Disclaimer: I do not own anything. All properties belong to the appropriate copyright and trademark owners.

Chapter 34

Toji climbed out of the simulation plug, coughing up LCL. Grimacing, he wiped at his face with the offered towel, then shook his head, sending small flecks of the orange goo everywhere. Asuka frowned at him, but ignored the few drops that landed on her.

"Well, you're not terrible," she said without preamble, "but it's going to be a while before you're going to be up to our level. But," she continued on, ignoring his sputtered comments about being new to the whole thing, "I think that it's safe to say that in an emergency, you'll be useful to have around."

"Gee, thanks." he muttered under his breath. Since the official start of his training a few days ago, he and the Pilot-Captain had clashed several times. If the Evangelion Flight had been an actual military organization, he would undoubtedly been in trouble for arguing, disrespecting, and outright ignoring his superiors. Of course, an actual military organization probably wouldn't be using teenage soldiers.

Continuing to ignore the boy's mutterings in the interests of getting more training done and thus being better prepared for the inevitable next Angel, the red-haired pilot began her review of his performance in the simulator, stressing the need to memorize the emergence points, the resupply points, the power junctions, and how vital it was that he kept an eye on his ammunition supply.

Rote memorization was never something that had come easy to the boy, and he was starting to get tired of how much it seemed that the world expected him to do it. Only half listening to the older girl as she listed his shortcomings and his modest achievements, he almost missed the last thing that she said.

"What was that?" he asked, yawning wide, his stomach rumbling. It seemed like it had been forever since he had last eaten.

"I asked what you want your insignia to be." Asuka repeated, her frown deepening before her own stomach voiced its complaints. "We'll get it painted up on Unit-04 after a successful activation test."

"Huh. You know, that wasn't something I really thought about." he replied, rubbing his belly. "Can we talk about it over some food? I'm starving over here."

Staring at her newest wing-man, Asuka tried not to grind her teeth in frustration. Working with him was shaping up to be a pain, although not as big of a one that she had originally expected. "Yes, I suppose we can go get something to eat. AFTER you take a shower. I'm not going to sit down for a meal and smell you stinking of LCL all day."

"No more sim tests today then?" Toji asked. "I don't want to waste time on a shower if I'm just going back in the goop."

"No, you won't be running through anymore simulations today," Asuka sighed. "Just take a shower, and meet me at the cafeteria in the medical wing once you're done."

"Gonna stop in and check on the Shin-man?"

Rolling her eyes, Asuka shook her head. "Nope. I'm going to get some tranquilizers and I'm going to spike your food. Yes, I'm going to go check on the Dummkopf."

"Alright, alright! Jeez."

They parted ways outside the laboratory level locker rooms, Toji still muttering to himself about crazy German girls. Asuka fumed as she made her way to the elevators, violently stabbing the button to the medical levels. She had been left mostly to her own devices for the past few days, and she had been grateful at first for the distraction of trying to get Toji up and on the track to being a competent pilot, but just like in school, the boy was grating on her nerves.

"To think that I ever wanted Shinji to show some backbone!" she muttered to her reflection in the elevator doors. "What I wouldn't give to have Toji be as meek and obedient as the Dummkopf or Wonder-girl." With a sigh, she fiddled with her tablet, checking her emails. Toji had come through for her in one thing, at least, and Kensuke had emailed her.

It was a massive breach of trust, not to mention of protocol and security, but she felt that NERV had broken faith with her first. The dorky geek might not have all the schooling and experience that she did, but he wasn't dumb, and if anyone on the outside had a chance at figuring this mess out, his chances were as good as anyone's. That he could be somewhat trusted was a bonus.

His first emails back concerning the information that she had leaked to him were less than reassuring, but as he continued to work at it, the less questions he asked her about the systems. He had promised a longer email in a short message earlier this morning, but so far there hadn't been anything. She just hoped that the MAGI and Section-2 hadn't cottoned on to her little treason and were setting up some sort of trap for them. While she was confident that there wasn't much they could do to her at the moment, being the only qualified pilot available, they could still make her life annoying, to say nothing of what they might do to the only person she could possibility count on to help her get to the bottom of this particular rabbit hole. As lovely as Maya was, Asuka just couldn't trust that her loyalties did not lie heavily with NERV.

The doors opened up onto the medical wing reserved for the pilots and other senior staff, and she quickly made her way down to Shinji's room, ignoring the nurses and other medical orderlies. If she wanted a report on his medical profile and the machine readouts, she would have asked the MAGI. She wanted to see the boy.

He lay there looking just as he had the last time she had checked in on him, arms full of catheter tubes, LCL and blood being pumped in and out of his system. Machines beeped and hummed, and the room smelled of cleaners and bleach. Someone, probably Misato, had put a small framed picture of him and Rei on the bedside table, along with a vase of flowers. The NERV staff was not much for get well cards and the like, but it seemed like something the woman would do. The flowers looked fresh and healthy, but Asuka doubted their ability to withstand the sterile life sucking feelings of the medical floor for long.

The MAGI were supposed to contact her immediately if he started showing signs of coming out of the coma, but she had no idea what the currently reported readings meant. Done with her cursory check of the machines, she slumped down in a chair facing him.

"You have no idea what it's like." she growled at the comatose boy. "He is such a Vollpfosten, but he's got potential. I don't know when they plan on conducting the first activation tests, but if it's anytime soon I don't know how ready he'll be. I don't want another Unit-00 test accident, because then it'll just be that much worse."

She sighed, and stared up at the ceiling, thinking. "Still no news on your girlfriend. If your daddy has anything planned, he's playing his cards close to the vest. Ritsuko and Misato have been thick as thieves lately, off who knows where doing who knows what. Maya's been helping me run the simulations, but the rest of the techies are off at Matsushiro working on Unit-04. We're running around the clock here, with shifts working on the Evangelions and the defense systems. The surface is like an upturned anthill. I honestly don't think that many people are still hanging around.

Most of our classes have followed the geek out of the city, hell, most of them are out of the prefecture. School's closed, not that it really matters. Section-2's got the city on lock-down right now, but the UN, the JSSDF and the Diet haven't said anything official. I can't shake the feeling that we're all on eggshells right now."

She sighed again, her gaze falling back down to rest on Shinji, somewhat trying to study and dissect the tremors of dread and instinctual fear that ran through her spine, but her heart wasn't in it. It had been a long day of simulation runs and lecture on the basics of Evangelion operation, and she was as exhausted as if she had done the sims herself.

"It's funny, you know? Inside the Evangelions we're powerful, in control. We're nigh unstoppable. We're like a natural disaster - an avalanche, a typhoon, a volcano or a tidal wave. We're more than just a human in a tin can. Even Wonder-girl, even you! But outside of them..." she trailed off into silence, staring at the boy, at her friend. "Outside of them we're still just little kids, and the adults don't care about the lies they tell us. They need to control us, just as we control the Evangelions. They can lock us up, they can keep us busy. They lie to us, and expect that we do as we are told. Little wind up toys, puppets dancing on a string. Well, I'm nobody's doll."

She decided to close her eyes for a minute, to try and shut the rest of the world out and just think.

She opened her eyes again, feeling groggy, only to find an amused Toji poking her shoulder.

"You snore when you sleep in a chair, did you know that?" he asked, grinning at her.

"I do nothing of the sort!" She snapped, swatting his hand away. "Do you want to eat or do you want to make up ridiculous stories?"

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

NERV was a fortress. It was locked, sealed, and the computer operated entrances gave no sign of being active, and there seemed to be no one at any of the manual entry control points. This, however, was becoming less of an issue for Shinji, as he was becoming much more concerned about the fact that the world seemed to be stuck in time.

The diffused orange glow of twilight hung overhead, washing out everything else, giving no sign of ever changing. The overwhelming sense of being alone weighed down on him like the lead blanket used when he was having x-rays, as was the sense of terror and panic.

He was sure that there was only one explanation for this, although he was not sure how exactly an Angel would go about doing this. Tokyo-3 seemed to be frozen in time, its inhabitants missing. When or how the Angel had arrived Shinji did not know, but it was apparent to the boy that it had somehow missed him, and that he could not rely on anyone else for help. If he was going to reach Unit-01, he was going to have to do it on his own.

This was why he currently had, after several failed attempts, managed to park a car full of gas cans up against one of usually manned entry points. He wasn't entirely sure if this was going to work, but it was better than doing nothing, and at any rate, there wasn't anyone around to yell at him about damaging NERV property. Sighing, he flung the gas can he using was off to the side, and pulled the lighter out of the his pocket. Carefully lighting the gas soaked rag at his feet, he quickly pushed it into the trail of gas that trailed across the street, leading back to the car. With a grin, he ducked around the corner of the continence store, leaning against the wall.

As he listened to the rush of flames, he nodded to himself, more certain now. Always take immediate action was Asuka's mantra, and Rei always seemed to know what she wanted to do even if no one else understood what it was she was doing.

He felt the explosion more than he heard it, even hiding behind the corner as he was. Heat washed over him as the fiery tumultuous roar echoed in the quiet, muted world. The persistent twilight was replaced momentarily by a flood of living color, all bright red and orange.

Stepping back around the edge of the building, Shinji's grin became a frown as he studied the scene before him.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Rei leaned back in her chair, looking over the technical specifications for the incoming Evangelion and the medical data of her classmate, periodically looking up to watch her captive, who was currently asleep.

She still had no idea as what she was going to do with the spy. No matter how she turned the problem and studied it, there was no clear answer. This would be an issue, because she could not keep him for long. Already she was sure that he was missed by the others, although she was unsure if anyone was actively looking for him. He had offered no information on the events at Las Vegas, except that he wasn't sure if SEELE would orchestrate such an event. The Commander believed it to be sabotage, so she was inclined to think so, but she was unsure as to what they had gained. If the Commander knew, he hadn't let it slip where she had overheard, although her access to him was much more limited than it once was.

Apparently the event had been felt in Sheol, which was unusual, for the Evangelions had never noticed any event that happened in the waking world to have an influence on theirs. What exactly this meant the three of them and the MAGI were not sure.

Her sister wanted her to just dispose of the man before he became a liability, but Dr. Soryu asked for restraint. While she did not like the influence the man had over her daughter, at least before recent events, she saw no need for the girl to murder him out of hand.

It was a plague of uncertainty and problems, added to the already considerable stack of issues that needed to be addressed. Shinji was still in a coma, she was still officially incarcerated, and these issues were things that she could not affect, although she was fine with allowing the JSSDF to put one of her bodies on trial. The sacrifice of one drone was nothing to her, after all, but the Commander was the one who would make the final decision. He, being unaware of her independence of movement, would not make that sacrifice so easily.

As far as Shinji went, she was unsure what she could do. This weighed heavily on her mind, so she turned to other things, such as studying Toji's progress in his training. Unit-04 was slated to be finished at the Matsushiro site which would not take very long, as the major construction was complete. The unfinished Evangelion was very similar to Unit-02 in construction, save for a few, minor, details. Right now it was slated to be painted black with dark red highlights after the last of the systems were complete. Work on the Evangelion progressed around the clock, with workers from the other Evangelion crews putting in hours on it as well. It was currently expected to be ready for initial testing and Pilot Synchronization at the end of the week. If all went well, it could be added to the active duty roster in one to two weeks after that.

Pilot-Captain Soryu seemed to have things well in hand in training their classmate, and Rei saw nothing in the reports that suggested that he would not serve reasonably well as a pilot.

Closing out the pages of information, she set the tablet computer down and steeples her fingers in front of her face, trying to think like the Commander. He never agonized over issues or problems. He always had a plan, an immediate course of action.

She needed to make a choice that would resolve the situation in a manner that would net her a gain, allow her Scenario to proceed, and remove the possibility of the spy revealing her to others. She needed to come to a decision and she needed to do it quickly.

Perhaps she would think more clearly if she sat by Shinji's side listening to his breathing while he slept. It was not as if nurse's uniforms were hard to acquire, and it had been very long since they had been together.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

"I am not interested in your threats, General." Gendo Ikari told the irate uniformed man on the other end of the phone. "I am not interested in what it is that you think we owe you, other than our condolences. I am more interested in what you think your pilots were doing, engaging one of my Evangelions in the midst of battle. In all of the confusion and chaos of battle, it is only natural that once something showed hostile intent towards them that they would counter-attack."

