"Reporting for duty sir."

"You're late Colonel."

"My apologies Admiral. It's just that last night - "

"That is of no importance. I have a new assignment for you."

"Ready and willing sir."

"You are to retrieve the Third Child."

"The Third -? You mean your - "

"That is correct. From your reports it appears that he has capabilities that could prove useful to us. Your ship has been cleared and will be ready to leave at 0600 hours. You are to return here with the boy in two days, with the next recruitment shuttle."

"What? You want him here, at NERV? Admiral that's unreasonable! You've been shooting down every suggestion to recruit him since he was six years old, and all of a sudden you want to advance him directly to Battle School?"

"You are the one who keeps badgering us about his supposed potential."

"Yes, and that's what I meant 'potential', not miraculous super-powers. All recruits need at least 2 years at the institute before they are ready for the Battle School! And he's only twelve years old! If you put him into Battle School now -"

"Are you under the assumption, _Colonel_, that I called you here in order to question my orders?"

". . . No sir, Admiral."

"Good. Then you wi- "

"With all due respect, you might as well just murder him. Sir."

"We are here to save the world Colonel, not coddle children. Not even my own."

____

____

Ender presents.

Shinji's Game

Disclaimer: This is an Evangelion/Ender's Game fusion. Neon Genesis Evangelion and its characters are owned by Gainax. Ender's Game is owned by Orson Scott Card.

Chapter One: Third Child

____

____



They were there of course.

Somewhere, in his heart of hearts, Shinji had been hoping they wouldn't come. They had said they would of course, threatened that it was time to 'teach him a lesson'. But then, there had always been threats, and insults, and jokes. He was used to them all. But still, a part of him continued to hope that one day things would be better.

If so that day had not arrived today.

"Hey, hey lookee here. . . It's the Third Child!"

Shinji found himself growing afraid. Up until this point, they had never done him any physical harm. Oh sure there were shoves here and there, elbows to his gut or love taps to his head when he wasn't looking. But nothing really major. Nothing that ever required more than a few stitches.

Today would be different though. Yesterday he had miscalculated. His mask had slipped for a moment and he had made a horrible error. He had excelled. It had only happened because Shinji had taken pity on his teacher when no one else seemed to know the answer - He hadn't realized that no one else _should_ have known the answer, at least no one who was only twelve years old. Instead he had answered and he had been correct. He had been praised. And that was unforgivable.

"Hey Third Child! Hey Smarty Thirdee! I'm talking to you!"

Third Children were not supposed to be praised. Third Children were not supposed to _exist_. After the Second Impact had occurred, after the second Angel invasion, one of the primary casualties had been land. As the poles had melted beneath the onslaught of Angelic firepower, the seas had risen and coastlines and islands had been swallowed up whole. Japan had been one of the areas hardest hit, and with millions of people already compressed within a suddenly shrunken landmass, the government had instituted a One Child policy. Within such a context, Second Children were rare but acceptable. Third Children were abominations.

It was not Shinji's fault he was a Third Child. He had never asked to be born. It had been the government itself that authorized it. If he had been asked beforehand he probably would have politely declined. In his twelve years on the planet, he had encountered precious little that would have made it worthwhile. Nothing save for -

"Hey Third! Think you're too good for us now eh? Think you're too smart to talk to us First Children eh?"

Shinji cursed his inattentiveness. So lost was he in his thoughts, his eyes staring at the ground, that he had allowed them to circle around him. They were close now, close enough to touch. He tried to scamper away, weave around them, but they were just too many. They were always many. It was only Shinji who was always alone. He couldn't even count on his siblings for aid. No that was wrong. He could count on Rei. He could always count on Rei. But not even his older sister could offset Kaoru's presence. He'd face a thousand gangs alone if it meant he could avoid going home to his older brother.

It was only that thought that kept his knees from giving way as the others surrounded him. At least they weren't Kaoru. None of them was Kaoru.

"Hey Third Child! You're in my way!"

"Sorry," Shinji muttered, keeping his head averted. Maybe if he pretended not to see them, they would go away.

Fat chance.

"Oh no, not yet. . . You're not sorry yet Third Child," A push, then Shinji tasted the schoolyard dirt. It tasted oddly bitter. He wondered that he had not yet developed a liking to the taste of the earth, so often was his mouth shoved into it. "But you will be. Oh yes, you _will_ be sorry."

