Just before dawn giant elevators moved EVA Units 02 and 07 up from the GeoFront, as equally giant land carriers then tracked them to two waiting C-5Ms on Runway One. With the NERV ground crew by now having gotten used to deploying the Evangelion by air the crews worked quickly and efficiently to carefully load each EVA into the C-5’s rear cargo bay.
Loaded inside Unit 02’s entry plug, Asuka waited impatiently for the EVA to be loaded onto the aircraft. It was still dark outside, but she could see the runway lights flashing as other aircraft began to take position on the tarmac.
Beside her the blue and yellow Unit 07 was already locked and loaded in position in an identical C-5 transport. Rei said nothing as the transport began to taxi onto the runway. She let her mind delve deeply onto other topics, grateful for the solitude of the entry plug.
At the lead of both transports were a pair of Thunderbolt VSTOL aircraft, each with their running lights on and moving slowly ahead of the larger aircraft. One of the aircraft carried Misato as mission commander while the other served as wingman and escort for the group.
Asuka felt the EVA being locked into position and saw status lights on the tactical display that indicated that the air transport was cleared to travel. Misato’s face came up on the video display. “Locked in position,” she said. “Rei, Ready to go?”
“Yes, ma’am,” her voice reported back in a monotone voice.
“Asuka, ready to go?”
The redhead looked at the wider video display which showed the area around the transport aircraft. Most of the view was obscured by the C-5 itself but Asuka could see behind the aircraft. Several yards away from them were the service trucks of the ground, with technicians all around them locking away fuel and maintenance equipment as the aircraft were cleared to travel. Asuka noticed one solitary figure that was running around them, shorter than the ground crew and wearing a blue jacket and pants.
She increased the magnification on the view to another ten times and saw that it was Shinji. He had run along the cargo vehicles, looking up at the EVA loaded inside of the aircraft and waving his hand excitedly at them. The sight of him made Asuka sick to her stomach.
Jerk. Just leave me alone.
“Asuka,” Misato asked again, “ready to go?”
Asuka closed her eyes in painful disgust. “Get me the hell out of here!”
Without making any other comment Misato closed the video screen and gave the order to the combat group. “Units 02 and 07 ready for takeoff,” she said over the radio.
A moment later the aircraft were cleared for takeoff, with the two small Thunderbolts rapidly running down the runway and then climbing up into the sky, followed by the lumbering C-5 transports. As they took off the sun began to creep up from the eastern edge of the horizon, providing a brilliant glare behind them as the squadron made its way west.
Shinji stood next to the runway tractors and watched the four aircraft go into the distance. Feeling a vibration in his jacket pocket, he picked up his mobile phone and hoped that Asuka saw him and perhaps left him a message from her own phone which he knew she would be carrying in her plug suit. He looked at the display and to his surprise there was a message indicator. Hoping for something positive, fearful that it was not, Shinji keyed the message icon on the phone.
There was one message from Asuka, send a minute before. It read: “DIE SIE SIND VERDAMMT ARSCHLOCHER SCHWEIN!!!“ Unfortunately Shinji knew enough German to know the meaning: Die you pig!!! Actually there were worse words as well but Shinji didn’t really need the full translation, the message it conveyed was crystal clear. Upon reading the text Shinji keyed the message closed and hung his head low. It’s really over, he realized in sullen sadness.
Patrick woke up fairly early, about seven in the morning, and went about his usual routine in getting up. After a few minutes of bathroom detail and changing into casual clothes he opened up his bedroom door and entered the living room. Kensuke Aida was again already up and dressed in Alliance camouflage.
“Good morning!” Patrick said to Kensuke. “You headed to tactical training again?”
Kensuke’s grin was a mile wide. “Yes, but today it’s with live ammo.” Patrick couldn’t help but smile at the other boy’s realized dream. “Well, don’t shoot someone’s eye out!”
“It’s just simulated targets, but still I cannot wait!” Kensuke replied, practically giddy as a grade-schooler. “Oh, by the way,” he said to Patrick, “that was on your door this morning.” He pointed to a small envelope that was neatly taped to Patrick’s bedroom door.
