"Shinji."

Shinji was sleeping fitfully.

"Shinji wake up. We need to talk."

"Go away," he groaned.

"Shinji!"

"Just a few minutes more Asuka," he pleaded, eyes still closed.

And again the memories rushed into him. Asuka was dead. This had to be a new torment of Lilith. Another fantasy to lull him into acceptance. Rage bubbled up in him, he was about to scream. Not screams of agony like before, but screams of anger and hatred. He opened his eyes, ready to verbally lash out at anybody in his vicinity.
Huh, this is odd. It's still dark, like before.

Puzzled, his scream died in his throat, the LCL made a gurgling sound.
Wait a minute... Why am I in the EVA? Was I here before?

One thing, that had connected all of Liliths illusions was the utter absence of both Angels and Evangelions. But unlike before when everything was truly dark, now there was the tiniest hint of a glow. Not enough to illuminate anything, but just enough to ease the primordial fear of darkness that every human being had to some degree. It was not much, but it was enough.

"Finally, you are awake."

Now a scream of surprise did escape Shinji's mouth. The voice was definitely female and he got the impression that he knew her.
"Who's there?"

"Shinji, I don't know how much time we have. Listen closely for now, this will be a lot to take in. You are inside the Evangelion and you are safe. There is no danger and everything is going as planned. I'm sorry that I had to put you through that ordeal but it was for the best. Believe me, it was for the best.

I am about to reactivate the cockpit in a few minutes. Don't be startled! We are in space..."

Shinji could not stay silent any longer. "In space? What do you mean? That's not possible!"

"Yes it is. We are currently approaching Gliese 581, roughly twenty lightyears from Earth. Now listen, this is important. I will be gone in a few moments. As soon as the Evangelion is back online head down to Tokyo 3 and get inside the Geofront. Search for a terminal and execute the program 'Bail out'. Do you think you can do that?"

Shinji was still to shocked to answer. He was in space? And someone who sounded vaguely familiar was giving him instructions he did not fully comprehend. Oh on the surface they where easy enough. Get inside the Geofront, access some computer and start a program. Not the hardest of tasks. The devil lies in the details, they say. Shinji was an observant boy. True, he might not understand what he saw or heard but not much escaped his attention if he could be bothered to pay any. So he was quite aware that the woman wanted him to go down to Tokyo 3 which, if he accepted that he was indeed in space, meant he had to fly there. Or float.

And in an instant his worries got confirmed. The entry plug became transparent, showing him the outside world. Truth be told, there was not much to see at first. Just some stars and a dark, looming shape just below him. As far 'below' made any sense. Then some heavy duty floodlights the Evangelion got for just such occasions flicked on and showed him, that the black shape was indeed Tokyo 3 including a few kilometres in each direction. Even Mount Yashima from where he and Rei had destroyed Ramiel with the positron rifle was there.

And he was floating at least a kilometre above it all.

"Can you do it?"

Shinji finally found his voice again. "How can I reach it? Evangelions can't fly!"

"Of course they can. Angels can fly. Why should Evangelions not be able to? You know that the Evangelions are essentially a copy of the Angels. In some ways they are even better then the original. It would have been silly of me to design them so they could not fly."

"So how do I do it then? And why do I have to do it? Can't you bring us down? And who are you, anyway?"

The woman gave out a sigh. "Haven't you figured it out yet? I'm your mother of course. I wish there would have been an easier way to tell you, but there it is. And as for how to fly... Well it's not so different from making the Evangelion walk. You just concentrate on slowly gliding down. It's all just a matter of will and concentration. So can you do it?"

Shinji's mouth worked but no sounds came. His mother? Yui Ikari was dead! Everyone knew that! Yet he was certain that the woman spoke the truth. It was obvious that Unit One was at least partially sentient and that it was strangely protective of it's pilot. For Shinji it was not difficult to imagine that some part of his mother got integrated into the 'personality' of the machine. She had died in there after all, her remains absorbed by the core, like it had happened to him.
Maybe she's not dead after all! I mean, I came back, didn't I?