Seething silence, all the more audible for the lack of any strangled outburst of anger, was all that the Supreme Commander received in return for several seconds.

"If that's the position you're going to take," the older man growled out, "then you can't complain about my position. That being, in order of greatest to smallest, your offenses include treason, murder, theft, and being obnoxiously rude."

"You also can't complain," he continued, "about the official treatment your little band of miscreants is going to receive on the national and world stages. You want to pretend at being high and mighty, and operate outside of the law? Fine! So be it! But once you are outside the law, you are not subject to protection from those laws, or from corporate agreements and bargains, or brokered deals. We will be able to deal with you as we please!"

"And before you even mention that you can shrug off things that stymie our armies, don't forget that we brought down one of your precious Evangelions! You might be able to kill Angels, but we can kill you. Your toys are not as invincible as they might seem."

"Again, General," Gendo evenly replied, his eyes watching his son's prone form on the monitor, "I am not interested in your threats. Two of your pilots are dead, one of mine is in a coma, another is incarcerated, and one is currently on light duty for injuries. I am currently overseeing repairs on my machines, and barely have a mission capable Evangelion. Don't mistake this situation as a weakness, or as an opening. Don't think that you can cow me, that you can intimidate NERV."

He took a short, even breath before continuing, his gaze flicking over to his nervous second and third in command, the pair both looking haggard and wearing similar expressions of caution and worry, one decidedly more pleading than the other. "But at the same time, don't think that I am trying to threaten you. I know that we must all work hand in hand if we are to see the end of this conflict and ensure the future of mankind. We have both lost in this battle, and we both stand lose more, much more, if it continues."

"Don't think that you can weasel your way out of this one, Ikari! Don't think that we'll buy that same tired song and dance!" The General snarled back. "You haven't heard the last from me!"

Ikari was shaking his head irately even before the receiver the other man had slammed down closed the connection. Carefully placing his phone back into its cradle, he frowned.

"We will have to suffer these indignities for the next few days, a week more at the most. But even as this storm passes, we won't ever have the same latitude that we had before."

"How can you be so sure of that?" Misato asked with a sigh. "Even with all of this... this horrible mess, you mean that your plots extend so far that you can somehow pull us out of this disaster?"

"Most certainly. Even if SEELE wishes to see us punished, made to squirm, or face difficulties, the time is not yet right for them to strike, and so we will prevail in the end. The UN might send us a new liaison officer, cursing the fact that they had fired the last one, but we will be free to operate once more. The only question is if SEELE will back their demands for the extradition of Rei or not."

"Even then, it is not as if that will ultimately be a hindrance to us," Kozo put in, "but it opens up new potential problems. Imprinting a new clone is always tricky, and then there is always the chance that they might make a show of our child pilots in some sham trial. The General knows, of course, but the rank and file do not. If they make a large production out of prosecuting her, it will cause us more trouble."

"So we must stall, and hope that SEELE sees the sense in not giving her over to them. They know that it would be an empty gesture, but it remains to be seen if they think if it will cause them, or us, more trouble in the end."

"A lot can happen in a week." Misato interjected. "We will be running the activation tests on Unit-04. An Angel could attack. Shinji could wake up. Kaji could show up."

"Anything could happen." Gendo agreed. "I would, of course prefer that the boy woke up, although the reappearance of our friend would be very useful. His disappearance is suspiciously timed. I would be very interested to know what his insights on the event are."

"If he is more in SEELE's pocket than ours, I fear that we will never see the man again," Kozo remarked, "or, even worse, we will see him just as some new calamity occurs."

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

The concrete and steel structure was blackened and charred, but otherwise was no worse off. The checkpoint, by its very nature a weak spot in the armor of the fortress city, stood there undaunted by Shinji's attempt at a forced entry.

Shrugging, he turned away and went back into the city. He knew where to find propane tanks, and if that didn't work, then he'd just have to try something else.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Toji stood on the catwalk with Asuka, both pilots watching the crew of mechanics continuing their repairs on the battered red Evangelion. The activation test was in two days, and everyone wanted to have Unit-02 on standby in the event of a less than smooth activation. As engrossed the two seemed to be about the hurried activity, the main reason they were there was to discuss things they didn't wish to be overheard.

Things that revolved around the armored giants.

Things about NERV's explanations about the Evangelions.

Things that meant that Asuka, who had prided herself on knowing her Unit-02 inside and out, actually knew very little about the red titan.

"What makes you trust Kensuke anyways?" Toji asked, eyes never leaving the trio of welders working on installing a slab of armor over the Evangelion's midsection. "I thought he was just a worthless nerd."

Asuka had the decency to look chagrined, even it was for a moment. "Well, I was wrong about you, wasn't I?" she countered. "Besides, he's doing well enough cutting through the encryption on the files for me."

"So what does it mean?" the boy asked, his face twisted in a frown, watching a crane lower a small capsule to the men and women standing at the empty socket that normally housed the Entry Plug. "What does it mean to us as pilots?"

"As pilots? Not much, outside of knowing what we are piloting. As a scientist, though? As a researcher, as someone who works on improving the Evangelions, as someone who is supposed to know them inside and out? It means that I have been lied to for my entire life. It means that the people with whom I have been studying under, training with, and working for have, at all levels, lied to me. That the people I have trusted and looked up to have directly, knowingly and willfully lied to my face about everything that I am."

She nodded at the small cylinder being inserted into the waiting socket. "That's supposed to be the prototype autopilot system. It's supposed to be a MAGI brain that's running a mirror of my brain scan."

"Is it?" Toji wondered out loud, not really asking the girl if it was. "You've been with the Evangelion system your whole life, like Rei. If they've lied to you about this, what else is there that they've lied to us about?"

Images of the crucified Angel down in the very bottom of the base instantly sprung to her mind. Images of that, and of the jumbled mess of memories and feelings the Angel had forcibly implanted into her mind. All of that, and the burning sense of dread that accompanied the primordial roar of Unit-01, resting in pieces just one cage over. All of these things could be explained away, but the simplest, easiest explanation was that they had lied to her. As she understood things as she had been originally taught, there was no way for Unit-01 to go berserk in the manner that it had.

Whatever it was that they were piloting, she knew less about them that she should, having been involved with more than a few experiments on her Evangelion, for having been involved with the project for most of her life.

She knew next to nothing about her mother's legacy.

Nothing made sense.

Unfortunately, the only person that might have an inkling into what was going on that could possibly be trusted to tell her the truth was also incarcerated, and had no reason to even want to talk to her, even if the girl's responses would be understandable.

Shaking her head, Asuka turned away from the observation windows.

"Let's get back to work."

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

"Commence primary connections."

"Commencing primary connections." Maya responded, her fingers flying as she entered the command into the computer. On the main monitor before them, Unit-04's mostly unarmored body stiffened slightly in the restraints, and the system lights switched on. "Primary connections established, green across the board."

"Pilot's waveform is stable." Aoba added, not looking up from his console. "All vital signs are good."

Ritsuko nodded. "Begin initial scans."

"Scans are running. So far, so good." Makoto called out, watching the information fly across his screens. They had modified the initial activation procedures, and while it was going to be a little harder on the pilots, as the tests were longer, they were going to eliminate any possibility of the Evangelion from entering a berserker state. They had also removed some of the armor from the war-machine, which, in theory, would allow Asuka in Unit-02 to disable it faster if something did happen.

"Scans complete!" Makoto announced several minutes later, glancing over to the blond doctor. "All systems read as good."

Ritsuko smiled. "Commence secondary connections."

"Commencing secondary connections."

Misato yawned, shaking her head before sipping her coffee. According to the mission briefing two hours ago, they estimated another half hour before Toji even synced with the Evangelion. After that, it would be four hours of tests and system scans, followed by three hours of partial sync tests. Glad that it wasn't her in either of the Evangelions, she stretched her legs as she leaned against the wall.

The Matsushiro site was almost the mirror image of the primary command deck in NERV's headquarters, only a little smaller and lacking the Supreme Commander's observation platform. She looked over to the crew pit where a set of techs sat, not part of the activation test, but monitoring Asuka and Unit-02.

"How's Asuka doing?" she called over to them, glancing at the monitors that displayed her data, understanding only a little of the information showed.

"She's doing fine, Ma'am," a brown haired technician responded, looking up at her, pointing at one of the monitors. "All vitals are strong, and all reports back from the Evangelion are good."

"How's the new auto-pilot system?"

"The system is in standby mode. We loaded her scans into it yesterday, and so far it's tested out fine. No anomalous readings or reports, but it's being held offline until we conduct the actual full run tests in a few days."

Misato nodded, turning back to the main event of the day. There would time later to do the more thorough tests on the auto-pilot, although she had missed seeing the item on her calendar. She wondered briefly if there was more that she had missed, before focusing on the young man on the screens in front of her.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Shinji looked around when he heard it, his heart jumping up into his throat. It was a dull throbbing sound, like the heavily distorted sound of Lieutenant Aoba's band's guitars, echoing across the otherwise muted landscape. The sound washed over the empty city, and echoed strangely through the streets, bouncing off the buildings, and the hills and mountains that surrounded the valley bowl it sat it.

His heart pounding, he grabbed the propane tank off the back of the truck he had commandeered, dragging it over to the stack he had built. He didn't know how long it had taken him, but he had scoured the city for every single tank of propane he could lay his hands on. Ten tanks now sat in a pile up against the walls to the entrance, and he had another forty three stashed a long way away from here, just in case this didn't work.

The distorted throb sounded again, louder and stronger, and the propane tanks vibrated, shifting out of the neat stack he had made. Looking around again, Shinji gasped as he caught sight of the very thing he had feared when realizing that something was wrong with the world.

The Angel was a huge amorphous dark cloud that hung in the sky like a black sheet, the lightning that flickered through it not reflecting off of the water vapor, but remaining tight lines of electric energy, discharging at random. It moved across the windless sky, the unworldly sounds growing stronger and stronger, until there was no break in between the Angel's cries and the echoes that bounced back and forth, creating a long, unbroken stream of discordant, distorted sound.

Shinji ran back to the truck pulling out a handful of road flares. As he raced back to his stack of tanks, he hoped that he had enough time, that he wasn't too late. Ripping off the cap of the first flare, he struck it, and when it didn't light, he hit it again and again, his movements becoming more panicky, until the bright red flame exploded out of the stick. Quickly lighting the others, he placed them around the tanks, and then ran back to the truck climbing into the cab and tore off down the road until he reached a spot he figured was far enough away.

Hopping down out of the truck, he pulled his pistol, checked it, and then aimed for the propane tanks.

His first shot yielded nothing, as did his next shot, and the third after that. Forcing himself to stay calm, trying to ignore the Angel's screams and the pounding of his heart, he took aim again, and fired off a fourth round.

There was a bright flash of light, although the sound of the explosion was washed out by the Angel, and a bright jet of flame erupted from the tank he had finally penetrated. Shinji's spirits sank again as there was no massive explosion like he had planned.

Taking aim, again, he lined up on the tank that was spewing flame. This time he was rewarded by another flash of light and fire, followed by another, much larger explosion as the other tanks detonated.

Screaming in excitement, Shinji got back into the truck, not even bothering to turn it around, and raced back to the entrance in reverse, watching as clouds of smoke billowed up, at first black but turning gray as the automated fire suppression systems kicked in, showering the burning crater that had been a security checkpoint with water.

Ignoring the watering in his eyes as he made his way through the smoke, he made for the hallway that would lead to the tunnels to the underground city. He had to get to Unit-01. He had to defeat the Angel.

Deep down in her prison tomb, Lilith, the Second Angel, looked up, watching the soul of the Other make its way into her Seed, fleeing from the soul of her child, gradually understanding more as the time he spent in the twilight realm grew.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Makoto frowned as the sensors that monitored the energy passing through the Evangelion's power cable reported a spike in the energy being pulled from the central power plant deep inside the mountain. Keying in a diagnostic scan, he announced the anomaly to the rest of the crew.

