35,000 ft. above the Indian Ocean
Once on board the aircraft Mari promptly took a shower in a spacious private suite in the back of the fuselage and then plopped on a bed and fell asleep. She woke up some twelve hours later, as their Gulfstream jet passed the Indian Ocean on the way to Australia. Mari opened the luggage Wellington gave her and slipped on a khaki-colored blouse and matching mini-skirt. She then donned slippers and walked out of the suite and into the main cabin of the aircraft.
Sitting alone in the main cabin was Musashi, who was on the phone. Mari grabbed a water bottle from a small kitchenette and noticed that there was toast and juice on the table. She took some of each and then sat down on the same table where Musashi was sitting, waiting for him to finish his call. After a few minutes he hung up the phone. "Good morning" he said in Japanese.
"Good morning" she replied, munching on her toast.
"Feeling better after a good night sleep?"
Mari motioned to the airplane. "I'll say. If I'd know the Alliance had digs like this I'd joined earlier!"
"I understand this aircraft was 'liberated' from a top UN official," the Japanese man told her as he stood up and walked to the kitchenette. Mari gulped down her juice. "I could certainly see how he'd miss it."
Musashi watched Mari finish her breakfast. "What do you know about EVA 04?" The pilot raised her eyebrows at his question. "Not much, really. According to Wellie '04 is one the units the Yanks built. A couple of months ago they tried to hot-wire in an Angel S2 engine and run it and it went all bonkers on them, took out most of Nevada in the process." Mari finished her orange juice. "Did I leave out anything?"
"Quite a lot," Musashi replied as he returned to the table with a teapot and two cups. "The original NERV plan for EVA 03 and 04 was that the Americans would build them, then once pilots were found they would both move to Japan for operations against the Angels. Last September the American NERV branches revealed that they had found their own pilots for each of their units and were conducting secret training operations on both of them, which came as quite a surprise for NERV."
"They hid training on two EVA units without Tokyo-3 finding out?" Mari asked.
Musashi poured the tea and gave Mari a cup. "For several months in fact. Something which could not have been done without considerable assistance we believe from SEELE."
"I see. What happened when NERV found out?"
"They sent one of their top officers to observe both units and it was clear the Americans were not bluffing and in fact had mastered their side of the program. Then the Americans called for a training session between American and Japanese branches. Given the challenge naturally NERV's commander couldn't refuse. So then NERV-2 sent both EVA03 and 04 to Japan for what was billed as a joint training exercise."
"Who won?" Mari asked.
"What's important is not who won. What's important that the operation was a cover by members of NERV-2 that had found out about the UN's Instrumentality plan and were working to stop it."
Mari leaned back in her chair. "Oh, my. So what happened.?"
"This covert group had made an arrangement with NERV-2's scientific director, Dr. Harrison Forrestal. They would provide their own pilot candidate and Dr. Forrestal would give him the capability to pilot the EVA. The group would, in turn, use the training mission in Japan to both steal one of the EVAs and also an S2 engine that NERV had recently salvaged from the Angels. Once they had both they would put them together and then confront NERV and the UN at a later time. "
"I never heard about this. Did it work?"
"Unfortunately Dr. Forrestal had neglected to mention that the serum he created had severe side effects and eventually led to the death of the pilot during the actual theft attempt. Dr. Forrestal promptly reported the rest of the plot to the UN, claiming that his research was stolen by the others. The UN attempted to hunt down the rest of the group while Forrestal was promoted to head of Second Branch and given the S2 engine to test himself on Unit 04. You know the rest."
"How dreadful," said Mari. "Wasn't Unit 03 eventually sent to Japan?"
"Whereupon which it was possessed by another Angel during activation with a new pilot and had to be destroyed."
Mari leaned her chin on her right hand, intrigued with the intrigue that she was hearing from Musashi. "What about the original pilots?"
"It was the first pilot of Unit 03 that died from Forrestal's control serum. Unit 04 was piloted by a set of twins, who were in fact Dr. Forrestal's own children."
"Twins? Fascinating! Did they pilot it together?"
"No. They had kept one of them hidden while the other, a girl, originally piloted Unit 04. When she had an accident during a sync test they brought in the other one, a boy. It was the boy who traveled to Japan for the training session."
