Disclaimer: I do not own Evangelion or anything associated with it. I have written this story solely because I enjoy writing.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything belonging to Marvel Comics or anything associated with it. I have written this story solely because I enjoy writing.
Superwomen of Eva: Emerald Fury
Chapter 19: Evolution and Revolution
It can't be... Gendo moaned inwardly, unwilling to believe what his own eyes were telling him. It can't...not that...!
"It most certainly can, Ikari," came the hallucinatory Fuyutsuki as he looked down at Gendo, a satisfied smile on his face as he watched the Commander of NERV writhe about on the floor, caught up in the throes of agony.
No, it can't! Gendo thought back with as much force as he could muster even as he continued to watch in horror as something moved and squirmed about on his right hand, pushing up at the fabric of his concealing glove. It simply can't be that!
"Why do you keep denying what you know to be true?" Fuyutsuki wondered, still looking at him with a pitying smile. "Come now, Ikari. You know what's happening."
Gendo knew what the madness that had been spawned from his mind was talking about. He knew, and he denied it utterly, for it was still impossible. Even with as relatively little knowledge they had in the way of the Angels and their physiology, it was impossible. It had to be. This was NERV, and more importantly, he was in Terminal Dogma. His secret base of power, hidden from all eyes, unknown to anyone but those he had long since cowed into submission. In this place, he had been tending to the seeds of power, the tools that would ensure that his vision of Instrumentality prevailed. Here, he was at the height of his power, safe and secure from the half-Angel monstrosities fate had loosed upon his city, in a place where nothing could touch him.
"Except that which you keep close at your side," Fuyutsuki remarked even as these thoughts flitted through Gendo's feverish mind. "You of all people know how poorly you truly understand the Angels and their power. The Evangelions were created through trial and error, with you and the rest of your scientists finding out only what worked. You never could truly understand why." Noting the shift in this apparition's speech, the Commander's heart very nearly stopped as he realized what was truly speaking to him. "Did you honestly think you could tamper with power such as this without any penalty? Without being...transformed by it?"
At this, Gendo's denial gave way to desperation and something akin to fear. Still racked by the agony that assailed him, the Commander grabbed his right glove. As something continued to bulge and squirm beneath the fabric, Gendo fought to pull it off. The sheer agony he was in forming a haze about his mind, the leader of NERV finally succeeded in ripping apart his glove...even as something else ripped apart the skin covering his hand.
Nooo...! Gendo thought in horrified realization, his silent fears realized as greenish-grey tendrils ripped through the scarred skin covering the palm of his hand, cloned skin he himself had grafted on in order to hide the creature that was even now tearing its way free of concealment. But...how is this -?!
"Katsuragi's blood, Ikari. Have you forgotten?" the illusory Fuyutsuki reminded Gendo with a smugness the real Fuyutsuki never once displayed. "When she fought the Rhino as She-Hulk, he struck her with his horn. And while he wasn't able to do any lasting damage, he did draw some of her blood." The specter that haunted the Commander smiled triumphantly. "Blood that mixed with yours when Rhino attacked you as well."
Gendo wanted to deny it. He wanted to scream that it was impossible, that the odds against something like that happening were beyond staggering. But there was no denying what he was seeing. Adam, the 1st Angel, was shifting from the foul gray it had been since Gendo had first merged the creature's flesh with his own to a dangerously familiar green, and was struggling against the pegs of Faux Longinus Steel he had implanted in Adam's flesh to hide its power from Misato's mutant senses.
"Stop it...!" Gendo hissed angrily as Adam generated more tentacles, it's lone eye actively looking about its surroundings as it wrapped its flesh about more of the Commander's arm. "I won't let you do this...!"
"I'm afraid you have no choice in the matter, Ikari," Fuyutsuki intoned as Adam pressed against the FLS pegs that restrained its power to the fullest. With one such peg soon being ejected.
Sweat rolling down his brow as the haze of pain increased, growing into something that began to resemble madness, Gendo reached for the ejected peg. "She'll sense it...!" he hissed, not even sure who or what he was trying to reason with anymore. "Katsuragi will be able to sense it...! And if she -!"
"And if she detects another Angel here, then she is likely to do whatever she can to force her transformation and come looking for it. Or at least, alert those who should not be made aware of your...condition," Fuyutsuki conceded. "But don't worry about that. You see...all of your research into Angels and humanity, in blending the flesh and blood and genetics of two such different creatures...is about to bear the greatest fruit of them all."
Gendo's mouth popped open, his addled mind unable to fathom what the specter was talking about. But even as Adam popped free of another FLS peg, it's flesh shimmered a brilliant green. A shimmer that came in a distinctive pattern, almost like a circuit board.
"That's right, Ikari," Fuyutsuki nodded approvingly. "When Ibuki attacked you, you were exposed to some of the 11th Angel's substance. The final trigger for what is to come."
As if on cue, Adam generated another tendril of its increasingly green flesh, the largest one yet, and snaked it further up Gendo's arm. As the Commander looked on in pained confusion, his eyes slowly widened in horror as the green that now suffused Adam's flesh began staining his own.
"Spirit is a perfect hybrid of the two races, Ikari. A hybrid whose DNA you've spent a great deal of time studying, all for the purpose of replicating, even improving upon her," the specter of Fuyutsuki intoned. A specter Gendo had slowly come to realize had not been spawned entirely from his own mind. "But now...all that knowledge will serve to remake you...and Adam."
Despite the fog of agony wrapped about his mind, Gendo realized what the illusion of Fuyutsuki meant. Spirit was capable of concealing herself from the MAGI, and Misato did not generate any pattern, any form of abnormality at all, while in her human form. And he had spent enough time studying and experimenting with Spirit's genetic legacy to understand that her S2 organ became less active when she was not in her superhuman form, enabling her to deceive even the MAGI's Angel Detection System.
Gendo knew the secrets of bonding human and Angelic DNA together as no one else did. And with a slow rush of horror, he realized that, thanks to the nanites from the 11th Angel, nanites that were even now circulating through his and Adam's bodies, the 1st Angel had this knowledge as well. And with its power returning, brought back to the fore by Misato's mutant blood and the 11th Angel's nanites, Adam had regained consciousness, was aware of its peril, of the danger posed to it by the superwomen. And sought to avoid detection by implementing Gendo's hard-won knowledge.
By merging with Gendo's own body, and using his flesh to hide its presence. By infesting it...and taking it over.
Never! Gendo immediately swore, refusing to allow himself to be taken over by some parasite. Forcing away the withering agony that still assailed him, he grabbed hold of the fallen FLS pegs. Propping himself up on his right forearm, he angled his right hand so it was palm up, and raised the peg up over his head. Even as Adam aimed its lone eye at him, the Commander mentally snarled, I won't let you take me over!
With this vehement declaration, Gendo drove the FLS peg down upon Adam, at its eye. The improvised weapon, based on the metal that Lance of Longinus was made from, drove deep into the creature's eye, rupturing it and splattering its blood all over the place.
"A waste of time, Ikari," the Fuyutsuki specter chided him. "You know how quickly Angels heal. And Adam has tasted Katsuragi's power, and has made it part of him."
As Gendo drew back to strike again, his eyes widened as proof of the hallucination's words came forth. In mere moments, Adam's eye healed and regenerated completely and again looked at him. With an iris that was now glowing green.
But Gendo didn't care. He was past caring. His mind was caught up in the flames of sheerest agony, his body was being violated by the very creature he worked so long and hard so as to be able to could control it, to be able to bend its power to his will. And now, courtesy of a string of seemingly impossible incidents, it was attempting to reverse their roles. To dominate him so as to further its own agenda.
Never! Gendo spat out as he again stabbed at the wretched creature that was still growing, transforming itself and the Commander's own body. I won't let you take me over!
"Oh, you misunderstand, Ikari. No one will take you over," the Fuyutsuki specter assured him, even as Gendo stabbed feverishly at Adam's burgeoning form. "You see, Adam has come to realize something very, very important; that the two of you have similar agendas. The goals you share are very much the same. And so, he has decided that...you would make the perfect ally."
Gendo didn't listen. He just kept fighting, stabbing at the monstrosity even as his agony worsened, as deadly green spread about his body, transforming it even as Adam was being transformed.
"I know it's difficult for you to comprehend," the phantom Fuyutsuki said in an almost pitying manner, something that Gendo instinctively found sickening. "But you will soon see that...you're about to get everything that you've ever wanted. All of that, and more." A beat passed before he added, "After all, isn't this the purpose for which NERV was originally envisioned? The furthering of...human evolution?"
Gendo was about to snarl his response to this even as he raised the peg for another strike. But before he could do either, a surge of agony, far worse than he had endured thus far, exploded through his brain. Staggered by what felt like a hammer blow to his cerebral cortex, the Commander allowed his improvised weapon to slip from his hand just before he fell to the floor.
"Commander?" came another voice, one that felt so distant. The voice of a young woman. "Commander, what should I do?"
This...this cannot be happening... Gendo found himself thinking, just barely conscious now. I...I'm the master here. I'm...Commander...I am...I am...
"Commander?" came that woman's voice once more. A woman who came to look into Gendo's face, her own features blurred by his torment. And yet...
Yui... was all Gendo had time to think before unconsciousness mercifully took him.
Shinji couldn't believe what he was hearing. No matter how many times he replayed Misato's words in his mind, he simply couldn't believe it.
And judging from the expressions worn by Ritsuko and Fuyutsuki, it was clear that they felt similarly.
"You - what - I - huh?!" Ritsuko managed to sputter out right before her jaw clattered to the floor, her eyes bulging in confused horror.
"Major...Katsuragi...?" Fuyutsuki hesitantly began, shaking his head somewhat as if in denial of what he had just heard. "Could you...please repeat that?"
"I said, I don't want a cure, sir," Misato intoned, this time in a firmer, less hesitant voice.
As staggered by this declaration as the other adults present, Shinji stared perplexedly at the woman who still held him so close. "You...but, Misato...?!"
"Have you completely lost your mind?!" Ritsuko broke in, her eyes bulging in astonishment. "You - how can you -?!"
Pausing to look at Ritsuko as her voice again sputtered out on her, Fuyutsuki then returned his attention to the woman that was responsible for her consternation. "I have to admit to being as...surprised as Dr. Akagi," the old professor admitted with a slight trace of what might have been humor. "Major Katsuragi...your condition has been nothing but a burden for you. It has cost you your home, your place in the world, and...in the past, you have made it very clear that you wished to be cured of it as quickly as possible." Furrowing his brows somewhat, the old man then asked, "So...why the change of heart? Especially after everything that's just happened?"
"It's because of what's happened that I'm doing this!" Misato countered, much to Fuyutsuki's clear confusion. "Sir...the whole reason we've been wanting to get rid of She-Hulk was because she couldn't be controlled. That I can't control myself when I'm like that." After a moment of consideration, the old professor nodded. "But...today, I was able to do it! I was able to remain conscious and in control even after I'd changed!"
"Yes, right up until Maya attacked you!" Ritsuko reminded her with a fair amount of heat. When Misato opened her mouth to protest, the doctor held up her hand and continued. "Now, I know you said you were able to recover it, but it didn't last! Remember? You said it yourself! Whatever control you were able to get over this thing was temporary at best! The instant you were attacked or placed in a stressful situation -!"
"I lost it again, I know, I know!" Misato interrupted, nodding impatiently. "But if I was able to get control this time, why not again?" A beat passed as Ritsuko and Fuyutsuki eyed each other, giving the purple-haired woman an opening to continue. "Look...ever since I first became She-Hulk, everything we've done has been about getting rid of her. About developing a cure, finding a way of stopping me from transforming, that sort of thing." When the aged Sub-Commander nodded, Misato pulled away from Shinji for the first time since they had returned to NERV. "So we never really focused on anything else. On finding a way for me to remain in control even after I changed."
Ritsuko opened her mouth to protest, only for her eyes to widen somewhat, then to sag in realization. "We...we didn't think...Misato, She-Hulk was a clear and present danger. Our only priority was to neutralize her. Preferably without doing the same to you."
"And that was our mistake," Misato declared in a no-nonsense tone. "Because maybe if we spent some time, trying to get this thing under control, then -"
"It's too dangerous, Major," Fuyutsuki interrupted in a perfectly civil manner. "You saw that your other self did out there tonight. She was out of control, far worse than we have ever seen her before. Her power levels increased to the point where she was causing an earthquake simply by walking. In that state, she could well have destroyed the entire Geofront."
"So could the Evas when they berserk," Misato immediately pointed out. "That doesn't stop us from pouring billions of yen into building and maintaining them, now does it?" Fuyutsuki started to respond, only to let out a mild sigh of exasperation. "Look, sir...I understand that there are risks in doing this. I know that possibly better than anyone here. But I really do think this could be worth it."
As Shinji looked on at the woman who had taken him, had given him a home and a place in her life, he gulped loudly before asking, "But...why? How...?"
Turning her gentle brown eyes towards him, Misato favored Shinji with a slight smile. "Because as powerful as the Evas are, they're far from perfect." Giving this a moment to sink in, she returned her attention to Ritsuko and Fuyutsuki. "Without external power, they only have five minutes of power at best. One minute at maximum capacity. And some of the Angels...when the Evas were designed, we were expecting all of the Angels to be like Adam, right? But some of them -"
"I know. We never expected the Angels to be as...versatile as they are now," Ritsuko admitted.
"Right. Like the 10th Angel, which had everybody saying that our only chance was to run from the damned thing before it blew up all of Tokyo-3. But She-Hulk was able to rip that thing apart," Misato pointedly reminded them. "And...well, I know things went bad with Maya. A lot of stuff really went wrong." A slight tremor in her words betrayed the purple-haired woman's own inner torment, the guilt that she clearly felt in her role in an innocent's brutalization. "But...be honest me here; do you really think we could have saved her without She-Hulk?"
As this question echoed within Misato's present home, Shinji looked over at Ritsuko and Fuyutsuki, saw them mentally processing this question even as he did. He had seen Section 2 failing spectacularly in their attempt to subdue the mutated Maya, and he didn't doubt that the JSSDF would have fared just as badly. He recalled the Day of Destruction, where Section 2 had tried to stop She-Hulk's rampage and had only succeeded in making things worse. But the Evas could...no, wait... Shinji thought, only to frown in realization as he remembered Maya's capacity for energy absorption. She'd have been able to drain the Evas power just as she did She-Hulk's...and if she had been able to infect them with the nanites...
Shuddering at the thought of this dread possibility, Shinji was then brought back to the moment when Misato continued. "But She-Hulk isn't like the Evas. She's not only powerful, but she can also fight things the Evas can't. We can transport her more easily, she doesn't need external power..." Then the purple-haired woman glanced over at NERV's Head Scientist and said, "You said it yourself, Rits, when you told me about what happened after that one test we did; compared to She-Hulk, the Evas are worthless."
Nodding with considerable reluctance, Ritsuko retorted, "Yes, yes, but that's why Ikari wanted us to see if we could use your mutation to increase the Evas' power."
"And how far have you gotten on that?" Misato demanded, her features hardening as she looked at her friend. "Have you figured out exactly how to power up the Evas?"
"We've made some progress. A good amount," Ritsuko quickly replied in what even Shinji could recognize as an evasive manner. "We've been able to adapt the mutation to tissue samples from the Evas..."
"But you're not sure what would happen if you applied this to the Evas themselves," Misato stated, her voice making it clear that this wasn't a question. "Are you?"
