Welcome back! As always, thanks for reading this story, and extra special thanks to those of you who have taken the time to give me feedback. You're all awesome!

Legal disclaimer (to keep my imaginary lawyer happy): I don't own Neon Genesis Evangelion. It belongs to Hideaki Anno and Khara.


The Happy Red Planet - Chapter Six: A Step Forward Into Error

by Literary Eagle


After the horrors of Second Impact had changed the world forever, there were many people who were completely dedicated to preventing a Third Impact, at any cost. The soldiers of the Japanese Strategic Self Defense Force were among those people. So if they had been ordered to kill the members of Nerv, including the children who piloted the Evangelions, well, that was just the price of keeping the world safe.

However, there are certain circumstances that can cause a person to rethink their priorities, and being trapped in a cafeteria full of waffles and Eva merchandise and singing kitchen appliances would be one of those circumstances.

"You know," one of the JSSDF soldiers said to his colleagues, talking around a mouthful of waffle, "Being trapped in a cafeteria full of waffles and Eva merchandise and singing kitchen appliances has given me time to think."

"What are you talking about, Haguro?" the soldier sitting next to him asked.

Haguro took another bite of waffle before continuing, "Well, I was wondering… Is killing the Eva pilots really the best solution here?"

"Hey man, Nerv is trying to set off Third Impact and wipe out humanity! Do you want that to happen?" said a soldier who was seated across from him.

"Of course not!" said Haguro, "But the Eva pilots are just children. They're no threat when they're not inside their Evangelions. And what if Nerv is brainwashing them or blackmailing them into helping with this apocalyptic crap? Doesn't that make them victims?"

The dancing toasters and other appliances began to belt out a rendition of "Ode to Joy", as if to express their appreciation for Haguro's defense of the pilots.

"Victims?" another soldier scoffed, raising his voice slightly in order to be heard above the music. He picked up a handful of Asuka key chains. "Look at all this merchandise! Those kids must be making a ton of money!"

"No, Nerv is making a ton of money," said Haguro, "Come on, you've seen the surveillance photos of the First Child's apartment. It's a dump! And they've got the Third Child doing all kinds of cooking and cleaning, like a servant. Didn't our intelligence reports reveal that he recently spent a lot of time cooking tons of German foods and then crying himself to sleep every night?"

"Um, I think that's because the Second Child was missing at the time, and he was worried about her."

Haguro frowned. "Well, that brings me to my next point… how did the Second Child go missing for so long? Why wasn't Nerv showing more concern for the welfare of these kids? That is seriously screwed up!" Holding up a box of tissues, he added, "And it's especially screwed up that Nerv exploits the children's misery by coming up with merchandise like this!"

The tissue box had an image of a crying Shinji printed on it, along with these words: Shinji tissues… for when you've got issues.

"Well, now that you mention it, this one is also pretty disturbing," said another soldier, holding up a different box. It was a package of Band-Aids rather than tissues, and it had a picture of the Fifth Child with an unusually large Band-Aid wrapped around his neck. "The label says 'Now available in decapitation size'! What the hell?"

"Don't worry, that didn't actually happen to Mommy this time!" one of the toasters said cheerfully.

"The Fifth Child is your mother?" Haguro asked the toaster, tilting his head in confusion, "Do you mean that he built you, or something?"

The JSSDF commander sighed impatiently. "Just stay on topic, Haguro. Exactly what are you trying to say here? That our mission is wrong?"

"Well, of course Nerv's plan is evil and must be stopped," said Haguro, "But I'm just not so sure anymore that shooting those kids is the answer. We need to seriously think about… ooh, this waffle has blueberries in it!" he finished, digging into the berry-filled treat with gusto.

"Cool!" said the other soldiers, grabbing their own blueberry waffles.

Some insights need a little more time to take hold.


Even though the commercial photographers were gone, Kaworu and Commander Ikari did not resume their battle. Instead, Kaworu remained seated by the lake, admiring the newly-repaired statue of Adam while drinking UCC Coffee and hoping that Shinji's father was content to do so as well. Still, he did feel that it was time to address a far more serious matter. "Why did you put Asuka into a coma?" Kaworu asked, "She's fine now, but things could have easily gone very wrong. Why would you do that to her?"

"What makes you think I did something to her?" said Commander Ikari, his expression remaining impassive as he finished his coffee and set the can down.

"She had attempted suicide," Kaworu said quietly, looking down at his own scarred wrist, "So the Nerv medical staff must have sedated Asuka, to prevent her from harming herself again. That was all that should have happened." Certainly that was how it had happened in previous lifetimes where Asuka had fallen into despair from a declining sync rate, except for Babyworu's timeline where she had been rendered catatonic from Arael's probing instead. "She should have simply been in a deep sleep, not an actual coma that required my intervention… unless someone had tampered with her condition somehow." And that wasn't the only disturbing change here. While Gendo Ikari had harnessed the power of the Adam embryo during some of their previous lives, this was the first time the contamination had spread far enough for him to display the levels of power that Kaworu had fought against today.

The Commander kept silent, and his expression was as impassive as ever.

