John Biles & Rod M. Present
          A Neon Genesis Evangelion Elseworlds


                 Children of an Elder God

                        Part 19

                      Tumbling Down

                          -*-

	Blue eyes stared up at the ceiling, framed by red
veins, with trails of dried tears streaming from them.  
Her throat was raw from the screaming, the nightmares
that haunted her night after night no matter how strongly
she tried to fight them off.

	They'd put her in this room because she was
hysterical.  She vaguely remembered that first day,
bandaged, battered, enraged, ashamed.  She pounded at the
doors for hours, her knuckles still red from the effort.

	In the cell, there was no way to tell time. 

	How long was she there?  She wasn't sure.  Days,
hours, weeks, it didn't matter anymore to her.  She was
numb. After the fire of her rage had extinguished, the
horror of what Rei had done.... what she'd let Rei do to
her... 

	She was ashamed. 

	She was filthy. 

 	And she had... 

 	Asuka's eyes squeezed shut for a moment.  She
didn't want to think about that.  Anything but that.

	She tried to reason out what had happened.  The
Evas took traits from the Angels they'd slain.  Did the
same thing happen to the pilots?  It seemed like the only
answer.

	No!  No, that was no excuse for her!  If Asuka was
able to resist those sick urges, why couldn't Rei?!  She
did it on purpose!  Damn her! 

	She sat upright, face contorted into an angry
scowl, her fists suddenly ablaze with flame. 

	"I'LL KILL HER!" 

 	The door creaked open. 

	Asuka turned to it, eyes and fists ablaze, sending
a fireball to the door.  She heard a voice, a male voice,
cry out in shock as the door slammed shut.  She frowned. 
That wasn't Rei. 

	One of the walls turned transparent.  Behind it
stood Gendo, staring coldly at Asuka.  She noticed he
looked a little singed.  For a moment she wanted to
apologize to the commander, then remembered it was him that
always favored Rei, always blamed Asuka, probably was the
reason she was locked up here like an animal when it SHOULD
BE REI. 

	She glared at Gendo.  He looked back at her with a
cold and umerciful glare, then disappeared as the wall
became solid again.

                          -*-

	Red eyes stared blankly at the wall, as they had
been for endless hours.  She didn't know how long she was
in there exactly.  Time had no meaning in a place with no
sun, no moon, no stars.

	Time didn't matter to Rei Ayanami.  Few things did. 

	The room she was in was barren, cold steel walls
all around her, except for a part of one wall, which was
made of an advanced form of plexiglass. 

	She had remained silent during her incarceration,
during Gendo's reprimand, and was silent even now.  The
only hint of her mental state was the way she seemed to be
staring generally downward, as if hanging her head in
shame. 

	Still she remained silent. 

	For the first time since being placed in the room,
she moved.  Her eyelids slid shut for a moment, a single
tear traveling down the side of her face. Surprisingly, it
didn't become absorbed into the fabric of her straitjacket,
but continued to roll down, dropping to the floor in a
nearly perfect sphere that rolled away a short distance. 
She blinked again and another tear came rolling down, and
another... 

	A few minutes later, Rei sat at the center of
dozens of tears, shining in the light like translucent
pearls.  One of them clouded over, becoming milky white,
then slowly began to grow in size, the other teardrops soon
following suit.  They all took a small embryonic shape,
then developed arms, legs, the telltale red eyes and blue
hair... 

	Dozens of little Reis emerged, only inches tall.  
At first they all walked about, as dazed and emotionless as
their creator, but soon they were behaving in strange and
unique ways.

	One Rei was giggling and blushing, whispering in a
tiny voice awkward poems of love.  Another was wearing a
plugsuit and studying an Eva pilot manual seriously.  A
particularly perky Rei was running from Rei to Rei and
asking "will you be friends with me?  It's good to have
friends!"  Yet another Rei was far away from the group,
seemingly younger than the rest, crying miserably, being
held and comforted by older Rei, one with dark brown hair. 
"I didn't mean to!" the littler Rei cried.  "I didn't want
to!  I didn't mean to!" to which the older Rei responded
with soothing words and a comforting hand stroking her
hair.  "It's okay, it's alright, I understand," said she. 


	There were stranger Reis than those, oddly
grotesque Reis in many different forms.  One Rei's lower
half was that of a spider, and she skittered about warily,
spinning a web between the floor and the wall.  Another Rei
had claw-like hands and gargoyle wings, flittering about
the room like a deranged butterfly.  One particular Rei was
dressed in black robes, a small black book in her hand.  It
seemed she was reading from the book, and in a tiny yet
bellowing voice, she chanted, "IA! IA! CTHULHU FHTAGN! 
PH'NGLUI MGLW'NAFH CTHULHU R'LYEH WGAH'NNAGL FHTAGN!" 

                          -*-

	Shinji sat at the desk, trying to do his homework,
but his concentration kept slipping.  Why have we all
gotten hauled off and put in these rooms?, he asked
himself.  Something had happened to Asuka, he knew that,
and then they'd all gotten hauled off and put in isolation.  
Do they think one of us did something to her?  She'd crush
me in seconds if I tried anything, he thought.  And I
was...  He flushed slightly at the thought.

	There was a knock at the door. 

	"Come in," Shinji said. 

	Misato came in, carrying a suitcase.  "Here's more
of your clothing and some books and stuff so you won't be
utterly bored."  She glanced at the desk.  "So Maya did get
you your assignments?" 

	He nodded.  "Not that I have any idea how to do
some of them, since I can't go to class.  So why am I here,
anyway?" 

	"We, uh...Ritsuko thought it was a good idea
to...umm..."  Misato turned to his homework.  "Math, eh?  I
thought you were good at math." 

	"I'm decent," Shinji said.  "It's the history and
the literature stuff I'm having trouble with.  But you
didn't answer my question." 

	"It's not anything you did, so don't worry about
it," Misato said.  She opened the suitcase and pulled out
several books.  "Here's your history textbook.  That should
help a lot.  Oh, and Ritsuko said something about some
website for...no, wait..."  She frowned.  "I'll have to ask
her again." 

	"But why?  And why can't we see each other?"  A
thought struck him.  "Were we exposed to something
contagious?" 

	"I wouldn't be in here without a biosuit if that
was the case," Misato said.  "Once the tests are done, you
should be able to go home." 

	"And what happened to Asuka?"  Shinji asked.  "I
know something happened." 

	"Who told you that?" Misato asked sharply. 

	"Maya let it slip out," Shinji said, a little
sharply himself.  "What is going on?  Why won't you tell
me?"  He was starting to get irritated.  "If something is
wrong with us, you ought to tell us!" 

	"We're just being cautious so we can be sure it
won't happen again," Misato replied, her voice rising. 
"And trying to decide what to do about the guilty party." 

	"Make sure what doesn't happen again?" Shinji
demanded.  "What is going on?" 

	"Nothing I can talk about yet," Misato said. 
"You're going to have to be satisfied with that."  She
didn't sound very happy about not being able to tell him. 
Putting more command in her voice, she said, "Don't worry
about it." 

	"You can't lock me up like I have the black plague
and expect me not to worry!" Shinji said.  "I want to know
what's going on, and I want to know now!"  To Misato's
surprise, he advanced on her, and she stepped back.  "What
happened and what do I have to do with it?" 

	"Don't ask me what I can't tell you!" she shouted
back at him. 

	"I'm being locked up like a rat, and I haven't done
ANYTHING!" Shinji shouted back, surprising himself.  "I
want OUT!  Tell me what's going on!" 

	Misato felt her necklace turn ice cold beneath her
shirt, and for just a moment, she felt her body start to
stiffen.  She stumbled back and caught the desk and felt a
static shock, then panicked, turning and running without
looking back, frantically slamming the door behind her. 

	She slumped down against the door and began to cry
for no good reason.  I wish I could tell you, Shinji, she
thought.  You didn't do anything.  But until we know what
we're going to do about Rei... 

	Soon, she pulled herself together, got up, and left
to go about her duties, wishing things hadn't come to this.

	Inside the room, Shinji pounded on the door for a
while, then turned back to his homework, less able to work
on it than before.  Part of him was so mad he wanted to
smash something, while the rest felt awful for yelling at
Misato, who had come to help him. 

	After ripping his third sheet of paper by writing
too hard, he noticed a spider had started building a web in
the corner of his room.  "I bet you don't have anything to
worry about," he said to it. 

	It dropped down a line onto the desk and scuttled
over to him, then crawled onto his hand.  It was a
beautiful little spider, he thought.  "I wish you could
talk," he said.  "I could send you to find out what's going
on."  He thought about the incident a while back when Rei
had shown him how to control a spider.  "Hmm, maybe I can." 
He tried to stare it in the eyes, which was hard given how
small they were.  "Go find Asuka and see what's going on,"
he said. 

	It scampered off, leaving him to wonder if he had
commanded it or it had just gotten bored and left. 

                          -*-

	"Perhaps it will not happen again," Gendo said. 

	"She seems much more self-controlled," Fuyutsuki
replied.  "But can we take the chance?  After seeing what
she can already do with her body..."  He shook his head. 
"And this recent...display...further confirms her growing
power.  Soon, she may be able to duplicate herself on a
larger scale.  Imagine if she got into the clone tanks." 
He shook his head and shuddered. 

	Gendo stared at Fuyutsuki silently, his face
utterly calm.  "I will increase the security level.  And I
believe we should have our psychologists study the tapes of
Rei's...performance."

	Fuyutsuki nodded and squirmed in his chair a
little.  "We can perhaps take one word of comfort from
this."

	"Yes?" 

	"When watching the tape, I didn't see any little
Reis that resembled the Violator." He gave an audible sigh
of relief, but hesitated in mid-sigh.  "Although... there
were so many that I might have missed it."

	Gendo paused to sip his coffee, then continued. 
"We have no choice.  DAGON is still a failure, and we need
five Children.  And..." 

	"And we might not be able to dispose of her if we
wanted to," Fuyutsuki said bluntly, settling back into his
chair. 

	Gendo shuffled the papers on his desk.  "The
Rending of Yibb-Tsll would still suffice to slay her, I
think, should it come to that." 

	"How do you propose to get her to sit still long
enough for us to succeed in that?"  Fuyusuki asked,
frowning. 

	"She does sleep." 

	"No one sleeps soundly enough to not wake up when
the Rending starts," Fuyutsuki replied.  "And she may start
having some of her...little friends about and around much
of the time.  But I would prefer not to kill her either. 
It's not her fault she absorbed power from..."  He
shuddered at the thought.  "The Violator." 

	"Exactly.  It would be neither expedient nor just. 
But possibly necessary.  We can't afford another incident
like that.  Langley is at the point where she nearly killed
me.  If the Children want each other and us to die, our
plan can't come to fruition, and the Old Ones will win." 

	"Or if the Children become what they fight,"
Fuyutsuki said.  "I fear greatly they will fall prey to the
powers they wield, that we're raising up beings who will
one day scourge other worlds as the Old Ones scourge our
world."  He stared off at the new painting up on the wall,
a pleasant seascape.  "That's new." 

	"I painted in college, with Yui's help.  Haven't
you seen it before?" 

	"Not in a very long time," Fuyutsuki said.  He
still didn't remember it at all.  "So what are we going to
do about this?" 

	"Step up DAGON testing, keep Rei in confinement,
use her if we absolutely have to, and look for a better way
to dispose of her should it becomes necessary.  She seems
stable now, but the Violator is part of her now.  And this
whole business with making servitor creatures from her own
flesh is a very bad sign."

	"He's part of the other Children as well,"
Fuyutsuki said.  "What if one of the others does something
like she did to Asuka?  What if Shinji does?" 

	For a moment, Gendo's eyes flared, but then his
usual calm reasserted itself.  "I will do what is
necessary." 

	"The tightrope is growing thinner," Fuyutsuki said,
sighing.  "But for now we balance and keep watch." 

	"The Burrower Beneath will appear soon enough,"
Gendo said.  "But we'll have the Fifth Child to help us
deal with it.  That will help." 

	"She gets here today, right?" 

	"Katsuragi should already be on her way to pick her
up." 

                          -*-

	The girl stared out to see, the stars reflected in
her glasses, the ocean breeze tugging at her long blond
ponytail.  She'd arrived at the docks with her Eva04 half
an hour ago, and watched the massive carrier truck haul it
towards NERV headquarters.  They'd offered her a ride
there, but she'd declined.  After all, she was supposed to
go somewhere else.

	Anna sat on her luggage and pulled out her cellular
phone again.  She dialed Asuka's number, but she just got
Asuka's voice mail again.  She frowned and stared off at
the street.  Wasn't Katsuragi-san supposed to be here to
get me? 

	She stood, opened one bag, and got out a book.  I
guess I'll just wait and read, she thought.  Oh wait, I
know her apartment number too.  She tried that, but it
didn't work either.  She sighed and gave up, turning to her
book. 

                          -*-

	Misato finished signing a pile of pay vouchers. 
What a waste of my time, she thought.  No one is ever going
to bother looking at these once they're entered into the
computer.  I could be doing...something. In fact, she felt
she should be doing something, but wasn't sure what. 

	"Katsuragi-san, you busy?" someone asked. 

	She started, then turned.  It was Makoto.  "Hey,
Makoto, what's up?" 

	"A couple of things.  I was wondering how soon we
can let the guys go.  Suzuhara's father called again asking
what's going on and how soon he'll get his son back,"
Makoto said, leaning against the doorway. 

	"The boys will probably go home tomorrow unless
Ritsuko finds some reason for them to stay.  As for the
girls..." She sighed.  "I don't know.  I'm not sure if
we'll ever be able to let Rei go home.  And Asuka nearly
killed Commander Ikari.  I don't like the man, but..."  
She frowned intensely.  Power corrupts, she thought.  And
absolute power corrupts absolutely.  But she didn't want
that.  Not for her children.  Not if she could help it.  
But she didn't know how to prevent it.

