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 22: Ghosts From The Past
Sigh…what a day… Shinji morosely thought as he wandered aimlessly through the streets of Tokyo-3. Heavily burdened by everything that had not gone his way recently.
The meeting with Mana had left Shinji worried and uncertain. On the one hand, it was clear that she had technology and other resources that would certainly help him and the others. But at the same time, he still couldn't help but have a bad feeling about her. He realized that part of that was because he simply didn't know her enough to be sure of…well, anything about the girl. And the interrogation she and Sid had subjected him to certainly didn't help. But at the same time, he couldn't but feel there was something else. Something elusive that he just couldn't put his finger on.
She has at least one suit of armor that's obviously made with some really advanced technology. She wants me to implant this virus into the MAGI that would let her hack into them whenever she wants, Shinji thought as he analyzed that particular situation. And she lost her family because of Father and…
Shinji trailed off in his thoughts, simply because there was a very large question at the end of that trail. Namely, just how far would Mana go in the pursuit of justice…or vengeance.
Unfortunately, Shinji had no idea. Even worse, he had nothing in the way of alternatives. He had to help Misato, and at the moment, this was the only real way he had of doing so. Especially since he couldn't be sure if Gendo would allow her to be truly helped.
And then there's Hikari, Shinji thought worriedly. I heard about the explosion in Kyoto. The press said it was a small nuclear bomb, and that a section of the city was irradiated. But…when I tried to talk to Hikari about it…all she would say was that there was more to it and that she'd tell me everything later. Then he frowned that much more. Still…from the way she was talking, I can tell she was pretty upset about…whatever happened.
This was an all-around bad situation. And under normal circumstances, Shinji would be curled up with his beloved SDAT. But that was rendered a non-option by his remaining female housemate. Asuka was very angry about the scoldings she had gotten from Hikari, Kaji, and most recently Misato. And as was typical with the German, she was not someone to suffer in silence. And even though she hadn't lashed out at Shinji, either physically or verbally, she was presently about as comfortable to be around as a volcano that was preparing to blow its top.
And so, not wanting to be around the volatile German and without any better ideas, Shinji had chosen to aimlessly wander the streets of the city. Going nowhere and essentially wandering around without a clue as to where he was going.
Kind of like my real life… Shinji muttered as one final thing haunted his mind. That woman…Yui…what was she…why…?
Already exhausted from everything he had been forced to deal with and without any answers or certainties, Shinji's wearied mind gave up. And so he continued to wander aimlessly. Without anywhere to go or any ideas as to what he should do.
Eventually, with his feet beginning to hurt and weariness beginning to take its toll, Shinji's ears pricked at the sound of an approaching engine. "Huh?" he frowned, turning towards the sound. And was dumbstruck to see a limousine approaching him.
Shinji didn't know what to make of this. Tokyo-3 was growing more and more deserted with each passing day as more people fled what was the center of the war with the Angels. The fact that there was anybody driving late at night was shocking in and of itself. But as the limo slowly pulled up next to him, he was nothing short of dumbstruck.
And only became more astonished when one of the windows rolled down and revealed the passenger in the back. A passenger who smiled fondly and said, "Good evening…Shinji Ikari."
"Wha-?! Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki?!" Shinji blurted out, utterly astonished and confused by what he was seeing. "I – um – what are you -?!"
"Just out for an evening drive, Shinji," Fuyutsuki replied in a friendly manner, completely at odds with how he acted while at the base. Then he looked the young boy over and tilted his head to the side. "You're a long ways from Major Katsuragi's apartment, aren't you?"
"Huh?" Shinji started, this shift in topic throwing him even further.
"Well…since we managed to…bump into each other…why don't I give you a ride home?" Fuyutsuki suggested, still smiling. "And while we're getting you back home, it'd be the perfect time for us to…chat about certain matters."
After finally managing to process this recent chain of unexpected events, Shinji frowned uncertainly. Not only was this coming right out of nowhere, which was discomforting in and of itself, but the way Fuyutsuki spoke those last few words made the hairs on the back of his neck go up. For while the old professor's face expression remained pleasant, the tone of his voice had hardened. Not much, but just enough to make it clear that he was not making a request.
For a few seconds, Shinji considered the situation. The idea that he and the Brigade had been found out came and went within moments. If this had been about the Brigade, it would be Section 2 or Gendo himself that the 3rd Child would be dealing with at that moment. Furthermore, the fact that Fuyutsuki had come out in his limo…it smacked of secrecy. Like…there's something he wants to talk about, but he doesn't want anybody else seeing or hearing it?
Shinji had no idea what was going on. And he got the feeling that Fuyutsuki wasn't about to take 'no' for an answer. And more importantly, there were other matters on his mind that he needed to address. "Alright," he finally replied. "Actually…there's a lot of things that I…wanted to talk about."
Raising an eyebrow at this, Fuyutsuki then smiled and opened the door. "Then come in and join me," he invited the 3rd Child even as he opened the door. "So we can get you back home at a…reasonable hour."
Getting the feeling that he wouldn't be going home any time soon, Shinji nonetheless clambered into the limousine. The interior of the vehicle was simple yet comfortable, and the boy found himself seated opposite Fuyutsuki. "There we go," the old professor declared as he closed the door. "Driver, please take us to Major Katsuragi's apartment. By a…roundabout route."
"Yes, sir," the driver replied.
As the limo started to roll forward, Fuyutsuki pressed a nearby button, at which a partition between the passenger area and the front of the limo closed. "There. Now we can speak in private," the Sub-Commander declared with a note of satisfaction. "And as it happens, we have a great deal to speak of."
Shinji frowned, several questions on the tip of his tongue. But he hesitated, opting for a more passive approach. "And…what did you want to talk about, anyway?"
A few seconds passed as Fuyutsuki's expression hardened. He wasn't angry, but his look became far more serious. "I'll get straight to the point, Shinji," he declared. "I know that you and Spirit have been in contact with each other. That you know who she really is and that she's been helping you."
Shinji felt like he had just been hit over the head with a sledgehammer.
For what felt like an eternity, Shinji just sat there, feeling his jaw decorating the floor as he stared aimlessly at the old professor. But even as his brain was reeling from the tremendous shock he had just taken, bungled half-denials spilling from his lips, Fuyutsuki gave a soft smile and continued. "It didn't long to piece it together, Shinji. Your timely arrival NERV Central when the Angel attacked…I was suspicious of the timing of it all. So I did some investigating and learned that you raced out of your home right after receiving a phone call. And came straight to NERV, just in time to help us deal with that crisis."
Shinji's mouth abruptly clamped shut at this, as he was suddenly too afraid of saying the wrong thing. "Now we've already determined that Major Katsuragi has the ability to sense Angels, so I think it's a safe assumption that Spirit possesses a similar capability. Given that to be the case, there is only one conclusion that I can reach; that Spirit contacted you to let you know about the Angel attack. And that you came to NERV specifically to help fight. And I think that if I were to order Captain Chiron to conduct an investigation, it wouldn't take long for him to find out who exactly called you. And from there…learn exactly who Spirit is."
With these words, images of such a horrid scenario immediately began playing out in Shinji's mind. But even as he envisioned Section 2 agents kicking in the doors of Hikari's home, he was cut off from imagining the grisly logical conclusion of that event when Fuyutsuki smiled gently. "Fortunately, that won't happen. Because I've already taken the liberty of covering up any such paper trail between you and Spirit."
Once again, Shinji's jaw plopped squarely onto the floor. "You – what?!"
"That's right. I've also taken care not to do anything that would…enlighten me as to Spirit's true identity. So as far as I know…you're the only one who presently knows who Spirit is," Fuyutsuki assured the 3rd Child. Then he lowered his eyes somewhat before adding, "You look surprised."
Surprised wasn't even close to the word Shinji would have used in describing his state of mind. 'Flabberghasted' and 'dumbstruck' seemed much more appropriate to the situation. And as such, it took him several seconds to recover enough from having multiple bombs dropped on his head before he could finally manage an intelligible response. "Uh – well – Commander, sir, I – well, I'm r-really glad that – but -?!"
"Why am I doing this?" Fuyutsuki asked when Shinji's mouth sputtered out. The 3rd Child quickly nodded in confirmation, to which the older man smiled. "Because…there is a lot that's going on in NERV that…I don't agree with. In fact, once upon a time…I tried to oppose it. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that…one man, one…ordinary human being couldn't stand against the monstrous amounts of political and financial power that is behind what was then GEHIRN. And…well, after being confronted by my former students…and my own powerlessness…I was made Sub-Commander of NERV Central." Pausing to heave a deep sigh, Fuyutsuki then seemed to age a few years before Shinji's eyes. "I lost hope, Shinji. I gave up."
Sensing a deep sadness behind Fuyutsuki's words, Shinji could do nothing but listen as the old man continued. "But perhaps I have up…a bit too soon. As of late, things have not been going your father's way. New players are showing up in this scenario of his, new powers are being unleashed. And…I suspect that you, Spirit, and…whatever other allies you may or may not have are going to have great influence over events that are yet to come. And that, Shinji, is precisely what I want to happen."
"But why?! Wh-what is Father doing?!" Shinji asked desperately. "What is he after?! Did he sabotage Jet Alone?! Is he -?!"
"Shinji, I'm sorry. But I don't have the luxury of explaining everything that's going on in depth," Fuyutsuki told him. "I'm already taking a considerable risk coming to see you like this, and the longer we speak with each other, the greater that risk becomes." Shinji opened his mouth to protest, but the old professor held up his hand in protest. "However, I will tell you this; although I cannot officially confirm it, the failure of the Jet Alone project was sabotage. And it was arranged by your father."
Again, Shinji felt a bomb had been dropped on his head. But this one didn't result in indecisiveness or confusion. "I knew it! That bastard, he -!" he spat out, banging his head slightly on the limo's ceiling in his sudden outrage. "He nearly – and Misato, she -!"
"Yes, Shinji. I know. And that is just one of the many crimes that Ikari has committed over the years. Crimes that I myself have been a party to, unwilled though I might have been," Fuyutsuki stated somberly. "Now as I said, there is a lot that you need to learn. Things that, regrettably, there's no time for me to tell you right now. But I will tell you one thing that might help." As the 3rd Child made a quizzical noise in his throat, the old professor smiled in a devious manner. "I've known your father for a very long time. Him and your mother. And as such, I've learned quite a few interesting things."
"Oh? L-like what?" Shinji wondered, still shaken by everything that had been said.
"That your father has always had a horrible memory for passwords. And as such, he's always used the same one, regardless of how bad it might be for security," Fuyutsuki intoned with a knowing look.
"Really?" Shinji got out, not quite sure where this was going.
"That's right. Always the same password, regardless of where he goes," Fuyutsuki nodded in confirmation. "'We'll always have Paris'. That's his password…to everything."
Now Shinji was dumbstruck once more. "Wait…'We'll always have Paris'? Really?!"
Chuckling, Fuyutsuki nodded and explained, "Well, Paris is where he and your mother spent their honeymoon. So…perhaps it's not that odd a thing." Then he looked Shinji in the eyes and explained, "A word of warning, though; be very careful how you use this knowledge. And anything you learn using it. Because I am taking a terrible risk in doing all of this, and there's a limit to how much I can help you." Then the old professor leaned in closer and placed his hand on Shinji's shoulder. "But where I can…I will do what I can to help you."
As he sat there, confronted by the old professor, Shinji's mind began to whir into overdrive. If the Commander's right, then…I might be able to access the MAGI! Find out everything that Father's doing! Maybe even learn something that will help Misato! he thought with measured excitement. Still…I'm only one person. If Father finds out, then…!
As the various ways that this could end badly for him began to appear in Shinji's mind, he was brought back to the moment when Fuyutsuki said, "Well, I've said everything that I've needed to say. And seeing as we have a minute or so before we get back to the Major's apartment…do you have any questions? And please keep it short; as I've said, the sooner we end this meeting, the better."
With these words, one question suddenly resolved into existence in Shinji's mind. One question that he dearly needed answered. "What happened to my mother? How exactly did she die? And did it have to do with Unit 01?"
Somewhat startled by this, Fuyutsuki frowned sharply. "I – Shinji, what makes you think that – what happened to your mother has anything to do with -?"
"Because the day she died was the activation test for Unit 01!" Shinji declared with greater heat. "And if I saw what happened, then how come I don't remember it?!"
Judging by Fuyutsuki's expression, he was now as confounded as Shinji had been only a short while ago. However, the old professor recovered far more quickly and even managed a slight snort. "Hmph…either you've remembered a great deal…or you've learned far more about what happened that day then I could have ever expected."
