Chapter Thirteen

“Lovers in Dangerous Times”

 

            Ranma walked purposely down the halls toward Dr. Akagi’s office.  People all but dove for cover at seeing his grim, determined demeanor.  He paid no attention to any of their reactions as the scene from a few hours earlier played through his mind.

 

            He had held Ukyou close as she wailed loudly through her tears.  She had just been informed that her daughter had just passed away in her sleep.  The doctors had feared for her, but there was nothing they could do.  She had internal hemorrhaging from the first angel attack that had finally caught up with her.  She passed on with her gentle smile on her face.

 

            The part that really made her weep was the fact that they didn’t allow her to see the body of her daughter.  They had taken the body directly to the gravesite to ‘clear out space’.

 

            The martial artist fumed again as he remembered the next part.  Ukyou had shown him something that had arrived in her mail the day before, a notice that Toji was to be re-admitted into the EVA program.  He would once again pilot Evangelion Unit 03.

 

            “Too many coincidences.”  He thought.  “Unit 03 couldn’t move without a new core, and, conveniently, Toji’s sister dies the day after her brother is told he would pilot it again.”  Shinji had told him about Yui being within Unit 01.  It didn’t take him long to figure out what had happened.

 

            He made his way toward Ritsuko’s office and slammed the door open and closed as he entered. 

 

            The blonde doctor looked up from some reports she was reading through with a surprised look on her face.  She hadn’t seen him this worked up in a long time.  “What’s gotten in to you, Saotome?”

 

            “Funny you should say it like that.”  He growled as he threw Toji’s letter on the table.  “What’s the meaning of this?”

 

            She picked up the note and glanced over it.  “It means just what it says.  We’ve repaired Unit 03 and we need the fourth child once again.”

 

            Ranma’s hands slammed down on the table, offsetting several of the objects on its surface.  “You put Toji’s sister in it, didn’t you?  How could you do that to a small child!”

 

            Ritsuko gave him a level glare that almost abated his temper.  “She died and was buried to make room for more expected casualties.  Anything else is classified.   You do understand that, don’t you, Saotome?”

 

            The table cracked as the martial artist dug his fingers into the tabletop.  “Too many secrets, that’s what it means.”  He stood up and turned to leave.  “One day those secrets will tear you apart.”

 

            “What about your secrets?”  She challenged him as she pulled a folder from her desk drawer.

 

He stiffened a bit and stopped in his tracks.  “What are you talking about?”

 

She leafed through the papers she was holding.  “Seems a few interesting things came out in Mr. Suzuhara’s latest physical, some VERY interesting things.  Or maybe I should say, some interesting things came out of Mr. Saotome’s latest physical.”

 

Ranma spun around to her with a threatening glare, that Ritsuko met with a knowing smirk.  “What are you talking about?”

 

She calmly sat back in her chair with the folder in front of her.  “I think you know what I’m talking about, ‘daddy’.  It seems we found out quite a few interesting facts like that Mrs. Suzuhara used to be your fiancé when you were both teenagers.  Imagine what trouble would crop up if poor Toji were to find out about his real father.  Not to mention everyone else involved.  Poor Misato, believing that she’s carrying the first born of her beloved husband…Gah!”  She quickly threw the now aflame report to the floor.

 

Ranma still stood with a smoking finger pointed at her.  “Be careful of deadly secrets.  They always cut both ways.  That could come to light, but it won’t kill me.  If your secrets were exposed, it would be fatal for everyone involved in the Evangelion creation.  I’m giving you a lot of consideration out of your past friendship with Misato.  Stop this madness while you can.”  He turned to continue his exit.

 

“She volunteered.”  Her voice stopped him as he was about to open the door.  “She wanted to do everything she could to help her big brother.  The activation test is today.”

 

He looked over his shoulder toward her again.  “You had better pray that nothing goes wrong this time.”  He finally left her shaking in her chair as she fought to keep tears back.

 

Ritsuko opened a desk drawer and looked at the picture of her and her mother.  “What have I become, mother?”

 

 

 

Misato watched from the upper deck above Unit 03 as they made the preparations for the activation test.  Enough time had passed that is was obvious that she was carrying a child.  Her uniform stayed much the same except she had opted to trade her tight mini-skirt for a loose skirt that came down almost to her knees.  She absently rubbed her stomach as she watched the preparations.

 

She stood there watching for a while until another hand joined hers on her stomach.  She leaned back onto her husband’s chest.  “Good morning, sweetie.  How’d the chat with Ritchan go?”

 

He growled a bit.  “She admitted that it was Toji’s sister.  She also tried to keep my mouth shut by holding Toji’s ancestry over my head.”

 

She shook her head.  They had no secrets left between them.  The night that Kaji had left, Ranma had told her everything about his life, including his short affair with Ukyou.  She was a little jealous, but she understood both sides of the story.  Of course, no one else needed to know everything that went on between them, or that Ranma had told his wife everything.  “I almost feel sorry for her.  She must feel so lonely keeping all that in.”

 

He held her to him as he watched the technicians ready the Evangelion.  “Are you sure you should be here?  What if something went wrong with the activation?  I don’t want anything to happen to you or the baby.”

 

She waved her hand in dismissal.  “So far we have three tests to substantiate that the second activation always goes off flawlessly.  Besides, where would I go?  I’m not going to leave town without you or the kids.”

 

“Speaking of the kids…”  Ranma trailed off as he looked around for them.  “Where are the little troublemakers anyway?”

 

Misato chuckled.  “They’re outside practicing.  I swear, they’re grades would be sooo much better if you hadn’t taught them martial arts.  Seems like that’s all they do anymore.”

 

“Well, when you’re the only hope for the future of mankind, you tend to concentrate more on fighting ability than schoolwork.  Besides, doesn’t Asuka already have a college degree?”  He smirked.

 

“Details, Details…”  She turned around and gave him a kiss.

 

 

 

Up above them, two pairs of eyes watched the couple on the catwalk.  Ritsuko shook her head.  “I swear, if I have to watch anymore of their public displays of affection, I’ll puke.”

 

Gendou just stared at the couple.  “They are unimportant right now.  Are you ready for the activation test?”

 

The doctor heaved a sigh of resignation.  “The test is on schedule.  We are just waiting for the fourth child to arrive.”

