To The Stars

Chapter One: Retrievals

To call it a crucible in the history of humanity would be an exercise in the skill of understatement. The planet had finally managed to stabilize itself in the wake of the complete chaos that came with Second Impact, only to find that it was under attack by an enemy completely unlike anything in recorded history. What have been referred to as the 'Angel Conflicts' managed to inflict a massive amount of death and property damage in the relatively little time since their official beginning in 2015, though this was largely localized in the Tokyo-3 region. No conventional military force could do anything to stop them, meaning that the fate of humanity rested on the shoulders of pilots too young to vote as they used machines whose abilities and workings are still not completely understood. For a time, it seemed as if the entire world revolved around three gigantic mecha. Little did anyone know that the true threat had yet to arrive.

- Matt Agrama, Angels and Aliens.

It was a story Shinji knew all too well. Fifteen years ago, an object of unknown origin (later publicly decreed to be a meteorite by an act of blatant disinformation) hit the Earth in an event now known as "Second Impact". Though a complete death toll was never tallied, Second Impact and the disasters it caused managed to cut the planet's population in half, going from six billion to three in the relative wink of an eye. Unfortunately, as Shinji also knew all too well, the story did not end there. No, the legacy of Second Impact could prove just as disastrous, for it brought with it new dangers. Very large, very powerful ones, complete with a desire to wipe out anything and everything in their way. This was the facet of Second Impact Shinji was intimately familiar with, as numerous injuries and a hospital stays would attest to.

Thus, it is because of this understanding of Second Impact that the son of Commander Gendo Ikari, the head of NERV, and pilot of Evangelion Unit-01 found it rather difficult to stay focused on his teacher's lecture.

"…period of political chaos in the American northeast as…."

Sensei's monotone continued on as though were not the product of an actual person speaking, but instead a pre-recorded message put on display as a half-hearted attempt to justify having an actual lesson about the subject. Adding to Shinji's difficulty was the fact that Dr. Akagi had put him and Asuka through a new round of synch-testing the previous afternoon and the boy had found it particularly grueling for some reason. Accidentally leaning in too close to Asuka afterward had not helped things either, as it only gave her an excuse to test her right hook on his face. Not that she ever needed an excuse, but Shinji nevertheless tried not to provoke her in any way. He had become fairly aware of what set her off (nearly everything) and what he could do to placate her (serve as her punching bag), and so tried to make a point of treading very lightly in her presence.

Distracted by his thoughts, Shinji failed to realize that he had been staring at the German red-head for a few minutes. It was only when she started to shift in her chair that the boy realized what he was doing. Quickly turning his gaze back to the notebook in front of him, only one thought occupied Shinji's mind:

Dear God, please, please, don't let her have noticed me staring at her. My jaw is still sore from last night.

After about a minute, Shinji decided to risk another glance in her direction on the assumption that, had she seen him, a death glare would be focused on him right now. He looked, and let out a small sigh of relief. She was still sitting with her face forward, no indication that she had any knowledge of Shinji's latest instance of indiscretion.

Muttering a silent prayer of gratitude to whatever cosmic force that had deigned to show pity in his favor, Shinji resolved to keep his attention focused on the teacher's lecture. It was still mind-numbing in its tedium, to be sure, but it easily stood as the superior alternative to bodily harm, which Asuka never had any trouble dispensing.

Several hours later, as class let out for the day, the incident was largely forgotten in favor of the more pressing concern that was Toji and Kensuke's latest conversation with him. At least, Shinji tried to convince himself it was a pressing concern. Or at the least, something he should pay attention to. Ever since the battle with the twelfth Angel and yet another stint in the hospital, he had found it a little hard to get things back to 'normal'. Perhaps it was simply the fact that he was only a few days out of the hospital, but whenever he closed his eyes, the scent of blood filled his nostrils.

Again distracted, Shinji failed to notice that Asuka had walked over to him until the red-head was positioned right in front of him. The slight smile on her face caused a sinking feeling to form in his gut.

"Oh, Shinji?" She asked in a deceptively sweet tone.

"Ah, yes?"

He never saw the fist coming, but was certainly aware of the all-too familiar numbness that accompanied a blow to the head.

"Hey, what was that for?!" Toji thundered.

"Baka Shinji shouldn't spend his time in class mentally undressing me! Next time, keep your eyes to yourself!"

"Like anyone could try to picture you naked without going blind!" Toji shot back, rushing in to defend his friend.

"Shinji seems capable enough," Asuka retorted.

