*I own nothing of Gainax or Khara.*

Rei Ayanami given the way she was raised, was a very, very unaware girl. As such, she wasn't accustomed to most normal social norms, a big case in point being humor. Sure, she could be very observant, but context proved to be foreign to her most of the time. It was evident in her observations of people around her and what she'd read in books. One book, in particular, had piqued another defining trait of the blue-topped, fair-skinned girl: her Pandora-like curiosity. She had come upon the book while perusing a local used bookstore with her fellow pilot, Shinji Ikari. It was a Japanese-translated edition of Gershon Legman's Rationale of the Dirty Joke, and there was a selection that she thought over for a day and a half.

After musing on it for that amount of time, she decided to share her findings with Shinji. Thankfully, they and their other fellow pilot, Asuka Sohryu, were killing time with a snack in the cafeteria of NERV HQ. The room was filled with a number of other personnel awaiting the order for the next round of the pilots' synch testing to start. Rei decided to use this opportunity to get Shinji's opinion. She also figured that there was nothing wrong with getting input from Sohryu as well.

"Ikari?" she asked the boy sitting next to her at the table.

Shinji looked up from his less-than-impressive meal and looked at her. "Something up, Ayanami?" he asked in turn.

"May I tell you a joke?" she posed. Hearing this surprised him, as in all the time he'd known her, Rei Ayanami had never expressed any sort of thought that would be considered humorous. This wasn't lost on Asuka, whose ears perked up at hearing that.

"Oh, this is rich," Asuka snidely said. "Wundergirl, telling a joke? And me without a camera..."

"What kind of joke is it?" Shinji asked.

"It is a variation on a joke I read about in a book," Rei answered. "Its point of origin dates back to the period of American Vaudeville theater, and it is considered a 'secret handshake' of sorts among comedians, where they each attempt to out-do the other in how they tell it. I combined it with details of a strange vision that I experienced the other day as well."

Hearing this made Asuka raise a semi-curious eyebrow. "That old, huh?" she said with a slight roll of her eyes. "And with bits of a weird dream. This I gotta hear..."

"W-well, all right then," Shinji encouraged her. "Go on ahead."

"Thank you," Rei said before she started:

"A theater producer is sitting in his office one day, when his secretary informs him that his next audition has arrived. He tells her to send them in, and soon an aspiring playwright steps into the office, closing the door behind them. The theater producer asks 'I have heard from many other playwrights before you, so what is so distinct about your script compared to theirs'?' The playwright replies 'My script is small in scale, but makes up for it with very grandiose ideas about the human spirit, psychology, emotional trauma, and complications of sexuality, all while a very violent conflict erupts in the background that leads to the end of the world.'"

Shinji and Asuka's eyes widened a bit upon hearing that last line, but say nothing as Rei continues.

"The theater producer ponders this for a moment, holding his chin in contemplation, before he says 'Very well, give me an idea of what goes on in your play.' The playwright nods and proceeds to give the producer as basic a summation of their overall story. 'The play opens with a young man, a pilot for a paramilitary unit who for most of his life has been afraid to be around other people. Throughout his service, he has experienced a lot of pain and sorrow, the peak of which occurred when he found himself forced to kill someone who had offered their friendship unconditionally."

In spite of how quiet her voice was, some of the other personnel found themselves listening to Rei, a bit morbidly curious about where she is going with her supposed joke.

"'On one fateful day, the young man visits the hospital room of a fellow pilot, a young woman who at the present is in a coma. Throughout their time serving together, he bore the brunt of her insults and occasional bouts of physical abuse, and yet for some odd reason, he cared for her. When he becomes hysterical while trying to wake her, he inadvertently tears her hospital gown, and succumbs to a moment of arousal, relieving himself in another corner of the room. This act further increases the young man's self-hatred as he realizes what he has done.'"

Hearing this particular line made Maya Ibuki, one of the three bridge bunnies, nearly choke on her food, while most of the others let their mouths hang open in shock. Yet, they continued to listen for the punchline at the end of this so-called joke, like passersby observing a train wreck. They just couldn't look away.

"'The scene that follows shifts the audience's attention to the young man's father, the head of the paramilitary unit, in conference with the unit's backers, a secret, shadowy cabal. Discovering the each other's plans for the unit's primary weapons, they effectively declare war on one another, with the cabal dispatching the forces of another military organization to seize control of the paramilitary unit's main base.'"

NERV Commander Gendo Ikari, and his right hand, Sub-Commander Kozo Fuyutsuki, happened to be passing by the cafeteria at that point when Rei was telling that portion of her joke, and their ears perked at those particular details, as they sounded an awful lot like one of the possible scenarios they'd discussed, over what SEELE would do once the Angels were defeated. Gendo motioned for Fuyutsuki to stay behind the doorway as they secretly listened in.