 

“What’s the status of Unit 01?”  Gendou asked in the same monotone he always did, but Ritsuko knew better.

 

“Unit 01 has been fully repaired, but is still in cryostasis.  The third child has been checking on its progress ever since the incident.”  She had a little apprehension in her voice as she continued.  “Do you think he knows?”

 

The commander nodded.  “I believe he does.  He was extremely tight lipped at the debriefing afterwards.  At this stage of the plans, it’s not important.  There is nothing anyone can do to stop us.  Unit 01 has become a god now with the ingesting of the S2 unit from the last angel.  All we have to do is wade through the last three angels and our plans will be complete.”

 

Ritsuko gave him a hard stare.  “ ‘Our plans’?”  She thought dubiously.  “Your plans, you mean.  After all this time you’re still doing all this for a dead woman, nothing else.”  She scowled at Gendou as he continued to stare coldly down at the inactive Unit 03.

 

 

 

Outside the confines of NERV headquarters, Shinji was finding himself with other thoughts on his mind.  He was walking back to the condo with Asuka on one side of him and Rei on the other.  They had been at his side almost the entire time since he emerged from the core of Unit 01, Rei trying her best to show affection and Asuka trying to constantly one up her.  It was clear to Shinji, that both of the girls had feelings for him, but the problem was that he had feelings for both of them.  How could he have one and not hurt the other?  Ranma had told him about his fiancé problems, Shinji could sympathize now.

 

Asuka stepped closer to him and looped an arm around his.  “What’s on your mind, Shinji?”  She asked as sweetly as she could.

 

He sweated a moment before he could come up with a decent lie.  “Uh, I was just thinking about the activation test.  Are we sure it’s safe to have it in NERV headquarters?”

 

She brushed her hair back behind her shoulder with her free hand and answered confidently.  “Everything should go as planned.  So far an angel hasn’t tried the same type of attack twice.  It should be perfectly safe.  Besides, second activations have always gone smoother than the first.”  She noticed that Shinji didn’t look any better.  “Are you that worried about Toji?”

 

He shook his head.  “Not really.  I’ve just got a lot on my mind.”

 

“Do you want to spar some more when we get home?”  She smiled her evil grin that he had been getting way too often lately.

 

“Sure.  It might help me take my mind off things.”  He turned his face forward and tried not to look at her again.

 

Rei, at this point, had noted Asuka’s actions and had taken Shinji’s other arm to emulate her.  Shinji’s head just dropped to look at the ground at his feet.

 

As the trio walked by, they passed a park where Toji and Hikari sat and watched them pass.  Toji just shook his head as he watched Shinji’s antics.  “He’s either the luckiest man in the world, or the stupidest.”

 

Hikari smiled from his side.  “Are you jealous?”

 

He harrumphed an answer.  “He’ll be lucky if Asuka doesn’t kill him.”

 

“She’s not that bad!”  She protested in the defense of her friend.

 

He shook his head.  “I’ve got enough worries on my mind without keeping up with Shinji’s love life.”

 

She looked up into his face.  “How do you feel about this activation?  Scared?”

 

A looked of apprehension swept over his face.  “A little.  Just…”  He slowly turned to her.  “Would you promise me that you and your family will be in one of the shelters when the activation test is going on?”

 

She nodded her head.  “I can’t promise that I can get my family, but I can promise you that I’ll be there.”

 

He looked over at her.  “Thanks.  I’ve already lost my sister.  I don’t want to lose anyone else.”

 

She wrapped her arms around him and held him close.  “You’re going to have to work hard to get rid of me Mr. Suzuhara.”

 

 

 

Later that day everyone was gathered for the activation test.  Toji sat in Unit 03 waiting for them to begin the procedure.  Asuka and Rei sat in their EVAs in case something went wrong.  Shinji was in the control room with the adults.  Unit 01 was still in cryostasis, but he had his plugsuit on anyway, standing by in case they needed him.  Ranma was nervous as he watched the procedure begin.  Misato quietly stepped up behind him and grasped his hand, holding it between them so it wasn’t obvious to everyone that the mighty Ranma needed support.

 

Ritsuko began making the commands to commence activation.  Everyone read off statistics as the operation ran its course.  They passed the critical threshold and nothing exploded.  Everyone released a sigh of relief.

 

The blonde doctor walked over to Maya.  “So what’s his synch ratio?”

 

“Holding at 32%.  Well within operating parameters.”  The young tech responded.

 

Ritsuko nodded and turned to Misato.  “You can tell the kids that they can…”  She was interrupted as the attack klaxons began to blare.  “…that they can stay right where they’re at and prepare for launch.”

 

The NERV personnel (well used to the drill) went about the preparations for EVA launch.  Most of the work had already been done for Units 00 and 02, so they were quickly moved to the catapults.  Shinji rushed to Unit 01, but found several guards standing in front of it.  One of the officers stepped forward and raised a hand to halt him.  “Unit One is still in cryostasis and is still deemed to be dangerous.  Sorry Shinji, but you can’t board the machine.”

 

The boy glared at the NERV security officer.  “How dare they?”  He thought.  “Mother would never be dangerous.”  He walked over to the side and propped himself against one of the rails of the catwalk in front of the Evangelion where he could see one of the topside monitors.  “There’s no way I’m going to let Rei and Asuka go through this alone.”  He swore silently.

 

In the operations area; Maya, Aoba, and Hyuga were at their tech stations while the officers took their usual positions.  Misato and Ritsuko were on the ops deck while Gendou and Fuyutsuki were on the command deck above them.  Ranma took his spot leaning up against the wall below Gendou keeping constant vigil over his wife.

 

Misato turned and regarded him.  “Why didn’t you warn us this time?”

 

He shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I can’t feel anything.  I don’t know how the alarms triggered.”

 

Ritsuko looked up from where she was looking over Maya’s shoulder at the incoming data.  “I may have an answer.”  She flipped a switch and the main screen showed a white creature with wide swept wings hovering in outer space with the moon as a backdrop.  “The orbital sensors caught this one.  None of our earthbound sensors picked it up.  I would be totally astounded if you could sense it.”

 

He shrugged.  “Hey, everyone has their limits.”

