smiling and envying their innocence as they joked, relaxing and relieving the natural stress that built up in a major crisis. The same sort of thing that happened after every battle with the Angels. People joking, making conversation, celebrating the fact that they were still alive. I wish I could make jokes about that sort of thing. Then maybe I'd –
"You know, I'm kinda starting to envy the Major right now," Makoto stated, cutting through Ritsuko's thoughts.
"Envy her?" Chihiro incredulously repeated. "Makoto, she's a prisoner in NERV with a monster in her body! That doesn't seem like something I'd envy!"
"Yeah, seriously! Shigeru chimed in. "Now, maybe if all that muscle was hers and not the other girl's, I could understand it. But -!"
"No, no, that's – ha – that's not what I meant," Makoto replied, holding up his hands in protest. "It's just…well, think about it! She-Hulk…she's unstoppable, right? All the Major has to do is get mad, and pretty much nothing can even slow her down! Anything messes with her, she can just punch it right out of existence!" When this statement earned him a couple of scowls, the otaku shifted about uncomfortably in his chair before correcting himself. "Well, not just anything! I mean, I never meant – I was just saying that -!"
A laugh from Chihiro brought the bespectacled otaku up short. "Relax, we know what you meant," she assured him with a pleasant smile. "But what does that have to do with you envying her?"
"Simple; the Commander can't kill her," Makoto quickly explained. When Shigeru and Chihiro exchanged puzzled glances, the bridge tech continued. "She-Hulk has shrugged off an Angel, an N2, Rhino and more! All they managed to do was piss her off! Seriously, how would even the Commander kill someone like that?"
Again, Shigeru and Chihiro exchanged glances, but this time, looks of amusement crossed their faces. "Okay, I admit it," the guitarist conceded. "That's a good point."
"Definitely," Chihiro nodded. "Being basically indestructible, that's got to be the best life insurance of all time."
Initially chuckling at this remark, Ritsuko sucked in her muted laughter as something in her current understudy's words struck a chord. Wait...indestructibility... she thought, something in her pouncing on this simple nonsense statement like a lion would its prey. The best life insurance…Gendo couldn't hurt her... What had once been a simple jest began bouncing around the chamber of secrets and science that was the doctor's mind, where it quickly snowballed into something else. Yes…yes, that could…
"Doctor," came another, more dignified thought. Snapped from her inner musings, Ritsuko looked about to see Fuyutsuki's wearied, sympathetic face gazing at her. "I think we should go downstairs and see the Major." When the faux-blonde made a noise of confusion in her throat, the old professor explained, "I realize that it's late, but – we need to debrief her. Also, you mentioned that Shinji said some things in passing that could be of interest…?"
"Huh? Oh, right, right, of course!" Ritsuko replied, clamping down on the urge to smack her forehead. "Yeah, we…we'd better go see them. Sorry, sir."
"No need to apologize, Doctor. Least of all to me," Fuyutsuki assured her with a polite bow of his head. "Come. There's still a great deal that needs to be done, and long time before either of us will have a chance to rest."
"Tell me about it," Ritsuko admitted as she started forward. But as she and Fuyutsuki made their way off the bridge, her thoughts quickly began drifting in a different direction.
I already was toying with the idea of cooking up some kind of super health serum, Ritsuko thought, recalling her mad dash through NERV and how it had quickly left her sore and tired. Of the genetic samples and research materials and equipment available to her. Why not make a few other improvements while I'm at it...?
"And that's the last thing I remember," Misato concluded, recounting the events of that day as they had happened from her perspective. "Everything after that is just a big jumble...until I woke up and found Shinji in my arms."
At these words, Misato tightened her grip on the boy in question, prompting Shinji to gulp loudly, his cheeks burning that much more. For while the normally shy boy was growing more and more used to being hugged and cuddled by the purple-haired woman and her primal other self, he certainly wasn't used to the idea of doing so while having others watching him and her embrace. Especially when the people in question were Fuyutsuki and Ritsuko, and especially while it was during an official debriefing.
