Two weeks later…
“Holy shit!” Kensuke Aida called out as he saw the military presence outside the NERV security gates. “This is amazing! They’ve practically got every major piece of good hardware right outside!” Seated by a window in their shuttle bus, Kensuke panned his video camera all across the view as he saw dozens of armored vehicles and weapons systems of all types, manned by either the Alliance or the New Japanese Army.
“Dude, you better put the camera away,” Toji scolded. “I don’t think they’re going to be really thrilled about you recording their security forces.” The other boy sat on the row ahead of Kensuke, and seated next to Toji was his girlfriend Hikari Horaki, the former student representative of Class 2-A.
“It’s OK, I’ve already made the backup file,” Kensuke replied as he continued to videograph. As he filmed, their shuttle bus travelled through two different checkpoints. At each stop a guard came on board the bus asking for IDs, and both times Hikari had handed the guard NERV ID cards that Misato had sent them. Satisfied and apparently ignoring Kensuke’s camera, the shuttle bus was passed through by the guards to the GeoFront entrance.
Hikari looked at the cards again after passing through the second checkpoint. A week earlier Misato had contacted her, asking if the three students would like to visit the GeoFront again to visit their former classmates. Hikari had answered yes for all of them and at Misato’s request sent her their current photos. Two days ago Hikari received three new NERV ID cards, along with an official letter from her that they would use to get past the very tight security now surrounding the GeoFront.
Toji noticed that Hikari was studying the ID cards carefully. “What’cha looking for?” he asked her.
“Nothing, really,” she replied. “It’s just that we’re supposed to be visitors here but they issued us permanent IDs instead.”
Toji laid back in his seat. “Well,” he said “with our families soon going back to work with NERV and all, they probably figure we’ll be around more often.”
“Well, it’s not like we work there,” Hikari replied. “I just thought it was interesting, that’s all.”
The shuttle bus pulled up to a concrete shelter that was now the topside opening to the underground GeoFront. Kensuke looked out the window and saw dozens of soldiers in battle dress, all heavily armed and manning fortifications all around the opening. “There must be at least two heavy weapons platoons out front! They’re not taking any chances this time,” he exclaimed.
“Couldn’t say I blame them,” Toji replied as the bus came to a complete stop.
The three teenagers disembarked the bus. Hikari got out first and then turned around to help Toji down the steps. He fussed a bit as she helped him lower himself to the ground. “Hikari-chan, I can get this,” he said.
“I just want to be sure you’re okay,” she gently but firmly replied back to him. Toji finally hopped out of the bus and then Kensuke followed, camera bags in hand.
Led to another checkpoint by a security guard, a Japanese sergeant looked at their IDs and read the letter that Hikari handed him. After seeing the documents, he then made a call on his radio and a moment later another Japanese guard approached them. The sergeant instructed the female guard to take the three of them to a special elevator bank and then before they left he explained to the three kids that once off the elevator another guard would be waiting for them at the floor below. Knowing what happened earlier when the JSSDF had invaded the GeoFront, no one questioned the overprotective security.
The trio was led down a long corridor and then asked to enter an elevator as the guard pressed the control button herself. Just as the elevator doors were closing, a young woman in civilian clothing rushed inside. Once the elevator started downwards, Hikari looked at the other passenger and thought she recognized her. “Um, excuse me? Are you…”
“Lieutenant Maya Ibiki,” the woman answered back. Maya looked at the boys and immediately knew both of them. “Suzahara-kun!” she said cheerfully on seeing Toji standing in the elevator. “You look well!”
“Thanks,” he replied, somewhat bashfully. Hikari took Toji’s arm as she spoke to Maya on the way down. “Do you still work there, then?”
“Actually I’m just coming back today,” Maya said. “I took some time off. I heard that you kids lived in Osaka-2 now, was that right?”
“Well,” Hikari started, “we did for a little while and then my dad and Suzahara-kun’s dad and grandfather got hired back by NERV, so it looks like we’ll be going to Hakone soon.”
Maya nodded. “Then we’ll see you around more often. I think the others will be glad to see you too.”
