Stage V: Mustn't Run Away
"He's alright, of course?"
Misato was cross that Section 2 had let Shinji be attacked, but apparently it was not intended to be deadly, so they ignored it. Stiff bastards, she thought. Screw their regulations! It's a shame, seeing him limp home in his ruined uniform.
"I knew it was a bad idea to send him in that uniform!"
"Are you ashamed of a Britannian uniform, Captain?" a voice asked behind her. Misato jumped. The woman standing there was dressed lavishly in a bright, violet coat with golden lacing and a large cape. Her lips and eyes were painted bright, royal purple. Hastily, Misato dropped to one knee in front of Cornelia li Britannia.
"Your Highness, I did not expect you to be here!" Misato exclaimed, but Cornelia waved it off.
"You may rise, Captain Katsuragi," she said. "But remember to be careful with our assets. Everything is valuable on the battlefield."
Misato rose and put on her coat. The princess moved to her desk and glanced with disdain at the mess that Misato always left it in. Misato blushed, embarrassed.
"As temporary Viceroy of Area 11, I believe that I am privy to a report on the…Evangelions, as I have been told they are called," Cornelia asked. "Just what are they?"
Misato cleared her throat and sized up the Princess before replying.
"You would do better to ask the technical department, ma'am. I really have no idea myself."
Cornelia's eyes narrowed in suspicion. Something smelled fishy, and the Eleven wasn't telling everything that she knows.
"Is that so, Captain Katsuragi? To the best of my knowledge, the Knight of Two, a dear personal friend of mine, happens to be a viable pilot who has consented,"
—Of course, knowing Asuka Langley, this is probably an offer she'd never refuse—
"—and I am highly concerned about the safety of these machines. The last time one was deployed, it seems to have gone out of control, which resulted in heavy mental damage to the pilot that left him in the hospital for nearly a week. It would be…a catastrophe of a grave nature if one of His Majesty's Knights of the Round was lost thus."
'So, that girl has some pretty high-up friends; the Second Imperial Princess, no less. Not too bad for a half-breed brat.'
"Rest assured, your Highness. That was an isolated incident and will not occur again."
"I sincerely hope that you're right," Cornelia said coldly.
A singular wail tore through the room as the alarm went off. The walls exploded into a splurge of red as warnings dotted the screen.
"Alert, alert; enemy has been detected. All personnel proceed to Battle Stations, Level One."
"Are you still mad, Touji?" a wiry boy with glasses asked.
"Of course! Are you dumb, Kensuke? That kid's a traitor!"
Kensuke found it hard to argue with his friend's logic. After all, it was true that the boy had gone over to work for the Britannians, and then dared to come back in a brand-new Britannian uniform. Everyone was angry, and he couldn't blame them.
"Yea, but he did fight to protect us all, Britannians and Japanese alike. That monster sure did kill a lot of Britannian soldiers."
"He's still an idiot!" Touji roared. "Why'd he have to crash that thing through the Settlement like that? Does he even know how to use it?"
He slammed his fist against his knee and, to Kensuke's surprise, began to sob.
"Aww, jeez, man, I'm sorry 'bout your sister. She'll be fine, okay? Zero worked his magic, so everything should be fine."
Touji's back heaved silently on despite his friend's words. Sighing, Kensuke patted Touji's back, not being able to do much else. Then, out of absolutely nowhere, a screeching alarm tore through the air. Both boys jumped, and tumbled over themselves as a pair of Britannian jet fighters sped by at supersonic speed. The pair of planes dipped their wings, pulled around, and flew off into the distance. Following them, six Knightmare carriers and a light bomber followed. The boys stared in terror as they scurried from the machines. Far into the distance, there came sounds of other machines marching in the same direction.
"Ken-Kensuke, what the hell are those?" Touji asked, frightened.
"Knightmare VTOLs," Kensuke replied. "They're transporting Sutherlands; I think that…there's going to be a big battle…and since the resistance is with the Britannians…"
Another monster attack
"Touji, let's get out of here!" he urged. "If there's another monster, the Britannians will probably drive it at us first!"
Touji lashed out, pushed the other boy back and whirled around.
