Fear

Woes without End

Shin Seiki Evangelion was created by Hideki Anno, and is owned by Gainax.

Mythos elements were created by H. P. Lovecraft and owned by Arkham Publishing. Byatis was created by Robert Bloch. Ithaqua and Cthugha created by August Derleth. Summanus, Mnomquah and Cthylla created by Brian Lumley. Ythogtha was created by Lin Carter. Mordiggian created by Clarke Ashton Smith. Cyäegha was created by Eddy C. Burtin.

Use of the characters and situations therein are not intended as any challenge of their copyrights.

He awoke, with his cheek pressed against a cold marble floor. The sounds of music surrounded him, but it was of no comfort. The uneven drumming and high-pitched flutes were dissonant, the music setting him on edge rather than calming him.

He sat up slowly, and looked around.

The massive chamber was filled with monsters. Some were as horrifying as any Old One he had yet faced; others were much, much worse. He felt panic start to rise, sheer and uncontrollable, beyond anything he had yet experienced.

At the very least, they seemed to be ignoring him. He swept his eyes upwards, to get them out of his sight, and gasped.

The ceiling overhead could not be more than fifty meters above him, but captured under its dome somehow was an entire galaxy. Pinpoints of stars shone brilliantly as it slowly rotated. From its very center, a beam of light shone down. Unable to resist, he followed the beam down to where it met the center of the floor.

There, upon a pedestal, was the largest creature he had yet laid eyes upon. A massive, amorphous blob, much like the Shoggoths, but less well defined. Hundreds of eyes peered around it, many of them focusing on him.

WE HAVE A GUEST.

It was too much; his mind shut down, and he did not feel the impact when his head smacked into the marble floor.

Fear

Fifteen: Woes Without End

Shogoki was firmly bolted to the cage. At sixteen points, the armour was attached to the wall, held in place by locking bolts and electromagnets.

Misato hoped it would be enough.

"We've taken a sample from the LCL in the plug." Maya tapped her computer. "Shinji appears to have dissolved in the LCL; we got some DNA from him."

"Could the battle with the Old One have done this?"

"I suppose. Anything's possible."

"Anything else you've found?"

"Yes." She brought up another display. "We've been monitoring the A20 connection. It's stil active." She indicated a red curve. "We've got a harmonic here, and a pulse line here."

"Meaning?"

"He's still synced."

"Shit." Misato paused to sip her coffee. "So what are our options?"

"Ummm..." Maya bit her lip. "He might be able to re-form his body, if we can figure out how to get in contact with him."

Shinji stirred as a damp cloth was placed across his forehead. "Oh, man..."

"Lie still." The voice was familiar—Rei's? Maybe even his mother? He opened his eyes, then squeezed them shut again.

"Keep your eyes closed. There's no need to open them just yet. Let yourself recover a little more."

"No, I'm fine." He opened his eyes again, to see a familiar face hovering over his. "Mom?"

"You startled me, appearing so suddenly." She smiled gently. "I didn't have a chance to make myself presentable."

"I—what was that thing?" He sat up gingerly. "It looked like a Shoggoth, but not quite."

"The demon Sultan, Azathoth." She looked down. "The central intelligence at the heart of this galaxy."

"Whoa..." He smiled. "And you're on a first name basis with him?"

"By necessity." She glanced up again. "What brings you here?"

"I'm not sure. Shogoki and I just killed an Old One. All the way dead." He looked away. "Then I think we tried to kill Father. I'm kinda fuzzy on that one."

"Ikari Gendo has mistreated you badly," she said. "It is only natural that you and that Child would turn on him."

He blinked. "Child...that's what Cthugha called her." His eyes narrowed. "You're not Ikari Yui."

"No." She shook her head. "I did not claim to be."

"You didn't really go out of your way to prove otherwise, either." His voice was cold. "Who are you?"

"The body you see is that of a servitor of Azathoth, but it is Azathoth's mind in the body." She smiled. "I've been without company for a long time."

"Can you change that body?"

"Yes."

"Now. Do it."

