Chapter Nine

“Black Hole Sun”

 

            The air in the testing booth was sterile and on the chilly side.  Ranma took another sip of his coffee.  He had long since stopped carrying around cold drinks because they inevitably wound up being spilled on his person, triggering his curse.  He stood at the back of the room watching the monitor that showed the three kids seeming to do nothing.  All the screens around him displayed pertinent information, but no one but he could sense what was happening.  The children were doing ‘synchronization tests’, but Ranma could tell that what they were really doing was conditioning their chi to match that of the EVAs.

 

            He considered each of them in turn.  Shinji and Asuka both nearly matched the chi given off by their EVAs, maybe just a shade or two off, but according to the computers there was nearly a fifty percent difference in the chi. Rei, on the other hand, seemed almost to match her EVA, but there was something very wrong with the interface, some irreconcilable difference that could not be overcome.  Her synch ratio had always been fairly consistent compared to the other two pilots.

 

            “So where’s Misato today?”  Ritsuko asked as she looked over the data before her.

 

            Ranma moved the cup of coffee away from his mouth.  “She’s still out with the flu.  She was up all night whining and moaning and then puking this morning.”

 

            “Why doesn’t she go to the doctor?”  Ritsuko turned to him and asked.

 

            He rolled his eyes.  “The woman’s as stubborn as a mule.  She said it would all blow over soon and she’ll be back on track, but, if this goes on for another week, I’m carrying her butt to the doctor.”

 

            “Well, would you go to the doctor if you had the flu?”  The blonde scientist asked him with a smirk on her face.

 

            “That’s different!  I heal a lot faster than a normal person!”  He came back with his defensive remark.

 

            “Sure.”  Ritsuko gave him the look that most women give a man when he says something they consider to be very egotistical.

 

            Thankfully Ranma’s oblivious aura deflected all sarcasm and spiteful expressions.  He walked over and leaned over Maya’s seat.  “So how are the kid’s scores today?”

 

            “Eep!” Maya hadn’t heard him step up behind her.  She was so startled that she spilt her Coke…all over Ranma.

 

            Onna-Ranma just rolled her eyes and dumped her remaining coffee over herself, changing back into her birth form.  “Okay, you’re not allowed to have any more drinks around me.”

 

            Blushing a deep red, she turned quickly back to her duty station.  “I’m sorry!”  She exclaimed quickly.

 

            Ritsuko smirked from where she was standing.  If she didn’t know that Maya was socially a very shy and introverted person, she would almost believe that she had a crush on the man.

 

            “Anyway,” Ranma took a deep breath.  “How’re the kid’s scores?”

 

            “Well, take a look.”  Maya motioned to the screen.

 

            The martial artist leaned in and studied the screen for about thirty seconds, nodding his head and making noises as if reading something very interesting, before turning his face to hers.  “You know I can’t read this.”  Maya almost fell out of her seat in an attempted facefault, but Ranma’s hand on her shoulder kept her in place. “Just tell me how they’re doing.”

 

            Maya nervously found her voice again.  “Shinji has actually managed to surpass Asuka’s sync ratio.  They’ve both doing very well, and Shinji has been improving by leaps and bounds.”

 

            “So their sync ratio’s haven’t dropped lately?”  He asked carefully.

 

            “No, why do you ask?”  She turned and gave him a concerned look.

 

            Ritsuko stepped over to where they were talking.  “I’ve noticed the Shinji and Asuka have been acting strangely lately.  Is there something we should know about?”

 

            Ranma shook his head.  “The two won’t talk to each other.  The only time they interact is in training and then they only talk as little as they have to.  Whenever they’re on their own they run off to their friend’s houses to avoid one another.  I’ve tried to ask them what’s going on, but they won’t tell me.”

 

            “Maybe they’re worried about Misato.  They’re both already lost a mother…”  Ritsuko commented idly.

 

            “No, that’s not it.”  Ranma stood up and crossed his arms.  “They’ve been like this since we got back from the wedding.  I don’t know if Akane’s appearance had anything to do with it, but that’s the only thing I can think of.”

 

            “At least it’s not affecting their work.”  Ritsuko commented.

 

            “Hey, how did I do?”  The intercom came on with Shinji’s voice.

 

            “You’re on top, kid. Good work.”  Ranma smirked as he expected some sort of barb from Asuka.

 

            “Can I be excused?  I’m getting sick of sitting in this thing”, was her only reply.

 

            Ritsuko sighed.  “Yes, you may.  Maya, drain the LCL and let the kids get back into their street clothes.  We’re done with testing for today.”

 

            The test plugs lowered out of sight where the children would be allowed to change into their civvies.  Ranma grimaced as if he were about to take some very terrible medicine.  “So has anyone seen Kaji around?  I need to talk to him.”

