Chapter: 3B -Shinji refused to run away a second time.
ChoicePath: Start - 1B - 3B
Author: The Mustachioed Cat
A battered blue Renault drifted through Tokyo-3's Outer Ward, horn blaring, ignoring all posted signage and common sense. The driver's skin was slick with cold sweat, her eyes screwed into a squint despite the wrap-around sunglasses. Just get the kid - the phrase was on repeat in her head, echolalia induced by toxic amounts of coffee and study pills.
Age: 27 (29)
Rank: Captain (but probably not for much longer)
Contiguous Waking Hours: 33
Yesterday: The Angel, pinged at the easternmost extreme of Pacific sovereignty. The UN, scrapping her battleplan and having SDF MPs escort her off the bridge when she protested. Ritsu, in the vending area outside Central Dogma telling her to Just get the kid.
And Captain Katsuragi had tried. It wasn't her fault the highway exits had been blocked by civilians half-remembering evacuation procedures. It wasn't her fault that NERV and the UN had been pinging the Angel with increasingly exotic forms of energy that had scrambled her GPS. But everything else was her fault. Her responsibility.
When she finally had found the kid, it was in a combat situation: him in the midst of nearly being vaporized by an exploding VOTL, her trying to avoid the titanic black hooks that were falling out of the sky.
As the Captain was jogging the car into reverse to avoid the distressingly large pieces of building that were raining down, knowing even as she did so that it was the kid she should be worried about, he had run by in a blur of black and white and disappeared up the street.
Gone, gone, the Just get the kid was gone by the time she had managed to get clear of the debris. A tense ten minutes dodging through streets, looking for that splash of black and white, even as the black hooks worked their way through buildings, at times drifting into the air like it was nothing and then slamming back down. No more VOTL or tank fire, no more sirens. Just Misato and an Angel and the cracking of pavement and buildings and the hiss of downed electrical wire and the smashpatter of water from ruptured holding tanks raining down from collapsing rooftops and the BOOM of what had to be an exploding gas main and breaking glass always always ALWAYS.
And no kid. A terrified Tuxedo cat skittering up a utility pole and a few running dogs - including a beautiful golden retriever that chose a less-than-opportune moment to try and cross the street - but no Shinji Ikari.
No Commander's son.
No Third Child.
They took out the Angel. NERV, not the UN. It took six of the ten N2 mines they kept in strategic reserve. Simultaneous detonation of shaped aerial charges had vaporized the bone-like growths on the Angel's hips and shoulder. The black hook-feet and all the rest of the Angel promptly lost form, spreading out a suffocating layer of muted black quasi-liquid that ate anything it came into contact with, including the geography beneath it - though thankfully the downward effect ceased once the mass had become perfectly level.
In the middle of that inky blotch of landscape was an intact ruby-red core.
Disabled, Ritsuko had said, but not dead. NERV needed an Eva to finish the Angel off. They needed Unit One. And that meant they needed the Third Child.
And that was when the panic had started to build in Katsuragi, joining fear and remorse to become an engine for manic purpose. Unknowing, she had sabotaged the first official deployment of the Evangelion weapon system. She had effectively done something exactly counter to NERV's purpose for being - she had prolonged the existence of an Angel.
So after being informed as to why Shinji Ikari was required for any mission going forward, and after she had driven an acceptable distance into the Outer Ward and just totally lost her shit in the growing evening shadow of an untouched apartment complex, Captain Katsuragi had returned to the forward command post overlooking the Angel's dead sea and taken charge of finding the boy.
More than half of the Outer Ward had been flattened, so even with all non-essential personnel - and any essential personnel that weren't on-shift - on the ground looking for Shinji Ikari, it had still taken nearly sixteen hours to locate him.
Alive. Hurt but alive. That's what the woman on the phone had said. Luckyluckylucky flashed through Misato's mind, but didn't stay. Just get the kid quickly crowded it out.
And now she was racing through streets made narrow with lines of abandoned cars, leaning on the horn, letting out a building scream whenever she passed through an intersection and was not transformed into a twisted mass of crackling metal by way of unexpected perpendicular force, giggling and gulping coffee from her thermos because Alive. Hurt but alive.
