And If That Don't Work?

A Neon Genesis Evangelion fic thingy.

By Josh Temple

 

Naturally, I do not own Neon Genesis Evangelion. So here's the disclaimer:

Neon Genesis Evangelion and its characters and settings belong Gainax and Hideaki Anno

 

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 Two: Core Competencies

 


            "I don't even know why I was hired," Misako sighed. "Sure, I was the best in school, but I don't have any practical experience, and it showed. So why me? Why did Ikari hire me as tactical chief?"


            Ritsuko looked up from her notes. "Because Nerv did not want anyone with preconceived notions. The idea was that Angel combat would be new. It's not like anyone knows how to order Evangelions to fight giant monsters. They thought that previous experience wouldn't be much of a help."


            "That's a load of crap," Misako spat. "You saw Yubari. That old general knew exactly how to fight Shamshel."


            Ritsuko lowered her gaze. "His advice wasn't very complicated. It was 'go and stab it'. You could have thought up that."


            "But I didn't. So, why me? It's like the commander didn't give any thought to hiring me."


            "What do you expect? You might not have any tactical experience but at least you have training. Think about your superiors, the ones making the strategic decisions."


            "Yes, a professor of metaphysical biology, his former protégée, and a bunch of UN bureaucrats," Misako sighed. "That makes things worse for me doesn't it?"


            Ritsuko frowned. "So you heard about the reorganization, then."


            "They're making me the scapegoat!"


            "Your performance was lacking. What do you think would have happened if Yubari hadn't stepped in? Hadn't done your job?"


            Misako glared.


            "Shinju could have died because you were too hesitant. She needed orders." Ritsuko returned to her work. "Frankly, you got off easy."


            Fingering her necklace, Misako's rage abated and she gave a short nod. "Yes, I know that. The only reason I wasn't dismissed was so the Commander could hold onto his power, show that Nerv was still... independent." Her voice, subdued, sounded nearly identical to Rei's.


            Ritsuko frowned. There was more to it than that, but... "Yes, the Commander knew that your replacement would be picked by the UN, and Nerv would have lost tactical control of Evangelion."


            "Like we don't have that now?"


            Ritsuko smiled wanly. "JSSDF is providing strategic and logistical oversight. Technically, their role has not changed. We simply lost the independence that we assumed we would be getting."


            "And Azazel?"


            "Well yes, they're in the same boat as us." Ritsuko laughed bitterly. "The Russians wanted UN funding, but the UN is just as concerned about a force centered around advanced nuclear weapons as they are about Evangelion."


            "So once again the JSSDF wins."


            Ritsuko raised an eyebrow. "If by winning you mean having to wrangle both Nerv and Azazel, then yes. Given the diplomatic mess they got forced into, I do not envy them."


            "At least we don't have to deal with the Chinese. They like it when nuclear weapons get used on our soil."


            Ritsuko raised an eyebrow. "But they like the Russians developing advanced nuclear weapons and then deploying them here? Between here, their bases in Siberia and their bases in their 'near abroad allies' to the far east they've got China boxed in."


            "That may be why the Security Council put pressure on Azazel. To bell the cat."


            "Perhaps. It doesn't explain the... mirth the Americans have been showing."


            "Those cowboys? Have they finally made a decision on how many Evangelions they'll be building? I'd like to know when I'll be getting another Unit."


            "You don't get it? Nukes work, and we're talking about the nation that started this whole nuclear mess. You think they'll let the Russians beat them?"


            "Great. So you think they'll get into a pissing contest with Azazel instead of building more Evangelions?"


            "Well, we already have Unit 02."


            "And when will Third Branch hand that over?" Misako asked.


            "The Commander is working on it, but it looks like... they're holding it back to see how well we can perform."

            "That's stupid. We'd work better with another functional Unit."


            "What reason for keeping our forces split makes more sense?"


            Misako sighed. "No wonder they think Nerv's a bunch of screw-ups. All this time and money, and a bunch of Russians in a rusty boat can kill the things with Cold War missiles."


            Ritsuko raised an eyebrow. "Actually, the Moskva IIB is a very advanced weapon."


            "Compared to a giant robot?"


            Ritsuko nodded her head in defeat.


            "Back to the Russians? How could Ikari have agreed to their demands?"


            "He doesn't have much choice. Yes, Evangelion works, and works with less collateral damage than those 'Angel Busters', but the UN isn't going to throw away a proven alternative."


            "That's not what I meant."


            "Oh, the Naval Infantry company?"


            "Yes. How could he let that happen. I mean we're going to be guarded by Russian soldiers? And if you think that they're really Naval Infantry..."


            Ritsuko chuckled. "Blame the Third Child's death. The UN was convinced that the Pilots were not adequately protected. In that moment we lost a quarter of our compliment."


            "But..."


            "Oh?" Ritsuko smiled. "Do you want to tell the Security Council that the Third didn't die? I'm sure the Commander will love that."


            "We really have to keep Gehirn 's test tube baby project a secret?"


            Ritsuko stared at Misako for several seconds. "Yes."


            "The Commander's really paranoid, isn't he? Have fun keeping the reason for our medical testing secret from our bodyguards."


            "Fortunately, I can work around that." Ritsuko tapped her clipboard.


            "I liked it better when the UN forgot that we technically worked for them."


            Ritsuko smiled thinly in response. "Anyway, it's unfortunate that the Security Council found their spines, but there you have it."


            "But the Russians?"


            "Oh you didn't hear? Azazel's a Special Duty Organization now."


            Misako snorted. "Great, so the UN is playing coy with Azazel too."


            "Forcing them to guard the Pilots to their rivaling weapons is... fitting. It also sends a clear message to Nerv."


            "Meanwhile Azazel gets their fighter wings assigned to a Nerv airbase."


            Ritsuko smiled. "That fits. Azazel watches our Pilots, while we watch their nukes."


            "Right, save that the Admiral Kuznetsov hasn't actually left."


            Ritsuko nodded.


            "Which I can't blame them, though, the fighting causes a lot of damage, and a mobile airbase is handy. Of course, they still have their escorts, and you can bet that includes a whole mess of their submarine fleet."


            "So, everyone gets shafted and reminded that they're subordinate to the UN."


            "Sounds about right. Though, I think the Russian pilots will be happy to be off the Admiral Kuznetsov and at a base with better bunks and a bigger runway." Ritsuko grinned. "Look at it this way. It's not like you'd be crammed for space with your guards. A whole regiment of Russian marines could live in that apartment block of yours."


            "Not that I'd notice, anyway, will all the training the generals will be putting me through."


            "Would you rather it was Azazel putting you through the wringer?"


            Misako sighed.


            "I noticed you're not complaining about the other training proposals."


            "It's a good idea. Shinju fought well, but..."


            "She and Rei could use some more formal training, and since the Evangelions are thought-controlled, things they learn outside of the plug will help their piloting skills." Ritsuko leaned back in her chair. "Let's be honest, here. Nerv focused simply on getting Evangelion to function. We only recently managed to get them... reliably functional."


            "Yeah, we didn't put in any real effort into learning how to use them."


            "That's going to have to change." Ritsuko took off her glasses. "So Technical Division did its job. Tactical has functional Evangelions and Pilots. It's Tactical's job now."


            "Gee, thanks," Misako frowned. "I'm worried about what Yubari wants to do. He actually complimented the basic training for the Evangelions."


            Ritsuko's left eyebrow raised.


            "Walking, plugging in power cables, basic gunnery. He thought Shinju's familiarity with Unit 01 was impressive, given she'd only been piloting for two weeks."


            "And this is a problem?"


            "The problem is me. Again." Misako stared at the floor. "This is bad. They think that I'm a nepotism pick. An inexperienced 'whiz-kid' that replaced some other 'wiz-kid' that went and got herself and a Pilot killed."


            Ritsuko swung her glasses a bit before putting them back on. "Technically..."


            Misako raised her eyes to stare at the scientist.


            "You'll just have to hold yourself to the same standards that you're holding the Pilots. Failure is a luxury they can't have; why should you?"


            "There's always Azazel."


            "I'd prefer it if Tokyo 3 were not nuked." Ritsuko sighed at the clone's depression. "Look, take Yubari's training, and if Azazel offers, take theirs too. We can always use more data on how the Russians think. Meanwhile work on how to turn that training into something practical, because that's your problem."


            "I have been thinking of overhauling our wargames."


            "That's good. Like?"


            "Well, right now we just have Shinju shooting at fake-angels when they pop up. There needs to be more mobility than that. I mean... do we have any long-range weapons that would actually work?"


            "Full mobility? The Evas are expensive to sortie."


            "Can't you just have the Magi whip up a better simulation? One where Shinju can do more than just stand and shoot?"


            "Well, it would take a higher processing factor."


            "And while we're on Technical Division's screw-ups: why don't we have Unit 00 functional?" Misako's red eyes nearly sparkled.


            "The commander did manage to secure funding to reactivate it."


            "But?"


            "The Prototype has had problems. If it fails again..."


            Misako laughed. "Well, you'll just have to use your big brain to make sure it doesn't fail. I can't let you get my little sister hurt."


            Ritsuko chuckled. All three Ayanamis received the same medical procedures; all three were equally replaceable. Though, Ritsuko could appreciate the sentiment, especially since it made for more stable clones. The scientist flipped her clipboard closed. That reminded her...


            The bottle-blonde cleared her throat. "Misako, I've been going over your blood-work."


            "I've been good. No meat. None at all!"


            "Yes, but there's other things you should be more careful about."


            Misako narrowed her eyes. "Oh, come on. How can you even measure that? I thought alcohol broke down in the body after a couple hours!"


            "Why do you think I stagger your daily physicals at different hours?"


            Misako glared.


            "Do you want make this difficult? You were just complaining about being seen as an unprofessional joke, and now you're angry at me for telling you to control your drinking?"


            The clone's expression shifted into a pout.
           


            "This is serious. I don't want you to screw up, and I don't want to risk trying to stuff your mind into yet another replacement body. Not that the Commander would let me do it if you drunk yourself to death."


            "So, how much am I allowed?"


            "I'd prefer you keep it under three a day." Ritsuko noted Misako's hopeful expression. "Cans. Three. A day."


            "Yeah, that's not gonna happen."


            "It's that or you start taking a pill that will make you get violently ill every time you consume alcohol," Ritsuko mildly commented.


            "And why would I take such a pill?"


            "It'd be mixed in with your daily medication. I have my own pharmacy and pill press, so it's not like you'd be able to tell which one it is. I suppose you could stop taking all of your pills, and within the week the UN will appoint the next Tactical commander."


            "You can't do this to me," Misako said in a hollow voice.


            "Sure, I can," Ritsuko made a note. It looked like Misako more resistant to certain medications than the other two. The doctor wondered if it was due to the more mature physiology or a difference in personality. "Your body is Nerv property. Just be glad I'm not forcing you to go cold turkey."


            "You bitch."


            "You're showing your age, Misa-chan." Ritsuko underlined that note. She would make the dosage changes tonight. "This was a wakeup call. We can't be complacent. Do you know what happens if we screw up?"


            "Humanity dies?"


            "Worse. We lose our funding."

 

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

 


            Silently, Rei and Shinju walked down the sidewalk, their steps nearly synchronized. The shorter girl turned her head and looked at her sister's neutral face for a few moments. "We are not going to the Geo Front," she observed in an even tone.


            Rei tilted her head in acknowledgement. "Correct. We were ordered to return home."


            Shinju nodded and their silent walking resumed.


            This time, Rei was the one to study her sibling. Her expression was calm, vaguely thoughtful, contained, reassuringly identical. It was not like the Captain's. The extroversion of that self disturbed Rei.


            Noticing her hair band, Rei's frown deepened. Rei understood why she wore it; Rei was less clear on why she had been given it in the first place. However, Rei supposed she was allowed some indulgences. "You fought well."


            Shinju stopped walking and lowered her head. "Thank you... Oneechan. It was your advice that did it."


            Rei took a step backwards and grabbed the younger girl's hand and pulled her forward. Her lips twitched downwards in a frown. "You reacted much the same way when the Commander complimented your performance. If you are experiencing problems, I suggest you talk to Dr. Akagi ."


            "No, I like it... It's just... thank you." Shinju paused to breathe and let her cheeks cool down. "I'm happy that you said it. It surprised me."


            Rei kept her grip on Shinju's hand. Her statement appeared logical. Rei's statement would have been unexpected and happiness was an appropriate reaction to fulfilling her purpose.


