It was a question of numbers, really.
The math to warfare was not always the most straightforward of algorithms and formula. The numbers always had their own way of working in context to the situation. Not just the number of bodies, but the quality of that number, and all the little numbers that tagged along: number of bullets. Number of weapons. Number of rations.
It was all about the numbers.
The numbers had daunted Misato when she read the clinical report that Kaji wrote. The projected timetable for Instrumentality. The individuals known to be part of that dread conspiracy. The suspected members. The end, ultimate goal.
What could be brought to bear to achieve that end. A whole country…a whole planet…all those resources directed here, on one place. To achieve an end…incalculable.
She felt the despair in that moment, shuffling through the papers, until she got to the end. A small envelope, that smelled of cologne, with her name on it, attached in rubber band to a small, black cell phone. Something tucked in the back, where he knew she would find it, and read it, after seeing the gravity of what he had found. What he faced off against, alone. She opened it, and it was a card with a single phone number on it, and a little, handwritten note:
I wish this could have been diamonds, but I think it’ll be worth more in the end. Make use of it.
A single phone number. A special phone. And all of this.
She had made a call. And things…started…to move.
“Roughly three hundred pax,” the JSSDF Major said, his face angular in the shadows cut by the headlights. Misato narrowed her eyes cautiously, then circled past him to glance at the first of the trucks idling by the bend. The Southern Access Road wound through low hills and dense tree-line, and she knew that there were at least fifteen to twenty more vehicles tucked behind that first one. Closer was the Major’s command vehicle, a cockroach-like armored vehicle with roughly a squad of soldiers inside. Two of them stood by the open hatch, their weapons low but not stowed.
They wore tactical balaclavas, and their nametapes and ranks had been removed. They still had, however, the Japanese flag on one shoulder. Non-tactical patches, so the white and red of the flag was blisteringly apparent in the dark, and through the haze of the vehicles lights. On the other would be the current CRF unit patch.
Sanitized to protect individual identities, but not enough to leave no doubt as to the unit and nation of these soldiers.
“What about assets? Attachments?” Misato asked.
“Official, or otherwise?” the Major replied. He was a short, lean, hungry looking man, a few inches shy of Misato’s height. His balaclava had been pulled down and tucked under his chin, revealing his humorless face.
“Officially, we have two teams from the Special Forces Group. Reliable, so no worries. We also a have a Prophet, though I imagine you have similar devices within the GeoFront?”
“No trust?” Misato smiled, and held her hands wide. The Major almost met the smile, but his face continued to hold its cool demeanor.
“We have some drones, mostly hand-launched, though we have a pair of Albatross catapult launched. A few armored vehicles, multiple trucks, combat cars. We have a platoon of attached engineers, with their own Lieutenant. If you want an exact count, I suggest speaking to my first sergeant.”
“In about…,” the Major checked his watch, “One hour, there will be news teams crawling over this place, videotaping a cordon of Japanese soldiers providing security to the GeoFront.”
Misato nodded, smiling slightly. So that was it. Not enough troops to assist in truly defending the facility, but good quality troops…the best quality, really. Troops that were supposedly loyal to whoever was currently cooling his heels in the Prime Minister’s office while the previous occupant was probably tied up in a closet somewhere. And not enough to take the facility (at least, not quickly), but enough to make a ring. Guard the entrances, set up pickets, provide a true, 360 degree bubble of security around the facility. And to do so publicly, in full view of everyone.
She had been given hostages. She could work with this.
“We are happy to accept your help, Major. Please send your First Sergeant to the bridge, with the exact numbers of your personnel, a list of items you have…we can see about resupply if necessary. Transponders on your vehicles would be useful, too, assuming they all have satellite link-ups?”
“They do, but we’re currently running dark. Our internal comps are off, at the moment.”
“I have a brilliant little staff that I am certain will be able to tie your vehicles into our net securely, if you’re willing.”
“…M’kay,” Misato murmured, rubbing her teeth with her thumb. “Right. Send them in.”
“We’ll go where you need us,” the Major said, and turned back to his vehicle. He cycled his arm in the air, and the engine of the command carrier revved. Behind, the first truck blared its horn, and like an answering chorus, more truck horns called back.
The Army was moving in.
“It’s like a movie, huh?” Aoba was slowly tracing the big bandage on his face with the fingers of his left hand, cautiously probing at it.
