The steady pounding of a heartbeat. Corpuscles surging through the passageway of an artery. Wave after wave in tandem with each pulsation. Chief Engineer Uraga Susukaze took another step backwards. The pounding of his heart roared in his ears while the organ itself felt like it was about to burst from his chest cavity. His back was soaked in sweat as beads of perspiration ran down his ashened face. "Baroness, please," Susukaze managed to gasp out, "you don't understand!" "Come, come, Uraga. You don't take me for a fool, do you?" she said in a tone that could be described as mellow and slightly amused if not belied by the predatory glint in those blue eyes. "Baroness. I...I beg you. Ha..Have mer..cy!" Another leaden step back. "It's a bit late for that now. You should have weighed the consequences more carefully before betraying what little you knew about the EVAs to other parties. Now you must pay the piper, Uraga," she said, her tone still ostensibly reasonable and friendly. "You... You can't do this! E..ven one of your kind can..cannot get away w...with murder." He was on his knees now, left hand grasping the crook of the other arm as he gasped for breath. The steady pounding of a heartbeat. Corpuscles surging through the passageway of an artery. Wave after wave in tandem with each pulsation. One of those passageways slowly constricting. "You... aah... ack..." Uraga Susukaze keeled over, his death-rattle expiring soon after. NEGEV a NGE Sci-Fi Elseworlds Fanfic Chapter 02: Riding with the Valkyrie by E.L.Toh contact: firstname.lastname@example.org archive: http://www.teloong.cwc.net/ "I must object in the strongest possible terms to the order to launch, Admiral." "Your reasons?" asked Gendou seated in his usual position, cowled in shadow and the blood red light of arcane symbols traced on the floor and ceiling of his massive office. "Our weapons systems are still not yet fully operational. We'll be sitting ducks if we meet any substantial force of raiders or rebels." "Your objections will be noted for the record. But launch will proceed according to schedule. Dr. Akagi and yourself will just have to do whatever you can to bring the weapons systems up to speed while we are en route to the rendevous point. Is that understood?" Maya's shoulders sagged in defeat. "Yes, Admiral." "Excellent. Dismissed." Maya winked out from where she had stood before Gendou's desk. -NE- -G- -EV- Fuyutsuki surveyed the exterior of the NEGEV as his personal VTOL shuttle began its transfer from the fast destroyer to the massive command carrier before him. 'Damned Gendou is preparing to launch this behemoth without leaving enough time for the heavy guns to be fully charged,' he thought, 'I hope he doesn't wreck the ship on its maiden voyage. I'm certainly not going to be defending him in front of the Security Council next time.' Vice Admiral Kozou 'The Squint' Fuyutsuki looked every bit the serious, professional and experienced fleet officer that he was. His silvery white hair was still full but combed back severely. His brown uniform, with silver trimmings and rank insignia, was crisp and impeccably turned out. He was respected in the fleet for his tactical competence in battle and in the science corps for his contributions to the study of genetics, biochemistry and physics. While the Akagis had always surpassed him in inspired brilliance and sheer innovativeness, he had the discipline and reliability that they seemed to lack. But he would never make Admiral, nor would he ever have his own command. Fuyutsuki sighed. Every man has his weakness. 'At least this trip back to Earth wasn't all just facing a torrent of abuse and explaining elementary science to idiots,' he thought, smiling as he opened his briefcase and admired the memorabilia that he had managed to secure just before his transport had departed for Europa. Realizing that the VTOL shuttle had completed docking procedures, he quickly shut the briefcase and made ready to disembark. -NE- -G- -EV- "What did you think of the LCL today?" asked Shinji as he strode down the corridor, hand in hand with Rei. "There were no problems," said Rei in her usual quiet zombie-like tone, "except perhaps visibility was decreased slightly." "Yeah, I thought so too. The free-floating pieces of simulated orange pulp was going overboard a bit, even for Dr. Akagi. But the taste was really quite refreshing." "Not as tasty as you," noted Rei just as flatly. "Err... thanks," said Shinji as he scratched the back of his head in mild embarrassment. "Hey, do you hear something?" Rei pricked her ears slightly. And frowned. "REEEEIIII-CHAAAAAN!!! HOW IS MY FAVOURITE NIECE TODAY? I... - splat - " Slo-mo replay. Rei's expression returning to neutral mode. A humanoid mass of brown and silver shooting towards her. Rei gliding smoothly to one side at the last possible moment. Said humanoid mass passing a nonchalant looking Rei, outstretched arms first, before pasting himself painfully against the bulkhead as he missed the target of the attempted glomp and got a face-full of NEGEV corridor wall. Return to normal play mode. "Hello, Vice Admiral Fuyutsuki," sighed Shinji. 