            Silence returned for several minutes. "I hope Unit 00 is repaired soon," Shinju eventually said. "It must hurt... being without a-" She hesitated and gave up trying to find a better word. "-purpose."


            "You understand," Rei stated as they rounded a corner.


            Shinju blushed and looked down the final block towards their apartment building. The normally empty parking lot was swarming with vehicles and men wearing various uniforms. The tan and red uniforms of Nerv tactical and the black suits of Section 2 were outnumbered by the camouflage pattern of men in battledress with automatic rifles slung over their shoulders. Some were standing on a perimeter with their weapons within easy access while the majority were busy unloading a group of large trucks.


            Shinju looked to Rei and gave a slight nod. She understood why they were sent home instead of to the Geo Front "Azazel?" she asked, noting that the soldier's weapons were not Japanese issue.


            "They have been assigned to guard us," Rei said as they strode forward.


            One of the Nerv Tactical personnel separated out of the crowd and walked towards them. A small group of camouflaged men followed the lavender woman. "I'm sorry, but the Commander decided that Azazel's forces didn't have to wait. They could move in as soon as they were ready. This is Captain Yuli Sakharov." Misako pointed to a large Russian in a black beret with a moustache that was slightly too bushy for his mid-twenties face. "He commands one of the... Naval Infantry Companies attached to Azazel. He and his men have been assigned to guard us."


            "It is an honor to assist our comrades in glorious battle against humanity's enemies," Captain Sakharov barked in stern, if quite passable, Japanese.


            The thinner of the two men behind him coughed.


            The Ayanamis blinked roughly in sequence of age.


            "Ah... yes, that Russian humor I was warned about," Misako remarked.


            "Humor like all dangerous things is best left in the hands of military professionals," Sakharov gravely said. "Never fear, Captain! I've put my best men on task of guarding your sisters." He pointed to the two men behind him. "Lieutenant Pyotr Kurchatov and Lieutenant Igor Khariton. Death brings them less fear than failure."


            "The latter invariably follows the former," the lanky officer dryly noted. He turned to Rei. "I am Pyotr . My platoon is at your service. If it suits you, we shall discuss how to organize your protective detail."


            "Understood," Rei nodded.


            Several centimeters taller than Pyotr, the other officer was a a tall man himself,  bigger in the shoulders and chest. The large, muscular man had a broad unusually warm, for a Russian officer, face. A shaved-bald head gleamed under a beret that looked too small for his frame. Similarly, the Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder seemed diminutive. He crouched down, forcing his gaze level with Shinju's. "You did good thing," he softly, but with a deep, gravely voice. His accent was thicker than the other officers'. "Killing angels, is full time job, no?"


            Shinju nodded.


            "So much blood!" Igor chuckled, at the memory of the Angel's dismemberment and decapitation. "You did well!"


            The Fourth Child looked up and, with neutral eyes, smiled slightly


            Igor's grin grew and threatened to spilt his stubbly head in two. He leaned forward. "We are killers," he whispered conspiratorially.


             "We make good team! Don't worry," he said in a boisterous tone. "You protect us inside robot. We protect you outside robot."


            Misako rolled her eyes slightly. Sakharov was right; Igor did seem to have the right temperament to head Shinju's detail.


            "That's good," Shinju replied.


            "Too much talking," Pyotr noted to Rei, who tilted her head in response.


            "You see what I have to deal with?" Misako sighed to Sakharov.


            "I'm sure having plenty of 'older brothers' to watch them is sure to help," Sakharov laughed. "Come, my men can finish unloading while we talk inside."


            Misako nodded.


            Shinju watched as Igor rose to his full height and started following two paces, and just to the side, behind her. Soon. they crossed the busy parking lot, and arrived at the apartment building.


            "Concrete is good." Sakharov patted the side. "More than enough room for us. Each of you will get a platoon detailed to your defense, while the other two platoons will specialize in defending this position, Geo Front and company support."


            "Why are we on the surface, Ma'am? Wouldn’t the Geo Front give better protection?" Pyotr asked.


            "The apartments down there are too small, and it's a bit of a tradition for the Tactical head to be here." Misako explained. "It's kind of like sending the Pilots to school. The three of us don't have to ever leave the Geo Front. Really."


            "You want a better life for your sisters?" Sakharov asked as they walked to the elevator.


            Misako looked off to the side where a Nerv work-crew was maneuvering some bulky equipment "Yes, but there are some changes in place. In light of Azazel's... tactics we are cutting a shaft into one of the access tunnels that run under the subbasement."


            "Good, good, access is important." Sakharov nodded. He looked around the building's courtyard. "Yes, not bad."


            "Well, I'm sure we can iron out the details over dinner. Shinju makes some great dumplings."


            "Thank you," Shinju blushed.


            "Don't be bashful!" Igor said, giving Shinju a pat on the back. "Cooking and killing. We'll make a proper Russian wife out of you yet, once you get strong enough to chop wood."

 

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

 


            With a suspicious eye, Captain Zel'dovich walked around his Su-33. Just below the cockpit on the left side were seven airplane silhouettes and one slanted golden oval, a halo. After he completed a few circuits he strode back to the waiting maintenance officer.


            "Don't worry. I didn't let those Nippon techs touch your baby," stated Chief Petty Officer Ivan Zarechny, the head of Azazel's maintenance unit.


            "Good. They can keep the barracks, tarmacs, and runways in great shape but..."


            "Yes, they'd be great at running a hotel," Ivan said as they walked out of the hanger. Once they were in a safe location he pulled a cigarette packet out of his coveralls.


            Andrei took one of the offered cigarettes. "Oh, they can keep their shiny Attack VTOLs running, but that's easy. These modern planes have no soul, no... personality."


            "Yes. Personality." Ivan inhaled, remembering the hassle that came with simply inspecting a Lyulka turbofan's inner shaft, and that was an easy procedure when compared with inspecting the high pressure compressor disks. He looked at his cigarette thoughtfully.


            "At least we've got some proper support. now," Zel'dovich sarcastically said looking up into the sky. Yakov was there, leading one of the new Azazel wings on CAP (combat air patrol). Zel'dovich understood the reason to have constant air coverage, but he wanted to be the next one to kill an Angel.


            "You don't like the MiG-31s?" Ivan smirked.


            "You're only smiling because you don't have to maintain those hypersonic pigs."


            "They're only hypersonic if you don't mind structural and engine damage. Besides, they make for good patrol aircraft."


            "Nevermind that strapping an Angel Buster to them really hurts their flight performance."


            "It's not like they'd let us simply nuke the thing a few hundred kilometers out." Andrei turned. "Oh, what have you found out, now."


            "Would you like to see a magic trick?"


            Andrei's eyebrows raised. "Oh? The last time you made a pair of white swans appear."


            "The Tu-160 is a pretty plane."


            "Yes, it looks great on a poster," Zel'dovich grumbled, but it was true with their antiflash white paint and pointed elegant bodies they were very striking planes. The technological and destructive power they represented was also nice.


            "Follow me. It just arrived today." Ivan said, leading the captain through the sprawling base.


            "What is it?"


            "Have you ever wondered just why the runways are so ridiculously big here?" Ivan asked as they climbed up one of the flight control buildings, and up a couple flights of stairs. "They're not just long but insanely wide."


            "Yes, you could land three Mriya's side by side on them." Zel'dovich referring to the An-225. Arguably one of the largest planes in the world. It was the heaviest of transport planes... until now.


            "Funny you should say that." Ivan smirked as Andrei stared at a... plane parked on a far off tarmac.
"Strangely enough, by my guess it's got three times the wingspan of an An-225 its fuselage is about the same length... "


            Nodding, Andrei gave a low whistle at the immense black aircraft. A 240 meter wingspan was on the conservative side, and it had to be at least that long.. "Measuring from the nose tip to tail tip, sure, but it's a flying wing. The fuselage, such as it is, is only, what sixty meters long?"


            "Probably."


            "And that's just from the nose to the back of the... is that a launch bay?"


            Ivan nodded. "Pretty big space. What do you think it's designed to transport?"


            "It's open. They don't just want to transport them." Andrei shook his head.


            "Crazy Nipponese. You think they'll really want to paradrop those robots?"


            "Why not? If you're going to make a plane big enough to carry the damn things..."


            "Jealous?"


            Andrei laughed. "Of that pig? I'd be amazed if it can fly. I can count just four turbofans and only eight assisted takeoff rockets."


            "There's a lot of wing area."


            "Enough to carry one of those robots?" Andrei shook his head. "Is there any limit to the money these fools have?"

 

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

 


            "Target is moving, Pattern Blue intensifying," Makoto stated from his console.


            "Do we have visual?" Captain Ayanami asked, looking at the giant terrain display that dominated the Command Center.


            "Negative, too much interference," Maya replied.


            "Keep at it. That's too suspicious." Misako frowned. "Shinju, the Azazel teams will inform you on its silhouette, but it's the standard giant monster. Can't miss it. Generate your AT field before you launch."

 
            "Understood," Shinju's stated over the voice-link.


            "It's about to cross the Komagatake Defense Perimeter," Makoto announced.


            "Time to intercept?" General Yubari inquired from his elevated position.


            "Three kilometers," Makoto verified. "Two-eight... two-five. It's starting to move past Lift Seventeen. Continuing towards the city center."


            "Launch Unit 01!" Misako ordered. Shortly after she gave the order a blue chevron representing the Evangelion appeared on the holographic map display.


            "Engaging," Shinju confirmed as the icon representing Unit01 moved to intercept that of the Angel. The sharp sounds of the Pallet rifle firing were picked up by the voice-link with Unit 01's cockpit.


            "Picking up an energy spike!" Makoto shouted.


            "It's shooting back," Shinju said in a muffled voice.


            "Unit 01 is sustaining damage. Chest armor is at sixty percent!" Maya cried.


            Misako's eyes went up to the map. "Isn't her AT field up?"


            "Yes, it's absorbing most of the damage but... the Angel's attacks are going through it!"


            "Keep it up, Shinju! Now go back and to the left. There's a ridge to the South East. Get behind that."


            "Yes," Shinju's voice gasped.


            "AT field maintaining. Damage subsiding," Maya said.


            "Angel moving to intercept. Looks like we've got its attention," Makoto announced.


            Misako frowned at the display, it was somewhat unclear. "Shinju are you in position?"


            "Yes."


            "Good, orders are coming." Misako turned to one of the technicians. "Patch me into the Azazel wing."


            "Captain Fuchs here."


            "How many N2 tipped missiles do your men have ready to fire?" Misako asked.


            "Yakov and Borisovich each have two," Fuchs replied. "They're on the same channel."


            Misako's eyes went to the map and looked at the symbols representing the Azazel planes that Makoto had just highlighted. "Time until the target reaches the ridge?"


            "It's slowed down to a crawl. Give it thirty seconds," Maya stated.


            "Yakov, Borisovich - fire."


            Misako watched as two symbols representing missiles split from the two Azazel planes. "Shinju, keep your AT field up. When I give the order, I want you to jump over the ridge and rush the enemy."


            "Fifteen seconds from impact!" Makoto shouted. "Ten!"


            "Now Shinju! Go, go!"


            Unit 01 moved forward and the sound of the Angel firing came over the voice link. "Impact!" Makoto shouted. "AT field flaring! Target is down, reporting 30% mass damage."


            "Take it out, Shinju!" Misako ordered.


            "Angel still firing! Head and chest armor taking damage," Maya stated.


            The two symbols intersected and after a few seconds the Angel's winked off.


            "Pattern Blue no longer being detected," Makoto stated.


            "Good," Misako gave the JSSDF general a sideways glance. "Shinju, return to base, but keep an eye out." She looked to Makoto. "Any other pattern blue on the sensors?"


            "No, Ma'am."


            Misako nodded. "Fuch,s do any of your men see anything?"


            "Nyet."


            "Not bad," Yubari commented, rising to his feet. "Simulation end." After he said that several of the Nerv technicians stopped their consoles and the command center returned to its normal lighting.


            "That was a real pain."


            "You didn't send the Pilot in headlong," Yubari noted after he had walked down to the level that Misako and the rest of the bridge crew were on.


            "That's because the last time I came up against a rapid-fire Angel you had it kill her before she got within a klick."


            "The Evangelion is extremely adept at close quarter combat, especially since at that range both AT fields are neutralized. It makes sense for an Angel to come up with some kind of standoff capability," General Yubari explained.


