A/N: Whew. I wanted to get this out way sooner, but real life decided to declare war on Mitigation for a while. I'm back though, and I'm back with an explosive new chapter.
Disclaimer: My understanding is that ownership of Neon Genesis Evangelion will be transferred to me when Units 01 and 02 team up to sing the Barenaked Ladies' "One Week" for the rest of the show's cast. Maybe I shouldn't hold my breath.
Neon Genesis Evangelion: Mitigation
Chapter 11: Sedition
"I can't believe he's a terrorist."
Asuka turned to look at the speaker, a girl seated a couple desks away. As with most of the people in her class, Asuka had never bothered to learn her name. She watched with narrowed eyes.
"I know," her friend replied. "He always seemed so nice. A bit quiet, but nice."
"I suppose it's not really that much of a surprise," the first girl shrugged. "It's always the quiet ones who are the most messed up."
"But still, blowing up city hall? They said on the news that they're still pulling out bodies."
Right around there, Asuka decided that she'd had enough. She was halfway out of her seat when a kick to the back of the chair made her turn around. Toji only met her eye for an instant, but the minute shake of his head was fairly emphatic. She would have ignored him had she not noticed his hand gripping the edge of the desk. There was so much force behind it that his knuckles were white.
She settled down with a low sigh and sat back in her seat. She knew that this kind of thing was to be expected, it was the first day of school since the bombing after all. That didn't make it any easier to hear them saying these things about Shinji.
The bell rang, prompting Asuka to shove her things into her bag and storm out of the classroom. The other students gave her a wide berth. Asuka Langley Sohryu's temper was legend, and none dared test her when she was clearly in a bad mood. Within minutes, she found herself on the roof and looking out at the city. For a long moment, she stood silently, feeling the frustration building inside. "Idiots," she spat. "Stupid idiots."
"They don't have a reason to doubt the official story," Kensuke's voice said from behind her. "They don't know what we do."
She turned to find the two stooges walking toward her. "They know him" she growled. "Shouldn't that be enough to know something doesn't add up?"
"But they don't know him," Toji said. He held up his hands defensively at the death glare Asuka shot him. "Hey, I hate hearing that shit about him just as much as you, but let's be real. Even before he left, most of the people here thought Shinji was just the weird quiet kid who piloted a giant robot."
The redhead sighed and sat down, pushing a hand through her hair. Her shoulders sagged. "Yeah," she muttered. "I know."
Toji and Kensuke sat down a few feet away from her. "Did you have a chance to talk to Misato yet?"
"No," she replied with a shake of her head. "She hasn't been home since the bombing. I've talked to her for maybe a total of a minute since then."
"When do you think she'll be back?" Kensuke looked nervous.
Asuka pursed her lips, "She said she hoped to be home tonight, but I don't know. I'll talk to her as soon as I can."
The sound of someone clearing their throat made the three teens spin around, the color draining from their faces. Hikari stood looking sheepish a couple yards away from them, a pair of lunchboxes in her hand. "I'm not interrupting anything, am I? I…brought a lunch for Suzuhara."
Toji stood up and took the proffered lunchbox with a warm smile. "Thanks, Class Rep." He glanced back at Kensuke and Asuka. "Do you want to sit with us?"
Hikari smiled, "I would like that."
As she sat down, the boys and Asuka exchanged wary glances. "So, Hikari," Asuka began, forcing a smirk to her face. "Were you eavesdropping on our conversation?"
The pigtailed girl looked positively mortified at the suggestion. "Of course not," she said. "I just overheard a little when I came up. Something about talking to Misato about something."
A quick exchange of glances and Asuka nodded. "I'm going to ask her about the bombing. About Shinji's involvement." She studied her friend's face for a moment. "You don't believe that he was involved, do you?"
"It's just so unbelievable," Hikari said. "He's always been so nice. It must be some kind of mistake."
The conversation faltered after that. The four students sat quietly and ate their lunches.
Misato Katsuragi liked to say that her office was a lesson in chaos theory. It wasn't because she felt it was a particularly apt description – she barely even knew what chaos theory entailed. She just always enjoyed watching Ritsuko's eye twitch in frustration when she said it. At the moment though, the chaos part at least was decidedly appropriate. Literally thousands of folders and papers stood in haphazard stacks around the office. The wave of orders, requisitions, complaints, and reports in the wake of the bombing had been unrelenting through the entire weekend.
