Disclaimer: I don't own Neon Genesis: Evangelion.

Author's Note: Chapter title from the song "Station to Station", by David Bowie.

Wow, finally here. Special thanks to my reviewers! Also note: last chapter had some goof-ups in formatting (the dividers disappeared for some reason), but it's been fixed. If you haven't checked it out yet, it's a green light and everything's cool.

Violet Shadows, hell yeah! I crank the badass up to 11 in this chapter. Nemesis Zero, I'd seriously considered explicitly alluding to Rebuild… in fact, that was one of the things that kept this story held up in production for so long. BUT, seeing as how I haven't seen 2.0 yet, I felt that I didn't have anything to really comment on. Instead, I figured that the very concept of Rebuild—the idea of reinterpreting one's own work—was more important that the reinterpretation itself. And along those lines is the notion of what this actually does to "canon" (LOL!) and in-universe meaning. This comes through most prominently in this chapter, but my goal was to make it retroactively applicable to all other chapters as well. This is my name, haha, well, NGE & EoE aren't exactly an easy viewings either. Some of the post-modern stuff does tend to get a little out of hand, I admit, but I have no problem laying this stuff on thick. anonymous, I'll take that as a compliment!

So without further ado, BEHOLD:

EDIT 05/02/2010: Fixed strange formatting errors that occured sometime in the past several months. Again.


Nightlife 4.0: The Return of the Thin White Duke


Camera glide slowly down Hallway Seven, short thing runs about fifteen feet in either direction with a thirteen-step stairwell at one end and a chest of red at other, four doors in total lined neatly two on each side with beige carpet on floor. Camera close in on last door on left; it's cracked open an inch and a sliver of pale yellow light falls like deadwood on surfaces of otherwise darkened hallway. A singular voice can be heard faintly at first, but slowly it gains volume as camera approaches.

"…like I said, if it doesn't have green girls or tubes or weird cybernetic shit, I'm just not interested. Yeah, that's what I said to him, but he still tried to get me to watch the damn thing. Did I like it?—sure, sure, it was OK. But shit, it didn't have any of that weird shit—y'know, I watched this one thing that had a motorcycle chick in it. No, not like leather 'n all that, no; I mean like the girl was the motorcycle—she had handlebars and a gas tank on her back, and her head transformed into a gun… yeah… oh, I can't remember, this was what, ten years ago?"

The door opens enough to let the camera glide in, still at floor level. It has to turn a few times to maneuver around two bookshelves, but then comes to a small open space: a dresser and a desk on one side, a bed lines the other—all surfaces save the bed's are covered in worn books and cables, comics, a guitar, various reams and scraps of paper, the floor has three dirty socks in the foreground. A man sits Indian-style on a metallic fold-up chair by the desk in profile, the windows to his left have their shades drawn. He rambles on into the cellular phone.

"Yeah, it was strange. Good times, man, back when cartoons were worth something. When'll I what? I right, yeah. It's getting done right now, it'll be posted someday. Not like I've got a deadline, man. Oh right? Right. Alright, later."

He claps the thing shut and throws it onto the desk. It hits a chessboard and a shitty paperback copy of The Beautiful and Damned. He sighs.

"Chapter Seven," he groans, running a hand over his face. "Chapter Seven."


Commander Ikari:
My cat died—
The one my grandmother had been taking care of.
I hadn't seen it in such a long time,
But now I know that I'll never see it ever again.

So long, Pen-Pen.


Shinji Ikari flexed his twig like arms through his plug suit.

"I am Shinji Ikari!" He bellowed! "I am destroyer of evil! Super magnificent Evangelion I pilot! Stupendous fatherly relationship I wish to inherit gladly! Instead settle I for sexy roommates I'm too gentlemanly to make advances on even though they supremely want it!"

"Shinji! We are happy harem family remember!" Misato Katsuragi called from the hallway. "All sexy stocking equals success rate increase! Tactical embraces of motherly warmth are must!"

"Yes, right are you!" Shinji cartwheeled out of the locker room and stood on his hands. "Observe these supreme reflexes! I am changed person now! I am better than was before! Here I am doing this again!"