 

            The doctor cocked an eyebrow.  “What do you need to talk to him about?”

 

            “Just some stupid guy stuff.”  One thing that hadn’t changed over the years, Ranma was still a poor liar.

 

            Luckily Ritsuko had no reason to suspect him of anything.  She dismissed it as ‘stupid guy stuff’, or maybe he wanted to beat him up for leading Asuka on.  “He’s called in the past three days.  He said he’s cashing in his vacation, but I happen to know that he hasn’t left his apartment.”

 

            “Maybe he’s got the flu too?”  Ranma volunteered.

 

            The blonde just shrugged.  “I don’t know, but he sounded fine over the phone.”

 

            Ranma shook his head.  “Well, it can wait.  It’s time to put the kids through afternoon training.  Maybe I can get Shinji and Asuka to talk about what’s eating them.”

 

 

 

            Back in the girl’s locker room, Asuka was fuming.  “I can’t believe that idiot beat us!”  She hastily shucked her plugsuit.  “Theirs is no way he could overcome my vastly superior intellect!  Not to mention my piloting skills!  How did he beat us?!”

 

            She turned and saw that Rei was just casually putting on her clothes for afternoon martial arts training, a white gi with an azure blue belt.  “Don’t you even care that we’re playing second fiddle to the third child?”  For some reason she had a notion to try playing the violin.  A thought of her and Shinji playing a duet popped into her head.  She quickly squashed the thought.  “Well?”

 

            “I’m leaving.”  Rei said with no emotion in her voice as she strode out the door.

 

            Asuka realized that Rei didn’t care one way or another, so she just decided to change into the Chinese outfit Misato had bought her what seemed almost a lifetime ago, the same outfit that Shinji was undoubtedly going to be wearing as well.  She shook her head once more and finished changing.

 

 

 

            Outside, Shinji was waiting a few paces away from the girl’s locker room.  He waited until Rei came out and then quickly strode over to match pace with her.  “So, why were you in the jet copter that picked up father at the graveyard the other day?”  He tried to ask as casually as he could.

 

            “I was ordered to.”  Rei replied simply.

 

            “Why?”

 

            “I didn’t ask.”

 

            Shinji walked in front of her and blocked her path.  “Don’t you ever question what he asks of you?  Don’t you ever wonder about all the attention he gives you?”

 

            “I’ve asked you before, don’t you trust your father?”  Her voice started to have an edge to it.

 

            “Yeah, and I still remember the slap, but this isn’t about trust.  This is about knowing my father.  He only called me when he wanted to use me.  He doesn’t care about people, he just using them like tools.  I was just wondering what he was doing to you.”  He took a deep breath.  “I told you that the next time to let me save you.  I’m asking for that chance right now.”

 

            Rei just stood there with no emotion as she usually did, but Shinji could sense something about her.  Concern?  Revulsion?  Anger?  Sadness?  What was it?  She finally just walked around Shinji and continued on her way.  “We need to get to training.  Ranma will be waiting for us.”

 

            Shinji shook his head as she left and turned in time to see Asuka emerging from the locker room, wearing the same outfit as he.  She was just in time to see Rei walk around him and stride away.

 

            Asuka strode over in front of him, hauled back, and nailed him in the mouth with the strongest punch she could.

 

            Shinji flew back and dented the wall behind him.  He fell to the floor and slowly stood back up, wiping some blood away from his mouth at the same time.  “What was that for?!”  He demanded.

 

            She scowled at him.  “That’s for being a pig!”  She turned and stomped off to practice.

 

            The boy shook his head.  “What did I do?”  He asked himself.  Unfortunately no one answered.

 

 

 

            The afternoon training was rigorous, as usual, but still Asuka and Shinji wouldn’t speak to each other more than necessary.  Ranma saw that Shinji wanted to talk to her, but something kept him back.  When not in combat, Asuka would take tentative looks at the boy, but would quickly look away from him.  Ranma tried to get them to open up, but, not being the touchy-feeling psychiatric type, he couldn’t get them to open up. 

 

            After releasing the children to their own devices, he went back up to operations center and was surprised to see Misato standing beside Ritsuko with one hand holding a cup of coffee and the other arm across her stomach like she was trying to hold something down. 

 

            Ranma scowled and strode up behind the smaller woman.  “You should be in bed.”

 

            The major turned and glared at him.  “I keep telling you, I’m fine!”  She turned back around to stare at the technicians running diagnostics on the three coffin-like magi computers.  “What are you doing up here anyway?  Are the kids already done with their training?”

 

            He nodded his head and stepped up beside her.  “The kids are already done.  I came up here to see if Kaji was around.”

 

            “Are they talking yet?”  Misato knew that she didn’t have to explain whom she was talking about.