Pulling up behind the APC that had signaled her. Up and out. Scanning the debris field and spying someone coming around a hump of support beam, Katsuragi immediately set off across the debris, picking over the shifting mass of splintered wood and shattered ceramic and concrete.
Circling the support beam, Katsuragi found four rescue workers arranged in a rough circle at the edge of a break in the wreckage. One of them, a woman, gestured to Katsuragi, then rejoined everyone in looking into the deepness at their feet. No one was talking. And just like that, Katsuragi's relief turned into dread. Because Hurt. Alive, but hurt.
Crossing to the break took seconds, but in that time the Captain had envisioned every horrible scenario that could be fairly described as 'hurt, but alive.' She imagined the boy, that smear of black and white, pinned under heavy beams of steel, his legs destroyed and the only thing keeping him from bleeding out was the weight of what had crushed him. She imagined him sitting against a pile of debris in a position that would have been perfectly innocuous except for the three strands of blood-slick rebar emerging from his stomach and chest. She imagined him alive, awake, but completely unresponsive, a bloody dent in the side of his skull, everything that had been or ever would be the Third Child churned up into so much gray soup.
Each horrible image seemed as likely as the last. The rescue workers just standing at the top of the hole, looking down in mute horror, perhaps realizing that it was over. Everything. The Angel was going to win.
She crossed to the edge, and looked down, and saw:
Red. A cavity perhaps two meters deep, its walls and floor covered in shapes that, while unplacable, seemed familiar. Curved sheets and looped tubes and 'blister' protrusions as long as the Captain's arm. And all of it was red; a liquid almost-black in the bottom, seguing into deep caberenet around mid-depth, and finally arriving at a flacking, peeling burgundy toward the top, where sunlight had cooked it. The blood. Cooked the blood. Where the sunlight had cooked the blood.
The Captain took a step back, then another - this took the contents of the hole out of sight.
"Where is he?" she said, keeping everything out of her voice. "The target. The pilot."
"Down there," one of the rescue workers, a man, said nodding to the hole. "He's doing some Buddha thing, I dunno."
"Almost missed him," said another worker. "Covered like that, and the smell keeps you away. But he looked up as I came by and. Well, the white of his eye stood out against all... that."
Against the sum of her experience, judgement, and a wild impulse to recklessly flee, Captain Katsuragi returned to the edge of the hole and looked down.
"Told us who he was," a third worker added. "But pretty much that's it."
There were things down in the hole. Moving things. Slight shapes that flowed under and over and through the quivering slop. There was a sound, too, a popping murmur.
"Said he was no one, too," the female worker added in. "Shinji Ikari, and nothing."
There was no kid down there. Nothing at the bottom was in anything close to the right shape. Nothing but bloody Hell, all those shapes twisting now to form an optical illusion, a perversion of depth. For a moment, it was as though there were a narrow stack of organs in the very center of the hole. Like the mess had come alive and was reaching out. Reaching for her...
And then the illusory spire opened its one good eye. Inclined its head, looking up at her. What had appeared to be a random whorl of scarlet parted, revealing twin rows of gore-rubied teeth.
The thing in the hole said: "You. Were not. At. The train station."
And then it bent over, dissolving into a boy covered in blood and bad experience, coughing his guts out.
The first splitting knuckle had almost blacked him out. The sensation of his flesh being sawn into by the small serrations along the ridge of a parted beak - that wasn't something he was ready for: his own blood pooling in his fist and running down his arm and growing disgustingly cold.
By the time his final knuckle was torn open, this time ripped open by a spur of bone deep in a goose's stomach cavity, it was a pleasure. It meant: I am still alive. I have warmth to spare. All while the bodies heaped around him, spilling into the growing pool at his feet, heating it momentarily.
When they were all dead, he had sunk into a half-awake state, sitting upright in the pool, shuddering and muttering random words thrown off by a brain pickled with stress and adrenaline, snapping out of it only when the pool grew too cold to sit in. By then a film had formed on the surface, strong enough for the gosling to walk over.
Rather than freeze, he began breaking open the bodies, looking for more warmth. Found the blood gathered in them was still slightly warmer than the pit – insulated against the cold, like. He began applying a layer of goose to the sides of the hole, jamming gray-yellow organs and broken wings and limbless bodies into the empty spaces between layers of debris, through which drifted the biting chill. He was already fairly covered in blood, but even with the geese coating the walls, and even though the chill had ceased to grow in intensity, he still felt cold enough to die – so he knelt into the pool and applied a layer of pudding-like blood to himself, smearing it across his tattered clothes and face. And at the end he felt... well, warmer.
