Chapter 4: Footsteps like Thunder
The command bridge was in complete chaos when Misato and Ritsuko arrived. Technicians called out reports and slipped past each other, their shoes squeaking as they dashed between stations. The other's who sat were glued to the bright LCD displays, tapping furiously on their keyboards.
Misato leaned over Hyuga, "What's the situation?"
"We've detected two high-speed objects on approach from a western point of origin," he replied, "Their patterns keep registering as orange. We can't confirm whether they're Angels or not."
"When were they first identified?" asked Ritsuko.
"An hour ago. The Yantai surveillance facility in Shandong, China reported sightings of them moving from the direction of the fourth branch,"
Misato quirked an eyebrow. "If they're heading from the Fourth Branch how come they didn't report it themselves?"
"Unknown ma'am. We haven't been able to establish any kind of contact with them since the objects were reported."
"Then what was the last recorded contact with them?" Ritsuko asked. "Have the MAGI examine as many logs and files it can access. The more we can understand, the better we'll be able to handle the situation."
"Yes, ma'am!" the staff said in unison as they started looking through files gathered by the MAGI, attempting to piece together even the semblance of an answer.
"Doctor! We found a series of recent delivery logs. A single shipment from the Tangshan research and development facility was made directly to the Fourth branch, roughly five hours ago." called out a technician from the lower deck.
The scientist peeked her head out from above. "Does it mention what they were transporting?"
"Yes, it was… Evangelion Unit-07."
An uncomfortable silence spread across the bridge. The technicians were taken aback by the alarming news, quickly turning away from their work.
"As I thought," mumbled Fuyutsuki from the upper deck, standing alongside Commander Ikari.
Ritsuko frowned, "Are they going berserk? I thought the newer models couldn't do that. More importantly why are two moving in on us if they were transporting just the one?" she said under breath. She swiftly turned over to Aoba. "Was Yantai able to get any kind of photographs or footage of the targets?"
"Yes, one image, but it's-"
"The quality doesn't matter, Lieutenant,"
He quickly nodded and began clacking at his keyboard to display the photo on the main monitor. The screen transitioned from a vector map to the picture. Against the pristine blue of the sky were two blurred, bird-like shapes, their wings spreading far. At first glance, they seemed to be nothing more than a pair of birds caught flying overhead.
"How much longer until they're here?" Misato asked.
"Estimated two hours until they reach the city," he said. "Currently, they're a few kilometers past Pyongyang's border."
"Not a whole lot of time, huh?" she said, biting down on her nail. She turned to Commander Ikari, the Sub-Commander whispering something in his ear while he vacantly stared at the large monitor, the image reflecting in his glasses.
While the command center worked tirelessly to figure out what the two objects approaching the city were, Shinji, Toji, Kensuke, and Hikari awaited further orders in the locker room, eager to find out what was happening.
"The hell's going on?" asked Toji.
Hikari sat next to him, tapping her foot. "Aida didn't you read all of those rules and protocol books they gave out?" she asked. "Do you know what's happening?"
Kensuke scratched his chin and pondered. "Well, for one, they did declare condition one battle stations a minute ago. Plus, Soryu and Ayanami were just ordered up to the cages. My best guess would be an Angel's coming."
Toji looked over to Shinji, staring at his some-what-visible reflection on the beige tile floor. "Hey, Shinji?"
The lack of information gave Shinji a burning, anxious feeling that ate at his gut while he sat idly. He hated being in the dark.
"Shinji!" called Toji. He snapped out of his daze and turned to him. "Is he right? Is an Angel coming?" he asked, a dead-serious look in his eyes.
"Maybe, nothing has been confirmed yet," he shrugged. "B-but don't worry! Even if it is one, Asuka and Ayanami will take care of it, I'm sure they will."
"Yeah, besides, NERV isn't crazy enough to send out three rookies like us." Kensuke chimed in.
Shinji winced internally at the comment.
"Begin aerial transportation preparations for the remaining Evangelions," said Commander Ikari from atop the bridge.
Misato looked up, shocked at the Commander's order. "Sir, apart from the Third Child, those pilots only started two weeks ago!"
"There's nothing else we can do, it's the only counter-measure we have. We're going to need some sort of backup plan in the event Unit-00 and Unit-02 fail to stop the target's advance," said Ritsuko hovering over Maya. "As much as Asuka would love for us to rely solely on her services ,we can't. Not with a threat we still know so little about."