 

            “Nope.  It looks like they both want to, but something is holding them back.  So, do you know where Kaji is?”

 

            Misato snorted and finished off her coffee.  “I’ve got three kids to look after.  Do I look like I have a spare eye to keep on him?”

 

            The martial artist gave her a confused look.  “Three?  Have you started taking care of Rei too?”

 

            “I’m talking about you, idiot.”  She strode over and filled her coffee as Ritsuko chuckled into her hand and brought her clipboard up to cover it.

 

            The blonde looked down and saw the diagnostics were almost finished.  “Well, I guess the family dynamic needs some adjustment.”

 

            Ranma smirked.  “Says the single woman.  Since we’re taking care of Shinji and Asuka, how about you take in Rei?  It’s a shame that she lives in that dump of an apartment.”

 

            Ritsuko fumbled her clipboard before regaining her equilibrium.  “I don’t think that would be a very good idea.”  She went to the computer and put in some quick figures, effectively ending the conversation with the taller man.

 

            “Hello, everyone.”  A cocky, yet somehow subdued voice came from the door at the back.

 

            Misato turned to shout at the man at how late he was, but dropped her coffee as a shocked look reigned over her face.

 

            Ritsuko turned at the sound of cup and liquid spilling.  She saw the man standing in the back and her jaw dropped.  She was in a state of suspended animation with a stunned demeanor etched on her features.  Her clipboard left her fingers and clattered on the floor.

 

            Ranma turned around to see what the commotion was all about and started a bit.  “Wow, you look almost like a different person, Kaji.  Is there a funeral or something?”

 

            Just striding through the door was indeed Kaji, except for a few changes.  His hair cleaned, brushed, and pulled neatly back into a ponytail; his face was clean-shaven; and his clothes were pressed and spotless.  He was even wearing a coat and tie!  He walked past everyone and looked over the computers.  “No funeral but my own.”

 

            Misato walked over and openmouthed stared at him as she inspected him from head to toe.  “What the hell happened?  I think this is the first time I’ve actually seen all of your chin!”

 

            Ritsuko chuckled.  “So that’s where you’ve been the last three days.  It’s taken you that long to get cleaned up.”

 

            A light of realization came on in Misato’s brain and she started to twitch.  “Three days?  You haven’t left your apartment for three days?!”

 

            The blonde doctor looked between Misato and Kaji, something dawned on her, and she outright roared with laughter.  “You’ve taken a new lover!”  She had to put a hand on one of the technician’s seats to steady herself.  “Looks like she’s looking for a husband at that!”

 

            Kaji grimaced.  “I really don’t want to talk about it.”

 

            Misato finally smirked at the humor of the situation.  “So what’s she like?  Anyone we know?”

 

            “Have you ever had a houseguest that wouldn’t leave?  And worst of all, have you ever been confused on whether or not you wanted them to leave?”  Kaji sighed as he turned from her.

 

            Misato looked over at Ranma.  “Oh, I know the feeling.”

 

            “Hey!”  Ranma strode over and put a hand on Kaji’s shoulder.  “Come on, I’ve got to talk to you.  We can leave this foolishness to the women.”

 

            “Ahh…right when it was getting fun.”  Ritsuko chortled again.

 

            Kaji and Ranma strode out into the hallway.  After they had walked a fair distance, Ranma checked over his shoulder and around the room before speaking.  “There was a major shipment that went out of here while you were…ahem…sequestered.”  He handed a sheet to Kaji.  “Here’s the manifest, but I can’t make heads or tails of the jargon and code words.”

 

            The brown-haired man frowned, as he looked it over.  “They’ve really done it, haven’t they?”

 

            Ranma gave him a quizzical expression.  “Done what?”

 

            “They’ve completed the dummy plug program.  They just shipped out nine units.”  Kaji folded the paper and put it away.

 

            “What are the dummy plugs?”

 

            “The dummy plugs are automatic pilots for the EVAs that use actual pilot ingrams for control.  They’re supposed to be backups in case the pilot dies.  They can also be used to replace pilots.”

 

            Ranma raised his eyebrows.  “That’s good, isn’t it?  That means we don’t have to send the kids into combat.”

 

            “No, it’s not so good.”  Kaji’s face was grim.  “They used unstable brainwaves for them.  They could destroy the angel, or they could go berserk and destroy everything else.”

 

            Ranma scratched his head.  “So, why did they ship nine units of this out the door?”

 

            Kaji shook his head.  “I can’t guess.  It’s too late to implement one for Unit 03.  That EVA is already en route to NERV as we speak.  Although plans are in work to retrofit Unit One with a dummy plug right now, but I don’t see them doing that outside this facility.”

 

            “Maybe they sent them out for testing or something?”