Light grew in the sky overhead. He could hear distant mechanical sounds. He stood, and waited.
It had honestly not occurred to him, to lie about who he was. It had been a fleeting idea, before the feathered rain had begun, but when presented with the option of regaining some sense of security, he took it. Might still not mean anything. Father could have died in the monster attack.
"Shinji Ikari, but probably nothing," he had explained to the people, two men and a woman in identical jumpsuits. Didn't think he had gotten the idea across very well. Couldn't care.
The woman came next, bending over the hole. She was wearing a brown dress, and he recognized the hair and chest - defined quite well by a bag strap that crossed between her breasts - even before she had slipped off her sunglasses.
You weren't at the train station.
As first impressions went, Shinji supposed he sounded like a bit of a shit. The woman had backed out of sight after his reflexive observation.
Eventually the uniformed workers lowered a ladder into the hole, he sort of held on with the one working arm, and the ladder had been pulled up. The goslings surged into the gaps he had not managed to fill with their torn-apart parents and popped out on the surface of the rubble to crowd around him. They drifted along behind as he was carried to a transport, whereupon one of the uniformed men shooed them away. From the window, Shinji watched as the baby birds wandered across the street, into the grass, heading down the incline toward ENEMY ENEMY ENEMY ENEMY ENEMY ENEMY ENEMY ENEMY ENEMY ENEMY ENEMY ENEMY ENEMY ENEMY ENEMY ENEMY ENEMY ENEMY
Two of the uniforms had him on the ground the moment he staggered clear of the transport. He was screaming now, couldn't help it, as adrenaline threaded back into his brain, burning bright and demanding that stupid, filthy animal the goslings were heading toward now, that idiot goose standing in the grass on the other side of the street be neck-snapped and split open and drained into the poooooooolllluhh...
A sharp pinch at his neck and a pneumatic hiss, and the world dimmed...
A new place now. He was seated upright, a pair of arms holding him in place while a woman that was somehow both blonde and Japanese inspected him like a piece of meat. The dull ache of everything was back.
He lolled his head up, taking in a low ceiling an air vent, a burning-bright halogen. When the view circled down until chin hit chest, Shinji found himself dressed in a white smock. His skin had been rubbed clean and there was a cast around one arm. Bandages had been wrapped around both his hands. A tightness at his scalp suggested they had dressed the lines of hurt up there, probably had a patch over the bad eye too. Even his mouth felt clean, sterilized.
"Can you understand me, Shinji?" the woman asked, sliding a pen between chin and chest and forcing his head level. She registered him registering her, then glanced down at some kind of handheld computer.
"My father," Shinji began, and stopped. Ran his tongue over his teeth. Found two coppery wells where molars were supposed to be. ...Great.
"My father sent for me," he started again. "His name is Gendo Ikari. He..."
"Your father is Supreme Commander of NERV," the blonde woman said, scrawling her pen across the handheld, so quickly the motion had to be meaningless. "You are Shinji Ikari, the Third Child."
Supreme Comma... He'd had more children! But... "No, I'm the first one," Shinji corrected, wondering if maybe he was still in the bottom of a bloody hole, freezing to death. "First-born. There are... more?"
The question seemed to confuse the woman. "No, that has nothing to do... its a designation for pilots - people like you - that's all. Are we ready for the feed?" The last was directed over Shinji's shoulder.
Pilot. Shinji was considering the word as the woman walked away, and the hands that had been holding him upright relax. Another woman circled into view. Brown dress.
Pilot, as in, flying something. An airplane or a helicopter. Gods and monsters, they'd mistaken him for some kind of aircraft pilot. They thought he was some other Shinji Ikari. A Shinji Ikari whose father, also a Gendo Ikari, was Supreme Commander of NERV.
"I'm not what you want," he blurted. Brown dress had been conspicuously not looking at him, just lingering in front of him for whatever reason, but now their gazes locked. "Pilot. I'm not a pilot. Never been up in the air, not once."
