And If That Don't Work?

A Neon Genesis Evangelion fic thingy.

By Josh "Sunshine" Temple

 

Here's the disclaimer of non-ownership: Neon Genesis Evangelion and its characters and settings belong Gainax and Hideaki Anno. Team Fortress 2 is owned by Valve. The Spoony Experiment is owned by Noah Antwiler

 

 

Other works can be found at my fanfiction website.

http://jtemple.florestica.com/

 

Temporary Backup Site.

http://www.fukufics.com/fic/

 

 

Other website Temple of Ranma's Senshi Seifuku

http://fukufics.com

 

C&C as always is wanted.

 

 

Chapter Twelve: Exposure and Downsizing

 


            Exiting the dingy elevator, Kaji closed his cell phone and slipped it into his suit coat's pocket. Clutching his briefcase in his left hand, he stepped into the second level of the parking garage. Beyond a row that was empty save for the occasional light compact car, mostly ratty Hondas with the occasional Tesla, he could see blue sky and the waters of Lake Ashinoko. It was morning; it was Sunday and the office park that the garage served was closed for the day. A handful of delivery vans were parked on the first level taking advantage of the open space. The sight of them gave him some relief. At least he was not alone out here. In the distance the glass and concrete of Tokyo 3 glittered on the far north shore.


            His shoes echoed as he walked down the row of parking spaces. Turning around a corner, he found her. Bathed in sunlight, she was leaning on the concrete railing looking out across the water. Her back to Tokyo 3, she was looking at the forested Mount Byobu and a group of birds flying over the water. Once in a while the sleek grey birds would tip their wings back and dive into the water and spear a few unsuspecting fish with their bills.


            A pair of dark purple jets flew over at low altitude and were almost at the opposite horizon before Mikki could blink. The concrete structure was immune to their rumbling engines but it scattered the birds. As he approached, Kaji stepped out of the shadows of the garage.


            The woman had straight auburn hair and wore an ash-grey suit that was tailored to her frame. Kaji made a thoughtful noise; it was a bit much for the guise of a mere office girl.


            "You're late," Mikki noted without turning to face him. She wore her slim light framed glasses and idly pushed them up her nose.


            "There was more traffic than expected leaving the city," Kaji stated, his fingers tightening on the briefcase.


            "Ah, I suppose it's best we did not arrange to meet on the Ropeway." Mikki took her gaze due east. An aerial lift cable car ran from Hakone-en on the eastern shore of the lake to the summit of mount Komagatake. "As romantic as taking a scenic tram and a little hike to a Shinto shrine would be your... timing leaves something to be desired."


            She spun around on her heel and tapped a foot impatiently.


            Instinctively, Kaji flashed a smile. "It's better than my original idea."


            "Ah yes, yet another tram ride. This time to the Great Boiling Valley," Mikki rolled her eyes. "Because girls like nothing more than visiting a sulfurous tourist trap."


            "It's got hot springs. Girls love hot springs. And the hard boiled eggs they sell are really good."


            "I am familiar with Kuro-tamago." Mikki raised an eyebrow. "Are you really trying to entice me with black eggs?"


            Kaji waved his free hand. "Fine, fine. We'll do something better."


            "When? Right now we're in a parking garage." Mikki sighed. She looked out and then up. As usual, jet contrails crossed the sky and the drone of helicopters and whining rush of VSTOLs echoed in the distance. "There are plenty of hot springs. Ones that don't have quite as much venting sulfur."


            "It's the ground; plenty of power buried under Harkone just bubbling up. Heck, there's even a volcano just to the Southeast of the city."


            "Yes, yes and the lake itself is a collapsed caldera. I'm familiar with the city," Mikki testily said.


            "However, I think the city has greater threats than geology."


            "So very true." Mikki gave a tight smile.


            "Quite so, but to your previous point... are you asking for a date?" Kaji teased.


            Mikki tapped her chin. "I dunno, can you go through with it?"


            "Of course," he distractedly said as he looked out across the water. He spotted a largish green yacht with red trim. It was at anchor and a few men were fishing off the deck while an older man seemed to be fiddling with the mast rigging. The sails were down and a trio of square flags fluttered from the mast. One was quartered into alternating white and red checkers, the middle had two pairs of vertical yellow and blue stripes, and the bottom one was the white X over a blue field that meant: my vessel is stopped, making no way.


            "You seem pensive."


            Kaji chuckled. "I am. Humanity is playing with fire. The technologies we've developed, the weapons we've built."


            Mikki cocked her head to the side and looked back at the mountain. "Oh? Isn't that all to win? Defeat the Angels by any means necessary?"

 
            "And then what?" Kaji's eyes went to the glassy office buildings and across the street from the parking garage. The empty windows, bare shadows, and dark offices gave the scene a sinister cast. The building looked utterly deserted but he knew that had to be untrue.


            Mikki tapped the guardrail. "What do you mean?"


            "After the war. After-" he paused looking over the water. "After we win, what then?"


            Mikki exhaled. "The Enemy would be extinct. The war would be over?"


            "Oh? We're hardly a peaceful species." Kaji caught movement on the boat. A couple of the young and fit fishermen had put down their rods and gone into the ship's cabin.


            The auburn haired woman giggled. It was a hollow, almost defeated noise. "We are fallen: dissent, betrayal, subversion. We grasped perfection and in our pride dashed it. Now we seek to regain it, regardless of the price in blood."


            "Perfection? Most these days would be satisfied with mere survival." Kaji held his chin. "But you're not most people. Is that why you're making your play?"


            Mikki turned away from the water. She looked over the scruffy man, grey eyes narrowing. "You think I've betrayed my... boss?"


            "I know. There's more to Gombe Heavy Construction than building Tokyo 3, the Geo Front and just about every other hardened bunker, command center, and research facility in Japan. You can tell the way the wind's blowing," he used his briefcase to gesture at her fine pinstriped, pencil-skirted suit.


            Straightening an errant bang, Mikki crossed her arms and leaned on the railing. "Fine. Fine. I can tell when an... audit is coming."


            "You're afraid, of Nerv?"


            "I saw what Nerv did to Nippon Heavy Industry Solidarity. I saw what they did to the Third Branch. Nerv will do anything to ensure their goals are met. You think the UN can contain them? You think your associate's oversight can do anything?" Mikki's bitterness turned sardonic. "Nerv has stolen the keys to creation, and those old fools think that they can keep the likes of Ikari in check.


            "And Azazel?"


            Mikki's frown deepened as she stepped out of the light.


            "Well, I suppose Azazel can keep Nerv in check... for what's that worth."


            "That you present that as a reassurance fills me with terror to a capacity beyond comprehension," the young woman said.


            "Only a taste of the world, the wars, we face. That's why I fear, not just for this war but for the next war." Kaji shook his arms a bit and continued to scan the water. "The genie is well and truly out of the bottle. We are seeing a full blown AT field arms race. Tactical, strategic, offensive, defensive."


            "I have heard rumors, about the gynoid's training, about the other pilots. Unbelievable, frightening stuff."


            Kaji kept his face neutral. "It's not stopping, it's growing. Do you know what this war is, what it really is?"


            The grey-eyed woman made a beckoning motion with her hand.


            "It's an excuse." Kaji laughed. "It's all an excuse: the Impact, the Angel War. Crisis brings opportunity, and a true existential crisis is the greatest opportunity of all. It took time for us to recover but..." the spy lowered his gaze for a moment. "But there's weapons in development that eclipse what we've already got. The Americans are running wild on Atomic Age Cold War ideas, the Russians are thinking big and Nerv... they're not resting on their laurels. You have no idea what they're doing down in the Geo-Front. Meanwhile, every country with a defense contractor supplying Nerv parts has spun up side-production."


            "I know that," Mikki sighed; several of her contingency plans depended on said side-production. "Your point? We are in a war of extinction here."


            "This isn't just for this war, they're thinking about the next one, and the one after that." Kaji shook his head. "And they say we're a shortsighted species." He looked over and saw that the flags on the mast had changed. There were now two square flags. One had five horizontal bands: red in the center blue, on the edges, and white in between and the other was divided right half red left half white.


            "Ah" The secretary's voice grew distant. "You assume the Angels will lose then?"


            Kaji forced a grin. "Don't you?"


            "I don't know." Mikki closed her eyes. "Humanity has such power. Power, scientific, military, industrial, and electrical. Power is their... is humanity's power." She tilted her head at the sound of a delivery van pulling into the parking garage's first level.


            Kaji nodded, his grip on the briefcase loosening. The tension in his body melted away and his heartbeat slowed. "That's right. That is our strength."


            Returning to the railing, Mikki looked at the water; her stomach felt cold. "That is humanity's strength. That's why the... the Angels are trying to co-opt it. To learn from you."


            Kaji nodded and looked down at his briefcase idly checking the numbers visible on the twin combination locks. "Fighting fire with fire?"


            "Humanity started it!" Mikki's voice rose, anger pushing away her nervous concerns. "With the UN's Artificial Evolution Laboratory, Nerv's Project E, and Seele's–"


            "Ninth Project?" Kaji completed.


            The young woman blinked. "Well... yes, but I meant the Katsuragi Expedition."


            Kaji bowed his head slightly. "My mistake Miss Nagisa."


            Mikki bowed her head in return. She started to walk back to the railing. "No problem. As I was saying, the Angels are only following the path the humans cut for them." Stopping halfway in the light of the sun, she blinked. "Oh. That's not my name."


            "But it is: Kaworu Nagisa. However, I can see why you changed it," Kaji gestured towards Mikki's body with his free hand.


            Visibly shaken, Mikki took a few steps back and tried to collect her bearings. The image was ruined by how her glasses had slipped down her nose.


            "No wonder you have so much ire for the Old Men; you have personal experience living under their thumbs. Though if Mr. Gombe is who I suspect he is..."


            Mikki snickered. "The old fool has no clue." Mikki stretched her shoulders backwards then straightened the fall of her suit-coat. "I suppose that's a perk of my new position."


            She pushed her glasses back into place and looked over them at Kaji. Her eyes slowly shifted between grey, red, and back again. "Iruel squealed, and since we're alone and un-nuked you must have snuck off with a copy of her confession."


            Kaji swallowed. "Straight up admitting? Not even pretending?"


            Mikki scoffed. "I've spent my whole life pretending. Even among my sisters..." She shook her head. "You must be here to deal. What do you want?"


            "What makes you think I want to deal?" Kaji swallowed and looked down at his briefcase.


            Catching his glance, Mikki smiled. "Because you're here. Again, if you didn't want to talk you could have just sat back and let me get nuked. Or maybe sicced the Evas on me. But no, you come to me with a case full of goodies. Trying to play another side, what'll that be, five for you?"


            "Four."


            The Angel nodded. "What is it that you want?"


            "Assurances, after the Little Impact...." Kaji cleared his throat. "I have to know where this war is really going. I know enough about what Seele and Nerv want that... well maybe the other side isn't so bad after all. All I know about your plans is what Nerv's propaganda says. So, I need assurances. I know what you can do, but what will you do?"


            "Naturally," Mikki's smile grew, relief replacing apprehension. "We can resolve this like civilized people." She slowly strode forward. Amused, she gave her head a little shake and held up her arms. "I'm not threatening you; I'm unarmed."


            "Good." Kaji swept his hand back and with practiced ease drew his sidearm and, one handed, snapped three quick shots into Mikki's chest , centered on the heart. There was a brief flash of reddish orange as each heavy forty-five caliber armor piercing bullet smashed flat. Despite being plenty of power to put down any human, the total kinetic energy was barely  enough to push her back a couple of centimeters.


            Irritation flashed over her face, and Mikki took another step. "I am, however, more than adequately protected. I am not a moron!" she shouted, her eyes flaring.


            "You've really caused quite a mess." Mikki sighed. She lifted a hand and an orange hexagonal shield sprang up and slammed into Kaji, ramming him into a concrete pillar. He gasped in pain, and his gun went clattering across the floor until it bumped into a tire. Seeing that he still had his briefcase, Kaji gasped out a laugh.


            Mikki tilted her head. "You are fooling yourself, Inspector. Nothing is what it seems. You are not the dashing spy, Nerv does not exist to fight the Angels, and one man will not defeat the likes of me."


            "And I didn't come alone..." Kaji calmly said, making sure to keep his eyes on her and only on her.


            Looking at his expression, Mikki stopped and blinked. In an instant her head snapped to one side and her whole body flipped over as she was pounded to the ground. Most of a second later the retort of the 14.5mm anti-material rifle echoed in the garage. The bullet had just hit the Angel just above the temple, but her AT field had prevented any damage.


            Unlike Kaji's attempt which imparted a mere 700 joules of energy per shot. The bullet fired from the Russian PTRD anti tank rifle slammed 32,200 joules of kinetic energy right into her head.


            "Told you I'd misbehave." Gasping, Kaji got back to his feet and glanced at her body. "Oh... fuck you, not even dead yet." He grabbed a tab on the handle of his briefcase, pulled a chord on the handle, tossed it onto Mikki's bloodless form, and then jumped over the railing.


            Eyes flashing red, Mikki got to her knees. She saw Kaji vanish from sight. Instead of the thud of a hitting concrete, there was the thunk of hollow sheet metal being hit. Her confusion was overridden by the briefcase's combination reaching 0-0-0 and over fifteen kilograms of RDX detonating.


            Before the explosion, Kaji had landed on the roof of one of the delivery vans. He stumbled, then tumbled down the front windshield and stopped awkwardly on the slanted hood of the van.


            The moment he hit the roof the sliding door of an adjacent van had opened. Even as the satchel charge on the level above exploded with a flat crump and a shattering of glass, a trio of battle dressed Azazel Naval Infantry raced over to the disoriented spook.

Compared to his bulky companions the medic of the group seemed almost willowy in figure. Looking over the spy, he gave an almost perfunctory nod to the man and one of the troopers helped walk the dazed spy to the van while the other watched the level above them.


            Two more soldiers jumped out of the van. One was in red armor and carried a Micor Leader 50. A bullpup in 50 caliber BMG, it was a compact if heavy gun. Large 10 round box magazines were slung onto the customized harness she wore over her armor along with a large sidearm and a pair of combat knives.


            Her skin was pale, shiny, and looked a bit stiff. In place of ears she had a pair of antennae-like blades that angled back and her hair was a, literally, sculpted crimson updo. Even with her wedge-heeled footwear and updo, she was short, though her amour gave her a sleek and strong look. An oval was set in the armor around her neck like a choker, and glowed a yellowish-green, though it flashed to purple when she looked at her partner.


            Next to the cybernetic warrior was an even shorter and almost delicate looking soldier. She wore an armored vest and web harness over a purple plug suit. Long powder blue hair was pulled back into a ponytail with a tight ruffled hair ribbon. Unlike her companion she had a lighter load-out that favored more knives and her main gun was a trim little Kalashnikov variant with gleaming wood furniture. Both had small camera lenses mounted on their vests.


            She carried a Romanian PSL designated marksman rifle, with custom fitted and padded short youth stock, fore grip, and a trimmed barrel that barely extended past the piston action's gas vent. Modified for closer work, the scope was removed relying on plain iron sights. Firing the 7.62 X 54mm Russian battle rifle round, the tiny weapon radiated a concentrated lethality. 


            Giving a light smile, Shinju stepped to Kaji and shook his hand as he was loaded into the van by Igor. The giant Azazel officer snapped a quick salute to the blushing Fourth Child. The giant man seemed almost subdued.


            Kiko rolled her eyes and looked up at the second level of the parking garage. She raised her bullpup rifle and concentrated. The air around her shimmered as her AT field powered up, and her choker began to shift, turning pale-ice blue. She gave a cocky, glossy smile to Kaji, who noticed her choker flash purple as she grinned.


            Igor ushered the other Azazel solders into the van ahead of him and he was barely aboard when the already in-gear vehicle raced off, even before the door had fully closed.

Despite never losing consciousness, Kaji found the whole experience a mad blur and was only able to collect his wits after the van was already racing down the road.


            "That... could have gone better," Kaji groaned, his ankles stung and his shoulders burned from the tumble he took. He thought he could hear gunfire in the distance, but was not certain.


            The blocky, square-jawed but short Sergeant Babayev gave Kaji a light chuckle. "Better? Alive for now. That good." He glanced to the driver who gave a slight nod.


            "She pursuing?" Kaji looked back and saw the parking garage rapidly receding into the distance as they sped to the north. He hoped that the sharpshooter team had gotten out too, though they were trained to move after taking a shot so they were probably okay.


            "Us? Looks not, but..." Babayev shrugged and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.


            Igor gave a rolling chuckle. "I think traitor has more trouble than us now."


            "Yeah." Kaji gave a laugh. They both knew what would happen if she decided to chase him. "Thanks for the pickup." He looked over and saw a few Azazel APC's slowly driving in the opposite direction. The sound of helicopters got louder.


            "Our job, you got to shoot Angel," the sergeant offered a cigarette.


            Kaji took it, and lit it. "Fat lotta good it did. Though your sniper... that was good." He inhaled and let the nicotine settle his nerves. At least his part in the trap was over with.


            The giant mountain of a man, Lieutenant Igor
Khariton, gave a sharp smile. "Klavdiya shoot well then?"


            "Hit her right in the head, knocked her down."


            "Exposed traitor." Babayev gave another shrug.


            "Yeah, yeah," Kaji puffed on his cigarette. "About that, I've still gotta report." He unbuttoned his top shirt button and tapped the wire woven into the fabric.

 

***************

 


            The light and noise died down, and Mikki's vision returned. In a smooth motion, she rose to her feet and dusted her immaculate dress. There was a scorch mark and some broken concrete where the bomb had gone off and several of the nearby cars had their windows shattered and their bodies bashed in.


            Cocking her head, she sighed at the sound of some vehicle racing into the distance. Glancing up at the office building she saw a helicopter reflected on the looming wall of glass and stepped back. She exhaled, and let her AT field bloom. There was no point in hiding from Nerv's sensors. Her cover was well and truly blown.


            Crimson eyes widened before shifting back to silver-grey. "No," Mikki whispered. A pair of AT fields pulled at her mind. They were weak and only one was like that of her sisters while the other...


            The young woman spun on her heel and raced back, deeper into the parking structure; she only got a few steps before seeing an armed and armored figure slipping through a stairwell door, its tempered glass shattered.  Their gaze met and the gynoid rushed past the corner. The air around her was slightly distorted as if heat were radiating from her armored chassis. Her choker glowed blue.


            For a moment the miniature Evangelion and diminutive Angel stared at each other. Mikki held her hands out while Kiko kept her rifle raised.


            Orange eyes widened as the sights were lined up. "Contact!"


            Looking down the gaping barrel, Mikki felt a twinge of mortality. There was an explosion, and the bullet hit her square in the chest. The armor piercing incendiary BMG, was half an inch in diameter and weighed over a tenth of a pound.


            She was knocked back a dozen centimeters. In Mikki's opinion, it was somewhat lighter than the last bullet to hit her. Though that one had hit her further up on her center of gravity.


            Kiko saw her round hit and explode, seemingly ineffective against the flaring AT field. "For Berlin!" she shouted as she pulled the trigger a second time. Her choker flashed bright red before returning to blue. Simultaneously, her own AT field pulsed and she saw the battery meter on her heads up display begin to spin down.


            Mikki blinked as a string of bullets marched further up until they were exploding just in front of her eyes. A moment's effort and her AT field strengthened and she was able to resume her stride.


            Lifting an arm, the auburn-haired Angel expanded her AT field in front of her like a reverse teardrop, and rammed the gynoid's. Sparks flew as the two fields manifested visually and the Angel's stronger field began to press down. Armored heels scraped against the concrete. Mikki smiled as she closed in.


            "Foolish," Mikki stated. She angled her AT field away from herself forming a concavity around Kiko. "You think you can challenge me in your lesser form?"


