Stage XVI: Rebirth
Shinji tried not to notice the fact that Rei looked eleven months pregnant, if that were even possible. The Plug Suit was inflated to balloon-like proportions. The size did not look to be bulky, and she easily made it into the Entry Plug of a similarly suited Unit 00. It was painted blue after a series of upgrades that cranked it to a level where it was useful for combat. The D-Type Equipment looked like an oversized metal space suit, supposedly able to withstand the same N2 weapons that Nerv possesses.
"Miss Aldington," he said. "Take…um, take care, okay?"
To his astonishment, she turned and nodded.
"Thank…you, Shinji Ikari," she said in a whisper. Then, the seal of the Entry Plug shut her away.
Sirens began a low, urgent hum as the two Evangelions were uncovered. A giant crane system had been set up, and it now hooked the back of Unit 00's armor. Unit 01 proceeded to a spot marked with reinforced steel at the mouth of the volcano, deemed strong enough to support and Evangelion. In front of Unit 00, a laser marker found the Angel drifting kilometers below, and expertly tagged it with a marker. Unit 00 now hung right over the magma.
"Beginning descent,"Rei said calmly. The heavy bundle of cords holding Unit 00 began unraveling, and the Evangelion splashed into the river of molten rock.
"Unit 00 has entered Mount Asama. Temperature and pressure are stable. No problems detected."
"Understood," Misato said. In her Unit 02 back at Nerv HQ, Asuka tapped the controls anxiously. Now only had Prince Schnizel barred her from participating, she had to sit on the foul duty of riot control, not something she particularly cared for. She certainly would hate to let her Eva sink so low as to spend its day trampling over civilians. On her multi-screen display, Aldington has almost found the Angel. She was merely five hundred meters from where the Angel was supposed to be.
"Headquarters to Unit 00," Asuka said, unable to contain her impatience. "Is there visual confirmation of the target yet?"
"Negative," Rei replied. "Switching to sonar mode; scanning."
A moment later,
"Negative. No target detected. Requesting re-calculation of target position"
Dr. Ritsuko Akagi's voice came over the intercom.
"The magma is moving faster than we previously anticipated," she said. "We'll have to move further down."
An instrument display told her that Unit 00 was reaching the maximum safe depth. She turned to Misato.
"Misato, the probe is manned this time," she warned. "Well?"
Misato gritted her teeth. Would all their work be moot?
"Continue descending," she barked. "We need a live Angel sample."
"But, Misato, what about Rei—I mean, what about Miss Aldington?" Shinji asked.
"I will be fine," Rei said. "Continuing descent"
Another mere two hundred meters brought her within visual range of the murky target. Tilting, Unit 00 extended a pair of large pincers, arms of a magnetic cage, and the force field found its way around the creature.
"The electromagnetic cage has been spread. No problems detected; target has been captured," Rei announced.
Lelouch found himself rubbing his eyes again. Even without his contact lens, his eye kept itching. The Geass eye, to be exact, and it bothered him. Twice, now, he had felt the Geass slip his grasp. Out of caution, he had put the lens back on. Still, the itching was unbearable.
The sound of pizza being munched alerted him to C.C.'s presence.
"Good morning, Lelouch," she said. "Still worrying over your eye?"
"What do you want, C.C.?" he said tiredly.
"Don't you want to know? Nerv has captured an Angel," C.C. said coolly. She sat down next to him and chewed on her pizza. He slowly turned around to face her.
"They caught a…what?" he asked.
"An Angel," she repeated. "The operation at Mt. Asama went perfectly. Unit 00 was able to capture the Angel and bring it back to base, where it has been frozen. The Angel did not hatch, for which we are grateful. The riots have died, too, since Ikari did not dive into magma."
"Is that…so?" he said slowly. Nerv possesses an Angel. God only knows how far studying an Angel would advance Nerv's power. Perhaps the bastards would even solve their Evangelions' power problem. The problem was that the most combat-capable one is in the hands of Asuka Langley. His eye twitched. It was time to begin intervention.
"Are Ohgi's preparations ready?" he asked coldly.
C.C.'s eyebrows tilted up.
