Chapter 1 – Past is Future
Life. Pain. The now-familiar ache of loneliness. Soft pressure of cotton against her right eye, and a bandage around her head. Tightly wrapped bandages around her chest, and around her right arm. The firmness of a mattress pressed against her back, and the gentle weight of sheets covered her. Rei Ayanami opened her left eye and found that she lay in the embrace of an intensive care bed. The soft white light from above played over the smooth blank walls of the familiar hospital room.
I am alive. I am recovering from injuries.
Her current setting was so different from her last memory that she bordered on shock. She closed her eyes in confusion, thinking back.
Viewed from orbit, small white crosses of light blanketed the entire surface of the earth. The once blue oceans were now orange. Rei knelt on the earth's surface, her giant white form now easily visible from orbit. Gossamer wings that stretched out from her back like flower petals covered an entire hemisphere of the planet. Between her hands floated a smooth, black sphere containing the souls of all humanity.
Unit-01, now transformed into the Tree of Life by the Lance of Longinus, rested inside of her, and Shinji Ikari's essence rested inside Unit-01. She felt his newfound will to live. She felt him make his choice. And she felt herself begin to die.
She arched backwards, her massive white wings stretching over earth, elongating, losing shape and cohesion like the spreading patterns on a soap bubble. As the black moon hovered above her white form, a line of red blood formed around its circumference, cutting it in half. Another line of blood cut the sphere into fourths. Then into eighths. Red lines continued to spread, forming a checkerboard pattern, and the blood dripped down to fall onto her dying form, marring her white stomach.
The black moon burst into a shower of red droplets. The hazy red mist spread over her as it fell, and she felt her consciousness spread with it, out to infinity.
A shudder passed through her as she tried to come to grips with what this meant. Her radical change in form. The souls of all of humanity in her hands. Third Impact. Had Instrumentality taken place? She searched further back in her memory.
Rei stood naked before Gendo Ikari in the dark gloom of Terminal Dogma. Behind her stretched the lake of orange LCL, and Lilith's massive white form crucified on a cross. She could feel her body shutting down, her AT-field barely able to hold her physical shape together. Gendo's hand, and Adam's embryonic form, moved inside her body towards the seat of her soul as she prepared to give him control of Instrumentality. A distant scream pierced her mind, and her eyes widened.
"Ikari..." she whispered.
Shinji was in pain. She could feel his heart calling out to her.
Gendo had been Rei's guardian for as long as she could remember. He had been present when she had first emerged from the comfort of liquid into the world of harsh light and darkness. He had taught her, molded her personality, made her who she was. In his mind, she was the being who would reunite him with his dead wife through Instrumentality. In reality, she was a sad, tortured, lonely girl.
She had tried to fill the void in her soul with the care and affection Gendo seemed to show her, and until she met Shinji it had been enough. Or atleast it had seemed to be enough. At first Shinji had refused to pilot the Evangelion. And so Gendo had sent her to pilot Unit-01 despite her life-threatening injuries. When Shinji saw her suffering, he had held her in his arms and agreed to pilot the Evangelion to save her from further pain. At the time she had not recognized the compassion in the gesture, it being so foreign to her.
It was not until the fifth Angel that she finally realized the truth. When he opened the hatch of her disabled Evangelion, his tearful, smiling face had touched her deeply. "I'm glad you're okay," had been his words. In all her life no one had ever shown such emotion for her.
Gendo cared for her only in the sense that she was his link to Yui, his dead wife. What drove the boy to care for her? It was this curiosity that pierced the cold, inhuman shell she had unconsciously built around herself to keep others out. Out of all the people she kept at arms length, this boy alone she allowed to get close to her.
The more she saw of Shinji, the more she realized that he cared for others almost unconditionally. He always considered what others thought before speaking or acting. Gradually Shinji began to fill the void of loneliness inside of her, replacing Gendo. In the end, she had heeded the boy's agonized scream, giving him control of Instrumentality, and betraying Gendo.
All these memories and more swirled through her mind as she lay in the hospital bed. Instrumentality had taken place. All of humanity had become one. So what was she doing here? Where was she? Or, more accurately, when was she? Taking stock of herself, she found that the pattern of her injuries was consistent with another memory.
She lay in her entry plug, her knuckles white as she clung to the pistol-grip controls to either side of her. Her eyes squeezed shut and her teeth clinched as Unit-00 rejected her. At the two points where her A10 clips connected into her nervous system, it felt as if someone had stuck knives into her head. The blinding pain shot from her A10 connection to the base of her skull and crawled down her spine as the nerve pulses binding her to the Eva reversed themselves. Through senses dulled by pain, she felt the machine straining against the shoulder bindings holding it to the wall of the test chamber, as it struggled to free itself.
She felt multiple small jerks as the wall began to crack and give way. With a triumphant roar that reverberated through the entry plug, the berserk machine freed itself, trailing cables and broken machinery from where it had been hooked to the mounting brackets. She felt the sudden movement as it stepped forward to the opposite wall and slammed its fist into it.
Through the haze of pain, she felt its rage at the tormentor it knew was on the other side of the armored window, watching it with cold, emotionless eyes. Gendo. The umbilical power cable ejected, and she felt the machine's fury at the knowledge that it would not be able to penetrate the Control Room before it ran out of power.
She felt a final shudder through the Eva's frame as it struck the wall one last time, before it turned its attention to the small form inside its entry plug. If it could not reach the man directly, it would reach him indirectly by hurting the being most precious to him. Bending its neck forward, it activated its automatic ejection system, blowing its occipital armor plate off, and sending the entry plug, and her, flying backwards and upwards into the unyielding wall.
That disaster, and the injuries she received, were burned into her memory. Multiple concussions. A broken arm. Bruises, internal bleeding and hemorrhaging. Only the cushioning effects of the LCL inside her entry plug had kept her alive at all.
The wounds she now had matched those wounds exactly. She was somehow back at the beginning, a week after her failed activation test with Unit-00. She did not know how, or why, but those questions would have to wait for later. Her unbandaged eye slowly closed as her confusion and exhaustion mixed, and she drifted off into a dreamless slumber.
Tokai District of Tokyo-3, at the waters edge.