Shinji really didn't like the unspoken implications of that response. "Then…it's true?!" he spat out, once again thinking of that picture Mana had shown him. "I really – but then what happened?! How did my mother…how did she…?!"
As Shinji trailed off, unwilling to give voice to the key word in this case, Fuyutsuki lowered his gaze. "Shinji, I…as I said, there's not much time. And…while I did invite you to ask questions, this is one that's…very complicated to answer." When the 3rd Child exhaled unhappily, the old professor then looked him in the eye. "The truth of the matter is that…your mother isn't dead. Or at least…not exactly."
Caught off-guard by this response, Shinji found himself angered by how evasive the words were. "And what's that supposed to mean?!"
A moment or so passed before Fuyutsuki spoke again. "Shinji…are you familiar with the tale of Noah and the Ark? How he crafted a massive boat to allow people and animals to survive a massive flood?" The 3rd Child responded with a simple nod. "Well…while the Evangelions are fully capable of being used as weapons, Yui had a different vision for them; to be a new kind of Ark. Only it would be an Ark that would allow humanity to survive something far more calamitous than a mere flood."
"Wha-?! The Evas – are Arks?!" Shinji got out, feeling more lost by the moment. "But – that doesn't make sense! There's barely enough room in there for me! I mean, maybe we could squeeze someone else in, but -!"
"You're right that we couldn't fit our bodies into these Arcs, Shinji. However…it was discovered early on that it was possible for an Evan to absorb humans into it. To literally break down their bodies into their most basic building blocks while absorbing their minds, their consciousnesses into itself," Fuyutsuki explained. When Shinji's mouth popped open, the 3rd Child once again flummoxed, the old professor frowned. "Umm…how best to…think of it as if…your body was being turned into a program so that you could be stored in a computer. That's essentially what Yui had in mind; creating Arks that could survive the destruction of the entire planet, carrying with them all of humanity to find either a new home among the stars, or failing that, to remain within the world of the Evas. A testimony that humanity once existed that would outlast even our world, the sun, and the moon."
It took Shinji several seconds to process everything he was being told. "So…the Evas can – absorb people?!" he got out, only for the full impact of what was being said to finally hit. "Then – wait – you mean – my mother – she's – alive?! And she's – trapped inside Unit 01?!"
"That's exactly what I'm telling you, Shinji," Fuyutsuki confirmed. "And it was for this very reason that Ikari sent for you when the Third Angel appeared. Because only someone with a strong connection to Unit 01 can pilot it, synchronize with it. And who would have a stronger connection to it…than the boy whose mother now lives inside of the beast?"
Shinji's jaw fell open in utter shock, his mind once again blown. But before he could say anything, Fuyutsuki frowned. "We're almost back to Major Katsuragi's apartment. But – Shinji, you need to understand just how vital it is that you not tell anyone about what I've told you. To do so would be to put you, me, as well as any of your friends, in tremendous danger. Do you understand?"
After sputtering and stammering for a few seconds, Shinji sighed and nodded. "I – okay, Commander. But – there's still so much I need to know!"
"I'm sure there is. But not now," Fuyutsuki stated firmly. "For now, I need you to remain silent. And to be careful with how you use the knowledge I've given you." Then the old man gave a warm smile. "And always remember that…you do have an ally inside of NERV."
Still overwhelmed by everything he had learned, Shinji could do little more than nod dumbly. All the while feeling like he would explode at any second.
Despite not being particularly religious herself, Ritsuko couldn't help but gasp, "Oh, good god! What in the hell happened to you?!"
Coughing a few times, Maya Ibuki managed a wan smile before replying, "Good to…see you, too, sempai…"
Shaking her head in dismay, Ritsuko made her way over to the petite woman that was her former understudy. "Maya, you look terrible!" the faux-blonde declared in an alarmed manner. "What the – please tell me you haven't been drinking again!"
Snorting so loudly that she sounded like a toilet backing up, Maya grumbled, "Well…I can't tell you that. But…I don't think that's the reason for…this."
I sure as hell hope not! Ritsuko thought as she studied the haggard mess that Maya had become since the last time the two had met. Her skin has lost much of its color, dark bags hung beneath her eyes, her skin seemed to have shrunk in around her bones, and something disgusting was seeping out of her nose and tear ducts. "Whatever the reason, you look like crap! I – how long have you been – like this?!"
"Ugh…too long," Maya groaned before snorting loudly. Placing a tissue to her nose, the brunette blew hard before discarding the spent load of paper and sludge. "Seriously, though, whatever this bug is, it just hit me recently. Or at least, I wasn't too bad before, but then…maybe I caught something else. I don't know."
Not liking the sound of this in the least bit, Ritsuko sighed. "Well, I'm here to give you an examination. Check on the status of that last Angel's nanites in your system. Might as well see if I can figure out what kind of bug you've got. Or at the very least, I can make sure that the nanites aren't responsible for this."
"Thanks, sempai," Maya groaned, forcing a smile onto her face.
And with that, Ritsuko went to work as Maya sat there and let the doctor to her job. Ritsuko's first and foremost concern was to make certain that the Angelic nanites that remained in Maya's body hadn't reactivated or doing anything else to her. Of course, this was also the most difficult thing to determine, and thus the most time-consuming. And so she tried some conversation to pass the time. "So…aside from feeling lousy, what have you been up to lately?"
Pausing to suck in a breath through clogged nostrils, Maya shook her head desolately. "I…haven't been up to…anything, sempai," she muttered solemnly. "This entire time…since I was suspended…I've had…nothing…"
Deciding to try and lighten the mood a bit, Ritsuko replied, "At least you haven't had to deal with any of Misato's paperwork."
"Hmph. Even that's starting to sound good to me now," Maya grumbled irritably. "At least then I'd…I'd have something to do!"
Not liking the sound of this, Ritsuko asked, "Wh-what do you mean, Maya?! I thought that – there were plenty of things that you'd want to do! After all, I know how much you love rollerblading! And then there's all the things we talked about, things you wanted to do if you ever got the time -!"
"That was before I became a murderer!" Maya bawled, causing Ritsuko to jump back a step as massive blobs of misery erupted from the brunette's eyes. In the wake of her cry, she spent a few seconds breathing heavily, like just expelling the emotions she felt had taken a toll on her. "Sempai, it's no good! I can't stop thinking about what I've done! What -!"
"What the Angel did!" Ritsuko immediately countered in a stern manner. When Maya failed to respond, the doctor paused to wish she was as gifted at dealing with people as she was at dealing with the various forms of equipment at NERV before continuing. "Maya, you can't keep doing this to yourself! The Angel used you just like it was trying to use the MAGI to destroy us! Now do you blame the MAGI for what happened!?"
Pressing her lips together, further pain and sorrow spilling from her eyes, Maya sighed. "I – I know what you're trying to say, sempai. But – I still feel – every night when I go to bed, I keep seeing the dead bodies, the blood! I don't know how much is real or – or anything else! All I know is that…I can't help feeling like this is my fault! Just thinking about it -!"
As Maya clamped her mouth shut, Ritsuko frowned in thought. "I'm sorry. I – I know this can't be easy for you," she admitted. "Unfortunately, I don't know what I could – oh, wait a minute!" An idea exploded into the doctor's mind like a light bulb from an old cartoon. "I just remembered! Our new counselor!"
Maya's eyes went wide at this even as she turned towards Ritsuko. "New…counselor?"
"That's right. Gendo's decided to hire a psychologist to serve as an onsite counselor," Ritsuko confirmed. "He hasn't arrived just yet, but…when he gets here, I'm sure I can arrange for you to spend some time with him."
Maya just sat there for a few seconds, blinking in confusion at the faux-blonde. "Wait. You mean…we're getting a psychologist?" she muttered in clear disbelief. "Really?"
"That's right," Ritsuko confirmed, befuddled by Maya's reaction. "Commander Ikari decided he wanted one to help deal with Misato, but…he'll also be helping on the base to help people with…whatever issues they're having. So…I thought maybe it would help if…you saw him."
Maya blinked a few more times before slumping forward in her seat. "So after all of this time with it being perfectly obvious that we were in desperate need of a psychiatrist, it takes the Major turning into an enormous green rage monster for it to actually happen?" the petite woman asked with an air of grim humor. "Are psychiatrists in that short a supply?"
Heartened by Maya's attempt at humor, Ritsuko managed a weak smile of her own. "Well, I don't know about that, but…I know that the good ones like the one we're getting are definitely few and far between," she assured her former understudy. "And since it can't possibly be worse than you sitting around here, feeling sorry for yourself…as soon as he arrives, I'm going to arrange for you to have a few sessions with him."
Giving a loud sniff, Maya nodded. "Thanks, sempai," she got out, still smiling weakly. Then she gave a slight chuckle before adding, "Though if he's going to be acting counselor for the entire base, then someone should warn this guy that he can say goodbye to his free time."
Despite everything, Ritsuko genuinely chuckled at this. "Yes, I can see him getting a lot of business," she admitted. "But I'll make sure that you're first in line. Or at least, first in line after Misato."
"Right," Maya nodded, some residual tears still spilling from her eyes. "Thanks a lot, sempai. I really do appreciate…well, everything."
"Heh. I'm not sure I'm actually doing anything worth being thanked for, but…you're welcome anyway." This said, Ritsuko concluded her examination and frowned. "Well…I'm not seeing any signs of the Angel becoming active. Though…I'm not liking your blood sugar levels, among other things." Furrowing her brows, she then asked, "Have you been eating lately?"
Groaning, Maya replied, "When I can get something down."
"Hmm…I don't like the timing of this. I'm going to take some extra samples with me back to NERV. Hopefully, I'll find nothing. But…well, better to err on the side of caution," Ritsuko finally decided. Maya responded with a silent nod, and the doctor began taking the needed specimens for analysis. "Alright. I'll get to work on studying them as soon as I get back."
"Thanks. Be sure to let me know what you find," Maya asked with a wan smile.
"And here's hoping what I find is good news," Ritsuko returned even as she gathered up her samples and equipment.
"So let me get this straight; the good news is that Mana and Sid have agreed to help," Kensuke frowned pensively as he and the other members of the Brigade were meeting in Hikari's bedroom. "But the bad news is that…they want you to create a backdoor into the MAGI?"
"That's right," Shinji confirmed. It was the day after his encounter with Fuyutsuki, the first chance he and the other members of the Brigade had had to meet with each other. And he was still struggling with everything he had been told, struggling with whether to believe it or not.
Whether to hope that his mother was dead…or alive, but trapped in the body of a gigantic, inhuman monstrosity of her own creation.
As Shinji was wrestling with the chaos that lived within his thoughts, all the confusion, hope, and fear that had resulted from that meeting and so many other problems, Toji asked, "Are you sure about this, Shin-man? I mean – look, I know that I'm the one who recommended getting help from Mana! But – do you really think you can pull this off? Get that virus into NERV without anyone noticing it?!"
Wishing that Toji hadn't brought up a concern that Shinji himself had been wrestling with as well, the 3rd Child sighed. "When I'm inside of NERV, I can go…pretty much anywhere I want to. Section 2 doesn't follow me around inside the base. And there's a library inside of NERV that I sometimes go to when I have to be there but I'm not needed. I generally just listen to music, but there are a couple of computers where I can insert the drive. So that part shouldn't be a problem," he slowly explained. "As for the rest of it…Mana said that she had set this up that I won't be caught. And…uh, Toji? Kensuke? You know her and Sid better than I do. Can we…?"
"Trust her?" Toji frowned somewhat. "Well, you can trust that she wants to bring down NERV. And if you're helping her do that, then she's not going to stab you in the back, if that's what you're worried about."
"And if it's the tech part, then don't bother worrying!" Kensuke chimed in. "Trust me, Mana has all kinds of really awesome stuff!"
At this, Shinji couldn't help but frown. He still had some very serious doubts about what he was planning on doing. But even as those doubts resurfaced, he again thought about Misato. And even if Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki wants to help, there isn't a lot he can do, the 3rd Child reminded himself. And Mana…I know she has technology. Armor, perhaps a lot more. Things that can be a big help to us. And…we need all of the help we can get.