 

            “Maybe.”

 

            They took a few more steps before Kaji reached into his coat and handed a packet to Ranma.  He looked down at it and raised an eyebrow toward Kaji.  “What’s this?”

 

            “Akane said it was from Nabiki, and she forgot to deliver this to you.”

           

            Both of Ranma’s eyebrows went up at that.  “Akane’s your new lover?  Man, I didn’t think she had it in her for pre-marital sex.”  He took a closer look at Kaji.  “It is pre-martial isn’t it?”

 

            “Hell yes.”  Kaji quickly spouted out.  “I still don’t know if I want a lover, much less a wife.  I’ve already had to have another bed delivered to my apartment.  You’re lucky you wound up with Misato, Akane’s a tigress in bed.”

 

            Ranma shuddered.  “Don’t call her that.”

 

            “Why not?”  Kaji smirked at the martial artist.  “Ailurophobia acting up?”

 

            “No, you’re Kuno quoting.  I’d really hate to have to beat your ass on principle.”

 

            “Heh.”  Kaji chuckled.  “Fair enough.”

 

            Suddenly, Ranma’s back went ramrod straight and he looked to the North.

 

            Kaji looked and didn’t see anything.  “What?”

 

            “Angel.”  Ranma spoke the word and then tore off down the hallway back to ops. 

 

The martial artist burst into ops and strode up to where Ritsuko and Misato were talking.  “You need to call in the pilots.  There’s another angel on the way!”

 

Ritsuko nodded and looked up at the display screen where it showed a black and white swirl sphere already moving into town.  We’ve already seen it and the pilots are en route.  You’re a little late on this one Saotome.”

 

He looked up at the screen and looked at the buildings around the angel.  “Something’s wrong.”

 

Misato looked at him.  “What’s that?”

 

“I should have been able to sense that thing long before now.  Tell the pilots to be careful with this one.”

 

“They’ve been careful with all of them.”  The major looked back to the screen.

 

“The children are in their EVAs.”  Maya reported.

 

“EVA LAUNCH!”

 

 

 

A short time later, the Evangelions were ducked behind the exposed buildings of Tokyo-3.  Shinji in Unit 01 had a pistol drawn and held upward next to his shoulder.  Asuka in Unit 02 was further back with the same large glaive she had attempted to kill the dual angel with.  Further back and to the side, Rei in Unit 00 had a positron rifle with its bipod set on a smaller building’s roof trained on the oncoming angel.

 

Shinji put a hand out to grab a corner of the building he was behind and pulled himself around to get a look at the angel.  “What’s the call?”

 

Misato’s voice came over the communications array.  “By the numbers.  Surround it and eliminate.”

 

Back in the operations center Ranma was looking tense.  Ritsuko noticed and stepped over next to him and whispered.  “Maybe you and Misato should sneak away to the elevator for good luck.”

 

Ranma glared at her as Misato stifled a laugh.  The major turned back to the screen.  “One of you will take point and the others flank.”

 

“How about Mr. Number One Big Shot Shinji on point?”  Asuka asked mockingly.

 

“Asuka, that’s really unnecessary.”  Misato reprimanded her.

 

“It’s all right Misato.”  Came Shinji’s voice.  “I’ve got it.  Rei you pull off your building and head him off on the right.  Asuka you take the left.”

 

“You don’t have to sound so happy about ordering us around!”  Asuka complained.

 

“Just shut up and follow orders, you idiot!”

 

Ranma turned to Misato.  “Are you sure we wanted them talking to one another again?”

 

“They’ll handle this.”  The major hissed.  She secretly crossed her fingers behind her back.

 

Back on the field, Shinji waited patiently as the other two EVAs moved into position.  He crouched even as the angel floated on the other side of the building that he was hiding behind.  “Are you guys in position yet?”

 

“Unit 00 in position.”  Rei’s unemotional voice came over the com.

 

“I’m ready, you jerk!”  Asuka sounded off.

 

“Go!”  Shinji pulled his Evangelion around the corner of the building and fired three shots into the beast.  Simultaneously, Rei fired a blast from the positron rifle.  Asuka moved in for the coup de grace, when the angel suddenly disappeared.  “Where’d it go?”  Shinji asked in a confused tone.

 

“Below you!”  Ranma shouted.

 

Before he knew what he was doing, Shinji had leapt to the top of the building he had been hiding behind. Asuka and Rei weren’t as quick to react as a shadow spread out from the where the angel was.  Buildings and EVAs began to sink into the blackness.

 

“SHINJI!!!”  Asuka shouted.

 

The purple robot leapt to a building next to Asuka.  “Take my hand!”  The pilot of the red EVA complied and she was lifted from the murkiness.  “Are you okay?”

