Rei and Asuka rode alongside their EVAs as they traveled in two large high-speed ferries, speeding over the ocean and along the Japanese eastern coastline as their Evangelions were packed inside the vessels' spacious interior cargo holds and out of visible sight. Simultaneously two Alliance C-5Ms flew from Airfield One loaded with inflatable duplicates of the EVAs, taking them to an Alliance staging base in the Southwest Pacific. The Alliance's hope was that SEELE would take the deception and follow the aircraft, while the ferries carrying the actual units followed a routine cargo route used daily by commercial shipping.
The boat trip was uneventful for either of the girls as each of them had the upper decks of an entire ship all to themselves. Asuka spent the time sunning herself in the daylight and enjoying the brisk sea air while Rei sat in a deck chair on the fantail of her ferry and read, both of them still dressed up as they were when the left the Geofront. Neither of them tried to think about what was still to come.
The ferries arrived later that day at the island of Hokkaido and then everyone waited in port until nightfall. Then under cover of darkness the EVAs themselves were rolled out of the cargo holds and onto shore. Both girls changed into their plugsuits and piloted their EVAs over to the launch site at Asahi Dake, running in the darkness of the Hokkaido countryside.
Just over two thousand meters high, Asahi Dake was not a tall mountain but steep enough to support the catapult's launch track, which appeared like a set of red-painted train tracks that climbed up the length of the mountain for thousands of meters. At the base of the mountain was the launch point and accompanying power transformers, crackling with static electricity as they began to be fed power from generators from all over Hokkaido island.
Maya met both girls at the base of the mountain and ordered technicians to prepare each of the Evangelions for their launch. Both EVAs would be fitted with Type-Z space transit kits which would help put them in a very low orbit for about thirty minutes, after which then both units would be dropped simultaneously following a precise trajectory that the MAGI would calculate and transmit to the units while in orbit. The pilots didn't have to do much for the spaceward portion of their journey except ride in the EVA and allow the MAGI and the Type Z's rockets to plunge them down into re-entry at the right time. The real fun would start in the de-orbiting, as the pilots would need to activate their AT Fields as they were plunging down to the Earth towards SEELE-2's mountain fortress at over twenty times the speed of sound.
Admonished to get some sleep before the next day's events, both girls changed into bedtime clothes and got into futons laid out inside of a small, well-guarded room at the base of the mountain. Sleep didn't come for Rei however, and still dressed only in her night shirt she walked outside and into the brisk air of the night. She wondered to an observation point that was nearby and climbed the stairs to the top of a ridge. There she could see the crescent moon rising over the mountain, the glowing light illuminating the many vents of steam coming from the ground of what was a dormant volcano. There were no cicadas around or any other animal noises, and even the wind was quiet. To her the area had a song of deathly stillness, like it knew what would happen tomorrow.
"Ah, there you are!" Rei turned around and saw Asuka behind her. Like Rei she still wore her sleep clothes, her white and red baby doll gown was all that protected her from the cool night air around them.
"Couldn't sleep, huh?" Rei nodded silently and then went back to searching the night skies. Asuka moved alongside her and viewed the landscape of the mountain and horizon. Restless, she leaned on a steel railing and faced Rei as the other girl continued her sights on the heavens above.
"Do you ever think about what you're going to do after EVA? I mean, after all of this?"
"Yes," Rei replied, "I do."
"I honestly didn't," Asuka told her. "I mean, really I didn't think at all about it right up until now. I just wanted to pilot. Now, it's strange..." Asuka turned around and looked along with Rei at the glowing white moon above them. "Suddenly I'm worried about what I'm going to do after all of this is done."
Rei didn't reply to Asuka but looked at her as she continued to talk. "I guess I could do something cool. I mean, I'll have my reputation as a pilot and hopefully EVA won't be such a secret after all this is over. Maybe I'll be an actress, or maybe a politician, or maybe even a scientist. Who knows, really?" Asuka looked over at Rei again. "What about you?"
"I'm not certain," she replied. "But I'm still tied to EVA in the end."
"I'm sure you'll find something. I mean, it beats being a housewife just cooking for some guy while you're barefoot and pregnant."
Rei contemplated what Asuka said. With a satisfied look on her face she replied "that sounds like a nice life."
The redhead scowled at her. "You would think that, wouldn't you?"
