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.
Superwomen of Eva: Emerald Fury
Chapter 24: A Cure For What Ails
When consciousness returned to Maya Ibuki, it was a slow, haphazard process.
The first thing Maya became aware of was a fog, a shroud of confusion. Nothing made sense and her thought processes were sloppy at best. It was like suffering a hangover, only without the monstrous headache.
Then Maya realized that, while she didn't have a headache, she was suffering a measure of discomfort. Her cot felt hard and lump, and her body was stiff and unresponsive.
Must've slept…the wrong way… Maya moaned inwardly as she slowly clawed her way back to the waking world. Oww…I'm going to need a nice, long, hot soak…before I do anything else…
The thought of a nice, hot bath inspiring her, Maya groaned with effort as she forced her eyelids apart. Only for the images that were transmitted to her brain to be processed and promptly rejected as making no sense. "Huh?" she groaned as slowly forced herself up onto one hand, blearily studying her surroundings. "Wh-where…?"
It took several seconds for Maya's addled mind to recognize her current location. "What the…was I sleeping on the floor?" Requiring a few seconds longer to study both the carpet and the furniture surrounding her to realize that, yes, that was what she had been doing, the brunette groaned in dismay. "Ugh…I must've gotten really sloshed last night. Better get changed and get a bath going…probably stink to high – huh?!"
Maya had been moving to take stock of her condition when she received yet another rude surprise. Namely, that she was completely nude. "What in the -?!" she blurted out in absolute disbelief. "Just how drunk did I get?!" A few seconds later, she winced and put her hand to her forehead. "Obviously, I got very drunk. Ugh…why did I start doing this to myself…?"
Pausing to remind herself that she had started drinking because she had been given a job that made her life miserable, Maya then gave a shake of her head. "First, bath. Next, breakfast. Then…who knows?"
Giving another shake of her head, Maya made her way to the bathroom. Pausing just long enough to look herself in the mirror and deciding that she looked a lot better than she felt, save for the rat's nest she had on her head, the brunette moved to the bathtub and took hold of the knob that would send hot water flowing into the tub.
Only to squawk in dismay when the metal of the knob began flowing into her hand. Causing flesh and blood to turn into hard metal.
"Gyaah?!" Maya shrieked even as she toppled backward in shock. Her feet skidding over cold tiles, she fell back against the wall, her heart suddenly going a mile a minute. "Wh-what – what the hell?!"
For what felt like an eternity, Maya stood shuddering in that position, staring in disbelief at her hand as it slowly reverted. Eventually, it looked like it had always had, with nothing to indicate anything had happened. But while she seemed perfectly normal on the outside, the brunette was anything but alright on the inside. For that sudden shock had both sent a surge of adrenaline through her veins and jolted her brain, causing memories to erupt in her foggy mind.
Memories of the previous night, when Maya had taken the ultimate gamble to save her life. Of how she had successfully reached the generator and attempted to use it to fix her nanites. How it had instead physically bonded to her once again, causing her to transform. And how she had retained control even in her new shape but had been forced to make it look like someone had broken into the vault and stolen the generator before finally escaping through the maintenance tunnels and breaking out through one of the manual doors and making her way back to her apartment.
And – wait! So if I'm here, then – then Section 2 must not have noticed me! And no one knows I even went to NERV at all! Maya thought, practically passing out from sheer relief. Only for her scientist's mind to kick in and point out something she had overlooked. But…hold on. If the generator bonded with me, then…where is it now?! I definitely remember it still being attached to me when I finally snuck in here!
Frowning in confusion, Maya abandoned all thoughts of taking a bath and began to scramble about her apartment. Searching high and low for the apparatus that had once again transformed her. But no matter where she looked, no matter how unlikely the nook and cranny she investigated, the generator was nowhere to be found.
But that doesn't make any sense! Maya fumed as she finally sat down in the living room, still clad only in her birthday suit. I remember everything now! And I definitely remember that generator still being on my arm when I got back home! A beat passed before something else occurred to the young scientist. Then again…I was also seven feet tall and built like a brick…
For several seconds, Maya rode this train of thought to its logical conclusion. And when she reached it, her initial impulse was to dismiss it as being impossible. But even as she considered this possibility, she also remembered that the Angels and all of the superhumans that had been showing up as of late were throwing that particular concept out the nearest window on a painfully regular basis.
So does that mean – did I absorb the generator?! Maya frowned even as she looked at her right forearm like she expected the generator to suddenly pop out of thin air. Could the nanites have broken it down? Absorbed it directly into my body?! Pausing to consider this matter, she soon decided that this made as much sense as anything else. But – does that mean that I don't need it anymore?! What if the nanites start acting up again and I need to access them, or – or something?!
Rising to her feet, Maya started to slowly pace about the interior of her living room, pausing only to bite her thumb in deep thought. Alright. I know that the nanites are still inside of me. And I have to assume that they're now functioning in synch with my brain and body, she eventually concluded. So…does that mean that I can…command them? Could it be that I wanted to change back to normal last night, and the nanites sensed that desire? That they acted on it?
Several seconds passed as Maya considered this possibility, felt her heart begin to pounder harder in a rush of fearful anticipation and anxiety as the next logical step presented itself to her. I don't want to – it's not possible – but it's the only – I'm scared…! she thought in a discordant jumble before giving a quick shake of her head to straighten it out. I need to be sure that I can control the nanites! That they're stable! That they won't -!
Once again, Maya saw the face of her attacker. The man that the nanites in her body had drained dry in order to sustain her and themselves. And as her heart pounded that much harder in her chest, she gritted her teeth and clenched her right forearm. No…I'm not going through that again! I need to be sure that – that I'm in control! That those things aren't going to take me over and make me a murderer again! she thought with increasing intensity. So…alright. Assuming that the nanites are working in synch with me, assuming that they changed me back because they somehow sensed that I wanted to change back, then…I should be back to transform again! Maybe even…create a new generator on my arm?
As these thoughts resounded in her mind, Maya closed her eyes and concentrated. Okay…let's keep it simple for now… she thought as she tried to relax and focus. Just – focus on the body you had before. That big, powerful body…and try to picture yourself…becoming that. Being that. Wanting that.
After a few seconds of concentration and nothing seeming to happen, Maya felt her feet rubbing against the carpet in an odd fashion. Her heart jumping, she cracked one of her eyes open, only for both eyes to fly wide open when she saw her apartment slowly shrinking around her.
No, wait! It's not shrinking…I'm growing! Maya realized as she quickly glanced over her body and watched her frame surge with massive muscles as she rapidly grew taller. In a matter of moments, her body settled into the powerful frame she had adopted during her original transformations.
For what felt like forever, Maya just stood there, studying her powerful new body. Then without a thought, she darted into the bathroom. There she was confronted by her own reflection, and she froze in astonishment at the sight of her transformed self. "Wow…" she breathed, stunned by the creature she had become. "I…I had an idea how I looked before, but…this…!"
Several seconds passed as Maya studied her new form. Her head had been relatively unchanged by her growth, though her cheekbones were now more pronounced. Everything from the neck down, however, bellowed to a bodybuilder that could very easily make a career as a fashion model.
After some time spent just ogling herself, Maya overcame her shock and started smiling. Whew…if I'd had a body like this back in college, the guys and girls would have never left me alone! she thought even as she struck a few poses. Flexing, stretching, contorting her form in a manner frequently employed in the more lurid of magazines, she couldn't help but smile. I'm not that much bigger in the chest department, but…say…
A naughty idea occurred to Maya, right before she furrowed her brows in concentration. And as she did so, the nanites that had become one with her responded by transforming her body once more. "This is insane…!" the brunette got out as she watched her bust burgeon, swelling up to a new cup size only to abandon it for a new one moments later. "But…in a good way!"
After achieving a figure that would better befit a woman in some crazy anime geared for a male audience, Maya halted the change. "Okay…I can transform my body. Or at least, I can grow, shrink back down, and even adjust my figure. Even transform into something I touch. That's all confirmed," she declared before she brought up her right forearm. "Now…let's test the other part of my theory."
Once again but with far greater reluctance, Maya furrowed her brows in concentration. Only this time, she pictured the mutated generator merged with her forearm. She imagined her arm becoming that.
And just like before, the nanites in her body obliged her wishes. Though the transformation this time was far less appealing. The flesh of her hand and especially her forearm swelled up monstrously before splitting open, revealing the shiny metal beneath. With a gasp of horror, Maya watched as skin was ripped apart to make way for gleaming machinery. Until the transformation was complete and she once again was the creature that had caused so much death and destruction.
Except that that wasn't me! Maya fiercely reminded herself, recalling the many conversations she had had with Misato, Ritsuko, and others. It was the Angel! It was in control of me! But that's not the case anymore! And as she thought this, the brunette concentrated on her original form. And as before, the nanites responded, turning her back into a normal woman. I'm in control of the nanites now. I don't have to be afraid of them. She furrowed her brows as she thought about what it had been like, spending all of that time trapped in her dread, before adding, Not ever again.
Pausing just long enough to drill that reality into her mind, Maya sighed before carefully started up a bath. Hesitating to make sure that she didn't absorb anything she touched, the now-human woman was soon relaxing in a nice hot tub. Or at least, relaxing as best as she could as she wrestled with old fears and new possibilities.
So…what now? Maya frowned as she considered her options. I have this power now…even if I don't really know what I can do. So…maybe I could…use it? Become a hero like Spirit? Or how the Major wants to be? Fighting the Angels, protecting people?
Maya frowned as she dwelled on this notion. On the one hand, it seemed like a good way of both increasing the odds of humanity's survival, as well as atoning for all of the blood that had stained her hands. But after several seconds, she shook her head in negation. No, that's not an option. NERV already knows about what I could do when the Angel took me over. Even if I went out transformed, it wouldn't be enough to fool anyone. I'd have NERV, the JSSDF, and the entire planet after me in seconds!
Groaning at this image, Maya sank a bit deeper into the water. Still…I should probably start learning about…what these nanites can do, she eventually decided. There might be other ways I can -
The phone suddenly rang.
Practically jumping out of her skin at the sound, Maya bonked her head on the rim of the tub. "Ow! What in the -?!" she got out, only to fall silent as she belatedly realized what she was hearing. At which she groaned irritably. "Who could be calling me at this hour?!" she muttered sourly as she clambered out of the tub. "And the water was just right, too…"
Grumpily making her way to the living room and the phone, the brunette paused to check the Caller ID. At which she forced herself to calm down just enough so that she didn't risk annoying the wrong person before answering. "Hello, Lieutenant Ibuki speaking…"
"Maya, it's me. Ritsuko," came the brunette's mentor.
Relieved that it wasn't someone else and that she didn't have to be quite as careful in her choice of words, Maya sighed before replying, "Oh, sempai?! I, um…sorry! I just…you caught me in the bath, that's all."
"Then I'm sorry that I disturbed you, Maya. But I've got some bad news," Ritsuko reported. The brunette spent a veritable infinity in the brief silence following these words imagining her mentor reporting that Maya was effectively dead or worse before NERV's Head Scientist actually said, "Misato was exposed to a massive amount of gamma in the recent – well, you might not have heard about this, but – NERV was attacked last night, and -!"
"Wait, what?!" Maya blurted out, shocked that she wasn't doomed. Needing a beat to recover, she heaved in a deep breath before trying again. "I – I heard there was trouble! I mean…I got the alert! Of course I – well, you see -!"
