Burke, Shinji, and Joanna rushed into the Command Center, finding the crew at their stations with Aida watching over them. Seeing that Kaji wasn't at his desk, Burke strode over to Aida.
"What do we got?" he asked.
"We have multiple incoming enemies heading right for us," Aida replied. "We are presently at 1st stage battle alert and proceeding to evacuate all civilians into the shelters."
"Has the commander been briefed?" Burke asked.
"Yes sir," Aida said. "He should be here within a few minutes."
"Good. What do we know about the enemy?" Burke began to look at his tablet, which he linked up to the main systems.
"They're definitely Mark 04s," Hood, who was reading the screen over Lithgow's shoulder stated, "but we can't tell what type it is at the moment. We need some time to analyze the data that's coming in."
"Do we at least know what their ETA is?" Burke then asked.
"Our projections show they will reach the Blechernae defense line in two and a half hours," Bertain said.
"And don't ask about any interception options," Adia added. "Whatever we can throw at them in that time frame, they'll probably go through it with hardly a scratch."
"Isn't that just peachy," Burke said. All of them saw that Kaji arrived and was sitting down in his chair.
"What is our status?" he asked all who were in the room.
"All civilians are now in shelters," Bertain announced.
"Weapons systems are at the ready, and electromagnetic shields are up," Lithgow added.
"The pilot for Unit 11 and her adviser is here as well," Burke gestured to both Shinji and Joanna.
"Uh...we're here," Joanna said.
"Excellent," Kaji replied, chuckling a little.
"I have my analysis of the Mark 04s," Hood then announced.
"What is it?" Kaji said.
"We're dealing with an unknown model," Hood said as tapped some keys. Seconds later, an image came on the main monitor showing a wire-grid outline of a sphere with some technical data scrolling right next to it.
"A perfect sphere, forty meters in diameter, rotating at a constant rate of 80 times a minute," he continued.
"That's a completely different design," Burke stated. "The earlier models looked like two plates glued together."
"What kind of weaponry do these things have?" Aida asked.
"We have no clue what its weapon or weapons are until they start using them," Hood answered. "We can only speculate based on what we know about earlier models."
"Marvelous," Aida muttered.
"And how many of these models are we facing?" Burke asked.
"Stand by," Lithgow said as he accessed his terminal. He then got quiet as he stared at his screen. Seconds passed without him saying a word.
"Lieutenant?" Burke asked. Lithgow turned towards them, the color drained from his face.
"One hundred fifty," was all he said. His voice was quiet, but it felt to everyone as if he had shouted it at the top of his lungs.
"Shit," Aida said. "Classify the enemy units Mark 04D," he then announced.
"We'll need the Wunder on this one," Burke said.
"Contact them immediately," Kaji said to Bertain.
"How long can we hold out?" Aida asked.
"Looking into it," Hood replied. "Again, as we don't know what kind of weapons these models have, we can not make an accurate assessment, but I don't think we can hold out for more than forty minutes at most."
"That's not good," Burke said.
"We have made contact with the Wunder," Bertain announced.
"Finally some good news," Aida said. "What is their ETA?"
"They are proceeding at top speed and they will arrive in three hours and forty-five minutes," she replied.
"Two and a half hours to get here, and only forty minutes of active resistance. That gives us three and hours and ten minutes before complete destruction," Aida said. "And the Wunder still won't be here for another thirty-five minutes."
"And I was being generous regarding how long we can hold out," Hood added. "I should point out that I only took into consideration our defensive capabilities. I did not not factor in an Eva deployment in the calculation."
"Could Unit 11 make a difference against these odds?" Matsu asked.
"They can be a game changer. I've seen it before," Aida replied. "Okay, inform the Wunder of the enemy we're facing, and give them constant updates of our situation. They might be able to think of something to help us, even if they won't be here in time. We will also prepare to deploy Unit 11 with the Field Sinker Gun as its main weapon."
"The Boomstick?" Hood said. "We only began testing it in the facility. We haven't done any field tests with an Eva yet."
"We don't know what exactly these things can do," Aida countered. We need something almost guaranteed to take them down."
"We'll get it ready then," Hood said.
"Makes me wish we had another pilot," Lithgow said. "I mean, Unit 10 is just down there taking up space."
"Well there is no other pilot," Burke replied in a stern voice. "Keep your mind on what we do have, and not on what we wish we had."