Groaning disgustedly, Ritsuko looked hard at her friend. "In case you've forgotten, Misato, we've had a lot to deal with lately, in addition to our normal workload! But I'm sure we'll figure it out!"
"I'm sure you will, too," Misato declared, taking the doctor by surprise. "But that's gonna take time, Rits. And like you just admitted, things have been busier than normal around here." Ritsuko's face fell somewhat at this valid point, giving the Major a chance to follow up with, "And even assuming that you can get this to work exactly right, without causing the Evas to have the same problems I've been having, that won't change the fact that their batteries are only good for five minutes, that they can't fly or anything else."
As Ritsuko's face fell even more, Fuyutsuki frowned slightly before admitting, "That's true, Major. But even so, how do you intend to gain control of your other self? How would you even know where to start?"
"I already know where to start, sir," Misato firmly intoned. "When I started changing into She-Hulk before, the tranquilizer Chiron shot me up with really slowed it down."
"Right, we know that," Ritsuko nodded. "So what?"
"So I was able to stay conscious through the entire thing, Rits!" Misato declared. "And now...I think I understand why I kept blacking out in the past! And more importantly, how Greenie was able to take control from me! So now that I know how that works, I'm betting I can handle the change better. Because now that I know how to stay awake through it, I can work with it. Get better control, stay in control once I've changed!"
Fuyutsuki furrowed his brows at this, even as Ritsuko slowly shook her head and admitted, "I don't know, Misato. That seems pretty iffy to me."
"Is it any better than pretty much anything else we do around here?" Misato wondered with a trace of her usual teasing mannerisms. "Anyway, it's not like I was planning on doing this, all by myself. The truth is, I was hoping that you could help me out on that front."
"Me?!" Ritsuko immediately demanded, gesturing at herself.
"Yes. Like doing those tests I had you ask Commander Ikari about before? To get a better idea of what's going on in Greenie's head?" Misato reminded her. When the doctor grimaced, the purple-haired woman tried a different tact. "Or maybe you could do something else! Come up with some kind of medicine that would make me more like Spirit! I mean, you have her DNA, so why not?!"
"Because I already told you, there's a danger of Spirit losing control of her powers and becoming as bad as She-Hulk is," Ritsuko sternly reminded her friend. "We can't be certain how stable she is or isn't, not from the information we currently have!"
"Well, so far, I haven't seen any signs of any instability from her," Misato snarked. "Besides, you're the genius that cooked up the stuff that created Spirit in the first place! So give me one good reason why you can't create something that will allow me to stay me when I change?!" Ritsuko opened her mouth to protest, but before she could say anything, the Major added, "Because, in case you've forgotten, we're at war here. Which means we can't afford to throw away anything that could give us a better chance against the Angels. And for your information, that happens to include She-Hulk."
As the three adults present stared at each other, Shinji simply sat there, Misato still partly wrapped about his frame. Misato...doesn't want to get rid of She-Hulk? She wants to keep her, to...?
"You make a valid argument, Major," Fuyutsuki decided, cutting into Shinji's chain of thought. "Very well, then. I will discuss this matter with Ikari." When Misato replied with a polite bow of her head, the old professor added, "But not right now; this has been a very trying night for all of us, and I don't know about the rest of you, but I for one am looking forward to a good night's sleep."
"Fair enough, sir," Misato replied.
"I'd have to agree with you," Ritsuko nodded, allowing her exhaustion to show for a moment. "So...will there be anything else, sir?"
"Not tonight," Fuyutsuki replied. "I think we've covered all the ground we need to for the moment. Perhaps later, we can further discuss this situation, but for now...I think now would be a good time for all of us who can get some rest to go do so." Then the old professor heaved a weary sigh. "But as for myself...I still have promises to keep, and many miles yet to go before I sleep..."
With that, Fuyutsuki turned to leave. Even as Shinji thought once more, Misato...doesn't want to get rid of She-Hulk? She doesn't want a cure...?
That's one thing I sure don't miss, being down here, Misato thought with a hint of sympathy as Fuyutsuki departed, looking far older than he had any right to. All the damned crap that comes with being part of the chain of command!
Pausing to think about all the paperwork that was almost certainly breeding like crazy at this very moment, Misato was brought back to the moment by the sound of a mild voice clearing its throat. "Uh...Misato?"
Surprise sounding her throat, Misato turned to face the boy that meant so much to her. The boy that she had thought lost to her forever, a loss that had moved both her and the beast within to madness. "Oh, Shinji," she smiled, once again embracing him tightly. "What is it?"
"I...are you...sure about this?" Shinji nervously inquired, looking at Misato with pleading eyes. "About...not getting...?"
When Shinji trailed off, Ritsuko gave an irritated growl in her throat. "That's what I'd like to know," the doctor sounded, looking sternly at her friend. "Misato, have you stopped to think about what you're asking us? About what you'd be giving up?"
Turning towards her friend, Misato looked hard into Ritsuko's eyes and knew exactly to what the doctor was referring to. Not just the fact that she was asking them to take a chance in experimenting on and working with a creature they could not control or accurately predict, something that could mean disaster. But also, if she realized what she was refuting. All of the things that she had enjoyed in her life before she had been first transformed; the freedom to roam about in the open air, her own home and the ability to come and go from it as she so chose. The small, precious family she had won.
Things that Misato so desperately missed. And that she was effectively refusing a chance of reclaiming.
"You think I haven't?" Misato asked as she hugged Shinji even more tightly to her. "Do you think I don't want to go home? To have my life back?" Pausing to look at the boy in her arms, she sighed lowly. "But...what kind of life will we have if we lose to the Angels?" Ritsuko's lips parted slightly, but nothing came past them, which the Major took as an opening to proceed. "You and I both know what'll happen if we lose this war. The Angels aren't interested in us surrendering or signing a treaty. We won't be getting a silver medal for coming in second place. All that will happen is that us - all of us - will be dead and gone! And if that happens...well, I won't have much of a life, will I?"
Swallowing loudly at this, Shinji required a moment to recover before saying, "But...Misato..."
"I'm sorry, Shinji. But that's the truth," Misato told him in a softer tone. "Besides, I'm not planning on giving up anything. I'm just saying that, if there's a way for me to have my cake and eat it, too, then we should at least look into the possibilities. Especially if it gives us a better chance of beating the Angels. As well as dealing with the other whackos that have been showing up lately."
Grimacing at this, Ritsuko hesitated before saying, "You mean Rhino and Grey Gargoyle."
"Damned straight, I mean them," Misato emphatically declared. "We never found out where they came from or who sent them. So we'd have to be pretty damned stupid to think that whoever that was is done with us. And - well, I'm sorry, Ritsuko. But human-sized enemies are something else that the Evas weren't designed to fight against. But Greenie wouldn't have a problem with them."
Knowing she had scored a point with this, Misato watched her friend deflate. "But..." came Shinji's voice once more, a voice that was lower, sadder. "I...I miss you, Misato," the boy told her, his blue eyes soft and mourning as she turned to look at them. "I...I want you to come home, and..."
As Shinji once more trailed off, Misato sighed sadly. "I know you do," she told him, grateful beyond her capability to express that there was indeed someone who felt that way. "And I miss you. I miss you and PenPen and Asuka, I miss...just relaxing at home, being with you all." As memories of these times flitted through her mind, simpler times that she never truly appreciated until now, she heaved a deep breath and continued. "But...I really do think this is the right thing to do. I need to do this, Shinji-kun...to at least try and make this work."
"But - you don't have to! You shouldn't have to!" Shinji immediately protested. "I mean...fighting the Angels...that's our job! Me and Ayanami and -!"
"But it shouldn't have to be your job!" Misato broke in with a bit more force. "Shinji, you...you and the others...you shouldn't have to do this. Any of this. You and the others...you should have your own lives. And from the moment you all arrived here, we've been forcing you to fight our war for us! You shouldn't have to live with that!"
As Misato found herself flashing back to the day when Shinji had first arrived in Tokyo-3, culminating in Gendo blackmailing him into piloting a monster that he had never seen before and the traumatic battle with the 3rd Angel, something that Misato had stood by and had been forced by the situation to support, the boy she held replied, "But, Misato, it is our war!" Recoiling slightly at this fierce declaration, the Major stared at the boy as he added, "I mean...you said it. The Angels are a danger to everyone. And that means me and Ayanami and Asuka, and...well, everyone!"
"Shinji has a good point there," Ritsuko pointed out. "He and the other Children are in as much danger from the Angels as the rest of the world."
"I know that, Ritsuko. But that still doesn't change the fact that we're the ones that forced them into actually fighting them," Misato evenly countered. "Now, I know we didn't have much of a choice...but that doesn't make it right." As Ritsuko stepped back a bit, her expression solemn, the Major continued with, "Besides, do the math. If I can get control of She-Hulk, that puts an extra fighter on our side out on the field. And given the amount of punishment she can take, not to mention dish out..."
Ritsuko frowned at this, clearly having no rebuttal for this argument. "But...Misato..." Shinji pleaded, returning her attention to him and his sad blue eyes. "I...I want you to come home...I..."
"And I want to come home, too, Shinji," Misato quickly assured him in a kindly voice. "But...I really do think that...if we can make this work, it'd be worth it." Cocking her head to the side, she then placed her hand upon his cheek and gently cupped it. "Because...I want to be able to protect you. Because you're worth it."
Shinji sucked in a surprised gasp at this, his eyes widening ever so slightly, and he remained that way for some time. Seconds, minutes, hours, Misato had no idea how long her ward remained so utterly and completely silent. All she knew was that, after a seeming eternity, the boy's face fell. "I...I'm sorry," he blurted out, squirming out of Misato's grip. "I...I need to get back home. Asuka, she - and PenPen - I -!"
Shinji wasn't able to continue. Instead, he darted away, his entire body shaking like a leaf as he went to the door and opened it as quickly as possible. "Shinji, wait!" Ritsuko told him even as the door slowly slid open. "You -!"
"No, it's okay, Rits," Misato interrupted, holding up her hand to her friend. Watching sadly as Shinji finally slipped out of the armored door, which then closed behind him. "What I told him...I know it couldn't have been easy for him to take."
And it was true. Misato knew this. She knew how hard it was to deal with someone who was never there for you by choice, who avoided his family because he couldn't cope with them.
But this isn't the same, Shinji-kun, Misato pleaded inwardly, looking sadly at the door the boy had so recently exited through. I'm doing this because I want to be able to protect you! You and the others! I want to be able to fight this war with my own hands, instead of dirtying yours for my own selfishness! Issuing a low, heavy sigh, the purple-haired woman concluded, I just hope that...you'll understand...someday.
With a heavy heart, Misato looked at the door for a while longer before finally shoving the pain she was feeling to the side, at least for the moment. Hoping that Chiron and his goons had at least left her with some beer to help her in coping with what was now in her heart, she then focused on something else. "Listen, Rits...before you go, there's something else I'd like to talk to you about," she began, an idea taking shape in her mind. "I sorta need a favor..."
I ran away. I just ran away... Shinji thought to himself as he slowly made his way back to his apartment. I ran away from her...I shouldn't have, but...I ran away...
This loop of guilt and misery ran through Shinji's mind, over and over again as he slowly made his way back home through the seemingly empty streets of Tokyo-3. Hounding and harassing every step of his lonely trek to the place that Misato had brought him to so shortly after his arrival in the fortress city. Chastising him, cursing him for his weakness and selfishness. A secret shame that he had realized shortly after Misato had declared that she wanted to master She-Hulk's power, that she didn't want to be cured of her.
The shame of knowing...that Shinji didn't want Misato to be cured of She-Hulk, either.
Misato meant so much to Shinji. There was no getting around that. She had been good to him, had given him a home and a place in her heart. But at the same time, there was no denying that her She-Hulk self meant a great to him as well. The mighty green Amazon that had cuddled and loved him, had fought and protected him. She had become a tremendous part of his life as well.
But they're the same person! Shinji had tried to tell himself, hoping to overwhelm his pathetic nature through sheer logic and determination. They're both Misato! Even if she's cured, that doesn't mean that part of her will disappear!
Despite this exceptionally logical argument, that weak, pathetic part of Shinji was not swayed. Misato had never treated him like that before. He did not know why she had never held him or cuddled him or any of the other things She-Hulk had come to do, but this clear affection was something he had been starved for so very long that he couldn't remember what it felt like to have someone who wanted to hold you, let alone do the things the jade beast woman had done. And as horrible as it was, as much as Shinji wanted to deny it, he didn't want to lose this.
Shinji truly did want Misato to come home. But at the same time...he wanted She-Hulk to come home as well.
I'm so pathetic... Shinji thought to himself as he finally arrived at his apartment and started up in the elevator. Misato's still trapped in NERV, she wants to give up her only chance of coming home so she can fight the Angels, and all I can think about is myself...
Heaving a sigh of consummate disgust with himself, Shinji waited and watched as the elevator finally opened up to his floor. Tired and confused and in no condition to deal with much of anything, he slowly made his way to his apartment, opened the doors, and started taking off his shoes when...
"So there you are, Third!" came an officious, annoyed voice that froze Shinji in his place. Looking about, his eyes widened in horror when he saw Asuka standing a short distance away, glaring pure death at him. "It's about damn time you got back here!" His mouth popping open in surprise, the 3rd Child found himself wondering what he could have done to upset Asuka this time when she went on to declare, "My homework isn't going to do itself, you know!"
His mouth popping open in surprise, Shinji sputtered, "Homework...?"
Her eyes widening in confusion, Asuka then groaned and placed her hand on her forward. "Good Gott, don't tell me you forgot about it?!" she groaned as if she couldn't believe how stupid Shinji was. "I told you to get my homework done as soon we finished dinner, baka!" A beat passed before the 3rd Child groaned in dismayed recollection. "What, you thought you could actually get out of it by running off while I was on the phone with Hikari?! As if!"
Oh, damn...! Shinji moaned inwardly, still tired and conflicted and in the mood for anything but this.
"Speaking of dinner, that roast lamb of yours was very good, all things considered," Asuka went on in a dismissive manner. "Yours is still on the table, by the way. I'm pretty sure it's gone cold by now."
"You left it out...?" Shinji started, looking at the redhead in dull surprise.
"Hey, be grateful, you little baka! I could have just thrown it out! And after you tried to ditch your chores, you can damn well bet I was tempted to do just that!" Asuka decreed in that same officious voice. "And you can go heat it up and eat it...after you've done my homework, of course!" With that, the redhead pointed off to the side and down the hall. "Now get to work!"
As Shinji looked at Asuka, smiling so smugly and officiously, feeling no remorse or concern for what she was doing, a spark of rage appeared in his heart. He had already been through a horrendous night, a night filled with tragedy, fear, sorrow, and pain. He carried within him the shock of Misato's decision, her sacrificing so much for the sake of himself and his fellow pilots, and the burden of guilt in knowing that a part of him was glad that she was willing to make such a sacrifice. And this shock fueled that spark of anger, anger that gave way to a fantasy of rage that flashed within the 3rd Child's mind. He watched from outside his own body as his eyes flared a bright green, just before his muscles swelled and his bones cracked and rebuilt themselves. He saw the weak person he was erased, giving way to a mighty beast man. He saw this creature roaring savagely at Asuka, who quaked in fear before it. He saw that creature grabbing the German by the head and...
