Chapter 7: Game On!
During lunch break at school Patrick went searching for Rei, who had quietly slipped out of their classroom just as the session ended. After a few minutes of looking around the outside grounds of the school he had found her, sitting on the ground against a concrete set of stairs. As he had expected, she was yet again reading. Without saying anything he quietly sat on the ground beside her. She quickly glanced at him as he sat down, and then went back to reading.
"Hi, there," he said, trying to be casual. "Nice weather, huh?" There was no response from her.
"What are you reading? Let me see" He poked around to see the book she had. "Quantum Analysis of Phase-Shift Matter in Carbon-Based Organisms: a Theory. Holy smokes! Do you actually understand this?" She turned to look at him, and quietly nodded.
"Would you explain it to me?" he asked.
"To provide a proper explanation would require a common frame of reference," she replied coldly. "I do not think we have such a thing as this."
Meaning we don't have it in common, he thought. That's a good point, what do we have in common? "Rei?" he asked her. She turned her head to him, the book still in her hands as Patrick spoke to her. "I was thinking about what you told me earlier, about the EVA speaking to me. I wanted to know: what does your EVA tell you?"
Rei paused for a moment to think about the question, looking into the distance ahead of her. "She is frightened," she finally said.
"Frightened? An Evangelion? I find that very hard to believe!"
"It is true," she continued. "She is frightened of what she sees and experiences. She also has a feeling of deep isolation: she does not know where she belongs."
That's like the third or fourth time Rei's used the female gender for the EVA. "What is it that you tell it...I mean her?"
"I try to comfort her, and give her direction," she said. "It was very difficult at first, but after some time she has come to trust me. And I trust her."
"You think of her as a child?" he asked.
"She is a child." she flatly replied.
"So, is my EVA a child, too?"
She looked directly at him. "No."
"Oh, look at the cute couple!" Patrick and Rei both looked up to see Asuka standing there, hands on her hips and leering at both of them. "Asuka!" Patrick said, upset at the interruption.
The redhead directed her glare at Rei. "Wow, Wondergirl is the envy of her class, catching herself a foreigner boyfriend," she said snidely. "You better be careful, or else you'll end up like Madam Butterfly."
"It's not like that!" Patrick defended.
"Sure, sure," Asuka teased. "Well, anyway, enjoy it while it lasts!"
"I must go now," Rei said as she suddenly closed her book and stood up.
"Rei!" Patrick called to her, but she quickly walked away and back inside the school building. He thought to run after her, but he couldn't think of what he would say to her when he reached her.
"Aren't you going to go after her?" Asuka mockingly urged but Patrick was pissed at her attitude. "Are you always such a bitch?" Asuka just folded her arms and said "humpf."
"Did she ever do anything to you?" he said.
"I'm just saving you the trouble. You can thank me later." Asuka walked away, leaving Patrick just sitting there.
Later that afternoon the second training match began between the Japanese and American teams, but this time with live Evangelions. Five Evangelion units, more power than NERV had ever seen before, lumbered over to an above-ground training area. The training area was set up like an urban environment, spanning several kilometers, with a structure that closely resembled Tokyo-3's fortress city.
Monitoring the training action again was the NERV command crew, operating out of Central Dogma as before. The three controller officers all observed their respective displays as the combat simulation environment was set up. What took weeks of planning and coordination between operations on two continents was now going to all go down in the next five minutes.
"Training Zone One reports all areas clear and ready to go," said Lt. Ibiki.
"EVAs 00 through 04 are moving to position," reported Lt. Hyuga.
Lt Aoba turned to Major Katsuragi, who was again controlling the exercise. "SimTokyo-3 System is available for activation on your command."
Higher up on the Commander's level, Gendo Ikari and Dr. Futsuyuki monitored the goings on as their subordinates prepared for the start of the match.. "Amazing," remarked Dr. Futsuyuki. "Five Evangelion Units together. The Earth has never seen such power all at one place."
Gendo Ikari was unemotional. "Not under mankind's control at any rate."
"Do you think the Americans will perform as well as last time?" Futsuyuki asked.
"In a way I'm hoping so," Gendo said. "It seems that Angels might be less dangerous to us than other Evangelions are. This should be a lesson to all of us."
