Chapter 2: Alive
At first there was only pain. Lots of pain. Not particularly intense pain, but it was everywhere. His arms hurt, his legs hurt, his chest hurt, his back hurt, and his head really, really hurt.
Then he cracked his eyes open, and they hurt too. Not to mention he couldn't see much. Just white. Now there was white and pain. Although considering the spike in his headache, he was prepared to define "white" as a subset of "pain".
Where was he, anyway? He tried to lift his head up a little, and—unsurprisingly--that hurt as well. Still, he forced his eyes to stay open, and gradually the room around him came into focus. He was in a hospital, that much was clear. The impression of there being nothing but white certainly wasn't all that inaccurate; the room was almost completely featureless save for the bed he was in and the huge, floor-to-ceiling windows that stretched across the wall to his left.
Okay, so he was in a hospital. Not a very busy one, judging by the size of the room that he alone occupied at the moment. How'd he get there? He closed his eyes and tried to remember...where had he been yesterday? The last thing he could think of was waiting. Waiting by a pay phone. The pay phone wasn't working, because...because...Oh.
He remembered. He remembered all of it.
"Prepare to launch!" With that, Shinji suddenly felt a rumbling from...all around him, actually. The bridge in front of Unit 01's neck disengaged and retracted, as did the massive walls that locked the mecha's arms in place. The Evangelion should've been free to move now, but Shinji still felt something in the way. If he had been old enough to drive a car, he might have compared it to trying to do so while the parking brake was still on.
Unit 01 began moving, though not of its own volition (or Shinji's); the platform under its feet was carrying it towards the outer wall of the Evangelion hangar.
Something occurred to Misato. "Lieutenant Ibuki, when was the last maintenance check on this lift?"
"Er, June 12..."
"Oh, no problem, then. Never mind."
"Oh. Well, it should still work, right?"
Shinji was confused. This was getting to be a fairly commonplace state of mind for him. At this particular moment, he was confused because Ritsuko had made such a huge deal out of getting him into the Evangelion entry plug as quickly as possible—and indeed, he could feel the occasional rumble that did not sound like it was coming from NERV machinery—and yet he had been standing at the base of this wall for three minutes and counting. The last thing he had heard from Lt. Ibuki was "Engaging magnetic lift!...er...hang on a minute, Shinji." Then she closed the video link. He wanted to ask someone what was going on, but he had no idea how to activate the communications system on this thing--
A black window marked NO CONNECTION opened up in the lower left corner of his vision, precisely where Lt. Ibuki had been minutes before. Okay, that's interesting...I guess my thoughts activate it or something? Okay...I want to talk to Lt. Ibuki. "Connecting...Connection Established" popped up in the box, followed by Maya's somewhat surprised-looking face.
"Oh! Shinji! Uh, we're still actually trying to get the magnetic lift working. We're not sure what the problem is...the tech team should be taking a look at it now..."
"Has anyone tried whacking it with a wrench or something yet?" Misato's voice came in from offscreen.
"I'm just going to pretend I didn't hear something so unbelievably stupid coming from your mouth, Katsuragi." That would be Dr. Akagi.
"Well, it's not like you've come up with any better ideas, is it?"
"I have; it's called, 'Let the people who do this for a living take a look at the machinery and diagnose the exact problem'!"
"We don't have time to 'diagnose' anything! The Angel is going to start blasting through the armor any second!" As if to punctuate Misato's sentence, the whole base shook yet again.
Unbeknownst to Shinji, the latest shock caused a long-frayed wire to—at least temporarily—reconnect, closing a circuit that had until now stayed stubbornly open.
Beknownst to Shinji, that circuit belatedly triggered the magnetic lift.
"WhaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAHH!" A question regarding the loud "sizzle-BANG" he had just heard turned into a yell (one might almost say scream) of raw terror as the astronaut comparison that had occurred to Shinji earlier came back to his mind with a vengeance.
The video link to Lt. Ibuki remained open through the whole ordeal, of course. "Shinji? What's—oh! The lift's working now! Launch successful!"
"See? All it needed was a good whack from something!"
