"Major Katsuragi! It is good to see you."
He was smiling. That was the worst part – worse than the fact that he'd got past security, worse than the hand fiddling with Shinji's unkempt hair. It was the smile that got to Misato. Anger curled in her gut.
"It's Captain - and get away from him."
"This is totally platonic, I assure-"
"-Just get off the damn bed," she snarled.
He raised his hands, still smiling, and edged away from the still form lying next to him on the bed. Having the business end of a weapon aimed at his torso didn't seem to faze him at all.
"Interpol wants you," she said. "and we're less than six hours from an assault by U.N. forces. What the hell are you doing here, and what's so funny?"
His smile was... sad, actually, and small. "In compensating for the mistakes of others, I should like to think that I am capable of avoiding making too many mistakes of my own. The U.N. are too disorganised to make a move right now – it will take them at least another day."
"How do you know that?"
"Because I severed the telecommunications landline network, disabled their long-range wireless communications, and incapacitated every command and control unit upward of battalion-level."
"On your own."
His poker-face was impressive. "That's very kind of you Mister Nagisa," she conceded. The kid was an especially sad kind of nuts, but there was no harm in humoring him. "Now, can you tell me why Interpol wants you?"
He spread his hands wide, smiling again. "Because I am a god, Major. I... was the first, and the last. And I am the key to getting Mister Ikari back."
Her eyes flashed to Shinji's body on the bed, in curled up in the foetal position as always.
How had Nagisa passed Ritsuko's psych evaluation when he got here, not even a week ago? Ritsuko's screw-ups were few and far between, but they were always spectacular. Misato wasn't going to let her forget this one - 'God-boy' - for quite a while.
"Well, that's one explanation. But personally, I think the murder charges might be a more likely reason. What can you tell me about those, Mister Nagisa?"
He closed his eyes, looking pained. "Things had gotten out of hand, and I had to take extreme measures to set things right. Seele has always been a very paranoid organisation. When they saw things that they did not understand - impossible things - they feared the worst, and overreacted."
He made eye contact. "Miss Soryu and Mister Ikari were not assassinated," he continued. "Thus, there was no evidence of either act being as much. This fact – the lack of evidence - was to many Seele members the surest confirmation that it had been a deliberate act.".
"In truth, the only thing they really disagreed upon was how the killing had been done. Some favoured simple disinformation, or espionage - but given who they are, and how disunited and weak their enemies are, most doubted that explanation."
He leaned closer. "The real fear was that they had awakened something beyond our understanding."
He paused to let that sink in.
"For an organisation that makes a habit of knowing everything, this was terrifying. They swiftly decided upon the seizure of this branch and all its effects, intact if possible, so they could gather more information and resources and then decide how to proceed from there."
He shrugged, and she felt that twinge of irritation again. "To that end they attempted to kill your pilots before launching their now-stalled assault, trusting that they could make use of me and their reserve pilot-candidates to pilot any Evangelions they captured. I did suggest infiltrating myself into your organisation so that I and a kill-team could ambush your pilots on their way to the Evas – I was bluffing, of course, I had intended to side with you. I was planted in Nerv…but then plans were changed."
She refused to engage with his mad tale, though it made a disturbing amount of… sense?
"I can see you are unsure whether you should believe me," he continued. "You are right to think it should be impossible for me to throw the U.N.'s forces into disarray or protect Rei in the event of an ambush upon her. But we are gods, her and I-."
Misato had heard enough. She turned to leave -
-and was stopped by the glowing wall of orange octagons that flared up before her.
She spun around just in time to see him float off the bed into the air. It took all her self-control not to fire as the wall re-appeared between them - she couldn't remember if things ricocheted off A.T. fields, and she really didn't want to find out now with one practically in her face. She mashed the 'nurse-call' button, or what she hoped was it, with a fist and tried her radio. There was nothing but static.
"Major," she turned to face him again, "You have my apologies for not acting sooner, but truly - I moved as soon as I was able." He sighed. "Moreover, I need your help. I am not sure if you have noticed or not, but this is not him." He reached down and split the bandages and casts that encased Shinji, prying them open with apparent ease. He blood boiled - but she noticed something. "You are an observant person," he said, patronising as all hell.