But as discomforted by the situation as he was, Shinji couldn't find it in his heart to protest. Especially not after everything Misato had been through that day.
The instant Misato had reverted to her human form and found Shinji in her arms, she promptly began crying and hugging and cuddling him as She-Hulk had when she had discovered him to be alive. During the time they were being escorted back to her secure quarters within NERV, the purple-haired woman had utterly refused to be out of contact with him, not even for an instant. Even now, dressed in a simple medical gown and with Ritsuko and Fuyutsuki watching, Misato sat on her sofa, her arms and legs wrapped about Shinji as if she was terrified to let him go for even an instant.
"Well...that certainly explains your...other self's rage in battle," Fuyutsuki remarked, nodding his understanding. "Dr. Akagi told me that She-Hulk had believed the boy to be dead...but...what you've told us..."
"It must have been horrible," Ritsuko concurred, her normally hardened features soft with sympathy. "And...you really thought that Shinji was in there? With the dead agents?"
Sniffing loudly, Misato nodded and replied, "I...I could have sworn that it was him. He was just lying there, covered in blood with the rest of them. And Maya, she...she looked so happy...even with all of them..."
As the emotion of that moment proved too much for the Major, Fuyutsuki moved to place a comforting hand upon her shoulder. "I understand, Major. I've seen a great deal of death over my lifetime. And no matter what anybody says, it never gets easier." As Misato continued to clutch Shinji securely to her, the old professor moved back a bit and once again assumed the posture that was normally associated with the respectable Sub Commander. "You should know that we...already sent a search team investigate the point from which you and Ibuki...emerged from the maintenance tunnels. They found the bodies you told us about."
"Yeah, well…you'll excuse me if I don't shed any tears over them," Misato muttered sourly. "Not after what happened with Spirit…and especially not after what they did to this place!"
Despite wincing at this venomous statement, Shinji could hardly fault Misato for being upset over this violation over her quarters. The furniture, the floors, everything was even messier than she had once allowed her apartment to get, almost half of her collection of DVDs and video games seemingly vanished, courtesy of Section 2's sticky fingers. Added to this the fact that they had completely cleaned out the refrigerator and had left her cupboards mostly bare. "Uh…I'm sorry, Misato…" he quickly assured her, not certain what else he could say in this case. "I'll…as soon as I get back, I'll…I'll get to work on…replacing everything, and -!"
"And I'll see to it that you are both duly compensated for what happened," Fuyutsuki assured them. "Section 2 was sent here to keep an eye on you, Major, not to loot and plunder your home. And for that, I will see that Chiron makes fair restitution." Then the old professor issued a worn, wearied sigh. "Unfortunately, I fear that dealing with the aftermath of Ibuki's transformation will not be nearly so easy."
At this, Misato's own annoyance swiftly faded. "I know. Especially when we tell her that…" the Major began, only to trail off. "I mean…Section 2 may all be a bunch of bastards, but…"
As Misato again trailed off, all of them gathered made similar expressions of sorrow and uncertainty. "I…I still can't believe that Maya...that she would do that!" Ritsuko reported, shaking her head woefully. "She - she won't even touch a gun, and -!"
"But it wasn't Maya, Akagi-san!" Shinji protested, unwilling to watch such suffering. "It...it must've been the Angel! It did this to her, and...well...!"
Frowning at how woefully inadequate these words sounded in his ears, Shinji trailed off in a helpless sigh. Only to be surprised when Ritsuko gave a weak smile. "I know that, Shinji. It...it's just..." Shaking her head in slow frustration, the doctor shrugged helplessly. "How am I going to tell this to Maya?! That this thing used her body to commit cold-blooded murder?!"
"You don't know it was murder," Misato quickly pointed out. "Section 2 was down in the maintenance tunnels, looking for her. They probably tried to take her down, and...she just...tried to..."