Asuka's mouth watered, but her tongue was sharp. "You stupid! Nether region moistening be damned, I see ghosts of my past." She pointed an accusing finger. "Shinji you stupid! Comfort me in my times of need! I am weak feminine creature; need big strong man arms like yours! Give me love and warmth!"

"OK!" Shinji gladly accepted this bizarre misappropriation of reality with open arms. "Here is love! Here is happiness! Asuka my beloved!" He embraced her swiftly. Asuka blushed like the schoolgirl she was. Rei felt jealous.

"Are tears mine? Do I cry? Am I real?" She wept in silence amid the cacophony of emotions. "Do I wish for Ikari? Yes, I do! Give me Ikari flesh like Shinji!"

"Do you wish for 1?" Misato asked, smiling.

"I wish for 1!" Shinji affirmed.

"Do you want to be 1?" Asuka joyously asked.

"I want to be 1!" Shinji affirmed.

"Let us become 1!" Rei giddily cried.

"We'll become 1!" Shinji affirmed.

Shinji Ikari observed this in morbid silence that verged on disgust. "What the hell am I seeing?"

"Clutch fist dramatic stance, I wish to be 1!!" Shinji affirmed once again, clutching his fist and assuming a dramatic stance.

"Is this… real?" Shinji whispered.

"1!"

"Okay folks, that's enough! Let's cut it at that."

Shinji moved three paces left, and suddenly realized the horrible optical illusion he had been held a victim of. There really were pulleys and levers behind the scenes of existence—this whole experience had been nothing but a scene rehearsal for some bizarre reality program.

The director wearily stood from his folding chair and stretched as the cast members wandered off in separate directions. "God, I thought this scene would never fucking end," he yawned. "Somebody refill this coffee—would—hey, thanks dear." A blonde with short shorts and a t-shirt that said "KAME" in huge letters filled his empty thermos with a pitcher of black steaming fluid. Shinji watched this in shock and awe.

"Hey, you there!" The director pointed at Shinji. "What are you doing on set? Are you authorized for this kind of clearance?—it'd be news to me, seeing as how I haven't seen your face 'round here before."

"I—I uh, I got… um… what?" He scratched his head and started having trouble identifying with his situation.

"You! You're on set! Why the hell are you on set—and for that matter—" The director gazed past his shoulder and shouted; his mouth opened up into a comical hole in his face, red tongue curled back like a carpet, teeth jutting out of pasty gums. "Security! Security! What the fuck, man?! Where's the fucking security in this godforsaken hellhole of a set?!" He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed before addressing Shinji again. "Look, apparently the blue-button jackoffs all took a snooze break or something, so I can't really blame you for wandering in here. Just… I dunno, just don't get in our way. Sit over there, off to the side or, well, something. Your folks know you're here?"

"My what?"

"Jezus Christ, kid. Look, just don't get in the way." The director lumbered off towards a small cluster of people, mumbling under his breath "Friggin' kids these figgin' days…"


What Shinji had no way of knowing were the goings on in the locker room, a room and a half away from his position. A purposefully-mundane character that had been briefly introduced in the first chapter was busy preparing himself for the arrival of Ragnarok, donning his cloak and make-up; he carefully brushed an epoxy onto his face in order to simulate an old scar.

"Scar, the Claw," he whispered, eye wide and fingers steady. "Scar, the Claw. Be the Claw. Be Scar, the Claw. I am Scar. I must be Scar." He frowned as he pondered his lines, absently biting his cheek and looking at the make-up pallet on the counter before him.

"Flax Hardseed, your time has come!" He frowned deeper, scowling. "Flax Hardseed, your time has come!" He put the brush down and stared at himself. "Flax Hardseed! Prepare to die!" He blinked and sighed and tried to relax, but jumped back into character quickly. "Flax Hardseed—your time here is over! Prepare to die!"

He clapped the make-up pallet shut and threw the brush in a nearby sink, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

"Who the fuck wrote this script?" he sighed.


