Episode 10: The Anything Machine
Part V: Sacrifice

Inside Unit Zero

Shinji woke up with a start. Unfamiliar ceiling. Again.

He sat up straight. Still in his plug suit. Still in the room with the white tiles (though had there always been bloodstains on the floor?). No sign of Rei. Or whoever that had been.

"Um." He swallowed. "H-hello?"


Command Center

"Asuka, listen to me," Misato said into her headset. "I don't know what that thing said to you before, but you've got to shake this off. I need you to shake this off." She covered up the mike with her hand. "Is she even listening?"

Makoto nodded. "Link's active. She can hear you."

She uncovered the mike. "I think I know how you feel. You're embarrassed, aren't you? I've been there. Trust me. I've made my fair share of mistakes. But I've learned from them. I've gotten better because of them. And we both know sitting around and moping isn't going to change anything!" She softened her voice. "C'mon, Asuka. Talk to me. Let me help."

Silence. She held her breath. Then she heard a click in her ear.

Makoto shook his head. "She's cut the link, Captain."

Misato tore the headset off of her head and threw it to the ground with a frustrated growl. She took in a breath and ran her hands through her hair.


Inside the TARDIS

The Doctor stared at the image of the pale girl in front of him. He sighed and rubbed his eyes. "Why do people keep asking me that question today?" he muttered. "Is it my face? Is there a bit of genocide stuck in my teeth or something?"

Rei tilted her head. "Should I repeat the question?"

"No, just - oh, forget it." The Doctor shoved his hair back in irritation. "I'm called the Doctor for a reason, Rei. I don't kill. Not unless I have to. Not if there's even so much as a hint of another option."

Not anymore, at least, the Eighth whispered sadly in the back of his head.


Commander's Office

"I see," Rei said. "Perhaps I should rephrase the question."

"I should hope so!"

"If necessary, are you capable of permanently destroying my consciousness?"

"That's really not better," the Doctor said flatly.

"I am sorry to bother you with this." Rei lowered her eyes. This conversation was already proving more difficult than she had anticipated. "You may be the only individual on the planet who possesses the necessary knowledge and technology."

"It's not a bother, just - Rei, where is this coming from?"

"I..." She looked away. "I am attempting to take precautions."

"Precautions against what?"

Rei took a deep breath. This would likely prove to be upsetting.


Inside Unit Zero

He eventually got tired of sitting around helplessly. On top of that, he really liked the idea of getting away from those bloodstains on the floor.

He tried opening the door. Instead of the creepy hallway he'd walked through before, he found an endless black void, stretching out as far as his eyes could see. Great, he thought. Cheap level design strikes again. He carefully probed outside the door with his toe. At least he could still feel a floor on the other side, even if he couldn't see one.

He didn't find the idea of wandering around in the dark by himself all that appealing, though. He eventually thought to go over and examine the smashed traffic light thing. Searching around, he dug out the green lightbulb and what looked like a dry cell battery. Wrapping some wire around the base, he connected the light to the positive and negative terminals. Just like science class. The filament flickered, then let out a dim glow.

Now for the hard part. He went over to the door, budget flashlight in hand. Taking a deep breath, he put his foot out onto the invisible floor outside. What was it the Doctor said at times like this? Alley-zee? He sighed and took his first step out into the dark.


Commander's Office

Rei turned away from the Doctor. She did not need to see his face anymore. "Shortly after I was created, a certain... possibility was discussed. It was termed an intergrase scenario. Put simply, it is a hypothetical sequence of events in which my current personality and allegiances are subsumed by programming hidden within Lilith. After which I become hostile to humankind."

The Doctor narrowed his eyes. "You said you didn't have access to Lilith's memories."

"I said I had no conscious access to any information from her." The small bones in Rei's left wrist began to unpleasantly vibrate and twist. She took ahold of it with her other hand to steady it. "However... when I have been rendered unconscious in the past, I have seen... things. The other day, in Unit One, I saw more."

"What kinds of things?"

"Death," Rei answered. "Destruction. Suffering. The end of life on a global scale."