Patrick hadn’t noticed it when he opened up this morning but now walked back to the front of his door and removed the envelope. It was a small white envelope that had his name PATRICK FORRESTAL handwritten neatly in ink. “What is this?”
“I think it’s from Ayanami-chan,” Kensuke told him. “Unit 07 got deployed with Unit 02 late last night.” Patrick’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Rei? Deployed?!”
“Taking Unit 01’s place. Actually there was a post from Colonel Katsuragi before they left, us boys are now considered a new Combat Team: you, me, and Shinji.”
That news came as a bigger surprise to Patrick. “So, what happens to Mari then?”
“That I don’t know. I guess there’s a girls team too, but,” Kensuke knowingly tilted his head, “you know.” Patrick nodded in acknowledgment. “Okay. We’ll have to adjust.”
“Cool. See you later, then,” Kensuke said and then went promptly out the door, humming some military march that Patrick didn’t recognize.
The news of the new combat team unsettled him as after several weeks Patrick was very used to fighting together with Mari. He felt the both of them worked quite well together, knowing each other’s strength and weaknesses and learning over time how to fight and destroy Harpies with better and better efficiency. While he liked both Shinji and Kensuke, it would take some getting used to a new combat team for the EVAs, and a three-unit team at that.
Patrick pushed that news behind him for a moment and focused on the letter from Rei. He opened up the plain white envelope and saw two sheets of NERV letterhead. Rei’s note was handwritten very neatly and entirely in English. Since he had known her Rei had not written anything to him at any time, so receiving this now indicated that the note was of great importance. He carefully unfolded the letter and began reading.
Misato-san has asked me to take Ikari-kun’s place for the next EVA deployment, so unfortunately I can only communicate with you by this note before I leave Tokyo-3. I have counted now three deployments in which we have not said “goodbye” to each other, and perhaps it is good that this is so.
While I am confident that I will see you again with each separation there is always the chance that I will not, and that something will intervene to separate us. By knowing me as much as you do, you already realize that communication is not a strength for me and even by writing in this way it is difficult for me to express myself in the way that I want to. Every day it is a challenge for me but I strive to meet it.
When I first saw you I did not think much of you, except for wondering why you continued to attempt to speak to me. It was not until the first time in Hakone that I better realized the connection you wanted to make with me. At that time as my earlier self I could not reach out to anyone very well. Looking back on the memory now I realize the way I responded to you then must have broken your heart. I am sorry that I did so.
Yet then you asked me something I could not forget: “What did I want?” Then I didn’t know, but every day afterward I thought about it. It was when I was at my lowest point that I determined what I truly wanted, and what I wanted most was to be me.
You asked me why I accepted you and I answered that I simply wanted to. This is true, but there is more to it. Despite our struggles to understand and connect to each other, with you I have always felt that I never needed to be The First Child, or Pilot Ayanami, or anyone else, that instead I could just be me, Rei, and that you would always accept that. For allowing me to be me I am grateful.
It is difficult to specifically describe the way that I feel towards you in simple language and I’ve tried to determine the most appropriate words. Once while reading I found the expression “Warm and Fuzzy Feeling.” This is a very suitable phrase for the feelings I have towards you, and I have these feelings quite often.
Ever since we met I’ve known of your longing to restore the connection with your sister. The thought of her is always present with you even when we are alone together. To now see her reject you in this way is painful even to me, yet in this matter I sense danger.
Forri-kun, please understand what I am now saying. Use your mind in dealings with your sister, and not so much your heart. I once saw someone else destroy himself in trying to get back what he had lost. I do not want to see you become as he became, as something less than yourself. I fear that even now I may be losing you to this.
I wish you every good thought and feeling that my heart can wish to you. These days we have spent together have taught me not to be afraid to be happy. I close my eyes and imagine myself in your arms, being able to let myself go as if drifting in calm waters. Whatever path I choose I know you are there for me, and it gives me great comfort. I always wish I could do more to let you know these thoughts and feelings that are inside of me.
I look forward to when I can be with you again and hope that it is soon. Please take care of yourself.
