The violence of the impact had thrown Asuka hard against the throne seat and had momentarily knocked her unconscious. The sensors in her plug suit responded by stimulating her nerve endings via her A10 head gear and she suddenly woke up. Once conscious the first thing she saw was the sideways view of the outside ground from the entry plug's large video monitors. There was a voice calling to her that she could hear from the audio but otherwise there was no other sound in the entry plug itself.
We're in one piece at least. At the far corner of her video display was the image of one of the Harpies they had crashed into on re-entry. It was wiggling on the ground, rebuilding itself from damage it took during the impact. She saw the body of at least one other Mass Production EVA close by that was also moving and that finally shook her mentally awake.
Time to move. Asuka ripped off her helmet and tossed it away, then grabbed the actuators and commanded her EVA to her feet. Thirty yards in front of her she could already see both of the Harpies get up off the ground. She fully stood up the EVA and then reached over to the weapons storage box mounted behind her back. One of the Harpies on her video screen was already charging right at her.
"HUNTER-2, HUNTER-3, this is HUNTER. Do you copy?" came Misato's voice on the audio. Asuka didn't bother to reply back as she was just a bit busy at the moment.
Out of the weapons scabbard Unit 02 pulled out a titanium-blade katana and held it at the ready in front of her in a two-handed grip. The white Harpy came rushing at her, teeth wide open and salivating. The monster roared in rage as it dove right at her, but Unit 02 quickly sidestepped the Harpy's charge and then came down with the katana hard on the Harpy's neck, slicing it's head clean off and spraying her with LCL coming from the decapitated opening.
In a single fluid motion Unit 02 spun the handle in her hand and then plunged the Katana downward in the carapace of the headless beast, then pushed forward to open up the back of the enemy. A red-painted entry plug promptly slid out and Unit 02 again spun the sword by the handle, slicing the entry plug in half. That's one down...
Asuka stood Unit 02 in the middle of the impact crater, now surrounded on three sides by Harpies. From her right side she saw one of the Harpies react to something and attempt to bring its double-edged sword up to strike. It's midsection was penetrated by a large bayonet that was attached to a pallet rifle held by the blue and yellow-colored Unit 07. The Harpy screamed in pain as Rei pushed in the bayonet further inside, then fired the pallet gun into its abdomen, spraying out bloody parts of organs in all directions. Seeing the Harpy go down, Asuka rushed over with Unit 02 and again swung her katana into the back of the wounded beast, slicing out the carapace and stabbing the entry plug twice before it gushed out LCL as Unit 07 held the writhing Harpy down with her bayonet. In another few seconds it too stopped moving.
"HUNTER-2, HUNTER-3, this is HUNTER. Do you copy?"
"HUNTER-2 here," Asuka finally answered. "HUNTER-3 here," followed Rei.
Misato got to the immediate heart of the matter. "The N2 warhead struck the mountain but didn't crack open anything. Rei, use the N2 grenade on the mountainside. Try to find an opening where it will do the most good. Asuka, protect her!"
"Roger," both pilots said in unison.
Unit-02 stood her ground and from her shoulder mount pulled out another weapon, not the usual Prog Knife but this time a wakasashi also formed from titanium like her katana. Now with blades in each of her hands, Unit 02 made a ready stance as Rei's Unit 07 prepared its own weapon.
"They're coming at you," Rei calmly told Asuka over the audio.
"Don't worry about me, just fire that thing!" the redhead shot back.
Both of the remaining Harpies on the field attacked Asuka in tandem, each opposite the other in order to try and prevent Asuka from getting any advantage. Unit 02 avoided strikes by both of them, then quickly made a striking kick against the face of one Harpy followed by a slashing attack with both of her blades on the other. When one of the Harpies attempted to pull out of the melee to reach Unit 07, Asuka saw it move and jumped to her right to intercept. "Oh no you don't!" she shouted as she stabbed the white unit in the shoulder with thekatana while slashing at it with the wakasashi.
Rei positioned Unit 07 to a firing stance on one knee and then aimed the gun towards the base of the mountain, below where the N2 warhead had hit earlier. Targeting reticles on her entry plug's video display lined up in front of her and she placed her finger on the trigger. "N2 grenade, firing now."