 

“I’m fine.”  Asuka replied while her EVA hugged his unconsciously.

 

They both heard a scream come over the radio.  “REI!”  Shinji shouted.  He untangled himself from Asuka on the sinking building.  “Get away from here, Asuka!  I’m going to get Rei!”

 

“Not alone you’re not!”  She shouted at him.

 

“I said…”  Unit 01 grabbed Unit 02 by the arm and inner thigh and hauled the red robot into the air above its head.  “GET OUT OF HERE!!!”  Shinji pushed forward on his controls and threw Asuka well away from the sinking buildings.

 

“SHINJI!!!”  Asuka shouted as she flew through the air.

 

The purple EVA leapt off the building it was on before the darkness could claim it.  He landed on another sinking building and looked to where Rei should have been.  What he saw was the head and one arm of the sinking robot.  “REI!”  He kicked off as hard as he could from the building he was on, putting the EVA into a horizontal dive.  He grabbed the raised arm with both hands and flexed his arms inward.  When his center of gravity was behind the other EVA, Unit 01 curled into a tight ball and turned his forward momentum into a strong centrifugal force, much like an ice skater that starts a turn with their arms out and then pulls them in to quickly spin in place.

 

The result of Unit 01’s mid-air somersault was that Unit 00 was ripped from the blackness and thrown forward over the purple robot’s shoulder.  The flight of the blue EVA was enough to clear the shadow of the angel.  Having lost all of his momentum, Shinji fell into the murk and was quickly swallowed up.

 

“SHINJI!!!”  Asuka cried as she started running for the shadow.  Unit 02 was stopped short by Unit 00, which had caught her around the waist with her EVA’s arm.  “What are you doing?!?!  I’ve got to get Shinji!”  She cried desperately.

 

“Would you sacrifice what he risked his life for?”  Rei’s emotionless voice came over Asuka’s radio.

 

“What?”

 

“He sacrificed his life for ours.  We can’t throw that away recklessly.  He bought us time to figure out how to defeat the angel.”

 

Tears began to stream down Asuka’s face as she pushed her EVA harder.  “NOOO!!!  I’m not going to let him die!!!”

 

Back in the operations center, Ranma was standing with his brow furrowed and Misato was leaning over Hyuga’s chair watching the action on the field.  She reached out and muted the communications line.  “Shut down Unit 02.”

 

The bespectacled man looked at her.  “Ma’am?”

 

“Initiate manual shutdown of Evangelion Unit 02.  She’ll only get herself killed trying to pull Shinji out of there.  Also, reel in Shinji’s power cable see if he’s at the end of it.”

 

“Yes, major.”  Hyuga turned to Maya who nodded her head back.  “Initiating Unit 02 shutdown and retracting power cable for Unit 01.

 

As the red Evangelion stopped moving and the cord came back with nothing but a severed end, tears formed in Misato’s eyes.  She suddenly became frozen in place by the sight.

 

Seeing the major’s unresponsive state, Ritsuko stepped up behind the technicians.  “Has the angel stopped expanding?”

 

“Yes, ma’am.”  Aoba answered.

 

“Then let’s get a team down there and figure out what that THING is.”

 

Everyone quickly hopped to their feet and left the operations area, everyone except for Ranma and Misato.  Ranma pulled Misato away from the control boards, and she turned and clung to him and cried into his shoulder.

 

 

 

Sometime later, a temporary research facility had been set up on the edge of the shadow.  Ranma and Misato arrived to see Kaji physically restraining Asuka, who was still trying to launch herself bodily into the shadow, even though her Evangelion was knelt to the side beside Unit 00.

 

Ranma ran up and took the girl out of Kaji’s arms.  “What’s wrong with you?”  He questioned the auburn-haired girl.

 

“Shinji’s still in there!  I can’t let him die!”

 

“No one’s going to let him die, now calm down!”  He fought to bring her back under control.  “Why are you doing this?”  She still struggled.  “Does this have anything to do with you two not speaking with each other?”

 

Asuka slumped in his arms with one hand stretched out to the shadow.  “It should have been me.  He shouldn’t have died for me.”

 

Ranma hugged her close.  “He’s not dead yet.  You haven’t seen a body.  Why should it have been you?”

 

“I’m not worth it.  It should have been me to die saving him.”

 

Ranma turned her around where she was facing him.  “What are you talking about?  Shinji thought you were worth it!  Don’t cheapen his feelings like that!”

 

“But…but…”

 

Ranma saw the look in her eyes, the look of someone whom had lost someone they loved.  He turned and whistled to Misato.  When he had her attention, he tilted his head in a ‘come hither’ motion.  She strode over and Ranma handed Asuka off to her.  “Tag, you’re in.”

 

Misato held her ‘daughter’ and gave him a confused look.  “What?”