Now, a haggard looking Misato struggled to keep her eyes open as she placed the last form on a stack and slumped back into her seat. She had walked into NERV late Friday afternoon, not even an hour after the bombing. It was now half past noon on Monday. In that time, she'd managed to grab maybe four hours of sleep on the small, uncomfortable cot in the corner of the office.
Hauling herself to her feet with a heavy sigh, she trudged toward the door, her feet knocking around the dozens of empty Styrofoam coffee cups littering the floor. That was the other complaint the raven-haired woman had. She hadn't had a single beer all weekend and it was wearing on her.
Lost in her own thoughts and exhaustion, Misato barely even realized that she was walking through the hallways until a voice called out behind her. "Colonel Katsuragi."
Misato glanced over her shoulder to find Makoto Hyuga walking toward her at a quick pace. She slowed to a stop to allow the bespectacled technician to catch up with her.
"We haven't seen you out of your office in days," he said. "Do you need anything?"
Misato shook her head. "Just someone to get the forms out of my office and delivered," she said hoarsely. The countless hours on the phone, many of them shouting furiously, hadn't done her voice any favors. "I'm done."
Hyuga nodded, "I'll take care of it." He started to turn to walk away.
Misato frowned, "Hyuga?"
He stopped and turned back toward her, "Yes, ma'am?"
"Have you heard anything new?"
The tech cocked his head to the side, "About the bombing?" He paused. "There really hasn't been anything new."
Rubbing her eyes, Misato nodded. "Have you seen this video I've been hearing so much about?"
"No," Hyuga replied with a shake of his head. "I don't know anyone who has, actually. I don't think the commanders have circulated it much."
Misato stopped walking and crossed her arms. "Does that make any sense to you?"
"Well," he said slowly, pushing up his glasses, "there could still be sensitive information in it. Something that can't be released yet for some reason."
The colonel's shoulders visibly tensed. "I'm not saying they should give it out to the public. But why would it be a problem if they shared it with some of us here? I know I could sure as hell use all the information available."
Hyuga took a moment to examine Misato's expression, "You don't think they're lying about it, do you?"
"What do you think?" Misato's asked in a low voice.
His brow furrowed, "I kind of have a hard time believing that Shinji was involved in something like that."
Misato nodded. "I can't believe he was involved," she said. "There's no way."
The nerdy tech's eyes darted nervously around the hallway, "What would the commanders have to gain from making something like that up?"
For a long moment, Misato didn't respond. "I need a ride home," she said abruptly.
"Uh, I beg your pardon?" Hyuga blinked in confusion.
"I've been up for almost three days straight," she said. "There's no way I can drive myself home. I'd probably pass out on the road."
Cleary confused by the sudden change in the conversation, Hyuga frowned. "Well…I can give you a lift if you want."
Misato nodded gratefully and offered a slight grin. "Thanks. In that case, just let me grab something from my office and we can get going." She turned and strolled briskly back toward her office.
Ten minutes later, Misato dropped into the passenger seat of Hyuga's car. She politely pretended not to notice the faint embarrassed flush that appeared on the tech's face when he had to move the pile of manga into the back seat so she could sit down. The drive passed in near silence, with Misato seemingly too tired to speak and Hyuga deciding not to force conversation.
He cast occasional glances toward her from the corner of his eye, alternating between her beautiful face and the thick folder in her lap. Misato just stared out the windshield, watching the city slide past as she drummed her fingers absently on the folder.
A few blocks from her apartment, Misato looked down at the folder. She squeezed her tired eyes shut, willing them to focus for just a little longer. She opened the folder and started leafing through the pages, copies of the documents Kaji had left her. The originals were safely hidden and these copies accompanied her practically everywhere.
Her gaze turned to Hyuga, who was trying desperately to pretend he wasn't watching her. She chewed thoughtfully on the inside of her cheek. If there was going to be any hope of bringing down the commander, she would need help. The trouble was figuring out who to bring in on the conspiracy. There were plenty of people she would like to have on her side, but almost none that she knew she could trust.
For several long minutes, she weighed her options. Hyuga would definitely be an asset in her private war. Would he be willing to join her though? Sure, he obviously found her attractive and was eager to please, but that was a far cry from being ready to do what technically amounted to high treason. Even if he would be willing to do something like that, there was no guarantee that he would believe her.