"Yes sir," Lithgow said. Aida then turned towards Kaji.
"Is there anything else sir?" he asked him. Kaji was silent, appearing to everyone as if he was distracted by something they couldn't see.
"Sir?" Burke said.
"Oh, uh, that will work, yes," Kaji said. "You may proceed."
"…Yes sir," Aida shifted his eyes towards Burke, who caught his glance and shrugged in reply. Aida then walked to Shinji and Joanna.
"Okay, we need you to suit up and prepare to deploy. We won't launch until they begin to attack," he said to Joanna.
"Right," Joanna said. Shinji thought there was something off about her voice when she answered. It was almost if she was trying make her voice sound confident, but he felt there was some wavering there.
"Let's go," Shinji then said to her. The two turned and made their way out of the command center, both Burke and Aida watching them leave.
"That kid has sure done well," Burke said.
"You talking about Joanna or Shinji?" Aida asked.
"Shinji, but you can say the same about her as well," Burke said. "You have to admit though he as improved in the year that he was been here."
"True," Aida said. "He seem different than when I first knew him, and that's a good thing." He then sighed. "Well, enough thinking about the past, I have a losing battle to prepare for." He then went over to Matsu's station, leaving Burke, who glanced up and saw that Kaji had turned his head towards the door where Shinji and Joanna had through. While he did think it was odd, he couldn't put too much thought into it as he pulled out his tablet, and began analysing the information given to him to prepare for the upcoming battle as well.
Shinji sat on the couch that was next to the door of the girl's changing room, tapping his hands against his hips to a tune that was going through his head. He sighed and looked at the clock in the room. It hadn't been five minutes since Joanna went in, and she had not come out yet. Did it take this long to put on a plug suit? He didn't remember. Joanna then stepped out of the changing room in her plug suit.
"Ready?" he asked her. Joanna nodded in reply. The two began to walk, both of them aware of the silence that settled amongst the two of them. This continued for a couple of minutes until Shinji spoke again.
"Waiting was always the worse part." Joanna turned her head towards him.
"It was?" she asked.
"Yeah, I always hated going into battle, but I hated waiting for it to begin even more."
"Yeah, but it might be different with you." He paused for a moment. "Uh, is there anything that you're worried about or do you have any questions?"
"I really can't think of anything in particular, but yeah, I'm worried."
"That's fine too," Shinji said. He then noticed that she was looking down towards the floor.
"It's going to be all right, though," he added.
"What do you mean?" Joanna asked.
"Well for one thing, you'll have everyone here backing you up and help you fight."
"I guess that's true," she said.
"And I remember being told when I was a pilot that inside the Eva is the safest places you can be."
"Really?" Joanna asked.
"Yep." It was Misato who told him that, but his experience piloting made him wonder if she was lying, not just to him, but to Rei and Asuka as well. He then wondered if he just lied to her as well. Did she know she was doing that? Did she feel as uncomfortable over doing something like that as he did right now?
They arrived at the cage where a technical team was ready to receive her. Shinji saw that some of them were there when the Ayanami attacked as a couple of them waved to him when they got close.
"Okay," he said as they stopped and he turned to her. "Get in the plug and stand by to launch. I'll be contacting you when I make it back to the Command Center.
"Right," Joanna said. "I-I just want to say before I go that I want to thank you for all that you did for me. Just-Just in case-"
"Don't talk like that," Shinji said in a stern voice that surprised even him. "You will be coming back."
"I-I know," she backtracked. "I thought just in case, and, well…I'm sorry." Shinji's face softened a little, and he patted her on shoulder.
"You have nothing to apologize for," he said to her. "Also, thank you for what you said to me."
"Sure," Joanna said. "See you later." With a smile on her face and a quick wave to him, she then turned towards the technicians and they helped her get into the entry plug. He watched as the plug was inserted into Unit 11, and seeing that everything is secured, made his way back to the Command Center.
He thought about what both he and Joanna said to each other as he walked. He could tell she was still worried, despite his reassurances. He could see why she would think that way. If he had all of Tokyo 3 behind him back in the day, even if he had Rei and Asuka with their Evas fighting by his side, against the odds they were facing right now, he doubted if any of them would have survived. He even shuddered a little at what would have happened if he were there.