"I will try. But if we are in space, how will I breathe?"

"There should be air, but if not, the entry plug will warn you before ejecting. If something did go wrong with the AT containment field there should be a space suite somewhere. I have to go now. Remember to active the program 'bail out'. Give Naoko my best and tell her to hurry. I can't wait to get out of here! All is going to be OK!"

And with that, she was gone. It was more then just the absence of her voice, it was more physical. A room with another person in it feels different then one without. You don't have to see this other person or hear it, you just know it is there. This felt similar in some ways and vastly different in others. It felt as if this room was his own head and the other person almost a part of himself.

For several minutes Shinji could only grin. He was genuinely happy, something that he could not remember being since, well, since his mother had died. Or not died, as it turned out.
And she's coming out of here!


Only later did he wonder who Naoko was. Strange, he did not remember anyone working at NERV with that name. Maybe in all those years since his mother was gone this person left. Or died. His insides clenched again as he thought of all the dead people he had seen during the siege of NERV. What if no one was left alive?
Don't think about it for now. Just concentrate on floating down to the surface. Float. Float. Float, damn you!

At first he believed it was just a trick of the eye. But after some - considerable - time it could not be denied: he indeed drifted closer to the surface. And with that realization it suddenly became much easier.

Belief is a powerful instrument, but rare are the persons who can wield it. Very few can shake off all doubts. Most only choose to ignore them except in their innermost hearts. Knowledge is no less powerful, but in some ways the exact opposite and just as difficult to master. Both have their uses and advantages. You can, in principle, believe everything you like. You just have to convince yourself that it is true. This is easy for some things, but incredibly hard for others. It is easy to believe that the sun will raise again tomorrow but difficult to believe that she will become a distinctive violet. With knowledge it's inverted. Reality behaves in one way and one way only. The task is finding out, how exactly it works. But once this is accomplished it can be thought. Often this is not enough.

In other cases it's far easier than that. Once Shinji saw that he could make the Evangelion float, he knew he could do it. And that made all the difference.

A little belief does not get you far, but once you see this tiny progress it becomes easier to belief. It was a self amplifying process. It could also be a very dangerous progress. With conventional means this seldom becomes an issue. Reality always steps in before something gets out of hand, putting first soft, then hard limits before the ambitious. But with the mind-warping capabilities of the Evangelion? Those things defied reality just by their mere existence.

As soon as he realized what he could do, the Evangelion picked up in speed. It felt similar to his first steps in the big mecha. The same feeling of having accomplished something. But he remembered also how this first event ended. With him landing face first on a street. Just like the one that came nearer and nearer.

"Aaaaahhh! Turn around! Turn around!"

Suddenly he was not so certain anymore. He could make the Evangelion float but apparently his control was very limited. Once set in motion the Evangelion just moved forward until it hit resistance.

Final proof that Isaac Newton was indeed the deadliest son of a bitch in space.

But Shinji was not the inexperienced pilot back from his first humiliating steps. It was awkward but while he was not able to slow his fall, he twisted and turned and managed to land feet first. What he had not expected was for gravity to suddenly remember it's role. He did not know it then but while his Evangelion floated it was not susceptible to the usual kinetic conventions. But as soon as he touched ground that changed. Because he believed it should.

He landed on his ass. All in all a better outcome then his first steps. And there was no Angel just waiting for an opening such as this. That was even better. Still, landing on his ass hurt and he flinched inside the entry plug.

It took him only moments to get his bearings. Several weeks inside the test system where he learned to navigate Tokyo 3 in his Eva at day and night payed off. And after the disaster with Matariel, Misato made sure all pilots know how to get to Nerv HQ on the fastest route from everywhere in the city.

Since Shinji did not know how to call the rails the Evangelions usually used to deploy in the city and get back into their cages he had to leave the behemoth outside. Still he figured it would be best to keep him close to one of the exits.