Misato pinched the bridge of her nose. Just as she opened her mouth to say something, Hyuga beat her to it. "Do you really think Shinji had nothing to do with the bombing?"
Misato's head snapped up. "I'm sure of it," she said. "I take it you have doubts?"
Hyuga took a second to gather his thoughts. "Like I said, I have a hard time believing that he was involved. I think there must be some kind of mistake."
Well, this seemed like a promising opportunity. Misato decided to approach it delicately. "I don't think it's a mistake at all."
"You think it's a lie?" Hyuga sounded uncertain as he pulled to a stop in front of Misato's apartment.
She looked down at the folder in her lap. "It would hardly be the first important thing the commander's lied to us about."
A look of concern crossed the lieutenant's face. "What do you mean?"
Misato forced back a yawn and sighed. Wordlessly, she handed the folder to him.
"What's this?" he asked as his eyes started rapidly roving across the first page inside. As he read, his back straightened and the color faded from his face. Misato watched him anxiously. He finally looked up, eyes wide, after reading a dozen or so pages. He gulped. "Where did you get this?"
"A friend left it for me," she said cryptically. "Someone I trust completely."
"Why did you show it to me?" he asked, pushing hand through his hair.
A look of stony determination hardened Misato's tired face. It was a look familiar to anyone who'd seen her during an Angel battle. "I need your help," she said.
"With what?" Hyuga's expression was one of unabashed nervousness.
A harsh smirk spread across her face. "We're going to war."
Shinji forced himself to control his breathing as the gun in his hand clicked. He released the empty clip and grabbed a new one, ramming it home and chambering a round. Six more shots echoed through the room before he engaged the safety and set the gun down. He took a deep breath as he looked at the paper targets arrayed in front of him.
Vasily stepped up next to him and nodded approvingly. "Very good, Shinji," he said. "I only counted four misses. You have improved considerably."
"Thank you," Shinji said. "I just…is this really going to be helpful if I'm in a real fight?"
"It's not ideal," Kaji admitted as he stepped up next to Vas. "If we had the time, we'd be putting you through something much more intense."
"How much time would that take?" Shinji asked. "We've been here for days already. It feels like we haven't been doing anything useful."
Kaji frowned. "I know, Shinji. We're still trying to piece together what happened back in Tokyo-3."
"I know," the boy muttered. "Did you figure anything out yet?"
Kaji and Vas exchanged a glance. "Just suspicions," the Russian said. "We don't have much in the way of a plan yet."
Shinji crossed his arms, "I think I'm entitled to know what's going on. I'm just as much a part of this as you are."
A heavy silence fell over the gun range for a long minute. Kaji nodded, "You're right, Shinji." After a nod from Vas, he continued, "Come on, we'll show you what we've got so far."
Shinji followed them to the situation room, a sizeable room lined with screens. In the center of the room was a large table. Shinji noted that a series of projectors were built into the table's surface. Kaji strode over to a laptop that was plugged directly into the table. A three dimensional holographic representation of Tokyo-3 appeared on the tabletop.
"We don't really know what's going on," Kaji said. "In fact, I doubt anyone outside of the city does." He punched in another command and a transparent red cylinder was layered around the city.
Vasily gestured to the cylinder. "It seems that a total communications blackout has been imposed on the city," he said. "Internet access is being cut off at the service providers in the city, while television, radio, and just about all other signals are being blocked by some kind of sophisticated jamming system."
"The only signal that's come out of the city since Friday are repeated warnings to passing aircraft that Tokyo-3 airspace is closed," Kaji added. "Ground traffic is still being turned away by JSSDF troops, but they aren't giving out any information."
Shinji stared at the hologram. "So, my father's managed to completely isolate all of Tokyo-3. We knew all of that on Friday. Isn't there anything new?"
Kaji brought an excerpt from an official looking document up on one of the screens on the wall. "It turns out that NERV's United Nations charter gives the commander authority to go dark like this under emergency circumstances." He grimaced, "I have no idea what kind of systems they're using to do it. Whatever it is must be absurdly powerful to cut the entire city off so completely."
"So…so we have no idea what's going on?" Worry was plainly written on Shinji's expression.
