Dark Maya Wants Your Soul
Deep down in the Geofront, the Harmonics test plug room was quiet. The lake of purple coolant was as still as a pane of glass, and the three test-plugs jutted out of it like iron posts stuck into the ground at an angle. The left plug contained Asuka, and it was dead silent. The redhead within was trying to up her sync score by burying the deep feelings of murder she held in her heart concerning a certain blue-haired temptress. The right test plug contained Kaworu and Hikari, and it was dead silent. This was a miracle in and of itself, but never mind.
The middle plug contained Shinji and Rei, and to all outside appearances, it too was silent. Unless you got really close, then you would see slowly expanding rings in the coolant surrounding their plug. More rings. The traveled outward, dissipating with the distance. If you put your ear right up to the plug itself, you might hear a sharp outcry, quickly muted.
In the control room, Ritsuko brooded as she observed her charges. She too was thinking deep dark thoughts about a certain albino. She noted that Maya was frowning, and staring at her console too hard. "What is it?" she asked.
"I don't know," Maya answered. "I'm getting a slight feedback from the First and Third's test plug.
"Just like the one you got ten minutes ago?" Ritsuko asked. "And ten minutes before that?"
"Yeah." The brown-haired technician looked up in confusion. "Do you think it could be a cyclical echo?"
"Is it within tolerance?" Ritsuko asked.
"Then it doesn't matter." The blond-haired doctor turned away in disgust. She refused to spend any unnecessary time on a problem concerning those two. Not when that time could be better put to use plotting their demise.
Maya continued plying at her console, she frowned again, hunched over, typed rapidly, sat up, cocked her head to the side, then promptly had a massive nosebleed all over her keyboard.
"Good God, Maya!" Ritsuko stormed over. "That's your fourth keyboard this week!" She happened to look up at Maya's screen, and came to a dead stop, her expression a mixture of disgust and outrage. And jealousy. Shinji appeared to be a better man than Gendo. "Hyuga!" she spat.
"Yes ma'am?" he said, turning to face her as he adjusted his glasses.
"After this test is over, I want the middle test plug thoroughly cleansed. Oh, and replace the LCL filters too," she muttered. "The last thing we need is... impurities... in the main LCL storage plant."
Up on the command deck, Gendo and Yui were blissfully unaware of what was happening just a few dozen meters down on Balthasar's deck.
"The old men actually ordered an attack on us. I still can't believe it." He also couldn't believe he was talking to an LCL simulacrum that looked and acted exactly like his supposedly dead wife. "I mean, this time it was just the JSSDF. What will we do if the whole world attacks us?"
"We purge them with fire, silly!" she said in a sweet tone of voice.
Gendo smiled as he looked into her eyes. "I've missed you."
The alert siren went off.
The main holoviewer changed to show near-tokyo air-space. Gendo cleared his throat, stepping over to the edge of the railing. "Status report!" he demanded. Below, Ritsuko had just finished replacing Maya's blood-stained keyboard.
"Pattern Blue has appeared directly over the middle of the city!" Shigeru called. "Sensors are unable to get a clear read, but we have a visual!"
The display zoomed in to show a giant zebra-striped sphere floating over the mega-scrapers of Tokyo-3.
"Prepare the pilots for combat!" Ritsuko ordered. "And for the love of God, someone give Misato a call so she can get here in time to say 'Launch Eva!' I can't stand any more of her whining!"
Shinji sat in the plug-set of Unit-00, his arms loosely around Rei, and tried not to fidget. Rei's attitude had taken a complete one-eighty turn in the past month or so, and he wasn't sure which side of her he was best equipped to deal with. She shifted in his lap, turning her head to nuzzle him. She made a deep sound in her throat that set his nerves buzzing.
"Rei," he said, his fatigue allowing exasperation to enter his tone. "I'm tired."
"Well I'm not." She sighed and leaned back, pulling his arms around her stomach. He could feel a noticeable protrusion now, a roundness that made him feel things he didn't quite understand fully. It was a mixture of fear and exhilaration that made him wary in everyday life like he had never been before. He worried over Rei now, and he could see that she enjoyed it. She wasn't being careful enough, in his opinion, but whenever he let that feeling out in either words or actions, it seemed she made special effort to let herself go even further and make him worry more.
The murmur of technicians' voices over the comm system heralded the beginning of contact. The seconds drifted by and he waited for the moment when the girl in his arms would transform further into something he didn't understand and was yet drawn to, like a moth to deadly flame. He held her tightly, closing his eyes in surrender. It would be okay. All he had to do was hold on, until it was all over.
"Don't hold me so tightly." Rei's voice was slightly pained. He loosened his grip, looking at her with wide eyes. She reached up a hand to his cheek, tilting her head. "You don't have to be afraid," she said soothingly. "It's okay..." She lightly touched her lips to his, then set her head on his chest. He took a breath, then let it out slowly, resting his chin on her head. For some reason he felt calmer.
Over the comm system, a technician reported third contact achieved. Hypnotic lights and shapes ran down the entry plug walls, to be replaced by the gloom of the Eva cages when contact was established. Rei shifted slightly, her hair moving against his chin. "Shinji?"
"It's alright to be afraid now."
Shinji crouched behind the plug seat, looking hesitantly over its edge to where Rei floated, hands on the front of the plug wall, staring with rapt attention at the zebra-striped sphere high up in the air. Unit-00 was standing on tiptoes on top of a building, arms outstretched, looking up at the Angel. A pool of blackness lapped at the pavement, its edge barely resting against the building on top of which they stood. It was a perfect circle of nothingness that had its epicenter directly underneath the Angel.
Asuka's launch had been held up due to Misato bursting into Central Dogma at the last minute. The woman had been forced to take a few seconds to catch her breath before she could utter the magic words, all the while Asuka yelling over the comm system about how unfair it all was. That had been minutes ago. Shinji had no idea where Asuka or Hikari-and-Kaworu were at the moment. He had more important things on his mind, like staying sane for the rest of the battle.
"-umm, Rei?" he called. She did not seem to even hear the words. "Can we step away from the edge just a bit?" No response. "Rei-AAAH!" She had inched the Eva forward to where its armored feet just barely hung off the edge of the building. His exclamation was cut off when a woman appeared inside the Eva.
