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 Three: Competitive Edge

 


            "The risks of  centralized  air base was shown in the battle," General Yubari stated. "It was only by luck that Ramiel positioned itself so the base was out of range."


           "We have adapted two JSSDF airbases but runway space is limits the number of facilities." Admiral Sudoplatov said.


            "Indeed, which brings us to a  bigger limitation. Even with rocket assisted takeoff there is a severe limitation to the runways that can accept the Eva transports."


            "I don't think there's a way around that limitation,  short of some gigantic VSTOL or blimp," Ritsuko sighed.


            Yubari nodded and moved to the next item on his notes. "It seems that there were no major difficulties synchronizing Azazel, Nerv, and JSSDF communications," General Yubari noted. Representatives from all three organizations were in the appropriately bland conference room.


            "Yes, the radio systems were successfully integrated. It helped that the Russian systems were so simple," Ritsuko brightly agreed.


            "Yes, we do not have access to a centralized organic computing core. Our funding was more controlled," Director Beria added.


            "One issue I noted was the lack of direct communication between the pilots," Yubari said, trying to preempt the argument.


            Gendo's eyes went to the old general.


            "Pardon?" Admiral Sudoplatov asked.


            "The Azazel pilots were not directly communicating with the Nerv Pilots," Yubari explained.


            "Allowing them to directly request for support would save time," Misako allowed.


            "But we would need to train the Pilots more. I am wary of the giving young girls the ability to directly call in N2 and nuclear weapons."


            "They are already piloting Eva," Misako reminded.


            "Yes, that is why I am merely wary, instead of aghast," Yubari nodded. "One major deficiency is the weaponry available to the Evangelion. The progressive knife is too small in range, and neither the Pallet Rifle nor the Bazooka are effective." He sighed. "Even firing into an Angel without an active AT field, Rei was barely able to do more damage than Shinju who was using an improvised shovel."


            "Might as well give her a real shovel then," Admiral Sudoplatov dryly offered.


            "A progressive entrenching tool could be effective," Misako agreed. "It would be less clumsy than the axe design. We can get some people on it."


            Ritsuko raised an eyebrow.


            "Still, there is a dearth of effective ranged weapons," Yubari noted. "Your 'heavy' weapons have severe limitations in their velocity and warhead size."


            "The complexity of auto-loading required such compromises," Ritsuko stated.


            General Yubari's blank stare rivaled the Commander's.


            Misako coughed. "Sir, that's why we pushed for Second Branch to come up with something, fast. They went to the Americans, who went to a warehouse of mothballed weapons, but they got something that can work. It's only single-shot but...." Misako pulled out a couple photographs and slid them over.


            The generals looked over the images. One showed a plain, seemingly stubby mortar that was mounted in a below-ground emplacement. The next photo showed the same gun mounted in a stock, scaled for an Evangelion. " Little David?" Yubari chuckled. It was getting hard to be surprised at anything Azazel or Nerv did. "What's the delay?"


            "Shells for this thing haven't been made for over sixty years, and it hasn't fired in even longer. However that seven meter long barrel has a one meter bore, and the opportunity to fire a 1,700 kg shell with a 1,200kg warhead, 10 kilometers is... useful."


            Beria chuckled. "See? Bomb is not so bad. Nuclear or N2 payload?"


            "Currently, N2 warheads are planned. We've developed a shaped charge that can focus the blast. Evidence has shown that even an unfocused N2 blast can cause damage to a protected Angel." Ritsuko explained.


            "This prototype is more of a proof of concept. Data from field testing will be used in the next generation of weapons and munitions."


            Beria looked over the notes. "Not bad. Our support reduces range limitations, but it is slower. This gives immediate support "


            "That is the idea," Ritsuko tersely said.


            "And how long will this take to develop?" General Abukuma's voice hardly concealed his exasperation.


            "Section Four has confirmed that it is currently being loaded onto a C5 Galaxy," Gendo stated. "Testing will begin tomorrow."


            "At least there's already a barren wasteland for you to test them out. Though your simulation software is improving. Which should supplement field exercises nicely," Yubari said.


            "The design on the Angels is difficult, especially given how varied in form they can be. However we've accounted for this by having the simulation learn from each run. This makes for more varied challenges for the Pilots," Ritsuko stated.


            "Good," Yubari flipped through his notes. "I think that has all of our comments. Tomorrow's testing should be... interesting."


            "There is more." Gendo mildly stated as he unsteepled his hands to adjust his left glove. "Evangelion does have strategic deficiencies to be concerned about. We are all well aware of them. One, the system is dependant on external power. Two, we are forced to use people born post Second Impact as Pilots. Doctor Akagi will explain the two programs we have to address these issues."


            "Er, yes," As Ritsuko activated a projector, she gave a frosty glare to the commander. "As you know, an Evangelion requires immense power to operate and is normally supplied via an umbilical." A collection of graphs and schematics of various batteries showed up.


            "Without the umbilical, a Unit has five minutes of normal operation to one minute of strenuous operation. External power packs-" She clicked to the next page in the presentation, which showed large black batteries that clipped to the shoulder pylons of Unit 01. "- can double this range."


            General Ishikari nodded. "Yes, we've seen the training. The margins can get quite close, but it is feasible to have an Evangelion resupply itself. However that only doubles the loiter."


            "There is also the issue of Unit 00 not having compatible shoulder sockets," General Yubari added.


            "The Prototype Unit's operational upgrade includes that feature," Ritsuko said, holding her voice even. "We have a new external power pack that is being tested. It's really just a double-sized version of our current packs, but that does triple the unloaded range."


            "Fifteen minutes between resupply does give us a lot more options," Misako said.


            "One of our suppliers is also working on a way to double the power density of these packs. An early version of this technology is in Unit 02." Ritsuko gave a slight glance to Ikari and sighed. "However, these are all stopgap measures."


            "Oh? Given the duration of the previous battles one would think that a half hour of normal operation would be more than sufficient," General Yubari noted.


            "Sir, the fact is we do not know nearly as much as we should about the Enemy."


            "That is another strategic failing. Though it is one that falls outside the purview of Project E itself." Yubari's eyes went between the Commander and the Admiral.


            Ritsuko allowed a small smile as she watched Fuyutsuki shift in his seat. Unfortunately, Gendo maintained his composure.


            "Our long range power goal is the successful creation of a Super Solenoid Engine. Don't let the name fool you, it's not really an engine at all."


            Beria perked up. "Oh? That much is correct at least."


            "You're familiar with the theory?" Ritsuko's eyes narrowed.


            The engineer shrugged. "It was one of Dr. Katsuragi's more intriguing theories. It was a bit too speculative, but an interesting concept. Shame he is dead. Would have been most helpful with such a project, no?"


            "Did you know Dr. Katsuragi?" Misako stared at the old Russian.


            "Dedicated researcher. Only met him at a couple times. Neither one of us went to many conferences, and our curriculum vitas were... sparse. You know the gilded cages they like to keep our type in," he sardonically said splitting his attention between Ritsuko and Misako.


            Ritsuko held her tongue. It was possible that Dr. Beria really did know Dr. Katsuragi pre-impact. Both were well-versed in high energy physics. However, a certain expedition did bear his name, and his daughter had recently "died". That was too much to dismiss as coincidence.


            "I'm led to conclude that since it is not an engine, a... Super Solenoid would be a new type of battery. One that has an improved duration?" Yubari asked.


            "That is correct, Sir. The theory uses superconductivity, among other concepts, to drastically increase the energy density of a storage device." Ritsuko's words were precise, academic and only a bit stilted.


            Yubari nodded. "Beria, is that correct?"


            "Broadly speaking. The problem with Katsuragi's theorem is the implementation. It remains to be seen if Nerv can actually build such a device."


            "Third Branch has taken up the design and construction," Ritsuko stated.


            "Ah, then I shall be quite surprised if they manage to make a functional test-apparatus."


            "And what is the operational time of an Evangelion using such a device?"


            "It would allow for several days of operation. The exact numbers depend on how large the device is and what safeties will be required in charging it." Ritsuko wondered if Beria was aware of the finer, and more esoteric points, of S2 theory.


            "Possible, Katsuragi did detail the power scale. Perhaps it would work," Azazel's science chief allowed.


            "What about safety? This seems to be quite experimental. What about another high-density power system?" General Abukuma asked.


            "All of Project E is very experimental," Ritsuko noted. "And the only analogous power system is a nuclear reactor. Which for reasons of weight, safety, and waste heat is ill-advised in a front-line combat machine," Ritsuko stated, grinning at Beria.


            Beria sighed. "Crudely stated, but power requirements are enormous."


            "This S2 technology is still in development. How long before we have something that can be used in battle?" Yubari asked.


            "It's looking like several months. The manufacture is... difficult." Ritsuko frowned at Beria's self-satisfaction.


            "More money then." Yubari sighed. "However, the other battery improvements would remove quite a lot of pressure, and are currently feasible. What of the other deficiency? Is there a way around the Pilot problem?"


            "There's no problem with the Pilots," Misako icily stated.


            Ritsuko made a note on the margin of her pad. Despite this and her father being mentioned, Misako had maintained her composure. At least the dosage seemed about right.


            Yubari raised his hand. "You misunderstand. Your sisters have done exemplary work. They've done more than anyone could reasonably have asked, but even ignoring their age, there's still only two of them. In the entire world, only four Pilots have been found." The JSSDF general cleared his throat. "One's already dead, and one is still in Germany."


            "There have been some hassles with getting the transfer. Though, we can use that as an opportunity to unify our standards. The Second Child has been training for a long time but...."


            "It's to the old-Nerv standards?" General Ishikari smirked slightly.


            Misako gave a slight nod.


            "We know that the technology in Evangelion is... finicky. What is your solution?" General Abukuma asked.


            Ritsuko paused. "We call it the Dummy Plug system. The idea is to use a modified entry plug that 'tricks' the Evangelion into thinking that one of the Children is synchronizing with it."


            "So it's an auto-pilot?" Yubari ventured.


            "It can be. It's also a way to give direct commands to the Evangelion. This would eliminate the need to send the Children out as Pilots."


            "Why is this system not already in use?" Yubari's voice was flat.


            "It's rather difficult to simulate synchronization. This is expected, as synchronization itself is rather difficult. There are currently only three people on the planet that can do it."


            "The perils of a telepathic user interface. Perhaps there was a bit too much reliance on bio-technology." Beria had the last word floating in sarcasm.


            "How do you think we got such speed and performance out of a giant war machine?" Ritsuko demanded.


            "Enough," Gendo neutrally stated. "I suppose I should have expected a discussion about something simple like planned upgrades degenerating into childish bickering. If there are no more... productive questions?" He asked as he stood up.


            General Yubari looked at his notes. "I think we're done here. Though further briefings on the Evangelion upgrades will be required, especially on these proposed power and Piloting changes."


            "Set an appointment with Doctor Akagi and she'll give you a more detailed briefing." Gendo gave a curt nod to the assembled officers and left the room with Fuyutsuki in tow. The pair were silent as they walked the corridors to Ikari's office. However once inside...


            "What the hell was that?" Fuyutsuki asked once the door had been shut and locked. "What do you have planned next? Showing them the guest we have in Terminal Dogma? Or maybe you'll give them a briefing on the Human Instrumentality Project?"


            Gendo sat down in his chair and looked at his mentor for a few seconds. "The Angels return and home right in on the one city purpose-built to fight them. They're not stupid, Kozo. Azazel, the JSSDF... they have to know we've got something. Something that keeps the Angels coming."


            "And what, you'll show it to them?"


            Gendo leaned on his steepled hands. "I'll show them what needs to be shown. If showing them our 'guest' is what it takes to reach our goals, I'll do it. You'll note that the briefs on the Super Solenoid and Dummy Plug projects have been carefully scrubbed of... critical information."