	Makoto nodded.  "I wish there was something I could
do for Asuka." 

	"Me too," Misato said.  "Me too."  She stared
bleakly at her paperwork.  "You doing anything tonight?" 

	"Uh, yeah," he said, embarrassed.  "Actually, I was
hoping I could take the rest of today off.  My friend Akane
just got here and..." 

	Misato smiled at him impishly, her bad mood
dispelled for the moment.  "And you have to go be her
lovebunny?" 

	"I'm not her...well, maybe sort of her lovebunny. 
I mean, uh..."  Makoto began to turn red and fidget. 

	"You're so cute when you do that.  Go right ahead. 
We aren't expecting any Angel attacks for a while, unless
the Commanders are hiding information from us again.  Which
they probably are, but I'll just call you if we need you. 
In fact, you can take tomorrow off too, if you need to." 

	"Thanks a lot," he said.  "I really appreciate it." 
He glanced over at her paperwork.  "I can take some of that
with me." 

	"No, I don't have anything better to do," Misato
said bitterly.  "Beats going home to an empty house."  She
sighed.  "Just...enjoy what you have while you can. 
Because you never know when it'll be gone." 

	"I'm sorry," he said, not knowing what else to say,
but wishing he could comfort her somehow.  "Look, we're
gonna go see a movie later.  You want to come with us?" 

	She shook her head.  "I'd only cramp your style. 
Have fun." 

	He frowned.  "Okay.  Is there anything I can do to
help before I go?" 

	She made shooing gestures at him.  "Go, go.  Never
make a woman wait.  That's an order." 

	He saluted her, smiling.  "As you command."  He
turned and marched off, and they both laughed. 

	Once he was out of sight, she slumped into her
chair.  Okay, what can I use to forget my life next, she
asked herself.  Ahh, the ammunition use reports.  That
should numb my brain cells. 

                          -*-
	
	Ritsuko sat upon the couch, stacks of folders and
papers laid about her, though her attention seemed
distracted by something going on elsewhere in the house.

	There was the sizzling sounds and the tantalizing
aroma of fresh food being cooked, something that she hadn't
had in a long while.  But even more distracting than that
was the sweet aroma of perfume and sound of whimsical
humming as Maya cooked.  Every now and then Maya would sway
to the music as she hummed.  Ritsuko would often gaze
Maya's way as she did this, enjoying the view.

	"Sempai?" asked Maya.  "You're not feeling any
symptoms lately, are you?  You're feeling okay?"

	"Oh, yes, I'm feeling fine," she replied, sounding a
little distracted.

	"Good," said Maya.  With a graceful turn of the pot
into the casserole, her cooking was done.  "Dinner's ready!"
she said as she carried the dish to the kitchen table.

	Good Lord, I'm turning into a dirty old woman,
Ritsuko mused to herself as she continued to eye Maya's
figure.  Unfortunately, there were just a few more forms she
needed to fill before she could get up.  "Join you in a
minute, just a little more to do."

	Maya nodded and walked over to the sofa, sitting on
its arm.  "Say, sempai..."

	"Mm?"

	"What's going to happen with Asuka and Rei?"

	"I... I don't know, Maya."  Ritsuko leaned into the
couch and sighed.  "We didn't suspect they had the power to
kill an Angel with their bare hands, but once they did we
should've seen it coming..."

	"I feel sorry for those two," said Maya.  "They're
just... children."

	"Innocence is the first casualty of war," replied
Ritsuko.  "I feel especially sorry for Rei... slipping
further away from her humanity."  She frowned, recalling the
earlier events of the day.  "What she was doing in her
cell..."

	Maya squeezed Ritsuko's hand reassuringly.  "I won't
let that happen to you, sempai."

	Ritsuko smiled.  No thanks needed to be spoken, she
knew, just a returned squeeze of the hand.

	Maya sighed.  "Well, at least we don't have to worry
about one of them getting pregnant."  

	Ritsuko's expression turned suddenly sour.  In a low
mutter, she said, "I hope she doesn't follow her
mother's..."

	"Her mother?  Sempai... what happened to her
mother?"

	"It's... it's nothing," said Ritsuko, turning away
to look at her files.  "Forget I said it."

	"I...."  One look at Ritsuko's disturbed expression,
and Maya knew it would just be bad to ask further.  If she
needed to know, she trusted her sempai to tell her, but for
now, she let it go.  

	"Okay, sempai."

                          -*-

	Asuka sat on her bed and concentrated on her hand
again.  This time the ball of fire formed at the size she
wanted, and bobbed up and down over her palm.  She formed
another one, and a third, and began to juggle them,
laughing in delight.  For a while the simple pleasure of
mastering an aspect of her growing power enabled her to
fight off her memories of the past. 

	She'd started working on it after not only nearly
frying Commander Ikari, but nearly frying herself in the
process.  After a few hours spent hiding under the bed in
terror, crying and nearly throwing up, she'd decided to try
to get control of that ability before she could have
another accident. 
 
	As she started to grow tired, she dispelled the
flames.  I'll show Rei if she tries THAT again, Asuka
thought.  I'll burn her into a mass of scar tissue, then
I'll make her watch me have sex with Shinji!  That'll show
her for trying to make off with him and forcing herself on
me!  No one pushes me around!  No one! 

	A thousand vengeance fantasies flitted through her
mind, with about half of them ending with her doing unto
Rei as she had been done unto.  That shocked her out of it,
leaving her feeling rather nauseous.  I would never do
anything like that, she thought.  Never. 

	She needed a distraction again, and thus, when she
spotted the spider spinning a web in the corner of her
room, she decided to swat it with fire as practice in her
powers.  She headed towards it, only to discover that its
web was, in fact, spelling out words in Kanji.  'Shinji is
worried about you.'

	She stopped and stared at it in shock.  "You..." 
She rubbed her eyes, but it was still there.  "Did Shinji
send you?" 

	There was a long pause, and then it very slowly
formed a web to express 'yes'. 

	"Why...why hasn't he come to see me?" she asked,
her voice quavering.  Maybe he knows how tainted I am now
and wants nothing to do with me, she feared.  There was a
darkness within her, making her think things, and she was
afraid everyone could see it now, that they wouldn't like
her any more.  That they'd think she was a monster. 

	'Don't know.'

	"Can you give him a message for me?" she asked
hopefully. 

	It jumped back to the yes. 

	I can't believe I'm talking to a spider, she
thought.  "Let's see, what to say..." 

                          -*-

	Anna wandered through the store, trying to find
something to amuse herself with while she waited for
someone to come pick her up.  I'm lucky this was right by
the docks, she thought.  Although it would be just my luck
if they came for me while I was in here. 

	King's Gifts and Things was basically a tourist
trap for sea-borne travelers, full of interesting Japanese
knicknacks and twelve tons of tacky junk, all crammed
tightly into a small space with many high shelves.
 After grabbing a few manga that looked interesting, she
then began trying to see if there were any pearls among the
plastic dross. 

	A cute little metal robot caught her eye,
especially with its label which pronounced it to be
'God-Jesus the Fortuneteller Robo'.  She blinked and looked
again, but it still said that.  The plastic packaging
announced that 'God-Jesus is your friend.  He will tell
your love fortune.  He has great magical powers.'

	She laughed and decided to buy it as a gag gift for
Asuka.  She picked out a few other knicknacks, paid for
them, then headed out to the docks again to wait for her
ride.  While she waited, she took out God-Jesus from his
box and loaded him up with batteries, then pushed his talk
button. 

	"There is a tall, dark, mysterious stranger in your
future.  Be ready for him," God-Jesus announced with a
tinny electronic voice. 

	Anna laughed.  Asuka should get a kick out of this. 
If anyone ever shows up to take me to her apartment,
anyway, she thought. 
	
                          -*-

	Makoto walked down the street with Akane, arm in
arm.  "Yeah, she's been kind of depressed lately," he said. 
"But I can't blame her." 

	"I guess she really loved the guy, eh?" Akane
asked. 

	"Yes," he said, slumping a little.  "I just wish I
knew what to do." 

	"Well, this is your big chance," she said.  "She'll
need...I'm being callous again."  She slapped her head. 
"Sorry." 

	"I'm too scared to try," he said.  "And if I rush
in too fast..." 

	"If you sit on your butt, nothing will ever
happen," she said firmly.  "You have to be bold to get what
you want."  She reached over and pinched his butt, then
giggled. 

	I just don't understand you, he thought.  "Not
yet," he said.  "Maybe once things settle down with the
Children and all.  Although..." 

	"You're wondering about...'us', right?" Akane asked
cheerfully. 

	"Uh, yeah, you could say that," he said nervously. 

	"Oh, I'm lousy at solid relationships," she said. 
"I'd rather blow into town, have fun for a few days, then
leave before I can get annoying and vice versa. And...well...
I love playing cupid."  She smiled broadly at Makoto.  "And 
I'm good at it too.  So what's this problem with the 
Children?" 

	He stared at the ground as he walked.  "I'm not
supposed to talk about it." 

	"Oh come on," she begged teasingly.  "Pretty
please?  I swear I won't tell anyone.  I swear...on the
moon."  She looked up at the full moon.  "Isn't it
beautiful?" 

	"Yes, it is," he said, looking up at it.  "There
have been some unpleasant after-effects from the last
battle." 

	"They're mad at each other over it?" 

	"You could say that..." he said, trying to think
how to change the subject.  "So what movie do you want to
see?" 

	"Hmm.  Something romantic...something
bloody...something romantic...okay, romantic wins."  She
blinked.  "Oops, we missed the theater."  She tugged his
arm and turned him around.  "You don't mind something
mushy, do you?" 

	"I see enough action at work," he said.  "I can use
a break from it." 

	"Romantic movie it is.  It'll warm us up for
later." 

	He was looking forward to that.  It was nice to not
be alone. 

                          -*-

	The television screen illuminated the otherwise dark
living room, casting everything in an unsteady glow of
flickering light.  The room's sole occupant sat in the sofa,
slumped deep into it, a bottle of soda in her hand, its
caffeine buzz long gone.

	This was depression.

	This was Misato.

	Her lover slain just when they were making things
right again, her children turned against her and each other,
just the two most recent disasters in a string of them
beginning with the two million dead in...

	No.

	Don't think about that.

	Don't.

	She instead stared at the television, which was at
the moment on the Nature channel.  Footage of dolphins
swimming seemed to be mind-numbing enough.  They were soon
followed by thirty minutes of penguins.  Happy, squawking,
cute little penguins playing in the ice and snow.

	Sliding.

	Down.

	Her mind was nearly at a zen-like state of numbness
when the programming changed to mating rituals of primates.  
The amusing young orangutan going from female to female to
find a mate reminded her of Kaji for some reason.

	Ook.

	"Ook."

	Did I just say that? she wondered.

	Lord above, I need alcohol.

	She tossed the empty bottle of soda away, half-rose
from the sofa, then slumped into it.  Shouldn't drink.  
Couldn't drink.  Promises to keep.

	Kaji would've been proud of her.

	Or at least baffled.

	She cracked a sad smile.

	"Hey Kaji, remember when we were in college... I told
you I'd probably miss beer more than I'd miss you... you know
what?  I was wrong."

	Misato hit the power button on the remote, and the
room fell into darkness.  She idly wondered what Ritsuko was
up to, then realized she was probably with Maya.  Best... to
leave them alone, yeah.

	With all the angsting going on in her mind, a small
part of it had a nagging feeling about something, but wasn't
sure what.

	Her cellphone rang.  She cursed and hoped they
weren't asking her to go back to the office.  Caller ID told
her it was Fuyutsuki calling.  She wondered what he wanted.

	"Katsuragi here."

	//"The Fifth Child is with you, I assume?"// he
asked.

	Fifth... Fifth Child?

	"Oh shit!" she yelled, then realized too late she was
still on the phone with Fuyutsuki.

	A sigh could be heard through the phone speakers.  
//"Please, do not tell me you've entirely FORGOTTEN to pick
up the Fifth Child."//

	"I... er... I'm sorry, sir!  I'm going right now and
will take full responsibility!"

	//"Katsuragi, I know times are hard right now, but
you mustn't lose sight of your duties, else all is
lost.  What if something happens to the Fifth Child?  Get
moving!"//

	"Yessir!  On my way!"

	Misato closed the connection and scrambled out the
door.  Great, she thought, one more disaster in a long
line...

                          -*-

	Misato hauled Anna's luggage into the living room. 
"You can stay here until Asuka gets back.  We're having
some trouble finding housing for you." 

	Anna blinked.  "Really?  But the city is so big, I
wouldn't think that a problem." 

	"Well, we don't want you to have to live by
yourself," Misato replied, closing the door. 

	"No room here?" 

	"Not with Asuka and Shinji and me all in here." 
She went over to the fridge.  "You want a coke or
something?" 

	"Thanks.  So where are they, anyway?" 

	Misato stuck her head in the fridge and got a coke,
doing it slowly to give her time to compose herself.  "Up
at the base.  They probably won't be back for a few days." 
I haven't actually said anything dishonest, she told
herself. 

	"Oh.  Can I go see her tomorrow?" 

	"Maybe," Misato said.  But probably not.  "You'll
be seeing Asuka's bed tonight, though, as you'll be in her
room until she...comes back." 

	Anna frowned.  Misato was hiding something; she
could tell. 


                          -*-

	"Shinji, please, try to stay still," asked Ritsuko,
frowning as the monitors in front of her presented distorted
and blurred images of his body in shades of red and blue.

	Strapped to a table in the middle of dozens of
scanning devices, Shinji tried not to move.  He couldn't
help but feel uncomfortable, though, being naked and
strapped down by velcro.