            "Yeah, thankfully, Azazel's giving us our own ranged abilities." Misako leaned against the wall of the next highest station.


            "N2 missiles? You might as well have nuked it."


            Misako laughed. "Nah, this way I got the best of both worlds. Something nice and heavy to soften up the Angel, Eva to finish it off, and no radiation. Though I wish Ritsuko would get the damn Eva-sim ready."


            "Oh? You miss seeing the battles that much?"


            "Yes, but more importantly. I really think we need to train Shinju and Rei better. Right now, they're just sitting in a room reading cards that your wargames people hand to them. That trains me, but what about them?"


            "Dr. Akagi is Nerv's responsibility. I'm amazed that you actually have a backup command center." Yubari said as he looked around the room. "And that you weren't using it for training. What kind of operation were you trying to run?"


            "That's a strategic question." Misako frowned. Nerv's priorities were... worrying. "But, I've been more than happy to work on these wargames. We've been doing them ever since the reorganization."


            "Yes, but you may simply prefer barking orders in an air conditioned Command Center instead of being out in the field with a platoon of... Naval Infantry."


            Misako looked over to make sure the channel to the Russian liaison officer had been closed. "Yes, it is very convenient for Azazel to have an company's worth of troops fluent in Japanese, ready-made for our use."


            "Yes, that is... handy." Yubari looked at his watch. Nerv had enough, if barely, time to prepare for the Angel's return, evidently Azazel had enough time to prepare for Nerv. "Take your sisters and go home. We'll have a debriefing on the battle tomorrow morning."


            "Sir." Misako gave a salute before leaving the Command Center.


            Watching the Nerv technicians clean up and shut down their workstations, Yubari pondered. There was something deeply wrong here. For an organization built around fighting the Angels there were severe... gaps in Nerv's thinking. He knew that Commander Ikari was not a military man, but neither was he an idiot. There had to be a reason for such lax behavior.

 

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

 


            "I'm surprised," Fuyutsuki said, adjusting the cuffs to his uniform.


            There was a slight pause as Gendo's gaze went from the armored window to the old man's face. "Oh?"


            "Normally, you eschew such publicity events."


            Gendo's shoulder shifted slightly. "The situation is acceptable. Do you think I would be so petty as to risk the Plan over a social function?"


            Fuyutsuki let his gaze drift out to the passing buildings. "You seem confident about the current security arrangements."


            "Shouldn't I?" Gendo stood up.


            "Section Two again?"


            The commander cocked his head. "A respected enemy is more valuable than an ally. An ally requires trust; trust that can be betrayed."


            "Azazel could destroy us - just a moment's work," Fuyutsuki cautioned as the limousine parked.


            Gendo smirked. "They killed an Angel with one plane, one missile. If anything were to happen to the Pilots, the suspicion would immediately fall on them."


            "They are victims of their own success, then?" Fuyutsuki asked.


            "Their first mission was perfect. They have nowhere to go but down."


            "So while they fight against expectations, we shall use them?" Fuyutsuki shook his head as they exited the car and passed groups of men in dark suits.


            As the lift ascended out of the parking garage, Gendo adjusted his gloves. "Let them fight. If it weren't for the funding, I'd let them nuke the whole lot."


            "And their goals?" They walked towards the building's entrance.


            "I am not naïve enough to assume the Russians are more innocent than we are," Gendo replied, coldly.


            "I suppose that gives us some perspective," Fuyutsuki remarked.


            "I see your cynical edge has remained," a large man stated. As Fuyutsuki looked at the hirsute figure, the term bear-like regrettably came to mind. The newcomer was dressed in a dark-blue almost black naval uniform.


            Gendo looked at the man for a moment. "Admiral."


            "Commander," Lavrentiyv Sudoplatov turned to Fuyutsuki. "Vice Commander. Arrived early, I see."


            "Really? The generals are not here yet?"


            "Oh, they're around. Yubari is scowling about something." Sudoplatov chuckled. He looked around the room. "It is refreshing to see that there is some culture in this city of technology. Did you import the wood, or was it natively grown?"


            Gendo turned away from the Russian letting his gaze pan across the dining room and ultimately rest upon a small group of JSSDF officers. He knew the restaurant's quality. It was one of the few places that could actually serve a meal in some semblance of serenity.


            "I believe this was all pre-Impact. The original restaurant was in Kobe and was rescued before any real water damage could get tables and wall paneling."


            "Ah, it is good that some beautiful things were saved. Life is tragic," Sudoplatov noted. "But we must do what we can."


            "Like create Azazel," Fuyutsuki said as a waiter bearing a silver drink tray walked up to them. He moved between the glasses of clear liquid, until he found one with a... palatable odor.


            The admiral flashed a smile. "You give me too much credit. To lay all of Azazel's accomplishments at my feet? That would be like saying your protégée built Nerv singlehandedly." Sudoplatov laughed. "We both know that great endeavors require the help from all sorts of people. To discount their contributions would be insulting."


            Fuyutsuki sipped his gin.


            "You are correct, but one must not confuse who is contributing with who is leading," Gendo adjusted his glasses. "If you'll excuse me, I see that the UN representative has arrived."


            Sudoplatov looked to the door and watched as a... diplomatic man in a pinstripe suit entered. "May I suggest a bribe? Nothing too overt, simply one of the less-ravaged Caribbean islands. He is a man with simple tastes."


            Fuyutsuki smirked. "So where is the good Captain? Has your pilot arrived?"


            "He and the good doctor have been delayed. You know engineers. They are a suspicious lot. Ever since they've been moved, Pavel has been babying his bombs. What of your Pilots?"


            "Ask your Captain Sakharov." The old professor heard the engine noise on the nearby road suddenly increase in volume, followed by frantic motions by the black-suited guards who mingled in the room. Those in military uniforms simply smirked.


            Sudoplatov sighed. "I was wondering why he notified me that his BTR-80s would be on 'training maneuvers' today."


            Fuyutsuki's eyebrows went up as the sound of heavy diesel and large turbine engines raced to the building. Walking to a window, he watched as a pair of large armored vehicles stopped and secured the lot. It was then followed by four more fourteen ton vehicles which disgorged over twenty more troops and a quartet of women. Almost as an afterthought, the former professor noted more vehicles bringing up the rear and a pair of bulky, insect-like helicopters loping about. He sighed, wondering if Azazel had brought any jets into this little display, though he supposed the satellite coverage did not count, as their orbits were relatively fixed.


            Wearing Nerv dress, the Captain strode forward. Fuyutsuki held back a smile. Normally, he never gave much thought to Nerv's uniforms but the long black shin-length skirt under a black double-breasted jacket with red cuffs, epaulets and collar did give a striking... presence. Even the green jewel at her neck helped with the look.


            To either side of her were the Pilots, both wearing matching white dresses.  The younger's was more frilly, with the scalloped-hem and a bit more flounce to her lace. Shinju was shadowed by a grim-faced mountain of a man. While all the soldiers seemed to be alertly paranoid, that man's expression was even more intense.


             Wearing a white-trimmed blue suit with a matching, if short skirt, Dr. Akagi rounded out the group and seemed quite embarrassed for her effort. Within moments, the contingent of Ayanamis had entered the restaurant and cut to the private dining room.


            Turning away from the UN representative, Gendo took a long sip from his spiced rum and smiled slightly. He knew the value of theatrics, especially after you acquired the reputation of eschewing such things. As he walked over to the Ayanamis, their cohort of guards split and fell to either side, giving him free access.


            "Impressive commitment to security Captain," Gendo nodded to Misako. "I trust things are working well with our allies?"


            "Yes, Sir." Misako snapped a salute.


            "Good, I wa-" Gendo's response was obscured by even louder engine noise, this time coming from a pair of high-power turbofans. The commander stared as a jet bearing the spear and cleaved shield of Azazel landed vertically on an empty area of the parking lot.


            "Ah, so he took a Yak-38," Sudoplatov muttered.


            "Is this a discipline problem?" Fuyutsuki asked. "And here comes the Nerv VTOLs."


            "No, he said he would fly right over with Beria as soon as the man finished."


            "And you're not going to punish one of your officers for taking advantage in such a way?" Fuyutsuki watched as a man in a flight suit scrambled to help someone out of the second seat. Normally the back seat in two-seat Yak-38's was used for anti-submarine warfare, but now it was being used as a taxi.


            "I suppose I'll find something to do. I'm sure the trickster even filed a flight plan and got clearance for that little escort."


            "We are at war, and it would be a shame if Azazel lost their best pilot and their scientific lead due to friendly fire."


            Sudoplatov frowned. "So there's the possibility that this isn't the action an impulsive pilot getting away with some stunt but a carefully arranged and choreographed maneuver designed to look impressive?"


            Fuyutsuki watched as the pilot helped an older man in a white lab coat get to the ground. The pilot then stripped out of his flight suit, revealing his dress uniform. "Perish the thought."


            On the other side of the room, Shinju hesitantly looked at the field of crisp uniforms. Dr. Akagi and Oneechan were the only others people not in a uniform. Even the waiters appeared to be Nerv.


            She turned to the entrance, noticing another man in a Russian Naval uniform enter. He was somewhat on the short side, but had a strong jaw and piercing, amused eyes. Next to him was an older man wearing a somewhat rumpled suit under a white lab coat. The engineer's hair was wispy to thinning up top. "Ah, if it isn't the good Doctor Akagi," he said his accent making his words nearly incomprehensible.


            "Director," Ritsuko stiffly nodded.


            "Hah! There's the Hero of the evening!" Captain Zel'dovich walked up to Shinju and went to one knee.


            "Thanks... I tried.... it turned out okay." Shinju blushed.


            "Okay? So modest," Zel'dovich laughed. "With you and your sisters I don't think we'll have to worry about those Angels."


            Noticing all the eyes on her, the crimson in Shinju's cheeks deepened. She looked over to Oneechan but she simply blinked, while Oneesan seemed almost... bemused.


            "Don't be nervous," Andrei lifted Shinju's chin. " He then picked up the diminutive girl and held her so she sat over his left forearm. "You need to be proud of what you've done!" he shouted as the rest of the room turned to stare at the pilots.

 
            Fuyutsuki looked into his gin. "Laying it on a bit thick," he muttered.


            "He's a pilot. Ego and charisma are part of the job. Besides, they make a cute pair," Sudoplatov noted as the photographers went to their work. "See, she likes it."


            Fuyutsuki nodded at the shy smile that had slowly grown on Shinju's face. It certainly was a crowd pleaser "Yes, I can see the symbolism."


            "Your Commander seems to be having fun."


            Fuyutsuki kept his face neutral and noticed the slight, slight grin on Ikari's face.


            "He is an impressive man. I can see why he fought so hard to keep the Ayanamis together. Such a shame that Rei's Evangelion isn't operational."


            Ritsuko was nursing a Scotch on the rocks when she felt a presence behind her. She slowly turned away from the bar and frowned at Beria's smiling face.


            "You must be very proud of your creations," he said, switching to English.


            Forcing herself to keep her eyes from drifting toward the Ayanamis, Ritsuko raised an eyebrow. She wondered if he was merely fishing or if he actually knew something about the sisters. "The Evangelions? Or do you mean the Magi?" she asked in the same language.


            "The former. Though the latter... I can just imagine the things I could do with that computing power," Beria smiled wistfully.


            Ritsuko suppressed a scoff. "Better bombs?"


            "Reducing the required yield would be better, for everyone. No?"


            "True, though we'll do our best to make sure we don't need your services," Ritsuko kept her voice even.


            Beria chuckled before fiddling with his coat pocket. "Naturally, no one wants to have their nation bombed."


            "It must be nice to actually work on your bombs in the sunshine. As opposed to some Siberian lab," Ritsuko idly observed.


            "Bah, the sun is overrated. Do you miss it? Spending all that time deep under Hakone, working on your biological voodoo?"


            "Voodoo?" Ritsuko's hand clenched over her glass.


            Beria laughed. "You lack rigor! I know computer science. I studied Metaphysical Biology. The theories are a joke. I've seen more experimental control in animal husbandry!"


            "You just blow up bombs in the enemy's face! Where's the style in that?" Ritsuko hissed.


            The Russian gave a reluctant nod. "Yes, it does lack the cultured dignity of running up to the enemy and shiving it with a knife."


            "That's just due to the limitations of AT Field combat. Ranged weapons are a problem."


