In a secluded room at NERV’s main hospital Shinji stood at the side of Asuka’s bed. She was just lying there with her blue eyes open staring straight ahead at the ceiling. The young pilot had been brought in to the hospital earlier that day and Misato had called Shinji to let him know that Asuka was at least physically alright.
Once he had learned Asuka had been retrieved Shinji had rushed to the hospital and found the room they had put her in. He had joyfully bounded in, shouting “Asuka!” but she didn’t respond to him, not even a little. Her eyes barely blinked. Shinji reached for her hand but felt that there was no movement, no strength. Instead the red-haired beauty just lay there silently in bed, with the only sounds in the room coming from her slight breathing and the electronic noise from the hospital monitors.
Shinji gently nudged her several times. “Asuka, Asuka, are you alright? Asuka, can you speak to me?” Each time he touched her there was simply no reaction.
The boy pilot was already at his wits end with all that had happened in the last few weeks. To him Asuka was his source of strength, the shelter that he could go to when things were tough. He didn’t mind her bossiness or conceit or even her verbal abuse, though at times he admitted that it was too much for him. In their time together he had also seen her other side, the sweetness and exuberant life that she also carried inside and rarely showed to anyone. To Shinji, Asuka was the sun to his darkness, but now the light had gone out of her and it broke Shinji’s heart even further to now see her lying so helpless.
“Asuka…please…please wake up!”
After standing there for about an hour, Shinji gave up and slowly walked out of the room. Maybe she’ll get better later on. Maybe she just needs to rest he thought to himself. He leaned against the wall of the hospital room and slid down to the floor with his head in his hands.
He had wanted to talk to Misato earlier but she was too busy for him now, spending all of her days busy at NERV and her nights shut up in her room. Her playfulness had disappeared since Kaji’s death and Shinji missed that too.
There was someone else he also missed. He hadn’t really spoken to her since she returned, if that was the correct word for it. What do I say to her, Shinji asked himself. Spending a few minutes to build up his courage, he finally pulled out his cell phone and called a number he had never actually dialed before.
Her soft, whisper-like voice answered on the fourth ring. “Yes.”
“Ayanami!” Shinji stammered. “Um…are you all right?” There was silence on the other end.
Shinji became more nervous as he tried to reach out to Rei. “Um…I hadn’t really talked to you since you…since you came back. Anyway, I…I hope you’re feeling better and, um, well, if there’s anything that you need…or anything that you want to say…you know, you can just…you just can tell me. Is that OK?”
There was still silence on the other end of the line. “Ayanami….Ayanami?” Shinji pleaded with her further but without another word from her the phone clicked dead.
“Ayanami? Ayanami?!!!” Shinji spoke into the phone to no avail. He then dropped the mobile phone on the floor and started crying uncontrollably.
He stayed that way for a while until he heard footsteps that stopped in front of him. Shinji looked up and saw the new pilot, Kaworu. Like Shinji he wore a blue and white school uniform. Kaworu looked down at him and smiled, and Shinji somehow found the strength to stop his crying. “K-Kaworu-kun!”
The silver-haired boy looked at him warmly with his deep red eyes. “What is wrong, Shinji Ikari?”
Compelled either by Kaworu's otherworldly friendliness or his own need to release his deep seated emotions, without even thinking Shinji then started to confess to the boy the complete contents of his heart.
Returning to her apartment at night Misato wearily opened the door and walked inside. This place seems so lonely now, she thought. Since Pen Pen had been given to Hikari for safe-keeping there was no one to greet her when she entered. Asuka was comatose in the hospital, and Shinji had not yet returned. She had spied on him earlier that day and knew he was spending time with the new pilot Kaworu Nagisa, as each seemed curious about the other.
It’s fine if he needs to bond with the new guy, she thought to herself, but something about the Nagisa boy just creeps me out.
Misato went to the kitchen to get herself a beer. She absentmindedly pulled a tin of sardines out of the pantry until she realized that Pen Pen was not there tonight. Standing there for a moment to try to collect her thoughts (and keep from breaking down again), she then threw the tin back into the pantry and quickly finished her beer. She then grabbed a second beer and went straight for her bedroom, closing the door behind her.
As she had done every night for the last few weeks Misato turned on her PC and ran the security program that Kaji had put on there earlier. While she was waiting for the program to finish scanning for viruses and snoops she played the answering machine message as she did every night before.
Kaji's voice came on. He was speaking in a serious, almost solemn tone: “Katsuragi, this is me. I'm sure you are listening to this message after I have troubled you so much. Sorry....”