She blinked, and asked, "I drew this from your memory, as a pleasant form, one you would trust. It was not my intention to deceive you."

"I don't care."

"I can see that this is important to you." Her features shifted slightly, becoming more youthful, and her hair paled. "Is this better?"

"Yeah, but can't you—"

"I sense that it is still painful to you." She shifted again, this time to Asuka's form. "How about this?"

"Can't you just...make up a form?"

"No. I can only draw from your memories." She leaned in a bit, Asuka's impish grin appearing. "This form seems to show up a lot in your memories, and a lot of thought patterns are tied up in it. Who is she?"

"A co-worker."

She shook her head. "Don't lie to me. What are you, stupid? Did you forget that I can see your memories?" Her voice was still light and cheerful. "Too often, she is the focus of your memories. Too much of what you think about centers around her."

"If you can read my memories," he said bitterly, "then you already know the answers."

"No." She shook her head again. "I can see what you have seen, hear what you have said and thought. But I do not understand it."

"I helped train her."

"I have seen that."

"She lives with me, Rei and Misato."

"This displeases you. Why?"

He looked down. "Because she's pretty, and smart, and I sometimes feel a bit...attracted to her."

"Attracted?"

"I want to spend more time with her, and I want to...to protect her."

"I can taste some pain when you speak of this." She shifted again, taking on Rei's form. "Is it because of this one?"

"Yes."

"She is also strongly in your memories. More so than this form." And back to Asuka again. "Why should you feel pain at the thought of wishing to help this one?"

"I—" He sighed. "I feel like I'm betraying Rei."

"'Rei' is the label attached to this form." Azathoth shifted again. "The Child of Shub-Niggurath, and one of the Dreamers."

"She and I are engaged, and..." He looked away from the false Rei. "I didn't really want to be engaged to her, at first, but..."

"I do not understand 'engaged', but I do understand that you wish to be closer to this one."

"Yes."

"Why?"

He looked back in surprise. "I don't really know. I feel like, somehow, we are connected."

"You are connected." The image of Rei smiled brightly, almost maniacally. On anyone else, it would have been creepy; on Rei's face, the smile looked downright frightening. "You are connected by blood, just as you are to this one." A shift back to Asuka, where the manic grin looked closer to normal.

"I know. I just found that out."

"She does not know, and you do not wish to tell her."

He shook her head. "She's been hurt a lot. I don't want to hurt her again."

"I have felt her pain." Azathoth's face darkened. "We are all connected, the Great Old Ones. I feel the pain of all my subjects. You and the Child have slain many of them. I did not expect that to be possible."

"I was just doing my job."

"You were protecting your own kind, and if we cannot survive your kind, we do not deserve to survive at all."

He glanced up, puzzled. "You're not angry?"

She shrugged. "Why be angry at the universe for being itself?"

"A20 is still holding steady. I don't think anyone's ever stayed synced with an EVA longer than twenty-four hours."

"He's been in there a week!" Asuka wasn't calming down. "Why does this shit keep happening to him?"

Misato shook her head. "I don't know. He found something out - I don't know what. He didn't have a chance to tell anyone before his last sortie. Whatever he found out, it may have prompted a retreat from reality."

"I don't believe that," snorted Asuka. "He's not the sort to run away."

"Yes, he is," said Rei.

Asuka turned to her fellow Pilot, a look of disbelief on her face. "You're supposed to be his fiancee! How can you say something like that about him?"

"Quite easily, as it is the truth."

"Regardless," interrupted Misato. "The simple fact is that he has the ability to return, but has not done so. Therefore, he likely has a reason not to return. And it likely has to do with the death of Doctor Akagi."

There was a brief silence at this, then Rei said, "Pilot Ikari stated, just before Shogoki went silent, that Commander Ikari killed Doctor Akagi. Is there any reason why the Commander would have done so?"

Misato shook her head. "I can think of no reason why, and many reasons why not."

"Is it possible that Pilot Ikari may have misinterpreted the events surrounding Doctor Akagi's death?"