"Hey! Earth to Baka Shinji!" Asuka called out, snapping him out of the rage fantasy he had been immersed in. "What are you standing around for, staring at me like that?! Get to work already!"
Blinking a few times as the fantasy he had been in dissipated, Shinji sighed and turned, following Asuka's outstretched finger, saying nothing. "There! And maybe later, you can tell me what you were doing out there when you should have been doing my homework and all the rest of your chores!" the German declared, following shortly behind him. "And you better not have been wasting any more of your time on those stupid conspiracy theories of yours or anything like that, because if you have...!"
As Asuka continued to rant about the kind of penalties Shinji would suffer for again trying to smear NERV's reputation, the 3rd Child's brows furrowed. His hands slowly clenched into fists as something dark and dangerous inside of him growled in hatred. And once again, he found himself imagining what would happen if that dark something within could find physical manifestation, just as She-Hulk could.
I really wish I could do something about her... Shinji thought, images of a monstrous version of himself reducing Asuka to a messy pool of human blood dancing in his mind. Still...maybe...
In the dark chamber in which the unusual meetings held by SEELE were conducted, only one of the holographic monoliths that served as the avatars for the twelve members was active. The monolith marked SEELE-01 hung silently in the dark room, an ominous manifestation of the person it represented.
But it would not remain alone for long. Another monolith soon appeared, followed by two more. "Finally," muttered the voice of Lorenz Keel. "I was starting to wonder if any of you would respond to the alert."
"We're not in the habit of disregarding a Priority 1 message," grumbled the voice of SEELE-05 even as SEELE-12 manifested. "Even if we happen to be sound asleep at the time of that message."
"The inconveniences of a worldwide council. So many different time zones, so much to get in the way of an emergency meeting," SEELE-12 remarked in a sage manner. "Still, I do find the vague nature of this alert to be rather irksome."
"As do I," muttered SEELE-07, conveying the air of someone who had been very rudely awakened. "What is this all about, anyway?!"
"I will inform you of the nature of this crisis shortly," SEELE-01 declared in a voice that brooked no argument. "Once the rest of us is present to hear what I have to say."
The SEELE members gathered thus far were clearly displeased with this, but not surprised. Grumbling and muttering beneath their breath, they settled down to wait for the rest of their fellows to assemble.
After spending some time complaining about missing out on sleep and having to deal with meetings and whatever other responsibilities that came with their respective duties, the SEELE members present were slowly joined by the rest of the secretive group. "Well, then, seeing as we are now in full assembly," SEELE-12 began, his polite manner of speech doing nothing to conceal his annoyance, "perhaps now we can learn the reason we were called to meet in such a hurried manner."
"I'll get right to the point," SEELE-01 declared in a terse manner. "I have recently been informed of a new development in Tokyo-3. An alert was transmitted from NERV Central, indicating that an Angel had invaded the base."
The instant these words were said, whatever grievances the rest of SEELE had about being summoned in such a manner immediately dissipated. They were just as quickly replaced by a barrage of questions and demands, all mashed together into an incomprehensible mess.
"An Angel has invaded NERV?! Already?!" SEELE-04 demanded in a horrified manner. "But it's too soon!"
"Did it reach Central Dogma?!" SEELE-02 asked in a more panicky fashion. "Has contact occurred?!"
"This doesn't make sense! Our predictions from the Dead Sea Scrolls...!" SEELE-07 sputtered out.
"Has anyone contacted NERV Central?" SEELE-12 wondered. "Have we been able to confirm or deny that the alert wasn't a false alarm of some kind?"
"We were contacted after the initial alert. And were informed that it was a false alarm. A malfunction of some sort," SEELE-12 reported in a scornful manner. "But that is not the only problem. Geological recording stations registered a large earthquake in Tokyo-3."
"What's unusual about that?" SEELE-09 wondered. "Japan is one of the most geologically active parts of the world. Earthquakes occur there on a regular basis."
"Was it an Angel?" SEELE-05 wondered suspiciously.
"We do not know. All we can tell for certain is that the epicenter of the quake was in Tokyo-3. Within the Geofront itself." As the other members of SEELE digested the meaning of this, SEELE-01 continued with, "But that is not all. Satellite surveillance indicates that the defensive armor protecting the Geofront suffered massive damage. From a blow that came from within the Geofront." A beat passed before he added, "Furthermore, we detected a spike of gamma radiation coming from within the Geofront at the time of this event."
"We recorded gamma radiation during Rhino's battle with She-Hulk," SEELE-12 noted with considerable displeasure.
"Meaning that Ikari's creature was on the loose once more," SEELE-01 grimly concluded. "And if he unleashed her, it is most likely that he did so to counter an Angel."
As the other members of SEELE began complaining once more, SEELE-08 muttered, "Dammit all, that settles it! We have to move quickly! We have to either put Ikari back under our control or dispose of him outright! These games of his put the entire scenario at risk!"
"Agreed," SEELE-01 concurred. "It's time to mobilize the Grey Gargoyle and the rest of his new team. And put an end to Ikari's games."
As the bell rang at school the next day, signaling the end of the school and freeing everyone to return home, Shinji let out a wearied groan before gathering up his laptop and the rest of his belongings. Utterly exhausted from last night's activities and wanting nothing more than to go to bed and get some sleep.
Too bad that's not gonna happen, Shinji knew as he hurriedly joined his fellow students in leaving, knowing full well the wrath and damnation he had brought down upon himself. Why'd I do something that stupid?!
Issuing another sigh as he glanced over at Asuka, who was presently talking with Mr. Takashima, Shinji quickened his pace, already having a good idea as to what they were discussing. I know she's gonna kill me for it, sooner or later, he thought somberly. The rage and defiance he had felt the prior night having faded with the dawn, and the realization as to the penalties he would pay for those things. But I think I'll make it later. Then he frowned, glancing about the other students as they left the classroom, soon focusing on one in particular. Besides, there's something I need to take care of first.
With this in mind, Shinji began glancing about at his fellow students. He spotted Rei quickly enough, courtesy of her blue hair, but she wasn't the one he wished to speak with. In truth, he hadn't had much of a chance to interact with her as of late outside of their roles as Eva pilots. Also, and as much as he didn't want to think of such things, she had been a part of NERV for a very long time now. And despite the fact that his father treated her so shabbily, Shinji had seen Gendo and Rei conversing together in as friendly a manner as he had ever seen from the enigmatic albino. Meaning that, if NERV truly was responsible for Jet Alone and possibly worse, then there was a very real possibility that Rei was a part of it somehow.
He sighted Toji and Kensuke soon afterward, but they weren't the ones Shinji wished to speak with, either. Though good friends that had been helping him even before they had formed the Brigade, there were some things he couldn't speak to them about. And so it wasn't until he sighted the person that he did wish to speak with that he quickened his pace to overtake her.
"Uh, Horaki-chan?" Shinji called out, doing his best to traverse the small sea of humanity that lay between himself and Hikari. "Horaki-chan?"
"Huh? Oh, Shinji!" Hikari replied as she turned to face him.
"Uh, listen...can we talk for a bit?" Shinji wondered. "I, uh...there's some stuff that I need to talk to you about, and..."
As Shinji trailed off, uncertain as to how to proceed, Hikari shot him an understanding look. "It's about last night, isn't it?"
"Uh...yeah," Shinji hesitantly replied, unwilling to say too much lest his loose lips sink the ship that was carrying Hikari's other identity. "So, um..."
"I already heard a bit about what happened," Hikari admitted as they made their way downstairs to the locker room. "Daddy came home late last night, totally exhausted, and...well, he couldn't go into details..." Then she shot him a look and added, "Besides, you, Asuka, and Rei were absent this morning. And that's something that doesn't usually happen unless it involves NERV."
Wincing somewhat, the Eva pilot sighed in memory of how the three designated Children had been brought in that morning. Shinji had been called in for further questioning, just on the off chance he had remembered something else from the catastrophic battle that had taken place, and Asuka and Rei so they could be briefed on this latest disaster. Wincing again as he thought of the absolute outrage displayed by the redhead when she learned that she had missed out on another chance to kill an Angel, Shinji lamely replied, "Yeah, I...things have been pretty busy."
"Yeah, I know," Hikari returned even as she went to her locker and switched her shoes. Doing the same, Shinji couldn't help but pause and look around for any sign of trouble. Because if he was right, then trouble was something he would be getting a lot sooner than he wanted.
I just hope we can get out of here before that happens... Shinji warily thought as he donned his street shoes. Looking about, he saw that Hikari had done the same, and was already waiting expectedly for him. Before long, the two of them were leaving the school behind. Please, just let us get away from here before -
"Thiiiirrrrrrrdd!" came a shrill cry of consummate outrage. One that froze Shinji right down to his spine, leaving him stock-still as the blood drained from his face, rendering him an even more ghastly pallor than Rei.
Oh, shit, Shinji groaned inwardly as the sound of pounding footsteps reached his ears, alongside a series of startled gasps. I'm dead.
"Huh?" came Hikari's voice even as Shinji slowly, reluctantly turned to watch his approaching doom. "Asuka, what -?!"
"Baka!" Asuka roared as she charged up to Shinji, blood in her eyes and metaphoric flames surrounding her. Just before she reared back with her first and fired a devastating punch right into his nose.
The sound of Hikari's crying out in shock was all but drowned out by the noise of cartilage being crushed, and was completely obliterated by the sensations of Shinji being lifted up off his feet and being sent crashing down to the ground. "Wha-?!" the pigtailed girl cried out. "Asuka?!"
"You must think you're really clever, huh, Third?! Pulling a Gott-damn stunt like that! Making me look stupid!" Asuka snarled hatefully as she fell upon Shinji, grabbing him by his shirt collar. Giving the 3rd Child a perfect view of the way tufts of her hair curled up into perfect devil horns as she shook him. "Well, if you thought for even a second that I'd -!"
"Asuka?!" came Hikari's voice once more, and this time, it wasn't just Shinji who heard her. Asuka's eyes went wide with surprise, prompting her to drop the boy she had just mangled. As Shinji's head again cracked against the concrete, sending a fresh batch of stars and comets flitting past his eyes, the German looked up to see another accusing glare being directed at her. "What on earth do you think you're doing?!"
"I - Hikari - what are -?!" Asuka sputtered out, her tone making it clear that this was the first time she had even noticed her best friend's presence. "Uh - when - I -?!"
"I'll ask again," Hikari began, invoking the voice she employed as Class Representative. "What on earth do you think you're doing, assaulting a student in broad daylight while on school grounds?!"
A large drop of sweat rolling down the side of her head, and looking about as shamefaced as a little girl that had just gotten caught with her hand in the proverbial cookie jar, Asuka stood to face her friend. "I...well, the Third, he..."
"Omigosh, Shinji! Your face!" Hikari blurted in alarm as she knelt down next to him. As Shinji wondered dazedly what had happened to his face, the Class Representative rummaged about before bringing forth a handkerchief. "Here! Put this on your nose!" she instructed, placing the handkerchief in his hand. "That will stop the bleeding! In the meantime, let me get you back to my place! I'll get you patched up in no time!"
Still too busy trying to figure out which of the three Hikaris that was speaking to him was real, Shinji could do little but do as was instructed and allow her to assist him in getting back up on his feet. "And as for you, Ms. Sohryu," the Class Representative declared with a tone of voice she normally reserved for troublemakers like their resident practical joker Kazu, "I suggest you go back home and think about what you just did!"
"Wha- but Hikari, I -!" Asuka whined, only to be cut off with a scathing glare from her friend.
Groaning pitifully as Hikari started forward, Shinji glanced back over his shoulder to see the defeated redhead standing there, caught between astonishment and outrage. Well...I guess I'm not dead yet after all... he thought dazedly. I might still be when I get back home, but still...
"I don't believe this! How could Asuka do something like that?!" Hikari muttered, sounding utterly perplexed by the German's behavior. "I...Shinji, do you have any idea what she was so upset at you for?"
Wincing as this question echoed in his brain, Shinji gulped loudly as a drop of sweat rolled down the side of his head. "Well, uh..." he hesitantly began, now cognizant enough to realize the kind of thin ice he was presently skating on. "I...that is..."
Hikari paused in her forward trek, just before she shifted her narrowed eyes towards the boy she was helping. "Shinji...you didn't do anything to upset Asuka...did you?"
Recognizing the unspoken menace in Hikari's words, Shinji hurriedly returned, "Uh, no! No!" Then, as his brain continued to fire on more cylinders, he reluctantly admitted, "Well...I kinda...did, actually."
Her eyes becoming deadly slits, Hikari glowered at Shinji for a time. "Let's get you back to my place. I'll help you get patched up," the Class Representative muttered in a dangerous fashion. "And once I'm done, you're going to give me a full explanation as to what you did to Asuka...and it better be good!"
With that, Hikari started forward once more. Leaving Shinji to groan miserably and think, Yup...I'm still dead...
Let's see what I have to work with here... Ritsuko thought as she sat within the relative sanctity of her office. Studying two very different sets of surveillance videos, fleshing out the plan she had so hastily concocted last night.
On her right were videos of Spirit in action, with the high-flying heroine combating Angels and whatever other menaces that came to threaten Tokyo-3. On Ritsuko's left were recordings of her best friend when her rage transformed her, and the results of that rage being unleashed upon whatever had been unfortunate or foolish enough to unleash that rage. There's no doubt that Spirit's powerful, the faux-blonde doctor thought, observing the battles they had recorded the winged girl taking place in. She was able to destroy the 4th Angel with her energy projections when Shinji distracted her, as well as the 7th Angel, even after it had defeated both of the Evas. We know she defeated the 9th Angel, even if we don't have any footage of it, and she was able to fend off the Grey Gargoyle. She has an AT-Field and is also capable of flight. She's shown some level of superhuman strength, and her Angelic healing ability is also a plus. And most of all, she has full control of her powers. She's perfectly stable, a true Nephilim.
But at that point, Ritsuko frowned. But she's not indestructible, she reminded herself, looking at the disastrous footage showing Spirit's failed attempt to combat the 5th Angel. The flying fortress had shot Spirit out of the sky, not even needing to hit her to scorch her left arm, leg, and wing into utter uselessness, with only her healing abilities saving her from being crippled. Spirit's energy projections had only caused that Angel moderate damage and her attempt to punch the thing had been even more laughable. And that was as of nothing compared to the savage beating she had suffered at She-Hulk's hands. Even if I'm right and I can augment her DNA, she has some very serious limits.
Then the doctor scanned the recordings of the emerald Amazon in action. But She-Hulk...she was able to rip apart the 10th Angel without any real trouble, and in one-on-one combat, she's decimated...pretty much everything she's fought so far, Ritsuko thought, wincing as she watched Misato's savage other brutalize Spirit very nearly to death. She's a brick, basically. Her Impact Roar isn't as powerful as Spirit's energy projections, but it's still formidable. No flight, but she's very fast and can leap extremely long distances, and we have determined that she also has a healing factor. And even without an AT-Field, she's capable of withstanding tremendously destructive forces. Far in excess of Spirit, or even the Angels we've seen thus far. And most of all, her power levels increase with her rage. Meaning that her power is virtually unlimited. Then the doctor pressed her lips together. But her mutation isn't nearly as stable as Spirit's. There's a lot we're still trying to figure out. And then there are the control issues...