            Fuyutsuki sighed and looked out one of the windows and at the forests  waters of the Geo Front. "I suppose it was inevitable. It's not like we could conceal autonomous, self-powered Evangelions. Trying to keep seemingly logical improvements secret would raise further questions."


            "Correct, but you are overlooking other factors." Gendo turned away from his desk to face Kozo.


            "Oh?"


            Gendo picked up a folder, withdrew an image, and held it up.


            "So that's Nippon Heavy Industry Solidarity's pet project," Kozo noted as he inspected the pictured mech. "That's why you told the JSSDF? You're worried... about this?"


            "What do you suggest I do? Sabotage?"


            "That would express expediency. We do not need more competition, as ineffective as this might be."


            "And such a convenient happenstance that would be."


            "There'd be no proof."


            "Does it matter? We can get the blame, especially with.... cheaper alternatives. Do you want to risk another reorganization?" Gendo leaned back slightly. "Even if we succeeded and the blame does not fall on us. What does that buy us?"


            "NHIS would no longer be a competitor."


            "I'm afraid that we have missed the opportunity to establish a monopoly. No, there will be competitors."


            "All because some Russians figured they could throw a bomb in an Angel's face."


            Gendo chuckled. "Do not pity Azazel. Competition is nipping at their heels too. The other nuclear powers are asking the UN why they can't form their own Special Duty Organizations."


            "So what is your plan? Are you going to let NHIS test their robot? Without any interference?"


            "Of course," Gendo adjusted his glasses.


            "Ikari...."


            "You forget. Yes, the situation has changed, for all of us. Do you think the JSSDF will really buy this thing? Why?"


            "Well, it's cheaper. It doesn't need to have children piloting it. And it doesn't need an extension cord."


            "And you wonder why I told them about S2 engines and Dummy Plugs."


            "Those projects are a long way from completion, and Nerv 03 may never be able to make functional S2 Engines."


            "And you think NHIS can make their robot generate an AT field?"


            Fuyutsuki raised an eyebrow. "True. Jet Alone would fail against an Angel."


            "Rather spectacularly, and if there is one thing the current climate will not accept, it is failure."


            "So they fail and get shut down. Meanwhile they continue to waste funding."


            "Kozo, that's not a mockup. That's their prototype. The fools think it's ready for a demonstration."


            Fuyutsuki turned away from the window. "Really?"


            "Now do you see?"


            "But without an AT field, it can't be ready for battlefield use."


            Gendo nodded. "But that doesn't mean that Jet Alone's other features cannot be tested."


            "The JSSDF wouldn't sign off on a worthless prototype."


            "Not when the money can be spent in more productive ways."


            "Is that your plan, then?" Fuyutsuki gave a tiny smile.


            "Nerv officially welcomes the prospect of further combat resources, provided they are proven, effective systems, and we will gladly offer whatever assistance we can in verifying any such system."


            Kozo chuckled. "Quite the risk you're taking. What if Shinju is actually defeated by this robot?"


            "Do you honestly see that as a possibility?"


            Fuyutsuki shook his head.


            "Nippon Heavy Industry Solidarity wants to compete with us? Fine." Gendo adjusted his gloves. "But there is a stiff penalty for joining this little club. Azazel killed an Angel in one shot. We went toe to toe with two and killed them by cutting them up and ripping out their guts. What does NHIS think they can do?"


            "Probably shoot it with lasers." Fuyutsuki laughed. "So you will be sending representatives to NHIS's little demonstration?"


            "I'm thinking Captain Ayanami and Dr. Akagi have the correct temperament. Naturally, I'll be informing them of Nerv's official policy."


            The older man chuckled again. "Might I suggest you inform the Admiral. I'm sure he'd be willing to send the Director."


            "Dr. Beria? Why?"


            "Beria is an acerbic, sarcastic, cocksure bastard. He does not suffer fools. I know the type." Fuyutsuki relished the minute shift in Gendo's expression. "Of course I speak from my experience as a professor."


            "Ah yes, the academic world, but why bring him? The man has no love for Project E. He considers us a horrible waste of money."


            "Yes, but we're a waste of money that kills Angels. What do you think his opinion will be of a project that has no hope of making an effective weapon?"


            Gendo's eyes widened slightly; he then gave a single short laugh.


            Fuyutsuki nodded. "I'll make sure Beria gets an invitation, after all he is an expert on nuclear physics."


            "I do wonder. He clearly knows a fair bit about AT fields and Super Solenoid theory." Gendo closed the folder. "He may decide to enumerate exactly how useless Jet Alone will be."


            "Even if he does know all of Eva's secrets, surely he won't blurt them out in public. How does that serve Azazel?"


            "I doubt he'll say everything, provided he actually knows everything, but I can see him doling out information to maximize their pain. Especially since he'd realize just how hopeless NHIS's task is."


            Fuyutsuki sighed. "I suppose its for the best that the Akagis were so... stable."


           Gendo raised an eyebrow, but the former professor had a point.  When one compared the Director to Doctor Akagi, and her mother...


            "This still begs the question of what is to be done about Azazel? We still do not know their true motives."


            "Everything that we have learned seems to fit their ostensible goals. A secret commission formed after the Second Impact. Analysis of their footage from Antarctica, infiltration of various UN commissions..."


            "Not to mention the very real possibility of their penetration of the Artificial Evolution Laboratory. After all, Gehirn's front was, publically, set up to investigate the 'Giant of Light'."


            "Could they actually be honest?"


            Gendo scoffed. "In this age, no honest organization can survive."


            "Then what are they up to?"


            "It could be simple graft and crooked dealings. Part of me wonders if the Russians, of all people, would be interested in Instrumentality, and the more suspicious part reminds me that that makes an ideal cover."


            "We could go around in circles this way." Fuyutsuki snorted and turned back to the window. "Azazel has handpicked the best in equipment and manpower from the, admittedly threadbare, Russian forces. Obviously they would be pick the best at Maskirovka as well."


            "The proximity helps. They may guard our Pilots, but we are hosting their aircraft and their officers."


            "And they know that, so our assets will only record what they want us to hear." Gendo sighed. "The utility of this is limited. After all they still have the ability to stop Instrumentality, at nearly any phase."


            "Oh? Would a nuclear weapon really be effective towards the end? Even if they vaporize Tokyo 3, it would be far too late."


            "Not one, all of them."


            "All of them?" Fuyutsuki blinked. "But-"


            "Do you think Azazel is that squeamish? Scorched Earth is their heritage, and Mutually Assured Destruction was their longest running foreign policy. We must realize the full scope of what we face here."


          "Then they must be neutralized." Fuyutsuki rubbed his forehead. "However, would this threat not exist without Azazel? There are other nuclear powers."


            "Obviously, Seele planned to neutralize their command authorities and to delay their intelligence assets, until it was too late."


            "But now, the cat's out of the bag."


            "It gets worse; this all presumes that either the Dummy Plug system works or we have access to the Pilots."


            "Hostages?"


            Gendo shook his head. "If Azazel plays their cards right, the Ayanamis could go over to their side, willingly."


            "So the dolls did not help?"


            "Shinju thinks better of me than I could have ever foreseen, but her mind is fragile, and I am, at best, a distant father figure. The influence of the Captain and her Azazel guard cannot be ignored."


            "Even Rei?"


            "Between her loyalty to me, and her loyalty to her 'sisters' which do you think she'll choose?"


            Fuyutsuki scratched his chin. "I don't know. I don't even think her mind could handle that kind of uncertainly."


            "The mere fact that uncertainty has entered her mind has shown just the situation we are in."

 

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

 


            Devastation surrounded Shinju. In every direction, her view-screens showed barren, blasted terrain. She looked down at the weapon in her Evangelion's hands. The whole weapon was over ten meters long and had a thick, wide barrel that measured well over a meter on its outer diameter.


            It had a reinforced stock, a basic trigger, and guard. Relative to Unit 01, the stubby... cannon looked like some sort of giant blunderbuss, minus the expanded barrel end. However like the blunderbuss, the fore-stock contained a recessed track for a similarly scaled ramrod.


            Shinju raised the gun and looked down immense iron sights. The Evangelion's targeting computer overlaid a bright green line down the length of the barrel and out into the distance, though it did widen into a fuzzy cone after ten miles or so.


            "Remember to seat it against your shoulder, and put most of your weight on your leading foot," Misako advised over the comm-link.


            "Right." Shinju adjusted the Unit's stance. "Is the range clear?"


            "Range is clear. Permission to fire," Misako replied while a warning siren sounded.


            Sighting the cannon over the target, Shinju depressed the trigger. A giant, almost turnip-shaped shell launched out, and the gun rammed into Unit 01's shoulder, nearly lifting the immense machine's foot off the ground.


            Four kilometers away, the shell reached its target: a battered tank, a broken remnant from the initial assault on Sachiel. The shell flew true and impacted on the target, that was only a few times larger than itself. Over a ton of high explosives ignited and tank was utterly destroyed. A plume of smoke and debris shot above the torn terrain.


            "Good shot!" Misako cheered. "How's it feel?"


            "It kicks pretty hard." Shinju flexed her shoulder. "How bad are the real ones going to be?"


            "They've got the exact same propellant charge as the practice rounds," Ritsuko reminded.


            "Let's try reloading," Misako suggested.


            Shinju nodded and lowered the gun, and holding it one handed flipped open a large satchel sling over the Unit's side. She pulled out another 914 mm shell and verified that it was a blue-painted practice round. All the shells in the satchel were practice rounds, but it was prudent to check anyway. She then thumbed the combination shell and propellant into the barrel. Pulling out the ramrod she flipped it over and pushed the shell down the barrel. Once the shell was seated she returned the large steel ramrod back to its sleeve. Re-shouldering the gun, Shinju once again looked down the sights. "Ready to shoot."


            "Clear to fire," Misako approved and signaled the warning siren to be set off.


            "You know, this is all rather absurd," Ritsuko commented as she watched a forty meter tall robot blow up a group of battered armored vehicles using an immense muzzle-loading cannon.


           The command crew watched as the smoke cleared, seemingly in equal amounts around the target and the Evangelion.


            "Oh?" Misako asked. "It's supposed to be simple. I mean it's not like our bazookas can handle the pressure. It works," Misako said before turning back to Shinju. "What do you say we try to figure out the range of this thing?"


            "Okay Oneesan," Shinju said.


            "How's the Little David?"


            "It's simpler than that old gun you had me shooting this morning." Shinju recalled firing that short-barreled weapon. An actual blunderbuss, it had a flared barrel end and, unlike the internal igniter of the Little David, used small percussion caps to ignite the action. The propellant container had to be ripped open and dumped in, instead of simply ramming it down the barrel with the projectile.


            "We wanted to get you familiar with the action," Misako stated.


            "I wouldn't want to have to reload this in battle," Shinju stated as she completed putting in a third practice round.


            "That is a problem. The plan is to fire it once and then close in on to the angel while its stunned."


            "Stunned?" Shinju asked as she automatically pointed the gun low and downrange.


            "Yes, the first blast damaged Sachiel and kept it from moving. We believe that a shaped N2 charge will give enough force to stop an Angel. That will help you get close to it," Ritsuko explained.


            "Isn't that what Azazel is for?" Shinju asked.


            "Their air support does fill that role, but it's more delayed. With the Little David, and other systems, you or Rei can provide immediate support." Misako looked over the display of the range. "Okay, try target number seven, that one's ten kilometers out. Let's see what this gun can do."

 

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

 


            "Come on, we're gonna be late!" Shirane whined as they cut through the thick crowds.


