Stage VI: Let Britannia Deal with It
Shirley Fenette was used to Lelouch being late to engagements with her, and she isn't too perturbed now. With the rest of the shelter, she gazed in awe at the purple giant before her. It looks badly damaged, and isn't moving at all. There was a smoking carcass on top of the robot that looks sort of like a bug of some sort—
"Whoa, man! That shit looks like a big, black dick!"
"Move it!" a voice above the crowd roared. Seven Sutherlands rolled into view, the leader with a crest on its left shoulder. The crowd, especially the Elevens, gave way to the soldiers. The Knightmares encircled the purple robot, and with six guarding the perimeter, the leader rolled up to the purple robot's knee. Though the Sutherland was big and held a large bazooka, machine and weapon together barely come up to half of the purple robot's thigh. Compared to it, the Britannian army's backbone looks like a mere toy. The Sutherland backed up and fired its Harken up at the robot's back. The Harkens caught in a notch of the robot's armor, and the Sutherland, finding the Harken's hold sufficient, pulled itself up. Its cockpit opened, and to Shirley's surprise, what looks like a girl her own age climbed out. The girl climbed up the robot's armor to a large block on its back, where, after a moment of probing, she punched something. A panel appeared, and, picking up what seems to be a phone embedded in the robot, barked some words into it. She put down the phone, slid back into her Knightmare with amazing ease, and dropped the machine away. The Harken disengaged itself and rolled back to the Sutherland's chest.
"It's a curious machine, isn't it?" a silky voice purred in Shirley's ear. She jumped with a squeak, and was caught in Lelouch's outstretched arm.
"Be a little more vigilant," he said. "If I was someone else, you might be dead already…or worse."
"Shush!" she scolded. He smiled and leaned in closer.
"Wanna go home now, or do you prefer to watch?"
'If I say home, he might think I'm too eager to ride with him…if I stay, he might think I'm avoiding him…oh goodness, what do I say?' she thought nervously. 'Oh, Lulu is too dense; he won't think that much, right? Besides, this thing is really interesting…'
"You're going to stay, aren't you?" Lelouch said before Shirley could get out a word. It was obnoxious of him, but she was a little grateful that she wouldn't have to say anything. Lelouch resumed his characteristic smirk as he watched two Sutherlands drag a humongous cable from a nearby nondescript building. Lelouch notes the three large holes in the robot's back.
'Power supply, perhaps; it first launched with a cable attached, and ejected it after the cable was cut. The robot has stopped moving approximately three minutes after the cable was ejected. This means that the Evangelion must run on an external power supply with a very short-lived battery.' He wishes that Nerv and Britannia would tell him more, but deducing this much gives him an important ace in the hole. Sever the cable, and the Evangelion would be down in a few minutes. It was pretty active, during the last few minutes. It is possible that it can stay active longer if it idles. Lelouch estimates it at around five to six minutes. That is still plenty of time for that monster to wreck an entire army…or procure a spare cable from one of the many depots.
'Depots for the cable only exist in the Settlement. The Evangelion would have a very limited range outside the city. Cables run out, and the battery won't last more than six minutes…and I thought a Knightmare had too little operational time on energy fillers. At least Sutherlands can carry spares.'
The Evangelion is collapsed, yet the Sutherlands could not reach. Instead, it seems that they'd called for a Nerv truck to come along. It had a large—which means it towered over the Sutherlands the way Sutherlands tower over people—crane-like apparatus, onto which was loaded the handle of a cable. The truck wheeled up to the back of the Evangelion and pushed the cable into its back. Moments later, the Evangelion's eye glowed, and the Knightmares scurried to shoo away the crowd of spectators. Lelouch tugged Shirley away discreetly, having seen everything he wanted to.
"Aren't you going to say?" she asked. "You, uh, like this kind of thing, right?"
"It's interesting, but it's going to get moved now. I don't want you caught in the way, so we can watch it as we drive."
She blushed happily as he led her onto the bike, and pushed off the sidewalk. As she held on to him, Shirley felt a calm and happiness that she'd not felt in a long time.
"I never brought you home, did I?"
Lelouch shook his head. She continued.
"Daddy got hurt because he was at the base of the mountain where the first Angel attacked, but he's alright now…we're going to throw a party for him when he comes out of the hospital. Milly's gonna plan it out; you know she's great at parties. So, uh, Lulu, you want to…come? It's going to be in two weeks. The whole student council is going to be there."
