-*-

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


                 Children of an Elder God

                          Part 23

           "The Doom That Came to Shwartzburg"

                            -*-


	"Protests continue at NERV's American facilities;
coordinated by the watchdog organization NERVWatch,
protestors have been shouting and waving placards since 8
AM.  Unlike previous occasions, the American government
seems unwilling to take any action to disperse them.  It
seems that NERV's stock with the public is falling to new
lows."

	Click.

	"The UN Security Council continues to meet behind
closed doors in special session.  It is generally believed
that they are trying to decide on appropriate action in
response to the Shwartzburg disaster.  NERV continues to
assert that the Sixth Child went mad as a result of the
stresses caused by EVA piloting, prompting many to wonder
how soon the other Children will snap..."

	Click.

	"The end times are come!  The unrighteous rise up
and cloak themselves in the images and names of
righteousness, but by their fruits shall ye know them!  
There is not a single god-fearing person to be found among
their ranks, only a bunch of pagans of the worst caliber!  
Their battle commander wears a pagan holy sign around her
neck in parody of the Cross of Jesus, in which we put our
faith..."

	Click.

	"Amen, and I say unto you, blessed are the Children,
for they shall protect this Earth.  Do not let yourself be
dismayed by the setback in Shwartzburg, for the powers of
the night are potent.  Have we not seen how they cast down
the traitor within their ranks before she could do more
damage?  So must we cast aside those who would sway us from
the true path..."

	Click.

	"The nation of Peru has announced it plans to sue
NERV in the World Court.  The battle of Lima was a bloody
one, causing countless thousands of deaths..."

	Click.

	"Psychologists are continuing to study the rising
problem of shared nightmares.  Dismissed initially by the
scientific community, it has become impossible to deny that
many people around the world, especially those of an
artistic or religious bent, have begun to dream of a sunken
city full of non-Euclidian architecture, inhabited by
fish-men.  Many fear this may presage an Angel attack even
more potent than the ones before it."

	"However, Dr. Emmanuel Fisher of the University of
Chicago continues to argue this is a special form of mass
hysteria, made possible by the spread of mass media.  Here
with us in our studio is Dr. Fisher..."

	Click.

	"Available now, only from Remnant Records, The Best
of Devastin' Dave, the Turntable Slave!  For only 19.99, you
can buy this two disc set of the music you grew up with!  
Get it now before it becomes elevator music!"

	Fuyutsuki relaxed just a tiny bit; he would have
laughed if he was in a better mood.  Things were not going
well; the pressure was heating up, and he feared that soon,
SEELE would make its move.  Probably using the UN as
stalking-horses at first.

	The TV continued to play on, now segueing into some
sort of incoherent ad selling sausages.

	His phone rang, interrupting his reverie.  
"Commander, the astronomical reports you ordered are ready,"
Sgt. Kazuya reported.

	"Thank you.  I'm on my way," he said.  He rose and
headed off to the observatory.


                            -*-

	The results were inconclusive.  They always were,
lately, it seemed.  Fuyutsuki sighed and put the report
down.  The easily observed stars were right, but what about
the occulted ones?  Without access to SEELE's special
equipment any more, he couldn't be sure.

	The signs and portents were there.  This was almost
certainly the time of Cthulhu's rising.  And Cthulhu was
almost certainly the Sea King.  Almost.  Or else it was
something to do with Dagon and Hydra.  It couldn't be
Ghatanathoa.  He was already dead.  Right?

	He wished again that Gendo had not perished.  
Fuyutsuki was not a man made for leadership; he had let
Gendo take charge, then guided him with his lore.  But Gendo
was the man for a crisis like this.  Was their plan viable?  
And could he actually go through with it?  And if they did
not, what would happen?  If the Children won, they would
have the power of gods.  What would they do with it?  Would
Earth face the fate of Xoth?  They would beat the Sea King,
if their minds did not break.  But would their minds hold?  
Could he make them hold?

	And Yui...He missed her as well.  She had always
moderated Gendo's intensity;  perhaps if she had lived...  
He could see her now, her smiling face.  She had always
lightened his and Gendo's gloom.  But now she was lost to
Unit01.  Perhaps lost forever.  Gendo had always hoped, once
he had the power, to extract her.  Fuyutsuki hoped, but he
feared the power would not be his.  It would be in the hands
of the Children, and they lacked the training, the
discipline...

	Maybe it would have been better to have them in on
it.  But a secret spread too wide falls too easily into the
wrong hands.

	His phone rang, and he answered it.  "Hello?"

	"Sir, we have a report from the South Pacific,"
Misato said.  "Can you come to the bridge?"

	"Of course."

	He soon reached the bridge, where Misato and Dr.
Himmelfarb and the rest of the bridge crew were observing a
message from the South Pacific.  "There's thousands of them
down here," Commander Nelson of the Intrepid was reporting.  
He was a tall, graying man, thin and worried looking.  "The
sonar is just going crazy.  And some...there's several of
something that we can't figure out the signature.  As if
there were several hundred foot long squid."

	"That's quite possible," Fuyutsuki said.  "Observe,
keeping your distance."

	"What the hell are these things?" Commander Nelson
asked.

	"In short, aliens," Fuyutsuki said.  "They are quite
dangerous, but if you keep your distance, we believe they
don't have anything which can attack you at long range.  
But if one of those squid gets hold of your ship, you can
basically expect to die."

	"Aliens?  Real aliens?"

	"Just like the Angels, but much smaller and less
dangerous," Fuyutsuki said.  "Continue to observe, we'll see
about getting you reinforced."

	"Yes, sir," Commander Nelson said, then saluted.

	Fuyutsuki saluted him back, and the connection was
dropped.  "Any other news?"

	"Polaris is beginning to sense rising, diffuse
levels of Angelic energies in the South Pacific at these
coordinates."  Dr. Himmelfarb passed him the report.  "I
included the latest report on Andromeda."

	"On Andromeda?"

	"It's moving."

	"The entire galaxy?" Misato said in surprise.

	"Many stellar phenomena seem to be moving in ways we
would expect impossible," Dr. Himmelfarb said.  "Just to add
to the global panic from the nightmares."

	The time was coming, Fuyutsuki decided.  It was time
to act.  "We're going to need to prepare a mission to the
South Pacific.  The next manifestation will be there.  I'm
also going to need to have conventional forces raised to
strike in the South Pacific, hopefully before our arrival.  
I expect that this Angel will come forth with an army
waiting to help him."

	The burst of activity which followed made him feel a
little better about the future.  Action was better than
moping.

                            -*-

The ruins of the steamer yacht looked uncannily organic,
most of its sides fallen apart with decay and rough tides,
leaving behind a skeletal frame riddled with coral.  Laying
to its side was a rotten plank, the letters ALERT could
barely be read.  It had laid here in peace to rot on its
own, passing the years in darkness and isolation.

A solitary shadow in the darkness approached the wreck and
paused, as if recognizing a significance to this grave, then
moved on.  Another shadowy being passed, and then another,
and another, until seemingly endless shadow marched past,
swarming over and through the ship's carcass like a swarm of
ants.

The dread swarm moved onward.  The stars were right.  Their
time began now.

                            -*-

	Akane awoke, sweaty and naked in a cave, feeling
slightly annoyed.  She'd gone to bed sweaty and naked, but
it had been on her nice soft bed in the arms of her lover.  
Not in a cold and damp cave.  She tried to brush the dirt
off herself and wondered what the hell was going on.

	Then the man spoke.  "Hello, Akane.  I have called
you to serve me."  His voice was soft and sibilant, and he
wore a purple robe with a hood fringed with the Yellow Sign.  
Upon his face he bore a smiling mask of pale saffron.  
"There is work for you to do."

	She felt a faint shiver just looking at him; she'd
seen people dressed like this before, but this was
different.  And hadn't involved caves.  "I'm not a
prostitute.  Where is my clothing?"

	He snapped his fingers, and she found herself clad
in an ornately layered purple dress with yellow runes worked
all over it, including the Yellow Sign.  "You came to me as
you were."

	"I didn't GO anywhere," she said.  "Who the hell are
you?"

	"Do you not recognize your lord and master?" he
asked, sounding amused.

	"What the..."  She stared at him.  "What, are you
some bigwig in the Saffron Brotherhood?"  She'd joined that
for a while; it had been kind of fun running around doing a
bunch of rites and dressing up in ritual outfits.  But it
hadn't really meant anything to her; it was just a lark.  
When everyone had started taking it WAY too seriously, she'd
moved on.

	"I am THE 'bigwig', as you put it.  I am the King in
Yellow, who you swore to when you joined the Brotherhood,"
he said.

	"Uh huh.  As in, the Angel who NERV beat up at a
school play?"

	"They merely defeated my mortal host," he said.  
"But no true God can be defeated by mortals."

	"Man, this is one fucked up dream I am having,"
Akane said.  "You seriously expect me to do what you want."

	"You swore to me, oaths which cannot be denied," he
said, his voice rising just a notch.  "You will obey, or pay
the price.  Your connection to one of NERV's major officers
is useful to me.  You can use him for me, to accomplish my
purposes."

	Use Makoto to do the bidding of some demented freak
in a robe?  "Look, this has to be a dream.  And if it
wasn't, there is no way I would do the bidding of a loser
god who got his butt kicked by a bunch of kids who aren't
even old enough to have gotten laid yet.  I had fun in the
Brotherhood, but that's over now, and I've moved on.  So
should you, like to getting used to being a prisoner.  Now
take off that damn mask, so I can see your face.  I feel
like I'm talking to the Phantom of the Opera or something."

	"As you like."  He removed the mask, and there was
nothing behind it, but the void of space, an infinite sea of
stars.  She fell into it, plummeting through nothingness, as
a distant piping slowly wailed its way between worlds and
the stars spun around her.

	A voice surrounded her.  FOOL.  I AM THE AUDIENT
VOID.  I AM THE BEGINNING AND THE END.  I AM THE VOICE OF
EVERYTHING.  I AM THE SOUL OF THE OUTER GODS.  DO YOU THINK
YOU CAN ESCAPE ME?  THAT THE KING IN YELLOW WAS EVER
ANYTHING BUT ANOTHER OF MY SERVANTS?  WHAT YOU OWED TO HIM,
YOU OWE TO ME.

	And then she was on solid ground again, inside utter
darkness.  She could hear heavy footsteps in the darkness,
and the sound of scratching on the walls, the sound of stone
flaking away.

	She tried to escape it, but the sound followed her
as she walked, then ran in a panic, bumping into walls.  No
matter how far she ran, the sounds never faded.

	There was a burst of light, and then another, as
braziers ignited everywhere.  She could see a great ape by
the wall, its eyes gouged out and scarred shut, its hand by
writing on the wall.  It was her handwriting, the oath she
had sworn to the King in Yellow, to Hastur the Unnameable.

	"You cannot escape your oath," the Blind Ape of
Truth said.  "Run as you will, it follows you everywhere."

	"So bring a lawsuit if you want to enforce it," she
snapped.

	"Foolish child, are you so enamored of him that you
would let yourself be destroyed for him?" the Blind Ape
asked her.  "SEELE is poised to destroy NERV in the name of
their lord, the Sea King, Cthulhu the Great.  For millennia,
his followers have thrived in the deeps, and now they will
claim the land.  Even if you defy me, you cannot save him.  
You can only damn yourself."  His voice was full of
confidence, and she wondered if he knew something she did
not.

	But the Children had beaten all the other attacks,
right?  Surely they would beat this 'SEELE', whatever it
was.  "The Children will kick your ass."

	"Surely you know from Makoto how unstable they are."  
She'd heard a few stories from him that did seem to indicate
that.  "You saw what happened to Anna.  Do you think the
others will do any better?  You will lose.  And SEELE will
take you and punish you for violating your oath.  Do you
know what will happen?"

	"Nothing.  Because you will lose."  She hoped she
was right, but there was something about his confidence that
was boring into her will.

	"They will give you to the Deep Ones, to use for
breeding.  Like this."

	The wall shimmered, and she saw a group of fish men
taking her into a bedroom, stripping her naked as she
struggled futilely.  She tried to close her eyes, but they
wouldn't obey her.  "Dammit, this is sick!" she shouted.

	"They merely obey their instincts.  It is what
everyone is made for, why you have them.  Humans persist in
this futile attempt to deny them, and it only leads to
pointless suffering.  Like this.  If you do not obey, this
will be your doom."

	"Fuck you," she hissed, trying to not focus on what
she was seeing, and trying to ignore the sound of herself
screaming.

	"This is only a taste of what waits for you, if you
defy us.  We will get what we want without you, and then you
will suffer.  Obey, and you will be rewarded.  Remember,
serve and be rewarded, or defy me and be punished."

	"FUCK YOU," she shouted angrily.  "NEVER!  NEVER!"

	"If you wish..."

	He was advancing on her, and she couldn't move,
couldn't do anything but scream.

	Then she felt arms shake her, and suddenly, she was
naked again, but in her bed, being held by a groggy Makoto,
who said, "Akane, you're screaming.  What's wrong?"

	She began to cry.  "I had a horrible nightmare..."

	She could hear his voice, echoing in her head.  
JUST REMEMBER THAT IF YOU TELL HIM ABOUT SEELE AND WHAT YOU
HAVE SEEN, YOU WILL HAVE TO EXPLAIN HOW YOU KNOW IT...DO YOU
THINK HE WILL TRUST YOU IF HE KNOWS YOU SWORE TO HASTUR?  
THAT HE WILL WANT TO HOLD YOU AND LOVE YOU?

	That made her cry more and curse the day she'd been
dumb enough to join the Saffron Brotherhood.  What was going
on?  Was this just another nightmare?  Or was it real?  And
what the hell could she do if it was?


                            -*-

She was in the water.

Ritsuko knew it was a dream, because she hated the water.  
And she hated the water because it felt comfortable, like
slipping on a pair of old shoes.  Except she wasn't slipping
on a pair of old shoes.  Instead, she was turning into a
hideous fish-being that will forever spend its life lurking
in the cold, dark depths of the ocean.

She hated the water, which is why she was fairly sure this
was a dream.  Also, she was one among hundreds of Deep Ones,
swimming over a sunken city with non- Euclidean
architecture.  Definitely a dream of some sort, probably
heading towards nightmare territory.

The first thing Ritsuko did was look over herself, fearing
the worst. She was not a bulge-eyed pale skinned mutant.  
That was good enough.

Then she tried to will herself awake, but that did not seem
to work.  With that failed, she tried to swim away, but the
Deep Ones around her moved to block her way.  Their movement
was too fast and their numbers too great, forcing Ritsuko to
go with the flow, spiraling down into the city below.

Two rather large Deep Ones swam to her and flanked her
sides, though they seemed more pleased than menacing.  They
spoke to her eagerly, with their harsh, raspy and guttural
voices.

 	"You are here."

 	"This is good."

 	"She waits to see you."

 	"Yes she is waiting."

 	Ritsuko was expected.  This couldn't be good.

 	"Who is waiting?" she asked.

 	"The great priestess."

 "The high priestess."

 	"Priestess Yg'arr'laak."

 	"This way, this way."

 	She found herself lead into a great cathedral within
the city, stone gray with stained glass windows depicting
various moments in Deep One history, while the front of the
cathedral held a massive stained glass visage of their dread
lord and god, the final 'angel'.  It loomed above a rough
stone altar, where a robed and hooded figure stood hunched
over it. Illumination was sparse, coming from the faintest
of glimmers peeking through from the surface, as well as
strange glowing feathery deep sea worms.

 	Ritsuko looked to her two guides, who both nodded
eagerly, then walked towards the ominous figure.

 	The Priestess said, "Hello daughter."

 	Ritsuko felt her blood run cold.  She found herself
speechless.

 	"The end times come," croaked her mother.  "Not too
late for you, my daughter."

 	"I'm not like you!" Ritsuko finally managed to say.  
"I won't be like
 you!"

 	"You are halfway there."

 	She was right.  Ritsuko felt her confidence slide.

 	"Not too late for you," said her mother.  "Or your
friends."

 	"Leave them out of it!"