"Going a bit too far, aren't we?" she said. "Do you think it is really time for that, with so many Angels still to come?"
"Defeating the Angels is dependent on Evangelions. It doesn't matter who controls them," Lelouch said. "Tell Ohgi to advance the schedule of plan B.775."
"Go ahead," she said. "I'll do that. In the meantime, order another pizza."
The Angel was hideous, like a fetus aborted at the end of the first trimester, still scrunched up in an oval ball, with spikes protruding from its bones. Asuka shuddered at the pulsing, gelatinous flesh that hung around the bony skeleton. The Angel was kept under a solid sheet of transparent Bakelite as workers scrambled about to chip their way into its chorion and find the Core, the most prized part of the beast.
"It's reminiscent," Misato said glumly. Asuka turned to look at her, as much as that was possible in a Level-A HAZMAT suit.
"What do you mean, Captain?"
"Fifteen years ago…I'd rather not talk about it," the woman replied. "The information is available for you, Lady Langley. The documentation tells a much better story than I can."
"I have," Asuka said. "And I know what this reminds you of."
Misato's lips tightened. In a paternal gesture, Asuka put her hand on Misato's shoulder.
"But, that's all in the past," she said. "You should not worry. Your duty, and mine, is to grab onto the future."
She made a sweeping gesture at the Angel.
"I don't think you understand, milady," Misato said.
"Of course I don't," Asuka replied. "How can I? But that does not mean I cannot try. After all, the two of us are responsible for Nerv and the defense of humanity."
"I see," Misato said rigidly.
The lights around them flickered. Shouts came from the technicians, who began scrambling off of the Angel as lights went off one by one. Emergency lighting switched on and off, and dull, red battery-powered last resort lighting blinked balefully. A pair of shouting guards found Asuka and dragged her out of the nearest emergency exit while Misato squeezed her own way out. The Angel sat where it has been, abandoned by the fleeing humans.
Powerful flashlights illuminated Asuka's HAZMAT suit, which she stripped off with little regard for sterile procedures.
"What's going on? You there, report!" she yelled.
"Ma'am, all of the base is blacked out! All emergency backups have been shut off!" someone yelled. "Should we turn around, milady? You're—"
"Keep talking, and never mind what I'm wearing!" she said. "You there, give me my sidearm!"
The gun belt she strapped on across the skintight suit she wore under the HAZMAT gear. With her guards, she stormed out of the locker room, barely pausing to put on a pair of riding boots. The tight black leather winked in the light of the guards' searchlights, immodestly exposing the back of her body.
"Someone knocked out the main power generator, huh?" she muttered. "At once, too; this has to be an insider job."
Misato Katsuragi rounded a corner and almost ran into Asuka. The guards shouted and leveled their weapons.
"Hold it, you!" Asuka bellowed. "Captain, give me a status report, now!"
"Rei has been located," Misato said. "Shinji is above ground. But the Evangelions…they won't be able to activate or get out!"
"Don't you have any more backups?"
"Only a diesel generator and external batteries for the Evas," Misato said. "The Commander is on his way."
Asuka nodded, quietly re-checking the safety on her pistol to calm her nerves. Misato eyed the skintight suit with a raised eyebrow. The girl had the toned musculature of a leopardess and enviable breasts that were certainly too much to be flailing around in a huddle of nervous, sweaty men. Jeremiah Gottwald presently resolved that particular problem by busting through the other guards with a large uniform overcoat.
"Milady, please, put this on," he said. She draped the red coat over her shoulders and re-strapped her pistol over it. Together, the group walked through the manually cranked doors of the Cage, and found maintenance workers in a state of chaos. Ritsuko Akagi ran out of the crowd.
"Unit 02 isn't going to activate!" she declared. "All sakuradite systems have been jammed by something god-awful. Unit 01 is partially blocked, but we can get it moving in three hours. Right now, Unit 00 is the only Eva we have."
Asuka's scowl turned feral.
"A Gefjun Disturber," she said.
"Multiple," Ritsuko corrected. "There would have to be literally hundreds to disable the entire Nerv base, and the Evangelions are too heavily shielded to be taken down by just one, no matter how big it is."
"I thought that wasn't even possible," she admitted.