"We've managed to access some Keyhole spy satellite images," Vasily said. "They are of limited use, but it seems like the city is under martial law. JSSDF troops patrol the streets twenty-four hours a day and it appears that a curfew is in effect." While Vas explained, Kaji brought up satellite surveillance images.
Shinji tried to study the photos, but couldn't really make heads or tails of them. "What about the…"
"There's been no sign of Eva deployment," Kaji cut him off, anticipating the question.
The fourteen year old visibly relaxed. "I guess you aren't expecting to be able to learn much more," he stated.
"Not from the outside," Kaji replied.
Shinji's head snapped up. "You mean we're going back?"
The scruffy spy shook his head. "We're not. At least not yet." He went on at Shinji's confused look, "You and I still have to get to New Manhattan. That's more important than ever now."
"Then what…" he trailed off as he looked over at Vas.
The Alpha Group leader nodded, "My team will infiltrate Tokyo-3 and get a feel for the situation. We'll figure out how the jamming works and try to make contact with anybody who might be friendly to our cause."
Shinji glanced toward Kaji, "Misato?"
"She's as good a place as any to start," Kaji said.
Shinji nodded his understanding. Then something occurred to him and he frowned. "How much do you think you'll be able to accomplish with just a few people in the city?" Shinji struggled to piece together the plan. "You'll be outnumbered right off the bat."
"That's where we come in," Kaji interjected. "If we do what we need to in New Manhattan, we'll have all the help we need."
Shinji looked back and forth between the two men. "I thought you said you didn't quite have a plan yet."
"Okay, that was a little lie," Kaji smirked. "We weren't sure if you were ready to hear about it all. You proved to us that you were."
"I want to end this all," Shinji said as he glanced toward the floor. "I want to go home." He looked back up, feeling a surge of emotion, "I want to stop my father."
Kaji and Vas nodded. "Good," Kaji said. "Because we'll be ready to move in the next day or two."
The door to the Katsuragi apartment slid open with a low hiss. Asuka stepped inside with a weary groan. School had been a colossal waste of time, not that that was anything new. There hadn't even been another opportunity to talk to the stooges after lunch, so things were essentially sitting in neutral on that front.
She perked up at the sight of Misato's shoes next to the door. She was finally home. Maybe something useful would come out of today after all. Stepping out of her own shoes, Asuka walked into the living room to find her guardian passed out on the couch. Well, half on the couch would be more accurate. The woman's upper body had made it onto the cushions, but her legs were on the floor.
Asuka rolled her eyes and quietly stepped across the living room, shaking her head. Misato murmured in her sleep as the teen's foot hit an empty beer can on the floor. When Asuka reached the couch, she grabbed Misato's legs and carefully lifted them onto the couch with the rest of her body. Asuka looked at the sleeping woman with a wry grin on her face and turned toward her room.
"Asuka?" Misato's tired voice called out from behind her.
The redhead stopped and grimaced. Figures the one time she actually tries to let the woman sleep is the one time she wakes up at the drop of a hat. "Yeah, Misato, it's me," she said as she turned around again. "Welcome home."
"Thanks," Misato groaned as she sat up. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes, "What time is it?"
Asuka glanced at the clock, "A little after four."
She nodded. "Three hours," she whispered to herself. "That should hold me over until tonight." She looked at Asuka as the teen walked back into the living room and sat on the other end of the sofa. "How have you been holding up the last couple days?"
Asuka furrowed her brow. "I'm getting by," she said. An awkward silence ensued for a few moments before she spoke again. "Have you learned anything new about what happened?"
Misato stared at Asuka for a few seconds before her eyes turned toward the floor thoughtfully. "No," she finally said, "I haven't. It doesn't seem like anybody has, either. I don't think anyone's even seen the tape the commander talked about."
A small noise of derision made its way out of Asuka's throat. "Still nothing about Shinji?"
"Nothing," Misato said with a shake of her head. "He's definitely not in Tokyo-3 anymore, as far as I can tell." She studied Asuka curiously, "Did you really think there would be?"
"I figured there might be more of an effort in it now that he's a terrorist mastermind." The bitterness in the girl's voice was impossible to miss.
Misato frowned, clearly hurt by Asuka's implication, "You think we weren't really looking for him before?"