"Please answer me! This is a very serious issue!" said Kaworu. Feeling another spike in his Angelic instincts, he quickly added, "Oh, pardon me for a moment." He took the pepper shaker out of his pocket and waved it under his nose. "Achoo!" Kaworu sneezed out a duck-billed platypus, and the odd creature immediately scampered into the lake for a refreshing swim.

Shinji's father observed the swimming animal, and then looked over at Kaworu with one eyebrow raised.

"Um… this is still a very serious issue," Kaworu said sheepishly.

The Commander finally replied, "It had not been my intention for her to become comatose. I wanted to see what kind of powers the Adam embryo had given me, so as an experiment I attempted to erase the Second Child's suicidal thoughts. But I failed, and also broke something in her mind during the process. I take it that you were able to repair the damage, then?"

Kaworu nodded, but his coffee can crumpled slightly as his fingers clenched around it. As if it wasn't bad enough that Commander Ikari had the technology to program clone bodies, placing locks in Rei's mind… now he was trying to influence the minds of others as well? Kaworu's stomach churned at the thought. At least the Commander's intentions had been good this time – unless he had simply chosen Asuka out of convenience rather than a genuine desire to help her – but it was still unacceptable. "People must change of their own free will!" said Kaworu, "Asuka already had the strength to live, buried deep down inside her. She simply needed help finding it. If you had succeeded in altering her mind by force, you would have robbed her of the opportunity to discover her own hidden strength!" Kaworu's hand tightened around the can of coffee again, causing its remaining contents to slosh in protest. "Moreover, how dare you conduct such a dangerous experiment on Asuka! She is a regular Lilin. You could have killed her!"

"A regular Lilin? Not quite. She is not the same as you or Rei, but thanks to the Adam embryo I could detect that there is still something special about her, something that I was confident would guarantee her survival. Surely you have sensed it? And stop crushing your coffee can like that… it would be a shame if the beverage spilled out and went to waste."

"I… I noticed that Asuka has an unusually high midichlorian count, even for an Eva pilot," Kaworu admitted. After swallowing the last of his coffee to prevent any spillage, he added, "However, when I told her that, she did not seem to understand." Even Kaworu was not quite sure what it meant, although he had a slight suspicion. "But my point remains the same! You are abusing powers that could cause serious harm to others, and to yourself as well. This is very, very serious!"

The platypus clambered out of the lake and trotted over to Kaworu, looking up at him with questioning eyes.

"Oh yes, Australia is that way," said Kaworu, pointing.

The duckbill wandered off in the indicated direction, and once more the Commander raised an eyebrow at Kaworu.

"Th-this is still very, very serious!" Kaworu protested, "All this plotting, all this harm done to others… Nothing is worth this!"

"Yui is worth everything," the Commander retorted.

"Worth alienating your son, and destroying his self-esteem? Worth hurting his friends?"

"I am doing this for Shinji as well! The boy needs his mother."

"The boy needs his father!" Kaworu exclaimed, "You are the parent who is still alive and capable of being there for him, but you will not be for much longer if you continue to let Adam contaminate your body. Please stop this madness, and just be Shinji's father again!"

"I cannot be anything without Yui!" said the Commander, the manic gleam of desperation in his eyes clearly visible despite his dark glasses, "I am only capable of causing Shinji pain, and someone who has led a life such as mine does not deserve love. Bringing someone as good and pure as Yui back into this world is my only chance for redemption. It is my only chance for making us a family again."

"You are afraid," said Kaworu, shaking his head sadly as he recalled the many lifetimes he had said something like this to Shinji's father while the world came tumbling down. Maybe this time, Kaworu would be able to get through to him before it was too late. "You fear pain and failure, and so you chase after a fantasy that cannot be attained, and could destroy humanity in the process. Stop thinking that you do not deserve Shinji's love, and do something to earn that love!"

The Commander laughed, and it was not a pleasant laugh in the least. "And exactly how do you propose that I earn Shinji's love? Am I supposed to spend multiple lifetimes dying for him, in the pathetic hope that it will somehow make him happy?"

Kaworu froze, and the empty coffee can fell from his grip. How had Shinji's father known about that?

"Is something wrong, Woruworu?" the Commander said with a sneer.

"How… how…" said Kaworu, trailing off helplessly in shock.

"Yes… I know about the TABRIS Project," said the Commander, his piercing gaze looking like a warped version of Shinji's eyes as he stared intently at Kaworu, "You can hide nothing from me. You have failed, and you will always fail… unless you listen to me."


Asuka knew that most people would just give up and wait for death at this point.

Her Eva had less than five minutes of power remaining, the First Child's Angelic abilities were weakening again, and all of Seele's Spear of Longinus replicas were flying right towards them. Unit-02's A.T. Field wouldn't stand a chance.

Yes, most people would just give up and wait for death.

Fortunately, Asuka Langley Soryu wasn't "most people".

"Blue, I've got an idea!" Asuka called out to the First Child, who was still clinging to the closest Spear in a futile effort to stop it, "Jump!"

The First immediately made a trampoline out of her A.T. Field, using it to bounce into the air just like Kaworu had taught her to do in case her ability to fly became unstable again.