He choose to head for the main entry of Nerv HQ above the geofront. This way he would not need to cover too much space on foot. The high spirits Shinji was when he arrived in Tokyo 3 - despite his awkward landing - diminished soon. The city had never looked more devastated. At after a year of Angel attacks that meant quite a lot. Some of the retractable skyscrapers simply fell through the geofront leaving behind empty holes. Besides one of those be stopped.
Maybe I could glide down one of those?

First he tried if he could get the EVA to float again. He hopped around a lot feeling rather foolish, but in the end it worked. After a few minutes he felt comfortable enough to try floating down the hole. He suddenly remembered Kowaru and Unit 2 floating down a similar shaft. He almost wept again.
He's dead too. Just like Asuka and Misato. Why did they have to die?

This time his landing was a lot better. He was almost prepared for the fickle gravity. He still had to struggle for balance but in the end he remained standing in midst all the rubble from the fallen buildings.

The pyramid stood not far ahead, almost unscratched in all this devastation. The inside of the geofront looked much like the city above - an post-apocalyptic wasteland, which Shinji guessed, it was.

Shinji had no stomach to remain and almost immediately made for the HQ. He kept his eyes on it, least he saw something of the people which plunged to their death alongside the buildings that should have provided shelter. It took him only a minute to reach his destination. He made the Evangelion hunch down so he could exit it more easily and triggered the plug ejection. The lights gave the all clear which he took as confirmation that his mother was right. Their was indeed air outside, so he simply left.

Despite its outside appearance Nerv HQ did not escape without some serious property damage. He remembered little details about the assault but blown out blast doors and the bullet holes in both walls and furniture painted a clear picture. Nerv HQ's last hour had been violent.

After he had searched a few rooms with a pillaged flash light for a working computer Shinji became aware of the utter lack of bodies. He felt relieved at that but strangely curious as well. Had Lilith removed them? But he quickly shut down this line of thought. It still hurt to much thinking about his special kind of hell.

He actually had to go all the way to the bridge to reach a working computer. There, below Maya's usual desk, he found her laptop still working. It took him some time to familiarize himself with the operating system. As a technician Maya favoured a more customizable version than was used in school but the basic working principle was still the same. Shinji was no genius with a computer like Kensuke, but he knew his way around. Every kid after second impact did. After he had unsuccessfully searched the GUI for the program he tried the console. There was indeed a program called 'bail out' but after evoking it nothing happened. Shinji stared at the blinking cursor.

Frustration overcame him again.

All for nothing... Do I have to die here? All alone in the dark?

After a few seconds the cursor wrote something and switched to a new line as if waiting for an answer.

Please identify...

Unsure what to do Shinji typed in his name. Apparently this satisfied the program as it began to write more text on the console.

Scanning for biometric data to verify identity. Please wait... Authentication successful

Occupation at NERV... Pilot

Authorization level... Apostle

Are the angles gone?...

Again the cursor blinked like it expected some kind of answer. Where they really gone? Shinji was not exactly sure but his mother seemed to think so. He gave his affirmative. The program continued.

Emergency authorization... Not required

Switching to post-Angel protocols... Done

Contingency-class protocols... Inactive

"Bail Out" Protocol... Active

Initialization... Done

Powering up systems 1-99... Done

Invoke "Naoko"... Error

Error summary: Entity not responsive. Entity in sub-conscious state. No access to higher-consciousness functions. Manually reset gamma stimulator to force conscious state.

Awaking key personnel... Initialized. Manual completion needed

Systems check... System functional within expected parameters

Changing runtime environment to mainframe... Done

Bail out successful. Good luck!

Then he heard it. A deep hum coming from somewhere below. One of the computers he had checked before sprang to life spewing out gibberish (at least to him) on the screen. Suddenly the lights went on, one after another and Shinji was blinded for a second or two. More humming accompanied the ventilation coming up. Dust that had settled long ago clouded the air but was slowly sucked out. More computers peeped to life. The holographic display in front of the bridge flickered on, displaying a schematic of the base, individual sections coloured in red and one after one changing to orange then green. Some of them went from orange back to an angry red but after almost ten minutes most had changed to green and the rest had settled.

