Kaji flew Misato back to the Geofront the following morning, their Thunderbolt landing on a concrete pad after flying inside the giant open cavity that marred the top of the underground structure. With EVA Units 04 and 05 arriving on transport aircraft later that day, Misato wanted to return to NERV as early as possible.
The Alliance’s mission within southern China had been a success: when UN (and by extension SEELE) controlled units attempted to challenge General Lin’s army in the field, the presence of both Alliance forces and especially two Evangelions had made the difference, and soon Lin found himself holder of a third of China itself. This was a major gain for the Alliance, and after the battle with the SEELE EVAs and LangWha the EVAs had not had to fire a single shot against their opponents, such was the sense of fear driven by them into the UN-controlled forces. Many had surrendered just at the sight of them.
Despite this, Misato was not at all happy with the way that things had gone and had again discussed the matter with Kaji while they were in the field. The Alliance knew exactly when and where the attack by SEELE would take place, and while they could take advantage of this in battle it left her with just too many worrying, unanswered questions. She had been through the pantomime of certain intelligence about their opponents before during the Angel war, just to find out in the end that the game was rigged. Misato wasn’t about to be someone’s puppet this time around.
Admiral Vinson sat at his desk in his new command office as Misato burst through the doors, Kaji following her. He was going through a series of reports being presented by other officers when she marched in. Vinson saw her glare and the expressed temper of her entry and had a good idea why she was there.
“Admiral,” Misato said to the commander, “May I please have a word?” Vinson motioned to the junior officers to leave the room, while pressing a button on his desk. “Johnnie, come in here,” he said simply, and then leaned back in his chair while calmly taking a swig of his coffee from a cup with old US Navy markings on it.
Misato waited until the younger officers left and the door closed. “I’m all yours, Colonel,” Vinson told her.
She started on him immediately. “How the hell did the Alliance know about that attack?”
“We have a source,” Vinson said, “a rather good one.”
Misato glanced at Kaji, who stood back and let her do the talking for now. “A bit too good. They fell right for the trap we set.”
Vinson was direct and eerily calm. “And you succeeded quite well, all things considering. Get to the point, Colonel.”
“The point is,” Misato was interrupted as General Sheffield entered the room, carrying a LCD tablet under his arm. She quickly went back to the discussion, “the point is that if you have an insider in SEELE that you also know where their base is, and if you know that why haven’t you shared that with us?”
The commander crossed his arms, as the broadside had come exactly as he suspected it would. “Because, colonel, we don’t know their base location.”
“Bullshit!” Misato called out.
Sheffield then entered the argument. “It’s true, I’m afraid,” he said to the Japanese.
Misato was incredulous with the Alliance’s stonewalling but now Kaji stepped forward and took a second approach. “The attack information in South China was quite specific,” he told the commanders, “it would be helpful if we knew more about the source of information where this is coming from.”
Sir John looked at Vinson for guidance and the Admiral nodded quietly. “Colonel Kaji,” Sheffield then started, “are you familiar in your experience with a former CIA agent known as ‘Omega’?”
“Omega?” Kaji said in recognition. “He’s legendary! Said to be the best penetration agent they ever had. However Omega was only an operative in the late 20th Century, he was thought to have died after Second Impact.”
Vinson leaned back in his chair again. “It goes without saying that what you’re going to hear next is not going to leave this room.” Misato and Kaji looked at each other again, both of them knowing they were about to get a lot more than they had expected.
Sheffield paced around the commander’s office as he related the tale. “Omega was indeed a highly skilled covert operative, used by the CIA and others to penetrate highly secure organizations such as the Soviet KGB, the Hussein regime in Iraq, and even the North Koreans,” he started. “While his actual identity was unknown, we knew of him from our experiences in the Persian Gulf when we were both junior officers. Omega was highly regarded, quite efficient, and had a knack for finding hard to get intelligence.”
“Sounds like a good asset to have,” Misato quipped.
The general continued. “Sometime in the late 1990s Omega had gone on his own, leaving the CIA. He kept in contact with a handful of us in the special operations community, such as the British SAS or the Americans SEALS, on the condition that we would not pass along what he found to our civilian authorities. He had apparently discovered something quite volatile, and warned us that revealing that to our own national agencies could get us, and himself, killed.”
