Stage XIX: Webs
"Shinji, can you move?" Misato roared. Shinji ignored her and spat a wad of phlegm and blood into the LCL, and the filters instantly sucked it away. The Angel was moving like a squid, squeezing through gaps and cracks with liquid grace. Nerv's excavation had reduced its body mass greatly, paradoxically helping it navigate tight niches even better. Unit 01 was heavily damaged at the midsection, where the Angel's cutting arm had gone through the armor. It was becoming difficult for him to move.
"It's bad," Hyuga interjected. "There are feedback errors from 70% of the control system; the spinal cord must have sustained damage. The MAGI recommend that we lower the synch ratio to fifty percent."
"Retrieve Unit 01," Misato ordered. "Initiate emergency repairs and have Unit 00 hold defensive position; continue tracking the Angel."
A launch pad descended into the ground, carrying Unit 01 with it, bloody and ragged. As mechanics swarmed to initiate repairs, Unit 00 shot out of the Cage. Shinji was helped out, scrubbed dry and handed a bottle of water. He glanced upwards, feeling an inexorable sense of helplessness.
'I wish Langley was here,' he thought with a pang.
As Lelouch had expected, the Angel took refuge in the building he had singled out. It was close, easy to get into while under cover, and provided a great deal of cover itself. To the simple intelligence controlling an Angel, it must seem obvious.
Lelouch mentally kicked himself. The Angel was in no way simple, just inexperienced tactically. He shivered, remembering the power of an Angel's mind. Shaking himself off, he resumed concentration on the battle at hand. The Angel had entered the exact place where he wanted it to be.
"Kallen," he said. "Does Nerv confirm A.T. Field neutralization?"
"Not yet," she replied. "Unit 01 retreated, and Unit 00 is approaching, sir."
"Good; in that case, postpone the plan until neutralization is confirmed. Can you do that?"
"Yes, sir," Kallen replied.
"What is it, sir?"
"Don't die; that's an order."
Beneath the building, the Guren's arm was stuck through an opened door, pointing out at the sliding mass of the Angel that approached them. With all power down, the six Burais and the Guren made for an almost invisible group. The Angel, pestered as it was by Nerv's VTOLs, paid them no heed. It lashed out with its arm, ripping apart the façade of a building and missing Unit 00 by quite a distance. Kallen thought that it was rather like a fish—or, to be more precise, an oddly oversized octopus—out of water. Unit 00 could not bring its heavy weaponry to bear in the heart of the fragile Settlement, and was forced to instead engage in close range with a large harpoon of sorts, a weapon ironically appropriate for the occasion. Dodging a tentacle, Unit 00 swiped the harpoon at the Angel. The blade struck flesh but bounced off easily, and the jab that followed did more damage to the harpoon than to the Angel.
"A.T. Field wave space flat lining; neutralization in three…two…"
Kallen gripped the modified, single-burst Radiant Wave Surge arm, whose business end was all but touching the Angel. It was a spare arm, modified to fire all the power of fifteen energy fillers attached to it, thickly insulated and only available for one shot, after which the Guren must immediately purge the arm to avoid being caught up in the inevitable explosion. To take advantage of the fact, armor-piercing munitions have been mounted along the front of the arm, with charges buried inside. When the arm overheated, it became an instant shotgun as well.
"Go!" she screamed, and pulled the trigger. The arm's parts shrieked as voltage coursed through them. The Angel jumped too late, and the crimson, evil looking ball of energy lit up the sky. The Guren lurched as explosives drove it away from the arm, an instant before it ripped a hole through nine floors' worth of building and deposited twenty molten copper rods into the burning remains of the Angel. The corpse was sizzling like an overcooked barbeque, and the Guren stumbled out of the ashes, ragged but triumphant, saved by the arm's engineers, who reinforced its sides to direct the blast forward and up. Immediately, Kallen found the main, normal arm and equipped it, Factosphere sensors spinning like a thing alive.
A Burai went through half the width of the building, hit by a whipping tentacle. An inhuman scream came from the body of the Angel, which shot out of the cove, its skin burnt and crackling, leaking a fiery liquid. Its tentacles thinned into fast whips, slicing through the air as the squid-like thing somehow flew in dizzying loops and rolls, cutting apart the Jet-VTOLs and swatting their remains down into the Settlement.
"Sir, it's not dead!" Kallen yelled. "But it's really pissed off!"