"Defend herself?" Ritsuko concluded, shooting her friend a penetrating look. When Misato averted her eyes, the doctor gave her a lopsided frown. "I already considered that, Misato. But no matter how it happened, Maya is still going to look at it as murder. And believe that the blood of those agents is on her hands." Pausing to study her friend, the doctor frowned sadly. "You of all people should understand what that's like."
As darkness borne of her own pain and dual existence cast shadowed the purple-haired woman's features, Shinji opened his mouth to protest. But before he could even utter a syllable, Misato loosened her grip on him. "You're right," she conceded, shifting to better look Ritsuko in the eye. "I do know what that's like. And I know how hard it's going to be for Maya to accept what happened to her." As Misato lowered her gaze, Shinji looked on, studying her face, seeing memories rife with pain and fear flash across her features. "But...I don't want her to have to go through what I did when I found out about what I'd become."
"None of us do, Major," Fuyutsuki assured her. "But one way or another, she's going to have to deal with the reality of her situation. Regardless of the Angel's influence over her, Captain Ibuki is responsible for the deaths of several Section 2 agents. And while no one in good conscience could condemn her for what happened, it doesn't change anything."
"I realize that, sir." Pressing her lips together in consideration, Misato glanced from Ritsuko to Fuyutsuki and back again. "Listen, uh…if it were alright, I could…I dunno, I could try talking to Maya about this later? Try and…help her deal with…what happened?"
A look of appreciation appeared in Ritsuko's eyes, one she shared with Fuyutsuki, who nodded in turn. "We would have to arrange for Captain Ibuki to be brought here, for…obvious reasons, but…it couldn't hurt."
As Misato smiled in response, Shinji focused on Ritsuko. "So…you were able to cure Maya, right?" he asked worriedly, thinking of the gentle woman that had so been violated. "She's…she's going to be alright, isn't she?"
"Well, nothing's certain. But so far, things are looking pretty good. The people at NERV Medical had been examining Maya, and we should have no trouble removing the generator. And once that's gone, the nanites still in her system should remain dormant indefinitely." To Shinji's surprise, Ritsuko's smile broadened. "And even better, it looks like we might be able to salvage something from this mess."
"What do you mean?" Misato wondered.
"The generator. The one Maya was using?" Ritsuko began, taking on the familiar voice of a scientist warming to a lecture. "We've conducted a preliminary analysis, and –"
"Pardon my interruption, Dr. Akagi," came Fuyutsuki's voice, stopping the words in Ritsuko's mouth, "but…I would prefer to finish the debriefing before we move on to that particular matter." A beat passed before the faux blonde nodded her assent. "Now, we have your version of these events, Major Katsuragi, but there are still a great many holes in our account of what happened today." Swinging his gaze towards Shinji, the old professor narrowed his eyes. "Pilot Ikari, you were seen falling down the shaft along with Ibuki and Katsuragi. By all accounts, you should be dead. But not only are you alive, but you turned up in an elevator, and I have not been given any explanation as to how you survived."
Sucking in a tiny breath as Misato tightened her embrace, Shinji shrugged helplessly. "I…really don't remember a lot, sir," he admitted, painfully aware of how lame that sounded. "I…when I was falling down the shaft, I…I saw someone…falling towards me. I couldn't really see much, but…I felt something grab me, and…then I blacked out."
"And…that's it?" Fuyutsuki wondered, his features creased with mild disapproval. "That's all you can remember?"
"It's…all I can remember…really clearly, sir." Shifting about uncomfortably as Misato directed a look of concern at him, Shinji continued with, "I…there were a couple flashes. Nothing that…really made any sense." As he continued to sift through the fragments that floated up from this period of sporadic consciousness, the 3rd Child frowned. "Uh…except…"
"Except?" Misato prompted. When Shinji turned to look at her, the purple–haired woman cocked her head to the side. "C'mon, Shinji-kun. We're not interrogating you. Just tell us what you can remember."