He entered the Command Center to find that a strange sense of calm had settled in the chamber. The people at their stations weew murmuring amongst themselves, and he could feel the tension emanate from them. He saw Aida take notice of him and headed in his direction.
"Is Joanna all set?" Aida asked him.
"Yeah, she's ready," he replied. "What's happening now?"
"Right now, we're playing the waiting game, and to be honest, I'd rather be playing Street Fighter instead."
"Yeah, I was just telling Joanna that the waiting was the hardest part for me."
"True, but it isn't like we're sitting on our hands here." Aida added. "We've launched a few waves of cruise missiles at them, though it won't do anything. We're hoping to see if they use any weapons to dispose of them, but nope, they just let the missiles hit their AT Fields, and they just move on."
"I see," Shinji said.
"All in all, the whole thing feels sort of anti-climatic to me."
"Anti-climatic?" Shinji asked.
"Think of it this way. This city's defense systems were built for large scale attacks such as the one that's coming. And then, the Ayanami attacked, and nearly brought the base to its knees. We didn't get to fire a shot. Now, they're attacking in a way we expect and prepare for." Aida sighed. "It makes me wonder if there's something else, something we're not seeing. A greater strategy or something. I…I can't prove it though."
"That would be something to think about," Shinji said.
"So, all we can do right now is wait," Aida said.
"I...wish I could do more to help," Shinji said.
"Don't worry about it," Aida said. "I wish there was more I can do as well, but you can only do what you can."
"That's true," Shinji said.
"Right," Aida said. "Now, I want you to sit next to Lieutenant Matsu for this battle. He will be monitoring Unit 11 and Joanna's vitals. Good luck and...thanks for what you have done for us."
"Sure," Shinji said as he went over to Matsu's station. Along the way, he caught sight of Kaji glancing towards him as he was listening to someone over the phone. He didn't think much of it as he took his seat next to Matsu.
For the next forty minutes, Shinji sat around in his chair talking with Joanna to keep her company when he was not discussing matters with Matsu. During this time, Shinji couldn't help but feel the exact same feelings that he has when was a pilot. The anxiety of waiting, resulting nervous energy to just get out there and be done with it. He was surprised that he still had those feelings, even though he was not in as immediate danger as Joanna would be. Maybe it was foolish of him to think they would just go away just becuase he wasn't piloting, he concluded.
"Enemy group entering Rhegion defense sector," Lithgow declared. "They're within visual range."
"Bring it up," Aida ordered. The main monitor showed the sky above the city filled with black spheres.
"Magnify," Aida said. The screen now showed closer images of the spheres as they rotated, their steady approach filling the screen.
"They are within firing range of the Blechernae line," Lithgow said.
"Stand by," Aida replied. "Every minute the fighting doesn't start is another minute that the Wunder will reach us sooner once it does."
"And what is the status of the Wunder?" Burke asked.
"ETA one hour," Bertain answered. We are still transmitting regular updates of our situation."
"Change in enemy movement," Lithgow said. "Dozens of units are now entering Charisus sector. Exact number of-Units now entering Xylokertos sector!" Everyone could see on the monitor another groups of Mark 04s split off and head towards the sector.
"Are they trying to surround us? Matsu asked.
"Elements of the two groups now entering Romanus sector," Lithgow now said.
"Does that answer your question?" Aida said to Matsu.
When the encirclement was complete, the horde began to move towards the city, on the main monitor, they could see the spheres open up revealing a small cavity on each of them. In less than a second, groups of several spheres began to swoop down, beams shooting out from the cavities and hitting the shields before another group came and fired, followed by another group, and so on.
"A bit conventional, don't you think?" Hood asked, not expecting an answer.
"They're testing us. It's now time to test them." A smirk appeared on Aida's face. "Weapons stations, ready all turrets and missile batteries. Target the lead drones," he then said.
"Ready," Lithgow said.
"Fire on my mark," there was a pause. "Fire!" At once, a massive sheet of flame and smoke streaked towards the enemy. The explosions, highlighted by the coloration of the enemy AT Fields, blossomed in the sky.
"They're still closing," Bertain said.
"Ready a volley of N2 Missiles," Aida then ordered. "Fire!" The missiles arced over the Mark 04s before turning back towards them and detonating, bathing the the sky in a bright light.
"We may have taken out a few, but that's it," Bertain said.
"Ready positron cannons. Set to direct beam dispersal, no more than 10 seconds between shots," Aida said. After a couple of seconds, Lithgow nodded to him that he was ready.