A pleasant female voice announced something over the intercom but Shinji was to mesmerized to notice at first.
"...needed in section H-87, room 59. Manual completion of final dehibernation needed. Attention available personnel. Human action needed in section H-87, room 59..."

Shinji knew the base reasonably well and was certain that there was no 'Section H-87', at least not in the parts he had access to. He studied the holographic map in hope to find out where this section would be. After two minutes he still had not found it and grew irritated with the incessant voice. He snapped.

"Shut up! I would go to this stupid room if I knew where it was! So shut up already!"

It was a childish thing to do but Shinji felt a little better. What he did not expect was a response. The repeating message stopped and the voice answered in a businesslike manner,
"Section H-87, room 59 is located past the elevator to Terminal Dogma. Your path's colour is blue-yellow-red. For further directions please call up a map."

Sure enough a blue-yellow-red line appeared on the holographic map leading into a section Shinji was not even aware existed. After a few minutes of study he was reasonably certain he could find the way and set out. He would not have needed to bother as there where blue-yellow-red lights along his way guiding him to his destination.

Still it took him the better part of half an hour as the elevators did not work yet. He arrived a little flushed and sweating, not exactly breathing hard but getting there. He could have sworn that at some point he passed through a doorway where normally a wall should have terminated a dead end. The hallway in which room 59 was located was unassuming, identical to at least a hundred others he went past on his way here. The door had no handles but opened as soon as he went near enough. For a moment all Shinji could do was gape.

The room was not big, maybe ten times ten meters. It was however packed with glass tubes, filled with LCL. Inside where people, although Shinji could just barely make out their silhouettes so thick was the fluid. The tubes where arranged in six double rows of eighteen units with a small control console next to each.

One console stood out from the rest, its insistent red blinking drawing Shinjis attention as soon as he entered the room. Cautiously he stepped closer.

Release LCL was flashing on a prominent screen. There where many knobs, a few levers, even a keyhole but no labels promoted an obvious choice to Shinji.

"Okay, I'm here. What do I do now?" Shinji felt foolish to address the ceiling but this time he wasn't really surprised to get an answer.

"To manually release the LCL open the valve at the lower right side of the tank. Be advised to only remove LCL after automatic dehibernation is completed. Failure to comply may result in temporary or permanent brain damage resulting but not limited to headaches, blindness, loss of memory, coma and/or death."

At this point Shinji was more then just a little freaked out. Finding his mother alive - sort of - had been a shock. A positive one, granted, but a shock all the same. Everything after that made things only worse. He bore with the destruction and utter depopulation of Tokyo 3 and NERV HQ with stoic detachment. Partially because he had had worse dreams some nights, not to mention he had lived through third impact. That something listened to everything he said, even though it had been helpful so far, made him quite nervous but he had pressed on. Now he found other people in strange tanks, alive but hibernating - whatever that meant. At least according to what he could decipher from the panels they were alive. And now he was so close to having some emotional grounding in form of a living, breathing adult who could tell him what to do and gets told the very thing he had to do to awaken this person could very well kill it.

It was simply to much. Shinji just stood there, clenching and unclenching his fists.

He had been in similar situations before, unsure what to do or simply lacking the courage to do what he wanted to do. Normally someone would put pressure on him, forcing him to decide or making the decision for him. But this was different. Nobody was there to make the decision for him. No one pressured him into making one. If he now simply walked away nobody would ever know. So Shinji simply stood there for a long time.

The change in his body language was sudden. Before he was tense like a coiled spring but now he relaxed and exhaled. Without further delay he bend and twisted the valve. It was a little hard going at first but after the first half round it went more smoothly. After the second round the LCL started to drain. Slowly at first it gushed out fiercely soon after.

Inside the tube was Ritsuko Akagi. Stark naked. Shinji could only gape.

Until she suddenly opened her eyes at which point Shinji's face coloured a dark crimson and he quickly turned around, stammering apologies.