"I am have become 1!" An industrial fan behind him simulated dramatic winds. Flax Hardseed stood perched on the consoles, fist clenched before him, and Shinji Ikari the Pilot of Shogouki pointed towards him. "Now you are becomes 0!"

"For every positive, there is a negative! Shinji Ikari, prepare for complete polarity reversal! You are in nothingspace for soontime to begin!" Flax Hardseed's yell was triumphant and momentous.

Suddenly, Scar, the Claw, jumped down into view. "Flax Hardseed, your time has come!" he bellowed against the industrial fan. "Prepare to die!"

"B-but who!" Shinji spun in his plugsuit. His hair washed around his head as though his body were an agitator. "It can't be!"

"It be! Shinji, I am Scar, the Claw! But also—" Scar pulled off the cloth on his hand and revealed an embryonic palm. He perched glasses on his nose. "Also am I the Gendo Ikari!"

"No! Be it not so!" Shinji's pupils dilated.

"Impossible!" Flax seethed. "I killed you back in Chapter 02!"

"It be so! And I return once more to sway the ratings of this petulant creation!" He lunged.

The Director stood from his folding chair and said, "Cut! OK. We'll just blue-screen the resta this shit later on."

Gendo broke character and turned toward the director. "Serious? This scene wasn't very long."

The Director shrugged noncommittally. "I'm just following his directions, man." He gestured towards Flax Hardseed with his fan. "He's the boss."

Gendo returned his gaze to Flax Hardseed as the palefaced psychotic let loose a maniacal laugh that filled the studio. From his spot by the wall, Shinji Ikari shuddered and shivered and twitched as he was seized by an unnamable, Lovecraftian terror. He stared deep into the jaws of avarice and decay as the hollow chortle opened up the floodgates of morbid curiosity and deep seated psychoses within Shinji's very being.


Soft hands were kneading his shoulders and neck when he felt himself start to wake. With a sigh and a groan, he rubbed his eyes and opened them, taking in the sight of another NERV break room. There was a pot of coffee on.

He hummed pleasantly at the adroitness of the masseuse. A train was slowly spiraling into the GeoFront, but all of its windows were dark and unlit. He frowned as he noticed this. The pot of coffee bubbled and hissed. One of the girl's hands moved up and snaked its way into his hair, rubbing his scalp just like Rei sometimes would when they were alone.

"Rei, that feels really good," he sighed.

The hand stopped suddenly, and the temperature in the room dropped dramatically. He imagined the coffee spilling on him and a table flipping over. Shit.

There were hands around his neck, and the hands were strangling him.

And it really, really hurt.


A vending machine malfunctioned and spat out a can of soda. It fizzed open and orange LCL pooled around it. Shinji's breath was haggard and choked as he clawed at the fingers that slowly crushed his windpipe. The figure of Rei Ayanami congealed in the ooze and stood naked before him, smiling down in benevolence like a statue of some virgin mother. She held his head to her fourteen-year-old breast, even as the hands continued to stifle the life out of him.

"How does it feel?" Asuka's voice hissed these words into his ear, and they were biting and poisoned and full of hatred and loneliness. "How does this feel, Shinji?"

"This is your guilt," Rei told him.

"Then what are you?" he tried to say, but the words were mangled and hoarse.

She smiled when she released his head, and the hands around his throat pulled him backwards over the bench. He landed on the floor gasping in agony. Asuka's towering form blocked out the fluorescent light like a wide-angle shot of a gallows pole at noon.

"Even now, you deny what you really want?" She cried. Her foot dug into his ribcage.

"Do you even know what you want?" Rei asked calmly.

They burst into LCL, and it rained down on Shinji's body. It rolled and beaded across his school uniform, sliding off into a single puddle, and that congealed into the upper torso of Gendo Ikari. He was missing his glasses.

"Shinji," he said.

"F-father?" It was a terrified gaze.

"How do you feel?" Gendo asked calmly.