 	"Oh, but they are precious to you, and I would not
wish to make my daughter saddened by their deaths."  The
priestess smiled a pallid smile, revealing misshapen and
filthy teeth.  "They can be saved too."

 	"What do you mean 'saved'?"

 	"They can become as we are, as you will inevitably
be.  Won't that be nice?  Your friends, and your lover,
forever with you, spared from the great culling to come."

 	From outside the cathedral, she heard the unique
sound of footsteps marching underwater.  How many there
were, she could not tell, but their numbers must have been
immense.  She felt a chill run down her spine, and despair
weighed heavy upon her heart.

 	Ritsuko's mother continued, her voice maddeningly
serene and confident.  "This story has been told time and
again, across infinite worlds.  This will be no different.  
In time, you will come to see what must be done, and I will
be waiting."

 	Ritsuko wanted to shout in defiance, to tell her she
was wrong, that this time would be different, but that
defiant voice found itself drowned out by this overwhelming
feeling of dread, which shook her to her very core with
doubt.  Could they really overcome the odds this time?  
Wouldn't it be better to save them by any means possible,
even if it abandoned what they'd been fighting for?  What
was the honor of dying for a lost cause anyway?

 	No!  There was no going back now, and she couldn't
betray their trust in her like this.  This was the right
thing to do.

 	Right?

 	The priestess chuckled a sickening, croaking laugh.  
"You are perhaps not ready to accept it yet, but you will
see, in time.  When you are ready, I will be here, and
waiting."

 	The priestess waved a scaled pallid hand, a gesture
of farewell, and the world blurred around her.

                            -*-*

She was in the water.

It took a moment for Ritsuko to realize this was not a
dream.  This was her new reality.  This was her resting
tank, necessary, now that her lungs had been altered, now
that she had taken that first step to her fate.

The dim fluorescent light of the tank cast little light and
long shadows across her lab.  Next to the tank Maya slept,
kneeling on the ground with her face pressed against the
glass.  Ritsuko couldn't help but smile a little, Maya's
face looked a little silly from her end.

"You can save her," her mother's voice whispered in her
head.  "Be with her forever."

Ritsuko placed her hand against the glass gently.  If this
glass was not between them, she would be touching her now.  
If she was not underwater, her tears would be seen.

                            -*-

	It had not been easy to lower all the lands.  With
the Burrower Beneath dead, his children ran loose,
scattered, hard to control.  It had taken many years to
chain them, one by one, and set them to hollowing out the
landmasses which had dared to challenge the rule of the
oceans.  But this time, this time they had been successful.  
The Old Ones, who loved the land and skies, no longer stood
against them.

	Many of the old cities had been ruined.  But that
didn't matter, they were inferior.  The monkeys were gone
now, and it was meet their works end with them.  That's why
Asuka was taking apart the ruins of one of the monkey
cities.  She dimly remembered another time, when it had been
called Berlin.  It was a twisted pile of stone and metal and
shattered glass and plastic now.  With her powers, it was
easy to sort out the useful materials and destroy the rest.  
There was no fire here, in the new world, but that commanded
by her and the other Children.  The fire they called only in
the service of their master, the Great Lord of the Deep.

	Hikari sliced her arm, and tiny trails of blood
drifted into the water, becoming worms that began to feed on
the stone and concrete, swiftly swelling ever larger in
size, and tunneling through the wreckage.  They would
excrete useful minerals, and use the rest to sustain
themselves.

	It was Asuka's own job to then melt the minerals
into bars for transport by the half-ones, the lowest caste
of the Great Lord's followers.  A few of the Xothians
marched about, shouting orders, as if they mattered much
more than the half-ones.  They were but children, who would
never match the Five Lords of the Elements, let alone the
Great One.  They spent much of their time slumbering,
enjoying the dreams their father brought them.  Weak, Asuka
thought.  But that is why they too serve.

	Asuka waited impatiently, idly blasting bits of the
city to pieces while she waited.  She half-hoped something
hostile would arise, just to give her something to do.

	Arms folded around her from behind, fangs gently
nipping her neck, wings folding around her.  Rei was
exceptionally frisky today, it seemed.  Which would normally
be good, but the Great Lord tended to become angry if sex
delayed the work he commanded.  She took one of Rei's hands
with her own and brought it up to her lips, running her
tongue gently along the length of it, from fingertip to the
wrist.  Then she said, "Aren't you supposed to be smiting
the Aldeberaani?"  The annoying inhabitants of Aldeberan
kept trying to establish floating bases on the surface, as
if this planet had not already been claimed.  She wished
they would go away, as eating their leaders always made
Rei's breath smell foul.  Asuka's senses were too sensitive
to deal with that.

	"They will come in force, soon," Rei breathed into
Asuka's neck.  "I am hungry now."

	"Later," Asuka said.  "I have work to do.  Eat some
half-folk if you have to."

	And then Rei was gone, leaving a trail of water.  
Asuka felt the first death at the fringes of her mind and
smiled a little.  The half-folk spoke of Rei the Slayer in
hushed tones; nothing they could do could stop her.  It was
said that those she slew lived on inside her.  They were
right.  Rei, Asuka, Shinji, Hikari, Touji, they held
multitudes inside them.  Every soul they devoured became a
part of them.  She had grown used to the cacophony, but
sometimes it could be comforting.  Rei gave immortality to
those she slew, for they would live on within them forever,
while otherwise, they would eventually die and pass away.  
What she did was a kindness.

	Asuka let her gaze slide across the laboring
half-folk, and found one who was slacking off.  She reached
down, and grasped him, lifting him and gazing into his eyes.

	He flailed desperately; they always did.  There was
something about humans, passed on even to their half-human
kin who were all that remained of humanity now.  Something
that would resist desperately in the face of certain doom.  
It was the sort of stupidity which had ensured humanity had
to be destroyed; the men slain and the women used to breed
new generations of the half-folk, until those women died of
old age, and only the half-folk remained.  She could
remember those days, popping a dozen men into her mouth at
once, and chewing them slowly, to savor the flavor.  Their
blood had been sweeter than that of the half-folk.  Shinji
kept trying to find a way to make them tastier, but it
seemed to be inherent in the adaptations they needed to
dwell beneath the water, being so linked to the odd rules of
Earth's solar system that they depended on, unlike their
masters.

	She watched him with amusement, intending to let his
fear be his punishment.  But then he bit her.  It barely
hurt, but indicated a level of defiance which could not be
tolerated.  She lifted him to her lips, took his head with
her teeth, holding it steady, then slowly, very slowly bit
down, feeling his flesh part beneath her sharp teeth.  She
let tiny flames lick along her teeth as he screamed in
agony.  The sound of his agony was pleasing to her ears.  
She relished the taste of his pain, his realization this was
the end of his life.

	She could have taken his soul, but he wasn't worth
it.  Instead, she slowly, lovingly, bit his head in half,
then sucked out his brains and began to devour his flesh,
cooking it with her fires as she did so.  Soon, too soon,
there was nothing left of him.  She felt herself shiver; it
was unwise to let herself get aroused when she had work to
do.

	Then she felt something else, a strange sense of
horror and guilt.  Where was that coming from?  It wasn't as
if she had disobeyed her master.  She was well within her
rights.  The half-folk existed to serve and to die when it
was necessary.  They were lucky they were allowed to
continue to exist, but the Great Lord was sometimes very
sentimental about the little, pitiful things.

	She followed the thoughts inside her mind, wondering
if one of her souls was getting out of hand again.  She
burrowed deep within herself, past hundreds of souls,
following the trail of emotions that grew ever stronger.  
There was something...a soft thing, on which the soul was
lying, in a slightly cool room...a human, one of the very
old souls.  She had not devoured a true human in so long,
for they were extinct in the world of the waking and there
was something...something moving on her face as she lay in
bed and...

	
	And then Asuka awoke, a cockroach having fallen onto
her face from the ceiling.  She burned it to ash in a moment
of panic, then sat up, gagging at the memory of the dream.  
She reined in her flames desperately, before she could
immolate her bed, springing to her feet and shuddering.

	She threw open her window, and leaped out, sprouting
wings of flame, fleeing from the memory.  The first rush of
panic soon subsided, and she came back around, then flew up
to land on the roof, shuddering.  I'll die before I become
like that, she told herself.

	To her surprise, even as she touched down, Rei sat
up.  She had been lying there on the roof, Asuka supposed,
but somehow had not been seen.  Asuka started to rise.  She
didn't want to be anywhere near Rei, even though for a
moment, she remembered Rei's embrace, the friendly bite,
the...

	She shook her head, but even as she turned, Rei
said, "Stay."  A moment later, Rei said, "Please."

	Asuka hesitated.  She didn't want to spend any more
time around Rei than she had to, but part of her wanted to
stay.  It was the part that she didn't like at all, where
freaky dreams like the one she'd just had came from.  She
shivered.

	"I had a dream," Rei said, and then began to
describe a dream of a world underwater, where only the Deep
Ones remained.  As Asuka listened, she could see it
overlapped with her own dream, and she wondered a moment if
the other Children had shared it was well.

	"Yes," Rei said.

	"Yes what?" Asuka asked, startled.

	"We all dreamed it," Rei explained.  "The end comes.  
Blood calls to blood.  We share."

	Asuka shivered more.  She didn't want to share
dreams with Rei.  "Then why aren't they here?"

	"They will come, soon.  Our blood calls to theirs."

	"But why not now?" Asuka asked.

	"Our bond is tightest," Rei said, a little sadly.  
"Because we..."

	"THERE IS NO WAY THAT COULD HAVE CREATED A BOND
BETWEEN US!" Asuka shouted angrily, flames erupting around
her.  "What you did to me..."

	"The blood, the Violator, they drove us together,"
Rei said.  "I wish it could have been Shinji."

	Asuka hissed angrily, "Shinji is mine."

	Rei looked at her nervously, nervously enough that
Asuka felt a little of her anger wilt.  "I wish..."

	"Well, you can't have him," Asuka said.  "He's MY
boyfriend."

	"Can we not...there are things..."

	Asuka's eyes widened.  "Are you crazy?  Even if you
hadn't raped me, that kind of thing is for complete freaks
and perverts!"  Her mind flickered with something.  It
couldn't be a memory, as she knew it hadn't happened.  Just
an image of herself on a bed, Rei wrapped around her from
behind, kissing her neck, as Shinji kissed his way down her
belly.  Her eyes widened and she drove the image out of her
mind.  She wouldn't do anything like that with another girl
and ESPECIALLY not with Rei.

	"We share the blood," Rei said almost desperately.  
"You must feel the call."

	"I DO NOT FEEL ANY CALLS!" Asuka said.  "And I'm not
sharing my boyfriend with you!"

	"Damn, Shinji, a lot of guys would kill for a deal
like that," Touji said.

	Asuka froze and turned and saw Shinji and Hikari and
Touji approaching across the roof.  Shinji looked
embarrassed.  "I'm sure they weren't actually talking about
sharing me."

	"We were," Rei said.

	"We were NOT!" Asuka shouted.

	"My goodness, that's awfully bold," Hikari said,
blushing a little.

	I have to do something, Shinji thought.  Can't let
them fight again.  He came over and took Asuka's hand.  
"I'm sure Rei was just joking," he told Asuka, though he
knew better.

	"Joking?  After what she DID?" Asuka demanded.

	"We couldn't help ourselves," Shinji said, kissing
her cheek.  "Let's not fight, okay?"

	"Alright," she said, feeling disgruntled, but
pleased to have Shinji kissing her with everyone watching.  
That would show Rei.

	"Are we up here for some good reason or is it just
freeze our asses off night?"  Touji asked.

	"The stars call us," Rei said.  "The time is coming.  
The Stars are Right."

	They gazed up at the heavens and wondered what she
meant.
	

                            -*-*

The sense of unease that stirred them in the middle of the
night still lingered afterwards.

Touji and Hikari did not look very well rested as they
walked across the NERV base.  Their step was a noticeable
beat slower, the look in their eyes cloudy and troubled.

"Touji, I'm scared."

 	"Yeah, I know.  Me too."

"I just get this feeling.... that... that...."

"The end is coming."

"Yeah."

He took her hand and squeezed gently.  They walked on.

"The dreams have been getting worse," said Hikari.  
"Sometimes, I have dreams like we had last night.  Other
times, I dream about my family, dying again."  She
shuddered.

"Been having messed up dreams too," replied Touji.  
"Sometimes we're all dying, sometimes we're all monsters
doing the killing.  I even dreamed about Kensuke."  His
expression soured and frustration soured his voice.  "He's
trying to talk to me, but I can't hear what he's saying.  
It's like he's trying to warn me."

 	"About what?"

 	"I dunno.  Something."

 "Something bad is coming."

 	"Yeah."

 	"Whatever the next Angel is..."

 	"Yeah, well, whatever the next Angel is, we'll beat
'em," said Touji with renewed determination.  "We beat 'em
all before, we'll beat 'em again.  So what if the next one's
bigger and badder?  Y'know what?  So are we."

 Hikari leaned on Touji and smiled a little.  "Yeah, you're
right."

And thus, in better spirits, they came to their destination,
the base hospital, to visit his sister Miki yet again.  
Their mood was crushed again shortly as they entered her
room to see her strapped down to the bed, her expression
glassy and dazed.

"What the hell is this?" asked Touji, barely managing to
keep his voice down.  "Why've you got'er tied down like
this?"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Suzuhara, but she's been having increasingly
severe delusional spells.  We had to secure her to her bed
and sedate her for her own protection."

Touji gritted his teeth, staring at the floor.  His sister
seemed to not notice, mumbling incoherently and staring at
the ceiling with glassy eyes.  Touji pulled a chair up to
the bed and took his sister's hand.  Hikari stood behind
him, hands on his shoulders.

"Tou....ji," Miki mumbled.

Touji held her hand with both of his now, and he tried not
to sound sad when he spoke.  "Right here, sis."

Miki's head flopped loosely left and right, her eyes still
glassy.  "Tou... ji.....  save... me...."

"You're safe, sis.  It's okay."

"Escape... escape..."

"Sis, it's okay, we're safe, we're in the NERV base in
Germany now."

"Everyone.... dying... must... escape..."

"Poor girl," whispered Hikari.  "I guess she's having
flashbacks to when Tokyo-3 fell."

Touji nodded.  "Sis, it's okay, just rest for now.  And if
any big bad monsters come, I'll stomp'em."

 	Miki's eyes finally managed to lock onto Touji's,
and she tried to speak again.  Instead, the full effect of
the sedatives battered her consciousness and she sank back
into the bed limply.

Touji kissed her forehead and adjusted her blanket.  "Try'n
have some good dreams, sis.  And don't worry no more, I'll
protect ya."


                            -*-*

	"Are we sure the conventional forces can handle
these 'deep ones'?" Ingrid asked skeptically.

	"While a Deep One is a match for almost any human in
hand to hand, they burn and explode and die of bullets like
the rest of us," Fuyutsuki said.  "And they have, so far as
I know, nothing to match the capacity of modern warships,
though we can expect them to command large amounts of sea
life, and possibly some fairly potent creatures.  It will
become uglier if large amounts of Cthulhu's minions awaken
before we can put him down.  His children are quite potent
and have strange and unearthly powers."

	Ritsuko said, "We must rely on them.  Because we
have nothing else, beyond the Children, and they will have
to battle Cthulhu himself."  She shifted her neck brace a
little.  She needed it in order to get the water she needed
for her gills, but it was very uncomfortable.  And she had
to adjust it frequently.

	Ingrid looked over at her suspiciously.  They all
knew now, of her tainted heritage.  It could not be hidden.  
And it colored all of their attitudes, though some hid it
better than others and tried to ignore the revulsion.

	"And since we have the Scimitar, it won't matter too
much.  They utterly lack flight capacity," Maya said.  
"They can operate out of the water, however, possessing both
gills and lungs."  She glanced over at Ritsuko, a little
worried.  Ritsuko couldn't imagine how Maya could still love
her, but it seemed she did.  Perhaps innocence could conquer
all, though Ritsuko found it hard to believe in innocence.