             "Never give a scientist an engineer's job," Beria shook his head.


            "What?"


            "You built these fantastical war machines, but you never thought about how to actually use them? What was your plan? What would you have done without us? You have no effective weapons. Your tactical officers have been a parade of inept nepotistic neophytes. You didn't train your pilots in anything other than just turning the damn things on. And your strategic officers didn't seem to care about any of this."

 
            Ritsuko narrowed her eyes.


            "It took the JSSDF and the UN noticing this... criminal incompetence for you to clean up your act. And what do we find? All of a sudden you've got spare Command Centers to train in. New weapons designs, new training simulations, Pilots able to fight and kill, and officers that can actually learn. The Admiral likes his games, but I'm a simple man. What's wrong with Nerv? What stupid game are you playing here?"


            Ritsuko inhaled and then took a sip of her glass. He was needling her, obviously so. Worse, he was right. "Oh? So you're concerned that Nerv's suddenly less incompetent than you thought we were? I'm sorry that we're not uncooperative idiots you could intimidate with supercriticality."


            Beria's smile warmed. "Is that so?"


            "Maybe the much touted Russian Intelligence isn't quite as good as you thought it was?" Ritsuko icily asked.


            "Maybe." Beria sniffed. "Maybe, but I'd rather the situation be this way."


            "With Nerv getting more competent?"


            "Of course," Beria laughed, and picked up a fresh glass of vodka. "If you'll excuse me."


            Watching the man leave, Ritsuko allowed a slight shudder. She had met researchers like that before and they always worried her. Though if her choices were ending up like her mother or more like Beria... Her thoughts were interrupted by a gently smiling clone.


            "Hello Misako." Ritsuko looked at the glass in the Captain's hands. Amazingly, while it had been around long enough to lose most of its head, the glass was still mostly full. "Enjoying yourself?"


            "I'm being good!" Misako pouted.


            "Yes you are." Ritsuko smiled. Misako's blood work had improved lately.


            Eyes narrowing, Misako stared at the scientists for a few seconds before speaking. "So, how is the Eva-sim going?"


            "Much faster. Now that I don't have to worry about you killing yourself."


            Misako snorted. "Gee..."


            "We'll be ready to start testing with Shinju in the plug, tomorrow." Ritsuko took a sip. "It's good to see you taking this training seriously."


            "I don't have many options." Misako frowned into her glass.


            "If you get fired, don't worry. I won't stop your treatments. I'm not heartless."


            Misako looked back up at Ritsuko. "It's not that. I don't want to lose this chance. I want to kill the Angels! We can't let them get away!"


            "Indeed," Ritsuko stated, mirth leaking into her voice. It was a shame that Misako had not asked exactly how those clone bodies had been enhanced.


            "Looks like the dinner's finally starting up." Misako looked over to see the various officers centering on a long, polished oak table. She frowned. "Where am I sitting?"


            "Over by the end, between your sisters. You're sitting across from two of the Azazel pilots and their tactical commander." Ritsuko sighed as she pointed.


            "What's wrong?"


            "I'm just annoyed at where I'll be sitting."


            "Oh?" Misako asked as she watched the commander and Fuyutsuki sit down. Across from them sat the Admiral in charge of Azazel and one of the JSSDF Generals. Further down the table were the other generals and the UN representative.


            "Yes, tactical at one end, strategic at the other, and science in the middle."


            "You're sitting across from Azazel's scientific head," Misako smirked.


            "A whole meal with Director Beria's company." Ritsuko sighed again and emptied her glass.


            "Shame, the Russian pilots are actually pretty nice. Zel'dovich really got Shinju to blush."


            After getting a fresh Scotch, Ritsuko turned back to Misako. "That's not saying much."


            "This was different. She's trying to be more... mature. I think she's got a little crush."


            Ritsuko's eyes narrowed. "Oh dear... I didn't think...."


            "What? She's a twelve year-old girl. Of course she'd be flattered by some handsome military type lavishing her with compliments."


            Rubbing her forehead, Ritsuko gave herself a moment to collect her thoughts. She then looked at Misako and simply stared.


            "Oh. Well... I could be wrong."


            "It's something we should keep an eye on." Ritsuko frowned and watched the Fourth Child take her seat. It was so hard to... tell. The only person that knew Shinju before was the Commander, and he was not much help. If the salvage had missed... something. The scientist's frown deepened, there was not much she could do. In all likelihood, repeating the procedure would just exacerbate the situation. She had used a less developed body on the presumption that fewer hormones and less developed secondary sex characteristics would make for an easy transition. Perhaps her theory was right.


            Really, all that mattered was making sure the Fourth would continue to be able to Pilot. Even if something was... missing, was that really her problem? Was it even a problem? The Fourth child had a phenomenal synchronization ratio, took well to training, had proven herself in combat, and was even getting Rei to increase her socialization.


            "You're worried?" Concern had entered Misako's voice.


            "I'm cautious," Ritsuko clarified. "You know your family's medical conditions. Add in the stress of piloting... Your sisters are fine, and I'll do everything I can to keep it that way."


            "That's good. I don't want them to get hurt."


            "Oh? What about the training with their bodyguards?" Ritsuko asked.


            "It's no worse than physical education, and it allows them to get used to having stern Russians following them around," Misako shrugged.


            "Physical education? Aren't they doing weapons training?"


            Misako chuckled. "So it's okay to teach them how to shoot giant guns but not regular sized ones? Besides isn't this way better, fiscally? It's much cheaper to have them use the Nerv rifle range than sortie an Eva."


            "I suppose."


            "I am concerned. All this time spent training. I mean there's no time for them to be..."


            "Normal girls?" Ritsuko laughed, almost spilling her drink.


            "Hey, they have social lives."


            "Yes, Shinju's doing quite well at gaining friends," Ritsuko chuckled.


            "Stable Pilots are better than depressed social recluses, right?" Misako raised an eyebrow.


            "Oh yes, much better." Ritsuko's eyes went to the long table. "I think we better take our seats. The meal's about to start."

 

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

 


            "So what'll Kensuke and your brother do with that tape?" Nozomi asked as she picked at her lunch.


            "Tape?" Shinju asked, while Rei silently raised an eyebrow.


            "Probably keep it a secret," Shirane icily stated. She looked at the Ayanami sisters and sighed. "He and my brother were out, and recorded some video. Four days ago."


            "Oh," Shinju frowned. "They weren't in the shelters, then?"


            "Toji's got some bad luck, doesn't he?" Nozomi laughed.


            "Wait... so the guy Shirane's chasing after did the same stupid thing she did?" Shinju asked.


            "You see why she's got a crush on him."


            Shinju blinked and looked back to Shirane.


            The ponytailed brunette stared at Shinju for a moment."I didn't learn about the tape until the day after the fight and then the next day... at school... well..." Shirane's gaze traveled a few meters, finding a giant of a man enthusiastically and loudly consuming a sandwich. Sitting near him were more men in the same uniforms and carrying the same weapons. There were also other groups of soldiers. Some, Shirane thought, seemed to be more focused on Rei than Shinju.


            "Oh.. Igor. He's harmless."


            Nozomi blinked. Looking at the military man, many words came to her mind "Harmless" was not one of them.


            "He's a tank!" Shirane cried. "He's even got two rifles!"


            "Actually..." Shinju blushed. "The one slung over his back is mine."


            Shirane's eyes nearly sparkled. "You got a gun? Can you get me one? How does it shoot? I've heard the recoil isn't actually that bad." She stopped her gushing and paused.


            "Wait... Shinju... why are you being followed by a gaggle of Azazel commandos?" Shirane asked. "I thought your older sister worked for Nerv."


            "Yes, my sister says they follow Rei around, too," Nozomi added.


            Rei turned and gave Shinju a meaningful glare.


            "Well... they're our bodyguards." Shinju slowly said as she tried to keep her cheeks from inflaming.


            "And why is Azazel guarding the siblings of Nerv personnel?" Shirane asked. "Nozomi's sister heads Section Four. Why doesn't she have a group of Slavic heavies following her around?"


            "Did she ever ask?" Rei asked.


            Shirane snickered.


            Nozomi rolled her eyes. "Have you met my sister? Kodama would have."


            "So what's the deal?"


            Shinju turned to Rei who gave a slight nod. "Well... you see... we're Pilots."


            "Pilots? Azazel uses kids in their Sukhois?" Shirane skeptically asked.


            "Of course not."


            "Then what...." Shirane froze and the penny dropped. If they were not piloting Azazel's weapons, then perhaps they were piloting Nerv's... "No way! That was you!"


            Shinju blushed.


            "What? You two pilot that giant robot? That's like out of some movie... I mean...." Nozomi trailed off.


            "We are being invaded by giant aliens," Shirane gently reminded.


            "Actually, that was just me. Rei's got her own Evangelion."


            "So, giant robots and nuclear missiles?" Shirane looked at Shinju's headband. The bows were the same color as the mecha.


            Shinju nodded.


            "Is it okay for you to tell us this?" Nozomi asked.


            "Yeah... they're going public with the information." Shinju glanced to the side and looked at Igor, who looked unusually attentive for a man busily eating a sandwich. "They say it's good for morale."


            "What? I guess so," Nozomi said.


            Shirane's eyes widened for a moment. She then studied her friend's form. "Oh... that is a clever idea. It puts a human face on well... mass destruction, and with the right merchandizing, they can really ensnare the otaku crowd."


            "You're still thinking about getting Kensuke." Nozomi snickered as she watched Shirane's cheeks change color. "Awww... you're like Shinju."


            Shirane glared.


            "Aren't you worried that there's a Pilot that's already in his class, his age?" Nozomi asked.


            Shirane frowned. "Hey Rei, are you interested in Ken?"


            Turning her head to look at the girl, Rei stared for a moment. "No."


            Nozomi laughed.


            "Then I guess the only Pilot in my way is Shinju. Are you interested?"


            "Well... I haven't met him." Shinju managed to just keep her cheeks from warming.


            "He's not your type, trust me."


            "You're not into scrawny geeks." Nozomi nodded in agreement.


            "Yeah!" Shirane grinned manically. "We know what kind of guy you like."


            Shinju blushed.


            "Shirane...we actually didn't narrow it down. She's horribly indecisive," Nozomi remarked.


            "True, true..." Shirane turned to Rei. "What kind of guy do you think Shinju likes?"


            Rei tilted her head. "She enjoys Lieutenant Igor Khariton's company. She sat across from Captain Andrei Zel'dovich and had a very animated conversation with him."


            "Oh? Captain Zel'dovich, Azazel's Angel killer. Sleeping with the competition?" Shirane smirked.


            "He only picked me up and hugged me!" Shinju cried.


            "Oh, public displays of affection. Does he like you?" Shirane asked.


            "He's almost twice my age."


            "So?"


            "He wouldn't be interested in me."


            "So, you are interested," Shirane teased.


            "I dunno... He's good in battle, but I mean... I don't think he'd think that way about me."


            "There is quite the age difference," Nozomi noted.
           


            "We are a bit young for... boyfriends, right?"


            Nozomi frowned. Shinju's voice was hopeful, but... it almost seemed like she was hoping for the negative. "Too young for a lot of stuff, sure."


            "Not too young to drive huge mecha. How's that work?"


            "That's classified," Rei stated.


            "Could be genetic. The two Pilots are sisters," Shirane proposed.


            Rei and Shinju simply resumed eating.


            "Aww, not even a little hint?" Shirane pouted.

 

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

 


            "Makoto, what do you think of the new Captain?" First Lieutenant Shigeru Aoba asked as he picked at his lunch. He was eating lunch with the two other "primary" technicians in a bar and grill that was adjacent to the pyramidal structure of Central Dogma.


            "New? She's been here almost as long as the previous one was," Maya reminded them, while she looked out the window. The restaurant gave a fair view of the massive underground lake.


            "Yeah, that's why I'm asking. We don't seem to have a good track record for keeping Tactical heads."


            "Well... it's weird. She seems to be a forceful boss. Especially after the last Angel, but..." Makoto looked down and stared at his can of soda.


            "Yes?"


            "She's definitely an Ayanami. It's kind of eerie. Seeing what Rei'd be like in a few years."


            "Outgoing?" Shigeru delicately asked.


            "She did spend a lot of time in America, and you know what they're like." Shigeru laughed before taking a bite of his hamburger. He was fine with a lot of American things, their food, their music, but when it came to the people themselves... he was quite happy that the Pacific ocean was the world's largest.