The choppy water was marred at intervals by half-sunken buildings that rose grave-like from the depths. Beneath this section of water, the massive, vaguely humanoid shape of the Third Angel moved swiftly, drawn by an instinct it did not fully understand. It had felt Unit-00's cry of rage during the activation experiment, and had responded, going into a chrysalis state, and then growing into its current massive form. It had taken days to gestate, but it was finally here.
Tokyo-3 had been built over the impact-site of the gigantic black moon of Lilith that had crashed there long ago. A remnant of that blast crater was a natural ridge of earth that surrounded the city. A long, undulating road had been cut along the outer edge of the ridge facing towards the water. The road itself was almost completely obscured by the endless rows of tanks parked motionless on its surface, their turrets pointed out towards the approaching enemy. The silence stretched, and the ever-present sound of Cicadas only served to fill the morning air with tension. Suddenly a plume of water expanded skyward as the hulking shape moved up from the depths.
Speakers blared automated warnings over the deserted streets of Tokyo-3.
"May I have your attention. As of 12:30 PM today, a special state of emergency has been declared for the Gentou and Chubu regions surrounding the Tokai District. All residents must evacuate to their designated shelters immediately. Repeat, as of 12:30 PM today..."
The tinny voice coming from the speakers was as stark and desolate as the empty districts onto which it echoed. Most of the residents of the surrounding regions had already heeded the advance warnings, leaving only a person or two here and there scurrying for safety. A blue sports car sped down one of the now-empty streets.
"Damn! Why did I have to lose him at a time like this! Why now?!"
Captain Misato Katsuragi, Operations Director for NERV, was in a panic. She was lost yet again. She turned her car down another side street, hoping that it came out on the proper thoroughfare. She had to keep her speed down so that she could read the road signs, even though all of her instincts screamed at her to hold the accelerator to the floor.
The monstrous form of the third Angel was blanketed in explosions and debris from impacting shells as it trudged through the water, but it did not cease its forward motion. The tanks continued to fire, barrels traversing as the beast approached, but their shells seemed to be ineffective. The Angel plodded up to the water's edge, calmly reached down, and swept almost a dozen tanks off the road and into the water. The clang of metal on metal was lost in the din of explosions as the other tanks continued their barrage.
The scratchy, impersonal recording coming from the telephone only served to increase the gloom Shinji felt.
"We're sorry. Due to the state of special emergency, no lines are currently available. This is a recording."
The teenage boy slowly set the phone receiver back down in its cradle.
He had already been waiting for over half and hour. He looked up at the nearest street sign, checking the address against the one she had given him.
This is where I'm supposed to be. Unless she gave me the wrong address.
If she had, he was in big trouble, because this place had been laid out almost like a military barracks. The buildings were very regular. Everything was just so. It made it very easy to find and get to a place, if you knew where you were going, but it also ensured that everything looked exactly the same.
I wouldn't put it past her to make a mistake like this.
She had said she was twenty nine, but she didn't look it. Nor did she act or sound like someone that mature.
If I had to guess, I'd put her at twenty three. Maybe.
Her bouncy speech and carefree attitude made her sound like a teenager.
"Ehh... it's no use. This is dumb! I shouldn't have come here."
He reached down to pick up his bag, taking one last look at a postcard of an attractive, raven-haired female winking and making a "V" sign with her fingers. Almost all of his experiences with the opposite sex had been painful rejections. This woman's attention had at once both embarrassed him and made him secretly yearn for more.
The quiet boy was by no means unattractive. He had a kind of charm about him that, had he been a little more open, would have attracted the opposite sex in droves. It was exquisitely ironic that the boy's reserved demeanor had a tendency to draw girls just close enough for them to be disappointed when he failed to recognize their veiled innuendos, glances, and giggles.
To Shinji Ikari, it might have looked like girls would approach to him, tantalize him with a small amount of attention, and then leave. It hurt worse and worse with each slight rejection, until they finally stopped coming at all. After all, there were only so many young, available females in the area he had lived, and eventually the majority of them met the Shinji Stone Wall of Embarrassed Silence.
Captain Misato Katsuragi.
Cheerful. Happy. Of course, the more he thought about it, the more he had realized that this was probably her attitude towards everybody. He remembered the slight depression he had felt, realizing that.
How could I think she was paying special attention to me? She doesn't know me from Adam.
To tell the truth, he felt kind of silly for even having had such thoughts to begin with. And yet how could he not? His loneliness drew him, like a moth to a flame, towards anyone who gave him attention. And, like the moth, he always got burned in the end. And he always blamed himself, perpetuating the depression and further introversion.
"I guess we won't be meeting here..." The boy mumbled with a sigh, looking at his watch. Her tardiness was probably just an extension of her carefree attitude. He himself had always been taught strict punctuality, and it kind of irked him to have to wait like this.
The only reason he was here at all was because of the possibility that his father wanted him back in his life. He remembered the terse postcard. 'Report to NERV at once, I need you,' was all it had said. His father had written the eight words with his own hand. It gave a personal touch to the impersonal command. He could have just as easily had the message typed up.
Why did I even come here? The first message my father sends me in years, and I run off so eager for his approval.
A hard lump formed in his throat as he remembered their last meeting. The dark, haunted look in his father's eyes as he turned away without a backward glance, or even a goodbye.
This is why. I'm not going to be able to rest until I've faced him.
I can't keep running forever.
That much he had finally learned. Something from the recorded message he had heard on the phone finally clicked in his mind.
'Special state of emergency.'
"Maybe I should find a shelter...huh?" out of the corner of his eye he saw the figure of a teenage girl with close-cropped blue hair in a school uniform standing motionless in the middle of the road several hundred feet away. Looking up in surprise, his view of the street was obscured momentarily by a flock of birds that choose that moment to take flight. Heat waves shimmered off of the empty street.
The boy stared, confused. The image of the girl had stirred something deep within him. Almost like a memory, but he knew he had never seen anyone like that in his life. Her face had seemed sad, or perhaps wistful. He stood, lost in thought, when suddenly the pavement on which he was standing shook violently. The boy braced himself, raising his hands protectively about his head and closing his eyes.