"Well, even a stopped clock..."
Thankfully, the lift began slowing down as it approached the surface, but the stop at the end of the lift rails was still uncomfortably sudden.
And then Shinji was staring down the Angel.
It was several blocks away and down on one knee at the moment, one hand pressed into the ground. The retractable energy spear Shinji had seen it use to destroy all those gunships was currently being slammed repeatedly into the street, like the world's largest and most ludicrous jackhammer. From this height—from the point of view of a 50-meter mecha—it actually looked more ridiculous than scary. Okay. I can handle this thing.
The video link suddenly switched from Maya's face to Misato's. "Shinji, are you ready?"
"Okay. Release the final safety locks!"
Shinji felt Unit 01 disengage from the lift; at the same time, the odd, parking-brake-like inhibition to his/the Evangelion's motion disappeared. He was in full control now.
Ritsuko leaned in over Misato's shoulder on the video link. "Okay, it didn't fall down immediately, so the legs are in good shape...Try walking."
Shinji did so. First, one tentative step, then another. It was surprisingly natural, like it was his own legs that were doing the walking.
Ritsuko, apparently watching the whole process on another monitor, seemed fascinated. "My God...it's walking...it's actually walking."
She wasn't the only one. The Angel, previously only concerned with blasting through the street and the armored plates beneath, now seemed to notice Unit 01. Slowly, with a motion that was disturbingly humanlike for something so alien, it raised itself back onto both feet. Its empty eyes locked with Unit 01's. The red sphere in its chest glowed.
The confidence Shinji had had drained away, replaced in an instant by sheer terror. Mostly. He still felt a tiny bit of confidence, but...it was strange; it seemed to come from outside his mind, like an echo... "Um...Misato? How am I supposed to fight this thing?"
She responded in the absolute worst possible way he could imagine: opening her mouth to say something, closing it again, and turning to face Ritsuko. "Um...Rits? How is he supposed to fight the Angel? You said the guns weren't ready yet. What about the prog knife?"
"Unfinished. The progressive blade isn't functional yet." Ritsuko paused for a moment. "It is still a perfectly good Eva-sized knife, however."
"Better than nothing. Shinji, deploy the progressive knife!"
"How do I—never mind." Deploy progressive knife, he thought. Right on cue, a slot underneath the Eva's left shoulder pylon clicked open, revealing the hilt of a knife. Shinji grabbed it and held it out in his best imitation of Solid Snake.
The Angel's mask twisted, the closest something without a clearly defined head could come to cocking it. It did not attack. In fact, it looked almost...confused. Shinji hesitated.
"What are you waiting for? Attack its core!" Misato's patience was clearly running thin.
"R-right." Rather clumsily, Shinji aimed a stab at the red sphere he assumed was the "core".
Then the Angel attacked. Faster than Shinji could react, the Angel grabbed Unit 01's knife hand and bent back its wrist. He was already screaming in agony by the time it hit him that he was feeling the Eva's pain. The Angel took advantage of his surprise to reach out with another three-fingered hand and grab Unit 01's neck. Shinji's scream was suddenly cut off, owing to the fact that he was now having a great deal of difficulty breathing.
And then the Angel's arms inexplicably bulked up, and it started pulling. Agony beyond Shinji's wildest imagination flared through his whole body; it felt like he was being torn in half. On the radio, Misato was trying to be reassuring. "Stay calm, Shinji! That's not really your arm!"
Easy for you to say. Some part of Shinji's mind apparently still had the capacity to be sarcastic. He hung on to that piece; hoping it would keep him sane through this nightmare. Or even alive. Sanity would be nice, too, but I'll settle for alive.
Something snapped, and then the pain swallowed up even the sarcasm. Even the screaming. It hurt so much it was literally beyond his comprehension. If he had been able to think at all, he would have likely wondered how he was still conscious.
He was dimly aware of Misato and Ritsuko shouting something about some kind of field. Their words made no sense to him; nothing made much sense right now.
Then it got worse.