"God damn it! If they do that kid had better stop it!" he roared. "If he doesn't, then—then—then I'll… "
He was still rambling as Kensuke half-dragged him back to the heart of the ghetto. Outside, legions of knightmares scrambled into position as the air buzzed with aircraft. Out on Ashino Lake, a gigantic, insect-like thing approached through the air. As it passed by, scores of submarines began the assault. Anti-air missiles accompanied by heavy artillery and air bombing combed over the surface of the Angel to no avail, and the monster continued on its course.
In the middle of the Britannian defense, a single Sutherland stood back with its Factosphere sensor wide open. Inside, Asuka surveyed the scene with disappointment, and made the signal to pull back the defense line by five miles. Still firing, the line of Knightmares rumbled away from the approaching Angel, followed by the rest of the Britannian forces.
"How long will it be until Nerv launches Unit 01?" Asuka asked.
"Unknown; there is no word from Nerv on that matter."
She shook her head.
"Must be playing our patience…and damn it, we do need them," she muttered. "Make our line two miles from the city's edge. Set up a line where the Angel is predicted to land, and have the middle fall back into a pocket; try to tilt it away from the major parts of the settlement and keep that thing pinned down with fire."
—Not that it's going to be of much good—
Her Sutherland blended into the caravan of armored infantry and disappeared among the ordinary soldiers. With her public comm. channel open, Asuka listened to their fear, their unsettled minds relieving their distress through doubt. Understandably, they don't trust a fourteen-year-old girl to command them.
Her teeth ground up against one another as she scowled. Everywhere she goes, somebody has to doubt her. Somebody always has to force her to prove herself over and over again. A flip of her finger opened her private channel to the Britannian HQ under Princess Euphemia. Time to show the world, yet again, just how capable she is. As she relayed her plan to Euphemia, Asuka could almost feel the worry emanating from the Princess.
"So, you're going to personally lure this thing into the Tokyo Settlement and spring a surprise attack from underground? Isn't it dangerous? The last one was able to fire high-energy beams. What if it just decimates our line and moves on?"
From a corner, Zero's voice said, "Your Highness, if it does indeed possess ranged capabilities, then it would have already destroyed all our forces. Since Marshal Langley is still able to speak to us, we may presume that this Angel is restricted to close ranged attacks only."
That sarcastic bastard Zero, Asuka thought, concurs with her thoughts exactly, and it annoys her to no end.
Apparently convinced, Euphemia nodded through the video link.
"Be careful, Asuka," she said. "Don't be reckless."
Asuka smiled to her friend and benefactor. It's just like Euphy to be concerned about everything, like a mother. She disconnected and returned to her command channel.
"Alright, troops. All forces will line up once we reach the city. Your coordinates are being sent out. Once the Angel hits the line, take cover inside the Settlement and get out. Knightmare commanders, Alfred through David squads will use the Eastern Boulevard; Eowyn through Henry squads will take Central Avenue, Ingrid through Nero squads will take Western Boulevard, and Manchester through Wellington squads will use the Ghetto as cover. Retreat quickly and cover your route with cannon fire. Make sure you melt into the city. First Tank Group will go north along the coast; Fourth Tank Group will go south."
She tuned in to her naval commander.
"Admiral, Over the Rainbow will send one last round of air raids, and all bombardment will cease once the Target reaches city limits. Understood?"
'Let's go, Asuka!'
"All forces, you will escape the area immediately. Do not risk yourself in any act of heedless gallantry. My guards and I shall lure the Target into a trap. Get the hell out! Is that understood?"
She shut off the comm. before the replies came in and took off for her small entourage of trusted Langley House troops. Knowing Nerv's commander and her insight, she'll certainly read Asuka's intentions and act accordingly. Now, all she needs to worry about is Nerv's almost useless pilot.
"Field Marshal Langley is moving towards the city, ma'am, and is requesting the Eva to be launched," Lieutenant Shigeru Aoba informed Misato, who snorted discreetly. Cornelia's hawk-like eyes still bore down on the crew, and, though she wants to, Misato doesn't care to risk calling the Field Marshal a "nosy little girl" in front of her friend.
"Where is the Third Child?" Misato asked.
"In Unit 01, ready to deploy, ma'am!"