From underneath the Pallet Rifle a single, giant grenade popped out and flew a thousand meters to the base of the mountain. While the N2 warhead contained inside was a fraction of the size of the one that hit the mountain, the range of the shot came from much closer and with Rei's careful aim found a weak spot at the base close to where the mountain fortress's hanger doors had been shut tight. The grenade hit the mountain and then immediately burst open, its shaped warhead drilling into the solid granite with a needle of superheated fire. The jet of flame found open space within the fortress and then exploded further outward and inward as it spit out from the mountainside.
Watching the battle from a distance in the now airborne Thunderbolt, Misato looked carefully at the opening that Unit 07's N2 grenade had just punched into the mountain. "HUNTER, this is ZEUS," came the admiral's voice. "Do you have an opening?"
Misato scanned the crack that the N2 grenade had just opened up into the fortress. With her binoculars she could see destroyed scaffolding and steel plates hanging all around a wide gash torn into the mountain. "We have a 40 x 40 opening at the North side," she elatedly reported into the radio.
"Copy that," Vinson said. "ZEUS to all gods, target has an opening. All assault units converge on coordinates while supporting units conducting suppressive fire." Next to his aircraft in the fjord, four dozen other VSTOL Thunderbolts and Thunderchiefs suddenly came to life, many ditching white camouflage covers that were spread over them, and used their jets to make themselves airborne.
The fleet of warplanes jumped out of the valleys they were hiding in and swung over mountain ridges as they flew towards Stetind.
Inside the SEELE command center the impact of Rei's N2 grenade was greatly felt as monitors and equipment came crashing downwards onto the center of the room, some of them landing on operators and commanders and crushing them underneath. A large monitor struck the floor a meter away from Kiel's wheelchair.
"What was that?" the chairman demanded.
"The remaining group of men tried to make sense of their deteriorating situation. One officer held a headset close to his ear and what he heard shocked him. "The outer wall of the fortress has been breached!" he cried out.
The officer continued to hear the report and then relayed back to the chairman what he was hearing. "Two enemy EVAs have landed within a kilometer of the fortress. They are engaging the Mass Production series but one of the enemy units fired an N2 weapon directly into the northern face of the mountain. It's opened a giant hole on the north side!"
"Send the remaining Mass Production units there along with Unit 04," ordered the chairman. "Unit 06 goes to the chamber. Do not let the enemy reach the chamber at all costs!"
As his minions scurried to follow orders and relay commands to SEELE's defenders, Kiel quietly spoke to Piotr, who was standing behind his wheelchair. "Piotr?"
"Yes, my chairman?"
"Bring me to the bottom level."
"To the chamber, my chairman?"
"No," he told him. "To Gotterdamerung."
The melee at the base of the mountain continued as Units 02 and 07 fought against the second pair of Harpies. Working out tactics that they had practiced together before the attack Rei used her Pallet Rifle to pin down enemies while Asuka would charge at them with her blades, and within the next minute another Harpy had been finished off while the fourth retreated back through the opened up crevice in the side of the mountain to regenerate.
Both pilots looked to the north and saw the wave of Alliance and Japanese aircraft headed their way. Thunderbolts flew in front, using their rockets and missiles to work over any remaining strong points that SEELE had among the mountain's defensive systems. Behind them were the larger Thunderchiefs, loaded with troops whose job would be to take the fortress itself.
As their last enemy on the field outside retreated into the mountain in a bloody mess, both of the Evangelions stood ready as a small Thunderbolt approached and hovered between them.
"Asuka, Rei," came Misato's voice on the audio. "Are you both alright?"
The redhead gave a smug reply. "Going good so far. You'd think if it's their home base they'd put up more of a fight!"
"Three targets destroyed so far," reported Rei.
"Good job. NERV reported three Harpies had attacked them, so that makes three less for us to worry about."
Asuka worried about Hikari. "How is Unit 09?"
"There's no word yet but they're still on-line so at least NERV is holding out. Now, both of you lead us inside the fortress and take out the remaining EVA units. Three down, five to go!"
