EVANGELION: Ascension of the Lamb
By: Dante Abbey

 Episode 43: Reaping the Storm / The Circle of Minos

     As the eye of the storm continued to approach the coast, the image on the main screen began to show a distinct abnormality.  At the core of the monster tempest, a scarlet point began to glow within the centre like some kind of bloody pupil.
     Lightning played off the inner walls of cloud surrounding it, dancing back and forth in supercharged arcs of pure electricity, burning visibly from within the clouds like a candle in a paper lantern.  Even in the earth's shadow, the light could be seen from space, distinct in the satellite's eye.
     It escaped no one's notice in the command centre, a moving point of light against a dark, swirling background.
     Yamashita looked back from the main screen to his own, greeted by a seemingly-innocuous message.  He read it once, then again, aloud.
     "Analysis complete...the pattern...is Blue."
     "All right...change the cyclone advisory into a full Angel alert.  Evacuate the city and call in the pilots."
     "The storm is accelerating its course!  It'll be here soon!" shouted some technician from below the command tower.  "ETA twenty minutes!"
     The crackling hiss of oil and hydraulics from above drew some eyes towards the source of the noise, up to the top of the bridge.  Commander Fuyutsuki, just arrived, didn't pause for a situational report.  "Trying to catch us unawares, I see," he said quietly to himself, staring at the constantly updated image on the screen as it turned in starts.
     As the storm's rate of approach increased, so did the speed of the driving winds that accompanied it.  The cyclone's lashing arms seemed to whip the coast as it drove its way overland without pause and without being delayed by the topographical obstacles that stood in its way.  Above ground, near the perimeter of the city, some of the younger, more pliable pines that stood on the mountains began to crackle and bend, their fragile green needles and branches snapping and twisting in the wind.  Visible cracks began to appear in the bark of the older, stiffer ones, and those that were already showing severe damage were inevitably doomed to fall.
     "What's the pilots' status now?"
     Masaharu put the receiver in his hand back into its depression on the desk.  "They've all passed the outer security checkpoints.  Based on our previous sorties, the MAGI would estimate that they'll be ready for deployment in less than ten minutes."
     "Do we have that long?" asked Shigeru, already trying to think of a safe way to deploy the monstrous Evas in the storm.
     Idly, he began wondering if an AT Field would ward off the winds or make matters worse by catching them.  Or, would it even interact with the wind at all?

* * *

     The smell of grease and metal filled the large enclosure that was the Cage's primary elevator.  The walls of unblemished steel had a tendency to amplify that smell and focus the steady whirring of the mechanisms that drove the box upwards in its vertical tracks, Shinji had noted long ago.
     Now, the steady rattling of the chain-link fencing that enclosed the open-fronted elevator was extremely familiar to him.  It was likely familiar to Asuka as well, and probably even the newer pilots.  By now, despite Dr. Robertson's persistence in calling them rookies, they had certainly acquired enough experience to have proceeded beyond that stage.
     He'd ridden this elevator too many times to bother counting.  In between Angels, there were usually also various tests and maintenance routines that could only be accomplished with the Evas activated and ready...and that meant that he and the others would have to be in them.
     Through the wire mesh, he could see the Evas being prepared for battle.  Nearest him stood the two oldest Evas; Unit-01 and 02.  Compared to the other three, they were considerably more colourful and battle-worn.  Not that any of the damage was visible.  The armour had been restored, and the individual body parts replaced.  Shinji even found himself doubting that there could be scars beneath the armour.
     Reborn.
     That's what they were.  After every battle, the Evas were simply...repaired.  Regardless of the damage incurred, it was always possible to repair them.  To say healed would be incorrect, partly because the different anatomical sections could be interchanged like pieces of machinery.
     He looked past the three monsters closest to him, to the white and blue one standing next in line.  Unit-15's head had been entirely destroyed by the Angel, to the point where it had taken rescue crews nearly an hour to clear the rubble blocking the entry plug's egress hatch and extricate the pilot.  Today, it was whole again, and the armour was pristine.
     Sometimes, he still wondered if the Angels were going be able to kill one of them.  It hadn't happened yet, at least not directly.  He and the others could not be so easily reborn as the Evas.
     Shinji turned his head, and found Asuka looking at him with equal parts affection and anxiety.  He gave her a timid smile.
     "Hmm?"
     "...Dummkopf," she replied, as she returned her gaze the Evas standing slumped in the Cage before them.  "Just be careful..."
     Looking around himself, Shinji looked at the others, his friends.  While Kensuke wasn't exactly as upbeat as he once was, he seemed to have found some reason to rejoin them.  For the moment, Kensuke simply rested with his back against the cold metal wall as the elevator continued its shuddering course upwards.
     Almost a mirror image to him, Touji stood on the opposite side of the elevator, arms crossed and eyes closed.  And as always, he wore a faint frown, as if he were upset with something.
     The elevator suddenly darkened as it entered enclosed final fifty or so meters to the top of the Cage.  Hikari began to stand from her place on the floor, slipping once, but righting herself with Touji's help.
     The rest of the routine would begin soon.  He would rejoin with the Eva, undergo the crushing force of the lauch procedure, and fight an Angel.  Had he bothered to count, this would have been the 27th.
     As the elevator pulled to a stop, the floor aligning itself so that it was flush with the one outside, he looked towards Asuka again.  She had been doing this nearly as long as he had been -- longer, if you counted her training -- although he wondered if the experience was truly any different for her.  Perhaps she viewed the routine from a slightly different angle.
     Also, that angle had to have changed, over time.  The rushing enthusiasm she had once expressed before every sortie had disappeared long ago, even from before the Awakening, and he felt perhaps a little saddened by it.  He had always admired that energy, that drive, and it always seemed a shame whenever her face fell.
     Nevertheless, he also knew that it never truly died, and that at any given moment, it was always waiting to surge forth again.  The knowledge was heartening.  The night before, he'd disturbed her sleep because of a spectre of his past that hadn't even made sense to him.  She'd insisted that he tell her the details, and even appeared to have slept in a slightly troubled manner...but the next morning, as always, she was herself again.
     Reborn, without ever dying.
     Maybe that was what bothered him.  Death, absolute death would stop it forever, prevent him from ever seeing her life ever again.  What better reason to persist with this routine than to safeguard her?  He hadn't really found a reason yet, but this was sufficient.
     Still holding Asuka's hand, he stepped out onto the first of the umbilical bridges.  The Evas stared on, outwards, inert.  It was time to begin.

* * *

     "The verdict from the MAGI is final.  The winds near the core of the cyclone are too strong.  There's no way they'd be able to fight in that."
     Shigeru peered over Masaharu's shoulder, checking the readouts for himself.  "I suppose that means we can't use any of the city's defence networks, either."
     The only member of the bridge staff who was still silent remained Fuyutsuki, sitting immovable on his throne overlooking the Command Centre.  Even Dr. Robertson was occupied with the launch preparations and the beratement of those staff members involved.
     Finally, Fuyutsuki spoke.
     "Have the Evas outfitted with close-range and hand-to-hand weapons.  Deploy them inside the eye of the storm.  They will be capable of combat there."
     Curious eyes darted from control boards to NERV's supreme Commander and back again.  Arashio, especially, noted the cold, business-like demeanor of her superior.  This wasn't the tired old man who usually gave her her orders.
     It certainly was strange, she thought, turning back to her console to begin programming the new launch paths for the Evas.