She was taller than Rei, with creamy skin almost as white as the albino's. Billowing black hair fell over her shoulders and back, reaching to her waist. She had an oval face, and her complexion was flawless. She was beautiful in every way, but this only registered dimly with Shinji. He couldn't tell if she was wearing anything, but this too was pushed far back in his mind.
Suddenly the three of them were in a close circle, and his breath caught in his throat. Her presence seemed to fill the small space of the entry plug with a vibrancy that made it hard to breath or sit still. Her eyes shone as if with some inexpressible glee. He knew he was looking at Rei's mother, her true mother, the one she had told him about months ago. He wanted both to apologize abjectly to Rei for not truly believing her, and at the same time fall on his face before the woman herself, but he could do neither.
The woman smiled, and Shinji wondered if he would ever be able to speak again. "Rei, didn't Arael tell you not to bring home any weirdos?"
Rei slipped her arm through his, drifting closer to him, and he grinned like a fool.
"Never mind," the woman said, her eyes twinkling. "This is a tricky operation, actually, so both of you listen carefully. If things don't go exactly right, you could be trapped forever in a null dimension-"
Shinji felt a sudden sharp pain in his back.
Asuka watched as Unit-00 sailed through the air and disappeared into the pool of blackness with a 'ploop'.
"-oopsie!" she said in a sing-song voice, lowering her Eva's foot from where she had just delivered a swift kick into Shinji's backside. "Now, to deal with the Angel... huh." The Angel was gone. The pool of blackness was gone. A wicked smile crept over her German features. "Well, that works too!"
"-Asuka! Asuka, can you hear me?" Misato's voice was tinny and the video link was unusually grainy. "We're still trying to get sensors back up, is everything okay out there?"
"Don't worry, Misato," Asuka proclaimed haughtily. "The Angel's dead! Oh, it put up a fight, and-it-killed-Shinji-and-Rei," she said hurriedly, "but with great valor I managed to slay it! You're all saved!"
"Wait, Shinji and Rei are what?" Misato asked.
Hikari's video rectangle popped up. "Did you say they're dead?" she wailed. Unit-01 jogged up to where Asuka stood.
"Jeez," Asuka huffed, "what's all the fuss? I'm the one who saved your sorry asses!"
After that, in a secret room somewhere in the Geofront, there was a party. The four original members of Ritsuko's Rangers were the hosts, and not a few Iruelites showed up, which creeped out the rest of the party-goers. There was a giant cake, noise-makers, streamers everywhere, and a big banner that hung from the ceiling. It said, "ding dong the albino's dead!" and everyone made merry.
All except Maya. She took quite a few pictures with her cell-phone camera.
The next day, a commercial appeared on all the major television stations, styled after a popular political campaign commercial. It showed the pictures of the party, then it showed pictures of the original four Ritsuko's Rangers, and it harangued them. At the very end was a message that said, 'paid for by the Anti-Akagi League.'
When she saw this commercial, Ritsuko was wroth.
As those in the Geofront went about their daily duties, they were brought to a halt by the audible two-tone urgent announcement warning. Everyone found one of the many ubiquitous monitors stationed around the place, and waited patiently or impatiently as the case may be. In the halls, clusters of technicians. In offices, people crowded around someone's desk, looking at their monitor. In the common rooms, multitudes of people milling around, waiting with baited breath.
The screens came to life, and a hush fell over the whole Geofront. An empty podium. Fuyutski entered the view from the side, and walked up to the podium, his bearing grim. He cleared his throat.
"This morning at approximately eleven-hundred hours, a massive disturbance was detected near Area 51 in the United States of America, in Nevada. From satellite imagery, we believe that an attempt was made to activate one of the two remaining Evangelions not currently residing in Japan." Fuyutski took a moment to look up at the cameras.
"That attempt ended in failure. At the same time, a Pattern Blue was detected in the Massachusetts branch, also in the US. This, we believe, was an attempt to activate the other Evangelion. Because of the fires and smoke, we no longer have a clear satellite image of the Massachusetts area, but the Pattern Blue disappeared near the Atlantic coastline." Fuyutski paused, running a hand down his face.
"What remains of the Japanese Strategic Self Defense Force has been mobilized, under new leadership. As always, the Japanese people stand united and alone, confident in our superiority as the operators of the world's remaining two Evangelions. Nevertheless, we don't know how the rest of the world will react to America's hostility, or if America's Eva activation attempt was the first step of a world-wide attempt to invade Japan." Fuyutski stared levelly into the cameras.
"In any case, it is my duty to inform you that as of right now, we are at war. That is all."
Fuyutski was suddenly shoved aside by bleached blond fury. "-and whoever's behind the 'Anti-Akagi League' is going to pay!" Ritsuko shrieked. She was openly wearing her "Ritsuko's Rangers" arm-band. "History will vindicate us!" Beside her, Asuka and Hyuga stepped into the picture. An uneasy Maya hovered near the edge of the viewer. "We will bury you!" Ritsuko screamed, taking off one of her high-heels and pounding it against the podium. "We will bury you!"
The broadcast suddenly cut off.
A private wake was held for Shinji and Rei. Section 2 officers screened all those who entered to keep out the riff-raff. In this case, 'riff-raff' was anyone associated with Ritsuko's Rangers. Nonetheless, Ritsuko kept close watch over all who entered. While the security cameras of the room itself were disabled, the cameras watching the hall outside were enough to keep tabs of who went in.
"Sempai, don't you think you're going overboard a little?" Maya asked worriedly.
"Hell no!" Ritsuko snapped. "You can bet your tight little ass that whoever pulled that 'Anti-Akagi League' shit is in that room!"
"Maybe they're just people who liked Shinji and Rei," Maya said uneasily.
"Anyone who liked that blue-haired twit is a suspect in my book," Ritsuko spat venomously.
"You shouldn't speak ill of the dead, Sempai," the brown-haired tech murmured.
Ritsuko twitched, her expression softening as she looked at Maya. "-mmm, whatever," she finally said. "She's gone, that's all that matters."