"That's right. This is just a preliminary debriefing," Fuyutsuki seconded. "We're just trying to put some of the pieces together. And anything you can tell us in this matter would be of great help to us all."
Glancing from one face to another, seeing the expectant expressions trained on him, Shinji focused on the brown eyes before him. "I…at one point, I woke up…and I saw someone," he tried once more. "It…it felt like she was…carrying me."
"She?" Ritsuko broke in with a raised eyebrow. "Was it Maya?"
Shaking his head to this, Shinji replied, "No. It…she was too small. And…I think I saw something. Two somethings." A beat past before he went on to add, "I…they looked like were rising and falling, but…that's all I can really remember."
"Two somethings…rising and falling," Fuyutsuki intoned, giving Shinji a hard look. "Like…wings flapping?"
As Ritsuko gave the Sub Commander a hard look, Misato frowned and blurted out, "Wait…you mean Spirit?!"
Wincing at the mention of this name, a name and identity that was only the thing keeping a good friend safe, Shinji shifted about uncomfortably. "I…I guess so," he eventually conceded with incredible reluctance. "I…it couldn't have been anyone else." Then the boy glanced about at the faces looking at him and asked, "But – why would she be down here?"
"Why wouldn't she?" Ritsuko quickly asked. "She's on the scene of everything involving the Angels or She-Hulk. Why wouldn't she show up here when we have both on the loose?"
"Besides, Major, didn't you mention that you were somehow able to…sense the presence of the Angels?" Fuyutsuki remarked in a way that showed that he wasn't asking a question.
"That's right," Misato nodded. "It…seemed to work better when I was She-Hulk, but…yeah. I can sense them…somehow."
Returning this nod, Fuyutsuki turned about, folding his hands behind his back. "Then it stands to reason that Spirit has a…similar capability. And that when the Angel manifested down here, she took it upon herself to break into the Geofront and investigate." The old professor paused at this, quirking an odd smile. "Of course, given NERV's…current policy towards creatures such as herself, she was cautious. Keeping out of sight as best as she could."
"Then when she notices you and the others falling into the hole, she swoops in for the rescue. Keeping out of sight until she can find a safe place to put you." Ritsuko nodded thoughtfully. "Makes sense."
"And it would also explain the second Angelic power source you said you noticed down there, Major," Fuyutsuki concluded. "It must've been Spirit, poking around to see what was going, and trying to help Pilot Ikari. And she could also have been the one Ibuki had fed upon to achieve her increased power levels."
This all made sense, Shinji was forced to admit, save for one detail. "But – how'd she get down here and save me and get out without anybody noticing her?" the 3rd Child protested. "With Section 2 and everybody else…wouldn't someone have seen her?!"
"There's still a great deal about Spirit's full capabilities that we don't know about," Ritsuko admitted. "For all we know, she can turn invisible, or maybe even move through walls."
I'm pretty sure that she can't, Akagi-san, Shinji thought, recalling his conversations with the girl in question, who had made sure to list all her powers. With invisibility and intangibility not being among them. Still…it can't hurt to ask her when I have the chance…
"Until we have proof to the contrary, we'll assume that Spirit is responsible for at least some of these…anomalies," Fuyutsuki declared, making it clear that he would brook no protest to this statement. "A full-on investigation still needs to be made, but…I think we have most of the needed facts for now." Then the old professor glanced over at Ritsuko, the corner of his lip curling up. "In which case, Dr. Akagi…I believe you had something you wish to share with the Major…?"
Issuing a tiny gasp, Ritsuko beamed happily. "Oh, right! The generator!" Looking as if she were tempted to smack herself in the forehead, the doctor turned her focus on Misato. "Well...Misato, you said that you were able to remember what happened during that battle, right?" The purple-haired woman responded with a nod. "So you remember what happened when Maya used the generator on you."
"Yeah, I remember. And it was pretty creepy, if you ask me!" Misato retorted. "What about it?"