And the longer Shinji considered this last point, the more certain he was that he was making the right decision. Because while his conversation with Fuyutsuki had brought him a great deal of turmoil, it had also served as a reminder of the kind of forces that NERV commanded. And that learning the truth wouldn't be enough to help Misato. We need all of the allies we can get. And Mana…we definitely could use her help, Shinji thought with a furrowed brow. Then he glanced over at another member of the Brigade, one who had been silent this entire time. Just like we need your help, Horaki-chan…
The first thing that Shinji had noticed was the tormented look Hikari had been wearing since the meeting began. He knew that it had to have something to do with the explosion in Kyoto, but he didn't know anything else. Having been unable to question Hikari about what had happened before the meeting and unwilling to do anything to betray her secret with Toji and Kensuke around, he knew that he would have to wait to learn the full details behind Hikari's silence.
"I…then it should be okay," Shinji reluctantly said, hoping that he wouldn't pay for those words later on. "And…I don't think we have any other choice right now. We need more information, and…if this can help us and convince Mana to help us as well, then…I think I have to do this."
Toji and Kensuke both frowned slightly. "Well, okay…if that's your call, Shin-man," the jock finally said. "What about you, Class Rep?"
"Huh?" Hikari got out, jumping slightly as she looked at Toji. After blinking a few times, she shuddered somewhat before adding, "Oh…sorry."
The Three Stooges exchanged looks before Kensuke piped up, "She actually apologized?! She's an even bigger mess than I thought!"
Sighing heavily, Toji gave Hikari a sympathetic look. "Hey, c'mon! I get that you're freaked out! We all heard about that big blast! You went all the way to meet with that security guy, and you almost got bombed out of existence in the process! That would freak anybody out!" the jock assured the pigtailed girl. "But at least you got out of there! And – well, face facts! It's not like there was anything you could've done about it!"
The silence that fell in the wake of Toji's words was nothing short of deafening. It was thick, heavy, and oppressive, so much so that Shinji felt like he was choking on it. And when Hikari's eyes fell, the pigtailed girl looking like she was on the verge of breaking down in tears, those horrid sensations only got worse.
"You're right, Toji," Hikari dismally agreed, clenching her fists. "There wasn't a single thing I could've done…"
The silence that followed these words was even worse than the prior one. It was so bad that Shinji was forced to clear his throat. "Umm…look, I think we better get going. I still have to go to NERV and insert the flash drive. Toji, Kensuke, could you talk to Mana? Let her know to be ready and…well, maybe double-check to make sure that her virus will work the way she said it will?"
"Not a prob, Shin-man," Toji nodded. "Anything else?"
Shinji didn't answer right away. Instead, he sat there in thought, considering everything that he had been through as of late. Everything he had seen and learned. And it wasn't long before something else occurred to him. "When I saw Mana, she showed me something. It was…a picture of my mother and some other people," he softly informed them. "Could you…get me a copy of it? And maybe some other pictures of her, if Mana has any? I…that picture was…I…she…she died when I was four years old, and…I can't even remember her face anymore. So…"
Before Shinji could continue, Toji held up his hand and smiled. "I get what you're saying. I'll ask about it."
"Thanks," Shinji replied with a weak smile. "Also…see if she can find out anything about that woman Hikari mentioned. Um…"
"Her name is Furuya Chinami," Hikari weakly reminded them. "Mr. Iesada said that she suddenly had a lot of money after Jet Alone, and she was one of the ones conducting the final checks on it before the test."
Nodding to this, Shinji again focused on Toji and Kensuke. "If he's right, then maybe Mana can find out how she was paid. And –"
"And that would lead right back to NERV," Kensuke nodded. "And since we can't expect her to admit that she's a traitor who committed sabotage, we'll need to find out ourselves. Got it."
"Consider us on it, Shin-man," Toji confirmed, and with that, the meeting of the Brigade was adjourned.
Or at least, the formal meeting. For it was only after Toji and Kensuke departed, leaving the 3rd Child and the Class Representative alone, that Shinji frowned heavily and asked, "Horaki-chan? So…listen, I…"
"You want to know what happened in Kyoto," Hikari flatly answered, her eyes still lowered.
Blinking at this, Shinji replied, "I know what…the news said, but…I also know that can't be the whole thing. So…"
As Shinji trailed off, Hikari shook her head woefully. "Alright. But…what happened out there was…was so crazy, and…well…there's a lot that I…I still have to deal with."
Knowing painfully well just how that felt, Shinji nodded. "Alright…but…the news mentioned that there were high levels of gamma radiation. And…well, when I think of gamma radiation –"
"You think of Misato. Or rather, her big, green self," Hikari intuited with a grim expression. "Well, it wasn't Misato that I saw out there…but it wasn't a bomb, either."
And with that, Hikari started telling Shinji about what had happened. About how her meeting with Iesada had been interrupted by the armored girl with wings, and how Spirit had soon learned the hard way that the attacker not only had the same powers as she did, but those powers were all stronger and she had a few extra besides. How the armor had prevented Spirit from sensing the winged girl's presence, and how Spirit had ultimately blasted some of the armor off. And as she continued, Shinji found himself more and more at a loss for words.
"Wait – you mean – Rei was the one who attacked you!?" Shinji gasped at the latest bombshell. "But – Horaki-chan, that's impossible! I mean -!"
"I know! That girl exploded, but I saw Rei at school the next day!" Hikari assured him. "But – well, is it possible that Gendo…cloned her as well? I mean, I know that he used my DNA and Misato's to create that thing, so…is it possible that he also used Rei's DNA? I mean, that he wanted it to look like Rei for some reason?"
Frowning in thought, Shinji considered this for a time before shrugging. "Well, NERV has our medical records, and that includes DNA, so it is possible that Father could have cloned her. And…I've seen him talking to Rei a lot. He even burned his hands to save her life, so…maybe," he finally admitted. "But…there's something else."
"What is it?" Hikari wondered.
"I – like I said, Mana showed me a picture of my mother when we were talking," Shinji carefully began. "And – it was so strange. It was…almost like looking at a grownup Rei."
This sparked some extra life into the downcast girl. "Rei – looks like your mother?!"
"Yeah. I mean, the color of her hair, eyes, and skin are all different. But – the rest of it…it was all the same," Shinji hesitantly explained.
Frowning her confusion, Hikari muttered, "Could…your mother also be Rei's mother? But - I've seen your father, and he definitely doesn't have blue hair or red eyes. So…if that's the case, then who's the father?"
"I don't know," Shinji admitted. "I really don't understand…the only thing that would make sense is that – well, I'd really rather not think of…well, that!"
"If that were the case, I can't imagine your father being that fond of her," Hikari noted.
Nodding to this, Shinji then sighed. "So…this green Rei you fought…she must be what I saw down at NERV when Misato was fighting Maya. And…if Father created her, then –"
"Then there's the possibility that he could make more. Maybe even a lot more," Hikari murmured in a voice of subdued fear. "Shinji, I – I barely got away from that fight with my life! And if your father can make more like her -!"
"I know," Shinji broke in, trying not to think too hard about such a dread possibility. "I – that's just another reason why we need Mana's help. And why we need to get as much information as possible. So we can help Misato and find out what Father is doing." After these words were done lingering in the air for a time, the 3rd Child decided to bring up another subject. "Horaki-chan, I – there's something else I need to tell you."
Hikari's eyes went wider, almost as if she was afraid of what would be said. "What is it?"
"I – I ran into Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki last night. Or…maybe I should say he ran into me." Shinji then went on to explain his encounter with the old professor, and what was discussed. "Now – he said that he covered up everything and that he doesn't know who you are. But – I still thought you should know – what he told me."
When confronted by the possibility of one of Gendo's close associates knowing her identity, Hikari had instantly paled. Even now, Shinji's reassurances had only helped modestly. "I – thanks for telling me, Shinji, but – do you really think that you can trust him? What he said?"
Frowning somewhat, Shinji soon replied, "Like he said; he could have just told Captain Chiron about what he had found and – but…he didn't." Pausing to consider his next words, he then frowned and admitted, "Still, there's only one way to be sure. And…since I'm going to be using this flash drive anyway…"
Shinji shrugged helplessly, unsure of what else he could say. But even as he considered his next words, Hikari averted her eyes and said, "Actually…Shinji, there's…there's something else I need – to say." When the 3rd Child made a quizzical noise in his throat, the pigtailed girl heaved a deep sigh. "I – that trip to Kyoto – that was the last time."
"The last time?" Shinji repeated blankly. "What do you mean?"
"That was my last time going out as Spirit," Hikari declared, this time with greater heat. "I'll still help with the Brigade, but…I can't help you fight things like that – that green Rei."
Shinji involuntarily sucked in a breath at this. In a very real way, Spirit had been the muscle of the Brigade, and he had been counting on her help for the foreseeable future. "Horaki-chan, I -!"
"Look, I'm sorry! I – I first became Spirit to save Toji's sister! Then it was because – I wanted to help stop the Angels!" Hikari blurted out, looked ashamed of her decision. "But ever since I first fought She-Hulk, things have just been getting worse and worse! I was barely able to cope with fighting Grey Gargoyle, and – Shinji, I had to rip out my own wing to save myself!"
"I – I know," Shinji sputtered out, still trying to recover from this latest bombshell. "I – I know how – dangerous this is -!"
"I know you do! And I know that you have to face that kind of danger every time you fight the Angels," Hikari promptly assured him. "It's just – if Gendo's capable of making things like that green Rei, then – I don't see how I can keep being Spirit! The one I fought had more powers than me, and even if she wasn't as tough as She-Hulk, she was way stronger than me and shrugged off everything I threw at her! And even worse, she could sense me! Sense the Angel in me while I was Spirit, just like Misato can! But the armor she wore – it blocked my senses, Shinji. Which means that if I go out as Spirit again, and Gendo has more things like that, then they'll be able to track me wherever I go! Maybe even find out where I live!"
Hikari paused after this, as if expelling these last few words had taken a toll on her. And when she continued, her eyes were again lowered. "Shinji, I – that green Rei – she was a killer. She didn't care who or what got in her way, she was willing to kill anyone if it meant getting to me. And – I don't know why she exploded, Shinji. Maybe Gendo hasn't perfected whatever process he used to make her. Maybe he thought she was getting too out of control and decided to destroy her. All I know is that – I can't let what happened in Kyoto happen again. And if I go out as Spirit, it almost certainly will." Pausing to gulp down a wad of bile, Hikari shook her head at the memory of that hideous event. "Also…I have a family, Shinji! People who depend on me! And I – I saw what losing my mother did to Daddy, to my sisters! And I – I'm afraid of what would happen if I were – and -!"
Hikari just seemed to sputter out, like there was another reason that she didn't want to give. But Shinji knew what the reason was, having nearly died in battle himself. He knew that fear painfully well. And other reasons Hikari had given that were all valid in their own rights. "I – I understand, Horaki-chan," he finally said. "You – you do what you have to."
After a moment, Hikari sighed and managed a weak smile. "Thanks for…understanding, Shinji," she told him. "I – I wish there was…more that I could do, but – I just don't see how Spirit can help you anymore."
And that's a bad thing, Shinji couldn't help but think. Because right now, we need all the help we can get…
"This new data was a big help," Ritsuko noted as she studied the latest test results of Project: Titania. "Using the 11th Angel's nanites definitely expedites the mutagenic process, and with additional modifications, could grant some other abilities. And I'm definitely closer to endowing my cell samples with She-Hulk level strength." Then the faux-blonde frowned unhappily. "But I'm still having a problem with achieving cellular stability. Not to mention the effects such mutation has on the brain."
Frowning over the fact that she was still nowhere near ready to make the critical leap for Project: Titania, Ritsuko glanced down at her watch and sighed. "But, as much as I wish otherwise, I cannot spend all of my time on this project. And right now, I have other duties that demand my attention. End log."
This said, Ritsuko returned the small recorder in which she was keeping her log into her lab coat pocket. Then she made her way out of her office and started down the hallways of NERV.
After an annoyingly long trek down into the depths of NERV, Ritsuko arrived at the enclosure where Misato currently lived. Soon making her way up to the door, the doctor hit the intercom. "Misato? It's me, Ritsuko. Can I come in?"
Several seconds passed before anyone responded, and to Ritsuko's surprise, it wasn't the enclosure's occupant. "Uh, the Major's in the middle of a set, Dr. Akagi."
"Lieutenant Tama? Are you still coming down here?" Ritsuko smirked disbelievingly. "I'd have thought Misato would have given up on her short-lived bodybuilding career by now!"
"Heh, you weren't the only one," Hideki admitted. "But as it turns out, she's not one to give up. Have to give her that."