"How d-do I—how do I feel?" Shinji shook himself of and stood up, staring down at the torso. It had arms and Gendo's head, but it was missing a waist and everything below that. "You're just—you're missing—what the—"

Gendo stared down at himself, knowing the truth. "I know how it looks, Shinji," he mumbled. "Nothing is going to be alright."

Shinji shook his head. "What do you mean?"

"So long as the sun, the moon, and the stars exist, there will always be suffering, misery, and death. For as long as we survive, we will never be free. Human will has lost all capacity for understanding and happiness, cementing itself in the apathetic cycles of hollow joy and vicious self loathing. You have borne witness to this. Human beings simply do not want to be happy, Shinji. That's all there is to it." Gendo used his arms to crawl over to a vending machine, leaving a streak of blood that leaked out of his torso in his wake. He tried to reach for a button, but his arms weren't long enough. Eventually he stopped, and leaned back against the machine.

"There is only one true solution to this predicament. There is only one road of survival that dodges the paths of brain-numbing ignorance and absolute insanity." He gazed at the linoleum tiles as he said these words.

Shinji found a word to punctuate the silence. "…Instrumentality?"

Gendo sighed. "Give me an orange soda, and I'll tell you."

The boy fished around in his pockets for some change, and managed to produce a few coins that he deposited into the machine. He pressed a button. A bottle fell into its mouth. Gendo fished it out and opened it with ease.

"Thank you," he said.

Shinji stood awkwardly, uncertain. "…Dad?"

"Mm," Gendo hummed as he took a drink. "Yes?"

"Are we bonding?"

Gendo sighed again, and he didn't look at his son. "There is only one path that may find solace to counteract to existence," he said. He paused again, though this time it was for dramatic effect. "Badassness," he enunciated. "Although we can never be free, we can always strive to be badass. It is only through badass that we may find any semblance of peace and comprehension." He clenched his fist, losing himself in his monologue. "And it is from there that we may strike at the heart of existence; it is from that path that we may finally understand the reason for our suffering."

"I don't understand a word you're saying," Shinji said. "You're as incoherent as Kaji was a few days ago—"

"We're breaking continuity, Shinji." The boy stopped talking immediately. When Gendo had his attention, he continued: "Every time I live, I make the same mistakes. Every death I experience is the result of an infinitely-recurring nightmare of causality over which I have abolished my control." He gestured to the bloody part of his torso. "I'm dying, Shinji. I'm dying on a metaphysical level—the reality containment wave that NERV had secretly been developing in order to subdue Flax Hardseed backfired, and now all involved are experiencing character-death."

Shinji looked at him oddly. "What is Flax Hardseed?"

"He is… he is a refraction of a higher dimension as it filtered into this one. The universe is composed of information, and Flax Hardseed is the result of too much data existing in one dimensional pocket. We believe him to be some sort of god, like an author who inserted himself into a story, but even this is an incorrect analogy. To be honest, we simply don't know." He took another gulp of orange soda.

Shinji said nothing.

"Shinji," he grasped onto Shinji's pant leg with his left hand, staring up at him intensely. "Throw away your humanity and your benevolence, I beg of you. Cast your reason to the winds. Shed your humility like a snake sheds its skin, and become what you were born to be! You are of my flesh and blood, and you must succeed where I have failed. You are an Ikari; succumb to the debauchery of the moment and allow entropy to guide your actions. This is the nature of badass—this is how the universe must be saved from the threat that is Flax Hardseed."

"But how can I do that when I don't even know what you're talking about?!" he shouted. It broke Gendo out of his concentration.

"Don't know what I'm talking about…" Gendo whispered. The dawn of comprehension overtook his features. He released his son's leg and fell against the vending machine. "Of course, it wasn't you at all, was it? All this time, I had been relying on you, but it wasn't ever intended to be you at all… Where we failed, you were to be the vicarious messiah, but I never realized the error of such a judgment until now. I can't believe it. It… it was supposed to be… supposed to be K… Ka…" And just as he grasped at the light of understanding, he bled to death. He spilled the orange soda as his hand fell to the floor.

"Father?" The vending machine answered him with ominous hums. Silence was an arbitrary specter. The camera crew was this boy's only witness. "Father, please…"

And then, nothing.