PS: There is something else I want to say to you but I can’t quite say it yet. Please be patient with me and it will come in time. Thank you. -R
After finishing Patrick re-read the letter to make sure he understood everything in it, then he let out a long breath and slid down the wall to the floor. On one hand he was very glad to receive Rei’s letter: they had not kissed good night last night as he was still brooding over what to do about Erin and Rei had avoided him. He had in fact felt horrible about what his own struggle must be also doing to Rei and he was glad to see so much encouragement in a letter that he guessed must have been very difficult for her to write.
The other meaning of Rei’s letter was clear to him, the warnings about Erin. He knew there was something very wrong: why had Erin pushed back at him so hard, and why has she come to Tokyo-3 now. His inner sense told him that Rei could be right: Erin, at least this current version of her, seemed scary. The memory of the first time he had seen her months ago at the mountain cabin kept coming back to him, how then she had seemed so dazed and how she clung to him in terror as she gave him her terrible message. Patrick felt that he had to unwrap the mystery of why Erin had changed, and what had changed her. He somehow also knew that only he could actually do this, and didn’t want to ruin his chances by alerting the others to what they already had discovered.
Patrick read the letter again, going slower this time to absorb each and every word of Rei’s neat and delicate handwriting. He knew the soft and gentle hand that wrote it and wanted nothing more in this moment than to hold that hand again inside of his own. Experienced in the EVA and with a connection to them unlike any of the other pilots, he was sure Rei would be alright. Even so the pressure of separation from her and the anxiety over her being in any possible danger became just one more set of weights on his increasingly weakening shoulders.
Alongside the shoreline of Lake Ashi, Kikuchi drove the khaki-painted Land Cruiser along a coastal road at a hurried pace. With Kaji gone he was temporarily in charge of all NERV personnel security as well as that of the pilots, and when patrols made a startling discovery by the lake shore he had come immediately to see for himself.
He parked the Land Cruiser among a group of other security vehicles, including several cars used by NERV security as well as an armored vehicle from the Alliance and a couple of regional police vehicles. A wagon from the Coroner’s office had also just arrived and as Kikuchi got out of the SUV he saw black-suited security personnel wrapping yellow tape around the scene.
The agent jogged down to the shore where a group of others from various agencies stood around something that was on the rocky shoreline of the lake. When he arrived at the gathering, several other agents stepped aside so he could see what they were examining. It was not a pretty sight.
“How fresh are these?” was his first question, directed to another NERV security agent in a gruff voice.
“No rigor yet,” the agent replied. “This was pretty recent, perhaps two to four hours.”
Kikuchi sat on his heels as he saw the two bodies in front of him. Stripped naked, the bodies each consisted only of a torso completely disembodied of its limbs and head.
“Anything on them?” he asked the agent in charge at the scene.
“No ID of any kind, no clothes even,” the man replied, pointing at the bodies. “Both male, obviously. One is Caucasian, one is probably Japanese. The Japanese body had no identifying marks, but the Caucasian had burn marks on his lower back.” The agent motioned for two other men with latex gloves to slowly turn over one of the bodies. “See here,” he pointed with a ball-point pen. On the lower back of the white man’s corpse there was a large red and black burn mark.
“Great,” one of the other agents said in dark humor. “With everything else going on we’ve got a serial killer on the loose too.”
Kikuchi stood up. “This wasn’t a serial killer,” he rebutted the other agent. “The white guy had a tattoo: that’s why they burned it off.”
“What for?” asked the first agent.
“They slice off the hands and feet to get the prints off of the bodies,” Kikichi quickly concluded. “The heads are off because they’re taking the retinas for the eye scanners. They wipe out the tattoo to prevent us from identifying the body so we can trace how they’re infiltrating.” He quickly picked up his mobile phone and called the Security command center within the GeoFront. “This is Kikuchi. I want a status on all pilots now.”
The operator on the other end of the line took a moment before replying. “01 is suited up in Cage One, on standby alert,” the operator told Kikuchi, referring to Shinji Ikari. “04 is on subfloor 7,” which Kikuchi knew to be the level with the pilot suites, where Patrick Forrestal currently was. “05 is on A Deck up top. 08 is in the tactical training simulation area in the GeoFront Area 66, and both 09 and 03 are in the pilot lounge,” the operator finished, referring to Mari, Kenskue, Hikari, and Toji.