 

Misato rolled her eyes and stepped forward.  “Get the new positron rifle on the surface and launch the EVAs.  Unit Two will fire the rifle while Unit Zero backs her up.”

 

The two Evangelions were sent hurdling through the boom tubes that led to the surface.  When they reached the surface, the forward face of the nearest high-rise slid down to reveal the positron rifle.  Unit 02 took the rifle and pointed it toward the heavens.

 

In the cockpit of the red EVA, a large visor came from behind Asuka’s head and settled to cover her eyes.  She looked in the visor and saw the angel.  The automatic tracking system began to lock onto the orbital object.

 

Just as the crosshairs were about to center, a shaft of light shot down from the angel and an enveloped Unit 02.

 

In the operations area, alarms were going off everywhere.  “What’s going on?”  Misato asked.

 

Maya frantically read her displays.  “The pilot’s psychograph is going crazy.  The beam isn’t doing any physical damage, but it appears to be effecting the pilot mentally.”

 

“Asuka!”  Misato shouted into one of the pickups.  “Can you hear me?”

 

The only response they received was terrified screams.

 

 

 

Inside of Asuka’s head, she was seeing hell, again.  She roared in anguish as she relived her childhood where she watched her mother slowly go crazy as she devoted more time to her work than to her child.  She wailed as she relived seeing her mother coddling a redheaded doll inside of the insane asylum.  She once again experienced her mother’s body hanging from the ceiling from suicide.  After that was done, the sequence began to repeat.  She had not had any true tears of pain since that day, until she thought she had lost Shinji to the black hole angel.  She cried now, as her soul was being rent asunder.

 

The AT Field around the unit started turned a sickly green.  Asuka managed to get the robot to fire several blasts at the angel with the enormous particle weapon, but all of the shots fell short.

 

 

 

Down below, in the holding area, Shinji heard Asuka’s screams coming over the audio pickup.  He ran up to the guard that had stopped him before.  “You’ve got to let me into my EVA!”

 

The guard shook his head.  “Orders kid, I’m sorry.”

 

“But Asuka’s dieing up there!”  He pleaded.

 

The officer continued to stand firm.  “We can’t let this unit mobilize.”

 

Another scream coming from the monitor caused Shinji to leap into motion.  He threw an uppercut at the guard in front of him, causing the man to fly back several feet and land on his back.  In two leaps, the boy reached the entry plug before any of the other guards could react.  He sealed the plug and sent a message over the external speakers.  “I suggest you clear the area.”

 

The guards ran for the exits as the entry plug screwed down into the EVA.  The eyes of the robot flashed and the beast moved.  Expanding it’s AT field, Shinji busted through the stasis fluid and crossed quickly to the catapults.  He stood in the stirrups and shouted, “EVA LAUNCH!!!”

 

 

 

Back in ops, everyone was frantic at what was going on.  They had registered the activation of Unit 01 and realized quickly that there was nothing they could do about it.  They anxiously monitored Unit 01 and 02’s status as the former rocketed to the surface and the latter continued to scream and increasingly turn the light around itself to a sickly green.

 

Ranma was floored by what he was seeing.  Asuka was subconsciously causing her EVA to power up for a Shishi Hokoudan.  He didn’t know what would happen if she didn’t get rid of that energy safely.

 

 

 

Clear the area sirens sounded as Unit 01 broke the surface and began running for the fallen Unit 02.  Shinji pushed his machine until he leapt into the air, landing straddled atop Unit 02 on all fours.  Unit 02 by this time had curled up into the fetal position, so was easily covered by the purple robot.  A safe shadow formed above the red evangelion, but Shinji would pay for his good deed.

 

 

 

Inside of Unit 02 Asuka was about to give out from the strain, when all of the sudden it stopped.  All the images were gone, and she was looking at the controls of her machine.  “What the?”  She quickly brought her external cameras back online.  What she got was a view screen full of purple.  “Shinji!”  She pleaded to the boy above her.  “Get away from here!”

 

 

 

Shinji couldn’t hear her cries.  He felt the impact of covering Unit 02, and then a blinding light blanked out his senses for a moment.  He regained his equilibrium quickly and checked on his roommate.  “Asuka, are you all right?”

 

“I’m fine.”  Her weak voice responded.

 

The area around them flared with light once again.  When he could see again, he was shocked with the vision of Unit 02 beginning to convulse as electrical arcs traveled up and down it.  “Asuka!”  Shinji shouted pleadingly.

 

“SHINJI!!!”  Her voice screamed out before Unit 02 exploded with a blinding light! 

 

Unit 01 was thrown backwards and slammed through a building.  When his vision returned, his displays were telling him that all his main movement servos had been damaged.  Auto repair was underway, but they were too slow for him to do anything about the orbiting angel.  He checked over and saw the positron rifle had been destroyed.

 

A sudden change in lighting caused Shinji to look up and see the wide beam of light tighten into a smaller shaft.  The ground underneath the light began to sizzle and crackle like bacon as concrete and asphalt boiled up.  His eyes widened in horror as the beam shot across the street toward Unit 00, slicing building and vehicles in half as it went.  “REI!!!”  He shouted at the top of his lungs, but his cries went unheard as the beam cleaved the blue evangelion in half.  The two vertical halves fell a few meters apart before they exploded in mid-air. 

 

“REI!!!  ASUKA!!!”  Tears formed stung Shinji’s vision.  He tried desperately to will Unit 01 to heal faster, but it wasn’t mending any more rapidly.  His eyes widened in horror as the beam traveled across town to settle above where he knew the geofront was.  The beam once again turned into pure light, but still a tight rod.  “Wha?”  was all he could say before his sensors began to register an enormous buildup of energy in the outer atmosphere.

 

A large ball of energy fell like a meteorite down the shaft of light and slammed into Tokyo-3.  An enormous explosion went off and blew all the buildings, cars, and other debris away from the impact zone, partially burying Unit 01 in rubble.  Shinji managed to get his EVA moving enough to free itself and gaze into the now exposed geofront.  He could see right down to the command center.

 

Everyone’s frantic cries came over his intercom as his sensors alerted him to another buildup.   He willed everything he could into the movement of the evangelion.  He pushed his EVA to jump out and try to protect everyone below with its bulk.  But, because it had not completely finished it’s self-repair, its flight fell short when the second blast slammed onto the roof of the exposed command center.