"Don't worry, Maya. I know you weren't stupid enough to come to NERV. Not under the circumstances," Ritsuko assured her. While the brunette was thanking the stars that they were speaking over the phone and not using the holographic windows at NERV that would allow her mentor to see that Maya was lying her butt off, Ritsuko continued. "However – well, I can't explain what happened over the phone. But I will say that Misato's gamma levels have gone way up. Given the circumstances, I've decided that we can't risk putting off her treatment any longer. So we're going ahead with it tomorrow."
Blinking rapidly as she paused to process this, Maya finally got out, "Well…okay, but…then why tell me?"
"Because I want you there tomorrow," Ritsuko answered.
Maya felt like her heart had stopped, and at that moment, she saw herself inside of NERV. With Captain Chiron and hordes of Section 2 pointing every weapon that they could find right at her. "Wha-?!" she sputtered out. "M-me?! But – Commander Ikari, he -!"
"I know. The Commander was concerned about the Angelic nanites causing trouble if you were to return to NERV," Ritsuko admitted. "But since there's been no sign of that happening, I was able to convince him to let you return, at least to help with this." Then she gave a mild chuckle before adding, "And besides, after all of the hell you've been through, I felt that you of all people needed to see Misato cured. See things getting back to normal around here."
"Uh…oh," was all Maya could say to this. But inside, her mind was racing.
Sempai…she wouldn't lie to me! Maya thought feverishly. But that doesn't mean that the Commander might not lie to her to set a trap! Then she frowned and added, Then again…if I don't go and the Commander doesn't suspect anything, he will be if I don't come in!
After rapidly considering these matters, Maya sighed loudly. "Well…okay, sempai," she finally said. "That is…if you're sure about this. I – well, it's just…"
"I understand that you're nervous, Maya. And I can't blame you for that," Ritsuko assured her. Then the scientist gasped. "Oh, that reminds me! Are you feeling any better? The last time I was in, you looked like an elephant sat on your face!"
Wincing at the comparison and forced to admit that it was probably accurate, Maya coughed slightly beneath her breath. "Well, yeah, I'm – a bit better, sempai," she eventually said. "I mean…I'm not quite…back to normal, but…I'm a lot better than I was."
"Oh, I'm sure glad to hear that!" Ritsuko replied with a clear sense of relief. "Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing you back at NERV. At for the day. Until then, Maya."
"Right. I'll…see you then, sempai," Maya slowly replied.
When Ritsuko finally hung up, the brunette was slow to put the receiver back on the stand. Nor was she inclined to take the bath she had been looking forward to earlier. All Maya could really do was take a seat, groan as she ran her hands through her hair, and tried to think.
Sempai wouldn't lie to me. So…I can believe that…she thinks that everything will be okay, Maya thought solemnly. But…that doesn't mean that the Commander wouldn't. That he might…might know what's happened to me. And that he's just having me brought in to -
Maya couldn't help but shudder as her train of thought derailed. Leaving her mind flooded with images of all the gruesome fates that her imagination could conjure. And as she did so…she found herself scowling.
I'm tired of this… Maya couldn't help but think as she frowned. I've been…living in fear ever since the Angel – since that happened! And before that, I was dealing with the guilt over everything that it had done, and before that was I was overloaded and overworked trying to do a job that was only making my life miserable…!
And these realities hammered at her, Maya continued to frown that much more deeply. And as she did so, she proceeded to consider the matter as a scientist would. The first fact was that she hated the abysmal situation she had been in since Misato's transformation. She hated being in a job that she had never wanted and was ill-suited for, she hated the guilt that had bombarded her over what the Angel had done, and she hated living in fear.
The second fact was that these horrible realities had been forced upon Maya because of her own powerlessness. Those in power had promoted her when she had not wanted a promotion. The Angel had taken over her body and made her a pawn because it had been more powerful than her. And she had dreaded being found out by Chiron and Section 2 because they had the power to kill her.
And the third fact was that…Maya was no longer powerless.
The Angel that had once dominated her had been brought under her control. Maya controlled its abilities, not the other way around. And as she continued to think this, she rose to her feet and made her way into the bathroom. Pausing to study the meek, unassuming woman that looked back at her from the reflective glass from one angle, then the other.
Then Maya narrowed her eyes. Concentrated on an image that now lived in her mind.
And as she did so, Maya once more felt her body begin to grow. The flesh of her right arm splitting apart as it made way for cold steel. She watched as she shed the form of a meek, unassuming woman that had been so readily been pushed around by life, and turned into a monster.
No. I'm not a monster! Maya thought as her transformation reached its completion. The Major might not be in control of She-Hulk, but no one treats her like a monster! And even She-Hulk – we've all seen her fighting to protect Shinji! Fighting against real monsters! Then the brunette paused to flex her massive biceps…and despite herself, felt her lips curl into a deadly smirk. I'm not a monster! Not anymore! I'm the one in control! I'm the one who has the power! And I…I don't have to be afraid! Not anymore!
And as Maya continued to stand there, feeling the ready power that now flowed through her veins, the smile she wore grew both larger and deadlier.
I'm…I'm sick of being afraid… Maya declared inwardly. I'm sick of jumping at the slightest noise, of dreading the next phone call…always looking over my shoulder to see if Chiron and Section 2 are coming for me… Then she clenched her metallic fist. Which means…I need to find out what the nanites can do. What I can do! Just how powerful I am now!
Looking back up at her reflection, Maya considered her future. On the one hand, she didn't want to fight. Didn't want to be put in the position where she had to choose whether to kill or die herself. She hated that idea, hated the thought of even holding a gun. And if she was fortunate and NERV remained ignorant of what she had become, she wouldn't ever have to face that situation.
But on the other hand, Maya had no guarantee that NERV wouldn't discover the truth about her at some point, and that was assuming that they hadn't done so already. And she was sick of being powerless, of being afraid. And while she definitely didn't want to kill…she didn't want to die.
I need to learn what this new body can do, Maya finally resolved, her expression hard and determined. I need to know…just how powerful I am now. Because…I want to live. And living in fear…just isn't living…
"Misato – might become stuck as She-Hulk?!" Shinji blurted out, his features filled with horror. "Forever?!"
"We don't know that for certain, Shinji," Ritsuko assured the teenage pilot. "The fact is, all we really know is that her gamma levels are far higher than they were before her fight with the U-Foes." Visibly waiting for Shinji to settle down, at least a little, she sighed and added, "That being said, we know from your report that the U-Foes are trapped – or at least claimed to be trapped – in their…well, alternate forms. And I can't ignore the possibility that, if something like that could happen to them, it could also happen to Misato."
In spite of his barely contained hysteria, Shinji realized the doctor's point. But as he sagged back in the seat of Ritsuko's office, the people next to him frowned. "Wait, Ritsuko…you just said that Katsuragi's gamma levels are a lot higher now," Kaji unhappily noted. "Are you sure that – well, um…"
"Believe me, I'm painfully aware of how much this higher gamma count impacts our efforts. And that it will be a lot harder to siphon off enough gamma from Misato's system to reduce that count to below the threshold required for her to transform," Ritsuko informed them. "But I've already ordered the work crews to make the needed adjustments to the equipment. And in addition to that, the attack of the U-Foes left us with a critical ace."
"Huh?" Asuka frowned. "You mean that…Neo-Whatis that the baka told me about?"
"The Neogenic Recombinator," Ritsuko corrected the redhead. "No, that's not what I'm talking about."
Shinji frowned in confusion. "It isn't? But – Chihiro really seemed excited about it."
"And she has every right to be. Our preliminary analyses indicate that this technology has phenomenal potential for inducing and even reversing mutations with considerable precision," Ritsuko admitted. "Unfortunately, we've only just started our analysis of the device and its properties. And I feel that using it in Misato's treatment without a more thorough evaluation of its capabilities would be far too dangerous. We might wind up making her condition far worse than it already is."
"So what is it that's got you so excited?" Asuka asked.
"DNA samples," Ritsuko informed them. "During the aftermath of the battle, we found sections of metal that we've confirmed were broken off from Ironclad, as well as other bits of tissue from the others. And even better, we've confirmed that the U-Foes ship – the data in its computer included a complete breakdown of their genetic profiles and biology."
"Well, if they were seriously trying to find a cure for their mutations, that makes sense," Kaji decided. "But still, so what?"
"So they were members of the Katsuragi expedition, and everyone who went on that expedition was required to submit DNA samples before departing," Ritsuko informed them. "And since Misato was able to identify the U-Foes, we've been able to compare their original DNA profiles with the data from their ship."
"So…you're able to see how their DNA changed. Okay," Asuka intuited. "But what does that have to do with Misato?"
"Everything. Because we have access to all of her DNA samples and analyses. When she embarked on the Katsuragi Expedition, when she was found after Second Impact, and the evaluations I've done in the wake of the Jet Alone fiasco," Ritsuko explained in a business-like manner.
"Are you saying that…there are differences in her DNA samples?" Kaji inquired.
"Exactly. The samples taken before and after Second Impact show considerable differences, though those were dismissed at the time as inconsequential. And…well, we didn't really notice anything different about her DNA after Jet Alone until we saw her cells transform," Ritsuko admitted. "Which brings me to the most crucial aspect of this. Misato was first mutated by exposure to the 1st Angel's energies during Second Impact, just like the U-Foes were. So by comparing their respective mutations, we've already gained far greater insight into how Misato's DNA and cellular physiology was altered."
This prompted Shinji to frown. "Uh, wait, um…Ritsuko? Vector and the others…they said that they were also exposed to cosmic energy while Second Impact happened. So –"
"So the exact nature of what happened to them was different. Yes, Shinji, I'm aware of that," Ritsuko assured him. "But there are enough similarities between the respective events that I've been able to use the U-Foes' DNA profiles to further refine our understanding of Misato's mutation. In particular, how their cells store and regulate such large quantities of hard radiation. Which in turn increases our chances of successfully draining the gamma from her body."
Making a cautious sound in his throat, Kaji seemed to shrug. "Well, I guess that makes sense. At least, the parts that you dumbed down for us non-scientists to be able to figure out," he muttered. "Still, are you sure about this? Don't get me wrong, I know you're worried. But still…I would think that you'd want to at least spend a few days, doing some more tests before going into this."
"I understand. But you have to realize that time is of the essence now," Ritsuko informed them. "It was the influx of massive amounts of gamma that created She-Hulk in the beginning. And while our tests indicate that there have been no readily detectable changes in her physiology as a result of this fiasco, there's no way of predicting how such an increase in her gamma count could impact her, even over the course of a few days." Pausing to heave a deep breath, she went on to say, "Besides, we've already gathered as much data as we're going to be able to get. Right now, the best we can do is adjust our calculations to account for the increased gamma and hope for the best."
Shinji groaned in his throat. "That…doesn't sound so good…"
"I understand you have concerns, Shinji. I have quite a few myself," Ritsuko solemnly admitted. "But I don't see us having any real alternatives. We were already going to attempt to cure Misato. This incident and the possibility of what happened to the U-Foes also happening to her just makes it a lot more urgent that we proceed as soon as possible."
"Makes sense to me," Asuka decided without hesitation. "The sooner we get rid of that ugly green monster, the happier we'll all be!"
Stung by this thoughtless remark, Shinji whirled to look at Asuka. But before he could say anything, Kaji chimed in. "Well, 'ugly' isn't a word I'd use to describe Katsuragi. Even when she's large and in charge," the unshaven man noted. "But I have to agree to looking forward to bidding the Not-So-Jolly Green Giantess farewell."