"Hideaki that's enough," he heard a voice speak. It was a girl's voice, a gentle voice. She sounded like a good person. Shinji was sorry he couldn't see her since his face was being pressed to the ground. "We've punished him, let's go. He's just a boy."

"Shut up Mari, this ain't no 'boy'." One kick, then another. Hideaki seemed to be having fun. "It's a Third! It's worse than an Angel!" Another kick. Shinji thought he felt some ribs crack.

"Yeah that's right! It's an Angel!" The pain came from his other side this time. It seemed someone else had joined in.

"Get the Angel!" A flurry of kicks now, one after another, harsh voices mixed together in his mind by the intensity of his pain. He tried to get up, tried to scream, but he wasn't a boy anymore, wasn't capable of movement. He was just some _thing_ that existed to experience pain. A Third Child.

A brief moment of clarity, and he makes out some words. "This is fun - we should take out his sister next. That eerie Second Child, Ayanami." A blow to his eye then, he would never know if it was intentional, and the clarity dissolves.

_Rei.._

_They're going after Rei. . ._

_Rei!_

Something snaps within him then, his mind as broken as the bones in his body. From within himself he finds the strength to look up, to gaze upon their faces. He found himself confused for a moment as he looked at them, his vision swimming, their forms blurring. Then in an instant all was clear, and he knew their true form. They all had the same features: gray hair, pale skin, red eyes. He had been wrong, so wrong. This was not a gang of boys and girls. This was Kaoru. This was the Enemy.

He arose, swaying unsteadily to his feet. A hand came down on his shoulder, pushing him down. Kaoru was always trying to push him down, make him feel small. Too small to do anything, to small to be anything. Too small to help Rei.

His teeth found flesh and his tongue tasted blood. The redness in his mouth seemed to bleed into his eyes, his enemies becoming mere dark shadows in a haze of crimson. But he had seen them, he knew who they were. . .

Kaoru. . .

Kaoru. . .

Enemy. . .

Enemy!

He saw them backing away from him then, almost as if afraid. But that was wrong - Kaoru was never afraid. This must be a trick so he would lower his guard. Kaoru was the one who made people fear. And this was Kaoru. All of them.

Kaoru.

His anger found his voice and he let out a roar. And then the world went black.

-----

Shinji's eyes slowly opened and he found himself. . . elsewhere.

_Unfamiliar ceiling. . ._

"Colonel. . . He's finally awake."

Shinji tried to move his body but found that his arms and legs were held by restraints. For a moment he considered struggling but realized he would probably not be strong enough to break free. Instead, he lay back calmly and waited for someone to address him. It was obvious that he had been brought here because someone wanted something from him. That was the only reason anyone noticed him - when they wanted something from him. But what? His head felt heavy, like after that time Kaoru had 'accidentally' locked him in a room that had been fumigated with insecticide.

Kaoru. . .

He vaguely remembered getting into a fight with Kaoru. Or was it Hideaki's gang? He remembered a group of kids. . . and nothing else. He knew something had happened but for the life of him, he couldn't remember what. His efforts at finding out however, were interrupted by the sound of a spritely female voice.

"So you're Shinji Ikari. . . You're even cuter in person than I expected."

At the words he found himself looking up at the inverted head of a young woman, long purple hair framing a face which currently sported a large grin. Shinji blinked as the head disappeared from view and then began to pop in and out from different angles around his body, talking all the while.

"Hmmm, no visible cuts or bruises - well aside from that nasty one where your face hit the floor - you're lucky that one didn't require stitches. Aside from that you look okay, and you do appear to be sturdier than one would think given how scrawny you look. Don't they feed you at your house? You're positively malnourished! I think you need to start drinking alcohol - it's good for the appetite you know."

"Uhmm. . ." was all Shinji could get out as he tried to keep track of the woman's rapid fire words along with the position of her head. Much to his relief a male voice interrupted her shortly.

"Er, Colonel? You're making the boy dizzy."

The woman ceased her groundhog impersonation and blinked. "Oh. Right," she said, then disappeared from view again. Soon after Shinji felt the restraints loosened and he was made to sit up. As he gazed at his surroundings, he realized he was at the school infirmary, although he didn't see any of the nursing staff. Aside from the woman, there was only one other person present, a bespectacled man. Neither of them were members of the clinic staff - Shinji had been here often enough that he even knew their names. As he stared at the two strangers, the man offered him a glass of clear liquid. He received it hesitantly and the man gave him a reassuring smile.