As Ritsuko continued to study the two superwomen, she frowned. She knew that her life was in danger now. She had betrayed Gendo, disobeyed his orders, something she knew he wouldn't take well. And more to the point, she was feeling more and more sickened by the role she found herself entrapped in. A role in which she had become more and more burdened by the many sins she had been a part of. Of evils she had committed so she could stay alive, so that she could pretend that she was loved.
A role in which she had inadvertently cursed a dear friend, and had nearly been forced to let another die.
I can't go along with this. Not anymore, Ritsuko couldn't help but think, the burdens she bore weighing heavily upon her. And with all this superhuman DNA lying around...maybe I can actually do something...
But as Ritsuko studied the two figures before her, she couldn't help but frown. Spirit's DNA is a perfect. A virtual roadmap to create a stable Nephilim. It'd hardly take me anytime at all to adapt it to my genetic code. Then she scowled as she again looked at the video of the winged girl's disastrous battle with She-Hulk. But she's nowhere near as powerful or durable as She-Hulk is. And with what Gendo's been cooking up, there's no way her powers would be enough to keep me alive.
Shuddering at this, Ritsuko again looked at the many, many threats that She-Hulk had fought, survived, and defeated. So...my best bet would be to adapt Spirit's DNA to Misato's mutant genetics. Use them to turn me into a stable version of She-Hulk. All the power, but without any loss of control. Considering this for a moment longer, the doctor nodded. It certainly seemed like a viable plan to her. It would take some experimentation, but she should have the time needed. Gendo would likely be looking for a replacement for her, sooner or later, but there were very few people who could do the kind of work he needed to be done, who had her kind of scientific knowledge. And more to the point, if he were to try and replace her with an outsider, he would be forced to deal with someone who was unaware of the dark secrets of NERV, someone he would have to start from scratch in order to break to his will. And if he were to try and replace me in the same way he would Rei, then he runs the risk of me losing the part he really needs; my mind, and all the knowledge and expertise I have. Something he can't afford to do unless I suddenly become too much of a liability.
At least hoping that this was the case, Ritsuko pressed a few controls, leaving only a three-dimensional image of She-Hulk rotating before her. Okay. I still have access to the DNA samples we got from those wings She-Hulk tore off of Spirit. And I have access to Misato herself, so getting anything I need from her won't be a problem. And...hmm... Furrowing her brows, the doctor brought up another image, one that had the unfortunate side effect of causing a stabbing pain in her heart. Maybe I should consider throwing some of the nanites from this latest Angel into the mix as well, she thought, considering the image of Maya's mutated self, the beast she had become last night. The energy-absorbing powers they gave Maya could come in handy. And now that they've been reprogrammed, they're like stem cells. I could easily reprogram them to do...well, pretty much whatever I want. So -
Ritsuko's thoughts were cut off by the noise of the door buzzer sounding. Looking up from her research, the doctor frowned as Chihiro's voice came over the intercom. "Dr. Akagi? I'm sorry, I know you asked not to be disturbed, but we have a problem."
Groaning lowly at this, Ritsuko hurriedly closed the files on her current research project and hid them away in a private computer file she had set up for herself, one that not even the MAGI could access. "What is it, Chihiro?"
"It's the MAGI," Chihiro reported. "We've started work on those diagnostics you ordered, but we're having problems. It looks like the EMP may have corrupted some of the files after all."
Wincing at this, Ritsuko sighed before closing down her computer. In the wake of the disaster with the 11th Angel, she had taken the precaution of ordering a complete analysis of the MAGI and their files, for while they had appeared to come through both the Angelic infestation and the EMP completely unharmed, the MAGI were not only essential to the operation of NERV Headquarters, but also the Japanese government. And given the kind of disasters they would be inviting if the MAGI were corrupted, or worse, taken over by an Angel, she had felt it prudent to order them to be subjected to a thorough series of diagnostics.
And here I was hoping that we wouldn't have any more problems, Ritsuko grumbled inwardly as she rose to her feet. "I'll be right there." Already planning on returning to her personal project as soon as possible, she exited her office and met with Chihiro. "So what are we dealing with? Any idea how bad the situation is?"
"Not sure. Although it doesn't look too bad at the moment," Chihiro explained with an air of forced cheerfulness. "Mainly just glitches in the files. Nothing major. But..."
"But they could be symptoms of a much larger problem," Ritsuko concluded with the professional air of a true scientist.
"Maybe. I sure hope not, though," Chihiro replied with a slight shudder. "I'd rather not have to reboot the MAGI completely from the backups at Matsushiro."
"Agreed," Ritsuko grumbled as the two women started towards the bridge. "What about the Angel? Any indications that it's still active, or might become so?"
"None so far," Chihiro reported in a slightly more upbeat manner. "The nanites are still blank. Working perfectly with the MAGI. At least, so far."
Glad to hear that at least that part of their operation had gone off without a hitch, Ritsuko asked, "What about the simulation bodies? And the other sections that were contaminated?"
"The simulation bodies have already been purged, Doctor," Chihiro assured her. "We're still working on disposing of anything other than the MAGI that have been infested. And as per your orders, we're collecting as many samples of the nanites as we can from all infested materials, and having them secured for future study."
"Excellent," Ritsuko nodded, very pleased with this. For those nanites could be key in adapting the powers of both She-Hulk and Spirit for her own use. She wanted to be sure an ample supply was at her disposal.
As Ritsuko considered the myriad ways such nanites could be put to good use, Chihiro gently cleared her throat. "By the way, Dr. Akagi?" she began, the clear hesitation in her words prompting a concerned look from Ritsuko. "How's Maya doing?" Sucking in a tiny gasp at the mention of her former understudy, the faux-blonde paused, with Chihiro following suit. "I...understand you were over at NERV Medical earlier. Setting up for her treatment, and...well..."
Nodding even as Chihiro trailed off, Ritsuko replied, "She's still sedated. The medical team was able to safely remove the generator; with the nanites in her system reprogrammed, it was a fairly simple procedure."
"What about the nanites that are still in her?" Chihiro wondered nervously.
"Unfortunately, there's nothing we can do about them," Ritsuko reported even as she started forward again. "The 12th Angel's nanites have thoroughly bonded with Maya's physiology; it would be impossible to extract them now. To even attempt something like that could be fatal for her." Taking note of Chihiro's expression even as she continued forward, the faux-blonde doctor offered her a tiny smile. "I wouldn't worry about them, though. If those nanites are anything like the rest of them, they're now dormant and completely harmless. As long as we keep an eye on them, they shouldn't be a problem; for us, or Maya."
As Chihiro again nodded, Ritsuko sighed woefully. I just wish that we could keep her sedated forever. Because...then she wouldn't have to deal with what she's become, what she - what the Angel made her do...
Shuddering as she envisioned her dear friend dealing with her new reality, with the fact that her hands had been dyed with the blood of others, as well as whatever other consequences that were to come of her transformation, Ritsuko felt her eyes fall to the floor. We still have to keep track of the nanites, to make absolutely certain that they're functioning as one with her body. To make certain that they're completely dormant, the doctor thought, knowing full well just how much she had understated the seriousness of Maya's condition. If they're still out of synch, or if there are any other problems... Letting out another woeful sigh as her scientific mind began churning out the various worst-case scenarios that could result if the nanites had not been fully subdued, the doctor then thought, And even if they have been, we still have to convince Gendo that Maya's not a threat, that her mind hasn't been contaminated by the Angel, or that it's not still manipulating her. And even if we can do all of that...
At this point, Ritsuko considered the nature of the oh-so-gentle woman that she had enjoyed working with since she had first come to NERV. Caring and compassionate, a woman who cleared hated fighting. And now had the blood of many people on her hands, had tried to kill Misato...and had very nearly died by She-Hulk's hands.
I don't even want to think about how we're going to explain all of this to her... Ritsuko somberly thought as she and Chihiro finally arrived at the bridge. How she's going to deal with...
"Hello, Dr. Akagi," came a familiar voice. Startled from her somber musings, Ritsuko looked up to see Fuyutsuki a short distance away, a rueful expression on his face. "Glad that you could join us."
Pausing just long enough to survey her surroundings, Ritsuko issued a mild groan. "So I can see," she muttered as she took in the disaster area that the bridge had become since last night. Everywhere she looked, panels had been removed, revealing circuits and machinery that NERV technicians and scientists were laboring over. "And here I thought that the EMP hadn't done that much damage."
"It hasn't. At least, not that we have been able to determine thus far," Fuyutsuki promptly assured the doctor. "There are some glitches and a few system errors, but we have yet to find anything too severe." Then his expression soured before he admitted, "Unfortunately, there is only one way of being absolutely certain as to the full extent of the damage."
"And that's to conduct a complete diagnostic of all the MAGI's systems, as well as go every single layer of programming," Ritsuko concluded with a tone of resignation.
"Unfortunately, yes," Fuyutsuki confirmed. "And given the inherent complexity of the MAGI..."
"We're looking at two weeks of analysis, at the very least," Ritsuko muttered in a despairing manner. "And with everything else we have to take care of..."
"I know. I've already placed all of our maintenance crews on double shifts to repair the damage done in the battle," Fuyutsuki informed them with a slight scowl. Unsurprised by this, given the sheer damage done to the base and the Geofront in the course of the last battle, Ritsuko nodded as the old professor added, "I'm afraid that none of us will be getting much in the way of rest anytime soon."
Scowling inwardly at the setback this dealt to her own private project, Ritsuko then scowled outwardly as she noticed that something seemed to be missing. After realizing what that something was, she asked, "Uh, sir...where is Commander Ikari? Is he here?"
"No. Ikari called in earlier," Fuyutsuki reported with a note of wry annoyance. "He won't be in for at least a few days."
"Can't say I'm surprised," Chihiro remarked. "He looked pretty bad after...you know..."
Nodding to this, flashing back to when Gendo had been stricken by Maya's mace and sent flying, Ritsuko grimaced. "Then...is he in NERV Medical?"
"No. Ikari explained that he will be undergoing...private treatment," Fuyutsuki intoned. "It's not surprising, you know. Ikari's never been one to allow himself to show any signs of vulnerability. No matter the circumstances."
Deciding that Fuyutsuki had a very good point there, Ritsuko returned her attention to the absolute mess that was the bridge. "Well...might as well get to work, then..." she declared as she started towards where the MAGI waited. "I just hope this mess isn't too bad..."
"Ugh...what a mess!" Hikari groaned as she continued to treat Shinji's injuries, finding herself wishing that he had also been blessed with the kind of healing powers she had as Spirit. "Asuka wasn't holding back, was she?"
"Uh...no," Shinji muttered, his voice off courtesy of the cotton balls Hikari had placed in his nostrils to stop his bleeding. "Listen, I...I really am sorry about your handkerchief, and..."
Pausing in her ministrations to look at said handkerchief, which was a bloody mess that was lying on the bathroom floor, Hikari then looked at the boy she was tending to. "You don't have to worry about that, Shinji," she then assured him, forcing herself to focus on the boy she was tending to. "I know a few things about dealing with blood stains."
And it was a good thing as well, Hikari couldn't help but feel, as she studied Shinji. His shirt had also been badly stained with blood, thanks to the monstrous blow he had taken from Asuka. His nose was also swollen beneath the various medications she had applied to it and was presently turning a nasty shade of black and blue. "So...let me get this straight," the pigtailed girl spoke, changing topics even as she applied bandages to Shinji's nose. "Ever since Misato was locked up in NERV Headquarters, Asuka's been making you do her homework for her?!"
"Well...not exactly. It started after Misato killed the 10th Angel. Shortly before we started the Brigade," Shinji explained, wincing as Hikari continued to tend to his injuries. "You see, she caught me doing research on Jet Alone, trying to find out about what happened, and...well, she got really mad about it."
"Why?" Hikari inquired with a slight frown.
"Because she's convinced that it's all a waste of time, that NERV didn't have anything to do with it," Shinji replied sourly. "I...I tried to talk to her and Kaji about it, about what happened, and...neither of them believed me. So..."
As Shinji trailed off helplessly, Hikari sighed. "I guess I'm not surprised that Asuka wouldn't like that," she admitted as she gingerly placed another bandage on the boy's nose. "She's been training with NERV for years now. They made it possible for her to go to college, and as proud as she is to be an Eva pilot..." Heaving a deep sigh, she went on to say, "So...basically, she's been making you do her homework to keep you too busy to investigate Jet Alone?"
Frowning slightly, Shinji then gave a slight shrug. "Yeah...I guess so."
Considering Shinji, Hikari narrowed her eyes somewhat. Though they hadn't been particularly close before the formation of the Brigade, she still knew the boy well enough to know what a rotten liar he was. "And...has she been doing anything else?" she prompted him, the result of which was the 3rd Child shrinking back a bit, a drop of sweat rolling down the side of his head. "Shinji, please. Asuka is my friend, but that doesn't mean you can't talk to me about her! And if she's doing something else that's wrong, then I want you to tell me about it! Okay?"
Blinking a few times, Shinji slumped back, sighing uncertainly. "Well..." he hesitantly began, his voice making it clear that Hikari was most likely not going to like this. "She...she's also stopped helping out around the apartment, and...she's been making me cook these really fancy dishes. All western food, and...when I oversleep, she...kicks me out of bed, and..."
Her eyes widening as Shinji again trailed off, Hikari exclaimed, "And nobody's been doing anything about it?!" When he failed to say anything in response, the pigtailed girl asked, "I...isn't anybody taking care of you two?! Haven't you told anybody about this?!"
"Well...Kaji comes by every now and again," Shinji hesitantly explained. "But...he's not over very often. He's...pretty busy, I guess." Groaning at this admission, Hikari glanced up at the ceiling, only to be brought up short when he added, "And...no. I haven't told anyone about this."
Her eyes swelling in astonishment, Hikari gave a slight gasp. "But - why not?!"
Shifting about uncomfortably, Shinji sighed. "Well...I thought about it, but...I don't really know who I could talk to about this," he finally admitted, sending Hikari's mouth to fall to the floor. "Nobody's ever around, and everyone at NERV is so busy with everything. And like I said, Kaji, he..."
Even as Shinji once more trailed off, Hikari nodded in comprehension. "And you're worried that Asuka will just get worse if you tell anyone about what she's doing."
"Well...yeah. There's that," Shinji solemnly admitted. "But...the thing is...I don't want Misato to know about what's happening." A bit surprised by this revelation, Hikari pulled back a bit, which the boy before her took as a cue to add, "I mean...she already feels so bad about...everything! If I were to tell Kaji or Ritsuko, then they'd tell her about it, and...I don't want to make her feel even worse! Not when...you know..."
Once more, words failed Shinji, and Hikari could very easily understand why. Misato doubtlessly felt bad enough, being trapped in her gilded cage, unable to be with her wards. If she found out that Asuka was taking advantage of her absence to physically assault Shinji, that would make her feel even worse. "Even so, Shinji, I do wish you had told me about this sooner. Even though Asuka is my friend, so are you. And besides, I'm still Class Representative. So if she's forcing you to do her schoolwork for her, whatever her reasons, then I have to put a stop to it." The wary frown and unhappy groan Shinji issued at this was all the clue Hikari needed to realize that he dreaded the consequences of this. "And don't worry; when I talk to her about this, I'll be very firm, and make it clear that she's in the wrong about this, and that she's not to take it out on you."
Shinji sighed, giving her the most pitifully half-hearted attempt at a smile Hikari had ever seen, a gesture that made it clear just what he thought would be the result of such an effort. "Uh...thanks, Horaki-chan..."