            "I guess they felt nuking us twice was enough," Shigeru dryly chuckled. "But you can tell that the Commander has specific ideas about his section heads."


            "Captain Ayanami and Captain Katsuragi were of the same cloth," Makoto stated carefully.


            Shigeru nodded.


            "Now that's not fair. Ayanami-san doesn't drink nearly as much," Maya mentally added the "now". She had heard Akagi complain about Captain Ayanami's drinking and its effects on the "family condition".


            "Are you suggesting that the Late Captain was... improper during the events that lead to her death?"


            Makoto picked at his lunch "Of course not. It was just bad luck."


            "And poor communication."


            "Well isn't that why Nerv, Azazel, and JSSDF were reorganized?" Maya asked.


            Shigeru gave a charitable smile. "Sure."


            "But it is... strange. Maybe the Commander does keep a bunch of applications on file," Makoto said as he picked at his lunch. Corned beef sounded interesting but...


            "I'm sure he does, but what are the requirements? The ones about having very high tactical marks make some sense, though lacking of combat experience is odd. Even them being younger makes sense. The Pilots are fourteen and under so that can be to have a better bond." Shigeru sipped his drink. "But other things... I mean is one of the requirements: candidate must be friends with Dr. Akagi?"


            "Sempai has lots of friends, and wouldn't it be good for Tactical and Scientific to get along?" Maya asked.


            Makoto frowned. "Yeah, but now we have a Captain that has all these things and is the elder sister of our two active Pilots? Where did the Commander go to get a Tactical head like that?"


            Shigeru carefully watched the other two and felt a... paranoid silence fall over the trio.


            "Same place he found Rei and Shinju, I'm sure," Maya ventured.


            Makoto nodded slightly. "Of course, they're family."


            "Yeah, Shinju's definitely an Ayanami. You can really see the resemblance there," Shigeru ventured.


            "They are only two years apart," Maya said. "So they're gonna be closer."


            "I've only been here about a year. Was Rei like that two years ago?" Makoto asked.


            Shigeru gave a carefully bemused look. "They're not identical. They're sisters."


            "Rei also was trained to be a Pilot much longer than Shinju was."


            "Why was that?" Makoto asked


            "The Marduk Report originally only looked at those born within a year of Second Impact. It was only after the Third Child was lost that they expanded their search to younger children," Maya explained before eating some of her chicken salad.


            "And Rei is the only Pilot to have siblings," Makoto said.


            Maya nodded. "Exactly. Shinju shot to the top of their list."


            "I'd bet the Commander had already tested her, just in case," Shigeru noted.


            Makoto raised an eyebrow. "It's Commander Ikari."


            "Good point."


            "As for the friends with Sempai thing. I think Captain Ayanami's better friends with her. Captain Katsuragi only knew her from college."


            "Captain Ayanami has taken more of an interest in the Evangelions. She's in the cages and testing rooms as much as the Pilots are," Makoto said.


            "They are her sisters," Maya stated. "You know how injured Rei was the last time Unit 00 was powered up."


            "It's more personal," Shigeru nodded. "Speaking of that, when are you and the good doctor going to try to reactivate Unit 00?"


            Maya frowned and almost looked around, but this was the Geo Front. Everyone, even the cooks and wait staff, had Nerv clearance, and the test date was not technically classified. "Tomorrow. The Captain's getting antsy."


            Shigeru nodded, finishing off his burger.


            "It's a risk, but we need more functional Evangelions," Makoto said.


            "It's that or let Azazel take the lead," Shigeru said. "Dr. Akagi was at that fancy dinner. What did she think of the Azazel staff?"


            "We do deal with the Pilots' guard detachment every day," Makoto reminded. Making sure all the Azazel staff got the clearances and escorts was a headache. Only slightly less than working out which areas they could enter and how do deal with the areas they could not.


            "I'm not talking about them. I mean their pilots, their version of the Commander, Dr. Akagi, Captain Ayanami."


            "Sempai thought that Doctor Beria was overbearing, arrogant, rude and had spent far too much time isolated and away from the sun."


            "Doesn't Dr. Akagi have a condo down here?" Shigeru gently asked.


            Maya blushed.


            "I notice that incompetent or stupid wasn't in that list," Makoto said after he resumed eating his sandwich.


            "The man did figure out how to kill Angels, without using a super-robot," Shigeru reminded.


            "And what about Admiral Sudoplatov?" Maya asked.


            "The Captain said he's a Naval Admiral in the same way that Ikari is an Army Commander," Makoto said before taking another bite. The corned beef was starting to grow on him.


            "What do you expect? The Russians have always been big on the spy stuff. Of course the head of their version of Nerv would be well...." Shigeru said.


            "A spook?" Makoto offered.

 

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

 


            The gun's magazine empty, Shinju lowered her rifle. Stepping back to the bench, she glanced at her sister, to see that Rei had already unslung her weapon and had laid it on the range bench. She slipped the small earplugs out of her ears. They were more intrusive than her headphones, but they were very good at muffling the noise. On the other hand, the shooting glasses she wore gave everything a yellow-orange tint. Shinju wondered if this was how her father saw the world.


            "Good shot!" Igor said after he had lumbered downrange to pick up Shinju's target. "You no longer afraid of gun. There less drift," he said comparing the current target with one of yesterday's. There was less vertical spread on the pattern.


            Idly running a hand down the stock of her Kalashnikov, Shinju smiled and blushed, but only slightly. On the fore-stock, she could feel the heat from the barrel.


            "Most good. First you learn basic shoot. Then fire while moving. And soon we can start working you on Dragunov."


            "Really?" Lieutenant Kurchatov said looking up from his quiet conversation with Rei. "I thought First Child was going to be fire support."


            "Azazel is fire support. Evangelion for close combat." Igor corrected.


            "Then why the sniper rifles?" Shinju asked.


            "Shooting good," Igor replied, nearly zen-like.


            "There are long guns for the Evangelions. If they have the weapon, they should be trained to use them. Correct, Rei?"


            "That is true," Rei allowed.


            "Is also proper skill to learn," Igor stated. "However, would be better if Nerv guns could hurt Angels."


            "That's good." Shinju pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose.


            "Let me see those." Igor requested.


            Shinju slipped the shooting glasses off. Rounded and vaguely rectangular the lenses were held by a half rim fame that ran over the top of the lenses connecting the nose pieces to the ear backs. After handing the glasses over she watched as Igor popped out the yellow-orange lenses.


            "These are good, improve contrast and block haze and blue light. You saw how they made the target more visual. The yellow helps at night too." He pulled out a set of purple lenses. "These combine grey and red. Grey all around; like the others it takes down glare, but it works in many light cases. Red good to highlight target against background. Takes some getting used to. Here, try."


            Shinju slipped the violet lenses on and blinked. The world did have more... contrast; she stepped over to the rifle and picked it up. She slipped a full magazine in and paused; what was she doing?


            She looked down and saw an automatic rifle in her hands and a bowed-blouse and pleated skirt over her body. Heart pounding, she looked over to see her sister reloading her own weapon... her sister.


            "What wrong?" Igor asked.


            Shinju stared at the large Slavic man. "I've... I've got to go... bathroom," she finished lamely running out of the room. Hurrying out of the indoor range, she hardly noted some of her guard preceding her. Turning down a corridor she looked up to see a pair of Azazel Naval Infantry that had just stepped out of the Women's Room and held the door open.


            Staring, Shinju slipped between them and went into the gleaming tile room. After looking at her reflection for a moment, she pulled off her glasses. Removing the purple coloring did not help.


            "There's no going back," she whispered. Her memory flashed to the explosion and the heat.... the wreckage and... She closed her eyes and exhaled. Shaking her head, she went to the toilet.


            Afterwards, she returned to the mirror and washed her hands, then resumed staring at her reflection. She frowned. This was who she... was. Staring at her red eyes she eventually heard the door open. Looking over she saw Rei step into the room.


            The older girl looked at the other clone and frowned slightly. "Is there a problem?"


            Shinju tore herself away from her reflection and looked at Rei. "I... I don't know."


            "We should talk to Dr. Akagi then."


            "No, it's not that. I'm not hurt."


            Rei stepped closer. "Then what is the problem?"


            "It's all this!" Shinju cried, waving an arm down the length of her body.


            Waiting for further elaboration, Rei remained silent.


            "I don't feel like I'm... " Shinju started crying.


            Reflexively, Rei reached out and embraced the clone.


            "What's going to happen to me?" Shinju whimpered.


            "You're going to fight the enemy," Rei stated, noting that she had started to calm down.


            "Oneechan.. could they... could they try to... put me back?" Shinju asked, stumbling to find the right words.


            Rei cocked her head slightly.


            "Should they? Akagi-san said that the procedure was risky. What if it doesn't work? What if I die? That's selfish. They need us."


            Rei nodded.


            "What about you? Do you... I mean, when... were you... treated?" Shinju hoped that her meaning was clear enough.


            Blinking, Rei pondered her response. "Many years ago."


            "Ah, and you're okay." Shinju nodded. "What about me? Will I be okay?"


            "You're an Ayanami."


           

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

 


            "Ah, Captain Horaki, prompt as usual," Gendo's eyes went up from the papers on his desk.


            "As you say, Sir." The freckled brunette idly adjusted her glasses. " Is there something wrong with the airbase equipment?" The airbase was a massive multi-agency mess. On that the reorganization only increased. The facilities were already joint JSSDF and Nerv. One the other hand, being mostly an aerial force, Azazel did have a considerable presence.


            "No, that situation is well in hand." Gendo paused. "The preparations for Unit 02's arrival?"


            Kodama nodded. "The package has been completed. Ninety percent of the required equipment is compatible with existing stores. For the parts unique with the Production Series we had to consult Nerv-03 for their supplier information."


            Gendo raised an eyebrow at the tone she ended with. "Problems?"


            "Sir, the suppliers within Germany are fine, but the other Eurozone ones... they're incompetent and wasteful. At least the American contractors have the decency to hide their wasteful spending via over-engineering."


            "How critical is this?"


            "Some of the components in question are in the power systems. Especially a capacitor bank that's built by Allied Electronics, a British firm. They improved on the standard design used in the Test and Prototype models. Their delays could affect our ability to get spares."


            Gendo leaned against his folded hands. He knew the owner via his business relation to a certain committee member. Normally, he would let it slide. However, Nerv was under pressure, and he needed to prove that Nerv was more than a giant source of graft and kickbacks. "Deal with it then. Unit 02 will come under this command's control. Therefore Allied's contract with Nerv-03 is not applicable."


            "Their attorneys will object."


            "Then make an example of them. This is a war. Withholding key material is an act of industrial sabotage and treason."


            "Yes, Sir." Smiling thinly, Kodama bowed her head slightly, causing her glasses to strongly shine in the light streaming in through the windows behind the commander.


            Not moving from his position, Gendo looked past his gloves to the picture frame on his desk.


            "Commander, will that be all?" Kodama asked, keeping herself from staring at the frame too.


            "Your sister is friends with the Fourth Child."


            "Yes Sir. The First too."


            Gendo's gaze went back to the prim head of Section Four. "Really? That simplifies things."


            "Sir?"


            "Since the Ayanamis'... reunion, their performance has increased in quality. Such things should be rewarded."


            Kodama pulled her briefcase up, opened it, withdrew an aluminum clipboard, flipped to a fresh sheet, and withdrew a pen from her hair bun. "What are the requirements?"


            Gendo's eyes returned to the silver picture frame on his desk.


            "Sir?"


            After several seconds of blank staring, Gendo spoke. "Rei likes to read."


            "What books?"


            "Use your judgment."


            Kodama nodded. "And Shinju?"


            Gendo turned to her. "I don't know her as well as the First. You'll have to use your judgment on her as well."


            "She doesn't have any toys in her room; Nozomi says Shinju told her she didn't play much when she was growing up." Kodama looked down to her pad and started making notes; it was better than dealing with the Commander's gaze.


            Kodama frowned briefly. Traditional could work. "How about some dolls? Something fancy?"


            Gendo's gaze returned to the Ayanami photograph. "Dolls?"


            "Yes, maybe a princess and a prince. Some romance, some royalty. Little girls love that stuff."


            Gendo smirked. "That would be... appropriate."


            "I'll contact suppliers and draw up a letter of intent." Kodama said. "What of Captain Ayanami?"


            "Oh, just pick up a small bottle of something expensive."