Command Center

"We call it the scrambler." Ritsuko typed a code into a keypad built into the side of the safebox she'd placed on the table. The case unlocked itself. She pushed the top lid open. "It's one of the safeguards prepared back when the Evas were first constructed. When activated, it sends out an encrypted burst transmission that sets off a series of explosive charges planted within Unit Zero's brain. That should disrupt it long enough for us to destroy it with conventional weaponry."

Misato examined the device in the container. It looked relatively innocuous - little more than what looked like a handheld radio connected to a small transmission dish. "So what happens to Shinji if we use it?"

"While he's synchronized to Unit Zero?" Ritsuko shrugged. "What do you think?"

Misato stared into the open container.

"It gets better," the scientist said. "The signal will only go through if it's transmitted from inside the Eva's AT field at close range. You're going to have to get me within at least fifty meters of it."

"You?" Misato looked at her. "You're going yourself?"

Ritsuko sighed. "It can't be helped. I'm one of only three people on the base cleared to use the thing." She brushed a stray hair back. "Besides... if we do wind up losing Shinji, sticking out my own neck is the least I can do."

Misato shook her head. "Get it ready to go, but stand by," she said. "We only use it as a last resort, got it?" She turned away and walked back towards the main command area.

"Wouldn't that imply we have other options?" Ritsuko called after her.

"I'm working on it!" Misato snapped.


Commander's Office

Judging from his past behavior, Rei estimated that there was a significant chance the Doctor would attack her at this juncture, in spite of their lack of physical proximity. Him succeeding - while possibly preferable in the long term - could prove inconvenient. The commander, for instance, was likely to disapprove, at least until the resolution of her current duties. In that case, she should -

"Is that all?"

Rei froze. She slowly turned around.

The Doctor was trying to hide his smile behind one hand. He seemed to be failing.

This response made no sense. "I do not understand," Rei said.

"Right, sorry - taking this seriously, really -" The Doctor shook the smile off his face. "But still - Rei, you had a bad dream. One that's quite possibly relevant, not to mention disturbing - won't deny that - but a dream all the same."

"I do not dream."

"Ah, but don't you mean you've not dreamed before?" The Doctor wiggled his eyebrows.

Rei blinked.

"Not saying your fears aren't reasonable - seen too many things crawl out from under the bed over the years for that." The Doctor sniffed his nose. "That said, whatever's inside your head - whatever demons might lurk there - they don't have to be the end of you."

She looked away. "Captain Katsuragi does not appear to share your confidence."

"Who, Misato?" The Doctor waved his hand. "Don't worry about her. She'll come 'round. She's just a bit... mixed-up right now."

"You misunderstand," Rei said. "I do not resent the captain's position. Her concerns are rational." The Doctor opened his mouth. She continued before he could speak. "Even Pilot Ikari seems to sense that I am a threat, at least on a subconscious level."

"What makes you say that?"

She paused. It was surprisingly difficult to produce solid evidence in support of her hypothesis. "He has been avoiding me."

"He's - oh. Ohhhhhh." The Doctor grimaced. "Right. That would actually be sort of my fault. Sorry. Just give him some space for right now. He'll get past it."

Rei tilted her head. "I do not understand."

"Wellllll... it's really not my place... I shouldn't..." He hesistated. "... oh, I suppose you deserve to know, too. Are you aware that your energy signature resembles human DNA?"

"Yes."

"Did you know it's particularly similar to Shinji's DNA? Significance index around, oh, point six four or so?"

"I did not." Rei considered the new data. "That would fit with other information I have access to, however."

"Right. Okay, next step - are you familiar with the human incest taboo?"

"A cultural adaptation intended to prevent inbreeding between genetically related individuals." Rei tilted her head. "Why?"

The Doctor sucked in a breath through his teeth. "Welllllll..."

"I do not understand. I do not see how the concept applies in this context." Rei paused. "Unless..."

The Doctor nodded. "Yep, yep, pull the thread..."

"Presuming he did not... then that would imply..." Rei blinked. "Oh."

"Annnnnnnd there you go."

"Oh." Rei blinked again. "I am... not certain what I am feeling at this moment."

The Doctor shrugged. "If I had to guess... I'd say that would be awkwardness."

"I don't think I like it."

"No one does, Rei." The Doctor leaned back against some object unrendered by the hologram, giving him the appearance of half-sitting on thin air. "No one does."