"I think you were," she replied, leaning back into her seat. "I'm not so sure the commander's all that worried about getting him back safe and sound."
Misato chewed at her lower lip thoughtfully. "You think there's something not quite right about this whole situation, don't you?"
Asuka snorted, "That's an understatement."
"Me too," Misato said quietly.
Abruptly, Asuka stood up. "Let's go out for dinner," she said.
Misato blinked, struggling to keep up with the sudden change in the conversation's direction. She was about to decline, to say that she was too tired, but stopped herself. Asuka appeared to have come alive, filled with an energy that Misato had rarely seen from her lately. A fire burned in the girl's eyes. She nodded, "Okay."
Asuka grinned and retreated to her room. She quickly changed out of her school uniform and opened the drawer of her nightstand. Hidden safely at the bottom was a small SD memory card. She quickly pocketed it and shut the drawer.
Out in the living room, she found Misato waiting patiently, her red bomber jacket slung over her shoulder. "I don't have my car," she said. "I was too tired to drive myself home, so I had Hyuga drive me." She grinned apologetically, "So we'll have to go somewhere close by."
"Whatever," Asuka shrugged. "How about that ramen place a couple blocks away?"
Misato considered this for a moment and nodded her consent. As they left the apartment, Asuka pulled her cell phone out of her pocket. She fired off a quick text message and put the device away.
In the restaurant, the two sat in a contemplative silence for several long minutes. Neither of them said anything, save for the few words it took to place their orders. After that, they went back to studying each other from across the table. Misato finally leaned forward and rested her elbows on the edge of the table, "Was there something you wanted to talk about?"
Asuka's expression hovered around indecision for a second before settling into resolve. "Yeah," she said. Misato started to say something, but Asuka reached into her pocket and placed an SD card on the table. She slid it toward Misato.
The older woman picked it up and frowned, "What's this?"
Asuka's gaze flicked around the restaurant before returning to Misato, "Just watch it."
Frowning, Misato slid the card into the appropriate slot on the side of her phone. Finding only one file in the card's directory, she opened it to find black and white security footage. She looked up and cast a quizzical look at Asuka. The girl's intense gaze led her to look back down at the video. A few minutes later, she looked back up with wide eyes. "Where did you get this?" Her voice was hoarse.
Asuka didn't say anything, but nodded toward the door. Turning around in her seat, Misato found herself looking at Toji Suzuhara and Kensuke Aida as they approached their table.
The boys stopped and bowed when they reached the table. "Good evening Colonel Katsuragi," they said in unison.
"Uh, hey guys," she said distractedly. Her gaze had returned to the paused video on the cell phone.
Toji lifted an eyebrow and looked at Asuka, "Okay, Devil, we're here. What's going on?"
"I just showed Misato the tape," she said.
Misato's head snapped up at that. "They know about this too?"
"They're the ones who showed it to me," Asuka replied
The colonel wearily studied the nervous looking boys. "I think you'd better start at the beginning."
Asuka nodded as Toji and Kensuke sat down.
Commander Ikari assumed his usual pose as he sat behind his desk. His sunglasses somehow managed to take the low light of the office and menacingly reflect it back at Director Olev, who stood at attention on the other side of the desk. "What is it, Olev?"
"I've received an update from Phantom and Task Group Seven," Olev reported.
"They've located Kaji and the Third," the director said. "They are hiding out at a Russian military base on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. It seems that our suspicions were correct. They do appear to be with an Alpha Group team."
"I see," Ikari said. "Do they have a plan yet?"
Olev shook his head, "Not yet, sir. The risk of a raid on the base is too high. They are waiting for an opening. Most likely, they will be unable to act until the targets leave the base for something."
Ikari leaned back in his seat. "Have they shown any signs that they will leave the base in the near future?"
Olev frowned thoughtfully. "I really could not say, sir. Kaji and the Third have only been out in the open a handful of times, and never together. The Alpha team has been in and out more frequently, but it is difficult to say what they are planning."
Ikari nodded. He showed no sign of an emotional response, but Olev suspected that he was less than pleased. "Very well," he said. "Tell them to stand by for the time being. If an opening presents itself, they are to take it."
"Yes, sir," Olev said. "I'll relay the order immediately." He paused for a second. "There's something else, Commander."
Ikari arched an eyebrow.
