The boy awoke to an unfamiliar ceiling.
He was used to the sensation, having woken up under many different ceilings at many different times in his life. The one unifying theme they all had was that none of them were his. He was, simply, a guest, a traveling difficulty. No one wanted him, no one wanted to deal with him.
It took him a moment to realize, however, that the ceiling above him was not the one he had gone to sleep under. He sat upright, and panicked, glancing around him. This was not the room, either. That room was in the house of his uncle, a simple guest room with no furnishings beyond a bed and table with a chair. This was an apartment, with significantly more furnishings. They were not extravagant, but they were nice. Floor lamps, a chest of drawers, fresh flowers in a pot.
He fumbled out of the bed, and found he was wearing nice, silk pajamas. He screamed, and fell down, crawling to a corner of the room. He felt the heat prickle on his back of rising sweat, and his heart raced. The bizarre change in setting had left him disoriented, and frightened. Had he been kidnapped? It was the first thing that occurred to him, but made no senes. Why the nice room and the pajamas?
Being kidnapped was the only thing that made sense, though. Why, then? It could be because of his father; he didn't know precisely what the man did, but it seemed important. Still, his father barely paid him any mind. There was no connection or influence to be gained. So why? Where was he?
It felt like a very long time before the wall next to him, the one facing the foot of his bed, suddenly flickered to life. He yelped again, scooting backwards on the seat of his pants, and stared in wonder. The wall was a screen, a very high quality one. An unfamiliar logo appeared on the monitor: half of a red leaf on a black background, with the letter pasted below them. A semi-circle slogan completed the logo…God's In His Heaven, All's Right With The World.
"Good morning!" a cheerful voice sang. A weather report appeared, detailing the week's forecast. "Today is going to be a beautiful day in the Village, with minimal cloud cover and soothing temperatures. Expect a high of 82 and a low of 73. Light winds from the southeast…"
He tuned out the rest of the forecast, standing up on shaky legs. God's In His Heaven…
He looked around for anything that might be his, but he saw no belongings. Glancing around his room, he saw a sliding closet door, windows with shades drawn, the main door. He opened the closet and saw rows of identical black jackets, shirts, and slacks, all school uniforms in a cadet cut. Matching shoes. He glanced inside one of them, and saw that it was his size. He dropped it on the floor, and saw that the other pairs were also his size. Feeling a rising panic, he grabbed a jacket; his size. He threw it onto the bed and checked, each article of clothing flying into the room. His size, his size, his size…
All's Right With The World…
He froze for a minute, and gathered his thoughts. Taking a deep breath, he strode to the window and opened the shades. It was a ceiling to floor window with a sliding door, leading out onto a balcony. He opened the door and stepped out, staring.
He could see the ocean to his left, a small wooded area, what appeared to be a small town, and a large building occupying the center, all in the crux of a series of rising foothills. The large building looked like a school or factory. He spotted what appeared to be a sport field next to it, but he couldn't be sure. It was a safe bet that he was looking at a school, however, so that's what he dubbed it in his mind. The School.
He tried to recognize any feature of the town, but failed. He did not know this place.
Leaning over the railing, he saw he was on the third floor of a small apartment building that was isolated from the main town. There didn't seem to be any sign of life except for himself. He stood up, and hurried into the bedroom and made a bee line for the door. He tried to open it, and found it was locked. He struggled and strained, but couldn't even see how it was barred.
The screen flickered, and the NERV logo appeared again.
"Good morning! I'm glad to see you are awake."
He stared at the screen, his mouth open. He looked left, right, around. Was the television speaking to him?
"Well, don't stand there with your mouth hanging open like a trout. How was your rest?"
"Uh…it was…it was fine, I think."
"That's good. That's very good. I hope you like the accommodations: they're temporary, you understand. We are in the process of completing more permanent quarters for you on the other side of the Village, so we had to house you in the In-Processing Quarters. Now, if you'll please—"
"Who are you?"