He was going to refuse—Black Knights business will probably occupy most of his time—but then paused. He deserves a break, doesn't he? Besides, Suzaku had recently joined the council, so he should be there, too. Shirley's parents are somewhat open-minded about Numbers. It's been a while since he'd seen Suzaku Kururugi, and the fact that he is the pilot of the Lancelot…Lelouch still smarted from his surprise when the Lancelot opened, and Suzaku Kururugi stepped out. He needs to know more. Besides, the Eleven boy in charge of the Evangelion is getting lumped into Ashford, too. Lelouch could easily nudge him onto the council and ensure that he gets a chance to get closer to this kid as well.
'Not a bad idea, Shirley. Thanks,' he thought. Aloud, he simply said, "Sure, I'd love to come." She gasped in surprise, blushed, and mumbled an okay. Lelouch turned away with a smirk.
'Some people are born to be used.'
The Evangelion is moving slowly into a nearby building. The face of the building had disappeared, revealing a set of rails onto which the Evangelion mounted itself. The building's face slid back into view, apparently from underground, and shut the Evangelion away.
'The delivery system is built into the Settlement itself. Ingenious; they've been cooperating with the Empire for a long time now…yet even the highest nobles did not know!'
He'll have to dig at the Britannians for details again. Lelouch shook his head, gunned the bike and, with Shirley's shriek in his ears, blasted off into the streets.
"Why didn't you obey my orders?"
Shinji sat on a bench in the Nerv locker room, not speaking. Angrily, Misato grabbed him by the shirtfront and pulled him up. He hung his head, refusing to look at her.
"Answer me, damn it! Why didn't you retreat? Do you know what would have happened if you hadn't killed the Angel?"
Shinji tore Misato's hands away and pushed her off.
"And what if I did obey orders and retreat? What would have happened then?" he screamed. "If I ran, the Angel would've come into the ghetto! People were still there, but the Britannians would've shelled it anyway! All those people would've died!"
"Don't you care? Or are you just Britannia's lapdog?"
Her eyes dilated, her face flushed, and she slapped him across the face.
"Alright," he said. "If you don't want me here, I'll leave. I'm not going to pilot."
He pushed past Misato, opened the door, and walked away.
"Are you going to just walk away?" she called out after him.
"If the Britannians have a problem, the Britannians can deal with it!"
"He walked out?" Ritsuko asked, sipping a mug of coffee.
"I'm afraid so. He got mad over me ordering him to retreat," Misato said. Ritsuko's eyebrow perked.
"He doesn't seem like the kind of person to seek heroism," she said. "Why, was he angry that you tried to take away his chance at glory?"
"No, silly," Misato said. "He's no glory hound; he was angry because taking him off the battlefield meant that Shinjuku would be exposed—well, that's what he told me."
"Not really; I doubt he thought of it," Ritsuko said coldly. "Most likely, it is an excuse for himself about why he didn't retreat. A kid like him cannot possibly comprehend the full range of damage that the Angel could have done. If anything, he probably just wanted an excuse to answer to himself."
"That's an awfully cold way to put it."
"That's the nature of our line of work."
Misato leaned against the glass office door, crossing her arms over her chest.
"I hope he returns," she said. "It's a big burden, the survival of mankind. Besides, he's the only one who can do it, right?"
"Rei is incapacitated, and Unit 02 is yet to complete final inspections in Pendragon, so yes. Unit 01 is our only option should an Angel attack, say, tomorrow. But since the last one showed up after three weeks…well, in two weeks or so, Unit 02 should arrive. If we may believe the rumors about Langley's skill, then there should be no worry at all."
"Well, that's true, but it would still be nice to talk to Shinji again. We put him through too much to just dump him now. By the way, is Section 2 having any progress searching for him?"
Ritsuko's glasses glinted in the office light.
"They are saying that they have yet to track him down, but I doubt that's true. Unless Shinji is a counterintelligence expert, I find it hard to believe that Nerv's own security has yet to find him."
"Section 2 has its own agendas," Misato commented. "But I wonder…where would Shinji go?"
Several trains and a long walk brought Shinji Ikari to the Tokyo countryside. Here, rolling mountains dotted with terraced farms veiled themselves in faint mist, green with growing crops. He climbed up one such hill by means of a small dirt path. An hour or so later, he was at the top of the mountain, whose side was cut into a stepped rice field. He walked to the edge of the step he was on, and sat down there in the mist as wind whipped his hair and clothes about like a playful child. The mist parted, and he saw from a distance the glittering glass-and-steel glory of the Tokyo Settlement, seemingly unmarred by its recent conflicts. Perhaps they really don't need him at all. There was the Ayanami girl, wasn't there? And talk of taking in a Britannian Knight of the Round—the Second, he heard—as a pilot for a brand-new Evangelion that will be imported from the Britannian Homeland. He would doubtlessly be outclassed and obsolete. He has no real business here; he might as well go home.
