Asuka grumbled as she saw Shinji behind a glass wall in the detention area. She had hoped that she'd seen the last of this brat for a while, but a pilot's duty was never done, it seemed.
"Colonel Katsuragi," Asuka nodded by way of greeting when she marched into the room. "What's this I hear about Unit 01 activating?"
The aforementioned woman had her arms crossed, leaning against the wall in a pensive position. Dr. Akagi was seated at her usual spot at the computer. And behind the glass wall, wearing a hospital gown and a new DSS choker, was Shinji.
"For the duration of the day, the Wunder was scheduled to undergo repairs at Lilin Outpost Kamchatka," Ritsuko answered for her Captain, pronouncing the Russian name with practiced ease. "At fourteen hundred and twenty-two hours, Evangelion Unit 01 went active for twenty-seven minutes and sixteen seconds. At this time, all flight controls were non-functional, and the Wunder itself was acting of its own accord. During this twenty-seven minute period, the ship accelerated to 3.4 times the speed of sound, well above the Wunder's documented top speed, leaving behind its naval escort, and nearly ripping the ship's chassis apart in the process. We didn't dare attempt a hard shut-down at that speed and altitude. If it wasn't for the ship's AT Barriers, the crew would not have survived the trip to even react to the situation we were dropped into."
Ritsuko paused for a moment to light a cigarette and take a puff.
"It's fortunate that we had thought to supply the ship with a JA Heavy Armor unit while the Evas were out of commission, or we would not have been able to mount as effective a rescue as we had."
"They're a poor substitute, but they make good cannon fodder," Asuka commented.
Mari, who had filed in behind Asuka, smirked at that. "Which is why you decided to pilot one into a losing battle?"
"Hey, you did too!" Asuka shot back.
"Yeah, but I had the Wunder backing me up," Mari chuckled. "What did you have?"
"Focus!" Misato snapped, ending the prattle. "Even if it was temporary, the fact remains that we just lost control of our greatest asset in this war with absolutely no warning, and practically no explanation."
She turned a deadly gaze onto the Third Child, who had gone back to sulking like an infant.
"I mean to figure out how."
"We'd also like to ascertain how Shinji's DSS Choker was removed without terminating him," Ritsuko added, sipping from a coffee mug. "It had fail-safes installed preventing any such tampering. We think perhaps these two things may be related."
Asuka wrinkled her nose at the boy, whose head simply remained lowered.
"You think the brat something to do with it?"
"It's the most likely explanation," Ritsuko explained her reasoning. "Every instance of Unit 01 going berserk in the past has involved the Third Child. He was piloting Unit 01 when it went fully active during Third Impact, and he was still inside when it went partially active during our recovery operation in orbit. This is the only recorded instance of Unit 01 going active without the Third Child inside – or any pilot, for that matter. If we can study the process in which it happened—"
"If by 'study' you mean 'recreate,' then that's absolutely out of the question," Misato quipped. "Our primary concern is keeping Unit 01 and its pilot contained."
"If he can activate the Eva from outside, then it won't matter where we keep him!" Ritsuko argued. "We can't keep something contained if we don't know how to contain it!"
"That's what the choker is for," Misato said simply.
Ritsuko pursed her lip, giving Misato a snide look. "That solution only works when someone actually pulls the trigger."
Misato glared back at the doctor, but didn't deign to comment.
Asuka and Mari just watched the exchange with some degree of trepidation. They both knew just how volatile their Captain could be when pushed.
"This thing…" a small voice broke the silence.
All eyes turned to see Shinji clenching his fists behind the glass.
"This thing is what killed Kaworu…" Shinji's whole body shook, his head still lowered, eyes hidden behind his hair.
Misato raised an eyebrow at Asuka.
Asuka shrugged. "Another NERV pilot, I think. He's all the brat's been talking about since the fight."
Ritsuko looked suspicious. "Wait a minute. The choker targeted someone other than the Third Child? That shouldn't be possible. Could NERV have removed it somehow?"