"Apparently, the impossible has shut off two thirds of Nerv's tactical fighting force," Asuka said coldly. "Idiots"
Misato and Ritsuko flinched, looking angrily at Asuka, who assessed her options.
"The MAGI are down too, I suppose?"
"No; but they are on minimum power consumption mode," Ritsuko said. "Unit 00 cannot be reconfigured for your use, ma'am. Not unless we take out all the Disturbers."
Asuka hissed in irritation.
"I understand," she said in a forced voice. "I will find my own way out, then." Turning to her guards, she barked, "Brown, Vince, the two of you lead a firing squadron and find whatever it is that's shutting down power. Dr. Akagi will find someone with an idea of how you can find them. Jeremiah, come with me. We'll go and establish contact with His Highness Schnizel and the Viceroy. Someone, find Zero and tell him to get his people on standby. Go!"
Lelouch chuckled as he sipped a mug of coffee. That girl was quick; there was, of course, no way for the men she sent out to do their duty. The technicians were thoroughly under his control and will lead them into ambushes set up by street thugs and homeless men turned into mindless cannon fodder. He remained the only one able to see through the CCTV cameras within the base—they ran on their own batteries, but the security center was blacked out by Rakshata's feat of ingenuity. At any moment, the attack would begin, and the Black Knights will be the first ones on the scene…and the first ones to take full control of the base. The fake Angel alarm to the north-east sent the entire Britannian occupation force scrambling.
C.C. smirked through her pizza.
"You are certainly interesting," she said. "I've made a good choice in giving you Geass."
He smiled at her, and tipped his mug.
"Thank you, C.C.," he said silkily. "What will I do without you?"
"Ikari, what will you do?"
Fuyutsuki stayed his feet, taking a moment to glance back at the gold-trimmed, red and violet Evangelion stored deep within Central Dogma. An Evangelion's visor-covered face stared dully back at the two men.
"Unit 01,"Gendo Ikari said. "It's almost complete, isn't it, Professor Fuyutsuki?"
"Yes…" Fuyutsuki said. "And what will you do with it, Ikari? What will you do with God?"
"I have my uses for Him," Gendo replied lazily. "And if I do need Him, I will awaken him."
"Quite presumptuous, aren't you?" Fuyutsuki said. "You'd even use God as a tool?"
"God," Gendo said. "Is dead; man's right hand is stained with His blood, and the sin of creating a new God, a new idol, to worship."
As he spoke, he seemed to nurse a newfound awkwardness in his right palm. The groaning from the silent Evangelion shifted pitch as Gendo stroked his gloved fist. Fuyutsuki glanced at it with suspicion, but said nothing.
"The next Angel will arrive soon," Gendo said. "A perfect opportunity for a field test, isn't it?"
"To test this soulless machine, you mean?" Fuyutsuki said. "You do not seriously intend to use Shinji for First Contact with Unit 07, do you?"
"Of course not," Gendo smirked. "I would not waste such a valuable resource like that."
"No word on the fact that he is your son?"
Gendo paused on the threshold of the secret hangar.
"Tough times call for extraordinary measures, Professor," he said, suddenly seeming older. "The old men and the Emperor are impatient. We have run out of time."
In the background, Evangelion Unit 07's dull visor-covered face blinked in the artificial light. Four kilometers underground and shielded by countermeasures nearly as thick, the machine slumbered.
Cornelia's throat constricted. Her lips parted in a furious growl.
"Fake…"she whispered. "We've been had."
The ocean shrieked and split open, hurling Britannian ships in every direction and throwing hapless Sutherlands into the abyss. The flying flagship rocked as a giant ball of light erupted from the center of the hole and drenched the world with a wall of water. Out of the explosion, jet-pack mounted Knightmares appeared. They were dull gray, of the same type, and wielding large claw arms that billowed with waves of red light. On each were etched the emblem of a single red dot, the old Japanese flag. The Avalon's shield caught countless ripples of energy, but the same could not be said of the other ships and Knightmare frames caught by the onslaught of Radiant Wave Surge attacks. The sea boiled with molten metal.