In the other room, the wake continued. Everyone present formed a line and slowly walked by a folding table that had been set up. On it were pictures of the two, some separate, and a very few of them together. Everyone who passed laid a card, or left a flower. There were not a few tears. Yui cried, turning into Gendo's embrace. The stern-faced man held her patiently.
"Sorry," Yui sniffled. "For a minute there it felt like Shinji was hugging me." She looked over at Gendo. "By the way, why are you limping, dear?"
"Oh," Gendo grunted. "I... hurt my foot. I stepped wrong, or something." They slowly made their way back to their seats, as did everyone else.
The place was quiet and reverent, even when people stood one by one to say a word or two about their memories of the two introverted teens. Yui wiped at her eyes with a handkerchief. As the wake wore on, the speeches became fewer. Suddenly Gendo's chair gave way with a crash, dumping him to the floor. He hastily picked himself up and got a new chair.
"Sorry," he muttered toYui.
"You're going on a diet," she hissed back.
"But, but Yui!" he protested. She glared, and he wilted. "Yes, Yui."
Hours later, the wake was over. The people had left, the room was dark and silent.
But not quite empty. Two shady presences sat in chairs, at the very back, nearly hidden in shadow.
"No one saw us," Shinji commented. He looked at the presence beside him uneasily. "Are we ghosts now?" Rei did not reply to this, which was as usual, but did not help his mood. "I tried hugging mom, but I don't think she felt me, even though she cried." Shinji's voice had become husky. He cleared his throat and looked to the side. Rei's still form looked more pale ethereal than ever. "So what did you do during the wake?"
"I pushed Gendo into a wall and made him stub his toe," Rei answered. Shinji snorted uncontrollably, then raised a hand to cover his mouth. "Then I broke his chair. Why are you laughing? I was unable to make him cry like you made Yui cry."
"-umm, Rei," Shinji tried desperately to quell his laughter, "I think mom was crying for a different reason..." He fell silent, as did she. After a few minutes, he looked around. "By the way, why are we still here? Weren't we supposed to go to your home, that place you told me about?"
"Yes, we were. Something went wrong."
"Oh." Shinji fell silent. "What... what now?"
Rei did not speak for a time. Then she said, "The last thing I remember is Leliel telling me that Fuyutski holds the key to our return."
"Fuyutski?" Shinji was bewildered. "But how?"
"I don't know."
They sat in silence for a while.
Shinji fidgeted. "Should we go talk to Fuyutski, then?"
"We won't even know what to ask," Rei pointed out. "We should talk to Maya."
"We need someone who has technical knowledge, and we can't go to Ritsuko."
"Oh." Shinji scratched his head. "That makes sense. Now that you mention it, where is Maya?"
"I don't know," Rei replied. "She is not in her office."
In fact, Maya had left the Geofront altogether. She and the rest of Ritsuko's Rangers were making a covert assault on the Matsushiro site. A half-dozen Iruelites were with them as guards. They quickly overcame the watch that had been set at the east entrance, then quietly made their way deep into the facility. Within an hour, they had taken over the MAGI installation there.
No alarm had been raised, and the REIGI in Tokyo-3 was unprepared for the sudden assault. Before anyone realized it, Ritsuko had put Tokyo-3's REIGI installation into sleep-mode, taking over its command functions and power for herself.
In very short order, Ritsuko had taken command of both Tokyo-3 and Matsushiro. With the power of the Iruelites on her side, she began a reign of terror that would be remembered for quite a long time afterwards.
All nonessential personnel were sent to the shelters where they could be watched vigilantly by Iruelite guards. Without the REIGI and its LCL-forms, no one could stand against their power. No one except...
Down a nameless hall of the Geofront, two Iruelites jogged, looking for all the world like Borg-rejects. "Hurry," one snapped to the other. "Fuyutski was spotted in C Quadrant ten minutes ago, he can't have gotten far."
"Right," the other replied. "This time he won't escape."
Several doors down, a female Iruelite was standing watchfully before a door. Inside the room were Gendo, Yui, and the other senior NERV technicians. They had been caught early in the takeover and were being held prisoner.
The woman guarding their room turned her head and looked one way. No one there. She turned her head to look the other way... and saw Fuyutski's stern face inches from hers. She opened her mouth to cry out.
"Sleep," the man said, putting his hand on her head. The woman fell like a sack of potatoes.
He opened the door. Inside, half a dozen nervous heads turned.
Gendo stood. "Sensei." His voice carried his relief.
"We should move to a more secure location," Fuyutski said laconically.
Everyone followed him.
"They took over the REIGI," Yui commented.
"I know." Fuyutski sounded bored.
"The two newer REIGI installations went silent, because with them against Ritsuko's two MAGI, it would have been an even match." Yui looked worried. "Actually, Maya was supposed to report in to us over an hour ago. She was with Ritsuko at Matsushiro, she said she would be back as soon as she got Ritsuko's access subroutines."
"Matsushiro?" Fuyutski stared levelly at Yui.
Rei strolled in a ghostly way through the halls of the Matsushiro facility.
Shinji looked at her. "Why are we here again?"
"Because I feel Maya's presence," Rei said.
"Why are you the one that feels this stuff? Why can't I feel things like that?"
They came to a closed door. Rei made a gesture with her hands, and hopped through the solid surface. Shinji narrowed his eyes, made the gesture, hopped, and slammed into the wall. "-and why can't I ever get this right?" He made the gesture again, and slammed into the wall again. He noted something, and his face lit up. "Hey! I got my pinky through!"
"Stop wasting time," Rei's voice drifted through the wall.
Frowning, Shinji backed up, made the gesture... then tapped the door controls and scooted through when it opened for him.
He jogged to catch up with Rei. "I got through," he said breezily.
Rei led him further into Matsushiro. They came to a room, and inside it was Maya. The woman had been tied to a cross, and had an IV sticking out of her left arm.
"She's asleep," Rei noted.
"Why would they do this?" Shinji asked in horror.
"I don't know." Rei moved towards Maya, and then they heard talking outside. "Hide yourself," Rei ordered. She quickly raised a hand, held her nose, and closed her eyes. She faded from view. Shinji held his nose and closed his eyes, squeezing them shut. A tendril of worry crept through him. He cracked an eye open and glanced down. His feet were gone, and his legs were see-through, but he was still there.