Asuka sprang into action at the same time, using Unit-02's powerful legs to leap as high as she could. Looking down, she saw all the Spears collide at the spot where she had been standing only moments before. "Yeah!" she shouted triumphantly, as the tines of the Spears became entangled. Landing a short distance away, she extended Unit-02's hand and caught the First Child.

Good thinking, Asuka!, said Mama.

"Well done, Soryu," said the First, standing on Unit-02's palm to observe the Spears. The sharp weapons now looked like a gigantic knot of metallic pretzels, rolling around in a huge ball as their attempt at disengaging had somehow gotten them even more tangled.

"Yeah, that turned out better than I had hoped," said Asuka, moving away from Sphere of Spears, "Now let's get out of here and find another power cable for my Eva, before… whoa!"

The Spears had abruptly shattered, sending metal shards flying out in all directions… no, they had turned into a swarm consisting of thousands of miniature Spears! Making an oppressively loud droning sound like a horde of busy insects, the liberated weapons then reassembled into the nine full-sized Spears, now untangled and looking deadlier than ever.

"Damn it!" said Asuka, breaking out into a run and doing her best to keep the First Child protected in Unit-02's hands as the Spears began to pursue them. As Asuka frantically tried to form a plan in the precious remaining seconds before the Seele weapons reached them, she called out "You damn Spears had better stop right now, or you're going to regret it as soon as I come up with a brilliant idea!" Of course, she was talking to a bunch of pointy sticks rather than human soldiers, so the taunt was mainly for her own morale rather than anything else.

And yet, just like that, the Spears halted in midair.

Huh?, said Mama.

Asuka stopped running and turned around in disbelief. Opening Unit-02's cupped hands, she stared down at the First Child.

The First Child stared back up at her.

"How did you do that?" Asuka and the First asked each other at the same time.

After levitating for a few seconds to test the stability of her power, the First carefully floated down to the ground, then gazed up at the hovering Spears as she walked beneath them. "It was not my power which stopped them, Soryu," she said, glancing at Unit-02 again, "When you spoke to the Spears, I sensed a strange emotion from them. It felt like… recognition? Whatever it was, it was enough to make them decide to obey your order."

"Emotion? Recognition?" said Asuka, raising an eyebrow, "That doesn't make any sense!" Oh well, there was an easy way to find out for sure. "Spears, roll over," she said.

The Spears rolled over like a bunch of gigantic airborne puppies.

"Spears, play dead," she said.

The Spears all dropped to the ground, and the First had to quickly fling herself out of the way to avoid being crushed by one of them.

"Oops. Um, Spears, apologize to the First Child!" Asuka commanded.

The Spears all stood upright and then bowed to the First, bending as easily as if they had been made of rubber.

"Well, it looks you're right about the Spears obeying me, but I still don't understand why they're obeying me," said Asuka.

The First simply shrugged.

Asuka groaned and massaged her temples. "Why does everything in my life have to get weird? Still, I guess I should be grateful that we didn't get stabbed to death by those things."

"We have another problem, though," said the First, glancing around.

"Now what? Oh… Oh crap."

The defeated MP Evas had risen, and were licking their lips hungrily as they stalked towards Unit-02. Despite the heavy damage that had been done to them, their movements were not hampered in the least.

"This must be what Kaworu meant when he said that the Mass Production Evangelions are dangerous," said the First.

Asuka let out another groan. "Couldn't that idiot have been a little more specific in his warning?" she complained, as the eight MP Evas continued to advance.

Wait a minute… only eight?

Looking to the side, Asuka realized that the ninth one was still motionless. Of course! They had removed the dummy plug from that one!

Asuka grinned with renewed determination. "Okay, here's the plan!" she said to the First, "We need to get all of the dummy plugs out of those Evas. You distract one of them, so I can pull its entry plug out. We'll keep doing that until they're all done. I have just a few minutes of power left, so we can only spend several seconds on each Eva. Think your Angel powers can still work well enough to handle that?"

"Since the Spear replicas obey your orders, would it not be simpler to command them to immobilize all the Evas in an instant?" said the First, "Surely that would make the plug extraction process much easier."

"Uh… well… that is…" said Asuka, feeling her face heat up with a record-setting blush for not figuring out such an obvious method. She cleared her throat. "Um, I mean… Sure, I guess we could do things the boring way just this once." In a louder voice, she added, "Spears! Immobilize the Mass Production Evas, but do not hurt the dummy plug clones! You hear me? The Kaworu clones must not be harmed!" You'd better appreciate this, Stupid Shinji.

As the Spears spread out to do her bidding, Asuka grinned and leaned back in her seat. Hmm… I could get used to this.


"Are you okay, Shinji?" said Chiefworu, as Shinji reentered the Yggdrasil's auditorium with Babyworu, Misato, and Lazarus.

Shinji nodded. "Thanks, Chiefworu. Thanks, all of you," he said, addressing the entire crowd of Kaworus there, "I know that you have… I know that we have done a lot for each other through multiple lifetimes. So let's do it again, and translate that message so we can find the Ihsadat and complete the TABRIS Project together."