When Misato first played the message she had cried for hours. Despite her deep sadness she knew what Kaji was trying to say to her and the need to do so indirectly. As a result each evening as she used her computer to access the information that Kaji had left with her, she always played the message before starting her work in order to remind her of the importance of what she was doing as well as the possible consequences.
“Katsuragi,” the message concluded, “The truth is with you. Don't hesitate. Go forward! If I can see you again, I will say the words I couldn't say eight years ago. Ciao.” The message clicked off.
Misato still wanted to cry after hearing that but somehow each evening it got easier. That was important to her, as Kaji had given his life to learn the dark secrets of SEELE and NERV and had entrusted to her to finish the work that he had started.
Today something else had happened. The message in the bathroom and the mysterious “custodian” she had seen. Was Kaji somehow still alive? Perhaps trying to contact her? She didn't want to put too much hope in that, but maybe he had gotten word out to someone else, someone he knew? And she knew she had seen that man before.
Misato hopped out of her computer chair and went to her closet. Piled behind dozens of outfits were a stack of boxes in the back, boxes that were largely keepsakes that she was either too lazy or sloppy to properly unpack. She dug through the boxes and pulled out one that was just labeled “College.”
She dug through the box which filled with a collection of small keepsakes from her university years. Much of it was souvenirs from travels she took while in school but there were also a couple of photo albums. She put one aside and opened another.
The album had been created in 2005 and so was slightly dusty, but the photos were well preserved. Misato opened the book to the first page and saw a photo taken of her and Kaji both sitting on top of his precious Porsche 911, a photo taken by Ritsuko. She stared at the photo for a moment as other memories came to her, memories of a happier time. Misato blinked hard and forced herself to turn the pages.
She sped through page after page of college snapshots, some taken on vacations and others on campus or around Tokyo-2. Many of the photos featured Ritsuko, or Kaji, or both, and it was unnerving to see them as their younger, happier selves. Misato wasn't looking for her old friends however but for someone she had met just once. After nearly going through the entire book she finally found who she had remembered.
Fastened to the photo album was a small photo taken from a digital camera and reprinted at a photo booth. The photo showed two young men: Kaji, and another Japanese man about twenty years of age and about ten centimeters taller than Kaji. He had narrow eyebrows, a strong jaw and a very sullen demeanor. Both were dressed in casual clothes.
“Hideyoshi Kikuchi,” Misato whispered to herself. She had met him only once as he was visiting Kaji while on break from studying in the United Kingdom. Ritsu-chan and she had joked that Kaji's friend could be voted as “Most Likely to Become a Serial Killer,” such was his gruff voice and overly serious manner. After the man had left, Kaji took Misato aside and told her he had known Kikuchi while they were both teenage boys fighting to survive after the destruction of Old Tokyo by a nuclear bomb. Kikuchi, along with Kaji, was one of the few survivors later picked up by authorities after months of living on their own in the horror of the Second Impact aftermath. During the experience the two boys had promised to find each other after their ordeal. He was a bit older now, thought Misato, but behind that fake mustache it's the same person.
She thought back to the message she was given: “HELP IS COMING – PROTECT THE PILOTS.” Help from where? she wondered. Certainly not the Japanese government: earlier as she drove back to her apartment she heard the Deputy Prime Minister frantically rail against NERV on the car radio. But who else was there? Then there was something else: did Kikuchi himself send the message, or did he carry it for someone else? The slightest glimmer of light started to appear in the back of Misato’s mind.
Looking at the photograph of the two young men, Misato grabbed the cross hung around her neck. Oh God, she prayed, please don’t give me false hope but if there is any way at all that he is still alive…
Off the eastern coast of Japan
The flight away from Osaka-2 was bumpy as the tilt-rotor flew low to avoid the Japanese radar. After ninety minutes the craft reached the ocean and the aircraft picked up some altitude, joining up with another Alliance CV-22 and flying together towards the carrier.
Mari sat silently next to Wellington on the trip back, drained of energy. Once they reached the ocean the girl felt more relaxed and started to catch up with her controller.
“How did you know about his family?” Mari asked.
“We've been in Osaka-2 since last night, but didn't get an exact fix on their location until this morning.”
“Intel intercepted an order from JSSDF to send agents to their new house, conveniently giving them the street address. When we arrived they had just gotten out of their cars, so we hit them and then picked up the family. That's when we found out the boy was out by the rail station. We were on the way there when we got your distress call.”
Mari blinked a few times. “Bloody scary, that was.”
“Of course,” Wellie said. “Sorry but we didn't expect you'd have to face that on your own. You were pretty brave, though?”
“What do you mean?”
The officer smiled. “I saw the staff on the ground. What'd you do? Take them all on by yourself?”