Shinji didn't say anything to this, at least not right away. There were too many emotions flowing through him, too many fears and concerns and more for him to articulate. "Well, I – I understand," he finally managed to say. "But…well, what if the U-Foes show up again? Or if we have to deal with…well, other people like them? Without She-Hulk –"
"Shinji, I understand what you're saying. And it's a legitimate concern," Ritsuko conceded. "But She-Hulk is just too unstable and too uncontrollable to make for a reliable defense against creatures like that."
"But…she's all we really got…" Shinji weakly countered. "I mean – I want Misato to – well, that is –"
"Wait, what do you mean, 'she's all we got'?!" Asuka demanded with a heavy scowl. "We've got the most powerful weapons in the entire world right here! Remember, baka?!"
"But…the Evas…aren't really meant to fight…well, supervillains," Shinji responded. "They're made to fight Angels, and –"
"That's an excellent point, Shinji. And one that I'm sure that the Commander will be addressing," Ritsuko assured him. "But for now, our first and only concern has to be curing Misato. Everything else is on hold until then."
Shinji opened his mouth to protest, only to find that he had no protests to offer. So ultimately, he sighed and nodded. "Okay, Ritsuko," he finally said. Then he frowned and asked, "Um…would it be okay if I talked to Misato? You know…before you try and cure her?"
"Of course it would. Fact is, Dr. Samson asked if you could come to visit today," Ritsuko assured him with a slight smile. "Listen, I need to go down there and check on the preparations. Why don't we all go down there together?"
"That sounds fine to me," Kaji beamed as he rose up to his feet. "C'mon, you two."
Without any better ideas, Shinji moved to follow along with Asuka. And it wasn't long before they were making their way through the labyrinthine network of hallways that was NERV Headquarters to its lower levels. All the while the 3rd Child of NERV wrestled with his emotions. Emotions such as a need to be loved, the dread that he wasn't deserving of that love…and the woman that felt like two very separate beings. The guardian that had given him a home. And the creature that was quick to show him more affection than he had known throughout his entire lonely life.
"I never even thought about it, you know," Misato confessed as she sat within the confines of her gilded cage. "The possibility that one day, I might just…you know. Get stuck like…like that."
"That's perfectly understandable," Samson noted with a sympathetic expression. "Given that you've been able to change back every time thus far. And there hasn't been anything to indicate that…well, you wouldn't be able to at some point."
"Yeah. I just…I just don't know what to make of this," Misato admitted as she sat back in her seat and shook her head. "I mean…She-Hulk, the big green, my nastier self, whatever you want to call her? She's strong, she's tough, she's goddamn near indestructible. Until these U-Foes showed up, there hasn't been a thing that could even slow her down. And that includes actual Angels! And getting rid of her means getting rid of a big weapon that could help us win this war against them! And this is a war that we have to win!" When Samson gave a polite nod of his head, she sighed and added, "But still…I can't even imagine what it would be like to…you know. Get…stuck like that. Trapped forever inside of that…that…"
When words failed Misato, prompting her to shrug in defeat, Samson nodded. "I…can't pretend to understand what you're going through, Misato. This is…all well beyond my experience," he admitted. "That being said, you need to remember that this war isn't just your burden. Even if Dr. Akagi's plans work, there are plenty of others willing to continue the fight."
"But at what cost?" Misato wondered. "I mean…I don't want to wind up like Ann and the others! I don't want to be stuck like that forever! But at the same time – Samson, my whole job has always been to force Shinji and the others into those damned monsters and to fight the Angels! And all because we can't! And they – they shouldn't have to! They should – should be able to live their own lives! Not have to – to live with this!"
"And on that, we agree," Samson assured her. "Unfortunately, this isn't an ideal world we live in, Misato. We don't always get what we want. Sometimes, we have to make do with getting what we need."
"Hmph. Tell me something I didn't already know…" Misato muttered sourly.
Still wrestling with all of the fear and anger and guilt that was her constant companion, Misato was brought up short by the sound that signaled someone wanted to speak over the intercom. "Uh – oh. That's probably Rits," she announced as she stood. "Um, Doc -?"
"Go right ahead," Samson smiled and nodded.
Nodding and smiling as well, Misato made her way over to the door and hit the intercom. "Is that you, Rits?"
"It's me. And I've brought some extra company," Ritsuko announced. "We're coming in, okay?"
"Alright," Misato returned even as she stepped back from the door. A door that soon slowly creaked open, allowing Ritsuko, Shinji, Asuka, and Kaji into the enclosure. "Uh…" she started, giving her former lover a look before focusing on the others. Most importantly, the children she was the guardian of. "So…I'm guessing Rits…already told you about…tomorrow, huh?"
"Yeah, she did," Asuka declared with a slight shrug. "Have to admit, I'm going to be glad to be rid of that big green freak! And all of the trouble she's brought with her!"
"I know I'll be glad to not have to worry about her showing up again," Kaji admitted as he approached Misato. "Hey, maybe once Ritsuko's done washing that gamma out of your hair, we could celebrate your imminent emancipation?"
"Uh-huh. Keep dreaming," Misato grumbled as she rolled her eyes. Then she noticed that one of the new arrivals was markedly silent. "What about you, Shinji?" The naturally quiet 3rd Child started at this, making a noise of surprise. "How do you feel about me being cured of the Big Green?"
Making a distressed noise in his throat, Shinji shifted about on his feet for a time. A clear sign of discomfort and desiring to be someplace else. "I…well…I'll definitely be glad when you're able to come back home," he finally got out. "It's just…well…"
"Just what?" Asuka irately demanded. When Shinji froze in place, the redhead gave him an annoyed look before declaring, "Seriously, just grow a spine already and spit it out!"
Groaning in his throat once more, Shinji finally admitted, "It's just…everybody's acting like She-Hulk…like she's this mindless monster. A thing that we…we have to kill." Then he gave Misato a look before adding, "But…she's a part of you, Misato. And…well, I never thought of her as being evil or – or anything like that. Just –"
"No one's saying that She-Hulk's evil, Shinji," Ritsuko stated with a surprised look. "But she is dangerous. Her raw power coupled with her lack of intellect and self-control makes her too dangerous to be allowed to exist."
"I – I get that she's dangerous. But…she's still a part of Misato. And she's always fought to…well, protect me and…everyone else," Shinji meekly explained. "So…I understand why you – you have to do this. But…it still feels like…you're trying to kill a part of Misato. And…I just…wish there was another way. That's all."
"And that's perfectly understandable," Samson noted with a nod.
"Huh?!" Asuka started, giving Samson a surprised look. "What are you talking about?! That big green freak is a monster and she needs to go! Why is this getting so complicated?!"
"Because I highly doubt that it was ever simple to begin with," Samson explained. "From your perspective, She-Hulk is a monster. But at the same time, I've read up enough on all of the She-Hulk-related incidents to know that she's never attempted to harm Shinji. Quite the contrary, in fact." When Asuka frowned, the doctor frowned in thought. "Alright. Let's try and put it a different way. Say you have two dogs. One's small and gentle to everyone and the other dog is much bigger and is every bit as gentle to you as the smaller one. Unfortunately, the big dog is only gentle with you and lashes out violently at everyone else. Including the smaller dog. And this larger dog has hurt others, including the smaller one, on many different occasions. Forcing you, the owner, to take action." Glad that Samson didn't bother to mention what kind of action would be taken, Misato listened as the doctor went on to say, "So while you know you have to deal with the larger dog, that it's dangerous to your loved ones, that doesn't change the reality that it has always been good and gentle to you. That it trusts and loves you dearly. Now tell me; how would you feel in a situation like that?"
Asuka just shrugged. "I wouldn't know. I've never been an animal-lover, anyway."
"Well, I am. Though I'm more into cats," Ritsuko solemnly admitted. "And I can't even imagine what I'd do in a situation like that."
Nodding to this, Kaji looked at the 3rd Child. "So…is that it feels to you, Shinji?"
"I…well, not exactly," Shinji hesitantly admitted. "But…well, I guess its…close enough…"
There was more to this than what Shinji was saying. While not the deftest person when it came to dealing with other peoples' feelings, Misato knew that much at least. But at the same time, she supposed it only made sense. He's really torn up about this, she decided. But…I wonder…just how much does he care about her? Or about me? How far does it -?
"Shinji, I can definitely sympathize with you," Samson started, breaking apart Misato's train of thought as he made his way over to the boy. "But if it makes you feel any better, just try to think of She-Hulk as a part of Misato. A part that will continue to live inside of her for the rest of her life. The creature that protected you? She'll still be alive inside of her, even if she won't be able to manifest herself so…well, dramatically."
Shinji continued to shift from one side to another, looking quite uncertain. "Well…I'll try. I just…"
"I understand. This must be very confusing for you," Samson assured him. "Tell you what. Once this is over, we can spend some time talking about all of this." Then he smiled and gave Shinji a sound clap on the shoulder. "After all, that's what I'm here to do. Helping others is why I became a psychiatrist in the first place."
"That sounds like a good idea to me," Misato decided. "Though I suggest that you clear your schedule, Doc."
"You know, I've lost count of the number of people who've given me that particular suggestion since I've come here," Samson noted with some dismay. "And that gives me a bad feeling."
"I suggest you get used to that," Kaji informed him. "Because you're not just on the crazy train, Doc Samson. You're trapped in its central station."
There was a collection of morbid chuckles from the adults in the room at this. Chuckles that concluded when Ritsuko stated, "Well, as much as I wish we could all just sit around and relax, we still have work to do. And that reminds me. Shinji? I'm going to need you in attendance for the treatment process. While I want to believe that everything will go well with the gamma siphoning process, I have to remember that our track record for everything going perfectly is basically non-existent. And I have to assume that, if something goes wrong and She-Hulk manages to break out before we can siphon off her gamma energy, she's going to be angry. And when she's angry, things get smashed."
"Yeah. I can…attest to that," Kaji muttered as a drop of sweat rolled down the side of his head.
"So Shinji? If that happens, we'll need you there to calm She-Hulk down. At least until we can get her to change back," Ritsuko informed him.
Groaning softly in his throat, Shinji then sighed and nodded. "Well…okay. I guess...I was going to be there, anyway. So…yeah. I'll…do what I can."
"And we'll be right there to back you up!" Kaji declared with a thoughtful smile.
"Huh?" Shinji squawked, giving Kaji a look.
"What, you think we wouldn't be there as well?" Kaji wondered with an arched eyebrow. "C'mon, we know this can't be easy for either of you! So you better believe that we'll be there for you every step of the way!"
"Uh…" Asuka started, giving Kaji and Shinji an uncertain look. The expression on her face making it clear that she wasn't the least bit interested in doing anything the unshaven man had suggested. Then her eyes seemed to light up and she gave a broad smile. "Why, of course, I'll be there! You couldn't keep me away!"
Even as Misato wondered was going through Asuka's mind, Samson declared, "I'll be there as well. I might not be a scientist – well, I mean that kind of scientist – but at the very least, I can offer you some moral support."
Heaving a sigh at this, Misato answered, "Well…I don't see moral support doing much to help, Doc, but…I can't see it hurting, either."
"That's fair," Samson decided with a quick nod. "So…what now?"
"Well, I have to get to work on making the final preparations. Make certain that everything is in place and that the odds are stacked as far in our favor as we can manage," Ritsuko informed them. "As for the rest of you, well…why don't you spend some time relaxing and talking with each other?"