Kensuke let his curiosity get the better of him. “Is it true that they’ve got five Evangelions operational now?” he asked excitedly.
“Um, I don’t really know,” Maya said, reluctant to give away any information, “but I’m sure Colonel Katsuragi will fill you in.” The group in the elevator engaged in further chat on the long trip down, and then finally the doors opened. Ibiki slipped out, turning around quickly and telling them “I’ve got to go, we’ll see you around, OK?” She waved bye, and then walked quickly down the hallway, showing her ID card to a guard who stopped her and then let her continue forward.
As the trio left the elevator another security guard, this time a female with a dark complexion dressed in the Alliance camouflage uniform, led them down the opposite way through several passages. As the children followed the guard they saw many technicians and other staff personnel walking in all directions around them. Some of them were wearing the blue and green camouflage of the Alliance, some had on the green and black uniforms of the New Japanese Army, and a few others that had a different type of green, blue and black uniform that even Kenskue didn’t recognize. Everyone wore a red armband with a NERV logo on their right arm. Kensuke again pulled out his camera and started to film around him, hoping he could get some interesting footage of inside the GeoFront before he was caught.
The guard led then down another passage and then down several flights of stairs to a separate section of the GeoFront. In addition to the uniformed guards the security in this section also included some black-suited men and women who responsible for protecting the EVA pilots themselves. Finally the guard showed them to a room that had red double-doors, with a placard on the wall labeled “PILOT LOUNGE.”
Opening the doors and entering the three of them saw a spacious room containing lots of comfortable furniture, all of it brand new. Against one wall were a series of vending machines with everything from beverages to instant ramen available. On another wall was a large-screen TV that was currently displaying just the view from a digital camera of the top level of the GeoFront, facing Lake Ashii. At the far end of the room was a half-dozen video games of which both Kensuke and Toji recognized were the newest available. One of those machines was of the dance-pad variety, and on that one played two very familiar figures.
“Hey,” Asuka chided Shinji, “Final wave this level, don’t slack off!”
“You should talk!” he playfully shot back. Before she could answer the game started again and both of them focused on the patterns on the screen. They were playing a challenge match against the game itself, where both team members competed for a total score by striving to bring their footsteps in complete sync with each other, something that by this time Shinji and Asuka were now quite good at.
Unnoticed, the three other teenagers watched as the pair of pilots stepped and slammed their way against a pair of computer-generated opponents. Both Asuka and Shinji wore biketards with colored t-shirts over them, their hair and skin drenched in sweat as they worked their final round. At one point of the game the computer’s challenge pattern was incredibly complex, which the pair answered by actually leaping over to each other’s pad. Doing that several times within a couple of minutes they won the match as the game played a celebratory theme for them.
Shinji pointed to the scoreboard. “I got you this time! My score’s higher!”
“Yeah, but I’ve got way more bonus points than you do. That’s what really counts in this game, baka!” Asuka playfully poked at his chest as Shinji stood smiling at her on the step platform. She was about to kiss him when she saw the others out of the corner of her eye. “Uh, Hi!” she said excitedly, hoping that they didn’t just see their now public display of affection.
Toji and Kensuke crossed their arms as Hikari stood there and narrowed her glance at the couple. “Hard at work defending the world, I see.” Toji cynically told them.
“Ah, the luxurious life of an Evangelion pilot,” Kensuke sighed. “All you can drink vending machines and video games, and young love on the line!”
Shinji gave them an embarrassed look as Asuka frowned, her hands on her hips. “Hah,” she said to them, “We’re freaking lucky to even be able to play this thing since we got it!”
“It’s true,” Shinji continued as they stepped down from the platform. “If you guys weren’t coming over today we wouldn’t have had so much time to play it, or anything else.”
“They’re working you that hard,” Toji asked, still skeptical.
“Oh, yeah,” the boy replied. “Maybe even more than during the Angel War.” As Shinji spoke to Toji he noticed that Suzahara-kun was standing up on his own, without crutches. “Toji,” he said, “did you get a new leg?”