“I couldn't just stand there and be a wallflower!” Mari shrugged. “I just kept thinking to myself I can't let these blokes get in the way of me piloting again.”
Wellington chuckled. “That's Mary, focused as usual.”
Mari wasn't as happy. “Screwed up that part though. I let one of those buggars get right behind me.”
The older woman patted her on her leg. “I wouldn't say that. It was 6 to 1 and you bought us time to get to you. You did well. Fight like that in the EVA and they don't stand a chance!”
The girl became more elated when hearing that. “My EVA? Is it done yet?”
“Dr. Viraat's been working night and day to get her ready. You're in for a bit of a surprise when you get back.”
“Yes!” Mari clenched her fists in joy and then sighed deeply. “It's all worth it if I can get that far!”
While Wellington looked on Mari unfastened her harness and then walked carefully down the aircraft interior to where the other three children were seated. Hikari looked weary, her head resting on Toji's shoulder as he held her hand and silently looked on. Kensuke had run out of memory on his camera and was switching to a new card. She sat on the empty seat next to Hikari.
“Are you alright?” Mari asked. Toji and Hikari nodded and she smiled at them. “Sorry it was so messy.”
Hikari lifted her head and took a deep breath to gain her composure. “Why did those men want to kill Toji? I mean, look at him,” she glanced as his missing leg. “He can't even pilot anymore!”
“The Evangelion project isn't all what it seems,” Mari replied, speaking in a more serious tone. “Now that the Angels are all defeated, there's a group called SEELE that is trying to use the EVAs to launch something called the Human Instrumentality Project. Before they do that they're trying to eliminate any loose ends, such as anyone capable of being an Evangelion pilot. That's why he was marked.”
Kensuke stopped working with his camera and joined in the conversation. “What's the Human Instrumentality Project?”
“It's an attempt to use the power of the EVAs to force all humans into a single life form, as the next stage of man's evolution.”
“What if we don't want to be forced?” Toji asked.
“I don't think they're going to ask for permission first,” Mari curtly replied.
“This means they'll go after the other pilots, too, doesn't it?” Kensuke said.
“I'm afraid so. The Alliance is trying to secure NERV, the other EVAs and their pilots to prevent this from happening.”
The two boys looked at each other. “Then they'll try to get to Shinji and Soryu-chan, won't they?” Toji said. Mari nodded.
“Who is the Alliance?” asked Hikari.
“They’re a group of former UN military officers and scientists who have found about the Instrumentality project and who have banded together in order to stop it.”
Toji looked down at the soldiers in the aircraft. “Are they all foreigners?”
“Not all,” Mari replied. “There’s a few Japanese involved. Unfortunately the Japanese government is being pushed by SEELE to help do its dirty work.”
“How did you get here?” Kensuke asked her.
Mari smiled and batted her eyelashes. “I'm actually an EVA pilot! At least I'm trained as one.”
“You're a pilot?” said Kensuke in utter surprise.
“That's right, but apparently not officially so. I suppose it's a long story.” Mari looked at Kensuke and smirked. “I suppose you're not official either?” Kensuke was speechless as his scam was uncovered in the most unlikely way. “Well, um...I have actually been inside the EVA you know!”
Toji narrowed his glace at his friend. “What the hell did you say to her?”
Aida's face began to turn bright red. “She seemed to know a lot about EVA so I decided to...embellish a little.”
Hikari also got angry as the Class Representative inside of her finally reappeared. “Aida-kun!”
Kensuke leaned and whispered in Toji's ear, “You see how hot she is! Could you blame me?” Toji punched him hard in the shoulder. “Asshole!” Kensuke grabbed the new bruise in pain.
“Which EVA is yours?” Toji asked her.
“Unit 05,” she replied. Kensuke's face became a deeper shade of red and he sheepishly turned his head. Mari playfully pounded on his knee. “Don't worry, old chap! You were quite convincing for a while. I found it all very entertaining.”
“You could have at least said something,” Kensuke whimpered.
“Are there any other EVA pilots?” Hikari asked her.
“There's an American boy also.” Mary looked at Toji. “He says he knows you.”
“Who?” Toji asked, but Kensuke and Hikari both gasped as they remembered. “Those two boys who came a couple of months before!” Hikari recalled.
“But they're dead!” Kensuke exclaimed. “Toji got one of their EVAs!”
“Yeah, no thanks!” Toji said.
“They found Patrick Forrestal and EVA-04 about a week ago in Nevada,” Mari explained. “He's with the Alliance now. If they can convince him to pilot again, that is.”
The classmates didn't say anything for a moment. Hikari had a sad look on her face. “Oh, no.” she said mournfully.
“What is it?” Toji asked her.
