All I can do is watch.

I don't have a single muscle under my control. I can't move the arms, or the legs, or the jaw. I can't even twitch an ear.

So I watch. And I listen.

I understand what the ears hear and the eyes read, even though I shouldn't. But even without that, there are clues.

A dilapidated apartment. Familiar clothes. A glimpse of a reflection as the body moves about - no more than a glimpse, because I can't turn or even focus the eyes, but enough to catch, or think I catch, the hair color. Cicadas louder than any I can remember ever hearing. A middle school with student uniforms, the girls' matching the clothes this body's wearing. A class representative with familiar pigtails. The body showing familiar mannerisms - ignoring everyone else, spending the bulk of class staring out the window.

By nine in the morning, I know where I am. It's a modern city, with skyscrapers, computers, and fully stocked convenience stores, and it was built on top of an enormous artificial cavern called "the Geofront." The whole thing was designed as a fortress, but its designers weren't worried about human armies. The city used to be called Hakone, but now it's Tokyo-3.

That's the where. When is only slightly harder. There are too many people: Most desks have students at them. And there are too few people: Two are apparently missing. One of the two definitely is. The other would be easier to overlook, but I don't think I have.

And there's a topic missing from all the conversations I eavesdrop on between classes and at lunch, one that at least some people should be talking about. And on the way back to the apartment after school, I don't see what I resolved at lunch to keep an eye out for. Given how visible it should be from anywhere in the city and the fact that the eyes look in pretty much every compass direction over the course of the walk home, that conclusively rules out one section of time.

I know the where. I probably know the when. And I know the who.

But I don't know the how. And I don't know the why.


For the Future
by Shay Guy
Chapter 1


"You're proceeding nicely, Rei," Ritsuko Akagi said over the intercom as she thumbed through a printout. "Looks like you'll be just about ready when we perform the activation test."

Rei Ayanami gave no response. She was busy forcing LCL from her lungs. Some would have found this revolting, but she had had plenty of practice, having had to breathe the orange liquid probably more often than anyone else in the world. The synchronization tests like today's alone numbered more than she cared to count.

"There's just one thing I'd like to discuss with you," Dr. Akagi continued. "Could you drop by my office after you've changed clothes?"

It wasn't a typical request. But it was hardly surprising, all things considered. The activation test was in three days, and while nobody mentioned it, everyone in NERV's Project E team understood that the fate of millions could depend on its outcome.

Rei straightened up. "Yes, ma'am," she said.

Remove the rubbery, full-body plugsuit in the locker room. Shower just long enough to remove most of the LCL from her skin and her azure hair. Dress in her school uniform again, one of the few pieces of 'civilian' clothing - or any clothing - that she owned. Just like always.

Rei knew her classmates at the local middle school didn't go through this. She knew they weren't constantly studied by a top-secret paramilitary organization. She knew they had fathers instead of scientists and commanding officers. And she was quite certain they didn't have to take the medications she did to sustain their lives.

Rei had known she was different as long as she could remember.

She reached Dr. Akagi's office three minutes after finishing getting dressed. Unlike the enormous metal "Cages" where the sync tests were held, the office was small, though its sparse furnishings made it look larger. Dr. Akagi was seated at the desk, her back to the door so Rei could only see her lab coat and blonde hair.

Rei waited a moment to see if Dr. Akagi would realize she was there before speaking. "Dr. Akagi."

"Ah, Rei." The chair swiveled around to face her. "Glad you came. I was hoping to get some insight." Dr. Akagi was smiling, but it didn't reach her eyes. She reached to her side and took a clipboard from her desk. "Do you know what this is?" she asked Rei, indicating a chart on one of the attached sheets of paper.

"An ego borderline graph."

"Exactly. Namely, yours. It was recorded at your last sync test, and the recordings from earlier ones are similar." She turned the clipboard back toward herself, turning to another page. "Today's was rather different."

Rei was puzzled. "How so?" she asked.

Dr. Akagi's smile vanished, replaced with a puzzled frown. "Well," she said, "for want of a better term, it's...doubled."

"Doubled?"

Dr. Akagi showed her the clipboard again. The graph shown was much more erratic than the first. "We couldn't make sense out of what we were getting at first, but I eventually figured out that it could be decompiled into two separate signals - one dominant, one subordinate. Like a two-layered borderline." She turned another page, revealing two more graphs. "The dominant one matches the readings we've gotten from you before, but the subordinate one doesn't look like anyone's on record." She set the clipboard back down on her desk, eyes focused on Rei. "Rei, do you know what might have caused this?"