The Angel crashed through the entire Settlement, uprooting entire blocks in its frenzy. Unit 00's attempt to give chase was abruptly ended when the Angel body slammed her through the support structure of an entire section of the city, crushing Unit 00 under rubble, Angel and flaming fragments of entire financial districts. The Angel launched into the air, and then did a barrel roll and came down with a triple spin whiplash, slicing apart the platoon of Sutherlands that first arrived on the scene. The Settlement's surface rippled like the surface of the sea, the Angel swimming through it. As abruptly as it began, the frenzy died off, and the Angel once again reverted to its method of hiding. Only now, it had the entirety of the Tokyo Settlement's subterranean levels to play hide-and-seek in. Kallen blasted her way out of the lower levels of the Settlement and stood aghast at the amount of destruction some thirty seconds of rage had wrought. Out of the ground, Unit 00 struggled to her feet, broken shaft of her harpoon still clutched in her hand.
"Sir, what should we do now?" Kallen asked. Zero made no reply, but Kallen heard the distinct sound of something glass breaking. She gulped.
"Follow it," the orders came, and then the line went dead.
"The fact is," Hyuga concluded. "The Angel was heavily damaged by the Black Knights' weapon, but its body mass, which was still significant after our excavations, especially in the rear where Zero hit it, shielded the Core from both the heat and the munitions. As a result, it was only enraged, but not significantly harmed. In addition, having been floating in a volcano probably strengthened its skin to resist some pretty extreme conditions, as we have observed when attempting to dissect it."
He closed his binder, and fixed his glasses.
"So now what?" he asked. "Everything in this city is evacuated or destroyed. There's a very angry Angel on the loose under the Settlement and both Units 01 and 00 are severely impaired. I do not believe that there is a truly viable third option…"
"That's enough," Gendo said, cutting off the commentary. "Continue monitoring the Angel and corresponding with the various ministries involved. Send the pilots to my office as soon as they are able to. This meeting is adjourned."
Leaving his staff surprised and a little annoyed, Gendo and Fuyutsuki made their way out of the meeting room. On the way out, Gendo stopped and turned to meet their gazes.
"It is fine to feel apprehensive," he said. "Only, have faith in your commander."
With that, the two men disappeared into the hallway. Hyuga shook his head and put away his materials.
"I was planning to discuss possible stratagems and counterattack plans," he said a little petulantly. "Well, so much for that."
"He has something up his sleeve, doesn't he?" Maya said. "I wouldn't be surprised if he could pull some secret weapon out of his ass whenever he feels like it."
"It's not that," Misato said. "He's prepared, that's all…prepared against every possibility. Everything is just going according to some plan."
"I don't like it," Aoba said. "This whole thing of keeping us in the dark about what our true capacity is. We should know."
"If you want transparency, Aoba," Misato said drily. "Go somewhere else to work. Dismissed"
Rei's hands were extremely dainty; her grasp on Shinji's wrist was soft and almost enjoyable, despite being vice-like. She was dragging him through a narrow passageway, down a set of stairs and into a service lift that hurtled downwards with little regard to the comfort of its passengers. Miles of rock and strange objects went by in a flash. They were shooting deep into the heart of Central Dogma, the core of the Nerv-Tokyo base. When Shinji finally staggered from the lift, Gendo Ikari was waiting for him.
"Shinji," he said. "I have a new assignment for you."
"So…so soon?" he gasped, and then retched, though he did not throw up. Gendo smirked at Shinji's moment of weakness.
"What matters it to you?" he said harshly. "You need not question, only do. At the end of this hallway, you will find a new Eva. As you children seem to have wrecked your old ones, it is only necessary that you be provided with a new toy." The last bit he said with especial vehemence directed towards Shinji. A pall fell between father and son.
"Are you going to question why?" Gendo asked. "Shinji, right now, there is an Angel digging through the Tokyo Settlement, destroying everything that has been rebuilt after the invasion. It is killing the progress we have made—"
"What progress?" Shinji snapped. "Is it your progress or the Britannians' progress? Progress built on the graves of the Japanese? I don't care about this city; I don't care about the people in it. I just wish they'd go away! Go back to Britannia and leave us alone!"
He took a deep breath.
"Why should I do it?" he said finally. Gendo nodded.
"We have some time," he said. "Let me assuage your childish concerns. Get back into the lift."
He herded Shinji into the lift again, leaving Rei behind, and punched the last button on the list. It asked for a password, a fingerprint scan, and a card swipe. Emotionlessly, Gendo cleared the security in the lift, and it veritably fell out from beneath their feet, hurtling into the earth. Gendo stood, grasping a handrail, while Shinji gaped and tried to keep his eardrums intact as his feet lifted off of the floor. Some short time later, the sound of brakes could be heard along the sides of the lift, and the lift ground down to more bearable speeds. Shinji's eyes bore into the impenetrable wall that was his father's back. It had turned on him when he most needed support, had forgotten him he became a necessary component of some unknown grand scheme.