“Forrestal-kun really liked Ayanami-chan. Now she's gone.” she looked at Mari. “Does he know?”
Since he had reappeared Patrick had been so exhausted that deep sleep had come to him easily and he had been spared his nightly nightmares. This night however the nightmares came back with a vengeance.
Patrick saw himself standing in a large, dimly lit room which he vaguely recognized as part of the NERV-2 facility. Surrounding him were NERV personnel of all different types, operations staff in khaki & white uniforms, technical people in coveralls, and security personnel in camouflage. He looked around him and noticed that he was in the center of the room and that everyone was slowly moving towards him.
He looked around and tried to find a familiar face in the people around him, but then he noticed that their faces were somehow different. When one person came closer to him and he could see in the light he realized what it was: their eyes were gone, replaced by empty sockets with small red lights glowing out of them.
Patrick tried to back away from the crowd but found that he was surrounded by the mob which was moving closer to him and murmuring something. Chills went up and down his arms and legs, as he felt like this was some sort of a bad zombie movie, only it was actually real. Someone came up close to him from behind and the boy quickly turned around. Standing right next to him dressed in a white lab coat was his father, Dr. Harrison Forrestal. He still had the same appearance as he remembered him: tall with his white hair neatly combed back and his mustache and goatee, but like the others his eyes were also gauged out and replaced with red glowing dots.
“Why did you do this to us?” his father moaned at him.
“What are you talking about!” Patrick screamed back at him.
“You killed us!” A voice was heard in the crowd. Other voices joined in. “You killed us! You killed us!”
“No! You're not dead!” Patrick shouted back.
“You don't know that!” this father answered back. “You let the EVA destroy us!”
“That's not what happened! She told me she put you someplace safe!”
“You selfish little brat!” His father told him. “We kept you safe and secure for your whole life, and this is how you reward us!”
“I didn't want to pilot again! Not to kill people!”
“But you didn't mind killing us!” The voices kept coming from the mob as it moved closer and closer to Patrick.
Patrick shouted angrily at this Father. “Why did you want to do this? People needed hope! But you were trying to end the world!”
“It's better this way!” Dr. Forrestal retorted. “The World didn't deserve to go on. I wanted to bring them peace!”
“Screw you!” Patrick said and tried to find his way out of the encompassing mob of zombies.
Desperately he called out “Vance! Vance!” Patrick turned his head and found Vance standing next to him. Still wearing his black plug suit, his head still had a large hole in the side, with blood and ooze seeping out to his face.
Vance smiled at him. “Dude, don't look at me! You brought this on yourself!” His eyes were not glowing like this others but instead were pitch black.
“No!” Patrick panicked as he tried to push his way out of the crowd, as Vance heartily laughed as his frustration. The zombie NERV staffers now tried to grab him with their hands as Patrick looked for any way he could break free. He didn't know why he did it, but Patrick suddenly called out “Erin! Erin!”
As he pivoted around he saw her. Dressed in an orange plug suit like his own with her blonde hair cropped short, her eyes too were replaced with red glowing dots. Patrick shivered in fear as he saw her. Erin spoke to him with a mournful expression on her face. “You killed me. Why did you do that? Why?”
“NO!!!” Patrick screamed. He tried to push his way out but now the mob was upon him and he could feel himself being pushed down to the ground. Oh God! Help me please! Please!
As he was forced to the ground Patrick heard a thump-thump-thumping sound above him. He tried to look up and saw a bright light shining down as a flurry of white feathers came down around him. The light from above became brighter and the mob of zombies backed away in fright. Patrick sensed they were withdrawing but still didn't get up off the floor as he was too paralyzed in fear.
Without moving he listened as the thump-thump sound came very close, within a foot of where he was laying. The boy felt arms embrace him around his chest and hold him tight. Then the thumping increased with great force and with a whoosh Patrick felt himself lifted into the air.
Too weak to move, he was carried above the retreating mob of the others as they were frightened at the brightness of the light. He could feel himself pulled aloft high above the floor and through an opening in the room, and then out into the open night sky.
Patrick noticed the arms that were around him were pearl white and slender, the hands tiny and delicate. He turned his head to look at who was carrying him and he saw the face. A girl's face expressionlessly looked ahead of them with deep red eyes. He could see the wings behind her back flapping gracefully as she lifted him skyward, the angel's blue hair swaying with the wind. At that moment he relaxed all of his muscles and closed his eyes as he suddenly felt as safe as he had ever been in his life.
He woke up and just lay there in the bed for a long while afterward, running the dream in his head over and over again with tears in his eyes. Rei, you can't be dead! You can't be!!!
Go to Chapter Thirteen