Asuka blinked. "You mean, maybe the Commander wasn't responsible, but it looked like he was?"

"Or possibly that Doctor Akagi had done something to betray NERV." Rei nodded. "Or that Doctor Akagi had been controlled by an Old One, as Chouko and Shigoki were. I cannot think of any other scenario, but those three are enough to prove that the possibility exists."

The girl had faded. The chamber had faded. Shinji wasn't certain, but he felt that he had faded as well. He continued, somehow, but did that matter? What purpose could his life have, if he was trapped in a meaningless void.

WHAT PURPOSE DOES LIFE HAVE AT ALL?

A good question. Thousands of philosophers had wrestled with the question. Some claimed to have found the answer, but there was no way to test it. Countless billions had sought their own answer, and still, it was unknown. Almost every person who had ever drawn breath had asked why.

Except himself. He was certain that the only reason for him to live was so that, eventually, he could die.

Therefore, for him, there was no reason to seek a purpose to life, for there was none.

OUR OWN PHILOSOPHERS HAVE SOUGHT THE ANSWER AS WELL.

How odd. The Old Ones had philosophers?

CERTAINLY BY NOW YOU HAVE REALIZED THAT WE ARE NOT MONSTERS.

They acted like monsters. They were hideous beyond compare, scary enough to kill by sight alone, and could invade the minds of those around them. They came to kill, to destroy everything in their path, and only he, and his two Pilot companions, had stood against them.

SHALL WE INQUIRE OF THE DODO IF YOUR SPECIES IS A MONSTER? SHALL WE INQUIRE OF THE PASSENGER PIGEON IF YOUR SKILLS ARE SUPERIOR TO THEIR OWN? SHALL WE INQUIRE OF THE WARTHOG AS TO YOUR APPEARANCE?

Stop it!

CONSIDER MY WORDS.

The dodo. A handy food source, the sailors thought. Too stupid to run away. Driven extinct by predation, as the humans moved into their territory.

The passenger pigeon. Numerous enough to block out the sun, but helpless against something as simple as a shotgun.

The warthog. Not the most attractive species, by his own tastes. No doubt it didn't care for the appearance of humans.

He'd considered. Maybe now the voice would go away?

NO. I AM NOT YET DONE WITH YOU.

It didn't matter, really. The Old One couldn't sway his thinking. He couldn't help being who he was.

NEITHER CAN WE. AND THERE IS NO REASON WHY EITHER OF US SHOULD TRY.

Then what was the point of all this?

MY PEOPLE ARE ALL BUT EXTINCT ON YOUR HOME PLANET. WE CAME THERE TO LIVE, BUT AFTER THE WAR WITH THE ELDER THINGS, FEW OF US REMAINED. ONLY THE KNOWLEDGE THAT NOTHING ON THE PLANET COULD HARM US FURTHER KEPT MY CHILDREN THERE.

But he was harming them, wasn't he?

SUCH IS LIFE.

Then what was the point? Why was this thing toying with him? If it was not to bring Shinji around to this alien point of view, then why? Perhaps it was deriving some sort of pleasure from his company? It had stated that it was lonely. Maybe he was to serve as some sort of pet?

DO NOT FLATTER YOURSELF. IT IS A VERY GREAT STRAIN TO LOWER MY MENTAL PROCESSES ENOUGH THAT COMMUNICATION WITH YOU IS POSSIBLE AT ALL.

Then perhaps it wanted his help?

YOUR SPECIES AS A WHOLE HAS INSIGNIFICANT POWER COMPARED TO THE WEAKEST OF MY CHILDREN.

Then why bother with him at all?

MY PURPOSE WOULD NOT BE ACCESSIBLE TO YOUR MIND. IF YOU MUST HAVE A REASON, PERHAPS IT WOULD BE SUFFICIENT TO BELIEVE THAT IT IS SO THAT WE MAY MORE READILY DESTROY YOU.

So after all, the Old Ones wanted to destroy humanity.

IT IS NOT A MATTER OF DESIRE. IT IS MERELY A MATTER OF TIME.