"I've got an energy spike on the umbilical cable. There was a massive draw on the power for a second." His frown deepened as the power spiked again for a few seconds. "Here it is again."

"Put it on the main screen, section three." Ritsuko ordered, her eyes flashing across the data as it appeared on the overhead monitor. "What do the rest of the systems report?"

"Nothing anomalous here." Maya reported, looking for anything that could explain the power drain.

"All pilot's vitals read as good, synchronization is holding steady at thirty-five percent." Aoba chimed in, watching Toji's life signs.

"The spike's ended, "Makoto announced, his voice nervous. "Energy drain is amping up; it's pulling in more power."

"How are the on-board batteries?" Misato asked, putting her cup down and walking up next to her friend.

"Still reading as completely discharged and not charging. The physical blocks are still in place to prevent access to them." Maya replied. "They will not be available to charge until we remove the blocks and reconnect the system. It can't be done remotely."

"So it's not trying to charge the batteries?"

"It can't."

"End synchronization and eject the umbilical cable. Get the recovery crew on standby for unassisted Plug removal, and alert Command. Let them know what happened, and that we're checking it out."

"Aye Ma'am."

"What do you think it could be?" Ritsuko asked her friend as they watched the screens.

"I'm not sure. What do you think?" she replied, frowning as the screens flickered. "What was that?"

"Synchronization isn't ending! We can't get the pilot to disconnect, and the communication lines just went dead!" Makoto shouted, his fingers a blur as he tried to forcibly kill the link between pilot and machine.

"Eject the cable now!" Ritsuko shouted, even as Maya pulled the emergency disconnect switch. A ring of small explosions erupted around the base of the umbilical cable in the black painted Evangelion's back socket, destroying the locks that held it in place. Bright lightning flashed across the gap, arcing from the cable to the socket, a white flare of blinding light and deadly energy. Lights in the command room and across the entire testing facility dimmed momentarily.

"Cable is out!" Maya announced as the cable fell to the ground. "Disabling power to the cable now." The cable stopped sparking as the line went dark. Unit-04 went slack in the restraints, before it's arms and legs straightened out and began to twitch.

"Anomalous energy readings! The Evangelion is powering up!"

A dull red glow was forming at the center of Unit-04's still armored midsection, the metal heating up as something behind them dumped excess heat. Smoking paint bubbled and peeled off around the area, and the glow changed from a dull red to a bright orange in a matter of seconds.

Alarms began to sound, a collection of different klaxons that filled the air with deafening screams. Misato's ears picked out the Angel Alert effortlessly though, one hand flying up to the headset she wore, switching over to the channel linked with Asuka even as she read the warnings and alert codes blinking on the monitors.

"Asuka!" she shouted above the noise, "Angel Alert! The Magi are picking up a Code Blue from within Unit-04! Get ready for action while we confirm."

"Unit-04?" Asuka asked as adrenaline began pumping through her body. "What about Toji? What's happened with the tests? I saw the-"

"Just wait for more information, we're confirming now!" Misato snapped back, as she checked the sensor readings, waving one hand at them, the other gripping Maya's shoulder. "Is that right? Is Unit-04 the source of the Code Blue?"

"Affirmative!" Maya responded, fingers flying across the keyboard as her heart sank, "Unit-04 is being re-flagged as an Angel."

"No communication with the Pilot!" Aoba shouted from his station. "No sensor readings from the Entry Plug!"

"The plug isn't responding to the ejection commands!" Makoto announced. "Energy readings from the Angel are in line with Angel Core emissions."

"Keep trying the ejection protocol!" Misato ordered the technician. "Alert NERV Central and High Command." Ignoring their acknowledgments of their respective orders, she turned back to the main screens, where the ebon Angel-Evangelion was thrashing around, trying to free itself from the restraints. "Asuka! Unit-04 is an Angel. Energy readings are consistent with their cores. Move in, and try to remove the Entry Plug. It's not responding to the ejection commands, and we can't reestablish communication with the Pilot. Once the plug is recovered, disable the Angel."

"Right!" Asuka said. "Rescue pilot, kill Angel."

As she moved across the testing room towards the Angel, she watched the glowing circle, now white hot, molten metal dripping and running down the waist and legs. Switching her display to thermals, she saw a bright ball of heat in the Evangelion's midsection, feeding small lines of energy through the rest of the body, outlining the Entry plug.

A bright flash blanked out her vision, causing her to switch back to the normal sensor data. The armor that had covered the red core of the Angel was now gone, the orb glowing with malevolent might. That same red light burned in the Evangelion's eyes as it glared at her. A muffled roar sounded from behind the armor plating around the Angel's mouth.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Kaji woke up coughing and choking as LCL poured into his lungs. He found himself, nude and unrestrained, inside the tube in the room where Rei's scans were held and 'backup' images of her mind and soul were created. The orange goo was still pouring into the tube in which he stood, just high enough to begin pouring into his mouth. Beyond the tube, he could see Rei watching him from the control station.

"The LCL will not harm you, Agent Ryouji. The imaging process will work best if you remain calm."

"You're making a backup scan of me?" He asked incredulously, trying to keep his head above the rising liquid. "Why?"

"For Science, Agent Ryouji." she answered, watching him struggle. "The process is painless and will not harm you."

The sensation of the lukewarm liquid flowing into his lungs was unsettling and uncomfortable. Her assurances of harmlessness and painlessness were not, in fact, reassuring. As the goo covered him completely, he tried to swim towards the top of the container, but found himself unable to move with any manner of ease, prompting a small part of his mind to wonder just how the clones were able to move about in the soup as much as they did. He was able, however, to beat his fists against the glass, but this proved to be ineffectual and tiring.

There was a loud mechanical humming clank, followed then by a sensation of weightlessness as vertigo filled him, followed by the distinct impression of mindlessness and utter confusion.

Rei watched the thrashings of her captive, frowning as he babbled mostly wordlessly. His reaction to the backup scan was unexpected, given her intimate knowledge of its effects firsthand. The data flowing across the monitors looked within reason, with nothing standing out as being markedly different from her own uploads. No one ever looked their best through a curved tube filled with LCL, but the secret agent looked deranged, as if he was straddling the border between pain and insanity.

This experiment did not bode well. She was testing the backup system on the spy so that she could make a backup of Shinji, in the event that she was unable to protect him from harm. While she had never experienced any real discomfort during the imaging scans, the spy certainly was having an atypical reaction to the process.

She halted the scan, watching the man slump backwards, his body still racked with spasms, awareness slowly returning to his face.

"What did you experience, Agent Ryouji?" she asked, studying him. "What did you feel?"

He stared at her, wide eyed with pain and fright. "Are you insane?" he finally screamed at her, his voice muted but the emotion behind the words coming across clearly. "What did I ever do to you to deserve this?"

"If you do not help me refine the process, Agent Ryouji, I will be forced to work with incomplete data. This is not meant to harm you." Stepping away from the command podium, she approached the tube. "If you assist me in my research-"

"Research?" He screamed at her, straightening himself up again, glaring at her through the thick glass. "This is what you think is research?"

Alarms began to sound, the familiar klaxon of Angelic intrusion screaming for attention. Twirling around, she rushed over to the main system monitor, asking the MAGI for details. Eyes flying across the screen, a frown spread on her face. Unit-00 was in no shape to enter combat, even if it were not locked down and she herself incarcerated in the isolation block. While she had no doubts about Pilot-Captain Soryu's dedication towards destroying the Angels, the fiery tempered redhead's ability to do so completely solo was as of yet uncertain. Shinji was the only one of them with an official solo kill. The situation also cast doubt onto if the athletic boy would be able to remain on the roster as a backup pilot. The report suggested that he was still in the Evangelion.

There was little she needed to do here, and so could send her waking mind elsewhere, but there was little that she could do to help, even if she deemed the situation dire enough to reveal the fact that she was not bound to one body. Unit-00 was not ready to be deployed, nor would she be able to remedy that without outside assistance, which would be hard to come by without orders from the Commander.

Still, she mused, it would be best if she was prepared to deploy. Even if she resumed the backup scan of the spy right now, it would take another two to three hours. The fight should be over, one way or another, before then. However, she required more data about the imaging experience before she would subject Shinji to it.

She turned back to her captive test subject, who shrank back against the far side of the tube as he could. "What's going on?" he asked, obviously trying to divert her attention. "What's wrong?"

"An Angel is attacking," she told him, stopping at the control podium and making some adjustments. "We will proceed with the experiment."

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

"Have Unit-00 prepared to deploy." Gendo commanded, sitting hunched over his desk on the platform in the main operations chamber. "If we need to, I want to be able to send Rei directly to it and then launch her."

As the third shift crew relayed the orders to the cage technicians, Fuyutsuki shifted his weight to his other leg. "Should we remove Rei from isolation?"

"Not yet. Let no one say that we haven't followed the protocols. If we do need to send her into battle, we will also send the JSDF a message detailing as much. Let them see that we are not holding a grudge."

"But we are, aren't we?"

"In so much that I have time to be petty. They did shoot at my son."

"If I recall correctly, you had just given orders for the gun turrets to bring him down when the planes opened fire."

"It's different when I do it, Kozo."

The older man smiled in silence as they watched the scene before them unfold like a violent origami piece.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

It was a significant problem she had, Asuka thought to herself, trying to disable the Angel enough to be able to rescue Suzahara without killing him. This situation was much more complicated that the usual run of the mill fight. Even though they were out at the test site, and thus had much less in the way of collateral environmental damage, there was very little that she could do right now to directly curtail the Angel's movements without horrendous potential damage to the other pilot.

That was the nature of the Evangelion, she darkly reflected as she ducked under a hay-maker punch from the ebon giant, to be susceptible only to catastrophic damage to itself and the pilot. That was, after all, much of the point.

It was a hopeful sign, though, that the Angel fought entirely unlike the way the boy did. It suggested to her that he was not in the loop, and thus not going to be on the receiving end of the damage being done to his Evangelion.

It helped that his Entry Plug was partially removed from the socket, kept in place only by the thick ropes of sticky tendinous fibers that had grown over it, exuded from between the sections of armor and over the unarmored flesh and metal housings.

Slamming her armored fist into the side of the Angel's head, she thanked any listening deity that they hadn't installed the shoulder fins yet as her own popped open, her spike throwers engaging and launching a dozen barbed carbon-tube spears straight into the Angel's upper body. Rocking the enemy with an open palm blow to the other side of the head, she jumped as deftly as one could while piloting a multi ton war-machine to the side and swept its legs out from beneath it, sending it crashing to the ground.

Stomping one foot straight onto the red core of the Angel, she swore as a jarring sensation jolted up her body as she tried to maintain her balance as the metal clad heel bounced off the orb leaving the glowing surface unmarred.

Howling from behind the armored mask restraints, the Angel kicked straight up at her, hitting the small of her back and sending her stumbling forwards just enough to let it spring to its feet.

Asuka deftly threw herself straight into a tumble, avoiding the follow-up blow from the Angel. As she rolled back to her feet, she darted to the side, one massive, armored hand stretched outwards to provide support as she kicked around in a wide, sweeping circle, a bright grin on her face despite the seriousness of the situation.

While most of the Matsushiro site was an open air testing facility, the tests had been taking place within the interior testing cages. Shortly after reading as a type blue, the Angel confirmed its power by blasting a hole in the exterior retaining wall with an energy blast akin to that of the first Angel fought by Shinji. Right now they were brawling in the exterior arena like portion of the laboratory complex, and the Angel had yet to use the energy weapon against her. Unsure if it did not have the capability to do so or if was merely holding it in reserve, Asuka was doing her best to keep the Angel off balance and unable to bring it to bear.

Mentally lamenting the fact that they had not let her bring her Evangelion's sword to the test, she launched herself back at the usurped war machine. Covering the hundred meter gap in under a second, she dropped her shoulder down and slammed into her enemy with all the force of a head on train collision, and with twice the sound of one. Unit-04 staggered backwards under the assault as she wrapped her arms around the lithe form, one hand closing in on the partially ejected Entry Plug, feeling the thick tendon-like mass that kept it trapped.