"No," Rei said truthfully.

"Has anything unusual happened to you over the past few days? Have you found yourself thinking strangely? Or missing any long periods of time from your memory?"

"No." Rei couldn't think of anything that might be connected to this. Her sense of identity hadn't wavered, and the introductory texts on metaphysical biology she'd read had given no indication that anything like this was even possible. "Nothing."

"I see." Dr. Akagi drummed the fingers of her left hand on her desk. "You might be interested to know that your sync ratio came out erratically, too. It seems you were doing two simultaneous syncronizations, one associated with each layer. The dominant sync ratio was about what I'd have expected. The subordinate one, on the other hand, had long stretches of complete inactivity, alternating with periods that showed syncronization, but at much lower levels than your own - below the limit required to make the Eva move, in fact. I don't suppose you can explain this, either?"

"No. I can't."

"Hmm." The smile suddenly returned. "Well, it shouldn't affect your performance in the activation test. It's simple enough to reprogram the system to separate the signals automatically. The extra layer might even be gone entirely by then - the MAGI still haven't ruled out the possibility of a glitch on their part." She swiveled her chair back to face her computer. "That'll be all for now. I'll see you on Monday, then."

Rei didn't give the strange readings much more thought on the way back to her apartment. They were far from the first anomalous result NERV had gotten examining her. It was just another instance of what she knew more fundamentally that anything else: There were other people, and there were her. She would always be the Other. She would always be different. The wall separating her from them would exist as long as she did.

The apartment where she lived was in a building that was nearly falling apart. After closing its door behind her and removing her shoes, she set her book bag down by her bed and removed the materials she had planned to study. She stood up, turning to walk to her desk.

So they've found me, then.

Rei froze.

The books and notebooks she had been holding hit the floor. She barely noticed; she hadn't even realized she'd dropped them.

Wait...did you hear me say that?

She hadn't, she realized. Not with her ears. The voice - male, it sounded like - had spoken directly to her mind. She turned on the spot slowly, scanning the room to see where it might have come from.

You did. You actually heard me. I didn't imagine it. At least, assuming I'm not imagining all of this. But wait, why didn't she hear me before?

She couldn't see the source anywhere, or get any sense of where it was coming from. She started walking to the opposite end of the room, trying to "listen" as best as she could.

No, hang on, is she still hearing this? Rei, nod if you can hear me.

Rei nodded absentmindedly, straining to focus. There was no difference she could tell, it may as well have been coming from inside her own head.

OK, still talking out loud. But I was thinking verbally before, and she didn't hear me until we came in here. The apartment? No, or she'd have heard me yesterday. Maybe if-

The voice cut out. Rei forced herself to exhale - she hadn't even realized she'd been holding her breath. She inhaled again, shakily, and managed to start breathing normally again.

The voice returned a minute later. -this, then. Can you hear this?

Rei nodded.

All right. I guess I was overthinking it.

She found her voice again. "Are you one of the Angels?" It sounded calmer than she'd thought it would.

I... A pause. I'm not sure. I don't think so. I might be.

"What do you mean?"

I don't know how to find out for sure. I know what I remember, but I don't think I can trust my memory. Tabris might know.

"Then what are you?" Rei's fear was receding, with suspicion rising to replace it.

I'm pretty sure I'm what Ritsuko saw in your head. You and me, two minds, two people. One body.

Rei reached for the pocket that held her cell phone.

No! Wait! Don't!

She took the phone out. "I can call Dr. Akagi right now and have her working on a way to get rid of you within the hour," she said, trying to remember the times she'd heard the Commander use his intimidation techniques.

I know you can. Don't. Please.

"And why shouldn't I?"

Because... Another pause. Look. Right now, things are on a path. I know where this path goes. And I don't want it to go there. I can push things away, maybe. If Ritsuko and Gendo don't know what I am or what my plans are. If they're willing to leave me alone, for a while at least. But I need your help. I can't change how things go on my own, not like this.

She narrowed her eyes, hoping that the voice would be able to see it. "And why should I help you work against NERV?" she asked, raising her voice a bit.