            Pressing against the Angel's power, Kiko raised her gun.


            "Go ahead, you'll only waste your ammo." Mikki smirked. "Or maybe you'll destroy your own field and get crushed–"


            A shot boomed across the parking garage. It took Mikki a second to realize it did not sound like the gynoid's gun. In that time two more shots struck, each stinging impact bounding off the weaker side of her AT field. She looked over and saw that the Adversary's Shadow had come in behind her and sprinted across the parking garage gaining speed as she went.


            Then the silent little nightmare slammed into her. Bright, crimson eyes met hers as an alien AT field pummeled into her from behind. She twisted and saw a gleaming wood-stocked vibrating bayonet going straight for her chest. Her AT field flared again, forming thick layers around the progressive blade.


            Planting her feet, Mikki met her enemy's gaze and suppressed a shudder. Hungry, calculating, red eyes stared back at her.


            Her AT field pummeling against the Angel's, Shinju grinned, and worked the trigger.


            Still pressed by the Angel's field, Kiko watched as Shinju emptied her magazine. Giving a shockingly weak flash, each bullet shattered on the intersection of warring AT fields, but the bayonet could get no closer. Every time Shinju eroded one of Mikki's fields, another had formed to replace it.


            Behind her bubble, Mikki tilted her head. "The Adversary's Shadow." She gave a thin smile, her suit and center-parted hair still immaculate. "Perhaps Iruel was right, I was too fearful. At least you fared better than your little Abomination."


            "I'm no abomination," Kiko spat. Pushing against the AT field was like standing against a raging river, her own field was a strong shield but that only allowed her to withstand the torrent. Kiko concentrated.


            "Please, you have no name. You are designation; a failed Child brought back as an auto-pilot." Mikki refocused her attention, her will onto the gynoid. She glanced over and saw Shinju reloading.


            "You... you..." Kiko hissed as she raised up her rifle. Her joints throbbed and her head buzzed as anger grew within her. Deep within she felt something... pop. A warning flared onto her vision detailing a containment failure.


            "I admire your tenacity but..." Mikki sighed. "You cannot defeat me. Your weapons cannot pierce my AT field, and your own fields are too weak." Again she gave a faraway look and seemed to hear off into the distance. "Now the true Adversary..."


            Alarms blinking on her heads up display, Kiko locked her elbows in and lined up her sights. Her AT field flashed, throwing Mikki's back. "You burned my body, burned my city, you sank my Evangelion. You took everything from me!"


            Kiko stroked the trigger, the punishing recoil hitting her reinforced armored shoulder, and this time the half inch projectile caught her AT field. Letting it be dragged forward, her field hit the Angel's at nearly three times the speed of sound.


            At the point of impact, Mikki's field flashed, bent and then, as the sudden impact forced the two fields to comingle, shattered.


            The bullet slipped right through the AT field and exploded against a secondary field inches from Mikki's face. Her eyes widened, but her shock was short lived as the next bullet broke through that field, displaced them and slammed into the final one that shimmered just over her forehead.


            The Angel fell down to one knee. Pain blossomed and she could feel a bruise and concussion forming. She had blocked the vast majority of the projectile's power, but not all of it. She dug down and pulled at her power.


            "You did it all without getting dirty! Without risking your pretty little head. And now you're sitting here sneering at me? Fuck off!" Kiko screamed as she adjusted her aim. Now her choker burned a bright crimson before settling back into a deep sapphire. "Fire against your own AT field, Princess! It'll knock it into the Angel's!" Kiko yelled.


            The next round was stopped a good meter away, though it had taken at least that long to slow down. "Innovative, but futile." A series of AT fields flared between Mikki and Kiko. "I can make these faster than your little trick can cut them." Grin returning, Mikki started to rise.


            There was a ripple of gunfire to Mikki's side. Just as she turned her head, there was a great burst of pain as her left ankle shattered and she began to tumble forward.


            Aiming low, Shinju charged her first three rounds as she sliced through the lower layers of the Angel's defenses. The next two took out her footing. Then the little clone fired a pair higher up on the Angel's thigh before slamming the bulk of her field against the teetering Angel.


            The rifle went down and hooked between Mikki's legs, and Shinju sidestepped, bent, and twisted, bringing the bayonet against the blooded and broken leg. "Good one Red!" Shinju yelled as she withdrew her weapon for another strike against the falling Angel.


            Hamstrung and tripped, Mikki flopped into a bleeding mess. Horrified by the stink of her own blood, she rolled over and saw the bayonet thrust forward. Both enemy AT fields pressed against her. She looked up into the flat red doll's eyes of the Adversary's Shadow, and felt true pain. For the first time she had stepped out of the shadows, met the enemy, and bled for it. Fear and pain grew within her and the Angel's will faltered.


            The blade sank in, piercing her heart. For a moment she lay there, feeling her blood pour out as the Abomination fired at her head in an attempt to burn through her AT fields. Mikki closed her eyes. The blade snapped.


            Shinju jumped away from the Angel and, pulling the trigger, automatically emptied the remainder of her magazine into the Angel. She then swapped it for a full one while Kiko did the same. A corona of white light whipped around Mikki as her AT fields rebounded.


            This time the Nerv soldiers were prepared and were only pushed back a bit by the onslaught. When the light died down they were ready and fired at the figure.


             Mikki stood before them wearing a seamless dark cobalt and azure bodysuit. Light flat heeled boots were built into the garment. Her hair was a darker shade of auburn that stuck up in a wild mop at the ends and her glasses lay discarded on the floor. Red eyes only slightly darker than Shinju's peeked out of messy bangs. As bullet-accelerated AT fields wore through her own defenses, she looked down at her chest and ankles.


            The gunshot and stab wounds had healed, it was like she had never been injured.. She glanced between the two Nerv soldiers. "Tenacity."


            Kiko exhaled and raised her weapon. Central Dogma was informing her about the rest of the operation's deployment. They were also saying how their Pattern Blue readings had suddenly spiked up. The gynoid already knew that, as the AT Field pressure against had risen from a river to an ocean.


            However, more pressing was the bright red flashing system warnings that throbbed at the edges of her vision. The status of her battery followed close behind. She looked over and saw the clone gasp as she reshouldered her rifle; the broken-tipped bayonet still attached to the front of the barrel.


            "I have underestimated you." Mikki rolled her shoulders. She then looked to Shinju. "And overestimated myself. I suppose I'm less like my sisters and more like yours."


            Reading her AT field, Shinju lined up the shot, then squeezed the trigger. Then she did it again, and again, each time aiming for the same spot on the chest of the Angel's bodysuit. Kiko joined in and the two began to burn through Mikki's AT fields.


            Mikki saw the charge and the gynoid's flanking move. Leaping back she avoided the barrage, landed on a broken car, and took a moment to refresh her fields. She narrowed her eyes in irritation. "As I was saying, I'm just like your sister. I'm just like Rei."


            Tilting her head, Shinju paused, then took a shot. The bullet launched out towards Mikki's head and blew apart against the AT field just in front of her eyes.


            "Mindless child. You just don't care," Mikki spat.


            "Too much talking," Shinju growled.


            Jumping to the floor, Mikki cocked her head. "Ah... a stall?" she asked digging into a seemingly endless well of power.


            Grinding her teeth, Kiko stroked her trigger as fast as she could form new AT fields. It was exhausting, draining work. Propelled by her projectiles, each AT field sacrificed itself against the Angel's.


            "Enough," Mikki's dark blue boots scratched against the concrete floor as she shoved herself to the side, out of Kiko's line of fire, and used her fields to lift the car she had just stepped off of.


            "Scheisse!" Kiko cried as the broken car shot forward. There was a heavy loud crunch as it cracked and bent as if it had smashed into a meter wide invisible pillar centered around the gynoid.


            Mikki's eyebrow rose and she gave a little thoughtful nod. Gesturing, she telekinetically reached out for two more cars. One was powder blue Toyota compact the other a ratty brown Tesla hatchback, both had all their windows already broken, bobbed up into the air then raced down to either side of the gynoid. Containing the Abomination would make breaking through her defenses and killing her far easier.


            "Red get back!" Shinju shouted as the Toyota arced towards her and bounced off her own AT field before tumbling towards the gynoid.


            Hearing it screamed across the garage and through her radio-pickup, Kiko instinctively jumped back and pulled her AT field. The two cars smashed into the third and squeezed, forming a messy ball of metal. As she watched, her left hand, being somewhat idle, reached out and swapped in a fresh magazine.


            "Oh, you escaped," Mikki said with a tinge of disappointment.


            "Just Die!" Kiko caught Shinju's eye, tensed her legs, and fired.


            The clone also opened up and both rushed the Angel.


            After the first volley tore through much of her shielding, Mikki tore a pair of doors from a small van and lofted them. They were shot and Mikki's disappointment grew to frustration. Shinju's 7.62 mm diameter bullets tore clean holes, hardly being slowed, while Kiko's 12.7 mm blew the door apart.


            She stepped back, divided her attention between building new layers of defense and trying out new improvised shields. Unwieldy and dripping, a mangled 8 cylinder engine of an old gasoline truck seemed to hold up. Though each BMG round tore huge chunks out, and the engine seemed to only slow the massive bullets down, it was sufficient.


            Grinding her teeth, Kiko's jaw pressure grew. Now her own AT fields only impacted on that battered hunk of steel.


            By holding the engine from the back and keeping it between her and the Nerv Agents, Mikki could ensure that their AT fields were not forced into ballistic contact and thus would not be canceled out.


            As she fired, Shinju watched the metal block bob back and forth. They had split up to flank the Angel, who could only block one angle of fire at a time. Mikki responded by concentrating on Kiko, who had the heavier weapon.


            Chasing the enemy, Shinju's lips curled up. "Red! Suppressing fire. Low!"


            Feeling fatigue and bruising edge into her arms and shoulders, Kiko adjusted her aim. She fired and reloaded. She was steadily punching through the block, but the Angel had begun to telekinetically tear into other cars and began ripping out other engines.


            Finding her waist and thighs the target, Mikki blinked in confusion but lowered her shield. Anything to get some breathing space. With what attention she could spare she picked up shards of glass, metal, plastic, anything that was easy to levitate and heave. Compared to the AT assault, it was an annoyance, but it blocked visibility and could not be eroded with a rival field.


            Uncaring about such annoyances, Shinju lunged forward. Pressing against the Angel's defenses with all her will, she raised her gun, was halted several meters short of the enemy, and abruptly pivoted on her heel.


            Turning so she could face both the enemy and her target, Shinju snaked around and shot the engine's backside. Each bullet rammed a bit of Shinju's field into the field the Angel held the engine with. Deprived of its support, the block of steel dropped to the floor, allowing Kiko's broadside to pass.


            Mikki tried to move another engine into place to intercept but she was too late.


            Emptying her magazine, the gynoid cut through five layers of AT fields and with her sixth round hit the Angel right in the belly button. It penetrated through the Angel's spine, burst her abdominal cavity, and blew her body apart.


            Hitting the wall, Mikki plopped to the ground in a bloody, bisected mess. Shinju rotated back to facing the enemy. Her arms weakly trying to pull at her waist and legs, Mikki looked up, as blood poured out from her cavernous wounds. Spikes of pain went through her body before shock and massive blood loss hit.


            "Open your heart," Shinju said in an exhausted, near whisper as she took aim and pulled the trigger.


            Watching the shots blast apart the rest of the Angel's torso, Kiko stepped forward, limping as her left knee started to stick. The warnings on her heads up display had become almost familiar to her. Though there was a new one that had her attention: her battery level was now well under ten percent.


            "Hey, Princess, I'm about Bingo here. Finish this up," Kiko said while reloading. It was strange to be able to push towards the Angel without having to deal with a torrent of AT fields pressing against her.


            Shinju forced herself to give a clear strong nod and winced as she raised her arms to give a higher point of aim. She tried to keep her breathing controlled, but it was getting harder. "Enemy down, massive trauma," she said into her headset. "No sign of core."


            Her vision blurring, Mikki watched the two soldiers converse and take aim. It had a slow, dreamlike quality. She could feel their AT fields and could even feel the Adversary's and one other. So this is Iruel's legacy, taken out by those not much younger than me, Mikki thought as her body tingled with growing rage. This is an Angel's betrayal. Taken by half-breeds. Tricked and ambushed.


            Her eyes flared solid red and the fusillade aimed at her head was blocked. Layer after layer of AT field sprang up and her ruined body began to rise.  Ribbons of entrails spilled out as other viscera plopped out. The last bits of skin linking her torso to her waist  ripped away  and her hips fell back to the ground in a wet thud.


            Covering the tableau shiny, almost greasy, blood spurted and pumped like a toppled fountain as her torso scraped against the concrete wall that surrounded this side of the garage.  There was a wet ripping as most of her rib cage fell away. Exposed lungs heaved as the blood flow fell to a weeping splatter of droplets. Despite this, everything above her shoulders was pristine, save for some dark red blood splattered against her cheeks.


            "Damn!" Centering the rifle sight between Mikki's eyes, Kiko pulled the trigger, with Shinju a hair slower.


            Flaring, the Angel's AT fields pulled in and contoured, forming dense translucent orange and blue layers that mimicked the shape of her body. There was even a bell-shaped projection around her waist that flared out and pushed the Angel further aloft.


            For a moment the two Pilots caught sight of the Angel's body regrowing beneath the protection. Then Mikki slammed her hands together. The wall behind her shattered under the pressure of her fields and she shot through the ragged hole.


            "Don't run away!" Shinju screamed as she fired on the fleeing figure.


            "Target has escaped," Kiko dutifully, and redundantly, radioed. She felt tired and the blue began to fade from her choker, replaced by a dull green. Outside a Mi-24 opened up with its 12.7 mm Yakushev-Borzov Gatling gun. Rapidly ascending, the helicopter's 23 mm automatic cannon began firing and started launching missiles. Another Hind moved in as well as two Nerv VSTOLs.


            Surprisingly, the glowing Angel paused in the middle of the barrage and simply hovered soaking up the firepower. Kiko turned to see Shinju using the broken concrete as an impromptu rest. Command radioed a warning. She saw the VSTOLs and helicopters retreat; one went high, the other almost seemed to hide behind the garage. But more importantly, she felt the droning, pounding noise of the YA-12's nuclear powered turbines.


            "Princess! Down!" Kiko screamed as she pushed the Fourth Child to the floor, right on top of the Angel's blood and guts.


            Holding her body over Shinju's, the sky was rent by a thunderous churning roar. The ruddy, uneven, burning light from the attack plane's rotary railgun lit up the garage. Lifting her head, Kiko caught a peek of a water-filled crater near the beach with a smoking plume rising from it.


            Barely registering the latest order being radioed to her, she watched as two Evangelions rose in the distance. The light blue one was in the lead and carried its oversized revolver while the black one, with a 16inch diameter Mark 9 double rifle, stayed back to provide covering fire.


            There were footsteps behind them, and Shinju, swearing in Russian,
had wriggled out from under her and crawled out of the pile of guts covered in gore. The gynoid helped Shinju up and then watched, awed, as her greater-self's sister opened fire. The beach was obliterated and the shockwave shook the concrete structure.


            A meaty hand fell onto Kiko's shoulder. "Pilot! We must leave!" Igor yelled over the ringing explosion as he began to pull her back. The rest of his squad had fanned out in a protective ring. Shinju gave the man a weary smile.


            The gynoid absently nodded and followed, limping on her left side. As she turned she caught a glimpse of a bright blue and orange comet streaking out of the crater on the beach.


            "What is your status?" the bearish man asked the pilots as they and the rest of the Azazel squad went down the stairs.  A pair of troopers hefted Kiko's each taking a shoulder and carried her to the waiting Mi-24 Hind.


            After the sonic booms from a squadron of Azazel jets on full dash passed over head, Kiko rattled off her major faults and listed her battery status. It seemed redundant as both she and the Princess were being prodded by Russian medics even as they were being loaded into the helicopter. Glancing out the helicopter, she could see Unit 00 firing as Unit 03 ejected two giant brass cases from its Mark 9 rifle.


            It was only after they had lifted off the ground that Kiko realized she had been clenching her gun's grip and released her hand. Still keeping her rifle at the ready, Shinju looked up and gave a mildly disapproving, but very weary look. The clone then scooted over to give the Azazel medic space to access Kiko's power socket. The charger in his kit would only boost her capacity by a quarter charge, but it was far more than she currently had.


            From the Geo Front, Misako's voice rose as she repeated her order. "All forces intercept! Azazel go. First, Fifth maximum force. Take her out."


            Breathing heavily Toji focused on his orders. He reached down and instead of taking two red-tipped 16 inch shells from his bandoleer went a bit lower and pulled out two white-tipped shells from their special carrying case.


            With practiced ease, he slipped the cartridges into the chambers of the modified Naval artillery battery and slammed the action closed. The weapon went to his shoulder, the sights lined up, and his tactical display gave him just enough lead on the Angel's bright blue comet-like tail.


            "Got the Big White One!" Toji yelled as he continued to keep the sights on target. By now the Angel was ten kilometers distant and nearing Mount Askitake. Then Twelve.


            For a split second it seemed like Nerv had not heard him. Then Misako's voice cut in over the radio. "Go Warrant! Target good. Go!"


            Without having time to consider, Toji exhaled and jerked the trigger. Distantly, he could hear alarms and klaxons go off as alerts were broadcast on every band.


            Punishing recoil slammed into Unit 03's shoulder causing sympathetic pain in his own upper torso. Visible only as a highly magnified image, the tiny target seemed to split, with one bright blue spot hanging in the air while the other shot straight down. Like the Flashbulb of God going off, there was a brilliant, blinding flare in the distance. Then pillars of flame and overpressure came out. Then as air and debris were sucked back in the telltale mushroom cloud began to take shape.


            Toji
Suzuhara had become the first Japanese citizen to detonate a nuclear weapon.
           


            His Unit's eyes had automatically dimmed, making the contrast even more surreal with a dark sky harsh shadows and a bright after-image of fire and hellish clouds before him. Seeing Rei take off in that direction, Unit 03 followed running towards the new crater. His power cord ejected and he gave his battery status a bare glance.


            "Did I get it?" Toji asked as his heart pounded. The black and blue Evangelion ran over the hills surrounding Lake Ashinoko
eating the kilometers that separated it. Concentrating on his sight picture and the dread of knowing he still had another live shell, Toji did not notice when the trees he was cinching underfoot had already been toppled. Or when they were on fire. Mercifully, he also ignored the highway with its blasted cars and the group of flattened buildings at the junction with a side road and a pair of off-ramps.


            "Pattern Blue Detected!" Maya's voice seemed to scream in his ear.


            "Target Miss!" Makoto added after watching footage taken by an over watch UAV before its cameras had burned out. "Premature detonation Angel hundred meters distant, going straight down."


            "Damnit! Where the hell is she?" Toji asked as he walked Unit 03 forward. The Evangelion's feet stomped on brittle ashes and churned earth and melted sand. In the distance at the other side of the crater were more fires and some trees that were still standing, but before him was simply a burnt out wasteland.


            "Possible to your North," Maya stated as she added a flashing icon to the networked map overlay. It was roughly in the same location as


            "Pattern
Orange. Repeat Pattern Orange," First Lieutenant Shigeru Aoba, declared as new alerts flashed on his computer screen.


            "A second Angel?" Looking up, Toji stepped back and twisted so that Unit 03 stood back to back with Unit 00. "How're you for battery Rei?"


            "Adequate, Fifth I-" Rei stopped as the ground a hundred meters in front of her burst open in a geyser of ash and rocks as Mikki burst out. Rei fired her revolver and a brace of
14 inch high explosive shells each one pulling a bit of Unit 00's AT field shot past the tiny zig-zagging Angel.


            "Air support is inbound," Makoto reported, his statement being preceded by the heavy droning of the YA-11's nuclear powered turbine engines.