“Stop that,” Maya scolded.
“It’s just…it feels weird. Like numb-ish, but not numb. It’s supposed to hurt, right?”
“It will if you don’t stop messing with it,” she complained. “Look, damn it, it’s bleeding again.”
“Ah!” Aoba pulled his hand away, looking at the small red smudges on his fingertips. Maya grabbed some of the gauze left by he medic on the console, and pressed it against Aoba’s shoulder.
“Gently apply it to your cheek, not too hard,” she said. Aoba sighed, accepting the gauze and cautiously pressing it against his face. He then resumed watching the JSSDF troops arranging their trucks as a squad of engineers pulled out bales of concertina wire. They were efficient, but relaxed. Almost bored in their movements.
“Look at these guys,” Hyuga chided, highlighting and zooming in on a pair of troops with their rifles slung. One was leaning against a truck’s fender, while his partner had wedged his balaclava up enough to allow him to smoke a cigarette. “Pride of the nation.”
“They’re both tougher than you, you know?” Aoba said.
“No doubt about it it,” Hyuga said. The phone on the console rang, and he sat up, answering it. It was the unmarked cellular, the one that had started this whole chain of events. “Ma’am,” he said.
“I take it you guys are watching our friends trundling about the perimeter?”
“And mocking them, yes.”
“Please don’t, we might actually need their help,” Misato said. “You should be getting their first sergeant soon, with their transponder codes among other things. Can you plug those into our net?”
“I’ll have Maya do it. Unless there’s something else you want me to check for.”
“There’ll be a good number of them. Any chance one of them might be a bug, or….”
“…or we’re giving one of their vehicles access to Magi, I got it. No worries, ma’am.”
“Also, as soon as you’re done with that…uh…it might…be a good idea to get…you know, get Samson ready.”
“…Really? Are you…?”
“Just in case. Don’t do anything rash, just…in case we need it, you know?”
“…Yeah, I can do that. That can be done. Also, in fifteen more minutes, we’ll have the internal nets scrubbed, and we’ll be able to use comms again.”
“Good. Which reminds me, have we located the Vice-Commander yet?”
“No, ma’am. We’ve narrowed down where we think he is, but….”
“Yeah, but. That needs to be a priority. As soon as he is located, he needs to be brought the bridge. I have to make a stop, but I’ll be p soon.”
“Roger, ma’am.” The line clicked, and Hyuga put the phone down. “God.”
“What?” Maya asked.
“The Major just asked me to prepare the Samson option?”
“We don’t…we won’t need that, will we?” Maya asked, shocked. Hyuga’s mind filled momentarily with the image of a great, smoking crater in the ground, ash and carbonized molecules drifting through the air of where there had once been a vast, layered structure. And somewhere at the center of that smoldering wasteland would have been the place that they had been sitting, at the bridge, when they blew it all up.
“No…I trust it won’t come to that,” Hyuga mumbled, and then cursed himself for making foolish promises. On the screen, the soldiers had finished their smoke break. They hefted their rifles, and went back to work.
Shinji stared out over the bloody sea, as the gory water sopped on to the sand. The remains of the old wold lingered around him, and the afterbirth of the new one was splattered in front of him. It pooled in the sea, and seemed sprinkled across the sky: a great, red band that seemed to splatter against the moon. A gash in the sky.
He had been here before. He would be here again. He was there, and then not. He was here, and then never. He was in all places, at all times, and this is where he would always find himself, again and again. It would be always be here, and he would always be in this place.
“Hey, there, kid,” the voice said, and it was familiar in ways that were both saddening and nostalgic. He turned to the source, and saw a tall man next to him, thin but solid. He seemed younger than he should be, but older than time. He looked very familiar, but Shinji couldn’t decide from where.
“Hi,” he mumbled, listless.
“How are you holding up?”
“…I’m good. I guess.”
“That’s good. Keep yourself upright, you know.”
“Apathy at that age…I remember that.”
“Not when I just got here.” The man stretched, gazing out over the ocean. “We always end up back at this one spot. It’s like we can’t ever avoid it. We’re being drawn to it, you know?”
“This spot. This beach. This water. This sky. It’s here, waiting for us and demanding our presence.” The man looked at Shinji. The boy thought he looked like Kaji, and he felt pain. Pain and loss, that disappeared as quickly as it arrived, pushed back into the box. Distant, and closed.