"I understand that… it's just, besides the simulations, they have no experience."
"If they can apply what they've learned, then it's better than nothing," she said. "Now I suggest we worry about this later and focus on finding out what we're up against."
Shigeru turned from his console. "A VTOL squadron at Mt. Nobeyama has come into contact with one of the targets, transferring feed to the main screen now!"
The large monitor in the center of the facility began to display a live feed from one of the VTOL units. It showed farmland with an open road bordered by a row of power lines under a tall cliff, dark gray clouds looming overhead.
A white figure peered out from the cliff. The faces of technicians and staff contorted in horror upon seeing the creature's. Their unfinished armoring exposed the red cores embedded into their abdomen's. The figure's arms swayed as it stomped about and made the ground shake. Its eyeless face wore a malicious grin on it.
"That's… an Eva?" asked Misato.
"Yes, an unfinished one at that," commented Ritsuko as she narrowed her eyes on the screen.
"Where is the other target currently?" asked Commander Ikari.
"Sir, 2.47 kilometers directly east from the first object."
"Eugh… that's what they look like?" Asuka asked, looking at a picture of the grotesque creature on her HUD.
"Yes, now stay focused, Asuka," said Misato from the comm window. "One of them will be crossing paths with you soon, be ready, understand?"
"Yes, ma'am," she said, closing the comm window and slouching into her seat. "Jeez… who does she think I am? The jock or something?"
Asuka and Rei were deployed 1.67 kilometers apart from each other, directly in the path of their targets. Unit-01 and the other Evangelions had been placed a few kilometers behind them, where both paths would briefly diverge. She waited cautiously, tapping the control sticks, with a rifle ready in her hands and a spare off to the side.
The farmland around her was quiet, the deserted houses and rice fields scattered about. The faint sound of rain beginning to fall, drops of water coming down onto Unit-02.
"Any day now…"
Evangelion Unit-01 crouched in front of the mountain road, both lanes packed with electrical trucks. Behind it lay a part of the evacuated town that accompanied Mt. Nobeyama.
Shinji jolted up in his entry plug, shocked. "Asuka and Ayanami are down?!"
Hikari gasped, "What?! Are they-"
"They're fine, they ejected before the targets could inflict anything serious on them," said Misato. "If flying wasn't enough, it seems they're pretty swift too. Our only option is to have you four try to overwhelm them with double the firepower. We've identified them as Evangelion Units 07 and 08…"
Shinji became lost in thought, drowning out all but the sound of the rain. Unit-03 had been positioned a few paces to the right of him, crouching in a rice field. Its feet had sunken slightly in. He cringed at the thought of the poor farmer returning to find his field ruined.
He turned to his left, where Unit-04 and 05 were placed. Unit-05 was placed behind Unit-04. Its gold and navy blue exterior added color to the gray outside. Shinji didn't have an extensive understanding of combat, but he could easily make out that Hikari was not suited for it, Kensuke was no different.
Neither was Toji. Fights in the schoolyard were one thing, this was completely different. You couldn't get a few solid punches on an Angel and knock them out. The more he thought about it, the more overwhelming the situation became.
"Shinji!" yelled Misato. "Is that clear to you?"
He jumped in his seat, "Sorry, what?"
"I said both targets are headed straight for you. Only engage when I give you the order to do so, understood?"
"Y-Yes, ma'am!" all four pilots said in unison, each of their voices shaky.
The pilots waited, their pallet rifles ready to be fired. The area around them began to turn more chaotic as the minutes ticked by. Trees and ferns swayed violently with the wind and the sound of lightning echoed. Shinji looked up at the wet horizon. Two bird-like figures approached slowly, their shapes becoming clearer bit by bit.
Both of them landed beside each other, the shaking earth cracking beneath them. On the left was Unit-07, and 08 to the right. The creatures walked forwards, their footsteps like thunder. Their incomplete, repulsive bodies sent a shiver down Shinji's spine.
Unit-07 stepped on a bundle of trees, the snap reverberating off of the mountains. In an instant, Kensuke let out a nervous cry and unloaded a barrage of gunfire onto the Angel. The bombardment pushed it back inch by inch, shooting holes in its body.
"What are you doing?! I ordered you to wait, dammit!" said Misato. "Kensuke, hold your fire!"