Footsteps were all but silent on the wet earth, and he did not hear a group of people appear behind him until they were almost upon him through the stalks of rice. He dashed sideways and peered over the stalks. There were five people, four men and a girl. Two were guards, judging by their uniforms, and one was an old Eleven. The other two, the girl and another older man who looked just like her, were Britannians in bright red uniforms with gold trim. Nobility, perhaps, but the girl is walking far ahead of the man, who looked to be her older brother. It was odd, because she was about Shinji's age, and had distinct Asian features in her face. The old Japanese man was explaining something directly to the girl, who was nodding as if she was conducting an inspection of sorts. Shinji tried not to make a sound until they passed, but one of the guards looked his way, stopped, and stared at his hiding spot. The girl cut off the old man, and walked forwards, exchanging brief words with the guards. She looked for a moment at him, as if she could see through the rice stalks, and then pulled a pistol out of her belt, pointed, and shot at him. Stalks snapped backwards as Shinji yelped and jumped out of the patch, the bullet having barely hit his foot.
"Well, what do we have here?" she said. Her reddish-bronze hair fluttered in the sun, glowing with its rays. Her pants were expertly creased and starched a brilliant white, finished off by a pair of riding boots and a red infantry coat. She was beautiful, he thought, but that gun in her hand is also very real. She looked him up and down, and her eyes widened in recognition. Flicking the safety back on—she had undone it in a flash, she stowed it back into a holster on her hip.
"Who are you, Eleven?" the nobleman asked brusquely. "This is my family's private property! Get lost!"
"Not family holdings, Henry," the girl said lazily. "My personal holdings, and please, restrain yourself; this land is no longer yours. Finish the tour with Mr. Suzahara, please. I will escort our unexpected guest away."
The guards stepped forwards and nudged the man, now livid with rage, on, while the old Eleven nervously kept up his flow of talk. With the others gone, the girl turned on Shinji.
"Move it," she snapped. He began to walk nervously as she marched besides him.
"Um…are you…" he began. What was that name again? Misato had said…right. It was Langley. "Are you…Lady Langley?"
"Yes. And I know you are Shinji Ikari, pilot of—" she froze, her eyes darted around, and when she confirmed an absence of prying ears, she continued. "—Evangelion Unit 01 and that you are miles from your post at this moment. Why aren't you on alert? There could be an enemy attack any second!"
He turned his face.
"I quit," he said. "I don't want to do this anymore. All I do is hurt people…"
She half turned, stopped, and flushed much as her brother had.
'The rumors were right, and Nerv was covering this up…what is that woman thinking? How has their security not yet caught him? Did they just let him go?'
Right now, her Evangelion is still across the globe, in Nerv-Pendragon. Nerv's other Evangelion was in stasis after a severe accident, and the other pilot was incapacitated. She can't afford to let this boy just leave.
"So you ran away. Don't you know that more people will be hurt because you did not protect them?" she glowered.
"No-yes-they told me that! But…I still can't!" he yelled, stopping in his tracks. "They don't need me anyway, do they? They've got Ayanami, and…and you…and you all are so much better than me…you don't need me!"
"Ayanami is barely out of the hospital, and my Eva is in the Homeland, you idiot. You're the only one that can protect this place right now!" she scolded. Facing him, she glowered. "What are you talking about, you aren't needed? Didn't you kill two Angels already? What you did just a few days ago, charging at the Angel and saving those two kids…that was brave. Do you really want to stop now?"
He continued to look away, as if he did not want to meet her gaze. She saw the fear, the timidity, but also a spark of resistance. He, she concluded, was a land mine that won't ignite until stepped on.
"I'll take you back to the Settlement, where your deportation may be arranged," she said coldly. "It's alright; run away and let other people make sacrifices for you." They had reached the end of the dirt path and have come onto a highway, where a nondescript car laid in waiting. Langley shoved Shinji inside, took the front seat, and the driver sped off, looking curiously at Shinji in the rear view mirror. Langley had her back to him, sitting regally at ease, her posture straight and graceful. She had set her hair into a tight bun with a long ponytail cascading off of it. That stream of hair now winked playfully at Shinji, seeming to invite him to stroke its shiny length. It, however, was not the only thing caught in the sun. Langley had seen it too, crying out in surprise and calling for the driver to watch out, as what looked like a giant pyramid of crystal hurtled past them with three missiles on its tail. The whole group passed within meters of the car, which was lifted off the ground and sent skidding over the hard gravel path. Airbags instantly engulfed Shinji's vision as he felt his world spin. Moments later, three thundering explosions shook the vehicle again, setting it rocking on its back like a helpless, upturned beetle. The airbags deflated, and Shinji dangled above the car roof from his seat belt—he was thankful the driver had reminded them to put it on. Up in front, the driver's face was matted with blood, and Langley wasn't moving. Overhead, the sky glows a blue hue as the crystal spun around, opened its pyramidal body and fired a fast stream of positrons, clearing the sky of an entire wave of various projectiles and aircraft. The flames now raining down on the ground splattered the car's bottom, and to Shinji's horror, he could smell gasoline trickling inside it. Ahead, Langley was just now beginning to groan, and the driver seemed somewhat conscious, but neither was moving.