"Aaah..." Looking back up in stunned surprise, he saw a quintet of military VTOLs fly into view from around the edge of the low rise of mountains. They were flying backwards, and were obviously not what made the ground shake. Their pursuer came into view a bare hundred meters away, a massive humanoid figure striding among the buildings as if they were toys. Its long arms swinging as it walked, the menacing black figure advanced as the VTOLs fell back. The boy stared in horror.
Commander Gendo Ikari sat behind his desk, brooding. His white gloved hands were folded in front of his mouth, below the mirrored glasses that obscured his eyes. Voices gave status reports in the background as he watched the battle unfold.
"Unidentified intruder is still coming towards us."
"We've got it on visual, I'm putting it on the main screen."
"It's been fifteen years," he commented to the older man who stood slightly behind him at his shoulder. His voice betrayed little emotion. Indeed, he sounded like he had expected such an attack. Or even looked forward to it.
"Yes. Well now we know for sure," Sub-Commander Fuyutski responded. He too spoke as if he had foreknowledge, though he was more reserved. If one had detected the small amount of glee from Gendo at the oncoming harbinger, from this man one would notice a hint of apprehension.
"The angels are back."
The boy covered his head at the shriek of a flight of missiles directly overhead, the backwash from their passage buffeting him.
Violent explosions from the monster's general direction blinded him and then took his breath away as the overpressure hit him. The intense heat evaporated away all the perspiration and moisture on his skin and made his shirt so hot against his body that he momentarily wondered if it was on fire. He covered his head, closed his eyes, and waited for the end. The air quickly cooled, and the ground shivered again.
He cracked open his eyes in time to see the dark shape lazily raise its arm and pierce a VTOL with a lance of energy. Other VTOLs came into view encircling it. The doomed airship the monster had struck smashed into the street two blocks away, spraying flaming fuel and burning parts in all directions. The street was littered with a fine layer of dust, debris, and large shards of shatter-proof armored glass. With a massive yellow flare, the angel lifted from the ground, smashing down onto the crashed VTOL, and Shinji closed his eyes again as another wave of intense heat swept over him. The screech of tires was completely hidden in the overpressure and noise.
"Sorry... Get in!"
The exclamation caused him to open his eyes. The boy looked, momentarily stunned, at the open door of the blue sports car. The smiling face behind the dark glasses matched the postcard.
"Am I real late?" She asked, as the boy finally overcame his panic and scrambled into the vehicle. Misato jammed the car into reverse, barely missing being stomped into the concrete as the angel stumbled. Both occupants yelled as the car whipped around, desperate to escape the war zone.
Gendo and Fuyutski listened to the panicked status reports coming over the JSSDF battle-net. The conventional forces were being methodically wiped out, and it appeared that the Angel had not even been scratched. The two men seemed unfazed by the horrendous loss of life. Or perhaps 'resigned' would be a better description. As if they had no real say in this part of the battle. Indeed, as if this was a necessary holocaust.
"Looks like an AT field, hmm?" Fuyutski murmured.
"Yes... conventional weapons are no match for the Angels." Gendo commented.
Fuyutski picked up the buzzing phone. He listened to it for a few short moments, and then spoke.
"I understand sir, we'll execute the backup plan at once."
The car careened down the road, and Misato smiled. She could finally floor it, now that she had found her protege. Unfortunately, the ground-quakes made from the Angel's stumbling worked against her, making it difficult to keep the car going in a straight line.
Shinji looked around the seat out the back window, watching the dark giant methodically swat at the VTOLs, which buzzed around it like annoying insects.
"Wh... what is..." he stuttered, at a loss for words. He could not tear his eyes from the sight.
"We call them Angels," Misato answered cheerily, taking a guess at his incomplete question.
That stunned the boy back into speechlessness. The name was so ludicrous he almost laughed. He was about to try to put together another sentence when he was suddenly thrown forward as she jammed on the breaks, sliding the car around in a quarter-circle. "Wha...?" he jerked his head back around to the front, wondering what she was avoiding.
There's nothing there...
He turned back around to find that she had extricated a pair of electro-binoculars from some hidden compartment, and was staring intently through them out the driver's side window back towards the distant battle. Shinji crawled over and pushed up under her arm trying to see what had her attention.
"Wait just a second..." she muttered. All the VTOLs seemed to be leaving the area for some reason.
Why would they do that? she wondered briefly. Then it hit her.
"No! They're going to use an N2 mine!" She turned and dove for the seat of the car, pinning him beneath her. He was totally unprepared for this.
"Mmmmph!" A massive blast cut off his protest and her shriek as a rippling plume of energy rose into the sky, expanding in all directions. The expansion seemed to slow as it approached, and then the overpressure wave hit, flipping the car off the road as if it were a toy. Shinji felt like he was in a rock-tumbler. The car flipped again and again, and all he could do was curl up into a ball and hope that neither he nor Misato got hurt.
The car finally came to rest on its side. Both side windows had been rolled down, so there was no danger from shattering glass. Shinji felt a crushing pressure on top of him, and wondered briefly if he was trapped under the car. Then he felt breath on his neck, and blushed deeply. It was not the car, but Misato who was on top of him.
"You okay?" she asked cheerfully, as she picked herself up.
"Y-yeah, I guess," he mumbled. He watched as she stood up, lifted her binoculars, and once again peered in the direction of the Angel. He was too stunned by the circumstances to question her behavior. He peeked up out of the open window and looked in the direction she was facing. She did not stay still for long, as it turned out. She extracted herself from the car, and he gratefully followed, happy that atleast one of them seemed to know what they were doing. She walked around to the back of the car where she put both hands on the hood.
"Are you all right?" she asked. "Come on, help me push!"
He obeyed, and after several seconds of straining, the car came back down on its wheels with a bang.
"Thanks, Shinji, you're pretty useful."
"I should thank you Ms. Katsuragi." He was certain that he would have died had she not rescued him.
"Ah, Misato is fine."
This kid is going to make me feel middle-aged if he keeps up the 'Miss' bit, she sighed to herself.
Oh well, I guess I can't fault him for being polite.
She took off her sunglasses and surveyed the scraped and dented car.
The wreck of a car rattled down the road as Misato spoke into the phone she held to her ear.