	Ritsuko tried to imagine Maya as a mermaid, then
found the image attractive instead of repulsive, as she had
expected.  She shuddered at that.  How much was her mind
influenced by her change?  Would she come to see it as
normal?  She prayed that something could be done, though she
had nothing to pray to.  No God could allow something like
this.

	"Tactical command will operate from the Scimitar,"
Fuyutsuki said.  "Coordinating via satellite with our base
here to provide all the necessary data functions which are
beyond the capacities of the Scimitar.  UN Naval forces will
contain the Deep Ones while we operate."

	"What about Y'nagg'houlei?" Ritsuko asked.

	"Simultaneous attacks will hit every Deep One city
we can find," Fuyutsuki said.  It was too late to try to
fool SEELE any longer, Fuyutsuki thought.  Better to strike
while they could and smash its' sources of strength.  
"Simultaneous with our assault in the Pacific.  They will
perish."

	"Do we have enough strength for that?" Misato asked.

	"Assuming that the navies cooperate properly, yes.  
Fortunately, the Deep Ones only have a few major cities."  
He prayed that was the case.  There could easily be others
not known even in the ancient texts.  In which case, things
might get ugly.

	But they would get ugly anyway.  The rite...could he
pull it off?  The Sea King had the power to control dreams.  
His rising touched minds all over the world.  His power,
joined to that of the Children, would give them the power to
touch the dreams of the world, to reshape humanity.  If the
ancient lore was correct, that power could be guided by one
with the right lore and wisdom.  The EVAs had been prepared
by he and Gendo to make it possible.

	They could usher in a golden age, if all went well,
and create guardians for it all at once.  Humanity would
have its own gods, bound to its interests, to protect it in
an often hostile universe.  The remaining Angels could be
hunted and driven out; nothing would be able to stand before
the Children but the Outer Gods themselves.  And those who
know the right formulae and procedures could drive off even
them, for the laws which empower the Outer Gods also control
them.  They were all powerful, yet less free than any human.

	And he would lead the gods.  If they would follow
him.  Perhaps it was better Gendo had died; he had not known
how to handle people, had counted too much on occult mastery
giving him the leadership role.  But Fuyutsuki feared it
would be unwise to trust too much on gaining control over
the Children, as they had planned.

	They could be guided, led, but not dominated.  Not
now.  You could not expect Gods to obey, and that was what
they were becoming.  And he would become one of them, if it
was possible, to steal the fire of the Gods.  And perhaps,
at least in the realms of dreams, he would then have the
power to bring back Gendo and Yui.  There would be peace.

	Perhaps I am mad, he thought.  The risks were
incredible.  But only one with his knowledge and wisdom
could make the choices that had to be made.  It was
dangerous, very dangerous.  But if he didn't try, the risks
were too great.  The power the Children held, unchecked,
would eventually corrupt them.  Perhaps it would corrupt him
as well.  But he couldn't see any other way out.

	No way out...

                            -*-

	Megumi paced back and forth across the grounds of
NERV-Germany, her nerves jangling.  Everyone else seemed so
calm about everything, but she wasn't used to combat.  Not
that they'd seen any yet.  Not that it would be violent here
at the base.

	She wondered again why Ibuki Maya had chosen her of
all people to be allowed to stay at the base and report on
the progress of the battle.  She was Japanese and thus could
talk to all the Pilots and many of the crew; that had to be
part of it.  But maybe...did they think she knew things?  
Maybe that was it.  Maybe they wanted to get rid of her in
some way no one would ever know about.

	She shook her head.  Silly fears.

	"Hello, Kunzama-san," a woman said.

	She started and almost fell down, then caught
herself.  "Oh, hi there," she said.  "How are you?  Hikari,
right?"

	"Yes," Hikari said.  "Enjoying your visit?"

	"Sort of.  Everyone seems so brave and fearless.  I
feel a little inadequate," she confessed.

	Hikari came over to her.  "Don't be afraid.  You'll
be safe here, far away from the battle."  She sighed.  "But
I know how you feel.  It scares me too.  I'm not as good as
the others, yet.  Sometimes, I worry I'll screw up and
everyone will get hurt because of me."

	"Well, your record is clean so far, far as I know,"
Megumi said.  "I'm sure you'll do fine."

	Hikari smiled.  "Thank you.  Really, you'll be safe
here.  You'll have a good view for the fight from the
bridge; you'll see everything we do."

	"I hope so.  It's up to me to capture everything for
posterity.  I hope my camera holds out," Megumi said.

	"Did you remember to get new batteries and spares?  
Check your film?"  Hikari launched into a long list of
things Megumi should have done to prepare for this.  About
half of which she'd thought of herself.

	"My goodness, have you done reporting?" Megumi asked
when the list finally ran dry.

	"A little.  But mostly I'm good at planning," Hikari
said.  "I don't like fighting because all your plans get
wrecked."  She leaned on the nearby bicycle rack, hands on
one of the curved poles.

	Megumi scribbled that down.  "Isn't there some
saying about that?"

	"Probably.  Kensuke woul..."  Hikari's face fell.  
"He'd know if he was alive."

	"He was the boy..."

	"Yes," Hikari said, then stared out across the
grounds.  "I wasn't too close to him when he was alive, but
now he's gone and it's just...  you don't expect people to
die."  Her hands tightened on the poles.  "I'm sick of
people dying."

	Megumi watched, unable to look away, as the metal
tube bent in Hikari's grip.  "Did you know Anna well?" she
asked a little nervously.

	"Asuka was closest to her, but I think you would be
better off not asking her about it," Hikari said tensely.  
"She couldn't help...the things she said.  One of the Angels
got to her."

	Megumi had heard that and wondered if that was just
wishful thinking.  Power corrupts, she thought.  And godlike
powers must corrupt even more.  Anna hadn't said anything
which couldn't have been the result of power going to
someone's head.  "You are seeing Suzuhara Touji, right?"

	Hikari blushed slightly.  "Yeah."  She paused.  "I
mean yes.  I guess he's rubbing off on me."

	Megumi smiled a little.  "Boys do that.  But I'm
sure you rub off on him too."

	Hikari looked very embarrassed, then Megumi got
embarrassed too.  "I didn't mean like that!" Megumi
protested.

	"I...I know.  I just...I'm very jumpy."

	"Me too," Megumi said.  "Do you like being a pilot?"

	"I hate it.  I hate violence, I hate fighting, I
hate these monsters.  But I'll make them PAY for what they
have done," Hikari said harshly.  "Because I hate them more
than I hate fighting."

	Scribble, scribble.  "You lost your parents to the
Adam rioting, right?" Megumi asked.

	Hikari's hands tightened on the pole, which snapped.  
"DAMMIT."  She hurled the section of railing off across the
grounds, then put her hand over her mouth.  "Yes.  And I
don't want to talk about it."

	Megumi stepped back, frightened by the light in
Hikari's eyes.  "Alright.  I'll stop bothering you."

	"Good," Hikari said sulkily.

	Megumi slipped off quietly and decided to be more
careful about questions in the future.


                            -*-*

	"Here's the report," Maya said, handing the folder
to Dr. Himmelfarb.  "So far, results are mixed."

	Dr. Himmelfarb had suspected as much from her own
observations.  She sat down to check the results.  EVA blood
could be used to some effect in the therapy, but it was
highly risky.  About fifteen percent of those treated
recovered from all mutations.  Another fifteen percent now
had odd hair colors like purple or limestone.  Or odd skin
colors.  Five percent had odd physical traits coupled with
minor psychic abilities, like starting small fires or
sometimes hearing thoughts.  Fifty five percent remained
deformed or got worse.  And ten percent either died rapidly
of hideous mutations or became something that had to be
killed.

	She glanced over at Ritsuko, who was studying some
of the blood tests.  The neckbrace for her gills seemed to
be working well, letting her come out of her sleeping tank
for long periods of time.  It creeped Dr. Himmelfarb out
viscerally, but she did her best to hide any repulsion or
fear, because at heart, she knew Ritsuko didn't deserve
mistreatment for her looks.

	It didn't stop Maya kissing Ritsuko on the cheek.  
Ritsuko looked like she would have turned red if she could
still blush.  "People are watching," Ritsuko mumbled.

	Maya said, "I am thinking we may need one of the
Children to assist us.  They may be able to use the power
taken from Adam to refine our extracts."

	"Then get one of them," Ritsuko said.

	"Hmm," Dr. Himmelfarb said.

	"What?" Ritsuko asked.

	"I think Asuka would be best. She has the most
science knowledge."

	"That's fine if she keeps her cool," Ritsuko said.

	"Alright, I'll get her, then," Maya said.  "Be back
soon."



                            -*-

	"Now, brothers and sisters, let us join hands, and
imbibe the sacred incense..."  Master Wu said.

	Akane watched him through her mask, pretending to
breathe in the incense.  You don't 'imbibe' incense, she
thought.  What a faker.  Then again, everyone in this stupid
society is an idiot or came in for kicks like I did.

	But she was here now, because she didn't know what
else to do.  She tried to avoid gagging; she'd always hated
the incense.

	Everyone else seemed to be breathing in deeply.  A
bunch of stupid cult zombies, she thought.

	"This is what our master wants us to do..."  Master
Wu now carefully laid out their plans, as Akane listened,
feeling her brain go round and round.

	I can't do that to Makoto, she thought.  Not any
more.  I care about him now.  I got close to him because
that's what I was told to do, but now...fuck this shit.  
Fuck it.

	But she couldn't.  The cult was all over the world,
it seemed; they had found her within hours of her dream; it
couldn't be a coincidence.  Only NERV could protect her, but
would they protect a cultist like her?  Misato probably
hates me, she thought.  For stealing the man she wants.

	"I hear and obey," Akane said, just wanting to get
the hell out.

	The meeting soon broke up and she went on her way
through the darkened corridors, shedding her saffron robes
and hanging them on a peg in the hallway.  For a moment, she
thought she saw movement at ground level, like a spreading
puddle of oil, but when she looked, there was nothing there.

	She sighed.  Now I'm imagining things.  She walked
down the hallway.  I can't do this, she thought.  Not any
more.  Fuck this cult.  I have to...dammit, even if I did go
along with the cult, NERV would probably kill me.  I might
as well just go ahead and tell them everything, as that way,
I won't live and I won't have to hurt Makoto.  The rest of
them, she didn't care about all that much.  But he was
different.

	She'd told him to chase Misato, but now she knew she
wouldn't have been happy if he did.  Hell of a time to fall
in love, she thought.  But does he really love me?  Misato
wants him now, but he stays with me...but maybe he stays out
of guilt...

	She shook her head, then heard a crashing noise.  
She turned in time to see the umbrella rack had fallen down.  
I walked past the rack without even noticing, Akane thought.  
I've got to pay attention.

	Distant chanting drifted her way.  Bunch of morons,
she thought.  She got her umbrella off the floor, then
turned to go.  Fuck these bastards, and fuck Mr. Dream
Audience Void or whatever the fuck he is.  We'll see how big
he talks when NERV blows up his precious Katoolo or whatever
that thing was.

She stormed out the door into the rain.  She'd gotten ten
feet down the street when she realized she'd left the door
open.  She turned to go back and close it, but the door was
already shut.  Must be the wind, she thought, then stormed
off.


                            -*-

	"Ahh, there you are Asuka," Misato said as Asuka
came into the briefing room.  Everyone else had already
arrived and was waiting.

	"I was helping Dr. Himmelfarb," Asuka replied.

	Dr. Himmelfarb came in and sat down by Misato.  "My
apologies for the delay.  She was helping us work with the
EVA blood."

	Misato said, "Are you getting any results?"

	"Less death," Dr. Himmelfarb said.

	Touji laughed a few seconds until he realized he
shouldn't, then looked embarrassed.

	Asuka sat down by Shinji, taking his hand.  "Maybe
with more practice I can do better," she said.  "I think a
five percent increase in success level is a good start,
though."

	"Yes, it is," Dr. Himmelfarb said, sighing.  "Dr.
Akagi will arrive soon.  She had to get a fresh tank."

	"Hmm, isn't there some way to build something to
re-oxygenate her water while she's wearing it?  Hook one of
those portable oxygen tanks to it?" Shinji asked.

	Dr. Himmelfarb looked surprised, then said, "We
experimented with that, but it weighed too much.  Easier to
just switch tanks periodically."  Half the time I can't
forget they're fourteen, and half the time I can't remember
they're only fourteen, she thought.

	Shinji nodded.

	Ritsuko now entered.  "Sorry for the delay."

	"That's fine," Misato said.  "Alright.  We will soon
be shipping out for the South Pacific in the Scimitar, to a
location where the next Angel will be rising.  Oannes, the
Angel of the Waters, is his code name, although certain
ancient documents seem to call him by various names, such as
'Cthulhu'."  She struggled with the name.

	Asuka corrected her pronunciation.  "That's the way
they said it on Xoth, anyway."  She paused and her eyes
widened.

	Everyone stared at the table for a moment, then
Ritsuko said, "Asuka is correct."  She frowned.

	"Well, umm, right.  Anyway, he is served by a group
of beings from his own world, known as his 'Star Spawn',"
Misato said.  "We are code-tagging them as 'Dominions'.  He
is also served by the race known as Deep Ones, who appear to
be a genetically altered branch of humanity."

	Ritsuko took over.  "The 'Deep Ones' dwell in
underwater cities.  They are amphibian.  They can reproduce
among themselves, but also sometimes breed with humanity.  
This has commonly happened in the past with isolated
maritime communities.  This typically ends in some sort of
disaster."

	"Like Innsmouth," Asuka said.

	"Yes, although at Innsmouth, it was the result of
the US military unleashing destruction on the Deep Ones
instead of simple self-destruction.  The main North Atlantic
city of the Deep Ones was destroyed, and their presence in
the North Atlantic has been weak ever since," Ritsuko said.  
"UN forces will be engaging the Deep Ones, possibly
including firing tactical nuclear warheads into their main
South Pacific city, although we'd like to avoid polluting
the ocean with fallout if we can help it."

	Hikari winced in horror, as did Shinji and Touji.  
Asuka just grimaced a little, while Rei simply nodded.

	"Cthulhu dwells in a sunken city which will rise
when it is time for him to walk the Earth.  His coming is
heralded in dreams, for his mind touches the minds of many,
and the blood of his people sings in the veins of many, if
only weakly.  While the UN military engages his minions, you
will have to fight him, and possibly his two strongest Deep
One servants, Father Dagon and Mother Hydra, who are both
Deep Ones about the size of your EVAs."

	"..."

	"Deep Ones grow in size very slowly all their lives.  
A few grow to vast sizes, but most die before they reach
that size.  And they live virtually forever."

	"Damn," Touji said.  "Can they generate AT-Fields?"

	"Yes," Ritsuko said.  "Though they are weaker than
their master.  Probably any one of you is a match for them."

	"Shinji, Rei, and Asuka will be engaging Cthulhu,"
Misato said, "While Touji takes out Dagon and Hikari drops
Hydra.  Once they finish their fights, they can join the
other Children for the kill."

	"Man, these fuckers just keep coming.  We got any
idea how many of them there are yet?" Touji asked.

	"Language," Ritsuko said sharply.

	"Uh, sorry, Akagi-san," Touji said.

	"We are close to the end, or maybe even at the end,
if we can trust ancient prophecies," Ritsuko said.  "Given
they were all handed down by crazed worshippers of alien
monsters, I expect it would be unwise to trust them.  But
there are not an infinite number of the Angels, or as
certain texts call them 'the Great Old Ones.' Unless more
come from space, which I fear is possible, I think we are
approaching the end."

	"Amen to that," Asuka said.  Too bad it couldn't
have ended before Anna got possessed.  She felt the
bleakness settling over her again and clutched Shinji's hand
like a lifeline.  "I just wish it had ended earlier."

	Misato sighed.  "Me too.  But we're not going to
lose any more people if we can help it.  And if we're lucky,
this will be our last battle, at least for a while."

	"We have to find Nylarathotep," Asuka said fiercely.  
"And make him PAY."

	"That may be beyond our resources," Ritsuko said.  
"Though I agree with your sentiment."

	"There are these rites, in some of the texts," Asuka
began.

