Shinji sat still as he looked over the Ocean, the sunlight reflecting on the waves as the helicopter continued its path towards a familiar future. He couldn't say how much of that dead timeline was true, but he still felt as if he had known Asuka to some capacity. He however knew that things would be different now, for many reasons, mainly the fact that he could hardly be called the same person he was before. Too much had changed, on a deep and visceral level. He wasn't human anymore, but a thing which had no name, an entity whose skin lies to the world to obscure its true nature. All other anomalies to his anatomy were hidden behind a glamour, projecting the image of the young boy he once was.
Shinji shifted in his seat, continuing to watch as the ocean passed beneath him. He knew this day would come eventually, and couldn't help but wonder what was to come. Asuka was, by and large, a highly skilled, talented, and adept Eva pilot who was none-the-less a great big ball of insecurities and neuroses. He would have to break her of them, the question merely was… how? Asuka was abrasive at the best of times, but things were subtly different this time around. For one, Toji and Kensuke weren't with him this time, both for obvious reasons. Which slightly threw off the original dynamic of their first impression, and first impressions were important and hard to shake. He would have to be mindful of how this played out.
When the helicopter landed he exited with very little fanfare, and never quite took his eyes off the Ocean, where he knew the Angel of Fish, Gaghiel was, alongside something else... something much more alien than even that leviathan. He had to wonder what would show up this time. He still recalled the beast, the Water Lizard Bokrug. Something like that maybe? Who could say.
"You seem distracted, what's on your mind?" asked Mosato.
"Just thinking. If there was a third Eva pilot, why are they only just now coming to Tokyo-3? I know things have been... hectic, but shouldn't they have been at NERV before the first Angel showed up?"
Misato hummed in contemplation at that, before giving a dismissive shrug.
"I think it had something to do with bureaucratic politics."
"Figures." said Shinji with a roll of his eyes.
Misato just gave off a mirthless chuckle. There was no humor in it, just exasperation. Of course, Shinji knew that wasn't true. No, the reason Asuka wasn't there from the start was because her presence would be a potential variable that could have prevented him from piloting that first time. In the end, it was an exceptionally bold move the first time around and it was a miracle it paid off. Though, last time around, there was only ever the Angels, now there was so much more, and even the Angels were changing.
Then a strong breeze passed, and with it came a rustling of fabrics. Immediately Shinji found himself lost to nostalgia, and he was very thankful he was facing the ocean. He didn't turn around when he heard the footsteps, mostly because… well he knew that she was wearing her sun dress, and he remembered what happened for that breeze last time, and he didn't feel like getting slapped this time around, but when he heard the voice that followed, he did turn on reflex.
And there she was, the McCoy of their dysfunctional trio. With Rei as the Spock and Shinji himself as Kirk… only without any of the suave lady killer skills…On second thought, he might have been the Tribble of the bunch.
"So… this scrawny kid is the Third? Wow, it's actually amazing we're not all dead."
Shinji… remembered echoes of memories not his own. As he turned to the red headed girl in her casual yellow sundress and the A10 Nerve Clips in her hair. He received flashes of memories from the sight alone, and recalled his short time in the LCL Sea of Consciousness.
He remembered her final hurrah, the last fight that was the prelude to her death. Ripping apart an entire division of the Japanese Army and then brutalizing nine Mass Production Evas with minimal damage. Then a Spear of Longinus was shoved through her eye, her intestines were ripped out, and her arm sliced in half longways, before she was skewered. Technically it happened to her Eva, but her sync score at the time was high enough that the injuries bled over onto her body as she defiantly spat in the face of death itself. That was her at her happiest, tearing her opponents apart with a fury all her own, like a Norse Berserker but focused and driven. Wielding the full power of her Evangelion as she took on nine Mass Produced Evas, each with unlimited power and a weapon that could slice through an AT field like it wasn't there, at once, armed only with a progressive knife and three and a half minutes of battery power.