"So Forrestal had his own pilot as well."
"Correct, though the fatal S2 test was conducted with a dummy plug, not an actual pilot."
"Whatever happened to the pilots?"
"Their whereabouts are unknown, but it's assumed they disappeared along with the rest of NERV-2."
"Wow," Mari sighed, finishing her tea. "That's quite an epic, with a bad ending at that."
"Hasn't ended yet," Musashi told her as he poured her another cup of tea.
"The name of the first pilot of EVA-03, the one who died, was Vance Vinson. He was the fourteen-year old son of Admiral William Vinson, the former head of NERV-2 security and," Musashi looked straight at her "currently military head of the Alliance."
Mari's eyes went wide. "Oh," she said. "And this chap is also the one who tried to steal the EVA and S2 from before?"
"And the one who's also organizing the current endeavor," Musashi answered, pausing to let that sink in. Mari now realized just what sort of operation she had fallen into. "Anything else?" she looked at Musashi sheepishly.
"Yes. I was on the satellite phone to Alliance operations. They've just found EVA-04."
The Gulfstream landed on one of the now-busy runways at Alice Springs. Formerly a civilian airport capable of taking 747s loaded with tourists, Alice Springs was now home to an increasing large inventory of combat aircraft of all types, including fighters, bombers, transports, tankers and support types. Many had UN markings that were now being painted over by the ground crews.
Their Gulfstream taxied over to a separate area and the doorway opened. Both Musashi and Mari walked down the ramp to several waiting men below. "Hello, Sir John!" Mari called out to the British commander.
"Hello, Miss Illustrious!" General Sir John Sheffield, former head of NERV UK, answered from the lower end of the ramp. "How was your flight, my dear?"
"Splendid, thank you." She looked around and saw the multitude of warplanes. "Quite a show here, eh?"
"There's quite a lot going on and much more to show you. Please come with me and I'll give you a grand tour." Mari nodded and looked at her companion for the last twenty-four hours. "Thank you again, Musashi." She bowed to him courteously and the Japanese man bowed slightly in return. She then waived goodbye to Musashi and the others as she boarded the General's Land Rover and they sped off. Musashi watched her leave along with the other commander who was present.
"How much did you tell her?" Admiral Vinson asked.
"As much as she needed to know," Musashi replied, taking out a cigarette from a metal case and lighting it.
"Will she pilot?" the Admiral asked him. Musashi took a drag and looked in the distance a bit. "She doesn't trust us quite yet, on the one hand. On the other, there's the presence of three of the major personalities in NERV UK within the Alliance and she does trust them. She's also quite anxious to prove herself as a pilot. As long as you don't ask anything unreasonable I think it wouldn't take too much."
"Such as asking her to fight and kill other EVA pilots like herself," Musashi replied and finished his cigarette, looking directly at the Admiral.
"The circumstances of the previous attempt at this couldn't be helped," Vinson defended. "Vance had a tough call and made it the way he thought he needed to."
"I think I made my own conditions for cooperation clear as well, Admiral" Musashi said, who then finished his first cigarette and lit another.
"Quite a demand for someone who was on the razor's edge of life," Vinson said to him. He narrowed his eyes at the agent. "You don't seem to show appreciation for us getting you out of your predicament. We could have just left you there for the dogs to eat up."
Musashi just kept smoking, careful not to blow smoke at the Admiral's face. "Your efforts to extract me are of course greatly appreciated, and I think I've provided enough information to substantially heighten your chances of success now. "
"Then what's your issue?"
The agent finished his second cigarette. "The Evangelion project seems to have a way of destroying or corrupting everyone who touches it. Should you succeed, you're going to have more power in your hands than any man has any right to. "
"Mr…" the Admiral almost called him by name, then checked himself as using Musashi's code name was one of the agent's several conditions of employment. "Musashi, I already lost my son to this thing. I don't want to see it go on any more than any of you. Unfortunately to win this we are going to have to use the Devil's own methods." Admiral Vinson looked in the foreground and saw the giant C5 landing on the airfield, Musashi turning around and also watching as it approached. As soon as it landed, a swarm of ground crew ran out and opened the doors, examining its special cargo. "Better call Dr. Foch," the Admiral said. "It's time he earned his keep here."