* * *

     The crackling hiss of electricity burned a path through the air as the capacitors for the Eva's launch platforms discharged simultaneously, sending several hundred tons of flesh and metal on a near-supersonic path towards the storm and the city high above.  Around him, the metal walls that surrounded his Eva blurred into indistinct streaks, and Shinji waited.  In less than another second, he would be standing in immediate proximity to yet another Angel, one that had chosen to cloak itself in one of the most powerful natural forces known to man.
     And as it had been for several months now, he felt no fear.
     He had been fighting these creatures for so long that it was almost second nature.  So much so that he'd once confused it with his own identity.
     It didn't matter much now.  All he wanted to do for the time being was to get this over and done with so he could get back to the rest of his life...and Asuka.
     Suddenly, rain washed over his Eva and he felt a momentary chill before he and Unit-01 were catapulted out into the elements.  Metal bent and groaned, as the howling winds did their utmost to deform the restraints that were still pinning his arms to his sides.
     He uttered a frustrated noise, and tore the Eva free, only to find that he was already being blown sideways by the heavy rain and the driving force behind it.  Panic bloomed in his gut for a moment, and he reached out to the platform that had brought him here, to the surface, for support.
     Some of the lighter constructions around him had already collapsed or been ripped away by the wind, their innards exposed and then burned by the subsequent bursts of lightning.  He couldn't see anything around him.  The rain was obscuring everything and muting colours so badly that even Unit-02's brilliant form would have been lost next to him.
     And then, as if his Eva had suddenly surfaced from a deep lake, the dense cloud washed past him and the wind died.  Shinji found himself staring at an amorphous red glow that shot twitching, transient branches of crimson lightning in all directions, charging even the dark indigo of the early morning sky above him with its angry light.
     He was blinded in an instant by its flailing arms as one reached out to touch Unit-01's grim visage.  A flaring pain exploded within his forehead, and sparks showered across his field of vision.  Turning away, he lifted a hand to protect himself and was suddenly cut off from the outside world.

* * *

     "What do you mean it's cutting straight through their AT Fields?"
     Disoriented screams of agony emanated from the static-filled communications windows and mingled hauntingly in the cavernous room that served as NERV's core.  They were all so alike that no one could make any distinction between the Children any more.
     "Data collection beginning!" shouted Masaharu, only a fraction of a second before every link between the Evas and their support staff was cut off completely.
     Shigeru stared back at Dr. Robertson, asking with his eyes.
     "We lost 'em," his co-worker replied, shrugging.  "Nothing we can do now."
     Above them, Commander Fuyutsuki continued to watch the flickering attempts of the MAGI to re-establish communications and the swirling mass of thunder and mist that covered the city.  His face hadn't changed yet.