"That would be telling. Now, if you'll please, I see you have been discovering the change of clothes we have for you. If you could take the least wrinkled of your outfits, and get dressed, we would like to welcome you more formally. If you would like, there is a change of undergarments and socks in the chest-of-drawers, and a bathroom where you can clean up a bit."
The door opened on its own, and the boy flinched away from it.
"Welcome to the Village. When you are finished, we will have someone pick you up downstairs. Don't dawdle, now. Be seeing you."
Mechanically, the boy examined the apartment within, and found it very basic, but comfortable. A combination kitchenette and dining area, a small guest room, and there the bathroom. Inside were several white towels, folded neat and waiting. Swallowing, he returned to the bed room and found a white undershirt and black boxers. It was not as though he had much choice in the color; all the shirts were white, and all the boxers black.
He showered briefly, not finding much comfort in the warmth, and toweled off. He dressed himself in the strange uniform, and noted on his left breast pocket was the number 6. All the coat pockets possessed a 6 over a small white version of the NERV logo, and he wondered what that could possibly mean. He was becoming more and more uneasy as he exited the apartment, which, like the bedroom, had a door that opened and closed on its own. No lock that he could see.
He walked down the hallway, listening for anything that might sound like occupants, and realized with a crawling sensation that he was alone in the building. His pace quickened, then hurried, and soon he was flying down the staircase and running towards the exit. He skidded to a halt outside the apartments on the sidewalk, head between his knees and feeling sick.
"Ah!" He stood up fast, causing his stomach to turn even more. Standing in front of him was a cheerful looking woman in her twenties or thirties, wearing a short skirt and jacket with a number 58 on it. She was quite pretty, and her hair was a dark shade of violet, almost purple. It was a striking feature, and the boy found himself unable to take his eyes off of it.
"I'm Number 58," she said with a smile. "I'm here to escort you into the Village. Welcome!"
"You're new here, aren't you? You'll get used to it," she said cheerfully, tapping her chest. She was touching the number. He looked down at his. The number 6. Was that his…number?
"There are people eager to meet you, so please, let's be on our way." When she turned, the boy noted the NERV logo emblazoned on her back.
She led him to a small, two door vehicle, one that looked almost like a toy, with the ever present logo on its doors. It was meant for only two passengers, and when she started it, there was no sound of an engine. "All our vehicles here are electric," she explained, "But this is smaller than the one I prefer. Usually, I'm assigned a sedan, for work between our facilities."
"I probably shouldn't tell you more than that, but I can't help myself. I'm a bit of a blabber, and I enjoy speaking to new people. That's all right, though. I imagine we'll have plenty of time to get to know each other. I've been assigned to be your general handler, in addition to my other duties."
"Handler…what's your name?"
"You can call me 58."
"That's not a name," he mumbled, looking out the window. There was life appearing on the streets as shops were opened and people began the day. They all wore similar clothes, some in various uniforms, some office-appropriate wear. All of them had the NERV logo displayed prominently. That maddening leaf and slogan were everywhere, in some form or another. "What is NERV?" he asked.
58 smiled. "That would be telling, hon, and I don't intend to spoil the surprise. You'll learn everything you need to, in time. But at the right time."
"What's the right time?"
"That would be telling," she said in a singsong voice, waggling a finger at him. He gaped, small sounds forming in the back of his throat, and he gave up in frustration. If that was the only answer he would get, why bother talking?
The car pulled up to a chic looking townhouse, in a row of townhouses of similar build. "Here's your stop," she said, smiling, "When your done, I'll be here to pick you up and take you to the Processing Center. We'll get you in order."
He stared at the house, then at her, then at the house. "Well, get moving!" she said, still cheerful but with some volume. "Not everybody gets to go in there, you know! I'll be here when you're done, no worries!"
Strangely, that did feel comforting. He didn't know 58 from anyone, didn't really trust her, but she seemed nice enough. It was rare he encountered someone who exuded such friendliness. He felt a wall suddenly rise in his mind, and he drew back for a moment, suddenly feeling uneasy. People were friendly when they wanted something. What was wanted with him?