She had, when she was younger, wanted to install some sort of cable or wire cutting saw device into the hands and fingers of Unit-02, but the system proved to be unfeasible. Granted, she hadn't really come up against a foe until now where it would have been useful, but damn, it would have been nice to have. Still, if German finesse could not be used to win the day, she still had the faithful and reliable backup plan; German brute force.

Holding tight to the extruding end, she twisted the plug hard while plunging the fingers of her other hand into the small joint where jaw met skull, crushing through the small amount of metal present that served more as a reinforcing structure than as armor. The biomatter growths that covered the Angel resisted her attempts to break the captive plug free, but her hand punched through into its skull with a satisfying squelching sound, and she was further rewarded with a keening moan from the Angel as its struggles suddenly halted.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Toji Suzahara had never been accused of being an overly bright student, or an overachieving try-hard, or even been likened to being an ambitious student. To even say that he was studious was a gross overstatement of his habits towards schoolwork.

He was not, however, dumb. While certainly not the brightest, he could get his work done, and he understood what he bothered to apply himself towards; it just wasn't what he was interested in. He was fine with coasting along and getting average grades, even as his father and grandfather castigated him for it, and then even as Hikari prodded and poked at him in her efforts to make him apply himself.

He loved his family though, and doted on his younger sister. That was what had gotten him in trouble with NERV in the first place, and that was what ultimately had landed him here.

While NERV paid its employees a fair wage, it wasn't enough for the best schools, at least, and definitely not the best schools while the student wasn't tied down with a part time job to pay other living expenses.

He had made it clear to the hot older blonde doctor when she and the suited security men had come to him, once that she had told him the opportunity at hand. They had offered payment, in line with what the others received, but he wanted something else, something more substantial.

When Mari was old enough, she would have a place at any top university or college in the world. Automatic acceptance, all expenses paid, for as long as she wanted to stay there to learn, even if he died in battle, or even if he never saw battle. Such a thing, he had told the smirking woman, certainly was not outside the powers of NERV. That was his price. They could keep everything else.

And so it was that he now found himself standing in a strangely quiet gymnasium, orange twilight streaming in through the windows, when the last thing that he remembered before passing out from the intense pain was testing what would become his Evangelion, Unit-04.

Something was not right.

The gym was otherwise empty, apart from the usual accoutrements of physical education classes. The air was strangely silent, and seemed to weigh heavily upon him.

"Hello?" he called out, frowning as the silence softened and muted his words. "Is anyone there?" he tried again, louder.

Met only by further quietness that bordered on the oppressive, he stood up from where he had been sitting in the bleachers and headed towards the double doors that led into the locker rooms.

Toji was halfway across the hardwood floor when those doors opened, and a tall nightmarish form walked out, straightening out to stand at about eight feet tall. The dark haired boy gaped in shock as he recognized the miniature form of his Evangelion, unchanged from how he had seen it other than the strange webbing that coated parts of the skin and armor.

None of the other pilots had ever mentioned anything like this, and, for that matter, neither had the technical teams when reviewing the parts of synchronization. He didn't think that this was a normal experience. Watching the Evangelion, he casually picked up a ready stance, rolling slightly onto the balls of his feet.

"Sup?"

The Evangelion did nothing in response, but merely watched him. The rope-like tendons pulsed weirdly with life, almost as if they were veins. The ghoulish metal and flesh face seemed to flex at odd intervals, and the rest of the partially armored giant twitched like the homeless drug addict that he and Kensuke had once found hanging out in the wooded park where the bespectacled boy liked to play army.

"So, how's the synchronization test going for you? Everything cool?"

The Evangelion twitched again, before letting loose a dreadful wail, a high-pitched keening sound that immediately reminded the boy of the Angels.

"Aw, shit..." he started, backing up as the Evangelion's face twisted with strange fluidity, reshaping to become the all too familiar skull mask, as the vein like webbing oozed and melted out over the rest of its form, creating something that looked to be a blend of Evangelion and Angel, like Unit-02 and the Third Angel had hatefucked and this was their offspring. Slimy gray flesh with black bone armor stood before him, looking like and Evangelion apart from the mask and lack of shoulder fins. Toji kept backing up as it spread its arms, the arm span too wide for a human, out as if for a hug.

MORTAL! REJOICE, FOR I BRING GLAD TIDINGS! YOU ARE TO EXPERIENCE COMPLETION! YOUR SONG WILL BE ADDED TO MY OWN, AND WE SHALL MERGE WITH THE GREAT MOTHER OF ALL!

"Oh, fuck me." Toji said as the Angel began to approach him. "Is that what happened? My Evangelion turned into an Angel?"

I HAVE USURPED THE SHADOW THAT YOU HAVE TRIED TO BLASHPEME WITH, AND WITH IT WE SHALL MERGE WITH THE GREAT MOTHER. OUR TASK IS COMPLETE, THE GREAT OTHER DESTROYED, AND NOW WE WILL RETURN TO THE MOTHER.

"The other?" Toji asked, starting to circle around, keeping his distance from the enemy. "What fucking other? What are you even on about?"

JOINING WITH THE PERFECT LIGHT OF MY SOUL. MERGE THE MEASURE OF YOUR SONG WITH THAT OF MINE. IT IS AN OFFER THAT NONE BEFORE HAVE HAD. DO YOU NOT WISH FOR COMPLETION? LET US SING THE SONG OF OUR UNITY, AND BECOME MORE THAN WHAT WE ARE. TOGETHER WE WILL DEFEAT AND CAST DOWN THE SHADOW THAT STANDS BEFORE US, AND LAY OPEN THE WAY TO THE MOTHER, AND HAVE COMPLETION.

Comprehension partially dawned on Toji. "Oh, shit, you're fighting Asuka, aren't you? Unit-02?" He shook his head, trying to think, clearing away the cobwebs that had filled his mind. "I'm dead, aren't I. I'm dead, and you're trying to eat my soul. This is some fucked up shit." He grinned at the Angel, even as he crossed his arms, abandoning the fighting stance he had adopted. "Well, you're fucked!" he gaily called out, chuckling at the Angel. "I mean, yeah it sucks that I'm a goner, but man, you've got another thing coming if you think that she'll let you just waltz into NERV and initiate Third Impact. I mean, shit, she's going to wipe the floor with you, and then she'll tell you all about what you did wrong, and how much of a failure you are! Dude, she's going to fucking dissect you, and write a paper on what you look like from the inside, and how that correlates to how much of a disappointment you are as an enemy."

Still grinning, Toji shook his head at the Angel, which had somehow begun to look confused. "At least she'll be the one killing you. I still might get a funeral out of this, some ashes for my family instead of just a photograph. I mean, if the Shin-man was awake, he'd have obliterated you before we could even have this fucked up conversation. He has a history, you know, of ruining your guy's shit."

YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND, MORTAL. YOU ARE STILL ALIVE, AND IN PARTIAL CONTROL OF OUR SYSTEM. I REQUIRE YOU TO JOIN YOUR SONG WITH MINE SO THAT I MIGHT WIPE AWAY THE BLASHEMOUS SHADOW AND ATTAIN COMPLETION. IF YOU WILL NOT JOIN YOUR SONG TO MINE, I MUST DROWN OUT YOUR SONG AND PUT OUT THE LIGHT OF YOUR SOUL. IT IS A GREAT HONOR THAT I DO YOU, TO OFFER YOU COMPLETION WITH ME. THERE IS A HOLE THAT RESIDES IN THE SOULS OF ALL YOUR KIND-

"I... I'm not dead?" Toji asked, narrowing his eyes at the foe. " Wait, wait, wait. You need me to just give up and join powers with you, and then go and complete something? This isn't just a weird pit stop on the way to the afterlife?"

THIS IS THE INTERFACE WHERE OUR SOULS CAN RESIDE AND MEET AWAY FROM THE ENTIERTY OF THE PHYSICAL MANIFESTATION OF THE SONG. YOU WERE THE ONE TO CHOOSE WHERE WE MANIFESTED TO MEET. OUR THOUGHTS AND SONGS AND SOULS HAVE POWER HERE IN A MANNER UNLIKE THE OUTER WORLD, WHERE WE CAN ONLY ADJUST AND CHANGE THINGS ON A SMALLER SCALE, AS WE ARE NOT YET COMPLETE.

Toji mulled that over for a second, before flicking his gaze over to the rack of basketballs sitting along one wall. Holding out his hands, he thought about how it felt to hold one of the orange spheres of hard rubber and air. He grinned as one materialized in his hands. Now that he was thinking clearly, he could distantly hear the sounds of a great battle, a fight between titans faintly echoing in the background where before only silence been. "It's like the Matrix up in here." he whispered in awe. "There is no spoon."

With all the ready cruelty of a bored teenager in gym class and all the incensed fury of a warrior asked to turn his back on his comrades, Toji flung the ball as hard as he could at the Angel asking him to betray his friends, family and the human race. Even as the ball ricocheted off the Angel's face, the athletic boy was running to the side, another of the balls instantly in his hands as he took aim again.

"Come on and fight me!" He called out at the monstrous abomination, even as he pelted it with the ball, hitting it square in the chest, causing it to rock back on its pelted heels slightly. "If I can keep you occupied in here, you'll be even weaker out there, not that she'll need it. Besides, I owe you a little something for even daring to ask me to dishonor myself!" He threw a manifested ball at the Angel as it approached him, another instantly appearing in his grip.

Menacing anger emanated from the Angel as it rocked back on its feet as another ball slammed into its face.

FINE. HAVE THE DESTINY OF YOUR CHOICE. CAST ASIDE THE OFFER THAT I HAVE GIVEN YOU AND WELCOME THE CASTIGATION AND DESTRUCTION OF YOUR SOUL. YOU WILL BE CAST INTO THE OUTER DARKNESS, WITH-

Another ball interrupted the Angel's speech, hitting it square in the face.

"Enough talk, shit for brains!" Toji screamed as he sprinted towards the Angel. "Come on, let's die together! Come and try to castigate this, you bird-faced buffoon!"

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Shinji could hear the echoing screams of the Angel even in the deepest parts of NERV, but that was not the source of his terror and gut wrenching panic.

The cages stood empty and alone, the Evangelions all missing.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

The Angel's jaw came apart easily as she applied pressure to it, despite the metal pins and restraining plates that attached it to the rest of the skull. A disgusting mess of liquefied flesh and blood spilled out over her arm as she held aloft her bloody prize. The Angel weakly spasmed, some of the tendons finally breaking against Asuka's hold on the extruding Entry Plug. Dropping the jaw and releasing the plug, she grabbed at the Angel's neck and snapped it with a deep popping sound as vertebrae and spinal cord tore free. The light went out of the four lenses that replaced the hijacked Evangelion's eyes and the rest of the Angel's body went limp in Asuka's arms.

Her face alight with savage joy, she lowered the quivering mess gently to the ground.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Toji landed an effortless jump kick to the Angel's midsection, knocking it to the floor, where they grappled with each other. Both had landed serious blows, but neither were grievously wounded. Toji kept inside the Angel's reach, using its abnormally long arms against it, pummeling its face with short sharp blows, knowing that he had to keep it occupied as long as possible. As they struggled amongst the cast aside basketballs, the sounds of their fight joined with the larger din of the battle in the outer world. Alarms screamed in his ears, as the resounding ring of metal striking metal filled the air.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Shinji sank to the catwalk floor in abject horror. How was he going to fight the Angel without an Evangelion? Even discounting the ability to directly fight the Angel, everything else that NERV had that he could use against it needed him to be in an Evangelion.

He was, for the first time in the longest time, in a position where he could not actually do anything.

Even when swallowed by the Angel, he had been in his Evangelion. He could still fight, even if there was no enemy.

Here he had an enemy, but no means with which to fight.

Clutching his head in his hands, he began to rock back and forth on the catwalk over-top the empty cage where Unit-01 should have been waiting.

"I mustn't run away, I mustn't run away, I mustn't-"

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Bracing her feet against the arms of the Angel, Asuka gripped the Entry Plug with both hands and pulled with a twisting jerk. The metal tube tore free and slide out of the socket, a vast amount of steam accompanying the Entry Plug.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Toji jerked as he felt a strange wrenching sensation at the base of his neck. His eyes rolled up to the back of his head, and vomited all over himself as the Angel took advantage and backhanded him across the gym.