"That would have triggered the fail-safe," Misato thought out loud. "Besides, why would they put it on one of their own pilots then?"
Shinji seethed. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. To hear such callous dismissal of the life that had been taken as a result of punishment that had been so arbitrarily lobbed at him…
It made him absolutely sick.
"I don't believe you, Misato…" he gritted his teeth, tears building at his eyes. "Why are you doing this? Kaworu already died because of this thing, and now you're putting another one on me?"
He finally raised his head to look at Misato with tear-soaked eyes.
"How could you do something so cruel?" he demanded. "The Misato that I remember would have never done something like this!"
The Captain remained surprisingly calm under the circumstances. Or maybe it was simple aloofness that held her back. Whatever force kept Misato from responding, however, did not seem to apply to Asuka.
"Where the hell do you get off talking like that, you brat!?" the redhead demanded, stepping right up to the glass. "You have no idea what we've all had to put up with because of you!"
Shinji took a step back, shaking with a mixture of grief and outrage.
"Where do I get off?" he demanded, his whole body quaking, as if the question didn't even make sense to him. "Where do I get off!?"
He stepped forward again, slamming the base of his fist against the glass.
"You're the ones who told me to pilot in the first place!"
The contempt on Asuka's face was palpable, but Shinji wasn't even looking at her – he was looking at Misato.
"I never asked to be your pilot, Misato!" Shinji was shouting now. "The two of you and my father practically forced me into it! Don't you remember!? I basically didn't have any other choice! So I did what I was told! I got into the Eva! I fought the Angels for you! I had sync tests every day, I trained and trained, all the while believing that piloting was the only thing anyone would ever need me for!"
He hung his head once more, catching his breath in raspy gasps.
"Then…then the day came when someone genuinely did need me to pilot for them. So I did the only thing I knew how to do! The only thing anyone had ever been telling me to do!"
He looked up once again, eyes filled with rage.
"You want to know where I get off being angry?" he demanded, desperately. "Well, where do you get off treating me like I'm the bad guy? Like I somehow planned for this all to happen, when all I ever did was do what you told me to do!?"
He pounded his fist against the glass again, resting his forehead against it.
"I am what you and the rest of NERV have made me, Misato," he said, more quietly this time, his voice deadly serious. "If I've made mistakes, it was only because you put me in a position to make them. I would have never even had to make the decisions that lead to those mistakes if I hadn't been dragged into all this to begin with! Blame me all you want, but you made the first mistake by making me a part of this mess in the first place!"
He reached up to grab the choker around his neck.
"But the Misato I know wouldn't use something like this to make those mistakes go away!" he sobbed. "She wouldn't pin this all on some kid who was in no position to make the right decision in the first place!"
His body fell forward, his forehead pressing into the glass.
"What happened to the Misato I used to know?" he cried. "What happened to the Misato who told me she believed in me when I couldn't even believe in myself? What happened to the Misato who was more of a mother to me than anyone I've ever known!?"
Even Asuka looked a little shaken now. Though not from anything that Shinji had said directly…but from imagining how Misato might react to him bringing up such ancient history like that. Did the little twerp have any idea what he was saying? Who he was talking to? She half expected Misato trigger the collar right then and there, and spill his brains across the entire prison cell.
Instead, Misato simply turned away.
"Begin your research, Doctor," she said simply as she pressed the switch to open the door. "I've had enough of this."
With that, she disappeared out the door.
Ritsuko let go of a breath she had been holding ever since Shinji began speaking. Mari, for once, had no smart quip to deliver. Asuka, true to form, fixed Shinji with the deadliest glare he'd ever seen her make.
"You've got some kind of death wish, you miserable brat…" she breathed. "Are you really this much of a fucking child? Are you seriously incapable of taking any responsibility for your actions at all?"
Mari adjusted her glasses. "Call me crazy, but…I do believe that was the exact point he was trying to make."
Asuka ignored her.