            "You're the one that wants to see this movie," Horaki grumbled, looking ahead. At least the Ayanamis' friends made sure that they were not slowed.


            "You don't like this movie?"


            "Do I really look like I'd want to see a movie about the Battle of Incheon?"


            "Then why are you here?" Rei asked.


            Horaki sighed. "I lost a bet. Leave it to Miss Fangirl over here to actually start talking with her crush."


            "I was just asking what he thought about the last battle, and anyway, he recommended this movie." Shirane gave a private little smirk.


            Just in sight of the cinema, Horaki stopped. "Now you wouldn't be taking advantage of a certain friendship would you?"


            "Of course not! And keep walking! We're gonna miss it!"


            Horaki sighed. "Only the previews."


            "That's good, I can't even bring you guys into the Geo Front," Shinju reminded.
            "Next time I'll make the bet over whether you ask him out on a date." Horaki frowned as they resumed their walk. "So why are you here, Rei? I mean... you guys actually do this stuff."


            "Shinju is here."


            Horaki rolled her eyes. "Well yes, but that's because she's deathly afraid of saying no."


            Shinju blushed. "The movie might be good."


            "Of course it will be." Shirane assured.


            "So, how are those books you got?" Horaki asked.


            Rei kept walking. "They are informative."


            "I didn't think they were your kind of book," Shirane noted.


            Tilting her head Rei turned to look at the younger girl. "Fiction is... new to me."


            "Right." Shirane then confidently walked up to the ticket window. "Yeah the current showing of Eve of Incheon, we'll need... Oh, Lieutenant Khariton, how many of your men will be going in?"


            The clerk raised an eyebrow. "That's R-15. Are you girls even thirteen?"


            Showing more fluid speed than one would expect from such a large man, Igor placed himself at Shirane's side. "Some problem?" he asked, his accent thickening.


            The theater clerk looked up... and up. It was only after a few moments of staring at insanely focused eyes and immense fists that he noticed the man was carrying an automatic rifle, and had well over a dozen, similarly dressed, if a bit smaller, men behind him.


            "Er... I'm sorry, Sir, but the movie is restricted. No one under fifteen allowed," the clerk stammered. He had heard the stories about these new Russians...


            Igor sniffed. "Little man. You recognize these girls?"


            Looking where the giant Russian was pointing, the clerk froze.


            "Yes, they Pilots. Your movie will not scare them."


            "Of course," the clerk swallowed.


            "Movie is important. Relaxation important for soldier. Yes?"


            "Right you are..." He looked around, hoping for a manager to push it off onto. At least when Nerv leaned, they were not so... overt. "So... how many tickets do you want?"


            "That was a mean trick," Horaki said after they bought the tickets and entered the theater.


            "Oh?"


            "You wanted to see this movie, but you were too young. So you had Shinju come."


            Shirane turned to face her friend. "Like you've never asked Kodama to get you something on a 'special deal'. Anyway, we've still got to hurry, otherwise we'll miss it."


            "Fine. fine," Horaki's sigh was cutoff when they entered the theater. The image of an Evangelion being dropped from an immense flying wing dominated the screen.


            As they walked further into the theater, Shinju stared at the giant screen. She watched as her Evangelion fell towards the earth. The footage was not new to her, she had seen it many times during the debriefings, but the voiceover was.


            "In a daring air-attack, Ayanami Shinju pilots Eva Unit 01 right into the enemy. Despite taking heavy fire, she stays the course," a booming, confident voiceover actress intones. "The enemy's defenses defeated, Azazel is now able to provide fire support."


            Shinju looked over to see Shirane's eyes gleefully wide as the girl watched N2 missiles explode inside the Angel.


            "However, the work of our brave Pilots is not done. Pilot Ayanami Rei arrives in the newly-repaired Unit 00. Under heavy fire, she scales the Angel itself and starts helping her sister finish off the foul invader," the deep contralto, authoritarian voiceover continued.


            "The enemy, unable to withstand humanity's might, crumbles, destroyed by the pinnacle of human science and skill. By harnessing the power of robotics, biological engineering and the atom humanity will win this war."


           The screen shifted from the Evangelions striding out of the crumbling carcass of Ramiel to an aerial shot of an airbase. Various fighter aircraft, bombers, and transports are arrayed parked in presentation ranks. In the back, Dominating the scene is the black flying wing of an Evangelion transport. "Special Duty Organization Azazel was created to provide aerial support for the war effort. It is in only the most dire circumstances that they are to unleash the terrible power at their disposal."


            "I thought they were set up to nuke the Angels," Shirane said as they sat down in some, generously vacated seats.


            "Is this what you had us hurry up to see?" Horaki whispered.


            "The technological prowess is only part of the story. Both the Evangelion and the Angel Buster missile would be useless without their pilots," the voiceover shifted as the screen transitioned to the dinner event where Zel'dovich lifted up Shinju.


            "Captain Andrei Zel'dovich, an Ace pilot who scored seven kills in the brief Russo-Sino war following the Second Impact, recently added two more kills." The screen changed to show Zel'dovich giving a sheepish grin as a second halo was added to his Su-33.


            Now the cinema showed a plug-suited Shinju watching as another kill mark was stenciled onto Unit 01. "Not to be outdone, Pilot Ayanami Shinju achieved her second kill in the same battle. However the credit is shared, with the cost of defeat so total all of humanity must rise together to destroy this foe. Also qualifying for kills are Ayanami Rei and Captians Yakov and Borisovich who were critical assets in killing the enemy.


            "The question on everyone's lips is: who will be the first Angel Ace?" the voiceover almost sounded amused at the question.


            Noticing Shinju's squirming and blushing, Shirane leaned over. "Don't worry. I'm sure you'll get it."


            The screen now showed a several black and white photos of a giant, but stubby looking gun. "The latest weapon to be deployed is the 914 mm Little David G-mod. This heavy mortar is the largest caliber gun ever built. It out-sizes the German Dora and even Atomic Annie herself. The excessive weight meant the piece was restricted to being an experimental test bed. Eventually it was put into storage, in case its immense power was ever needed.


            "The foresight of the US Army paid off. In the hands of Evangelion the Little David's weight became a triviality and with Azazel's support the gun can take on a new role." Now Unit 01 shouldered a modified version of the mortar and fired it like some type of short heavy gun.


            "This weapon gives Evangelion the ability to fire a shell weighing over a ton directly at the enemy. The footage you're seeing is merely with training rounds. However it shows the pinpoint accuracy the Little David is capable of, in the right hands. Let's see what happens when Shinju demonstrates the power of a real warhead."


            The footage once again cut to the image of Unit 01 with the weapon shouldered. The giant explosion at the muzzle and knockback of the immense war-machine were the same, but the difference came when the warhead hit downrange.


            Its target was an immense concrete and steel structure. Scoured and chipped from the Angel Buster that had detonated nearby, the bunker was still firmly rooted into the stone of the ridgeline.


            A sharp shockwave expanded outward, carrying tens of thousands of small fragments. This was obscured by the return implosion and the buoyancy-driven mushroom cloud. Impassively, the Evangelion withstood the blast-wave and waited for the fires and smoke to clear.


            Not only was the bunker gone, but the entire hillside had been shattered and cut through and through by what looked like a giant fist. The warhead had hit the bunker, shattered the concrete and rock and then gone on to blow out the other side. The cavity bisected the ridgeline in a gaping wound. "With this, Nerv has the firepower to knock down the enemy, allowing them to close in for the kill."


            As the patriotic music swelled - the girls looked at Shinju who practically glowed pink in embarrassment at the eyes looking at her. "I think they noticed you," Horaki whispered to Shinju.


            "Uh, the movie's about to start." Shinju looked up and noticed that the short had finished. A movie preview was starting, but the audience's attention was... elsewhere.


            "It's the Eva Pilots!" a young male a few rows behind them shouted.


            "Is it true? Will that gun really kill an Angel?" an older women off to the side asked.


            "Is this Azazel? Are you working with them?" another voice inquired.


            "How come you're so young?"


            "You both came to see a war movie?"


            From the row behind them, Igor leaned forward. "How you want handle this?"


            Blushing, Shinju looked to Rei. Oneechan simply stared back. This was not a situation she was familiar with.


            "Well... they're just curious right?" Shinju quietly asked.


            "You want to talk?"


            Shinju shook her head. "No, but... maybe they're just curious."


            Igor nodded. "Right, we try your way. If not work, we try mine." He then helped Shinju up so that she stood on her seat.


            Looking at all the eyes staring at her, Shinju swallowed. Part of her wanted to run away. Part of her wanted to tell Igor to get them out of here, now. But another part was thinking: Open your heart. "Um... I'm Ayanami Shinju, this is my Oneechan, Rei and these are our friends. Uh... thanks..."


            The crowd's murmuring quieted.


            "For what? You’re the one in the giant robot" the same young man that initially exclaimed asked.


            "Yeah..." Shinju closed her eyes. Open your heart. "We do the fighting, but you.... you all have to deal with it. The last battle had us setting off N2 missiles only a few blocks from here.


            "It's going to get tough... you saw the video, you know what happens when the Angels attack. We can, we can beat this enemy, but there will be a lot of... damage. You're the ones that will have to bear that."


            "Why you? Why are you all so young?"


            Shinju paused, recalling the public cover story. "You have to have been born after the Second Impact. Oneechan was the first Pilot. There was a shortage... they needed me."


            "Did the Third Child really die in battle? What happened?"


            Shinju lowered her head. "Y- Yes... yes he did."


            "But what happened?"


            Shinju shook her head.


            "That information is restricted," Rei stated, her even voice cutting through the room.


            "Our enemies.... the Angels will destroy us all. Humanity must use whatever tools it has to ensure victory. We cannot fail. We will not fail." Flush, Shinju recited from memory as she slowly opened her eyes.


            A slight, young girl held the crowd's attention. Rapt by her crimson eyes they watched as her voice gained a sense of... depth. "What do you want to know?"


            "Why the Russians? I mean... why here?" the older woman hesitated when the young Pilot turned to look at her. In that moment she understood that she was looking at someone who had killed two Angels with her own, or rather her Evangelion's hands.


            Shinju blinked. "Azazel is here to fight the Angels; just like Nerv. We have to work together."


            "Is that why they're guarding you? Why not Nerv? Or at least JSSDF? They've got some real commandos." the young man asked.


            Igor gave Shinju a seemingly lazy glance.


            Shinju chewed her lip. "We have to work together."


            "But why them?"


            Rei stood up. "Azazel's Naval Infantry detachment has met Commander Ikari's approval. I doubt you have superior insight on the situation."


            "We guard the most powerful weapon devised by man," Igor's deep voice rumbled. "Who else would be better suited to guard those that pilot the second most?"


            The crowd, especially the young man under Igor's gaze, cooled slightly.


            "What are the Angels up to?" The same older woman asked again.


            "Yeah, are they going to come in force?" someone in back, that Shinju thought was wearing a Nerv uniform asked. "And what about the Second Impact? Are they taking advantage of our weakness... or did they send that meteorite?"


            Rei shifted to get a look at the questioner's face. He should know better. "That is restricted."


            Shinju frowned. "I'm sorry. I don't know how long this will take... I don't know... I'll promise that I'll do all that I can to destroy them. That's all any of us can promise."


            "Movie starting," Igor stated.


            "Sorry for that," Shinju tried to bow and almost fell when the seat she was standing on shifted. Igor quickly reached out, and gently kept the girl steady. He then helped Shinju climb down and sit back in her seat. In the dimness, the other patrons shuffled back to their seats and turned their attention to the projection screen.


            "Are you happy? You wanting to see some war movie created a huge scene?" Nozomi hissed to Shirane.