"Simply put, Maya was able to use the generator to extract the gamma energy that fuels your transformations from your cellular structure. And all without causing you any apparent harm." Growing visibly more excited by this, Ritsuko continued, speaking with her hands as well. "So now that the program we used on the MAGI has been loaded into the nanites that are in Maya and the generator, we can control them as easily as we can the MAGI."
Blinking a few times at this, Misato gave her friend a hard look. "And...we want to do this...why?"
"To cure you, Misato," Ritsuko went on, unable to keep the grin from her face. When both the Major and Shinji looked up in surprise, the doctor held up her hands and continued. "Now, I know I might be jumping ahead of things here, but - I think this can work! We can use the generator to siphon off the gamma energy in your system without harming you! And without the gamma energy, you won't be able to transform anymore!"
"No more gamma energy, no more She-Hulk," Fuyutsuki intoned with a smile. "You'll be able to go back home, to your life."
For a long time, both Shinji and Misato were unable to do anything, save for stare at Ritsuko and Fuyutsuki, unable to think, unable to do anything at all. They sat there, with the 3rd Child's mind slowly processing what he was being told. Misato...won't have to stay here anymore...? he finally thought, barely daring to believe that this could be true. She...she'll be able to come home...? She'll...?
"Are you...serious?" Misato demanded, awe warring with uncertainty. "I mean...you're planning on using part of an Angel here! Are you sure that -?!"
"No, not yet. But the theory is sound," Ritsuko conceded. "That's why we're going to be spending some time running simulations, making certain that this will work before we go ahead and make an attempt." Then the doctor cocked her head and added, "But even if that doesn't pan out, we have another possible cure in the works. I was making plans for testing it when this whole mess happened."
"So either way, it's only a matter of time before you're cured...and She-Hulk is little more than an ugly memory," Fuyutsuki quickly assured them.
As Shinji struggled to process what was being said, he found himself instinctively looking at the woman whose imminent emancipation had just been declared. Only for him to find Misato with her eyes lowered, a pensive expression on her face. "M-Misato?" he hesitantly began, uncertain as to what was keeping this from being a moment to celebrate for her. "Wh-what is it?"
"That's what I want to know!" Ritsuko seconded, giving her friend an incredulous look. A mild laugh sounding in her throat, the doctor hesitated before asking, "What's the matter, Misato?! I thought for sure you'd be doing cartwheels at this!" When the purple-haired woman didn't say anything, Ritsuko rolled her eyes, "Look, I understand that we still have to do a bit of testing, but - really, it's only a matter of time, and -!"
"That's -" Misato broke in, frowning uncertainly as she looked up at her friend. "That's...not it, Ritsuko."
Incredulity swiftly shifting to confusion, Ritsuko studied her friend for a time before asking, "Then...what is it?"
A pregnant silence filled the room as Misato hesitantly glanced at Shinji, then focused on the doctor. "Ritsuko..." the purple-haired woman began, her voice a soft, frail thing. "The reason we want to get rid of She-Hulk...is because she can't be controlled, right?" A beat passed before she elaborated with, "She's a monster, she's dangerous...too dangerous for us to risk letting her out."
Her face falling in shock, Ritsuko looked up at Fuyutsuki, as if silently asking if she had heard her friend correctly. When the old professor nodded, the doctor slowly returned her attention to Misato. "Well...yes!" Ritsuko eventually said, a nervous chuckle to her words. "I mean - we all saw what happened when She-Hulk went berserk out there! She nearly killed Maya, and she...she could have destroyed Tokyo...3...and..." the faux-blonde trailed off in confusion, becoming even more baffled as Misato just sat there, eyes lowered to the floor. "What are you trying to say, Misato?"
Another long, heavy silence fell upon them all as each of them focused on Misato. Only to be shocked to their cores when she said, "I...what I'm trying to say is...I don't want to get rid of She-Hulk." A beat passed as she focused on Shinji, driving home her previous statement with, "I don't want to be cured."
Author's Notes: This chapter certainly has been a long time coming! Hope it was worth the wait! Please, read and review! And maybe check out some of my other stories?