Toji vanished before he hit the wall, and the Angel stood up, looking stronger than it had before, new armor growing over the bruised and bloody flesh.

FINALLY.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

The nurse blanched as she rushed into the room, her eyes flashing across the monitors and instruments. Screaming down the hallway to the other staff already running down towards the boy's room, she rushed to the bed side trying to control his thrashing motions, trying not to slip in the pool of blood being fed from his nose, eyes and ears.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Just as she had gently put the Entry Plug on the ground, she caught a flash of movement out of the corner of her eye. Whirling around, she threw up one arm to intercept the newly revived Angel's strike, the base of its neck a bubbling, roiling mess of regenerating tissue.

"Scheisse! Der Drecksack regeneriert sich schneller, als ich dachte." she snarled to herself, swinging her free arm in to smash the core, reinforced knuckles slamming in against the red orb.

There was a blinding flash of light, and she felt herself flying through the air for a gut wrenching moment, before slamming into one of the walls of the arena.

She looked up in time to see the totally regenerated Angel, complete with skull mask, casually and contemptuously stomp down on the Entry Plug, sending a spray of LCL out the sides.

"Oh, fuck-" Asuka screamed into her microphone, eyes wide with horror and hatred. "Misato, the Angel just-"

"We saw! Get the Angel out of the area! We have recovery teams standing by!" Misato shouted back at the girl, hands gripping the back of Lieutenant Aoba's chair so hard they were turning white.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

"Sir, the surveillance drone crew reports that one of their pilots is dead, killed by the Angel."

The general looked up from the dark suited man sitting in front of his desk to the aide that had just interrupted his meeting.

"How likely is it that they will defeat the Angel?" he asked, leaning back in his chair, flicking his gaze back to the man before him.

"We estimate that the enemy will be destroyed within the hour." Pausing, the aide shot the general a questioning look. "We have those assets on standby. We can have them there in less than ten minutes."

"Go ahead, general," the civilian said. "You wanted a chance to lash out at Ikari, did you not?"

Smiling a tight, cold smile, the general nodded.

"Send in the hogs."

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

With a battle cry of "Fick dich, du Schwein!" Asuka resumed her attack as she and the Angel traded blows, both of them throwing out fists capable of carving through buildings at the other. With Toji out of the picture, Asuka did not have to pull her punches out of worry of causing sympathetic injuries, but also the Angel was now in full command of its capabilities.

While it was based out of an Evangelion, and thus humanoid, it was one much more dangerous than the other humanoid shaped ones they had encountered thus far. Strong, fast, and reactive, it fought in a way that showed that it was no mere beast.

This was a cunning adversary, one who thought and planned and fought with vicious intent.

So engrossed in the task of combat, Asuka almost didn't hear the warning from the command team.

"Radar signatures?" She asked, jumping sharply to the left as a powerful blow deflected off her AT Field, before dropping it to strike back with a harsh jab to the solar plexus. "I'm not picking anything up on my-"

She trailed off as a massive series of sharp blows hammered into her back as a loud, distinctive buzzing roar filled the air.

Muttering a quick "Arschgesicht", she dropped to the ground, rolling in a tumble that tore through a low lying building, getting out of the line of fire.

Overhead, the short stubby form of an A-10 attack aircraft flew overhead, banking off to the right as its partner opened up on the Angel with its Avenger Gatling gun, the dull roar echoing across the battlefield. The Angel's AT Field flared with light as the stream of rounds poured into it with devastating power.

"Those fucking assholes!" She muttered to herself, quickly running through her diagnostics and glancing at the displays, looking for any damage. Fortunately there seemed not to be any real damage, although she was sure that there was going to be something wrong when the technicians got hold of the unit once the battle was over.

The two planes circled around them in wide arcs, starting to move in again to open fire on the Angel, although the redheaded pilot wasn't sure how much their orders allowed for collateral damage and friendly fire. They certainly had taken their first shots where it was obvious that she was going to be in the way.

Of course, they could have been trying to take advantage of the fact the Angel's AT Field would be down, neutralized by her own, if not outright lowered in order to make its attack. There was no immediate harm to her Evangelion, after all.

Scrabbling off to the side, she held her attack for a moment, watching as the attack planes open fire again, a deadly stream of 30mm cannon fire rippling across the golden shield of light held before the Angel, which was turning to track the aircraft as they banked off again as the otherworldly foe raised its arm at the receding shapes.

Sure that this was a precursor to the use of the energy weapon, Asuka sprang forwards, slamming into the Angel's side, hands grasping at the outstretched arm.

A vicious, blood-thirsty grin on her face, she jerked her controls hard, causing the reinforced musculature of the Evangelion to amp up the amount of force her motion started, and rewarded her with a sick, wet cracking sound followed by an outraged scream of pain as she ripped the Angel's arm off at the elbow.

Reeling around, the Angel tried to backhand Asuka, but she ducked underneath the arm, sweeping in close inside its reach. Looping one arm around the Angel's intact arm, trapping it, while dealing short, sharp jabs to the red orb in its midsection as she twisted it around so that the monster's back was presented to the oncoming planes.

The lead attack craft obliged her by opening up with the rotary cannon again, and her grin deepened as she felt the Angel's body jerk violently as it soaked up damage. Her vindictive feelings of triumph vanished as her systems sounded a target lock-on tone, signaling that someone had targeted her with a laser guided munition.

Moments later, her world was replaced with fire as the two five hundred pound JDAM bombs detonated on both her and the Angel.

Alarms went off as system warnings flashed red across her entire display. The five minute timer was already racing down towards zero, the digits flashing their urgent message over everything else. Shaking her head, grateful for the fact that the LCL had protected her from the brunt of the blasts, she cleared all the warnings away with a thought and pressed the attack.

The Angel was in much worse shape than she was, a shredded looking mess of flesh and steel, the skull cracked and blackened, and most of its lower half missing. It raised itself up as best it could, the red orb flickering uncertainly.

Energy leapt across the distance between them, dancing out from the ruins of its remaining arm to slam into her. Yowling in anger and pain, Asuka kicked the slumping figure hard, connecting with the core, smashing through it. Just as she destroyed its orb, the Angel looked up at her, before erupting in the cruciform pillar of light that signaled its death. In that last half-moment of life, Asuka was struck by the apparent complete and utter pitiful disappointment and sadness the alien face had.

Knocked backwards, landing hard against the ruins of the testing site, Asuka raised one hand at the circling aircraft, flipping them her middle finger. Activating her secondary communications suite, she smiled half-heatedly through bloody lips as she contacted Misato.

"Angel's dead. I'm going to take a nap."

She passed out before her commanding officer could reply, the wave of darkness pulling over her like a comfortable blanket.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Rei said nothing to Sub-Commander Katsuragi as they watched the repair crews work on Unit-02. The purple haired commander had been the one to come let her know that her time in confinement was up, as they had reached an agreement with the Diet and JSSDF officials. Commander Ikari had left shortly after the battle for a rare, personal meeting with SEELE. The other three pilots were all in intensive care, and while she would normally want to be as near to Shinji as possible, Sub-Commander Katsuragi wanted her only duty capable pilot within arm's reach in case anything happened. She was taking no chances that SEELE or other groups might make a power play, especially with the Supreme Commander gone and Agent Rouji missing.

Of course, the agent was not actually missing, or at least not in the way that her superior thought. But her line of reasoning was not without merit, and the blue haired girl could accept the woman's decision. It was only a temporary situation, just as was her imprisonment. Soon, very soon, she was sure, her level of control with her cloned bodies would be at the point where she could inhabit two bodies at once, actively controlling them through two separate series of actions.

Unfortunately for her test subject, she could not attend to him as of yet, leaving him to rest under MAGI observation in the imaging device. She would reactivate the clone that sat leaning against the wall watching him soon enough and adjust the parameters of the scan, and run another experiment.

He had not taken the scan of his mind, memories and self well at all. While it was certainly much more in-depth a scan than a simple MRI or even the scans they routinely did of the other pilots, she had been surprised at how he had reacted. She had never had any such reaction. The data would have to be thoroughly investigated later, and the image heavily scrutinized before she felt secure enough in the process to use it on Shinji.

There was no apparent physical damage though, as the man had regained himself shortly after the test had terminated. His continued demands to be released were only to be expected, she noted to herself, but he was also very pleading in his requests for her to never do that to him again. While he did that, though, he refrained from giving her any information that could possibly be of use. If he continued to be uncooperative, she would be forced to try a test with him in an unconscious state. Engrossed in her thoughts, she almost didn't catch the question posed to her by the older woman.

"Do you think you can handle it? If one were to attack before we can get the other Evangelions ready, or the pilots are well enough to fight?"

"I will handle anything that attacks, Sub-Commander." she replied, just louder than a whisper, her voice almost lost in the loud clatter and confusion of the cage. "Unit-00 is ready for combat."

"Alright." The normally chatty woman was certainly not her usual self, even though she was normally quite resilient even in the face of hard fighting and terrible setbacks due to damaged equipment. Even with her admittedly sparse understanding of people, Rei could sense that her commanding officer was not in the mood for the once usual post Angel celebration.

It seemed to the young girl that the general atmosphere at NERV had been getting progressively darker and darker. It had been quite some time since they had celebrated a victory.

To be sure, things were to be considered grim. They had been cut off from several suppliers, support from the UN and the JSSDF, assets overseas were being destroyed to prevent them from being seized by local governments, and SEELE was clearly preparing to make their move. Now that this one had been dealt with, Rei knew that the Commander was anticipating between four and fourteen more Angels, although some sources implied that there were as many as twenty more waiting for their turn at uniting with Lilith.

Rei doubted that the morale of the rest of the organization as a whole was very much higher than the generally exuberant woman's now dour self.

Watching a team as they removed one of the cracked optic pieces from the severely damaged casing, she mulled over the situation. The Sub-Commander had often spoke about the importance of maintaining morale, even, or especially, in dire times and harsh situations. It was important, the raven haired woman had remarked on more than one occasion, to always look on the bright side of life.

Things certainly were dire, Rei reasoned, cold crimson eyes now studying the faces of work crews, who had just spent weeks of time and effort to patch up the Evangelions to working order, only now to have to repair a devastated Unit-02, and not even have Unit-03 anymore at all, what few remains of it now buried deep within the Geo-Front. Moral was definitely low, and in need of raising.

Many of these technicians had sent their families away, out of the city. Some had relocated to other NERV held locations, others to extended families in other towns and cities, away from the fighting, away from any possible incursion against NERV. More than a few had moved into the Geo-Front itself, filling up the dormitories in order to avoid spending time in otherwise empty houses that only served to remind them of those they were separated from.

They would not be receiving any emotional support from that. Their faces were pinched and tired, creases and lines etched into their skin. They were tired, looked ashen and worn out. Their bodies ached with a need for rest, and their souls cried out for sustenance. They were all working themselves to the bone, and deep within herself Rei knew and understood that it could not continue for long. They could not keep at it the way they were.

She was certain that there was nobody else who was even thinking about this at all, so the obvious course of action was that she should organize some manner of morale raising event.

There were, naturally, several obvious flaws to that line of reasoning. For instance, she had no idea how she would go about even beginning to do such a thing. The parties that the Sub-Commander orchestrated had food, beverages, entertainment and activities of uncertain purpose and dubious value. She had a very limited resource base, and she while she largely had run of NERV, she doubted very much that she would be able to obtain the requisite materials in the quantities necessary.

There was also the fact that the other pilots were still in the ICU. They would not benefit from any morale raising event held while they were otherwise occupied, and they would not be able to attend while under medical observation. Any such party would have to wait until they were cleared from the hospital wing.

While she would normally only be concerned with Shinji, and the other pilots at most, she had observed in the past that Sub-Commander Katsuragi had always involved the other components of NERV, especially the command, technical and repair teams. Therefore she would be obligated to take into account the tasks they needed to complete before any such revelry could be had, or at least, incorporate a schedule that allowed for maximum fun and enjoyment to be shared amongst the crews working to repair the Evangelions. All groups had been working hard ever since the incident that had seen her incarcerated, working long shifts around the clock to ensure the living weapons were capable to marching to war as soon as possible.