"What about this is so hard for you to get, Shinji?" Asuka blared. "Your selfish desire to save your stupid little doll-girl was enough to make the face of reality do a fucking flip-flop! Life doesn't cater to your fanciful whims, you dolt! But no, you had to have your cake and eat it too, and to hell with the consequences! So now we're stuck cleaning up your mess, while all you have to do is sit there, feeling sorry for yourself!"
Shinji crossed his arms, pouting. "Excuse me for wanting to save someone…"
Asuka snorted, derisively.
"Here's what I don't get…" she huffed, walking back and forth in front of the glass. "And this is just a personal quip of mine. But if you're going to throw a temper tantrum big enough to start Third Impact, then why the hell would it be for that pale-faced mommy-clone of yours!?"
Shinji looked away. "I…It's not like that…"
"You know damn well it is!" Asuka blared. "Jeez, between your own mother coddling you from inside your Eva and your father's sick attempt at cloning her into that pathetic mockery of a human being, you're just a walking oedipal complex, aren't you!? You're still freaking obsessed with her, even after all you've learned! She was all you could talk about before this Kaworu guy showed up! And now that he's gone, it's back to the Ayanami Type being all you care about anymore, is that it!?"
Ritsuko's attention was focused on her computer, and she did not appear to be paying attention, though undoubtedly she was.
Mari, however, actually snickered.
Asuka wheeled on her and pointed a finger. "Don't you dare start, Four-Eyes!"
"It's not like that!" Shinji insisted, still fuming and shaken from his earlier outburst.
"Bullshit!" Asuka glowered. "Why did she warrant a Third Impact, and not me, huh? I got fucking devoured by Unit 01, in case you don't remember! By your own Eva, no less! She wasn't even a real person! If you're going to start Third Impact over someone, why the hell was it for her!? What's so god damned special about her!?"
"It's not like that, damn it!" Shinji shouted over her. "I owe her my life!"
Mari had not seemed to be taking any of this very seriously, but this little tidbit seemed to intrigue her.
"She saved my life, alright?" Shinji clarified. "In the fight with the 6th Angel, I…I would have died if she hadn't put herself in harm's way to protect me. She stepped in to save me without giving any thought for keeping herself safe. I…I can't just overlook that, Asuka. I…I owe her a debt."
Asuka scowled, crossing her arms. "Great. So, the one time you decide to act like a man, and you fuck up the entire planet. Just fucking great."
Shinji looked away. He didn't expect anyone to understand what he felt. Absolutely no one in his life had ever made any effort to even try.
Except for Kaworu.
"The situation is not so black and white, Asuka," Ritsuko spoke up from her seat by the computer, having been tacking away on it for the past few minutes. "Remember, Shinji did attack NERV Headquarters after you were hurt during the 9th Angel attack."
"That's hardly a Third Impact, Vice Captain," Asuka huffed.
"No," Ritsuko admitted. "But you may want to take a look at these readings here."
Asuka grudgingly strode over to the terminal, and leaned over to peer at the screen.
"What am I looking at?" she muttered, distractedly.
On the screen were two graphs, both of which started low, but then took a dramatic leap, before plateauing towards the top of the graph.
"This one…" the doctor pointed to the first graph, "Shows the level of core activity from within Unit 01, just before it went out of control today. And this one…" she pointed to the second one. "Represents the nuclear fallout levels around Lilin Outpost Naraka."
Asuka nodded. "When I triggered the self-destruct sequence of all those JA Heavy Armors. What about it?"
Ritsuko took a puff of her cigarette. "Take a look at the times that each event occurred."
Asuka read the numbers at the bottom of each graph where the spikes took place.
They had been almost simultaneous.
"So…" Asuka muttered. "The Eva responded to the radiation?"
Ritsuko blew out a puff of smoke. "Unlikely, but possible. Shinji?"
The boy suddenly looked up.
"You weren't watching Asuka's battle with the Nemesis series by any chance, were you?"
He stared at her for a moment before nodding.
"When she triggered the self-destruct sequence on the JA Heavy Armor units…" she said, the wheels practically spinning in her head for all to see, "What did you think happened?"
Shinji swallowed hard. "I…I thought Asuka might have died."
