by Ex Machina
Come, Sweet Death Edit
The sun arose over the horizon like a shimmering penny over the translucent western waters of Japan. It had taken weeks for his travels to reach this point.
Shinji sighed and looked back over his left shoulder at the staggering form approaching the cliff. Asuka hadn't said a word for days. Her first words since... the resurrection, had been quite plainly, 'I feel sick.'
Since then, the only words she had even managed to utter were simple phrases. 'I'm hungry,' or 'good night.'
Shinji sighed remorsefully. Not even a single 'what are you, stupid?'
The reason for the travel has been quite simply, the smell. The smell of the rotting flesh of the... giant Rei.
Shinji shook his head. A mere month ago, he wouldn't have even been able to imagine such a thing, but nonetheless, it had happened. He had been the epicentre, and all he knew was either dead... or incoherent.
The stench still drifted over the quiet lands of Japan. Shinji wasn't surprised. Rei's head alone was half the size of the nation. It has taken him six hours to pass the stub of her severed neck, all the while trying to keep from vomiting.
The strange part was that there was no blood, and yet it still smelled of rotting flesh. As if there were giant maggots and flies feasting upon her.
The flies. The maggots. Shinji chuckled under his breath. They were his only company. The insects, various small animals that had managed to avoid the destruction of the third impact. That managed to avoid being crushed by various body parts. Shinji saw a dog the day before. Cold, starving and alone, however fearful. The dog had taken one look at the approaching forms of Shinji and Asuka and ran, an abusive testament to the remains of the human race.
Shinji watched with mild amusement as a cockroach scuttled around on the road below him. He brought his foot down and crushed it without another thought.
They had no right. No right at all. How dare they survive the human race? How dare the little unintelligent, unconscious creatures manage to live past them? Sure, they could survive nuclear contamination. They were resistant against many, many poisons, but Shinji thought... no, he knew that they wouldn't be able to survive the third impact.
As Shinji travelled the deserted Japanese isles, he noticed something of great importance.
The skies may have been blood red, staining the sun, moon and stars with its impurities, but the cities were intact.
In fact, had he not known the third impact had happened, he could have sworn there were people in the houses. Watching television, laughing and joking with family and friends.
But no, it was impossible. The cities were intact, which was how Shinji and Asuka had fed themselves, eating canned foods from the supermarkets and convenience stores. Sleeping in the show beds in department stores, or using some poor soul's futon.
Shinji looked to the north. The coast still went up for quite a way, but it too exhausting for him. No. He wouldn't go today.
The city they were in at the moment was not badly damaged. The smell was faint here, but the giant head rotting in the distant horizon stood testament to the fact that it would only get worse. He had to get off of Japan. Maybe to China.
He and Asuka would camp out in the city for a day or two, perhaps try to find a small boat or something in order to travel across the ocean. They would have to stock up on supplies. They would have to--
Shinji paused. He heard something. A small squeak at first, then it grew into a full blown gasp. He spun around to see Asuka, her eyes wide with... fear, surprise, amazement. Full of something.
And then she pointed to the ground, with a shaky hand.
Shinji's eyes burst open.
There were footprints. Human footprints.
And they were fresh. Shinji followed the deep impressions in the soil for a good twenty feet until he turned to ensure that Asuka was following.
She was, even if slowly, and focusing her full attention to the impressions.
And Shinji followed them for as along as he could. But it wasn't long enough.
The footprints ended as the soil gave way to concrete road.
He squatted to the ground, fingering the edges of the footprints gracefully. They were small, perhaps belonging to a young person. Maybe ten, twelve.
Shinji shook his head. There couldn't have been more survivors. There was no way. After what had happened... People were only left as a pool of rancid pus and a pile of clothing.
It was impossible.
The fates were toying with him.
Shinji looked up. The road let out into a series of storefronts, with a few upper floors, some windows looking out over the street.
He had to look. If there were survivors, then that meant...
That meant hope. That meant that the human race could continue, the right way.
That meant he didn't have to be alone.
He stood up and regarded each storefront with severe interest.
Most seemed ragged, the windows stained by the stale air, but one stood out in particular. It had perfectly clear windows, even the signs had been maintained.
And flower pots stood outside of the front door.
Shinji looked back to Asuka and gestured her to follow. He then stepped onto the hard concrete ground and made his way nervously to the store.