"Rei, help me!" he hissed. "It's not working!"
His whispers echoed in the dark room. He wondered if she had left the room entirely. The approaching voices got louder, then the door slid open. He squeezed his eyes shut and concentrated for all he was worth.
Two nameless people walked into the room. One was male, the other female. They looked. Maya was still tied to the cross, as per Ritsuko's orders, and they saw no one else in the room.
"You know," the man said, "it still creeps me out that Ritsuko-" The woman glared at him. "-err, the Great Akagi, could do something like this to one of her own."
"This is what happens to traitors," the woman said coldly. "Now come on, we were told to increase the dose of drugs given to her. We need to break her as soon as possible."
"Alright, alright," the man said, following meekly along.
The woman opened her medical case and pulled out a hypodermic syringe, flicking the needle to make sure it was clear. "You go inject her, I'll check her vitals." She handed him the syringe.
"Why do I get all the dirty work?" he whined, taking the needle and walking towards Maya.
"Shut it," the other woman ordered. "Just do your job."
"Right..." The man walked over and reached for Maya's IV line so he could inject the drugs into it. The line moved slightly, avoiding his fingers. He leaned over, reaching again. It skittered out of his grasp again. "-the hell?" He snatched for it, finally getting hold of it. "Gotcha, you little bastard," he muttered.
"What's the hold-up over there?" the woman snapped.
"Nothing," the man said quickly. "Let me just-" He bent over to stick the needle into the IV line, when the metal part of the needle suddenly became bent at an angle. He yelped and dropped the hypodermic. It fell a foot, then hovered in mid-air. He opened his mouth, but no words came out. The syringe wavered in mid-air, then darted towards him. He ran screaming, and ended up in the woman's arms.
The woman glared at him, he being scrunched up against her, his face an inch from hers. "I assume you have an explanation for this?" She muttered, giving him an I-am-not-amused glare.
"P-P-Possessed syringe!" the man got out, pointing back behind him. The syringe now lay on the floor. "Yeah," the woman muttered. "I can see that. Really scary stuff."
"No!" the man jumped away from the woman, and glared down at the hypodermic. It sat there unmoving. "It wouldn't go in! Then the needle bent... And then, and then..." He stepped over to the syringe, picking it up gingerly. "C'mon!" he urged, holding it out and letting it go. "Hang in mid-air, damn you!" It fell to the floor.
"Yeah, really convincing," the woman said.
"No, just wait!" The man bent over to pick it up, and it rolled over away from his fingers. He twitched away, his eyes wide. "There!" he yelled. "It moved! Did you see that?"
"You kicked it," the woman said, seemingly with the infinite patience one needed when dealing with a pre-schooler.
"-dah!" The man stamped down on the syringe. The plastic container burst, spraying yellow fluid onto the ceramic-tiled floor. "Not going anywhere now, are you?" he taunted the broken hypodermic.
"Oh for God's sake!" the woman put a hand to her face, covering her eyes. "You know, I think you're the one who needs to be drugged, here..." She trailed off when she noticed his eyes were wide, and his face had gone white. "Oh what now?" she sighed. He pointed a shaking finger.
On the tile floor, the liquid from the syringe was spelling itself out into words, as if someone were dragging their finger through it to write.
"Dark..." the woman bent closer, trying to read the smudged words as they wrote themselves out, "Maya... wants... your... soul." She cocked her head to the side. "Huh." She looked up at Maya, still unconscious. The man followed her gaze. Maya's hand twitched. The both of them ran screaming.
The room was silent for a time. Then the outline of a black-haired boy slowly appeared, becoming distinct. Shinji looked around. "Rei?" he called. "Are you still here?" He stepped around, stretching out his arms as if he hoped to find her by touch. "That was you, wasn't it?"
"It was me," a quiet voice said. He jumped, looking behind him. Rei stared at him levelly.
"'Dark Maya'?" he asked, quirking an eyebrow. She did not respond. "So what do we do now?" he asked.
"We wake her up and find out what we need to know."
"What?" Shinji yelped. "How does that make us any better than Ritsuko?" Rei said nothing to this. "We should at least try to get her out of here," he said, exasperated.
"How?" Rei asked.
"Well, I don't know, you're always the one who thinks up things like that-" He cut off when more voices came from outside the door. Shinji glanced back at the door. One of them sounded like Ritsuko, and she sounded angry. He glanced back to Rei, but she was no longer there. "Darn it, Rei!" He held his nose and squeezed his eyes shut, willing himself to be invisible. After a few seconds, he cracked an eye open. Everything was still there. "Oh crap..." The door opened. He shrank back against the wall and put his hands over his eyes. You-can't-see-me-you-can't-see-me-you-can't-see-me...
Ritsuko and the two scared technicians breezed into the room past Shinji. He squinted through his fingers. Ritsuko had passed right by him. He looked down at himself. Everything was still there. Ritsuko was currently haranguing the techs, really laying into them. Shinji tiptoed over and waved a hand in front of her eyes. She gave no indication she saw it.
"Rei," he called in a low voice. "Hey, Rei!"
Rei faded into existence beside him with a sigh. She cocked her head, looking at him out of the corner of her eyes. "You're hopeless," she said. "Did you know that?"
Their conversation, and Ritsuko's haranguing, were brought to a screeching halt when the lights failed, then the emergency lighting came on. "Damn it!" Ritsuko snapped. "Bring her up to the Command Center!"
The two techs unhinged Maya's cross from the wall, and everyone went to the Command Center.
Shinji looked at Rei helplessly. They followed the procession.
Ritsuko strode into the Command Center. "Report!" she yelled.
A female technician turned to look at her. "The MAGI installations from around the world are launching a concerted attack on us and on Tokyo-3! Time to complete MAGI shutdown, fifty-seven seconds..."
Ritsuko shoved the woman out of the way and typed rapidly. On the main flat-screen that dominated the far wall, the attack vectors arrowing in on all sides were halted by a multitude of barriers that came into existence, and the glowing red numerals '666' flashed on top of the screen.