Sighing, Ritsuko muttered, "I suppose it was too much to hope that she'd quit that easily." Pausing to give a shake of her head, "Well, tell her to put down the weights or whatever she's doing and that I need to take some more samples. As well as see if this exercise has agitated anything in that gamma-mutated physiology of hers."
After Hideki had confirmed he would do so, Ritsuko brought forth her ID card, slid it through the reader, and waited patiently as the monstrous door to the enclosure creaked and groaned open. "I don't like the sound of that door. Probably needs some lubricant," Ritsuko she muttered as she entered. "Hey, Misato!"
"Hey yourself, Rits!" Misato replied as she approached, stinking of the sweat she was presently mopping off of her brow. The purple-haired woman was garbed in a form-fitting exercise outfit, complete with sweatbands. "So, what brings you down here? Aside from playing Count Dracula's apprentice again?"
"As I told the Lieutenant, I'm here to give you a checkup. Take some extra readings and make sure that you haven't done anything that could corrupt our data when it's finally time to cure you," Ritsuko informed her friend from college. When Misato groaned, the doctor sighed and added, "Misato, I can't overstate just how important it is that we have every last scrap of information we can get before we attempt to cure you. Even the slightest variable could mean the difference between success or failure."
Rolling her eyes in dismay, Misato the muttered, "Great. Just great. And I'd almost wrapped up that last round for the day!"
"Eh, you might as well call it quits, anyway," Hideki decided in a nonchalant fashion. When Misato glared pure death in response, he went on to add, "I really didn't like how high your heartbeat was getting there. And being up close and personal with your big, green self is not on my 'To-Do' list."
As Misato scowled in annoyance, Ritsuko couldn't help but chuckle. "Trust me, it isn't on my list, either!" she stated. "Anyway, Misato, why don't you sit down and let me get to work? The sooner we get this done, the sooner you have me out of your face."
"Hmph! Best idea I've heard all day!" Misato grumbled sourly as she took a seat.
As Ritsuko went to work, she quickly noticed something different as she conducted her examination. "Hmm…say, Misato? Let me take some measurements?"
Raising an eyebrow at this, Misato gave the faux-blonde a devious smirk. "What, you think my working out might have shrunk my breasts, Rits? Dream on!"
Giving her best friend a dirty look, Ritsuko retorted, "Please grow up. And then sit still so I can get this done."
"Alright, alright," Misato snickered in a somewhat mocking tone as Ritsuko went about her work.
A few minutes passed as Ritsuko went about her work, collecting samples and performing a brief yet thorough examination of Misato's physique. And as she did so, the faux-blonde wound up raising a brown eyebrow more than once. "Hmm…interesting…"
"And is that a 'good' interesting or a 'bad' interesting, Rits?" Misato wondered.
"More like an 'inconclusive' interesting," Ritsuko informed Misato. "Your body seems a lot tenser than the last time I examined you. Also, some of your measurements seem a bit off…"
"I wouldn't worry too much about that," Hideki announced. "Probably just some swelling. Considering how new she is to exercise, its to be expected."
"Probably. But I need to make certain," Ritsuko replied as she made note of her findings. "Anyway, I –"
"Uh, excuse me?" came a voice over the intercom. A voice that took everyone by surprise. "Misato? Are you awake, or -?"
"Oh, Shinji!" Hideki got out even as he started towards the door. "I was wondering when he'd show up!"
Frowning somewhat, Ritsuko looked towards Misato. "Shinji? Why -?"
"Oh, that's right. Almost forgot," Misato said in a sheepish manner. "Long story made short, Hideki decided I need to make some 'adjustments' to my diet. So he sent Shinji a bunch of recipes for fat-burning and muscle-building meals."
"And just in time! Because a good meal is just what your body needs! In addition to your protein shakes, of course!" Hideki declared even as the door was heard grinding open.
"Yeah," Misato groaned sourly. "I don't even want to imagine what kind of cardboard I'll be having from here on in…"
"I'm sure it'll be the best-tasting cardboard Shinji could cook up," Ritsuko grinned deviously. "Now, c'mon! Let's see what kind of packing chips are on the menu!"
After downing the required protein shakes for her post-workout recovery, Misato headed towards the dining area. "Hey, Shinji-kun," she greeted her ward, feigning a smile as she dreaded her upcoming meal. "Hope those recipes of Hideki's weren't too much trouble."
"Oh, it was no trouble!" Shinji quickly assured her. Then he heaved a tired sigh before adding, "And besides, well…I…need to relax. And cooking up everything…was as good a way to do it as any."
Misato didn't like the way Shinji said that. His tone screamed that things hadn't been going well for him, and his evasiveness made it clear that it was something serious that he wouldn't be willing to talk about. But at the same time, she was tired from all of the exercise and didn't have the energy to address the situation. It's probably just Asuka acting up some more, the purple-haired woman eventually decided. If Kaji did what he was supposed to and set her straight, there's no way she'd been in a good mood.
Hoping that the redhead hadn't been taking her frustrations out on her ward, Misato made her way over to the dining table. "So, Shinji…what's on the lunch menu today? And feel free to select for me, okay? Not only am I starving here, but…well, I'm not in the mood go through the entire menu."
Chuckling at this, Shinji began sifting through the various prepared meals he had made. "Well, uh…oh! How does this look?"
With that, Shinji held up one of the many containers to Misato so that she could look at the contents. Only for the purple-haired woman to frown as she studied the meal in question. "That – looks like chicken teriyaki stir-fry."
Blinking a few times at this, Shinji glanced down at the meal before replying, "Well…that's because it is."
Now Misato was even more surprised. "Chicken teriyaki stir-fry is bodybuilding food?"
"Oh, yeah! There's some great stuff in there!" Hideki declared as he studied the meal in question. "Brown rice, chicken, onions, carrots, peppers…plenty of good stuff like that! Perfect for feeding your muscles the proteins and carbohydrates that they need to recover from a hard workout."
Misato blinked a few times more before she thought, Okay, sure. It looks good, but…the proof will be in the tasting! So deciding to let her taste buds have the final verdict, she asked, "Okay, sure. Why don't you…fire it up, okay?"
"Okay," Shinji nodded easily. As soon as the meal was in the microwave, he then moved towards some of the other items he had brought. "Also, in case you're worried, there were even some dessert recipes in the files Lieutenant Tama sent me!"
Misato felt her eyes widen in shock. "Wait…dessert?!" she got out. "I thought that I would be going dessert-free for this thing!"
"Are you kidding?! You're going to need casein protein to go with everything else!" Hideki informed the purple-haired woman. When she turned towards him with an expression of confusion, he sighed and added, "Casein protein is slowly digested over several hours. It's perfect for desserts that you have before bed, so you have plenty of protein to nourish your muscles while you're asleep."
Once again flummoxed, Misato then sighed. "All of these different proteins and all of the rest of it…and here I thought that all there was to working out was sweat and food that tastes bad!"
As Ritsuko and Hideki started chuckling, Shinji made his way over to Misato. "Well, I hope that these don't taste bad," he smiled as he held up two containers. "See? Here's two of the desserts."
Misato leaned over to study the dessert items and felt her eyes bulge in shock. "Strawberry cheesecake? And chocolate cream pie?!" she gasped in astonishment. "Strawberry – and chocolate are -?!" Then Misato frowned and threw up her arms in surrender. "On second thought, I'm not gonna question it. And I'm sure as hell not gonna complain about it!"
Misato's statement was greeted with assorted chuckles, followed by an electronic ding. "That's good," Shinji stated as he removed the chicken teriyaki from the microwave. "Because…lunch is ready."
"Aw, thanks, Shinji!" Misato beamed even as he deposited the meal before her, along with some tea. "Well…down the hatch!"
Without hesitation, Misato took her first bite of a meal made with a bodybuilding recipe. And her taste buds rejoiced at a flavor that most definitely not cardboard. "Damn," she declared as she chewed down the morsels. "If I'd known that eating healthy could taste this good, I'd have tried it out a long time ago!"
"Great. And here I was hoping that I wouldn't be stuck envying the fact that you have a gourmet chef on call for a change, Misato," Ritsuko grumbled good-naturedly. "Anyway, don't forget to get cleaned up for tomorrow."
Pausing in mid-bite, Misato turned towards Ritsuko and asked, "Tomorrow?"
Groaning irritably, Ritsuko grumbled, "You forgot, didn't you? Of course you forgot. Sometimes I think that She-Hulk's the one with all of the brains." When Misato responded to this with the one-fingered salute, the faux-blonde went on to say, "Our new psychologist? The one who's supposed to be helping you? He arrives tomorrow, and Commander Ikari wants you and – well, everyone else who's in on your little secret to be in attendance for a meet-and-greet."
At this, Misato groaned in recollection. "Oh, right right right," she muttered with a shake of her head. "Been kind of distracted…"
"That's understandable, Misato. Just be sure to get cleaned up for tomorrow," Ritsuko instructed her. "And please, try and act professional! We want to make a good first impression on the newest member of our staff!"
Giving her friend a smile, Misato replied, "Relax, Rits! I promise to be on my best behavior!"
Ritsuko's response was to groan miserably. "Wonderful. And that's just what I'm afraid of…"
Misato once again presented her finger to Ritsuko as the others laughed. But even as she returned to her meal, she glanced towards a nearby pane of glass. And in it, she saw herself…as well as something else.
I sure hope this guy can help me find a way of working with you, Misato thought with narrowed eyes. Because we need to be able to find a way of doing that. I need your strength and you need my brains…if we're going to be able to stop the Angels and keep everyone safe.
With this, Misato again glanced over at Shinji before returning to her meal.
Ugh…I'm glad I haven't eaten anything lately… Maya thought miserably as she staggered away from her bar of choice. Because I just know that I'd already be seeing it again…all over the sidewalk…
As she had every night since she had been corrupted by the 11th Angel, Maya had spent hours boozing herself sick, if only to escape the horrid images that now lived in her mind. The fact that her body was already trying to cope with a virus or whatever it was that was hammering at her was immaterial. She was wracked with depression and guilt and grief and so much more, and alcohol was the only thing that could allow her to forget at least some of those things, at least long enough for her to fall asleep and not be plagued with nightmares.
However, this was the first night that Minoru the bartender had decided to boot her out.
"It's not like I had…thatch much…" Maya grumbled, her speech somewhat slurred as she staggered alone through the streets of Tokyo-3. "Just becau-shhh I'm sick doesn't mean he can…boot me out…not like he'sh my muther…"
Muttering evil things about bartenders who should mind their business and keep her shot glass full, Maya continued to stagger forward. Her addled mind already plotting a course back to her apartment, she wobbled and tottered this way and that, her stomach constantly on the verge of rebelling.
Just as Maya was wondering if she really did have one too many drinks, a voice called out, "Hey! Young lady! You okay?"
Tottering to a halt while avoiding falling flat on her face, Maya turned and looked to see a man about her age, maybe a bit older, approaching from behind. Looking at her with what her fuzzy eyes informed her was a look of concern. "I've…" the petite woman slowly responded as she tried to steady herself, "been better."
"I would certainly hope so!" the stranger declared. "Look, where you going? Are you trying to get home?" Without really thinking of anything other than just how sick and miserable she was now, Maya nodded. "Then let me help you where you're going."
Without another word, the stranger made his way over to Maya, who was presently too sloshed for any of the normal alarms to go off in her head. And as sick as she felt, Maya didn't even try to resist as he came up to her and positioned himself under her shoulder. "Here. Just keep going straight?"
Nodding to this, Maya then felt the stranger practically lifting her up off of her feet and carrying her down the sidewalk. The side effect of this was that she was bounced around a bit, and that increased her sense of nausea. Don't throw up. Please don't throw up, Maya pleaded of her stomach as the two of them continued forward. It isn't nice to throw up on people who are trying to help you…
For what like forever but was likely little more than a few minutes, the stranger supported Maya as she weakly staggered forward. But as they drew closer to the petite woman's apartment, she gasped as something violently rammed into her. The world suddenly blurred around her as Maya tumbled out of control before slamming into something hard.
"Gahh!" Maya cried out even as her gorge rose. But even as she instinctively fought the urge to vomit, her sloshed brain still not having processed what had just happened, she looked about for the source of the attack. Only to gasp when she saw her attacker. "Wh-what -?!"
"Let this be a lesson to you, lady!" grinned the stranger that had been helping Maya less than a minute ago. "Never trust a helpful stranger! Because you never know what he might help himself to!"