“What was it that he found,” asked Kaji, who already suspected the answer.
“The existence of a secret organization that was manipulating the United Nations and nearly every major government in support of a secret scientific project at the South Pole. The group that we now know as SEELE.”
Second Impact. Misato took a deep breath, as Kaji mulled over what was being told. “How much did he reveal?” he asked.
“Not enough to prevent it,” replied Sheffield, “but enough to prepare us for what would happen next.”
“We were very skeptical when we first heard stories about secret societies and digging up gods and ancient artifacts,” Vinson told them. “We all thought that Omega had been out in the field a few too many times. But the level of detail that he was providing was considerable, and then things started to unfold exactly the way he said they would. It was based on the information he provided that we started to form in secret what became the Alliance in the time after Second Impact.”
Kaji was very intrigued by what he was hearing as Misato tried to take it all in, still feeling very skeptical herself. “Was he trying to stop what was going on in Antartica?” Kaji asked.
“We’re quite honestly not sure,” said Sir John. “What we do know is that after Second Impact we stopped hearing from Omega. That is, until last month.” Sheffield paused for a while as he found tea in the back of Vinson’s office and poured himself a cup while everyone else was quiet. “We started receiving messages from him on Hyper-high frequency channels. “
“Again,” Sheffield told the others, “we were cautious, believing this might be some sort of hoax or false intel from SEELE itself. But he provided a validation code that only a very few of us knew, and then he provided targeting data on SEELE positions, and then lastly this attack.”
“So he’s inside SEELE itself, then” Kaji concluded. The other officers nodded affirmatively.
Misato walked over to Sheffield and leaned directly into the man’s face. “They why hasn’t he given you the location of their base?!”
Sheffield didn’t bat an eye at Misato’s aggressive stance towards him. “He hasn’t felt the need to tell us yet, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, come on!” she shouted as Kaji pulled her away from the general. “All it takes is one shot and we go in there and…”
“We’re as frustrated as you are, colonel!” Vinson interjected as he stood up from his desk. “Those messages we get only go one way. He tells us what he feels he can.”
“Or what he wants to!” Misato said, still fuming. “It’s clear he’s manipulating events! He supposedly tells you about Second Impact but yet not enough to stop it in the first place! Now this!”
Sir John addressed Misato, now showing only the slightest bit of temper as he raised his voice. “Colonel Katsuragi,” he said to her, “I have myself send twenty agents into SEELE in attempts to get information out. I never heard from any one of them again. The only other man I know of who’s ever been successful is the one standing here.” He motioned to Kaji. “Quite frankly I’m thankful for whatever we can get!”
The admiral walked in front of both Kaji and Misato. “We have no choice in the matter,” he said to them both, “we just have to ride this out and take as much advantage as we can, without jeopardizing the source.”
Misato thought to argue but had enough sense to stop and think. “Well,” she asked Kaji, “what do you think?”
Kaji pursed his lips as he analyzed everything carefully. “SEELE is both skillful and paranoid, and they’re extremely good at rooting out unwanted guests,” he said from his own personal experience. “While it’s possible that we’re being baited with good information, the one-way messages implies that the source is being very cautious about being intercepted.” He looked at Misato, a hopeful expression on his face. “I think for now we can try and ride this out as the Admiral suggested, and hope he gives us what we need in the long run. If Omega’s as good as his reputation suggests, I suspect that he may be setting up conditions later that we can take advantage of.”
While she was still not completely convinced, Misato didn’t want to discount any advantage she could give her pilots. She glared at Vinson. “When this Omega sends so much as a peep, I want to be the first to know. No exceptions, and none of this ‘Need to Know’ crap,” she told him. “My kids are the ones taking the biggest risk: I’m not about to jeopardize any one of them because of some sort of spy game.”
Vinson took a deep sigh and nodded in agreement. “Affirmed,” he said. The room was again silent for a while until Kaji spoke up. “Now another issue: the Forrestals.”
“What about them?” the Admiral asked.
“Have you ever found out about what happened to the girl?”
The admiral didn’t speak right away, but again deferred to Sheffield. “No good news on that front,” Sir John said. “We’ve investigated several possible locations but to no avail. It seems her father had her hidden quite well.”