"S'a special job," she said, so softly he could barely hear. A murmur. "Something that only you can do."
"I don't know anything about that," Shinji asserted. "My father's name is Gendo Ikari. He's a scientist. He works at NERV-" The woman was nodding absently. Why was she doing that?
"Your father is boss... my boss," she was saying, for some reason. "Around here, he's everyone's boss."
"But, I'm not a pilot. I don't fly," he repeated. "I can't even drive a truck."
"We... we brought you here," the woman was picking her words carefully. Her eyes were funny. Drifting. "To train you. To pilot. S'a... special position. A special role. Something only..." she blinked. Seemed to realize she was repeating herself.
She took a long gulp of what Shinji assumed was coffee.
"I'm Misato Katsuragi, by the way," she bowed slightly to him, perhaps not offering a hand because both of his were wrapped in gauze. "Nice to meet you..." she trailed off. "Uhm... sorry about... all of it."
In his head Shinji heard the pleasing cracks of a goose's neck breaking as he forced it into a reluctant, overlapping spiral. But Misato Katsuragi was not a goose. She was a woman. Shinji did not know how to deal with women. Especially women apologizing for one eye gone bad, two adult teeth missing, and something in his right arm that required a cast.
Hate. Shinji felt it, tightening his jaw and squinting his eyes, a sudden heat growing somewhere between chest and back - between the shoulder blades. Hate prompted by apology, this was new. Also new: the lack of effect it was having on his perception of the woman, Katsuragi. The hate built up, but refused to disperse, or elide onto her. It was just there, twisting his mind in odd directions, making everything around him flat and meaningless. Because nothing around him was in the right shape.
He responded to Katsuragi's introduction mechanically. Politely. He oriented on the only piece of information that existed between the two of them that had so far gone unremarked upon, and issued a meaningless compliment-greeting.
The woman's mouth became a lip-less line. She crossed her arms loosely. Said nothing in response. Then she stiffened, her arms shooting straight down. The blonde woman came back into view, and there was a man with her.
Another surge of hate. Father, who had sent him away nearly six years ago, and then lured him out here to freeze and nearly die. But again, the hate would not stick on man, it just stayed in the back of Shinji's brain, draining color and sound from everything, until...
...he was just barely...
People... talked. They took him... somewhere else. A tube.
They tried to drown him but... it didn't take. They staggered his movement somehow, so he was moving inside and outside himself at the same time. Curling his hands into fists and seeing below and a long way off, a second pair of hands going through identical motion. They told him to grasp the red ball, and he did.
Then black from all sides up tall and closing. The pit. Looking up into orange-pink sky, knowing he had never been rescued, that he had spent a day dying in the bottom of a hole and was experiencing his final moments. The black filling in the sky, and he was alone and there was nothing and he pushed forward. Just hurtled himself out. Fighting in the dark again, reaching out and feeling for that particular shape, to bite and rip open. Warmth. The WARMTH!
The black burned away from him in a million glowing cinders. The red ball was in his hands, but broken. And that was right, apparently. Everyone said it was great. In fact, they wouldn't shut up about it.
Then they stuck him in a tiny room with a bed and a sink and a toilet. When he tried to leave, they stuck him in an identical room with a locked door. He spent the night staring up at nothing, trying to get a grip on what was going on in his head. Meaningless, though. Busy work. He knew what he needed.
The next day they took him to a white room and made him take off his clothes. There were needles. There was a strange girl too, who had sat across from him briefly. She smelled of static and somehow reminded Shinji of the reaching black that had tried to fold around him before, when he had picked up the red ball. Only she was not black, or reaching. Same texture, but different motion. Different color.
After the tests, the Katsuragi woman took him outside. Let him roam around the sown hills, walking in the furrows between rows of half-grown corn and cabbage. He followed the curves of the earth to their lowest point, found a few ponds, found a lake, but never was able to locate what he needed. There was no animal life of any kind.
Underground, Katsuragi explained as they left. This open space, the warmth of light. It was all artificial.
Time passed without consequence. Needles, words, food set before him. No night or day, just the buzz of lighting. The Katsuragi woman was usually close by. She walked him through the underground farmland several times, asking questions that he either ignored or did not know how to answer. They dumped him in a tube again, and again tried to drown him. It still didn't take.