Inside Unit Zero

He walked for a while before he found the examination table. Or until it found him. He didn't see it in the distance or anything. He simply turned his head at one point and there it was.

Shinji approached the bed carefully. It was a big, ugly, cast-iron thing, without much in the way of padding. Leather straps hung from the sides. On top of the bed, a torn black dress had been pinned to the cushions with a handful of rusted scapels.

He tried to pull the scapels free without success. Glancing down, he saw a set of drawers built into the table's base. Standard RPG rules, he thought. No stone unturned, no pot unbroken, right? He reached down and pulled open the topmost drawer...

... and sees a human eye, floating within a glass jar in blood-stained liquid, staring back at him.

He slams the drawer shut and backs away. He blinks, and suddenly the examination table is gone. Something is wrong here, he thinks. Something is very wrong...


Commander's Office

"So," the Doctor said after a long pause. "Tell me about Unit Zero."

Rei crossed her arms. This topic was not unexpected. "Are you referring to Unit Zero itself? Or the me inside of Unit Zero?"

"The you inside..." The Doctor cocked his head. "As in, a copy of your mind within the Eva?"

"No."

"An externalized aspect of your personality, then."

"No."

"... tiny version of you in the glove compartment?"

Rei sighed. "She is a me, but not me. She possesses memories and skills that I do not. She came before me, I think."

"Hmm." The Doctor studied her. "So... a previous version of you? Same model, different software?"

"The analogy is accurate." She paused. "Why would I possess a tiny version of myself?"

"It happens. Just try stealing a parking space from an Ionian vodouist. You'll be up to your neck in the things." The Doctor clicked his tongue. "Right. So - what does she want?"

"That may not be the correct question."

"What do you mean?"

"The Evas move because of strong emotions." Rei shifted her eyes. "I did not realize how different they were until I synchronized with Unit One. I think the other Evas are driven by... I may not know the right words. Warm feelings. The sense of a close bond. The desire to protect someone of value."

The Doctor nodded slowly. "So what's Unit Zero driven by?"

"Pain," Rei said. "The desire to hurt, as she has been hurt. To make others feel as she does. It is all that she has left now."

"If that's the case, then why does she let you pilot her?" the Doctor asked. "If she hates everyone, I mean. Why do anything at all? She could just sit back and let the Angels take care of it for her."

"We have... an arrangement."

The Doctor narrowed his eyes. "What sort of arrangement?"

"I... delivered a message for her." Rei rubbed the front of her neck. "Once. In exchange, she agreed to move for me."

"And letting Shinji pilot her wasn't part of the deal. Is that it?" Rei nodded. The Doctor sighed. "So - your commander. Does he know about this?"

"Yes. He felt the risk was necessary."

"Of course he did." He growled and shook his head. "Anyway. Still - why'd Zero wait until now? What's so special about now?"

Rei lowered her eyes. "It is my fault."

The Doctor groaned. "Oh, for - you really are related to Shinji, aren't you? How is it your fault?"

Rei looked away.


Terminal Dogma

Deep below the surface of the Earth, behind layers of carefully-placed mines and razor-sharp nanowire, a row of tanks sat waiting on top of a tall steel wall. Their main guns were pointed at the massive hatchway set into the chamber wall in front of them.

At the end of the row, the commander of the edgemost tank watched over the battle line, a concerned scowl on her face. She glimpsed something out of the corner of her eye. "Command, we've got company!" she shouted into the radio.

Quickly pulling on her gas mask, she grabbed the machine gun next to her and opened fire. Further down the wall, an army of masked girls with pale skin poured up and over the edge of the barrier. They charged the tanks without a sound, evaporating into plumes of noxious gas as the tank commander mowed them down.


Command Center

"Charlie Two, peel off and support Bravo One!" Misato shouted. On the viewscreen in front of her, one tank in the row reversed and turned to face the mass of not-Reis flooding towards them. "The rest of you, stay on target! Any second now, it'll -"

The hatchway exploded inwards. The tanks opened fire. Their shots bounced harmlessly off of Unit Zero's skin as it trudged forward, its AT field shimmering in the air.

Misato heard a shout through the audio link. Three not-Reis leapt upon Charlie Two and detonated, leaving deep gashes in the light tank's armor. Enough, she thought. "Okay, all units, fall back! Just like we planned, people!"