The aforementioned Third Child, meanwhile, was busy nursing his face, mentally too pre-occupied with the conflicting thoughts of blaming himself for being stupid enough to stare at her, frustration with Asuka's hyper-sensitivity, and the presiding feeling of pain emanating from the side of his face. As such, he was still undecided on whether or not to attempt a protest in his own defense, or simply to go with his usual tactic of a meek apology followed by the hope that it would be enough when Asuka turned away and stormed off. For a brief moment that appeared to be the end of the latest crisis that comes from being near the Second Child, when one last remark made it to Shinji's ears:

"Don't forget to get home soon, baka! I don't want to wait for dinner."

Once she was out of sight, Toji took a moment to speak his mind regarding the Eva pilot.

"Red-haired demon," he grumbled. "What I wouldn't give to see her taken down a bit."

"Aw, she just wants her boyfriend home quick so they can eat dinner together," Kensuke joked.

Shinji was actually already having thoughts along those lines, though not quite the way his friend had meant. A traditional European dinner would probably be enough to soothe Asuka's temper, and would be a nice change of pace from the usual Japanese meals of late. The problem facing him was, of course, just what kind of European dish would be proper. Obviously, something German, but did he have the necessary ingredients? And did he risk further inciting her by going to the store, chancing that he would end up delivering a late meal? Considering the relatively large reward-to-risk ratio of such questions, the answers had to be weighed with extreme care.

"Sounds like you've got yourself a real hellion there, kid."

It was an unfamiliar voice that interrupted Shinji's internal debate. The man that supplied it was now walking towards the three friends at a steady pace. He was tall, looking to be a little over six feet and dressed in a uniform Shinji had never seen before.

"Yeah, I think that's right," Shinji answered, not really sure what to make of the stranger.

"Looks like she's got a mean right hook to go with that temper, too. I'll bet the domestic life gets pretty hectic at times."

He spoke with something of an accent, an indicator that Japanese was not his native language, and had now stopped in front of Shinji, looking directly at him. Unsure of how to respond, the boy decided it would be best to simply be direct.

"What do you want?"

The stranger actually seemed a little bit uncomfortable because of that question, as though he was slightly embarrassed. He put a hand on the back of his head, a common enough symbol of discomfort, and scratched the surface underneath his slightly unruly blonde hair.

"I was sent to collect you. The UEG has a project in its final stages and the brass decided that you should be involved in the latest round of tests."

"Me? But why?" Shinji stammered.

"They wanted an Evangelion pilot involved and decided that you were the best. Hence, me being here."

"Ha! Wouldn't the red devil love to hear that?" Toji spouted.

"You're going to be in a secret project? Awesome!" Kensuke said to his friend, visions of death mecha filling his mind.

"I, I don't know about this…" Shinji mumbled.

"Unfortunately, it's not your choice. The brass wanted you specifically, and they're not going to take 'no' for an answer. I'm sorry. I know it's not fair to suddenly uproot you from your life just for some tests. All I can do is promise you'll be back home in a few weeks. You have my word on that."

Shinji was not sure what to make of this sudden development. All he could think about was the last time a mysterious summons had arrived and promptly put his life in a tailspin, leading to one near-death experience after another.

Who was this guy? Another manipulator, like his father? Someone using him and who knows how many others for his own mysterious ends? What was this 'secret project' and why would an Evangelion pilot be needed? Questions like these were not something Shinji needed at this point in his life – there were already far too many.

"I'll just be gone a few weeks?" He asked, warily.

"Three and a half, maybe four at the most. And that will only be if things on our end go snail-paced. It probably won't take longer than three, honest."

"Then I'll be back?"

"I'll fly you back myself – your personal chauffer. It would be the least I could do. Believe me; I know what it's like to be called in to work on something you know next to nothing about."

"I – uh, thanks"

"Like I said, don't worry about it," the stranger said. He then stopped for a moment, as if considering his next words. "Look at it this way – if this goes okay, it could make your life a lot easier."

"What does that mean?" Shinji asked.

"Are you doing something to the Evangelions? New weapons, or something like that?" Kensuke asked, a glint in his eye. The man frowned.

"Can't tell you that yet. Classified. Sorry."

"Aw, you've gotta give us something! Shinji's our friend!" Kensuke protested.

" Classified. What else can I say?"

"I bet it's some new weapon," Kensuke rather smugly said to Toji, who just rolled his eyes at his friend's over-eager attitude.