 

“You’re more qualified to handle her from here.”

 

“What do you mean?”  He reached out and squeezed her breast.  “Okay.”  She looked down at Asuka.  “What’s the problem?”

 

Tears came from the girl like a flood now.  Through chokes and sobs she managed to relate about what had happened between her and Shinji while Misato and Ranma had been at the wedding even including the kiss and uncomfortable silence.

 

Misato looked up at Ranma.  “I’m not qualified for this!”

 

“You’re more qualified than I am!”  Ranma held up his hands and stepped back.

 

“Okay.”  She looked back down to the crying girl in her arms.  “Asuka, let’s sit down and talk about this…”  She led the little girl away, leaving Kaji and Ranma standing there.

 

Ranma looked over his shoulder at the other man.  “Any thoughts.”

 

Kaji, who had kept to himself up to this point, spoke up.  “None at all.”  He smirked.  “Maybe just a little bruised ego from being rejected so easily.”

 

Ranma rolled his eyes.  “About the angel!”

 

“None there either.”

 

Ranma shook his head and strode out to edge of the shadow where Dr Akagi was going over some figures.  He knelt at the edge and stared into the blackness.  “So how long does he have?”

 

“Another fifteen hours if he went into minimal power mode.”

 

“So what is that thing?”

 

“It’s an angel that’s six hundred and eighty meters in diameter and three nanometers thick.  Within that space is an inverted AT Field, a sea of Dirac.”  Ranma gave her a befuddled look.  “A pocket universe.”

 

He nodded his head.  “Okay, so it’s a big hidden weapons robe.  Inverted AT field?”  Ritsuko nodded.  “So that’s why I couldn’t sense it.  So what are you going to do?”

 

“We’re trying to figure that out.”

 

Ranma shook his head and reached out for the shadow with his hand.  He grabbed a heavy piece of machinery with his other.  His hand sunk into the shadow, and felt no pull.  He released his other hand and put it with his other hand in the murky sea.

 

“What are you doing?”  Ritsuko asked.

 

“I’m trying to get a feel for this thing.”  He closed his eyes and began to glow.  A white aura surrounded him, and he shook his head.  His muscles tensed as his aura turned blue.  An explosion went off and blew him back into the heavy equipment he had tried to anchor himself with before.

 

Ritsuko knelt down and checked him over.  “Are you okay?”

 

Ranma looked down at his hands and saw they were in once piece, if a little scorched.  “Yeah, I’m cool.”  He flexed his hands to make for certain.

 

“What happened?  What did you do?”  Ritsuko asked quickly.

 

The martial artist stood up from the debris of what was once the heavy equipment and brushed himself off.  “You’re wrong.  It’s not quite an inverted AT-Field, it’s an anti-human field.”

 

“What?”

 

“The white glow that you saw was pure chi; no emotion, just power, much like the AT fields given off by the EVAs.  The explosion happened when I channeled emotion into it.  I may not be a physicist, but I do know that two energies of exact opposite types try to annihilate one another.”  He crossed his arms and gazed out into the sea of black with a glower on his face.

 

“So…So could you teach Rei and Asuka how to do that?”  Ritsuko asked hesitantly.  “Maybe we could destroy the angel and eject Shinji.”

 

Ranma shook his head.  “Maybe if I had a couple more months to train with Asuka, I could have her do it, but there is simply not enough time before Shinji runs out of air.”

 

Ritsuko sighed.  “I guess we’ll have to find another way then.”

 

 

 

Twelve hours later Shinji was still sitting in his EVA trapped inside of the black hole angel.  He powered up the EVA once more to see if the sensors picked up anything.  “Still nothing but static.”  He commented as he toggled the controls back to life support mode.

 

He sighed and leaned back in his seat.  “Twelve hours and still no rescue or avenue of escape.”  He looked around the entry plug of the Evangelion.  “Well, it’s not one of my first choices of places or ways to die, but at least Rei and Asuka are safe…for now.”

 

He reached over and turned the thermostat down another two degrees.  The power savings should allow him to last for a few more minutes.  He took a deep breath and reclined back in the seat.  “Father.”  Images began to filter through his head of Gendou, images of the look of disappointment of when he ran away, the cool indifference from when he came back, and the scowl of hatred when he looked at Ranma.  “Ranma.”  He remembered their first meeting on the train, the first battle in the EVA when the martial artist had tried to help him, and then images of Ranma and Misato either arguing or kissing, of more…

 

“Misato.”  He saw her smiling face when she was having a good time, the scowling reproach when he got in trouble, the motherly concern for he and Asuka.  “Asuka.”  Asuka with her scowl when he got the best of her, her smile when she got the best of him, the way she looked when she was getting ready for bed when they slept together in the living room…the kiss…

 

“Rei?”  Who was she?  Where did she come from?  Why does it seem like he should have deep feelings for her?