Kaji again spoke up. “Patrick says he can link to his twin through the EVA, and that he has images of what she sees.”
“Ah, yes,” Sheffield remarked. “I heard about that at length. I’m afraid I’m quite skeptical. His visions are mixed in with all sorts of images of relatives and enemies, and other dark anxieties that it’s difficult to determine if he’s actually seeing anything or if his adolescent brain is just working on overdrive. In several sessions I’ve been unable to get him to be specific on anything that he experiences. Considering that none of the other EVA pilots have ever reported having such an experience I’m highly doubtful this is anything more than just piloting anxiety. Again, Colonel,” Sir John looked at Misato, “you’re the expert on the EVA pilots and their behavior, but you know that considering their age and emotional states they’re more likely acting out, yes?”
“Either could be true,” she told the general, “I wouldn’t discount anything EVA does. Then again he may just be projecting hope that his sister is alright. It was strong enough to distract him during combat, however.”
“Then we’ll leave it to you to decide how to handle, but for now keep the information about the sister quiet until we determine an absolute confirmation of where she is,” Vinson ordered. “The less distractions the pilots have the better. The rougher part of this is coming up, and I want them all to be ready.” Both Japanese officers were resigned at the admonition. “Yes, sir,” they both said.
Now back home at the GeoFront, Mari walked inside the girls’ suite and once in went to the kitchen. Standing there were Hikari, Toji, and Kensuke, who was looking as Hikari was feeding Toji heart-shaped chocolates that she had hand-crafted herself earlier. Toji wore his track suit, Kensuke his NERV uniform, and Hikari was wearing a yellow jumper dress with a striped sweater and new sheer stockings on her legs.
Hikari noticed Mari first as she entered the kitchen. “Oh! Hi Mari-chan!” The two boys turned their heads to see her and each did a double-take as they got first sight of Mari.
Standing in the kitchen doorway, Mari Illustrious was wearing a lavender-colored Chinese QiPao. The dress was elaborately embroidered with silk flowers and patterns, and while the hemline went down to her knees the dress was slit very high on her right, making nearly all of her leg visible. Mari still wore her red-framed glasses but instead of twin-tails her hair was put up in braids, with a decorative Chinese-style comb to hold it in. She wore simple lavender-colored flats to top it all off, and was holding a large gift bag in her hands.
“Wow! You look great!” Hikari exclaimed. “Where did you get that dress?”
“The Chinese general we were fighting with gave these to us as a sort of reward,” she said with a smile. “I think it’s darling myself, I’ve always wanted one!”
Mari saw the looks on the faces of the two boys, still in stunned silence, their eyes focused on her. “Well, I haven’t forgotten its Valentine’s Day today,” she told them as she reached into her bag. “Here you go, mate!” She handed a gold-wrapped box to Kensuke, who gladly took it with both hands, shaking with excitement. Without letting Kensuke say anything in response, Mari quickly turned to Toji. “And here you go as well,” she told him, handing him a box identical to Kensuke’s. Toji quickly examined the box and saw from the outside that it was composed of chocolates, as in Japan the custom was for girls to give boys chocolate as the gift for Valentine’s Day. Toji also saw that the box was probably bought in a gift shop, judging from the label that was underneath.
Mari then pulled out a third box from the gift bag, this was larger than the other two with gold and silver wrapping and an elaborate bow on top. “And…where is Shinji?”
“You just missed them,” Hikari explained. “Now that you guys are back, Misato let him and Asuka go on a date tonight in old Hakone.”
“Well, let’s not let Puppy-kun miss out on the fun, shall we?” Mari reached into her small purse and pulled out her mobile phone. Tossing it to Hikari, she asked her with a broadened smile. “Would you mind taking some pictures then?”
As Hikari took photos of Mari in various poses, Toji excused himself from the kitchen, telling Hikari that would be back later to “shoot some hoops” with her. When Mari asked her what that meant, Hikari said nothing but just blushed brightly. Toji left the room, noticing on his way out that Kensuke had already left.
I’m totally cool with Hikari on V-Day but just can’t stand girls stuff like that, he thought to himself, thankful that Hikari was patient enough to let him go out for a bit. As he stepped outside the girls’ suite he saw Kensuke leaning against the wall, looking at the unopened box of chocolates Mari had just given him with tears in his eyes.