 

Screams of terror filled his cockpit and then everything was silent.  The EVA continued its fall down into the geofront, landing on its face with a resounding crash. 

 

Inside the cockpit Shinji was crying openly now.  “Asuka, Rei, Misato, Ranma, father…I couldn’t save them.”  He took a deep breath.  “I COULN’T SAVE THEM!!!”  He wailed as he beat the control handles of his EVA until his hands were bloodied.  He curled up on himself and began to weep more, all the insecurities, uncertainties, and doubts he thought he had long since buried surfaced all at once.

 

 

 

Inside the operations area they watched as the EVA unit stood poised protectively on all fours above the fallen Unit 02.  The green aura they had seen on Unit 02 before was now building around Unit 01, only bigger.

 

Misato jammed a finger down on one of the communications mics.  “Asuka, are you okay?”

 

“Yes.”  The pilot’s weak voice replied.  “But what about Shinji?  The beam shows you things to destroy your morale!  You’ve got to get him out!”

 

A tear lined Misato’s eyes.  “We’ve tried.  The Evangelion won’t accept the dummy plug, and Shinji’s synch ratio is plummeting rapidly.  Soon he won’t be able to move the unit at all.”

 

Gendou stood up.  “Send Rei for the lance.”

 

Misato spun around and looked up at the commander.  “But if an EVA comes in contact with central dogma then that will set off another impact!”

 

The commander shook his head.  “No, it won’t.  Send Rei for the Lance of Longinus.”

 

“A lie!”  The major thought.  “If that was a lie, how much more of our information is a lie?”

 

Ranma put a hand on her shoulder.  “We’ve got a bigger problem.”

 

Ritsuko turned to him and regarded him with a questioning stare.  “What do you mean, Saotome?”

 

He pointed up to the monitor.  “That green shade to the AT field is a buildup of a powerful attack.  If we don’t bleed off that energy, he could blast through Asuka and several layers of the armor above us.”

 

Misato dove back to the microphone.  “ASUKA!  WITHDRAW!!!”

 

The child hesitantly complied and withdrew toward one of the extraction elevators.  “What about Shinji?”

 

Misato looked up to Ranma who shook his head.  “God help him.”  He whispered in a sorrowful voice.

 

“Synch ratio dropping below ten percent!”  Maya shouted.

 

“He won’t be able to move at all if he drops any more.”  Ritsuko added.

 

“Unit 01 is moving!”  Aoba reported, shocking everyone.

 

“Wha?” was the common question as all eyes went to the view screen.

 

What they all beheld was the sickly green aura expanding and swirling about the EVA like a whirlwind.  Debris started flying up into the vortex, and buildings began to strain at their foundations as their roofs were ripped from them. The cyclone intensified as Unit 01 defiantly raised its right arm into the sky.

 

“The power of a man made God.”  Fuyutsuki breathed in disbelief.  Gendou just nodded from his chair.

 

The power coalesced into a ball in the palm of the evangelion’s hand.  When all the power had been centralized, a beam of dark green shot upwards toward outer space.  Everyone in operations shielded their eyes as a momentary flash blinded them.  When their vision was restored, Maya quickly checked the angel’s status.  She brought up the orbital camera, nothing appeared.  “Angel has been destroyed.”

 

Ritsuko looked at the backdrop of the scene on the monitor.  “That’s not all.”

 

“NASA’s not going to be pleased.”  Misato deadpanned.

 

Ritsuko turned a wry grin toward the major.  “Maybe they’ll call it Mare Shinji.”

 

Ranma smacked his forehead and drew his palm down his face.  “Doesn’t anyone care about Shinji?”

 

Everyone quickly checked the status of Unit 01 and it’s pilot.  Gendou silently told Rei to leave the Lance of Longinus where it was.

 

Hyuga gave his report first.  “Synch ratio is zero.  Pilot is unconscious.  Recovery teams being dispatched.  Unit’s zero and two returned to staging area.”

 

“Let me know the minute Shinji has been recovered.”  Misato turned to leave the room with Ranma falling in quickly behind her.

 

After the major had left, Ritsuko looked back up toward the monitor.  “He’s lucky to be unconscious.  This way he won’t have to go to the brig for pulling Unit One out of crysostasis against orders.”

 

 

 

Shinji was moved into the NERV infirmary.  He had lain there three days staring blankly at the ceiling.  During all the time he had been there, Asuka had sat in a chair next to his side.  She was silent as everyone came to check on her and him, but when they were alone she tried talking about everything she could to get him to wake.  Right now, she was sitting in silence as she sensed the adults on the other side of the door.  She listened closely as they talked.

 

Outside the door, Ranma, Misato, and Ritsuko looked in at the room and reviewed Shinji’s condition.  Dr. Akagi flipped through the clipboard in her hands, reading over the latest report of the Third Child’s condition.  “He’s gone into a comatose state, but we can’t determine what’s happened to him, or how to bring him out.”

 

Misato remembered something from the last battle and turned to Ranma.  “Ranma, you said that green shade of the AT field was a power up for an attack.  Could you tell us more about it?”

 

The martial artist frowned as he watched Asuka watch over Shinji.  “Remember at the hot springs when I told Shinji about the Moko Takabisha?”  Misato nodded, but Ritsuko had a confused look on her face.  “Okay, Ritsuko, remember when I first got here and blasted through the angel’s AT field?”  She nodded in the affirmative.  “The Moko Takabisha was the chi blast that I used to burst through.  The chi blasts I’ve known have been based on emotion.  The Moko Takabisha is a confidence attack.”

 

“So Shinji was confident?”  Ritsuko asked in a confused voice.

 

Ranma shook his head.  “No.  The blast he pulled off at the battle was a Shishi Hokoudan.  It’s a blast based on depression.  If what Asuka said during the battle was true, that the angel’s attack stole morale; then Shinji was hit with images that made him loose hope.  When he was depressed, he channeled all of his evangelion’s power into a single blast.”

 

Ritsuko put her hand on her chin as she digested what the martial artist had just shown her.  Finally she nodded her head.  “So his depression was multiplied through the evangelion.  The feedback of emitting that much negative emotion must have overloaded his psyche, putting him into the coma.”

 

The major raised an eyebrow.  “Shinji’s resisted mental attacks before.  Why did this one effect him?”