There were no scars. Not even around his heart, where she'd tended that gunshot wound herself. Flawless, virgin skin.
"For someone with multiple compound fractures and more titanium than bone in some areas, his bone structure is curiously pristine don't you think? Does that femur look even the slightest bit damaged to you?"
She had no answer.
His smile had disappeared by now – he was deadly serious. "If they could make one new body for him, then they have probably not bothered to repair his old one. Knowing Commander Ikari, there are two possibilities."
He counted them off on his fingers.
"Having transferred Shinji to a new body, he has him interrogated and determines his son to be mad. He then proceeds with the original scenario because he reasons that his son can be more easily manipulated in that state."
Next. "More likely he transfers Shinji, interrogates him, and then wipes his memories in an attempt to render him sane and/compliant because he does not see the harm in trying."
Misato found her tongue. "What do you mean 'transfer'?"
"Transfer his soul. This is a copy of his physical body, but it has no soul."
The unsettling thing was, again, everything he'd said made a warped kind of sense. Though he was utterly mad, his fantastical explanations actually made the most sense out of anything she'd heard since... since she had first manhandled Shinji into her car, and into her life.
She kept Nagisa talking. "How the hell does a human have an A.T. field?"
"Every living thing does. But, as I am a god in human form, mine is strong enough to actually-"
"-so where the hell do you come from, exactly?" she said, not interested in hearing about his 'godhood'.
"A laboratory, like Rei, though hers was not exploding at the time."
There was a story there, but she didn't care to hear it. She got down to business.
"Why would Commander Ikari think Shinji is insane and wipe his memories? Assuming for a moment that this really isn't his body."
"It is his body – in a way. But his soul isn't in it. It has to be a clone-spare."
"How the hell do you know if a body is a clone? Or hasn't got a soul in it?"
"I'm a god," he said, smiling gently. "It's an A.T. field thing."
He resumed his usual, more formal tone. "Commander Ikari will think him insane for the same reason Seele lashed out: because sometimes, the truth is too fantastic, and inconvenient, to believe. Not that Seele was told the truth, of course, as Commander Ikari has or soon may be - in part or in full. I very much doubt our Shinji shall sound too sane, whatever he does say in the end."
"'In the end?"
"He'll be tortured, of course."
She hoped he was joking. Not even Commander Ikari would do that to his own son, surely. And 'Seele'... that was Kaji's U.N. Nerv Oversight Committee, whom Nagisa was wanted for killing. "But why won't he sound sane?"
He rolled his eyes, exasperated. "Because the truth is very strange! Also, Commander Ikari is not the most open-minded of people. Grasping the truth would be too much of a leap for him to comprehend and accept, not least because of whom it would be coming from. It is not a truth he wants to hear, for that matter. Not at all." He sniffed. "Anyway, we need to rescue him. I won't let my beloved be killed by his own father."
His use of the term was disturbingly heartfelt for someone who, to her knowledge, had never met the object of his affection. Then again, earlier…
Her feelings flared, but she let it go. For the moment.
"And why does a god need my help, Mister Nagisa?
He smiled. "Because you are his guardian. Because he cares for you, and you for him." Then, to her surprise, he looked a little sheepish. "Also….this place is really big. I was lost the first time I met him, actually. So if you could just direct me to the cloning tanks, we could start from there."
It was Misato's turn to roll her eyes. "Even if I were to the rest of your story at face value, Mister Nagisa, that kind of technology doesn't exist." He still looked expectant. "So you're wrong," she emphasised. "We don't have cloning tanks. Nobody does."
Ritsuko's eyes nearly bugged out of their sockets. "Who-" she began, before realising where she was. She clamped her mouth shut and frog-marched the pair of them away, leaving Maya standing on the bridge looking bewildered.
Misato wrenched her arm out of Ritsuko's grip. "You actually-?"
"-Shhhhhhhhhhh! Not so loud! Sweet Jesus..." She massaged her temples with her free hand. The door closed behind them.
"I would have thought that you would pretend you did not have them," Nagisa said smoothly, smiling his catlike smile again.
"Shut up," Misato snapped. "Nobody likes a smartass."
Even if he has a point.
Ritsuko was not happy. "How-?"