	"S-Sorry," he replied.  "It's just that-"

	"Being strapped down on a table naked while large
metal objects pass by me wouldn't make me feel good either,"
she said with a smirk.  "Sorry about this, but we have to do
it, just to be sure."

	"Be sure of what?" asked Shinji.  "What's going on?
What's happening to us?"

	Ritsuko chewed on her pen, mulling over her reply.
"Well, you see.... we knew you, the Children, would possibly
gain a part of the powers from the Angels you'd slain, but
in your encounter with the Violator, you all displayed
powers far beyond what we anticipated.  We just want to make
sure those powers don't overwhelm you."

	"And... and Asuka?"

	Ritsuko raised an eyebrow.  "Hmm?"

	"What... what happened to Asuka?"

	"She... she experienced the powers of the Angels a
lot more than the other Children."

	"Is she okay?" asked Shinji despereately.   "Can I
see her?"

	"She's okay," said Ritsuko reassuringly.  "But right
now, we just need to keep her under careful observation.
For her safety and yours, okay?"

	Shinji frowned.  He didn't like the answer, but at
least it was an answer.  More than Misato gave him, anyway.

	Ritsuko spent several minutes looking at the data,
then shut down the sensors.  "Looks like you're fine,
Shinji.  Go ahead, get dressed, go home, get some rest."

	He quickly dressed and left, Ritsuko pausing in her
actions, waiting until he left.  A moment later, she powered
on her computer and sped through the programs until she
found one in particular.  Double-clicking it, she found
herself holding her breath, waiting to see the results of
it.

	SUBJECT: ASUKA SORYUU LANGLEY
	PREGNANCY TEST RESULTS: NEGATIVE

	She closed her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief.

                          -*-

	"Hikari! Sweetie! Wait!"

	The class president strode onward, ignoring
Touji's pleas, though it was apparent she was getting
mad.  It wasn't helping that his loudness was attracting
some unwanted attention as they made their way through
school.

	"C'mon, Hikari!  Lemme explain!"

	"What's to explain?" 

	"It wasn't my fault!"

	"Oh, right, like the devil made you do it?"

	"Well, actually, it was an angel, but..."

	She stopped walking and stared at him.  "I'm not
sure if that's supposed to be a lame excuse or a cheezy
pickup line."

	"Wha?"

	"Nevermind!"  She continued on her way.  "Next
thing you'll say is an Angel ate your homework."

	He blinked.  "No, that was Shinji."

	"What?"

	"Nevermind."

	"Hmph!"

	He ran ahead of her, pulling out a handful of
papers.  "Look!  I got the medical papers'n everything!"

	She swiped them away from him angril.  "Give me
those!" she yelled, then speed-read through the first
page.  Of particular interest was a post-it note stuck on
the first page.  It read:

	YES, IT REALLY WAS BECAUSE OF THE ANGEL.
	AND YES, HE ACTUALLY ASKED ME TO WRITE THIS
	FOR YOU.

		-R.AKAGI, NERV SCIENCE DIVISION

	She stared at it.  She blinked.  She read it
again.  Then she flipped through the first two pages of
the report.  And then she looked at him with a somewhat
neutral expression.

	"You actually asked the doctor to write this for
me?" she asked.

	"Well.... yeah."

	Much to his relief, she started laughing.

	He smiled a bit nervously himself.  "An'look, if
I start gettin' weird again, they got NERV goons waitin'
to smack me down.  See?"  He jerked his thumb in a
direction behind him, where there were, in fact, two men
dressed in black suits several yards away, watching them
passively.  "So everything's kinda under control right
now."

	That... didn't seem so funny to her.  "You...
you're serious."

	He nodded.

	"The others... is something like this why they
haven't been to school either?"

	"I dunno," he said.  "Maybe.  Though I dunno what-"

	For a fleeting moment, his mind took the elements
into consideration.  Rei.  Asuka.  Shinji.  Angel Pervert
Power.  His mind reeled from the possibilities and he
shuddered.

	"Touji?"

	Must Find Different Topic.

	"Er... let's talk about you'n me, okay?"


                          -*-

	Shinji walked in the door with Misato, then froze
up when he heard the sound of someone playing video games. 
"Hey," he began. 

	There was a blonde girl busily playing a racing
game with Pen-pen on Asuka's game machine.  She cursed in
German as her car crashed, shaking her head, which sent her
ponytail flying about.  Then Pen-Pen crossed the finish
line, dropped his controller, and did a penguin victory
dance.

	Shinji said, "Umm...hello?" 

	"Shinji, I told you Anna would be staying with us
on the way home," Misato said.  "Anna, this is Shinji. 
Shinji, this is Anna Unruh." 

	Shinji looked her up and down.  She was fairly
skinny and not very tall, wearing a blue NERV-Germany
t-shirt that proclaimed something in German he couldn't
understand, and a knee-length blue skirt.  Her irritation
with the game quickly turned to a smile, flashing her
perfectly white teeth.  Soft grey eyes darted back and
forth between Shinji and Misato. 

	"Nice to meet you," Anna said, getting up and
coming over.  "So when is Asuka coming home?"  Her voice
turned impatient when she said that. 

	"Yeah, when is she?" Shinji asked Misato. 

	"When Commander Ikari says she can," Misato said,
shifting uncomfortably. "It's my turn to cook dinner
tonight, right?"

	"I don't know any more, since I've been gone,"
Shinji said.  "But don't change the..." 

	"I'd better go shopping, then," Misato said.  "See
you later, bye!"  And then she was gone like a
spring-loaded cat. 

	Shinji looked at Anna nervously, feeling all his
usual doubts and worries about talking to people he didn't
know well.  "Well, umm, how long have you been here?" he
asked. 

	"I just got here yesterday," she said, sitting down
at the kitchen table. Shinji did likewise.  "So, what's
going on?  Katsuragi-san won't talk about it."

	Shinji stared at the table.  "I think Asuka and Rei
had some sort of fight or something, but I'm not sure what
happened, exactly."  He had a very strong suspicion, though
he couldn't believe it could really be what he feared.  "We
fought this really..."  He caught himself gripping the
table tightly, and thinking about what he'd done that
night.  With an effort, he banished the thoughts from his
mind.  "They called it the Violator.  But its' name was..." 
He closed his eyes.  "Best not said.  But..."  For just a
moment, he was very aware of Anna as a woman instead of as
someone to be nervous around on general principles.  "So
you're here to be a pilot like us?" 

	Anna nodded.  "I'm really excited about it." 

	"You shouldn't be," Shinji said weakly.  "I
sometimes wish I'd told Father no and gone back to my aunt
and uncle." 

	Her eyes widened.  "Really?  What makes it so bad?" 

	He struggled over how to say it without making her
think he was a mutant freak.  But there wasn't a good way. 
"I guess Rei put it best.  We take from what we slay. 
Being able to pilot EVA means...we're soaking up bits of
everything we fight.  And sometimes..."  He shook his head. 
"So why do you want to do this?" 

	"I've never been very strong," she said.  "And
Asuka always had to protect me.  But now, I can be the one
who protects other people.  And I like that."  She glanced
off at the door.  "Is Katsuragi-san always so evasive?" 

	"No," Shinji says.  "Which makes me afraid
something really bad has happened."  He stared at the
table, which yielded up no secrets or advice. "So, you've
known Asuka a long time?"

	She nodded.  "A very long time.  Her parents were
already dead when I met her, and I think we were both just
barely old enough to talk.  My mother died around the same
time her parents did, and Father..."  She frowned, and now
she was staring at the table.  "He never really recovered. 
Which is probably why my brother is a total freak." 

	"The cat guy, right?" 

	Anna laughed.  "Asuka told you?" 

	"You were both in some picture she showed me,"
Shinji said.  "So has she always been so..." 

	"Loud?" Anna asked, smiling. 

	"She's so confident," Shinji said.  "I just wish I
could be like that, but I'm not."  He sighed.  "I don't
think she's afraid of anything." 

	"Earthworms," Anna said, grinning.  "One good look
at them, and she turns green.  Don't ask me why, but there
was this one time with a mudpie full of them..."  She threw
back her head and laughed loudly at the memory.  "I think
Frau Doctor Himmelfarb got a picture of Asuka screaming at
them." 

	Shinji laughed a little as well.  "She didn't like
it when Touji put a frog in her plugsuit, either." 

	Anna laughed even louder at that.  "Did she ever
tell you about..." 

	The conversation went on like that for quite some
time, enabling Shinji to forget his troubles for a while. 

                          -*-

	The sounds of basketball filled the gymnasium, the
dribbling of basketballs, the squealing of sneakers on
woood, everyone shouting to their teammates and the slight
echo that accompanied them all.

	Facing off were two students that hadn't been here
for a few days, one was the star of the basketball team,
the other far short of ever being one.

	"C'mon, Shinji, show me what'cha got," sneered
Touji, standing in front of Shinji in a basketball
defensive stance.

	Shinji, for his part, was doing his best to dribble
the basketball towards the basket.  He knew Touji was
backing off of him to give him a chance to do something
with the ball, but his basketball skills were pathetic.

	Touji smirked.  "Any day now, man."

	"Will you ju-"

	And then Touji zommed forward with a burst of
speed, stole the ball, and streaked down to his team's
basket.  Shinji's teammates chased him down from
everywhere but Touji glided through them like a knife
through butter.  He took two long strides past the free
throw line, took to the air, then slammed the ball down the
basket with a double-hand gorilla jam.

	The entire building shuddered as the earth seemed
to rumble.  Some students fell off their feet while others
barely managed to stay upright.  Touji hung on to the rim,
staring at the mayhem.  Cries of 'earthquake!' echoed
through the gym.

	One second later, the shaking stopped.  Touji let
go of the hoop, landing on his feet, and grinned.  "That's
right!  Witness my mad dunk skillz!"

	Shinji got up, carefully, expecting another
shockwave at any given moment.  "Touji, I think that was an
earthquake."

	Touji scowled.  "Leave me alone t'my delusions'a
grandeur, willya?"


                          -*-

	Touji ran to the elevator, catching it just in
time.  He'd been late getting into the base, but had
somehow jumped into his plugsuit and managed to be where he
was right then.  Placing a hand between the elevator doors
to prevent them from shutting, he slipped in and leaned on
the wall.

	"You okay?" asked Shinji.

	Touji nodded.  "Whew, nearly missed it.  Got held
up a little after school an... eh?"

	And that's when he noticed the other passenger
being Not Asuka, but someone entirely different.  Looking
at her was somewhat like looking directly at neon
lights: colorful and a little blinding.  Her plugsuit was
of various shades of orange and yellow, complimenting her
golden hair.  Her grey eyes seemed innocent yet
mischievous as she met his gaze.

	Touji blushed just slightly, asking, "Hey, er,
who's this?"

	"Ich heiss Anna Unruh," the girl replied.

	Touji felt a cold chill run through him.  Another
German girl.  Langley was bad enough.

	"Er, wha?" he asked.

	"My name is Anna," she replied.  "Fifth Child.  I
just got in recently.  And you are?"

	"Touji, number four," said Touji.  "Nice t'meet
ya."

	"Didn't I tell you about her?" asked Shinji.

	"No! Ya didn't!  Man, nobody tells me anythin'
these days..."

	The 'cage' began its descent, and soon the three
children were looking upon their Evangelions.  The holding
cages for Eva00 and Eva02 were still shut, a somber
reminder of their still missing comrades, though a bright
new addition to the Evangelions was there.  It was clearly
based on Eva02, just as Eva03 had been, though its colors
were by far the brightest of the Evangelions, bright yellow
with orange highlights.

	Touji whistled at seeing it, then said, "Nice...
loud as hell an' as stealthy as a neon sign, but nice."

	Shinji looked embarrassed while Anna just gave an
amused smile.

	Soon enough, the three Children went to their cages
and boarded their Evangelions.  Shinji entered his quietly,
now seemingly oblivious to the LCL.  Touji still hesitated
quite a bit before boarding his, then noticed Anna as she
entered the LCL-flooded plug easily.

	//"Hey, you're used to this LCL stuff already?"// he
asked.

	Anna nodded.  //"I have prepared for this much in
Germany before I arrived here."//

	Meanwhile, in the Training Observation Room, Misato,
Ritsuko and Maya kept a careful eye on the bio-monitors.

	"Unit01 stabalizing at 72% synch," said Maya,
reading off the status lines.  "Unit03 at 49% and climbing.
Unit04 holding at 70%."

	Misato whistled.  "Good numbers on four there. Guess
they trained her well in Germany."

	"Either that or she's just a natural," added Ritsuko.

	"Well, at least she's not vomiting LCL like the boys
did," chipped in Maya.

	Misato nodded, then sat down in a station with
several monitors and a microphone.  "So far so good, guys,"
she said.  "Synch and biorhythms are all going smooth."

	//"Thank goodness,"// Shinji replied.

	"Anna, don't know what you're doing to get that great
synch rate, but keep it up."

	She could see Anna in one of the monitors give a
beaming smile.  //"I do my best!"// she replied cheerfully.

	"Okay guys, let's take it slowly.  Pull out of the
cages and head over to the main practice area."

	The three Evas emerged from their holding places,
sloshing through the shoulder-deep LCL, emerging on dry land
a moment later as the floor of the massive cavern that housed
the Evas gradually rose upwards.  A moment later they entered
the main underground practice area.  Misato ran them through
the basics of movement, which consisted mainly of running,
jumping and other basic movement drills, keeping them on it
for a solid hour.

	Touji's image appeared on Misato's main monitor as he
turned on his comm.  //"Yo, boss lady, I know the need fer
gettin' down to basics, but can't we do somethin' else?"//

	Ritsuko smirked.  "They do have a point, you
know.  You've been handling them with kid gloves so
far."

