Two Days Later...
“Detail, Atten-TION!” The row of blue and green uniformed soldiers snapped to attention, rifles held at the ready as Colonel Burke called out the orders. Two Alliance soldiers and another two from the New Japanese army lined up alongside a silver-plated casket, with a Japanese “Rising Sun” battle flag placed partially across it.
The casket was surrounded on all sides by dozens of uniformed personnel from several services as well as a scattering of civilians. Standing along the other side of the casket was Misato in her older dark blue NERV dress uniform, along with Maya and Makoto who were also in their dress blues. Just next to them were the remaining pilots: Toji, who was wearing a black suit and tie, and Hikari, Asuka, and Rei, all dressed modestly in identical black dresses. Hikari sobbed openly as she held on to Toji's hand, while Asuka and Rei were both quiet and sullen.
Standing at the head of the casket was Admiral Vinson, himself wearing the dark blue NERV dress uniform. Behind him were several other senior officers and officials. There was one other, a fair-haired man in a khaki New Japanese Army uniform with general's rank. His uniform was immaculately pressed, his right breast covered in medals and ribbons, but his face grimaced in sorrow as he looked at the silver casket in front of him.
Vinson turned to Colonel Burke. “Give the honors,” he said
softly. Burke responded by facing the
detail of soldiers and shouting the order. “Honors...HUP!” In a swift motion,
the squad of four soldiers loaded rounds into their rifles and pointed as the
“Fire!” ordered Burke. Four rifles quickly fired in unison, their soldiers quickly released their brass and loaded in the next round. Hikari shook as the first volley was made and Toji put his arms around to comfort her, tears running from his own eyes as well. Burke gave the order again.
After the third volley, the soldiers again released their
brass and came back to attention. A few seconds later behind the group a single
bugle began to play “Taps.” Above them the clouds seemed to part above, releasing
some sunlight onto the little group during what had been a long and cold,
overcast day. As the bugle played no other sound was heard apart from the soft
sounds of Hikari sobbing.
The tribute was finished and four more soldiers came forth to take the flag from the silver coffin and gently fold it. A sergeant among them handed it to Admiral Vinson with both hands. Sharply turning around, Vinson walked three paces in front of him where the Japanese general was seated and then came down on one knee in front of him with this head bowed.
“General Aida,” he said with a quiet yet firm voice, “With
honor and gratitude, the Alliance of Free Nations and NERV sincerely thank you
for your son's service.” The general nodded without saying anything and took
the flag when Vinson handed it to him.
Vinson remained there for a moment to see if Kenskue's father wanted to
say anything, but the man simply nodded, trying everything he could to hold
back his own tears. In that effort, he failed.
“My son!” the general finally cried out, sobbing as he did so. “My son...”
“God bless you, sir,” was all that Vinson could say to him. He then stood up, turned around, and spoke to Burke again as he avoid eye contact with everyone else around him. “Dismissed,” he ordered.
“Detail...DIS-MISSED!” Burke shouted, and the soldiers in the burial detail moved in unison as they marched away from the procession.
After the dismissal the group around them began to slowly melt away, many giving their condolence to General Aida, Vinson, and the others. Hikari's and Toji's family also came as well, Toji's father and grandfather looking as sullen as the others around them as they spoke briefly with the grieving general.
Hikari calmed herself down somewhat and then took Toji's
hand again, and then they both stood in front of the casket and offered prayers
in the Japanese style. On top of the casket was also a photo of Kensuke, taken
in his middle school uniform jacket. His eyes were bright and eager, his mouth
in a wide smile. His friends both looked at the photo and tried to smile along
with him, but it was hard to do. After a moment, Misato walked over to them
both. “You can stay for a little while,” she said to them in a comforting tone,
“but we'll have to go back soon.”
“It's okay, Misato,” said Toji. “We'll be on our way in a moment.” Misato nodded and then moved to the two other pilots.
“Sorry to break this up,” she said to Asuka, “I need you back in Unit 02 ASAP to stand watch. We took a big chance with this already but I wanted you both to be here today.”
“Gotcha,” the redhead replied. “I'll go right now.” Without
saying anything further, Asuka left the group and then quickly made her way
through the crowd, speaking to no one as she moved through the group towards
one of the waiting NERV VSTOLs that would take her back to the GeoFront.
“Rei,” Misato said to her as the crowds now fully dispersed, “I want to thank you for telling me what Patrick told you earlier.” Rei didn't say anything in reply but just looked at Misato in stoic silence.
“I'd wish you would have at least given one of us a warning, however. We might have been able to help matters.”
“I understand it, but it can't be helped,” said Rei. “Misato-san?”
“Forri-kun was not part of this.”
“You're probably right but it doesn't matter at this point,” replied the officer. “They got to him through his sister and we can't assume he hasn't now been compromised. I think you'd have to agree that Patrick would probably do anything for his twin, yes?” Rei nodded in acknowledgment.