Shinji had completely ignored the previous exchange between his friend and the newcomer. He was still very uneasy about the situation, and the mystery surrounding it. Somehow, he summoned the will to look the man in the eyes, trying to gain some understanding of what was happening. This had all the signs of some cloak and dagger intrigue, the type that inevitably made his life needlessly problematic. Did his father know about this? Was it his idea? And what about the people he would leave here – what would happen to them while he was away? Who would pilot Unit-01?

Yet, Shinji felt at ease around this man. He exuded a kind of relaxed honesty about life, a sense that what you saw was what you got. He certainly had a better way of presenting his mission than by threatening to send a half-dead fourteen-year-old girl into harm's way. Somehow, Shinji believed that he could trust the uniformed stranger. Besides, it wasn't as if he was going to have any actual choice in the matter, considering what the man said about orders from 'the brass'.

"When do I leave?"

"Tonight, though I think I can convince my compatriots to put a hold on things long enough for you to have dinner with your girlfriend and your guardian." The stranger replied with a smile. Shinji blushed slightly.

"Um, Asuka isn't my girlfriend."

"Ah. Well, I'm sure you'll fix that once you get back."

He put his arm around Shinji's shoulder and the two began to walk, Toji and Kensuke following right behind them. The more athletically minded of the two decided to let his thoughts on the stranger's previous statement be known.

"Ha! Like she could ever muster decency to be around him without tossing insults."

"Or punches," Kensuke added.

"Turbulent relationship, I take it?"

"That's….putting it lightly," Shinji replied. The man let out a small laugh.

"I'll give you a few pointers. Trust me – I know all about calming troubled waters."

"Um, thanks Mr…"

"Aw, jeez, I can't believe I forgot to introduce myself. You must have thought I was some faceless spook. My name is Roy Fokker."

000

Major Misato Katsuragi had mixed feelings on the nature of surprises. On the one hand, there were the occasional pleasant surprises, like the revelation that Shinji was a decent cook for a boy barely old enough to drive. That was certainly an example of the kind of surprise she liked to have in her life – something nice and helpful.

On the other hand, there were the less-than-pleasant surprises, like when she found out that Kaji – Kaji of all people – would be hanging around Tokyo-3 for the foreseeable future. The fact that her lying, manipulative (and handsome) ex-boyfriend would be around to cause trouble had infuriated her to no end. Of course, her feelings on that particular subject were a great deal more confused now than they were at the time, considering how close the two had once again become, but it was still the principle of the issue that mattered. Having as aggravating a figure as Kaji return to her life, bringing with him all those unresolved feelings, was counted among surprises she did not like. It meant having to deal with complicated situations, which were never fun.

Weighing all of the above, it would not be fair to say that the sudden influx of strange personnel into to the Geofront was immediately viewed by Major Katsuragi as a bad thing. Granted, she was never fond of being neglected in terms of information regarding the various happenings at NERV, but it was something she had come to expect, though definitely not enjoy.

It was when she saw NERV's sub-commander, Kozo Fuyutsuki, with a slightly bewildered (well, for him) look on his face that she decided the current chaos would be an example of the kind of surprise she disliked. The kind that led to complicated situations.

"Will someone please tell me what is going on?" she asked aloud, hoping to get a response from someone. Anyone.

"I'd like to know, myself," Fuyutsuki growled low enough that the major could not hear while he headed to the control room. He had to get a handle on things before the commander returned. Gendo would not enjoy seeing NERV in such a chaotic state.

Misato, meanwhile, had lost her slim measure of patience and tackled the first person she saw.

"Just what do you think you're doing?" she demanded of the lanky figure in front of her.

"Entschuldigen mich, aber ich habe die Arbeit, zum zu tun. Dr. Lang wunscht Unit-01 auf Macross Insel an zwei Tagen, und ich kann nicht zeit vergeuden, wenn ich den stichtag bilden werde."

Misato was slightly taken aback by the response, simply because it was the last thing she had expected to hear. Taking a step back, she realized that an unusual amount of German was being tossed back and forth by what looked to be the ones in charge, and they were all swarming around the behemoth known as Unit-01.

Did he just say that they were going to take the Eva? Oh, the Commander is going to kill someone over this.

Misato may have found it amusing to know that her thoughts were currently being echoed by Fuyutsuki, though there was no trace of exaggeration to his assessment, unlike hers. However, NERV's sub-commander was currently pre-occupied with the woman who appeared to be in command of the uninvited guests and thus could not relay his thoughts to Ms. Katsuragi, even if he had any such inclination to do so.