The Kaworus all applauded and Babyworu's kittens gave the feline equivalent of a cheer, as Shinji resumed his seat on the stage between Babyworu and Misato. Lazarus transformed into a cat-eared headset once more, which Babyworu placed upon Shinji's head.

Again, Shinji found himself being pulled into a dream filled with multiple strings of memories from past timelines… in fact, they started to transform into actual strings, knotting and weaving together into an increasingly tight web. More and more memory threads joined the mass, until at last all the gaps in the web were filled in, making a tapestry.

"Whoa," was all Shinji could say, as he saw the image that all the combined memories had formed. The tears of myriad tragic lifetimes had become a multitude of stars, and the bright smiles from happier times had woven together to create seven moons. Vivid red ribbons of love had embraced dark blue ribbons of despair, creating a purple sky that cradled the moons and stars. And below this alien sky was a sea of threads that had been dyed red from all the Kaworus who had shed their blood over and over again. In the center of this crimson sea was a tiny island, and rising from this humble mound of earth were two trees with their trunks entwined, as if the two plants were determined to support each other despite all the death and pain they had witnessed.

Before Shinji could question whether or not it was a good idea to touch it, an overwhelming compulsion raised his hand, causing his fingers to brush against the woven masterpiece. Threads and ribbons suddenly unwound themselves from the image, wrapping around Shinji's arm and pulling him forward until he fell right into the tapestry, the strings tangling around him as he plummeted. Landing upon the small island with the two trees, Shinji gulped and looked up at the purple sky with the seven moons. Now what?

A beam of light shone down from one of the moons, caressing the surface of the red sea and making it sparkle. The beam moved along until it came to rest beside Shinji's tiny island, at which point it solidified and became a slide.

Wait… a slide?

"Wheeeeeeeee!" a voice squealed, as a luminous white being with long silver hair slid rapidly down the solidified moonbeam, before landing upon the red water without causing so much as a ripple on the liquid's surface. It was an impressive feat, considering that this mysterious being was gigantic, at least as tall as an Evangelion.

From the opposite side of the island, another moonbeam descended from a different moon, this time forming a staircase. A luminous white giant with hair that was long and pale blue began to walk down, moving at a pace that seemed very regal… and also very slow. The silver-haired giant gestured impatiently, and with a long-suffering sigh the blue-haired one turned the staircase into a slide, saying "Wheeeeeeee," while descending at a faster pace. Somehow even the blue-haired being's "Wheeeeeeee" managed to sound very stately and dignified.

What was all this? Shinji looked back at the silver-haired being, trying to see the giant's face, but it was covered with a strange birdlike mask that reminded Shinji of the first Angel he had ever battled with. As his gaze traveled further down, Shinji blushed upon realizing that the giant's body also looked familiar, but not because it resembled someone he had fought… no, he had seen that shapely bosom earlier today, on the statue of Adam that Kaworu was repairing.

"Are you… Adam?" he said, wincing as his voice cracked while uttering the name of the sexy goddess. Stupid hormones. Wait, if this was Adam, did that mean…

Turning to look at the other giant, Shinji saw that her face was covered with a purple mask decorated with an inverted triangle and seven eyes.

"Lilith?" he said.

The mask sure seemed to indicate that she was Lilith, although her body was not bloated with LCL or covered with twitching little legs like the giant down in Terminal Dogma. Was this how she was supposed to look, when not nailed to a cross and forced to be an LCL-making machine?

Adam shrank down to around Shinji's height and strode across the red water to stand beside him on the little island. From the other side, Lilith did the same. Now that Shinji was between two strange yet alluring goddesses who were suddenly the same size as him, he began to shiver from nervousness. Well, he thought that's what it was, but then he looked down and realized he was shivering with cold, because his clothes had somehow vanished and he was just wearing several of the threads and ribbons that had pulled him into the tapestry. "Oh no, this is one of those dreams!" he groaned, recalling Babyworu's talk about common themes in Lilin nightmares. Luckily, some of the ribbons had conveniently tied themselves into a strategically-placed bow that covered Shinji's crotch, but he whimpered and tried to cover himself anyway.

Lilith raised her arm. In answer to this gesture, a narrow geyser of ruby liquid ascended from the sea behind her, floating to her side as it sculpted itself into a shining red spear that matched her new height. But cracks quickly formed in the weapon, growing and spreading like a disease as the spear lost its luster and began to turn gray.

"Ihsadat?" said Adam, touching Shinji's face and gently caressing his cheek.

"Ihsadat?" said Lilith, touching the other side of Shinji's face and gently caressing it as well.

"Y-yes, I'm looking for the Ihsadat," said Shinji, doing his best to suppress his embarrassment as he remembered his important task, "I'm trying to help the Kaworus to find it! They said it's a weapon that can spread hope… we need it to defeat Seele!"

The graying spear beside Lilith crumbled to pieces, forming a pile of dust that resembled ashes. But from these ashes rose a humanoid female covered in scarlet armor from the neck down. She did not wear a helmet, allowing her long red hair to flow freely, but her face was covered with a veil that bore the same inverted triangle and seven eyes as Lilith's mask. "Ihsadat?" said the armor-clad girl, using her right index finger to poke at the tip of Shinji's nose.

