Omega carefully made his way up the narrow walkway to the ventilation chamber. While still a good five hundred meters underground, he could see above him air ports that led to the outside of the SEELE's hidden lair. The ports were very small, just large enough for a small object to get through them.
The agent took out a small box and quietly cranked a handle as balloon inflated on the top of the box. Once the balloon was blown up to size, he hit a switch on the side of the box with his thumb and then let the balloon gently float upwards towards the air vent. He stood and watched for a couple of minutes, silently egging on the balloon until it reached the port and stumbled its way outwards. Watching it escape Omega sighed in relief and started to make his way back down the walkway, hoping that the recipient of the message he was sending would receive it soon.
The balloon floated away and upwards into the atmosphere. After reached five thousand feet the small box switched on a transmitter and began to burst out a very short series of numbers for the next few seconds. The signal was repeated several times, and following the last cycle the box carried out its last duty and blew itself up, a small cracking noise being heard by no one in the skies above it.
In the Boys’ Suite, Rei sat patiently on the couch as Patrick finished working in the kitchen next door. Apart from Agent Kikuchi in his bedroom they were alone in the suite, as both of their schedules had finally allowed them a lengthy evening together.
Patrick walked out of the kitchen carrying a tray that had on it two glasses of tea and a pot, and also a bowl of popcorn. He carefully set it down on the coffee table in front of the couch and then he plopped down on the couch itself next to Rei. He hadn’t changed out of his uniform although he removed his jacket and boots, while Rei work a plaid skirt with black tights and a white turtleneck sweater.
“Got everything ready,” he told her, picking up the remote control. “You have seen a movie before, haven’t you?”
“I’ve seen two,” Rei answered. “One was a film from Sweden called The Seventh Seal.”
“It was about the acceptance of death.”
Patrick smiled. “That must have been cheerful,” he said facetiously.
“The other film was Rascal Racoon,” she continued. “A young boy who’s mother had died finds a baby raccoon and raises it. Eventually he is unable to keep it so he sets it free into the wild.”
“Well,” said Patrick, scratching his head, “I’ll try not to be too depressing with my movie choices then.”
Rei tilted her head sideways. “Depressing? Why would those be depressing?”
Unsure of how to respond Patrick just rolled with it. “How’s science fiction for you?” Rei just shook her head.
“Good. Untilled ground, then.” He started the DVR and then handed over the bowl of popcorn to Rei. “Here,” he offered. Rei took one of the kernels and looked at it inquisitively before Patrick also took one and popped it in his mouth. She then did the same, chewing on it and nodding affirmatively. Sensing the mood was now better, Patrick gently used the remote to dim the living room lights.
As they started to watch the movie Patrick wondered if she should put his arm around Rei or just leave it at how they sat now, just right next to each other. Sometimes she was hard to read, he thought, I always feel like I’m somehow intruding with her. He decided against the arm but instead just gently scooted a little closer to her on the couch, and was rewarded when she leaned her head on his shoulder. Good enough for now, he figured, and he held the popcorn bowl between the both of them.
About two minutes in the movie Rei asked Patrick “why does it make a sound?”
“What do you mean?”
“There are in orbital space above a planet. There’s no atmosphere so there’s no way that sound can be carried, yet when that big spaceship fires on the smaller spaceship you can hear the sound of the weapons.”
“Well, let’s just say that science fiction films are as scientifically accurate as Shakespeare plays are historically accurate,” he countered playfully.
“But that is not very scientific,” Rei countered. “If it’s Science Fiction, shouldn’t there be science?”
“That’s why it’s called science fiction,” he then said. “In the end it’s as make-believe as Swedish films about the apocalypse. “ Before they could continue further there was a knock on the door.
Both of them looked at each other as Agent Kikuchi moved from his bedroom to the front door. He picked up and read his phone, receiving a message from the agent posted in the hallway. After checking the message he keyed a response and then placed his pistol back into its holster on his belt. “You have a visitor,” he told Patrick in a gruff voice.