"Yes, I've got him. No, don't worry, his safety is my top priority. Look, can you get a car train ready for us? Linear Express, of course. Right, bye!"
Her cheery outer voice gave way to a sad inner monologue,
"Hohhh, this stinks... I just got this car repaired and it's a total wreck already. Thirty three more payments to go plus the cost of repairs... and look, my favorite dress, it's ruined! And I looked so good in it..." she sobbed, imaginary, round teardrops bouncing from her eyes.
"Uh, Ms... Misato, excuse me..." He hated to bring this up, especially after all she had done for him, but it had started to gnaw at him.
She was shaken from her reverie and put on a cheery smile. "Hmm?"
"Umm, well," he glanced towards the rear of the car, "those batteries, isn't that theft?" He had followed her instructions at the time, still being under the effects of adrenaline, and the shame that he had been useless. However, as he slowly regained his wits, he had become more and more uneasy.
"Ah, oh, don't worry about it. It's an emergency, and we needed a working car, right? Besides, I am a government official after all, so everything's going to be fine. Okay? O-kay..."
"Mmmmm..." Shinji fidgeted in agitation. "...I don't think anyone will buy that excuse..." Now that the threat of the Angel was more distant, he found himself thinking about the poor shopkeeper who would return to his store and find half the batteries on the shelf missing. He knew that she had not bothered to look at the store sign. She had no intention of repaying the man. He doubted that this was because of any intentional malice. She was simply doing her job with whatever resources she could find. But it still pained him.
"Oh, you're no fun. You know, you're not as cute as I thought you'd be."
Misato had meant the words in jest, but to Shinji they were like arrows that sank into his heart. He sighed, his depression deepening.
"Is that so," he mumbled, his face downcast. Misato was just like all the others.
She's got a bad impression about me, and there's nothing I can do about it. And I did it to myself, as usual.
Misato leered playfully at his expression.
"Oooh, angry? I'm sor-ry, you're just a boy after all." She found herself slightly disappointed. He kept avoiding her expression and fidgeting no matter how she tried to engage him in conversation.
Shinji resigned himself to the teasing. She didn't understand. She had no idea what he was going through, and it wasn't worth explaining. He'd probably just fumble the words even if he tried. She had saved him, but only because she had put him into danger in the first place, he realized. Her lackadaisical attitude had caused her to be late. They would not even be in this position if she had been on time. She was no better than he, in some ways.
He looked over at her. "You're not as mature as I thought you'd be, either."
Her smirk froze. "Wh... rrrrr... what'd you say?!" She recognized the sharpness of his tone, and wondered what she had done to earn his ire.
Can't the boy take a little teasing?
The car began to swerve all over the road as it continued on towards its destination, its two occupants yelling indiscriminately at each other.
The view screen showed a picture of devastation, the result of the N2 detonation. In the very epicenter of the blast crater, barely visible in the haze and debris, stood the organic form of the Angel. It pulsed and moved slightly as it regenerated its slightly damaged body.
Fuyutski looked away from the terrible scene. "The UN forces have been depleted. What are you going to do?"
"Activate Unit-01," Gendo answered, rising from behind his desk.
"Activate it? But we have no pilot!..." the old man replied, incredulous. Surely he didn't mean to use Rei.
"Not anymore," Gendo said matter-of-factly. "Another spare is being delivered."
Thank God, Fuyutski thought. He smiled, closing his eyes. He should have known his young pupil would have a backup plan.
The Linear train descended below ground level as it headed towards its destination deep under the earth's surface. It picked up speed as it traveled, carrying the small blue car and its two occupants to safety.
"Misato, are we going to see my father?" Shinji asked. He wondered yet again why the man had sent for him. Despite how they had separated last, he still wanted the man's recognition and praise. He had simply been marking time back where he had been living, and the possibility that his father needed him sparked a deep longing that he found impossible to ignore. Misato snapped shut her cell phone, her cheery voice making her seem near-hysterical.
"Of course. Of course we are!"
"Oh..." He trailed off, becoming slightly more downcast.
He stood alone, a young boy, crying, as his father turned away from him to leave. The bag beside him contained everything he owned, and was nearly as big as he was.
His need for recognition mixed with the sadness brought by the memory.
"By the way..." Misato's exclamation caused him to flinch slightly, jarring him back to the real world, "...did you get your ID card?"
"...yeah," He looked into his bag, found the folded piece of paper and handed it to her. "Here." The paper was full of creases, as if it had been crumpled up at one point, and then flattened out again. Which it had, actually. The final choice to come here had not been an easy one for Shinji.
Misato gave him a slim binder with the stylized NERV logo on it.
"Start reading this."
He accepted it, slightly puzzled. It looked like an operations manual of some sort. These were usually secret. That she would give him one could only mean one thing.
"NERV. My father's agency. Am I... going to work for him?"
Misato folded her hands behind her head, leaning back and closing her eyes as the train carried them further downwards.
"What am I saying." His tone became as gloomy as the darkness into which they descended. "My father wouldn't have called me unless he needed me for something." He had hoped that his father had finally decided to bring him back into his life. With a sinking feeling he now began to realize that this had been a fantasy. His father needed him for some task, after which he would most likely to be kicked back out without so much as a thank-you.
"Sounds like you two don't get along. You sound just like me." Misato's voice took on a kind of wistful tone, but Shinji was too engrossed in his own thoughts to notice.
The train passed through the last layer of armor out into open air, startling him. "Huh?... oh wow!" His depressing thoughts were banished as all around him he saw the skyscrapers of Tokyo-3, inverted, jutting from the armor above and stretching towards the floor of the canyon below, as if the whole city had been turned on its head.
"Awesome!" He could not even begin to calculate how much time and money it would have taken to produce something on this scale.
Misato grinned, happy that the awe-inspiring sight had finally taken his mind off of whatever was making him so melancholy.
"The Geofront, NERV's secret headquarters. This is mankind's last hope of rebuilding the world."
He wondered at that. This is... was this even built by human hands? He knew the buildings were human, but it would have taken a truly monumental effort to excavate a circular area of this size.
It's... almost like a waste of space. Why go to the trouble and incur such extreme expense just to make a massive open area for trees and lakes and...?