The woman looked over Ritsuko's shoulder in awe. "Time to shut-down is now sixty two hours and twenty- seven minutes," she breathed.
"We still don't have access to the two newer REIGI installations," Ritsuko said icily. "If only I knew what protocols were used in their creation, I could have taken them over as well..."
"Ma'am!" Hyuga called in alarm. "I'm getting reports of intrusion all along the eastern entrances! Our forces are holding for now, but it appears that the UN has made several major landings in the past few hours..."
"They won't get past the Iruelites," Ritsuko said sullenly.
Another alarm sounded, and Ritsuko turned in fury. "What now?" she spat.
"We're getting reports that Unit-03 has made landfall and is headed for Tokyo-3!" a female technician reported.
"Unit-03?" Hyuga said in alarm. "The Eva that went rogue and walked out of Massachusetts into the Atlantic ocean?"
The viewer changed to show a top-down map of the near-Tokyo region, with a slowly-moving blip that indicated the rogue Eva's progress.
"Have our forces in Tokyo-3 launch Units -01 and -02," Ritsuko ordered.
"Yes ma'am." Hyuga turned back to his console.
Meanwhile, in a locked cell somewhere in the Geofront, Misato was lying forlornly on a bed. Suddenly a few hairs in her bangs twanged upwards like antennae. The raven-haired woman suddenly sat up in alarm.
"S-Somewhere an Eva is about to be launched," the woman muttered feverishly.
She jumped up and looked all around. "L-Launch Eva!" she called hesitantly.
She got up on the bed and began banging on the air vent. "Launch Eva!" she called into it, hoping her voice carried. "Launch Eva...!"
Back in the land of the sane...
Evas were preparing for launch. In Central Dogma, Shigeru Aoba and a nameless tech sat at their consoles. The two Evas trundled slowly out to the launch rails. Shigeru leaned back, stretched, and gave a giant yawn.
"Kinda quiet, huh?"
"Yeah," the other woman said hesitantly. Had they bothered to put their ear down to the floor vent, they might have heard a very tiny voice yelling 'Launch Eva'.
Then again, they might not have.
Meanwhile, back in Ritsuko's command center in Matsushiro, everything was going swimmingly. The Evas were about to be launched, an unconscious Maya was hanging on a cross against the far wall, and the invading UN forces were being held back by humans who had been overtaken by the Iruel virus and turned into Borgs.
Yes, Ritsuko thought, looking up at the logo over the main screen, God is indeed in his Heaven, and all is right with the world.
The south wall of the Command Center began to melt. Or rather, a giant hole was melted through it. Before Ritsuko could twitch an eyebrow or utter an epithet, Fuyutski had stepped through the hole. His Adam-hand was glowing.
"I'm here for Maya," he said genially, looking around and smiling. "Release her, or I'll level this entire facility."
For once, Asuka marched her Unit out of the entry point with all the grace and majesty she deserved. Around her, heat waves shimmered on the horizon. Her one and only wingman was her best friend, not that idiot and his attention-getting blue-haired copilot. Yes, life was good.
"You ready to do this, Hikari?" Asuka called.
A video link appeared showing Kaworu, with Hikari peeking around the back of his head. Kaworu opened his mouth to speak, and Hikari put a hand over it. "We're ready," she said.
"Good. Now..." Asuka's words died in her mouth when she saw what they faced. Those weren't heat waves on the horizon, it was the exhausts of all the planes. There was a solid blanket of them in all directions, that was why it hadn't registered.
Asuka lifted her twin pallete rifles and fired. She turned a slow circle, spreading the fire all around her. Explosions dotted the horizon, and showers of debris hung in the air, slowly falling like streamers of confetti. When she ran out of ammo, there was still a solid blanket of planes covering the horizon on all sides.
"Yeah, I'm gonna go get a minigun." Asuka turned towards the nearest heavy-lift elevator. She came face to face with a cruelly-smiling Unit-03. The other Eva bit her in the neck. Hikari let out a scream of rage, charged forward, and cut the Eva in half with her double-bladed chainsaw.
Then Asuka found that her Eva wasn't under her control any more. She pounded on her useless butterfly controls in frustration. "Gottdammit!" she yelled. "Why me? Why does this crap always happen to me?" Her Eva took a wild swing at Hikari's Unit-01. The other Eva dodged, then backed up.
A comm box opened up. "Asuka, are you okay?" Hikari yelled.
"Yes, Hikari," Asuka snapped, irony dripping from her words, "I was just trying to give you a congratulatory slap on the back."
"Oh, thank goodness," Hikari looked relieved.
"Hell no!" Asuka shrieked. "That thing bit me, and now I've got no control! Run the f—k away!"
"R-Really?" Hikari looked scared.
Asuka closed her eyes with a sigh of disgust. There was really only one option now, one she had promised herself she would never activate on her own. She ran both hands down her face, took a deep breath, then reached over and hit the activation release for her dummy plug.
Rei's face popped up on the main screen, and she looked far too pleased with herself. "Greetings!" she said happily. "I'm Rei 2.0, Deranged Unit..."
"-yeah yeah, get on with it!" Asuka snapped.
"...Manual-override Management sYstem," Rei 2.0 continued. "Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed." Rei 2.0 paused and took a breath.
"Hurry the f—k up!" Asuka yelled. From what she could see around Rei 2.0's head, her Unit was busy chasing Hikari's Eva all over the place.
Rei 2.0 smiled just a little more. "If your Eva has been taken over by a hostile foreign life-form, please press one."
"Yeah, that sounds like it," Asuka snapped, reaching for the glowing numeral that had appeared in her heads-up display.
"If you have lost consciousness," Rei 2.0 continued, "please press two." A second glowing numeral appeared.
Asuka paused, one of her fiery red eyebrows twitching in frustration. "Now that just makes no sense! If I was unconscious, how would I press-"
Rei 2.0 continued as if Asuka weren't there. "Or, to scour the earth with fiery death, please press three."
Asuka's hand wavered. She looked out the view-screen at the vast forces arrayed against her, and saw the ruin of her beloved city in the near future. "Oh, why the f—k not?" she wailed, smashing her hand down on the third option.