"No problem. And don't worry; I know I can get Asuka to see reason on this," Hikari declared in a determined manner. "Now, uh...let's get back to what happened. What does Asuka making you do her homework have to do with why she was so mad at you?"
Looking rather sheepish, Shinji gave a tiny gulp before explaining, "Well, you see...part of the reason she was mad was because...you know how we were called down to Headquarters this morning." Hikari nodded to this. "Well, when Asuka found out that there was a battle and she'd completely missed it, she was really upset about that."
"I can imagine," Hikari returned, again thinking of the sheer amount of pride she had as a pilot, and how much stock she placed on her being successful in battle. "But, again, what does her being mad have to do with you doing her homework?"
"Because...you see, things went...really badly last night. Which is...one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you," Shinji hesitantly explained. "A lot of stuff went wrong, and...I was..."
"You were upset about it," Hikari gathered when Shinji's words again failed him.
Nodding, Shinji paused before continuing. "So...when I got back, Asuka yelled at me for ditching her when I was supposed to be doing the chores and her homework and all of that. She just kept going on, insisted that I do her homework before anything else, and..." Shaking his head slowly, he then threw up his hands in muted frustration. "I just couldn't take it anymore. So...when I started working on her homework...Asuka, she can't really read kanji at all, so...I got every answer on her homework wrong."
Of all the things Hikari could have imagined Shinji saying, this had not even come close to being one of them. "Wait - you mean on purpose?!" she demanded. "You deliberately failed her homework assignment?!"
"I - I know it was stupid, but...I just couldn't take it anymore," Shinji explained, shaking his head woefully. "She just keeps going on and on, defending NERV, and...I honestly think she's glad Misato's been locked up." Now Hikari was even more astonished. "I mean...you know that she has a crush on Kaji, right?"
"Yeah," Hikari nodded, thinking of the older man who never shaved.
"Well...I don't know much about it, but...I do know he and Misato used to be...close," Shinji uncertainly explained. "But...now that she's locked up..."
"You mean Asuka's been putting moves on him?!" Hikari demanded, even more surprised and not just a little disappointed that her German friend would take advantage of a situation like that.
"Uh...she's definitely been flirting with him. Whenever he comes over, anyway," Shinji informed her. "So...when I got back last night..."
"You just couldn't take it anymore," Hikari concluded. "Well...I don't agree with how you handled it, Shinji, but...I really can't blame you for being angry about what Asuka's been doing." Then she placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "But from now on, let me deal with her. I'll do what I can to straighten her out."
Giving a wan smile, Shinji replied, "Thanks, Horaki-chan."
Nodding to this, Hikari then moved in close. "Now, let's see if the bleeding's stopped," she mused, gingerly pulling the cotton balls from Shinji's nose. As she did, she carefully examined his bloodstained nostrils, watching for any sign of fresh crimson gore escaping them. When nothing happened, she sighed in low satisfaction. "Well, it looks better, but I suggest you be careful. Don't touch your nose, and hope that you don't start sneezing." The 3rd Child nodded to this. "Now, take off your shirt."
It was quite clear that Shinji had not been expecting this request. "What?!" he blurted out, flushing like his nose was about to start bleeding again. "But - I -?!"
"Relax, I just want to get it cleaned up," Hikari promptly explained even as she bent over and retrieved her bloodstained handkerchief. "I have to treat these stains as quickly as I can. The sooner I do that, the better the chance of keeping them from being stained permanently. Alright?"
"Oh...well...okay, then," Shinji reluctantly replied, still blushing slightly as he fingered his shirt. "Uh...would you mind...?"
Realizing what Shinji was asking, Hikari smiled. "No problem," she returned before obediently turning around. "You can borrow one of the towels until your shirt's cleaned."
"Thank you," Shinji returned. Soon afterward, he had removed his shirt and handed it to Hikari.
Chuckling somewhat at his shyness, the pigtailed girl took the stained shirt and handkerchief. "Listen, why don't you go wait in my room?" Hikari suggested. "As soon as I've got everything in the wash, I'll be right up, and you can tell me about everything that happened last night."
"Okay," Shinji returned as Hikari departed. It took a bit of time for her to gather up everything she would need to treat the bloody mess on both articles of cloth, but before long, both shirt and handkerchief were spinning away in the wash, and hopefully would soon be out, no worse for wear.
Once that was done, Hikari took a moment to check on the rest of her family. There was no sign of her father returning as of yet, Nozomi was watching 'American Gladiators' reruns on television, and Kodama was working on yet another of her projects for Professor Ousugi. Good. I'd really rather not have anyone listening in on us, Hikari decided as she started towards her room. Even forgetting that we don't want anybody else finding out about Misato...I know what Shinji meant about not wanting to worry others...
Flashing back to the absolute horror that Kodama and Nozomi had displayed when she had been forced to explain just how thoroughly She-Hulk had mutilated her in their battle, Hikari entered her room, and found Shinji sitting there with a large towel draped about him. "Okay, then," she began, closing the door behind her. "So what exactly happened last night? Was there really an Angel inside of NERV?"
"Uh...yeah. There was an Angel," Shinji softly confirmed, his expression saddening. "But...that's not the least of it."
Already knowing that this would not be pleasant for either of them, Hikari sat down opposite of the boy. "So...what exactly happened?"
Heaving a deep breath, Shinji commenced with recounting the events of the previous night. He started by explaining the form of the attacking Angel, and how it had infected NERV and forcing the evacuation of the Evas. He went on to explain to Hikari's horror how the Angel had infected one of the NERV staff, transforming Maya into an another out-of-control hybrid. As she shuddered once more at the possibility of herself losing her mind to the power she now wielded, Shinji continued by explaining how Misato had managed to achieve partial control over her She-Hulk self and tried to stop Maya, only for her efforts to backfire horribly when Maya was revealed to have energy-absorbing powers. He went on to explain about the three of them had been sent tumbling into a pit of She-Hulk's creation. "After that...I don't really know what happened to me," Shinji was forced to admit. "I saw something dive in after me, and I felt it catch me just before I passed out."
"Something?" Hikari frowned, not liking the sound of this.
"I never really got a good look at it," Shinji said by way of explanation. "I kept passing out and waking up again. I really don't know why. But...well, the one time I did get a look at it...I...it looked like it had...wings."
Blinking a few times at this, Hikari realized what the boy was implying, and held up her hands in protest. "No - Shinji, whatever that was you saw last night, it wasn't me! I was here all night, making dinner, and -!"
"I know, I know!" Shinji hurriedly reassured her. "I...I know it wasn't you, Horaki-chan. But...well, there was definitely something down there. After she changed back, Misato said that she had sensed another Angel, something other than Maya down there."
Not liking this at all, Hikari slowly shook her head. "I don't like this," she muttered, trying to think of an explanation. "Shinji...you said that Ritsuko created and dumped the stuff that gave me my powers into Lake Ashi, right?"
"That's right," Shinji confirmed with a nod. "It was a sedative she was working on that had DNA from Unit 00 in it."
"DNA cloned from an Angel," Hikari muttered. "So...is it possible that it wasn't just me that got transformed by it? Or maybe - NERV's been doing experiments with it? Trying to create their own version of me?"
Shinji's eyes widened somewhat at this possibility. "I...I didn't even think about that," he eventually admitted. "I...I guess that that would explain what happened. How I wound up in the elevator and everything." Then he frowned and asked, "But...why would Father do something like that? I mean...no offense, but..."
"But I'm nowhere near She-Hulk's weight class? Believe me, I know!" Hikari assured the boy before her. Then she gave the matter some thought and frowned. "I dunno. Maybe your father decided that he wanted some extra backup, just in case the Grey Gargoyle or someone like him shows up again."
"We should probably tell the others at the next meeting of the Brigade," Shinji suggested. "I mean...if you're right, then we need to find out more about what Father's doing."
Nodding to this, Hikari then said, "But first...tell me about the rest of the fight. What happened after you fell into that pit?"
Pausing to take another deep breath, Shinji related what Misato had told him and what he himself had seen. He told her about She-Hulk and Maya's continuing battle, and how Maya eventually escaped and apparently murdered several Section 2 people. He also explained how Misato had found Maya there and thought she had seen Shinji's own body lying there among the rest of the dead, and had not only lost control, but had gone utterly berserk.
As Shinji concluded his dread tale, Hikari felt her eyes bulging out of her sockets. "You mean - that earthquake we had last night - that was her?!"
"That's right. She-Hulk punched Maya halfway through the defensive armor layers, and..." Shinji confirmed, only to trail off unhappily. "And...that's not the worst of it."
What could be worse than that?! Hikari thought, still suffering from flashbacks as to her utterly disastrous attempt to fight She-Hulk. "Then...what is it?" she asked aloud. "What happened next?"
"Misato...she's decided that she doesn't want to be cured of She-Hulk," Shinji explained, causing Hikari's mouth to fall open in horror.
"She doesn't want -?!" Hikari started to cry out, only to clamp her hands over her mouth. Requiring several seconds to rein herself in, the pigtailed girl glanced towards her door, hoping that no one had heard. When time passed and no one came knocking on her door, demanding to know what the screaming was all about, Hikari let her hands fall and tried again. "Misato doesn't want to be cured?!"
"She wants to try and get control of She-Hulk instead," Shinji explained. "As I said, she was able to get control of her for a little while in the battle, and...now that she knows that she can, she wants to try and get permanent control. Like what you have."
A beat passed as Hikari quickly considered this. On the one hand, she was forced to admit that She-Hulk was certainly powerful and that if Misato were indeed capable of gaining control of her, then it would indeed be a boon for everyone involved. The Angel War would basically be over! she couldn't help but think, knowing from firsthand experience what the jade giantess was capable of. But...still...what if she can't do it? What if she starts getting worse, so bad that they can't ever cure her? What if...?
As various 'what-ifs?' began piling up in Hikari's mind, she gave a slow shake of her head. "I don't know, Shinji," she finally intoned. "That sounds pretty risky to me..."
"I know. But Misato still wants to try," Shinji informed her. "So...that's it. Father seems to be up to something, and Misato, she..."
Nodding as Shinji again trailed off, Hikari asked, "So what do we do next?"
Pressing his lips together in consideration, Shinji asked, "Have you checked on that woman that the Grey Gargoyle kidnapped? What was her name...Junko...?"
"Marishima," Hikari answered. "I checked up on her a couple days ago. I didn't see anything wrong, but I was planning on checking again."
"I think you should do it," Shinji decided. "Also, have you heard anything from Kensuke about the head of security for the Jet Alone demonstration?"
"Not yet," Hikari returned.
Frowning, Shinji hesitated before deciding, "I'll talk to the others. Arrange for another meeting of the Brigade. We need to follow up on that." When Hikari nodded, the 3rd Child heaved a deep breath and added, "And I need to see if Toji's contacted those friends of his. Because we're gonna need all the help we can get."
Yui...I fear your son is going to need all of the help he can get, Fuyutsuki thought as he sat in his office. It had been a long day already, and though he couldn't see the outside world, he knew that night had long since passed.
Fuyutsuki had grown older in his time at NERV, and not just in the physical sense. Being a part of Gendo's and SEELE's plans and cruelties had worn his very soul thin, leaving him a shell of the man that he had once been. The utter hopelessness and despair that had become a way of life for him since his former student had brought him down into the depths of NERV for the very first time. And during that time, the old professor had seen many a good person's life snuffed out by Gendo for the simple crime of trying to defy the fate he and SEELE intended for this world. He had watched a woman he had prized as a student and had even be smitten by be consumed by one of the monstrosities Gendo and his fellows had helped bring into existence. He had seen the way that the misery Gendo had condemned Yui's child to had eaten away at him, and his devilish manipulations of everyone around him.
There were days when Fuyutsuki still feared for his life. But those days grew further and further apart with each atrocity he had been forced to support, all to stay among the living for a short while longer. Knowing full well that the end was coming. For all of them. And now...
And what are you scheming now, Ikari? Fuyutsuki frowned, flashing back to when he had been contacted by Gendo. To when he had seen his former student had alerted him that he would not be returning to NERV for at least a few days and that he was not to be disturbed under any circumstances.
To anyone who didn't know Gendo or was only familiar with him in passing, there would have been nothing to indicate anything was wrong. But Fuyutsuki knew Gendo as well as any human being possibly could. He knew his expressions, his gestures, the way he spoke perfectly, thanks both to his time as the Commander's teacher and as his lackey in the extermination of all life on Earth.
And he knew that every word that Gendo spoke, every expression he made...had been completely wrong.
Something's happened. Something that shouldn't have. And Ikari's covering it up, Fuyutsuki had already concluded. There's no way of finding out what it is, though. The lab complex he's set up in Terminal Dogma is a secure facility and keyed to respond only to him. If he doesn't want anyone else in there...
Heaving a deep sigh, Fuyutsuki sat back in his seat and scanned his office. It was so different from Gendo's lair, being designed for far different tastes. The old professor's office was decorated to suit a far older sense of style, with pictures of family and friends long gone, as well as one particular picture that showed the old professor in a time when he wasn't nearly so old, along with two of his most prized students in a far more innocent time.
And as he did so, Fuyutsuki felt no fear of the man that one of those students had long since become. No respect, no submissiveness. All he felt was a low, burning anger for a man that had brought so much misery to a world that had once been so beautiful, and might become so again one day if allowed to do so.
It's been a long time since I've felt this way, Fuyutsuki couldn't help but think, a tiny knot of anger eating at his insides as he studied the man that had once been his student. The events of last night still fresh in his mind, when he, Ritsuko, and so many others had stood up to Gendo, all for the sake of someone they all cared for. I'd almost forgotten what it was like, to do the right thing. To fight for something decent, something good. To protect someone, instead of just sitting back and watching another life be destroyed.
Heaving a deep breath, Fuyutsuki thought about these feelings, as well as other things. Things that he had been considering and working to sort out in the aftermath of last night's disastrous confrontation. A confrontation that had only been saved from becoming even worse by the intervention of two completely unexpected heroes; Misato...and Shinji.
And that's peculiar in and of itself, Fuyutsuki knew, having given this a lot of thought. We never contacted the pilots about the Angel, and yet Shinji happens to show up just in time to help us. To guide Katsuragi's other self in battle.
At this, the old professor thought back to earlier that day, when all three pilots had been called into NERV, and how he had spoken with each of them. Rei had been her usual self when informed that an Angel had somehow managed to breach the sanctity of NERV, quiet and reasonable. Asuka had been utterly horrified and not just a little angry that she had missed out on a chance to slay an Angel herself. But Shinji...
Ikari, there are times when I feel that you have rubbed off on me far too much, Fuyutsuki thought as he recalled his second 'debriefing' session with Shinji. A debriefing that had ostensibly been for the purpose of seeing if he had remembered anything beyond what he had reported the previous night, but the old professor had used it for another purpose; to learn how Shinji had arrived just in time to help save the day. I've become far too skilled at manipulating others for my own benefit.
But whether or not he liked it, there was no getting around the fact that what Fuyutsuki had done had been effective. All he had had to do was ask Shinji how he had come to be there just in time to save the day, and the boy had immediately become evasive, doing whatever he could to dodge the question before ultimately saying that he had been having trouble with Asuka, that he had needed to get away from her, and since he didn't have anywhere else to go, he had come to NERV. An explanation that was as transparently fake that it had almost been pathetic. Then it had just been a matter of bringing up Shinji's sudden arrival at NERV with Asuka during his conversation with her, and the German had been quick to disclose that they had received a phone call just before he had so suddenly left.