Shinji opened his eyes and stared at a fluorescent light. His back was sore from leaning across the bench in the break room. When he saw Kaworu, he blinked and rubbed his eyes.

"Kaworu…" Shinji mumbled, shifting his fingers to his temples in an attempt to alleviate a throbbing headache. The escalator to his left hummed and churned, some interval resembling a diatonic third below the hum of the vending machines.

The grey-haired boy looked up from a ream of papers in his hand and smiled. It was somewhere between bemused and gentle, with only a hint of underlying comprehension.

"I had the strangest dream just now," Shinji said. "I can't remember it, but I know it was… really weird." Kaworu said nothing, and Shinji remained silent for a few minutes to soak in his surroundings. The vending machines and the escalator were the only voices for a while. "What are you doing here, anyway? Were you watching me sleep?"

Kaworu chuckled. "It was about time I made an appearance," he said. "I was delayed by licensing problems. The folks on high had some issues with my contract and they refused to listen to reason." He let loose a sigh and waved the pages around. "But my agent hammered out a negotiation that'll inevitably come out of my paycheck, so I managed to get the part after all." He grinned.

"…Huh?"

"The part," Kaworu repeated. He stepped closer to Shinji and lowered the pages to within Shinji's vision. "I'm the last angel. You have to kill me, but that doesn't happen until the end of the episode."

"Kaworu, I-I don't understand." Shinji stuttered. "I have to kill you?" He looked at the pages when Kaworu's benevolent face was the only response. "Is this a script?"

"Will everything you say today be a question?"

"A question?—hey!" Kaworu chuckled again and Shinji snatched the pages from his grip, looking over them. "This looks like it's for a TV show—"

"Shinji!" Kaji stepped off the escalator and waved, quirking his trademark expression. "Hey, it's time to go! Misato's waiting for you in the garage."

"Oh, uh—" Shinji looked back to Kaworu in an attempt to return the script, but Kaworu was gone. His hands held onto nothing.

"What was that?" Kaji asked. "It looked like you had something in your hands."

"Um—no—it was nothing." He clenched his left hand as he stood up. That was really weird.

Kaji frowned, and Shinji missed the strange glint in his eye. "Well, let's go then. It's already pretty late."

The decent down the escalator was long and filled with an uneasy tension. It seemed like it was taking longer than usual, but Shinji didn't want to say anything. Eventually, he relented.

"Um, Kaji? It seems like we're going down an awful long way." He tried to swallow the lump in his throat. He didn't even know why it was there. "Isn't the garage farther up than this?"

Kaji just grinned. "Don't worry, Shinji; it's not too long now."

Turns out, it WAS that much longer; after reaching the terminus of the escalator, Kaji led the boy through various unexplored hallways and corridors, down several more flights of stairs and one or two other uncomfortable escalator descents, until finally they duo came upon a mundane-looking emergency exit door whose red surface was nicked and pitted and the stainless steel shined through the paint. They were many yards and meters beneath the surface of the earth by then.

"Shinji!" Behind them, a haggard and scratchy voice called out. It was worn thin from trillions of imaginary cigarettes. "Shinji, you have to listen to me—" It seemed like it was accompanied by fast footfalls that gained intensity as the distance between them decreased.

Kaji frowned and spun, his hand darting into his jacket and pulling out his sidearm. "Well," he said, cracking another grin as if it were a Marlboro. "You're a little late, aren't you?"

The door closed behind Shinji. Kaji was trapped on the other side with… whomever that was. Though the voice had sounded familiar… almost like—

A V-TOL crashed in front of him and he crouched out of reflex, falling on his ass with his hands over his face. Flames licked and swirled around him, glass shattered, the building to his left caved in and started to collapse. The blue Alpine jay-turned and the passenger-side door swung open thanks to inertia. Misato Katsuragi stared down at the boy.

"Hey there, am I late?"

They sped off toward the GeoFront. "They're alien invaders, Shinji. They've come to claim the land of the rising sun out of jealousy. Destroy these gaijin beasts." She brought him up to speed as the train crawled down the edge of the immense subterranean cavern. "Help us, Shinji Ikari; you're our only hope."