“Double the protection on all pilots immediately,” Kikuchi ordered, “and triple it on 01. Also, I want the word to go out to all departments heads that we may have infiltrators. Do it quietly: anyone acting out of the ordinary I want them to report to us first before doing anything. I don’t want to tip them off. Get on it,” Kikuchi commanded and then shut off the phone.
To the group around the two bodies Kikuchi said “Get some DNA off whatever you can and then get it to the lab to run against the NERV personnel records. I want to know who they’re trying to impersonate.” The other agents nodded as Kikuchi immediately turned around and walked quickly back to his Land Cruiser. Somehow he knew today would be a very long day.
In Central Dogma, Makoto Hyuga stood on the operations deck as his new controller staff ran through diagnostics on each of their stations. With Maya and Aoba now re-assigned to new positions with greater responsibilities, Hyuga was made in charge of training replacements for them as Evangelion controllers, himself with the new title of “Assistant Chief of Evangelion Tactical Operations”. Watching the three new young women work through the paces of their stations was an odd feeling for Hyuga, as over the last few months he had gotten very accustom to his old position in operations. “Agano,” he called out to one of the new controllers. “You need to keep the tactical display active while you run the diagnostics, otherwise you can’t ensure you’re on status green.”
“Sorry, sir,” Lieutenant Kaede Agano replied. Now sitting in what was formerly his position, Agano was a petite young woman with short hair with long bangs. She quickly corrected her display. “Is this correct, sir?” she asked Hyuga. He nodded and then went over to the next controller.
“Ooi,” he asked a medium-height woman with long flowing brown hair. “Did you get the network alert map active?”
Satsuki Ooi replied to the captain. “It’s here, sir.” she quickly keyed over the dynamic keyboard and then pulled up another screen. “All remote stations are checked out and responding. Defense network and alert grid is operating normally.”
“Good,” Hyuga replied and then he moved onto the last station, which was formerly Maya’s. “Aoi? What’s the data network’s status?”
Aoi took a moment to study her display before giving an answer. “Network is at yellow status but the data availability rate is only at 49%,” she said. “I’m not sure why isn’t not higher.”
Hyuga moved in closer to her station. “We’re still not able to fully access MAGI data banks, so the data is less than 50% at all times. As long as it doesn’t go below 15% we’re still able to operate. Aoi, who wore glasses and was taller than the other two girls, nodded in understanding. “Right, sir.”
Despite some misgivings on giving up his previous job Hyuga was beginning to feel at home as a leader of staff rather than just an operator. It didn’t hurt that all three of his new operators were all fairly attractive as well, and while he hadn’t selected them for their positions the new trio certainly wasn’t going to be any harder on his eyes. Bridge Bunnies indeed, he humorously thought to himself.
“Okay everyone,” Hyuga told the other three with a tone of importance, “we’re going to run through some drills today and get you used to the flow of combat operations. Please be ready for it!” All three operators replied “Hai!” in response and sat at attention at their stations.
Oh, I am going to love this new job!
Over twenty thousand feet above ground EVA-02 hugged the side of the mountain it was perched on as Asuka kept careful watch of the two Harpies that were positioned on another mountain across from them. To better blend in with the landscape a giant netting of white and gray fabric was thrown over Unit 02, and Asuka kept the unit motionless as she watched and waited above the clouds that were drifting among the massive mountains.
“Asuka,” Misato called out over the audio channel, “any new movement from the targets?”
“Not a damn thing,” she pouted. “They just stand there on that mountainside like they’re looking for something to go maw at.”
“Any sign of some sort of installation, or opening on the mountainside.”
“I don’t see anything,” reported Asuka, “but there’s so much snow and ice there you wouldn’t know what’s underneath unless you got there.”
There was a silence on the audio as Misato considered her options. The mission to the Himalayans was supposed to be a “reconnaissance in force,” with a primary mission of finding out if there was a SEELE base for their Harpies there without being detected. While they had confirmed that Mass Production EVAs were indeed operating among the giant peaks, if that also meant there was a base carved into one of the mountains was still unknown. The only way to really find out might be to go where the Harpies were now and that meant engaging them in combat. Fortunately Misato had considered that possibility as well.
“Understood,” she then said to Asuka. “Stand by for a close-in attack. Unit 07 will provide covering fire to take the enemy down while you proceed to the target. Don’t move until I give the order.”