The red haze briefly retreated, enough for Shinji to see that the Angel had let go of his arm and was now holding him aloft by his head. A red circle in the center of its palm glowed, then retracted. Oh, no, no no no no nonononoWHAM. Very few people know what it feels like to be shot in the head, for obvious reasons, but Shinji now had a pretty good idea of it. Amazingly, the armor held up to the energy lance. WHAM. Or not; hairline cracks now appeared across his HUD. He had no idea whether the cracks were in Unit 01's eyes, or in the entry plug WHAM itself; either way, at least it hurt less than the pulling. Slightly. He could at least WHAM think through this. Though possibly not for much WHAM-CRACK--
Shinji frowned. The fight couldn't have ended there; he'd have been dead now. And he certainly didn't feel dead. So, obviously, his memory of the battle was missing a few pieces. But how could he have gotten back up and kept fighting after a hit like that? It didn't add up.
A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts. "Hello? Are you awake, pilot Ikari?" He thought he recognized the voice, but he couldn't place it exactly.
"Yeah, come in."
The door opened, revealing none other than the blue-haired girl. She was wearing some kind of school uniform, the same one he remembered her wearing when he saw her before the Angel appeared. She was also holding a paperback book in her hand; the title read Hyperion. "Hello, pilot Ikari. I am Rei Ayanami. I am an Evangelion pilot, as you are," she said without further ado. Her voice was...flat. Not a monotone, but it might as well have been for all the emotion it showed.
"Oh, uh, hi. I'm Shinji, but...I guess you already know that. Nice to meet you."
"Indeed. Are you well?"
"Yeah, I guess. What happened to me? I can't seem to remember anything after the Angel grabbed me and did that thing with the...energy spear thing."
She did not comment on his vagueness. "I do not know the specifics; however, Evangelion Unit 01 was victorious over the Third Angel. You were unconscious when recovered from the entry plug, or so Misato says. I suggest you ask her for any further details."
"Uh, okay, I will. Thanks."
"You are welcome." She said nothing else after that, but remained where she was, still looking him straight in the eye. Neither of them did more than blink for a full minute.
"Yes, pilot Ikari?"
"Why are you staring at me?"
"I am told that it is considered rude to break eye contact during a conversation."
"But...we weren't having a conversation."
"Were we not? I was speaking to you, and you were responding. This constitutes a conversation, does it not?"
"Well, yeah, but then...nobody said anything, and that usually means a conversation is over. Except there's usually a 'goodbye' or a 'I need to go do something' involved."
"I had no reason to leave. Unless you wish me to."
"No! No, uh, it's fine if you want to stay here."
"Very well, then." And she once again reverted to that silent stare.
Shinji clearly would have to either bear the burden of keeping up the conversation, or ask her to leave. The choice was difficult, as his natural politeness was currently at war with his increasing unease at Rei's presence. Politeness claimed a bloody victory in the end. "So is that a good book?" He nodded at the novel Rei was holding.
"I do not know. I have not begun to read it yet. I suspect I will enjoy it, though; it was recommended to me by a friend."
"I see." Well, so much for that topic. There was another awkward pause before Shinji thought of something else to talk about. "So how'd you end up with NERV and this whole...mess?"
"I have been with NERV my whole life."
"What, even since you were a baby?"
Shinji turned that little tidbit over a few times in his head. "So do your parents work here or something?"
"I do not have parents. I was raised by the Commander."
It took a second before that sunk in. "Raised by my father?"
"...Oh." The blue-haired girl's words answered few questions and raised far more. If his father had had time to raise a child, why did he send Shinji to live with his teacher in the first place?
Anger flared up inside him, sudden and hot: anger at this girl who Gendo Ikari apparently saw as more important than his own son. He suppressed it; Rei could hardly be blamed for who chose to raise her.
Without warning, Rei pulled a mobile phone out of her pocket and examined the screen briefly. "I must leave now, pilot Ikari. It was...nice to meet you." She turned and walked out the door, in the same abrupt manner with which she had entered.
Well. That was bizarre. It occurred to Shinji that if Rei was the result of Gendo Ikari being a loving, attentive parent, perhaps he had been better off with his teacher.