He let the question go unasked, deciding instead to simply enjoy the scenery. The train carried them downwards, light glinting off the massive, man-made pyramid below and scattering through the lush greenery and sprawling lakes and landscape.
As Misato led him through seemingly endless hallways, moving sidewalks, and elevators, Shinji was once again reminded of why she had been late.
"...umm, haven't we been by here twice now?"
"Well, that's what these escalators are for!" she said, just a touch too cheerfully. Ooh, how could I get lost again?? she wailed inwardly. Of all the luck...
"...Miss Misato..." His murmur was still almost too low to hear.
The door ahead of them whooshed open, the sound covering his voice.
"...are we safe down here?..." he blurted out, then turned a slight red.
"Huh? Oh, yeah, we've got plenty of armor plating between us and that Angel. Don't worry!" she said with a reassuring smile. She did not seem to notice his discomfort.
"...oh, okay." He went back to memorizing the manual she had given him, embarrassed. He was so engrossed in his reading that he did not notice anything until it suddenly became dark. He jumped at the sound of a massive door being slammed shut behind him.
"Huh? Who turned out the..." a light snapped on somewhere above him illuminating the massive form before him.
"Aaaah! Oh, a face... a giant robot..." The massive purple armored visage stared lifelessly back at him. He was standing in a very large open space, perhaps a hangar of some kind. He could not see the edges of the room because of the darkness. He flipped through the book he was holding, looking for information.
"You won't find this in there."
"Huh?" he looked up in confusion at the woman who had stepped into view.
"I'm Ritsuko. Pleased to meet you. Captain Katsuragi, this is the alternate pilot?"
Misato nodded. "According to the Marduk report, he is the Third Child."
Pilot? He wondered at that, and at Misato's strange answer. Her words had no meaning to him, but the sight of the giant machine seemed to spark a kind of recognition in his mind, though he didn't know why.
Ritsuko continued, "This is mankind's last hope, the Evangelion."
Shinji stared in wonder. "Is this my father's work?"
Another light snapped on, illuminating a control room several stories above them where a man stood, looking down at them through the window.
"Correct," he said, through the speakers, giving his son a level, emotionless gaze. "It's been a while."
Shinji looked down. "Father..." The man seemed unfazed by their long absence.
Does he even have any feelings at all? The least he can do is act like he's happy to see me.
The man's lips thinned in what might have been the beginnings of a smile. The boy had not run or panicked yet. "We're moving out."
Misato's eyes bulge at this, "Moving out? But, Unit-00 is still in cryostasis..." she gasped, "...wait-a-minute, you're going to use Unit-01??"
"There's no other way." Ritsuko responded evenly.
"Now wait. Rei can't do it yet, can she? We don't have a pilot!" It was obvious that Misato had not been included in the planning process.
Ritsuko folded her arms as Shinji tried to keep up with the conversation.
"We just received one." She turned to Shinji, who was looking at his feet. "Shinji Ikari, you will pilot it."
"Uh?" he looked up, his thoughts shattered.
Misato interrupted, "But even Rei Ayanami took seven months to synchronize with her Eva. It's impossible for him to do it! He just got here."
"He just has to sit in the seat, we don't expect more than that."
"U-b-but..." Misato stuttered helplessly.
"Listen, defeating that Angel is our first priority. If he's got a chance at synchronizing with that Eva, then we've got to risk it."
Shinji's gaze slowly drifted down to his feet again.
He's sending me out to die. He never even wanted me, and now he thinks I'll just throw my life away for him.
His shoulders twitched slightly.
"Why did... you send for me?" he asked, desperate for even a few words of acknowledgment.
Please. Want me. Tell me that you care. Don't just throw me out again.
"You know why I sent for you." Gendo answered, wondering at the boy's question.
Shinji looked at his father, his depression and anger deepening as he realized his father was not going to say the words he wanted to hear.
"So you're asking me to take this thing, and go out there and fight?"
"Correct," Gendo replied.
The man's reticence was finally too much for Shinji to take.
"How can you do this to me!? I thought you didn't want me! Why?! Why did you have to call me now, father??" His voice broke as the years of emotional turmoil he had endured finally found an outlet. His anger was tinged with shame, but the emotions welling up within him could no longer be suppressed.
"Because, I have a use for you."
"But why me?"
What makes me special? You don't love me. You don't want me. Why did you call for me?
"Because, there is no one else who can."
"No! I can't... I've never even seen anything like this before!" Something in his mind cracked, and he knew that this was not the truth. An image flashed across his consciousness.
Liquid splashed over the body of the Eva, slowly washing away the thick, viscous clumps of partially-dried blood which clung to its massive frame...
He blinked, staring, and the Eva stared lifelessly back at him. The purple coolant that reached up to its neck level was placid and unmoving. His father's words again jarred him.
"You will be instructed."
"Th... there's no way..." he muttered in disbelief, though it was unclear whether this was in response to the man's statement, or to the vision he just seen. Gendo's patience was apparently at an end.
"If you're going to do it, do it now. If not, then leave..." He was interrupted by an explosion that rocked the facility. The man turned away from the window, perhaps to stare at some hidden view-screen. "That bastard's found us..." His voice was barely audible through the speakers.
Ritsuko walked up to the boy. "Shinji, there's no time."
He turned to look pleadingly at Misato, who merely stared back.
"Please, get in," she said softly. She seemed to know what he was going through, but had no authority to do anything about it.
"Th... this is ridiculous. I can't..." The boy was so confused and disheartened he could not put a sentence together. Everything was a blur around him.
Misato bent down to look him in the face."Why did you come here? Don't run from your father. Or atleast, don't run from yourself."
The compassion and sorrow in her eyes was such that she could have been talking to herself as well as to the boy, as if she was remembering some past hurt, or regretting some past decision.
Gendo watched the figures arguing below, and made a decision. He turned to a monitor.
"Fuyutski." The monitor fuzzed briefly, then showed the older man.
"Wake up Rei."
Fuyutski felt a coldness settle in the pit of his stomach at that statement. Was the backup incompatible after all? He realized he had no idea of Rei's condition. Gendo had him so busy that he had not even been able to check on her.
"Is she available?" he asked unbelievingly.
"Well, she isn't dead."