"I think I have a way."

Misato looked up from her cold cup of coffee. "Talk to me, Maya."

Maya opened her notebook computer. "Every three days, we get a strong harmonic frequency on the A20 nerve. Note here." She zoomed in on a part of the chart. "At this point, if he were in the plug, his sync rate would be well over a thousand percent."

"That's impossible," stated Misato.

"I know. Theoretically, for a sync ratio of over five hundred percent, the amount of current passing through the A20 neural interface circuitry would reduce the Pilot to crimson mist and bone chips."

"Even then, we know what happened when Pilot Suzuhara exceeded a sync ratio of four hundred. He just...vanished."

"Just like Shinji."

Misato considered this, then asked, "At any time in the last month has Shogoki's theoretical sync ratio dropped below four hundred?"

"No, Ma'am."

"What would happen if we were to disrupt the A20 neural interface?"

Maya bit her lip. "I'm not sure, but I think that the pilot's link to this world would be severed, and he'd be gone forever."

"So why are you bringing me this?" asked Misato impatiently. "I want a solution, not a bigger problem!"

"I was going to abandon this idea altogether, but..." She tapped a key, and a report appeared on the screen. "I found this squirreled away in one of the MAJI. It appears to have been left there by Doctor Akagi."

"What is it?"

"The harmonics we've been tracking...I was told they were an interference pattern on the sync ratio. That's not quite right. It's more like a loss on sync with the carrier wave."

"Wait." Misato set down her coffee cup. "What carrier wave?"

"In order to sync with the EVA, the Pilot's Theta and Delta waves are linked to a carrier wave. The carrier wave must be modulated to match the Pilot."

"Theta and Delta waves are linked to dreaming."

"Yes!" Maya nodded. "More precisely, Theta waves are normally found only in children, or in drowsy adults. Or those in meditation."

"So how does this help us?"

"Every three days, the carrier wave goes through the roof." Maya closed the notebook. "On such an event, another Dreamer can be sent to contact him."

"Good thinking, Maya." Misato frowned. "But whoever goes after him runs the risk of never coming back."

"We don't know—"

"Exactly," said Misato. "We don't know. We know nothing about where he is, and we have only the foggiest notion of how to get him back."

"But it's our—"

She shook her head. "So far, his pattern is stable. Unless it changes, I don't want to risk losing another Pilot."

The phone rang. Asuka ignored it, merely sat in her chair numbly.

Rei picked it up on the fifth ring. "Misato residence."

She drew in a deep breath. Against her will, Asuka found her gaze drawn to the albino, and saw with shock that her hand, tightly clenched around the receiver, was whiter than normal.

"I understand." She hung up the phone, and turned to Asuka.

"We need to proceed to Headquarters."

There was sunlight in his eyes. He rolled away from it, tried to cover his head with a pillow. But the sounds from the other room were too loud to ignore.

Slowly, he sat up.

He was in an apartment, on a large futon, easily big enough for two. He glanced over, saw another pillow, and a slight indentation from someone's head.

"I have breakfast ready."

He glanced over, to see Rei. A bit older, perhaps, that he remembered, more full of bust and hip. She wore a simple housedress, and while anyone else would see only a flat expression, he could read what was past it.

He smiled. "Thank you, hon." He stretched, feeling his back crack as he did so. "I take it from the racket that Toji is up?"

"And nearly ready for school. I realize that our practise sessions do not require you to rise before this time, but I wonder if it is needful to sleep in so late?"

"Needful, no. But a pleasant change from all the early mornings."

He grabbed a shirt and pair of pants - laid out for him by Rei, he imagined - and started to get dressed.

"I do not intend to complain."

"I know. Do I complain at getting up most mornings with him?"

He glanced over, but she had already returned to the kitchen. Probably to collar their son, who was every bit the hellraiser that his namesake had been.

He walked out, and was tackled by Toji almost immediately.

"Hi, Daddy!" The five-year-old beamed up at him. "Mommy's taking me into school today, and she says you need to eat fast."