* * *

     What the..?
     Asuka blinked in the darkness, trying to restore her vision to its normal state.
     She was still sitting in her entry plug, her hands wrapped around the controls to her Eva, and her body wrapped in her plug suit.
     And yet...her mother was no longer there.  Mama had disappeared.
     The sensory indication that she was no longer synchronized with Unit-02 was the glaring lack of visual and tactile input.  The entry plug's walls had returned to their usual burnished copper colour, and the only sensation was the yielding foam against her back and legs.
     But she felt her mother's absence more deeply, and it was, to her, a surer sign than any of these.
     Her right hand touched the switch that would re-initialize her connection with the Eva, and it clicked audibly in the dark.  Nothing happened.
     Not even the slightest flicker of contact.  Cursing to herself, she calmed her mind, opening it and reaching out, then tried again.  Still nothing.
     Fear swelled in her heart and pressed upon her chest from the inside.  Her mother had only come to her once before, in her moment of direst need, and the knowledge that she was there was one of the two things that had been instrumental in sustaining her thus far.
     She couldn't lose her again...
     She waited longer, frustration building alongside the overwhelming dismay and apprehension.  With it came anger, which she vented by smashing her fists against the controls and trying the activation switch again, and again, and again.
     And when she still found herself locked in the dead Eva, she yelled fiercely once, her teeth locked together and grinding, and then fell silent, slouching over in her chair.
     "Mama?" she asked, calling out and hoping against all hope that her worst fears weren't coming true all at once.  There was no indication that they weren't.  Crossing her arms, she lifted her knees to her chest and leaned against them.  It was starting to get cold in her entry plug.  She wondered momentarily if she had passed out long enough for the Eva's automatic systems to have run out of power...but she knew, somehow, that she had always been fully conscious.
     What now, then?
     For the first time in a very long while, she was at a complete loss.  The sudden and devastating impotence wrought upon her frightened her to no end.  One second, she was prepared to face down the attacker, smite the Angel with mama and Shinji by her side...the next, lost and lonely.
     She looked up, glancing around her to search with flagging hope for any sign that this would be coming to an end.  Oblivion filled the air around her.
     Thorny, gnarled trees fruitless and forevermore barren surrounded her, receding into infinite space and darkness while the wind slashed at her face and ears.  She couldn't see much further than a few trunks deep, and even that perspective was slowly fading into a matte black.  Asuka cleared her eyes with a searching swipe of her palm.
     It helped, but not much.  The surrounding shadows continued to advance, swallowing yet another of the sickly, groping trees ahead of her.  She didn't want that void to touch her, at any cost, and yet she could not move.  On every side, she was equally distant from the sides of her rapidly diminishing bubble of light.  Even above her, the sky was falling, coming so close now that if she had chosen to stand from her balled form, she could have touched it with her fingers.
     "Mama!" she shouted, the darkest, most secure portion of her mind still conscious of the fact that she could not have strayed from the safe enclosure of the entry plug, "Mama!  Please!"
     The answer never came, perhaps also lost in the black hell around her.  Wind ripped through the trees, peeling away the thorns and driving them at her like a swarm of angry hornets.  Some pierced her, drawing blood, others flew off into the darkness, disappearing.
     She screamed in abject suffering, crying out one last time as the darkness began to consume her as well, calling out to mama.  It was ridiculous to believe that she could help her at that moment, but it was all she could do before she was irrevocably blinded in this nightmarish forest.
     "Mama!" she shouted, the border between light and darkness less than a few inches from her folded form, and still accelerating towards her.  For a moment, she was compressed in a minute pocket of air, and then the shadow broke over her like a wave falling crashing onto a forsaken beach.
     Her body was swallowed whole, and her eyes saw nothing.  She could yet feel her face, her hands had convulsed into a mask over her mouth and nose, and she knew from years of experience that her eyes had to be open.  They had to be!
     She was acutely aware of the position of her eyelids and the scanning motions of her twin sightless orbs.  When she moved her hands to her face, she could feel her eyelashes bend under the gentle pressure.
     She closed her blind eyes and cried.
     Nothing happened, and no one came.  Neither of their comforting hands reached out to her, taking her and leading her out of oblivion.  Shinji's warm embrace was nowhere to be found.  The warmth and compassion that were his signature traits no longer anything but a memory.
     She cried.
     "...Shinji..," she whispered, the last of her hopes dashed by the continuing absence.  The name brought his image to mind.
     She missed him.  More than ever before.  More than that one time they had confined him to NERV's hospital for a week just because he had regenerated Unit-01's arms for her sake.
     She remembered his panicked dreams from the night before, how good she had felt taking him into her arms and comforting him the way she had enjoyed his comfort before.  The kisses, whether overt or discreet, in which she found the simplest and most direct reaffirmation that he loved her.  She felt they kept her alive, and allowed her to maintain the driving force that represented her wherever she went.
     Further memories came to mind.  Memory of the first week after the Awakening, how she had tried to force herself to cope with all her internal struggles and continuing reluctance to let him know her thoughts.  And how, after she had finally come to recognize how very simple it would be to finally seek his forgiveness for her wiles, how she'd ultimately sought to let all the pain go.  She missed the quiet way he'd finally been able to help her.
     And now, trapped in her mind, she kept herself alive by reliving the past.
     She looked down on his sleeping figure, bathed in moonlight, curled reflexively on a bed that looked strangely too large for a single person.  She remembered wondering just how pitiful and desperate she really was to be actively carrying out that fool's errand to wake him in mid-slumber and ask him to prove that he did, in factm love her.  She had decided to delay waking him and watch instead, and when his eyes had snapped open at the merest touch of her breath, she had been as surprised as he was to see her there.  She remembered that kiss, cherished it as the first real one.
     In that single instant of contact, she'd found something she never wanted to lose again.  It didn't matter what anyone thought, it was hers, to have and to hold.
     She was losing it now, in this absent forest of fear.
     She clung ever more tenaciously to her remaining memories, as they were the only way she could still see anything.  For whatever reason, the details and colour were crisper and more intense than any other memory she'd ever had, like the difference between a bas-relief and a simple painting.  They had more depth.  She could still condole herself in them, wallow in the last dregs of comfort Shinji had always offered her much as a drunk savours the last drops from his beloved bottle.
     Even more painful was the fact that they were slipping away from her, second by second, and disappearing.  She became instantly aware of this fact, as she realized she could no longer summon the images, and only know for sure that they had indeed come to pass.  Someone, or something, was taking them from her.
     She didn't feel so much violated this time as robbed.  Rather than her mind penetrated forcibly, it was being laid bare in her absence, rendered devoid of those things that she held dearest to her.  She could still fight a thief.
     Asuka loosed every ounce of rage and despair still left in her, railing against the Angel even as she scrambled desperately to locate those few recollections that still resisted against its pull.
     I hate you.
     The words appeared out of nowhere in her head, even as she howled at the presence fastidiously picking through her mind and consuming it.  They represented all and naught to her at once: a lost philosophy, an abhorrence for everything and everyone that she imagined she had left behind long ago.
     She couldn't tell who or what they had been directed at.
     As she sought an escape from her confusion, her eyelids were split open by the tears and the forest of darkness shattered and fell around her.  The trees, suddenly rendered as fragile as glass, splintered into narrow, piercing shards that danced and spun wherever they rained down against the dirt.  The black veil that had enveloped her and crept into her receded away instantly like a recoiling beast, and the world was thrown violently onto its ear.
     Naked and still bleeding memories, she huddled herself deeper into the narrow ball she had been hiding herself in, creating a lukewarm refuge with her body heat.  Now, it was yet more important, as her arms cradled the bare flesh of her legs.
     Whimpering against her knees, she heard the words again, and they seemed to echo from everywhere within the entry plug.  The voices she heard manifested themselves many, many times, in many, many different accents and forms, but the sheer venom in each iteration was wholly impossible to ignore.
     I hate you, they shouted, wailing vitriol like banshees then bellowing like the flames of a conflagration before changing anew into something even worse.
     Out of options, and knowing that mama was no longer anywhere near by, she turned to a last resort.  Not simply to remember, but in a plea for help, her everlasting self-sufficient pride finally giving way by this harsh necessity.
     "...Shinji!"
     At once, there was silence, both within and without.  Everything around her died, dulling to a silent gloominess that filled the liquid space around her.  She listened, and could only hear the frantic rush of her own lifeblood in her ears, pulsing erratically with the gradual and persistent renewal of her every fear.
     The agony was unbearable.  With every passing moment, she expected nothing but the return of the auditory hell that despised her for something, and she knew that whatever it was, she was innocent of any crime.
     Her breathing became progressively shallower as her fear gorged itself on its own tail, and yet growing continuously so that it never caught up to itself.  It became a bloated monstrosity the second those disembodied voices spoke again.
     Asuka covered her ears and snapped her eyes shut, biting her lip hard enough to dig a narrow laceration on the inside of her mouth with her teeth.
     You don't care, they whispered, echoing, the low tone all the more menacing.  You don't care about him at all, do you?
     "No!" she shouted, finally finding a place where she could defend herself effectively from the onslaught that filled her outer consciousness and flooded the places where her memories should have been.  "I do!"
     She loved him.  It was, to her, the most fundamental of all truths she could have uttered, and she chose to do so.  It was a truth, one they couldn't take from her, and never would.  She had found him to be her sole source of solace since her mother had hung herself from the hospital ceiling half-naked and bearing the enigmatic smile of peace that had hauted Asuka's nightmares for years.
     And as he was her salve, she clung to him, and would continue to do so.
     Selfish bitch.
     Asuka's hands fell from her ears to her belly in one sudden, shocked motion, as something primal and violent erupted there.  Her body arched backwards and her head slammed against the entry plug's head-rest, leaving an ugly bruise beneath her falling red hair.  Almost immediately, she recoiled into a ball, cradling her hands against the uncovered skin of her stomach and yelping hoarsely with the sudden physical pain.
     Something was being destroyed inside of her, something so delicate and so incredibly important that tears of sorrow mixed with those borne of pain against the surface of her eyes.  She felt layers of muscle contract and heave within her, pulsing, trying to expulse the death.
     She vomited blood from the soft, female mouth set in the cleft beneath her abdomen.