'Why does Dad always surround himself with weirdos? Oh right, birds of a feather...' "Hello, Uncle Kozou," greeted Rei for formality's sake. After all, she thought of herself as a polite person. 'Why does damned Gendou and that son of his always seem to have all the luck?!' cursed Fuyutsuki silently as he gradually slid down the wall and onto the floor. -NE- -G- -EV- "Safety locks and spacedock restraints have been released," announced Maya. "Main Engineering reports all propulsion systems are go. NEGEV is ready for launch." "Yeeee-ha!" whooped Misato, "let's get this show on the road! Pen Pen, take the ship out to the jump zone, nice and easy." "Waark!" responded the penguin from his console in the front part of Central Dogma, the NEGEV's bridge and command centre. He deftly began to manipulate controls with his flippers, aided by the various interfaces provided by the penguin augmentation unit that was strapped to his back. Gendou and Fuyutsuki observed all the proceedings from the top dias in silence. The latter was still sporting a black eye. "Aren't they just the perfect couple?" muttered Shinji who had come to Central Dogma to observe the launch of the command carrier from its operational heart. "Don't be so rude about your father," admonished Rei quietly as she nudged Shinji in the ribs. But he could see the barest of smiles on her lips. "You're right. Afterall, he's not just my father..." Shinji was cut off by a sudden loud beep from the computer displays in Central Dogma. The massive holographic screens had been projecting star charts, routes and coordinates when suddenly everything went blank. In their place, a second later, was a blue screen with a white bordered box in the centre that declared 'General Protection Fault.' "..." The stunned silence was immediately followed by everyone chorusing a single name with deadly finality. "RI-TSU-KO." "Alright! Alright! I'll change the OS back to the standard one! I don't get it, I thought I finally debugged the whole thing..." The blonde science officer trailed off, muttering to herself as she adjusted the settings. "Maya, do you really have to always indulge Ritsu-chan's endless tinkering?" asked Misato, caught between frowning and smiling. "Ah! Such is the power of the love Sempai and I share! I have no free will at all!" sighed Maya dramatically, eyes closed, the back of her right hand flat against her forehead and her left arm stretched out as she leaned her whole body to the right. "Now, that's the kind of speech that should be given from where Dad is sitting. About love or justice or something," commented Shinji who received another light nudge from Rei. Gendou was not to oblige. "Commodore Katsuragi, set a course for the Ursa Minor system. Best speed." "Aye-aye, Sir! Course has been laid in!" "Engage." -NE- -G- -EV- "Yo, Cookie, just slop some of that stuff on." Hikari grinned a toothy stained grin as she sat up from her slouch behind the mess service counter, a limp cigarette hanging from her lips. A long drag before stubbing out her smoke, the motion showing off the lean musculature of her tattooed arm - the most prominent tattoo being a scrawl of pseudo-kanji that, upon closer inspection, turned out to be 'fuck off' in English. "And I was just closing up the lunch shift. So what brings ya here to moi's humble kitchen, Wuss?" she asked, her freckled smile steady as she flicked a couple of loose strands of colourfully beaded braids away from her eyes. "Just hunger and sheer desperation, Hik," replied Shinji smoothly, his metal food tray held before her in mock supplication. "Hell, ain't I honoured," Hikari 'Cookie' Horaki said as she wiped her hands on the apron she wore over a singlet and cargo pants. Shinji languidly noted the individual shapes and the distribution of the vast number of cigarette burns, food stains and stains of other sort of the said apron as she slapped a slab of crumb-crusted, unidentified protein, soggy greenish cabbage- like leaves and an entirely too yellow lump of something that masqueraded as mash potato. "Shush," said Hikari, her left hand raised just short of invading Rei's personal facial space, before the latter could say anything. "Lemme see... hmmm...." Hikari muttered, eyes closed, index fingers on each side of her temple (serving ladle still grasped between her right thumb and middle finger), eye brows furrowed in concentration. "Hmmmmmm...." Hikari's eyes snapped open and she pointed the ladle at Rei, declaring triumphantly, "No meat, right?!" Rei gave a small, resigned nod. "YEEESSS!!!" yelled Hikari as she pumped a fist, "I'm psychic!" Shinji patted Rei's hand as she sat down to join him at a table whose species seemed to inhabit all drab communal eating places. "She