Fuyutski recognized the man's glib tone. It meant that the situation was beyond hope. The coldness grew, and yet he knew that this was the only choice. All they could do was throw Rei at this threat, even knowing it was a last-ditch effort that would likely fail.
Rei came awake, hearing the monitor on the bedside table fuzz to life. The Commander's face. She thought back. If events followed their previous path, Shinji Ikari would even now be refusing to pilot Eva. Her memories at that time were hazy with the pain she had been in, but she remembered his arms cradling her as he protected her.
"Rei," Gendo said.
"Yes." The girl answered softly.
"The backup turned out to be useless. Try again."
She winced at the sharp stabs of pain as she sat up. It was almost too much to bear, but it was necessary. She turned, allowing her feet to fall to the floor, looking at the impossibly distant plug suit lying folded on a changing table on the other side of the room. Forcing the pain from her mind, she slid off the bed, and with careful steps, she made her way towards the distant goal, blinking against the haze that filled her vision. Her vision began to tunnel, and her hearing faded, but she clung desperately to her fading consciousness. Halfway to the goal, she nearly collapsed, and heard a distant exclamation as arms surrounded her, trying to lead her back to the ICU bed.
"No..." she whispered. "I must... dress. Ikari... needs me."
She heard someone curse nearby. "...Gendo is insane to force her to do this..."
But her words were not about the Commander. From her memory, she knew that it was her presence that pushed Shinji to pilot the Eva. As gentle hands took off her hospital gown and helped her slip into the plug-suit, she drifted back into semi-consciousness.
Ritsuko glared at Shinji, then turned and yelled into the darkness.
"Reconfigure Unit-01's systems for Rei. Restart!" She then turned and walked away. Misato frowned, and then slowly walked away as well.
The boy stood alone amidst the surrounding darkness of both his mind and the giant hangar.
"As I thought, they don't really need me after all."
The door at the end of the gangway opened, and two orderlies pushed a stretcher into the room. On it was a female about his age with close-cropped blue hair framing her face. Her back arched momentarily, her unbandaged eye closing as her teeth clinched in pain.
That must be the other pilot, he realized.
My father is insane. She's in no position to do this.
She doesn't even look like she could stand.
The girl was obviously in pain just from being moved. Compassion welled up within him, and then anger, at what his father was doing.
He really would force her to pilot.
But he was also using her, showing the boy what he was doing. 'Agree to pilot, or watch her suffer.'
Another memory intruded into his mind.
The massive white figure hovered over earth, white wings stretching out behind her. The planet below slowly turned, once-blue oceans now orange...
He staggered, in his mind, then in real life as the entire facility again shook, but with much more force. He grabbed his head at the sharp pain that came along with the memories.
Where are these images coming from? What do they mean?
Pieces of girder and ceiling began to fall, and the girl was thrown from the stretcher. He looked up, and saw a large girder come loose and slowly begin to fall directly towards her.
"No!..." He ran to her side and cradled her in his arms, trying to protect her from the falling debris. The liquid beneath the platform roiled, and there was a loud clang above them. Shinji closed his eyes, trying to blot everything out. The images. The girl's pain. His own pain.
The loudspeakers blared in the background. "Eva moved! It tore off the binding on its right arm!" Shinji's father looked out the window with what might have passed for a wry grin, but looked more like a frowning smirk.
Ritsuko sat on the ground, loose paper scattered around her. "Impossible!" she yelled. "The entry plug hasn't been inserted yet!"
Misato looked over at Shinji, Rei in his arms, and Eva's arm above him. "Did it protect him?" she asked unbelievingly. "He... he can do it..."
Shinji crouched, the girl shuddering in his hands in what was obviously unspeakable agony. He felt her blood dripping through the seams in the plug suit, and with a morbid fascination, held up his hand, looking at the red liquid as it dripped down.
Her blood is on my hands. If I refuse to pilot, her blood really will be on my hands. And my father's.
I don't care about him, but... I... don't know if I could live with myself, if I refuse.
He clinched his eyes shut.
"Don't run away... Don't run away... Don't run away!
Finally, he looked up at his father, anger in his eyes,
"I'll do it. I'll pilot it!"
His father regarded him with cold eyes. As he stood up, he felt Misato's hand on his shoulder. She led him over the scaffolding towards a strange-looking seat that was attached to a crane-arm leading up into the darkness. He was numb now that he had made the decision. He allowed himself to be guided into the seat, resting his hands on the pistol-grip controls to either side, his eyes glazed, unseeing. Misato's face swam into view as she leaned over him, reaching up to touch his head. Pressure. Something being attached. Two somethings. He didn't care. Her face was full of worry, but he didn't notice, even as she lowered her hand to his shoulder.
"Don't worry, Shinji. Everything's going to be okay. Just..."
Her voice cracked as she tried to say something else, but could not seem to get the words out. Her face disappeared, and he felt her hand leave his shoulder as the seat moved, smoothly lifting him up and out over the purple liquid below, towards a long shadow extending out of the back of the giant machine. It was shrouded in darkness, and he could barely make out the long shape. He found himself being lowered into a large, square hole in the cylinder. The seat settled to a stop inside, and he felt connections lock into place. With almost no sound, the hatchway above him closed, plunging him into complete darkness.
Light flickered, and then he could see again, a dull glow illuminating the curved, blank walls around him. Memories seemed to tickle the edges of his consciousness, just out of reach. The small enclosed space seemed almost like a birthing chamber, or a womb. As he sat in the close embrace of the plug seat and the surrounding walls, he felt comfort mixed with a deep sadness, though he did not know why. He sensed motion, a kind of twisting, and then a clank, and a deep thump. His seat had moved laterally, and the cylinder had twisted around it, he realized. Inserting him into the machine.
He heard status reports echo through the entry plug, the voices loud, but not uncomfortably so.
"Begin the first connection."
He felt a slight twinge run through his mind. He was still in his street clothes. He had seen the form-fitting suit that the female pilot had worn. Rei, they had called her. His cheeks tinged pink as he remembered. The suit left nothing to the imagination. Her beauty was a little austere, but beautiful she was. He closed his eyes against the intruding memory of the strange girl, and the conflicting emotions he felt. Soft, ever-changing colors pulsed against his eyelids.