"Fire!" Beams of energy tore through the air, cross-shaped explosions ripping apart the drones that the beams hit.
"Two dozen destroyed. Another ten showing various degrees of damage," Bertain announced. All of them then felt the vibrations increase.
"Enemy units increasing their fire," Lithgow said.
"They sure didn't like that," Burke quipped.
"Set positron cannons one, three, and six to fire pulse shots," Aida said.
"Roger," Lithgow replied. "Setting now."
"All weapons stations," Aida said. "Fire at will!" The entire city erupted with weapons, the criscross of from both sides fire was highlighted either by the destruction of a sphere or the loss of a gun turret or missile battery producing a spectacular show if the people who could watch weren't part of it.
"Looks like we're doing good," Burke said. "All we need to do is launch Unit 11 and have the Wunder arrive, and we got this in the bag."
"Perhaps," Kaji said, never taking his eyes off the screen. "Things can change, you know."
"I know, I'm not counting my chickens here, but we got to have some hope now do we?" Burke countered.
"Can't argue with that," Kaji said before turning to Aida. "Colonel, what's the status of Unit 11?"
"We're ready to launch," he replied as he went over to Matsu's terminal.
"Okay, we're about to send you out," he said to Joanna, who could be seen through a small monitor on the terminal. "Your mission is to use the Boomstick to take out enemy units using the surrounding buildings as cover. We will be giving you as much supporting fire as we possibly can. Got that?"
"Understood," Joanna said.
"Great," Aida said. "Matsu, are we ready to deploy?"
"Yes sir," Matsu replied. "Unit 11 is on track six and will come out at point C24 in the third ring." On another small screen, a map of the city came up with a blinking dot representing the point. "All energy transmission pillars have been deployed as well," he added. A multitude of dots then appeared on the screen .
"Okay then," Aida patted Shinji's shoulder for a quick second as he made his way to the center.
"Unit 11, launch!" Aida ordered. Shinji squeezed the edge of the terminal with his hands at those words. On a small screen, he saw Joanna's face react to the g-forces as the Eva made its way up the launch chute. On the main monitor, they all could see the ground opening up and within seconds, Unit 11 shot out, followed half a second later by another container coming up right beside it. The container opened up, revealing the Boomstick.
"Release final safety locks," Aida ordered. "Unit 11, deploy AT Field and move out!"
"Roger," Joanna said as the Eva grabbed the weapon and began to run, dodging fire from the spheres that have now noticed it. The Eva approached a building and crouched behind it, taking aim at one of the spheres. Unit 11 pulled the trigger and a small light flashed from the muzzle for a brief instant. At the exact same moment, the sphere that the Eva was aiming at exploded.
Everyone in the Command Center who were watching either cursed under their breath, or looked on in complete silence. Aida who stood there with his mouth agape, which then turned to a sort of demented smile.
"I like it!" He announced. "Move to another spot. Don't give them a chance to pin you down." Unit 11 began to run again, taking cover behind another building, destroying another sphere before moving again.
"All right," Aida said. "Keep going. Try to get more of them in a single shot, like in the pool games Shinji told me about." Joanna guided the Eva to its next position and fired taking three spheres with one shot. When Unit 11 moved again, the spheres that remained began to increase their fire towards it."
"Increase cover fire," Aida ordered, the city's defenses responding to the enemy action with fury. Joanna managed to get another shot off before the spheres began to ascend into the sky.
"Are they retreating?" Burke asked.
"No, their ascent stops at around 1500 meters," Bertain answered.
"Bring it up on the monitor," Aida replied. The screen showed the remaining spheres as they began to form into five circles. The first circle consisted of several spheres. Above them, a majority of the spheres formed three consecutive circles of larger diameter one on top of the other, and above them, another circle of several spheres formed.
"What the hell?" Lithgow asked as he watched the scene unfold. The screen then showed the spheres casings separating, revealing a pale blue structure underneath. The spheres began to rotate, the ones on the lower circle rotating clockwise, the middle circles rotating counter clockwise, and the topmost circle rotating clockwise. In turn, they circles they formed began to turn in the opposite direction of he spheres that formed comprised them.
"What are they doing?" Aida asked.
"Trying to determine," Bertain said. The spheres continued their rotation, increasing their speed with each turn, soon becoming a blur to the eyes of everyone watching them.