Nerves were frayed and tempers short, according to the MAGI. There had been more than a few altercations between various personnel, including one earlier in the day that had seen two hospitalized and three locked up. If there appeared to be any sort of 'slight' to a particular group, the potential outcome could actually be detrimental to the organization as a whole, running counter to Rei's intent.

A new level of respect for her commanding officer began to grow in the girl, as she considered the problem facing her. Organizing fun, morale boosting events without detrimental effects to work schedules or the organization's efficiency was hard.

A member of the security team quickly approached them from the far side of the catwalk. "The Second Child is being released from the ICU, ma'am," he reported. She's awake and the doctors say that while she should maximize bed rest for the three days, she's cleared for light duty."

A small smile broke across Misato's troubled face, a small weight lifted from her shoulders. "Good! Good! Is there any word on Suzahara or Shinji?"

The black suited man shook his head. "The Third Child remains non-responsive, although there is abnormal brain activity. The Fourth Child is still in surgery."

As quickly as the smile had appeared, it vanished. "Well, it's some good news at least," she said with a sigh. Turning to her only combat ready pilot, she smiled again, although as Rei studied her face, it was apparent that the woman was feeling worn out. "Let's go see Asuka."

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Asuka sighed as she lowered herself into the steaming water of the bathtub, trying to relax. She was sore all over, but apart from a mild concussion, she was fine. Fierce pride boiled up from within her chest, causing her to smile at the ceiling. Unit-02, for all that it was now some mystery, had done what it was supposed to - or at least, what she thought it was supposed to - which was to protect her while allowing her to fight the Angel and win. Some level of damage was to be accepted, even expected, in these fights.

While she was still cross with the JSSDF's audacity in not waiting for her to clear the line of fire before opening up with their attack, not to mention the use of the five-hundred pound bombs, it should at least get them to shut up about the earlier incident. It should also help pound it into their heads that they needed the Evangelions, and NERV, although it shouldn't need to be a lesson they kept getting, over and over again. What with the other Angels and the military's poor showings at each step, it should be no question that the Evangelion was the only thing that could kill them.

But getting the JSSDF and the UN to play ball was all up to Shinji's father, although she had her doubts at how good the man was at diplomatic relations where he didn't have a gun to the other party's head, even with the obvious necessity of the Evangelions. The man was brutal and cold, uncaring and probably more than a little insane, for all that he had spearheaded the defense of the whole world.

Of course, you probably had to be all of those things in order to even think and operate at a level where such a thing was even feasible. It would explain a lot of things about him, although there was still a lot of weird fucked up shit about him.

Like how he had sent his son away, but then adopted Rei out of nowhere, even though it was quite a stretch of the concept of adoption. She hadn't ever heard it to describe a kid living on their own the way Rei was.

Being raised by Gendo Ikari was probably what it would be like to be raised by wolves. Machiavellian wolves, with a side of Napoleon.

Not that that was entirely a bad thing, though. If she had had half the run of the place Rei did when she was a child, then things would definitely be a lot different around here. It just spoke volumes about how much of an underachiever Rei was, despite all other evidence to the contrary.

Her ruminations were interrupted by a scratching sound at the door, prompting her to toss one of the soaps at it. "Get out of here, Pen-Pen!"

As the penguin scampered off into the rest of the apartment, frowned at the wall, thinking.

Toji was out of surgery, and still asleep. The doctors had ended up removing his legs, and they had to replace most of his pelvis. They were already making him new legs, custom full length ones to match Shinji's partial replacement. He would walk again, and if that had been the only damage done, he could also have continued to be the athlete that he had prided himself on being.

The thing was, though, while he had escaped with his life, there had been a lot of damage to his spine. It had been broken in eight places, and they had needed to fuse several vertebrae, and replace other ones outright. It had been a miracle that he hadn't died on scene, or even during the almost eighteen hours of surgery. As it was, he was scheduled to go back under the knife the next day, this time to work on his left shoulder, or what was left of it. It was being cleared away and getting replaced like his legs.

He would live, and he would be able to be moderately active, but the doctors and physicians were doubtful of his ability to be as active as he had been. His spinal column just wouldn't be able to handle it. Oh, there was some talk of LCL regeneration experiments, but while that might keep him out of pain, his spine was a lost cause.

He wasn't ever going to pilot again, though, even if they had been able to cleanse Unit-03 of Angelic taint and keep it as an Evangelion.

Ducking her head underwater, she slowly blew out her breath while counting, trying to clear her head of the depressing thoughts. When Hikari found out about it, she was going to have an aneurysm.

Wincing at the thought, she surfaced, taking a few deep breaths. Shinji had had an actual aneurysm at some point during the battle, and began hemorrhaging blood into his brain. They had managed to save him however, which was no small miracle in and of itself, considering everything else that had been going on at the time. He was out of danger, or so they claimed, but was still in a coma, although they had been reading strange brain activity when they had left the hospital to come home, with Misato practically dragging Wonder-girl behind them, not wanting to leave her out of arm's reach.

All in all, the only truly good thing that had come of the day was the blue haired annoyance being released from solitary, the JSSDF formally lifting all charges and dropping their claims.

Sighing, the depressed redhead sank back into the water. The fact that she had killed the Angel didn't even matter, especially in the light of everything else. It was getting harder and harder, she thought to herself, sinking back down under the water. She could see it on everyone's faces. The command crews, the technicians, the repair teams. Even the people not directly connected to Project E, like Section Two, the medical teams, or the supply groups, or even the janitorial staff.

They were getting worn out, worn thin. It was getting harder and harder to summon up the energy to do anything. They were badly in need of a break, and there was no sign that they were going to get one any time soon. This one had come barely two weeks after the last, and each had taken a devastating toll on NERV just by themselves, let alone the fact that NERV's global operations were being attacked and in danger. Plus, the loss of a pilot and an Evangelion were devastating.

All evidence showed that the frequency of the Angel attacks were increasing, but they had not been able to pin down a pattern as yet. They could only assume that the next one could arrive as early as the end of the week, this based on the arrivals of the last three Angels, although that pattern was throw off by the one directly before the third to last.

Resurfacing, she ran a hand through her hair. Even keeping track of the damn things was tiring.

Staring at the tiled wall, Asuka's thoughts wandered off, mulling over the problems they faced, sliding down deeper into the water. Moments later, she shot up out of the water as sirens wailed across the war torn city. Scrambling out of the tub, she grabbed a towel as she ran out of the bathroom, even as Rei rushed up to her.

"An Angel has been spotted, closing rapidly on Tokyo-3," the pale girl reported, offering a mismatched pair of jeans and shirt to the still dripping redhead. "Sub-Commander Katsuragi is starting her car."

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Lights and siren wailing from the top of her recently modified sports car, Misato sped through the city streets towards the waiting checkpoint, swerving around other vehicles and small crowds of pedestrians, as what members of the populace that remained hurried for shelter. The Angel, while not the largest they had ever seen, but still an imposing and somewhat bulky figure, could be glimpsed flying towards them, seemingly wrapped up in sheets or bandages, leaving only the skull mask revealed. This one's face was different, the graceful and inquisitive bird's skull gone, replaced by a more humanoid visage, although twisted into a mournful grimace.

The MAGI were trying to scan it, according to the radio chatter coming from Central, although they were meeting with mixed results. It was armored, and had four limbs, and was definitely an Angel, but other than that, they had nothing.

"It looks like it should be in range of the perimeter guns." Asuka offered, breaking the tense silence in the car. Rei nodded, never taking her eyes from her window.

Almost as if they had heard her comment, the long range defensive guns began to fire, flashes of light cutting through the darkness of early evening, answered by flashes of yellow hexagons in front of the Angel as its AT Field flared into life.

It was hard not to wince at each shot, as each round spent cost money that NERV would have to spend to replace, but they had to slow down or at least distract the Angel until they could get loaded up into the Evangelions.

So far there had been no response from the Angel except for its defensive field, but that was of small comfort to the women in the car as they sped their way to the fortress.

"It is still moving quickly." Rei commented, watching their enemy, "it has not altered its pace or direction."

"It knows what it wants." Misato said grimly, hands tight on the wheel. "We're almost there."

A bright, sudden flash of light split the darkness, and the earth trembled violently, the car jerking to the side.

"Holy shit!" Asuka screamed, eyes wide. "Did you see that flash? That was a fucking energy blast!"

"Yes," Rei answered. "It seems that it is in the same category as the Fifth Angel. It's direct energy weapon is much more powerful than those of the others."

Misato turned up the volume on the radio, calling back to the command crew to read back their last transmission.

"I say again, I say again!" the frantic voice of one of the second shift crew members answered, "That shot tore through eighteen layers of armor!"

The car fell into hushed silence.

"We are so fucked."

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

They had forgone the modesty of the locker room, the girls each tearing off clothing as they ran down the catwalks to their waiting Evangelions, a pair of techs each at the open Entry Plugs there with plug suits. Practically jumping into her suit, Asuka tossed her still damp hair up out of the way of the plug suit's neck, letting the tech seal her in. Hitting the button on her wrist, she darted up the last few stairs to the waiting cockpit as her suit compacted around her, leaping into the already filled tube.

Still getting situated in the throne like chair as the plug sank into the war machine, she tried to relax as synchronization started, begrudging every wasted second. There was a muffled explosion, accompanied by another tremor, and she swore as an error message flashed across her screen.

"Control, I'm reading an error on the left rear AT Field projector. I'm taking it offline, and cross loading the difference, but I'm going to have to keep the Angel on my front. I'll take up support fire, and Ayanami will need to be on point this time around."

"Acknowledged." Rei replied over the net. "All systems are functioning properly. Proceeding to weapons station one."

Asuka swore under her breath as she pulled free from the last restraints, moving to the second weapons station, when another shock ripped through the fortress.

"Evangelions! The Geo-Front's armor is almost penetrated. Advance into Geo-Front instead of exit lifts!"

Swearing again, louder and angrier, she grabbed as many of the weapons as she could, and ran down the hall towards the opening doors. The artificial artificial lights were ramping up towards noon brightness, allowing her to easily pick out the dark stain on the ceiling where the Angel was quickly blasting its way through, making short work of the armored plates of steel, concrete and dirt.

Cursing as she got into position, she laid out her armory, and threw another look up at the ceiling, before sprinting back towards the entrance doors to the cages.

"Leave the doors open until I say!" she commanded over the radio. "I'm getting more guns. I have a feeling I'm going to need them."

Scooping up another armload, she ran back to her chosen spot, looking around for her wing-man, but the cyclopean giant was nowhere to be seen. She tossed the weapons to the ground, and quickly hooked up the massive belts of ammunition into the two machine guns.

"Control, close my exit. Ayanami, are you ready? Where are you?"

"I am in position, Pilot-Captain," came the terse response. "I am ready."

Shaking her head, she decided to drop it. The girl was reliable enough. "Misato, do we have anything else on this bastard?"

"The energy weapon emits from its right eye socket," Misato replied from within the command room, watching the camera feeds. "Other than that, nothing new." She frowned as the Angel's AT Field flashed again and again, the only sign that it acknowledged the rings of guns and missiles that were firing on it. "All weapons stations, cease firing; no need to waste any more ammunition than we need."

The Angel was floating over a small, smoking crater it had been hammering with the powerful energy blasts, still wrapped up in the white sheet like material. The mysterious figure seemed to instill an uneasy dread within her, although that could just have been from the fact that its energy blasts were devastatingly strong, but she knew from the way that her gut had tightened up and gone cold that this one was going to be bad.

"Girls, I want you to hit it hard and fast. We're only allowing it into the Geo-Front because of time constraints - kill it hard, kill it fast, and kill it dead."

Before the two pilots could respond, the Angel let loose the final blast that would allow it entry into the secluded and verdant garden below. Smoke and debris exploded out in a spray as part of the dome's ceiling caved in. Asuka waited the briefest of moments before she opened with two of the Evangelion sized machine guns, sending almost twenty rounds a second up into the smoke, setting her sensors into a rapid cycle of different settings, hoping to catch sight of her foe.