 

“All of them are my family.  I’ll miss them all.  I…I love them all.”  His neck went limp and his head fell forward.

 

Suddenly he felt another presence in the entry plug.  “Who’s there?”

 

“Ikari Shinji.”

 

“No.  I’m Ikari Shinji.”

 

“There was always two.”

 

“Two?”

 

“Two Ikari Shinjis.  The Shinji you perceive and the Shinji others perceive.”

 

“NO!”

 

“What?”

 

“There is only one Ikari Shinji.”

 

“No, there are two, the internal and the external.  How you seen yourself and how others see you.”

 

Shinji slammed his fist down on the controls.  “NO!!!  There is only me!  Ikari Shinji of the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts, NERV officer, pilot of Unit 01!”

 

“But who am I, if not you?”

 

“You’re the angel, and you’re trying to confuse me!  I AM IKARI SHINJI, I HAVE A FAMILY THAT LOVES ME, AND YOU WILL NOT DEFEAT ME!!!”

 

Shinji began to glow blue...the Evangelion Unit 01 began to glow blue…Under power other than the reserve battery, the Evangelion began to move.  Its hands came forward and the wrists met with the palms facing outward.

 

“I’m proud of you.”  Came a female voice in the back of Shinji’s mind.

 

“MOKO TAKABISHA!!!”

 

 

 

Up on the surface, they were beginning to lay out the plans for bombing the angel with all the remaining N2 mines that the UN had at its disposal with Ranma and Misato standing aside shaking their heads no fervently.  Suddenly ground began to shake violently.  The shadow of the angel began to crack and fissure like an earthquake.

 

“What’s going on?!”  Misato yelled out.

 

Ranma grabbed her hand and dragged her outside.  “I feel a large chi source.  It might be Shinji!”

 

Asuka and Rei came running to the adults.  The auburn-haired girl made it first.  “Did you say Shinji?!?!”

 

Ranma nodded than looked up, while everyone else looked down.  The field of black was splintered like a pavement after an enormous earthquake.  Up above, the sphere that was actually the shadow of the angel turned jet black, and then started to change into a shade of dark blue.  Ranma pointed up and told everyone to turn his or her eyes skyward.

 

Cracks formed on the surface of the dark sphere, light poured out of them like streams from a bursting dam.  At last the small fractures propagated until they met and the sphere shattered!  Evangelion Unit 01 dropped to its feet with its arms extended forward.  The arms dropped to the side and the hands of the great robot had wisps of blue smoke trailing off of them, and then the robot dropped to a knee.  An azure halo faded from around the robot as the entry plug ejected and the LCL fluid poured from the emergency outlets.  The hatch slid open with a hiss and a figure stood atop the EVA.  The Lilliputian figure leapt from the neck, to the knee, to the ground at a crouch.  He stood up and looked at everyone staring back at him.

 

The young man took a few shaky steps toward Ranma, Misato, Asuka, and Rei.  He stopped about fifty feet off.  “There is only one.  I am Ikari Shinji.”  His eyes went from hard to glass as he looked at his adopted family.  “I just wanted to see all of you again.”  His eyes rolled up into his head and he slumped to the ground.

 

            Ranma and co dropped everything and ran to meet the boy.  By some fluke of physics, Misato made it there first.  She swept him up into a large hug.  “Shinji!”  Tears filled her eyes as Asuka joined in the embrace.

 

            Ranma had stopped a few steps off where Rei was standing.  She looked on as Misato and Asuka was coming close to crushing the unconscious boy with their tender affection.  “They’re crying.  Why are they sad?”

 

            The martial artist put a hand on her shoulder.  “They’re happy to have him back.  I would have thought you would be to.  He did save your life.”  She nodded.  “Why don’t you go join them?”

 

            “I don’t understand the situation.”  The blue-haired girl commented unemotionally.

 

            “Just go hug the boy.”

 

            Rei nodded her head and followed his instructions.  She walked up and joined the group hug.  Misato brought her into the embrace with one arm.  Ranma just smiled as he looked on.

 

            “All right everyone, there’s plenty of time for that when he wakes up.”  Ritsuko commented as she brought the paramedics up to take care of Shinji.  After a brief fight with Asuka, they managed to get the boy on the gurney and wheeled off toward the ambulance.

 

            Ranma walked up and put an arm around Misato and Asuka, both girls rested their heads on his chest.  “Come on. Let’s get home.  It’s been a long day.”

 

            The women nodded in agreement as he led them away from the scene.  Ranma turned to see Rei still watching the ambulance.  “Rei?”

 

            She turned and looked at him.  “Yes?”

 

            “Do you want to go with him?”