            Hitting the ejector lever and flicking her wrist, Rei sent six shells flying from the gun's open cylinder. Her pupils widened as more confused status updates came over the radio channel.


            "Rei! Above you!" Toji shouted as a gigantic white and black banded sphere appeared in the air and plummeted straight down with Azazel jets trailing like falcons after a fat goose.


            "Where the hell did that thing come from?" Misako's voice demanded. On an intercept course, it seemed like the orb was in a race with its own shadow towards the two Evangelions.


            "Pattern Orange located," Maya dutifully, but redundantly stated


            Holding her empty gun one-handed, Rei drew her progressive spade and flung the entrenching tool at the onrushing sphere. Tracking its flight she noticed Mikki's blue form race back into view, running straight towards the orb's shadow.


            Toji snapped his gun up. Then, remembering the load-out of the remaining shell, he dropped the weapon on its sling and drew the revolver from its cross draw holster.


            "No Fifth! The shadow. Use your Mark 9," Rei cried as the spade, and a flaming beam from the YA11's railgun hit the banded ball which... popped, while the shadow remained.


            Toji immediately adjusted his am and fired into the dark circle. To the other pilots' credit they also took Rei's orders and adjusted their aim with both Captain Zel'dovich, his wingmen and Wing Commander Lysaght pummeling the ground.


            The shadow vanished and Toji listened to the various scientists debate about the sudden disappearance of the Pattern Blue and Orange signals. Leaning back in his cockpit and idly reloading, Toji could imagine the wild gestures that went along with the heated ranting. He looked to his battery indicator and was surprised at how little time had actually passed.


            Snapping his revolver closed, Toji holstered it and waited for a lull in the conversation. "Warrant Suzuhara here. I dunno about the rest of ya'll but from here it looks like the Angel had a friend come in and teleport her out. That what you think Rei?"


            Toji could swear that in the display image the middle clone showed a bit of approval, and embarrassment at the attention. "Yes. Yes Fifth, there was no core destruction. The Angel has escaped."

 

***************

 


            Stepping from the Magi terminal to the isolated system, Ritsuko looked over to Gendo at the head of the conference table. The commander of Nerv made it a point to look to his tactical chief, his second in command, and his intelligence... asset before nodding.


            Entering her security code Ritsuko then confirmed her identity with the senior over-watch officer of the Caina Containment Complex. As Ikari provided his own credentials, Ritsuko plugged the data cable from the screen at the front of the conference room into the computer on the quarantined network and flipped on the microphone and camera.


            The screen turned on and after displaying the Nerv logo switched to what appeared to be a grinning young teenage girl with dusky skin. Her strawberry blond hair also clashed with her vaguely southeast Asian features.


             Sitting straight backed with her legs crossed at the knee, she wore a prim grey knee-length dress with black trim. Her hair and her orange ribbon were the only splashes of color in a drab, if pristine, cell of rounded corners and walls.


            The young woman's grey eyes seemed to scan the room. It gave the impression that she could see through the massive display itself, instead of the mundane reality of her watching via a monitor propped up in the cell's observation gallery.


            Gauging the mood in the conference room, the Angel's smile wilted. Her shoulders drooped and her leg bounced nervously on her knee. "So... my sister lives?" Iry asked. Nervously, she glanced up. "Was my intelligence insufficient?" This time she was nervous and fear had crept into her voice.


            Gendo leaned forward hiding his chin behind interlaced fingers held level. He looked from the Angel in human flesh to the woman that wore his wife's face. More than Rei, the Captain represented how much work remained to be done: his reach still exceeded his grasp. He looked to the clone and gave a slight nod.


            Misako met his gaze. "The information was correct." She stated. "An Angel had infiltrated Gombe Heavy Construction, and was making contact with several intelligence organizations and other groups." She gave a sharp glare across the table at Kaji.


            The spook coughed. "Yeah.... she was an Angel all right." He glanced at the screen. "I confronted her, she responded to the name Kaworu Nagisa, and then hit me with an AT field."


            "Ah." Iry squared her shoulders. She gave a minute sigh of relief. "But... she must have escaped."


            "How astute. I supposed the lack of a ticker tape parade celebrating VA day in Tokyo 2 clued you in," Gendo said.


            Iry smiled and bowed her head. "I hope your casualties weren't high."


            Misako narrowed her eyes and glared first at the screen then at the camera. "My little sister and her friend beat your old boss like a rented mule. Then my other sister and her friend nearly vaporized her."


            "Needless to say, there will be a celebration tonight, but it will be a bit more select," Gendo glanced at Captain Ayanami.


            Feeling just a smidgen flush, Misako nodded and made a point to keep her attention at the monitor.


            "Just the Pilots, and the key Azazel, JSSDF and Nerv staff," Gendo smoothly appended.


            Giving a little smile, the Angel flexed her hand and recrossed her legs. "Good. I hope they made the prissy bitch bleed."


            "I can see about providing the combat camera footage."


            Ritsuko glared at the clone.


            Iry watched the exchange and made a guess. "There's no need to provide me with the take from your cyborg's black box. Not that I'd say no to seeing Mikki receive a small measure of payback."


            "What?" Ritsuko forced herself to blink. "No, the pilots had cameras on their armor, it helped us watch them back at base."


            "Of course, my mistake," Iry cheerfully agreed. "Still my interest stands." She put her palms together and rested her hands in her lap. "So... how may I help Nerv today?"

 

***************

 


            Slipping on his goggles, Professor Insana pulled up a schematic on the augmented reality display they overlaid on his vision. The man shook his head and overwroughtly wrung his hands. He turned to the gynoid reclining back in the examination chair. "Did you have to push yourself so hard?"


            Stripped of her harness and weapons, Kiko raised a sculpted eyebrow. Various wires and tubes had been plugged into her chassis, including the thick braided cable that linked her brain prosthesis to the laboratory's Magi terminal. After being washed down, much of her armor had been unlocked, exposing bits of ashen grey Evangelion-derived skin and taunt shiny bits of plastic-like sheeting.


            With her entire left leg restrained, the whole of her knee had been opened up, exposing the flesh, metal, and composites  that made up the joint. The gynoid turned to watch a Nerv medical doctor who was working on the joint. The sensations were... tingly. She looked back up to her father who writhed back and forth with an expectant grin.


            Kiko exhaled, which rocked the tubes plugged into her torso. "Uh... yes?"


            Insana sneered in anger before forcing a slightly more pleasant expression on his face. "Do I need to repeat myself?"


             "No. I heard you, and yes, I did have to fight that hard," Kiko stated, her tone flattening.


            "Yes, yes I know you've been trained to push yourself to the limits." Walking to a lab bench, the scientist shook his head. "There's also some personal issues that no doubt colored your judgment." He selected a series of drugs and filled a syringe. Today's growth was not... unexpected, but it still had to be managed.


            "Personal issues?" Her pupils, all eight of them, contracted and splotches of yellow formed on the green of her choker. "I was up against the Angel behind Berlin's bombardment, the one who decided I should take an acid bath, who is the reason you got to turn me into your creepy replacement robo-daughter, and oh yes, was throwing cars at me!" Her voice rose and the bonds on her legs strained.


            The surgeon put down his tools and backed up a bit.


            Kiko continued. "So pardon me for thinking I should risk breaking something to win a fight against a little psycho who thought killing a good forty, fifty, sixty million people would send a message."


            Insana picked up a syringe and depressed the plunger into one of the IVs that went behind Kiko's pelvis. "Yes.... and if you had strained yourself a bit more your battery packs would have broken completely loose and your whole chassis would have snapped off at sacrum anchor. Needless to say, your hips and thus your legs could have dislocated from your pelvic girdle."


            "So what? I was there to win."


            Using his gloves, he tapped a few commands into the interface importing his augmented reality display to Kiko's HUD. "How could you kill Angels flopping on the ground like a gutted fish? Well?"


            "It's still less than what I did to her. And like the Ice Queen would have cared. Do you know she ordered Rookie to shoot a nuke at the bitch?" Kiko paused and blinked. "I didn't think Toji had the balls. Shame he missed; stupid Rookie."


            "You won't last long with that attitude," Insana stated, as he typed out a couple commands.


            The gynoid blinked as a color-coded floating schematic of her body appeared hovering before her. A good part of it was green and yellow, though a large section around her hips and left knee were in red. There were also warning signs around parts of her spine, right shoulder, and wrists.


            Kiko leaned back and exhaled. "Ah... yeah..." She closed her eyes.


            "I put those warning notices in for a reason, Daughter." Insana looked schematic of the damaged pelvis. "And it's not just your internals, do you want bulkier armor?"


            "Because you did a crappy job building me?" Her eyes still closed, Kiko laughed.


            "Please, the Science I used in your construction is without parallel. It was my brilliance that enabled you to become more than a screaming potato!" Insana cackled.


            "I thought you got the idea from a paper Dr. Akagi wrote." Kiko opened her eyes and began to study the structural schematic.


            "Well... she was copying off of my earlier work..."


            "And it's a shame that, while your scientific skills are great, your engineering is lousy." Kiko sighed and began inspecting the schematics and glancing at the documentation tagged to the various components. "This looks like you just rescaled the structural members from an Evangelion into something human sized."


            "I ensured there was a sufficient margin of error on the load strength."


            Kiko glared. "You lazy sack of science."


            "You weren't supposed to fight face to face! You were built to pilot. Deep inside the plug you'd taking G loads and other forces nice and slow dampened by the rest of your greater self, it's not like getting directly punched by a crazy Angel."


            "And when Nerv started grooming me and the clones for direct combat action?"


            "You rejected my upgrades!"


            Kiko crossed her arms. "You wanted me to look like a battle-maid."


            "With chest missiles! And I had plans for a rotary cannon to be mounted under your skirt."


            Kiko's head slowly tilted to one side until it bumped against one of her shoulder pylons. "Mother really didn't pick you for your personality, did she?"


            "Feh, harpy couldn't stand the sight of me. But she realized the brilliance of my Science!"


            "How come my family's more screwed up than Wondergirl's?" Kiko muttered straightening her posture.


            "If it wasn't for my Science you wouldn't have stood a chance against that manufactured Angel." Insana shrieked.


            Kiko winced. "Yes, being able to fight Angels is the only reason I can accept being this... thing." Blinking rapidly, the gynoid looked down at herself and then wiped at the corners of her eyes.


            Insana frowned. "Now Asuka, I'm sure-"


            "No," Kiko looked up meeting and holding his gaze. For once the jittery man froze. "I've told you. You don't get to call me that. You made me into Nigokiko. Of all people you, Father, you cannot play pretend."


            "But I've could do more upgrades for you, maybe something that wouldn't make you cry. And I saved your life!" he added thrusting up a raised index finger before awkwardly lowering his arm and shuffling his feet.


            "And that's the only reason why I'm still talking to you." Kiko shook her head. "Father... I don't like being a robot. I'm not like the Ayanamis, I wasn't always like this. I was normal once."


            Insana began to giggle.


            "Hey! I was."


            "Oh no, far be it for me to dispute the normality of a child prodigy raised from birth to pilot promethean war machines powered by purloined tools of creation. But that's not what I was laughing about."


            The Nerv surgeon cleared his throat, Kiko nodded, and he resumed working on her knee. "Well, what were you cackling about?" Kiko asked.


            Again, Insana froze and looked between his daughter, the surgeon, and the assorted aides and nurses who were also assisting in the repairs. Most were further off at the various lab stations, fabricators and machines that filled the elongated laboratory space. "Oh... just a few suspicions I have about Ritsuko's project."


            She followed her father's gaze, as best as she could with his goggles and twitching. Taking in the rest of the Nerv staff she nodded in understanding. "We'll talk about it later?"


             Insana tittered.


            "This better not be a rant about how you could have made them better," Kiko warned.


            "Oh not entirely!" Insana looked into the distance and flexed his fingers.


            Kiko wondered if he was accessing something only he could see or simply being... himself.


            "Yes, yes... we can arrange it," Insana assured. "And perhaps we can discuss some... upgrades." He returned to the schematic and enlarged the pelvic region and frowned.


            "Nothing crazy!"


            "Daughter, how could you think so little of me?" Insana asked, sounding hurt.


            "She's got better judgment than her father?" Ritsuko asked as she strode across the cavernous lab.


            Turning make a point of studying his daughter, Insana eagerly nodded. "Yes, she definitely takes after her mother."


            "Hey!" Kiko yelled.


            "What? Going to take that as an insult?" Insana sneered.


            "It's not like you're capable of giving a compliment," Ritsuko picked up a spare set of goggles and frowned at the silver and black spirals on the lenses. The scientist then took some sanitizer and methodically cleaned the goggles before hesitantly pulling them on.


            She switched onto the common channel and was rewarded with the display of Kiko's structural schematic as well as other diagnostics. She gave a low whistle. "My god... And I thought Shinju had strained herself. Kiko you really should have..."

            "What? Run off and let Princess get crushed?" Kiko snorted. "Ice Queen was fine with our actions. She even thought it deserved a party; she pushed for Commander Ikari to have one for all of us."


            Ritsuko's eye twitched at the reference to Gendo. "She's hardly impartial."


            "She's my commanding officer. And she's stone cold enough to be professional." Kiko rubbed her forehead. "Great... now I'm defending her. Maybe I did overheat myself and melt my brain. First complementing Rookie, and now this? Not good."


            "Oh no, I checked your temperature probes." Insana tittered. "At no point did your cranial temperature exceed design limit."


            "Joy," Kiko deadpanned.


            "How did our little snitch perform?" Insana leered.


            "Cooperative, informative, vindictive." Ritsuko then turned away from the schematic. "She honestly seems to hate her 'Oneesama'."


            "Also known as Mikki Yamada, alias Kaworu Nagisa, Seel- er- code name Tabris, Nerv designation Michael," Insana recited before shaking his head sadly.


            "Big whoop, she's got a bunch of names. Sneaky snake," Kiko grumbled.


            Ritsuko noted his expression. "Yes, I'm afraid you won't be getting a fresh S2 organ to dissect."


            "But think of the possibilities!" Insana cried. "Do you know how much easier it would be to build a working test rig with one of those?"


            "No. The Commander has made his decision," Ritsuko stiffly said, wishing for a cigarette.


            "You don't agree. You think he's taking a big risk." Insana giggled. "Why does he care? It's not like she's a real prisoner of war, and even if she was it's not like we have to obey the rules of war."


            Behind her goggles, Ritsuko narrowed her eyes. "She's not a POW. This isn't someone we captured, this is someone who jumped into our, into my, hands - and, notably, who just gave us information that got her boss very nearly eviscerated, and gleefully at that."


            "Where by 'very nearly' you actually mean 'actually, it just didn't take'," Insana pedantically corrected.


            "You're defending her? You wanted to vivisect her!" Ritsuko's eyebrow rose, though her goggles largely concealed that action.


            "Oh, I still do, but that won't stop me from correcting you. Truth is vital to Science." Insana huffed. "And vivisection is quite informative, if only more queasy so-called men of Science had the courage to use it!" he screeched


            Kiko looked down at her open hatches and panels. She shook her head.


            "Well, she almost gave us a fresh S2 organ, and I won't say no to the consolation prizes," Insana wriggled his fingers and called up a few images from the parking garage and from his annex lab  and shared them on the common augmented reality display projected on both the goggles and Kiko's HUD.


            The second set of images showed a clear box-like slab that held the preserved bits of Angel flesh. Running from the floating ribs to the feet, roughly half of the human form was contained within the chamber.


            "You got her body," Kiko's eyes widened but she found her tone surprisingly flat.


            "Of course, it's really a fascinating construct. We'll know more but so far, there's some interesting parallels to a certain Human Evolutionary Lab project," Insana gave Ritsuko a meaningful glance. "One that has a one third failure rate."


            The blonde rolled her eyes. On that subject, there were more decisions of Ikari's that she disagreed with.


            "I'd know more, but family comes first," Insana soothingly said. "Managing your body is far more important."


            "That and we're not letting you take that thing into the Geo-Front."


            "It's perfectly safe," Insana grumbled. "Without an S2 organ or an AT field, it's just a lump of flesh."


            "You can't be sure of that until you finish analyzing it," Ritsuko sighed.


            Insana perked up and started pacing. "Oh, so I can bring it in later?"


            "Should I be worried why he's so eager to get the bottom half of a human-Angel?" Kiko blinked a couple times and looked up. Then her attention went from her father to the virtual images of the Angel flesh and her body schematic. "Oh.... no. You're not using that thing for... parts?"


            Grinning, Insana tittered madly. "As interesting as the idea is. No. I'm afraid the security risks are too high. But I'm sure there's much we can learn on how your little friend was constructed."


            Kiko's heart was still racing as she suspiciously eyed her father. "Right, and about that... who constructed her? Are you saying humans were behind all this?"


            Ritsuko pulled her goggles up and leaned over the gynoid. "This is sensitive information. We will give you a more detailed briefing, but it looks like a... rival to Nerv was exploring a similar research line in... hybrids. Work both of us are familiar with."


            Kiko nodded, understanding that the scientist was referring to the Ayanamis. The gynoid also wondered about Ritsuko's quarantine fears. "So what... did an Angel jump in and infect the... body?"


            Ritsuko took half a step back. "Why yes, that is our current theory." Looking at the various Nerv scientists and doctors in the lab, the blonde nodded. "Yes, this is a concern given regenerative abilities of the Angels and the... composition of various technologies we use."


            "Evangelions too?" Kiko asked.


            Ritsuko nodded.


            The gynoid stilled. Her choker began to slowly shift to yellow with spots of red. "You mean I could be... infected?" Kiko's voice rose becoming fearful and accusatory.


            Insana rubbed his chink. "Oh yes, I suppose it's a risk, but it's not a great increase."


            Kiko narrowed her eyes.


            "Even a human Pilot is still surrounded by Evangelion flesh. If an Angel infected an Evangelion the Pilot would be screwed no matter what. So as you can see, your worries are of no extra concern." Insana assured.


            "Right, because I'd never fight an Angel without my greater self," Kiko waved at the open hatches on her torso.


            "I didn't design you as a combat robot. That wasn't my idea!" Insana pointed to Ritsuko.


            "Don't blame me. The AT Field's were a side effect."


            "And a necessary one. A human would never survive direct combat with an Angel."


            "Kaji did," Kiko pouted. "And what would happen if that crazy bitch touched me?"


            "Skin to skin contact?" Insana nodded and flicked through a few diagrams. " In that context... her stronger Absolute Terror Field would... crush you like a bug anyway. Or I suppose her S2 organ could fuse with your flesh." The scientist turned and looked off into the distance while his lips moved as he called up a few diagrams such that only he could see them.


            "Father?" Kiko eventually asked.


            "Well sure, that would be bad," Insana admitted in a small voice.


            "Bad!" Ritsuko tore her goggles off. "Do you know how much damage that would cause? The quarantine procedures alone would be a nightmare!"


            "No more than what we've planned for," Insana rotated his hands adding a share permission and pushed the diagram over to Ritsuko... who, after mumbling about mountains of paperwork, reluctantly put her goggles back on so she could see it.


            The blonde's lips pressed light as she scanned the equations and contour plot of overlapping AT fields. "Okay... this isn't too much worse than the Terminal Protocols."


            "There's also some restraint needs. We may have to look into some appliqué."


            Looking at the numbers on the Evangelion grafts, Ritsuko reluctantly nodded.


            Kiko tilted her head. "Are you going to keep me in the dark?'


            Ritsuko looked away.


            "We're alluding to Nerv's contingency plans in case one of the Pilots gets infected by an Angel. Do you really want to know?"


            Kiko gave a resigned sigh. "You'll just nuke us right?"


            "Oh how crude. Do you think so little of my Scientific elegance?"