"I'm now getting some pretty unusual readings," she then said.
"Unusual?" Aida said.
"Well, it's a high amount of energy," Bertain said. "It's beginning to accelerate on the formation's periphery, and there are signs that this energy is converging." Shinji remembered hearing those words somewhere before. He knew it was back when he piloted Unit 01, and he knew those kind of words were exchanged between Misato and the bridge crew while he was piloting, but when was that? An image then flashed in his mind of the 4th Angel firing it particle beam right at him.
"Take cover and deploy your AT Field!" he then shouted, taking everyone around him by surprise. He heard Joanna yelp over the com as everyone saw the Eva get behind a skycraper, kneel down and tuck its head under its arms. Aida looked at Shinji for half a second before everything clicked in his head.
"Brace for impact! Divert as much power as you can to the shields!" he yelled. The formation then launched a huge beam, towards the city, covering it in a bluish light, the excess energy spilling over to the surronding land. The Command Center shook, knocking Shinji and several others to the ground. Soon, the shaking stopped, and the ones who fell down got back into their seats.
"Damage report," Aida said.
"Shields are blown," Lithgow replied. Extensive damage to several rings, over eighty percent in the 5th ring alone. The Blechernae defense line is practically gone. The Theodossian line is intact, but there is moderate damge to the wall. Weapons effectiveness within the city down by twenty percent. Sending detailed list to you now."
"Did we lose the positron cannons?" Burke asked.
"Doesn't look like it," Aida replied as he looked through the list.
"Status of Unit 11?" Kaji asked.
"Still functional," Matsu replied. "Pilot's life signs are stable. Thirty percent of the energy pillars have been destroyed, but we can still provide power anywhere she goes."
"You all right Joanna?" Aida asked.
"I'm-I'm fine," her voice rang out over the com.
"Great," Aida said. "Take the Boomstick again and continue taking them out. We can't give them another chance to pull that stunt."
"Roger," Joanna replied.
"Here they come again!" Bertain announced.
"Open up on them when they get within range," Aida said. As the enemy drones descended and began another barage, Unit 11 ran to another spot, and fired her weapon, destroying another sphere, As the Eva tried to move again to another position, a dozon spheres formed a circle above the Eva. They released metallic ribbons that slithered to the ground. These ribbons began firing upon Unit 11 from all aises. The Eva dropped the boomstick, and spread its arms to deploy its AT Field, blocking the enemy fire. In response, that enemy fire began to increase in ferocity by the second.
"She's pinned," Matsu reported.
"She can't hold out forever like that," Hood said.
"All positron cannons, open up on the enemy attacking Unit 11. Take them down," Aida shouted. Seconds later, several bursts of energy shot towards the the encirclement, destroying several spheres, which lessened the fire Unit 11 was taking.
"Fall back," Aida said as he ran over to Matsu's station, squeezing himself in between Matsu and Shinji. "Proceed to extraction point...M26, and we'll get you out." Unit 11 began to run to its destination, but a ribbon from one fo the remaining spheres whipped at the Eva's feet, knocking it to the ground. Joanna tried to get it back up, but the sphere kept striking her down until it was destroyed by a positron beam.
Unit 11 got up again, and tried to reach the exxtraction point, but a stream of beam fire from the spheres blocked her path. Joanna turned the Eva to go in another direction, but again was blocked by another barage of fire. Another sphere tried to attack the Eva with its ribbons, but Unit 11 blocked the strikes with its AT Field.
Joanna then saw that two buildings that collasped on each over formed a crevice. The Eva dashed towards it and took refuge, blocking the opening with its AT Field. A multitude of spheres hovered over the crevice, their ribbons out. Some were waiting while others were striking the building structure on top.
"Energy pillers have lost contact with Unit 11. Internal batteries have activated. Counting down from ten minutes."
"Have her reduce power output, but just enough to keep her AT Field up," Hood said. "That should give her a few more minutes."
"Concentrate fire on the lead enemy units, let's see if we can clear a path of escape for her," Aida said. "Can we at least try to get another weapon to her?"
On the monitor in front of him, Shinji could see Joanna, her face covered in sweat, and breathing hard through her clenched teeth. He thought he could see some tears out the corners of her eyes, but he wasn't sure if those were tears or a trick of hte light against the LCL in the plug.