Misato looked away from her. “I'm sorry to put it to you like this,” she said, “but I have to know that I can rely on you. From now on Unit 04 is a target, and one that we need to destroy if we're going to succeed. I have to know that...if it came down to it, I can count on you to do what you have to do, even if...even if it's not what you want to do. Do you understand?”
“I will do as I am ordered to,” Rei replied in a robotic tone.
“That's not what I mean!” countered Misato. “I have to know your heart's in it. We're in a fight to the death, and they've got...” Misato herself started to choke up as she spoke, “they've got Shinji, and I'm not going to let anything get in our way of getting him back. I have to know that I you're able to do the job and pilot EVA, no matter what we run into.” Misato didn't say it, but Rei knew her meaning was clear: if they encountered Unit 04 she would have to be destroyed no matter who the pilot now was, even if it was Patrick Forrestal himself.
“If you'd rather not go through with it, I could understand...”
“No,” said Rei, “I'll be ready for what is necessary.”
“Thank you.” Misato started to walk towards the parked VSTOL as Rei walked along side her. Taking her aside again, Misato stopped and held her gently by the shoulder. “Rei, I'm so sorry it ended up like this,” she told her. “You couldn't know how happy I was watching you find that side of yourself with him. The last thing I would have ever wanted for you was for things to end this way.”
“Perhaps it's destiny, then,” answered Rei.
“Perhaps.” Misato looked at her with more concern. “If there's anything you need, please tell me.”
“There's nothing,” she answered and then turning around from Misato she walked away towards the edge of the graveyard.
On another section of the graveyard was a fresh plot, the earth still turned over on one rectangular section of the ground. The service for Captain Shigeru Aoba had been short, as there were several others being buried the same day and the Alliance and NERV were anxious to return to their preparations for what was to come. The grave was simple, a headstone already placed in front that read “SHIGERU AOBA 1991-2016”. Returning from the memorial service for Kensuke, Maya and Makoto Hyuga now stood again in front of Shigeru's newly laden resting place. They both paused in silence as they looked at the gravesite. Maya wiped away tears from her cheeks as she knelt down and gently placed a set of guitar picks on the gravesite dirt. She clapped her hands and prayed after she did so and then stood up again to stand with Makoto.
“I guess we're not a threesome anymore,” she said as they both looked on.
“At least he won't be lonely,” Hyuga responded, looking
besides them. Before their friend was buried, the two of them had requested
that he be placed alongside both Vice Commander Futsuyuki and Ritsuko Akagi,
whose graves were just a meter or two to the left of his.
Maya looked up at Makoto, with a look of both sadness and fear. “Are we going to be okay?”
“Somehow,” he said, “somehow this will all work out. For every night there's a sunrise, for every rain there's a rainbow. All hope lies beyond the cycle of darkness and light that each of us must face.”
“Who said that?”
Hyuga gestured towards Aoba. “He did. That's from a song he was working on. He hadn't finished it yet.” He turned to Maya. “He changed, you know.”
“What do you mean?”
“Before...before Third Impact, he wasn't much of a believer. After we came out of that still in one piece he told me once, for the first time in his life he really felt like there could be something good that could come out of this in the end. I just wish he'd have a chance to see it.”
“Maybe he knows it now,” Maya commented.
“He knew he was loved. Maybe that's really all that's important.”
Makoto Hyuga looked at the grave again one more time before
returning, and put all of his heart into hoping the best for his friend. Bet
you're just jamming your heart out right now, he prayed. Right up there
watching us. As if in response, above them the clouds parted further
revealing sunlight that came and bathed them all, and both Makoto and Maya
looked upwards and smiled.
Hyuga felt something tug at his hand and saw that Maya had reached out and put her hand inside of his, giving him a broken smile as she did so. He returned the smile and tried to reassure her by squeezing gently, mustering up whatever confidence he could. Somehow it will all work out for us, he thought as he saw his colleague and good friend, but at least whatever else we face, we’ll face it together.
Within an hour after the end of the memorial service for Kensuke, Asuka was back in EVA-02 patrolling the surface around the GeoFront. Armed with a pallet gun and rockets, the red unit paced around the jagged edges of the opening and around the ruins of Tokyo-3 that were nearby. Even two days later smoke still smoldered out of the interior of the GeoFront through the giant cavity, and looking inside the whole of the surface underneath the dome was ashen gray.
In the two days since she had returned Asuka had kept her emotions locked down as tight as she could. Served him right, she thought when images of Shinji popped into her mind. He’s a complete and total idiot, who will just fall in with whoever’s nice to him at the moment. I am SO glad I broke up with him.
Despite her best efforts she found that as the hours and days progressed thoughts of Shinji continued to come to her. Everything she saw and did reminded her of him, whether it was piloting EVA or wandering around the sub levels of the GeoFront, or even just sleeping in her bed. At any moment she could close her eyes and imagine her putting her arms around him at night, holding him tightly like a warm, oversized teddy bear. She remembered how safe and peaceful she had felt when he took her hands and put them inside of his, and how much every night when they had slept in the same bed together how much she had really just wanted to roll him around to face her and then….