She won that fight… at first anyway. It didn't end well when the Mass Produced Evas got their second wind, and it was right as her Eva ran out of power.
"Kill you ... Kill you ... I'll kill you ... I'll kill you ... kill you ... kill you ..."
Shinji shook his head of her final mantra. That would not be happening this time around.
Then Shinji fully registered what Asuka said, and responded accordingly.
"Well…Not dead yet, but I'm sure we'll get there eventually," said Shinji.
Asuka raised her brow at the response. Giving Shinji a once over before immediately dismissing him and greeting Misato. Shinji, for his part, looked back out to the sea. Across the Horizon, he felt a presence, a gazing abyss, one that was watching him back. Whatever entity Nyarlathotep had summoned was already out there, waiting to strike.
Then a hand gripped his chin and he was jerked to face a pair of blue eyes glaring back at him. His eyes opened wide as she roughly manhandled him, looking him over in the same way an equestrian might look at a prospective horse they looked to buy. It certainly succeeded in making Shinji feel very uncomfortable, something Asuka was phenomenally good at now that he thought about it. After a minute however, she let him go. It was only now that Shinji glanced around to realize that Misato had walked off, leaving him alone.
"Not much to look at are you."
"I would say the same thing, but that would be a goddamn lie, so I'll just settle for asking why are you looking?"
"Same reason I'd watch a trainwreck in progress. If you're gonna be useless, you should at least have the decency to be easy on the eyes."
"Happy to disappoint, people tend to put way too much thought into that sort of thing, and it's a waste of time in my humble opinion. I'd like to think I'm more evolved than that."
Asuka, who was about to say… something, just stared at Shinji in confusion. Shinji realized that this was most assuredly going much more different than the initial timeline.
"Is there something wrong with you?" asked Asuka.
But some things just never change.
Shinji hummed at that, his interest peaked as he waited for Asuka to continue. She didn't.
"I don't suppose you can be more vague, because what does that even mean?"
Asuka's eyes narrowed, before her eyes darted to the horizon for a split second, then looked back to Shinji.
"Don't actually know yet, but I do intend to find out. You give me the creeps. Whatever, so tell me Third Child, you've seen these things face to face, Old Ones I think NERV is calling them. What's their deal anyway? Everyone's hush hush on the details, but you fought three of these things. You must know something about them."
"More than I'd like to yes."
Asuka smiled, not a nice one either, but a mischievous smile. She crossed her arms as she took a step back.
"More than you'd like huh, well now I am interested. So Spill."
"I'm not entirely sure-" and that was as far as Shinji got before Asuka kicked him in the shin.
He hissed in pain and almost lost his balance, but remained standing… barely.
"Ok, Ow. Was that nessesary?"
"If you're going to be an Arschloch then yes, and don't give me that "I'm not sure" shit, I'd like to know what I'm up against. Thank you very much."
"You're very abrasive, you know."
"It's just my womanly charms, not talk Third Child."
Shinji glared at Asuka for a moment, remaining resolute… before he saw a flash of blackness behind her. It lasted for only a moment, but Shinji knew who it was.
"They predate life on the planet by a significant margin. They exist in an entirely different state of being, not traditional biochemistry, I don't think they are even made of baryonic matter at all, but something else. Their 'forms' if you can call it that, is made of normal matter, but it's… it's like a suit of armour, or an Evangelion. They exist deeper than that, and are more metaphysical in nature."
"Like the Angels Metaphysical Biology?"
"Sort of, Metaphysical Biology follows a certain flow to it, it's… understandable to a degree. There is a definable pattern, even if it's not initially intuitive. Whatever these things are, all attempts to analyze them fail, usually disastrously. Have you heard of what happened when they attempted to analyze the statue that used to be the water lizard?"
Asuka shook her head.