Which would be a very large coincidence if I hadn't stopped believing in them a long time ago, Fuyutsuki thought with a rueful look as he considered the matter a bit more. We already know that Spirit lives somewhere within Tokyo-3, and is likely the same age as the Children. We know from Ikari's experimentation and Katsuragi's own experiences that hybrids such as them can sense the presence of other Nephilim, as well as true Angels. And given that Spirit's pattern disappeared during her battle with She-Hulk, it seems logical to assume that she had reverted to her human form in order to stop provoking Katsuragi's other. Meaning that the boy would likely have been able to see her while she was in her human state. Possibly even recognize her.
All of which added up to just one thing in the old professor's mind; that Shinji knew who Spirit was behind her mask. That he was friends with her. And that when Spirit had sensed the Angel within the depths of the Geofront, she had called Shinji to alert him to the danger, and to investigate on her behalf.
Meaning that, whoever it was that called the boy before he left...has to be Spirit, Fuyutsuki concluded as he studied the ceiling above. What was it that you once said, Ikari? That there is no such thing as useless knowledge? Heaving a deep sigh, the old professor flashed back to last night. To the warm, heartfelt feeling he had experienced upon making a positive difference in someone else's life. Well, I have knowledge. A secret. And I think I know precisely how to use it...
Dammit, this sucks! Asuka thought unhappily as she sat within her classroom, impatiently tapping her foot on the floor. I swear, this is all Shinji's fault!
The past day and a half had been extremely vexing for Asuka. First Shinji takes off on her in a sad attempt to escape doing his chores, chores which were a just punishment for him being such a wimp and for trying to further soil NERV's reputation. Then the next day, when Asuka and the others were called into Headquarters, she found out that, not only had an Angel somehow managed to slip past the many layers of security that protected NERV Central and infected both the MAGI and Maya, but that Misato had been able to subdue the Angel...with Shinji's help.
I don't believe it! I just don't Gott-damn believe it! Asuka snarled inwardly, unable to believe her incomprehensibly atrocious luck. The Third runs out on me and tries to weasel out of doing his job, and winds up being a hero while I'm at home on the phone with Hikari?! It's just not fair! Shaking her head in absolute disgust, the German added, If it weren't for the fact that I knew it was impossible, I'd swear he'd known there was an Angel down there and ran off to hog all the glory for himself! And of course, he doesn't bother to mention this to me when comes back after saving the day! Noooo, I get to find out about it from Fuyutsuki, of all people!
Snorting in patent disgust at this affront, Asuka flashed back to when she had demanded an explanation from the little weasel as she, Shinji, and Rei had made their way towards school. 'I didn't say anything because I was already tired. Besides, you wouldn't have believed me anyway', came Shinji's voice in her mind. 'You never believe anything I say.' Well, maybe if he wasn't such a whiny little conspiracy nut, I would!
That had been bad enough, all by itself. But when Asuka had been about to leave school for the day, their old fart of a teacher, Mr. Takashima, called her over to tell her that he had looked over her homework assignment, and had been upset to discover that she had failed to get so much as even a single question correct. Shocked by this, Asuka had been unable to think of a way of defending herself without revealing the fact that she had been forcing Shinji to do her homework in her stead. And so she had been forced to stand there, humiliated as Mr. Takashima lectured her about her poor study habits.
Poor study habits?! I'm already a damned college graduate! I didn't want to come to this stupid school with a bunch of little kids in the first place! And thanks to the Third, I got lectured like I was some useless baka like he is! Asuka snarled inwardly as she flashed forward to what happened just as she has been punishing Shinji for making a fool out of her and helping Misato upstage her. And if only Hikari hadn't been there...dammit, why'd she have to be there, anyway?! Was the baka trying to rat me out to my best friend?! Was he setting me up?! Trying to make me attack him in front of her, just to make me look bad?!
Asuka frowned at this. On the one hand, Shinji seemed far too simple to try something like that, even for a boy. But on the other, the timing involved seemed too perfect to be coincidental. The 3rd Child had to have seen the German talking with their teacher before leaving, and given what he had done, it would have been easy enough for him to figure out what that conversation had been about. Which gave him plenty of time to get in position with Hikari, and...!
Then came a stumbling block in Asuka's thoughts, for the fact of the matter was that she wouldn't have betrayed herself or her secret to Hikari if she hadn't been so furious that she had not noticed the pigtailed girl's presence before launching herself forward to attack the spineless wimp responsible for her humiliation. If she had paused just long enough to realize just who Shinji had been with, the redhead could have paused, approached them, and found a way of getting the blasted baka away from Hikari before giving him the just punishment he had deserved. But instead...
Whatever! It's all his fault I'm in trouble! I don't care if he did it on purpose or it was just a fluke, it's still all his fault! Asuka decreed inwardly. So not only is Hikari mad at me, and tells me not to touch the little baka, but she also tells me that she wants to talk with me after school?! Like I don't have enough to deal with as it is?! I -!
"Hello, Ms. Sohryu," came a voice, a voice that Asuka didn't recognize at first. But as she was stirred from her hateful thoughts and fury, the German looked up to see Hikari, having just entered the room. "Thank you for meeting me like this."
Her mouth popping open in surprise, Asuka surveyed the pigtailed girl that stood there and slowly realized why she hadn't recognized Hikari's voice at first. Because she wasn't speaking to the German as a friend. She had invoked the stern air that she carried herself with as Class Representative. She was addressing Asuka the same way she would Toji or Kensuke or Kazu or any other troublemaker.
Hikari wasn't there as a friend. She was there on business.
Realizing that this was going to be even more unpleasant that she had expected, Asuka did her best to be cordial. "Hey, no problem," the German greeted Hikari. "I mean...we are friends, aren't we? So..."
The cordial approach wasn't working, Asuka realized even as she trailed off. "I appreciate that," Hikari returned, still speaking as Class Representative. "And that's why we're meeting here, like this, instead of in the principal's office; because we are friends. And I'd rather try to deal with this situation in a private manner, between the two of us, before I go involve anyone else."
A low groan echoed in Asuka's throat at this. It was becoming increasingly clear that Hikari was all-business here. Something that was driven home when the pigtailed girl stated, "Yesterday, right after school, you assaulted and badly injured a student of this school, right in front of me and quite a few other students. Now, I realize that school was out at the time, but the assault still took place on school grounds and was between two students of this classroom. Which makes it school business." Pausing to take a deep breath, the pigtailed girl went on to say, "Now, assault of this nature is a serious matter, even for an Evangelion pilot. And that alone would be enough to warrant you either being suspended or placed in detention for a minimum of a week." Her mouth popping open in surprise, Asuka was about to vent her rage and disbelief when Hikari added, "However...after I brought Shinji home with me to treat his injuries, I asked him about what happened and why you attacked him...and he informed me that you have been committing other infractions against school rules."
Aw, schisse, I knew it! Asuka swore inwardly. I just knew the little weasel would screw me over to save his own neck!
Making a mental note to beat Shinji within an inch of his worthless life for putting her through this, Asuka was brought back to the moment when Hikari sternly said, "Now, I'm going to ask you, Asuka; is it true that you have been forcing Shinji to do all of your homework for you?"
"Uh - no, of course not!" Asuka immediately decreed, hoping that she could still salvage this situation. "Honestly, how can you think that, Hikari?! Would you really take the baka's word over mine?!"
"No. Not without proof," Hikari intoned solemnly. Just as Asuka was heaving a sigh of relief, the pigtailed girl added, "Which is why I asked Mr. Takashima to let me see the grades on both your homework assignments for the past two weeks." Her relieved sigh immediately turned in a groan of dismay, a groan the fell down in the German's throat when her friend went on to say, "And that is when I discovered that both you and Shinji have been getting the same exact grade on your homework assignments every day, except for yesterday." Issuing another groan, Asuka brought her hand to her forehead, massaging the headache she was already getting. "Now, I could go to the principal, tell him what I found, and arrange to compare more of your grades, as well as the handwriting on your assignments. But...I'm going to ask you again; have you, or have you not been making Shinji do your homework assignments for you?"
Arrghh...! Dammit! Note to self; next time, make sure Shinji screws up a few of his own questions! And that he does all my work on the computer! Asuka thought, cursing herself for making such blatant mistakes. All the while knowing that there was no getting out of this mess now. Aw, damn, is Hikari gonna be mad...!
Hoping like crazy to mitigate the damage she had already done to the only real friendship she had, Asuka heaved a deep sigh and braced herself for the worst. "Oh...alright! Yes, it's true! But...it's not what you think!" the German hastily explained, holding up her hands to her friend. "I had a good reason for it, really!"
"A good reason for forcing someone else to do your schoolwork for you?" Hikari inquired, sounding even more annoyed and disappointed than before. "What could possibly justify something like that?!"
Wincing at how upset Hikari was, Asuka heaved a deep breath. "Alright, it...it's like this," she carefully began, knowing she was on thin ice. "You heard about Jet Alone, right? How it went out of control and Misato and the Third stopped it, right?" A nod was the Class Representative's only answer. "And I know the Third told you about Misato leaving on some special assignment." Again, Hikari nodded, prompting the 2nd Child to sigh loudly. "Now...I'm gonna have to ask for a really, really big favor here, okay?! Because...what I'm about to tell you...well, it's not exactly classified, but it's definitely not the kind of thing that the Commander wants getting around, okay?"
"So you want me to keep it a secret," Hikari gathered, to which Asuka nodded. Frowning slightly, the pigtailed girl replied, "Well, if it's that important, then...alright. What is it?"
Heaving a deep sigh and hoping that Section 2 was being their usual useless selves, Asuka went up to her friend. "It's like this," she began, speaking in a very soft voice. "You heard about how Misato had to go inside Jet Alone to stop it, right?" Hikari gave a quick nod. "Well, it turns out that her radiation suit was damaged. Now, not severely, but..."
"But she was affected by the radiation?" Hikari replied, her expression falling in surprise. "So...you mean she's...?"
A beat passed before Asuka realized what her friend was asking. "Oh, no, no, it's nothing like that!" the German hurriedly assured her. "But...well, she did get sick, so she had to be sent someplace private for special treatment. That's all. And the Commander...well, he didn't want anybody knowing about that part."
"Hence the secrecy," Hikari nodded. "Alright, I won't tell anybody about that. But...even so, Asuka, what does this have to with you making Shinji do your schoolwork for you?"
"Because the little baka's got it in his head that NERV sabotaged Jet Alone, and is to blame for everything," Asuka explained with a roll of her eyes. "Now, Kaji and I have both explained to him that this is totally ridiculous, but he just won't listen to reason! He just kept trying to dig up more information on what happened!"
"So...what?" Hikari asked, apparently still unconvinced. "You're...making him do your work as punishment?"
"More like I'm trying to keep him too busy to do any more damage to NERV's reputation!" Asuka corrected her friend. "I - Hikari, you know how it's been! All these idiots, complaining about how much the Evas cost, saying that NERV's bankrupting the entire world and all the rest of that schisse! And don't even get me started on that slut Spirit and all the drooling fanboys she's gotten! We've got crisis hounds everywhere blaming us for poverty and starvation around the world and that want us shut down! Do you have any idea what would happen if anybody found out that the son of the Commander of NERV thought we had almost caused the nuclear meltdown of an entire city?!"
"So you're worried about NERV's reputation," Hikari intuited.
"Damned straight, I am!" Asuka confirmed. "Being an Eva pilot's the best thing that's ever happened to me! That could happen to anybody!" When Hikari just looked at the German, frowning slightly, Asuka elaborated. "I mean...think about it, Hikari! I have a college degree at fourteen! I'm part of the largest, most powerful military organization in the world! Do you any idea of the possibilities this gives me?! All the career opportunities, promotions, military assignments?! I'll be able to write my own ticket to anywhere!" As these delightful visions of her future danced about briefly in her mind, a darker reality intruded as the German concluded, "And the baka - he just acts like NERV is all so terrible! Like it's all just some ugly, nasty thing that he doesn't want anything to do with!"
"Well, maybe it is, for him," Hikari remarked, much to Asuka's surprise. "You are fighting a war, Asuka. And wars are dangerous, ugly things, and people can die in them. I mean...I know for a fact that Shinji was almost killed at least once before you even got here."
"Realy?!" Asuka started, surprised by this development. "I - I hadn't heard about..." But even as she started to get sidetracked, the German frowned. "Anyway, the point is that, NERV's not only good for our future, it's good for the entire world! And whether he realizes it or not, the Third is basically trying to screw everything up for it!"
Leaving it at that, Asuka looked at her friend for a time, who considered the matter for a while before saying, "So what you're saying is that you're forcing Shinji to do all of your work, so he's too busy to do anything to hurt NERV."
"Yeah, that's basically it," Asuka assured her friend. "Besides, he's being an idiot! NERV has no reason to try and sabotage Jet Alone, anyway! It was a total kludge! Completely useless! And if it suffered a meltdown, it'd do more damage to us then the enemy!" Placing her hands on her hips, the redhead looked at her friend. "Seriously, Hikari! Can you think of even one good reason why NERV would want to do something like that?!"
A beat passed as Hikari frowned...before eventually nodding. "Yes," she admitted. "Yes, I can."
Of all the things that Asuka could have imagined her normally sensible friend saying, this had not even come close. "What?!" she screeched in consummate disbelief. "Hikari, don't tell me that you actually buy something that -?!"
"I never said that I was buying anything, Asuka," Hikari remarked. "All I said was that I can think of a reason why NERV would sabotage Jet Alone."
"And what's that?!" Asuka quickly demanded.
"Money," Hikari replied, still speaking in an even voice. Asuka was about to retort when this single word lodged itself in her brain and froze her mouth in place. "Like you said, Asuka; NERV requires a lot of money to maintain its operations, including the Evangelions. So I can imagine that they wouldn't like losing any amount of it to the research and development of a rival machine. Especially one that, as you just said, would be completely useless."
Asuka was about to speak again, only for nothing intelligible to come out of her open mouth. And after a moment's thought, she realized this was because Hikari had made a valid point. Losing money and resources to a wretched piece of junk like Jet Alone would only serve to damage NERV, cost them valuable resources. Something she knew Commander Ikari wouldn't like, especially with Spirit around, causing the UN to cut their funding here and there. "But - what about the meltdown?!" the German quickly argued. "Do you really believe that NERV would want to wipe out an entire city?!"
"No. But...Jet Alone, it was controlled by an AI, right?" Unsure of where her friend was going with this, Asuka nodded. "So, if it were sabotaged to go out of control, couldn't a saboteur set it up so that it only looked like it was going to wipe out a city?" Hikari wondered. "You know, have it come close, only to shut down on its own? Even without Jet Alone melting down, something like that would really make the people who made it look bad. Bad enough to scrap the project."
Once more, Asuka was forced to concede that her exceptionally reasonable friend had made an excellent point. An aborted disaster might be just enough egg on the faces of the developers of Jet Alone to get the project scrapped, and to ensure that the money intended for the project would keep flowing into NERV's coffers.
But even as she realized this, Asuka groaned miserably. "Hikari, please don't tell me that you actually agree with all of this?!"