* * *

     The brilliant, blinding starburst that had, for a scant moment, obscured Shinji's field of vision with a shower of bursting electrical discharges faded away in his mind, leaving his retinas the time to recover.  He blinked hard, crushing the knuckle of his right hand into the corner of his eye, trying his best to ignore the ache that still lingered there.
     Slowly, he opened his eyes, and was at once stunned by the borderless expanse of...nothingness.  There was no wind, no rain, no hail, and no cyclone.  There was no Angel.
     He no longer sat contained in the warm, blood-scented confines of his customary entry plug.  Rather, his command chair, a floating spindle of stainless steel hovered in the still air that surrounded him and filled his throat with its icy sting at every inhalation.
     Air?
     No...it was different.  It was easier to breathe air.  This was thicker, more viscous.  More like...LCL.  Raw, non-electrolyzed LCL.  He was less familiar with this form.  It was the variety that he and the others first breathed in, breathed out when the plugs were initially filled.  Before even synchronization could take place, the LCL...changed.  Then it became lighter, and was no longer a chore to breathe or talk in.
     His lungs were already beginning to burn with the effort of sustaining himself, and he had a momentary pang of fear imagining that it would tire him, and he would eventually asphyxiate.  Still, he fought to breathe.
     Slowly, suspiciously, he began to glance around himself at the crimson landscape.  All around him, at every conceivable angle, it was the same.  The illusion was perfect.  And yet, there were waves, beneath him.
     Flowing, receding, advancing, transposing...  If he truly was sitting above a nothing world of the amber blood, he must have been inverted, sitting upside-down in his chair.  The air would then be beneath him, beyond the undulating liquid boundary.
     He couldn't bring himself to abandon the command chair yet, though.  Even if there was air on the other side of the surface beneath him, he could not see to the other side.  Besides, he was undauted by the perversity of this dreamy oblivion.  He decided to wait.
     Without a doubt, he could only truly be within the metallic confines of his entry plug, locked securely into the Eva's neck.  The Angel still flew before him, in the still eye of the storm that raged outside.
     In three steps, colossal for a man but average for Unit-01, he would be within striking distance of the Angel.  No matter the hallucination the Angel was imposing on him now, reality would only prove that he was correct.
     He tried to move, taking the command levers into his gloved hands, and pulled against them.  Of course, he hadn't been expecting anything in the blank world around him to change.  This was not...real.  It suddenly occurred to him that not only could he not see the Eva that he had, until recently, been connected to, but he could not sense it, either.
     There was no rapport, no synchronization.  He hadn't realized it before, but there was a complete and utter lack of the distant, yet immediate sensation that belonged to his mother's gargantuan body.
     "Mother..?"
     Discouraged to some degree, he sank back into the command chair, releasing the levers.  Deprived of those things that would have freed him from this stifling prison of liquid, he could only continue waiting.
     In the silence, his thoughts began to drift, edging from one subject to another, but never straying too far from his current situation.  As he let his head sit against the chair behind him, he wondered what had happened to Asuka, and whether or not she was still safe.  It had to have been less than a few minutes since he had last seen her, and already, he was worrying.
     Sighing, he leaned back and closed his eyes.  Immediately, he fervently wished he hadn't.
     Asuka! he screamed silently, his mind's eye finding her standing there in front of him.  With a sudden and tragic force, his hands shot straight for her throat, a move that somehow felt so savagely premeditated that he nearly choked on his own horror.
     His surroundings never registered.  All he heard was her shocked whimper, cut short in an instant as his fingers flexed around her slowly collapsing trachea, strangling her.  He willed his hands apart, to leave her neck, but they never moved.  Instead, they simply pressed harder.
     No...no..!
     Tears of pain and frustration brimmed in his eyes, filling and overflowing his shallow eyelids.  He didn't want to see this...he hadn't reminded himself in months!  And yet, there they were, his hands, his horrid tools, holding a lifeless beauty suspended in mid-air, in a grotesque display of execution.
     He felt relief for a fraction of a second as the image, the memory, the fact, disappeared; only to repeat itself with increased speed and intent.  He felt his hand constrict in the soft neoprene, and Unit-01's hand find something hovering in mid-air, in his grasp.  His eyes carried his vision down to it, as his finger twitched around the control lever.
     He howled in agony as Asuka's corpse fell to the waters below.
     Unit-01's bloody fists pummeled her Eva, reducing it to a massive wet smear of drying blood against the side of hilly landscape miles from Tokyo-3, reaching down into the visceral mass only to withdraw a battered entry plug.  He knew, somewhere in his slowly collapsing conscious, that that plug, so clearly marked with the numbers 02, should not have been there, but it didn't matter.  He was seeing them, all his worst nightmares, coming to a head in an instant.
     Unstoppable and implacable, they layered themselves on top of each other and gave him no pause.
     The entry plug's fragile walls shattered between his fingers, the pieces falling slowly to the ground like feathers from slaughtered game, wearing the same red taint.
     Shinji had not yet stopped screaming when he saw his last chance at redemption.  Asuka's unblinking eye and a square wad of cotton gauze stared up at him, only slightly covered by her limp auburn bangs.  She said nothing, but her face was still set in the same scornful mask she had taken to wearing before the world collapsed.
     Marshalling all his strength, he funneled it into preventing history from repeating itself again...and he failed.  He failed miserably.  He saw her death, in a hundred forms and permutations, and always at his hands.
     As always, his hands, his body, reached for her.  His finger tips found the frail column of air that sustained her.  Beneath her pure skin, he could feel the concealed striations of muscle and cartilage as his thumbs crossed over at the base, bare centimeters above the sloping lines of her shoulders.  And in spite of his falling tears and her warm, shaking caress, he crushed it.
     The pillar squeezed shut in its centre, forcibly contracted beyond any state of recovery.  Asuka's hand fell heavily to the beach, the bandaged arm throwing up a small puff of ascending sand as it struck her ground.  Her visible eye died.  Shinji cried all the harder, begging the universe, begging God, begging her, begging himself to stop.
     "Asuka!" he whimpered, and his eyes finally opened just enough to place him back where he had come from.  "Asuka!"
     As if in response, an enormous basso crack rocked his command chair and compressed the LCL below him.  Less than a few meters beyond his feet, the undulating surface of the liquid deformed and distorted, welling up in a massive convex meniscus.  A fraction of a second later, the smooth uniformity of the dome broke, dissolving into aveil of tiny air bubbles, like those that trail a thrown rock into the depths.  The rest of the LCL around him was pushed in an expanding shockwave from whatever it was that had struck the inverted boundary beneath him.
     Hidden by the roiling curtain of miniscule air pockets, Shinji could not at first make out with any real certainty the nature of the object that had destroyed the stillness around him.  His ears were filled with the high, piping sounds of their laboured motion through the thicker medium.  He hardly cared what had interrupted the lonely, blood-coloured realm around him.
     He simply cried out for her again, and again, trying to imagine a version where he had not even tried what he had done.  And she was destroyed each time.