“Let me show you!” the taller boy cheerfully replied. Asuka stepped down from the dance platform and joined the others as they gathered around Toji. He quickly rolled up the pantleg on his blue tracksuit and showed the two pilots the mechanical appendage now in place of his right leg.
“He never gets tired of showing it to people,” Hikari commented.
“It it painful?” Shinji asked him.
“At first it was,” Toji replied, “and the stump always hurts when I have to take it off. But it's pretty good. The Alliance said this was the latest model for soldiers: its waterproof, doesn't get tired, and easily gives me an extra few centimeters off the ground when I jump.”
Shinji was elated. “So you can play basketball again?” Suzahara nodded. “Damn straight. After I got this in and settled down, I did a 3 on 3 with some other boys at the physical therapy center at O-2. Oh, that felt good!”
The group of them sat down on a couple of couches, as Shinji and Hikari both got beverages from the vending machines for everyone.
“We haven’t heard from you guys in a long while!” Hikari told Asuka as she sat next her on one couch. “The only news we got was from Mari when she visited us last week.”
“Did she tell you about the cabin?” Asuka asked.
“Yes,” Hikari replied. “Oh God, that must have been so scary!”
“I guess we pulled out okay,” the redhead replied, trying not to look too concerned. “It’s pretty much been non-stop training nearly since we got back.”
Kensuke took a long swig at his soda. “The Japanese military is now part of NERV?”
“Yeah,” Shinji said. “They’re all over the GeoFront now, mixed in with the Alliance people.”
“Is it true that there’s five EVAs now?” he pried further.
Asuka and Shinji looked at each other and then Shinji answered for them. “I don’t know if we’re supposed to tell you this, but they’re starting to use the captures Harpies as EVAs.”
“Wait a minute,” Toji said. “You killed those guys!”
“They’re cleaning them up and rebuilding them from the parts,” Asuka explained. “Hell if I know who they’re going to get to pilot them.” When Kensuke heard that his eyes suddenly lit up. Now’s my chance!
“There’s other changes too, “ Shinji went on. “We still defend Tokyo-3 but now we deploy outside the city more often. Asuka and I have been on two deployments already.”
“Mari told us some of what was going on,” Hikari explained. “But we were so worried because we didn’t hear from any of you.”
“Yeah, well,” Asuka replied, “they don’t let us out much! I think soon I’m going to be as pale as the First due to lack of sunlight.” She looked through the windows in the front door and saw someone headed towards the lounge. “Speaking of that…”
The double doors opened and the visitors turned their heads to see who had entered. Now standing in the lounge was Patrick Forrestal and holding his hand right next to him was Rei, who looked more relaxed and happy than any of the children had ever seen her before. “Hey, Guys!” Patrick greeted them. “We heard you were coming!”
The classmates had each thought to say something but they were all in too much shock. While all of them knew of Patrick’s affections for Rei, none had thought it would ever go farther considering Rei’s very isolated and stoic behavior. There she was however, looking radiant and very definitely smitten with him.
Shinji broke the silence. “Are those the new uniforms?” he asked them.
“Yes,” Patrick responded. “We just got them.” Kensuke noted that they were the same as the unidentified uniform he saw when they entered the GeoFront.
Patrick looked down at Rei and asked her, “hey, turn around and let them see,” twirling his finger. Rei happily complied, silently turning slowly to show off the new standard issue uniform she wore. In her case, the new female NERV uniform consisted of a dark green and blue pattern double-breasted jacket, with a matching dark green skirt embroidered with black and blue piping on the side. Underneath the jacket and skirt she wore a black turtleneck top and black tights with black leather low-cut boots. A large red-colored NERV patch was on her jacket’s right shoulder, while a Japanese flag was on the left one. Patrick’s male uniform was of a similar pattern, also with a double-breasted jacket and black turtleneck underneath, but he wore it with black trousers tucked into black boots. His left shoulder bore an American flag. “Pretty cool, huh?” said Patrick.
“They look dorky on both of you,” Asuka chided. “Now I, on the other hand, will look pretty hot in that.”