"You need some fluids right now. Go ahead - its just water."

"Uhm. . . It's ok. I'm not thirsty."

The man frowned at that - there was no way he could know that Shinji hardly ever ate or drank anything that he didn't buy or make himself. Not since Kaoru had.

Shinji shut his eyes. Kaoru again. Why was it always Kaoru? Even when his older brother was not around, his hand still had Shinji by the throat.

"It's ok Hyuuga. . . Here give me that."

Shinji opened his eyes to see the woman take the glass of water from the man. She gave him another smile then proceeded to take a sip from the glass. She made a face. "Why people would drink this swill when there's alcohol on hand I will never know, but as far as water goes it seems clean enough. Of course, I'm no expert. . ." That said she offered it back to him. "You want to give me your opinion?'

The boy stared at the woman, then at the glass, before gingerly taking it. He raised it to his lips and only then realized how truly thirsty he was. A second later he was setting the empty glass on the table and somewhat shamefacedly wiping the liquid that had seeped down his chin in his haste.

The woman made no comment, just gave him a strange look. It almost seemed. . . sympathetic, like she knew exactly what he was going through. That was impossible of course - no one aside for Rei could understand him. No one aside from Rei had Kaoru for a brother, and everyone else thought the gray haired boy was a certified angel - in the traditional sense of the word. Yet even then, the look on the woman's face said that somehow, someway, she understood. It unnerved the boy. Shinji didn't think he'd ever seen her before - she didn't have the type of face that one easily forgot. Quite the opposite really - those boys in his class who had already started to notice the charms of the 'opposite sex' would probably have been smitten by the amount this woman possessed. She was dressed in a simple sleeveless blouse and black denim pants. There was no insignia anywhere. . . but he had heard 'Hyuuga' refer to her as 'Colonel'. Shinji briefly glanced back at the other man, but his clothing was as nondescript as the 'Colonel's.'

"Are you ok Shinji? You look a bit dazed," the woman asked, concern on her face. This was the second time the woman had called him by name. The boy was sure he had never seen her before.

"I'm. . . alright I guess."

The woman nodded. "I'm glad. When the teachers found you, you were lying sprawled on the pavement. You took a nasty blow to the head and have been in dream land for quite awhile since - you'd best be careful next time."

On the pavement? Then. . . The boy shuddered as images swept through his brain, blood and violence. screams of children. Shinji's hand went to his head and he let out a groan.

"Shinji?" the woman asked again, but he merely shook his head.

"I. . . I was alone? There was no one else who got. . . hurt?"

The purple haired woman's expression grew stern. "No - though I'd love to get my hands on those bullies who did that to you. When they saw the teachers coming they scattered, and I doubt we'll ever really know everyone who was involved."

Shinji had stopped listening after the first word. No one else. . . No one else got hurt. He suppressed the images that seemed to be trying to claw their way into his consciousness. No one else got hurt. . . It was all a dream. He hadn't hurt anybody, he was the one who had been hurt. He was still Shinji. . . not Kaoru. He'd never be Kaoru.

The sound of a door opening caused him to look up. Two similarly attired men stepped into the room, both concealing their eyes behind dark glasses. They seemed to be in uniform of a sort, yet no identifying marks were visible. The woman turned at their entrance, then returned her gaze to Shinji.

"Well it seems your escort has arrived Shinji - you missed the bus because of this incident so I took the liberty of asking these men to take you home. Don't worry, they're nice guys, and they'll make sure you get home safely."

The boy looked from the two men to Hyuuga and the woman and then back again. Finally he spoke.

"Who. . . who are you?"

The woman shook her head, then gave him another big smile as she helped him down from the bed. "There's a time for everything Shinji, and you'll find out soon enough. For now let's just say I'm someone who wants to be your friend and leave it at that for now okay?"

For a moment the boy just stared at the older woman, his eyes unblinking. Slowly, he nodded his head.

At that the woman's smile widened. "Great!" She looked at him strangely for a moment, then suddenly Shinji felt his cheeks become victims of tow very enthusiastic pinches. "You are _such_ a darling boy . I'm sure we'll get along just fine." With that she nodded to the uniformed men who began to gently lead Shinji to the doorway.

"Until next we meet Shinji-kun!"