            "Hey, I just wanted to arrive in time to see the Nerv short." Shirane shrugged and turned to Shinju. "Yeah... sorry about that. You okay?"


            Shinju nodded.


            "Well I'm sure Eve of Incheon will help."


            Nozomi sighed. "Yes, nothing like a war movie to distract our little Pilot's mind."

 

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

 


            In Ritsuko's office Misako leaned back and sighed. "So that's the plan?"


            Lighting up a cigarette, Akagi nodded. She blew out a plume of smoke.


            "Those things will kill you," Misako warned.


            "I can always go into a fresh new body," Ritsuko smirked.


            "So you can wreck your lungs but I can't spoil my liver?"


            "I was joking," Ritsuko deadpanned. "Besides, I let you have that tequila. You're being very good." She explained as she handed a large packet of new pill bottles over to Misako.


            "At least you didn't pat my head, call me 'good clone', and give me a treat." Misako gave a cold glare.


            Ritsuko smiled. "The instructions for your revised medication schedule is in the packet."


            Misako blinked. "You're really getting a kick out of this."


            "A bit." Ritsuko's grin broadened.


            "And this plan? Was it your idea too?"


            "No, I had a simpler idea," Ritsuko sighed. "Much more straightforward, but the Commander insisted."


            "So you'll have to act some." Misako laughed before composing herself. "Do you really think Azazel will play along? They've got no reason to do us any favors."


            Eyes cold, Ritsuko's smile returned. "Oh yes. I've looked over the NHIS project. The grouchy old bastard will thank us for our part in this."


            "Oh?"


            "Yes, Azazel hates us, but we can kill Angels. Our new competitor...."


            "No AT field, no nukes." Misako nodded. "But still... we're giving them what they want. These clowns would drool over an opportunity like this, and we're giving it to them on a silver platter."


            "Yes, they're getting what they wished for." Ritsuko contemplated the burning embers of her cigarette.


            "Which requires the JSSDF to play along."


            Ritsuko chuckled. "It's certainly a good thing that you're on good terms with the JSSDF top brass, isn't it?"


            "Sure, every day they run me into the ground and critique my command ability."


            "You're still here," Ritsuko said as she looked over a report. "You were at the Ramiel debriefing. They see you as worth keeping around. They're learning to trust your judgment."


            "So, Ikari's been seeding the ground on this whole thing? The Dummy Plugs, the batteries." Misako shook her head. "Speaking of that any progress?"


            "So far those new batteries have tested fine," Ritsuko flipped to another page on the performance report. "I don't know what Procurement did, but these were delivered much faster than the previous batch."


            "That'll be good. The five minute limit would really hurt this plan." Contemplatively rubbing her chin, the clone looked at Ritsuko.


            "Oh, that..." Ritsuko sighed. "Who told you?"


            Misako shrugged.


            Ritsuko frowned. It could have been Maya, it could even have been Captain Horaki. The simulation bodies did need some new parts, and Kodama did oversee their purchase. "It's still being debugged, but yes... Eva-Sim should be ready in a couple days."


            "Really?" Misako raised an eyebrow. "This isn't just another mirage?"


            "No, we finally got it. It's not easy to trick an Evangelion into being in a simulated environment."


            "We can trick them into synchronizing with a Pilot."


            "Oh yes, and that was so very simple."


            Misako rolled her eyes. "Anyway, we've got that new prog-weapon coming in."


            "Yes, that ridiculous spade." Ritsuko shook her head. "How did the Russians ever convince the JSSDF to sign off on it?"


            "I helped them. A shovel would have been great in the last battle," Misako reminded. "An entrenching tool is a very handy combat weapon."


            "At least the supplier managed to build it quickly."


            "Yes, they've been getting a lot more responsive," Misako smirked.


            Ritsuko raised an eyebrow.


            "For this plan, I have an idea." The clone's smirk grew. "We want to make a strong impression right?"


            "Oh dear, what do you have in mind?" Ritsuko sighed.

 

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

 


            "Well, I liked the movie." Shirane stated as the four girls exited the theater. The other patrons were generous enough to let them, and their Azazel guard, leave first. There they rendezvoused with the bulk of Rei and Shinju's protective detail.


            "Really? Because you spent the whole movie complaining about it," Nozomi grumbled.


            "Not the whole movie. Besides, Igor-san and Yuli talked more than I did."


            "They were just trying to help," Shinju said.


            "Help? By laughing at the movie's mistakes?"


            "And giving a commentary on their tactics."


            "The brilliance of Admiral Struble's landing was only matched by the incompetence of the following push to Seoul," Sergeant Yuli Ginzbrg stated in fluid Japanese.


            Igor snorted. "Yes, yes Yuli. You ignore botched response of General Yong-Kun; he slow to deal with the problem; armor he sent wiped out by smaller force, inferior armor."


            "The Americans had air-support."


            "Director right there," Igor nodded. "You and Vitali miss is that UN forces still achieved breakout. Is what counts."


            "Movie still poor teaching tool. It moves too fast. Still it was good to see fellow marines work." Yuli gave a sideways smile.


            "We can buy." Igor turned to Shinju. "Would you like copy of movie?"


            "I guess..." Shinju shrugged.


            "You can get it?" Shirane grinned. "It's just out in theaters."


            "We have bomb." Igor shrugged his broad shoulders.


            Nozomi leaned to Rei. "Does everything have to be training with you girls?"


            Rei stared for a few seconds. "Piloting Eva is our purpose."


            "Right... and this helps?" Nozomi tried to keep her face from getting too exasperated. It was easy to forget how... gung-ho Rei really was. Nozomi noticed that they were going down a different set of corridors. "Where are we going?"


            "Vehicle pickup over here," Igor pointed down to an exit.


            "That's not where we were dropped off. It was moved?" Nozomi asked.


            "Armored personnel vehicles tend to be hard to park," Shirane reminded.


            "You just want to gush over them." Nozomi sighed. Exiting the building they walked out into the sunlight. Most of the girls shielded their eyes, while Shinju pulled out her shooting glasses, the purple tinting allowing them to double as sunglasses


            Devastation met them. The street was burned and torn in many sections. Further down entire blocks were reduced to rubble. The upper stories of several of the retractable towers were charred. Further down the street the damage increased. Too damaged to move, some of the towers were still in their lowered position. Others, with all their windows blown out looked skeletal. The fire damage was more intense, with the streets in this area closed to general traffic, and only allowing construction and repair vehicles.


            Beyond the repair zone the damage deepened. None of the retractable buildings in this zone had been elevated, and all the non-retractable buildings were heavily damaged. In the very center, were the shattered, bloody remains of Ramiel. Several large cranes were in the process of scooping remains and loading them into waiting dump trucks. Hazmat-suit wearing, NERV personnel directed the cleanup.


            "Wow." Nozomi turned away from the damage. "You two really did all that?"


            "No," Rei stated.


            Looking at her handiwork, Shinju blushed. "Azazel helped too."


            "Yes, I'm sure they did," Shirane noted.


            Taking in the scenery, Igor smiled broadly. "Time to go girls," he said as the men of his platoon linked up with the waiting BTR-80s.


            Nearly squealing in delight, Shirane ran to the big angular vehicles. Nozomi and the Ayanamis followed, while the Azazel guard pulled back and boarded. The APCs then drove back to the apartment block that had been converted into the Pilot residence.

 

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

 


            Guiding Unit 01 across a burned plain, Shinju glanced at the upper part of her display screens. A steady rain of thick ash fell from heavy black clouds. In the far distance an explosion lit up the sky. The resulting mushroom briefly broke some of the cloud cover.


            Keeping the giant mortar leveled, Shinju scanned the plain before them. "How are you for power, Rei?"


            "Seventeen minutes left," Rei's hands tightened over the controls. "Have you been able to raise Command?"


            Despite herself, Shinju had Unit 01 turn to face her sister's Evangelion. She looked at the blue war machine. The shoulder and armor upgrade had made the Prototype look at bit more like the Test type. Though, the new color was a surprising divergence from the previous orange.


            "Shinju? We are in combat," Rei softly reminded.


            "Right," Shinju exhaled, letting a small bubble of air escape. "Tokyo 3 is... gone." Her mind flashed to earlier in the battle, when the first explosions hit, when the layers of armor and skyscrapers simply... fell.


            Rei hefted her Eva-scaled bazooka. Even with upgraded warheads it did not have the same punch as the Fourth's weapon, but it did have a better rate of fire. "Then we do not have much time."


            Another explosion blossomed. This one both larger and closer. Both Evangelions knelt down and took the over-pressure wave. "Can you raise Azazel?"


            A slight frown crossed Rei's face. "No, but clearly some are still flying."


            "Pattern Blue detected," Shinju's voice was clinical. She saw a group of Angels stride out from near the explosions center. Some were damaged, indicating a near-miss.


            Humanoid and without much in the way of a neck, or head they vaguely resembled the first Angel Shinju had seen. However Sachiel was mostly black, with only a bone-white "face". These angels were entirely white, their bodies covered in an almost Evangelion-like armor.


            Aiming, Shinju counted twelve of the creatures before she fired Little David. "Eyes!" she screamed as the shell that launched out. Both the Evangelions should automatically cycle down their optics in the event of a blinding flash of light, but Shinju was not wiling to risk accidentially blinding her sister.

 

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

 


            "Evangelion and nuclear weapons." Ritsuko stated as she watched the combat unfold. The Evangelions had cut through the Angels, and while only direct hits from Little David would kill them, simply being near that much power would slow them down.


            "Because we can, we do what we must," Misako wished she could help, but the terms of the game were clear. Today, the Pilots were alone. The range closed and Shinju drew her spade. Covering Rei, she bought more time while her sister fired into the five remaining Angels. At this range the bazooka warhead's relative weakness was an advantage.


            "What sick JSSDF bastard dug up this scenario?" Ritsuko asked as she watched the combat degenerate into a brutal brawl


            "This was your Commander's idea," General Yubari stated from his seat. "I'm rather surprised at his imagination."


            "This does stress-test the simulation software," Ritsuko admitted as she went to Maya's workstation to check on the simulation output.


            "And the Pilots," Yubari added.


            Misako frowned; it looked like Unit 00 was about to be knocked out. "This is the best training we can give them. It's not like we know when the next Angel will come, and other than them, there's a shortage of giants to fight."


            Yubari raised an eyebrow. "Indeed."


            Ritsuko suppressed a cough. "It looks like Rei was taken out. I'll eject her from the simulation body. How's Shinju doing?"


            Misako smiled slightly. "Pissed."

 

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

 


            "That was not entirely... unexpected," Fuyutsuki noted, watching Unit 01 tear into the last two Angels.


            From his desk, Gendo allowed a small smile to cross his face.


            Not for the first time, Fuyutsuki wondered how much of Ikari's... satisfaction depended on the body his prize pilot wore. "Are you worried about it going berserk?"


            "It's only a simulation. Dr. Akagi made sure to put a filter on how the Evangelions are rendered."


            "Good." Fuyutsuki turned to the frame and watched Unit 01 unsteadily rise to its feet. After picking up its entrenching tool, it started going from Angel to Angel. "Methodical, precise."


            "Azazel has its faults, but their soldiers know how to get the job done."


            Fuyutsuki chuckled. "And the Old Men?"


            "What about them?"


            "Isn't this all a bit... familiar?"


            "There are only so many ways they can stop us, and of them, there are fewer still that we can train our Pilots for."


            "Isn't this a bit obvious? Do we really want to give them a 'shot across the bow'?"


            "Kozo, I'd order Shinju airdropped over Lorenz's residence if I felt it would further the plan."


            "Still, it's a bit... direct."


            "Plans must adapt. We must adapt."


            "So you no longer think the Old Men are behind these developments?"