With some hesitation, he exited the vehicle and stepped onto the road. He walked up to the porch, and saw that the number 2 was emblazoned on the door. Hesitating, he raised his hand to knock, and before his knuckles could rap the wood, it opened ahead of him.
He looked back hesitantly at 58. "Be seeing you!" she sang, and drove away. Swallowing, he entered a modern entryway, sparse but somehow luxurious. Behind him, the door closed, like a trap locking.
"Young sir," a voice called, and he glanced over at a man in a white jacket with black pants and a number 257 on the coat. "This way, please."
The boy followed with hesitant steps, until he was brought before an elevator door. "Onto the elevator, sir. It's automatic, and will take you to where you need to go." He entered the elevator alone, and the door slid shut. He felt a sudden drop as the compartment began to go down.
After half a minute, it opened, leading him into a black hallway that led towards a white lit doorway. He traversed the darkness, feeling sweat under his arms, and reached the door, again opening without anyone's touch to guide it. He entered, and saw he was in a great space, with a large desk at the center. There was a man seated, and a man standing. He walked up to the desk, regarded the standing man. He wore a purple uniform, with a white 2 imprinted onto his chest. His eyes fell on the man at the desk…
To see his father. Gendo Ikari. Seated there.
"Father!" he gasped. There was no mistake; even though his hands were clasped in front of his face as he leaned on the desk, that was his father. The boy tried to form words when the standing man spoke.
"Welcome, Number 6," he said clinically. That was the voice that came from the television. "We are glad you could join us. We understand you had a pleasant conversation with 58. She'll be more of a fixture, I can assure you."
"We know that there is some confusion," the thin man stated, "But it will subside. You will find this a nice place to live, as long as you play by the rules. There aren't many, but they are sacred, so I would advise you try to remember them."
The boy glared at the man, then back at his father. There was that sinking feeling again…and a cold, rising anger. Disgust. A darkness came over his face. "Who are you?" the boy asked, addressing the standing man.
"I'm Number 2."
"And I guess he's Number 1," he mumbled, pointing at his father.
"That would be telling."
"Did he bring me here?"
"We have things we need you to do…"
"What is NERV?"
"That would be tel—"
The silence was deafening. The boy looked off to side, feeling sick and trapped. "I want to leave."
"There is no leaving. There is no going back. There is only forward."
"I want to leave."
"You are here for the duration, Number 6. How long that is depends on you."
"Stop calling me that."
"We have much work to do, Number 6, so—"
"My name is Shinji!" he screamed, closing his eyes. His right hand was trembling, the fingers working out a little staccato on his palm without his control or awareness. "Stop calling me Number 6." For a long while, the boy stared down at the ground, shivering.
"You are Number 6," 2 repeated with bravado. "You must be processed. Number 58 will be waiting for you. Do not break the rules. You will help us, Number 6, and we will help you."
The boy stared at the man, then at his father. The cool eyes continued to regard his son, but what lay behind them was unreadable.
On the drive away from the townhouse, the boy had to stop and be sick in a trash bin next to the road. 58 stood next to him with a hand on his shoulder. "What's the matter?" she asked.
"Stupid…stupid…" he hissed. "God damn him!"
After a moment, 58 guided him back into the car, and the drive continued. "We were able to expedite your quarters. It's a bungalow, not far from the School. You're only 14, so you'll need a guardian. I'll arrange to take over one of the bed rooms, if that's all right with you. 'Kay?"
"I want to go home."
"You'll be there soon. First, the Processing Center—"
The car door opened, and Shinji fell out of the moving vehicle. 58 squeaked, slamming the brakes, and engaging the parking break. She rolled out of the car, and rushed down the street. Shinji was on his hands and knees, trying to stand up. "Oh my God! Are you all right?"
"Let me go home," he cried, trying to walk down the street but unable to get his legs under him. He didn't even know where home was, or what he could properly call home, but this wasn't it. This was just some twisted little game his father was playing. A big hamster wheel, and he had to get out before the whole ordeal started.