I know it's been a while since I last updated, what with real life jabbing me with a knife as it were. But with any luck, you'll be seeing an uptick in my productivity in the not-too-distant future. Fingers crossed.
cdog21, sorry to keep you waiting so long, but I hope this latest chapter was worth it. And I' m certainly toying with the notion of Misato getting to that point of She-Hulk unity...with a few added twists, of course.
IncandescentOne, thank, I really wanted to get Misato's inner struggle down pat. From the looks of it, I did a pretty good job.
CaramelnCake, no, this isn't based off of Rebuild, but on classic NGE. With a few added tweaks, courtesy of yours truly.
Gundam Kaiser, well, hotness is in the eye of the beholder, as it were. Thanks for the villain suggestions, by the way.
Belthasar, the way Misato's condition will affect her growing relationship with Shinji is one of the many things I intend to cover in the future.
Panther-Strife, a harem story is always a possibility. What powers would I give Shinji, I'd be willing to hear you out, though I might toy with the possibility of giving him Sentry's powers.
Xardion. I certainly enjoyed having She-Hulk deal with Chiron as well. And yeah, having Misato be in total control like that would have been too easy. This is still an Evangelion story, after all.
artifactBC, you want big abuse for Chiron? Then you are going to be very happy in the future!
animefan29, Misato and She-Hulk are starting to work together, but it will take a bit of time before they get past the Teeth-Clenched Teamwork stage.
Mike313, as you can see here, it didn't take Ritsuko long at all to hit upon the idea of using the generator to drain Misato's gamma energy. As for Giganta, I thought the DCAU version came off fairly well.
Negima Uzumaki, what exactly happened to Shinji will have to remain one of life's little secrets, at least for now.
Quathis, I've never thought of Shinji as a coward. It's just that he really doesn't like conflict, and the degree he steps up to the plate depends more or less on how bad things are. And as you learned here, getting out of this mess took some real doing.
Okay, now that that's out of the way, it's time for some omakes!
"I won't argue with you about our going against your standing orders, Ikari," Fuyutsuki replied, the real Fuyutsuki with a life and a mind of his own. The one that had once been hellbent in putting Gendo in his place before the Commander of NERV showed him the futility of such actions, showing that he still had a streak of rebelliousness in him when he smiled and added, "As for our actions being foolhardy…given what happened to Section 2, and that we were successful when they…" Shrugging lightly, the old professor went on to say, "Suffice it to say, I don't think there's a person here who regrets making the choices we made."
I can change that very easily, sensei, Gendo fumed, scowling dangerously despite knowing that the people on the bridge couldn't see him, not when he had disabled visual transmission from his end. "Your actions may have been successful, but that is no justification for such blatant insubordination." Makoto opened his mouth to protest, but the Commander of NERV was quick to cut him off. "Where is Ibuki now?"
"At NERV Medical, in decontamination," Ritsuko reported. "However, you should know that there appears to have been a…lingering side effect of her transformation. A psychological effect, to precise."
"What manner of psychological effect?" Gendo demanded pointedly. "Is she be influenced by the Angels?"
"No, nothing like that, sir. As near as we can tell, this is a direct result of her battle with She-Hulk; it has nothing to do with the Angel," Ritsuko quickly assured him. Then, with a tiny smile creasing her face, she added, "Let's just say that it's…something I will be tending to…personally."
"Just relax, Maya!" Ritsuko cried out as she frantically worked her patient. "It's going to be just fine!"
"I – ah! – know that – ugh! – sempai!" Maya replied, panting heavily as Ritsuko continued her work. "Just – yeeuuaw! – keep – ooh! – going!"
"Don't worry, I will!" Ritsuko assured her. "Let's see…I think I've given this whip enough of a workout. Let's try out those spiked gloves I found!"