            "Perhaps they initiated them, perhaps not. Either way events are moving beyond their control."


            "And beyond ours?"


            Gendo smirked slightly. "That remains to be seen."

 

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

 


            "Arc it over your head in a smooth motion." Igor said as he held Shinju's arm by the wrist. "That's right, extend it back and just bring it down," the soldier explained letting go.


            Shinju gave a nod and continued moving the entrenching tool in an exaggerated chopping motion. The sharpened blade rose and fell in a steady motion. "Is this right?"


            "Yes, very good." Igor peered down the impromptu range at the target, which was a stout log mounted on a lashed tripod so the circular cut faced them. Behind it was a concrete wall of their apartment block. "You see log?"


            Shinju stopped the her arm and nodded.


            Pyotr motioned for Rei to stop their sparring. He studied the sweating, gasping girl. "Good." He flexed his arm and suppressed a wince; the girl had a knack for finding ways to lever her opponent's joints. "You value hard work, results. Rest fluff. Systema suits you."


            Her expression neutral, Rei inclined her head.


            Pyotr nodded and turned to his colleague and his charge.


            "When elbow is extended, blade is here..." Igor guided Shinju's arm to the proper position, a bit shallower than a forty-five degree incline. "Let go. Should slip out of hand."


            Biting her lip, Shinju looked down. She made sure her foot was at the seven pace marker. She drew her arm back, swung it forward, and at the right moment released her grip. The entrenching tool slipped out of her hand and tumbled forward. Rotating twice, the blade hit the wood... but struck at an oblique angle, and it bounced away, clattering to the ground.


            Shinju frowned.


            "Not bad!" Igor assured. "You hit target!" He lumbered over to the wooden blocks and picked up the entrenching tool. "Release not smooth, blade wobble too much. Watch." The large man walked back, stopped, and with practiced ease drew his arm back. He then flipped the blade forward and launched it. The spade still rotated twice, but this time its flight was true and it sunk halfway into the wood.


            Shinju and Rei both passively watched the display.


            "Blade cutting best, but spade heavy, so hitting what counts," Igor said as he, once again, retrieved the entrenching tool.


            Taking the blade Shinju took a few more practice swings. This time she could feel how the weight shifted when she moved it past the top of her head.


           "Remember follow through with release. Basics right now," Igor advised, making sure to stay out of the weapon's arc.


            Shinju nodded and staring at the target took a couple more practice swings. Then she drew back, and this time let her grip slacken. She winced as she felt the blade tumble out of her grip. End over end it flipped and the tip of the blade caught the face of the log. Lightly penetrating, it hung upright for a few seconds and then slipped out.


            "Very good!" Igor cheered.


            Shinju turned and looked up at the man. "But it fell out."


            "Meat much softer than wood," Igor explained as he retrieved the spade and handed it back to Shinju.


            "Oh? Why aren't we training on meat?"


            Gazing into at those big seemingly innocent eyes, Igor had to laugh. Her eyes being behind the purple tint of her safety glasses reduced the oddness. "Same reason you shoot more paper and on computer. Cheaper. Besides, harder to get into wood than human skull." He paused, seeing the girl's almost disappointed look. "No worries, we can buy a pig. Would be good to teach you proper knife work too."


            Shinju gave a little nod.


            "That's a good girl," Igor smiled. "Now you go teach your sister."


            Her smile growing, Shinju beckoned Rei, who was putting on her own protective glasses. Unlike her sister, she preferred red tinting to her lenses.


            Igor and Pyotr stepped aside and the thinner man pulled out a cigarette packet.


            "No thanks," Igor declined the offered smokes. "What do you think?" he asked in Russian.


            Pyotr watched as the two girls took turns throwing their spades. The younger nearly... bounced as she whipped the sharpened shovel. Given the long hair, ribbons, and simple glee, she looked surprisingly wholesome. Rei had more control on her release but her overall motion was not quite as fluid.


            After half a minute of silence, Pyotr had composed his thoughts into an acceptable format. "They're something else."


            "Soon they'll be throwing spades while back-flipping off trampolines."


            Watching the girls practice, Pyotr concentrated on his smoking. "Good."


            "It is." Igor nodded. "We need them."


            "They're good soldiers."


            "Then we shall make sure we are worthy of them." Igor gave one of his manic grins and walked back to the girls.


            Pyotr observed his large comrade teach. "And they worthy of us," he muttered before dropping his cigarette to the ground and crushing it with his heel.

 

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

 


            Giving a surprised shriek, Shinju dropped her blouse, and had her hands go over her crotch. After a moment, she moved one of her arms to her chest and head lowered took a step back.


            "Sorry!" Nozomi winced at the trembling girl's fear. "It's just me."


            Blushing, Shinju grabbed a shirt and slipped it on.


            "Don't worry. It's not like some pervert is going to slip past your big brothers."


            Pulling on a shin-length plain blue skirt, Shinju nodded. "It just surprised me."


            Standing in the dressing cubicle, Nozomi snatched a glance at her friend. Something seemed... strange. "This can't be the first time you've been undressed with another girl. You've got two sisters."


            "That's different." Shinju spun around and pulled another skirt off a clothes hanger.


            "I guess," Nozomi said, her voice distant. When Shinju spun around, her hair lifted, and with her blouse untucked.... "Are you carrying?"


             Turning back to Nozomi, Shinju kept a blank expression. The effect was hampered by the red coloring her cheeks.


            "You know my job," Shinju quietly said.


            "But Igor carries your-" Nozomi caught herself. If things went bad, really bad. Shinju might not have time to be given her rifle. "I... understand. Some things are best kept secret."


            Shinju nodded.


            "And I can just imagine Shirane going into full fan-girl mode," Nozomi chuckled.


            "About what?" Carrying a dress, Shirane stepped into the dressing room.


            Nozomi stared. "Uh..."


            Shinju blinked.


            "Um, what are you carrying?"


            Shirane gave a toothy smile. "Isn't it the cutest?" she asked giving the dress a slight shake. Ribbons and ruffled bounced as the entire garment flounced about.


            "I didn't take you for the Gothic Lolita style."


            Shirane laughed. "Right like I'd ever get caught in something this girly."


            "Then who is it for?" Nozomi asked.


            "Well, who here likes purple?" Shirane turned to Shinju. "Well, what do you think?"


            Shinju stared at the layered dress. It was mostly a violet that could pass for black in most light; it had white ruffled trim in the chest, waist, shoulders and skirt hem; it came with purple petticoat that was a bit longer than the dress itself. Purple ribbons crossed in the torso and chest. Accompanying the dress was a white lace choker with purple ribbons that dangled in the front. A pair of flounced sleeve sections made out of the same black-violet, white trimmed, material were also included.


            Shinju blinked, but the dress was still there. "It's frilly."


            Shirane laughed. "No more than those white party dresses you like."


            "That's a lie," Nozomi dryly remarked.


            "Fine, it's a bit more girly."


            "A bit?"


            "What do you think, Shinju?" Shirane offered the dress.


            "It's a bit.... much." Shinju said, transfixed by the dress.


            "Awww, but it's just like what your doll wears. Don't you want to play dressup?"


            Shinju frowned. "That's just pretend."


            "So is this."


            Nozomi sighed. "I don't get it. Shirane, you're this big military otaku, and you've got a friend that is an Eva Pilot and here you are trying to make her into some princess. More a doll really."


            "Princess?" Shinju paused. Her father was the Commander.


            "You and your sister are the most important people in Nerv," Nozomi reminded. "But that doesn't explain why you're doing this," she said to Shirane.


            "I am a twelve year old girl," Shirane laughed. "Come on Shinju, try it on."


            Shinju frowned. "I dunno."


            "If you try it on, you can make Shirane dress-up in something embarrassing," Nozomi suggested with a smirk. "Remember that pink dress out in the window?"


            Shirane's eyebrow twitched. "No... not the one with the poufy shoulders. I'd look like I fell into a vat of cotton candy."


            "It would look cute on her." Shinju's red eyes twinkled.


            Shirane sighed. "Is that how you're gonna play?"


            "You want to use Shinju as your dressup doll. She should be able to use you the same way," Nozomi smirked.


            "Fine, fine." Shirane hung the dress up. "I just thought Shinju would like to wear something a bit more fancy. Something that'll really make a splash."


            "I get enough attention," Shinju quietly noted.


            Shirane paused. "Yeah... so what were you two talking about? Something I'd gush over?"


            Nozomi winced. She had hoped Shirane had forgotten and she did not want to reveal Shinju's secret. "Oh, it was just more of the weapons training that Shinju's been getting."


            "Well of course I'd gush over that. You've got it made Shinju-chan. You're like the only twelve year old in the world that can shoot off N2 warheads."


            Shinju tilted her head. "It's less fun than it sounds."


            "Nonsense, everyone likes explosions, and then there's all the other weapons you get to use. So what's the latest one you've got?"


            "Well... they've been teaching Oneechan and me to fight with combat spades."


            "Entrenching tools?" Shirane's eyes widened. "Oh that's great!"


            Shinju shrugged.


            "You're just happy you've got more info to tell Kensuke," Nozomi cautioned.


            "Hey! I'm not doing that anymore!" Shirane glared.


            "Oh?"


            "Yeah, after all those movie shorts, press releases, and posters..." Shirane shook her head. "The guy's got all the info he needs."


            "Like any otaku can have enough information," Nozomi snorted. "You're just realizing he's crushing more on the Ayanamis than he ever would on you."


            Shirane frowned.


            "That's mean, Nozomi," Shinju said.


            "It's true," Shirane sighed. "He still sees me as his best friend's kid sister."


            "Which you are," Nozomi reminded. "At least you found this out now, instead of mooning over him for another month."


            Shirane gave a frustrated sigh.


            Nozomi shook her head. "Anyway, if we're not going to dare ourselves into putting on embarrassing outfits, how about we get some lunch?"

 

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

 


            In Abandoned Area 28 on the shore next to the former Tokyo Metropolis a meeting was taking place in Nippon Heavy Industry Solidarity's sprawling complex. A large banquet-hall-like room was filled with giant round tables that were garishly overstocked with various types of liquor. Most of the tables were full of warmly chatting men in business suits who were amiably passing the time.


            Two tables were different.


            Both were in the center of the room and both mostly empty. At one very empty-looking table Ritsuko and Misako sat. While at another even more desolate table, Beria, wearing a white lab coat and thin black tie over a rumpled suit, sat alone. Around the tables, in a deceptively loose-looking perimeter stood a group of Azazel Naval Infantry.


             Giving a small confident grin, Shiro Tokita stepped up to the podium at the stage in the front of the room. "Thank you for coming to our exhibition of Nippon Heavy Industry Solidarity. You will observe our demonstration from the control room. Do you have any questions before that?"


            "Yes!" Ritsuko raised her hand.


            Shiro leaned forward. "Oh, you're the famous Doctor Akagi Ritsuko. I'm very glad to see you here." His eyes briefly went to the other, nearly, empty table, where Beria seemed to be busy jotting down on a small notepad.


            Taking an offered microphone, Ritsuko stood up. "May I ask a question?"


            "Yes, absolutely."


            "According to the earlier explanation it's equipped with an internal engine."


            "Yes, that's a major feature of the unit. A hundred and fifty days of continuous operation is assured." Shiro beamed.


            "However, for safety reasons, I think it's far too risky to install a reactor in weapons for close range ground combat." Ritsuko said.


            "I think it's much more useful than a weapon that doesn't work for more than five minutes."


            "That does not excuse the safety concerns," Beria muttered, not looking up from his notes.


            "Oh, so now we have the famous Doctor Pavel Beria. I can guarantee that our reactor is far safer than anything your country has made."