            "Trying to get her to appreciate quality over quantity, sir?" Kodama asked.


            Gendo raised an eyebrow. "I expect your discretion in this."


            "Of course, Sir." Kodama said a bit reproachfully. "I'll deliver it to your hands. When do you need the items?"


            "As soon as possible."


            "I can have everything but the dolls this evening. The dolls will take a bit longer, but I can lean on a couple toy makers." Kodama smiled thinly; that was going to be a fun meeting.


            "Very good, after this you can deal with Allied Electric. Dismissed."

 

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

 


            Shinju watched blankly as the various technicians shouted out their status. Her focus was on Oneechan's Evangelion. The moment was rapidly approaching; either the test would work and Unit 00 would reactivate or...


            "Borderline passed! It's cleared," Maya declared from her seat. Before her, and behind a set of thick windows, was the test cell. "Unit 00 has activated."


            Gendo allowed a ghost of a grin as he and the rest of the command staff watched.


            "Roger, I'll start an interlocking test without a break," Rei intoned, her eyes darting to the right control stick, where a pair of damaged glasses had been hung.


            Fuyutsuki put down one of the phones. "Ikari, an indentified object's approaching. Azazel's got a visual; it's the fifth Angel."


            Her heartbeat quickening, Shinju turned and quietly watched.


            "Interrupt the test. All hands on first class alert." Gendo rose to his feet. "Call the Admiral. I don't want Azazel to provoke it, yet."


            "Why don't you use Unit 00?"


            "It's not ready for combat yet. Rei will be kept in reserve." Gendo turned to Ritsuko. "How's Unit 01?"


            Ritsuko stood. "It'll take 380 seconds to prepare it."


            Putting down her coffee cup, Misako sighed as she did the mental division and wondered why Ritsuko did not simply say six minutes; it was not like the extra few seconds would matter.


            "Move it out."


            "Sir," both Misako and Ritsuko stated.


            "Rei, we succeeded in reactivating; good work." Gendo stated after a moment's thought. "We'll be moving you to the cages, in case we need to you to sortie."


            Smiling, Rei leaned back and sighed, releasing a small bubble of air, which floated up out of the LCL. The plug shook slightly, as the large clamps holding Unit 00 by the shoulders shifted as the wall slid back, allowing the Evangelion to be moved.

 

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

 


            "The target has flown over Tonosawa." Makoto said as Ramiel floated over a wooded ridge.


            "Unit 01, begin preparations for launch." Maya announced as the gates to the Evangelion cage opened.


            "Azazel forces are in position. Minimum distance, fifteen kilometers," Shigeru stated as more icons were added to the tactical display.


            "Release the first lock bolt," Maya stated.


            Shinju waited her instrument display to confirm. "Bolt released," she announced after moving slightly to verify that the restraints had been removed. Shinju looked over to see Unit 00 in an adjacent cage.


            Misako frowned at the display screen. "Be careful, Shinju, it doesn't look like a melee fighter, so be ready for a ranged attack," she said over the radio.


            General Yubari smiled thinly.


            "Target has arrived in the area over Lake Ashino," Makoto stated.


            "Azazel has locked onto target." Shigeru's voice countered.


            "Eva Unit 01 is ready for launch," Maya added.


            Misako flexed her fingers. "Launch!" The releases hit and Unit 01 shot up the series of corridors that led the tracked lift to the surface.


            "Powerful energy reaction detected inside the target!" Shigeru shouted.


            "What?" Misako craned her head, attempting to peer around Shigeru at the tech's display.


            "Accelerating to its outer rim and converging."


            Misako's eyes widened. The power levels were higher than any the JSSDF's Angels had used. The lift doors opened, a vertical extension of the tracking shot up, and the Evangelion lift locked into position.


            Ritsuko frowned. "Could it be-"


            Misako cut her off." Of course it is! Recover it, quickly!"


            Looking at the Angel, Shinju gasped. The horizontal edge between its triangular faces had turned a solid white. From this a thick beam shot out, just as Unit 01 began to descend. Instead of hitting Unit 01 in the chest, the beam hit the Evangelion in the head. Immense heat and energy melted and sliced.


            Feeling the left side of her head burn, Shinju screamed and put a hand over her eye. The Evangelion fell and for a couple seconds the beam followed, until the lift had descended deep enough into the armored Geo Front. The lance of fresh pain gone, Shinju tried to control her breathing and began her mantra. The pain she was feeling was not hers.


            "Target is silent," Shigeru stated. Ramiel had stopped firing and resumed slowly floating towards the city center.


            "What about Shinju?" Misako demanded.


            "She's alive." Makoto read from his display.


            Shinju's voice was then transmitted to the Command Center. "I'm fine, Oneesan." She then groaned in pain but cut it off. "Reporting heavy damage to the head armor, and I've lost some of my optics."


            "Unit 01 recovered. Moving to Seventh cage," Maya stated.


            "Hold on Shinju, you'll be okay," Misako reassured before turning to Shigeru. "Tell Azazel to hold their fire! I want to know what that attack can do."


            "Pilot's brainwaves are unstable," Makoto flatly stated.


            Misako walked to the vertical lift to the side of the Command tower. "I'm going to the cage. Don't launch Rei without my order." Stepping onto the lift, she looked up to Gendo who gave a curt nod. Misako pressed the descend button. "Keep me up to date on what that thing does!"


            Ritsuko looked at the video feed from the Evangelion cages. "Eject the plug now!"


            Misako ran down the platform on the gantry that surrounded Unit 01 "Hurry, open the hatch!" She shouted to the work crew. "Where's the medical team?"


            As the Evangelion's plug was ejected, Misako caught up with the rescue team. The hatch was opened and Misako looked into the darkened blood-smelling tube and gasped. Shinju was already out of the seat and weakly trying to pull herself towards the hatch.


            The way she kept her left eye closed and held her head with one hand dramatically hindered her efforts. However the steady flow of blood oozed out of Shinju's nostrils did not. "It's okay, It's okay," Misako repeated as she reached in and helped the dazed girl out of the plug.


            Ritsuko's attention was split between watching Misako and the medical team stabilize and console the young girl, and gaping at what the Angel had done. A being capable of blasting through an Evangelion's armor was faced with the problem of breaching an armored fortress; apparently it had decided that a large, mechanical drill was the ideal way of gaining ingress.

 

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

 


            Squinting through violet lenses, Shinju surveyed the bright tarmac adjacent to  the long runway. The medical team had assured her that her eyes would be okay, and the pills Ritsuko had given her had finally removed her headache. In her purple plugsuit, she watched as a constant flow of fighters and bombers raced into the sky. The harsh scent of fuel fumes and the screaming rumbles of jets assaulted her senses. The sun was setting and casting long shadows, the longest being cast by the immense bulk of the black transport aircraft.


            Lieutenant Igor Khariton walked next to her. "Is bigger than you, no? But still has heart inside. So you smash it, break open like great crab. I bet it all soft inside. Ha! Then you take hands and rip into little piece. Only stop when the blood gets cold, ya?"


            Shinju gave a slight smile and nodded her head. Driving up to the flying-wing transport was an similarly gigantic crawler vehicle. The crawler was carrying the prone purple form of Unit 01. Though a large black heat-shield was strapped under the Evangelion.


            Once they got within a hundred meters, Shinju noticed a crew working on the left side of Unit 01's head. Which was expected, as the armor had been replaced there. However, on closer inspection the crew was not entirely Nerv. There was some Azazel too. They applied a stencil, sprayed some paint, removed the stencil and then after shaking hands with the Nerv crew, climbed down.


            "Don't worry, you're sure to double your kill count today," a voice said behind Shinju.


            The Fourth pilot turned and saw Captain Zel'dovich approach them. Several of her Azazel guard were carefully watching the pilot. Carrying his helmet, Zel'dovich was already wearing his flight suit and had been followed by a group of Azazel's pilots and mechanics.


            "The boys decided that you needed the proper recognition for your work," Zel'dovich explained.


            "A halo," Shinju  noted, looked though her shooting glasses.


            "You deserved it," Zel'dovich stated, as they walked. Before them, Unit 01 was transferred from the crawler truck to the transport.


            Just in front of one of the ladders into the transport, Shinju blinked at the assembled Azazel and Nerv personnel. She turned and looked behind them to see a large bomber with pure white paint fly streak down the runway. "I'm.... I'm just doing my job."


            "Aren't we all," Zel'dovich said wryly. "Pilot, good luck." He and the rest of the men saluted.


            Shinju smiled and removed her glasses. "You too, all of you." She warmly returned the gesture, causing her hand to almost vanish within her bangs.  She ascended the ladders, Igor accompanying her.  There would be plenty of time to go over the plan before she reached the cockpit.


           

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

 


            At nineteen hundred hours, Operation Excelsior commenced. It was named after the 1960 record-breaking high-altitude research jumps conducted by Captain Joseph Kittinger. The final test had him leap at an altitude of over 31 kilometers. His descent had over 4 minutes of free fall, acquired a maximum speed of 988 kilometers per hour, and took nearly 14 minutes to complete. Kittinger validated a multistage parachute designed by Francis Beaupre and explored the limits of human will and ingenuity.


            Simply stated, he voluntarily took a helium balloon up to near the edge of space and then jumped out and then fell for nearly a quarter of an hour, all with only an untested prototype parachute (technically it was tested on dummies, but all those tests failed) and protection suit to keep him alive.


            In comparison, Shinju's eight kilometer descent was almost mundane. The only record breaking here was in the category of raw tonnage. It was, by far, the largest piece of military hardware ever airdropped into battle, done so by the largest aircraft ever constructed.


            Once over the target zone, the transport released the Evangelion and head shield. Inside the powered-down Eva, Shinju watched the altimeter and airspeed indicator. Occasionally, rockets on the heat shield would fire, nudging the payload back onto target. Shinju could not feel the effects of wind and temperature and she could hardly see the city below her. However, she saw that in the half minute since release she had lost 3 kilometers of altitude and nearly reached the required velocity. Almost halfway down, Shinju shifted her concentration downward. She would hit the Angel's boundary in a few more seconds.


            Captain Zel'dovich observed the humanoid figure grow and grow... suddenly, a white lance shot out of the alien enemy and slammed into the shield. Hoping that the shield would hold, he started ordering his wingmen and checking to make sure they were in position, both the men carrying "conventional" warheads and those carrying Angel Busters.


            Immense distance made for a surreal display. Despite the sight of one gigantic body moving over two hundred meters a second, and another firing a beam of incomprehensible power, the scene did not resemble a battle. The Evangelion looked like it was slowly falling, while the Angel's beam seemed to almost be... supportive. The illusion lasted for less than a quarter of a minute.


            Before long, the distance was closed and the illusion of scale vanished. Under constant assault, the shield began to deform but it held. Within moments, Ramiel was faced with a enemy moving at over half the speed of sound slamming into its AT field foot-first, at an oblique angle


            There was an octagonal flare of orange light at the point of impact, flickering briefly against Unit 01's AT field to indicate the barest hint of resistance.  An instant later, the Angel's field collapsed and the Evangelion slammed into the Angel with kinetic energy equivalent to seven tons of TNT. Ramiel's probe snapped like a dry twig as the Angel was knocked to the ground. The bottom tip of the octahedron ground into the street while an entire upper face was shattered by Unit 01's impact.


            Pulling herself up, Shinju tried to get her footing on the slanted body. It was like climbing a bloody, crystalline mountain... one with innards that reached as high as her Evangelion's knees. Drawing a progressive knife, she was about to start hacking away when her radio chimed. "Shinju, this is Misako! Azazel is striking!"


            Shinju immediately dropped prone. After a few moments, the sky on the opposite side of the battered Angel turned pure white. She held tight, wincing at the wave of heat and the sound of tortured material being rended and shattered.

 

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

 


            Rei inhaled sharply as Unit 00 was launched to the surface. There was a tortured screech as the lift building knocked aside some debris. Rei's eyes widened slightly at the devastation. Despite lowering all the retractable skyscrapers and Azazel using "tactical" missiles, much of downtown Tokyo 3 was scoured and aflame.


            However, her attention was soon occupied the battered bulk of Ramiel. The great Angel lay on one of its triangular faces and had several deep, ragged holes bored into it. It seemed that Azazel's strikes had concentrated on the wide edge surface that Rameil used to fire its beam attacks. Carrying an Evangelion-scaled missile launcher, and trailing two power cables, Rei rushed the stricken creature.