“I wasn’t expecting anyone,” he said. Patrick looked at Rei, who just shook her head.
Patrick got up from the couch and went to the door to open it. Standing in front was Maria Vinson.
“Mrs. Vinson!” Patrick said.
“Hello, Patrick” she told him. Her voice seemed to wavier just a little.
“What brings you here?”
“I’ll get to the point,” she told him. “I spoke with my husband and he mentioned to me that you’ve never actually met your sister. Is that true?”
“Yes!” Patrick exclaimed. “I mean, I saw her once but she wasn’t really…awake.”
“I see.” she continued, “I thought you might be interested in this.” Mrs. Vinson reached into her handbag and pulled out an LCD tablet. “Some months ago the Admiral and Vance brought a visitor to our house in Maine. It was Erin, actually.”
The boy’s eyes went wide with shock as Rei got up off the couch and joined him in the doorway. “WHAT?!”
“At the time Vance had told me only that she was a friend from school, and the daughter of one of managers at the NERV-2 base. Her father was going to be away for a few days and he had suggested that she could join us at our lake house. So, she came and spent the weekend with us.”
Patrick was speechless as Mrs. Vinson continued. “We took some videos while she stayed with us. Vance never told me what had happened to her afterward, I got the full story much later. After running into you I thought that perhaps you should see this.” She handed the tablet to Patrick. “It’s not that much,” she said, “but, I think you’d like to see this just the same.”
The boy cradled the tabled like it was made of gold. “I’ll copy the files and return this to you!”
“No need,” Vance’s mother replied, “it was Vance’s tablet anyway. He’d probably want you to have it.”
Patrick took a deep breath and gulped down emotion. “Mrs. Vinson, I’m really…”
“Please,” she told him. “Enough’s been said. I can’t change what happened, but if I can help bridge the gap somehow between you and your family, then maybe something good can come out of this.”
The boy nodded with determination. “I’ll return this to you tomorrow,” he told her.
“I’m leaving Tokyo-3 tonight,” said Mrs. Vinson. “I won’t be staying here, I’m afraid. Just too many memories come up from being here, even though I’ve never been here before. “ Patrick understood her meaning clearly. “Thank you,” he said.
“Not at all,” she replied. “Good night, then.” Before Patrick could say anything else Vance’s mother turned around and walked away towards the elevators, escorted by one of the security team.
After watching her go Patrick looked at the tablet in his hands and then at Rei. “The movie can wait, don’t you think?” She nodded in agreement.
The two of them returned to the couch, sitting close to each other as Patrick paused the film and then switched on the LCD tablet. It was a newer model of Japanese manufacture and booted up very quickly after being switched on. The background screen featured an image of a two-story wooden house standing next to a lake, in an area that looked to Patrick like the New England countryside. There was a small dock with two powerboats on the lake by the house. This was Vance’s home, he realized.
Patrick clicked on a folder labeled “ERIN” located on the desktop. Inside were a series of video files as well as still images, all probably taken with the tablet’s own camera. He took a deep breath and looked at Rei. He was anxious to be sure but also quite nervous at what he would find in the media files. Rei didn’t smile but gently nodded, giving encouragement to him. Patrick gave her a broken smile back and then after resting the tablet upon both of their knees played the first video file.
The first video was taken inside of the house, and started with the front door being opened. Inside the front door came in Admiral Vinson, wearing not a uniform but civilian clothes consisting of a flannel shirt and jeans. Following him was Vance, dressed in major-brand athletic wear. Each carried a pair of suitcases as they came in the door. Patrick’s heart dropped on seeing the tall, muscular boy who had been at one point his best friend, and who had become his darkest memory.
As they greeted Mrs. Vinson (who was holding the tablet itself and wasn’t seen on camera), Vance held the door open and in walked a petite teenage girl with short blonde hair. Wearing a green-striped shirt dress and sandals, she had a bright smile on her face and a cheerful disposition. As the camera focused on her face, her emerald green eyes, the same color as Patrick’s, clearly stood out on her elfin face.