 

“I dunno.”  Ranma turned around and leaned on the wall beside the door.  He thought for a second.  “Shinji told us that before he had been bombarded with random images that flashed him outside of his EVA.  He said the images were so out of place that he could tell that they weren’t real.”

 

Misato snapped her fingers.  “The angel must have used a continuous image of him inside the EVA, so he couldn’t tell the difference.”

 

The doctor’s eyebrow was twitching violently as the couple theorized what had happened.  “Are you guys saying that Shinji remembered EVERYTHING from his mental attacks?”

 

Misato and Ranma stopped talking at the same time and sweatdropped as Ritsuko’s ire started to build.  Ranma scratched the back on his head.  “Uhm, we were just, uh….”

 

“Shinji told us he didn’t remember anything.”  Ritsuko grabbed the lapel of Misato’s jacket.  “You’re a NERV officer.  You were supposed to give all information about any angel attack to us.  If you two have known this since the occurrences, why haven’t you said anything?”

 

The major knocked the blonde’s hand away.  “Don’t tell us about what information is supposed to be shared.  You’ve kept plenty of information to yourself that would have made a difference in a mission.”

 

“Like what?”  Ritsuko crossed her arms in front of herself.

 

“Two words.”  Misato matched the other woman’s posture.  “Jet Alone.”

 

The doctor became defensive.  “What are you talking about?”

 

The major dropped one arm to poke Ritsuko in the chest with her other hand.  “You know what I’m talking about.  The robot had been hacked by a world-class programmer.  There was only a small window in between preparation and ignition, and that was the only time the guards left the mainframe.  I saw you at work against the virus angel that was eating the magi.  You are the only one fast enough to be able to reprogram Jet Alone to rampage and almost go critical.  If I had known you had done that, well, first of all I would have stopped you.  Second of all, I wouldn’t have gone into a nuclear reactor about to go critical!”

 

By the end of her tirade, Misato was yelling at the doctor.  Ranma wisely decided to avoid the argument and slowly make his way behind the raging woman.  He knew the violent mood swings that Misato was going through, and he didn’t want to have a part of this one.

 

Ristuko stared back at Misato as the blue-black haired woman began to pant for breath.  “Too many secrets.”

 

Misato caught her breath and glared once more at her one-time best friend.  “Do you really want to know why Shinji never tells you anything?”  Before the doctor could say anything, Misato answered her own question.  “He doesn’t trust you.  He doesn’t think that you and Gendou have the Earth’s best interests at heart.  I’m inclined to believe him.  You and Gendou have lied and schemed, and don’t think for one moment that I don’t know that you two are sleeping together.  Do you really think he loves you?  He’s still pining for his wife!  He’s just using you, just like he does everyone else.  Just like your mother!”

 

SMACK!

 

Ritsuko’s hand was trembling as she lowered it.  Misato glared at her even as her cheek was turning red.  “He’ll use you, abuse you, and eventually kill you.  Just like he did your mother.  You don’t really think that was suicide, do you?”  Misato turned and hooked an arm around Ranma’s.  “Let’s go home.  The smell of denial is making me nauseous.”

 

Ranma haltingly started walking with her.  “What about Asuka?  We can’t just leave her here.  The hospital personnel will throw her out after visitation hours.”

 

Misato popped her knuckles.  “Ukyou told me a little about persuading hospital staff.”

 

As they were about to leave, Ritsuko finally spoke.  “Why do you do it?  If you know so much about what’s going on, why do you stay, knowing that you’re endangering yourselves and the baby?”

 

Misato angrily turned back around, but, before she could speak, Ranma put a calming hand on her shoulder.  He gave the doctor one of the softest looks he had ever given her.  “We’re doing it for the kids, and everyone else who can’t fight for themselves.  We’re fighting for a better tomorrow for everyone, not just Ikari Gendou.  Ritsuko, I’d advise you to think more about why you’re doing all this.”  With that, he turned himself and Misato around and walked out of sight.

 

Ritsuko stood there for a while as the information started to trickle through her brain.  She looked once more into the room where the children were.  Asuka was holding Shinji’s hand, looking at him with pleading eyes.  Some part of the doctor remembered a time when she had been in love, in love with a man whom she thought loved her as well.  She wondered if she hadn’t known the truth all along, and that’s why thinking of him didn’t bring up the feelings that it once did.  Gendou had known her mother, in every sense.  He knew her as well.  Did he know that she didn’t love him anymore?  Did he know that she would think about betraying him?  She just didn’t know.  What she did know was that Ranma was right, she needed to reevaluate why she was here.  “For a better future for everyone.”  She silently spoke as she strode away.

 

 

 

Inside the room, Asuka sensed that all the adults were gone.  She stood up, walked over to the security camera and unplugged it.  She also gave the room a once over, in case NERV security had put any bugs in the room while she had gone to the bathroom.  When she was satisfied that no one was watching or listening, she sat back down and took Shinji’s hand again.  “Don’t worry, Shinji.  I’ll watch over you like you’ve always watched over me.  I know you don’t need it, and your overgrown ego wouldn’t let me, but I promise to watch over you as long as I can.”

 

 

 

Later that evening as Gendou was leaving his office for the day, he had an unexpected visitor appear behind him.  “So what’s next on the agenda Gendou?”  Ranma growled as he materialized out of thin air.  “You’ve lost your son’s consciousness three times.  How many more will it take until you turn your back on your insane plans?”

 

Gendou turned slowly, coolly and gave the martial artist a cold glare.  “How long until you abandon your attempts to ‘save the world’.  I plan to make a better world, why are you against me?  Wouldn’t you like to see a world without suffering, without pain?  Wouldn’t you like to see a world shaped in man’s own image?”

 

Ranma’s expression turned colder than Gendou’s.  “I may not be the most religious person in this world, but I do know there is at least one god out there.  I can’t imagine that he’ll take what you’re doing lightly.  Almost every religion’s god is a jealous one.”

 

The commander’s expression didn’t change.  “I’m making a better world, if you continue to oppose me, I will find a way to get rid of you.  There’ll be no one to save you like you were there for Kaji.”

 

“You have no proof.”   Ranma smirked.

 

Gendou smirked as well.  “True, but who else could it have been?  Don’t try to get in my way, Saotome.  This is your last warning.”  He turned to walk away.