Gendo Ikari was not particularly concerned with parenting right now, loving and attentive or otherwise. Right now he was more concerned with the deluded old men standing in between him and the money necessary to save humanity from annihilation.
"Our answer remains the same, Ikari," the Englishman said. "The Committee is, ahem, committed to different avenues of research now. The Evangelions are no more than war machines in the current Scenario, and we can ill afford to waste the money for the Unity Project on war machines. We do not deny that the Angels present a threat to the Project, but Sachiel has been beaten soundly. Unit 01 is clearly sufficient for the time being."
"Besides," the Russian added, "the original deception has proven effective. The Angels are attacking half a world away from what they seek."
Not for long, Gendo thought, keeping his expression carefully neutral. "Gentlemen, allow me to apologize. It seems that NERV's public relations department is altogether too effective; you seem to be swallowing the lie it concocted despite having viewed the unedited footage yourselves." He stood. "If I may remind you, Evangelion Unit 01 did not 'soundly' defeat the Third Angel. In fact, the Angel incapacitated Unit 01's pilot, and very nearly killed Unit 01 itself." He did not mention that there was a very wide gulf between 'nearly' killing Unit 01 and actually killing it. "It was only because the Evangelion took control away from the pilot and displayed heretofore unknown and unexpected regenerative capabilities that it was able to gain an advantage over the Angel, at which point the Angel self-destructed—causing critical damage to the Evangelion's armor, to say nothing of the city around it.
"Furthermore, the Angels are known to be able to adapt to new threats; on the off chance that we were able to repair Unit 01's armor to its previous level of functionality in time for the next attack, the Angel might well be able to anticipate and counter the assault, and annihilate Unit 01 effortlessly. And then where would we be? Where would all of humanity be?"
There was silence for a moment. Then the Chairman—Kiel—spoke.
"You've made your point, Ikari. What are you requesting?"
Gendo allowed himself a smile. "Readjustment of the NERV budget to 2010 levels. Inflation-adjusted, of course."
As expected. "It's still a miniscule fraction of the funding going into the Project."
Kiel let out a humorless chuckle. "You overestimate our resources. We can give you a quarter of that; about four times the current budget. Will that be sufficient for your crusade?"
When combined with the money I'm now getting from eight countries' ministries and departments of defense? More than enough. "It will do."
"Then I believe our business—at least, the part of it which concerns you—is concluded." The rest of the committee nodded, and their holographic images faded. Kiel remained, however. "Do not disappoint us, Ikari."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
The Chairman said nothing further before his image faded as well, leaving Gendo alone in the room.
Shinji lay in yet another unfamiliar bed (well, futon, technically), staring at yet another unfamiliar ceiling.
After he had convinced the doctor that, really, he felt fine, he had gotten his clothes back—freshly cleaned, even. Misato had picked him up shortly thereafter, and informed him that he would be living with her from now on.
The rest of the day passed in a blur. All of the eccentricities of Misato and her apartment—the beer, the mess, the instant food, even the penguin...were just distractions, crowded out by the two problems occupying his mind: Rei, and his memories.
Who was Rei? Why did she look like that, and why had his father chosen to raise her? How was she connected to the Evangelions? And why did she look and sound so familiar?
And, more pressingly (since it should've been a problem he was able to solve), what had happened when he was in Unit 01? How had he beaten the Angel?
Music hummed out of the headphones of his old MP3 player—the only gift he could remember ever getting from his father—as he frowned and tried to force himself to remember. He focused on the last thing he could recall—the horrible, steady WHAM. WHAM. WHAM. of the Angel's energy lance slamming into his—into the Eva's head. WHAM. WHAM. WHAM.
WHAM-CRACK. The Eva's armored eyes finally gave way, and the Angel's lance impaled Unit 01's braincase. For an instant, Shinji felt nothingness; then he was back in his own body as the words EMNUL SAFETY SHUTOFF blinked on the otherwise featureless entry plug wall in front of him. Only an echo of the pain he had been feeling now remained; it still hurt a lot, but it was bearable now and lessening every second.