“Mom,” Vance said, “meet our new houseguest!”
Erin put down a duffel bag and held out her small hand for the woman behind the camera. “Hi, I’m Erin Forrestal! Nice to meet you!”
“It’s nice to meet you,” the voice behind the camera said as a hand came out to shake the girl’s hand. “I’m Maria. Please make yourself at home!”
The young girl looked around the house as the camera moved around her while the two men took the suitcases into another room while talking among themselves. Erin was clearly delighted with the Vinson’s household which was filled with antiques and keepsakes, many of them with a nautical theme. “Wow! This is beautiful!” she exclaimed. “I’m so afraid to touch anything!”
“Wait till you see the lake!” Vance’s voice called out from the back. Erin gasped. “Great! Can we go on it?”
Maria’s voice was then heard. “Why don’t you kids get settled down first and then Vance can take you out on his boat. Vance?”
“Put her things in the guest room and then you can go boating this afternoon. I’ve got lunch all ready for everyone.”
The file ended abruptly and Patrick moved to the next one. The second video was filmed on the lake behind the Vinson's house, as Erin sat in the back of one of the speedboats while Vance was piloting in front. She wore a green bikini top and shorts, which showed off her very slim figure and long legs. Wow, Patrick thought as he looked at his sister. She's actually kind of cute.
From the voices on the video Patrick could tell that Mrs. Vinson again held the tablet as Erin happily smiled and waived at the camera. As Vance gunned the engine and took a tight turn, the girl squealed in delight, throwing her hands in the air excitedly. As they reached the other side of the lake the boat slowed down and Vance got out of the pilot's seat as his mother spoke with Erin.
“So, are you having fun?”
“Oh, yeah! That was great!”
“Have you ever been on a boat before?”
“No! This is the first time! “ Erin told her. “We live in the desert so I've never gotten to do this before.”
Vance stopped the boat and then walked over to Erin as the boat gently drifted in the water. Erin stood up as he came over.
“Was that cool?”
“Do you want to see more of the lake?”
“Okay!” Erin said enthusiastically.
“Here you go!” Before she could react Vance quickly used both of his hands and playfully pushed her off the side of the boat. Erin screamed as she fell of the side and into the cold water of the lake. She quickly resurfaced, shaking water out of her hair as she floated next to the boat. His mother's voice came from behind the tablet. “Now, Vance! That wasn't nice!”
“But Mom,” he said in mocking protest, “She said she wanted to see more of the lake!”
“Not that much more!” yelled a pissed Erin from the water. “VANCE, YOU ASSHOLE!!!”
The third video took place inside the house, as the Vinson family and Erin all sat around a dinner table. Mrs. Vinson was again behind the camera as Erin talked with the family and answered questions.
“Erin,” Vance’s mother began, “is this your first trip to New England?”
“This is my first trip practically anywhere,” she answered. “I pretty much stay in Nevada all the time.”
“Your parents don’t take you on any trips? Or vacations?”
“I live with my dad in the Science City that’s part of NERV-2. He’s really busy with his work so I guess we don’t get out much.”
“And your mother?” Maria pried a little as Vance and the Admiral said nothing.
“Um, my mother died a long time ago.”
Mrs. Vinson gasped. “Oh, my child! I’m so sorry!”
“It’s OK,” Erin responded cheerfully, “I was very young when she died. It was some sort of an accident in the laboratory. To be honest I don’t remember much about her.”
“Well, I’m sorry just the same. It must be difficult living without her.”
“We’ve gotten used to it, I guess,” Erin said with a sheepish expression. Before they could ask another question Vance suddenly held his hand to his head, grimacing in pain. “Honey,” his mother asked. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Mom,” he told her. “Just got these weird headaches, that’s all.”