"Fine by me," Kaji nodded with a broad smile. Then he gave Misato a look and added, "While we're at it, we can plan out the big celebratory dinner we'll be having once Big Green is nothing but a bad memory."
Throttling down the urge to give Kaji the one-fingered salute, Misato sighed. She realized that there was no way out of this, and she had to admit that the possibility of becoming trapped as a mindless monster forever certainly was a frightening prospect. But even so, the idea of being able to fight the Angels herself, to both get her revenge on those evil monsters and spare the children the onerous burden that had been placed upon them still tempted her greatly.
Still…unless I want to start a war with NERV, there's not a lot I can do, Misato finally admitted. Dammit…if only it was me with the power and not that brainless monster!
Pausing to shake her head at this, Misato then managed to smile and say, "Alright, fine. But don't even think of trying any of those sleazy moves of yours, Kaji!"
"Of course not!" Kaji quickly protested. "I'm saving those until after you're cured!"
This time, Misato didn't even bother suppressing the urge to present her finger to the unshaven jerk. Then she smiled at Shinji and said, "So, Shinji…why don't you dig up something for all us to eat? We'll look through the selection movies and see if we can settle on something that we can all enjoy?"
"Okay," Shinji nodded before heading off to the kitchen.
Once Shinji was on his way, Misato glanced at the others present. "Okay…let's find something fun to watch!"
"You heard her, Asuka! Let's go!" Kaji prompted the redhead.
"Okay, Kaji!" Asuka brightly agreed, and with that, the two of them headed off.
As for Misato…she heaved a deep breath before looking about. Her eyes drawn to the nearest reflective surface. In which she saw a green beast-woman that was snarling in frustration and outrage.
This isn't my idea. Ritsuko's the one panicking, Misato told her bestial other. You want to stay alive? Show me just how badly you want to stick around. How much you want to help me fight the Angels. Then she looked off to the side where a young man was already puttering around in the kitchen. How much you want to protect him…
What am I gonna do…? Shinji thought morosely as he made his way from Misato's enclosure.
No matter what reassurances he had been offered, no matter how many times those around him reiterated how essential it was that Misato be cured, Shinji felt sick to his stomach. Because no matter what everyone else said, She-Hulk wasn't a monster in his mind. She was wild, she was a creature of pure instinct. But at the same time, there was caring and compassion in her. A gentle side that he had come to welcome and cherish.
I think…Dr. Samson had it right… Shinji eventually thought. She is like that big dog he talked about. But…she's not a monster that just…attacks anyone without reason! If people wouldn't – if they wouldn't attack her first, she wouldn't hurt them! But even as he thought this, the young man couldn't help but think, But…Misato, she has to be caged because of She-Hulk because…well, she is wild. And powerful. And…what if Ritsuko is right and…but still…
More and more, Shinji's thoughts degenerated into an emotional quagmire of confused desires and conflicting logic. And all of it boiled down to a basic reality; that he cared deeply for both aspects of Misato. Both the purple-haired woman who had taken him into her life and the emerald beast woman that had saved him on multiple occasions. And the notion that one had to die for the other to live was horrendous to him, and yet he could think of no way of changing this current reality.
This is just too much for me… Shinji moaned inwardly as he continued onward. And…there's still so much that I don't know! I – were those…U-Foes…were they right about Father? Did he know that Second Impact was going to happen? And…what about Ritsuko? If she had anything to do with Jet Alone, then…I can't really trust her, either. I mean, I want to, but…
As this disjointed jumble of thoughts broke down, Shinji frowned as he recalled the flash drive that he carried with him. I need to do something about this. And Mana…maybe she could…find something… Then he frowned a bit more before thinking, Wait…Sub-Commander, Fuyutsuki…he gave me Father's password! So…maybe I could…!
But even as this thought ran its course, Shinji groaned. For even if the password allowed him to access the information he desired, he was presently ill-equipped to do anything other than look at the files while inside of NERV. And lingering within NERV to study all of those files struck him as a bad idea.
I need to be able to copy those files so I can look at them back home! Or at least show them to Kensuke! Shinji soon decided. So…I need to get a jump drive! No, wait! I don't know how many files there are! I'll need something bigger! Like an external hard drive!
Shinji paused to consider this. His job at NERV paid well, so affording such a drive wasn't a problem. But he simply wasn't knowledgeable enough about computers to know where to get something suitable for the job, or if there were any compatibility issues with NERV's files that he'd have to be on the lookout for. I'll have to talk to Kensuke about that. With all of the time he spends hacking into NERV's systems, he'll be able to tell me what I need. Deciding that this made sense, Shinji then frowned. But first thing's first. I need to install this virus.
With that in mind, Shinji set course through the labyrinthine network of hallways within NERV. A maze that had once confounded him and others, but he had come to know well enough to know exactly which set of halls, elevators, and more would take him to his destination. The one oasis of peace that was to be found in the massive complex beneath Tokyo-3. And as he entered this domain of quiet, noticed the shelves stacked with books and computers and more, Shinji couldn't help but sigh at how this place seemed insulated from the rest of NERV Central.
"Oh, hi, Shinji!" spoke a woman who was seated at a nearby desk.
"Huh? Oh! Hi, Ms. Kitakami!" Shinji sputtered in response.
"Shinji, just call me Midori, okay?" the pink-haired woman pleaded of him, her perpetually pouty lips smiling at him. "Ms. Kitakami makes me feel old!"
Giving a nervous chuckle, Shinji sighed. "Uh, sorry about that," he got out. "Listen, I'm…going to be on the computers for a bit. I'm…looking for some new music, and –"
"Hey, you don't have to explain anything to me! Not the quietest person whoever comes to this library!" Midori quickly chided him. "No using the computers just to look at porn! No taking books and never bothering to put them back where they belong! No raising his voice or making a jerk of himself! Trust me, quiet-as-a-church-mouse Shinji is free to do whatever he wants in this library!"
Certain that Midori had no idea how wrong she was but deciding not to mention that, Shinji just smiled and nodded before starting towards one of the computers. Remember what Toji and Kensuke said, he noted to himself as he sat down and roused the computer from its electronic sleep. Just do what you'd normally do. Spend some time looking for music, put the flash drive in, and then leave. If anyone asks, just say that you forgot the drive. And whatever you do, don't start thinking about all of the things that can go wrong! So – argh! I'm already doing it!
Wincing at how his overactive nerves were betraying him, Shinji instead tried thinking of music. Something that proved remarkably difficult when his imagination was losing no time in conjuring up a horde of armed Section 2 agents right behind him, ready to blow his brains out. But once he was online and was able to pipe some music into his head via his earphones, it became that much easier to retreat from those horrid images. To hide from his fears and uncertainties.
But I can't stay here like this all day, Shinji frowned as he made a show of looking online for different forms of classical music. Sweet, soothing lyrics that he couldn't help but think would make excellent additions to his library of songs. Okay, I – the longer I put this off, the harder it's going to be! So…let's get this over with.
And with this in mind, Shinji plugged in the flash drive Mana had given him. Okay. Mana and Sid said that I'd have an hour to get away from here before the program activates, he recalled as he observed the process of the computer recognizing the unfamiliar flash drive. Which hopefully meant that it was installing the virus. So…I'll stay for a few minutes longer. And hope that I'm not making a huge mistake…
"Mana! I'm getting a signal!" Sid announced, her electronic voice filling the abandoned building that Mana had made into her base of operations. "It's the virus we gave to Shinji! It's been installed!"
"About time!" Mana declared, not just a little surprised that Shinji had actually gone ahead and done the deed. "I was starting to – never mind! Sid, get to work! We need that backdoor into NERV!"
"Already on it!" Sid announced with clear excitement. As Mana approached the podium that projected the AI's holographic form, the teenage girl observed multiple displays showing all kinds of data scrolling past far too fast for her to make sense. "Give me two, three minutes tops! And we'll have permanent access to the MAGI!"
"Good work, Sid," Mana smiled even as her eyes narrowed dangerously. "And once that's done…it'll only be a matter of time before we're able to completely destroy NERV. And show the world the kind of monsters that they really are…"
"Dr. Farley Stillwell was a certifiable genius," Ritsuko announced to the recorder she was using to make her journal. "Even if his brainchild has the potential to create horrifying monsters."
With this, Ritsuko paused to survey the magnificent device that looked like a beam weapon of some kind from a sci-fi movie. "The Neogenic Recombinator is without a doubt the greatest tool for genetic manipulation that I have ever seen. A veritable holy grail in the field of DNA resequencing and cellular transformation," the doctor went on as her heart pounded in her chest. "Early experiments with the Recombinator indicate that it is the perfect tool with which to implement Project: Titania. Once I've worked out the exact combination of genetic factors that need to be influenced, of course."
Frowning somewhat, Ritsuko went on to say, "I only wish that I had more time to study the Recombinator and map out its full potential. With more time, I feel it could be of crucial usefulness in reversing Misato's mutation. Or at least, altering it to the point where she would be able to control it. But given what I've learned from our analysis of the U-Foes' genetic structures and the factors that led to them being trapped in their forms, we don't dare wait. Her heightened gamma count is highly troubling, and we still can't be sure if it could result in her being trapped in her She-Hulk state."
Frowning in thought, Ritsuko then went on to say, "On a side note, I've decided to investigate the possibility of utilizing cosmic radiation similar to those which led to the U-Foes obtaining their powers for Project: Titania. Given what Misato, Shinji, and Dr. Samson have told me, the U-Foes retained their full mental faculties while still possessing extreme power. And given that I wish to avoid being reduced to a mindless monster, I consider their research and genetic samples to be extremely valuable resources. End log."
With that, Ritsuko placed her recorder in her coat pocket and started out of the lab. Already turning her focus to more immediate concerns.
This is it. The day when we finally try and put an end to She-Hulk and all of the trouble she's caused us. As well as giving Misato back her life, Ritsuko frowned warily. Dammit, I wish I could relax, but…there's just so much that can go wrong! So much that we still don't understand!
And as much as Ritsuko hated to think about it, the combination of those unknowns and the reality that they were dealing with a monster that was essentially a living nuclear bomb fueled by all of the sheer, primal rage dwelling in humanity meant that there was an unholy host of ways that their cure attempt could go very badly. Something that left Ritsuko wishing that she was a lot further along in implementing Project: Titania. To the point where she could survive being in close proximity to a She-Hulk that was in the mood to smash everything and everyone in sight.
Here's hoping that everything goes well. And that if anything does go wrong, Shinji's able to cool She-Hulk down before she smashes us into oblivion, Ritsuko thought as she made her way down the hallways towards one of the massive construction chambers where Eva-sized weapons and tools were built and/or repaired. Dammit…I'm tempted to have the Evas deployed for added security. But so far, the best way to deal with She-Hulk seems to be to give her room and leave her alone long enough to cool down and change back! And given her track record, I'm not even sure that the Evas would be able to handle her!
Groaning at the thought of all three Evangelions being ripped apart by Misato's emerald other, Ritsuko was then startled by a familiar voice. "Dr. Akagi?"
"Gah!" Ritsuko jumped, whirling to see her current understudy a short distance behind her. "Chihiro, what – sorry, you surprised me."
"Sorry about that. It's just…there's something I wanted to talk to you about," Chihiro hastily explained. "I was conducting an analysis of the data we got from the U-Foes' ship, as well as the tissue samples we acquired from them. And…well, I found something weird."
Pausing to study Chihiro, Ritsuko considered these words before raising an eyebrow. "Really. So what you're saying is that…you found something weird in the cellular analysis of a man made of living metal, a woman composed of sentient gas, a person composed of radiation, and – you found something weird?"