"We need you." Gendo Ikari stared down at him from on high, behind mom, between the subtle symbolism of EARTH that was merely an optical illusion formed by the pattern of fluorescent lights. Shinji turned around and watched Asuka get her head torn off by a doll with papier-mâché fold-up steel arms. Battleships plunged through the mouth of an enormous evil manatee.

Kensuke shrugged as he stirred the rice in the pot. "It's like a giant-robot version of Love & Pop. I mean Shiki-Jutsu, that's what I'm trying to say. We're about as far from Angel's Egg as you could possibly get." The cicadas were loud and annoying. Scenery pillow-shot montage will be repeated through rest of series as budget dwindles. "Otaku no Video, get it?" The wind ruffles his hair.

"Death may be the only absolute freedom there ever was." Crosses lit up skies. Great white domes decimated cities. Destiny and righteousness shuddered at the floodgates of dawn. Fear was only an escape.

"All I can do is water these melons, Shinji." Kaji holding his sprinkler suggestively, gunfire zooms overhead and the same explosions repeat themselves as if caught in an animation loop. "Does she still sleep sprawled all over the bed?"

"Nani?" What?

"Of course he isn't here."

"This is the longest I've ever waited for a man before. How long does it take to deliver something like that?"

"You're leaving already?"

"Leaving?"

"You're a little late, aren't you?"

"All you ever do is hurt me."

"That moron's never on time."

"I think I am the third."

"Don't come near me. All you ever do is hurt me."

"We don't want to be the last ones still single."

"Did you ever try to understand?"

"You were all you had, but you never even learned to like yourself."

"Everything I have is kept in my heart."

"I swear, it's like everyone is itching to marry before they turn thirty."

"Your heart is fragile, like glass."

"Look at the newlyweds!"

"I'm leaving, and I won't be back for a few days. I asked Kaji to stick around and watch you guys, so be good!"

"You won't even hold me!"

"Oh great. Are you two fighting again?"

"If I can't have you all to myself…"

"That stuff's not for kids."

"Why are you crying?"

"Good job, Shinji."

"…then I want nothing to do with you." Blue eyes written in bold, emblazoned by the sunset beyond unreachable panes of glass. These tombs were words etched in silence.

He couldn't keep up.
He couldn't take it anymore.
But Shinji mustn't run away.
Was the scream Ogata's or Spencer's, I wonder?
Though in the end, I guess it doesn't matter.

"A-Asuka…" His hands gripped the pale forehead slick with a feverish sweat. "I don't know what's going on anymore."

"You're a little late, aren't you?"
SLAP, but for all ya Westerners, ADV changed it to BLAM! Haha! How's that for screwing with the product?!

"Liar."


Kaworu took the ream of papers back from Shinji, and proceeded to kick him squarely in the chest. Shinji fell against the face of the vending machine like a limp fish. The hum of the escalators and the machines droned on.

Shinji didn't move. "I killed you, Kaworu. I killed you—"

"Shinji," Kaworu half-grinned in jest. "It's only a script. See? I'm right here."

Shinji didn't look at him. He instead curled up on the floor and stared at the dirt in between the cold linoleum tiles. "But who are you?"

"I'm your friend. That's all I ever was." He extended a hand down to Shinji. The boy on the floor shuddered in fear and loathing and despair. "I'm just Kaworu. Plain, simple, Kawo—"

"I don't believe you!" Shinji screamed. He tried to bury his head further into the shelter of his arms and chest, but to no avail. "I can't believe anything anymore! None of this is happening! None of it ever happened! I can't believe in someone who would do such a thing!"

Kaworu recoiled in shock, his arm flinching into goosebumps. "Shinji…"

"I was only ever a tool!" he cried. "I was just used by crazy fucking psychos! How do you expect me to react?! You betrayed my feelings!"

Kaworu's eye twitched strangely.