He had finally made it to his feet, but he couldn't walk a straight line. 58 put her hands under his arm pits, supporting him. She stepped back, gently dropping him into a sitting position so she could better examine him. He had torn the hem on one of his pant legs, opened oozing scrapes in his palms, and cut his cheek. Other than that, he was remarkably no worse for wear, mostly just stunned.
"What the hell did you think you were doing? Were you trying to get killed?" she said, genuine concern in her voice.
"I just…want…to leave. Please let me leave…" he said weakly. He was staring at the cuts in his hands. Blood was starting to drip on to his lap. 58 seemed at a loss. She sighed, looking up. People were starting to stare. She brought her attention back to the boy, and helped him up.
"Come on, you'll bleed all over yourself. Let's get you cleaned up, okay?" she said with a smile, one hand on the back of his neck. He seemed to calm a bit at that, and he let her guide him to the boot of the car.
In the small trunk, there was a first aid kit. 58 bandaged his wounds decently enough, and they got back in the car. "Don't do anything else like that, okay? I have to keep an eye on you, and I can't do that if it's gonna be a suicide watch," she chided.
He said nothing. "Hey…hey, 6, you in there?"
"Call me SHINJI!" he snarled, glaring at her. She was stared at him in shock for a moment before turning her attention back to the road. The rest of the trip was in silence.
Processing was a simple enough, much to 58's disgust. "I've never seen a more pitiful dossier," she complained. "Hobbies, none, music, none, sports, none. You're lucky they had the sense to put Japanese as your ethnicity. If it was up to me, I would have put 'stump.' No matter. Here, take this."
She stuck an envelope in his face, and he looked at it in wonder. Gingerly accepting it with both hands, 58 continued to prattle on. "It has a purchasing card, which will recharge each month, an ID card, medical card, and a school ID. Keep each of them with you at all times. And here's home!"
The car parked in front of a small bungalow, one of a dozen or so on a hill just behind the School, in easy walking distance. Like everything else, it seemed modern, almost prefabricated, but not uncomfortable. 58 walked briskly up to the door, with the boy following behind at a snail's pace. He entered the building, looking around. Another place he didn't know.
An overwhelming tiredness crept up on him, and he dropped the envelope on the floor. He saw a chair, and sat on it, helpless. Things were out of his control. They were always out of his control. He didn't know what to do. He just wanted out.
"Every thing's in order here," 58 said, appearing from the back rooms. "There's a bed room that overlooks the School, that will be your room. I'll take the one closer to the front of the house. That way you can have some privacy. I have to leave for a moment, but I'll be back shortly. Just make yourself comfortable, okay?"
The boy said nothing. 58 stood in the entry hall, gazing at him. "Shinji," she said, quietly, walking over to him. The boy's head raised, skeptical.
"My name is Misato…Misato Katsuragi." She smiled warmly, and extended a hand. "Pleased to meet you!" The boy looked at it in wonder, then at her. Gingerly, he accepted the hand.
"Shin…Shinji Ikari," he responded.
"Barely here for a day, and already has one of our adjutants breaking the rules," Number 2 commented, studying the camera angle. "I'll pull her immediately."
The man known as Gendo waved an indifferent hand. "Ignore it," he said quietly.
"It's irrelevant to our needs. Let it go."
"We made the rules for a reason," Number 2 countered, "Breaking them could have consequences we don't foresee."
"Kozo," he replied, "I could care less what transpires between the boy and the woman. He is not the hero of this story. He doesn't have it in him, and his ability to negatively affect our plans is minimal. I assure you of that."
Number 2, the man known as Kozo, pondered that. "Well…if you have such doubts as to his harmful nature, what makes you think he will be useful?"
Gendo smiled. "Believe me, everything has its use, even our little Village experiment. My son may not be useful on his own, but he might be just one of the necessary levers to tip things towards the ultimate goal."
He leaned back, and closed his eyes. "It's just a game, Kozo" he said, "A game within a game. Wheels within wheels." He nodded to himself, watching the scene replay. "Children's games," he said, with a note of finality.