do that a lot?" he asked with a small, comforting smile. Rei shrugged imperceptibly. "I do not mind." "'Cos Wussboy knows how to keep a lady happy, rite?" interjected Hikari, thrusting her hips repeatedly at the counter as she cleared it. "Join us?" asked Shinji. "Yeah, whatev. Gimme a minute, 'kay?" replied Hikari who then turned around to face the innards of the kitchen. "TOUJI!" she yelled, the vocal exertion setting off a hacking cough. "Shit," muttered Hikari as she recovered and then spat. The hollow ring of the mucus projectile striking the inside of a metallic container resounded through the kitchen. "TOUJI! YOU READY YET?" "GIMME A SEC!" came the reply. "HAVEN'T BROKEN DOWN BACK THERE, HAVE YA?" "BITCH." Shinji and Rei glanced at each other as Hikari ambled over in her heavy boots and plonked herself down beside the latter. Giving the grin o' tar n' nicotine, she jerked her thumb back at the direction of the kitchen. "Einstein's warming up our own lunches. How ya find the chow?" "It's actually edible, my compliments to the chef," said Shinji as he chewed, trying to figure out if the protein was fish or pork- based. "No shit." She lit another cigarette. "Hik, those things will kill you, you know." "Gotta die sometime." Another long drag. Exhaled in rings that expanded, as they travelled away from source, before dissapating completely. "Hey, Shinji! Long time no see!" greeted Touji as he emerged from the kitchen bearing two white, proper plates. Even under the overalls, the mechanical prosthetics of his left limbs were obvious. That aside, Touji Suzuhara was your average jock of space trooper build and turnout, including the flat top hair cut. "Hey, Touji. How's it hanging?" greeted Shinji in return. He could hear the faint whirl of servos in the mechanical limbs as his friend approached. And a smell that shouldn't belong to this mess hall. "Not bad. Not bad at all... Here you go, hon," said Touji as he put the plates before Hikari and himself before he got seated. Shinji stared in disbelief. On each shiny, grease-free ceramic plate were three spears of aspharagus, a portabello mushroom drizzled in olive oil, a small mound of rice and a thin slice of beef. "Where did you get this stuff?" he asked, not having seen any fresh food for six months straight. "My private supply," said Hikari with quiet satisfaction as she tucked into her food. "More like scrounging off the senior officers' rations," noted Shinji with a slight hint of reproach. "Aww dammit," said Hikari through a mouthful of rice, "keep forgetting how strong an esper you are. But none from your dad's stash. Wouldn't wanna mess with mis-tah major league asshole. Mainly generously donated by Katsuragi who never eats her greens. The woman lives on insta-crap. Don't understand how she keeps that killer figure though." "Oooh yeah, she's... OOW!!!" exclaimed Touji as Hikari tugged his ear violently with a free hand while continuing to feed herself with the other. Shinji couldn't help but smile at the comments about his father and former guardian. Then Rei tugged the sleeve of his jacket and pointed at something moving along the floor in the mess hall. "What in the blazes is that?" he asked. "You there! Come here!" "Haven't you seen a DRD before? Diagnostic Repair Darters, ya know? Crawl around like bugs in capital ships and help with maint and repair work and survelliance and the like," said Touji, with his mouth full as well. "I haven't seen a DRD that looks like that before. Definitely isn't standard issue," said Shinji as the foot-long half-oblong of metal approached, its various tools and sensors on its 'head' waving in the air like insectoid eye stalks. DRDs were essential in doing work in the numerous ducts and vents that would be difficult or even downright dangerous or impossible for a human being to access. They also reduced manpower requirements and enhanced security on a large ship. NEGEV's DRDs would be directed by the unique MAGI super-computer A.I. onboard. DRDs were about function and utility. Someone certainly had other ideas about this particular DRD which had been painted on a floral theme. Its purple shell sported white and yellow daisies. The tips of the constantly wriggling eye- tools were fitted with petals, making them look like daisies on an acid rave. "Well," sighed Touji, "this is what happens when ya have a polymath who combines the jobs of Chief Engineer, Science and Med Officer together into one post. Main Engine sect has got a real free hand as a result. Mari and Nozomi been having a riot doing equipment mod." "Mari Suzuhara and Nozomi Horaki, your little sisters?" asked Shinji. Hikari sighed extravagently while Touji shrugged. "You'd probably get kawaii-induced insulin shock if ya stepped into Main Engine unprepared," he said. "Can't be as bad as Vice Admiral Fuyutsuki's office," muttered Shinji. "Place gives me and Rei the creeps. Right, Rei?" "What the?!" exclaimed