	Misato leaned back in her chair, flipping through a
clipboard.  "Well... what else can we... ah."  She leaned
forward, grabbing the microphone.  "Okay, kids, we'll try
something a bit more challenging.  Concentrate on your AT
fields, a tight shield all around you."

	The three children focused, and a moment later each
of their Evas were blurred by the telltale distortion of
space of an AT field.  The sensors in the control room
confirmed what her eyes saw, with detailed numbers on field
intensity and energy readings.

	"Good, good.  Now I want you to focus the field in
front of you only.  Imagine a shield in front of you."

	It took a moment for Touji to change his AT field,
while Shinji and Anna shifted it with little effort.

	"Good so far," said Misato.  "Let's see if you can
keep up.  Focus on the AT field now, shift it all to your
right arm."  She watched as they followed her orders, Touji
still the slowest of the three, though getting better at
it, while Anna kept on surprising her by matching Shinji's
efforts.  "Good, very good.  Now extend the field out from
your arm, as if it was a blade."  All three managed it, and
much to Misato's surprise, Touji managed to keep up to the
other two.  "Good work, Touji, you're finally catching up
to them."

	//"My pride ain't gonna let me fall behind the
skinny kid here,"// he replied jokingly.

	"Let's see if you can keep it up," continued
Misato.  "Okay, shift your field in front of you, away from
your Eva... good... like that... now shape it into a
sphere."

	Much to her surprise, Touji shaped his AT field
first, and rapidly.

	"Maya, what's Suzuhara's synch at?"

	"It's at 65%, it just jumped recently."

	Misato whistled.  "Not bad, not bad at all."

	Ritsuko raised an eyebrow, watching the three
Evas.  "Oh Misato, I think you should see this..."

	"See wha... what the heck is he doing?"

	"He seems to be... bouncing the ball."

	In the training room, Touji's Eva was doing exactly
that, bouncing the AT field ball off of the floor, then
increased the pace to a full-blown dribble.

	//"Heeeey, didn't know you could do this with an AT
field,"// said Touji.

	"Um... neither did we, Touji."

	//"Check it out!  Killer crossover!"//  Touji
dribbled the ball between his legs twice, then sprinted
forward, still dribbling the AT field ball.  //"And he goes
for the dunk!  Oh, wait, there ain't no hoop around
here.  Dang."//

	Maya and Misato stared in disbelief, while Ritsuko
just shook her head and rose from her seat.  "If you'll
pardon me, I've a meeting to catch in a few minutes."

                          -*-

	Ritsuko shifted uncomfortably in her chair in the
conference room.  "We still don't have an acceptable DAGON
replacement.  The most recent test ended up with the subject
ranting about eating brains."

	Gendo nodded.  "Well, perhaps with our new pilot, it
will be less urgent for a time."

	"Assuming Langley becomes ready for service any
sooner than Ayanami does," Fuyutsuki said dolefully.

	Wincing, Gendo nodded in a rueful fashion which
Ritsuko could hardly believe.  Gendo seemed less
self-controlled since the entire business with the Violator.  
He must have really been shaken up, she thought.

	"I recommend that we allow Asuka to have visitors. I
think it will improve her mood greatly.  And once she's
calmed down, there's no reason to hold her."

	"She attempted to char me," Gendo said flatly.

	"I'd have charred you too, under the circumstances,"
Ritsuko replied just as baldly.  "But pent up like that, I
don't think she'll ever calm down.  You've treated her as if
she was to blame for what happened, locking her up like
this."

	"I seem to remember you agreeing to this," Gendo
replied, now sounding irritated.

	"I seem to remember saying she needs human contact
too," Ritsuko fired back.  "And I seem to remember suggesting
letting Shinji go see her, as they get along well."

	"I don't like it," Gendo said almost petulantly.

	"I think she's right," Fuyutsuki said.  "And if she
does try anything, Shinji's better able to protect himself
than we are.  As for Ayanami..."  He sighed and stared at the
papers in front of him.  "Any suggestions?"

	"Continue the hormone suppressants and confinement.  
She seems to be getting better, but..."  Ritsuko sighed and
took a large swig of coffee.  "I don't think she'll even be
ready for visitors for a while.  But Asuka is."

	Gendo nodded at that.  "Alright, we'll let Langley
have visitors.  But we have to make sure they're being
monitored.  If any of the other Children are injured as a
result of this, you will be in a great deal of trouble,
Akagi."

	Ritsuko blinked.  He's giving in just like that?  
What's with him?  Not that it's all bad, but...  Something is
definitely wrong.

                          -*-

	She was crying again.

	Asuka had tried to be strong, and sometimes even felt
close to normal.  But every night she remembered, seeing
phantom red eyes in the darkness, the memory of Rei's
violation.  She didn't dream anymore, keeping those nocturnal
visions away with a supreme amount of willpower.  She feared
what she would see if she allowed herself to dream.

	She heard footsteps, someone approaching.  Asuka
wasn't in the mood for visitors. "GO AWAY!" she shouted,
turning, an aura of fire around her, extending her arms to
hurl fire.

	A stream of flame flew from her arm, narrowly missing
its target as a young blond girl dove to the floor with a
scream.

	"Anna!" Asuka said in shock, her flames going out.  
"You...you shouldn't surprise me like...Anna!"  She spoke in
German, easily falling back into it with her old friend. Then
she ran over and hugged the friend she'd almost fried.

	"I'm glad to see you too," replied Anna softly,
sensing her friend's distress, and returned the hug in
kind.

	Asuka loosened her grip, but still leaned against her
closest friend.  "Sorry about the flames," she said.

	Anna frowned slightly.  "Asuka... how did you do
that?" she asked weakly.  "It was as if.... as if you were on
fire."

	"I just sort of think about it."  Seeing Anna's
confused expression, Asuka continued, "They didn't tell us
everything when they were training us, Anna... when you
pilot the Eva..."  Her voice trembled at this point as her
resolve weakened.  In a hoarse whisper, she finised, "it
changes you, Anna... changes you into a monster."  She
closed her eyes, and a fresh round of tears began to flow.  
"I'm not even human anymore!" she sobbed.

	"Yes, you are," Anna said, patting Asuka's back.  
"And you'd still be my best friend even if you turned into
a...even if you turned into one of my brother's cats."

	Asuka tried to laugh and cry at the same time, and
just sort of ending up choking herself short.  "I could have
killed you, Anna.  If you hadn't gotten out of the way..."

	For a while, Anna was silent, then she said, "But you
didn't."

	Time passed as they knelt, hugging each other, until
finally Asuka calmed down enough to ask, "How was your trip?"

	"Rather boring," Anna replied.  "But it did mean I
won't be behind in school."  She pursed her lips.  "Assuming
they gave me the right readings, anyway.  And I got to
practice my Japanese, some.  I'll probably be needing it."

	Asuka laughed.  "Given only Dr. Akagi and I, and
maybe the two bastards in charge speak any German, yes."

	Anna gulped slightly.  "They don't get mad if..." she
began.

	"What are they going to do?  Bleed on me?" Asuka
asked bitterly. "They're keeping ME locked up when this is
all REI's fault!  I'd burn them both if they came back," she
said snarling.

	"Rei?  The First?  What did she do?" Anna asked.

	"She..she..."  Asuka's rage drained out of her, and
depression returned.  Very, very faintly, she said, "She
raped me."

	Anna's eyes flew wide open.  "She..."

	"And I...I..."  Her voice was weak, but then it
hardened.  "I couldn't stop her, but if she tries again, this
time, I'll be READY."

	"But...I mean...You always wrote me and said she was
very... passive."

	"Well, she got over it," Asuka said, growling.

	"I thought...never mind," Anna said.  

	Awkward silence filled the room for a moment, Anna at
a loss for words, Asuka not wanting to say any more of them.  
Again, the two just leaned upon each other for support, as
they had for years, until Anna felt brave enough to break the
ice again.

	"So...would you like to hear what's going on with
everyone back home?"

	Asuka nodded, still looking angry, but her voice
calmer.  "Sure.  Is Oscar still a freak?"

	"He's working on moving past freak into new and
exciting realms of utter weirdness.  Now Pieter..."

                          -*-

	Anna returned home to find Shinji hard at work
doing homework.  "Good evening, Shinji," she said.

	"Hi," he said, looking up.  "Where have you been?"

	"I went to see Asuka."

	His eyes widened.  "Is she okay?  They let you go?"

	"Ritsuko said it was okay," Misato said from the
couch, where she was watching TV.  "Didn't I tell you that?"

	Shinji shook his head.  "No."

	"Well, you can.  In fact, I think you should.  I'll
finish your homework for you if you want to go," Misato said.
"I'd imagine she needs visitors."

	Anna nodded.  "She was very lonely and sad."  She
started to say something else, then fell silent, staring at
the table. "I gave her some presents I brought her, but
people are better than presents."

	"Well, okay, I'll go over then," Shinji said,
starting to stand.  "Maybe I can take her some...
aaaaaaahhhhhh!"  He stumbled as the ground shook.

	Anna fell down and almost whacked her head on the
table, managing to catch a chair instead.  "Owwww!"

	"Damn quake's making the picture roll!" Misato
shouted. "Curse you, Mother Nature!!!!!!!!"

                          -*-

	It was another boring day for the secondary bridge
crew.  They'd long wondered why nothing ever happened on
their shift, and most of them were a little jealous of Fuu's
promotion to the primary crew, even if it had been the result
of the death of her equivalent in the primary crew.  Most of
them were only vaguely paying attention to their monitors
when Gendo and Fuyutsuki walked in.  In fact, they didn't
even notice until Gendo said, "Wake up."

	They all started and came to attention, feeling very
nervous.  "Sorry, sir," Ken said.  "We were just..."

	"Being lazy. Don't do it again," Gendo replied,
coming and sitting in his chair.  "Run an immediate Polaris
scan on the area around Tokyo-3, with as much depth as
possible."

	Ken's eyes widened as he began doing so.  "You think
these earthquakes are being caused by some sort of tunneling 
Angel?"

	Gendo stared at Ken intensely, then relaxed slightly.  
"Best to take no chances."

	A few minutes later, Ken reported, "No sign of Angel
energies, sir."

	"Expand the search area.  I have a bad feeling about
this."

	The secondary crew shuddered.
	
                          -*-

	Asuka suddenly realized she'd just read page fifty
eight of her book for the fourth time in a row.  Her hands
began to glow, and she tossed the book aside before she
could burn it like the previous one.  I have to stop this,
she thought.  No more fire, or I'll destroy everything Anna
brought me, and I'll go completely insane from boredom
again.

	She closed her eyes and tried to focus.  Help me,
God, she thought.  I don't know what to do.  Why is this
happening to me?  What am I turning into?  Why did you let
this happen to me? 

	She was startled out of it by footsteps.  On
instinct, she shouted, "Go away, Gendo, you worthless piece
of shit!"  Flame gouted from her hands. 

	Shinji dove to the ground, screaming in terror. 
"Wha-what are you DOING?" he shouted. 

	Her eyes widened.  "Shit.  I'm sorry, Shinji!  I'm
really, really sorry!"  The flames were gone, and she ran
over to him.  "I didn't hurt you, did I?" she asked,
terrified that she had. 

	"No, no," he said.  "But I think you scared me out
of a year of my life." He staggered to his feet.  "What
did you do that for, anyway?"

	"Well, if you had KNOCKED, I wouldn't have flamed
you," Asuka said.  "And where have you been?  Why haven't
you visited me?  Anna came here all the way from Germany
and got here before you did!"  Her voice was rising, and
now she was starting to flush with anger, an easy way to
hide from her guilt. 

	"They wouldn't LET ME!  Until today, Katsuragi-san
wouldn't let us see you!  I still don't know exactly WHY
you're here!  Anna wouldn't talk about it!"  Shinji
surprised himself by shouting back. 

	Asuka stared in shock, then caught herself starting
to laugh hysterically.  Slapping herself, she sat down on
her bed.  "And Katsuragi- san didn't tell you either?" she
asked weakly. 

	"She and Maya and Akagi-san all know, but wouldn't
tell.  They kept me and Touji kinda confined for a while
too, and ran all these tests...  Did you and Rei have some
kind of fight?" 

	She stared at the ground, feeling her skin begin to
crawl.  Glancing at her hand, her flesh physically rippled,
so she moved it out of her sight and clenched her teeth,
willing it to stop.  Finally, she spat out, "You could say
that." 

	"Was it..."  Shinji tried to muster the courage to
articulate his fears.  He looked around for something to
sit on, but there was only the bed. 

	"Gendo's little bitch...she..."  Asuka tried to say
it, but trying to say it made her think of what had
happened.  She could see it again, the mouths, and the
hands, and her clothing tearing and the tears streaming
down Rei's face as she tried to stop and... 

	Now tears began to stream down Asuka's face, and
her throat choked and her shoulder blades ached.  She
wanted to sprout wings and fly, high into the sky, far away
from here.  But there was no way out. 

	Shinji very slowly approached her, trying to think
of something to say.  "She hurt you, Asuka?" he asked
weakly.  No, don't mention that, he thought.  "Umm...want
to hear a joke?" 

	Asuka answered by sobbing incoherently. 

	More nervously, he came over slowly, then sat down
on the bed next to her.  "I'm sitting down.  I'm sitting
down." 

	She said nothing, instead simply turning and
latching onto him with almost painful ferocity, crying onto
his shoulder.  He could feel her tears beginning to run
down his back, and for just a second, he wondered where she
was getting enough water.  But then he turned his mind to
trying to comfort her, patting her randomly with his hands
and trying to make soothing noises.  "Don't cry, Asuka." 
That's pointless, he thought.  She can't just stop.  "Do
you...ummm...should I just shut up?" he asked weakly. 

	For a while, Asuka simply kept crying, but
eventually, the sobs stopped, and for a while, she simply
leaned against him.  Finally, she said, "Do you really want
to know, Shinji?"  Her voice was almost a whisper, choked
with pain. 