The doors closed behind him, and Shinji found his hands rubbing against the sore-skin of his cheeks, his mind full of confused thoughts. He hardly noticed that while he his last memory had been of leaving the school around noontime, it was the early evening sky that he glimpsed through the window. That woman. it was almost like he should know her - or rather, that she knew him, that they had been friends for a long time.

_Shinji-kun. . ._

As Shinji walked down the strangely deserted corridors of his school, he wondered what it would be like to have a friend.

-----

"My weren't we being affectionate today?"

"I don't know what you're talking about. . ."

From his position next to the medicine cabinet, Lieutenant Makoto Hyuuga sighed and shook his head in exasperation. "Whatever you say Colonel. . . Although it _is_ nice to see that you don't need to be waist deep in booze anymore before you can talk up a storm."

Colonel Misato Katsuragi shot her subordinate a venomous look before turning back towards the window. From the infirmary, she had a clear view of the schools entrance driveway, where a common Mitsubishi Type-D car was waiting, its engine humming into the night. After a few moments she took a deep breath.

"Alright. . . So I was a bit nervous. "

"Really?" Hyuuga replied in a dry tone of voice. "Who'd have guessed?"

"Bite me, Lieutenant."

Hyuuga laughed before turning serious again. "Really Colonel, what did you have to be nervous about? For the past how many years you've had access to this kids thoughts, feelings, actions. You know him better than he does himself."

"That's just it," Misato began, turning to Hyuuga. "I'm used to seeing things from _inside_ him. This is the first time I've really seen him from the outside, had to read his expression, his body language, like any other person. It's strange. . . he looks so blank, so detached - but deep inside are these currents - these drives - so strong that it's a wonder that he hasn't folded in upon himself yet. I'm so used to feeling what he feels, thinking his thoughts. . . and then all of a sudden, here he is not two feet from me and for the life of me I can't even tell if he's thirsty or not."

Hyuuga listened intently and then reached a hand into his pocket. "Then maybe it was a mistake to take this out after all?" he said, before tossing a small, metallic object over to Misato.

The Colonel looked at the tiny miracle of technology she had in her hands - a collection of sensors, transmitters and nanite factories that had until recently found a home in Shinji Ikari's brain. The Marduke Monitor was the top-secret means by which the International Self - Defense Fleet kept tabs on potential candidates for the war against the invading Angels. It allowed for a system by which the feelings, thoughts and behavior of a child - without his or her knowledge or consent - could be monitored, recorded and even experienced by an adult hundreds of miles away. In Shinji's case, for the last five years, that adult had been Misato.

"We had to take it out," she replied. "The things already been in Shinji's head for way longer than regulation." Most Mardukes were removed from the 'host' by the age of ten - removal beyond that limit risked dangerous side effects if the attempt was botched. And yet the Marduke was not made to remain indefinitely - deterioration of the monitor while still lodged in the brain of the child could lead to mental incapacitation, or even death. "Besides, I don't think it would give me that much better a chance at anticipating his actions," she paused once more and then shook her head. "I don't think the Marduke makes you _know_ a person so much as show you how _impossible_ it is to truly understand anybody - even yourself."

The lieutenant nodded again. "Fine, but then if meeting with him unsettled you so much, why did you insist that we be present when he awoke? The operation was finished a good hour ago - we could have been gone from here that much earlier. You're planning to inform him of the Admiral's wishes tomorrow anyway - what would it have hurt to wait one more day?"

The female Colonel remained silent, then turned back towards the window. A few moments later, Shinji emerged, flanked by the two silent members of Fleet Intelligence. She wondered what he was feeling now, if he had shut himself away from reality as he so often did, denying with his heart something which his intellect knew to be true. It was a defense, one which he had cultivated to innure himself from the pain, the insults, the loneliness that had been forced upon him ever since he was born. At the slightest hint of anything unpleasant, he withdrew into his unbreachable shell. Yet that shell had broken this morning, and what Misato had seen - what she had felt - had frightened her. Suddenly it had become clearer to her why the Admiral wanted his son in Battle School. Misato only hoped that the shell would reassert itself now with enough strength to keep the child from realizing that she had lied to him.

"How are the other children doing?"

Her subordinate stared at her for a second, then shrugged. "At least seven with minor injuries, three with broken bones. There are two more critical cases: the Suzuhara girl took quite a blow to the head - she's currently in a coma."

"And the other boy? The gang leader?"