     His mind and his attempted corrections of the past both collapsed into instantaneous disarray, falling away even as the bubbles rose to some invisibly distant ceiling far, far above.  He would finally see what they obscured.
     Her...her!
     "Asuka!" he shouted, momentarily relieved and instinctively leaning forward in the disembodied command chair and reaching out one of his gloved hands towards her, to find her.  He shouted her name again, his voice a fractured melange of horror, concern, and shock as he raised his eyes and face again to look, to see...her.
     It was Asuka, and like him, she sat in her entry plug's distorted seat.  As he looked upon her bloodied nakedness, however, she did not return his gaze no matter how hard he screamed out to her.  Her hands were limp at her sides and her hair hung over her downcast visage.  He looked closer still and saw that the tiny beads that fell to her chest were nothing less than tears, splashing over her exposed breasts.
     She had all the volition and vivacity of an unused marionette, a toy thrown to rot on the trash heap.  Her skin, normally of pure, even colour, was marred by irregular, scarlet-rust patches that could only have been blood.
     Her body convulsed involuntarily, wretchedly, once before him, and as he looked on in stupefied terror, she curled up into a tight ball and bled.  Her thighs and hands were suddenly stained a dark, ferrous red that easily matched the crimson realm around him, and she cried harder, in pain.
     Shinji never once stopped shouting her name, entreating her to rise, to save herself.
     He felt himself being restrained by some invisible force, tied back to the pads that surrounded him from behind, his hands suddenly locked onto the useless controls.  He struggled harder.
     Desperate and despairing, he called out again and again, his voice shredded, his throat ragged and aching from repeated abuse.  Each time, his plea came with more force and a greater sense of loss that worked easily in tandem to reduce to his own, whimpering, shivering ball.
     It was then that he first became aware of the fleshy grey mass that cradled Asuka's command chair, its stumpy arms pinning the flat steel structure to its grotesquely long torso.  The lower end was laid full length against its vestigial tail and the upper against the bloated, undeveloped folds of its neck.
     The creature was vast, and Shinji was forced to raise his eyes to meet the blind, unblinking stare of the enormous round structures that could not yet see, set bulging in an elephantine head.  Some form of self-righteous anger flooded Shinji's mind, and he challenged the monster accusingly.
     "What have you done to her?" he demanded, glaring back at the massive embryo.
     The dark, brooding mass' hare-lips spread apart in a feral grin, its undeveloped pharynx rippling in preparation.  The unborn's sickly, toothless gums parted, strands of mucus stretching apart and snapping with a soft pop.
     Unbidden, the sourceless, rumbling words crashed through Shinji's head.
     Or, rather, what have you done to her?
     Its miniscule, stubby fingers instinctively stroked the metallic sides of Asuka's command chair, touching it.
     What have you done to her?
     Webbed hands rippled again past her body.  Anger surged within him, only now beginning to manifest itself.
     "Me?" he asked in return, his eyes tight and his features skewed with emotion as his eyes shot back and forth between Asuka's nudity and the horror that held her captive.  He tried futilely to deny the twisted recollections now running rampant through his head.  Their presence made it impossible to for him to direct his anger at anything but himself.  He fell silent.
     The embryo's head cocked inquisitively to the side.  Even with the hollow, inaudible rumble that seemed to be its voice, it sounded almost sorrowful, repeating to him the words that had momentarily run through his mind.
     Too much.  The words appeared within him again like lights in a storm, and he fought to understand them. Are you aware of even half of the pain you've caused her?
     Shinji stared, his eyes frozen and tearless in fear.
     Why is it you derive all your basest pleasures from her?  Your instict to kill, to destroy?
     "God...no," he whispered, inaudible, only his lips moving.  "Stop...I love her...please..."
     The embryo heard his silent words.
     She already fears you.  Isn't that enough?
     "...no...oh...God..."
     Isn't it enough that you force her to relive your attempted murder every time she sees you?
     "No!"  He could barely find the strength to protest among his depleted reserves.  He didn't want to hear these...these lies.  "She loves me!  I know it!  She's the only who has ever really loved me!"
     False.
     Shinji stalled.  Was that in reference to his words, or his thoughts?  He could no longer be certain.
     You know she hates you.  She can't stand you.  She told you she hates you.  And you wanted to rid yourself of her.
     "...No!   No..."
     So why did you stop, Shinji?
     The split lips of the gargantuan fluttered as a cold current of LCL washed around them.  Its eyes, still covered by a protective flap of skin, rolled lazily in their sockets.  The fingers moved.  The tail quivered.  Its heart, visible through the pale grey epidermis, pulsed at a slightly quicker rhythm.  It seemed to be waiting.  Shinji could find no answers.
     Did you enjoy it?  Perhaps...
     "No!" he screamed, interrupting even as his eyes blurred again with the memory of his hands locking into place around her neck.  He was crushing her to make himself feel better.  "No!"  She looked so helpless, injured, possibly dying, on the sand, with her body wrapped in futile bandages.
     He loved her!  Hadn't he been the one who finally got her to share her sorrow, her memories?  Who had taken those demons and brought them low for her?  Why didn't she cry in her sleep any more?  Wasn't that why?
     Or perhaps...
     Shinji looked down to the bed.  In the pallid blue light of the hospital room, amid the low noises of the medical equipment, he saw her.  Her soft, beautiful body.  She was comatose, rendered that way by the tragedy of the past, the same one he'd tried to appease.
     And even as he looked upon her suffering, he felt himself stir.  He felt dirty already, staring down at the unconscious, yet incredibly erotic and sensual pose she was now lying in.  She looked ready to be taken.
     Even then, he found himself unable to touch her.  Nor was he able to look away.  His eyes were drawn to her breasts, lolling softly against the shallow breathing evidenced by her showing ribs.  He knew they were warm...no, hot.  They would feel hot against his palms if only he had the courage to touch them, to caress them.
     He didn't.  He couldn't.  And he was still scum.
     He touched himself, instead.  Rubbing himself with increased speed and fervour.
     He was scum.  Shinji knew himself to be scum, and for that, he cried.
     The grey embryo smiled.
     So...that's why.  The pleasures of flesh.  You knew, then, from the first you saw her, you needed to take that flesh and make it your own.
     Shinji buried his head in his hands, his will shattered and his mind in shambles.
     And you did, didn't you?  You didn't have the courage to do it then, so you waited.  You lived with her, slept with her.  You forced her to pour her heart out, until she was nothing but a shivering shell of her former self...all her memories, her past...you asked her to tell what she had vowed never to tell anyone.  You even had to take that promise from her.  And then you raped her.
     Shinji's vehement denial started strongly, then died, twisting and falling like the final cry of a slain animal.  In the end, it was nothing more than a whisper.  As he struggled to look upon his victim and accuser, he noticed for the first time that the embryo's umbilical cord snaked up the side of the command chair and into the bloody gap between Asuka's legs.
     You raped her.
     Shinji's chest constricted suddenly, and the pressure shattered his heart in an instant.  Bile rose and burned through his throat, emptying his stomach onto the controls before him.