The voice took a few seconds to respond, and it seemed quieter when it did. Because if you don't, this will end with Gendo dying within a year. Maybe half a year. Alone in Terminal Dogma, full of regrets.

That stopped her.

Commander Gendo Ikari was the supreme leader of NERV. He had been part of her life as long as she could remember - probably from the beginning. She heard people talking about him sometimes, some wary, some grumbling, some outright afraid. He didn't show them the smiles he'd shown her. He had never taken care of them like he had taken care of her - brought her clothes, read her books, held her hand when she was nervous.

It had been a long time since he'd done any of that. In the years since she'd been moved into the apartment, he had rarely even spoken to her, let alone smiled at her. It had hurt and confused her, but she'd never stopped hoping. She'd never stopped trying to make him happy. And she didn't want him to die.

You'll be part of it, the voice continued. It'll happen just a few minutes after he shoots Ritsuko. And then you'll die a few minutes after that, and everyone else with you.

"How do I know you're telling the truth?"

Good question. You don't. You can't. But I can tell you things. Like what the Angels look like, that'd be pretty hard for me to just guess randomly, wouldn't it? So I can prove I know things. But until then, I'll need you to trust me.

Trust. As far as she could remember, Rei had only ever really trusted one person, Commander Ikari. But if it was his life at stake...

She sat down on her bed and was silent for a few minutes, trying to decide what to do. She had never prepared for this sort of thing. For all she knew, the voice could be a telepathic Angel trying to take over her body, reading her mind to discern her fears and use them against her. But that didn't explain some of the details, which didn't seem like they'd been crafted for that. Like shooting Dr. Akagi, or the offhand reference to someone called 'Tabris.' Unless those were just to make her think that...

Rei finally opened her mouth. "What do I have to do?"

Another good question. I don't think anything needs to be done right now, but I want to write some things down - that might help later. Have you got a pencil and notebook paper?

She stood up. "Yes." She took a step and reached for her book bag.

Wait. Hang on, I just realized - there's something I need to check.

Rei stopped, her hand reached out in front of her. "What?"

I need to think. Go on, I'll let you know when I've got something.

Rei was confused, but nevertheless retrieved the writing materials and sat down in front of her desk, placing them before her.

The voice came back a few seconds later. OK. Question: What color is the ocean?

This threw her for even more of a loop than predicting the commander's death had. "What do you mean?"

I mean, is it red or is it blue?

"Blue."

OK. Good. Red would've made things much harder.

"Why?" She was more mystified than ever.

It'd mean a lot of my knowledge was inapplicable. Might still be, but I doubt it. OK, number the lines on the paper, in the left margin. One through seventeen.

Rei did so.

All right. Next to the number one, write "Adam." Two is "Lilith." Three is "Sachiel," that's S-A-C-H-I-E-L. Four, uh, "Shamshel," S-H-A-M- - no, M, not N...

It went slowly and laboriously. Once, the voice jumped to seventeen and started working backwards, only to later jump back and start work forwards again. After several minutes, though, the list was completed.

Rei set her pencil down and read over what she'd written:

1. Adam
2. Lilith
3. Sachiel
4. Shamshel
5. Ramiel
6. Gaghiel
7. Israfel
8. Sandalphon
9. Matariel
10. Sahaquiel
11. Iruel
12. Leliel
13. Bardiel
14. Zeruel
15. Arael
16. Armisael
17. Tabris

"The names of Angels," she said.

You got it.

She looked at the last entry on the list. 'Tabris.' That name again.

Ah. You remembered that slip, then.

Rei started. "How did you know?" Had he read her thoughts?

I see through your eyes. I can tell what you're focusing on as well as you can. Yeah, if anyone knows how I got here, it'd be Tabris. As far as I know, he's the last Angel. Unless more come afterward, or Adam makes more in-between or something.

Rei said nothing, but mentally filed away the voice's use of 'he.' She had rarely heard people speak of the Angels, and almost never with gendered pronouns. Though she had overheard an argument over whether Adam was male or female once.

OK. Now fold the paper in half - no, lengthwise - and unfold it. Now number the lines again, this time by the fold instead of the margin line. One through twenty-six.