"I never said that, Asuka. But you're the one who asked me if I could think of a reason why NERV would do that. And I told you," Hikari explained to her friend. "And who knows? Maybe it's a reason Shinji thought of as well."
Unable to argue with this, Asuka eventually groaned. "But...Hikari...NERV means so much to me! Piloting, Eva..."
"I know that, Asuka. And I can understand why you'd want to defend it," Hikari assured her friend. "I'm just saying that you're going about it in the wrong way. Forcing Shinji to do your schoolwork for you, assaulting him...that's all wrong. And I think you know that."
In all honesty, Asuka didn't see anything wrong with what she had been doing. Not only had Shinji been trying to damage NERV, damage the most important thing in her life, but he had embarrassed her as well, and thus deserved to be paid back for it. However, she also realized that saying something like that to Hikari might not be the best of ideas. So instead of speaking, she just stood there as her friend continued. "Now...Asuka, I can't overlook you hitting Shinji yesterday, no matter how much I'd like to. Not only did you hurt him very badly, but if I were to ignore it, I would be setting a bad precedent for the rest of the class. And as Class Representative, I have a job to do. It might not be as big or important as piloting Eva, but it's still my duty. And I have to do it right. Do you understand?"
Realizing that her friend was quite correct in her points and that she did have a job to do, Asuka sighed in dismay. "Yes, Hikari..."
"Good," Hikari nodded. "Now, I'm going to talk to the principal, and see if I can arrange for a minimal punishment. You'll definitely get detention for it, but I can at least keep it off your permanent record. And I can try and keep NERV from finding out about it."
Nodding to this, Asuka then asked, "And...the homework?"
"I'm pretty sure I can get Shinji to let it go. At least, as long as you stop forcing him to do your work for you," Hikari informed her. "But I'm going to warn you right here and now, Asuka; if I find out that you're still making him do your work for you, I won't just let it slide next time. Do you understand?"
Deciding that this was probably a better outcome than she could have reasonably expected, Asuka nodded. "Alright. Fine," she muttered sourly. "But the little baka better stop with his conspiracy talk, or -!"
"Or nothing. If you want Shinji to give that up, then fine. You're welcome to try and convince him, as well as explain your concerns to him," Hikari informed her. "But no more forcing him to do your work, Asuka. I'm serious about that."
"Alright, alright," Asuka groaned irritably. "I'll...try talking to the little baka..."
At long last, a smile appeared on Hikari's face. "That's all I ask," she assured her, no longer speaking in the voice of doom. "Alright. I'll talk to the principal, and I'll let you know what I can work out. Alright?"
"Yeah, sure," Asuka grudgingly muttered.
Dammit, this sucks! The Third starts this whole mess, and I'm the one who gets in trouble! Asuka swore inwardly even as Hikari discussed the matter for a while longer. But as they did so, the German couldn't help but frown. For as much as she wished otherwise, she had to admit that Hikari had come up with some very good arguments in favor of Shinji's theory. Things that made a lot more sense than she was happy with.
Still...even if he's right, then... Then Asuka frowned and gave a mental shake of her head. No way! It wasn't sabotage, and that's it! That's all! End of discussion! Taking this thought and hammering it into her mind, the German joined her friend in leaving the classroom. Wanting nothing more than to put this wretched day behind her.
As the mind of Maya Ibuki slowly emerged from darkness, the first thing she became aware of was a slight beeping coming from somewhere nearby. The regular, rhythmic pinging of technology, something that she had always found comforting.
The next thing she became aware of was a strong, antiseptic smell, which did not comfort her. It was a smell that Maya had always equated with hospitals, not with the comforts of her home, of her life.
Finally, she became aware enough for her eyes to slowly flutter open. And even before they adjusted from the darkness of sleep to the light of the waking world, Maya realized that something was wrong.
"Oh! Lieutenant Ibuki!" came a voice from off to the side, one that confused Maya. "I'm glad to see you're finally awake!"
Finally...? Maya's fogged mind asked, prompting her to frown as her eyes finally adjusted and cleared, prompting her to gasp in surprise as she looked about what appeared to be the interior of a hospital room.
Confused and not just a little alarmed, Maya tried to rise from her bed, only to find herself unable to move. "No, no! Please, stay still!" came the voice again, causing the brunette to turn and see a male nurse standing next to her. "I...I'm really sorry about this," he told her in as sincere a manner as was possible. "We...had to restrain you. For your own safety, of course."
"Wha...restrain...?" Maya asked, her mind slowly clearing. Looking down at herself, she gasped in shock at the sight of a series of thick, metallic-looking straps securing her to a hospital bed, as well as a couple of IV tubes leading to her arm. "What...what am I doing -?!"
"No, please, remain calm!" the nurse pleaded of her. "You're alright now! You had...an accident, but - you're fine now! Everything's perfectly fine now!" As Maya turned towards the nurse, he again smiled for her. "Now, uh...are you thirsty? Would you like something to eat, or..."
"I..." Maya replied clumsily, uncertainly. She had no idea what was going on. All she had was snippets, fragments of memories that made no sense to her. Dark, confusing things that felt like they had come from some old nightmare she had once had. "I...where am I? Where...?"
"You're in NERV Medical, sir," the nurse quickly explained. "Like I said, you had an accident, and..." As he trailed off, the nurse's mouth continued to hang open, as if he had no idea what to say to her. "I...I know! I'll go call Dr. Akagi, and..."
"Sempai?" Maya asked, her thoughts sharpening at the thought of her beloved mentor.
"That's right. She asked to be notified as soon as you woke up," the nurse told her. "And while I'm at it, I can get you some water. I'm sure you must be thirsty, and..." Again, the nurse trailed off, only to sigh somberly. "I'll be right back. You just stay right there, alright?"
Unsure of what to say, Maya numbly nodded, to which the nurse hurriedly departed. Leaving the young woman to frown as she slowly took in her surroundings. What happened? she couldn't help but wondering, trying to make sense of everything. He mentioned something about an accident, but...I don't look like I was hurt. And...I don't feel like I'm in pain. But...
Pausing in her thoughts, Maya slowly took stock of her physical condition, only to frown. For while she wasn't in any pain, and saw no sign of a physical injury, something still didn't feel right to her. Like something was missing, like...
"Here I am, Lieutenant," came the nurse's voice once more. Roused from her thoughts, Maya looked up to see him approaching with a glass of water in hand. "I just talked with Dr. Akagi. She's on her way here even as we speak." Reassured by the knowledge that her friend and mentor was coming, the petite woman was about to say something when the nurse asked, "Would you like some water?"
A beat passed as Maya considered what to say, only to frown when she realized that her mouth did feel quite dry. So, deciding that there would be no harm in it, she hesitantly replied, "Uh...I'd like to, but..."
Glancing down at the straps that secured her to the hospital bed, Maya then looked up at the nurse, who gave her a nervous smile. "Yeah, I know. Sorry about that. But...well, I can't really..." he sheepishly began, only to hold up the glass, angling the straw in it towards her. "Uh, but...here, just open your mouth."
If Maya had been in virtually any other situation, she would have rolled her eyes at the nurse's fumbling. As it was, she gave a weary sigh and did as was told. The nurse then gently placed glass close enough so that the straw was just past Maya's lips. Closing her mouth on it, she took a few sips of water before opening her mouth once more. "Uh, thank you," she told the nurse, only to frown. "Um...what was your name?"
"Uh, Seiji, ma'am," the nurse promptly informed her.
"Seiji," Maya repeated, feeling the name out as she spoke it. "Uh...listen, Seiji...what's going on? What happened to me?"
The wariness Seiji had once worn gave way to perplexity. "You...don't remember?"
Not liking the way he asked this, Maya looked at him hard. "What don't I remember?" she asked, giving him a stern look. When Seiji recoiled slightly, the brunette sighed. "Look, I'm not trying to antagonize you. But...what's going on here? What am I doing in...?"
As Maya trailed off helplessly, Seiji gave a low, reluctant sigh. The expression he wore had all the enthusiasm of someone who was being led to the guillotine. "Well, uh...what do you remember?"
Now Maya was really unhappy about her situation. The sheer evasiveness being displayed by Seiji made it clear that, whatever had happened, it wasn't something simple or harmless. And then there was the fact that she was restrained as she was, as well as the odd sensation that she still felt, like something was missing...
"I..." Maya frowned even as she shoved everything else to the side, if only for a moment. She needed to do what Ritsuko would do. She needed to focus on her situation, to analyze it. To think like a scientist.
"I..." Maya tried once more, wishing that she could relax, that she could assume a more comfortable position, one more conducive to thought. "I remember...being on the bridge," she began, frowning as she did her best to reconstruct the stray snippets of memory that were floating about in her mind. "There...there was an Angel, and -" As her clearing mind seized on that one word, the petite woman sucked in a horrified gasp. "Wait - the Angel! Did - did we stop it?! Did -?!"
"You don't have to worry about the Angel, Lieutenant," Seiji promptly assured her, holding up his hand in a reassuring manner. "The program you and Dr. Akagi created was able to neutralize it. It's harmless now."
"The program?" Maya asked, only for a fresh batch of memories to return. "Oh, right! We...we were going to program the Angel to work as one with the MAGI." But then she frowned as more memories returned, bits and pieces coming together to form a cohesive whole. "But...I didn't...we weren't able to complete it! So how -?!"
"Dr. Akagi was able to complete the program," Seiji informed her. "She did it after you were...incapacitated."
"Sempai was able to...?" Maya started, only to sigh and relax a little. "I should have known. She really is the master." Smiling fondly as she thought of her mentor, the brunette allowed herself a moment of contentment. Only for that moment to vanish as another question occurred to her. "Wait...how was I incapacitated?! What exactly happened to -?!" But then she cut herself off, even as Seiji was visibly shuddering, for even more fragments of memory were falling into place in her mind. "Oh, no..."
There was an image. One last, blinding image in Maya's mind before her memories started breaking apart. The image of a deadly light, the same kind of light that she had seen from the infected simulation bodies, rushing up the cable that led from the MAGI into her laptop. Then there had been a blast of pain, like her entire world was being torn apart, and then...
"The Angel...it was inside of me?!" Maya cried out in horror. Then she looked down at the restraints that held her in bed and made the logical conclusion. "It's still inside of me?!"
Recoiling in dismay, clearly having no idea as to what to do at this point, Seiji hesitantly cleared his throat. "I...I'm afraid so, but - you don't have to worry about that, Lieutenant!" Turning towards the nurse, aghast that he would even say something like that, Maya was about to cry out in protest when he added, "We were able to neutralize the nanites in your system! They're harmless now!"
But this reassurance failed to bring any peace to Maya, for now that she pieced together what had happened to her, the fragmented, confused memories that she possessed were coming together. Not enough for her to make full sense of what had happened to her, but enough for her to recognize that they weren't just the products of some old nightmare she might once have had. They were real. They had actually happened. Memories of her attacking Commander Ikari, of battling against She-Hulk. Memories of her draining the life from her emerald adversary, the sheer ecstasy of feeding upon her emerald might. Memories of destruction and chaos, mayhem, and violence. Memories of torture and pain, of absolute brutality that put her on the brink of death.
And then...memories of blood. So much blood...
Oh, no...! Maya moaned inwardly, her blood running cold as she found herself focusing on memories of a certain room. A room that was filled with red, with several still bodies. A room that was flooded with the stench of death. No...it didn't...that couldn't have...I didn't...!
But as Seiji looked on, a helpless witness to Maya's recollection, the young woman heaved in breath after desperate, fearful breath, for the no was getting away from what had happened. No escaping the memories that were still forming in her mind, plaguing her with the expressions of the dead. No changing the way her breaths came in haggard, fearful gasps, not stopping the tears that were welling up in her eyes as she moaned, "No...no, no no...noooo!"
"Maya?" came a voice from somewhere nearby. A voice that the young woman didn't recognize in her mounting hysterics.
"Noooo!" Maya shrieked as those horrible, dead faces continued to look at her in her memories. Accusing her. Condemning her.
Asking her why they had deserved to die.
"Nooooooo!" Maya howled, tears washing down her face in a cascade of horrified misery. Misery that was not at all mitigated when Ritsuko appeared in her hospital room and wrapped her arms about the woman whose innocence, whose very soul, had just crumbled to pieces.
"So that's it," Shinji declared, concluding his report as he sat in Kensuke's room, looking at the small group of friends that had come together as the Brigade. Only a couple days had passed since the calamitous battle with the 11th Angel, since Misato's declaration, and the 3rd Child was still exhausted. Still overwhelmed by everything that had happened to him, still conflicted by his own inner demons, but most importantly, still determined to do whatever he could to help Misato in any way he could. "The Angel's been neutralized, but Maya's still in NERV Medical, being treated. And Misato...she wants Ritsuko to help her find a way to get She-Hulk under control, instead of being cured."
"Oh, man...!" Kensuke breathed, his eyes round with awe behind his glasses. "That'd be totally amazing!"
Shooting a dirty look at Kensuke, Hikari muttered, "Yes, it would be, if we could be certain that it's even possible, or isn't somehow dangerous!" Then she turned towards Shinji and asked, "And...you're sure that the thing that caught you down there - it wasn't Spirit?"
Knowing his role in this, the need for them to keep Spirit's true identity a secret, Shinji played along with his friend. "I'm sure, Horaki-chan," he stated, proceeding according to the lines they had rehearsed, just for this meeting. "Whatever that thing was, it knocked me out. It kept me out so that I wouldn't be able to see where we were going or anything like that. And that doesn't sound like Spirit." Heaving a deep breath, the scrawny boy scanned his friends. "And...Ritsuko is the one that made that special sedative, and then dumped it into Lake Ashi."
"The stuff that's supposed to have given Spirit her powers in the first place," Toji muttered, nodding slightly.
"Right. And NERV does have wings that Misato...that She-Hulk..." Shinji frowned, trailing off as his stomach twisted about in memory of that horrible battle. "So...I think...Father might have made another Spirit. One that he controls."
"Aw, man! That's awesome!" Kensuke enthused, a brilliant grin on his face. Only for said grin to falter when several unhappy looks were directed at him. "Uh...that is...it would be awesome...if...you know..."
"If it were happening in a movie and not in real life," Toji declared, rolling his eyes and making a face that made it clear what he thought of Kensuke's loose grip on reality. "And if this bogus Spirit Shinji saw wasn't working for his father, who just happens to the guy responsible for this entire mess!" A beat passed as the jock looked at his friend and added, "Uh - no offense, Shin-man, but..."
"No, no, I...I understand," Shinji assured his friend with a wan smile. "But...well, if Father really did make another Spirit to work for him, then...we might have a problem. Especially since Rhino is still imprisoned in NERV."
"You think that Gendo might try and get Rhino to work for him?" Hikari asked.
"I...I think so," Shinji hesitantly answered. "Grey Gargoyle tried to blow up Rhino to stop us from taking him prisoner. And NERV does have everything Father would need to repair him, maybe even make him more powerful than he was before. So...I think it's possible." Shaking his head as he considered all of the things that could go so horribly wrong, the soft-spoken boy heaved a deep, weary sigh. "Whatever's going on in NERV, we need to find out about it, and fast." Turning towards Toji, Shinji asked, "Now...you told me you were going to try and get in touch with those friends of yours, Mana and Sid. Have you...?"
A slight grimace and a drop of sweat appeared on the faces of both Toji and Kensuke. "Uh...well, actually..." the otaku of the two started, shifting about uncomfortably. "We were able to get in touch with them..."