"Get out of here!" Cornelia shouted. "It's an ambush! Are those things…it's the same kind of Knightmare as that red one that the Black Knights had. Did Kyoto leak their data?"
"No idea, ma'am, but we can't get a clear shot!" the weapons officer shot back. "I recommend full retreat!"
"Where the hell is von Stuhl?" Cornelia demanded. "He—"
"Your Highness, I have been on standby. Worry not; your Knight will defend you."
The Gawain was suddenly in the air. Von Stuhl was apparently on standby the entire time, and was ready to launch the moment the surprise attack hit. How he had known, Cornelia had no idea, but as of that moment the Gawain fired its torso cannon and raked the Hadron beam across the air, catching the gray knightmares in the sizzling energy beams, making fireworks out of their corpses. Cornelia relaxed, knowing that the terrorists were no match, and began assessing the damage done to her fleet, when a small klaxon began wailing.
Asuka's sword rang loudly on the barrel of a gun, slid down its length and slashed a deep gash in an attacker's hand. The flexible blade whipped out of the flesh and dove forwards again, finding a throat to pierce. She whirled and slashed across the face of the man behind her before swiping a hole in his jugular. The sword was dyed red, trickles of the stuff running down Asuka's forearm. She panted, trying not to choke on the fumes of dying men. The fighting in this sector was done, more or less. Her pistol was useless without ammunition. A deep nick in her side bit at her where a bullet found soft flesh and passed through. Jeremiah was by her side, patching the hole up.
"Sit down, milady," he said. "The area is clear; you have to rest. Let me bandage the wound."
She sat, as per requested, and leaned on his shoulder while he worked, breathing hard.
"It's a trap," she warned. "The Nerv crew…can't be trusted any more. Someone is using…some sort of hypnosis…look for the eyes, the eyes."
She coughed, prompting Jeremiah to hurriedly wrap her up in his own overcoat.
"If…I may speak my mind, milady, you are still fourteen," he said. "You can't do this for so long."
"Don't tell me what I can do and what I can't," she snapped. "I'm fine now. Get moving; we have to secure the next Disturber. Get me a weapon from the corpses. Aren't the reinforcements here yet?"
Jeremiah reluctantly handed her an AK-47 and several extra clips.
"I fear the worst for the messenger," he said glumly. "Even if he made it, the reinforcements might not get back in time."
"Then, we will do this ourselves," Asuka said. "Never mind that we are outnumbered. You can see how weak and useless these terrorists are."
She turned to the ragged group of soldiers clustered around them.
"Am I right?" she snarled. "None of us today will walk away with the shame of defeat! There will be no retreat!"
Jeremiah bowed his head wearily as the soldiers echoed with a roar. As the men resupplied with new weapons and ammunition, he turned back to Asuka, who was polishing her rapier on the shirt of a dead man. Her eyes looked glassy, in shock, and exactly what they would be after killing so many men in hand-to-hand combat. An enemy trapped in a burning Knightmare frame cannot gasp his last breath, nor can he reach up in a desperate last attempt to live. One certainly does not smell the stench of his emptied bowls and pooling blood.
'Still a child,' he thought. 'All your antics in a Knightmare, your strategy games with men's lives, you don't see it. This, you do see. This is what a battlefield looks like.'
The soldiers having gone ahead, he held out his hand.
"Come, my lady," he said. "Will you be left behind?" For her sake, he put on a smiling face, and grasped her forearm tightly. She let herself be dragged to her feet, and began to sheath her sword.
"It will be fine," he interjected.
"I know it will," she said. "Let me walk alone."
"As you wish"
The Gurren peeked into a massive tunnel. Its size was tremendous and a little terrifying. Kallen could distinctly hear the Landspinners' echoes bouncing far and deep into the cavernous mouth of the vent. Six Black Knights Burais flanked each side of the Guren as they converged to restore order within Nerv. Outside, something was creating a rhythmic thump against the GeoFront's armor, the sound resonating through the air vents that the Knightmares were traveling into.
"What the hell is that?" a soldier muttered. "It doesn't sound like anything routine."
The entire group was stunned by a nails-on-chalkboard screech as something sharp drew against metal. Overhead, a hissing noise crept through the vent, along with acrid smoke. The Knightmares scattered as the ceiling broke under a deluge of frothing liquid that ran down the vent, dissolving even the hardened alloys that made up the metal walls.