"Inject LCL into the entry plug."
Ritsuko's voice was uncommonly loud in the enclosed space. He winced slightly, opening his eyes. He looked down in alarm as a yellowish liquid entered the plug from the bottom, its level rising steadily. For some reason he had expected it to be ice cold, but it was slightly warmer then his skin. The memories hovering at the edge of his mind blossomed for a moment, before dissipating just as quickly.
Images of unfamiliar people.
Then, an image that seemed familiar.
If only I could remember...
"Huh?..." He had missed part of what Ritsuko was telling him, and the chamber was now filled.
"...you'll get used to it soon." He breathed normally, feeling the liquid move in his lungs. Despite the strange smell, it felt... right.
Like I've done this before. But how is that possible?
The buzz of status reports continued, and they no longer seemed too loud, as if the liquid muted them somewhat.
"Connect the main power supply."
"Second contact is beginning."
"The connection of the A10 nerve is operational."
Rainbow lights ran up and down the cylinder, and he felt a stronger twinge from whatever it was they had attached to his head.
His eyes widened. The voice was warm. Inviting. Full of... something he hadn't felt in a long time. It was full of love.
I... I know that voice...
Ritsuko stood on one of the bridges of Central Dogma looking over Lieutenant Maya Ibuki's shoulder. Maya's fingers moved over the keys of her console with practiced ease.
"Rate of synchronization is seventy two point eight percent."
"Incredible..." Ritsuko breathed. She had expected something much lower, if he synchronized at all.
"Slight fluctuation in the harmonics, but everything is within acceptable parameters."
"It'll work..." Ritsuko said, glancing back at Misato.
The other woman nodded, her mouth set in a hard line. "Prepare for launch!"
Bolts released, interlocks disengaged, and the Eva moved towards the launch cage along the track. Above, hatches opened in sequence, leading to the surface.
"The course is clear, all green!"
Misato turned to Gendo. "Are you sure about this?" The boy was so fragile-looking. Quiet. She hated what they were about to do to him.
Gendo responded without hesitation. "Of course. We have no future unless we defeat the angels."
Fuyutski turned slightly. "Are you really sure about this?"
Beneath his gloved hands, Gendo gave an uncharacteristic smile.
The LCL seemed to shimmer and disappear around him as he synchronized with the giant machine. There was a slight warm/cool sensation and he realized that he is now feeling what the Eva was feeling. He felt the last of the coolant liquid running from his feet. He felt the small currents from the air circulation system. With a slight movement, the machine came to a stop. His vision cleared, and he realized he was seeing out of the Eva's eyes. Status boxes appeared at the edges of his vision, similar to a heads-up display.
As Misato's voice reverberated through the entry plug, a giant hand seemed to clamp down on him, and he could only gasp and close his eyes, as the giant hybrid went from a stand-still to launch velocity almost instantly. He desperately held on to his fading consciousness as he hurtled upwards, feeling the sudden shifts as he traveled, going from vertical to a slight diagonal, then back to vertical again. After what felt like an eternity, the pressure relented and the Eva slammed to a stop. The LCL cushioned him, preventing him from being bounced out of his seat with the sudden change of motion. Opening his eyes and blinking away the haze and stars, he saw only blackness. And then blinding brightness as the cross-hatched doors slid open.
His eyes adjusted, and he found himself on the surface, inside an armored building, facing a long street, low buildings on both sides. The Angel appeared around the corner of a building, its loping gait and limp arms giving it an otherworldly appearance. It stopped and turned, facing him. He looked back at the Angel, worry gnawing away at his insides. Its red heart pulsed, and something deep in his heart, and the Eva's, pulsed as well. Misato's voice broke the moment.
"Are you ready Shinji?"
"Final safety locks: release! Evangelion, move out!"
Ritsuko interrupted. "Shinji, just concentrate on walking for now."
As he imagined moving his foot, the Eva took a step. He could feel the unyielding ground beneath him.
"He's walking!" Ritsuko yelled jubilantly.
"Walking..." As Eva took another step towards the monster, Shinji felt something behind him. "Why... why is it off balance?" he asked, trying to maintain his concentration.
"That's just the power umbilical behind you," Ritsuko said in encouragement. "You're doing great. Just keep on... look out!"
While his attention was elsewhere, the Angel had closed the distance between them. It reached out, grabbed the Eva's head, and lifted it off the ground. Shinji froze as the Angel gripped his arm with its other hand, stretching it out and pulling.
The pain was almost unbearable, blocking out all thought.
"Shinji, calm down, that's not you're real arm! Where's his defense systems?" Ritsuko snapped.
Technicians began yelling in the background.
"The signal's not working."
"His field's not up, it's not unfolding!"
"It's not up??" Eva's arm snapped, the hand now hanging useless.
"Left arm, damaged!"
"The circuits are down!"
The Angel's energy lance pulled back, then smashed into Eva's head. It pulled back, and again smashed home. Shinji held his head in agony, the yelling in the background fading out.
"There's a crack in the brain-case! That armor can't take much more!..." After several more blows, the lance pierced Eva's head, extending to smash the entire machine back into the launch bay.
"Extent of damage, unknown... the control circuits are breaking up!"
"I'm not getting any readings on the pilot!"
"No... Shinji!!" Misato's distant yell was the last thing he heard.
All sensation vanished, and as he floated, he felt comforting arms surround him. The flood of memories was overwhelming.
Everything was going to be okay. He knew this. He relaxed into the welcoming embrace.
The Eva's soul looked down upon Shinji with compassion. Then out at the monster outside. She knew the boy did not want to fight. Not yet, anyway. Fighting would cause him pain. Right now he needed time to put his shattered memories back together. And so she reached deep inside the Eva and... pushed.
Shinji's consciousness began stretching out towards infinity.
An indeterminate time later, his consciousness became clear again. He was in his mother's arms, their mutual embrace slowly turning over an orange-tinged earth.
"I... I know this place."
He should have been feeling comfort, the love of his mother clear in his mind.
"Why don't I feel anything? It's all so... empty."
Words echoed in his mind,
"You know why."
"Yes. I... remember."