Rei moved her EVA into the opening with rifle at the ready as Asuka followed closely behind. The crack inside was a jagged crevice blown out of the mountain's granite where there had also been a tunnel carved into the fortress earlier, and in between both the N2 warhead that struck earlier and Unit 07's grenade the fissure was now about forty meters wide and fifty meters tall. Unit 07 used her rifle butt to push more rock and debris out of the way and make the opening large enough for the attack forces' aircraft to be able to fly through.
The pathway into the mountain fortress went for five hundred yards and finally opened into a large cavity that was the size of a football field. As a dormant volcano, Stetland was partially hollow inside and this had allowed the fortress's original builders to take advantage of the spacious interior. Inside the fortress was composed of layers of steel and concrete that adjoined larger interior spaces that were once big enough for small aircraft to fly in and out, and later expanded for use with the Mass Production EVAs.
Unit 07 came into the one of the large interior spaces and was immediately attacked by a Harpy at close range. Rei swung over her rifle butt and hit it several times in the head. Wounded, the white beast none nonetheless lunged at her with teeth and claws, trying to take a bite out of her EVA's shoulder. She felt the EVA's pain as she struggled with the enemy unit, using all of her mental and physical energy to throw it off of her and onto the deck below.
Right behind her was Unit 02 who immediately lunged at the EVA with her own blades, slashing it repeatedly while Unit 07 recovered and readied its rifle. Asuka grunted and shouted battle cries as she parlayed with the Harpy until Rei came around it's backside and stabbed it with the rifle's bayonet. Grossly gurgling out blood and fluids the Mass Production unit lashed out in fury at both EVAs, but Asuka again swing around her own sword and plunged it into the Harpy's chest. Rei followed her attack with another stab at the bayonet that was deep enough to puncture the dummy plug inside and was rewarded with a gusher of red LCL that covered both of their EVAs as the Harpy collapsed onto the metal deck below.
As their latest enemy dropped both pilots looked around them inside the interior and saw men now scurrying in multiple directions as the fortress's interior defenses were brought to counter the penetration inside. Neither of them saw any other EVAs inside where they stood.
"Clear of EVAs," Rei reported on the communicator.
"Do you see any other enemies inside?" was Misato's answer back.
Asuka scanned around them, mentally counting the opposing soldiers that she saw. "There's about ten to twelve squads of infantry inside here."
"Get clear of the opening," ordered Misato, "we're coming in!"
Both Rei and Asuka moved their EVAs away from the cavity hewn from the granite mountain and within half a minute an Alliance Thunderbolt hovered into the open area, followed by a pair of others and then about a half-dozen Thunderchief transports. The first Thunderbolt maneuvered in between the two EVAs.
"Asuka, Rei," Misato instructed as she looked at both EVAs from her cockpit window, "Use your AT Fields to give our forces cover while we get inside." The pair of them did so, extending their AT Fields forward and keeping their weapons at the ready as the enemy security forces on the opposite end tried to marshal a response to the Alliance's penetration of their fortress.
Groups of soldiers came piling out of the Thunderchiefs, most with weapons at the ready who then took up positions of cover amongst the wreckage in the interior of the fortress's atrium. The six Thunderchiefs immediately darted out and were promptly replaced by another six which also dispensed more troops. Among the troops that were landed were the commanders, who then quickly assembled against a bulkhead as more of the Alliance and Japanese assault teams took up firing positions around them.
"APOLLO! APOLLO !" Vinson referred to Colonel Burke by his call-sign. "Did you lose anyone coming in here?"
The colonel and his radioman Jeff approached Vinson where he was crouching. "Negative, ZEUS. All units report in."
"Good. Here comes RAIDEN!," said Vinson, as General Aida and an adjutant also ran to Vinson's position. "How's your force, RAIDEN?"
"Five by Five, ZEUS," was the general's reply. "They're moving in now!" he pointed to a third sortie of Thunderchiefs now landing in the atrium.
"APOLLO, do we have that tracker?" Burke turned to Jeff and the radioman silently produced a green-colored handheld device with an LCD screen. He switched it on and the group of soldiers waited as the device began to sense radiation signatures around them.
"Something hit this place with either EMP or something else that spiked their power," Burke observed. "All of the main lights are blown out and they're on emergency lighting."
"Maybe the work of Omega, then," said Vinson. "Now let's hope our dear Mr. Kaji was able to do some work of his own."