            While the crowd laughed, Beria silently folded his notebook closed. After a second's consideration the balding man stood up and held out a hand.


            Shiro raised an eyebrow as a difficult silence formed. Eventually an Azazel trooper took a microphone from an NHIS aide and handed it to the engineer.


            "The title is Director; Director Pavel Beria," the engineer smoothly intoned.


            "Yes of that institute attached to Azazel." Looking at the older man's... amused expression , Shiro's confidence dipped slightly.


            "Your aim is ground combat with Angels, no? You know last battle. How would your device fare?" Somewhat mirthful, Beria's tone bordered on disinterested.


            "Well, that's a very complicated situation."


            "Yes, combat is." Beria said mildly. "What role does weapon serve?"


            "As stated the system and has several advantages in deployable duration. It has a superior remote control system. It is also is much, much more cost-effective than Evangelion."


            "Cost effect is result divided by price." Beria said in a tone that Fuyutsuki would have recognized immediately, that of a professor being forced to listen to a student's excuses. "What would robot do if it had to stop Angel? Explain."


            Ritsuko had to keep herself from smiling, and the man had not even seen Jet Alone...


            Shiro blinked. "The system can be fitted with several weapons systems," he slowly explained.


            "Ah, I see." Beria nodded. "So particle cannons and N2 delivery systems?"


            "Yes of course."


            "Result divided by price." Beria smiled. "Sukhoi far cheaper than giant robot."


            "That same argument can be used against Nerv!" Shiro fumed.


            "Yes, it can." Beria turned to Ritsuko.


            "Unlike Azazel, Jet Alone can destroy an Angel without irradiating the countryside."


            "Provided, reactor not damaged."


            Ritsuko cleared her throat. "Director? If I may?" She turned to Shiro. "You mentioned remote control. That may cause a problem in emergency situations."


            "It's more humane than putting a heavy workload on the pilot which might result in mental illness," Shiro said more sure on his feet.


            "Control by multiple personnel might cause some problems," Ritsuko pressed the point.


            "It controlled by committee?" Beria smiled. "And if communications is lost? What robot do then?"


            Shiro grinned and held up a report. "It's still safer than a dangerous weapon that goes out of control." He opened the report to show an image of Unit 00 in the middle of going berserk in a test cell. "A weapon without control is nonsense. It's just like a hysterical woman. No one can deal with one.


            While the crowd laughed, Ritsuko twitched slightly. She also wondered which UN committee he had bribed to get that document.


            "Woman beyond your control? Perhaps problem is with you." Beria scoffed.


            Ritsuko laughed. "Control is what our technology and Pilots are for."


            "Do you really think that science and the human mind can control that monster? Are you serious?" Shiro raised an eyebrow.


            "Yes. Absolutely."


            Beria gave an approving nod. "If she wrong, we correct problem."


            Shiro shook his head. "Because you believe in unreliable things, like human minds, Nerv allowed that uncontrolled incident to happen."


            "What do you believe in then?" Beria narrowed his eyes. "Where is your trust?"


            "In science, in machines. Surely as an engineer yourself-"


            "Humans are more important than hardware." Beria gave a short laugh. "Even Americans know that."


            "Surely, you don't think that a twelve year-old girl should be allowed to be put in such a situation?"


            "Allowed? We have no choice in the matter," Ritsuko said.


            "There is always Azazel," Beria said mildly.


            "It seems that Nerv cannot even get something as basic as control straightened out. To be reduced to using children."


            Misako narrowed her eyes and glared at Shiro. While under the table she clenched her hands into fists and concentrated on staying still.


            "No matter what you say, only our main weapons can defeat the enemy." Ritsuko said to Shiro as she pulled up the corners of her mouth in something that superficially resembled a smile.


            "You mean the AT field?" Shiro asked. "It's only a matter of time. Nerv already has competition. More options are inevitable."


            "Perhaps she mean near megaton nuclear weapon," Beria dryly said. "Perhaps you forgot. Azazel killed Angel. Nerv killed Angel. You have not killed Angel."


            "Save the AT field module, our system is fully functional." Shiro boasted.


            "So, not fully functional." Beria leaned down and made a note. "Demonstration overcome concerns, then?" he asked with a warm, friendly smile, and while his eyes were... amused they were neither warm nor friendly.

 

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

 


            Misako glared at the locker and examined the three small hinges that connected the door. After swinging the door a couple times she put her foot above the lower hinge. "Damn those low-lifes..." she kicked down and snapped the hinge.


            "Stop, it's childish," Ritsuko warned.


            Snorting, she grabbed the lower end of the door and twisted it to snap off the middle hinge. From there it was easy to lever the door such that the final hinge broke off. The door was then tossed into a corner.


            Beria looked up from his tea pot and clapped his hands lightly.


            "He wants to show off and wants to be praised. He's a small guy," Ritsuko noted as she lit the orange Jet Alone brochure on fire.


            Watching the events in the dressing room, Captain Sakharov did not move up from the wall he was leaning against. "Is problem? Can solve directly. Cheap."


            Misako looked at the mustached officer for a few seconds. "Thanks for the offer but it's being taken care of." She turned to Ritsuko. "How did they know about the AT field?"


            Ritsuko turned in her chair and looked at the man they had been forced to share a "dressing room" with. "Top secret information seems to be leaking."


            "It was not Azazel." Beria shook his head.


            "What's the intelligence section doing?" Misako asked.


            Beria looked at his watch and grabbed his tea. "It is time to go."


            Picking up her own cup, Ritsuko sighed. Captain Sakharov and their bodyguard trailing, the three "representatives" walked down the NHIS corridors until they came to the control room. Several business and political leaders were already at the windows in the front of the room and had binoculars at the ready.


            The tall, blocky tower in front of them split open with either side pulling away. As the building separated, it revealed Jet Alone


            While everyone else gaped at the Evangelion-scaled machine, Misako leaned over to Ritsuko. "They insulted Shinju, insulted Nerv. Don't forget you're gonna make them pay, Rits."


            Ritsuko smirked and took a sip. "Wonderful tea, Director."


            Still staring, Beria gave an absent nod. He catalogued the spindly arms and legs, the immense bulk of the chest and torso, the thin joints, and the other features.  The body was bulky and thick with a large hunched back to hold the reactor.  The machine lacked a separate head, instead having a bulging lump built into the top of its overly wide shoulders.


            "Now we'll begin the demonstration of Jet Alone." Shiro smirked from his position at a command tower that stood behind six console banks. "There's nothing to worry about."


            With that various NHIS technicians started shouting out orders and giving the status of their parts. Then one said, "Extend the control rods fully."


            Beria watched as six rods, each nearly half the height of Jet Alone, extended from the back of the robot.


            "Walk ahead slowly, move right foot ahead." Shiro said just as his orders were repeated and the robot took a lurching step forward. Holding his hands behind his back, Shiro grinned as his technicians prepared to move the left foot. His elation grew as Jet Alone took a third step and then another and another.


            "It's walking. Is that worth being proud of?" Misako asked as she peered through a set of binoculars.


            Rapt, Shiro looked down from the elevated control platform. "What do you think now... Director?"


            Beria slowly turned to look back at Shiro. "That is worst-designed machine I have ever had astounding displeasure of observing. It cannot have any purpose other than assure first-year engineering students that there no such thing as standards. No matter their failure, they will find employment."


            "What?" Shiro stepped back as the other people turned from watching Jet Alone to watching Beria.


            "You're excited it can take step? You test at all?" Beria hissed.


            Captain Sakharov chuckled.


            Shiro stared.


            "No, obviously you did not. Otherwise you would realize the horrible fallacy of having external control rods. Did it not occur to you that fifteen meter long cantilevered rods might get damaged? If one of those things broke off, what then?"


            "There are safeguards in place..."


            "I've seen better reactor designs in Pripyat! Either those things are decorative, in which case you are even more incompetently wasteful than Nerv, or they are critical, in which case you are treasonously incompetent and if there were any justice in the world you would be summarily shot."


            "Be reasonable..."


            "Reasonable would be sending Su-33's in to put this impotent thing out of its misery. Feh, a man with an RPG could do it. This you boast? This fully functional?"


            Shiro clenched his teeth. "Director, the demonstration has only started."


            Beria bowed his head in mock acquiescence. 'Then continue."


            "Fine we'll move straight to the weapons test. The reactor you so deride provides more power than an Evangelion can supply, and unlike a sixty-year-old single shot artillery piece, it can continuously fire. Ready the Induction Cannon!"


            Jet Alone jerked down the test range and walked up to a relatively long, lumpy building. The roof retracted and Jet Alone picked up a grey tubular weapon by rolling one of its ribbon-like arms around the canon.


            "Clearance to fire at target seven?" Shiro asked.


            "The range is clear," one of the technicians replied.


            "Sound the siren." Shiro grinned wolfishly. "Fire!"


            A pure white lance shot out and bored into a squat concrete block. The beam pulverized its way through and ground through the dirt.


           "Change to target twelve." Shiro smirked as the shearing beam was raked across the desolate remains of Old Tokyo. "You see the power?" He turned to a technician and ordered the weapon shut off.


            Beria chuckled. "Weak if functional weapon. I'll recommend that Nerv contact subcontractor, export version Evangelion portable. They can compare to their own particle cannon."


            "I never figured you for a Nerv stooge," Shiro sneered.


            "Your political skill is on par with engineering." Beria chuckled. "I loathe Nerv. They waste funding. They lack strategic thought. They lack rigor. I rejoice at the shackles the UN has put them under. However, they are not failures. They can kill Angel. I say before: you cannot make the same claim."


            "You are in no position to challenge Jet Alone."


            "Yes, between Jet Alone and Azazel, there is no contest."


            Shiro glared. "Even though you hate Nerv, you'll still work against us?"


            "I will recommend against further evaluation. Too many systematic design flaws. Too little potential as a weapon. Better to drop now."


            "It sounds like you're afraid." Shiro laughed. "The induction canon is just one of the weapons we can power. We can give superior air defense and more precise, longer running attacks. Is that why you're sticking for Nerv? Are you afraid of becoming even more marginalized?"


            Beria set his jaw; he would have liked to cut apart that ridiculous "superior air defense" fallacy, but it was time. "I will recommend Azazel decline any testing."


            "Azazel is nothing special. Anyone can use obsolete planes to shoot nuclear weapons. But if you're set on standing in the way of Nerv's true replacement..." Shiro turned to the other observers. "It's a shame they're too afraid to test Jet Alone. They know what'll happen."


            Grinning broadly, Ritsuko stepped forward. "Excellent, excellent. General Yubari regretted being unable to attend, but he was able to extend an invitation to the Mount Takanosu Testing Range."


            "Pardon?"


            "You're quite correct. The JSSDF is quite interested in the Jet Alone project. Especially as a more cost effective and flexible alternative to Evangelion. Naturally, they're eager to set up a series of wargames."


          "Well of course," Shiro's leg started to tingle. This sounded like good news... but why was the blonde women smiling?


            "Regrettably, Azazel has refused to participate. Therefore Red Team duties will fall upon the other Special Duty Organization the JSSDF supervises."


            Working it out, Shiro's eyes widened. "You expect Jet Alone to fight an Evangelion?"


            Noticing Misako look at her cell phone, Beria looked at his watch


            "Now, it won't be a fully accurate test. Jet Alone has no AT field. So we'll just have our Evas not use theirs."


            "No AT fields?"


            "Don't worry, the testing will be fair. JSSDF will be overseeing the entire operation." Ritsuko took a sip of tea. "Now seeing as you've proven the offensive capabilities of Jet Alone, all that's left is actual combat testing," she lied. There was more, much more to getting a practical weapon, but if he agreed, that would show his ignorance.