"I know, I know! There's plenty of weirdness in their tissue samples!" Chihiro replied with a roll of her eyes. "But that's not the kind of weirdness I'm talking about! You see, I was going over the security camera footage from when the U-Foes were in the Major's enclosure, and – well, I got curious about something."
Recognizing that Chihiro had to have a point in this, Ritsuko prompted her by asking, "And that would be…what?"
"Well, the Major gave us the names of the people the U-Foes were before they became the U-Foes. So I was looking at their pictures while I was studying the footage, and I noticed that the woman – Ann Darnell – well, she didn't look any different than she did in that picture. Well, aside from being made of gas," Chihiro hurriedly explained. "And that struck me as odd, because – well, even though they were turned into freaks right out of a comic book, that was still fifteen years ago. So I figured that she should at least look older."
Unable to keep herself from rolling her eyes, Ritsuko retorted, "Chihiro, we're dealing with a mutation that turns people into living gas and so on. Who's to say that it couldn't make them look younger than they actually are?"
"Well, I thought of that. But then I got to thinking about the Major," Chihiro returned without hesitation. "And – let's be blunt! She's got enough hard radiation in her body to kill everyone in Tokyo-3 in a matter of seconds! And yet her cells contain and regulate all of that power without any problem! Then I remembered how her scar was erased, and Shinji mentioning how she regenerated all of the flesh that Vector ripped off her body during their battle! So I got to wondering what else they could do! And when that happened, I started running simulations on cell samples that we've cultured! Both from her and the U-Foes!"
Realizing that Chihiro was building up to some point but impatient to get back to her own duties, Ritsuko asked, "And…what did you find?"
"It's what I didn't find that's important!" Chihiro explained as she held up a series of papers and analyses for Ritsuko to look at. "There was no sign of cellular damage due to free radicals! In the aging simulations I did, there was nothing to indicate any of the cells becoming senescent, no telomere degradation, no reduction of NAD+ levels…nothing!"
This statement garnered Ritsuko's undivided attention and banished her impatience. "Those are all major factors of aging," she noted as she began to study Chihiro's findings. "And you're saying that – the U-Foes' cells sample showed no signs of them?"
"None! And when I saw that, I decided to go back over the various samples we've been taking from the Major!" Chihiro went on, bringing up another sheet of paper. "In the samples taken from her after the Jet Alone incident, her cells are pretty much normal for a woman her age. But then we get into the analyses done after she was brought down here, and – well, see for yourself!"
Ritsuko saw, her eyes narrowing with increasing intensity. "With each series of samples and testing…her cells were getting younger…stronger…as if her mutation was regenerating her physiology more with each transformation…!" Moving to flip through more pages, the doctor began to think, "This might be a byproduct of the mutation…the body's way of adapting to such massive amounts of radiation…!"
"Doctor?" Chihiro frowned slightly.
"In the wake of the Chernobyl disaster, it was discovered that some of the animals living in that area were evolving. Adapting to survive by creating higher levels of antioxidants and other physiological changes in order to counter the damage done by the ionizing radiation," Ritsuko tersely explained. "Is it possible that – whatever mechanisms and cellular defenses Misato's body has created to help contain and regulate the gamma in her system are also regenerating and repairing it? Making her physically younger?!"
"That's what the data seems to be saying," Chihiro stated with a quick shrug. "So…what do we do now? Abort the cure attempt so we can study this?"
Ritsuko considered this for a moment before shaking her head. "No. We still can't be certain how this increase in her gamma counts will affect her, and I'm not willing to take the chance of Misato becoming trapped in her She-Hulk state," the doctor declared. "We can continue researching this regenerative factor later with the cell samples we have. And besides, this cure is based on reducing Misato's gamma count below the transformation threshold. It won't eradicate the mutation itself."
"So we can…study her cells even after she's cured?" Chihiro wondered. Only for an expression of alarm to form on her face. "Uh, don't get me wrong! It's not that I – I don't care about the Major's condition! It's just that – I think that this is something important…" Then she groaned before muttering, "Okay, I admit it. I kinda like the idea of not having to grow old…"
Despite everything, Ritsuko couldn't help but chuckle. "And on that, I can't blame you," she assured the younger woman. "C'mon. Once Misato is cured, we can get to work on creating a real fountain of youth for both of us – and everyone else – to enjoy!"
I really wish I could enjoy being back in NERV... Maya couldn't help but think as she made her through the various hallways. All the while being escorted by technicians and other unarmed NERV personnel. Just because these people don't look like they have guns doesn't mean that they might have them anyway…
As Ritsuko had requested, Maya had arrived at NERV to observe Misato being cured. And upon her arrival, the brunette was greeted by her current escort who had been instructed to await her arrival and the guide her to where the attempt at curing Misato would be made. And while nothing had gone wrong, there had been no sign of Section 2 the entire time Maya had been there, she also knew that this didn't mean she was safe.
There are plainclothes police. Why not plainclothes Section 2? And just because they haven't done anything yet doesn't mean that they won't, Maya couldn't help but think as she eyed her escort. I'm glad I spent so much time in my apartment, practicing with the nanites. Seeing what I can do now. So…if anything happens…I can absorb some metal. At least then I won't have to worry about being shot. I think.
Struggling with the fear she felt and hating it, hating the fact that she couldn't even feel safe in the place that has once been her home away from home, Maya continued forward. Engaging in minimal conversation with her NERV escort, people who likely recalled what she had been before. Knew full well how much blood she had one her hands and might well have been as afraid of her as she was of them.
Sorrow mixed with anger and frustration as Maya continued forward. But it wasn't long before the group arrived in one of the massive machine rooms that were used for building and maintaining the various tools, weapons, and more that were employed in their war against the Angels. And where there had been massive amounts of machinery, huge cranes and other supersized equipment for handling the larger-than-life tools employed in fighting Angels, much of it had relocated and replaced with other odd devices and more that Maya didn't recognize.
But even as Maya was tempted to gawk at the various tools and devices, wondering what they did, she caught sight of something she did recognize. And immediately smiled and called out, "Sempai!"
"Oh, Maya! You're here!" Ritsuko immediately smiled as she looked the brunette's way. Without hesitation, she made her way over to her former understudy. "I'm glad you could make it!"
"I…wouldn't have missed it for anything," Maya nervously replied.
"Well, you're certainly looking better," Ritsuko noted with an appraising eye. "I was really worried after my last visit. But it's good to see that you're feeling better."
"Uh…much better, sempai," Maya hesitantly nodded.
This prompted Ritsuko to frown ever so slightly. But then she managed another smile and looked towards Maya's escorts. "Thanks for getting Maya here. I appreciate it," the doctor assured them. "You can go back to work now."
The escort team made various noises and gestures of acknowledgement before scattering. Leaving Maya standing there as Ritsuko approached, her smile fading to clear concern. "Is something wrong, Maya? You…don't look too happy about being back here."
Confronted by her mentor, Maya issued a tired sigh. "I…I suppose I should, but…I couldn't help but feel like…they were…afraid of me," she slowly admitted. "And then I remember…what I – the Angel – whatever did, and…I can't really blame them."
Ritsuko visibly considered this before solemnly nodding. "I guess that's to be expected. Everyone was – pretty freaked out over what happened," she admitted. "But I wouldn't worry too much about it. I'm sure that they'll get past it sooner or later."
"Not everyone. Especially not Chiron," Maya noted. "And that's another thing I was worried about. I couldn't help but think that – he might show up."
"That's one thing that you won't have to worry about," Ritsuko promptly assured Maya. "Commander Ikari has made it clear that Section 2 is not to be involved in this procedure in any way, shape, or form."
This revelation took Maya by surprise. "Really? No Section 2 here?" A few seconds later, she asked, "But – what if something goes wrong?"
"If anything goes wrong and She-Hulk escapes, then the plan is for everyone to evacuate and hope Shinji can cool her down before she destroys the base," Ritsuko stated without hesitation. "Between Chiron's grudge with Misato and the fact that shooting She-Hulk only succeeds in making her madder and stronger, it's been decided that their involvement could only prove to be counterproductive."
Pausing to recall all of the battles She-Hulk had been in, Maya wasn't long in nodding. "Good idea," she grimly muttered. "Trying to hurt something…so powerful, so unstoppable…that's just asking for…trouble."
"And trouble is precisely what we want to avoid," Ritsuko confirmed. Even as Maya's thoughts began to wander in a different direction.
They're all…afraid of her. Of She-Hulk. They've already decided that there's no point…in even trying to hurt her…that all they can do is run from her… Maya thought, dangerous possibilities dancing in her mind. Because…she's powerful. So much more powerful that -
"Maya?" came Ritsuko's voice. As the brunette was snapped from her thoughts, she jumped a bit and looked towards her mentor. "Are you listening?"
"Uh – sorry, sempai!" Maya replied with a quick bow of her head. "I just – I guess I'm…not quite over…everything, and – I just started thinking about…"
As Maya trailed off with a helpless shrug, Ritsuko sighed and nodded. "Listen, I know that this can't be easy for you, Maya. And…if you don't want to be here, then…"
"Oh, no! No! I didn't say that!" Maya quickly broke in, frantically waving her hands in negation. Feeling a bit more reassured by her mentor's behaviors that this wasn't some sort of trap, she then settled down and tried to make an excuse for her behavior. "I guess…I just need to take it slowly, that's all. Get…used to everything here again."
Blinking at this, Ritsuko then smiled and placed her hand on Maya's shoulders. "Alright. As long as you're okay," the faux-blonde told her. "Besides, I really could use your help here. We're only going to get once chance to make this work. Because if we don't, then odds are good we're going to have a very large, very angry She-Hulk on our hands. And I'd much rather avoid that if at all possible."
Unable to fault Ritsuko for this, Maya nodded. "So…how does this all work? What do you want me to do?"
"I'll show you," Ritsuko nodded even as she started forward. Maya wasn't long in following, and soon she was taking in every detail of the complex the machine room had become.
Near one of the far walls was a large cylindrical tank filled with what Maya guesses was LCL, but the color looked slightly off. It was surrounded by pipes, wires, cables and various machines of assorted shapes and sizes. Lining the walls all around it was a vast array of small, transparent canisters that looked to be filled with some kind of fluid. In front of the central tank was a massive depression that ran through the entire room and then past the wall, covered by a series of grated panels. And above all of this was a catwalk, where the bulk of the computers and monitoring equipment seemed to be situated.
"That chamber over there is the nutrient bath. That's where Misato will be once we get everything started," Ritsuko explained, pointing at the large cylinder. "We made it large enough to hold her in her She-Hulk form, and the LCL has been modified to assist in the process of extracting the gamma from her system. Those containment vessels on the sides are where the extracted gamma will be stored."
"They're awfully small," Maya frowned in concern. "And isn't storing all of that gamma in close proximity to the Major a…bad idea?"
"The containers are small because we want them to be easy to transport out of here once this is over. The larger they are, the more gamma in them and the better the chance of something going wrong in transport." Then Ritsuko made a face and added, "And I know that storing the gamma in such close proximity to Misato isn't the best of ideas, especially if we have to deal with She-Hulk. But between our budget concerns, resources, and dealing with the fallout from the recent fights, it was the best we could do. Especially in the time we've had to work on all of this."
Deciding that this made sense, Maya found herself relaxing a bit more as she fell into the role of a scientist once more. "And…what about that depression in the center? It looks like a sluice or something."