"And where are the Field Marshal's troops?"
"Five miles from the city, in a straight line, light armored infantry and Knightmares under heavy cover in the center, heavy armor, gun emplacements and artillery to the wings, and ships to the far sides in the water but within firing range."
"A classic trap formation; distance from nearest Eva launch pad?"
"The rear is two miles from block D-22."
Almost directly behind the line, in fact; if she wants to curl her line of defense, she'd come up right inside the city, with an Evangelion ready to attack from below at any time. A beautifully simple strategy: lure the Angel in, kill it with the Eva. The only variable, however, is the Eva itself. More precisely, it is the Eva's pilot, an untrained boy with no experience in coordinated battles who, moreover, shows a dangerous inclination against violence.
"Launch the Eva with the Gatling cannon and high-explosive rounds to block D-22. Don't open the shutter until I tell you to."
She switched to the Eva's channel.
"Shinji, we're sending you up now. Stay put with the cannon until the Angel gets close enough. Until then, spread your A.T. Field and stay under cover. When the Angel comes within neutralization range, maximize the Field and attack the Core, just like you practiced, okay?"
"Okay," the disgruntled, un-soldier-like reply came.
Again, the crackle of electricity; again, the jarring passage up the linear rails; once again, Shinji Ikari felt himself being carted off to a battle that he doesn't want to fight. The journey ended as abruptly as it had begun, as the Eva struck the end of the rails. The doors remained shut and, in the darkness, Shinji clutched his controls with sweaty hands. His pounding heart echoed the beeping sensors. With every second, the enemy approached.
As usual, her shelling did little to no damage. High explosives, armor-piercing and even linear cannons and a prototype Hadron Collider Cannon, graciously lent to her by Second Prince Schnizel, did nothing to damage the Angel. As planned, her Knightmares have melted away into the streets, and the Angel is continuously fired upon from the back. Gradually, it is moving towards the Eva launch pad. Her Sutherland crouching on the roof of a nearby building with a few handpicked guards, Asuka waited with her customary bazooka in hand. The Angel nears. Closer…closer…if Misato Katsuragi has any of the rough street-smart attributed to her, she'd know when to make her move…
The shutter on D-22 crashed open, and the violet giant came crashing through the opening, a Gatling cannon ablaze. The air became filled with explosions as the volatile rounds ricocheted off of the Angel's A.T. Field. Cursing, Asuka's entourage abandoned their cover and rolled away, Landspinner tires billowing with smoke, to escape the destruction.
"Idiot!" she roared. "What kind of attack is that?" Clearly, the thing is taking all of zero damage. Desperately, her soldiers began firing on the Angel from behind, but that damn orange field blocked every shot. As she dreaded, the click of a dry chamber came from the massive weapon, though the Angel was unfazed. The Evangelion seemed to be trembling as it fumbled with its weapon, in full plain view of the enemy. Before Asuka could scream in anger, the Angel's forearms snaked out into a pair of luminescent whips of light that, in one smooth motion, diced the Gatling gun into pieces and forced the Eva to leap back and land unceremoniously on its ass. The Angel's second strike barely missed the Eva, which stumbled frantically away from the lashing whips. It crashed into a building, which immediately disintegrated as the Angel slashed it into pieces. The Eva tumbled out the other side, the severed end of its Umbilical Cable, its sole source of power, flapping uselessly behind the machine. Without it, the Evangelion was doomed to approximately five minutes of activation time, maximum, and only one at full power. Automatically, the connector of the Cable was jettisoned, and the Eva climbed shakily to its feet. Five minutes before it is rendered useless by the lack of power.
Shinji's heart raced; it would not be long before all power expired, and he left to be drawn and quartered by the Angel. If he was going to move, it has to be—
He shrieked in terror when the Angel's whip caught his Eva's ankle and tossed it effortlessly into the air. His head bashed repeatedly against the wall as he plummeted towards the area of the Shinjuku Ghetto. One moment, the sky filled his view screen, and the next, rubble, decay and people's despair, given physical form by the ruins that served as their home.
"Incoming!" Kensuke screamed as the sky turned dark with the silhouette of Unit 01. He tried to pull Touji away, but the other boy stood rooted in fear as the shadow bore down over their heads. It was going to crush him, crush him beneath its metallic mass, and his sister…his sister would have nobody left to fend for her.