            "Yes, well fortunately the weapons systems are functional. NHIS is eager to prove its worth." Shiro swallowed and clasped his hands behind his back again. This was what he wanted. JSSDF would see the logic of Jet Alone....


            "Wonderful. Is tomorrow good? How about next week?"


            "Everyone here, why not airdrop Eva right now?" Beria asked.


            "Well, I'm willing to do it, but I don't think that Eva can get here in time."


            "Go," Misako stated into her phone. Nearly fifteen seconds later, a giant purple figure dropped out of the sky. With deliberate slowness the Evangelion rose from its shallow landing crater. It was ready for battle.


            Attached to the shoulder pylons were a set of double-size, double capacity external power packs. Mounted horizontally on the Evangelion's lower back was a giant entrenching tool. An ammunition satchel was on the left hip and cradled in Unit 01's hands was the gleaming steel of Little David.


            Painted on the side of the... thing's head were two halos and on its upper left arm was a "shoulder sleeve" insignia. A tilted golden wing with upswept feathers sat on a pale blue field and was topped by a black bar. Too late, Shiro realized that this was not just some prepubescent girl but a veteran, specifically a veteran paratrooper. One belonging to a very exclusive club. Recalling the terminology from a previous project, the NHIS manager came up with an acceptable acronym. HANO: High-Altitude No Opening.


            He was looking at the only paratrooper that did not need a parachute.


            "Don't worry about the five minute limitation. Shinju can run for twenty-five minutes before needing more juice," Misako assured.


            Shiro's lip quivered. He looked down to see the NHIS board members and executives. They seemed to be simultaneously enraged and terrified. They had seen the battle footage; they had seen the short videos Nerv Public Relations had released. "Is that armed.... " Looking up at the looming purple monstrosity, he tried to find his voice. "N2 warheads?"


            "Oh no, this is just a war game, she's only got practice rounds," Misako assured.


            "I see..." Shiro licked his lips. "Well we have to wait for the JSSDF to arrive. They are observing right?'


            "Of course," Misako happily agreed, before dialing a new number on her phone. "Shinju, take a break. We'll send you the new coordinates once we get the games started."


            The sound of several VTOL craft landing cut into the command center. "They're late," Ritsuko noted.


            Misako turned to Shiro, her eyes locking onto his. "Once the Generals arrive we can get started. Unless you're not ready that is?"

 

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

 


            General Yubari turned away from the conference table that had been moved into the NHIS command room and suppressed a sigh. "Yes? Tokita, is it?"


            Shiro nodded. "Sir, I don't think that this is really... proper. I mean, the test."


            Yubari gave a slight glance to the series of displays and computers mounted on and around the tables. "Son, if you were planning to bow out of this little test, you should have told me that before I had my staff setup their equipment."


            "Oh no, it's not that." Shiro did not want the test, but the board was firm. They felt that Nerv had outmaneuvered them and a fair performance today was better than a good performance in a week. "It's just these rules..."


            This time Yubari did sigh. "Let me be blunt. Do you have a viable weapon? Or will this be a waste of time?"


            Shiro's eyes widened. "Sir, you're... I mean, you'd take the side of Ikari and foreigners over, well, your countrymen?"


            Yubari stared Shiro for several seconds. "Son, I'm going to pretend that you did not just question my loyalty. I am fully aware of Nerv and Azazel's problems. There is nothing that I want more than possessing a controllable and effective weapon. That is why I'm giving you this latitude."


            "What?"


            Sighing again, Yubari turned to the display. "I'm giving you a chance. If you don't think you're ready, bow out now. Come back when you've got something that we can use."


            "Sir, Jet Alone is ready. The only thing left is to put in an AT field module," Shiro coldly stated.


            "Fine. I hope you're right, but I won't let that hope blind me. I'd rather have ethically and politically... murky, but effective weapons, than weapons that are morally righteous but utterly useless."


            "Jet Alone is not useless."


            "Tokita, that is the purpose of this test." Yubari frowned at a map that one of his majors had put on the screen.


            "You had some questions about the war game rules?"


            "It's more the setup. Did it have to be moved?"


            "Son, this is a live-fire exercise with an unmanned nuclear-powered war machine that wields an induction cannon. You're lucky we didn't move the whole thing to Mount Takanosu. That range is already equipped with all the requisite wargame equipment and safeties, but if we're forced to indulge your wishes..."


            "My wishes? I didn't want this test."


            "Yes, you were tricked by Nerv. You were tricked into getting exactly what you wanted."


            "What I wanted? I wanted this?" Shiro sputtered.


            "You wanted JSSDF's attention right? You wanted us to seriously evaluate your design. This is how we do it. We measure it against proven technology."


            Shiro set his jaw. "Jet Alone will measure up."


            "Then you have nothing to fear." Yubari kept his tone even. "Anyway the test will be moved, so it's far enough away to be safe."


            "Sir, this is an Abandoned Area and this is where we test Jet Alone and its weapons."


            "Son, Jet Alone's going up against an Evangelion."


            "Well yes..."


            "If you don't have any real questions I suggest you get back to your own staff. You've got a battle to prepare for."


            "Sir, that's the other problem. We're not military men, having us run a battle-"


            Yubari cut him off. "I was lead to believe that Jet Alone did not require a pilot. 'Jet Alone is programmed to react to all possible emergency situations.' That is how the brochure put it, if I recall."


            "But the test-"


            "Is a simple mission. Jet Alone will be giving a set area and set with finding Eva 01. Then it will engage the Evangelion in battle. This is as basic as we can make it."


            Shiro frowned. "And where are the Nerv personnel?"


            "No doubt talking with their Pilot. Though that's not your concern." Yubari turned back to the NHIS man. "Last chance. Is Jet Alone ready for this test?"


            "Yes,." Shiro stiffly said.


            "Then you should go back to your team," Yubari dismissed. He watched the younger man leave for a few seconds before turning back to his work. He wanted to make sure all the data recorders were properly setup. Chances were, this would be a short test.

 

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

 


            Keeping its steady, lumbering pace, Jet Alone adjusted its heading. Walking on an oblique angle to the shoreline, kilometers of ruined terrain passed beneath the machine's long, pointed feet. The frontal view from Jet Alone's main cameras was displayed on a large projection screen that had descended in front of the NHIS control room's viewing windows.


            Shiro split his attention between the sweeping desolate terrain, various status displays, and an overhead map. Over ten minutes of fruitless searching had worn on the attention of the observers. He looked down and to the left to see that unlike the industry reps, the JSSDF team was still attentively working at their stations. The Nerv personnel had left, though Director Beria was still sitting off to the side drinking from a small teacup.


            Taking in his technician's statements, Shiro gave a slight sigh. Jet Alone was performing well. The Evangelion was hiding, it had to be, and JA would find it. Part of him wondered why Evangelion would hide from JA. Part of him wondered how it could hide. The terrain offered some concealment but something that large should be easy to spot. Was that the point of this test?


            "Sir! Eva detected!" one of the technicians shouted.


            "Engage JA!" Shiro unnecessarily ordered. Jet Alone was already turning and raising its arms. The view shifted to the shoreline and zoomed into where a large cylindrical object. Coming out of the water at an angle, it had a black, shiny, tip over the very end. Behind it the head of Unit 01 emerged out of the water.


            Two induction cannons fired. The mighty white beams were rapidly over-shadowed by the thunderous projectile that emerged from Little David. Awarded a rare downrange view Shiro saw the explosion from the barrel become overlapped by the explosion from over a ton of high explosives.


            Slamming dead-center in the diamond-shaped sensor array that passed for Jet Alone's "head", the shell's momentum and explosive energy compounded. The force knocked Jet Alone back and the mech stumbled backwards, falling to one knee.


            "Sensors are down! Switching to backups!" a technician stated as the main display screen went black.


            Shiro looked down at the radar display. "Incoming Eva. Get weapons back up! It doesn't need to stand to fire!" After a couple precious seconds, Jet Alone rose to its feet. By then the Evangelion had hit the beach and was running towards it. The entrenching tool was out and in hand, Little David being hung around the Eva's neck and shoulders on a strap.


            "Fire!" Shiro cried. "The thing's only got a shovel!" He grinned when Jet Alone raised its arms. Without its precious AT field even an Evangelion could not withstand the blast from two nuclear powered induction cannons, and with only a muzzleloader the Evangelion had no more ranged weapons.


           Seemingly ignoring the twin beams boring into its chest, the Evangelion drew its right arm back and whipped forward, releasing the entrenching tool. Flipping end over end the spade's blade hit Jet Alone just below the "head". While the armor was built to withstand relatively "minor" explosions, a gigantic progressive blade was another matter, and the spade sank over six meters into the center of Jet Alone's chest.


            Arms shaking Shiro stared. "The... the fuck! She threw a shovel!" The various NHIS techs shouted out warnings. However Shiro's attention was elsewhere. He watched as Jet Alone shuddered and then fell on its back. The central display now showed a vast blue sky, save for a giant handle sticking out of the center of the lower half.


            "Override the safeties! Weapons have to get back on!" Shiro's voice was shrill. He looked down and saw the JSSDF staff, and the smug bastards were laughing.


            Shuddering, Jet alone managed to raise its left arm. The inductance beam shot out and burned into Unit 01's left side, but by now the Evangelion was within a hundred meters. Only three paces away the Evangelion threw its progressive knife. At this range Shinju only had to make sure to lean forward on the release. The knife tumbled poorly and the blade did not hit the left Induction Cannon. However, the handle did, and while not sharp it did weigh several tons.


            Casing and contents damaged, the beam cut out. Its computer calculating the odds and the best course of action, Jet Alone gave a last push and rose to its feet, at the cost of further structural damage.


            By then, Unit 01 was already on it. The Evangelion's left hand ripped off the remaining induction cannon while the right hand went for the entrenching tool. Twisting as she withdrew, Shinju made sure to exacerbate the damage.


            Jet Alone lurched forward and grappled with the purple monstrosity. Surprised at the mech's strength, Shinju lifted her spade and swept it horizontally, slicing off four of the six control rods.


            Giving a slight whimper, Shiro watched as the control rods fell to the ground. The Evangelion then used its spade and free-arm to pry itself out of Jet Alone's grip and jump back. The Eva then charged forward and went low. Using that ridiculous shovel, it hooked one of Jet Alone's legs and once again, flipped the robot onto its back.


            Lifting up the entrenching tool, Shinju thrust it down the joint where Jet Alone's left leg connected to the torso mounting. After repeating the action on the right leg she dropped the spade, took a leg in each hand and pulled.


            Helpless, Shiro watched as the Evangelion repeated the procedure and tore off Jet Alone's arms. Closing his eyes, he inhaled. "Stop the test!"


            Turning from his display, General Yubari looked up at Shiro. "Alright then." He picked up a radio. "Pilot Ayanami. Stand down. Mission complete."


            Shiro gave a curt not. "Commence Jet Alone shut down."
           


            "Tokita, the reactor's not powering down!"


            A small smile crossed Beria's face.


            "What?" Shiro screamed. "Scram the reactor!"


            "Reactor trip failing! Negative reactivity systems are too damaged."


            "What's going on?" Yubari demanded.


            "Poor reactor design meets reality," Beria mildly explained.


            "Is there no way to shut it off?"


            "This shouldn't be happening," Shiro cried.


            "So right now, we're facing the danger of a meltdown?"


            "Under the present conditions, there's nothing to do but wait until it stops by itself."


            "Just blow damn thing up; it already in irradiated wasteland," Beria snorted.


            "Are you sure that's wise?" Yubari asked.


            "Reactor critically damaged, inside mangled chassis. I would not send crews in to turn it off. Easier clean up irradiated wreckage than irradiated death-trap."