* * *

     A fourteen year old girl struggled to her feet in the unsteady enclosure provided by her floating tomb, and looked out over the newly formed Antarctic Ocean.  Even the glowering light seemed to sting her face as the winds of hatred whipped around her.
     It had been forever and a day since she had ridden the waves here in her unsteady and unintentional watercraft.  Her logic, that of a child's, had failed her, and she had found her self standing there, somehow saved by the man she hated.  She couldn't hate anything anymore.  She didn't know if there was anything to hate.
     All she could see were the vast arcs of energy that reached to the heavens from ground zero, from the place that had once been the research station and the massive clouds of steam that had once been ice swirling around them.
     She didn't understand.  She spent many years trying to.  She thought of nothing else.  She spoke no words.  There was nothing to say.
     She had never realized it then, but all she had wanted for all those years, was the escape.  She wanted Antarctica back.  She'd only ever been happy there.  And now, because she understood the man she hated, it wasn't an escape any more.  There had never been any need to escape...only to stand up and face the truth.
     The escape...
     She found it again, several years later.  Even though she understood him, she needed to run away again.  Because she couldn't undo what had been done.  She could never erase the gap she'd created between herself and one of the two people that should have been able to love her freely.
     She drank.  And had sex.  And drank.  And smoked, and had sex, and drank.
     One escape gave her the liberty of illogic, gave her wings to fly to a fantasy world where nothing mattered.  All she had to do was get hammered, and she could forget everything.  It was that simple.  Enough alcohol, and she'd be there.
     Another calmed her nerves.  Let her concentrate on one thing long enough that she could get it finished without having to think yet again about her past.  She finally gave that up, more because of the cancerous lung posters than for anything else.
     The last...the last let her run the farthest.  There was something about the utter release and liberty of orgasm that completely erased her mind, her memories, her worries, everything.  The ultimate escape.
     She ran for a whole week straight.  Right through.  Only stopped to eat, sleep, and shower.  And to wait for Kaji to recover.
     And afterwards, she was sore and disgusted.  But she knew she'd loved every minute of it.  She left, and had let the alcohol do the running for her since she'd abandoned the other two.
     She joined NERV.  She found out about the Angels.  About Antarctica.  About Second Impact.  And she found two more escapes.
     She found she hated the Angels.  It let her pin the blame for her father's death on the Angels.  Not to mention the Evas, since they came from Angels.  She reasoned that there had been nothing she could do.  She didn't have to worry about blaming herself for anything any more.  Then she met Shinji, and Asuka.  Made herself their guardian so she could be loved.  So she could believe she was still worth something after all.
     Now, she was pretty sure she was dead.  After she had been shot, on the last day she'd ever ordered Shinji to do anything, she'd remained conscious long enough to send Shinji to fight, and just long enough to recognize that her body had been torn in half at the waist by some violent explosion.
     In this state, she didn't have to have the alcohol any more.  None of the old escapes would work here.  But...
     If she could have, she would have laughed at herself.  She was still doing it.  Still running away.  Just like Shinji used to.  Even he'd stopped running, now.
     She still hated the Evas.  And so, she'd escaped from it.  As a result, she'd taken up the custody of anotherChild, one she hardly knew.  Just to make herself feel worthy of something.
     This Child was in hell.  Always unsure of what to do, whose desires she should satisfy, and always falling short of being true to herself.  Something, most likely the Angel, was taking this altruistic compuction, and perverting it.  Turning it against the Child who should have enjoyed it.
     Oh, well, she thought.  She would act as guardian one more time, and then she would stop running.  A resolution, of sorts.

* * *

     Captain Aoba Shigeru's mind was racing.  It hadn't been so long ago that they had been completely cut off from the Evas and their suffering pilots.  One by one, their respective images had disappeared from the primary plasma screen at the far end of the room, their cries of pain brutally gagged by the loss of the signal.
     The satellite image hadn't really changed in the last ten minutes.  It still showed the cyclone, raging on as ever.  The Angel hadn't moved, though, and neither had the cyclone made any change in its position.
     The Evas still stood near the Angel, unmoving, locked in their poses like gargantuan statues.  And he was sure the pilots were no better off than they had been.
     The thought of ordering the JSSDF or the UN forces posted nearby to deploy some of their N2 weapons on the Angel had been nearly too tempting.  However, the sheer number required to completely destroy the enemy would also result in the destruction of the Children.  He wasn't willing to take that risk.
     Dr. Robertson didn't look like he was going to help.  Instead, he appeared to be working on something completely different.
     "...Sir?" he asked, turning towards the summit of the command tower.  "What do we do?"
     Fuyutsuki shrugged.  "For now?  Nothing.  I have faith in the Evas."

* * *

     Asuka's fists fell into her lap.
     She was bathed in an intense orange light, the light of sunsets.  A burning light, that changed even the colour of her normally cheery school uniform into a sombre, funeral shade.  She hated being alone.
     The windows of the train rattled as it rushed forward to some distant, invisible destination.  Where or why she was going there was altogether beyond her, and the only certainty was that she could stay aboard and discover it, or die leaving the safety of the enclosed passenger car.
     "I love him!" she shouted back, her tears staining her dress and blouse where they fell.  Around her, there was absolute silence, but she was continuously harried by the voices only she could hear.  She shouted her dedication again, sure that the driving need she'd understood for the first time only a week or two after the Awakening was as true as it could be.
     And she was ready to freely admit that she needed him.  All her efforts to distance herself were nothing more than some spiteful, childish effort to make herself seem larger than life.  If not to anyone else, than at least to herself.
     It's not true, though, is it?
     The voices overlapped each other, continuously modulating as a continuous murmur that assaulted her ears as steadily as waves fall onto a shore.
     What makes you think you love him?
     "He...he..."
     The voices interrupted suddenly, never ceasing fully.
     You thought you wanted Kaji, too, because he would listen to you and your nonsense.  Shinji listens, too, doesn't he?
     "He's the only one who really knows!  I let him understand me!"
     But that's all you want, isn't it?  You just want a toy who'll listen to you, who'll cry when you cry.  All you want is a doll.
     "That's enough!"
     Asuka lurched to her feet, still hindered by the stabbing pains in her gut, and ran unsteadily for the door leading to the next car.  For a moment, the steady, pounding sounds of her heart and her feet striking the floor drowned out her insistent accusers, and she thought for a moment that she was escaping.  Her fingers lashed out before her, wrapping themselves around the door handle, and she pulled.
     It remained stuck, defying her.
     She tried again and again, and the handle only clicked, locked shut against her.
     Asuka pounded the glass with her fists, crying, trying to flee.  Her tears splashed against the door and ran down, leaving trails not unlike rain.  As she cried, she looked forward, into the next car, into her destination.
     You just want a doll, who'll listen to all the hatred you have for your own family.
     Her eyes flew wide, and a ball of shock and panic lodged in her throat.  In the next car, seated facing each other on the bench, she saw two images of herself.  They were perfect, down to the slightest detail.
     On the left, she saw herself as a child.  In her hands, she recognized the only gift her step-mother had ever given her.  It was a small, brown stuffed animal, a monkey.  It wore a friendly smile and had its arms open in an eternal gesture of welcoming.  She watched as she clutched to her chest, crying openly by herself, letting her tears soak the monkey.
     On the other side of the train, she saw herself as she appeared now, dressed as she was daily, seated next to...Shinji.
     She was kissing him, despite the tears that trailed her cheeks.  She was holding his hand to her face, where he wiped futilely at the wet lines that represented all of the bottled grief and sorrow she had hoarded for herself all those years.  The scene lifted her heart for a while; it was the truth she lived every day.
     The voices were quiet, for the time being, and she rested her palms against the glass, watching herself happily settle into his arms, letting herself be comforted.
     Something small and brown struck the floor, bouncing once, and falling against Shinji's foot.  Neither of them had noticed, but Asuka's attention was riveted at once.
     She glanced back, looking towards the other version of herself with a questioning look on her face...the little girl was still seated, but alone, staring wrathfully at the floor.  Her tears were gone, her face twisted into a mask of anger painted with a contemptuous veneer.  Her eyes burned.
     Asuka looked upon herself, and knew that that, too, had been truth.  She'd simply cast away everything she disliked, and found that the category applied to most everything.  The day she'd realized that the monkey doll had originated from her step-mother's purse, she'd discovered it was useless to her, that it no longer salved the absence of her true mother and the painful arrivals of the two adulterated replacements.  She couldn't stand either the deranged or the surrogate.  Both ignored her, refused to love her.
     Her gaze shot back to the monkey, and she saw that its stuffing had been savagely torn from its central body cavity before it had been thrown to the dirty floor of the train.  Something red and viscous seeped from it, falling in patches on the floor around it.
     From it..?  No, from above.
     Asuka screamed once, then turned away from the scene, looking back into her own prison, and slumped into a ball against the floor, wailing quietly to herself.  Even then, she couldn't escape it.
     Shinji's body, beaten and bleeding, sat heavily in a heap before her, his clothing stained and wet with his own blood.  Her other self had disappeared, leaving only the child to lord over the destroyed monkey.  It was still soaked in his blood.
     She cast her eyes away, begging the sight to leave her, but she was rewarded only with the return of the voices, now bellowing, screaming, ranting, and screeching at her.
     This is also truth.  When he can no longer help you, you will cast him away as well.  You will use him and abandon him the second he no longer comforts you.  Is that love?  You will hate him as though he had never mattered to you at all.
     The train faltered and imploded upon itself, the walls fracturing as easily as the glass, and Asuka was left in absolute darkness.