“What’s up with you?” he asked him.
Kensuke tried to smile through his broken heart. “It’s just obligation chocolate!”
“Bah!” Toji said as he playfully punched Kensuke in the arm. “There’s no respect for rookie pilots, you know that!”
Both Kaji and Misato sat on the steel floor in Kaji’s “safe room,” hidden away from the eyes and ears of the others and allowing them a bit of privacy. Kaji had changed out of his uniform and into a simple set of slacks and a blue dress shirt, while Misato wore a QiPao of the same pattern as Mari’s but emerald green in color. Misato then kneeled on the floor and presented Kaji an open box of chocolates that looked hand-dipped.
Kaji immediately took one of the chocolates out of the box and popped it in his mouth. Chewing it for a moment, he analyzed the taste. “Hmmm. Grand Mariner Cognac!” he told her. “You’ve outdone yourself this year!”
“Not bad for twenty minutes work,” she said, trying one herself. “I had to rush these right after we got back from the Admiral’s office.”
They each took another piece of the messy globs from the box and ate it while leaning back against the bulkhead. “Remember that time you and Ritsu-chan tried to make your own hand-dipped chocolates in college?”
Misato laughed as the memory came up. “Oh, yes! We went and melted all of that chocolate and then we were so busy drinking the brandy we had forgotten to save any for the chocolates!”
“Things you gave me tasted fowl!” Kaji told her. “What did you end up using?”
“Well,” Misato giggled, “first I used beer…”
“…and then we didn’t have much of that left so we used, what was it?” her mind struggled to think of what it was. “Oh, yes! Now I remember! It was rice cooking wine!”
“Shit! No kidding!?”
“That’s all we had left!” she exclaimed with a giggle. “I know you were disappointed with that.”
Kaji nudged her. “You made it up to me later, as I remember.”
Misato nodded knowingly. “That I did,” she said. They both smiled at each other for a bit as old memories crossed their minds. The little room became quiet.
“I don’t care what she did,” Misato told Kaji. “I still miss her.”
Kaji took a swig of whiskey from a flask that he had. “I do as well,” he said, handing over the flask to Misato who then took a long drink. “It’s difficult being here and not having memories come up of her. I imagine Ibuki-chan has the hardest time.”
“I’m sure, she adored Ritsu,” Misato agreed. “Now she has to find some way to help take her place.” Misato leaned against Kaji, looking up at him with warm eyes. “I hope you didn’t mind my fireworks show in the commander’s office,” she told him. “I know you wanted to lay low on that but after having our ambush get messed up I was just so angry.”
“It’s understandable,” he told her, kissing her once. “And you’re cute when you’re angry.”
“But seriously, you think that they’re hiding something?”
“Yes,” Kaji said, “I don’t expect them to ever fully trust us. The question is really, are they playing the same game as we are? Is there goal the elimination of SEELE? Or do they see EVA as a means to another end. With five units now operational and a sixth nearly done, that’s a frightening concept to a lot of people.”
At Ma Maison and dressed in suit and tie, Shinji sat at the table across from Asuka while he looked around the restaurant. It was easily one of the most fancy places he had ever seen, with antiques and artwork decorating the walls and expensive furnishings that made it clear that the restaurant’s owners wanted as much of a European ambiance as they could afford. From both the décor on the walls and the prices on the menu, it was clear to Shinji that they could afford quite a lot.
Asuka cheerfully hummed to herself while she looked at the menu. While Shinji always thought she was pretty good at her wardrobe choices, her outfit tonight was very eye-catching. She wore a sleeveless dress in black lace, the hem generously stopping at mid-thigh. Her hair was worn long and loose over her shoulders with her A10s on top, and she wore black polished ballet flats with her long, lovely bare legs. Around her neck was the monkey pendant that Shinji had given to her just before they left. She looked as delicious as the food, Shinji thought, and he silently told himself it was worth the pain to his wallet to take her here.
“So, um,” Shinji started, “do you know what you want?”
She didn’t answer right away, but pondered at the menu. “I don’t know. Duck L’Orange looks pretty good, but then so does that Filet Mingon,” she told him wistfully. “But being as we’re here, why don’t we start off with foie gras pate and then with escargot? Hmmm?” she purred.