Kensuke stopped firing, his rifle magazine was nearly empty. Immediately, Unit-07 retaliated, unphased by its wounds. It twisted into the air and landed on Unit-04s chest, knocking the wind out of him as he crashed into the mountain behind him.
"A-Aida!" yelled Hikari, pointing her weapon as the behemoth in front of her began to scratch at Unit-04.
Before she had time to pull the trigger, Unit-08 bellowed and stretched its arms out. It took a hold of Unit-05's neck, the pressure gradually crushing Hikari's windpipe. She was lifted high, dropping her rifle on the muddy ground.
"Ken! Hikari!" yelled Toji from the other side.
Everything happened so fast that Shinji and Toji could barely process it all in time. Shinji aimed his rifle at the beast holding Unit-05. With slight hesitation he fired a short round of bursts at it, grazing its torso.
Unit-07 and 08 averted their attention to Unit-01 and charged at him with vicious speed. Unit-01 was implanted into the dirt below. Toji watched in horror as they pulled and dug their fingers into Unit-01's body. He froze and his breathing became heavy. Their eyeless gazes and booming footsteps bore holes into his soul.
"T-Toji!" Shinji said with a struggle, snapping him out of his stupor.
He fired a salvo of rounds at Unit-08. The creature cried out in pain while a thick layer of dust enveloped him. "S-shit!" he said, frantically looking in each direction. The two creatures then emerged from the smog, striking him from both sides.
Shinji massaged the back of his head, disoriented by the assault. A cut formed on his forehead, blood floating around the LCL in his entry plug. The veil of dust thinned, revealing Unit-03, guarding itself against Unit-07 and 08. He turned to the left, seeing Unit-04 still embedded into the mountain and Unit-05 laying on the floor.
Images of the nightmare flashed through his mind as he watched Unit-03 become overpowered by Unit-07 and 08. Shinji clenched his fist. He had to do something, fast. Otherwise, his friends could- no would- be killed.
He opened up Unit-01's shoulder pylon and unsheathed the progressive knife. Shinji gripped the hilt tightly and charged headlong. He nearly slipped on the mud as he trampled Unit-08 and tackled Unit-07, the topsoil vibrating as they collided.
Before his blade could make contact with the beast's core, his HUD dimmed red and a timer began to count down. He quickly turned his head, seeing his umbilical cord and an enraged Angel.
Toji jolted up and pushed Unit-08 away from Unit-01. "No you don't, asshole!" he yelled.
Unit-05 rose from its spot in the ground and observed the battle from afar. Unit-04 squirmed itself out of the mountain and followed suit.
"W-we should help them," Hikari said.
"Are you kidding?" asked Kensuke with a shaky voice, "After what just happened to both of us?"
Hikari frowned, "So you're saying we should sit here and watch them die?" she pointed, her tone frantic.
"I'm scared too, but I can't just sit here and watch them get killed," she said, sprinting over to assist Toji.
"Wait… gah, fine, dammit!" said Kensuke, reluctantly following Unit-05.
A vicious brawl ensued. Blows were exchanged and new wounds were opened as the Angels and Evangelions clashed. Blood, mud, and moist grass flew and scattered all around.
Unit-01's internal battery had just under a minute remaining. With a desperate push, Shinji's blade cut into Unit-07's core. Sparks flew for a moment before the red orb grew gray and shattered. The beast made one last cry before collapsing onto the ground.
Meanwhile, Unit-08 struck Unit-03's face, cracking its occipital plating and sending it sprawling to the ground, rending the mud with its bulk. The beast trudged over to Unit-03, panting heavily.
His gaze blurred and reddened, Toji realized it was his blood pouring from his nose. "Is… is it getting tired?" he asked, massaging his forehead.
With a groan, the creature stumbled and crashed onto the crimson-stained terrain. Kensuke took a tentative step forward, clutching his knife closely. He crept up to its muddied body and prodded its rib. "I think it's dead."
"Both targets are inert!" said Aoba from his desk.
Misato leaned into the seat next to her, the energy in her body drained to the last millimeter. "Status of the pilots?"
"All accounted for, Ma'am," replied Makoto.
"Good… begin retrieval preparations, and have clean-up crews on-site immediately," she relined into her seat with a deep sigh. Finally… it's over.