Standing on the controller's level, Dr. Akagi took a careful look at the status reports of all five Evangelion units. The forward monitors had a complete data report for each unit, along with a live video of the pilot and another data report for pilot condition. After some double-checking she was satisfied with the conditions of all of them. "All Eva units are cleared for combat," she reported.
"Right!" replied Misato, who again wore a red officer's uniform today. She turned to the live videos of the children. "Pilots, listen up. This is your first live EVA exercise. We've set up a replica of Tokyo-3 for you fighting pleasure. The game today is Capture the Flag: Each side has a flag that it hides in their own territory. The other side has to both defend their own flag and capture the enemy's flag. You will be using simulated rounds with this match only: no live weapons. This round is for five minutes only. Understood?" All pilots replied "Roger!" in unison.
Misato turned to Unit 02's pilot. "Asuka, don't blow it like last time!"
"What do you mean?" Asuka protested. "I kicked his ass!" Misato was nonplussed. "Blow your cool again and he'll just find a weak point and bring you down."
"She's right, you know," chimed in Shinji.
"Shut up, Shinji!" Asuka shot back.
Vance was a bit miffed at the coaching. "No playing favorites, Major!"
"Life's rough, Mr. Vinson," Misato cutely replied.
"It's bad enough that it's 3 on 2," Patrick said to Vance. "Now the umpires are playing home field advantage."
"Then let's play ball," Vance said smugly, licking his lips. "American style!"
"Batter up!" Patrick called out.
Each squad of EVAs moved to their respective side of the fighting area. As the three Japanese units maneuvered into their designated zone Asuka, who appointed herself team captain, went over her carefully-thought out strategy with the others. "This is the plan," she told them over the video channel as she looked at images of both Shinji and Rei insider of her entry plug. Miss Perfect is on defense." Asuka referred to Rei.
"Ayanami?" confirmed Shinji.
"Of course," Asuka continued. "They'll probably send Vinson after me, which leaves Forrestal. Because Forrestal likes the First he'll go easy on her, leaving him an easy target for you, stupid!"
"What if Vance is on defense?" Shinji asked.
"Then both of us will double-team EVA-04 and knock him out quickly and then we'll go for the flag. Right?"
"Right." Shinji then spoke to Rei. "Ayanami?"
"Just protect us, will you?" he asked.
Unit 00 moved closer to the "flag," which was actually a large 50-meter flagpole with a red flag mounted on it. The Americans' flag, just barely visible to the others across the battlefield, was Blue. There was already no sign of the two American Evangelions as they had quickly moved into their area and into position.
A loud horn sounded and a large LCD clock mounted tower in the middle of the simulation area began to count down from five minutes. At the moment the clock started each EVA jettisoned their umbilical cables, now working strictly on battery power to allow for a full range of movement within the combat maze.
Asuka and Shinji then took up hidden positions at the front edge of their territory and waited for about a half-minute for their opponents to make the first move. Asuka spotted one of the Americans and silently watched as the silver-white EVA-04 slowly maneuvered into their defense area. EVA-03 was still nowhere to be seen. "I see you," Asuka observed. "Shinji, EVA-04 is on offense."
As Unit 04 moved closer first Asuka and then Shinji trained their gun sights on it. Just as it got into firing range, however, Unit 04 quickly dodged into an adjacent street corner and out of sight as the two Japanese EVAs fired at it. As their paint bullets missed EVA-04, they flew into the nearby buildings which then blew up dramatically into an explosion of whooshing air and multi-color paint.
"Inflatable buildings!" exclaimed Shinji.
"Duh!" Asuka chided. "You didn't think we'd fight over the REAL Tokyo-3, did you?" Asuka checked the game timer and quickly thought over her game plan again. Then she decided to move things up a bit. "I'm moving to take their flag," she said to Shinji. "Go after EVA-04."
"Uh, Asuka, don't you want me to cover you?" he asked.
She was unconcerned. "Baka Shinji! Don't worry! I spent all yesterday afternoon seeing how Vinson fights. Believe me, I got it covered."
"Okay," Shinji reluctantly agreed.
EVA-04 moved into another street way and took cover again. From a distance he could see the Red flag, and EVA-00 in a firing position nearby scanning the horizon with her sniper rifle. Patrick trained his gun sight on her.