The Chairman sat in his office chambers with the remaining men on the Committee as several of his subordinates came rushing into the room. "My Chairman, my chairman!" Kiel turned towards those that disturbed their discussion and asked with a frown. "What is it?"
"My Chairman," one of them men said at a nearly breathless pace, "Our spies have detected that the Alliance has dispatched two Evangelions away from Tokyo-3."
This information captured the Chairman's attention and he let his annoyance about the disruption go. "Headed here?"
"We believe so," the officer said. "They were tracked to a location in Southeast Asia, but now are traveling Northwest, mounted in carrier aircraft with escorts."
Another male officer in the group now spoke up. "Sir, also. We have firm reports of an assault force moving through the Polar region. We believe that they are attempting a raid on our location here."
"Then they're fools for doing so," one of the men of the committee said aloud.
Kiel sat back in the motorized chair and contemplated what was happening. A second member of the committee, an man of Russian descent about fifty years of age spoke up. "My Chairman, they've left their base undefended. They have at most one remaining unit there." He leaned forward towards Kiel. "If you want to wipe NERV off the map, now is the best time for doing so."
The Chairman was however uncertain. "We should retain all of our own EVAs here, however. We are still moving towards another attempt at a Third Impact."
The Russian committee member continued. "Their attack on us is a work of desperation, as with only a few remaining EVAs their options are limited. We have the Daughter of Lilith, they don't. They know that once we complete repairs we will be able to start again and they cannot stop us."
"That is if that boy doesn't fail again," commented another committee member from the back of the room.
Thinking matters through, Kiel turned to his main confidant, the committee member from France. "What is your view?"
The Frenchmen gave a slight smile. "It is possible that either the EVAs spotted in Asia or the Alliance force in the Polar regions are a deception. However, it's logical that they would make some effort against this fortress, now that time is not on their side. I suggest attacking Tokyo-3, and doing so with enough force to accomplish a victory," he said. "In doing so we can destroy the Alliance's main base and also force the collapse of the new Japanese government. Once done we can focus on our main objective without further disruption."
"What if the feints we see now are enticing us into a trap at Tokyo-3?" Kiel queried, trying to find holes in the theory.
"We know for certain that they only have, at best, three functional units and less experienced pilots than that," the committee member analyzed. "Unless the Alliance was somehow able to create a new Evangelion unit out of thin air, we will have a solid advantage. At worst if things in Tokyo-3 don't go well, we withdraw back here. At this fortress we will have enough strength to repulse any attack. We are strong enough compared to the Alliance to risk an expedition to finish them off at Tokyo-3." And if they Alliance does manage to take the mountain, the Frenchman thought to himself, we'll hopefully have some EVAs left outside so that I may continue things on my own when the chairman is gone.
"Very well," the Chairman concluded. "Order a force of three of the Mass Production units with S2 organs to attack the GeoFront, with the objective of destroying the base completely and any remaining Evangelions there. But once the objective is accomplished take care to retrieve them and return them here after we've defeated any attempts to take this outpost, so that we may continue with our most important work."
"Do you want the boy to accompany them?" asked the Frenchman. "It would be for the best chance of success?"
"No, he will stay here and defend us against anything the Alliance and NERV tries," declared Kiel. "I do not wish him freedom from this location until we are successful."
"Very well," said the Frenchman. As the others in the room started to make calls and prepare for the battles ahead, the committee member quickly left the room without saying anything to anyone, and hurried down the hall mingled with a crowd of officers until finding an empty room nearby. Once there he closed the door and picked up his mobile phone.
"Do you have my aircraft ready?" he asked his pilot.
"Take care to have it ready to go. Once the Alliance breaches the outer defenses that should be our best chance of escape." Without saying anything further he then cut the call, smiling to himself.
Hyuga walked into Central Dogma and made his way to the operations deck. As he looked around him, he saw scores of technicians and operators hurriedly making final checks and last-minute preparations for what he feared would be the final battle for their lives and for what now remained of Tokyo-3.
With his first immediate priority to check on his own team, the captain went to the operator stations where he himself was once posted and ensured that his own new staff were ready for battle. When he came to the platform, standing at attention in their new NERV green and black uniforms were controllers Aoi and Ooi, but also standing between them was Lieutenant Kaede Agano. The third controller looked nervous but otherwise healthy and Hyuga stood in front of the three young women.