"I understand this must be frustrating for you, but my orders are clear – I am to deliver Evangelion Unit-01 to Macross Island for testing." The uniformed woman insisted.

"You may have your orders, but I have mine. No one is going to take Unit-01 anywhere unless the commander gives his express permission."

"This isn't a question of permission, sub-commander. This is a direct order – the Evangelion is to be prepared for immediate transport."

"I have no reason to recognize any authority you may or may not have Ms.-"

"Lieutenant-Commander Lisa Hayes, and my authority comes directly from the United Earth Government. I'm sorry you were not informed of this ahead of time, but I'm not about to let you interfere in an operation which is now outside your jurisdiction."

"I am the one who decides jurisdiction in matters related to NERV."

Both Fuyutsuki and the lieutenant-commander turned to see the towering form of Gendo Ikari make its way over to them. Looking the uniformed intruder directly in the eye, he spoke again.

"As I am the only one to decide jurisdiction, it is up to me whether or not Unit-01 goes anywhere."

He locked her with a stare that had intimidated the most strong-willed of individuals and regularly reduced his own flesh and blood son to nothing more than a nervous wreck. Lieutenant-Commander Hayes, however, was not going to move an inch.

"You may have the final say over what happens under your direct command, but my orders come directly from the UEG and they have authority over everyone on this planet." Her voice was firm, with not so much as a hint of hesitation or intimidation. Fuyutsuki had to admit to himself that this girl was made of stern material. Commander Ikari merely grew annoyed at her continued resistance.

"Think very carefully about your next words, Lieutenant-Commander. They may come back to haunt you."

Though the threat in his voice was clear to everyone who heard it, this only had the effect of incensing Lisa further. She was about to tell the man what she really thought of him when another figure entered the room and weighed in on the matter.

"I think Commander Hayes has a very accurate view of the situation, unlike you Ikari."

Gendo set his jaw and turned to face the corpulent figure of someone he had hoped to never have to deal with again. Meanwhile, Lisa snapped to attention.

"Colonel Leonard! No one told me you would be here."

I'll bet, thought Fuyutsuki, remembering his own, rather unpleasant, dealings with the incredibly arrogant personage that had just intruded onto the scene. Obviously, he was the reason why things had become so chaotic.

"I hadn't originally planned to come, but I thought it best that a senior officer oversee the transition, and thus settle any disputes that might arise. It appears I was right."

If looks could kill, Anatole Leonard would have been screaming in pain due to the gaze Gendo Ikari was now directing at the bald senior officer. The last time they had met, Gendo had delivered a rather humiliating setback for one of the colonel's pet projects. It had not necessarily been deliberately malicious on Ikari's part, it was simply a way of dealing with the fact that the money Leonard was using would otherwise have been funneled into NERV's operating budget. There had never been any contact between the two men during that time, something Gendo was privately thankful for. Nevertheless, Colonel Leonard had decided to take the matter personally and later told the other man as much. At the time, it hadn't seemed important – there were men far more powerful and far more dangerous with better reasons to see the NERV Commander rotting in a ditch somewhere.

"As I'm sure Commander Hayes has already explained, we are here by the authority of the United Earth Government, which NERV operates at the pleasure of. We provide the funding and resources for your war toys and thus we have a say in what can be done with them."

Which was not really true, as both Gendo and Fuyutsuki knew. The lion's share of resources really came from SEELE, but bringing that up could lead to any number of questions that, while capable of being dealt with, could put some of the more astute members of the various intelligence communities on alert. They, too, could be dealt with, but it would require a certain amount of time and energy that SEELE would not like to have to spend because their point man got into a slap fight with some petty officer.

"I'm not going to forget this," Gendo warned.

"I'm sure you won't," Colonel Leonard responded with a smug look. "However, there is nothing you can do about it. I've already addressed the matter with the General Assembly and they have given me free reign in this matter. Planetary defense is not your personal prerogative."

If that was true, it was likely that word of this had already reached the old men at SEELE in some manner. In which case, it meant that this was being done with their tacit approval – probably a way of keeping him off-balance. Not quite ready to admit defeat, Gendo decided to resort to some last-minute tactics.

"If an Evangelion and a pilot are to take part in some test, I will need to observe the situation personally."

"That isn't possible. The projects located on Macross Island are classified. Your pilot will be sworn to secrecy until such time as the projects are deemed ready for a public unveiling." Leonard still had a smug look on his face as he said this, clearly having anticipated such a move.