"You're doing great," Shinji then said to her. "Help will come soon. I'm sure that they'll think of something to get you out of that jam, or maybe the Wunder will charge in here with guns blazing. It'll probaby look like that action movie we saw last week. Wasn't that movie great?"
"Yeah," Joanna replied. "You really think help will come?"
"I'm sure," Shinji replied. Once again, he got that feeling as if he was lying to her face. He tried to shake that feeling off as he focused on other things.
"Gun turret stations two and fifteen have been destroyed," Lithgow said.
"We're receiving a transmission from the Wunder," Bertain said.
"About damn time," Burke said. "What are they saying?"
"They're under attack themselves," she replied. "They're fighting the same type of enemy units that we're fighting. They'll try to push through, but their arrival will be delayed." Burke slumped in his chair, the look of utter shock and confusion apparent on his face.
"Not looking good," Hood muttered. After a minute, Burke then got out of his chair, and went over to Kaji.
"If the Wunder can break through, could they be able to launch their Evas ahead of them, and have them arrive sooner? That could give us some time before the ship arrives.
"They'll need them to handle their own fight. You should realize that," Kaji said. "Besides, we still have resources that we haven't used yet."
"Wha-What do you mean?" Burke asked.
"We still have Unit 10 in our possession," Kaji said.
"Didn't you hear what I said to Lithgow earlier?" Burke said. "There's still problems with using it, and most importantly, we have no pilot."
"I wonder about that," Kaji said. Burke then noticed that Kaji has shifted his eyes to over where Shinji was. Burke looked around the room to see if any one was nearby, then moved in closer so no one could hear them.
"Are you fucking insane?" Burke hissed at him. "I saw you looking at Shinji. You were thinking this ever since we came under attack."
"He can pilot that Eva, and we are in serious trouble here," Kaji countered.
"And we could be in a hell of a lot worse trouble if he goes out there," Burke said.
"Do you really think he would start an impact with all he knows, and the life he's had in the past year?" Kaji asked.
"It isn't about what I think," Burke said, "but there will be some people who won't appreciate what we'd be doing. Besides, you can't say it won't happen. What if Joanna dies or Headquarters here gets blown to bits? How do you think he'll react? "
"If we don't do something, we could be destroyed," Kaji said.
"And if we do, we could still be destroyed, and it will extend beyond the city," Burke said. "And I should remind you that doing this could blow what we've done with Arbitor straight to hell."
"It could also acclerate it by leaps and bounds," Kaji said.
"That's only true if everything goes right," Burke added, "which you can't guarantee."
"And is there anything else you want to say?" Kaji asked in reply.
"Yes. I've lived with Shinji for the past year, and...I don't want to see him hurt. I don't want him to think that we're using him just like everyone else had in his life. We can't force him and we can't guilt him into it."
"I agree that we can't force him, and I don't want to see him hurt either or have him think we're using him. But I also like to think that he has grown enough over this past year that he won't cause an impact. I want to put my hope in that." Burke sighed.
"If you want to play it that way, it looks like I can't stop you but if we survive this, I will note that I have agreed with this course of action under protest," Burke said.
"Noted," Kaji said as he turned to Shinji. "Shinji, could you come up here for a minute?" At the same time, he signaled for Hood to come up as well.
"Oh, uh, sure," he replied as he got up and came over to them.
"There, but for the grace of God…" Kaji heard Burke mutter as Shinji approached.
"Is something wrong?" Shinji asked. "If this was about when I told Joanna to take cover, then-"
"No, no, it's not that," Kaji said. "You made the right call there. In fact, it sort of relates to what I want to talk to you about."
"Okay…" Shinji looked around and saw that Hood, who had just joined them, looked as confused as he was, while Burke looked concerned about something. He assumed it was over the battle, but he didn't appear to be paying attention to it.
"Before we start, can you do me a favor?" Kaji asked as he stood up from his chair.
"What is it?" Shinji replied.
"Could you please come over to where I have been sitting?" Kaji stepped out of the way, so Shinji could get back there.
"S-Sure." This getting weirder by the moment, Shinji thought as he went behind the desk. He didn't sit in Kaji's chair, instead he looked out upon the scene that was in front of him. He did not just see the battle on the main monitor, but he could also see the action in the command center. Aida giving out orders, and the subordinates relaying information back to him. He could sense the barely restrained chaos emanating from the scene before him.