Asuka snorted. "Oh, please! That little stunt? That was nothing!"
"I'm serious, Asuka!" Shinji blathered. "I really thought I was about to lose you!"
Asuka just snorted again. "I'm not yours to lose, you brat."
"Interesting…" Ritsuko muttered to herself. "So, the very moment Shinji feels as though the life of someone important to him is in danger, Unit 01 self-activates, takes over the Wunder, and flies at Mach 3 to the sight of Shinji's perceived peril."
Asuka's good eye slowly widened as Ritsuko's words registered in her mind. Slowly, ever so slowly, she swiveled her head to stare at the doctor in disbelief. She couldn't honestly be suggesting what it sounded like she was suggesting, could she?
"Food for thought," Ritsuko mused, as she unplugged a tablet from her computer and stood up from the fold out chair by the desk. "I think I'll be needing to run a few more tests on Unit 01 now."
She motioned to the two guards waiting outside the door.
"You can take the prisoner back to his cell now," she said simply.
"Wait!" Shinji spoke up, putting his hands on the glass. "Where's Ayanami? Where are you keeping her?"
Asuka's expression darkened.
Ritsuko just frowned, pausing in her step.
"In a separate cell," she said simply. "It's too dangerous to keep you two in the same room for the time being."
She turned to give Shinji a peculiar look.
"Shinji, I don't think you appreciate just what a danger you are to us," she said. "Not only have you nearly single-handedly ended the human race twice now, but you also managed to unconsciously seize control of Unit 01, and in turn, this entire ship and everyone in it. If anything had gone wrong during the Wunder's impromptu supersonic flight across the Sea of Okhotsk, everyone aboard this ship, including Misato, would have been killed. If my theory is correct, then your Eva seems to respond to your very whim. Everything you do or even feel has Earth-shattering consequences now! Whether you realize it or not, you're an enormous threat to us. You have the power to end the world with a thought! That's more power than any one person should have, least of all someone who doesn't know how to stop themselves. We have to keep you locked up, Shinji. For our protection. For the world's protection."
Shinji lowered his eyes. "Then why am I always the last one to find out about anything? If I'm such a danger, then tell me what to do – or at least, what not to do. Sitting alone in a cell isn't accomplishing anything, but if what you say is true, and my feelings are part of the problem, then at least give me some kind of trivial task that makes me feel like I'm not utterly useless!"
Ritsuko looked pensive. "That may actually be a good idea. But it's not my decision to make, unfortunately. And to be frank, we're in very uncharted waters with you, Shinji. We have to tread carefully. The very fate of humanity hangs on a thread. And with your kind of track record, Shinji, we do not want the third time to be the charm."
Ritsuko strode out the door, leaving Shinji with the two pilots, the two guards filing in.
"Asuka…" Shinji muttered, looking back at her in the hope of making some kind of amends.
"Stow it," she shot back, her one good eye still hidden behind the shadow of her bangs.
After everything that had happened, he was still asking after the Ayanami Type.
"Nothing you have to say is worth my time anymore," she breathed.
She strode out the door, waving casually back at Mari as she left.
"I'll be in the mess."
Mari did not seem inclined to join her counterpart as she ate, but instead decided to follow along with Shinji as he was escorted back to his cell down the corridor. The guards, two squirrely looking men in WILLE uniforms, paid Mari no heed as she followed along. They reached the cell doors, and firmly pushed Shinji inside - not all that roughly, but not gently either. The cell doors slid closed, trapping him inside, and as the two of them strode back to the guard post, Mari remain leaning against the wall opposite Shinji's cell, and seemed to have no inclination of leaving.
"Told you you should have run away," she smiled.
That caught Shinji completely by surprise. "What?"
"During the 10th Angel fight, before you went all 'end-of-days' on us," she smirked. "You said that you weren't going to pilot Eva anymore, so I told you to run away. You should have done it."
Shinji frowned and looked away. He wasn't in the mood for any more lectures.
"Do you know why you're able to pilot Eva?" Mari asked, stretching her arms over her head. "Has anyone ever told you the actual reason?"