"Giant human robots and my mother's soul and spies and car chases and hostile takeovers and giant monsters and—and—and cloning laboratories and secret expeditions to Antarctica and—and a secret death cult and puppet governments and—oh my god…" Shinji kicked backwards on the floor and tried to slide away from Kaworu, who gazed at him in awe. Shinji returned his gaze, utterly appalled. "Why didn't I ever see it before?" He lifted his arm, straight and narrow, his finger extended like a lance pointed at Kaworu's face. "You're him, aren't you? You're Flax Hardseed! You aren't Kaworu at all! You're Flax Hardseed!"

Kaworu's voice shifted and modulated and his outline blurred and distorted. He lifted off his face and there was madness underneath. Sharks' teeth held dominance between the lips of the devil.

"You're… Flax… Flax Hardseed…" Shinji's ability to comprehend the reality of the situation finally collapsed in on itself. All that was left of his identity shriveled up into a ball of cowardice and misery and numbness and waited for the day to end.

Flax Hardseed smiled triumphant. "Shinji Ikari," he hissed. His bloodshot and bleeding eyes burned holes in perception. The thin film surrounding existence bubbled and darkened, curved inwards, and melted away in patchy holes. The screen came away like melted cheese.

"I am Maldoror and Morgoth and Cthulu. I am hatred and destruction and betrayal. I am the anger that fills the nothingness of sorrow. I am the pain that empties into the void of sadness." The voice was omnipresent and mocking.

"You're evil," Shinji whimpered. "You're f-fucking evil!"

"No," Flax grinned. "Evil is merely an illusion cast by a shadow of perception. Your rationalization of reality is incapable of comprehending the magnitude of existence." She leaned in close to his ear, and all Shinji could see was the emptiness of the sky, all he could feel was the coldness of the earth against his back; the scent of Flax Hardseed wafted into his nostrils and smelled like home. Her lips were poisoned ruby rosebuds that spoke truth in a serpent's voice. "I am illusion, my friend. And you are my puppet." His laugh was rough and cosmic.

Suddenly, the haggard, unshaven, bloodshot, and terribly unclean Kaji Ryoji burst out of one of the vending machines as if breaking down a door with the sole of his boot. He waved a pistol around angrily, his breath smelled like alcohol and unhappiness, the twitch in his forearm warned of insanity.

"Shinji, get back! Get back from that thing!" He cried. Shinji looked at him oddly. "Do it, or so help me I'll shoot through you!"

Shinji fell over. Kaji shot off six rounds. Flax Hardseed's head burst like a watermelon.

"K-Kaji—what—what—gah—" Shinji stuttered.

Flax Hardseed's body slumped to the ground and blood poured out of holes in its skull. One eye had come dislodged, the other stared vacantly at the ground—its optic nerve plainly visible as it snaked into the bloodied head.

"You fool," the skull hissed. "You're such a fool, Ryoji. How could you not comprehend the magnitude of this transgression? How could you not understand the reasoning behind your disposal?"

"You're wrong, Flax Hardseed!" Kaji grinned manically, assuredly, full of confidence. He reached into the inner pocket of his suit jacket and retrieved a control box with a cartoonishly large red button on its top. "This is the button that ends everything, Flax. This is the device that turns off the television, Flax Hardseed. This is the power button for existence!" He was practically foaming at the mouth. "Kensuke Aida wrote it into the script ages ago, and I finally realized its purpose! You are the result of these horrendous machinations! You were the cause of your own existence! There is a single point in time, Flax Hardseed, where all causalities intersect—and it is you!"

"You stupid, pathetic moron," the skull seethed. "You've doomed us all with your meaningless existential irreverence. Don't try to play games with me, Ryoji; that button ends nothing. All you'll succeed in doing is turning off our awareness—are you willing to be responsible for another reboot of continuity? Are you willing to sacrifice the gains we have made? Are you ready to be held liable for yet another retcon?"

Kaji squinted at the talking skull and looked at Shinji. Shinji's eyes glanced up at him, full of fear and uncertainty. When he looked away, Kaji looked back at the skull.

"You fucking bet I am." And he pushed the button.