Hyuuga closed his eyes and shook his head. "I give him a week, tops. It's a good thing we were close by - if Intel hadn't whisked him off to a private hospital, his parents would be creating quite the scene."

"They've been told that it was a vehicular accident?"

"Yes, for now. . . Though I don't know how long we'll be able to keep that subterfuge."

Misato sighed. _Damnit. . . it wasn't supposed to be like this. Shinji was supposed to have been roughed up a bit, then we would have intervened. It would have given us the opportunity to remove the Marduke. I was expecting a fight but this. . ._ "We'll find some way to make it up to them, but for now what's important is that we keep things quiet until Shinji is safely at NERV."

"And how, exactly, do we 'make it up to them'?

To this, Misato's only reply was a terse silence. After a moment Hyuuga changed the topic.

"What makes you so sure that he'll agree? It's not like he owes the Polemarch anything - not after all these years of neglect. And then there's his sister. . . I doubt he'd willingly leave her."

Once more it took the Colonel a while to answer, and when she did, it was to answer a different question. "You asked me why I wanted this meeting? This is the first time I've ever seen him as a person, as Shinji Ikari, standing across from me, thinking his own thoughts, thoughts which no prying eyes can see anymore. Today, for the first time, I could talk to him, and he could talk to me - I could look him in the eye and smile at him, and give him a compliment. Today, we were strangers, but at least we were equals, and we had no more control over each others lives than any other pair of strangers. It was the first time. . . but it was also the last."

The Colonel paused once more, then her eyes narrowed to slits, and her voice took on a tone of grim determination. "When next we meet, I will ask him to give his life for the life of the world, his happiness for the happiness of others. I will ask him, and he will say yes, because I know him, and I know just how to phrase the question. Then I will mold him, shape him, beat him into a weapon that will save humanity, or one that will die trying. We will no longer be equals, but superior and subordinate. After that, succeed or fail. . ." she said, then dropped her voice to a whisper. "After that, I doubt he will ever call me friend. . ."

Her eyes found the child once more, as he was about to enter the car. As he entered, his head turned up, and for an instant it was almost as if their eyes met once more. Then he was inside, hidden from view, and within moments the car was speeding away for his home - a home he might be seeing for the last time.

A rustling sound betrayed Hyuuga's approach, and Misato was little surprised when he laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Maybe it won't be that bad Colonel. He's a strong kid. He could come out of this intact."

"Perhaps," she replied. One hand reached out to tentatively touch the glass. It felt cold against her skin. . . cold and fragile. "But more than anyone else, I know what Battle School will do to him. If he survives. . . It won't be as the child I met today. The one I grew to love. He'll be a weapon Hyuuga. . . and it will be my fault."

-----



Author's Note:

And we're off! Been awhile coming but here's the complete first chapter. It's short, but then again, it was meant to be.

As I have stated, this is going to be an Ender's Game fusion, but I don't think any knowledge of Ender's Game is required to enjoy this story. Certain things of course will make more sense if you have read the novel, and there will be more of an 'oh so that's where he/she/it fits in!' factor, but I think it will eventually stand on its own well enough.

The events of the first few chapters will parallel the novel closely, but once we get Shinji to Battle School, all bets are off. I think it might be possible to do this in such a way that while elements of neither are neglected, the story becomes something new.

What else do I have to say.

Oh right, Misato. As you can see the 'Colonel' is going to be a tad on the harsher side in this fic - more the Misato that wastes four soldiers in battle than the Misato who chugs beer every morning. At least initially ^_^ I haven't fogotten her fun - loving side but the Children will be treated - in my opinion - with even less humanity in this fic than in the series so Misato's character needs to show a comparable shift. In a way she knows Shinji much more intimately in this fic than in canon - but on the other hand she's in much less of a position to help him.

Anyhow now that I've begun this thing, chapters should come on a more regular basis, alternating with Mark of Cain and occassional one-shots. If anyone would like to pre-read this fusion, please drop me a line. It would be much appreciated. ^_^ Ender's Game knowledge not required.

Oh and if this little fic in anyway entices you enough to go buy the book, you will be doing yourself a big, big favor. It's da stuff man! ^_^

Next Chapter: Meet Shinji, Rei and Kaoru - the Ikari's! Marvel at a Rei with sisterly instincts! Gasp at a Kaoru with homicidal tendencies! Boggle at a Shinji without a spine! Er. wait, that last didn't sound quite right.