The handheld unit started to beep and the officers took a closer look at it analyzed a certain radiation signature, one use by the Alliance to mark targets. It was a closely-held secret which type of radioactive isotope the Alliance used but Kaji was one of those in the know. The unit acquired one such signal and then promptly located the epicenter of it, providing a readout by map location.
"Three hundred feet to the South, and Forty-five feet upwards," Burke read off the display. "He probably marked out their command center. Looks close to here."
"Looks could be deceiving," analyzed Vinson. "Surrounded by guards and booby traps and God knows what else. We have some advantage with the main power out, however." Sizing up the current situation, Vinson gave orders to the rest of his team. "APOLLO, follow the tracker. I'll go with you. Use another team and move west to clean out our flanks here. RAIDEN," Vinson addressed General Aida. "The EVAs got to move on, so use your men to go after those enemy on the side wall and then push them back and away from the LZ. Give us protection so we can go find the snake and cut its head off."
"Yes, ZEUS," said Aida, nodding affirmatively.
"Make sure you leave a group here to hold the LZ, in case this goes totally FUBAR you'll need a way out"
"Affirmative," said the General and he then starting using hand signals to communicate with the rest of his men. Promptly several groups of Japanese special forces began moving forward, some within only a few meters from the EVA themselves were standing and taking advantage of the cover their AT Fields were still providing.
"Get me HUNTER," Vinson said to Jeff the radioman, and he promptly handed him the receiver.
"HUNTER, ZEUS. What's your status?"
"Both units are good to go," came Misato's voice from the receiver. "We're Four for Eight!"
"There's a very large doorway to the East Side that looks like a passage for their own EVAs. Use that and it probably goes to their cages. Go there first and take that out, and then move down below any way you can. Whatever's high value has got to be in the bottom of this place and according to the radar scan recon there's some sort of cavity about a half-mile down."
"Get going then, and good hunting!"
"Copy that, HUNTER out." Misato's voice clicked out and Jeff replaced the receiver.
Vinson spoke to the others. "Alright, we move to the target. RAIDEN, you got sixty minutes. If you don't hear back from us by then, you pull out and let ARES level this place."
"We won't leave you behind, ZEUS!" Aida protested.
"If we can't do this in sixty we're not coming back anyway," was Vinson's reply. "Now move out!"
Inside of his holding cell, General Sheffield sat patiently on the one steel bench inside the poorly lit room. A few minutes earlier he had seen what few lights the cell had flicker and knew from both that and very feint sounds of battle from outside the door that a major conflict was happening within the GeoFront. Since his last discussion with Wellington she had not returned to see him, and mentally made a note that she was probably lost to whatever influence Katusragi or the others had on her. No matter, she's not the only asset I have here to rely on.
He heard the sounds of the locks turning on the cell door and looked towards it without getting up. The steel door slid open and a single figure walked through it. Tall and imposing, the man stood silently in front of Sir John, waiting for him to make the next move.
"Ah," Sheffield said in pleasant surprise. "I see you've survived after all. I was beginning to think we had lost you."
"Being shot up and dropped wasn't a pleasant experience," Kikuchi replied in a gruff voice. "If it wasn't that I fell into a giant tank of LCL I wouldn't be here now."
"Nonetheless it's good to see you. Does anyone know you're here?"
"The Harpies outside have managed to distract pretty much everyone. I knocked out the guards outside."
"Good, no permanent damage then. How are they managing?"
"Still alive. Fucking Gendo Ikari's running the battle."
"Well that's a surprise," Sheffield quipped. "I suppose these are desperate times." The general got up off the bench and then made his way to the exit. "Shall we go, then?"
Kikuchi nodded and then as the two of them made their way out of the cell he said to the general, "Sir, the next time you run one of these ops, at least try to fill me in better on what's going on."
"I wish I had the luxury," Sir John replied as they both walked swiftly down a corridor and into the GeoFront's subterranean tunnels. "Outsiders always think these things run like clockwork, they don't realize how much depends on sheer luck. Anything from Omega?"
"Just one message," the double agent replied. "Thanks."
Sheffield allowed himself a small smile. "Then let's hope that it was all worth it."
Go on to Chapter 56