The tanks scattered, pausing every now and again to take another shot at Unit Zero. It seemed to ignore them as it tore through the barrier, mines exploding harmlessly under its feet. The armor teams didn't have the firepower to take down an Eva, Misato knew. The best they could do was buy time - delay and distract the enemy as best they could. She turned to Maya. "Status on Unit Two?"

The lieutenant shook her head, a haggard look on her face. "We've managed to patch the spine. But the synchronization process keeps failing. We're trying to track down the source of the error, but until then..."

That's assuming it even is a technical issue, Misato thought, as opposed to a problem with Asuka. It really is going to come down to Rei, isn't it? And I nearly put a bullet in her head.

Come on, Doctor, she thought as she watched Unit Zero plow its way through the fire from the tanks. Hurry up...


Commander's Office

"During..." Rei hesitated. "During the attack on the school, when I went to find Representative Horaki... there was a... creature... in the basement. Multiple human bodies assembled into a single construct. It appeared to be in the process of converting the students into additional soldiers."

"So... a hive queen? Some sort of organic not-zombie factory?" The Doctor rubbed his chin. "That makes sense... why didn't you mention it before?"

"I was uncertain of how you would react to my decisions." Rei noticed her fingertips sinking into her wrist. She brushed away the dust and forced the skin to regrow. "Conditions were suboptimal at the time. The creature was not responding to your anesthetic."

The Doctor nodded. "Built for a different task than the others. Must've had a completely different biochemistry."

"My options were limited." A number of hairs drifted off of Rei's head. "I was partially disabled. The civilians could not move. I was forced to... prioritize."

"What did you do?" The Doctor asked quietly.

"I..." Rei lowered her eyes. "... consumed it."

"You what?!" The Doctor stared at her. "You can't... you mean you literally ate it? With your mouth?" Rei looked up at him. "Right, never mind, that's daft. So that means..." He scratched the back of his head - then looked up, his eyes wide. "Oh! OH!"

Rei winced. "Please lower your volume."

"It was RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF ME!" the Doctor roared, appearently ignoring her request. "The Lilith absorption effect! You're made from her flesh! YOU CAN DO IT TOO! But, no, wait - cotton, textiles, broom handles - you must be able to control it somehow. Keep yourself from pulling in organic matter unless you want to."

"It took me some time to learn." Rei recalled tottering the corridor outside of the main laboratory, her hand held by another within a steel glove.

"That's where the test data came from! They made you -" The Doctor ran his hands through his hair, then looked at Rei. "You feel guilty about it, don't you? Absorbing the creature. That's why you didn't say anything."

Rei shifted her eyes. "Its components were technically human. I still violated the First Law."

"Procedures that complex would've needed a lot of neural reprogramming," the Doctor said quietly. "Doubt there could've been anything left other than instructions in there. The Angel's machine." He shook his head. "Anyway. So you absorb the factory. What happens then?" Rei opened her mouth. "No, wait, don't tell me. Almost got it..."

He started to pace around the room in a circle. "You absorb the factory... then you get into Unit Zero. And that's important because..." The Doctor slapped his head. "OH! Because that's where she LEARNED HOW TO MAKE NOT-ZOMBIES! The factory - it must've had some kind of blueprint for 'em in its programming! Along with... hydrogen. HYDROGEN! She's producing hydrogen within her own body, just like the not-zombies do, then using it in an internal fuel cell! THAT'S HOW SHE'S POWERING HERSELF! Am I right?! Tell me that I'm right."

"Yes," Rei said.

"But that means..." The Doctor stopped in place, his eyes darting about the room. Rei eyed him carefully.


Inside Unit Zero

After some time, he finds a house. Or what's left of one. It's little more than a set of stone walls, filled with chunks of rubble and ash. Through the holes blasted in the roof, he hears the sound of distant gunfire. For the most part, though, his attention is drawn to the bodies.

Piles of dead women lie scattered on top of the rubble. Some have their throats cut. Some have been shot. A few have been crucified with rebar, or strung up on the wall with barbed wire. One corpse at the center has simply had her head bashed in, as if with a sledgehammer. The smell is indescribable. He covers his nose.