"There you are," he said to an unknowing Rei. "Can you see me from there? No? Oh, well, such a pity." EVA-04 put its finger on the trigger of its pallet gun. Just before he could pull it, the purple image of EVA-01 loomed large on his scope. "Got you!" Shinji called out.
Patrick was not expecting this. "Ikari? What a surprise!" Shinji screamed as he fired wildly on EVA-04 with his own pallet gun. EVA-04 was able to dodge the barrage while several inflatable buildings behind him all when up in smoke. "Shinji, you're firing too wildly. Get it under control!" ordered Misato.
While Unit 01 engaged 04 Asuka moved carefully and deliberately on her own through the American zone searching for Unit 03, which was still no where in sight. "Where the hell is he?" Penetrating towards the middle of the Americans' defensive zone she then saw the blue flag standing there, 200 meters away and right in front of her, planted in the middle of a street intersection.
"Hey, the flag's unguarded. Such an easy mistake! I'm so embarrassed to admit I'm American sometimes." EVA-02 walked over to the blue flag and reached over to grab it. Just as she did so, Asuka saw something very much unexpected: a Prog Knife was cutting its way out of one of the nearby buildings. Out of the opening it cut jumped out the jet black EVA-03.
"Peek a Boo!" Vance called out.
"Hey, no fair! Those buildings are supposed to be real! You can't just hide in one!" Asuka protested. "Major, he's cheating!"
"Not from my standpoint!" Misato replied.
"Fine. It's not going to matter!" Asuka growled.
"Here's your cake back!" teased Vance.
"You're just upset that I beat you again."
"I just gave you a show that time." Vance replied. "Now you see the real me!" EVA-03 then fiercely attacked EVA-02 and both started to go at it in violent melee combat.
"Both of you be careful!" called out Dr. Akagi as she saw the close combat on the Central Dogma main screen. "We don't want to damage the EVAs!"
"Screw that!" yelled Asuka, as she continued to fight with Unit 03.
In the Japanese zone, Shinji scanned the horizon but didn't see where Unit 04 had disappeared to. "Where is he?" he said to himself. "Don't let him get to the flag, don't let him get to the flag..." As EVA01 walked down the street, suddenly a set of buildings burst open in front of him. Behind them was EVA04, guns blazing.
"He shot the buildings out!" Shinji exclaimed. "I thought that was out of bounds!"
"All's Fair in Love and War," said Patrick.
EVA-01 and 04 fought a raging gun battle behind several buildings and corners. From a distance perched next to the Red flag, Rei, in Unit 00, took careful aim. A single shot rang out.
"EVA-04 knocked out," called out Hyuga. "Direct hit!"
"Head shot!" observed Aoba.
"Good shooting, Rei!" cheered Misato.
Inside EVA-04's plug damage report lights and sounds were all over. "What the heck?" he changed his viewer aspect and saw EVA-00 and her rifle over the distance. "So this is how it ends, huh? Not a bad way to go…at least I bagged the other guy!"
"Thank you, Ayanami!" called out Shinji, who then noticed that his own warning lights were also going off. "Oh, no..." he said mournfully.
"EVA-01 is also knocked out," Maya announced. Rei said nothing, but from her firing position just stared at the two immobile, paint-covered Evangelion units.
With less than two minutes go to in the simulation EVAs 02 and 03 fought intensely in melee combat in the American zone, bouncing each other off the surrounding buildings. As the staff in Central Dogma watched, it seemed certain that Asuka was getting the upper hand.
"Pilot synchronization of EVA-03 is declining rapidly," Maya reported suddenly.
"Reason?" asked Dr. Akagi.
"Unknown, but it's declined 50% in the last 20 seconds," Maya continued.
"It's dropping off again," Ritsuko said to herself, "Like the last time."
Misato called out to Vance "EVA-03, are you OK?"
"I'm fine!" Vance replied over the video, but he was panting heavily.
Can't lose this time, I've got to take a chance. He reached for something, just out of range of the internal plug camera.
Asuka meanwhile was enjoying her advantage, with multiple thrashing attacks with her arms on EVA-03. "Take that, and that! And THAT!"
Maya checked her display again and called out to Dr. Akagi. "EVA-03 synchronization just jumped up!"