Still so addled by booze and her ailments that she was barely processing what had just happened, Maya could barely do anything as her former helper and current assailant pounced on her. "I don't think I'll be going anywhere near that mouth of yours," he declared with a malicious grin as he grabbed hold of the hem of her pants. "But that's okay because what I want is right here!"
"Wh- no!" Maya cried out even as her attacker viciously tore her pants halfway off of her legs. Acting on instinct, she reached out to try and defend herself. But her vision was blurry, her brain was fogged with booze, and she was weakened by her illness. And so the best she could do was swat at her attacker, and she wasn't even sure she was even hitting him half of the time.
What Maya could be sure of was the feral grin that now marked her attacker's face. A grin that grew more dangerous with every ineffectual strike she made. "That's it, little girl! Keep trying to fight back!" he hissed predatorily as he succeeded in tearing off the weakened woman's pants. "It just makes this all so much more satisfying!"
"Noooo!" Maya wailed plaintively, thrusting the palm of her hand into her attacker's face. She might as well have been trying to fight off She-Hulk for all the effect her effort had. Her attacker felt damned near unstoppable as she tried and failed to force him away, and she could already feel him tugging at her panties. And as these realities struck home, she found herself sobered by the cold hard reality of what was happening.
Maya was about to be brutally raped, probably beaten. Maybe even killed.
And there was absolutely nothing she could do to stop it.
Maya's heart felt like it had stopped as this reality struck home. Her eyes went wide with horror, her eyes sharpened and took in every sound. And the entire world seemed to grind to a halt, all the while she stared in the cold, predatory eyes of the man who was about to rape her. All the while every thought, every instinct, was directed towards one thing.
Survival at all costs.
And in response to this, something awoke within Maya. Circuit-like glyphs appeared upon the hand that was pressed against the attacker's face, right because they began to spread over his flesh.
And as time began to flow normally once more, the rapist's feral grin was broken. "Ow! What the hell?!" he cried out even as he grabbed hold of Maya's wrist and tried to wrench her hand off. Only for more circuits to appear and spread into his body. "Gah! What are you doing?!"
Maya had no idea what was happening. She was too far gone, too locked into the instinctual desire to live, to survive at all costs. And so she frantically lashed out, grabbing the rapist's throat with her free hand. And mindlessly watched as more and more circuits appeared upon her skin and sank into his. Was instinctually urged to fight back even harder when he screamed in greater pain.
"Wh-what are you – gyyaaaaaggghhh!" the would-be rapist continued to scream as the glowing circuit glyphs spread across his skin. And as the two of them continued to struggle, thrashing mindlessly about on the streets of Tokyo-3, the balance of power between the two combatants slowly began to shift. Still locked in the mindset of pure, desperate survival, Maya was unconsciously aware of the way the light patterns of the glowing glyphs began to shift and flow back into her. She was instinctually cognizant of that she was growing stronger, her ability to fight back was increasing. And she reacted to the pained screams of her attacker by fighting back even harder even as his skin paled and flesh wilted.
"Stop it! Stop it please!" the former predator squealed as his eye sockets sank and began hollow, his cheekbones becoming more pronounced as his flesh shriveled up around his skull. "Please, I – aaaarrrghhhhh!"
Maya was aware of the words, but in her current state was incapable of making sense of them as anything other pained squeals. Signs that she was winning her fight for survival. And so she reacted to these things on a purely instinctual level by flipping her attacker over and then pouncing upon him, her hands still clutching his face and neck and the glowing glyphs carried more and more strength and vitality into her veins. She continued to straddle and choke at him, continuing force down his fading efforts to free himself as her strength continued to increase.
Eventually, the would-be rapist fell entirely still, his every limb falling to the hard concrete. As for Maya, she continued to lash out mindlessly at him for several seconds longer. Until at last she became cognizant of the fact that the battle for survival was over, and she had won. She was alive, she was whole and unscathed.
And as the adrenaline rush slowly faded and instinct subsided, allowing Maya's rational mind to reassert itself, she quickly became aware of several things.
The first thing she became aware of was that she no longer felt sick. Whatever disease had been hammering at her had fled, along with the gross intoxication she had inflicted upon herself. She felt strong, vibrant, and alive, and as she rose up to her feet, she examined her body. Feeling the ready strength, the vitality flowing through her veins.
But even the heady joy of this sensation mixed with the intense relief that she still lived, Maya looked down at her attacker. And the instant she did, she gasped in absolute horror.
"Oh, no…!" Maya whispered in a hushed voice full of horror at the corpse that now lay before her. Worse than dead, her would-be rapist had been reduced to a withered husk, little more than dark grey skin stretched out hideously around a skeleton.
And as she stared down in horror at the mummified rapist, memories of their struggle came back to Maya. The glowing glyphs that had spread into her victim. The sensation of growing stronger even as he had gotten weaker. How the glow of the circuit glyphs had flowed from her attacker into her.
And as these things struck home, Maya gave into her horror. She instinctively tried to run, only to trip slightly on pants that still hung about her ankles. Numbly dragging them back up her legs and holding them, she began to run. She ran mindlessly away from the withered corpse – her victim – and hurried down the streets of Tokyo-3. She ran and ran and ran, without any destination or plan. All she knew was that she had to get away.
Eventually, after what felt like an eternity, Maya was forced to stop by her legs burning in protest and her lungs pleading for air. And so she staggered into an alley, instinctively seeking to hide from prying eyes. Her heart still pounding a mile a minute as she furtively looked this way and that, searching for any pursuers or potential threats.
"That – I didn't mean – I was just trying to -!" Maya eventually managed to sputter out, shaking like a leaf as she tried to bring some order to the chaos that was her mind. But it was too much. The adrenaline was still pumping through her veins, she was high from the relief and horror of her survival, and trapped beneath an onslaught of countless sensations and emotions that she couldn't articulate.
And so Maya spent several minutes huddled in the dark, slowly waiting for the onslaught to diminish enough for another part of her could take over. The rational part, the part that could analyze her memories calmly and rationally, make logical deductions and make sense of what had happened. And while it did so slowly, still beleaguered by everything that had just happened, she was still able to think through her horrific ordeal.
"Th-the nanites – they're still active in me!" was the first thing Maya managed to conclude. "They - reacted when he – defending their host!" But even as these words tumbled free of her lips, her scientist's mind picked up on a few anomalies in that theory. "But – why haven't they been active before? And why did they – react the way they did?!"
Trying very hard not to think of the withered corpse she had left in her wake, Maya instead focused on the facts, on the science. The last time the nanites went active in me, they transformed my body. Made me stronger to – to defend myself. Defend them, she shakily reasoned out. But this time, they – attacked that guy! Infected him and absorbed…oh, no…!
An instant later, realization clicked within Maya's mind, causing her eyes to go wide with horror. "Omigod…sempai, she – she tried to force the nanites to integrate with my body, to become dormant in me! But – they aren't really dormant! Something's wrong with them! They're not producing their own energy, or they're not getting enough, or whatever! But something's wrong with them!" she sputtered out. "I was feeling sick before, but I'm not anymore! So…if the Angelic nanites have integrated with my own physiology, then the reason I was feeling so sick is that the nanites have been…effectively starving to death! They need more energy to stay alive!" Then Maya looked up numbly even as her heart plummeted into the depths of her stomach. "And…and so do I…"
And with this declaration, everything else fell into place. When Maya had been confronted with an imminent threat and her life had been at stake, the nanites had reacted to her peril. And they had done so in a manner that both addressed her immediate danger and their own need to survive by latching onto a compatible source of nutrition, of energy. Namely, her attacker.
"So – what do I do now?!" Maya wondered frantically, still at the edge of her sanity from what had just happened.
Maya's first impulse was to contact Ritsuko for help. While the younger woman didn't agree with everything her mentor did, she had nothing but trust, respect, and more for NERV's Head Scientist.
But even Maya thought this, another face popped into her mind. That of Iwao Chiron, who had lost many of his best people to the monster she had become the last time the Angels had asserted themselves. A man who had a low opinion of women in general, had a vindictive streak, and was not above stretching the rules in order to get his way.
If Chiron finds out that the Angel is still active inside of me – he'll have me killed for sure! Maya thought, fresh fear causing sweat to roll down her face. He could have people monitoring the phone, he – Section 2 could be watching me this second! And – oh, god!
Maya froze in sheer horror as she envisioned Section 2 people examining the dead body she had left behind. Having already witnessed her brutally murder another human being, driven to kill by the Angel that still lived in her body.
But even as she was on the verge of dying of sheer fright, the rational part of Maya's mind discarded this possibility. If Section 2 had been watching what had happened, she would either have been gunned down on the spot or she would lots of company in black suits with guns pointed at her that very moment. So…assuming that they didn't see me, I have a little time to think of what to do! Maya thought worriedly. But – what can I do?! What happens the next time I get sick?! Is this going to keep happening again and again?!
As these questions and more piled up on her, Maya slowly sank down against the wall of the alley. And when she finally was sitting on the concrete, she started to sob uncontrollably.
"Hmmm…it looks like Ibuki is going to be quite a useful asset in the future," Gendo mused thoughtfully as he sat within the darkness of his hidden sanctum in the depths of NERV. A few seconds passed as a voice whispered in his mind, which he nodded to. "Yes, she will need to be nudged in the right direction. And we will have to remove a few hurdles that will be in her way. But…once everything in place, she will be an excellent weapon for us to wield…"
And so Gendo continued to sit in the darkness. Seeing through the electronic eyes wielded by his creations. Watching and smiling deviously as Maya continued to sob miserably.
"Good afternoon, everyone. I'd like to thank you all for joining us," Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki began in a patently polite voice. "I know you all have busy schedules, things that you need to attend to. So I will do my utmost to be brief and to the point."
At this, Shinji quietly glanced about the interior of the bridge, studying the assembled staff members. And as near as he could tell, everyone that was aware of Misato's condition – save for Maya – was assembled there.
Including Asuka, Shinji added, noting how he was being bracketed by his fellow pilots. Rei was as hard to read and imperturbable as always, but the German still radiating anger in his direction. Ugh…why does she always have to make a big deal out of everything? And why does she have to blame it all on me?!
Shaking his head as he decided once more that he would never understand Asuka, Shinji was brought back to the moment when Fuyutsuki continued. "First and foremost, I'd like to introduce you all to our new therapist and counselor," he began before gesturing towards a figure that was already moving out of the shadows. "Dr. Leonard Samson."
"Greetings, all of you," Samson began with a pleasant smile. He was a man of average build with brown hair done up in a ponytail, not unlike Kaji. But where Misato's former significant other was always unshaven and his clothes unkempt and rumpled, Samson's hair and clothing were nothing short of immaculate. "As Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki informed you, I'm Dr. Samson, or Leonard, if you prefer. I hope to get the chance to know all of you during my time here at NERV Central."
"Pleased to meet you, Dr. Samson," Ritsuko declared with a soft smile. "Judging by your accent and your name, I'd say you're from an English-speaking country?"
"Excellent guess, uh…Dr. Akagi, I presume? I was briefed on the command staff before I came here," Samson replied easily. "I'm from America, actually."
"Hmm. You speak Japanese very well," Ritsuko noted.
"Thank you. Though…well, I can't say that it's perfect. So if I managed to get a word or phrase wrong, I hope you won't hold it against me," Samson told them in a manner that helped break the ice.
"Now as I've said, Dr. Samson has been brought here to be our new staff counselor," Fuyutsuki continued in a pleasant manner. "However, his first and foremost duty here will be tending to Major Katsuragi. And trying to decipher the mental aspect of her condition."
Blinking a few times at this, Shinji hesitantly asked, "Do you…really think you can help Misato?"
Pausing to look over the 3rd Child, Samson replied, "You must be Shinji Ikari. The pilot of Unit 01," he noted as he approached him. "From what I understand, Major Katsuragi is your guardian."
Blinking uncertainly, Shinji hesitated a few seconds before replying, "Uh, yes. She is."
Nodding to this, Samson noted, "You must be very concerned about her." Giving this a few seconds to sink in, the psychiatrist then smiled a bit more broadly. "Well, I might not be able to cure her condition physically, but I have no doubt that I can help her address what's going on inside her mind." Then he gave a slight chuckle before adding, "After all, this is hardly the first time I've ever had to deal with someone who had anger management issues." A beat passed before he added, "Though I have to admit that I never had to deal with someone whose issues were this breathtaking."
There were a few chuckles at this, but Asuka snorted, "Just be careful around her! If she goes green, she'll snap you like a twig before you even know what happened!"