 

Ranma glared at his back and replied in a voice loud enough to be heard by the commander.  “If you get one of these kids killed, I’ll kill you.”

 

Gendou didn’t even miss a step.  “You should leave with your lovely wife and go somewhere else to raise your family.  This place is too dangerous for a pregnant woman.”

 

The martial artist picked up the subtle threat and his aura began to rise.  “If you do anything to hurt the baby, the only new world you’re going to see is the new world of pain I’m going to show you.”

 

 

 

Time passed and the alarms once again sounded an angel attack.  Everyone prepared to go once more into the breach.  The usual crew was gathered in ops and called the pilots to their EVAs.  Rei and Toji responded immediately, but there was a slight snag with calling the second child to action.

 

“I’m not coming!”  Asuka’s stern voice came over the speakerphone.  She was still in Shinji’s room at the infirmary, calling them on her cell phone.  “I’m not leaving Shinji alone!”

 

Ristuko bristled slightly at the girl’s response.  “You’ll do Shinji a lot more good right now in your evangelion.  Get suited up, NOW!”

 

“Get Wonder Girl and Stooge Number Two to handle it!  I’m staying right here with Shinji!”  With that, the line went dead.

 

As Ritsuko was reaching for the redial button, Misato caught her arm.  “Leave her be.  She won’t come out no matter what you say.  She doesn’t trust you either.”

 

The doctor’s expression fell for an instant as Misato’s verbal blow struck her.  “Then you tell her to put on her plugsuit and help defeat the angel!”

 

Misato sadly shook her head.  “Nothing short of a mortar will get her out of that room.  We’ll just make due with what we have.”

 

Hyuga nudged Maya.  “Hey, who’s Stooge Number One?”

 

Maya shrugged.  “If I were to guess, I’d say Shinji.”

 

“Enough chatter,” Misato commanded.  “EVA Launch!”

 

At her command, Unit’s 00 and 03 were rocketed toward the surface.  Large, shielded doors on the surface opened to allow them access to the open air as gantries raised to arrest their upward movement.  In a matter of seconds, a black and a blue EVA stood facing their latest opponent.  The people watching the robots emerge hoped that this was not an omen for a bad bruising.

 

In the sky above them what looked like a wide ring of light whirled in place.  Upon closer inspection, the ring looked like a wide belt with a double helix for a band.  It hovered above Tokyo-3, slowly spinning in place.

 

Immediately, The two units went into action.  A building opened up to reveal an enormous rifle, which Rei grabbed and pointed at the enemy.  Toji pulled a sub-machine gun out of another building and ran around to try and out flank the angel.  When he reached the side opposite Rei, he reported in to ops.

 

“Unit 03 in position.  It’s not doing anything.”  Toji’s voice came over the ops communications board.  “What should we do?”

 

“Just hold position until it strikes.  It’s AT field is too strong for you to get through right now.  The Angel should open up before it strikes.”  Misato silently prayed that her advice was good.

 

At that moment the angel stopped rotating and the helical bands fused into a single bright cord of light.  Rei and Toji opened fire, but the fire was shed easily by the abomination’s AT field.  The luminescent cord broke and one end shot out toward Rei, which she narrowly avoided by diving aside, thanks to Ranma’s training.  The angel shot through a building and turned back around to find its prey.  Rei rolled with the dive and came up with her rifle trained on the angel.  She tried to cancel the angel’s AT field and opened fire with the weapon to no avail.  For her troubles, the forward end of the bright tube of light shot through the chest of her evangelion.  She watched in horror as large veins popped up around the point of impact.  She screamed when the feedback finally reached her.

 

 

 

“Angel is infecting unit 00!”  Maya shouted.  “Rei’s psychograph is going crazy!”

 

Misato slammed a fist down on the back of Hyuga’s chair.  “Damn it!  The angel’s are obsessed with getting into our heads.”  Ranma folded his arms and frowned.

 

“Tell Unit 03 to attack.”  Gendou ordered from up above.  “Tell him that he mustn’t fail.”

 

Ranma looked up and glared at Gendou.  The commander knew full well about Ranma’s relationship to Toji and that the boy had not had nearly enough time to train for this confrontation.  “You’ll get him killed!”

 

The commander gazed down with his unemotional mask.  “He knew the risks when he entered the entry plug.”

 

The martial artist clenched his fist until his knuckles popped.  “I meant what I told you before.”

 

Gendou smirked at the impudence that Saotome showed.  The doors opened to the side and several NERV security officers appeared at the doors.  Ranma glared at them, and they started to quake in their boots.

 

“You’ve got to kidding me.”  Ranma commented as he rolled his eyes.

 

 

 

Back on the battlefront, after realizing how useless the guns were, Toji discarded his machine gun and drew his progressive knife.  He leapt toward the angel and slashed with the vibro-blade.  The blade miraculously sliced through the angel about a half-kilometer away from the end that was flying free.  The piece dropped to the ground like a dead worm, but, before Toji could go for another cut, the severed piece exploded, sending the black evangelion flying backwards.

 

Unit 03 was tossed back through one of the munitions buildings, setting off a chain reaction explosion of all the ammunition within.  The ground shook as the volatile materials expended themselves in a violent display.

 

 

 

Earlier in the hospital, Asuka hung up her cell phone and slammed it into the ground, shattering it into several pieces.  She looked back at the unconscious Shinji.  “I’m not going to leave you.”  She swore.

 

The auburn haired girl walked up to Shinji’s bedside.  She heard the whine of the catapults and knew that the EVAs were in action.  She nodded to herself and kicked off her shoes.  She would stay right here with Shinji, right beside her love.

 

She sat down on the bed and reclined to lay beside Shinji, pulling him into an embrace.  “Come back to me, Shinji.  Please.”

 

At that moment the room rocked with the explosion of the angel’s piece and the munitions detonation.  The room rocked with the force of the blast.  The light fixture above the bed started to creak and then fell toward the bed.  Asuka quickly pulled Shinji to her harder and rolled off the bed.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), Shinji was the first one to his the floor, banging his head loudly on the floor.

 

Asuka quickly picked him up and started running her fingers through his hair searching for a wound.  Finding none, she pulled him close again.  She looked around the room warily probing for more dangers. 