Other than the Evangelion unit lying on the ground next to him Dr. Bernard Foch was the only survivor of NERV-2. Originally hailing from France, Bernard Foch was a well-renowned expert in genetics and cloning, especially the theory of human cloning. Like many he suffered personal loss during Second Impact and volunteered his services to NERV in order to prevent what he thought would be a greater tragedy.
Provided with equal parts brilliance and resolve, Foch worked his way up the organization and eventually landed the position of Vice Scientific Director of NERV Second Branch in Nevada. There he came into almost continual conflict with Dr. Forrestal. Foch loathed Forrestal, considering him both a poor scientist and overly ambitious, and Foch had serious doubts about the validity of some of Forrestal's achievements. Forrestal for his part hated Foch's blunt honesty but needed him as it was much of the scientist's own work that made the secret EVA accelerated program a success.
When Dr. Forrestal became NERV-2 commander, he promptly ejected Dr. Foch from his position and had his security men march him off the base onto a waiting aircraft. Six hours later as Bernard Foch landed safely in Boston, NERV Second Branch disappeared from the face of the Earth. After another six hours and a bottle of Dom Perigion '51 later, Dr. Foch contacted an acquaintance who then put him in touch with the Alliance and he found himself again on a plane shortly thereafter, this time to Australia.
Dr. Foch walked along the length of the silver-white EVA, which was lying prone on a runway next to the parked C-5 transport. "Well old girl, what sort of stories can you tell us?" he said as he felt along the leg of the unit. "She's warm," he told an female assistant walking next to him. "Do we have the field kit ready?" The assistant nodded and she motioned to two technicians who were carrying a heavy rectangular box. The two men set down the large box and Foch opened up the top, which was printed "EVA-03 EXPEDITIONARY DIAGNOSTIC SYSTEM – PROPERTY OF NERV." He switched on the unit and pulled out two large cables that he gave to the two male assistants, pointing out the input ports on the EVA for the device. Foch waited for them to plug in the cables and then using a terminal that he pulled out of the box he went to work on the diagnostics of the unit.
Shinji stood in front of Asuka's door and read the sign that was hastily taped to it. "ENTER AND DIE!" was written in German and Japanese and from the jagged way the note was put together it was a credible threat.
She had taped the note there the day earlier, slamming the door shut behind her. Already under massive stress from successive defeats and her sinking sync rate with her EVA, the 15th Angel had been overwhelming for her and Asuka had withdrawn from everyone as a result.
Since she came home after the last Angel, Shinji had only seen Asuka once as she bolted outside her room to get something to drink out of the refrigerator. When he had seen her, she was on her cell phone trying to get a hold of Kaji. Shinji still didn't have the heart to tell her he was probably dead.
He knocked on the door and waited, holding a small plate in his hand. Not hearing anything he tried again after couple of minutes, softly asking if she was in.
"Asuka? Asuka? Are you..."
The door slid open violently. "WHAT THE HELL DO YOU WANT?" she screamed.
Shinji shook as he tried to speak. "Uhh...I just wanted to see if you're okay!"
"I'M FINE NO THANKS TO YOU!" she shouted. Asuka looked at the plate he was holding. On top of it was a slice of chocolate cake.
"Did you want something to eat?" Shinji asked her quietly.
The redhead jerked and pushed the plate back on Shinji, the cake falling down to the floor. "WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO DO, MAKE ME FAT! IF I WANT ANYTHING FROM YOU I'LL TELL YOU! IDIOT!" She then slammed the door shut.
The boy tried to shake it off and picked up the cake from the floor, trying to get the crumbs off the old carpet. Pen Pen waddled close by and watched as he scooped up the pieces, giving a soft squawk.
Jeez, Shinji thought. Old Asuka was bitchy enough, but this one is just insanely angry.
As Shinji walked back to the kitchen with the destroyed cake the door to Asuka's room slid open again and she hurried out, a small bag over her shoulder. Shinji turned around to see her go out the front door.
"Where...where are you going?" he asked her.