	"Texts he dictated.  Or madmen did.  I do not rely
on them too much," Ritsuko said.  "As they say 'Do not call
up what you cannot put down.'"

	"We can't do nothing!" Asuka said.  "You saw what he
did to Anna!"

	Ritsuko stared at her levelly, and Asuka looked her
up and down, and felt her anger crumble.  "I'm sorry," Asuka
said, staring at the table again.

	"I know you cared about your friend, but you can't
let it make you stupid,"  Ritsuko said.  "That's what he
wants, I'm sure, for us to all lose control and give in to
our instincts.  Something will have to be done about him
eventually, but right now, we don't have anything we can do,
and other problems to worry about that we can solve."

	Shinji pulled Asuka back to him.  "We'll find a way,
Asuka, I promise you."

	"I'm not letting any of these bastards off," Misato
said.  "If I can help it.  But one battle at a time.  
Ritsuko, please finish your report."

	"Assuming my research can be trusted, which since it
is culled from the rantings of madmen and storytellers,
probably it is half-true at best, Cthulhu is about the size
of your EVA units.  He is very strong, but could not survive
a boat collision.  However, sufficiently heavy impacts only
cause him to discorporate and reform a little later,"  
Ritsuko began.

	She turned the page.  "He is semi-malleable in form,
not a true shapechanger but able to extend his limbs and
fairly rubbery.  He has wings, but reports conflict on
whether they work.  He attacks both with the tendrils around
his mouth and with his huge clawed hands.  He may have
access to various high technology from his world, but we
don't have enough data on that."

	"In their final stages, the Xothians integrated
bio-technology into themselves and learned to tap certain
fundamental principles of the universe which resemble magic
to those not versed in the physics of it," Rei said.  
"However, our EVA's abilities should enable us to protect
ourselves.  Or so I judge from my memories."

	"Can you remember anything else useful?" Misato
asked.

	"It's all very murky and confusing," Shinji said.

	Asuka didn't want to open herself to those memories.  
Not with the way she felt.  She didn't want things in her
head that weren't her.  Not if she could end up losing
herself as Anna had.  She shivered.

	"I'll keep thinking about it, though," Shinji said.

	"Alright.  We leave tomorrow morning, so get
yourselves packed.  I'll be refining our plans on the way
there.  If your remember anything, let me know," Misato
said.

	"Does this guy have any vulnerabilities?" Touji
asked.  "Does he like hate fire because he lives
underwater?"

	"It is somewhat unclear," Ritsuko said.  "Though he
definitely can't survive collision with sufficiently large
boats."

	"Maybe we should lure him out to sea, ram a boat
into him, trap the mist," Touji said.

	"Possible," Misato said.  "But he may well be smart
enough not to follow.  Or his minions may keep any boats at
a distance.  But I will consider it further."

	"You sure he doesn't hate fire?  I can do fire,"
Touji said.

	"Your enthusiasm is appreciated," Misato said,
smiling a little.  "Okay, everyone, go get packed and be
ready at 0800 hours in the morning.  We're moving out."

                            -*-

The sound of basketballs bouncing on hardwood floor echoed
in the gym, Touji dribbling a few times as he measured the
distance.  Shinji stood by the basket, waiting for Touji to
shoot.  This had become a ritual for them, something to take
the edge off their nerves before the big battles.

 	Touji pulled up at the free throw line and took his
shot.

 -swish-

 	"Still got it," he said, allowing himself a slightly
smug grin.

 	"Too bad we don't have a basketball team anymore,"
replied Shinji, dribbling the ball out to the three point
line.

 	"Yeah, well, one of these days, man, one of these
days."  He moved to the basket, waiting for Shinji's shot.  
"We're almost there, man."

 	"There?"  Shinji stopped dribbling and pulled up for
a shot, but took a long time measuring it.

 	"Yeah, there. The End, man.  I can feel it, Shinji.  
If we can get by this one, that'll be the end of it.  No
more sucking on black goo. No more giant robots.  No more
military bases.  We can go back to being, well, normal."

Shinji took his shot.  It bounced hard on the back of the
rim, bounced around teasingly several times, then finally
dropped in.  Touji caught it and dribbled out to the right
corner.

"As normal as we can get, anyway," said Shinji.

"We'll go back to normal," Touji firmly repeated.  With his
back to the basket, he spun to his right, floating in the
air with his jump shot releasing smoothly.

-swish-

"Normal school, normal life, normal trips into town, normal
dates," Touji continued.  "Hm.  Okay, maybe not normal for
you.  In a way, I envy ya, and in a way, I don't."

"Huh?"

"Two chicks, Shinji!  It's every man's dream to get it on
with two girls at the same time, and you heard Rei, she's
into 'sharing' ya."

 	Shinji turned bright red and lost the ability to
speak coherently.

 	"Gotta admit, Rei's been actin' a little more human
lately, she's got a cute face and a nice bod, so it's all
good if you can live with the personality."  He took his
shot.

 	-swish-

 	"Then again, you can say the same thing about
Asuka."

 	"Hey!"  Shinji dribbled the ball out to the top of
the three point line, then took a long look at the basket.

 	"So you gonna do it or what?"

 	"Hold on, you know I can't shoot it fast like you."

 	"Ain't talking about the basketball, man."

 	"Then what?"

 	"The girls, man!  The girls!"

 	"No!"

 	"C'mon, man, live out the dream!"

 	"No!"

Shinji took his shot.  The ball's arc was flat, and the shot
rattled loudly as it went in.  Touji took the ball and
started walking to the left corner, when the sound of the
gym door creaking open caught their attention.

 	Asuka poked her head in.  "So this is where you guys
went."

 	Touji screamed, "Aaaah!  Girls on the court!

 	Asuka rolled her eyes as she entered the room,
followed by Hikari.  "Grow up, Suzuhara," said the red-head.

 	"We can be here if we want," said Hikari firmly.

 	"But babe!  It's the MEN'S court!  It's... it's...
it's a GUY place!  It's wrong!"

 	"Touji!" barked Hikari.

 	"But honey!"

 	She glared at him.  He sighed and tossed the
basketball to her.  Hikari dribbled awkwardly to the free
throw line, her inexperience painfully obvious to all, and
she threw up an awkward shot that rattled in the rim
teasingly before flying out the left side.  Before the boys
could move, Asuka zoomed in and caught the ball in the air
and dunked it in, all in one smooth motion.

 	"Wow, that was great!" said Hikari.

 	"Wow," agreed Shinji.

 	"The kinda brute strength I'd expect outta a violent
chick like her," added Touji.

Hikari glared.  "TOUJI!"

 	"So what's going on?" asked Shinji, deciding to
steer the conversation through hopefully safer waters.

 	Asuka absentmindedly dribbled the ball.  "Just
nervous, I guess. So I looked for Hikari, and we talked a
bit, and we wanted to be with you guys, so we just kinda
looked around and got lucky."

 	"Blood calls to blood," said Rei.

 	Asuka nearly screamed and stumbled.  The others
turned in surprise, as Rei suddenly appeared in their midst,
as if she was there all this time, and they hadn't noticed
until now.

 	She blinked and looked at them all with a somewhat
puzzled look.  "We desire to be together when we are
uneasy," she added, then attempted a shot.  It clanged hard
off the back iron and bounced out, bouncing back towards
her.

 	They stared.

 	She looked back at them, seeming even more puzzled.

 	"You missed?" asked Shinji.

 	She looked at the ball rolling at the floor, then
the rim, then Shinji.  "Yes," she finally said.  "Should I
try again?"

 	"Um, sure."

 	She picked up the ball, held it in her hands,
measured the shot much as Shinji did, then threw the ball.

 	Whoosh, nothing but airball.

 	"Wow, something she don't do well," said Touji.

 	Rei looked at the others again, with her
hard-to-read expression, then asked, "Teach me how?"

Time flew as the Children lost themselves with just playing,
their worries put aside for the moment.  And by the end of
it all, even Rei managed to find her shot.


                            -*-

	Makoto knocked nervously on Akane's door.  She had
sounded pretty worked up and secretive on the phone.  This
sort of thing never ended well.  He hoped she hadn't decided
to dump him and move to Tibet and become a monk or
something.

	She answered the door in an odd pink dress; it was
rather nice, but also very formal and very modest.  It
struck him as something Asuka might wear to a date, or
Hikari, not Akane's usual style.  However, her grabbing him
and pulling him into a very intimate kiss was more her
style.

	When she then let go of him, she said softly, "Come
in," I have something to tell you."

	He stepped inside, then closed the door hard behind
him as she twined herself about him.  As he did this, they
heard another door open, down the hallway.

	Akane sighed.  "Stupid place, you open one door and
another shuts.  Close one..."  She rolled her eyes.  "I have
something to tell you, but..."  She licked her lips
nervously.  She stared at the floor for a moment.

	"Good?  Bad?" he asked, holding her in his arms.

	"Makoto...do you love me?" she asked softly.

	He froze up for a moment.  She was always so hard to
read.  This could be a prelude to 'I love you too' or a
'You've gotten too attached to me, go fuck Misato' or just
her panicking or...  He decided to be honest.  "Yes, I love
you," he said softly.

	"But you love Misato, don't you?"

	"In the way of loving someone who doesn't love you
back, yes," he confessed.  "She thinks she wants me now, but
I think she's just lonely."  He began to stroke her hair.  
"I love you."

	She rested her head on his shoulder.  "I try not to
fall in love with anyone," she said softly.  "It just leads
to pain, and most guys get boring eventually.  I don't
know...I don't know if I can be the kind of girlfriend you
probably want, but I think...I think I love you."

	He kissed her gently.  "I suppose this is a bad time
to tell you I leave for the South Pacific tomorrow and may
not be back a while."  He was greatly regretting it now.

	"I have to...we have to..."  She tried to pull
herself together.  "There's things I have to tell you
and...I just...I can't think straight."

	"Well, let's sit down and we can talk about
everything, okay?"

	"I want...I want you to make love to me," she said.  
"Just in case...I mean...please."  Her hands were roaming up
and down his back almost frantically.

	"Alright," he said.  "Let's make love and then we
can have our true confessions."

	She nodded.  "Yes."  She took him by the hand and
led him to her bedroom.  Things are looking up, she thought.  
All will be well.  It had to be, right?  He loved her.  He
would believe her, and they'd tell NERV and she would be
safe, and it would all work out.  Like in one of her novels.

	The wiser part of her mind told her that her novels
were deliberately unrealistic so people would buy them to
escape reality, but she ignored that part of her mind.  She
didn't want to be realistic.  She wanted to be loved and to
confess and to be safe.

	It was all going to work out, wasn't it?  It always
did in stories.  She wished she believed in a god she could
pray to for help, but the only one she was sure existed
wasn't very friendly.  Please, keep him out of my dreams,
she told the universe, praying in the hopes something
friendly was listening.  I'm doing the right thing for once.  
I'll be good.

	Please.

	The universe made no reply.  Nor did the shadows.

                            -*-

In an unusual move, Touji wore his plugsuit outside of work.  
To be exact, he was wearing his plugsuit at the hospital,
standing in front of his sister and feeling terribly
embarrassed.  He wasn't really sure she was seeing him,
drugged up as she was.  She was looking at his general
direction, though, so he was hopeful.

 	"Well, sis, here's the work outfit.  Wanted you to
see it at least once."  He scratched his head.  "I know,
it's kinda dorky, but... yeah."

 	Her head moved slightly in reply.

 	"This is it, sis.  The eggheads are tellin' us the
fighting might be over, if we can just win this one.  So
hang in there, okay?  I'm fightin' for ya, sis.  Wish me
luck."

Her mouth spoke words, though barely audible.  Touji leaned
down to listen.

"Goodbye," was what she whispered.  And then she closed her
eyes, drugs and sleep taking her away once more.

                            -*-

	Asuka focused her will, honing all her frustration
and anger into a thin beam of highly intense flames.  The
ends of the two pipes melted, then fused together as she
touched them to each other.  She smiled at it grimly. I
suppose I can take up a career as a spot welder when all
this is done, she thought, trying to not think about things
past.

	"Impressive," Dr. Himmelfarb said.

	Asuka started.  "Oh, hello, Frau Doktor Himmelfarb."

	"I see you've attained some fine control."  Her
voice was very calm, and Asuka wondered if she was trying to
hide fear.  She could sense people's emotions more easily,
if she could remain calm enough herself to see past her own.

	Asuka wrote her name and Shinji's in the air with
flames and surrounded it with a burning outline of a heart,
then focused on keeping it steady.  "Yes," she said softly.  
"I don't want to risk hurting anyone.  But it's hard to stay
calm when..."  She could feel her self-control cracking
again and she banished the flames.  "Everything."

	Dr. Himmelfarb stared at the ground for a minute,
then nodded and walked over to her, putting a hand on her
shoulder hesitantly.  "I miss Anna too."

	Asuka shuddered, then put a hand on Dr. Himmelfarb's
hand and began to cry.  "I miss her so much.  Why did it
have to happen this way?  WHY?"

	"It just did," Dr. Himmelfarb said.  "I don't know
if there is a God or not, but I prefer to think there isn't,
as if there is, he's a sick bastard.  Sometimes, bad things
just happen, and all we can do is to try to help each other
through them."  She sighed.  "Not what you want to hear, I'm
sure."

	It wasn't.  She wanted to believe in God and Heaven
and that He was watching over them, but she hadn't seen much
evidence of Him existing lately.  How could HE let something
like that happen to Anna?  But if there was no God, if the
Outer Gods were the closest thing to the Divine there
was...she couldn't bear that.  She didn't want to live in a
universe like that, ruled by an blind idiot nuclear chaos at
the center of it all, surrounded by mindless dancing gods.  
The universe couldn't be like that!  It couldn't!

	She only realized how much she was crying when Dr.
Himmelfarb hesitantly pulled her into an embrace.  She wept
flaming tears that didn't burn Dr. Himmelfarb.  Instead,
they shaped themselves into tiny angels of flame that began
to circle around them.  She couldn't stop crying.

	The angels circled around her, then began to spiral
upwards into the night.  She sobbed until she had no more
tears, then simply shook in Dr. Himmelfarb's arms.  "She was
my best friend," Asuka finally managed to say.  "She has to
be...I mean..."

	"There is nothing you can do for her now," Dr.
Himmelfarb said sadly.  "But you've still got your boyfriend
and your friend Hikari.  And Rei and Touji too.  They'll
stand by you.  And I will too."

	Shinji, she thought.  Suddenly, Asuka felt guilty
that she hadn't been there for Shinji, all wrapped up in
herself while his Father was dead.  "I...I should go see
Shinji."

	"I'm sure he would love to see you."

	She hugged Dr. Himmelfarb tightly.  "I'll see you
later, okay?"

	"Good luck, Asuka," she said, giving Asuka a final
squeeze.  "Have fun with your boyfriend."  She did her best
to smile reassuringly.

	Asuka ran off to find Shinji.  He was in his room,
lying on his side on the bed, listening to music through his
headphones.  He didn't notice her approach, until she bent
down and embraced him.  He started, then took the headphones
off.

	"Hi, Asuka," he said softly.

	She kissed him fiercely, pressing him down onto his
back as she kneeled over him, then dropped down onto him to
simply wrap herself around him.  He stiffened, then relaxed,
embracing her.  Finally, she broke it off and rolled to one
side, lying on her side, arms still around him, with him on
his side facing her.  She said softly, "Shinji, I'm sorry."

	"Sorry?" he asked in confusion.

	"Your father is dead, and all I've done is to just
lie around and feel sorry for myself."  She sighed.  "You
must be hurting as much as I am."

	"I haven't...I just...I can't believe he's really
dead.  Especially since...you know..."  he said softly.

	She knew.  She wanted to tell him that he'd see his
father again in Heaven, but even if her own faith hadn't
been wavering, she would have expected Gendo to burn in Hell
for eternity.  "He loved you," she said, not sure if she was
lying.  "And your mother.  And I'm sure he'd want you to go
kill the bastards who killed him."

	Shinji shuddered.  "He was so...he was..."  
Shinji's eyes began to tear up.  "I never knew if he cared
about me.  Sometimes, he could be a good father, but most of
the time, he seemed to want me to go away."