"That's because that's exactly what it is," Ritsuko stated. "If anything does go wrong and any of the containers are damaged or worse, we've set it up so that all of the gamma-irradiated liquid will end up down there and away from any of us. Because of the properties of that fluid, it will also contain the gamma completely. So as long as it's someplace where we can't touch it, it'll be perfectly safe."
Nodding to this, Maya then looked up at the catwalks. "And I'm guessing that that's why all of the equipment is up on those catwalks?"
"Exactly. As far away from the gamma and Misato as we could manage," Ritsuko confirmed. "So as long as she doesn't wake up in the middle of the procedure in the mood to smash, we should be just fine."
Several seconds passed as Maya considered this. Then she made a face and said, "She's going to wake up in the mood to smash. Isn't she."
This statement caught Ritsuko's attention. "Someone's gotten a lot more cynical." Suddenly feeling bad, Maya hurriedly tried to retract her thoughtless statement. Before she could, the doctor then sighed. "No, I'm sorry, Maya. I guess…I can't blame you for having your doubts. We haven't exactly had the best track record lately. But at the same time, everything looks good. Even with the increase in Misato's gamma count, the MAGI have determined that our odds of success are roughly 81%."
Maya couldn't help but frown slightly at this. "No decimal points?"
"Actually, there were several. Each of the MAGI had a different projected set of odds," Ritsuko admitted with a shrug. "I'm starting to think that this whole Pandora's Box of insanity has pushed them as close to the breaking point as the rest of us. But…well, they at least think that the science is sound."
Managing a glum smile, Maya replied, "That's not reassuring…but still, those odds are…pretty good."
"Definitely a lot better than our usual ones," Ritsuko conceded. "Come on. I'll show you the specifics, and then we need to meet Misato and the others. They'll be arriving shortly."
Smash it…smash it all…! a primal, savage voice rang in the back of Misato's mind.
That would mean smashing everyone that's going to be in here. That's not going to happen, Misato shot back, her brows furrowed as she was escorted into the converted machine room. And for the record, these are innocent people we're dealing with here! Not Section 2 goons!
The response was a low, determined growl, like an animal that was corned and determined to fight its way out at all costs. And as Misato came to stand and look at the massive machinery that was intended to end She-Hulk, she couldn't be certain if that growl came from her bestial other…or herself.
I don't want this…hell, if it not for the fact that I was still freaked out about the possibility of becoming stuck as that braindead monster, I'd have done a lot more kicking and screaming in protest! Misato couldn't help but fume. Dammit all…why couldn't I have been in control of this thing from the start?! Everything would've been so much -!
"There it is, Katsuragi!" an irritating voice suddenly broke in, causing Misato to wince. Turning about, she watched as Kaji came up alongside her and gestured at the massive array of machinery in the repurposed construction chamber. "Your one-way ticket to freedom!"
Resisting the urge to flip Kaji off, Misato was distracted from her annoyance when Shinji asked, "Are you…okay, Misato?"
Sucking in a deep breath, Misato eyed her ward and sighed. "No," she soon admitted. "But…well, I guess I'm as close to it as I can be."
"We understand that this isn't easy for you, Misato," Samson assured her in a soothing manner. "But don't worry. We're all here for you."
Giving a slight snort, Misato retorted with, "If anything goes wrong, you'll probably wish you weren't."
Samson managed to keep smiling in spite of this. "I became a psychiatrist because I wanted to help people. And if being here helps you and others, then I can't think of anywhere else I'd want to be."
In spite of how sappy such a sentiment sounded, Misato couldn't help but smile at this. But before she could say anything in response, another voice was heard. "Ah, there you all are," Ritsuko announced as she and Maya approached. "Glad to see you all made it."
Not wanting to say something stupid, Misato instead focused on the petite woman that was present. "And I'm glad to see you, Maya," she earnestly admitted. "So…how're you doing?"
Giving a slight shrug, Maya hesitantly replied, "I'm…better. I mean…I'm not all the way back from…everything, but…I'm better than I was."
Hearing the clumsy words and feeling the pain that they carried, things that Misato knew better than perhaps anyone else could, she gave a gentle nod. "Believe me, I know what that's like."
"Say, where's Section 2?" Asuka suddenly asked. As everyone turned towards the German, they saw a suspicious frown on her face. "No escort from Misato's place, and no security here?! What's the deal?! Isn't anybody the least bit concerned about you-know-who going on a smashing spree?!"
While several groans were issued in regards to Asuka's bluntness, Ritsuko sighed and answered, "Of course we are, Asuka. In fact, we've already taken steps to make sure that Misato remains unconscious throughout the procedure. But at the same time, Section 2's presence has been proven to make things worse when it comes to She-Hulk, and – wait a second." The faux-blonde doctor furrowed her brow as she studied the German. "Asuka, why are you wearing your plug suit?"
"Well, isn't it obvious?!" Asuka demanded incredulously. "If anything goes wrong and that ugly green freak goes on another rampage, we'll need to do something to stop her! So I thought that –!"
"Well, whatever you were thinking, just stop thinking it," Ritsuko sternly instructed. "If past experience has taught us anything, it's that the best way to deal with an angry She-Hulk is to either let Shinji calm her down or just stay out of her way. Wait for her to calm down on her own."
This seemed to take Asuka by surprise. "But – hold on! If she gets loose, she could destroy NERV!"
"And if we try to send the Evas after her, we risk her destroying NERV and them as well," Ritsuko countered. "She-Hulk has already taken everything the Angels and more have thrown at her, and thrown it back in their faces. The Commanders and I have agreed that, if the worst happens, our best bet is to let Shinji calm her down or hope that she leaves on her own."
Asuka's mouth popped open in disbelief. But before she could perpetuate the growing argument, Kaji placed his hand on her shoulder. "Asuka, Ritsuko's got the right idea. And besides, you and Katsuragi fighting each other? Sounds like the kind of fight where nobody wins to me."
"Exactly. Especially the person on the wrong end of the enormous green rage monster," Ritsuko declared. When the redhead started to open her mouth once more, the doctor broke in. "Sorry, Asuka, but the Commanders were very clear about this. If anything goes wrong and She-Hulk goes on a rampage, our orders are to stay out of her way as long as it takes for her to calm down. And hope that Shinji can cool her down faster."
"And don't forget that the Evangelions are an integral part of our defense against the Angels," Samson chimed in. "That being the case, I would have to say that we would want to avoid needless damage to them if at all possible. After all, we're going to need them the next time an Angel attacks."
This last point caused Asuka's eyes to widen somewhat. "Hmm…" she frowned in thought. Then she gave a shrug before saying, "Ugh, alright! I still don't like the idea of backing down from that ugly green freak, but…okay." Then she gave Samson a look before adding, "At least you understand how important the Evas are! They're way better than freaks like She-Hulk and Spirit!"
Samson just smiled a noncommittal smile that made it clear he wasn't willing to stick his neck any further out onto the chopping block than he already had. But that's okay. Because he said enough to soothe Asuka's ego while keeping her from pushing the issue. Thinking back to the encounter with the U-Foes and how easily Samson had been able to play them against each other, Misato couldn't help but give him a slight smile. That's one hell of a devious brain Doc Samson's got there.
"Well, now that that's settled," Ritsuko started, clearly eager to take advantage of any break that she could, "let's get moving. First I'll show you the facility, explain how everything works, and then we'll get right down to business."
Smash… came a deadly voice in the back of Misato's mind.
Oh, shut up, Misato shot back as Ritsuko started forward. Why couldn't Rits come up with some gizmo to wash you out of my hair instead of the gamma…?
For the next several minutes, Ritsuko showed Misato and the others the various parts of the apparatus that they had cobbled together. "Now, if everything works the way it should, this nutrient bath will draw enough gamma radiation out of Misato to prevent any further transformations," the faux-blonde scientist eventually concluded. "We can then use the extracted gamma solution in conjunction with the Evangelions to make them even stronger, and thus more capable of fighting the Angels unassisted."
"Ohh, I'm looking forward to that!" Asuka declared with undisguised glee. "If you thought I had an easy time with the Angels before, just wait until you see me in a new-and-improved – wait, hold on!" The German suddenly frowned and asked, "That gamma stuff…it won't turn my Eva green, will it?! I hate green!"
Pausing to roll her eyes, Ritsuko countered, "I'm not sure what kind of effect the gamma will have on the Evas' skin pigmentation, Asuka. But I'm quite certain that it won't have any impact on the color of their armor." The German opened her mouth to respond, but instead made a noise in her throat and turned around. "Now, as I said, Misato, we're going to put you under before we begin the procedure. However…well, there's something I need to tell you."
Not liking the sound of this, Misato asked, "And…that is…?"
"While we have developed a means of stimulating your cells into releasing the stored gamma, we've confirmed that it will only work while you're in your She-Hulk state," Ritsuko solemnly admitted. "So once you're under, we're going to have to…artificially induce your transformation."
"Wait, what?!" Asuka cried out in dismay.
"Oh, I knew things were going too smoothly to last…" Kaji muttered sourly.
"Rits, are you kidding me?!" Misato declared in astonished horror
"Now, don't panic! As I said, Misato – you'll be unconscious for this! Even after you've been transformed! And we've already equipped the nutrient tank with everything we could need to keep you that way!" Ritsuko quickly declared with clear annoyance. "Besides, this was the only way we could get this to work! We've run I-don't-know-how-many tests, and they all say the same thing! If we want to get the gamma out of you, then it has to be done while you're in your She-Hulk state!"
"Aaaaand the list of things that could go wrong with this just doubled…" Kaji muttered morosely.
"Mr. Kaji, while I can certainly appreciate your concerns, panicking like this is just borrowing trouble," Samson declared with an even expression. "I'm sure that Dr. Akagi and her people have taken all of this into account and have done everything possible to prepare for any contingency."
This statement was rewarded by everyone present giving Samson a dire look. Which was punctuated by Kaji stating, "You really have no idea how bad things can get around here…"
Her eye twitching somewhat, Ritsuko cleared her throat before stating, "While am I forced to admit that we don't exactly have the best track record…Dr. Samson is correct. We've taken every possible precaution to make sure that everything goes as it should. I admit that there's always the possibility of something going wrong. But we've already done everything we can to take those possibilities into account, as well as set up appropriate countermeasures." Then the faux-blonde furrowed her brows before adding, "And let me remind you that the Commanders have already handed down their orders to go ahead with this procedure. So regardless of whether or not you like it, we are going ahead with this! Is that clear?!"
Smash her…smash Commanders…! growled a voice in Misato's mind.
Oh, shut up… Misato thought back. What she actually said was, "Alright…let's get this over with." Then she gave Kaji and Samson a dark look. "You two? Keep an eye on Shinji and Asuka. Just in case anything does go wrong."
"Trust me, I was already planning on doing that. Right after I've made a mental map of all of the emergency exits," Kaji declared with a half-hearted smile. "Don't get me wrong, Katsuragi; I can't get enough of your smiling face. But, uh…yeah. I think we'd all be a lot happier if I steered clear of the Not-So-Jolly Green Giantess."
"While I do hope that it doesn't come down to that…if it'll make you feel better, Misato, then I'll do what I can as well," Samson assured her.
"Thanks," Misato sighed even as something angry and desperate to survive snarled in her ear. "Alright, Rits…let's do this."
I don't want to do this…! Shinji moaned inwardly as he followed Ritsuko and her people as they worked to hook Misato up to a special harness. I don't want Misato to be trapped…but I don't want to lose She-Hulk, either…!