            "Detecting power spike! Go left! Now!" Misako ordered over the radio.


            Rei dove to the side as a surviving segment of of Ramiel's edges managed to generate a flickering beam. It melted through several buildings, trying to angle over to Unit 00.


            Running to make Rameil have to fire from an even more oblique angle, Rei launched a salvo of missiles.  Those were soon intercepted... but gave Zel'dovich an opening, and an Azazel missile collapsed the remaining firing surface, compromising even more of the Angel's far side.


            Running through the fireball and over three quarters there, Rei jumped. Unit 00's boots dug into the gouged surface of Ramiel and nearly slipped. Dropping the missile launcher so that it hung on a sling around the Unit's neck, she dug into the shaking, shuddering surface, and scaled it on her hands and knees.


            After reaching the bloody summit, she quickly scanned for her sister, and found Shinju on the other slope using the remains of her shield as an improvised weapon. Unit 01 repeatedly gouged the broken shield into Ramiel's body and shoveled out tons and tons of bloody crystalline mess.. Red eyes narrowing, Rei unhooked the spare power socket and jumped next to her sister.


            "Status?" Rei asked after plugging her sister in.


            "External battery packs drained, fifty percent remaining on internal. Burn and shock damage to knees and lower legs," Shinju reported, clinically, digging around the crystalline innards. "Have not found core or toroidal reactor."

 

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

 


            General Ishikari's eyes widened as he watched Unit 01 assault the damaged form of Ramiel. "Commander Ikari! What is this? Wasn't Unit 01 just supposed to suppress the AT field?"


            "Are you suggesting the Unit should have stopped? There's work to be done." Rising above his folded hands, Ikari studied the generals and officers before him. "I've merely embarked on an orthodox siege war. In this case, the battering ram's total height was 40 meters and traveled at over 200 meters per second, and was released from over eight thousand meters above the castle. Thus was the battering ram swung and the castle walls brought down. The palisade destroyed, the moat crossed..."


             Gendo gestured a gloved hand as Unit 00 joined Unit 01. "My soldiers enter the castle to attack." Gendo's smirk grew. " 'What is happening?' you ask. One thing and one thing only. An absolutely one-sided massacre."


            The various JSSDF and Nerv personnel stared, torn between Gendo's expression and the two Evangelions. Rei was alternating between firing her missile launcher and hacking away at the walls of the deepening mess the two Evangelions found themselves in. Shinju merely continued her machine's steady shoveling.


            "This is the job. We will not fail. Our enemies will be crushed before us, whatever the required means," Gendo said before sitting back down and taking his customary position.


            "Is this more your liking?" Fuyutsuki whispered to Gendo.


            Ikari looked up at the Command Center's main display. "Quite so. It all comes down to audacity. You saw their reactions. They're starting to understand just what Nerv can do."


            "Who Dares Wins." Fuyutsuki muttered.


            "There's a reason that's the motto of so many of Azazel's and JSSDF's contemporaries." Gendo smiled thinly.


            Fuyutsuki looked up to see the two Evangelions tear into Ramiel's dying body. "Time until core is found?"


            "They're eighty percent to the center," Ritsuko stated after glancing down at Maya's terminal. She turned to see Misako standing with a slight smirk.


            "Good going, you two! You're almost there!" Misako transmitted.


            "What about secondary weapons?" General Ishikari asked


            "Or won't it at least try to fly away?" Abukuma added.


            "We think its propulsion system is AT field based," Ritsuko explained.


            "So when Shinju hit it..." General Yubari chuckled.


            "Indeed, the target was trapped," Ritsuko said with a thin smile. Despite the risks, seeing what only minutes ago had been an impregnable fortress reduced to... prey was immensely satisfactory.


            "Final perimeter breached!" Makoto shouted. "Core exposed!"


            "We're getting an energy spike," Shigeru shouted. White light started to rise up from Ramiel. The majority came from the pit the Evangelions had dug, but some leaked  from the various holes that Azazel had punched into the Angel's armor.


            "Shinju, Rei, kill it." Gendo ordered. Despite his raised, loud voice, his tone was even, almost mild.


            AT fields resurgent, the two sisters stabbed forward, one with the barrel of her empty missile launcher, the other with the degraded remains of her shield. Ramiel rallied the last of its defenses and tried to protect its core, but it was futile. For the second and final time, her AT field collapsed and the crimson core shattered as a weak explosion rippled through the angelic corpse. With a groaning shudder, the ravaged crystalline armor and organs succumbed and collapsed in on itself. A few seconds later the bloody rubble stirred and the two Evangelions extracted themselves from the wreckage.


            Once again, Gendo hid his expression behind his hands. Watching the two gore- soaked behemoths march under his command almost made up for the day's earlier failings. After a frustrating afternoon, the evening was definitely looking up.

 

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

 


            In your estimation, the afternoon had taken a decidedly sour turn. With a scowl, your hands fold onto the table. This time, you have no intention of hiding your emotional state. The situation is unacceptable, and made worse by your inability to immediately blame anyone. Captain Ayanami's quick orders had prevented catastrophic damage to Unit 01 and the Fourth Child. Looking over the other personnel in the drab room, they look back up at you; clearly they expect you to have already solved the situation. Shifty gazes, excessive doodling, fingers tapping on the table all point to an undercurrent of nervousness. They expect a solution, but they fear what it will cost. Or do they fear that there is no solution?


            "From our testing we've determined that the target will automatically attack any enemy within a 3.5 km range," Captain Ayanami explains, her eyes rapidly darting from person to person. In spite of exasperation, her voice keeps an even pace. "This is from the induction cannons, various decoys, and other artillery we've launched at it."


            "And this troublesome probe?" General Yubari asks, his tone brisk.


            "It's drilling straight down to the Geo Front and is17.5 meters in diameter and will breach the final layer of armor shortly after 24-hundred hours."


            "Assuming a constant rate of boring," Director Beria's voice is sardonic indicating a fatalistic mirth, as he adds to his notes.


            The scientist sounds off-put to your ears. Ignoring him. your attention shifts to the Pilots. The First blinks, and showing an unusual level of interest, turns to the Fourth. Something almost like concern washes over the elder Pilot's face. Given the way she trembled slightly whenever she moved her head, you surmise the Fourth was still in some pain. The bleeding had lessened since you had seen her last, in the infirmary.


            "I note that none of your tests involved Azazel assets or large missiles." Admiral Sudoplatov's tone is bored, an obvious but effective cover of his true emotions.


            "I don't want to have taught Ramiel how to shoot those missiles down. Especially if we need to use Azazel's weapons,"
Captain Ayanami says with exasperation and a bit of petulance.


            "What's the damage to Unit 01?" General Yubari asks. You detect a bare hint of irritation behind his professional tones.


            "The left side of the head armor was heavily melted. The left optics were knocked out by the heat and force, but we were able to reboot them. It was fortunate that the Unit was recalled when it was. That was only a glancing blow. Replacement will be completed in one hour." She is controlled, seemingly distant as she reads the list. The military officers seem to become somber at the destructive report.


            You feel an involuntary pull at the edges of your lips, but quickly suppress it. Ayanami has progressed well in her self control, but the slight shifts in her tone betray her to anyone observing diligently enough.


            "And Unit 00?"


            "On standby. There are some feedback errors, but it should be functional for battle," Dr. Akagi's says evenly. Her own deliberate control insufficiently masks her impatience. You know she wants to get back to work, but a plan is required before anything meaningful can actually be accomplished.


            Watching old General look over at the Fourth, you note the officer actually wince at seeing the Pilot's pained state. "And the Pilot?" General Yubari glances at the Fourth.


            Dr. Akagi frowns at the Fourth with the same expression she gave the damaged Unit 01. "She got a shock from the nerve link. Fortunately the concussion was very mild. She'll be ready to Pilot in a couple hours."


            "So what is the plan? Has Nerv finally developed some functional ranged weapons?" General Yubari's voice is morbidly chiding.


            "It's not possible." Dr. Akagi's impatient sigh is met with her eyes flashing towards the general.


            The Captain slowly turns towards Dr. Akagi; The Ayanami facial features quite incongruous with the pout on her face.


            Putting a hand to her temple, Dr. Akagi pauses for a moment; her self control seems to be quite worn out. "Even then, it's not possible! We'd need
180 million mega-Joules and Japan's entire power grid only supplies 176 million kilowatts!"


            "Capacitors?" Captain Ayanami asks, direct and straightforward in her question.


            "Oh yes, Nerv has capacitors to hold national power grid for 16 minutes?" Director Beria laughs. "Why do you think we use bomb?"


            A slight movement on the edge of your vision catches your attention. It is the Fourth. Her frown has deepened, become more thoughtful since you last paid attention to it.


            "He's right. We can't shoot at it. Not even with the JSSDF's new positron weapon." Dr. Akagi states.


            "Sniping a fortress like that is a bad idea." General Yubari says. "Captain, you've faced scenarios like this. What did we do in those cases?"


            "I thought of that. We can't use Azazel to screen an Eva attack. The enemy's AT field is too strong for that. We might as well use Angel Busters, and that doesn't require Evas. It's a fortress and seems almost perfectly built to counter Evangelion." Capitan Ayanami says in what has shifted into a depressed admission.


            You notice General Yubari frowning in concern as he raises another relevant question. "What of the evacuation?"


            "It will be completed by seventeen hundred hours," Lieutenant Ibuki states, matter of factly. Your dealings with Ibuki are always like this; the young woman efficiently dispenses information when required and stays silent when she has nothing of worth to contribute.
           


            "At least there's a plan." General Yubari curtly states before he turns to Director Beria. "Can Azazel ensure that the Geo Front is not breached?"


            "Given the information on its armor...." Director Beria looks at his notes. "It will hold. Though probe does make for weak spot. Could fail there."


            "The Magi says it will hold if there are still two layers of armor unpenetrated."


            "Computer's material fracture modeling is weak," Director Beria's mutterings catch your ear. You resolve to have the modeling reexamined. Despite being prone to such outburst, the engineer has proven his competence.


            "Has Ramiel exhibited any other attacks?" General Yubari asks.


            You let most of the conversation pass over you, their chatter is only of minimal utility. The Fourth, however... her expression shows promise. You think she's about to speak, but even if she does not, or if what she says is not helpful, you have let enough time pass. It is nearly time to reassert your control of the situation.


            "No, only its particle beam," Captain Ayanami states. "Can Azazel evade the beam?"


            "The Moskva IIB should be sufficiently fast." Admiral Sudoplatov states with faux disinterest belying his inner mental state. "We have some S-300Vs standing by too. They can reach mach 8."


            "Enough," you state, speaking for the first time. You have to suppress a small smirk at the jolt your voice caused in the officers. "It seems that we are at a disadvantage here. Despite Nerv's sensors and Azazel's radar and Mig-31 patrols all detecting the target simultaneously, we are faced with an enemy that entered the city, essentially unchallenged."


            After adjusting your glasses, you watch their attention focus on you. Even the JSSDF and Azazel personnel look to you with traces of hope. "It is only due to a conveniently... sedate invasion that the UN has not ordered a strategic strike. This committee has been given ample time to come up with a solution to this problem. Yet, here before me, considerable time has been spent pointlessly discussing between yourselves. All I can see presented as a solution is the U.N.'s original plan with a small bit of polish!" You stand up as you raise your voice; it is not strictly needed, but the added height strengthens your presence, and with it, your point. Deliberately, you slam your palms on the polished table and glare at the assembled officers, allowing some anger to seep into your words in order to maximize the effect.


            "I expect this from Azazel. Nerv is here to save humanity, and if you can't find a solution to a problem as obliging at this- " You point to the azure octahedron "- then NERV deserves to be shut down!"


            Silence falls over the assembled officers and scientists. You cannot allow any of the satisfaction you feel at their reaction to leak into your voice. Now is the time to close the deal." You are out of time, out of ideas. Or have any of you come up with a solution?" You ask, sitting back down in a way that looks deliberately forced; you flush the anger from your tone allowing yourself to sound calm again, to sound completely in control. You resteeple your hands. It looks like the only thing Nerv was good at was tormenting doll makers into making presents for little girls.

 
            The Fourth levels her gaze up. Defiance crosses her face as she tries to steady her facial expression, obviously trying to control her pain. Studying her face, you wonder if your initial estimate was correct.