This list was much less straightforward in its contents and involved even more jumping around - Rei even had to erase a pair of names and write them on different lines - but eventually it too was completed to the voice's satisfaction:

1. Sachiel
2. flashback
3. Shamshel
4. hedgehog's dilemma
5. Rei I
6. Rei II
7. Jet Alone
8. Asuka strikes
9. Israfel
10. Sandalphon
11. Matariel
12. Sahaquiel
13. Iruel
14. clip show
15. kiss
16. Leliel
17. Fourth Child
18. Bardiel
19. Zeruel
20. one month
21. flashback
22. Arael
23. Rei III
24. Kaworu
25. ?
26. ?

It's a timeline, the voice explained. Unit 00's activation test is a little before number 1. Gendo's death is at 26, if it happens, which it hopefully won't.

Rei's eyes flicked between the two lists.

Yeah, I left some Angels off the timeline. It's just a memory aid, it doesn't have to have all the details. I don't even know all the details.

She nodded, still studying the list. The voice commented on the items her eyes rested on. That's a psychology thing. Yeah, that's you, the reasoning isn't all that important. Jet Alone's a military thing.

"Who's 'Asuka'?"

Oh, you don't know? Asuka Langley Soryu, the Second Child.

Rei had heard there was one person in the world other than her who was known to be capable of piloting an Evangelion, but didn't know much about her. "In Germany?"

That's her. Don't ask about 14. There might not actually be a kiss.

She looked at number 17. 'Fourth Child.' "Is that when the Fourth is chosen?"

Probably.

"What about the Third?"

Ah, yes. The Third Child. The one and only Shinji Ikari.

Her eyebrows rose. "Ikari?"

You didn't know that either? She shook her head. Yeah, Ikari. Gendo's very own son. And he's the key to the whole thing. He comes when the Third Angel does, at 1. And the way 26 turns out all depends on him. Everything depends on Shinji.

Rei closed her eyes. It was too much for her to take in all at once. "How do you know all this? Who are you?"

I already told you, I don't know if I'm an-

"Not what. Who."

The voice didn't answer.

After about a minute, Rei gave up on waiting for a response. Instead, she collected her study materials from the floor and tried to get her schoolwork done. It was harder to focus than usual. Her mind kept drifting back to the predictions she'd heard.

The rest of the evening passed without incident. It took her longer to finish her homework than usual, so she didn't have as much time for her own reading afterward. She didn't hear the voice again until she had undressed and was getting into her bed.

How about Isaiah?

She paused. "Eh?"

It's the name of a prophet. Look, who I remember being doesn't matter. Not anymore. All that matters now is what I remember - what I can predict. And I am making predictions of deaths and Angels. Between that and NERV's usual style, 'Isaiah' seems to fit.

Silence.

Well, if you don't like it-

"'Isaiah.'"

Yeah.

Rei turned off the light and lay down in the bed, pulling her blanket over her. She didn't speak again.

The last thing she registered before slipping into unconsciousness was the voice quietly saying, Good night, Rei.

–––

The weekend passed more or less normally. Isaiah was sometimes silent for hours at a stretch, making Rei wonder if he was even there. When she asked, he assured her that he always was.

Not that I always like to be, he said. Rei was walking away from a store where she'd replenished some living supplies. I'm not exactly comfortable spying on a girl when she's in the... He trailed off. Oh, no.

"What?"

What if your apartment's been bugged? You were talking to me out loud yesterday, anyone could've heard your side of the conversation!

She stopped on the sidewalk to consider this. "Who would've bugged my apartment?" she asked.

NERV.

"Why?"

Because... Pause. OK, good point. But it's probably still a bad idea to let other people hear us. Can you try speaking to me telepathically? I'm guessing you can do it the same way I can.

Rei started walking again. Can you hear me? she thought silently. There was no response. She tried to think harder. Can you hear me? Still nothing.

Remembering what Isaiah had said about him overthinking it, she tried to blank her mind out and then visualize her thoughts going to him as a message. Can you hear me?

Loud and clear.

And this?

Yeah, I think you've got the hang of i- Whoa! Careful!

Rei snapped her focus back in front of her, just in time to nimbly dodge around a telephone pole she had been about to collide with.

Maybe more practice.

Yes.

–––

Monday arrived.

When school ended, Rei headed straight for NERV's headquarters in the Geofront. The anxiety in the air there was palpable, but Rei barely noticed it.

Don't try and synchronize with the Eva, she warned as she donned her plugsuit. It might react badly, and you don't have enough experience to help. She pressed a switch on the wrist, causing the baggy suit to contract with a hiss to become skintight.