            The gynoid gave a withering glare made all the more disturbing by the slight distortion of the air between her and her father. "My batteries nearly broke off and fell into my crotch because you got lazy on the design process."


            "Where else was I supposed to put them?  You implants needed the power. I had to mount the batteries onto some part of your skeleton. See!"  Insana said as he added Kiko to the shared workspace so that she could see the same files as himself and Ritsuko.


            "I'm not arguing that point. I know you needed to fill my body with all sorts of junk to keep me working. Systems to control and regulate my limbs,  systems to power those systems,  structural members to keep those other systems in place, and so on,"  Kiko tapped her brain prosthesis and then one of her shoulder pylons. "But I'm offended at how shoddy you were on bolting things to my hips.  You didn't use actual bolts did you?"


            Insana wilted slightly. "I have other plans!"


            Ritsuko shook her head.


            "Hey! I designed to the expected requirements! You don't put wings on a tank and expect it to fly, do you?"


            "The Russians did!" Kiko replied.


            "And failed! "


            "So what? You can't outperform a Russian?" the angry German robot hotly retorted.


            "It was only a glider, and an uncontrollable mess at that." Insana pouted. "At least Walter Christie's flying disasters could actually take off. We're not talking about the Angels here! But... if you really want to fly..." Insana looked into the distance a mad grin blossoming on his face.


            Knowing that look, Ritsuko caught his eye. "We'll talk later, okay."


            Insana nodded.


            Ritsuko rubbed her forehead. "As pertinent as this is we do have legitimate maintenance to conduct."


            "Yes, can't delay you too much from taking care of your pets," Kiko grumbled.


            Insana gave a theatrical, for him, sigh and began to take notes. "Fine, fine. I'll get some... engineers," he pronounced the word as if it he were talking about a biological secretion with a particularly effervescent and penetrating odor. "And have them look into the load data. Especially if Nerv insists on using a Sapiency Driver as some sort of combat cyborg."


            "Nerv engineers," Ritsuko stressed. "I don't want you going off to Azazel or the Americans. I swear, between the underground labs, reviving dusty atomic-age projects, and sanity-be-damned let's-see-if-we-can-sneak-this-past-the-laws-of-physics nuclear engineering it's like Republic Aviation and the Russians have decided to fight the Cold War all over again"


            "Said the computer queen living in a Geo-Front," Kiko mumbled.


            "But this time against god-like Aliens from beyond the Moon!" Insana exclaimed.


            "Which means they can get away with atomic Gatling guns, nuclear shaped charges, hydrogen bomb powered lasers, and orbital doomsday rockets," Ritsuko sighed. "As a start."


            "Like you have any room to talk," Kiko snorted. "You wrangle a bunch of supercomputers built from bits of your mother's personality. You're in charge of freakin' Project E. You have the Ayanami at your beck and call, oh and you had a hand in building me!" The gynoid crossed her arms. "A few fancy bombs and ramjets powered by nuclear piles and atomic teakettles don't have a candle to the abominations you two have made."


            "That's my daughter," Insana said, giving a greasy, but affectionate smile.

 
            "Charming," Ritsuko dryly remarked as she began double-checking Insana's list of problem joints and areas of high stress. After working for a bit, the blonde slowly nodded. "I don't like the risks of direct contact, but the Commander will not be denied."


            Insana gave a lecherous grin.


            "Oh grow up!"


            The scientist cackled as he began to pace around his daughter. As he walked, he made notations on the cutaway schematics being displayed on the augmented reality shared by the trio. However some of his notes were only being shared with Ritsuko. "Overall beefing up structural members and joints should be straightforward enough. However, it will increase overall weight. Hmm... you'd have to be careful with certain floors: tile, specific types of plywood, untreated pine, cheap carpets, and even the lesser gauges of aluminum. If we do it right you'll be able to punch through, or dent all of them. Then again the same could be said of any competent ballroom dancer... or a woman of even modest weight with the right shoes."


            Controlling her breathing, Kiko leaned back and looked up at the ceiling. It was made out of the same armored plating as the walls, though there were more pipes that ran though the material. Each was mated with a gate-like cut-off valve with hydraulic rams that could seal the room in case of quarantine. "I don't have to have high heels you know," she said once she had her emotions in check.


            "Oh, I agree," Insana said as he slowly turned and gave Ritsuko a meaningful look.


            "No you don't, you're not blaming this on me!"


            Kiko narrowed her eyes at the blonde. "You know Doc, I had a theory that you were behind these," the gynoid kicked her unrestrained leg.


            Insana preened.


            "But only as a way to keep my father from loading me down with a bunch of crazy junk."


            Insana pouted. "I thought you liked the chest missiles."


            Kiko shivered. "No. Never, ever, ever."


            Ritsuko smirked but shook her head. "Sorry Kiko, it's a fair idea, but if I was going to modify your footwear to keep him out of trouble you'd have stiletto heels." She looked at the armored leg with its sleek feet and built in heels. "And maybe a few more centimeters of lift."


            Kiko laughed.


            Insana huffed. "So you can talk about fetish spiked ballerina boots, but I show one battle-maid getup and I'll never live it down, eh?"


            "The ballerina boots are the protection against the battle-maid getup." Kiko eyed her father.


            "Wait? You want 'em?" Insana tilted his head. "I've already warned you that your current heels might give you too much ground pressure. I suppose I could add a system of jets around a sort of skirting structure, or use an AT field to provide lift...." The gangly man rubbed his chin. "That would help with your other request."


            "I was joking," Kiko flatly said. She swiveled her head to Ritsuko. "He doesn't take humor well?"


            "No, and I wouldn't be surprised to find your feet modified after your next refit," Ritsuko sighed.


            Kiko returned to studying the quarantine valves mounted in the ceiling. "You know, the Ayanami don't have to deal with this."


            "Oh no, I just have to keep drugs and hormones balanced between three sisters at different stages in puberty. Do you have any idea how that affects their unique genetic condition?" Ritsuko demanded.


            "Unique. Hah" Insana chortled. "How much of this farce must we live with? Will you keep up the charade after your dear Commander decides to okay the Mass Production Project?"


            Both Ritsuko and Kiko slowly shifted their gaze to meet Insana's mad grin. The former with almost as much of a slow, mechanical motion as the latter.


            "What project?" Ritsuko demanded.


            "Oh, I'm sure that's not the name, no, he probably went with something grand... or maybe he called it something silly like Project Staple. The point is, Evangelions are hard to make but Pilots..." Insana put a hand on his daughter's left shoulder pylon. "Well, that's a different matter."


            "Are you two trying to distract me from disturbing battle-maid upgrades with creepy backup plans for if Wondergirl or Princess ever slip a gear and start killing everyone?"


            Noting Ritsuko's angry glare, Insana enthusiastically nodded to his daughter. "Yes! It was just a distraction. It's not like we're facing the risk of hyper proliferation of Evangelion technology and it's not like today's battle served as a proof-of-concept for tactical AT field combat."


            Insana's grip tightened. "Imagine: the Absolute Terror Field no longer being limited to a handful of titanic war machines. Just think of the potential." He let go of the shoulder pylon and straightened up. "I know the Commander has."


            Ritsuko frowned. "Tino.... I don't-"


            "What? You don't think the Commander would do it? You think he's got some sort of ethical limitations? Or maybe you think he's too stupid to think of it." Insana sneered. "Or... maybe... someone's whispering into his ear to convince him that such an idea isn't Scientifically feasible? Has someone been lying; about Science! Naughty girl."


            Looking vaguely queasy, Ritsuko took half a step back. "I'm pretty sure I should be offended by that."


            "Please, you're really not my type Akagi," Insana said, sounding mildly offended and a bit repulsed.


            Ritsuko held her tongue and kept herself from giving the obvious retort of: Yes we all know what your type is.


            "Don't worry doc, I'm sure you've got some pills that can take care of that. It's how you medicate the rest of us," Kiko adjusted her shoulders feeling the "plug" in the middle of her back that had been partially ejected to replenish its pharmacological payload.


            Ignoring the comment, Ritsuko adjusted her goggles.


            Once again, Kiko leaned back and looked up. "I'm guessing you'll need to do some spot repairs within my abdominal cavity, yes?"


            "It's not just there, you took some other damage and we could do some appliqué armor to help."


            Kiko raised a sculpted eyebrow.


            "It's only a temporary measure until we have time for a full structural refit." Insana looked to Ritsuko for confirmation who simply glared before nodding to his daughter.


            "And you don't want me to be awake for that procedure, right?"


            "Oh, I don't know about that." Insana leaned in to his face loomed over Kiko's "Aren't you curious to see how you tick? I can turn off your internal sensors... you could actually find the whole process very... pleasant."


            Kiko felt her stomach lurch. "Put me into Sleep Mode. Now!"


            "Really, is this so disquieting?"


            "I'm tired, too." Kiko stated.


            "You'll miss tonight's celebration," Ritsuko reminded.


            Kiko shook her head. "So? We didn't get her, and I'd rather be fixed first."


            Insana pulled up a few of the gynoid's biometrics. He shook his head in disappointment. "If you insist." Sighing, the scientist walked to the back of Kiko's reclined metal chair and with an exaggerated gesture hit the release on her pharmaceutical plug. Then using the Magi, directly plugged into her brain prosthesis via a thick cable, he entered a few commands.


            Kiko blinked. Her mouth opened. A confused noise came out for a second before her jaw slowly shut and a dreamy smile crossed her face as her eyelids closed. Her choker shifted to a soft orange, her frame stilled, and the various biometric readings settled down.


            Shifting her goggles, Ritsuko rubbed her forehead. "She was getting excitable there towards the end."


            "Maybe we should up the adaptive response on the mood levelers?" Insana suggested as he bent down and withdrew Kiko's plug.


            "And what happens if her brain prosthesis throws a fit and she gets stuck in a feedback loop?"


            "Depending on the loop it'll drop her like a string-cut marionette, push her into a berserk frenzy, induce paranoia, or, more likely, kill her... after one of the former options of course." Holding the cylindrical drug dispenser, Insana haughtily tilted his head. "I know the risks inherent in adaptive systems design." He took a spare Signal Termination Plug out of a waiting case and locked it into Kiko's back.


            "Yes, but it sounds like you don't care."


            "Ah... well yes." Walking to a work-table Insana laughed. He put the plug down into a cradle and fitted a few measuring probes to the distribution heads at the tip of the cylinder that released the chemical cocktails into the gynoid's bloodstream. He then hooked up another IV to a metering device fresh out of its sterile package to start drawing another suite of blood samples.


            He turned to look over his shoulder. "Well? Are you going to help or not? Even a stopgap maintenance program will require a lot of work and as you can see-" Insana waved to the surgical team that was finishing up on Kiko's knee. "I only have so many hands."


            Ritsuko found herself looking at the ceiling pipe valves before reluctantly walking to Insana's workbench. The augmented reality gave a somewhat cluttered overlay of tables, graphs, and callouts. She studied the Plug's output record and verified that it matched up with the records in Nigokiko's brain prosthesis.


            As she went through the data and correlated it with Kiko's stress logs, especially her combat record, Insana checked the mechanisms of the plug itself. "No, I think she's fine as she is," Ritsuko said as she appended her conclusions to the gynoid's pharmacological records.


            "Really? Not going to drug her to the gills like your girls?"


            "Please. The Ayanamis are the way they are due to proper socialization. And just a little nudge." Ritsuko huffed.


            "Yes, so very properly socialized: the party girl, the wall flower, and the killer princess."


            "Yes, you should have seen her younger days," Ritsuko frowned at Insana's triumphant sneer. "Oh don't give me that."


            Insana waved off the frayed cover story that was Misako's past. "Though I will concede our commander's parenting skills. Given he managed to raise the most normal of the lot. Makes me wonder who Nerv dug up to care for the other two... but it does give a fascinating example of nature versus nurture. Given the control factors." Insana's hands started typing out notes as he rambled. "Do you wonder if there's a paper to be written on it?"


            "Sure, but it'd be so classified that you could never publish it," Ritsuko replied.


            "Bah! Like I care for the accolades of lesser minds. But on the subject of research... what about your failure?"


            "Misako is hardly a failure," Ritsuko stated.


            "Yes, yes, proof of concept. And she can synchronize, but she's hardly combat grade is she? Even Unit 00 is capable of being deployed."


            "Aren't you too beyond such mundane concerns?"


            "Oh, I may loath the applied... engineering... side of things," Insana's voice calmed as he spat the word out like a plum pit. "But I do relish the developmental solutions."


            "The situation is in hand," Ritsuko stated. "You should focus on your projects."


            Insana grinned "Does that mean we can back off on the Operant Conditioning? Hmmmm?" He cantered from foot to foot.


            Ritsuko glanced at the charts. "I will... I'll make the case to the Commander. I think today's shown that our worries on her... worries about her can be downgraded."


            "Perhaps," Insana's gyrations had led him back to his daughter's peaceful form. He stilled. "Perhaps, we should wait until after her Block 2 upgrades. That would prove the stability of the Sapiency Driver project and ensure that the controls can be… adjusted. Just to be sure."


            Ritsuko noted the worry that crossed the man's face "One wouldn't want to unnecessarily risk the proof of your scientific brilliance, eh?" she asked with mock levity.


            "Would you?" Insana asked.

 

***************

 


            A pair of couches, an overstuffed chair, and a tall glass-cased pendulum clock surrounded a heavy oak coffee table. The whole furniture set sat on a thick green and black carpet which in turn hung within a vast void of featureless white. A young girl with curly, bright gold curls sat on one of the couches holding her knees to her chest.


            She wore a sky blue jumper with little halos patterned around the front and waist. Worry crossed her face and anxiety grew within her as she slowly rocked back and forth.


            Without outside reference time simply passed. Armi could have counted the ticks of the clock. She could have measured the pseudo heart-beats in the simulacrum of a form she assumed. The times she had rocked back and forth were also a scale. It was possible for her to simply summon a scrying window to look at how the... battle was doing. Though the simplest way to tell the time was for her to simply lift her head look at look at the clock Iry had built.


            Instead, she waited. She was alone. Iry had left, and Armi had learned that Mikki got angry when she asked about the sister who had been lost but not in battle. Armi had learned not to ask about her.


            Then Mikki had left, but that was normal. Her eldest sister was always coming, going, and being away for extended periods. Then Leli had left in a rush; she simply shed her guise and vanished. And Armi was alone.


            She waited. Resting her head on her knees she concentrated. Distantly, distantly, she could feel her sisters. There were three she knew and there were the... others. Somewhat relieved, she resumed her waiting.


            Eventually, Armi lifted her head. Just off the carpeting, a black dot had appeared, hanging in the white void. Starting as a mere pinhead in size, the inky aperture rapidly grew, but only in two dimensions. Soon it had become a circular disk, no thicker than the shaft of a pin. It hung facing the furniture set.


            The Angel's mood immediately brightened as the surface of the disk rippled and Mikki stepped through. She wore an odd bodysuit and her form looked strangely pale and wraith-like. However, Armi was more shocked by the mess her elder sister's auburn hair was, the tips of which were scattered every which way.


            Her face also had a manic, almost fearful expression. She actually looked over her shoulder as she stepped onto the carpet and nearly stumbled into the table. Eyes flashing red, Mikki kicked the table into a couch and spun to face both the disk and Armi.


            The surface of the disk rippled again. Leli stepped through her dusky face bearing a severe somberness that Armi found equally frightening to Mikki's raging visage. Unlike Mikki her short pale blonde hair was still pristine and neat. As Leli walked towards her sisters the disk fluttered and flowed towards her. The obsidian aperture poured over her body and froze into place becoming an equally inky starched and prim sun dress. White buttons, cuffs, and trim, which only served to highlight the darkness of the dress itself.


            "And what were you doing?" Mikki demanded as she loomed over Armi.


            The young Angel whimpered.


            Leli positioned herself a few steps to the side, but ready to stand between her sisters.


            "Sleeping? Yes, I suppose you would be." Mikki shook her finger. "It's a good thing I need you." She shook her leg. "The humans will pay. Tokyo 3 will burn. For their blasphemies, Nerv will be eradicated. That human will wish I had killed him today. His own species will keep him alive, ensuring that he survives my wrath. He'll learn to hate humanity; they'll extend his suffering."


            "Yes, imprisoning Mother is an unforgivable crime," Leli dryly noted.


            Mikki spun on her heel and glared at the darkly-dressed Angel.

 
            Leli simply smiled and looked to her clock.


            "Traitors, the lot of you," Mikki hissed as she kicked the upturned table a second time. It bumped up the back of the couch before tumbling back down onto the carpeting.


            Tilting her head, Leli slowly returned to attention back to her sister. "Oh? If I were to follow our fallen sister's path, why did I save you?"


            Mikki glowered.


            "Nothing would be required." Leli straightened the hem of her dress. "I stay here. You get killed by atomic artillery, Azazel missiles, or cut to ribbons. Or perhaps the abominations simply eat your soul? Whichever way, our traitor of a sister wins."


            Blinking, Mikki looked at her sister. Her hands flexed and she breathed a few times. Soon she had regained a measure of composure. "You think you're pretty clever?" Mikki asked in a nearly even and civil tone.


            Leli shook her head. "No, I'm curious." She turned on her heel, first looking at Armi then at her clock.


            Mikki let the comment pass. She knew her sister was simply stating her nature and not, blessedly, leveling an inquiry into Mikki's own actions.


            "I suppose I was… short tempered." Mikki ran a hand through her hair straightening it back into her customery bob.


            "Are you feeling better?" Armi warily asked.


            Mikki looked to the young Angel, to her backup plan, and smiled. "A bit, I've still got you two and that's a start."


            "We have a start; we have a goal; what next?" Leli stated.


            "We have more sisters." Mikki sat down on the couch and pushed the overturned table out of the way. "And we have something else, something our Enemy has forgotten: our kind learned treason from the humans."

 

***************

 


            The door to the roof opened before Toji and the bearish figure of Igor stepped aside. The Pilot nodded to the man who carried a Kalashnikov at the low ready. The rifle looking almost like a toy in his meaty hands.


            Studying the pilot, the Azazel officer almost seemed to rumble as he thought. After several seconds, he nodded and stepped aside. Toji walked past him and noted that at least three squads of Naval Infantry were positioned near the edges of the roof. Surrounded by the various small arms and crew served weapons was a picnic. Down to the cooler and rolled out seafoam green blanket.


            "We're still good? On fallout?" Toji clarified pointing to one of the yellow and black detectors mounted on the roof. A couple Azacel troops stood by the nearest sniffer; one of which had a small, if blocky, PDA cabled into the device.


            "Bomb... not so bad. Wind good." Igor looked off to the South and the West.


            Feeling the wind at his back, Toji nodded. "I'm betting Chubu's pretty pissed at us... at me."


            Igor tilted his head, a slow process given his massive bulk.


            "That's the region just to the West of us. This is part of the Kanto region. Hell, maybe my bomb went off in Shizuoka Prefecture."


            "A, a geo-political boundary above prefecture in scale," Igor nodded. "Your job kill Angels. You took shot."


            "Yeah, Captain Ayanami didn't even yell at me. Even gave me a beer. Scary lady," he shook his head and resumed walking across the roof. Flins was the next thing he noticed. The massive grey puppy had to be 40 kilograms. And instead of being puppy gangly the dog looked rather solid, which made Toji wonder just how big and stoutly strong the beast would be as an adult. Judging by Flins' still oversized paws, Toji was not sure he wanted to find out.


            The dog lifted his head up from his Mistress' side sniffed the air and after a moment's thought his dour almost threatening look broke into a big puppyish grin with a lolling tongue. Flins stretched up and got to his feet, then looked to Shinju and sat back down.


            Next Toji saw Rei, who was dressed in a plain white sundress. Reading one of her seemingly endless romance novels, she sat with her knees crossed. Also positioned near Shinju, she too looked up caught Toji's eye.  Afterwards she lowered her book, relaxed.