This cycle continued until, during one of their excursions into the artificial outdoors, Katsuragi began asking him questions which, she assured him, could be answered in the affirmative by him not saying anything at all. They had a long, one-sided conversation about a little girl that had gone mute, and what had been done to pull her out of that state. And then Katsuragi asked him if he wanted to leave.
Shinji had said nothing.
She took him up and out under a deep purple sky. Took him to a building. Took him into an apartment. Crossing the threshold, Shinji experienced a spike of annoyance - what lay beyond smelled like the crawl space beneath teacher's house in high summer. Ripe black mushroom country. Perhaps a nest of angry raccoons awaited him here, as well.
This was the most complicated sequence of thoughts he had had in more than a month.
At the end of the entry hall was a kitchen. It was horrible. Beyond the kitchen was a living room with an enormous television and a pair of glass doors set in the far wall. Through the doors was a patio, and it was here that Katsuragi suspended her tour of the apartment to go briefly back inside. But she would be back momentarily. She promised.
The apartment building was built into the side of a hill on the perimeter of Tokyo-3. The city was bigger than anything Shinji had seen before: mostly a dense collection of illuminated windows at this time of night, vaguely outlined by the metallic smear of the buildings that encased them; the horizon was stained that metropolitan pink he had spent one night not so long ago desperately searching for; and he could hear traffic, the cicada, and two people on a patio adjacent having an argument - all he could make out was the harshness in their voices.
The Katsuragi woman returned with something strange at her feet. A moving oval of black and white, with a ridge of red and gold at the top. The oval warked at him.
This is Pen-Pen, Katsuragi was saying. He's a warm-water penguin.
Something in Shinji... stirred. Something cold and dark. Something that wanted warmth. The hatred that had been crackling in his mind began to expand, to sample the creature before him. The shape the shape the shape...
The penguin waddled over to Shinji a stopped a step away. It turned its head and watched him with one round eye, crowned with spines of red and gold. That eye was not a simple glassy pit. There was a ring of gold encasing the onyx. The eye moved up and down, taking the boy in. Looking at him. Watching him.
There was a logic to the hate in Shinji's mind. An ethic to it. This thing was almost the right shape. If Shinji closed his eyes and grabbed it, the penguin would probably feel right, too. And if he tore it apart, if he took its warmth, then some of the hate would be spent, and the blankness would recede, perhaps, a little.
...of course, realizing that one is acting blankly is a sure sign that said blankness is already receding somewhat. The smell of Katsuragi's nauseating kitchen had probably done it, the aroma of rot and mold triggering deeply programmed survival instincts that excluded the indulgence of the overpowering psychological construct stoking the hatred in his mind with energy that normally fed into his own higher cognitive functions.
Shinji did not snatch up the bird and use his teeth to open it. It was looking at him. Watching him. Taking his measure like a person might. It was, ultimately, the wrong shape.
He knelt and started to pet the bird, but it was already waddling away, threading through Katsuragi's legs and disappearing into the apartment. Katsuragi was watching him. Watching him carefully, Shinji realized. She probably had been for a while. The bird had been a test. Her final test, as it would turn out.
Katsuragi took him back into the apartment and fed him, and showed him the room that had been prepared for him. She promised him things he still wasn't ready to care about - piloting and getting to go to school with someone named Ayanami. Then she put him to bed.
She left the door open.
ANGEL ATTACK/THE BEAST
Highest Combo: 57x
Gained inSANITY GAUGE!
Gained Class! Pilot
Gained Title! Third Child
Gained Achievement! Mother Goose
Gained Achievement! 10 Million Fireflies
-25 Cups of Coffee
-1 Beautiful Golden Retriever
Empathy to Minor: 93% (baseline for males is 20%)
Car Repair Estimate: 320,000¥ (a lot)
Gained Achievement! Just get the kid
inSANITY METER! 65%...
The next day. Early. The apartment was quiet, save for the sound of a person wading through a floor layered in empty plastic bags, furtively searching cupboards and drawers. Shinji was in the kitchen, looking looking looking.
The chill had woken him. Not the cold-black liquid freeze of the pit, but still cold. He was not used to sleeping in these conditions. Teacher's house had had no air conditioning, and sleep had required few covers and open windows and a bottle of water at the bedside to keep you from sweating yourself dehydrated.