“Got it,” replied Asuka. After the voice message clicked off she commanded Unit 02 to carefully draw out her progressive knife and stood ready to pounce across the mountain range.
“Rei,” Misato then called out, “do you have your weapon in position?”
“Yes, Colonel,” came her reply. Across from the mountain with the two Harpies Rei had positioned EVA-07 behind another mountain alongside in a prone stance, her positron cannon shouldered up against her right arm as she took careful aim. Like Unit 02, Unit 07 wore white and gray camouflage netting all over the EVA to allow it to blend in with the mountain it was using as a firing position.
“Engage when ready,” Misato told her.
For the next minute and a half Asuka waited impatiently as Rei took her time to line up the shot against the two white beasts on the mountain across from her. “Jeez,” she carped to Rei on the audio channel, “Hurry up and take them out already. It’s freezing up this high!”
Rei ignored the comments and concentrated on her visual scanner in front of her. She could see her weapon cross-hairs in front, and two target markers that indicated the position of each of the enemy EVAs on the mountain across from here. She waited patiently for all three objects to converge.
Asuka’s voice again came over the audio. “Damn it, First! Get it the hell over with already!”
Seeing the solution that she wanted, Rei simply reported “ready,” and then a half-second later fired a single shot from the positron cannon and at the two Harpies on the other side. A second afterward her patience was rewarded with the visible signs of two heads simultaneously exploding in a red splatter on the side of the mountain. “Targets hit,” said Rei.
“Asuka, go!” ordered Misato. Immediately Unit 02 bounded from her mountain hiding place and ran up the peak, then flung herself off the mountain and sailed several thousand feet into the peak across from her, landing within yards of the two Harpies.
Despite the debilitating head shots, both of the Mass production EVAs were now growing back their heads, sickly protruding from their shoulders as their bodies excreted white and red fluids that spilled all around. Asuka didn’t wait to see what happened and immediately swung her progressive knife into action, stabbing one Harpy on the ground and again slicing off its half-grown head, then bounding off the rock they were at and lunging at the second Harpy, which had just grown its own head back. The second Harpy thrust a lance at Unit 02 and as Asuka dodged it she watched its chest burst out in red blood. Unit 07 had shot it again from behind.
“Thanks,” Asuka said cheerfully while she followed the second Harpy as it tumbled down the mountainside. She quickly pounced below it, and then again used the progressive knife to stab it in the chest. As blood and fluids oozed out of the Harpy Unit 02 rolled it over and Asuka quickly dug the knife into its back, pushing until the orange fluid of the entry plug splashed out. She pushed away from the dead EVA and then bounded back to the first Harpy, who was still sprawling on the giant rocks trying to recover its damage. Asuka could see that Rei had put in another two rounds from her cannon into the white EVA and the wounds were now slowly closing up. Not wanting to wait she jumped on it with the progressive knife in hand, stabbing deeply until the internal organs were shredded. With the progressive knife stuck in the first EVA’s ribcage, Asuka then pulled out Unit 02’s own Lance from its back holster and then stabbed the Harpy repeatedly until the entry plug was cracked open.
With both of the enemy EVAs killed, Asuka stood EVA-02 up and cleaned its hands of the mess. “That’s that,” she said with a satisfied look on her face.
“Asuka,” called Misato. “Any sign of their base on that mountain?” The pilot took a long look around. “I don’t see anything,” she said. “Just a bunch of rocks and snow.”
“Keep searching,” the colonel ordered. “Rei, join her. Try to find out why they were here.” As Unit 07 moved towards the peak where Unit 02 was now at, Asuka kept scanning to find any sign of a man-made object or opening on the peak. “Misato?” she asked the colonel as they searched, “if there wasn’t a base up here, why the hell did they send two of those things to just hang out?” Rei answered the question for Misato. “They wanted us to come here,” she quickly concluded.
Misato considered Rei’s answer as well. “Any signs of a trap?” she asked both pilots.
“No, but the view is pretty good from up here!” said Asuka as she looked out on the Earth below them. Enough to make you forget about all of that shit down below.
Continue to Chapter Thirty-Four
Continue to Chapter Thirty-Four