"Huh? Um, I know this is just a dream, but… are you able to help me find the Ihsadat?" Shinji asked the three women. Looking again at the figure in red armor, he added softly, "And, pardon me, but who are you? Um… you remind me a little of someone I know…"


"Achoo!"

Asuka's jubilation over defeating the Mass Production Evas was interrupted by the unpleasant feeling of sneezing while immersed in LCL. Opening her eyes afterwards, she went "Ewwww, gross!" upon seeing what the contents of a sneeze looked like when suspended in the liquid. And of course, this would have to happen when her Eva was out of power, meaning that the entry plug's filtration system wouldn't be able to clean this latest mess out of the LCL. Yuck. Scrambling to get out of the entry plug, Asuka decided that if the sneeze had been because someone had been talking about her, they were going to pay dearly.

"See you later, Mama," Asuka whispered, as she exited the Eva. Now that the battle was over, she and the First Child had to figure out what to do with the rescued Kaworu clones. "You'd better appreciate all this, Stupid Shinji," said Asuka, looking up at the hole that the First Child had created for luring the MP Evas into the GeoFront. "You hear me, Stupid Shinji?" she called out to the patch of sky visible through the hole, "You'd better appreciate this!" She had no idea where Shinji had gone to with the Kaworus of the past, but somehow it seemed fitting to imagine that they were in the clouds. Because Shinji was such an airhead.

Unsurprisingly, the sky offered no reply. Letting out a sigh, Asuka headed off to meet up with the First. "Just… stay safe, Stupid Shinji," she said in a soft voice. Goodness only knew what kind of trouble Shinji could get into without Asuka there to protect his dumb ass. "Stay safe and come back soon. I miss y… um, your cooking. Yeah, I miss your cooking."

As she walked, Asuka found herself hoping that the Kaworu of their current timeline had managed to finish repairing that Adam statue without any problems. He was a powerful Angel and a friend who had saved her in more ways than one… and yet, if cluelessness were a country, then Kaworu would be its president! No wonder he and Stupid Shinji got along so well.

"I hope we bought you enough time to fix that statue of your mama, Special K," she said to a random shrub that reminded her of Kaworu's hairstyle, "This has to be the timeline where we finally get it right! It has to be!"


After spending countless lifetimes going through the cycle of making plans, suffering painful failures, and making plans anew, Kaworu was faced with the realization that failure was about to become a very real possibility once again. How could this have happened? He had gotten so close to succeeding this time! If Kaworu hadn't already been sitting on the lakeshore, he probably would have collapsed to the ground. "How did you find out about the TABRIS Project?" he asked, trembling as Shinji's father moved closer to him, "Did Yui Ikari's research lead you to the existence of the Yggdrasil, like in Chiefworu's timeline? Or have you gained so much mastery over Adam's power that you were able to access the TABRIS network?"

"Research? Adam's power? No, nothing like that," said Commander Ikari.

"Then how?" Kaworu asked.

"I looked at your Facebook," said the Commander.

Oh.

Oops.

"I forgot to set that thing to 'Friends Only', didn't I?" Kaworu groaned.

To Kaworu's surprise, the Commander began to groan as well, but then he realized that it was from physical discomfort.

"The Adam contamination is spreading again, isn't it?" said Kaworu, watching the Commander's sleeve ripple ominously, "Please, stop this madness! There's still time to save you if we act quickly to remove the embryo… I can help you! If you've seen the details of the TABRIS Project on my Facebook, then you must know about what happened with some of the other Kaworus in their respective universes. There have been timelines where you were a loving father to Shinji, and in some of those cases, you and I were even allies! Just look at Forgottenworu… he helped his Gendo Rokubungi and Yui Ikari to get together, as part of an arrangement to protect the world…"

"Yes, I have seen the details," the Commander interrupted, "And just look at the common factor in many of those happier universes: Yui was still alive! A mother's unconditional love can give Shinji the happiness that you cannot, especially in universes where you are Adam's vessel and end up causing Shinji more pain and misery than he has ever felt before! Your intentions are good, but you cannot coexist with us. There is no place for you in this world, and no way for you to make Shinji happy."

Kaworu shook his head vehemently. "We've found a way to make it work! The Mars mission…"

"Fanciful nonsense! Do you think the people of Earth would be willing to build an expensive spacecraft to help you, an Angel? No, they would never agree to it. Whenever you are born as Adam's vessel, you must die for Shinji to be safe… that is unavoidable. But where you have always gone wrong in that situation is that you have not found a way to make your death the key to Shinji's happiness."

"The key to… Wh-what are you saying?"

By this point, the Commander had moved in closely enough that he was able to speak in a low voice right into Kaworu's ear, "Die for Shinji once more… but this time, when your soul returns to the Adam embryo, give me full access to her power. Allow me to have complete control of Instrumentality, so Shinji and I will be reunited with Yui at last."

Kaworu's eyes widened. He tried to move away, but the Commander placed his left hand against Kaworu's chest and gave a firm shove, pinning him to the ground. With a startled gasp, Kaworu tried to break free and simultaneously warn the other Kaworus through his mental link to the TABRIS network, but his limbs merely gave a weak twitch and then went numb, and the TABRIS network's only response was an instrumental version of the song "What's New Pussycat?" It must have been Babyworu's turn to choose the Yggdrasil's hold music. Of course… the other Kaworus are diverting all resources to finding the Ihsadat, so nobody will be able to answer my call right now.