"I wouldn't worry about that," Samson assured Asuka. "I've already been briefed on Major Katsuragi's…She-Hulk? That's what it's called?" When Fuyutsuki nodded, the doctor returned his attention to the children. "Anyway, I've already seen several videos and been briefed on her behaviors while transformed. And while I agree that she can be temperamental and dangerous in that state, everything I've seen makes it clear that she's only a genuine threat if provoked. And I have no intention of doing anything to provoke her. I'm here to help."
"And as soon as we're done here, I'll be sending you down with Dr. Akagi and Pilot Ikari to meet with your primary patient," Fuyutsuki stated in that same polite manner. "But before we get to that, there's one more matter that needs to be attended to."
"Uh…what do you mean, sir?" Shinji hesitantly asked.
"Captain Ibuki. Or more precisely, her successor," Fuyutsuki responded. "Between her current mental state and the fact that we are presently unable to confirm that she is free of Angelic influence, it has been decided that we must regrettably remove her from the position of Director of Operations."
"Hmph. That will be the first bit of good news Maya's had in a while," Ritsuko grimly admitted.
"Of course, we still need someone to serve as Director of Operations. Someone who's both familiar with how things are done at NERV, as well as having the needed background and seniority to assume such a role," Fuyutsuki carefully explained. Then he shifted about and looked towards a member of the group. "As such, Ryoji Kaji, Commander Ikari has decided that you will be the perfect person for the job."
As Shinji's eyes and those of several others turned towards the unshaven man, he saw someone who looked about as surprised a deer suddenly caught in a car's headlights. "Wha-?!" he started, sounding as he wasn't sure he had heard correctly. "Uh, hold on! With all due respect, sir, I – I don't have any real command experience!"
"What are you talking about, Kaji?!" Asuka immediately protested as she moved over to his side. "I'm sure that you'd be perfect for the job!"
Pausing to look down at the redhead who had clamped onto his arm, Kaji sighed before again focusing on Fuyutsuki. "As I was saying, sir, I don't know what Commander Ikari was thinking when he made this decision, but -!"
"What Ikari was thinking, Ryoji, is that we need to maintain a viable chain of command here at NERV. Particularly since we're caught between dealing with the Angels and all of the other threats that we have been forced to deal with as of late," Fuyutsuki broke in, his voice harder and more serious. "We cannot afford to be without a fully functional command staff any longer than absolutely necessary."
"Well, yes, I know! That goes without saying!" Kaji quickly agreed in a placating manner. "But why me and not someone else in the chain of command?!"
"Because that chain of command has already been heavily disrupted by removing Ibuki from her original duties. As such, we'd rather avoid disrupting the staff structure any further than is absolutely necessary. And since your primary assignment is as an observer for the UN, well…your reassignment would cause the least amount of disruption," Fuyutsuki firmly countered. "Furthermore, Ikari and I would both prefer to keep the number of people aware of Major Katsuragi's…condition…to an absolute minimum. And of those who are both aware of her situation and have the needed qualities to serve as Director of Operations, well…needless to say, it's a very short list."
"It'll be fine, Kaji-kun!" Asuka cooed, prompting the unshaven man to once again look her way. "I'm sure you'll do a great job! And just think of the opportunities! The recognition, the potential for advancement!"
The look on Kaji's face made it clear to Shinji that the unshaven man couldn't have cared less about the things Asuka had mentioned. But as he once again looked at Fuyutsuki's stern expression, the unkempt man sighed in palpable defeat. "Well, at least we all know who's gonna wind up being turned into a huge monster with a penchant for smashing next," he muttered in mock dismay before pointing both of his thumbs at himself. "This guy right here. You all might as well get to work on my new place next to Katsuragi's."
"Hey! Don't be like that!" Asuka protected with a mixture of wounded pout and annoyance. "Besides, what are the odds of something like that happening again?!"
"Good enough that I don't want to tempt fate any more than I have to," Kaji mutter sourly. "Ever since this gamma-powered Pandora's Box opened up, it seems like things have been going to hell in a handbasket."
"On that, you get no argument from me, Ryoji. Hence the importance of maintaining a stable chain of command," Fuyutsuki stated firmly. "Also, I'll be making a uniform available for your use. I want to see you in it every day you're here. No more dressing like a slob while here in NERV."
"Hey! Some of us like to dress casually!" Kaji cried out in protest.
"Well, here at NERV, we appreciate professionalism and decorum. And to be quite frank, I'm tired of watching you traipse about like a bum off of the streets," Fuyutsuki muttered, seeming to enjoy himself. "That will be all, Ryoji. Pilot Ikari, Doctors Akagi and Samson, please come with me so we can meet with Major Katsuragi. The rest of you are all dismissed."
"There we go!" the mixture of stone and cybernetic upgrades that was the Grey Gargoyle declared with a note of satisfaction as he forced open a door into one of NERV's maintenance corridors. "These tunnels are not well maintained, nor do they go to any of NERV's more sensitive areas. But they will carry you into the ventilation system, my dear!"
"And that's precisely where I'll want to be," the woman called Ann smiled as she made her way into the tunnels. "I'll disable the security systems and make sure that Section 2 is out of action."
"See if you can spot our old friend Gendo while you're at it," the man called Simon instructed her. "We still owe him greatly for what he did to us."
"Non, non! Remember, we have to keep our focus on our large, green prize!" the Grey Gargoyle reminded them all.
"Of course, Gargoyle," Ann smirked deviously. "But if I happen to spot our old…business associate along the way, well…"
As Ann fell silent, the Grey Gargoyle frowned before ultimately shrugging. "Just so long as it doesn't interfere with our goals. And remember, you have ten minutes to have everything in place."
"Relax. I'll have it done in five," Ann declared before disappearing into the maintenance tunnel.
Once the Grey Gargoyle sealed the door behind Ann, Simon turned towards another member of their tiny group. "You're up next, Jimmy. We need to figure out exactly where this She-Hulk creature is. And since we've confirmed that she radiates gamma radiation, you're our best chance of pinpointing her location."
"And thus expediting a clear path to her so we can more easily enter and exit with our prize," Grey Gargoyle added with a nod.
"Not a problem! If there's anything gamma in there, I'll track it down in no time!" Jimmy declared with a broad grin.
"Good!" Grey Gargoyle declared, clapping his hands together in a brisk manner. "Now, let's not dawdle! We still need to get into position!"
"Hello, Major Katsuragi," the stranger bracketed by familiar faces began as he gave a polite bow of his head. "I am Dr. Leonard Samson. A pleasure to meet you."
He kind of looks like Kaji…except better dressed and without that god-awful stubble! Misato thought as she studied the man who stood before her. What she said aloud was, "The pleasure's all mine, Doc Samson. Especially if you can help me get a handle on the unruly tenant I have rattling around up here!"
As Misato playfully rapped her knuckles on the side of her head, Samson gave a polite chuckle. "Well, that's one of the big reasons I'm here, Major," he assured her with a thoughtful smile. "But overall, I'm here to help those who are in need of it. That's why I became a doctor in the first place."
Deciding that Samson sounded genuine enough, at least for now, Misato shrugged and sat back on a seat in her enclosure. "So…when's my first appointment, Doc?"
Chuckling again, Samson replied, "What, are you looking to get rid of me that quickly?"
"Not exactly. It's just that I have a workout scheduled for a little later," Misato informed him. "And now that I've got a schedule down, I'd like to stick with it."
"Ah, I see," Samson replied, nodding his understanding. "I understand. I can tell you take physical fitness very seriously." A loud snort of amusement punctuated the doctor's statement, prompting him to look at the source. "Uh…Dr. Akagi?"
"Oh, it's – it's nothing!" Ritsuko replied around a barrage of smaller snickers and chortles. Things that were only intensified when Misato gave her college friend an evil glare.
Frowning somewhat, Samson returned his gaze to Misato. "Well, I don't see what's so funny. Anybody can see that you're in excellent physical condition."
Bristling as Ritsuko continued to snortle and chortle, Misato then sighed. Okay, I admit it. I wasn't in the best of shape before now. Then she frowned and studied Samson's expression. But – he doesn't seem to notice what all of that beer and instant curry did to me. So…I guess all of this exercise is really paying off then!
Pausing to make a mental 'V for victory' sign, Misato answered, "Well, thank you for the understanding, Doc Samson. Not to mention all of the sweet talk."
"Not a problem. Especially when I'm telling the truth," Samson assured her. "But as I was saying, I wasn't planning on taking a lot of your time. I was just thinking that…well, I'm here. You're here. Why don't we take a moment to just…talk a little? Break the ice a bit before getting into the more serious stuff?" He then flashed her a friendly smile before adding, "I know that there are things in your life that you probably don't feel…comfortable discussing with a complete stranger. So…why don't we see if I can become just a little less strange?"
A bit surprised by this approach, Misato frowned and considered the matter. On the one hand, she didn't have an easy time letting people get close to her. But at the same time, what Samson was saying made sense. And besides, the sooner I can get to work on trying to get Greenie to work and play nice with me, the better. Then she made a face and added, Assuming I even get the chance…
Remembering that Ritsuko and her cure still loomed in her future, Misato was brought up short when Fuyutsuki declared, "I think that's a wonderful idea, Dr. Samson." As all eyes fell upon the old professor, he went on to say, "Dr. Akagi and I have duties to attend to, so we'll let you all…get to know each other."
"What about you, Shinji?" Ritsuko started, giving him a look. "Would you like to stay, or…?"
A noise of hesitation escaped Shinji's lips at this, the boy clearly torn and uncertain as he frowned in thought. But finally, he forced a smile and said, "Well…if he's going to be helping Misato, then…I guess it couldn't hurt for me to stay and…get to know him as well? I mean – maybe I can help Dr. Samson…help her as well."
"I'd say it couldn't hurt to try," Samson immediately declared. "And I'd like to get to know you as well, Shinji. Uh, it is okay if I call you Shinji, right?"
"Huh?" Shinji started, again clearly surprised. But this time, he wasn't long in shrugging and saying, "Well…yeah, sure. Why wouldn't it be?"
Shrugging himself, Samson replied, "Well, you never can tell. Some people are fine with their first names. Others insist on being addressed by their titles, and so on and so forth."
Frowning at this, Shinji muttered, "That…seems pretty stupid…"
"Seeing as you all seem to be getting to know each other already, we'll be leaving you all to it," Ritsuko declared, already moving towards the door. "Some of us have work to do, remember?"
In one of the many security stations within NERV, Section 2 personnel were hard at work. Monitoring the various security cameras throughout the Geofront and NERV Central, coordinating with agents throughout the city. Doing whatever was required of them to make sure that everything went according to how NERV and its backers wanted things to go.
It was tireless work. And not just a little boring. And so no one really paid attention when one of their number yawned rather loudly. Other than telling the yawner in question not to do that, it was catching, nobody gave it a second thought.
The second yawn didn't get any real attention either, aside from a glib comment that yes, it was indeed catching.
The third and fourth yawns, however, got more attention. As did the other signs of lethargy that quickly pervaded the security room. But by the time any of the Section 2 people realized that something was amiss, they were all passed out asleep at their stations.
And thus completely oblivious to the woman that appeared in the moments later and began to work the controls. "There. All of NERV's security systems are down," Ann noted with a clear sense of satisfaction. "Now…where are you hiding, Gendo…?"
Ann frowned as she continued to search, scowling intently as she scanned each monitor in turn for their unofficial quarry. But before she could make much headway, another of her group appeared. "Hey, big sister!"
"Jimmy?" Ann started, giving him a look. "What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be looking for someone big and green?"
"Already found her!" Jimmy replied with a smug smile. When Ann raised an eyebrow at this, he groaned in annoyance. "Okay, I didn't actually go and look myself, because it would blow our cover and all that. But seriously! I'm sensing something that is massively gamma here! I couldn't miss it if I were unconscious!"
Deciding that this made sense, Ann asked, "Have you found the best way down to where it is?"
"Done and done!" Jimmy assured her. "Seriously, you worry too much! We're in the base, you've taken care of security, and we're as good as out of here with our new pet monster! What could possibly go wrong?"
"I seem to recall you asking that on the day of Second Impact," Ann pointed out. "And a lot went wrong that day…"
At first, Misato didn't know who said those two little words. It took a few seconds for her to realize that it was her own lips from which they had come from. And it took even longer for her to realize why.
As for Samson and Shinji, they just looked perplexedly, clearly at a loss at how those two words had broken into a relatively awkward conversation that they had managed to get started. "Uh…Misato?" the mild-mannered boy frowned uncertainly. "Wh-what is it?"