'I hate him,' a part of Shinji thundered. 'He throws away everyone he doesn't need. He threw away his wife, his son, his country…I can…kill him right now, with my own two hands. I can end it!'
His saner side fought hard to keep the mind, so confused and shaken by the tumbling ride, from murdering the commander of the world's most secretive and unscrupulous paramilitary organization inside the deepest bowels of his own base. The lift stopped. The doors opened up onto an utterly and amazingly alien landscape. Everywhere, monoliths stood out against a white gray surface pockmarked with small holes. It was like the surface of the moon, except for a long, ebony tunnel that led across its surface. It moved on its own, being a beltway that carried its passengers smoothly over the harsh landscape. A heavy, triple layered reinforced glass tunnel separated the humans from the outside. The end of the tunnel was yet another heavily armored blast door. Ten of them slid open after Gendo authenticated his presence.
"Do you know what happened during Second Impact?" Gendo asked.
Of course Shinji knew; everyone knew that a micrometeorite traveling at nearly the speed of light had stricken the South Pole, instantaneously destroying half of the earth. What did that have to do with what his father needed to show him? Shinji expressed this rather candidly to Gendo.
"I see," Gendo said. "It was not, however, the case. No meteorite struck Earth, not in 1999. What you are about to see is the true reason why Second Impact occurred."
The final, gigantic door unsealed itself. Shinji's eyes stretched, and his mouth gaped.
"What…is that a…what the hell is that?" he cried, taking a step back from the vast lake of…LCL that surrounded a huge, red cross with a huge, humanoid figure crucified on top of it. Its body was like marshmallow, with a purple covering for a face and seven asymmetrically placed eyes etched across a shield-like face mask. In short, it was a monster. A massive red spear of some red, twisted material was sunken deep into the figure's chest.
"The cause of Second Impact," Gendo mused. "The First Angel…the first man…"
He shifted his glasses.
Pendragon, 0.5 kilometers beneath the Capital
Racks of neat vats were stacked atop one another, filled with orange fluid and each housing disturbingly shaped shadows. A few hundred meters beyond this was a quadruple blast door, which were just sliding closed as a heavyset man walked out of it. A technician jumped to attention and bowed.
"Majesty," he said. The man grunted in acknowledgement, hustling along a bundle in his wide cloak. Discreetly, the technician drew away from it.
"As you have requested, the necessary preparations have been made. We may proceed with the second phase at…any convenient time."
"Now would be good," Charles zi Britannia replied, drawing back his cloak. Inside, a dark head of luxurious hair flopped out, framing a delicate, if blank, face. The girl he had been carrying was naked except for a simple hospital gown, with a heavy tracking device attached to her neck. Her coal-black eyes stared balefully out at the two men. The technician nodded.
"As you wish, my Lord," he said to the man. Then, to the girl, "Come here, milady. We must complete you."
Charles mentally checked off another item on his to-do list. He watched as the girl was stuffed into a tube.
"How long will it take?" he asked nonchalantly.
"Four, perhaps five hours, sire."
"Then, I will return in four," Charles said. "Carry on."
In time, Charles found himself atop the tallest tower of the imperial palace. His heart beat at precisely the same rate as always, but he felt a sense of victory slip to his lips. He had done it; done what gods and men could not. He had cheated Thanatos of his prize. Now, all that remained was to put that prize to use.
Casually, he turned on a TV set to the news. Apparently, the Tokyo Settlement in Area 11 was being wrecked again, this time from the inside. Charles frowned; it was bad form for an emperor to allow an economic crisis to unfold on his watch, and with the level of destruction wrecked here…
His victory made him magnanimous. He would bail out the insurance companies, help repair the damage, and make sure that things didn't crash while they still mattered. He had three and a half hours to keep his Empire from suffering a major economic setback. For him, that was plenty of time.
He just hoped that Ikari would unveil one of his aces in the hole already. It wasn't as if Charles didn't know about the new two-seater Ikari has stashed under the carpet. He chuckled, and found the bottle of vodka that he always kept up here, where only he had access. Fiery liquor to take away any vestige of fire in his heart, and fiery it was, indeed. The almost pure alcohol burned its way down Charles' gullet. He sighed, enjoying the sensation, letting his emotions dissipate in the feel of the vodka.
A strong drink makes a stronger man.
Shinji tried to comprehend what he had just been told.
"Synchronize with Rei?" he asked. "As in, connect with an A-10 link?"