"One of the men who was studying it, Makoto Hyuga, drowned on dry land. He was inside of the Geofront. Miles away from the statue and any body of water, almost as if sea water just teleported into his lungs. They were using drones to analyze it at the time, and he saw something no one else did. It cost him his life. No one is aware of how it happened or why, only that it did."
Asuka furrowed her brows at that as she hummed in contemplation.
"That… doesn't make any sense. Where would the water even come from?"
"Don't know, and neither does NERV. They ceased all attempts at analyzing these things, for obvious reasons. I believe these things originate from another universe, one with vastly different laws of physics to our own, and with more spatial dimensions than we are used to. Everything we are seeing is merely our respective physics clashing and mingling, even their bodies are just their best method for interacting with our world to any meaningful capacity. It's bad enough that even the Angels are afraid, or so I've been told."
"Interesting theory, any proof?"
"Not on me, though I do know someone who is fairly knowledgeable on these things. Maybe I'll introduce you to him sometimes."
"I thought NERV wasn't studying these things."
"He's not with NERV, consider him a free agent with his own goals."
"Who is he?"
Shinji just smiled.
"I'm afraid he likes his privacy, but he is very interested in the Eva Pilots. Maybe I'll introduce you some day."
Asuka rolled her eyes, a dismissive gesture, but even so, Shinji could tell she was intrigued.
"How very clandestine Third. Alright, maybe you're not completely worthless, maybe. Time will tell on that front. I hear your first fight was also your first time in an Eva, what happened anyway? No one seems to know exactly how you took out the lizard thing."
"Can't help you there, even I don't know, beyond the fact that the Evangelion went Berserk. It was my first time in the Eva. You can blame my father for that one. He's the Commander of NERV in Tokyo-3. He's been… estranged for most of my life, and is something of a manipulative bastard. Then one day I got a letter from him with one word, "come" and absolutely nothing else."
"Stellar parenting," Asuka deadpanned.
"Indeed. Regardless, Rei, the First Child, was injured at the time, so it really wasn't much of a choice. From what I can gather, the intent was for me to have no idea what I was doing, possibly to ensure the Eva went Berserk for whatever reason. Maybe they didn't have any better options, but I do find it very odd that my letter arrived just prior to the Angel showing up, so they knew when it would arrive down to the day. The whole situation is suspect, and I believe there were ulterior motives, but of course, whatever they were, I'm not privy to that information."
Asuka hummed to herself, rubbing her chin in a contemplative gesture as her eyes wandered skywards. Shinji could practically hear the gears turning in her head. This was good, very good. In the original timeline, their relationship was… messy at best. It was truly amazing what power a first impression could have on someone.
"Well that's bullshit. You'd think that if we were going to risk our lives, we'd at least know the details of everything."
"The age thing certainly doesn't help, but we are not the only ones. Most of NERV is ignorant of this, only the higher ups seem to be fully aware of the big picture. As to be expected. Even when facing an existential crisis, greedy men can't help but to find ways of turning it to their advantage. Such is life, but we don't have to take it lying down… do we?"
Asuka smirked at that. She crossed her arms as she gave Shinji a once over, before nodding.
"No we don't. I have to say, you're a bit more interesting than I initially expected Third Child. Keep it up, still give me the creeps though."
"That's all background noise anyway, our primary objective is piloting the Eva's to prevent armageddon, and you have much more training than I do. I did ask Misato why you weren't there to begin with, seeing as NERV had advanced warning of the Angels, she even wasn't sure why, dismissing it as bureaucratic politics."
Asuka rolled her eyes as a sigh escaped her lips.
"I know right, It's like the higher ups don't even care that if we fail all humanity dies. Either they have absolute faith in us, which I don't believe for a second if they are keeping us in the dark like this, or more likely, they are playing a very dangerous game. If the latter, well, the Old Ones just came along and flipped the board, and I doubt old men are all that good at adapting when someone decides not to play by the rules, and… well shit flows downhill as they say, and we're the ones that pay for it. So far we've been supremely lucky, I don't know how much longer it will last."