"Should an Angel attack, I will need access to all available Evangelions and pilots." The Commander of NERV was determined to go down swinging.

"Your pilots have already shown themselves capable of engaging an enemy in either a one-on-one or two-on-one situation. Then there's the fact that NERV's second branch is close to finishing work on Unit-03. No, I think you'll survive the three weeks this will take."

Gendo scowled. In only a matter of minutes the bloated figure in front of him had managed to upset some very carefully laid arrangements. For a brief moment, his thoughts returned to the matter of SEELE's knowledge of these events, and the possibility that they were a somewhat roundabout way of reminding him of his 'place'. It would have to be looked into, and a possible retaliation considered, along with answering the question of how someone who was ostensibly outside SEELE's sphere of influence could manage to learn that Unit-03 was nearing completion.

Whatever the origins of the situation, it did not change the fact that he could do nothing more at the moment than allow the Colonel to take Unit-01. But that did not mean he would let this matter lie – the NERV Commander would keep an eye on Macross Island.

"Tell our people to provide Colonel Leonard with whatever assistance he needs," Gendo told Fuyutsuki before turning to leave.

"Don't be too upset over this, Ikari. I understand it would be something of a relief for you to have your son out of the way for awhile." Leonard said, not able to resist one last blow. The Commander ignored him, and left the room without another word.

"What do you want us to do?" the sub-commander asked.

"Lieutenant-Commander Hayes has the necessary instructions. I merely wanted to ensure that there would be no delay in seeing them carried out. Now that any possible obstructions have been removed, I shall leave things in her capable hands." Leonard answered.

More like you wanted to be here just long enough to rub it in the Commander's face, Fuyutsuki thought, but wisely held his tongue.

"Thank you, sir." Lisa said and gave a salute which the Colonel returned before turning his back on both of them.

000

While the events in the control room were playing out, Dr. Ritsuko Akagi was busy getting into an argument with one of the intruding technicians.

"Just what do you think you're doing?! I have not given anyone permission to touch that equipment! Put that down!"

"Jesus, wer läßt diesen Platz laufen?" one of them asked.

"In der Tat. Dr. Lang würde sein Haar heraus heftig zerreißen, wenn wir so fungierten. Fräulein, würden Sie bitte eine unsere Weise verlassen? Wir haben einen Zeitplan, zum zu halten." another responded before making his way to the entry plug.

Dr. Akagi was about to consider becoming violent when she heard the second technician mention a name she had tried her best to forget.

"Lang? Did you say Dr. Lang? Are you working for Emil Lang?" she asked of both, hoping either would answer.

"Sie fungiert, wie sie den Doktor kennt," the first one said.

"Vermutlich durch Renommee. Außerdem macht es nicht aus, wenn sie seine alte Freundin ist - wir sind noch auf einem Zeitplan. Er interessiert sich nicht, wem wir laufen ließen in, wenn wir die späten erhaltenen bereiten Sachen sind," the other replied before both returned to their tasks of preparing equipment for transit.

"Don't ignore me! If you're working for Emil Lang I want to know about it!" Ritsuko demanded, though neither of the two she addressed seemed to care.

"They aren't listening to you, either?" Misato asked.

"No. I suppose it would be too much to think that you know what's going on?" Ritsuko replied. Misato shook her head.

"I'm in the dark as well. I just saw Commander Ikari enter the control room a few minutes ago. We should have something resembling an answer soon. Maybe."

The scientist merely folded her arms in frustration as a response before turning her attention back to the two German-speakers.

"So, who's this 'Emil Lang' and why does he have you upset?" Misato asked. Ritsuko let out an inaudible sigh, wishing she had kept her temper in check.

"He's a scientist I met awhile ago. Brilliant, but incredibly hard to work with. We didn't get along."

"How did you meet him?"

"It was only a couple times. He was a friend of Asuka's mother, and she consulted him on her work."

"So, he worked on the Evas?"

"Not directly. How much he was actually involved is a mystery to me. I was never sure of what he did or did not know."

"So, what happened?"

"He had a falling out with Dr. Sohryu and then disappeared. I don't know what happened between them, and the number of rumors that followed only managed to confuse things."

Though she did not share this with Misato, Dr. Akagi had decided that their separation probably saved the doctor's life. For SEELE, Lang had posed a possible security risk, and his paranoid nature left him unwilling to trust the organization enough to join in any capacity. Of course, that same paranoia also made it possible for him to disappear – he had made a point of preparing various bolt holes to hide in should the need ever arise. Where he had been for the past several years, Ritsuko could not even begin to guess. One thing was certain – if he felt comfortable enough to allow himself to be associated with a NERV project, it was because he had something very big to act as a safety net. Any further musings were brought to an end when the sub-commander walked over to the two.