* * *

     In the cold, dying darkness left in the wake of the embryo's disappearance, Shinji was left alone with nothing to latch only, no reference point from which to distinguish himself from the blackness around him.  As time passed, he slowly felt something being moved around within him, being drawn out into the forefront of his mind.
     He opened his eyes, not knowing what to expect.  Asuka's pain still weighed heavily on his mind.  For the moment, he remained silent; screaming futilely would not help.
     There was no light emanating from anywhere in the room.  All there was was the intense orange glow of a dying sun, casting obsidian shadows against the far wall of the living room.  There was enough brightness to give his shadow a sharp, blade-like edge, and when he moved, it cut deeply into the light, making it bleed invisibly.
     In the darkness of his mind, he watched himself toy with her, suckling her lips and savoring this initial taste of her body where it leaked in against his tongue.  He was at a loss as to how to describe it, but it was overwhelmingly good all the same.
     She gave little resistance, emotionally reduced to a pile of ashes, her natural fires doused by a heavy dose of sorrow and misery.  Asuka whimpered something from her sealed lips, but it was hardly audible, even in the utter silence of the room.
     Gradually, he watched as her flesh was revealed, piece by piece, and he could only observe in fascination as his hands caressed and examined it.  He could feel the pulse of her life rushing beneath her pale skin, and he was...excited to be in such close proximity to it.  He didn't need to find the courage to reach out and touch to verify his suspicions that her body was as hot as a smouldering coal at its centre, he could feel it.
     Nevertheless, he did.  First with his arm, as it fell away from her face, then his wrist, then the palm of his hand.  He found the heat, examined it, divested it of the cloth buffer that dampened it and hid it from his view.  He felt her breast with his own hands.
     He was scum, but it had never mattered to him then.  Maybe before, but not then.  It had never occured to him then.
     For a moment, he glanced around, looking to the pure white of the carpet around them.  He noticed the individual parts of her crumpled uniform, scattered about them like leaves after an autumn gale.
     Then, he looked back to her face, touching her cheeks and tears.  She leaned away from him for a moment, then back as he put his hand into the small of her back and pulled her almost forcibly towards him.
     He found he could touch all of that heat unhindered, now, and he allowed himself the time and luxury of doing so.  He found he could explore every part of her, as if absorbing all of her through the palms of his hands.
     It wasn't yet enough.
     As before, he became aware of himself, awakened and risen.  He became aware of his own heat, of the necessity of satiating that heat, and satisfying himself.  It was overwhelming, the most basic, primordial urge that welled up within him and he wilfully surrendered himself to the imperative.
     He became aware of the sheer carnality of his flesh pressing against hers and discovered that there was no way that he could force that primitive drive back into himself by doing as he had done before.  He stared at her, for a moment too afraid to make further progress, but the longer he watched her nakedness writhe lasciviously in front of him, the smaller that fear became when compared to the urge to fulfill his compelling.
     He placed his hands against her shoulders, touching her, sampling her heat with them.  And then...
     And then he possessed her, finally taking what he had promised himself upon first seeing her life, her soul, and her flesh, standing upon the metal deck of the aircraft carrier.  He possessed, in an instant, the central, integral heat that made her what she was.  The fire and life that he had always envied, and had always wished he had.  That essence that she'd always denied him, and that he had attempted to snuff out because she wouldn't give it to him.  And now, covered in his sweat and her tears, he'd taken it.
     The shadows against the wall roiled with the sudden turmoil, slashing against the lit sections of the wall and making them bleed until the setting sun cast them in their true light, an unbearably dark crimson.  The walls turned black as the sun disappeared, and the haematite shadows blended in with them so that the world would not see any reflection of what he was doing.
     Even then, he moved against her, his body master of a violence and brutality he hadn't known he was capable of, even more intense and directed than those few times it had made itself manifest from the beast that was Unit-01.
     His every motion drove him to repeat it again, with more force and more direction, and he knew, in some dark, animal part of his mind, precisely what he was doing.  He pushed forward again, and again, watching as the form of her body mixed in with the shadows, until he was left alone with her heat.
     He felt it rising, though.  The heat that he had forcibly wrapped around himself was increasing, and he hungered for more, greedily pleased that he was procuring so much for himself.  And finally, finally, when it could no longer rise any higher, he felt a shudder course through his entire living corpse and pass into hers.  He felt alive, having passed on his own brand of death and emptiness into her in exchange for her lively fire.
     It wasn't until nearly a month later that he noticed the tiny droplets of blood from her rent maidenhead trapped in the fibers of the carpet and cleaned them up.
     She has nothing left to lose but her life, the embryo said silently, its unopened eyes boring directly through his skull, how much longer will it be until you take that as well?
     Worse yet, Shinji knew that he had once felt guilty for this, and then had found a way to justify it for his rational mind as well.
     Shinji screamed, and he was left in darkness.