Nagisa spoke before Misato could reply. "-Me."
Ritsuko's eyes narrowed at him, and his smile widened. Her eyes narrowed further.
"Oh, come on. You don't really have, like, a basement full of clones just lying around. I think I would've noticed, right, Ritsu? Would've part of the orientation tour and everything."
Ritsuko's silence was damning.
Nagisa was looking so damned smug that Misato wanted to throttle him. She broke the silence, purely to distract herself from a tempting fantasy of breaking his nose with the rifle butt. "Okay, so, cloning. Fine. But transferring Shinji's soul into a clone body, and wiping his memory - that's not possible, right, Ritsuko? I mean, a soul isn't exactly a... scientific..."
She trailed off in the face of Ritsuko's speechlessness. For once, her bottle-blonde friend had absolutely nothing to say.
"It's all true, isn't it." Misato's lighthearted tone had evaporated. This was no longer about Nagisa.
Ritsuko didn't reply, but she had the decency to avert her gaze. Misato pressed her advantage.
"Where is he?"
In her mind Shinji had been an object more than a person for a long time now, but if Nagisa's ramblings were accurate - and every aspect of them had held up so far - then that was about to change. She didn't know how she felt about that. Her memories of her time with the boy were hazy, her impression of him confused. The more she looked back, the more she realised - or, rather, remembered - that she hadn't really known him at all. In fact, he'd kind of freaked her out.
"We're here." Kaworu lowered the A.T. Field/platform to the floor and them with it. Ritsuko paused before swiping her card in the slot by the door.
"Commander, I'm here with Captain Katsuragi and the Fourth Child. They want to see you."
"Good evening Doctor Akagi. I'm afraid Commander Ikari isn't in right now, would you like to leave a message?"
She prompted Ritsuko with a jab from her weapon. "I'm afraid it's a matter of some urgency, we need to speak with him immediately."
"Well, I'm sorry Doctor but I don't know where he is. He said he had some business to attend to."
More prompting. Sweat pearled at Ritsuko's hairline. "I... see. Do you know where the Third Child is being held?"
There was a pause. "The Commander did look somewhat perturbed after seeing him earlier, so I can imagine he'd want to follow up on that." He sighed. "I think he's being held in the Geofront-brig, though it could also be an improvised cell in Terminal Dogma. You know how paranoid he's been of late."
"Thank you, Vice-Commander."
There was an expectant pause. "Good day, Doctor."
He hung up. Nagisa looked thoughtful. "Where's your soul-transfer equipment, Doctor Akagi?"
Another prompt. "Terminal Dogma."
"Just one set?"
Another prompt. "One prototype, one production-type."
"Are both operational?"
"I can help," came a voice from behind them.
Rei reeked of LCL, and was still wearing her plugsuit. "The Commander will most likely use the prototype. I will take Captain Katsuragi there."
"You are more likely to encounter Commander Ikari if you do." His statement was tinged with concern.
"I know," she said, simply.
He sighed. "It seems more fitting. Let us meet on the bridge in one hour."
"Hold on," Misato said "I need to be in radio contact with the bridge, and you are supposed to be in your Eva. Our defense will suffer if... what?" Re was giving her a reassuring look.
"We have suppressed their communications and chain of command, they will not be able to co-ordinate an attack for at least six hours. It will be fine."
Misato blinked. "You weren't kidding," she told Nagisa, feeling more like a barely-in-the-loop fifth-wheel than ever. He smiled and bade them "Goodbye, and good luck!"
Rei grinned. "See you soon Kaworu, Doctor Akagi."
I was a bit afraid to write and post this, actually.
While everything is going according to the scenario I'd envisaged, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the attention this particular story was getting. As an amateur fanfic writer I'm used to being ignored, or getting the virtual equivalent of a sprinkling of tepid applause. But here it is.
Please review this chapter - I enjoy praise.
...moreover it's quick, relatively painless, and would get us back to that neat feedback-loop thing we had going until Chapter Seven and my little experiment with Eva-less action... which was a fun little novelty to write, but evidently not to read. Cough/Ahem. So, yes. Feedback-loop.
Many thanks to EJ, of course, and to you (actually-reading-what-I-write-person) for encouraging me to develop my writing skills.