 

            “I don’t know.”  Came her answer.

 

            “I’m sure if you ask them, they’ll let you ride along to the hospital.”  He smirked at her.  She nodded and went toward the medical vehicle.

 

            “I want to go too!  There’s no way wondergirl is going to one up me!”  Asuka complained.

 

            Ranma lifted up her face and looked into her eyes.  “If I didn’t know better, I would think that you were in love with him.”

 

            She quickly disengaged from Misato and Ranma and strode toward the condo in a huff.  Misato leaned into Ranma once more.  “You do have a way with women.”

 

            “Just because I know how to push their buttons doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing.”  He commented with a smile on his face.  “Let’s get some rest and we’ll take Asuka to see Shinji first thing in the morning.”  Misato nodded and they slowly followed Asuka back toward their condo, leaving the rest of the NERV personnel to deal with the cleanup.

 

 

 

            The next morning, as good as his word, he took Asuka to the hospital at the crack of dawn.  They arrived to see Rei, whom had changed into her normal school uniform attire, already bringing Shinji breakfast.  Asuka ran up to his bedside as Misato and Ranma stood off to the side.

 

            Shinji’s eyes slowly opened to see a room full of people.  He smirked as he looked at Rei and Asuka looking down on him.  He turned toward the auburn-haired pilot.  “Does this mean you’re not mad at me anymore?”

 

            Asuka nodded with the trace of a tear in her eye.  “I wasn’t mad at you in the first place.”

 

            He turned his gaze to Rei.  “It’s good to see you Rei.  How are you feeling?”

 

            She gazed back at him.  “Is this another time to smile?”  Asuka gave her a look like she was an alien and Shinji nodded.  Rei beamed one of her brilliant smiles at him.  “I feel much better now.”

 

            Asuka scowled at the thinner girl as she saw how Shinji and her were looking at each other.  Oblivious to that, Shinji turned toward Ranma and Misato.  “I’m glad you all came.”

 

            Misato smiled at him.  “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.  My stomach turning knots from the flu right now, but I’ll bear that pain for you.”

 

            “And I’ll deal with her being a pain about bearing that pain for you.”  Ranma smirked his cocky grin as Misato growled at him.  “You did good kid. Now there’s something I need to talk to you about, the rest of you are going to have to excuse us for some guy talk.”

 

            “There’s such a thing?  I thought it only consisted of perverted stuff and sports?”  Asuka smarted off.

 

            “Just wait outside for a little bit.”  He waited until everyone honored his wish, and then walked over and stood beside the bed.  “You pulled it off, didn’t you?”

 

            Shinji looked up at him.  “What?”

 

            “The Moko Takabisha.  You shot one off inside of the angel.”

 

            The boy scratched his head.  “The details are a little fuzzy, but yes I did.  I don’t know if I could do it without the EVA, but I managed to do it inside of the shadow.”

 

            Ranma sat down on the bed.  “In case you haven’t figured it out, I consider you the son I never had.”  Shinji nodded.  “Therefore there is some father-son business that needs to be taken care of.”

 

            “Like what?”  Shinji asked.  “Please tell me this isn’t the birds and the bees speech, I’ve already heard it several times in the schools I’ve been in.”

 

            “Don’t worry kid, I’m sure if I told you the birds and the bees you’d be more confused than any other teenager on this planet.  Anyway, what I was talking about.”  He cleared his throat and stood up once more.  “Ikari Shinji, in light of there being no heir-apparent for the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts, I name you the heir of the family and school.”

 

            “Cool, do I get a plaque or something?”  Shinji smirked.

 

            Ranma ground his fist into the top of the boy’s head.  “You’re too smart for your own good.  Let’s just say you’ve met the requirements of martial arts and multiple women chasing after you.”

 

            “WHAT?!”  Shinji’s eyes went wild.

 

            Ranma smirked and went toward the door.  “You’ll find out that the path of a true martial artist is wroth with peril.”

 

            “Great.”  Shinji grumbled.  “Does this mean I’m engaged to them?”

 

            The older martial artist chuckled.  “No, you got off lucky.  In my day…”

 

            “I think we can stop right there.”

 

            “You’re right.”  Ranma pulled open the door.  “Now I’ve got to deal with one more peril.  Rest up, kid.  The whole world is depending on you.”

 

            Ranma pulled the door closed behind him and saw Asuka and Misato waiting for him.  Misato smirked at him.  “So how did the ‘boy talk’ go?”

 

            He smiled.  “Great.  I think everything has been taken care of…except for one thing…”

 

            Misato’s face twisted in confusion.  “What?”  He walked over and scooped her up in his arms.  She giggled.  “What’s this about?”

 

            “You’re going to see the doctor.”

 

            “WHAT?!?!”