Shinji shook his head. "Because of my mom, right?"
Mari shook her head. "Sort of. It's more complex than that."
She pranced over to him, pointing a finger at his forehead through the glass.
"An Eva responds to a very particular kind of human being," she said coyly. "A child, first and foremost. But not just any child – a child whose ego has yet to develop past a certain point. A child whose need for both self-actualization and self-preservation have become so contorted that the two are indistinguishable. A child who makes the Eva respond in a maternal fashion."
Shinji just blinked in confusion. "What?"
Mari sighed. "Basically, the Eva wants to protect you because, deep down, you feel that you need protection. Because you're so afraid of the fight, the Eva intervenes on your behalf and fights for you. Your need for self-preservation, your fear, you primordial urge to flee…the Eva reacts to that in the most basic, primeval way possible."
She held up a finger on an outstretched arm.
"However…once that child decides to fight on his own…or what's more, decides to fight for someone other than himself, then something happens. The most basic human desire – hell, the most basic drive in nature – is self-preservation. And when you charged headlong into battle to save little Miss Ayanami, you behaved in a way that ran completely counter to any of your basic animal instincts. In that moment, you had no fear of death. You grew. You developed. You evolved into something more than just an animal fighting for its own survival. And so the Eva evolved with you."
She smirked, pounding her fist into the palm of her hand.
"The Eva never needed to do all that much just to keep you alive and safe. Hell, when an Eva goes berserk or into a mode change, it's just regressing into a simpleminded beast. When it comes to fighting angels, it's just a matter of elbow grease and bloody knuckles."
Mari crossed her arms, closing her eyes.
"But all of the sudden, you – her pilot – wanted something more. Suddenly, your desire extended to something much farther beyond your own safety. In point of fact, in that single moment, you didn't care at all for your own safety. You wanted more than just self-preservation. You wanted self-actualization. You wanted companionship. You wanted love. You wanted to protect someone else, someone that you cared deeply for."
Mari smiled, opening one eye to stare at Shinji's bewildered face.
"The Eva needed to do something extraordinary to grant that wish. And so it did."
Shinji was trembling now. "And that…that's what caused the Eva to awaken?"
Mari shrugged. "Eh, that's my take on it, at least. The Doctor would explain it using a lot of bigger words. And each of our Evas are different. Anyway, that's why I told you to run away. Cause by not running away, you actually put the world in even greater danger."
Shinji had to sit down. It had been an exhausting day, and that was before nearly being blown sky high in an Angelic air raid.
"That's so fucking backwards…" he muttered, grimly. "The only way to pilot is…to not want to pilot? So basically, I have to be a miserable, nervous wreck all the time in order to be an effective pilot at all?"
Mari shrugged again. "I didn't say it made sense."
Shinji fumed. Nothing about this had ever made sense.
"So…just by trying to save Ayanami…" Shinji continued, trying to piece together the logic in his head, "I made Unit 01 cause Third Impact."
Mari nodded. "You've got it."
"I knew it…" Shinji let out a sigh. "I basically traded almost the entire human race for one girl. And in the end, I never even really saved her. Instead, her soul got trapped inside my Eva. And as a consolation prize, I got another incomplete copy that my dad made following me around."
Mari smirked. "Sucks, don't it? All that hard work, and no payoff? And to top it all off, it turns out she's practically your sister or something? Talk about a Luke Skywalker moment."
Shinji knew he should have gotten that reference, but he was just too weary to even care anymore.
"No wonder everyone hates me…" he shivered. "What the hell am I supposed to do now?"
Mari shrugged. "I don't know, Puppy-Boy. But you may want to wait another fifteen seconds before you throw in the towel just yet."
Shinji blinked in confusion. "What? What happens in fifteen seconds?"
Mari's catlike smile was somewhat aggravating. "Oh, you'll see. Also, you may want to hold onto something."
Shinji had just a moment to ponder what she'd said, before the floor kicked beneath him as the Wunder suddenly went into a nosedive.
To be continued…