Erin gently slid next to him. “Do you want some water?” she asked him. Vance nodded yes and Erin quickly ran to the kitchen to get a glass of water and bring it back to the table. For a moment the tablet camera just ran as it was set down while Mrs. Vinson got aspirin and gave it to her son. He popped them in his mouth, gulped down the water, and let out a big sigh of relief. Erin smiled and a moment later everyone went back to their places. Admiral Vinson started again with questions for their guest, changing the topic. “Do you like it here, Miss Forrestal?”
“Oh, yeah!” she said enthusiastically. “I can’t believe you’ve got your own lake!”
“We own the property out back a mile north,” Vinson told her. “In the fall we go hunting for deer.”
“What?” Erin said with dismay. “You mean you shoot them?”
“What’s wrong with that?” Vance interjected.
Erin gave the boy an annoyed glance. “Nothing, as long as they can shoot back!” There were chuckles around the table.
“So Erin, you go to school with Vance, yes?” his mother asked. She nodded in response while eating.
“What do you like to do when you’re not studying?”
“Well,” Erin mused, “I’m pretty busy with piloting these days.” As she said that, Vance’s face turned ash white and the Admiral stopped eating as well. Vance gave Erin a very narrow glance as she gulped in nervousness. Vance and his father had not told Mrs. Vinson about Evangelion at that time and especially about the EVA pilots, keeping it a secret from her.
“Piloting?” Mrs. Vinson asked. “You mean like airplanes?”
“Uh, yes!” Erin quickly corrected. “That’s it, that’s the ticket! Yes, I’m learning to fly airplanes in my spare time!”
“Incredible! You’re so capable as such a young age!”
The girl laughed nervously. “Oh, it’s not so difficult. Kinda fun, actually.” She smirked at Vance as they were all relieved by Erin’s answer.
“Is that all you do?”
“I like sports,” Erin told the mother, now more comfortable again. “I play tennis and I swim. I do gymnastics too.”
“Her eyes smile like yours,” Rei remarked to Patrick as they watched the video.
“What do you mean?”
Without saying anything Rei’s fingers quickly moved on the tablet, reversing the video file about ten seconds prior and freezing the image as Erin smiled broadly. “When she’s happy her eyes make smiles.” It was true: on the screen image Erin’s eyelids made little “smiles” as her eyes squinted. “Your eyes look the same way,” Rei told Patrick, “when you’re very happy.” Patrick studied the frozen image of his twin sister on the tablet. That’s one thing we share, he thought to himself, but what else do we really have in common, being that we’ve always lived apart?
Patrick continued the video as the voice of Mrs. Vinson came on again. “It sounds like you’re a very talented and charming girl,” she concluded. “A pity we couldn’t meet your father.”
“Trust me,” Admiral Vinson said, “you don’t want to meet her father.”
“Oh, he can’t be that bad!” Maria protested.
“My dad’s nice but,” Erin explained, “sometimes he’s a bit of a control freak. Too much time on the computer I think.”
“Then it’s a good thing he’s got you there next to him to keep him grounded. Erin, do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“No, ma’am,” she said. “It’s just me.”
There was one more large video file on the tablet and Patrick played it immediately after the dinner film. In the last video Erin was sitting on a large comfy chair in what looked like a guest bedroom. The room itself was decorated with various keepsakes and had a garden theme to it. Wearing a white polo shirt and green golf skirt, Erin looked out the window of the bedroom with a melancholy look on her face, smiling only when Vance interrupted her.
“What’cha thinking about?” Vance asked as he held the tablet.
“Oh, I had that dream again,” Erin said.
“The one with that boy in the mountains?”
“Yeah, only I just realized something. I’m the boy.”
“That’s weird. How did you know?”
“I just knew,” she replied. “That’s all.”
“You didn’t just reach down inside your pants and…” Erin immediately bashed Vance with a pillow from the chair. “You are so gross! Of course not!” She protested. “Besides, I don’t really control the dreams, they just sort of come. It’s like I can see what he sees.”