He realizes he recognizes them. No, he recognizes her - all of the corpses belong to the same woman, copied or cloned over and over again. Each with the same face. Each wearing the same white lab coat.

"Ritsuko?" No, wait, he thinks. Black hair instead of blonde. More wrinkles. And no mole under her eye... but otherwise...

His eyes start to tear up from the smell. It isn't real, he tells himself. Someone's just trying to scare me. It's not real...

He wipes his eyes and looks up. One of the bodies pinned to the wall - blood still leaking from her cut throat - turns her head and grins at him through broken teeth. "Mir," she says. "Rasslab'sya."

The boy turns and flees back into the darkness, hands over his mouth. In the back of his mind, he realizes that he's dropped the light, but he doesn't care. He keeps running...


Commander's Office

"Do you understand now?" Rei asked softly. "How much of a threat I am to them?"

"Eh?" The Doctor shook himself free of his own thoughts. "To who?"

"To humans." Rei's fingers twiched. "I can destroy them with just a touch. And that is only the start to my capabilities. If I were to be corrupted..." She looked away. "I will - I could be their greatest nightmare. The monster they create that ends them all."

"Do you want to be?" the Doctor asked.

Rei hesistated.

He shook his head. "Eh, bit too general, maybe... riddle me this, then. Do you want to hurt Shinji?"

"No," Rei answered immediately.

"What about the captain?"

"No."

"Your classmates?" The Doctor tilted his head. "Miss Horaki? Her sister?"

"No," she repeated. "No. No."

"Then don't."

Rei shifted her eyes. "It... is not that simple."

"But what if it is? Rei, listen to me -" The Doctor walked over and took ahold of her shoulders - or at least pretended to, the tips of his holographic fingers passing into her skin. "It doesn't matter what you can do or how you were created. No one is born a monster." He paused. "Welllll... most of the time, anyway. Or at least... right, let's call it fifty-fifty."

"That ratio is less than reassuring," Rei said.

He waved a hand. "The point is - in your case, at least - monster's not something that you are. Monster's a choice. Trust me. I know monsters. I've seen entire species engineered and bred for war. The Garrundar K'shay - armored-plated skin. Acid blood. Teeth the size of my thumb. Able to survive in vacuum for up to a year. Utterly unstoppable on the battlefield."

Rei tilted her head. "And?"

"And they're all farmers." The Doctor grinned. "Lovely people. Wouldn't hurt a fly. Plus, they make these basket sculptures... really quite striking. Sell 'em at just about every commerce planet in the galaxy, too. Their distribution network must be nothing to sneeze at, I'll tell you that much..."

"Doctor," Rei said.

He shook his head. "But anyway - point is, it doesn't matter what you can do, or what you wake up inside your head. You choose who you are, Rei. You create yourself, more than any lab ever could. And nothing can take that choice away from you. Not unless you let it."

Rei lowered her eyes.


Command Center

Misato tapped her fingers against her arm. On the video feed, the tanks sat in formation at the second defensive line. "Any luck getting a fix on Unit Zero's position?" she asked Makoto.

"Negative," the lieutenant replied. "Terminal Dogma monitors are still buggy at this point."

The captain growled. "Where the hell is it?" Unit Zero should have reached the second line by now, she thought. But they hadn't seen so much as a not-Rei yet...

She didn't like this. "Bravo Team," Misato said. "I'm putting you on recon duty. Spread out and search for the target."

It's up to something, she thought as a handful of tanks broke formation and headed out in different directions. What sort of game is it playing with us now?...


Commander's Office

"Anyway... tell you what..." The Doctor stood up straight and put his hands into the pockets of his coat. "I'll tell you this much - if you really do become a threat to Shinji and the others... I'll stop you. Never mind how. I'll figure something out."

Rei studied him carefully. She supposed that would have to do.

The Doctor coughed. "In return, though... I'm going to need you to tell me everything you know about Unit Zero. Every detail you can. You said she'd been hurt in the past. How? By whom?"

"I only know that which she has shown me," Rei said. "And I do not understand a great deal of it."

"That's all right. Just tell me what you can."

Rei nodded. She took a deep breath, then began to speak.


First chapter of two in this update. All of the trigger warnings for this next part. Seriously.