"I've just finished speaking with the commander. We are to render whatever assistance the representatives from the UEG require for the transport of Unit-01 to Macross Island."

"Wait, we're just giving them the Eva? What if an Angel attacks? And what are they planning to do with it? Are they expecting Shinji to –" Misato's complaints were cut off.

"Both Unit-01 and Pilot Ikari will be taken to a facility on Macross Island to participate in tests. The nature of which and all other information relating to the subject is classified."

"I don't believe this…" Ritsuko grumbled.

"We're just going to let them do this?" Misato asked.

"We have our orders. I expect them to be carried out."

With that, the sub-commander walked away, privately no happier about this than either of the two women behind him. Misato, confronted by the fact that there was absolutely nothing she could do to stop this upheaval, found it necessary to deliver a summation of the situation in as clear, concise and straight-forward language as possible.

"This stinks."

000

An ocean away from NERV headquarters, a scientist was busy running calculations through his mind. If he were to take a pen to paper and write these numbers down for all the world to see, most would pronounce them useless, the mathematical equivalent of gibberish. Even the ones who could discern a deeper meaning behind them would fail to understand the full extent of what they symbolized. However, for one Emil Lang, things could not be clearer. After years of study and toil and heartbreak, he was finally within reach of one of the many goals he had set for himself since that fateful when the word 'Macross' flitted through his ear.

Located deep within a mechanical behemoth that literally fell from the sky, Lang beheld what he regarded as his finest creation: the Reflex Furnace. If his calculations were correct, this great engine would be capable of 'folding' space in a manner that would finally grant humanity the ability to travel faster than light. Assuming all went well, the fold drives would change civilization forever. The doctor felt no small amount of pride over this, as he checked the readouts on the forms in his hands. In a few minutes, he would activate the engines for the first time, for a means of measuring power output. Lang still was not entirely sure how the rather mysterious power source of the engines functioned (or even what it actually was), but he knew enough to get it working and use it as a basis for other projects. Yes, projects….

A weary sigh escaped him as Land remembered that the Evangelion would arrive soon. After so many years, he would finally come into contact with one of the machines he held responsible for Kyoko's death. Somehow, he knew it was her work on SEELE's oversized toy that drove her to suicide.

"Doctor, we're ready to begin," an aide said, bringing him back to reality.

"Begin initial start-up," Lang ordered in his thick German accent. The past could wait, what mattered now was this test.

"Reflex Furnace online" a computerized voice announced.

"Start infusion process at a rate of 10" Land directed.

"Infusion process, check."

"Energiemesswerte vom Ofen halten stetig," another aide said.

"Fold drive showing nominal power output."

"Good. Now, activate the fold generator, with full power."

"Fold generator…active! Power output remains nominal!"

Cheers went up from everyone present. The fold drive had been successfully activated. Now, the only thing that remained was to attempt an actual fold jump. Had it been left up to him, this would be attempted by the end of the week. Unfortunately, there were still the issues of the anti-gravity generators, the inertial dampeners, the internal artificial gravity generators, and a number of other remaining technical issues. On top of all of that was the fact that the bureaucrats in charge of Macross Island wanted to make a great spectacle out of the first space fold. Still, none of the complications changed the fact that he had finally managed to activate the fold drive. A smile formed on his face as he watched the engines silently hum as energy coursed through them for the first time in over fifteen years.

The doctor had no way of knowing that at the exact same moment the drive activated, Pilot Rei Ayanami dropped the glass of water she was holding. She had no idea why such a clumsy action took place – she was holding it with a firm grip, and there were no friction-reducing substances on the glass itself. Yet, as she bent over to gather the various shards, the girl could not shake the odd feeling that had suddenly come over her.

There was one being who could possibly have made Rei understand why she had dropped the glass, but it was in no position to deliver any explanations. At the time the sensations came over it, the rather amorphous being known to some as Bardiel, the 13th Angel was readying itself to possess the creature known to the lilim as Unit-03. Such plans were immediately upset by the realization that only one thing could produce such a reaction in a being such as itself:

Protoculture!

It seemed impossible, but somehow Zor's great blasphemy was here, on this world. The Angel immediately resolved to find it. Adam would have to wait. Everything else would have to wait. The Protoculture must be found, and woe to any that stood in Bardiel's path.