While out on the patio easing the chill from his dry skin, Shinji had spied something in the city that was positively magnetic. A low, silverly sheen that twinkled in the sunlight. Real, this time - or open to the air and aboveground, anyway. The shape was out there, waiting for him.
He was halfway out of the muted state. Instead of needing to discharge the reservoirs of hate in his mind, he now wanted to do so; rather than proceeding simply because it was the only thing he could do, Shinji was now registering the dissociative hate in his mind as an error or injury that needed to be fixed. He needed to get to the lake in order to fix himself. But first...
He was proceeding mechanically through all the drawers and cupboards in the kitchen area. The stench must have drifted into his room in the night - he could no longer smell it. But he could feel it on his skin: the filth, and what it said about the woman, Katsuragi.
The last drawer in the counter system contained what he needed: a 13-inch sashimi knife. Shinji picked up the blade, turning it over in his hands. It was cheaper than the one at teacher's place, stamped stainless-steel with a rough plastic handle. The drawer he had pulled it from had contained an old set of keys and an unopened box of pepper-spray so, Shinji reasoned, the item had probably been intended for self defense, rather than to aide in the preparation of food. He felt less guilty, knowing he would be using the knife for its intended purpose.
inSANITY METER! 64%...61%...
He wrapped the blade in a paper towel and slid it into the fold of the NERV uniform jacket he had been given to wear, and left the kitchen. Got three steps into the entryway hall before stopping short. There was something down the corridor, low and moving.
Shinji crept down the hall, socks whispering over the thin braided carpet. Unknown. Enemy? Had the geese found him here, somehow? Shinji was not yet well enough to dismiss the possibility out of hand. He crept closer, the moving thing visible only by the meager glow of the control panel beside the entrance. It was up against one side of the corridor, so he was able to move past it to the entrance and turn on the light.
The size and shape suggested two geese. Maybe three, all huddled together. And they would have been a good start, would have bled a great deal of hatred from his mind. Only instead of several sleeping geese, the lights revealed the sleeping form of Misato Katsuragi. She was curled up on a futon, had kicked her covers off in the night. Her nightclothes were...
Shinji looked away. Shut off the light. Her button-up had not been fastened, or had been pulled apart in the night. Sleeping on her side had exposed half of her stomach and chest. There was a lot to see. Her bellybutton, the generous swell of one breast, the puckered pink scar between them...
inSANITY METER! 57%...52%...
He slowly sank down into a crouch. Slid the knife back into his jacket. Covered his ears.
Last night she had asked him not to leave. He clearly remembered that. He also had the distinct impression that he had, in some way, indicated an affirmative to that request. And.
And he had been going. If she had not been sleeping in the entryway, he would already be gone. He had been ready to discard that... that trust. Trust placed in him by a person who... who...
His mind, his immediate memories, anyway, were a scattered blur, colorless and all mixed up, but... it seemed like he had been seeing a lot of Miss Misato Katsuragi lately. Days, a week? Maybe... a month? He wasn't sure what the sum of all those memories was, but Shinji got the impression that she was spread evenly throughout.
inSANITY METER! 47%...44%...
And not like the blonde woman, no. No needles. Just... coming at him. Coming to him. No needles and no Father, just the sound of her voice and this kernel of trust. But...
inSANITY METER! 44%...45%...
She had taken him here. Dangled the penguin in front of him. Made him promise not to leave without telling her. She. She had to know he'd see the silver-shimmer in the morning. She had known, and so had slept in the entryway, in order to limit him. To contain him. To keep him from that right shape.
inSANITY METER! 46%...49%...50%
6A- didn't trust him. She just wanted to control him. Giving him instructions, and making Shinji hate himself when he disobeyed them. She was no better than Father!
(inSANITY METER! goes to 100%, Shinji leaves the apartment and heads to the lake at top speed) (Go To Chapter 11)
6B- had been kind to him, and he couldn't walk away from that. Connecting with people, it seemed to ease the hatred from his mind. Maybe... maybe if he just kept on with her, the blankness would end.
(Shinji resolves to co-habitat. He returns the knife to its drawer. inSANITY METER! declines to 5% by the end of the day)
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