Hikari as she put her fork onto a plate that was empty, save for the beef. "..." All eyes turned to Rei of the Bulging Cheeks. "What?" asked Rei through all that rice and veg, her red eyes calmly surveying the faces of her companions. -NE- -G- -EV- "Launch Wraith Squadron Alpha and drones," ordered Misato through her communicator. Sixteen fighters rocketed out of the arch of the NEGEV's starboard arch, streaking off in opposite directions as they cleared the launch bay, followed by several dozen robotic, boomerang- shaped drones that emerged from shafts in the ship's main hull. "Thought I'd better set up a combat air patrol perimeter," explained Misato to Shinji and Rei, "even though we're not expecting any company, this area of space is not really firmly held by UNDF. And this asteroid field has got lots of places to hide, even for a capital ship." "And you didn't think it was necessary to send out our prowlers too? No disrespect to the Wraith guys but the punch a prowler packs isn't to be sniffed at," Shinji pointed out. "Valkyrie requested to meet you both upon arrival." Shinji nodded. A corporate scion was like royalty, not unlike back on Earth. But especially in the outer and border sectors where the authority of the UN was even weaker, whole swathes of space fell under de facto corporate rule. And the Dreieinigkeit Combine played a leading role in Project E. "Her biosoft dossier in MAGI was almost empty. Just a name. Baroness 2Asuka Sohryu-Langley Von Rikthofen. And a date of birth in 2040." "Been snooping around about potential love interests?" asked Misato teasingly. "Even 90 year old ones?" Shinji put on his look of bored exasperation, carefully cultivated from previous years of living with Misato. "I've heard things about the Red Baroness." "Things?" "Yeah. The battle for Proxima-3?" Misato's lips were drawn into a thin line, her good humour having evaporated like dew in the morning sun. "That means that we'll be getting one hell of a pilot. Even if she is over ninety." "We've secured a perimeter around the ship but no sign of the transport or Valkyrie. Too many damned asteroids," reported the Alpha squadron leader, her broadcast routed through to a console in the Seventh Cage's observation deck where the trio were waiting. "MAGI, I need a long range, full spectrum com-scan of the area," said Misato. "I'm sorry, Commodore Katsuragi," said Maya who walked up to her from behind, "but the ship was launched before most of the systems were fully prepped. We can't give you full spectrum right now and the amount of asteroid debris is causing considerable interference with the com-scan capability that we do have." "Well, just try your best." "I will do so. Wait..." said Maya as she cocked her head to the side, her expression was as if she were hearing voices in her head. "Take a look at the displays on your console." The monitor showed a prowler and a wraith decloaking directly in front of the command carrier, white lightning dancing across their hulls as they revealed themselves to normal sight. "Valkyrie to NEGEV, permission to dock." The voice was female, youngish and quite pleasant. Misato glanced at Maya, who nodded. Security code was valid. "NEGEV to Valkyrie, MAGI will adjust the approach vector of your prowler and the wraith. Please advise your transport to cease its concealment and approach the ship as well." "Jawohl." -NE- -G- -EV- "TAAAN-TAAAN-TAAAN--TAN-TA-TAN--TAN-TA-TAN!!!" blared the trumpets as the prowler, wraith and cargo transport set themselves down the deck of the Seventh Cage. Or rather, blared the Cage's speakers of a recording. The broadcast cut itself off after a minute. "Ritsuko, did you do something to the systems in the Cage?" asked Misato with a sideways glance. "It's not my fault!" protested Ritsuko. "Riiiight," said Misato skeptically. "Really, it wasn't! You can ask Maya!" "I'm sure Maya would cover for you. In exchange for some *quality* time, right?" smirked Misato as she winked at her blonde friend. "Lies! It's all lies!" "Rei?" whispered Shinji as he gave her a sideways glance. Rei blushed slightly. "I could not help myself. I apologize," she said softly as she fingered the mini-disc recording, in her pocket, of 'The Imperial March' from an ancient 20th century sci-fi movie. "Well, no real harm done," shrugged Shinji, "ah, looks like we'll get to see Valkyrie face to face at last." "I hope she's cute!" chimed Maya. As everyone was recovering from their face faults, the prowler's LCL was drained. This fighter had been fitted with an EVA Unit as well, evidenced by the biological growths adhering to the sleek and very pointy craft. Soundlessly, the cockpit door opened. Then its pilot, clad in a skin-tight red flight suit, hopped out gracefully. "Welcome aboard, Baroness," greeted Misato with a salute. "Call me 2Asuka," smiled the auburn haired woman who looked in her mid twenties, "quite an impressive vessel you've got here." "We do our best," replied Misato, smiling her formal smile. 