            "I can defeat it... if I can get close enough. I can use my AT field to collapse the enemy's. That gives more options in how to damage it too," she says. You feel that tug on the edges of your lips, again. This time you do not fight it.


            "AT fields do overlap like that." you smirk behind your hands. It was a start. As you stare down the others in the room, a bit of mirth enters your voice. "A twelve year-old girl came up with the idea."


            "But Sir, we can't get an Eva in that close." Dr. Akagi states, her hand rising and spasming slightly. You see frank disbelief color her face. "Our best shield will only give 17 seconds of protection."


            "What about using a closer lift building?" Captain Ayanami says blinking and looks at the image of Ramiel. You wonder if she can see the truth. She has a tactical mind, has she seen what the Fourth did?


            Dr. Akagi shakes her head. "Nearest would still be a thirty-second run."


            "So robot needs to cross 3.5 kilometers in 17 seconds?" Director Beria shrugs acceptingly. You gauge that he has already figured out the method. "That only 205.9 meters per second."


            You see Dr. Akagi's eye twitch as she asks sarcastically, "Does anyone here have any idea on how to get a 40 meter tall robot going over 741 kilometers an hour?" It is obvious that she still does not see the bigger picture.


            "Rocket sled would be too dangerous, given the required thrust. Too little time." Director Beria mutters. "Though I suppose you can modify your vertical launch systems. Those might give you the acceleration."


            You look to the Fourth and see her thoughtful expression replaced with one more, finished with eagerness. You can almost see her trying to raise her hand, without moving her arm.


            "They're too large to move, we can't aim them," Dr. Akagi replies.


            This could devolve into another bickering meeting at any second. After your speech, that would reflect badly on you, at this point. You decide to speak. "You are overcomplicating things," you state, flatly, with no room for argument. The others hesitate; their debate cut short. You glance to the Fourth, giving her tacit permission to speak the rest of her idea.
           


            You watch the girl pull herself up, your acknowledgement gives her the confidence she needs to overcome her hesitation. You make a note not to be too acknowledging, or that effect may be significantly reduced. "What about those transport planes?" the Fourth asks. "Wouldn't falling be fast enough?"


            You relish the subtle twitch above Dr. Akagi's right eye. "Actually terminal velocity-" she tries to explain before being cutoff.


            "No, it scales with the height of a given object to the half power. Assuming your planes have a reasonable cruise altitude, yes, your robot will get fast enough." Director Beria shrugs, but you see predatory glee flashes in his eyes. "Besides, to be effective, your shield would be on the bottom, taking brunt of wind, smooth surface less drag than robot."


            "We have our solution." You look over your glasses, making it clear that this, despite being a statement, is an order. "Unit 01's AT field will overlap the Angel's and neutralize it. That will give Azazel the chance to hit it with a conventional strike."


            You look to Dr. Akagi. "After Unit 01 neutralizes the field, will it survive the impact?"


            "Well... nominally, yes. The Evangelion was built to handle airdropping. Though I'm not sure the effect of the AT field impact and the subsequent bombing."


            "Yes or no." you tersely ask, knowing the answer.


            "It's not outside the operational parameters." Defeat fills Dr. Akagi's voice as you force her to agree to the plan's feasibility.


            Watching Beria raise an eyebrow and begin to add to his notepad, you ponder Azazel's role and their goals. You know they desire Nerv's and your secrets, as you desire theirs, but today you are the one in control.


            "Are there any objections?" you ask, making it clear that there had better be none unless they pertained to the success of the operation. "Very well. This operation will be ready to go by nineteen hundred."


            Captain Ayanami clears her throat. "Yes, Sir. Dr. Akagi, we'll need that shield modified and the flight plan for the airdrop." You note the confidence that has entered her voice. Working together, they could not solve this problem. It took you, and the Fourth, to do that.


            "Right. Should only take a couple hours. At least the damn thing started out as an SSTO's heat shield." Dr. Akagi grumbles, her voice flat and resigned.


            Behind your hands, you almost allow a small smile. The single-stage to orbit space plane hull was a useful purchase, despite Captain Horaki's complaints.


            Captain Ayanami nods, barely suppressing her renewed energy. "Good, I'll be with the Pilots getting their end set up. Admiral we'll need Azazel's forces for the battle. Let's just be thankful the airbase is out of Ramiel's range. Come on, let's go!"


            You look and see the Fourth watched the others get up and rush out of the room in small groups. Your eyes briefly make contact, and you see her expression... warm. If tonight succeeds, Captain Horaki's work will further your progress. The First's attitude towards you is appropriately aligned, and it looks like the Fourth is following similarly.


            You observe as the Pilots' attention then turns to Captain Ayanami, and they begin to walk away from the meeting talking.


            After they leave, you walk back to your office. No doubt, Kozo wants to talk. He seems more talkative lately, especially after he learned of the Captain Horaki project.

 

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

 


            Shinju walked across the gantry platform. Looking over she saw crews hosing down both Evangelions. Unlike Shamshel, Ramiel's blood was far less viscous and was easily sprayed off. However, the higher content of crystalline chunks did give it a more clumpy texture. Walking over to Rei, Shinju's grin grew.


            The First Child got down from the cockpit to her plug and watched her sister. She watched as the distance was closed and the Fourth did the expected. What was unexpected was the sobbing coming from the small girl. "Oneechan, we did it."


            Rei looked down. "Why are you crying?"


            Shinju pulled her head off of Rei's chest and looked up at Rei, confusing the older clone with a mixture of a smile and teary eyes.


            Rei stared. "Sorry, I don't know how to express myself, in a situation like this."


            "You should smile," Shinju quietly said.


            Rei frowned. She had seen a mixture of joy and sadness before. When the Commander had rescued her. Moving her muscles, Rei pulled her face into a smile.


            Shinju's own smile grew, and she renewed the embrace.


            "Great, job you two!" Misako shouted, running up to her sisters, before stopping cold. The hugging was not odd. Rei had become fairly... protective of Shinju, but the tableau was still... strange. The red eyes contributed, but the effect of matched... unnatural smiles could not be discounted, either.


            Worry crossed Shinju's face. "Really?"


            Misako suppressed a sigh; it was not Shinju's fault her self-esteem was so fractured. Shinju had recently been made... Shinju. "You two fought very well," Misako said as she wrapped her arms around the two.


            Shinju gave a contented sigh. "What about the others? Did the Azazel pilots make it out okay?" she asked as they resumed walking.


            Misako nodded. "Yes, they were out of range when they launched their missiles."


            The trio entered the locker room and Shinju and Rei began to silently change. After putting on her seifuku, Shinju slipped her headband on and brushed her hair. She then followed Rei out of the room and into a corridor.


            After walking down several hallways and two elevators, Misako turned to the silent girls. "So... not going to ask where we're going?"


            Rei and Shinju blinked with near-synchronism.


            "The Commander requested a meeting. I'm guessing it's a debriefing," Misako explained. She sighed at the lack of response on the part of the other two clones.


            After a couple more minutes of walking they came to a door. Inside was a darkened conference room. Sitting at the head of the thick oak table, in his customary position, was Commander Ikari. Light from the hallway reflected off his glasses.


            Gendo waited for the Ayanamis to enter the room before he spoke or turned on the lights. "I wanted to talk to you three about your performance." He stared at the three genetically identical young women.


            "Um, Sir?" Misako finally asked. She wondered if she should call Captain Sakharov. Though this situation might not be what the UN had in mind with the Azazel bodyguards.


            "Under the table there are some boxes, Captain," Gendo stated.
           

Misako raised an eyebrow and looked under the table. Frowning, she then pulled up three boxes of varying sizes. They were all wrapped in a shining gold foil, bisected by ribbons and crowned on their tops with spiraled hand-made bows.


            Shinju's eyes widened slightly. Curious, Rei leaned forward to get a better look at the... presents. Misako simply clenched her jaw and tried to keep her composure. Freaking out would just make things worse.


            Interlacing his fingers back together, Gendo rested his chin on his hands.


            "Sir, I don't understand." Misako stated.


            "You... got us presents?" Shinju asked.


            "Your performance today was quite satisfactory," he stated, simply


            Shinju ran a hand over the shiny golden paper. "Thank you," she whispered.


            Rei slipped her fingers onto the ribbons and slipped them off. With the same mechanical precision, she then went to the paper edges and undid the tape. Carefully unwrapping the box, her eyebrows went up as she examined the contents.


            Eyes wide with incomprehension, Rei looked at the Commander.


            Looking over at the books, Misako's eye twitched. While not technically inappropriate, light romance novels did not seem Rei's... style. Dread grew in Misako as she looked at her own present. In one swift rip, she tore away the paper and stared. Inside the box was a small, very expensive, bottle.


            "Uh... thank you, Sir." Misako blinked. "But I thought Mexican liquor was under embargo, ever since the coup."

 
            "I can import giant robots, I think some tequila would provide less of a challenge," Gendo stated. Procurement was trivial with the correct staff.


            Trembling slightly, Shinju tried to neatly open her present. Instead her finger slipped and tore along the side of the large box. Blushing, she pulled the rest of the paper off and then opened the plain brown box. After pulling out some soft white packing paper she withdrew a pair of dolls.


            Holding the two 30cm tall figures, Shinju tilted her head. Highly detailed, both had realistic human faces and wore finely-made clothing. The female one was dressed as a princess. Though the purple dress had some... familiar detailing. The styling on the gown's bodice and shoulders recalled a plugsuit, and the skirting and gloves had similar coloration. She had red eyes and long, glossy-white hair pulled up into a curled bun.


            The crown was reminiscent of a melding of Shinju's interface headset and her headband. While the jewels on the doll's chest and wrists was similar to those on a Nerv dress uniform.


            Similarly, the male doll was dressed in a melding of the Nerv uniform and a type of medieval court-wear. The uniform was slightly dressier and the doll had a long sword on his hip. The prince doll's eye color matched the princess, while his hair was in a slightly more grey shade of white.


            Misako tried to gauge Shinju's reaction. "Those are very nice," Misako said, hoping that Shinju was not... upset.


            "They're very nice," Shinju said, staring at the princess doll. "Thank you, Father."


            Misako inspected her bottle and kept from frowning. What is this about? Is he just trying to be... nice? Or is this the only way he can acknowledge his... child? Misako thought to herself. A cute princess doll does send a message. Though, it might just be little girls like cute things. At least I've got something to keep me from thinking about this all night.


            Misako's gasped in realization and nearly dropped her tequila. That magnificent bastard! Giving me booze! He might as well have dropped a signed note telling me to shut up and stop worrying.


            "Is there something wrong, Captain?" Gendo asked.


            "Oh nothing Sir, I'm just thinking about your gift."


            "Don't overexert yourself. You need to maintain your readiness."


            "Sir," Misako replied, watching Gendo walk through the room


            Standing between Rei and Shinju, he gave each a squeeze on the shoulder. "Now I want you to take good care of our Pilots. They did good work today, that should be rewarded." Removing his hands he adjusted his glasses and walked out of the room.


            Misako waited for the door to close. "Okay, what was that all about?"


            "Father was just being nice.... right?" Shinju asked.


            Misako laughed. "My, my. How little you know." Holding the bottle under her arm, she stood up.


            "These are nice dolls," Shinju pouted, boxing up her dolls.


            Misako walked to Rei and Shinju's side of the table. "Yes, they are very nice," she said before giving one of Shinju's hair bows a playful flick. "What about you, Rei, do you like your gift?"


            "I haven't read these before. I'll enjoy reading them," Rei stated as she folded up her wrapping paper and put it in her box of books. Only Shinju noticed the slight pinking to Rei's cheeks.


            Turning away, Misako chuckled as she and Shinju cleaned up their wrapping paper. "Well, you both deserve a good night's sleep. Come on. We'll go back to Central Dogma, and Captain Sakharov can drive us home."

 

End Chapter 2

 

Writer's Notes:

 

Those familiar with Hellsing will doubtlessly note the familiarity of the scenario and of Gendo's speech. One other thing, it was while watching Ramiel's battle that I got the very idea for this fic. That was namely in the figures thrown around as to what it would take to breach an AT field.

 

Special thanks to Stratagemini for not only coming up with the 2nd Person Gendo scene, but also going over it with me line by line.

 

I'd like to thank my pre-readers. They read through my most egregious mistakes so you don't have to. DGC, J St C Patrick, Pale Wolf, Wray, Nadrek, Ikarus, Mike Koos, and Jerry Starfire.