"'As the enemy soldiers descend upon the base, it becomes a bloodbath, as they had been ordered to spare no one. All staff members, be they civilian or security, are terminated on sight, whether by bullet, grenade, or flamethrower.'"

More shocked gasps erupted from those listening. Shinji dropped his fork, while Misato crushed her can of soda on reflex, and Ritsuko's cigarette strangely found itself hanging by a thread from her lower lip.

"'The young man's immediate commanding officer orders the comatose young woman moved into the protective confines of her specific vehicle, while they go to find the young man himself, who through security cameras is found to be cowering under a flight of stairs, trying to escape the world around him. She manages to save him from some enemy troopers, and makes a desperate attempt to get him to his own vehicle, in spite of his catatonic state. When they finally reach the bay doors, the officer is shot by pursuing soldiers. As they lay dying, the officer implores the young man to pilot his vehicle and forces them into the elevator to the docking bay."

As she continued on, those listening were beginning to wonder: What kind of a joke is this?!

"'The head of the paramilitary unit concludes that their defeat is inevitable, and so he begins to put his own plan into motion, beginning with retrieving the third of their pilot corps, who is the key to it all. At the sight of where his doomsday scenario will occur, his efforts are nearly stopped by the woman who was his mistress, who attempts to initiate a self-destruct protocol, only to fail and lose her life at the man's hands.'"

Gendo's eyes widened considerably on hearing this detail, as he suspected that, when it came time to enact his scenario, he would encounter some treachery along the way. He also began to sweat, fearing someone among the listeners might start to put things together...

"'The focus then shifts to the comatose young woman who, in the heat of battle, reawakens and begins fighting against the enemy soldiers. In response, the cabal sends their ultimate weapons in, which proceed to defeat her. The young man, having managed to activate his own vehicle, is too late to save her, and screams in utter horror.'"

By now, everyone listening in was on the edge of their seats, which shouldn't be the case for what Rei had initially said was a joke.

"'The scene then shifts to the young man's father as he finally begins his doomsday scenario, only for his pawn to reject him at the last minute, and takes the outcome of the scenario into their own hands, leading to a massive metaphysical cataclysm, with the young man ultimately setting the course for the outcome. After experiencing a series of dreamlike contemplations where he confronts those he deems important in his life, and ultimately seeing that he is alone, he feels that everyone on the planet should perish; in response, the now-former pawn unleashes the cataclysm, turning the entirety of the human race into primordial soup, uniting all into a single whole.'"

A now-dumbfounded Gendo and Fuyutsuki warily, subtly exchanged looks with Ritsuko, all three speechless at how close Rei is to describing the very idea behind the Human Instrumentality Project.

"'Upon realizing that such a state of existence is, in the end, unfeasible, the young man rejects the outcome, understanding that living cannot be done without either pain or joy. The cataclysm ends at his urging, and he and the young woman are the first to reconstitute themselves. It is left ambiguous as to whether or not more will follow in their wake.'"

When Rei paused, she noticed that her joke was being paid attention to not just by her fellow pilots, but by nearly every staff member in the cafeteria; she could even spot the commanders looking over the doorway. Everyone was stunned speechless by what she'd just described. She continued from there.

"The theater producer, nonplussed by what the playwright had just described to them, was silent for a few moments, a contemplative look still on his face. Finally, he cleared his throat and said, 'That is certainly an...interesting premise you have. What do you call it?' The playwright responds: 'The Aristocrats'."

Silence still reigned after Rei had finished. It stayed that way, until a faint chuckle was heard. All eyes turned to the source as another, slightly more audible chuckle was then heard. More chuckling emerged from the unlikely source: Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki. The chuckling then broke into a full-on, hearty, nearly-hysterical stream of laughter, with the former professor clutching his sides. When he was younger, his college roommate was an aspiring comedian who had heard a variation of that joke and told it to him; he'd considered it shocking at the time, until his roommate had explained the context behind it. To hear some version of the age-old joke coming from the very keystone of his former student-turned-commanding officer's ambitions was almost too much, as a few staffers helped him back up before he collapsed to the floor. The others looked back at Rei, their expressions varying between utter confusion and surprise over what it was they'd heard coming from her. Finally, amid all this, someone spoke up-said someone being Shinji, who only said four words:

"I don't get it."


**Author's Note(s)**
Part of me wanted to title this one "The A-Rei-stocrats", but then that would've given away the ending.