 

Her search was quickly ended when she heard Shinji groan.  She saw him mouth something and pulled his mouth to her ear.

 

“…couldn’t save them…”

 

She pulled him away, trying to determine if he was coming to or not.  She couldn’t tell, but she decided to use the more direct approach of reviving him.  “WAKE UP, YOU STUPID MORON!!!”  She started to shake him violently with no results.

 

Her momentary energy spent, she laid him down across her lap.  She looked along his body and couldn’t help but remember everything they had been through.  From the meeting on the aircraft carrier to their last kiss, she looked back on it all fondly.  She ran a hand down his chest and marveled at how well toned he was.  He was on his way when they had met, but now he was a full-blown beefcake.  She smiled slightly as she continued to feel around.  “After all, you’d have to be built to get a beautiful woman like me.”

 

Her tour around his body ended with her hand traveling up to cup his face.  “Come back to me, Shinji.”  She spoke softly as she leaned down for a kiss.

 

 

 

Up above, Toji was just getting his bearings again when the angel lashed out toward him.  He managed to dodge aside a couple times, but ultimately the angel struck him with the end of its tail.  He felt pain lance through every part of his being.  He suddenly noticed what looked like veins popping up where the angel had struck him.  The veins began to spread as the pain built in his body.  He shouted out as it cut him to his core.

 

At that point, Rei wasn’t doing too much better.  She felt the angel overwhelming her and she had even had visions of the angel talking to her, asking for her to become one with it.  Her body was bursting with pain and the veins had spread from her EVA to her body.  She fought with all her might, but could not will her EVA to move any longer.

 

She looked up and saw the angel invading Unit 03 as well.  She knew that this was Toji’s first real battle.  She could tell that he was being overwhelmed faster than she was.  He would not last much longer if something drastic wasn’t done.

 

At that moment she remembered something Ranma had said while they were training.  “You must always protect those who can’t protect themselves.”  She stated in a determined voice.  She also remembered that a lot of people would suffer if she didn’t stop the angel, especially one person in particular.  “Shinji-kun.”  The last was whispered with longing.

 

She nodded, as her choice was clear.  She touched the mechanism that revealed the auto-destruct switch.  She started concentrating on the act that she knew would be her last, but it would be worth it.  She would die more than just a soulless doll.

 

 

 

In the operations area, everyone was frantic.  Neither of the EVAs were making headway; in fact they were both being taken over by the intruding angel, slowly but surely.  Ranma stood with his fists clenched to the point that his knuckles were white.  Fury at his own helplessness rampaged through his being.   He knew he couldn’t do anything as he watched.  He wished he was strong enough to take the angel on, but he knew he would fair infinitely worse than the two evangelions.

 

“Unit 00’s AT field is reversing!”  Maya shouted.

 

“What?!”  Ristuko and Misato both demanded.

 

“Auto-destruct activated!”  Aoba reported.

 

Everyone breathlessly looked up at the screen.  They all had heavy hearts when they saw the angel being absorbed by the robot, and then the EVA exploding in a bright burst of white energy.

 

 

 

The explosion that rocked the infirmary was worse this time.  Asuka broke the kiss in time to see a section of the ceiling falling on her.  She knew that she had nowhere to go.  She was thankful that she would meet her end with Shinji.  She wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

At the last instant she was propelled to far side of the room as the debris fell to the floor.  She looked down to see Shinji’s face buried in her breasts.  He looked up with surprise.  “ASUKA!  You’re alive!!!”  He hugged her close in affection, but quickly realized that he was burying himself further in her bosom.  His eyes went wide as he tried to jump away.  His back hit the wall before he had gone a foot from her.  He looked around for another route of escape, but the room had collapsed around them.  He felt panic settle in as she started to slowly crawl toward him.

 

His terror turned to shock as she locked lips with him.  They held the kiss a little while before she finally pulled back.  “Never leave me again, Shinji.”

 

He looked at the pleading expression and his softened.  He had nothing to fear, so he pulled her close once more.  “I won’t leave you, Asuka.  Just don’t leave me.”

 

“I won’t.”  She smiled warmly as she brought him in for another kiss.

 

 

 

Back in the operations area, things were about to erupt all over again.  Ranma turned toward Gendou with a menacing look on his face.  Misato quickly threw her arms around him.  “Don’t do it, Ranma!”  She hissed into his ear.

 

“Why not?  He just got Rei killed, and he would have killed Toji!”  He whispered back with venom in his voice.

 

“We’ll get him with the law!  When all the angel’s are stopped, we’ll have him put on trial for his crimes!”  Her tone was pleading, but still quiet so that no one else was privy to their conversation.

 

Fuyutsuki shook his head as the couple held each other tight and apparently whispered sweet nothings into each other’s ear.  “Is this display of emotion really necessary?”

 

Misato glared up at him.  “This is very necessary!  I’m the only thing stopping Ranma from killing the commander!”  There was a sharp intake of breath from the other ops personnel, Gendou excluded.

 

The commander simply gestured with his hand and the security guards advanced with their guns ready.  Ranma looked at them and seemed to calm down.  “Let me go, Misato.  You’re right, we’ll let the courts decide this.”  He whispered.

 

“Promise me you won’t kill him!” She quietly insisted.

 

“I promise.”

 

She released her hold on him and stepped back.  When she had backed away from him and the path of the guards’ weapons, he disappeared.  The next thing anyone knew, the guards clothes disintegrated and their weapons fell to pieces.  They would have been embarrassed, if they hadn’t fallen on their faces unconscious.

 

Everyone’s eyes were drawn upward as Gendou shouted and came flying down from the deck above.  Fuyutsuki was already subdued by the time they had heard Gendou’s shout.  He crashed down on the ops deck with Ranma on his chest, holding the commander’s lapels in his hands.  “You can’t hope to stop me.”  The martial artist said as he drew his fist back.

 

“Misato, kill him.”  Gendou ordered in his unemotional voice.  “You’re still a NERV officer.”

 

“No!”  She protested.

 

“Do it.”  Ranma said with a smile on his face.

 

“What?”  Misato had an astonished look on her face.

 

“Go for your gun.”  His insufferable cocky smirk was plastered on his face.