Now that's just not right, Ritsuko thought to herself. "Up so fast? Interesting…"
"And now for the kill..." Asuka held her Prog Knife ready to strike. The practice blade was mostly dull rubber, not the metal normally used, but it would still dispense paint in the correct place, which was going to be EVA-03's jugular.
"Not so fast!" Suddenly EVA-03 jumped up and kicked EVA-02 across the street and into an inflatable building.
"Asuka, look out!" Misato shouted.
Asuka looked and saw a horrible sight in front of her. "Oh, no, not like this!" EVA-02 reached for her gun, which was lying on the street, but Vance had the jump on her. Before she could grab the pallet gun, EVA-03 had drawn its pistol and shot several paint rounds right into EVA-02's abdomen.
"Multiple wounds to EVA-02," reported Hyuga. 'She's knocked out!"
Asuka just sat there in her plug in silent disbelief as the alarms sounded. "...but I was winning..."
"Rei, watch out! It's just you now!" shouted Misato.
With the clock tower indicating there was only a minute to go, Vance knew he had to act quickly in order to win the match outright. He looked around his location and mentally calculated the distance from where he was all the way to the Japanese flag and EVA-00. It was a long way, nearly two kilometers. There wasn't enough time to run the distance and then fight for control, and that didn't count that he would be an easy target for EVA-00 by running in the open. Then he saw something parked on a nearby set of train rails and got another idea...
Rei scanned the horizon with her gun sight, her rifle scope being slaved to her plug display. She saw some sort of movement down one of the avenues but couldn't make it out. The game clock ticked down to 30 seconds. There was suddenly a crashing sound to her right.
She turned to see the noise and saw the large black mass of EVA-03 sliding head first on a pair of giant flatbed train cars that it was using like a giant skateboard. She trained her rifle on EVA-03, but before she could take a shot, the black EVA rammed into her head first, throwing her off balance.
Rei moved EVA-00 around to get up off the street, but EVA-03 had already stood up, the Red flag in one hand and a pistol in the other. She reached for her Prog Knife but the black EVA placed two paint rounds into her midsection before she could grab it. A second later, the horn went off.
"EVA-03 has captured the Red Flag." announced Lt Aoba. The NERV controllers in Central Dogma were in shock. The "rookie" Americans had just defeated them in very dramatic fashion. In the far background the American operations crew that had come with the two pilots were also watching the match from the bottom floor of Central Dogma. When Aoba pronounced the winner, the American technical crew cheered wildly, many chanting "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!".
Misato had to admit to herself that the Yankees had won this match soundly. "Match has ended." she announced. "Winner is the Visiting Team."
Shinji called out to Asuka from his entry plug's video display. "Asuka! Are you OK?"
Asuka was quite angry. "Shinji! Where the hell were you? I needed you to back me up!"
"But you said you could handle Vinson alone!" Shinji protested. Asuka clenched her fists and looked as Shinji's image on her monitor with daggers in her eyes. "I HATE YOU!"
Shortly afterwards in the pilot briefing area Asuka, still dressed in her plug suit, violently protested to Misato. "Major, that was no fair! Those buildings are supposed to be there to simulate real, solid objects! The Americans just can't hide inside them!"
"Or shoot right through them!" Shinji joined in.
Misato turned around and faced the two pilots. She was furious. "Quite the contrary. First, I'll give credit where credit is due. Using the hollow simulated buildings was quite clever of Mr. Vinson, who immediately understood the conditions of the simulation. Second, in an actual battle, those buildings would be evacuated of people: there's nothing stopping you from quickly clearing out one and using it as cover against an enemy. Third, the biggest mistake both of you made was assuming your enemy was no where in sight and just walking into a trap! The other side didn't so much as win as you two lost! Neither one of you are either thinking outside the box or working as a team! Now would you care to explain that!?" Asuka & Shinji looked at each other, hung their heads and sighed in unison.
In the male pilot dressing there was a much lighter atmosphere. "Nice shooting, Tex!" Patrick high-fived with Vance.
"Thanks," he answered, as he started taking off his plug suit. "You think she'll be sore about it?"
"Who, Asuka?" Patrick replied. "I'm sure she'll be fine. You should let her win next time, just to soothe her ego!"