2Asuka's smile took on a feral feel as she turned to Shinji and Rei. "Siegfried and Sieglinde, I presume?" she asked, soft laughter in those blue eyes. Shinji winced slightly. "That's not altogether the most accurate of analogies, Red Baroness." Rei nodded silently in greeting. "No," laughed 2Asuka, "I suppose not. Still, the resemblence is even more striking now that I am seeing you both with my own eyes. The eye and hair colour seem to be something that Fuyutsuki over- looked during the splice though. But I'm sure just a minor procedure can correct that." "No thank you," said Rei in her quiet monotone. "You're looking very well," interjected Shinji. "As in, that I'm remarkably well preserved?" said 2Asuka pointedly, flashing another smile. "It's amazing what technology can do these days." "So who's your shadow?" asked Shinji nonchalantly. 2Asuka raised an eyebrow, her smile now amused in contrast to its previously atavistic character. A refined cruelty now. "I think that it will be interesting to work with you both... but right now, I'm afraid I have an appointment with the Admiral." "This way please," indicated Misato. Shinji watched as Misato ushered 2Asuka to the Admiral's office, the former walking with the latter, slightly behind and to the left. He found himself frowning. "She is strong," commented Rei. Shinji nodded. "Probably an Alpha-Omega psi rating like us. But I wonder what her speciality is?" "Telekinesis." "Kensuke!" exclaimed Shinji as he turned towards the newcomer. -NE- -G- -EV- "Hello Gendou." "Baroness." 2Asuka had put her feet up on the Admiral's desk after Misato left the room. "I trust the delivery is in order?" she asked. Gendou frowned slightly as he tapped a side panel at his desk. "The sensors say that there is someone else in the room. Are we able to speak freely?" "Of course," said 2Asuka as she took her feet off the table. Her whole posture suddenly seemed very prim and proper. "Kaji-san?" she called out, her tone polite and gentle, without a trace of its usual easy arrogance. "Ghost reporting," came a smooth male voice as a man faded into view. He wore an overcoat over an old-style sarariman suit. The rest of his appearance was anything but conventional. Five o'clock shadow framed his roguish smile and he wore a short pony tail. Aside from the sheathed katana strapped to his side, Gendou's security sensors reported a mix of ancient and modern weaponry concealed on the man's person. 2Asuka made a small bow in his direction. His smile became more crooked and he responded with a tiny bow of his own. 'A cloned corporate bodyguard and assassin,' thought Gendou, 'probably from the Japanese branch of the Combine.' "You may speak freely in Kaji-san's presence," said 2Asuka confidently as she gave Kaji a sideways glance with a gentle smile. "He is, after all, part of the extended family." "Understood, Baroness. I have ordered their installation into Units Zero and One to begin at once. Though my science people would have been able to work faster if your Chief Engineer was at hand to assist." "Yes, I know," sighed 2Asuka, "unfortunately Uraga died from a myocardiac infarction just before we left. Good help is sooo hard to find these days..." -NE- -G- -EV- "Hello Shinji, it's good to see you too," smiled Kensuke, his eyes hidden behind black goggles, a red beam of light dancing about from the right scope which was half the size of the other. "Never thought they'd let someone as smart as you out of the corporate arcology," said Shinji. "I'm not that highly rated but I must confess to be more than a little surprised to get a transfer order to work on Project E. Just got to this sector a few days ago to understudy the Combine's chief engineer out here. Just in a nick of time too. Poor old bugger's ticker gave out just before we shipped out here to meet you guys," said Kensuke, shaking his head. "Kareshi. Talk about death from overwork," quipped Shinji. "Happens more often than you think," replied Kensuke. "Anyhows we've been ordered to begin installation of the S2 organ into EVA Units Zero and One immediately. I guess you'll want to watch?" "S2 what?" "S2 organ. Engine. Looks like a red glass globe. Think of it as a new and unlimited energy source to power your prowler's new features." "Not more modifications again..." muttered Shinji, a hand over his face. Rei patted his shoulder in consolation. "Trust me, once it's done, you'll wonder how you ever got along without it! It'll be GREAT!!!" gushed Kensuke, the eyepieces of his goggles humming and whirling as they compensated for his wild gesticulations. "And I get to work for one of the priestess of high tech, Ritsuko Akagi! And the MAGI A.I.! And..." "Guess they don't call you the MechSage for nothing," sighed Shinji in resignation at his excited friend. -NE- -G- -EV- "The data suggests that the A.T. Field can be manifested by the EVA Units. I