He paused just before appearing in front of the window. If there was someone there, it meant the change of everything. It meant that humankind could live on, other than two... invalids, there would be living people. Civilization would have a chance--remote as it may be, to return.
And Shinji wouldn't be alone.
The nervousness had remained in full force. Shinji was afraid to go further, he even came close to the point where he would refuse.
And then he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around to see Asuka, her blank expression suddenly changed.
She looked... she looked like she truly cared.
"Go," she said, a tinge of a sob crackling in her voice. "I'm with you."
Shinji was shocked. It was the first coherent thing she'd said since... the third impact.
Shinji looked forward, held his breath, and then stepped into the doorway of the store.
He looked around and let his jaw drop.
"Hi there! Can I help you?" the cheery little girl behind the counter asked.
Shinji was dumbfounded. "I... You..."
The girl blinked in confusion. "What's wrong? Did I miss a spot while cleaning?" She looked around thoughtfully, checking the counter for dust and generally examining the place. "Mom will be mad when she gets back!"
Shinji turned around to look out the window. Same red, hateful sky. Same deserted street. Same Asuka, looking just as confused as Shinji.
"How... did you get here?" Shinji asked.
The girl smiled. "Well, I live upstairs."
Shinji shook his head. "No, I mean how are you still here?"
"Where am I supposed to go? I've been trying to call the electric company, but the phones seem to be dead too." She tapped her finger to her chin thoughtfully. "In fact, you two are the first customers we've had in days."
"A week," Asuka muttered.
The girl nodded.
Shinji was completely dumbfounded. Here was a twelve year old girl, all alone for a week, but acting as if the Third Impact were nothing more than a trip to the country.
"Where are your parents?" Shinji asked.
The little girl blinked, then looked down. "I... I don't know. I woke up one morning, and they were gone. So I opened the store myself. But they'll be back! Same with the rest of the town. It's just a joke."
Shinji scoffed. "A joke? Have you seen the sky? Have you looked to the east?"
The girl gasped, taken aback. "I..."
"Look around! There's nobody left! There's just... just us. And that's it."
The girl shook her head. "No, it's just a big joke. I know it is."
Asuka pushed Shinji to one side and walked over. "Listen to us," she began. "We've travelled all the way from Tokyo-3, and you are the first person we've seen. I don't know how you managed all by yourself, but you've got to face reality."
The girl shook her head. "I don't wanna."
"Please. Tell me your name," Asuka suggested.
"Aki... Akiko Maeshima." She looked towards the ground.
Asuka reached over and cupped Aki's chin. "You aren't alone any more."
Aki looked up. "I... I wasn't... alone, I couldn't have been."
Shinji stared breathlessly as the two girls stood in the crimson light from the dawn sky. Their shaded forms seemed to stand absolutely still.
"Come with us," Asuka suggested.
Aki shook her head. "I can't... I've gotta wait for my mommy."
Shinji closed his eyes. She had called her mom earlier, and now it was mommy. She was regressing after learning of the harsh reality.
"Aki, listen. I lost my mommy too. I was very young when it happened, and I wanted to wait for her too." Asuka began. "But I found the longer I waited, the more it hurt that she wouldn't come. Aki, you've got to make a choice. If you want to stay here, we'll stay here with you until you're ready to come, but we can't leave you. We won't."
Aki's tears were flowing freely from her eyes, staining her clear complexion.
"Aki, we'll stay with you. We're three of a kind right now. Maybe the last of our kind. We've got a great responsibility."
"I..." Aki choked on her sob. "I don't know."
Asuka turned back to Shinji. "We've got to stay with her, Shinji. We have to."
Shinji was dumbfounded. Asuka had said barely three sentences for the past week, yet now she seemed to be more solid than he himself.
And she was taking care of a girl not two years younger than her as if she was her own child.
Shinji swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing as he did so. "We..." He sighed. "We'll stay."
It was true. He couldn't leave her there. No matter how much he wanted to leave Japan. No matter how much he wanted to get away from the stench.
No matter how much he hated his father.
He couldn't leave her alone. Shinji looked around the store, tears beginning to well up in his eyes. Things were different. So different.
Shinji had to face things. He had to. No more fear. No more running away. He had to take care of not one, but two people now.
And it scared the hell out of him.
He walked toward Asuka and Aki, and placed a hand on their backs.
"We won't leave you, Aki," he said.