"But there's a problem," Toji concluded for his friend. "You see...we met up with them, and...we did tell them that we and a couple of our friends could use their help." Then he gave a helpless shrug before admitting, "But when we told them your full name and occupation..."
As Toji trailed off helplessly, Hikari asked, "Wait...you mean...they won't talk to us because Shinji's…?"
"Hey, I didn't say they won't talk to us!" Toji quickly corrected. "But...well, we told you about what happened to Mana's father, right? How...he was killed by NERV?" When Shinji nodded, the jock hesitantly continued, "Then...you can understand that she'd be cautious about someone who not only works for NERV, but also happens to be the Commander's son..."
"But..." Shinji started, disheartened by this revelation. "But - I don't want to hurt them or anything! I just -!"
"I know that!" Toji promptly assured them. "But...here's the thing. We were able to convince them to at least meet with you. But...there are a few conditions."
"Conditions?" Hikari suspiciously repeated. "What kind of conditions?"
"Well, first of all, is that they talk with Shinji. Not me, not you, not anyone else. It's him they talk to," Toji slowly began. "Second, they meet with Shinji this Saturday at noon, at a building on the east side of town. And third, he has to come alone."
"They were really serious about that last part," Kensuke added with a rare look of seriousness. "If they see anyone else nearby that, then that's it. No meeting."
"But - Shinji can't control the entire world!" Hikari immediately protested. "What is somebody just happens to come by?!"
"That's not likely to happen, Class Rep. The place they've picked out is really out-of-the-way," Kensuke remarked. "It's about the deadest place in all of Tokyo-3. If Shinji can ditch Section 2 -"
"That won't be a problem," Shinji assured them. "With everything that's been going on lately, Chiron's got his hands full. I'll be able to shake them."
Furrowing her brows, Hikari looked hard at the 3rd Child. "Shinji, I really don't like this," she admitted. "We know next to nothing about these two girls, and you're going to meet with them? Alone?!"
Knowing full well what Hikari was saying, Shinji sighed. "I understand that you're worried, Horaki-chan, but...we're running out of options here. We need to do something to help Misato, and if Father really has made another Spirit, then who knows what else he's working on. We need help if we're going to be able to find out about it, and if these two girls can help us, then...I don't have a choice. I can't run away from this." Before the secret superwoman could protest, the 3rd Child looked at Kensuke. "Now...have you been able to find out anything about the head of security for the Jet Alone demonstration?"
"Sure have. His name is Hiroki Iesada," Kensuke announced with a broad grin. "I've even got his current name, address, and phone number. Everything we need."
"Okay. Give that to Hikari," Shinji instructed his friends. "While I'm meeting with Mana and Sid, she can go meet with Mr. Iesada."
Hikari opened her mouth to protest this decision, but before she could say anything, Kensuke remarked, "Uh, I don't know about actually meeting with him."
"The guy lives out of town, Shin-man. As in way out of town," Toji added. "It's not like the Class Rep can just cross the street to meet with him."
"You let me worry about this Mr. Iesada," Hikari told the others before focusing on the 3rd Child. "Shinji, you know, I can talk to him at any time, and -"
"No. This Saturday," Shinji insisted, giving his friend a stern look, already knowing what she was thinking. He knew she didn't trust this situation, didn't like the idea of him meeting with someone alone. And he had no doubt that, if given the choice, then she would shadow him as Spirit to make sure he remained safe.
But as much as he appreciated Hikari's concern, he couldn't let her do this. The rules of this situation were clear; he had to go alone or risk losing the assistance of someone who could help them. And with so much working in his father's favor and so few people he could be certain he could trust, Shinji couldn't afford to alienate any potential allies. I can't run away from this. Not again...
"Alright, then..." Shinji declared, thinking of the woman that was willing to give up so much. For his sake, and for the sake of others. "Let's do this."
Author's Notes: I was really hoping to get more into this chapter, but as it often the case, it just kept getting longer and longer, and so I decided to cut off here. But if it's any reassurance to you all, this next chapter is going to be a major league action extravaganza! In the meantime, please, read and review! And maybe check out my other stories?
Well, my new writing method is definitely proving to be a winner, so I hope that it won't be as long before my next update. Fact is, I already have a good portion of the next chapter already worked out.
AwesomeCrafter34, yes, I am alive. It's just that life has not been good to me as of late. My mother recently passed away, I was forced to find a new place to live, and am in the process of trying to get a decent job. So I've been kind of swamped for the past several months.
David A. Barth, I'm glad you're enjoying this story. If you enjoy Marvel stuff, you might want to check out my Avengers fic, Savage Unbound. And I do think that you've just gotten a hint as to how Shinji's and Misato's relationship is changing though it did hit a slight bump in this chapter. Don't worry, though, it won't be going down the same road as Bruce's and Betty's.
Sir Knight Silvayne, why, thank you.
DarkStrider, sorry to take so long in getting back to this story. As I mentioned above, life has not been good to me.
Castigar0, I do look forward to getting all of the Superwomen together in one story. That will be fun. :D
Xardion, sorry, but you did in fact jinx things. The situation is about to get very nasty, as you will see in the next chapter. In regards to Misato's decision, I do hope her reasoning in this chapter makes sense. And yes, indeed, what Gendo is going through is excruciatingly slow and painful. Unfortunately, it's also going to make him an even bigger threat than he was before.
Belthasar, I'm sure Gendo knew he was in bad shape. He just wouldn't let himself be perceived as being vulnerable, and so refused to acknowledge that he had a problem until it was too late.
Vespasian25, that may well happen in the future.
Quathis, let's just say that Gendo is about to get even nastier than he was before. Recovery is not something that's going to be happening to Maya anytime soon, unfortunately. As for Shinji, he did tell Gendo off after the disaster with Unit 04. And given Chiron's treatment of Misato, I think it makes sense that Shinji would enjoy the Section 2 head getting his head handed to him.
Ml33tninja, it certainly is good to know that people appreciate my works. And don't worry, I have every intention of finishing this story. Just got held up by life being less than wonderful. Well, I never considered Gendo to be a model of sanity myself. And yeah, character development was something that the show didn't exactly do a lot of.
Mike313, if you liked what She-Hulk did here, just wait until you see what I have in store for her next!
Anyway, before we get to the omakes, let's take a moment to thank fellow fanfic writers, Nescaro and Marco A Salazar, for their suggestions in making them happen.
Gendo was about to snarl his response to this even as he raised the peg for another strike. But before he could do either, a surge of agony, far worse than he had endured thus far, exploded through his brain. Staggered by what felt like a hammer blow to his cerebral cortex, the Commander allowed his improvised weapon to slip from his hand just before he fell to the floor.
"Commander?" came another voice, one that felt so distant. The voice of a young woman. "Commander, what should I do?"
This...this cannot be happening... Gendo found himself thinking, just barely conscious now. I...I'm the master here. I'm...Commander...I am...I am...
At this, a cry of sheer agony tore free of Gendo's lips. Driving back the woman and Fuyutsuki, and prompting a snarl of disgust from nearby. "I don't believe this! Cut!" Orion snarled before tossing his megaphone to the floor. "Dammit!"
Another cry of pain exploded from Gendo's lips as he continued to toss about the floor. "I don't believe this! We almost have this scene in the can, a perfect take from start to finish, and you blow the ending?!" Orion ranted as he strolled over to the thrashing Gendo. "Didn't you read the script?! You were supposed to pass out! Not -!"
"Aaaauuugghh!" Gendo screamed once more.
"Not supposed to scream in utter agony, and -!" Orion continued, only to cut himself off as he looked down at the thrashing Gendo. "Wait a second..."
"It's not Gendo's fault, Orion," remarked the nearby girl, who was pointing down at the Commander's side. Just as he screamed, an electrical arc shot up from the floor and into him. "It looks like there's a malfunction."
"Mal- well, what are you waiting for?! An engraved invitation?! Get him up already!" Orion ordered. As one, the rest of the screw and the girl assisted Gendo, even as he got shocked a few more times. "And get a medical team down here! As in right now!"
"How did something like this happen?" Fuyutsuki wondered even as the stagehands made Orion's orders reality. "I thought the set was checked for problems before the shoot."
"It was!" Orion declared, staring bloody murder at the source of the electric shocks. "Well, one thing's for sure; when I find out who the hell screwed up and missed this, there are going to be some very dead people around here! And after I'm done killing them, I'll bring them back to life just so that I can kill them again!"
Letting out a low whistle of appreciation, Maya remarked, "He sure is mad, isn't he?"
"I'll say!" Ritsuko commented. "Makes me glad that we don't have to work for him."
"Yeah. Orion sure knows how to crack the whip," remarked a second Ritsuko Akagi, who stood alongside another Maya. "Listen, I really do appreciate you two coming over from Braindead Studios to pull this little trick off."
"I'll say," Maya nodded. "If we tried something like this, and got caught, well..."
"I think we get the idea," the first Ritsuko remarked as her Maya nodded. "Besides, it's like we could say 'no' to the kind of money you were offering us to set this up!" Then she looked at their counterparts and added, "Just be sure Orion doesn't find out about our little deal."
"Don't worry; I already took all the precautions that you would," the SOE version of Ritsuko remarked. "And by the way, give Nescaro and the rest of the gang our regards!"
"Of course!" the other Ritsuko and Maya replied as one. Then the doctor added, "Let's get to the tele-pad, Maya! I think we'll both be a lot happier if Orion never finds out we were here!"
"Agreed!" Maya nodded before the two of them started away.
As Shinji looked at Asuka, smiling so smugly and officiously, feeling no remorse or concern for what she was doing, a spark of rage appeared in his heart. He had already been through a horrendous night, a night filled with tragedy, fear, sorrow, and pain. He carried within him the shock of Misato's decision, her sacrificing so much for the sake of himself and his fellow pilots, and the burden of guilt in knowing that a part of him was glad that she was willing to make such a sacrifice. And this shock fueled that spark of anger, anger that gave way to a fantasy of rage that flashed within the 3rd Child's mind...
"So, you think it's fun to push me around, huh, Asuka?" Shinji demanded as he towered above the redhead. He was green and hugely muscled in addition to be just plain huge, and was presently dressed in the athletic clothes of his school. "Well, let's see how much fun it is when you're on the receiving end for a change!"
"Wha-?!" Asuka protested, in her own athletic clothes and frozen as Shinji reached forth and grabbed her. "Hey - stop it! What the hell -?!"
"You have no idea how long I've been wanting to do this, bitch!" Shinji declared as he mashed Asuka into a cartoony, spheroid version of her head. With that, the gamma mutant grinned dangerously before charging down the outdoors basketball court of his school, rapidly dribbling the Asuka-ball. The scrunched up German crying out in dismay with each bounce, Shinji then took her in both hands, launched himself into the air, and then spiked her into the basketball hoop.
"Yes! Two points!" Shinji cried out as Asuka struck the ground, only to bounce away so hard that she flew over the building, screaming all the way.
"Shinji! Shinji! He's our man!" came a chorus line made up of several Superwomen of Eva, all dressed up as cheerleaders. "If he can't do it, no one can!"
"Damn straight, he can!" Misato declared, hulking out of her outfit and flinging herself, completely bare, at Shinji and wrapping her arms around him.
As Misato placed a fiercely passionate kiss on his cheek, and as he was being surrounded by the other Superwomen, Shinji smiled in a sheepish manner. "Hey, it's my fantasy!" he declared as the women threw themselves at him. "I'll make it as over-the-top as I want!"
"Oh, boy..." Orion groaned as he worked away at his desk, feeling like he was about to fall apart. "Art projects, commissions, fundraisers, and several more scenes that need to be shot this week, as well as some other projects! Why do I do this to myself?!" Scrolling down on his computer screen, he was startled by the sound of someone knocking on the door. "Ugh...who is it?"
"It's me, Orion," came Ritsuko's voice. "I'm sorry if I'm bothering you, but...there's something I needed to talk to you about."
Groaning inwardly as this, Orion swallowed his irritation before replying, "Alright, sure. Come on in." Watching as the door to his studio office opened. "What is it, Ritsuko? And please, tell me it's important! I'm really bogged down here!"
"I understand that. And I'll make it brief," Ritsuko assured him. "Now, I've been studying the scripts we've been getting and reading your notes, so it's pretty obvious that I'm going to wind up a big muscle girl of some kind in this story."
"Good guess," Orion returned with a wry expression. "Why? Is that a problem?"
"Well, no. It's not a problem in and of itself," Ritsuko explained. "However, I do have concerns in regard to the...wardrobe issues this presents."
"Wardrobe issues? What do you -?" Orion started, just before comprehension lit his frazzled mind. "Oh, right. That."
"Exactly," Ritsuko politely nodded. "Now, we've all seen what happens when Misato changes. Her clothing either gets completely obliterated in the change or during the battle that comes after it. And while she might not have a problem prancing around nude for the sake of all the drooling fanboys out there -!"
"And fangirls," Orion noted with a smirk, not even bothering to look up from his work. "Don't think I've hadn't noticed the looks Maya's been giving her lately."
"Um...yes," Ritsuko intoned, her voice making it clear that this was something of a sore spot. "In any case, we all know Misato is something of an exhibitionist. And now that you've gotten rid of her scar in Emerald Fury, she's flaunting herself every chance she gets!" Giving this a beat to sink in, the doctor then added, "But like I said, Misato's an exhibitionist! She enjoys that kind of attention! But I don't!"
"I see," Orion nodded, the meaning behind Ritsuko's words becoming clear. "So you're worried about being stuck doing long scenes involving nudity if you wind up exploding out of your clothes a lot, so you'd like me to invoke the Magic Pants trope."
"Exactly!" Ritsuko decreed with a relieved smile. "Now, I'm sure there's some way you can arrange for that to happen."
"There certainly is," Orion concurred. "More than one, actually."
"And I realize that you've got a lot of work to deal with, but...I really don't feel comfortable with doing a lot of nude scenes!" Ritsuko went on. "I don't like the idea of ripping off all my clothes for a crowd, or doing a fight scene in the buff, or -!"
"Or stripping in a college frat house and dancing completely naked in front of your classmates after getting too drunk at a party," Orion nodded.
"Precisely! I -!" Ritsuko started, only for her face to fall in sudden horror as she realized what Orion had just said. "Wait a minute...where'd you hear about that?!"
"Misato was talking about it down in the cafe," Orion reported as he continued to work. "You know, it truly is amazing, what she'll talk about after she's had a few rounds."
Her jaw plummeting straight to the floor, Ritsuko stared at the fanfiction writer in horrified shock. "She did what?! Of all the -?!" At that point, the doctor managed to collect herself. "Um, if you'll excuse me, Orion," she began once more, still trembling with rage, "I know you have a lot of work to do."
"I certainly do," Orion confirmed.
"But there's something I need to take care of...right now!" With that, Ritsuko hurriedly walked out of the door to his office, and slammed it closed behind before shrieking, "Dammit, Misato! You promised you'd never tell anybody about that!"
Pausing to look up and listen as Ritsuko stomped away, Orion grinned wickedly at the Fourth Wall. "Aren't I gruesome?!" he chortled evilly before returning to his work. "I honestly can't believe Rits and Maya thought that I wouldn't find out about their little stunt with Gendo." With another wicked snort, he paused to consider how to get back at the petite woman for her hand in this mess. "Still...this almost makes up for the time I lost in dealing with that mess..."