Still torn by these twin realities and hating himself for it, Shinji could do very little but watch everything happening. Asuka clinging tightly to Kaji as he maintained a safe distance from Misato, Samson offering some encouragement when the situation called for it, and Ritsuko explaining some of the precautions she and the others had made. "As you can see, this special harness and lifting arm were designed to suspend She-Hulk within the LCL and deny her any form of leverage. And most importantly, it's all structured so that it would be almost impossible for her to reach back and snap the arm if the worst happens."
Misato raised an eyebrow at this. "You really don't think that's going to do anything more than annoy her, Rits?"
"Actually, yes. I'm hoping that it'll slow her down," Ritsuko confided. "It'll probably take her some time to figure out how to get loose from this thing. And that'll be more time for the rest of us to get clear before she could manage to break out. That is, of course, if we actually have to."
"Seems reasonable," Samson admitted. "The She-Hulk persona definitely has some of Misato's intelligence, but her problem-solving capability seemed limited from what I saw."
"Yeah. She's basically limited to smashing her problems until they stop being problems," Misato muttered with a roll of her eyes.
"Now as I've said, the nutrient bath is filled with LCL, so you'll be able to breathe normally. Even once you're out," Ritsuko assured Misato. "Once that's done, we begin the stimulation process and trick your body into venting the gamma. So when you wake up, you'll be – well, the mutation will still be there. But without the gamma, you won't have to worry about transforming ever again."
Even as Shinji felt his stomach twist about, Misato shot back, "That's assuming that everything goes according to plan."
"I very much plan on doing so, even if we're taking the appropriate precautions," Ritsuko declared with a smug smile. "And you know why? Because the numbers say that things will go according to plan. And besides, we've beaten the odds more times than I care to think about here."
If Misato had anything to say to this, she kept it to herself. Which left everyone to continue making whatever final preparations that needed to be made. "Alright. Everything's ready," Ritsuko finally announced. "Now remember; once you're in the tank, just allow the LCL to fill your lungs. You'll be able to breathe normally. We've installed audio speakers and receivers, so you'll be able to talk to us while inside."
"Right, right. I know, Rits," Misato muttered. Then she heaved a deep breath before giving them all a tired look. "So…I guess this is it, huh?"
"I…yeah. Guess so," Shinji nodded solemnly even as the others present made various noises of agreement.
Shifting about uncertainly on the end of the crane arm, Misato sighed. "Well…wish me luck, then."
"Uh…good luck, Misato," Shinji replied even as the others chimed in.
"I don't believe in luck, but good luck anyway," Ritsuko declared even as she made her way over to the control station off to the side. Her fingers rained down upon the keyboard for a brief time before the various pieces of machinery began to hum in readiness. "Alright. All systems are online. We're as ready to proceed as we'll ever be."
Sucking a deep breath before issuing a sigh of resignation, Misato then nodded. "Got it, Rits.
"Then let's proceed," Ritsuko declared without ceremony. She then began inputting further commands while giving orders to the other technicians and scientists present.
Then the robotic crane arm that Misato was hanging from jerked into motion, lifting her up and away from Shinji and the others. "Just relax, Misato," Ritsuko told her. "Stay calm…please stay calm!"
"You're not exactly making that easy…" Misato grumbled as she was lifted up over the massive tank.
If Ritsuko had anything to say to this, she kept it to herself. "All systems primed and ready," the faux-blonde muttered as the robotic crane arm came to lift Misato up over the bath. "Beginning immersion."
There was a mechanical groan as the arm slowly lowered Misato into the tank. As Shinji looked on, she visibly grimaced as she instinctively clamped her mouth shut. "Misato, remember. That's LCL. You can breathe it," Ritsuko instructed her. "Open your mouth and let it fill your lungs."
Misato scowled at this but then did as instructed. Only to make a face of patent disgust. "Ugh…Shinji?"
"Uh…yes, Misato?" Shinji hesitantly replied.
"Blech…you were right…" Misato groaned as she looked his way. "This crap does taste like blood…"
Despite the situation and all of the emotions that were inundating him, Shinji managed a weak smile. "Uh, told you. But…you get used to it."
"I'd rather not…" Misato groused sourly.
"Okay. We've established what LCL tastes like. Now let's get to work," Ritsuko intoned as she worked the controls. "Now, Misato, you keep breathing regularly. The sedative in the nutrient bath will render you unconscious soon enough."
Misato just scowled at this, and for a moment, Shinji could have sworn that he saw a glint of green in her eyes. But then the purple-haired woman seemed to relax within the pool. Leaving everyone else present to wait. To watch. And think.
And as he did these things, Shinji looked at the purple woman, and two separate thoughts ran through his mind.
Please come back, Misato…
Please don't die, She-Hulk…
Ugh, the sooner this mess is over and done with, the better! Asuka fumed as she stood back and watched Ritsuko and the others work.
Asuka genuinely didn't want to be there. There were other things that she'd much rather be doing, and while she didn't particularly hate Misato, she did resent the fact that Kaji was pursuing the mutated woman instead of focusing on the German who was so much more deserving. But at the same time, Asuka was aware that some damage had been done to her relationship with the unshaven man. As a result of Shinji ratting the redhead out, Kaji had come to treat Asuka like a child in recent times, a far cry from the love she desired and deserved.
As a result, Asuka was here. Dressed in her plug suit, ready and waiting for whatever happened while ostensibly providing moral support. When her first and foremost concern was reminding Kaji that she was indeed an adult, not some child to be dismissed. And certainly a better catch than some mutated freak.
And while I'm here, I might as well make some plans. Consider my next move, Asuka mused. So…okay, Dr. Akagi seems pretty sure that she's gonna pull this off. And if that happens, Kaji's going to go after Misato again. Unless…
With that, Asuka's eyes drifted towards Samson. Eh, he's no Kaji. But he seems nice enough. And since he was brought here to help with Misato, maybe there's a way I can get them going out. Especially since Misato herself doesn't seem to want Kaji back. But even as the German thought this, she frowned, for this wasn't the most ideal of scenarios.
What would be even better for her would be if Ritsuko's attempt failed. And Misato had to remain caged within NERV.
I might not hate her, and I wouldn't wish being stuck as some mutated freak on anybody – I deserve this! Asuka thought, again eyeing her crush. It would be just perfect. Misato has to stay out of the way, she spends time with Samson and maybe something starts between them, and Kaji is suddenly in need of a shoulder to cry on…
"That does it," Ritsuko suddenly announced, snapping Asuka out of her train of thought. "We've successfully induced."
Not quite tracking what was being said, Asuka frowned and looked in the direction Ritsuko was. And soon saw a massively over-muscled monster hanging within the reddish-orange fluid. Ugh, what a freak! the German fumed in disdain. I can't believe how many people are always drooling over an ugly mutated monster like you…!
As Asuka scowled, Ritsuko was speaking again. "Maya, Chihiro! Status!"
"The Major's vital signs and brainwaves all look stable," Chihiro reported as she scanned the displays.
"All systems check out. Gamma filters primed and ready, sempai," Maya reported in a more hesitant manner. "We're as…ready as we're ever gonna be."
"Right," Ritsuko nodded, her brows furrowed with determination. "Begin stimulatory bombardment. We need to trick Misato's body into thinking that it's suffering an overload so that it starts venting the excess gamma."
"Right," Maya replied as Chihiro chimed in with a similar affirmative.
"Remember, watch for a shift in skin pigmentation," Ritsuko reminded them. "Shinji reported that Misato turned red the last time she was subjected to an overload."
"Right, sempai," Maya nodded. "We'll also be monitoring the gamma levels in her, the bath and the filters."
As Ritsuko and the other scientists went to work, Asuka frowned slightly as she shifted about. Red's a way better color than green, she couldn't help but think, giving a slight toss of her own crimson mane. I wonder if they use that gamma goo to turn Unit 02 red on the inside and the outside…?
Toying with this notion out of boredom more than anything else, Asuka continued to watch as the scientists and technicians worked and She-Hulk hung insensate within the nutrient bath. Frowning somewhat when she noticed the green freak shifting about in her sleep.
Hmph. Maybe she's dreaming about something, Asuka mused with a scowl. She better not be dreaming about my Kaji…!
Misato was huddled within the survival capsule her father had placed her in. She wasn't the child he had saved, nor was she an adult. She couldn't really think of anything, as if she had once more been numbed by the horror that was Adam.
All Misato could do was sit there as the capsule floated upon a sea of brilliant green, studying the dark skies above with blank eyes. No thoughts in her mind, no emotion or urgency driving her. Little more than an empty shell studying the world around her, all the while feeling nothing.
Until a rumble of thunder was heard. Prompting Misato to look up into the sky…and see clouds of blood-red spreading across the horizon.
And as she did so, Misato recoiled slightly. Feeling that something terrible was about to happen….
"Look, it's working!" Chihiro excitedly announced. "The Major! She's turned red!"
As Ritsuko noted the shift in She-Hulk's skin color, Maya chimed in. "Confirmed. Her metabolic processes have shifted. Gamma levels in the tank itself and the filters are steadily increasing."
"Good. We've cleared that hurdle…" Ritsuko breathed with an edge of caution. "Initiating purge of the gamma filters. Concentrating the irradiated LCL and routing it to the containment vessels."
As soon as her fingers were raining down upon the controls to make these words reality, Ritsuko's ears pricked at the sound of machinery whirring. And even as she continued to work, she looked off to the side. Just enough to see several of the many gamma capacitance containers lighting up with brilliant emerald light.
I wonder why gamma results in green when it exists outside of the visible light spectrum… Ritsuko couldn't help but wonder. But then she shoved that errant thought to the side and ordered, "Continue stimulation. We have to make sure that Misato's body keeps venting gamma until she reverts. Also, keep an eye on her gamma levels and brainwave activities. If anything happens, we need to be ready for it."
Both Maya and Chihiro made affirmative noises even as they continued to work at their stations. Alongside everyone else present there.
All the while She-Hulk hung in the tank. Apparently unaware that her time was fast running out…
Fear began to mount in Misato's heart. Fear and confusion as she watched the red clouds steadily growing closer.
Misato knew that the clouds were somehow dangerous. She didn't know what exactly they were, or how she knew they posed a threat. All she knew was that they were dangerous.
But despite knowing this, Misato couldn't think of anything she could do. Save for curling up even more tightly within the survival capsule as the clouds descended, becoming a deep fog that continued to approach, blocking out the green of the ocean…
"At the risk of jinxing us…things are looking pretty good so far," Kaji noted with a sense of faint relief. Like he was close to believing that the procedure could in fact work, but wasn't quite there yet.
"As a scientist, Mr. Kaji, I have to say that I honestly don't believe in jinxes." Then Samson gave a slight curl of his lip before adding, "Still, the nagging feeling in my gut tells me otherwise."
Kaji chuckled at this even as Shinji continued to watch with greatly mixed feelings. "Uh…should those…containers be…filling up so fast?"
Shinji was immediately rewarded with multiple questioning looks. "Is something wrong, Shinji?" Samson wondered. "You look concerned."
"Well…I was just wondering…I mean, look!" Shinji fumbled out. "It looks like…almost half of the containers are already full! So…"
At this, Samson, Kaji, and Asuka glanced down at the many containment vessels. As Shinji had claimed, it seemed that over half of them were already full of irradiated liquid, and that number quickly increased.