No, no, no! She chided herself as thoughts again came to her while she piloted. He’s nothing to me! That jerk can’t make up his mind, then he just leaves me alone like this…Better to cut it all off. I don’t need anyone, anyway. Trying to concentrate on her patrolling, Asuka shook her head vigorously and then continued to walk slowly around the city ruins, holding her pallet rifle at the ready as she scanned the skies above them.
She tried to fall back on her training and focus her mind on
her mission: move, scan, check, and then move to another location and repeat
the process, standing ready to destroy any threat she saw. Thoughts of the
enemy ran through her mind: Harpies, Unit 06, and now the silver-white Unit 04
was added to the list.
Asshole traitor! Always knew that stupid kid was trouble,
sneaking in and then seducing the First like that.
She sensed movement out of the corner of her eye and quickly
swung the EVA to her left. Seeing something out of the ordinary she immediately
fired a three-round burst from the Pallet Gun towards a destroyed building.
Asuka turned the EVA around and carefully approached where she had just shot
at. She could see giant holes where her shots had hit the building but other
than that there was nothing.
“Unit 02?” came the voice of Lieutenant Wellington on the audio, “is everything alright?”
Asuka took a closer look on magnification through her video display and saw something very small at the edge of the hole she just blasted in the wrecked skyscraper. She waited, gun at the ready, until something again moved inside the hole. Taking aim she prepared another volley until just as she was about to pull the trigger she saw what the source of the movement actually was: a very terrified raccoon who had somehow survived her first attack was poking its head out of the wreckage. Sighing in frustration, she put her voice on speakers.
“Go on!” she shouted at the critter outside, “Get out of here before I blast you again!”
The raccoon looked at the red giant for another moment and then finally scampered off into another part of the city. Asuka blinked her eyes in relief.
“Unit 02? What's happening?”
“Nothing!” she shot back, annoyed at the new controller. “Just another rat!”
After shutting off the audio Asuka just sat there with the pallet gun at the ready, pointed towards the building she had shot at earlier. Her mind went blank and she closed her eyes again, trying in vain to push out the memories that were now flooding in.
“Hey, Shinji? Do you want to kiss?”
“A kiss. You know, you haven't kissed before, right? Then let's do it?”
“Just because you're bored?”
“You're not afraid, are you?”
“No, I'm not scared of kissing!”
“You brushed your teeth today?”
“Then here I come!”
Asuka shook her head as vigorously as she could, trying to block out the memories. It's like that damn angel attack all over again...
“Don't breath through your nose. It tickles...”
She couldn't fight them off. In her mind she felt her lips touch his, softly, gently, in a moment that seemed to have lasted forever with just the sound of a song on the radio around them. She just wanted to be there again, when things were so simple in Misato's old apartment. She just wanted to be there with him again. Now he was stolen away from her...maybe forever.
“AAAAAGGGHHHH!!!” Asuka screamed at the thought of Shinji disappearing from her world. Reflexively she squeezed the trigger on the hand actuators and the pallet gun in her EVA's hands started firing off automatically. She shouted battle cries as she continued to hold the trigger down, pumping all of her rounds into the wrecked building in front of her.
“Unit 02? Unit 02! What's happening?!” Wellington's voice
came again on the audio. Asuka didn't reply but instead she just kept screaming
and pulling the trigger. The firing of the gun suddenly stopped and she read
the message on the screen in front of her: AMMO OUT. Still pumped up with adrenaline, Asuka
commanded EVA-02 to throw aside the pallet gun and pull out the rocket launcher
mounted on her back. She put the
crosshairs of the launcher right at the building in front of her and again pulled
the trigger. The EVA shuddered as first
one and then several other rockets all shot out of the box launcher and raced
to the wreckage she was firing at. Ignoring the voices calling to her on the
audio, she kept squeezing on the actuator trigger until finally there was
nothing left to fire. In front of her was no longer a wrecked building but now
just a giant pile of smoldering, melted steel.
She breathed rapidly, trying to gain what little control over herself that she had left as tears finally came out and down her cheeks. Baka! Baka, baka, baka....
In Central Dogma Lieutenant Wellington sat at the center station among the controllers as Ooi and Aoi sat along side her. She had been monitoring what Asuka was doing through her console but did nothing else after Asuka refused her attempts at communication. “Ooi,” she spoke to one of the other girls.
“Yes, Lieutenant Wellington?”
“Get a ammo reload vehicle out there to where Unit 02 is,” she said coldly. “Be sure they move carefully and announce themselves to her before coming into range. I wouldn't want them to get stomped on by mistake.”
“Yes, ma'am,” said the junior officer, who then opened up a
channel to logistics crews through her headset.
Aoi turned to Wellington. “Lieutenant?” she asked, “should we say something to her? To be sure she's alright?”
Moria glanced back at the other junior officer. “No,” she replied, “just leave her be.”
Go On to Chapter Forty