"You have selected, 'scour the earth with fiery death'," Rei 2.0 said sweetly. "Please don't regret what happens next!" She smiled, then disappeared.
"The only thing I'm regretting is activating your sorry ass," Asuka snapped, resting her hands on her controls. "Huh. It stopped moving." She experimentally took a step. The Eva moved at her command. Hikari was still running away. "It's okay, Hikari!" Asuka called. "I got it, you can stop running now!"
Hikari's comm box popped back up. "R-Really?" The girl looked harried, but relieved. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Of course I'm sure I'm okay-AAACH!" Her back arched, and she almost passed out from the pain. Four searing needles were being driven into her skull. She gripped her head, trying to blot out the pain. With her Eva's hands, she felt what seemed to be horn-like protrusions coming out of her Eva's head. White-hot fury burned down her back. Now she felt spike-like things running down her back as well.
Hikari's comm box was fuzzed with lines of static. "-umm, Asuka? Are... Are you-"
"Keep running!" Asuka screamed. "For Gottsake, keep running!"
Hikari didn't have to be told twice.
The south entrance of the Matsushiro site was a crumbling ruin. Through the giant hole in the wall, one could see a series of melted and destroyed walls clear through to the command center. Fuyutski stumbled through the outer hole, Maya's unconscious form slung over his shoulder.
He stood aghast at the desolation around Tokyo-3. He saw a red shape leaping through the air. It no longer looked anything at all like an Eva, nor did it move like one. A burst of fire shot from it like a flamethrower, engulfing an entire flight of planes, sending them plummeting to the ground to join thousands of their brethren burning below. There were many thousands more still in the air.
Fires burned around him, and bullets spent themselves on a wavering hexagon of light behind him. A bright burst of pink light flared against the defensive field. Dazzling pink streamers stretched out towards him from all sides, a ragged circle of Borgified technicians pummeled him with fire. Hexagons surrounded him, drawing closer and closer together.
A ball of shining white crackled in the Subcommander's hand, illuminating his snarl. He looked around himself in anger, then raised his hand. The ball of snarling white got much larger.
Central Dogma looked almost normal. Gendo and Yui sat up on the command deck, with Shigeru Aoba and a few other technicians below on Balthasar's bridge. There had been no guards posted outside, oddly enough. Or not, considering they were under heavy ground attack, and the Iruelites were the only ones who had a chance, so they were all on the front lines.
The main holo-tank showed the devastation surrounding Tokyo-3. Fires burned, heaps of airships were piled about at the edges of the city, and a red thing was still jumping around, shooting flame everywhere.
"She's still got three minutes left of activation time," a female tech said quietly.
"She won't need that much," Gendo observed grimly.
"No," Yui agreed. She looked at her husband brightly. "Didn't I tell you we'd have to purge them-"
"...with fire, yes, I remember," Gendo replied.
"It's always so messy, though," Yui sniffed.
"Yes, it is," Gendo agreed.
The doors to Central Dogma slid aside, and Fuyutski stumbled onto the main bridge. He was singed and burnt, his clothes hanging in tatters. He gently set Maya down in a chair. The tech was just beginning to come to.
"Sorry I'm late," he said hoarsely. "There were too many of them." Then he fell over in a heap.
"Sensei...!" Gendo got out of his chair and fell to his knees, cradling the man's head in his lap. A very drunk-looking Maya was pulling herself groggily towards a keyboard.
Balthasar's innards lay exposed, his main tower had been raised so that Maya could get at his innards. She was currently up to her waist in wires and circuitry, with Yui standing around looking worried.
"Wire cutters," Maya said, reaching an empty hand towards Yui. The woman looked around, found wire cutter, and handed them to the tech.
"Phillips head screw-driver." Maya held out her hand. Yui got one for her.
"Secondary power coupling." Yui got them.
"Standard computer uplink." Yui got it.
"Hydrospanner," Maya said, holding out her hand. Yui looked confused. "Just kidding." Maya grinned, her face smudged with grease. "Hand me that drill. No, not that one, the really big one."
Gendo, and Yui stood on the Command deck looking over Maya's shoulder.
"Alright," the brown-haired tech muttered, "this should do it." She typed in a long string of code, and sat back.
The main holo-tank went dead, as did every light in the building.
"Well, shit," Maya said, with feeling. The lights came back on. "I mean, good!" Maya corrected herself.
The main holo-tank lit back up, showing a very angry-looking Rei 2.0. "Well, now I'm just pissed," the albino said. Behind her in the holo-tank, the outskirts of Tokyo-3 appeared to be on fire. Rei 2.0 glanced behind her. "I see that fool out there chose option three," she observed.
"What do we do now?" Yui asked.
Maya smiled. "Stay out of the way."
"Correct," Rei 2.0 said. "My sister installations and I are now complete. Activating the Trinity Protocol now."
"What's the Trinity Protocol?" Yui asked. Gendo simply frowned. Maya didn't answer. "Does it involved fire?" Yui asked. "If it does, then I'm all for it-"
The main holo-tank changed to show all three REIGI installation and their interconnections.
"Oh no," Maya breathed. "The Code-666 firewall isn't there any more!" Indeed, on the viewer, only the Matsushiro site was still protected by the intricate rings of red barriers that indicated the advanced firewall was still in place.
The blinking red indicator that was MAGI-04, the Massachusetts branch, shifted its attack from Matsushiro to Tokyo.
"Trinity Protocol going active... now." Rei 2.0's eyes burned red. The lines of attack reversed, and the MAGI-04 icon disappeared.
"They're completely off-line!" Maya breathed in awe.
"The Massachusetts branch was already damaged anyway," Rei 2.0 sniffed in derision. "They don't count. Shifting attack to MAGI-06 in China." Blue lines stretched out. Green lines of resistance shielded the blue attack. The green lines faded into yellow, then red. The MAGI-06 icon itself wavered between blue and red, then disappeared abruptly. "MAGI-06 destroyed." Rei 2.0 frowned. "Correction, forcible self-shutdown. They will be unable to come back online for the near future, though." Rei 2.0 smiled. The two remaining MAGI sites in Germany wavered out of existence. "The screen is clear, all foreign MAGI have withdrawn," Rei 2.0 reported. "LCL-forms have regained control of Tokyo-3. All Iruelites have either fled, or been purged."