"I've had a team looking into the Vice Commander's activities since the Third's escape, as you asked," he said.
"Have they found something?" The commander actually sounded interested.
Olev nodded, "Yes, Commander, they have. A phone record from the night of the escape."
"Why did it take this long to find something like that?"
Olev visibly tensed at the unspoken rebuke. "Sir, the call was made from a prepaid cell phone that we did not know the Vice Commander possessed. The smashed remains were discovered in his trash."
"What exactly did this call entail?" Ikari asked as he leaned forward in his seat again.
Olev reached into his uniform's breast pocket and pulled out a small recording device. He pressed play and placed it on Ikari's desk.
The sound of a ringing phone carried through the air for a second. "Hello?" a voice that Ikari immediately recognized as Agent Kaji asked.
The commander's eyes narrowed as Fuyutsuki's voice responded, "Section Two has been moved to Condition Black Three."
"When?" Kaji asked after a brief pause.
"Four minutes ago," Fuyutsuki's voice said.
The recording ended there. Ikari stared at the device on his desk. "It seems the vice commander has betrayed us," he said after a long moment.
"Yes, sir, it does," Olev said. "How would you like to proceed?"
Ikari took a second to consider this. "Have Section Two take him into custody," he ordered. "We can decide what to do with him once he is in a cell."
Olev nodded. "With your permission, Commander, I will see to it at once."
Ikari nodded. Olev turned on his heel and strode toward the door. Another question from the commander brought Olev to a stop. "Has the conditioning of the JSSDF troops commenced?"
Olev paused as he recalled his earlier briefing on the matter. "It has commander," he said. "The chemical additives have been introduced to all of their meals and the subliminal messaging program is in full swing."
"Do you have an idea of effectiveness?" Ikari asked.
"We have no way of knowing," Olev said. "Short of an event that will test their loyalty, it is impossible to be sure. Our best guess is currently around fifty percent."
Ikari nodded. "Very well, you are dismissed."
The commander stared at the door as it closed, hands folded in front of his face. His mind raced through what he had just learned. A low sigh escaped his lips. "I never thought it would come to this, Professor," he whispered.
Shinji wiped away the sweat running down his forehead as he panted heavily, trying mightily to ignore the burning in his chest. He listened to the regular rhythm of his feet as he circled the indoor track. He had no idea how long he'd been running in this circle, but he was rapidly reaching his limit.
"Faster, Shinji," the muscular Russian man shouted in English from one side of the wall.
"I'm trying," Shinji panted back as he redoubled his efforts, once again glad that his old teacher had insisted that he learn English. He was rewarded with a harsher burn in his lungs and no extra speed. Shinji had always taken a small measure of pride in his ability to run, but he was seriously being put through the wringer here. It was working though, he figured. His endurance, while nothing extraordinary, had noticeably improved during his brief time here, as had his speed.
The boy's train of thought was disrupted by a flurry of motion out of the corner of his eye. His Evangelion-battle-honed reflexes instantly had him diving away to avoid the kick aimed at his midsection. He scrambled to his feet and fell into a ready posture, still panting heavily. "What was that for, Lev?"
Lev was introduced to Shinji as Vas's resident hand-to-hand combat expert. Until this moment, Shinji had been of the mind that he was a good teacher. He taught Shinji a handful of useful moves for when he got into a fight and did a great job of pushing him to build his endurance. He'd never randomly attacked before.
"Testing your reflexes," Lev said. "Good dodge. Now try to hit me."
Shinji wiped more sweat away from his forehead. "I kind of need a minute here."
"You won't get a minute in a real fight," Lev said. He threw a punch at Shinji's face, forcing the boy to dodge. "Now try to hit me," he said again, punctuating each word with a swing.
Drawing in a deep breath, Shinji sidestepped a punch and moved in toward the Russian. He dodged another punch and threw one of his own. Lev easily caught it and tossed Shinji away. The boy grunted as he landed in a heap. He rolled out of the way to avoid another attack and pushed himself to his feet. He charged in, ducking his head under a punch and feinted with his left before throwing a right hook.
Lev dodged and gave him a solid punch in the stomach for his trouble. Shinji dropped to his hands and knees, the breath knocked out of him. It took a second, but he managed to breathe again. He looked up, past Lev and toward the door. "Vas," he called out, forcing a grin to his face.