* * *

     The sun shone as it rose.
     The sun had been shining for several billon years, always consuming bit by bit the immense reservoir of hydrogen gas that fed the unending and continuous fusion reaction that provided the seemingly bottomless energy that showered the earth with light and warmth.
     Even at the centre of the churning, howling storm that currently raged over Tokyo-3, the sun shone, its rays burning down into the red core of the anomaly.  Each of the five Evas was slouched, surrounded by the burning arcs of electricity that touched and caressed their armoured faces and protected heads with as much tenderness as a tiger bringing down a fawn.
     For a moment, if there were any observers who could have seen it, the rays of the sun seemed to momentarily intervene with the lightning that danced across the angular white forehead of Unit-15.  The red bolts seemed to twist and contort against themselves as they struck some kind of invisible barrier, and were sent back against the Angel.
     Momentarily confused, the Angel only sent more back at the white Eva, but they, too, were stopped and annulled.
     Unit-15 began to stand, slowly, climbing to its feet from the kneeling position in which it had fallen.  Its pauldron slid open, and the progressive knife was deployed.

* * *

     Bleeding and broken in the darkness, Asuka found she had no strength left.
     Effectively, she had nothing left.  She was lost.  She had given up looking for mama, and she certainly didn't feel as though she merited calling for Shinji again.  All she could do, for now, was sit and wait.  She could barely feel her body, lying limp and heavy against the segmented foam pads of the entry plug's command chair.  Her fingers hung open, like dead insects lying on their backs with their legs folded in the air.  Her head had fallen to the left as far as it could go, and her half-opened eyes saw nothing but the seamless brass wall before her.
     All she could do was wait for her life to end.  That, she supposed, was good enough.  She didn't even have the strength to cry, anymore.  Her eyes were empty, drained, the tears lost in the ocean of LCL around her.
     It was dark...there was nothing in the entry plug but her and some lifeless metal.  There was nothing left.
     Nothing at all.
     She realized she didn't even have the strength to express even that thought to herself.  All she knew was 'wait'.
     When it came, she had nearly passed out from exhaustion.
     At first, it was so light that she never noticed.  Then, as the gentle pressure against her mind grew, she began to take notice.  Slowly, gradually, it pressed, harder and harder, reaching out to her.
     With good reason, Asuka was slightly suspicious at first, but as the presence began to break through the black wall imposed around her conscioussness, she recognized it for what it was.
     Suddenly rejuvenated, she sat up straight, her tired, aching muscles given new life, reborn.  Her eyes grew wide and began to shed tears in a flood, and she smiled.
     "Mama!" she shouted, almost deafening herself with her own joy, "Mama!"

* * *

     "Communications with Units-01, 02, and 15 restored!  AT Fields back to full strength, and manifesting themselves in real space!"  Arashio made no attempt to block the relief she felt as the new data appeared on her monitor.  Working frantically, she accidentally knocked over her empty mug of coffee, and it shattered against the floor.
     Almost immediately, her face fell.  "Pilot life signs...  Probability of mental contamination is high...or extreme..."
     The live feeds from the entry plugs flickered slowly back to life, occupying the corners of the command centre's screen.  Each displayed darkness, with nothing more than a slightly lighter form within them.  Even worse, there was no sound to be heard.
     Commander Fuyutsuki remained impassive, watching as Unit-15 began to advance, taking slow, steady steps toward the hovering Angel, even as it redoubled its efforts to put its pilot back into the hell she had just emerged from.

* * *

     Content with her work, she decided that there was no longer any purpose for her to stay where she was.  She had tried to be a guardian long enough, and she supposed she had done her best to accomplish her goals while tending to for her charges.
     Even if the whole excercise was just another escape.
     Still, she was tired of running, and if she wanted to stop, she'd simply have to put her hatred of the Evas behind her.  This Child didn't need her presence.  For the most part, it only interfered with her life.  It had been wrong to try and force her hatred on her.
     It was time to leave.  Besides, she had always felt that by taking up the role of guardian this one, additional time, she had left a part of her behind.
     She hoped Shinji and Asuka were all right.  It had been a while since she had last seen them.

* * *

     Unit-01 roared, standing suddenly, its AT Field shimmering into existence before it, a living wall of pure energy that absorbed and redirected the shafts of lightning flying at it.  Another step forward, and that shield of energy slammed directly into the Angel's.  The lightning ceased to exist, for a fraction of a second, as all of its energy was suddenly compressed into a single, two-dimensional plane between them.
     A gout of light appeared, flashing in and out of existence as the energy was wasted, and sent shooting towards the sky.
     Not too far away, Unit-02 was getting to its feet as well.  The slats of armour that made up its head had parted before its face, its four glassy green eyes moving aside to reveal the angry, burning white that glowed within.
     Even these four seemed to narrow, in revenge for the pain and suffering that had, until recently, been wrought on its pilot and protegé.  It roared as well, this time a keening, rumbling wail that seemed to match the rolling, gutteral bellow of Unit-01 particularly well.
     And on the other side, hidden behind the Angel, a third Evangelion, now the closest of the them all, stood, knife drawn, at the centre of the storm.
     Howling, it crouched down, and waited until the Angel's AT Field was overwhelmed by those of the three defenders standing immovable around it.  Unable to divert any more resources to attacking the two other silent Evas, it concentrated all of its energy of fending off the others.
     The field collapsed, the visible distortions in phase-space disappearing completely, and leaving the red orb of ball lightning that was the Angel's body floating vulnerable in mid-air.
     With its massive knees already bent and ready, Unit-15 unleashed its unstoppable power against the Angel, launching all of its ponderous mass into the air in a single instant.  Growling like a predator, it landed on top of the Angel, strangely supported by the Angel's seemingly energy-based body, and buried its arms in the outer coat of electricity.
     For a moment, the only movement was the pulsing, rippling flow of the white Eva's muscles beneath the restraining armour, as it slashed away at the Angel's innards.  In another moment, the Eva slid backwards, its bent and deformed knife coming free of the hovering creature and following it to the ground.
     Like a falling bird, the Angel seemed to grow less steady, then spiralled downward until it hit the concrete of the city beneath it, and detonated.
     Bereft of the driving power that had sustained it, the storm ceased to turn around them, collapsing inwards on itself.  The rain and hail continued, but grew progressively less intense as the heavy clouds fell to the ground in turn and dissipated into an obscure mist that filled the valley like water in a cup.
     Those trees and structures that had survived the agony of the dark winds stood still as if they had always been that way, no longer being whipped, snapped and torn by the heavy winds.
     Shigeru watched the screen a while longer in awe as the mass of cloud over the city became just that, before he shook himself free and ordered out the recovery crews.
     The cyclone had died.
     So had most of the cicadas, drowned by the rain, or crushed by the hail.  Their hopes only lay with the immature pupae that lay buried in the ground. 1