"What do you mean by something being wrong?" Samson asked with a more serious frown. "Misato, what -?"
At that instant, Misato was able to put a finger on what had disturbed her. "Something's here. Inside of NERV," she announced as she rose to her feet and started pacing. Looking about as if in search for the source of the sensations that now hounded her. "I can feel it!"
"Feel – wait!" Shinji piped up, his eyes rounding in dismay. "You mean – you can sense an Angel?!"
Immediately shaking her head, Misato countered, "No. It doesn't feel like the Angels. It's – different, somehow. Distorted. But still – something's definitely here!" Then she looked at the two males, who were clearly oblivious to what she was sensing. "I need to call the bridge! Put this place on alert immediately!"
Without another word, Misato rushed towards the nearby phone. Already intent on putting her words into action.
"Security is already disabled, eh?" Grey Gargoyle noted with considerable satisfaction and he and his cohorts made their way through one of the larger maintenance shafts leading into the depths of the Geofront. "And not a sign of anyone to get in our way."
"At least…no one who remains conscious," Simon added with a tone of smug superiority. "Ann certainly knows her business."
"I still think it would've been a lot simpler to just smash our way through to where they're keeping this green lady," Mike muttered sourly as the hallways echoed with his footsteps.
"Now, now, brute strength has already been tried with our quarry. And we learned the hard way that it simply isn't enough," Grey Gargoyle chided his associate. "But between the element of surprise and the subtle precision of a surgeon's scalpel, I'm certain we will enjoy far greater success than we did the last time."
"That, and the advantage of superior numbers," Simon added. "Now let's meet with Ann and Jimmy. With any luck, they'll have already tracked down the location of our big, green target."
Mike growled deep in his throat, but otherwise did nothing to protest. And so the unlikely trio continued forward, and before long arrived at another large door. Before they could even reach it, it opened, and behind it were the remaining members of their unusual group. "Everyone! The coast is clear!" Ann informed them in a hushed voice. "Security is down, and I've neutralized Section 2! But it's only a matter of time before someone figures out that something's wrong."
"Ah, fine work, my dear!" Grey Gargoyle grinned. "And our emerald objective?"
"Zeroed in on her position almost as soon as we got inside!" Jimmy declared in a loud, boisterous fashion."And while we weren't able to find out exactly where she is without actually going down there -!"
"From what we can tell, she's locked up somewhere in the lower levels," Ann broke in, giving her brother a dirty look. "And security regarding that area was tight. Too tight for me to break through in the time I had."
"Yeah, what she said," Jimmy went on dismissively. "Anyway, we did find the perfect way down close enough to wherever she is. And from there, I can point us in the right direction."
"Hmm, not perfect, but it should suffice," Grey Gargoyle admitted. "Now, let's move! Before something unexpected happens."
"Alright, but like I told sis here, I don't see what you're so worried about!" Jimmy declared as the quintet started forward. "I mean, seriously! What could possibly go wrong?"
An instant later, red warning lights began flashing throughout the hallways, prompting the intruders to instinctively screech to a halt. "Alert! This is Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki to all personnel!" came a stern voice over the public address. "We have intruders somewhere within NERV Central. Present location is unknown. Initiating all a security lockdown. Report to your emergency stations at once."
"What?!" Jimmy squawked in utter astonishment. "How the hell do they even know we're here?!"
"And now we know exactly what can and did go wrong," Ann grumbled sourly. "Thanks a lot, Jimmy."
"So much for the element of surprise!" Mike declared, cracking his knuckles and grinning broadly. "Time for Plan B! Namely -!"
"We're still not off of Plan A yet, Mike," Simon declared in a stern manner. Then he looked towards two of their group. "Ann, Jimmy! You're faster than the rest of us! Track down this She-Hulk and do whatever you can to either secure her or keep her pinned down long enough for the rest of us to get there! With any luck, NERV won't be able to move her before you reach her! And be sure to mark where you went so we can follow you!"
"Right, good thinking!" Ann declared before shooting forward. "Let's go, Jimmy. And this time, be sure to keep your big mouth shut!"
"Wha- how is this my fault?!" Jimmy cried out even as he moved to follow.
As the swiftest of the group departed, Grey Gargoyle sighed in dismay. "Alright. You go after the others and help them deal with She-Hulk and collecting whatever data you can. As for me, I'll make sure that our exit remains viable," he ordered. "And remember, our benefactors won't look kindly upon any of us if we should…disappoint them."
Growling in his throat, Simon soon nodded. "Understood."
Nothing else was said as the group of invaders went their separate ways.
"I'm afraid you were right, Major. NERV has been compromised," Fuyutsuki grimly admitted over the phone. "All of Section 2 seems to have been incapacitated, and we've found evidence that our security systems had suffered additional compromise."
"Aw, damn," Misato groaned heavily. "Do you have any good news?"
"We're locking down the Geofront and NERV Central. But I can't guarantee that will stop these intruders. Especially given our rather…lackluster success rate when dealing with such threats," Fuyutsuki grimly admitted.
"I know someone who might have a better chance of dealing with – whatever these things are!" Misato heatedly countered.
"I'll admit that She-Hulk has proven most capable of dealing with any potential threat," Fuyutsuki reluctantly conceded. "But given what happens when she loses control, I'd rather avoid using her unless we have no other alternative."
Groaning at this and wishing not for the first time that Misato held the reins over such power and not some mindless monster from her id, Misato returned, "I understand, sir. But even so – hold it!"
Jumping somewhat as the sensations in her mind shifted, Misato looked about warily. Narrowing her eyes as she searched for something she couldn't see. "Major?" Samson asked, a frown in his voice. "What is it? What's happening?"
Pausing to glance back at Samson and Shinji, Misato sighed and admitted, "We've got more trouble!" Then she returned her attention to the phone and announced, "Commander, I – whatever's inside of the base – I can feel it getting closer! It's coming this way!"
A low groan sounded over the phone. "I wish I could say I was surprised," Fuyutsuki muttered sourly. "Grey Gargoyle and Rhino were after your…other. It's possible that whoever sent them –"
"Has sent someone else to finish the job!" Misato growled, feeling her more primitive self clawing its way up from the depths of her mind. "In that case -!"
"You're to remain in your enclosure with Samson and Pilot Ikari," Fuyutsuki sternly instructed her. When Misato's mouth popped open in dismay, he went on to add, "That structure is built to withstand monstrous amounts of punishment, Major. I don't know what manner of creatures have invaded NERV, but I doubt that they'll have an easy time breaching it."
Feeling her irritation mounting, Misato demanded, "And what are you going to be doing while they're huffing and puffing and trying to blow my house down?! You've already said that Section 2 is all out like lights!"
"I've already contacted the JSSDF for support, Major. They'll be here shortly," Fuyutsuki informed her. "With NERV on lockdown, we should be able to contain these creatures. At least long enough for additional help to arrive. Until then, I don't want you or anyone else setting foot out of your enclosure. I realize that you want to help, but an out-of-control She-Hulk running rampant through NERV Central fighting these invaders could well be worse than the invaders themselves."
Misato wanted to claw her hair out in her frustration over these words. Partly because she knew that the old professor had a valid point. She-Hulk had a bad habit of smashing anything that happened to be in her way, and in a facility filled with people, the potential for both collateral damage and accidental injuries and worse was appalling. "Understood, sir," she finally muttered sourly. "But if whoever's out there manages to get in here, then all bets are off."
"If that happens, then She-Hulk will be our only chance," Fuyutsuki grimly admitted. "Let us hope that it doesn't come to that."
With that, Fuyutsuki hung up. Leaving Misato to mutter, "And since when have we ever been that lucky?" Shaking her head at this, the purple-haired woman turned towards her guests. "Alright, Shinji? Samson? We better batten down the hatches in case our uninvited guests manage to break in. So go find someplace to hide. I'll stay here and make sure that everything's secure. And if anything does manage to break in here, the first thing they'll find is either me or Greenie. And hurry!" Then she looked towards a nearby wall, the sensation in her mind growing in intensity with each passing second. "We don't have much time."
"I – okay, Misato," Shinji shakily nodded before moving away. "But – well –"
"Whatever happens, be careful," Samson broke in.
"Hmph. 'Careful' isn't one of the couple dozen words in Greenie's vocabulary. She generally just sticks with 'smash'," Misato grumbled good-naturedly. "Now get out of sight! It feels like he or she or they are practically right outside!"
Samson nodded before complying. Shinji, he hesitated a few seconds longer before also retreating further into the enclosure. As for Misato, she quickly checked around, studying walls that seemed every bit as formidable as they did every single day. Of course, I know that She-Hulk wouldn't have too much trouble smashing her way out, she reminded herself with a frown. So that begs the question; does whatever's coming here have enough muscle to bash its way in here?
Misato didn't know. And so she just stood there, scanning the walls of her gilded cage. Searching for any signs that something might be breaking in. Listening for the sounds of pounding against metal. Anything that might indicate someone or something was trying to get in even as the sensations in her mind grew even more intense.
Which was why she was utterly astonished when a voice sounded from somewhere to the side. "Wow! This is not what you'd expect the lair of a mindless monster with a penchant for smashing to look like!"
"Huh?!" Misato squawked in pure shock as she whirled to face the source of the voice. And was given an even bigger shock when she saw a humanoid figure that seemed to be made of radiant purple energy sticking out of the wall. As she struggled to collect her jaw up off the floor, the impossible figure floated all the way into the fortified enclosure like it was nothing and looked her way. "Hey, there, cutie!" he addressed her in a smarmier fashion. "You wouldn't happen to know where there's a big, green monster around here, would you?"
Misato just froze, unable to believe what she was seeing. But added to that disbelief was something else. Something about the impossible entity's voice struck a chord in the back of her mind. Culled forth images from the past.
"She's gotta be around here somewhere!" the impossible intruder went on, making a show of peeking under a sofa that was intended for She-Hulk's proportions. "I feel like I'm swimming in gamma here! So she's got to be close!" Then the energy being popped up again from behind the sofa and flashed Misato a dangerous smile. "C'mon, girl! Throw a guy a bone! I'm on a ticking clock here!"
"You…" Misato murmured, furrowing her brows as she chased down the elusive sensations triggered by the all-too-familiar voice and mannerisms. "I…who are you?"
His radiant features reflecting surprise more than anything else, the intruder snickered. "Well, you're not freaking out as bad as most ladies who see me! It's certainly nice to have someone not going, 'Gah! What the hell are you?!' or 'Mommy! Mommy! It's the boogeyman come to eat me!'. You know, the usual." Chuckling at his own wit, the energized invader floated up higher into the air. "Well, my birth certificate says James Darnell. But while my friends and sister call me Jimmy…" he paused, then twirling with a grand flourish, "…most folks just call me…X-Ray!" Then he chuckled again and folded his arms across his chest. "Pretty fitting, wouldn't you say?"
"James…Darnell?" Misato went on, still chasing the elusive images. Until she reached a cluster of memories half-buried in the back of her mind, and they exploded into her consciousness like they were a nuke. "Wait…you were part of the expedition! You and the others! You were working for – Utrecht! That's it!"
Now it was X-Ray's turn to be shocked and confused. "Wait – how'd you know about me being in the Katsuragi Expedition?! Or about Simon?!"
But Misato didn't respond to X-Ray's question. She was too lost in making sense of the impossibility that was before her. "But – how's this possible?! You – I thought that – I saw everything being destroyed! Including your lab! I thought that – how'd you survive?!"
"Wait – you were there?!" X-Ray demanded. Only for his eyes to widen, and then narrow as memories of his own began to resurface. "Hold on a second…yeah, I recognize that hair! You're Misato! Dr. Katsuragi's kid!"
"Wait – Misato Katsuragi?!" came another oddly familiar and forgotten voice. And as Misato looked about, she watched a gaseous cloud emerge from one of the vents and slowly take on a more human form. A form that looked at her with surprise. "Well, I'll be damned! Little Misato, all grown up!"
Now even more dumbstruck, Misato breathed, "Ann?! You – but how?! All this time…I thought that – that I was the only one who survived!"
"Heh. Can't say I blame you," Ann replied with grim humor. "Fact is, we thought we were dead as well. At least at first." Chuckling as if in regard to some private joke, the vaporous vixen shook her head a few times before again focusing on the purple-haired woman. "Well, as much as I'd love to catch up on old times and so on – we don't have a lot of time. So –"
There was a loud, pounding noise at the door. Prompting Misato to look about in surprise even as X-Ray announced, "I'll get it!"