At this point Patrick just took Asuka’s insults in stride. “Whatever. You’ll get yours tonight per the colonel. Anyway,” he continued, looking again at Rei who just kept smiling back, “we got stuff to do so we’ll see you around.”
“Okay, later,” said Shinji. As the couple turned to leave the room Rei quickly waived with her hand and said “Bye!” smiling at everyone as she left.
Once the two of them were out the doorway, the three visitors let their jaws nearly drop to the floor. “She’s…she’s….she’s…” Hikari and Kensuke exclaimed
“…normal!” Toji finished for them.
“Or as close to normal as she’ll ever be,” Asuka cynically commented.
“Did she switch bodies again, or something?” said Toji. Hikari quickly nudged him in the ribs. “How long have they been like that?” she asked more politely.
“Since the cabin,” said Shinji. “They’re pretty much inseparable now.”
Asuka crossed her arms and leaned back on the couch. “You know they’re going to break up any day. I’m surprised they got this far.”
“Don’t say that,” Shinji shot back. “At least they’re happy!”
Shinji was correct: Patrick and Rei were certainly happy. Since their date in Hakone, the two of them had spent nearly every available moment in each other’s company. Given that NERV had accelerated the pilot’s training schedules that wasn’t particularly easy, and the two of them had to sneak in many moments just to be together. Together they were, however, and the time and challenges of the last two weeks seemed to just fly by them.
After seeing the others in the pilot lounge Rei walked with Patrick to the pilot dressing rooms, as Patrick would conduct tactical training with the recently returned Mari Illustrious while Rei would yet again go down to Terminal Dogma to be a test subject for Dr. Foch.
“When will you be done?” Patrick asked her as they reached the ready room.
“It shouldn’t take very long,” she told him. “I should be available around two PM.”
“I might not be done with the training session until after that,” Patrick said. “Is three too late?”
“No,” she replied. “I’ll make time.”
“Great. I’ll see you next to the operations level.” They parted company at the doorway, as she reluctantly released his hand and then started down another passageway. Going a few steps she quickly glanced back at him and saw that Patrick was still watching her, so she waved and smiled again and he waived back, and then Rei continued on her way down the hall.
I still can’t believe I pulled it off, Patrick thought as he watched her go.
Once entering the pilot dressing room Patrick took off his clothes and took a minute to get his plug suit on. Even in his locker reminders of Rei were still present, as he had two photos of her wedged on one of the shelves. One photo was taken as she wore a white sundress, and she smiled at him in the picture. Patrick quickly kissed his finger, put the fingertip on the image of her in the photo, and then shut the locker door.
Entering the ready room, he saw Mari standing there waiting for him. She was wearing her new plug suit, and her eye patch was now also removed. “Hello, Pats!”
“Hello, Lusty!” he replied back. “I didn’t see you at the Girl’s Suite last night!”
“I spent the night at Wellie’s, they were still remodeling my new bedroom yesterday. See the new getup?” She motioned at her plugsuit, this one being mostly identical to the NERV female suits but with the color in soft pink, giving it a very feminine appearance.
“You look lovely!” Patrick complimented. “It fits better than your old one?”
“I’ll say. I can finally bounce now.” she said, jiggling her breasts in the new outfit. The boy’s face went momentary blush in response. “How was Osaka?” Patrick asked as he regained his composure.
“Splendid. Between Hikari’s cooking and nightly outings of takoyaki I’ve must have put on five kilos. I had a wonderful time.” Mari smiled at him sweetly. “And you, little boy, that smile on your face isn’t just polite, is it?”
“No, It’s not,” he replied, as that smiled widened even more.
“So you broke through to your angel then?”
“Somehow, even I’m not sure how it did it, but just like that,” he snapped his fingers, “there she is.”
Mari crossed her arms and leaned against one of the large chairs in the ready room. “Is it everything you hoped for?”
Patrick plopped down on another chair facing her. “You know,” he said, “it’s not what I expected but it works just the same.”
“What do you mean?” Mari asked, as she sat down herself.