Yeah, yeah, said Isaiah. He seemed moodier today than he had been. I'll bet you got that bluntness from Gendo.

The activation test was not held in the Cage. That would've been far too dangerous. It was held in a specialized set of rooms deeper in the base. The people overseeing the test were in one of them, a small room with a tinted glass wall that functioned as a window.

On the other side of the glass was Evangelion Unit 00.

The Evangelion was at least forty meters tall. It was roughly humanoid, with white and yellow-orange armor covering its body and a single glass lens in its helmet for an eye. It reminded many of NERV's staff of a giant demon - something in its seemingly lifeless form suggested incredible power, barely constrained. The room it was in was just large enough for it to take a step or two in any one direction, and its walls were heavily armor-plated in their own right to protect them from whatever force Unit 00 might unleash. Its arms and back were pinned to the wall behind it by metal restraints as a further precaution.

The amount of money that had gone into developing this prototype would have been enough to bankrupt a small nation. The number of Evas that had been built by anyone to date could be counted on one hand. The technicians servicing it, running one pre-activation check after another, were well aware of this.

Rei was less conscious of the enormous effort that had gone into the cyborg's construction. Her connection to Unit 00 was more personal. She was the only person who would be able to make it move. Her entire life had been building up to this day. More importantly, she knew that it was what the commander expected of her.

A tube made of metal and ceramic, several meters long, was partially inserted into the back of the Eva's neck. It was called an "entry plug," and inside it was a seat for one person and a set of hand controls consisting of a pair of handles with triggers and buttons built in. If the right person were sitting in the seat, they could mentally synchronize with the Eva, using the controls as an aid, and command its movements.

Rei Ayanami was the right person, and she was in the seat.

An enormous machine screwed the entry plug into its port at the top of the Eva's spine, cutting Rei off from the outside as the armor shifted to cover the plug's rear end. The plug flooded with LCL - another synchronization aid, along with the headset clipped to her hair, designed to interface with the proper nerve connections in her brain. She exhaled and filled her lungs with the oxygenated fluid, her eyes closed.

"Synapses inserted. Junctions connecting."

"Transmitting pulse."

"All circuits are operational."

The technicians outside continued going through their checklists out loud, some of them audible to Rei through the entry plug's internal speakers. She tried to ignore them, focusing instead on synchronizing and calming her nerves. If this succeeded, she would be in command of the most powerful weapon mankind had ever known. If it didn't, this could be the last day of her life.

"All nerve links checking out normal."

"Check list satisfactory up to 2550."

Rei? It was the first thing Isaiah had said since the test had started.

Yes? Rei's eyes opened a crack.

I'm sorry.

"Counting down to the absolute borderline. 0.9... 0.7... 0.5... 0.4... 0.3... The pulses are flowing backward!"

A sharp pain stabbed Rei's brain. She felt a jolt as the Evangelion - against her will - started moving.

Hang on, Isaiah said grimly. This could get bumpy.

There was another presence with them now, another mind. It was the mind of a beast - vast, dwarfing Rei, in pain, and angry. She struggled to get some control over it, to calm it down, but to no avail.

"Something's going wrong in the third stage!"

"Rejection occurring in the nerve center elements!"

The beast strained against the restraints that pinned it to the wall. Rei gritted her teeth. Calm down, she thought. Relax.

It was no use. She was barely able to hinder it in the slightest. Cracks were forming in the wall behind it.

"Cease contact!" Dr. Akagi said. "Break all circuits through number six!"

"I can't! The signal's not being received!"

The restraints ripped free from the wall, shattering concrete and ripping foot-thick cables, and Rei lost control of the beast entirely. Her eyes snapped wide open.

"Unit 00 is out of control!"

"Abort the experiment," came Commander Ikari's voice. "Shut off the power supply."

Rei heard a loud pssh as the enormous cable that fed the Evangelion electricity detached itself from its back and a thus as it hit the floor. The Eva had forty seconds' worth of power stored internally, potentially enough to kill everyone there.

Stop! she ordered, despite knowing it was useless. Stop fighting! Keep still!

She could hear the Eva thrashing. In front of her, as though from a distance, she could hear sounds of glass cracking and shattering. She felt herself swooping downward, as though the Eva were bending over, and another pssh as something opened behind the entry plug.