Instrumentality. The memories flowed over him once again, but there was no emotion to them.
"I can't... I..."
Words again echo, "Don't you want to stay here?"
"No. I mean, I don't know..."
I chose to return to reality. Why am I here again?
I decided... that I would rather feel pain, and thus have a chance to feel happiness.
Shinji realized that this was still his choice.
He opened his eyes, looking to the right. The beach on which he now lay was bathed in orange light reflecting off the amber-colored water that lapped against the shore. He looked to his other side, beginning to panic. A terrible sense of loneliness pierced him, matching the desolate ruins of Tokyo-3 looming in the distance.
It wasn't supposed to be like this...
Last time there had been another person beside him. Someone who had caressed his face. All alone on the empty beach, he closed his eyes again, emotion overcoming everything else. Even the Cicadas were silent.
Far below in the pitted and cratered NERV headquarters, deep underground, Unit-01's eyes flashed with luminescence. It opened its mouth in a primal scream as its AT field expanded from its back in the form of massive yellow wings, which unfolded high overhead.
Everything went black.
"We're sorry. Due to the state of special emergency, no lines are currently available. This is a recording." Shinji glumly set the receiver back down.
"Ehh... it's no use. This is dumb! I shouldn't have come here." He reached down to pick up his bag, taking a last look at the postcard.
"I guess we won't be meeting here..." He looked at his watch, unsure of what to do.
"Maybe I should find a shelter...huh?" out of the corner of his eye he saw the figure of a teenage girl with close-cropped blue hair in a school uniform standing motionless in the middle of the road several hundred feet away.
The massive white figure hovered over earth, white wings stretching out behind her. The planet below slowly turned, once-blue oceans now orange...
Heat waves shimmered off the empty street.
He stared, momentarily lost, when suddenly the pavement on which he was standing shook violently. The boy braced himself, cringing and closing his eyes.
"Aaah..." Opening his eyes in stunned surprise, he saw a quintet of VTOLs fly into view from around the edge of the low rise of mountains. The Angel came into view and continued to advance as the VTOLS fell back. Shinji stared in horror, but a memory stirred deep within his mind.
He covered his head as the backwash from a flight of missiles hit him.
Explosions enveloped the Angel, and intense heat washed over him, but this time he didn't notice. He remembered doing this before. With a massive yellow flare, the angel lifted from the ground, smashing a VTOL down a mere two blocks away. The screech of tires was completely hidden in the overpressure and noise.
"Sorry... Get in!" Misato's smiling face behind the dark glasses matched the postcard. The boy looked, momentarily stunned, at the open door of the blue sports car as a VTOL overhead cut loose with every weapon it had.
"Am I real late?" Explosions again engulfed the angel as the confused boy scrambled into the vehicle. She jammed the car into reverse, barely missing being stomped into the concrete as the angel stumbled. Both occupants yelled as the car whipped around, desperate to escape the war zone.
Shinji was in a daze, trying to make sense of what was going on. He felt himself slipping into unconsciousness as he desperately fought to separate memory from reality.
"He's catatonic." a woman's voice.
"Wake up Rei." a man's voice. Familiarity. He opened his eyes as he lifted his head from the cold metal.
Am I still...?
He looked at his hand, which was shaking slightly. He looked up at his father in the control room, emotion flaring in his mind. Compassion. Anger. He knew who he was. He knew what he was capable of. And he knew without a shadow of a doubt what to do.
"I'll pilot it."
Gendo turned, surprise momentarily breaking through his impenetrable mask. "What?"
"I'll pilot it!" he yelled.
The first explosion hit the facility moments later as Misato helped him over to the plug-seat.
Shinji was once again numb as the reports echoed through the entry plug, but this time for a different reason. His mouth was a hard line.
"...second contact is beginning."
"The connection of the A10 nerve is operational."
"Rate of synchronization is..."
"...impossible." Ritsuko breathed.
"Launch!" Misato yelled. He braced himself, feeling the familiar shock of the g-forces of launch. As he hurtled upwards, he prepared himself, as he always did before a battle, thinking of all the people he was protecting. The city that had been entrusted into his hands, and Eva's.
He felt the giant machine slam to a halt in the armored entry-point, and the cross-hatched doors slid away in front of him. The Angel appeared around the corner of a building, and Shinji prepared himself as he felt the restraining bolts disengage.
"Shinji, just concentrate on..."
He had already left the entry point and was sprinting towards the Angel as Ritsuko spoke. He smiled slightly. It felt good to run. He was no longer running away from his problem, he was running towards it. And it had no idea what was about to happen. He gave the mental command, and his shoulder armor came apart slightly, the prog-knife sliding up into view. Reaching up with his right arm over to his left shoulder as he ran, he drew it, feeling it shimmer to life in his hands. This Angel was already dead, in his mind.
"It's... like he's born to pilot it..." he heard Ritsuko's breathless comment.
AT fields clashed as the monster tried to slow him down, and he knew the familiar feeling of melding his own field to the Angel's, eroding through so that he could directly engage it.
Just like riding a bicycle, he thought, as he plunged the prog-knife into the Angel's heart. The Angel had reached one hand to his throat and the other to his head, and was now drawing back its lance. It slammed into the Eva's brain-case armor, rattling him.
"Yaaaaaaaahhh!" He yelled, unleashing all of his anger on the enemy before him, ignoring the sharp pain from the Angel's blow. The knife flared with sparks for a few long moments, and the Angel managed to strike him once more with its weapon before losing cohesion, engulfing them both in an expanding bloom of energy and overpressure.
"Aaaaaaahhh!!" He grabbed his head, trying to control the shards of memories coalescing in his mind. More memories.
How... just how long a life did I live, before traveling back to this place?
"Berserker!" Shinji heard one of the technicians yell as he felt a stabbing pain shoot down from where his A10 clips connected to his head. The pain diminished somewhat, as if the machine was trying to protect him even is it took over, and everything was washed away in a haze of pain and confusion.
He slowly returned to consciousness, opened his eyes, and sat up.
White hospital bed, the walls and ceiling devoid of color, but not of emotion. The ever present sound of cicadas served to accentuate things.
He lay back in bed, eyes blank, memories overwhelming him.
yet, not unfamiliar.