Before Misato could even protest, X-Ray flew over to the door and stuck his hand into the locking mechanism. A few seconds later, the locks could be heard disengaging before someone outside yanked the massive door open. "Whew! Now this is a thick door!" declared a truly colossal figure as he shouldered his way through the opening. "I might have needed a minute to pry this one open!"
"Mike, help the others secure the target!" ordered a smaller, more slender figure. "I'll get to work on the computers. We need to gather as much data as possible, and -!"
"Hey!" started the larger figure, who was looking around with an air of surprised annoyance. "Where is that big green lady, anyway?! I thought you said she was in here, Jimmy!"
"And she is! I swear! This place is so rich in gamma that she has to be around here somewhere!" X-Ray hurriedly assured them even as he floated away from the newcomers, holding his hands up in a placating manner. "But check this out! We found a fellow survivor of the Katsuragi Expedition! None other than the doc's kid herself!"
As both newcomers looked Misato's way, she froze in horror. The larger one was seemingly made of polished, living metal, with huge muscles that might even impress She-Hulk. As for the smaller one, his skin was orange and marked with a wide array of bizarre designs and patterns. But like with their companions, it was their voices that left Misato dumbstruck.
"Simon…Utrecht? Mike…Steel?" Misato breathed, unable to believe what she was living through. "But…how…?"
Both of the named newcomers' expressions exploded with shock. "Hey, it is her!" Mike declared with a surprised smile. "And she turned into quite the looker!"
"Indeed! I'm as surprised as the rest of you!" Simon admitted. "Though I suppose what surprises me the most is that you can even recognize us." Then he snorted loudly and glanced down at his form. "As you can see…we've been through quite a few changes since we last met."
"Yeah, we're talking a complete makeover!" X-Ray grinned wickedly as he flew about in the background. "Which is one of the reasons we've taken on new names to go with the new looks! Meet Vector…!" he started, flitting behind Simon. "Ironclad…!" he continued, shooting in behind Mike. Then he flew next to Ann and concluded, "And you've already met sis, aka Vapor!"
As Misato continued to struggle with this madness, Vector chuckled deep in his throat. "Well, as much of a pleasure as this…unexpected reunion has turned out to be, I'm afraid that we must cut it short," he sternly declared in a business-like manner that Misato knew from the past. "Bottom line, we were sent by our benefactors to find and collect both Gendo Ikari's pet monster –"
"And by that he means She-Hulk," X-Ray tossed in from the sides.
"- as well as any data we could find pertaining to her," Vector concluded, giving X-Ray a look of annoyance. "And I strongly suggest cooperating with us, Misato. Because trust me when I say; we can make this very unpleasant for you if you don't."
"Now, now, Simon. Let's not be so rude to an old friend," Vapor cooed in a vampish manner. "Besides, there's a better way we can get what we want…"
These words and the manner in which they were spoke immediately snapped Misato out of the dazed world of memories and prompted her to confront the gaseous apparition from her past. "What do you mean?"
"Well, it's like this," Vapor began in a feigned polite manner as she drifted before Misato. "I was flowing through the ventilation ducts of this place when I happened upon…a couple of potential nuisances."
Misato felt her heart stopping at these words. And when a nearby door flew open, prompting her to look and see Shinji and Samson collapsed on the floor, wreathed in Vapor's foul fumes. "I didn't want them making a fuss. Potentially alerting She-Hulk before we could track her down," the wraith-like creature went on with deceptive casualness. "So I decided to -"
"Shinji?!" Misato screeched, practically leaping towards the boy and Samson. But before she could take more than a step, a wave of energy slammed into her and sent her flying into a nearby wall.
"Wow, sis! Looks like you struck a nerve!" X-Ray chuckled deviously.
"Simon! I told you to leave this to me!" Vapor muttered sourly even as Misato groaned in pain and tried to recover from the sudden assault. But as the purple-haired woman stood once more, glaring pure death at the invaders and wondering which one had attacked her, the gaseous wraith floated closer. "Now, it's pretty obvious that that boy is important to you. You don't want him hurt. And whether you believe it or not, I don't want to hurt him, either. Unfortunately, those who are handing us our orders don't care who gets hurt. Just so long as they get what they want."
"And as you've already figured out, they want that big, green girl!" X-Ray tossed in.
"So it's in the best interests of both yourself and those two that you tell us where this creature is," Vector stated in a hard manner. "Because while Ann only created sleeping gas for them, she can create poison gas just as easily."
Smash…! came a voice from the back of Misato's mind. Sounding like it was whispering in her ear.
Go right ahead, Misato whispered back even as her heart pounded faster and faster. The rage within her building as she focused on Shinji and Samson. The knowledge that someone she cared for was imperiled partly because of her burning brighter with each passing second.
"So…you want She-Hulk, huh?!" Misato roared, practically feeling her eyes burning green as the mutated specters from her past recoiled in clear surprise. "Well, you got her!"
Author's Notes: Sigh…been dealing with a massive case of depression, and I lost my login for FFNet for a while. Not to mention trying to bring in money to pay off college loans, and…oh, well. You're not here to read about me moaning and complaining. Still, I thought I'd explain why I've been out of action on FFNet for a while. So I do hope that you'll read and review. And maybe check out my other stories?
One of the reasons for my depression is the passing of Stan "The Man" Lee. Yes, I know he was quite old and he had likely lived a full life. But he and the world that he helped create has been a tremendous inspiration to me and has brought me great joy over the course of my own life. His passing was a tremendous blow that left me in tears.
Guest, Shinji as a Sorcerer Supreme? Well, I've heard of a fanfic where he became the apprentice of Disney's Merlin, so why the heck not?
eastWOLF, once again, sorry to be such a wreck. After losing my mother, trying to get something going with college only to fail, and now struggling to make the money I need to pay back my college loans, I haven't been in the best of emotional states. Anyway, I have been doing my best to incorporate things from the comics, while at the same time coming up with my own original ideas. I also noticed that, in recent times, Jennifer Walter's She-Hulk has gained a serious increase in bulk that I definitely approve of. And don't be surprised if someone does wind up getting the Red She-Hulk look. Wow, I didn't realize it had been so long. Again, sorry to take so long.
Guest, at the very least, Shinji's going to be tempted with the possibility of becoming a Hulk. But then, who wouldn't be?
Dragonjek, show me someone in Evangelion that has a good support group. In regards to Shinji's fascination, I can't help but think that becoming a Hulk would be a dream come through for anyone who's been abused or bullied or whatever. The notion that all you'd have to do is lose control and something powerful would show up to destroy your tormentor must be a tempting one. Also, exactly who in Evangelion has good sense? It's about the biggest dysfunction junction in the known universe. Actually, I've been forced to take over Mana's story, and will be working on it when I can. Sigh…what I wouldn't give to be able to make shadow clones. It would be a major help as I get my writing going at full steam again.
Knightowl, I've always felt of Shinji as being afraid of being hurt. That's why he's generally so submissive; it's an attempt to avoid being hurt as he has been in the past. That's why I can't help but feel that he would be tempted by a power that would not only make him virtually indestructible, but also take away his fear. And don't bet against Asuka going red in this story.
Quathis, yeah, Hulk is already scary strong. And lately, he's gotten even scarier. And Shinji's always struck me as being a ticking time bomb just waiting for someone to set him off badly enough.
Panther-Strife, to be honest, I can't see any redemption for Gendo. Not after everything he's done. And I do think it's nice for Shinji to acquire a picture of his mother.
Gijinka Renamon, Gendo is as major league a-hole. Not to mention one of the worst fathers of all time. And please, I'm trying to pretend that the third Rebuild movie doesn't exist.
Anyway, now that that's out of the way, on to the omakes!
"Say, Orion?" Misato began as she waltzed into Orion's office. Not even bothering to look at the bizarre view of the Fourth Wall that lay beyond his window, she instead focused on the beleaguered fanfic writer and artist. "We need to talk."
Slowly looking up at Misato with a heavy scowl on his face, Orion grumbled, "Oh, certainly, Misato. Of course I have nothing to do but talk to you. No, it's not like I'm abysmally behind on several projects, trying to bring in extra money, and straightening out my life! No, no, I have nothing but time to spare for someone who waltzes into my office without even bothering to make an appointment!"
Wincing as she recalled just how much pressure Orion was under, Misato groaned. "Sorry, sorry! This won't take long!"
Sighing and wearing an expression that made it clear that he was resigned to listen to Misato if it got her out of his hair, Orion replied, "It better not. So what is it?"
"This," Misato replied as she tossed multiple comic books onto Orion's desk.
Picking up one of the comics in question, Orion frowned, "This is 'The Immortal Hulk' series."
"That's right," Misato nodded. "Now I know that you research a lot of different comics in order to get ideas for your stories. I know that." Then she paused to shift about uneasily as she eyed the various comics. "And – well, I wasn't sure if you'd read any of this series –"
"I have," Orion broke in without hesitation.
Wincing at this, Misato groaned before proceeding. "Well, you'll have to excuse me for wishing that you hadn't! Because I've been reading this thing, too! And trust me when I say that I don't like the idea of being an undead woman who turns into a sadistic Devil She-Hulk every time she dies! And don't even get me started on -!"
"Then don't get started, Misato. Because I was never even thinking of using some of the more…well, Nightmare Fuel ideas from 'The Immortal Hulk' in your main story. And not even in any of the stories where you're guest-starring," Orion assured her in a tired manner. "Seriously, the kind of BS that goes on this story – I wouldn't do that to…well, anybody!"
Misato gave Orion a look before countering, "I can see you doing that to Asuka."
"Asuka's different. She's a bully. I hate, loathe, and despise bullies. And in that general order," Orion countered in a dismissive fashion. "Look, the point is, I have no intention of doing 'Immortal Hulk' BS to you, alright?"
Letting out a relieved sigh, Misato then nodded. "Alright. Just so long as we're clear on that."
"Oh, we're clear as crystal. And while we're at it, let me make something else perfectly clear," Orion went on…right before pressing a button on his desk.
Which was instantly followed by a large quantity of green slime spilling from the ceiling and directly upon Misato's head. Causing her to cry out in shocked discomfort as the cold, disgusting sludge soaked her from head to toe.
"Next time you want to talk to me about something…make a damned appointment!" Orion roared before pressing a button that teleported Misato away. That done, he returned to work, all the while grumbling, "Seriously, the things I put up with…!"
"Wait…this is Rei Ayanami's file?!" Doc Samson demanded as he studied the virtually empty file folder that had just been presented to him.
"Yup, that's it," Ritsuko assured him.
"But – this is useless!" Samson protested as he looked at the few sheets of paper in the folder. All of which had been heavily redacted, with black blotting out huge blocks of text. "When I was told that I would also be working with the children here, I specifically asked for their files! So I would be better able to help them when I started working with them!" Holding up the heavily-redacted and pathetically thin file, Samson went on to say, "This file doesn't tell me anything at all!"
Sighing, Ritsuko nodded. "I know, and I'm sorry about that. But the 1st Child's history has effectively been erased by the Marduk Institute. That's the best I can do."
Groaning at this, Samson then placed the horrendously worthless file on his desk. "What the other children and their files? Are they going to be as 'helpful'?"
Chuckling at this, Ritsuko replied, "Don't worry. Shinji and Asuka's files haven't been censored in the slightest. In fact, I have Shinji's right here."
As Ritsuko handed the file in question to Samson, he noted that it was significantly fatter than Rei's. "Ah, thank you. This will certainly be a big help," he assured the faux-blonde doctor. "And Asuka's file?"
"It's on the way," Ritsuko replied. "I would have brought it with me, but…well, there were some issues about getting a hard copy here."
Frowning again, Samson asked, "What kind of issues? Are some parts of it classified?"
"No, that's not it," Ritsuko replied with a shake of her head. "The problem was the size of the file."
Furrowing his brows, Samson was about to ask what Ritsuko meant by this when there was an ominous creaking sound from above. "Ah, that'd be Asuka's file now!" the faux-blonde declared even as she started backing towards the door. "Alright, Rei! Let him have it!"
"Yes, ma'am," came Rei's quite voice over some kind of speaker. Which was all the warning Samson had before an enormous hand forcibly ripped the ceiling off of his office.
"What in the -?!" Samson cried out as he looked up to see Unit 00 lifting up the ceiling with one hand. Right before it started lowering a massive pile of huge folders towards him.
And as several heavy folders spilled down upon Samson, he groaned in realization. "I should've known that landing in an 'Evangelion' fic wouldn't be a cakewalk…"