As Maya grinned deliriously at this, the three bridge bunnies looked on from a safe distance, scarcely able to accept that they were seeing what they were seeing. "I don't believe this," Makoto groaned. "You work with a girl for years, you think she's the quietest, sweetest, most normal girl the world has ever seen, and then you find out she's into something like this…!"
"I know what you mean," Chihiro nodded, turning a sickly green as Ritsuko worked the spikes on her gloves into Maya's shoulders, with the brunette moaning in pleasure. "Maybe it was that fight with She-Hulk. Maybe it…I dunno…woke up some kind of masochistic part of her…maybe?"
"What I want to know is, where the heck did Dr. Akagi get that outfit?!" Shigeru demanded, taking in the thigh-high leather boots the doctor wore, as well as a leather top that showed plenty of cleavage, full length gloves, and a spiked collar about her neck. "And what was she using it for before now!"
"Oh, sempai!" Maya cried out gleefully. "It hurts so good!"
"Oh, you haven't seen anything yet!" Ritsuko assured her, already rummaging about for her next implement of pain. All the while the bridge staff shuddered in horrified disbelief.
"Uh…Misato?" Shinji asked nervously, his cheeks burning brightly.
"Yes, Shinji-kun?" Misato replied as she happily massaged his cheek with her own.
"Umm…" Shinji hesitantly began. "Do you…think you could…let me go now? I – I'm alright, and…you know I wasn't hurt or anything, right?"
"I know, I know!" Misato assured him, pulling back just enough to be able to look him in the face. "But – Shinji! When I thought you were dead, I…I just…"
As tears appeared in Misato's eyes, a low, feminine growl was heard from somewhere off to the side. "We know, Misato," Asuka growled impatiently. "We heard all about it…about two weeks ago! Now will you knock it off already?!"
To Shinji's dismay, Misato showed no intention of heeding Asuka's demand. The purple-haired woman remained wrapped about him, her legs clamped about his waist and arms draped about his shoulders, just as she had been so for virtually every hour of every day since the disastrous battle with the Angelically infected-Maya. Leaving the 3rd Child with little choice but to go through his every day schedule with Misato clamped to him like a remora, and forcing NERV to obtain a special dispensation to allow him to go to school while virtually wearing his guardian.
"Who'd want her to get off?!" Toji wondered, giving Shinji an envious look.
While Hikari speared the jock with a dirty look, Kensuke chimed in with, "I'll say! Shin-man's pretty much living the ultimate dream right now!"
As Shinji wondered if Kensuke would think that if he realized that he had to go to the bathroom with Misato attached, and had to be with her when she had to relieve herself as well, Asuka snorted irritably. "Whatever! I'm so sick of this!" the German declared, eyeing the Major irritably. "Thanks to you, I'm way behind in my homework, the Third can't do his share of the chores, and -!"
"You mean because you stuck Shinji with doing all your homework?" Misato shot back. "And when you say Shinji can't do his share of the chores, don't you mean all the chores, including yours?" When Asuka sputtered angrily, the purple-haired woman clung even more tightly to him, practically driving her chest into Shinji's face. "Hmph! And you wonder why I'm so worried about my Shinji-kun?"
Growing visibly more flustered. Asuka marched up to the two of them. "I'm serious, Misato!" she declared, tufts of hair curled into perfect devil horns. "Get off the baka this second, or I'll -!"
Misato swung her gaze towards the irate German and growled loudly, her eyes sparking a familiar shade of green. Asuka responded to this by jumping backwards like she had been about to step on a rattlesnake. Satisfied that she had cowed the bombastic redhead, Misato returned her full focus to cuddling Shinji.
As Asuka beat a hasty retreat, Toji chuckled wickedly. "No matter how many times Misato-sama does that, it never gets old!"
"What I'm hoping for is the Red Devil finally pushing her too far and she transforms!" Kensuke smirked. "Not only do we get to see Misato bust out of her clothes, but we also have the Red Devil launched into orbit!"
"Yeah, a real two-for-one deal!" Toji agreed. Leaving Shinji to sigh wearily, wondering what he could have done to deserve all this.