“And just what does he see?” Vance pried, halfway in humor.
“There’s this cabin in the woods and someone else is there, some older guy who I can’t see clearly. And that’s about it really.”
“I know what this is really about,” Vance said smugly. “You’re just lonely for a boy in your life.”
“I am not,” said Erin, crossing her legs on the chair. “I’m just fine the way I am now.”
“Then why do you keep imagining this guy?
“Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?”
“Oh, so you are in love!”
Erin pounded on Vance with the chair cushion again. “You stop it! That is none of your business!”
“It’s okay,” Vance said, “I’ve got it all on video.” The girl’s eyebrows went straight up. “You delete that now, Vance Vinson!”
“Make me,” he teased. Erin immediately grabbed the chair cushion and attacked him behind the camera’s view, playfully beating him amid giggles from both of them. The tablet tumbled to the bed as she jumped towards Vance, making her displeasure known at having herself filmed a little too much. Patrick could hear muffled sounds from both of them as the tablet’s camera pointed down at the bedspread and the video file went black.
General Sheffield sat in his quarters, sipping tea and reading on an LCD tablet as he gently picked up his pipe and put more tobacco. Like Kaji, he knew smoking was against NERV policy but made the arrangements with him to have his quarters excepted. Rank had its privileges, of course.
Just as he was about to light his pipe, another device buzzed and Sheffield picked it off the table. Reading the sequence of numbers given, he quickly ran a decoding program and obtained a second set of numbers. Taking a moment to determine the meaning of the message, it soon became clear to him and he pulled up a global map on his larger LCD tablet. Smiling to himself, he then picked up his phone.
In the secondary operations room, Admiral Vinson went over with the other senior NERV leadership the planned deployment of Units 04 and 05. With the expectation that they would deploy to Central Asia and possibly in the Himalayan mountains there were a number of special requirements for the EVAs that needed to be worked out and Vinson reviewed the plan along with Misato, Hyuga, and other staff officers. In the middle of this the Admiral's phone buzzed and he immediately picked it up.
“We have a priority message from Omega.” Having his attention, the commander broke away from the others and walked quickly to the hallway. “Talk to me,” he whispered.
“It's a set of map coordinates,” Sheffield reported. “Location is in Yunnan, in Southern China.”
“Is it the base?” Vinson asked in anticipation.
“No, I'm afraid. Omega had a pre-arranged code if he identifies their stronghold. However,” the British officer continued, “there's a senior Chinese commander named General Lin who's been marshaling his forces there in preparation for a move on the Bejing government. He's been quietly contacting us asking for support. It's possible that SEELE plans to hit him before he becomes trouble.”
“So this is their next target? Not the Himalayas?”
“Likely.” Sheffield concluded. Vinson gave it a moment of thought and then mentally shifted gears. “Then let's call an audible and switch our efforts. If we're lucky we can catch these bastards on the ground.” Vinson hung up the phone and then hurried back into the operations room. “Colonel!” he shouted at Misato. “Change the game plan. New target!”
“What?” Misato asked in surprise. Kaji entered the room at that moment.
“No time to explain it,” Vinson said. “Get 04 and 05 on air transport and get them up in the air in 90 minutes. Here are the coordinates.” He handed a slip of paper with the map location that Sheffield had given him. Misato took the slip and then gave it to Kaji, who nodded and handed it back to her. “It's South China,” Kaji said. “Is this about Lin?”
“It is,” the Admiral answered. “If SEELE thinks he's important enough to go after, then maybe he is. “ He clasped his hands together, shouting “Let's Roll!”
As the staff quickly worked to incorporate the new target, Kaji silently motioned to Misato to go outside the staff room. She quickly followed him.
“What the hell was that?” she asked him in whispers.
“They've got an intel source inside of SEELE,” Kaji told her. “There was some sort of coded transmission that went directly to Sir John.”
Misato was incredulous. “Then why don't they just tell us where the freaking base is!”