Vance laughed. "How about you? Not bad shooting yourself."
"Shinji was more wild this time," Patrick observed. "I think he doesn't do as well when he's not paired with the Redhead."
Vance smiled at that. "So he likes to get bossed around?"
"I guess. Still it wasn't a bad way to get killed," pondered Patrick.
"She should have shot you through the heart, not the head. Ouch!" Vance grabbed the side of his head as he felt a sudden, sharp pain. Patrick saw him in pain and reached for a water bottle. "Are you OK? Double-V?"
Vance just sat there for a moment gripped in pain, and then just as suddenly relaxed as it went away. "No, I'm fine. Sorry, maybe it's the weather; I've been getting these weird migraines lately." Vance took the water bottle from the other pilot and gulped it down hard.
"Don't let it get to you, man," Patrick warned. To himself, however, Patrick began to become very worried about his friend.
In the Commander's office Ikari and Futsuyuki watched a video replay of the afternoon's challenge. "An interesting spectacle." Futsuyuki observed dryly.
"Indeed. Their skills are appreciably good." replied the commander. "It would seem that we might have something else to be concerned about." At that moment the phone buzzed. Futsuyuki picked up and found it was Dr. Akagi. He put her on speaker. Ritsuko was very direct. "One or both of them may be spoofing the EVA."
"How did you draw that conclusion?" asked Dr. Futsuyuki.
"EVA-03's sync rate fluctuated just too much during the combat simulation," Dr. Akagi explained. "The physiological system check during the combat only noticed a rapid change in heartbeat, but I'm sure something else was going on. There was also a very brief, but dramatic spike in brain pattern activity."
"What would bring this on?" asked Commander Ikari.
"That I still need to work on," she said. "But he's definitely using help to pilot the EVA."
"Is the same pattern also seen on EVA-04?" asked the Vice Commander.
"Not that I can see so far. I went so far as to contact NERV-2 in America, but they told me the pattern was actually 'normal' for the pilot, which I don't believe." The scientist paused for a moment, and then said, "I want to take in both pilots for a 'routine' medical check."
Gendo pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose with his forefinger, an odd habit he had since he was a child. "That would be difficult to explain to the Americans, and potentially a political headache for us, as we need to ensure NERV-2's cooperation at the current time. Can you investigate this in another way?"
Ritsuko Akagi thought for a moment. "With a bit of time it can be done."
"You have only a bit," Gendo said. "The next training round is coming in two days. Get it done by then."
"Roger," Ritsuko said and she then hung up.
"I don't think that the Americans can be trusted," Futsuyuki said afterwards.
"Yes, but their aims are still unclear," Gendo muttered. "It's not like the Americans to be that close to SEELE. They may have their own agenda. I just hope that we can find it out soon." They were again interrupted, this time by Misato, who had marched across Commander Ikari's office and up to his desk.
"Major Katsuragi, what brings you here?" Futsuyuki asked. The expression on Misato's face was deadly serious. "I would like to make a request," she said.
"What is it?" the commander asked her.
Misato rarely looked so firm. "I request the immediate transfer of EVA-03 and Vance Vinson to NERV as soon as possible."
"Are you that impressed with his capabilities?" Gendo asked her.
"I am," she replied. "He fights better than any of our pilots by far. We need the very best here with us to defeat the Angels and right now he's the one."
Gendo and Futsuyuki looked at each other, and then Gendo told her "I see the merit, but making such a request could be problematic with the American side of the program." He of course knew what the real issue was.
I'm sorry, Asuka. "Then I'll trade him for EVA-02 and its pilot. She's undisciplined and out of control. I can't work with her if she continues to be this way. Besides, she's part American. I'm sure they can accept her into their own program."
Commander Ikari looked up at her. "Very well. We will consider your request."
"Thank you, sir." Misato saluted both of them, turned around and walked out of the office. Gendo and Futsuyuki waited until the door closed behind her.
"She certainly seems won over," Futsuyuki commented.
"I can't say that I blame her," Gendo replied. "It's her job to fight the Angels, and having both EVA-03 and -04 here eventually does fit into the master scheme. But this issue of the pilots needs to be addressed and quickly, or else we may lose control of our own program."