The robot was spinning as it fell. As Touji watched, its face turned towards him, and he gazed straight into its glowing eyes. The sharp, angular face seemed to scowl at him as he refused to move, challenging him to be a man, to survive and take care of his family.
Touji Suzahara bolted from where he stood with a roar, streaking away from the would-be impact site. Moments later, he felt himself lifted off of the ground by the tremendous hit, and began to drift over the ground as he was hurled by the shockwave. Boulders and debris cut into his back as he skidded to a halt painfully, blood clogging the back of his clothes. Shakily, he supported himself on his elbow and looked around. By his side, Kensuke looks as if he'd collapsed. Like Touji, he was badly torn up and bleeding, but looked to be alive. The robot's right hand had fallen right over them, although the fingers were spread just so that they missed the two by a few dozen centimeters. Tugging weakly, Touji dragged Kensuke to safety away from the Evangelion.
"Damage report, damn it!" Misato yelled. "Is he even alive?"
"Damage minimal; Eva is still fully functional!" Aoba replied. "Internal battery, 2 minutes and 45 seconds of power remaining"
"Good! Shinji, can you hear me? Retreat! The Britannian army will cover you with heavy artillery," Misato ordered. "Get out of there!"
"Ma'am, wait!" Maya screamed. "There are civilians still down there! He's in the middle of Shinjuku!"
A side screen unfolded, showing a camera feed of two ragged, injured boys crawling away from the Eva.
"Fuck…" Misato swore. "They're just kids!"
She grabbed the mike.
"Hold your fire!" she snarled. "There are civilians within range!"
The emotionless reply came from a Britannian field commander.
"Britannian or Eleven?"
Misato wanted to reach through the phone and rip off his face.
"None of your concern; just hold your fire!"
She slammed the phone down.
"Smug little bastards," she hissed. "Always so damn superior…"
Abruptly, she connected to Unit 01 and ordered, "Shinji, get those two kids into the Entry Plug. Then get the hell out to the nearest Cable depot and hook up. Drop them off at an emergency entrance and get back into the fight. Understood?"
"Captain Katsuragi!" Cornelia barked. "The two boys that you are allowing into the Plug are not authorized to be exposed to Evangelion-related information. On top of that, they are not even Britannian citizens. You have no right to take them into the cockpit!"
Misato turned coldly upon the Witch of Britannia, one of the most feared military figures within the Britannian military, and an Imperial Princess highly in favor with the Emperor.
"Your Highness," she said. "I have no intention of allowing any unnecessary death out there; as Operational Commander of Nerv, I authorize it. Nerv, remember, is not owned by Britannia."
As Cornelia's face clouded with shock, Misato turned back.
"1 minute, 30 seconds. Angel approaching Eva at moderate pace; ETA at forty-five seconds"
"Lock the Evangelion," she ordered. "Open the hatch!"
"You two, get in!"
The voice startled Touji's mind into wakefulness, but it could not process the command. Get into the machine? What the hell does that mean?
"Hey! Move it!" Kensuke yelled at him. He dragged Touji's stunned frame towards a rope ladder that snaked out of a thick metal tube from the Eva's back. When they were both secure, the rope rolled them both in. A splash, and the tube sealed itself. The two terrified boys began to kick and panic just as the entire interior lit up, and a voice told them to fill their lungs with the stuff so that they can breathe. With no other choice, they let the liquid fill their lungs, and miraculously, found that though breathing was heavy and difficult, they could breathe the water. They looked in amazement at the quasi-panoramic, 270 degree HUD and view screen, sleek metal cockpit seat, and the kid sitting in the middle of all the technology, shivering like a newborn kitten.
"Shinji, retreat using the D-25 route behind the mountain; there, you will drop off your passengers, get a new cable and rifle, and return," Misato's voice said. "Go, now!"
Shinji did not move; instead, he hunched over and muttered to himself.
"Hey!" Touji yelled. "Move it! She said to run away!"
"Mustn't run away…mustn't run away…"
The Angel bore down on him, whips outstretched. Touji screamed and shook Shinji by the shoulder like a madman.