The sound of the twin guns was deafening in the mostly enclosed space, a rolling sheet of thunder and roaring chaos that drowned out all other sounds, even that of the huge brass casings falling to the ground in an ever growing pile before her. The sustained sound crossed the line of being merely an audible vibration traveling through the air, and became a terrific, rapid throb that reverberated throughout the entirety of the Geo-Front, shaking the men and women who rushed about their vital errands. Inside the shelters, children screamed while the adults looked at each other in stark fear.

The first sign Asuka had of the Angel was a glowing field of burning gold that slowly pressed against the normally deadly stream of depleted uranium that beat against it like a glacier moving through a mountain range. Howling in fury, she ignored the warning messages that flashed in her eyes about the heat building up on the barrels, pushing the weapons to their very limits, waiting for the ammunition counter to hit zero.

As soon as the guns clicked empty, she was dropping them and snatching up one of two missile launchers, her fingers triggering them almost as soon as she brought it up to her shoulder. All four missiles launched, the combined force of their back blast still not enough to cause her to recoil. Dumping the pod to the right, she had the second up before the first set of missiles impacted against the Angel's AT Field.

Inside the control room, Maya was unable to keep from pointing out to the group that the redheaded pilot-captain's synchronization had jumped up several points, to a new group record of fifty nine percent. While quiet, her voice rang with pride.

Fire in her eyes, Asuka dumped the next four missiles at the Angel, her towering figure a crimson blur as she grabbed a pallet rifle, bringing it up to her shoulder and opening fire as her second batch of rockets broke against the glowing shield, just barely audible over the dying echoes of the sustained machine gun fire.

"Die! Die! Die!" she howled, dumping the entire magazine of rounds up at the still advancing foe. The grimacing face was just barely visible behind the bright shield as the Angel continued its sedate advance. It was still high above the surface where Asuka stood, defiantly sending destruction towards it, as inexorable and uncaring as an advancing glacier. "Just die already!"

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

The nurse looked up from her comatose charge towards the ceiling as the terrible vibrations and roaring thunder died away, hoping that the worst was over. She didn't notice the door sliding open, and felt the soft punches in her chest before she understood the significance of the dull coughs from the room's entrance. Shuddering, she looked over at the black suited men, one hand going to her gunshot wounds, the other grasping for the bed's rail as the strength went out of her legs. Falling to the floor, she gasped, trying to breath, pulling herself up and reaching for the emergency call button, ignoring the pistol in her pocket.

She heard one of the three men swear in a foreign language as he rushed towards them, kicking at her, but he was too late. She pressed the button in with all her strength, feeling it connect as the man pulled her away, tossing her to the side as the others started pulling the boy from the gurney and manhandling him into a wheelchair. With her last bit of life, she pulled the small subcompact out, and shot the man who killed her in the back.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Gendo frowned as a small red light began to blink on his desk, drawing his attention away from the battle on the main viewer. Picking up the phone, he dialed the nurse station in the pilot's medical wing.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Without any warning, as it usually was with the Angels, the leering skull seemed to wink as a burning line of energy leapt from one of the dark eye sockets towards Asuka, who threw up her AT Field, neutralizing and diverting the majority of the blast, but was still thrown backwards, plowing through part of the meticulously tended forest that surrounded the glass pyramid of NERV Central.

As the red titan went sprawling backwards, the Unit-00 leapt into view behind and to the left of the Angel, two progressive knives in hand, the arc of the jump bringing her down straight onto the powerful enemy. Inside the Entry Plug, Rei leaned forward, her normally placid face twisted with concentration, intent on killing her foe before further damage could be done.

Her frown of concentration became a wide eyed look of shock as the Angel shot off to the right at an almost unbelievable speed, causing her to miss the landing. Twisting in midair, she threw one knife at the Angel, bringing her legs in to land in a crouch, gouging a great divot in the earth. Springing forwards, she charged at the Angel as Asuka rolled to her feet, bringing the rifle up to resume firing.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Still rocking back and forth, chanting under his breath, Shinji screamed as a pair of arms embraced him from behind, as a tall woman drew him in for a hug.

"Oh, Misato!" the boy exclaimed, starting to turn around. "I couldn't find anyone, and the Angel is- is..." his words died into a sputter as he stared at the woman who had hugged him. It was not Misato, but a tall, pale woman whose features seemed to shift and change every few seconds. She looked like the memory of his own mother, but mixed with Misato, with Asuka, with Rei, with Lieutenant Ibuki, with Dr. Akagi, with Hikari...

She was weeping, twin trails of orange running down her face, which was twisted with pain and sorrow.

I will be true to my promise, but you must wake up, my child. Wake up, and leave some of your pain with me, for this is all my fault.

She squeezed him against herself, tightening the embrace even as he flailed about, trying to escape.

Shinji shut his eyes as he felt his flesh begin to sink into that of the woman's, and a strange euphoric rush filled him.

Wake up, Shinji Ikari. They need your help, and you are in great danger.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Shinji awoke suddenly, but silently, his eyes snapping open but not knowing where he was. The last thing that he remembered was fighting the Angel, and going into the shadow, but that was it. He was in a moving car, he knew, with three men, who were all shouting at each other, but barely able to hear them over the familiar din of an Angel fight.

"We need to get to the extraction point before Ikari realizes that we've taken him! Even with this shit going on, it won't be long until someone notices what we did!"

He jerked upright out of the slump he had been in as he instantly realized what the driver had meant, one hand fumbling for the seat belt release, and the other going for the door handle, his limbs feeling sluggish after being asleep for so long.

"Oh, shit, he's fucking awake!" the man sitting next to their captive in the rear seat exclaimed, roughly grabbing at the boy's shoulder, slamming him back against the seat. "Get the tranq!"

Thrashing as best he could to get out of the man's grip, Shinji's eyes locked on to the three titans battling in the near distance, a new terror gripping him even more surely than his assailant.

They were fighting inside the Geo-Front, currently rampaging through the lovingly tended forest, almost a few strides from either the central highway or from the pyramid that served as the main office.

Free of the seat-belt, he lunged for the door, hoping to somehow get out of the current situation, but the driver swerved suddenly as Unit-02 was thrown back from the Angel, taking out a chunk of the road.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

"Fuck!" Asuka screamed, leaping back to her feet rushing back towards the Angel, picking up another pallet rifle. "Misato, what the fuck is this Section-2 car doing out here? I thought we evac'ed everyone!"

Misato frowned in confusion, keying in the girl's a/v feed, watching the car swerve around the giant and continue on it's unknown business.

"I'm not sure what they're doing, but I'll find-"

"STOP THAT CAR!" Gendo bellowed from his throne above the chaos of the command pits. The whole of the room looked up at him in shock. He was standing, leaning against the desk, his phone gripped in one gloved hand, the other pointing at the car. "They have kidnapped my son!"

"What?" Asuka said, not quite sure she had understood the background conversation properly. "Misato, did the Commander just say that someone's kidnapped Shinji? Who would-"

Unit-00's head twisted towards the black car speeding along from where it battled the Angel.

"Oh, shit." Asuka said. "Rei! Don't you fucking dare! Keep on the Angel! Kill it!" Spinning around, she scrambled after the car.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Rei slashed at the Angel with her knives, her eyes beginning to glow. She did not have time to deal with the Angel. This was taking too long.

Shinji was being abducted.

Shinji was in danger.

She did not have time for this.

Her eye twitched as the Angel ducked between her an (and) the car that was escaping towards the far end of the cave, the Pilot-Captain in close pursuit.

Her face twisted for the briefest moment in fury before she reestablished the practiced and ingrained stillness to her features, as her synchronization rate shot up several points.

One must never lose their composure, no matter how dire the circumstances. Never let them see what you felt; this was the wisdom of the Supreme Commander.

She slammed the Angel to the side with all her might, sending it rolling over the ground. Turning, she started to chase after the car, ignoring the cries coming over the communication net.

Before she had taken a second step, however, she was sent sprawling as the Angel's energy blast washed over her AT Field.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

"Fucking knock it off, kid! This is for your own good!" the agent shouted at Shinji as the two struggled in the back seat, as the front passenger tried to stick the boy with the hypodermic needle.

"Oh, shit." the driver moaned, swerving as a the red titan pursued them, effortlessly closing in on them. "They noticed!"

As they jostled for position, Shinji felt the hard shape of the man's pistol through the jacket, tucked into the quick-draw holster on his belt. Twisting around, he slipped his hand in, awkwardly closing in on the pistol grip.

He felt more than heard the man's sharp intake of breath. "Don't do it, kid!"

Shinji hesitated only for a moment.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

"I have gunshots inside the car!" Asuka shouted, her voice strangely cold and angry as the black sedan spun off the road, red blood coating the inside of the windshield. "Oh, god, he's alive. He's alive!" She called into the microphone as a rear door opened, and the boy spilled out, covered in blood. "He doesn't have his leg!"

"We've got recovery inbound! Return to assist Rei!" Misato ordered, quickly scanning the feed of the boy as he weakly crawled away from the car on all threes, vomiting.

"Roger!" Asuka replied, before switching on her external speakers. "Shinji! Help is on the way! I've got to go help kill the Angel!" She waited until he waved one arm at her, and threw a thumbs up at the boy.

Picking up the car, she flung it at the others, changing back to her internal communications. "Wonder-girl! Heads up, fastball special coming in!" she warned her wing-man, opening fire on automobile as it neared the Angel, showing both belligerents with burning fuel and shrapnel. Unable to trigger its AT Field, the Angel warbled as fire cascaded over it. It retreated, pulling back for the first time since it had appeared, as the tightly would bandage like wrapping loosened up, falling off from its squat, powerful looking form.

The Evangelions appeared to be modeled after a very lithe human body, and several of the Angels had been roughly humanoid in shape. This one looked to be from a shorter, more muscular stock than the others had been, but oddly enough, where there should have been arms there were only short nubs that appeared to connected to the loose wrapping sheets.

Those sheets suddenly began to coil up tightly, a great wind following them as they were drawn into the Angel's body.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Shinji ignored the doctor's questions as he watched the others fighting in the distance through the window of the ambulance as they sped out of the danger zone and back to safety, sucking in a sharp breath as Unit-00 went flying back, struck in the chest by one of the Angel's strange appendages, the uprooted tree that the pilot had been using as a weapon thrown into the glass covered building.

"Is Unit-01 operational?" he asked again, panic in his voice, his heart racing.

"Yes, but we need to make sure that you're alright! You've been in a coma, and there's the question of mental contamination. We need to-"

Unit-00 crossed into view again, leaping over the ambulance as it hurried back towards the central pyramid. One arm was cut off, blood and oil spraying out in a dying stream as the internal emergency components kicked into gear to minimize loss of pressure, but not fast enough to keep from dousing the vehicle with foul fluids, prompting the driver to curse.

Shinji turned to look the medic in the eyes, fire in his own and steel in his voice. "We need to get me to Unit-01."

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

"Damage is minimal- but I must retreat to retrieve another weapon." Rei reported into the communications net. "I will return momentarily."

"Hurry up!" the Pilot-Captain ordered as she dodged one of the same blows that had cost Rei and arm. "If you're not back soon I don't know if I can keep him contained!"

"I will return momentarily." Rei repeated, keying in a silent command to the MAGI, telling them to bring a weapon up to the nearest delivery point. The supercomputers acknowledged the command, spinning into action, loading the specified device into the device delivery system, and routing it to her in a matter of seconds.

Gripping her remaining hand around the shaft of the lance, Rei allowed herself a small smile.

Is this the one? Unit-00 asked her younger sister, pain and annoyance present in equal amounts. Is this the atomic lance? The war machine sounded eager, eager and ready to glorify in the destruction promised by the modified weapon.

Turning them around, Rei couched the long weapon, bending into a sprinter's starting stance. Lining up on the Angel, she nodded. "This is the one." Carefully watching the emergency vehicle speed back towards her position and the questionable safety of the inner fortress, she nodded with satisfaction. "The Angel is powerful; capable of withstanding sustained assault from conventional weapons and tactics." As Unit-00 exploded into motion, charging back into the fray, her eyes blazing with crimson fire. "Let our next experiment see how it reacts to Science."