"Crap, crap," he whispered, panic rising fast. Fumbling fingers brought him crashing down, the seat belt whizzing back to its holder. Painfully, he crawled out the door. The window was a shattered mess of fragmented glass held together by the inner layers that bullet proofed it, and Shinji had to kick the door hard to open it. Once outside, he saw that the car was already burning over where the front seats were. He felt the urge to flee as fighter jets roared out their anger over his head, but a small twinkle of sunlight on a piece of scrap metal caught his eye, reminding him of Langley's radiant hair. With a supreme force of will, he turned around in his flight, dashed back to the car, and found the front door locked. Apparently, the front airbags have not deployed fast enough, or were damaged by shrapnel, because she wasn't moving. Unwilling to give up, Shinji ducked back into the interior, which was feeling hot from the fires burning on the roof, and, reaching gingerly, unlocked the door. The heat was intense, and the metal hot. Shinji cried out as he tried to grab the door handle from the outside. Gritting his teeth, he wrapped his hands around the burning metal and wrenched it open. Inside, she was regaining her awareness, and he caught her as she took off the seat belt. Unceremoniously, he dumped her to the ground, and dragged the driver out. The crystal had moved away far enough that there was some peace in the air, and Shinji took full stock of his situation. The driver, the same man who had approached him before, had an ugly cut on his head, which was slightly swollen, but he had already awoken and was wiping the blood off his face. The girl took a much worse head injury and was still moaning. Behind them, the fires crackled maliciously. Without a word, the driver picked up the girl and began to run. When they were sufficiently far away, he laid his mistress down gently onto a bed of leaves, and took out a phone. Shinji sat by, wordless, while the man arranged for a pickup and a medical team. He was around his late twenties, good looking, with a high cheekbone and strong nose, something of a rarity in Japan. His hair was longer than usual, and some of it clumped together at the middle, giving the impression that he may be used to braiding it into a ponytail.
"I am indebted to you," he said after a while. "And I suppose my mistress, too. Thank you."
"Sure," Shinji replied with total apathy, still gazing at Langley's face.
"She is still beautiful, no?" the man said softly, a little more at ease with his own race. "Even with the bruise." He put her into a more comfortable position and buttoned up her coat, then laying his own over her and tucking it in, much as a parent would a young child.
He looked at Shinji and smiled wanly.
"It's pleasant work to guard beauty, young man. You'll realize that soon, perhaps already. I'm Ryuji Kaji, by the way, personal manservant to her ladyship."
He extended a hand.
"Shinji Ikari; we've met, haven't we, Mr. Kaji?" Shinji said, shaking his hand. The grip was strong and dry.
"Yes, we have," Kaji said. "'Kaji' is fine when we are without formal company. May I call you Shinji?"
"Yea…sure," Shinji said. He looked worriedly at Langley. "Is she…alright?"
"Concussion, perhaps, but the front panel was soft and cushioned, and the airbag didn't fail altogether. She'll be fine if—"
He looked into the sky, where the giant crystal still roamed the skies, vaporizing everything with its particle beams. Now, it folded into the shape of a flower with countless sharp petals, and in a blinding flash, covered the sky in a barrage of beams out of every one of its petals. The little that remained of the air force disintegrated into balls of oily flames as they were massacred by the thousands of beams that played over the city, itself a patchwork of crisscrossing valleys dug by the beams.
"I am but a lowly servant, a piece of Lady Langley's furniture," Kaji commented drily. "I am powerless and cannot do anything to stop this carnage. But you, Shinji Ikari, you have a special gift. You can make a difference. You can do what no one else can."
Two strange looking aircrafts skidded to a halt over them, having flown low on their square VTOL engines. Each was marked with the palm leaf logo of Nerv, and one of them had 'medical' printed along its side. Field medics rushed out and carried Langley into the VTOL. As Kaji began to follow his mistress, he turned back.
"Young man, don't you have something to do right now?"
End Stage VI