expect you have actually managed to put theory into practice with Unit Two?" asked Gendou. "Now now, Gendou, don't you have any faith in your dear late wife's work?" smiled Asuka sardonically and added after the briefest of pauses, "I mean her scientific work, of course." "Bridging the gulf between theory and practice is the main determinant of whether we will succeed beyond our wildest dreams or die horrible agonising deaths," stated Gendou blandly. "The First Expeditionary Force certainly learnt that when the new positron weapons failed to counter the power of the Angels." "I assume then that a careful little man like you will require a demonstration before your performance anxiety is assuaged?" Gendou ignored the barbs. "I value my life highly. Unlike some, I cannot be ressurrected. Isn't that right, _2_Asuka?" he said, stressing the numerical prefix. "Others have suddenly developed sudden and often fatal disorders for less," retorted 2Asuka sweetly. "Nonetheless you can't afford to let me be in anything but the pink of health, Baroness." "For now anyway," noted 2Asuka. "I'm glad we understand each other's positions, Baroness. I also assume you will be assisting in the training the other two pilots in the full capabilities of the EVA Units?" "And do you want me to do anything about your son and his lady friend? Gendou!" she sounded scandalised, "the splice only makes them very very distantly related." "That's what Shinji says all the time. The whelp thinks that if he repeats it enough times that I'll come to accept them." "But it's true!" "Well, I don't like it. This is all that old goat Kozou's fault," grumbled Gendou petulantly, his cool and mysterious uber- character act cracking momentarily. -NE- -G- -EV- "Wow wow wow!!!" exclaimed Kensuke, just on the verge of total ecstasy as he and Maya worked side by side on the prowlers mounted with EVA Units One and Zero. "Ken, I never thought I'd see ya get a woody over someone, that is, something that isn't mechnical," observed Touji. Hikari grinned at the comment. Kensuke had had a similiar fit of happiness when Ritsuko had given him specific instructions on how to recalibrate the EVA Unit's central interface prior to S2 conversion. He kept reciting "I'm not worthy!" as he kowtowed repeatedly to Ritsuko who responded by laughing madly about how at last someone appreciated the greatness of the foremost scientific genius in the galaxy. "Ken, it's great to see that you're so crazy about Maya but... errmm... how should I put it?" hesitated Shinji as he tried to restrain his friend's overflowing enthusiasm. "But she is Dr. Akagi's bitch," offered Rei. "..." "She has already chosen Dr. Akagi as her horizontal mumbo partner." "..." "Dr. Ibuki is..." "Uhm. Rei?" "Yes, Shinji-kun?" "I think we get the idea." "If you say so." "No, no! You all don't understand! She's such a work of technological art! Sheer genius!" exclaimed Kensuke. "Ken, ya're talking about Maya like she's some sort of machine or somethin'" said Hikari. Kensuke's eyes widened. "You mean you guys don't *know*?!" he asked incredulously. "Know what?" asked Touji, scratching his head. "She's the unified holographic representation of the three MAGI A.I.s! See...?" Kensuke thrust his arm in Maya's direction and then trailed off as he realised how the aforementioned limb was making physical contact with Maya's reasonably endowed chest. "..." "Hentai!" screamed Maya, her face beetred as she swung a huge wooden mallet and nailed Kensuke straight on the head, knocking him straight into the hangar floor before storming away. "Wooww..." moaned Kensuke on the floor, "wave imaging with particle manifestation properties." Shinji and Touji shook their heads in unison as they heaved their friend to his feet. Klaxons burst into their cacophonic symphony as Misato announced through the broadcast system: "Red alert! All personnel to battle stations!" The ship was rocked by an explosion a few moments after that. -NE- -G- -EV- "Commodore, situation." "A rebel battlecruiser emerged from the cover of the asteroids. We only detected it when its main cannon reached critical. Direct hit to main aft propulsion thruster. We're dead in space. Both Wraith Squandrons are engaging the enemy but without our main guns, we're unable to seriously damage them," reported Misato. "Wait, they're hailing us." "On screen," ordered Gendou. The comms screen was neatly bisected to show the craggy face of an old soldier. "General Earle," greeted Gendou coolly. "I resigned my commission when I was ordered to slaughter civilians during Earth Central's move to reclaim the outlying colonies, Ikari," growled the white-haired officer, "looks like my info was good. Two birds with one stone." "What do you want?" asked Gendou, fingers bridged just under his nose. "You and the Red Baroness transferred into my custody. And for you to stand trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity." "You presume