At that declaration, Asuka smirked again.
"Well then it's fortunate you have me now. Luck will only get you so far, skill however… skill will take you places."
"So confident, if not arrogant."
That got her blood boiling, though no strike came. Instead she just ground her teeth.
"As of today, your new name is Dumbass."
"Shinji Dumbass Ikari… Hmmm, it has a certain ring to it."
"Dummkopf… hm… c'mon Third, I want to show you something."
Shinji raised a brow at that, before considering his options. After a moment, he just shrugged.
"Lead the way then."
Bodies of water have always been a source of fear and mystery. For many men and women of the world, there was nothing as terrifying as swimming in the deepest sea, and gazing down into the seemingly infinite darkness. Fear would grip their hearts as they wondered what could be looking back up at them.
There was something very big lurking in the depths, it cut through the water, surrounded by its minions, a veritable army of massive aquatic worms. It darted through the sea, like a ribbon, as its myriad of eyes observed its surroundings. Its slimy, pale-grey skin was flattened, undulating like waves to propel itself forwards as its maw opened and closed rhythmically, a maw full of horn-like teeth and ringed with tentacles.
Ubb, the Father of Worms gazed at its many Yugg offspring and minions. They swarmed around him, bonelessly and gracefully flowing through the water in hypnotic patterns, but Ubb paid them no mind. For Ubb was but a servant, one to his master deep below in the torrential abyss.
A massive shadow passed beneath, and a saurian mouth opened wide to devour sea life that had been frightened by Ubb and his congregation. Then their lord drifted back into the sea. Ubb whispered praise onto his Lord, the Third Son of the Great Dreamer. The Dweller in the Depths, the Lord of the Abyss, Zoth-Ommog, Youngest Son of Cthulhu himself.
The Great Old One breathed, and the tides shifted, waves ebbing and flowing on the water's surface as they became stronger and taller. Zoth-Ommog bellowed, sending massive vibrations throughout the sea as it continued forwards, with Ubb following behind him.
Shinji expected the introduction to Unit-02, and even with his memories, they didn't do the machine justice. It was certainly much more aesthetically designed than either Unit 00 or 01.
"Now this is an Eva perfected. Test Types and Prototypes can't compare to this beauty."
"Wouldn't by definition, it take more skill to pilot something that wasn't perfected? Considering it would have more bugs that wasn't worked out."
Asuka glared at Shinji.
"Or maybe I don't know what I'm talking about."
"It's pronounced Dumbass actually."
"You're starting to get on my nerves Third."
"I know, it's so much fun. So tell me more about Unit-02, or better yet… I'd appreciate a tour."
Asukas face went through several complicated emotions with each word Shibji spoke. All of his responses were deliberate, all to keep her on her ties for this moment. For deep within Unit-02, was someone who Shinji needed to have an… in depth conversation with. After a moment, Asukas own pride got the better of her as they made their way down into the Eva. With little fanfare, the entry plug erupted from the Evas spine, and the doors opened.
"Alright Third, I'll give you a tour, and it'll be the best damn tour you ever got."
Shinji merely smiled.
"I'm looking forward to it."
Asuka did not take notice of his tone as they made their way in, where she began showing him the familiar control yokes and going into details of her training. Shinji paid her words no mind however, as he quickly reached out, and with one swift motion, grabbed the controls and activated the LCL pumps. Asuka, who most assuredly did not expect that sudden movement, merely shouted.
"WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING!"
"Just showing you a little… demonstration of my own," said Shinji as the LCL pooled over their heads.
Asuka moved to punch him, only to pull back an empty plug suit as the Third Child… melted before her very eyes. She would have screamed at the sight, had a certain word not been spoken.
Shinji awoke in a hauntingly familiar landscape. A dark abyss and the single spark of life that dwelled within it. Disembodied, but very much present, was a lingering of the dead. A soul entombed in a monster.