This was a bad situation.

A really bad situation.

Kaworu didn't want "What's New Pussycat?" to be the last song he heard before dying. It had to be "Ode to Joy", damn it! That was the tradition!

…Oh yeah, and not dying at all would be the preferable option here.

"Please don't do this!" Kaworu said to Shinji's father, "It won't bring happiness to anyone, not even you!"

Instead of responding, the Commander used his other hand to empty Kaworu's pockets. He tossed Kaworu's cell phone into the lake, and after a moment of deliberation he threw the other confiscated objects into the water as well, including the kazoo and the pepper shaker.

"Hey, I needed that pepper shaker!" Kaworu exclaimed.

"I know. That is exactly why I threw it away!" said the Commander, rolling his eyes.

Kaworu's heart thudded in full-blown terror at the loss of the pepper shaker, the precious item that had been keeping his Angelic instincts in check. He tried to escape again, but all his body could manage was a slight shivering.

"There is no reason to be afraid," said the Commander with a small smile.

"Really? I'm fairly certain that most people would regard this situation as having plenty of reasons to be afraid!" said Kaworu.

The Commander shrugged. "Well, in that case, here is one more." Keeping Kaworu pinned with his left hand, he used his right hand to cup the side of Kaworu's face.

His right hand… the one with the Adam embryo.

Kaworu cried out in horror as he felt the overpowering desire, the need, to merge with the entity he felt there. His pained wail died down into a whimper of longing, and Kaworu suddenly found that he was able to move again. But fleeing was the last thing on his mind, as he turned his head to nuzzle the hand touching his face, utterly hating himself as he did so. However, that self-hatred was rapidly melting away under a heavy sense of warmth… a sense of return. It was as if a beautiful golden chain had wrapped itself around his heart and soul, sweetly calling him back to where he belonged. Despite his regained mobility, he was even more of a prisoner than he had been before, and only the Commander's glove was preventing a Third Impact from happening right then and there.

"You see? Every child needs his mother, and you are no exception," the Commander said triumphantly, "But I cannot let you have her just like this, of course. It would set off an Angelic Impact that would completely annihilate the Lilin, and neither of us wants that. You have to die first, if you wish to reunite with Adam safely. With your death, Human Instrumentality will be achievable, and you can help me to make Shinji happy. Also, unlike what transpired in Forgottenworu's universe, I promise that your deeds shall be remembered. I will tell Shinji that you made it possible for him to be with his mother again. He will be so overjoyed and so grateful, and he will never forget you. Doesn't that sound wonderful?"

Kaworu blinked slowly, struggling to concentrate. He somehow had a feeling that such a plan wasn't wonderful at all, but that didn't make any sense, because Shinji's father seemed so nice! And Kaworu's very soul was aching to return to Adam, so if he could turn that into a way to make Shinji happy, then wasn't this the best possible solution? Yes, he was probably worrying for nothing. The Commander's soothing words circled around Kaworu's thoughts, like the bars of a cage. But that was okay, because the cage was so pretty. Why had Kaworu been against Instrumentality for so many lifetimes, if it could bring about so much happiness? How foolish of him. Clearly, Kaworu's mind deserved to be inside this cage, at least until he could die to help with the Commander's scenario.

"Doesn't that sound wonderful?" Shinji's father repeated, and Kaworu found himself nodding.

"But wait… it won't work," Kaworu said, suddenly crestfallen.

The Commander did not seem particularly alarmed by this. "Oh?" he said calmly, "Why won't it work? Tell me."

"It won't work without Rei, because…"

"Ah yes, we require the forbidden fusion of Adam and Lilith," said the Commander, "Rei will not be a problem, though. She trusts you. Once she understands that you are cooperating with this plan for Shinji's sake, she will help us as well. Do you have the ability to contact her telepathically?"

Kaworu could feel Rei's power flickering on and off, indicating that her abilities were still unsteady, but he could certainly try to contact her. He nodded, but then something tickled in the back of his mind. What was this feeling? It seemed familiar, and yet he didn't recognize it. However, thoughts of Shinji and the rest of the Lilin would not allow him to let go of this strange sensation. What was it trying to tell him? "We will make Shinji happy… together?" he said, trying to follow the train of thought out loud.

"Yes, of course," said the Commander, "I'm sure your participation will convince Rei to join us."

"Working together," Kaworu murmured to himself.

Together… not just one person.

Many people.

Many people making Shinji happy.

The tickle in the back of his mind turned into a great flapping, like an immense pair of wings, and with a concentrated effort Kaworu's mind broke free of the cage that had been placed around it.

"Let us begin," said the Commander, "Summon Rei for me."

"No."

"What?"