"Agano-san," he asked. "It's good to see you here again."
She put her best face forward and stood up a little straighter. "It's good to be back, sir."
"I appreciate you making the effort to be here, but are you sure you're ready?"
The controller looked at the other two girls who gave affirming nods and then turned her face back towards Hyuga. "Yes, sir. I won't let you down like last time."
Makoto again looked at the other two and Agano and tried to determine if Agano's return was a problem or him or not, as this time without either Misato, Maya, or the others he was truly on his own. After a few seconds of seeing the determination and posture of all three of the young women he decided that the new controller team was a now lot lower on his worry list that it was fifteen minutes ago. "All right, then. Take your positions."
"Yes, sir," they all said in unison and then immediately went to their stations, Agano seated at her center station. The three of them signed in and then went to preparing for action.
On the overhead screen Hyuga could see the main flat LCD display show the positions of all of NERV's remaining assets. There was Tokyo-3 towards the right, with several icons representing defensive forces of the Alliance and Japanese military as well as a large yellow icon that was the marker for Evangelion Unit 09. To the left and moving slowly through Siberia was another pair of icons colored in shaded blue and red that represented the decoy EVAs that were flying slowly west, and north and further west of them were a group of mufti-colored symbols that represented the Alliance strike force, which was now just 100 kilometers away from SEELE-2's base in Norway. Not far away was a black and white bullseye that represented the enemy base itself. Then there were one more pair of blue and red symbols, north of Tokyo-3 on the island of Hokkaido, where Evangelion Units 02 and 07 were being mounted on the catapult that would hopefully launch them into orbit.
Reading the tactical display and all of the reports on the remaining monitors, Hyuga cracked his knuckles and started his own part in the drama. "Okay, everyone!" he called out. "If they've spotted our decoys that means they're likely coming here before we know it. All stations, get ready! Agano!"
"Sound the alarm. General Quarters."
"Yes, sir." Agano pushed a few buttons on her display and red lights started flashing all around them as klaxons sounded in the distance. The main screen flashed GENERAL QUARTERS and Huyga took a deep breath and prayed that he would be a man worthy of the next few hours.
Inside of his aircraft Admiral Vinson watched the clock along with the rest of his team as the seconds counted down to midnight. Their VTOL Thunderchief was parked in a fjord less than one hundred kilometers from Stetind Mountain hidden in snow bluffs along with two dozen other aircraft, waiting for the signal to be given to advance.
On the bulkhead of the aircraft passenger compartment were two clocks: one with the time where they were in Norway, the other with the time in Japan. Here it was just seconds to midnight, in Japan it was coming up on eight o'clock.
Inside he felt as nervous as an academy plebe but Vinson knew not to show it to the others. He kept his mind focused on the mission, looking at every possibility, every angle, every precaution, every alternative available to him. Everything they had done for years had all came down to the most unlikely of plans: using teenage children to pilot self-aware war machines launched by an untested multi-billion dollar contraption arranged by a man who had once tried to end the known world for the sake of bringing his wife back to life. Well, I could understand that in a way, he admitted. Strangely, no one had come up with a better way than how they were now making their assault.
The final seconds ticked off until the local clock reached 00:00. Without any hesitation Vinson picked up the receiver on the satellite radio and made the final call. "MUSE, this is ZEUS."
"MUSE here," came Maya's voice over the line.
"MUSE, are you packages ready?"
Inside the cramped command post set trailer up at the Asahi-Dake catapult, Maya momentarily turned from the radio headset and checked the main LCD display mounted on the way, and then queried the other NERV technicians that were seated at their stations inside.
"Are we ready?" she asked.
"Captain, energy banks are fully charged. We have magnetic rail output capacity at 110%," reported one female officer.
"Launch Package One is ready to mount," called out another," Launch Packages Two and Three are on standby."
Maya paused for just a moment, mentally making sure that she was indeed ready to go forward and trying very hard not to think about what could go wrong. She closed her eyes in a silent prayer and then gave the commander his answer. "MUSE reports packages are ready for delivery." A second later, Vinson's voice came back on the headset.
"MUSE, you are go for delivery."
"Copy, ZEUS. Delivery is proceeding. MUSE out." Maya slammed down the headset and issued orders to her team. "Mount Package One on the catapult rail!"