Automatically, Lev straightened up. "Commander," he said as he turned around to find a shut door and no sign of his commanding officer. He realized his error an instant too late. Shinji swept the soldier's legs out from under him, sending him crashing to the floor. Shinji stood over the man with a nervous grin.
Lev laughed heartily as he climbed back to his feet. "Well done, Shinji. It has been a long time since someone managed to knock me down."
A small smile formed on Shinji's face. "I wasn't sure if you'd be annoyed by that trick."
"You used something you knew would work to give yourself an advantage," Lev replied with a shake of his head. "I couldn't be happier."
Shinji's smile faltered as he sat down and started catching his breath. "I mean, I won't be able to use that in a fight."
Lev shrugged. "It doesn't matter," he said. "The point is that you were thinking in the right way. You were looking for any kind of advantage you could get. That will serve you well."
Shinji's smile returned as his breathing returned to normal. Lev tossed him a water bottle and towel.
Half an hour later, Shinji found himself in the Alpha team's mess hall, wolfing down a plate of he didn't even know or care what. He looked up as Kaji pulled up a seat across the table. "Vas tells me your crash course is going well," he said.
Shinji shrugged. "I guess," he said. "I'm better than before, but I'm still not great."
"It takes a long time to develop solid shooting skills," Kaji said. "Any ability you have will be useful though. Besides, if you're lucky, you won't need to fire your gun."
Shinji sat quietly for a moment. He looked up at the ponytailed man. "Kaji? Have you killed a lot people?"
Kaji's expression darkened. "More than I care to remember," he said.
"How do you deal with it?" the boy asked.
The man took a moment to consider the question. "You try not to think of it," he finally said. "If you have to think of it, you try to remember why you did it."
"What do you mean?"
Kaji leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms. "In the moment, it was him or you. Or him or your friends. You're fighting for what you love, and you have to protect that." He paused. "You have to know what you're fighting for."
Shinji nodded slowly. "I know what I'm fighting for."
"Then you'll do fine," Kaji said. "It will be hard, but you'll make it."
Vice Commander Fuyutsuki shuffled through the plethora of papers on his desk, a dour frown on his face. Once upon a time he considered this type of clerical work the most excruciating part of his job. Lately though, he found himself happy to take on any task that kept him away from Ikari. The less time spent around the commander, the better.
His work was disrupted by the opening of his office door. He glared and opened his mouth, ready to dress down whoever had the nerve to barge into his office without so much as a knock. He stopped short at the sight of Hiroji Sato's concerned expression. The Section Two agent had a finger pressed against his earpiece and seemed to be listening intently to something.
After a handful of seconds, he lowered his hand and looked at the vice commander. "Bad news, sir," he said. "Commander Ikari's ordered us to take you into custody."
The pen slipped out of Fuyutsuki's hand. "For what?"
Sato's hand inched toward his gun, just enough to be perceptible. "For aiding and abetting a terrorist. You're wanted for helping get Pilot Ikari out of the city."
Fuyutsuki swore under his breath. "So what happens now?"
"Is it true?" Sato's voice shook, ever so slightly. His hand twitched in the direction of his gun again.
"Half of it," Fuyutsuki said levelly. "I did help Ikari get away. But he is not a terrorist."
Sato regarded him for a moment before he drew his gun. Fuyutsuki hung his head and sighed, resigned to his fate. Instead of moving to arrest him though, the Section Two agent cracked open the office door and peered out into the hallway. "Then we need to get you out of here," he said. "We'd better move quickly."
Fuyutsuki stood up, more than a little surprised. "That's it?"
Sato glanced back at the older man and frowned. "I just needed to hear it from you, sir. We don't exactly have time for the whole story right now."
The older man nodded and rounded the desk. "So what does happen now?"
Sato was looking out at the hallway again. "We make a run for the motor pool and barrel out of here like a bat out of hell," he said. "It's not that long of a run to the garage." He pushed open the door and stepped into the hallway, gesturing for the vice commander to follow him.
"Everything in the motor pool is outfitted with a GPS tracker," Fuyutsuki said as he followed Sato out of the office. "We won't get very far like that."
"We don't need to get far," Sato replied. "Just away from headquarters. After that, we can ditch the car and find somewhere to lay low."