to have the proper authority to mete justice, Edward. And you presume the ability to achieve your objective," retorted Gendou. "Don't underestimate me, Gendou. You can hand both your asses over and I'll spare the ship and its crew. Otherwise..." "... you'll just go away instead of dying a futile death, sacrificing your valiant crew in this vain attempt to do 'the right thing'?" mocked 2Asuka who stood up, blocking Earle's view of Gendou. "Let me know when you come to your senses, before you let your crew go down with your own worthless hides." With that, Earle terminated the comms channel. "I presume you had something to do with this?" bristled Gendou. "Moi?" 2Asuka's eyebrows fluttered melodramatically as she put a hand on her chest. "Gendou, you give me too much credit." "I take it this is your great chance to show us all your combat prowess and the fulfillment of the promise of EVA." "An excellent training opportunity too." -NE- -G- -EV- "We can't do a damned thing with our prowlers field-stripped into nuts and bolts and organic goo!" exclaimed Shinji in exasperation. Hikari and Touji had already deployed in their wraiths. "Then let's go on a ride in mine," said 2Asuka as she emerged from a doorway. "No time to waste!" Her hand clammed on Shinji's wrist in a vice-like grip and was already dragging him towards her prowler. "But.. but isn't your prowler a one-seater too?" protested Shinji. "Details," snorted 2Asuka dismissively. Rei glowered and tried to grab Shinji's free arm but found her way blocked as a suited man suddenly materialised before her. The easy grace of his posture and smug smile belied an unspoken threat against interfering. "That's right, Kaji-san," said 2Asuka as she herded Shinji into the cockpit of her prowler. "She'll get her turn later. Now," she gave Shinji a final pull, "get's go hunting." Rei's deep throated growl did nothing to faze Kaji. -NE- -G- -EV- "Is this really necessary?" squeaked Shinji, his voice an octave higher than usual as he sat astride Asuka's thighs and tried not to fidget when she pressed her breasts against his back or breathed deliberately over the fine hairs on the back of his neck. "You want to change places?" asked 2Asuka innocently. "Ack! No!" 2Asuka roared with laughter. "No wonder you've got such an amusing call sign! Don't worry, I don't bite. Unless I'm asked to." Shinji could see her wink suggestively through the reflection on the cockpit's shell and he swallowed nervously. "Valkyrie is cleared for take off," came Maya's voice. "Acknowledged," said 2Asuka as the prowler roared out of the command carrier. The sight that greeted them was pitched space battle between two squandrons of fighters swirling around a hammerheaded battle cruiser. Suddenly the front extremity of the battle cruiser exploded in a shower of sparks and flame. "Awright!" cheered Touji and Hikari who had executed the manoeuvre that had brought about that display of pyrotechnics. When it cleared, the damage seemed superificial but from the prowler's sensors, Shinji realised that they had managed to disable the enemy's main forward ATA cannon, thus neutralising the most apparent threat to NEGEV. "He's got to withdraw now," said Shinji, "he can't seriously damage a command carrier of this size with his main heavy gun down." "You think so?" said 2Asuka, "don't underestimate the determination of the self-righteous. Looks like he's accelerating and heading straight for the NEGEV." "Confirmed," reported Maya, "at their current course and speed, they are going to ram us. With our main thruster down, we will not be able to evade them." "All fighters, target enemy engines!" ordered Misato. "That's no good. At current momentum, they'll still hit the command carrier pretty hard," observed 2Asuka, "and the good commodore can't deploy an N2 mine at this range. It'll blow everyone into smithreens." "We've got to do something! Rei's still onboard!" shouted Shinji, his fists clenched in frustration. "Well, I could ask Kaji-san to evacuate her onboard his Wraith," said 2Asuka seemingly deep in thought. Shinji immediately turned around to look at her hopefully and then realised that there were so many others that couldn't be saved. And from 2Asuka's smirk, saw that she was merely toying with him. "Enemy battlecruiser's reactor is going critical!" came Maya's voice calmly over the general broadcast. "Not one to get the job down through half measures it seems," noted 2Asuka dryly. "How can you be still be so flippant!?" exclaimed Shinji. "Don't you care about anything, anyone on board!?" 2Asuka's expression darkened momentarily. "Of course I do. But I'm not worried because you are going to stop them." "How?" "You manifest the A.T. Field and I'll pilot. The Field will prevent the enemy from getting any closer and contain any possible explosion from their reactor," stated 2Asuka. "I... I don't understand..." "Do you want me to give you a lecture while that battlecruiser smashes into the command carrier and then blows us all into space dust?" asked 2Asuka rhetorically. Fists balled. 