	Shinji could feel his skin goosepimple, and his
stomach dropped.  He wasn't going to like this, he knew. 
"I have to know," he said quietly.  "I can't...I can't help
you if I don't know." 

	"Rei raped me," Asuka said flatly. 

	Shinji's jaw dropped, and he pulled back from her a
little to stare into her eyes.  He'd feared something like
this, but he couldn't really believe it.  Rei would never
do something like that.  Crazy drunks did things like that. 
Not...Rei.  "She...but...I mean...she's a woman..." 
Monsters did things like that.  Not Rei. 

	"She was just like the...the...demon we fought,"
Asuka said, feeling terror rise within her again.  She
gripped Shinji tightly again.  "With mouths in her palms. 
And when they kissed you, it felt...."  She shuddered for
a moment.  It was bad, she told herself, terrible, EVIL.
I hated every moment of it, she thought.  Hated it.

	Hated it.

	Her body trembled again.

	"Not good.  NOT GOOD.  She ripped off my clothing
and she...she..."  Asuka began to breathe heavily.  Parts
of her body ached, and other parts were starting to tingle. 

	"You don't have to talk about it," Shinji said.  "I
understand.  I can't hardly believe Rei could do that,
but..." 

	"SHE DID," Asuka barked at him.  "She's a monster
and she forced herself on me!"  The shame of it ate at her,
and the fear it could happen again.  If Rei could change
her body like that...how far could she change?  She could
be Shinji, Asuka realized.  Come to take me again.  Terror
and desire and paranoia cycled through her brain.  She felt
like she was going to vibrate through the walls if this
kept up. 

	Her eyes narrowed.  "Are you really Shinji?" she
asked.  "You could Rei in disguise trying to trick me!" 

	Shinji tried to wiggle loose, but she held him too
tightly for him to break free.  "No, it's me, Shinji!  I
don't even LOOK like Rei!" 

	She shoved him back onto the bed, kneeling over
him and keeping his arms pinned.  "I won't let you trick
me again!"  He didn't smell like Rei, though.  He smelled
like Shinji.  And Rei would have sprouted tentacles and
mouths and tongues and been all over her by now.  Maybe it
was Shinji.  Or was Rei just really cunning?  "Prove
you're Shinji!" 

	"I sent a spider to talk to you!" 

	"The spider could have been Rei!" she shouted,
squeezing his wrists a little harder.  It was hard to keep
her balance with the way her body felt.

	He stared at her crazed eyes, and tried to fight
his own terror.  "I know...you like to sing Barry Manilow
songs in the shower!  Badly!"  His body was responding to
her closeness, but he tried to ignore it. 

	"I do NOT sing badly!" she shouted.  He knows about
the singing... Rei couldn't know.  She'd never seen Asuka
bathe.  Unless licking Asuka clean counted.  Asuka winced
at the thought, almost feeling Rei licking her, down to
her...no, other thoughts.  Focus, she thought.  "What
songs?" 

	"Mandy.  And Copacabana, but you always forget how
it ends and start cursing.  Asuka, you're hurting me!" he
said, wincing at her grip on his wrists. 

	Oh god, I'm hurting him, like I'm some kind of
monster like Rei.  Rei held my wrists too, and no, no
hands, don't grow mouths, no...  And he knew the songs
and...it is Shinji.  But maybe Rei was spying on me and
you know, Shinji's really kind of cute when he's scared and
I think he's got a hard-on, look at that bulge and...no. 
NO.  Control.  "What did we do after we went to the dance
together?" 

	"We...we..."  Shinji blushed.  "We kissed.  And..." 
He gulped.  "I liked it, but I never had the courage to try
it again," he said weakly. 

	Yes, that would prove it, she thought.  A kiss
from a prince to break Rei's evil spell on me.  That'll
make everything right again.  He's a good guy, and I can
smell his sweat, and feel his body heat, and I remember
when I saw him come out of the shower and...  She was
breathing hard again, and this time she didn't try to
control herself.  "Alright, you can prove it if you kiss
me like that."

	He struggled a bit, then said, "I can't reach your
face." 

	She sagged down onto him, the tension going out of
her arms, their faces slamming together in a not very
pleasant way.  Then she moved a bit, and their lips came
together, and he kissed her clumsily, mumbling something
incoherent.  It was utterly innocent and not very
impressive, and in an instant, she knew he was Shinji and
only Shinji.  She wanted him desperately, but she feared
he could never love someone as tainted as she was now.

	And so she sprung back off him, up against the
wall the bed was next to, and hugged herself, beginning to
cry again.  "I'm sorry, Shinji.  I shouldn't have made you
do that.  I'm as bad as Rei."  She rubbed her hands on the
sheets.  "I'm... I'm dirty."

	"You're not dirty," Shinji said.  Just a little
scary today, he thought.  But I can't blame her for
being...I just can't believe Rei could do that.  And then
he thought about what he'd been doing that day and
shuddered.  "It...It wasn't your fault."

	"Shinji," she asked softly, "do you like me?"

	"Yeah, I like you," he said, rubbing his sore
wrists.  "You're the first real friend I ever had."  He got
another faint twinge of pain.  "Just..." 

	"Just?" she asked, terrified of what he might say. 

	"Don't grab my wrists like that.  It hurt." 

	She slowly unclasped herself, and held out her
hands.  "Here, you can make my wrists hurt so we'll be
even." 

	He took her hands instead, his body trembling.  Was
he afraid of her?  She wasn't sure.  Surely he had to be
afraid of her.  She'd tried to kill him once already, then
hurt him.  She didn't want to hurt him.  She wanted to hurt
Rei.  Rei was going to DIE. 

	"I don't want to hurt you," he said.  "I was
just...I mean..."  He stared down at her left knee.  "I
wouldn't mind if we, well..."  He gulped.  "No, no, I'm
sorry.  You've just been...you know.  I'm sure you wouldn't
want to do anything like that." 

	"You want to kiss?" she asked, feeling her own body
tremble.  She wanted to do far more than that, and it
terrified her.  She'd never been like this, not before Rei
had tainted her.  Made her feel things.  But now Shinji was
making her feel things...or was it left over from Rei
somehow?  She couldn't think straight. 

	"I liked it," he said.  "Even if my wrists do hurt. 
But I guess that wouldn't be a very good idea.  I mean, I'm
sure you don't want to..." 

	She wanted to.  Shinji was a man.  Not a very
impressive one sometimes, but he wasn't a monster like
Rei.  He didn't have mouths in his hands.  Which meant he
wouldn't be as... as... no, it meant he could touch her
like a human, not like a foul beast.  "I do."  She
advanced on him in a rush, pushing him back down again. "I
want you to make me feel better." 

	He gulped, and then their lips met. 

	Matters progressed, and they were both down to
their underwear when the bed shook so hard, they rolled off
it onto the floor, and then the alarms began to blare. 

                          -*-
	
	Umao frowned.  "Sir, I'm reading a signal crossing
the Kanto plain, at a depth of three hundred meters.  It's
moving at about sixty kilometers an hour." 

	"Through solid ROCK?" Ken asked in disbelief. 

	"The Earth is not so solid as we might wish,"
Fuyutuski said.  "And things have learned to...no, wait,
that's not the right quote."  He looked faintly
embarrassed. 

	Gendo smiled grimly.  "Any seismic..." 

	The ground shook violently, and everyone fell out
of their chair. 

	"Alert the pilots," Gendo said. 

	"Seismic data matches the epicenter of that quake
with the Angel's location," Ken said. 

	"Pilots on alert," Hikaru replied, punching the
panic button. 

	Fuyutsuki leaned close to Gendo and whispered,
"Should we activate Rei?"

	He shook his head.  "Not yet."  His hand clenched
the armrest a little more firmly.  "Not yet." 

                          -*-

	Touji made his way through the corridors of NERV,
headed towards the locker rooms.  They were called to arms
again, and it felt good to know they'd be able to use their
EVAs... unlike the last time.  As he made his way through
NERV's corridors, he ran into Anna, who seemed a bit lost.

	"Ah... Touji?" she asked

	"Lemme guess, you're lost."

	She blushed and nodded.  "I'm sorry, I'm still
trying to learn my way around here."

	"Hey, no problem.  C'mon, this way."

	The two quickly made their way down to the locker
rooms, Touji explaining things to look out for along the
way.

	"Anyway," he said as they turned around the corner,
"The locker rooms are right o'er here.  Girls go in that
door, boys go in this dooEEYOW!"

	Anna peeked into the boys' dressing room just in
time to see her friend stradled atop Shinji, both wearing 
their plugsuits, though the way they were kissing, she had 
to wonder if the plugsuits were going to come off again.  
At Touji's outburst, the two lovebirds paused a moment and 
looked up, then quickly stood up and straightened themselves 
out.

	"Aaagh!" screamed Touji.  "It's true!  You've
turned kraut!"

	"I-it's not what you think!" replied Shinji
desperately. They all stared at him.  He smiled weakly.
"Okay, so it was what you think."

	Anna blushed and squeaked, "I'll just go change
now!"

	Asuka, in a far more defiant mood, stepped between
Shinji and Touji, asking him, "Yo-"

	He cut her off with a raised hand.  "Ah!  Hold
it!  I don't wanna know!  I just wanna get changed so we
can go kick Angel ass, so unless you wanna see my ass,
gedoutta the boys' side."

	Asuka snorted as she headed to the door.  "As
if.  Who'd want to see your sorry ass?"

	"Hm.  Hikari would."

	She whirled around.  "Liar!"

                          -*-

	As the earth trembled again, all the little Reis
paused in what they were doing.  The more human Reis all
seemed overcome with a sense of dread, while the stranger
Reis fell silent, as if listening for something in the far
distance.

	The Rei in cultist robes cocked her head.  
"Ssssshudde M'ellllll," she hissed gleefully.

	The central Rei suddenly snapped her head upright,
eyes opened wide as if in shock.  She slammed both of her
hands unto the floor and immediately all the other Reis
were drawn back into her.

	She waved at the camera once, twice, three times.

	No results.

	She punched against the walls of her prison, only
to be repulsed as the Elder Sign flared to life upon it.
It stung her hand on contact, and her knuckles came away
from it singed and smoking.

	Slowly, she made her way to the center of the
room, sat down upon the cold floor, and closed her eyes.


                          -*-

	Touji looked out across the plains east of the
city, vast rice paddies now being destroyed by three EVAs
marching along. //"I don't see shit in the way of
Angels,"// he said. //"And fer cryin' out loud, cut the
damn kissie faces at each other on the comm channels!"//

	//"Sorry about that,"// Shinji said faintly.

	//"Kiss my ass,"// Asuka said, then giggled, though
there was a deranged taint to it.

	Anna said nothing, just blushed a little.

	Why has everyone but me gone nuts?, Touji asked
himself.  //"Nothin's funny about this, Langley."//

	//"You're going to have to tunnel down to match
it,"// Misato said.  //"It's underground."//

	//"I'm gonna need one hell of a shovel,"// Touji
replied.

	//"Can we make an AT-Field shovel?// Anna asked.

	//"I'll burn us a tunnel,"// Asuka said.

	Misato nodded.  //"Use your powers and your
AT-Fields to dig tunnels at these coordinates."//
Crosshairs appeared on their fields of vision.

	Unit04 paused, then started trying to shovel the
dirt away with a large AT-shovel.  This didn't work too
well.

	Unit03 began drilling into the ground with a huge
rotating spike of AT-field energy.  Touji gritted his teeth
and tried to ignore how this made his arms vibrate.

	Unit02 put its hands together and a ball of fire
formed between them which then shot at the ground and began
burning a huge hole into it.  Rice paddy water drained down
the hole.

	Unit01 glanced over at that, then knelt, thrusting
its hands into the water.  Paddy water froze around its
hands, and began to extend tendrils down through the cracks
in the earth below, expanding and shattering the mud and
rock.  Water flowed into the gaps and froze and expanded
more, digging a larger and deeper tunnel by the minute.

	Minutes dragged by as they dug down into the
ground.  Too many minutes.  //"You've got to dig faster!"//
Misato half-shouted, on edge from tension.  //"It's about
to reach your position and pass under you!"//

	//"I'm trying as hard as I can!"// Shinji replied,
gritting his teeth.  //"But I can only break up the ground
so fast!"//

	//"Touji, coordinate with Shinji,"// Misato
ordered.  //"Anna, do your best to assist him as well."//

	Asuka switched over to an AT-Field as well, and
Unit02, Unit03 and Unit04 drilled down into the earth
broken up by Unit01.  The way opened for them, and they all
dropped down the huge shaft they'd drilled...into the
tunnel made by the Angel, who had still managed to pass
under them.  With Unit03 in the lead, they made chase as
best they could, though they had to hunch over to run.

	The tunnel itself was almost perfectly a cylinder,
the walls fused into their current shape, and still very
hot to the touch.  The Children could all feel the heat
searing at their EVA's feet, like running on hot pavement.

	And then, Unit03 stopped moving.  Unit02 smacked
into its ass.  //"Verdamnt!  You made me touch your ass,
Suzuhara!  I'm going to kill you later for that!"//

	Unit03 made no reply, but smoke began to rise
around his feet.

	//"Touji, why did you stop?"// Shinji asked.  
//"We can't get past you!"//

	//"Suzuhara, what's going on?"// Misato asked.

	The reply was Touji beginning to scream mostly
incoherently over his comlines.

	On the bridge, Makoto reported, "Angelic energies
seem to be surging into Unit03's head.  MAGI analysis
indicates telepathic assault in progress."

	"Thanks for the advance warning," Misato muttered.

	"It's hard to get clear readings through all that
rock," he replied defensively.