“I was kind of thinking at first I’d have to sort of walk her through everything, the dating and all. On the surface she seems like she’s sort of naïve about this sort of thing. But then once we’re going together I take one step and she’s right there with me, sometimes even ahead of me! “
“Oh,” Mari replied, resting her chin on her hand, “you mean that she likes you back.”
Patrick was incredulous. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You once told me that she’s a deep thinker, it always seemed to you that there was a lot on her mind.”
“Well,” she said, “if she’s gone this far with you and allowed you to see that side of her, I’d say she’s done a lot of deep thinking about you. Certainly she’s not taking anything about you lightly.” Mari leaned slightly towards Patrick. “Seems to me you’re still not quite convinced that she’s fallen for you.”
He we silent for a short moment as his thoughts ran through what Mari was trying to tell him. “Maybe I’m still in shock,” he said.
“If she thinks your worth what trouble this might be for her to change,” Mari concluded, “I wouldn’t take that lightly either.”
Patrick took a deep breath. “I just take this one day at a time. It’s fun, actually. There’s a lot more to her than anyone suspects.”
“Of that I’m sure,” said Mari as she got up off the chair. “Now that you affairs d’amore are in order, I’ve got something that I need a bit of your help with.” Patrick leaned back on his own chair. “Okay, shoot away.”
Mari leaned in on him, smiling widely but also giving him a look in her eyes that spoke of high determination. “I want you to get me a date with the Third Child!”
Forrestal about choked. “What?!”
“You heard me,” Mari said. “You know him. How can I get through to him?”
“You want me to break up Shinji and Asuka for you,” Patrick asked.
Mari was taken aback, if just a little. “I’m not trying to break them up per se,” she said. “I just want him to know that he’s got options.”
The boy scratched his head, sighing a bit. “I can’t say that I’m really in that good with Shinji. I mean, we’re friends and all, and it’s kind of cool that I’ve actually met someone who went through some of the same stuff with the EVA that I did. But if you actually want to date Shinji…you’re going to have to get through the Valkryie first.”
“I know,” Mari pouted. “It’s a bit of a challenge, that. She’s very possessive.”
“Considering that Shinji’s surrounded by hot girls, yourself included,” Patrick winked, “I couldn’t say I’m surprised that Asuka keeps him on a short leash. Rei told me that those two are pretty tight, however. It might be more challenging than you realize.”
“Well,” Mari said, with more determination across her face, “I’ve faced challenges before. I’m sure I’m up to this one.”
Patrick was split inside, as one side of him wanted Mari to be happy but also he was loyal to his roommate and especially his roommate’s very close relation. “I don’t know,” he told Mari. “This isn’t the sort of thing I’m very good at. What happened to Aida-kun?”
“Oh, that. Well,” she mused, “He’s nice.” Patrick laughed at her opinion. “Nice is like the kiss of death to lonely guys.”
“It’s not that he doesn’t have some charms, and he certainly tries hard,” Mari said, “but I can’t really say there’s more to him that clicks for me. Besides, he’s got some interesting personality traits.”
“You mean the military thing?”
“That’s one. There was this moment in Osaka-2 when we’re walking outside and having a nice chat, and then an Army train goes running next to us and out goes his video camera. Here I’m just standing there and he spends the next thirty minutes filming every tank and armored car. I’m just a passing fancy,” she smirked. “His real love is for sinews of war.”
“Anyway,” said Patrick, “did you…tell Shinji yet of your own, um, interests?”
“I need to make the right moment for that,” Mari said confidently. “I’m working on something now. I just need you to be there,” she told Patrick as she sultrily sat down on his lap “when I need you to be. Fair?” Patrick resigned himself to her.
Maya crouched inside of the storage chamber, huddled between Hyuga and Aoba as Misato and Kaji sat against the opposite wall. They had chosen the location as it was one of the few areas inside the GeoFront that electronic surveillance didn’t reach. Even though Kaji was now chief of security and intelligence for NERV, he didn’t necessarily trust everyone who worked for him and had set up the room as a “safe house” where he could speak freely to Misato and the others. Maya still wore civilian clothes consisting of a yellow fashionable blouse and shorts, worn over white tights and runners. The controllers wore the new NERV uniform while Misato still had on her old red operations jacket over a khaki one-piece uniform. Kaji wore a white uniform shirt with a loose black tie and black slacks, a cigarette was in his right hand.