	Shinji needed something to believe in, she was sure.  
She hated Gendo almost as much as she hated Nylarathotep,
but he was Shinji's father, and Shinji needed something to
believe in.  And it could be true...who knew what was inside
Gendo's mind, anyway?  "I'm sure he loved you.  And that he
was very proud of you."

	Shinji began to sob, and she pulled him close and
held him as he sobbed without words.  His tears formed into
little spiders which began to scuttle away, and she did her
best to ignore them.  She began to cry as well; or tried to.  
They sobbed silently together for a while, until the
emotional storms passed.

	Finally, Shinji said, "Don't die.  Please."

	"I won't," she said, kissing his cheek.  "We'll make
calamari out of this bastard.  And then, maybe, it'll all be
done."

	Shinji said, softly, "It's all going to be okay,
right?"

	"Of course it is," she said with a confidence she
didn't feel.  "It's going to be fine.  We're going to kick
his ass, and all come back and...have cookies."

	Shinji laughed a little at that.  "I want to think
it's almost over, but I just...we can't know for sure."

	She sighed.  "I know.  We may be doing this thirty
years from now.  But I hope not."

	"I remember things, sometimes," he said softly.  
"Like you do."

	One of her memories tried to bubble up, of two
spiders embracing in the night.  She tried to make herself
forget about it, but she couldn't.  None of them had started
as monsters.  They'd become monsters to fight monsters, and
then lost control of themselves.  That was what the Outer
Gods wanted.  They wanted people to act on instinct.  To
abandon reason and revel in madness.  She wasn't going to
give them what they wanted.  Not if she could help it.

	She could feel her instincts rising inside her; they
wanted her to burn away his clothing and hers, to rut with
him madly like animals, to make love until the sun came up.  
She didn't want to think, not about what she was doing or
had done.  She might have succumbed if she hadn't...done
that with Rei.  Just thinking about that let her fight off
her instincts.  One day...one day she would she would make
love to him.  But not now.  She was too young, and so was
he, and she had a feeling that was what Nylarathotep wanted.

	Also, she wasn't sure how to do it properly.

	Instead, she just kissed him, holding him close and
taking comfort in his presence.  "Shinji," she said softly.  
"I love you."

	He gulped and kissed her again, then said softly, "I
love you too, Asuka.  Don't ever leave me.  Please."

	"I won't," she said.  "Never."

	There was a knock on the door.  "You two fucking?"
Misato shouted through the door.

	"NO!" Asuka shouted.

	Misato came in.  "Thought I'd come see how you two
are doing so I don't have to watch Makoto get all snuggly
with his wh...his girlfriend."  She looked at the two of
them.  "You sure I'm not interrupting anything?"

	"We're too young to have sex yet," Asuka said,
trying to tamp down her desire to do it anyway.  "Right,
Shinji?"

	"Uh, right," he said, slightly dazed.

	"Well, I didn't have sex until I was sixteen, and I
wish I hadn't.  Not with that slut of a man."  Misato shook
her head.  "So you're probably better off waiting.  And
never, ever have sex when you're drunk.  You'll regret it."

	Misato came over and sat down on the bed.  "Jesus, I
want to get drunk."

	"You shouldn't use Jesus' name like that," Asuka
said disapprovingly.

	"Yes, mother," Misato said, then laughed a little.

	"You're much better without beer," Shinji said.

	"I wish I felt that way," Misato said.  "But I can't
just go get drunk.  I'm not in college any more."  She
sighed.

	"Katsuragi-san," Asuka said softly.  "Are you
feeling lonely?"

	"Yes, dammit," Misato said.  She sighed.  "I'd talk
to Ritsuko, but she's busy with Maya.  I expect...man, I
guess some people's love really can overcome anything."  
She shook her head.  "I've never had a love like that."  
She slumped a little.

	"I don't know what I would do," Asuka said.  "But
being a monster myself, I'm in no place to complain."

	"You're not a monster," Misato said sharply.  "And
neither is Ritsuko.  I can't...It's kind of creepy to look
at her, but...dammit, she's my friend.  She doesn't deserve
this."  She sighed, and fingered her pendant.  "There's got
to be some way to cure her, dammit."

	"We'll find a way," Shinji said.  "Somehow.  If I
can..."  He shuddered.  "Cry spiders, then I ought to be
able to help her somehow."

	Misato's eyes widened for a moment, then she pulled
herself together.  "You cry spiders?"

	"I was, earlier," he said, squirming a little.

	She made herself put a hand on his shoulder.  It was
all starting to creep her out, but they deserved better.  
"You're still Shinji to me."

	"Katsuragi-san, I..."  Shinji tried to figure out
what to say.  "I trust you."

	"I trust both of you," Misato said.  "We're going to
beat this thing.  We're going to save the world, even if it
doesn't know if it can trust us any more.  You'll both be
remembered as heros."

	"I just...Part of me wishes...I just..."  Asuka
could hardly speak either.

	"I wish it could have been different for both of
you," Misato said softly.  "Father and I often didn't get
along; I hated how he was always gone.  I was so proud when
he took me with him on one of his trips, but then he had the
gall to go and die."  She shook a little.  "I can't tell you
the pain will go away completely.  But it will fade, in
time.  All I have left of him is this."  She fingered her
pendant.  "I don't know what happens to the dead.  But I
know that he lives on inside me, if no where else."

	Shinji nodded.  Asuka said softly, "Thank you."

	Misato shuddered.  "I want...dammit, I need a man."  
She rubbed her forehead.  "Sorry, you two shouldn't have to
worry about that."

	Asuka felt sorry for her.  "There's got to be..."  
She sighed.  "I'm sorry."

	Misato got up.  "Try not to get too noisy tonight.  
I have to sleep."

	"I told you, we're not having sex!"

	"Uh huh."

	"We're not!"

	Misato said, "It's probably better if you don't, but
I'm in no position to tell anyone not to have sex.  Anyway,
goodnight, both of you."

	"Goodnight," Asuka said.

	"Goodnight," Shinji said.

	And then she was gone.  Asuka said nervously to
Shinji, "I'm just...I'm not ready.  Though part of me, kind
of wants to."

	He nodded.  "I understand.  It kind of scares me
thinking about it.  But it also..."

	"Yeah."  She kissed him and let go.  "Sleep tight,
boyfriend.  I'll see you in the morning."

	"Sleep tight," he said softly.  He wanted to ask her
to stay, wanted to take her clothing off her, wanted to
do...something.  He sort of knew how it was supposed to
work, but he wasn't really sure how to do it the right way,
though he sometimes imagined it was her hands, not his,
stroking him, when he jacked off.  Her soft lips around his
manhood, him erupting into her, instead of into his hands or
the toilet or toilet paper.

	Sometimes the images where crazier, her as a roaring
angel of fire, all around him, while he was the metal angel
who could not burn, plunging into the flames with impunity.  
Her moaning with pleasure as he caressed her with six limbs.  
His body full of...no, he wouldn't think about such things.

	He pulled his hand out of his pants desperately.  
He didn't want to masturbate, not any more, not after the
last time.  He was almost afraid to spit for fear of what
his drool would become, let alone the...thing...which had
formed from the last time he'd dared to masturbate.  It had
died, thankfully, a mishapen winged spider-snake thing with
legs like a deformed toad, a tiny little creature.

	But he couldn't fight it forever.  It was worst when
he tried to sleep.  Most of the day, he had other things on
his mind, but there was not much else to think about except
Asuka when he was trying to sleep.  Those times when he
wasn't busy crying over his father.

	He tried to make himself think of his father, in
hopes it would get his erection to die down.  But he'd
already cried himself out over his father earlier.  He laid
in bed, music in his ears from his headphones and tried to
zone out, but his mind kept spiraling back to Asuka.  All
his body longed for her, even though he wasn't even sure how
it all should work.

	He focused on that, wishing he'd paid attention the
time Kensuke had tried to show them porn.  But he had been
too embarrassed.  He knew the basic idea from biology class,
but he didn't quite know how it was all laid out down there.

	He got out of bed with the vague idea of finding
books on the subject.  The base library was closed for the
night.  On his way back, he turned a corner and found Rei,
who looked a little worried.  "How are you?" she asked.

	"I'm fine," he lied.  He wondered how exactly she
felt about him.  There were times, he could think she loved
him.  But with Rei, it was hard to be sure how she felt
about anything.

	"Are you sure?" she asked.

	"Just fine," he said.

	She stared at the floor for a moment, then said
hesitantly, "I miss him too."

	He felt like something stabbed at his heart.  
"Father?" he asked softly.

	"Yes," she said.  She stepped a little closer to
him.

For a moment, he imagined her doing all the things to him he
wanted Asuka to do, feared Asuka would do.  Then he managed
to clear his head.  "I miss him very much."

She reached over and took his hand and just held it silently
for a while.  Her presence was comforting, and he felt his
mind stilling itself.  Finally, he sighed.  "I should go to
bed."

"Goodnight," she said softly, and watched him go.

He finally managed to get to sleep, and prayed he wouldn't
feel the urge to whack off on the Scimitar.  But such
prayers were rarely answered.

                            -*-

	Dr. Himmelfarb stood on the tarmac, watching the
last people marching onto the Scimitar.  She wondered again
if it had been wise of Fuyutsuki to decide to assign a
reporter to cover the battle from the base here.  Not that
she knew anything bad about Megumi Kunzama, but there was a
grave risk of bad publicity of one kind or another.  NERV
was in enough trouble already; there were whispers that the
UN would soon cut off their funding or worse.

	They were firing off a salute now, even as it lifted
off.  She hoped it would return safely.  This 'Cthulhu'
didn't seem to have any flying servants, at least, so they
would probably be safe.  She prayed Asuka wouldn't have to
endure any more tragedy.  She didn't think Asuka could take
another one.

	Poor girl, she thought.  I wish I could do something
for her.  But besides helping to ensure the battle went
smoothly, what else could she do?

	Ritsuko said something soft, from her position
nearby at the edge of the tarmac.

	"What was that, Doktor Akagi?" she asked.  She only
half-looked at Ritsuko; it took an effort of will to look at
all, though really, Ritsuko didn't look all that horrible.  
There was just something...she didn't know what.

	"Just hoping they kill my damn mother in the
process," Ritsuko said harshly.  "This is all her fault."

	"Come on, we'd best get back to work," Maya said,
taking her by the arm and leading her away.

	Dr. Himmelfarb sighed.  Poor woman.  But maybe we
can cure her if we finish refining the process we used on
the other victims.  And Maya was right.  It was time to get
back to work.

	Work, however, was interrupted by the reporter.  
"Was she saying something about her mother?"  The sun shone
from behind her, like a halo.

	It was none of the reporter's business, Himmelfarb
decided.  "Her family matters are not your business."

	Megumi frowned slightly, but switched topics.  "So
how have things gone with two bases worth of people in one
base?"

	"Crowded."

	"I noticed Dr. Akagi's assistant..."

	"Is none of your business," Dr. Himmelfarb said.

	"Are they..."

	"I once broke a man's arm for getting too fresh with
me, and he was twice your bodymass," Dr. Himmelfarb snapped,
then regretted it.

	Megumi gulped.  "I'll go bother someone else."

	Dr. Himmelfarb considered apologizing, but decided
the woman needed the lesson.  "You go do that."

	She watched the woman go, then sighed.  That was
petty, she thought.  But reporters can be exceptionally
annoying.  Well, time to go back to work.
	 

                            -*-

	Akane stepped into the shower, letting the hot water
wash her troubles away.  Part of her was worried that Makoto
was making a mistake, waiting to tell everyone about what
was up with her.  But most of her agreed with him that the
King in Yellow or whoever he really was, couldn't make her
do anything.  She'd just panicked at him using scare tactics
on her.  After all, if he could come into dreams and control
people, he would have taken over the Children long ago,
right?  Best to wait and tell the whole story once this
battle was over, instead of panicking everyone on the eve of
a fight.  Right?

	She wished Makoto could bathe with her, but he was
gone on the Scimitar; she was just staying in his quarters.  
She would be safe here.  Surely the base was safe.

	As she scrubbed her arm, she noticed an odd yellow
discoloration, and wondered how she'd bruised herself.  It
didn't feel tender.  The yellow grew more vivid, and now she
realized she had a Yellow Sign tattoo on her arm.  Her eyes
widened in horror and she began to scrub it.

	But it wouldn't go away.  More began to appear, on
her hands, on her shoulders and torso.  They were spreading
all over her body like a rash, and all the soap in the world
wouldn't make them go away.

	Desperately, she ran out of the shower, grabbing a
towel, trying to get her clothing.  She would have to go to
Fuyutsuki and confess immediately, before anything worse
could happen.  I was so stupid, she thought.  I should have
insisted, but I wanted to hide because I was scared they
would all hate me.

	She looked in the mirror, and saw the man of her
dreams looking back at her, his hood framing the stars of
space.  The stars moved, and they became a smile.

	A smile without joy or hope, but full of triumph.

	It was too late to scream.


                            -*-

 	Rei found herself sitting behind a school desk,
wearing her school uniform.  Classmates waved to her and
said 'hi' as they entered the class and took their seats.

 	She stared out the window, observing the clear blue
skies.  The sakura trees were in full bloom, their pink
shower of leaves pretty.  Shinji came in, waved and smiled,
then sat at his desk. Asuka came in, waved and smiled, then
sat at her desk.

 	Rei knew what this was already.

 	"A dream," she muttered.

 	"Yes, a dream," she heard her own voice say.  "A
dream of your perfect world."

 	Rei turned to the seat next to her, where another
Rei sat.  This Rei had an easy, natural smile, unlike her
own, and she seemed relaxed within her own skin, unlike the
awkwardness that Rei was all too aware of in her own
posture.

 	"Why are you here?" she asked her other self.

 	"To help give you clarity."

 	"On what?"

 	"On what you could have."

 	"What I could have?"

 	"On what you deserve."

 	"What do I deserve?"

 	Rei shrugged.  "Whatever you want, perhaps?"

 	"I want to be normal."

 	"Then be normal.

 	"I do not know how."

 	"I can help you with that."  Rei reached out and
touched Rei's forehead.  Then the voices began, unfamiliar
thoughts buzzing about in her forehead.  Thoughts of makeup
and cooking and cute puppy dogs.  Cute silent crushes on
Shinji and jealousy towards Asuka.  And maybe a little crush
too.  The very worst worry in her head was that of upcoming
exams.  And-

 	"Stop."

 	She pulled her other self's hand away from her.

	"What's wrong?  Too much?"

 	"No."

 	"Isn't it what you always wanted?"

 	"Yes."

 	"So what's wrong?"

 	"I'm afraid."

 	She put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed gently.  
"Don't worry.  I'll be there with you, every step of the
way.  We can make this world perfect.  All you need to do is
reach out with your power and make it so.  We are gods,
after all."

 	"It would not be right."

 	"Think so?"

 	"Yes."

	Rei put a finger on her lips and looked thoughtful.  
"You're right.  Why should we restrain ourselves?  We
restrain ourselves within this form we believe normal, but
we always feel awkward within it.  We're Gods, we should be
free to express ourselves as such."

	The world around them melted away, and she found
herself standing upon a cliff overlooking the ruins of a
city overrun by wildly growing jungle.  Strange music filled
the air, as did unknown winged creatures, whose silhouettes
darted across a red moon.  Rei felt her human shape torn
asunder by the endless forms within her, and the impulse to
roam wild and free seized her.  She was the legs of wolves
running across the plains, the fins of fish beneath the
waves, the wings of an indescribable goddess in the sky.

	She looked down upon the earth and saw humans
scurrying out from the remains of civilization, looking upon
her form with awe and worship.  They fell to their knees and
bowed to her.

	"Free of all restraint.  Free to act upon all your
impulses.  You can be yourself, and accepted by everyone.  
Embrace that which stirs within you, and take your rightful
place as deity among these mortals."

	Rei looked down upon the earth, then at her other
self flying alongside her.

	A world where she belonged.

	Why not?

	It would be so easy.

	Too easy.