"NO!" Kaworu exclaimed. His A.T. Field burst forth and shoved the Commander away, severing the connection that Kaworu now realized had been manipulating his thoughts and emotions. So that was the kind of trick the Commander had learned from attempting mind control on Asuka… and thanks to the Angelic instincts that compelled Kaworu to reunite with Adam, he had almost succumbed completely. Such a ruthless violation made Kaworu feel ill, as if someone had left their fingerprints on the inside of his skull, but it also made his heart ache with pity. Shinji's father must be truly desperate to sink so low. It was a painful reminder of why, in countless lifetimes, Kaworu had been no match for the likes of Seele and Gendo Ikari. There were certain lines that the Angel of Free Will would never cross, and such a level of wrongdoing was so foreign to his thinking that it was exceedingly difficult for him to predict the actions of those among the Lilin who lacked such boundaries. And it had nearly been his undoing yet again.

"This needs to stop!" Kaworu pleaded, "Instrumentality would destroy people's individual identities. Rather than making Shinji happy, it would erase him! And it would also erase you!"

The Commander scowled. "Shinji and I would be changed, yes. But if Yui will be there, it will be a change for the better!" He tried to close the distance between them, but Kaworu used his A.T. Field to swat him away again, knocking him to the ground.

"Stop deluding yourself! Yes, the bond you had with Yui Ikari was special. And yes, trying to form bonds with Shinji and the other people in your life can seem daunting, especially when your wife is no longer by your side. But merging all souls into one is not a solution. It's just running away!" said Kaworu, standing up. "I will not help you with such a plan. I already made an agreement with Rei and Asuka that I would not throw my life away this time."

"You don't understand anything," the Commander retorted, also standing up.

"I do understand! Yes, Shinji's mother was alive in a number of the happier universes, but you are wrong in thinking that was the sole common factor. The TABRIS Project had a hand in helping Shinji to find joy in those lifetimes as well, and I am proud of that achievement… but that was not the only contributing factor, either. No, I've learned that the truly most important feature all the happier universes had in common was that Shinji was able to form strong, positive bonds with the people around him! People. Not just Yui Ikari or just Kaworu Nagisa, but also Rei, Asuka, Major Katsuragi, his friends from school, and everyone else! And… hopefully you as well." Kaworu held his hand out to the Commander. "The Yui Ikari of this world does not want to stay on Earth. I'm sorry. But there is still hope for you and Shinji to be a family again. Please, let me save you before it is too late. Shinji is my dearest friend, and I love him… and it is because of you that Shinji exists, so I truly wish to save you! We'll work with Shinji's friends so we can all find happiness together!"

The Commander's reaction to this speech was to sigh and look at his watch. "What a shame. Out of respect for the alliance we had in some of those happier universes, I was hoping to have you cooperate with me. Still, I had a feeling you would refuse, so this conversation was mostly just a stalling technique so the drug I slipped into your drink would have time to take effect. Which should be right about… now."

"Oh. Well played," Kaworu managed to say, before he swayed dizzily and passed out.


Much to the surprise of Haguro and the other JSSDF soldiers, all the appliances in the cafeteria began to dance and sing much faster than before, belting out lyrics at a frantic pace:

We hope you've enjoyed our show
We really had a blast
But now Mommy is in trouble
So this song will be our la-

The final line went unfinished, as the devices abruptly became silent and still. Without their music, the room felt oppressively quiet.

Also, the appliances that were still plugged in were now flashing "12:00" repeatedly on their time displays, which was pretty annoying.

The soldiers sat there awkwardly for several moments, until one of them finally dared to push the nearest waffle iron. It fell off the counter and broke open with a loud clatter as it hit the floor, but after that it did not move or make a sound. Golden batter started to trickle out of the toppled device, indicating that the waffle inside hadn't been fully formed yet.

"Aw, that was going to be my waffle," the JSSDF commander whined. Noticing that his subordinates were all staring at him, he quickly added, "Um, I mean… Well, that seems to be over. We can probably escape now!"

"Yeah, but… it sounds like something bad happened," said Haguro.


"Ihsadat," said Adam, Lilith, and the scarlet warrior. They gently pushed Shinji back towards the entwined trees, which had somehow become a throne.

"Oh, um, thanks," said Shinji, blushing as he sat on the ornate chair, "I appreciate your hospitality."

The two goddesses and the armored maiden each raised their hands toward the sky. In answer to this gesture, the seven moons and some of the stars began to descend from the heavens, shrinking as they did so. By the time they were floating at Shinji's eye level, the moons had become a septet of gleaming pearls, and the stars formed a crown of shining silver that joined the pearls together. Adam, Lilith, and the warrior girl placed their hands upon this celestial circlet, and as one they walked towards Shinji and placed the crown upon his head.

Before Shinji could question this latest act of ridiculously generous hospitality, the entire scene began to literally unravel before his eyes, as the whole tapestry fell apart. With a cry of terror, Shinji began to plunge into a dark void, with nothing but loosening threads and ribbons falling all around him.