'Father, what have you gotten us all into?' thought Shinji. "I'll do it." "Good. Now concentrate like you do with your psi exercises..." -NE- -G- -EV- "Valkyrie's vector is heading for a head-on collision course with the enemy!" announced Shigeru. "Valkyrie! What are you doing!? Respond, dammit!" shouted Misato. "Valkyrie! I'm ordering you to break off your approach!" "Belay that order," said Admiral Ikari as he emerged from the floor of his dias, already in the Gendou Position. Fuyutsuki quickly adjusted a desk lamp on the dias control panel so that Gendou's glasses became shining, impenetrable mirrors of light to those gazing upon him from below. It severely reduced Gendou's ability to actually see anything but he just couldn't resist the impression of inscrutable invincibility that it conveyed. "Massive gravitional readings from Unit Two!" reported Maya. "Event horizon manifesting," frowned Ritsuko as she took in the stream of data that scrolled rapidly across the screen. "Put it on the main screen. Full magnification." Unit Two continued to speed towards the battlecruiser, barely visible amidst a pool of darkness surrounded by a blazing, whirling halo of light. From the perspective of the NEGEV bridge crew, the battlecruiser seemed to crawl towards a halt and then abruptly stop as if frozen in time. Then its structure began to buckle and cave in as if tremendous forces were crushing it. If the vacuum of space conducted sound, they would hear the squeal of metal fatigue as its bulkheads twisted and warped. And then reaching a critical point, the entire ship imploded - a brief flash of oxygen flaring in space before being swallowed entirely by darkness. "Was that... the A.T. Field?" asked Misato in stunned disbelief. Gendou managed to follow everything by the verbal reports of the crew. He smiled his mysterious triumphant smile. His arms on the top of the desk, a crooked twist of his lips to the right, no teeth showing. All the while with glasses shining. Perfect. "Valkyrie to NEGEV. Mission accomplished," said 2Asuka whose image appeared on the main bridge screen, with an extremely flustered Shinji sitting on her lap. -NE- -G- -EV- "Repairs to the NEGEV will be completed shortly. We will still be able to reach our first destination on schedule," said Gendou as he moved a chess piece on his desk. "Just make sure that we're at full operational readiness before we go into our next battle. The Angels in the vicinity of Reuben defeated over four dozen ships-of-the-line in the First Expeditionary Force if I recall correctly," admonished Fuyutsuki as he made a counter move on the board. "All three EVAs and the NEGEV itself will be ready," said Gendou, his face leaned lazily against the back of his left hand as he made another move. "The old men of MJ-12 will surely kick up a fuss over how you nearly turned our first combat operation into a total disaster," warned Kozou. "They're even more of a danger and a pain in the ass than the Security Council." Another move. "The geriatics still rely on us to fight their battles and to do their bidding. They have placed the instruments in our hands and there are times the hand can threaten the head." Gendou captured a piece in his advance. "And Valkyrie? She is another complication to the situation," reminded Fuyutsuki. A counter offensive move. "She will serve our purposes for now. We can handle the Security Council and the old men, we can certainly handle that corporate brat," snorted Gendou as he made another move. Fuyutsuki paused for a moment. "I would have more confidence in your plotting and scheming if you were better at chess." A final move. "Checkmate." "Doh!" Fuyutsuki allowed himself a small smile of triumph. "Well, that's the only thing you've been able to beat me at. Who managed to marry your favourite idol and enjoy the marital fruits with her, huh? Huh!? Who's da man, huh!?" taunted Gendou. "_Shut_ _up_." End of Chapter 02. AUTHOR'S NOTES Gosh, this took a while to finish. I'd like to acknowledge the kind permission to borrow names from the following authors - Mari Suzuhara from Andrew Huang's 'Neon Genesis Evanjellydonut' and Kensuke's 'MechSage' call sign from Hotwire's 'Together We Stand'. Also to note considerable borrowing from Blizzard's Starcraft, William Gibson's Neuromancer trilogy and Farscape. I picture Kensuke's headset as something used by Karl and fellow man-in-black employed by Tachibana General Labortories in serial experiments Lain. Any contributions of c&c, fan art and bottles of red Burgundy will be greatly appreciated. 09 Dec 2000 - 1st draft. 13 Dec 2000 - Proofreading and c&c amendments made. HTML version. Many thanks to Adam, Eshin, Jeremy Evans, Alain Gravel, Leif Johnson, Long Tsun, Kevin McHorney, Jerico Mele, Orlean, Jonathan Wang and Doug Whiddon for c&c on Ch 02.