	//"Children, you're going to have to dig around
Unit03 and keep going.  Suzuhara, you have to form an
AT-Field to stop Zuriel's assault!"//

	Touji moaned and tried to concentrate, while the
other Children began trying to make a tunnel around him.
	  
                          -*-

	The rapid-fire series of tremors left most of
Tokyo-3 intact, though there were a few unfortunate ones
that were caught at the heart of one of those epicenters.

	Hikari was one of those unlucky ones.

	Her family was elsewhere at the time, father out
with her brother shopping for school supplies, while she
stayed behind to study for exams that were coming up.

	She'd spent an hour studying, but took a break to
shake off the mind-numbing effect it was having.  To the
corner of her desk was a folder labeled 'Ayanami Rei',
containing all the handouts and homework the mysterious
albino girl had missed.  She'd handed Touji his, and
Shinji took his and said he'd deliver Asuka's for her.  A
part of her couldn't help but wonder what the other three
pilots did, in light of what Touji almost did to her.

	Then again, she thought to herself, maybe it was
best not to know.

	She felt the ground shudder under her feet,
wondering if there was construction in there area or
something.  No, that couldn't be it.  The earth shook
again, and this time books fell off of her shelf.

	"What the... an earthquake?"

	She reached for the television, hoping to get news
of what was going on.

	The earthquake struck the house in the blink of an
eye, shattering the world around her in an instant.  She
screamed, falling down as the rest of the house collapsed
on her, and landed hard atop a pile of rubble.  The
shattered roof smashed down upon her, burying her in
darkness.

	And then the earthquake stopped.

	She was in trouble and she knew it, feeling the
weight of the debris crushing down on her.  She tried
crying for help, but couldn't bring enough air in her
lungs to scream.

	I don't want to die, she thought to herself.  Not
like this.

	The debris shifted further, squeezing the air out
of her lungs.  She moved her head about, hoping to push
away at the rubble covering her face.  It shifted,
revealing the blue skies above and the massive pile of
debris that pinned her down.

	I don't want to die like this.

	She struggled, even though each passing second
drained away her life.  Rubble sifted slightly, and
something smacked her face.

	She blinked, and the words AYANAMI REI came into
focus.  Hikari realized what this was.  Ayanami's homework
folder had landed on her face.  She stared at the words for
a moment, having nothing else to look at.  The strength to
even shake a paper folder off of her face was now gone.

	I don't want to die like this.

	She felt herself growing cold, growing numb.  
There was a strange ringing in her ears, though all her
other senses faded away.  The words AYANAMI REI blurred for
a moment, then faded to black.

	I don't want to die like this.

	I don't want to d-

                          -*-

	//"Get your face out of my ass!"// Asuka shouted.

	//"I can't help it,"// Shinji replied.  //"The
ceiling's too low, and I don't want to fall behind."// His
EVA, hunched over, was just a little too close to Unit02,
and every time her speed faltered slightly...wham.

	Unit03, behind Unit01, was having the same
problem.  //"Well, you keep shoving your behind in my
face, too!"//

	//"Sorry, Asuka, but speed is a priority,"// Misato
told them.  //"If you two don't manage to catch Zuriel soon,
he'll breach the Geo-Dome.  We can't afford that."//

	"Thirty seconds to dome breach," Maya announced.

	//"I'm going as fast as I can!"// Asuka grumbled.

	It wasn't fast enough; Zuriel broke through into
the Geo-Front before they caught him, hauling his huge
squid-like body at remarkably high speed, leaving a seared
groove in the ground behind him as he moved. Some of the
houses began to catch fire as housewives and children
evacuated to what was believed would be safety snapped
under Zuriel's telepathic assault.
	
	Zuriel bulldozed through them, heading
relentlessly towards NERV HQ itself.  His body, however,
while well adapted for tunneling, was not well adapted for
winning races with giant-sized humanoids once they had
room to run.

	Unit01 and Unit02 erupted out of the tunnel he'd
left behind and sprinted after him.  Unit02 held a flaming
sword in one hand, while Unit01 was sprouting fur and
claws as it came, mandibles forming around its mouth.
Unit04 approached more slowly, running, but armed only
with a progressive knife, as it had yet no powers gained
in the hunt.

	So Zuriel came to bay, turning to face them.  The
ground began to shake, and the vision of the pilots began
to haze as thoughts insinuated themselves into the cracks.  
Unit01 stumbled and fell down, while Unit02 fell to its
knees as its pilot howled and flames corruscated wildly
about it, setting more of the houses on fire.  Unit04
leaped back away from her, then fell and did not rise.

	//"You've got to concentrate.  Form an
AT-field!"// Misato shouted.

	Shinji gritted his teeth and tried to focus past
the images of people dying, of him accidentally stepping
on his classmates and killing them, past the flying snakes
and the winged scorpions and the hordes of locusts.  A
glowing wall formed between Unit01 and Zuriel as Unit02
blundered about, cutting houses in half and shouting
incoherently.  He stared grimly at Zuriel and extended the
field, shielding Unit02.

	Faintly, Asuka said, //"I didn't mean to do
that."//

	Ritsuko watched her house burn on the monitor and
said nothing, but a pencil snapped in her hand, back on
the bridge.

	//"Blame later.  Now advance on him!"//

	Unit02 took Unit01's hand, then extended its other
hand, letting its flaming sword merge into the shield
behind which they advanced.

	Zuriel waited for them, the ground shaking more
and more, causing them to stumble, and it to rock and
shake as if it was made of gelatin.  It coiled up like a
serpent, and when they came close enough, it struck,
hurling itself at the barrier.  The barrier gave somewhat,
absorbing the blow, then bounced back, knocking it to the
ground.

	And then they dropped the shield, and hurled
themselves upon it.  Sharp claws of Unit01 ripped asunder
its reddish-orange hide, revealing layers of muscle and
rock beneath, as webbing spewed forth from Unit01's mouth,
binding it into place, caught in the contortions it had
assumed as it fell back from its failed attack.  Unit02
grabbed its tentacles, slicing them off, then leaped onto
the huge squid-like creature, extruding its own tentacles,
beginning to suck out the hot fluids which served the
Angel as blood.  And where it gazed upon Zuriel, its flesh
stiffened, and its motions ceased.  Unit04 now rose from
the ground, too late to join the feast, its pilot very
slowly approaching.

	And through it all, the Angel struggled
desperately, its mind pouring forth a sea of psychic
chaos, but the sea receded before the hunger and the rage
of its targets, who feasted upon it with much joy and
little remorse.

	Maya squirmed in her chair as she watched, and
finally turned away to watch her instrumentation.  
Numbers flickered and changed, and then it struck her.  
The earthquake wasn't dying down...did Zuriel hope to take
its enemies with it?

	Shinji exulted in the death of his foe, the
madness of the hunt upon him, feeling the life ebbing from
the fallen creature, its memories flitting through his
mind as he feasted on that as well, absorbing its
strength. He remembered countless ages, trapped within a
prison, sealed away within a far too narrow band of rock,
serving his master...his master?

	The ground shook, and Shinji felt a burst of pride
from his fallen foe. He was happy to die for his master,
for his creator, for his god.

	So Shinji dug deeper, driving Unit01 to feed
faster, to try to find out what the creature meant.  
Ecstasy was gone, replaced by fear.  Something was wrong.  
This creature was too weak; it had fallen too easily.  
And it was happy to die.  Nothing was happy to die, unless
it was old and weak, but this one had felt young and full
of life, though not so full as a true Angel.

	He tried to remember the tongue of man, to ask his
mate, or his mother, or the rest of his pack what was
going on, to warn them, but his mind teetered, full of
stolen thoughts and the desire to sate himself upon his
prey.  He hungered, but this meal would not be large
enough.  It would not be...

	The ground shook, and he stumbled over, and one of
his mandibles snagged on something solid within his fallen
foe, now turning grey and leathery, and the pain snapped
through him.  A burst of fear cleared his mind, and Shinji
said, //"Something's wrong.  This isn't the Angel!"//


                          -*-

	"What do you mean that isn't the Angel?" asked
Misato, staring at the giant displays on the NERV command
center.

	//"I got a look at its mind when I... um..."//

	Suddenly the Bridge went red as alarm claxons
sounded off.

	"What the hell?!"

	//"Misato, what's happening?!"// asked Shinji.

	"Dunno, Shinji, hold on."  She switched off the
comm lines to the Evas then turned to her bridge crew for
answers.

	Makoto stared at his screen.  "Holy shit.  Unit00
is activating."

	Misato's eyes widened and murmurs broke out across
the bridge.  Up above, Fuyutsuki turned to Gendo and the
two conferred with each other.

	Misato turned to Makoto.  "Why didn't the alarms
go off when Rei broke out?"

	Makoto quickly handled the keys on his control
panel, then his expression turned even more shocked.  "Rei
didn't break out, she's still in her cell."

	"Then who the hell is in Unit00?!  Turn on
Unit00's cockpit camera!"

	A new window opened up before the bridge, static
at first, then resolved itself into the image of two red
eyes, light blue hair and pale white skin.

	Misato stared, gaping at the screen.  The altered
visage of Horaki Hikari stared back.  The collective
bridge crew fell silent at the shock of the sight.

	"Unit... Unit00," said Misato, gathering her
wits. "Unit00, report.  This is an order."

	//"The Angel is coming to the Geo-Front, from the
west."// replied Hikari, in the unmistakable monotone of
Rei Ayanami's voice.  //"It is my duty to stop it."//

	Misato's mind reeled on how to deal with this new,
alarming and unexpected development.  She turned to Fuu, one
of the newer bridge crew.  "Cut off Eva00's video."

	"Cut it off?" she asked.

	"They're fighting for their lives as it is, they
don't need the distraction," she replied impatiently. "Keep
the audio, cut off the video feed!"

	"Y-yessir!"

	She turned back to Rei.  "That's a negative, Rei.  
Stand down immediately and evacuate Hikari's body!"

	//"The Angel comes."//

	This, thought Misato, was just getting worse by the
moment.  "Rei, if anything happens to Hikari-"

	//"She is safe.  Time was short."// Hikari-Rei
paused for a moment, then cocked her head to the side.  She
frowned.  //"They're here."//

	"Rei!  Are you listening to me!  REI!"

	"We've got bogeys coming at the Geo-Front!" cut in
Makoto.  "Lots of them!"

	"What?!  How close?"

	The bridge trembled under the might of the
tremors, knocking everyone off of their feet.  The lights
faded, then came alive again as the power backups kicked
in.  Makoto scrambled to his feet and checked his
monitors.

	"They're in."

                          -*-

	They came hard and fast, tearing through the
reinforced walls of the Geo-Front with alarming ease,
surrounding Asuka and Shinji in mere seconds.

	//"Um.... we're surrounded,"// said Shinji
nervously.

	//"Less talk, more kill,"// replied Asuka.  
//"Let's GO!"//

	They took a step towards one of them, but suddenly
found the ground beneath their feet crumble away as the
earth opened wide to swallow them.  The two Evas flailed
wildly for something to grab onto, but caught nothing but
crumbling earth.  At last they hit bottom, the break in
the earth too narrow to let them fall any further down,
but with the surface a distant crack of light above them.

	//"Asuka!  Are you okay?"//

	//"I'm okay, a little dizzy bu..."// Asuka's
expression dulled, a glassy look to her eyes, then she
collapsed into her seat.

	//"Asuka! ASUKA!"// Shinji tried to reach for
Asuka's Eva, and then he felt something tugging at his
mind.  It was a gentle probe for a second, then slammed
into his head like a sledgehammer, and all went dark.

                          -*-

	The battle was over.  There was nothing left of
Tokyo-3 but rubble.  Dead bodies strewed the landscape,
and in the distance, he could see parts of the city were
burning.  Shinji curled up on his bed alone and cried.  
He could remember Asuka yelling at him, telling him that
it was all his fault and how she never wanted to see him
again.  Touji had stormed off, taking Rei with him in
Hikari's body.  Misato hadn't even been willing to drive
him home, she was so angry with him, so he'd walked.

	And then the security men came into the room and
gassed him.

	He woke up, lying in a gutter with his few
possessions strewn about him.  A letter, typed on paper in
Courier font, lay next to him.

	'Shinji--

	We have determined this mission failing was all
your fault.  You don't deserve to be a pilot any more.  I
hate you, Asuka hates you, your father hates you, everyone
hates you.  You like killing things, and that's just evil.  
And we know about you killing your aunt and uncle too.  
Not to mention you forcing yourself on Asuka after she'd
been raped.  You thought you'd get away with it?  You're
nothing but a filthy little beast.  Run while you can; for
the sake of what you've done in the past, we're giving you
a six hour head start before we sent the other Children to
kill you as their next mission.  Filthy little beast that
you are, it's more than you deserve.

				Commander Katsuragi

		PS:  Pen-pen hates you too.'

	Shinji began to cry.  "I didn't mean to," he
mumbled.  "I never wanted to be a pilot.  I'm sorry.  I'm
sorry."  Curling up in a ball, he lost himself in sorrow.


                          -*-

	Asuka sat on her bed and stared at the lightswitch.  
She reached out and flicked it off, and the movement under
the bed started.  Quickly, she flicked it on, then looked
again, but there was nothing there.

	Finally, she gave up, flicking off the light.  To
her surprise, the bed was silent.  So she laid down, and
tried to will herself to sleep quickly.

	That's when Rei dropped down on her from the
ceiling.

	The walls cracked from Asuka's screams, but no one
came.

                          -*-

	Eva03 sliced the squid-like being in half, then
shoved it away.  It twitched for a moment, then laid
bleeding and still on the ground.  Touji didn't waste
any time watching it die, instead running back to the
hospital building he'd been slammed into during the
fight.  He prayed that he was wrong, that this wasn't THAT
hospital, that his little sister wasn't...

	"No..."

	The damage was worse than he thought it was, the
entire building crushed to rubble.  He felt a chill run
through his soul.