"GET OFF!" Shinji roared. He slapped Touji away, rolled the Eva over, and barely dodged a pair of arms that boiled several blocks of concrete.
The Eva launched itself off of the ground and slam-kicked the Angel in the Core. The Angel slid back a few dozen meters, and its arms lunged into Unit 01's chest armor. Through the bloody spray, Shinji howled. Carried by momentum, Unit 01 lurched right into a blast of energy that came from the Angel's Core.
With its chest armor melted together and its helmet warped, Unit 01 sank slowly down on the two arm blades, which, due to Eva's own weight, was cutting steadily into the torso.
"I MUSTN'T RUN AWAY!"
Unit 01's remaining eye sparked. Both arms shot up to the shoulder pylons, and a pair of MVS blades snapped into her hands. With a howl, Shinji plunged both blades down into the Core just as another energy blast began to charge. The air shrieked as the disrupted energy spun in a vortex. The Angel's arms slashed upwards impulsively and cut almost halfway into Unit 01's chest. Shinji screamed and slashed the MVS blades down and out of the Core. A split second later, the pent-up energy exploded outwards.
Stumbling, Unit 01 crumpled to the ground. For a second, it seems that the charred Angel was going to strike again.
The Angel's body, burnt by its own broken Core, broke apart at the midriff and, in a shower of charcoal, fell into pieces.
"Yo!" Touji said. "Ya okay?"
He was screaming like a madman just moments before, clutching his face and smashing the controls. Now, he lay crumpled, crying to himself.
"Stupid; of course he's not," Kensuke reprimanded Touji. "Just shut up; you're not doing any good."
The boy fell into a grumpy silence, although he betrayed an occasional look of regret and concern.
'Dis shit must be hard on him'
"Yes, Shirley, I'm fine. I told you, don't worry about me!" Lelouch snapped. She's just a little too into him, at a time when he cannot afford the distraction.
"Lelouch, as a human male, you ought to show a little more interest," C.C. said slyly. "If you overthrow Britannia, you'll want an Empress."
"C.C.-SHUT-UP-THIS-IS-NOT-THE-TIME-DAMN-IT!" he hissed, covering his phone.
"Lulu, who were you just talking to?" Shirley demanded. "That sounded like a girl! Oh, goodness, Lulu! I just knew it! You're with some girl, aren't you? They just fall all over you…"
"Sure is hard, being the hottest guy in the entire school," C.C. said in between bites of double-cheese Sicilian with sausages. She reached over for a sip of soda. "Any other boy would take full advantage of his situation…and exercise his evolutionary instincts. You, on the other hand…"
Lelouch angrily threw his mask into C.C.'s face. She yowled and rolled away from him.
"No, Shirley, I'm not with anyone like that. Stop worrying, please. Where are you, by the way? Your signal is breaking up…"
"I'm next to the Shinjuku Ghetto, where the bunker let out. Lulu, you won't believe what I'm seeing! It's that Nerv robot!"
'The Evangelion is right out in the open! What a chance…'
"Careful, Shirley. You don't know if it's safe to approach. Wait and I'll come pick you up."
On the other end, Shirley blushed in pleasure, but thought immediately that she had to say something or risk him sensing how pleased she is.
"It's dangerous, Lulu. Wait until the roads are cleared, at least! A lot of the city got wrecked here—"
"It's fine; I'll ride Rivalz's bike without the sidecar. I can get through any rubble heap in that. You can ride with me on the way back."
Her blush reddened even more as the thought of holding on to him for the entire trip came into her mind.
'We'll be so close together…'
Wait—"Lelouch Lamprouge, you'll kill yourself riding that bike, you idiot!" she yelled. "You can't do anything physical!"
"I can drive anything up to a Ganymede-Class Knightmare Frame, Shirley, so stop worrying like you're my wife."
He hung up with a sigh.
"Thank God she isn't…"
Before C.C. could say anything, he strode out, clapping his mask over his face and assuming the identity of Zero. Outside, his chief lieutenant Ohgi greeted him with a frown.
"What is it, Ohgi?"
"Your mask…it's got pizza sauce on it."
"Oh, thank you."
End Stage V