"Oh no, this is one of those dreams!" he shouted, desperately grabbing at some of the strings and trying to pull them back together. But the strings melted and trickled through Shinji's fingers like water, as he continued to fall down and down and down…

Soon there was only one thread left, a bright red one. Reaching out and gripping this string as tightly as he could, Shinji let out a grateful sigh when it did not dissolve like the others. As he clung to it like a drowning person clutching a lifeline, he could feel someone pulling the thread upwards, causing him to glance in that direction to see who his savior was. Shinji's eyes widened in surprise and delight upon seeing no less than three rescuers on the other end of the string: Adam, Lilith, and the girl in red armor…

"Shinji?" said a woman's voice, sounding rather worried as it rose in volume, "Come on, Shinji, wake up!"

"M-Misato?" said Shinji, blinking groggily as he turned towards her. Once again, he was in the auditorium of TABRIS Project headquarters, and the Lazarus headset was clutched in Misato's hand. Shinji blinked another time, and suddenly the headset was back to being a kitten. Lazarus scampered onto Shinji's lap and licked his fingers, purring.

"He's awake!" said Babyworu, scrambling off the flower couch and bowing before Shinji. Not the usual Japanese-style polite bow from the waist, but actually kneeling and touching his forehead to the floor. The other Kaworus followed suit, looking like a rippling ocean of gray and silver as they all dropped to the floor as well.

"Um… hi?" said Shinji, gazing at all the Kaworus in helpless confusion before looking back at Misato for an explanation.

Wordlessly, his commanding officer pointed up towards the ceiling. Shinji's eyes followed the direction, and saw that the silver light spelling out the message from the Secret Dead Sea Scrolls had been successfully translated into Japanese. The words said:

The Ihsadat is the True Heir to the throne of the First Race of the First World

The Heir is not chosen by the blood in his veins, but by the goodness in his heart

A heart that suffers and knows pain, and thus knows the importance of kindness

A heart that will bond with three other hearts:

She who embodies the hope that people will one day be able to understand each other

And he who represents the words "I love you"

And she who was broken but rose from the ashes

By working together, they can lead the way for humanity's future

For in this great and fearsome universe where even the almighty First World was not eternal…

The one thing that allows all humans to endure is hope

The ability to unite people and spread hope is the Ihsadat's power

That is the greatest weapon of all

And the Ihsadat is…

At this point the words stopped, and the only thing left was a shimmery silver rectangle. This peculiar object floated down towards Shinji, reminding him of the descending crown he had seen inside the dream tapestry. The silver item came to a halt right in front of Shinji's face. He peered into it, and saw an image of himself staring back at him.

"Incredible," said Shinji, his eyes widening in realization, "The Ihsadat is a mirror!"

At this, all the Kaworus finally raised their heads. They looked at each other in disbelief, then stared at Shinji, and then looked at each other again.

Chiefworu cleared his throat. "Um, Shinji?" he said, "That's not a mirror. That's a picture of you that we found hidden inside the message. Think of it as the First Ancestral Race's version of the Magic Eye illusions that Lilin enjoy."

"A picture of me?" said Shinji, feeling dizzy as the implications began to sink in.

Chiefworu nodded. "Yes, Shinji. You are the True Heir to the royal throne of the First Ancestral Race. The ray of hope we needed to defeat Seele was you all along!"

"Meep," was the only thing Shinji could say in response.

Once again, Shinji Ikari's life was about to get more complicated.

"Hey, wait a second! If Shinji is the Ihsadat, then why does Kaworu… um, Woruworu… need to repair that Adam statue?" Misato asked, "What does a statue have to do with all this?"

"Hmm," said Chiefworu, closing his eyes in contemplation, "It probably means that Shinji has the power to unlock-"

"Oh no!" Rangerworu interrupted, looking at a computer screen, "I have bad news about Woruworu!" Which would have sounded a lot more urgent if Woruworu didn't have such a goofy nickname, but nobody was going to admit that out loud. "His Facebook status has been changed to 'Captured by Shinji's father'!"

Shinji Ikari's life was about to get a lot more complicated.

TO BE CONTINUED

Next chapter: It's a race against time, as Shinji and friends scramble to save Kaworu before it's too late! Don't miss Chapter 7 of The Happy Red Planet, "The Angels that Sang 'Love' at the Heart of the World"! There will be fan service, too!

Author's notes: Shinji's name is written in katakana instead of kanji, making it difficult to determine what his name is supposed to mean. However, he was named after Shinji Higuchi (one of the founders of Gainax), and that particular Shinji's name is written with the kanji for "True Heir". Incidentally, that kanji can also be read as a different name, "Tadashi". And what do you get when you spell "Tadashi" backwards? Ihsadat. And now you know how I came up with that word. Heh.

Special thanks go to my beta readers AleeN and Laryna6 for all of their help, and also the fantastic artists Rulani, Ivi, np, and nastypremiumbuffbabes for the illustrations and comics they have drawn for this story.

Speaking of the illustrations and comics, remember to keep visiting my blog to see all the newest artwork, plus my Evangelion book reviews! My Evangelion collection has grown to over 95 books (This is not including Eva manga series that are already available in English, because I won't be reviewing those. I don't even want to think about how big the actual total would be if I included all those manga volumes, heh.), so there's going to be plenty of interesting stuff to see! You can find a link to the blog in my author profile. Anyway, thanks for reading this fan fic, everyone! Feedback would be greatly appreciated, and I hope to see you again next time!

-Literary Eagle, 2015