"-with fire?" Yui asked, raising a finger.
Maya leaned closer to Gendo. "I didn't know Yui was such a pyro," she whispered.
"Neither did I, before I married her," Gendo replied in an undertone.
"What's that, dear?" Yui asked, slipping her arm through his and giving him a piercing gaze.
"-um, I was telling Maya how much I love your warm personality," he said quickly.
Hikari and Kaworu hiked through the deserted streets of Tokyo-3. Unit-01's ejected entry plug sat in a smoking crater in the distance. Hikari was stomping along angrily, and Kaworu was walking along behind her, holding a map, looking very confused.
Hikari glanced sidelong at her ash-haired companion. "Why do guys never stop and ask for directions?" she sniped.
"I thought I knew where I was going," Kaworu argued. "The map said the next power cable substation was supposed to be at those coordinates."
Hikari fell back and looked at the map. Her eyes glittered. "You're holding it upside down, you nitwit!" she yanked it out of his hands and turned it right side up. "I told you we only had thirty seconds of activation time left. I told you we'd have to eject."
Kaworu furrowed his eyebrows. He looked closer at the map. He turned it over, and looked at it. He turned it back right side up. He glanced sheepishly at Hikari, who glared back. Kaworu seemed to visibly deflate. "I'm going to get spanked again, aren't I?" he asked in a small voice.
"You should be-" Hikari cut off. Her tired eyes suddenly widened. Up ahead were the hesitant forms of Touji and Kensuke. The boy's camera was glued to the carnage in the distance. "What're you guys doing?" she yelled, waving her arms as she ran towards them.
"Filming the end of the world, what do you think?" Kensuke retorted.
"Never mind that," Hikari said, "Now that we have four people, we have to go have a séance!" She dragged the two boys into the nearest building.
"A what?" Touji scratched his head. "Class rep, are you back on that witchcraft bent again?"
"I don't like seances," Kaworu said mournfully. "They're scary..."
"Well too bad," Hikari snapped, grabbing his arm. "We need four people! You're coming with me!"
"-err, yes ma'am," he said meekly.
"Pussy-whipped," Touji whispered to Kensuke.
"What was that, mister?" Hikari shrieked.
"Nothing!" Touji yelled back in a terrified tone of voice.
Unbeknownst to any of them, they had two ghostly stalkers. Shinji turned to Rei. "How did you come up with something like this?"
"When we saw Fuyutski at Matsushiro, I understood," Rei answered. "He carries Adam. If we unite him with Lilith, I might gain the power to free us."
"Oh." Shinji thought for a minute. "But how are we going to tell Fuyutski? No one can hear us..."
"We cannot interact normally with anyone," Rei explained. "Therefore we should be able to interact paranormally."
"No no no, that makes no sense..." Shinji stopped and held his head. "No, wait, it does, and that scares me."
The four children ran into the dark building. It was a library, so Hikari was quickly able to find a round table and four chairs to go around it. "Everybody sit!" she ordered. They all sat, each of them barely visible to the other in the gloom. Enough light got in through the distant windows that only human outlines were visible at first. Slowly their eyes adjusted.
Kaworu was shivering. Kensuke was turning his camera this way and that. Whatever film he was getting would undoubtedly look like one of those fake amateur horror movies filmed from the perspective of one of the victims.
Touji suddenly looked behind him at a small noise that turned out to be the air-conditioning kicking in. "Class Rep, this is really freaking me out." He glanced back to Kaworu's pale face drawn in fear.
"Quiet," Hikari hissed. "You're only afraid because Kaworu's afraid." She turned to face the pseudo-Angel. "Kaworu, stop being afraid!"
The boy hesitantly nodded, and an instant change came over him. Suddenly he was no longer shaking, his face had become serene, and his eyes glazed over. Kensuke's camera was glued to the boy.
Touji looked at Kaworu uneasily. "Actually, that right there is creepy all by itself," he murmured.
"Would all of you just settle down?" Hikari whispered loudly. "Now, what we're all going to do is hold hands-"
Kaworu raised a hand. "Is it okay if I go back to being scared now?" he asked plaintively.
Hikari gave a resigned sigh. "Yes, Kaworu, you can go back to being scared."
The boy began shivering again, and his eyes widened.
Hikari ran a hand down her face. "Can we focus, please?" She looked around. "Everybody hold hands!" Everybody obediently held hands. Hikari closed her eyes. "We call on the spirits to come to us now," she intoned. "Make your presence felt to us."
Rei glanced sidelong at Shinji. "Get under the table," she ordered.
With a sigh, Shinji crouched down and got under the table. "Okay," he said, his voice muffled, "Now what? It's hard to see under here, and-" There was a solid thump. "Ouch!" Shinji cursed. "Sorry, I hit my head."
The four children sitting around the table were suddenly a bit more scared.
"Wh-What was that?" Touji said. "You guys heard that thump, right?"
"Yeah," Kensuke said, "I got it on film! Here, I'll replay it-"
"Don't!" Kaworu begged. He looked genuinely terrified.
"Oh spirit," Hikari called, in a more hesitant voice, "are you someone we know? U-Umm, tap once for no and twice for yes." Touji looked at her dubiously. She glared back.
Shinji's muffled voice came from under the table. "Rei, what do I do?"
"Hit the table again," she replied.
"With my head?" he asked disbelievingly.
"Only if you lack common sense," Rei retorted.
Shinji lifted his hand and rapped on the table twice. Kaworu began to moan quietly.
"Shut him up," Touji said quietly, "He's really creeping me out!"
"-sh-shhh, it's okay," Hikari tried to soothe Kaworu. "Th-the spirit is someone we know, so it's okay."
Kaworu nodded and bit his lip, falling silent.
Kensuke spoke up. "Are you someone from our class?" Shinji rapped the table twice. "...are-are you Shinji?" he continued. Shinji rapped twice quickly, then crawled out from under the table.