"What do you think?" Kaji asked.
"It's all so…overwhelming," Shinji replied. "It feels really scary."
"Oh I get that," Kaji said as he made his way to the other side of the desk. "I feel that way sometimes as well. You see the whole thing, and its hard to take in." He took a breath before continuing.
"I want to start by asking you a quick question. When you killed that Ayanami type, what was going through your head?" Didn't he tell him this before, Shinji thought. What was going on?
"I wasn't really thinking anything," he replied. "I just wanted to save those I cared about. Was that wrong?"
"Absolutely not," Kaji said. "Another question, how do you think of your life so far?"
"Well, um…it's a lot better than what I have before. It feels that I have a future now. Uh...is this the time to be having this kind of conversation?"
"It's because of the situation that we need to have this conversation," Kaji said. "Now you feel you have a future. Would you do anything to save that future if it was in danger?" Kaji asked.
"I suppose so."
"What about helping Joanna get out of there?" Kaji then asked.
"Of course," Shinji said, "but I don't know what I can do."
"You do know that we have another Eva unit, right?" Kaji then asked.
"Yeah." Kaji then leaned onto the desk, so he was looking up at Shinji.
"This...is hard for me to say. You have to understand, it isn't like I woke up this morning and decided to do this to you for the hell of it."
"Kaji?" Shinji said.
"Shinji, I would like you to pilot Unit 10 in order to rescue Joanna." Shinji just looked at him for several seconds as he absorbed the request.
"Are…are you serious?" He then asked.
"I am," Kaji replied. "If there was a better way, I would do it, but this is something that only you can do. This is a request, not an order. No one here is forcing you to do it. Think for yourself and make the decision by yourself. Think about what's best for you, so that when you make your decision, whatever it is, you won't have any regrets."
"But everyone keeps saying that if I get in an Eva…" He couldn't finish the words.
"Do you want to cause an impact?" Kaji asked.
"No," Shinji replied.
"Good to know," Kaji said. "You said so yourself that you have a future. I have faith that you wouldn't destroy yourself or anyone else because of that."
"It would only be long enough to rescue Joanna?" Shinji asked.
"That's right. I don't need you to save the city, I just need you to save one person." Shinji looked at Hood.
"We only need around 300 seconds of prep time," he said. Shinji then turned towards Burke, who appeared to him to have a sad look on his face.
"I have my misgivings," he said, "but it is your decision. I'll back your play, whatever it is."
A whirlwind of thoughts swirled through Shinji's head. Should he pilot or shouldn't he? He didn't want to cause an Impact, but Joanna was in danger. If something wasn't done... Yet, Shinji couldn't help but feel that if he did pilot something bad would happen. Nothing ever good happened by piloting an Eva, not to himself, and not to the people and places he cared about. That wasn't entirely true, he thought at the same time. Bad things did happen, but there were some good things that happened because of piloting. He did save Tokyo 3 and its people a few times, and he got to meet people who he otherwise wouldn't have such as Misato, Asuka, and Kaji. He could even say that because of piloting, the bads things included, he was here in this city and meet people such as Burke, Joanna, Miyashima, and many others.
He did not have to pilot, that was true. He could have a normal life and he would be okay with that. Bad things can happen if he piloted, but perhaps good things can happen too. Could Joanna die? It was possible, but she could die if he did nothing. If she did, then it won't be because he didn't try. Shinji nodded his head.
"Are you sure?" Burke asked.
"Yeah," Shinji said. Kaji then placed his hands on the boy's shoulders, those hands shaking as he clasped them.
"Thank you," Kaji said in a quiet voice. Hood then turned to the command crew.
"Take Unit 10 out of suspension and prep it for launch," he ordered.
"We're abandoning Unit 11?" Aida asked.
"No," Hood replied. "Have an entry plug prepared, and eject the terminal signal plug," he said to Matsu.
"If Joanna isn't going-" Aida didn't need to finish the question. He saw by looking at the situation what the answer was.
"Shinji, head over to cage 14. There will be a team waiting for you," He said.
"Yeah," Shinji said as he made his way to the door, wishes of good luck and pats on the shoulder of farewell given to him. He gave a quick wave to Aida before going through the door. After he left, both Hood and Burke went down to the main floor. Aida went over to Burke, but before Aida could say anything, Burke put up his hands to stop him.
"I tried to talk the Commander out of it, but it was no good," he said.