The redhead gasped at him. “You don’t know?!” Shinji shook his head in bewildered ignorance. She leaned over the table and whispered to him. “It’s SNAILS!”
“S..snails?” Shinji couldn’t help but grimace.
“Oh, don’t make such a face,” she chided, “they’re pretty good, actually.”
“Okaaaayy,” he forced out. He took another look at Asuka as she went back to looking at the menu and decided if eating high-priced garden mollusks was what it took to get her into a romantic mood, he’d go through with it.
Just as he tried to ask her another question, his mobile phone buzzed. Shinji picked up the phone and saw a series of incoming texts. He opened up the first and saw a photo of Mari, winking at him. What the heck?
The second photo showed Mari in her lavender Chinese dress, the form-hugging design of which fit her curves quite nicely. Shinji found himself looking at the photo until he heard Asuka calling him. “Hey, Baka Shinji!” she said to him in an annoyed voice. “What are you looking at?”
Before he could answer he reflexively selected the third photo, which showed Mari’s very shapely legs though the slit of her dress. Shinji’s eyes went even wider than they were before.
“Who’s texting you, anyway,” Asuka asked him, her glance narrowing.
“Uh, it’s um…Kensuke!”
“Idiot!” Asuka said. “He’s all by himself on Valentine’s Day so he’s bugs us real people with his lonely thoughts.” She leaned over on the table. “He’s probably sending you booby shots he took of other girls, right?”
Shinji was about to reply when he looked at the next message. In the next photo, the curves of Mari’s ample cleavage could be seen through the openings in her dress.
“Yes! I mean, no!” he nervously told Asuka.” It’s just piloting stuff, nothing important!”
“Well don’t let it ruin our evening. Spending freaking two weeks in the GeoFront without getting out, now we have our one chance for fresh air and these children don’t want to leave us alone.”
“I’ll just shut it off then!” Shinji told her. Normally for pilots to turn off their cell phones was against NERV regulations, but Shinji figured this was worth getting in trouble later for. He quickly deleted the last few messages he had just received and then turned off his phone, tucking it into his jacket pocket and breathing a sigh of relief. To his most pleasant surprise, Asuka went back to reading the menu like nothing had happened.
A waiter went by them pushing a cart filled with deserts and Asuka swooned as it went by, gasping with delight. “Ohhh, Crème Brulee! Napoleons! Bananas Foster! Baked Alaska!” After seeing the cart she excitedly waived her hand in the air, trying to call their waiter.
“What are you doing?” Shinji asked.
“Ordering desert. What else?”
“But shouldn’t you wait until after the meal?”
Asuka shrugged. “Hey, life’s short! Never know what might come next!” At that moment the waiter came over and she grinned at him with bright eyes. “Hi!!! Could we have…”
Patrick entered the boys' suite to the smell of cooking. He sniffed the aroma and called out “Shinji, are you here?” There wasn't a reply so he walked into the kitchen.
Standing at the kitchen stove with her back to the doorway was Rei. She was wearing a dark blue wrap sweater paired with a simple, light blue knee-length skirt, with wool socks and slippers. A yellow apron covered her clothes as she worked in the kitchen. She didn't reply to Patrick but was focused on the stove, where she was hovering over a large pot.
As Patrick walked over to her, he noticed that the kitchen table was already set for two, with several dishes already there. Dressed in a grey sweatshirt and green polyester track pants, Patrick was carrying a gift bag in his hands that he set on the kitchen counter. Rei saw Patrick and then straightened up from the counter, the soup ladel still in her hand. “Oh!“
“Welcome home,” she told him, leaning up to get a quick kiss from him. Patrick took another smell from the pot. “What's this?”
“Dinner,” she said as she stirred the pot again. Patrick reacted in surprise. “You cooked all of this? By yourself?”
“Ikari-kun helped some,” Rei said. Patrick leaned over and took a sniff of the soup Rei was preparing, as she took the ladel and offered it to him. “Please try it.”
Patrick took the ladel and scooped out a small portion, holding it to lips so he could blow on it to cool it down. He looked at what appeared to be normal miso soup.
“You're reluctant,” Rei told him.
“I still remember the last time I ate something you cooked,” he said with a smirk. She was actually a bit defensive. “I think I've improved since then!” Patrick smiled at her and then took a taste as Rei waited for the response.