He had no idea that the Eva's communications package was now mostly wrecked. He had no way of knowing that back in the NERV command center, Maya was frantically trying to contact him, or reactivate the Eva, or auto-eject the entry plug, or anything. All he knew was that, though he could not see outside, he could still feel the shuddering of the Earth as the Angel walked towards the fallen Evangelion to finish the job.
He knew he was about to die.
The SAFETY SHUTOFF light clicked off, and the hum of the microfusion reactor returned.
it won't hurt you
Shinji once again felt the bizarre sensation of being pulled out of his body, and then he was once again seeing out of the Eva's eyes (or eye, as the case was).
i won't let it
There was no fancy video-game HUD now. Just the sight of the approaching Angel, all tinted in a red haze. The pain returned as well, but it didn't seem to matter much right now.
Shinji Ikari was not normally an angry person. He considered himself to be quite reasonable, in fact. For him, anger was something to be controlled and suppressed, not unleashed.
Those thoughts of self-control and restraint were at the back of his mind now. Rather more important was his immediate desire to rip the Angel's fucking heart out.
He stood. The Angel stopped its slow approach towards him, giving him that questioning non-stare. It needed to die. Now. Maim it. Tear its limbs off. Kill it kill it killkillkillkillkillkill
Shinji opened his mouth. The restraints in place to keep him from doing exactly that were nothing, nothing before his strength. He ROARED at the Angel, then pushed off and jumped, turning in midair as he closed the distance between them in an instant. He landed on the Angel's chest and hung on, gripping its neck. It threw him off, he landed on his feet and charged again.
He collided with a wall, an octagon of light between him and his prey. He knew what it was, and it did not bother him that he had no human words for it.
He had one, too. He saw the waves, the pulses that formed the barrier. And he knew how to invert them, eroding it away. He looked at his hand. It was broken. He fixed it, then wrapped the inverse waves around his fingers, and shoved them into the barrier.
He heard the Angel's scream, in frequencies no normal human could perceive. What he was doing now would be violation of the highest order, if the being before him were anything more than prey. Its eyes flashed, trying to drive impossible energies into his body, his mind. But his own barrier held, and he continued tearing apart the Angel's even as the energies blasted a cruciform shape in the buildings behind him.
Finally, she was through, and the Angel was vulnerable. She tackled the Angel to the ground, and tore open its mockery of a ribcage. Now its heart was vulnerable, and within it was the key, the fruit--
The Angel seemed to realize what she was about to do. It summoned its last burst of strength, and curledaround her as its heart began to glow.
The pain was brief and mild, even as the blast destroyed the city around her. She sensed the nearest camera, and approached it, letting them see what they had unleashed.
Evangelion Unit 01 threw back her head and let out a triumphant, earthshaking howl, letting the ruined armor plate on her head slip off. Then she let herself sleep once more. He was safe now.
Shinji was confused again. What...what had just happened? Was he still in the Evangelion? Something next to him was a mirror; for lack of a better idea, he turned his eyes to look into it.
What he saw was not metallic armor, but flesh. A head, with a ruined eye. And as he stared, that flesh bubbled up and formed a new eye, a horrible, green-tinted eye a meter across. It blinked, and stared back.
Shinji screamed as the blackness took him.
Shinji shivered. What...what was...it didn't make sense, none of it made any sense at all. It was wrong, all of it was wrong, it wasn't a mecha, it wasn't a robot, it was a thing, and it was thinking, and thinking for him, and it knew who he was.
He heard Misato coming in. "Shinji? I just...I just wanted to tell you. You did a good thing out there, and...you should be proud of yourself. So...thank you, and, uh, good night."
Doesn't she understand? No, he realized, she doesn't understand. None of them understand. They might—Dr. Akagi might know what it is, but she doesn't understand.
He kept shivering as he drifted into sleep, and even the nightmares were better than the memories.
Somewhere else in Tokyo-3, a girl examined the footage she had recorded, alone in a supposedly-evacuated apartment building. And she grinned, her expression as bright as the yellow ribbon in her hair.
"Oh, this is so going in the movie."