"What do I do now?" he asked Rei. "He guessed who I was... By the way, why could he hear me knocking? That makes no sense."
Kensuke opened his mouth. "-uh-umm, oh spirit, what do you want from us?" he asked.
"Dude, that's not a yes or no question," Touji chided.
"Get back under the table, Shinji," Rei ordered, pushing on his shoulder.
While Shinji kept the four children busy, Rei went and gathered a bunch of library books, setting them down next to the table with a crash. Everyone seated jumped. Shinji crawled out from under the table and watched as Rei proceeded to tear up the books. She ripped up pages, carefully tearing out individual words. To Shinji this was confusing. To the four children sitting around the table, it was utterly frightening, since from their perspective, books had dragged themselves over and were tearing themselves apart.
Finally a message appeared on the table, formed by the torn-out words. Hikari leaned forward to read it.
Shigeru and Aoba walked down a hallway of the Geofront. In the distance, Yui's voice could be heard. She was giggling madly, and yelling "Fire! Fire!" There was also a fwhooshing sound. Gendo's voice could be heard, saying "dammit, stay away from me with that thing, woman!"
"So," Shigeru said, "how's Fuyutski doing?"
"Oh, he's recovering nicely," Maya answered. "I was just going to check on him now, actually."
"Nice flowers," Shigeru noted.
Maya blushed and looked uneasy for a moment. "Ah, yeah," she mumbled, "s-someone told me to give them to him, that's all," she said quickly. She desperately hoped Shigeru wouldn't ask any more questions. No one had ever risked their life to save her like Fuyutski had. She still didn't remember much of the journey out of Matsushiro, but she did remember the feel of his arms around her as he carried her out, and that was something she hadn't felt in a long time either.
Fuyutski's room was just ahead. She palmed the door open, her heart went into her throat. Then the bottom fell out of her world when she realized he was gone.
He could have just gone to the bathroom, but something told Maya it was far more serious than that. It took her all of ten minutes to get down to Terminal Dogma, the forgotten flowers still in her hand.
She jogged through the door when it slid aside, and came to a stop. She lifted her eyes up to the catwalk that led along the wall to where Lilith was pinned to her cross. There was Fuyutski, making his way tortuously across towards Lilith.
"Hey!" she called. He apparently didn't hear. "Kozou!" she called, cupping her hands to her mouth.
At that, he turned, looking around, then he looked down and saw her. He stumbled to the edge of the catwalk, leaning against it heavily. "I'm sorry," he called down, his voice almost lost with the distance. "Don't try to stop me!" He looked back towards Lilith, then back down to Maya. He hung his head, as if bearing a great weight. "I'm sorry!" he called again.
"What the hell!" Maya yelled. "You crazy old man...!" She ran over to the ladder leading up to the catwalk and began climbing. The flowers were coming apart, petals drifting lazily to the grating below. Finally, in her haste, they slipped from her hands entire. She paused a moment to watch with sorrow as they slowly spun through the air towards the floor.
She pushed onwards. The top of the catwalk got closer, and finally she pulled herself up onto it, gasping for breath. "Stop!" she called, jogging along the catwalk, one hand on the railing, the other over the horrendous stitch in her side from the sudden activity.
He had almost reached Lilith. He reached out his hand, the hand that contained Adam. Suddenly she knew what he was doing. "Hey!" she called. He glanced back at her sorrowfully. Two small wavering outlines appeared beside him, two children, one on either side. It was Shinji and Rei, she realized. "Wait...!"
She stumbled the last few steps, her arms closing around what should have been his neck. He was fading from sight, her hands were beginning to pass through him. Then he reached back and put an arm around her. She passed the edge of the catwalk and into empty air. Closing her eyes, she felt wetness drip down her face as she fell. Then there was a flash of light that penetrated even her closed eyelids.
A sea of stars shone over the lip of a precipice of a certain high mountain. Far below, a dim blue jewel twinkled amidst towering peaks on all sides. It was full of life, that jewel, though not as full as it once had been.
Up on the precipice, a girl paced back and forth, her arms crossed over her chest. A frown marred her pale features as she looked back to the small blue sphere of life. "He should have been here by now," she said, to herself since there was obviously no one else nearby. "He's undoubtedly lost. Perhaps even reborn into another body by now."
She turned and resumed her pacing, arms held tightly over her chest, her eyes desolate. She did not know that she had picked up an onlooker. A boy had stepped out of the treeline and was observing her steadily. A smile crossed his weary features, and he stepped closer. She didn't notice, such was her internal turbitude.
He fell into step behind her, matching her steps and her posture, his arms crossed over his chest. She continued her march, unaware of her shadow. Then she stopped. She took a step, and he took a step. She spun, came face to face with him. He mimicked her sudden surprise, and the furrowing of her brow.
She slapped him, then turned away, crossing her arms again. "Don't make fun of me," she said sullenly. I was scared." She said nothing for a while, and neither did he. "You were supposed to be here sooner."
"I know," was all he said. He did not immediately apologize, as he might have in a previous time.
"I want to introduce you to my family," she said plaintively.
"We'll have time for that," he said soothingly. "You're shivering." He walked up to her, putting his hands on her arms.
"I'm cold," she said.
"It's a good thing I'm here, then." He held her close to him. After a few minutes she stopped shivering. "Let's just rest here a while."
"I don't want to," she retorted softly, but she allowed him to guide her to a sitting position. She made a small sound of discomfort, for her belly had grown large due to the two presences growing inside her.
He built a fire, and then sat down beside her.
She looked at him. "We should leave soon."
"I know," he replied. He reached into his pocket and brought out a small black device with earphones attacked to it.
"How did you bring that here?" she asked, her eyes narrowing. She did not, however, refuse an earpiece when he offered it. "Only for a few minutes," she warned.
"Yeah," he agreed. "Just a few minutes."
Her eyes slowly closed. Soon she was asleep, her head on his shoulder. The fire burned brighter, its fringes red against the cold night.
Back on earth, a new star joined the constellation of the Virgo, just to the galactic south of the alpha star of Coma Berenices. It burned a hot yellow, but it was red at its fringes, and its sudden appearance threw quite a few scientists into a quandary.