This is going to hurt!

There was a roar and a massive jolt. Rei was thrown forward, almost out of her seat, clutching the controls for dear life. The ejector rockets in the entry plug must have activated - she'd been shot out of the Evangelion entirely.

A great CLANG threw her hard against the back of the seat as the rear end of the plug struck a wall, or perhaps the ceiling. Lights flashed in front of her eyes. There was another CLANG and the plug came almost to a stop. Seconds later, the sound of the rockets faded, and Rei found herself in freefall.

Aside from providing a synchronization medium, the LCL also cushioned impacts to the pilot. It was probably the only thing that kept Rei from being killed when the plug hit the floor three and a half seconds later. Even so, it hurt more than anything she had ever experienced before, too much to stop herself from screaming. She was sure she could hear several bones snap.

The scream faded from her throat, and everything was still. Through her pain, she could still hear the Eva making a commotion, far above her. The noises it was making eventually stopped, to be replaced by the sound of footsteps running toward the entry plug. The hatch to her left shook, and there was a pained grunt on the other side.

A second later, the opening mechanism turned, and the hatch opened. The LCL flooded out of the plug, and Rei sputtered as she felt air on her face.

"Rei, are you all right? Rei!"

Rei turned to face the voice's source. It was Commander Ikari, panic etched into his rough, bearded face. His glasses were missing; they must have fallen off.

Rei nodded weakly. The Commander's face relaxed. "I see," he said.

Her gaze fell to his hand. Its palm was burnt red. The latch must have been superheated by the rockets - or the inside of the Eva, or both - to the point that it could burn flesh. He had opened it with his bare hands.

–––

In the infirmary, Rei learned that nobody else had been hurt by Unit 00's aborted rampage. Nothing irreplacable had been destroyed, and Unit 00 had been frozen and put safely in storage. Rei herself was covered in bandages; they'd had to slice her plugsuit open to reach some of her wounds. It would be weeks before she could walk again, but she was expected to fully recover.

Assuming that any of them lived that long. Nobody said that, but it was clearly on everyone's mind. Unit 00's activation test had disastrously failed, and the only other Evangelion in Japan was the test type, Unit 01. There was a backup pilot on the way to substitute for Rei, which Isaiah was "almost certain" was the Commander's son, but Unit 01 had an even smaller estimated chance of successful activation, less than one in a billion.

And yet, Rei couldn't bring herself to be upset.

I really am sorry, Isaiah said while they were alone. I don't know any way I could've prevented that. I thought about telling you, but I couldn't see how it would've done any good to know it was coming. Believe me, I feel your pain. Literally.

Rei didn't reply. Instead, she closed her eyes and smiled, almost imperceptibly. The Commander's anxious face appeared in her mind, as it had several times in the past few hours.

What are you smiling about?

He cares, she said. He was afraid for me. He was happy to see that I was alive.

Oh, Rei...

What?

He sighed, or something like it. Never mind. Let's get some rest.

–––

The next day passed slowly. Rei didn't have any books she could read, and her injuries were too severe for her to hold one anyway. The only thing available to help her pass the time was the television, and she had never particularly liked that.

Remember that timeline? Isaiah asked. The Third Angel is going to attack soon, that's 1.

Sachiel.

Right. It's big and green, about Eva-sized and -shaped, and it's got bones on the outside. Long arms, long legs, red core in the chest, has big energy weapons it can bring out from its hands and stab stuff with. Not much of a head or neck, just a mask made of bone. Looks kinda birdlike. Oh, come on! The last comment was accompanied by a sudden irritated tone.

Hm?

Are you listening to the TV? Rei had been ignoring it altogether. No, never mind, it doesn't matter. What matters is, was that actually supposed to be funny? Dear God, this country's variety shows are actually as bad as their reputation. Can we get the channel changed? There's gotta be some lame drama on. Or even a kids' cartoon.

Through Tuesday and Wednesday, there were one or two shows that Isaiah claimed to be mostly satisfied with, along with several more that he let pass with only a few snide remarks. There were some stretches of time when the TV was turned off altogether and Rei wasn't able to fall asleep, which he passed either by talking with Rei or singing. Most of the songs he sang were in English, with only one in Japanese. He seemed restless, unwilling to go for too long without saying something, and she said so at one point.