"She does, does she?" He laughed. "Well, I better do what she says." He grinned down at his son. Toji had his mother's albinism - the doctors said that it wasn't an inheritable trait, and were quite frankly baffled - but he looked in every other way identical to Shinji at that age. Unlike his mother, though, he had the typical albino sensitivity to bright sunlight, and was thus wearing a long-sleeved shirt and thin gloves, despite the summer heat. Sunglasses and a floppy hat were added just before he and Rei left the apartment.

She paused on the way out, viola case in hand, and looked back at him. "I will meet you at the practise hall. Do not allow Kaoru or Asuka to begin without me."

"Okay." He nodded. "I'll see you there."

DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THIS PATH LEADS TO HAPPINESS?

He wasn't certain. Hell, he didn't really know what happiness was.

IN THIS PATH, YOU SURVIVE. SURVIVAL IS THE ULTIMATE GOAL OF ALL LIFE FORMS.

Mere survival didn't guarantee happiness.

IN THIS PATH, YOU HAVE OFFSPRING. MOST LIFE FORMS HAVE A DESIRE TO REPRODUCE.

But that wasn't everything.

IN THIS PATH, YOU HAVE GOALS TO ATTAIN, AND A CIRCLE OF EQUALS.

This was something lacking from his own life. Asuka wasn't really a friend. Rei was closer, but there was still a wall between them that he couldn't breach. Toji and Aida were dead. Misato was sort of a friend, but before that, she was his superior officer.

I DO NOT UNDERSTAND HAPPINESS, EVEN TO THE LIMITED DEGREE THAT YOU CLAIM TO BE ABLE TO DO SO. BUT I HAVE SEEN FROM YOUR PAST THAT SURVIVAL, CREATURE COMFORTS, COMPANIONSHIP, ATTAINING OF GOALS, LEAD TO HAPPINESS.

But it wasn't everything.

YOU HAVE ALREADY ADMITTED THAT YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE SUBJECT IS FLAWED.

Dammit, Misato had all that, and she still wasn't really happy!

DOES SHE?

"We know you grieve for the Healer as well."

"It is horrible, and I feel very badly about it," Misato continued. "But I had to have it done. I gave the order myself."

"Okay. The booze is gone, the conference is over."

"Misato was the only survivor of that expedition!"

Misato smiled at him. "Do you still believe that I have all the elements required to be happy?"

"Azathoth again?"

She nodded. "I've looked into your memories. She has lost friends, she has self-doubt, she uses chemicals to influence her mental state."

"I thought you didn't understand happiness."

"All that I know, I have gained from your mind. This state that you call happiness...I have not seen anyone in your memories that exists in this state." She shifted, becoming a mirror of Maya. "Not this one, who lives in the shadows of her friends, gaining no recognition for her work." She shifted again. "Not this one, whose name you could not even be bothered learning." And again, to his father. "And certainly not this one, whose motives you cannot understand."

"So you're saying that no-one I know is happy?"

"No." The image of his father shook his head. "You are saying that, not I."

"Forget it." Misato shook her head. "DNA sample or not, cloning his body won't guarantee that his mind will come back."

"How about reversing the sync carrier?" Aoba shrugged. "Maybe we can draw him back."

"We discarded that idea two weeks ago, remember?" Maya sighed. "We're going in circles."

"No, we discarded the idea of interfering with the sync carrier. What about reversing it outright?"

"The levels of harmonic interference would be so high, we might as well just be turning it right off."

The door slid open, and Misato turned in shock. "I thought I locked—"

Rei and Asuka stood in the doorway. Asuka stalked forward, and scowled at Misato.

"I heard that you'd found a way to bring him back."

"No. We're still discussing means—"

"I heard that one of us can go get him."

"Who the hell leaked that?" Misato shook her head. "That's a last resort. We could risk losing another Pilot."

"I'm willing to take the risk."

"As am I," added Rei.

"No. It's not an option." Misato scowled, and crossed her arms. "How did you even find out about that? Who told you?"

"I received a telephone call," said Rei. "From Doctor Akagi."

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