They were both being herded towards a sinister, dark underground citadel with almost as much protection as ADAM had. This time, however, Dr. Akagi led the way. He and Rei were wearing matching Plug Suits, of a dark, generic gray. Rei was not looking at him, and was instead doing some sort of mental exercise that, Shinji supposed, would prepare her for what was to come, but he had absolutely no idea how he was going to have to synchronize with her, not even whether or not he wanted to.
Slowly, the door opened. Inside, a giant, dark head peered out silently. Its face was cut by an eyehole with three slits, outlined in dull ochre, with its body hidden by the darkness.
"Eva Unit 07," Ritsuko said. "It has been outfitted with the U-Type equipment to reduce its size for combat underneath the Settlement. Incidentally, piloting it will be simpler as well, so you shouldn't have too much of a problem with the new two-pilot control system."
A side door hissed open
"Good luck," Ritsuko added, and without further adieu, ushered them inside.
The Plug in Unit 07 lacked space. Even when expanded, its seats felt crammed in, stuffed. He looked at Rei, who was already climbing into the rear, raised seat, the seat of the A.T. Field controller.
"Hurry," she said simply. She had practice maintaining an A.T. Field on Unit 07, he had been told. That's why she had to be the one in the back. The two of them would have to synchronize their own minds in order for Unit 07 to function. Whoever designed this thing, Shinji thought, was an idiot. What was the point of having two pilots in the same Eva? Can't they just make another normal Unit?
Rei's questioning stare drew him back into the present. Moments later, they were seated, and their A-10 Nerve Clips were clamped down by a pair of pincers from the edges of the headrest. The Plug flashed into the brilliant colors that it always made when activating, and an insistent buzz worked its way into Shinji's skull. He winced as he, Rei and the Eva's nervous systems were connected in a three-way lineup. Suddenly, he began losing his sense of self, and entirely foreign feelings became apparent to him, coming from Rei. His—no, their legs were stiff and immobile. The Eva's legs, of course, were gone, replaced by a set of mobile wheels rocking back and forth on spring hinges. The Eva's arms had been replaced by a heavy weapon system on the right and a shield on the left, mounted with armor-piercing rockets. The weapons display appeared. The right arm's Combination Progressive Lance, its Vulcan cannons and set of missiles were ready, armed and loaded. The sixteen Sturmfaust rockets mounted under the shield, extra emergency blade, head-mounted CIWS and propellant tanks for a pair of modified Viking 5C rockets set into the mechanical legs were full.
"Weapons check, power check, propulsion check," Rei read off mechanically. "Dual-Pilot Linkup successful, maintaining mutual synchronization orate of 48.5%, Plug-Unit synchronization at 44.7%; ratios are insufficient for sortie. Pausing activation"
She returned her attention to Shinji.
"Ikari," she said. "There is no time for us to practice. You must take control of both the Eva and me."
"Of you?" he asked in a daze.
"Expand your presence," she said calmly. "Assert your mind strongly enough that you completely overwhelm me and take sole control of the Evangelion. We must get this machine moving, and you are the combat pilot, so you will do it."
"I can't do that," he said, with a certainty that surprised even him. "I can't force myself to do it."
"You can, and you will," Rei commanded, a tiny flush tinting her pale cheeks. "You must do it; else the operation will not be able to succeed."
"I'm not that kind of person," he protested. "I'm too weak! I won't be able to assert myself! Why don't you come down here, Miss Aldington? You can do it much better—"
Unexpectedly, a wave of pure, frustrated anger boiled into his brain. He gasped. Rei dove through the LCL, rolled and landed in front of him.
"Do you not have any confidence in your own work?"
"Well, no! I can't trust someone like myself to do…that, so—"
She planted her foot in between the seat and the edge of the Plug, and, with LCL being thin enough to breathe, gave him a resounding slap that sent his head bouncing off of the headrest.
"Miss Aldington…" he gasped.
"You are being selfish," she told him. "Right now, I…Misato, your people, Britannia, and the commander…your father…we are all depending on you to do your duty. Our own preferences do not matter. You will do as you are told."
She must be able to feel his bitterness, he thought. The bitterness of a boy left by the man who expected the boy to sacrifice it all, to do the impossible to satisfy demands which the boy could not refuse, yet had no connection to; did father depend on Shinji? It was ridiculous to think so. He had always been the one thrown aside, after all. He wasn't necessary; nobody needed him, not that he could have done much good.
Rei regarded him with an emotion which she—they—could only interpret as contempt.
"Go to the back, if you are as useless as you say you are," she said. "I will pilot the Eva…alone."
End Stage XIX