	"MARI!"

	He dug desperately through the rubble, shouting
her name, his hands scraped red raw by the jagged concrete
and broken glass.

	A weakened voice called out.  "'niisan, help me."

	"Mari? Mari, where are you?!"  Touji scrambled
through the rubble, then saw a delicate and bloody hand
weakly emerging through the debris.

	"Mari!"  He dug away at the pile, revealing his
sister's bloody form.  "Mari, hang on!"

	This couldn't be happening.  Shouldn't be
happening.  The whole reason he joined NERV was to keep
her safe!

	"Oniisa... an."

	Her eyes opened once, looking into his with pain
and anguish.  And then she went limp.

	"Mari... Mari... oh God, no... NOOO!"

                          -*-

	Shinji shuddered under the mass of rotten food
angry people had thrown at him, almost glad for its
presence because it kept the bitter cold wind off him.  
When a hand gently touched his shoulder, he cried out in
fear, assuming he was going to be hit again.

	Instead, another hand brushed the remains of a
tomato off his cheek, and Rei said, "Stand."

	So he stood, having nothing else worth doing.  
Silently, she brushed the rotten fruit off him, then ripped
away his now sodden, torn pajamas, revealing his plugsuit.  
As she worked, he tried to muster up the courage to ask her
what had happened between her and Asuka.  Looking at her,
he just couldn't entirely believe what Asuka had said.  
And yet, he couldn't believe Asuka had lied either.

	Finally, Rei's work was finished, and she said to
him, "Asuka needs you."

	"She hates me," Shinji said, averting his gaze.  
He feared to look her in the eye.

	"She hates me," Rei said, her voice wavering
slightly.  Then more firmly, she said, "It must be you."

	"She sent me a letter...well, Misato sent me the
letter.  I mean..."

	"Nightmare," Rei said.  "Shudde M'ell seeks to
break you.  This is not real."  Her grip on his shoulder
became a little more tense.  "Be free."

	He finally looked up and gazed into her eyes.  It
was hard to read her expression, but he thought she looked
a little worried.  "Rei...did you...mean to do...what you
did to Asuka?"  Speaking was hard, for he feared any answer
she could give.

	"No," she said, now averting her gaze.  "The hunger
mastered me." There was just a hint of sadness in her
voice.  "I was weak.  Wrong."

	He could believe that, remembering what that night
had been like for himself.  What he'd had to do to control
himself.  He blushed a bit, then said, "Where is she?  And
what about Touji?"

	"Hikari will help Touji," she said, then slowly
raised her gloved hand to touch his cheek again.  "Save
Asuka."

	He shivered at her touch, a mixture of fear and
anticipation. What he'd done with Asuka earlier in the day
came to mind, and he blushed more.  And then images without
words bloomed in his mind, and he knew how to find Asuka.  
She burned within his mind, a beacon.

	"Go," Rei said softly.

	He reached up and took her hand.  "Come with me.  
We have to explain.  I mean...I don't want her to hate
you."

	"Not yet," Rei said, and this time, he was sure her
voice felt sad.  Or maybe he was feeling her sadness
through her hand.  She squeezed his hand softly.  "Not
ready."  She cocked her head, listening to something he
could not hear.  "Go."

	He turned and rose, and grasped the sky with his
hands, and ripped it open.  Beyond the dome of heaven was a
small bedroom, and on the bed was some strange tangled
monstrosity, all arms and legs and breasts and...

	Not a monster or monsters.  It was Asuka and Rei,
flesh flowing like water, in a strange and terrible union
that excited and repelled him at the same time.  They
howled and yelped and gibbered, their voices a mixture of
terror and desire; which was dominant was not clear.

	Part of him wanted to dive in and join them, his
skin rippling inside his plugsuit at the thought.  
Another part was horrified with the knowledge of how
inhuman they were becoming.  And the final part remembered
this was all a dream, a nightmare, and that if they didn't
break free, they, everyone, would die.  And so he choked
down his revulsion, and swallowed his desire, and said,
"Asuka, this is a nightmare.  We have to wake up."

	And her head sprouted an eyestalk, and it gazed
at him, and then desire faded and terror took its place.  
The scream rippled through Rei and she shattered, turning
grey and blowing away as dust.  And Asuka's form shrank
in upon herself, becoming just another naked fourteen
year old girl, crying in shame and trying to cover
herself with her arms.  "I didn't want it.  I didn't!  
I'm not a monster.  I don't DO that sort of thing!"

	So he walked over and sat down on the bed by her,
and put a hand on her shoulder.  "Asuka.  I...I like you."  
Well, that was feeble, Shinji thought.  "Whatever happens.  
Even if they have to hunt us down.  Even if we become
monsters.  I won't leave you.  And I understand what you
feel."

	She looked away, staring off at nothing.  "I'm a
beast.  When she touched me...I should have fought her.  
Should have fought her harder. But the way she touched
me...I...I..."

	His brain raced, derailed, then got back on track.  
"I..."  Bite the bullet, he told himself.  "I care about
you, Asuka.  I'll care, whatever you felt.  I don't
understand what is happening to us, but I'll be there
whatever happens.  Even if we both end up as sewer monsters
or something."

	"I'm dirty," she whispered.

	"I'll...uh...give you a bath," Shinji said,
blushing at the thought.  "But first you have to wake up.  
We're being made to dream this by Zuriel, and if we don't
wake up, he's going to kill everyone."

	"Zuriel...but...we..." Her eyes widened.  "That
wasn't him."

	Shinji nodded.  "Anna and Touji are in danger.  We
have to go stop him!"

	Now her shame was replaced by anger.  "He tried to
trick me," she growled.

	"All of us."

	"I'll have his HEART!" she barked, and rose, fire
forming round her to her plug suit.  And then she shredded
the dream with her flaming sword.

	And in the waking, Unit02 and Unit01 opened their
eyes, and focused their wills, and the power won of battle
with the fallen Burrower split the earth, and opened the
way for them to climb back up into the Geo-Front.

                          -*-

	wake up

	"Who...  who's there?"

	wake up

	Hikari opened her eyes slowly, but all was still
dark, as if she was floating in an abyss.

	"Hey!  What's going on?"

	he needs you

	She recognized that voice now, Ayanami's voice,
though where she was Hikari couldn't tell.  "Ayanami, who
needs me?  What's going on?"

	he needs you

	The world around her came into focus, a city in
ruins.  She heard someone behind her, crying, and turned
around to see Touji clutching his bloodied and deathly
pale sister in his arms.

	he is trapped in his nightmare

	"So this is just a dream?"

	you must wake him else all is lost

	"I... I will."

                          -*-

	//"Asuka, draw their attention,"// Misato ordered.  
//"Shinji, pull back and try to see if you can spot the
Angel.  Anna, help Asuka."//

	//"Yes, Commander,"// Anna said.

	//"Get off your ass and fight, Touji!"// Asuka
snapped as she charged into the mass of squid-like
creatures.

	//"How am I supposed to spot it?"// Shinji asked.

	//"I don't know,"// Misato admitted.  //"But I'm
hoping your EVA's senses will sense something."//

	Shinji nodded, and started looking.

                          -*-

	Touji cried more than he had in a very long time as
he held his sister.  She was dead.  It had all been for
nothing.  Nothing at all.

	And then two arms wrapped around him from behind,
and a voice whispered in his ear.  "It's time to wake up,
Touji.  This is just a bad dream."  It was Hikari.

	"It's a damn nightmare," he said, trying to pull
himself together, his chest still heaving.  "At least I
didn't kill you too," he managed to say.

	"No one's dead, Touji.  It's just a dream.  You have
to wake up," she told him.

	"I am awake," he said dolefully.

	She pinched his cheek and the world flickered in and
out for a moment.  "Wake up."

	What the hell was that, he asked himself.  The whole
world had vanished and he'd been back in his EVA and...hey,
how did I get out of my EVA?  Damnation, I AM asleep or
something.

	Wake up, he told himself.

	Wake

	UP!

	And then his eyes opened, and LCL surrounded him.  
//"What the hell was that?"// he asked.

	//"Telepathic assault,"// Maya said.

	//"Psychic squid.  Great,"// Touji said.

	//"Just focus on making them dead psychic squid,"//
Misato replied.

	//"Right."// He turned to the surging horde of
Burrowers.  //"Who wants to die first?"// And then he
charged.

                          -*-

	The ceiling shuddered again, and another building
shook loose, falling onto part of NERV HQ, crushing the
upper levels.  Shinji watched it fall and winced in
sympathetic pain even as Unit01 tore up the underbelly of
yet another Burrower.

	There were giant squid-like monsters in many shapes
and sizes everywhere.  Unit04 had a small one grasped in
her hands which she was using as a club against three more
as they tried to come at her.  An AT-field shimmered around
her and her improvised weapon, glimmering brightly with
every blow she struck.

	Unit03 brawled wildly with four more, battering
them about with an AT-bat, jumping about to keep his legs
from being grabbed.  Unit02 ran through the flaming
wreckage of portions of the base, chasing and grabbing the
beasts, then draining them dry.

	Unit01, as per orders, was observing the brawl and
trying to figure out which one was the actual Angel.  And
Unit00 flew high above, calling upon ice to try to freeze
buildings on the verge of plummeting into place, buying
what time she could before the whole city caved in on them.

	Asuka's Eva whirled around at the sight of Unit00
entering the fray.  //"Rei you BITCH!"//

	//"Asuka!  STOP!"// bellowed Misato.  //"The
Angel's the first priority!"//

	//"Asuka!"// Shinji's face appeared on Asuka's HUD,
anxious and fretful as always.

	With a growl, Asuka turned her Eva back to the
battle at hand.

	It was hard for Shinji to focus; even with his
AT-field up, he could feel them clawing at his mind
desperately.  He could feel Shudde M'ell was one of them,
but he couldn't match the psychic fingers to the physical
body.  But he did notice one thing.  //"I see something,"//
he said.

	//"What is it?"// Misato asked.

	//"They're trying very hard to avoid the lake,"//
he replied.

	//"Asuka, throw one in,"// Misato commanded.

	Powerful hands reached and grabbed one of the
creatures, and hurled it at the lake.  It howled alien
words as it fell into the water. Its flesh began to fry,
and the water around it bubbled wildly as it swiftly
dissolved away.

	Misato smiled a dark smile.  //"Perfect.  Shinji,
come out and catch as many of them as you can with Unit01's
webbing.  Touji, Anna, do your best to herd them together
with your AT-fields.  Then Rei and Asuka, you will need to
combine your powers.  Rei, summon forth ice and snow.
Asuka, melt it into rain.  We'll dissolve all these damn
things.  And hurry!"//

	"MAGI indicates the Geo-Front will likely collapse
entirely on its northern half in the next twenty minutes or
less," Makoto said grimly.

	Unit01, Unit03, and Unit04 closed in, forming a
triangle around the horde of Burrowers.  Many were caught
by the vast gouts of web which Unit01 spewed forth.  But
one of them managed to erupt past Unit03 and Unit04,
smashing through the place where their AT-fields met.

	//"Touji, follow and delay it.  Asuka, take Touji's
position while you're heating Rei's snow.  Rei, begin the
snow."// Misato barked.

	Unit03 turned and ran after the creature as snow
poured down all around the hovering, black-winged Unit00,
then turned to rain.  Touji did his best to ignore the
death cries of the squid-critters and sent his EVA after
the escaping creature, following the groove it cut behind
it as it moved.

	"I need an analysis of where that one is going,"
Misato said.

	"It's the Angel," Ritsuko said flatly.  "And it's
tunneling down towards the lower levels."

	"Towards what?" Gendo asked.

	A schematic came up on one of the view screens.  
"Sector 13," Ritsuko said.

	"They must stop him," Gendo said.

	//"All of you, forget about the other Burrowers!  
Zuriel has penetrated headquarters.  Assist Unit03
immediately!"//

                          -*-

	Down in the bowels of NERV, deep inside Sector 13,
there was a huge vat.  It was made of gray metal which
shone with a blue sheen.  It was covered with biohazard
signs, and the Elder Sign was etched into it in five
locations.

	Few knew for sure what exactly was inside it; most
of the handful of people familiar with it simply knew that
vast amounts of pulped organic material was periodically
fed into it, and a few hours later, another tank of LCL
would be filled from it.  Only the highest clearance maps
of NERV HQ showed this room, and the vat was simple labeled
'LCL Manufacturing Vat #1'.

	No one was here at the moment, as it was not
staffed twenty four hours a day.  And thus, there was no
one to see the vat begin to rock with the sound of
something slamming into its sides from within.

                          -*-

	Touji amused himself as he chased after Zuriel by
wondering why a creature which could be killed by water
looked like a giant squid, and thinking about past times
he'd had squid for dinner.  This kept him from worrying
about the fact that he wasn't catching up.  And then he had
an idea.  //"Hey, NERV's got sprinklers, right?"// Food
smeared onto Unit03's feet as it scrambled after the Angel
through a cafeteria on its hands and knees.

	//"Yes, but they fire fire-retardant foam so we
don't destroy all the electronics,"// Misato replied.

	//"Damnation.  No way to flood a level or
anything?"// He crashed through a library, trampling books
as he scrambled.

	Misato shook her head.  //"Not with water."// An
idea hit her, and she turned to Ritsuko.  "Any chance the
knockout gas would do anything to Zuriel?"

	"Unfortunately, the dosage is set to take out
humans, not something on that scale. And, because the EVAs
incorporate human genetics, I'd say it would be more likely
to knock out Unit04 first."  Ritsuko ran quickly over the
list of things which could be pumped into the air
conditioning.  "Although proper wall damage in the right
areas could release water from the pipes."