The all too familiar sound of slow, rhythmic beeps from a heart monitor and the overwhelming smell of antiseptic interrupted Shinji's slumber. Even without opening his eyes, he knew he was in NERV's trauma unit.
He gradually sat up, his head aching. Plastic crinkling from across the room startled him. He turned to see Kensuke, fiddling with a bag of chips. A bandage was wrapped around his forehead.
He looked up, "Hey, you're finally awake!" he exclaimed. "You were out for a while, but with how you fought, I guess it makes sense."
"Huh…? Oh, right," he said, recalling what happened prior. Shinji looked to the bed next to him. The silk white sheets were unmade and an unfinished bag of snacks on the nightstand. "Where's Toji? Is he-"
"Don't worry, he's fine. He just went to go walk around and get some fresh air for a bit," he replied, popping a chip into his mouth.
An immense sense of relief washed through him. "Thank goodness…" he grew quiet and drew his knees up against his chest. "If I acted sooner… this wouldn't have happened,"
"Hmm?" mumbled Kensuke, a handful of chips in his mouth.
"If I had just dealt with those two by myself, you three wouldn't be hurt right now," he said. "You shouldn't have been fighting anyways."
Kensuke snickered, "Jeez, you too, huh? What's up with you and him taking this so seriously?" he said. "You were already having a difficult time dealing with one of them, things would've been even worse if we hadn't jumped in and dealt with the other one."
Before Shinji could ask, there was a light knock at the door. Both boys perked up as the door swung open. Hikari, Asuka, and Rei peeked their heads out from the door frame.
"Um… sorry to bother you, we just wanted to check and see how you were doing," said Hikari, her voice hoarse. Bandages were wrapped around her face, neck, and wrists.
"Ah, hey! All good here!" said Kensuke, waving.
The corners of Shinji's mouth crept up slightly. "Hi,"
Rei peered from behind Asuka and Hikari, the sleeves of her plugsuit removed and dressed with bandages. "It's good to see you two are okay," she said.
"Y-you too, I was worried when I heard you and Asuka had been taken down so quickly."
Asuka approached the foot of his head with a furrowed brow and folded arms, a single bandage on her cheek.
"I'll admit, that was some quick-thinking back there. But, is it too much to ask for a little finesse? We're supposed to be elite pilots! Not savages! At least try and look like you're at equal footing with an Angel," she said. "All of this would've been finished way earlier if that thing hadn't cheap-shot me!"
"You're right, Asuka, sorry," said Shinji, with a faint chuckle.
She turned away with a small scowl on her face. "Gah! All this talking is making me thirsty," she walked out of the room and turned to Rei. "You coming, First?" Rei gave no response. "I'll take that as a yes. And you Hikari?"
Hikari was looking off to the side, neglecting the conversation.
Asuka cleared her throat, "Hikari…?"
The girl perked up, "Hmm? Oh, I'll catch up with you two in a bit."
Asuka glanced past her friend, rolling her eyes. "Just don't take too long," she said, her and Rei turning in the other direction. As they walked, Rei took a glimpse at what Hikari was looking at.
Toji stood in front of the window, examining the bandages on his arms. The Angel's attacks left residual phantom pain, scattered stinging from the injuries as the wind passed on them.
You better come back without a single scratch! You hear!
His sister's tearful demands bounced inside his head. He was in quite the bind now, how would he go about explaining what happened without angering her? Despite how young she was, Sakura acted more like an older sibling than Toji, himself, did.
He looked up, seeing the evening lights in the geofront. Footsteps approaching behind him grew louder and louder until stopping abruptly, "Suzuhara?" said a hoarse voice.
Toji turned, seeing Hikari standing a few centimeters from him. "Oh, Class rep, you just get discharged?"
She nodded, "Yes, but I wanted to see how you three were doing before I went home," she inched closer to him, focusing on his arms. "So, how are you holding up?"
"I'm alright," he held up his arm. "Just a few cuts and bruises, you?"
Hikari pointed to her bandaged neck. "My vocal cords are slightly damaged. The doctor said they're fine, but I can't use my voice for at least a week. Besides that I'm fine."
"Ah, well that's good,"
Silence grew between them. They gazed out the window, the bright, illuminated skyscrapers hanging above the geofront ceiling while monorail cars zipped down to the black NERV pyramid.
You wouldn't download a house, would you?
Here's a quick, low-effort head design I made for Unit-05(Hikari's Eva).