A hundred meters from the command post's location, a group of NERV technicians under the watchful eye of armed Alliance marines lifted a five-meter long object that appeared like a narrow cone with small rockets on one end. Contained inside the black-coated cone was a one-megaton N2 warhead, the outside shell serving as its re-entry vehicle.
The warhead was lifted by the six men and placed into a white-painted metal capsule. Two more unformed men, specialists for handing N2 weapons, carefully inspected both launch capsule and warhead and then one of the men pulled out a small metal key ring on the side of the black warhead. The capsule was then closed shut.
"Warhead armed!" called out the operator in Maya's command center.
Lifting machinery then took the white capsule and carried it onto what looked like a pair of giant railroad tracks painted bright red, only ones that stretched out of the outer door of the building for miles up the mountain. The rails crackled with static electricity as the capsule was loaded in between them in what was the launching breach of the orbital catapult.
"Package one is on the launch rail!"
"Final check on system," ordered Maya, taking a deep breath and hoping that all would be well with the untested catapult.
"Power is go..."
"Magnetic Launch system is go..."
"Target coordinates are set and confirmed."
"Warhead is confirmed activated."
Watching all status lights on the LCD display in front of her turn green, Maya gulped down her nervousness and gave her orders. "Launch package one!"
The operators in the command post quickly made their own commands, one of whom started to count down the catapult launch. Klaxons sounded and warning signs flashed all around them.
"Catapult launching in ten...nine...eight..."
Outside the launch building technicians stood by, each checking their own headsets to be sure they had proper ear protection, as objects being launched by the catapult would crack the sound barrier by the time they reached the end of the launch rails. One red-suited technician helped to clear all of the other members of his team as they evacuated the launch building. There was a tension that everyone felt all around them. Standing close by the steel launch structure were the two EVAs, waiting for their turn on the launch rails.
A whirring sound came from the bottom of the magnetic rails followed by a loud, high-pitched whine. Electrical static crackled all around the building and tentacles of electricity could be seen dancing on the steel railings Suddenly there was a loud whoosh sound and the white capsule shot toward the mountain. Within a few moments the capsule was thrust upward, leaving the end of the rails near the top of the mountain and shooting up into the sky, followed by the crack of the sound barrier being broken.
Maya watched the capsule on the LCD display as it shot upwards into the atmosphere. "Status on the catapult," she asked the operators.
"Energy discharge complete, countdown set at 240 seconds to next launch," called out one of the staff.
"How about the magnetic sling?" she asked another.
"Status lights are still green, fully operational," the male engineer reported. "We're good for another launch as soon as the power builds back up."
Ibiki nodded and then gave the next order. "Put Package Two on the launch rail."
Inside Evangelion Unit 02 Asuka sat on her control throne, maneuvering her unit into the large building where the starting point of the catapult was located. Large cranes lifted onto the rails what NERV called Type Z equipment: a giant triangular-shaped metal plate with various rockets attached at the bottom edge and at other angles. Rockets mounted on the sled would be used to maneuver her in space, allowing the unit to drop down out of Earth orbit precisely on target. Once the Type-Z carriage was mounted on the rails. Asuka then placed placed EVA-02 on the plate belly first, and head facing towards the rails and the mountain. Mounted to the EVA's back was a long armored case that contained the weapons she would need once the Evangelion had landed back on Earth. "EVA-02 is on the rail," she called out.
"Attaching Type Z Equipment now," reported an operator's voice as metal clamps attached EVA-02 to the shield plate.
Shooting me up into space on a magnetic slingshot, Asuka thought to herself, God, even I think this is crazy. "Type Z equipment attached," she said when her display indicated a union between the launch plate and the EVA itself.
"Countdown at 60 seconds," called out another operator. Asuka looked up and saw another private video screen come on. "Asuka," reminded Maya, "No need to worry about anything until you get into orbit. The MAGI will make mid-course corrections and start the de-orbit burn at the right position, then notify you when to turn on your AT Field when you start making re-entry."
"Got it!" the redhead said confidently, her face obscured by the mask of her space helmet which was attached to her plug suit as a precaution against decompression of the entry plug while in space. The helmet was the same red color as her plug suit, and noticeably had two large "ears" on the top to provide space for her A10 hair clips.