 

Not knowing what to think, Misato reached for her sidearm.  It was gone, as well as her backup.  She shook her head, as she should have known.  “He probably frisked everyone in the room.”  She thought with a smirk on her face.

 

Ranma smiled as he reached into his uniform jacket and produced her weapon and set the end of the barrel between Gendou’s eyes.  The commander’s eyes were wide.  “What’s the matter, old friend?  You’re looking a little pale.  Maybe you’re suffering from a lead deficiency.  Maybe a nice injection between the eyes is called for.”  He pressed the barrel of the cocked semi-automatic pistol further into the commander’s head. 

 

He held it there until a bead of sweat ran down his face.  Ranma pulled the trigger and eased the hammer down slowly, rendering the weapon harmless for now.  “Misato spared your life this time, but she won’t a second.”  He put the weapon away, stood up, and walked over to Misato.  He kissed her lovingly and replaced the weapon into her jacket.  “Take care of the kids.”  He whispered.

 

Everyone was still frozen in shock as the couple talked.

 

“Where are you going?”  She asked.

 

“I’ll be a wanted man as soon as I step out of that door, and it’s time for the end game.  Don’t worry, I’ll be back.”  He kissed her again before stepping away.

 

She hugged him fiercely before he could get further away.  “I love you.”

 

He lifted her head and said the words that he thought he would never say again.  “I love you, too.”  With a final kiss, he stepped away and faded from sight.  The room erupted in activity immediately afterward.

 

 

 

Two days passed, Asuka and Shinji had been saved from the wreckage a few hours after the angel had been defeated.  Toji and Unit 03 were none the worse for wear, maybe a little shaken.  Rei turned up to be alive in the NERV hospital.

 

Shinji and Asuka walked nervously hand and hand to where Rei had been released.  Shinji knew he had made his decision, but he also knew that he had to tell Rei.  He knew that he felt something for her, but he couldn’t deny the one who had never left his side.

 

They turned a corner and saw Rei sitting on a bench, wearing hospital scrubs with a bandage around her head and an arm in a sling.

 

“Rei!  It’s good to see you made it!”  Shinji called out.  He looked around.  “That’s funny, I’d thought father would be here.” 

 

Asuka rolled her eyes and then looked at Rei.  “How did you survive the destruction of your EVA?  Nothing should have been able to survive that!”

 

Rei looked at her.  “I don’t remember.”

 

They both looked at the blue haired girl with a confused look on their faces.  They both noticed something was very different about the girl.  “What’s wrong, Rei?”  Shinji finally asked.

 

She looked up at him; none of her new found warmth that she had been displaying in the past few months was apparent.  “I don’t know.  I think I am the third.”

 

 

 

Dr. Akagi walked heavily toward the terminal dogma.  She had been sent before Seele by none other than Gendou himself in defense of the first child.  She had been violated and shamed, but she would not go down without a fight!  She was determined to see this through to the end.

 

She reached the door she was looking for and, before she could put in her passkey, a gun was put to her temple.  “This is the final secret, isn’t it Ritsuko?”  Misato’s voice was commanding and hard as a nail.

 

Ritsuko nodded her head.  “This is the last one.  I’m surprised Ranma hadn’t found it yet.”

 

“This was the only place he couldn’t enter.  Kaji had to tell me about it.”  Misato didn’t waver.  “I’m going to see it now.”

 

“So will he.”  Ritsuko commented almost haphazardly.

 

Misato turned to see Shinji standing there in his blue version of Ranma’s teenaged clothes.  He nodded his head and walked forward.  “What did you want to show me Ritsuko?”

 

They went down the long elevator and walked through a room that Shinji immediately realized looked like Rei’s.  Ritsuko told him that is WAS Rei’s room.  She had been born and raised.  They went on to the next room where there were disembodied heads, spines, and other skeletal parts of the EVA series.  Ritsuko told them that these were the failed experiments.  She also informed Shinji that this was where his mother was taken from him.  He smirked at her and answered. “I know where my mother is.”

 

Ritsuko nodded and led them to the last chamber.  A large brain-looking object was held above the floor with what should have been the spinal cord coming down to a glass chamber big enough for a single human.

 

“This is the source of the dummy plug?”  Misato asked, but she knew the answer.

 

“It’s time you knew the whole truth.”  She punched a button on her remote and the walls around them alighted.  Floating around in LCL fluid were numerous replicas of Rei.

 

Shinji was shocked but then came to himself.  “That’s why Rei doesn’t remember!  She really was killed!”

 

“These are the sources of the dummy plug.”  Ritsuko went into a lecturing voice.  “These are all empty vessels and replacement parts for Rei.  Man found God and tried to enslave him.  For that, man was punished!  That was fifteen years ago, and the God they found disappeared.  Then man tried to resurrect God with his own hands and created Adam.  That is EVA.”

 

“So they’re human?”  Misato asked.

 

“Yes, they are human.”  Ritsuko’s voice took on an almost whimsical tone.  “We put supposedly mindless souls into the EVA, but all the souls were salvaged souls.  Rei was a receptacle for those souls.  These are empty containers.  They have no souls.”  Her voice became harder.  “So, I want to destroy them, because I hate them.”  She hit another button on her remote and the LCL began to boil and the Rei look-alikes began to disintegrate.

 

“STOP IT!”  Shinji demanded.  “They’re still human!!!”

 

Ritsuko turned to him with tears in her eyes.  “They are not!  They only have a resemblance to us!  A mockery of our life!  But I lost to these dolls, and I couldn’t win him.”  She was weeping openly now.  “I would have done anything for him, but he…he chose…GOD I’M AN IDIOT!!!”  Her voice quieted as the tears increased.  “Mother and daughter both fools.  Kill me if you want to.  I’d rather die.”

 

Misato put away her gun and pulled Ristuko into a warm embrace.  “I’d never kill you.  Someone taught me that all life was precious, but I just learned something he didn’t teach me.”

 

The doctor looked up at her with tears still in her eyes.  She held onto her old friend like her life depended on it.  “What?”

 

“That no one is beyond redemption.”  She hugged Ritsuko close.  “I’ve missed my friend.”

 

The two women just stood there and cried as Shinji looked on awkwardly.  He knew that without Ranma he’d have to be the one to defend them all.  A lot rested on his shoulders as the time of the final angel was approaching.