Yeah, I guess so, he said sheepishly. I've never been hospitalized before, not like this. I guess I'll need to get used to it, we're going to be here for a while.

Never?

I didn't exactly lead a high-risk lifestyle.

What kind of lifestyle did you lead?

Well, I- He stopped short. Nice try.

You were a human, weren't you?

He had to have been. Aside from his knowledge of the future, Isaiah seemed to think and talk like any other human. He was too familiar with the ins and outs of human civilization to have grown up anywhere else. He sang human songs. He was human, she was sure of it.

He didn't reply for a few seconds. I was being honest before, he finally said quietly. I don't know if I can trust my memories. And I don't think it's that important. But yes, I do remember being human.

I see.

The thing is... right now, there's absolutely nothing I can do except talk to you, observe things, and think. I mean, literally nothing. Even now, you can breath and blink and twitch your fingers. I can't do anything. So maybe that's why I wasn't thinking about whether or not I was bothering you.

You're not bothering me.

It was the truth. He had taken some getting used to, but Rei was finding that she didn't really mind him. He had only been a slight irritation at worst, and there were times when she'd found herself genuinely enjoying listening to him.

And even if there weren't, it'd still be worth having him if it saved the Commander's life.

–––

The alarm sounded on Thursday.

Rei couldn't be sure what was going on. She could hear people running down the hallway outside the infirmary, but nothing anyone was saying.

I think this is it.

The commotion died down after a while, but the announcement over the PA said that NERV was still on alert, at a slightly lower danger level. Is the Third Child here? she asked. Isaiah didn't answer.

Rei didn't remember drifting back to sleep, but she must have, because the next thing she knew, a nurse was shaking her awake. "Rei?"

Rei blearily opened her one unbandaged eye, the left, and focused it on the nurse. "There's a call for you," the nurse said, pressing a button on a phone that had been placed on her bedside table.

The Commander's voice came from the phone. "Rei."

"Yes?" she said.

"Our spare is unusable. You will do it again."

"Yes." The image of his relieved face came to her again. Anything.

Rei had a minute or two to reflect as her bed was rolled down the hallway. She could barely move without pain stabbing through her. Her broken bones had only just started to heal. She was still tired. Even if she managed to activate Unit 01 and pilot it into combat against an Angel, she would almost certainly die.

Didn't matter. He had asked her. She would do it.

The corridor opened up into a Cage. Rei was wheeled onto a catwalk in front of Unit 01's head. Unlike Unit 00, its armor was purple with black and green markings. It had two eyes instead of one and a long, curved horn pointing upward from the middle of its forehead. It was up to its chest in LCL, and there was a boy on the catwalk in front of it, looking about old enough to be in her class at school - the Commander's son, presumably.

Rei struggled to push herself into a sitting position. The pain shot through her again, forcing her to stop for breath once she was upright. She panted through gritted teeth, sweat rolling down her face. She hurt all over.

There was a loud noise, and the catwalk shook violently underneath her, so violently that she could feel the bed tilting to the side. Unable to control it, she slid off, hitting to the catwalk's floor with a burst of pain worse than anything she'd felt since the activation test.

There were more crashes and some yelling about the Eva, then footsteps running toward Rei. A pair of arms lifted her upper body, holding it in a semi-upright position. Her back involutarily arched and she gasped as another burst of pain went through her.

For the first time since Rei had gotten the Commander's call, Isaiah spoke up. Look at his eyes, he said thickly, apparently indeed affected by Rei's pain, if not quite as much as she was.

What...

Shinji. The boy holding you. Look at his eyes!

She pried her left eye open. Whoever was holding her was on her right. She turned her head slowly, fighting the pain, until she could clearly see his face. It was the boy she'd seen before. Up this close, she thought she could see some resemblance to the Commander in his features. His face was frozen in horror. After a few seconds, he broke eye contact, holding up his right hand and staring at it instead.

Rei's eyes squeezed shut again as she resumed gasping for breath.

Blue, came Isaiah's voice. Good.

The boy spoke, voice shaking. "Fine, I'll do it!" he said. "I'll be your pilot!"

And there we go. He sounded satisfied. Our part's done now, Rei. You hear me?

Rei didn't respond. She felt another pair of arms, stronger than the boy's, take her, with another lifting her legs. She felt herself placed on the bed again. Something was injected into her arm, and she faded away a minute later.


Posted 22-JUL-2011