 	"I follow the path set before me by Gendo.  I will
not waver."

	"But why?!" her other self argued.  "What good was
that path?!  He lies dead and you march towards your own
destruction!"

	"I will listen to you no more.  Goodbye."

	Rei closed her eyes, and her paradise fell to the
darkness and serenity of sleep.

	
                            -*-

	Something wasn't quite right at the church service.  
But Asuka wasn't sure what the problem was.  It was just
that typically, the services did not make her skin crawl.  
Maybe it was the minister.  There was something about his
voice.  He said all the right things, yet he seemed to
almost sneer it.  Almost.

	But there was something comforting about it all none
the less.  She prayed almost desperately, trying to clear
her mind of all the clutter that now filled it up, ignoring
the voices in the back of her head which were drifting away
to memories of their own religious services.

	Finally, she got in line with everyone to march up
for communion.  She got most of the way up before she
noticed that everyone who took communion seemed to be
leaving instead of sticking around.  And there was something
odd about them.  She began to get a sinking feeling in her
stomach.

	Still, she stayed in line, sure that she was
probably imagining things.  It was only when the communion
wafer looked more like a piece of sausage than a piece of
bread that she froze and took a good look at the priest.

	He was pale and blonde haired, tall and thin.  The
priest looked back at her, smiling.  "Don't you want the
body of Christ, little girl?  I died on that cross for
everyone, you know."

	The world seemed to freeze in place.  "But
it...it..."  It was a piece of meat.

	"Did you think I was made out of bread?  I was a
human being after all.  Eating my flesh is something that
never bothered you before."  He cocked his head slightly.  
"The time has come to remove the masks, and let all see the
truth.  Why bother with ritual symbolic cannibalism when you
can have the real thing?  Don't worry, it's been cooked.  
Raw meat is too dangerous, after all.  And my blood is
strictly disease-free."

	Asuka stepped back in revulsion.  "Is this some kind
of sick joke?"

	"The new age is upon us, my child," he said, his
voice kindly.  "So long as humanity kept up its mask of
civilization over the animal within, I went along with it,
letting you all indulge your hunger for flesh in ways you
found socially acceptable.  Bread and wine took the place of
the bloody sacrifices you once gave me.  I am a kind, loving
god, after all.  And there was something endlessly amusing
about the way in which so many of you never thought about
what you were doing.  You eat of me, as I will one day eat
of you, when you return to me.  We are one body, one blood,
one church."  He spread his arms wide.  "And now the masks
come off, and we show our true faces, as the animals we are.  
By my power, these folk are set free."

	Asuka wanted to vomit, but she choked it back.  No
weakness.  She pointed a finger at him, and her clothing
burned away, replaced by her plug suit.  "You can't fool me!  
You're not the God I worship!  You're an imposter!"

	"The God you worship is but another of my masks.  I
am Legion, one God with many faces and forms, as many as
their are eyes with which to view me. The Trinity is but a
shadow of the truth of my existence, one to prepare you.  
Though I admit this is not the form I wore when I walked
among you as the Christ," the man said.  He shrank, becoming
more muscular and somewhat swarthier, hairier with dark
curly hair instead of a long blonde mane.  His eyes darkened
from blue to brown, and now he wore a hammer tucked into his
belt.

	"It was more like this.  I become all things to all
men, that they might come to the truth, and as I was a Jew,
I walked as a Jew.  It pleases me, when every nation depicts
me as one of their own, for it shows they are closer to
grasping the truth."  He smiled benevolently.

	"Masks...you're Nylarathotep!"  Asuka pointed a
finger accusingly.

	"Among my many names.  But I have also been the
Christ who you worship, and many other things beside."  He
held out the sausage slice again.  "Come, eat of my body and
drink of my blood and embrace the communion of the saints.  
It is time for us to create the Kingdom of Heaven, where
there is no marriage and all are free of the Law.  Where we
will rampage and burn and destroy and rut without limits
until the end of the age.  The time of the Law is over, once
and for all."

	Outside, Asuka could hear rioting, and those behind
her jostled her, eager to come forward and be freed from the
shackles they had placed on themselves.  Was this how it
would end?  Could it be true?

	Asuka hesitated, and wondered if it had all been a
lie, if everything she had ever believed in was false, if
all of Christianity was just another cult of Nylarathotep.  
He certainly had the power to do all the things which Jesus
had done, for he channeled the power of the Outer Gods.  
Molecular transmutation, nanomolecular purging of disease
and poison, the enhancement of surface tension, quantum
weather control...she could see how to duplicate the
miracles just with the fragmentary knowledge in her mind
stolen from those she slew.

	It would be so easy to just let go, to just accept
his offer and surrender to the voices inside her, to her
desires.  To let Rei take her again, and Shinji, both of
them at once, to make the world their toy.  So easy.

	It was so hard to keep fighting, so hard to struggle
on when everything went wrong and so many people died.  She
had lost her parents, so many friends, Anna...  Pain
clutched her heart as she thought about what had happened to
Anna.

	"She is one with me now," he said seductively.  
"You could be one with her as well.  Wouldn't you like to
see her again?"

	Asuka shuddered.  "You took her over, you bastard!"

	"She went willingly," he said.  "She wanted to be a
god, and I gave her what she wanted.  And in the end, all
things return to me, for I am the Alpha and the Omega."

	"You ARE NOT GOD!" Asuka shouted frantically,
angrily, fearfully.  "You might be Satan, but you certainly
aren't the creator!"

	"I am all the Creator this universe has," the man
replied.  "For I am the Voice of the Outer Gods, from whom
all things come and to whom all things return.  I am the
mask they wear to bring their gospel to all the beings who
trap themselves in the illusions you call 'reason' and
'civilization'.  I bring freedom from the Law, the law which
crushes all beneath it, for there is none good enough to
live up to it.  All you need is faith, and I will set you
free."

	Asuka knew the freedom he brought, the freedom those
who now dwelt within her had once known.  The freedom of
animals, the freedom to be a monster.  She didn't want that
kind of freedom.  She didn't.  Anything to the contrary
inside her was just the fault of those horrible things she'd
slain.  "I don't want your freedom, and I don't want your
lies!  You're just making things up!"

	"It's the truth," he said.  "I will show you."

	She closed her eyes, but she couldn't hide, the
images burning themselves into her eyelids.  A confused
carpenter learning the truth of his bastard heritage,
fleeing to the desert and seeking out a wise man.  His
baptism, and the certainty he had sought descending upon
him.  Nylarathotep had offered the man, Joshua son of
Joseph, a future more glorious than being an illegitimate
son of a nobody in a backwater--he would be the son of the
Living God.  Nylarathotep had descended on him like a dove,
and taken up residence inside him.

	A period of wandering followed, of miracles brought
about by the higher sciences of the Outer Gods, their powers
at his fingertips, through the mediation of the holy spirit
within his mind.  For three years, he had followed the
promptings of the voice inside his mind, the voice of
Nylarathotep, until, convinced of his own divinity, he had
staged his own betrayal, that he might manifest his power
from the cross itself, for the destruction of the Romans and
the coming of the Kingdom of God.  But it was at this very
moment that was to be his triumph that Nylarathotep deserted
him, leaving him to perish, his soul to be swallowed up by
the Outer Gods to whom he had pledged himself.

	Asuka shrieked her denial, but it all seemed so real
to her, and so plausible, and she felt despair eating away
at her.

	Afterwards, Nylarathotep had appeared as Jesus to
his disciples, and set the formation of his church in
motion, the church which would prepare all mankind for the
Day of the Lord, the casting off of humanity's masks and
their return to their true nature from which they had fallen
so long ago, when they had eaten of the fruit of knowledge
of good and evil and, revulsed by their own faces, had put
on masks to hide from the 'evil' which was their true
nature.  And now that time had come, the Day of the Lord was
at hand.

	Asuka's mind spun round as she tried to deny it all.  
But she could see it, it seemed so real.  Had everything she
believed in been a lie?  Her religion nothing but a tool of
Nylarathotep for the corruption of mankind?  Images whirled
before her mind, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the burning
of witches, the Holocaust, all the sins done in God's name.  
All for this?  For the Audient Void?

	It was too much for her.  She'd never wanted any of
this.  The flame washed out of her like a torrent; she heard
the people behind her burst into flames and die, but she
didn't care.  If this was the world, she wanted to destroy
it.  Better that nothing exist, if the Outer Gods were all
there was.  Humanity would be better off dead.

	Nylarathotep tried to speak, but her flames rushed
through him, charring him to ash in an instant.  But he
wasn't dead.  He would rise again, she knew, and that
knowing infuriated her more.

	She gathered her strength.  This world would burn.  
Burn, burn, burn.  If it burned hot enough, maybe she would
die herself, and not have to live in it.

	'Would you destroy your friends as well as your
foes?  Do not be foolish enough to listen to his lies,' the
voice said.  'It is not too late to turn back.'

	She looked around the great ocean of fire which
surrounded her.  "Who are you?"  she said warily.

	'I am the one who sent you and my other Archangels
into the world to protect it in this time of crisis.  For
the Tribulation is at hand, when the world will suffer at
the hands of the one who comes in mockery of me.  So I sent
you all, to take on flesh as I did, to become its defenders.  
Not its destroyers.  For you are Gabrielle, and your light
is meant to reveal truth, to burn away iniquity, not to
destroy the innocent and the wicked alike.  Do you not
remember, my daughter?' The voice was soft, and hard to
identify, sometimes like a man, sometimes like a woman.

	Asuka shuddered, hesitating, fearing this was just
another trick.  "Who are you?"  she asked again.

	'I am the beginning and the end, the creator of all
that is, who made the worlds and all their pieces.  And you
are my beloved child, Gabrielle, one of the leaders of my
angels.  Remember.' The voice was full of compassion, and
Asuka clung to it like a reed.

	There were things...she could remember...flashes of
images, speaking to various people, the words of the Lord.  
Was that her?  Had she gone before the Israelites as they
came out of the land of Egypt, had she spoken to the
prophets?  But she was human, wasn't she?  She was Asuka,
not an angel.  Though she'd rather be an Angel than Asuka
right now.

	"I can't...it's so confused...who am I?" she asked
desperately, as her mind spun.

	"One of my messengers, sent to defend mankind in
this age of Chaos," the voice said louder now, as she opened
her ears to its words.  "You will remember all, when the
time comes.  Just believe in me, as I believe in you."

	Asuka began to cry.  She wanted to believe, wanted
her powers to come from something holy, not something foul.  
But it could all be another trick.  She wanted to believe,
but it was so hard, so hard to believe.  "I need...I want to
believe, but I just...poor Anna..."

	"In the end, all will come to me," the voice told
her, whispering into her ears now.  "All will understand, in
the long term, and repent, and come to me, for there is none
so foolish as to defy the truth forever.  You will see her
again, one day, when she wins free from the lies she snared
herself in.  But I need you to take up your arms, and bear
my word, my daughter, for there are many others who will
fall to his lies if you do not go out among them."

	"Anna...you mean..."

	"The flames of hell are the fires which burn away
impurities.  They are your flames, which reveal the truth.  
The truth hurts, but in the end, all will be made pure, and
the world will be whole, as it once was, before it fell into
shadows and darkness.  Will you take up your sword,
Gabrielle, and fight for that truth?"

	"He told me..."  She shivered and hugged herself.  
"That he was...that you..."

	"He is the father of lies, for he believes the world
he made at my command is all there is; he has convinced
himself that I never existed, that all that happens is
according to his will.  But he merely snares himself within
his own illusions; he has blinded himself.  But even he may,
one day, be made pure once more.  Do not listen to his
lies,"  the voice said, its voice wavering between a man and
a woman again, and suddenly, Asuka knew those voices, the
voices of her parents.

	"I am your father and your mother; they were the
vessels by which you passed into the world of flesh," the
voice said.  "And now they dwell with me, waiting for the
time when you return.  But that time is not yet come.  The
world needs you."

	It had to be true, she realized.  Satan...
Nylarathotep... could make up anything, make her see
anything, fill her senses with lies.  That was part of his
power, his dominion over the world of the senses.  
Everything he had shown her, just a lie.  He had tried to
make her forget, forget her true self.

	It all welled up within her now.  Raphael, Uriel,
Ariel, Michael, Bodiel, herself-- Gabrielle--had been sent
down to usher in a new Age, to bring mankind through the
Tribulation into a new Millenium.  But they had lost
themselves when they took on flesh, and now Bodiel had paid
the price, lured by the lies of the Demiurge, Nylarathotep.

	So much she couldn't remember, but it was all
growing clearer to her now.  The voices in her mind, they
were but illusions planted in her by Nylarathotep, the
shadows of now fallen angels, who had betrayed the trust put
in them by their creator, their power now reclaimed to
Heaven's service.  In her, their powers would become holy
once more.  Her power was holy.  It had to be.

	She banished the voices, silencing them with her
reborn faith, and stood, drawing her great sword of flame.  
"I will do my best to protect this world, my Lord," she
said, pledging herself once more.  "And to help the others
remember the truth which you sent us to champion."  She felt
a new strength.

	"Then awaken," her father told her.  "Rise up," her
mother told her.  "And sin no more, but walk in the light of
love."

	Love.  It filled her heart, washing away her fears.  
"I go now," she said, and brandished her wings, flying away
to the waking world to begin the work of God anew.

		


                            -*-

	Stars shone in the distance, but the air was cold
all around Shinji.  Looking around, he couldn't see ground
anywhere; he seemed to be in the deeps of space, with
nothing about but distant glittering stars.  His wings beat,
great black leathery wings; they felt so natural now, as if
he had always had them.  Slowly, he turned himself around,
trying to see if there was something, anything worth looking
at.

	A distant glow attracted his attention; a great
nebula slowly spun in the distance, with lesser nebula
spinning around it, and tiny dots which he guessed might be
planets or comets or something.  There was a distant noise
like a heartbeat and the softest of sussurating wind sounds.  
He began to move towards it, now noticing great glowing
filaments which drifted through space forming an extremely
diffuse cloud around the distant nebulas.  The heart of each
nebula was aflame, he could see now, shining brightly.

	Shinji drifted a little closer, and the sounds on
the wind became music, discordant.  He could feel it tugging
at him, though it sounded horrible, like people with no
musical talent at all.  He got out his own violin and tried
playing the tune they were playing, but quickly realized the
awfulness was inherent in the tune itself.  And he was
drifting closer.

	He tried playing over the noise, and the drifting
ceased as he drowned it out with sweet music.  He played for
a while, then stopped, as his arms started to get tired.  
As he did so, he began to drift towards the sound again, so
he resumed playing, harder this time.  Wrapped in a wind of
pleasant notes, he pushed away from the distant nebulae.

	Eventually, he had to stop to rest, only to find
himself starting to be tugged back again, though he couldn't
even hear the music consciously.  But he could feel it.

	"There is no escape," a man's voice said.  "The
civilization you use to try to cover up humanity's true
nature is only a veneer, and the call goes on, calling you
to your true selves."

	Shinji turned and saw the man.  He was dark-skinned
and noble in mien, dressed like an ancient Pharoah, crook
and staff in his hands.  Behind him, a procession slowly
moved along, bearing a coffin fit for a Pharoah, slowly
drifting with the discordant song towards the distant
nebulae.  A dozen images flickered through Shinji's mind,
from a huge albino spider to an opalescent squid-like
creature.  Each of the images looked horrific to Shinji, yet
at the same time, something inside him found them to be
quite normal and pleasant, unlike the other images.

	"So close," the man said softly, then louder, he
said, "The call of the daemon sultan Azathoth can be
deferred, but it cannot be denied.  All things come from him
and to him all things return.  Ashes to ashes, dust to
dust."

	The Pale Walker.  The Whisperer in Darkness.  The
Dark Sailor.  Dozens of names flickered across Shinji's
minds as the voices which lived within him now identified
the being who stood before him.  The Voice of the Outer
Gods, their Soul, Nylarathotep.  He had as many forms as
there were species of creatures in all the universe, for to
each, he could come as their own kind, or as the things they
feared most.  He was the hawk who chased the mice, the wolf
who hunted the deer, the kzeergi who stole the eggs of the
dsaah.