            Finally, Toji took in the Fourth Child. His pace stopped. Given the picnic, he expected her to be wearing something... frilly or at least flouncy. Or even just wear the uniform she had on during the reception. Instead she wore pale blue pants and a purple blouse with a bit of white trim. Unbound, her hair blew in the breeze. Toji noted that her headband was on the blanket, atop the white gloves that the clone normally wore. Shinju sat with her legs apart. Her waist rolled a bit to the left to give a more comfortable seat given the holster on her hip.


            She looked up to Toji and smiled.


            "You guys left early," he said.


            "You too," Rei said, not looking up from her book.


            "Well... tough fight today," the Fifth Child stated as he sat down. He gave her another look and nodded, seemingly to himself.


            Shinju nodded and looked back out to the south at Tokyo Three's skyline and just beyond it Lake Ashinoko. "Have you heard anything new about Kiko?"


            "Red?" Toji shrugged. "Last I checked, she's sleeping while they work on her."


            Shinju nodded.


            "I don't think she'll mind missing that celebration," Toji shrugged. Even the Azazel troops were more subdued, though it seemed more for the benefit of the Children. "But the docs think she'll be okay. She's a tough girl. Given all that's happened to her."


            Putting a hand on Flins' head, Shinju gave a little smile.


            Toji took a peak at the cooler, noticed that there was more than enough for two people, and pulled out a can of juice. "I'm surprised my sister and Nozomi aren't up here."


            "I'm surprised you're not with your friend," Shinju said, almost sharply.


            Wincing Toji took a sip. "Yeah... not something I can talk with him about. Today was..." He sighed.


            Rei put down her book. "Today you preformed adequately," she said almost encouragingly.


            "Yeah, crazy bitch just ran away." Toji bowed his head. "Sorry for that."


            "You were aiming at a person-sized target moving at mach 5 at a range of over fourteen kilometers, and you missed by just a hundred meters," Shinju said with a tiny bit of awe.


            "Jealousy? Because you didn't get to fire it?" Toji asked. "Besides, close doesn't count."


            "Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades," Shinju said.


            "Yeah, well you'd think nuclear weapons would be on that list. But no... She just buried herself. Azazel would have done better."


            "They didn't have a shot," Rei stated.


            "Yeah, yeah, they'd have shot if they did, doesn't help me. Anyway... I did what I had to, just wasn't enough. How're you holding up? I mean you actually were toe to toe with that crazy bi- err.... thing."


            Shinju blinked. "We are soldiers; foul language is the least of the innocence we have lost. And we are trained by Russians, a people that have raised obscenity into a culture with its own art, language and embassies But... you still try to protect." Shinju's smile grew but gained a wistful edge.


            Off to the side Igor's enthusiastic grin gave little doubt to his approval.


            "So Red's being looked after." Toji coughed into his hand.


            Rei put her book down and gave him a flat look.


            Reaching out to pet Flins, Toji met her gaze. "You were covered in blood... sure not the first time, but this time... no that's a point too. You've been fighting for so long you're an Ace. So..." Toji leaned back and looked out over the lake. "Does it even matter that this time you fought the alien monster without your giant robot?"


            Shinju exhaled. "My heart was open," she coldly stated.


            Toji had watched the replay of Shinju and Kiko's combat camera footage in the debrief. He also knew that the Fourth Child, the Ace of Spades, was more inclined to scream her battle cry when up to her arms in gore... not gently, wearily, whisper it.


            The Fifth Child returned to the cooler and rummaged around until he found small dark chocolate cake cut into quarters. His internal debate on taking a section was interrupted by the youngest clone.


            "It's an interesting feeling." Shinju said as she ran a hand along her necklace adorned with half a dozen little crystal charms. "Each fight reinforced things; I expected the same things to happen this time. I never realized things could be different."


            "Well, it was your first time out of the Evangelion. And even with all your training and um-" he glanced at the Russians "-powers... it's going to be a shock."


            "Given Azazel's support in deploying and extracting Shinju and Nigokiko today, I believe they are well aware of our special abilities. Not counting Lieutenant Khariton's personal role in said mission," Rei said her tone becoming almost chiding with the last sentence.


            Shinju giggled, then paused and gave a little sigh. "But that's not the problem."


            "Then what is?" Toji asked.


            Pulling her knees up and wrapping her arms around them, the small clone leaned forward. "I lost."


            "Huh?" Toji blinked. "Come on, I'm the one that screwed up. I missed her with a damn nuke. If anyone lost today then it's me."


            Flins made a whine and rolled over to sit up and lean against his mistress' leg.


            Shinju blushed and turned away. "It sounds stupid but... that helps... I suppose you understand what it's like."


            Toji rubbed his neck. It was something he expected from Kiko or more likely Asuka. As it seemed hard to imagine Kiko forgetting her defeat.


            "It sounds so arrogant doesn't it?" Shinju lowered her head. "But it's easy to be humble if you're the Ace. When I fight I win; I kill. That's why I exist." She pulled herself up and a smile spread across her face until her lips split and she grinned toothily. "But I did make her bleed, didn't I? We both did."


            "Uh...." Staring at the grinning, crimson-eyed clone, Toji felt his heart speed up. It was almost like being around Kiko when her choker started to flash from yellow to red. "You're worried?"


            "Aren't you?" Shinju made a thoughtful noise and scratched the ear of the puppy that had leaned on her knee.  "Today the war could have been over;" she looked at her hand and flexed her fingers. "We were so close."

            "Even without your Eva, you gleefully gutted her as she tossed cars at you. This is the same person that can outrun jets and dodged a damn nuke." Toji rubbed his forehead.


            "Close, but we still failed." Shinju looked up from her scarred palm.


            "I think you can at least count it as a draw," he added glancing to Rei for support.


            The older clone nodded.


            Shinju's eyes narrowed and the light caught on her pupils.


            Feeling a chill on his spine, Toji shivered.


            The pre-teen clone broke off and looked down at herself and then sighed as she petted her puppy. "I guess I did get more attached to winning. Ego.... huh."


            "That surprises you? You Pilot a giant robot, fight god-like aliens, and dress up like a little princess. Of course you're going to have a bit of pride. Heck, your nickname is Princess."


            Shinju blushed.


            "At least you don't have it as bad as Asuka."


            Tilting her head, Shinju took in the Fifth child's word choice. "Oh? What about Kiko?" she asked after considering her own words.


            Toji nodded. "I can see why... well no, not really. If I ended up as a cyborg I'd still use my name. You know what I mean?"


            Shinju stared at him for a couple seconds then slowly blinked.


            "Err, right. But that's the whole point. I guess Asuka, well Kiko, doesn't want to be reminded of who she was. So you think you're having a hard time losing, just look at her."


            Shinju pulled her knees in tighter and gave a sad little sigh.


            "Being an older brother must have given you extensive experience on reassuring young girls." Rei stated, fixing her eyes onto Toji.


            "Asuka does have it worse. Sure you girls can pass as human and she can't but there's more." Toji paused to take a sip and resumed in a quieter voice. "You've always been what you are right? I mean being a grown for battle and science can't be nice but at least you're used to it. It's not like Asuka, human one day, whole new body the next."


            Shinju lifted her head off her knees. She looked at the burns across her palms before interlacing her fingers and resting her chin on her knuckles. She studied Toji for a few seconds. Watching his increasing unease helped keep her mind occupied.


            Rei looked to her sister and after some consideration picked her book back up. She did want to see how the countess would sabotage the duel so that the captain would overcome the nefarious baron's son she had been betrothed to.


            "Well I mean..." Toji coughed and put his drink down. "Look I don't know. I'm just a normal guy, you know? I was dropped into all this."


            Shinju's stare softened, though a bit of jealousy did creep into her mind. "You're right. Kiko does have it harder," Shinju quietly admitted before sighing into her hands.


            Toji gave a slight chuckle. "It's funny, take away the adorable bravado and you seem a lot less confident and somehow... I dunno older?"


            Rei put her book down.


            Looking at two sets of staring red eyes, Toji had to fight to keep himself from scooting back.


            "What? It's like more.. mature. Less wide-eyed stab-em-in-the-head gung-ho idealism."


            Rubbing Flins' belly, Shinju seemed to take in Toji's words. She then freed a hand and reached out to her gloves. The puppy blinked out of his happy daze to watch his mistress. Once she had pulled on the white gloves, she gave the dog a quick pat before taking her hairband.


            Shinju took a moment to straighten the twin purple bows on either side of the hairband. She then slowly and deliberately slipped it behind her ears. After straightening the band, she pulled her hair back and smoothed it down. Giving the bows a final adjustment and tugging at the cuffs of her gloves, Shinju found a small smile growing on her lips. The clone raised her head, and with her eyes now playfully shining her grin grew as she looked over Toji.


            "Er... you okay, Princess?"


            "I am? Maybe." Shinju's voice was distant as she scratched Flins behind the ear. "You think I'm idealistic?"


            "Sure. You don't ever give up. You always think we'll win. Even when the nukes are flying... especially when the nukes are flying," Toji added in a mutter.


            "Bomb is friend," Shinju agreed, her tone eager if a bit mellow.


            "Yeah, sure. So... you're okay?" Toji scooted forward to get a better seat on the picnic blanket.


            "You're concerned for me?"


            "Uh yeah, today's fight was... different. And you seem a bit more... Hey Rei what's the word? For being quiet and well... kinda like you but due to being unsocial and awkward instead of just not bein' a talker?"


            Rei stared for a couple seconds. "So not introverted then? Are you looking for withdrawn, standoffish? Or maybe shy is the word eluding you?"


            "Eh, close enough. Sorry if I'm pressuring you, Shinju," Toji shrugged. "It's just... well you're friends with my sister so I know how things can get."


            Shinju felt her stomach knot up. "You see me as a little sister?"


            "What? I've talked with Kiko about the same stuff," Toji's pace had sped up with nervousness. He shifted to look out over the skyline. "We're a team. Heck, I'd be nosing into Rei... well if she ever had a problem." Toji turned to Rei who had an expression that almost looked like a bemused grin. "The problems of being the normal sibling, eh?"


            "Is it because we're all girls?"


            Toji exhaled. "Eh... probably. But come'on if there were another male Pilot I'd probably be on his case too. It's like with Kensuke..." Toji sighed. "Guy was my best friend but he never got teamwork... I kept telling him there was more to sports than just teasing the geeks and the fat kids. I mean it's not like he was the last boy ever picked... he did have pretty good stamina from all those silly 'recon missions' he did camping out in the woods."


            "Fascinating Warrant Suzuhara. I can see the burden normality has placed on you," Rei noted as she pointedly resumed reading her book.


            "What?" Toji looked back down at the picnic blanket and the two clones. "Huh..."


            Now sitting straight, Shinju scratched Flins' neck. The giant puppy rolled to his feet and sat up, his seated height a bit taller than Shinju's.


            "You feeling better?" Toji asked.


            Shinju looked to Rei before replying. "Yes, Suzuhara, I will endure."


            Rei gave a guarded look, but eventually nodded.


            "Oh." Toji scratched his shoulder. "Well... that's good right?"


            Shinju stared.


            A frown flickered on Rei's face.


            "What? Enduring's good?" Toji looked to the Azazel guards for help. "Isn't it?"


            "You do know what Shinju is talking about?" Rei asked.


            "Pushing forward and continuing to fight no matter the cost and sacrifice," Toji chuckled. "Rei, I get the whole teamwork and fight for victory thing. Makes sense."


            "Being a jock has its advantages then?" Shinju said, her expression brightening.


            "Well, yeah. " Toji crossed his arms. "Now why're you two acting so weird?"


            The clones blinked.


            "Weird for you two." Toji clarified. "I mean, did you want me to challenge your whole 'I will endure' thing?"


            Shinju looked down.


            Rei slowly slipped her arm around Shinju.


            "Huh, so you are feeling sad?" Toji asked.


            "Your investigative skill has made that revelation," Rei stated, with some sympathy.

            "You worried about... um... after the fight?"


            Shinju nodded.


            "Well, it's not like you really lost. I mean, no Third Impact."


            "No... as you say, if we lose there is no future."


            "What?" Toji's head jerked as he worked out the options. "Oh damn..."


            Making the same realization, Rei squeezed tighter.


            "So you can endure everything but victory?" Toji quietly asked.


            "Today we came close to winning. To ending this war." Leaning on her dog and her sister, Shinju sighed. "I started to think... what would I do then?"


            "Go back to what you were doing before Nerv drafted you?" Toji guessed.


            Shinju's eyes widened. She looked back to the horizon. The question loomed in her mind: what would she do after the war?


            Toji patiently waited for an answer.


            "Yes. Exactly, I'd go back to what I was doing.. before," the clone distantly replied.  "What about you?"


            "Me?"


            "You avoid your sister, your father, your friend, your girlfriend."


            "Hey Hikari's not my-"


            Shinju stared and cut Toji off. "You avoid all those people and instead you come here. To see if I am okay. What about you? You must have heard the damage estimates."


            Toji looked down and found that Flins had crept up to him "Don't wanna talk about that," he mumbled petting the giant puppy.


            "Forty meter tall war machines in urban combat. Collateral damage is inevitable," Shinju stated.


            "Yeah, there's crushing a few cars or... steppin' on someone but this was a nuke. We're supposed to be the alternative to nuclear weapons." Toji shivered. "I didn't even... I mean I just got the orders and well..." He stared off.


            Shinju cupped her chin with a gloved hand. "Would you have fired if you knew you were to miss?


            "Of course not, I'm not a monster. Look, it's not that simple."


            "You had a chance to stop the enemy; you took it. Collateral damage happens, nothing else would have scratched her, not that far away. That's why she ran, why she hid. She couldn't handle a straight up fight, not against two Evas."


            "Thanks," Toji sighed.


            "Would you rather Azazel took the shot?"


            "Yes! Their weapons are more accurate."


            "And more powerful. It would have been a larger charge then, and the delay would have been even longer."


            "Yeah, yeah, more could have, would have, died, but she would have been killed to. Hell, I know they wouldn't have cared if Mikki was over a city when they fired. We've seen them bomb urban areas before. Really.. I got lucky. I mean…"


            Shinju politely waited for Toji to resume his line of thought.


            "Misako won't tell me how many, says the damage assessment is ongoing but, I remember a couple of highways and I know there were some towns over there. Least around that mountain it wasn't too populated. Maybe just a few thousand." Toji closed his eyes and exhaled. "Yeah, lucky," he croaked out his voice scratchy and choked.


            "It could have been worse." Shinju assured. "It will be worse," she then added. "At least you're not being blamed."


            "After the Little Impact? Hell, I'd say I could have gotten away with nuking Kobe. Sure Japan'd be angry at me but the rest of the world? They'd be lining up to throw me parades. Damn that's shitty."


            "So, that makes it better?" Shinju asked putting a gloved finger to her lip.


            "No it just makes it the way things are." Toji's shoulders slumped. "I know. It's these choices... I don't like what the war's turning us into. Who we're becoming. You know?"


            Shinju tilted her head


            "That doesn't mean I won't do it, I mean... someone has to right?"


            "You're not going to run away?" Rei asked.


            Toji looked insulted, then he looked thoughtful. "No, I want to, but I can't. I know I'll feel worse when today really hits me, especially after the news blackout gets lifted, but that's no excuse."


            "And there's what your sister would think of you," Shinju said, gently reminding Toji of how Commander Ikari's threatened Toji into being Unit 03's Pilot.


            "Yeah… yeah," Toji resumed looking back over the lake. "You know Rei, I'm wondering if you don't have it better than me. At least your anxiety over your little sister is different, and I guess you're not alone."


            Rei looked up from her book, and gave a slow nod.

 

***************

 


            Slowly tapping her pen against her coffee cup, Misako leaned over the console. She moved the thick barreled aluminum pen to the keyboard and hit a button. In front of her, a giant wall display began scrolling video. One corner had an overhead map with several icons and chevrons. Below it was an image from an UAV orbiting the parking garage. To the other side was the quartet of camera feeds from the four Pilots. Currently they were not showing much of interest. Two gave the interior of the Evangelion cages, while the other two showed the interior of an Azazel van.


            However, the center of the display was dominated by a transcript of Inspector Kaji's conversation with the Angel. As the synchronized recordings played forward a red line scrolled down the transcript.


            Sitting at the workstation next to the clone was Lieutenant Makoto Hyuga. The brown-haired officer was currently checking the tracking on the footage that had been sent over by Azazel and matching it up with the overall map. He felt the footage from the Air Wing was more important. After all, that was where the Angel had escaped, but the Captain had insisted that they start chronologically.


            "Okay... I think I got the sniper team's data set in. Damn Russian didn't sync his clock," Makoto grumbled as he added the camera feed from the spotter on the sniper team. A somewhat grainy video appeared on the main display showing the lanky, stubbly spy talking with the sleekly dressed auburn-haired secretary.

 
             Captain Ayanami watched the grey-eyed woman beckon towards Kaji. She watched the spy laugh. The two verbally sparred and danced over issues of betrayal and destruction.


            "It's hard to believe she's not human," Makoto stated as the image of Kaji in the spotter's scope bowed his head and his wire picked up him calling the Angel "Miss Nagisa."


            Pausing the playback, Misako hardly glanced at her subordinate. "You've seen the rest of the footage."


            "Well... yeah, I mean yes Ma'am." Feeling slightly chilled, Makoto turned back to his display. He had been working alone when the Captain came into the room and commandeered one of the workstations. It seemed that traditional the post-battle celebration had been cut short.


            He concentrated on making some notes about the subjects the Angel had ranted about: Seele's Ninth Project, the Evangelion Project, the Artificial Evolution Laboratory, the Katsuragi Expedition. He was a bit surprised that the Dummy Plug project or some type of Ayanami project was not in that list.


            Makoto expressed some relief that Shigeru had volunteered to collate today's battle damage assessment. It was a task he would rather not do himself, but Makoto guessed that Shigeru did it to keep Maya from having to make the casualty surveys.


            "I suppose you have your own guesses on what our Miss Nagisa is," Misako said after restarting the playback.


            "Hybridization," Makoto said, keeping his attention focused on his own work.


            Misako gave an irritated sigh.


            Makoto winced.


            "No... not that. I think you're right. The performance of my sister and the Second Child show that clearly enough. Humans, or near enough, using AT fields."


            The junior officer nodded.


            "No, what annoys me is you walking on eggshells." Misako's hand shot out and she pulled Makoto around by the shoulder. "Is it really that intimidating?" she demanded.


            Makoto stared. "No Ma'am!"


            Misako bit her lip. "Shit.... my eyes aren't glowing or doing anything weird like that?"


            "Err... nope? Should they be?"


            "No not at all!" Misako laughed then pensively bit her lip.


            Pushing his glasses back up, Makoto found himself recalling the concerns he had expressed with Maya and Shigeru. The revelation that the Angels were being led by a half-human hybrid created by some rival organization to Nerv was the final piece. Combined with the AT training all the Pilots, (save the Fifth) had received, it made it obvious that the Ayanamis were Half-Angel constructs built to Pilot Evangelions.


            Which leant strong support to some of the things Maya had hinted at. Such as the... alternatives to creating Nigokiko from Evangelion parts and the Second Child's nearly dead remains.


            Makoto kicked against the floor, swiveling his chair back to his workstation. It all came down to the timing. Replacing a dead Pilot and a dead tactical Commander were to be expected. Not for the first time, Makoto wondered exactly what kind of boy the Third Child was.


            He pushed those thoughts aside. It was not his part to question the... masculinity of the Commander's late son. However the late Captain Katsuragi raised other questions. Questions, that at first seemed to have been reduced due to the obvious similarities between the Ayanami sisters.