Maya softened her expression, her own eyes not being able to hide the nervousness that she felt in using the catapult to thrust the giant EVAs and their pilots half-way around the world. "Asuka, Everything's ready. Please take care!"
The pilot gave Maya a smug grin. "Trust me, I will." And I'm going to take care of everything when I get back down.
"Launching in five...four...three.."
In anticipation Asuka gripped the actuators tightly. The hardest part in the beginning, she knew, would be the launch itself and she braced herself accordingly. When the controller counted down to "...one...launch!" the entry plug jerked rapidly, slamming her hard against the cushions of the throne. The launch from the catapult threw the EVA into the atmosphere at forty G's of acceleration and even despite the protective fluid of the LCL and internal compensators Asuka could feel gravity slamming her small body hard against the seat. As her EVA forged upward she gritted her teeth and bore the pressure of what felt like a loaded refrigerator lying on top of her as best she could.
Maya scanned the LCD screen, which now showed split-screens of both the warhead capsule and EVA-02's ascent along with the status reports on the catapult itself. There were several areas that were indicated in red for warning. "What happened?"
One of the engineers reported with a loud voice. "The force from the weight of the EVA was too much for the generation system, we've blown fuses in zones 101 through 187."
"How about the power discharge?"
"We've got reservoir for another go but we blew three capacitors in the last shot", reported another technician. "We're using up all of our reserve units now!"
She turned to one other engineer close to her. "What about launch rail integrity?"
The older man looked at his display and then back at Captain Ibiki. "We've got small microscopic breaks in the rail at multiple locations," he told her. "The launch rails were never tested with a load as big as the Evangelion. One more launch might blow the railing apart."
The officer bit her lip. "We only need it once more," she said, knowing that so much was riding on their ability to get the EVAs into position above the Earth. "Status on fuses!"
A moment went by as an operator who was monitoring repairs listened for the update. "Fuses being replaced now," she said. "ETA 95 seconds."
Maya didn't wait for the repairs to finish. "Start loading Package Three now, let me know when the fuses are done and power is ready." A new split-screen appeared on the LCD display showing Rei's Unit 07 now moving onto its own Type Z equipment pod.
Rei sat stoically inside of her entry plug, carefully moving her EVA into the launch position. "Ayanami-chan?" Maya's voice came on the audio. "The launch rail might not hold up as well this time. If there's any launch error use your abort rockets and get clear of the rails."
"Roger," she replied back calmly.
Maya paused for a moment as she looked at Rei through the video monitor, softening her expression and hoping this wouldn't be the last time she'd ever seen her again. "Rei…Godspeed!"
"Thank you," she replied, showing only her stoic expression through the faceplate of her helmet.
"Fuses are changed out!" an operator yelled. Maya nodded and grabbed her headset again. "Tell the technicians to get out of there, launch in thirty seconds."
Rei sat on her control through and looked at the countdown clock on her display as it worked its way down to zero. She shifted her gaze to the black injector case she now held in her right hand. It will end soon, she thought, one way or another…for both of us.
Her small body was immediately thrown back into the throne chair as the force of forty Gs were applied by the velocity from moving along the supercharged magnetic rails. Her EVA was thrust up the path of the railing along the mountain and Rei could feel shaking along the way.
"Look out," called out the older engineer, "the rails are breaking apart!" Maya and the others swallowed hard as they watched the blue and yellow-colored Unit 07 shoot up the launch rails as parts of the railing began to collapse behind the unit. A second later the forty-meter giant cleared the top of the launch rail jump near the summit of the mountain and shot spaceward as the rest of the steel structure broke apart below. There was a massive crashing noise as the feedback from the magnetic launch system came through the large building at the bottom and in a giant shambles the entire structure shook and fell, red and green-suited technicians and camouflaged guards running from the collapse.
Maya Ibiki tried to keep focused. "Status on EVA-07?"
"Free and clear of the launch rails. Launch trajectory is off by 0.07%"
"The MAGI's mid-course corrections will adjust for that," Maya concluded, happy for a successful launch despite losing the catapult. "Any casualties here?"
"The launch teams reports several injuries due to flying debris," the controller reported back.
"See to it they're taken care of, and report back to ZEUS and to Central Dogma we have a successful launch for all three packages."