	"I'm just dreaming," Shinji asserted.

	"That you are," he said.  "Dreams reveal the truths
we would hide from.  But you don't need a dream to feel the
call.  Can't you feel it?  The call of the Sea King is
strong, but his song is but a faint reflection of this
song."

	The funeral procession was moving on, as was Shinji.  
He was torn between his desire not to get any closer to the
distant nebulae, his curiosity as to what was going on, and
his fear of turning his back to the Black Pharoah.  He could
feel the call.  "I don't feel anything," he lied.

	"Well, if you want to miss your father's funeral,
that is your business."

	"WHAT?"  Shinji stared at the coffin in shock.

	"All souls come forth from the Daemon Sultan, as do
all things, and when you die, they return to him, to be
devoured, used as the raw stuff of which new ones are made.  
That is what awaits all.  The Buddhists were right, you
see."

	Shinji had never paid much attention to religion.  
Shinto, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam...they were all blurs
to him.  He had a vague idea of some differences but it had
not been something he had put much of his thought into it,
though it now struck him that Asuka would probably want him
to learn more about Christianity, as she would no doubt want
him to join her in Church visits and so forth if they
continued to date.  "I don't remember them talking about
being eaten by Azathoth," Shinji said.  "And what is this
about Father?"

	"The soul is but an illusion, an ephemera spat forth
by Azathoth, that returns to him when it has served its
purpose, the purpose of all the universe, for all this world
exists for his amusement.  You are but a mask he wears to
compete against other of his masks, in the great story he is
telling himself to while away eternity," the Black Pharoah
said, sounding almost kindly.  "Your father has played his
part, and now he is dead, and he returns to the maw of
Azathoth to be devoured and reborn."

	"I thought it was Shub-Niggurath who devours her
children and gives birth to them again," Shinji said,
surprising himself and wondering how he knew that.

	"They are all one," the Black Pharoah said, walking
along with Shinji and the procession.  "And I am one with
them.  They seem separate...you and I seem separate only
because you cannot see to the highest level, where there is
only the One, of whom Azathoth, and I, and you and every
blade of grass are but a part.  This is the secret of the
Buddhists and of the more philosophical sorts of Hindus,
that all the world is but an illusion, a game, and only by
escaping the illusion and uniting ourselves with Brahma,
with the world-soul, can we be free of it and of the sorrow
it brings."

	"But what does Father have to do with this?" Shinji
asked stubbornly.

	"Your Father pledged himself to the Outer Gods,
seeking to use their power against them, to run a con game
on them.  He might have succeeded without me; they are all
blind idiots, who obey the primal laws set forth by the
World-Soul.  A cunning thief may indeed walk among the Gods
for a time, using them to achieve his goals.  But now his
soul belongs to them, and they will devour him.  Thus will
he be reunited with the World-Soul and he will know peace."

	"He'll be destroyed!" Shinji said in horror.

	"He brought it on himself.  But it doesn't matter;
he will have peace and be united again with the World-Soul,
escaping this world of pain.  Isn't that for the best?"

	"NO!" Shinji said, feeling himself getting angry.  
"I'm not going to let you throw Father's soul down the
gullet of the Daemon Sultan!"  He drew upon his powers,
preparing himself for a fight.  It was easier; he felt
stronger here, could feel the power flowing into him.

	And then he realized he was drawing power from the
discordant music, and the more he drew, the closer he
drifted to the still thankfully distant Azathoth.  He froze,
unsure what to do.

	There was an edge to the Black Pharoah's voice.  
"Do you understand now?  If you fight fire with fire, you
become fire.  You walk your Father's path to the same end.  
You too will be devoured by the Daemon Sultan, when you die,
for his fingers are in your souls."

	"No!" Shinji shouted desperately.

	"Serve willingly, and that death and dissolution
will be long deferred.  Defy us, and it will come quickly.  
Serve, and we can restore your parents to you," the Black
Pharoah said, almost purring.  "For death, too, is just an
illusion, that can be undone if the master magician so
desires."

	Shinji froze; paralysis came to him naturally
anyway, and this was worse than usual.  "You're lying," he
said desperately.

	"I am not.  Your mother could be released from her
prison, your father returned to life, one happy family."

	Shinji frowned.  "Her prison?"

	"She was devoured by Rei's EVA unit," Nylarathotep
said.  "Your father...one of the great driving forces of his
life was his hope to rescue her from it.  He was willing to
risk everything for it.  I could extract her any time I
desire.  I merely have not desired it."

	Shinji tried to think.  It had to be a trick,
but..Mother...Father...he couldn't just abandon them.  He
couldn't.  The music wouldn't stop, and he was drifting,
drifting.  He would have to do something soon.

	Grab Father and try to run.  Even if it risked more
of a hold of the Daemon Sultan.  What else could he do?  He
called up the power and zoomed at the procession, even as
Nylarathotep began to laugh.  To his surprise, Nylarathotep
just watched him zoom over, battering aside the
animal-headed beings who bore the coffin.  He seized it and
took to the air, flying away as fast as he could.

	But he could hear Nylarathotep's voice.  'You'll
have to wake up, some time...'

	He ignored that and flew on, fleeing as far away
from the Daemon Sultan as he could, not looking back.
	
	
                            -*-*


		
	Touji was having one of those dreams again, where
Kensuke was still alive and they'd talk about stuff.  At
least, that's what he thought it was going to be.  It was
him and Kensuke on the swings, just like old times.

	"Hey man, how goes?" he asked.

	"I'm doing alright, but I'm not Kensuke."

	Touji stared at him.  "Huh?"

	"I'm known by many names.  The Black Pharaoh, the
Crawling Chaos, the God of the Bloody Tongue, the Green Man,
the Wailing Writher, the Blind Ape of Truth, the list goes
on.  But for our discussion today, you can just call me
Nyarly."

	Touji got off of his swing and took a wary step
back.  "So why're ya looking like Kensuke and why are you
here?"

	"Well, see, if I showed you my true form, it'd break
your puny mind."

	"So yer that ugly?"

	"Very funny.  Do you want to hear this explanation
or not?"

	"Sorry, sorry."

	"We are 'here' because I wanted to make you an offer
you shouldn't refuse.  Normally, this involves elaborate
dreamscapes showing you your heart's desire, then subtly
persuading you to think this is what you really wanted, on
your own.  However, such subtlety, I feared, would go over
your head.  So I'm here to tell it to you straight."

	"Oh, I get it.  You're Satan trying to get me to
sign over my soul, or something."

	The Kensuke apparition hmmed, swinging on the swing.  
"I suppose that would be somewhat accurate."

	"Not selling you my soul."

	"Well, it's not exactly your soul I'm after."

	"Not givin' it."

	"Rather, I'd like you to work for our side."

	"And your side is?"

	"The side NERV has been fighting against all this
time."

	Touji crossed his arms.  "Now why the hell would I
work for you creeps?"

	"Well, let me count the reasons.  One, I can heal
your sister.  Two, I can bring Kensuke back to you.  And
three, you are all doomed in the coming battle.  This isn't
just going to be the monster of the day, this is going to be
an entirely different fight.  You are all going to die,
unless you see things my way."

	"Oh, I'm supposed to believe we're gonna be beat
just cause you said so?"

	"I'd tell you how, but that would be spoiling
things."

	"Whatever."

	"It's not like working with us will be unpleasant.  
You're a God after all.  You'll be ruling over the humans,
along with your friends.  Rulership isn't so bad.  And why
not you?  Look at the world.  Do you think the current world
leaders are doing a great job?"

	"I don't really pay attention."

	The Crawling Chaos facepalmed.  "No, of course you
don't.  Well, I'll enlarge your penis."

	"WHAT?!"

	"Sorry, your mailbox was full of those ads. I
figured it'd be something that might interest you."

	"I'm just fine the way I am."

	"Whatever you say."  Nyarly jumped off the swing,
then dusted off his pants.  "Look, my offer stands, up until
the bitter end, okay?  So when you're face down in the dirt
and your friends are all dying around you, keep me in mind.  
Just say the word and you'll be saved, your friends will be
saved, your sister and Kensuke will be saved, and everything
will be alright."

	"You're still not taking my soul."

	"Seeya later, boy."

	And then Touji had better dreams.


                            -*-

	Touji would come around in time, he was sure.  The
Walking Man stepped back and studied the tableaux he had set
up.  Hikari wanted her family back desperately.  Surely she
would do anything to have them back.

	Outside, there was the sound of traffic.  He paused
for a moment, having not remembered to make that noise.  
Then again, dreams tended to supply their own details.

	He paced around the setting, checking each of the
dream shapes.  One of the things which could most easily go
wrong in this sort of thing was if someone suddenly spotted
needle tracks on their grandmother because your mind
wandered.  He'd lost Norton all those years ago because of
putting the wrong sister in the man's dreams.

	Never again.

	The traffic got louder, and he frowned.  Too much
noise would not be conducive to tempting her.  He
concentrated, but the sounds didn't get any quieter.

	He walked to the front door and went out into the
lawn.  Cars were drifting by, but one car was making
especial noise--an eighteen wheeler.  He wondered why
Hikari's mind would imagine an eighteen wheeler in a
suburban neighborhood.  But he didn't waste much time on it.  
He reached out with his mind to erase it.

	Instead, it kept coming, and now it was speeding up.  
The truck had a ludicrous green mask on the grill; for a
moment, he wondered if it was her nightmare of him—there was
a hint of night terrors in its crazed expression.  He
reached out more firmly, and tried to erase it.

	Instead, his mind skidded off an AT-field, even as
the truck moved up another gear.  It was barreling down the
road at high speed, yet somehow hadn't reached and passed
him yet.  It began to swerve, knocking a tree down as it
began to move onto the sidewalk, and he realized it was
coming for him.

	He stared at it, but no one was driving it.

	Then every parked car on the street came to life and
began to move.

	Towards him.

	He reached out, trying to erase the dreams, but his
mind slid off an AT-Field every time.  He shoved harder, and
the field shoved back.

	There was no choice but to cast off this mask and
take on a more powerful form to do battle.  He could feel
the boiling rage rising as his frustration grew, the passion
that always hid behind his mask of rationality rising up.

	Except that nothing happened when he tried to take
on another form.  He was nothing but a human, a human with
the mind of a god.

	A human with an eighteen wheeler and about two dozen
smaller cars closing in on him.

	He turned and ran to the house, but the door had
slid shut, and it was locked and he hadn't thought to take
the keys with him.

	They were coming across the lawn now, somehow moving
at high speed, lethal speed, yet stalking up like a cat,
slowly, savoring the moment that was coming, the kill.

	He turned and tried to smash a window open.  It
worked and he spilled through it, feeling his flesh tear and
bleed as the glass broke.  The vapid, happy family stared at
him shock, and the mother said, "Hey, you can't just break
the window!  You're grounded!"

	He turned and leaped onto the table, grabbing the
young boy, and hurled him out the window to the cars,
praying the sacrifice would buy him time to figure out what
went wrong.  Then he began to run for the backdoor, even as
the living room wall caved in and the eighteen wheeler
crashed through it, glass and metal splintering off the
insipid, grinning, purple hooded mask.

	He could hear walls smashing behind him, but there
was nothing but his fear;  blind fear took him and he ran,
ran for the back door.  He knew there had to be one; he had
crafted this dream himself.  Hadn't he?  He had!  It was his
shaping!  Why was it turning on him?  He was a god!  A god!

	A crashing sound echoed as the staircase broke due
to an eighteen wheeler hitting it.  He threw the back door
open and ran into the backyard, breathing heavily.

	Just needed a second to recover, that's all.

	And then blinding lights flashed before his eyes.

	Two headlights, set to bright, lit up the yard like
the noon sun.

	It was a fifty seven Chevy, cherry-red, with no
driver; The engine roared, and he read the license plate:  
YUI-001.  He turned to run, and it went from zero to sixty
in half a second.  The grill shattered his torso like a
hammer striking glass, and as the lights went out in his
eyes, he saw two lights, small glass circles, flash in the
air behind the wheel.

	"Do not call up what you cannot put down," a man
said.

	And then the eighteen wheeler came through the wall,
and the life was crushed out of him.

	And then there was only darkness.

                            -*-*

	Touji ran for the lay up.  He got the ball and shot.  
It rolled round the rim and went in.  The crowd went wild!

	And then, suddenly, he was being shaken to pieces.

	Touji groaned and woke up.  "What the...Hikari?"

	She was standing over him, shaking him.  "The cars!  
They're coming for us!  They..."  He wondered how she'd
gotten into his room on the Scimitar.  Had he locked the
door?  Maybe not.

	"What the hell are you talking about?" he mumbled,
rubbing his eyes.  Wait, there had been some movie they'd
watched or something.  With cars.  In the ship's lounge.

	"The..."  Hikari suddenly looked embarrassed, and
stopped shaking him; the Scimitar rocked for a moment in the
wind, as if echoing her, before settling down.  "Never mind.  
I had a nightmare."

	"Musta been some nightmare for you to get all the
way in here without realizin' it," Touji said, sitting up.  
"I guess the car horror marathon was a bad idea."

	"Yes," she said firmly.  "I...I should go back to
bed."  Though she really didn't want to sleep alone after
that.

	"Be my guest," he said.  "You sure you're okay?"

	"I...no," she said, sitting down on the bed.  "We
shouldn't.  I should go back to bed."

	"Well, you can stay if you want."

	"Misato..." Hikari began.

	"I think Misato would cheer," Touji said.  "And
Shinji's probably got Rei and Asuka with him as we speak."

	Hikari's eyes widened.  "You think so?"

	"No, not really," Touji said.  "He ain't man enough
for it."

	"Oh, you think it's manly to be unfaithful to your
girlfriend?" she said, frowning.

	"No, no, I ain't sayin' that!" Touji protested.  
"It's just that it takes a lot of man for two women."

	"Especially when you're just a boy."  Hikari got up
and stormed out.

	Touji sighed.  "I wasn't trying to say nothin' about
you!" he shouted after her.

	"Goodnight," she said, and went back to her room.

	Touji slumped back on the bed.  "Women.  They just
don't listen."  He sighed and tried to go back to sleep, but
only dreamed about cars chasing him, with Hikari behind the
wheel of them all.

                            -*-

	There was a distant thunder.  Hador-Keb, highman of
the Village of Ged, looked up at the sacred mountain, and
frowned.  Normally, it only shook once a century.  That was
part of the sacred lessons—once a century, the sacred
mountain would punish the world for its sins of the last
century; the wicked would perish and the good would escape
alive.

	But it had poured out the cup of its wrath only
fifteen cycles ago; the land was fertile now, for those who
survived.  What have we done to deserve the anger of the
gods?, he asked himself as he fled with his six legs,
heading for the village square to call the people together
to flee to the ocean.

	Deep within the mountain, the Great Beast of Fire
howled his rage, crashing against the walls of the lava
tube, stirring it to a frenzy.  The earth shook and the
heavens filled with smoke.  The world screamed and spat
forth a great tide of lava, and belched poisonous fumes and
a great rain of ash across the land.

	The village perished, buried in lava, choking on
ash, before they could escape.

	Not for their sins.

	Because they made an easy target.

	The Great Beast laughed out its wrath as they
perished, screaming and begging for mercy to the sky, which
echoed only with the wrath of the mountain.  Their deaths
brought him calm, and he emerged from the lava, sloughing
off his eight limbs and four heads and six mouths, shrinking
away into a form which would drive mad any inhabitant of the
planet who saw it, an unnatural bipedal beast, clad in a
sheathe of animal fibers, with only a single head and only
two eyes, like some primitive little creature swollen to
enormous size.

	Dusky-skinned like the volcanic rock he walked on,
he strode down the mountain- side, wearing a gleaming
headress which showed some coiled alien beast atop it, like
a rope with fangs and eyes at one end.

	What few beasts survived came to him, and fed from
his hands, for he was their master, the lord of all things
wild and fell.  He was the ender of ages, the bringer of
doom, who wiped away civilization, and restored the rule of
the animals.