Shinji Ikari followed Rei as she led him through a series of isolated passages through the Geo Front She had called him an hour earlier on his mobile phone and asked to meet her at the EVA pilot's ready room. Shinji was quite surprised as it was the first time Rei had ever called him on his phone for any reason. Dutifully he had met her in front of the pilot ready room and without saying a word to him she proceeded to walk straight across the Geo Front with him in tow. Now after about thirty minutes of going through innumerable passageways, they both walked up a series of stairs to the spacious interior chamber of the underground facility.
At the top of the stairs was the entrance to a magnificently appointed garden. Stretched in front of them were rows of flower beds with roses, lilies, and other plants, separated by Greek-style colonnades of white marble. Water bubbled gently from several fountains spaced throughout the garden. Several large trees of various types provided shade from the artificial sunlight in the Geo Front In the center was a large marble dome propped up with columns that were about five meters high, and in front of the dome was a reflecting pool ten meters long with red and white colored flowers floating on the surface of the water.
Shinji took a deep breath as he felt his hair blown by a gentle breeze. To him, the garden seemed so out of place in the Geo Front, with its gentle and delicate nature in contrast to the massive buildings and structure of the facility. He also noticed that Rei and himself were the only ones there. Everyone else was seemingly too busy to notice the place, and whether that was by design or accident he wasn't sure.
"Wow. This place is beautiful!" Shinji said to Rei. "You'd never even know it was here."
"I did not find it until very recently," she replied. "It does not seem to have any purpose, other than just to be here."
Shinji looked around the garden as Rei walked towards the reflecting pool. "I wonder if anyone else knows about this?" he said as she sat down at the marble edge of the pool and gently moved her hand through the water. They were both quiet for a while as Shinji sat next to her and watched her gently play with the water.
Still not looking up at him, Rei asked him "How is the Second Child?"
"Um, not really good. After the battle with the Angel she doesn't talk to anyone anymore. She just stays in her room. I'm worried about her, really."
Rei continued to move her hand through the water, making small waves and watching the patters they made. "Her and her EVA have closed their hearts to each other and to everyone else. They will be unable to recover until they have the strength to open them again."
"So I guess she won't be piloting for a while, then." Shinji worriedly ran his fingers through his hair. "Ayanami, that makes it really difficult on you! If Father still keeps me and my EVA on hold only you will be left to fight the next Angel!"
Rei said nothing for a while but just sat there, looking at the pool as Shinji watched her. She then removed her hand from the water. "Ikari-kun?"
She turned to face him. "Who am I?"
"What do you mean, who? You're Rei Ayanami, of course! Who else would you be?"
Rei cast her gaze at the pool again as she spoke in a sad tone of voice. "I do not know anymore."
"Ayanami, don't say things like that!," Shinji said. "You're Ayanami! You would never be anyone else to me."
Again she was silent for a while, but Shinji sensed the quiet girl in front of him was building up to something. He waited patiently until she spoke again and this time her voice began to show just a hint of emotion.
"Up until now I have never really been afraid before. Sometimes I was scared for a moment, but then I would think of him...of the Commander. But now I am afraid."
"I'm scared too," he replied, trying to comfort her. "So many bad things have happened already. Toji, Kaji, Asuka. I'm so afraid something else bad will happen!"
"Nothing will happen to you. Your EVA, she will protect you always."
"And what about you, Ayanami? I don't want to lose you, too!"
Rei turned away from him. "It will not matter what happens to me. I will just be replaced."
"Please don't say things like that! If I lost you I'd...I'd..." Shinji tried to finish the sentence but couldn't as he watched Rei just stare at her reflection in the pool. He sighed and looked at his own reflection through ripples of water. "I guess we probably shouldn't be saying stuff like this to each other. It'll only make us feel worse."
Shinji moved closer to where Rei was sitting by the poolside, almost touching her now. "Ayanami, whatever happens...please have hope for yourself, because..." He looked right at her now, smiling weakly. "Because I'd really like to see you grow up someday."
Once Rei heard that she allowed her self the smallest of smiles, and she turned her head to face Shinji. Her eyes were just a little bit brighter, her face more relaxed.
"Ikari-kun, can I ask you a favor?"
Her smiled widened. "May I hold your hand?"
Shinji broadly smiled back at her. "Sure."