“There's a game being played on all sides,” said Kaji, “but to what end I'm still not sure.“ Misato let out a sigh. “Here we go again,” she said in resignation.
Patrick had spent the next hour replaying the videos on the tablet over and over again, and in addition he also opened up many of the photos that were saved on the device. Many of the pictures were of Vance and his family, but there were more than a few of Erin as well and Patrick looked at each one of them.
He sat back on the couch for a moment to give his eyes a rest. Rei at first had silently sat with him as he went through each of the media files on the tablet. She had then let fatigue take over and now she was asleep on the couch, her head gently lying on Patrick’s lap as he caressed her hair while he played the videos again.
The boy closed his eyes and thought about everything in perspective. He admitted at that moment he felt conflicted. On one part he was finally glad to see something of his twin while she was healthy and alive, and the videos and photos showed how radiantly beautiful and fun-loving she was. At the same time Patrick realized that was not the way she was now. Erin was alive, he knew, and awake most probably, but something had gone wrong. In his occasional nightmares and premonitions he had the strongest feelings of fear and even anger. Wherever she was, she wasn’t comfortable and could very well be held against her will. Meanwhile, Patrick had friends and comfortable surroundings. It wasn’t fair to her.
He shook his head awake, as he knew it wasn’t so simple. Patrick had nearly been killed in the EVA a month earlier, and what he was doing now as a pilot was perhaps just as dangerous. He was piloting of his own volition, though, and not as a captive. So while Patrick was spending what had been the time of his life with the delicate, gentle, and captivating Rei his other half was imprisoned somewhere far away, lonely and alone.
I have to find her somehow, he thought to himself. I can’t let her just suffer like that. But how? He had told Alliance intelligence everything he knew, everything he could think of that had come through his dreams and other images that had run through his mind. Perhaps he could go look for her himself, but how could he do that now? He was needed at NERV as an EVA pilot and not only that but there was Rei, too. Patrick couldn’t imagine leaving Rei now to go outside and search for Erin. Somehow he felt, the EVA had to provide a way for the two of them to find each other. In the current circumstances however it seemed impossible to him, and he felt horrible inside his heart for it.
Kikuchi suddenly came out of the kitchen and approached Patrick. “There’s an alert,” he said to him.
“It’s an attack?” a startled Patrick answered.
“No, you’re being deployed early,” the security agent answered. The front door buzzed and inside bounded Moria Wellington. Mari followed her, wearing a camouflage uniform and carrying a duffel bag.
“Time to go,” Wellington told Patrick. “They’ve got something going on now and they want you two in the air immediately.” The boy nodded and then gently shifted Rei’s head from his lap to the couch.
“You got your deployment bag ready?” Wellington asked Patrick. He was about to answer when Kikuchi handed him the bag from his bedroom. “I guess so.”
“Right, off you two go,” she said. “We’ll get you to the hanger so you can get on board.”
Forrestal didn’t immediately get off the couch but gently caressed Rei’s sleeping head as she was completely oblivious to everything. He had hoped to at least say goodbye to her before going on deployment, but now it had come early and he didn’t want to disturb her now.
Mari stooped over to dote on the sleeping Rei. “She looks so childlike when she’s like this,” she whispered. “It’s awfully cute!”
“I know,” Patrick replied. “She said she doesn’t have any dreams, but it’s hard to believe when you see her so peaceful like that.”
“Perhaps she just visits Heaven in the times she’s not here,” Mari suggested. It brought a smile to Patrick’s face to think of that. He gently stood up off the couch, careful not to wake Rei. “Can someone get her back to the girls’ suite?” He asked Wellington.
“I’ll do it,” she said. “Now get going, or they’ll take the EVAs without you!”
“Good night - See you when I get back.” Patrick gently bend over to kiss Rei on the forehead and she shifted just slightly as he did so. He then grabbed his bag and followed Mari out the door as they rushed towards the elevators with Kikuchi leading the way forward.
Go on to Chapter Twenty