"Get over there, into that corner!" Kallen yelled to the six Burais as the team came to an intersection. The acid ran down the vent. The Guren plunged its Radiant Wave arm into the plating on the side of the wall and blew apart a grated sup-vent. A molten tunnel opened up in the middle of the otherwise smooth vent floor, and the acid billowed their way down from the main vent into the side vent system. The Guren, carrying a relieved Kallen, found its way back to the Burais. The gash in the vent system deepened, and with a groan, several dozen smaller lines beneath the large vent collapsed, draining thousands of liters of the acid down into Nerv.
"Crap," Kallen said.
Zero's mind spun wildly. An Angel had taken the opportunity to descend out of the sky, accompanying a rain of pure, unearthly acid, and crashed into the hillsides. The thing's legs were now digging into the streets of the Settlement, and the hub of the Angel was pouring that acid into an opened Nerv air vent. Decimated Burais littered the ground, still smoking from their impromptu acid bath. Contact had been lost with the teams sent down, what with the entire Black Knights communications contingent destroyed within seconds of the Angel's landing. If anything, it was Zero's own fault for shutting Nerv down. Now, as Nerv's air thickens with poisonous fumes, he could do nothing. Through his Geass eye, the Angel shimmered with a turquoise aura, its mind humming in his like that of a busy spider, too intent on its own work to mind minor distractions like Zero.
A soldier burst into the bridge, shaking his head.
"Normal bases don't work on the acid," he reported. "Twenty kilograms of potassium hydroxide couldn't even stop a small puddle."
"I see," Zero said. "And are our personnel evacuations complete?"
"Everyone that's alive, sir," the soldier said. "But, there's not many."
"Give me the full report later," Zero said. "Dismissed"
The Britannian command would probably not make it back in time, if at all. The twenty Guren ADVANCE Mass Production types were on par with the ability of the original Guren, with long ranged options as well. Caught off-guard and softened up first by a sakuradite explosion, it would be hard for the Britannian forces to destroy them all before the brainwashed terrorists took down the entire fleet.
'Did I make a miscalculation?'
The Angel buckled, and leapt off of the ground. Its legs folded together, and wings of light protruded from them. Almost like a flying saucer, it spun through the air like an oversized, deadly Frisbee with wings. The air around it boomed as the thing stopped, reversed direction and sprayed acid all over the city beneath it. It paused, seemingly surveying its work, and then began spraying other portions of the city, each time stopping to examine its handiwork and then proceeding to the next area to be destroyed. Zero's hand shot to his head as the creature cried out in a strangely sentient way, with an emotion one might associate with surprised recognition, and launched upwards. At the same time, the radar operator aboard the Black Knights command vehicle yelled.
"Knightmare frame, approaching from seven o'clock, it's coming at three times the normal speed of a carrier!"
The Angel disappeared into the clouds. Moments later, shots of acid stabbed the air around a cream-and-gold Knightmare with light red wings, which evaded, barrel rolled and dove away. It was recognizable as the Lancelot, with certain upgrades, but the Lancelot had by now been painted in Asuka Langley's colors. This was a new machine.
The new Lancelot's armor was heavily reinforced with large pods and a pair of maneuvering rockets with their nozzles pointing sideways. The sides of the pods slid open, revealing rows and rows of tiny missiles. The rockets burst to life on both sides, stopping the Lancelot's sideways motion, and the Knightmare shot upwards, vaulting over the Angel. The missiles opened up, streams of rocket exhaust hiding the entirety of the Lancelot, and the Angel was buried in a mountain of explosions which did nothing to damage it. The Lancelot's pods purged along with the presumably spent rockets. The Knightmare now had only a long, peculiar rifle. It hovered around the Angel, dodging acid bursts and pumping yellowish beams into the Angel's legs.
"Black Knights contingent, do you read?" the pilot said. Lelouch's eyes bulged.
"This is Major Suzaku Kururugi of Her Highness Princess Euphemia's Guard Regiment. Move away from this area immediately! I repeat, withdraw!"
End Stage XVI