	He cast aside his helmet, revealing dark stringy
fibers which hung from his head, thinly woven, and his
sheathe of fibers transmuted itself to a dark navy blue,
taking on a new configuration, and he reached behind a
molten rock and pulled out a briefcase.

	They thought they could defy the End of Days.  But
he would show them the Beast From the Sea, and he would
bring down their petty civilization, just like all the
others.  For he could not be slain, not by them.  For he was
the Soul of the Outer Gods, their Herald, their Voice.  And
that Voice could not be denied.  In the end, all things came
to him, whether by choice or by force.

	If they would not join the revel, then they would be
pulled apart by the maenids.  This was how it worked.  How
it always worked.

	He opened the briefcase and stared at a set of
switches.  It was time.

                            -*-

	Touji stared out across the ocean with Misato; they
were both silent, lost in their own thoughts.  He thought
she looked kind of bleary.  "You get hammered last night?"
he asked.

	They were up on one of the observation decks,
looking down from the Scimitar to the ocean.  It was calm
and placid far below them, like some distant blue wall.  He
wasn't afraid of heights, thankfully.  Still, a high railing
made falling unlikely, even if he was leaning on it.

	"No," she said sharply, then more softly, said, "I
wish.  But no.  I slept like crap."

	"Bad dreams?" he asked, then wondered if he ought to
tell her about his.  Probably it was just some stupid dream
from seeing too many Western devil movies.

	"No, I just couldn't sleep well.  And I had this
feeling like everyone but me was having sex," Misato said.

	Touji laughed.  "I ain't."

	"Well, at your age, you really shouldn't."  She
shook her head.

	"Touji," Rei said.

	Touji almost went over the railing in surprise.  He
caught himself and swung back.  "Don't DO that."

	"Did you dream?" Rei asked.

	"Uh, yeah," he said warily.  "You too?"  She ain't
gonna gut me or something, I hope, he thought.

	"He is desperate," Rei said.

	"Who?" Misato asked.

	"The Herald of the Outer Gods.  He would buy us.  I
am not for sale," Rei came to the railing and stared out
across the water.

	"You too, huh?" Touji said.  "Yeah, I told him to
fuck off."  He paused.  "To, uh, go away," he said, looking
at Misato.

	"Dammit," Misato said.  "If he can go around
crawling into people's heads..."

	"If who can crawl into people's heads?" Shinji
asked.

	"The Herald of the Outer Gods," Misato said.  
"Nylon...Nyllie...Nylarathotep."

	"Speak not the name," Rei said flatly.

	Shinji said, "He's going to try to stop us."  He
shuddered a little.  "He tried...there was this..."  He
shook his head.  "I don't want to talk about it."

	Hikari staggered blearily around the corner, rubbing
her eyes.  "Hello, commander," she said.  "Shinji, Rei.  
Touji."

	"Hey, you ain't still pissed, are you?" Touji asked.  
"I didn't mean sh...mean anything, you know."

	She frowned.  "It was a really piggish thing to
say."

	"C'mon, you gonna tell me you'd pass up two cute
guys?"

	Misato said, "Trying to get Shinji into you two's
bed, Touji?"  She smirked a little.

	"WHAT?" Touji said.

	"I..."  Hikari blushed a little.  "What I imagine
with...I mean..."

	Shinji said, "What's this all about?"

	Asuka now came into sight, striding forward
confidently to embrace Shinji and kiss him firmly.  
Everyone stared, and Misato said, "Well, SOMEONE is in a
good mood."

	"I'm in a great mood," Asuka said.  "I finally
_understand_ all this."

	Misato frowned.  That had a bad ring to it.  "You
mean?"

	"It's very complicated," Asuka said, then saw
Misato's frown and other worried looks.  "Come on, everyone,
I'm not here to announce we're taking over the world."

	Shinji could feel Asuka pressed up against him, and
felt himself starting to get aroused by her presence and her
tight half-embrace of him.  He said, "What's the good news,
then?"  He paused and added, "Dear," hesitantly.

	"I love you," she said softly, then kissed him.  
"C'mon, you two should kiss too,"  she said, waving her hand
to Touji and Hikari.

	"What, that's the big revelation?  You two have been
getting mushy a lot before just now, you know," Touji said.

	"Every moment could be your last," Misato said,
looking a little sad.  "I dunno what you two have been
fighting about, but it's not worth it.  Pain that doesn't
get you anything isn't worth it."

	Touji stepped over to Hikari.  "Look, I just..."

	She grabbed him and swept him into a kiss.  Asuka
did the same with Shinji.

	Rei looked at them wistfully, and Misato came over
to give her a half-hug.  "You'll find a boyfriend too, I'm
sure," Misato said.  "Lots of guys like a nice shy woman."  
Even if she has super-powers and kills people rather well.  
Misato stomped on those thoughts.  She knew exactly how Rei
was feeling.  She whispered to Rei, "I'm a little jealous
too."

	Rei turned and embraced her silently, holding her
very tightly.  Maybe a little too tightly; Misato was
reminded of how strong Rei really was.

	Asuka broke off the kiss.  "Mmm, good."

	Misato asked, "Did all of you have nightmares about
the Herald?"

	She got a round of assents.

	Asuka said, "I didn't fall for his lies."

	Misato frowned.  "I should talk to Fuyutsuki, I
think.  He may have gotten to someone."

	"Don't worry," Asuka said.  "It's all going to work
out for the best.  I can feel it."

	"Yeah, it's all going to be okay, right?  This is
the last one?" Touji sounded hopeful.

	"Yes," Misato said.  "Assuming these old prophecies
and whatnot mean anything, it's the end.  And even if it
isn't, we've beaten them every time.  And this time it
doesn't matter what else gets trashed.  We can win.  And we
WILL. We have to, for everyone who has sacrificed to get us
here."

	"For Kensuke, dammit," Touji said.

	"Yes, for him and for our parents and families,"
Asuka said.  "But I think we're going to have to bring the
Herald to heel."

	"Can we?" Shinji asked.

	"He won't give up," Asuka said.  "I think, in the
end, it's going to be him or us."

	"It will be him," Rei said firmly.  She held her
hand out, palm down.

	For a moment, everyone stared in confusion, and then
Shinji put his hand atop hers, and Asuka atop his.  Hikari
placed hers on Asuka and Touji covered Hikari's.

	They stood there a moment, and then Rei looked at
Misato.  "You too."

	She put her hand atop theirs and said, "It shouldn't
have come to this.  You're all kids.  You ought to have
normal lives.  You shouldn't be out here, risking your minds
and your lives.  That's what people like me are for."

	Misato licked her lips nervously.  "Maybe you're
right, and we'll have to somehow hunt down this Herald.  If
we can.  Maybe we'll spend the rest of our lives fighting
off his monster-gods.  But I know I can count on all of you
to fight to the last ditch for humanity.  I trust you all to
do the right thing.  Whatever may happen to you.  We'll find
a way to beat this thing, we'll cure Ritsuko, and we'll all
go out and have the peace we've earned, dammit.  Because I
refuse to be beaten by any fucking Outer Gods and their
damned little monster-minions.  We're going to win, DAMMIT!"

	"Amen," Asuka said fervently.  "God will bless our
battle."

	"Let's hope we have at least one god on our side
instead of sending monsters to kill us," Misato said.  "We
can use all the help we can get.  Alright, I'm going to go
report in to headquarters and make sure there's no bad news.  
And see what Fuyutsuki thinks about all this."

	"See you," Shinji said.

	Touji's stomach rumbled.  "Let's get some
breakfast."

	"Good idea," Hikari said.  "We'll fight better on a
full stomach."

	"Unless it's like swimming," Shinji said.

	As they all started back, Touji asked Misato, "It
ain't like swimming, is it?"

	"I'm sure we won't fight for quite a while," Misato
said.  "Go eat."

	"You heard her, there's a command," Touji said.  
"Let's get some food."

                            -*-

	"Well, the flight is going well so far," Misato said
from the viewscreen. "The Children had some nightmares,
which we're going to have to look into, but overall, things
are going pretty well here.  We estimate we'll arrive at our
destination in another eight hours."  You could see the
bridge of the Scimitar behind her.

	"That's good," Dr. Himmelfarb said.  "Everything is
fine here; the Navy reports they are all in position to
launch their attack when the time comes."  She was standing
on the main bridge, back in Germany.  She was a little
nervous about how well all the new bridge staff would do,
but they seemed to be doing fine so far.  At least Ritsuko
and Maya were experienced.

	"Good.  We're out over the ocean now.  It's very
peaceful."

	Ritsuko suddenly froze up, then collapsed at her
desk.  Dr. Himmelfarb looked over at her, worried, and hoped
it wasn't the mere mention of the ocean that did it.

	Misato looked worried as well.  
"The...umm...anyway, it's all good here."  She wanted to ask
about if anyone had dreamed of Nylarathotep, but suddenly
she was worried whether he might be listening in.

	"I'll get her to sickbay," Maya said, helping
Ritsuko to stand up and hobble out the door, leaning on her
heavily.

	Megumi watched her go, and shook her head sadly,
then resumed scribbling furiously.

	"Let me know how..." Misato began, and then there
was a loud explosion behind her.  She spun.  "What the hell
is..."

	There was another explosion and the screen turned to
static.

 	Commander Weiss grimaced at the screen.  "Ingrid,
try calling people's cell phones.  Hopefully, someone will
have theirs turned on and we can get a report if anyone is
alive."

	Before Ingrid could reply, there was another
explosion, this time on the base.  Everything went black.

	"Maria," Commander Weiss said to one of the bridge
crew, "Go run down and make sure they can get the auxillary
power running."

	Maria took off at a sprint; she hadn't been gone
long before the auxillary power kicked in and the cameras
came back on.  They still couldn't connect themselves to the
Scimitar, and now the security cameras showed fish-men were
pouring through the gates of the compound and streaming
across the grounds.

	Ingrid studied the images.  "They're coming for us."  
The outer defenses had fallen, and the fish-men were
swarming over everything in sight.  What few soldiers
encountered them quickly died.

	"Broadcast this.  The base is now on full alert,"
Commander Weiss said.  "All personnel will retreat according
to Plan Beta-Nine.  Repeat, retreat according to Plan
Beta-Nine.  You know the drills."

	"What is Plan Beta-Nine?" Megumi asked.

	"We fall back to a defensive perimeter around the
airport and begin to evacuate all non-combat personnel,"
Commander Weiss said.  "Let's go."

	"Have we lost already?" Megumi asked in surprise.

	"We may be able to hold if we can get help, but
there's no point in anyone sticking around who can't fight.  
We can't hold the Bridge, so best we pull back to what we
can defend."  I hope, he thought.


                            -*-

	Retreating was easier said than done.  They rounded
a corner, only to have yet another force of Deep Ones leap
out of the shadows at them.  Ingrid grabbed one and slammed
it to the wall, slicing a knife across its throat, only to
have two more grab her.  Three soldiers went down, taking
only two foes with them.

	They could hear gunfire echoing across the base.

	Megumi threw her camera at one of the ones holding
Ingrid; it took the metal box in its eye and lost its grip.  
Ingrid reversed the other one's hold and lifted it high into
the air, then brought it down on her knee.  Megumi heard
bones break.

	Another one leaped at Megumi, but Dr. Himmelfarb
shot it in the face and it collapsed.

	They charged onwards, only to round another corner
too quickly, resulting in Commander Weiss taking a spear in
the throat and collapsing in a pool of his own blood.  A
burst of machinegun fire cleared out that group and Megumi
joined the others in charging across the bodies.

	Twelve more soldiers joined them at the next
intersection, and they carved through an attempted
'roadblock' of boxes and crates with a grenade.  Shortly
after, Deep Ones armed with grenades took out half the
soldiers, and Megumi took a chunk of metal in her left arm.  
She managed to pull her handkerchief out of her purse and
had to hold it to her arm as she ran.

	There were explosions everywhere and the sound of
machinegun fire.  People screamed and unearthly cries echoed
down the hallways.  Bodies, human and otherwise, were
littered everywhere.

	Then they reached the heliport.  Deep One corpses
littered the ground like confetti, riddled with bullets.  
The cause was easy to see; six helicopters armed with
machineguns and missiles.  Two more were up in the air,
circling around, and shooting anything that moved and had
scales.

	We're going to make it, Megumi thought.

	"You two get out of here," Ingrid said to Megumi and
Dr. Himmelfarb.  "Chopper number four."  She turned and
began shouting orders to try to get the defense of the
heliport in order.

	Megumi turned to run, while Dr. Himmelfarb, who was
huffing and puffing now, ran after her.  She got to the
chopper just in time to turn back and see a spear fly and
take Dr. Himmelfarb in the back of the knee.  She collapsed
to the ground.  Even as two soldiers ran to help her, she
took another spear in the back.

	The Deep Ones who threw the spears were raked with
machine gun fire, but it wasn't enough to kill them before
they threw another spear that nailed one of the onrushing
soldiers.  Then more Deep Ones poured out in a great tide
against the perimeter.  And with them came something else.

	It was a good twenty feet tall, passing between
buildings because it couldn't fit inside them, greyish
skinned and gelatinous; it wobbled slightly as it walked,
bipedal, but winged and with a skull-like head that had
short tentacles around the mouth.  Megumi felt her blood go
cold as she stared at it.

	One of the other passengers dragged her into the
helicopter, and the doors closed as it rose into the air.  
The creature strode towards them, bullets passing harmlessly
through its gelatinous body or becoming lodged inside it
with no other effect.

	The choppers launched as the ring of soldiers
struggled desperately.  Megumi prayed that wasn't the Angel
the Children had left to fight.  Surely it couldn't have
slipped halfway across the world.  Though it was kind of
short for an Angel.

	Her own chopper shot it in the face with a rocket;
it fell down and its face distorted, but it quickly got back
up, face springing back into shape.  Megumi prayed it
couldn't fly.

	She never found out, as the commander of her chopper
immediately took off, heading for Munich.  The last she saw,
the base was burning, and unearthly wails and moans rose
into the night sky, mixed with explosions and a few
desperate human screams.

                            -*-

	"I know, I shouldn't have thrown my camera, but I
was desperate!" Megumi said to her editor over the phone.  
It was hard to hear him over the whistling of the cold night
wind and the hum of the rotors above.

	"Well, we may not survive to print another edition,"
he said grudgingly.  "Every NERV base on Earth seems to be
under attack from these fish people.  Military forces have
had some success in driving them off, but people in coastal
cities all over are starting to riot for no good reason at
all."

	"Any word of the Scimitar?" Megumi asked.

	"Not a hint of a whisper.  If anyone official knows,
they're not leaking.  From what you said, sounds like
they're probably dead."

	Megumi looked out across the German countryside
below her.  It seemed far too peaceful, given the
circumstances.  I won't even die at home, she thought.  
"What do you want me to do?"

	"Find out anything you can.  The cellphone networks
are still running, it seems like."  He sighed.  "Good luck,
Megumi."

	"You too, boss," she said.  "I'll call you when I
know something."

	"Okay," he said, then hung up.

	She looked round at her fellow passengers, mostly
scientists.  "Does anyone know if Akagi-san and Ibuki-san
got out?"

	"The last I saw of Akagi-san, she was driving a
scalpel into the eye of one of those things."  The woman
shuddered.  "They looked somewhat like she does now.  But
even more freaky."

	The man next to her punched her in the arm.  "She
can't help what that stupid shit Anna did to her.  God, we
are so fucked."

	"They're a bunch of primitive fucks," another man
said.  "The military will blow the hell out of them.  
Though they may have to nuke the giant jello monster or
whatever the hell that thing was."  His shudders belied his
bold words.

	The military probably could handle the fish-men once
the element of surprise was gone.  But not their master.  
Where the Children dead?  Could they get to the Angel in
time if they weren't dead?

	Was this how it would all end?  Megumi hoped not,
but she didn't have any answers.

	She gazed up at the stars, and they shone down at
her, cold and uncaring.  There would be no help from above.  
Mankind would live or die by its own strength.  She prayed
it would be enough.

	And feared it would not.

	They would know, one way or another, soon enough.

                            -*-
                      - end part 22 -
                            -*-