In the desert city the man sat at his desk reading reports on several sets of monitors. He felt a vibration inside his coat pocket and picked up a PDA that was the source of it. Reading the tiny video screen, he took a quick look at the information he had just received.
Ikari, you sneaky bastard! No wonder that girl's so important to you. He continued to review the data snapshot he received, and smiled to himself. The old men gave you the key to Heaven and you're keeping it for yourself.
He checked that the data on the PDA was backed up, and started to pour over what was more than five years in the getting. Clever, making just one more unit, and in a way no one would suspect. Almost no one.
In celebration of their victory over the home team the American support crew took Vance and Patrick out to dinner at what they were told was the best sushi restaurant in Tokyo-3. While the rest of the crew proceeded to slowly get inebriated and rowdy with the restaurant staff, the two pilots got themselves a table in a quieter corner and tried to enjoy their dinner. Neither boy was particularly excited.
"What are you doing?" Patrick asked Vance, as the taller boy attempted to pick up his tuna sushi with chopsticks, failing badly at it. "Well, this is how you're supposed to eat them here, right?" he replied, dropping the piece.
"Believe it or not, you actually use your hands for this," Patrick said as he picked up a yellowtail one and popped it in his mouth.
"Oh, that's a relief! I can't stand having to use these things anyway." Vance dropped the chopsticks and then proceeded to have at the remaining sushi. Patrick just looked at him. "Double-V?"
"Did the EVA ever try to do to you what…what it did with Erin?"
"Never," replied Vance, with his mouth partially full. "It never did anything like that."
"Hmm," pondered Patrick. "I'm still been trying to figure out what happened. Ever since then the dreams still keep coming."
"I'm sure you'll be alright," Vance said cheerfully. "Heck, your sync ratio's up past my level now. That's cool, isn't it?"
"I know, but…" The two boys sat there as they waited for another plate of sushi to be delivered. Vance's mobile phone then started to chime. He picked it up and looked at the caller ID, and then sighed a bit.
"Hi, Mom!...No, everything's fine….no, not much jet lag, we're pretty good here….Yeah, it's just Patrick and me, and some of the guys from the base…Uh, no, we haven't had that much time to look around, really…" Vance smiled at Patrick and made a motion with his hand that told Patrick that the caller was talking way too much. Patrick smiled back. "…..Well, I think they wore those a long time ago, Mom, but if I see a pair of those wooden shoe things, I'll definitely get you one….Okay, yeah, you can see Mount Fuji from here, we're right next to it….I'll send you pictures, no problem….thanks, Mom….Love you too, bye!"
"She called, huh?" Patrick asked him.
"Yeah, she's worried sick that I'm overseas on my own." Vance leaned over the table and whispered to Patrick, "Dad didn't tell her what we're actually doing here."
"Does she know that you're a…" Patrick looked around to see who would hear him. "A pilot?"
"No. Dad doesn't want to worry her too much. He just told her we're in some sort of junior military academy, that's all!" They both went back to eating a bit, but Patrick couldn't each much more. After a long silence, he asked Vance. "Do you talk to your dad much?"
"Almost every other day," Vance said. "He's really busy, running defense at NERV-2 and all, but we still find the time."
"It must be nice," wondered Patrick.
"Yeah. I guess it's easy to take for granted," mused Vance. "Have you ever heard from your dad at all?"
"Not a word. Not since I went over to his lab."
"That's got to suck, not knowing anything for so long," said Vance, gulping down another sushi. "Still, it seems like your uncle took good care of you. He's the one who taught you Japanese, right?"
"Yeah," said Patrick, smiling a little bit. "At the time I thought he was crazy! The ones I could speak to was him and the old Japanese guy in town who owned the teriyaki place."
"But even then he was getting you ready for this," Vance replied. "You must miss him a lot."Patrick sighed. "I do, but I just wish he would have just told me up front, not make it such a big secret."
"Maybe he wasn't in a position to," replied Vance, who decided to take another stab at using chopsticks again. "Besides, if you had found out about Erin, you'd try to contact her, right?"
"And that blows your value as a backup," Double-V said. "You were safe from someone who might want to mess with the program because you were a secret."
"Still sucks," said Patrick.
Vance dropped his toro sushi right into his soup bowl, and scowled. "Everything about this sucks!"