“A lot has changed since I was here last,” Maya told the others. “I thought the Alliance would have difficulty getting EVA to run but having four operational units without the UN support is amazing.”
“It was difficult at the beginning,” Kaji said. “The Alliance team was very short staffed, and much of the time there were only one or two units operational. However, their scientific team is quite good, especially Dr. Viraat, who likes to play Frankenstein with the Mass production units.”
“What do you mean?” Maya asked the others.
“When they defeated the Mass Production Series, he had them put all of the remaining units in Sub-Zero 01, the cold-storage area in Sub-Level D,” Makoto Hyuga told her. “He’s been thawing them out one at a time and then cutting them up for parts to build new units. That’s how he got Unit 05 repaired when it was 95% destroyed.”
“And now there’s a complete unit made up from Harpies, that’s Unit 07,” Aoba continued. “The other Alliance scientist, Dr. Foch, has been working on a way to get it to activate without a core.”
Ibiki raised her eyebrows. “How is he going to do that?”
“He’s doing it by putting Rei in the entry plug,” Misato answered. “He thinks that she’s got the ability to sync with it.”
“And then there’s the new cores that the admiral found, hidden in the floor in Commander Ikari’s old office” Hyuga added. “They’re setting aside two cores for new units that Viraat is assembling.”
“So that means we might have seven units after all,” Maya determined. “Considering that it was nine Mass Production that attacked the GeoFront before I could understand wanting to be prepared. But does SEELE have that many more units?”
“Somehow they have additional units to the nine that attacked us,” said Kaji. He took a drag on his cigarette and continued. “Three are spotted so far, including one which might be the lost Unit 06. We don’t yet know their capabilities but their resources are quite vast. We could be facing a significant threat.”
“Seven Evangelions is a lot of power,” observed Maya. “Even NERV at our full strength didn’t have that many. That could be seen as a big threat as well.”
“The Alliance needs to be more upfront about how they’re using EVA,” Misato said, “I’ve tried to push them to be a bit more open about the project but they’re worried about giving away too much of their capabilities. At some point, even with giving the new Japanese government a 50/50 share of the project’s technology benefits, the rest of the world might think the Alliance could become dangerous.”
“So we need to play off one side with the other,” conclude Hyuga, “while at the same time stop SEELE from whatever it is they’re doing and then find their base and take them out for good!”
Maya nodded in agreement, now feeling that she had returned at just the right time. “Has there been any progress with the MAGI?”
“None,” Aoba told her. “The Japanese Air Force brought in their three best engineers last week, but no success.”
Hyuga shifted his body to keep from cramping in the small space. “On the other hand the MAGI have at least let us continue operations with EVA. Whatever they’re waiting on to fully unlock the core data banks hasn’t happened yet.”
Misato looked at Maya directly. “Which brings us to you. We need a trump card in case this marriage between the Japanese and the Alliance goes bad. Do you think you can get them to give us access to the core data banks?”
The young officer didn’t answer at first but thought about the problem. “Hacking won’t work. Sempai designed the defenses to be highly dynamic, especially with the upgrade she put in during the SEELE attack.”
“If you took the power off-line and rebooted it that way…” Hyuga suggested.
“She could see it as a threat and set off the N2s that are hidden below here,” Maya said, “or even just shut down completely with no power to anything here, like during the 11th Angel. We’d be sitting ducks for an attack.”
Misato tilted her head, thinking about something Maya just said. “You said ‘she’, not ‘they’?”
“That’s right,” Maya said. “They’re three systems but after a while I just thought about them as one entity after all.”
“The three sides to Akagi-sensei’s mother’s personality,” Misato said.
“And maybe somehow that’s the key,” Maya wondered aloud.
Go on to Chapter Eighteen