	//"Got any shortcuts I can take?  'Cause I can tell
you now, I ain't gonna catch up with this thing, having to
pretty much crawl like this."// Whacking Unit03's head on
the ceiling periodically wasn't helping.  Too bad I can't
wish this damn thing away like I did to Nylarcatopep, or
whatever his name was, Touji thought.  Then again, maybe I
could.  Although they all thought it was a bad idea.  
//"So, like, where's he going?"//

	//"Sector 13."// Gendo said.  //"You must prevent
him getting there, or we will all die."//

	//"Ain't happening,"// Touji replied.  //"Can't go
no faster, 'cause I can't stand up.  So what's in Sector
13?  I'd like to know what's gonna kill my ass."//

	//"Materials which will explode in an impressively
fatal way,"// Gendo replied.  //"We've taken precautions
since the Violator incident, but they will likely only slow
the Angel down long enough for you to catch it."//

	"Three minutes until Zuriel reaches Sector 13,"
Makoto announced.

	Looking like I'm running out of choices, Touji
thought.  I've GOT to get ahead of this damn thing somehow.

	Makoto announced, "Looking at the charts, there's a
shaft Unit04 would fit down just fifty meters off to his
left.  He could make for the shaft and quickly drop down
it.  It would put him right outside Sector 13."

	Misato blinked.  "What the hell is that doing
there?" she asked, looking at the charts.  Then she sent
the order.  //"Okay, Touji, smash your way through the
rooms to your left and drop down.  The rest of you, do the
same when you catch up."// She turned back to Makoto.  
"See if you can find another one closer to where the other
Children are."

	Fuyutsuki said, "It's been quite a while since it's
had to be used, but it was built to enable various
unusually large parts to be delivered to Sector 13 already
assembled."

	"That's some damn large parts," Misato muttered.

	Touji looked down the shaft.  //"There ain't no
ladder."//

	//"Jump down,"// Misato said.  //"You're tall
enough to handle it."//

	//"What the hell,"// he said, then Unit04 leaped
down the shaft. The landing wasn't fun, but he could still
stand.  //"Ceiling still ain't big enough for me to move
down here standing up, though."//

	//"We never expected the EVAs to have to get this
close to it. Though we probably should have,"// Fuyutsuki
said.

	//"Move to these co-ordinates and brace for
assault,"// Misato said, giving Touji directions.

	He moved there as best he could, then got ready for
impact in front of a pair of huge double doors.  //"Hey,
lardbutts, when are you all gonna show up?"// he asked the
other Children.

	//"As fast as we can,"// Shinji said.  //"What did
I just put my knee in?"//

	//"You don't want to know,"// Asuka replied.  
//"Quit your whining, Touji, we're on our way."//

	He could hear smashing noises coming closer, and he
guessed from what had been happening earlier that Zuriel
would likely come down through the ceiling at him.  Hmm,
he's big enough that if I stop his head, his tail is gonna
stick up through a coupla floors...no wait, his tentacles
are gonna be coming at me...can I grab 'em all?  //"Any
last minute advice?"//

	//"Form an AT-Field and exploit his difficulties
with applying leverage,"// Misato said.

	//"Right."//

	Even as he concentrated the field into existence,
the ceiling turned red and melted away, and Zuriel began to
drop through the hole.  So he let it extend its tendrils
forward, then pressed forward with his AT-Field, trying to
shove its tentacles against the edge of the hole of hot
metal.  To his surprise, instead of severing them, the
pressure of the tentacles against the metal simply split it
open further, dropping down more of the creature.

	//"This ain't working,"// he said.

	//"Just hold it there until the others arrive,"//
Misato said. //"They'll be there soon."//

	What followed was pretty much a giant shoving
match, accompanied by voices in his head, shouting at him.  
SURRENDERYOUCANNOTWINONLYDEATH CANCOMEIFYOU FIGHTON, they
screamed, while he gritted his teeth and tried to hold the
creature back.  It burned through the rest of the floor and
dropped down to his level, gradually ripping up more and
more of this level, which to his relief, was mostly empty
in front of him.

	Unfortunately, he was too cramped to brace himself
very well, and slowly, the creature pushed him back until
only the solidity of the wall behind him kept him from
being shoved any further.  //"HURRY!"// he screamed.

	The doors behind him buckled and burst open,
falling off their hinges.  This was, for Touji, actually a
good thing, as the huge room beyond had enough space for
him to stand up, and once he did, it was easier to put
Unit03's weight and leg strength into it and brace.  But
still, he was losing ground.

	//"I'm guessing Mr. Metal Melter would laugh at
fire?"// Touji asked.

	//"You'd guess right,"// Misato said.  //"Just hold
on a few more seconds, the others are almost there."//

	Metal parts crunched and melted as Touji strove to
hold back Zuriel, and prevent and endrun.  He tried not to
think about how much damage was being done to whatever sort
of workshop he was in.  And then Unit03's foot slipped, and
he fell.  Zuriel began to just bulldoze over him, so he
grabbed it.

	The agony was intense as Unit03's chest and arms
began to sear from the heat and acid Zuriel gave off.  
Plus, it was hard to hold him, as he was slick with acidic
slime.  Touji ran through his list of tricks his EVA could
do and ran out of good ideas.

	//"Put your legs into it,"// Misato said.

	As he did so, adding to his agony, he noticed a
distant banging noise.  //"What the hell is that noise?"//

	//"What noise?"//

	//"Piledrivers?"// Touji would have cried from the
pain he was getting from his EVA.  There was only agony and
the angel now.  And its constant psychic gibbering.  I'm
gonna end up a butt-toy again, he thought.  No!  Not again,
dammit!

	And then, instead of the gibbering assault, he got
hit by a spike of psychic pain. Zuriel's pain.  Unit01 had
dropped down through the huge holes it had made in the
level and was now chewing on its...tail?  Head? On its
other end.  And Unit02 and Unit00 now combined their powers
to hose down Zuriel with water.  Unit04 began to hack away
at Zuriel with her progressive knife.

	Touji screamed in pain and triumph, doing his best
to crush the damnable thing to death as it began to melt in
his arms.  He could feel its strength flowing into him as
it came apart under the assault.  But then it came apart a
little too much, and the front quarter simply ripped loose
and kept moving forward.

	He tried to get Unit03 to stand, but it was covered
in slick, acidic goo, and wracked with agony.  After a few
second's attempt, he gave up, lying there moaning instead.

	Asuka and Rei didn't even notice, caught up in
creating rain.

	//"Shinji, stop it!"// Misato barked.

	He took off, running like a wolf on all fours as
the front of Zuriel smashed through a wall into a yet
larger room, full of pipes and machinery.  The banging
noise was easier to hear now.

	He spewed webbing, catching the runaway Angel, then
pulled it back and leaped upon it.  It was disturbing for
Touji to watch, both from the animalisticness of it and
from the realization that he was missing out on the kill
after all the hell he'd gone through for it.

        Unit01 ripped apart and ate a substantial chunk of
what had been left of Zuriel by the time Unit02 and 00
finished killing off the rest of the creature.  The feast
slowed, and then stopped, and then very quietly, Shinji
mumbled, //"I didn't mean to do that."//

        "The Angel is dead," Maya announced.

        "I think we'd gathered that," Misato replied.  
//"How is everyone feeling?"//

        //"Lots and lots of pain,"// Touji said.

        //"I think I'm going to be sick,"// Shinji said,
trying to get the nasty taste out of his mouth.  //"Did I
really..."// He shook his head and frowned, trying to
forget.

        //"I am fine,"// Anna said.  //"I wish I'd been
able to do more."//

        Misato tried to think of some subtle way to ask if
any of them felt the urge to cause another earthquake.

        Asuka looked around, then asked, //"What's all this
machinery?"//

        //"Delicate machinery that will likely explode
violently, killing us all if you fiddle with it,"// Gendo
said.  //"Used in making LCL."//

        //"Shouldn't it be somewhere safer?"// Asuka asked.

        //"Normally, things don't GET much safer than
buried at the bottom of NERV HQ deep in the bedrock, past
many, many layers of defenses,"// Gendo said, with just a
hint of irritation.  //"A direct nuclear blast against
Tokyo-3 would have failed to damage it."//

        Asuka glanced at the machinery, and wished she knew
more about engineering so she could tell if he was lying.

        Shinji spat and tried to get the taste of Zuriel
out of his mouth.

        Touji mumbled incoherently.

        //"What was that, Touji?"// Anna asked.

        //"I've fallen and I can't get up,"// he groaned.

                          -*-

	In the heat of battle, they hadn't time to notice,
but now, as they marched through the path the Angel had
bored into NERV, they were stuck by the devastation.  Most
of the buildings were in ruins, either shattered or totally
collapsed.  High above, the ceiling of NERV was torn open,
daylight's last rays filtering into the cavernous domain.
As day fell into night, the Geofront was dimly lit by pale
blue reserve power lights.

	Touji whistled.  //"Ooooh man."//

	//"This... this is bad,"// said Shinji.

	//"Very bad,"// added Asuka.

	//"Yeah.... well... could be worse,"// said Touji.

	//"Yeah?"// asked Shinji.

	//"Yeah.  The whole town coulda been fried to a
crisp in an Angel-powered explosion,"// he said flatly.

	They all remained silent for a moment.

	//"That was bad, Touji."//

	//"You don't see me laughing, do ya?"//

	The Eva holding bay was no longer an option, with
all the elevators and shafts leading to it collapsed in the
earthquakes that devastated the GeoFront.  With that
alternative gone, Misato suggested they head to the
lakefront, since it seemed like safe territory, several
access routes from the command area to the lakefront still
seemed structurally sound, and with the state of things, it
was the only place they could wash the LCL off.  The others
agreed without a word, marching silently to the lake's
edge.  They were too preoccupied with their own thoughts to
talk much.

	Shinji was shaken by the way he and Unit01 had run
wild again, having surrendered to something base and primal
within him.  He feared the day that he wouldn't be able to
regain control.

	Touji was still shaken by the memory of his
nightmare.  Misato had assured him Mari was fine, but this
time things had gotten far too close.  He had to thank
Hikari when he found her, and also had to ask how the heck
she managed to get into his dreams.  Or maybe it was just
his dream of Hikari saving him and not the real
thing?  Something like that.  Whatever.

	Asuka kept staring at Unit00.  Rei had remained
silent all through combat, moreso than usual.  The urge to
spring ahead and kill her now was festering in Asuka's gut,
but she fought it down.  Things like this were meant to be
settled face to face, and with Misato and the commanders
temporarily stuck in the Bridge area, nothing was standing
in her way.

	They had arrived at the lake in short order,
Shinij's Eva arriving first, then Anna's, followed by
Touji's, Asuka's, then Rei's.

	Shinji immediately headed to the lake to clean
off the LCL, followed quickly by Touji.  Anna ejected
from her Eva unsteadily, hesitated, then joined the boys
in cleaning off the black goo.  The plug for Unit02
slowly rose, Asuka's sludge-covered form emerging from
it.  She slid down the Eva's side, wiping her face clean
as she did, then walked with clenched fists before the
kneeling Unit00.

	She had been waiting for this moment.

	Just her.  Just Rei.  An end to this.

	Unit00's plug emerged, and Asuka found herself
holding her breath.  She willed her arms to stop
shaking.  A LCL-covered form emerged from the plug,
pausing at its entrance.

	Meanwhile in the lake's edge, Shinji saw Asuka
waiting there, and knew there'd be trouble.  "Asuka!  
Wait!" he shouted out, rushing back to the shore.  "Don't
do it!"  Touji noticed his friend rush off in a panic,
though he wasn't sure what about exactly, and just
followed.

	Asuka heard Shinji's shout, but ignored it.  
This was something she had to do, or else be haunted the
rest of her life.  There was one thing she didn't tell
Shinji, one thing that burned inside her with shame and
disgust, one secret she would never let anyone know.

	A sick and twisted part of her, gibbering in
ancient and long dead tongues in the recesses of her
mind, twisted uneasily like an agitated snake.  As she
felt horror that night, it felt joy.  As she felt the
agony, it forced upon her an inhuman and depraved
ecstacy. 

	And the worst part of it all was she didn't know
where the Violator ended and she began.

	He who fights with monsters might take care lest
he thereby become a monster.  Nietzsche had no idea how
right he was.

	"Rei!  Face me!" she bellowed, her fists lighting
into flames.

	Red eyes, those red eyes that plagued her
nightmares, glowed through the LCL swamp.  She slid down
the Eva slowly, wiping the LCL from her face.  As she did
so, Asuka's face shifted from a raging glare to a look of
horror.  Shinji and Touji came up behind Asuka, and
stared at Hikari as well.

	"Hikari, no," whispered Asuka.  The flames in her
hands died immediately.

	Touji approached Hikari slowly.  "Um... Hikari?"

	Rei's voice replied to him, "I am not Hikari."

	The Children felt a chill run through them.  "Let
go of her!" screamed Asuka.  "Get out!"

	Touji grabbed Hikari's shoulder.  "Whadaya mean
you ain't Hikari!" he said desperately.  "Of course
you're Hikari!  Stop playin' around!"

	Hikari suddenly slumped to the ground, eyes
fluttering.  Touji held her as best as he could, crying
out her name.

	Pale white flesh gradually shifted to pink, pale
blue hair gave way to brown, and haunting red eyes faded
to dark grey.

	"Tou... Touji?" asked Hikari weakly.  "Where...
where am I?"

                          -*-

	//"And to sum up our top story of the night,
Tokyo-3 is in ruins after a massive attack by an unknown
number of Angels.  Tremors reached up to 7.5 on the
Richter scale, reducing the heart of Tokyo-3 to rubble.  
Confirmed casualties are in the hundreds, though
officials fear the count is far from over.  

	Reports from NERV indicate that their main base
in the GeoFront has sustained irrepairable damage, and
moving their base of operations elsewhere was nearly a
certainty."//


                          -*-
                      End Part 19
                          -*-