"What? Who is there?"
With the words spoken, Shinji felt his influence grow into an omnipresent black that immediately surrounded the lingering soul.
"Hello Kyoko Sohryu."
The presence here recoiled into itself, as Shinji watched it squirm. He made bo moves as he awaited for it to speak. This place was one disconnected from the mundane planes of time and space. A billion years could pass here, and it would all have occured between the tick and the tock of a single clock. Years could be forged into moments, an eternity could pass in an instant, so Shinji had all the time in the world as the lingering soul finally spoke.
"Who are you? What are you doing here."
"My name is Shinji Ikari."
The soul's torrential state calmed somewhat as Shinji observed it with but a curious gaze. She could feel his all encompassing shadow that surrounded her, but as long as it remained still, she wouldn't do anything too hasty. Not that she had much power here, not as much as she thought at least.
"Ah, I see. How did you-"
"That's not important right now. What is important is your cooperation, for your daughter's sake."
The Lingering paused, and Shinji tasted the sour notes of dawning terror. If this lingering presence had a heart, Shinji had no doubt it would be beating out of her chest.
"Asuka? She… oh. You know… how do you know?"
"Instrumentality. I was there when it happened, by my hands it came to pass, and by my will it failed. Doesn't matter, what does matter is a story. See, I met my own mother the same way as I am meeting you right now. It didn't end well for her."
Kyoko gasped as darkness fell over her, cloying black that gnawed at her soul, a black of the deepest pitch, the kind of black that pulled at you and could swallow you in a single bite. She screamed, a terrible scream as the encroaching dark drifted close… only to recede.
"Yui Ikari is braindead now. Or as close as a disembodied soul can be to it. It's done wonders for my control over the Eva. Yet, I don't think that's what Asuka needs. Considering the circumstances."
"You… care about her?"
"I do, more so than you did."
"I LOVE ASUKA!"
"You certainly have a funny way of showing it Kyoko. You are just like my own Mother, so worried about a glorious future that you failed to do anything for the present. You failed as a parent. Unless you're going to tell me that Asuka finding the hanging corpse of her crazed mother is good for her mental development."
"That wasn't me."
"It was to her. Was it worth it?"
The lingering soul once more fell in on itself, wallowing in it's own despair. Shinji however paid it no mind.
"I asked a question. Was it worth it?""I… I don't… It… It wasn't supposed to be like this."
The Darkness returned. That all encompassing shadow that would bedim the light of her soul. It was cold, horribly cold, like icy mists.
"Irrelevant. This is what happened Kyoko, these are the immutable facts of the past you cannot escape from, only behold in all theot horrific glory. Look at her Kyoko, look at the pain and loss within your flesh and blood. Look at the broken thing your daughter has become, take it all in and answer me. Was. It. Worth. It. I won't ask again."
"If it meant Asuka would live… then-"
"You call this living?"Kyoko paused, and thought.
"No, no it wasn't."
The Darkness receded once more, and before the light of her soul, stood a boy. A boy with skin like a flowing river.
"Good. Now. how are you going to fix this?"
Asuka blinked as she stared at the empty plugsuit in her hand. She frantically looked around, right as a voice echoed all around her.
'Interesting trick wouldn't you say?'
"Was zur Hölle?"
"You're breathing me in by the way. Melted into raw LCL. A strange result of a 400% Symc Score. The Evangelion ans I become one and the same. It's how I do what I do."
Asuka pressed her back to the inner walls of the Entry Plug eyes wide as she scanned her surroundings.
"This is… impossible."
'I think you'll find that what was once considered impossible has become frighteningly common these days. Now, I'm going to need you to open your mind. There's someone I think you're dying to meet.'
Asuka opened her mouth to protest… right as she gasped when she was enveloped in an all encompassing feeling of… warmth. Comfort that she had never known throughout her life. Not since…