“What are you talking about?” Shinji mumbled.
“That this place is meant for us. Tailor made and designed. In one form, or another.”
“Hey, look, it’s starting,” the man said, and pointed up. Shinji looked, as light split across the sky. Thousands of crosses seemed to linger overhead, and he felt a strange sense of longing and dread.
“Don’t run away.”
He sat up, wobbly and feeling fuzzy. There was gentle noise, the hum of machines and low-voices of people moving around him. He squirmed into a sitting position, drool slicked on his cheek from slipping too hard. He rubbed ineffectually at it, snuffling. His eyes focused, and he saw Asuka in the bed next to him.
The image of that night came to him, when he found her sleeping next to him. The panic, the sweat, the butterflies and shocking desire all muddled up and mingled. Looking at her now brought none of that. Just hurt. Hurt, and confusion, and other feelings. Deep, dark and hopeless feelings. Shuddering, he got to his feet, carefully moving next to her bed.
She had gone away. Not physically, she was always there, but she had gone away. She was not here, and had not been here for a while. Not since that day, that day when she just couldn’t Pilot anymore. That day when she began changing, and the change frightened him, and he looked at her and he saw Asuka, but it wasn’t. It was an impostor, and he wanted who she was back. He wanted her to scoff at him. To talk down to him. To call him an idiot. Anything.
To be here again, and not gone.
“Wake up,” he mumbled. Asuka did not respond. He gazed over her, the twisted sheets, the immaculate bandages on her wrists. The wires…why were there so many wires. “Wake up, come on,” he mumbled, a bit louder, a hint of a whine. He reached out and gently shook her shoulder.
“Get up, get up,” he said. “You need to get up. You don’t get to run away.” She didn’t respond, so he shook harder. “I said get up!” he said, his voice breaking. He jerked her shoulder, gripping it tightly with his fingers.
“Hey, stop that!” one of the medics snapped, but Shinji didn’t hear him. He shook Asuka roughly, and began sobbing.
“You’re supposed to be here! I have to be here! You have to be here!” Someone grabbed him and pulled him away. It was not difficult, because he was only a boy, and a small one at that. He fought against the hands, but he was lifted off of his feet and dragged back. “Wake up! Wake up!” he screamed. One of the medics fussed over Asuka, checking the wires and bandages. “Don’t touch her!” Shinji shrieked, kicking and squirming. He tried to pry the hands away, but he couldn’t. He wouldn’t stop, though. He couldn’t stop. He couldn’t run away. Not now. He couldn’t.
“Shinji!” Misato’s face filled his vision, and he relaxed slightly. He didn’t stop squirming, though, and kept pushing. Kept trying. “Shinji, stop! Stop…just relax. It’s me, okay?” She cupped his face in his hands, as tears soaked his cheeks. “Relax.” Shinji sighed, and stopped fighting.
“She won’t wake up,” he whimpered.
“She’s hurt, Shinji, she won’t wake up for a little while,” Misato explained. “You need to stop this.”
“She…has to wake up, I can’t…she….”
“She will wake up. You need to calm down.” Shinji tried to look past Misato at Asuka.
“…I need to help her. I didn’t help, I…I should have…I mean, I had….”
“Let’s go, okay? You stay with me for a bit, and let’s leave Asuka alone, okay? There’s someplace else I want you to be for a bit. Help me out, huh?”
“I can’t help, I can’t help. I don’t…I’m not…no one…please don’t….” His eyes went glassy, and he fell away into murmuring. Misato’s face went hard, but not cruel.
“Come on. You’re not going to get rest here.” She began to guide him back towards the door. He tried to resist, and then slid to a halt. Rei was staring at him, her expression somewhere between curious and bland. He felt embarrassed, and reminded of the strangeness around him. That wasn’t Rei. That was someone else. And yet, he felt ashamed of being like this, in front of her. He wiped his face, and hurried into the hallway. Misato followed, watching closely.
“Let’s put you in my office,” she suggested. “The couch in there is comfortable.”
“…I don’t care,” he grumbled. Misato sighed, nodding.
“Okay. That’s fine. Let’s…let’s get you settled then.” Shinji shrugged, his addled brain sifting images. The bloody beach. The man who was so familiar. Rei who was not Rei. Asuka who was not Asuka.
Shinji who was not Shinji.