            Shinju lifted up Little David and inspected the weapon. "Permission to dispose of the target reactor?" she requested over the communications channel.


            Yubari frowned. "Yes, take it out."


            AT field flashing into existence, Shinju reloaded the Little David, rammed the barrel into the gaping hole in Jet Alone's chest, and pulled the trigger. Inside several layers of armor, the explosion looked rather unimpressive.


            The deformation and following collapse of Nippon Heavy Industrial Solidarity's war-machine was somewhat more impressive. High explosives tore through the reactor and various support struts, causing the heavy armor to fall in on itself. Pulling her Evangelion up to its full height, Shinju gave the broken scrap a dismissive glance before inspecting her gun for damage.


            "Is that all?" Shinju asked in a distant, bored voice.


            "No, that will do. Good job." Watching the Evangelion lumber off he suppressed a smile. Offering his old unit patch to the Fourth Child was natural. The First Airborne Brigade, along with the Japanese Special Operations Group were critical in ensuring Japan's post Impact stability. While she did not need a parachute, hence the omission of the patch's 'chute, Shinju certainly deserved the Airborne title.


            However for the JSSDF, not even the Second Impact and the Tokyo bomb were enough to fully remove the politicians' Article 9 concerns. It would take two years of chaos and the Sino-Viet Nansha war to get the Ministry of Defense to officially acknowledge reality and form the Japanese Strategic Self Defense Force.


            "It was nothing. Your scenarios give me more trouble." Shinju flatly stated. "Returning to pickup station. Request spare power packs."


            "Approved. Consult tactical to arrange the pickup and decontamination." Yubari put the radio down. "Major Osumi, start organizing the cleanup. Contact Azazel and NHIS as well."


            After descending back down to the main level of the control room, Shiro had walked over to the JSSDF station. "Ummm, Sir... about the test."


            General Yubari studied the other man's hesitant, gun-shy body language. "Your... weapon, I suppose is the term, could not even give a twelve-year-old girl an amusing - not even challenging, amusing - engagement."


            "Sir I don't think it was fair. Jet Alone-"


            "Fair?" Yubari had to maintain his composure. "Son, this is war! Do you think the Angels will listen to your pathetic excuses?"
           


            Shiro glared. "If this were a real battle, Jet Alone would-"


            "Would what?" General Yubari's voice was amused. "Son, have you seen an Angel in battle? We've thrown everything we've had at them. Do you know what it's like to see all your efforts wasted? To realize that you are facing an unstoppable, unbeatable enemy? To see your most powerful weapons hardly even slow it down?"


            Shiro tried to look at the officer but had to lower his gaze.


            "Of course, you know what that's like." Yubari gave a light chuckle. "That twelve-year-old girl was going easy on you."


            "Easy?"


            Yubari turned back to the monitor. "I had hoped that the design, while flawed, might be salvageable. Perhaps in some heavy support role, but..." the General sighed. "It's really for the best."


            Shiro's arms hung limply.


            "Funding can be withdrawn and industrial capacity can be moved to proven technology."


            "It can't end this way," Shiro quietly muttered. "Nerv tricked you. Nerv's been playing us all."


            "I'm sure they are, but you were tested and found lacking. You could have waited, you could have built a better robot. You did neither." General Yubari watched as the decontamination team rendezvoused with Unit 01 and started hosing down the titanic machine.


            Shiro opened his mouth and after a few false starts managed to work out his question. "So what now?"


            General Yubari kept his face towards the monitor. Eventually he turned back and looked over the quivering NHIS manager. "You failed: learn from it, or get out of the way."

 

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

 


            Shinju set the doll onto her dresser. This one had curly pink hair that fell to mid-back in a cascade of ringlets. Contrasting with her hair and amused expression, the doll was dressed in a stern black dress that had a Victorian governess style to it.


            The clone looked between her three dolls. Her eyes went across the other items on her dresser: shooting glasses, music player, one of Rei's romance books, a loaded thirty round magazine, a stack of mini CDs, a book on hand to hand combat, a hairbrush, the silver-framed family portrait, a set of throwing knives, her medication supply, and a makeup compact.


            Leaning against the dresser was her rifle, umbrella, and entrenching tool. Smiling, at her father's latest gift, she gave the doll a slight adjustment so it stood even with the other two. After brushing her hair for a bit, she went back into the living room.


            "You fought well today," Rei said, not looking up from her book.


            "Not much challenge, Oneechan." Shinju stated.


            Rei nodded.


            Shinju tilted her head to see the book's title. "How's that one?"


            "Confusing." Rei frowned. "The maiden's problems seem easy to solve. Simply get both the pirate prince and the Governor's son."


            "Um, Oneechan, I don't think love works that way."


            "Why?"


            Shinju shrugged.


            "The Commander was married. He might know about love."


            Holding a serving bowl, Misako stepped in from the kitchen. "You're not thinking of asking... him about romance?"


            Rei blinked. "He tells me it was a happy marriage."


            Misako sighed as she put the reheated instant soup she on the kitchen table. "You've got a point, he is the only Nerv officer I know that had a stable long-term relationship."


            "Oneesan, is that common?" Shinju asked.


            "For Nerv? Yes. For other military groups? No. Special forces actually tend to have more married family men on staff. I know the JSSDF does."


            "What about Azazel?" Shinju asked. "Most of my detail are single."


            "As are mine," Rei added.


            Misako stared at Shinju "Aren't you... girls a bit young to be asking that stuff?"


            "Ask?" Rei tilted her head.


            "We don't need to ask. Wedding rings," Shinju explained.


            "Had me worried for a bit." Misako shook her head. "Dinner's almost ready."


            Shinju nodded. Looking out the window, the moon caught her eye. Drawn by the shining orb, she walked over and opened the patio door. The sound of music and merriment and the scent of food and smoke drifted up.


            Looking down she saw a party on a few of the lower patio terraces. A group of Azazel troopers were lounging about, many were drinking, more were smoking. Several tables had been dragged out onto the patios and were covered with various platters and bottles. In one corner a small band was playing, and many troops were singing along. The drums and violin were familiar enough, but the guitar, having a triangular body, was strange.


            After several seconds the band stopped and joined the rest of the Azazel troops in looking up. The girl frowned and looked around. She could see the guards and sharp shooters on duty in their various positions; so nothing looked out of place. She blushed when the realization hit, they were looking at her.


            She then noticed Igor. Even among his comrades, he stood head and shoulders above them. Looking up at her, the large man raised his glass. Shortly the rest of the Azazel troops followed suit.


            Blushing, she smoothed her dress and gave a quick salute. Smiling, Igor lowered his glass and was followed by the rest of the troops. They then went back to their revelry. Shaking her head, Shinju went back inside.


            "Dinner's ready," Misako said from the table, where Rei was also sitting.


            "They're having a party," Shinju noted as she sat down.


            Misako laughed. "Of course, you won today."


            "They do that every time we fight?"


            "Why not?" Misako shrugged. "It's only the ones that aren't on duty; Captain Sakharov takes readiness very seriously." Her voice had a wistful undercurrent. As cutback as they were, those Azazel troops were still allowed more drinks than she was.


            "Oh," Shinju looked down and started eating her vegetables and rice.


            "If you want, after dinner, we can go down and give them a visit," Misako offered.

 

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

 


            Humming to herself, Asuka walked up the stairs and crossed to a bulkhead door. Opening the portal she stepped out into the bright sunlight. The subtle smell of salt-air and jet fuel hit her nostrils. She then saw a girl far in front of her sitting near the front of the flight deck.


            Facing the port side with her legs dangling over the edge of the deck, she was wearing a very girly black and purple dress. Several ribbons, bows, and ruffles fluttered in the breeze. A purple parasol with scalloped white trim shielded her unnaturally pale skin from the sun. Asuka could just barely make out what was in the girl's other hand: a doll in a matching dress, with red hair.


            As Asuka stared she saw the blue-haired girl slowly turn to face her. Despite the distance, Asuka could clearly see the girl's deep, red eyes. Shivering, the redhead blinked. When she opened her eyes the other girl was gone. Blinking several more times, Asuka kept her eyes towards the bow, but the bowed girl did not reappear.


            Rubbing her eyes, Asuka turned away from the bow. Walking towards the guardrail she turned around and looked up at the aircraft carrier's island. After waiting a few awkward minutes her frown deepened. It was obvious that Kaji was not going to be coming out here like he had suggested after lunch.


            Shoulders slumped, Asuka returned to her room. Once inside she started going though her luggage. It was at the third suitcase that she found it. Haphazardly folded and pressed to the bottom of a side pocket was a bit of glossy paper. Unfolding it at her table, Asuka's deep frown returned.


            The poster was trilingual, and while the Russian words were rendered in Cyrillic, both the English and Japanese was rendered in the Latin alphabet. Her eyes passed over the bombastic text and focused on the people pictured. One was the square-jawed Azazel pilot, the other... Asuka grit her teeth. At a distance, that could have been either of the Ayanamis, but the headband was definitive.


            "I'm not seeing things. This is stupid. I'm better than her," Asuka muttered. She stared at the Pilot's eyes. Asuka half crumpled half folded the poster back up and stuffed it back into one of her suitcases. After inhaling, she straightened herself up and walked through her cabin's door. "Now where's Kaji?"

 

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

 


            Entering the mess, Kaji went straight to the coffee machine. I'm so happy this trip's almost over with, he thought. Even in a Nimitz there's no escaping her. Walking past the various Naval officers, he put on his normal amused expression.


            Sidestepping a tall blond lieutenant, Kaji found himself turned around and facing the starboard side of the mess and saw a woman alone at a table. Despite being inside she wore angular band-like sunglasses that were hauntingly familiar. The woman's hair was shade of pink that was almost lilac. Looking up from her cup, her dark glasses combined with an even expression to convey a sense of distant blankness. She was dressed in a red and khaki Nerv uniform with matching beret.


            Stopped, Kaji raised an eyebrow. Upturning the corners of her lips, the woman gave the barest ghost of a smile.


            "Kaji!" Asuka loudly cried from behind.


            He turned to give a sheepish wave to the onrushing teenager. After she acknowledged him he turned back and saw a table empty, save for a single ship's mug. His eyes scanned the room but he could not find any sign of the Nerv officer.


            "Where were you?" Asuka demanded.


            Kaji turned back to the redhead. "Huh?"


            "You said you'd be outside by the Island after lunch!"


            "Oh, yeah," Kaji reached back and scratched his neck. "Well I got a phone call and had to take it. Sorry I missed it."


            "That's what you always say," Asuka pouted.


            "I'm a busy man," Kaji shrugged, absently turning back to the empty table. He had an idea... but it was too early, she was not due to arrive for another couple days.


            "Too busy for me?"


            Kaji kept his face neutral as Asuka tried to take on a sexy pose. Combined with her petulant tone, the whole tableau was a garish mockery of sensuality. "So are you looking forward to Tokyo 3?"


            "I'm looking forward to finally seeing some action," Asuka leaned forward.


            Stepping back, Kaji openly sighed. "You'll have some stiff competition."


            "Bah, I'm the best Pilot there is. I'll show those sisters what a real Pilot can do."


            "I mean Azazel," Kaji frowned.


            "What about them? Evangelion is still the best weapon for fighting Angels." Asuka shrugged.


            Kaji chuckled. "Just wait until they get a load of you."

 

End Chapter 3

 

Writer's Notes:

 

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, Ikarus, Mike Koos, and Acey.  I'd also like to thank Greydon Creed for writing in with a few suggestions, such as Shinju's sidearm, her unit patch, and the HANO jump. Special thanks also go to Pale Wolf for helping me with many of Beria's lines. I'd also like to thank Nadrek for going over the tactical and strategic aspects of the story.