            Misako had resumed the playback, and Makoto had started organizing later footage and adding in callouts to the time specific events happened. "It's a horrible thing. We send children to fight in our place, because the alternative is worse. For all their horrors, Evangelions are the scalpel while the nukes are the broadsword. And what happens? We end up using both."


            Makoto nodded and continued his train of thought. With the strong suggestion that all three Ayanami where constructs much like Miss Nagisa, strong similarities between the sisters would be expected, indeed inevitable. Thus the areas where Captain Ayanami's personality differed from the First Child's pointed to the obvious, if fantastical, conclusion.


            Watching the Angel being knocked down by the sharpshooter and get up uninjured, Makoto noted that the fantastical was no barrier to the possible. Leaning back, he stole a glance at the Captain.


            Absorbed in her work, Misako typed with her left hand while tapping against the table with the pen in her right. After taking the shot, the sniper team had retreated. Ending the video component of the battle. Then came the rushed heavy breathing as Kaji ran, jumped, and the satchel charge went off.


            Still stealing glances, Makoto had already queued up Shinju's and Kiko's camera feeds.


            Watching them get out of the van, Misako once again stopped the playback. She exhaled. "Is something the matter Lieutenant?" the clone asked, without looking towards her subordinate.


            Inwardly groaning, Makoto ran a hand through his slicked back hair. "How blunt do you want it, Ma'am?"


            Misako spun in the chair to face Makoto. "Don't worry about my delicate sensibilities."


            "Well..." Makoto cleared his throat. "It's a bit... intimidating."


            A pale blue eyebrow arched up. "The AT Fields? Believe me, it's more of a curse than you think. At least for me."


            Makoto gestured to the screen. "It's one thing to see a giant robot do it, it's one thing to see practiced in the laboratory. It's another thing to see a little girl blow apart a young woman while getting cars thrown at her. Nerv's little Princess is scary enough without god-like powers," he added in a low voice.


            "And this applies to me as well," the senior Ayanami surmised.


            "You are Shinju's elder sister Misa... chan," Makoto said hoping the emphasis would get his point across.


            This time both Misako's eyebrows went up before her red eyes narrowed. "Right, that is a complication."


            Strangely, Makoto found himself feeling a bit of relief at her confirmation. At least he knew he was not crazy, and not being, unduly, paranoid. "It's to be expected. I mean... the whole AT powers thing can't be hidden, not really. Azazel knows it. The JSSDF know it. Even the Americans know it thanks to that giant plane of theirs."


            Tilting her head, Misako crossed her arms. "And how much do you think they would have figured?"


            Makoto nodded, realizing his suspicions were all but confirmed. She would not ask that question if the Ayanami were simply part-angel constructs. "Well... the full story requires knowing –um- Katsuragi."


            Misako clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth and in a very un-Ayanami gesture slumped and looked up at the ceiling. "Anti-social... small favor at least."


            "And helps that most of your-" he paused to find the right word. "Mutual friends, with your predecessor are all in Nerv." Makoto then winced at Misako's sad little nod.


            Misako's head snapped back down. "What about, Shinju?"


            Makoto wondered why she had not asked about Rei. Then again, Rei had been around Tokyo 3 for years, so he supposed whoever she had been "first" had more time to pass from memory. "I guess, anyone that knew the Third would be in a position to 'get' the story as it were."


            "You figured it out," Misako stated.


            Makoto pointedly looked down at his knees. "Well there's the name similarity, but that's really just a guess, but the circumstantial evidence is pretty strong, given who died with Katsuragi."


            Misako sighed. "I told, Ritsuko it was a stupid cover story."


            Makoto straightened his shoulder "So um... about, well, the thing that I'm making sure to not even suggest."


            The clone waved her hand. "Please, given what's in your skull, if Nerv thought you'd breathe a word of it to anyone we'd have thrown you into a dark hole to rot," Misako coolly and causally said.


            Makoto wondered how literal she was being. The Geo Front did have an abundance of very deep and very large holes.


            "And then probably have sent someone in with something shiny and sharp to make sure," she added after a bit of thought.


            "Misa... err.. Ma'am. That really does not fill me with relief."


            Misako tapped the edge of her console with her pen.


            Makoto noticed that there were crown like bevels cut on the end of the aluminum framed instrument, and that the front consisted of a strong point. Not only could it double as a Kubotan, but either end of the pen could work as a fairly well improvised weapon. Even worse, Makoto knew she carried at least one sidearm and at least two full fixed blade combat knives. So having a tertiary device spoke of... preparedness.


            The tapping stopped with a heavy thunk. Misako looked back to her subordinate. "This is Nerv, Lieutenant. Dark, dangerous secrets are our coin. The time for being uncomfortable with what you know, with what you think you know, has long passed."

            Makoto pulled himself back up and straightened his glasses. "No, if anything I feel better."


            "Really?"


            "I no longer feel like I'm seeing a ghost. Seeing a person and not knowing-" Makoto blinked. "Oh hell, you must know exactly what it's like."


            "Feigning unfamiliarity was..." Misako let her sentence drift off as she stared out past the wall. "Damn, listen to me, I really do sound like her." She flexed one of her hands, smaller and more delicate than before, but so very much hers.


            "Ma'am?"


            Misako slowly shook her head. "No. There's things I really can't talk about," she put the pen down and put her hand over Makoto's. "But I appreciate having friends; friends that know... me."


            Looking at her hand, Makoto coughed. The awkward feeling increased until she removed her hand. "Well, it's a shame that you have to keep this from your family and –uh- friends." As he talked, the awkwardness increased once again; he recalled another similarity between Captain Katsuragi and her "replacement".


            No friends, no family, no contacts outside of Nerv. If you took away her sisters the elder Ayanami seemed as isolated as Katsuragi, and even then Rei had lived here since the Human Evolutionary Lab days. And Shinju, for her part, seemed so gung-ho Eva Pilot that Makoto had a hard time linking the Nerv's Pretty Princess with what little he knew about the Third Child.


            Giving one final squeeze with her hand before withdrawing, Misako's smile was bittersweet and sad. "I have Ritsuko, and you guys. It's hard, but secrets and lies..." Her eyes narrowed. "It's all secrets and lies with these people."


            "You okay?" Makoto glanced from her eyes to the paused display screen.


            "Sure, sure. I knew what I was signing on for. I wanted revenge against the Angels, I didn't care about the cost." the captain flexed her hands and gave a harsh laugh. "Good thing 'eh?"


            "Misako?" Makoto asked stressing the latter part of her name.


            "Right, I also wanted to ensure my sisters were in the best of hands." Another sad laugh. "And I even screwed that up. At least I made sure Shinju came out okay."


            Unsure of what to say, Makoto held his tongue and simply nodded. The captain seemed to be being a bit too "free" with her words. Though it did seem to answer why whatever process that had transferred the Third Child into a younger Ayanami clone had also, and apparently precedingly, been done to transfer Misato into an older clone. Misako was the guinea pig. If the process worked on her, then it would work for the Third Child.


            Misako shook her head. "Sorry for being so chatty."


            "What? I mean, it's a bit... open but you're not saying much."


            Misako snickered before regaining her composure. "I suppose moving back in with Rei is rubbing off on me. She always was quiet growing up. And little Shinju took after her, you know how idolizing little sisters can get."


            "I have a younger brother, he's at the academy now," Makoto shrugged. He wondered how much of what the Captain had said was the cover story, and how much was from what Misako, Misato, had experienced.


            "Tactical or Scientific?" Misako asked as she leaned back a bit.


            "VSTOL mechanic," Makoto admitted.


            "It's a good skill. There'll always be war machines, and always be war. He'll never go hungry."


            Makoto gave a nervous laugh. "I guess."


            "Will he get deployed to Tokyo 3?"


            "I don't know. It's too early," Makoto idly worked at his keyboard. "I guess it'd be nice to have Shiro close by but you know what this posting's like." He gestured with his head at some of the battle footage.


            Misako nodded.


            The door slid open and Misako hit a couple keys locking all the display screens.


            "My, someone's paranoid," Kaji chuckled as he stepped into the darkened room.


            "Inspector." Misako gave a stiff nod. Once the door closed behind the spook, she unlocked the displays. "You still need to submit your report."


            Shaking his head, Kaji pulled up a chair. "I'm working on it. But isn't it redundant?" He eyed some of the video feeds.


            "That's the procedure," Misako stated.


            "So cold," Kaji stated.


            The clone glared.


            "Fine." Laughing, Kaji gave Makoto a bare glance. "Sorry, it's just been one of those days."


            "Really, I hadn't noticed."


            Kaji's smirk vanished, replaced with concern. "How are your sisters? That battle really got out of hand."


            Misako crossed her arms.


            Kaji felt her eyes lock onto him and simply stare. A chill ran down his spine. His eyes darted to the door then back to Misako.


            The clone sighed.


            Kaji gave a weak smile. Misako might be weaker than Mikki, but she was still an Ayanami.  And this time he had no satchel charge,  no Azazel support team. "Fine, I do have some.... questions."


            Misako rolled her fingers in a "hurry up" gesture.


            Now Kaji was silent as he looked to Makoto.


            "I can go out and get some coffee," Makoto offered.


            "No need," Misako held up her hand. "This shouldn't take long."


            "If you insist," Kaji's grin returned. "I'll just note that there seems to be more than a few similarities between the results of this 'Ninth Project' and some work being done right here."


            Misako nodded slightly.


            "The AT fields are obvious, but you and your sisters. I mean this is all a bit on the nose," Kaji leaned forward and his voice dropped to a whisper. "And you're a lot older than fourteen Miss Ayanami."


            "Captain," Misako automatically corrected. She then began to laugh.


            "Huh," Kaji slowly said.


            "Um, Inspector, are you going to get to the great secret?" Makoto gingerly asked. "As interesting as this background information is, we're well aware of it. We do work here, and the Captain's best friend is the head of Project E."


            "Yes, very convenient, no?" Kaji asked, his tone gaining an edge. "I bet she was friends with both Doctor Akagis."


            "Hardly," Misako snorted. "Naoko was a crazy old hag."


            "Huh." Kaji's eyebrow rose.


            "Is that all?" Misako tapped her fingers against her armrest.


            "Fine. The same people that funded the Ninth Project bankrolled the Katsuragi Expedition."


            Misako blinked. She straightened her back and continued to tap the armrest. She nodded once, then nodded a second time. "Ah."


            "Did you know that?" Kaji asked, his smugness returning.


            "First the Second Impact, now the Little Impact, yes, I can see the same type of reckless ambition behind both." Misako flexed her hand. "I'm guessing they were behind other... projects too?"


            "You would not be wrong," Kaji admitted.


            "Why tell us? Why not your superiors?"


            "You mean Ikari?" Kaji asked.


            "Among others." Misako gave a tight smile. "You being here, you letting the good Lieutenant stay here implies you want Nerv Tactical." She turned to her keyboard and opened another video window. "What's your goal? Paranoia? Distrust? Maybe a global conspiracy of some type of Scientific Authority?"


            "You can't deny that science has become unmoored. We can blame the Second Impact for opening a Pandora's Box, for starting a mad science arms race. But we know that to be a lie. You of all people know that Nerv, or at least its predecessors were dabbling in weaponizing Angels, before the Impact."


            Makoto snorted but held his tongue. He looked over to Misako and saw her nod slightly. The Inspector was in the dark. Misako Ayanami was created after the Second Impact, and if Makoto was right well after the Impact. However, that bit of information was something Special Inspector Kaji was not aware of, and it colored his conclusions.


            "Not just Nerv, Lieutenant," Kaji shook his head. "Competitors too. That's my worry. The Katsuragi Expedition must not have been the first. Maybe it was the first to Antarctica, but there were others."


            "So this 'Scientific Authority' was preparing for the Angel War before it started? Or did they start it themselves?"


            "That's the thing, they did." Kaji laughed. "Accidently. Even after all this destruction you're missing the truth about this war."


            "It's a distraction?" Misako ventured.


            Kaji briefly frowned.


            "You're painting the picture of a cabal of sinister scientist dabbling in eldritch forces they cannot hope to understand or control. It stands to reason that the war, or at least defeating the Angels, in and of itself is not their primary goal." Misako leveled her crimson gaze at the spook. "What is your goal? You stood before an Angel, you conned her, you shot her, you sprung the trap on her. Why?"


            "Why didn't I cut a deal with a mass murdering monster bent on humanity's destruction?"


            "That specific one? Yes." Languidly smiling, Misako turned to lean back.


            "I suppose I earned that," Kaji forced himself to laugh. He wondered how much she knew, or thought she knew. Or if she was simply casting out shiny lures and seeing what bit.


            "My question still stands."


            "It wasn't a good deal. Thanks to your prisoner, I know how she treats her family. Do you think a mere human would fare better?"


            "She seemed fond of you."


            "That doesn't mean much." Kaji's easy smile returned.


            Misako rolled her eyes.


            "No, what I mean is that she played that game with everyone. Take her old boss Nanashi Gombe."


            "Section Two is still discovering how much she had learned."


            "She was a personal secretary to the head of Gombe Heavy Construction. She knew everything." Kaji chucked. "Even great men, especially great men, are weak to the flesh. Given your experience, wouldn’t you say so Captain?"


            Misako narrowed her eyes.


            "What I find interesting was her choice of targets. That she chose to infiltrate GHC and not something like an armaments company." Kaji leaned back and put his finger to his lips and paused. "There's lots of defense contractors that supply the Evangelions. Even the Azazel has to outsource much of their engineering capability to Russian firms."


            Misako shrugged. "You ignore the effect of Iry. Before her defection, she gave Mikki a steady stream of data on our research and capabilities."


            "But Mikki's been in place before all that," Kaji's frown deepened.


            "Yes, we checked her employment records. What's your point?"


            "My point is how a young... woman with no experience and no real record waltzes in and becomes a personal secretary of a man behind the construction of most of the Nerv facilities on this side of the pacific."


            Watching the man's anxious eyes, Misako sighed. "Don't give me that. You have an idea. You've got an explanation as to how she escaped and how she came to work for Gombe."


            Makoto nodded. "All an inside job then? Gombe's part of the 'Scientific Authority'. His company built research facilities for one secret organization. Why not another?"


            Misako nodded approvingly.


            A flash of jealousy passed over Kaji's face. "Right. That's what I'm thinking. Nerv hasn't been penetrated because it didn't need to be. Or we hope so. My guess is that Gombe's bosses, Mikki's bosses, didn't know their little project had gone off the reservation."


            "They didn't know their pet Angel was plotting with the wild Angels?" Misako scoffed. "Would they be so arrogant?"


            "Would Ikari?"


            The clone chuckled.


            "Uh?" Kaji reconsidered his decision to talk Misako before Ritsuko.


            "The man's paranoia eclipses his arrogance," Makoto explained.


            "That," Misako gave another little laugh. "I'm also wondering when you'll stop beating around the bush and just come out with it."


            "Oh?" Kaji asked his smile returning as the ground became more familiar.


            "You say there's a secret cabal, this 'Scientific Authority' to use something that's clearly not this organization's real name. You state that their botched experiments are behind this whole war," Misako turned back to the wall of displays.


            "So you know what I'm after?" Kaji asked.


            "You've only got one real option, that is if you haven't cut a deal with mass murdering monsters bent on humanity's destruction."


            "That's the thing, those monsters as you call it, don't think they're destroying humanity. They think they're doing us a favor, they think they're saving us."


            "By killing well over a billion people?"


            "What's a few lives here and there between the greater good. Human history is littered with 'great men' that try great things without caring about the cost.


            "They only see the greater purpose. The only thing new is the scale. This group's arrogance eclipses all others. They see humanity's greater purpose." Kaji looked down and rubbed his hands. "These are people that after the Katsuragi Expedition picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and tried again, and again. The Ninth Project, The Dummy Plug System, Contact Experiments, the Failed Project E prototypes, Doctor Soryu, Doctor Yui Ikari, Doctor Katsuragi, Doctor Naoko Akagi."


            Eyes shining Misako inclined her head. "And what are you going to do about it?"


            "He did help expose the infiltrator," Makoto pointed out.


            "Well..." Kaji put his hands down on his knees and looked up. "I'm going to tell you the same thing I told one other half-Angel hybrid. Maybe you'll take my words to heart. She didn't."


            Kaji exhaled. "Sure as I know anything, I know this - they will try again. A year from now, fourteen, right now? They believe that they can make people... better. And I do not hold to that."


            Her lips pulling back in a toothy grin, Misako leaned forward nearly touching her nose to Kaji's. "Now what? You've wrecked their plans, exposed one of their agents, and put the enemy into disarray. What next?


            Kaji gave a cocky smirk. "No more runnin'. I aim to misbehave."


           

***************

 


            A buzzer went off. Shinju lifted her rifle and leaned to one side. The instant her sight picture cleared the stacked barrels in front of her she pulled the trigger. The steel plate ten meters down range clanged, and she ran forward. Coming to the next stack of barrels, she knelt down, popped out the stubby magazine of her cut-down PSL and rocked a fresh one in.


            Behind her she heard Toji take two shots on his rifle. "Advancing!" he shouted as the metal rang. He wore a horizontal stripped sky blue and white long sleeve shirt, combat pants, heavy boots, shooting glasses with orange lenses, earplugs, and a large khaki and dark green bandana tied over his hair. On his belt was a holster with his sidearm and several ammo pouches. A large tan bag was slung over one shoulder and buckled across his waist so that it rode on his left hip.


            "Covering," Shinju replied taking another group of paired of shots. She was dressed similarly to Toji though she wore her bandana folded over, as a headband to keep her hair out of her face, and her eye protection had lenses of a different shade.


            Catching sight of Toji making it to his position at the set of barrels just to Shinju's left, she stopped firing. He popped the partially spent magazine out of his Kalashnikov, dumped it into the front portion of his side pouch, grabbed a fresh one and rocked it into place.


            As that happened, with the second plate still ringing, Shinju kicked her legs out from under her, went down to her stomach, and rolled to the other side of the barrel. She took a split second to adjust her head so she could get a clear view along the tilted gun's sights and scored two more hits.


            Slightly slower, the Fifth Child mirrored her motions, and actually managed to stand up first.


            Frowning, Shinju pulled back to her feet, and keeping her weapon at the low ready, sprinted forward and to the left. Coming up to a rather wobbly wall and door-frame, she took a second to nod to Toji who was pressed against the wall on the opposite side of the door. She took her left hand off the forward grip and held up one finger.


            Toji nodded, as he turned his body to be more in line with the direction his rifle was pointed. Standing on the right side of the door he then shifted the butt of his rifle from his right shoulder to his left. When both Pilots leaned forward they did so with minimal exposure.


            In front of Shinju was a jumbled mass of silhouette targets. Some were white others were orange. Shinju concentrated on the targets in front of her and to the left, and put two shots in the chest and one in the head of each orange target she could see.


            Then she and Toji stepped through the doorway  each held close to the door frame on their side and quickly but methodically scanned the rest of the room checking it out a bit at a time.  As she cleared the room, Toji was doing the the mirror image of her maneuvers.


            She kept scanning the room until another buzzer went off. Then she automatically swapped magazines and safed the weapon before shouldering it. She looked over to see Igor lumbering over to them with Lieutenant Flyorov, the head of Toji's guard at his heel.


            Holding a bulky little electronic device, the former Red Army hockey player glanced at the electronic timer and shook his head with a bemused smile.


            "How'd we do?" Toji asked, breathing heavily. He frowned at his gaggle of targets. The wooden frame to one of the white targets had been grazed by a bullet that had then gone on to hit the ten ring of the orange silhouette just behind it. He gave a little sigh.


            "Time was good, sisters are still faster," Lev Flyorov said as he followed Toji's gaze.


            Igor laughed. "Bah, not bad damage. No worries."


            "I think I was going a bit too fast," Toji rolled his shoulder. Shooting from the left was not his preferred position, but there was no time to transfer back.