Fuyutsuki nodded as he followed Sato into a stairwell. They hustled down three flights of stairs before encountering anyone. "Freeze," a Section Two agent, one who Fuyutsuki recognized as another member of his security detail, shouted. He stood on the landing they'd just past, pointing a gun at them.
Without hesitation, Sato whipped around and opened fire in the other agent's direction. None of the shots hit, but the agent retreated back up the stairs and out of sight. Sato grabbed the vice commander's arm and started him running down the stairs again. He sent an occasional shot back up the stairs to keep the pursuing agent at bay. A couple minutes later, they burst through a door and into NERV's expansive garage.
Sato pointed to a black sedan a few yards away. Fuyutsuki nodded and the two men took off toward the car. Sato smashed the driver side window with his elbow and reached in to hit the power locks. They dove into the car, Sato being careful on the shattered glass. Half a dozen Section Two agents sprinted through the door and opened fire on the car.
The vehicle's bulletproofing protected them while Sato took a couple seconds to hotwire the car. He threw the car into drive and burned rubber as he accelerated toward the steep slope of the tunnel that connected the Geofront to the surface. The heavy blast shields were slowly grinding closed. "Hold on tight, sir," Sato growled.
The car's engine roared as the car raced through the tunnel. They cleared the first blast door easily as gunshots pounded the back of the car, several splintering the bulletproof rear window. The doors closed slowly enough that the next four didn't pose any real threat, though each one was a little closer than the last.
The final blast door was flush with the street. It was also nearly completely closed. "Can we make it through that opening?" Fuyutsuki asked, a nervous quiver in his voice.
"Let's find out," Sato muttered. He carefully manipulated the car to line up with the steadily shrinking opening. He gritted his teeth while Fuyutsuki winced. The scream of tortured metal filled the air as the side mirrors were sheared off along with the paint on either side of the car. The wheels left the ground as the car launched out into the open air. It landed with a crash and took off down the street.
A/N: WABAM. I am back. I'm really happy with the way this chapter turned out. Less so with how long it took to get out, but that's life. You folks should strap in, because from here on out, I'm dropping a brick on this story's accelerator. The players are taking their places and things are rushing toward the explosive conclusion.
Last chapter's brief look at Post-Third Impact Earth seemed pretty well received. I originally planned to include the next glimpse in this chapter, but it had already taken so long to get out that I pushed it back. It's most likely going to open the next chapter, which I've already started writing. I'll be honest, I never really planned to spend all this much time in P3I Earth, but I altered my plans because of popular demand. I'm glad I did, because I think it enriches the story, but I hope you'll forgive me if it feels less thought out than the rest of the story.
Chuckman: Did I really pick the right interpretation? Awesome. In all honesty, my knowledge of Japanese is essentially nil, so I just picked the meaning that seemed the least hopeless to me. I'm not really sure where the poetic quality came from in the post strangling scene, as it's pretty different from my usual style. It just kind of flowed. I was thrilled with the way it turned out.
Jack: I'm going to have to beg for your forgiveness, my friend. No P3I here, but I can promise a nice hefty serving of it in the next chapter. I didn't really put much thought into the name "Skyfall" beyond wanting to give the latest James Bond movie a shoutout.
JDH1080: Sorry to disappoint on the P3I front. Stay tuned though, there's quite a bit of it in the pipeline. I hope you enjoy this installment still.
Ben: Yes and no on the Angel attacks. It's been a while out of story, but in universe it hasn't been that long. Next chapter will see the next one, though. As for the sequel theory, it certainly has some compelling evidence supporting it, but I'm not sure if I buy it. It seems a little simplistic for Anno. That's how I see it at least.
Lady SJ: Orchestrating the Silence was phenomenal. I don't expect my representation of P3I will match up with its quality, but I hope it's enjoyable nonetheless.
cltheo: Haha. No, Skyfall was purely a shoutout to the Bond movie. I can't begin to tell you how thrilled I am that people are enjoying this story. I've had a blast writing it, so it's awesome that people like it. Here's to your guys' continued enjoyment.
watchdog: Shinji will indeed man up. He won't become a total badass, but he'll definitely step it up. And Kozo…as it turns out, he can't stay under the radar very long.
Ctelenku: I'm glad you're willing to wait. Sorry I made you wait this long.