He licked his lips in response. “Don't worry, it's good,” he told her and Rei smiled in relief. Next to the stove a bell rang and Rei promptly went to the toaster oven. Methodically first putting on hot gloves, she carefully pulled out a fish from the oven and then placed it on the counter and then quickly grabbed another pot and poured sauce on the fish, just as Shinji showed her earlier. Patrick watched the whole thing in surprise. “You...cooked fish?”
“Yes,” Rei said, offering Patrick chopsticks. “Please try.”
“Are you going to eat this, too?”
“No. It's just for you.”
Patrick leaned over and put both of his hands on Rei's arms. “You don't have to go this far,” he told her. “I'm okay with your food choices.”
“Illustrious-chan told me that you also often have a second lunch after eating with me,” Rei said. Patrick blushed in response as it was true. Rei, being a vegetarian, didn't eat meat or fish. When the two of them had meals typically Patrick wouldn't get anything that Rei herself didn't eat, and that meant he ended up eating a lot of tofu, soups and salads. Sometimes it just wasn't enough for his American appetite, and Patrick would typically sneak in a snack consisting of a sandwich or whatever else he could find with meat in it. He didn't want to make lunches with Rei difficult by eating meat in front of her.
“Well...I....” Patrick stammered.
“There's no need to be embarrassed,” Rei said. “I actually don't expect you to eat the same things I do.”
He shrugged apologetically. “I know, it's just that I just feel awkward eating stuff like that when I know you can't stand the smell of it.”
“I know it, so I work on adjusting myself,” she told him. “Cooking this teaches me to filter out the smells that I don't like and concentrating on making it something that you do like.” Rei again offered the chopsticks. “Please try.”
Patrick took the chopsticks and then took a bite from the fish. The sauce was a good contract with the somewhat dry fish and he found it was delicious in combination. He took a second bite and gave Rei a nod of approval. Looking at the kitchen table, Patrick saw that she had already set up with other dishes, plates and everything else and that her presentation was extremely neat. It melted his heart to know that she was putting so much work into the dinner.“You don't have to go to so much trouble for this,” he told her.
“I wanted the challenge,” she replied, carrying the fish over to the table. “I feel like many times I'm useless.”
Rei looked at him with stoic seriousness. “I am unable to do anything of value other than be an Evangelion pilot.”
“It's the same for me,” Patrick told her, trying to be encouraging. “All I know is this stuff too. That and how to live in the mountains, not that it's useful here.”
“It was useful three weeks ago,” Rei said, speaking of their recent adventure in the wooden cabin on Mt. Fuji.
“I guess that was true,” he told her. “Maybe one day you'll find something that really suits you, and all of this experience you have from EVA will be there for you when you need it. In the meantime,” Patrick said as he grabbed his gift bag from the kitchen counter. “I have something for you that doesn't require much skill but I know that will fit you just fine.” He handed the bag to Rei. “Please try.”
She took the bag and opened it, and saw another box inside. From the weight and dimensions of the inside box, and also from Patrick's expectant glance at her Rei could tell it was clothes. “Happy Valentine's Day,” he told her.
“I'm supposed to give you chocolates,” Rei said.
“I like Japan a lot, “ Patrick said, “but I still play by American rules and that means the guy treats the girl on V-Day. Is it okay?” Rei didn't say anything further, but quickly took the box and went to the bathroom, leaving Patrick to hold the bag.
Three minutes later she came out wearing it: a sky blue Qipao, elaborately embroidered in white and fitting her petite figure perfectly. She had removed her wool socks and walked barefoot on the carpet back towards the kitchen where Patrick was standing.
“Do you like it?” he asked her. Rei looked at her outfit. “I like the color,” she said, as the dress's fabric was nearly the same color as her hair. “Do you like it?”
Patrick put his arms around her and held her tight against her. “Just seeing you like that is the best present I can get today,” he told her. Patrick whispered into her ear. “Don't ever think you're useless,” he told her. “I think you're wonderful, and whatever you try to do I'm behind you all the way.”
“Thank you,” she said, putting her arms around him and burying her head in his chest.
“No need to thank me,” Patrick said. “Just keep being you.”
Go on to chapter Twenty-Three