"Then what is the Commander thinking?" Aida asked.
"Do you remember what we talked about earlier, about how much Shinji has improved?" Burke asked in reply.
"I do. What about it?" Aida said.
"That's what he's betting on," Burke said. "That he wouldn't cause an Impact because of that." Aida could tell on Burke's face there was more.
"But?" Aida asked him.
"But with the problems that he has had, they don't go away in a day or a month, or even a year."
"Yeah, that's true," Aida said. "We just need to make sure then that doesn't happen." He then went over to Bertain's station.
"I need you to look up something in the old Nerv files," he said to her.
"Is there something that could help with the battle?" Bertain asked.
"No, I want you to look up an old phone message?" Aida replied, leaving Bertain confused by his words.
Shinji sat in the entry plug as the LCL came above his head, Sakura's pleads to him from when he first met her not to get in an Eva were echoing in his head. Shinji figured that it probably no longer mattered whether whether he had feelings for Sakura or not, Once she found out that he had piloted again, there would be no chance with her. She could forgive the first time, but not this. Another sacrifice he had to make.
He could end this now though, he thought to himself. He just ask them to let him out, and they would. The arguments for and against piloting had run through his head a millon times. He had made his decision, now he had to watch himself, make sure he didn't lose control, or at least he thought he could watch himself. He reached into his pants pocket and squeezed the cross pendant that was in there. He had detached it from his player when he gave the device to the technicians when he got into the plug.
The plug monitors ignited in a kaleidoscope of color before revealing the interior of the Eva cage. Within the plug, several holographic displays appeared, showcasing various information. Out of curiousity, Shinji touched one, and began moving it around.
The platform Unit 10 was on, began to move, taking the Eva to the launch track. Shinji looked around at the sight around him as it moved. Then right in front of him, a small monitor popped up, showing Aida's face.
"Hey there," Aida said to him.
"Hey," Shinji replied. "I've never seen anything like this in an entry plug." He pointed to one of the holographic displays.
"Yeah, the tech has really improved in the last dozon years." Aida took a pause. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah," Shinji said. "I…I hope everything goes well."
"I hope so too," he said. "I think it's a good idea to concentrate on the mission that's in front of you."
"Right," Shinji replied.
"You are to proceed to where Joanna is, and give enough cover fire that so that Unit 11 can escape. We'll give you a pallet rifle for the job. You two then head over to the extraction point. Got it?"
"I understand, but how can I grab anything with these?" Shinji looked down towards the Eva's claws.
"When you want to reach out for something, the claws should retreat, so there should be no problem," Aida said. "We're clear?"
"Roger," Shinji said.
"One more thing," Aida then said. "I found something in the old Nerv files that I think you will like."
"What is it?" Shinji asked.
"I'll play it." The screen Aida's face was on switched over to black with the words Sound Only plastered on it. There was silence for a few moments before Shinji heard a voice that he thought he wouldn't hear again in this world.
"Uh…This is Suzuhara. Ikari…Nah, lemme call you Shinji. Shinji, we're counting on ya!" Shinji then heard another voice.
"Uh, this is Aida. Ikari, hang in there."
"That was when…" Shinji almost came to tears when he heard those words, all the memories of the fight with the Fourth Angel coming back. He remembered that it was something he needed to hear at that time.
"Wow, did I really sound like that back then?" Aida's face came back on the monitor.
"Thank you," Shinji whispered. The platform locked them into place. He looked up and saw the doors open up revealing the launch tube.
"What's our status?" Kaji asked.
"Synchronization rate is at 80.7 percent. Plug depth is holding steady between +01 and -08," Hood added.
"We'll need to know if the plug depth starts to sink even an inch downward," Burke said. Hood nodded in acknowledgment.
"Launch path is clear," Matsu replied. "All green."
"Do we proceed Commander?" Aida asked.
"I wish there was something else we could do instead, but there is no other choice," Kaji replied. "We'll have to put our faith in Shinji."
"Are you sure about this?" Burke whispered. Kaji paused for a few moments before he answered.
"God I hope so."
Aida went over to Matsu's station.
"Shinji are you ready?" he asked through the com system.
"Yes," Shinji replied. Aida wasn't sure, but he thought he sensed resolve in his voice. He straightened himself up and took a deep breath.
"Evangelion Unit 10, launch!" he ordered.