            "No misses on this run," Lev offered.


            "Yeah."


            Shinju stepped up and slapped Toji on the shoulder, the left one. "Most adequate!"


            "Thanks." Smiling Toji shook his head. He exhaled stepped out of the makeshift shoot-house.


            Lifting up her  purple-lensed shooting glasses, Shinju rubbed her eyes and noting she was alone, adjusted her gloves, and ran out to catch up with Toji.


            Picking up a steel plate, Igor nodded at the young girl. "Time for water break, then."


            Shinju pouted, but followed Lev and Toji back to a metal picnic table at the far end of the grassy range. Rei sat at the table full of ammunition, magazines, gun cases, and other parts. A cooler sat under the table in the shade.


            "I'm up next?" Rei asked as she put down the magazine she was loading and picked up her red shooting glasses.


            "In a sec." Toji opened the cooler and tossed a water bottle to Shinju before getting one for himself. He then braced his rifle in the stand and sat at the table. Pulling his bandana off he wiped as some of the sweat on his face.


            Also taking a seat, Shinju sipped her water slowly but steadily. "I think they'll sit me out so you can go," she told her sister.


            Rei nodded.


            "Hey, if you wanna keep at it, that's fine by me," Toji wiped his brow. "And to think I laughed when Kensuke said shooting was a real sport."


            "You knew he wasn't speaking from experience." Shinju said, her voice raising and her cheeks heating up


            "Yeah, it's different when you're the one doing it." Toji looked to the Azazel guards and gave a half hearted shrug. "Not like he'd get the chance... short of joining Nerv or the JSF."


            "You could always invite him," Rei suggested as she opened another ammunition case.


            "Yeah, Shirane and Nozomi have had lots of fun at the range."


            "Tell me about it, Shirane wouldn't stop talking about it." Toji sighed. "Or mocking my times."


            "But you're getting better!" Shinju cheered.


            Smiling slightly, Toji took a sip and sat down to rest. He played with his ear protection and removed the plugs.


            Back down range, Lev was checking the metal targets for any damage before using a can of black spray-paint to freshen them up. He then went into the shoot-house and started moving targets and their stands. Rearranging the layout of shoot and no-shoot targets gave the drill more complexity and made the Pilots think a bit more.


            He put one of the stands down and looked back at the picnic table. The three Pilots seemed to be engaged with each other. The Azazel officer's gaze went further out as he took in the cordon secured by squads from both his and Igor's platoons as well as the elements from the headquarters platoon that guarded the apartment complex itself.


            The best trained, led, and motivated that the Russian Federation had to offer all equipped with whatever they could ask for in small and heavy arms. A formidable mix of machine guns, rockets, mortars, with integral armor, helicopter, and even fighter jet support. And it was all to protect...


            Turning his attention to the two pale sisters, Lev nodded. The true purpose of the Azazel and Nerv agreement was obvious, and had been for some time. Nerv provided security for Azazel's airfields and naval facilities, and Azazel's... Naval Infantry watched Nerv's weapons of mass destruction.


            Lev blinked and turned to see that Igor was moving to stand next to him. The giant man pulled out a finger and mimed firing a pistol at the smaller man. "You are distracted," he stated in Russian, his smooth use of the language meshing with his deep rumbling voice.


            "Did you know?" Lev once again glanced to the picnic table.


            "The Fourth? It's obvious, no?"


            Lev held his tongue. "Is that an answer?"


            Igor held his hands behind his back and lifted his chin slightly. "Both Warrant Ayanamis are young women of extreme will and dedication. You could question Nerv's luck in having such a family."


            "Like they have Nigokiko?"


            Igor gave a belly laugh then resumed a serene contemplative look. "Even earlier. Look at Warrant Langley's parents. How her mother picked the father."


            "It was artificial insemination. But the Ayanami..." Lev frowned.


            Igor nodded. "Matryoshka is not ours alone. Tactically incompetent and wasteful Nerv may be, but they do know to build layers of secrecy."


            "That's what they focused on then?" Lev laughed. Matryoshka nesting dolls were a handy analogy for the practice of using multiple cover stories, cut outs, and diversions to mislead your enemies concealing your true intentions and capabilities.


            Igor grinned, his big, square teeth gleaming.


            "Which raises a disturbing question. Nerv revealed much to try to kill that... Angel yesterday, but I doubt they revealed everything, which means...."

            "What is the next secret behind what the Ayanami are?" Igor nodded. "Is a puzzle." His contemplative look returned. "At least you have the easy task."


            "He detonated a nuclear device and wiped out three towns. He's lucky he wasn't forced to pull the trigger over a city."


            "The Princess would not care." Igor rolled his shoulders. "His humanity is a problem then? You should be able to handle him," the large man added flatly.


            Lev exhaled at the implication. He knew the countermeasures; he also knew that in such an event his job would be the simplest. "Yes. I can. He's green, more experience will help, and he's not quitting. I'll give the Fifth that."


            "He has ample reason to be motivated. You know that."


            "I know, we've talked about it. He distrusts Nerv, understandable given how he was recruited."


            Igor's contemplative smile returned. "Gives you a unique position."


             Both officers' radios chirped and Lev answered. "Katrina? Oh good."

            Listening in, Igor nodded. "Dah. Good, we're having a break, she can come right up."


            "Good, now we can run two teams," Lev said, returning to checking the targets.


            "Or maybe one team of four," Igor looked back to the picnic table with a bright toothy smile.


            At the table, Toji leaned back and pulled off his safety glasses.


            Shinju watched the taller teen rub his eyes. "You're not tired are you?"


            "Nah, just...." Toji blinked and slipped the grey glasses back on. "I'm fine. Glad there wasn't school today."


            Shinju frowned. "Kensuke?"


            "You weren't too eager to talk to your friends either," Toji noted.


            The clone's frown deepened slightly. She blinked, the sun catching her eyes. Shinju looked up and back to the range's entrance.


            "It's okay, we've just gotta do what we gotta do." Toji bent down and fished another bottle of water out of the cooler.


            "Brave words rookie," Kiko's voice taunted as she strode to the table, her heels crunching on the gravel. "It's not the best war cry but it is less creepy than Princess's."


            Looking over the gynoid, Shinju pouted. Kiko looked much the same save for a fresh polish on her armor and half a dozen strips of appliqué armor. Glossy red, the vertical strips that ran up her hips to her torso and were interlocked into the rest of her armor giving her a more flared and structured look. A horizontal band went around her waist and had mounting points for her holster, magazine carriers, and other equipment pouches. Her rifle was slung to her side on a 3 point harness that went over her chest.


            Shinju's pout vanished and she jumped over the side of the table and wrapped her arms around the gynoid. "Red! You're better!"


            "No thanks to my father's incompetence." Sighing, Kiko returned the hug, and followed Shinju back to the table. She unclipped her rifle and put the heavy, if compact, weapon on the rack next to the pilot's other weapons.


            At her heel, Katrina approached, dropped off a large red range bag, and then walked off to talk with the other Azazel officers.


            "What'd he do?" Shinju asked.


            "Cut corners, parts of me got broken. Lazy scientists," Kiko sat down and the table creaked under her weight. The gynoid made a point not to notice. "Course it could have been worse, and it'll probably get worse."


            "Ouch," Toji winced.


            Shinju sat back down and started rooting around a large purple range bag, pulled out some more ammunition boxes.


            "Eh, it's not like it really hurt." Kiko flexed her fingers. She looked down, blinked then pulled open her bag and started silently pulling out ammunition and magazines. Her .50 BMB cartridges vastly over shadowed Shinju's battle rifle grade 54R rounds and utterly dwarfed the 7.63X39 intermediate rifle cartridges Rei and Toji were using.


            "Ah, going to need double protection then," Toji noted as he took a fresh pair of earplugs out of his bag and a pair of ear muff style sound dampeners to wear over the first pair.


            Shinju made a similar gesture, pulling out the same electronic active hearing protectors she wore yesterday.


            "How're your ears?" Kiko asked, noting Shinju's careful expression.


            "Fine." Shinju stared out and gave her head a tiny shake. "What about you?"


            "I don't have ears, I've got a pair of antennae ," Kiko flatly stated.


            "I doubt that's what she asked," Rei stated as she thumbed a few more cartridges into a new magazine.


            Kiko rolled her eyes. "Oh just great. I told you I'm fine."


            Shinju tilted her head.


            "Fine. I'm sore. You have any idea what it's like to wake up after they've done surgery to your battery brackets? You know the cramps that come with your period?"


            The young clone blushed.


            "You haven't had yours yet?" Kiko smirked and turned to Rei. "What about you Wondergirl?"


            Rei's eyebrow went up fractionally and she dropped a freshly filled magazine into the pile. She then grabbed her rifle, sung it over her shoulder, slipped some magazines into her harness, and stood up


            Coughing, Toji made it a point to look at his own magazines.


            "What'?" Kiko asked. "Fourteen's late but not unheard of, or is it the... other thing."


            Shinju looked slightly hurt but more confused.


            "Forget it. I'm..." Kiko flexed her hands again. "I'm okay. I could have been better. Stupid body; stupid Angel."


            "You fought well." Shinju raised her head.


            "Oh, better than adequate? Thanks." Kiko snorted, but gave a slight smile.


            "You were right with me. You stood up to her AT field."


            "And I couldn't kill her. You gutted her, I blew her apart. I... it wasn't enough." Kiko pushed the last .50 BMG cartridge into the second magazine and set it down with a heavy clunk.


            "What about me?" Toji asked "I wasn't good enough to kill her either."


            Kiko ran a finger down the feed lips of her magazine and let her hand slowly fall onto the wooden table. "You were willing to nuke her, Rookie. That's almost impressive."


            "I missed."


            "Yeah at what fifteen kilometers away? I was in the same damn room as her." Kiko slowly made a fist.


            "You fought well," Shinju repeated.


            Kiko blinked. "Look Princess, it's different for me. You did everything you could; I- I could have done more. I was broken inside. I... can fix that."


            The clone stared. After a slight paused she nodded.


            Looking between the two Toji boggled. "What? You can't buy that. What sort of nonsense is that?"


            "This is Princess we're talking about. She's a crazy little gothic princess that can gut you like a pig without getting any blood on her pretty petticoats and lace." Tilting her head, Kiko tapped the table. "This is a girl that uses 'Open your Heart' as a literal battle cry."


            "I've only got the two dresses like that," Shinju pouted.


            "Fine, but what do you mean about being all broken inside? Yeah., I can see the emotional strain-"


            Kiko sighed. "No, Rookie. I mean literally."


            Toji winced. "Oh. I know you were being repaired, but that was just your knee right?"


            "No. I wasn't kidding when I said they were working on my insides." Kiko forced a laugh.


            "You did your best," Shinju stated.


            "And what if I'm not good enough?" Kiko demanded.


            "Then we're wiped out by the Angels, if the nuclear fires don't kill us first," Toji stated.


            "My, cynicism suits you Rookie," Kiko teased.


            Toji looked between the clone and the gynoid. He then turned around to see Rei in the distance talking with Igor. "I think we're all having some self confidence issues."


            "Really Rookie? Do you really think this pretty little Princess would want to be anything other than what she is? Can you see her as anything else? Well... maybe not a vegetarian. But still-" Kiko's protest was cut off when she saw Shinju wilt slightly.


            Shinju tried to give a little smile.


            "So.... what? Shinju's already doing all she can?" Toji hesitantly asked.


            "Oh Rookie." Kiko then eyed Shinju. "If you could do more to kill the Angels would you?"


            Shinju's grin grew.


            "And I need it. Yesterday could have gone a lot worse. I almost fell apart out there. I need, I hate to say it, but I need upgrades."


            Toji put his chin in hand and nodded. "I see, I see. You're jealous of a scary little girl so you're letting your mad scientist of a father work you over to make you into some sorta combat droid. Red, that's a real good plan."


            "Sarcasm too?" Kiko glared before her expression softened. "Damn, Rookie, you've been spending too much time with Wondergirl."


            Toji glanced back down range and watched Rei for a couple seconds. She was talking with Igor and Katrina. "Yeah probably. Hanging out with you girls all the time's bound to affect me."


            "Really? You do know that being a creepy abomination of science isn't something you can just pick up right?"


            Shinju coughed.


            Kiko rolled her eyes. "Fine, fine. I'm not sure Rookie'd want to end up like me."


            "It might beat the alternative," Shinju quietly said.


            Toji eyed the gynoid. "Uh, yeah...."


            Katrina approached the table. The solid German blonde nodded to Toji. "Come, you're up."


            "Yeah, yeah," Toji said as he put his earplugs in. He then he pulled his bandana back on and knotted it over his head, slipped his ear muffs over that. He grabbed his rifle, took his safety glasses, and slung his magazine carrier over a shoulder.


            Kiko looked the Fifth Child over and gave a low whistle. "Careful there, Rookie, someone might mistake you for a real soldier like that," she then said, raising her voice so he could hear.


            Toji shook his head and ran off down range to catch up with Rei.


            Both Shinju and Kiko silently watched their two teammates go through a shooting drill and providing cover for each other as they got closer to their targets before switching off and doing a room clearing drill. Kiko noted that Shinju had discretely slipped her ear plugs back in.


            "You're being nicer to him," Shinju noted.


            "Eh, he didn't crack up."


            "He didn't run away," Shinju said, a bit wistfully.


            "Heh! Princess has a crush?" Kiko's red, shiny lips pulled back into a grin.


            Shinju blushed. "No... it's just nice that he... that he won't run away."


            Kiko looked down range then down at the little clone. "You've got some issues Princess doncha?"


            Pushing a few bangs out from her face and raising her head, Shinju gave Kiko a long-suffering look. She reached into a pocket on her web-harness and pulled out a lavender pill bottle and with a slight shake gave a loud rattle.


            "Yeah well at least you can take 'em orally," Kiko rolled her shoulders feeling where her spinal column had been modified to accept a pharmacological plug.


            "What about you?"


            "Hmm?"


            "You were talking about your father, and said that things could get worse."


            "Oh that, just some upgrades." Kiko gave a nervous laugh.


            Shinju took Kiko's delicately armored hand. She was still surprised that it felt warm.


            Kiko watched the heart monitor on her heads up display spike before normalizing. "I was a... rush project. My father just wanted to prove I could work. Prove I could Synchronize. If- if I go under again, he'll be able to try again. Build something that can fight, that won't break down, someone who won't have her batteries break loose."


            "You don't-"


            "The hell I don't!" Kiko glared rolling her hand over and squeezing Shinju's. "You didn't get a choice. You were built to be a little war Princess. But I know this, if Doc Akagi gave you a choice, normal human or Nerv's scary Princess, you would have jumped right up on the table."


            Shinju swallowed.


            Kiko leaned down and pressed her nose to Shinju's. "The giant bear-man that follows you around is right. You are a killer. It's for the best the people that made you ensured you were properly trained."


            "You're forgetting how bad Nerv was... before." Shinju ran one hand over the other.


            "I am?" Kiko's voice rose. "I recall your sister executing Second Branch's senior officers." The gynoid hyperventilated.


            "You have to hand it to Nerv. They managed to find and hire the few corrupt, incompetent, and lazy Germans. While I was being paraded around as some wunderkind you were... Huh." She rolled a shoulder and calmed. "What were you doing? I mean you were being kept as a backup, but where? Some training facility?"


            Shinju shook her head. "No, I was raised with a foster family. People the Commander would trust."


            "He trusts people?" Kiko snorted. "So, you were being raised as a normal little girl?"


            Shinju blushed.


            "What about your sisters?"


            "I didn't see them much." Shinju put her hands on the table. "Do we have to talk about this?"


            Kiko turned and studied the younger girl's face. Her pupils were dilated and her skin was starting to pink, but her eyes were not glowing. "Did something happen?"


            "No." Shinju's voice wavered. "I had a perfectly normal childhood."


            "Or as normal as a clone built for war could have." Kiko licked her lip "What was it like when... when you found out you could be a Pilot, when you found out about Evangelion?"


            "What was it like for you?" Shinju asked.


            The memory of a darkened room with two hanging figures one tiny, one large filled Kiko's mind as she went stone still. The hum of the room's vents, the creak of chords, and the sharp smell of urine dominated her memory. In the corner of her heads up display, an icon flashed red before turning into a blue circle.


            Her shoulders and neck rocked as she jolted into motion. Shaking her head, Kiko's focus returned to Shinju. The icon turned back to a green diamond. "Sorry about that, Princess. I –um- I guess I'm not the only one that had a bad childhood."


            Scooting down the table's bench, Shinju twisted and spread her arms to encircle Kiko just below the shoulders.


            Smiling, Kiko reached out and put her hand on Shinju's back and returned the hug. "Thanks."


            "At least you're confident about your upgrade."


            Kiko laughed. "Sarcastic too?"


            Shinju gave a bashful smirk.


            "Yeah, but it's okay. You wouldn't understand."


            Tilting her head, Shinju looked up at Kiko.


            "You didn't have a choice. Hell, it's not like you were human and then made something else."


            Shinju frowned.


            "Not going to claim you're human?"


            "Yesterday, I had a car thrown at me and blocked it with my mind."


            "Yeah, that's the thing. You were always this scary little girl. I was forced to be this robot but now-" Kiko made a fist with her free hand. "Now I have to ask my father to make me into even more of one."


            Shinju released the hug. "More of a robot?" she asked poking Kiko in the shoulder pylon.


            "Ha."


            "So, what upgrades do you want?" Shinju brightly asked.


            "You make it sound like I'm picking out of a brochure."


            Shinju smiled.


            The gynoid made a face. "Ugh. Don't give them ideas. Fine. Mostly I want don't want to fall apart in a fight. My Father complains that it would add too much weight, but it's not like I'm that heavy."


            The clone picked up a magazine and resumed loading cartridges.


            "Oh come on!" Kiko pounded the table. "I'm mostly meat you know. And I don't have that much armor and metal in me."


            After putting the last round in the magazine, Shinju put her finger against it feeling the spring flex against the stack of cartridges.


            "And it's not like that meat's all that heavy."


            "Right, your body and all." Shinju delicately nodded.


            Kiko shook her finger. "First off, it's not 'my body' is it now? You wanna know how much of 'me' is in here?" she bumped the back of her palm against her chest armor. "Second that's my point, Eva, human, meat's meat. The density doesn't change that much. I'm not that heavy. Period."


            Shinju nodded.


            "And before you get started, yes, I know what my heels do to soft floors. That's normal. You should know what it's like to wear high heels."


            The clone's nodding cut off and she shrugged.


            "Really? The Princess doesn't know how to wear high heels?" Kiko snorted.


            "I have a pair," Shinju pouted. "I just don't wear them that much."


            "Just one?" Kiko skeptically asked.


            Shinju slowly nodded. "But is that all you want? Couldn't you get some other changes?"


            "Like what?" Kiko's choker flashed yellow. "Chest missiles, then? Or maybe a Gatling gun. Maybe replace an arm with some kind of laser canon? Yes why not?" she angrily spat. "I'm already abandoning everything I was, why not give up any pretense that I'm anything other than a weapons system!"


            Frowning Shinju raised her head to meet Kiko's orange gaze. "No. I was asking the opposite."


            Kiko stared. Her form going nearly stone-still. "Huh?"


            "You'll be going in for upgrades? Why not... try to go back a bit? More natural skin. Maybe some hair?"


            Kiko turned away. "You can't go back... I can't go back. You may be able to play at being a human, but don't think that you can actually pass. Everyone knows what you really are. Even if they're not in on the big secret."


            Shinju's eyes widened. "They do?"


            "It's pretty obvious, on an instinctual level." Kiko leaned in and smiled. "You're a fake. People just know. I mean the pale skin, blue hair, and blood-red eyes are kind o f a hint, but even without them you're all a bit… off." The gynoid laughed. "In what world would you pass as normal? I suppose we're sisters like that."