Unit-00's howl of vicious exultation was lost the in din of battle, but brought a small smile to her sister's face, one that was reflected across all of her drones.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

"Where is that girl?" Asuka complained, leaping into the air over top one of its 'arms', firing both of her spike throwers at the Angel, and peppering it with the last few rounds in her pallet rifle. "Central, I'm all out of ammo. I'm switching my AT Field to full front and going in."

"Please step aside, Pilot-Captain."

Unit-00 thundered past the red Evangelion in a white blur, and Asuka barely had time to see the long weapon in the giant's arm leveled at their foe.

"What's that weapon? You could have gotten my sword!" Asuka screamed in rage, chasing after the other girl back into the devastated forest.

Rei ignored the belittling remarks, and instead activated the AT Field control circuits that she had integrated into the lance, drawing her AT Field into and then projecting it out of the lance, far ahead of her.

The Angel's AT Field flared into life, the powerful force field shining with bright light and then dying as the focused AT Field tore through it.

"What?!" Asuka bit off, eyes narrowing as she watched a hole tear through the golden shield. "Oh, you clever little minx!" she crowed exultantly. "You copied my sword! When did you do that?"

Deep inside the control room, Gendo turned to look at his friend, a troubled frown on his face. "When did she do that?"

Kozo shrugged, his face a perfect mix of worry and amusement.

Rei felt the tip of the lance hit home against the Angel's front, the barbed tip hitting and punching through otherwise unyielding armor. "Eyes," she announced over the net, but keeping her own open, wanting to watch. She triggered the control circuit, sending the fatal command to the modified W33 howitzer shell that formed the tip of the lance while reestablishing her AT Field in front of her as an angled wedge.

The tactical nuclear artillery shell detonated with the force of ten kilotons of TNT, two thirds the amount of the bomb that had been dropped on Hiroshima. The blast wave broke against her AT Field, which she knelt behind, the devastating release of energy washing around her.

Asuka swore as she staggered back, triggering her own energy shield. "Wonder-girl, you crazy bitch! Was that a fucking nuke?" She set her system to scan through the different settings again, before dropping her AT Field to try pinging the area the way Shinji was able, but still finding herself unable to shape the waveform properly.

Moving back to the visible light spectrum, she stared out at a smoking, dust choked haze that was much darker than before. Switching back to thermals, she scanned the ceiling of the vast dome, shaking her head. "Rei, they are going to be pissed at you... I think you wiped out most of the ceiling and the lower levels."

"If we can confirm the Angel has been defeated, it will not matter."

"Rei," Asuka said, shaking her head, "this goes beyond the normal situation. You can't just detonate a nuke and not expect there to be some sort of inquiry!"

"This Angel posed a threat far greater than any prior. It was the first to successfully gain entrance to the Geo-Front." She paused, looking around at the destruction she had wrought on the very place she fought so hard to protect, a small twinge in her stomach. "It was an acceptable, if unfortunate, necessity."

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

The shock wave slammed into the pyramid, destroying almost every window on the building, although the squat structure remained otherwise undamaged. If the exterior offices had not been evacuated along with the 'outside', the death toll among the workers would have been catastrophic. As it was, everyone was deeper inside the fortified location, and those civilian shelters that sat near the dome were empty, all occupants having been redirected to ones further away from the Geo-Front itself, in the event of a highly energetic Angel death.

Even so, to say that the use of Rei's atomic lance came as no small surprise to the command crews and the command staff was a gross understatement.

"What the fuck was that?!" Misato screamed, pulling herself off the floor with help of one of the bolted in place technician chairs. "Did she just set off a nuke? Who fucking authorized that?" She glared up at Gendo and Kozo, who merely shrugged, not even trying to play the incident off as something that had been planned. "Re-establish comms, now!"

"Nothing on the scans! Trying to ascertain damage to internal systems!"

"Evangelions are still active! No damage reported!"

"Communications restored!"

"Rei! What the hell did you just do?" Misato snapped, eyes scanning the greatly diminished flow of information that danced across the screens.

"I have dealt with the Angel, Sub-Commander." Rei's voice, in the same breathless whisper it always was, crackled back over the speakers, making an odd counterpoint to the havoc she had just unleashed.

"Rei..." Misato ground out, half listening to the others as they reported the varying levels of damage done to their defenses and systems, "what exactly did you use?"

"I used a modified W33 shell from the stocks of emergency weapons." There was a short pause, and then Rei continued speaking, as if prompted by someone else. "I deemed it a necessary precaution as this Angel posed a great threat to NERV, and was not responding favorably to our current tactical approach."

Misato made a strangling noise somewhere deep in the back of her throat, but Gendo spoke up, cutting whatever response she was about to make off. "There will be time for further investigation later, Sub-Commander. Let us first ascertain if the Angel has been defeated or not." Lowering his voice, he turned to his friend. "Also, see if Shinji made it inside before the blast."

Kozo nodded, turned and left without a sound.

Eins, Zwei, Drei, Vier!

Even with the massive hole where the Angel had gained entry into the Geo-Front and the ventilation fans turned to maximum, it took almost twenty minutes to clear out the cloud of dust and smoke from the giant underground cavern. As the haze began to clear, the full power of Rei's modified weapon became apparent. Gone were the lush forest and fields, and the deep lake that was home to the navel destroyer was almost empty. What trees that had not been flattened were burning in small clumps that dotted the terrain.

But as disheartening as that was, it was nothing compared to the crater in which stood the regenerating Angel.

A little over three quarters of it remained, although a quarter of it looked to be freshly regenerated material mixed with the twisted ruins of its old body. A glowing field surrounded the Angel, and they could watch the burned flesh grow and rebuild.

"Well, fuck." Asuka announced, flopping back against her seat. "It's regenerating, and regenerating fast. Look at that shit!"

"Advance and neutralize the field." Misato commanded, watching the situation unfolding before her with hate in her eyes. "Destroy it while it's weak."

Asuka grinned, but her heart wasn't in it. "Yes sir!" she replied, picking up her sword. The Evangelions has reequipped themselves, acquiring more weapons, and Asuka had picked up her sword even though it was still riskier for her to enter melee with the sub-optimal rear projectors. "C'mon Rei, let's go finish what we started."

"Yes." Asuka's smile warmed as she heard the annoyed undertones in the other girl's voice, who clearly was put out by the fact that her little toy hadn't even killed the Angel. "How do you want to do this one? Tight angle fields to take down its defenses, followed by a sword to its guts?"

"That will be acceptable."

Still grinning, Asuka refocused her AT Field into a tight narrow band, pushing it out ahead of her to erode a path through the Angel's own field, aided by Rei. "Hey, at least Shinji woke up. We've got that going for us!"

While the command team was being tight lipped, and with Misato being very unhappy with them at the moment, they knew that the boy seemed to be in good health, even if unable to remember anything after being sucked into the Dirac sea of the 14th Angel's body. They currently were running a full battery of tests on him, and he wasn't going to be getting into Unit-01 anytime soon, despite his protests that they needed his help.

Which they might have needed, Asuka admitted to herself as she watched their fields working their way through the Angel's glimmering defense, had Rei's weapon not been as successful as it was. Instead though, he was having samples drawn and they were about to give the final stroke to the latest threat to the future of humanity. That was what he got, though, for hanging out in comas all of the time. You missed out on stuff, being asleep like that.

She wondered if they had told him about Toji yet.

"Enemy AT Field is down," Asuka announced, advancing the final distance, pulling up her sword into an overhead stance, ready to strike the Angel's vulnerable core. Now was not the time to dwell on the unreliability of the boy. Now was the time to kill the enemy.

There was a sudden flash of light and almost too fast to see blur of movement, and then Asuka screamed in sudden pain, clutching at her shoulders as her Evangelion's arms fell to the sides. Eyes rolling up into the back of her head as she howled in pain, beating her feet against the foot board of the Entry Plug, Asuka missed the bandage like arms of the Angel retracting, and couldn't hear the shouted warnings over the communications net.

"Cut the synchronization!" Misato screamed as the Angel surged with new life, "Rei, kill it! Kill it NOW!"

Rei's only response was to charge at the Angel, shoving the horrifically wounded Unit-02 out of the way of an arm aimed at its neck, taking the blow herself, wincing as the top half of one shoulder fin fell away.

The Angel danced out of reach of the spear she held, trying to dart around her to strike at the fallen Evangelion. One extended arm missed its target again as Rei forced the Angel to move back again as she lunged forward, jabbing the spear at her enemy's midsection.

Beginning to grow very angry at the grotesquely grimacing Angel, Rei felt her sister's mind pushing into her own as their synchronization grew stronger. Her own eyes began to glow with a red light that matched the glow of the crimson orb she was targeting, and new strength and speed flowed through her as Unit-00's movements became more fluid, beginning to blur with the same speed the Angel showed.

Inside the control room, Misato motioned to Maya. "Lieutenant, get Ritsuko on the phone. Have her get Shinji to Unit-01. Also have the emergency crews get Unit-01 prepped to go out."

Maya spun back to her station, already working on it as Misato returned her attention to the screen. "Send the eject signal to Unit-02. Get recovery teams on it, and get Asuka to the medical wing."

Rei smiled with relief as she heard the sound of the emergency ejection rockets sound as Unit-02's Entry Plug shot free of the stricken Evangelion. Pressing the attack, she shot the spear at the Angel, catching its midsection as it tried to back further away.

The Angel bellowed in anger, sending both thin, deadly sheets at the pale Evangelion. Rei deftly avoided them, and darted forward to grab hold of the spear handle and smash one armored fist into the grimacing face. Shoving all her weight against the gored Angel, she knocked it to the ground, pinning it in place. Reaching up to the undamaged fin, she drew the progressive knife stored there, and brought it down against the red orb.

Her tight, angry smile vanished as an armored shield sprang up into place over the core, her knife shattering against the bone like plate. The Angel shuddered rhythmically, and Rei realized that it was laughing at her.

She leapt backwards immediately, robbing the Angel of another kill as one of its sheet like limbs cut through the space she had just evacuated. Throwing herself into a sideways roll, she picked up Asuka's sword, bounding ahead and under the Angel's attack, while swinging it around, with none of the graceful skill the German girl had. Still, the weapon did as it was designed to do, and cut through the AT Field of the Angel, causing it to duck backwards away from her charging advance. It seemed loath to let her come near it with the sword, and it's arms also shied away from the blade.

That small fact gave the girl some hope as she pressed her attack, trying to formulate some manner of a plan with her sister as they advanced on their foe.

The down side of the current situation was that the Angel's energy weapon didn't require it to risk being hit by the sword.

The blast, while partially absorbed and deflected by her AT Field, took off her remaining arm and a large part of her upper torso. Rei shrieked as pain flooded her system, gasping as she tried to pull away.

The Angel swept by her, one arm cutting off her feet, sending her toppling to the ground. Leaving her fallen form, it began to float across the blasted landscape towards the broken pyramid.

It vocalized a dreadful cry as it advanced on the devastated fortress of its enemies, no foes left to stand between it and the Great Mother down below.

Author's Notes:

Well, it's been a very long time in between chapters, I'm sorry. I'm still working on the story, and it will get finished, I promise. Hopefully I'll be better at getting updates out to you all. I greatly appreciate the fact that I can write out a story and throw it up here and have such a dedicated readership. You all are really the best.

Speaking of the best, I have to give thanks again to my great proof reader, Justicar Demios for helping me out with this chapter and the German translations.

Anyways, we've got some action coming up in the next chapter, although it seems like Shinji keeps spending a lot of time out of the picture. If he's not been flung to the very beginning of time itself, he's in a coma. How will Rei react to the fact that he's been taken inside of Unit-01? What will Kensuke find out for Asuka? What will come of Rei's stunt with the Atomic Lance?

Hopefully you won't have to wait for over a year to find out! But seriously, I plan on having a rough draft to Justicar before the end of May, but you should have something new to read by the end of August.