"Ohh…good point," Kaji muttered sourly. "But…well, I'm sure Ritsuko has this covered. And besides, I don't want to disturb her. Or anyone else, for that matter. Not with what's on the line."
Shinji opened his mouth to protest, only to find that he had no protest to offer. So instead, he continued to watch and wait and wrestle with his inner demons.
All the while the creature that had saved Shinji's life, had protected this entire city, and had proven beyond a doubt that he was loved…was being drained of life and condemned to darkness…
Something was very wrong.
As Misato looked fearfully on, the red clouds and fog obscured everything from sight, as if it was cutting her off from the world. Even the emerald ocean grew dark as if the life was being choked out of it as the crimson haze spread like wildfire.
For the longest time, Misato remained huddled within the survival capsule, unable to move. But as the fog drew ever closer, she knew that she had to do something. She knew she had to escape. She didn't know how she knew any of this. All that mattered to her was that she knew.
So as Misato continued to tremble fearfully before the encroaching fog, she did the only thing she could think of doing.
She shakily rose up from within the survival capsule and went over to the side. Looking down into the depths of the emerald ocean before glancing up at the encroaching fog. And then again looked down into jade waters.
And saw something looking back up at her. Looking at her with emerald eyes that pleaded for help.
Shaken by what she had seen, Misato again looked up at the dense fog that was coming to swallow her up. Caught between the all-consuming fog and the ocean below, she acted on pure instinct.
Just before the fog could envelop her, Misato jumped into the emerald ocean. And immediately sank into the depths of the warm water, water that seemed alive. Like it had its own power.
And as she continued to sink further and further down, Misato curled up into a ball. Feeling safe and secure once again. Even as a torrent of emerald water surged up from the darkness below…
"Sempai, the Major's gamma levels are still falling," Maya announced. "But we're using up the containment vessels faster than we thought."
Groaning in her throat, Ritsuko studied the readouts before her, as well as the many containment vessels below. "You're right. We might have to do a controlled dump into the sluice. It'll be a pain to clean up, but –"
A sudden beeping was heard, prompting Ritsuko to freeze and look about. "What the -?!" Maya jumped nervously, only to recover and look down at the displays before her. "Sempai, the Major – her gamma levels, they're – the gamma purge! It's slowing down!"
Sucking in a slight hiss, Ritsuko glanced over at Misato. To her dismay, the muscular beast-woman's skin was shifting in hue. "Increase stimulation!" she promptly ordered as she worked her own station. "We've got to get her gamma levels down as far as possible!"
"Trying to compensate, sir!" Chihiro declared as she also worked, right along with every other technician gathered. "It's – it's not working! The Major's gamma levels are leveling off, and – wait a second! The filters are still expelling gamma!"
"What?!" Ritsuko demanded as she looked about. True to Chihiro's word, the containment vessels were still lighting up as more gamma-irradiated fluid was pumped into them. "But – that's not possible! If she's still venting gamma, then how -?!"
"Sempai! The Major's gamma levels are now increasing!" Maya cried out.
"That's not possible!" Ritsuko heatedly declared as she felt an edge of fear digging into her heart. "There's no way that – there must be a flaw in the gamma filters…or maybe the sensors! Initiate a diagnostic while I conduct a full scan!"
"Initiating diagnostics!" Maya tersely replied. "No problems found!"
"Same here, Dr. Akagi!" Chihiro confirmed.
"Then how is this possible?!" Ritsuko demanded as she continued to work. "There's no way – unless -!"
A horrible feeling twisting in her stomach, Ritsuko typed in a few more commands. And the results of her actions caused her to screech in disbelief. "No! Misato's mutated physiology is adapting! She's not just storing gamma anymore; she's actually generating it!"
"But that's impossible!" Chihiro howled in protest.
"So is practically everything else that happens here! Doesn't stop it from happening!" Ritsuko declared as she continued to work. "I'm going to try and do an end-run around Misato's physiology! Perhaps we can counteract it!"
"Right! And – sempai!" Maya cried out. "Spikes in the Major's vitals! She's waking up!"
Grimacing, Ritsuko quickly glanced down into the tank. Sure enough, She-Hulk had begun to gently thrash about. She hadn't regained consciousness, but it was obvious that they didn't have much time.
Dammit, we can't give up now! Not when we're so close! Ritsuko vehemently thought. "Increase sedative levels in the bath! We just need a bit more time!"
"On it!" Chihiro declared as she worked. "I'm dumping every drop of tranquilizer we've got in there!"
"I'm trying to adjust the radiation stimulation! Maybe a different set of frequencies -!" Ritsuko started. Only to be cut off as a low, ominous growl was heard. Followed by the sound of liquid splashing against the sides of something solid.
"It's no good! The Major is metabolizing the sedative!" Maya reported in a frantic voice. "Sempai, she's waking up!"
Hissing in frustrated defeat, Ritsuko again looked at She-Hulk. And saw the emerald beast thrashing even more furiously as she fought her way to the waking world. "That does it! We're aborting!" Standing up straight, the faux-blonde shouted, "All hands, evacuate immediately! Proceed to the nearest exits in an orderly fashion! Chihiro, commence emergency lockdown!"
"On it!" Chihiro cried out as she worked her controls. "Blast doors set to shut in thirty seconds, sir!"
Hoping that the hard metal, blast-proof doors would buy them a few seconds, Ritsuko briskly started towards the nearest exit. Pausing only to glance down at the emerald leviathan that defied all attempts to end her existence.
And immediately froze when she saw She-Hulk's eyes fly open. When the jade destroyer's brow furrowed dangerously.
Right before she roared in outrage.
Author's Notes: Well, it's been a while. Still struggling to keep going at times. But nonetheless, I hope you enjoy! So please, read and review! And maybe check out my other stories?
Got some good news! Marvel's She-Hulk is going to be getting her own live-action series! Now if only I could be sure that the people who will be handling it won't screw up…
Universe38, glad you're enjoying. I do try and take my time to do a job right. Now if only I had more time in the day. Just don't mention what you said about Nescaro to him. He has some…issues in that regard. As for Ritsuko and Maya, wait and see.
Raidentensho, I'm afraid you'll have to wait and see what happens next. Just expect for everything to go pear-shaped in the most spectacular manner imaginable.
Dome of Bones, I'm glad to hear that my stories have given you inspiration and have been such an influence on your life.. That's rare praise indeed. It's true that what happens in the previous chapter is a bit silly, but the trick to handling it is to remain true to the human element. To make the characters believable in terms of their worldview, their struggles, and more. And don't worry, I don't plan on giving up on my stories. I'll continue to write and create for as long as I am able.
eastWOLF, thanks, I'd been wanting to do something majorly Marvel-ous in terms of action satisfaction. And thanks. Though it isn't always easy to take care of myself. So many ideas, so little time. And indeed, look forward to some massive slugfests in the future. As for Kaji, you'll have to wait and see.
Quathis, well, in the comics, Doc Samson was able to use psychology to distract Titania enough to obtain a tactical advantage. So I think him being able to negotiate his way out of a bad situation makes sense. And indeed, the fact that Misato had already pummeled everyone into submission gives him so extra leverage here. And Maya is going to be going through a characterization roller coaster as she's caught between her lingering guilt and added temptation. Not to mention trying to master powers that can very easily get on top of her.
Traitor of All Traitors, as you've already seen, that's not my gameplan. The Recombinator is here for other purposes.
Panther-Strife, sorry I wasn't as fast in updating this time. Still, I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Karma will eventually catch up with Gendo in a very unpleasant way. Look forward to it. You'll have to wait and see what happens next. Omigosh…the ladies of Eve becoming the Mighty Seven among others? That's definitely worth some fanart at least! As for Shinji, you'll have to wait and see what happens to him.
Guest, I really don't like the idea of giving Shinji powers that allows him to force people to like him. He already has enough issues with thinking that the reason people value him is because he's a pilot.
Well, that's out of the way! Onto the omakes!
"Uh…has anyone seen Orion lately?" Misato wondered as she made her through the fanfiction writer's studio.
"No, and am I ever glad for that!" Asuka snorted as she sat back in the recreation room. "Knowing him, he's coming up with some evil plan for making my life more miserable!"
"I don't think so," Rei announced, drawing several eyes. "In fact, the last time I saw him, he seemed quite happy."
"Huh. Wonder why," Shinji wondered as he grabbed a donut.
"Wait. You mean…you haven't heard?" Kensuke wondered, giving the others a look.
"Heard what, Kensuke?" Misato frowned.
"It's a major announcement!" Kensuke announced. "She-Hulk – as in Marvel's She-Hulk, Jennifer Walters – is getting her own live-action TV show!"
This garnered some noises of surprise from everyone else there. "Well, that explains everything!" Toji declared with a grin. "About time Marvel's big green gamma glamour gal got some live-action satisfaction!"
"I'll say. Remind me to congratulate her the next time I see her," Misato noted.
"And of course this explains why Orion's been in hiding," Ritsuko declared in a no-nonsense tone. "Knowing him, he's either celebrating or planning some big party."
"Well…not necessarily," Kensuke chimed in. "I can think of at least one other thing a dedicated comic book geek would be doing in a situation like this…"
"Alright. I've set up the computer to flag every news article regarding this new She-Hulk series for my attention," Orion declared in a tense, irritable voice. "And I'm already ready to launch petitions, tweet the production staff, do everything I can to make sure that no one screws this up!"
Taking a moment to sick back and heave a deep breath, Orion glared at one of the news articles he had found in regards to the upcoming She-Hulk live-action series. One in which the author tendered his worthless opinion on how the series should be handled. "I can't believe anyone would even think basing this series on the John Byrne Sensational She-Hulk run is a good idea! That thing was trash, pure and simple! Having Jen be snarky and crack jokes when the situation calls for it is one thing, but there is no way in hell that Marvel is going to ruin this show by turning it into a watered-down Deadpool series! Not if I have anything to say about it!"
"Whew…I had no idea that Absorbing Man has so many powers!" Maya declared as she reviewed all of the information on the supervillain whose powers she would be employing in this story.
"Not just absorbing materials and their properties, but also able to absorb people? Take over their bodies?" Maya mused with amazement. "And he can even grow to be as large as whatever it is he's absorbing! That's something else!" Then the petite brunette gave a devious smile. "In fact…I bet I could have some fun with this!"
"Ah…it's so nice to be able to just kick back and relax at home for once," Ritsuko declared as she exited her bathroom, having just finished a nice long soak in her tub. "With all of the hours I put in on the set, it sure is nice to just –"
The air was suddenly filled the sound of concrete exploding and glass shattering. Leaving Ritsuko stunned in shock and unable to move. Even as a tremendous hand moved to snatch her up.
"What in the -?!" Ritsuko screeched as she was lifted up and out of her home. Scarcely able to process what was happening and thrown for an even bigger loop when she saw the face of her abductor. "Maya?!"
"Hi, sempai!" Maya grinned wickedly as she hefted Ritsuko up so as to look her in the eyes. "Hope I didn't interrupt anything!"
"You interrupted the existence of my home!" Ritsuko howled, shock turning to anger as she realized she was in no danger. "What are you even doing?!"
"Well, I was playing around with the absorbing powers I've got in this story, and…I decided to take them out for a spin!" Maya declared even as she shoved Ritsuko between her amplified breasts. "And now that I've got a beautiful blonde woman to carry around, I think it's time I did my impression of a certain oversized monkey! So it's off to the New York City set and it's Empire State Building!"
Making a face, Ritsuko muttered, "If I remind you that I'm not a real blonde, will you leave me out of this…?"