            Shinju nervously laughed. "But that makes it sound like they'd know the full secret."


            Kiko rolled her eyes. "Oh they might not guess half Angel hybrid clone, but they'd know something is up. Creepy sisters that can all Pilot, and Nerv's obvious history as a genetic research facility? I mean red eyes, albino skin; you three practically scream lab-rat."


            Nodding slowly, Shinju looked downrange. Her sister and Toji had finished shooting and were talking with the Azazel officers. Toji had slung his rifle over his shoulder and was wiping under his chin with the tails of his bandana. Shinju started putting full magazines into the pouches on her harness.


            "At least you have some secrets," Kiko said, putting an arm around Shinju's shoulder. "It's not like Nerv held a giant banquet to announce your creation."


            Shinju paused and as she watched their teammates walk back to the table thought for a while. "No, not really." She returned the gesture, though her arm went around Kiko's torso at a much lower position.


            Kiko's eyes widened. "Uh... thanks?"


            Blushing Shinju moved her hand off Kiko's hip.


            "Well, I'm glad you appreciate it, but...." Kiko's choker flashed purple for a split second. "But we're up."


            Shinju pulled back her arm and looked at her gloved hand. "Don't... um..."


            "You're trying to cheer me up? Tell me I'm pretty?"


            The clone nodded.


            "Hah! Don't you think I know that? Geeze, sometimes I think being a pretty robot's worse."


            "See! You still think that."


            "Encouraging my ego?" As she stood up, Kiko raised an eyebrow. "Whatever, Princess."


            Giving a little smile, Shinju rose and picked up her rifle, automatically pulling back the bolt to check the chamber.


            "Ayanamis," Kiko muttered, shaking her head.


             Rei and Toji had returned to the table. Both breathing a bit heavily. Wordlessly, Toji unslung his rifle and handed it to Rei. As she checked and stowed his weapon then hers, he opened the cooler and pulled out a pair of bottles.


            After handing one to Rei, he held the other to his forehead for a few seconds. "You two. Up." He then took a swig of water.


            "Wow, Rookie? I hadn't figured that out. You know with a tactical eye like that you're going places," Kiko stated with false eagerness.


            Toji slumped down onto the bench. Sipping water, he eyed Kiko. "Well, I'm not quite up to your level of adequacy, but I try my best." He exhaled. "I'll manage."


            Rei looked on almost approvingly. She then nodded to Shinju and took a seat across from Toji.


            Kiko snorted. "Yeah, I'm adequate, Rookie."


            "You sure?" Toji asked.


            "Yeah, yeah. I'm managing." She looked over her shoulder. "Come on Princess, we've got Wondergirl's and Rookie's scores to beat."

 

***************

 

 
            Alone in the darkened room, Gendo folded his hands and waited. After a brief period, he rotated his wrist to spare a quick glance at the time. After several moments, the projectors kicked on. To his right was the strong-chinned British representative. Both the man and his small desk were bathed in red light. To that man's right was the bushy mustachioed American representative, himself in green.


            Glancing to his left, Gendo concealed his surprise. The long empty blue seat was once more occupied, but instead of the bearish hawk-nosed Russian member of the Human Instrumentality Committee, a large Japanese business man sat. The newcomer gave a glassy smile that did not reach his haunted eyes.


            Commander Ikari's eyes went past the misleadingly meek French representative in yellow to the nominal German representative sitting opposite from Gendo, at the head of the collection of projections. Chairman Keel, the only one being projected in full color.


            "I did not realize that Seele 08 has taken a permanent seat on this council. I take it the Council has accepted Mr. Lvov's... resignation."


            Keel lowered his head as if trying to glare behind his visor. "With the Russia Representative unable to fulfill his duties, the council has decided to adopt substitution members on a rotating basis."


            "I see," Gendo spared the nominal Japanese representative another glance.


            The man known as Nanashi Gombe, the head of Gombe Heavy Construction, seemed to shrink back before nodding and haltingly straightening his posture.


            "Are we to discuss yesterday's battle or the American's impending weapons test?" Gendo asked turning his gaze to the American representative. Once again he was glad for the teleconferencing, the obvious stink of fear coming from Gombe would be distracting.


            "The last thing we need is another competitor to the Evangelion!" the green man blurted out, his mustache bristling as he curled his upper lip.


            "Enough," Keel hissed. "
Jarngreipr is just another toy. And if yesterday has shown us anything, it is that Nerv can use such toys to our advantage," the Chairman's voice chilled on the last word as his attention focused solely on Gendo.


            The American's eyes narrowed as he straightened his glasses, but the man soon bowed his head.


            Ikari raised his hands at the elbows. "I accept full responsibility for the target's escape. However-" Gendo placed his chin behind his interlaced fingers.. "I also accept full responsibility on exposing the Ninth Project's gross breach of quarantine."


            "That is an internal matter," Keel stated.


            "It certainly is. A Seele experiment escaping the lab to become personal secretary of a councilmember?" Gendo spared a thin, emotionless, grin to Gombe. "If I had known your tastes went such ways, Nanashi I could have arranged something far less risky."


            Both the Brit and the Frenchman looked disgusted while the American representative grew outraged.


            "Why so shocked?" Gendo asked. "You know what the Human Evolutionary Lab was building. You know that experiments are supposed to be repeatable. Perhaps you're more shocked that one of you decided to keep a hybrid for his own?" Gendo lowered his arms and pressed his hands palm-down onto his table. "Or perhaps you were tricked. Gombe, when you were busy playing tycoon did you realize that you were making yourself a prime target for enemy agents? Or were you complicit? I had Section 2 raid your office you know. Everything was swept clean."


            Gombe looked down, he then shifted his back and twisted to stare behind himself before slowly returning to face forward.


            Gendo stood. "Which is it! Incompetence or perversion or treason?"


            "That is enough Ikari!" Keel shouted. "This Council is not Nerv. You cannot bully us around, like disobedient little soldiers."


            For a moment Gendo considered his past suggestion of simply air dropping the Fourth on Lorenz's residence. Kozo felt it was too direct of a measure, but more often Gendo was beginning to feel that direct was the more palatable choice.


            "We have investigated Seele 08."


            "And the conclusion?"


            "Incompetence. I'm disappointed to say," a female voice said cutting into the conference.


            The representatives began to chatter at the interruption, save for Gendo and Keel.  The noise increased as a slim figure with smooth hair and thin glasses stepped into projector range. Colored in shades of blue just like Gombe, she wore a skirt, blouse and coat that marked her as die-cut, nearly ubiquitous office-lady.


            Hearing her approach, Gombe spun around. "How?"


            Mikki pushed back one of her bangs, straightening her center parted hair. "Please, I know where all of your little bolt-holes are. Who do you think brought you the paperwork to sign off their funding and for the newer ones, their construction?"


            Gombe tried to dart to the side; Mikki gave a little sigh and raised her hand. The air shimmered and the two blue tinted figures froze for a moment. Then the large man's neck wrenched as the top of his head sheared off in a fan of blood turned blue by the projection.


            Gasping, he fell to the table and began to scream Tilting her head, Mikki stepped forward, grabbed his neck and twisted. There was a crackling snap as his body went limp and she shoved it to the side and took the seat.


            Mikki clasped her hands and put them before her and smiled. "The Human Instrumentality Committee. Nations tremble at your feet. The secret kings of the world." She flicked some blood off her hand.


            The committee stared in disbelief. Keel Lorenz worked his jaw. " Kaworu."


            "No."


            Gendo began to draw out his cell phone.


            Mikki looked to her right and sighed. "It seems one of you has some sense."


            Looking up, Gendo continued to dial.


            "As I'm sure ICBMs will soon be inbound, I'll have to be brief," Mikki leaned forward. Her eyes went from each of the members of the Human Instrumentality Committee before settling on Chairman Keel Lorenz.


            A predatory grin formed she leaned back. "Well, secret kings. Do you still think you can guide humanity's evolution? That the world will bend to your will?" She pressed the tip of her finger into a small splash of blood on the top of her desk.


            The British representative met her gaze, glared then looked away. The Frenchman held his fingers under his nose and looked contemplative.


            Keel made a fist. "You!"


            "Fascinating. I kill millions in one day, including four members of Seele but I personally snap the neck of the head of one little Zaibatsu...


            "Was it seeing the blood, yourself dear Chairman? Who would have thought you, of all people, would be squeamish?" Mikki chuckled. Her eyes went to Ikari. "I suppose it's for the best that you can't actually smell him."


            "Kozo we have a Code Tabgha. Correct, she hit Gombe... yes. Check site Bethany first. Then site Able. Faster would be better" Gendo allowed a tiny smile. "Yes, I'll pay you back. Yes, please do."


            Gendo put the phone down and met her expectant gaze. "You were correct. Be brief."


            "Bravo. There's the hard-nosed theatrics I've come to expect from the head of Nerv." Mikki lightly clapped her hands. "Not like these back-stabbing, back-dealing bureaucrats." She then waved her hand over the rest of the committee, letting it land between the American and the Englishman.


            Gendo suppressed a smile. Gloating would ruin the role he was to play.


            "Gentlemen, I come to tell you that there is no hope. You can scurry and pretend, but don't think you are secure in your halls of power, in your hidden fortresses." Mikki rolled her finger along the top of the desk, idly drawing an intricate swirling symbol in blood. "Remember, that someone has to build your bunkers, someone has to pay workers. Someone has to do all the paperwork. Your secret places are not secret."


            "And you dare come here to threaten and demand us. What do you expect?" the French representative asked.


            "I expect to get the entity you've laughably called Adam, and ensure that your goals never occur. You do not deserve Instrumentality. Your species will wither, this planet will be cleansed and-"


            "Enough," Gendo stated. He pushed his glassed back up his nose. "You ignorance is showing, Miss Nagisa."


            Mikki glared.


            "You are not special. Humanity's killed millions for gold, for land, for God, for sport, for meat, to make pyramids of skulls. Humanity has done this and more all before discovering gunpowder. You want death; death and land. Death for the impure; land for your kind."


            Gendo rested his chin back behind his hands and gave a ghost of a smile. "Now you've got to understand, that doesn't make you special. You're not an out of context problem."


            Mikki pulled back and forced the annoyed surprise off her face. "In one day I can kill what takes you lot an entire World War to accomplish," her eyes flared, almost becoming red despite the palette limitations of her projection.


            "Yes, you can wipe entire cities in a single day. You are not ground breaking.

You are a valid target. Humanity can be quite frightening without a reason - and you've given us one." His phone chirped and he glanced at the line of text that appeared. "Since you'll live a little longer, I suggest you consider that."


            "Consider what? Surrendering, living in a little cage like some pet? Do you expect me to accept terms?"


            Gendo's eyes darted to her bloody hands. "Remember what this makes you. Not-to-be-negotiated-with. You come here and declare yourself an enemy to all of mankind, and well doesn't that just make you an animal? Albeit, a talking animal, but certainly not a peer or anything to interact with on an intellectual level."


            "You humans are beneath me."


            "No." Gendo's grin grew. "You're not special; you're not unique. You're just another genocidal tyrant. You criticize these old men for their plots and fears. Their vain, sad quest for immortality."


            "Ikari! That's enough!" Keel shouted.


            "No, Chairman! There's no negotiating with this sort. Her entrance made that clear enough." He turned back to Mikki. "Look around, even Seele in their fear of you plots revenge.


            "All you've done is manage to give every single faction and country a reason to fight you. And we will push, we will fight. You've given us one path forward: wanton destruction of a hated enemy." Gendo's grin now revealed his teeth. "The very thing humanity excels at."


            Ikari looked down at his phone for a second time. "Just remember. There are still five hundred million of us for each of you."


            "What you're saying is less Little Impact and more Second Impact? I believe the ratio in that event would be sufficient." Catching sight of Gendo's phone, Mikki stood. "I see. I'm afraid you've stalled me enough." Smirking, she bowed her head and spun on her heel. The Angel walked away from the desk, out of range of the projectors.


            "Ikari, you may think your bluff clever, but your reckless actions will endanger the Plan," the French representative admonished.


            "Bluff?" Gendo picked up his phone and looked at the latest message.


            The American looked to Keel. "Chairman, the Navy has a carrier group near Gombe's location, we could try-"


            "Councilman, it would be a bit less wasteful if you were to wait." A small frown flickered across Gendo's face. "Just a bit longer." He returned the phone to his desk and the blue projection cut out. "There."


            "Ikari, you have stepped beyond your authority," Lorenz stated.


            "Technically, Azazel has," Gendo tapped the screen of his phone, sending his reply. "Once again the Russians are cleaning up after our messes." He looked to his right at the green American. "You do realize that even if sabotaged, Jarngreipr is a mere symptom."


            "It is another tool that we can use to our advantage," Keel stated.

 
             "Much like the Ninth Project?" Gendo gestured to the dark spot between him and the yellow French representative.


            "You can hardly criticize us in regard to such things. Your own hybrid... experiments are-"


            "An unmitigated success that has produced two excellent pilots. Project E's biggest failure is a marginal pilot repurposed into an acceptable officer." Gendo coolly stated.


            "Seele's biggest failure, among the Ninth Project at least, created the Enemy force's ringleader who took it upon him- herself- to train and shape the Angels." Pocketing his phone, Gendo stood.


            "This meeting isn't over," the red Brit stated.


            "I apologize, gentlemen but I have to explain to the JSSDF and the Prime Minister that the bombing of the eastern tip of Hokkaido was an authorized action and not prelude to a new Kuril Islands war. Despite everything, I fear the Japanese government still thinks the Russians would try to retake a pair of worthless islets. Fishery optimism aside, I rather doubt the crab and fish population will ever recover."


            "Ikari, you have not been dismissed. Do not forget that we are well aware of the truth behind the Ayanami project," Keel stated as he pressed a couple controls on his desk.


            "Correct." Gendo held his gaze on the older man. "Gentlemen, I trust that your own faculties are secure, and, if failing that, at are at least remote."


            "How fitting that you care for our security," the Brit scoffed, while the American and the Frenchman seemed to realize Ikari's veiled threat.


            Gendo nodded to the darkened desk "I will give Gombe some credit in that regard. While Shiretoko National Park is hardly the most subtle of locations, I'm sure more bears than people died in the blast."


            Before Gendo left, Lorenz caught his eye. "You may go then Ikari. You may also keep up the charade of the Ayanami if you wish, but do not think who those three really are is a secret. Not to us."


            Standing just before threshold, Ikari glanced back. He pushed his glasses up his nose, tapped a code into the panel next to the door, and the projectors shut off. Looking at the spot where the blue images had been, he exhaled and hit another code.


            This one unlocked the door and opened it with a slight hiss as the slight overpressure in the room equalized with the corridor it junctioned into.


            Gendo crossed the hallway and knocked on the door opposite the teleconference suite. He then passed his card and entered his code, opening the door to reveal a small office. It was a plain affair: chair, desk facing a side wall with display, and secure phone." Sitting at the desk, Fuyutsuki stopped talking and lowered the phone. He picked it back up and signed off before hanging up.


            The older man stood, and exited the room locking the door behind him.


            Ikari chuckled.


            "About time," Fuyutsuki huffed. "The UN is pissed. The Generals have already launched their YA-11 and are turning over the reactors on the two planes they just got. Admiral Sudoplatov wants to discuss your 'debt' and the Prime Minister is threatening to send in the JSSDF, which is confusing the generals, as they think they've got an attack to the North to deal with."


            "Is that all?" Gendo asked. He began to walk down the corridor. It was not an overly long distance to the Command Center, and right now it would be better to be seen there, as opposed to his office.


            "The Pilots have been secured and are suited up and ready to deploy." Fuyutsuki ran for a couple steps to catch up.


            "And what did you tell them. What did you tell our allies?"


            "The truth."


            Gendo laughed.


            "The escaped Angel found the elusive Mr. Gombe and assassinated him on a conference call with you. JSSDF might be suspicious of that, but they can see Azazel and Nerv are on full alert."


            "Good," Ikari adjusted his gloves. "Do you expect a counterattack?"


            The older man lowered his head to think. Naturally, he had been watching the whole conference. Seele ran the video and audio feeds on their own secure and encrypted circuits. The conduits were isolated from those Nerv used; the whole room acted within an electronic air gap.


            However, Nerv controlled the room itself, and drilling the backside of the walls was a trivial matter. It was even more trivial for Gendo to simply carry a wireless microphone and camera into the room himself.


            Fuyutsuki rubbed his chin. "You scared her. You humiliated her. This was her prodigal 'son' moment. And you stole her thunder."


            "She'll want revenge."

            "Yes, she will, but she has fought today, and yesterday. Unless she develops a taste for getting her hands dirty, I see her wanting to take some time to recuperate and plot her next move."


            "You still scrambled our forces. Though I wish we had more assets."


            "We are at parity of pilots and Evas. Though Unit 04 is being sent once Professor Insana's test article is completed."


            "Given the successes of yesterday's deployment, the use of more Pilots has become obvious."


            Fuyutsuki nodded. He was aware of the programs to remedy that, and while he found them... distasteful. It was really not much worse than the Dummy Plug program. They had crossed the Rubicon so long ago.


            "Still, good initiative. Expect failure and prepare for it."


            Fuyutsuki blinked at the compliment. "Age brings caution, and the knowledge that with youth comes recklessness," Fuyutsuki said before running his card through the door at the end of the corridor.


            "And our enemy is very young." Gendo swiped his own card. And the two men now stood at one of Central Dogma's security stations. A group of Nerv Tactical in their tan uniforms and red berets saluted. Their officer was a short but wiry woman with black hair cut in a rough pageboy.


            "Lieutenant," Gendo nodded to the officer in charge. "I want a lockdown on this corridor. No maintenance or repair staff without the personal authorization of myself or the Vice Commander. Physical override; disconnect from the Magi."


            "Yes, sir." Lieutenant Tomoe saluted. Her team had been on duty when facilities had installed rows of axes in the Command Center annexes. Based on the maintenance staff that worked down that corridor she had some idea what those rooms were used for, but that was not her job; her job was to keep that corridor secure. " Kaiou, Astarte open up panel H4."


            "Good," Gendo returned the salute and resumed walking. Once they were alone in another of Central Dogma's corridors he glanced back. "When thing settle down one of us will need to scrub the footage. If things go the way they do, I believe Helen could find that video most useful."


            Fuyutsuki blinked. Miss Helen Mann formerly Mrs. Hale headed Travisano and Femina Incorporated which handled "marketing" needs for Nerv. "Propaganda?"


            "I will use every weapon that is at hand," Gendo said as they stepped onto a moving walkway and began to speed down a long arcing corridor towards the Command Center.


            "Every?" Fuyutsuki asked once again having to catch up. He was surprised to see that Ikari had resumed walking, instead of normally standing back and letting the conveyer take him.


            "You are not getting cold feet now? Not when we get so close."


            "Of course not," Fuyutsuki now walked next to Ikari and looked the younger man in the eye. "I see our progress. I also can see our enemies. As we ride the tiger, the sharks circle.


            "And both know we plan to skin them." Gendo allowed a sigh. "That is exactly why we must speedup the time tables, my old friend. We need our contingency plans. We need allies. We need to be ready."

            "I see." The older man knew that meant a rubberstamp to their developmental programs and upgrades, among other things. "I'll arrange a meeting with Admiral Sudoplatov and General Yubari."


            "Good." Gendo glanced at his phone to check the time. "And make sure you have that footage redacted before the meeting. I think it's time we show the JSSDF who they've been really working for, and see just how much Azazel really knows."


            "Provided, we don't have a counter attack to deal with first." Fuyutsuki reminded.

 

 

End Chapter 12

  


            I'd like to thank my pre-readers. They read through my most egregious mistakes so you don't have to: J St C Patrick, Pale Wolf, and DGC